When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bee Afraid

Did you catch this news story last week?  A Kitchener homeowner discovered that she had 50,000 or so honeybees living in the walls of her guest bedroom after she managed to get a beekeeper to come in to preserve and remove a suspected hive.  The woman was picturing "a nice little honeycomb like Winnie-the-Pooh", and was shocked to see a giant hive that spanned two walls of her home behind the drywall. Thankfully, the beekeeper was able to safely capture thousands of the bees and their queen, and take them with him to add to his own hives. (The homeowner is now just waiting for the last couple of hundred "stragglers" to leave her guest bedroom.  Can you imagine???)

This story dredged up the unpleasant memory of our family's own alarming stinging insect problem. Several years ago, when we lived in a different house and the boys were still quite young, I started noticing the odd wasp on the inside of our bedroom window on crisp but sunny fall mornings.  As days went by, the number of wasps slowly started increasing, and soon I was also noticing them on the window in the family room. The wasps' presence became increasingly stressful, so Matt and I carefully investigated the house inside and out to see if we could determine where they were coming from.

We found a small hole in the brick outside where there was some wasp activity, so we called an exterminator, who came and treated the hole.  But the wasps kept coming, and soon I was swatting thirty or more wasps with a rolled up magazine as part of my daily routine.  I got stung twice in this process, and as the days and weeks passed, I became more and more distraught about the situation, and more and more desperate (read: hysterical) to resolve it.  The exterminator said he would gladly come back to deal with the wasps, but we had to figure out where they were getting in in order for him to be able to get rid of the nest.

We taped up vents and holes and tore apart rooms searching for possible entry points, yet came up with nothing.  And still, the wasps kept coming in.  Finally, one day out of complete desperation, I camped out on our bedroom floor from the moment the sun started streaking across the window, and I vowed to stay there until I saw one of those damn wasps come out of somewhere.

As soon as a beam of morning sunlight reached the small dark slit under the closet door, a lone wasp came marching determinedly out from it.  I just as determinedly picked up the phone and called Matt at work and yelled, "THEY'RE COMING FROM THE CLOSET!!!"  He just as determinedly (but more calmly) declared, "I am coming home right now!!"

When Matt arrived home, he suited himself up in protective "armour" -- a thick sweatshirt with the hood pulled tight around his face, safety goggles and gloves, jeans tucked into socks, work boots -- and marched into the closet with a flashlight and a crowbar.  There was nothing in the main closet (we had checked that many times already), but when he pulled open the tiny door to the dark, rarely used sub-closet in the crawl space, he discovered some wasps and a small hole way back in the corner, above the baseboard. He pulled the baseboard off with the crowbar, and the wasps started streaming out of the hole onto the closet floor. Matt made a beeline out of there, slammed the little door, and taped it shut so no more wasps could get out. We called the exterminator and waited with our breath held until he arrived. Thankfully, that was the end of our wasp horror show (though I felt uneasy whenever the sun shone through our bedroom window in the morning for months afterwards).

I like bees much better than I like wasps;  they seem more useful and less vicious to me.  But honestly, I would really rather not have any stinging insects living in the walls of my home.  You can imagine the sudden dread I felt, then, when I found a giant bumblebee wandering aimlessly around the carpet in our basement rec room one day this week, and then found another one in the exact same spot two days later. With these two horrifying insects-in-the-walls stories still buzzing around in my head, I am now vividly imagining the absolute worst-case scenario happening behind our drywall.  I suppose I should take comfort in the Google search results that tell me bumblebees have "small" hives of "only" several hundred creatures instead of 50,000?

Photo credit:  Wikimedia Commons

Monday, May 26, 2014

Running in the Rain

It rained the day of the school track and field meet this year.  In the morning, gray clouds hung low and threateningly in the sky, but the ground at least remained dry while the students lined up in their starting positions along the track, their bodies humming almost audibly with nervous excitement.  I watched from the sidelines as Noah and Will each ran their first events, both of them racing with great focus and determination and flashing me a proud grin after receiving their ribbons at the finish line.  The chilly air and lack of sunshine didn't at all seem to dampen the children's spirits.

By the time I arrived back at the track after lunch to watch the last events, though, the skies had opened up and rain was teeming down, drenching the students and teachers and volunteers who stood in huddles under a multi-coloured sea of umbrellas.  They had reached the point in the meet where it made more sense to carry on to the end of it rather than trying to reschedule the remaining events for another day, and so soggy boys and girls wiped rain from their faces as they waited, tense and ready, for the starter's signal.

