The alternative gift guide (for some specific types of 7-and-unders)

1. For the siblings who want to play a game together but can’t sit still (or there’s a toddler in the mix): Chameleon Crunch Game

The object: to throw bugs into the chameleon’s mouth, which opens and closes at random. For added action, the chameleon moves around a bit (and says a couple of phrases). Both my kids (ages 5 and 22 months) love playing this. They had fun playing this with their 3-year-old cousin, too.


2. For the on-trend kid: Furby

It’s ba-ack! And it’s one of the hot toys of the season, no less.


3. For the anal-retentive Legoist: Lego Sort & Store

Shake, shake, shake, and your Legos get sorted by size into different trays. Now if you could just hack a Roomba to pick them up off the floor first….


4. For the DIY diva: Fancy Nancy Sticky Mosaics Fancy Tiaras

The tiaras turn out pretty snazzy! Warning: You and other family members will be expected to wear the creations.


5. For the kid who just can’t wait to take driver’s ed: Drive Time Street Signs

For the driveway, or, in our case, for the kitchen. Whichever.


6. For the budding magician: My First Magic Set (with DVD Instructions)

We got this for Nica’s birthday, along with a hat and cape. She now performs full magic shows in front of audiences (she’s very picky about which audiences, though—she got it like that). The included DVD doesn’t quite jibe with the items in the set, but Archie and Nica figured it out. Archie is her “lovely assistant” during her performances.


7. For the kid who has everything except maybe a street named after him: Personalized sign à la Sesame Street

Adorable! Great for a luxe birthday party or for room décor.


8. For the Barbie lover who’s interested in her culture and maybe other people’s too: Dolls of the World (pictured, Princess of South Africa Barbie)

We got Nica the Princess of the Korean Court Barbie, because she’s getting more curious about her ethnicity and feeling some Korean pride these days.

9. For the kid who likes to touch gross stuff in the name of science: Scientific Explorer’s Sci-fi Slime Science Kit

This is so in Ham’s future.


10. For the baby with jokester parents: Buff Baby: Dumbbell Rattle

I totally would’ve gotten this for Ham when he was an infant. Because he was enormous, and it would’ve been hilarious. Damn!


11. For the music lover who loves to build stuff, too: Quercetti Saxoflute

This is a cool toy the kids’ aunt and uncle got for them. Both Ham and Nica enjoyed making different wind instruments. I did not enjoy washing out the saliva afterward. But, you know, that’s just me.


12. For the kid who can’t decide which (s)he loves more, Angry Birds or Star Wars: Angry Birds Star Wars Fighter Pods AT AT Attack


Angry Birds Star Wars 5″ Plush

This is on the list because, come on! This is bizarre! Yet strangely cute.

Hurricane games

Sandy blew through our town last week. We didn’t have power for a couple of days, and the kids’ colds got worse without heat, but compared to many other families’ situations in New Jersey, this was nothing, and we are grateful we got off so easy.

One of the most amazing things about children is that despite what is going on—whether it be wind and rain or the cancellation of Halloween or the loss of electricity—they are compelled to continue playing. No matter how dark the house or how scary-sounding the wind outside or how worried-looking the adults, they will scrounge up some fun and insist on merriment. So, while on one hand it is more stressful to have little ones to worry about and take care of during times of emergency, on the other it is such a blessing to have pint-size party people around and be able to hear so much [unironic, unhysterical] laughter during those times.

The blackout inspired much flashlight play, of course, and “picnics” consisting of culinary odds and ends and random junk food. The sounds of wind and rain got Nica started on some tall tales that ended up scaring her. Ham somehow didn’t even seem to notice the pitch-dark conditions; he continued playing with his toys even without a flashlight. Is he a nocturnal creature? That would explain so much.

In the afternoons, while Ham took his nap, Nica played some board games with Archie and me. Two that Nica really enjoyed were Guess Who? and the Disney version of the Pretty Pretty Princess Dress-Up Board Game, both of which Nica had recently received as birthday gifts.

The object of Guess Who? is to guess correctly the person or animal your opponent has in mind, by asking questions to try to eliminate those that are not The One. The pictures of the suspects are behind open doors, and as you eliminate suspects, you close their doors until hopefully you end up with one open door.


The game is sort of annoying to assemble and the parts are cheaply made, but once play gets going, it’s pretty fun. After a couple of games—plus one bratty preschooler display of sore-loserness and subsequent parental lecture about good sportsmanship—Nica got quite good at coming up with questions that would effectively eliminate many suspects from the running.

The Pretty Pretty Princess Dress-Up Board Game ingeniously combines standard board-game play (each person gets a piece to move around a board, a spinner tells you to move a certain number of spaces, and you do whatever the space you land on tells you to do) with a little girl’s greed for bling + her love of dressing up.


The object of the game is to be the first to wear all the pieces of jewelry in your assigned color plus the crown. We had a lot of fun playing this. At least, Nica and I did.


Happyland, Part 4: The Dramatic and Extensive Conclusion

Happyland Airport was packed with people. Some waited for plane rides out of the valley, and some were staying put until they felt they could return to town. The arrival of Juneberry and Spot caused quite a stir at first. As they passed people, Juneberry could hear them whispering.

Juneberry was thrilled to see that Ruby had reunited with her family. Lara and Tracy caught up with some old friends. 

Dr. Pelt’s patients found their owners, or the owners found them.

Even though some adults paced about with worry or stood frozen with indecision or fear, all the children welcomed the change in routine and found the whole experience to be great fun. Tracy gave them as much cherry pie as they could eat, and Michael entertained them. Juneberry enjoyed being around the children very much.

