What’s for supper? Vol. 91: In which Aldi dreams of me

No, literally. The cashier at Aldi had a dream about me. (I turn up there three times a week, each time with a different child, and I fill two carts on Saturdays.) This is what happens when you come to Represent Something to strangers. I told her I would try to behave myself next time I haunted her subconscious, and then I gathered up my cut rate hummus and sauntered away. Then I came back to get my quarter.

SATURDAY
Muffaletta sandwiches, fries

Muffaletta sandwiches are something I’ve wanted to try forever. And very good they were, muffaletta sandwiches! I guess this sandwich originates from the Italian quarter of New Orleans or something (how many quarters does that place have, anyway), and “muffaletta” can refer either to the special bread, or to the sandwich itself.

Our version was made of ciabatta rolls with olive salad, sweet capicola, prosciutto, ham, and provolone. The olive salad was made of a jar each of green and black olives, about a quarter of a cup of capers, and a jar of giardiniera salad (pickled carrots, hot peppers, cauliflower, and little onions), drained and chopped up together.

I wish I had gotten a pic of just the olive salad, because it was awfully festive-looking.

You’re supposed to toast the bread, or wrap the sandwich in foil and bake the whole thing, but we were starving, so we just wolfed it down.

It was a little pricey because I went to an Actual Deli for the meat, but a nice treat. I also think recipe pages are a little bit insane when they show how much meat goes on a sandwich. It’s always, like, seven-and-a-half solid inches of ham, and then you start in with the cheese. I like sandwiches, but I like having the use of my legs after dinner, too.

***

SUNDAY
Lasagna, garlic bread, salad, ice cream cake

Birthday! Our newest ten-year-old requested meatless lasagna.  Lasagna is my least favorite thing to make. It’s just such a pain in the neck, and I burn my fingers and wreck the whole kitchen. But it was good, if sloppy and soupy. I just used the basic recipe on the side of the noodle box.

I added basil from the garden to the ricotta for the very first harvest this year. Our growing season is so ridiculously short, and it’s been a very cool summer, so there’s not much to show. Also, string beans don’t scream and hang onto my pants legs, so I tend to forget I have a garden.

Not that you asked, but we have tomatoes, basil, cabbage, jalapeno, eggplant, string beans, rainbow carrots, pumpkins, and broccoli. And a lot of weeds. And not enough watering. Thank goodness for rain.

My window boxes turned out a little scruffy this year, too.

That hemp liner looks like I feel. Aieeee!

But check out these weird tomatoes! They’re supposed to be dark like that.

They’re less blurry in real life. Anyway, no varmints have been eating the garden this year, except for bugs. I made a fence out of an upside-down trampoline frame (we had an extra, okay? I don’t want to talk about it), chicken wire, and some zip ties. Woodchucks are supposed to be able to dig under fences, but I guess ours isn’t that ambitious.

***

MONDAY
English muffin pizzas

Wherever I was, I wasn’t home for supper. One of the kids made pizzas. There were two (as in two halves) left over when I got back, so I inhaled them, and then I ate all the leftover ice cream. And justice was restored to the world.

***

TUESDAY
Pulled pork, risotto, peas

It was murderously hot and humid, so I set the slow cooker to work making pulled pork in the steambath kitchen, and brought the Instant Pot (affiliate link) into the air conditioned dining room to make the risotto. The peas, we just ate frozen, which my kids prefer.

The pulled pork had a good flavor, but I started it too late, so it was kind of tough. I put a half pork loin into the pot with a can of beer, plenty of salt, pepper, and chili powder, about six sliced garlic cloves, and a quartered onion. It tasted as good as it smelled, which is not always a given!

I used this recipe for the risotto, minus the squash. I tripled it and lost track of how many cups of broth, so it was a little dry, but still tasty. Not a meal worth taking a picture of, though.

***

WEDNESDAY
Roasted kielbasa, cabbage, and potato with mustard vinaigrette 

A very fine summer meal, great with cheap beer, magnificent after going for a run in the evening, swimming in the pond in the rain with your husband, and then eating a late dinner while watching TV. It’s like Platonic ideal of a hot dog with sauerkraut and fries. I used three packages of kielbasa (I think they are 14 oz. each), about six pounds of small potatoes, and a large cabbage, and I made a quadruple recipe of the dressing.

The color’s off in this picture. It’s prettier in real life, and looks less like an illustration from a cheap textbook covering the post-war years of Cabbagopolis.

Here’s the recipe from Budget Bytes. Again I say unto you: measure your oven and buy yourself the biggest pans that will fit. (I got two 15×21″ aluminum pans like these [affiliate link], and they make my life better several times a week. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to cook for a crowd when you can just lay it all out there.)

Look, garlic bread for twelve on a single pan:

Or, as I see it, almost enough garlic bread for me.

***

THURSDAY
Chicken burgers, chips

I had string beans, but they went bad. Soon, soon, we will have string beans from the garden! Well, in a few weeks. Stupid slow garden.

 

***

FRIDAY
Day trip! We’re headed out and will probably grab pizza somewhere.

Oh, Amazon announcement! I now have Amazon Associate accounts that will work for Canada and the UK!
For Canada: Amazon.ca
and for the UK: Amazon.co.uk.
I’d be so grateful if you’d bookmark these pages and use them anytime you shop on Amazon. This makes up a significant part of our income. Thank you!

Family Game Review: Mysterium (and Amazon Prime Day reminder!)

As you read this, we’re on our second day of camping. One game we’re bringing with us (because we camp in yurts. Yurt with tables. Daily life is rustic enough without getting tents involved, thanks) is Mysterium (Amazon Associates link), which my 15-year-old son got for his birthday.

But first: It’s Amazon Prime Day! If you’re scooping up some deals on Amazon today or any day, please please consider using my link! (My link is also always at the top of my home page, and on my Facebook page.) I make a commission from sales made through my link, and this makes up a significant part of my family’s income.

I also earn a bounty if you sign up for Amazon Prime. You can get a free 30-day trial, which gives you access to free, fast shipping on many items, special prices on many items (especially today!), free streaming of many excellent (and many terrible) movies and shows, free music streaming and photo storage, free Kindle books, savings on subscriptions, and a ton of other stuff — pretty much everything you could possibly need in life except for love, sex, God, and gin. And warm bread.

Okay, now for the game review for Mysterium.

 

It’s a little pricey, but tons of fun, beautifully designed, and sturdy. It’s sort of like Clue, in that you have to make educated guesses about murder suspects, the crime scene, and the weapon — except in Mysterium, you’re helping the dead victim remember who his murderer is. You get clues from a ghost, who can’t remember much about his own murder, and who can only communicate with you for a short time (there is a sand timer involved, and each round moves a clock ahead an hour until your time is up).

The ghost (who sets the game up ahead of time, and who controls the play, sort of like a dungeonmaster) can’t speak except in knocks, so he deals out “vision cards” to the players, who act as mediums, cooperating to solve the mystery.

The catch is, these vision cards are deliberately baffling and subjective, and the players must use their imagination and intuition to figure out which information is important and which is just atmospheric red herrings.

They can also agree or disagree (using “clairvoyance tokens”) with the other players’ guesses, and they advance in play if they agree with guesses that turn out correct.

It’s a cooperative game, all-win or all-lose.

If all the mediums correctly guess the correct suspects, location, and weapon before time runs out, they all advance to the climactic final round. If not, the ghost despairs and fades away without revealing the final clues to his murder.

The game itself is gorgeous, very artfully crafted with clever and entertaining details. (These rather blurry photos don’t convey all the detail and vividness of the actual game components, which are printed on thick, glossy board.)

The pawns are crystal balls, and the play surface, a spectral mansion, is constructed in bits as the play proceeds. A skilled “ghost” can add to the thrills and suspense by hamming it up and adding drama and tension to the play

(for instance, by cawing eerily as he removes the cardboard crows that perch on the wall to signify vision cards that must be discarded).

