Saturday, May 30, 2009

Beautiful URLs: Some Favorite Links, May 30

Bewitching perspectives from around the web:
  • Handkerchiefs are pretty handy with kids, so I usually carry one or two in my bag. This easily folded doll (The Common Room) turns out to be their killer app for the Raptor. She loves to pull and chew on these little gals. I'm having trouble figuring out the guy instructions, so if anyone figures it out, please send me a picture.
  • Don't miss the opportunity to send your handmade doll to Casa Bernabe Orphanage in Nicaragua in Craft Hope's second project. There's still enough time to meet the June 13th arrival date, but the dolls will need to be in the mail soon.
What do you think? Seen any great posts lately?

Friday, May 29, 2009

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream Socials!

The timing on this is much like a pop quiz, but wouldn't you love to win a 100 person ice cream party for your neighborhood?

Don't miss tonight's 11:59 PM (ET) deadline, to enter Edy's Slow-Churned Neighborhood Salute.

In a 1 minute (or less) digital video or a short paragraph (350 word maximum), explain why your neighborhood or community group should win one of the 1,500 ice cream parties Edy's is giving away.

Sorry about the short notice. I kept forgetting to add this to earlier Beautiful URLs, but we both know you would have put it off until the last minute anyway.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Beautiful URLs: Some Favorite Links, May 24

Look what followed me home from the Interwebs:
  • Princess pedestal: How many girls are on one? (AP) dicusses how some families have growing concerns about princess thinking in a turbulent economy. Though the Raptor is only 6 months, we make conscious effort not to call her angel or princess. Jim keeps talking to her about cryptography. Princess play will be fine here when she chooses it, but then she'll meet the real (hard-working, socially conscious) princesses (and queens) from The Daring Book for Girls rather than the Disney variety.
  • is a group of US bowling alleys offering kids 2 free games of bowling DAILY during the summer. This is the best deal for kids with bowling shoes (shoe rental is $3.75 here), it's a good deal even for a casual bowler (it's $4/game at our favorite alley). Register your kids online to participate. Want to bowl along with your kids? For $24 you can get a family bowling pass that allows two games daily (all summer) for an adult (additional packages available for 2, 3, and 4 adults). Thanks to Cara at Working Moms Against Guilt for sharing this program!
  • Want to watch an interesting nest from your living room? Jonah Lisa at the Toby Show is offering daily Nest Cam photos of a robins' nest on her beautiful Utah porch (I can see why the robins chose to build there). If you're feeling more like drinking from the visual information firehose, the Indianapolis Star has a live feed from a falcon's nest high above Monument Circle. This grittier feed (the birds brush against the lens) currently offers fluffy fledglings looking to leave the nest. If you want to know what's happening in the nest, just check out the falcons' blog. (via Indy citizen, weight loss blogger, and world traveler: Pasta Queen).
  • I dread the day naptimes end here. Muses of Megret brilliantly suggests making quiet time CDs to keep the natives peacable so caregivers can get a much-needed midday break.
What do you think? What posts have caught your imagination this week?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Presence, Not Presents: Why We Throw No Gift Parties (& How)

Like many things in life, our no gift kid parties started with a simple decision, an agreement among friends.

Through a hospital-sponsored lactation group, I became close with 4 families who had infants born within a month of Ranger. A few months before their first birthdays, the older sibling of one of the 6 babies had a birthday party. One mom volunteered to organize a group gift for the birthday girl. At the party, we discussed the impending month of 6 birthdays.

Everyone agreed that 5 separate gifts for babies would be overkill as our kids could all anticipate more than enough presents from grandparents alone. Someone posed the question if we'd mind NOT giving gifts among the group. I was filled with relief. My days were still consumed with post-tornado, post-flood repairs and appeals to our insurance company; our nights, if it rained, were filled with basement leak management. Jim and I were exhausted physically and emotionally. The thought of finding 5 thoughtful, personal gifts with our then cash-poor budget made me queasy. My awesome friends all pledged not to give birthday gifts (because one gift makes everyone feel bad).

