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.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Who wants some lovely soap? (Giveaway: From the Blue House With Love)

I'm pretty sure I heard a collective groan (or was that inconsolable wailing?) from all across the province when Environment Canada announced recently that there is no end in sight to the cold winter temperatures we've been experiencing in this part of the world.  As if January and February haven't been brutal enough, March is expected to be colder than normal, too. Everywhere I go I see sad, disgruntled looking faces and hear people complaining about how they can't possibly endure one more day of shovelling, of coaxing uncooperative kids into snowpants, of indoor recess, of trying to navigate around the ice mountains piled up on streets and in parking lots everywhere when driving around town.  It is honestly beginning to feel as though this winter will never, ever be over.

I can't do anything about the weather, unfortunately, but I might be able to do something to make you smile during these last few days of February.  I've teamed up with Jenn of From the Blue House With Love to offer you a chance to win a sweet prize.

Jenn is a mom to two boys, a fellow blogger, and an entrepreneur who has turned her passion for making handcrafted, all-natural soaps and other body care products into a lively business.  She lovingly creates her good clean soaps, along with luxurious bath soaks, lotions, and body butters, in her "soap cave" at her home (a converted old blue barn just outside of Creemore, Ontario), using only safe and gentle ingredients.  Jenn's soaps are a favourite body care product for my family; we've tried many of her wonderful, naturally scented bars and fun kid soaps over the past couple of years, and they all leave our sensitive skin happily clean and soft.

Jenn is kindly offering one lucky reader a $30 gift certificate to use towards From the Blue House With Love products and shipping. You can enter this giveaway in two ways:

1.  Browse through Jenn's soap and body care products on her website, and then leave me a comment here or on my Facebook page telling me which one(s) you'd most like to try.

2.  Head over to From the Blue House With Love's Facebook page and "Like" it, then leave me a comment here or on my Facebook page letting me know you did.

If you do both 1. and 2., your name will be entered twice in the random draw for the gift certificate.

This giveaway is open to residents of Canada only, and closes at 7:00 pm EST this Sunday, March 2nd. Check back here on Sunday evening to find out the name of the winner!

Jenn is also providing all of my readers with a special discount of 15% off her products, valid from now through to March 7th. To receive this offer, simply enter the code "pocketfuls15" on the From the Blue House With Love checkout page when you place your order.

Winter may not be over yet, but try to keep your chin up!  Jenn's lovely soaps, lotions, and body butters will help your skin be happy until it can feel the warm sunshine on it once again.


*You can also find Jenn and her handcrafted soaps at the One Of A Kind Spring Show in Toronto (Direct Energy Centre, Exhibition Place) from March 26th-30th.  She'll be in the little blue house in the "rising stars" section.   

Monday, February 24, 2014

Wanted: Bubble Wrap

Will stepped out the front door this morning with plans to go to school for the entire day.  (It would be his first full day back since the worsening of his concussion symptoms on Valentine's Day.)  He was feeling good and so was I; I think we were both happy to be putting the worries of the past twelve days behind us.  I watched his bright yellow toque bobbing cheerfully down the street beside his brother's green one, and then I set out to catch up on some work and errands I had put off until Will was feeling better.

At Costco later this morning, I scored a prime parking spot even though the lot was busy, and the sales associate and I shared a surprised smile when the total amount I owed came to an exact $100.  It's silly, I know, but these random details seemed like a sign of some kind to me, an indication on a sunny morning that I could breathe easily once again because all was good.   I left the store with a little spring in my step.

I was not expecting the phone call that came just after the school lunch hour.  Will was sitting in the office with ice again, having suffered another jolt to the head.  A classmate had unexpectedly tackled him in the snow, sending him tumbling, and then another boy who was also pushed had fallen on top of him.  I raced out the door in a panic to collect my youngest boy from school yet again, hoping and praying that he wasn't badly hurt.

