Gifts You Won’t Find on Amazon

Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks

Are you rushing to be ready for the holidays? Relatives visiting, parties to cook (or buy) for, neighbors to acknowledge some way, and kids’ gifts to think about. Think about this as you are rushing around.

Our rushing rubs off on our kids, but children need space for deep, open play to process the masses of information that they are taking in as they learn about their world. They don’t need toys that tell them how to play. They need the simplest of objects that can join the stories they are already telling themselves in their own minds.

A couple of years ago, my friends passed around a story from Wired’s Geek Dad“The 5 Best Toys of All Time.” This Geek Dad led with a pile of discarded box full of bits of plastic toys. These were once cool stuff and awesome gizmos, but they didn’t make the top 5 list:

  1. Stick
  2. Box
  3. String
  4. Cardboard Tub
  5. Dirt

Everyone loves the gizmos for a day—or an hour.

Are you hoping to help your child develop a somewhat longer attention span? Make sure your gifts are worthy of the attention. The best gifts aren’t much to look at in the box or under the tree. Kids fold them into their lives. To enable your child’s creativity, turn yours on now before you are tempted to grab those last-minute tchotchke and stocking stuffers that won’t even make it from the pile of gifts into your child’s toy box.

By far the best holiday gift I ever gave my daughter was cotton play cloths in a dozen colors. These lasted even longer in circulation than her most beloved Waldorf doll. I didn’t choose the those because I knew what impact they would have. I didn’t know beforehand that play cloths would be blankets and costumes and wrapping and decoration. I just liked that rainbow of color. I was satisfying my own desires!

You might not know which simple, open toy will hit that sweet spot for your child, so be prepared for a few misses as well as hits.

If you are worried that you don’t have the right toys for your child yet, let that worry go. The toys that enable happy, imaginative play are simple.

Happy holidays, and don’t sweat the toys.

Lemony Cornmeal Shortbread Cookie Recipe

Lemony Cornmeal Shortbread Recipe

During the holidays, maybe you like to have sweets, but you don’t want to offer your children and the rest of your family cookies that are overly sweet. I have lemony cornmeal shortbread cookies for you.

I started with Ginger’s Cornmeal Cookies recipe from the Iroquois White Corn Project based in upstate New York. They grow, process, and sell heirloom Haudenosaunee corn. This isn’t white sweet corn but the corn used for masa, corn tortillas, grits, and hominy. This is not instant cornmeal, either. This is corn that takes a while to cook. This is the best kind of slow food.

Cornmeal and corn flour offers a great alternative for those who cook gluten free. This recipe, however, is not gluten free. This is a basic shortbread recipe that replaces 1/4 of the wheat flour with cornmeal. This particular cornmeal is rough-cut, giving the cookies a lovely crunch. Also, the roasted corn flour from the Iroquois White Corn Project has an amazing nutty smell. Try it, and you’ll want to find more and more recipes where you can substitute corn flour for wheat flour.

My version of the recipe keeps the ingredients but changes the way the cookies are shaped and baked. I used my grandmother’s old candy dish to press stars into the cookies, since I plan to give them as gifts. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), it took less than a day for these cookies all to go missing. Each of the cookie thieves in my family have offered their own explanation, including my husband wondering whether there is some kind of mystery, “mawish” chemical in the cardamom. (Which he tells me means one can’t stop eating it. Likely story. Maybe it’s a British thing.) I now need to make a double batch and hide them so I can give them to neighbors.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup Roasted Iroquois White Corn Flour
1/2 tsp of salt
2/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
Zest of one organic lemon
1/ tsp ground cardamom


  1. Prepare heavy cookie sheet by greasing and lightly flouring. Butter papers provide enough grease.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix flours, salt, and cardamom; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and lemon zest; beat until smooth. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.
  4. Use teaspoon or melonballer to scoop 1″ ball of cookie dough. Flatten each ball to a disk shape about 1 1/2″ across and 1/2″ high. Using the bottom of a crystal wine glass or any cut crystal, lightly floured, press shape into cookie disk until about 3/8″ high and set onto cookie sheet.
  5. Chill cookies on cookie sheet for 2-3 hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  7. Bake until edges are golden, 20-21 minutes.
  8. Transfer cookies immediately to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Full disclosure: I’m a volunteer on the Iroquois White Corn Project. Over the past 16 years, I’ve worked with this version of the project as well as with the original project based in western New York. I’m very excited that we have this great corn available again.

Hold on! Holiday Spending

Buy buy buy. Messages urging you to spend money for the holidays can be relentless. Turn on your critical thinking now before you buy more than you intend to.

According to BMO Financial Group, Canadians are ready to spend this holiday season. “Canadians expect to spend an average of $1,610 this holiday season – up from $1,397 in 2011.” Shoppers in the U.S. are expected to spend just about that much with an average of $749 each on gifts and decorations and another $762 each on travel.