Noah happened to be standing near me when we heard the announcer call the 800m race, his last event for the day.

"Are they seriously going to do this?" he grumbled in frustrated disbelief as the rain continued to pour down in torrents.

"They are,"  I replied cheerfully.  "Just go do it -- it's only rain, and you'll be fine.  Good luck!"

It was clear as soon as he began running that Noah had quickly shaken off any negativity, and that every part of him was concentrating on making his body do what he wanted it to as he settled into a powerful rhythm. Water splashed up in bursts as his feet struck the rain pooling in massive puddles around the inner lane of the track, but that didn't slow him down.  As he rounded the last curve, he gave everything he had in a final burst of speed, and even from a distance I could sense the triumph he felt as he plunged across the finish line.  His performance earned him a first place finish for his grade, and, for the first time ever for him, a spot at the area track meet in June.

Afterwards, Noah told me half-jokingly that he ran so quickly because he wanted to get out of the rain.  It was certainly true that the weather could have cooperated better so the kids didn't need to wring themselves out once they were under shelter.  But sometimes a rainy track and field meet teaches valuable lessons, doesn't it?  Noah had the chance to experience first hand that when life gets messy and uncomfortable, which it most certainly will, he has it in him to push through and find great personal success on the other side. Often, the sweetest rewards are the ones we had to work hardest for.

Photo credit:  Wikimedia Commons

Friday, May 23, 2014

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp (gluten-free, vegan)

I sat down in front of my computer about six different times over the past few days to try and write something here, but we're now in the thick of that crazy-busy time of year where there always seems to be sixty-two things going on at once, and I'm finding my thoughts ridiculously scattered.  Today's post will be short and sweet as a result; I'm sharing a recipe for a strawberry rhubarb crisp that I made this afternoon with some local rhubarb we found at our favourite food shop.  (This is much better reading material than all of the other stuff that is bouncing around in my head right now, trust me!)  I have always loved rhubarb, and this crisp, with a little bit of orange thrown in for fun, is a simply delicious way to enjoy its tart springtime flavour.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

For the filling:

3 cups sliced fresh strawberries
2 cups rhubarb, chopped into half-inch pieces
1 tsp orange zest
1/4 cup orange juice
2 tbsp arrowroot flour

For the topping:

1 cup blanched almond flour
1 cup certified pure rolled oats
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Whisk together the orange juice and arrowroot flour in a mixing bowl; add the strawberries and rhubarb and orange zest to this mixture and stir gently to coat the fruit.  Divide the fruit mixture between eight ramekins for individual crisps, or pour it all into an 8x8 inch glass baking pan or a deep pie dish if you prefer.

Combine the almond flour, oats, sea salt, and cinnamon in another mixing bowl.  Whisk together the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla in a separate smaller bowl, then pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.  Stir until the mixture is well-combined and crumbly;  sprinkle the topping over the fruit in the baking dish(es) and cover with aluminium foil.

Bake the crisp(s) in the preheated oven for 30 minutes covered, then remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling around the edges of the dish and the topping is golden brown.  Let the crisp(s) cool slightly and serve while still warm.

This strawberry rhubarb crisp goes wonderfully with a scoop of vanilla coconut milk ice cream. Mmmm, spring!  (As an aside, can anyone tell me how it's possible that a boy who does not like strawberries or rhubarb or oranges absolutely loves a crisp made out of these very fruits?  It's a mystery.)

If you're looking for another way to use rhubarb this time of year, you might enjoy these strawberry rhubarb muffins -- they're one of our favourites.  :)

This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Seasonal Math Problem

  5 rooms put back together after the freshly steam-cleaned carpets were dry
+2 pancake breakfasts
+9 hours of boys riding bikes with friends
+1 lawn mowed
+210 feet of garden weeded and edged
+18 hosta plants divided and transplanted
+3 trips to the garden centre
+48 bags of mulch schlepped and spread out
+1 new little garden dug
+36 rows of deck boards plus a Little Free Library post stained
-7,428 Kleenexes used to deal with spring allergies/cold
+1 batch of homemade barbecue sauce simmered
+1 trampoline reassembled
+2 smiling boys jumping on reassembled trampoline
-8,452,071 dandelions obliterated
+1 new barbecue built
+17 pieces of patio furniture set out and washed
+0 trips to the pool for swim practice
+11 hours of the neighbours blaring undesirable music
+26 banana oatmeal cookies baked
+1 crazy cat howling at 6:30am

= the first long weekend of the summer season  (+ an inability to move from the couch.  I may still be here tomorrow morning.  Seriously.  Send help.)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Frozen Chocolate~Almond Butter~Banana Pie (gluten-free, vegan)

In our teenage years, my good friend Laurie and I used to spend hours whipping up various concoctions in one of our family's kitchens over weekends and summer holidays.  We would bake and talk and laugh and eat together when we couldn't think of what else to do, and in the process, we made some very fond girlhood memories.