Since the vision cards are intentionally dreamlike and subjective, you can replay the game many times in different ways

(and, of course, there are expansion packs). You can even download an app which plays unnerving background music to the game, to increase the sense of urgency and unease.

(For the nervous parent: The game deals with ghosts and creepy things, but it’s not occult or demonic, just spooky. Sensitive children might be frightened by the spookiness, but it doesn’t actually show gore or death. It’s more like Edward Gorey meets surrealism.)

You can play with two to seven players. We played last night with two adults and kids ages 16, 15, 12, 10, and 8. You could easily allow a younger child to play as your partner and help you figure out visions — which might even be actually helpful, since overthinking can be an impediment.

The game took about an hour from start to finish, including setup time. It would make a good party game, because players can get the hang of it pretty quickly, as long as one person is already familiar with the rules and is motivated to do the prep work as the ghost. I, frankly, would not be able to juggle enough ideas at one time to be an effective ghost, but some of my kids are great in this role.

And now another reminder that today is Amazon Prime Day. Do use my link! Thanks so much!

10 gorgeous Easter books for kids

Easter is April 14th 16th. I know, because I have Googled it eleven times in the last week people on Facebook told me so after I got it wrong after Googling it eleven times. That means if you have Amazon Prime, you can still order a nice Easter book for your kids, and it will get here in time.

Most of these books are linked through Amazon. (I’m an Amazon Associate and earn a small percentage of all sales made after getting to Amazon through my links. Please bookmark my link!) Note: Most but not all of these books are available with Prime. Please check shipping dates if you’re shopping for Easter! If you can’t find a good price on Amazon, I recommend checking Booksprice, which gives you a side-by-side price comparison of many booksellers. 

And now the books! I own some of these, and some have been recommended by folks I trust.

1. MIRACLE MAN: THE STORY OF JESUS by John Hendrix 

Top of my wish list.

The illustrations are fresh and exciting, with the text incorporated into the images

and the reviews promise a new and captivating take on a very familiar story.

2. THE MIRACLE OF THE RED EGG by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson, illustrated by Daria Fisher

A traditional Orthodox story telling how Mary Magdalene goes to a feast with the Emperor Tiberius. She spreads the thrilling news that Jesus has risen from the dead.

 

When it reaches the Emperor’s ears, he says, “Do you see this egg? I declare that Jesus can no more have risen from the dead, than this egg could turn blood red.” Which it does.

3.THE TALE OF THE THREE TREES: A traditional folktale told by Angela Elwell Hunt, illustrated by Tim Jonke

This looks very moving.

From the customer reviews:

“The story opens with three trees on a hilltop; one longs to be made into a dazzling treasure chest for diamonds and gold, the second wants to be a mighty sailing ship that would carry kings across the ocean, and the third simply wants to remain on the hilltop to grow so tall that when people see her, they will think of heaven. As woodcutters fell each tree, we find that although at first they cannot understand why their dreams weren’t fulfilled in the way they wanted, God used them for much greater purposes than they could ever dream.”

4. THE EASTER STORY by Brian Wildsmith 

 

 

Wildsmith’s own passion for the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection is unmistakable in his glorious, metallic-gold-hued illustrations, which tell the story more vividly than words ever could. In fact, to his credit, Wildsmith adapts the story of Jesus’s last days in as simple and straightforward a manner as possible, allowing young readers to glean the substance from the paintings, symbolism, and, most likely, discussion with grownups who may be reading along.

The donkey’s-eye-view of the events allows a slightly different perspective from the standard, without being overly intrusive as a literary device. Lush jewel tones capture the richness of the narrative, and mesh in a strangely beautiful way with the simple paintings of Jesus, the angels, Mary Magdalene, and others in the biblical cast of characters. The Easter Story will make a gorgeous addition to any Easter basket. (Ages 5 and older)

5. THE MIRACLES OF JESUS by Tomie dePaola

Twelve miracles explained plainly and with dignity, and illustrated in dePaola’s unmistakable, luminous style.

We have this book and the kids love it.
6. and 7. LOTS OF BOOKS BY Maïte Roche

So difficult to choose just one or two by Maïte Roche. I can’t find a reasonably priced edition of My First Pictures of Easter, which I recommend heartily, so keep an eye out! It’s a treasure.

You will also love
MY FIRST PICTURES OF JESUS, a sturdy little board book with captivating illustrations for little ones to pore over. This book is arranged with lots of pictures and only a few words, to inspire your own conversations with kids.


Another lovely offering from Roche:
MY FIRST PRAYERS WITH MARY.
Here’s one of my favorite illustrations from this book: Mary teaching baby Jesus to walk

It includes several short, simple prayers to Mary, with large, bright pictures of Mary, Jesus, and Joseph, accompanied by smaller pictures of modern children on the facing pages. The faces are very inviting.

8. LET THE WHOLE EARTH SING PRAISE by Tomie dePaola

A departure from dePaola’s familiar Renaissance-inspired, style:

From the reviews:

“This joyous book sings thanks and praise for everything in land, sea, and sky-from the sun and moon to plants and animals to all people, young and old. Beloved author-illustrator Tomie dePaola captures the beauty of God’s creation in his folk art-style illustrations. With text inspired by Old Testament Scripture and artwork fashioned after the beautiful embroideries and designs of the Otomi people from the mountain villages around San Pablito, in Puebla, Mexico, this is a wonderful celebration for all to share.”

9. EASTER by Fiona French

Brilliant stained glass-inspired illustrations paired with passages from scripture

to tell the story of Easter, starting with Palm Sunday and ending with the ascension.
10. THE DONKEY AND THE GOLDEN LIGHT by John and Gill Speirs 

Illustrations in the style of my man Bruegel! This is on my wish list. From the reviews:
“[A] young donkey named Bethlehem and the interaction he has with Jesus beginning the Messiah’s birth and proceeding through the flight into Egypt, the baptism by John, the wedding feast at Cana, the events of the Last Supper, and finally with the Jesus’ crucifixion at the hands of the Roman authorities.” Christ appears somewhere on each page.

BONUS:
If you are looking for a DVD, I recommend The Miracle Maker: The Story of Jesus

Pretty intense, as you can see from this clip:

I was skeptical, and boy do I want to be careful showing my kids any moving, speaking representation of Christ. This is not perfect, but it’s good, and powerful. Hope to rewatch soon and provide a more detailed review.

What’s for supper? Vol. 74: This is why everyone needs an Instant Pot

Maybe you’re wondering what is the big deal about the Instant Pot. Is it really so great? Why does everyone go so cuckoo over it? Should I be worried that my spouse has bought a pair of spotless doves and is sharpening a knife?

And why does Simcha insist on making these embarrassingly chimpy images with very primitive software and a crying toddler on her lap?

I have the answer.  To the first question, not the second.

It’s because of risotto.

Risotto, risotto, risotto. I love risotto with my whole heart, but it is a pain in the neck to make. Hovering over the pan, stirring, adding in a little broth, stirring, waiting, simmering, waiting, stirring, adding some more broth, stirring, waiting, and it smells divine, but your entire life is passing you by while you wait for it to be done.

In the Instant Pot, it’s easy. Truly easy, and fast. And it tastes just as good as the difficult kind. This, in itself, is a reason to own an Instant Pot. All the other stuff is bonus. Now you know!

Here is the obligatory reminder that all my links to Amazon products are Amazon Associates links, and I get a small percentage of every purchase made using my links. Amazon is restructuring its pay scale soon, to the detriment of people who mostly plug books and toys; so I would be very, very grateful if you could bookmark my link and use it any time you shop on Amazon!

I’m gonna come right out and tell you: we rely on Amazon for our car payments. My husband has a 1.3-hour commute, and absolutely needs a reliable car. So! Please use my links, so my husband doesn’t have to drive to work in the Instant Pot. It’s good, but it’s not that good.

Thank you.

And now, back to risotto.

Last Friday, we had tuna fish patties and butternut squash risotto. I used this butternut squash risotto recipe from Good Housekeeping. I used onions instead of shallots, ground sage instead of fresh, and regular old white rice instead of arborio. It was fabulous. Creamy but not mushy and packed with flavor. Amazing.

