Shower power: New book changes the rules for the traditional mommy party

Boring baby showers will be relegated to the dustbin of party history if Joni Russell and Sabrina Hill have their way.

Experienced event planners for the past 18 years, South Bay residents Russell and Hill have written 'The Everything Baby Shower Book' to infuse expectant baby rituals with a heavy dose of cosmic creativity and fun in what they regard as the definitive tome on baby showers.

As mothers and wives, they have been in the trenches organizing — and attending — hundred of parties, weddings and showers. By their estimation, they "have baked, frosted, ordered or eaten some 10,000 cupcakes." And for almost 20 years, the two have been helping others avoid stale, well-worn and recycled party and event plans though their business, Strategem Events.

The company organizes corporate events for Silicon Valley companies such as Hewlett-Packard, as well as charity galas, fashion shows and school fundraisers throughout Northern California. The two also have taught event planning at the Professional Development Center of San Jose State University.

"We brought our party planning philosophy to this book," Russell said.

While bridal showers and weddings have gotten recent upgrades and makeovers, baby showers have been notably overlooked. "We felt everybody rolls their eyes when you mention baby shower: dumb party games and a boring hour watching people open gifts."

Russell and Hillés remedy was to assemble more than 50 baby shower theme ideas, and more than 30 innovative and field-tested party plans for immediate adoption. Many of these are aimed specifically at those welcoming Jewish babies into the world.

For example, they suggest a Chanukah Latke-palooza, a quasi-traditional latke-making party and baby shower for families. "Everyone brings recipes and advice from their bubbes on raising children and they are gathered in a book as the baby gift to the family," Russell said.

There is also Kvell or Kvetch, a Jewish film festival-baby shower for couples, where all guests bring a scene from a movie featuring a Jewish director, actor, actress or theme. "All scenes are shown and everyone rates them with a 1 to 4 binkie system. The winner gets 'The Chosen Award,' which includes a Moses action figure and can of Meshugga-nuts," explained Russell. "Corned beef sandwiches and half-sour pickles are served and washed down with He'Brew."

Russell and Hill have so many ideas they created a Web site ( to augment the book. The site provides scores of downloadable and detailed information, including a brainstorming worksheet and a template for party favor bag labels.

Whatever the theme, the pair suggest that people first have a theme-storming party at the beginning of their planning process — with guacamole and sangria.

The authors are also strong proponents of having different guests of honor.

"Grandparents can welcome a baby as much as parents," said Russell. And she should know: The longtime member of the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center — who has been married for 40 years — has three children, one grandchild and another on the way.

At the Baby Libris party, for example, guests bring a favorite book so grandparents can build a library at their homes for the grandchildren.

Russell and Hill also recommend baby showers for men only. One is the Extreme Nursery Makeover, where the expectant father gathers several buddies and they paint the nursery and assemble the toys, stroller, playpen and crib while munching on pizza and drinking beer.

The duo has also devised a baby shower for siblings: the Teddy Bear Picnic and Sleepover. Guests drop off teddy bears the night before and a series of vignettes is set up for the next day. The teddy bears get into pillow fights, bake cookies and make a mess.

"When the children arrive, they follow a trail of Cheerios to find the teddy bears" mischief," Russell explained. "The kids really, really love it."

Russell and Hill also created themes for couples that go beyond partygoers stuffing inflated balloons inside shirts and bumping into one another.

There is the LaMaze Le Mans Road Rally, a car rally where teams of two follow clues to their final destination, either a restaurant or the home hosting the party. For the more cross-culturally inclined, Russell and Hill proposed a Tranquili-Tea, featuring exotic teas and tea leaf readings.

"There are just so many opportunities to create events," Russell said. "The entire reason for the party is to shower the new baby and new mommy with love and good wishes."

But if there is one inviolable rule, it is this: "Never," warns Russell, "bring kids with runny noses."

'The Everything Baby Shower Book' by Sabrina Hill and Joni Russell

(304 pages, Adams Media, $11.99)

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.