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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Back To School: Getting & Staying Organized

IMG_1436I was never one of those kids who bemoaned the end of summer holiday. I was the one that was stalking the aisles of Zellers for three-ring binders and fresh stacks of lined paper in July. For me, September is the unofficial start of the year and I still revel in the anticipation of the new school year. I love organizing my supplies, charting the schedule and re-working our routines.

Here are some back-to-school products and tips that I like for this September. Sound off with a comment and let us know if you agree, what you’re planning for this back-to-school season and what you know is an absolute bust!

Let’s start with the backpack. Kids need a good, sturdy backpack. I am of the mindset to buy little packs for little bodies. I don’t think that kids should be carting around the entire contents of their desks, their gym clothes and their lunch. I tend to believe that if it doesn’t fit, you probably don’t need to carry it. Bigger kids – a completely different story.

Of course LL Bean does their classic knapsack in a variety of sizes. They are incredibly durable and can be monogrammed. The downside: three boys at my son’s school have the same pack and the same initial as my son. The first day of JK we had a mix-up and there were tears (his, not mine). That’s why I love these packs by Herschel. They are reasonably priced and come in a variety of sizes. This one is from Mini Mioche, a conscious, ethical shop located in the Distillery District in Toronto.

What goes in the pack is just as important as the pack itself. Staples is my go-to for office/school supplies. They’ve got everything that I need and even more that I don’t! I love these life-time guarantee three-ring Better Binders that they carry. I remember throwing away several binders at the end of each term when I was a student and they are probably wasting away in a landfill somewhere.

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Colourful markers, like these neon Sharpies, are not only fun to write with, they are instrumental in keeping the schedule organized. I have colours for each child and everything is written in those colours.

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I have budding writers at home and leaning on my experience as a classroom teacher, I know how imperative it is that children learn how to hold their pencil correctly. It seems like such a little thing but holding a writing tool the proper way actually assists in proper letter formation, and reduces muscle fatigue (among other things!). I have a package of these grippers and will be buying even more this year . . . they seem to go missing as often as socks.

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Homework is never fun (unless you’re me!). My boys whine a little bit, but I created homework boxes much like this one. I keep it on the desk and when they’re doing homework on the go, it’s easy to toss into the bag. I like to put a checklist on the outside of the kit and it’s a weekly job to ensure that the homework kit is properly stocked and pencils are sharpened. In our kit: 2 pencils, 1 eraser, 1 highligher, 1 ruler, 1 mini-stapler, 1 pair of scissors, a few coloured pencil and a glue stick. Make sure to toss dried-out markers or broken pencils. Always, always, always have a stack of presentation boards available because it never fails that on Sunday night at 7 pm, someone says that they need a piece for a project due tomorrow!

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Organized homework stations can help to alleviate homework anxiety and reduce procrastination. A homework station that is sufficiently stocked (not too cluttered, not lacking for anything), and neat might be what’s needed to reduce the entire family’s stress level. Consider using file folders and vertical boxes, one dedicated to each child to store on-going projects or paperwork that comes home from the classroom. Also,have a file folder for you too! You need one place to keep all of those permission forms that need your signature. Clare Kumar, an organizing expert, suggests going vertical instead of using horizontal trays or pegboards. I have to agree.

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I don’t have any locker occupiers, but this kit speaks to my desire to organize and de-clutter. This locker kit, also available at Staples, comes complete with magnets, a magnetic pencil box, locker wallpaper, magnetic mirror and magnetic dry erase and marker. The kit is available in a variety of looks so your tween can express themselves. . .

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and might look like this inside your tween’s locker . . .

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Collect While You Spend!

Back-to-school hits the bank account hard. Other than Christmas, this is the time of year my credit card takes a pounding so why not shop online and collect points that you can cash-in to help with the holiday crunch that will be here before we know it. The best way to stay rewarded while checking-off the back-to-school wish list is to shop through AIR MILES Shops (airmilesshops.ca) that has partnered with brands such as Indigo, LL Bean, GAP, Old Navy, Toms and Roots. Many of these stores carry packs, lunch sacks, school supplies and uniform pieces that you may have planned to purchase already, so why not shop online through airmilesshops and collect? Come December you can redeem those miles and tick-off the holiday gift list.

Vote With Your Dollars

I always go back to what Carol says, “We vote with our dollars.” Me to We has partnered with Free The Children and Staples to help make a difference in the lives of children and their families in a Free The Children developing community. The program is so simple. Every purchase makes a difference! For example, when you purchase a lunch pack, Me to We will donate food to feed a child. When you buy a water bottle, Me to We will donate clean water to a child. What’s more, Me to We products have a tracking number that is entered on-line so you’re able to learn more about the gift your purchase gave and how it changed the life of a child or family. Imagine the potential for change if everyone bought just one Me to We item for their back-to-school list this year. That’s voting with your dollars!

