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, July 28, 2012

Hole in the ground

When people come home after being away on a trip, generally they expect to find some things that need attention around their home: flower gardens that need weeding, pets that need a little extra TLC after being without their family for awhile, mail that needs sorting through, a lawn that needs mowing.  When Matt and the boys and I pulled into our driveway last week after returning from our vacation, we found more than just that, though.  A section of our front lawn was torn up, our fence gate had gone missing, a bunch of our hosta plants had been ripped out from along the side of the house, and there was dust and dirt absolutely everywhere.  Immediately our vehicle was filled with the sounds of gasping and shrieking, but not in shock or fear like you might expect.  We screeched and hooted and laughed and clapped our hands with joy, because behind our missing gate, we knew we would find this:

Matt and I made the decision this spring to have an inground pool put in our yard.  For the past two summers, we've set up a temporary above-ground pool for the boys to enjoy, and after seeing how much use it got (because we spend a lot of our summer at home), we knew that a permanent pool would be a worthwhile investment.  When we made arrangements with a local pool company for installation, it appeared that the start date might coincide with the time we were away, so throughout our trip, every now and then one of the four of us would say, "I wonder if they're working on our pool...".  I braced the boys on the way home for the possibility that our yard would still look as it did when we left (you never know what kind of obstacles or delays might be encountered in these kinds of projects and I didn't want them to be disappointed) but the sight of our grass-less side yard and gaping fence as we drove up to the house did not disappoint at all. 

We are so excited for the pool to be completed and for all of the summer fun it will allow us to enjoy right here at home in the years to come.  It's hard for Noah and Will to wait now that the pool is officially in the ground; both of them have sat on the swings in our yard wistfully staring at the empty pool several times in the past few days, and I can almost see the future crystal blue water shimmering in their eyes.  (Soon, boys, soon!)  New sod is going in early next week, and the liner is supposed to be installed on Wednesday (sadly, too late for the cousins who are arriving later this afternoon to visit for a few days to enjoy).  The second half of our summer will be spent splashing and playing together in the cool water and soaking up the sun poolside in our own backyard.  I'll admit, it's hard for me to wait, too.     

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Family road trip (Up north)

I am writing this post in the car in the final leg of an eight hour drive.  The ride has been quiet today; I think Matt and the boys and I are all feeling contentedly tired and silently reflective in an appreciative way.  We're on our way home after a full and fantastic week-and-a-half long family vacation, and despite the fact that I have to keep looking up from my notebook every thirty seconds or so to keep me from getting carsick while I write, I feel a compelling need to capture the many happy moments of our trip while they are still glowing warmly in my memory, before the miles of highway we're travelling once again put too big a space between me and some of the people and places I love most.

After spending a few beautifully sunny days enjoying the beaches and family-friendly attractions of Traverse City, Michigan last week, Matt and the boys and I headed to good old Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to visit my family.  It is always a pleasure to come "home" again, to see the smiling faces and familiar spots that have all changed in some way since the last visit, but still somehow seem exactly the same.  I loved watching Noah and Will share big laughs with their granny over a pair of wind-up chattering teeth that my fun-loving mom had put in their room, and seeing my dad's smiling eyes that so clearly showed how glad he was to have his children and grandchildren gathered close to him once again.  I loved eating red raspberries, still warm from the sun, off the long-standing bushes in my parents' backyard, and taking the boys to the big, beautiful park on the river where I played as a child.  I loved the big family dinners in the company of my parents, my grandma, my brothers and their families, complete with Pino's sausages on the grill and Grandma D's mouthwatering baking.  I loved joining in with my old community to celebrate Rotaryfest downtown, and hearing the moving sounds of my brother Frank performing with his band on the festival stage.  I loved playing family rounds of Bananagrams (and I think my earlier practising worked because I actually won a respectable number of games against my mom and dad!), and laughing my head off with Matt and my parents around the patio table one evening while we listened to old songs we looked up on YouTube and found wildly funny.  It was wonderful to spend time with everyone, to fill my heart up with happy family moments to draw from when I miss all of these people in the months to come.

