Back-To-School Shopping Guide

School is back in session but if you’re like me, you resisted buying anything while officially still on summer break. I loathe to start back-to-school shopping too soon, and often find waiting until after school has started to be a better time to make well-thought out and needed purchases. Whether your little one is starting pre-school for the first time or heading off to university, we’ve got a list of need-to-haves and nice-to-haves.

Preschoolers and Kindies

19311692550_b994002358_o

Jump Kids World Pre School Animal Lunch Bag ($7). Lunch containers sold separately. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

end-of-school-cookies-one-of-a-kind-online-shop

Lunch boxes just got sweeter with these School Mini Cookies by The Teeny Tiny Bakery (50/box, $70).  Available at OneofaKindOnlineShop.com

Grade School

19493106802_9bfd4b56e6_o

Tera Gear “Doddle” Backpack ($20), variety of colours. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

19311591710_5e7c9288a8_o

PC Stainless Steel Containers ($7-$9). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

19473584846_2b7466b271_o

Everyday Essentials Twist and Clip Insulated Lunch Bag ($6), variety of colours. Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

img37c

Heroes & Villains Notebooks ($10), available online only at http://www.potterybarnkids.com

img50c

This Mini Lazy Susan will keep all the desk accessories in one place ($29).  Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com

img_7220

Magnetic Bookmarks ($6-$15) from Craft’ed, http://www.craftedvan.com

8d5d5628-1ff2-4c5b-aa26-13477153a993 0471f94a-d63c-4fba-9688-198b418fcbcd

Affordable and stylish fashions from The Children’s Place.

High School

toms-navy-solid-stand-up-backpack-60

TOMS StandUp backpack ($60), variety of colours, and with every one purchased, TOMS will help stop bullying, one youth at a time. Available at Journeys.ca and www.Toms.ca

solid-task-lighting

Solid Task Lighting are ideal for brightening up any homework space ($52).  Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com

img53c

Getting organized and staying organized can be a challenge but the Espresso Daily System ($49) does the trick.  Available at Pottery Barn Kids, http://www.potterybarnkids.com

the-tulle-box_whiteboard-magnets-3

Dry Erase Whiteboard Magnets ($11) from The Tulle Box, http://www.thetullebox.etsy.com

il_570xN.521226756_rbdr

Storiebrooke Dipped Twig Pencils ($17.19) from Storiebrooke, http://www.storiebrook.etsy.com

University

Everyday Essentials 20 Shelf Hanging Shoe Organizer ($14). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

19499641595_c4aeeb71ee_o

Everyday Essentials 5-Piece Bath Accessory Set ($10). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

19499579275_a322f2ba3f_o

Life at Home 7-Piece Bed in a Bag ($54). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

sodastream-power

The SodaStream POWER turns ordinary water into sparkling ($179).  Available at SodaStream.ca

For Mom

19313063689_766723c851_o

PC Cupcake Display Try Set with Pop Out Display Tower ($20). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

19499537155_1f796848c5_o

PC Enameled Cast Iron Pot ($60). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

19492927772_36b4e5d1b0_o

PC Textured Togo Mug ($10). Available at Real Canadian Superstore®.

Gift Ideas for Teachers

From Nathalie

We have featured Far & Wide Collective on the blog before, and I am so happy to keep suggesting them as a place to shop for gifts.  Far and Wide Collective is a fair-trade on-line marketplace for artisans in post-conflict and emerging economies.  I have bought for myself and for others from their site, and the delivery and presentation of the gifts is beautiful.  In December, I could not help myself and I did a “one for you and one for me” kind of shopping with these Afghan silk scarves ($60), which come in so many gorgeous colours.  They came beautifully wrapped in tissue paper folded like origami, all ready to present (or, um, open for yourself….).

14001FAW_PRO_scarfB_020web_medium

These geometric patterned notecards ($20) would also make a great end of year gift for a teacher.

h21110100af_1_medium

And I loved this post on how to write a thank you note to a teacher at the end of the year from fellow Savvy Mom Storyteller, Jan Scott.  I think you can never go wrong with personalized stationery for teachers, but what a special addition to make sure that you send along your own detailed thanks for the highlights of the year.

