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, September 29, 2012

Lessons in colour

I happened to glance at a calendar this week and was hit with the sudden and unbelievable realization that it is almost October already.  September seems to have disappeared in the blink of an eye. As fallen leaves have been swirling madly all around me on the sidewalk, propelled by gusts of wind that blow with determination this time of year, my mind, too has been spinning in a whirlwind of activity in recent weeks, making me hardly aware of the passage of time.  Everything is busy: family and home life, school and extra-curricular activities, and my own creative projects, the ideas for which seem to be coming to me fast and furiously these days.  The constant movement creates a humming that becomes very difficult to ignore. Even the nights have no longer been restful; in the dark hours I close my eyes, but behind them I am mulling over thoughts and solving problems in the form of crazy dreams while tossing and turning for hours on end. I love the energy and motivation that comes from all of this thinking and organizing and figuring out; sometimes it's a catalyst for making wonderful things happen in life and the source of deep satisfaction.  But I don't love when I start to feel as though my head might just explode....

I think many people find the early fall an especially busy time.  We start running the day after Labour Day and the wheel we're on just seems to keep spinning faster and faster as the weeks go by and we always find more that needs to be done.  How quickly we forget what summer taught us about how good it feels to just relax sometimes.  But fall has her own lessons, if we care to listen to them; her trees are filled with leaves of breathtaking colour that call to our hearts to stop and notice, even when our minds want to tell us to keep our heads down and plow ahead.  

Today I listened to the leaves.  When a sunny Saturday morning lay before me with no scheduled activities, I chose not to fill it with items I could check off my to-do list; instead I gathered up my three guys and we headed to a favourite local trail that meanders through some woods by the river.  After the first ten minutes or so (during which Will, who was not sure he liked my plan, complained about being tired and itchy and unimpressed), everyone grew quiet.  We spent an hour and a half on that trail, soaking up the morning sun and the glorious reds and oranges and yellows that glowed happily from the trees.  We noticed birds of all kinds, sniffed cheerful yellow snapdragons, and watched dozens of large, fuzzy brown and black caterpillars inch across our path.  (We also learned, when Will let one of these caterpillars crawl across his finger, that they bite!)  Our lungs filled with fresh air, and the beautiful landscape filled our hearts with peace and joy. 


I wonder why we so often forget how simple it is to find this quiet happiness, even in the middle of our busiest seasons.  I'm grateful for the beautiful leaves and their reminder that in nurturing the parts of ourselves that crave calm and meaningful reflection, we reveal our own most vibrant and lovely colours.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Asking for your votes...

This is just a quick little Friday afternoon post to ask a favour of you!

I am participating in the Circle of Moms Top 25 Canadian Moms 2012 blogger contest.  If you enjoy what you read here in this space, I would love it if you could go to this link and vote for Pocketfuls.  (You will need to look for me in the "Pending Appoval" section for now, as I just entered the contest today.)  You may vote once every 24 hours from now until October 11, so please return and vote often if you can.

Thanks so very much for your support -- it means a lot to me.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Slow-cooker beef and vegetable stew

The boys' swim practice schedule this year calls for us to eat dinner early three nights a week (and by early, I mean eating by 4:30 pm at the absolute latest.)  It's a little challenging some days to deal with school agendas and notes, unpacking lunch bags, making sure the boys complete their homework, and getting a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table in the hour and fifteen minutes I have once the boys get home from school.  This is where the slow cooker becomes a good friend in the kitchen.  At least once a week, I plan a meal that I can prepare in the morning when I'm not so rushed.  Once the prep work is done, dinner simmers away all day, making the house smell wonderfully inviting and allowing me to simply dish out a bowl of goodness once it's time for everyone to eat.

This beef and vegetable stew recipe is one of our family's favourite slow-cooker creations.  The combination of tender morsels of beef and flavourful vegetables is hearty, nutritious, and satisfying, and it warms everyone up on a chilly fall day.