When I left my hometown to go to university, Laurie, who was always thoughtful and artistically talented, put together a homemade cookbook for me containing some of our favourite recipes.  Over my years at school and in the first few years of my marriage to Matt, I added many of my mom's recipes and others that I collected along the way to the book's blank pages, and that cookbook became a trusted resource as I was developing my skills as a cook.  Eventually I no longer needed to refer to the recipes -- I learned how to make the best-loved ones from it by heart, and I changed many of them over the years, too, as I got more creative in the kitchen -- but I still held onto the cookbook because of what it meant to me.

Last week I stumbled upon that old cookbook when I was sorting through some things, and it was great fun skimming its pages and remembering all of the crazy things Laurie and I used to laugh at.  One recipe in particular caught my eye; it was for a frozen peanut butter pie, and I remember loving it the few times I had made it for special occasions.  It was full of ingredients our family no longer uses, though, so I decided to recreate it in a healthier form.  I'm thrilled with this new version, and I know Matt and the boys will be, too!

Frozen Chocolate~Almond Butter~Banana Pie

For the crust:

1 1/2 cups blanched almond flour
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp melted coconut oil
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling:

3 large frozen bananas, broken into chunks
1/3 cup smooth natural almond butter
2 tbsp pure maple syrup

For the topping:

3 tbsp chopped dark chocolate
1/4 tsp coconut oil
3 tbsp chopped toasted almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  To make the crust, combine the almond flour, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and sea salt in a large bowl.  Whisk the melted coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla extract together in a smaller bowl, and then add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.  Stir well until you have a sticky dough.

Firmly press the crust mixture into a 9 inch glass pie dish with your hands, making sure that the crust reaches right up to the top edge of the pie plate and that there are no thin spots.  Create a fluted edge along the top of the crust with your fingers, if you wish.  Place the crust in the preheated oven and bake it for 15 minutes. Let it cool completely.

Place the frozen banana chunks, almond butter, and maple syrup in the bowl of a powerful food processor and process it at high speed, stopping every now and then to scrape the sides of the bowl down as necessary, until a smooth, creamy mixture forms.  Scoop the banana-almond butter mixture into the cooled pie crust and spread it out evenly with the back of a spoon.  Place the pie in the freezer for several hours, or until it is firm.

Melt the chopped dark chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring often.  Once the chocolate is melted, stir in the coconut oil.  Drizzle some of the melted chocolate over the frozen pie, then sprinkle the chopped almonds on top, then drizzle the last of the chocolate over everything.  Place the pie back in the freezer until you're ready to serve it.

This scrumptious pie would be a wonderful treat to share with friends at a barbecue over the long weekend ahead.  I hope yours is filled with good food and laughter!

This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

No Mushy Stuff Allowed

"There won't be any mushy stuff this Mother's Day," Will warned me on Sunday morning as he arrived downstairs with a sheet of pretty handmade paper clutched in his hands.  "This is supposed to be funny, okay?"

At ten years old, he is suddenly so over sentimentality, or at least he makes a point of loudly protesting it at every possible opportunity.  Terms of endearment are embarrassing, he says regularly with disdain, and kisses are full of disgusting germs.  On Sunday he held the poem he'd written for me at school in front of him and sort of sang the words to me as he had been instructed to do by his teacher; there was a crafty grin on his face, and he cast tentative glances my way every now and then to make sure I wasn't going to get weepy on him or anything.  He is true to his word, that boy: his ode to me was definitely more pragmatic than mushy, speaking of onions and cold hands and room cleaning.

I guess, coming from a very literal ten year old boy with a sense of humour, these are compliments?

But, this same boy who has sworn off of mushy stuff was thinking sweetly of me and how he could make my Mother's Day special all last week, Matt told me afterwards.  On Wednesday, Will informed him that he wanted to get me flowers right then as a surprise, and he would keep the flowers hidden in his closet until Sunday.  Matt gently suggested that perhaps the flowers might be happier if he bought them closer to Mother's Day and gave them to me right away, and so on Friday evening, while I was out for dinner and a theatre production with some friends, the two of them walked over to the plaza near our house, and Will thoughtfully and decisively chose a bouquet of tulips, which he knows are one of my favourites.  He struggled a bit over what to write on the card, Matt said, because, of course, it couldn't be mushy, but I didn't need any sentimental words to tell me what was in Will's heart.  The surprise bouquet of cheerful flowers waiting for me on the kitchen table when I arrived home to a sleeping house on Friday night said everything I could have wanted to hear.

