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, June 30, 2011
The lucky winner of the Bigfoot and Judy Moody books giveaway is Aileen! Congratulations! If you send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your address, I'll send those two books off to you. I hope you and your family enjoy them!
Thanks to all of you who entered for your great kids' book recommendations. Happy summer reading, and I wish you all a wonderful long weekend!
Sunday, June 26, 2011
The first long weekend of the summer season is just around the corner, and soon people all over our beautiful country will be decked out in red and white, happily celebrating our nation's birthday with playtime, parties, picnics, and... popsicles! These frosty treats are a perfect way to stay cool and hydrated during long summer days spent outdoors, and the homemade ones pictured here are made from real fruits and juices, without any added sugar or artificial flavours and colours. Now that's something to celebrate!
Last summer I posted a recipe for refreshing and delicious strawberry-orange popsicles, which you can find here. I've been having lots of fun experimenting with new flavours in my kitchen lately, and thought I would share my latest creations. These popsicles, just right for national holiday celebrations on both sides of the border, will also be my contribution to an Independence Day holiday recipe round-up hosted by Kelly over at The Spunky Coconut. Check out her site on July 1st for what is sure to be a delightful collection of summer food ideas (all gluten-free, too)!
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen raspberries
1 cup lemonade (I use Kiju organic lemonade, which is a yummy combination of grape and lemon juices with no added sugar)
Blend raspberries and lemonade in a blender until smooth. Using a fine-mesh sieve, strain mixture to remove all raspberry seeds. Pour strained mixture into popsicle molds, insert sticks, and freeze for several hours.
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen mango, cut into cubes
1 cup coconut milk
the juice of one lime, freshly squeezed
Blend mango, coconut milk, and lime juice in a blender until smooth. Pour mixture into popsicle molds, insert sticks, and freeze for several hours.
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen blueberries
1 cup mango juice
Blend blueberries and mango juice in a blender until smooth. Pour mixture into popsicle molds, insert sticks, and freeze for several hours.
Delicious and healthy popsicles like these can be made from any combination of fruits and juices you enjoy -- your imagination is your only limit! If you come up with a great popsicle flavour of your own, please share it in the comments section below so we can all have a chance to enjoy it.
I have to take a minute here to rave about the new popsicle molds I purchased this summer.
They're made from durable stainless steel (so they won't leach any harmful chemicals into your cool creations), and each mold can be removed from the stand individually. This makes it easy to take popsicles out as you need them, then wash each mold and refill it as required so you can always have a ready supply of popsicles in the freezer. The molds I have are made by Onyx and can be purchased here.
Whether you'll be watching fireworks in red and white, or red, white, and blue this coming weekend, these colourful popsicles are sure to be a big hit with everyone. Happy Canada Day, and Happy Independence Day, to our North American friends!
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Whenever I see Will silently staring off into space (in those rare moments when he is actually quiet!), I love to wonder what it is he might be thinking about. It's fascinating to see how an imaginative young mind can turn the most ordinary thing into something unique and even magical.
Last evening, I popped into Will's room to give him a last tuck-in as he was turning out his light. He has an interesting habit of leaving some little item on his night table most of the time -- sometimes it's a baseball or hockey card, sometimes it's a Lego man -- and there is always a colourful explanation for why that item can't be put away. Last night I noticed a worn-looking fabric key ring sitting beside Will's bedside clock, one that he had collected at his grandparents' house from a box of old things they weren't using anymore. After a quiet moment, Will said to me, "Do you know why I'm leaving this keychain on my night table?"
Realizing that I could probably never guess the reason in a million years, I asked Will to enlighten me. "It's not actually a keychain," he said. "It's a Chinese good luck charm. But I have to be asleep before midnight for it to work." I told him that was amazing, and asked him what exactly it would do for him. He said that it would give him whatever he wished for (as long, of course, as he was asleep before midnight). When I asked Will if it had brought him any good luck already, he said, "Oh yes. Last night I wished for today to be awesome... and today was awesome."