I spent a good half hour wandering around the house, taking people by the shoulders, holding them with my glittering eye and quothing at them, “Do you even realize the possibilities?” Risotto with fresh tomatoes. Risotto with bacon. Risotto with scallops or garlicky shrimp. Risotto with asparagus and gorgonzola. Risotto with lemon, mint, and peas. Risotto with hazelnuts. Risotto with saffron and fennel. I don’t even know what fennel is! But I will!

The other reason for having an Instant Pot is because venting the steam is fun. Some days, it is the most fun you will have all day.

***

SATURDAY
Hamburgers, chips

Cousins over again. They responded very positively, with shrieking, to the idea of hamburgers and chips. So let it be written; so let it be done. I had planned sweet peppers and hummus, but there were just too many runny noses and double dippers in the population, so, in the interest of good health, we skipped the veg.

***

SUNDAY
Chicken cutlets with basil; mushroom risotto; salad

Farewell to cousins and hello to my parents. Here is my niece with one of her favorite playthings: My father’s beard.

Damien made one of his absolute most magnificent dishes, the late lamented Deadspin’s chicken cutlets. You pound the chicken flat, bread it (Damien used panko crumbs), fry it (Damien used olive oil and butter), then top it with a fresh basil leaf and a slice of cheese (Damien used mozzarella, but provolone is great, too), and ladle some homemade tomato sauce over that.

This meal makes me go absolutely insane. It’s so good, you can’t imagine. As I ate it, I thought of starving people in the third world and then thought, “TOO BAD.” With these chicken cutlets, you could — dare I say it? Rule the world.  

Also, I had some mushroom left over from last week, when I accidentally didn’t make soup. So I went with this mushroom risotto recipe from This Old Gal. This Old Gal discourages using plain old regular mushrooms, but I did it anyway, and it was good. I didn’t have fennel or parsley, so I went with sage again, and really peppered it up. Completely delicious.

***

MONDAY
Leftovers with spaghetti

Damien had made 38 chicken cutlets, so we put the leftovers in a pan, spread the rest of the sauce over it, added a layer of sliced cheese, and warmed it up in the oven, then served it on spaghetti.

There was no leftover risotto because I devoured it for lunch.

I feel like there was salad.

***

TUESDAY
Korean beef bowl; rice; steambed broccoli and cauliflower

I just noticed that I wrote “steambed” instead of “steamed,” but I think the “b” expresses how lightly I didn’t steam them.

Have you tried Korean beef bowl yet? You won’t regret it.

It’s so easy, and it’s just spicy enough to be warming and comforting, without assailing your mouth. Wonderful use for ground beef. Also a wonderful use for immortal zombie scallions, if you happen to have any haunting your kitchen.

I used, you’ll never guess, the Instant Pot for the rice. This really is easier than stovetop rice. It comes out slightly sticky, which we like, and you just put in water, rinse the rice and dump it in, and then press a button and walk away.

Oh, I thought of another advantage for the Instant Pot. InstantPot.com has plenty of useful, simple recipes, like the rice one above. It also has a slew of completely bonkers recipes that were apparently written by a malicious robot who flunked out of ESL. Here is one of my current favorites: Beer Potato Fish!

A photo of something, who knows what?

“The Beer Potato Fish would be a challenge for a non-professional cooker,” it muses, shaking its head in empathy for the old, dark days so tragically rife with amateurish attempts at beer potato fish, “But it is now a different story with Instant Pot Programmable Pressure Cooker.”

It calls for a pound of fish, some oyster flavored sauce, a cup of beer, and a tablespoon of rock candy. Doesn’t that sound tasty? It also instructs you to push the fish button, which does not exist. I suppose someone is making money off this in some way, and I kind of feel like they deserve it.

***

WEDNESDAY
Oven-roasted pork ribs; mashed potatoes; mixed veg

The Instant Pot had acquitted itself so well this week, I thought maybe I’d try one of the many, many pork rib recipes that are available. But then I remembered that I could also sit on the couch and tell my son how to some pork ribs in a 450 oven on a roasting rack with a little salt and pepper, and I knew they would be scrumptious. And so I did, and so they were.

If there’s a better way to prepare pork ribs, I just don’t care.

I also considered making Instant Pot mashed potatoes, but the recipes all looked more complicated than stovetop recipes. So I just went ahead and boiled them in a non-instant pot and mashed them. I left the skin on, which I almost never do. To me, this adds excitement and piquancy. To others, it’s like hanging around with that weirdo who keeps on harping on the idea that, in many regions, apple cores, corn cobs, and chicken bones are considered a delicacy.

The vegetables were that good old supermarket blend of frozen peas, carrots, corn, string beans, and lima beans. This makes me feel six years old, in a good way.

***

THURSDAY
English muffin pizzas

Since our bishop has given us a St. Patrick’s Day dispensation to eat meat on Friday, we did our meatless meal on Thursday. Except I forgot, and had leftover Korean beef bowl for lunch. For my penance, I had massive heartburn all night, and dreamt I was endlessly editing and re-editing a blog post about best and worst dresses of the Oscars; only I had to do it on taped-together paper with sidewalk chalk and then take photos of it with a Kodak disc film camera.

So, I am all caught up on Lent.

***

FRIDAY
Corned beef boiled dinner; Dublin coddle

So, St. Patrick is, like, the second-tier patron of our regional arch-diacistry, or something; and my husband is tremendously Irish, so we prayerfully discerned that have no choice but to eat three different kinds of meat today.

The kids love boiled dinner, so I’ll be cooking up some corned beef with red potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and adorable little onions, and serving it with gobs of mustard, as St. Patrick himself did. It’s how he drove the snakes away.

We’re also trying a new dish, Dublin coddle (recipe from Southeast Missourian, for some reason) which is a nice little thing with bacon, sausage, sweet and russet potatoes, herbs, carrots and apples. No argument from me. The two other recipes on this page actually sound way better. Maybe when I win the lottery.

Nobody likes soda bread, because it is terrible. Last year, I looked up authentic irish desserts, and quickly discovered why people usually just go with, like, brownies with green frosting.

Blog housekeeping, updates, issues, tissues, damned lies, statistics, and no end of stilton cheese

A little housekeeping today. Ha ha, no, not in my actual house. That’s crazy talk. Just blog housekeeping.

LINGERING SERVER ERRORS A little over a week ago, I switched to a self-hosted (well, brother-hosted) server, to gain more control over this site. In the process, whacky things happened, and not everyone could access my blog. If you’re still having trouble getting to the site, please add a “www” before simchafisher.com, or if there is an https in the URL, try taking out the “s.” These issues should be just about ironed out, but it may take another day or so. You may need to update your bookmark. Sorry about that! Thanks so much for your patience. The internet is tubes. The internet is tubes.

EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS I seem to have lost all my email subscribers in the migration. Boooo! If you want to get an email every time I post, you will have to resubscribe, using the form on the right sidebar. I miss you! I want you back!

PODCAST The weekly podcast continues apace, whatever that means. Starting yesterday, I’ve switched from Soundbutt to an integrated WordPress media player, so you can listen right from this site, and you can now download the podcast to hear later. The podcast is open to lovely subscribers who have pledged their support through Patreon, which is how I’m currently funding this blog. It’s fun! You should come along!

FEED The feed is a mess. Just a mess. It is on my list!

OTHER WAYS TO KEEP IN TOUCH Every post I write goes on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr, so you can follow all my nonsense in any of those spots. I have a personal Facebook page, where I post photos and all the silly stuff one posts on social media, as well as all my blog post. My personal page is maxed out on friend requests, but you can still “follow” me. I also have a professional page, which only shows blogs posts, which you can “follow” and “like” to keep updated.

EMAIL I am approximately seventy-three years behind in my emails. I am sorry. I read everything I get, and if you asked for prayer, I definitely prayed. I am working my way through the backlog. Please don’t take it personally! If it’s urgent, it couldn’t hurt to email again.

