Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Make A Time Capsule For Baby

Making a time capsule is a perfect way to help let your baby know, when he or she is much older, what things were like when he or she was born. You can purchase time capsule kits, or you can just make one for yourself.

The first item you should include should be newspaper articles from the day of your baby's birth. While you may not be able to get to a newspaper, you should be able to pull up stories online. Include a few of the major headlines and then some smaller stories that give a flavor of the times. You also should include a card of leaders. You will want to put the nation's president, as well as other popular leaders, entertainers, and athletes. Let your child look back and see who was big then.

Also try to include some fun things, like a grocery receipt. Your child will be able to look back and see how much a gallon of milk cost 18 years ago. It will be fun for you, too, to look through the old stuff with your child. You can include lists of prices for popular items, such as sneakers and gasoline.

Write something to tell your child what the world was like. You can include how you live, where you live, and the current political climate. Include popular debates, what kinds of entertainment are popular, and how you live your day-to-day life. Don't forget to include pictures! You will want to let your little one in on what your house looked like, how you and your partner look, and how she or he looked as a little squirt.

You also will want to include in your time capsule a few items that represent your world. Toss in one of Dad's ties or a pair of pants you've worn recently. Include other items, such as restaurant menus, or festival line-ups. You can put other items that will show your child what you were like, such as a DVD or CD that you enjoy.

After you put everything together, put it in a keepsake box or tin that will not get damaged by prying fingers and eyes or by sitting for 18 years. Expect everything to be yellowed when you open it, but it should all still be intact. Write on the outside of the time capsule who it is for and the date on which it can be opened. That way you won't accidentally open it before it's time.

It will be fun to open this time capsule when your baby grows up. You can all be reminded of what life was like today when you have moved on. If you want to add to the capsule, you can write your baby a letter on each birthday and include it. That way, your grown-up baby can see what you would have said to him or her at 2, 3, or 4 years old. These time capsules create great memories for your family for years to come.

By Julia Mercer

Making Time for Romance

After baby arrives, it is often difficult to find time to spend alone together. It seems that every time baby gets to sleep, you have to get caught up on laundry, or you are so exhausted that you just want to sleep, too. There are some simple (and cheap!) ways to keep the romance going after your little bundle gets here.

First, you should make an effort to spend at least one evening a week together. You may not be able to do that until baby goes to sleep, but set the date anyway. That means that neither of you catches up on household chores, watches Sports Center, or does office work at home. Have the time to spend together, even if you just spend it sitting on the couch together.

You also should work to make one great meal - or order one - a week for yourselves. Many new parents fall into the trap of tossing something together because they are so busy that they do not have the time to make something for themselves. If you want to feel more like an adult, treat yourself like one. Have shrimp scampi or roast beef or some other suitable adult fare that it good for you. Look through cookbooks for any recipes that may be easy to whip up and will allow you to have a good time together.

Make everyday work a little fun, too. My husband and I loved to go to Cincinnati's Findlay Market when we lived there. It is an amazing outdoor market where you can buy freshly butchered meat, gourmet cheeses, and great veggies. We would go and look at the little craft booths there, buy our food, and walk around holding hands. It is wonderful to make an everyday event something special.

Plan late-night dates. One night when you have had a rough week, go out and pick up some bread, cheese, and a bottle of wine. Once the baby is out, you can spread a tablecloth, light some candles, and have an enjoyable evening in your living room for very little money.

Don’t be afraid to hire a babysitter either. Many new parents are very reluctant to let their little ones stay with a stranger. Start with a family member or close friend if you can. When you first go out, make it for an hour. Sit and have coffee together. Go for a long, leisurely walk. One hour is not long for your baby to stay alone, and it will give the two of you the chance to rejuvenate your relationship.

Be creative. Find ways to make play time with your baby full of romance, too. It may sound corny but telling baby a story about how Mommy and Daddy met can help you soothe your little one to sleep and can help the two of you feel better about each other. You should play you're your baby at the same time, too, to make you feel as if this new person takes a joint effort. Take time for your relationship; it is valuable to your baby, too.

By Julia Mercer

Mother Goose Rocks!

Who could believe that common, everyday nursery rhymes can play such an important role in your child's language development? I guess there's a reason why these gems have been perenial favorites in families with young children. Some of the rhymes date back hundreds of years and are still commonly recited to this day. Only something with true value would stick around so long and become such a huge part of our culture.

Nursery rhymes can be a big part of any child's life. From birth, the rhymes soothe and entertain baby. Newborns love just to hear their parents' voices, and the rhymes give you something to say on a moment's notice, long before your child is ready to truly converse. They are quick and easy to recite, and nearly everyone knows at least a few. Many have simple motions that seem designed for adults to help babies enjoy. The gentle jouncing of "Ride a Cock Horse" and "This is the Way the Ladies Ride" is perfect for small infants. It seems to give them a bit of a thrill while building muscle control of the head and neck. "Forebumper, Eye Winker, Tom Tinker, Nose Dropper, Mouth Eater, Chin Chopper, Gully-gully-gully" and "This Little Piggie" build anticipation and prediction skills as baby learns that the rhymes lead invariably to the tickling ritual.

As baby grows, so do the reasons to use nursery rhymes with them. Toddlers are concentrating on learning to talk, and the rhymes support that activity with new vocabulary, discussion of common and everyday activities, and vivid descriptions. Now is the time to get a quality Mother Goose volume with beautiful illustrations and heavy pages that will withstand your little one's rough handling. Baby will enjoy the rhymes that talk about everyday life, such as "Here We Go 'Round the Mulberry Bush" and "Wee Willie Winkie."

Older children will start to enjoy the rhymes with built in jokes, like "Simple Simon." This is also a great age to start working with rhyming words. Kids need to be able to hear and identify and create rhymes, so the rhyming words in these poems will help them to master this skill. Nursery rhymes are also full of alliterations, where many words start with the same beginning sounds. This helps children learn the sounds of the letters and how to segment and blend the sounds. Check out rhymes such as "Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater" and "Pease Porridge Hot." Now is also the time for clapping games. These will build coordination and rhythm.

Play some games with the nursery rhymes to maximize their value. Try saying lines with the last word left off. Try having your child count the words in a line, the syllables within the words, or even sounds within a word. Change the last word in a rhyme and see if your child can catch you. For example, you could say, "Mary had a little bam" or "Hey diddle diddle the cat and the griddle." When that's no longer a challenge, try changing a word somewhere in the middle. For example, try "Tree blind mice" or "Jack and Jill meant up the hill." Sort out the real words from the nonsense words, too.

Nursery rhymes will afford you and your child hours of fun, and they are very educational, too. Be sure to share this wealth with your baby as he or she grows. You will be laying the groundwork for later school success while you are having a great deal of fun with your child.

Baby and Self-Employment

By Christina VanGinkel

If you are expecting a child, contemplating becoming pregnant, or already have a brand new baby, you may be wondering if you really want to go back to work. Alternatively, maybe you have been a stay-at-home parent up until this point, but with another child, feel that it is time for you to bring in an income. While many parents work full and part time jobs outside of the home, be sure to consider all of your options, including a source of income that would be generated by yourself joining the ranks of the self-employed.

Start by pinpointing what it is you like to do, what you are good at, and research if there is a market for it, either in your area, or through the online markets, such as a direct website or through sale places such as Ebay. Also, determine if you are in need of a full time income, or a part time income. Keep in mind that even the best laid out plans for a business will have a curve between start-up and profits, so be sure that you can handle the wait. Many people get a job outside of the home, from a third party source, while simultaneously starting a venture, only jumping over to the self-employed side solo when the business has taken hold. This may not be an option for you if baby has already arrived, and time is at a minimum, but may work if you are in the planning stages of building a family, and just want to be established at home before you become pregnant.

Depending on the venture, does your household have space for it? While the online world has created jobs that use no more space than your computer area you already have, others will require, at the minimum, their own space, or room. Selling handcrafted or recycled merchandise will require space to assemble, package, and ship goods from, for example.

Consider if you have a talent that you can market, such as designing crafts, like those seen in magazines and kits. Each one had to be created by somebody, so why not you? The best part is many of these companies hire freelancers to keep the ideas fresh, and designing for more than one craft will provide you with numerous markets. Look for submission information company to company, as each will have their own set of guidelines.

Consider the many businesses that exist through outside companies, those that handle the merchandise, but require you to do the selling, through catalogs and home parties. There are cosmetic companies, such as Avon and Mary Kay, house wares, such as the time honored Tupperware Company, Home Interiors, and the numerous start-up and established scrapbook and craft companies, such as I Remember When, Stampin' Up!, and Creative Memories. These may require you to do as little as drop off catalogs and merchandise, to as much as going into homes to demonstrate products and teach classes on how to use the products sold.

Even when choosing to go with an established company, keep in mind that to be successful, you have to like what you are selling, or the venture may end up costing you, in both time and inventory, instead of earning you money.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Boredom Box

By Christina VanGinkel

Wintertime will often find those with young children stuck indoors, due to cold temperatures, or heavy rains and snow. If you find these times stressful, because your child is quickly bored with their toys, even when they have every new toy on the market, remind yourself that what they may really need is just some structured play time to get their activity level on an even keel.

When my kids were small, I made up a box, which I referred to as the Boredom Box, for days just like that. I stuck it up on my own closet's shelf, and would pull it down just for those times when they (or me!) could not stand to watch one more cartoon, or I would see them becoming bored with their various playthings. Some of the stuff in the box was identical to things they played with on a regular basis, such as crayons and color books, but much of it could only be found in the box, such as glitter. Part of the appeal to the box was that it could not be played with by them alone either, a parent or caregiver had to play with them, with it.

