Most wanted gifts for the entire family

From top picks for baby’s first Christmas and the best board games for every age to spa gifts for Mom.

Playful ideas for baby’s first toy

5 playful options for baby’s first toy

In the blink of an eye, our babies go from being helpless and seemingly unaware of the world around them to tiny humans who can’t wait to explore. And that’s when the fun really begins.

Now that she’s almost five months old (Really? Where does the time go?), Eliette is totally into her hands and putting things in her mouth. Because this germaphobe momma is not too keen on letting her gnaw on the remote (or her big sister’s fingers … yuck!), we’ve amassed a few toys that have quickly become her favorites.

HABA Magica Clutching Toy

This small wooden “rattle” is a pretty great option for baby’s first toy. I love how bright and colorful it is. Sometimes after I clean it, I just set it on Ellie’s dresser on display. It looks like a baby art piece! It’s also the perfect size for tiny hands. And because all the pieces are round, there’s no worry of sharp edges hurting her sensitive gums.

The HABA Magica Clutching Toy retails for $14.99.

Tegu 8-piece Pocket Pouch Set

Ellie is loving these magnetic building blocks right now. They’re durable and non-toxic, and the magnets provide a cool, new element of fun that even big sister Eden can’t get enough of. These blocks would be a great toy to travel with, not only because of the carrying pouch, but also because it would be hard(er) to lose them. *As with any toy, I would recommend keeping a close eye on your babe while playing as magnets are harmful if swallowed.

The Tegu 8-piece Pocket Pouch Set retails for $25.

Yookidoo Discovery Playmat

This is probably the biggest playmat I’ve ever seen. And that’s one of the main reasons I love it. It’s also a lot more padded than other playmats. Ellie has tons of space to roll and play with her big sister. The bright colors make it perfect for tummy time, and there are tons of new sounds and textures for her to explore.


Spa day gifts for mom

10 products to plan mom’s perfect DIY spa day

Between brunches and coordinating plans with grandmothers (and sisters, aunts and best friends, etc.), Mother’s Day isn’t always so relaxing for Mom herself (or is that just my family?). Just like some people say you need a vacation from a vacation, if you’re a mom, you may be needing some relaxing alone time after this weekend’s festivities.

Whether you use one, some or all of them, the purpose of these favorite products is to give you an easy way to pamper yourself whenever you want.

Dove White Beauty Bars

A classic staple in every mom’s beauty arsenal. These bars are gentle and leave skin feeling silky smooth. Try out the new limited edition Dove bars for Mother’s Day, featuring the words “love,” “real,” “kind” or “care” engraved on them.

$8.39 for six bars

GuruNanda Essential Oils

Everyone you know is talking about essential oils right now. Aromatherapy is a great way to relieve stress. Diffuse a few drops of lavender or jasmine oil while bathing and see how quickly your mood improves.

$9.99+

The Jojoba Company Australia 100% Natural Australian Jojoba

This all-in-one oil will become your go-to for healing all kinds of skin issues, but for added nourishment apply it immediately after your bath. It’s natural antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties will penetrate your skin to it’s deepest layers leaving it hydrated and glowing.

$14.95


Baby’s first Christmas gift ideas

Baby’s First Christmas gift ideas

Melody Mates

Help your baby fall asleep easier. Part nightlight, part music box, the Melody Mates pillow and blanket combo is a sweet addition to baby’s nighttime routine. The LED lights glow softly as baby is soothed to sleep by the sounds of classic lullabies.

Melody Mates retails for $29.99+.

Hugaboo

Learning to sit is an important milestone. Help keep your baby safe, steady and “snug as a hug” in the super comfy Hugaboo seat. The high sides and back, and attached bottom keep them from falling over and sliding out. When baby can’t be in your arms, this is the next best place.

The Hugaboo retails for $59.99+.

Bazzle Baby Banda Bib

Drool happens. The Banda Bib not only keeps your baby dry, but looking cool, too. The scarf-like style replaces the traditional baby bib and comes in trendy designs such as chevron and animal prints. It’s the perfect accessory for every fashion-forward babe.

The Banda Bib retails for $8.99.

SmarTrike

This all-in-one trike will be one of the best purchases you can make for baby. Beginning as early as 10 months, your baby can ride in the SmarTrike, which transitions into four different stages as baby grows. By the time they are three, they’ll end up in a classic tricycle, primed and ready for exploring.


Mom-approved holiday gifts

Mom approved holiday gift ideas

Some of my favorite gifts since becoming a mom have been the practical ones that I’ll get the most use out of. Give these products a try and you’ll find yourself using (and loving) them over and over again. Happy shopping!

Nini and Pumpkin Moon Cocoon

I’m a huge fan of wearable blankets for bedtime and the moon cocoon is one of my absolute favorites. It’s perfect for Chicago winters and I sleep easy knowing my kids are safe and warm each night. Plus, the designs are fun and the fabric is super soft.

Moms will love: The ultimate versatility. The sleep sack grows with your child, making it a great value.

The Nini and Pumpkin Moon Cocoon retails for $125+.

7 A.M. Enfant Pookie Poncho Classic

I love that I can continue to wear Ellie even as the temps drop. The Pookie Poncho Classic not only keeps her cozy, but it looks great and is simple to use. This is definitely a must-have gift for Chicago babywearing mommas. It also comes in a lighter version.

Moms will love: The 3-in-1 design. Use the Pookie Poncho to cover your stroller and car seat, too.

The 7 A.M. Enfant Pookie Poncho retails for $118.

