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.
Monday, December 22, 2014
But tonight I am sitting in the warm glow of the Christmas lights, and the smell of fresh-baked cookies wafts soothingly through the room. I am surrounded by people whom I love with all my heart, all of us eagerly awaiting more dear family arriving tomorrow to celebrate the holidays with us. I am reminded that I have been looking at a half-empty glass when really, my cup is overflowing. I have so much to be thankful and happy for. I'm feeling very grateful right now for the light that comes with this season of hope.
Wishing all of you a holiday season filled with peace and love and a happy heart. I'll be back in the new year!
Monday, November 10, 2014
We carved pumpkins in shifts this Hallowe'en because there was no time when the four of us would be home to do it together in the days leading up to the 31st, and I made two separate trips to the school for student-parent-teacher interviews last week, because scheduling back-to-back appointments for the boys was impossible with the other things they had going on that evening. There is so much to keep track of this year: two schools, separate dance and swim schedules that never seem to coordinate, meetings, volunteer commitments. I'm happy because everyone seems to be thriving in this whirlwind of interesting activity, but to be honest, there have been many times in recent weeks where I've looked at Matt in the midst of all of the craziness and asked, "Is this really what it's supposed to be like to have kids Noah and Will's ages?" Life right now is tiring and often stressful, and sometimes I miss the simpler days we once knew that allowed us all to enjoy being together more often. I feel like the boys' youths are slipping far too quickly through my fingers while we rush headlong into each day's activities.
This past weekend Matt and the boys and I decided to reclaim some much needed family time; we took advantage of a day off school Friday (a PD day) and travelled to Michigan to enjoy an overnight stay in a hotel with a waterpark. We all looked forward to this little trip for weeks, and I could sense everyone's relaxed and happy mood as we rolled down the familiar highways. The four of us had hours to talk and laugh together as we savoured a leisurely dinner at our favourite Frankenmuth restaurant, helped each other shop for winter clothes, and browsed the millions of shiny ornaments at the world's largest Christmas store, which had us recalling our own sentimental and funny holiday memories. The boys shared some brother bonding time as they repeatedly hurled themselves together down the giant new slide at the waterpark and rode the fast-moving current of the pool's winding river, each of them always keeping a close eye out for the other as Matt and I smiled and looked on. We joked good-naturedly with each other about who snored and talked in their sleep in the hotel room we all shared, and about the giant chicken we saw wandering the pool area. All of the craziness of the past two months faded completely from my mind in the hours we set aside just for family.
I am really glad to have spent this time with the three boys who mean everything to me, not only for the joy it brought all of us, but also for the comforting realization it has led me to: life has certainly shifted shape in recent months, but our hearts know that nothing important has changed at all.
Monday, November 3, 2014
Cashew Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
2 1/2 firmly packed cups blanched almond flour
1 1/2 cups certified pure oats
1/2 cup coconut sugar
1 tbsp ground chia seeds
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup natural cashew butter
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
2 tbsp unsweetened almond milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
For the chocolate topping:
2 tbsp chopped dark chocolate
2 tbsp natural cashew butter
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the almond flour, oats, coconut sugar, chia seeds, baking soda, sea salt, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the cashew butter, melted coconut oil, almond milk, and vanilla.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well to form a crumbly dough. Stir in the walnuts, chopped dark chocolate, and coconut.
Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper. Press heaping tablespoons of dough between your fingers to make it stick together, and roll the dough into balls that measure approximately one and a half inches in diameter. Place the balls in rows on the parchment paper lined baking sheets, and press them down with the palm of your hand or the bottom of a glass to make flat circles measuring about half an inch high. Bake the cookies in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, until they are lightly golden. Cool the cookies completely.
To make the topping, melt the chopped dark chocolate and the cashew butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring often. Spoon this mixture into a piping bag with a small round tip, and pipe the topping over the top of each cooled cookie in a zigzag pattern.
These cookies combine so many favourite baking ingredients that they can't help but be totally scrumptious! They are a perfect mix of chewy and crumbly, rich in flavour but not too sweet. I hope the nut butter, chocolate, oatmeal, and cookie fans in your house love them, too.
This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
The towel drawer looked as it always does; it was neatly stacked with colourful rows of soft, folded drying cloths. I closed my fingers around the towel closest to the top and was pulling it towards me when a loud storm of tiny, hard objects suddenly rained down on the drawer's wooden bottom. Gasping, I jumped back from the drawer, which startled the boys and had them both hopping up from the table to see what was wrong.
