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.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Naturally Sweet Strawberry Lemonade

Summer vacation got off to a bit of a false start this past weekend.  Matt and the boys and I were very much looking forward to a couple of days of having nothing specific to do after school finished for the year on Friday; we planned to spend most of our time enjoying the sunshine and water in our backyard. We ended up enjoying water all right, in the form of copious amounts of rain that fell all weekend long. The sun was nowhere in sight, and the rain brought with it some crazy winds that picked up our patio table and threw it upside down, smashing the glass top into a gazillion little pieces all over our deck.

We still made the most of an otherwise quiet family weekend, though -- we played board games, and worked on solving puzzle cubes (Noah and Will are both hooked on the Pyraminx these days), and baked, and went shopping for a replacement patio table (one without a glass top!)  And today, the warm sun came back out and our summer got off to a wonderful, real start.

Hot summer days call for tall, cool glasses of refreshing drinks, and one of my favourites has always been pink lemonade.  What I don't love about most of the store-bought varieties of this tasty summer thirst-quencher, though, is the excessive amount of sugar they contain.  I've discovered that it's very easy to make my own lemonade at home, using real fruit rather than sugar as the starring ingredient. Fresh strawberries (especially the deliciously sweet Ontario ones that are in season now) add a pretty pink hue as well as a wonderful flavour to this lemonade, and real lemon juice, sweetened with only a tablespoon of honey, makes sure it still has a nice bit of pucker power!

Strawberry Lemonade

3/4 cup fresh ripe strawberries
juice of two lemons (approximately 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed juice)
6 cups of cold water
1 tbsp honey
ice, lemon slices

Wash and hull the strawberries, and place them in the jar of a blender with one cup of the cold water. Blend on high speed until the strawberries are completely pureed. Strain the strawberry mixture through a fine mesh sieve (to remove any seeds), into a tall pitcher.

Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice, the remaining five cups of cold water, and the honey to the pitcher, and stir the lemonade with a long spoon.  Finish off the lemonade with a handful of ice cubes and some lemon slices before serving.

If your family is used to a sweeter lemonade, try playing around with more strawberries, and a little less lemon juice at first.  (My guys love lemons, so they are very happy with a more tart version.) I hope you'll find this lemonade a great option for staying cool and hydrated this summer.  :)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Step Away From the Snowsuits!!

This morning I tucked the last of this year's school lunches into the boys' backpacks as they prepared to head out the door. When Will hoisted his nearly empty bag over his shoulder, his face glowed with surprise over how light his backpack suddenly felt. (I had finally convinced him to free it of its long-held, burdensome contents yesterday, when I took a peek inside and saw that his pencil collection had continued to grow exponentially over the past several weeks.) "I feel so free!" he exclaimed with delight.

I've been feeling exactly the same way all day. The past month has been insanely busy for our family, and though most of our pursuits and engagements have been happy ones, the hectic schedule carried a certain heaviness with it as we rushed about everywhere and tried not to forget anything. I've felt as though I'm floating on the air today, knowing that the next two months will allow us all time to breathe, to slow down, to enjoy.

That feeling was momentarily suspended when I walked into Costco late this morning and saw what was brazenly displayed across numerous large tables in the centre aisles: snowsuits. Their bright colours and patterns had a certain allure, I won't lie, but I immediately saw them for what they are: hulking, cumbersome beasts who are trying to suck the joy out of summer before it even really begins.

The sight of the snowsuits made me surprisingly irate, probably because it spoke to me of the rush our society always seems to be in these days.  We barely have time to even recognize where we are before we're being pressured to move headlong into the next thing.  I am a planner by nature, and deeply appreciate the value of being prepared (just ask my family -- I could be a poster child for the Scouts organization), but there is no part of me that wants to buy a snowsuit now when the summer sun has barely kissed my skin.

Today I want to savour the sounds of kids laughing and splashing in cool water, and of birds singing sweetly in the tree branches that overhang our backyard deck.  I want to spend quiet mornings with my bare feet dangling from the hammock chair, my mind lost in the enticing pages of a good book, and evenings tossing a frisbee around with my boys under the lingering sun while the warm breeze dances all around us. I want to putter in my gardens, and dig in to the fresh, vibrant bounty of summer foods whose taste is at their delicious peak. Today I'm not rushing headlong into anything; I'm going to stay and relish summer, such a short and wonderfully sweet season.

