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 29, 2013

A kind gift

It was an ordinary Thursday afternoon.  Noah and Will and I were sitting around the kitchen table after school, munching on snacks and chatting while going through the day's communications from school and the pile of mail I had just collected from the box.  Will came across a Christmas gift catalogue sent out by a charitable organization (one of the kinds where you can buy gifts of goats or clean water for families in need in underdeveloped countries), and he claimed this as his reading material of choice. 

For the next while, Will studied that catalogue very carefully, with the same quiet intensity he demonstrates while poring over the various Wish Books and toy flyers that come in the mailbox this time of year while he's trying to decide what he wants to ask Santa for.  He didn't say much at all about what he had read before disappearing upstairs to put some school things away.  But when he came back downstairs a few moments later, his face was lit up with a warm smile, and he looked at me with his deep, knowing brown eyes and said, "Mom, I think I know what I want to do with my saved money."  (He was referring to the allowance he has been carefully squirrelling away for months to buy something really awesome when he finds it.)  "I want to buy one of those gifts to give to a child who needs it."

His words and the selfless sentiment behind them made me quite emotional.  I listened with a warmed heart while he continued to talk excitedly about his idea, explaining that he had so many great things and was probably going to get many more great things for Christmas, so he didn't think he really needed his money to buy anything else for himself.  He said it would make him happy to make other children happy by giving them something they really needed.  And then he asked me to look at the catalogue with him again to help him choose which gift to give.  The thoughtful conversations that came out of the time we spent reading the catalogue together were deeply meaningful ones for me to share with him.

I think it's difficult for any of us who have never had to go without the necessities of life to truly understand hardship and suffering, but it has always been important to me that my boys' eyes and hearts be open to the many people in our community, in our country, in our world who are less fortunate than we are.  From the time they've been very small, I've talked to Noah and Will in age-appropriate ways about the differences between "wanting" and "needing" things, and I've involved them in thoughtful acts of giving to others, especially at Christmastime when the focus for children is so often on receiving.   The suffering of others around the world has been front of mind for the boys and I in recent weeks, through the research they've done for their FLL project, through the stories Noah and I heard at We Day, and through the various charitable gift catalogues that have arrived in the mail.  The stories of hardship are hard to hear, but it's an empowering feeling for children to see that they can help create change through their acts of love and kindness. 

Will has always had a mature interest in social justice, and a deep sensitivity to the feelings of others, so I am not at all surprised by his lovely decision.  Still, I'm so proud of my kind-hearted boy for choosing to use his money for this particular "something really awesome".  His generosity and the wonderful feeling he's experiencing from it reflect everything I want the boys to understand about the true spirit of Christmas.  Somehow I think this is only the beginning of many wonderful things Will will do for the world.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Festive Baked Apples (gluten-free, vegan)

It's cold and a little snowy outside here today, but inside our house it feels warm and cozy.  When the boys burst through the front door after school with cheeks flushed red from the chilly air, they were greeted by the cheerfully twinkling Christmas lights I had put up earlier this week, and the sweet, spicy aroma of the oat, nut, and cinnamon stuffed apples I had baked for them as an after-school snack.

Before this fall, I hadn't thought of baked apples in a really long time; they were one of the (many!) tasty things my dear childhood friend Laurie and I used to create together in her family's kitchen when we were kids looking for something to do.  When Matt and the boys and I went apple picking with my aunt Christina and her family this past September, though, my uncle James reminded me of this simply delicious treat when he mentioned that someone in his family used to make them, too.  It took me a couple of months after apple picking to get around to coming up with my own version of baked apples, but today seemed like a good day to get to it.  Noah and Will were glad I did -- they really enjoyed warming up with this special snack this afternoon.

Festive Baked Apples

4 good-sized apples, washed
1/4 cup certified pure gluten-free oats
1/4 cup blanched almond flour
2 tbsp chopped pecans
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp melted coconut oil
2 tsp pure maple syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp pomegranate arils

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  In a mixing bowl, combine the oats, almond flour, pecans, and cinnamon.  In a smaller bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until the mixture is crumbly and well-combined.  Gently fold in the pomegranate arils.

