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.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Worth Keeping In Your Pockets -- March 2014

Today something very exciting happened, something that we haven't seen around here in a really long time: outside it was actually both sunny and warm(-ish)!!!  The snow mountain at the end of our driveway is slowly but surely starting to melt away, and Matt and the boys and I even managed to dig our Christmas lights out of the ice that has kept them buried in our trees for much longer than is acceptable, so that today we were finally able to put the last of them away. These are simple little pleasures, certainly, but they're very welcome ones after the long, cold winter we've experienced this year, and I think all four of us are feeling much more cheerful now that it seems spring might actually come.

With change finally in the air, it feels like a good day for a spring-themed edition of Worth Keeping In Your Pockets.  Here are some fun, useful, or interesting things I've discovered that I think you might enjoy, too.

A new favourite cookbook:  I pre-ordered Angela Liddon's Oh She Glows Cookbook just after Christmas, and I was so excited when her beautiful book recently arrived in my mailbox that I actually sat and read it cover to cover that evening (something I don't usually do with a cookbook).  The book is filled with delicious-sounding recipes and gorgeous food photographs that will inspire you to get in your kitchen immediately and whip up one of her tasty and good-for-you creations.  Angela's recipes are all vegan, but you don't need to be vegan to appreciate them; her book (and her blog, which I refer to often for food ideas) appeal to anyone who wants to enjoy vibrant and healthy meals.

Getting organized:  The transition to a new spring season always puts me in a cleaning and organizing mood.  I suddenly notice areas in our home that have been a certain way for a long time but could be done better, and I find it very satisfying to transform them.  Recently I got fed up with the metal bin we had on our kitchen counter that was being used to hold things like notepads and forms from school, pens, and other miscellaneous stuff.  We have limited counter space in our kitchen as it is, and that bin was often crammed to the point of overflowing, which was making me feel claustrophobic when I was cooking.  I finally got rid of the bin, and replaced it with a wall-mounted letter holder which we tucked away in an unused sliver of wall between a tall cabinet and the kitchen window.  (The letter holder was a great deal from Sears, and looks very much like the more costly version I'd been admiring in the Pottery Barn catalogue.)  All of the papers we need to keep at close reach are now neatly organized in there in some pretty file folders I found in the dollar bins at Target, and my kitchen counter suddenly seems bigger and less cluttered.  Hooray!

A pop of colour:  One of the easiest ways to bring the feeling of spring indoors this time of year is by switching out some heavier winter home accessories for some brightly-coloured, lighter ones.  I recently replaced some tired-looking old throw cushions on our living room furniture with some fresh new ones, and the room suddenly looks much more cheerful and inviting.  (Maggie the cat approves, too, as she now spends most of her day curled up with these new cushions, sleeping.)  I found many great spring patterned pillows to choose from in stores like Pier One, Bouclair, and HomeSense.

Natural laundry soap:  Our family switched to using all-natural laundry soap several years ago.  We all have sensitive skin, and some of us are also sensitive to scents, so it was important to me to find a chemical- free soap that would be gentle and still do a good job of cleaning our clothes.  Nellie's All-Natural Laundry Soda is my hands-down favourite now (although for some reason, Noah calls it "Margaret Soap".)  It's a powder that dissolves well, cleans effectively, and rinses thoroughly out of our clothes so there is no residue left behind.  I love that a relatively small tin of Nellie's does 100 loads of laundry and is good for both our sensitive skin and the environment.  You can find Nellie's products at health food stores (I also buy the Oxygen Brightener, which is great for keeping whites white and for removing stains), or sometimes at Winners or HomeSense (where you can get it for a very good price when they have it).

Photo credit:  FamilyFun Magazine

April Fool's Day fun:  April 1st is just a couple of days away, and if you have kids who love getting pranked, you might have some fun with this cute idea I used to trick Noah and Will a few years ago.  Simply print out this little doughnut seed packet and assemble it, then fill it with an O-shaped cereal.  When I gave these little seed packets to the boys at breakfast, telling them I had found the perfect thing to plant in our garden that summer, their faces were a priceless mixture of disbelief and delight.

A homemade sports drink:  With warmer weather in sight, kids will soon be running around playing outdoor sports again and training for the school track-and-field season.  Here's a great idea for keeping them hydrated, suggested to me by our ND, Anita Kieswetter:  You can make your own sports drink by simply mixing eight ounces of water, one tablespoon of orange juice, and a pinch of sea salt.  This natural version does all the work of a store-bought sports drink, without all of the added sugar and artificial colours.

Signs of spring:  There is grass outside in some places once again; a sweet pair of mourning doves returned to our yard last week, and I recently heard the unmistakable laugh of a robin.  The boys have swapped out hockey sticks for tennis racquets in the driveway, and the sun feels wonderfully warm upon our faces, even though there's still a chill in the air.  If winter hasn't let go of its grip where you are yet, have hope... spring really is coming.

