Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Most memorable Christmas gifts

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Jenny shares the best item she bought for her daughter this Christmas...

With the whirlwind of Christmas (mostly) behind us, I find myself reflecting on what we’ve been given this year and in the past.

Sometimes the most memorable gifts are the least appropriate. I don’t think anything will ever top the year that I got a can of WD-40 from my dad (clearly he did his own shopping) and breast-firming cream from my sister-in-law (really the kind of thing one should only buy for oneself, not for others, don’t you think?). I’m happy to report that this year our gifts were memorable for other reasons.

One of the best, most thoughtful presents we received was a donation made on our behalf to a food bank. Goodness knows we don’t require another tchotchke when there are families in need of much more basic necessities. It warmed my heart to know that the money that could have been spent on us went instead to help others.

Our 4-year-old would be hard pressed at this stage to name just one favorite gift; but I personally am very satisfied with one item we gave to her – the SweetPea3 MP3 player – the “MP3 player of choice for the discerning toddler.”

The SweetPea3 is a durable, rugged, toddler-friendly music player about the size of an old-fashioned transistor radio. It comes with a USB cable so you can easily rip and load your little one’s favorite songs or CDs, and its 1GB flash holds about 15 hours of music and/or audiobooks.

I love that there are only three buttons to select and play the songs, and that the volume is controlled by the parents via a hidden switch. There’s also a timer, so you can set it to play your little one’s favorite lullabies at bedtime, and it will switch off by itself.

I also love that I ordered it online on Dec. 8 and it was delivered on Dec. 19, well in time to be wrapped and placed under the tree. Most of all, I love that in between ordering and delivery, I received two (two!) unprompted update emails letting me know where the item was in its shipping cycle. I didn’t have to search the product website or go through Canada Post to find out its status. Now that, to me, is great customer service!

What’s your most memorable gift this holiday season?
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

You still have time to find that perfect little black dress to ring in the new year

Okay, so my story isn’t really about New Years’ Eve but it could be so, read on if you:
a) received an invitation to a last-minute New Years’ Eve party; or,
b) tried on your dress for tomorrow night and it doesn’t fit

There’s still hope. You can find that perfect dress quick and on a budget. Here’s how…

My cousin (she’s more like my baby sister) was married on December 21. I was flattered when she asked me to be in her bridal party and delighted when she told me I could wear any dress as long as it was black. Sounds like a no brainer, right? Well not exactly...

I already owned a perfect little black dress. Well, perfect once I altered it to fit my slimmer body and raised the hemline. My dressmaker who usually does awesome job, charged me $25 – a real bargain and much cheaper than buying a new dress. I’m not sure why but I waited until two weeks before the wedding to have it altered. Then I did another crazy thing and waited until the night before my flight out to Vancouver for the wedding to try the dress on. Big mistake!

This time, my dressmaker didn’t do such an awesome job and the dress didn’t fit! It was already 8 p.m. I was leaving in the morning. Yikes! I ran over to my neighbour’s house. She is a wonderful seamstress. She took one look at the dress on me and told me I’d ruin it if I tried letting it out. I ran over to another neighbour’s house to try on her two black dresses – one was too big, the other one was too small. I was starting to feel a bit like a brunette Goldilocks.

Stores were closing in about 45 minutes but I still had time to scoot over to Yorkdale. I ran into Banana Republic, Zara and H&M. I didn’t have time to try anything on so I made sure to go to stores with flexible return policies. When I got home I tried everything on and decided I’d take one of the dresses from Banana as a back up. It was the best of the bunch and the fit, although not perfect, was okay. It was also on sale from $275 to $115 – the price was right!

I still wasn’t sure about the dress. I literally had a couple hours in Vancouver to shop. I went to Club Monaco and found a great dress – it was on sale for $129 less 20%. It was much more my style than the back-up dress. I was so lucky they had it in my size and it was the perfect fit!