Using a small sharp knife, cut down into the top of each apple, all around the stem, and remove as much of the core as you can, leaving the bottom of the apple intact.  Once the apples are cored, place them in a small baking dish.  Spoon the oat and almond flour mixture into the centre of each apple, pressing it down to stuff in as much of the filling as possible.

Pour a shallow layer of pure apple juice into the bottom of the baking pan around the stuffed apples, and place the pan in the preheated oven.  Bake the apples for 35 to 45 minutes, or until they are tender and the filling is golden brown.  Cool slightly and serve warm.

Noah really liked the addition of the ruby red pomegranate arils to these baked apples.  (Apples and pomegranates are two of his favourite fruits!)  Baking apples with a mixture of oats, nuts, and cinnamon easily turns them into something special that can brighten up a gray, wintery day.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Still here

I thought I'd pop in here and say hello and let you know, in case you were wondering, that yes, I am still alive.  I know I've been uncharacteristically quiet around these parts of late, and I'll assure you that it's not because I have nothing to say.  Life has actually been a little bursting-at-the-seams this month, so it's more of a case of having everything to say and no time to say it in. 

This past week has been especially bonkers.  In addition to the usual busy-ness, and some getting-ready-for-Christmas stuff, there has been some fantastic (volunteering at a Gifted Outreach conference that Will participated in on Monday, and attending an amazing We Day with Noah on Wednesday), some fun-but-tiring (helping the boys and their team all week to get everything ready for tomorrow's full-day Lego League competition), and some downright ugly (acquiring a gigantic and painful bruise on my leg while climbing over a stadium seat one afternoon -- long story -- and noticing last night that there was a puddle of water on our furnace room floor, which resulted in a new hot water tank having to be installed today.  And Mom, you will be proud of me when I tell you that I did not, as is my habit in any situation involving plumbing, yell in a panic, "SOMETHING must be DONE!!" when I discovered that puddle.  Shocking, I know!) 

I'm hopeful life will slow down just a little next week.  We have now at least reclaimed our living room (the gigantic Lego table was returned to its usual home tonight), so there's that.  I plan to return to our regularly scheduled programming around here soon!

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a fun little game for a Friday night.  It's called "Can You Find the Cat?".


Yes, that lump is our cat.  She also gets a little frantic (and hides) in situations that involve plumbers.  I know, Maggie.  I know.
Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Taking over

Our family has undeniably reached the stage in its life where the kids' interests and activities have pretty much taken over... everything.  This point became especially clear on Friday, when a gigantic table came through our front door and took up residence in our living room, where it will stay for the next week. 

There used to be a coffee table somewhere in this room....
Noah and Will are both members of the First Lego League (FLL) team at their school this year, and together with their teammates, they've been eagerly preparing over the past two months to compete in a tournament that will take place at a local high school this coming Saturday.  The competition is an excellent, multi-faceted experience for everyone involved: kids research a real world issue based on the year's theme (2013's theme is Nature's Fury, so our team has been studying the effects of hurricanes on communities), and develop an innovative solution to a specific problem they choose.  They consult with experts and share their ideas with others in the community who could benefit from the information, and on the day of the competition, they present this entire project to the judges in a creative way.  Team members also design and build a robot using Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0, and program their robot to complete various timed, theme-related missions on tables just like the giant one now set up in our living room.   Just as importantly, each team is required to complete an unfamiliar cooperative task together as part of the competition, and all participants are expected to demonstrate core values of teamwork, positivity, respect, and gracious professionalism throughout the entire day.   It is a great deal of work to prepare for an FLL tournament, but it is also an exciting and incredibly valuable learning opportunity for the kids who become involved in it. 
When time at school to complete all of the robot programming work our team still had to do was running short and the tournament date was quickly approaching, our family volunteered to set up the table at our house for the last week of preparation, and to host a couple of team work sessions.  Yesterday, three other boys from the team, plus a kind and knowledgeable teen mentor who willingly gave up his Saturday to help, joined Noah and Will in our living room for six busy, productive hours to get the programming done. It was incredible to watch these kids work so hard together towards a common goal.  They were focused, encouraging of one another, and great at solving problems as they arose.  Admittedly, there were some moments of extreme silliness, and the occasional fart joke, but the overall impression I had from the day was that these boys could do anything they set their minds to.  I felt as elated as they did over their successes as they painstakingly completed each program one by one, and I beamed with pride for all of them when they first piloted their robot through a perfect run, completing all of their timed missions gracefully with a few seconds to spare.  I can't wait until next Saturday when I'll see the truly inspirational sight of our group and all of the other teams sharing the results of their hard work on the competition day.  These kids are all a testament to the fact that our young people today can be truly amazing. 