And we didn't. Which is impressive as we live in a place slightly above the Mason-Dixon line where gifts are a part of the convivial, generous culture. Instead, we found other ways to support and give to our friends. The question "What can we bring?" shifted into the gap that presents previously occupied. Outdoor parties were met with offers for bringing chairs and kids' picnic tables. One torrential evening I drove by the flooded shelter house where 3 families had scheduled an outdoor party for the following day. Within a few hours, I'd secured a couple offers for free use of indoor facilities. The next day, while parts of town were closed by flash flooding, we were eating an indoor picnic. We've all loaned decorations, brought food, and helped with set-up, tear down, and serving. One incredible mom made cakes for all the kids' first birthdays.

The parties rocked. Our kids got to play, relatives of the birthday child got to meet all the kiddos, and tasks tended to be lighter with plenty of good friends as willing helpers. There were gifts from the birthday child's families, but the non-birthday kids generally ignored the present-opening portion of the day.

More people joined the baby group, and we filled them in on the no gift agreement. Party attendance did not obligate anyone to invitation reciprocation or assistance with the event, so new families were free to conduct their own parties as they saw fit.

For the past 3 years different people have thrown parties. Sometimes we just celebrate with cupcakes at playgroup or doughnuts and carousel rides at the mall. Other times there are parties with activities and lunch.

For Ranger's third birthday, we raised the stakes. We threw our first actual party and broke all the expert recommendations by inviting oodles of attendees (over half of which were under 6). As our house is already bursting at the seams with toe-stubbers, this was our invitation:

No Presents, Just Partying.
There was some kerfuffle. We told everyone that the kids would have more fun without presents.

And we meant it. Before Ranger was born we attended a few kid parties where gift opening was part of the entertainment. The birthday kid unwraps an endless pile of gifts while the other kids fidget, envy, or fight over the new toys. The birthday kid is expected to respond appropriately with excitement and gratitude for each gift before it is snatched away and replaced with another package. Depending upon the party's adult leadership, the gifts are then put in protective custody (which tantalizes and torments other kids) or they are handed out for general use while the birthday kid keeps unwrapping (which tantalizes and torments the honoree).

Too many gifts arrive at one time, so a wonderful gift may get little notice. A lot of gifts may be last minute purchases and not particularly well suited for the recipient. The unwrapping provides lots of opportunity for awkward, uncomfortable moments.

It seemed far easier to omit gifts. Grandparents (who are unstoppable in their generosity) could give gifts at a quieter time when Ranger would be more likely to appreciate them. Other relatives were wonderful in helping prepare the meal and assist with the craft. This gave Jim and I much more time to play with Ranger and the other guests.

A few skeptics showed up with gifts, and those few gifts were discreetly set aside and opened after the party. We were sure to write thank you notes for those gifts when we thanked everyone who helped us with the party logistics.

Our party started at 10 AM, with lunch and cake around 11:30, but most people weren't ready to leave. We went back to dancing and activities until 2 PM. That is a long party, especially for kids around 3 years old.

AND NOBODY CRIED until it was time to go home. No joke. Over a dozen wee attendees and no tears. Lots of laughing, lots of dancing, some crafting, some block-building, and a fair amount of running, but no crying.

Many parents told me that they found the no present situation quite pleasant.

I feel like the party is a gift in itself, and a very special one at that. Friends and family gather to celebrate your existence, special foods are served, and everyone wants to have a good time.

When presents are introduced, a birthday can become judged solely on the gifts received. We want Ranger and the Raptor to grow up seeing the incredible wealth they have in the people who love them. We want them to understand that a caring community outweighs material desires.

For weeks Ranger talked about all the people who danced with him.

