The secret life of Barbie and other cartel wives

Remember the sweet pretend games we used to play when we were kids? Remember baby dolls, and house, and school, and When Will My Husband Return From The War, and Tie Those Ropes Up Tighter, She’s Trying To Get Away?

No? Well, maybe you don’t want to let your kids play with mine, then.

Let me back up.

Maybe you remember when Barbie dolls were the toy that bad parents let their kids play with. I definitely do. Lipsticked, high-heeled Barbie, with her extreme bodily proportions and her cheap, trampy attire, was the wicked, modernist plaything that trained little girls in the ways of eating disorders and prostitution, according to the paranoid lore of the time.

I’m not really sure if my mother believed this, or if she only thought it might possibly be true; or possibly she just didn’t have the budget to buy us Barbies; but we definitely didn’t have any Barbies when I was growing up. And then when I grew up and had my own first several kids, who were all girls, I kept Barbies out of the house, because I was nervous about what would influence their ideas of the world and themselves.

The “Barbie is the devil” argument is extreme, but there’s some truth in it. Kids do internalize what they see, and if they’re constantly told that beauty looks like an impossibly tall, spindly waif who’s 90 percent hair and eyelashes, it certainly could contribute to feelings of inadequacy, and the desire to be thinner.

But it’s harder to make that argument against Barbie today, when today’s Barbies look downright wholesome compared to the vicious faces on so many of the other doll lines out there, which I can only describe as baby sex demons.

Barbie’s expression is a bit vacuous and her legs are still too damn long, but other than that, it’s hard to object. Even the clothes are made better than they used to be; and my kids would just as soon make their own doll gowns out of tissues and duct tape anyway. Anyway, one way or the other, we got worn down, and found less and less energy for worrying about certain things, and now we have eight daughters and something like 700 Barbies.

And this particular doll company really has been doing good things in the field of inclusiveness. Rather than denying the charge that kids are learning from their dolls, they’re embracing it, and a few years ago began producing a line of stylish dolls that sport prosthetic limbs and wheelchairs, hearing aids, and braces, and have bald heads or uneven skin tone, or otherwise appear in ways that would have scared me off when I was a kid, whether I saw these things on a doll or on a person — largely because I just didn’t have much exposure to it.

Kids learn to emotionally manage ideas through play, and playing with dolls who look different from them helps them become comfortable with people who look different from them. At least that’s the idea.

But the Mattel company has larger claims than that. They funded a study that says that doll play in general (not just dolls with disabilities or body differences) builds empathy (or at least, more empathy than playing games on a tablet). And this, too, seems like common sense to me.

In the study, they found that, when children spend time playing with dolls, together and singly, it activates regions of the brain associated with social activity, with behavioral control, and processing rewarding events.

The researchers concluded that pretend play —  at least, more so than tablet play — supports social processing and empathic reasoning. Even when kids played with dolls solo, rather than with other children, it “allows the rehearsal of social interactions and social perspective taking [and] provides a unique outlet for practicing social and empathic skills.” In other words, playing with dolls teaches kids how to act with each other.

And I believe it. Really, I do. I just wonder where my particular kids fit in.

My kids never once, to my knowledge, acted out a happy domestic scene. If there was a mother with some children, she was always dashing around looking for someone to take the little brats off her hands so she could go out partying with her boyfriend, the crazed leader of a Mexican drug cartel.

Sometimes the father was involved, but he was usually a mute and grief-stricken warrior dealing with the affects of having been betrayed by his own men in the war. Or sometimes the children themselves would be wicked, and would invite each other over for picnics, only to lure their innocent playmates onto what turned out to be sacrificial altars, where they were quickly tied up and disemboweled, their squeaky cries rising up into the night air, their blood running in rivers as a libation for the hungry gods.

