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6 animated kid’s shows I’ll sit and watch myself

Here are six animated shows my kids are always happy to watch. Not only do I not object, I’ll sit and watch it with them, because they’re genuinely entertaining, and the creators knew what they were about. We get our TV through DVDs, or by streaming Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Shaun the Sheep

Shaun the Sheep belongs in a category with The Three Stooges, The Marx Brothers, and the heyday of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. Miraculously evocative stop-motion animation by Aardman, the folks who made Wallace and Gromit, it serves up the clever and ridiculous adventures of a band of thrill-seeking, British sheep who never get tired of outwitting (and sometimes colluding with) poor Bitzer, the faithful, scrupulous working dog, who, with his knit cap, his terry cloth wristband, and his everlasting to-do list, manages the farm and fruitlessly strives to please the irascible farmer. There’s always a mild rebellion afoot, mainly consisting in eating all the pastries, ordering pizza, and putting underwear on their head.

In this episode, Bitzer loses control of a bottle of glue:

There’s plenty of pure slapstick (complete with special theme music for those times when you’re getting beat up by pigs, and those times when you’re balancing on top of a runaway rolling object) and well-conceived stock characters (the winsome lamb Timmy; the ponderously ravenous Shirley; the trio of malicious pigs; the dreaded visiting niece; some unnervingly canny crows, and the occasional curious alien); but the show also allows itself some fleeting peeks into the characters’ interior lives. In one animated filler between episodes, Bitzer in human mode throws a stick, and then, becoming pure dog, bounds after it. And then he tries to take it away from himself, but growls and resists, because he is a dog. Brilliant, impeccably crafted, immensely satisfying. No words, but the sheep bleat, Bitzer whimpers and barks, and the farmer mumbles, rants, and hollers their way through unmistakable dialogue.

Four seasons, originally on CBBC, available on Amazon Prime.

***

Puffin Rock

Just a little lullabye of a show. There’s a tiny paradise on Puffin Rock, a wild island off the coast of Ireland, where the puffins, little Oona and her baby brother Baba, explore their little world, make friends, have some mild adventures, and always end up safe and happy. Here’s a taste:

Narrated by the cozy, corduroy voice of Chris O’Dowd (Roy of The IT Crowd), the show is pretty and atmospheric, giving you the sense you’ve put your head out the window to feel the breeze and smell the salt air. Gentle and lovely, with child voice acting that doesn’t grate or irritate.

Two seasons, 26 episodes, available for streaming on Netflix.

***

Ronja the Robber’s Daughter

Amazon Prime original series. We’ve seen the first two episodes of this new Studio Ghibli anime series (released January 2017), set in Medieval Scandanavia(ish), based on a 1981 book by Pippi Longstocking author Astrid Lindgren, and directed by Goro(son of Hayao) Miyazaki, narrated by Gillian Anderson.

I’m into it so far, with some reservations. Unlike my kids, I’m not a huge anime fan, but the ickier aspects (some sentimentality around children, weird pacing, sometimes jerkily animated facial expressions) aren’t overwhelming in this show. The animation is mixed, sometimes blocky, sometimes brilliant; some of the watercolored scenes are gorgeously atmospheric, and the sound effects go a long way to creating an arresting, believable world. It’s offbeat and funny enough that I’m invested in watching the rest of the series.

I just about died watching the robber and his band of toothless, muscled henchmen trying to coax their adored baby girl to eat her cereal; and I got a real chill from the harpies swirling around the castle while the mother labors to give birth to Ronja. Here’s that scene (not in English, though, sorry! The Netflix series is dubbed into English):

The mother is a huge pain in the neck, and I hope she gets taken down a few pegs, or just fades out of the story. Looking forward to getting back to this show.

***

Pingu

Sweet and hilarious adventures of a penguin named Pingu, his baby sister Pinga, his erratic friend the seal, his affectionate but stodgy father, and his loving but harried penguin mother. The show is done in appealingly fingerprinty claymation, and the dialogue is inspired gibberish. Pingu acts exactly like every little boy I’ve ever met. He has spectacular ideas that backfire on him; he tries to evade his pesky little sister, but deep down he loves her passionately; and when he’s bored, he just staggers around making noise and hitting stuff.

He does dumb stuff and then repents, and his parents bug out and then forgive him. Real, warm family and community relationships played out deftly without sentimentality. Entertaining and endearing.

