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.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winter Salad

I don't want to complain about the weather, seeing as how I live in Canada and I realize that cold and snow is part of the package this time of year, but wow, this January has seemed especially brutal, hasn't it?  I've threatened several times in the past week to put a pair of fleece pyjamas on my perpetually cold self, climb into bed with the covers pulled right up around my ears, and hibernate like the bears for the rest of the winter, blissfully unaware of the biting winds and copious amounts of snow blowing every which way outdoors.  And because I am not a bear, and I have a life, and I can't actually follow through on that threat, I find myself staring longingly out the window at the vast expanse of white, wishing for just a little bit of green somewhere to give us a glimmer of hope that indeed, some day, this winter will end!

There is no green to be found anywhere outdoors in these parts right now, people.  And so I've attempted to comfort my winter-weary self by coming up with some new green salads to enjoy in the warmth of  my kitchen (while I half-laugh, half-cry at the frozen, browned stalks of kale I can still see peeking desperately through the snow mound that was once our vegetable garden.  Don't give up, kale!!)

This winter salad is one I put together last week, when two of Matt's brothers (one of whom was visiting from Australia) joined us for a lovely family dinner.  It makes good use of hearty vegetables and fruits that have a nice crunch to them even in winter, and the bright colours and varied flavours are appealing to both the eyes and taste buds.

Winter Salad

You'll have to forgive me for not providing precise measurements in this recipe -- I never measure anything when I make a salad!  Add as much or as little of each vegetable and fruit as you like and I'm sure it will be delicious!

For the salad:

mixed greens
baby spinach
red cabbage, thinly sliced
broccoli, cut into small florets
carrots, peeled and thinly sliced into coins
red apple (I used a Gala), cored and thinly sliced
raw cashews

For the dressing:
(measurements are approximate)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
sea salt and pepper, to taste

In a salad bowl, combine the greens, spinach, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, and apple.

Place the olive oil, white wine vinegar, dijon mustard, maple syrup, sea salt and pepper in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake vigorously to combine all of the ingredients.

Pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently until all of the greens are lightly coated.  (Any unused dressing can be stored in the fridge for later use.) Sprinkle the cashews over the salad, and then serve and enjoy.

This cheerful salad won't make our long, cold winter go away, but it might help us to forget it about it for just a little while!  Stay warm out there.


Monday, January 27, 2014

A Bookworm's Breakfast -- 19

Today is Family Literacy Day, a great reminder to all of us of the importance of reading, learning, and growing together with our children.  We can encourage our young ones to develop a lifelong love of books and the ideas and conversations they spark by spending some time each day sharing stories with them. Engaging reading materials are everywhere, and family outings to libraries or book stores provide kids with fun opportunities to discover ones that will excite them.

In this Literacy Day edition of A Bookworm's Breakfast, you'll find some wonderful reading suggestions for kids of all ages.  These are books that I've recently chosen as gifts for younger members of our extended family, and ones for older kids that our own two boys have read and really enjoyed. (Click on the highlighted titles to read a description of each book.)  Maybe some of these will be just right for your own families when you curl up with a good book this week!

For Babies and Toddlers:

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood

Alphablock by Christopher Franceschelli

For 3 to 5 Year Olds:

I'm Bored by Michael Ian Black

Press Here by Herve Tullet

For 6 to 8 Year Olds:

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

For 9 to 12 Year Olds:

Star Wars Jedi Academy by Jeffrey Brown

Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Savvy by Ingrid Law

Adventure Time by Ryan North

Guys Read: Other Worlds edited by Jon Scieszka

The Eye of Minds by James Dashner (*suitable for more mature readers)

There are also a few interesting looking new books that Noah and Will have their eyes on for future reading:

The Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston

The Copernicus Legacy by Tony Abbott

Spending time reading together is a great way for families to beat the winter blues -- there are wonderful worlds that lie waiting to be discovered among the pages of books!  If you're looking for additional great reading suggestions for kids, you may find other titles you'll like in previous editions of A Bookworm's Breakfast.  Happy Family Literacy Day!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Recipe Index

I realized recently that in the three and a half years since I started writing this blog, I've posted over one hundred different recipes!  Because my collection of ideas for meals, snacks, and treats has now become so big (and is continuing to grow), I thought it was time I created a categorized index to make it easier for visitors to browse all of my recipes and find exactly what they're looking for. Simply click on the title of a recipe below to be taken to the full version of it elsewhere on Pocketfuls.  I'll continue to update this index every time I create a new recipe from this point on, and you'll be able to access the index any time by clicking on the "recipe index" link under the "Labels" heading on the right side of any Pocketfuls page. Putting this index together has reminded me of some delicious food ideas that I haven't made in awhile; maybe you'll find something here you'd like to try, too. Happy cooking, baking, and eating!