Once we left Sault Ste. Marie, Matt and the boys and I headed about forty minutes east to St. Joseph's Island, one of the favourite "camp" locations (which is what we Northern Ontarians call a cottage) for many Soo locals.  The four of us spent the last couple of days of our trip visiting my dear hometown friend Stephanie and her two delightful boys at their newly-acquired summer home, a beautiful and welcoming retreat on the treed and rocky shores of Lake Huron.  Steph and her family have lived in Vancouver for years, and our opportunities to visit with each other are rare, so it was such a treat to have this time with them.  The grown-ups enjoyed catching up in sun-soaked recliners by the water and over simple but delicious dinners eaten outside, and the four boys (who became fast friends) spent hours exploring and having adventures like Northern kids did when I was a child:  building forts in the woods, climbing over rocks, hunting for crayfish and minnows, and swimming like fish themselves in the vast lake's rolling waves.  Noah and Will haven't had a lot of these kinds of experiences in their childhoods, both because of where they're growing up and because times have changed since I was a kid and letting your children loose in a bush to build forts sadly seems somehow dangerous and frowned upon these days.  It made me really happy to see them enjoying a freer, "wilder" kind of life for awhile, with the boys of my good friend (who were so well-matched personality-wise with Noah and Will) to keep them company.  Will summed up his experience perfectly as we drove away from Steph's camp on our way back home:  "I learned something about being at a camp.  You get a lot more cuts on you than you had when you came, and you have a lot more fun and adventure than at home."  What a wonderful adventure we've all had!


I drifted off to sleep easily and peacefully in the familiar comfort of my own bed after a week and a half away.  But when I was jolted awake in the early morning hours by searing streaks of lightning and claps of thunder that cracked and rumbled so loudly I could feel them in my chest, I found myself imagining what the storm would look like moving across the endless expanse of sky above Lake Huron, and remembering how different and less threatening the thunder had sounded only a few days earlier when hearing it through the walls of my mom and dad's house.  You can take the girl out of the North, but the North and all of the wonderful people and memories it holds will always be firmly rooted in the depths of this girl's heart.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Great Lakes

I woke up this morning with the sweet sound of water gently lapping the sandy shore of Lake Michigan right outside my window.  Matt and the boys and I made the almost seven hour drive from Waterloo to Traverse City yesterday to enjoy a few days of vacation on the beach here before heading on to visit my family in Sault Ste. Marie, and from the moment my feet hit the warm water in the late afternoon, I felt at peace and at home.  I grew up with the three largest of the Great Lakes surrounding me, and the water of these giants and all of the wonderful memories and feelings it evokes are as much a part of me as my heart.   When I come back to these familiar shores and dive into the beautifully clear lakes, I am alive, and whole, and happy.  The north has never been "home" for Noah and Will, but our visits to the Great Lakes every summer have made their majestic bays seem like old, welcoming friends to the boys as well.  The water calls to them just like it does to me....

These times spent together as a family by the shores of my childhood lakes are some of the most cherished moments of summer for all four of us.  I'm so glad I get to wake up tomorrow morning and enjoy it all again.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


The little blue bike sits untouched and lonely in the dark garage.  It thinks back to several years ago, when a boy would come every day to take it out exploring, would push his feet furiously on its pedals to make the wheels spin faster and faster, making it seem sometimes as if both boy and bike would lift off into the warm air above them.  It was a wonderful feeling of exhilaration and freedom, and the bike longs to know it again.  But day after day, no one comes. 

Ever since we removed the training wheels from his bike a few summers ago in an effort to teach him how to cycle without them, Will has become a very reluctant rider.  Matt and I have spent months over three summers now trying to convince Will to give it another go, to come out and practise regularly so that he will gain confidence and come to love the feeling of zooming along smoothly on two wheels, but Will has remained stubbornly opposed to the idea.  He has given us many reasons for not wanting to ride:  that he just doesn't feel like it right now, that he's just too busy, that he can run just as fast as he can move on a bike so he doesn't need to ride.  While we've been able to coax him out practising enough times over the past few years to get him riding around the block on his own, each session has been painful for all of us, filled with protests and frustration and tears.  I've been so puzzled by Will's opposition to learning this skill, when by nature he is so full of energy, so focused on physical activity, and so eager to develop his independence.

The past few months, Will has flat-out refused to ride his bike at all.  When I tried to find out why in a kind and quiet conversation with him one day, he looked at me with worry in his deep brown eyes and told me he was afraid of breaking his arm and needing a cast if he fell.  I'm not sure exactly where this idea came from, but I have experience now in helping Will work through these kinds of anxieties, which are not new to him.  I've been using the strategies we've been taught to help him, and have had him find facts that would let him realize that most of the time when people ride bikes they don't break their arms.  I thought that if Will had a more balanced view of the situation, it would allow him to let go of that worry a little so he would be able to give his bike another spin.  But still, often when the subject of bike riding has come up in recent weeks, Will has yet again mentioned with great concern the possibility that he could break his arm.

