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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The best gift

The morning papers lately have been stuffed full of flyers advertising every possible gift imaginable for Christmas giving.  The boys and I pore over these colourful, rustling sheaves intently every week, them happily pointing out items that they hope to find under the tree on Christmas morning, me carefully searching for items I'd like to give to our family members.  It's easy this time of year to get caught up in the excitement of holiday giving and receiving with our families and friends; it makes us feel good to share with our loved ones through thoughtful gifts chosen with care and wrapped with love.  But it feels good, too, to remember and act on the fact that our world is full of less fortunate people who would also welcome being the recipient of a gift from our hearts.

Today I was happy to find something special amidst the pages of the morning paper: a photograph and a story that allowed the boys and I to appreciate the difference between wanting things and truly needing them at Christmastime.  Earlier this month, a tourist visiting New York City had captured a photograph of a touching moment in which a NYC police officer gave a pair of brand new warm winter boots and socks to a barefoot homeless man on a frigid night.  If you haven't seen the photograph or heard the story, please take a moment to look at it here.  It will truly warm your heart.  Noah and Will and I were all very moved by this officer's spontaneous act of generosity.

The boys are old enough now to understand that for every bright smile and look of excitement on the faces close to them at Christmas, there are tears of suffering and lines of worry on other faces in our community and in our world.  As we prepare to celebrate a very comfortable holiday season where our family truly needs nothing, I so deeply appreciate this powerful reminder that the most valuable gift we can all give each other is kindness.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smile! (Photo Christmas Cards)

When the Christmas holiday season draws near, my thoughts always turn to loved ones who live far away. My childhood years were filled with happy (and crazy-fun!) Christmas celebrations that involved many dear family members and friends (and wonderful food, wacky children's Christmas concerts, loud family games, and my good-natured Great Grandpa Charlie showing up smiling in a yellow rain suit to protect himself from other people's glasses of red wine that somehow always seemed to land on him during dinner!). Remembering those days always adds a special warmth and cheer to the current holiday season. Because so many of our closest relatives and friends now live great distances from us and from one another, it's impossible to see everyone at Christmastime like we used to, but I like to let them all know that we're thinking of them fondly.

For the past several years, we have sent out photo Christmas greeting cards to all of the special people in our lives. The hardest part of this process is taking a picture of Noah and Will to use for this project; it usually takes several attempts outdoors to capture one shot in which both boys are looking at the camera and smiling with their eyes open. (If you're not sure what I'm talking about, try taking an 8 and an 11 year old boy, one who finds it near impossible to stand still and not try to be a comedian, and one who squints violently in the slightest bit of sunshine and loathes wearing sweaters, and you'll quickly see what I mean.) 

A few jokes about me preferring not to send out a card on which the children look like grinning trolls usually gets the boys laughing and results in a more natural-looking picture.

Once I've captured the boys' true smiles, the rest of the photo card-making process is simple. From these many creative designs online, I choose one that suits our family's personality, upload the photo, add our own message, and place my order. What arrives in our mailbox a little while later is a package of cheerful holiday cards with a personal touch, ones that I can easily send to our family members and friends to let them know that they're in our hearts at Christmas and always.

Now that's something everyone can smile about.


This post is sponsored by Vistaprint Canada. I am being paid to write it, but the words, ideas, and opinions are all my own.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Awful and wonderful

This morning I woke up with a stuffed up nose and a gloopy throat, the remnants of a cold that's not quite ready to give up its grip on me yet.  Down the hall I could hear Noah, who is a few days behind me on this cold, coughing and blowing his nose.  The temperatures outside had dropped to below zero temperatures overnight, giving the morning a chilly feel to it even in the house, and when I stepped out into the hallway I was greeted by dozens of little fake red berries and artificial evergreen bits scattered everywhere, leftovers from the previous night's late-evening attempt to start decorating the house for the holidays.  Will's pre-Christmas excitement, which seems to have already kicked in this past week, was ramped up to very high levels; he was bouncing off the walls like a ping pong ball, loud, overly emotional, and annoying his brother every 1.5 seconds for the first few hours of the day.  The griddle broke while I was cooking our Saturday morning breakfast, and my efforts to take a nice photo of the boys outdoors to use for this year's Christmas card turned into a gong show of epic proportions, where all three of us ended up yelling and crying and saying things we didn't really mean.  It would have been very easy to simply write the day off as a "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day".