After Christmas, I returned all the other dresses (I think I had about six). I also checked Club Monaco to see if my dress had been further reduced. Like everything else on sale in the store, the price hadn’t changed. As of Sunday, they still had lots of evening dresses in several sizes.

So, if you’re still looking for that perfect dress to wear this New Years’ Eve, don’t despair. You still have time and there are plenty of bargains still out there.

Happy New Year!
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Lancôme Oscillating Mascara - is it worth the hype?

I have to give a shout out to the marketing folks at Lancôme. They invited me to the Toronto launch for their new Lancôme Oscillating Mascara. The event was during the day. When I told them I’d be unable to attend because I work full-time, they offered to send me a sample if they had any left over after the event.

Boy, am I glad they did. I’ve been using Lancôme masacara for years, specifically Défincils Waterproof paired with Cils Booster XL. I truly expected Lancôme Oscillating Mascara to be more of a gimmick than anything. The idea of a vibrating wand is a bit weird (there’s a recyclable battery in the handle). I was wrong. It works! My lashes look longer than ever without any clumpiness.

According to Lancôme, “Lancôme Oscillating Mascara [sic] has more than 7,000 micro-oscillations per minute, Lancôme Ôscillation emulates the makeup artist zig-zag gesture providing an ideal 360 degree coating around each and every lash. It is fast, simple and easy to apply for repeatedly perfect results – lashes are lengthened, separated and multiplied.” You can check out the instructional promo video and join the community if you’re passionate enough about mascara.

Apparently, it’s eco-friendly and energy saving too. Each container provides 180 applications (double the amount of regular mascara.) Gee, I thought you were supposed to throw out mascara after three months? If that’s the case, it doesn’t matter if you get twice as many applications does it?

Beauty, in this case, doesn’t come cheap. Lancôme Oscillating Mascara retails for $39. Then again the Défincils Waterproof-Cils Booster XL combo I’ve been using rings in at $54.50.

Available exclusively at and at Lancôme counters at The Bay now, Lancôme Oscillating Mascara will be available at all Lancôme counters starting in January.

What’s your favourite mascara? Will you try Lancôme Oscillating Mascara, why? why not?
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

:10 Minute Manicures

If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know I’m pretty low maintenance when it comes to my beauty regimen except when it comes to my nails. I love mani-pedis. So when I found myself with a long wait at the airport en route to Vancouver last Friday and spotted the :10 Minute Manicure kiosk, I had to check it out.

The service was fast and friendly. The polish selection is adequate and it’s private label so don’t expect to find your favourite shade of Essie or OPI. I missed the hand massage I’m used to at my regular salon – I could have splurged for one for an extra $7 but didn’t bother.

As for the final results, my nails looked great for the first day but that didn’t last long. Two days later, I had chips on 6 nails! I was on vacation, so it wasn’t like I was doing housework or working away at my keyboard. I usually can stretch a manicure for a week with fewer chips when I’m at home.

:10 Minute Manicure is a chain from Florida with five Canadian locations, three of which are at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, one at Ottawa International Airport and another at West Edmonton Mall. Manicures $20, various nail care, massage and teeth whitening services are also available. Their website says you can walk-in or call in for an appointment. However, in Toronto, they just seem to take walk-ins on a first-come-first served basis (i.e. customers were unable to make appointments even while at the airport).

Have you seen any interesting services or shops at the airport lately?
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Friday, December 26, 2008

Bargainista’s list of 2008 Boxing Day sales

This list will be updated continuously so check it often. You may also want to click through to my comprehensive list on Twitter. If you find a sale that isn’t listed here please add it by leaving a comment or e-mail me and I’ll do my best to post it quickly.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

LUSH – the perfect home spa day is on sale

I’ve always liked LUSH products. I’m more of a shower person. LUSH Bath Bombs are the one thing that motivates me to relax in the bath.

Recently, the marketing folks at LUSH sent me some products to check out. I absolutely loved the fresh citrus aroma of the Avobath Bath Bomb. Not only did my bath smell wonderful, the scent trickled through (but didn’t overpower the whole second floor of my house. Of course I smelled pretty good too!