That's all I've got in my pockets for today!  Wishing you all a happy week.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Homemade Fruit and Nut Butter

I really enjoy the kitchen adventure of creating my own homemade versions of foods that we regularly buy at the grocery store.  It's often a pleasant surprise to discover how delicious an everyday staple can become when I experiment with my own ingredients and come up with goods that are a little more special than usual.

This morning I decided to put together a jazzed-up version of nut butter, which is something we all eat often in our house.  I toasted a variety of shelled nuts and whirred them around in my food processor with some shredded coconut and a couple of dates, adding a bit of cinnamon and vanilla extract at the end to give it an extra flavour boost.  The result was a creamy, tempting combination of  lightly salted nuttiness and natural sweetness --  nut butter at a whole new level!

Homemade Fruit and Nut Butter

1/2 cup raw almonds
1/2 cup raw walnuts
1/2 cup raw pecans
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted
a pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
2 large pitted Medjool dates
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Place the almonds, walnuts, pecans, and cashews in a mixing bowl.  Drizzle the melted coconut oil and sprinkle the sea salt over top of the nuts; stir to coat them well.  Spread the nuts out on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast them in a preheated 325 F oven for 8 minutes, stirring once half way through.  Let the nuts cool.

Place the cooled nuts in the bowl of a powerful food processor along with the shredded coconut and the dates. Process at high speed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed, until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  (This took about five minutes in my machine.)  Add in the cinnamon and vanilla and process the mixture briefly once again to blend them in.

Spoon the finished fruit and nut butter into a glass jar with a lid and store it in the refrigerator.

This homemade fruit and nut butter is delicious spread on toast (no need for any jam or honey!) or rice cakes, as a dip for apple slices and celery sticks, or drizzled over a morning bowl of oatmeal.  I'm sure we'll find other great ways to use it, too; it was simple to make and I'm pretty certain we'll be enjoying this recipe often!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Not Every Child is Gifted

Today I read a post written earlier this week by Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery titled "Every Child is Gifted and Talented".  In it, Ms. Melton responds reassuringly to the story of a friend (whose daughter seemed disappointed when she wasn't identified as a "gifted kid" at school) with the emphatic statement,"Every child is gifted and talented. Every single one. Everything I’ve ever written about on this blog has been open for argument, except for this one. I know this one is true." The conflicting reactions that this post has received suggest that the idea of "giftedness" is not as simple as Ms. Melton would have us all believe, and that there is room for some discussion on this topic after all.  From my perspective, perpetuating the blanket notion that "all kids are gifted" actually hurts those who are, by definition, "gifted", and contributes to them not receiving the support or the resources they need to develop to their full potential. 

While I understand the sentiment behind Ms. Melton's conviction, and I agree with her wholeheartedly that all children have unique gifts and talents, I think it's very important to make a distinction between what it means to "have gifts" and what it means "to be gifted" as is defined by psychology.  (I think we would all find it easier to agree on this point if society could simply come up with a less emotionally loaded term than "gifted" to describe those individuals who have advanced cognitive abilities.)   Certainly every single child has a wonderful set of traits and abilities that make him or her special and all parents should believe, as Ms. Melton says they must, that their children "are okay".   But to "be gifted" means something different:

"Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally."

~Columbus Group, 1991~

In testing administered by a psychologist, individuals must score in the 98th percentile or above to be considered "gifted" (and these high intelligence test scores very often go hand in hand with unique ways of experiencing the world physically, socially, and emotionally as well).  Children whose scores place them in the light blue and gray areas on the far right side of the graph below (as much as children whose scores are in the areas on the far left of the graph) will almost certainly find a school system that is geared towards the average learner (represented by the dark blue area) a poor fit for them.

I think almost everyone agrees that students who are significantly behind their same-age peers at school should be identified and given special education support that allows them to develop to their full potential. There is no concern that extra attention paid to these children will make others feel that they are not "special". Yet often when we suggest that students who are significantly ahead of their same-age peers be given the educational support they need (through identification and placement in special programs), we are accused of being "elitist" and making other children (and their parents) feel bad somehow.  This negative feeling towards our brightest students is not lost on gifted children, either; many of them learn to hide their intelligence as they grow older as a means of protecting themselves from cruel teasing and criticism from others who are uncomfortable with the idea that someone might be more cognitively advanced than they are. 

What puzzles me is that it seems it is only in regards to cognitive ability that our society needs to reassure itself with the "all children are gifted" motto. We don't seem to have the same issue when it comes to gifted athletes, or musicians, or actors; we recognize and celebrate the achievements of those who have abilities well beyond our own in those areas, rather than diminishing them by suggesting those people's "gifts" aren't worthy of any special attention.  For example, a graph that represents scores of athletic ability would likely be very similar to the graph above showing the distribution of IQ scores.  Only a small percentage of people are truly gifted athletes who can compete at a very advanced level; most of us would fall somewhere in the "average" area of the graph.  But that doesn't stop us from being thrilled for those athletes who have the potential to achieve such amazing physical goals; we cheer them on as they strive hard to be their absolute best.  An athletically gifted child is encouraged to train at a higher level, to be part of an elite team, to have opportunities for growth and experiences that most other kids wouldn't ever be offered, because he or she has demonstrated a rare ability.  I'm not sure why we can't also recognize the same high level of ability in kids who are gifted cognitively, and agree that they should also be given opportunities to flourish without worrying that they're "accidentally suggesting that [other kids are] not okay" by simply being who they are. 