This morning when I looked out my bedroom window there was snow on the ground, the first real snow of the season, and it was white and pretty and seemed to transform the world into a place of hope and promise.  There were snowman pancakes for breakfast, shared by four family members sitting close around a kitchen table wearing cozy jammies.  Christmas music, played for the very first time this season, filled the house with old familiar melodies, and hearts with fond memories of holiday seasons past and loved ones who live far away.  There was time spent outdoors in the winter wonderland that appeared overnight, and the sight of Will zipping down the little hill in our backyard on a sled for his inaugural ride of this winter, such a simple but delightful pleasure, made me smile.  There were quiet moments where we enjoyed the peaceful glow of the twinkling lights now strung throughout our home, and after the Christmas photo gong show, there were lots of I'm sorrys and promises from all of us to try to be better next time.

This is what real life looks like; the bad and the good, the moments of chaos and frustration and a sense that everything is wrong intricately woven with moments of calm and joy and a sense that things couldn't be more right.  In the same way that we so appreciate the cheerfully hung lights this time of year after weeks of gray skies and early evening darkness, sometimes the not-so-pretty moments in life make the truly lovely ones seem to twinkle all that more brightly.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Homemade sugar scrubs (for naturally beautiful skin)

If your hands are anything like mine, they take a bit of a beating once the chilly winter weather sets in.  Between cold outdoor winds, dry indoor air, and the frequent handwashing that comes along with cold and flu season, I often find the skin on my hands becoming dry, tight, and irritated.  I recently discovered a very simple and lovely solution to this problem:  homemade sugar scrubs.  Made with just a few basic ingredients I usually already have in my kitchen, sugar scrubs gently exfoliate dead skin cells and nourish hands with moisturizing oils (without any harmful chemicals), leaving hands feeling incredibly soft and soothed.

Orange Cinnamon Brown Sugar Scrub
(inspired by this recipe at Oh She Glows)

1 cup brown sugar (I used organic whole brown sugar)
1/2 cup sweet almond oil
the freshly squeezed juice of half an orange
1 tsp orange zest
several pinches of freshly grated cinnamon stick

Mix all ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl until they are well combined.  Spoon mixture into an airtight glass jar for storage, and keep it in the fridge between uses for maximum freshness.

Coconut Peppermint Sugar Scrub
(inspired by this recipe at Food For My Family)

1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup sweet almond oil
1 cup sugar (I used organic golden cane sugar)
2 to 4 drops of 100% pure peppermint essential oil

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the coconut oil.  Remove from heat and stir in the almond oil; let oils cool to room temperature.  Stir in the sugar and add the peppermint essential oil one drop at a time, stirring after each drop, until you're pleased with the scent of the mixture.  Spoon mixture into an airtight glass jar for storage.

To use either of these homemade sugar scrubs, simply wet your hands with warm water and add a small amount of the sugar scrub to them.  Gently rub the scrub all over your hands in a circular motion, and then rinse with warm water.  Use the scrub anytime your hands need a little extra love and care.  These scrubs smell wonderful and are also great to use on your whole body.

For my first attempts at making my own sugar scrubs, I chose orange cinnamon and coconut peppermint because they seemed fitting for the upcoming holiday season.  (Sugar scrubs packaged in cute little jars and tied with pretty ribbons also make lovely seasonal gifts!)  You can experiment with many different kinds of oils, sugars, and essential oils to make your own favourites -- please let me know in the comments section if you do!  I hope these sugar scrubs will help keep your hands happy throughout the winter season.

Monday, November 19, 2012

His best invention

Noah has forever been an inventor of sorts.  As a small child, he always found unique ways to play with his toys, developing intricate systems and rules and scenarios for blocks and figures and wheels.  At four, he created an imaginary vehicle based on a bicycle that he called his "motor park diesel", and in his mind he visualized all kinds of adventures for himself and his "crew" (a collection of real and fabricated friends) as they travelled about on this machine.  He would tell me silly jokes and fascinating, detailed stories that he invented in his head; he would draw up plans with pencils held in small fingers for futuristic cars and houses filled with devices to make life interesting.  The world was a huge and incredibly intriguing place for Noah right from the very beginning.

When he was small, I was very much a part of Noah's inventing.  I chose toys for him that I thought would allow him to continue exploring and books that would answer his many, many questions.  I wrote down his wonderful stories for him when he was too little to form the letters himself, and I explained how certain complicated things worked when he asked, so he could include them in his latest drawings.  I signed him up for activities that I believed would allow him to explore the many experiences life has to offer, in the hopes that he would find his own passions, which would then fuel his desire to keep on inventing, always.