In our box, we had the prerequisite crayons and color books. We then added colored pencils, chalk, glue, glitter, a bag of craft feathers, pompoms, scissors, pinking shears, cardboard, Popsicle sticks, grey tape, and old birthday and Christmas cards. We also had stencils, stamps, yarn, inkpads, small plastic bottles that we salvaged from here and there such as empty dish soap bottles, gently used sock singles to make our own puppets, and any other craft item we found that we thought would be interesting to play with.

My kids loved this box, in part because they always ended up making something cool each time we pulled it down, and as they got a little older, the Boredom Box did not lose its appeal as we just altered the contents a bit. We also found ourselves adding things that might otherwise been lost in a junk drawer or tossed in the garbage. We added a stapler and die cuts for the makings of their very own books, which they wrote, illustrated, and assembled. The sock puppets that we seemed to make year after year became more detailed, with details such as embroidered eyes instead of glued on button eyes. My youngest son even constructed a wallet out of Duck tape, after he saw one in a magazine for sale for $20. He asked me if there was any of the grey tape left in the box, and when we looked, we found that, my husband had tossed a half of a roll of Duck take in a camouflage color in the box. My son toted that wallet around for months, and he was so proud of it he even made his older brother one, which he actually used!

Make your own boredom-busting box today, before you need it, and stock it full of things that you think will appeal to your own children. Remember though that the most important ingredient of the box is the fact that it can only be played with when there is a parent or other adult around to play with it with the child. If you just hand it over to be played with on its own, it will quickly turn into just another toy.

Gifts for Baby's First Christmas

If you have a new baby on your Christmas list, you will want to give a special gift to celebrate Baby's First Christmas. There are many adorable outfits and t-shirts that feature the "Baby's First Christmas" motif, but if you're looking for some other ideas that can be used year round, read on.

Baby's First Christmas ornament. A special Christmas ornament can be a treasured keepsake for years to come. Look for personalized ornaments that have baby's name engraved on them ("Tyler's First Christmas" instead of just "Baby's First Christmas"). Lenox and The Bradford Exchange both offers gorgeous Christmas ornaments, some of which can be personalized.

A gift of pictures. A gift certificate to a photo studio is a great way to mark Baby's First Christmas. Give the gift ahead of time so baby's parents can schedule a holiday portrait session. Subscription packages to be used year round are another great gift idea for proud parents.

A scrapbook. If you are close to the baby and have access to multiple photos of the child, consider starting a scrapbook for the baby. Check your favorite arts and crafts or discount store for an inexpensive scrapbook-- and don't forget to buy mounting papers and stickers to help accent the book. Even if you know nothing about scrap booking, it is an easy hobby to start and can be quite fun. Once you start the initial scrapbook, then each year you can present the baby with newly completed pages for his or her scrapbook (most books are expandable and new pages can be added).

Books. Start a holiday tradition by giving the child a special Christmas book every year. Some great book suggestions include "Pat the Christmas Bunny" (which is also available as a gift set, with a plush bunny) by Edith Kunhardt Davis or "Baby Einstein's Christmas Joy" by Julie Aigner-Clark (come with a 23-song CD of Christmas music). As the baby gets older, give age appropriate books each year. Some wonderful holiday books for toddlers and older children include "Counting to Christmas' by Nancy Tafuri, "Mouse's First Christmas" by Lauren Thompson and the gorgeously illustrated "A Pussycat's Christmas" by Margaret Wise Brown. If personalization is your thing, look for books that can be printed with baby's name and favorite things.

A special teddy bear. Instead of just buying a "Baby's First Christmas" outfit that baby will outgrow, why not buy a teddy bear with a "Baby's First Christmas' bib or t-shirt. This will be a great keepsake. Check out the "Build-a-Bear Workshop" for adorable teddy bears that you can help to make and personalize-- you can even print out a birth certificate with the name that you choose for the bear.

A snow globe or music box. Online retailers, such as Red Envelope, offer gorgeous snow globes that can be personalized with Baby's name, birth date, etc. Baby will be mesmerized by the beauty of a snow globe. A music box that plays Christmas music is another gift that the child will cherish for years to come.

Last but not least, if you just can't resist all of those adorable "Baby's First Christmas" outfits, opt for pajamas or a sleeper that can be worn multiple times.

One of Life's Big Mysteries Solved

I think I've stumbled onto the answer to one of life's great mysteries! Remember how when you were a kid, it seemed that time almost stood still? An hour to wait was absolutely forever, and days were nearly incomprehensible? And the adults around you had no clue how hard it was to wait. Remember how frustrating it was? It seemed like no one understood you at all, and if you are like me, it made you feel pretty bad at times.

Well, I think I've solved the mystery. Time, to my adult perspective, seems to be speeding up all the time. Those hugely long, lazy days in my earliest memories have given way to frenzied, hurried days that never seem long enough to accomplish the things that need to be done. For a long while, I thought it was because I was cramming so much more into my days than I did when I was little. Makes sense. When we are a bit bored, time does seem to drag on, while when we are happily occupied, it moves fairly quickly. But that theory still didn't explain why time seems to be speeding up as I get older. Even my boring, slow times seem to be shorter than they used to be.

Here's the real secret. Time really is speeding up for us adults. Each instant of our lives is shrinking in terms of the percentage of total time that we've been on this earth. An hour is a much, much smaller portion of the total amount of time that I've lived now that I'm in my forties as opposed to when I was three. It's almost like unrolling a very long piece of string. When you first start unrolling it, that first inch doesn't seem like very much. And yet, unrolling another small inch doubles the amount of string that has been unwound. That second inch is half of the total! Now that my string has unrolled a few miles, another inch doesn't add very much more, though. An inch is still the same size as it was in the beginning, but it's a much, much smaller piece compared to the entire amount that has been unrolled already. Minutes and hours and days are also unrolling, and they are each a much smaller proportion of my life than they once were. No wonder they seem to be flying by!

Now, all of this has relevence to your baby or toddler. It changes ideas like "wait a minute" and "please hurry" pretty profoundly, don't you think? Little children are notoriously bad at waiting, and now we know why. The time really does seem interminable to them! I hope that you can now view your baby with a bit more understanding in your heart. Waiting truly is very difficult for young children.

How can we adults help? There are several ways to make waiting more bearable for a young child. The first is to give your little one some way to measure the passing time. Use a timer or a digital clock to help your youngster see the passing time more clearly. You can also plan for wait times by having some ideas to help pass the time. Teach your child some simple games that can be used anytime and anywhere. You can play them together as you wait in the doctor's office or while you drive on your way somewhere.

And this also gives a bit of a different perspective on the use of time out as a behavior management tool. For very young children, the guideline is a minute per year of the child's age. This is a good guideline! Remember that waiting is very, very difficult for your child. Even two or three or four minutes of enforced inactivity will seem like an eternity.

So keep this in mind when you are asking your child to wait. It makes a big difference, and you can begin to understand how your child is feeling and what he or she is thinking.

Monday, November 28, 2005

A Magical Christmas Chain

Are your children getting anxious about Christmas now that Thanksgiving has come and gone? The media is certainly doing its part, with blaring advertisements everywhere you look. The stores are helping get your child hyped up, too, with the huge Christmas displays that would attract the attention of nearly any child. The question is, can your child stand to keep this level of fever pitch excitement up for the next four weeks? Sometimes, you need something to help your young one put it all into perspective.

But that can be very difficult to do, since most toddlers and preschoolers have no concept of the measurement of time or how calendars work. Any event that is outside of immediate is very difficult for them to understand, and waiting seems interminable. The longer they need to wait, the more likely they are to become cranky and irritable. That's the last thing you need during this stressful season. Here's a way you can help your child better understand how long this wait will be.

Make a simple Christmas chain! You remember these from your own childhood, I'm sure. Cut strips of construction paper (actually, any paper will do) into half to one inch wide pieces. The pieces should be at least six inches long, too. Longer strips will work just fine, but will make bigger links in your chain. Form the first link by making a circle from a strip and gluing, taping or stapling it closed. Add a link to the chain by threading a strip through the last circle you made and closing it up. Keep going, and you will have a Christmas chain.

And here's where this changes from a classic Christmas project into a new idea. Make a link in your chain for each day between now and Christmas. Help your child to count the links and count the days on the calendar to make sure they match. You'll have a LONG chain to begin with, but that's OK. You can even measure it if you want to add another dimension of learning to this game.

Hang your chain up somewhere out in sight. Now, make a daily ritual out of removing a link from the loose end! Each day, at the same time and in the same way, you can take off a link to show that Christmas is coming one day closer. Count the links each and every day together, and your child will get some really valuable practice with numbers, too.

But the best advantage to playing this game is that your child will have a very concrete way of ticking off the days before Christmas comes. Even the youngest toddler can watch the chain get shorter and will delight in "helping" you count down to the Big Day. And each day that you perpetuate the ritual, you provide a teensy outlet for all of that pent up excitement. Think of it as a sort of safety valve that will help your child's overall behavior over the next few weeks.

A magical Christmas chain will help older children, too. You may well find yourself with an on-going ritual that ensconces itself deep in your family traditions and one that gets passed down to future generations. Countdown with a Christmas chain this year! Your children will learn patience, number skills, and a sense of community. It'll be fun for everyone to watch and anticipate the upcoming holiday.

