Except, when one of the kids on your list has a developmental disability or other special needs, what do you get?
It’s our 3rd Christmas with Allie, and each one has been a bit of a struggle. I don’t really know what she’d like. Certainly no one else knows what she’d like. Shopping for kids with exceptionalities isn’t easy. Every child comes with a unique set of likes and watch outs – many of which the parents have never articulated. The age guides on the box are no help. And tired special needs parents often don’t really know what to tell you.
This year, I set out to make sure that I found Alma something great. I also set out to help guide friends and family shopping for Alma or for other kids that aren’t typical, to gifts the kids will love and the parents will appreciate.
Here are my 5 tips, in no particular order:
1: While no one wants therapy for Christmas, ask if there’s something the child is working on and see if you can find a toy that makes learning or using that skill fun. Alma has just started taking some independent steps, so toys that get her up and moving would be a great motivator. This Skip Hop Explore More Push Owl looks like a fab choice. It seems sturdy, she’d love the owl and it looks like a smooth push so she won’t get discouraged as she’s building this skill.
2: Ask about “Watch Outs”. As an example, Allie is very “mouthie” so everything goes in. This means she’s really only safe with toys that are listed for children under 3 or have no small parts.
Giving us toys that she’ll grow into just means more to store – and stare at with disappointment that she’s not there yet. The perfect toy is one that she can use now, but can also grow with her – even if toys with small parts are never safe for her.
Alma loves animals. She makes the little sounds…she waves them around. So this toy, the Melissa and Doug Animal Rescue would be a great choice.
She can play with the little animals and make vroom-vroom sounds with the car now, and eventually use it as a shape sorter.
She would also enjoy this Janod wood hedgehog. Though the numbers are still a little beyond her grasp, she would love the bright colours and having pieces to bang together.
Other toys in this category would include blocks, a baby doll with no small accessories but outfits to change or other toys that will eventually lead to imaginative play.
3. Find out what the child likes, then figure out how to deliver in a way he or she can enjoy it. Alma’s absolute favourites are pulling things in and out of other things, listening to music and helping with chores. I had to sit down and think pretty hard about that. Not because these things aren’t abundantly clear, but because I always find myself saying “Well she likes X but…” so I inadvertently steer them away from things she’d love instead of towards them. Let the parents know you’ve heard what the child enjoys and you’ll find a way to give them something they’ll love (now) and will safely enjoy. When I allowed myself the same leeway, I found lots of things to add to Allie’s list.
Like this awesome Melissa and Doug Pretty Purse Fill and Spill. She would get hours of entertainment from it. We could take it to appointments to give her something to do and it’s cute to boot.
Then there’s the Melissa and Doug Let’s Play House kit. Not only does it have things that she can take in and out, but it will also give her realistic tools for when she’s mimicking chores.
She already has a number of musical toys so I couldn’t find one to add to her list, but she sure would appreciate someone else doing the legwork and finding something new.
4. Try and come up with something that would engage a sibling too. Allie and her brother are 3 years apart, but the gap keeps widening. I love it when she has a toy or an activity that works well for her, but her brother can enjoy too. Once they get going, they have a lot of fun together, but it’s hard to find toys that keep them both busy safely. And let’s face it, speech, gross motor skills, fine motor skills and social skills all develop faster when you’re modelling someone else. And lucky for kids with siblings, they have the best role model right in their own home.
I came across these Tegu Magnetic Wooden Block Sets and was instantly intrigued. These blocks appear to be safe size-wise and would definitely capture both their attentions. Plus, it’s another toy we can take on the go. Bonus!
This KidKraft Mega Ramp Racing Set would also score high marks with both of them. It looks stable, which is idea for little miss – her balance isn’t great so toys with a larger base give her more confidence to explore. And there’s a racing ramp, which can help satisfy her brother’s competitive nature. Is this a toy I would choose for him? No, he’s likely mostly outgrown it. But if it’s there, and she’s playing with it, I also know he wouldn’t be able to resist joining in the fun.