I marched defiantly past the snowsuit tables in Costco this morning, and staged a personal protest of their existence by buying more giant pool noodles for all of us to play with instead. May your summer be a joyful, relaxing, and snowsuit-free one!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Endings, and Exciting Beginnings

Noah graduated from Grade 8 on Monday afternoon.  He looked so handsome and grown up all dressed in his suit and vest and tie, and I was a beaming, proud mom as I watched him accept his diploma from his teachers, thinking of all that he has accomplished over the course of his elementary school years, and of what an extraordinary young man he has become. I was not as emotional as I thought I might feel over this significant milestone in my son's life, though; it felt exciting rather than sad to see him take this last step before moving on to high school full time next September.  I think I went through all of the natural feelings of wistfulness and worry last summer as Noah prepared to take two Grade 9 courses a year early. Now, after seeing how happy that positive experience has made him, I feel mostly eager for his opportunity to have more room to grow next year.  I think he feels the same way.

There are many changes happening in Noah's life right now. Last weekend he swam his last meet as an age group swimmer with Club Warriors. He has decided to leave competitive swimming next year, a sport he has worked very hard at and enjoyed for a long time, so that he can pursue his varied other interests in high school. He also finished his last TriGator triathlon last weekend (an event that he has loved over the years) now that he's reached the final year of eligibility age-wise. But these goodbyes are not melancholy ones, either, because there are exciting new opportunities already lined up to take their place. Noah plans to join the cross-country and track teams in high school next year, and he'll continue to swim, though with his school team instead. He wants to join the school triathlon club, and is also enthusiastic about being part of the robotics team, a challenge that is well-matched to the way his mind likes to work. At the TriGator this year, Noah volunteered in the pool area before he competed in his own race later in the day, marshalling swimmers and helping little ones in the water, and next year he looks forward to being able to volunteer for the entire event. He has also just landed himself his very first job: come September, he will be an intro level coach to swimmers at Club Warriors, which will allow him to still be involved in an organization that has meant so much to him.

In the midst of all of these potentially sad transitions, I am filled with happiness for Noah. I know that he will take on these new opportunities and challenges with the same courage I've seen him show so many times at the pool over the last several years: he'll dive right in, with strength, grace, and determination to reach further and become better.

Congratulations, Noah, on everything you've achieved through your talents, hard work, and positive attitude, and best wishes for everything that is to come! We are all so incredibly proud of you.  xoxo

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

For Grandma, with love

Last Thursday evening, with the warmth of summer in the air, my dear Grandma Atkinson peacefully left this life. Though we had had time to prepare ourselves for losing her, I was still shocked and heartbroken when I heard my mom's tearful, far away voice break the sad news to me over the phone. I've found myself aching to bridge the geographical distance between her and me and my aunt Christina over the past several days, wanting to be close to them especially now that our mom and grandma's delicate hands are suddenly beyond all of our reach. 

In her happier, younger years, my grandma was a firecracker tucked into a tiny frame, a spirited little lady who was often the life of the party. I remember her in a pretty apron, hosting large and lively family Christmas dinners, tap dancing and laughing in her Minnie Pearl hat, jumping into our swimming pool fully clothed with an open umbrella over her head, Mary Poppins style. She loved butterflies, and the colours red and purple, which she often wore together, a perfect match for her vibrant personality. 

It's been sad to watch old age slowly extinguish her spark over the last several years. I helped Christina with my grandma's late life moves, first from her house to an apartment, and then from her apartment to a nursing home as her health deteriorated. I ached inside as we had to shrink down all of the accumulated treasures of her life with each move, a sorrow that intensified as my grandma's physical frame grew tinier, and frail. Still, I'm so thankful to have been a part of her life until the end. I felt it a sweet honour to return in some small way the love she gave me in my growing up years, when her home was my second one.

