love to see these two playing together!
a few months ago, i read a rave review of a mail-order meal service called blue apron (her blog is really hilarious, especially if you like mommy humor) and i was very disappointed when i went to blue apron’s site and discovered that they did not yet deliver to my area. i entered my e-mail address to be notified if they ever did add us in and was excited to get a message from them in late april saying that indeed they could now deliver to us! i had a coupon for some money off, so i thought we’d give it a try.
basic premise — blue apron plans 6 menus each week (3 veg, 3 omnivore) for two people and 6 different menus for four people. you sign up for the number of people and state basic food preferences (vegetarian, no fish, etc.) and then they send you all of the ingredients (in just the right portions) and the recipe cards to make three meals each week. you cook the food, but you don’t have to search out recipes or shop for it or fill your fridge with jars of strange ingredients you’ll never use after that one recipe you tried from pinterest (i’m looking at you, trader joe’s soyaki sauce!). you can choose to skip delivery for any weeks you don’t want to have them deliver food and you can stop the subscription anytime you want, no obligations. you can also go onto their website each week before the delivery and choose different menus (for instance, if you don’t like one of the default meat options, you can switch to one of the vegetarian meals instead).
we tried blue apron for three weeks. i wish i had some pictures to show you, but weeknight dinnertimes are rough around here and i’m doing great to get food on the table before the kids’ bedtime and taking a photo is one more step i just didn’t do. but i wanted to share our experience with you nonetheless. the 2-person and 4-person options from blue apron are totally different and the 4-person options are a bit more family-friendly than the 2-person, but i didn’t think we needed 4 servings, so we chose the 2-person option which was plenty of food for us (we sometimes even had leftovers) but that was mostly because the happy little dude refused to eat pretty much any of it. some of it was too spicy for him (the posole the first week was almost too spicy for me!), some he just didn’t like because it was new. he did eat some of the raw golden beet and the happy little baby ate raw tomatillos with gusto, but the actual menu items? not a big hit with either kid. and to be honest? only about a notch or two above “meh” most nights for mr. happy stuff and myself. this could be because i had high expectations and these didn’t jump up that high. it could be because of some operator error (the fried fish for the fish tacos lost all of its breading every time i flipped a piece in the pan). but i thought it might be worth looking to see if there were other similar services to choose from.
i found two — hello fresh and home chef. looking at their menus, hello fresh looks very similar to blue apron and home chef looked… more home-y? a little more like food my whole family could get excited about. so we signed up to try them out. so far, we’ve gotten one box (and i’ve got two more on the way). first of all, home chef provides each user with 10 menu options each week (regardless of whether you’re ordering 2 portions or 4) plus a “breakfast” option (which we ate for dinner), a smoothie option and a fresh fruit option (the last two are half the price of the meals). you can choose as many or as few meals as you want, but if you want free shipping, you need to order a minimum of 3 (but i do appreciate the option to order more if i want to!). you can also set up your default order to include criteria like “low-carb” or “low-calorie.” home chef also offers more flexibility in delivery days — you can choose from 4 days of the week, whereas blue apron i think gave 2 options? of the foods we’ve tried so far, one of the three was happily eaten by both kids (roasted pork tenderloin and soba noodle bowl!), one would have been eaten happily (i think?) if pizza wasn’t the other option that night (we were dining with friends and i chose to share my cajun blackened chicken (not super spicy, hooray!) with a cucumber, tomato and feta salad with my host and she provided pizza for all the kids), and the other was… disappointing (i really think it might be me and my frying technique).
overall, with both companies i found myself frying a lot more things in a pan than i usually do (whether that was fried chicken or steaks or burgers or kibbeh), eating way more whole pieces of meat than i normally do (we’re usually more of a ground beef or shredded chicken sort of family) and… a lot less shredded cheese, come to think of it. we’ve all been asked to try foods we don’t think we like (chicken mole for me. nope, still don’t like it!) and we’ve discovered a few new foods that we do like. it’s a bit pricey for us to commit to doing this year-round, but i can see wanting to order a box or two to get us through particularly busy points in the year (like, for instance, the start of summer reading club at the library?). the packaging and branding for blue apron is a little more polished (if that matters to you) and they feature small farmers and artisan ingredient producers whenever possible. home chef includes the name & photo (and sometimes blog address) of the chefs that created each meal. my only complaint about home chef so far was that there was some confusion with one of their recipes (what they sent and what the recipe called for didn’t quite match up). both boxes stayed plenty cold all day while i was at work the days they were delivered. depending on the menu for any given week, i would still happily order from either of them.
