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, October 22, 2015

My favourite candidate

Last year, Will was chosen by the student head of the tech crew to join the small school team, which is responsible for setting up and running all of the equipment needed for assemblies and special events. This older boy took Will under his wing, teaching him the ins and outs of operating the sound board, and being part of that crew was one of the highlights of Will's school year. He loved going into the school early on mornings when he was needed for set ups, and the privelege of sitting at the tech crew table during assemblies to manage all of the gear that brought them to life. (In the spirit of tradition, he even got to carve his name into the table, which bears the names of all of the crew members who worked the board before him.)

This fall, Will was given the responsibility of choosing the tech crew's two newest members. The older boy is graduating at the end of this school year and is grooming Will to take charge when he leaves. It would have been typical in this kind of situation, I think, for an eleven year old to simply choose two of his good friends for the job and call it a day. But that is not at all what Will did. He asked the teachers of the two grade 6 classes if he could speak to each group of his peers for a few minutes about the opportunity, and his talk produced forty-two interested volunteers. A quick-thinking Will devised a two-stage hiring protocol on the spot. He asked everyone to submit a resume outlining their qualifications and their motivations for working on the crew, and he told them that he would invite the best candidates to do a trial run at the sound board, after which he would make his decisions.

Will pored over those resumes at home in the evenings that followed, and talked to me about the qualities he was looking for in a tech crew member: some tech experience and an eagerness to learn, dedication and a sense of responsibility. Although he worried about his friends being angry with him if he didn't choose them, he remained faithful to offering the students whom he believed best earned it the chance to come and try out the sound board. He sent the successful candidates an official email congratulating them all, and he'll have to make the final cuts soon after the second round of his process. I have no doubt he'll make excellent choices.

A couple of weeks ago, I received a phone call from Will's school principal in the middle of the morning. My heart rate skyrocketed for an instant, until I heard the principal say he was calling to ask my permission for Will to be the student spokesperson for their school fundraiser. The school council really wanted to drum up enthusiasm about the upcoming dance-a-thon, and they felt Will was the perfect person to help them do that. I gladly agreed, knowing that Will would love this particular role and would give it his all, too.

Over the following weekend, Will emailed and phone called back and forth with parent members of the council planning a fundraising kick-off assembly for Monday, one that needed to be put together on very short notice due to circumstances at the school. He selected music, agreed to do the tech set up, planned a speech, and organized a flash-mob without even having the benefit of being at school to do so. I heard from several parents on the council afterwards about what a fantastic job Will did. He's currrently spending time at home in the evenings writing enthusiastic announcements promoting the dance-a-thon, which he presents over the school PA system each morning.

It's not just his own world of school and dance-a-thons and tech crews that inspires Will, though; he also took a keen interest in politics and the federal election over these past few months. I answered many questions from him about candidates and issues, and listened to him protest intelligently about two things he perceives as injustices: that children aren't allowed to vote, and that his school doesn't have a student council that he can run for.  As I watch Will push off jauntily on his scooter down our driveway each morning, confidence and heart and a strong sense of fairness radiating from his still-small body, I think often that it wouldn't surprise me at all to see his name on a ballot one day....

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

On my way

I'm back home this week after a bustling, compelling, exhilarating few days spent with other writers at Blissdom Canada in the lovely Blue Mountain area. This morning I'm plodding through necessities like buying food, washing clothes, and keeping our insanely curious cat away from the painters working in our basement, but I'm restless, and my mind is whirring with activity that is much more appealing to me than these tasks, which feel especially unimaginative today.

The conference was what it has always been for me: a chance to learn, to be inspired, to build relationships with people who also love to do what I do. I was excited to attend sessions where intelligent women shared openly about their experiences as freelance writers, and offered useful advice and warm encouragement for others to find their way along a similar career path. I learned from experts about how to build connections and engagement on social media platforms, and about tools that can help me create posts with visual appeal. Some sessions moved me deeply, as women shared their courageous stories of personal terror and triumph, and as we remembered a kind and beautiful member of our own community who passed away unexpectedly and too soon last spring. I even spent a lively afternoon taking a class with friends at the Collingwood Cooking Academy, where we baked delicious goods with local apples and doted on the resident ducks who quacked enthusiastically outside the kitchen door while we worked. The weekend was filled with an unbridled sharing of ideas and support for one another, and I left the conference feeling buoyed by a vibrant community for the personal possibilities that lie ahead.

The drive home from Blue Mountain was along a route that was mostly unfamiliar. I navigated a long series of turns onto country roads, the open skies revealing sights that were either touching or unnerving to me. At first my hands gripped the steering wheel as I wound through curving roads leading upward, the asphalt made slick by an unseasonably early snowfall, but in time I relaxed into the rhythm of wheels rolling steadily under a canopy of heavily frosted trees. Once I passed the snow belt, the white branches gave way to ones bearing gloriously coloured leaves, clustered together to create a beautiful autumn canvas that stretched on for miles across farmers' fields. I drove past massive wind turbines spinning eerily in the otherwise quiet air, their rotating blades intimidating me in a strange, inexplicable way. I saw flocks of playful sheep and velvety brown cattle grazing peacefully at the sides of the road, and every now and then the sun's rays streamed earnestly through small gaps in the cloud cover, creating brief moments of sublime illumination. Steering myself though the hills and turns, with new discoveries around each bend, made me feel very much alive.

