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, April 3, 2017

Easter Basket Ideas for Teen Boys

Signs of spring are everywhere this week. The grass is beginning to green up and tiny buds are bursting open on the trees in our neigbourhood. Kids are reappearing on the street in the light hours of the evening, on bicycles and skateboards and in front of driveway basketball nets. Matt and the boys and I are enjoying experiencing the season for the first time in this home, as there are always new surprises popping up before us: the spiky green shoots of spring bulbs in unexpected places, bunnies and chipmunks darting about the backyard, birds of all kinds flying in and out of the conservation area just behind us and stopping in our yard to visit for awhile.

Knowing that we have a busy month ahead of us (after several equally hectic ones behind us!), I've been doing some advance preparations for Easter weekend -- meal planning, treat making, and figuring out what the Easter Bunny might bring this year for the thirteen and fifteen year old boys in our house. (Our Bunny believes that even big kids still enjoy a few sweet and small surprises tucked into a basket on Easter morning!) I've noticed that many Pinterest users recently have been pinning my last year's post about Easter basket ideas for tween and teen boys, so I thought I'd share a second collection of teen-approved suggestions for this year. These small-sized, useful, and fun items are all things that my boys do or would enjoy, but of course, any of them would be great Easter basket ideas for teen girls, too!

First column

Converse key chain: Give them their favourite sneaker in miniature size, just right for holding a house or bike lock key or for attaching to a backpack. These key chains come in an assortment of colours.

Artist pens: Teens who love to draw their own comics might appreciate this set of four black artist pens of different thicknesses (extra-superfine, superfine, fine, and broad).

Fidget cube: The unique sides of this small cube offer six different ways to fidget -- flipping, clicking, spinning, and more. It's a great little gadget for teens who like something for their hands to do while their mind is focused on school work or creative projects.

Second column

The Science of Why book: Teens will find fascinating, witty answers to thirty-nine questions in this science book for all ages, including why Tyrannosaurus Rex's arms were so short and whether or not we dream in colour.

S'well insulated water bottle: Encourage your teens to stay healthily hydrated throughout the day with a practical and stylish bottle that keeps water cold for 24 hours.

Third column

Dark chocolate bunny: An Easter basket favourite, this tasty version is made from organic, fair-trade dark chocolate, and is nut-free.

Gear ties: These three inch rubber twist ties are great for helping keep teens' many gadget cords organized and tangle-free.

Dark chocolate coconut butter cups: Dark chocolate cups filled with coconut butter are a delicious treat for anyone. They come in four flavours: classic, banana cream, mint cream, and caramel + sea salt.

Fourth column

Whoosh! screen shine: A portable bottle of non-toxic screen cleaner and a cloth come in handy for keeping phone, tablet, and laptop screens smudge-free.

Nike ball pump: This pocket-sized pump is a great choice for on-the-go teens who love a good pick-up basketball game.

Fifth column

SpokeLit wheel light: Keep your bike-riding teens safe in the dark with these LED lights that attach easily to wheel spokes and increase the rider's visibility.

Herschel wallet: These nicely designed, sturdy wallets have ample space for a teen boy's essentials, and they come in a variety of appealing styles and colours.

Clip-on camera lens kit: If you have teens who are budding photographers, this set of 3-in-1 clip-on camera lenses would be a fun gift. The set comes with a fish-eye lens, a wide angle lens, and a macro lens, each of which clips easily onto a phone to capture different types of images. These lenses are compatible with a wide variety of phone types (Apple and Android).

We'll be spending most of our Easter weekend at a robotics competition (the high school team Noah and Will are part of made it to the Ontario District Championships - hooray!), but we'll be back just in time for the boys to find their Easter morning surprises. The first Easter in a new home makes for a whole new batch of extra-tricky hiding spots for the Bunny to choose from. Good luck, boys! :)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Kindness of Strangers

I lost one of my favourite mittens in the grocery store yesterday morning. I had the pair of them stuffed in my jacket pocket while I shopped, and when I reached the last store aisle, I looked down and noticed there was only one remaining there. The mittens were relatively new, having been a Christmas gift from Matt, and it upset me that I had somehow separated the pair. Even though I was pressed for time because I was supposed to pick up Noah at school, I backtracked through the entire store, pushing my heavy cart in front of me and scouring the floor and shelves for a hopeful sign of familiar chunky-knit gray and white wool with a jaunty stripe in red. My search turned up nothing useful, so I resignedly headed to the checkout counter and prepared to leave the store.