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It’s first day of school today and so I would like to wish all of the students a wonderful year of learning, friendship and fun. I would like to wish all of the teachers a year of inspiration, engagement and fun. I would like to wish all of the parents, good luck!

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Shadow Eyes: Reflecting on Dementia

wbhi_silver_pendant4_grandeA few weeks ago I mentioned that I was researching my family tree and working on a keepsake book.  It’s a project that was intended to be a hobby, a brief diversion from the everyday, but it’s taken on a life of its own.  I have accumulated documentation and pictures galore, uncovered some family “scandals” and discovered babies who lived for such a short time that no one living knows they ever existed.

While I was scanning several photos onto my computer, my 6 year-old son offered to help.  He was keen to ask questions about the grainy black and whites that he gingerly passed to me.  He asked about the old-fashioned clothing, the dour backdrops and the sour expressions.  His comments, as they always do, caused me to laugh but also to reflect on how childhood has evolved over generations.

He passed me a square sepia photo; the edges soft and worn thin.  The year 1929 is scrawled in faded ink on the back. A baby, maybe 6 months old, is dressed for winter.  Tiny mittens covering tiny hands, a knitted cap pulled down low, and a blanket pulled up high exposing only pudgy cheeks that appear flush from the cold, a button nose and dancing eyes.

“Do you know who this is?” I asked him; sure that he wouldn’t have the faintest idea.

“It’s grandma,” he said with certainty, without pause, without even a moment to focus on the face of his great-grandmother.

It had taken me a few minutes to place my grandmother’s face.  I had to take care not to confuse her distinct features with those of her siblings, consulting the date to prove my guess.

“How did you know it’s her?”

“Because her eyes are the same.”  He says this as he scoots off the chair and races out of the room. Bored with scanning pictures and hearing about orphaned relatives.

Of course he’s right.  I stared at that picture and compared it with a more recent one of my grandmother, accurately representing her 86 years. I laid both pictures along side several others.

Pictures of her as a young woman with a page-boy and a clingy sweater, as a young mother cradling her third baby on the front porch in the spring of ’56, the undeniably 70’s era shot where she leans into the camera flashing a smile while holding my grandfather’s shoulder, another image of her holding his same shoulder but this time decades later at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration.  All of these photos are on the table, looking up at me.  The hairstyles, the fashions, the décor are different in each photo, telling a story of their own and yet her eyes remain the same.

But my son was only partly right.  Her eyes may be same shape, the same colour blue dotted with flecks of black, but they are not same.  They are shadowed now.

I come from a long line of octogenarians.  Most of my predecessors have lived well into their seventies, eighties and nineties – even back two hundred years ago.  I like to loom this over my husband’s head from time-to-time.  I like to remind him that when he finds me annoying after 10 years of marriage, I have the potential to give him at least another 40 more.  He likes to remind me that his genes don’t offer such promises.  Sometimes I wonder which of us is holding the winning hand.

Times are changing and people are living longer and more enriching lives.  For the most part people (who live in this country anyway) don’t die from diseases that their ancestors may have succumbed to.  It’s rare to hear of someone dying from tuberculosis or dysentery today just as it was less common to see people living well into old-age hundreds of years ago.

However, it is estimated today that 550,000 people living in Canada have Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia.  Like most diseases, the patient is ground zero and families feel the collateral damage.  Caregiver fatigue and the Sandwich Generation are hot topics with politicians, policy makers and employers, never mind the voice writers and researchers give to the thousands of people who identify themselves as such.

Lynn Posluns, a long time Toronto volunteer, philanthropist and activist, is one such voice and a powerful one at that.  She recently founded the Women’s Brain Health Initiative to raise awareness about the inequity in brain aging research funding for women.

Women are twice as likely as men as to suffer from brain aging illnesses, stroke and depression.  In fact, 70% of newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients are women.

The WBHI puts out an informative magazine (available online here) with articles written by leading researchers and doctors about how estrogen, stress, cortisol and pregnancy/motherhood may influence your overall brain health as well as simple lifestyle modifications that may have significant long-term benefits.

I have discovered that while my genes my have a ticket for longevity, I want to those years to be as fulfilling as possible.

More and more the research is showing that the choices we make while we are young and healthy directly affect how we age.

I see my grandmother in these pictures as a young woman, a wife, a sister, a mother.  I see how she changes with each passing decade.  I see how her role changes too. No longer is she the central hub of her family, mothering her four children.  No longer is she the grandmother called upon to host family dinners or arrange annual reunions.

Time is sneaky.  The photographs are all the proof that I need.  Generations pass in an instant leaving nothing more than a trail of pictures, and if you’re lucky, memories.

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Visit the Women’s Brain Health Initiative.