I still have a couple Vitamin C Toner Tabs to try out and a Seanik Solid Shampoo bar I’m a bit funny about my hair so I’ve been reluctant to test it out. The idea of washing my hair with a bar of soap isn’t terribly appealing. LUSH soaps make amazing hostess gifts too.

What about you? What’s your favourite bath product? Have you ever tried a LUSH shampoo bar, what did you think? Should I give it a try?

This just in… LUSH Boxing Day Sale in stores and online
In-store deal:
What: Buy a LUSH holiday gift and get a 2nd holiday gift (of equal or lesser value) for free or buy any holiday product or any soap and get 2 holiday products or 2 pieces of soap (of equal or lesser value) for free.*
When: Dec. 26 - Jan. 18
Where: Check LUSH’s website for locations across Canada.

Online deal:
What: Buy a holiday product or any soap and get a 2nd one (of the same product) free.*
When: December 26 at 4 a.m. EST
Where: LUSH

*While supplies last – so get out there early to stock up on your favorite LUSH goodies. This offer excludes bulk hair care and cleansers except for body soap.
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Free popcorn and drink at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24

In addition to celebrating the holidays with family, I have three other rituals this time of year:
shopping on Boxing Day;
catching up on movies; and,
helping others in the community.

Volunteer Toronto helps people find great places to volunteer. They also provide training and resources to support their community of 400 non-profits in Toronto. They’ve started a program to screen social change films for free for their non-profit community. The first one was in November. It was such a success, they gave away all of their 450 tickets overnight!

Celina Agaton from Volunteer Toronto contacted me because they need our help in order to host another free screening at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24. They need to show AMC that their community can bring people out to AMC Yonge & Dundas 24 theatre.

What’s in it for you?
Enjoy a FREE small popcorn and drink offer at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24 courtesy of Volunteer Torontothis holiday season. Offer expires Dec 31, 2008.

Print out the coupon and take it with you. Even it you aren’t going to the movies, click on the coupon link. (The more clicks and redeemed coupons, the better the chance Volunteer Toronto has securing the theatre.)

So this holiday season, you can enjoy a movie while helping the community at the same time.

Two movies on my list are playing at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24: Slumdog Millionaire and Doubt. What’s on your holiday movie list?
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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Last-minute shopping For kids

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Jenny shares her experience as a last-minute shopper.

I confess: I am, in many ways, a classic last-minute shopper. I always try to get the bulk of my list completed well before the holidays, but inevitably, some late-season errand will send me out to the stores – usually to fetch tissue paper or scotch tape – where I am completely and utterly helpless against the siren call of the impulse holiday buy.

Happily, this often means that I can pick up some small items at a reduced price that are perfect for stuffing stockings, as retailers often slash prices right before Christmas in an effort to clear holiday-related merchandise from the racks. It’s also a perfect opportunity for me to replenish my stash of “emergency” gifts – ubiquitous items like candle holders, pretty boxes, photo frames or albums, that I keep on hand for use as hostess gifts or for co-workers, teachers, and the like.

This week I lucked out at Indigo Books & Music. While picking up some of the last things on my list I happened by a rack of Melissa & Doug toys at 20% off! The same offer is on the Indigo website, while supplies last – so if you’re looking for any last-minute kids’ toys, I highly recommend taking advantage of the deal.

I’m a huge fan of Melissa & Doug toys – they’re high quality, and the fact that most of their toys are made of wood puts any lingering fears about BPA to rest. I can personally recommend the Deluxe Wooden Easel; it’s the perfect height for 3-5 year olds, and while it folds up for easy storage, we tend to keep it open at our daughter’s “art station” in the kitchen; she enjoys doodling and practicing her letters on the chalkboard or the dry-erase board while her Dad and I tend to cooking and cleaning.

