Gifts that Give Back

This week, we will be posting gift ideas that we have collected over the past few months.  In a month with the theme of minimalism, these posts are decidedly maximalist, but they should help minimize your work as you search for great gift ideas.  Today, it’s gifts that give back.  In the days ahead we will have posts with ideas for gifts for teachers, mentors and coaches, gifts for the kids, gifts for him, and gifts for her.

The three of us celebrate a secular Christmas, but we have picked gifts that should fit into many traditions and gift-giving opportunities.

This month, 4mothers1blog became an Indigo affiliate, so if your shopping list includes gifts from Indigo, please consider getting to their website through ours.  If you navigate to their site from here, we will receive a portion of the value of your purchase.  Just click through from the Indigo logo on the right side of the page.

Our first collection of ideas is gifts that give back: gifts with a charitable side.

From Beth-Anne:

LiveFashionable is one of my favourite on-line retailers.  They are committed to helping African women start their own small business cooperatives and they partner with manufacturers that employ women and practice fair-wage compensation.  My Selam scarf is on high rotation!  (Tizita bracelet, $34 and the ABLEscarf, $48.)

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FEED is an organization dedicated to fighting hunger and eliminating malnutrition throughout the world.  These organic cotton and burlap totes, if filled with food, would feed a school aged child for one year.  (FEED tote, $80)

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Consonant, an award winning all natural skincare company, has developed the Today Body Bar for Causemetics.  $4 from each Today Body Bar is donated to the Canadian Breast Cancer Support Fund that provides financial assistance to breast cancer patients to help ease their financial burden.  At $12 this is the perfect stocking stuffer! (Consonant Today Body Bar, $12)

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Approximately 287,000 women die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth complications each year.  Founded by model, film-maker and activist, Christy Turlington, Every Mother Counts is dedicated to reducing that number through education, and providing transportation and supplies.  Several boutique shops and big-name retailers have partnered with Every Mother Counts and contribute donations based on products sold.  For example, these Citizens of Humanity maternity jeans, A Pea In the Pod collection are on sale for $159.00.  Citizens of Humanity will donate $25 and A Pea In The Pod will donate $15 to Every Mother Counts!  Visit their on-line shop for a complete list of retailers and products.

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Two Penny Blue is the place to buy fashionable accessories and luxury blazers and jackets in a variety of punchy colours or reliable classics.  For every jacket purchased, Two Penny Blue will donate a school uniform to a girl in need in Africa – opening the door to her education.  And we all know the powers of education!  (Blazers range $325-$399)

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Oliberté became the world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear manufacturing factory in 2013.  Based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia the company believes in creating fair jobs and workers’ rights.  In addition to building a company based entirely in Africa (from materials to labor),  Oliberté donates 1% of its proceeds to non-profits dedicated to sustainability and the environment.  For a complete list of 1% For The Planet businesses click here.  Shoes from Oliberté range from $50-$160 and gear is priced from $25 -$300.

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From Nathalie:

I met Rafik Riad, the managing director of Salt, at the Distillery District in the summer, and I knew right away that I wanted to spread the word about his company.  Salt sells earth-friendly, hand-crafted and fair-trade gifts at all price points that are made by artisans in impoverished communities.  They work from the ground up, helping to train artisans, and to ensure that they receive a fair payment for their craft.

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I lived in Egypt when I was in high school, and when I saw the Sahara Leather Bag ($150), I was immediately taken back to the homes and the markets I visited there.  The bag is made from fabric quilted in the traditional tent-makers’ style, and you can see this kind of quilting on awnings in markets and on throw pillows and blankets in people’s homes, including my own!  It’s beautiful and bold and makes a great statement.

Far and Wide Collective partners with artisans in post-conflict and emerging economies to bring to an international market unique and high quality gifts.  I love that the website includes information about the artisans and their trade.  This sage green silk scarf ($60), for example, was made in Afghanistan by silk weaver Saleh Mohammad, who learned his trade while living as a refugee in Pakistan during the civil war.  Beginning at $20, there are lots of gifts here for teachers, hostesses and BFFs.