In her post, Ms. Melton states that we need to erase the idea that "education is a race" and we'll all feel better about our kids.  I agree that education is not a race; it's a unique journey that each of us travels throughout life.  I don't see gifted children as trying to win a "race" by being identified and having their learning needs met, though it may seem that way to those who don't understand them.  (Contrary to popular belief, some gifted children are not even among the high achievers in their classrooms.)  These children are just trying to be themselves; they are searching for understanding and meaning in life in ways that  most of us can't imagine, and sometimes they are travelling a very difficult road.  If we truly believe that all children have gifts that are important, then it's imperative that we allow the ones whose "gift" happens to be advanced cognitive ability to feel okay about themselves, too. Acknowledging, encouraging, and celebrating exceptional ability of all kinds in others doesn't make any of us less special or important; it should inspire each of us to use our own gifts to be our very best self.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A sad goodbye

Yesterday was really difficult day for our family, as we had to say goodbye to our sweet little guinea pig, Butterscotch.  We had noticed the evening before that she hadn't touched her vegetables (usually her favourite treats), was drinking very little, and was hiding in the back corner of her cage (a real departure from her usual social behaviour), so after a night of much worrying, I called the vet first thing in the morning.  As the boys left for school and I left for the vet's office, we were all hopeful we would find some treatable cause for our still-young piggie's symptoms and that she would soon be back to her normally cheerful self.  Sadly, the news I received from the vet was much worse than that, and I had to make the very difficult, but most humane, decision to have Butterscotch euthanized as there was nothing anyone could really do to make her well again.

I cried the whole way home, and off and on for most of the day as I waited with a heavy heart for Noah and Will to come home from school.  I worried about how they would react to such unexpected sorrowful news, knowing how much they loved their little pig. They were both shocked when I gently told them, and it's been clear in the hours since that this loss has been hard for them.  They are both deep thinkers and feelers, and the maturity they've gained since the last time they experienced such a loss has allowed them to have a more profound understanding of death.  It's difficult knowing that all I can really do for them is to support each of them as they express their grief and search for answers in their own ways.

In the past twenty-four hours, I've hugged my boys, been a good listener, gently answered their questions as best I can, and reassured them.  I've shared with them how I held Butterscotch close to me one last time yesterday and rubbed her back the way she liked, and how she purred and knew that she was loved, so they would know that she was happy at the end.  I've told them that it's perfectly okay for them to be sad and angry and to cry, and I've let them see me cry, too.  I find myself still wishing I could somehow make all of this experience hurt less for both of them.

This feeling of heartbreak over losing a dear pet might make some families question whether it's worth ever having pets to love in the first place.  But when I think about it, I believe there are important life lessons to be found for kids (and everyone, really) in these sad moments of being touched by death.  We learn that the deep pain of loss is inextricably tied to the great joy of loving; our hurt is simply a reflection of the beautiful connection we were lucky to have had with another living creature, and so we must accept it with an open heart as well. We realize that we don't always get a chance to say goodbye, and so we should strive to treat all those whom we care about well, so that they will know without a doubt that we love them. We come to see that life doesn't always work out in ways that are fair, but the potential for finding beauty and happiness through our striving makes life a game worth playing with all our might, anyway.  And we discover that sometimes all the prayers in the world don't make things turn out the way we want them to, but somewhere within our hearts we can find the strength and the peace to be okay with whatever comes.

It's so hard to say goodbye to you, sweet Piggie Wiggie.  We will really miss your cheerful chatter and your enthusiastic "wheeking" for your vegetables every night, your funny little run, the way you smiled at us with your cute little mouth and your chocolate brown eyes, the soothing feeling of your soft, rumpled fur under our fingers as we held you on our laps.  We wish we could have had you with us longer, but we are so glad for the happiness your life brought to ours.  We hope that wherever you are now, you're singing and munching carrots to your heart's content.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A sign of a good time

We did not have many plans for the March Break this year.  Matt was busy with work and wasn't able to take time off, so the boys and I decided we would just enjoy some days spent relaxing at home, doing whatever we felt like doing, with a birthday party for Will and one overnight trip to St. Catharines to visit my aunt Christina and her family thrown in for a little excitement.