This old key ring was an item I likely would have just thrown away myself, but Will's new spin on it suddenly made the dull fabric seem shiny and new. I told him I thought I should somehow get myself a Chinese good luck charm, too.
I am always glad to hear Will tell me about happy ideas his busy mind has dreamed up. Sometimes I worry that he understands too much for a boy his age, that he spends too much time thinking about things that he shouldn't know about yet. We have long conversations about unfair child labour practices and the impact of natural disasters when Will expresses deep concern after seeing a headline in the newspaper. Just yesterday, he announced out of the blue at the breakfast table, "I'm pretty certain that the Tooth Fairy is just your mom and dad. Maybe Santa, too." He's only just recently turned seven. Already, though, he has gone through a serious thought process that won't allow him to believe in some of the joys of childhood; for him, things like the Tooth Fairy and Santa simply don't add up logically or practically. It's sad to see your little boy grow up so soon in some ways, while at the same time, he still has the emotional fragility and coping mechanisms of a young child, which don't allow him to handle all of this adult information very well.
When I was in Will's room a little while ago, I noticed that the key chain is no longer on his night table, nor is it anywhere to be found in his room. I'm almost certain there's a seven year old boy at school today with a Chinese good luck charm in his shorts' pocket. I hope it makes his day awesome.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Today is officially the first day of summer! Very soon the boys will be out of school and we'll have lots of time for family vacation adventures, picnics and pools, and lazy afternoons spent relaxing in the shade of a tree in the backyard, enjoying good books. We all can't wait!
If you're interested in encouraging your children to read this summer, you need look no further than your public library. The TD Summer Reading Club will soon be up and running in libraries all across Canada, offering children a chance to keep a reading log and win prizes for the books they enjoy while they're out of school. (See your local library for registration information.) For those of you who are looking to stock up on books for your home shelves, Chapters has a "buy three books, get the fourth one free" sale going on now in stores.
To kick off the summer reading season, I am giving away two wonderful children's books to one lucky winner:
Judy Moody was in a mood is the first in series of highly entertaining chapter books written by Megan McDonald. Young readers who like a good laugh will be captivated by the adventures of the "way-not-boring" Judy and her endearing younger brother Stink.
So You Want to Catch Bigfoot? is the book seen often in Stink's possession in the Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer movie that is playing now in theatres. It's loaded with fascinating details and illustrations about the elusive furry creature and will appeal to curious kids who have a sense of adventure. (I'm quite certain Will and this book will be inseparable this summer based on his Bigfoot-finding plans!)
To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment below or on my Facebook page, letting me know the title and author of one of your family's favourite summer reads. The contest will close at midnight on Wednesday, June 29th, and a winner will be selected by random draw. Check back here at the end of June to see if you've won. (We'll all get a great opportunity to discover new books by reading others' comments, too!)
I thought I'd end this tenth edition of A bookworm's breakfast with a list of some perfect-for-summer books that the boys and I have enjoyed over the years, along with a few that I've just recently discovered. Perhaps you'll want to share some of them with your own children in the coming months.
3-5 year olds:
How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers
Stanley's Wild Ride by Linda Bailey
Olivia Forms a Band by Ian Falconer
Stella, Star of the Sea by Marie-Louise Gay
Chester's Way by Kevin Henkes
Hooray for Amanda & Her Alligator by Mo Willems
6-8 year olds:
The Secret World of Og by Pierre Berton
Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo
Where's Waldo: The Ultimate Travel Collection by Martin Handford
Horrid Henry and the Mega-Mean Time Machine by Francesca Simon
How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
Bad Kitty Gets a Bath by Nick Bruel
You're a Bad Man, Mr. Gum by Andy Stanton
9-12 year olds:
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
The Name of This Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch
I Want To Go Home by Gordon Korman
A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snickett
and then it Happened by M & L Wade
Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child
Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo
Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce
Need more inspiration? Take a peek at some of my earlier editions of A bookworm's breakfast, too! I hope reading will be an enjoyable part of everyone's summer holidays.