I've reached the end of Mother's Day mornings where affectionate, tousle-headed little boys come tumbling excitedly into my bedroom in the early hours to share heartfelt expressions of their love for me. Will, like his brother did several years ago, has gradually crossed over into that mysterious world that exists somewhere between boy and man, and is trying on a gruffer suit for size, one that he thinks is more serious and makes him look less "babyish", as he calls it, in others' eyes.  But no matter how vehemently he opposes outward shows of affection now, his inner self still radiates kindness and love.  That, I think, will always be who he is.

When I saw Will's pleased grin after I thanked him warmly for the flowers on Saturday morning, it took everything in me not to scoop him up and kiss him.  I didn't want to discourage any future thoughtful gestures by scaring him off with germs.  Still, I hope that in these important defining years ahead, somehow I can help him to know that his sensitive nature is a very important part of what will one day make him a wonderful man.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mother's Day Treats (13 lovely recipes to celebrate Mom)

 “A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”

 ―Washington Irving

This weekend we have a special opportunity to celebrate the wonderful moms we know and love, to thank them for the countless ways they've given of themselves over the years to make our lives happy.  If you're trying to find a sweet way to tell a mom you love her, perhaps you'll like some of the ideas I've gathered up here, all of which you still have time to make in your own kitchen this weekend. Kids will have fun helping, too!   (Click on each title to be taken to the full recipe.)

For little luxuries:

For breakfast in bed:

For lunch on the patio:

For a delicious dinner:

For a sweet treat:

I hope all of you who are called "Mom" enjoy a really lovely weekend.  (And I wish a very special Happy Mother's Day to the best mom of all -- mine.)  xoxo

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Return of the Doll Sweater

Remember the doll sweater, the one that had an unfortunate run-in with some oozing putty and has been sitting sadly in my laundry room for months now?  Yesterday I finally decided to put it through the washing machine one last time, and if the pink stains didn't come out of it, I was going to give up and simply put the sweater away with the rest of the old doll clothes, regardless of its motley state.  It was time to move on.

Except that Will found the still-smudged but freshly washed sweater in the clothes basket when we were folding the clean laundry together, and his face lit up like he had just been reunited with an old, dear friend he hadn't seen in ages.  He wandered off somewhere, wearing the little knit garment in hat-fashion on his head.

A little while later I found this:

His name is Joey, Will tells me.  Apparently that sweater's got a lot of life left in it yet....

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


I sit across the restaurant table from Will, watching him curiously as he draws intricate little symbols in green crayon on his paper placemat.  He is quiet, and focused, and each tiny line or dot he creates is done with great precision.

"What are you drawing?", I ask him.

"I'm writing my name in Chinese," he responds matter-of-factly, as if writing his name in Chinese were the most predictable thing in the world for an English-speaking boy who has never had Chinese lessons to be doing with a paper placemat.

His answer is unexpected, but the discovery of Will's newest skill really comes as no surprise to me at all. He looked this information up on the internet one day at school during computer time and memorized it, he tells me, because he could and it seemed like an interesting thing to do.  And now that he's opened a door just a crack and caught a glimpse of a whole new world of learning possibilities just waiting to be explored, he has a burning desire to study the Chinese language in great depth, in both written and oral forms, for no reason other than the fact that he finds it fascinating.  He is very serious about this, he says, as he pleads with me in earnest to help him find out how he can achieve his latest goal.

This week it's Chinese lessons (he's carrying around a computer print-out of some common English words with their Mandarin equivalents in his backpack as I write this); other weeks and months and years there have been similar passionate requests involving a million other pursuits that have sparked Will's curiosity.  In the past month alone, I've found him online tutorials for learning computer programming basics, facilitated the purchase of 5,462,391 more Rainbow Loom elastics, and watched him perform an energetic demonstration of his version of Irish dancing (complete with humming of Irish-themed music) as an argument for why he should be able to take more dance lessons next year.  A few weeks ago he came home with some old math contests that his teachers had given him as practice for writing this year's grade 4 Math Leagues one.  He devoured those practice contests hungrily in the evenings, pushing through the immense frustration he felt when he encountered questions he couldn't solve, because he loved the challenge so much and needed to know the right answers. (Yesterday we found out that his score on the actual contest, which he wrote last week, earned him a tie for first place in the school board!)  What goes on in Will's mind is mysterious and amazing to me.