A few evenings ago, Matt got an email message from one of his brothers, telling us that his wife was in the hospital after having an accident on her bike earlier that day.  Her front wheel had got caught in a streetcar track; she flew off her bicycle and landed hard on her wrists and arms.  Her right wrist now has two broken bones, and her left arm has a broken forearm bone and a badly dislocated elbow as a result.  She has had to have surgery to have various plates and screws added to her arms to stabilize them, and she is in casts that go up past her elbows on both arms to keep movement to a minimum for the next while.  (I know, doesn't that sound awful?  Poor girl.)   

It freaks me out more than a little bit that out of all of the injuries Will could have imagined to keep him from bike riding, he has consistently worried about breaking his arm, and now a family member has broken both of hers doing that very activity.  It's as though my always keenly observant and perceptive boy could see exactly what was going to happen before it did.  One thing is clear:  when the details of this sad accident reach Will's ever-listening ears, that little blue bike in the garage is going to be waiting a long, long time for a rider.

We're very sorry to hear you're so badly hurt, M.  Sending good healing thoughts and lots of love your way.  Hope you feel better soon.  xo

Thursday, July 12, 2012

From the grill: Wild salmon and shrimp

I absolutely love eating in the summer.  Our weekly local produce box and trips to the farmers' market inspire colourful, healthy meals made with incredible tasting fresh foods, and it seems that every week something new comes into season for us to get excited about and enjoy.  Lately the four of us have been making a family excursion to our favourite specialty food shop on Saturday mornings, where we all have fun browsing and choosing items to accompany our fresh veggies for weekend dinners.  Matt and I get great pleasure out of working together in the late afternoons to create something for all of us that looks wonderful and tastes even better!

This past Saturday we were excited to find fresh wild salmon at the fish counter.  In season now, wild salmon is a tasty and healthy choice for dinner.  It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and compared to farmed salmon, it is lower in toxins, naturally pink in colour, and does not carry with it the environmental impact that salmon farming practices do.  Wild salmon is easy to prepare on the grill, too -- Matt dressed ours simply with fresh parsley and lemon slices, and paired it with some grilled shrimp to make dinner a real treat!

Grilled Wild Salmon and Shrimp

two wild salmon fillets
a dozen large, fresh raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
several tablespoons of olive oil
two tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs (we used parsley, basil, and oregano)
one clove of garlic, minced
one lemon (thinly slice half of it and leave the other half intact)
sea salt and pepper, to taste

About an hour before you plan to eat, place a shallow layer of olive oil in a dish.  Add about a tablespoon of chopped fresh parsley, basil, and oregano and a minced clove of garlic to the oil and stir to combine.  Add shrimp to the dish; toss to coat shrimp with olive oil mixture.  Set dish in the refrigerator for about an hour, so the shrimp can absorb the other flavours.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.  Brush both sides of each salmon fillet with olive oil.  Place fillets on the grill with the skin side down.  Sprinkle each fillet with chopped fresh parsley, sea salt and pepper to taste, and then place lemon slices on top.   Grill for 7 minutes on the first side, then remove lemon slices and set them aside.  Carefully slide a spatula in between the flesh and the skin of each fillet.  Leave the skin on the grill, and flip the flesh of each fillet over so that it is once again sitting on top of the skin to cook the second side.  Place lemon slices back on top of fillets and grill for another 6 or 7 minutes, or until salmon is cooked through.

While the salmon is cooking, thread the shrimp onto skewers.  (We use stainless steel ones; if you use wooden ones, be sure to soak them in water first.)  In the last few minutes of cooking time for the salmon, place the shrimp skewers on the grill and cook for 2 minutes on the first side.  Flip skewers and cook shrimp for another 2 minutes.  Remove shrimp from the grill and squeeze fresh lemon juice over them.  Serve alongside salmon fillets.

This wild salmon and shrimp duo was scrumptious along with a brown and wild rice medley and a salad with lettuce, spinach, pea shoot greens, loads of veggies, and a simple homemade lemon vinaigrette.  What's not to love about that?   

Monday, July 9, 2012


Yesterday evening the weather was just perfect for sitting outside, so Matt and the boys and I decided to use our outdoor table to play a few rounds of Bananagrams together.  (We figured since we're going to visit my mom and dad soon that we should get practising our skills in this word tile game, and hopefully avoid being shamefully defeated time and time again by the Bananagram pros like last summer!  Look out, Mom and Dad!)   Noah and I went outside ahead of Matt and Will and started setting up the tiles.  Alas, as I was shuffling them around, one of the tiles managed to slip down the umbrella hole in the centre of the table, and milliseconds after that, we heard it click as it landed on gravel.  By some crazy fluke, the tile had also managed to fall sideways through a space between two boards in the deck floor and had completely vanished from sight. 

You might be thinking this is not a big deal, because we could just go under the deck and retrieve the tile, but let me show you how much clearance there is between our deck floor and the ground:

We are all small sized in this family, but none of us is that small!

