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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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

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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)

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and puts up with the most outrageous tyrannical behavior from her, even though it could swallow her in one mouthful.
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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.
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Is also willing to share lollipops.
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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.
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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:

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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

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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

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“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.

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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

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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

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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
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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

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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

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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
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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

18.Wooden ball rattle, $12.99

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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

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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

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

21.TARDIS hat, $14.88

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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

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Flap flap flap! Always in style.

27.Hanging glow lamp, $18.99

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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

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

29.Tinkerbell learn ballet DVD, about $20.

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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

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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.

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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  

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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!

Frank Underwood and Andy Sipowicz meet God

This is the season where House of Cards lost us.

For the first few seasons, the writers managed to keep up the with complicated, deliberately heavy-handed game they were playing. But when we got to season 3, episode 4, my husband and I watched quietly, and then reached the same conclusion: “Hey, remember Frasier? That was a good show. Let’s watch Frasier.

Here’s what pushed us over the edge. It made sense, at first, that a guy like Frank Underwood would start to falter as soon as he actually achieves everything he’s been striving for — no more worlds to conquer, etc. — but boy, things fell apart fast. I feel like I was seeing highlights from a longer show, and key developments have been left out. One minute, he’s on top of the world; next minute, people are suddenly sick and tired of him for being horrible all the time; next minute, Lady Macbeth is throwing Heavily Symbolic Eggs around and they’re having Heavily Symbolic Sex, again, because it’s TV, and who’s going to argue with that?

Then suddenly he’s mad at his father, and then even more suddenly, he’s shaken to the core because he hung around in Arlington Cemetery for a while; and then, most suddenly of all, he finds the time to stroll over to the local church and hold a Socratic dialogue with the bishop about he meaning of justice. Here’s the scene (warning: they show some pretty heavy duty blasphemy, which is upsetting to see):

Hmmm, really? Up until now, Francis Underwood has been vigorously secular and, more importantly, ruthlessly practical, in a show which has only ever used religion as a minor and lazy plot pusher (church! It’s where you go when you’re a loser, and possibly a secret lesbian). But with zero warning, this guy suddenly strides up to God, shoutss at him, and spits in his face, ZOW! And then God topples over, POW! And he winks at the camera and makes a third grade valentine-grade pun about it all, YOW!

Here we have the common error: the director thinks he’s delivering High Drama à la Irony Flambé, and instead serves up a steaming bowl of “Wocka wocka!” He could have achieved the same thrills and chills for the audience by, for instance, having a dog run in on his hind legs and shriek at Francis, “IT JUST DON’T ADD UP!” That would have made me gasp, too. No need to go smashing crucifixes.

It’s not my religious sensibilities that were offended, although that’s also the case. The problem is that you gotta earn these moments, with careful character development and exquisite pacing, and by planting seeds ahead of time so that the sturm und drang are at least plausible, rather than just sturmy. If you want to expose some interior turmoil, you have to do it in a way that is natural to the character — ideally, in a way that actually shows you something about the character, as well as what’s on his mind.

Perfect example of this? NYPD Blue’s season finale of season 7, “The Last Round Up.” Sipowicz is in the hospital yet again, facing the death of yet another son. His life has been a tangle of unearned suffering and humiliation and undeserved blessings and rewards. He is one part Job, one part Phillip Marlowe, one part the person we wish we could be, one part the person we’re afraid people will find out we actually are — and as such, especially the Job part, he has certain things to say to God.

So how do they let the viewer in on his state of mind? If you’re Frank Underwood’s writer, you channel Francis Ford Coppola’s dumb cousin, and assume that everything that happens with stained glass in the background is, by definition, highly effective cinema.

But if you’re David Milch, you do something subtle and brilliant (and I couldn’t find a clip online anywhere, expect for piratey looking sites): desperate with fear and grief, Sipowicz finds himself in the hospital chapel, and the only other guy in the room is deaf. Sipowicz has become more tolerant and enlightened in the last several years, but you can only push him so far; so in his rage and despair, he rails against the foreign grunts and mutterings of the deaf man as he prays — until Sipowicz realizes, to his disgust and relief, that no one in that room can hear him, besides God himself. So he speaks aloud, and he says exactly what’s on his mind.