I’m nuts about stationery and books, and this gift idea makes me happy in so many ways: a bookplate stamp personalized for your child’s teacher.  From Etsy retailer Stamp Out Online.

il_170x135.662231196_gj10

Or what about a great tote bag for your child’s teacher to carry around all his or her summer reading?  I love the bold impact of this one from Nicole Tarasick available on the One of a Kind site.

images

From Beth-Anne

Nathalie is the best gift giver of anyone I have ever met. Receiving a gift from her is the ultimate! I once asked her how she always knows just the right thing to give and she told me her secret. She listens. She listens to what people are talking about, what people are planning and what people are saying. Hard to believe in a society where everyone seems to be tapping on their phones to post to their social media more than actually being social. So here’s my take on the perfect gifts to give teacher this year . . . first off, listen. Find out what their plans are for this summer and use that as a springboard to curate the perfect gift. It’s worth noting that the perfect gift doesn’t mean expensive or hard-to-find. It can be something simple or it can be a more elaborate group effort. Either way, it should be well thought-out and ultimately come from a place of sheer gratitude.

Here are few suggestions to help get you started:

The Foodie

This teacher can’t wait to sample the latest food trends on a patio, and has already planned supper club with friends to while away the summer. A gift card to a new resto getting rave reviews may be ticket but if this teacher prefers the prep to the pomp, then I would suggest one of these cookbooks.

imgres-1

It’s perfect for the more unconventional cooks but beware, there are some naughty words that could get Teacher sent to the Principal’s office.

imgres-2

Brown Eggs and Jam Jars is chock-full of gorgeous photos that make even me want to cook!

imgres-3

Fellow Savvy Storyteller, Amy Bronee of Family Feedbag, recently published her much buzzed about book The Canning Kitchen – the perfect accompaniment to the bounty that summer gardens bring.

882709183952

This ash and wood salad bowl from Indigo is tops on my list. For some reason, I can never seem to have enough bowls and this one says “summer salads”.

But my favourite gift to give a foodie is something you’ve made. Baked goods, canned goods, pasta sauce . . . wrap it pretty and serve with your favourite how-to instructions.

The Traveler

This teacher has been meticulously planning their trip down to the nitty gritty details. Of course guidebooks are recommended but chances are this teacher has already highlighted and dog-eared every other page.

Literary travel books like We’ll Always Have Paris: A mother/daughter memoir are a great way to build excitement for a trip and supplement the facts gleaned from traditional travel books.
imgres-4

Cookbooks featuring cuisine from the country is a way to whet the appetite for what’s to come. In the past year I have heard many travelers (and Paddington too) touting the glory of Peru. The Fire of Peru by Ricardo Zarate caught my eye.

imgres-5

I also like the idea of getting a travel kit, like this one from Herschel, and filling it with all sorts of drugstore goodies like earplugs, sunscreen and bug spray.

The Binge Watcher

This teacher is going to score an A+ in relaxation this summer with plans of sinking into a vegetative state binge watching TV programs. My recommended favourite is Call The Midwife, granted not exactly up everyone’s alley so my second recommendation is True Detective.

imgres-6

And you can’t score top marks for vegging without all the accoutrements. Gourmet popcorn is a must and while I have not tried this Toronto-based company, I just may have to because Tuxedo is calling my name!

From Carol

I have a strong practical streak and can’t shake the flawed practice of giving people what I like, so keep this in mind as you read on.  In a nutshell, I think giving soups in a jar is delightful. It’s giving both the gifts of nutrition and time, especially to one of our teachers who is also a single mom.  I love the idea of giving her what essentially amounts to a night off from cooking, but still having a pot of steamy nutrition bubbling on the stove.  You can make these easily enough, or Soup Girl has some wonderful options at the ready.

I’m not sure how helpful this is for a gift guide, but honesty will reign, so herewith goes a plug for handmade presents.  I really enjoy making things, often with my kids, and I try to involve them with all of our gift-giving.  Handmade cards make frequent rounds, and this year I will be gifting some natural cold-pressed soap that I made.

021

One of our teachers is also a health buff and loves his protein smoothies… we drink smoothies around here so know a dedicated travel jar for them might be nice.  Maybe for the mornings when he’s racing to work to teach our littles?  (How hard could it be to make one of these…?)

insulatedMason_340_320_90_s_c1_c_t

Finally a confession: I also tend to contribute to classroom gift cards for the teacher.  It’s easy, it works, and we do try to personalize them to the teacher’s interests.  Let summer come!

