When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mom is not a babe

There is a current television ad for Becel that runs often on The Weather Network (which Will watches every school morning while he's waiting for breakfast).  In it, a collection of sweet school children write letters to their moms telling them why they are special, and then they share their heartfelt words on stage while their moms look on and listen with warm smiles and teary eyes.

This commercial makes me cry every time I see it, partly because I am the hormonal mess that apparently comes along with being a 40 year old woman, but also partly because now that I have older boys, the days of receiving little love notes written in wobbly printing or spoken in a sweet little voice have quietly slipped behind me, and I miss those unguarded shows of affection.  It's harder to feel appreciated for the kind things you do for your children when they're in the stages of frequently rolling their eyes at you or yelling at you that they wish they had a different family when they're upset.  (Oh Mom and Dad, I know I did that, too, and I'm so sorry!)

Will has grown into a tough little critic in recent years.  He has very strong opinions about people and experiences, and is not afraid to say what he thinks.  He criticizes our driving from his spot in the back seat, complains about the food we prepare, tells us a hundred times a day that we are wrong, wrong, wrong. He is a perfectionist who is hard on himself, and seemingly even harder on the people he cares about. Sometimes all of that criticism gets hard to take. 

One recent night at dinner, I mentioned to Matt that I wanted to ask him later about an idea I had for something, so he could tell me if he thought it was any good.  Will considered this for a moment, and then said, "You know, Dad is probably going to say yes to your idea anyway, because you're his wife, and if he said no, you'd just find a way to show him why he's wrong and you'd use your idea anyway."  This observation floored me a little, so Matt, that good man, jumped in and stated, "I say yes to your Mom, not because I have to, but because she is always right". (The me always being right part is of course not true, but I did appreciate the show of support!)  While I've known for a long time that I have some pretty strong opinions of my own about most things, it was uncomfortably eye-opening to realize my son sees me as someone who always has to have her own way  (and his father as a yes-man!).

Over another recent dinner, Matt said something to me and ended his sentence with the word "babe", used as a term of endearment.  You would think that an 8 year old child would feel happy and secure hearing his parents speak to each other with affection, but instead, Will jumped in and shouted incredulously, "BABE?!?  Mom's not anywhere close to being a BABE!!  Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift are babes!".  (Thank you, Will, for pointing out your mother's physical shortcomings compared to some pretty, early 20-something year old women.)  His mocking words were certainly a far cry from the sweetness of his kindergarten days, when he would bring home crayon drawings of me smiling above the words "My mom is beautiful."

In both of these conversations, I talked to Will further so I could better understand his thinking and offer him some more positive ways of looking at relationships and what beauty is.  Before I had a chance to get very far in the last conversation, Will said to me, "You know, Mom, being a babe doesn't do you any good anyway -- it just gets you fame.  You're a Mom."  I sensed from Will's tone and the look in his eyes that somehow, this statement was a compliment.  It might not be much, but these days, I'll take my love letters any way I can get them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Quinoa and rice pilaf with walnuts and cranberries

Quinoa and whole grain rice are pantry staples around our house; I often include one of these nutritious and gluten-free foods in our family's evening meal.  On a recent trip to Costco, I noticed an interesting Sprouted Rice (brown, red, and wild) and Quinoa Blend made by TruRoots that I was curious to try, and since then we've been enjoying it very much with stirfries or as a side dish in meals where before I would have used one or the other.  The blend is tasty cooked plain, with a bit of Herbamare for seasoning, but for fun one day I decided to see what would happen if I added the flavours of orange and cinnamon, the sweetness of dried cranberries, and the nutty crunch of some toasted walnuts.  The end result was delicious, and this pilaf has become a new side dish favourite.

Quinoa and Rice Pilaf with Walnuts and Cranberries

1 cup water
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup TruRoots Sprouted Rice and Quinoa Blend
1/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped and lightly toasted
1/4 cup dried cranberries (I used ones sweetened with fruit juice rather than sugar)

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the water, orange juice and cinnamon and bring the mixture to a boil.  Stir in the sprouted rice and quinoa blend.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for approximately 30 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed.

Remove the saucepan from heat and let it stand, covered, for about 5 minutes.  Gently stir the cranberries and toasted walnuts into the quinoa/rice mixture, cover again, and let it stand for another 5 minutes, or until the cranberries and nuts are warm. 