The three of us cautiously peered over the drawer's edge and saw that where the towel had been, there was now a vast collection of cat kibble and a sad, half-eaten jellybean (a remnant resurfaced from a long-forgotten trail left by the Easter Bunny many months ago). We all looked at each other in silent bewilderment for a second. I broke the stillness with a quiet question, my mind daring to hope for a different answer than the one I was already pretty certain of.
"Did one of you maybe do this as a prank? An early Hallowe'en trick, perhaps?"
Their wide eyes and solemn, shaking heads told me this was no joke. And then all hell broke loose in our kitchen.
I was blurting out frantic phrases about mice(!!!) and taking quick, panicked pokes at the remaining towels in the drawer, afraid that the tiny cat food burglar(s) might still be lurking within the folds. Will was shrieking periodically in horror, his mind already having conjured up giant-sized rats with red eyes and rabies and a taste for old purple jellybeans living within our walls. Noah was plotting an elaborate covert mouse-catching mission, involving the mounting of his Go-Pro camera in a strategic location so we could live-stream the culprit's every move and then use this information to lure it into a little cage. It was a miracle that anyone ended up at school on time this morning.
I have now spent the day Googling "how to humanely deal with mice in your house", because it is obvious that having a cat does not guarantee a rodent-free living situation.
Does this look like a cat who is bothered by the fact that a mouse (mice?) is stealing all of her food at night and socking it away in a towel drawer? No, I didn't think so either.
I suppose there are worse stories about rodents living in people's houses. (Like the time when a black squirrel chewed through the walls of the Toronto house Matt lived in with friends years ago, and we found the furry critter sleeping among the towels in the linen closet one day!) Still, this is definitely a situation where SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!!! If you have any tips for helping little mice pack up and move out in a way that won't upset boys (and a mom) with sensitive, animal loving hearts, I'm all ears.
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Back in September, I was feeling disappointed when I was unable to find a teacher willing to help coach a First Lego League team at Noah and Will's school this year. Although I understood and respected the teachers' reasons for declining (the role of coach for this activity requires an enormous amount of time and energy), it seemed a shame for the boys and their team not to be able to build on the excellent learning opportunities that the FLL project had provided for them last season. I wondered if Noah and Will's enthusiasm for school might lag this year without the challenge of robotics to keep them motivated and engaged.
I'm glad to say that I'm not worried any longer. It seems both boys have considered the lack of a school robotics team not as a barrier to their growth, but as an opportunity to see what else is out there (and inside themselves) to explore. Will has come home with a beaming face and stories of how he has been taken under the wing of the senior boy at school who runs the tech team; he is learning the ins and outs of setting up and managing the sound and light and video systems for school assemblies and special events, and he now gets to sit at the tech table in the gym, behind the controls. He is taking his strong interest in politics to his new job as a school newspaper reporter, and has come up with an earnest plan to interview the new Waterloo mayor so he can craft an impressive article for the next issue. He's also writing an international math contest next month, a challenge he gleefully accepted when he was recently approached by his teachers about participating. Will's mind is so full of compelling ideas and intentions these days that he sometimes finds it hard to fall asleep at night.
Noah has mapped out lofty goals for his future this year in grade eight, and he seems to have a new spark and confidence in seeking out what he needs to reach them. I think his academic success and positive social interactions in his high school class so far this fall have shown him that following an uncommon path can bring him a great deal of happiness. It's wonderful to see him working together with his teachers to create the unique and rewarding educational experience he craves. At home, he spends weekend afternoons dismantling all of the intricate components of my old netbook computer with a tiny screwdriver, and chatting with his electrical engineer uncle about how he could use these parts in an interesting new project. The boy who used to doodle in the margins of his math notebooks out of frustrated boredom now tackles the optional extra challenge questions his high school math teacher assigns with a positive, inquisitive mind in the evenings, and he has hopes of attending a four day enrichment studies unit at Queen's University next spring. When I compliment Noah on his excellent attitude and hard work, he looks at me and says knowingly, "I have plans, Mom." We both understand, without any further words, that he is going to do everything in his power to see what he's dreaming of come to life.