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Indigo is the Canadian merchandiser for Angela & Roi vegan bags.  The bags are not only animal-friendly, they are wallet-friendly and charitable, too.  Priced from $75-$150, each bag is linked to a different charity, and a portion of the sales goes to that cause.

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From Carol

Sayula‘s lovely agave bath mitts, soap pouches, wash cloths, and root brushes make perfect feel-good stocking stuffers.  The Mexican-Canadian company goes the extra miles for environmental and social responsibility, creating bath and kitchen products from regional plants that don’t require much water or any pesticides.  Sayula also works directly with rural communities to provide stable income and fair prices.  Available in Toronto at Little House in the City (Carol’s shop).

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The Fair Trade Jewellery Co. in Toronto is the destination for ethical jewellery, including nickel-free gold, platinum and Canadian (from Ontario’s Victor mine) and Australian diamonds.  FTJC is also known for its custom designs – the perfect place to shine with an easy mind and heart this holiday.

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Socking Stuffers & More: For Her, Him and the Boys

Need some holiday gift-giving inspiration?  Here’s a round-up of some of my favourites.

For Her

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Come to Bed Red nail laquer

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EOS Pomegranate Raspberry Lip Balm

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Compact Mirror from Indigo

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Downton Abbey Series 1-3

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Personalized locket, holds two-three pictures, from Undine

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Gimme Brow by Benefit

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Hanky Panky 

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Nutella: The 30 Best Recipes

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Funny Sticky Notes

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Adult-size Onesie

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Handcream

For Him

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Where Chef’s Eat

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Thumbprint Cufflinks

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Slang Flashcards

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Anything from The Garlic Box

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Anything with the Hudson’s Bay stripes

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Men’s work week socks

For The Boys

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The Olympics are coming up!  Paint your own Babushka dolls.

imgres-4Scrabble Magnet Set

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Storm Troopers USB 

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Crayon Roll

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Support your favourite team with Fan Bands

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Make some music and build your own ukulele.

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Dragon Hands Temporary Tattoos

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Lego Erasers

Customizing the Year: Personalized Agendas


The reality might sit like a stone in your belly, but the truth is that it is not too early to be thinking about holiday presents, especially if you celebrate Christmas.  I am actually already regretting that I didn’t get my act together to opt out of some of the holiday excess – I’m pretty sure to do this, one must start much earlier than mid-November.

This holiday stress aside, along with any resulting irony, I’m going to suggest to you a holiday present that might hit the mark for some of the people on your list with vanishing targets.  Last Christmas, I created customized agenda books for my in-laws (who, probably like yours, have basically everything).  But they didn’t have a book that was filled with photographs of their eight grandchildren taken at the family cottage, and this is what I made.

I used the online book-making company Blurb, and can make a good, solid recommendation for them.   Basically, you download their software, upload your photos, and then use their navigation tools to create the layouts you want for your agenda.  There are various templates to choose from, and your photo page that accompanies each month can feature one or many photographs.  It’s not particularly expensive, considering customization:  I think mine cost about $20 or $25.

Since you are actually only creating 12 photo pages plus the covers, it doesn’t take long.  You choose paper quality and cover quality, and when satisfied with your agenda book, you send it to them online.   A couple of weeks later, your one-of-a-kind book will arrive at your doorstep, and you will be equipped with a gift that you can present with the pride of the virtual printpress.

Here are a couple of tips from she who has been around this block.  First, the agenda is not as thoroughly equipped with tools and features as you would find in an agenda you would pick up from Indigo.  There is no address section, conversion charts, lists of airline companies, etc.  I don’t miss these particularly, but I wouldn’t have minded a few extra pages for notes.  I missed that there weren’t dates on each day, but t; rather the dates of the week were just listed at the top of the page for that week (for eg., this week’s page would simply say “November 12-November 18”).   Also, the holidays aren’t identified.  Blurb sent out feedback on their agendas, which were introduced for the first time last year, so maybe there have been improvements this year.

