Saturday, December 21, 2013

Hottest Baby Names of 2013: Breaking Bad, Duck Dynasty and Girls Offer Inspiration for Parents-to-Be

Just a few months ago, I wrote about a prediction by baby-naming gurus stating that this Fall's favorite TV shows would be the hottest inspiration for baby names. Looks like they were right : ) Here's the scoop on what's hot right NOW from

Posted on in December 2013

From Miley Cyrus to Walter White, popular culture didn't offer many positive role models this year. Still, new parents found inspiration for their babies' names everywhere, from funny guys on late-night TV to presidents of long ago, from the down-home Duck Dynasty clan to a little prince born across the pond. To find out what ruled and what drooled on America's 2013 birth certificates, read on.

Breaking Bad babies

Everyone's favorite drug-dealing drama came to a violent, riveting end this year, so it would be no surprise if Breaking Bad had an effect on parents' baby-naming choices. Still, there were few characters to root for, much less name a beautiful baby after. Walter? No, thanks – the science-teacher-turned-meth-maker's moniker fell 55 spots, or 12 percent, in our baby name rankings. (It's number 520 on our list of popular boys' names.) The names Skyler, Jesse, Hank, Todd, Holly, and Saul also dropped on our lists.

Interestingly, two characters' names saw a significant jump: Mike (up 20 percent) and Marie (up 21 percent). Mike was a killer, but at least he was an ethical, honorable man, and Marie – despite her bossiness and sticky fingers – was a loving wife and sister. In the morally flawed universe of the show, they were good guys – and that may have been enough to inspire some baby Mikes and Maries to be named in 2013.

Duck Dynasty reigns supreme

If you've been living under a rock and haven't heard of Duck Dynasty, here's a quick primer. The A&E reality show features the close-knit Robertson family of West Monroe, Louisiana, self-made millionaires who run a duck-hunting supply company – the Duck Commander. With their long beards and self-proclaimed hillbilly ways, these guys are unlikely stars. Still, their down-home high jinks proved highly watchable: The show broke ratings records this year to become the most-watched nonfiction series in cable history.

Looks like the Robertsons made a big splash in baby names, too. Korie – she's the stunning mom of five and Duck Commander office manager – rose a whopping 89 percent, or 13,262 spots, in our baby name rankings. Her husband, frazzled duck-calling CEO Willie, saw his name jump 4 percent. Jase (Jason), Willie's laid-back older brother, jumped 8 spots on our list.

Family patriarch Phil's name soared 32 percent, or 860 spots, on our boys' list. Who can forget his memorable advice on choosing a wife (homely is good, as long as she can cook and carries her Bible) or his frog-skinning demonstration? The name of his wacky brother Silas (Uncle Si) jumped up the boys' list to 112. Also on the rise are the names of several of the Robertson grandchildren – Mia, Sadie, Reed, and John.

Girls in diapers

The HBO series Girls – a grittier Sex and the City for millennials – is on fire, and so are the names of several of the show's leading ladies. Uptight Marnie has had her share of humiliating moments, but plenty of expecting parents love her name – Marnie is up 62 percent, or 3,286 spots, on our girls' list. Same goes for Shoshanna, the sweet but neurotic friend played by actress Zosia Mamet. The name Shoshanna rose 67 percent (when spelled with one "n"), and Zosia climbed 46 percent. Incidentally, Zosia Mamet is the daughter of famed playwright and author David Mamet, obviously no baby-naming slouch.

What about Lena Dunham, Girls' creator and star? The name Lena jumped 26 percent – no surprise considering that this talented, 27-year-old writer and director won two Golden Globe awards this year. The name Hannah (Dunham's character on the show) dropped 10 percent, however. The fictionalized version of Dunham is an emotional train wreck and has been widely mocked for her over-the-top exhibitionism, which may explain her name's lack of popularity.

Other Girls names on the wane are Jessa – the wild-at-heart Brit with easy breezy sexuality – and the name of the actress who plays her, Jemima (Kirke). Jessa slumped 11 percent on our girls' list, while Jemima dropped 5 percent. Looks like new parents don't see her as a good role model for their baby girls.

All hail George

The royal baby arrived in July to proud parents Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and he's already had an impact on parents' naming choices. The name George climbed 10 percent for boys and – in a nontraditional twist – it's up 37 percent for baby girls!

Variations on the name for girls and boys, including Georgia, Georgina, and Giorgio, also rose on our baby name lists. Interestingly, George fell out of the top 10 this year on the BabyCentre United Kingdom baby names list.

Kanye comes out on top

Although they've become a family many love to hate, the Kardashian clan is still influencing the baby name choices of America's parents. Few are copying Kim Kardashian's directional baby name (North West) – we couldn't find a single other baby North in our extensive database. But the name Nori – little North's nickname – rose 5 spots on our list. And the name West for boys is taking off, rising 22 percent, or 436 spots.

The real winner in all this naming drama was Kanye West. The acclaimed producer and recording artist is known for his massive ego, so let's hope he doesn't hear that some expecting parents are naming their kids after him. The name Kanye jumped 38 percent, or 2,228 spots, on our boys' list to number 3,652.