Cool Mist Humidifiers

By Christina VanGinkel

With winter here and many of us focused on the holidays, especially those of us with children in the house, we often overlook one of the simplest ways to keep our family members in good health. I was reminded of this last year, about this same time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when I myself ended up in the emergency room, sure that I had strep throat, fearful that I did, because I had just spent the previous evening babysitting my grandson.

I had woke the morning after watching him with a very irritated throat and nasal passages, which quickly progressed to one of the worst sore throats I had ever had. I would normally have called our family physician, but it was a Sunday, so I headed to the after hours clinic at our local hospital.

I did not have strep, but I had an extremely irritated throat and a sinus infection, which was treated with antibiotics and the recommendation that I purchase a cool mist humidifier if I did not already have one in the house. I did not, and took the physician's advice and purchased one before I even headed home, as I had to stop at the pharmacy located in our local Wal-Mart to fill my prescription anyways.

As I thought about what the doctor had said, I realized how drying this time of year could be on a person. With furnaces running at full blast, evergreens gracing our homes, and colds and the flu as prominent as they are during these months, moisture put back into the air we breathe in our homes through a cool mist vaporizer could go a long way towards keeping our, and our children's health, at as healthy a level as possible. Moisture put into the air in this manner keeps a person's nasal passages working properly, helping to keep airborne contaminants out.

While many of us will use a hot mist vaporizer once we are ill, we avoid using them long term, one reason being the risk of burns to small children. With a cool mist humidifier, this risk is diminished. Though a child should not be left unattended by any type of vaporizer or humidifier, a cool mist one can be much safer in the home than a hot mist one.

I purchased a Vicks 1.2 Gallon Cool Mist Humidifier, which comes with a replaceable wick that doubles as a trap for impurities. Large enough that one fill lasts twenty-four hours in my bedroom where I placed it, (Depending on the size of the room you use it in, the number of hours between fillings will vary), though when I placed it in the living room it actually used up two tanks within the same time period. The product states that one fill last twelve hours, and it has three speeds. I will warn you though, that the highest speed can be a bit noisy, but when it is on either of the other two settings, it runs relatively quietly.

If you have small children in your home, even sporadically as I do with my grandson, I would recommend the use of a cool mist vaporizer during the upcoming winter months. I replaced my filter and plugged mine back in weeks ago, hoping to avoid a trip to the doctors office or clinic this year. You can order one quickly and conveniently right here at BabyProductDepot.com, just click on Humidifiers, or type it in the search box, and you will soon be on your way to easier, healthier breathing during the current dry months we so fondly call winter.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Santa's Cyber Home

If you have a little one in the house, chances are very good that your toddler's attention has been captured by Santa Claus by now. It's hard to miss the hype: Santa has been arriving in every mall and shopping center around the country, as well as a number of train stations, grocery stores, and fire departments. The man has an incredibly busy social calendar, doesn't he??

However, somehow in all of the fuss and hubbub, he magically finds time to maintain a very well designed and well-run website, as well. Next time your little one is a bit cranky and bored, and needs a diversion, visit Santa's home on the internet at claus.com (you will need to put the http and the www in front, just like most addresses). This website is a fantastic display of non-commercial fun that your young child will find magical and mysterious. The site is loaded with coloring activities, games for an array of ages, recipes to try together, and more. Your child can play with the reindeer, go to Elf School, and will want to play for hours.

But I think the best part of the entire site is the Nice-O-Meter. This nifty gadget allows all comers to check on their current status on Santa's Naughty or Nice List. What I wouldn't have given for that kind of inside knowledge when I was a kid! Just enter the child's first name, and computer magically snaps back with a balanced note praising good behavior and recommending areas of improvement.

The funny part is that the Nice-O-Meter is frighteningly accurate. My girls were absolutely giddy when Santa's notes told the youngest to clean her room (it WAS a huge mess at the time) and gently reprimanded the middle daughter for leaving her dirty socks in the living room (there were at least five balled up socks on the floor at that time). The eldest was reminded to brush her teeth a bit more regularly (and we had had that discussion not a day before). One was complimented on helping her teacher in the classroom and her eyes lit up. "You mean that Santa was WATCHING when Mrs. S asked me to pass out those papers??"

These annual notes from the Big Man were a wonderful help with coaxing excited children to behave in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The girls were continually amazed at their accuracy and specific suggestions. Frankly, I was a bit amazed, as well. It really did seem like Santa was spitting out personalized suggestions to each of my children, though I knew darn well that the notes were, in reality, general enough that nearly any child would see himself or herself. The magic is contagious.

The girls remained amazed for many years until the eldest, at a healthy skeptical eleven years old and long past the age of belief, decided to put the dog's name into the Nice-O-Meter. You can imagine the guffaws that arose when Santa's notes praised the black lab for picking up his toys and admonished him to brush his teeth more regularly. He was also supposed to eat his vegetables without flinging peas around the dining table.

All in all, it was grand fun, and I highly recommend the web site. The experience of reading Santa's naughty and nice notes alone is worth while, and your children are likely to have fun with it for years to come.

The Simplicity of Christmas through a Child's Eyes

By Christina VanGinkel

We put up our Christmas tree, a pre-lit version, and had intended on decorating it as we have through the years with a varied assortment of decorations, with many of them glass. With no small children in the house, and our grandson not due back until just a few days before Christmas, we thought that this would be fine. When our grandson did come back, we figured that we would just take special care in watching him around the tree, more for his safety than the safety of our ornaments. In the meantime, between actually putting up the tree and getting it decorated, our grandson ended up staying over one more day due to an ice storm hitting the Midwest last evening and this morning.

The tree has only a few snowflakes, made of paper, hung, and the tree skirt in place, but that is it. That our grandson was fascinated by it in its beautiful simplicity is putting it mildly. At 28 months old, and a vocabulary normally bubbling forth, he was silent as we lit it. He then picked up his stuffed mouse, a version from the ever-popular Beanie line, about eight inches tall and with dangly arms and legs, and asked if his mouse could live in the tree. My husband and I looked at each other and figured why not, and helped him place the mouse amongst the mostly bare branches. He then proceeded to run around the room announcing to everyone and no one in particular that there was a mouse in Nana's house!

The mouse has been moving from branch to branch all morning, much to the delight of our grandson, though we have been careful to be sure that he never sees the mouse make a move. Such a simple thing, and he is having so much fun.

With the hustle and bustle that surrounds the holidays, it is often too easy to become overwhelmed with all the getting, and overlooking the giving, especially when there are children involved. We overlook the simple things, when that is what we should actually be seeking out, a bit of peace amidst the craziness. We feel as if we must get them every new toy advertised, and if we do not, they will somehow be neglected. This display with the bare tree and the mouse was a good reminder for me that sometimes kids like simple too.

Be sure to take time this busy holiday season, even if it means one less trip to the mall, and spend some time with your children doing something simple. Read them a Christmas story, cut out some cookies to bake and eat them together when they are still warm from the oven, look at the lights on the tree, and if your child or grandchild happens to have a favorite stuffed toy and they ask you if it can live in the tree, don't immediately say no. At least consider the fun that you can both share as that toy moves from branch to branch, bringing a bit of holiday imagination to life in the eyes of your favorite child.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Baby Sampler with Matching Gift Card

I was contributing editor at two different craft sites until recently, when I downsized, keeping just my crafting jewelry site. In the process of being the contributing editor, I created several quick, inexpensive gifts for various occasions. One of them was a baby sampler, done up in cross-stitch, with a matching gift card. It is ideal as a present for a baby shower, or for that special new mom in your life, such as a daughter or daughter-in-law. I thought instead of just tossing the instructions aside, they would be put too much better use if I shared them with you all, so without further ado:

Baby showers have become so commercialized that a handcrafted gift often evokes rounds of oohs and aahs, and a gift that has obviously been assembled with deep love for the new arrival even more so!

A cross-stitched sampler is one of those gifts that go the extra mile. Moreover, as long as you are comfortable with the basic cross-stitch, this can be completed quickly and inexpensively, but Shhh! do not tell anyone; just let them continue with the praise over all your hard work. To make the gift even more special, accompany the sampler with a 'sampler' gift card!

Needed Materials

10" x 12" 14 count white or ivory Aida cloth
DMC thread in colors of your choosing (It is recommended that you use a pastel color for the feet and a darker, contrasting color for the lettering)
Satin ribbon bow in corresponding color
Cross-stitch needle
Scissors
8" x 10" frame
Cross-stitch computer design program for the computer or graph paper

If using the computer, convert an image of baby feet (I found a perfect example in a clipart program) into a pattern approximately four inches wide, by six inches high. If using graph paper, graph out two baby footprints, either freehand, or by laying the graph paper over an existing image, such as a print you took from your own children. Stitch the finished pattern centered on the Aida cloth. Affix bow to the area above the feet. Stitch the babies name and birth weight directly over the feet in contrasting color. (If the baby has not yet arrived, put a small note with the gift telling the parents-to-be that you will finish the piece right after the birth.) Frame and give!

Sampler Gift Card Materials

One sheet cardstock
One sheet vellum
Paper punch
Scrap of satin ribbon
Scissors

Using the same image that you did for the sampler, in the same 4" x 6" size, trace onto cardstock and vellum, cut out. With the paper punch, punch through both shapes, at the heel; lay the vellum over the cardstock, which will be where you write, and tie together with satin ribbon. Instead of just jotting a quick sentiment, write some words of wisdom, such as 'Dust bunnies don't need feeding, so they make perfect pets!' 'Rock them when their little, hold their hearts forever', or even a tip or two that saved your sanity, such as 'Remember to put on shoes before leaving the house.'