Oral vs. Written Family History: Not the Only Options

Which is the better way to preserve memory, stories told or stories written?  The debate is a long-entrenched one, with written documents claiming ascendency over the oral tradition in the western world.  So suspicious are we of oral testimony, even when you swear an oath in court, you do so with your hand on the Bible, a written text.

As anyone who has ever lost the contents of her computer’s hard drive or suffered a flood or a fire or an over-zealous co-habiting purger will know, written documents are exceptionally vulnerable.  The written record is only as good as its ability to survive the elements and the whims of fate.

My husband is an avid Franklin expedition historian, and he has been writing about the search for the missing ships of the ill-fated English captain for years. When researchers finally found the lost ships of the Franklin expedition, they were right where the Inuit had said they were all along.  I admit to feeling delight at that confirmation, not least because it validated the oral tradition.  I felt an odd sense of satisfaction in knowing that the written tradition that I hold so dear had not come through in this case.  I am overly dependent on writing and on photographs for recording history, and I like to think that something like a needle in a haystack could be found with stories that have been told for hundreds of years.

The oldest piece of English literature, Beowulf, is a marvel to me.  How did the bards manage to pass that poem down through time and generations?  How many hundreds and thousands of times did people gather to hear it before it was written down?

How do we know that what got written is definitive?  Does definitive matter?

It does in court, which accounts, perhaps, for covering both bases by swearing on the Bible.

There are other ways to confirm a spoken promise, though.  We also seal deals with handshakes, and it’s that tactile element of history that’s got me thinking these days.  In last week’s posts, Beth-Anne, Carol, Kerry, and I all chose objects to illustrate our family history that we can touch, and even though some of these are out of reach of small hands, some of them do get frequent handling.  I like the idea of capturing history in things that get frequent handling.

As poor as my memory is (Very poor.  For my own purposes, I’m squarely in the written and photographic record camp because I cannot be relied upon to remember anything.  I hoard books not just because I’m a bibliophile but because they are a (false) security blanket.), I do remember a designer on a TV show once saying about a very expensive front door handle that it was worth the price.  “It’s something that you will touch every day.”  That has stayed with me.  Something you will touch every day is worth paying more for, and something you touch every day would also surely be a wonderful piece of family history.Data dump Sept 15 2015 134

How does a tactile record of family history look?

I’m about to find out.  For Eldest’s Grade 8 graduation, I am having a quilt made for him from a selection of his old hockey, camp, school, books, movie and sports t-shirts.  They tell a story of who he was as a kid, a story that he will throw over himself every day, whether he sits to watch next season’s hockey games or read the next Hunger Games-like series that captures his imagination.  I picture him bundled up in it, and that’s the kind of (security) blanket in which I have full faith.  It is a gift I plan to give to his brothers, too, and to all three of them I will say the same thing:  If you ever tire of this and are tempted to throw it away, don’t.  Bring it back to me, and I will give it a home until the stories it tells speak to you again, as I hope they will for many, many years to come.

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Father’s Day is coming up on June 21 and unlike other sites that run their gift guides a week before, we wanted to give you ample time to suss out the perfect gifts for the dads in your life. Here are some of our favourites:

From Beth-Anne

848447012466

This is a luxury item that dads are unlikely to splurge on for themselves but if they are a music lover nothing compares. Whether they are used for intense workouts at the gym, running outdoors or walking to and from the office, these Bluetooth-enabled earphones are unbeatable. Powerbeats™ 2 Wireless earphones are available at Indigo, $219.95.

imgres-1

I saw Dan Buettner featured on a popular news magazine show. He was visiting the Greek island of Ikaria, interviewing inhabitants and experts alike on the secrets to a long, healthy life. While the wisdom may not be surprising, it’s worth giving Dad the blueprints to longevity! The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons For Living Longer from the people who’ve lived the longest and The Blue Zones Solution: Eating And Living Like The World’s Healthiest People by Dan Buettner available at Indigo $12.24 and $21.05.

33b245e5f160652eb6bf3c45de891fd6

I like giving t-shirts. Among my favourites are the ironic ones from places like Drake General Store or the city-scapes I found at the One of a Kind Show. We featured this shirt for the hockey-lover as part of Giving Guide in December and it was a favourite of our readers too. What do you think about this one from ebollo on Etsy? Not sure it would get much wear, but the message is indisputable!