My grandma did not want us to remember her with tears and sadness over what was lost. When Christina was going through her mom's papers in recent days, she came across a quotation from Little House on the Prairie that Grandma had written in a journal years ago:

"Remember me with smiles and laughter, for that is how I'll remember you all."

We had so many fun-filled years with her that she's made it easy for us to honour her wish.  We will celebrate her life, fittingly, with fireworks later on this summer.

I'm hopeful that today my Grandma has found her dancing legs again, and is laughing somewhere with all of her loved ones who went before her. I will remember her with joy every time I see a beautiful butterfly flitting among the blooms in my garden, or catch a glimpse of her smile and spunk in my little cousin Stella, or hear echoes of her giggle in bubbles floating cheerfully on a summer breeze. Her colourful spirit will continue, always, to light up our lives.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

On writing and rejection

Yesterday I received another rejection letter from an editor to whom I had submitted an essay for consideration. It came in the form of an email that I hurriedly read late last night after the craziness of a long day spent at a track meet with Noah and a stage rehearsal for dance with Will. I wanted to cry as I scanned the few carefully crafted lines intended to let me down gently, but I was too tired then even for that, so I crumpled up my feelings of shame and disappointment and just went to bed instead.

This morning I woke up in a miserable mood, my head swirling with thoughts of how I used to be good at intelligent things, and with the realization of just how much I long now to be good at something other than lunch making and laundry and driving people where they need to go. It hurts to deliver a piece of yourself in a much loved and laboured over piece of writing and then be told, even in a nice way, that it just isn't good enough. And yet, as I've tended to all of my bruised feelings today, I've found myself eagerly forming phrases in my mind, imagining how I will write about this particular bit of life, too. It's strong, this innate desire to create something beautiful out of words, too strong, it appears, to be driven out of me by the sting of someone else's criticisms.

I was just outside in the backyard, catching a few moments of sunshine while I ate, and my eye was drawn to our vegetable gardens where all of the seeds I planted last week have begun to sprout. There is something so encouraging in those tiny green shoots that have pushed their way through the grubby soil to the bright light of the sun, the way they reach always upwards and outwards. I thought about how far the tender plants still have to go before they're capable of bearing fruit for us to enjoy, how much growing they still have to look forward to. I wonder if maybe that's the case for me, too.

Maybe it's foolish of me to believe that my words might ever be good enough to reach beyond the pages of this tiny blog and somehow touch the lives of strangers in a meaningful way. The only thing I know for sure right now is that I'm still eager to keep on trying.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The phone call

"Mom?" said the sheepish sounding voice on the other end of the line when I answered our phone late this afternoon. "Uh, I forgot my swimsuit."

It was Noah, calling from a cell phone on the pool deck where he was supposed to be starting swim practice.  The lack of swimsuit was going to be a serious impediment to his progress in that regard.

I could have used this unfortunate instance as a teachable moment, an opportunity for me to say, "I'm sorry to hear that. I guess you'll have to sit out of practice today, and make sure you remember your suit next time." (I've said this on one other occasion months ago when the swimsuit was also forgotten and I received a similar call.) I could have given the all-too-familiar lecture (in an exasperated voice) about the importance of getting things organized the night before, so that nothing is forgotten in the after-school rush to get to the pool on time.

But instead, I told him to meet me at the pool building's doors in fifteen minutes, and I collected his swimsuit from the drying rack in the laundry room and drove it to him.

He's been juggling a lot of balls lately. He made four trips to London over three days this past weekend to compete in regionals for swimming, where he made finals for several of his events. He's still practising at the pool two hours a day, five days a week. He's been working hard in the evenings to complete the last few assignments for his high school course, and preparing for his upcoming final exam, striving for an even higher grade than the excellent one he achieved at midterm. He's writing and rehearsing a speech to present to his class later this week in the hopes of being voted class valedictorian for his grade 8 graduation. He's competing in the area track and field meet tomorrow, where he'll represent his school in the 1500 and 800m races. He's doing a triathlon next weekend, and volunteering in the pool before his own event to assist little swimmers who might need a helping hand in that leg of the race. If my head is spinning trying to keep all of the information related to these events straight, I imagine his brain must be near exploding sometimes, and his body must be tired, too. Forgetting a swimsuit seems a minor blip in the big, brilliant picture of things.

