Our Younger Selves

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Our theme this month is minimalism.  Years ago we wrote six-word autobiographies; this week, we will be writing two-word letters to our younger selves.

We are thrilled to welcome Carrie Snyder as our guest for the next two weeks.  She is our inspiration for our 2015 year of the word posts, which will appear next week.

Carrie Snyder is a mother of four, writer, dreamer, planner, mid-life runner, teacher, photographer, blogger.  She is the author of three books of fiction, most recently Girl Runner, published this fall in Canada and coming this winter to the US, the UK and Australia.  She looks for the light and embraces the transitional moments: winter solstice is one of her favourite days of the year.

(Carrie’s Girl Runner was one of our favourite books of the year.  You can see my review here.)

And here, because it is small and brilliant, is an excerpt from a short story by Ali Smith, in which the middle-aged narrator’s 14-year-old self suddenly appears in her house.

I love this story for its maternal energy.  I love how it tells us that even though we may have thought we’d be terminally cool parents, we can’t even be cool in the eyes of our 14-year-old selves.  I love its surety that we can never know our children or ourselves, not really.  I love how it tells us about going back and how we can never go back.  I love its spectacular failure and its spectacular success.  I love the details and the universality.  I love that it is Janus-faced, and that it fits neatly into these last days of December, as we say a goodbye to the old year and prepare a greeting for the new year.

I sit my fourteen-year-old self down opposite me at the table in the lounge so that we can have a conversation, because all she’s done so far, the whole time she’s been here in my house, is ignore me, stare balefully at a spot just above my head, or look me in the eye then look away from me as if I’m the most boring person on the planet. … I want to say: look, aren’t you amazed I ever even managed to buy a house?  Don’t you like how full of books it is?  You like books.  You don’t have to pretend you’re not clever to me.  I know you are.  I’d have loved the idea of a house full of books like this when I was your age.

Was I really going to say that: when I was your age?  Would I really have found myself saying that appalling phrase out loud?

There are quite a few things, though, that I do want to say to her. …  I want to say: your exams come out fine all the way down the line.  You’ll do all right at university.  You’ll have a really good time.  …  You don’t have to get off with someone in Fresher’s Week, it’s not necessary, it’s not important.

I want to tell her who to trust and who not to trust; who her real good friends are and who’s going to fuck her over; who to sleep with and who definitely not to.  …  Don’t, by the way, vote Labour in 1997; it’s like a vote for the Tories.  No really.  And when you’re twenty-two and you go for the sales job in the middle of  Edinburgh and you’re backing the Citroen down the road where the Greyfriar’s Bobby statue is, don’t back it so far, just go careful on the clutch, don’t panic….

But I look at her sitting there, thin and insolent and complete, and I can’t say any of it.  It’d be terrible to proffer a friend she hasn’t met yet who then turns out not to be a friend, or a left wing government that turns out not to be.  Terrible to tell her, now, about a crushed mudguard one afternoon in 1984.  It’s somehow terrible even to suggest she’ll go to university.

You need to eat more, I say instead.

From “Writ” by Ali Smith

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Giveaway: Mike the Knight Book and DVD

Mike the Knight is on tour through Canada, and to celebrate, we have a Mike the Knight book and dvd to give away.  If you have a little Mike the Knight fan, please leave a comment on this post.  Competition ends Friday, December 19th at midnight.

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And if you’d like to see Mike the Knight in person, he begins his Canadian tour on January 25 and is coming to the Sony Centre in Toronto on February 28.   Mike the Knight in the Great Scavenger Hunt will bring a thrilling mix of adventure, comedy, music, song, puppets, dance – plus a little bit of magic – to Canadian cities beginning January 25. Based on the popular CG-animated series from HIT Entertainment and Nelvana, Mike the Knight in the Great Scavenger Hunt takes audiences on an interactive and eye-opening adventure for the whole family complete with an enchanting world of medieval castles, plucky trolls and flying dragons.

The live show is based on the animated series. In each episode of the animated series, preschoolers follow Mike the Knight on a mission to protect his kingdom and become a fully- fledged knight. Mike discovers the power of responsibility and doing tasks and activities the right way. Along the way, he reminds viewers of his motto: “Be a knight, do it right!”  The live show encourages independence, self- confidence and problem solving while inspiring kids to engage imaginations with dress-up and pretend play.