There was a time when part of my November Saturday afternoons could be spent with my feet up on the coffee table in my living room, enjoying a good book or a magazine with a mug of tea.  Those days feel far away now; it seems they've been completely replaced by the bustle of activity that curious, motivated, energetic boys seek out and thrive in.  As busy as our weekends often feel these days, I'm so glad for the experience of having a giant Lego table where our coffee table used to be.   In the same way that the physical structure fills our living room to overflowing, the echoes of the positive, creative energy that table carries with it make my heart feel so incredibly full.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A certain kind of magic

Our family spent the past week enjoying a truly wonderful time together in Florida.  We rented a vacation home with Matt's sister Rebecca and her family, and the eight of us lived six fun-filled days soaking up the warmth of the sun, splashing in the pool, and experiencing a wide variety of exciting attractions.

We spent several days revisiting our favourite Disney rides from trips past and trying out new ones for the first time.  There were moments spent in an exhilarating simulation of flight over breathtaking landscapes, and ones spent laughing and cheering as we attempted to outscore each other in fast-paced games of target skill.  We took in clever 3D movie experiences and lively musical theatre productions, nighttime parades and dazzling fireworks.  There was thrill-seeking on rollercoasters (well, there was for some of us, anyway -- I do not do rollercoasters and was quite happy to observe others' fun in those moments!) and hilarity in spontaneous dance parties with Disney characters.  We even braved a haunted mansion together and loved it!


One day of our vacation, we drove to Cape Canaveral to explore the Kennedy Space Center, a trip we had all very much been looking forward to.  The place was full of fascinating stories and indescribably impressive space travel equipment that enthralled us all.  I don't think any of us will soon forget the feeling of awe we experienced when we stood next to the space shuttle Atlantis or the Saturn V rocket, all of us practically swallowed up by their enormity.  Any reservation I felt about having our kids miss a week of school for our trip vanished as I watched them soak up the wealth of inspiring information the Space Center offered them.

Walt Disney World takes great pride in creating "magic" in its parks, and certainly it is an amazing place full of wonderful experiences to take in.  The true magic of the trip for me, though, came alive in the many moments of connection we shared together as a family.  There was so much happiness in the simple acts of playing a rousing beach ball game in the pool, in sharing packed lunches together while sitting on a theme park bench in the sunshine, in catching a glimpse of some beautiful dolphins in the water on our drive back from Cape Canaveral, in talking about our favourite parts of each day, and even in the funny little habit we fell into of always guessing which security person (our "buddies") was going to be working the next time we drove into the gated community where we were staying.  It was a much appreciated opportunity for us to enjoy each other's company without the pressures of all of our usual responsibilities and obligations, and I'm so glad we took advantage of it.

It was a little sad to leave Florida this past Saturday morning; the sun was shining warmly and we still felt the pull of all of the fun the place had to offer, encouraging us to stay a little while longer.  There is a certain magic in coming home after a week away, too, though, and I felt a warm welcome as I walked through our front door and suddenly noticed all of the familiar comforts that a week's absence made me appreciate so much more. 

This morning everyone returned to work and to school, and the weather outside is cold and gray, but I think our fond memories of a fantastic, sunny week away together will keep our spirits up for quite some time.