Bad girls' club

After her jaw-dropping performance at the Video Music Awards in August, you wouldn't expect Miley Cyrus to be a hit with parents. (Who wants their baby to grow up to wave a foam finger while prancing around on stage almost naked, twerking on anything that moves?) But Miley just won't stop – the name skipped up 3 percent, or 16 spots, on our girls' list.

Other tween-stars-turned-bad-girls aren't as magical. The name Amanda (like Amanda Bynes) slipped 37 percent, and the name Lindsay (Lohan) sank 17 percent.

Reese, which had been riding high, dropped a whopping 45 percent and fell out of the top 100 names for girls. Could actress Reese Witherspoon's April arrest for disorderly conduct be to blame?

Paula Deen also saw her name tumble down our baby names list. The moniker Paula fell 20 percent, or 123 places, to number 748. Seems folks want their sweet-talking Southern chefs to keep it sweet off-camera, too.

Triple-threat Indie girls

Of course, there are plenty of young women getting attention for positive accomplishments – Lena Dunham, whose first name is rising up our rankings, as well as Lake Bell, who wrote, directed, and stars in the film In a World.

Lena and Lake do it all – write, direct, and act – so it's no wonder their names hold appeal. The first name Bell jumped 67 percent for girls to number 6,311, and Lake skipped up 24 percent to number 3,915. Both are far, far below the top 100 girls' names, but check back in five years and they may have stealthily worked their way up the list.

Being an indie-girl phenomenon isn't enough to vault your name to widespread popularity, however. Take, for example, Greta Gerwig, who co-wrote and stars in this year's Frances Ha. Her first name dropped 15 percent to number 451.

Funny guys

Who doesn't want their kid to have a good sense of humor? It looks like some new parents are trying to stack the deck by naming their baby boys after successful comedians.

Alec (think Baldwin) jumped 12 percent, or 51 spots, on our boys' list. The droll funnyman has been omnipresent thanks to seven seasons on 30 Rock and his funny TV spots for Capital One ("What's in your wallet?").

Fred (like Armisen) also got a boost, up 88 spots, or 7 percent. It's fitting that he'd be on our minds, considering he just wrapped up an 11-year run on Saturday Night Live and continues his hilarious work on Portlandia.

Other funny guys are killing it on our popular boys' names list too: Jimmy (Kimmel and Fallon), Jason (Sudeikis), Vincent (Vince Vaughn), and Stephen (like Stephen Colbert, whose show just won an Emmy, and Stephen Merchant from the breakout HBO hit Hello Ladies). Laughter must be the way to new parents' hearts.

Looking for heroes

While plenty of parents drew baby-naming ideas from pop culture, many others did not. According to BabyCenter's annual baby names survey, 63 percent of moms say they dislike names inspired by celebrities.

Instead, some parents are looking to American heroes. This year marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's death, and his name is soaring up our lists of popular baby names. The name Kennedy rose 25 percent for boys and 21 percent for girls, and the classic boys' name John saw a 2 percent lift.

Others looked further back in American history to presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson. The name Abraham jumped 20 percent in our rankings, and Lincoln rose 11 percent. Though Andrew dropped 14 percent, Jackson is number one for boys born in 2013. The fiery seventh president's last name is now the most popular first name for boys. It unseated Aiden, which had held the top spot for eight years straight.

Although President Obama's approval ratings have been up and down this year, his first name – Barack – rose 48 percent, or 5,137 spots, on our list of boys' names. His wife's name, Michelle, jumped 13 percent. And if baby name trends are any predictor, Texan Wendy Davis has a bright future. The state senator made headlines in June with an 11-hour filibuster (made while sporting hot-pink sneakers). Her name zoomed up 733 spots, or 35 percent, on our girls' list.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Santa Scared Straight: Sissy and Deacon (my kiddoes!) on The Bert Show

Paige (aka Sissy) is 3 - almost 4 (on December 26!) - going on 14. She has a big personality and a big attitude. So I wrote an email to the big man himself - SANTA - to see if he could help Sissy get back on the straight and narrow before she became a permanent fixture on his Naughty List. Luckily, The Bert Show's Jeff Dauler has an inside hook-up with Mr. Clause, and ole' St. Nick gave Sissy a call on Monday evening. I didn't have the phone on speaker because I didn't want all the crazy background noise to be picked up (i.e. Lenni barking, Deacon crying, dinner burning), so I could only hear her end of the convo. The next morning was the first time I heard the entire conversation between Sissy and Santa (aka Jeff Dauler) - and it's just about the funnies thing I've heard in a long time! Deacon even makes a cameo at the end, singing a few notes of the only song he knows - Jingle Bells : )

Daddy, Mommy, Sissy and Deacon
So here's the big question: has Sissy's behavior improved? Did Santa scare her straight? The answer is YES! All I have to say is, "Do you want Santa to call back? Remember what you promised him?" And she says, "Oh. Yeah. Sorry Mommy!" HALLELUIA!!

