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.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Close to home

Recent happenings, both happy and sad, have got me thinking often about my old home town, and about the family and friends from there with whom I love spending time.  My mom's recent stay in the hospital, the delighted phone calls from my two grandmas who really loved their valentines from the boys, my friend losing her father, the much anticipated upcoming visits from my two brothers and a planned girls' shopping trip with my mom and my aunt have all made me feel especially close to my roots lately, even though life has branched off in different directions for many of us over the years.

I love the life Matt, the boys and I have built here in Waterloo; we have wonderful friends, engaging activities to participate in, and a house, yard and neighbourhood that truly feel like home.  Living far from most of my extended family and old, cherished friends, though, means that I will always feel like there is something missing.

When I was browsing recently on Etsy (if you're not familiar with Etsy, oh, do go and take a look!  But beware -- it's a place filled with beautiful handmade items and you're sure to find something you MUST have!), I came across this lovely vintage map pendant. 

The seller will custom create a pendant showing any location that's dear to you, and I knew this necklace was the perfect way for me to wear my heart on my.... well, neck.  Since my pendant arrived in the mail, I have worn it often, and it makes me feel, in some small physical way, that I'm connected to all of those Saultites, past and present, for whom I have a deep fondness.

If you'd like to wear a special place close to your heart, you can order your own custom map pendant here.  I love the way mine makes my home town feel somehow nearer until I can go back to visit again.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Hearty oatmeal pancakes

We spent last weekend in Ottawa visiting Matt's sister Rebecca and her family.  It was a really wonderful few days, filled with a trip to a museum, slipping down giant outdoor ice slides at a Winterlude site, excellent company and really great food.  On Saturday morning, Rebecca's husband Mark whipped up a big batch of scrumptious oatmeal pancakes for breakfast, and Noah loved them so much that we asked for the recipe.  After we returned home, I realized that with a few modifications, I could make similar pancakes without any ingredients that Will and I are sensitive to.  This morning, these oatmeal pancakes were born:

Gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free Oatmeal Pancakes

1 1/2 cups pure oats
2 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 cup ground pure oats (I used a Magic Bullet to grind them)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp gluten-free baking powder
1 tbsp ground chia seeds mixed with 3 tbsp warm water (stir to make a gel)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1 large apple, peeled and grated

Pour almond milk over whole oats and let sit for ten minutes.  Sift ground oats, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder together, then add to oat/almond milk mixture.  Add chia seed gel, vanilla, oil and grated apple and mix well.

Ladle batter onto hot griddle coated in grapeseed oil.  Flip pancakes when edges begin to set, and cook pancakes on other side until cooked through.  Serve with real maple syrup.  Makes approximately 10 pancakes.

If you're looking for a light, fluffy, sweet pancake recipe, then this one isn't for you; these pancakes are dense, hearty and very filling.  (Think steaming bowl of oatmeal and fruit, drizzled with maple syrup, in the form of a crispy-edged pancake.)   In place of the grated apple, you could also make these pancakes with blueberries, or a mashed banana -- any one of the three fruit options is really delicious!

If food sensitivities aren't an issue in your house, you could make these pancakes the way Mark and Rebecca make them by using these substitutions:

unsweetened almond milk = milk
ground pure oats = whole wheat flour
ground chia seeds + water = 1 egg

You could also add 1 tablespoon of brown sugar to the batter, as the original recipe calls for, though I find with the addition of maple syrup on top of the pancakes, the batter doesn't really need sweetening.

Will and I still really enjoy our almond flour pancakes, but it's nice, for variety, to have another allergen-free recipe in my back pocket.  These pancakes are a great way to get the nutrition of oatmeal in a fun form!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Girls' night

Throughout my life, I've found myself in situations where I'm outnumbered by boys.  I grew up with two brothers, dated and married a man with three brothers and only one sister, and I now have two lively sons of my own.  I'm very comfortable in a boys' world -- I enjoy many of their boyish activities and their ways of thinking and acting that are different from what feels intuitive to me as a female -- but I appreciate sometimes, too, the chance to surround myself with girls and to have conversations that are rarely heard in my own home.

The fact that Noah now swims with three girls from his school every week gives me a really nice opportunity for some "girl time" on a regular basis.  The parents of these girls and I take turns carpooling to and from swim practice, so every Tuesday evening I drive home with a vehicle full of giggling girls (plus Noah, who rolls his eyes and half-heartedly complains and tries to stifle a grin as he gets caught in the middle of their scrambling to sit next to him).  That drive home always leaves me smiling and really glad for the chance I've had to get to know these lovely young ladies better.