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Box of Memories

My thirteen year old daughter just found her memorabilia box this afternoon as we have been lazing around the house this holiday. She snapped off the lid, and has since literally spent hours going through the collection of items that have found their way into posterity over the past thirteen years. Each item was seen anew with fresh eyes, and the stories had to be told all over again. When the mess had been reorganized and cleaned up, she announced, "Gosh, I'm a pretty special person! Everyone likes me and I'm really smart!" Now, I've known this for over a decade, but do you have any idea how unusual it is for a young teen girl to state those sorts of feelings? We usually spend time trying to convince her of her worth, value, and niceness. That's pretty normal for young teens, who often struggle with finding their place in the world and maintaining their self-esteem. I think we may have found a cure for the adolescent blues!

It wasn't what I had intended when I started the "Savings Boxes" for each of my girls so long ago. I thought I was collecting bits of their childhood so that they would have keepsakes when they grew up and left home. I wanted them to have something to share with their children as they told the stories from their early years. I know how much I, in my middle age, treasure the small bits that have been passed to me from my parents. I wanted them to have a bit more to enjoy, so I've been a bit more intentional about saving the odds and ends over time.

But this afternoon's foray down memory lane helps me to see that the Savings Boxes already serve an important purpose, long before I suspected that they would. The boxes of stuff are loved and appreciated by the girls right now, and they play an important role in self-esteem. The owners of the boxes feel loved and valued because someone took the time to collect these bits of life over the years. They can look back on newspaper clippings of special events in their lives, glimpse drawings and see samples of their first attempts at writing their names. All of the special moments are captured in the wrinkled remains of school program flyers, folded church bulletins, and a few pictures that have snuck into the boxes.

And even more important the the remnants of school events, the boxes contain artifacts from before their memories truly become clear. There are favorite toys from infancy and toddlerhood, outgrown clothing lovingly made for each child by Nana, and scraps of worn out shirts and dresses that were favorites in their time. Some can even be matched to the annual photograph, speaking of the importance of the garment.

And in the very bottom of the box, we find items that actually date back to the blessed event itself. The knitted hat that warmed baby's small head in the hospital is there, and so are the plastic bracelets that identified mother and child. The small bow that was glued to her head for her first hospital picture is there, too, and brings back memories for me if not for her. Her response is a bit more indignant: "What do you mean, they GLUED that bow onto my head??" We laugh together about the silliness of it all, and flip through the cards and gift tags that made their way into the collection. It's quite obvious that this child was anticipated, loved and wanted.

All together, when taken as a whole, looking through the Savings Box is a glorious experience. I enjoy the trip down memory lane, and she leaves the afternoon with the glow of accomplishment and love. I'm so glad that her father and I worked so hard on this collection. We're still adding to it, but it's obvious that what we've done so far is wonderful. It's a testament to our love and joy in our child, and sometimes, when you're thirteen, that's as important as it can be.

So, if you haven't already started a Savings Box for your baby, now is the best time to begin. Dig out the trappings that have been saved and gather them together in one place. Toss in the first drawings, the first writing, the preschool or daycare newsletters, clothing, toys, and books. Put in a few pictures, play programs, and beginning music books when they are older. Keep adding to the treasurehouse of memories until the box is so full that nothing more can fit, then start a new box. Keep adding to your collection until your children are grown and gone. And don't pack that box away beyond reach. Keep it somewhere where your child can reach it and look through it from time to time. You'll find it's an excellent source of strength and a wellspring of good feelings that will help your son or daughter through the rough parts of growing up.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Can I Spend the Night?

By Christina VanGinkel

My two-year-old grandson spent the night with us on Friday. When his parents came by on Saturday to pick him up, they stayed for a while visiting, and when it was time to go, he asked if he could stay with Nana and Papa again. My daughter and her husband saw no reason why he could not, so he again spent Saturday night with us. On Sunday, they arrived early, and my daughter and I went out to do some Christmas shopping, while my grandson and son-in-law went out themselves, getting some quality dad and son time together. By Sunday evening, we all met back at my house, where, you guessed it, he again spent the night. For those of you who do not read my tidbits about being a grandmother to this adorable child, you need to know that my daughter and her family travel for work and they have only recently arrived back home from several weeks down south doing cable restoration in some of the hardest hit areas from this summer's hurricanes. We, my husband, I, and our thirteen year old, gladly take every minute of time with him that we can, and we all share equally in spending time with him.

Somewhere in the midst of our extended weekend with him, I talked on the phone with a friend, who sounded surprised that we would keep him more than a single night, except if it was pre-planned, and she was even more surprised that his parents would allow him to stay. She said that her own son was a bit older, about three or four, when he asked to stay a second night with her parents and she did not let him, as he belonged at home. I did not even have a reply for her, as I do appreciate the fact that my grandson's parents are so willing to share this bundle of love, and I felt sorry for her that she could not see the wisdom in letting her son spend that extra night with his grandparents.

Well, by Monday, he was ready to go home, and while I would keep him forever, my old grandmotherly body was ready for some sleep. Chasing after a two year old is tiring work, even when the two year old is as well behaved and sweet as my grandson is. When my head hit the pillow last night, I was reminded of the time before my own first child was born, and someone telling me that my nights of uninterrupted sleep were about to end for at least the next twenty years or so. If I had been wise enough to listen to them, I would have grabbed every minute of sleep I could, before I jumped on the whirlwind so many of us call parenting. I would have also told the person that their estimate of twenty years was too low. I am on number twenty-three and I see no signs of it letting up with a thirteen year old in the house, who has just stepped into that other milestone we refer to as the teenage years.

If you are a new parent, or are about to become one, take a bit of advice from someone who is partly through the 'parenting' years. Take a nap whenever you can, take advantage of grandparents who offer to keep the babies and toddlers, because before you know it, those babies and toddlers will be school age, even teens, and you will be glad even more so for all the help you can get.

Respect Baby's Schedule

Our discussion of holiday travel and visiting with your baby wouldn't be complete without talk about how to manage the baby's schedule. This is another key to a successful and pleasant visit with your child in tow.

In case it's not yet obvious, I believe whole-heartedly in putting your little one on a schedule and then sticking to it. Research has shown that babies derive a sense of security from being able to count on the important parts of their daily routine happening when and how they always have, including meals, snacks, naps, and bedtimes. This sense of security develops when your child's life falls into a predictable pattern. It allows for nearly all other forms of learning, because that sense of security frees up the brain for other tasks. Do your baby (and yourself!) a favor, and develop a workable daily routine so your little one knows when to expect meals and sleep times.

But even the most stable of routines may come completely apart while you are visiting if you are not very, very careful. Your visit pretty much depends on keeping your baby happy and comfortable, so you should strongly consider sticking to your usual routines even when you are away from home.

Once you've arrived at your destination and the disruption of travel is over with, let your normal rhythms re-establish themselves. Try to feed your little one at the normal time, with the usual array of foods and the usual bottles, dishes and silverware. These familiar utensils will be a source of comfort for your child in what may seem like the world gone mad. Set up the sleeping area and put your baby down for the usual nap or bedtime. You can expect some tears, since things are going to seem very strange to baby. Comfort the child, then leave again, just like you do at home. If you rock the baby to sleep now, you may find yourself facing sleep problems at home when your baby decides that rocking to sleep is THE best thing in the world. Don't set yourself up for later trouble by doing things on your visit that you don't want to continue after you go back home.

It's also easy to want to sleep in while you are visiting. After all, this *is* your vacation, too. However, if you sleep in dramatically, and allow your baby to sleep in for hours, you will find that the sleep schedule for the rest of the day is disrupted, right on through to bedtime that night. Worse, your child is likely to be cranky and out of sorts. It's best to stick to your usual wake up time and get your baby up when he or she usually rises.

Avoid the temptation to skip the naps, too. Loving grandparents and doting relatives will all want to spend as much time as possible with your baby, but you should insist that the child be given the chances for rest and quiet time that match what you do at home. Your baby will feel better, and you will too.

Make sure that your little one's meals happen on time, even if the rest of the group is eating on a different schedule. Holiday meals, in particular, are often irregular. Many families eat a late brunch, then skip to a large meal in the mid-afternoon, instead of the usual breakfast, lunch and dinner schedule. Feed your baby on time, and then allow small amounts of appropriate snacks or foods when the big meal comes along. Or, if your child is too young to eat any of the grown-up food, simply seat the child and give him or her something to play with during the meal.

Keep the regular bedtime, too. Again, the family may try to change your mind by saying it's a special day and that they feel like they haven't had enough time with your baby yet. Be firm! Your baby's well-being depend on it. Put your child to bed when you think the time has come, and don't let even the most doting grandparents interfere with your decision. You know what is best for your baby, and it's up to you to enforce the rules and the schedule.

Your baby will feel better if you maintain your usual schedule and routines during your trip as much as possible. Put your child's needs on the top priority list, and the chances are very good that your baby will respond by showing his or her most pleasant self. Have a great trip!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Introducing Baby to Relatives

Many families travel during the holiday season and many visit distant relatives. These trips are intended to be wonderfully fun, bonding, memory-building times when baby can meet and enjoy the extended family, and when the family can see the baby. Some are even meeting your baby for the very first time, so it's an exciting time for everyone. However, it can also be a highly stressful time for you and for your baby. You will need to plan carefully, set the ground rules, and in general be in charge of your baby's well-being on this expedition. By doing so, you will help everyone to have a better, more positive visit and will find that you and your baby will be welcomed back for years to come.