We like to serve this wonderfully flavoured pilaf alongside some kale sauteed in a little olive oil, and either roasted chicken or pork.  Together these foods make a hearty, nourishing, and warming meal just perfect for a winter day.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A near miss

Matt and I were busy for most of the day yesterday, taking Noah's room apart so we could redecorate it and then trying to get it put back together before it was time for him to go to bed. The boys were helpful for some parts of this process, but after lunch we parents decided that the two of them should go outside and play in the snow and sunshine for awhile.  I figured they didn't need much supervision while they were out there, that they would likely just pull out some sleds or some hockey sticks and do what most children do when they get sent outside to play in the winter.  So I shut the door behind them after calling out "Have fun!", and went back up to Noah's room to keep working.

A little while later I happened to glance out the kitchen window after coming downstairs to grab something I needed.  There in the backyard were Noah and Will, lugging not sleds or hockey sticks around, but the big wooden wagon they used to ride in when they were little.  They had somehow managed to wiggle it out of the shed (which is currently jam-packed full of summer things in storage), and they were making their way slowly, and with great effort, through the snow up the hill at the back of our yard.

I paused for about half a second until the sudden realization of what they were about to do hit me.  Luckily, I was able to bolt for the back door and stick my head out it soon enough to stop them before they jumped in the wagon and hurled themselves with glee down the icy track they had made on the hill.  The boys were completely disgusted that I would put an end to such fun before it even began.  I was completely relieved that I had narrowly avoided spending the rest of the day in the ER.

Now, I realize that I am probably more risk-averse than the average person, and likely overly cautious sometimes.  But what on earth would possess anyone to think that sitting in a wagon (with sides high enough that your feet can't touch the ground so you have absolutely no way of controlling where this wagon goes), and then flying down a slick incline where the chances of hitting a tree are pretty good, is wild and crazy fun?!?

The boys came inside soon after I short-circuited their "ingenious" plan; without the thrill of being able to risk their lives, the snow and the yard suddenly seemed boring.  If you think I was mean to squash the boys' fun, don't worry -- I'm pretty sure we haven't heard the end of the wagon plans just yet.  Last night Noah asked me where he could get a 50hp motor that would fit on a small, wheeled vehicle....

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Toughening up

There have been a lot of wild ups and downs with the weather here in recent weeks.  Earlier this month we were outside in fall-weight jackets and shoes for a couple of days, eagerly soaking up the warmth of the bright sun, and this week we are bundling ourselves up in multiple layers to protect ourselves from blustery snow squalls and numbingly cold temperatures.

I've come to realize recently that the experience of writing about the details of your life, and then deciding to share that writing with the public, brings similar highs and lows.  Several days ago I was riding a wave of happiness.  I felt really proud of having completed a personal writing challenge, and when I spoke of that experience here, the comments I received suggested that the message seemed to resonate with others; one friend felt that the reminder to challenge the inner voice of self-doubt was worth sharing .  I was also very glad to hear this week that one of my recipes had helped a lovely young woman who lives thousands of kilometres away from me, but has some of the same food sensitivities that I do.  I've had many positive comments from readers over the past couple of years who have told me that my words or ideas have meant something to them, and it is this knowledge that inspires me to always keep searching within for new subjects to explore, write about, and share, in an effort to make real connections with people so we all know we're not alone.

But "putting yourself out there", so to speak, leaves one vulnerable to criticism, too.  And this week, I had several people from an online community where I sometimes share my posts say that they found my posting of links to my blog "annoying", that I was drawing too much attention to myself.  I would like to say that I just let those comments roll off my back, that I was okay with some people finding my posts bothersome (because really, you can't please everyone all the time), but that would be a lie.  The comments hurt, and made me feel anxious and embarrassed and upset.  They caused me to question why I do what I do, and just how much I should be sharing myself with people I don't even know.  They allowed the little nagging voice of self-doubt to resurface and shout quite loudly and meanly at me over the past few days.

I have been hyper-sensitive to whatever I perceive as criticism for as long as I can remember.  When I was a little girl, I can recall crying to my mom sometimes after a socially trying day at school that "nobody liked me" (not true), and being very easily upset by my dad's gentle and playful teasing.  My parents used to kindly suggest that I not take things so personally all the time.  I'm trying hard this week to remember that long-ago good advice.