The only time we ever hear Sipowicz being totally honest is when he’s alone with someone he hates — some revolting criminal locked in an interrogation room — or with someone he loves, likes one of his long-suffering wives. And to Sipowicz, God is both of these, the unquestionable authority and the inexcusable criminal. It doesn’t really matter whether he actually believes in God or not: The scene gives you everything you need to know about his thoughts, and the presentation is so absurdly natural, just the kind of painfully ridiculous scene that a homicide detective wades into every day. No gimmicks were necessary to break down the third wall. Oh, it all adds up!

The writers of House of Cards, on the other hand, have written themselves into a bit of a dilemma. Since Francis has been speaking directly and sincerely to the camera since the first episode, it’s almost impossible to have him reveal anything that will shock us. So they had to ratchet everything up by putting him right at the foot of the cross, challenging God face to face. To viewers who will cheer anything that looks edgy, it’s a daring and hilarious move. To anyone who expects the show to deliver what it promises, and who have been making the effort to understand who Frank Underwood really is,  it’s a craven trick, and lands with a splat.

I really liked Frank Underwood’s speech from an earlier episode, where he tells Americans, “You are entitled to nothing.” It’s a message the writers of House of Cardsneed to hear.

***

NYPD Blue is available for streaming (free for Amazon Prime members). Here is “The Last Round Up.”
House of Cards is available for streaming on Netflix. 

Fifty Christmas presents our kids loved

We sure do buy a lot of presents around here. Today seems like a good time to talk about the ones that turned out to be good purchases — the ones our kids actually played with, and that didn’t fall apart right away, and that seemed worth the price.

All the links lead to products on Amazon. I’ve mentioned many a time, I get a small percentage of each sale made using one of the Amazon links on my page. These little bits of sales really add up, and help our family out tremendously!

We get a percentage of any sale made through Amazon, as long as you got to Amazon through using one of my links. So, for instance, if I say, “Hey, this nose pencil sharpener really turned my life around!” and you click on that link, you hate the nose pencil sharpener, you keep shopping, and you eventually order a diamond nose studinstead, I will get a percentage of the sale of the diamond nose stud. I will then use my Amazon credits to buy many more nose pencil sharpeners, because duh.

Here is our list, organized according to price, from “Stocking Stuffer” to “No Complaints Out Of You; We Got You Rotten Kids a Trampoline, Didn’t We?”  No remarks about our little Doctor Who problem. The pediatrician says it’s within the normal range and does not technically qualify as a disorder yet.

Note: a few of the prices may have changed in the few days it took me to put this list together! Everything is more or less the same, though.

