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, December 31, 2015

A New Year

If the laid-back feeling of this holiday week had somehow made my family oblivious to the fact that today is New Year's Eve, my recent burst of activity around the house certainly would have tipped them off. Over the past twenty-four hours, I've felt the urge to tidy things up, to reorganize, to freshen things up in our various corners; I've been flipping mattresses and making beds with fresh sheets, cleaning out fridges and restocking them with fresh foods. There's no need, really, to do any of these things right now, but the physical actions seem to satisfy a psychological drive in me on the cusp of a new year -- it feels especially good today to take stock and to make space.

I came across this quotation in my social media surfing this week, and appreciated the encouragement to tend to our minds and hearts as we ring in a new year, much in the same way I've been tending to the physical things around home.

It makes sense to me that we are better prepared to welcome new experiences and awareness if we're willing to leave a part of ourselves open and free. What a wonderful way to approach a new year.

I've spent some time over these past few days thinking back through the joys and heartaches, the accomplishments and the challenges of 2015, glad for having documented them here throughout the year so I can remember more clearly the little details and the way I felt when I was living them. We welcomed kittens to our family, dealt with washing machine woes, made lasting memories in our favourite summer spot, and created a new way to enjoy chocolate. (Mmmm, chocolate.) We found tangible proof of how hard it is to keep up with Will, and proudly watched Noah grow through one of his busiest, most interesting years to date. I made a commitment to myself to focus more on something that makes me happy.  I travelled old familiar roads that led me to a poignant revisiting of my younger self, and to a beautiful place to say a final goodbye. I'm grateful for all of these experiences, cheerful and sad, for the rich meaning and understanding they've brought to my life. I also truly appreciate all of you, who have been here with me as you've read my stories and shared your own experiences, your encouragement and support.

Some friends and I were recently discussing the practice of choosing a personally meaningful word for the year ahead, rather than coming up with a specific New Year's resolution. I like the idea of cultivating a mindset that can be applied to a wide variety of situations; having a word to live by seems to me to offer more opportunities for success. Several words have seemed good possibilities as I've thought about which one might suit me best for 2016, but in the end I've decided on stretch. I don't mean in a physical sense (although that feels good, too, and I really should get back to practising yoga in the new year!), but I'd like to stretch my inner self beyond the artificial limits I may have set in place through unhelpful thought patterns or behaviours. It becomes easy, I think, in one's forties, to settle a little too firmly into comfortable routines and beliefs. I want to reach beyond what feels convenient and familiar, to find what new possibilities and happy surprises might lie there.

What word will you choose for the year just ahead of us? I hope you'll be open to hope, joy, love, and peace in 2016. Wishing you all a very happy and healthy new year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Fancy Drinks": A Kids' New Year's Eve Cocktail

We've been enjoying a wonderful Christmas holiday here. There have been fun visits and special dinners with cousins and aunts and uncles, late mornings in pyjamas, movie nights with four of us tucked up under warm blankets in our now finished and very cozy basement, afternoons spent enjoying new books and Lego sets and games, Christmas cookies and steaming mugs of tea in the evenings. The holiday season is a gift in and of itself, I think, the way it gives us so many hours to spend in each other's company, playing and laughing and eating and resting to our hearts' content.

As 2015 nears its end, perhaps you and your family are making plans for a New Year's Eve celebration. We're making plans here, too, ones that involve more family and food and fun, so we can welcome 2016 with the same positive energy we hope to keep with us all year long. Whenever there is a celebration being talked about around here, Will requests "fancy drinks" for the kids, so they can enjoy something bubbly as well as the grown-ups. I'm not a fan of pop, even on special occasions, but I'm happy to create something fizzy and sweet from natural ingredients to fill the kids' toasting glasses. This "fancy drink", made from orange and pomegranate juices and sparkling water, is one of my boys' favourites.

You can make these fun kids' cocktails very simply by adding a few ice cubes to each glass, filling them one third of the way up with orange juice, adding a generous splash of pure pomegranate juice, then topping them up with sparkling water. A few fresh cranberries or orange slices make the drinks look extra special, and Will likes when I add a striped straw and a little paper drink umbrella to each glass, too.

Cheers to you, wherever you are -- I hope you've been enjoying a wonderful holiday, too!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Peace and Joy

A friend recently shared this post on Facebook:

Yesterday I had the pleasure of spending some time at Conestoga Mall finishing up a few things. ... The parking lot was a zoo, even at 10:30am, but I found a spot at the far end and enjoyed a quiet walk in the rain to the entrance. Line ups were common in most stores, but it was time to reflect and give thanks. Sadly, at The Bay, a cashier walked away from her cash for a few moments to help someone and in the meantime two women wanted to purchase their items immediately! They rang the bell at the cash over and over again. Meanwhile, I was choosing the perfect socks for the girls' stockings and heard the ladies comment in such a negative tone of voice to the cashier as she returned, "We've been ringing this bell for 10 minutes, you were nowhere in sight!" The cashier said she was sorry. As I approached the cash, the young cashier had a hard time to look me in the eyes. I told her that she was ok and that the customers certainly weren't ringing the bell for 10 minutes and that she could let that go and enjoy her day.
If you are out in the hustle and bustle today, see what you can do to share a smile, and take a few moments to reflect while standing in line ups....