First of all, it's very important to remember that babies can be very stressed by meeting lots of new people all at once. Well-meaning relatives and friends will want to see, talk to, and hold your baby. They will feel like this new addition to your family is a welcome person and that they have been waiting forever for this opportunity. You will need to be very careful that your child does not feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of new faces! Depending on your baby's age and developmental level, strangers may be quite frightening. Grandparents, doting aunts and uncles, and rambunctious cousins will feel that they are a part of this little one's family. They will want very much to introduce themselves and play with the baby. The baby, on the other hand, may well perceive these people as total strangers. Consider how your child currently feels about strangers. Chances are that if the baby is under three months of age, strangers are not particularly threatening. But if your baby is between three months and even up towards two or three years old, these unfamiliar people may seem downright dangerous and sinister. You will need to be cautious about how closely you allow them to interact at first, and insist that your baby set the pace and depth of interactions.

And it can be difficult for your relatives to understand why the baby can't "love" them right away. They forget, or fail to understand, that this is a completely normal developmental phase that all children go through, and that blood ties and family bonds count for little unless a person is in a child's life on a day-to-day basis. You may find that you have to fight for the right of your child to get to know these well-meaning relatives gradually, at their own pace and on their own terms. Stand up for your baby as vigorously as you need to. A stressed out infant or toddler will not make your trip pleasant. You may even have to physically insert yourself between your relative and your baby. I clearly recall an incident when I literally had to step between my eldest daughter (who was about one and a half) and her excited great aunt, who was intent on capturing the little girl for a big hug and kiss. My daughter had never met this lady and considered her an aggressive stranger, and my aunt actually tried to chase the poor child around the room when I intervened. She meant well, but hugs and kisses just were not in my daughter's best interests right then, and she needed me to enforce her wishes.

If your child is old enough to begin to understand words and pictures, you can help ease the situation by looking at photos together. Some families even make small books or use soft photo holders to display pictures of the people baby is likely to meet on the trip. Being able to talk about the names and relationships while looking at the faces may help some young children to accept these new people into his or her life. Some relatives may also be willing to write letters or send presents to the baby before the big visit, as well. Be sure to do what you can to make the connection between the letter or gift and the sender.

Finally, gently remind your relatives that babies are very sensitive to things that are outside of their experiences. Unusual odors (such as cigarette smoke or strong perfumes or colognes) may upset baby and should be avoided as much as possible. Bright, loud prints on clothing may be upsetting or confusing. Unfamiliar voices should be kept low and tones should be pleasant. All of these things will help baby to get used to the new family members more quickly and easily.

You can use all of these tips to help your baby make the best transition possible into these important people's lives. With just a little planning and forethought, you can make sure the visit is pleasant rather than disastrous. Talk to your relatives ahead of time if you sense that your baby might be uncomfortable around strangers and remind them that no matter how much they love your little one sight unseen, baby still considers them to be strangers and so may feel quite shy. Ask them to take their cues from you about how close of contact is appropriate. Remember to meet the baby's needs, and the rest of the visit should fall into place and you will set the stage for a life-long pleasant relationship with these important people.

Finicky Eaters and Holiday Meals

By Christina VanGinkel

With all the trimmings of a traditional holiday meal, one would think that there would surely be something amongst the elaborate spread to satisfy everyone's taste buds. Normally I would agree, unless that someone is a finicky toddler or preschooler. If you happen to be looking forward to the upcoming holiday get together, save for this small matter, do not fret another minute over the matter.

Whether you are making the meal at your own home, or going to the grandparents, make a dish that will compliment the main course, no matter how elaborate the main fare being served is. Not to mention one that will delight both the finicky child and the child inside each of the adults at the table. What one dish could satisfy both? A pot of fresh baked, and oh so creamy, macaroni and cheese!

I actually cheat a bit when making this, always starting with a couple of boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese that I simply embellish with fresh shredded cheddar cheese that I top it with at the last minute, then pop into the oven to bake until the cheese topping melts. If the child has a favorite meat, such as hamburger, chicken, ham, or my daughter's favorite when she was little, tuna, I will also mix that in with the pasta before topping with the cheese. This provides both a welcome dish, not to mention a filling and healthy dish for the child. Simply follow the directions on the box, dump into a small casserole dish, mix in any additional ingredients (already cooked and / or drained) top with the shredded cheese, and bake for about ten minutes or until the cheese topping is melted, and serve.

Another kid favorite, though this may surprise many, is fresh vegetables. When cooking, set aside some fresh carrots and celery. Slice into thin sticks, and arrange in small plastic, colored cups. Kids will enjoy having their very own 'munch stack' next to their plate. I always pour a bit of bottled salad dressing in the bottom of the cups, tell them it's dip, and they are happily dipping away instead of pouting that they do not like what is in front of them.

Another tactic that I have used through the years with a child that is at least pre-school age is to let them help create and cook at least one dish. If there is not something on the menu that they want to help create, hand them a cookbook that is filled with pictures, and let them browse until they find something. Be sure to start this several days before the actual meal so that you will have time to gather the needed ingredients. When they have a personal stake in the meal, they are more apt to want to eat it. This works great for finicky eaters; as they get to witness what is going into the meal, so do not have to worry about surprises. I always am honest with them too, and tell them upfront what is in a dish, especially if they ask.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Dealing With Morning Sickness (Morning, Noon, and Night)

By Christina VanGinkel

I found out that a good friend of mine is expecting her second baby in about five months. Her first child is just a year old, and this is a very wanted pregnancy. Problem is she has been so nauseous, that any celebrating has been put on permanent hold. She had hoped that when she entered her second trimester, that her morning sickness, which she says lasts morning, noon, evening, and throughout the night, would abate. It has not, and she is struggling with an on the move toddler while she feels as if she has been hit by a truck! I can relate, as my second pregnancy was troubled by the same malady. I ended up losing so much weight during the beginning of my second trimester that I was put on medication to ease the vomiting that occurred constantly, and would not even move out of bed upon waking until I nibbled a saltine, or for some reason, an apple.

When nauseous during a pregnancy, always check with your physician, and then do everything that is in your power, and will not harm your baby, to alleviate it. Know too that each person is different. For me, nibbling on an apple would help calm my stomach to the point that I could often get up and be somewhat productive. When I mentioned this to my friend, she said that even thinking about an apple first thing in the morning would surely make her ill.

I recall asking my physician why some women become nauseous and others do not. His reply was very straightforward. He did not know. He said that different doctors had different answers, but mostly no one had any distinct answer. Some felt that with all the chemical changes taking place in a pregnant body that it is a wonder not every pregnant woman is ill from conception until delivery. It made sense, yet I was very pleased that I had only been mildly ill during my first pregnancy. Later on, with my third child, I do not recall being ill past my first trimester, so each pregnancy was different from the other. I also know many women who claim they never had a minute of sickness throughout any of their pregnancies. Like children, each pregnancy is also as different from the next.

If you are going through a struggle with this malady, as I said before, first check with your doctor, then do anything safe that you think might help. Try eating before moving from bed. Try not eating until you are up a bit if the thought of food at all makes you ill. Sip water or ice, or try different frozen fruits. If you can isolate a smell or food that makes you ill, remove it from your home. If you work, and someone comes in with smelly cologne that absolutely sends you running, approach him or her with as much niceness as you can muster and explain to him or her, the problem. If they have ever been pregnant, or been by someone who has suffered from morning sickness, they may be sympathetic enough to alter what they are wearing. It sure cannot hurt to ask.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Two-Year-Olds Holiday

By Christina VanGinkel

My grandson, bless his heart, has grasped the 'true meaning' of Christmas, that is what is true to a two year old, and to anyone who is brave enough no matter their age, that wants to see beyond the glitz of yet one more gaily wrapped package!

His mother, (my daughter) had phoned me yesterday with a few questions about what I had bought for this family member and that, and if there was anything I wanted her to look for while she was still out of town and had access to several stores that are not anywhere in the vicinity of where we live. We talked for some time, and as usual at the end of any long conversation we have, she asked him if he would like to talk to Nana before she hung up, and he firmly replied 'No!' This is odd in itself, so she asked him why not. He went on to change his mind and replied 'Yes, I want to talk to Nana, I got to tell her something.'

Well, the first thing I said to him when he was on the phone with me was if he had been being good, as Santa was going to be bringing him gifts before to long. I had been asking him this for some time, and I now wonder if it had been upsetting him. Thus, the reason he did not want to talk to me, until he remembered that this time he had an honest answer to my question. He replied with the heart of a two year old that I love beyond words, that yes, he had been good, and wanted me to guess what he was bringing Nana. He went on to tell me that I had been a good girl and he was bringing me himself! I laughed so hard I nearly cried at the sweet meaning he had given to all this talk we grownups had been discussing over this all-important holiday, which we had all wrapped up with the silly idea of giving each other gifts. He had found the perfect gift that he could give. One that touched more on the true meaning behind this holiday than we grownups had awarded it in sometime. He had reminded us that family togetherness is a big part of the true meaning of Christmas.

No matter how many gifts I have wrapped up beneath my tree, no matter how many fancy dishes I make to eat, or how many holiday shows I watch on the television or go to the theater to see, it all means very little in the end unless I have someone to share it. If you find yourself going overboard this holiday season, try to see it all through the eyes of a toddler. Sitting in a chair reading a book to that child will likely mean much more to them than a slew of wrapped toys beneath the tree. If you have an elderly relative, or know of a shut in, go ahead and bring them a basket of fruit, but also an invitation complete with transportation to come out for the day to share a meal. Take a lesson from a two-year-old, and try to remember that without friends and family, the holidays, and all of their glittery wonder may be pretty... pretty boring that is!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Asking Doc All The Right Questions

Going to the doctor can be an overwhelming event for your and your new baby. When you go to the doctor on your own, you feel isolated and maybe a little concerned, if you are like most people. Going with a baby, however, can seem like an all-day event.