Slow-Cooker Beef and Vegetable Stew

1 pound stewing beef, cut into one-inch cubes (I use pasture-raised beef we order every fall from a local organic farm) 
1 tbsp olive oil
4 red potatoes (unpeeled), scrubbed and cut into one-inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and cut into one-inch pieces
half a red onion, chopped
1 sweet red bell pepper, chopped
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 cup red wine
1 cup water
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
sea salt and pepper, to taste
2 dried bay leaves
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Early in the day, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the beef cubes and brown them all over. 
While the meat is browing, chop the potatoes, carrots, onion, and bell pepper and place them in the slow cooker.  Add the minced clove of garlic.  Once the meat is browned, add the beef to the slow cooker as well.
Pour in the red wine, water, and balsamic vinegar.  Add sea salt and pepper to taste, and stir the mixture carefully to combine all of the ingredients.  Toss the bay leaves into the slow cooker, put the lid on, and simmer the mixture for 7 to 8 hours on low.  In the last half hour of cooking time, add the chopped fresh parsley to the slow cooker and stir it in gently.  Place the lid back on and cook for the remaining time.
Serve the stew in shallow bowls.  We like to enjoy ours with some crusty rolls (Will loves the little gluten-free ones we get from Organic Works Bakery) and a mixed green salad.

Monday, September 24, 2012

School field trip (and a dancing tractor video)

When you grow up in a more northern Ontario place like Sault Ste. Marie, school field trips of the outdoor variety involve going out into the woods and learning skills that will either help you to get around in six feet of snow, or to manage should you ever find yourself lost among the gazillion-and-three trees that surround your city.  As a middle-school aged child, I remember learning to snowshoe, to use a compass properly, and to identify the footprints and know the eating habits of various wild animals (so we would understand which ones to stay clear of if we didn't want to be eaten ourselves).  One year, we even completed an entire winter survival unit, in which we were taught how to build a quinzhee (basically a glorified snow fort), and then we actually went out into the forest as a class, built said quinzhees, and slept in them overnight.  (I am not making this up.)

Photo credit:  M. M. Felts
I have never heard of students in Noah and Will's school going on these kinds of field trips, probably because the outdoor educational opportunities in a more southern city surrounded by farms are quite different than those in a northern city surrounded by lakes and woods. (Or maybe because these days, it is frowned upon to send children out into the forest to sleep in a hollowed-out snow pile with the wolves.  I don't know.)  This past week, though, I had the opportunity to join Will and his class on a different (and equally exciting) field trip to the International Plowing Match in Roseville.
We never actually saw any of the plowing matches (they were off in another area from where we were), but we did spend several hours walking around the enormous collection of tents and displays about rural life, and everyone had a great time.   We were entertained by a dog show filled with exciting tricks, got up close to real live horses, cows, sheep, and cute little piglets, checked out rows and rows of antique farm equipment, and watched bees busy making honey.  There was mud (oh, the mud -- it had poured rain the day before and the entire site was like a real live pig wallow), and Will, who is not too fond of squishy things, kept making gagging noises as he tried to tiptoe through the muck with his most disgusted face on, and decided that most likely he will not be a farmer.  
He did reconsider once he got to sit on some tractors, though.
One of the highlights of the trip was the dancing tractor demonstration, and I thought I'd share a little video of it here to add a bit of lightheartedness to your Monday.  I dare you not to smile as you watch it.
It's interesting to me that my happy childhood memories of forest adventure field trips (yes, even the one involving quinzhee building!) are so different from the wonderful memories the boys are making as they visit pumpkin farms and apple cider mills and watch barn raising demonstrations.  I'm glad I have the opportunity to share some of these new experiences with Will and Noah; in some ways, it's like getting to be a kid all over again.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Food allergies in the classroom -- what is the answer?

I read an article in our local paper this morning about a highly emotionally charged issue, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since.  Parents of some students at a school in our region are outraged after the school has banned all dairy and egg products from kindergarten classrooms to ensure the safety of a young child starting at the school next week who has anaphylactic reactions to both foods.  At a meeting this week, parents were given a list of allowable foods to pack in their children's lunch boxes, and because dairy and egg products are found in many kinds of packaged foods, there are restrictions on what brands of bread, lunchmeats, soups, crackers, cookies, pastas, and spreads are allowed as well.  The parents were also told that if they send unsafe foods to school, those foods would be confiscated.  The concept of banning foods in schools is not a new one; most schools I know of have been nut-free for years, but this particular food ban is more far-reaching and complex, and parents, while they say they understand the severity of the child's allergies, are frustrated and angry about the restrictions being placed on what their children can eat at school.  I feel uneasy thinking about this situation from either side of the fence.