5. Ask what else they need. This seems like a no-brainer, but I never seem to take stock of all the little things that would make a big difference for me, and benefit Allie in the process.
Like hair clips… because she throws them out of the stroller when we’re walking along. Something like this would be amazing.
She also needs leggings. Since she’s still mostly knee walking, her tights, leggings and pants sometimes only survive 3 wears before she’s snagged holes in the knees. Love the geometric pattern on these Babylegs.
Then there’s the lunch bag that I’ve been meaning to get for a month. And if you think this is a ho-hum gift to give, you haven’t seen this soon-to-be-released Skip Hop Zoo Lunchies unicorn.
She also could use some new cream, and this Matter Company Substance Baby creme is my favourite baby cream but it’s kind of fancy so I rarely splurge.
When I sat down to really think about what Alma could use for her own good, but still be safe, that she’d really love and that maybe her brother would love too, I realized there are lots of great gifts out there if I ask the right questions and have a good think. This means there are lots of great gift ideas for any child on your list who’s needs aren’t necessarily met by reading the ages on the box.
And, when you give one, don’t watch the child, watch the parent. Because you, taking the time to ask questions, to understand their exceptional child better and find a gift the kid will love, is the greatest gift you can give them.
All the gifts featured here are available at well.ca and, with the handy Wishlist feature, I was able to compile an easy way for friends and family to find exactly what I think she’ll like or give them the inspiration they need to find something new.
Have a few things hanging around after your holiday baking? Chocolate wafers? Maybe a few sprinkles? Some Skor bits, mini chocolate toppings? Nuts?
No need to let them go to waste! These dipped Mommydo Holiday Hang Over Pretzel Sticks are a fabulous way to use up some of the odds and ends left over from the holiday baking frenzy.
They take practically no time. And, your friends and co-workers have had just about enough of their New Years resolutions at this point and will be only too happy to take a few off your hands.
Mommydo’s Holiday Hang Overs Dipped Pretzels
Chocolate melting wafers, chocolate chips or baking chocolate
White chocolate candy coating or bakers chocolate
Whatever little bits you have hanging around that you can use for toppings.
Prepare a baking sheet or two with parchment paper.
Melt chocolate in the micro at 30sec intervals, stirring between until all the chocolate is melted.
Dip 3/4 of the stick into the chocolate and slowly spin the stick to allow as much chocolate as possible to adhere to the stick.
Place the stick on the parchment.
If you are adding a second kind of chocolate, now’s the time to melt that.
To drizzle the chocolate, use a fork. Gently swing the fork back and forth over the area you want to cover.
I did 2 or three sticks then topped them with extra chocolate and toppings. Then dipped two or three more and topped those.
Be sure to place them about an inch or more apart on the parchment as the chocolate will spread.
You might want to put then into the fridge to allow them to harden.
You can do nuts, but as I was feeding these to the boy, I kept them nut free.
Store in an airtight container to keep the pretzels fresh.
I took a little blogging holiday over the holidays. There was a lot to process and I couldn’t quite bring myself to form my thoughts and feelings into words.
First, I found myself reliving my delivery and NICU experience as we celebrated Obi’s first birthday, only now I was able to apply the Williams Syndrome lens to what happened. This made me feel the need to go back over every painful moment to see if knowing about the WS might somehow change how I felt at the time or the decisions we made. Those were dark days, and reliving them was no better. I don’t know what difference it would have made, other than giving me something else to worry about.
Then there was Christmas. For me, the holidays are steeped in tradition. From the cookies I bake to the ornaments I hang on the tree to what we eat at meals, tradition rules the days. I was reminded time and again as I went through the rituals, that sweet Obi may never follow in those footsteps. She may not be able to make cookies on her own or whip up a turkey dinner. She may not be shopping for gifts – reveling in the thrill of the hunt – designing wrapping schemes and sneaking around.