  1. Dover Stained Glass Coloring Books
    dover stained glass
     $1.39 and up.
    Oh, so nice, and available in every imaginable theme for boys and girls. I love hanging these up in the windows, especially when it gets dark and bleak outside. Tip: color on both sides of the page, to make the colors more brilliant.
  2. Spock Ears
    spock ears
    $3.50
    These Spock Ears are Spock Ears that go on your regular ears.
  3. Strongbad decal
    strongbad decal
    $3.89
    You will need this for your car window or laptop or locker door if you ever break your . . . clavicus . . . majoris.
  4. Beatles Tin of Guitar Picks
    beatles tin
    $7.99
    As advertised. Hooray for songs with only four chords! Hooray for things that come in tins!
  5. 20-40X Lighted Pocket Microscope
    pocket microscope
    $9.89
    Portable and easy to use, runs on batteries so you can bring it outside and check out bugs and whatnot.
  6. Shake ‘n’ Go Racers
    shake and go car
    $12.98
    These go really fast — and they are powered by shaking, not batteries. The harder you shake them, the faster they zoom away when you put them down. Ingenious, tons of fun, and very durable.
  7. Car Keysbaby keys
    $13.15
    Babies are not supposed to suck on your real car keys because of the toxins or something, but car key toys are usually made out of plastic, which is no fun for babies. So these are made out of safe metal (with flat edges, so they can’t cut their gums), they are heavy and they rattle, and the keychain has different buttons that make various car noises — but it’s muffled, so not terribly intrusive. (We like a lot of the toys from the B. company. They hold up well and are designed with actual kids in mind.)
  8. Set of 20 Multicolored Sky Lanterns
    sky lanterns
    $13.30
    Fine, we haven’t actually used these yet. BUT I CAN’T WAIT. Maybe if you have aTangled fan in the house, this would be an exciting present.
  9. Greek Coin Replicas
    greek coin replicas
    $14.90
    I dunno, maybe your kids would want these. We have a kid who really likes owls, so he got something similar to these, a drachma coin made into a pendant from Etsy. Neat, unexpected little present.
  10. Groovy Girls dolls
    groovy girl
    $10.00-$15.00
    Smaller, soft, colorful dolls with cute hair and nice little outfits (the clothes don’t come off). Neither trashy nor simpering.
  11. Bananagrams
    bananagrams
    $10.95
    Sort of like free-form Scrabble, you race to build up a group of intersecting words, and whoever uses up their tiles first wins.  You can vary the rules to make it a quick or a long game, and you can easily introduce handicaps so adults can play with younger kids. I never mind playing a round or two of this game.
  12. Zoetrope Animation Toy
    zoetrope
    $12.90
    For the doodler of the house. Make a simple animated picture on a strip of paper, fit it inside the wheel, peek through the slots, and watch it move. A very old toy, simple and cool.
  13. Totoro lunch bag
    totoro lunch bag
    $12.99
    For the person in your house who really, really wants a Totoro lunch bag. This one is sturdy and made of soft, water-resistant fabric.
  14. Weeping Angel Earrings
    weeping angel earrings
    $11.99
    Don’t blink. Blink and they’ll be $12.01.
  15. TARDIS pendanttardis pendant
    $14.98
    Surprisingly heavy little piece of jewelry. A lot of the TARDIS pendants we looked at were half-TARDISes, which are only half as big on the inside. No fun at all.
  16. LEGO Wii games
    batman lego wii
    around $15.00
    We have Batman, Batman 2, LOTR, Star Wars Complete Sage and Clone Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, both Harry Potters, and I forget what else. Everyone agrees that Batman 2 is the best. Tons of fun, not too too loud, and they are filled with cute little weird jokes and sight gags.  They involve fighting, but the people just fall apart into Lego pieces, so no gore.
  17. Butterfly Wings
    butterfly wings
    $15.29
    All of our girls want wings, but nothing is more tragic than when the metal bends and the wings flop. These wings don’t have frames. Instead, they have shoulder straps and finger loops, so you can flap nicely with your arms outstretched. Durable and pretty. They come in purple, pink, and orange, and are responsible for melting the hearts of many a playground mom.
  18. Wooden Pattern Blocks
    pattern blocks
    $15.99
    The right kid will find these endlessly fascinating. There are many versions. This Melissa and Doug set comes with a sturdy wooden box and several patterns to try to reproduce, or you can build your own designs.
  19. Snake Oil game
    snake oil