Who wants to come study my children? Who wants to figure out what, exactly they are learning with this rehearsal of social interactions? I’m having a hard time classifying it as “practicing empathetic skills” when the end result is that the Midge doll has been snatched bald after a particularly vicious cat fight with Anna of Arendelle, who is meaner than she looks, especially when someone gets between her and her man. And never mind that her man is Luke Skywalker, who is once again naked. Oh Luke.

I don’t know, maybe they really are learning empathy through this kind of play. Maybe if it weren’t for doll play, they’d be even less empathetic than they are now. Maybe the bitter feud that’s been raging between Ariel the mermaid and Princess Organa is all that’s been standing between my daughters and world domination. One never knows.

The moral of this story is, you can worry all you want about what’s going to happen to your kids; and you can do all the studies you like about what’s going to happen to your kids. But in the end, all children are a little bit insane, and many children are almost completely insane.

The things kids do when they’re in a lab and someone is listening in with a microphone and a clipboard is one thing; the things they do when they’re alone in their bedroom with a teeming host of plastic dolls, a head full of nonsense, and no rules whatsoever . . . well, that’s another story entirely. There’s probably nothing you can do about it, so you might as well enjoy the ride.

A version of this essay was originally published at The Catholic Weekly on June 6, 2022.

Photo by form PxHere

 

Game review: Ransom Notes

New game! New game! Over Thanksgiving weekend, we tried out Ransom Notes: The Ridiculous Word Magnet Party Game

Very simple concept. Someone reads a prompt from a card, and everyone (including the reader) has to pick words from their collection of word magnets to express what is on the card. Then everyone reads their entry aloud.

I dearly wish I had taken more pictures, but here are two entries for the prompt “Summarize the Star Wars movies:”

and

I mean . . . yup, that’s Star Wars!

Once everyone has read their entry, a judge for the round is randomly chosen, and he decides whose entry is funniest and best, and that person wins the round. Everyone replenishes their word magnets and they play another round. Whoever wins five rounds wins the game.

What I liked about the game:

It’s simple and flexible. Very much designed to be played by a bunch of people who are laughing and shouting and possibly drinking, and who aren’t going to get hung up on counting or nitpicking or other minutiae; but it could also easily be played by a more sober, thoughtful crowd. The play moves along quickly, and there are lots of ways to adapt it. It’s a game that’s designed to be flexible.

The magnets seem reasonably sturdy, and the little metal boards on which you arrange your thoughts are pleasing. They are like miniature baking sheets and I just liked them. You can also add in your own collection of word magnets, if you happen to have some. The whole game comes compactly stored in a small, deep box.

Every round was amusing, and some were hilarious. Some of the answers were downright brilliant, and it was so entertaining to see different players’ personalities expressed in their answers as they read out them out. Delivery also played an important part in how the responses were received. 

The game is structured so there’s not one person who’s “it” and has to sit out the fun. They also stipulated that whoever is judge of the round may chose his own answer as the winner, but it had better be awfully good; and the other players can unanimously overrule him, if necessary. Some of the funniest answers were just a word or two.

Overall, it’s very obvious that they tested this game thoroughly with lots of players, and crafted it well for real people to play. They even thought of details like reminding you to stick your word magnets to the side of the tray without a lip, so it will be easier to scrape them off into the pot when the round is over. 

What I didn’t like:

The suggested time limit of 90 seconds per round is too dang short! We ended up just giving everyone as much time as they needed to come up with an answer. And by “everyone” I mean “me,” because I am old and have lost my brain sparkle. Although I think I wasn’t giving myself enough magnets. Here is what the recommended number of magnets for a round looks like (“three pinches,” or about 75 magnets):

There are also some prefixes and suffixes in the mix, that didn’t happen to make it into this collection. 

The major quibble I had was that they were trying a little too hard to steer you toward a naughty game experience (and yes, it does say it’s for ages 17+.) We didn’t come across any really R-rated words (I think we found “boob,” “genital,” “panties,” and “bitchy” and a few others at that level), but there were a lot of words like “secrete” and “bedroom” and “flesh” which are not inherently sexy, but it felt like the word selection overall was weighted in that direction.