The girls share little stories and details of their lives with me that remind me of my own experiences growing up.  We talk about the books they're reading (many of which are very different from the ones lining my boys' shelves at home), and one of the girls often shows me what picture she's working on in her sketchbook, which is filled with beautiful drawings of animals and flowers and prettily decorated houses.  They tell me about their shopping trips to the mall with their moms or their friends, and about the boys they may or may not have crushes on.  They sing hilarious little songs, and try to find funny ways to drive Noah crazy.  In their quieter moments, two of the girls tell me how they're excited about having a sleepover with their mom while their dad is away; another girl describes the thoughtful handcrafted gifts she has given to her family members for special occasions, and explains how she made breakfast for her parents one recent Saturday morning (eggs and toast and smoothies) all on her own.

I have wonderful conversations and shared moments in day-to-day life with my two boys, and I suppose that while it's not likely, it's possible (gulp!) that Noah could one day soon make breakfast for his dad and I all on his own, too.  In many ways, though, the girls' words and actions paint a picture of a whole other world than the one I experience daily.  It's really sweet to catch a glimpse of their lives, and I'm happy that each week, these friendly, engaging, and delightful girls make that possible.

Photo credit:  My mom  (Thanks, Mom!)

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Life's beautiful web (with love to the Thibeault family)

The dad of one of my dearest childhood friends passed away this week.  I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear the heartbreaking news, and seeing this wonderful dad's kind face smiling at me one last time from the obituary page brought me instantly and vividly back to my friend's childhood home, where I spent many hours making warm memories with her and her family over the years.  It's incredible how experiences of grief and loss have such power to give us moments of clarity through our tears, and help us to remember the things that really matter most.

We humans move through life much like a spider spins a web, I think.  Each person we come to love, every experience that somehow touches us, becomes an integral thread delicately woven together with others to create a "home" for our soul.  Sometimes we end up far from where we started as we build this web -- we're always weaving tighter circles around whatever our heart draws us to in the present -- but those patterns we wove earlier in our lives are always there, a foundation upon which we continue to grow and become more beautiful as time passes.  Losing someone we love often lets us re-strengthen some of the old threads, to reach out to those who mean so much to us, to wrap our hearts around them and pull them closer to us once again.  Death reminds us that life is precious, that we need to spin our webs with meaningful moments and people who love us and let us be true to ourselves.

My childhood friend and I have grown apart over the years; physical distance and unparallel lives have made it difficult for us to be a big part of each other's worlds.  But the bonds we built through all those shared laughs and tears growing up still run strongly between us, and I keenly feel her loss.  I hope that in this dear family's time of sadness, they can sense my love reaching out to them across all those threads that keep us still connected in heart.  Rest peacefully, Mr. Thibeault.  I will always be glad for the happy patterns you helped weave in my life.

Photo credit:  National Geographic

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Turkey shepherd's pie (with love on the side)

For Valentine's Day, I thought I'd post a recipe for a delicious comfort food dish, one that you might enjoy around a cozy kitchen table in February with some people you love.  This turkey shepherd's pie is a wholesome and satisfying meal, loaded with colourful veggies (and yes, it is also the very dish that caused a dinnertime gong show at our house last week, but my boys have strange ideas about food and you should just ignore them).  The recipe is one I adapted from the good food book for families by Brenda Bradshaw and Cheryl Mutch.

Turkey Shepherd's Pie

1 onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp canola oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 lbs ground turkey
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 small can (5.5 oz) tomato paste*
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes*
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

*I buy tomatoes and tomato paste in BPA-free cans

For mashed potato topping:

5 large potatoes, peeled and cut
1/3 cup milk*
1/4 cup butter*
1 clove garlic, crushed

*I made a dairy-free version of the topping by using 2/3 cup of rice milk instead of milk and butter

In a large, deep frying pan or stockpot, saute onion, celery, carrots, and oregano in oil until onion is translucent.
Add garlic and slowly crumble in ground turkey.  Saute until turkey is browned.  Drain off any excess fat.
Add corn, tomato paste, and diced tomatoes.  Mix thoroughly and bring to a boil.
Turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 F.
Remove turkey and vegetable mixture from heat, add parsley and mix thoroughly.
Meanwhile, cook potatoes in boiling water until tender.
Mash potatoes with milk, butter (if using) and garlic.
Evenly divide turkey/vegetable mixture into two 8"x8" pans (a 2.5 L casserole dish also works well) and top with mashed potatoes.  Freeze one of the pies for another meal.
To serve, bake pie in oven for approximately 40 minutes, or until warmed through and bubbling around the edges.  Each pie serves 4-5 people.