Sometimes it's our job as parents to teach our kids responsibility and organization and all of the other important life skills we think they'll need to be successful. Sometimes, though, it feels right to just support them, to let them know that we'll still be there for them if they need us, even when they've shown themselves most of the time to be incredibly mature, clever, and capable.

The trip to the pool and back took me 45 minutes when it should have taken half that, because I found out at the last second that the road we usually take was closed due to construction, and the detour got me stuck behind a Greyhound bus that would not move, and the university campus where the pool is located was bursting with students wearing convocation caps and gowns and families trying to take pictures of them, and there were almost as many geese on the road as there were people, and I might have cursed once or twice under my breath. Still, I was happy to be able to hand that little piece of black fabric to Noah through the car window when I finally met up with him. Today, I wanted the simple gesture of a delivered swimsuit to say, "I love you, and I'm so proud of every amazing thing you're managing to do these days."  I hope he received the message loud and clear.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Step. Step. Step....

Will recently became the proud owner of a fitness tracker. The idea of keeping close tabs on specifics like the number of steps he takes in a day and the number of hours he sleeps at night, with a little wearable device that also serves as a watch, really appeals to the mathematical part of his brain, and he'd been studying the different models of trackers every week in the store flyers, comparing their various features, for months. Finally, just before track-and-field and cross-country season, he arrived at a decision and gleefully made his purchase at the mall with money he had saved from his birthday and his allowance. He has not taken the thing off since (except to put on sunscreen).

How many steps would you think an eleven year old boy would rack up in a fourteen hour day of activity? Ten thousand? Fifteen, maybe, if he was a particularly busy child? I will tell you, quite seriously, that Will has more than once surpassed 24 000 steps in a day.  This does not include any time that he has spent biking, or scootering, or swimming, because the tracker doesn't keep track of those activities.  And this time of year, he spends a lot of time doing all three of those things, too.  I'm still trying to figure out how he manages that level of exertion on the nine and a half hours of sleep the fitness tracker says he gets at night, or on the seemingly small amount of food he consumes in a day. The numbers just don't add up.

Will loves his new fitness tracker because it provides him with the kind of detailed information he's always fascinated to know. I love his new fitness tracker because it proves beyond a doubt what I've been saying for years and years:  there is just no keeping up with this boy.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Life Lately, in Snapshots

We're in the thick of it now, the season where everything winds up (boy, does it ever!) before it winds down. There is little time to be found for writing during the hectic month of June, but still, I feel it's important to record the unique moments that make up our days right now, so that they don't all simply pass by in a blur, too jumbled to decipher at a later time when I want to look back and remember. These are the sweet, funny, or interesting things that have captured my attention of late.

A bright new smile for Noah. (He chose red and black elastic ties, the colours of his swim team, so he'll be showing a little extra team spirit at regionals this weekend.)

Not to be outdone by his brother's new hardware, Will emerged from the bathroom one recent morning sporting a nose ring that he'd fashioned for himself out of Kleenex.

Kittens enjoying a fresh morning breeze by an open window and bird watching, side by side.

Tiny baby bunnies frolicking in the backyard, so small they are almost lost in the grass. (I want so badly to pick one up and pet it and bring it inside to live with us, because CUTE!!! Matt, wise man that he is, reminds me often that this would not be a good idea.)

Cross country meets on perfect June days. I love watching both boys run, their feet pounding the earth as they strive for a personal best, my heart pounding with excitement as I see them emerge from the woods and sprint for the finish line. Noah had an excellent race in the area meet again this year; he finished seventh out of 62 runners in his age group.

New seeds and plants tucked gently into fresh soil, full of potential. It's a cheerful morning's work for me, and now we eagerly wait for Mother Nature to work her magic.