You have to get baby ready for the visit, which takes up enough time. Then you have to wait with the other nervous parents, wondering if everything is alright with your little bundle of joy. Once you get in the back, the fun begins. You must strip baby to weigh her and get her measurements. Then you have to wait for the doctor, whose exam will leave baby in a tizzy. Then there are the shots, painful for you and your little guy.

Whew! After all that, you realize that you forgot to ask about that weird snoring noise your baby makes sometimes. How can you avoid this problem?

Always write down your questions. Try to anticipate what your doctor will ask you in return. If you are concerned about your baby's spit-up, for example, keep a log for a few days before your visit. If you are feeding only milk, then you should have the times baby's throwing up. If you are feeding solid foods, keep a log of what you feed baby and when you are having problems.

Your doctor will be able to assess your baby better if you have all the information. Otherwise, the doctor is working from your memory, which can be deceiving. You also will get a lot of "ifs" and "maybes" if you do not have all of the information with you.

When you have a specific concern, be prepared to share it with the doctor. If, for example, your husband is a diabetic and you are noticing what you think could be signs of diabetes in your baby, tell your doctor. It is much better to have your question answered than to leave feeling unsure.

Saying, "he seems to use the bathroom a lot," won't help your doctor, and you may not get a serious response. Instead, try, "well, you know Jim has diabetes. I think Drew is going to the bathroom a lot, even for a baby. Is there a chance we could know he has diabetes this early?"

Being specific will help put your mind at ease. It also will help the doctor know why you are asking the question. Then you can go through more specific questions together and get to the source of the problem.

Don't be afraid to speak up for your baby - or to see another doctor if you don't like the answers you're getting. If you ask a serious question and the doctor is flippant in his or her response, you should be firm. Explain that you are really concerned, and you would like to know if there are other symptoms you should look for or if there is any possibility something could be wrong. Don't think of doctors as the final word; think of them as consultants on your medical conditions.

By Julia Mercer

Christmas With Baby

What are you getting the kids for Christmas? It is time that everyone heard that question. When you are the parent of a baby, however, you may have a hard time answering it. What do you get a baby?

Well, first, don't overspend. Be honest with yourself. Are you getting the toys for your own amusement or for your baby's pleasure? Your baby will not remember this Christmas and will get tons of toys from adoring aunts, uncles, and grandparents. There is no need for you to go into debt to buy gifts for your baby.

When you are buying, think ahead. Since your little one grows so quickly, you should think about getting some toys that she or he will be able to use in a few months. That way, your baby is not tired of the cloth blocks and little teething rings in three days. Pick up a riding toy or a workbench that requires more coordination and skill than baby has now. That way, when your baby is ready for something more challenging, you have just the thing in your closet.

Think about wrapping small. A riding toy obviously gets its own wrapping paper, but what about smaller gifts? Our baby will be 11 months old when Christmas rolls around, and we got him a box of magnetic letters and one of magnetic numbers. We are going to open them and pour the letters into his little stocking. The fun of Christmas for babies is the noise and opening of gifts. Wrapping up grouped items will give baby more to enjoy.

Don't skimp on the wrapping paper for baby. Remember that he or she will enjoy the unwrapping of the gifts, with your help, and crinkling the paper. That means you should forego those boxes that look as if they are already wrapped. Let your baby have fun with the paper, even if it was on someone else's gift.

Think about a gift of money. While a card with $20 in it is not a good idea for your baby, think about his or her financial future. If you don't yet have a simple savings account for your baby, now is the time to get one. You will know about the gift even if baby doesn't appreciate it yet. You also can look at opening a college fund.

If you want, you can get clothes and the other "necessary" but boring gifts. Now is the time to do that, when baby can't complain. While you should get a toy or two, you also should think about using the time to buy books or clothes for your little one. These gifts are ones that you will need to buy anyway, and if you are like most families with a baby, you need to save money where you can. Remember that this Christmas with baby will be a fun one. You should cherish this time with your little one before Christmas becomes tainted with the demands of a commercialized child.


By Julia Mercer

Be Confident With Your Baby

I had to go to the doctor last week for problems completely unrelated to my son. The doctor asked how much sleep I get. I laughed. "Oh, five hours maybe."

When he asked why I got so little, I tried to explain that I work from home and that part of my work time has to be when my son is asleep. That means that I wake up before him and work and stay up after him to work.

The doctor started railing away about how I have to take charge of my son and make him sleep. First of all, just saying that is ludicrous. Making my son sleep is not going to happen because he is way to feisty to allow it and because I think it is wrong. I know that my baby needs sleep, and he does sleep. I am not just going to force him to sleep, however, because I am tired. Second, the doctor clearly has problems listening to his patients because my son's sleeping patterns are not the cause of my five hours of sleep a night.

Still, the incident got me thinking. Yes, I will admit here that I am cynical about doctors, probably overly so. This doctor does not have any special training in childhood development, and my son's sleeping, unless he has a problem, is not a medical issue. It is a cultural decision for me to permit my son freedom in his schedule, even at this early age. I have read up on child-rearing techniques, and my partner and I have made what we believe are the best decisions for our son based on our overall parenting philosophy.

I did not say anything to the doctor at the time other than, "I don't believe in the Cry It Out method." It was for strategic reasons. I needed a referral to a specialist and didn't want to jeopardize my request. Still, I left furious.

Who appointed doctors as cultural guardians? Or little old ladies for that matter? I cannot tell you the number of women who told me during the summer months that my son needed a hat. I want to say, "No, lady, his head will sweat then."

I even think of being more polite. "Thanks for your suggestion, but we don't think he needs a hat."

Then there's, "I'm sure you raised your children the way you want. I'll do the same."

I say none of these, however. I just let it pass, but it stays with me. In nine months, I have learned how to be more confident in my parenting decisions. I hope more parents will do the same. Yes, we do know how to raise our children. Each generation makes mistakes and gets plenty right; we will be no different. So the next time someone tries to give you child-rearing advice, you can nod politely or you can tell them to back off. Either way, know that you are making the best choices for your baby.

By Julia Mercer

Helping Baby With The Stress Of The Holidays

Well, the holiday season is upon us once again. We find that we, as adults, stress out about the parties, the shopping, and the eating. Now that you have a baby, however, you must consider her or his feelings on the stress of the holidays, too.

Having a holiday with a baby is a new experience. First, try to keep your little one's schedule as happy and flexible as possible. Try to emulate your normal routine as much as possible. That means that while Grandma will want to hold baby all day, he still needs his nap. It can be tough, but be your baby's advocate. You need to pick him up and ask for quiet time when baby needs it.

Also try to keep his eating habits as close to normal as possible. Even the parents strictest about following recommended diets will splurge a bit during the holidays. It is cute to see baby take a little bite of stuffing or mashed potatoes or to cover her face with whipped cream. Just don't overdo it. While baby's diapers will let you know when you have gone too far, you should be sure to keep in mind that baby's tummy is little and cannot handle a fat overload.

To that end, you will need to be baby's watch guard. Do not let others give baby foods you know are not good for her or that you don't want her to have. It does not matter if others see the logic in your choice; stand up for it.

Besides the food and family, you likely will take your baby out during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. A normally tranquil trip to downtown shops can become a crazy, shopper-dodging experience. Babies are very sensitive to sensory stimuli. For many babies, too much noise will put them to sleep immediately. For others, too much noise will make them cry. You will need to watch for these signs. Just because you enjoy the sights in the light parade does not mean your baby will.

It is not intentional on baby's part. He or she probably cannot take the noise or the lights. You need to get baby away from those situations, which means avoiding enclosed areas where you will have to stay until the end.

Watch for signs when baby is sleepy or over-stimulated, even at home. If your house usually has four people in it, but you have 35 for the holidays, it can be too much for a baby. You need to be prepared to leave the fun, even if you are enjoying yourself, and take baby to another room. Play quietly or rock for 15 minutes so that your baby can get back to having a good time, too.

The holidays are stressful for everyone, and baby is no exception. It is just your job as a parent to be sure that you take care of baby's needs first. Everyone else can fend for him or herself, but your baby needs you to help reduce the stress.

By Julia Mercer

Babies and Home Businesses

More and more mothers are choosing to work at home. If you already have a home office from where you run a business, be prepared for some things to change after your baby is born. It doesn't make a difference if it is your first child or not, because the same changes happen with each new baby.

One area where you will begin to see changes is even before the birth. Often with a pregnancy, the mommy-to-be becomes more fatigued as the pregnancy months go by. This is actually an area where working from home is a piece of good fortune because when one makes their own schedule for a home business, it is very easy to take 30 minutes for a rest time and then just make it up later in the day or even after dinner if needed.

So enter a brand new baby. Suddenly things change because an infant has to have 100% of every need met by a parent. While a 3 year old may be able to grab an individually sized juice carton and a cheese stick from the refrigerator, an infant will need to be breast or bottle fed on schedule and you can no longer say "can you get a stick of cheese for your snack, please?"

The major change with a baby in the house for a family with a work at home business is that time needs to be switched around. For many, perhaps most new moms, the trade off is something they would never want to change. They are able to stay home with the newborn and still help the family finances by supplementing with whatever cash their business is bringing in. It will not be able to be "9 to 5" with an infant in the house, but maybe more like "7 to 8:30" and "9:15 to 11:02" and then "12:12 to 1:30" etc.