Mother Nature, in her never-ending foul mood this winter, tried her darndest to foil our one attempt at March Break travel.  We were supposed to head to St. Catharines this past Wednesday, but that morning brought a huge winter storm with snow and gusting winds, and so we were forced to come up with a "Plan B". Thursday morning, Noah and Will and I hit the highway bright and early, deceived by the sunshine that was smiling down from the sky, but we quickly learned that the roads were an absolute disaster.  What is usually a one and a half hour drive took us three and a half hours to complete, with my hands tightly gripping the steering wheel the whole time and my eyes staring intently ahead while we inched along precariously on an ice rink of a highway in bumper to bumper traffic.  It was an immense relief to finally make it safely to our destination.  (And if you ask the boys about how calm I was{n't} during that time on the road, they will gleefully tell you about how I screeched and hollered like a maniac any time someone else's reckless driving in those conditions made my heart jump into my throat.  I'll admit those were not some of my proudest hours.)

We had so much fun visiting with family that it was well worth the stressful drive, though.  Christina, Madeleine, Noah, Will and I went to a giant box sale at the Book Outlet in St. Catharines.  We walked into the warehouse at the back of the store (which was lined with tables and tables and tables full of books of all kinds), picked up one of the large boxes provided, and filled it up with books of our choice to take home for a flat fee of only $30.  It was like hitting a book jackpot! While we were in town, we also had a little visit with my Grandma, and Will and Madeleine went to a Rainbow Loom workshop at Mastermind Toys, where Will was thrilled to learn how to make a turtle charm.  I really enjoyed catching up with Christina and James, while the kids all had a great time playing together out in the snow.  It always makes Christina and I happy to see how these four, of all different ages and mixed genders, get along so well and laugh so much when they're in each other's company.  It reminds us of our own fun-filled childhoods together.

Christina and James and I were getting dinner ready when the kids came in from playing outside, and when the boys said their socks were wet, we adults told them to just put them downstairs on the gas fireplace to dry out while we ate.  (Aside:  I am going to partially blame myself for what happened next, since it is obvious now I have not provided my boys with enough of the outdoorsy-type lessons we learned about fire and socks as children growing up in Northern Ontario.)

As we were clearing dishes and putting away leftovers, Christina and James and I all kind of sniffed the air and looked at each other with the same curious expression, and finally someone asked, "Do you smell something like burning rubber?" We all agreed that we did, indeed, smell something like burning rubber, but at first we couldn't imagine where such a smell would be coming from.  We each wondered silently whether something odd had been left in the oven accidentally.  And then we all suddenly looked at each other with horror and dashed downstairs towards the fireplace.  Sure enough, the boys socks sat scorched and smoldering on top of the little black stove, which Noah had turned on in an attempt to dry the socks out faster. (He hadn't realized we had meant for them to dry the socks out only with the gentle warmth of the pilot light.)  Thankfully we caught the burning socks before they completely combusted.

Noah felt pretty badly about what he had done, and Will kept yelling, "I TOOOLD you not to put the socks on the fire, Noah!", to make sure that no one would blame him for what had happened.  I am now quite certain that despite their lack of training in outdoorsy-type scenarios, both boys now have a very clear understanding of the concept that socks and fire do not go well together.

When we were getting ready to come home on Friday, I was packing up all of the boys' winter gear, still damp from the previous evening's snow play, and Christina and I couldn't help but joke about the fireplace incident. The boys and I were heading out the door with a random assortment of books stuffed into a giant box, soggy gloves, and burnt socks.  Now there was a sign of a good time!   Take that, Mother Nature.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Fun Party Food for Kids (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)

Will turned ten yesterday, and to celebrate this big "entering the double digits" milestone, we had a fun sleepover party for him with his closest buddies at our house last weekend.  Birthdays are often a time for enjoying some favourite activities and special occasion treats, and just like most children do, Will wanted to have food at his party that he and his friends would think was "awesome".   I took the ideas Will had in mind, thought of ways I could make them that were safe for him to eat given his various food sensitivities, and put out a fun collection of eats, treats, and drinks that all of the boys at the party really enjoyed.  It makes me feel good as his mom that I was able to provide that for him and help make his special day happy.

If you're a parent looking for gluten-free, dairy-free, and/or egg-free party food ideas that are fun for kids, you may appreciate some of our recipes and ideas here.


Will had seen several different party mix recipes on the side of the gluten-free Corn Chex box, and he thought it would make a great movie snack for him and his friends. I was not crazy about several of the ingredients and quantities in that particular recipe, so I came up with my own version of a crunchy, salty party mix.  The boys devoured it!

To make your own party mix, combine 2 cups of gluten-free Corn Chex cereal, 2 cups of Nature's Path gluten-free Whole Os cereal, one 75g package of Glutino gluten-free pretzel twists, and 1 cup of mixed raw nuts (I used almonds, cashews, walnuts, and pecans) in a large bowl.  Melt 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and drizzle it over the mixture; sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of Herbamare over top.  Gently stir to coat the mixture with the oil and seasoning.  Spread the mixture out on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake it in a preheated 250 F oven for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Let cool before serving.  (Store any leftovers in an airtight container.)

I also set out a basket of Martin's sweet and crispy apple chips for snacking, which are gluten-free and made only from dehydrated apples.

Of course, a sleepover and a movie calls for popcorn, too!  I made a big batch using the stovetop method, with coconut oil and sea salt.