both companies have given me 3 invitations that would allow you, dear reader to get some free food, so i thought i’d do a quick giveaway to reward you for reading all the way to the bottom of this long post. actually, i’m hoping to do several giveaways in the next week or so to celebrate my 10-year anniversary of my first blog post here on happy stuff! if you’re interested in trying out free food from either of these two services, leave me a comment below stating which company you’d prefer to try and which of the “categories” in the side column is your favorite kind of post to read on happy stuff. deadline to enter is monday, june 22, 2015 at midnight.
the happy little dude loves books (hooray! says his librarian mom). he “sneaks” them in his bed at night when he’s supposed to be falling asleep. he sinks into them when he needs to calm himself down. he’s not reading many words yet, but loves the independence of exploring books on his own. and so we’ve delved deeply into the world of graphic novels.
there are many, many graphic novels published today that are in no way appropriate for a 5-year-old. there are also many graphic novels that are close to being okay for a 5-year-old, but are just not quite right either. sometimes it’s content-related (too violent, too menacing, too abstract, just too mature — he doesn’t need to read high-school dramas) and sometimes its format-related (if the pictures are too busy and cluttered, if the storyline all happens in the dialogue and the images don’t really give any clues as to what’s going on in the story, etc.). along the way, we’ve discovered some solid family favorites. here’s a list of what we’ve found so far:
zita the spacegirl trilogy by ben hathke: these are the #1 hit with everyone. the happy little dude has read these each at least 5 or 6 times. we both love the illustrations and the storyline (it does have a few dark moments and there’s some magical zapping and laser action if that doesn’t suit your threshold for violent action). some of his favorite bits are the sketchbook excerpts at the end of each book.
bink & gollie by kate dicamillo: not technically graphic novels, but we are huge fans and i wanted to make sure everyone had heard about this series. quirky friends with quirky adventures and lots of pancakes.
owly (series) by andy runton: this gentle series is wordless, but uses pictograms (pictures in speech bubbles to represent speech) frequently. i soon discovered that if the reader isn’t sure yet what all those symbols represent (like an exclamation point or a skull and crossbones or a lightbulb), then those symbols are just as mysterious as words are. it’s not a bad idea to read these together at least the first time to interpret some of the images. if you like this series, you’re in luck! there’s a bunch of them!
polo (series) by regis faller: wordless and gentle, these are often shelved at libraries within the regular picture books, but they are stories told in series of boxed images, so i’m calling them graphic novels. we’ve only just begun to explore this series, and i’m not sure if it will hold his attention, but i think they’re really lovely.
bumperboy (series) by debbie huey: super cute tales of a boy who travels between worlds through “borp holes” with his dog, bumperpup. these are out of print, but you might be able to find them at your local library or at a used bookstore. also there are earlier self-published tales about bumperboy and bumperpup available on the author’s website.
flying beaver brothers (series) by maxwell eaton III: funny, slightly odd books about ace and bub, who are (you guessed it) beaver brothers who “fly” via giant sling-shots loaded with hang gliders.
hilda (series) by luke pearson: these have a magical, mystical element and occasionally hint at darker stories, but they always turn out to not actually be as scary and foreboding as originally suggested.
dragon puncher (with sequel!) by james kochalka: this one is completely bizarre and i didn’t “get it” at all until i read a review that pointed out that the author had authentically captured the type of play that really happens in backyards all the time. after reading that, this book (which the happy little dude has now memorized) makes total sense and is really kind of brilliant. also, fun to read dramatically. and there’s a sequel!
binky the space cat (series) by ashley spires: hilariously silly adventures of a cat who refers to anything outside his house as “outer space” and who feels compelled to protect his humans from the aliens (bugs).
odd duck by cecil castellucci and sara varon: sara varon has written several books that are sort of borderline okay for young readers. this is probably the most okay one? robot dreams (wordless) and bake sale are also mostly okay? here’s the thing–her books all feature very whimsical and friendly characters, but some of the underlying themes are really huge. odd duck addresses the concept of making assumptions about others and judging them and wanting to be your own person and…. all that might be somewhat lost on young readers, but they can enjoy the books anyway. reader beware that some of her titles (sweaterweather for instance) contain some more adult activities (like smoking) and should be previewed before sharing with children.