160 five-minute episodes (1986 to 2000), originally from Switzerland, now available on Amazon Prime

***

Batman: The Animated Series

A lovingly-designed homage to 1940’s noir, a complete feast for the eyes, with real suspense and actual stories. The creators of this series put together a “writer’s bible”, including guidelines like “The humor in our version of Batman should arise naturally from the larger than life characters and never tongue-in-cheek campiness … Dry lines in tough situations and occasional comments about the outlandishness of costumed villains is certainly within the realistic context of our vision of Batman.” And the Joker makes jokes, but he is scary.

No Robin, no partnering with the police, no origin stories. Batman is grim and strong, and doesn’t lean too much on gadgets. When it’s funny, it’s really pretty funny (as in “Almost Got ‘Im”). Each episode has three acts, with a set-up, story development and increased tension, and then climax and resolution. Did I mention how it looks? It looks so good. I’ll share the opening sequence, because it’s a work of love and captures the show so well.

This show, true to its style, includes truly sinister people, nail-biters and cliff hangers, and female characters in skin-tight clothes, so caveat viewer. If you watch any animated Batman, let it be this one.

Five seasons, (1992-1995), now available on Amazon Prime

***

Sarah and Duck

This British animated show is made by people who really, really remember what it’s like to be a six-year-old. The matter-of-fact Sarah, a polite problem-solver, is accompanied by her slightly less patient friend, Duck, as they navigate adventures like becoming queen of the ducks, cheering up friends, going for a ride on the sea bus, and baking with ingredients that talk back.

The simple, big-headed characters came straight off your kid’s artwork on his fridge; and the plot lines and characters will ring true to anyone who’s listened to an imaginative kid tell a story. Weird and charming, devoid of sassiness and preching, it gives a very relatable model of considerate friendship. In this clip, Sarah and Duck fill in for the Bread Man:

Character include the daft scarf lady and her long-suffering handbag, a family of squeaky, cheerful shallots, and the moon. The music is also top notch.

Two seasons, originally on CBeebies, available for streaming on Netflix.

***

Next time: Shows that I will watch with half an eyeball while I’m working, and that I won’t mind too much if my kids watch.

 

 

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In Soviet Russia, ceiling killz you

 

When I was little, my mother would send us upstairs to clean our room. After several hours had gone by, she would call up, “Girrrls? Is your room done yet?” And we would shout, “It’s about halfway clean!”

And it would be . . . THE TOP HALF. Ho ho! We certainly pulled one over on her. The floor and beds and dressers were as cluttered and sloppy as ever, but the ceiling was nice and clean, bare and tidy, as neat as a pin.

I miss those days, when the ceiling was clean.

Now that I have my own house, nobody shouts up the stairs at me.  Nobody sends me off to tidy up regularly. Instead, they encourage me in my filthy eastern ways, by saying things like, “Ha ha, you are keeping it real!” or “Wow, you make me feel so much better about my own house!” or “Mrs. Fisher, you have ten days to remediate this issue before a legal process is automatically triggered.”

Wanna see? Of course you do. It’ll make you feel better. Unless you’re my mother.

ABANDON ALL MICE, YE WHO ENTER HERE

We live close enough to the woods that there will always, always, always be mice in our house; but we live close enough to the highway that any cats we own will always get hit by cars. So we poison the little bastards. They make mouse poison that desiccates the corpse, so there is no stink. Our walls are now cozily insulated with a thick layers of mouse mummies, and that’s how we like it.

The trick is to find a spot to slip the poison where the mice will find it, but the kids and dog won’t. So what you do, see, is — well, first you lose many, many nights of sleep to a maddening scrabbling, gnawing noise, and then, in that mental state, you decide it’s a good idea to just bash a hole in the ceiling, stuff some poison in, and then cover the hole with a piece of paper and tape

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because things being what they are, you know you’re gonna need to get in there again.

Every once in a while I consider using something fancier to cover up the hole, like a cub scout kerchief, or maybe a piece of colored paper, but I don’t want to appear pretentious.

SOMETIMES A POOH IS JUST A POOH

Here’s something I like to ponder every once in a while: a stain on the ceiling that has the habit / of sometimes looking like a . . . pooping wildebeest.

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Literary, ain’t it? Or maybe it’s Winnie the Pooh, or possibly a toxodon. I wanted to say “tapir,” but I couldn’t think of the word, and then I got bogged down in “aardvark vs. anteater” like I always do, so I just said “wildebeest.”