*Note:  Unless otherwise indicated, all of these recipes are free of gluten, dairy, and eggs.


Almond Flour Pancakes
Baked Oatmeal with Apples, Cinnamon, and Pomegranate
Banana and Cinnamon French Toast
Chocolate Banana Pancakes
Christmas Morning Breakfast 
Easy Bumbleberry Jam
Good Old-Fashioned Oatmeal
Hearty Oatmeal Pancakes
Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread (+ Chocolate Hazelnut and Banana Oatmeal)
Homemade Granola and a Healthy Breakfast Parfait
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
Strawberry Rhubarb Scones


Banana Blueberry Muffins
Banana Quinoa Muffins
Banana Split Muffins
Carrot Bran Muffins (made with whole wheat flour; contains egg and milk)
Double Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
Nut Butter, Banana and Jam Muffins
Oat Bran Applesauce Muffins (made with whole wheat flour; contains egg)
Oatmeal Apple Cinnamon Mini-Muffins
Pumpkin Muffins


Black Bean Salad
Colourful Quinoa Salad
Easy Summer Salad (contains egg)
Kale Salad
Kale Salad v 2.0
Lemony Chickpea and Spinach Salad
Lentil Salad
Mediterranean Pasta Salad
Quinoa Lentil Salad
Rainbow Bean Salad
Spinach, Pomegranate, and Clementine Salad
Spring Salad Bowl
Winter Salad


Autumn Soup
Butternut Squash and Red Lentil Soup
Chicken Noodle Soup with Tomatoes, Spinach, and Beans
Comfort Food: Chili and Tea Biscuits


Fresh Homemade Salsa
Homemade Guacamole
Pumpkin Cashew Dip
White Bean Dip

Main Entrees

Baked Salmon Cakes
Chicken Braised with Sweet Peppers
Christmas Eve Tourtiere (Meat Pie)
Colourful Rice Paper Wraps with Cashew-Lime Dipping Sauce
Delicious Roast Chicken Dinner
Easy Beef, Tomato, and Veggie Ragout
Fantastic Fish Tacos
Grilled Chicken, Veggie, and Pineapple Skewers with Orange Maple Sauce
Grilled Flank Steak Salad with Crispy Potatoes
Grilled Tilapia and Colourful Salads
Homemade Chicken Fingers and 'Chips'
Homemade Pasta Sauce
Italian Style Grilled Chicken Breasts with Peppers and Zucchini
Lemony Chickpea Wraps with Fresh Veggies
Pan-Seared Halibut with Mango Avocado Salsa
Penne with Roasted Tomatoes, White Kidney Beans, and Kale
Pork Souvlaki with Lemon Roasted Potatoes and Greek Salad
Roast Turkey Dinner (with all the fixings)
Simple Summer Pasta
Slow Cooker Beef and Vegetable Stew
Slow Cooker Beef Pot Roast
Turkey Pot Pies
Turkey Shepherd's Pie
Wild Salmon and Shrimp on the Grill


Grilled Asparagus
Grilled Vegetable Skewers
Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Kale Pesto
Quinoa and Rice Pilaf with Walnuts and Cranberries
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
Sweet Potato Casserole

Healthy Snacks

Apple Cinnamon Chips
Baked Apples
Banana Oat Cookies
Carrot Cake Oatmeal Cookies
Cashew Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies
Chocolate Granola Hearts
Cranberry Coconut Granola Cookies
Homemade Applesauce
Homemade Fruit and Nut Butter
Homemade Granola Bars
Ideas for Healthy School Snacks
Maple Cinnamon Popcorn with Cranberries and Pecans
Maple Spiced Nuts
Mini Pumpkin Cranberry Loaves
Nutty Surprise Sandwiches and Fruit Kebabs
Toast Pizzas