Now that the cold sting of those hurtful comments from strangers has dulled a little bit, I have realized that I cannot let a few negative voices ruin what has otherwise been a very rewarding experience for me.  I write because I feel things deeply and have ideas that excite me; I share because I believe that even though we are all very different people, sometimes many of us feel the same things, and the ideas that excite one person often excite others and inspire them to create new and wonderful things, too.  The lovely connections I've had a chance to make with so many people, both old friends and new, along this journey by opening myself up online have proven to me that my beliefs probably have some merit.  I may be more careful about where I share my work in the future, but I still feel compelled to keep doing what I love.  I'm just going to have to learn to bundle myself up a little better to protect myself against the harsher, chillier days.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fun food on a stick: Nutty surprise sandwiches and fruit kabobs

There's something about adding a stick to food that can make the same ordinary fare suddenly seem new and fun for kids.  I thought we could use some "new and fun" around here as we make our way through a long, really cold week in January, so yesterday I greeted the boys after school with what I hoped would be a very appealing snack:  nutty surprise sandwiches and fruit kabobs.  The "surprise" in the sandwiches was a square of dark chocolate finely chopped and stirred into the nut butter, and appealing it certainly was -- the boys gobbled up their healthy treats in no time.  I even convinced them to eat a few fruits that they normally turn their noses up at by cutting them into small, interestingly shaped pieces.  The boys are now busy dreaming up what other foods we can put on a stick!

To make a nutty surprise sandwich, you will need:

two slices of sandwich bread (I used Silver Hills Bakery Squirrelly Bread for Noah, and Organic Works Bakery gluten-free Buckwheat, Oatmeal, and Flax Bread for Will)
1 - 2 tbsp of natural nut butter (cashew, almond, hazelnut, walnut, or peanut butter, or sunflower seed butter if nut allergies are a concern)
1 square of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), finely chopped
a few slices of banana
1 popsicle stick
a cookie cutter in a shape that will fit whichever bread you choose

Using a cookie cutter of your choice, cut both slices of bread into the same fun shape.  You can toast the bread first if your children prefer toasted sandwiches. 

In a small bowl, stir together the nut butter and the finely chopped dark chocolate until combined. Spread the nut butter and chocolate mixture on one side of both pieces of the bread.

Add a few thin slices of banana on top of the nut butter and chocolate mixture on one slice of the bread, and then place the other slice of bread on top, so that the two nut buttered sides are sticking together. 

Carefully push a popsicle stick into the centre of the bottom piece of bread (parallel to the sandwich) and serve.

To make the fruit kabobs, I used bamboo skewers with raspberries, blackberries, banana slices, and pieces of canteloupe and honeydew melon cut into fun shapes using a pretty old set of aspic and hors d'oeuvres cutters that were my grandma's.  With the popularity of Bento lunches these days, I believe it's quite easy to find similar small cookie cutters at various kitchen stores. 

Nutty surprise sandwiches on sticks and fun fruit kabobs make it easy to give your children a snack or a lunch that contains protein, fibre, good fats, vitamins, and a healthy little treat as well.  What other fun ways can your family think of to put nutritious foods on a stick?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Who invited you?

Self-doubt has a way of showing up in life like an uninvited guest and trying to ruin what could otherwise be a really great party.  How many times has each of us been bothered by the nagging little voice inside that tells us we're not good enough, that we might make fools of ourselves, that people will judge us if we try to take risks and do something that will take us outside of what feels comfortable and familiar?  I've heard that voice often over the years, and when self-doubt comes visiting with its sidekick, perfectionism, I find myself passing up opportunities to experience new things.  Sometimes, if I'm not sure I can excel at something, I'm reluctant to do it at all.  I am realizing more and more as I get older that I should really try harder to round up those unhelpful thoughts and show them the door.

One day well before Christmas, Matt came home from work and mentioned that he had heard something on CBC Radio about the Canada Writes contest.  The contest had just recently opened for submissions of creative non-fiction from writers across the country, and Matt had made a mental note to tell me about it, thinking maybe I'd want to enter.  I was initially really excited by the prospect. I remembered hearing about this contest the year before, and writing something for it seemed to me like a wonderful opportunity and challenge.  Before I got too carried away with my thoughts, though, the ugly little voice showed up in my head, and whispered unkindly that I could never write anything good enough for a nation-wide competition.  Because I was conveniently busy with holiday preparations at the time, I pushed the whole idea out of my mind and occupied myself with other distractions.