Overwhelmed yet?

What better time to watch The Story of Stuff and think about the consequences of consumerism. Yes, have a great holiday season. Yes, give gifts. But, don’t get caught up in buying something you don’t want and won’t ever use for the sake of a sale.

Holiday Open House

Holiday Open House Invitation

On Saturday November 24th we’ll be celebrating the holiday season in Orillia and everyone’s invited. Join us for apple cider, sweets, in-store specials, hourly giveaways and more!

Holiday Fun on Saturday November 24th:

  • Extended store hours! The fun starts at 10am until 6pm.
  • Enjoy apple cider and sweets all day long.
  • Saturday-only savings on gifts they’ll remember. Unique ideas for that special someone (and little one!) on your list.
  • Door prizes drawn every hour on the hour starting at 11am!
  • Wee Piggies & Paws will be available to make a lasting memory of your little ones. Handprint or footprint ornament only $25!
  • Every gift purchase is entered to win a $100 Gift Certificate that we’ll be drawing for on Christmas Eve.
  • Bring a friend and you’ll both receive a special thank you gift.

Event will take place at, 5 Ontario Street, Orillia, Ontario. Store hours for this special Saturday Holiday Event are 10am until 6pm. Everyone is invited!

Any family that drops off a cloth diaper donation for our cloth diaper bank will receive a second entry into our contest to win a $100 Gift Certificate, drawn for on Christmas Eve. Learn more about our cloth diaper bank.

Questions? Please call the store at 705-325-0506, send us a message on Facebook, or email us.

We look forward to celebrating with you!

Raising Thankful Children

Child at Thanksgiving Dinner

When I see my children in unguarded moments thanking one another for the help or kindness they give one another, I am incredibly grateful myself to be able to live in a positive environment where the people most important to me genuinely care for one another.

I didn’t actually witness the specific moment I am thinking of. About a week ago, my children were both so tired and whiny that I asked how they had slept the night before.

“I slept OK,” my daughter told me, “but I didn’t get to sleep until late. J was sad and couldn’t sleep, so I read him stories.”

My poor, tired son just nodded. They didn’t want to wake me or my husband, so she took care of her brother as best she knew how. She did for him the thing that comforts her, and it worked. He had been so tired but sleepless that he was crying, and she calmed him with stories.

How can we ensure that our children are thankful? I don’t think we necessarily can, but I have a few ideas how we might best set the stage for our children’s genuine gratitude.

First Step in Gratitude Is Giving

Before we ask children to focus on what they get, we need to help them focus on giving. For example, I think that my daughter’s desire to give helps her to be a thankful person.

Learning to be thankful is easier if we understand the flow of give and thanks from both directions: as the person who is thankful and the child who experiences others’ thanks for what they have done.

Awareness of Choice

Another important key to being thankful is understanding that others don’t have to give what they do. They choose to give.

If a person feel entitled to what they get, to what others do for them, they don’t necessarily see actions as gifts freely given. To raise a thankful child, help them recognize the choice in giving. Make sure that neither side of the equation—the giving or the thanks—is forced. If they truly understand their own choice in giving, they may be better able to understand that others also give by choice.

Receiving Specific Thanks Feels Good

When a child has experience in giving, they are more likely to know that doing good for others, even giving the smallest kindness, feels good. When someone thanks them for doing good, they get a positive feeling from the giving and the receiving.

A child can begin to see that they have a gift to give with their own thanks. Giving thanks is the gift of acknowledgment.

Model Thanks

If you model the thankful behavior you want to see in your children, they will develop a positive focus on giving and receiving.

Give them opportunities to say that they are thankful. Participate in rituals of gratitude. These could be as simple as going around the table at Thanksgiving and recognizing what each person is thankful for in their life, in the harvest, in their caring circle of family and friends, or on any level. The habit of stopping to recognize what one is thankful for can become ingrained.

Being thankful isn’t necessarily a comparison with others, as in “I’m thankful that we have a bountiful harvest this year because not everyone does.” Statements of thanks are more meaningful when they acknowledge the giving of others, as in “I’m thankful for the corn and potatoes on the table in front of us because my mother carefully tended them in the garden this year.” The more they are exposed to the specific and genuine acknowledgments for what they do, they more likely they will acknowledge and give thanks to others.

It’s the Giving

Raise thankful children by helping them focus on giving, both giving kindness and giving thanks for the kindness of others. When this kind of positive giving becomes a habit, there won’t really be so much distinction between the give and take since it can all be framed as giving.

In anticipation of next week, we wish all of our Canadian readers a very happy and bountiful Thanksgiving.

Image © Dmitriy Shironosov |