Lunchbox Weighs In – Christmas Toy Review

We can’t let this whole toy review thing go without tiny Lunchbox getting a say, right? (And PS, Lunchbox isn’t tiny anymore… he’s six. I know, I can’t believe it either).

SO…drum roll please. The winning toy for a six year old boy? (At least THIS six-year old boy…) Was…

Not a toy at all. He is in LOVE with the Chomposaurus Dino Chair! Check this thing out… He literally carries it all over the house. He even tried to sleep in it on Xmas. The good thing is that it is lightweight, so having him haul it up and down the stairs has been, while not ideal, not a big problem, either. I’ll have to weigh in later on durability, but it’s been a big winner at our house! 🙂 chomp

Another big favorite was the Archiform building set. This thing can be reconstructed into a million configurations, and Lunchbox works on them while relaxing in his chompo-chair. We’ve put up and taken down several buildings since Xmas. My only complaint is that disassembly isn’t super easy, and the little tab in slot attachments have a tendency to snap if they are pulled too hard. That said, I think this will last us a while — good solid wood construction and big sturdy pieces for little hands. archiform

Another winner this year was the Bloco Toys Aqua and Pyro Dragon set. This was a construction project more than a toy, but it was exactly the right speed for Lunchbox. He needed some help, but he could put a lot of it together himself, which was great. bloco

I’m not gonna lie — both guys got a lot of stuff… but I’ll just talk about one more thing here. Lunchbox is a puzzling little character. And he likes puzzles. (so do I, so I’m always excited when there’s a new one to be done…) This year, he got the Janod Fireman Observation Puzzle. It was exactly the right speed for him, and it was extra cool because it was round. And, best of all, once it was assembled, it was a hidden picture puzzle! All the pictures appear around the edges of the puzzle and you have to find them in the middle once you’re done. Super fun! puzzle

I’ll add that I realize my boys are spoiled. The Major and I honestly don’t get them gifts… We usually will wrap up a couple things — never toys. This year we got them each a pair of winter shoes and a money bank… Not too exciting. We are blessed to have a big family that chooses to send gifts, and the little guys are learning to be grateful for what they have (though that is a hard lesson to teach… tips???)

I’ll leave off here… with a promise that I have rectified the over-green guestroom situation…  And a wish that all of your holidays were merry and bright!

Turbo’s Post-Christmas Toy Review

We have Christmased. Christmasted? There is no way to actually write that out. But I say it. It is done. We did it.

The gifts have been opened, and we’ve had three days of solid user testing–under harsh conditions, mind you–to report on.

Choosing toys for boys has always been both fun and challenging. I never know what to recommend to relatives to buy, because this stuff is all new to me. Not many of the toys available now were around when my brother and I were little, so it’s not like I have hands-on experience with stuff. And my guys aren’t quite big enough to come home from playdates with enough information about something they liked to actually ask for it.

So this year, every toy catalog that came home from October to December went straight into their hands. Armed with a pen, they circled and initialed everything that looked interesting to them. And then, in early December, I edited, creating a Pinterest board for each of them, and sent our army of relatives there to shop. It worked out pretty well, actually, even if it was a little labor intensive on my end.

I thought it might be helpful to offer up the end results — toy reviews from my little guys, who are pretty rough on toys. Today you get Turbo’s insights. Tomorrow, Lunchbox.

Best Xmas toy this year:
the Perplexus Original. perplexusTurbo is eight years old, and although this was sat upon and dented within twenty-four hours of being in his possession, it also kept his attention for long periods of time at a stretch, and he continues to pick it up and fiddle with it three days later. (Maybe this doesn’t seem impressive to you — maybe you have a different kind of eight year old boy than I do!)

Of course, we got lots of other cool stuff, too. This year Turbo wanted mostly things he could “work on” or do, which I’m all for. Except that Turbo wanted to do ALL the projects IMMEDIATELY. And needed help with most of them. So now we have many open boxes and pieces and parts scattered around. That’s a whole other issue, and not the fault of the toys.


This project, with the Major’s help, was completed right away:  The Smithsonian Motor-Works engine kit.

smithsonian motor worksI’m not exactly engine-savvy myself, but it was pretty cool.

He also received this: The Remote-Control Machines Animal Science Kit. remote control machinesI got to help with this one, and I have to tell you — the frustration level for the adult involved was pretty high. I’m a LEGO veteran, so even with that experience under my belt I found the instructions a little vague. That said, Turbo got up and danced around when we finally got our T-Rex’s legs put on correctly and he walked forward when Turbo pushed the button on the remote control. This one makes several animals (turns out the T-Rex is the hardest, of course), so I’m sure I have hours more fun ahead of me. 🙂

And then there was the Physics Workshop Kit. physics workshopI have honestly not gotten into this one at all, but Turbo had a little engine built all by himself in a matter of an hour or so, so I’m going to venture that the instructions are pretty good, even if you’re eight!

