Last year, per request, I did my best to create some gift idea lists.  For some reason it isn’t easy for me!  We really limit what comes through our door.  This year, I decided that I would copy some of my ideas from last year and then expand a bit.  I think I’ll do two posts, saving books for the second post.

For the kids:

I think that Keva maple planks are the single most played with toys that we own, and I say this having had them for over five years.  I can’t say enough good things about these very simple blocks that appeal to a very wide range of ages.  The ones that I linked to are actually made in the U.S.!

A close second would be wooden train tracks and trains.  I don’t have the set that I linked to here, but they look like a really good value.  I bought all of ours about ten years ago when Seth was a toddler.  Now Silas is playing with them and the older boys will still sit down and build tracks as well.

Pattern blocks are really popular with my kids.  We have had this set of Parqeutry blocks since Seth was preschool age, and each child since him has loved it.

If I had to name the item most played with by my girls it would have to be play silks.  They are always in use it seems.

Silas recently spent his long saved birthday money on this little crossbow after playing with it at a friend’s house.  It is very well made, and he is having a lot of fun with it.

I like these beeswax crayons that seem to be holding up better than other (more expensive) beeswax stick crayons I have tried, although the sturdiest beeswax crayons for younger kids are the Stockmar blocks.

This screw block activity set is great for preschool aged kids. Silas really likes it.

Orchard is probably my favorite game to play with kids 9(ish) and under.  My older boys more recently have been loving Ticket To Ride. Favorite card games include Art Close Up cards, Rat-A-Tat-Cat, and Mille Bornes. Shut the Box has seen lots of play time over the years as well.

My little girls love these Little House Paper Dolls.

I bought Jonny this Bocce Set for his birthday and he and the boys love playing together.

When the weather is cold, my older boys typically get interested in coin roll hunting.  Seth likes to search through nickels the most, the other two like pennies.  Boxes of coins would make great gifts, especially if you were already planning on giving money to the recipient.

My older boys all enjoy metal detecting and we highly recommend the Garrett – ACE 250.

Job rides around on his Wheely Bug everyday!


For the knitter:

For the knitter, I always recommend a Yarn swift (I have that one in walnut and like supporting this family business) and yarn ball winder (I don’t have this model, but I can’t recommend the one I have b/c Jonny has had to rebuild it several times.  Were I to buy a new one, I would purchase the one I have linked to here.) This yarn ball winder is also available in this shop.

For blocking my knits I use these blocking mats along with blocking pins.  Jonny recently surprised me with this set of knit blockers and I think they’re great.

This set of square double points is on my wishlist.  My hands get sore and tired when knitting small circular objects, and I would love to try the square needles!  I would like to try this set of interchangeable needles as well.


Practical gifts for adults (my favorite kind!):

I have the midsize wooden drying rack from Homestead Drying Racks and absolutely love it.  Ours is in daily use, mainly for drying wool items and other things that don’t go in the dryer.  It is really well made and sturdy.  Silas climbs on it like a jungle gym.  My only problem is that even with the midsize rack, I don’t have a great place to store it, because it is really big!

A dehydrator!  Here’s a little excerpt from an older blog post:  I sometimes get a little fixated on a specific food, usually something that someone else has cooked and shared with me.  That happened recently when my friend Sarah brought me a jar of cranberry granola.  And of course it wasn’t ordinary granola.  It was made with lacto fermented cranberry relish and then dehydrated.  So it’s not like I could just throw some together myself.  There was special equipment and time involved.  I thought about it for a few days, and then I decided that I had to order the “special equipment” myself.  I ordered a Pickl-It jar to make the cranberry relish in, and a dehydrator.

Living in a small house with lots of people, I love this white noise machine.

This is the perfect time of year to give the One Line a Day Journal.

Other nice little organizational books that I really like are this Moleskine blank recipe journal, and this very simple address book.

Though I was skeptical at first, I found my Kindle Paperwhite to be really useful, especially when nursing the baby at night.  Sadly, mine appears to have been stolen out of my purse at a store earlier this week.

Jonny says that the best gift I’ve ever bought for him is this Leatherman.

And another cute gift idea is one of these blue heritage ball jars along with a Cuppow and a knitted jar cozy.

For kids (and adults!) who like to collect things, and would like an inexpensive way to display them, I recommend riker mounts.  This is what we store our nicest shark’s teeth in along with some of our other fossils.  We order ours here.


I’ll work on a book list over the weekend!


The Original Mud Pie Kitchen

In the spring of 2010, after creating what I called a “mud pie kitchen” on our back porch for Larkspur, I wrote a tutorial describing our creative process for a website called Rhythm of the Home.  I wasn’t sure that the editors would even find it worthy of publishing.  But I guess I am far from being the only grown woman with fond memories of making mud pies as a child, because that piece ended up being the most popular ever in the history of Rhythm of the Home!  Mud pie kitchens began springing up all over the internet, and I could hardly believe it!  Over four years later, Larkspur’s enthusiasm for her mud pie kitchen is still strong.  She recently gave her first oral presentation at our homeschool co op and chose to speak about her mud pie kitchen.  I printed the photos from my original piece for her to share with her friends.  After revisiting those photos with Larkspur, I thought it might be a good time to post my original tutorial here.  And while these photos were taken in the spring, Larkspur’s favorite time of year in the mud pie kitchen is fall!