It has been challenging sometimes to find the kinds of educational experiences the boys have needed over the years to keep their curious, always moving minds happy. Sometimes opportunity knocks, but sometimes you have to go out and find it, or even create it yourself. I see Noah and Will doing all of these wonderful things this year that animate them and fill their hearts with joy, and I realize that my efforts in advocating for and encouraging them have helped them learn how to recognize and seize opportunity for themselves. That's a pretty amazing feeling for all of us.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Merino Wool Socks: Cool, wet weather won this week; I gave up on the easy style of bare feet in ballet flats and switched to wearing socks and fall boots whenever I leave the house. My feet have a tendency to feel cold almost always in late autumn and winter, so I'm often on a mission this time of year to find socks that are warm and comfortable, but also not ridiculously thick, for everyday wear. These merino wool socks are my new favourites -- they are super soft (not itchy like wool can be) and lightweight, have no bumpy seams at the toes, and they fit really well, with just the right amount of snugness. I found them at Costco, where they're sold in four-packs in a variety of colours. (Look Dad -- more stripes!! ;) )
Rainbow Carrots: I went out to check on the remains of our vegetable garden last weekend and was happy to find that the last of the carrots were all ready to be picked. We planted a rainbow variety this year, mostly just for the fun of pulling each carrot up by its green top and being surprised by what colour it turned out to be. We got a lovely variety of white, yellow, orange, pink, and purple carrots in our harvest, and it's been so nice to enjoy the taste of homegrown vegetables just at a time when we're really starting to miss freshly picked food from the backyard. I used some of our carrots to roast along with potatoes for dinner on Sunday; I drizzled the vegetables with olive oil, sprinkled them with sea salt and pepper, tossed in some crushed garlic cloves, fresh rosemary, and orange zest and baked them in a 400 F oven for about an hour. It's a pretty and delicious side dish that you can try, too -- just look for rainbow carrots in your grocery store.
Handy Apple Slicer: This is one of those kitchen gadgets that I should have acquired years ago, considering that my two boys have eaten tons of apples every year since they were small, and I've likely spent too many hours of my life coring and slicing fruit! We've seen this slicer in action at the local farmers' market, where the vendors use them to offer samples of the different apple varieties to visitors. All you have to do is center this little metal contraption over the top of an apple, press down, and voila! The apple is instantly cored and divided into ten neat little sections, ready for eating plain, or dipped in some natural peanut, almond, or cashew butter as Noah and Will like to do for a snack. I ordered my apple slicer from a virtual Pampered Chef party that I attended recently and I'm really happy with its quality. It's a great little time saver.
Fall Family Getaway: When we can, Matt and the boys and I like to plan a little trip somewhere in November, a reprieve from the busyness of fall schedules and the usual routines that become somewhat tiresome during a long, gray, chilly month. One of our favourite weekend getaways involves driving up to Frankenmuth, Michigan, where we stay at a family-friendly hotel with a waterpark and do some winter clothes shopping at the outlets in Birch Run. Everyone is always happy on this trip -- the hotel is cheerful, comfortable and well-equipped, and located right next door to the world's largest Christmas store, whose twinkling lights smile at us through the window in the dark evenings. The boys love the water slides and the hotel arcade filled with games of all kinds, and Matt and I love the deals we find in the stores. We'll be heading up there again one weekend this November for some family fun; if you live within reasonable driving distance from Frankenmuth/Birch Run, it's a place well worth visiting.
Have you discovered something useful, beautiful, or interesting lately that you'd like to share? I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.
I started writing this post lightheartedly this morning, before I heard the sad and shocking news of the tragedy that occurred in Ottawa today. The above descriptions of everyday things seem so insignificant in light of how our country is feeling right now that it seems almost ridiculous to post them. We are all shaken tonight, but I think it's important to remind ourselves that we still live in a place that is beautiful, and peaceful, and free, and that the violent actions of a few cannot destroy what is at the heart of our nation. We must continue to see the good that exists all around us, remembering more than ever to love and take good care of one another. My heart is with all those who were touched closely by today's awful events.
Thursday, October 16, 2014
If you're still looking for an answer to this question after Monday's Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations, I have a delicious recipe for you today. This is one of my family's favourite ways to use up the leftovers once we've grown tired of the usual plate filled with carved turkey, cranberries, sweet potato casserole, and vegetables: individual pot pies nestled in a rich almond flour crust. These warm, filling pies really hit the spot at the end of a busy fall day, and have won over even my two very particular eaters.
Turkey Pot Pies
(adapted from a Chicken Pot Pie recipe in Elana Amsterdam's Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook)
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
I've not been good at taking time to enjoy the sunshine recently. There have been many to-do lists staring me in the face each morning, and I seem to have become a little too caught up in the ever-moving machine of busy family life. Routine and structure and organization are good things, to a point, but I find myself resenting them lately, for making me feel as if I can't ever stop and enjoy where I am right now, that I need to always be thinking ahead to what needs to be done next.