Will was teary and anxious when I arrived moments later at the school office; I'm sure the visions of his recent head trauma and recovery were haunting him and he feared he would now be returning to those dark days again. Thankfully, this incident appears to have been a minor one, and after spending a few quiet hours at home, Will seems completely fine.  (Maybe this was the good sign I thought I sensed at Costco.)  I cannot say that my heart is completely fine yet, though.  I'm pretty sure it stopped cold for a moment when that call from the school came in, and even now it's thumping around in a frantic, unnatural way.

I think this is one of the really difficult parts of parenting -- the knowledge that when we send our children out into the world, there are so many things that are outside of our control, that these little people we love so much can be harmed so easily in the blink of an eye.  Many of us adults must sense this, as we make so many rules for our kids in their play these days that our generation is often accused of bubble wrapping them. As an overly cautious person by nature, I try really hard not to project my own fears onto my boys, and I often let them try things that I wouldn't be comfortable doing myself.  But I'm telling you now, when your child takes a hit to the head twice at school in less than two weeks and you watch him suffer through the after-effects of a concussion, you start to wonder as a parent what else you could be doing to keep him safe.

If anyone knows where I can acquire massive quantities of bubble wrap, I'm currently in the market for some.  And I'll take a defibrillator, too -- my heart just might need it the next time the school calls.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Quinoa Lentil Salad (gluten-free, vegan)

One recent weekday, I was doing some shopping at our favourite local health food store just before lunch time.  I was inspired by my rumbling tummy to take a peek at their freshly-made meal offerings to see if there was anything I might want to take home for a quick and easy lunch once I was finished my errands.  (If you're going to grocery shop when you're hungry, a health food store seems like the best place to do it in!) I was happy to find a very appealing looking quinoa and lentil salad peeking out from behind the glass cooler doors, so I took a container of it home, and then put together a green salad with veggies and a simple lemon vinaigrette to go with it.  My lunch was super tasty and satisfying, so much so that I wanted to be able to recreate it again on my own.  This is my homemade version of that quinoa lentil salad.

Quinoa Lentil Salad
(inspired by a similar salad from Healthy Foods & More in Waterloo)

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 cup uncooked green lentils, rinsed
1 large carrot, shredded
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 yellow bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp finely chopped red onion
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1 clove of garlic, minced
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp sunflower oil
the juice of one large lemon, freshly squeezed
1/4 tsp sea salt
pepper to taste

Cook the quinoa according to package directions.  (I brought 2 cups of water to a boil, stirred in the quinoa, reduced the heat to a simmer, cooked the quinoa for 15 minutes, covered, and then let it stand until cooled.)

Cook the lentils in a separate pot of boiling water for approximately 20 minutes, or until they are tender. Drain the lentils and rinse them under cold water to cool them.

When the quinoa and lentils are cool, place them in a large bowl along with the shredded carrot, red and yellow bell peppers, red onion, and parsley.  Stir gently until all ingredients are well combined.

To make the dressing, add the garlic, olive oil, sunflower oil, lemon juice, sea salt, and pepper to a jar with a tight fitting lid.  Shake vigorously to mix all ingredients.  Pour the dressing over the salad and stir gently to coat.

It is best if you can let this salad sit for a little while in the refrigerator before serving it, to allow the flavours to mingle.  Leftovers keep well in the fridge for a few days.

A nutritious salad like this one made in advance makes a perfect lunch for work or school -- simply pack it in a container (my favourites are Lunchbots) and you're good to go!  I hope you enjoy this combination of quinoa, lentils, fresh veggies and herbs as much as I do.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Alligators Under the Bed

Photo Credit:  Roger Smith

There were alligators under my bed.  In the stillness of night beneath the blankets in my childhood room, I used to lie listening for the two creatures I believed were lurking silently, menacingly just below me, two beasts that had the power to snap me up at any moment if they chose to.  I imagined their frightening toothy grins, their unblinking beady eyes, and my heart would race and pound in the quiet darkness.  To soothe myself in those fearsome moments, I would remember that I knew the secret to my own safety:  if I kept the blankets hanging down evenly on both sides of the bed, the alligators would be appeased and would leave me to slumber peacefully.

I still sleep with the blankets arranged just so all around me.

