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.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

June, in a nutshell

Well, hello there!  I feel like I've been away from this place for too long (although maybe your June has been as ridiculously busy as mine has, and you hadn't actually noticed my absence.)  I've been amazed the past couple of days at how different everything suddenly feels now that all of our usual activities have ended for awhile; I feel much noticeably less like I'm about to board one of those crazy, endlessly spinning carnival rides for the gazillionth time in a row, and much more like I'm spending a few months at a vacation resort (although the resort is my own backyard and I still have to cook).  I hands-down prefer the latter!

The problem with not writing for such a long time is that it seems to make writing harder.  I never know just how to start, or what parts of our very full month to write about.  But because it's summer holidays now, I'm going to stop overthinking it and just jump right into a June highlights post.  What follows are some of the more interesting, funny, or exciting parts of the past several weeks in our little world! 

Noah experienced a great sense of personal accomplishment this past month in the many athletic endeavours he pursued.  He participated in a track and field meet, two cross-country meets, and three different swim meets, and in each event, he pushed himself to do his very best and had some exciting finishes.  The high point for him was the day he completed the TriGator triathlon, an event that he has looked forward to each June for the past three years and always works hard to prepare for.  Though the course distances were longer this year because he had moved up an age category, Noah channeled his nervous energy in a very positive way and tackled the 150m swim, 7.5km bike, and 2km run with great enthusiasm and determination.  I was so incredibly proud of him as I watched him propel himself through each leg of the course and on to a strong finish; it's really wonderful seeing your child work hard for a goal of his own choosing, and then bask in the glow of his own success.

I'm finding it hard to believe that Noah has finished grade 6 already, and will next year be entering the senior grades at school.  I have already felt him being pulled in more directions by his friends, by his personal interests and activities, by his desire to be more and more his own person in recent months, and it makes me both excited for him and a little bit sad for the changes that will inevitably lead him further from our little family as time goes on.  I'm really glad for these summer months, which will give him and me opportunities to spend more meaningful time together and to figure out the intricacies of a new kind of relationship between us. (I'm also looking forward to having him teach me more about all of the technology stuff he finds so fascinating!)

Will, over the past month, has been doing what he usually does:  amazing us and making us smile in innumerable new ways.  One morning he asked me over breakfast, "If I have twenty colours to pick from, and I can use any number from one to eight colours to dye an object, how many possibilities is that?".  I thought about that for about half a second before I realized I would not ever in a million years remember how to figure that out on my own, and then I promised him I would find a way for him to discover the answer he so badly wanted.  While he was at school, I went to an online community I belong to and asked if anyone could jog my memory about permutations and combinations (information long ago learned in an advanced senior high school math class), and luckily, several people were able to point me to a complex calculation method that would result in a correct answer.  That evening, Will and I sat down at the dining room table with twenty crayons, paper, pencils, his calculator, and my carefully thought-out explanations, and then he completely blew me away by not only showing me he understood everything I taught him by answering all of my questions on the concept of factorials, but by also completing all of the multi-step calculations on his own and coming up with a final answer!  (I learned afterwards, hilariously enough, that he wanted to figure this out so that he could prove Noah wrong about something on Minecraft!)  It's pretty awe-inspiring and humbling to realize that your nine year old child can do math you learned in your late teenage years.  (If you ever need to know how many possibilities you have for dyeing something using multiple colours, Will is now your man!)

Will has warmed my heart several times in the past month when I've seen how he seems to endear himself to people everywhere he goes.  At the swim club, he has taken to spending time with the teenaged and early 20-something coaches once his practice is finished; he chats with them about interesting things, and entertains them to no end with the impressive dance numbers he performs on deck to the music that plays during the women's water fitness class.  These coaches seem to love him and his antics, so much so that they're talking about making him a mascot for meets next year to drum up team spirit.  Even complete strangers seem taken with Will -- one recent afternoon, he and I were walking up the hill after school and a group of young teenaged girls noticed his grinning face.  They started sweetly asking him his name, telling him he was so cute, and declaring that if he were in high school, they would be his girlfriend.  (Will found this attention to be quite embarrassing!)   Will seems to have a powerful combination of brains and charisma (demonstrated again this past week when he and his friend Owen impressed parents in their polished role of "professors" while teaching an engaging lesson on photosynthesis in his school's "So You Think You're Smarter Than a Third Grader" exhibit).  I think we're going to have to keep our eye on this one....  ;)

In addition to keeping up with the boys and all of their activities, I've been snatching moments of time to tend to our gardens, and I'm finding it so exciting to watch the progress of the vegetables, especially.  Yesterday we ate salad with greens and radishes we grew ourselves; the tomato plants have gone bonkers in recent days, and the pepper plants (which I'm growing for the first time) are already loaded with large green fruit.  I'm so glad I have more time now to enjoy these and all of the other simple pleasures of summer.