Wishing for a rest

Since having children life has changed.

I know that is a trite thing to say. Of course it has, you moron, you might be thinking… And of course, it has changed in all the ways people talk about. I’m tired. I’m busy. Things are messier and more chaotic.

But I’m so much more driven. Because, you see, once you have children, you have goals. I have two goals, because I have two sons. My goals are similar. To see these small humans through successfully to adulthood. These goals are stressful. To me, at least. And they are manifested and pursued in different ways for each of my sons. And that is hard, too.

I look at parents with almost-grown boys and marvel. I shake my head and wonder if they know something I don’t. I wonder if they are wiser or calmer or more intuitive than I am, that they could have managed the enormous feat of raising a boy to near-adulthood successfully. I think of this especially when I see the almost-adult boy doing respectable, polite things. Being cordial and sweet, charming and gracious. I wonder about the people who raised him. How did they manage it?

I am trying. And I am terrified.

One of my sons makes it easier than the other. One of them seems content to just grow up, and I get to hug him and cuddle him and love him along the way. For him, it seems like growing up is just happening. The other wants to fight. He wants to fight me, he wants to fight his peers, but I think mostly he tries to fight himself. He wants to be bigger than he is, older and more mature. He wants to fight time and chronology. And growing up for him seems to be a struggle. And so it’s stressful for me. I lose patience, I get angry. And I constantly ask myself if I’m screwing it all up. If I’m screwing him up. If I’m doing anything right at all.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, this child-having. And I know that this stress will not leave me as long as they live in my house. And probably not then. But my goal right now is just to raise them to adulthood. To have two grown, stable men stand next to me and call me “mom.” To know that they are secure and strong, and that I have met my goal – that I can finally hand the responsibility over to them. That I can rest.

And sometimes, I swear, all I want to do is lie down.

Second Thoughts…

Ergh. I think I have buyer’s remorse. I was so charmed by my own stenciled wall that when I went to find curtains, I might have gone overboard. Grey, I went in saying. I just need some light-blocking simple grey panels.

But then I saw these…


And I pulled the trigger. They were at Overstock! On sale! And so green and trellisy…

But next to this?


Maybe too much. Someone hold me. It’s too much, isn’t it? Tell me it will be okay. No, no, I know. Plain grey would have been so much better.

They come later this week. I’ll figure it out then. Stay tuned…I know you can hardly contain the excitement!

Lattice Stencil in the Guest Room

Perfectionism be damned, I have stenciled a wall!

Though I haven’t gotten around to posting the photographic evidence, I originally tried my hand at stenciling in our dining room. The hubs came to inspect the finished product and wasn’t completely in love with it. And by not completely in love, he said something like, “I don’t think I can live with this.” Here’s what that looked like:


It was kind of busy, maybe. And the silvery tone was a bit much. But mostly, he didn’t like that it looked “hand done.” Because, you know… it was, uh, hand done. And hard. And time consuming. But the dining room is another story for another day. Today is a day to talk about the GUEST Room.


This is the before… The walls were neutral, but had patches all over them from the previous owners, and lots of scuff marks from furniture being moved in and out. So I picked up some Churchill Hotel Navajo White  and painted the whole room. Though painting neutrals is a little boring, it was super satisfying to see the marks disappear and the whole room looked brighter. (I love painting!)

Once I’d finished that, I took off all the painters tape and focused on the wall behind the bed. I taped the whole wall off, including the ceiling (learned this the hard way on the last stencil project!)

I had a stencil from Royal Design Stencils that was a nice clean allover trellis pattern (I learned from my last effort that a simpler pattern would make me happier).

This time I decided to try using spray adhesive. I didn’t use any last time, and positioning was a challenge. I used thisIMG_1738

And it was SO MUCH EASIER. I sprayed the whole back of the stencil outside and then carried it up to position on the wall. I only had to reapply the adhesive twice to do the whole wall, and I probably could’ve gotten away without doing it at all. No residue left over, and a great tight bond when I was working!

Here’s the first one I did, starting in the lower corner of the wall:


And here’s what it looked like after a few more got laid in. It was tricky lining it up, and by the end, my wall actually crept up a bit to the left, but it was barely noticeable. When the hubs came to look at the finished product, he had only nice things to say!IMG_1734

Here’s what it looked like when I’d finished the whole wall. I had to go back up to the top and put in a partial piece, and then I went back with the Navajo White and touched up the spots where things bled or I got a bit carried away. Honestly, there was very little bleeding at all.


