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Crib notes: Bah humbug - no (expensive) holiday gifts for Alabama teachers

A mom's holiday shopping can get overwhelming -- between teachers, bus drivers, teachers' aides, the school's janitorial staff... there are a lot of presents to buy. Who can keep up with (or afford) it all? While many parents want to thank those who work so hard educating and caring for their children, it can also start to feel like a bit much. Parents in Alabama are off the hook though, now that

A mom's holiday shopping can get overwhelming -- between teachers, bus drivers, teachers' aides, the school's janitorial staff... there are a lot of presents to buy. Who can keep up with (or afford) it all? While many parents want to thank those who work so hard educating and caring for their children, it can also start to feel like a bit much. Parents in Alabama are off the hook though, now that a new ethics law has been enacted. The law prohibits teachers from accepting gifts, except those of a "de minimis" value. Starbucks gift cards and hams (?) are out, but homemade cookies and fruit baskets still get the okay. Do you think the new law would make parents' lives easier, or more difficult, now that many will feel obliged to whip up a batch of cookies for everyone on the school's staff?

Time to get everyone out the door and off to school. Quick, just toss a sandwich and some carrot sticks in a bag for your kids and call it a day. Unless you live in Japan -- then, you better have a fine arts degree. Mothers in Japan have elevated the practice of packing a lunch (or Bento) box into an art form. Kids are sent off with lunches that resemble panda bears, Hello Kitties, and even portraits of President Obama set against the backdrop of an American flag. Moms take workshops to learn how to craft these intricate creations, some of which take hours to make.

Last week, we told you about a nine-year-old boy who was suspended for sexual harassment because he told a classmate he thought a teacher was "cute." The incident had people all over the country shaking their heads, and saying there was nothing at all cute about the school's apparent over-reaction. The school district apparently agrees that the punishment didn't fit the crime (if, indeed, saying that a teacher is "cute" can be considered a crime). The district has forced the school's principal to take an early retirement. The principal is not happy about his unexpected departure and said, “One mistake in 44 years, and I’m not given the benefit of the doubt. I really don’t believe I was treated fairly.”

The hottest accessory in China right now isn't a stylish handbag or too-cute-to-resist shoes. No, the season's must-have item is... a fake pregnancy belly?! The prosthetic  baby bumps come in a variety of sizes, with the most popular replicating the look of the five to seven month stage of pregnancy. The tummies are skin-colored and made of a silica gel, giving them a very realistic look. While one shop owner said that most people buy them as props for plays or to experience pregnancy, others question whether darker motives are at play. Some wonder if the bumps aren't being used as ploys to get seats on buses or to help with panhandling.

Speaking of hot, new accessories...  Well-heeled mothers who want their mini me's to reflect their personal style, are in luck. Yet another high-end designer has entered the kiddie-couture market. Oscar de la Renta recently announced that he's adding a tot-sized line to his fashion empire. While the garments are little, the price tags are not, as the designer duds are said to appeal to "those who are interested in quality and style." Oscar (we've watched enough Sex & The City to feel we can call him that) joins other designers like Gucci, Fendi and Burberry, in entering the kids' clothing market.

Dana Macario is a TODAY Moms contributor and Seattle mom to two sleep-depriving toddlers. She is currently developing an alarm clock that will start an IV coffee drip 10 minutes prior to wake-up time. Once properly caffeinated, she also blogs at www.18years2life.com.