Attentive readers of this blog know I make a lot of birthday gifts (crowns and banners in particular), so how does that fit with a no-gift practice? I often give the crowns and banners before the actual event, and I usually give them to the parents. (FYI: There's no problem with spontaneous gift giving in our group.) That way the parents can decide if they want to incorporate the banner in the decorations or hang it over the breakfast table. Birthday crowns are sometimes worn all day (on trips to the grocery store, etc.), but more often become a part of the child's daily play. It's always a sweet feeling to see a crowned head round enter the room when visiting friends.

We do also attend gift parties to which we bring gifts (sometimes handmade, sometimes purchased). Our preferences and values are not those of every family, so we don't consider hosting no-gift birthdays a "free pass" to breech normal etiquette.

Now, I'm sure some readers are sharpening up their pixels to give me a list of reasons why this doesn't work in the real world, but it did. It was an advantage that my some of my friends had a pre-existing agreement, but they only comprised a portion (less than half) of the party invitees.

We'll post more about Ranger's 3rd birthday soon (before he turns 4), but the time seemed right for this topic now. Thanks to Thingamababy and Daddy Types for opening this interesting conversation.

What do you think? (I promise not to weep too copiously at any opposition.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Beautiful URLs: Some Favorite Links

A few favorite links from this week:
  • Why I Feed Formula at adjunctmom reminds me why judging other moms, especially strangers, is bad business. This article resonates with me because I was hospitalized during Ranger's first year. While I had to completely curtail breastfeeding for my own survival, Jim and Ranger struggled with cold turkey weaning. Those were dark, sad, trying days for our family, yet they are nothing compared to adjunctmom's experience. (related: The Boob Wars)
  • Young Americans Losing Their Religion (ABC News): Robert Putnam, author of Bowling Alone, presents his new research regarding a distinctive move away from faith communities in America starting with Gen X. The reasons for the change are interesting, though probably not startling to those in and after Gen X. Are we on the cusp of "religious innovation" as Putnam suggests? Either way, his observations seem like a roadmap for someone wanting to grow a younger faith community.
  • Dot @ is a great blog about drawing, art, and kids. Dabbled is a wealth of great ideas and generousity. Last year we used her wonderful copyleft robot invitations and art for Ranger's 3rd birthday and adapted her sweet bots to fondant for Ranger's cake. She's running an awesome contest to win 500 postcards of your own design from All you have to do is comment with a creative use for self-printed postcards. Enter now, the contest ends very soon (Monday)! If you win, send us a postcard!
  • If I haven't accosted you in person already, every parent should read Malcolm Gladwell's newest book Outliers. I read it during those first early AM feedings with the Raptor. Even if you haven't read it, you should check out Gladwell's recent New Yorker article on How David Beats Goliath. Jim and I classify it among parenting must-reads like Po Bronson's How Not to Talk to Your Kids.
  • Offline, if you have the June issue of Parents Magazine, please turn to page 76 and see Jeremiah and Zella of Z Recommends. As a friend observed, it's pretty cool to see a blogging dad mentioned with the likes of Brad Pitt and Jack Black.
What do you think? What posts have caught your eye and imagination this week?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Menu Planning for New Eaters:

At 6 months, the Raptor can easily be described as an enthusiastic eater. It's a joy and a relief after years of struggling with Ranger over food.

I recently stumbled onto (I cannot figure out how I got there, so please let me know who I owe credit for this). This amazing site is great for the confounded parents of early eaters.

Babyfood101 offers a weekly email outlining two new foods for baby (see week 2). The email instructs on the selection and preparation of the foods, the appropriate age for introduction, homemade baby food recipes, storage, whether or not the food is sold in jars, if buying organic is worthwhile, and adult recipes for the same ingredient.

It's like Relish for babies!

The emails start with recommendations for the earliest eaters and progresses to more complex foods over time.