Of course there weren't actually alligators under my bed.  Those figments of my imagination appeared early on in life as a symbol of what I would always fear most:  the difficulties and dangers of the world that could creep out of nowhere and threaten to swallow me whole, without me knowing how to save myself.

If only the answers were always as simple as the symmetrical arrangement of blankets on a bed.

This past week I have seen you wrestling with alligators of your own, my sweet boy, and my fear in those moments was that I wouldn't know how to help you.  Your good health was taken from you temporarily with the sudden impact of a flying ball, and you were dizzy with a lost sense of self and safety.  Your worries grew into giant sized beasts that circled around you unrelentlessly, and it must have seemed to you then that you might never escape their powerful grip.  I sensed you struggling and surrounded you with love and support, offering up the tools and tricks I've gathered over the years from my own challenging encounters, but I came to realize that ultimately it would be you who had to stare those alligators down and send them slinking away under the dark waters.   Watching you learn to do just that has made my heart ache with both sadness and pride.

I wish I could have sheltered you from ever coming face to face with those terrifying creatures, Will.  The truth of life's struggles reflected in their eyes is unsettling for children to experience.  I can offer you this reassurance, though:  I've learned that most often, facing what we fear results in us growing stronger and wiser rather than being swallowed whole.

Adversity teaches our hearts the secrets that will lead us to our own triumphs.


Will has had a rough week recovering from his concussion.  I am happy to report now, though, that he has shown much improvement in the last couple of days and is seeming more like himself again. These kinds of unfortunate experiences sure make us aware of how truly precious our children are.    

Friday, February 14, 2014

On Concussions and Valentine's Day

I had planned for today to write a lighthearted Valentine's Day post to share a funny little story about Will.  (One recent Saturday morning, he was downstairs getting ready to go to his Lego robotics workshop and didn't want to leave without saying goodbye to me first. But I was upstairs in the shower, so he did the best thing he could think up:  he spelled out B.Y.E. in Morse code by turning the downstairs bathroom faucet off and on in short and long bursts, hoping I'd get the message through the hot and cold water blasts I was feeling.  Now that's how to show your mom you love her!!)

I'm not feeling very lighthearted today, though, after the serious turn that things took around here this week.  On Wednesday, I got a call from the boys' school telling me that Will had been hit in the head by a ball during gym class and that he was sitting in the office with ice.  When I heard Will say he had a headache and was dizzy, I went to pick him up and brought him home with me to rest for the remainder of the day.   I started to get quite worried when he said his head felt like it was floating off his body and he mentioned that he felt like he was looking through a very fine net whenever he looked at something off in the distance, so yesterday morning we went to our doctor's office to get him assessed.  We learned that he had likely suffered a mild concussion, and were told to monitor him over the next week and come back if his symptoms didn't improve.  (In the midst of all of this seriousness and concern in the doctor's office, there was a brief moment of levity when Will described his vision disturbance in highly technical terms as if he was a scientist who specialized in ocular research, and the nurse practitioner looked at me with her jaw on the floor and asked, "How old is he?!?"  It at least appears that the concussion hasn't affected that part of his brain!).  Afterward she told us we should get in to see our optometrist that afternoon to rule out retinal detachment, because some of what Will was describing made her think that was a possibility.  I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared at that point, even though I put on a brave face for Will and tried to keep my mood light and cheerful.

Thankfully, Will's eyes checked out fine, and so now we're left to watch him carefully and prevent him from participating in any activity that puts him at risk of getting another head injury, until he's been symptom-free for at least a full week.  (If you know Will and appreciate his high-energy nature, you will immediately recognize that this is not going to be an easy order for him.)  It has been 48 hours full of worry and upset and disappointment for Will and for all of us, as in light of what has happened, we've had to make changes to some plans we'd been looking forward to.  These kinds of lessons about the unpredictability of life and the need for flexibility come to everyone sometime, but knowing that doesn't really make them easier to learn, does it?