This morning, perhaps because I was still feeling the calming effects of a long weekend of family and turkey, I decided to ignore the notepads full of lists and to take a long walk down one of my favourite local trails. It was unseasonably warm in the early sun-streaked daylight hours, and I knew I only had a short window of time to enjoy this rare autumn weather before a forecasted week of rain rolled in.
The trail was quiet and soothing in a way that felt different from the times I had walked it in the spring and summer. There was no sense of urgency anywhere; it was as if Mother Nature herself was whispering the wise words I needed to hear as my feet strode lightly along the paved path. I sensed it in the insects that hummed a low tune in the tall grasses beside me, and in the birds of prey whose powerful wings held them aloft, seemingly without any effort at all, as they hovered on the gentle breeze in the blue sky above. I noticed it in the woolly black and russet caterpillars who meandered across the trail, pausing every now and then to change direction, and in the golden leaves that fluttered gently towards the ground as they left their branches, their faces reflecting a last glimmer of beauty in the sunlight. As I breathed in the sweet earthy scent of the forest in fall, I heard the spent leaves rustling and crunching pleasantly underfoot, and the water in the stream trickling gently over smooth stones. It seemed so clear to me in those peaceful moments that really living is about being open to seeing and feeling the light.
The truth is that as living, breathing creatures we are all travelling a path whose end is both mysterious and certain. This season of falling leaves and suddenly bare branches reminds us that our time here is finite, that we do not ever really know what's around the next bend as we bustle about our day-to-day business. Let's all remind each other to slow down and take the time to be warmed and made happy by light in its many forms. It's waiting patiently for us to discover it in all kinds of lovely places.
Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Ladle the batter in 1/3 cup portions onto a hot griddle coated in grapeseed oil. Flip the pancakes when the edges begin to set and the first side is golden, then cook the pancakes on other side until they are completely cooked through. Serve with a sprinkling of chopped pecans, cinnamon, and a drizzle of real maple syrup. Makes approximately 14 pancakes.
Monday, October 6, 2014
A strange thing happens here sometime every autumn. Invariably, we arrive home one afternoon to find a massive colony of flying ants clustered on our front steps, except that they are not flying when we first see them; they are wandering about in every direction on the ground, and there are so many of them that it looks like the very steps themselves are crawling. At first glance, this ant situation is about as horrifying as you're probably imagining right now. Will flat out refused to go in the front door when he discovered this year's winged ant explosion and instead burst breathlessly through the less-convenient back kitchen door to tell me what he had found.
I was as startled by the ants as Will was, but I did not want to spook him further by freaking out over them, so I remained calm and encouraged him to come and watch them through the window with me from a safe spot inside the house. (Really, I didn't know what I could do about the swarm anyway, because as much as Will is afraid of ants, he is also a tender-hearted keeper of all creatures, and it would have upset him if I had exterminated even one of the creepy-crawling things.) We both stood quietly for a while, our eyes following the tiny, determined insects as they slowly spread out in droves over the entire front walkway. And then suddenly, one by one, the ants began to spread their delicate wings and rise above the earth.
It was a completely different story once those unnerving creatures began to fly. The ants floated off one after the other like bubbles dancing in a gentle breeze, each small speck eventually disappearing on the bright blue horizon against the late afternoon sun, until finally there was not a single ant remaining. Will and I both experienced a moment of wonder witnessing them take this important flight to begin the next phase of their lives; the anticipation and possibility contained in that migration was palpable. And it hit me just then that often what we are most afraid of need only to be looked at in a different light to become something beautiful and inspiring instead.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Every fall I am so thankful for this little family excursion, with its peaceful drive down country roads lined by trees brave enough to show their beautiful true colours, its crisp blue skies and cool, fresh air, its perfectly crunchy red fruit enjoyed within the embrace of a welcoming orchard row. I feel the laughter in my own heart echoed in the boys' happy voices and I'm reminded once again of everything that is truly important in life.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
A Trailblazer, I've since learned, is a kind of safety patrol, one whose job it is to walk along a designated route each morning, meet up with younger students along the way and lead them safely to the school yard. It's a walking school bus of sorts that aims to encourage more children to be active rather than getting a ride from a grownup. This is the first year that Will has been old enough to take on this responsibility, and he was very excited about the chance to participate.
