Wednesday, March 31

Shopping For Baby? The Honest-To-Goodness Must-Haves (and a Special offer from The Cuddly Bunny!)

Moms-to-be these days are absolutely bombarded with advertisements for baby products, but are all of these must-haves really, well, must-have? With a few friends expecting babies right now (and a couple more who are hoping to be) I thought this would make a valuable topic to explore.

Some baby gear can wait (your baby won't be in the exersaucer or jolly jumper for at least a couple of months) and you can count on receiving some things as gifts after baby is born (receiving blankets, onesies, toys, and gender-specific outfits) so when doing your pre-baby shopping, focus on the items you'll need to have waiting when your little one arrives.

I consulted Marnie Scott, manager of The Cuddly Bunny (both an online business and a small-town store located in Port Perry, Ontario), to see what she considers to be essential pre-baby shopping. Keep reading for her advice, and to find out how you can save 10% on your next Cuddly Bunny purchase!

Marnie's Top Ten (with my thoughts in parentheses, of course. I'm sure my loyal readers have noticed my fondness for these curvy little creatures):

1. Car seat (three-in-ones are an economical choice as they will last the longest, but removeable infant carriers are very convenient, especially if they fit in your stroller. Refer to your seat's directions, but your baby must ride rear-facing for at least the first year. You should install your seat well in advance of your due date, and you might want to consider attenting a carseat clinic to ensure it is installed properly.)

2. Bassinet, crib, or travel cot (I went with a bassinet for the first three months and moved to a standard crib afterwards.)

3. Diapers, wipes, and skin care products (I have to admit that I used disposables, but it's worth stressing that cloth diapers have come a long way and are definitely worth exploring. Have a couple of bags of newborn-sized diapers ready to go, as well as wipes and a gentle all-in-one wash. I also kept zinc oxide cream on hand to use at the first signs of any diaper rash, and while it worked like a charm on my girls, all babies are different and will respond accordingly. You'll have to go with trial and error.)

4. Baby bath tub or bath seat  (Marnie recommends the Daphne Bath Seat, shown at right, as it allows for hands free washing, prevents baby from slipping when they have little head control and is portable. "They", meaning the experts who both educate and scare the heck out of us, advise against bath seats and rings, but the fear is that they will be taken advantage of and used as safety devices which they are not intended to be. I used a small plastic tub inside the big tub for the first few months, then moved to a bath ring when my girls could sit up independently.

5. Layette and linens, including a waterproof change pad (You will want a few sleepers, onesies, hats, and socks, but as I said don't go crazy, as these are popular gift ideas. We aren't supposed to be using bumper pads or puffy quilts anymore, so the required linens are just fitted bassinet/crib sheets, a few blankets, both receiving blanket-style as well as some soft and cuddly ones, some washcloths, and perhaps a hooded towel. If you're planning for a second child, going gender specific might mean completely repurchasing when the next baby comes -- and really, what if that ultrasound wasn't right?? We've all heard those stories!)

6. Sleep sack (I highly recommend swaddling your baby, and The Cuddly Bunny carries a few products including the Kushies Swaddle Blanket - shown at left - which would make an excellent gift for a pre-baby shower or newborn. Swaddling is recommended up to the age of 3 months.)

7. Soft music or a Sleep Sheep for the nursery  (Huh? If you're wondering about the Sleep Sheep, it's a stuffed toy which makes soothing sounds such as mother's heartbeat, crashing waves, etc. Sort of a white-noise machine for the newborn set. With Frannie, we rocked her to the first track of an instrumental lullabyes CD before putting her down drowsy, but awake. Eventually she would hear the first few notes and immediately start to squirm and fuss, knowing what was coming, but then settle knowing that resistance would be futile!)

8. Bottles (more on those later), and nursing necessities (If you are planning to breastfeed, nursing pads will be essential to avoid the oh-so-embarrassing leak marks, and even if you are bottle-bound, your milk will come in nevertheless and a few pads might come in handy. Next, you absolutely must get nipple cream. The Cuddly Bunny carries a lanolin-free product called  Earth Mama Angel Baby Natural Nipple Butter. Lanolin-free is good in case of a wool allergy, or if you're worried about trace pesticide or antibiotic residue which may be found in lanolin. When pregnant for the second time, I was given lanolin-based Lansinoh and it made a night and day difference compared to my first breastfeeding experience -- when I used nothing-- so quite frankly I didn't care what was in it.)