Newborns sleep for much of the day, but when the baby gets a little older, he or she will need as much of mom's attention as is possible to give. This is when juggling your hours will become something that you will need to think very carefully about. Chances are that it will work out just fine.

If your work is very demanding or time sensitive, you may want to consider hiring an older child or teen to come by for a few hours in the summer or after school. If you run an ad for this, the term would be "mother's helper." You will be in the house, so a younger child (within reason, of course, I'm talking about maybe a 12 or 13 year old) may work well and not need to be as old as your regular sitter. The "job" would be to spend time with the baby, maybe by reading or playing or just keeping the baby content. It will free you up for some of your work and you will be close by if any questions or problems arise.

Working at home with a new baby is certainly possible with a little juggling of your work schedule at times. You will most likely find that you are the envy of some of your friends who need to get back to "the corporate world" a lot sooner than they may have liked after having a baby.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Holiday Travel with Baby

Don't look now, but the holiday travel season is upon us! Thanksgiving is only a few days away, and Christmas and New Year's Day are following close on its heels. In many families, the calendar gives the signal to pack up the baby and the vast amount of stuff that you need for the baby and travel across counties and even states to visit with the grandparents or the siblings or the great-aunts and uncles. The extended family is no doubt clamoring to see your little one, and now the holidays are here and you're planning a big trip. Before you pack everyone and everything into the minivan for this expedition, here are a few helpful hints from a family who has vast experience with the process. Believe me, there are some things that you can do to make the trip more pleasant for everyone!

First of all, plan your trip carefully. Consider what time of day your baby is most likely to sleep for an extended period of time, and try to do the bulk of your driving then if your little one sleeps well in the car. For us, this was over the mid-morning nap, which was always longer and more reliable than the afternoon version. I also have friends that traveled over the afternoon nap quite nicely. A few brave souls like to do their traveling in the wee hours of the night, since baby sleeps a lot then, but you have to remember that when you arrive at your destination, YOU will be tired. If you choose to drive through the night, you will want someone else (whose patience and nerves are not frayed) to take care of your little one for a few hours while you get some rest.

Plan your route, as well. It will be very important to be able to stop to let the baby stretch, get a change of scenery (and clothes!), and maybe have a bottle or a snack. In many parts of the country, roadside parks are just not an option due to the weather. Instead, look for larger communities that you will be passing through or near. Your favorite fast food restaurant will have what you need, or you could stop at the local mall for some stretching, a meal, and a potty break. Wherever you choose to stop, keep in mind that you will want to take a break every hour and a half to two hours. This is important not only to change those diapers, but also for your baby's wellbeing. Car seats are wonderfully comfortable, but kids need to change their position or they will end up with uncomfortable cramps or stiff limbs. And of course, uncomfortable babies are noisy, crying babies, and they are very difficult to travel with.

If your baby is past about three months or so, chances are good that you will need to provide some sort of entertainment in the car while you are on your trip. Bring toys your baby likes, such as soft rattles, brightly-colored cloth or plastic or board books, and so forth. Stash a supply in your bag so that you can quickly replace toys that "escape" when your baby drops or throws them out of reach. It may be tempting to tie the toy to the car seat so it can be easily retrieved, but please don't do that. The long string that you will want to use can be a real hazard to your little one, who could become tangled in it, cut off circulation, or choke.

Be sure to carry food and bottles, and plenty of diapers, too. You don't want to run out of any of the essentials while you are on the road. Take extra wipes, a change of clothing or two, and an extra blanket. Pack all of these things where you can reach them easily in the car. It's very inconvenient to have to unpack the entire suitcase to find the extra diapers while you are still four hours away from your destination.

Consider investing in some children's music tapes or CD's. Most babies love listening to music, and many will fall asleep to their favorite tunes. As your baby grows, the music will also be a great way to occupy him or her in the car as you drive.

Keeping baby happy on the road really isn't too difficult. With just a little planning and judicious packing, you will be all set for an uneventful trip. You will arrive at your destination feeling better, and your baby will be better able to enjoy the visit, as well.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Personal Reflections on the Joy of Motherhood

I wasn't one of those "aimless" college students that drift through four or five years on campus without a real idea of what they want to do with their lives. Ever since freshman year of high school, I knew what I wanted to study and I had a plan of action. In all those years of high school and college, I never considered children to be a part of my future. Even when I started having serious relationships, the thought of children never once entered my mind. In fact, if anything, I always felt that I wouldn't have kids.

After school, I embarked on my chosen career. Up to that point, most of the details in my "life plan" were unfolding more or less according to schedule. I eventually got married, and other things continued to progress, but still no children.

Then, after three years of marriage, it happened. We weren't really planning on it, so when I found out that I was going to have a baby, I was a bit taken aback at first. I wasn't overjoyed by the news; I was much too shocked for that. I didn't take too well to my pregnancy, either. I experienced a lot of discomfort the whole way through, and was of course forced to give up a job that I loved.

I also wondered if I would be able to handle motherhood. Unlike a lot of my friends, I never had a babysitting job when I was a teenager and I didn't know the first thing about changing diapers, feeding, or bathing a newborn. What's more, I was in such bad shape during my pregnancy that I didn't even have the energy to read any parenting books. I really didn't know what to expect, and doubted that I would be up to the task.

But when my son was born, all of those doubts and uncertainties instantly melted away. The moment that I held my baby in my arms and looked at his precious face, I knew that everything would be ok.

I grew up so much during the first few months of motherhood. I discovered that being a mother really is all that it's cracked up to be -- and much more. I could hardly believe that I was nurturing a brand new human life, that with my love, care, and attention, this tiny being would hopefully grow up to be a wonderful person. It was a lot to take in at the time, but these were definitely joyous thoughts.

The last two and a half years haven't always been easy. I've had my fair share of sleepless nights, baby illnesses, and more recently, toddler tantrums. But through it all, my son remains the true pride and joy of my life.

So for those of you who might be going through your own period of doubt, believe me: I totally understand. But in all likelihood things will work out just fine for you, and you'll soon experience the unparalleled joys of motherhood for yourself.

Art Department in a Box

By Christina VanGinkel

With some holiday shopping already done, but still more to come, I have been trying to think of a few small things I can get for my young grandson. As I was browsing the craft aisle for some items for myself, I realized that I could put him together his very own art kit for just a few dollars and fill it with all sorts of interesting items. I bought some things right on the spot, and also stopped at our local dollar store, where nothing is ever more than a dollar, and added a few more items from there.

To create your own inexpensive craft kit for a toddler or preschooler on your holiday shopping list, first purchase a plastic tub, such a those intended for shoe storage or craft products. I personally liked an off brand one I found at the local Wal-Mart, in the aisle by the laundry baskets and other plastic storage. It is a bit taller than a shoebox and the lid stays attached, opening from the middle.

Depending on the age of the child, you are creating your kit for; you may want to exclude some of the items, such as the scissors. As long as the child will have adult supervision while using the contents though, everything should be suitable for any child over the age of three. I included the following in my grandson's Art Department in a Box, as I have been calling it.

Plastic storage box with lid
Glue or glue stick
Scissors
Assortment of paper (I included several packs of construction paper, a pad of lined ABC paper, and an assortment of scraps that I harvested from my own scrapbook room)
Bag of google eyes in assorted colors and sizes
Bag of assorted colored pompoms
Pack of pipe cleaners
Kid friendly clay in assorted colors
Pack of colored and a pack of plain Popsicle sticks
An inexpensive pack of ABC stencils

Besides the items that I bought, I also went through my own extensive collection of craft items and put together several small Rubbermaid containers of assorted embellishments such as buttons, brads, fabric scraps, feathers, glitter, and beads in assorted sizes and colors. When I added the beads, I went back to the store, bought a pack of shoelaces, and added those for stringing the larger beads.

One last item that I also bought when I went back for the shoelaces was an inexpensive lap tray made for sitting in front of a television while eating a snack. I found a plain colored one and I plan to decorate it with his name and the words 'Art Space', and a few silly doodles to get his creativity rolling. I figured he could use it at the table, on the floor, even in his room on his small desk. This way, if he is in the middle of doing something with his art supplies and needs to put them away quickly, he can just toss the supplies into the box and leave whatever he is working on right on the tray itself and stow it away. If you have a budding artist in need of a gift, put them together their very own 'Art Department in a Box'.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Dealing with Toddler Tantrums

By Christina VanGinkel

With all the hustle and bustle and overcrowded aisles, long waits in lines, and just an overly busy feel associated with stores this time of year, it is no wonder that some children who are normally well behaved when shopping, show a bit of 'melt down' as I like to refer to it, at this time of year. My grandson experienced a bit of it today, to my daughter's horror, in the middle of a very busy Wal-Mart. He decided while shopping that he was not going to sit in the cart any longer. No amount of prodding, no firm 'No's', nothing, was keeping him in the cart. While many two year olds may be kept stationary to a point by the seat belts that many stores such as Wal-Mart provide in their carts, he has mastered the art of unbuckling them, several months ago in fact. So, when he asked to be taken out, it was at that point safer for him having his hand held as he walked along with his mom, then leaving him in the cart where he was intent on unbuckling his self and climbing out.

He then went from these insistent pleas to be taken out of the seat, to walking alongside of his mom holding her hand, to finally sitting in the back of the cart, where his 'eruption' occurred. A friendly Wal-Mart associate commented to my daughter, who was pushing the cart by the side, so that she could keep one hand on her son, that it would be easier if she just put him in the front seat of the cart. No kidding is what she wanted to say, but my daughter, ever the congenial person, just replied that it worked better this way. As the woman began to say something else to her, my grandson stood up, with my daughter still holding his hand and proceeded to punch my daughter, not once but three times. He then started to cry and wail and as I said before, and have a meltdown. The sales associate made a remark about a spanking doing wonders, for which my daughter said she glared at the woman and made a remark back at her that spanking an already upset and tired child was not going to solve or help anything.