SPEAKING I am still scheduling speaking engagements for 2017! Shoot me an email at simchafisher[at]gmail[dot]com and let’s make some plans. For you, I’ll even wear heels. Here are a few popular recent talks:

Your Family Is an Icon
How your family as it is right now is an icon, a beautiful and powerful evangelical tool to bring people closer to God, because of its imperfections, not despite them.

Beautiful Stranger: Making Contact with the Mother of God One terrible year, I was forced to get past my silly ideas about Mary and finally get to know her — and let her help me.

Swimming in the Dark: Spreading the Good News When You’re Feeling So Bad Pope Francis has made it clear that evangelization is an obligation, not an option. But what if we’re not feeling joyful right now? Do we still have to put ourselves out there?

AMAZON As long as I’m mentioning All The Things, have I reminded you lately that you can help my family out a ton by using my link when you shop on Amazon? I’ll have a sidebar button soon. In the meantime, please consider bookmarking this as your Amazon page. It will be exactly the same shopping experience as usual for you, but I will earn a percentage of every sale. This helps us pay very important bills! Thanks!

NO END OF STILTON CHEESE
10 PRINT “STILTON CHEESE”
20 GOTO 10
RUN

Ask your parents, kids.

World’s okayest mom’s list of tolerable kid’s TV shows

Last week, we chatted about some children’s TV shows that are so good, I’ll sit and watch them myself, rather than just let a glowing screen raise my kids while I shoot up in the kitchen, or whatever it is I do all day.

Here, now, is the B list: shows my kids enjoy, which don’t make my gnash my teeth with guilt. But I won’t sit and watch it, not with both eyeballs. So my reviews may be a slightly on the useless side, since I haven’t exactly seen them.

As with the A-listers, these are all either on Netflix Streaming or Amazon Prime Streaming.

***

Masha’s Tales (Netflix)
This seems to be a Russian show dubbed into English, and it’s a spinoff from a show called Masha and the Bear, which we haven’t seen.

I think it’s a sort of fractured fairy tales thing, with a nutty little girl narrating the action. I like it because the narrator is an actual little girl, who occasionally endearingly stumbles over words, but who is very naturally dramatic and witty in her delivery. The music is often taken from great classical composers, too, so that’s excellent. It’s somewhat frenetic, but not too loud or obnoxious.

Wonder Pets (Amazon)
Popular for a reason. Whoever came up with the concept (I heard it was opera lovers) really was brilliant. Three kid animals who go on adventures all over the world in their homemade Flyboat to save baby animals in danger, and they sing lots of songs (and recitatives) along the way. This show is really quite dear to me, even if I won’t quite sit and watch it myself. One time, one of the kids asked the toddler what a sheep says, and she said, “Oh sheepy-hoo?”

They’ve locked down all the clips online, so this video is a clip of the game, not the actual show. Gives you the general idea:

It’s mildly witty and sweet, not screamy, not sassy, and the “photo-puppetry” animation, which imitates a child’s scissor-and-paste job, does not induce seizures. Lots of songs I don’t mind having in my head. I also enjoy the real kid voices, not supertrained America’s Kidz Got Singing-type voices.

Octonauts (Netflix)
This one violates a bunch of my “standards,” such as they are. I guess there are some animals and maybe some vegetables who go down in a submarine and have adventures, and also learn about the ocean? I am not sure. The animation is a big nothingburger, and I none of the characters seems especially interesting. I think they may learn a thing or two about the ocean.

However, for reasons I can’t explain, I LOVE the “Creature Report” song.

Creature report!!! I sing it to myself all the time. It’s just a good song!

Avatar: The Last Airbender (Amazon)

When a bunch of my kids requested handmade costumes of these characters for Halloween, I thought I was really gonna have to watch it, but I just fumbled through. It’s one of those shows that is just completely exhausting to me. First there is some teen drama and moping, and a few wisecracks and martial arts and sad parts, and then, in almost every episode, there is some version of a mystical volcano of light exploding and turning the mountain inside out, which triggers a lava of sound which causes the air to vibrate until it rains fire which makes everybody’s eyeballs turn into mirrors and unlocks the key to the mystery of the giant doors of ultimate power; and then, things start to get cuh-razy. Or so it seems to me. Here is a clip I chose at random:

All of my kids love this show (they are ages 18 to almost 2). I hear them laughing their heads off, and getting all somber together, gasping and shouting at the exciting parts. So, that’s why I let them watch it.

Martha Speaks (Netflix)

Pretty cute. It’s based on the books by Susan Meddaugh, which are funny and a little weird, and the cartoon seems to have preserved the spirit of the books pretty well. I like the theme music. I think it’s educational in some way, I guess for vocabulary or something.

I like how Martha is a smart dog who can talk and make jokes, but then Skits is just a regular old dumb dog.

Word Girl (Netflix)

The kids haven’t actually seen this show in a while, but I always tolerated it very well. It has some funny side characters, like Lady Redundant Woman and Sid the Evil Sandwich-Making Guy.

Someone put some effort into this one. It’s very PBS.

Barbie: Life In the Dreamhouse (Netflix)

I come pretty close to actually watching this show, which is genuinely entertaining. Barbie, Ken and their friends and frenemies go about their busy life, going on plastic camping trips, solving fashion and friendship problems, and throwing parties. The humor comes in because they are actual dolls, and they know it, so there’s no end of jokes about their articulated joints, their ability to make bake by flipping a stovetop over, Barbie’s agelessness and inexplicable number of careers, etc.

There are lots of references to other movies, and it’s very silly, but devoid of sexiness. My only objection to this show is that, being about Barbie and her friends, it is screeeeeeamy. Someone is always screaming or squealing or shrieking. It makes sense for the plot, but I can only deal with hearing a few episodes at a time.

I’m reluctantly including My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (Netflix) for that reason. They did actually bother to write it, and the messages of cooperation, flexibility, teamwork, and friendship are perfectly fine. Some of the plots are witty or bizarre, with funny cameos and unexpected subplots. Here’s one of the songs from one of my kids’ favorite episodes:

But the screeeeeeaming, squeeeeeeealing, and shrieeeeeeeeking. Yikes. This one gets limited play time.

Teen Titans (oops, it turns out this isn’t available for free streaming after all!)
This show is so dang stupid. I don’t know what the appeal is; but, like Avatar, my kids all love it and get along when they’re watching it (and occasionally ask for Halloween costumes based on it), so I don’t object.

It is a flashy, silly “band of superheroes” cartoon of some kind, and some of the characters have emotional problems. One is purple and sad, and one is goofy and green. The theme song gets stuck in my head for this one, too, but I’m less thrilled about that. Sometimes the theme song is in Japanese, I guess.

The Adventure of Tintin (Amazon)
If you like the Tintin books by Hergé — and, oh, we do — there is no reason on heaven or earth that you would dislike these cartoons,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZsK4UDoo4o

except that they have this marvellous Canadian veneer of dullness that helps you just zo-o-o-o-o-o-o-one out. Wooah! Wooah!
***

Welp, that’s my list. Hope you were able to get something done while you read it with one eyeball. What do you tolerate at your house?

The return of Darwin’s immediate book meme!

