How Many Christmas Gifts for Kids: Different Approaches

My sister-in-law Traci has a really smart Christmas gift rule that we’ve tried to adopt: each child gets something to read, something to wear and something to play with. This is supposed to prevent me from going overboard and it mostly works. But I manage to make a lot of exceptions. -For example, Christmas PJs don’t count as the something to wear. -For example, everything in their stockings is also exempted from the rule. -For example, if the thing to-play-with isn’t BIG (read: doesn’t make a big Christmas Morning Statement under the tree — like a bike or a dollhouse or huge Lego set), then I tend to compensate with a few medium size gifts. -For example, the siblings also exchange gifts which means 4 more presents each, which I mostly shop for because my kids are pretty young. -For example, Grandmas and Grandpas still send gifts, or money to buy gifts. And so do aunts and uncles. This is all lovely, but my kids end up with way too much under the tree. Not that they complain. And frankly, I love to see their faces when they open something they love. Plus, as I mentioned before, there are so many pretty things out there, and I get such a kick out of finding them. . . So my question is: what are your best solutions for keeping the holiday excess in check?

Election Day

Vote today. Then, make sure your kids know you voted today. Let them wear red-white & blue so they can feel like they’re taking part. Get a “My mom voted today” sticker they can wear. I love election day. Extra love to my Sister and Brother-in-Law (the original blogging Politician) who are both on the ballot today!

What to Do With a Dysfunctional Fireplace

So Josh and Erin have a beautiful fireplace in their apartment, complete with marble panels and a carved wood mantle. Really, really pretty. But it’s dysfunctional. The flue (sp?) doesn’t work, has never worked, and has no plans for working in the future. We can’t ignore it because it’s the first thing you see when you come into their house. So to make it feel warm and cozy this winter, this is my solution: We’re going to stack some really beautiful aspen logs in the fireplace. Then we’ll mark the tops of the logs in about 12 places and use a neighbor’s drill press to make 1.25″ wide x 1″ deep holes at the marks. We’ll put an inexpensive but nice-looking candle in each hole and the whole thing should give a pretty good glow without needing a functional flue — or requiring the sometimes difficult task of building a fire. I like this solution because it’s good-looking and feels like a fire without being cheesy. I like that it’s inexpensive and easy to replace if it gets too worn. And I like the candles I found. I like the shape and I like that they’re kind of industrial. I especially like that you can get them in bulk. Because for this to really work, Erin and Josh need to feel like they can light this up as often as they want and they’re not going to run out of candles. The goal is to have their house ready by Thanksgiving. Wish me luck. And if anyone finds similar candles at a better price, please let me know.

Oscar Discovered Pacifiers

My 3 older kids all liked pacifiers for their first few months of life. Then, they discovered their thumbs and abandoned the pacifiers. But Oscar broke the mold. He didn’t like pacifiers and he didn’t suck his thumb.

Until Betty arrived.

A few weeks ago, he started taking her pacifier right from her mouth as a kind of joke. Then he experimented with chewing it for a few days. Then he figured out what it was good for. And now he’s completely addicted and I have to track down 2 pacis all day long. Oscar will be 2 in January — just the age where you want to introduce a highly addictive comfort object.

New Couch and Permanent Marker

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working with my brother and sister-in-law to design their home and it has been so fun. It’s really coming together — only a few accent pieces to go. The major items we added were a new sofa and area rug. The very ones featured in the pic above from CB2. Last Tuesday, about a week after the sofa was delivered, I got a call from Erin and her voice was shaking. Apparently, her darling 2 year old (really, he’s darling) had just written all over the couch with Sharpies.  I immediately called everyone I knew with microsuede furniture and had them call Erin with cleaning instructions and the instructions were universal: just scrub it. Just scrub and scrub and scrub and it will come out. Amazingly, it worked. There is no sign of the Sharpie. I was there and participated in the scrubbing and am a witness that microsuede is the ultimate “family” fabric. I am way impressed.

Wellies Wisdom

Yesterday, I was dropping off my neighbor Tania’s two-year-old son after preschool and commented on his super-awesome wellies.  Very wise Tania mentioned she bought them a size too big — not so he could wear them an extra year, but because then they were easier to put on and he could do it himself. And because he can do it himself, he likes putting on those boots. She doesn’t need to tie laces (she has a baby to hold) and he feels accomplished and is happy.