The other big question: Will Sissy be getting all TEN Barbie Princesses this year? Luckily this Mommy Elf was on point and found a Black Friday sale where all the Barbie Princesses (aka the Barbie-like Disney Princess dolls) were on sale for only $7.99 each. Woot woot! So - as long as the good behavior continues - she'll be getting her Barbie Princess Castle "FILLED" with Barbie Princesses : ) Note: The other Elf (we'll call him Schmaniel) tried to get Mommy Elf to return some of the Barbie Princesses  just last week! Schmaniel said "10? Why does she need 10?!" And so I responded, "How can we give her Cinderella, and not Snow White? Give her Mulan, but not Rapunzel? It would be a Christmas travesty!" And so all 10 Disney Princesses - Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Ariel, Mulan, Jasmine, Tiana, Merida, Pocahontas & Belle - will be under the tree. This is the first year she's really into Disney Princesses (which I've come to accept after a long hold out from this girl-power mama) and it's all she asked for, so I went all out. But that's all she's getting (except for the castle to go with the Princesses!) : )

Oh - and she's already asking me to make bacon for Santa. Thanks, Jeff Dauler!!

Christmas Craft for Kids: Reindeer Food Recipe and Printable Tag

Free Reindeer Food Printable: Right-Click and Save Image Above to Print and Attach to Your Bag of Reindeer Food

I want the magic of Christmas, and the pure joy and wonder it evokes in my children, to last FOREVER! Of course that can't happen, but until the mystique of Christmas, Santa and his Flying Reindeer wears off, I'm going to make every moment as special as I can.

Here is a fun - and simple! - craft to do with your kids in the days leading up to Christmas: Reindeer Food! I'm actually doing this at my daughter's class Christmas party - it's fun and not messy : )

Sprinkle on the lawn at night.
The moon will make it sparkle bright!
As Santa's reindeer fly and roam,
This will guide them to your home!

Here's the recipe:
  • One scoop of Reindeer Seeds (aka bird seed)
  • One scoop of Reindeer Oats (aka uncooked oatmeal)
  • A sprinkle of Magic Christmas Dust (aka glitter)

Have your kids combine everything into a clear bag - either cellophane or even a sandwich bag! - and shake, shake, shake (to activate the magic dust, of course!) Attach a card with ribbon, and VOILA! - Reindeer Food. Kids can sprinkle it out on the front lawn Christmas Eve right before bed.

I've included a free printable you can save and print to attach to your "Reindeer Food" bags.

Friday, December 13, 2013

A Cheat Sheet on How To Market To Moms: Advice From a Mommy Blogger and {Former} PR Exec

When I worked in PR, I participated in many a brainstorm about ideas for reaching moms. We would come up with the most off-the-wall ideas to engage moms, grab their attention, and make them want to check out/purchase our product or service. Then a funny thing happened... I became a Mom. And I realized those ideas - though very creative! - were about as effective in reaching Moms as brushing your teeth while eating an Oreo. And every day I am pitched by PR and marketing execs that remind me a lot of myself back in the day - very well intentioned, super creative, hard-working and passionate about the brands they represent - but pretty much clueless when it comes to the things that REALLY reach their target audience of Moms. So here's a cheat sheet for my former colleagues on how to (and how to not) reach Moms in an effective way.

1. Not All Moms Are Alike: When you think of Moms, think of us as you would a child moving through the stages of development: Baby > Toddler > Pre-School > Elementary School > Tween > Teenager. Except the transition of a mom from one stage to another can shift quickly, and may even regress at times (like when a second baby comes along). Consider what "type" of Mom you are trying to reach - because your activation may need to change accordingly. Here's a few examples of Mom subgroups, and our thinking/behaviors (in general) during these phases.

  • First Time Mom-to-Be: Everything is new and exciting. These moms have 9 long months to plan, anticipate and activate. They want everything to be perfect, special and idyllic for themselves and their new babies. The key word is "customized": Not necessarily talking about monogramming here - but just the sense that these moms want to create a "custom" or one-of-a-kind look, feel, experience for their baby-to-be. Babies are on the brain 24-7, and so these moms are Googling like crazy. Everything from nursery décor, to advice on childbirth, to "is this normal?" type of queries. There is a yearning for information and education to make sure they are doing things the "right" way, checking to see how/what other moms are doing, and - most importantly - that they aren't "missing" anything. These Moms are open to new brands and products related to their baby - but opinions re: their brand of preference is solidified quickly (i.e. Pampers vs. Luvs Diapers). Stock them up with samples early - if you wait until after the baby is born, they've likely already found a product that works (and when it comes to baby, you don't switch around products much!).

  • New Moms (First 6 Months): Reality has set in, and things aren't really as perfect as they imagined (except for the nursery - that still looks perfect : ) ). These Moms are at their babies' beck-and-call. While it's a joyful and exciting time, it can also be lonely and isolating. It's also a time filled with doubts - Am I doing this right? Is my baby normal? What am I supposed to be doing to help the baby grow/learn/propser? And so the incessant Googling continues. They don't realize it at the time, but these Moms actually have a lot of "free" time. Not "free time" as in laying around eating Bon Bons, but time while the baby is napping or feeding to go online, watch TV or read a magazine (while multi-tasking and trying to keep up with day-to-day life). These Moms are often up in the middle of the night and early morning hours - I watched more infomercials during those first 6 months after Paige was born than ever before in my life. Moms in this phase want to feel supported, appreciated, loved, understood, and reassured they are doing a good job.

