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….).


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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…?)


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!


Gifts for Him

From stocking stuffers to big ticket items, here are some fabulous gift ideas for the men on your list.

From Nathalie:

One word: cufflinks.  My beloved loves to wear the cufflinks that “the kids” give him every year.  Each boy chooses a theme from the year: hockey, soccer, Lego, camping, maps, a special trip, bike chain links, a symbol of their name….  The possibilities are really endless.  Etsy and The One of a Kind are my go-to sources.  These are a favourite:


Personalized gifts.  Last year, we gave my father-in-law and my four brothers-in-law a puzzle made from a photograph of the family cottage.  Each family got a different image, but the theme was the same: this is a place that brings us together and holds special memories.  Some of us got engaged there, some of us got married there, all of us have loved being there.

Booze.  You can be literal or figurative with this.  It does not have to be hackneyed.  Wondermade makes handmade marshmallows in Bourbon and Guinness flavours.


Check out these awesome Canadian coasters made from upcycled beer bottles.  $42  Rebeer by Artech Studios.  (Do you see the joke??  It’s Canadian.)  They make all kinds of fun things out of recycled beer, wine and booze bottles.  Meeting Jennifer Wanless-Craig and Terry Craig was a highlight of attending the OOAK show.  Fun people, fun gifts.


From Beth-Anne:


For any hockey lover Gordie Howe’s autobiography Mr. Hockey is sure to be a hit.  Indigo, $19.00


Make fitness a priority in the new year with the Fit Bit that counts your steps and tracks your calories.  My favourite feature is the sleep tracker . . . or in my case the “lack-of-sleep” tracker.  Available in a variety of colours including this gun metal at Indigo, $99.95.


Barware is always a fun gift because it’s something you rarely buy for yourself.  These Woodland Animal lowball glasses (set of 4) are available at Indigo for $38.  If the Canadiana theme isn’t your guy’s thing, the On the Rock Glass and Ice Ball gift set, for $39.50, is a more classic option.



Or to heck with the glassware and go straight for this flask for $25.00 (Indigo) with a quote by American author F. Scott Fitzgerald.


Wine may be more your guy’s thing, and the Corkcicle, an artificial icicle is inserted into the bottle to help keep the temperature just right.  Indigo, $25.00.


The curse words may not be everyone’s taste but the final dishes in this book don’t disappoint!  Indigo, $18.77.

Cufflinks are a fail safe gift but these are anything but hoo-hum.  Handmade of vintage watch movements the Time In Fantasy Longines Steampunk Cufflinks are eye-catching, whimsical and at $98.12 the right price!  Etsy.


How about these one-of-a-kind numbered bicycle prints from Etsy’s Bicycle Paintings, now also offered at Frank & Oak… perfect for the cyclist in the house.


For the guy who hits the gym after work, the Cote and Ciel Isar Rucksack Twin Touch is the perfect bag.  The asymmetrical design includes a padded external document compartment and two internal pouches.  Available at these boutiques across Canada for $272: Etoffes, Montreal; J2 Fashion, Burnaby; Lev Boutique, Calgary; UN Luggage, Winnipeg; Nomad, Toronto; Zane, Toronto.


From Carol

Almost every man is on the hunt for the perfect shave, and Toronto’s Crown Shaving Co. has stepped in to help by creating a line of quality personal grooming products targeted specifically to the men in our life.  Its distinctively masculine (okay, black) packaging calls out to “vagabonds, gentlemen and ruffians”.  You’ll also feel great knowing that these products are made with natural and botanical ingredients, and are free of alcohol, artificial colours and fragrances, sulfites and parabens.  Available at Little House in the City.


For your favourite handyman, Leatherman multi-purpose tools are pretty much perfect.  There are many versions to choose from, which can accommodate a wide range of budgets.  They invite so much possibility, I kind of want one.

For the explorers and adventurers out there, both of body or spirit,  The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition by Caroline Alexander is pretty much a sure thing.  With this kind of real life drama, how could this book not be destined to amaze and awaken the imagination?  I’m gifting it to my husband.


What We’re Reading: Non-Fiction

From Beth-Anne

imgresThe Can(‘t) Cook Book by Jessica Seinfeld

It’s no secret that I can’t cook.  Correction: I don’t like to cook.  However, since becoming a mother, I have honed some survival skills in the kitchen but cooking up a feast I have not yet done.  Nor do I have any plans to do so.  In my most recent cleaning purge, I finally tossed the file folder of recipe clippings I have been collecting since 2003.  Let’s be real: I was never going to cook anything from that packet of papers and it was liberating to watch the magazine pages flutter to their demise in the recycle bin.  Best to concentrate my efforts on what I enjoy doing and not trying to be someone who I am not.