bird & squirrel by james burks: wacky antics of two friends, one of whom is a worrywart and the other who’s a daredevil. also has a sequel.
missile mouse by jake parker: these are a bit on the violent side for me, but the happy little dude loves them and i can live with them.
flight explorer vol. 1, ed. by kazu kibuishi: an anthology of short story comics by some excellent artists. there are other books in the “flight” series and the “explorer” series but some of those are really for older readers. flight explorer vol. 1 is much more friendly for young pre-readers.
the incredibles (graphic novel series based on the movie) by various authors: worth noting if you have a huge superhero fan in your house but you’re not crazy about the classic superhero comics. the happy little dude loves these more than i do, but i wanted to include them in the list anyway.
other notables (mostly untested on the boy, but all approved by me) include:
jim curious: a voyage to the heart of the sea by matthias picard :: a wordless book by a french author that comes with 3d glasses! (i was surprised by the lukewarm response to this book at my house. maybe you’ll have better luck with it?)
monster on the hill by rob harrell :: i previewed this one last night and can’t wait to share it with the happy little dude. it’s the surprising story of a town who wishes their monster were more fierce.
birdcatdog by lee nordling :: wordless book that tells the story of three animals. you can read a single animal’s (visual) storyline or read all the storylines at once to see how they intersect to tell the whole story. fascinating concept! curious to see if the happy little dude will enjoy it or not…
the emperor’s new clothes illus. by jeffrey stewart timmins :: the classic tale, told in the classic way, but with cartoony images in tea-stained tones. nicely done and perfectly appropriate for kids. glad to see there are also two other classic fairy tales in this series.
we’re looking forward to exploring more james kochalka works and the korgi series by christian slade very soon. when he’s working more on the actual reading-the-words part, i’m excited to introduce him to the “toon books” series at some point (i don’t want to show them to him now and have him memorize them before we can use them as incentive to learn to decipher all those letters!).
if you know of any other graphic novels that fit my picky descriptions and parameters above and that is not on this list, leave a note in the comments section. i’m always looking to discover more!
if you’re still not sure whether graphic novels count as “real” reading, read this.
I sort of dropped the ball on this and I’m just not going to have time to get him to do mini-video interviews for the rest of the titles, but in case you’re curious about the other apps that the Happy Little Dude plays all the time, here’s the list with a few notes (or caveats) by me:
#10–Monster at the end of this book: we both love this one. Great book-to-app adaptation.
#9–Toca Lab: We also both love this one. You get to experiment with different “elements” which are named the same thing as real elements and sit on a periodic table in the same position as the real elements and sort of “say their own name” with their odd little mumblings and cheeps, but they don’t always behave like the real elements. Lots of fun bits to discover, totally worth the investment.
#8–Toca Robot Lab: build your own robot, then send him through a maze, collecting stars. Simple, but gets a surprising amount of play.
#7 — Disco Fingers: I don’t really think he loves this one as much as he says he does (i pretty much never see him play it) but it was new when we were picking the top 12 and he likes the one “finger” that looks like a robo-cop and talks with an autotuned voice.
#6–Sago Mini Space Explorer: we both love everything by sago mini. it’s designed for younger children, but he still giggles out loud a lot while playing this one.
#5–Piiig Labs: more science experiment fun, without the mess!
#4– Kapu Blocks: build mix or match towers with silly blocks then watch the animations that occur when your tower is complete. Or just knock it down with the wrecking ball. Fun to pretend to be a crane operator!
#3–Inventioneers: you can read my raving review about this awesome app here.
#2–Mr. Potato Head: by the same developer as the Endless Apps (which he also loves, but which didn’t make it to this list for some reason?). I’ve been hesitant to recommend this one, but i’m not sure why…. the commercial tie-in, perhaps? It is one he’s spent tons of time playing. first, you get to put together a mr. potato head doll with whatever bits you want and then choose a scene for that doll to interact with. there are usually several very silly animations that go along with each scene and there is very frequent giggling and “hey mom, you gotta see this!” conversations when this app is in use.