I love the idea of giving experiences. For Mother’s Day, we went for a fancy-schmancy French dinner (no sweaties allowed!) and the boys truly impressed me with their manners (there may have been some threats uttered before we left the house) and the memory will stay with me much longer than anything material ever could. If the dad in your life is completely stressed out, get him a pass to a Restorative yoga class. The pace is gentle, slow and more relaxing than any massage, plus it’s good for him! The Culture Pearl has her finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the city.  Recently she wrote about her experience in a skydiving simulator but if that’s not his thing, a luxury car rental for the day may be!

From Nathalie:

You could have knocked me over with a feather when my brother told me about his date night spent painting a picture.  I had never heard of social painting, but I would have bet money he’d be the last person to do something like that.  He did, and he loved it.  Social painting is a guided lesson in painting in a group setting with cocktails and music and fun.  So, whether the dad in your life is artistic or not, look into a painting party.  Art Tonite has weekly sessions in various locations around Toronto.

moonlight

My boys paint ties for their dad every year.  It takes a special kind of man to wear these proudly, and my husband is one of them!  He gets lots of compliments.

171602_10150394620305014_5045647_o

Real Canadian Superstores has some great gear for dads, like a portable bbq, perfect for camping or tailgate parties.  It folds up for easy transportation and storage.

imgres-2

I love the idea of these solar powered Mason jar lanterns for the Green Dad, available from Home Depot.  They look great in the daylight, too, as they are silvered and glitter in the sunlight.

imgres-2

From  Carol

A unique and sure-winner for the beer-loving man, give him the gift of home brew!  Brew North is Toronto’s newest and best home brewing supply shop, carrying all the equipment, ingredients, and kits needed to make a really good beer whether you’re a novice or experienced brewer.

BBEquip_large

And for more culinary delights, how about a taking a class on cheese tasting?  Enter night school for cheese fans at the Leslieville Cheese Market.  Fun, delicious, and perfect for a special night out.

photo_club02_320x242

Creating a Family History Book

age-2569_640A few years ago the show Who Do You Think You Are? debuted on TLC. I tuned in mostly because family history, and not just mine, has always fascinated me. I remember my high school friend telling me stories about her German grandparents and their experience during WW2. I hung on her every word. Another friend shared with me her mother’s first love and how after decades they reconnected and rekindled their romance. When she tells the story, I picture her young mother, ever the Bohemian, with her long, tawny blonde tresses matching her long, tanned legs traipsing the English countryside with her beau. Recently a friend started to tell me about her family’s lengthy Parisian history and I made her stop so I could get myself a hot chocolate and really hunker down and listen to her stories.

I love hearing about where people have come from. The colourful characters that make up a family, the experience that turned the fortune of a family, how generations influence and hold power, consciously or unconsciously . . . I can’t get enough of it.

It didn’t take many episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? for me to fall down the rabbit hole at Ancestry.ca. I spent countless hours clicking through the website and more money than I care to admit on my membership. Every day I discovered something new about my family and the proof was there – a signature on a marriage certificate scrawled by my great-grandmother, a death certificate of baby only few living relatives know about, a census record indicating settlement in the exact neighbourhood my husband spent his childhood.

The information was plentiful and I knew that I wanted to preserve it for my own children. After researching the merits of several Etsy artists and their family trees, I knew that I wanted something more and a book, that I could design, was the best way for me to compile the information I had gathered.

I used the on-line book making website, Blurb, and had great success in creating my book. I am now in the final stages of editing and I feel ambivalent to hit publish. A family’s history is never really told. There are stories that have been buried long ago and stories that have yet to be told.

Caerwent House Stories: The History of Your House, Bound

I met Robin Burgoyne, the owner of Caerwent House Stories, as she sat at a table in the shade of a tree on a Cabbagetown sidewalk during the annual outdoor art festival.  Ranged modestly on the table was a selection of the beautiful hardcover books she had produced, and as soon as I saw the watercolours of Toronto’s houses on their covers, painted by Peter Liu, I was hooked.

robin

 

houseRobin tells the story of your house and all who have lived in it.  Beginning with work at the local and provincial archives, libraries, land registry offices, city building permits departments, and the web, Robin uncovers the mysteries and the details of your home’s history, from its building to the present day, and she brings that telling alive with interviews with former owners and photographs from archival sources.