Friday, June 17, 2011
8:17 a.m.: School begins in exactly 13 minutes, and I am trying (quite unsuccessfully) to slather sunscreen on two squirming boys in our front hall. Meanwhile...
At the top of his lungs, Will is singing a rollicking tune that he learned at school about going to heaven. (Imagine the song "The Other Day I Met a Bear" and substitute lyrics like "Oh you can't get to heaven in a limousine, 'cause God don't sell any gasoline". No, I'm not kidding. This is one of the little-known benefits of sending your children to Catholic school.) In between verses Will is pausing to ask me questions like "Hey, do cats have to get married to have babies?" and "When somebody says, 'Oh, for Pete's sake!', who exactly is 'Pete'? and what does 'sake' mean?". I am trying to figure out how to reasonably answer any one of those questions in the 30 seconds I have to devote to a response.
I look over at Noah and realize he still has a gob of peanut butter from breakfast on his cheek that he needs to go wash off. His glasses are streaked to the point that his vision must be comparable to driving in a dense fog. He is explaining to me (over Will's singing) exactly how he is going to style his hair for the airbands show, and informing me that he needs green and orange hairspray. Also, in exactly two minutes, Noah will walk out the front door and forget to bring with him the project that we worked about 4,000 hours on (with much drama in the final stages) and that is due today.
All around me the house is in a state of utter disorder, with the furniture all moved around and things piled up on top of it to allow our carpets to dry after being steam cleaned. Maggie the cat is a complete emotional wreck because of the unusual physical mess: she is howling inconsolably and constantly weaving herself in and around my legs because surely, the state of things signifies the world is ending or something of that sort. (Oh, and note to self: sunscreen plus a puffy cat does not equal anything pleasant.)
I wish I could say I made some of this stuff up for effect. Can someone please remind me again how many days left until summer vacation?
Monday, June 13, 2011
The boys and I were quite busy this past weekend, working on a few last projects for the year that are due soon at school for both of them. I helped Will write about one of his favourite books and fill a decorated bag with objects that would represent the story's events and characters, and I worked with Noah to create an elaborate invitation and menus for a medieval feast and melee hosted by a king. I usually love when the boys ask for my assistance with their creative school work, but this weekend I admit I was feeling a little project-weary. It's been an incredibly busy month so far, we're all anxious for the end of school to arrive, and I found myself looking forward to a long break from any sort of major production.
By Sunday evening, I had come to the conclusion that the end of school will certainly not signify the end of "project" season for the boys (nor for me!). I should have known better than to expect otherwise.
Matt and I took Noah and Will to see the Judy Moody movie this past Saturday. The boys love Megan McDonald's books about Stink (Judy's little brother) and were captivated by Stink's Bigfoot-tracking escapades throughout the very entertaining show. Will, however, was uncharacteristically quiet in the car on the ride home from the theatre. When I finally turned around and asked him what he was thinking about, he looked at me solemnly with his deep brown eyes and said, very confidently, "I am going to find Bigfoot this summer." If you knew Will like I know Will, you would have realized at this point that he was dead serious. I could almost see the wheels spinning madly in his mind as he started to plan out his approach. "I think you should fill the car up with gas on the last day of school, Mom," he said to me in earnest, "because you're going to be driving me all around to look for him." Alrighty, then. I guess I've got my work cut out for me.
Last night at dinner, the boys started devising ways to earn a little extra cash for themselves over the summer. Now, most entrepreneurial-spirited children will plan to set themselves up a nice little lemonade stand, collect a bit of loose change from passersby, and call it a day. Not Noah and Will. They were getting wildly excited about their brilliant idea for a book about wacky sandwiches that they will write, publish, and sell themselves (and thus be the "first kids to ever write a real cookbook", according to Will). Throughout dinner, the boys brainstormed combinations of ingredients like tomato and lettuce with mini-marshmallows, or ham and cheese with jellybeans. (Oh, the horror! I suppose I should be glad that there was at least some mention of whole-grain bread?) They also came up with a plan to set up a website so that people will be able to submit their own sandwich ideas for the book. You might assume that when kids come up with a concept like this that it's just a passing fancy, that it will get talked about one night at dinner and then never mentioned again, but that's not how my kids work. This morning, they were throwing wild sandwich ideas around again as soon as the sun rose, and Will asked Noah if he had the website up and running yet. I have an uneasy feeling I'll be asked to make a lot of sandwiches this summer.... but at least they've offered to pay me whatever money they earn that doesn't divide evenly between them!!