On my way out, I decided to pass by the customer service desk, hoping I could ask someone there if the store had a lost and found box where my mitten might have (luckily) ended up. But before I even reached the customer service person, I spotted my mitten lying right there in plain sight on the counter. Some thoughtful person had placed it there, hoping its owner might see it and retrieve it as she passed by. (My mitten was lying next to a random block of cheese, and I wondered if someone had lost that, too, and if so, I hoped they'd be reunited with it!) The little, but meaningful, good deed by a stranger completely made my day.


This morning I picked up Noah from his last exam and took him to the nearby Starbucks for a celebratory hot drink. While we were there, I noticed an elderly woman approach a middle-aged woman in the lineup and initiate a conversation, though it was clear that the two women didn't know each other. The elderly woman was asking for directions to a street that doesn't even exist in our city, and the other woman was kindly trying to clarify where exactly she wanted to go. When the elderly woman said she thought she might have a doctor's appointment on a certain street today and wasn't sure how to get there, the other woman offered to help her, first by having the elderly woman follow her in her car, and then, when she realized the elderly woman didn't have a car, by personally driving her there. The middle-aged woman found out the name of the doctor from the elderly woman and called that medical office, just to confirm that she was going to the right place. From what I could gather from the one-sided phone conversation, the elderly woman did not actually have an appointment there, and in fact, was not even a patient at that office. It was heartbreaking to realize the extent to which this elderly woman was confused.

After a little more chit chat, the elderly woman said goodbye, headed out of the coffee shop and began walking down the street. The middle-aged woman, still visibly concerned, decided to notify the police in an effort to ensure the elderly woman's safety. She wondered aloud afterwards whether she had done the right thing, but she felt that she had to help somehow. Noah and I were both touched to see such care shown to a complete stranger.


What is the point of telling small stories of lost mittens and Starbucks encounters? Because I think in our current climate of political upheaval, hurt, hatred, violence, division, and outrage, it's important to know that there are still good things happening around us. Fear and anger about the state of our world make us want to look away, to shut ourselves off from the constant stream of overwhelming news and focus only on the relative safety of ourselves and those close to us. But there is hope to be found in the tiny acts of kindness towards strangers that are still everywhere, if we're willing to keep our eyes and hearts open to experience them.

I think acknowledging and trying to understand the challenges, misfortunes, and suffering of others is necessary; it is empathy that often compels us to be our most loving and giving selves. But we also need to be heartened by continuing to notice the good, whether it be in small, local gestures or in grand ones happening on a more global scale. We need to notice, and then join our unique voices or hands or brains to the many others that are working, in their own positive ways, to crowd out cruelty, ignorance, indifference, and hatred. We need to keep believing that we each have it in us to make our shared spaces and experiences better for one another.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Love Letters

I did a lot of rummaging and sorting through storage boxes when we were packing to move houses back in the fall. Many long forgotten keepsakes turned up in that process -- old photographs and small handmade articles of clothing, travel trinkets and stacks of eager school projects --  stirring poignant memories from the quiet inner corners where I'd tucked them away years earlier.

One found item was a letter I had handwritten and mailed to my Grandma Atkinson back when I was a university student at Queen's. (The letter came into my hands again years later when my aunt and I tenderly sorted and packed up my grandma's apartment for her move into a nursing home.) There was nothing out of the ordinary in this letter; it was one of many notes I had written to her to say hello and to share tidbits of my daily life as a student living far from home, at a time when the cost of long distance phone calls was prohibitive. But that letter, written in my tiny, even cursive, was a very physical reminder of a long ago self that has faded and fallen further beyond my current reach as the years have passed. Reading it again had a powerful emotional effect on me.

I don't remember exactly when I stopped regularly writing letters to people by hand. I'm assuming my letter writing activity, like many other people's, simply tapered off as email took over, and it became easier to connect with others by sending off a few quickly typed lines of text any time I wanted to. But I'm reminded every time I receive a piece of handwritten mail from a loved one of just how touching this kind of correspondence can be. My Grandma Deresti's cursive takes me back into her warm, familiar kitchen when she sends me a handwritten recipe in an envelope, and a note from my parents, faintly scented by my mom's handcream as she looped her pen along the page, allows me to be happily closer to them for a moment, even though they're an eight hour drive away. A handwritten message somehow reaches the brain and the heart in a different way, I think, than a text or an emoji sent from a keyboard can.