9. Diaper Bag (Let's be honest. Your carryall does not have to be something which is marketed as a "diaper bag". Various backpacks, fashion purses and tote bags will do the trick, but some bags are designed with special features such as side pockets for bottles, waterproof materials, etc. I had originally intended this post to be strictly about economical choices, so again, pick up at $30 bag at Zellers and you'll be fine, but I just had to show you this gorgeous Magz Bagz Mezza Messenger...at $110 it's no steal, but isn't it beautiful? Now, if you plan to have 4 kids, you can average it out to less than $30 per child, which really is a bargain. Click on the link to see other colours and patterns.)

10. Stroller (Ah, the stroller. Mommy and Daddy status symbol of the third millenium. This could be a lengthy post all by itself, but here's the bottom line: shop around and buy what you need.  We have a small umbrella stroller for going in and out of shops, etc., jogging strollers, single and double, for our dirt and gravel roads, and a Snap N Go, which is a simple metal frame on wheels which the infant carrier snaps on to. Research abounds on the various brands and styles of strollers, so check out the features and costs, being realistic about what you actually need.)

For moms-to-be who are overwhelmed about registering and choosing baby items, Marnie says "first-hand experience is the best form of research. Speak with as many new moms as possible." She also advises taking advantage of free services like new parent consultations, offered in stores such as The Cuddly Bunny, and registering at a store "with a knowlegeable sales staff who will explain the products to you and answer any questions you may have." Finally: "Plan ahead. Ensure you have the necessities well in advance of your due date. Being prepared early will relieve stress."

As for the moms I know who are back in babymaking mode after a few years away from it (you know who you are!) I asked Marnie about what has changed in the last few years that these moms need to know about. The highlights:
-no bumper pads, and use sleep sacks or swaddlers instead of crib blankets, to help prevent SIDS
-try organic skin-care products, which "offer a chemical-free alternative. Baby's skin is 5 times thinner than an adult's," she says, "therefore they are much more susceptible to chemicals."
-choose glass or BPA-free bottles if bottle-feeding. With Frannie I favoured the plastic Avent, which were recalled right around the time of Maggie's birth. They do make BPA-free now, but at the time I went with BornFree and was very pleased.
-cloth or chlorine-free disposable diapers are the safest choices

These are updates that your mother and mother-in-law might not be aware of, and it may take several reminders, and perhaps reference to quality literature (such as this blog post, of course!) to make them realize that times have changed, and no, you can't use the bumper pads from your childhood crib, put baby down on her tummy, or use your cousin's hand-me-down bottles.

So, there's the lowdown. Thanks to Marnie for sharing all of her expertise, and also for this great offer for This Mom  Loves readers: use code 032810 and you will receive 10% off your next Cuddly Bunny purchase, either in-store or online (mompreneur marketplace items excluded).

Did we forget anything? Are there any other items that you think parents absolutely must purchase to be ready for baby's birth? Leave a comment and let us know!

Monday, March 29

How Do You Mix Greek Mythology With Irish Tradition?

Simple: get a Pandora bracelet for St Patrick's Day!

I woke up in Toronto on the morning of March 17th to find a little package on the hotel nightstand. I had to put on my glasses to get a better look, and to my utmost pleasure I saw a little Pandora logo on the sticker. I had secretly (haha) been hoping for one of their bracelets (click for more info), but figured maybe Mother's Day would be my next opportunity. Apparently my hints were strong enough that my sweet husband couldn't even wait for a more gift-worthy occasion.

I received a beautiful sterling silver bracelet, and my very first bead, which my husband chose with the date in mind: a gorgeous sphere with emerald-coloured stones. He was assured by the saleswoman that it is not a soccer ball (he knew that's what I would think...and I sort of did!) but even if it is mistaken for one, Frannie started playing soccer last year, so beginning my bracelet with an Irish Soccer Mom charm is not entirely inappropriate!

