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updated 05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/08/2000 01:00AM

It's Their Party
Jan and Mike Jewell serve up birthdays-to-go

Born premature at 1 lb. 10 oz. in 1992, Jan and Mike Jewell's first child, Sebastian, spent six months on and off life support. On his first birthday, the Kirkland, Wash., couple celebrated the "miracle," says Jan, with a 16-guest blowout—and a vow to spend more time as a family. Declares Jan: "We totally rethought our priorities."

So jewelrymaker Jan and tech entrepreneur Mike, both now 42, quit their jobs to start a mom-and-pop business. Their brainchild: www.BirthdayExpress.com, which peddles ready-made party kits—everything from hats to invitations to pinatas—with themes from Cinderella to Pokemon. "Our focus is on ordinary parents with no time," Mike says.

The six-year-old company, which also runs a mail catalog and www. CelebrateExpress.com for grown-up galas, has since shipped a million insta-shindigs. Last year's sales topped $18 million—enough for the family (there's also daughter Sapphire, 5, and two teens from Jan's first marriage) to plan a jet-pilot-themed bash for Sebastian's eighth birthday. Says Jan: "You have to make every moment count."

Internet Manners

A friend sends me instant messages when I'm at work and don't have time to chat. What should I do?

A downside of high tech: Everybody thinks you're available to talk, anytime, anywhere. Your job could be on the line, so firmly tell the chatterbox (in person, preferably) to quit it—or wait till happy hour.

I got e-mail from someone whose name I didn't recognize. Should I write and ask who he or she is?

Be careful—it could be a salesman or scammer using a friendly come-on. If a mysterious correspondent doesn't bother to introduce himself, don't reply.

Bytes to Eat
Got to have the finest Philly cheesesteaks or Korean kimchi? Would you walk a mile to buy a better bagel? Pull up a chair at Chowhound.com's message boards, where food fanatics from around the world swap table talk about quests for Manhattan's top taco stand, Texas's most transcendent Thai or Tokyo's best shot at deep-dish pizza (survey says, Better make your own). Finedining snobs need not apply. In the site's welcoming manifesto, founder Jim Leff, a New York City author and freelance restaurant critic, heaps scorn on buzz-worshipping "foodies" who stampede to the latest trendateria. True chow-hounds, he declares, "sniff out secret deliciousness on their own."

Click and Get It

The Swing Set
A round of golf with Tiger Woods: Sold for $204,000. Four winning bidders (including one seeking a birthday gift for her husband) chipped in $51,000 each at Ultimate Bid.com. Most of the money was donated to charity.

Talk of the Towns
Let CNN and MSNBC's Web sites duke it out to bring you the latest excitement in the world of Elian Gonzalez or the NASDAQ, At Streetmail.com, the big news is changes in the schedule of a drawbridge near Cape Lookout, N,C, or the death of a 100-year-old tree on Cape Cod, Mass. The smalltown-news site offers e-mail dispatches covering 60 real-life Mayberrys, with plans for 250 by the end of the year. Local sages—including a Montrose, Colo., ex-mayor and a Dodge County, Wise, grain farmer—write the newsletters and invite readers to sound off too. "We try to be a combination of an old-fashioned newspaper and a talk-radio show," says CEO Barbara Johnson, 48. Other sites, she adds, can "give you local weather or your stock portfolio. We are voices, human beings, talking."

For Goodness' Sake
Here's a way to make Web shopping splurges benefit more than UPS's bottom line: Just start your spree through sites like iGive.com or Greater Good.com, then put your credit card through its paces on such linked sites as jcrew.com and toysrus.com. The stores fork over finder's fees to GreaterGood and iGive—which then direct part of the take, from 0.5 to 33 percent of the purchase price, to your choice of such charities as March of Dimes and the World Wildlife Fund. (They also keep a slice—they're not nonprofits.) Some surfers must be stocking up on Clearasil: iGive's top-grossing charity is Backstreet Boy (and heart-defect survivor) Brian Littrell's Healthy Heart Club for Kids—and bandmate Howard Dorough's lupus-research group isn't far behind.

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