I was glad yesterday to read about InCoWriMo, a "vintage social media" movement that encourages people to handwrite and mail or deliver one letter, card, note, or postcard to someone each day for the month of February. I still send handwritten cards to family and friends for special occasions, but I love the idea of sending a non-typewritten letter or note to someone "just because". February can be a tough and lonely month for people, as the gray, cold days of winter drag on. It seems a perfect time to dust off the cute stationery that's been hiding on a shelf somewhere and use it to brighten someone's day (and maybe redevelop a lovely habit for the longer term). If the idea of writing a letter a day seems too much, perhaps InCoWriMo can inspire us to send off a cheerful, leisurely written note to someone even a couple of times next month. This would be a great little project to involve the kids in, too -- who doesn't love receiving a few creatively spelled words scrawled in crayon by a little one in their mailbox?

Will sometimes tells me I'm a dinosaur, because I'm often reluctant to embrace the latest tech trends and I still cling hopefully to my paper and pens. Call me a dinosaur if you like, but the act of slowing down for a few minutes and sending thoughtful messages to loved ones the old-fashioned way appeals to the sentimentalist in me. Some outdated practices just seem too nice to become extinct.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Winter Wondering

Well hello, long-neglected blog space! Nice to see you again. I'm not even sure what I've come here to write about today (everything and nothing seems like a good topic when I've left so many gaps to fill in), but I was starting to feel like if I didn't come back soon, I just might never again, and so here I am. Happy January!

We had a lovely holiday season, Matt and the boys and I, one that was everything we always hope for when we have some time off together to celebrate and recharge: a couple of weeks filled with family, favourite foods, laughter, fun and relaxation, cozy moments spent at home, and lively moments spent outdoors enjoying Mother Nature's most beautiful seasonal displays. We hosted dinners and went to relatives' houses, decorated a gingerbread house, played board games and ping pong, read new books and magazines, did a giant puzzle, went walking in the nearby conservation area after a pretty snowfall, and went sledding down a deserted hill on the coldest night of the winter so far. (This was the boys' idea, and though Matt and I didn't really appreciate it at first suggestion, hearing the boys' laughter ring out as they flew down the hill under a starry winter's night sky later made the frozen toes and fingers feel worth it.)

The down time was very welcome; it was a good period of restfulness and togetherness before we headed into what now feels like the busiest season we've ever experienced.

Our family calendar is bursting right now, to the point of almost being ridiculous. Both Noah and Will are currently involved in an assortment of worthwhile, but demanding, activities. Noah coaches swimming at his old swim club four days a week and has meets to go to some weekends; he also practices a couple of days a week in the pool with his high school swim team. (He had a very successful season before Christmas and is moving on to the CWOSSA championships).

Noah made the local newspaper! :)

He has also kicked it into high gear with Team Dave, the high school robotics team, which is in its hectic six-week build season right now. What this basically means is that Noah is at the school doing something related to robots any moment of the day/evening/weekend that he is not doing something else.

Will is gearing up for competitive dance season, with extra practices and events on top of his regular three days a week of training, and he made his school basketball team this season (something he was really proud of considering his relative height disadvantage!), so he has games now after school. His Lego robotics team made provincials at the qualifying tournament back in December, so he is still hard at work with his teammates several days a week, improving their robot, missions, and project in preparation for the next round, plus, he has also joined the high school robotics team that Noah is on (which means that he is also at the school doing something related to robots any moment of the day/evening/weekend that he is not doing something else.)

It is really wonderful to see them both so happily engaged and learning in so many different areas, but it's also hard not to feel like my head is going to explode trying to keep all of their schedules straight and make sure they are fed well before we need to dash off to the next thing. I need to keep reminding myself to take it one day at a time, and to enjoy this richly full period of our lives, because like so many other phases of the boys' youth, it too will one day suddenly be behind us and I'll look back on it with a sense of wistfulness that it's over.

In the midst of all of the busyness of life with two very involved teen boys, I also need to remember to keep myself and my own interests front of mind. I've been thinking recently about where I want to direct my creative energies in the coming months. The process of moving houses, and then getting ready for Christmas, were the focus of almost all of my free time and attention throughout the fall and early winter, but now that I've spent a week wrapping my head around the new schedules and gathering new recipes that will work for healthy, hurried meals (see my personal Facebook page for a great collection of slow cooker recipe suggestions from friends!), I feel that if I put off starting a meaningful project of my own any longer, I'm just making excuses. I've missed writing; I can feel myself getting frustrated and antsy when I've been away from it too long, and each additional day away makes it easier and easier to keep procrastinating. As a means of getting back into a regular writing habit, I'm going to start using Lynda Barry's suggestions for keeping a daily journal. (Thanks to local writer Carrie Snyder for introducing me to Barry's work.)

I hope the new year has been kind to all of you so far, and that you, too, are finding everyday life to be an adventure worth experiencing fully (even if it sometimes feels overwhelming). xo