Pimp My Ride — Family Edition

Remember I mentioned we wanted to sell the Eurovan? Well, we haven’t had the heart to do it — especially now that our awesome road trip reminded me that the VW is actually designed for awesome roadtrips. What in the world are we going to replace it with? Plus, I think it’s a really good candidate for Pimp My Ride. In the last episode I watched, the Pimp My Ride team installed a snow maker on the car, three different TV screens in the dashboard, and also TV screens on the mudflaps. Awesome. For sure they can handle my requests. This is what I want done to our Eurovan: -Replace the 5 rear seats with a curved bench that seats 6 (we always need an extra seatbelt for a guest/playdate). The bench would start where the back, passenger-side bench starts, but then curve around until it meets the driver’s seat. This would be amazing. It would eliminate front row/back row arguments and there would be super easy access from the side door for me to climb in and buckle everyone quickly. We only have one sliding side door, and the bench would block a potential second side door, but I don’t mind. The bench would be so great. -The curved bench also needs to convert to a bed when needed. -The curved bench needs to be easily removed so we can have pure, unadulterated cargo space as needed. -Each seat on the bench should have it’s own cubby/basket attached underneath, but not touching the floor to make for easier vacuuming. The cubbies should be easily removeable for cleaning out. -In two or three seats on the bench there should be built-in carseats that are safe for 1-year-olds and up (like volvos) that can convert to regular seats. Imagine: no more installing car seats! -In front of the curved bench there would be a table that stores flush with the floor and sets up with one hand — the kids could eat or play games or do homework here. -All ashtrays and existing pockets for stuff should be eliminated so that there’s nowhere for apple cores to hide and no hard-to-reach places to clean. Streamline. -There should be a Dustbuster port that charges as the van runs, so it’s ready anytime. -I don’t want a fridge in the car, but there should be cupholders in the bench that have a cooling button. -TV screens installed in the seatbacks of the 2 front seats. -Some kind of media station that accomodates DVDs, iPods, cds, tapes, GPS — with no visible wires. -wifi access. -Surfaces should be easy to maintain. Leather on the seats, maybe rubber flooring. -A built-in diaper wipes compartment near the bench that’s easy to restock. -Armorall wipes compartment in the dash (Ben likes to Armorall the car when he’s at red lights.) -A garbage compartment that fits standard size garbage liners. And has a place to store garbage liners. -Auto lift gate. -Auto side door. -Auto windows in the rear. -Car kit with first aid, tools, chains, cables, blanket, etc. that stores neatly out of the way. -TV screens on the mudflaps. What do you think? Is the Eurovan reality show material?

Caught in a Snowstorm

Last Thursday at 11:00pm we called our hotel in Toronto to let them know we would be getting in at about 1:00am instead of midnight and to ask them to hold the room because we were driving through a surprise snow storm. A half an hour later, at 11:30pm all traffic stopped ahead of us. We didn’t move another inch until 7:00 the next morning, when one by one, each car dug itself out of two feet of snow that fell during the night, and headed down the freeway. The storm was so isolated that by the time we came to Niagara — a few minutes away from Buffalo — the only sign of the storm was the snow on our VW. You can read more about the storm here.

Stories at Night

We have a wonderful Halloween tradition we’ve practiced for the last 4 or 5 years: For bedtime stories in October we gather in the living room, light spooky candles and read scary stories in the flickering light. At the end of the stories each child gets to blow out a candle. I can’t believe how much my kids look forward to this ritual. And I do too. Bedtime stories around our house can get a little out of control — sometimes filling an hour or more and eating up that precious evening worktime — and our October tradition helps me reign things in without being a mean mom. We’ve attempted to do something similar, in November with Thanksgiving stories and in December with Christmas stories, and met with limited success. What is it about October? Our Halloween story collection is quite small and added to irregularly, so we supplement with library books. Some books we like: Pumpkin Moonshine, Jeb Scarecrow’s Pumpkin Patch, The Spider and the Fly, and In a Dark, Dark Wood.  

Halloween Costumes

What to be for Halloween is a year-round topic of conversation at our house. The ideas change week by week. Sometimes hour by hour. I have to enforce a drop dead decision date of October 10th, after which no costume changes are allowed, so that I have time to get everything together.

When they were younger I loved coordinating their costumes. When it was just Ralph and Maude they were Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. When it was Ralph, Maude & Olive it was The 3 Bears (Papa, Mama and Baby). Now that’s a no go. We’re all a little too opinionated around here. Last year it was Frankenstein, A Pumpkin, Belle (as in Beauty & the Beast) and A Lion.