Remember back in the old days, when bloggers used to help each other out? Mrs. Darwin Catholic is still pulling her weight. Check out her immediate book meme, which, rather than getting you to cast your mind back over influential books in your past, asks questions about “the books you’re actually reading now, or just read, or are about to read.” Excellent idea! Here’s mine:

1. What book are you reading now?

This is going to be the biggest category. I’m currently insulating the space between my bed and wall with countless books I’m in the middle of. Here are a few:

Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-10-11-59-am

This is a pure comfort read, because I’ve read this book probably a dozen times. Completely fascinating account of a fictional bourgeois family as it slowly declines over the courts of four generations, published in Germany in 1901. The characters are so real, but the times are so different. Here is Tony, who has arrived in hysterics at her parents’ house, after fleeing from her second husband, Herr Permaneder:

She sprang up. She made two steps backward and feverishly dried her eyes. “A moment, Mamma!” He forgot what he owed to me and to our name? He never knew it, from the very beginning! A man that quietly sit down with his wife’s dowry–a man without ambition or energy or will-power! A man that was some kind of thick soup made out of hops in his veins instead of blood–I verily believe he has! And to let himself down to such common doing as this with Babette–and when I reproached him with his good-for-nothingness, to answer with a word that–a-word–”
And, arrived once more at the word, the word she would not repeat, quite suddenly she took a step forward and said, in a completely altered, a quieter, milder, interested tone:  “How perfectly sweet! Where did you get that, Mamma?” She mentioned with her chin toward a little receptacle, an charming basket-work stand woven out of reeds and decorated with ribbon bow, in which the Frau Consul kept her fancy-work.
“I bought it, some time ago,” answered the old lady. “I needed it.”
“Very smart, “Tony said, looking at it with her head on one side.

Harry Potter and the blah blah blah

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-10-20-41-am

I picked this up because it was a book, and my lord, it is dull. I read it through several years ago to make sure there was nothing dangerous for the kids, as reported. There wasn’t but my land, such tedious writing, and the inconsistencies in how magic works is just maddening. I wish I hadn’t let my kids read these books, because they are dumb. A dumb book is fine, but they read these books over and over and over again. I hate that this level of writing is sinking into their brains.

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-9-37-57-am

Somehow I’ve never read much Steinbeck. The writing is just. . . crystalline. I’ve only just started it, and the little boy has only just gotten the pony. I FEEL LIKE SOMETHING BAD IS COMING AND IT’S PREEMPTIVELY BREAKING MY HEART. Don’t tell me!

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-9-38-12-am

It’s a chatty and gargantuan Victorian novel of courtship, corruption, dissolution, greed, lovers, and sissy boys. I was enjoying the book for its own sake; but about halfway through, I realized that Augustus Melmotte sounded awfully familiar. He’s a blustering financial giant with glitzy, vulgar tastes and a murky past, who bulldozes his way to the top of society because he acts so rich that everyone assumes he really is rich—and so they’re willing to lend him even more money. Eventually, his wealth becomes so impressive that he decides to run for public office. ALL THE SIGHS. There are also love triangles and pleasantly despicable side characters, dissolute rats ripe for comeuppance, and almost-heroes you want to shake and make them get their act together. I have a few hundred pages to go, and I honestly have no idea what is going to happen.

Nightbirds on Nantucket by Joan Aiken.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-9-59-34-am

This is the third book in the series that begins with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, but you can enjoy the books independently. I love Joan Aiken with all my heart. If all children’s and YA authors took such pains with dialogue and had such respect for the reader, we wouldn’t be in such a pickle today. Dido Twite is one of the most appealing characters I’ve ever met in a book.

2. What book did you just finish?

Nothing. I finish nothing. I stink.

3. What do you plan to read next?

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-9-39-00-am

Ahem, I am super about to start Come As You Are, by Emily Nagoski, which is, look, just pick it up yourself. Okay, fine, it’s about “The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life.” Everybody has a hobby, and mine just happens to be . . . surprising new science. A bunch of my friends read this book and said it was great. I’m just looking for an opportunity to whip it out in a manner designed to maximize humiliation for my children. What I’m trying to say is, people need to stop complaining about the cover of my book.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-9-38-46-am

I haven’t read a ton of marriage books, but this one is pretty good and reasonable and practical. There is a bit too much bragging about how much research he’s done and how effective his advice is, but you can skim.

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales.

Screen Shot 2017-01-10 at 9.38.24 AM.png

I’ve been recommending this book forever, but I don’t think I’ve ever come right out and claimed to have read it. I did buy a copy, so there’s that.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-10-17-24-am

I’ve actually read this before, maybe twenty years ago, but I got bogged down trying to keep track of all the characters and insane plot details. This time, I’m not going to sweat it, and I’ll just enjoy what I can manage.

6. What is your current reading trend?

Headlines on Facebook. If I were a real adult, I’d cut down now, but I’m waiting for Lent. I guess I’m reading fiction, as usual, and have a yen for uncluttered forms of expression.

And I’ll add a seventh question of my own:

7. What are you reading out loud?

The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-9-50-17-am

I’m reading this to the five-year-old, and oh, she loves it. We made our way through the first two books (My Father’s Dragon and  Elmer and the Dragon) pretty quick, and this is the last one (we have a volume with all three books in it, including the original illustrations, which are indispensable). The first is by far the best, but the other two are also very charming. It’s just enough action and danger to keep the little ones wide-eyed, but everything turns out exceedingly well for everyone. The chapters are very short, so you can read two chapters a night in less than ten minutes. An excellent first chapter book.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon by Gideon Defoe.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-10-27-22-am

Bought over Christmas vacation in hopes of easing the older kids back into the habit of being read to. It is so dang stupid. I enjoyed the part where the immensely virile and impressive Pirate King “paused for a moment to pull a great white shark from behind his throne and punch it in half with a fist.” I do have to skim ahead a bit and occasionally skip over a naughty line or two. Silly stuff, just for fun.

Wow, I guess that’s about it. I need to shape up.

Here’s a list without my answers, if you want to cut and paste and answer on your own blog or FB or whatever. Always interested in hearing what you’re reading, especially if you give us some hints about what it’s about and why you like it or don’t!

1. What book are you reading now?

2. What book did you just finish?

3. What do you plan to read next?

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

6. What is your current reading trend?

[and my own question:] 7. What are you reading out loud? 

While we’re at it, here’s a reminder that I am an Amazon Affiliate, which means that any time you get to Amazon through one of my links (above), I’ll make a little money any time you go on to buy something. Here is my general Amazon Link. If you shop at Amazon, please consider bookmarking my link and using it any time you buy something! This makes up a significant part of my family’s income, and I appreciate it very much! Thanks.

 

 

 

English mastiff, three stars

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-11-00-59-amNot really a dog person but we thought we’d give it a try… 
on December 26, 2014
Color: Brindle  verified purchase 

Had this product for a day now. Seems great! Highly recommended. Came with crate, shots, ear cleaner, and food dishes. There was a bit of an odor when we unpacked it, but I’m sure that will dissipate over time. Very attractive, almost noble-looking.

boomer-noble

Edit: I just had to come back and update this review. We’ve had this product for a month now, and while it still gets daily use, and the kids really enjoy it, we suspect that there are some manufacturing defects. It was advertised as a security dog, but it also barks hysterically at things like rain, grass, clouds, Nina Totenberg, and nothing. Especially nothing. I cannot find a factory reset button anywhere.

The batteries have a very short life. It runs around at full power for just a few minutes and then appears completely depleted, and takes forever to recharge.
boomer-dogslide
This is especially frustrating as it takes up so much space, and often requires powering up right in the middle of the house.  It also sometimes seems to “crash” in the middle of operations, for instance, while eating a sweater.
boomer-sleeping
Did I miss that it is somehow solar powered? It seems to require frequent sunbaths. Also extremely noisy while recharging. Cannot find factory reset button.

Also, the smell has, if anything, intensified. At least we’ve stopped blaming my son. It is like a tire fire.

Edit #2: So much for the mailman. We had to talk the post office out of suing us, and now we have to go pick up mail every day. On the up side, the Jehovah’s Witnesses chalked a giant warning hoboglyph on our walkway, and they haven’t been back; so on balance, that’s a win.

Edit #3: The longer we have this product, the more I’m convinced there was some kind of error at the warehouse. I think we actually got parts for three different dogs, and they accidentally got put together in one box. The skull is ridiculously out of proportion to the rest of the body, but the “brain” component does not seem to be similarly large.

boomer-shaking-head

 There is also way too much skin in the face area, causing constant oral leakage. It doesn’t affect performance, but it is not aesthetically pleasing, to say the least.
Seems to have been manufactured with top quality materials, but is still somehow fragile on the inside, requiring constant emotional maintenance.

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-12-01-08-pm

Also, it steals carrots.