As the days passed, I found that the contest kept popping up in my consciousness.  I started spinning around ideas in my brain, writing words and phrases down on pieces of paper, and exploring my feelings around a story I felt compelled to tell.  I revisited the Canada Writes web page several times, and read through the entries there from previous years.  Finally, one day I gathered up my courage along with all of the ideas I had jotted down on random pieces of paper, sat down at my computer, and just started to write. 

The nasty little voice tried to make itself heard while I was weaving words together, but I was too busy to pay it much attention.  I loved the thrill of making my ideas come to life on the page, the challenge of pushing myself to try things in my work that I hadn't before.  I agonized over phrases that wouldn't come out on paper the way I felt them in my heart, and whispered a triumphant "Yes!" when I finally pieced together the right combinations of words.  After an exhilarating and tiring process of writing, reading, rewriting, sharing and discussing, reading, and rewriting some more, I stared one last time at the words on the screen in front of me, took a deep breath, and, with butterflies in my stomach, hit the "Submit" button.  I walked around for a whole day afterwards wearing a huge smile of personal accomplishment both inside and out, and feeling like I'd grown in directions I hadn't considered before.   I loved knowing that I had actually lived the lessons I like to teach my boys: that it's important to try things, to let yourself make mistakes and learn from them, to believe in yourself and to never stop imagining what more you might become.

I may very well never hear another word about the piece I wrote for this contest. I'm sure there are many talented writers who will enter, and many who will have the ability to express themselves more powerfully or beautifully than I did.  But I'm really happy to say with all honesty that it doesn't matter to me.  I'm just so darn pleased that I had the courage to stand up to the voice of self-doubt inside and know that I was good enough to try.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cranberry Coconut Granola Cookies (gluten, dairy, egg, and nut-free)

This past week I went looking for inspiration for some new, healthy snack ideas for Will, as he seems to have grown tired of several of the usual options in our allergy-friendly rotation.  When I saw the recipe for these breakfast cookies made by Gretchen @ kumquat, I knew I had found something wonderful to work with.  I played around with a nice bunch of nutritious ingredients (gluten-free oats, coconut, chia seeds, sunflower seeds and bananas) to come up with my own version of the cookie, and ended up with a delicious, satisfying, naturally sweet treat that has protein, fibre, and healthy fats, is quick and easy to make, and is safe to send to school.  Yes, please!

Cranberry Coconut Granola Cookies

1 1/2 cups certified pure rolled oats
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 tbsp ground chia seeds
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/3 cup coarsely chopped dried cranberries (I use ones sweetened with fruit juice rather than sugar)
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  In a large bowl, combine the rolled oats, coconut, chia seeds, sea salt, sunflower seeds, and dried cranberries.  In a smaller bowl, stir together the mashed bananas, melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla until well combined.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and thoroughly mix everything together.

Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper baking cups.  Spoon the cookie mixture into the muffin cups and press the mixture down with the back of the spoon so that all of the tops are flat.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until the tops of the cookies are golden brown.  Cool the cookies, remove the paper liners and serve.

These cookies are one of my favourite healthy and allergy-friendly baked treats yet!

Friday, January 11, 2013


I was very glad to realize that it was Friday when I first opened my eyes in the dark this morning.  It seems that it's not been only the boys who have had a hard time shifting gears back into "regular" mode after the holidays; all week I've been feeling scattered and inefficient, like I've been trying to accomplish everything and nothing at the same time.  I've been easily irritated and feeling frustrated about having to use up time every day to do things like pack school lunches that are likely to come home mostly uneaten (Will!).  I even forgot my yoga mat in the coat area after a morning class at the studio.  (I know!!  So unlike me, and yet, I take consolation in the fact that sharing this little detail with Noah, who has also been out of sorts all week, made him feel a bit better about the forty-seven million things he's forgotten places over the years.)  As much as I've appreciated having time to myself once again this week, I miss having my guys around all day, and the opportunities our time together gave me to really "see" them and remember again what wonderful people they are.