What I find myself feeling today, though, in addition to all of those stressful emotions, is the sense that we are surrounded by people with good hearts who know exactly how to show love when it's needed.  I heard it in the phone call from my mom last night, who called to ask Will how he was feeling and who maybe sensed, too, that it might be a time when I needed to hear my own mom's voice.  I read it in the kind and supportive messages online from relatives and friends who heard what had happened to poor Will and were really concerned about him.  I saw it in the caring of Will's good friend at school, who sat with him in the office after the incident to keep him company while he waited for me to arrive, helped Will gather up all of his things to take home, and then offered to find Noah to tell him not to wait for Will at the end of the day.  I sensed it in the email message from Will's teacher, who reassured me that she would take good care of him today at school, and would help him to feel better about having to sit out of gym class and recess by baking a special gluten-free Valentine treat with him in the staff room during those times.  I felt it in the kind understanding of my sister-in-law Rebecca and her family, who told us that they still really wanted us to come and visit them in Ottawa this weekend, even if we couldn't go skating on the Rideau Canal and sliding down the ice slides at Winterlude as we'd been planning to for weeks.  And I appreciated it in the form of a warm cup of my favourite tea from Starbucks, which Matt popped by our house mid-morning to deliver to me because he knew I probably needed it today (this after I cancelled our lunch date together because I felt completely overwhelmed with stuff to do after being so distracted the past two days).

Despite the difficult week we've had, I'm feeling somehow that we're fortunate this Valentine's Day. I hope each and every one of you also have the wonderful experience of knowing that you're surrounded by people who love you well.  xo

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Homemade Chocolates for Valentine's Day (gluten-free, vegan cashew butter balls)

Call me sentimental, but I actually like Valentine's Day.  I've been hearing various comments this week about it being an overly commercial holiday that some would rather just ignore, but I think it's nice to have a day that reminds us to really think of and appreciate the wonderful people who are dearest to us in our lives. In our little family, we enjoy finding small but special ways to say we love each other on February 14th, and this year, I've got a yummy treat already tucked away to share with Matt, Noah, and Will:  heart shaped boxes of chocolates that I made for them myself.

The combination of chocolate and nut butter is one that makes many people happy, I think!  This recipe for cashew butter balls was inspired by one for peanut better balls by Angela Liddon of Oh She Glows;  I swapped the peanut butter for cashew butter and modified Angela's recipe in a few other ways to suit our family's needs and tastes.  I'm really looking forward to the smiles that these decadent (and healthier than most store-bought) chocolates will bring to my guys' faces later this week!

Cashew Butter Balls

1 500g jar of natural cashew butter
5 tbsp pure maple syrup
2 tbsp coconut flour
a pinch of sea salt

2 85g bars of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil

Scrape the contents of the jar of cashew butter into a mixing bowl, and stir it to blend in any oil that has separated.  Add the maple syrup, coconut flour, and sea salt to the cashew butter and mix all ingredients well. The mixture should be firm enough to roll into balls, but not too dry looking.

Roll a spoonful of the mixture in your hands to form a ball that is about one inch in diameter.  Place the ball on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and repeat this process until all of the nut butter mixture is rolled.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the dark chocolate and coconut oil together, stirring often.  Once the chocolate mixture is melted, remove it from the heat immediately, and then coat the cashew butter balls in the chocolate by placing them on a fork one at a time and dipping them into the pot.  Remove any excess chocolate by tapping the fork on the side of the pot, and then carefully place the dipped cashew butter balls back on the baking sheet.

Once all of the nut butter balls are dipped, place the baking sheet in the freezer for about 15 minutes, or until the chocolate is firm.  Remove the pan from the freezer, and decorate the top of each cashew butter ball by drizzling a little of the leftover melted chocolate across it using a small spoon.  Return the cashew butter balls to the freezer again to firm up the drizzled chocolate.  You can use any remaining melted chocolate up by pouring it into small heart shaped candy molds and placing those in the freezer as well. Serve chocolates at room temperature (if you can wait that long!)

To present these cashew butter balls in a pretty way for Valentine's Day, place each one in a mini paper baking cup with a heart motif, and then fill a heart-shaped tin with them.  (I found some cute tins and paper liners at Bulk Barn.)