Also, its spacial awareness does not seem to be properly calibrated, and it is constantly trying to wedge itself into places that are physically too small for it to inhabit

boomer-in-mitten-box

including laps. We sometimes see the dining room table walking around apparently under its own power, only to discover that the dog has again gotten stuck under it.

However, it cowers before the toddler (and has done so ever since she was born)

boomer-checking-out-baby-corrie
and puts up with the most outrageous tyrannical behavior from her, even though it could swallow her in one mouthful.
corrie-patting-boomers-nose
It actually seems to thrive on being pushed around by her, so I can’t really complain. Is a willing participant in . . . just about anything.
screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-12-12-27-pm
Is also willing to share lollipops.
lollipop
And can subsist on nothing but kibble and toddler affection for days at a time.
corrie-patting-boomer

Caveat: Brain still does not seem to have increased in size commensurate with rest of unit over the years we’ve owned this product.

boomer-upside-down

Edit #4: This is a mother’s angel.
boomer-kissing-corrie
Wish I could give it ten stars.
boomer-and-lucy
Highly recommended.
boomer-nap-irene
That smell, tho.
 screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-11-05-07-am

 

 

50 Gifts our 10 kids loved, the 2016 list!

We have ten kids, ages eighteen to almost two. We buy . . . . a lot  . . . .of gifts. Here’s a list of fifty that our kids tried and liked this past year. They’re mostly under $50, and are in order from cheapest to most expensive, so it’s a little book-heavy in the beginning.

I’d also like to apologize for the graphic.

Most of these items are from Amazon. I’m an Amazon Affiliate, and all of the Amazon links in this post have my code embedded, so I earn a small percentage of the sale price, which is how we buy more presents for ten kids next year, and on and on it goes.

Here is my Amazon Affiliate link:

 

Simcha’s Amazon Link!

Please consider bookmarking it and using it every time you buy from Amazon! Thanks a million.

Here’s the first list of fifty from a few years ago, and here’s a list of twenty-five more the next year. And here are this years gift ideas:

1. Orthodox icon suncatchers and nightlights, $3.50 – $6

You can see a few in the window of my dining room here:

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-22-09-am

Jesus’ beard is sparkly! They are plastic and vividly colored. I want them in every window of the house.

2.Stretchy tattoo choker necklace, $3.99

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-24-34-am

Apparently these are back in style? My daughter wore one to the senior prom, along with hot pink Doc Martens (see below). (I wore my grandmother’s pearls to my prom, if anyone’s wondering.)

3.Nixon decal, $4

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-25-40-am

“I’m meeting you halfway, you stupid hippies!” Possibly specific to the needs of my family. For the right person, it could be the best $4 you ever spent. When people ask how my kids deal with being one of the few Catholics in a giant public school, this sums it up pretty well.

4.The Mysterious Benedict Society, about $5.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-26-52-am

This book came highly recommended by trusted friends for kids grade four and up, and it lived up to the hype. Original, exciting, and the author actually wrote it with care and wit, rather than just assembling a plot with the right keywords. Kids and I both enjoyed it. It’s part one of a series of four.

5.Betsy-Tacy collection, $5.99

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-31-20-am

Another book my friends have been lauding forever. My first-grader just adores this series, which has ten books total. I admit I haven’t read it yet, but my daughter doesn’t put up with a lot of nonsense, so I respect her opinion.

6.Hanging glass egg vase, $6.99

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-32-44-am

This is the one of two items on this list that I haven’t actually bought yet, but it’s on my list — in this case, on my wish list. If someone gets it for me, I plan to grow ivy in it. Ivy will grow easily in water. I need green in the house to tide me over until spring!

7.Bubble motion tumbler, $7.50
screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-34-51-am

This was a gift for the six-year-old, but everyone loves it, from the baby on up. Those orderly little drops, marching up and down the steps, hurrying or strolling, as you choose. Endlessly fascinating, miraculously never mixing. (There are any number of liquid motion toys to choose from. Great for babies, older kids who need calming down, or adults who need calming down. I once spotted a few of these toys in the waiting room at the washing machine repair shop, and I’ll be darned if I didn’t mind waiting.)

8.Feasts of Our Lord and Our Lady coloring book, and A Feast of Saints coloring book, $7.95

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-43-26-am

Matthew Alderman’s new offerings this year. Alderman’s style is so fresh and inviting, reminiscent of Trina Schart Hyman, who drew heavily on heraldry and illuminated manuscripts, nodded at the pre-raphaelites, and then opened the window to let some air in. Great stuff. Kids (and others) soak in knowledge as they color.

9.Oreo teether, $7.97

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-46-05-am

Corrie got this last Christmas, when she was teething hard, so it became known as the Corrie-o. The little ridges are perfect for sore gums. It’s bigger than a real Oreo, so not a choking hazard. Super cute, still a favorite after a year of gnawing.

10.Babies DVD, about $9
screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-52-05-am
How I adore this movie. It shows, without comment, everyday scenes from the lives of four babies, from just before they’re born until they’re learning how to stand. The families live in San Francisco, Tokyo, the Mongolian steppe, and Namibia, and their lives vary widely, but some things are always the same. Sweetness and a little melancholy, but mostly sweetness. I always feel restored after watching this short, gentle, agenda-free movie, and the kids love it.

11.Mighty Jack, about $9

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-10-53-10-am

Ben Hatke’s first installment in a new graphic novel series. It’s a reimagining of Jack and the Beanstalk, and it’s wonderful. You care about the main character right away; Hatke is generous with understated details that tell you what you need to know about the world they live in; and I have no idea what is going to happen next. Some serious themes — serious money troubles, danger, a younger sister who is autistic, and a difficult friendship — but suitable for kids age 7 and up, if they’re not highly sensitive.

12.The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, about $10

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-00-48-am

We loved The Pirates! Band of Misfits movie so much (made by the same folks who make the excellent Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep), and recently discovered that it was based on a series of books that are even odder and nuttier than the movie. These books do include some bawdy jokes and some violent details, but I feel that the most inapwo-pwo stuff goes over the little kids’ heads, and it’s just edgy enough to give the older kids a little thrill, without crossing any lines.

13.Slingshot rocket, about $10

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-02-40-am

Light foam, low-tech, lots of fun until the three rockets get lost. The feral 8-year-old daughter had a blast with it.

14.Garden fairies scratch book, about $10

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-04-30-am

Sturdy, spiral-bound (so you can open it up flat to work). Scratch away the black to reveal rainbow swirls and glittery colors underneath. Sweet little poems, pictures to copy if you like, and blank pages for sketching, besides the scratch-off pages. Many themes available, from  outer space to mermaids to Jurassic creatures.

15.Galaxy infinity scarf, $11.95

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-08-37-am

My fashion-minded ten-year old would wear this every day if we let her (which we do). Pair it with the TARDIS hat (which she does) and and maybe the TARDIS dress, and you have a themed ensemble. The scarf is a stretchy rayon, machine washable.

16.Baby smartphone, $12.65

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-12-33-am

This toy distracts the baby from your actual smartphone for maybe ten minutes. Worth every second. I like B. Toys because they make sounds, but they are intentionally soft; and they have an off switch. This one has held up well, and doesn’t gobble batteries too badly. Also records your voice, so the older kids are always pranking each other.

17.Little Dalek action figure, about $12.95

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-14-25-am

Shiny and detailed. Perpetuate the Doctor Who obsession for another year. PER-PET-U-ATE!!!!

18.Wooden ball rattle, $12.99

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-15-45-am

The large wooden balls are linked with elastic, so you can wear it like a bracelet, or you can roll and twist them to make all kinds of lovely clusters of color. Each ball is painted a slightly different shade, it’s pleasantly heavy, and it makes a soft clacking sound.  Fine, I bought it for myself, and sometimes I let the baby play with it. We’ve had good luck with this brand, Manhattan Toy.

19.Dragon scale leggings, $12.99

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-18-31-am

We looked at a lot of mermaid-print leggings, but realized that our kids are more the dragon type. Snarrrrl. These come in a few different colors.