Noah has indeed found his own passions, and every day I marvel at the amazing person he is becoming.  I watch him from a distance at his swim meets, see him staring intently ahead with focus and determination as he waits for the signal to dive into the water from the starting block, and I wonder what he's thinking and feeling in those moments, knowing that what happens next is completely up to him alone.  I see him burst excitedly through the door to home after a chance to listen to an accomplished teenaged Lego animator speak at a conference; he's got fire in his eyes and I can almost hear the wheels spinning in his brain as his newly-inspired mind thinks about his own animation projects, and his enthusiasm fills me with excitement, too.  I read the compelling and well-worded autobiographies and stories he writes for school with admiration for the voice that speaks so clearly to him from within, and I'm intrigued to hear him talk of the books and ideas with which he now chooses to fill his mind.  These things are all Noah's own; in many ways he has entered a world that I know very little about with his swimming and his interest in technology and the stories that he creates based on experiences I haven't been a part of.  He isn't driving his "motor park diesel" anymore; he is now taking the wheel to his own life and driving himself to new and exciting places.  I am so proud, so full of awe as I watch Noah creating himself through the power and intelligence and spirit he has deep inside.  I believe he will be his best invention yet.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Life among the branches

You would think that once the cold autumn winds blew away the last of the leaves clinging to the trees in the neighbourhood, there wouldn't be much to look up at and admire anymore.  I discovered this week that I was wrong to think that way when I noticed a collection of nests of various shapes and sizes scattered throughout the limbs of one particular tree just down the street from our house.  To examine one nest up close is always a thing of wonder.  Looking at the intricately woven patterns of sticks and grass, leaves and mud, it's incredible to imagine how such small creatures were able to create something so delicate-looking and beautiful, yet strong and safe, using only the things they could find in nature.  But seeing multiple nests made by various birds and rodents, all set so closely together in one tree, struck me as being remarkable and filled my mind with questions.  How were creatures who likely had different habits and preferences able to live harmoniously in such close proximity to one another?  Did they consider how their actions would impact the other creatures who shared their tree, and if there was conflict, did they somehow know how to compromise?  Was there an inherent trust between the critters who found themselves living in the same environment, and did they somehow understand that all of the tree's families deserved to seek shelter, eat, raise their babies, live day-to-day in the ways each of them knew were best for them?  Did the critters ignore each other for the most part, or did they offer a kind of support for each other when any of them were in need?

The experiences of the creatures who made their home in that tree were hidden from us all summer long by the lush green leaves that provided them with shade and security.  We can never know how exactly those birds and squirrels lived when they occupied their various, closely-knit nests. I like to imagine that in their own ways, the critters that shared the world of that tree existed peacefully, accepted and respected each other's differences, lived in mutually beneficial ways, and knew that ultimately, they all shared the same basic needs and desires. It gives me hope that we humans all have it in us to do the same.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bedtime stories with the President

When you have a child with as much imagination and as much uncontainable energy as Will, you learn very early on to allow lots of extra time for everything.  Simple tasks that should only take a few minutes, such as getting dressed or eating a snack or putting things away, inevitably end up taking much, much longer in our house because there is always something way more fascinating to attract Will's attention and enthusiasm.  As an example, I asked Will the other night to please go and give Maggie her cat treats, which he started walking towards the kitchen to do.  Less than a minute later I heard the cat wailing hysterically at him, because Will had already forgotten what he had set out for.  His eye had caught the magnetic letters on the side of the fridge as he walked by and he was so compelled to write a message in a secret language that he was completely oblivious to the screaming cat.

I do not know who Mr. Graham is, nor do I have any clue what the message means in Will's secret language.  I have not ruled out the possibility that he has somehow made contact with aliens and is communicating with them using a blue plastic alphabet.

A couple of nights ago, we sent Will upstairs a good hour before his bedtime to shower, put his pjs on, and brush his teeth, so he would have lots of time to do his creative thinking and still get to sleep when he should.  He seemed to move through the first two tasks at a good pace, but then he spent a long, long time standing in front of the bathroom mirror.  (I didn't ask him what he was doing, because honestly, after eight years of this kind of behaviour, you come to realize that as long as he's not doing any harm, sometimes it's just better not to ask.)  When Will finally emerged from the bathroom he was wearing a big grin and a very carefully coiffed damp hairdo.  He informed me quite matter-of-factly that he had styled his hair like Bill Clinton's, and then he sat down beside me on the couch so we could read together, without saying another word, as if it were the most normal thing in the world for an eight year old to style his hair like Bill Clinton's.