I knew as soon as I saw her books that one would make the perfect gift for my husband.  I was able to tailor our house story to include the history of the neighbourhood and I was also able to participate in the writing and editing of the book.  The whole process felt so personal, and the final product was a history to treasure.

I once hosted a baby shower in this house for my brother-in-law, and one of his guests wandered through the house for a bit before saying, “Yes, I think I used to live here.”  In one of its former incarnations, my house was an experiment in communal living.  It was owned by Therafields, and it was one of several houses owned and operated as a psychoanalytic commune whose residents lived, worked, and underwent intensive group psychoanalysis together.  Amongst other exercises, the residents practiced “scream therapy,” using intense vocalizations to align the unconscious with the voice. And that is how, in these houses, Canadian sound poetry was born.  The guest in question was one of those poets.  It just so happens that my brother-in-law is also a poet, as well as a professor of Canadian literature, and it was a wonderful moment of happenstance to be able to gather to welcome his baby in a house with auspicious poetic heritage.  As a proud auntie, I can say that the baby was born with the gift of very precocious verbal abilities.  Robin incorporated my brother-in-law’s research into that era of Canadian literature in our house story, and the anecdote of that coincidence is one of my favourite stories about our house.

Family history is so often bound up with place, and the work that Robin does with her house stories is a wonderful way to add to your family archive.

Family History into Art and Business: Jack & Marjorie Bags

il_170x135_825013083_hwzaI met Meghan, of Jack & Marjorie, at the One of A Kind Show in December.  I fell head over heels in love with her line of bags that are made from military surplus materials such as wool blankets, tents, rifle straps and duffle bags.  Looking at the bags made me think of a well-cropped photograph: each piece seemed to have captured perfectly the precise corner of blanket or length of waxed canvas that was used for the piece.

When I asked her about the history of her company, Meghan shared that it was named for her grandparents.  Her grandfather had been a soldier, so the military surplus materials was in honour of him.  She remembered the range of her grandmother’s handbags, so the femininity of the line honours her.  The perfect marriage of feminine and masculine, form and function.

I think what I most liked was seeing military surplus materials given a second life as not only an accessory but the end result of art and craft.  A beautiful beating of swords into ploughshares.  Check out her Etsy store here.

 

il_570xN_698594301_2p3s

 

 

Mother’s Day Gift Guide

Mother’s Day is coming up.  It’s Sunday, May 10, and we’ve complied a go-to gift guide for mom whether she’s a glamorous grandma or green thumb, a book lover or a foodie . . . or maybe she’s everything all rolled in to one! Do you see something that catches your eye? Forward along to Dad or the kids . . .or better yet, wait for no one and treat yourself!

From Beth-Anne:

71080

Mist & Fix from Make Up For Ever is now part of my morning beauty routine. It’s a professional grade alcohol-free setting spray with the texture of water that improves your makeup’s staying power. It’s easy to use – hold it about 40 cm from your face and mist continuously for a few seconds and allow to dry. It smells glorious and leaves my face looking fresh and dewy. (starting at $14)

live-love-teach-necklace-in-silver11391920

This handmade pewter pendant is plated in silver and its message, Live Love Teach by Foxy Originals is the perfect way to describe and thank mom. ($20)

unnamed

Alex and Ani create and design eco-conscious jewelery. Their latest collection, Persephone is available at select Hudson’s Bay stores and features bracelets and charms with special meaning. My favourite is Guardian of Answers because aren’t moms the keeper of them?

from Nathalie:

I’m going to depart from my usual “Please don’t buy mothers anything with which to cook or clean” rule and say that I’d love to receive these sets of ombre bowls from President’s Choice and Real Canadian Superstore.  They have them in cool blues and hot reds and oranges, and the colours are just so juicy!

IMG_2937

Ombre mixing bowls from PC $25

Ombre mixing bowls from PC $25

And, now that patio season is finally, finally here, you could gift a mother with this awesome retro cooler chest for the back yard or the beach.

