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.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

All in the name of science

It hardly seems like it can already be the last week of summer holidays, but here we are.  In the midst of soaking up the last sunny afternoons spent riding bikes and swimming together, the boys and I have also been getting organized for the new school year that is almost here.

One recent morning as we were about to head out the door to do a bit of back-to-school shopping, I asked Will to quickly run to his room and check if his pencil sharpener from last year was still in good condition.  He gave me an odd look, dashed off to his room, and less than three seconds later returned and said nonchalantly that he couldn't find it.  I rolled my eyes (because this not-being-able-to-find-stuff in his perpetually disorganized room is a common occurrence for Will), and headed up the stairs myself to see if I could have any better luck.  Will then raced ahead of me on the stairs, went straight to his closet and opened the doors, reached down and held up his pencil sharpener for me with a sheepish look on his face.  "Oh, HERE'S my pencil sharpener," he said, innocently and with mock surprise, as if he hadn't known all along exactly where it was.

I asked to see the pencil sharpener so that I could determine whether it was still useable for school this year, and I could sense panic in Will's eyes as he carefully passed me the little plastic container.  It didn't take me long to figure out why.  When I opened the lid, I was treated to the sight of a sludgy, pale gray liquid with floating bits of wood shavings in the base, and a spectacular display of mould growing on the sadly corroded metal sharpener.  I looked at Will with an inquisitive horror on my face, and he explained through tears that he was only trying to see if he could make his own pulp; he wondered if adding water to wood would cause the little shavings to disintegrate.  This "experiment" of his had been sitting in his closet all summer long.

"Hypothesis:  Mixing water and pencil sharpenings makes pulp.
Conclusion:  Mixing water and pencil sharpenings does not make pulp, actually.  It makes mould."
~Will, age 9~ 
Will is not the only curious one around here.  A few weeks ago, I was putting something on Noah's desk and I suddenly noticed that there was a goopy red film stuck in blotches all over the light bulb of his desk lamp.  The look on Noah's face was one of feigned confusion when I cautiously asked, "Um, Noah, what is this red stuff all over your light?".  But then his conscience (or maybe his knowledge that I'd eventually get the truth out of him, anyway) caused him to quickly confess that he had been trying to melt the wax from a Babybel cheese enough that he could make it stick to his wall.  I was afraid to ask why exactly he wanted to stick Babybel cheese wax on his wall, and decided to just be grateful that the experiment hadn't actually made it to that point.
In both of these situations, the boys were worried that they were going to get in trouble for mucking up stuff by using it in ways it was never intended to be used.  But I honestly couldn't be upset with either one of them, because I knew exactly why they had done it:  inquiring minds need to know.  If they're going to some day stumble upon one of the world's greatest discoveries in all of their creative and thoughtful endeavours, some messes along the way are simply inevitable.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

LunchBots Containers + Ideas for Healthy School Lunches

March 2016 Update: LunchBots has decided to discontinue its affiliate program, so it is no longer possible to order these products through me. I still highly recommend them, though!


Noah and Will are refusing to acknowledge that the start of school is just around the corner.  They groan and get horrified looks on their faces whenever that "s" word is mentioned near them.  If I'm honest, I'll tell you that my own reaction is much the same!  The boys are dreading the end of their long days of summer freedom; I'm dreading the task of packing school lunches every night once again!  I'm sure many other parents share my feelings about that particular task.

Every year as the boys grow older, I have them become more and more involved in the packing of their own lunches for school.  Having a good set of sturdy containers to pack lunches and snacks in, each with its own lid colour and purpose, makes it easy for Noah and Will to remember to include a balanced variety of good-for-them foods in their lunches each day. 

I first discovered LunchBots stainless steel food containers three years ago, when I went searching for an environmentally-friendly and durable alternative to plastic containers for all of our lunches.  We have been using the same set of LunchBots daily since then, and we love how well they work for our family.  The containers are strong, easy to pack and clean, have lids that are easy for kids to open and yet still stay on snugly, and they stack nicely in our lunch bags.  The boys have three containers each -- a single compartment one for a sandwich or other main lunch dish, a divided one for fruits and veggies, and another divided one for snacks -- and these hold the perfect amount of food for them for a school day.  I love that they don't contain any worrisome chemicals, and that the boys are able to use the same containers year after year without me needing to replace them (even though as busy boys, they're quite hard on their belongings!)

LunchBots has continued to add to their product line over the years, and they now make leak-proof lunch containers, small condiment containers that are perfect for dips and such, insulated containers for transporting hot foods, and even lunch bags.  We have added some of these products to our family's collection and have found all of them to be very useful and of excellent quality.

I am so pleased with these products that I have decided to become a LunchBots affiliate and promote them here.  You will notice a new badge in my sidebar; if you're interested in purchasing some of these containers for yourself, you can easily check out the full line of LunchBots products and place an order by clicking on the badge.  (I will receive a commission for each sale I refer.)  Shipping is free in the U.S. (there is a flat shipping rate of $9.99 to Canada), and any time I've ordered from LunchBots I've received my order very quickly.  I think you'll find these containers to be as wonderful as we have!