I treated this situation like the many other interesting (odd) ones I've found myself in as a result of Will's fascinating mind;  I told him he had done a really good job and secretly wondered what creative thing he would think to do next.  Apparently, though, he liked this presidential hairstyle idea so much that he wanted to stick with it for awhile.   Last night after Will had showered and put his pjs on, I heard him repeatedly running back and forth between his room and the bathroom, with a significant pause in each location.  When I went upstairs, I found Will's Scholastic Almanac open on his bed; he was dashing in to study a photo in the book, and then racing back to the bathroom to comb another section of his hair just so.  When he was pleased with what he saw in the mirror, he proudly looked at me and declared that he was...

Are you thinking maybe George Washington or Abraham Lincoln?  Perhaps Richard Nixon or John F. Kennedy, or maybe Ronald Reagan?  Nope.

Ulysses Simpson Grant!(?)!
I really wish I had thought also to take photo of his Bill Clinton do -- it was bang on!
Will happily told me last night that he is going to style his hair like a different American president every evening from now on.  The enthusiasm with which he's approaching this little project of his makes me smile.   For as many times as I've been frustrated with his inability to stay on task when we're trying to get something done, I've also loved the way Will shows me that the same old things don't always have to be done in the same old way; there is always potential for the unique and the entertaining in the day-to-day. 
I noticed earlier this afternoon that Will's almanac is once again on his bed; it is sitting open and upside-down with a page in it carefully marked.  I wonder which American president I'll be reading stories with tonight.... 
Update:  I couldn't leave you in suspense.  Shortly after I posted this, Will came downstairs as Theodore Roosevelt.  You're welcome.

This post about something that made me smile is linked to this week's Writer's Workshop over at Mama's Losin' It.



Sunday, November 11, 2012

Maple cinnamon popcorn with cranberries and pecans

Popcorn is one of Noah and Will's favourite weekend snacks.  No matter what the boys are doing or where they are in the house, the sound of hot kernels exploding in a pot on the stove and the smell of melted coconut oil wafting through the air invariably mean that within seconds, both of them will show up eager and smiling in the kitchen.  I'm happy to give the boys this snack when they request it; if it is prepared in certain ways, popcorn is nutritious as well as fun to eat!

This weekend I decided to get creative with our popcorn snack by adding dried cranberries and toasted pecans to it, and drizzling it with a coconut oil and maple syrup topping that was lightly spiced with cinnamon and allspice.  Oh my.  My popcorn connoisseurs all agreed that the result was absolutely yummy!

Maple Cinnamon Popcorn with Cranberries and Pecans
(inspired by this recipe from Chatelaine magazine)

For the popcorn:

2 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels

For the topping:

2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground allspice

Plus:  1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
          1/2 cup dried cranberries (I use ones that are sweetened with apple juice)

Lightly toast the pecans in a small, dry skillet over medium heat.  (This should only take a few minutes.) Set the pecans aside.

In a large saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, heat two tablespoons of coconut oil over a high temperature until it is very hot.  Add the popcorn kernels and cover the pot snugly with the lid.  Gently shake the pot continuously while the kernels pop.  Remove the pot from the heat as soon as the popping stops. (I like to make popcorn the old-fashioned way on the stove.  Despite the fact that people have come up with many newer ways to pop kernels over the years, I think the stove-top method using coconut oil is one of the healthier ones and results in the tastiest popcorn!)

In a small saucepan, melt another two tablespoons of coconut oil over low heat.  Stir in the maple syrup, cinnamon, and allspice and mix until ingredients are well-combined.  Drizzle the warm mixture over the popped popcorn.

Add the toasted pecans and dried cranberries to the popcorn mixture and toss to combine.  Serve and enjoy!

The addition of maple syrup, spices, fruit and nuts to plain popcorn makes for a perfect fall treat on a weekend afternoon.  I hope your family's popcorn lovers will agree.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Someone defaced the walls and doors of the boys' school with offensive graffiti over the weekend.  As I walked around the building just before the afternoon dismissal bell yesterday and read one insulting message after another, I was sickened, and angered, and saddened.  An adult had tried to temporarily conceal the hurtful words with paper and tape until they could be erased permanently, to  shield young children's eyes from phrases they shouldn't read, but the temptation to know what was hidden was too much for some curious young minds and they had torn the paper down while they were outside playing at recess.  The school bell rang and dozens of children poured out of the graffitied door where I was standing; they gathered in clusters to read, and point, and giggle nervously, and cover their shocked expressions with their hands.  Some of the children, like Will, ran to their waiting moms to tell them about the bad words and to wonder why someone would do such a mean thing.  I wanted to somehow make those words disappear, to protect all of those children from knowing too soon about the ugliness that lurks in our world sometimes, and yet I felt completely helpless to do anything at all.