Happy long weekend, everyone!  May the warm months ahead be filled with the things that make all of our hearts happy:  sunshine, relaxation, and fun times with family and friends.  xo

Friday, June 21, 2013

Strawberry Watermelon Slushies

It's absolutely beautiful outside, summer has officially arrived as of today, and local strawberries are now in season:  three good reasons to find time this weekend to enjoy some fun in the sun with family and friends (and fruity drinks, of course!)

Today I'm sharing a recipe for strawberry watermelon slushies, a great alternative to the convenience store slushy drinks that kids seem to love so much (and that are loaded with sugar and artificial colours and flavours).  These homemade frosty drinks contain only fruit, ice, and a splash of sparkling water, and they're a breeze to whip up quickly in a blender.  They're refreshingly delicious for everyone!

Strawberry Watermelon Slushies

6 ice cubes
2 cups watermelon, cut into one-inch cubes and frozen
1/2 cup fresh strawberries
a splash of sparkling water

Crush the ice cubes in a blender.  Add the frozen watermelon cubes and fresh strawberries and pulse until a slushy mixture results.  (There should be no large chunks of fruit remaining.  If your blender has a hard time with the frozen watermelon chunks, you may need to pause every so often and stir things around with a long-handled spoon.)

Pour the fruit and ice mixture into glasses.  Add a splash of sparkling water and stir gently. Serve and enjoy!

I am now keeping a full container of watermelon pieces ready in my freezer, so that I can easily make fun, naturally sweet drinks for my family anytime throughout the hot summer months.  I bet other berries and fruits as they come into season would be delicious in watermelon slushies, too.

Cheers to summer!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Robin reflection

Photo credit:  commons.wikimedia.org

One day early last week I heard a different sort of bird call than the ones I'm used to hearing in our yard, so I went out on the back deck to investigate.  I discovered on the lawn a young robin (not the fuzzy little baby kind, but the kind that is on his way to making it on his own in the world -- he was almost full-sized, with real feathers, but a white spotted belly and a bit of fluff here and there that revealed his tender age), and he was accompanied by a mature robin who appeared to be his mum. 

I stood and smiled in fascination for awhile at the simple beauty of the scene.  As the robin mum hopped here and there across our yard, looking for food, the little robin hopped curiously a short distance behind her, his head cocked to one side as if he were taking things in from a new perspective.  Sometimes he would take an opportunity to hop a ways off on his own in a different direction from his mum, pecking the ground to see what interesting things he might find there; other times he ran squawking up close behind her, and his mum would pop whatever appealing morsel she had found in the grass into his gaping beak.

Every day since that first spotting, I've been listening and watching for that little robin and his mum, and every day, to my delight, they've appeared multiple times to perform together this same sweet dance of life.  While I've experienced the pleasure of seeing birds build nests and care for eggs in our yard several times since we've moved to this house and yard, I don't remember ever watching a bird family at this later stage of development before, and it seems fitting and symbolic when I realize that this is the same dance my own little family is now performing.  Noah and Will amaze me all the time with the things they're learning and accomplishing on their own these days, and it's a marvel to me to see the strong personal identities and confidences that are emerging in each of them.  (Sometimes, too, the boys still squawk at me because there remain some situations where they do need their mum!)

A few days ago, I heard the now-familiar shrill chirping of the little robin coming from the front of the house, along with a flutter of activity and some scraping sounds against the brick.  I slowly opened the front door to find the little robin attempting some unsuccessful landings on our house light fixture, and then on our window ledge. His awkwardness caused him to tumble roughly into the garden, where he then stood for awhile in a daze. I was worried for him at that point, wondering what he was going to do next and if he needed any help, but seconds later my concern vanished as I saw his mum suddenly appear on our walkway. She stayed back, but called out a few notes of encouragement, and the little robin managed to pick himself up and fly off into a nearby tree. Seeing his success made me want to both cheer and cry.