I see a lot of peanut butter in my very near future, a) because apparently that's a good lure for a Bigfoot, and b) because peanut butter seems to figure prominently as an ingredient in many of these wacky sandwiches I've been hearing about. I've come to understand that in my life with Noah and Will there will forever be some "major production" going on; those boys keep me busy, laughing, and inspired, and I'll always be thankful for that. Another happy truth has become clear to me in the midst of all of their planning and projects, too: no matter what wonderful things Noah and Will decide to do with their lives, they will pursue their goals with creativity and determination. It's obvious nothing will discourage them from realizing their dreams.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Will is a real little creature of habit. When he finds something he loves (a book, a game, a food, or anything else), he likes to enjoy it repeatedly, and it is always very difficult to convince him to break a routine. One of the things that Will really loves is having pancakes for breakfast every Saturday morning. Tomorrow I am certain to wake up early to the sight of a cute boy with a big toothless grin beside my bed and the sound of him asking, "Are we having pancakes today?".
Back in January, I posted a couple of pancake recipes, an old family one that used wheat flour, and a gluten-free version made with almond flour, courtesy of Elana Amsterdam. Because we eat pancakes every weekend, I've had lots of opportunity to experiment with the gluten-free version and to come up with a delicious pancake that does not contain eggs (since Will reacts to them) or any sweeteners other than fruit (since my body is much happier when I avoid them). I think I've come up with the perfect recipe. These high protein pancakes cook beautifully and Will always gobbles them up in no time!
Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Egg-free, Sweetener-free Pancakes (that still taste scrumptious!)
7 tbsp water
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
2 tbsp arrowroot flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
grapeseed oil (for cooking)
In a food processor, combine water, applesauce, and vanilla. Process until completely mixed. Add almond flour, arrowroot flour, cinnamon, sea salt, and baking soda and process again until mixture is well combined.
Heat the grapeseed oil on a griddle set to medium heat (325 F). Spoon two heaping tablespoons of batter onto the griddle for each pancake, and use the back of the spoon to smooth the batter out into a circle that is approximately half an inch thick.
Cook pancakes until small bubbles begin to form on the top of them, then flip each pancake. (The cooked side should be a lovely golden brown.) Continue cooking pancakes until the tops are slightly firm to the touch and both sides are nicely browned. Transfer pancakes to a plate and serve drizzled with real maple syrup or a homemade fruit topping. Mmmmm!
This recipe makes about 6 very filling pancakes. (The fact that they're made with almond flour gives them a lot of staying power.) Whether you have food sensitivities in your family or not, these pancakes make a wonderfully tasty and healthy breakfast and are the perfect way to start off any weekend morning!
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Noah has been wearing glasses since he was two and three-quarters years old. When we first found out he needed them, we worried that such a young boy wouldn't want to keep glasses on his cute little face, but from the moment he first wore them, Noah accepted his new specs (his "sees", as Will called them) and they simply became a part of him, to the point that he never liked to be without them. He looked (and still does look) so handsome in his glasses; they've always seemed just right for him, my wonderfully intelligent and funny boy who has spoken like a little professor almost from the moment he could talk.
It came as a complete shock to me, then, last week, when Noah came downstairs and announced that he wanted to get contact lenses before the school air bands show at the end of the month. (He and his best buddies have been enthusiastically planning and rehearsing a song that they're going to perform in front of the school, complete with instruments and wild coloured hairstyles.) I explained to him that it wasn't quite that simple to accomplish what he was asking (do they even make contact lenses for kids??) and gently questioned him as to why he felt contacts were necessary. My heart gave a sad little thud when he said, "Mom, glasses aren't exactly cool for a rock band." As we talked more about it, it became clear that one of his friends had suggested it might be best if Noah lose the glasses for the show, for appearance's sake. So there it was: proof that my boy has entered the time in his life where a few words from a friend can have a real impact on how he sees himself. Something he has always worn unquestioningly has now become something to be self-conscious about when he looks in the mirror. As parents, we know inevitably this time will come in all of our children's lives, but it doesn't stop us from hurting for them when it does.