My family's experiences with food sensitivities allow me to be sympathetic both to the allergic child and his or her family, and to the families whose children share a classroom with that child.  While my son Will's reactions to various foods he's sensitive to are thankfully mild compared to anaphylaxis, I think I can appreciate the feelings and concerns of the parents of that allergic child, and their desire to protect their child from harm.  It must be absolutely frightening for them to send their child to school every day, away from their watchful eyes and judgement, and to trust that others will do what they should to make sure that their child comes home safe and healthy at the end of the afternoon.  I imagine that having a dairy and egg ban in place in their child's classroom would give them enough peace of mind to let their child go and have the regular school experiences he or she deserves to have (though I can't imagine the worry ever completely goes away).  My heart breaks for that family when I think about how I would feel if it were my child who caused the school to ban several foods from the classroom.  Knowing how angry other parents were about the situation and worrying that my child would be singled out as the target for other children's frustration about not being able to eat cheese or yogourt at school anymore would make for a very anxious and unhappy feeling about my child's first years in the education system.  It's sad that this family (and I'm sure there are others in schools everywhere who are in a similar situation) is faced with such negativity when the fact that their child has allergies is completely beyond their control.

On the other hand, I can understand how parents of non-allergic children, suddenly faced with a short list of allowable (and sometimes unfamiliar) foods to pack in their children's lunch boxes, are shocked and angry (and in some cases, refusing to agree to the food ban).  I can tell you first hand, as the mom of a child who is intolerant to dairy, eggs, and gluten (as well as several other foods), that suddenly removing whole groups of foods from your child's diet and still ensuring that he is eating in a well-balanced, healthy way is no easy feat -- it requires research, lots of time (and a willingness) for experimenting and making foods from scratch at home, extra money spent on special ingredients, and creativity.  Not every family has these resources available to them, and, let's be honest, even if they did, not every family of a non-allergic child is going to want to put in the extra effort it takes to pack an allergy-friendly lunch and snacks.    When it is your own child with food issues, there is a huge motivation to do what is necessary to feed your child in a way that is both nutritious and safe, and you do it out of love.  It's a lot harder to devote that kind of time and energy to food when it's not your child's issue, and if you feel, as many of this local school's parents do, that by complying with the food bans, you're just "depriving" (their word) your kids of the foods they enjoy and need to grow.  It should also be mentioned that children with strong opinions about foods and which ones they're willing to eat (I know many of these kinds of children!) may not "like" the substitute foods that the school has suggested (such as soy yogourt and WOW butter), and some parents may not see these suggestions as suitable food choices for their family for a variety of reasons.  I can't even imagine the nightmare that will unfold in that kindergarten classroom at lunchtime in the coming weeks, where the teacher or lunch-supervisor will have to somehow patrol lunches and confiscate foods that don't comply (if they can even identify them), and small children might be hungry some days because they're not allowed to eat part of their lunch, or they don't like the unfamiliar foods that their parents who have complied with the ban have packed for them.  My head spins just thinking about it.

Gone are the days where going to school was as simple as walking out the door with your books and a sandwich and an apple for the lunch hour.  Today's schools see many, many children with severe allergies to a variety of different foods, and it's become a real challenge for those in charge to ensure the safety of all students while still respecting the rights of every family to feed their children as they see fit.  I don't envy school officials who have to make these difficult policy decisions, and honestly, I don't know what the "right" answer is in these kinds of situations.  Having spent many hours volunteering in kindergarten classrooms and seeing how hard it would be to ensure no food allergens get spread around the room when little hands touch everything, it seems clear to me that some kind of safety system needs to be put in place.  Should that be in the form of outright food bans?  If so, then how far are we willing to go in this direction?  Do we ban all foods that any child in the class has an anaphylactic reaction to?  What happens if that eliminates several whole food groups in one classroom?  How do we go about ensuring 100% compliance with these food bans, when foods like dairy and eggs are present in some form in a wide, wide variety of foods? (Without such compliance, the classroom is still not safe.) Should teachers and lunch supervisors be expected to be able to identify whether or not their students have brought allowable brands of breads and lunchmeats and other foods to school?  If we don't want to ban foods, is it possible to create separate eating areas in schools, away from educational areas (because in many schools I've been in, children eat at their desks or tables in their own classrooms), and do we try to create "allergen-free" eating zones within the rooms designated for eating?  And how do we do that without singling out allergic children and making them feel ostracized?  Do schools even have the money or space to allow for such a set up?

It's difficult when an issue as emotional and personal as food and eating weaves itself into the complex fabric of the public education system.  Sadly, I can't see any family from that local kindergarten class feeling especially positive about school next week.  What are your thoughts on this very sensitive subject?