20.Krakitten T-shirt, $13

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-19-34-am

I’ll let this magnificent garment speak for itself. Comes in a few different colors.

21.TARDIS hat, $14.88

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-21-03-am

Aized about as expected, even on the inside. The pom pom on top is generously poofy.

22.Calico Critters Triplets, $14.99; Triple bunk bed, about $10

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-22-54-am

Whenever my kids put Calico Critters on the list, I grumble and complain about how stupid and pointless and expensive they are; and then I start shopping, and then I go, “AWWWWWWW.” They really are adorable. These are very small toys, so not great for kids who lose stuff; but they are sturdy and sweet, and come in dozens of different species. We also have the pool and sandbox set.

23.Headband kit, $14.85

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-24-57-am

I actually resisted buying this kit, because it seemed dumb (ALEX toys are hit or miss) but one kid desired it greatly. It turned out to be quite good. The headbands haven’t broken after a year of use, which is almost a miracle; and she had a surprising amount of fun making different combinations.

24.One Potato, Two Potato, about $15

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-26-10-am

My current favorite read-aloud. This book has an unusual focus for a children’s book:  a very old couple, so poor they have to share everything, including a chair, a blanket, and the one last potato in the garden — or so they think.  A simple and hilarious story of unexplained magic, but so much to unpack about what you really need in life.  The illustrations are understated but extraordinary.

25.CowCow dresses, about $18 Something for everyone!

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-28-15-am

My ten-year-old daughter worked to earn her very own ice cream and candy dress, but maybe you’d prefer beetles, constellations,  or cute ghosties. More varieties, some of them truly bizarre, than you can shake a stick at. These dresses are on the short side for adults of average height, but work fine for shorter folks. They come with or without sleeves, and are made of a stretchy rayon material.

26.Butterfly wings, about $18

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-36-28-am

Flap flap flap! Always in style.

27.Hanging glow lamp, $18.99

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-40-21-am

Oh, I lied, this is another thing I haven’t bought yet, but friends say it’s lovely. I’m a sucker for little worlds under a dome, and I love how this comes with a hanging hook. Friends say it’s brighter than you might expect. We recently redid the little girls’ room with two sets of bunk beds, so we may be investing in individual lighting for individual preferences.These come in three different colors, and you can get either the rabbit thing, or a plump little bird.

28.Melissa and Doug 12″ baby doll, about $19

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-44-24-am

A sturdy favorite. Here is Corrie on her first birthday, getting to know her new baby.

29.Tinkerbell learn ballet DVD, about $20.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-45-58-am

By far the nicest instructional ballet video I’ve ever seen. The music is pleasant, there are no bizarre mascots or intrusive animation, the teacher seems to actually like kids, and you will learn some true, basic ballet. We put a broomstick between two chair backs to make the required barre.

30.Hooded cloak, about $20

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-47-11-am

Exactly what the kid was hoping for. It’s not real velvet, obviously, but it’s held up well. Comes in many colors.

31.Werewolf Deluxe game, about $20. Good for ages reasonably-alert-10 to adult.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-48-45-am

The premise is that, when night falls in the village, a werewolf comes out and kills someone; and everyone else has to figure out who the werewolf is and what to do about it. Everyone closes his eyes, and the leader instructs one person at a time to wake up, take a look at the card that reveals his role (werewolf, bodyguard, witch, villager, etc.), and then go back to sleep. There are several rounds of play, in which the players anonymously decide to kill, save, protect, or silence each other.

Then everyone has to vote on whom to lynch. Players are eliminated one at a time, and it becomes more and more evident who is killing everyone, who is being framed, and who is lying through their teeth (and, in my case, who forgot the rules and accidentally blabbed too much information).
32.Airzooka air gun, about $20  

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-51-39-am

More low-tech fun. Aim, pull, and release. Shoots a harmless blast of air, enough to make your hair blow back, and makes a satisfying “choonk” noise, too. 

33.Twirled Paper book and kit by Klutz, $20; Refill of  Quilling paper, 720 strips, about $10

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-53-52-am

Quilling is making a comeback! A lovely, old-fashioned craft where you roll up thin strips of paper, loosely or tightly, then pinch them into various shapes. No end of possibilities here. You can make free-standing 3-D ornaments, glue the paper to eggs, make cards, or even jewelry. A very pleasant way to spend time. My nine-year-old needed a little help to get started, but she caught on fast.

34.Parachute hammock, about $24

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-55-00-am

An excellent hammock for the price. I wish I had had a hammock the last ten times I was pregnant! Heavenly. These sturdy, easy-to-use hammock straps, about $16, were a good investment, too.

35.Lenox ballerina jewelry box, $25.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-56-02-am

With eight daughters, we’ve tried a number of jewelry boxes. A number. This one is by far the sturdiest, but it still looks delicate and dainty. The ballerina still pops up, the music still plays, the hinges still function, and the box is still a box. Pretty, silver-satin quilted design. Plays “Fur Elise.”

36.Godzilla hands, about $25

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-11-58-48-am

I don’t know what to say about this. We have these. They are by far the most luxurious Godzilla hands we’ve ever owned.

37.Ramona complete collection, $27.50

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-00-10-pm

A much-desired gift. For the right kid, a boxed set of every single one of their favorite character’s stories is a wonderful prize. Ramona really holds up all these decades later.

38.Blowfish tea set, about $30

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-01-28-pm

Quirky but elegant!  A very good product for the price. This is a full-sized, functional tea set for two, not a toy.

39.Toddler slide, $31

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-03-11-pm

Probably the most-used piece of furniture in our entire house. This lived in our living room for at least five months, and saved my sanity while Miss Insano clambered up and threw herself down hundreds and hundreds of times. Folds for storage.

40.Legend of Zelda stained glass backpack, about $34

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-05-23-pm

Just a light nylon backpack, but it was what the kid wanted. It’s a little roomier than it appears, and the pattern is actually more vibrant than the picture shows.

41.Long Ballerina Tutu, $36

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-07-10-pm

This is the absolute last untested item on this list! We’ve bought many items from The Little Dress-Up Shop, and have always been completely delighted, so I’m confident that this sweet, poofy ballerina skirt with rosebuds will be well-received.

42.Portable Bluetooth speaker,
about $37

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-09-21-pm

Exactly what we needed. It works with my kid’s phones, and lets them blast music while slaving away in the dirty dish mines or cleaning up the yard after the last raccoon garbage party. Easy to use, and a good value for the price.

43.White bird mobile, about $38

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-11-29-pm

Marketed as a baby mobile, but it’s a real work of art, and very large. A cloud of white birds in constant, gentle motion. We got this for our fourteen-year-old, and it really transforms a space.

44.Darth Vader Skechers, about $40

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-12-51-pm

These are adult sized, in case your kids grow out of kid’s shoes before their brains grow out of a love for Star Wars, which of course could never happen.

45.Punk tartan purse, $41

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-15-45-pm

Sturdy and awesome, lots of zippers, buckles, and studs, perfect for that one punk kid who needs a place to keep all her black lipstick. Has an adjustable shoulder strap and shiny black insides.

46.Dark Prince sword, $43

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-17-21-pm

It wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one sword. This one is long, shiny and seriously heavy. Not sharp, but you definitely could kill someone if you tried. Not meant for heavy fighting, but good for stage or costumes or just swaggering around with a big-ass sword.

47.Stilts, about $45 a pair

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-19-45-pm

Greatest inspiration I’ve had all year. We now have two sets (they come rated for different weights), and they are adjustable. First kid went from zero skill to wobbling across the floor in a few minutes, and now she can jump, run backwards, spin, and do all kinds of terrifying stunts. Good exercise, good for improving balance, and great for building confidence. Excelsior!

48.Hot pink Doc Martens, $75

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-22-54-pm

For the prom! For everyday wear! For making yourself awesome from the ground up. A million colors, all shiny and rugged and BACK IN STYLE. Aw yiss.