Yes, I know: I am spoiled, and I am indulging in a weak moment of materialism, but honestly, they are few and far between. Besides, doesn't everyone get jewelry for St. Patrick's Day?

Thursday, March 25

Have you met Fancy Nancy?

Meet Fancy Nancy...my daughter's new best friend! If you have a little girl and you don't know Fancy Nancy, you need to sprint (that's a fancy word for run) to the bookstore or library and introduce her to this fabulous character.

Now, I'm all for avoiding gender stereotypes. My daughters have tractor books, hockey books, and Bob the Builder books. But what does Frannie like best? Princess books. I figure if you can't beat 'em, join 'em...so my small consolation is that I finally have her believing that the non-white and/or non-blonde princesses are just as beautiful as their fairer counterparts!

Fancy Nancy is not exactly a princess (although she would certainly like to be) but she is all girl. Despite this, the books are anything but pink fluff. There are subtle little lessons to be learned, and the language is engaging and entertaining. For example, in "Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy", author Jane O'Connor writes: "Then I get an idea that is spectacular. (That's a fancy word for great.)" Nancy constantly expands my daughter's vocabulary, as she loves to repeat the fancy new words she has learned from the books. The pictures are adorable, and she's imperfect enough to be just perfect.

As with any popular series, not only are there storybooks, but there are also now Fancy Nancy early reader books, and other merchandise (sticker books, dolls) ...but at least I'm spreading the wealth around, instead of contributing directly to Disney every time I make a purchase.

The little character even has her own website now, with fun and games and more information about the books and creators.

Engaging kids in reading is so important, and right now Fancy Nancy is doing the job, so I'm thrilled. (That's a fancy word for "I'm a tiny bit of a hyper parent and I want my child to be a good reader".)

Oh, and we commissioned a local baker to put Fancy Nancy on Frannie's 4th birthday cake a couple of weeks ago..check out what a great job she did!

To read a Celebrity Baby Blog interview with O'Connor and illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser, click here.

Monday, March 22

Our March Break Getaway

Friends of ours invited the four of us to join them for March Break in the Bahamas. Yeah, that didn't happen.

Instead, I am here to regale you with the exciting tales of our long-distance voyage to Toronto, Ontario! Woo hoo, you may be thinking. From where we live, Toronto is only a commute away, and could easily be a day trip. For us, however, it was a chance to get out of the house and away from chores, school work and laptops to enjoy our girls and get some R and R. Sort of.

We drove straight to the CN Tower, since Dora the Explorer was doing a meet-and-greet at 10:30, and miraculously found a great parking spot on the street just a couple of blocks away. We waited in line to meet the little Senorita, and to take a couple of poor photos. (Frannie insists that she was not scared, she just wanted to be on the other side of Daddy in the picture instead of actually being close to the famous character. Maggie was a little bit braver.)

Afterwards, we took the elevator as high as the observation deck. It's worth noting that the CN Tower is a fairly expensive tourist attraction, and we went more for the grownups' sake than the kids', as we hadn't been since elementary school. Our girls were too young to really 'get it', though Frannie was interested in looking down at all of the buildings, and enjoyed playing on the glass floor. (I'm sure my mother is cringing as she reads this. It's safe, Mom, or they wouldn't let people up there!) We came away with a cute ($20) family photo, taken in front of a green screen before we boarded the elevator, with the Toronto skyline added in by the time we got back down. Unfortunately, when we arrived back at the van we realized that our parking spot wasn't such a miracle. There was a $40 ticket waiting on our windshield...apparently we missed some no-parking sign (that the other 6 cars along the street must have overlooked as well).

We took advantage of being tourists and went to this really unique restaurant for lunch -- a little chicken joint called Swiss Chalet. Don't be concerned that you've never heard of it; not everyone can be as well-travelled as we are. It seemed pretty busy, so I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes a franchise. Great kids' meals, complete with toy and dessert.

After that we headed to our hotel, and I am no longer being sarcastic when I say you probably haven't heard of it. I hadn't, and couldn't find anyone who had, but it popped up when I googled "Toronto hotel March Break kids"...and what a find! We stayed at the Toronto Don Valley Hotel and Suites, which was about a 15 minute drive from downtown, and was an incredible deal. We booked a special March Break package, and when we checked in, the girls each received a gift bag with a colouring book, crayons, play-doh set and card game.