The real question is, what the heck kind of stain is that, and why is it over the couch? The real answer is, “There is no answer that will make you glad you asked.”

I WILL LIFT UP MINE EYES UNTO THE MOLD

Here’s one I may have shared before. Our exquisite bathroom is spacious, bright, prettily tiled, and as well-stocked with water guns, tea sets, broken humidifiers, peri bottles, ratty towels, and twenty-three bottles of almost-empty shampoo as you could hope, so that’s nice. But it does have a bit of a ventilation problem

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Naturally, someone who was not made of stone just had to etch “DOOM ON YOU” into the mildew. Just in case you were having your morning shower and thinking that the day might go well.

THE GHOST OF PASTA PAST

Not only do they throw spaghetti at the ceiling, but

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no one even thinks to pull it off the ceiling until it’s become one with the ceiling, and takes a little bit of the ceiling with it when it goes. Brought to you by the same kids who will tell you with a straight face that they did sweep, and they didn’t realize you meant also sweep up all those chicken bones, gosh.

THE JOKE GETS OLD

Now you’re starting to get really disgusted with us. These people live like animals! you are thinking. How hard is it to buy a gallon or two of Killz and brighten those ceilings right up again? An hour or so of work ,and your outlook is so much brighter.

You’re right! It’s easy! All you have to do is lay down plastic, clear your schedule, throw on some old clothes, get one of those long-handled rollers, and away you go. Put on the first coat of white paint, and then

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wait six years for it to dry. Is it time to put the second coat on? NO, NOT YET. It just isn’t, okay?

WHERE HOOPY FROODS FEAR TO TREAD

If you’re feeling bold, you can even venture into the boys’ room, where you will find  . . .

dont-panic

Yeah, no, actually, I would actually like to panic now, please, thanks. Is . . is that a tick trapped under some packing tape?  Is that blood spatter?  Is it terrible that I find myself hoping it’s blood, and not anything else? Never mind, I’ll just flee.

PREMISES ARE ALARMED, AND FOR GOOD REASON

Back to the adult world, where people are responsible and sensible and do things the right way. For instance, it’s extremely important to have working smoke alarms throughout the house.
It’s important to regularly change the batteries in your smoke alarm.
It’s important to put the smoke alarms back in after you change the batteries.
It’s important to remember where you put the smoke alarms while you were searching for the batteries you bought yesterday.
It’s . . .

smoke-alarms

It’s important to have a working smoke alarm. Do what you gotta do.

HOW?

And here, the little jerks were just deliberately marking up the ceiling with the syrup that secrete in their horrible little pores

handprints

I could take prints and find out who it was, but does it really matter? Let’s just call it a precious memento and draw a curtain. Yes, over the ceiling. It’s either that or burn the whole thing down.

 

 

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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.)

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

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12+ Scary Movies Our Kids Loved (including at least 5 “hells” and 2 “bollocks”)

Dracula_1958_a
By Screenshot from “Internet Archive” of the movie Dracula (1958) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Because we are integrated Catholics, we observe All Saints Day, All Souls Day, and Halloween — the latter, by trick-or-treating, putting the little guys stickily to bed, and showing the older kids a scarier movie than we normally allow.  And because I’m still in denial about just how many outrageous promises I carelessly made about costumes I’d be happy to whip up, I’m thinking hard about what movie we’ll show this year.

There are a bunch of mildly scary movies we can show the little guys: Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a favorite; and it’s fun to watch Abbot and Costello meet various creatures. And there’s always The Munsters, which is a truly terrible show, but the little guys love it.

What to show the middle kids and older kids? It needs to be scary, but not too scary.  There are plenty of flat-out terrifying movies out there, but we’re looking for one that don’t introduce any themes or images that kids aren’t ready to deal with.  Pure slasher movies, I oppose for people of any age, as I can’t imagine how you can learn to enjoy watching them without disastrously deadening some part of your soul.  I’m also not a fan of supernatural horror movies, which give people the impression that religion is part dopey, part freaky.

The year I wrote this post, we went with Arachnophobia (1990).  It was weird and funny, a well done, edge-of-the-seat creature feature.  It’s classified as a comedy/thriller, which hits the sweet spot for me:  The comedy makes us more vulnerable when the shocks come, but it also reminds us that it’s just a movie.  John Goodman as the exterminator is hilarious.