She won’t have kids of her own. She won’t be Santa. She won’t have a home of her own to put up a tree and hang the ornaments that my grandmother gave to me.
I totally get that lots of people don’t have these things. Many of my favourite people don’t have kids by choice or by circumstance. Some people just don’t like to bake, can’t cook, hate Christmas, marry into another faith and choose not to celebrate. There are no guarantees. But knowing already. Knowing now that it may not be up to her…that these thing may simply be out of reach for her, well it nearly broke my heart in two.
We had a wonderful Christmas. The company was fabulous. The food was fantastic. The boy was filled with glee. Santa was generous.
Even so, it was a hard time. It’s been a hard year. There’s no way to know if next year will be better or worse. I know so much more than I did sitting in the NICU trying to get a 3 3/4 lb baby to eat. But in knowing I have learned how little I know.
Sigh. I’m hoping for a better year.
I’ve got my binder open, and this recipe comes from a photocopy of a page from Chatelaine Magazine circa 1998. 15 years later, this is still my go-to sugar cookie recipe. As I said yesterday, I don’t have a photo yet, as we’re going to bake these over the weekend. But I find I like it when the dough chills for a good long while (overnight if possible), so I thought I’d post now so you too can get the batter together tomorrow and have a good old-fashioned cookie bake with the kids this weekend now that school is out.
You can find this recipe here on the Chatelaine site.
Classic Sugar Cookies
I realize I totally left you hanging but I had good reason. My father-in-law has been ill, which meant husband was out of town for a few days. And I had a First Birthday Party to execute. Husband did return in time for the party. Thankfully, I had premade the dough for this delightful gingerbread recipe. So I was able to quickly make a batch for kids to decorate at the party. It is a ‘fancy’ gingerbread recipe – in that there are a number of ingredients. But it also a delicious, and I mean REALLY delicious one, so it’s worth the trouble to track everything down. Credit goes to Canadian Living magazine – (circa 1999). I found a link to the recipe, but it’s for their house, so the baking is slightly different that the one I have.
In large bowl and using electric mixer, beat shortening with sugar until light; beat in eggs and fancy and blackstrap molasses.
Stir together flour, ginger, baking soda, salt, cloves and cinnamon; using wooden spoon, gradually stir into molasses mixture. Mix well, working with hands if necessary.
Divide dough into four discs; wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until firm, or for up to 1 week.
Roll out one disc a time to 1/4 inch thickness.
Cut with cutters and transfer to cookie sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 min (depending on the size of the cookies you’re making. If you use tiny cutters, thee cookies will be done sooner.
If you’re using candies that need to bake into the cookie to be secure – little silver balls for eyes for instance. If you’re using frosting, make sure the cookies are cool.
Of course, you can get a merry bunch of elves to decorate your cookies at your babies 1st Birthday Party like I did. I’ll post more about the party later, but for now, here’s a sneak peek of the cookie decorating station at the party.
There are only 2 treats to go!
Christmas is nearly here! Tomorrow’s treat is just going to be the recipe. I’ll post pics on the weekend. We’re gonna make sugar cookies and you need to refrigerate the dough at least overnight. I want to bake these with the boy on the weekend but I want you to have the recipe so you can do the same!
Chocolate. Peanut butter. These are my favourite brownies in the world. They don’t have any candy bars in them, but taste very much like a frosted candy bar filling. I had other photos, but this one pretty much sums up my feeling on these.
Recipe – I’d love to give credit for these, but my recipe photocopy has been hanging around since about 1999 and has no indication of where it’s from.
1 1/4 Cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 18 crackers)
1/4 Cup sugar
1/4 Cup finely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1/2 Cup butter (no substitutes) melted
1/4 Cup butter or margarine
2 Oz unsweetened chocolate (cut up)
1 Cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 Cup all-purpose flour
1/2 Cup chopped peanuts
Peanut Butter Frosting
1/4 Cup butter
2 Tbsp peanut butter
2 Cups sifted powdered sugar
1 Tbsp milk
1/2 Tsp Vanilla
Combine graham crackers, 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 finely chopped peanuts in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the 1/2 Cup melted butter. Press mixture evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 11x7x1 and 1/2 inch baking pan. Bake in 350 degree oven for 5 minutes. Cool.