Regular readers will know I don’t have a problem with racy humor! There was just a slightly forced, smirky feel to it, and I wish they had just chosen more neutral words, and let the double entendres arise more naturally, because they’re funnier that way. I like deciding when I want to make a dirty joke, rather than getting buffaloed into it because we’re at a party and that’s how you have to act. Possibly I am overstating this issue, because I am a mom who was playing a game with several teenage daughters, and I may have been on high alert. 

A few of the cards pretty explicit (“Walk us through the masturbation process,” for instance, and “Ask your boss for a promotion in exchange for sexual favors”). It’s easy enough to just toss any cards and magnets you don’t want in your game (the FAQs say about 15-30% of the cards are not PG), but it’s something to know about ahead of time, depending on who’s going to play. 

Here’s a selection of cards I drew randomly, to give you an idea of what kind of prompts you might encounter:

So you can see it’s kind of edgy, but by no means always sexy. 

In general: 

We played with kids ages 12 and up (younger than the suggested age). In theory, you could play with younger kids, but even though the play is simple, it can be surprisingly mentally taxing (unless some inspiration jumps out at you), and I don’t think younger kids would have understood the point, or had fun with it. 

It comes with six little trays for words, and says it’s for 3-6 players. I suppose you could play with more people, and just find something else to stick the magnets to, but it might get cumbersome if you add too many players. 

Overall, a clever, funny, successfully-conceived game, and we laughed a lot, and we played a full game in under an hour. We’ll definitely be playing again. It has lots and lots of cards, so you won’t be repeating phrases anytime soon; and there are enough magnets that you should keep coming up with fresh combinations. I anticipate expansion packs. 

If you come up with an especially clever answer, you can hashtag it #RansomNotesGame on social media, and they may add it to their Hall of Fame on their site. You can order directly from their site or from Amazon. It is currently listed at $39.99.

I love family games, but I’m horrible at learning new rules. Here are a few other games I’ve reviewed:

Mysterium 

Snake Oil 

And of course there’s The Catholic Card Game for which Damien and I contributed some brain cells to the NFP Expansion Pack

and then there’s Ten ridiculous family games that need no equipment

 

10 ridiculous family games that need no equipment

This Christmas vacation, all 10 of my kids were are under one roof! I don’t know how many more times this is likely to happen; but while it lasts, we’re going to enjoy it. One thing we like doing is playing games — video games, certainly, and board games, sometimes. But my favorites are the ones we can play without any equipment except our own goofy brains. Here are some of them:

  1. STINKY PINKIES

A rhyming riddle game that you can play at all different levels, with kids who just barely know how to rhyme, to people with complex and mysterious brains. My seven-year-old loves to play this in the car. One person thinks of two words that rhyme and have the same number of syllables, and supplies hints, and everyone else has to guess. Whoever guesses correctly first gets to think of the next riddle. If the words have two syllables each, you say you have a stinky pinky. If they have three syllables each, it’s a stinkity pinkity. Four syllables, a stink-inkity pink-inkity; and so one. One syllable word pairs are a stink pink, of course.

A simple example:  A stink pink that’s a container for an orange animal with a big tail. The answer is: Fox box.

A more complicated one: What’s a wild, irresponsible string of pearls? Answer: a reckless necklace. I asked my son this one, and he guessed “unruly jewelry,” which doesn’t scan right, but is pretty good! I also gave him the hint of something that fastens pants and goes upside down, with “zipper flipper” in mind, but he guessed “suspender up-ender.”

  1. EXCUSES, EXCUSES
 
Charades mashed up with ‘The Office’ can entertain the whole families for hours.

This one involves getting out of your chair, unfortunately. It’s good for ages 6 to adult, and it’s very easy to drop in and out of, and is very entertaining to watch other people play.

The set-up:  one person is the boss, one person is the employee who is late for work, and one person is the co-worker.  The boss faces the employee, and the co-worker stands behind the boss, so the employee can see him, but the boss cannot.