Update:  September 22

This morning's paper published an article that shared the thoughts and feelings of the father of the little boy with the dairy and egg allergies.  According to the article, the banning of all foods containing dairy and eggs from the classroom was not the choice of the family.  The parents of the allergic boy do not want other families to have to change their eating habits; what they asked instead was that the kindergarten students eat in a different room than their classroom to reduce the risk of surfaces in the classroom being contaminated with foods that are dangerous to their child.  The mom of the little boy has also volunteered to make the food for special occasions at school, such as pancake days.  The boy's father points out that the school board's choice to implement a food ban puts the onus for a safe school environment on other parents, which he is not comfortable with, and he expresses concern that his son will now start school as the subject of a spectacle.  It's sad that a family has been placed in the centre of such controversy when a food ban was not what they even wanted. 

School boards have an extremely important responsibility to minimize risks and to ensure the safety of every child in their care, but if the policies they put into place are not ones that are accepted by the families they rely on to comply with them, then how safe are our schools for allergic children?  This is an issue that needs some more thought.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The search (or the story of missing clothes that weren't missing at all)

This week swim practices started back up for both boys;  Noah is at the pool four times a week this year, and Will is there twice.  That means six opportunities every week for their stuff to get lost somewhere in the black hole that is the university pool's men's locker room.  I get twitchy just thinking about it.

Based on the boys' previous poor records in the "making sure we have all of our stuff before we leave the change room" department, I am not so foolish as to actually believe this year will be any better.  Still, I sent them both to the pool this week with swim bags full of all of their necessary gear, carefully labelled with their names, and a hopeful reminder about mental checklists and double-checking their bags at the end of the evening.  And then I crossed my fingers and waited.

Noah is two for two so far;  both nights he's had practice, he has returned home with everything stuffed back in his bag.  (Wait, could this be a turning point?  Is this one of the positive changes that parents see in eleven year olds, an increased ability to be responsible for their own stuff?  If so, I'll gladly take it, because it will help to offset the other, not-quite-so-pleasant changes I've noticed in Noah in the few weeks since he started grade 6.  The fact that he is rolling his eyes right now at this statement while he reads it from his Playbook in his bedroom with the door closed and is muttering under his breath that I just don't understand will give you an idea of what I'm talking about.)  But Will, who had his first practice at the pool last night, got off to a bit of a rougher start in the keeping track of stuff department.

Matt was heading down the stairs to meet Will outside of the locker room after practice, once he figured Will would have had enough time to have showered and changed back into his clothes.  He was greeted on the staircase by one of Will's buddies, who was dressed and ready to go home, and Will, who indeed had his backpack with most of his swim stuff in it, but who was also still clad only in his Speedo and goggles.  Will and his friend simultaneously started shouting at Matt, "SOMEONE STOLE MY CLOTHES! / SOMEONE STOLE WILL'S CLOTHES!".  Thus began a search of epic proportions.

Now, because I wasn't at the pool last night, these next details in the story are a little fuzzy and, frankly, incomprehensible to me.  It seems that Will had put his stuff in a locker right by his friend's locker when they got to the pool.  His friend had no trouble locating his own locker and clothes afterwards, and apparently they had checked the locker they thought Will's stuff should be in, but "it wasn't there".  It would seem to me that all that they needed to do once Matt arrived to help was to check the lockers close by the one where Will thought he had put his stuff and, assuming the clothes hadn't indeed been stolen (which was very unlikely, because no university student could possibly be interested in Will's tiny size 6 children's clothing or size 13 shoes), the search should have easily turned up his things.  But apparently it didn't quite go that way.  Matt and Will and his buddy scoured every locker in half the change room with no luck, and Matt even went to speak to the people at the front desk to see if anyone had heard of any incident involving kids' clothes.  At one point during the search, a frantic Will exclaimed to Matt, "CALL MOM!  CALL MOM!".

When I heard this bit of the story last night after everyone was back home (and, I might add, wearing clothes, which eventually were found in the exact locker where Will had left them), I couldn't help but laugh.  I wondered what on earth Will thought could be accomplished by calling me at home in the middle of this crisis.  Even if I had been there, I wouldn't have been able to go into the men's locker room to find his stuff.  I asked Will what his reason was for wanting to call me, and he said, "Well, you know, you're the one in this family who is the most organized (and he used finger quotation marks when he said the word "organized", as if he were highlighting it as some rare skill I possess).  It seemed that in his moment of panic, he was clinging to the desperate hope that if he called "the organized one" in the family, maybe his missing clothes might somehow magically reappear.

I'm glad things ended well and Will had clothes to wear home from the pool last night, and I hope that this incident might make Will a little more receptive to the suggestions I often give him for being more "organized" himself. Will might regularly argue with me and point out that I'm wrong about things, but at least he recognizes my apparent superpowers in his time of need.  It's nice to be appreciated.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A girl can dream...

