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FAMILY NOTEBOOK

The good news: Cabbage Patch Dolls
are still passe

The bad news, sort of: A fresh crop of must-haves has emerged.

According to American Express' Retail Index, the average family will spend around $800 expressing its holiday joy. (Where? At the Sultan of Brunei's palace?) And when it comes to the ultra-hots, prepare to get in line, stampede, cuss loudly and swing a pocketbook at the head of your neighbor over these:

Barbie Photo Designer Digital Camera. (We warned you about this last week.) Walk 'n Talk Elmo, Big Bird or Cookie Monster. (Tickle what, Elmo? No thanks.)

WNBA Barbie. (Cool Shoppin' Barbie? As over as Menudo.)

Giga Fighters. (Giga Pets are now up there with Chia Pets.)

Calling all house dads

Under the delightful heading "Men Who Change Diapers Change the World" comes a terrific newsletter for every dad who's hoisting Junior on and off the swings (and the potty . . . and the furniture . . . and the dog) while Mom's at the office.

At-Home Dad is a quarterly newsletter written "to provide a connection for the 2 million fathers who stay at home with their children," says its most recent issue.

Issues contain first-person articles, space for dads to connect with each other for support, tips, information on at-home-dad networking, and more.

Desperate for something to read, Pops? Send $15 for a year's subscription to At-Home Dad, c/o Peter Baylies, 61 Brightwood Ave., North Andover, Mass. 01845.

Ho, ho . . . hey, what is this?

Look, we believe in Santa completely -- what working woman doesn't appreciate a man who delivers? -- but Santa in cyberspace? Aw, come on, must we?

Sigh. Family Notebook dutifully reports that if your wee ones are bored with messaging St. Nick the old-fashioned way with letter and stamp, they can e-mail His Jolliness at the North Pole and hear back almost immediately.

Drawbacks? We'll skip over a few of the more obvious and settle on this: There's no personal reply, even if your kids have been perfect (yeah, right). Santa messages back a formulaic letter saying he's happy and busy making toys, yadda yadda, but that's it.

Still want in? Be our guest: www.netaddress.com

One mo' time

One constant in a sea of madness is the ever-trustworthy Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, which comes out each year around this time, and darn if it isn't already on our desk -- a squat, thick red chunk of a book crammed with very opinionated ideas on what the best toys, books, videos, music and software are for your kids.

Written by three child development, consumer and computer authorities -- who happen to be related -- this guide is $12, but worth every cent.

Look for it in the next month or so.

By News Staff Reporter Lauri Githens, compiled from wire services and other sources.

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