The hotel accommodated our early check-in request, in order to put Maggie down for her nap, and the employees were all friendly and helpful. Included in our stay was an amazing breakfast buffet (no continental-muffin-and-fruit-thing: we feasted on bacon, eggs, and hash browns while the girls enjoyed their usual cereal, toast and yogurt).


The pool was also a great surprise...although small and simple, the water temperature was beautiful. Normally I watch the action from the warmth of the hot tub, but here I could actually walk right in with no hesitation, which made for more fun family time. Daddy and Frannie spent Maggie's naptime down at the pool both days, and our little fish was happy to be in the water for over two straight hours! The baby...not so much a water-lover. The fact that she whines for every minute she's in the bathtub should have been a warning, I suppose.

An in-room movie with popcorn was part of our package, so we chose the critically crucified "Did You Hear About The Morgans?" with Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant. It was just as we expected - a light, somewhat romantic comedy with Grant doing his usual bumbling schtick. I can completely understand how it did not rank right up there with the Oscar contenders, but we got a few chuckles out of it. Since we realized afterwards that Frannie had been listening to the whole thing from her bed, I'm glad we didn't choose anything too inappropriate!

Our two-night special came to only $159.00 before taxes, which is an extremely good deal for two nights with breakfast, kids' surprises, and a movie. The only negatives that come to mind about the hotel are that parking was an additional cost of $12 per night (I had assumed it was included) and our GPS had issues recognizing the location. Although we met a few nice guests and Frannie made a couple of new friends, the hotel was surprisingly quiet.

We didn't just hang out at the hotel - we wanted to explore the city some more, and I had heard great things about the Fairview Mall, so our first night we headed there to eat at Moxie's Grill (a great feels-grownup-but-kids-love-it kind of joint) and then we hit Payless. A necessary stop, as we had packed only clunky winter boots for our little angels, and with beautiful 17 degree weather and a lot of walking ahead, we figured it was time to purchase some spring footwear.

Wednesday morning (after I awoke to find a little gift on the nightstand -- watch for that in a future post) we braved the very busy Ontario Science Centre. I am taking my class there in the Spring (the Harry Potter exhibit will be opening April 9th) and again, our girls, especially Maggie, are too young to really appreciate it, but we wanted to take advantage of our teachers-get-in-free deal. We tried an  IMAX film (the beautiful Under The Sea) and discovered that Maggie is definitely too young for a movie theatre. Four year old Frannie was just old enough to appreciate it.

If you plan to hit more than one tourist attraction in Toronto during your stay, I'd strongly recommend puchasing a City Pass, which costs $59 for adults and $39 for children, and includes admission to five major spots: CN Tower, Ontario Science Centre, Casa Loma, Toronto Zoo, and the Royal Ontario Museum.

Wednesday night we met my parents at Tucker's Marketplace. We LOVE this restaurant for its huge buffet and amazing selection. The adult dinners were $18, and kids were charged a dollar per year of age, which seemed very fair to me. Then we returned to the hotel for one last dip in the pool, and to get packed up and ready to head home in the morning.

Guess what? The chores, school work, and laptops were still waiting patiently where we had left them.

P.S. If anyone has other see-Toronto-with-the-kids suggestions, please leave a comment. I'm always open to new ideas!

Thursday, March 18

"Country Bumpkins, Who Are You Wearing???"

Admittedly, my daughters' red carpet appearances are few and far between, (especially now that my parents have pulled up their seventies-rust-coloured basement flooring), but I still like them to look their best when we go out. Is there any mom out there who hasn't hit the road with perfectly coiffed and attired children, only to realize that you yourself forgot to brush your teeth and change out of the spit-up shirt?

The other night when watching Nip/Tuck -- I mean, some respectable, educational programming -- a character dropped her baby off for her every-other-weekend with dad, leaving strict instructions. Not about the feedings or the nap schedule, no, she wanted to stress that tomorrow Daddy should "remember to put her in the Dolce". This makes sense coming from fictional Californian plastic surgeons, but do real people talk like that? Maybe that's the equivalent of me instructing my husband to "remember to put them in the Joe Fresh".

