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, April 30, 2015

The Great Pencil Collection of 2015

I generally try to stay out of the boys' school backpacks, partly because I'm not sure I want to know what strange items might be lurking at the bottom of them, but mostly because I feel that it should be Noah and Will's responsibility to empty them after each school day, pulling out any homework that needs completing and any forms that need my attention, and to pack them back up in the morning with everything they need for the day ahead.

One recent morning, though, I noticed that Will was having a difficult time trying to stuff everything into his backpack before leaving for school, so I came over to offer my assistance. As I started pulling things out of the bag to rearrange them and make space, I suddenly had the feeling I was in one of those movie scenes where more and more clowns keep coming out of a tiny car. Inside Will's backpack I found the following:

Three dog-eared duotangs. One school agenda. Four months' worth of loose completed worksheets and marked assignments, wadded up into unrecognizable shapes. One ball glove. One orange and yellow safety vest. An empty gum package. One Minecraft character key chain, broken into two pieces. One superball. Two paper clips. One half of an eraser. One deck of Yu-Gi-Oh cards. One laminated late pass from the office that was supposed to have been given to his teacher when he returned to school after his orthodontist appointment on Tuesday. Four rulers. A half package of Kleenex. A strange, unidentifiable contraption made out of drinking straws and duct tape. Sand.

I also found this many pencils, just lying loose in the bottom of his bag:

Twenty-four (24!!) pencils (+2, actually, because I later found two more in another pocket of his bag. I especially like the one that is sharpened at both ends. 

This pencil discovery in Will's backpack has led me to several very important realizations:

1.  Despite the fact that Will and I have similar physical features and personality traits, we have absolutely nothing in common when it comes to organization.

2.  If I ever need a pencil (heck, if everyone in the whole neighbourhood ever needs a pencil!), I know exactly whom to ask.

3.  I will owe Will's teacher an entire Costco-sized box of pencils by the end of this school year.

When I was puzzling over Will's vast collection of pencils aloud to Matt, he told me that there was once a partner in his workplace who had exactly the same habit; if he came into your office, he would inevitably leave absent-mindedly with one of your writing implements.  I found reassurance in this story that Will's penchant for pencil collecting would not necessarily impede him from future career success. (Incidentally, when this partner from Matt's office moved on to a new job, they found a Costco-sized box worth of other people's pencils in his desk.)

Last week a notice came home from the principal of the boys' school, stating that they were starting to develop plans for next September and that if we had any reasonable requests for our children's class placements, we should submit them in writing to the office by the end of this week.  I am not too concerned about which teacher Will ends up with or which of his peers are in his class, but I am thinking I should probably write a letter anyway.  Will needs to be in a classroom with a lot of pencils.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Kids' Books and Community

If you've been to our house, or if you've been reading along here for awhile, you'll know that we installed a Little Free Library on our front lawn a couple of summers ago and have been hosting a friendly neigbourhood book exchange out of it ever since. The library has been everything I'd hoped it would be when I first got excited about starting it -- the little box gets lots of traffic in the warmer months, and I love seeing people of all ages stopping by to find something new and interesting to read. We have a few neighbourhood children who are very regular visitors, and it's still great fun to watch people who have never seen a Little Free Library before discover ours and be delighted by it. Encouraging people to "take a book, leave a book" continues to be an easy and rewarding way for our family to build community and to share the joy of reading.

Our library is getting busy again now that the weather is warmer, so I've been collecting books that I can use to restock it periodically over the summer months. The Canadian Federation of University Women hosts a giant used book sale in Waterloo every April that is a great source for inexpensive reading material, so I headed there first thing this morning to see what I could find. As I browsed through the tables and boxes of books in the children's room, I came across large stacks where the cover pages were all marked with the intials "B-B", which I instantly recognized as those of Will's kindergarten teacher. She is retired now, and it seemed she had donated much of her classroom reading collection to the sale.