Melt the 1/2 Cup butter or margarine and the chocolate in a heavy large saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally remove from heat; stir in the 1 Cup sugar, eggs and vanilla. Stir until just combined. Stir in flour and the 1.2 cup chopped peanuts. Spread evenly over crust.
Bake: 20 minutes more. cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Spread with Peanut butter frosting. Cut brownie into small squares. (Or cut into 24 larger bars). Place a few honey roasted peanuts on each square. IF desired, pace each brownie in a small candy cup. Makes 50 to 70 small squares.
Peanut butter Frosting:
Beat 1/4 Cup butter and 2 tbsp peanut butter in a bowl with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 sec. Gradually add 1 Cup sifted powdered sugar, beating well. Beat in 1 Tbsp milk and 1/2 Tsp vanilla. Gradually beat in 1 Cup additional sifted powdered sugar and enough milt to make a frosting of spreading consistency. Carefully spread over the brownies. Refrigerate before cutting.
Shhh, this is ‘my’ secret fudge recipe. The biggest secret is how little time it takes to make something this delicious. Confession: Though I usually make this with walnuts as per the directions, this year, in an effort to make more ‘nut-free’ goodies, I swapped the walnuts for Chippits Holiday Chips. Pretty good! And very festive.
LINE 8-inch square pan with foil, with ends of foil extending over sides; grease foil.
Microwave semi-sweet chocolate and 2/3 can condensed milk in medium microwaveable bowl on MEDIUM for 2 min., stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is well blended. Add nuts (or festive chips); mix well. Pour into prepared pan. Refrigerate while preparing the top layer.
PLACE white chocolate and remaining milk in medium microwaveable bowl. Microwave on MEDIUM for 1 min 30 sec., stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is well blended. Pour over fudge layer in pan. (I added extra chips to the top)
REFRIGERATE 1 hour or until firm. Cut into squares to serve.
I’m really seeing a lot of chocolate bark this year – everyone from Starbucks to the corner grocer seems to be selling it for Christmas. It warms my heart a little to see it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve received bark in my stocking. As a little girl, the Laura Secord Almond bark was there, year after year. Maybe Santa will remember this and drop some in this Christmas for old times sake.
Even if he doesn’t, the bark tradition continues around here. I find it to be an easy way to add a little something ‘extra’ to holiday treat plates. I make mine very thin, but you can use more chocolate in a smaller pan to create a thicker bark.
First is Candy Cane Marble Bark.
In a microwave save bowl, melt 8 oz roughly chopped semisweet bakers chocolate in microwave at 50% for a min. Stir and continue to heat at 50% for 30 sec more (repeat as necessary) stirring to thoroughly mix and melt the chocolate.
Repeat with 8oz of white chocolate.
Meanwhile, crush candy canes to make about 3/4 c.
When white and dark chocolate are melted, spread in touching stripes on a parchment paper lined baking tray.
I bang the tray on the counter a few times to try to evenly distribute and thin out the chocolate. Sprinkle candy cane all over.
Then, drag a butter knife in straight lines across the stripes to ‘pull’ the white chocolate down into the dark.
Let set in the fridge or on the counter overnight and snap into pieces once the chocolate is well set.
Here are a few variations. The chocolate is melted the same way for each.
S’mores Bark – with mini-marshmallows and teddy grahams.
For this one, melt 8 oz dark chocolate as above. Stir in 1 Cup mini marshmallows. Completely coating the marshmallows makes this bark WAY better. Then stir in 1/2 Cup teddy grahams and spread onto parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle another 1/4 Teddy Grahams onto the top and let set.
Ok – next is Oreo Cookie Bark
This one is extra easy and kids love it.