This year Ralph wants to be a candy bar. He’s thinking Butterfinger, but he wants to make it spooky by changing it to Blooderfinger. That, or he wants to be a mad scientist. Maude wants to be a warrior from Mulan. Olive wants to be Ariel (as in the Little Mermaid). Thankfully, Oscar and Betty don’t care yet.

Why I heart Ben Today

Yesterday Ben dropped home after teaching his first class of the semester. He was just grabbing some lunch before heading off to work at SmartNoise. I was on the phone with my sister Sara and she said, “Tell Ben I’m angry because he hasn’t posted in so long. I check every day.” I told Ben, and he looked up from his plate of spaghetti to say, “A lot of people are angry.” And now remembering it makes me happy today.

What to Wear to 2nd Grade

It’s Maude’s turn. The composition above is only an approximation because I couldn’t find pictures of the exact items. But this captures the look and feel of what she’ll be wearing on the first day of school. The tee will be worn under the blouse. The jacket is just in case it’s cold. The sneakers are super cute, navy with pink accents. I love dark sneakers for my kids because they stay looking better longer. Her hair will be in 2 braids. Jacket by Old Navy. Tee by Old Navy. Blouse by Gymboree. Cropped Trousers by Boden. Socks by Gap. Shoes by Puma.

What to Wear to 3rd Grade

The ideal first day of school outfit for Ralph who enters 3rd grade. Ralph calls this kind of outfit “jumpy” because it makes him feel like doing cool jumps (think extreme sports). Pants by Gap. T-shirt by Children’s Place. Button down (worn unbuttoned over tee) by Children’s Place. Socks by Hanes. Shoes by Converse.

What to Wear to Kindergarten

School start September 6th. Today I will go through my kids fall/winter clothes and make an evaluation — what have they outgrown, what looks too worn — before I start shopping for school clothes. If my memory serves, their wardrobes are in pretty good shape and I won’t need to add many items, mostly just fill in a few gaps and get some new sneakers. But even though their existing clothes are workable, I like to have a brand new outfit for them to wear the first day of school. It just makes the day feel more special. So this post is “What to Wear to the First Day of School : Kingergarten Edition.” Pictured, is the outfit I’ve picked out for Olive’s first day. Just imagine this outfit with little, beribboned pigtails and her clear blue eyes. She will be absolutely irresistible to any Kindergarten teacher. And in my experience, if the teacher loves my kid, I will love the teacher — which makes for a happy school year. Note: I’m stealing the What-to-Wear idea from the wonderful EmilyStyle. Dress by Old Navy. (I picked this out earlier.) Socks by Old Navy. Shoes by Garvalin Kids. Sweater (if it’s chilly) from Boden. Ribbon (to tie around pigtails) from the Ribbon Factory.

Betty Blair’s Birth Announcement

One of the smartest things I’ve ever done is hire out my baby announcment design. Although I’m a graphic designer and I love designing baby announcements for everyone else, I had the forethought to know I shouldn’t design my own babys’. I knew I would be a) too stressed out with a new baby and b) feel really indecisive about any design I came up with.

So, when I was pregnant for the first time, I contacted one of my favorite illustrators, Apryl, and hired her to do the announcement. Apryl is crazy talented and does the most incredible lettering.

She gave us the original (about 7″ x 10″) as a gift and we sent out smaller prints in the mail. The original was framed and hung over the crib. It turned out so amazing, we’ve hired her for the rest of the baby announcements too. We just received Betty’s last week. So, so darling. I can’t wait to mail them out.

The Bubble Wand in My Head

The kids and I had a perfect summer moment in the backyard this afternoon with a bubble wand. I love the new wands available. When I was a kid, it was just a little bottle with a tiny wand and it took lots of practice to actually get bubbles to blow through the little hole. Now there are a million different wands in cute shapes (ours is a ladybug). Just wave and go. Even my toddlers can manage it. I would love to give bubble wands as a party favor at a BBQ or outdoor summer event. But I don’t want to give out a plastic wand. I want a wand made of metal with a wooden handle and maybe an oversize jewel-like bead at the end of the handle. I could put the bubble solution in pretty bottles or even vintage canning jars with a cool label. Someone should manufacture these and sell them at Smith and Hawken or in the Sundance catalog.
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