Last week, we received news from the school that Noah has been identified as gifted and will be participating in enrichment programming starting next year. While this came as no surprise to us, we (especially Noah) were thrilled with the confirmation of his abilities and with the additional educational opportunities it will provide him with going forward. Being intelligent, creative, and motivated is something on which Noah has always prided himself, and when he got the official test results last Thursday, he came running out of the school to find me, waving the papers in the air and shouting, "Mom! I did it!". It was fantastic to see him so happy about others recognizing his special talents and his potential.
In the midst of all the excitement this past week, though, I can't help but have a nagging little anxiety about Noah's new situation in light of the recent contact lens comment. Will it ever come to the point where some of the kids at school decide being "smart" isn't cool anymore, and will Noah feel pressure to hide his gifts in order to "fit in" better? Will he suddenly become embarrassed to talk about the novel he's working on, the inventions for which he's drawn up plans, or the fact that he asks his mom to find him electronic components to experiment with? I, too, was in an enrichment program when I was his age; I remember the sometimes unkind comments made by classmates who didn't understand what being gifted meant. Could thoughtless remarks make my beautiful boy think he wants to be more like everyone else, "for appearance's sake"? I really, really hope not.
Noah has always been a very confident little man, a leader, a boy who sets high goals for himself and strives passionately to reach them. He has always had a strong sense of who he is and has never been afraid to share himself with the world. I hope as he grows older, he remembers all of this, that he never feels the need to "be" anything other than himself simply to make others happy. The Noah I know just has so much to be proud of exactly as he is.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
I always like to peek in on my two sleeping boys before I turn in for the night. Seeing them in their sweet slumbering poses (Noah wrapped up tight, cocoon-like, in all of his blankets, with only the top of his head poking out, and Will, completely sprawled out across his bed with no covers on whatsoever) always fills me with a sense of wonder and deep love for these incredible little people. Often when I gently try to cover Will up with his blankets, he'll sit straight up in bed (with eyes still closed because he's not really awake) and he'll mutter interesting things at me. The other night he sort of chuckled out loud and mumbled, "Those books are always SO funny!". He told me the next morning that he'd been dreaming about Captain Underpants, the Dav Pilkey book series by which he's been completely captived lately. You know a book has made an impression on your child when he talks about it even in his sleep!
I personally am not a huge fan of the Captain Underpants books -- all of that potty humour is lost on me somehow -- but children Will's age seem to love them, and that's what's important. Reading experts say that it's not so much what your children read that matters; it's the fact that they're picking up something that engages them so that they will want to read. Comic books, magazines about subjects your child has an interest in, video game manuals, joke books and the like can all encourage reluctant readers to develop their literacy skills (and then hopefully, with their new found enthusiasm for the written word, you can encourage them to branch out in their reading choices).
In today's edition of A bookworm's breakfast, I'll share some wonderful books that have kept my boys' interest in reading going as they've grown.
3-5 year olds: I Am Not Sleepy and I Will Not Go to Bed by Lauren Child
Many people will be familiar with the characters of Charlie and Lola from their television program; the picture books from which they originated are delightful both in written word and in illustration and have immense appeal for young children. In this book, responsible and patient big brother Charlie has been given the task of encouraging his funny little sister Lola to go to bed. Lola's vivid imagination can think of all sorts of reasons why she shouldn't. Little ones will greatly enjoy the silly situations Lola invents and the lively dialogue between brother and sister, making this a bedtime book that will be loved night after night. Child's other books about Charlie and Lola (including I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato and the recent Slightly Invisible) are every bit as wonderful.