Will is an especially fascinating person to spend long periods of time with; he is puzzling and wildly entertaining and heartwarming and frustrating and intriguing and exhausting, all rolled into one little body and one big heart and mind.  While the rest of us in the family seemed to slow down over our time off, Will was always on the move, either physically or mentally or emotionally.  He is like a rocket that is always about three seconds away from blasting off, and when he is not launching himself into school and swim practices, it seems he must constantly seek out other interesting ways to direct his fired-up energy.  One morning when I walked out into the hallway, I was immediately greeted by a determined Will, who was bearing an official looking document and a pen for me to sign it with.  He had spent the early morning hours drafting up a legal contract that allowed for the switching of chores between him and Noah:

Another day he worked out and enthusiastically shared with Matt and I an elaborate plan for his sixteenth birthday.  He had decided that we were going to drive him to Eagle Lake, way up in Northwestern Ontario, so he could participate in the annual Big Bass Sea Giant Hunt he had read about somewhere.  While he was really excited about this event and wished he could do it right then, Will's careful thinking had led him to the realization that it was best to wait until he was bigger and stronger so he would be a better match for the enormous fish he would catch and would not get pulled into the water.  (There is something really sweet about the naivete of an 8 year old boy who thinks he will want to go fishing for his 16th birthday, isn't there?  If he still actually wants to do this when he turns 16, I am totally going to take him!)

You would think that having a bunch of new toys to play with would have been enough to keep Will happily busy over the two weeks he was off.  He certainly enjoyed puzzling over Perplexus balls and constructing intricate things out of Lego and Snap Circuit sets, but that mind of his seems to always, always need more to ponder.  At bedtime one night he called me back into his room awhile after I had tucked him in and turned out his light because he needed to talk about something that had been worrying him.  He wanted to confirm that Chief Spence wouldn't actually starve to death on her hunger strike, because she was, in fact, still taking liquids. When I reassured him that she would be okay, I could see the relief across his face, and I was moved by his concern for the well-being of a woman he had never met.

Over the holidays,Will even came up with a name for the feelings he gets when his mind is too full or moving too quickly.  I can't even count how many times in two weeks he told me he had "pharmofolea"  (that's how he told me to spell it), an affliction that results when you get too much pressure somewhere from doing something in your brain. Apparently pharmofolea can strike your hands (they get hot and sweaty, I'm told), or your feet, or your head, and it doesn't feel very good.  (You can feel free to use this as a reason any time you would rather not be doing something.  I'll tell Will you said thanks.)

Sometimes when I look at and listen to Will, I feel like I am an outsider peeking into a world that is mysterious and just out of my reach.  Sometimes, though, I feel like he pulls me right in alongside him to share in the wonder of the universe within him.  There are days that during our morning trek to school, I notice Will intentionally and perfectly matching my steps as I walk.  He takes timed, giant strides with his small spider Bogs-clad feet and his little legs to keep up with each of my quickly moving steps. When I become aware of what he's doing, I look at him and he looks at me and we share a knowing laugh and a moment that is full of meaning and understanding.

One morning this week when Will was once again trying to time our steps together perfectly, he said to me, "Mom, you're hard to keep up with!"  In so many ways other than walking, I feel exactly the same way about him.  I hope, though, that in those wonderful moments where we really connect with each other, he sees just how much I want to keep on trying.

Photo credit:  Justin Fabian

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A bookworm's breakfast -- 16

There have been some pretty glum faces around the breakfast table the past two mornings; no one seems to be very keen on the idea of being back at school after Christmas holidays. Will, who is up early every morning and never has a lack of energy, was moping around yesterday complaining of being tired at 7 am, and when I went to try and rouse Noah from sleep, he just kept repeating the word "No" in a painful tone, as if attempting to avoid the inevitable.  I can't blame them for their reluctance to get back into the routine; with two weeks of free days to fill with whatever activities their curious minds could think up, the boys were living a pretty sweet life for awhile.  I keep reminding them that if they didn't go back to school, eventually they would grow tired of all that unscheduled time, but they don't seem to believe me (and so we've already started the countdown to March Break!)

At some point every day over the holidays, the boys could be found lying around in comfortable places with their minds caught up in good books. Today I thought I'd share a few titles that Noah and Will really enjoyed these past couple of weeks, because several people have mentioned recently that they really appreciate the children's book recommendations feature here on Pocketfuls. I have not read any of the books listed below myself, so I'm basing these recommendations on the bit of research I've done on each one, and the enthusiastic testimonials of an 11 year old and an almost-9 year old. :)  (Simply click on the book titles to read more information about the stories contained within.)

Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact by A.J. Hartley


 Ungifted by Gordon Korman
How to Seize a Dragon's Jewel by Cressida Cowell
I Funny:  A Middle School Story by James Patterson


I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore  (*This book and the two others that follow it in the series are more suited to mature readers due to their content.)