My daughter, ever the calm one, told him that was not acceptable, quickly finished her shopping, checked out, and headed home. Why did he do this? He is two, he was probably tired, and he most likely felt overwhelmed by the whole shopping scene itself, with the associate pushing the whole scenario just a bit too far.

When I asked her if he received a timeout, she said he did, in his car seat on the way home, while she talked to him about what had occurred. (It was a timeout because he was not allowed to have any toys or a book.) It would have done no good to wait until they got home she explained, as he would not have a fresh mindset of what just occurred. If you have to shop with a toddler during this busy time of year, and they experience an unexpected tantrum, try to remember that they can become quickly stressed in all the commotion that comes with the holidays, but staying calm yourself will go a long way towards calming them down.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Age Recommendations for Toys

By Christina VanGinkel

Toy shopping can be fun for both the shopper and the recipient, if the shopper is careful enough to purchase toys that will fit the intended age of the receiver. I have grown accustomed to trusting the recommended age guidelines on products, with a bit of additional knowledge in regards to the actual child who will be playing with the gift. For example, I know a four year old who puts everything imaginable in his mouth, with toys being no exception. I have always refrained from giving him items such as Lego's, even though they are recommended for ages much younger, simply because I do not want to be responsible for his choking on one of the blocks. My grandson, on the other hand, is just over two years old and I intend to purchase him Lego's this holiday season, as he already has a couple of sets and my daughter said he plays with them obsessively and has never once placed one of them in his mouth, or any of his other toys for that matter.

As I said, I have grown accustomed to trusting the recommended age guidelines, but I learned an important fact about these guidelines placement when it comes to advertising, in this particular instance, online. I entered an online store's clearance section, which was separated by type of toy and age. When I entered the section marked toddler, I was slightly surprised to see several toys that I was sure were not intended for a toddler, not even an advanced one. Clicking on the product itself and reading the description which included the recommended age, which was three years old by the way, it had an additional not by the seller that in their opinion it would be much more appropriate for a child closer to the age of five and up. While the product was listed correctly according to the recommendation of whomever sets these guidelines, the online store had taken the time to post a not with it that in their opinion they would be cautious with the toy being used by a child of that age.

While I am sure that a small toy store may have knowledgeable staff that would impart the same wisdom to some of their shoppers, this online store was making sure that any intended purchaser was aware of their opinion about the appropriateness of the toy (Which matched my first impression by the way!), for its intended age group.

I learned a valuable lesson from this simple tactic the online store took. To trust my judgment in addition to reading labels, and if shopping online, to be sure to read any additional notes the storefront may have taken the time to add to a products description. While some people may feel that Internet shopping lacks 'a personal touch', in this instance I found the online shopping scenario to take on a very personal attitude with what they were selling, going above and beyond what they had to do. Shop online this holiday season and remember that there are real people behind the counters, the same as in any other store!

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Go to the Movies With Baby

Having a new baby at home necessarily brings many changes to your life.  For the most part, these are welcome changes.  There's nothing in the world quite like loving, caring for, and watching your newborn grow.  However, there are some not-so-welcome changes that come along with your new baby as well.  For example, one common complaint I hear from first-time parents is the complete and utter lack of a social life that they now must deal with.  This can be difficult to adjust to, especially for a younger, under-30 couple that used to go out regularly.  After all, you're not going to be able to enter a bar or a really upscale restaurant with baby in tow!

Though you may have to give up your Friday night beer outings and your Saturday night 5-star restaurant meals, there are still some things you can do even with a new baby.  For instance, if you're an avid moviegoer, you'll be happy to hear that many theater chains in major cities across the country now offer daytime matinees that allow parents to bring babies to the show.  Here's what you can expect from one of these baby- and toddler-friendly outings.

One of the pioneers of baby-friendly movie showings was the Loews chain.  The program, called "Reel Moms", usually takes place once a week.  I believe the individual theaters select the day (it mostly seems to be Tuesdays in my area, but I'm not sure if this is a nationwide thing) for showing a first-run movie in the late morning at around 11:00 or 11:30 a.m.  From what I've seen, the movie selection changes pretty frequently.

Once inside the theater, you'll immediately know that this is not your typical movie experience.  First of all, there are changing tables set up in the back.  This is great because you can change baby without having to trek all the way to the bathroom and you won't miss any of the movie.  Second, the lights and sound aren't set to the same levels that they would be for a regular showing.  The lights merely get dimmed instead of going out completely, and the sound is turned down quite a bit so as not to hurt baby's sensitive ears.

The best part about this type of matinee is the fact that you'll get to see a variety of new movies in a great setting.  Everyone knows that certain movies were just meant to be seen on the big screen with popcorn and SurroundSound.  Sure, you could eliminate all the hassles of trying to get out of the house with baby by waiting patiently for new movies to come out on DVD, but what's the fun in that?  

Programs such as Reel Moms are a fantastic way for you to be able to do something fun without having to worry about leaving baby home with a sitter.  This kind of thing is also a wonderful break from the usual playgroup activities, so the next time you get together with other moms and dads, consider taking in a matinee with baby.

Getting Out with a Newborn during the Holidays

By Christina VanGinkel

A new baby's arrival is special at anytime, and one who arrives in the midst of the holidays carries with them a bit of extra special ness. However, with so many family gatherings taking place during the weeks surrounding the holidays and stores overflowing with more than the average crowd though, getting out with that new baby in tow can be a bit more hectic than if baby had arrived at any other time during the year. While not many people keep a newborn on lockdown from germs as they did in days past, the return to caution is coming back, and rightly so. Exposing a newborn infant to any place that is crowded with sneezing, sniffling, coughing people may not be the wisest thing to do, especially with concerns of the new strains of flu viruses possibly making the rounds. This does not mean you should stay home and miss family gatherings, though it does mean you should take more care in the planning of any shopping trips and quick stops here and there to avoid unnecessarily contact with people, and possibly pass on large family gatherings, choosing just a few smaller ones to attend.

If you know you are going to be running in an out of several different stores, or will be spending a large amount of time at one place, such as a mall, consider leaving baby home with your significant other or a trusted babysitter or other family member. If you must take baby with you, be sure to learn the word 'No!' While well meaning people may only want to sneak a bit of pleasure from holding and snuggling a newborn, learn to politely, but firmly, say no to them. Have a quick answer ready, such as my all time favorite, that baby has had an upset stomach all morning, (or all afternoon, etc., whatever works) and you would feel just terrible if they spit up all over them. Be warned though that some people will be persistent and still want to hold your sweet little one. Stand firm, and just tell them that no, that you think baby is coming down with something and you prefer that no one hold him or her.

Even at family gatherings, learn to just tell everyone that with all the colds and flu viruses making the rounds this year, that you know you are probably over reacting, but you would just feel better if baby was not passed around. Tell them they may admire baby all they want, but that you are requesting no one other than immediate family hold him or her. If you feel this just will not work, then you will have to decide beforehand if you will just pass on some of the more crowded festivities this year. Feign tiredness, lack of sleep, just still feeling a bit out of sorts with the newness of baby, whatever you want to tell everyone, that you will be passing on this year's party, and you will see them next year when life is not so hectic.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Christmas Gift Ideas for Infants

If there is a new baby on your "to shop for" list and you haven't a clue what a good and appreciated gift would be, you are not alone. All you realize is that the baby is too young for the fabulous toys that are available and they grow out of clothing so fast.

One thing to do without worrying too much about what to buy is to ask the parents for a gift suggestion. There's a chance that they really need something and you could supply it wrapped in bright Christmas paper. If diapers or formula is what they really need, it may not sound like an exciting gift, but you know that you will be helping them with something the baby really needs.

Another gift idea is something my teenage brothers gave my daughter when she was a baby. Her birthday is in August so she was four months old for that first Christmas. I was delighted to open that big box and find row after row of baby food jars. It makes a lovely gift. Don't forget to put some boxes of baby cereal in there if your gift choice is food, plus a huge variety of baby food goodies. The age of the baby will determine whether you put any junior food or meat in the box.

Another idea for an infant Christmas gift is to buy a savings bond for the baby. When it matures in the number of years it takes, the child will have a jump on a savings account if they do not already have one. There are various issues of bonds, so asking someone at the bank which one would best serve your needs is always a good idea.

Although very young infants will not "play with toys" in the traditional sense, there are a few things that would still make a good gift idea. One such thing is something that Gund sells. It is called "Baby Gund" and is part stuffed animal while the other part can be used as a security blanket. The "body" of the stuffed animal is made in a blanket-like material and as soon as the baby is able to hold things, this may become a favorite toy.

Also concerning blankets, consider giving a quality baby blanket as a gift. Many of them now are as soft as velvet and they make an excellent baby gift. Something else that is made with the same soft material now is a "sleep sack" for baby.

If you happen to find a CD of lullabies for babies, it would be a special gift. If the parent will be playing the music at bedtime or naptime, you won't want anything too "busy" to stimulate the baby. Many collections of music made especially for babies are simply orchestral and have no lyrics to distract.

Last but not least, it is a unique idea to give a special Christmas ornament for the baby, perhaps with "Baby's First Christmas" engraved. In fact, if this is a child you will be buying a gift for each year (i.e. close relative) you may want to start a tradition of giving a dated ornament along with your main gift each year.