I may have sampled a few of these nutty chocolate treats before I packaged up the boys' hearts (I had to make sure they were good, right?), and I can tell you that they are melt-in-your mouth delicious.  I think you could use any kind of natural nut butter in this recipe with great results; you may just need to slightly vary the amount of coconut flour you use to thicken up the dough depending on the consistency of the nut butter you choose. Any way you make them, these homemade chocolates are sure to make your family's Valentine's Day a little sweeter!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A loyal friend

She was with us for four years before he came into our lives.  It was her that I used to hold on my lap and speak to sweetly to calm her skittish nature, her who helped me learn how to care for and nurture someone little who depended on me.

When he arrived twelve and a half years ago, filling our hearts with a love that surprised us with its intensity and made us drunk with a new kind of joy, our once quiet home echoed with the unfamiliar sounds of a crying infant first, and later, of the inquisitive exploration of a bright toddler.  Confused, she took to spending most of her days hiding in the basement whenever he was awake.  She did not know what to make of this curious creature who had taken over her spot on my lap and whose unexpected movements seemed foreign and frightening to her.  She was not sure that she liked it at all.

She came around eventually.  As he grew, he began to win her trust by showing her his kind, gentle nature: he spoke sweetly to her, bestowed soft scratches upon her head, made fun games out of giving her her favourite treats.  She learned that he was a boy who liked to lay in a warm, quiet spot to read as much as she liked to lay in a warm, quiet spot to sleep.  The two of them grew together as they grew older.

Now she greets him at the doorway of his room each morning when he rises, and at the doorway of our home each afternoon when he gets back from school.  She howls at him to get his attention, obliges him with an enthusiasm that is surprising for a sixteen-and-a-half year old cat when he invents a new way to play with her, and spends every single afternoon curled up contentedly beside him on the couch while he crafts new worlds on his laptop and enjoys the warmth of her purring body next to him.  Those who say that a dog is a boy's best friend have never seen the joy that this cat and this boy find in each other's company.

Somehow watching them sitting quietly together each afternoon makes me wish a little that I could keep them both here with me, exactly as they are now, for always.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Chocolate Doughnuts (gluten-free, vegan)

I'd been thinking recently that there are many treats typically associated with childhood that my boys rarely, if ever, get the chance to enjoy.  Common family traditions like going out for ice cream on a hot summer day, or stopping by Tim Hortons for a doughnut after Saturday morning activities just don't happen when you have a child with multiple food sensitivities.  I'm not sorry that the boys are missing out on all of the sugar found in those kinds of foods, but I remember how excited I would get when I was a child and our family enjoyed treats like those on special occasions, and I wish sometimes to be able to provide that kind of memory for my boys as well.

Last week I decided that I was going to find a way to make doughnuts that both of my boys could eat.  I found a doughnut pan online and ordered it, and spent some time thinking about how I would make a healthier kind of dough to fill it with.  Today I got to work making a test batch of doughnuts in our kitchen (with my fingers crossed the whole time!) and I can't even tell you how excited all four of us are with the result!

Chocolate Doughnuts

2 cups blanched almond flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tbsp arrowroot flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup chopped dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa)
1/4 cup natural cashew butter

shredded unsweetened coconut and/or chopped walnuts for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, cocoa powder, arrowroot flour, baking soda, and sea salt. Whisk together the almond milk, maple syrup, and vanilla in a smaller bowl, and then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Stir well until a uniform dough forms.

Divide the dough into six equal parts.  Take one portion and roll it under the palm of your hand to form a log shape that is about seven inches long.  Carefully lift the log and place it into the well of a doughnut pan, joining the two ends together to form a circle.  (The log will probably break a little, but don't worry -- just smooth out the place where the ends meet and any cracks or breaks with your fingers until you have a nice looking doughnut shape in the pan.)  Repeat this process with the remaining portions of dough.

Place the filled doughnut pan in the preheated oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the doughnuts cool for about 15 minutes before turning the pan over and gently releasing the doughnuts onto a wire cooling rack.  Let the doughnuts cool completely before glazing them.