Overall, though, these issues are pretty minor, and it really is nice to give someone special something that they can’t buy or create on their own.  And if agenda books aren’t your thing, of course you can create other kinds of photo books.  For those of you who keep blogs, especially personal ones that might interest family members, you can use Blurb to create a blog book, which is how I first discovered it.  This is truly a spectacular feat, as you don’t have to upload a ton of entries manually.  I was completely happy with the hardcover book quality that I chose, and I didn’t even opt for any of the fancy papers available.

For bigger projects and multiple books, it’s helpful to leave yourself enough time to create one book and then make a final edit once it’s physically in your hands.  You may have to pay shipping more than once, but after making something with Blurb, you’ll receive discounted promotions for future projects, and can use one of these to purchase additional books.

But I digress.  You don’t need a big project to make an impact.  12 photo pages, an agenda book, and a couple (or few, depending on who you are) hours can leave your loved ones with smiles on their faces with memories from the previous year, and with anticipation of the ones to come in the next.

Books Make Great Gifts

A few weeks ago, I shared John Levy’s, of Mastermind Toys, suggestions for the perfect gift this holiday season. Last week, the moms group that I belong to had the good fortune of hosting Eleanor LeFavre of Mable’s Fables bookstore.

Mable’s Fables is the quintessential children’s bookstore. It reminds me of the shop that Meg Ryan’s character owns in the movie You’ve Got Mail. Eleanor’s bookstore is a warm and inviting place that easily lends itself to lulling away hours on a rainy afternoon. The selection of books is well edited to include only the best and the young adult section housed on the second floor is unparalleled to any bookstore that I have visited.

Eleanor shared with our group some of her favourite books to give as gifts this holiday and if you can’t get down to Mable’s Fables to support this incredible independent treasure, visit them on-line.

A must add to the holiday book line-up:

A Porcupine in a Pine Tree by Helaine Becker and Werner Zimmermann

For Babies:

Mother Goose Remembers by Clare Beaton

That’s Not My . . . (series) by Fiona Watt

Bright Baby (series) by Roger Priddy

Board books with black and white illustrations

for example: Daddies and Their Babies (series) by Guidio van Genechten

Classic Alphabet books (and their selection is so inspiring!)

A to Z by Sandra Boynton

For Younger Children:

No Two Alike by Keith Baker

(a great choice for celebrating differences)

Ten Little Fingers, Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow by Susan Shea

(I bought this one and the illustrations are beautiful!)

Tilly (series) by Polly Dunbar

Knuffle Bunny (three in the series) by Mo Willems

(a favourite in our house too!)

Baby Come Away by Victoria Adler

The Adventures of Taxi Dog (series) by Debra and Sal Barracca

One Smart Cookie: Bite-size Lessons for the School Years and Beyond

by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (this is a fantastic book!!)

Little Beaver and The Echo by Amy MacDonald

My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems

The Big Snuggle Up by Brian Patten and Nicola Bayley

Burton and Isabelle Pipistrelle: Out of the Bat Cave by Denise Dias

Bear In Underwear (series) by Todd H. Doodler

Stories From Around The World For Little Children by Usborne

(the illustrations are stunning!)

For Early Readers:

Key Words with Jane and Peter by Ladybird

Runaway Duckling by Francesca Simon

Mish Mash Hash by Francesca Simon

Sleeping Beauty by Sally Gardner

The Amazing Adventures of Bumble Bee Boy

by David Soman and Jacky Davis

Jack and the Flum Flum Tree by Julia Donaldson

Dr. Xargles Book of Earthlets by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

Big Bad Bruce by Bill Peet

Ella Bella Ballerina and The Sleeping Beauty by James Mayhew

The Jewel Fish of Karnak by Graeme Base

Suki’s Kimono by Chieri Uegaki

There’s A Princess In The Palace by Zoe B. Alley

For Independent Readers:

Book of Why by Kath Grimshaw and Jo Connor

First Nature Encylopedia by Dorling Kindersley

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond

The Clumsies (series) by Sorrel Anderson

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo

Honey and Bear (series) by Ursula Duborarsky

Whether you plan on giving a book this holiday season or just adding to your home library, I hope that these suggestions serve you well.