The boss barks at the employee, “Why were you late?”  The employee starts to make his excuses — but he has to describe what the co-worker is miming.  Remember, the boss can’t see him.

So the co-worker is marching, dancing, swatting imaginary flies, being strangled, fighting invisible gorillas, etc., and the employee is narrating it.

Then the boss, at any point he wants to, whips his head around to and yells at the co-worker, “What are you doing?”  And the co-worker has to instantly come up with a plausible, office-appropriate explanation for whatever he was caught doing.  If he was acting out “killing a bear with my teeth,” for instance, he might say, “Oh, I was just eating one of these crullers.  Thanks for the crullers, boss!”

If the boss likes the excuse, he says, “Okay,” and the game resumes.  But if he doesn’t, he says, “You’re fired!” and the next person gets to be the co-worker

  1. FICTIONARY

Okay, just for this one, you do need some equipment, but I had to include it because I love it so. You will need a thick dictionary and a bunch of paper and pens.  It’s best for players at least 8 years old and up, and you need at least four players to make it fun. More is better.

The person who’s “it” finds a word that no one is familiar with, and he writes down the real definition. Everyone else writes down a fake definition. The person who is “it” reads them all out loud, and everyone but “it” has to guess which one is real.

Then “it” reveals the true definition. You get a point if you guess the real one, if someone votes for your fake one, or if you’re “it” and no one guesses the real one. Everyone gets a turn being “it” to complete one round of play.

Proper nouns, foreign language words, acronyms, and abbreviations are out. Spell and pronounce the word for everyone, and say what part of speech it is. If you’re “it,” you can simplify the real definition a bit, as long as you don’t significantly change it. Read all the definitions over silently to make sure you understand and can pronounce everything before reading them aloud. Be sure to shuffle them before reading aloud, so there are no clues about who wrote what.

You can’t vote for your own definition. The person who’s “it” does not vote. If there is one person who is head and shoulders above all the others when it comes to guessing, that person can vote last, so as not to influence the others.

The brilliance of this game is the psychology that goes into it. You have to use your knowledge of the people involved, not just your knowledge of language. And there’s always that one person who doesn’t care about the score and just wants to mess with people.

  1. GHOST

A spelling game, but it’s more fun than it sounds, and also involves more psychology than you’d think. A group of people spells a word out loud together, one letter at a time. The goal is to draw the word out as long as possible without being the one who says the last letter. So the person who starts will say, for instance, “R.” Then the next person will add the next letter — say, “E.” Then the next person will say “S.”

The hard part is, you have to supply a letter that doesn’t spell an entire word; but you have to have a real word in mind, that you’re working on spelling. The idea is to force someone else into ending the word. So if I am thinking of the word “restaurant,” and I supply the “T” when it’s my turn, then the round is over, because I’ve spelled “rest.”

But if someone supplies a letter that doesn’t spell a word — say “A” — and you can’t figure out what word they could possibly be working on (“‘Resa?’ What word starts with ‘resa?’” you’re thinking, because you keep thinking about “reservation,” but of course the word is “resale,” silly) you may challenge that person to reveal what the heck kind of ridiculous word they’re thinking of.

If they’re bluffing and it’s not a word, but they’re just trying to make it difficult for the next person with the letter they’ve chosen, then they’re out; but if they’re actually spelling a word, then they win.

  1. GET DOWN, MR. PRESIDENT!

This is a game that only works if no one announces that you’re playing it. It replicates the experience of being a member of the secret service whose job it is to protect the president. I know you guys have a prime minister or whatever, but work with me, here. One person begins by holding two fingers up against his ear as if listening intently to some intel coming through an earpiece.

If you notice someone is doing this, you will realize that the game is in session, and you must silently begin to also hold up two fingers against your ear. One by one, everyone in the room begins to realize what is happening, and stifles giggles while exchanging significant looks. When there is only one clueless person remaining who hasn’t noticed what is going on, then that is the president, and everyone else can simultaneously shriek, “GET DOWN, MR. PRESIDENT!” and tackle that person to the floor.