    $16.61
    A hilarious family game, also good for parties. Blogged about it here.
  20. Tournament Chess Set with Roll-Up Board
    chess set
    $16.99
    We were SO pleased with this set. It is HUGE, the board is very tough, and the pieces are big and heavy. Great product for the price, and portable.
  21. Kinetic Sand
    kinetic sand
    $17.69
    This stuff is awesome. You can squeeze it and shape it, or you can let it dribble out of your hands like . . . wet sand lace foam, or something. You can buy kits with molding toys, but cups and butter knives work fine.
  22. Wooden Family Doll Set
    wooden doll family
    $18.21
    Oh my gosh, these dolls don’t fall apart. Their arms and legs and heads don’t fall off, their hair doesn’t fall out, their clothes don’t unravel, and they don’t have creepy faces that make you want to hurl them across the room. Great size for doll houses, and they come in a nice little wooden box. They also have African American families, royal families, etc.
  23. Magnetic Dress-Up Dolls
    magnetic dress up dolls
    $18.44
    Wow, more Melissa and Doug! I guess I’m a fan. We had a kid who loved the idea of paper dolls, but found the little tabs endlessly frustrating. These made a nice compromise: you can mix and match the outfits, and they just stick on with magnets.
  24. Schaeffer Calligraphy Set
    calligraphy set
    $18.69
    So you say you’d love to let your kids have that magical, sensual experience of writing in pen and ink, but you’re not dumb enough to turn them loose with a bottle of ink? Here is a lovely set, with 3 pens, 3 nibs, and a bunch of pre-filled ink cartridges in various colors. Also includes an introductory calligraphy booklet.
  25. Fairy Design Kit
    fairy design kit
    $19.98
    Years and years later, the girls still love these. We had a friend who had the Barbie version of these — you remember! You lay the paper over it and rub over it, and the faces, bodies, and clothes magically appear. Then kids can color it in, add details, etc. Pretty fairy vignettes.
  26. LED rope lights
    LED rope lights
    $19.99
    Makes rooms awesome the LED way. 16 feet of awesomeness that doesn’t overheat if your wiener kids leave them on all night.
  27. Curious George Tin Tea Set
    curious george tea set
    $19.99
    TIN TEA SETS. Why did we not think of this several daughters ago? You do need to dry them off so they don’t rust, but it’s so much better than endlessly gluing broken shards together.
  28. 14″ Bride, Ballerina, and Princess Dolls
    ballerina doll
    $21.99
    Pleasant faces on these dolls, who are proportioned like little girls, and not like, you know, strippers. We got three of these last Christmas, and no limbs have fallen off, and the dresses have held up for a solid year without ripping, unravelling, or even going limp.
  29. Bushnell Falcon 7×35 Binoculars
    binoculars
    $23.99
    Heavy and easy to use, with a nice carrying case. Good price for the quality.
  30. TARDIS beach towel
    TARDIS towel
    $24.07
    Big and bright — works well as a wall hanging or door cover, too.
  31. Whirl and Twirl Swingwhirl and twirl swing
    $25.20
    For little miss or mister Upside-Downer. Exactly as advertized. She whirls, she twirls, she hangs from her knees, I can’t watch.
  32. Wooden Chinese Checkers
    chinese checkersand pouch of marbles$30.56
    (and Sack of Replacement Marbles for Chinese Checkers $5.01)
    There are cheaper boards, but this one is very big and sturdy, and the marbles stay in place. Popular with kids of all ages. And for goodness’ sake, buy the replacement marbles now. You will need them.
  33. Pet Vet Center
    pet vet center
    $29.99
    Strikes the right balance between adorable and interesting, for kids who really want to play vet, not just play puppy. The stuffed puppy has articulated joints and is posable and durable. Lots of nice details, like the X-rays and the velcro bandage, and the storage case works well.
  34. Jedi Fleece Bathrobejedi bathrobe
    $30.54
    If you saw my ten-year-old son in this, you would die. You would just die.
  35. Gromit Microwaveable Plush
    gromit plush
    $30.95
    I KNOW, this is a really expensive stuffed animal! But Wallace and Gromit toys are hard to find. This one, you can put in the microwave and it heats up and smells like lavender or something, I dunno. She likes it.
  36. Dragon Sword
    dragon sword
    $32.95
    Only to be purchased by people who want to be the best parents ever. It’s not terribly sharp, but it’s not a toy, either — more of a stage or cosplay prop. Reasonably heavy and sturdy, satisfyingly long and bright, with nice details on the dragon. The chain broke pretty quickly, but we just bought some jewelry fasteners and put it back together.