Sweet Treats

Almond and Honey Hot Cross Buns
Almond Cherry Orange Biscotti
Apple Cinnamon Doughnuts with Maple Glaze
Apple Crisp
Banana Orange Cake with Whipped Coconut Cream and Fresh Berries
Beautiful Berry Galette
Cashew Butter Brownies
Chocolate Cashew Butter Cups
Chocolate Cherry Valentine Cupcakes
Chocolate Coconut Creme Eggs
Chocolate Coconut Layer Bars
Chocolate Dipped Cashew Butter Balls
Chocolate Doughnuts
Chocolate Hazelnut Snowballs
Cranberry Almond Crumble Squares
Crispy Nest and Egg Treats
Fruit Pizza

Gingerbread Cookies (two recipes, one of which is free of gluten, dairy, and egg)
Heart-Shaped Thumbprint Cookies
Holiday Treats: Seven Sweet Recipes
Homemade Valentine Chocolates
Lemon and Raspberry Cheesecake Blossoms
Lemon Blueberry Tea Cakes
Lemon Strawberry Shortcake with Whipped Coconut Cream
Mini Pumpkin Pies
Nutty Banana Chocolate Birthday Cake
Nutty Chocolate Tidbits
Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple Icing
Rustic Peach Pie
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
Summer Fruit Crisp
Trail Mix Dark Chocolate Bark
8 Delicious Recipes for Sweet Holiday Treats

Frozen Treats

Banana Split Freezer Pops
Chocolate Almond Butter Banana Pie
Chocolate Almond 'Ice Cream' Sandwiches
Frosty Fruit Pops
Frosty Fudge Pops
Really Good Rocket Pops
Strawberry Banana Soft-Serve Sundaes


Banana, Spinach, and Mango Smoothie
Delicious Dairy-Free Milkshakes
"Fancy Drinks": Kids' Cocktails
Power-Up Smoothie
Spicy Mulled Cider
Strawberry Watermelon Slushies

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Map

They sit side by side with an easy familiarity on the bleachers in front of me, her knee gently brushing against his, his arm resting lightly across the small of her back. Amid a collection of travel books and brochures, they bend their heads close together to peruse a map perched eagerly over both of their laps.  Their gazes shift every now and then, from following a path traced by one of their fingers along the coloured paper landscape to catching glimpses of one another's faces, both of them lit up with warm, excited smiles.  They seem young and in love, and oblivious to anyone else around them as they plan what looks to be a wonderful adventure together.  I'm caught off-guard by how much this simple, tender scene affects me.

Young and in love.  This was you and me some twenty years ago, when we sat side by side just like this boy and girl and planned out exciting adventures of our own. Our fingers, too, traced over paper roads we wanted to travel together, and later, we sat under the stars of northern summer night skies and mapped out in words the paths we imagined our intertwined lives would follow:  careers, marriage, a home, children.  We had stars in our eyes too, then, believing that our love and our plans and our heartfelt efforts would take us exactly where we wanted to go.

We sit side by side all these years later with a familiarity that has grown still easier over time; our love has become deeply rooted and we share a quiet wisdom earned by experience.  The paths we've travelled together are traced in lines around our eyes and smiles, the marks of all the worries and beautiful joys that careers, marriage, a home, and children have brought us.  We look less to the stars to speak to us of the exciting roads that lie ahead, and delight more in the comfort of a life lived well right here and now. We've grown to realize that sometimes all the love and plans and heartfelt efforts we can muster don't lead us where we thought they would, but often the most powerful experiences and valuable lessons lie somewhere in the unexpected.

One thing hasn't changed in all the years since we first mapped out our lives together:  there is still no one with whom I'd rather travel.  And it doesn't really matter where else we go from here, because being older and in love seems a wonderful place all of its own.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Worth Keeping In Your Pockets -- January 2014

Last week was apparently a time for breaking down.  I spent seven days knocked flat by the flu (a rare occurrence for me as I don't usually get sick); Matt fell ill a couple of days after I did, and then, as if in sympathy for our misery, my laptop decided to break down, too, getting stuck in a continuous loop of trying to start itself up without getting anywhere at all.  Matt and I are both feeling better this week (hooray!), my laptop is fixed after a visit to a repair shop (hooray!), and I figure today is a good day for a winter edition of Worth Keeping In Your Pockets.  Here are a few wonderful things that have brought me some comfort and happiness during a rather challenging week.