Frannie and Maggie's wardrobes are peppered with hand-me-downs (from older cousins and my beloved kijiji) as well as occasional designer duds (which to me translates as a Tommy Hilfiger or Polo logo -- no Dolce), but the bulk of their clothing comes from the usual big retailers: Please Mum, Bonnie Togs, The Children's Place, Old Navy, Sears and Zellers. Lately, though, I have become a fan of another designer, Joseph Mimran, and seem to be buying more and more of his Joe Fresh label (available at Loblaws stores.)

One day last week, my husband surprised us by returning home from Loblaws with some new spring apparel for Frannie and Maggie...and he actually has very good taste! Pictured are their new matching dresses, hats, socks and p.j.'s, which are adorable, but the best part was the price tag: the receipt reads $83.53 (and that even included some dental floss!)

I'd like to think that we're supporting a Canadian business, which of course we are, but I should note that unfortunately our cute new items have 'Made in China' and 'Made in Bangladesh' tags.

It's nice to know that Frannie and Maggie's wardrobes are ready for spring...even though the closest they'll get to a runway is the aisle at church. Would it be entirely inappropriate to get them to stop and pirouette halfway up the aisle next Sunday?

Where do you shop for your kids? Do you ever spend more on them than on yourself? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, March 15

Read It (and Join Our Book Club): Marina Endicott "Good To A Fault"

I may not be Oprah , but I am part of a pretty fantastic book club. We get together roughly every six weeks, and take turns hosting, which also involves choosing the title and providing the refreshments. This time around, I'm in charge, and I'm sharing my selection with you. Though I can't offer you any treats (my witty repartee is treat enough, non?), I hope that I can introduce you to a terrific piece of literature. (I've already read it - thanks, Mom, for picking it out for me last Christmas!)

I am counting on the actual members of my book club (and you know who you are!) to offer a couple of comments along the way. Oh, but unlike at our real meetings, you are expected to remain on topic! Please don't post any spoilers though!

My choice? "Good To A Fault" by Marina Endicott. Here's how the publisher describes the book: "Absorbed in her own failings, Clara Purdy crashes her life into a sharp left turn, taking the young family in the other car along with her. When bruises on the mother, Lorraine, prove to be late-stage cancer, Clara tries to do the right thing, moving the three children and their terrible grandmother into her own house. As Lorraine walks the borders of death, Clara expands in to life, finding purpose, energy and unexpected love amidst the hard, unaccustomed work of sharing her days. But the burden is not only Clara's: the children must cope with the guilt of divided loyalties, and Lorraine must live with her growing, unpayable debt to Clara -- and the feeling that Clara has taken her place."

It's Canadiana, it's award-winning, it's powerful, and it's waiting at your local bookstore or library for you to pick it up. Can't wait to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, March 10

Smartkiddies Mathematics

Here's a website which will appeal to teachers and parents alike: Smartkiddies Mathematics. At Smartkiddies, you'll find printable worksheets and interactive math activities sorted by both grade and topic. 

As a teacher, I often pull up the site on my laptop and project it to my Smartboard (interactive whiteboard) to teach or reinforce concepts. As well, teachers can create accounts for their students, and assign specific activities to be completed at school or at home.

The activities begin at the kindergarten level, so if you have a child 5 or older (or 3 or 4, if you're a "Hyper Parent" as mentioned in a previous post!) you can use the site to reinforce what's being taught at school, or for enrichment purposes. There are simple drills, as well as timed games and competitions which really motivate the kids. They can also pick "avatars" to represent themselves, choose their physical appearances, and save game points earned to "spend" on their characters.

It's worth bribing your child's teacher to create accounts for the students, because this provides free access to selected activities at home. There is a charge if you register solely as a parent.

You should note that the site is Australian, so there are a few discrepanices (e.g. pictures of coins, "trapezium" instead of "trapezoid") but they use the metric system, so our Canuck kiddies are fine with the measurement activities.

This has definitely been my go-to site all year, and parents and students alike have been very enthusiastic about it.