Tickets will go on sale on November 7 and will be available through local box offices or get tickets here.

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Gifts for Her

Here’s what we are crushing on and hoping to see under the tree!

From Nathalie

I’m all about books and one of a kind crafts.  And anything with images of houses.  Especially these.  Made by Stoneware Studio.  Again, all I did was enter “houses” into the search box at Etsy.  It’s a playground out there, I tell you.

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If there is a woman on your list who loves her nails done right and likes a little sass with her spa, check out this new line of nail polishes from Trust Fund Beauty.  With shades like What’s a Budget?, this package has humour and good looks.  This is Kiss Kiss Darling.  Perfect for the holidays.

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I think manicured nails look wonderful wrapped around a tumbler of scotch, and I don’t think that the guys should get all the booze.  I’ve grown to love a really peaty scotch.  (Check out this website that tells you how to pronounce the names of various types of scotch.  So funny.)

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I also don’t think that the guys and the kids should get all the gadgets.

Beth-Anne and I had a tour of the new Blacks store at Yonge and Eglinton today, and we got a demonstration of this super-fun printer.  The Fuji Instax Printer ($199) allows up to eight people to wirelessly send photos to print, and out pops a little photo that develops in front of your eyes.  So much fun for a party, shower, or family gathering.

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After meeting Avery Swartz from Camp Tech, who helped us with some issues with our blog, I’m feeling a lot more empowered to experiment, play and learn with and about my devices.  The folks at Staples very kindly sent us this Samsung Galaxy Tab.  I am very excited to have gadget of my own!  I have big plans for this baby.  I do all of my blog posts at my desk and from my computer, because my phone is way, way, way too small for my aging eyes the vast scope of my creativity.  This should help a lot!

 

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From Beth-Anne:

I never seem to have enough totes and this sequin and linen maple leaf design from Indigo appeals to my Canadian spirit.  Indigo, $49.50.

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I love this mug so, so, so much because reading is sexy! Maybe someone ought to pass the message along to some of today’s pop-starlets that booties are out and bookmarks are in! Indigo, $10.00.

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I have been following Carrie Synder’s blog for years and loved her critically acclaimed book The Juliet Stories so when Girl Runner came out, I was anxious to get my hands on a copy.   Nominated for awards and praised by her fans this book is the perfect read on a snow-stormy day.  Need more convincing?  Read Nathalie’s review here.  Indigo, $19.76.

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Warm fire, hot cuppa tea, a good read . . .all you need is to have toasty tootsies and these  Faux-Fur Slouch Booties are available in a variety of colours and textures.  Indigo, $34.50.

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Not everyone is a fluffy slipper kinda gal, so if you prefer a more glam look, these Ruby & Ed velvet bow ballerina slippers in dusty plum do the trick.  Town Shoes, Ron White and Shop Vincent, $70.

Coffee table books can add an element of decor to your home, but if they are not absolutely enchanting, what’s the point?  Vogue and The Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute: Parties, Exhibitions, People is full of glamorous celebrities, trendy fashionistas, stylemakers and icons.  Eye candy and inspiration! Indigo, $37.95.

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Personalized stamps appeal to anyone who loves stationery and/or organizing.  For the baker, the book collector and the monogrammed obsessed these personalized stamps go far beyond the standard return address stamp.  Available in a variety of styles, colours and fonts.  Pretty In Ink, pricing varies.

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Canadian jewelry designer Jenny Bird has caught my eye.  Her designs are reminiscent of ancient times and reference powerful goddesses and rulers, and a departure from the dainty pieces and glittery statement necklaces that dominate the boutiques.  Wear a Jenny Bird and feel bold, feminine and graceful. Jenny Bird, a variety of styles and prices.

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Bill Baker, the creator of Consonant , truly cares about what we’re putting on our skin.  His passion and commitment to creating safe and effective skin care is evident in his un-ending desire to learn more and improve upon his award winning formulas.  Start the new year off right and remember Consonant’s philosophy: what goes on your body, goes in your body.  Consonant’s Healthy Skin Detox For Face, $99.00. 