#1–Disney’s Cars “AppMATes”: we bought this app to go along with a toy car made specifically for this app that one of his grandma’s gave him for his birthday. the toy car is lost, but you can still play by just holding your fingers on the screen as though they were holding a car. he likes it because of the movie tie-in, but also because (siiiiiigh) he can earn things like rocket launchers for his car and he can use it to shoot cacti. and then he earns “hubcaps” (the local currency in radiator springs, apparently) which he can then use to buy more gadgets for the car. there are many things i don’t really like about this app (see… pretty much everything above), but i will say that there is a strong and nicely developed map-reading element to the app that i can really appreciate.
so there you have it. maybe your kid will love some of these too? and maybe the negative bits i mentioned won’t bother you so much? what are the favorites at your house?
the funny part is that i distinctly remember giving myself permission to buy more gifts this year and not feel like i needed to make as many. ha! oh well, i loved making each of these gifts. these bowls were definitely the most time-consuming, but i actually chose the project because i like to have a yarn-based project to work on during long meetings and car rides, preferably one that doesn’t take too much thinking. this cute project fit the bill! although you have to pay attention while you’re crocheting the base (and increasing stitches at a regular rate), once you get the base to the size you want, crocheting the sides is pretty mindless. again, this project was discovered on pinterest, but with a few lazy, non-crocheter shortcuts for me (i mostly ignored any stitch instructions in the pattern and just did the whole thing in single crochet–no fancy border at the top or anything). it would probably look nicer if i’d actually taken the time to learn the other stitches and followed the pattern, but i honestly don’t think the little girls who received these sets (my niece and the happy baby herself) will care at all. in case you’re curious– i made one set with red as the largest and purple as the smallest (see above) and one set with purple as the largest and red as the smallest (see bottom photo below) so that i wouldn’t run out of the yarn used for the larger bowls. also, i don’t really recommend using this yarn for crochet–it’s quite splitty. but it does look all pretty, shiny, jewel-toned and it’s relatively cheap too!i got a text yesterday from my sister-in-law with this photo of the toy in action:
i saw this great idea on pinterest and decided to put my own spin on it and created this “monster maker kit” for my nephews. i tried it out and although i wasn’t wowed with the results (the evenness of the height of the glue makes a difference, fyi), the concept is solid and i think it will still provide a fun activity for two little boys who love to try out crafts. also, made from cereal boxes, hot glue and a set of restaurant crayons all tucked into a gallon-size zip-top plastic bag, this gift was practically free (shhhh! don’t tell!).
one of my favorite library projects this year was squishy circuits. the short description of this project is– use homemade playdough to conduct enough electricity to light up some led’s.
the longer description (and much more eloquent answer to the question, “why?”) can be found in this ted talk. lots more explanation of the “how” can be found at this website.
but if after following those links all you want to do is find out how you can make an awesome diy squishy circuits kit to give to all of your friends between the ages of 4-104, then this is the place for you! here is what i chose to include in each kit:
battery holder with wire leads. i chose the 4 aa battery size. the on/off switch was a nice feature, but you also need a screwdriver to open this one up to replace the batteries. i also included the batteries in the kit.
led lights. i chose the “party pack” for the best prices for the most lights. occasionally, some of the lights just don’t work or get blown out right away. it’s nice to have some back-ups. plus… party!
micro-vibration motor. this item was the trickiest to make work. might need a stronger battery pack to be really effective?
if i made more in the future, i’d also add some sort of buzzer. really, you can add any component you want, as long as it has a positive and negative lead and can run on whatever battery power you’re including in the kit.
round metal tin. i found mine at michael’s crafts, but can’t find it on their website. i actually would have preferred a square or rectangular tin, but could only find round, so that’s the shape i made my labels. if you don’t mind designing your own (or having round labels on a square tin) it doesn’t matter what size or shape your container is as long as all your materials fit inside.
printable instructions and dough recipes (i printed these on a full sheet of adhesive label, then peeled off the backing and folded the page in half so that the printing would be double-sided and sturdy. then i cut them out into an accordion-fold string of circles)
here’s a few photos of the kits in action (with a little help from grandpa):
a few years ago, i read a book called sadie and ratz to the happy little dude. it was a book about a girl who’d decided to name her hands “sadie” and “ratz.” her hands sometimes got into trouble, but it was never her fault–it was sadie and ratz’ fault! a few weeks later, the happy little dude’s hands got nicknames of their own. one was named “lloris” (where the “ll” sounds like a soft “dj” sound, as in spanish) and the other name took awhile to settle in, but eventually became beebeebobbi. after a few more weeks, both hands became simply, “the beebees.” interestingly enough, the hands of several of his best friends have also become nicknamed “the beebees,” especially when they are similarly misbehaving. but the beebees aren’t always naughty. sometimes they’re very helpful and rather chatty. here’s a sneak peek into the time they helped us to make a batch of pancakes.