Loose Leaf Tea:  Matt discovered a Distinctly Tea shop near his office a few years ago, and every year since, I've been happy to find several little bags of their loose leaf teas in my stocking at Christmas, which I especially enjoy in the winter months.  There are many different varieties available, and all of the ones I've tried have made a lovely cup of tea that smells incredible and is deliciously warming.  I steep the teas using a Bodum at home, or in a stainless steel travel tea mug similar to this one if I want to take my hot drink to go. My favourite blends are the Rooibos ones; the Cinnamon Delight is especially nice.

The Book wild by Cheryl Strayed:  There's nothing that quite helps you to forget about how awful you feel than getting lost in an excellent book.  I picked up this novel one day last week while I was lying around and I couldn't put it down; Cheryl tells a beautiful and compelling story of how she hiked a thousand miles of the Pacific Coast Trail on her own after the death of her mother.  The book is both heartbreaking and triumphant -- it was one of the most affecting books I've read in awhile.

Homemade Hand Warmers:  I was browsing Etsy one day before Christmas and I came across some great little homemade hand warmers, small rectangular cloth "bean bags" filled with rice or barley that could be heated in the microwave for thirty seconds or so and tucked into pockets or mittens to keep hands toasty warm on cold winter days.  My friend Yolanda, who has a wonderful talent for sewing and a fantastic collection of fabrics, kindly agreed to make some of these for me and they've been such a useful thing during the awfully cold days we've been having here.  The hand warmers measure about three inches by four inches, and Yolanda lined them with cotton flannel inside to give them a nice weight and feel.  I sent a set to my mom, and she told me they also work great to relieve sinus pain when you're suffering from a cold.  They're such a simple little thing, but they make a big difference in the bone-chilling winter weather.  If you're good with a sewing machine, you could easily make some of these for yourself!

Badger Eucalyptus and Mint Rub:  It's hard to get the sleep you need when you're sick and you can't stop coughing at night or your sinuses are completely blocked and it's impossible to breathe right.  A soothing ointment rubbed on the chest and throat can help relieve these symptoms temporarily, but the popular commercial brand of this kind of product I used to use contains some ingredients that I'm uncomfortable with, so I stopped using it on myself and the boys a number of years ago. Last winter I discovered a natural chest rub made by Badger -- it contains soothing and pleasant essential oils such as eucalyptus, peppermint, lavender, and tangerine, and they're mixed in a base of olive oil, castor oil, and beeswax.  I used this rub at bedtime several nights last week and found it worked really well to help me breathe and rest more comfortably.

Upcycled Books:  I love when someone is able find a creative way to take something that is simply going to be thrown out and make something new and useful out of it.  Such is the case with Margi Laurin, who rescues old discarded library books on their way to being destroyed and turns them into charming notebooks and journals.  Margi intersperses blank pages with pages from the original book, some of which have handwritten names or notes on them, and binds them with the book's original cover. All of these details give the new notebooks great character.  Matt discovered Margi's work at The One of a Kind Show in Toronto and has given me a couple of different notebooks as gifts.  They are some of my favourite places to jot down ideas.

Q.bits Extreme:  Will saw this game in a local shop several months ago and immediately put it on his Christmas wish list.  Santa delivered, but really the game has been a gift for the four of us because we all love playing it so much!  Each player has his or her own set of coloured cubes and must race to recreate the pattern shown on the card that is turned over.  There are four unique rounds that can be played, each one offering a different kind of brain challenge.  This is a great game for families to enjoy together when the cold weather keeps people indoors.

A Cute Squirrel:  This little fella has been hanging around our kitchen window quite a lot in the past week, and his antics (plus the fact that when he squeaks he sounds just like one of the dearly loved Woodsey toys my brother had when we were little) have brought some lively cheer to dreary winter days. I can't provide a link where you can get a cute, feisty little red squirrel of your own, unfortunately ;) , but hopefully this picture will bring you a smile today.