I enjoyed a lovely little trip down memory lane for the next while as I flipped through the stacks. I used to regularly volunteer in Will's kindergarten classroom, and I remembered Mrs. B reading many of the books that I was finding to Will and his friends when they were small students in her care. I purchased the stories that were Will's and my favourites this morning, so they can be enjoyed by other young children in our neighbourhood who come to visit our library. These kinds of cheerful coincidences always make me smile. I hope I bump into Mrs. B again sometime so I can tell her about where some of her books ended up; I think she'd be happy to hear it.

I wanted to mention our little library again today to encourage others who might be interested in visiting ones in their community now that spring has arrived, or perhaps even in starting up a library of their own. For my Waterloo Region friends, there is a listing of the Little Free Libraries running in our area available here. You can also find out about ordering a library kit or participating in an upcoming community build on the Little Libraries of KW website, or join their Facebook group for regular updates. If you live outside of the K-W area, you can look for libraries near you on the Little Free Library World Map. For anyone who loves the idea of Little Free Libraries and wants to support the group's literacy initiatives without necessarily creating their own library, you can contribute to the Little Free Library Kickstarter campaign, running from April 22 until May 21, here.

Let's keep encouraging a love of reading in our young people, and let's continue to create vibrant, engaged communities in the neighbourhoods we call home.

Thursday, April 23, 2015


Photo Credit:  Rudolf Ammann on flickr

Two suitcase wheels rolled steadily behind Noah yesterday morning as he walked down the hill towards his school. He was on his way to meet up with the rest of his Grade 8 classmates, and to board a bus that would take them all to a three-day retreat at a beautiful forested property about an hour from home. This journey has long been one of the highlights of the students' final year at our elementary school, and Noah and his friends, who have already come a long way together since their days of crayon drawings and sweet gap-toothed smiles, were very much looking forward to it.

I've thought often about Noah throughout the past twenty-four hours, wondering what kinds of fun activities he might be involved in, and it's made me happy that these young men and women have an opportunity to learn about themselves and each other through the experiences the retreat provides. They're at a pivotal time in their lives; in only a few months, their long-familiar routines of sharing classrooms and lunch hours and inside jokes will come to an end, and many of these peers will inevitably drift apart from each other as diverse interests and education choices and life goals send them each exploring different paths in the coming years. It seems right that they should have these days set aside to connect with each other in a meaningful way, and make memories they will carry with them long after their elementary school days have passed.

Transitional times like this year make me keenly aware of the ever-turning motion of life.  It's as though a human lifetime is a kind of kaleidoscope, with each shift creating a fascinating new pattern to study and enjoy.  The people we get to know at each phase add colour and beauty in their own special ways; they allow us to see ourselves and our world from different perspectives. We cannot recreate the old patterns again once we've made another turn and moved on from them (though sometimes we'll long nostalgically for what we loved most about them), but each vivid impression creates freedom for the next one to unfold. It's these forever changing combinations of colour that give life its rich complexity.

Noah and his friends likely won't realize any of this as they share their retreat experience together. They are young still, and can't yet understand the many turns their lives will take as they grow. Right now, what I hope for them is that they're having a wonderful time.  May they some day look back, as I do now, with fondness and gratitude for the unique individuals who shared this part of their lives.


Monday, April 20, 2015

Room Redo, Two: For the Tweenaged Boy

In recent months, Will had mentioned to me several times that he thought it was time for a change in his room. He felt he had outgrown the Star Wars/space theme that had excited him several years ago, and he was hoping for some new decor that would reflect his current interests. I agreed that some areas of his room could use a little work, and I remembered Noah being eager about a similar kind of room makeover when he was around Will's age. Because I always love a good redecorating project, I was happy to accommodate Will's request.

We set to work on completing this project one afternoon over Easter weekend while Will was out playing with friends. Even though he had been involved in choosing his new bedding and the art work for his walls, I thought it would be fun to surprise him with the transformation on a day when he wasn't really expecting it to happen. My goal was to create a room that was fun, but still mature enough that it could last Will through his teen years.

We only made simple changes (we worked with the existing wall paint colour and most of the furniture we already had), but Will was very enthusiastic about the end result when he arrived back home that afternoon.