I am at the point now as a parent where it is physically impossible for me to keep up with reading all of the books my two boys are reading to know what they are about, but it is still very important to me that the content of the books they're choosing is appropriate for their ages (even though they may both possess the skills required to read books intended for more mature audiences).  If you haven't heard of it before, I highly recommend the common sense media site.  On it you can find useful information about and reviews on a wide variety of books, movies, tv shows, websites, games, and music, along with age recommendations, so that you can make informed media choices for your family.  The site has been useful to us in finding new options when we've run out of books to read, too!

Due to popular demand, I plan on writing A bookworm's breakfast posts a little more often again in 2013 to help others who are looking for good book recommendations for their children.  I hope you'll tell us what your children read and enjoy, too, in the comments section below.  Got any other ideas for posts you'd like to see on Pocketfuls?  I'd love to hear your suggestions!  Leave me a comment or send me an email message at lisa.pocketfuls@gmail.com and I will do my best to accommodate your requests.

Friday, January 4, 2013


For two mornings, the bird feeders that the boys and I made earlier in the week were a source of wonder and delight for all three of us.  Yesterday while we ate our breakfast, we watched out the window as a single curious chickadee cautiously hopped from branch to branch in our tree, studying the pinecones and oranges we had hung there.  Eventually, the bird flitted over to one of the feeders to sample the seeds, and Noah and Will and I cheered gleefully when the little fella called to his friends to come and join him at the feast.  We were mesmerized for quite a long time by the sight of so many cute chickadees taking turns visiting each different feeder, and the boys were really happy to have made something that the little birds seemed to enjoy so much. 

We left the house for a few hours later that morning, and when we returned, we noticed that one of our pinecone feeders had somehow disappeared.  (And by disappeared, I mean completely vanished without a trace.  There was no sign of it anywhere, and even the multi-coloured yarn that I had used to tie it to the tree was gone.)  We thought that was a bit odd, but we still had four feeders remaining, and we were looking forward to watching our feathered visitors return once again to enjoy the goodies we had left for them.

This morning, on glancing out the kitchen window, I realized that we were down yet another feeder; there was only one of the pinecone feeders left, and where the second last one had been, there remained only a piece of coloured yarn blowing forlornly in the chilly morning air.   Still though, during our breakfast the chickadees returned, and today they wasted no time starting in on their morning meal. While we were enjoying their company from our window, our resident cardinal pair swooped over to the little tree from the evergreen at the back of our yard, and the female seemed especially intrigued by what the chickadees were doing. She sat and watched them for a few minutes, her head cocked to one side, and then finally, she began inching closer to one of the feeders, one hop and one pause at a time along a slender, flimsy branch that sagged lower and lower with her every move. The boys and I quietly encouraged her from our seats. When she finally came as close to the feeder as the branch would allow, she seemed to give a little bounce to set the branch swinging under her weight, and she quickly grabbed a beak full of seeds in the split second that her head got just close enough to the feeder that she could reach it. The boys and I laughed in surprise and delight at her ingenious approach (and remarked that the male was either not as creative, or just plain lazy, as the brighter coloured bird of the pair waited on the ground to make a meal out of whatever seeds fell there!)

Suddenly, out of nowhere in the middle of this happy morning scene, a pair of bushy squirrels, one black and one gray, came tearing pell-mell across our backyard and threw themselves up the trunk of the bird feeder tree!  They had an altercation mid-way up, which the gray squirrel appeared to win, and he alone then raced into the lowest branches of the tree where the feeders were hung.  Before Noah or Will or I could say a word, the squirrel was hanging upside down from a branch by his back feet like a circus acrobat, holding on to the last remaining pinecone feeder for dear life with his tiny front feet and gnawing away fast and furiously at the yarn with his teeth.  In the blink of an eye, the squirrel took off with his bird feeder prize held tightly in his mouth, and that was the last we saw of it.

The boys and I were shocked at the speed at which the squirrel had managed to steal the feeder right from under the birds' (and our) eyes.  Noah sat staring out the window with his mouth agape and an upset Will started indignantly shouting about how awful that squirrel was.  While I was trying to explain to Will that the squirrel was just looking for food, too, the little furry rascal returned and launched himself into the tree at lightning speed once again, this time with his eyes on the orange feeder.  The cranberries on toothpicks seemed to be a brief deterrent to him, but ultimately they were no match for his wild determination. He grabbed the orange peel, furiously gobbled up all of the peanut butter and seed mixture from its middle, threw the cranberries to the ground, and then proceeded to shred the orange peel to tiny bits, which he then scattered defiantly on the snow below. The damage was so quick and so severe that I felt like I was watching some bizarre kind of animal horror film.  I guess the squirrel had had enough to eat after that, because he never came back for the last orange feeder, but I fear for the safety of the lone remaining evidence of our act of kindness towards the birds.  I'm sure it's only a matter of time before it meets a similar grisly end.