Cooler chest from Tera Gear $149

Cooler chest from Tera Gear $149 at Real Canadian Superstore

One of my favourite things to do in the yard with the kids is to roast marshmallows on the fire.  Somehow, spending an evening that way feels like the most luxurious kind of family time.   No hockey, homework or housework to attend to, just sharing the fire.  We saw this great Hampton Bay fire pit at The Home Depot spring preview.  ($79.98)

IMG_2909

I am asking for a gift of experience this Mother’s Day.  I want us all to go to the McMichael Gallery and look at art and hike the trails around the gallery.  I’d also recommend trips to the Art Gallery of Ontario to see the Emily Carr and Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibits, and to the Royal Ontario Museum.  If you think you will visit a museum multiple times, a membership is a wonderful gift.  (For our family of five, a membership costs what we’d pay for just two visits.)  We have family memberships at both museums, and, honestly, it’s some of the best money I’ve ever spent.  I get so much use and value out of our memberships.  It feels like true luxury to be able to just pop into the museum for a quick visit, and to see the exhibits multiple times makes me feel like royalty.  I have taken the kids to see the Basquiat twice already.  The first time we sketched, and the second time we used the play dough that all kids can get in a loot bag from the front desk when they go in.  I got to really attend to the art, and the kids kept busy with their interpretations.  Time spent together is the gift I love best.

Youngest's sketch of a Basquiat self-portrait.

Youngest’s sketch of a Basquiat self-portrait.

Middlest's interpretation in play dough.

Middlest’s interpretation in play dough.

 

From Carol

Almost four months ago, noticing I was depleted and in need of a recharge, my husband offered to hold the fort at home while I visit with favourite cousins in California this week.  In what goes down as good old fashioned mistake-making, I did not take him up on this.  At the time, I almost felt too tired to plan for this, and now I’m sitting here in Toronto feeling rather foolish.

019

Most of the moms of young kids I know would really relish some free time.  Sometimes with their spouses, or their friends, or alone.  The best gift ever would be sorting out which of these the mom in questions needs most, and try to make it happen.  I bought a Buytopia getaway to Ste. Anne’s Spa in Ontario with this in mind, and Groupon-type offers make short jaunts like this more affordable.
lady marmalade

But the truth is brunch at favourite local haunt (mine is Lady Marmalade on Queen Street East) would be perfectly splendid too.

greenbeehouse_large

May is also the season of growing… if you know a mother who likes to garden, the handmade offerings at Spade and Feather are simple, well made, and gorgeous.  A favourite are the Wild Bee and Insect Houses which translate the essential work of pollination into functional beauty for any garden.  I love them.

SAMSUNG

Maximizing space is always on the minds of urban gardeners in particular, and these Felt Wall Planter Envelopes from Spade and Feather are a great option.  They’re eco-friendly (made from Eco-Felt, 100% recycled plastic), easy to hang, and make vertical gardening accessible to everyone.

 

It’s Shower Season! Top Baby Gifts You Need To Give.

Last week I wrote about my nephew’s impending arrival. Thank you to everyone who gave their two cents on which print to buy for his nursery. I am close to deciding, so if you haven’t had the chance to weigh-in, click here. The print I decide on will be posted to our Instagram page in about 10 days.

Having a baby in the springtime seems poetic. Birth and renewal of life are everywhere in nature and evident among us humans too, as mothers and young children reclaim the parks and sidewalks. I had my middle son on April 1, and fully appreciated the warmer weather and the longer days.

In anticipation of the newest addition to our family, I am co-hosting a baby shower for my sister-in-law. In just a few short years the number of products for baby has exploded exponentially! I know that there are many gimmicky products promising mothers everything from easy diaper changes to silent nights and as a seasoned mom, I tend to roll my eyes at many of them. There are products that all moms claim they couldn’t have survived the baby years without. For me, it was the bouncy chair. I wish that I had the foresight to put one on every floor of the house. I always thought that I would carry my babies in slings and carriers but alas, my dream was shattered when not one of them liked being carried in such a way. Go figure, they had distinct likes and dislikes from the very beginning!

Moms, what would you add to the “must-have” list for baby’s arrival?  Leave a comment.

I have rounded up a few of my favourite baby gifts from the tried and tested to the shiny and new.

When I buy a baby gift, I often stick to the registry for the basics: things everyone needs and everyone has a strong opinion about. Glass bottles vs. plastic? Sippy cups? Pacifiers? Better stick to what mom-to-be wants. No new mama wants to be returning anything in the days after baby is born.