  • New Moms (6-12 Months): The baby is now moving around, and so Moms in this phase of mommyhood are trying to keep up... literally. These 6 months go by FAST as the baby starts crawling, pulling up, and often walking. With the baby now climbing around, pulling things down, and exploring everything and anything they can get their hands on, Moms are trying to think 3 steps ahead by baby-proofing and preparing daily activities. It's easier to leave the house in this phase because most babies will be on some sort of routine, and Moms can better predict feeding times, nap times, and even diaper changes. They are much more confident in their Mom-skills and want to share all that they've learned and experienced. Many consider themselves mini-experts in all things baby. The Googling has slowed down - and now it's more about sharing all they've learned and now know/understand about being a Mom. Playdates and Mommy-and-Me type outings are regular occurrences where moms can interact with each other, and share. Naps times give these Moms a chance to catch up on their favorite DVR shows, watch a talk show, or have some "me" time with an activity they like to do, such as crafts, writing, cooking or exercising.

  • Moms of School Age Children (Pre-K, Kindergarten): Driving, driving and more driving. These Moms are on the road a good portion of the day, taking kids to and from school, to and from activities and play dates, and just running errands in general. Because they are in the car, radio is a great way to reach them. Between the hours of 8 am and 1 pm = FREEDOM from the kiddoes (in most cases) as many children enter nursery school, Pre-K or Kindergarten during this time. Moms have more time (though limited) to pursue "me" time - which may be going to the gym, volunteering, shopping, catching up on household work, or even beginning to work a bit outside the home (or in the home via telecommuting). These moms are beginning to reimagine their lives and rethinking their role and how they want to fill their time.

2. Moms Have a Hard Time Attending Daytime Events: I received an invitation to attend a luncheon from a food brand that I happen to love. They would pick me up via car service, introduce me to awesome new holiday foods, and even give me a tour of their HQ. Super cool! Except there was two major flaws - 1. what would I do with the kids while attending this event?  And 2. If the kids WERE in school, an event from 12-2 PM overlaps school pick-up times. If you are inviting a Mom to a daytime event, you are assuming they are a stay-at-home-mom (since working moms would be at work and obvi not be able to attend : ) ) - but then that means these moms have their kids with them 24-7. Unless of course the kids are in school - but there is a very limited window of free time in-between drop-off and pick-up. 8 am - 1 pm. If you want to invite Moms to a daytime event, it shouldn't be outside the hours of 8 am and 1 pm - and including drive time to/from the event, the real hours can't be outside 9 am and Noon. 3 hours - that's all we've got (and this is only if the child is in school). Consider hosting a child-friendly event, or hire a few babysitters on-site at the event to watch after the kiddoes while the moms attend the luncheon, sneak preview, event. Your attendance and participation would triple - I promise!

3. Moms Aren't Influenced by Celebrities: Before babies, I cared what celebrities wore, used, talked about. Now? I couldn't care less. Endorsements from celebrities for baby and children's products come across as just what they are - fake and manufactured. The exception would be seeing celebrities "caught in the act" using certain products or child-related items. This would be via reality shows (i.e. Giuliani & Bill), magazine photos, or social media. If I get the impression a celebrity "chose" the particular product in an organic, natural way (vs. being paid to use it or talk about it) I take mental note of it as a good product for my own child.

4. Moms Are Most Influenced by 3 Main Groups of People: Other Moms (including Grandmas), Doctors/Nurses/Medical Professionals, and Teachers/Educational Professionals. There may be a few peripheral influencers, but the bottom line is that they have to have "been there, done that" when it comes to parenting or be going through it at the moment - OR have an expertise in what they are talking about. Otherwise, Moms will assume they know better and immediately discredit the info.

5. Moms are Online - But Not Where You Think: Social media is still Queen for Moms. Particularly Pinterest and Facebook. If you want a Mom to see something, Pin it. Viral Videos are HUGE - if another Mom recommends I watch something, I do. And then I share it. We're not searching through YouTube or other video sites seeking out this content. We find it via other Moms' Facebook feeds. Humor, sarcasm and anything that gets to the root of the common threads of mommyhood is of interest. Mommy Blogs can be lame and have gotten way too commercial. If you are paying to "sponsor" a post, I can guarantee you the majority of moms are not reading it. Moms read the blogs of other Moms to follow their personal stories. Until they trust the blogger as a person, sponsored product reviews are as fake and manufactured as celebrity endorsements. And even if they do trust a blogger, a blog filled with one sponsored post after another is not appealing or influencing. Pay-for-play is ok - but Moms are more likely to click a sidebar ad than click-thru to a link in a sponsored post. A sidebar or header ad equates to a particular blogger "liking" or "endorsing" a product/brand/or service - without all the nonsense of "this product is so great!" and "I loved using this product!". Blah, blah, blah. Moms are trained to smell BS a mile away. So stick to buying ads on relevant Mommy blogs, increasing SEO and offering free samples to every day Moms (who can share and influence other moms organically) vs. paying bloggers to write posts about your product - because I can tell you as a Mom and as a blogger (who can see the click-thru rates on my own blog), that this is not attracting your audience. On my own blog, I do not accept pay-for-play because I've seen that it doesn't work. I reject 90% of the pitches I receive because I don't care for (or care about) the brand that is being pitched. I allow brands I like to advertise on my Sweet Leigh Mama blog - but I don't get paid to post. If I do post about a brand or product, or offer a giveaway (like the PunkinWrap one!) I do it because I really like the product, brand or feel it's a great (and USEFUL) product for moms. If you are paying for posts, start to really monitor click-thrus that result from that post (assuming that it what you are looking for) - I think you'll see they aren't worth the $100, $200 or $1,000 you just paid that blogger.

