Trends in Wood Toys

Anamalz wooden lion posable toy

This year I’m seeing a trend in wooden toys: an emphasis on sustainably harvested wood and non-toxic finishes to make the toys completely safe for children. We’re very impressed with two companies whose products we’ve begun to carry recently: Tegu magnetic wooden blocks and Anamalz posable wooden animal figures.


Tegu logo

Tegu wooden blocks

Tegu are magnetic blocks made from eco-friendly wood that is safe and non-toxic for children. These blocks are designed to be socially and environmentally sustainable. The business creates jobs and preserves the environment in Honduras. A simple toy like blocks gives children plenty of space to engage their imagination.

Tegu adds a twist. The magnets encased in these blocks allow children to build up and out. Tegu blocks can dance! Watch videos of the Tegu Genius creating animals, vehicles, and dancing vegetables.

Tegu magnetic blocks

Origin: Made responsibly in Honduras
Age: 3+
This product contains small parts and magnets. Not for children under 3.



Anamalz logo

Anamalz Crocodile posable animal wooden toy

Anamalz are eco-friendly wooden animals made from sustainably forested maple. Even the waste wood is used on a farm to grow mushrooms. Anamalz are coloured with water-based paint and fabric used is azo dye and formaldehyde-free. Each of the Anamalz is handmade, tested and certified according to international toy standards.

Limbs on Anamalz are posable as your child twists and turns the wire inside cotton rope. Look closely at the limbs on some of the animals. The crocodile’s tail, for example, is fabric-covered and posable. The flexibility of these animal figures encourages role play and other open-ended imaginative play. Apparently, adults can’t resist either, as you can see when you watch animated Anamalz videos.

Anamalz posable animal figures

Origin: Designed in Australia, made responsibly in China.
Age: 3+
This product contains small parts. Not for children under 3.


When you give your child a toy as a gift, either of these wooden toys leaves wide open spaces for imagination with long-term environmental sustainability.

End of Harvest

The last mint harvest

Snow has finally ended the growing season. I like to put as much food on the holiday table as possible from our own garden. This year, we had an odd assortment of successes. We used all of the tomatoes as we harvested them, so there will be no Thanksgiving salsa. We only had one pumpkin survive from our volunteer pumpkin patch, and it refused to ripen fully by either the Halloween or the Thanksgiving deadlines. It’s sitting in the garage with our hopes for squash soup in a couple of months. We have enough frozen pumpkin from last year that we will make pumpkin soup for Thanksgiving from a previous harvest.

The last pumpkin harvest

My most bountiful harvest of the year has been mint. I have six mason jars full of dried mint, and the mint kept on growing after I harvested that. As I write, I hear my husband and son as they’ve come in from a huge snow storm with arms full of mint to make a giant bouquet for me. The mint will make our wonderful Thanksgiving treat this year:

Homemade Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

My family is going to share Thanksgiving dessert with neighbors this year, so I want to make it extra special. In addition to 2-3 (or 4 or 5) cups of fresh mint leaves, we are adding local eggs, milk and cream (delivered this morning) plus mint dark chocolate (organic fair trade from Theo, made in Seattle) and milk chocolate (organic and soon-to-be-certified fair trade from Green & Black’s, made in Canada). I am drawing on two recipes, one from Simply Recipes and one from Epicurious. We will use the snow that is falling right now for ice in our very old hand-crank ice cream maker.

I will let you know how it turns out.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our U.S. readers. I hope you have warm toes and a beautiful, bountiful harvest table.

Importance of Family Meals

Family Mealtime

The average family mealtime lasts only 20 minutes, but that time spent together builds a foundation for a child’s health and well being. Benefits range from nutrition to language, culture, and even mental health.

Who wouldn’t want to set their children up for less likelihood of substance abuse, greater vocabulary, fewer behavior problems, less likelihood of asthma, less obesity, and better balanced meals with fewer calories than fast food.[1]

Family meals can do all of that? Yes, that is what research shows. Your investment now while your children are young will continue to benefit them as individuals and all of you as a family. As your children reach their teen years, you will be glad that you have created a strong family routine of sharing during mealtimes.

“A meal is about civilizing children. It’s about teaching them to be a member of their culture.” Robin Fox, anthropologist at Rutgers University in TIME Magazine.

Family Mealtime Education

At mealtime, parents share information about food and family without the children really realizing it. Just in passing, as kids ask “Why are we eating this?” we talk about our choices. Sometimes we might tell children why one choice is more healthy than another. Sometimes we might help them understand why we need quick meals on busy days.

My children love homemade rolls. They would love to have rolls every day at every meal, but this is a food that takes time to prepare. So, this is a Sunday routine because that is the day when we have more time. As they help prepare the rolls from live yeast, they learn the science of baking painlessly. I’ve also noticed over time that they smile just at the smell of baking bread. Baking bread means family and home for my children, and I think that is a great start.