I don't have a photo for this one, but I think what Noah's class is working on in earnest this month is really something worth sharing.  It's a tradition at our elementary school for the two grade eight classes to have a dance off each year at the end of June.  Every grade eight student participates; they spend the month planning, choreographing, and rehearsing their respective routines to songs of their choosing, and then the two groups perform in front of the whole school, with one class chosen as the winner at the end. Noah, who prefers to keep more to himself, does not enjoy dancing, nor does he enjoy performing in front of a crowd, but he is excited about this project and has embraced it wholeheartedly.  He comes home in the evenings and shows his routine to Will, asking for feedback from our resident hip hop expert.  I know from having seen the grade eight dance numbers in previous years that the end result will be awesome.  The fact that even non-dancers feel comfortable participating in this fun, final year activity speaks volumes about the two grade eight teachers and the positive environments full of trust and friendliness they've helped to create in their classrooms over the past ten months.  I'm really grateful to them for that.

In the midst of all the running here, there, and everywhere this month, I wish harried, worn out parents the peace of mind to notice the simple but lovely happenings all around us that can make us feel refreshed and happy.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Free Time: When Kids Take the Wheel

I spend a lot of hours driving my two boys places these days. When they were younger and participating in one or two little extra-curricular activities that only involved a short time commitment each week, I prided myself on the healthy balance of our life, and I vowed I would never allow our family to get caught up in the chaotic schedules I saw so many other families around us living out. It was very important to me in those days that Noah and Will had a chance to just be kids, ones who had free time to daydream and play and be silly and create things of their own invention. I wanted them to know how to relax, and how to find their own fun when no one was carefully structuring it for them.

As the boys grew older, however, they found organized activities that truly excited them, and they were happy to devote much more of their time and energy to these interesting and worthwhile pursuits. One by one, the timeslots on our family's weekly calendar started filling up, and my role now is often that of taxi driver as I ferry kids from one school to another, from the pool to the dance studio to the robotics lab, from city to city to participate in various meets, competitions, and programs.

It's hard to feel resentful of this life, even though it seems so much more hectic than the one I originally (probably naively) envisioned when Noah and Will were small. I'm so happy to see the boys discovering new things about themselves and striving to reach personal goals in their chosen endeavors. I share their excitement over their hard-earned accomplishments and am proud of the wonderful, well-rounded people they've become. I've also realized over time that their particular wiring requires a certain level of regular busyness to keep their brains happy. For my ever-energetic Will, especially, long stretches of time where he doesn't have specific activities planned lead to him feeling anxious and unsettled -- his mind and body often crave challenges and novelty, and sometimes he needs help finding that.

My idea of "healthy balance", then, has shifted necessarily over the years. However, one thing has not changed as our day-to-day life has grown busier: I still place great value on the gift of free time. While we may not have as much of it as we once did, I make a conscious effort, always, to safeguard precious blocks of it for every member of our family. We decided this year to keep one weeknight free of activities for everyone, to allow for family down time we can use as we wish. On the weekends that we happen to have nothing booked, we relish the opportunity to explore whatever interests us in the moment, either individually or together. The boys' primary activities will wind down for the summer by the end of June, and we haven't rushed to fill our July and August weeks with new ones to take their place. We're happy to see where we end up by leaving room for spontaneity.

What I love most about the boys having ample free time is watching them drive themselves places, fascinating places that only their individual minds know how to get to. When given the space to roam, their rich imaginations create new games, solve problemsconduct experiments, build useful inventions, figure out how things work, tell captivating made-up stories and hilarious jokes. Everything becomes a potential learning experience that requires no lesson plans or preconceived outcomes.

I will always be grateful for the vibrant community we live in; the diverse collection of organized activities offered here is allowing my boys to learn and grow in incredibly positive ways. I know these experiences hold a lot of meaning for Noah and Will. I also know, judging by the looks of wonder and joy on their faces when they're lost in their own worlds, that the boys very much appreciate the equally rich experiences they discover in their free time. I hope that when the day comes for my guys to schedule their own lives, they'll carefully guard some down time for themselves, so that their lively imaginations will always find the space to run wild and free.

This post is part of Hoagies' Gifted Education Page's Blog Hop for June. The blog hop shares various writers' perspectives on a different topic related to giftedness each month.  If you are looking for information to help you support a gifted learner in your life, Hoagies' Facebook Page regularly provides helpful resources, interesting news, and discussions on all aspects of giftedness.