While this turkey shepherd's pie does take some time to make, all the work for two meals can be done in one evening, which is always nice!  Served alongside a green salad, this lovingly made dish is sure to create a warm and happy mood at the dinner table.  (Unless you serve it at our house.  Never mind.)

Enjoy, and Happy Valentine's Day! 

Monday, February 13, 2012

From the school of hard knocks

My week started off on an unhappy note this morning.  Actually, make that two unhappy notes, because that's how many I wrote before sending my boys off to school.  Both Noah and Will were affected recently by other children's rough behaviour in the school yard, and while I like to teach my boys good strategies for standing up for themselves and resolving their own conflicts peacefully, I felt this was one of those times where they needed some grown ups to step in and help them.

The first letter went to Noah's teacher, because last week, another grade five boy tried to grab Noah's glasses off his face to see if they were the same prescription as his own.  In the process, he knocked Noah's glasses to the cold pavement.  Noah's two lenses are now significantly scratched and dinged, to the point that they both need to be replaced.  I don't think the boy's intent was harmful, but his actions have left Noah with irritating spots in his line of vision until his new lenses come in, plus the bother of having to go back to the optician's.  It seemed important to me that this other boy know the results of his actions, so that hopefully next time, he'll remember to keep his hands to himself.

The second letter was for Will's teacher, because Will and his buddy have been dealing with an aggressive boy in their class who has been giving them a hard time.  Despite Will's efforts to explain to this boy that they don't like the way he's treating them, the boy continues to steal their hats, demanding that they chase him to get them back, to hold them captive against the school wall with his arms (which are much bigger than either Will's or his friend's), to force his way into their conversations and games when they've told him that they just want to be left alone.  My rule-following Will has been struggling to understand why this boy can't learn how to be nice.  While Will's determined to keep trying to teach him, I knew it was time he got some support.

I'm struggling myself with what to think and how to feel about these two situations.  On one hand, I know it's not my place to judge other children and their families.  I don't know either of these other boys very well, and I have no understanding of the circumstances that may have led either boy to behave the way he did.  I know it's not reasonable to place my values and high expectations for my own boys' behaviour onto others (and we all know, too, that sometimes, regardless of what a parent's expectations are, children just make some poor choices).  My own kids aren't perfect, but the mama bear in me can't stop thinking that neither of my boys would ever treat other children the way they've been treated this past week, and I can't help but want to roar.

I'm angry that we have to deal with the cost and inconvenience of replacing Noah's lenses because of another child's impulsive actions.  I'm sad that Noah has to feel uncomfortable about discussing the incident with his teacher now that I'm aware of the damaged glasses (because my peace-loving boy would have been quite happy just letting the whole thing go unnoticed).  I'm outraged that my pint-sized Will and his quiet little buddy have been pushed about by a much bigger, rougher boy, and heartbroken that at seven years old, Will has to come to me so seriously and maturely after school, to ask me to please help him figure out the best way to handle his situation, because he's never been bullied before and is not sure what to do (his words).

The letters I wrote to the school were not angry; they were calm, reasonable, and non-judgemental, and I feel confident that the boys' wonderful teachers will deal with the issues effectively.   The black and white words on the page, though, were a front for the red I'm seeing today.  I'm aware that life is full of unpleasant situations that we have to deal with; adversity helps us all to grow and to learn, and sadly, those hard lessons begin in childhood.  I know I can't raise my boys in a bubble to protect them, nor can I always control the interactions they have with others.  Honestly, though, this is one of those times when I sure wish I could.  The school of hard knocks isn't any fun at all.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sweet heart lunchbox treats (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)

When Valentine's Day falls on a weekday, and time for spending with those dearest to us is in short supply, a special homemade treat tucked inside a lunchbox or work bag is a really nice way to say "I love you".  All three of my wonderful guys will find one of these chocolate granola hearts in their backpacks on Tuesday;  it's a nutritious, not-too-sweet but still scrumptious treat that I can feel really good about sending with them.

The idea for this recipe came from Jamie Schultz of this lunch rox! (which is an informative and really creative site to visit for fun, healthy lunchbox ideas for kids).  I modified Jamie's recipe in several ways, both to accommodate Will's food sensitivities and to comply with our school's no nuts policy, and I used silicone heart-shaped molds to form the treats, rather than making them in the traditional bar form.  Based on the rave reviews I received last week when I made a test batch of regular bars, I think all three of my guys will be smiling on Tuesday!