Will attended a friend's party earlier in the year where they had "make your own subs" for dinner, and he really loved this idea for his own party as well.  I used gluten-free buns from Organic Works Bakery (their breads are so good!), purchased high quality deli-meats that we know are gluten- and dairy-free from Vincenzo's, and set out an assortment of toppings for the boys to choose from:  lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, cucumber, egg-free mayo, and mustard.  The boys all had fun building their own favourite creations.

I also set out a tray of assorted raw veggies with hummus...

...and a big bowl of mixed fruit. 


The boys had an assortment of 100% juices to choose from to quench their thirst after all of their Nerf blaster battles.  (Kiju makes a variety of great flavours that kids like, and I like that there is no added sugar.)

We also offered President's Choice sparkling 100% juices in cans.  (These are as close as I'm willing to get to buying "pop" in our house  -- the boys and I think they're a good special occasion alternative for kids who like something fizzy to drink.)  


After the huge success of the chocolate doughnuts I made from scratch several weeks ago, Will and I decided it would be fun to have birthday doughnuts rather than a cake for his party.  I used this recipe, and just changed the topping to candy sprinkles to make the doughnuts a little more birthday-ish.

We served the doughnuts with forks and a small scoop of Vanilla Coconut Bliss (coconut milk ice cream) in the centre.

(If you'd rather bake a delicious gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free cake or cupcakes for a party, you might like this recipe, which I made yesterday to celebrate Will's actual birthday.  If you choose the cupcake version, this icing is perfect for piping on top.  (I use chopped dark chocolate instead of the chocolate chips as I find it less sweet that way, which I prefer.)

Will was really thrilled with his party and the food he shared with his buddies; it seemed everyone had a really great time.  I hope our experience will help others to see that even when kids have food sensitivities, it's still possible to come up with a fun meal, snacks, drinks, and treats that everyone can enjoy.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On Top of the Hill (and Turning Ten)

One day last week at school, during recess, Will and his friend were watching some Grade 2 children throwing themselves down a new ice slide on the hill at the back of the yard.  It quickly became clear to the two boys that the younger children's behaviour might not be safe -- the Grade 2s were sliding down the hill too many at a time and were crashing into each other -- and Will decided that he had to do something before someone got hurt.

Will and his friend took it upon themselves to become "traffic guards" for the younger students' slide.  The two of them went up the hill and laid down on their sides across the top of the slide, head to head with one arm each outstretched to form a kind of gate.  They would raise their arms in unison to allow only one child to slide down the hill at a time, and once one boy or girl got through, they would quickly lower their arms again until it was safe to let another child go. Some of the younger children chose not to follow Will and his friend's system, but Will still felt good that he was at least trying to create some sense of order and hopefully prevent any accidents from happening.

Word of the fun ice slide (and the fact that there were some "workers" there with important jobs) quickly spread through the school yard, and soon a large collection of students flocked to the hill at recess.  The Grade 2 children came to be the "customers", and Will's fellow Grade 4 students arrived with the hopes of claiming a job for themselves.  Under the leadership of Will and his friend, a complex operating system evolved.  There were shifts of workers who rotated through the tasks of being the human gates at the top of the hill, standing at the bottom of the hill with their arms folded across their chests in an "X" to indicate when it wasn't yet safe for kids to slide down, and cleaning the slide every so often.  (Will informed me that it was necessary to have regular cleaning periods "for best results".)  Workers received no pay for their efforts, but they did earn the perk of standing in a shorter workers-only line to wait for their turn to slide down the hill when they were on their scheduled "break".  With more workers to enforce safety, the rules to protect the children became quite strict:  anyone who didn't slide safely only got a few chances to improve his or her behaviour, and the penalty for not falling in line was having to sit out of sliding for two whole recesses. According to Will, kids were actually following these guidelines, too, and as he enthusiastically explained all of this to me with a real sparkle in his eyes, it was obvious that he took great pride in being a creator of what he called "the best and most popular slide at the school".

In my mind, this story is the perfect illustration of what an amazing kid Will is.  What started out as a small collection of youngsters careening haphazardly down an icy hill quickly morphed into a bustling, yet orderly and efficiently running enterprise thanks to the efforts of our pint-sized leader.  I find it both incredible and perfectly believable that the boy who is responsible for 99 percent of any chaos created in our home is also extremely capable of organizing something pretty remarkable.

Will, I hope you have a really happy 10th birthday today. (I know you don't like "mushy" stuff, so I'll keep this part short.)  If you can draw excited and cooperative crowds to your own school snow hill business at age 10, I can only imagine what fascinating things you'll accomplish in the years to come.  Your big, kind heart, your bright, creative mind, and your passionate drive to always be doing something interesting are sure to take you any place you can dream of.  I'm so proud of you for so many reasons,Will, and I hope the year ahead is full of many more exciting and wonderful adventures for you.  Love, Mom  xoxo

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Incredible Growing Boy

We had it good for awhile around here in the clothing department.  Noah spent about three years wearing pretty much the same size, and his feet followed a very predictable pattern of moving up one shoe size a year.  I grew used to only needing to buy a few refresher items for him each time the seasons changed, because whenever he tried on his clothes from the same season the previous year, they would still fit. Considering Noah's strong aversion to clothes shopping and how particular his opinions are about what he will and will not wear, this was a very convenient situation for me, indeed.