Every fall, once the craziness of the first few weeks of school passes and things start to settle down in my brain, I find myself inspired to change the way things look in our home.  The cooler weather and rich autumn hues in the trees outdoors make me feel like adding warmth through colours and fabrics and cozy details in our inside spaces as well, and I find myself excitedly poring over the pages of home decor magazines and websites for ideas I can use to this end.  

This past weekend, Matt and I shared a lovely little getaway, just the two of us, in the Niagara region.  We did some sightseeing, stayed in a luxurious hotel, enjoyed a fantastic grown-up dinner out with my aunt Christina and her husband James, and did a bit of shopping in the States (which is so very enjoyable when there are no children present to complain about how bored they are!).  I came out of the mall with an armload of catalogues from one of my favourite home decor stores and spent most of the drive home yesterday absorbing the beautiful rooms pictured on the glossy pages and figuring out how I could recreate some of the looks in our home. By the time we pulled into the driveway, I had all kinds of visions and mental shopping lists and plans to apply, and was convinced that in no time, our house, too, would look like it was worthy of being on the pages of a current magazine.

It must have been the fact that I had been away from my children for 24 hours that allowed me to have such lofty (you might even say ridiculous) ambitions. Somehow I had completely blocked out the very real vision of what living with two boys looks like (and the knowledge that those pristine catalogue pictures are of staged rooms that are perpetually undisturbed by the "living" that boys like to do.) In the 24 hours since I've been back home, I've come across dozens of scenes that are the exact opposite of what I had envisioned. Instead of neatly lined rows of attractive baskets, perfectly stacked books, cozily placed throws, and decorative pillows with just the right dimple pressed into them, I've discovered dented storage boxes with lids half off, newspapers separated page by page and scattered all over three rooms, throws balled up into non-descript wads and abandoned in a heap, and all the decorative pillows in the house piled into one giant mountain to provide a suitable landing spot for the jumping portion of an obstacle course. Rather than seeing bedroom doors open at an inviting angle, revealing serene places for relaxation at the end of the day, I've been faced with doors that have long, mangled strings attached to them (Noah rigged up a system for opening and closing his door from the comfort of his bed) and that open up onto rooms that look like a herd of buffalo just trampled through them. Never in a decorating magazine have I noticed dirty socks left on stairs or yesterday's clothes stuffed behind the bathroom door (both Will's doing), or Lego robotics parts strewn across a coffee table and then forgotten, or hallways littered with homemade cardboard swords fashioned from wrapping paper rolls and hockey tape, but I saw all of these things and more at our house in the past day. 

I've crashed back down to Earth now, and have realized that while I can try all I want to have a home that looks like something out of Pottery Barn, the reality of day-to-day life with boys will always look a little more like just Barn.  Luckily, I've always had a real soft spot for cute looking animals.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On turning forty

I am turning forty years old today.  Forty is usually perceived to be a "big" one, a birthday decorated with extra special good wishes from loved ones and the frequently asked question, "So how does it feel to be forty?!?".  I can tell you that really, I did not "feel" any different when I woke up this morning compared to yesterday, and the fact that there is now a number four at the front of my age sits just fine with me.  Still, when I think back to who I was even a year ago, I realize that I have already gone through a process of gradual but very significant change in the months leading up to this milestone birthday.  When I look into the secret spaces of my forty year old heart today after an important recent personal journey, I love what I see, and in that sense, forty feels wonderful.

This past year has been one of intense self-reflection for me, a soul-searching of sorts from which I have emerged feeling more alive than ever, and more aware of and truly grateful for the many blessings I experience in day-to-day life.  I've been watching my two beautiful, smart, funny boys becoming more and more their own selves of late, and that has allowed me to focus more on developing my self as a person (outside of "mom"), too.  I'm finding myself less worried about justifying to people who I am and what I do these days;  I'm finally realizing that feeling good in my own skin matters more than approval from others.  Four decades of life experience have earned me a certain amount of wisdom, and a confidence that allows me to open myself up to learning and trying more, and sharing more of myself with the outside world. I feel like there is a whole undiscovered road ahead of me to travel, and I've realized that the travelling should be undertaken in the spirit of appreciating moments as they're lived, because each one is unique and fleeting.