Life seems more fragile in these gray, cold days of November.  The skies are so often full of gloomy clouds that won't lift, and the empty tree branches look lonely against the sky's smoky silhouette.  Darkness comes early, and people huddle inwards to brace their bodies against the chill that's always in the air.  Children's lighthearted play is shadowed by unkind words, relationships that once seemed solid crumble and leave broken hearts in their rubble, influential cities topple under the weight and force of a monstrous fall storm.  It is so easy to feel sad and powerless as we watch all of this unfold around us, and easy to retreat further into ourselves to try and avoid the unhappiness of it all.

There is potential, though, in the turning inward that an unfriendly November urges us to do.  If we take time to be still, to allow ourselves to listen to and see and feel the unique essence that lies deep within each of our hearts, we will find there a light that shines brightly and has the ability to bring great warmth and hope and happiness.  We can encourage that light within by not being afraid to be ourselves, by recognizing and understanding and accepting the intricate beings that we are, by believing that we are meant to always keep growing in positive ways. Our light shines with more beauty and force when we are not swayed by people or events whose negativity tries to smother our flame, when we continue to be guided by our hearts, which somehow know the way to the goodness we want to see in our world.

When we find our own inner light and allow it to shine forth brightly, we can help to illuminate the world for others.  Our warmth will help us teach our children to spread messages of love rather than hatred; it will let us reach out to those who are hurting and need support to mend their broken hearts; it will help us to rebuild a destroyed city so that it once again stands strong against the backdrop of a menacing November sky.  With our light, each and all of us are powerful.

Photo credit:  the guardian u.k.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Just an ordinary Saturday morning

Today it was just an ordinary Saturday morning around our house.  We had no swim meets to be up early for, no pressing errands to run, no real plans made in advance, and so the four of us were free to do whatever it was we wanted.  Most of us were glad for the bit of quiet we had to ourselves and just did ordinary stuff.

Matt's Saturday morning involved sleeping later than usual, savouring a cup of hot coffee over a leisurely reading of the newspaper, preparing and enjoying a pancake breakfast with the family, and heading outside to clean out the shed and rake the leaves that were all over our backyard.

My Saturday morning found me sleeping later than usual, checking email and catching up on Facebook and Twitter, preparing and enjoying a pancake breakfast with the family, baking muffins for the week, and then heading outside to help with the leaf raking (although I actually spent more time laughing and taking photos of the boys as they jumped in the leaf piles).

Noah's Saturday morning involved sleeping later than usual, reading a book in bed until someone called him to come and enjoy a pancake breakfast with the family, and going back to bed to read some more until someone asked him to come outside and help rake leaves (which he did reluctantly, and then actually spent more time laughing and flinging himself in the leaf piles).

Will's Saturday morning found him doing anything but what most people would consider ordinary stuff.  He was awake well before the sun and by the time I was up, he had drawn up a plan (including a legend) for an intriguing pattern of blocks of various building materials he was going to use to construct the walls of his next Minecraft house.

He spent the time we were getting breakfast ready tweaking details on the massive Lego fortress that has been dominating our family room for three weeks...

...and then later decided to demolish the whole thing and build an amusement park inspired by the Top 10 Rollercoasters in the World video he's been watching on YouTube.

He enjoyed a pancake breakfast with the family, during which he talked constantly and got out of his chair at least half a dozen times.  He then spent ten minutes laughing hysterically at me because he decided suddenly that my bedhead looked like Elvis. He went upstairs to get dressed so that he could help with the leaf raking, but got sidetracked by the much more fascinating process of developing a bedroom baseball game that involved a stuffed elephant named Vladimir, a bunch of leaping around that made it sound like he was going to come crashing through the ceiling above me, and a complicated scorekeeping system that he lost me on within the first three seconds of trying to explain it to me. When he moved on from the ball game, he pulled one of the silver balls back on the Newton's cradle in his room to start it moving, and then raced to complete the personal challenge of getting dressed, brushing his teeth, and making his bed all before the balls came to a stop again.

He argued with me fourteen times about how he couldn't possibly have any fun in the leaves if he had to wear boots and a hat and gloves, but then put them on anyway when he was suddenly motivated by the brilliant idea he had to not jump, but POLE VAULT into the leaves using a hockey stick, or maybe the broom.  Finally, he went outside to help rake (although he actually spent more time laughing and attempting to kill himself by trying the aforementioned pole vaulting and also launching himself off the swingset into the leaves in various crazy poses.)

All of this, he accomplished before 10am.

After witnessing Will's high-energy, action-packed first few hours of the day, I realized that he will probably never enjoy just an "ordinary Saturday morning".  For Will, having no plans is a prime opportunity for big plans.