What great things have you discovered and are you enjoying this winter?  I'd love it if you'd share them in the comments section below.  Keep smiling.  :)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Two Brothers

The boys' school held a pep rally last Friday afternoon to send off their Lego League team to the West Provincial Championships on Saturday.

Will was a ham and a total natural at the mic, despite being one of the youngest members of the team.  He was smart, confident, funny, and engaging as he spoke, and he led the whole school in a dance routine that he had made up himself.

Noah stayed inconspicuously in the background throughout the rally, not taking any credit for the significant contributions he made to the project and the robot in the development stages or the strong, quiet leadership he demonstrated throughout the season.

Two very different brothers; both amazing in their own ways.  I'm so very proud of my boys.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Sugar overload

I've spent much of the last few days lying around my house sleeping or reading stuff, thanks to some nasty virus that has left me feverish, headachey, coughing violently, and completely wiped out.  Today I started feeling somewhat alive again, and an article I read on the CBC News site titled Kids are becoming candyholics, and adults are to blame has motivated me to share my own thoughts about our society's relationship with sugar.

Grocery store shelves today are lined with a multitude of sugar-laden foods (not just candy) that appeal to kids, both in taste and in packaging, and it seems as parents we have to work harder and harder to limit our children's consumption of these items to a reasonable amount.  Even parents who are very conscious of making healthy food choices for their families find their children bombarded with excessive sugar in the form of cupcakes, cookies, chocolate, pop, and candy given to them at school, during team activities, at parties, at the homes of relatives or friends, at the barber shop, and in any number of other places on a very regular basis.  While the notion of giving children a treat for a special occasion or activity is a nice one (and one I don't have an issue with), it seems to me that somehow EVERY occasion or activity now calls for A WHOLE BUNCH of treats, and it's not so special any more at all.

As an example, I spent this past Saturday at a First Lego League provincial tournament with Noah and Will and their team. It was a long and exciting day (we were there from about 7am until just after 6pm), and the kids needed to eat at regular intervals to keep their energy up.  I had packed a variety of healthy snacks and lots of water for the boys, and a lunch of pizza, cookies, and sweetened fruit flavoured drinks was provided for them by the tournament organizers.  I was fine with the boys having some items in their lunch that I wouldn't normally choose for them because I knew it was a rare occurrence, and I knew they'd be eating well the rest of the day.  But I wasn't fine when the treat total for the day started piling up dramatically. Throughout the tournament, the teacher coach and the parents of some of the other team members provided all of the kids with chocolate muffins, ice cream sandwiches, bags of chips, timbits, and handfuls of gummy worms. The kids also collected various mini chocolate bars and cookies from other teams who were giving these items away as a friendly gesture.  Will couldn't eat most of these things, thankfully (that's a whole other issue, by the way -- the feeling of being left out that kids with food sensitivities often experience when every activity these days seems to revolve around food treats), and I was glad to see that Noah, without any prompting from me, stopped accepting these treats after the first few because he realized he had had enough for one day.  But many of the other kids ate everything offered to them, a fact that wasn't surprising, really, since many of us adults even have difficulty saying "no thanks" when our sweet tooth calls out for more. Given the rise in health issues in children in recent years that have been attributed to excessive sugar consumption (tooth decay, hypertension, and obesity, to name a few), isn't it up to us adults to be more responsible about how much sugar we're collectively offering to kids (and to teach them about moderation by setting a good example ourselves?)

On a recent trip to the grocery store, I noticed a display table near the bakery department that was aimed at making people aware of how much sugar there is in some common foods found on the store's shelves. There were a variety of packaged food items arranged on the table, and beside each one was a clear plastic container that held a pile of sugar cubes that illustrated the amount of sugar found in that particular package.  It was a very effective visual demonstration, I thought, and I'm guessing many people who saw it would have been surprised to realize how much sugar they actually eat on a daily or weekly basis when they saw it presented that way.  I wonder, if we created a similar visual display of the amount of sugar our kids collect and consume in their various activities throughout a week, if we'd still think it was okay to let them have so many treats?

I think most of us, myself included, would agree that well-chosen sweet treats in moderation is good and healthy. Unfortunately, in a society where everything is super-sized and our appetites for consumption keep growing and growing, it seems to me that the definition of "moderation" has been inflated to really unhealthy proportions.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

When is a door not a door?