The caveat would be the idea of EXPOSURE and EDUCATION. I still don't think you should have to pay mommy bloggers (you don't pay journalists, do you?), but there is a significant place for blogs in the SEO algorithm. You definitely want your product/service/brand to be included in the top blogs for exposure purposes. If Moms hear about a product or brand from their Mom friends or via Social Media, and they go back and Google it, something needs to pop up for them to get more info. In this case, WHO writes about it doesn't matter as much as WHAT THEY WRITE. Moms don't keep track of who's "popular" among bloggers. They like what they like, and will believe what they read if it's written by a mom like them - not a diva Mom who demands $1,000+ per post. But - of course - there is another caveat : ) If the diva Mommy blogger is syndicated on national websites, included on daytime TV talk shows, picked up by the Huffington Post or BuzzFeed regularly, then they may be worth the $$. But consider what types of stories are being picked up in those wider-reach outlets - not the "I love this product" or "You have to try this" or even "I went on this awesome trip sponsored by X brand". It's the posts that are VISUAL, HUMOROUS and REAL-LIFE EXPERIENCES. Require your mommy bloggers to write real-life posts about your product or brand - something where your product/brand is woven in naturally. Just like traditional journalism - there should be a larger topic or story. "This is so great!" posts won't move the needle - for your brand, or for Moms.

6. Reach Moms Through Their Children: My kids aren't my ENTIRE world, but they are a good 98% of it : ) If you are trying to reach Moms, think of where they go on a daily basis - and it's as easy as thinking about where kids go. The Pediatrician's office, the park or playground (or Mokey Joe's-type place), school, daycare, etc. Being visible (via partnership, sponsorship, sampling, signage) in these places will help you connect with Moms. Also think outside of the box - Can your brand do something with children's birthday parties? With offering at-home activities for kids (i.e. printables, coloring sheets or games)? Involve the kids and you've got a good chance of grabbing the Moms attention. Or, even better, provide a SOLUTION or something to MAKE LIFE EASIER for the Mom, and you are golden. Another idea - be where Moms are looking for activities to do with their kids. Online event newletters and sites (like Macaroni Kid) or localized magazines (i.e. Atlanta Parent) are staples for any Mom looking to keep her kids busy.

7. Moms Rarely Have Alone Time - When They Do, They Aren't Going to Actively Seek Out Your Brand... You Need to be Where They Already Are: I don't do anything alone anymore. Pee, shower, you name it - there are always two little heads popping up, asking for something. Besides when they are in school for a few hours each day (which I use to work, write or exercise), I have exactly 30 minutes to an hour of TRUE alone time, when I can be alone with my own thoughts. And that time is once the kids have gone down to bed, I'm done cleaning up the house, spending time with my husband, and I've gone up to bed myself. I know this is the case for other Moms too - 30-60 minutes, sitting in bed, browsing through their smart phones, before falling asleep. That's your window - an opportunity for your brand or product to be the one or two things a Mom clicks on, reads about or adds to the to-do list. That's when I watch viral videos, check out BuzzFeed or Reddit, skim the news sites, and check to see if there is anything new on Facebook that my Mom friends have shared as "must reads".

**The above information is based on my personal opinions, experiences as a mom and a blogger, and conversations I've had with other moms. It isn't a catch-all or blanket for every single mom. But it's a good guide as to how an average, every day Mom thinks, feels and acts. Take this as a guide, not a Bible.**


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Win a FREE PunkinWrap: The Unique (and Practical!) Must-Have for New Mamas and Mamas-to-Be

Introducing the PunkinWrap.
Besides having an adorable name, the PunkinWrap is the new must-have item every mama or mama-to-be needs to have on their Baby Registry and Wish List. It's the all-in-one, life-simplifying answer to so many moms' frustrations regarding the never-ending baby supplies we must carry around that first year with the bambino.

Can You Relate to this #TrueStory?: You are driving with your little one safely in the backseat, a blanket draped over her to fend off the chill.  Ten minutes into your drive your bundle of joy has successfully kicked off the blanket leaving her little limbs exposed.  Or, maybe it has happened when you are out strolling or jogging – one good kick and the blanket is covered in dirt. Enter the PunkinWrap!