Do not fear, though, friends.  We happen to have experience in under-the-deck rescue missions. Will lost a cherished Lego part in the same place a couple of years ago and we already had that successful retrieval under our belts, so Noah and I quickly sprang into action.  I crawled under the patio table on my hands and knees to see if I could locate the precise whereabouts of the tile.  (In case you're wondering, it was a letter T tile; rather crucial for the game, I think, especially if you need to make the word "qat" when you get stuck with a q and no u.)  Noah ran inside to get a flashlight to help make it easier for me to see in the darkness under the deck boards.  Matt noticed me lying under the table from inside (I'm guessing he was wondering what bizarre new variation of Bananagrams we were working on), so he came outside, and, after hearing what happened, asked if we needed the specialized equipment.  When I said that indeed we did, he disappeared briefly and came back with this:

A metre stick with a bit of hockey tape on the end = highly specialized equipment.

When I spotted the tile (a very difficult feat, I might add, since I only had about a half-inch viewing window between the deck boards), I took the magic metre stick, carefully pushed it through the space in between the boards without disturbing the tape, and pushed the sticky end onto the face of the letter tile so that I could pick it up.

Are you about to cheer now because all I have left to do is pull the tile up through the boards and I will have saved the day?  Well, that would be wonderful, except that it's not possible to pull a one-inch tile up through a half-inch hole when it's face-up.  But don't worry!  While we are small in this family, we are also very smart!  I slowly tilted the metre stick on an angle from the top of the deck so as not to dislodge the tile, and then pushed it as far out as I could towards the deck's edge.  Matt ran down to the lawn and reeeeeached under the deck as far as he could from the side.... and managed to grab the runaway tile with the tips of his fingers!

Try to contain your excitement.  I know it's hard after reading such a thrilling tale of suspense and adventure!

Whoever says word games are for nerds has never played Bananagrams at our house.  You need to be nothing short of a superhero to play with this family.  

Friday, July 6, 2012

1001 things to love about summer

We're only one week into summer vacation, but it's amazing, really, how quickly and effortlessly we've turned away from busy schedules and structured days and embraced relaxation and endless hours to fill with whatever fun we can dream of around here.  While the routines of most of the year are predictable and comforting in some ways, it's easy to fall into automatic pilot mode when there is so much to do, to just keep plowing ahead without taking time to stop and enjoy the little moments as we live them.   For us, the summer months are very different than the rest of the year, and in that uniqueness I seem to notice so many more of the simple details that make life beautiful.  Every day this past week, I've often felt so grateful just to be here, to be alive and breathing and experiencing the many wonderful things that the summer months bring:

Sleeping in every morning.

(Yes, 7:00am is "sleeping in" at our house.  It's been glorious!)

Not having to rush the boys through every step of the making beds-eating breakfast-brushing teeth-getting dressed morning routine (which means that there is lots of time to look for, and even laugh about, Will's shorts when he somehow loses them in the five minutes between when I laid them out on his bed and when he went to put them on).

The shorts were finally located on the bathroom rug (where they were very well-camouflaged) after 20 minutes of us tearing apart Will's room looking for them this morning.  I wonder how the sneaky shorts got there?

Buying a silly hat for Will when he fell in love with it at the party store where we were having fun looking for invitations for Noah's summer birthday. 

How could I not buy it for him when he looks so cute in it?

Snacking on fresh green peas in the pod...

and sweet, juicy cherries.  Mmmm.

Having the boys around home for lunch, rather than packing lunches the night before to send to school.  It's so nice to have such good helpers and such cheerful company mid-day!

Noah made all the toast for today's lunch, and Will took great care and time to set the table the way he wanted to: "restaurant style", with the utensils all wrapped up in the napkins.  :)

Water fights and all the crazy laughter that comes with them.

Beautiful butterflies on garden blooms.

Homemade popsicles...

and the funny faces that result when kids use the popsicles to draw mustaches and beards on themselves.

Catching up on magazine reading in the welcoming shade of a friendly tree.

Having time to sit and think.... or tell fortunes, as Will likes to do.

Apparently my future involves moving to the countryside and eating sushi, and Noah is going to be an Olympic swimmer.

Delicious family dinners cooked on the grill.

Every season has its share of simple, yet wonderful moments like these, but sometimes we're just too busy to see and enjoy them.  Summer lets us all slow down and be mindful of how marvellous it really is to be living this life, right here, right now.  As the sunny weeks of summer roll on and this "novel" way of life begins to seem like a routine, I will try to remember how fantastic it feels to find new joy in everyday things, and to truly appreciate this short, sweet season while it lasts.