To make the glaze, melt the chopped dark chocolate and cashew butter together in a saucepan over low heat, stirring often.  Spoon the melted chocolate mixture over the top of each doughnut, and use the back of the spoon to encourage the glaze to drip over the edges of the doughnuts.  Sprinkle some shredded coconut or chopped nuts over top of the glaze and voila! --  doughnuts so delicious you'll wonder why you never made them yourself sooner!

These rich, chewy, flavourful doughnuts were surprisingly simple to make, and they were enjoyed eagerly (as soon as they were ready!) by all four of us here, who agreed that they were quite likely the best doughnuts we had ever eaten.  They would make a lovely Valentine treat to share with your sweeties next week.

This recipe is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays

Friday, February 7, 2014

Lessons We Can All Learn from Suzanne's Rainbow Loom Videos

I know, I know.  You're wondering if I've become as obsessed with the Rainbow Loom as Will has, because this is my third post in a week that mentions it.  But I need to talk about Suzanne one last time today, and once you read this post, I hope you'll understand why.  (If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can catch up here and here.)

Suzanne and I have exchanged several friendly email messages over the past few days, and it has been so nice to talk with her.  Last night she told me that reading my follow-up post made her quite emotional.  She told me about the cruel comments that sometimes get posted below her videos on YouTube, and how they get to her every now and then, not because they hurt her feelings, but because it makes her sad that children think it is okay to say such mean things to other people.  She said she was so glad to have Will's story to think about now whenever she reads an unkind note about her or one of her videos.

I usually avoid reading comments on sites like YouTube, because I've found they can be a minefield of nastiness. But after Suzanne mentioned the mean messages she's received, I felt compelled to take a look at the comments under several of her videos in an effort to understand better what it must feel like to be her.  I found a lot of thank yous and praise for her, which was nice, but interspersed with those words were ones that were incredibly rude and hurtful.

"once I started taking it off the loom it broke your such a lier its so hard i hate you"


"This suck balls"

"what kind of crap is that I hate u! :("

"are you freaking serious, when i took it off it fell apart, i dont care because it was ugly anyway"

"You are sooooooooo bad"

"Thanks for making kids cry"

"Hey old woman u make it to complicated"

"Shave your wrist lady"


I also found a whole litany of swear words that are not fit for repeating here.

I am not Suzanne, but reading those comments (and knowing that many of them came from children) made me feel sick and heartbroken.  It seems that so many people in the comments section have forgotten that while Suzanne may seem to be only a voice and a pair of hands on the screen, she is, in fact, a real, whole person with feelings.  Sadly, based on what I've seen in my own online interactions with people, some adults have a hard time remembering that there are human beings somewhere beyond their screens, too.

As parents in an era where social media is everywhere, we have an important responsibility to monitor our kids' online activity, and to set a good example for them by holding ourselves to the same standards of behaviour we wish to see from them.  I often have conversations with my boys about how every word we write online has the power to bring either happiness or hurt to others, because even if we can't physically see it, there is always a real person on the receiving end of our comments. The ages-old teaching of treating others the way you wish to be treated still needs to apply to our human interactions, even when our methods of interaction change.  The notion of being kind to one another should never become obsolete.

What started out as a cute little post about Will's latest project has turned into something much more meaningful for our family over the past week.  I've shared Suzanne's messages with Will and Noah as a reminder of how people feel when they read what others have written about them.  I hope other parents will do the same, and keep a close eye on what kinds of comments their children are leaving on social media sites.  It turns out there are lessons much more valuable than bracelet-making contained on the pages of Suzanne's Rainbow Loom instructional videos.  If we don't teach our kids now about what it means to be human, who will?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Oh my goodness, hello Suzanne!! (a follow-up)

On Sunday I shared here a funny little story about Will's current all-consuming obsession with making intricate Rainbow Loom bracelets.  I explained how Suzanne, the narrator of the official Rainbow Loom online instructional videos, has become as familiar to Will as a real life friend, and that he often talks about her and to her while he sits in front of his laptop screen with his loom and his coloured tiny rubber bands scattered all around him.  After I posted that story here, I decided to send a message with a link to it to Rainbow Loom via their website, thinking that on the off-chance my post actually made its way to Suzanne, it might make her smile when she read it.  I sent it and then didn't really think any more about it.