Much gorier and much funnier, and also very moving in places, is Shaun of the Dead (2004), one of my favorite movies in any genre.  It’s about a zombie near-apocalypse, but is just as much about friendship and love, and it convincingly shows the main character move from failure-to-launch slobhood to heroic manhood.  But it totally earns the R rating, mostly because of the truly horrifying gore.  We did let our 11-year-old watch this one.

We recently saw The Sixth Sense (1999) and Signs (2002). It beats me why The Sixth Sense is the more celebrated. It’s very good, but Signs is fantastic, and has so much more depth. It’s one of my favorite movies in general, and it will make you feel better whenever you start feeling down about Mel Gibson. The Village (2004) is pretty scary, but relies way too heavily on the plot twist; and, as I mentioned on the radio with Mark the other day, I had a hard time getting past the idea that the villagers would have bothered to pack things like decorative door hinges. I don’t pack like that.Unbreakable (2000) is tremendously underrated, so carefully crafted — Shyamalan’s best, I think.

Have I mentioned The Mummy (1999) often enough in past posts?  Yes?  All right, I’ll skip the details and just remind you that it really moves along, it has a heroine that you actually root for, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Also, the scene where the guy knows something’s coming to get him but he can’t find his glasses?  Brrrrr.  The Mummy Returns (2001) is a worthy sequel.  The Mummy 3, I don’t know what the title is because I fell asleep before I got to the end of reading it, never mind watching the movie (2008) should be taken out and shot. When they replaced Rachel Weisz in the third one, you realized, “Ah, so it was Rachel Weisz who was holding the other two movies together.”

Some darker choices:  Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.  I always feel defensive when my kids watch a Hitchcock movie — the man was so hard on his viewers.  I still haven’t forgiven him for Vertigo.  The nerve, confusing me that way, and making me upset about those awful people with their plastic hair!  The Birds has a weird structure that makes it feel very dated. Vertigo is just nasty, but worth getting under your belt so you can enjoy High Anxiety.

Gaslight (1944). You think you know about this movie because you’re familiar with the term “gaslighting.”  So watch it and find out why it’s a classic.  So incredibly tense, so gorgeously black-and-white.  The acting is subtle and superb and the pacing is exquisite.  I’m adding it to my Netflix queue right now.

Diabolique (1954, not the apparently highly stinky 1996 remake).  ONE OF THE SCARIEST MOVIES I HAVE EVER SEEN.  You feel like you can’t even breathe for a good part of this movie.  Very tricky plot, very nasty direction, and horribly, horribly French.  Entirely effective if you feel like getting grabbed by the brain and shaken around for a while.

Lightening things up again:  Tremors (1990).  Okay, technically more of an action/adventure flick, but it will keep you on your toes.  This is how our Halloween movie tradition got started:  my son was so excited to be trick-or-treating, he bolted down the sidewalk, slipped on some dry leaves, and spent the rest of Halloween in the ER with a sprained wrist.  So we showed him Tremors as compensation.  It’s another combo of suspense, action and gore, with a satisfying and wholesome resolution.  Very likeable heroes, and the paranoid survivalist couple is a scream.

Army of Darkness (1992)  Just tons of fun.  The fact that the diabolical villains are called “Deadites” — because they’re dead – will give you an idea of the tone of this movie.  Brilliant slapstick, but scary enough that it’s not for anyone under the age of ten.  (Also a sexy scene or two, which we handle, if littler kids are watching, by putting a pillow over the screen.)

Rear Window (1954)  Another of my all-time favorites in any genre.  I have something of a Cary Grant problem — have a real hard time getting past his blue hair — which means I often have a Hitchcock problem.  But this movie features Jimmy Stewart instead, flexing his acting muscles on a character which is not as repellent as some Hitchcock heroes — but still, somethin’ ain’t right with that guy.  Love it.  And Grace Kelly and her astonishing dresses are so lovely, you don’t care that she’s kind of a dish of lukewarm pudding, actingwise.  Oh, and yes, it’s scary!  Suspenseful as all get out, and howlingly original in scope.

Island of Lost Souls is also on my to-watch list.  Reliable sources have assured me it’s super creepy.  It’s from 1932 with Charles Laughton, and is based on the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells.  IMDb’s plot summary:

An obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as the self-styled demigod to a race of mutated, half-human abominations.

Sigh.  I dunno, are we sure this same story isn’t featured in the latest issue of JAMA?  Anyway, Charles Laughton is always fun to watch.  Also stars Bela Lugosi.