Here's the scoop: ThePunkinWrap is an all-in-one carseat cover, nursing cover, sunshade, strollerblanket, and tummy time mat.  The idea is to have one piece that does it all rather than carrying separate blankets, nursing cover, car seat covers when on an outing with baby. The PunkinWrap has a detachable neck strap so you can use it to nurse the baby and then detach it and leave baby with the wrap and not worry about strangulation. The included PunkinLinks  will attach the PunkinWrap to your carseat, stroller, or chest baby carrier. 

And my favorite part? The PunkinWrap is MOM INVENTED! Power to the mamas! I had the chance to interview the creator of PunkinWrap - Laura Gravett - to find out more about her awesome product, how she came up with the idea, and how she turned her idea into reality.

But FIRST - ENTER BELOW for a chance to WIN a FREE PunkinWrap for yourself or to give to that new mama in your life.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Now, back to my interview with PunkinWrap creator, Mrs. Laura Gravett...

SLM: What was your AHA moment that you decided "Why doesn't this exist? I NEED something like this, and so do other moms!"

LG: My daughter was four and a half months when we traveled to Chicago for the first time.  We had to do the river cruise as that seemed like one of the more enjoyable ways to see the city’s architecture with a newborn.  It was a short walk from our hotel, a beautiful day, and I was happy to carry little one in the chest carrier so as to enjoy that newborn smell and also burn a few extra calories carrying my 13lb bundle of joy around.  (You have to get creative when trying to lose that baby weight!)  We were onboard less than 10 minutes when I realized I was trapped.  We had just pulled away from the shore when I noticed how warm little ones arms were in the sun.  I took great pride is dressing her appropriately for the weather that morning.  It was sunny, 82 degrees with a decent breeze – a little onesie was perfect.  I brought her sunhat of course – and she was adorable in it!  As a first time mom, I was following the new infant rules to the max – no sunscreen for babies under 6 months I had read.  Silly me, I forgot how much that reflection from the water can really cook that ivory skin.  As my husband settled into his seat and became fully engrossed in the tour, my mind was racing. What should I have done differently?  Covered her little limbs so that she was sweating but protected from the evil sun rays?  Should we see if anyone on board has sunscreen and, if they do, would I dare put it on my baby?  I get out my smartphone.  I’m perusing articles about sunscreen and infants and scary things and inconclusive studies.  I can’t handle the pressure.  I look at my outfit and my husbands.  We have no clothing to spare.  My nursing cover.  I have my nursing cover.  Bingo.  I was saved.  I put the strap on over my head, carefully tuck the edges of the cover around my daughter’s toasty limbs, and hope she falls asleep since the cover isn’t very wide and I barely have her covered.  She is asleep within minutes…and then I start to get awfully toasty myself.  My husband commends me on my solution, but also gives me an odd look when I ask about moving her to his chest.  He asked if the nursing cover was part of the deal.  Um, yeah.

As we walked around Chicago, I slowly, mentally, was discarding items out of my diaper bag.  If I could truly create my vision, I would no longer have to carry the big “first time mommy” diaper bag stuffed with multiple blankets, a nursing cover, a changing pad, a car seat cover.  I could be one of those hip, relaxed-looking moms who easily puts a few key items in her purse or messenger bag and thinks nothing of it.  The PunkinWrap was born.  I am still far from being a hip, relaxed mom, but I am carrying a smaller diaper bag and enjoying the ability to use one item so many different ways…and discovering new uses everyday.

SLM: How did you take your idea from concept to reality?

LG: I started by sketching the design and trying out some homemade prototypes.  Then as things were as fine tuned as possible, I met with an attorney to apply for my patent.  While that was getting underway, I met with an engineer to design my plastic links.  I did a lot of research and had a specific baby-safe plastic that I wanted to use - it was trial-and-error as I tried to find the right design for this type of plastic.  I took a sewing class so I could make a real prototype.  It was rough, but it worked well enough that I could start meeting with manufacturers.  Over a few months I interviewed and  found two different manufacturers – one for the plastic links and one for the fabric pieces.  I hired a marketing gal and creative team to help me brand and work on getting my idea to market.  I found a web designer and spent several months bringing the marketing, creatives, and website together.  The website went live while I was in labor with baby #2 in July!

SLM: Other than the PunkinWrap, what are your FAVORITE creative products for mom and baby?
LG: I have lots of favorites!  The UppaBaby Vista – maneuvers so well that I can't live without it!!  Booginhead Pacifier Clips, BenbiniWatch, Haba Magica Rattle, Num Num Dips, Think King Mighty Buggy Hook, BabyBanana Training Toothbrush (we use it primarily as a teether!), Nosefrida NasalAspirator, Nuby Bug-a-Loop Teether which goes hand in hand with one of my favorite "aha! Why didn't I think of that?" item: the Baby BuddySecure-a-Toy.

Monday, December 9, 2013

New Artwork! Angels Are Often Disguised as Daughters, Superheroes Are Often Disguised as Sons

A cute addition to any nursery or child's bedroom. Both are my original designs - they can be purchased on my Etsy shop - Sweet Leigh Mama.