If you take advantage of the sale, let us know in the comments!
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Giveaway: Bargainsta banishes bad hair days

If you’ve been here for a while, you already know that the nice folks at Conair gave me an Infiniti Nano Silver Steam Straightener. Now they want to share the love with three of you. And, to sweeten the pot, John Frieda is including a prize pack of hair care products. (I’m getting one to check out too!) Update: John Frieda has decided to include a second package of products for the three lucky winners.

All you need to do is tell me why you need help banishing bad hair days by either:
leaving a comment; or
writing a blog post; or
posting your bad hair picture to Flickr (you know what they say, a picture is worth a thousand words); or
posting a brief video (2 min. max) to YouTube explaining why you want to banish bad hair days.

If you go with a blog post, photo or video entry, be sure to tag it “#bargainista” and send me an email with a link - make sure to include “banish bad hair” in the subject line. Feel free to use other photo of video sharing sights. You must also allow blog posts, photos and videos to be posted on

Peter Ciardulli from Calia Hair Design is judging – he’s my hairdresser and he knows a bad hair day when he sees one.

Entries are due by midnight EST on Tuesday, December 23. Open to Canadian residents only. Anonymous entries will be disqualified. The good folks at Thornley Fallis will make every effort to deliver prize packs to you before New Years’ Eve.
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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Interview with Helen Nestor, Dandelion Mud Pie

In preparation for the Community Diva’s session at SustainabilityCamp last month, I interviewed Helen Nestor, owner of Dandelion Mud Pie – an eco-friendly store in Toronto.

Helen’s passion for Dandelion Mud Pie and inspiring others to live a little greener is infectious. Stay tuned until the end for some green gift ideas.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bargainista interviews dagg and stacey

dagg and stacey are an awesome Toronto-based design duo. Their womens’ clothing line is available at select boutiques across North America and Japan. I recently had the opportunity to interview them.

B: Who are Dagg and Stacey?
D&S: Dagg and Stacey is a womens contemporary boutique line developed [with] our combined inspiration (Karen Dagg & Stacey Paterson). Sold at boutiques across North America and now available in Japan, our label is known for its eclectic use of colour, pattern and texture with each piece framed by our philosophy of creating beautifully cut and consistently feminine designs.

B: What inspired your 2008 Fall/Winter collection?
D&S: Inspired by the pages of a yearbook, our Fall/Winter 2008 collection harkens to the Ivy League colleges of the early 1970s. A modern silhouette is fused with the classic reminders of scholastic style.

B: What type of customer do you have in mind when designing a new collection?
D&S: We design for a woman whose attention to quality and style are paramount. She is socially conscious and has a great appreciation for clothes that are crafted with care in Canada.

B: If a woman can only buy one piece of clothing this season, what should it be?
D&S: We definitely think a Dagg and Stacey piece would be a great addition to any woman’s wardrobe. Specificallyfor this season, every woman should have a knock out party dress like our strapless velvet number, the Radcliffe (pictured).

B: Will you have more than sample sizes available at your sale this weekend?
D&S: Yes, we'll have a range of sizes available from the current season, samples and some select styles from seasons past.

B: Any hints as to what we can expect from Dagg and Stacey's Spring/Summer 2009 collection?
D&S: For our up coming season we found inspiration in the memoir Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen. At the height of British Imperialism many people found themselves able to travel to new and exciting countries. We tried to capture the spirit of this intoxicating journey. Check out the attached photo as a sneak peak.

Check out the dagg and stacey sample sale this weekend and their Facebook fan page.
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dagg and stacey sample sale - Dec. 13 & 14

dagg and stacey sample sale – 20%-35% off
Unlike most sample sales, dagg and stacey will be offering a variety of sizes for their fall/winter 2008 collection plus samples and select styles from previous seasons.

Dec. 13: 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Dec. 14: 12 noon-6 p.m.

dagg and stacey
60 Atlantic Ave., Unit 202
Toronto, ON

Leave a comment and let us know what you find.

More info.
Bargainista interviews dagg and stacey

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Christmas Wish List

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Jenny is asking for your advice...