When we eat foods from our own childhoods, we share information about multiple generations of our families. I like talking to my children about the foods my mother and my grandmother made. This often leads to talking about where our families came from, since food traditions are often passed down through mothers. We no longer eat a lot of heavy German food passed down from my mother’s mother’s family, but, when we do eat those old foods on occasion, I talk about how and why my family came to North America.

If my children moan about helping prepare meals, I like to remind them that by the time my mother was their age, she was in charge of making dinner for herself and four brothers. Sometimes this just quiets them into helping, but other times they ask more questions. Why was grandma cooking? (She was home first while her mother was working and her brothers were working on the farm.) What did she cook? (She told me the meal she cooked most often was pepper pot soup.) Can we make that? (Certainly!)

In addition to the benefit of healthier eating for families that sit down and eat together, the rituals families develop create a family identity and a closeness for all.

Dinner Time Fun

Here are a few quick tips to keep family dinner time fun.

  • Keep the meal stress free. Don’t spend more time than you have preparing a meal. Save elaborate meals for days when you have time to spend.
  • Involve children in meal preparation. This does take a bit more time, but the long-term investment is worth it. Children take pride in the work they’ve done—and they may find themselves less picky when they’ve helped make the food.
  • For young children, make the mealtime experience visual. You can do this simply in the way you arrange their food.
  • Don’t focus on foods your child doesn’t like. If you serve a food you know your child hesitates to eat, start a conversation about something completely different as a diversion. Involve the child in your stories to keep the focus off the food itself.
  • If your child is a fast eater, keeping them involved in conversation can help them understand that they are still valued at the meal even when the food is finished. A family meal, after all, is about far more than food.


I don’t usually suggest that you read an academic paper, but the one I read in preparation for today’s post is just fascinating because it reviews studies on family mealtime then goes on to make recommendations for public policy based on the irrefutable benefits. If you need to be convinced how very important it is to start sharing mealtimes with your children while they are young, read this article.

To read similar conclusions in a more popular format, see TIME Magazine.

Image © Monkey Business Images |

Double-up Meals: Slow Cooked Indian Curry

Slow-cooked Curry

As holidays approach, there seem to be a lot more evening activities to fit in. We have less time to cook but the cold weather leaves the family wanting a hot meal every night. Our solution is simple: slow cooker. With soup, stew, curry or any other slow cooked meal, it’s easy to make enough of a warm, healthy dinner to cover two or three nights.

This Indian curry, like so many meals for the slow cooker, takes only a few minutes to prepare. For my family of four, including two active, hungry children, we usually make it stretch for two nights. Our Crock-Pot is 6 quarts, but we only fill it about halfway. We could probably make a bigger recipe and fit another night’s dinner in the same pot.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, I recommend you get one this winter season. Knowing that my husband is the primary cook in our house, my mother bought one for him as a holiday gift one year. We’ve used it at least a hundred times a year for many years. This is a kitchen staple that no busy family should be without.

I adore curry of many varieties. I remember the first curry I ever had (young teenager, green, Indian, chicken), and I have loved many curries since. This is my favorite food in the world because of the spice and its ability to stretch to every taste and budget.

I particularly like curry for a family meal because we can adjust the seasonings very easily. My children have different tastes. One is more than happy to snack on pickled beets (loves sour) and the other takes after my taste for hot food (loves spicy). Curry works well for us because we can make it mild in the pot, and each person can spice it up in their bowl if they like.

Slow-Cooked Indian Curry


  • 4 chicken breasts, 1″ cubes
  • 2 large potatoes, 1″ cubes
  • 2 large onions, roughly chopped

Add all ingredients to the bowl of the slow cooker to wait while you cook the sauce.

Curry ingredients in slow cooker


  • 2 can coconut milk (either light or 1 light and 1 regular)
  • 1/4 cup chopped ginger
  • 1 large potato, ½” cubes (for thickening)
  • 1/4 cup raw almonds
  • curry to taste (We sometimes make our own and sometimes try store varieties. If you don’t have a favorite, start with “Mild Indian Curry Powder” in any brand.)

Simmer on the stove top in a small saucepan until the potato is soft—about 20 minutes.

Simmering Curry Sauce

Pour into blender, and blend until smooth.

Blended Curry Sauce

Poor into slow cooker.

Curry Ingredients ready for slow cooking

Cook on low for 8-12 hours, depending on the instructions for your cooker.

Often we serve with crunchy rice, but that isn’t necessary with all of the potatoes in the curry. This is such a warm, filling dish that we don’t need to add any more than a salad to complete the meal.