In recent years, I've watched good friends my age struggle with serious health issues, which has made me take note that like them, I am not invincible.  I'm very aware now that good health (both physical and mental) is something to appreciate, and that taking care of myself is just as important as taking care of others.   I've also learned that being in tune with my own true self, with what my heart needs and wants, somehow allows me to better see the vulnerabilities of others and to be understanding of their personal needs and wants, too.  I seem to "feel" more of everything these days, and that sensitivity that has somehow grown deeper with age allows me to feel profoundly connected to life and the people I get to share mine with.  That's pretty powerful forty-year-old stuff.

Like most people are known to do, I sometimes look back at the momentous experiences of my twenties and thirties with a bit of wistful longing, but it is always a short-lived reflection.  This stage of life has its joyful, exhilarating, life-changing experiences, too; there is a richness here that is ripe for the taking.  Forty may come with some more gray hair and laugh lines around the eyes, muscles that ache a little more easily, a greater sense of responsibility to family and society, and questions about whether I'm making the most of my one, no-chances-to-do-over life.  But it also comes with a deep sense of pride for everything I've experienced and become thus far, and the exciting realization that sometimes at forty, life can still feel like it is just beginning....

Monday, September 10, 2012

Kale salad (v 2.0)

On my last trip to our local farmers' market, I came home with an absolutely enormous bunch of fresh kale, and I've been looking for interesting ways to use it up ever since.  Our guinea pig has been very happy to help in this regard; she squeaks like a maniac every night after we get up from the dinner table in the hopes that someone will bring her some of the curly green leaves (and maybe a piece of carrot and a slice of apple, too!) to munch on.  The people part of our family enjoyed a similar combination of fresh veggies and fruit tonight at dinner in the form of a crunchy kale salad.  While I've posted a kale salad recipe before, this version has become my new favourite.  The combination of kale, celery, carrots, and crisp fall apples along with toasted walnuts and a homemade honey dijon vinaigrette is delicious and oh-so-good for you!

Kale Salad with Apples and Carrots

For the salad:

1 bunch of kale, washed and shredded (*if you buy an absolutely enormous bunch of kale like I did, you may not want to use the whole thing!)
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
1 stalk of celery, thinly sliced
1 apple, cored and diced
1/2 cup raw walnuts, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted

For the dressing: 

3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp raw honey
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Add the shredded kale, grated carrot, sliced celery, and diced apples to a salad bowl.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together all of the dressing ingredients.  Pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently until all of the greens, veggies, and fruit are coated.  Sprinkle the toasted walnuts over the top of the salad and serve.

If you prefer your kale leaves to be a little softer, you can make this salad an hour ahead of when you plan to eat it and let it stand in the fridge.  Leave out the walnuts when you first make the salad, though, and sprinkle them on top just before serving.

This salad is a simply perfect way to enjoy the many health benefits of kale.  Our guinea pig doesn't need any coaxing to gobble up her greens; hopefully this salad will encourage your family to do the same!

Friday, September 7, 2012

A breakdown of the first week back to school (and perhaps a mental breakdown, too)

Remember eons ago (oh, wait, it was only this past Tuesday -- it just feels like eons ago) when I wrote something about keeping the mood "light and happy" at home this fall, and about carrying summer's "peaceful glow" with us as we move into the more hectic months?  Well, I have one word to say about that today:  HA!

I started the week with really good intentions, honestly.  I was organized as organized could be when the boys started back to school this week, and I felt prepared to glide us all smoothly through the transition from summer's laid-back days to fall's hustle and bustle.  Tuesday went perfectly; everybody was cheerfully up bright and early in the morning, the boys got off to school without a hitch, and I spent the day efficiently but still calmly doing errands that I had planned on taking care of once the boys were otherwise occupied.  After school, we talked excitedly about the boys' first day, I neatly filled out several sheets of school paperwork that had been sent home, we had a pleasant dinner together and I packed nice lunches for the next morning, and everyone was tucked into bed at a reasonable hour, content with how well we had all managed the first day back into the routine.

Wednesday morning felt a little rougher, but not overly so; I expected to have a bit of difficulty adjusting to waking up earlier and on schedule every morning again.  Will dawdled a little more through breakfast and I had to hurry him along a little when it came time to getting his shoes on and tied, but we still made it to school with time to spare.  I felt like I had a lot of things to accomplish in the short hours that the boys were at school, and was becoming mildly irritated by how many times I was being interrupted by a phone call from either a duct-cleaning company or a political candidate.  After school, there were more forms to fill out, and I had to go looking in pockets for the exact change I needed to send into school for agendas, etc., because I had already used all of the small bills and coins I had in my wallet the day before to pay for similar school items.  Dinner went smoothly; Will even came to the realization that he actually likes swiss chard (!?!), but I was decidedly less keen on packing lunches again for the next day.  By the time I went to bed (still at a reasonable hour), I was feeling pretty darn tired, and not particularly looking forward to waking up early again the next morning.