It’s so much fun, and hardly anyone ever dies of terror. Note: Husbands generally don’t care for this game, so act accordingly.

  1. IN THE MANNER OF THE ADVERB

One person thinks of an adverb, and everyone else has to guess what it is, by watching him do things in the manner of that adverb.

For instance, say I’m thinking about “bitterly.” The other shout, “Make some biscuits in the manner of the adverb!” so you commence muttering resentfully about the stupid butter not being cold enough, and how everybody else has a pastry blender, but you have to get along with two pathetic butter knives, and how you certainly hope they appreciate how much trouble you went to, but it doesn’t seem likely, and so on. And they shout out words like “Resentfully?” or “Angrily?” until someone guesses it. This is a good game for finding out whether or not your kids really know what an adverb is, or how biscuits are made.

  1. JEBRAHAMADIAH AND BALTHAZAR (also called “Master and Servant”)

Another role-playing/narrative game, but you can sit down for this one. I am not sure why my kids call this one “Jebrahamadiah and Balthazar,” except that (a) it has something to do with the Jeb! flyers we kept getting in the mail when Jeb Bush was running for president, and (b) they are weirdos.

One person gives orders, the other person explains why he can’t carry them out. The answer has to be part of a consistent narrative — you can’t just make up a new excuse for each command.

Here is an abbreviated example. The longer you can draw it out, the funnier it gets:

Jebrahamadiah! Go get me a glass of water.
I would, but I just broke the last glass.
Then go get me a cup of water.
I would, but when I broke the glass, I cut my finger, and I can’t use my hand.
Well, use your other hand.
I would, but when I was searching for a Band-aid for my one hand, I slammed the medicine chest door on my finger, and now both hands are useless.
Then call an ambulance.
I can’t, because, if you’ll recall, my hands don’t work.
Then use the speaker phone.
I would, but when I slammed the medicine chest door, some nail polish remover fell on my phone and now the speaker doesn’t work.
Then just shout out the window for help.
I would, but the neighbors saw me wrecking my phone, and he’s a big jerk, and laughed so hard that he drove off the road and now he’s in a coma.
Well, shout out the other window on the other side of the house.
I would, but when the other neighbor drove off the road, he knocked a utility pole down, and a live wire landed on the house on the other side and now it’s on fire, so I don’t want to bother them.
Well . . . okay, fine, I’ll get my own water.

  1. SHATNER!

This one can be played all day long, while cooking, while setting the table, during the meal, and so on, until you put your foot down and tell them to knock it off or you’re going to strangle somebody.

THE RULES: Life goes on as normal, until someone shouts, “Shatner!” — and then everyone has to do what they’re doing as William Shatner.

I actually stink at this game, but my kids are horrifyingly good at it.

8a. Companion game: DUCHOVNY

The opposite of Shatner. You respond in such an understated way that people have to fight the urge to check your vital signs.

  1. PLURALIZE

You sing a song, except everyone in it becomes two people. Thus, Moana’s cri de couer:

We are some girls who love our islands
We are some girls who love the sea
It calls us
We are the daughters of the village chiefs
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call us
We’ve delivered us to where we are
We have journeyed farther
We are everything we’ve learned and more
Still it calls us
And the call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside us
It’s like the tide; always falling and rising
We will carry you here in our hearts you’ll remind us
That come what may
We know the way
We are Moanas!

  1. GREG

This one benefits more than others from either having a few glasses of wine in you, or being eleven years old (I cannot recommend both).

THE RULES: You sing songs, but instead of “I,” “me,” or “mine,” you say “Greg.”

There’s “With or Without Greg” by U2; “Amazing Grace” (How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like Greg); and who can forget that sentimental ballad from The Music Man, “Till There Was Greg.”

Extra points if someone in the house is actually named Greg.