I also like to splurge on fun things that parents aren’t necessarily going to buy for themselves. This “bear skin” rug from Pottery Barn Kids is a perfect example of a play mat that can be plopped down anywhere in the house for little one’s tummy time, and it’s just really cute, right?

img17c

I was shocked by the amount of laundry baby produced when I was a new mom. In particular, it was the mountainous number of receiving blankets covered in throw-up and spilled milk. I like these Aden & Anais classic swaddle blankets that are 100% natural cotton muslin.

813701013381

Sophie the Giraffe. Need I say more? Worth every cent of her $30.00.

882709010937_hi

Hooded towels are undeniably cute, but I prefer classic monogrammed towels that can be used for many years. These towels from Pottery Barn Kids, were gifted to me at my baby shower more than 8 years ago, and they are still in rotation.

img75o

Speaking of gifts that grow, Skip Hop makes diaper bags that are stylish, functional and will be used long after baby is out of diapers.   The Duet 2-in-1 Diaper Tote and the Out & About are perfect examples of bags that work for storing diapers, quick changes and extra bottles, but their sleek design and sophisticated colours will transition nicely to a carry-on, an overnight bag or a gym tote. In celebration of baby shower season and Skip Hop’s new must-have diaper bags, from April 6-13, buy any Skip Hop item from Indigo and get a Skip Hop accessory at 25% off.

879674020603

879674019669

It seems impossible that baby, who is so tiny, will soon be eating foods at the table. Also by Skip Hop is a collection of colourful melamine plates, utensils and food storage containers.

Books. Books. Books. I love giving books. Recently as a baptismal gift, I bought 20 of my favourite childhood books. Inside each book I wrote a note. For example, I bought Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and inside the book I wrote, My Dearest Katherine: Because we all have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Just remember that you are so very loved!

I also bought Fancy Nancy and wrote: My Dearest Katherine: Because sometimes being fancy is fun!

It’s my favourite gift that I have ever given and I hope to give it again very soon.

There are also gifts to be treasured. Among my most precious are handmade blankets and clothing. I wish that I had the skill to craft something for my nephew because it’s these gifts that I am most moved by. Somethings can’t be bought; if you have the skill, use it!

Be sure to follow us on Instagram for snaps from the baby shower. You’re not going to want to miss it!

For Your Calendar: The Baby Time Show Prenatal to Preschool comes to Mississauga’s International Centre, Hall 5 from April 24-26. For more information, including ticket prices, visit their website.

A Labour of Love: My Dollhouse Adventure: Guest Post by Holly Forsythe

If you have little kids who enjoy adorable movies about piglets—and are, therefore, quite possibly the sort of person who is thinking about building a dollhouse—you’ll probably recall the opening sequence of the 1995 movie “Babe.”  The first shot depicts the foyer of a lovely Georgian home, with elegant furnishings and stained glass lunettes, which is suddenly disrupted by the intrusion of a giant thumb. As the camera pans out, we realise we’ve been looking at the interior of a dollhouse that Farmer Hoggett, the film’s central human character, lovingly embellishes for his granddaughter. The moment gives us a reassuring wink about the controlled and affectionate handling of the miniature world portrayed in the film. It also gives us an early insight into Farmer Hoggett, whose patient, imaginative, and inventive nature enables him to perceive the latent talents in the story’s porcine protagonist. You have to be a certain kind of person to build a dollhouse.

IMG_0539

 

I wasn’t necessarily planning to be that sort of person. My daughter, Grace, fell in love with a dollhouse in a waiting room. She talked about the toy for months. She’s an unusually gentle, thoughtful, and self-denying little old soul, so when she asked for a dollhouse for her birthday, I didn’t have the heart to say no…even though the prospect terrified me a little.

IMG_0538

 

You can buy dollhouses in quite a few different forms: as kits, ready-made, with or without furniture, and in a number of different scales. I was a little surprised that the major toy stores don’t really carry proper dollhouses. Ours stocked three kinds of mass-produced sets, but they all seemed more babyish and generic than what we had in mind. We also decided against the generic toystore sets because their scale was too small. The most common scale for proper dollhouse furniture is 1:12 (also called “one-inch scale”): that means that one foot of length is represented by one inch in the dollhouse (so a doorway, that would be seven feet high in reality, is 7 inches high in the dollhouse). The toystore brands commonly used a 1:18 scale (“two-third inch scale”), which would make it difficult to collect furniture from eclectic sources.