On Thursday, all hell broke loose.  The boys were bickering at the breakfast table, Will ate breakfast painfully slowly, and then he had the nerve to chide me that we were going to be late when he finally showed up at the front door to get his sunscreen on ten minutes before the time the school bell rings.  My plans to go to the market first thing in the morning fell through because I ended up having to wait for chickens to show up at our house (not as weird as it sounds -- it was a delivery from the farm where we buy our meat), so that left me awkwardly lugging huge bags of carrots and peppers and kale through market crowds in the heat of the afternoon AFTER I went to the dentist.  The phone rang 4963 times to remind me to go vote or to ask me if I had any gently used clothes to donate while I was trying to deal with laundry and housework, and the 3:00 school pick-up time seemed to show up in the blink of an eye.  Between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00 I could feel steam billowing out of my ears and I thought my head might explode.  There were field trip permission forms and monies due (requiring more exact change, which involved scouring through trinket boxes and car consoles and couch cushions to find this time), a French program information form, homework and gym and library schedules to wrap my head around, and a personal information form for Will's teacher that asked me to outline my child's likes, dislikes, favourite actitivities, hopes, fears, etc. etc. etc..  Will had math homework that he required help with (and was not happy about because he didn't understand one of the questions), and I was supposed to have dinner ready by 4:45 so that we could get to the swim club by around 5:30 for swimmer assessments.  In the middle of this chaos, somebody showed up at my door to remind me to vote (because, you know, the 4963 phone calls weren't enough), and Matt got stuck in traffic on the way home from Toronto.  The homework got done, we wolfed down dinner, we made it to the pool (where another mom and I should have earned an award for problem solving skills after we successfully drew up a carpooling plan that gets five kids from three families to and from swimming four times a week when two of the families' cars only hold four kids), we got the boys home and in bed, and then I scraped myself off the floor to go pack lunches (AAAARRGGGGH!) for the next day.  Finally, because I am a sensitive, thoughtful, perfectionist mom who loves her kid and wants his teacher to love him too, I sat down and wrote a novel for Will's teacher on that form asking about who he is.  I did not get to bed at a reasonable hour.

This morning was Friday.  Thank goodness.  I somehow felt calmer again, knowing that there was only one more school day this week to get through (with no lunches to pack tonight and two weekend days to deal with any more forms that might come home!).  The boys and I had a very pleasant breakfast together, with engaging and excited conversation over the news that scientists had successfully teleported quantum information a distance of 143 kilometres.  Will got ready pretty much on time, and I was feeling once again like everything was going well as we prepared to head out the door, and then Noah, out of the blue, said, "Mom, I want to walk to school on my own.  It's embarrassing now to be seen with you and Will."  Ouch.  After mildly protesting that I was not embarrassing, I good-naturedly agreed to let Noah leave a few minutes before Will and I (and then felt like a little hole had been punched through my heart, because while I know that he doesn't need me to walk with him to school, as a mom it still stings to know that he doesn't want me to anymore.  At least Will, that sweet boy, tried to patch up the hole by reassuringly stating, "I don't know what he's talking about, Mom.  I don't think it's embarrassing to walk with you."  Bless his heart.) 

Yep, it has definitely been a week of changes, and I have not handled them as gracefully or as calmly as I would have liked.  Thankfully, I'm still optimistic enough to believe that next week will somehow be better....

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Oatmeal raisin bumpkins (gluten, dairy, and egg-free)

I noticed on the walk to school the past couple of mornings that the leaves on some of the maple trees in our neighbourhood are already starting to change colour.  Despite the fact that it is still close to 30 degrees outside in the afternoons, something feels different in September, and when I'm in the kitchen these days, I find my thoughts already turning to fall foods like apples and pumpkins and cinnamon.  Mmmmm.

Now that the boys are back in school, I've been spending some time trying to come up with new ideas for healthy snacks for them to take in their lunch bags every day.  While they don't ever seem to get tired of  eating the same old things, I get bored of packing the same old things, so I've been experimenting with some different combinations of ingredients.  Yesterday's concoction was these oatmeal raisin "bumpkins", a variation of the banana oat bundles that I make often, with the flavours of pureed pumpkin, fragrant spices and raisins.  (I know the name of them sounds funny, but after a family brainstorming session last night that produced even funnier ideas such as "pumpkin lumps" (Noah's favourite), "bumpkin" seemed like the best and most appropriate choice!) These snacks are similar in flavour and texture to a muffin, but shaped like a cookie; they are not too sweet and are a great, nutritious choice for a food to take on the go.