I loved this reminder to slow down and find the joy in the last preparations for Christmas this week, keeping in mind that just being able to drive to the mall and buy food and drinks and gifts is a privelege we're fortunate to experience.

My friend's words reminded me of a post I wrote here four years ago; I'm still grateful for the same things. A very merry Christmas to you all!  xoxo


The Real Joys of Christmas

Despite the fact that no part of me wanted to enter through the store doors this time of year, I popped into Walmart today after my yoga class to pick up a few things we needed around the house.  As I expected, the aisles were a dangerous labyrinth of carts and people, half of them frantic and running, and the other half seemingly lost as they wandered aimlessly, preventing others from getting by.  I managed to get out of the store within fifteen minutes and only almost got run over once, but I was glad to return to the relative calm of my own home afterwards.  (And let me reassure you that I'm not trying to be smug about the zen-like state of my home during the holiday season with that last comment -- it was only calm because I was the only one here.  If you had been around this evening when the four of us were home, and Will was wailing over nothing in the family room while Noah simultaneously (accidentally) shattered a glass all over the kitchen floor, and then I lost it, you'd know that our house can be just as crazy a place as Walmart at Christmastime!)

I know firsthand how easy it is to get caught up in a hectic, emotional state this time of year.  We feel we NEED to get all the right gifts, make all the right foods, decorate our house in just the right way, fit in all the right activities, and generally produce a Christmas that is Facebook share-worthy.  (Broken glass all over the kitchen floor somehow doesn't fit with that picture, I'm thinking.)  In all of our complicated holiday rushing about, it's also very easy to forget that the most beautiful and true joys of Christmas are often the simplest things, things that don't require a trip to Walmart or a Martha Stewart-esque flair for perfection (and that won't be ruined by a broken glass or two!).

Real joy is sharing steaming mugs of hot cocoa with your family around the kitchen table after an afternoon of sledding or skating or road hockey together.  It's reliving favourite old family stories with your parents and siblings and other relatives, laughing together and fondly remembering those dear souls who are now only with you in spirit.  It's opening the mailbox and being greeted by the wonderful smell of anisette wafting through the box of homemade genettis that your grandma so thoughtfully sent you, and suddenly being brought back to the happy Christmas Eves of your youth spent at her kitchen table.  It's taking a few moments late at night with your spouse to look at your beautiful sleeping children, their faces softly lit by the Christmas lights from the hallway, and to marvel together at how you ever got so lucky to have them.  It's giving gifts of the heart, by sharing part of yourself with those who really need their spirits lifted this time of year.

When I think back to the Christmases of my childhood, I don't remember very clearly what I received as gifts, and I know that Christmas was never "perfect" (because I'm sure despite all of my parents' efforts, my brothers and I probably wailed over nothing and broke a few glasses, too).  What I do remember with great fondness, though, is the feeling of being warm, and safe, and content at Christmas, feelings that came from being surrounded by a family I love and who showed me in the most meaningful ways that they love me, too.  Whenever I start to feel frantic about getting ready for Christmas, I try to remember what I hope my boys will remember about their childhood Christmases when they grow up, and suddenly all of the other stuff seems less important.

During what can be a very hectic holiday season, I wish you and your family many moments of real and peaceful Christmas joy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Maple Spiced Nuts

Christmas preparations are now in full swing at our house. I've been having fun this week working on one of everyone's favourite parts of the holiday season: the delicious foods and special treats we'll enjoy with family and friends who come to visit. The boys have each put in their requests for which cookies and squares they hope will make the baking list this year, and I'm looking forward to recreating some of our family's best-loved traditional foods that evoke happy memories of Christmases past.

One of the treats that was always around in little bowls at Christmastime during my childhood was roasted mixed nuts. Everyone had their favourites (brazil nuts for my dad, cashews for my mom and me), and the salty snack was always great to munch on while we enjoyed drinks and laughs with relatives. This week I noticed a recipe for sweet and spicy nuts in the December issue of Chatelaine magazine, and it reminded me that I've long wanted to try making a roasted nut mixture of my own for the holiday season. Today I tweaked the ingredients of the magazine recipe to suit my own preferences and ended up with a pan full of fragrant and tempting snacks.

Maple Spiced Nuts

2 1/2 cups of shelled natural nuts (I used 1/2 cup each of almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews and hazelnuts)
1/2 cup unsweetened large flake coconut
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp ground cinnamon (I like to use Frontier organic cinnamon, which is especially flavourful)
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp sea salt

Preheat the oven to 275 F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the nuts and the large flake coconut.

Place the coconut oil in an oven-safe bowl and set it in the oven to melt while the oven is preheating. Once the oil is liquefied, remove it from the oven and add the maple syrup, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice to the bowl. Whisk well to combine.