 

Image: From Wikihow Play Charades (Creative Commons)

Introducing The Catholic Card Game NFP expansion pack!

I’m delighted to announce that the makers of The Catholic Card Game asked for my collaboration, and you can now order the official NFP Expansion Pack of 54 new cards, including an untold but filthy number of the jokes my husband and I came up with while two sheets to the wind. 

The Catholic Card Game is a simple party game along the lines of Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, where you must use the hand you’re dealt to finish the sentence. I’ve played the unexpanded version with my kids a few times and they not only enjoyed themselves, they admitted they enjoyed themselves, so that’s pretty hot stuff right there.

The NFP Expansion Pack is not for kids, though. I mean the NFP game is not for kids. If you intend to include kids when you’re playing with NFP– I mean, NFP is just about expanding your– you know what, just buy the game. It’s fun, and we all know you have no other plans for the evening, ha ha ha *sob*.

They also just came out with The Consecrated Expansion, written by nuns and priests, and you can get a discount if you buy both packs. 

In conclusion: I have a weird life, but I’m not complaining. 

 

All these kids, and nowhere to go

How are you holding up? Are you okay?

As for us, we’re doing surprisingly well as we head into another of who-knows-how-many-weeks of being stuck at home together. I feel like our family has spent the past 20 years training for an extended period of social distancing such as this.

Working from home, buying in bulk, going long periods without seeing friends, and living our lives with a constant sense of impending doom? These are already our routine, so the past several weeks have just been an intensification of our normal lives, plus the luxury of not having to drive kids into town and back eleven times a day. I told my therapist (via hygienic telemedicine video chat, of course) that we’re actually kind of living my ideal life, minus the obligatory medical panic.

As you Australians head into your enforced staycations, allow me to share some of the things our family is enjoying or planning to enjoy as we find ourselves alone together:

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

 

10 Ridiculous family games that need no equipment

  1. JEBRAHAMADIAH AND BALTHAZAR (also called “Master and Servant”)

Another role-playing/narrative game, but you can sit down for this one. I am not sure why my kids call this one “Jebrahamadiah and Balthazar,” except that (a) it has something to do with the Jeb! flyers we kept getting in the mail when Jeb Bush was running for president, and (b) they are weirdos.

One person gives orders, the other person explains why he can’t carry them out. The answer has to be part of a consistent narrative — you can’t just make up a new excuse for each command.

Here is an abbreviated example. The longer you can draw it out, the funnier it gets:

Jebrahamadiah! Go get me a glass of water.
I would, but I just broke the last glass.
Then go get me a cup of water.
I would, but when I broke the glass, I cut my finger, and I can’t use my hand.
Well, use your other hand.
I would, but when I was searching for a Band-aid for my one hand, I slammed the medicine chest door on my finger, and now both hands are useless.
Then call an ambulance.
I can’t, because, if you’ll recall, my hands don’t work.
Then use the speaker phone.
I would, but when I slammed the medicine chest door, some nail polish remover fell on my phone and now the speaker doesn’t work.
Then just shout out the window for help.
I would, but the neighbors saw me wrecking my phone, and he’s a big jerk, and laughed so hard that he drove off the road and now he’s in a coma.
Well, shout out the other window on the other side of the house.
I would, but when the other neighbor drove off the road, he knocked a utility pole down, and a live wire landed on the house on the other side and now it’s on fire, so I don’t want to bother them.
Well . . . okay, fine, I’ll get my own water.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image: From Wikihow Play Charades (Creative Commons)

Hilarious family game: Fictionary

Here’s an excellent game for family night, especially if you have older kids home for Christmas: Fictionary. It’s the basis for the boxed game “Balderdash,” but simpler, and the only equipment you need is a large dictionary, paper, and something to write with for each player. It’s best for players at least 8 years old and up, and you need at least four players to make it fun. More is better.