Speaking of Bela Lugosi, how about Dracula?  1931, the one and only year that saw the production of a genuinely scary vampire movie.  Unless you include The Lost Boys (1987), assuming you can’t think of anything scarier than rice that turns into maggots — SCARY MAGGOTS, WHICH IS SO MEAN, YOU AWFUL VAMPIRES, YOU! Although Corey Haim bopping in the bathtub is genuinely horrifying.  That recent Nosferatu movie stank on ice, in the way that only John Malkovich can make something stink on ice (that is, pretentiosly).  I have heard that 30 Days of Night (2007) is terrifying — so much so that I don’t even think I can acknowledge that it exists.

Addendum: Okay, fine, I guess Dracula (1958) with Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, is a good one, too. We’ll probably watch that one this year.

This has nothing to do with anything; I just think it's funny.

This has nothing to do with anything; I just think it’s funny.

The older ones (we have three in high school this year) may go with The Silence of the Lambs (1991). I may be too chicken to join them.

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A version of this post originally ran at the Register in 2012, back when I got all embroiled in the comments box, because someone made the following comment:

Shaun of the Dead?  Really?  This movie has the following in it, and this is just the language! (from Screenit.com)  At least 46 “f” words (1 used with “mother”), 2 “s” words, 4 slang terms using female genitals (“tw*t” and a possible “c*nt”), 4 using male ones (“pr*ck” and “c*ck”), 5 hells, 2 bollocks, 4 uses of “Oh my God,” 3 of “For Christ’s sakes,” 2 of “For God’s sakes” and 1 use each of “Christ,” “Jesus” and “Oh God.”

As evidence of my personal spiritual growth, I’d like to point out that I did not title this post “Tw*t” and a Possible “C*nt.”

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Benny and the Jerk Balloon

My three-year-old may be the most emotionally healthy person in the world.

I came across this old photo, and remembered the day. We were playing in a school gym after a baptism, and she found this half-dead balloon lying under some bleachers. Oh my gosh, she had so much fun with it.

benny jerk balloon 2

So, when it was time to go, I ignored the warning alarms in my head and said she could take it with her.

Of course, as soon as we stepped outside, a gust of wind came and swiped her precious balloon right out of her hands. At first I thought it would come back down, and we chased it across the parking lot, but it went up, then down again, then up just out of reach, and then up and up, over the trees, way over the church roof, and then it was gone.

Worst.

I remember being three, and I remember the desolation of the lost balloon. One minute, the world is buoyant and glad, and then suddenly it’s all grief and loss and wild injustice.

I’m getting old. I’m getting tired of the way the world is, where a little girl can’t even have an orange balloon to make her happy. I didn’t even dare look at her, expecting the sobs to come pouring out. I thought, “I can’t stand it. I’ll buy her another balloon. I’ll buy everybody a balloon! I’ll buy all the balloons in the world!”

She just stared after it for a minute, and then she said, “Jerk balloon.” And that was it. She was fine.

I want to be Benny when I grow up.

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Should I let my kid dress like a weirdo?

punk girl

There is a huge difference between sporting a blue mohawk because you think it looks cool, and sporting a blue mohawk because you want to horrify and offend everyone you meet.  Trying to set yourself apart from your peers is morally neutral and should be tolerated, even if it makes adults cringe a bit. But trying to give the world or your family a big “F you” is a problem.

It’s behavior that matters, and so it’s the behavior that parents should focus on.  This is just as true for kids who wear exactly what their parents want them to wear. Just as there’s nothing especially virtuous about dressing in a modest and conventional way while being a snippy, catty, arrogant little twerp, there’s nothing especially vicious about dressing like a weirdo if you’re reasonably courteous and responsible.

Read the rest at the Register. 

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What’s for supper? Vol. 2, now with link up!

whats for supper

What’s for supper? So glad you asked!

Last week, I said:

While I’m no cooking jainyus, I do manage to feed twelve people, seven days a week, without spending a million dollars and without anyone getting rickets.

I’ll list our dinners and include any recipes that might be interesting, and I hope readers will share their menus and recipes, too, so we can all get some good ideas from each other. If there’s enough interest, I may start a weekly blog link-up.

There was interest! And tons of variety — and, best of all, absolutely zero meal shaming. So this week, I’ve added an Inlinkz feature, so you can link up to your own blog. If you don’t have a blog, just join in by leaving a comment.

If you link to your blog, don’t forget to link back to this post, please! Feel free to download and use the “What’s for supper?” image, above, in your post. (It’s pretty chimpy, but it will do for now.)