Duvet cover, sham, red throw blanket, and Boys Only pillow from Bouclair
Union Jack pillow from HomeSense.

Will's desk was the one piece of furniture we did replace. The rather small one he was using before was often overflowing with his random collections of important things...

...so I was looking for a desk with more practical storage space to encourage him to be a little more organized. The desk was a Kijiji find and matches his other furniture perfectly; the storage baskets (from Bouclair) and the magnetic white board built into the desk help to give him a place for everything. 

One of Will's favourite new room features is the row of matching clocks on his wall, which he has set for three different time zones. (Thanks, Manda, for this idea!) He likes imagining what friends and relatives in other parts of the world might be up to at various times of the day. When Matt and I first put up the clocks and realized how loud their combined rhythmic ticking was, we wondered if our sensitive boy would even be able to sleep at night, but Will actually loves the ticking sound. He says it helps him have something relaxing to focus on when his brain wants to go into overdrive.

Will and I found the skateboarding poster above his bed and this black high top sneaker one while browsing the huge online selection of images at AllPosters, and I framed them myself with simple, standard-sized black frames ordered from Amazon. A row of hooks gives Will a place to hang the medals he's earned from his various favourite activities.

Will loves spending time in his new room, and I'm glad that we were able to easily create a comfortable space for him that suits his personality and his tween spirit.

I'll leave you now with a fun little game for this rainy Monday:  Can you spot the kitten? (Apparently Iris loves Will's new room, too!  In true cat fashion, she's ignoring the "boys only" rule.  Will forgives her, though.)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Random Friday Ramblings (and an update about the ice cream makers)

Yesterday I started writing a post that was very woe-is-me in nature; I was feeling worn out and unappreciated in my role as a long-time stay-at-home mom and I needed somewhere to vent. I never finished that post, and this morning when I looked at it sitting in my drafts folder, the whole thing seemed rather melodramatic, and I was relieved that I hadn't posted it.

It's funny what a difference a day can make. Sometimes we just need a good cry, or a good talk with a loved one, or a good sleep, and the world suddenly seems right again. I had all three of those things yesterday, and by this morning all the misery I was feeling had vanished. Today the boys were home from school as it was a P.D. day; it was beautifully warm and sunny outside, and I remembered all of things I love about being able to be home with them.

Spring is an optimistic reminder that change is always around the corner, isn't it?  Tiny green shoots suddenly appear out of the earth where the day before there seemed to be nothing. Gray skies part to make way for beautiful blue ones.

Today's positive energy sparked an enthusiasm for spring-related activity at our house. The boys and I went through all of their warmer weather clothing to determine what fits and what new things we need to shop for. I was thrilled when I could cross most of the "to shop for" things off of Will's list almost as soon as I had written them down by looking in the bins of Noah's outgrown clothes, where we found jackpot of appropriately sized shorts and shirts that Will liked. We all got outside to enjoy the beautiful day -- the boys on their bikes, and me in the backyard with my gardening gloves, where I started cleaning up the flower beds to make space for this year's blooms. I had a few moments of trepidation, as I do every year, when I scooped all of the piles of dead leaves out of the window wells with my hands. I always imagine I'm going to uncover some odd, furry, biting creature living in there under the debris! Thankfully, there wasn't one. Matt and Will and I decided at the end of the afternoon to surprise Noah by picking him up from swim practice and going out to our favourite pizza place for dinner. It was so nice to have an unhurried meal all together, especially one that I didn't have to cook!

We also had a chance today to try out the individual ice cream makers I mentioned in my last post, so as I promised, I'll share our experience with them. Noah and Will walked together to the grocery store near our house to pick up the special ingredients they needed, with only a little direction needed from me via a phone call from the shop, asking exactly which kind of cream to buy and where in the store they might find coconut milk. They each made their own flavour combination in our blender (chocolate peanut butter for Noah, and strawberry banana for Will, with chocolate chips and walnuts sprinkled in), and all three of us were amazed at how well the frozen metal bowls turned the chilled mixes (both a traditional milk and cream version and a dairy-free coconut milk version) into ice cream. It took less than ten minutes of scraping and stirring for the ice cream to reach a good consistency for eating, and both boys declared their easily made creations to be really delicious. We can now very highly recommend making ice cream this way as a fun warm weather activity for people of all ages!