Two days later, I was sitting in front of my own laptop screen squealing in delight for Will to come and see, because I discovered that my post had indeed made its way to the real, live Suzanne!  She enjoyed hearing about Will so much that she shared the story on the Facebook page for her official Rainbow Loom guide, and she left Will a lovely personal reply here on Pocketfuls, telling him that his bracelets looked awesome and that she was glad he was having fun making them using her videos.  She told him to ask his mom to get in touch with her because she wanted to send him an autographed copy of her book, and she signed her message, "Your friend, Suzanne".   That kind little note made me want to hug Suzanne even more.

Will is completely thrilled that Suzanne of the Rainbow Loom instructional videos wrote to him, and he can't wait to look through his autographed copy of her book.  As his mom, I am so very touched that Suzanne took the time to make a boy she doesn't even know so happy.  Those sorts of little kindnesses are what strengthens my belief that the world is full of thoughtful, lovely people.

Sometimes when I am in a mood of self-doubt, I question why I share my family's stories online for all to see. I wonder sometimes if any of it matters to anyone else but me.   In thinking about this cheerful exchange with Suzanne this week, though, I am reminded of exactly why I do what I do:  it's about building connections with people, and hoping that all of us will find some delight and comfort in realizing what we have in common, even though we may not know one another.  I hope that after she read my post, Suzanne felt good knowing how much our family appreciates what she does.  Her message to Will certainly made me feel glad that I continue to reach out to people.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Delicious Dairy-Free Milkshakes

Matt surprised me at Christmas with the gift of a Blendtec, a high-powered kitchen tool that I'd had a quiet crush on for a very long time.  Over the past few weeks, I've been having fun finding out exactly what this machine can do, and every time I try something new I'm absolutely amazed at the results.  One kitchen experiment I'd read about and had been wanting to try for months was to make my own almond milk using only raw almonds and water, so last night I got out the Blendtec, the nut milk bag I had ordered for this purpose, and the one cup of almonds I'd been soaking in the fridge all day and I gave it a whirl.  I rinsed the soaked almonds and added them to the blender jar with four cups of cold water, pressed a single button, and within very little time I had a lovely, creamy, and really delicious fresh nut milk.  I strained the liquid through the nut milk bag into a glass container for storing in the fridge (saving the almond pulp in another container to use for baking crackers later) and then I did a little happy dance right there in my kitchen.  (Seriously, I was so excited I did!)

Today I decided I would make the boys an after-school treat with some of that homemade almond milk: delicious dairy-free milkshakes made from wholesome ingredients.  (I know it doesn't seem like the time of year for milkshakes, but rather than fight futilely against it, I've decided to embrace Mother Nature's frosty mood and channel it into my own creative kitchen endeavours!)  I made two different versions of the milkshakes today:  a chocolate one made with raw cacao powder and sweetened with a bit of frozen banana and fresh Medjool dates, and a strawberry one that is full of real fruit.  Both shakes are thickened with certified pure oats and chia seeds and have no added syrups or artificial colours or flavours, making them a healthy fun snack that can be enjoyed anytime.

Chocolate Milkshake

 1/2 cup certified pure gluten-free oats
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp natural cashew butter
3 pitted Medjool dates
1 tbsp raw cacao powder
half a frozen banana, broken into chunks
4 ice cubes

Add the oats and the chia seeds to the jar of a high-powered blender and pulse them until they are ground. Pour the almond milk into the jar, pulse the mixture a few times, and then let it stand for about 10 minutes to thicken slightly.

Add the vanilla, cashew butter, dates, cacao powder, banana chunks, and ice cubes to the blender jar, in that order.  Blend all ingredients until smooth and creamy.

Pour milkshakes into tall glasses and serve.