Last week I wrote about my daughter’s Christmas wish and my despair that it would be unfulfillable. I was really impressed and encouraged by all the creative suggestions for alternatives that would satisfy her wish – so this week I’m hoping to draw on your expertise again!

My own fervent Christmas wish for myself is for a baby carrier. I’m due in January and I have fantasies of walking off my baby weight with my infant cuddled up close to me, zipped snugly inside my nearly-new M Coat.

The problem is, now that baby-carrying has become a popular option, there are so many different carriers available I have no idea which one to choose!

According to, the criteria I should look for are:
Padded head support for baby
Adjustable head and seat openings to allow baby to grow
An easy-to-open bottom area
Wide, padded, adjustable shoulder straps
Quick-release buckles
Padded back support

That last one is especially important to me as I’ve had a “bad back” ever since my first pregnancy.

A friend recommended the Ergo baby carrier, available from (pictured), but it seems a bit pricey for this baby bargainista.

So I’m hoping you can help me out one more time – can anyone recommend a baby carrier they’ve used that’s versatile, offers back support, and is comfortable for both carrier and baby? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Celebrate with HoHoTo and support the Daily Bread Food Bank

A holiday celebration with ticket sales and donations going to Daily Bread Food Bank.
According to the organizers, “HoHoTo is for geeks, phreaks, webheads, twitterfiends, techies, media, marketing, and PR types and all their friends.”
In the first 72 hours after HoHoTo was announced, they had raised $10,000!
Cash bar, DJs, lots of interactive fun

Dec. 15: 7 p.m.

The Mod Club
722 College St. (map)
Toronto, ON

UPDATE: Tickets were $10 per person, now they are $20 and going up $5 per day. As of Dec. 10, there were 50 tickets left. buy one now
You must be 19+ to attend, tickets are non-refundable
Donate to Daily Bread Food Bank

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Friday, December 05, 2008

TNA opens shop in TO

With all the talk about businesses failing and this being a very tough time for retail, companies in expansion mode are bold and brave.

I’ve always been a supporter of shopping at home. I thought you’d like to know that TNA, the athletic wear line from Vancouver and sold exclusively at Aritzia stores, is opening it’s first Toronto store at the Eaton Centre tomorrow afternoon. There are only four other TNA shops across North America.

Get there early, check out some new winter styles and line-up to take your pic in TNA’s first and only custom, in-store photo booth. Have fun and shop!
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2008 Conair Cusinart Warehouse Sale

2008 Conair Cusinart Warehouse Sale
Prices are wholesale with up to 60% off.

Dec. 5: 12 noon-9 p.m.
Dec. 6: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Dec. 7: 12 noon-5 p.m.

Conair Consumer Products Inc.
100 Conair Parkway
Woodbridge, ON

Conair moved to this location last summer. I understand GPSs, Google Maps and Mapquest haven’t caught up so here are the directions from Hwy 427 & 7:
1) East to Vaughan Valley Rd. (Shell station)
2) Take Vaughn Valley R. north to Zenway Blvd.
3) Take Zenway west to New Enterprise Way
4) Take New Enterprise north to Conair Parkway.

If you go, leave a comment and let us know what you find.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Comrades in Craft Show

Comrades in Craft Show
A DIY Arts & Crafts Uprising!

Andrew Duff, RoPots and t-shirts
Danielle Holke, bottlecap jewelry
William Self, photography
Collin Douma, watercolours, shadow boxes
Lisa Schwartzman, t-shirts
Tony Walsh - Ratboy Comics!
Jen Brown, homespun wool, foodstuffs
Patricia Jones, baked goods
Sean Leahy, musician
Karin daFonte - fused glass art & jewelry


Dec. 6: 3 p.m.-10 p.m.

The Rhino
1249 Queen Street W. (map)
Toronto, ON

If you go, leave a comment and let us know what you find.