Petit Somme Neck Pillow

Never play the “head tilt” game in the car again. You know it; your kid falls asleep in the car and their head falls forward. So you gently tip it back, only to have it fall again. This kid-sized neck pillow provides only sweet dreams-inducing comfort.

Moms will love: The peace of mind. The Petit Somme Neck Pillow is made of environmentally friendly material and is free of harsh chemicals.

The Petit Somm


Gifts for moms-to-be

5 baby shower gifts for every type of mom-to-be

The fashion lover

Freshly Picked baby moccasins

I know I can’t be the only mom out there who likes planning cute outfits for their kids. Luckily, my 3-year-old indulges me as I tuck in shirts, cuff jeans, add a scarf and smooth stray hairs until they are just right. Even if it only looks perfect for five minutes (usually the case) that’s enough time for me to feel good and to snap a photo! What can I say, life’s little pleasures.

I can’t wait to go to town on my new little one and see what kind of sweet outfits I can come up with. One baby fashion trend that I’ve been dying to test out are soft-soled moccasins.

In the world of baby moccs, Freshly Picked is the gold standard. The durable, supple 100 percent leather or suede footwear is handmade to last and would make the perfect baby shower gift for a fashion-forward new mom-to-be.

Freshly Picked moccasins retail for $60 and are available in more than 30 colors. I’m loving Spark (a bright, fire engine red), Gold (a glam step-up from neutral beige), Neon Green (an eye-catching pop of color for spring) and Glacier (an icy, pale blue).

Feeling a little more generous? Freshly Picked recently debuted the Bringing Home Baby Bundle (retails for $140), an all-in-one bag featuring a pair of moccs, a robe for mom, a swaddle blanket and more.

The crunchy mom

Ergobaby Wrap Carrier


Best brain-stirring board games for every age

It all started with a Peppermint Forest. My 4-year-old son returned from school raving about the board game Candyland and begging us to play with him. The concept is rather cute but after four minutes the game had concluded with no real strategy or skill involved. After repeated plays I started seeing chocolate-covered stars and knew it was time to do a little research and expand our board game horizons. The goal: brain-stirring, not brain-bored.

Here are our favorite findings:

Best for ages 4+: Zingo!

Their motto is ‘bingo with zing!’ The award-winning Zingo! strives to create a fast-paced, exciting game in which speed pairs with matching as tiles are unveiled bingo-style for the grabbing. Ideal for pre-readers and early readers, Zingo! dispenses fun and laughs as young minds race to be the first player with a completed card, upon which one must call out “ZINGO!” Bonus: this game is great for building word and language skills as well as memorization.

Best for ages 5+: Sum Swamp

Math becomes a wild nature adventure for navigating one’s way through a swamp using addition and subtraction. With luck on your side, you’ll be able to traverse the Crocodile Short Cut, but beware that eventually everyone gets stuck in the Endless Loop. Sum Swamp was created with the idea to ‘grow’ with the math fluency of your child. Though 5-year-olds may find it challenging, older kids may play along for fun.

Best for ages 6-8: Juxtabo

Inspired by the awe she felt upon viewing rows of colorful macarons, Funnybone Toys President Julien Sharp set out to create a game that was visually stunning but necessitated the strategy one would use for checkers or chess. The round, flat 2-color disks of Juxtabo mirror the decadent French confections as players stack and build the patterns featured on drawn cards. The player with the most challenge cards completed wins (though sadly, no actual macaron treats are included so best put them on your shopping list when game play is over).

Best for ages 9-10: Scrambled States of America

Based on the chuckle-worthy book by Laurie Keller (


4 brick-and-mortar gifting goldmines

I love online shopping. I mean, seriously, I do, for all the reasons that millions of other people love it, too. But when I was a kid, online shopping wasn’t a thing. In fact, it wasn’t even a hint of a thing, so every weekend in December leading up to Christmas, my dad and I went “real” shopping. We’d chart out our gifts and where to get them before systematically and triumphantly making our way through the list.

Those memories are some of the best I have of the holidays. They remind me that even though shopping online is stress-free and sweatpants-friendly, there’s something heartwarming about getting out to pick up your gifts.

Going gift shopping also lets kids see that giving is a special thing. It’s not a hassle to be dealt with or yet another obligation to hurry through. It’s an act that’s worth the effort––the bundling up, the piling in the car, the browsing through a store. Giving is that much richer when the gift is genuinely handpicked.

Is gift buying online still in my future this holiday? Ho-ho-ho yeah. But I’m also making it a point to fit in a few real world excursions with my little one so he can help pick out some presents. Here are four of my favorite north suburban spots to find perfectly giftable treasures.

Juniper

Spend an afternoon in this downtown gem and come away with a variety of gifts for mom, grandma, a teacher or a babysitter. A pair of super-comfy Happy Socks brightens the day with fun colors and cute patterns. LaVanila Body Butter packs pure shea and cocoa butters with essential oils for the ultimate in soft skin (this one may or may not definitely be on my list). Going for the splurge? Three little letters: PJs. But not just any PJs – the supremely cozy Bella Dahl Plaid PJ set.

1346 Shermer Road, Northbrook

Beanstalk

From active play and arts and crafts to educational games and beautifully made dolls, Beanstalk is the place to get this year’s toys. Customer service shines here, so if you’re unsure what to get for a classroom gift exchange (or for your own child – it’s OK, we’ve all been there), ask one of the staff. They know their stuff, and you’ll leave with a timeless gift that will get way more mileage than the latest “it” toy.

654 Central Ave., Highland Park

Morning Glory Flower Shop


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