Pour the syrup and spice mixture over the nuts and stir to coat. Sprinkle the sea salt over the nuts and stir again. Spread the nuts out on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, stirring once every 10 to 15 minutes.

Allow the nuts to cool before serving.

These roasted nuts are a perfect combination of maple sweetness and cinnamony spice, and I'll be happy to set them out in little bowls this holiday season so everyone can enjoy their favourites. (It's still cashews for me!) Maple spiced nuts would also make lovely homemade holiday gifts if placed in pretty glass jars tied with festive ribbon. Enjoy!

Friday, December 4, 2015

So long, Santa

"I don't know if Santa is real or not," Will said to me pensively one day last month, "but if he isn't, what a thing for parents to do, to tell their children there's a Santa Claus and then leave them heartbroken when they find out there isn't." His prickling words stayed with me over the next few weeks as Will's questions about the jolly guy in the red suit became more persistent and challenging. He's always been relentless in his search for the truth, his busy, logical mind rapidly piecing together information and searching for the smallest inconsistencies in details. He loves the thrill of proving his thoughts to be right, even while his tender heart appreciates the sweetness of a good story. So when Will finally asked me outright the other evening if Santa was real, I decided it was time for me to be honest with him.

"I knew it!" he shouted, his triumph over figuring this out tempered somewhat by the sudden surprise of watching a familiar belief crumble into nothing before him, and by the realization that his older brother had already been in on the secret for awhile now. I broke the news to him gently, telling him that the idea of Santa, with its spirit of giving and helping others to be happy, is very real, even if the man himself is not. I saw him blink hard a couple of times, but he recovered quickly, replacing his disappointment with practical questions to assure that he'd still be getting gifts this year, and with incredulous scorn for his dad and me for allowing Santa to take all of the credit for the best gifts over so many Christmases. It was actually me who was emotional and needed to head off into another room for a few minutes so he couldn't see the tears welling up in my eyes.

I had not expected the end of this particular childhood magic to feel so sad. Somehow I had thought it might actually be a bit of a relief to no longer have to cover my tracks so carefully, trying to keep this secret from a child who doesn't miss anything. I've known for a long time that even once he no longer believed in Santa, my kind-hearted Will, who so often gives what he has to make others' lives more cheerful, would always keep the spirit of Christmas alive. But just as Will's belief in a twinkle-eyed, bearded man with the ability to visit all the world's children with his reindeer in a single night has now vanished, so too, I suddenly realize, has the last of my little boys. And I'm old enough to know that no matter how longingly I might wish for it one day, there's no magic that can ever bring them back to me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The (Dreaded) Christmas Card Photo

Any parent who has ever tried to capture the perfect photo of their children to include with Christmas cards can probably relate to what I'm going to describe next. You choose nice, coordinating outfits for the kids to wear in advance and find just the right backdrop to help set a festive looking scene. You envision a moment captured in time in which your dear offspring are smiling sweetly, their arms draped in brotherly or sisterly love around each other's shoulders, in a striking representation of the wonderful young people they are.

But this is how the Christmas card photo situation actually goes down: Your children hate the outfits you've chosen for them to wear. They stage a full blown protest by refusing to get dressed, and when you somehow finally convince (bribe?) them into their clothes, they sit all hunched over in sulky misery and complain for three hours straight. When you choose the backdrop, an outdoor scene near a fragrant evergreen lightly dusted in fresh snow, you forget to take into consideration the glare of the sunlight. The bright beams pierce the eyes of your photosensitive child like daggers and have him squinting and writhing in every camera shot, while his brother engages in ape-like antics beside him trying to get a laugh. You beg and yell and cry and cajole and snap 548,982,347 photos with your camera, hoping that one, just one, of them might be passable enough to print and mail out, all the while knowing that the chances of this are about one in a billion. (Someone please tell me this sounds familiar so I can feel just a tiny bit better about my years of challenges in this department!?)

This year, as December approached, I found myself dragging my feet when it came time to organize the Christmas card photo shoot. I wondered if it was still necessary, now that the boys are older, to subject all three of us to the high level drama that was sure to unfold in the process. Did our family and friends really want or need a picture of the boys in their Christmas card this year? I decided that yes, they probably still did.

But I had an aha! moment late last week: why not let the fourteen and eleven year old boys take charge of their own photo this year? Surely it wouldn't be a stressful exercise for me if I mostly stayed out of it, right? I asked them to choose their own outfits, style their own hair, and even take their own photo, selfie style. They accomplished all of this wonderfully, and I was just about to dance about with joy and relief until I realized that because of their height differences, the best photo the boys took together had Will cut off at the neck, which he didn't really like.

People, I caved, and got out my own camera, and begged and yelled and cried and cajoled and snapped 548,982,347 photos hoping that one of them might be passable enough to print and mail out. There was squinting and writhing, and plenty of ape antics.

But that's okay; it was actually kind of fun. Some holiday traditions just aren't meant to be broken.