Melt 8 oz chocolate as described above. Stir in 1 Cup roughly chopped Oreo cookies. Spread onto parchment paper prepared cookie sheet. Let set.
Lastly, we have White Chocolate Almond Cranberry Bark
Melt 8 oz white chocolate as directed above. Stir in 1/2 Cup almonds and 1/2 Cup dried cranberries (in the photos I used 1 Cup and I feel that’s too much. Feel free to find your own perfect amount).
Spread onto parchment paper lined pan and let set.
And that’s it. Chocolate bark 4 ways. You can easily make all 4 in about 45 min if you need some instant gratification. Of course, you can’t really enjoy them till they set, but the fridge is your friend to make quick work of that!
Magic Bars are an oldie but a goodie. These combine tart cranberries, sweet coconut, gooey marshmallows and crunchy nuts. Delicious and so easy, Magic Bars are a great choice for baking with kids.
You can find the recipe online here.
Prep Time: 10 minutes plus baking time
Preheat To: 350ºF (180ºC)*
Serving: 24 bars
2 cups (500 mL) graham wafer crumbs
3/4 cup (175 mL) butter, melted
1 can (300 mL) Regular or Low Fat Eagle Brand® sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped pecans
3/4 cup (175 mL) white, semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips
1 cup (250 mL) dried cranberries
1 cup (250 mL) flaked coconut
1 cup (250 mL) mini-marshmallows
1. Combine graham crumbs with butter; press evenly onto parchment-lined 13×9″ (3.5 L) baking pan.
2. Pour 2/3 Eagle Brand over crumbs.
3. Sprinkle with pecans, chips, cranberries, coconut and marshmallows; press down firmly. Pour remaining Eagle Brand overtop.
4. Bake in preheated 350ºF (180ºC) oven* 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool thoroughly and cut into bars. (Store loosely covered at room temperature.)
*325ºF (160ºC) for glass dish
Ok – now we’re really cookin’. Or baking, or whatever. Yesterday I said I’d give you a little something that would help use up any extra melty chocolate. These little fellas are the #1 cookie in my arsenal. Gooey, chocolatey. And they really look impressive. Again, not a huge batch – about 36 cookies, but so rich and decadent, that seems to be just enough. These also need a little fridge time for the dough so the delayed gratification only serves to make them sweeter.
Yield: 36 Cookies
Prep 30 mins Chill 2 hrs Bake 350°F 10 mins per batch
1. Separate egg; place yolk and white in separate bowls. Cover and chill egg white until needed. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add sugar and beat well. Beat in egg yolk, milk, and vanilla.
2. In another bowl stir together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to butter mixture and beat until well combined. Wrap the cookie dough in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or until easy to handle.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. In a small saucepan heat and stir caramels and whipping cream over low heat until mixture is smooth. Set aside.
4. Slightly beat reserved egg white. Shape the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in egg white, then in pecans to coat. Place balls 1 inch apart on prepared cookie sheet. Using your thumb, make an indentation in the center of each cookie.
5. Bake for 10 minutes or until edges are firm. If cookie centers puff during baking, repress with your thumb. Spoon melted caramel mixture into indentations of cookies. Transfer cookies to wire racks; cool. (If necessary, reheat caramel mixture to keep it spoonable.)
6. In another saucepan heat and stir chocolate pieces and shortening over low heat until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Let cool slightly. Drizzle chocolate mixture over tops of cookies.* Let stand until chocolate is set.
I decided I’d take this delicious dough and invent a cookie of my own. This is one case where the idea was better than the end result. Don’t get me wrong, they are delicious. But the candycane melted and made the cookie part very squishy and sticky. Letting them cool on the parchment greatly improved the outcome.
I give you Chocolate-Peppermint Mushies
I made the dough as above, rolled in crushed candy cane instead of nuts, put a junior mint in the thumbprint and drizzled with white chocolate. Follow my lead at your own risk on these little fellers.