I have always been moved by the sweet scenes of animal life in our yard, but this bird family has struck a particularly poignant chord in my heart because I feel in some ways that I'm looking in a mirror when I watch these common yet significant moments of their lives. I wonder if that robin mum feels even a smidgen of the same immense pride I do when I see my boys accomplish something truly wonderful on their own. I wonder if she realizes how quickly time is passing, and if her little bird heart will both soar and ache when she one day watches her baby bravely spread his wings and head off into the great wide world without her.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Rainbow Bean Salad

On a recent Saturday morning trip to Vincenzo's (a fantastic food store in town), Matt and I picked up a couple of servings of a yummy looking bean salad to have for lunch.  It ended up being as delicious as it looked, and I realized that I could very easily recreate something similar at home.  With a few cans of beans, some fresh veggies and herbs, and a simple lemon-based dressing, this homemade version of bean salad has become one of our new favourite summer eats.

Nutrition experts recommend eating all the colours of the rainbow for optimal health benefits; this salad combines almost all of those colours in one very tasty, nutrient-packed dish! 

Rainbow Bean Salad

For the salad:

1 540ml can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 540ml can of chick peas, drained and rinsed
1 540ml can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup fresh green beans, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 cup frozen corn kernels (thawed by running under cool water)
half of a sweet red bell pepper, diced
half of a sweet orange bell pepper, diced
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

For the dressing:

the juice of three small lemons, freshly squeezed
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp raw honey
sea salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil on the stove top.  Add the chopped green beans and cook them for approximately 30 seconds.  Quickly drain the beans and run them under cold water to stop the cooking process.

In a large bowl, combine the kidney beans, chick peas, black beans, blanched green beans, corn kernels, red and orange pepper, red onion, and parsley, mixing them gently together with a large spoon.

In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine the lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, Dijon mustard, honey, sea salt and pepper.  Shake vigorously until all ingredients are well mixed together, then pour the dressing over the salad ingredients.   Gently toss the salad until it is well coated with the dressing. 

This salad is best made several hours ahead of when you want to serve it, so after assembling it, cover the salad and keep it in the refrigerator for awhile to allow the flavours to blend and intensify.

This colourful, healthy salad is very easy to put together and makes a great addition to summer potlucks, picnics, and backyard barbecues.  Here's to simple and delicious summer eating!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Up and at 'em

Our day started at 5:15 yesterday morning.  It was a little (um, okay, a lot) early for a Saturday, but we needed to be up and ready by 6:15 to drive to an out-of-town swim meet with Noah. I had to laugh at the very different ways Noah and Will handled this early rising; the contrast spoke volumes about their different personalities.

Noah emerged groggily from his room shortly after his alarm went off, and wandered aimlessly around the upstairs hall for awhile with his eyes still closed, mumbling barely comprehensible questions at me about what he was supposed to be doing to get ready.  He groaned when spoken to, moved slowly with his shoulders slumped forward and a forlorn face, and once he somehow managed to drag himself into the car, he sat there like a lump with the hood of his sweatshirt pulled over his head and didn't move or speak.  After about an hour he eventually perked right up, and seemed ready and excited for the swimming challenges he had ahead of him.  He had just needed a little time (alone and quiet) to get there.

Will, on the other hand, bounded out of bed the instant his eyes opened (before his alarm even went off) and came to find me right away so he could explain to me in great detail exactly what he was going to do and in what order to be ready on time.  He ate a bowl of granola, read the morning comics, got dressed and brushed his teeth and made his bed in a flash, and danced his way out to the car.  By the time we reached the highway, he had written three entertaining poems, given an enthusiastic (and loud, because he was yelling at us over the music he was listening to through his headphones) description of a car game he invented called "Monkey Run", built the Toronto Maple Leafs logo out of plasticine, and drawn a rather impressive self-portrait on a mini Etch-a-Sketch.  He didn't need any time at all; he was there likely before he even woke up.

Observing the boys over the years and learning about their unique personalities has interestingly also helped me to better understand my own.  And what I realize very clearly now is that while I can get up and go with as much enthusiasm and inspiration as Will can, too much of that level of activity eventually leaves me feeling like Noah when he gets woken up too early:  like I want to sit alone and silent like a lump for awhile.  These crazy June weeks, filled with all kinds of wonderful school and sport activities that I love to be a part of and people whose company I really enjoy, also leave me feeling drained, because there's no time in between anything for me to sit and breathe and think.  I forget sometimes how much I need that until I don't have it for awhile. 

Luckily this really busy time is short-lived; in a couple of weeks, everything will wind down and we'll each be able to choose how much or how little we want to do with our time.  If you don't hear too much from me around here until then, know that I'm just maxed out from trying to play the real-life version of Monkey Run, and am preserving my sanity by taking the few free moments I can find to sit in blissful peacefulness with my hood over my head. 