I had a joke book when I was a child that was full of silly riddles with simple illustrations, some of which have stuck in my head all these years.

"When is a door not a door?"

"When it is ajar."

This particular joke is not all that funny, I realize, but the fact that I am now living a scenario very similar to it is actually quite hilarious.

Schools were closed here on Tuesday this week due to a blizzard and ridiculously cold temperatures, and so after one day back to the regular routine following the Christmas holidays, the boys were once again lounging around the house in pjs with hours of free time to do whatever they liked.  I find whenever Noah and Will have long periods of free time at their disposal, strange things start to happen around our house, and I am often surprised by mundane things that they've creatively turned into something else.

A fresh bean meant for munching on at lunch becomes an instrument for writing down ideas.  (As far as Will is concerned, turning a bean into anything else is preferable to eating it!)

A working model of Leonardo da Vinci's catapult (a gift Noah received for Christmas and assembled over the holidays) turns into a useful gadget for firing cat treats down the hallway so that Maggie can chase them. (She is a very obliging cat for 16 1/2 years old!)

The large plastic wrapper from a package of toilet paper rolls transforms into a parachute to aid Will as he catapults himself down the basement stairs.  (Don't worry -- I had a heart attack when I found him doing this and made him start from the third bottom step instead of halfway up the staircase like he wanted to.)

"When is a vacuum cleaner not a vacuum cleaner?"

(When it is a rock guitar, of course.)

On Tuesday's snow day, I was walking past a little side table we have in our dining room and I caught a glimpse of two small, round objects that I first thought were marbles resting on it.

I was about to ask whoever the owner of the marbles was to come and put them away when I realized, upon closer inspection, that they were in fact not marbles at all, but the heads of some Lego guys.

I questioned Will as to why there were Lego guy heads sitting randomly on the little dining room table and he nonchalantly answered, "Look underneath."

He had separated the heads from the bodies, poked the necks through the just-right-sized decorative holes in the table, and reattached the bodies from the table's underside, leaving the Lego guys hanging there in a mildly disturbing fashion.  I have no idea why.

The weather has calmed down in recent days, and the boys are settled back into school and extra-curricular routines now, so they no longer have long periods of free time at their disposal.  While I am glad for the opportunity to get some things of my own done in a quiet house, I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the daily surprises of ordinary things turning into something else.  It's inspiring to see the world as Noah and Will do, where anything is full of infinite possibility.

I've left the Lego guys hanging from the dining room table to remind me of that wonderful outlook.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Homemade Natural Body Butter

Winter is out in full force around here this week.  We've been alternating between freezing cold temperatures with severe wind chill and milder days with large snowfall accumulations; today we're under a blizzard warning as the temperatures plummet once again and blustery winds arrive to blow the still-falling snow all around. (The boys were hoping for a snow day to extend their holidays a little bit longer, but alas, it was not to be, so I sent them off to school very well bundled up this morning!)  All of this harsh winter weather can wreak havoc on our skin, and I find both myself and the boys in need of some powerful and soothing moisturizers this time of year.  Over the Christmas holidays, I used some of the free time we had to experiment with something I've wanted to try for a long time:  making my own rich natural body butters.

There are recipes all over the internet for making lovely looking creams and lotions at home without the use of harsh chemicals. I found the guidelines at Rawmazing to be very helpful.  Susan suggests using a ratio of 3/4 solid oils to 1/4 liquid oils to produce the best results, so I gathered up some supplies at a local health food store to add to what we already had at home (Will had fun smelling all of the essential oils with me and choosing some that we should experiment with!) and he and I set happily to work together in our kitchen one afternoon.  The body butters we made were simple to create, have a wonderful texture and natural scent, and leave our skin feeling soft and nourished.  I'll share what we used in the butters we made; feel free to experiment with your own combinations of oils to create ones you'll love!

Homemade Natural Body Butter

1/4 cup cocoa butter
1/4 cup shea butter
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup sweet almond oil
100% pure tangerine essential oil (I used this one)

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the solid cocoa butter, shea butter, and coconut oil together, stirring occasionally.  Once all of the oils are melted together, remove the mixture from the heat and let it cool for about 15 minutes.