Strawberry Banana Milkshake

1/4 cup certified pure gluten-free oats
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
3 pitted Medjool dates
1 frozen banana, broken into chunks
1/2 cup frozen strawberries
2 ice cubes

Add the oats and the chia seeds to the jar of a high-powered blender and pulse them until they are ground. Pour the almond milk into the jar, pulse the mixture a few times, and then let it stand for about 10 minutes to thicken slightly.

Add the dates, banana chunks, strawberries, and ice cubes to the jar and blend all ingredients until smooth and creamy.

Pour milkshakes into tall glasses and serve.

What's nice about these milkshakes, in addition to their delightful taste that comes from real food ingredients, is that they retain their thickness over time because of the added oats and chia seeds.  If you don't want to use all of the milkshake in the blender jar at one time, you can save the rest of it in the fridge for another serving later and it will still look and taste great.

Noah and Will both loved these milkshakes when they had them after school today (and so did I!).  I'm hopeful that my now well-fueled shovelling buddies will be ready to help Matt and I tackle Mother Nature's latest frosty concoction when it arrives tonight.  (Yes... more snow is on the way.)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Hello, Suzanne

Will has a new friend.  I don't know much about her, except for what her nicely manicured hands look like and how her voice sounds when she speaks in a gentle, guiding tone.  Otherwise, she is pretty much a mystery.  Is this enigmatic friend of Will's imaginary, you ask?  No, the days of companions that Will created in his own mind ended with the quiet, uneventful disappearance of Big Mike many years ago. This new friend is named Suzanne, and she's a real, live person, though she speaks to Will only from the screen of his laptop.  She's Suzanne of the Rainbow Loom instructional videos, and Will is quite taken with her.

We were late to get into the Rainbow Loom craze in our house.  The thought that either of my boys would be interested in making bracelets out of tiny, multicoloured rubber bands never crossed my mind until one day in late fall, when I saw a tweet from fellow blogger Jeni Marinucci declaring enthusiastically how much her nine year old son was enjoying Rainbow Looming.  I asked Will if he wanted to try it, and he said he did, so I went out and bought a couple of bags of the little elastics as a trial.  We watched a few YouTube videos that showed us how to make some of the easier bracelets using just our fingers or two pencils, and when Will realized how much fun that was, he asked for the Rainbow Loom itself for Christmas so he could commit to the craft more fully.

I know many children who quickly learned to make a basic bracelet style or two on the loom and have since been content to continue making those same bracelets, simply using different combinations of colours to get something new each time.  Will is not one of those children.  Over the past several weeks, he has been confidently working his way through the fifty-one unique and increasingly intricate designs on the Rainbow Loom website, with the same kind of fervent passion he devotes to anything new and challenging that fascinates him.  With the help of Suzanne's step-by-step video tutorials, Will is on his way to becoming as much of a Rainbow Loom expert as she is.

Will spends a good part of his weekend days and weekday evenings at the dining room table now, chatting with Suzanne as he carefully watches the images of her hands on his laptop screen and then focuses intently on his own loom and the elastics in front of him.  He questions her rhetorically when he misses an instruction ("What exactly do you MEAN, Suzanne?), updates me periodically on what she is teaching him ("Suzanne says I should hook this band over to make a tear drop shape."), and gloats triumphantly when he grasps a bracelet design so quickly that he actually gets ahead of Suzanne's instructions on the video (Hurry UP, Suzanne!  I've already done that.  What are you WAITING for?").  Will is so comfortable with Suzanne now and speaks of her so familiarly that I keep expecting to see a woman actually sitting at the table with him whenever I glance into the dining room.

Sometimes I want to curse Suzanne for posting her happy little instructional videos from afar, and then being conspicuously absent when my young perfectionist makes a mistake and is reduced to a pile of frustrated tears with a mess of separated rubber bands scattered in front of him.  (Where are you NOW, Suzanne?)  Mostly, though, I just want to hug her for helping me so completely occupy my creative boy who is happiest when his mind and hands are busy making something wonderful to him.

Now if only Suzanne would make an instructional video with a step-by-step plan for cleaning a bedroom....