The question of what to pack in kids' school lunch containers is one that seems to come up in discussion among parents every fall -- everyone is always looking for new ideas!  At our house we like to avoid heavily processed foods, and so we most often use leftovers from dinner as the basis for the next day's lunch.  Grilling, baking, or roasting extra chicken breasts or thighs or drumsticks, turkey, steak, homemade lean beef burgers, etc. one night makes it easy to put together a healthy noon meal for tomorrow.  The boys like thinly sliced steak or chicken or turkey sandwiches, chicken drumsticks with a small whole grain roll, quesadillas made with a whole grain tortilla, salsa, finely chopped cooked chicken breast, and a sprinkling of cheese (or Daiya for Will) and then baked in the oven, cooled, and cut into triangles, or cold burgers on a bun (all packed with an assortment of raw veggies and some fruit, and a bottle of water).  They also eat tuna or salmon sandwiches, and Noah eats hard boiled eggs, while Will likes natural Sunbutter and fruit juice sweetened jam sandwiches.  If my boys were more adventurous with food, I could also send them soups like this one or this one, or stew, or chili, packed in a thermal container, or a serving of lentil, quinoa, or bean salad.  Some day, I hope they'll learn to love these foods, too!

For the boys' snacks, I like them to pack various homemade healthy baked goods like granola bars, muffins, or nutritious cookies, along with fresh fruit and veggies.  If you're looking for some ideas for wholesome snacks for your family, you may find something you like in this school snack round-up, which I've recently updated with more recipe links. 

The boys and I are going to enjoy these last school-free, lunch-packing-free days of summer while we can.  But when the time soon comes for us all to return to routine, at least we're well-prepared with the containers and recipes we need to eat well all year long.  I hope some of the information here will be useful to your family as you get ready for a new school year, too.  :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

12 (For Noah)

Over the past week, I've drafted at least a dozen happy birthday posts in my mind for you -- I wanted to write something special to celebrate your big day.  All of the versions had something in them about what an amazing person I think you are and how proud I am of everything you've accomplished so far in your twelve years of life, about how exciting (and truthfully, a little sad) it's been to see how much you've grown and changed in the past twelve months, about how you're entering into the years where the opinions of your peers will matter so much to you, but how I hope with all my heart you'll remember that what matters most is that you remain true to yourself.  And then as I reviewed each of those versions in my head, I realized that they were all very likely to be seen as "embarrassing" to your newly-minted twelve year old self.  So I'm not going to write any of that stuff here.  (I think you already know it all in your heart, anyway.)  I'm just going to wish you the very happiest of birthdays, Noah, and an exciting year of further finding your way in the big, beautiful world.  I know without a doubt you're going to go far.

xo Mom

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


The arrival of what seems like fall weather has caught me off-guard this week; I wasn't expecting it so soon.  As I watch the delicate branches of the willow trees being tossed back and forth by the wind that rustles through them, I realize that I suddenly feel just like they might:  restless, with the sense that I'm constantly moving between here and there, then and now and not sure where I really want to be.  The cool air seems to blow right through me, stirring up a mind and a heart that that had fallen into the lulled rhythms of summer, and I now feel the urgency of thought and the pangs of wistfulness that always accompany this particular change of season.

So much of life passes us by without us even noticing.  I plant tiny seeds in the ground in June and suddenly one day there are lush green vines wrapping their tendrils around each other and giant stems and leaves bursting outward and upward, apparently unaware of the wire mesh that attempts to contain them.  In one instant I am holding a small boy's sweet hand in mine, or feeling the soothing weight of his tousled head resting contentedly against my arm while I read him bedtime stories, and then in what seems like the blink of an eye, this very same boy, who is now almost as tall as I am, is turning twelve years old.  I can't help but wonder, when exactly did all of this happen?

Yesterday I read this post written by a blogger friend, Summer, and I was at first surprised to feel tears welling up in my eyes in reaction to her beautiful photos, taken as her young family stood on the shore in the early morning hours to observe an August sunrise together.  But then I understood.  This shift in seasons from summer to fall, from carefree days filled with laughter and time and a chance to just be who we are to responsibility-filled days that urge us to push forward, to grow, to become something else, makes me keenly aware of how quickly life rolls along, of how we are carried from one day to the next as if on a wind.  And that constant moving forward is exciting and full of potential, but it's hard not to be pulled back sometimes to what has come before, and to wonder if I've lived those fleeting moments well.  I feel a strong desire to grab hold of something in these short days as they pass, to attach meaning to them, to make them count for something.  I don't want to let the sun rise unnoticed countless mornings in my lifetime, and then one day realize, when it's almost too late, exactly what I've missed out on.