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The Mophie, a mobile battery pack to extend the daily life of your smart phone is the ideal gift for the social media junkie.  Available in a variety of colours but it’s this champagne colour that has made my wish list.  Mophie, Prices vary.

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A great gift for the cottager or the city dweller.  These hand-made vintage style map prints on pillows with 100% down-filled inserts are available with maps of Muskoka, Prince Edward County, Georgian Bay, Toronto and more.  County Cupboard $69.99.

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Don’t forget to stuff her stocking with all sorts of baubles and treasures.  Be sure to add Make Up Forever Artist liner.  The colour palate covers the range from basic black to deep plum.  Sephora, $24

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And this all-natural, organic Simply Natural Lip balm available from their website for $5.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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From Beth-Anne:

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

leathermanFor 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.

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Gift Guide for Kids

OK, the kids are all quite good at making their own lists, but just in case, here are some ideas for kids, big and small.

From Nathalie

A friend recently shared her family’s gift-giving tradition with me.  Each child gets an ornament to add to the tree every year, Santa leaves one unwrapped gift for each under the tree, and each of the kids gets four gifts from Mum and Dad: “One to read, one to wear, one to play with and one to share.”  It’s a delightful formula that I will borrow for here.

One to read

Check our lists of favourite reads for the year if you are looking for book ideas.

If you are editing your book shelves in anticipation of adding more, please consider giving your gently used books to The Children’s Book Bank.  Every child who visits the Book Bank goes home with a free book.  It is one of the most magical spaces in the city, and I do so admire their mission to help children build their own libraries.  Take your kids for a visit, drop off your donations and go home with one new-to-you book for your child.

Madeleine hanging out at The Children's Book Bank.

Madeleine hanging out at The Children’s Book Bank.

 

One to wear

Everyone gets pajamas.  I love everything made by Hatley, a company named for the town in Quebec where the founders lived.  These pajamas have staying power: they will last through several kids and live to be handed down again and again.  Also available at Indigo. ($30)

 

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I like to get snarky t-shirts for Eldest, who is 13.  He loves them and wears them on heavy rotation all year.  This one is from Café Press.  $31.50

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Eldest has also begun to wear cologne, saints preserve us.  I’ve put something that I actually like the smell of into his stocking: 5 Paddles Brewing Company Beer Soap in Lemongrass made by Aide Bodycare from all natural ingredients.  The beer comes from a brewery in Whitby, where my dad now lives.  That’s the kind of connection I love to find for these little stocking stuffer ideas.

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One to play with

I’m sorry.  Here’s where I get boring.  All the Littles want is Lego.  Lego, Lego, Lego.

One to share

I like the gift of experience as a gift to share.  Carol recently wrote about her night out with her three boys at Ross Petty’s Cinderella, and the three of us are taking our boys to see Potted Potter next week.  Two actors, seven Harry Potter books, and one game of Quidditch in 70 minutes.  So excited!

And for a gift to share at home, board game night is always a hit with the boys.  This one is a favourite with them and me: Cathedral.  Position your buildings to best advantage inside the walled medieval city and prevent your opponent from doing the same.  I love handling the carved wooden buildings; the kids love beating me almost every single time.  (Did I mention I’m not so good at spatial reasoning?)  $30.  Available through National Geographic.

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And if you like your sharing to be sweet, check out the hand-made marshmallows from Wondermade.  $7.95 a box.  Delish!

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From Beth-Anne

Bring the 90s back with flower print dresses and Doc Martens, like these from Mini Mioche for $80.00  one of my favourite local, eco-friendly kids’ stores.  (Available in a variety of colours)

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Toting starts early – and anyone with a toddler can tell you that the hoarding starts at this stage.  Why not keep everything together with this bookhou print messenger bag?  Mini Mioche, $34

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Every Christmas list needs a whimsical splurge item and for me, it’s Alfred the Moose Felt Factory Animal Head.  Really, isn’t it just so cute? Mini Mioche, $100.