Oatmeal Raisin Bumpkins

1 1/2 cups rolled oats (use certified pure oats for gluten-free cookies)
1 1/2 cups ground oats  (I use a Magic Bullet or food processor to grind them)
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
3 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp grapeseed oil
1/4 cup raisins

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, ground oats, sea salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and baking powder.  In a medium sized bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, maple syrup, vanilla, and grapeseed oil. 
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until combined.  Fold in raisins.
Drop mixture by the tablespoonful into mounds on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Cool and serve.

Oatmeal raisin bumpkins may not be the prettiest of baked goods, but don't let their appearance fool you -- these rustic, hearty snacks are really tasty, and their simplicity makes it possible to whip up a batch in very little time.  I hope you enjoy the pumpkin lumps!  ;)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Endings and beginnings

This past weekend was what I would consider a perfect end to a really fantastic summer.  We spent some time catching up with good friends, soaked up the sun and splashed in the pool as a family, enjoyed leisurely pancake breakfasts and delicious grilled dinners peppered with happy conversations, and strolled through the neighbourhood on foot/bike/scooter in the evenings. (Will even agreed to ride his bike one night and we were all really proud of him for overcoming his worry about it.) We laughed a lot (most notably yesterday afternoon, when Noah was performing hilarious shenanigans on the floating mattresses in the pool, Will was shrieking with hysterical delight watching him, and Matt and I were cracking up because I realized that Will sounded just like the riled-up chimpanzees in a documentary we had watched recently).  We also spent just a little time getting organized and doing some baking to make the back-to-school transition easier on everyone.  Each of us felt a little sad watching the last sunset of summer holidays as it glimmered between the leaves in our backyard trees yesterday evening, but I know I also felt a deep happiness and gratitude for the wonderful months we've all been able to share together.

This morning's return to early rising and moving through routines went very smoothly in our house, thankfully.  Despite the fact that it poured rain all day (as if nature wanted to acknowledge the transition from summer to school), I refused to pay too much attention to it.  I'm determined to keep the mood light and happy at home through the fall, to carry summer's peaceful glow into these more hectic months.  I talked with the boys over breakfast about what might be exciting at school today, admired their carefully chosen new running shoes and ball caps as they donned them at the front door, and sent them off to their first day of school with their favourite snacks and a note in each of their lunchbags that I hoped would make them laugh:

(The boys are both big fans of the Annoying Orange videos on YouTube.  Have you seen them?  They're.... well, annoying.  But the boys think they're hilarious and I thought I was pretty hilarious, too, when I came up with this idea for a lunchbox note using a picture of the Annoying Orange himself!  I was glad to hear at the end of the day that Noah and Will agreed with me!)

When I went at 3:00 to pick the boys up at school, they both burst outside with huge grins on their faces, and they both began talking at me a mile a minute in unison about their fabulous first day.  I am feeling so very good about the start of this school year after hearing them enthusiastically tell their stories.  Will got a teacher who I think will be excellent for him (Noah had the same great teacher in grade 3), and while some of Will's closest friends are in different classes than him this year, he is happy about getting to spend time with other friends he hasn't shared a classroom with in awhile.  He's also thrilled with his teacher's cool classroom supplies -- a big bin of Lego, awesome board games, and a fantastic and varied collection of reading materials, including sports magazines, Calvin and Hobbes books, and the entire Harry Potter series!  (Picture sixteen exclamation marks after that last statement and you'll have a sense of how Will said this the sixteen times he told me it.)  Noah's long list of wishes for grade 6 all came true:  he got the same wonderful teacher he had last year (this was secretly on my wish list for him, too!), he's in a straight grade 6 class rather than a split, he's in the school building and not in the portable this year, and for the first time in a few years, all of his closest friends are his classmates.  But the most incredible detail of Noah's day was that one of his new classmates, a boy who just arrived this year from a different school, is the very same boy who was Noah's best friend in kindergarten, before we moved neighbourhoods and lost touch with him!  How amazing is that?!

Last night when we went to bed, I think all of us were a little nervous about how things would go today.  Noah chose the shirt he wore this morning because he said it accurately reflected how he felt about going back to school:

After today's great beginnings, though, I'm pretty sure we're all going to bed smiling.