The Little Dollhouse Company, located near Mount Pleasant and Eglinton, is pretty much the only dollhouse store in Toronto. There used to be brick-and-mortar dollhouse stores in Cambridge and Elora, but they’re only online now.  We started looking around online on Craigslist, Kijiji, and Ebay. There were quite a few mass-produced dollhouse systems available second-hand and also quite a few kits in unopened boxes: not everyone has the resolve to build a kit, but if you do, that kind of dollhouse is a keeper.

NOS-vintage-Presidents-Choice-Victorian-Wooden-Dollhouse-20131221175716

 

By the time my husband lucked out with a great kit online, Grace’s birthday was looming very close, so we decided to break the construction into two phases: we hired a student from George Brown to do the basic construction so Grace would have a present to open; afterwards, I would complete the finishing touches to the structure (porch, gingerbread, fireplace), paint, and furnish it. If you hire someone to build your kit for you, I recommend that you establish a fee for the entire project: our poor student worked day and night to meet his deadline and we definitely went over budget paying him by the hour. That being said, I think it was a smart decision to have the main structure built by someone who knew how to make things square and level.

The kit itself was very clear about the assembly process. It had diagrams to correspond with each sheet of plywood and very detailed instructions. It’s tedious but essential to read the instructions completely before beginning. If you’re a “wing it” person, this is not your sort of project. The process is broken into stages: at each stage, you carefully remove specified pieces from the plywood sheet using an exacto knife, sand them, paint them, and glue them in a precise order following a diagram. The results are much tidier if you paint before assembly (I painted the student’s part of the structure after he assembled it). Most of the online guides assume that you’ll use house paint, but acrylic craft paint worked just fine for me: since you have to paint pieces at many separate stages, it’s smart to use premixed colours. I got small bottles of premixed colours at the local craft store for a dollar each (the acrylic in the crafter’s/stencilling aisle is way cheaper than the artist’s acrylic). You need wood glue for a lasting hold, but you can sparingly use your glue gun to hold pieces in place while the wood glue slowly dries. This will allow you to hug your children instead of standing around holding gingerbread to the roof while it dries (haunting memory). And you will need to hug your children for inspiration. As I say, I only did the superficial decorations on Grace’s dollhouse but, working from morning drop-off to afternoon pickup and then again from their bedtime till mine, it took me ten days to finish.

163

 

In our case, the structure was assembled before the interior was decorated. In rooms with hard-to-reach places, I painted (with the premixed acrylic) but I wallpapered the more open spaces (I found some really pretty pads of paper for scrapbookers, which was heavier than wrapping paper). We’re furnishing gradually. Most pieces of furniture cost at least $5: to furnish a room, it will generally cost you around $30, depending on your source. I found a dollhouse furniture maker on Etsy who had reasonable prices and contacted her to arrange a starter kit order. We raised $70 for the furniture from the guests at Grace’s birthday party and that will get us the living room, dining room, bathtub, bed and dresser (plus shipping!). We’re going to let the rest of it be a labour of love instead of desperation.

159

 

No matter how you do it, setting up a proper dollhouse is going to be relatively expensive. If you decide to take on some of the construction or decoration of the house, it is also going to be fairly time-consuming. This is probably why the people who are really into dollhouses don’t make them for children. There is a quiet subculture of dollhouse hobbyists who enjoy building and furnishing elaborate structures for their own satisfaction. For the most part, these grownups wouldn’t be very comfortable letting children play with the product of their labours. If you come across one of these experts in your dollhouse adventure, don’t let them know that you think toys are for children. Hardcore dollhouse hobbyists have immersed themselves in a special kind of creative impracticality: benefit from their knowledge, use them as a resource, and you can substantially limit your own dip into that pool. Hopefully, my first-and-only-time experiences in dollhouse building can help save you even more time (certainly) and money (hopefully) if you decide to take the plunge.

::

Holly Forsythe Paul has worked at the University of Toronto as an adjunct professor of English since 2003.  She lives with her talented husband and two lovely daughters in Toronto.