Monday, March 8

Notes About Comments

In honour of some of my friends and family members who are new to this blog thing, I thought I'd clear up some questions about the "comments" process. If you're on the home page, you can either click "read more" at the bottom of a post or  " # comments" beside the title to bring you to the comments screen, where you can see what others have said about the post, or leave your own message. You are welcome to be anonymous, or you can choose "Name/URL" and leave your first name, initials, whatever, and your website if you have one.

When you hit "Post Comment", your message is sent to me to publish or reject. So far, I have only hit the "reject" button once, because one of my friends used Frannie's real name before the whole pseudonym announcement. I don't find this type of blog leads to too many inappropriate comments, but one can never be sure.

In case you're wondering if there is any point taking the time to share your thoughts, I do check for comments regularly (okay, somewhat obsessively), and get that little "Yay! I've got mail!" kind of feeling when I find something there. Plus, it makes a blog much more interesting when people can add to, question, and challenge the ideas being presented.

So, go ahead! Pick a post and tell us what you think about it!

Friday, March 5

True Confessions: I'm Coveting My Neighbour's Goods

I want a Pandora bracelet. It's okay, it's not like I'm deluding myself into believing that I need it or anything; I just want it. But the problem is, I didn't even know I wanted one until my next-door-teacher got one. And then another coworker. And now I am succumbing to the equivalent of teenage peer pressure, and I know I won't rest until I have one!

This isn't the first time I've been sucked in to the charm bracelet trend. A few years ago, I got an Italian Charm bracelet, and rushed to fill it as fast as I could. By Christmas, my mom, grandma, two aunts and cousin all had the same bracelets, so the thrill was kind of lost.

The other night I went to my local jewelry store just to check out the object (quite literally) of my obsession. The bracelets themselves aren't unreasonably expensive, but the charms start at 30 bucks, so eventually it becomes to a piece of jewelry worth hundreds of dollars. The jeweler assured me they will not go out of style, but what else would she say? There are some adorable charms (my wish list includes the apple, the baby carriage, the bible and the clock), but I try not to buy shirts that cost more than $30, let alone items the size of my baby fingernail.

Now, don't tell anyone, but I checked on ebay, and there are knockoff versions of the charms starting at (wait for it) ninety-seven cents. I showed them to my husband, in an effort to justify the purchase, but he responded with "Oh, you won't want to buy those, because 'they' would know". Hmm. Yes, 'they' would certainly figure it out, especially since one of my dear friends has already memorized the catalogue of official Pandora charms. I can just hear her now: "Well...that one looks similiar to 790473PCZ, but I can tell it's an imitation." Catholic schoolteachers can be so cruel!

I don't want you to get the wrong idea about my friends. They are actually extremely thoughtful and supportive. They even laughed with me, not at me, the day my beautiful pleather boots (which I am guessing spent too much time in the cold garage) began to crack and peel off completely throughout the course of a staff meeting. Nice.

You know, the way I look at it, purchasing the bracelet would actually be a service to my daughters and students. I mean, how can we expect them to understand the important role of material posessions in social status and self-worth if we don't model it ourselves? (Yes, I'm kidding. Please no "this makes you a terrible mom and/or teacher" comments. They will make me cry.) In a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do move, I actually showed my class the PBS Kids "Don't Buy It" website yesterday.

I am not proud of this fixation. I mean, I'm as in to material things as the next mom, but I keep myself to a pretty tight budget, and try not to be overwhelmed by consumerism. I have deeply rooted values, and I've even been known to purchase generic products. I buy and sell on kijiji, have no problem with hand-me-downs, and think of myself more as a saver than a spender. And yet...there's that bewitching Pandora!

I'm starting to think my colleagues have caught on to this angst.
"You really have to get a bracelet," they said the other day.
"I know."
"We're also going for Botox...want to come?" 
"Sure!" (Never to early to start, right?)
"We're thinking of getting tattoos as well!" 
"Okay!" (If that's what all the cool kids are doing!)
"And there's this bridge we were thinking of jumping off..." 
Wait a second...

Then, the sneakiest move of all: "If you get a bracelet, you can blog about it!" That's really low.