Babyfood101's web site is also searchable by food, recommends gear (starting hilariously with the finger), offers a grocery guide, discussing making baby food, foods to avoid, recommended books and web sites, and a first feedings question and answer section.

Bon appetit, mes petit amis!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Last year my oldest friend called me to say she had been bidding on the local public television auction. She won two items, a sightseeing flight over town and a will. I told her to schedule the flight in the tiny plane second. Then I felt immensely guilty for having a child and no will. Being me, I stuck my head in the sand for the next 11 months.

Then my friend and former college advisee, now a doting stay at home dad, posted to Facebook about creating his will. Jim and I congratulated him on being more adult than we were and my head went firmly back into the sand.

A week later the public television auction rolled around. I cannot resist watching and bidding. There was an estate package this year (2 wills, 2 powers of attorney, 2 living wills, and a family trust).

The package's retail value was intimidating, but we crossed our fingers for something in our budget. We locked horns with another serious bidder and they won the auction.

Another estate package came up a few nights later. We bid on it only to find the live bidding wouldn't start until we would be out of town. I was sure that we would lose the auction with our low bid, so I made a note to call my friend to watch and bid for us. I forgot to call her.

That Saturday night my cell phone rang. It was time for live bidding. I didn't realize they would call me. I waited on the line as no one called in to bid against me. The auctioneer closed the auction. We had won.

Tonight we had our first meeting with the lawyer. All day anxiety flooded over me. In retrospect, it was a waste of energy to be so concerned. The meeting went well. I learned a lot and feel pretty assured that our kids will be loved and cared for even if Jim and I meet an untimely end.

There's some life insurance shopping to be done now, but I know what kind/amount of coverage I should be carrying.

This part of adulthood kind of sucks, but our kids deserve such provisions.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Required Reading: A Visitor for Bear is Welcome Here

Most weekdays, shortly after two PM, I can be heard rumbling "It's impossible, insufferable, intolerable!" while my son laughs or joins in.

Ranger is a kid who loves repetition, so one book can dominate our naptime and bedtime selections for weeks on end. Bonny Becker's A Visitor for Bear contends to be our longest running favorite.

I am surprised not to be tired of this book after so many readings, but I actually look forward to reading it aloud.

The book concerns a bear who is repeatedly visited by a persistent mouse requesting tea. Bear, a grouchy loner, points to the prominent "No Visitors Allowed" sign on his cottage door and sends the mouse on his way. The little mouse, a spritely rodent Houdini, keeps appearing in the cupboards and cabinets as bear goes about "the business of making his breakfast." Bear progressively barricades his house only to find the chipper interloper in a new location.

Finally, the bear breaks down and agrees to serve the mouse "a spot of tea" before "a crackling fire" on the condition the fuzzy fellow will leave afterward.

SPOILER: In a twist ending, the bear ends up enjoying the mouse's company immensely and is disappointed at his departure. Bear pleads for the mouse to stay. The mouse reminds Bear of his sign. Bear tears down the sign saying, "That's for salesmen, not for friends!"

The mouse brightens, and the pair can be seen sharing more tea by the fire at the book's close.

A Visitor for Bear incorporates repetition without being obnoxious.

Kady MacDonald Denton's illustrations charm and entertain in harmony with the text. When I read the book I can imagine Bonny Becker's pleasure upon seeing these lovely, fitting representations.

This talent author-illustrator team is certainly one to watch. Their next Mouse and Bear book, A Birthday for Bear, is expected in September 2009. I'm going to pre-order it today.

Movie Slasher: Too Small Shirt As Room Decor

When I saw Wolverine looking up from the rummage sale table, I knew exactly who would appreciate him. The t-shirt being at least a size too small was no deterrent.

With some strategic cutting, a pillow insert, and a few supplies from my sewing cabinet, Wolverine became the newest accent pillow in the neighborhood. Tomorrow it will be delivered to its new owner.

Nothing like an erratic comic book hero with a wry sense of humor to spice up a room.