Celebrations with style

Michele Reiter of Chicago might be a novice when it comes to taking care of a baby (she’s just days away from giving birth to her first), but she’s an expert when it comes to attending baby showers. She’s honored many women throughout the years in the"ladies-only” shower fashion.

Reiter loves that a shower makes the mom-to-be feel special, but admits that the gatherings can feel stilted."You go in, meet and greet, get something to eat… then open presents,” she says."Usually, my friends and I go out after the shower!”

A fading formula?

Say"baby shower” and many of us envision an afternoon filled with polite conversation, light refreshment and ho-hum activity. Jacques Blaauw, an event meeting planner and caterer at J Events in Chicago, confirms that there’s not much mystery in planning a typical shower."There’s a definite pattern to them, a pattern that’s rarely broken,” he says.

This pattern (for some) translates into boring—and ripe for change, which is just what Reiter wanted to do for her own shower. When friend Sarah Kruse, also of Chicago, offered Reiter the option of a ladies brunch or a Saturday night"baby party” with friends (both women and—gasp!—men), Reiter happily chose the latter. Kruse was also pleased."The shower is about making sure the parents have what they need to bring the baby home, but it’s also really about celebrating and being happy for them,” says Kruse."It’s also a great way of including everyone who’s in their lives… and still being part of their lives even after they have a baby.”

Kruse opened her home to entertain and cook for about 35 guests."Both Michele and I received verbal thank-yous from guests [who were] relieved that we didn’t make them sit there and watch Michele open every single present or play games,” says Kruse.

Reiter had a blast, and mentions that the party was a nice kick-off to both motherhood and fatherhood, as the gathering included her husband."I can’t imagine that he’d ever survive one of those ladies’ showers,” Reiter adds with a laugh.

Baby steps to the perfect party

Whether you stick with tradition or try something new like a co-ed party depends on the wishes of the parents-to-be. Give them some options that fit within your budget. (Note that if you’re plotting to throw a"surprise shower,” you might want to double-check with others whether this is a good idea, especially if it’s a risky pregnancy.) Also ask whether they’d like to have a party before or after the baby is born or adopted, since some people are superstitious and want to wait until the baby’s safely arrived to celebrate.

The size and demographics of the guest list will help you decide the best location for the event. If the guest list is small and tight-knit, you might choose to pamper everyone at a spa or take the mom-to-be out on a shopping spree. Head to Target or Babies-R-Us, fill the cart with baby basics, split the bill, and then have lunch or dinner at a nearby restaurant.

A living room is the expected (and perfectly acceptable) location for a shower; however, if the guest list is long and diverse, you might want to find a larger—and livelier—space. Fortunately in Chicago, venues are abundant and assorted. From high tea at the Ritz to a potluck picnic in the park, there’s no shortage of perfect settings. (See sidebar:"Location, location.”) If your imagination exceeds your budget, consider throwing the party with a friend or two to help defray some of the costs… and stress.

The party premise

The guest-of-honor’s needs and personality will guide you to the perfect theme. For example, if she’s a first-time mom, a"time of day” shower where guests bring a gift according to an assigned hour (i.e., 4 p.m. is playtime, so bring a toy) might be fun. The recipient of a"sprinkle” (to shower second or third babies) might like a"fill the freezer” party, where guests bring frozen home-cooked meals for the soon-to-be harried parents. From an"elegant baby tribute” fit for Martha (see sidebar,"Sophisticated—and simple!”) to a backyard luau, the theme will naturally influence your decorations, menu and favors.

More valuable than how lavish the theme, locale or spread, though, is how much you care. If you’re considerate about the comfort of your guest-of-honor and your guests, the party will be a hit."Find out as much as you can about your guests. If it’s a diverse group, find the lowest common denominator,” advises Blaauw."[Even] if you love gourmet food and want to serve caviar, consider the fact that they might be happy with just a sandwich.”

Location, location

If the guest list is busting at the seams—or you want to bust out of your home—why not throw the baby celebration at an out-of-the-ordinary location? You’ll be surprised at the number of private rooms tucked away around town.

• Aquarium or museum (www.sheddaquarium.org, www.artic.edu, www.fieldmuseum.org/specialevents, www.mcachicago.org)• Arboretum (www.mortonarb.org)• Botanical garden (www.chicagobotanic.org)

• Bowling alley (www.thelucky strike.com, www.bowlbrunswick.com, www.firesidebowl.com)

• Fellowship hall at a place of worship

• Golf club facilities (www.coghill golf.com, www.poplarcreekcc.com, www.indianlakesresort.com)

• Hotel private meeting room (www.chicagolandtravel.com)

• Online (Unite far-flung friends at www.webbabyshower.com)

• Outdoor garden (Worried about weather? Rent a tent!)

• Racetrack (www.arlingtonpark.com, www.chicago landspeedway.com)

• Restaurant private dining room (www.metromix.com)

• Yacht (www.anitadee.com)

• Zoo (www.brookfieldzoo.org, www.lpzoo.org)

Sophisticated—and simple!

Debi Lilly, a nationally renowned event-planning expert,"chief eventeur” and founder of A Perfect Event in Chicago, has masterminded soirees for stars like Oprah. Her elegant baby shower ideas and insight on the latest trends include:

• Shower palettes. When the sex of the baby isn’t known yet, apple green and butter yellow look pretty. For girls, pink and lime green or hot pink and tangerine look fashion-forward; for boys, try blue and gray or blue and lime green.

• Colorful beverages. Create a self-serve bar for guests to help themselves by filling large metal tubs with ice and grouping beverages by type. Lilly recommends colorful sodas in your color palette (pink, blue, or yellow) and placing matching straws in a vase.

• “Baby” finger foods. Scale down foods into bite-size morsels and place on a buffet, which you can pre-set before guests arrive. Lilly recommends displaying mini-caprese skewers (with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes and basil) in wheatgrass flats, which looks"fabulous, fresh and colorful.”

• Let them eat cake. Let a gorgeous cake be the centerpiece of a dessert bar, surrounded by mini desserts and tarts on trays. Top a simple tiered cake with a clear baby bottle that’s filled with a tiny posy of fresh flowers, tied with a bow with long trailing ribbons.

No-groan games

Playing silly games might be fun if your guests are children, but few adults appreciate having their intelligence insulted. If the thought of sampling baby food or guessing what kind of chocolate candy is smashed inside a diaper gives you the dry heaves, skip traditional games for alternative forms of merriment:

• For co-ed parties, place bets on how much the baby will weigh or when it will be born, or offer the couple some original baby name ideas to consider.

• Pass out baby diaper pins and whenever someone utters"baby,” take a pin away. The one with the most pins wins.

• Take turns holding a newborn-sized doll and demonstrate your best baby tip, i.e., how to take a baby’s temperature or the best burping positions. Guests will reassure the new mom-to-be—or give her a few good laughs!

• With the invitations, send out blank cardstock and ask those invited to write a note to the future parents, either describing how they will make superb parents or offering bits of parenting wisdom. Assemble the notes into a scrapbook to present at the shower.

Writer and mom Jill S. Browning once purchased 25 pacifiers to use as napkin ring holders for a shower she hosted.

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