That being said my three little boys ALWAYS WANT TO EAT!  What’s with these kids?  I am reminded of Nathalie’s favourite meme that depicts an exhausted looking mother slumped over, cradling her head with the words: Why do they want dinner every single night? url

Enter Jessica Seinfeld’s The Can(‘t) Cook Book, a simple how-to guide for the absolute beginner cook.  She gives all the basics: what tools your kitchen needs, what to stock the pantry with and visual step-by-step instructions on proper cutting technique.  The recipes claim to be easy and quick (they are).  She had me at easy and quick.

This spiral-bound, picture heavy, simplified cook book is all that I need.  Family favourites include pan-roasted chicken breasts (I made these without setting off the fire dectector), crispy shrimp (so ridiculously easy and delicious that my 7 year old can make them with little supervision) and Mexican corn (but really, who doesn’t love Mexican corn?).



Sometimes you just need a little pick me up.  Retail therapy, a hot bath, a good book, a night out with friends: all of these are often cited as just the ticket to boosting a sad mood.  But what if you’re looking for a little inspiration or some words of encouragement?  SHE: A CELEBRATION OF GREATNESS IN EVERY WOMAN is just that.  This elegantly illustrated book features words of wisdom from many wise women including Harper Lee, Peal Buck, Rachel Carson, Hilary Clinton, Mother Teresa, and many more.  Their words are meant to empower, inspire and encourage women on the topics of leadership, friendship, purpose, risk-taking, compassion and more.  Maybe she is a recent graduate?  Maybe she is looking to change careers?  Maybe she is about to embark on travel adventure?  Maybe she is unsure of her future?  Whatever the challenge she is up against, SHE: A CELEBRATION OF GREATNESS IN EVERY WOMAN offers advice from women who have been there, done that and have lived to tell the tale.

From Nathalie

keeganThe Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Anne Fadiman, one of my all-time favourite writers, wrote the preface for this posthumously published collection of essays and short fiction written by a former student of hers.  The book is named for the essay that she wrote for the Yale Daily News and that went viral when she died in a car crash.  It’s a wonderfully passionate essay.  I would read the back of a cereal box if Anne Fadiman recommended it, so I have to say that I was surprised that this book did not quite live up to its hype.  The essays are impressive, and she does have a voice that is uniquely her own, and it is clear that this is a writer with many talents and a lot of promise.  I had the feeling, though, that I’m just too old to appreciate them.

RR_InPraiseIn Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe

We are not supposed to like Katie Roiphe.  She wrote a book a few years back in which she said that part of the blame for date rape rests with the victim.  I can’t comment; I didn’t read the book.  I wouldn’t read it because I don’t like that kind of shock tactic stunt.

I’m beginning to think that I made a mistake to dismiss it on the basis of the reporting of that stunt.

This collection of essays knocked my socks off.  She’s ferociously smart, incisive and, yes, opinionated.  Her opinions, though, she backs up with powerful and persuasive writing.  Her essay on Joan Didion is so beautifully crafted I want to frame it, but it is her essays on parenting that really hit home with me.  She tells things that make me uncomfortable, she makes observations that make me squirm, and I think that’s a good thing.  In “The Feminine Mystique on Facebook” she writes about the trend of using your child’s photo as your profile picture:

Here, harmlessly embedded in one of our favourite methods of procrastination, is a potent symbol for the new century.  Where have all these women gone?

And in “The Child is King,” in which she reviews Elisabeth Badinter’s  book about our child-centric culture, The Conflict, she draws attention to

the dark idea…that children are the best excuse in the world not to pursue happiness, not to live fully or take risks or attempt the work one loves.  The compromises we make are justified, elevated, and transfigured by the fact of children, and this can be a relief.

I really enjoyed sparring with the ideas in this book.  I found myself disagreeing sometimes, but always able to respect the thread and construction of her arguments.

Book-Cover-Dreaming-of-Elsewhere_mediumDreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home by Esi Edugyan

This slim book is Esi Edugyan’s lecture for the Henry Kreisel Lecture Series at the University of Alberta.  Edugyan, the winner of the 2012 Giller Prize for Half-Blood Blues, explores her sense of “home” and “belonging.”

Home for me was not a birthright, but an invention. … I do not think home is a place, only.  Nor do I think belonging is the most important of our possibilities, long for it though we might.  I believe home is a way of thinking, an idea of belonging, which matters more to us than the thing itself.


From Carol

start somethingStart Something that Matters by Blake McCoskie

Easy and uplifting read about a young man’s successful foray into unconventional business with heart.  He started TOMS, a shoe company that promised that for every pair of shoes sold, a pair would be donated to a child who needed them.  Apparently these shoes are everywhere, and just last week, I saw my first pair at my son’s school.  McCoskie is unabashedly passionate about the uncharted possibilities of social enterprise; I felt old when “youthful exuberance” came to mind to describe the tone of the book.  It’s not to be dismissed for this but appreciated, and I finishing the read with the feeling that the world of business doesn’t just need more infusions of ethics, but also imagination.