Those days are definitely over now.

Apparently, the year of being twelve is the year of The Incredible Growing Boy.  In the span of about nine months, Noah has jumped up two sizes in everything:  jeans, shirts, shoes. We went shopping for an entire new fall wardrobe in September last year because over the summer he had finally grown out of all of his older warm clothes, and then last week I took a look at him and realized that his wrists and ankles were suddenly sticking out of those newer clothes, too! He also informed me the other day that his gym shoes, purchased new at the start of the school year, have reached the end of their useful life because they are now crushing his toes.  I keep staring at him and wondering how it's even possible for him to have sprouted so much in such a short period of time.  It's like being in a sci-fi movie where the twelve year old boys swiftly grow super-length arms and legs and feet while they sleep (and then take over the world....)

The March Break now involves a quest to completely re-outfit my oldest son, for the second time this school year.  Thankfully, in addition to outgrowing all of his clothes, Noah seems to have left behind his strong aversion to clothes shopping, and the two of us have been having fun browsing stores together while we chat about interesting things and share some laughs (even if he still has very particular opinions about what he will and will not wear).  In a way, I'm kind of glad he needs an all new wardrobe yet again.  It gives me a chance to enjoy some one-on-one time with him before he outgrows wanting to be seen with his mom at the mall.  I try not to think about how those days are probably not too far off, either.... 

Friday, March 7, 2014

March Muffin Madness: Banana Split Muffins (gluten-free, vegan)

Homemade muffins have long been a favourite snack in our house, so when Shirley from gluten-free easily invited me to participate in the March Muffin Madness event she's hosting all this month, I was glad for the incentive to create a new recipe.  I asked my boys to brainstorm with me for flavour ideas, and their only reply was that it should have chocolate in it.  (No surprise there!)  I obliged them by creating a delicious banana split muffin that contains bit of dark chocolate scattered throughout it, and I made myself happy by basing the batter around a variety of other healthy ingredients:  almond flour, pure oats, chia seeds, coconut oil, walnuts, bananas, strawberries, and dark sweet cherries.  Our whole family could hardly wait to eat these scrumptious muffins when they came out of the oven!

You can find the recipe for my banana split muffins here.  While you're visiting gfe, be sure to also check out the wide variety of other muffin recipes (all of them gluten-free) being shared during this March Muffin Madness event.  (There will be a new recipe every day of the month!) As a special bonus offered by Shirley, each comment you leave on a muffin recipe during the event will count as an eligible entry for some fantastic giveway prizes of things you might like for your kitchen.

Mmm, muffins!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Gluten-free, Dairy-free, Egg-free: Our Family's Food Story

I've been doing some housekeeping on this blog in recent days, and in looking through old posts, I came to the realization that I've never really shared our family's food story in any detail here.  Those of you who don't know me well might be curious as to how I arrived at baking and cooking without gluten, dairy, and eggs, and what my motivation is to make so many of the foods we eat with my own two hands.  

Several years ago I shared our story in a guest post over on Lexie's Kitchen, and I feel the same way about food now as I did then.  I hope that by giving this story a home here as well, I might offer some ideas and inspiration to other families who wish to change the way they eat to improve their health.


Six years ago, at thirty-five years old, I had long considered myself a healthy eater. I ate a balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and veggies, made many meals from scratch, and tried to avoid a lot of the foods that I knew weren't good for me. However, it took an unhappy period of illness for me to notice that there were more processed, unhealthy foods than I realized in my cupboards, fridge, and freezer, and that I still had quite a bit of room for improvement in the way I cooked and ate. This discovery was the beginning of a food journey that has been inspiring and rewarding for our whole family.

In the time just before I made some really significant changes to my diet, I went through several months of feeling very unwell. I was constantly tired, anxious and foggy-headed, had inflammation and pain throughout my body, and my digestive system was stressed. After visiting my family doctor's office many times and trying out different medications to no avail, I finally, out of desperation, decided to see a naturopathic doctor to see if I could find a solution. With her help, I discovered (among other things) that I had several food sensitivities, and I followed her suggestions to remove dairy, gluten and cane sugar from my diet. You can imagine how overwhelming it must have felt to suddenly realize that many of the foods I had always eaten and loved were best avoided if I wanted to feel better.