How to make a mud pie kitchen:

The original "How to make a mud pie kitchen" from Ginny Sheller
When I was a child, my favorite activities involved being outdoors immersed in nature. Rather than spend my time playing with an indoor play kitchen, I preferred to make “real” pies from mud. Some of my dearest memories are of afternoons spent sitting on my grandparents’ back porch with a spoon and a couple of small pie tins packed with mud.
Without my prompting, my oldest daughter recently began creating mud pies of her own.

mud pie kitchen setup small things blog
In keeping with this new favorite activity, I set out to create an outdoor mud pie kitchen for all my children. My goal was to keep things simple; leaving plenty of room for imagination. I also wanted to use materials we already had on hand or could obtain secondhand. An old crate turned upside down serves as the base of our kitchen; while a couple of old ammo boxes sitting on top provide a “stove” and a little cupboard. You can be creative with what you have or can obtain easily. I chose to place our little kitchen on our small back porch because my youngest is under two and I like to keep her close. However, it would be equally nice under a shady tree or on a small patio.

mud pie kitchen tree stump small things blog
Every kitchen needs a table and chairs, and for that purpose we used pieces of wood that never made it to the woodpile last winter. These won’t last forever, but they are working well right now as both little seats and additional workspace.

mud pie kitchen tree stumps and water small things blog
Our dishes, pots, and pans have come from a variety of sources: thrift stores, our own cast offs, and a few little pots and pans that have been received as gifts. Stainless steel and galvanized metal are best because they won’t rust, but we do use old rusty pans as well, namely muffin tins. I have thrifted both full sized and miniature pots and pans. My favorites are the small ones of course. Another good addition is a mortar and pestle. We found ours at an international foods market.

mud pie kitchen table cloth small things blog
Even my older boys like to join in the fun. This is one of my children’s favorite activities to do together despite the fact that they range in age from one all the way up to almost ten. In fact, even I like making mud pies. Seriously, it’s fun.

mud pie kitchen utensils small things blog
My four year old daughter adds special touches like a tablecloth (just a fabric scrap cut out with pinking shears) and fresh flowers.

mud pie kitchen sink small things blog
A little galvanized tub makes a great sink for washing dishes, hands, and providing water for the mud batter. This being the only item I purchased new, was obtained at our local feed store for around five bucks.

mud pie kitchen dirt small things blog
Plenty of dirt is essential. Even if you live in a city apartment without your own patch of soil, a bag of topsoil can be purchased and kept in a bucket on the smallest of patios. Every now and then I provide rice or dry beans as well.

mud pie kitchen mud small things blog
While dirt is definitely the main ingredient in most of the dishes created,

mud pie kitchen fried onions small things blog
sometimes “fried” wild onions make an appearance as well.

The original "how to make a mud pie kitchen" from Ginny Sheller
The possibilities are endless.

The original "how to make a mud pie kitchen" from Ginny Sheller
Armed with a pot, some soil, water, and an old wooden spoon, some fabulous dishes can be created. My daughter likes to have me smell her mud to make sure it smells “just right.”

The original "how to make a mud pie kitchen" from Ginny Sheller
Flower petals and other bits of nature make nice additions to mud pies, and gathering them is half the fun!

The original "how to make a mud pie kitchen" from Ginny Sheller
I have found that my children spend quite a bit of time decorating their pies and cakes until they are little works of art.

The original "how to make a mud pie kitchen" from Ginny Sheller
Pies are placed in the “brick oven” to bake. To create your own, simply line up a row of bricks in a sunny spot and there you have it! If you don’t have any bricks, you can draw bricks inside a cardboard box.

The original "how to make a mud pie kitchen" from Ginny Sheller
Keeping a tidy kitchen is also part of the fun.

The original "how to make a mud pie kitchen" from Ginny Sheller
But more often than not, tins full of mud and water are left lying about, as the little cooks run off to build another outdoor home, store, or restaurant; inspired by their imaginations and the little place you’ve created for them.

The original "how to make a mud pie kitchen" from Ginny Sheller
And that’s the beauty of it: a few simple props, some old pots and pans, and a generous dose of the outdoors and children can create hours of beautiful imaginative play.

The original "how to make a mud pie kitchen" from Ginny Sheller
Now it’s your turn to create a mud pie kitchen for your favorite little ones!


-This is our favorite mud pie kitchen cookbook. We are on our second copy, and could use a new one because it is so well loved.

-You can find more mud pie kitchen inspiration here, here, here, and here.