What are some of your favourite children’s books?


Holiday Simplifying, Without Simply Getting Carried Away

On the simplification spectrum, I consider my family to be more serious about it than not.  We’re not diehards, but we have downshifted our work schedules and incomes by about half since having our kids, and both my husband and I work part-time in order to be at home with our sons.  Simplifying for us is about finding what really matters to us and structuring our lives accordingly.

So it came fairly naturally for us to question how we would celebrate the holidays after we became parents.  We were clear that we would celebrate Christmas (even though I am not a Christian), but we did not want to keep up with the Christmas Jonese nor did we want the traditional onslaught of Christmas excess to spoil for our children the true pleasure of giving and receiving a present.

It’s always easier to identify what we don’t want rather than what we do want though.  Slowly, slowly, we (especially me) are beginning to identify our own values and traditions around Christmas and to implement them. Here are some of the things we do:

~ Go very easy on the gifts.  Our children are young, but we plan to persevere into the future with this.  Our 4 year old has few expectations around gift-receiving at this (or any other) season, and presents are not the primary focus of our celebrations at home.

~ Ask our extended family members to go easy on the gifts.  We’ve noticed that this doesn’t always work, so we have modified our approach to be more explicit about the kind of gifts we like.  Over the years, our families have become increasingly responsive to our preference for open-ended toys and natural materials (read: no big, blinking, beeping plastic contraptions, please).  A couple of relatives have allowed us to purchase gifts for the children on their behalf, which eases their effort, helps meet our values, and gives the kids gifts that they are almost sure to enjoy.

~ Decorate an evergreen tree on our front lawn (nice way to get outside) and bring in some boughs for indoor trimming in lieu of buying a cut tree.  I know some tree farms are responsibly grown, but I can’t feel good about cutting down a tree for short-term holiday decoration so I don’t do it.

Here are some things we are trying to do:

~ Make and bake our own holiday decorations, ornaments, food, and treats, as much as possible with the kids.  A gingerbread house!

~ Try to buy gifts that are experiential, easy on the environment, and that are from the heart.  So we also…

~ Try to make homemade, handmade gifts.

~ Establish one or more traditions of giving to the broader community.

~ Establish one or more outdoor traditions, preferably in a beautiful natural setting.  A winter walk?

I’m not oblivious to the fact that my version of simplifying is maybe not especially simple.  It’s not easy, anyway, at least not for me.  For instance, I am discovering that if you want to have a truly handmade Christmas (beyond cookies in a tin), you must start planning and working on your handmades months (and months) ahead of time, and you need to acquire some skills.  Additionally, establishing meaningful Christmas traditions that work for your family at any given point takes time, research, and trial and error.

Truthfully, in lots of ways it is a good bit easier to just show up on the day with your pile of gifts and be done with it all, provided you have the cash.  Easier, but not necessarily better.

Since having a family, I’ve experienced a kind of “simplified” holiday stress that is new and of course fairly defeating of its purpose.  Trying to have the perfect simple Christmas is possibly no smaller a trap than its excessive cousin.  I am aware of this.  So when I find myself fretting about how I’m going to fit in handsewing the felted wool stockings, I am simultaneously trying to give my head a shake.

I still love my version of a simpler Christmas, and I do hope that as a family we will grow into it.  But I have a dawning sense that, like a home, it will take years and years to create.  And that there’s simply no reason to rush it.

At Issue: Children, Holidays, and Gift-Giving

When you think of children and holiday gifts, what do you think of?  This?

http://www.squidoo.com/christmas-gifts

Or this?

http://www.merriershopping.com/budgeting/too-much-of-a-good-thing/

Or this?

http://www.billmckibben.com/hundred-dollar-holiday-excerpt.html

4mothers offer their viewpoints this week.