I would be lying if I said that it was easy to make such a drastic change in my diet. I went through a period of mourning, if you will; I missed my breads and pastas and chocolate and ice cream, and felt very self-conscious when eating at family and friends' homes when they asked me, "So what do you EAT, then?"  I admit that I felt quite lost at first and sometimes felt quite sorry for myself.
It's not in my nature to sit around wallowing for long, though, so one day I pulled up my socks and set about meeting my food challenges head on. I started thinking about my situation as an opportunity not just for me, but for my whole family to find a better way to eat, a way that was healthy for all of us and would not make me feel ill. I read and was inspired by Michael Pollan's influential books about food; I sought out blogs written by others with modified diets and learned how to cook and bake delicious foods with wholesome, alternate ingredients. It was suddenly an exciting project, one that is still ongoing as we continue to seek out new food discoveries.
Some of the changes my family has made along the way are ones that would be beneficial for many families, whether food sensitivities are an issue or not. We started our own little garden so we would have easy access to as-fresh-as-they-get vegetables in summer, and the boys and I also make a regular adventure out of visiting our colourful local farmer's market in the warmer months. We found a local organic farmer from whom we could order pasture-raised beef, pork, and chickens to freeze in bulk every fall. I discovered some wonderful health food stores in our area where I could buy the nutritious ingredients I needed to prepare meals and bake homemade snacks, avoiding refined sugar and highly processed flours. (I often make large batches of healthy meals and muffins to keep in the freezer for days when time is short.) My husband Matt and I have truly enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen and on the grill, eliminating popular store-bought seasonings, dressings, or mixes and instead flavouring foods with healthy oils, lemon juice, fragrant herbs and interesting spices. Finally, we started making a habit of packing our own whole food lunches and healthy snacks for school, work, outings, and travel, to avoid both hidden sources of gluten and the temptation to eat junk food that we're better off without.
Going through this process of change with our food in the interest of making me well made things much easier when, a year after my illness, we discovered that my youngest son Will also has food sensitivities (to dairy, gluten, eggs, and peanuts). Will had had skin issues for years, and that winter he experienced too many ear infections to count in a period of a few short months, which were treated with as many rounds of antibiotics. When our family doctor suggested we'd soon be looking at a referral to an ENT specialist and the possibility of tubes in Will's ears if things continued down the same path, I took Will to see our ND, too, and once again began the process of food eliminations, which proved to be very beneficial to him. The dietary changes didn't seem such a monumental task this time; I knew what to feed him because I had been eating many healthy, delicious foods myself that didn't contain any of the things he needed to avoid.
Our whole family has happily grown to love the switch we've made to a very healthy, real food diet, and we've all benefited in various ways. When I eat well, I feel full of energy (necessary for keeping up with my two busy boys!), and free of aches and pains and tummy troubles. Will's ears, nose, and skin are clearer than they'd been in years, and his mood and behaviour are improved when he avoids the foods that cause his body to react. My oldest son, Noah, has learned to make his own wise choices about which foods are best for him to eat as an active competitive swimmer. My husband Matt has been a wonderful partner on this food journey with me, and we're both very enthusiastic to share what we've learned with anyone who asks about what we eat and how we prepare it. 
Due to my health circumstances, it was necessary for me to make sudden, drastic changes to my diet, something which I realize may not seem very appealing or manageable to many people. If you're not at the point of a health crisis, but want to make some positive changes in the way you eat, start small. Invest in some good cookbooks that provide nutritious, tasty, and relatively easy recipes and commit to trying one new healthy meal per week. (Two of my favourite family-friendly cookbooks are Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and The Good Food Book for Families by Brenda Bradshaw and Cheryl Mutch.) Become aware of what is in the foods you eat; give up one food or habit that you know you'd be better off without and replace it with something that's good for you. Your success in these small shifts, and the physical and emotional benefits you'll likely feel as a result, just might encourage you to continue down a path of change that will improve your overall well-being.
I feel very proud of what our family has accomplished by deciding to take our health into our own hands, and by making a shift for the better in our eating habits.  It's abundantly clear to me now that the old saying, "You are what you eat" is a valuable truth. Perhaps the most compelling reason for making the switch is evident every time I look at my two healthy, smiling boys' faces. In an age where so many children are being raised on a diet abundant in highly processed convenience foods full of salt, sugar, and chemicals, I am teaching my sons what real food looks and tastes like, and where it comes from. In my mind, that's one of the best gifts I can give them.

Monday, March 3, 2014

March Break Activities for Lego-Loving Kids

The boys and I have begun counting down in earnest to the March Break, and there has been much talk around here lately about what we might do with the ten days of wonderfully free time we'll have together beginning this Friday.  Given that I'm not expecting the unrelenting winter weather to be even remotely cooperative for us to spend lots of time outdoors, I've been thinking of ways the boys and I can have fun with some of their favourite indoor pursuits.  I can pretty much guarantee that many of Noah and Will's activities over the break will revolve around Lego in some way;  this versatile toy that encourages creativity, teaches many concepts and skills to kids of all ages, and inspires highly imaginative play has been a much-loved pastime of both boys ever since they were very small.  And because I know that many of you probably also have children who love Lego and will be looking for fun things to do next week, I thought today I'd share some exciting Lego-based activity ideas with you.