Monday, June 3, 2013

Seeds of happiness

I'm feeling very happy today.  There is no special reason why; in fact, if I wanted to look into certain dark corners in my mind, the ones where I store all of the "what ifs" pertaining to upcoming stressful events (like sitting in a court room for an unspecified number of days beginning next week for the purpose of jury selection!), I could find lots of reasons to feel anxious. But today I don't want or need to look in there. Somehow in the past few years, I have slowly been learning that worrying excessively about things that are far off or that might not even happen doesn't help me much, while focusing on what is good and real and actually happening right now provides a wealth of wonderful experiences and feelings. Today I'm grateful to have lots of little reasons to feel joy.

*After three summers of trying to convince Will that riding a two-wheeled bike is great fun (while he tearfully and angrily disagreed with us as we tried to help him practice countless times), we finally had the pleasure of going on a family bike ride together around the neighbourhood this past weekend.  Will flew down the sidewalk without any help, leading the pack with confidence and glee, and I could hear him exclaiming "This is AWESOME!!!".  It's incredible to me that a boy who was so certain that bike riding was an awful activity that would surely result in him being injured, now loves that same activity so much that he asks someone to go biking with him six times a day.  (I'm not exaggerating, either!)  I'm so happy for him that he was able to overcome his fear and frustration, and that he now feels the exhilaration of having accomplished something wonderful that didn't come easily for him.

*Tomorrow I get to accompany Noah and his classmates as a parent volunteer on their field trip to African Lion Safari, an outing we're both really looking forward to.  I checked with Noah before I offered to go, as I've become quite aware this year that the eleven and twelve year old crowd finds the mere presence of their parents at group activities "embarrassing", but Noah graciously told me it was fine for me to be there.  I learn new things all the time while I'm navigating a different kind of relationship with my oldest child, trying to give him the space and increased responsibility he needs while still letting him know that I'm here for him and interested in his life.  Out of curiosity and a desire to "get it right", I asked Noah what he might consider "embarrassing" behaviour on my part that I should avoid while I was on this field trip, and I was told not to do things like tell him to eat his vegetables at lunch or share any embarrassing stories about him from when he was little.  I told him that would be no problem, and then mentioned that if he really wanted to know what embarrassing parent behaviour was, he could talk to his Granny and his Great Grandma Atkinson about the times they tap danced in funny hats, or jumped in the pool fully dressed and holding umbrellas at birthday parties when my aunt Christina and I were kids.  (I realize now that I'm older and wiser that I'm very lucky to have grown up with two such lively and fun women!)  Anyway, tomorrow I will keep my vegetable comments to myself, and will have fun watching baboons outside the chartered bus windows without worrying this time that the crazy critters are going to destroy my personal vehicle! (And maybe I'll tap dance, just for fun.)

*I got our vegetable garden planted this weekend in between rain showers, and under the arc of a beautiful rainbow that appeared in the sky just as I was covering over the last of the seeds with soil. The new beds are now lined with rows for red and yellow peppers, zucchini, carrots, peas, green and yellow beans, radishes, kale, spinach, cucumbers, little red and yellow tomatoes, arugula, and mesclun mix. I've got several pots of herbs planted on the deck now, too, right near the kitchen door. I find so much happiness in the simple act of growing food, and apparently, my work in this area also makes someone else happy. This morning I came downstairs and looked out the window to find a small brown rabbit lying right across the soil in one of the vegetable beds. It was like he knew I had planted the seeds and was just waiting for his lunch to grow! Time to get the chicken wire fence up, I think.... (Don't feel bad for the bunnies, though -- we sometimes leave little veggie garden treats on the lawn for them during the growing season.)

*I have had many, many new visitors to Pocketfuls over the past three days, and that has made me very happy, too!  Apparently lots of people are interested in the banana split freezer pops I made last week.  Thanks to Meg's Gluten Free Goodies board on Pinterest and a very kind mention from Amy at Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free, I've been able to share this recipe with visitors from all over the place (and Noah and Will are having fun seeing the many different country flags pop up on my traffic feed!).  I love writing from my heart in this space, and sharing the things that I work hard on in my kitchen and am excited about -- I would do it even if it was just me reading it -- but it's such a wonderful feeling to know that people think something I've created is worth looking at.  I hope new and old readers will continue to find things that they enjoy here. 

Blue skies and warm sunshine, children's laughter and cute, furry critters, good conversations and moments spent doing what we love... these are the small seeds that can grow a lush garden of happiness in our hearts if we let them take root.