BASIC RULES: The person who’s “it” finds a word that no one is familiar with, and he writes down the real definition. Everyone else writes down a fake definition. The person who is “it” reads them all out loud, and everyone but “it” has to guess which one is real.

Then “it” reveals the true definition. You get a point if you guess the real one, if someone votes for your fake one, or if you’re “it” and no one guesses the real one. Everyone gets a turn being “it” to complete one round of play.

Details: Proper nouns, foreign language words, acronyms, and abbreviations are out. Spell and pronounce the word for everyone, and say what part of speech it is.
If you’re “it,” you can simplify the real definition a bit, as long as you don’t significantly change it. Read all the definitions over silently to make sure you understand and can pronounce everything before reading them aloud. Be sure to shuffle them before reading aloud, so there are no clues about who wrote what.
You can’t vote for your own definition. The person who’s “it” does not vote. If there is one person who is head and shoulders above all the others when it comes to guessing, that person can vote last, so as not to influence the others.

The brilliance of this game is the psychology that goes into it. You have to use your knowledge of the people involved, not just your knowledge of language. And there’s always that one person who doesn’t care about the score and just wants to mess with people.

Here’s some examples from last night:

Smilax:
The real definition turned out to be:
-A kind of oak or bindweed
Fakes:
-A state of disquiet, nervousness
-A smiling climax
-A substrate of xylem in some ferns
-A type of mountain sheep bred in Algeria
-A kind of soap commonly used up until the 19th century, when industrialized factories rendered it obsolete [this one was a joke, as the smarty pants who wrote it thought the pun on “rendered” was too good to pass up]
-wiggly worm

Purdah
The real definition:
-In India, a curtain used to screen women from men and strangers
Fake definitions:
-Disgrace
-Keeping from one another
-A type of ink used commonly in newsprint
-a fog, especially one though to carry illness
-Scottish term for spitting noises
-A very purdy thing

Drogue
Real definition:
-A cone-shaped device towed behind an aircraft as a target
Fakes:
-A unit of measurement equal to two miles
-Boring, dull
-Dreaded, a tyrant
-The feeling of morning dew
-Swamp, marsh, Elijah

At one point, the person who was “it” had to drag one of the less scholarly players into the other room to find out what was meant by “MARGOLD GROWING PLAL.”

Have fun! It’s a good game, and thorough.

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!

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.)

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

Let’s play Boots or Shakespeare, Catholic style!

exploding head 1

 

My FB friend Jeni Wilmot suggested a topic for Mark Shea’s radio show, which I co-host on Mondays (podcasts here). It didn’t make it on the show, but it was a brilliant idea: Catholic Would You Rather.

In college, we used to call this game “Boots or Shakespeare.” It started out easy: Coke or Pepsi? Swimming or skiing? and progressed onto harder choices: Would you rather be deaf or blind? Frozen or burned? Always lonely or never, ever alone?—the idea being that your choices were mutually and permanently exclusive. Once you chose one, the other was off limits for good.

The choices were also supposed to be sort of existential opposites of each other, but I guess I’ve gotten dumber since I left college, because I can’t think of any good examples. Anyway, I knew I had won when my friend James would make the “ouch, my head just exploded” gesture.

Here are a few Catholic Style Boots or Shakespeare questions to get you started. Would you rather . . .

–be trapped in a broken elevator with an 18-year-old guy who just found out about The Fountainhead, or an 18-year-old guy who just found out about distributism?

–send your kids to a sex ed class designed by Commonweal, or one designed by The Most Holy Family Monastery?

–Go sweater vest shopping with Rick Santorum, or play strip poker with Joe Biden?

–worship with Mass of Creation by Marty Haugen sung by Maria Callas, or Mass in B Minor by Bach sung by Yoko Ono?

–argue about yoga with a mommy blogger, or ague about mommy blogging with Yogi Bear? Or a yogi? Or just eat some yogurt and nobody wants to argue with you at all?

I have the worst toothache, what do you want from my life. Anyway, tip of the iceberg, folks. Your turn!

 

 

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