This restless late summer feeling reminds me that once again, change is ahead. While I might be tempted sometimes to rush headlong into the coming months to see what I will find there, I know that the best way to have no regrets about the past is to live fully and fearlessly right now.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins (gluten-free, vegan)

This long weekend did not go at all how we had planned it.  Matt and the boys and I were supposed to travel four hours away up to Matt's parents' house to visit with them and most of Matt's brothers and his sister and their families for some fun by the lake. It was a trip we were all looking forward to, as Matt's siblings live spread out across different cities (and countries), and it's rare for so many of them to be in one place at one time. On Friday, though, Will suddenly became very ill; he spiked a high fever, was complaining of a headache and awful dizziness, and was so lethargic he could barely keep his eyes open. He went to bed very early in the evening, and on Saturday morning he was no better.  A trip to the doctor's revealed an ear infection and concern about possible strep throat, and so Matt and I were forced to make the disappointing decision for Will and I to stay at home this weekend while Matt and Noah hit the road.  It was heartbreaking to see Will's teary and forlorn face yesterday morning as he said goodbye to his dad and his brother; it seemed unbearably unfair to him to feel so awful and to have to miss this trip that he had been so excited about.  While I tried to remain positive and reassuring for him, admittedly, I felt like crying, too.

But when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, right?  Or, in our case, when life hands you a giant zucchini that somehow got away on you in the garden, you cheer yourself up by baking some delicious double chocolate zucchini muffins!  That's exactly what I did today.

Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
(inspired by this Paleo Chocolate Zucchini Bread recipe from Elana's Pantry)

2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
1/2 cup certified gluten-free oats, ground (I used a Magic Bullet to grind them)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
2 tbsp ground chia seeds mixed with 6 tbsp water (let mixture stand to form a gel)
1 1/2 cups grated zucchini (with the excess liquid squeezed out)
1/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (plus a little extra for sprinkling on top of muffins)

Preheat oven to 350 F.  In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, ground oats, cocoa powder, sea salt, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Whisk together the melted coconut oil and maple syrup in a small bowl, and stir this mixture into the dry ingredients.   Add in the chia seed gel and the grated zucchini and stir until all ingredients are combined.  Fold in the chopped dark chocolate and walnuts.

Line 15 muffin cups with paper liners.  Spoon the muffin batter into the prepared cups, and sprinkle some chopped walnuts on the top of each one.  Bake in preheated oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean.  Cool and serve.

These muffins are moist, chocolatey, and don't include cups full of sugar as I find many baked goods made with zucchini call for.  They make a delicious and nutrient-rich snack.

I am happy to report that Will is feeling much better today.  As if to make up for the few days he didn't eat much at all, he keeps asking to have another of these muffins, to which he has given a hearty two thumbs up.  I'm glad I could do a little something to put a smile on his face!

Thursday, August 1, 2013


The phone rings shrilly from the small, dark table beside me, piercing the quiet peacefulness of the early morning hours and causing me to jump nearly out of my skin.  I sit frozen, heart pounding, as I listen to it ring once... twice... three times.  It is ominous, that sound, and I wonder if I dare lift the handset to find out who is waiting for me at the other end.   The phone rings a fourth time, an urgency in its tone, and as I glance over to the call display screen, I notice that whoever the caller is hails from the same area code as mine.  This promising little detail gives me a brief moment of hope, and I  reach out and tentatively press the talk button as I raise the phone slowly to my ear.


Nothing.  There is silence on the other end, save for a few crackles of static air.

Hello?  I say it again, louder and more forcefully this time, in case the caller hadn't heard my first timid greeting.

There is a click and a response, and I recognize my grave error in an instant.  "Oh, hello, ma'am!" an unfamiliar voice with a foreign accent intones cheerfully.  "I am calling from the *** Air Duct Cleaning Company!".

Aaargh.  Foiled again.


I'm not the only person who has been getting forty-seven bazillion calls a week from air duct cleaning companies and is about to lose her ever-loving mind, am I?  Where on earth have all of these companies come from in recent months, and why, oh why are they so desperate to clean our ducts?  I might laugh at the absurdity of it all if the callers weren't becoming downright rude to me whenever I refuse their services yet again.

I am generally a very pleasant and polite person on the phone, and I will usually lend an ear for a moment or two to a sales caller who is trying his or her hardest to win me over.  I've listened attentively to political candidates, to people who would like me to complete a survey, to people who want me to help send children to the circus, even to people who wish to deliver some samples of free meat to my door (seriously??) before I nicely let them know that I'm not interested.  But the gentle "I'm not interested" approach doesn't seem to work with these annoyingly persistent air duct cleaners.

Things have become so bad that typically, I just don't answer the phone anymore.  Sometimes, though, I get caught up in a rare moment where I throw caution to the wind and decide to go ahead and say "hello".  The second I find out it's yet another air duct cleaning company, I feel compelled to practically shout the words, "I'm not interested!  Take me off your call list -- I do NOT want to be contacted again."  And then I try to hang up.  If you can believe it, I've had air duct call people yell at me at this point in the conversation.  One man, who seemed especially passionate about clean ducts, shouted "It only costs $100!  What kind of a lady are you, anyway, if you don't want your air ducts cleaned for only $100?".

I'll tell you what kind of lady I am, air duct cleaning man.  A crazy lady who has been driven right around the bend by the relentless daily phone calls from an evil consortium of air duct cleaners just like yourself who have no respect for leaving people in peace.  Consider this fair warning:  If you call me again, I can guarantee that I'll tell you exactly what I think of your high-powered, truck-mounted vacuum.  And it won't be very "lady"-like.