Angels Are Often Disguised as Daughters

Superheroes Are Often Disguised as Sons

Thursday, December 5, 2013

New! Sheriff Callie's Wild West DIY Birthday Clip Art

Howdy, Partners! Sheriff Callie's Wild West hasn't even premiered on TV yet, but kids are going WILD for all things Callie - including my daughter, Paigey. So I re-created the Sheriff Callie's Wild West logo that can be personalized with your child's name for use on birthday party invitations, decorations, and more! I know someone who has used my birthday party clip art to create an iron-on transfer for her daughter's birthday t-shirt! SOOO cute! YEE-HAW!

Click here to purchase Sheriff Callie's Wild West DIY Birthday Party Clip Art


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gifts for Teachers... That They Actually WANT to Receive (Hint: No Yankee Candles or Cucumber Melon Lotion!)

Growing up in a household with two teachers, I saw many a foolish teacher gift pass through during the Christmas holiday season. And it's not that these gifts weren't appreciated, but someone can only have so many cucumber melon-scented lotions, vanilla-scented hand soaps, Yankee candles and apple ornaments. So break out of the mold and get your favorite teacher a personalized gift they can decorate their classroom with - and enjoy not only this year, but for many years to come!

I created a series of personalized gifts for teachers on my Etsy site, created with input from my teacher parents and friends: "Classroom Rules" (with versions available for Daycare teachers, Preschool teachers and even Special Needs classrooms!), "Dear Students" - a note telling students how much they care, "In This Classroom" - a list of class expectations, and "THINK Before you Speak".

How do I know teacher's want these prints? I sold out during the Back to School season with teachers ordering these prints for their own classrooms : ) I sold hundreds of them to teachers wanting to personalize their classroom, and add a splash of personality and fun that they couldn't find in a typical teacher store.

To make it even more special and personalized, you can swap out one of the phrases with something the teacher says all the time - like "Be legendary" or "Remember the Golden Rule".

Use coupon code WHATTEACHERSWANT now through December 31st to save 20% on any Teacher-Inspired artwork in my Etsy shop.

Now go any return those Yankee Candles and scented lotions before you lose your receipt!! And visit Sweet Leigh Mama on Etsy to get those teachers what they really want this year :)


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Couples That Pray Together Stay Together Typography Art - Get it NOW for Only $6
One of my newest designs - Couples That Pray Together Stay Together. Use coupon code COUPLESTHATPRAY at check out to get the 8x10" print for only $6.00 (45% discount) now through Christmas Day.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Expand Your Kids' Palate This Thanksgiving: Inspiration from the Country's Fanciest Hotels by Kendra Thorton

I love the traditional Thanksgiving meal. I feel it is imperative that we always have turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing and cranberry sauce on our table each year. This year I want to try some new dishes as well as all of our tried and true! Since I have traveled extensively in the past, I found an article on Gogobot’s blog that lists what some of the luxury hotels will be serving to their guests on Thanksgiving this year!

I plan to take some of their gourmet ideas and customize them for my table this year! I hope everyone enjoys the new additions. I want to shake it up a bit this year! The kids need to develop their palate. If the Waldorf Astoria in Orlando is serving up velvety pumpkin soup with lobster, I will too! Delectable and comfort food in an appetizer is yummy! A thick warm soup is just what we need as a precursor to our meal. A touch of elegance to go with our traditional family meal will be exceptional.

  • The Plaza, NYC: For Thanksgiving 2013, the Plaza’s menu highlights traditional turkey alongside some decadent remixes of autumn flavors. Pumpkin risotto with duck confit looks like a promising first course, while a Skuna Bay salmon with black truffle holds down a fish option. Plus, a chestnut tagliatelle with guanciale and mushrooms.
  • Ritz Carlton, San Francisco: Parallel 37 restaurant’s Thanksgiving menu at San Francisco’s Ritz Carlton is indeed ‘music to our ears’. Classic and decadent, but not without some inventive twists, their warm beet salad with goat cheese – standard on menus across the country – sports inventive additions kumquats and lobster.
  • Waldorf Astoria, Orlando: If you’re looking for bona fide excellence, take our advice and choose the Waldorf Astoria. Their Thanksgiving menu at restaurant Bull and Bear stays miles away from the jello salads and small dishes of pickles that are traditional on some family holiday tables. Start your dinner with a velvety pumpkin soup accented by lobster, followed by a turkey with all the trimmings. The side dishes are supposed to be the best part of Thanksgiving, after all. Don’t forget to cordon off a corner of your stomach for a sweet potato donut (sic) at the end.
  • Trump International, Chicago: Book a table at Sixteen, the Trump International’s excellent restaurant. Perhaps to contrast the flat plains of the Midwest, the chef has created a menu with positively fanciful categories, like ‘The Poisson & the Pressing of Autumn Fruit,’ or the ‘The Bounty of the Hudson Valley’.
  • The Venetian, Las Vegas: Thomas Keller’s Bouchon at the Venetian does a traditional Thanksgiving to the nines, commencing with pork belly and finishing off with a trio of pies.  And remember, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas – except perhaps those extra five pounds.
I also like to use Pinterest for ideas on appetizers and desserts that my kids will enjoy making with me in the kitchen. As they get older, they love to help me out in the kitchen. I have found that the simpler the dish the better because complex equals mess! The less chopping, mixing and measuring needed the better. So, I’ve been thinking of some fast and fun dishes to make that the kids will still enjoy.
Please have a safe and happy Thanksgiving filled to the brim with superb food and wonderful memories!
Interested in putting a Guest Post on Sweet Leigh Mama? Email me at with your idea!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