If you're looking for a simple dairy-free homemade ice cream base recipe, we combined one 398ml can of full fat coconut milk, 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk, 1/4 cup raw agave syrup (you could also use honey or pure maple syrup), 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, and a pinch of sea salt in a blender jar and blended it until smooth and creamy.  To add flavour, you could also blend in ingredients such as fruit (Will used half of a banana and a handful of strawberries), or nut butter and chocolate (Noah used a heaping tablespoon of peanut butter and 1/4 cup cocoa powder).  Chill the ice cream mixture in the fridge, and then follow the instructions that come with the ice cream maker for freezing it.

I think I'll hit publish on this post tonight; there is no melodrama here (well, except for maybe the bit about the creature that might have been living in the window well leaf pile). Here's to sunny spring days that seem all the more wonderful because of the dim days they follow.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Worth Keeping in Your Pockets -- Spring 2015

I'm sitting outside in the glorious sunshine to write, after spending the first part of the afternoon soaking up the long-awaited warmth of spring during a long walk.  Everywhere I look today, people seem to have suddenly sprung to life:  kids are flying gleefully on bikes down sidewalks and tossing basketballs into nets; neighbours are standing and chatting together in relaxed, happy clusters on driveways; joggers and dogs are out for an enjoyable afternoon run.  It's as though a weight (equal to a heavy coat and a pair of boots) has suddenly been lifted from everyone's shoulders, and we're all remembering how wonderful it feels to breathe freely and deeply again.

Today seems like a perfect day for a spring edition of Worth Keeping in Your Pockets.  These are some of the pretty, fun, useful, inspiring things we've been liking around here lately.

Handmade Beaded Jewelry:  My talented friend Jutta creates beautiful European style beaded jewelry in a rainbow of colours, and she has recently opened up her own Etsy shop.  I'm really excited to share her work with others, as I have a few of her handmade pieces myself and truly love them.  Her necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and rings are unique and add flair to any outfit.  If you'd like to keep up with the pretty new pieces Jutta is designing and crafting this spring, you can follow her European Style Beadworks page on Facebook.


Ice Cream Makers:  For Easter this year, I decided to give the boys each their own mini Zoku ice-cream maker, suitable for quickly creating one delicious single serving at a time.  The process involves adding five ounces of homemade ice cream mix to a pre-frozen metal bowl insert, and stirring and scraping the mixture in the bowl for about ten minutes.  The result is an almost instant soft-serve, or you can freeze the ice cream after stirring if you prefer a harder version. We haven't had a chance to try out these ice cream makers yet (Noah and Will have been busy with swim meets and dance competitions this week), but I've read many good reviews for them, and the boys have been excitedly dreaming up their own flavour possibilities since last Sunday.  I like the idea of homemade ice cream so that we can choose our own ingredients and stick to healthier options.  I'll report back once we've tested these out!

Singing Sisters:  Perhaps you've already heard of Lennon and Maisy, Canadian born sisters and a musical duo whose recent lovely cover of the song Boom Clap has been playing on Songza.  I love these girls' harmonious voices, and the obvious joy they feel when they sing together can't help but make listeners feel good, too.  This sweet version of That's What's Up is one of my favourites of their covers:

I'm so glad these girls are sharing their bright talents with the world.

Knit Dish Cloths:  We wash a lot of dishes in this house (because we do a lot of cooking and baking), so I'm always on the lookout for good, sturdy dish cloths that are up to the job and won't wear thin in no time at all.  Sometimes that's a tall order, but my mom very thoughtfully sent me some dish cloths that she recently knit herself (thanks, Mom!!), and I have now declared them The Best Dish Cloths Ever.  They're thick and soft, they clean things up wonderfully, and they look pretty, too.