If you take a look in Will's bedroom, which I try to let him keep how he likes it, the labyrinth-like activity of his brain becomes obvious in the random objects that spill into each other on every available surface. There is a homemade kaleidoscope, a book about Minecraft, a geode waiting to be cracked open with a hammer, a recorder, a bird made out of tinfoil, stock advisor newsletters, notes scribbled on paper, Lego men wading in a pool of sticky pink putty.  Will moves from one project to the next, never tidying up anything in between because a) why would he waste time on such ridiculously boring nonsense as cleaning? and b) inspiration could strike at any moment and he needs to have all of his resources easily available to him. The incredible thing is that even while he's in the midst of all of this:

he still finds himself wanting to experience and learn and be more.  I can't count how many times I've seen him wandering aimlessly around the house, declaring in a lost voice, "I don't know what to do now."

"I don't know what to do now."

Sometimes my sentiments echo his exactly.  I wonder if I'm doing an adequate job of providing him with the resources and materials and activities and opportunities he needs to grow that wonderful mind of his, both at home and at school. I worry that my fears of the unknown might somehow be holding him back from reaching his own potential. I'm both excited by the idea of letting him run with things and seeing how far he can go, and anxious about his mind taking him to grown up places when his ten year old self isn't yet ready to be there. I wish I could be as sure in my convictions that we're doing right by Will as he is in his fervent belief that the Chinese language is something really awesome.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring Salad Bowl (+ a helpful guide for buying produce)

I eat a salad of some kind most days for lunch; making it usually involves a quick process of throwing some greens and chopped veggies on a plate, adding some chicken or fish or hard-boiled egg and some sunflower seeds, and dressing it with a simple mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper.  It's a healthy and tasty mid-day meal, but more often than not, the salads I toss together just for myself are not all that exciting to look at.

Lately, though, I've been inspired by all of the pretty salads I've seen on Pinterest to try a little colourful food art at lunchtime.  Today's noon hour featured a salad bowl filled with tender pea shoots and mixed spring greens, a rainbow of crunchy vegetables, some good fats, and some lean protein, all arranged in an eye-pleasing pattern.  The ingredients weren't much different from what I usually use, and it didn't take any longer than normal to make my salad this afternoon, but somehow lunch just seemed a little more special today.

Spring Salad Bowl

a large handful of mixed spring greens
a small handful of pea shoots
one small carrot, peeled and grated
a few cherry tomatoes, halved
half of a mini cucumber, sliced
a quarter of a red bell pepper, diced
a quarter of an avocado, diced
one radish, thinly sliced
one small chicken breast, grilled, cooled, and diced*
a few spoonfuls of cooked, cooled quinoa
a sprinkling of chopped natural almonds

*We often grill extra chicken breasts on the weekend and keep them in the freezer to use throughout the week for quick lunch salads and sandwiches.

Arrange the mixed spring greens around the bottom of a wide, shallow bowl.  Stand the pea shoots up in the centre of the bowl, and place the vegetables, chicken, and quinoa in groupings around the pea shoot greens. Sprinkle the chopped almonds over the chicken, and drizzle a dressing of your choice over everything.  (I used a simple mixture of equal parts olive oil and white wine vinegar, with a bit of dijon mustard, honey, sea salt and pepper added in.)  Serve and enjoy!

While we're on the subject of vegetables, I thought I'd share a very useful shopping guide that I like to refer to when buying produce for my family.  Each year EWG (The Environmental Working Group, an environmental health research and advocacy organization) publishes a list of the cleanest and the dirtiest conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables.  Apples, strawberries, grapes, spinach, sweet bell peppers and more are among "The Dirty Dozen"; these are foods that contain a number of different pesticide residues and high concentrations of pesticides relative to other produce items. (A single grape sample, for example, was found to contain fifteen different pesticides.)  Avocados, asparagus, mangoes, sweet potatoes and more are on "The Clean Fifteen" list; these foods are the least likely to contain pesticide residues.  If you'd like to limit your family's exposure to pesticides and their potential negative effects on health, you can use EWG's complete lists (found here) to help you to determine where your grocery dollars are best spent buying organic.  (The summary of EWG's findings is full of interesting information that is also worth reading.)

Have a wonderful weekend!  I hope the sun comes out where you are.  :)

This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.