Heart-shaped Chocolate Granola Bars

1/4 cup chopped dark chocolate (I used part of an Endangered Species Supreme Dark Chocolate bar, 72% cocoa)

1/4 cup Sunbutter (I like the all-natural one with sunflower seeds as the only ingredient)

1/4 cup rice milk

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp unpasteurized honey

1 cup + 2 tbsp certified pure gluten-free oats

2 tbsp chia seeds

Melt the first three ingredients together in a saucepan on the stove over low heat, stirring often.  Remove the mixture from the heat, and stir in the vanilla and honey until smooth.

Add the oats and chia seeds; stir until everything is well-combined. (The mixture should be fairly dryish looking; if it isn't, add more oats a tablespoon at a time, stirring after each addition.)

Spoon the chocolate oat mixture into silicone heart molds (I used 8 of them) and press down with your fingertips to get a smooth heart shape.  Place the heart molds into the freezer and chill for 10 minutes, or until the granola hearts are set.

Pop the chocolate granola hearts out of the molds, serve and enjoy! 

(For regular granola bars, you can press the granola mixture into a small, parchment-paper lined glass rectangular container. Place it to set in the freezer, and then slice the granola mixture into bars.  You could also use a mini muffin tin as a mold.)

These easy-to-make, protein-rich granola hearts store very well in the freezer, making them an ideal snack to pack anytime.  I hope your family loves them as much as mine does!

Happy Valentine's Day!  I wish you all a happy heart this week.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Double take

Last evening I spent a long time lovingly preparing what I thought was a delicious dinner for my family.  (It was a healthy shepherd's pie made with turkey and lots of veggies, and I'll post the recipe sometime soon because if you live with reasonable people who don't think dishes with food groups mixed together are "disgusting", then your family will probably love it!)  When I placed the boys' plates in front of them, there began a solid hour of drama that would have made Martin Scorcese proud.  Noah groaned at regular intervals like a wounded animal, and slumped all over his chair like a rag doll, and Will first cheerfully ignored his dinner for 30 minutes, and then, when he realized he wasn't escaping the meal unscathed,  began wailing hysterically at a bazillion decibal level, "HOW many BITES do I HAVE to EAT????". 

I tried my best to ignore all of this ridiculousness, to just enjoy my own meal and engage in pleasant conversation with my dear husband (who did, in fact, very much enjoy the shepherd's pie!).  I was successful for about 45 minutes, and then, in one of my not-so-proud parenting moments, I lost it, and got really angry at the boys, and told them, among other things, that they were selfish and rude.  I complained that I had put a lot of effort into the evening meal, and that it would be nice if they could think about someone other than themselves for a change.  I also sarcastically thanked them for ruining my night (because I, too, have a flair for the dramatic).

Once the boys were released from their torturous dinner table prison, the two of them, of their own initiative (because I wasn't speaking to them at that point), started gathering up a bunch of red, white, and pink craft supplies.  For the next hour and a half, they worked quietly and diligently at creating these beautiful Valentines to mail to their great-grandmas...

...and made a complete liar out of me.  Darn those wonderful boys. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


In our house, most weekday mornings involve the reading of the local newspaper at the breakfast table.  Noah and Will like poring over the hockey statistics (no surprise there!) and I like finding interesting stories (usually ones about fascinating science discoveries or people doing good deeds) to share and talk about with my boys.  Yesterday, a local teenager made my morning when I read about her wonderful idea to make the most of the extra day we all have this month.

Madi MacIntyre, a 17 year old high school student, was talking with her family about what to do with the leap day on February 29th when it dawned on her that having an extra day is not always a happy occasion for those who are sick, or lonely, or struggling in some way.  She decided to find ways to donate 29 of something every day in the month of February -- 29 dollars to a charity, 29 cans of food to the food bank, 29 minutes of time to someone who needs it, and so on -- and she's asking others to consider giving 29 of something in whatever way they can this month, too.  Her idea is selfless and inspiring, and it's incredible to think of the difference we could make in our communities if we all took 29 leaps.

The boys and I embraced this idea enthusiastically, and since we read Madi's story, we've been brainstorming ways in which we could contribute 29 of something ourselves.  Some of the possible good deeds we've thought of include bringing 29 homemade muffins to the boys' school for kids who haven't had breakfast, spending 29 minutes reading with younger children who are having difficulty at school, taking 29 minutes to make Valentines to mail to the boys' great-grandmas, and making 29 more cat toys to bring to the local animal shelter.  I look forward to hearing what other ideas the boys come up with this month, and to working with them to complete as many of these acts of kindness as we can.