4 hourThe Four Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

I surprised myself by picking this up again – I had borrowed it from the library and failed to read it a few years ago – but I got through it this time.  Ferriss is the founder of a sports nutrition company and tells the story of how he mastered the art of streamlining his work processes so he can – you guessed it – work four hours a week.

I don’t subscribe to major premises of his book.  He asserts that for 90% of us, the best job is the one that takes the least time; I disagree so fall into that little 10% window.  His master tools for freeing up time are outsourcing as many tasks at work and home as possible and leveraging the power of the Western dollar by living for extended periods somewhere with a weaker currency.  Neither of these ideas appeal to me:  I both want to live the details of my life and enjoy the rootedness of living in one place, single currency and all.

But I was drawn to the ruthlessness with which Ferriss cuts out things he didn’t want in his life.  He guards his time passionately against infringements he doesn’t want and gives firm reasons and methods of saying no, which can be summarized neatly by the mandate:  say no.  He recognized in his life the existence of the Pareto principle – that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes, for better or for worse – and worked to maximize the beneficial 20% and cut the crap 20% that was causing 80% of his grief.   Most impressive is how he eliminating a few toxic connections to huge benefit.   And he slices through common and generally accepted excuses for living less than a full life.  His version of this is not mine, but I was persuaded by his basic argument that all of us have far more choices than we exercise.  The book galvanized me to make a couple of difficult but positive changes after reading it, so I have an indebtedness to it.

all you needAll You Need Is Less by Madeleine Somerville

I was given this book to review, and have been looking for a good way to describe it.  It’s subtitle is “The Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity”, and this type of claim is made on a zillion green books.  This one is different because of its content though, which I think I might describe it as the next generation of green living.  We’re beyond turning out the lights when we leave a room and only running the dishwasher when it’s full in this book; we’re into clotheslines and worm bins and neti pots.  Somerville is easy-going and self-deprecating while she tries to bring this next tier of green into the centre – she makes fun of “hippie-ness” so no one else can and there’s no holier-than-you tone in this book.  Sometimes she tries a bit too hard – I cringed when she reduces the benefits of acupuncture mostly to creating a placebo effect – but this is a good resource for anyone who has made the more well-known green changes and wants to take it to the next level.



In The Wake of The Christmas Tornado

Christmas hit this house like a tornado leaving in its wake a mess of wrapping paper, boxes and lots of new toys.   Before the holiday my boys purged their nest to make room for new loot and to give new life to their old favourites.  The boys readily donated their gently used toys to a local charity that was seeking donations.

The two weeks between Christmas and the return to school passed in a peaceful blur.  With no schedules dictating what to do, we enjoyed spending time together as a family and indulged in several pajama days playing with new toys, reading new books and over eating delicious food.

Some of our favourite gifts from the holiday:

Lego, Lego and more Lego . . . and some Playmobil too!

We spent several hours tediously arranging and re-arranging Lego and Playmobil sets.  The four-year-old has a vivid imagination and readily integrates the sets to create complex battles between swashbucklin’ pirates and the Queen’s knights.  It continues to amaze me how a set of plastic cubes can be the catalyst for learning about medieval history.  Together we spent many more hours thumbing through books about castles, catapults and cannons as well as searching Google for answers to the many, many questions that were sent my way about pirate life, scurvy and Egypt (because the natural transgression from Medieval life is mummies, tombs and pyramids!).


The Boogie Board

A gift from Nana, these Boogie Boards have seen lots of use since being unwrapped on Christmas Day.  The Boogie Board is an LCD writing tablet that erases with the click of a button.  The four-year-old practiced his printing while the 6-year-old played Xs and Os with any willing (and some not so willing) participant.  I wrote the boys a goodnight message on each of their boards that first night, and since then they have been asking for one every night.


Two Greedy Italians

I bought this book for my husband for Christmas – a fantastic cook who needs no help in the kitchen.  Tired of all the reality-based Food Network shows (where are you, Nigella?), we started watching Two Greedy Italians on TLN.  The pair criss-cross Italy, highlighting local fare that extends beyond spaghetti bolognese.  The beautifully photographed book makes a welcome addition to our collection of cookbooks (that I rarely use but love to admire).


Cleaning Set

Remember the saying: the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?  My two-year-old son lives up to my university nickname of “Monica” (the cleaning-obsessed, neat-freak character on the 90’s sitcom Friends).  This adult-like cleaning set comes with all the fixings required to give a home a good clean but sized perfectly for little hands.  This gift from his aunt and uncle are the perfect addition to his vacuum.



Santa spoiled the boys (and cashed in his Shopper’s Optimum points) with the Nintendo Wii.  Is it wrong that the grown-ups in the house have gotten just as much satisfaction from this gift as the kids?  I never thought that I would say “family time” equals “video game time” . . . but a little bowling and some Just Dance 4 is a guarantee for lots of laughs.