Lego Treasure Hunt

When the boys were younger, they loved the thrill of hunting for treasure of any kind that I had previously hidden for them around the house and/or yard.  You can create a Lego treasure hunt by hiding a specific number of building pieces in various places when the kids aren't watching, and then sending them off searching until they find every last one.  Once all of the pieces are collected, you can challenge your kids to build something creative using only the pieces they found.

Lego Creationary Game

We've had this Lego game for several years now, and it has provided our family with many hours of fun (even when we've made up our own rules for how to play it!)  Each player takes a turn building an object shown on one of game cards using the Lego pieces in the box, and the other players have to try and guess what it is.  If you don't have this actual game, you can easily create your own version of it using a regular die and an assortment of random Lego pieces.  Each number on the die corresponds to a category that all players decide on at the beginning of the game (food, animal, vehicle, building, etc. -- use your imagination!), and players can take turns rolling the die, and then building something that fits with the category that they roll.  For younger children who might have a hard time coming up with ideas for things to build, you can simply write the names of some easy to build objects on small slips of paper and have the children draw a word out of a hat to build for their turn. 

Lego Quest Building Challenges

I found the Lego Quest website via Pinterest a while ago and was really glad I did; now when Will is bored, he often asks me to give him a new challenge from that list that he can work on.  The site provides 51 Lego building challenges of all different kinds for kids to try, and when they've finished their own creations, they can take a look at photos of what others built for the same challenge, submitted from children around the world.  This quest is a great way to get kids thinking about using Lego in unique ways. 

Lego Mazes

I've seen many different versions of Lego mazes on Pinterest (the maze photo above came from Tonya Staab), and I think this would be a really great project for kids of all ages.  For the littlest builders, mazes can be simple ones made of Duplo that toy animals can walk through, and older kids can build more complex creations to run marbles through afterwards.  I especially loved this complicated maze built for Hexbugs to manoeuvre around in -- I have a feeling Noah and Will are going to want to build one of their own next week once they see this video from Thomas Morse:

Lego Magazine Submissions/Contests

You can sign your children up for a free subscription to Lego Club Magazine, a fun publication full of photos, comics, little games and puzzles, and information about Lego products.  If your kids build something really awesome out of Lego over the March Break, they can send a photo of it to Lego Club for a chance to be published in the Cool Creations section found in every issue. The magazine also runs building contests from time to time, which gives kids great Lego projects to work on.

Build with Chrome

We just recently discovered the very cool Build with Chrome website, which allows people to build using virtual Lego bricks and to publish their creations online alongside others.  Both Noah and Will have really enjoyed trying this site out this week -- you may want to take a look yourself! 

Lego Movies with Stop-Motion Animation

Are your children big fans of the Lego Movie?  They can also create their own stop-motion animation films using a digital camera, Frames Software, and Lego scenes, characters, and stories they develop themselves. Noah and Will have spent many hours building sets out of Lego, taking hundreds of photos in sequence and uploading them onto their computers, and editing their movies in Frames 5, adding dialogue and sound effects as well. They've become quite talented at this activity, and we've all been highly entertained watching their finished products.

Brick Works Academy

If you live in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge area, your child may be interested in attending a March Break Lego Robotics Camp at Brick Works Academy.  Will attends workshops with this fantastic organization every Saturday morning and he absolutely loves it -- he has learned so much about building and programming robots using Lego Mindstorms EV3, and both he and Noah plan to attend summer camps there as well.  If you don't live near us, look around in your local community to see if a similar program is offered somewhere close to you -- your Lego/technology-minded kids are sure to enjoy it!

Lego Travel Box

Does your family have travel plans for the March Break?  Why not have your kids take some Lego to go? This great little storage box idea created by Finley & Oliver has a Lego base plate attached to the lid, and room inside for holding building pieces and minifigures.  Something like this seems fairly simple to put together, and it would be perfect for car/plane/train rides and quiet times in between planned activities.

There are many creative, fun, and positively challenging ways that kids can use Lego to learn something new over the March Break. Of course, one of the things I love most about Lego is that sometimes all you need is a big box of it and a couple of vivid imaginations, and wonderful things happen.  I'm fully expecting to have to tiptoe around another Lego zipline on our staircase and a massive Lego structure that takes up our whole family room floor next week.  You too? 

If you have any other great Lego ideas to share, I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

And the winner is... (From the Blue House With Love Giveaway)

Thank you to all of you who stopped by here and who visited Jenn's From The Blue House With Love website over the past few days -- it's been really nice hearing from you! The winner of the $30 gift certificate (chosen by random draw) is Rebecca Shewfelt.  Rebecca, if you send me an email at lisa.pocketfuls@gmail.com, I'll help you get all set up with some of Jenn's lovely soaps.  :)

Remember that Jenn is kindly offering a special 15% off discount code for everyone who visits this page to use on their purchase of any of her products, and it's good through to Friday, March 7th.  Enter "pocketfuls15" on the checkout page when you place your order with From The Blue House With Love to receive the discount.

I hope you all have a cheerful week!