49.Casio Keyboard, $129.95

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-24-53-pm

A very serviceable electric keyboard for people learning to play. Comes with a stand and headset, so you can practice without driving your sister crazy, assuming that’s your goal.

50.15-foot Trampoline and enclosure with basketball hoop, $329

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-26-36-pm

Yes, this is the second trampoline we’ve bought. We finally destroyed the mat of the first one, and after several unsuccesful attempts to replace it (we kept buying the wrong size, the wrong spring size, etc. etc.) we just threw in the towel and bought a new one, upgrading to fifteen feet. I know all about the horrible stories of mangled faces and splintered tibias, but we are still a trampoline family all the way.

Baby loves it. Kids love playing with the baby on it. It’s instant entertainment at birthday parties, with or without water balloons and a sprinkler or Easter dresses.

screen-shot-2016-11-25-at-12-28-17-pm

Grouchy or sullen teens discover that life is worth living after taking out their troubles on the trampoline. And it’s a perfect spot for stargazing or sunbathing or lying down while the kids run around you, blissfully under the illusion that you are playing with them.

You really need a trampoline. (And if you happen to have a spare trampoline frame, you can wrap some chicken wire around it and make a garden fence, or maybe a chicken coop.)

****

Okay! That’s it for this year. Happy shopping! Thanks again for using my link when you shop on Amazon.

25 Back-to-school Items Your Kids Can’t Geek Without

Doing your back to school shopping online, maybe? Do me a big favor and usethis link.

It will take you to Amazon, and you’ll have the exact same shopping experience as you always do — only my code is craftily embedded in the link, and every time you buy something, I get a percentage. Easy for you, super super super helpful for us!

We are still in denial about school shopping, but there are a few items that caught my eye – things that will help ease the pain when we can’t put it off any longer.

 

25 Back-to-school Items Your Kid Can’t Geek Without

Message in a Bottle flash drive – about $6. An appealing mixture of old and new storage techniques. 6GB of storage corked away inside a little glass bottle. Perfect for kids who tend to drop things in the toilet a lot.

bottle flash drive

 

 

12 large beeswax crayons – about $7  Yarr, $7 for crayons. But what crayons. Silky, velvety, brilliant. Everyone should color with these at some point in their lives (and they come in a nice case).

beeswax crayons

 

Slingshot pencil – about $4 – How to make friends with your kids’ teachers.

slingshot pencil

 

Nose pencil sharpener – about $3.50 Tee hee.

nose pencil sharpener

 

Totoro messenger bag – about $10 Note that the model is a weensy weesny Asian model. For the typical causcasian American kiddo, this is more the size of a purse than a messenger bag! It’s not exactly sophisticated looking, but for the right kid, it’s the best ten bucks you’ll ever spend.

totoro messenger bag

 

Little Alchemy – free  Just a neat little game that you may actually want to play yourself, or at least it won’t make you feel horrible when your kids play it all the time. All you do is put stuff together to make more stuff, until you have all the stuff. It’s just difficult enough to be fun, and the breakthroughs are very satisfrying. I meant to type “satisfying,” of course, but they are also sometimes satisfrying.

little alchemy screen shot

 

Robot pencil sharpener – $13 Nicely made. You wind him up by sharpening your pencil (or by using the key), and his little head fills up with shavings. He can hold your pencil in his robot hands as he marches along, too. Sturdy construction; nice and small so you won’t feel the need to assert your human primacy.

robot pencil sharpener

 

Dinosaur earring – $6 (Note that this is a single earring, not a pair!) For an extra boost of confidence for the first day of school, know that you have a dinosaur sticking out of your ear. Also available in T-rex .

dinosaur earring

 

Totoro lunchbox – $12.99.  This lunchbag took a beating all year and held up really well. Cute and sturdy.

totoro lunch bag

Human organs lunchbox – $12.99 Boy stepped on it; lunch box still functions.

human organs lunch box

TARDIS dress – $35. Picture day!

tardis dress

 

I had to stop myself from linking to all the Peter Pauper journals. Dozens of gorgeous styles, and very reasonably priced for the quality, according to the reviews. Here are a couple that caught my eye:

Celestial journal – about $7

amazon celestial journal

Cosmology journal – about $12

amazon cosmology notebook

The cover design of our magnificent journal is adapted from the celebrated Catalan Atlas (1375), attributed to master map-maker Abraham Cresques of Majorca, Spain.

  • This cosmological diagram places earth in the center, personified by an astronomer holding an astrolabe.
  • Around the earth, the elements, planets, signs of the zodiac, and moon phases are displayed within concentric circles, and the four seasons are portrayed in the corners.
  • Cosmology is enhanced with subtle iridescent highlights and embossed for a dimensional effect.
  • The journal provides 192 lightly-lined opaque pages for personal reflection, sketching, making

Drumstick pencils – about $6 I don’t hate teachers. Honest, I don’t.

drumstick pencils

Clip-on adipose for backpack or zipper – about $8. A nice little companion. Clips on so it won’t just walk away.

adipose clip on

Luffy T-shirt – about $15  For those kids who are – *sighhhhhhhhh* – really, really into One Piece, especially that one time when they were all in a ship, and Luffy was sitting on the figurehead, and he ate the gum gum fruit, and if you eat any kind of devil fruit, the price is that you can’t swim, and everyone was telling him he shouldn’t sit there because he might fall in the water, and he was like, “No, it’s my special seat, you can’t have it!” And then one time Luffy fell off into the water, and there are two other devil fruit users on his crew, and they’re the ones who jumped in to save him! Also there was one part where he was trying to get this guy who was a shipwright to join his crew, and this guy only wears a Speedo and a Hawaiian shirt, and he wanted to join, but he also wanted to stay where he was, so Luffy stole his Speedo and told him he couldn’t have it back unless he joined his crew, and it was the only one he had, and so he was running through the town to get his Speedo back, and . . . it was just great.

one piece t

 

Super Mario earrings  Oh my gosh, are you kidding me? – about $10 (Note: these are from China and will take forever to get to you unless you pay extra for fast shipping.)

polymer mario earrings plants

 

Zelda ocarina and songsheet – about $8  You certainly won’t regret buying this for your kid so that you can hear those Zelda songs all the time even when they’re not playing video games; you certainly won’t. (There are a great number of Zelda ocarinas available on Amazon. This plastic one is the one my kid happens to have, and it’s fine. I started to plow through the reviews of the higher-quality ones, thinking I would find a better product, but I started to feel kind of sad about humanity.)

zelda ocarina

 

Terrifying owl backpack – $49 Whoa. If you are worried about your kid being a little bit frail and puny and maybe not ready for the wilds of the hallway, it might help to send ‘em out wearing one of these.

owl backpack

 

Set of 6 sushi erasers, about $10 Tip: never make back-t0-school lists for your blog when you’re hungry.

sushi erasers

 

Zita the Spacegirl graphic novel series – about $9 each. I’m getting my kids to write a proper review, but in the meantime, I can’t say enough about these books, which are clearly a labor of love, written by a dad who really knows kids. So funny, weird, sweet, and exciting – and fairly back-to-schoolish, if you kid feels like she’s been catapulted out of her familiar world onto a strange planet on the first day of school.

slingshot pencil

Musician’s transposition ring – about $15 Useful and pretty. Does this count as cheating? I’m not sure.

amazon musician ring

This ring helps you transpose musical notes into different keys! It is a simple way to pick the number of steps or half steps you’d like to change for any musical sequence. Want to move a score up a major 2nd? Just turn the top band two position over. Works for any transposition you need. You can also use it for more complex variations such as descending 5ths root movements. One example is ii-V-I’s which are the basis for most jazz tunes.

 

Finally:

Lovingly handmade bags and pouches in awesome fabrics from Door Number 9 on Etsy. A few samples of the pouches, wallets, and mini bags for sale:

star wars pencil bag

Sherlock Holmes

sherlock holmes letter bag

My daughter has this one: the One Ring Tea Wallet. Gorgeous, one-of-a-kind.

one ring tea wallet

 

Okay, I think that’s it! Happy shopping!