You can easily make your own dish cloths using Bernat cotton wool and this pattern of my mom's:

Cast on 39 stitches with 5 mm needles. (My mom says she likes to use short needles.)
Knit 4 rows
*Knit 3, (purl 1, knit 1) to last 2 stitches, knit 2 *Knit 4, (purl 1, knit 1) to last 3 stitches, knit 3 *Knit 2 rows
Repeat this* sequence 11 more times, then knit 2 more rows.
Cast off and sew in the ends.
Wanting to have more of these super (and easy to make) dish cloths in a variety of spring colours just might inspire me to pick up knitting needles again -- it's been a long while!

Bird Homecoming:  Our mourning doves returned home last week after a long winter away.  It seems a marvel, really, how these birds know to find their way back to the place where they were happy the summer before, even after travelling so very far from where they started.  Their journey is always a nice reminder of "home" and what it means to me, where I came from and the wonderful people I'm lucky to call family.  Call your folks, get together with your brothers and sisters if you can, enjoy the company of loved ones while the sun is shining. The changing season has already got me excited for my own happy return to home up north this summer.

Photo Credit:  Wikimedia Commons

That's all for now -- I'm off to relish the rest of this afternoon's blue skies.  Happy spring (finally)!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Banana Orange Cake with Whipped Coconut Cream and Fresh Berries (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)

Easter weekend was filled with a little bit of everything, both weather-wise and in terms of what our family got up to. It was sunny on Friday and Saturday, then Sunday morning we woke up to a fresh layer of snow on the lawn, which made it seem more like Christmas than Easter. We headed outside to enjoy the sunshine when we could, and spent time redecorating Will's bedroom (more on that later) and preparing an Easter feast and some special holiday treats in the kitchen whenever the weather was gray and cool. The four day weekend was a really nice break from the regular routine, and a great opportunity for some enjoyable family time together.

For Easter treats, Noah and Will requested their favourite homemade dark chocolate goodies: coconut creme eggs and cashew butter eggs. I was happy to indulge the boys, mostly just because I love them, but also because I love those eggs as much as they do! In addition to the usual sweets, though, I wanted to prepare a non-chocolate dessert for our Easter dinner that felt spring-like, even if the weather didn't want to cooperate.  This banana orange cake with whipped coconut cream and fresh berries was very much enjoyed by the whole family last night.  The cake is wonderfully moist and flavourful, and was a perfect end to our delicious glazed ham and roasted vegetable Easter meal.

Banana Orange Cake with Whipped Coconut Cream and Fresh Berries

6 cups blanched almond flour
6 tbsp arrowroot flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
6 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups mashed ripe bananas

2 398mL cans of full-fat coconut milk (refrigerate overnight before using)
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 F, and lightly grease two 8-inch round cake pans with grapeseed oil.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, arrowroot flour, sea salt and baking soda. Whisk together the grapeseed oil, maple syrup, orange juice, and vanilla extract in a separate bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well with a large spoon. Stir the mashed bananas into the batter, making sure everything is well-combined.

Divide the cake batter evenly between the two prepared baking pans, smoothing out the top of each cake with a spatula, and bake in the preheated oven for approximately 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a cake comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Carefully loosen the edges of the cakes with a knife, and invert the pans onto wire racks to release the cakes from them. Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Prepare the whipped coconut cream by opening the two cans of coconut milk and scooping out the solid cream from the top of the cans into a mixing bowl. Add a tablespoon of pure maple syrup and a teaspoon of vanilla to the cream, then beat on high speed with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy.

Place one of the cooled cakes on a plate. Spread half of the whipped coconut cream over the top of the cake, then gently place the second cake on top of the cream. Spread the remaining whipped coconut cream over the top of the second cake, and arrange the fresh berries on top of the second layer of cream. Serve and enjoy! (Any remaining cake should be stored in the refrigerator to keep the cream and berries fresh.)

Today the sun is shining again, and while Matt had to return to work this morning, the boys and I are taking full advantage of one more leisure-filled afternoon. We're all looking forward to Easter leftovers (especially this cake :) ) for dinner again tonight! I hope your Easter weekend was lovely, too, and that spring weather is showing its warm, smiling face where you are.

This post is linked to Gluten-Free Wednesdays.