I need to hang some curtains, get a nice guest chair and a proper bedside table, and we’ll be all ready for guests! (I guess it might look nicer if I actually made the bed…) I think that maybe the lamp will get a new shade, too…

For now, the room is ready for our Christmas guest! (Who is an interior designer, though one who is too polite to tell me she doesn’t like what I’ve done!)

Hold me…

What the hell was I thinking? In about two weeks, the guest room will need to hold an actual guest. So today I decided it should get painted.

In fairness, I decided this a while ago if we’re going to get technical. And then I procrastinated.

Cuz that is what I do.

Remember the headboard? That is still attached with just one screw because I had some, uh, issues attaching it? Well, it makes it significantly harder to get the bed away from the wall to paint. Because of the not-being-attached properly thing. And also just because it is bigger. And more unwieldy. And stuff.

So here’s the plan — I’m taking the green paint that the hubs wouldn’t let me use in the front room, and stenciling it on the wall behind the bed. (this despite my previous stencil FAIL, which I have not posted because it is part of the dining room debacle, and that will be several posts, and did you know it is Christmastime??) But I can’t do the feature wall until I’ve repainted the whole room my favorite neutral Navajo White… and that’s really no fun at all, painting neutral. So I’ve put it off. Like forever. But this weekend? We’re getting some white on up in this place.

I know. It isn’t exciting, no matter how you talk about it. I’ll post the exciting photos of the white walls when I’m done. Yay.

(I did, however get to do some caulking where the trim had separated from the walls, and that is always fun. Mostly because of how you get to talk about it later at work. I like to tell people, “so last night, I was playing with the caulk up in the guest bedroom…” Use your imagination. “I’m a master of caulk,” I say. “You have to just smooth the caulk out, in just the right way…” you get the idea… Sorry.) Okay, signing off now. Apologies all around.

Slowing down the Christmas Crazy

The last few months have been crazy. I once had a small non-stressful contract with a digital publisher that never pushed too hard for crazy revision or overnight edits, and self-published on a somewhat ridiculous schedule… but then I signed with an agent. And while that has been a relief in some ways, it brings a completely different kind of stress. Now I feel like it’s been FOREVER since I’ve had a release, but I’m working twice as hard behind the scenes.

And things are not getting done.

And my kids are growing up so fast.

And a lot of days I wonder if maybe I’m being selfish, trying to get this dream launched when I should be present. And available. And not stressed out because I’m trying to do ALL the things.

But I think I’m too selfish to wait. It took me almost 40 years to get the guts to follow my dreams (I think about 35 of those were spent figuring out what my dreams actually were! Okay, maybe five of them were spent just having fun and running around NYC with my girlfriends…)

Right now I have a book to revise. And there’s a part of me that wants to run around with my hair on fire and get it done right effing now. Because that’s kind of how I am about everything. But the problem with that is that I have so many other PLANS. I want to finish the guest room before Christmas. I want to redecorate the front room… I want to make curtains for the front room. I want to continue nagging the hubs to hang our new dining table light and to set up the home gym in the basement. (Because it turns out I’m supposed to like, exercise, sometimes.)

But for a little while, I’m trying to just BE. To be a mom. To be a person who loves the holidays. To be a grateful wife who knows that these days will not last. More crazy and crisis will come our way. Christmas is only a short time — a month, really, if I get the tree up soon after Thanksgiving. And I know it’s just shiny lights and jingly bells, and that isn’t what the season is about.

But you know what? Those fleeting shiny decorations are representative of so much more to me. They are joy and light, innocence and peace. The sheer mad helpless excitement that my children feel during this month is priceless — and like the season, it is fleeting. I know that they won’t be eight and six forever. Cynicism will set in (after all, they are my kids). And soon the magic will fade. Reindeer won’t fly anymore, Santa will be just a guy in a cheap velour track suit with an unconvincing beard. No one will be wildly excited about a candy cane or beg to help me set up my little village. The glitter will be just shiny dust, and while they’ll always love the tree (because they are my kids), they’ll turn to being excited about different things. Material things.

And so I’m going to pause in my frantic efforts on the publishing treadmill. I’m going to get the book back to my agent in a timely fashion… but before I do, I’m going to hold my children on my lap and read the holiday books they bring home from school. I’m going to light a fire, pour hot chocolate and talk to them about their stockings, muse about where the elf might pop up next, and plan what little treats to stick behind tomorrow’s door on our advent tree. I’m going to take this month and live with my beautiful family, basking in the knowledge that what we have now is good. Is magic.

And this tree–my shiny glowing Christmas tree–makes me think of all of that. I’m sharing it with you in hopes that you will remember to slow down and reflect a little bit this month, too. IMG_1726