6-8 year olds: The Henry and Mudge series by Cynthia Rylant
A perfect set of books for a newly independent reader, the Henry and Mudge series tells honest, funny, and heartwarming tales about a young boy and his beloved 180-pound pet dog. Rylant chooses everyday scenarios that many young school-aged children would be familiar with and writes stories that both entertain and reassure. Whether reading about the day Mudge gets lost, the time Henry and his family build a fantastic castle in their basement on a cold, wet day, or the night Henry and Mudge sleep at Grandma's house, children are sure to feel a connection to Rylant's characters and their adventures. The books' short-story format with simpler sentences makes them just right for newer readers to try on their own.
9-12 year olds: Pendragon, Book One: The Merchant of Death by D.J. MacHale
This week's 9-12 year old book recommendation was written by my 9 year old son, Noah, who has always been interested in reading pretty much everything.
Bobby Pendragon is a normal 14 year old kid -- that is, until his uncle Press whisks him away to help save a planet on the other side of the universe. Before entering the flume (a gateway between the planets, or territories, as they are called in the book), Bobby's uncle gets caught in a fight with the evil Saint Dane so Bobby must go through the flume and deal with the quigs alone. This thrilling adventure about Bobby trying to stop two tribes from exploding into war kept me reading way too late, according to my parents.
Everything in this book is very imaginative. The lifestyle MacHale has created in the territory of Denduron is very different from ours, because it hasn't evolved as much as our society, so it felt like I had been transported to another time. The characters are also amazing because they all have very unique personalities. Figgis, the little merchant, for instance, is constantly bobbing around telling people they need to buy this, that, and this. If you're interested in a suspenseful, high-excitement adventure, you will absolutely love this book and the other nine books in the Pendragon series. (Thanks, Noah.)
I hope your children are inspired by whatever they're reading this week and I wish them all good dreams!
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
When was the last time you took an opportunity to act like a kid -- not the whiny, temper-tantrum-throwing, irresponsible version of childish behaviour that is totally unattractive in an adult, but the kind where you let yourself loose to enjoy a bunch of silly fun and breathless laughter, free from worry? If it's been awhile, I highly recommend finding a trampoline somewhere outside and jumping on it.
We put a trampoline in our backyard two summers ago (for, um, the children, of course!). I figured since the boys and I spend many of our days in July and August hanging around at home, it would be an exciting and worthwhile piece of backyard equipment to have. I was definitely right; the boys have not grown tired of it yet, and from May to September they can often be seen bouncing, leaping, spinning, and flying amidst shrieks of laughter and shouts of "Hey Mom, watch this!". It's a wonderful way to spend a summer evening, outside with green leaves rustling in a gentle breeze, birds cheerily chirping their late day songs while the sun still shines on the horizon, and children jumping joyfully together on a trampoline, ensuring that they'll sleep well when they do wind down for the night.
While I usually leave the trampoline tricks to the boys, every now and then I can't resist the urge to hop up there myself and go wild with them. It's completely exhilarating to take off, to be temporarily suspended in mid-air before bouncing back to earth and then springing gracefully upwards again. Released for a moment from the confining force of gravity, I can perform leaps and turns that I could only have dreamed about when I was a dancer. I am energized by the rush of air whooshing past me and the chance to see a different view of the world. I'm aware that the neighbours can see all of my antics and probably think I've lost my marbles, but in those moments of unencumbered flight with my boys, nothing could matter less.
The boys are always completely thrilled when I decide to join them in their jumping. Seeing their faces light up with huge grins when I accept their invitation, and lying in a tumbled, gasping, laughing heap on the trampoline floor with them once we've worn ourselves out, makes me remember what really matters to them. These times of spontaneous fun shared together are the moments that make them happiest, the ones that they'll remember long after their own bouncing-on-trampoline days are gone. Knowing this, I'd have to be crazy NOT to jump with them.
The next time you need a break from the pressures of adult life, find a trampoline, some cute, grinning kids, and a perfect summer evening and just jump with all you've got. I can almost guarantee it will fill you with a rush of happiness.