I have a similar kind of unexplored route to navigate in the coming months and years if I want to realize my dreams, one that will certainly be filled with moments of fear and frustration, and hopefully also of surprise and delight. I am so grateful for my experiences at Blissdom and what this community has given me to help me on my way:  direction and inspiration to continually keep moving forward, friends who encourage and believe in me, and a new-found confidence that has come from believing in myself.

Special thanks to Jennifer Powell and the entire Blissdom team for the wonderful conferences and opportunities they've created over the past several years, and best wishes to all of us on the exciting roads that lie ahead.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Humming along

We enjoyed a really wonderful Thanksgiving weekend filled with friends and relatives, warm sunshine, and scrumptious fall foods, with time for play and time for a little bit of necessary work, too. Friday evening we had fun at a lively Oktoberfest celebration at the home of our friends who moved to Canada from Germany several years ago, and Saturday we enjoyed the good company of visiting family around our own table for a Thanksgiving feast. Later in the weekend, we moved everything out of our basement in preparation for a redecorating project that will be happening soon (exciting!), the guys eagerly watched some baseball, and Will and I played too many games of Yahtzee (Will's latest favourite) to count. We also took advantage of the beautiful weather by going on a long walk out in nature together one afternoon.

While exploring the walking trail, Matt and the boys and I noticed the very obvious beauty of the crimson and golden autumn leaves on the trees all around us, but we also came across a couple of fascinating and unusual sights. The trail was teeming with praying mantises -- we noticed close to a dozen of them in total, each of them sitting quietly in solitude out on the sunlit paved path, so we were able to get down and get a good look at their really interesting forms and wonder aloud what they might be watching for. Near the end of our walk, we almost passed by what appeared to be a very ordinary looking large, grayish stone, until we suddenly realized it was a huge tortoise. He too, was still; he watched us, unblinking, from his shady spot among a pile of fallen leaves, and we stood and marveled for awhile at his wrinkled folds of skin that gave him an air of quiet wisdom. Walking in nature always gives my spirits a boost this time of year, but I loved this surprising little reminder that there are always wonders to be found among seemingly ordinary things when we take the time to see them.

Life continues to hum along at an animated pace this month; the four of us are all happily involved in things that engage and excite us, and we've settled nicely into the routines of fall activities. I haven't had as much time lately to devote to writing as I would like, but I'm very much looking forward to attending the Blissdom Canada conference at Blue Mountain Resort later this week, an event that always fills me with inspiration, ideas, and eagerness to try new things in my work. I hope you're finding your own bliss, whatever it may be, during these beautiful fall weeks, too. I'll be back again soon!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple Icing (gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free)

It was a very autumn-y sort of weekend around our house.  Matt and the boys and I went and visited a local orchard this afternoon, where we walked among the rows of fruit-laden trees and had fun filling four large bags with shiny red apples together.

These two kooky kids are always the apples of my eye.

The rest of the weekend was pretty blustery and damp outside, so it was a great opportunity to spend time in the kitchen cooking up foods for fall feasting: some homemade granola, a batch of oatmeal cookies for school lunches, beef pot roast for dinner, and a pumpkin spice cake with maple icing for dessert. This cake has quickly become a new seasonal favourite in our house; it's a just-right combination of savoury and sweet that goes perfectly with a warm mug of apple cinnamon tea.

Pumpkin Spice Cake with Maple Icing

For the cake:

6 cups blanched almond flour
6 tbsp arrowroot flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground allspice
2 cups pure pumpkin puree
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
6 tbsp unsweetened almond milk
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a mixing bowl, combine the almond flour, arrowroot flour, baking powder, sea salt, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice.

In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together the pumpkin puree, grapeseed oil, maple syrup, almond milk, and vanilla. Add half of the dry ingredient mixture to the wet ingredients, stirring to combine, then add the rest of the dry ingredient mixture and stir again until you have a nice thick cake batter.

Lightly grease a bundt pan with grapeseed oil, then spoon the cake batter into the pan. Smooth the batter with the back of a spoon to create a level top. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 55 minutes to an hour, or until a cake tester inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Carefully invert the bundt pan onto a wire rack to remove the cake from the pan and let it cool completely.

For the icing:

1/4 cup raw coconut butter
1 tbsp + 1 tsp coconut oil
1 tbsp + 1 tsp pure maple syrup

toasted chopped pecans for garnishing

Beat the coconut butter, coconut oil, and maple syrup in a bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until a smooth mixture forms. Spoon this mixture into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip. Pipe the icing in loops over the top of the cake, and garnish with toasted chopped pecans.

When Will came in from outside yesterday afternoon and smelled this pumpkin spice cake baking, he exclaimed, "Oh my gosh, I could just float away! It smells like heaven in here!" We all agreed after dinner that it tasted every bit as delicious as it smelled. Maybe you'd like to bake up one of these tasty cakes yourself for a fun fall celebration this month.