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Make that two whimsical splurge items . . . I have no little girls to buy for this year but maybe next year I will purchase this Star Bright Pettidress. Indigo, $35.20.

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Constructing and playing in forts and tents has always been a favourite pastime of my boys.  This Camo Frame indoor tent is ideal for hiding out, reading a book or escaping for some alone time.  Indigo, $65.95.

Camo Frame Tent

Lego is a big hit around here but it’s Roominate that has caught my attention this year.  Roominate is designed by Alice Brooks and Bettina Chen, two engineers with degrees from MIT, Caltech and Stanford on a mission to show kids, particularly young girls, how engineering is both creative and fun! Indigo, $22.95-$54.95.

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When my boys are not busy building forts or Lego, chances are they are outside.   If we end up with as much snow as last year, the Snowball Blaster will get lots of use.  Indigo, $39.95.

Snowball Blaster

Boardgames are quickly becoming a favourite with my middle son.  He loves strategizing . . . and winning.  Christmas Story Monopoly, Indigo, $44.95.

Christmas Story Monopoly

I can’t believe how quickly the years are going by and I need to keep up with these hand imprints as long as their hands still fit on these ornaments! Indigo, $11.60.

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Earphones – I don’t know why but we always seem to need these.  Indigo, $35.00.

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Here’s some nostalgia: Wrigley’s Holiday Fun Books.  Collections include Skittles, Life Savers and Hubba Bubba. The best-selling candy books are now back in stock, retailing for $2.99 and are available in grocery and drugstores nationwide.

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From Carol

Most of my friends are finished having babies, but I’m so glad I’ve got a hold out friends who is due in a few months so I have someone to target for these handmade plush organic cotton animals by Fidoodle.  The ring of the rattle inside is soft and sweet, and baby can chew away at this safe toy with abandon.  The moose is my favourite; there’s also a bunny and a bird.  Available online or at Little House in the City.

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Perfect for older children are Bubynoa‘s handmade toys and dolls created from vintage fabrics – double-stitched because they’re made for use and play, although we’ve known some adults who buy them just to admire.  Little House in the City carries a range of her animal toys.


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For a truly special gift, treat your eyes and your little someone to one of Bubynoa‘s exquisite handmade people dolls.  They take days to make with details lovingly attended to.  And bestill my heart, these dolls reflect some of Toronto’s brilliant diversity, and the boys are just as wonderful as the girls.  Available at Bubynoa’s Etsy shop.

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Also gorgeous for the littles in our lives are Hey Pomelo‘s handmade organic baby bibs, hooded towels, receiving blankets, quilts and accessories.  Made to last with fabrics that just get softer with washing, these pieces are truly functional beauty.  Available online and at Little House in the City

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Happy merry-making and gift-giving for the little people in your life!  4Mothers hopes the season is wonderful for you and for them.

Gift Guide for Teachers, Coaches, Instructors, Mentors and More!

Need help finding gifts for the adults in your kids’ lives?  Here are some fabulous ideas for your kids’ teachers, coaches and mentors.

From Nathalie:

I love to find the right gift for the right person, and for several years now, I have shopped for my kids’ teachers and coaches on behalf of the class, school or team.  At my kids’ elementary school, a class parent collects money from all of the families for a group gift, and a portion of what they collect gets pooled for gifts for the music, gym, French, and ESL teachers, as well as for the office staff, custodial staff, librarian and principal.  I am the person who shops for all of those gifts, and I look forward to it every year.  When Eldest moved to Middle School with different teachers for each subject, I was first in line to do the shopping for them too.

If you have a large budget to work with, it is often easy to give the gift of an experience.  I have given gift certificates to a teacher’s favourite restaurant, a membership to the zoo or to the Royal Ontario Museum for teachers with young children, and tickets to the aquarium and sports events.  Carol’s recent experience of a class where she learned to make chocolate truffles would be a great gift, or even one of the workshops offered at Carol’s store, Little House in the City!

Even with a modest budget of $20-$30, you can find so many apt and personal gifts.  Surfing fun gift sites is a huge part of the pleasure I take in finding gifts.  My top tip for finding the perfect gift for a teacher, mentor or coach is to go to a site like Etsy, One of a Kind Online, Redbubble, or Café Press and type in a key word for the person’s field of interest or hobby.  The hive mind is so very versatile; ask, and the interwebs will provide.