  37. Doctor Who 11-piece Micro Action Figure Set
    doctor who set of 11
    $33.00
    As advertised. The first eleven Doctors in the palm of your sweaty little hand. A handy gift for people whose birthday is coming up right after Christmas, so you can set them up to expect one more Doctor . . .
  38. Buddha Board
    buddha board
    $33.99
    You use the brush to paint elegant shapes with water, and it slowly evaporates. Soothing and pleasant, comes with a little easel and water pot. This also comes in a mini version for cheaper.
  39. Make Clay Charms Book and Kit
    clay charms set
    $34.95
    Such a hit! You can follow the directions (which were clearly tested by actual people, whew) to make the various charms pictured, or you can make up your own stuff. My daughter loves making and baking little figurines, earrings, and pendants for herself and for gifts.
  40. Roller Derby Adjustable Roller Skates for girls
    roller skates girls
    $34.99
    The best skates we’ve found for the price, comfortable and durable.
  41. Chicago Adjustable Roller Skates for boys
    chicago skates boys
    $34.99
    Same review as above.
  42. Set of 9 Tempera Paints
    tempra paints
    $24.49
    Gotta have big bottles of paints, if only for that wonderful nostalgic smell.
  43. Doctor Who David Tenant Dress
    doctor who dress
    $39.20
    This really barely qualifies as a dress and not a costume, and doesn’t have much structure; but on the other hand, SHE LOVES IT. And it looks great on her.
  44. Twilight Turtle
    twilight turtle
    $39.95
    I shuddered at the price, but when you have four little girls sleeping in one room, and some of them can’t sleep with the light on and some of them can’t sleep with the light off, this is a godsend. It projects your choice of three colors of stars onto the ceiling, and it turns off automatically after the kid has a chance to fall asleep. Much beloved. This also calmed the whole family down during a recent power outage.
  45. Rody Inflatable Ride-On Horse
    rody horse
    $49.95
    Pricey but very, very durable, and cute as heck. Easier to get on and off of than hopper balls. Some of the older kids even watch TV while sitting on them, which may or may not be an endorsement. Anyway, the one we have (in lime green) has stayed inflated for years, no kidding.
  46. Steel Toe Combat Boots
    combat boots
    $59.99
    Really tough, and just as attractive as Doc Martens, in my mompinion. We looked at a lot (A LOT) of boots, even buying and returning more than one pair, before we found these, which are the best and sturdiest ones we’ve ever seen, for a really good price. My teenage daughter is really happy with hers, and they have held up well.
  47. Tribot Remote Control Robot
    tribot
    Listing this here even though I would not recommend paying the list price of $285 for it! If you can find it on Ebay or somewhere, though, snap it up. Durable, funny, easy to use, surprising, and entertaining. It is quite a noisy toy, and fairly obnoxious, but somehow endearing, and it has tons and tons of features. Its eyebrows wiggle up and down.
  48. Roller Coaster
    roller coaster
    $95.80
    Again, not sure if I would pay full price for this — unless maybe a grandparent gave me a gift card and said to buy a group gift for a bunch of little kids. We got ours super cheap when a store was going out of business, and we’ve been using it steadily for something like ten years. It has survived many winters of being forgotten in the yard under several feet of snow, and never stops being fun for little guys.
  49. iPod Nano

    pictured: Generation 5 (discontinued, but still available)

    pictured: Generation 5 (discontinued, but still available)

    (price varies) Our kids have refurbished iPod Nanos, which we found after some hunting (they sell used and refurbished items on Amazon, don’t forget; or you could check eBay, etc.)  They can play music, they can watch videos, they cannot go online. Bingo.

  50. 13-foot Trampoline
    trampoline
    with net and ladder, $279.99
    IT’S SO GOOD. YOU SHOULD HAVE A TRAMPOLINE. NOTHING IS BETTER THAN A TRAMPOLINE. We actually have a slightly different brand, but this one looks similar. We (shh) don’t have a net, and we used a stepladder for a ladder, so ours was closer to $200. Wonderful, wonderful purchase. Every single last person likes being on it. It lifts your mood. It wears you out. It’s funny and makes your hair stand on end. And you can lie down on it and look at the stars without bugs getting in your hair. Get the biggest one you can afford.