And now . . .  what’s for supper?

SATURDAY: BBQ at my sister-in-law’s house. I ate too much. It was good. I didn’t have a camera on me, so here is a picture of bacon that I took yesterday:

bacon

Too bad today is Friday, innit?

SUNDAY: Enchiladas, beans and rice. 

I like Pioneer Woman’s Chicken enchildadas (I made one tray with green enchilada sauce and one with red). I don’t bother browning the tortillas, though. These are excellent as leftovers. Ex. Cel. Lent.

I usually use the standing mixer to shred meat, but I couldn’t find the attachment; so I tried my lovely mezzaluna knife, and it worked great.

mezzaluna

Love that tool. It’s about as close to being a ninja as I will ever get.

Beans and rice: I was really rushing, so I just cooked up a bunch of rice, chunked in a few cans of chili beans and a few cans of diced tomatoes, and mixed it up with chili powder. I also made some plain white rice for boring people. (This is one of the compromises I am okay with making: If it’s almost no extra work, I will make a mild version and a spicy version of the same dish.)

MONDAY: Eat My Poo French Toast Casserole, oven roasted potatoes, watermelon.

Normally, everyone loves French Toast Casserole, it’s easy, and it’s a great way to use up stale bread. After Monday’s meal, all I can say is that this dish comes out better when you don’t spend most of the day ankle-deep in stinky basement water, ripping the skin off your hands on rusty old hose connections, wondering how long it would take the kids to notice you’re dead if you get electrocuted while you sort out the power cords for your collection of three sump pumps that work well enough to be scary, but not well enough to, I don’t know, get water out of the basement.

I also recommend not breaking lightbulbs all over the kitchen floor while you’re writing about dying babies; not having forgotten to buy sausages, and not having promised the kids you’d go to the beach when there’s mega thunderstorms predicted all day. I recommend that your laptop not choose this particular day to break, and that your blog platform not choose this particular day to refuse to upload images.

For a final touch, I recommend having something on hand other than rye bread, moldy wheat bread, and rancid eggs, or at least I recommend discovering before evening that this is what you have on hand. And — hold onto your butt, because this is top chef level stuff — I recommend that you not only turn the oven on, but also put the food into the oven at some point.

Garnish this dish with a heartfelt scream, such as, “THIS DAY CAN EAT MY POO!”

And that’s my recipe.

For oven-roasted potatoes, you scrub the potatoes (no need to peel them), cut them into wedges, drizzle with oil, and season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, and red pepper flakes, or whatever else sounds good. You can bake these in a medium oven, but they turn out best if you roast them under the broiler. Takes about half an hour if the pan is actually in the oven; considerably longer if not. You can also add chopped onions, yum.

Oh, and you can use the apple corer to cut the potatoes faster, as long as you don’t mind coming up with the occasional inapwo-pwo spud:

inapwopwo potato

 

TUESDAY: Chicken burgers and chips, possibly salad. Sure, let’s say we had salad.

WEDNESDAY: Picnic! All summer, I’ve been promising the kids we’d have a picnic at the beach. They started school on Thursday, so Wednesday was the day. We had turkey and salami sandwiches, pepper jack cheese, dill pickles, chips, root beer, and so much candy they couldn’t eat it all. 

THURSDAY: Bacon and spinach pasta, garlic knots, salad. 
The six- and 11-year-olds were in charge of cooking bacon, and the 8-year-old was in charge of pressing garlic.

lucy garlic

The three-year-old was in charge of cutting up an eraser. This picture looks fairly lovely, but within five minutes, they were trying to kill each other for hogging the garlic press.

The store was out of spinach (perils of Aldi shopping), so I got kale, instead. I cooked it up and it smelled like a dead squirrel, so I threw it out and served the pasta without it.

Garlic knots: Cut a ball (18 oz.) of store-bought pizza dough into 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a snake, tie it in a knot, and pinch the ends together. Put on a greased, floured pan. Top each knot with a dab of butter or brush with olive oil, then sprinkle with garlic powder, parmesan cheese, and a little salt. Bake at 350 until they’re toasty. (I made 24 knots, which wasn’t really enough for 12 people.)

FRIDAY:  Pizza! Two black olive, two plain. Salad. I use frozen dough, because I can make pizza dough in the standing mixer or in the bread machine, but making enough for 12 just isn’t worth it to me.

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To link up, click the blue “add your link” button below. Don’t forget to link back to this post! Happy eating!