My Favorite FREE Girly Fonts PLUS How to Download Fonts and Install on Your Computer

Here are links to download my most favorite girly-girl fonts that I use frequently in my typography and word art. To download, click on each link (inserted as a caption under the name) and follow the instructions as outlined by the website. I recommend saving the downloads in a folder on your desktop named "FONTS" so you know where they all go. Once each font is downloaded, you'll have to UNZIP each folder in order to access the font files for installation. Then - open each folder and find the TRUE TYPE or OPEN TYPE files. Right click on the file and on the drop down menu, choose "INSTALL". And that's it : ) But if this method isn't working (maybe you have a Mac vs. a PC like me, or an older operating system) there is still hope... Find the "FONTS" folder in your Control Panel and drag each of the TRUE TYPE or OPEN TYPE files into this folder. It's not hard - but it is time consuming, so don't get frustrated! Remember - you'll only have to do this once : ) Want step-by-step instructions on how to create your own typography or word art? Click HERE to download my FREE e-book (An Easy-Peezy Guide to Creating Your Own Subway Word Art)

Brooke = KG Royals

Caitlyn = Elsie

Chloe = Fool for Love

Ellie = Channel

Gracie = KG True Colors

Isabella = Janda SwirlyGirl

Karolina = Janda Quirkygirl

Stella = KG The Fighter

Saturday, November 9, 2013

One of My Favorite Things: Tastefully Simple's Yummy Spices, Mixes, Dip and Sauces

Have you ever heard of Tastefully Simple? My sister - Gigi - just started her own business, selling these delicious products. Tastefully Simple is best known for it's Bountiful Beer Bread mix. My favorites are the spices, seasonings - especially the dip mixes! Who doesn't love a good dip?! Spicy Pepper Dip, Chipotle Bacon Dip, Parmesan Peppercorn Dip, even Warm Pizza Dip. Y.U.M! The desserts are also mouth-watering worthy. Can you say Key Lime Cheese Ball? Amaretto Cheese Ball? Salted Carmel Crème Brulee? So now that I've made you hungry... my most FAVORITE part of Tastefully Simple products is that they are easy-peezy to use. Trust me - I am no gourmet chef (which my family can test attest to... but they better not!! : ) ) but adding a sprinkle of this and a dash of that, and my cooking has become SO much yummier.

Here is a link to check out my sister's Tastefully Simple page: GRETCHEN BROWN'S TASTEFULLY SIMPLE

Place an order by Saturday, November 16 and be entered to receive a free Tastefully Simple gift as a Thank You!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How Did You Get That Scar? A Poem For Kids

When Deacon went in for his first surgery 2 years ago, Daniel and I lifted the mood by joking about how Deacon would explain his humungous scar one day  - a wavy line running across his head, from ear to ear. A run in with a great white shark? A freak mountain climbing accident?

Our children's scars are a badge of honor - the markings of a survivor. So I created this poem to honor them. Our little heroes. To answer the question they are asked so often: "How did you get that scar?"

How Did You Get That Scar?
A Poem by Erica Billups - Sweet Leigh Mama

 “How’d you get that scar?” you ask with curiosity.
You won’t believe the answer. It’s a crazy story, you see.

I’ve been through a lot of things in life – things that left their mark on me.

A run in with a raging bull. A tussle with a tiger.
A gust of wind while tight-rope walking – good thing I wasn’t any higher!

I fell into a deep dark cave when I was out spelunking.
Got tangled in a mess of vines when I was picking pumpkins.

Bonked on the head with a coconut.
Surprised by a lion in my jungle hut.

Had a throw down with a T-Rex. A sword fight with a pirate.
Slipped on a banana peel – I never even saw it!

Chased by sea gulls while riding my jet ski.
Tossed in the air by a mean old grizzly.

A motorcycle mishap. A break dancing debacle.
Blinded by a diamond with a little too much sparkle.

Stopped to smell the roses and met a swarm of bees.
Was capsized by a monster wave while sailing the seven seas.

Tackled on the 50 yard line by a massive tight end.
Working with police – there was a thief to apprehend!

A flat tire on my unicycle – how unfortunate!
Surfing in a hurricane - who knew it’d be so turbulent?

Dueling with dragons. Wrestling a gator.
I narrowly escaped a runaway elevator!

Caught up in a rock slide. Skiing though an avalanche.
Rumbled with a rattlesnake I thought was a branch.

Are any of these stories real? No, they’re make believe.
The truth is that I had a boo boo deep inside of me.

The doctors fixed me up. I was oh so brave!
And now I have this awesome scar to show off every day.