He filled out his form carefully, taking time to think about why he wanted to do this job and what sorts of leadership skills he had already demonstrated in the past, and then he offered up the completed page for me to sign. He seemed so proud of the idea that he could make a positive contribution to his community and to the environment by taking on this role.
It did not surprise me at all that Will wanted to be a Trailblazer; he has always had a deep concern for others and a strong desire to be helpful. Remember, this is the boy who organized an entire snow hill sledding safety protocol in his school yard last winter because he saw a need for one. And I didn't think it hurt, either, that the job of Trailblazer would include a very official looking orange and yellow safety vest, which would give Will the authority he often craves to make sure people are doing as they should.
Will's application for the role of Trailblazer was accepted by his school, and he attended a training session one morning last week, where he learned more details about his responsibilities and some basic first aid skills. Yesterday afternoon when he arrived home, there was a newly assigned orange and yellow safety vest glowing among the books and snack containers inside his backpack, ready for his first day on the job.
I smiled warmly at our front door as I watched Will walk confidently down the street this morning, the adult-sized orange and yellow vest draping enormously over his proud little shoulders. I had no doubt that he would fill that vest out beautifully. The title of Trailblazer seems just right for him.
Monday, September 22, 2014
"I feel such a big pressure to get high marks in my class this year," he confessed. This was a feeling I understood well, and I think he recognized this before he revealed his tender secret to me. Our personalities are remarkably similar in many ways.
Will is in a split class this year where he is in the younger of the two grades, and the classmates who are the same age as him are a wonderful, bright group of kids. This is excellent for Will, both because he has easy, regular exposure to higher grade level material to challenge him, and because he is with like-minded peers who energize him with their ideas and push him to further develop his own. But it also means he feels a threat of sorts to his self-worth, which is complexly tied up in measurable successes: top scores, the right answers, and the academic and social recognition that comes with these. He puts pressure on himself where no external pressure exists, and he worries that if he can't always be among the best, that everyone else will somehow lose respect for him, that he will somehow disappoint.
I said what I truly believed were all the right things after Will expressed his feelings to me: that it was so much more important to his dad and me that he try his best and continue to learn new things and to grow than that he always get high marks in class. I explained that even when someone scores higher or is more successful than he is in some measurable way in life, that fact does not make his own unique achievements and contributions to the world less valuable. I was glad when I saw Will visibly relax with my words, and I hoped they would stay with him whenever he might need them in the future.
The irony of this entire situation, though, is that I have been really hard on myself lately. I feel frazzled by the busyness of our lives so far this fall and by my inability to handle it more gracefully. I look at moms who are exponentially busier than I am and appear to have everything together and I wonder what the heck is wrong with me. I read the beautifully honest writings of women who are so much more talented and accomplished than I am and I become intensely critical of every word I type, sometimes deleting everything because no idea I have, no phrase I turn seems worthy of putting out there. In my head I'm also yelling at myself that I'm a hypocrite because I can tell my son exactly why he should send those kinds of self-defeating thoughts out of his head, but I can't seem to put my words into practice in my own life. (If Will heard me say this, I'm certain he would tell me to stop being so hard on myself.)
But this is one of the powerful lessons we can learn through motherhood, isn't it? We begin to see our own struggles more clearly when they're reflected in the lives of our children, and we can learn to extend the same gentle understanding to our vulnerable selves as we do to our children in their fragile moments. We can realize that even if we don't get it all right sometimes, like our children, we are no less deserving of love.
Maybe it's the shrinking daylight hours that are making me feel small and overly critical these days; I don't know. But this morning, as I sit with a comforting warm mug of tea in front of my keyboard, I'm determined to take a page from the book of accumulated life wisdom I quote whenever Will and I have one of our heartfelt talks. If I want him to believe what I tell him, I certainly should believe it myself. There is no shame in not being the best at anything; what matters is that you have the courage to try.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Apple Cinnamon Doughnuts with Maple Glaze
For the doughnuts:
2 cups blanched almond flour
1 tbsp arrowroot flour
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp water
2 tbsp apple juice
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
half of a small apple, cored, peeled, and chopped into quarter-inch pieces
For the glaze:
2 tbsp coconut butter
2 tsp coconut oil
2 tsp pure maple syrup
plus 2 tbsp chopped, toasted pecans for sprinkling on top of the doughnuts
Monday, September 15, 2014
I've discovered many beautiful autumn-inspired creations while browsing Etsy lately, so today I'm sharing some of my favourite handcrafted finds for the home, for work, for little ones, and for treating yourself or a special someone this season. (Click on the caption above each item for more details.)