It's teenagers like Madi who make me feel very hopeful about the future of our world.  If you would like to learn more about Madi's movement, or are considering taking 29 leaps of your own, you can visit her website at www.29leaps.com .  Pass it on -- by sharing and participating in this lovely idea, together we can fill many hearts with joy this month.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Super smoothies

I've been mixing up and enjoying a lot of smoothies lately, mostly because they're an easy and delicious way to consume a variety of healthy foods and nutrients in one go, but also because I recently bought a Magic Bullet and I have a strange fascination with pulverizing things in it.


I was inspired to start making green smoothies after reading Angela Liddon's recipe at ohsheglows.  (Angela is a baker of all things healthy and a delightfully honest blogger who shares scrumptious vegan recipes on her site.  I highly recommend taking a peek at the link!)  I'll admit I was a little hesitant at first about adding handfuls of spinach or kale to a smoothie -- they make it look so... green! -- but after my first sip I was hooked.  The greens blend in really nicely with the other flavours of fruits and nuts in the drink, and together these foods provide a healthy dose of vitamins, protein, fibre, and antioxidants.

I started with Angela's great recipe for a Green Monster Smoothie and began experimenting with different nut butters and add-ins.  This particular smoothie uses cashew butter and mango along with banana and spinach, and it is really yummy!

To make this super smoothie, you'll need:

1 cup unsweetened almond milk
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp cashew butter
2 handfuls of organic baby spinach
half a mango, peeled and diced
1 frozen ripe banana

Place all ingredients in the order given in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Pour smoothie into a glass and enjoy!

If you're not familiar with chia seeds, they're a really powerful energy food.  Though they're tiny in size, the seeds are packed full of omega-3s, fibre, iron, calcium and magnesium.  Chia seeds are great blended in smoothies, sprinkled on salads or oatmeal, or used in baking recipes.  (Fun fact:  If you grew up in the 70s and 80s like I did, you may have even used chia seeds to grow your own pet!)


Smoothies like this green one make a wonderful breakfast or snack drink; they're quick and easy to make, portable, and there are endless tasty combinations of fruits, veggies, and nut butters to try.  If you've never had a green smoothie before, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by how good they are!  If you're already a regular smoothie drinker, please share your favourite flavours with us in the comments section below.  Cheers!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Love notes treasure hunt

Each year as Valentine's Day approaches, I like to think up fun little ways to remind my wonderful boys that I love them.  One of Noah and Will's favourite activities for special occasions like birthday parties has always been treasure hunting; the excitement of finding clues and little objects that I've carefully hidden around the house for them always puts huge grins on their faces.  A love notes treasure hunt seemed the perfect thing, then, to help celebrate this coming Valentine's Day.

With a few simple supplies and a bit of creative planning ahead of time, it's easy to orchestrate a seek-and-find adventure that is sure to make young hearts happy.

Get ready...

In advance of when you plan to have the treasure hunt, decide how many clues you want to have and where you would like to hide each one.  (I find it helps to write this information down in a numbered list to refer to when writing the clues.)  Save the best hiding place for the end!

On a heart-shaped paper cutout or a little Valentine card (we have lots left over from previous years that I plan to use), write a message for each of your children, describing something you think is really special about him or her, and provide a hint about where to look for the next clue.

Continue writing love note clue cards for each child for every one of your hiding spots.  The last card can simply contain a Happy Valentine's Day message. 

Get set...

On the day of the treasure hunt, set aside the first clue cards to give to your children, and, when no one is watching, hide all of the other cards in your previously chosen spots.  If you want to add another little element of surprise to the hunt, you can hide a small heart-themed prize with each clue (think pencils, stickers, erasers, heart-shaped dark chocolates, etc.). 

Wrap the final treasure hunt prize for each child in heart-themed paper and hide the prizes in your last hiding spot.  (For prizes, I like to give each of the boys a new book or game, something that we can all enjoy together once the treasure hunt is over.)


When you're all ready, gather up your young treasure hunters and start them off running by giving them their first clue cards.  Share their excitement as they race from clue to clue, and enjoy their smiles as they read all of your heartfelt love notes to them.

For very young children, you can create a smaller version of the treasure hunt by simply hiding a specific number of cut-out paper hearts around an area of your home.  When the children find all of the hearts, they can trade them in for their prizes.  Kids of all ages love looking for hidden treasure!

Valentine's Day provides us all with a special chance to share sentiments we often feel, but might not often enough express.  If you're looking for another way to show your children how much they mean to you, you might enjoy making these mailboxes with them -- you'll then have somewhere special to send them love notes all year long!