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Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Meet my new friend Marc as in Marc Jacobs

I needed a new full-length winter coat. I have the great big, warm hooded down coat and I decided it was time to get something more stylish that I could wear day or night, for casual and more formal occasions.

Maybe I left if a bit too late. Maybe with the sagging economy, manufacturers and retailers didn’t think people would be laying out the bucks for new outerwear this season. Whatever it was, the pickings were slim.

Kathryn and Rayanne were exchanging tweets about where they bought their new winter coats. With no time to go downtown, I searched all over Yorkdale. I had seen a nice looking coat on the rack at Banana Republic. Unfortunately, it didn’t look good on me. I’d seen some nice coats on the cheap at H&M. The fabric felt a bit scratchy though. I debated whether or not it was worth buying on for $100 that I’d be tired of after a year and passed in the end.

Zara had some great looking coats in the same price-range as Banana. Problem is by mid-Saturday afternoon, they’re all picked over and several coats had buttons hanging by a thread. Sorry, Zara, sloppy merchandising even on a busy day is a big turn off, particularly when it comes to high-priced items.

So, on a whim, I dragged Mr. B. to Holts. Except for my Bobbi Brown make-up must-haves, I haven’t shopped there in ages. I took a quick look around at the sale racks scattered throughout.

Then I saw it, hanging on a sale rack behind the cash in the contemporary fashions department.. I found the perfect navy coat on sale for 30% off. It was Marc by Marc Jacobs. Believe-it-or-not, on sale, it didn’t cost much more than the coats I had seen at the chain stores. Well worth an extra $100 for a designer coat with far more attention to detail. Don’t ya think?

I usually stay away from navy but I liked it and besides, the same style in black wasn’t on sale. I decided to splurge. I’m glad I did.

What have you splurged on lately?

FYI, Holts had another markdown a few days after I bought my coat. I was surprised to learn they don’t offer price adjustments. (I wonder if their policy will change as Canadian retailers start feeling the hit of the recession?) On the bright side, my coat is still selling for the price I paid and now the black one is on sale too.
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Monday, December 01, 2008

Christmas wishes

In this week’s baby bargainista column, Jenny wonders how she’ll maintain the magic of Santa for her daughter because the only toy her little one wants doesn’t exist.

My Christmas shopping has begun, and I’ve already hit a major snag in my plans for what to place under the tree.

My 4-year-old is obsessed with this new animated show on CBC, Animal Mechanicals. The show features five transformable (and of course, adorable) characters, Rex the Dinosaur, Unicorn, Komodo, Sasquatch and Mouse, who live in a colorful “snap-together-take-apart” world. In each episode the Animal Mechanicals must overcome a variety of small challenges that require them to use their unique “Mechana” abilities.

Number one daughter has determined that the only thing she wants from Santa this year is Rex, the Animal Mechanical dinosaur. I’m only too happy to oblige – but unfortunately, no toys exist for this little-known animated series!

Perhaps as a parent I’ve been overly conditioned by the Disney merchandising machine to expect that every new show or movie will have accompanying toys on the shelves well before the holiday season. I thought surely some toys must exist somewhere (Japan? China?). I was genuinely shocked when my online searching only turned up multiple pages (including a Facebook group) populated with pleas from other parents desperate for these non-existent toys.

Usually I decry the commercialism associated with children’s entertainment; today, I find myself uncharacteristically wishing that Animal Mechanicals was made by Disney or Nickelodeon or another large conglomerate instead of a small, independent Halifax animation studio.

Now, I’m sure she’ll be excited to open any presents and happy with anything she’s given. I only wish well-meaning relatives and caregivers hadn’t filled her absorbent little brain with assurances that Santa can do anything, make anything, and bring her anything she wants. I hate the idea of disappointing her even a little. Maybe it’s time we told her the awful truth: Santa doesn’t have the licensing rights to make those toys.

Life was so much simpler last year, when all she wanted from Santa was a teddy bear!

What’s your child’s Christmas wish? Are you having any trouble sourcing the perfect gift for your little one(s)? Let us know in the comments!
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