Stir in the almond oil, and add the tangerine essential oil a few drops at a time, stirring in between additions, until you achieve a scent that you like.  (I started with 5 drops, then added 1-2 drops more at a time.)

Place the oil mixture in the freezer (or, if it's as cold outside where you are as it is here, you can simply set the bowl outside!) for about 15 or 20 minutes, or until it is partially set.  (Keep checking on it every so often, so that it doesn't freeze completely.)

Once the mixture looks about like this:

whip it with an electric hand mixer and watch a lovely, creamy body butter appear before your eyes!

Scoop the finished body butter into a glass jar with a lid, and store it some place where it's not exposed to heat that will melt it.  (We filled a 250ml mason jar with this recipe.)

We all love this homemade body butter!  The cocoa butter in it has a wonderful dark chocolatey scent of its own, and adding the tangerine essential oil to the mixture made it smell like a real treat.  Will also had his heart set on a lemon scented version, so we made a second batch of body butter, omitting the cocoa butter, and using 1/2 cup of shea butter instead, along with the coconut and almond oils.  The end result was a lovely mix of fresh lemon and coconut scents.

A little bit of these rich body butters goes a long way, so a small jar should last quite some time.  We're looking forward to experimenting with some other versions once our first ones run out!  It's nice to have a simple little project like this that is fun to do with the boys and that results in something wonderful and safe to use on our dry winter skin.

Looking for some other healthy homemade treats for your skin this winter?  You might also enjoy these simple sugar scrubs (which I also make and use regularly).

Friday, January 3, 2014

Creating Light

Yesterday I spent the morning taking down and packing away all of our indoor Christmas decorations.  It was a task I performed with a bit of a heavy heart, because even though the house always looks surprisingly fresh and uncluttered when returned to its usual state, it also feels somehow empty and dull once the cheerfully twinkling holiday lights are gone for another year. (My four year old niece also understands the wistfulness of this change: my sister-in-law told me today that when her daughter came upstairs to find her mom and dad undecorating their Christmas tree, she started crying in earnest, and telling the ornaments and the tree repeatedly that she would miss them.  So sweet and sad!) This act of undoing is a pressing reminder that the days of the family hanging out together at home are soon coming to an end for awhile, and the now unlit evenings make me feel the weight of everyday worries, things I had forgotten about while we relaxed and celebrated, creeping slowly back in.  It's difficult to hold on to the optimism and lightheartedness of the holiday season when months of cold, dark winter loom endlessly ahead of us. 

This is the time of year when I find I need to create my own inner light and warmth to keep my spirits up, by listening to what makes my heart happy and making plans based on that.  I've been taking some time in these last days of the holidays to come up with ideas and activities that will excite me, make me laugh, help me to relax amidst the busy-ness of everyday life, and challenge me to grow in positive ways in the coming months, and I'm taking concrete steps to ensure that I will follow through with them.

I've got several things lined up now that I'm really looking forward to in the next while.  I mustered up the courage to register for a year-long writing course offered by someone whose work I admire, as a means of encouraging me to take some bigger leaps in my own work this year.  The first lesson will arrive in my inbox this coming Monday, and I'm eager to explore various aspects of writing from a new perspective.  I'm also going to be part of a book club with a great group of friends this year, something I've wanted to do for a long time but somehow never got around to.  It will be good to have a reason to spend more time discovering new favourite works of fiction this year!  I've signed up for another session of yoga classes beginning next week, so that I can continue to feel the physical and mental benefits of a practice I've grown to love these past couple of years.  I bought a new cookbook by one of my favourite chefs last week during the Boxing Week sales and have already bookmarked some delicious looking new recipes to try.  (I also pre-ordered this book written by one of my favourite healthy food bloggers, so I'll have more inspiration arriving in my mailbox in another couple of months.)  And yesterday, Matt and the boys and I made plans to spend a weekend with my sister-in-law and her family at their home in Ottawa during Winterlude in February, so we've got some more great winter fun with family to look forward to.

It may seem that none of these activities are huge things, but having these varied simple pleasures to occupy my thoughts and fill my time happily will help to keep a spark of excitement and the warmth of contentment lit in me throughout the rest of the chilly winter.

What will you do to keep your inner lights glowing brightly this season?  I'd love to hear your plans!