The Hope-Knot designed by Mark Lash, to represent brain health, is available as sterling cufflinks, a pin or a sterling pendant and chain.  Prices start at $10.

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More Gifts That Give Back

When Nathalie, Carol, Marcelle and I started 4Mothers, we had a vision of being a “virtual watercooler” where parents could come to hear different perspectives, offer advice, share ideas and learn from each other.  We always joke about how great it would be to overhear someone in the school yard say, “Oh, did you read 4Mothers today?”.

On Monday, I posted Gifts That Give Back.  My intention to was shed light on organizations committed to empowering women and educating others through artisan products.  I listed some of favorites: Live FashionABLE, Eat My Words and Two Penny Blue.  At the end of the post, I asked you to share some of your favourite Gifts That Give Back.

The few responses that I received reinforced the basic foundation of 4Mothers: this is a site to share ideas and learn new perspectives.

A reader reached out to me through email and shared her story of a recent trip to Africa inspired by a speaker she heard give a talk about Maasai culture at a fundraising event.  During her trip, that was organized in part by Me To We /Free The Children, she was immersed in Maasai culture.  This was no touristy trip.  She walked with the warriors, fetched water and learned beading from several local women.

She saw first hand how Me To We supports local artisans by selling their wares through the Me To We website.  By doing so, these women are empowered and enabled to care for their families.

Take a minute to explore the website and you will find artisanal gifts for everyone on your list, like these Ugandan stuffed animals ($24.99) that are perfect for the little ones in your life.

The Tatu Three Wrap bracelet ($29.99) and the Pamoja Unity bracelet ($49.99) are sure to put a smile on any woman’s face.

Another reader sent me the link to a fabulous website called Cause and Object.

The site features a product each day that gives back. To kick off Movember and to benefit prostate cancer research, the Urban Demistache Mustache necklace ($42) was highlighted on November 1.

Even though Halloween is over, if you have a super hero who loves to play dress-up consider this Pip and Bean cape ($45).  For every cape purchased, Pip and Bean will donate a cape to a patient at one of the children’s hospitals in Columbus, Ohio.

I hope you take a minute to share your favourite Gifts That Give Back in the comment section!

Gifts That Give Back

With Thanksgiving and Halloween past, for many of us, December marks the start of the holiday season and gift giving.

4Mothers are all about gifts that give back and from now until the end of the year we will highlight some of our favourites.

Two Penny Blue

Founded in 2010 by designer Marie Whitney, Two Penny Blue is known for their luxury, limited edition blazers in addition to an impressive assortment of beautifully crafted jewelry, bags and umbrellas.

Each season Marie offers her clients a unique collection in limited quantities.  The blazers (starting at $275) come in four distinct styles and a variety of colours, but the attention to detail is nothing short of bespoke finery. I purchased the Opal Appliqué Clutch (now $59.25) and it was my go-to bag this summer when heading out without my usual mom-satchel.

For every jacket purchased, Two Penny Blue will donate a school uniform to a girl in Africa in need.  By purchasing a uniform these girls are afforded the opportunity to attend educational institutions where otherwise they’d be denied based on their inability to pay for the required dress.  In Sub-Saharan Africa it is estimated that close to 24 millions girls do not go to school and Two Penny Blue is making it their mission to lower that number because educating girls is the most effective way to overcome poverty. (image credit: Two Penny Blue)

FashionABLE

FashionABLE is a non-profit organization committed to empowering African women exploited by poverty.  Founded by the force behind the Mocha Club, Barrett Ward, after he witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of women forced to work as sex workers.  Ward was moved to make a difference in the lives of these women and partnered with “Women At Risk” an organization committed to the rehabilitation and support of sex-workers.

For every scarf (starting at $28) purchased, jobs are created.  Women at-risk, coupled with other Ethiopian resources are employed and the product is made.  The money from the scarf is then re-invested into the community to further support women living in poverty and to provide additional job training that helps to restore the dignity of women who are no longer prostituting themselves to feed their family.

There are some special women on my list who will be receiving these beautifully crafted scarves from Live FashionABLE this holiday season. (image credit: Live FashionABLE)

Eat My Words

Do you have people on your shopping list who have absolutely everything?  Everyone eats!  Why no gift them a dozen of the most gorgeous cupcakes you’ve ever seen delivered in a signature blue hatbox?  They are doubly sweet because the monies raised from the sale of these confectionaries go directly to supporting the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Eat My Words was founded by South African native, Jeanne Grierson in 2001 and she has since been joined by her daughter Sascha.  Both women are committed to a world without AIDS and have dedicated much of their lives to supporting the HIV-AIDS epidemic in Africa.

Eat My Words is a gift guaranteed to put a smile on the face of even the most discerning recipients. (image credit: Eat My Words)

How about you?  Do you have any favourite “gifts that give back?”  Please share!