But ha ha - I showed them. I'm blogging about it without even buying one. Ish. Stay tuned for further developments.

UPDATE: See March 29 Post for an important Pandora bracelet update.

Wednesday, March 3

Keep Your Kids Close To Your Heart!

If you want a creative way to keep your kids even closer to your heart, follow my lead: order a do-it-yourself photo necklace from Photo Jewelry Making. I bought a double-sided charm with a ballchain, but found the chain wasn't dressy enough so I bought a new one elsewhere. (If you order a necklace, I'd recommend upgrading to the sterling silver option instead.)

Make sure you choose a product that comes with the EZ-resizer software CD. The process was extremely simple: scan or upload your photo, enter the size # (provided with your product) and presto, your picture is the right size! My necklace even came with the photo paper to print the pictures on. I've received many compliments, and my daughters are pretty impressed as well.

The site offers other products, like rings, watches, and several different kinds of bracelets (maybe a Mother's Day gift for Grandma?), as well as bulk kits in case you're looking to start a new home business. I toyed with the idea, but decided instead to moonlight writing a blog for free....lucky for you!

Monday, March 1

Birthday Traditions (oh, and my daughers' pseudonyms)

Before I begin, let me introduce you to my daughters, Frannie and Maggie. If you're someone who knows me personally, this will likely confuse you a little, but I have enough strangers reading my blog now that I am following the lead of several other bloggers and assigning pseudonyms to my girls. The names do have some significance, but it would sort of spoil the point of the anonymity if I explained them.

It took me a while to decide exactly how I wanted to handle the name issue, but I am tired of saying "my oldest" and "my youngest"...especially when I know that gramatically, since there are only two of them, it should be "my older" and "my younger", which really don't flow. Okay, now that we have that out of the way...

Frannie will be four next month, so I've been thinking about her big day, and about birthday traditions in general. In our family, we have always done this really original thing where we get a cake, and put candles in it representing the number of years being celebrated, and then we light the candles, and sing a song... how long did I have you going for? I actually would love to start a cool new tradition with my girls -- preferably something that can take the emphasis off gifts -- so I'm hoping for some reader suggestions!

Growing up, choosing the meal (mom/my brother) or restaurant (dad/me) was always part of the birthday ritual. We have kept this up, except now with growing families restaurant meals are no longer a viable option.

As a child, one of my gifts would always be what I referred to as a "Birthday Girl" (but learned today that the proper name is "Enesco Growing Up Girl" - see photo). Actually, I think the first one I got was number 8 or 9, but then I decided I wanted to collect the rest, so I received them as random gifts. Kind of unusual for a 12 year old to ask Santa for a figurine of a 3 year old girl, but I wanted to complete the collection. Half my set is blonde and half brunette, which may have been a predictor of how I would spend my adult life. (Note: so far brunette is in the lead.)

Anyway, back to the Birthday Girls. Once Frannie was born, I put the baby figurine in her room, and each year, as she sleeps the night before her birthday, the next one goes in. After Maggie was born, I started moving the figurines over as she hit each age. I realize I could have just purchased her a set of her own, but oh well. I figure they can keep passing them along to the next generation of girls in the same way. (Is it weird that my kids haven't even started school yet, but I'm already really hoping that someday I'll be a Grandma?)

There are some neat birthday ideas  for different cultures at http://www.kidsparties.com/TraditionsInDifferentCountries.htm, but I'm pretty sure my two little Irish girls wouldn't be interested in adopting the tradition of being turned over and bumped on their head enough times to represent their age...plus one for good luck!

Frannie's celebration this year will be a simple affair: a grandparents/godparents dinner, which will include four cousins, and then one special outing and sleepover with her cousin/best friend. The cake will be Fancy Nancy (more on her in a future post) and the "loot bags" (which have taken on a life of their own at children's parties) consist of a hand-picked book from Scholastic and a box of Smarties.

I have a wonderful colleague who is the absolute queen of little girls' birthdays, and someday I will twist her arm to help me with a post on the topic, but I'd rather wait until after my daughers' special days pass. Too much pressure to live up to her example.

So, what do you do to celebrate your kids' birthdays? I'd love to hear your ideas!