I have to admit that while I understand that the squirrels get hungry too (and I've often left food for them in our yard as well), I'm a little angry and sad that they completely destroyed the feeders that the boys worked on so carefully and lovingly.  Unless we can figure out a way to outsmart the squirrels (which my father-in-law, a very resourceful man who lives out in the country, has been trying to do for years without success), I don't think we have much hope of getting to watch the birds enjoy the feeders in our tree anymore this winter.  I hope at least the squirrel is somewhere happily gnawing on  his pilfered pinecone smeared with peanut butter.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

For our feathered friends (Homemade bird feeders)

Christmas got packed up and put away at our house today.  Matt headed back to work this morning after a fun and relaxing week and a half of holidays, and while the boys were occupied creating setups and taking photos for their latest Lego animation projects, I went around to each room taking down lights and garlands and red berries and carefully tucking them all away in boxes until next December.   I always find the house looks less cheerful after the holiday decorations come down, so today I decided to find another way to add a bit of colour and excitement to our home's winter landscape.

I've seen quite a few photos of homemade bird feeders floating around on Pinterest lately, and when I mentioned the idea to Noah and Will, they were keen to create some of our own.  We have many winter birds who frequent the backyard tree just outside our kitchen window (a pair of cardinals come to visit us every day, and we always have dozens of little chickadees flitting about), and the three of us were excited to make it easier for them all to find food in the snowy months.  Will wanted to make some feeders like the ones he had made at school one year, using pinecones he found in our backyard, and Noah and I decided to each take half of a hollowed out orange as the base for ours.  With wild birdseed we bought earlier today at Bulk Barn, some natural peanut butter, some fresh cranberries we still had in our fridge, a bit of yarn, and some toothpicks, we were able to make a nice collection of simple but pretty feeders for our feathered friends (and the three of us all had a lot of fun in the process!)

To make Will's bird feeders, we started by making a tight loop around the top of each pinecone with yarn, and tying a double knot to hold it, leaving the yarn ends long for later tying around a tree branch.  We spread natural peanut butter all over each pinecone with a knife, and then rolled each pinecone in birdseed scattered on a plate until each cone was completely covered.


Once we finished coating all of the pinecones in birdseed, we tied them to various branches in our little tree outside and waited for the birds to arrive.

To make Noah's bird feeders, we first cut an orange in half and scooped out the flesh.  (This project results in a little snack for humans, too!)  Using a darning needle, we threaded the yarn through the orange peel from top to bottom on one side and then from bottom to top on the opposite side of the navel on the orange's base.  We repeated this process with another piece of yarn across from the first two holes, so that we had an X on the outside base of the orange, and four long strings poking up for tying to a tree branch.  (And because I'm quite sure that my explanation makes NO sense whatsoever, here are a couple of photos to show what I mean!)

We then stirred about a cup of wild birdseed with about two tablespoons of natural peanut butter in a bowl until we had a sticky mixture, and we pressed this mixture tightly into the hollowed out orange halves until they were full.


For the finishing touch, we threaded cranberries onto toothpicks (we used two berries per pick) and stuck them into the orange peel at intervals all around the top of the orange halves, leaving space for the birds to still get at the birdseed.

We tied these feeders onto branches in our tree, too, and then smiled with the results of our little project.

Within 30 minutes of us hanging our pinecones and oranges, we had birds visiting our feeders!  All three of us were so excited that the chickadees liked their homemade treats, and we're looking forward to continuing to feed and watch the little birds throughout the winter months.  We'll be watching especially closely tomorrow around the time when our cardinals usually come by.

I could have done a million "necessary" things this afternoon; there were needles and berries all over the carpets from my undecorating process, the floors needed mopping, and there were dishes and loads of laundry to be done.  I feel really good about the fact that I chose to ignore that for a little while to do something so rewarding and fun with my boys instead, something that will likely bring us smiles for days to come this winter as well.  I plan to create many more simply joyful moments like this in 2013!