For the Math Teacher:

A square root t-shirt from Redbubble ($30).  (Check out what happened when I entered “square root” as a search term!  Or math.  So much great stuff!)

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For the French Teacher:

This notebook made from a re-purposed text book ($23), made by Margi Laurin, Maker of Stuff is so perfect. I met Margi at the One of A Kind show, but you can find her online.

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For the Coach:

I saw these amazing kits ($24) at the Etsy Made in Canada event.  They are made by Michelle at Aide Bodycare, and you can buy them on line through Etsy.  I think this is a great idea for any guy in your kid’s life.  It is a bit on the personal side, but sometimes we spend so much time with the coaches that they begin to feel like family!

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For the Hockey Coach:

I can’t tell you how excited I was to find these beauties at the One of a Kind Show: photographic image transfer art by Patrick Lajoie, who works out of Caledon, Ontario.  (You can also find him on Etsy.)  I first saw his work in the summer, when I bought one of his pond hockey photographs.  I have loved living with his art hanging in our home (on the landing outside of the boys’ bedrooms) was thrilled to find more iterations of hockey in the great outdoors.  At only $20 each, these are affordable, beautiful and unique gifts for any hockey lover.

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For any teacher with young kids:

I have bought many of these amazing Story Blocks by Fidoodle, and this year I bought a set for our kids’ gym teacher, who has a young son.  I love how versatile it is: building blocks, scenery for setting the stage for a story, action figures, and characters from both Red Riding Hood and Peter and the Wolf.  In order to create a gift basket with the theme of family reading, I’ve paired it with a book about reading to kids called A Family of Readers by Roger Sutton, about reading to kids from infancy through to the tweens, and with a gift certificate for a book store so that he can choose a book for himself.  I bought the story blocks at Carol’s new store, Little House in the City!

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From Beth-Anne:

For the Art Teacher – The Art Gallery of Ontario is currently exhibiting the works of Alex Colville.  The installation is an amazing collection of his finished works, sketches, interviews, and photos.  Consider giving an experience – a ticket for your teacher to enjoy over the holiday.  Don’t live in Toronto?  No problem, you can shop the AGO and purchase Colville inspired gifts like this binocular necklace.  AGO Colville Necklace $32

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For the Music Teacher – Encourage your teachers to rest-up this holiday with this whimsical pillow from coverLove for $43.00

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For the Math Teacher – Math, science and technology teachers usually have a witty sense of humor.  It’s always fun searching for the perfect kitschy gift that will get a laugh or two.  If jokey gifts aren’t your thing, maybe this geometric doormat is.  Available from the Drake General Store, $38.

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For the Science Teacher –  Janette, whom I met years ago through my moms’ group, is a scientist.  She has that witty sense of humor and enlightens me by posting interesting science-y articles on Facebook.  She gave me some ideas for what the science teacher may like including naming a star after them!  Her other picks: www.thinkgeek.com and http://www.ilovesciencestore.com where this DNA necklace ($29) and Atom keychain ($15) are from.   If Janette’s husband is reading, I have it on good authority that the meteorite necklace would be well received on Christmas morning.  Just sayin’.

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For the Classroom Teacher - The possibilities are really endless but I like these words of wisdom prints from Indigo.  This one says There Is Nothing Like A Dream ($29) and I think that’s pretty fitting for a classroom where dreams are nurtured by great teachers.

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From Carol

For the eco-conscious and slightly practically-minded teacher, Abeego natural food wrap is a great choice.  Handmade in Canada (Victoria, BC), this effective alternative to plastic cling is made from organic cotton and hemp, and covered with a blend of beeswax, jojoba oil and tree resin.  Re-usable and durable, it will last over a year with proper care.  Best gift option is the set of 3 wraps (small, medium, large) for $18. Available at Little House in the City.

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Also lovely are the hand-printed, organic cotton tea towels created by Bookhou.  Affordable luxury and functional beauty at $16, and sure to brighten any kitchen.  Available at Little House in the City.

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