Juneberry had been watching the children play for quite some time when someone’s rude shove startled her. “Ow!” she said, but the pushy man just walked by her. He approached Michael. “You made it!” he said, with open arms. Michael stared at him in disbelief, and then—pow!—he punched him on the nose. The man fell down. Everyone went silent with shock.

Michael looked at Juneberry and said, “That’s my business partner, Carl.” “Oh,” Juneberry said. Even though she did not approve of such violent behavior, she could understand Michael’s anger. She wasn’t quite sure how she should feel about it all. She made a mental note to ask Father about it someday. However, unlike Juneberry, Ruby was quite sure about how she felt about it. She was very upset. “How could you do such a thing in front of the children!” she said, taking Michael’s arm and dragging him away. But Michael seemed pretty pleased with himself.

Everyone began to whisper about Michael and Carl, and some parents were very displeased with Michael’s behavior. But it was all forgotten at once, because everyone’s attention turned to the sky. “It’s the ship! The alien ship!” people cried. “Run for cover!” It was the ship! Juneberry gasped; she could feel her heart in her throat! 

A very loud voice from the ship said: “People of Happyland! Do not be alarmed! I repeat, do not be alarmed! We mean you no harm. Please allow us to land. We will not hurt you!” Then there were more loud noises: the sound of a helicopter and, much farther away, a plane. Another loud voice, coming from the helicopter, said: “Residents of Happyland! The extraterrestrials do not mean any harm! Please stand clear! We are landing!” Some people did run away, but most made room for the aircraft and then stood their ground; like Juneberry, they simply had to satisfy their curiosity.

The ship landed very gracefully on the ground. The helicopter touched down on the helicopter pad. There was a hush as the aliens emerged from their ship. And, to everyone’s surprise, they were accompanied by a human in a spacesuit! And another man in a spacesuit climbed out of the helicopter. The two aliens were very strange-looking; they had three eyes, for one thing! Some people screamed; a couple fainted; and some, like Juneberry, felt exhilarated.

The men in spacesuits stood protectively in front of the aliens. The one in yellow addressed the crowd: “Citizens of Happyland, I am Dr. Soyuz, director of HASA, the Happyland Aeronautics and Space Alliance. This is Dr. Mendez, chief officer of HASA’s Astrobiology division. I know that until now you have not been aware of our existence, nor of the existence of extraterrestrial lifeforms. We have been gathering data for decades, but for security reasons our missions were executed as clandestine operations and our findings classified Top Secret. Recently we successfully made contact with extraterrestrial representatives of a planet we have named Sindri, which effected a visitation from this small delegation. Sindrians are peaceful beings—I repeat, they are peaceful beings—and we have reason to believe that the Sindrian attack was provoked.”

The sound of the third craft, a plane, came closer and closer, interrupting Dr. Soyuz’s speech. “Move away from the runway!” someone shouted, and everyone cleared a path. It was Sebastian’s plane! He landed the plane and jumped out.

“Sebastian! Over here!” shouted Juneberry. Sebastian found her in the crowd. “I… I can’t believe this! Is this real?” he said. To Dr. Soyuz he yelled, “Um, sorry for the interruption, sir!”

Dr. Soyuz cleared his throat and continued. “We have not yet gained fluency in the Sindrian language, but via bilateral pictorial communications we have surmised that the Sindrian attack was instigated by a theft of some kind.” Juneberry, like everyone else, was shocked. Theft? What could a human possibly steal from these aliens? “It was me,” said a voice from the edge of the crowd. People turned and craned their necks to see who was speaking. It was Mr. Kindling! Juneberry and Lara looked at each other. The strange man from the toy store!

“It was me. I stole it,” said Mr. Kindling. “What did you steal?” someone shouted. Mr. Kindling walked to the back of his van and brought something out. “This,” he said. It was a robot!

The aliens began screaming with excitement, which caused some distress in the crowd. “Residents of Happyland, please remain calm,” said Dr. Soyuz. “The sound you are hearing is the Sindrian language. Please remain calm.” The robot stomped happily over to the aliens, who patted his head and scratched his back. “Aw, it’s their pet!” one of the kids yelled out. Dr. Soyuz and Dr. Mendez both looked very surprised, then began nodding furiously and whispering to each other. “Yes, that’s it! The robot is their pet!” someone said. Another said, “Yeah, if someone stole my dog, I’d be mad too!” Murmurs of understanding and relief swept through the cluster of Happylanders. “Wait a minute, but Kindling stole their pet!” someone shouted. “Why did you do it, Kindling?” Mr. Kindling faced the aliens, who were now standing up straight and glaring at him with a total of six eyes.

“I am truly sorry,” Mr. Kindling said, first to the aliens and then to his fellow humans. “I… I found him in the bushes behind my store. I guess he must’ve gotten away from his owners for a second. I saw him and thought, ‘Wow, that is one magnificent toy.’ I was suddenly gripped with the desire to own him, to comprehend how he worked. I wanted to build others like him. I figured it would make me the most celebrated toymaker in history.” Mr. Kindling began to weep. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone! I am so sorry! I hope no one was hurt…. I will rebuild the destroyed buildings myself, brick by brick, even if it takes the rest of my life!” Juneberry felt very sorry for him. “I’ll help you!” she found herself saying. Shyly, she turned to the crowd. “I mean, no one really was hurt, maybe only one person and only a little bit, really… and well, we all make mistakes, don’t we. I think it must be very difficult to come up with new toys all the time, and maybe business wasn’t going too well… and then the Sindrians, well, we can all understand how scared and angry they must’ve felt when they found out we stole their most beloved pet! I know I would be, if someone stole Spot!”

The aliens seemed to confer with Dr. Soyuz, who provided them with pen and paper. They drew something and showed him what they had drawn. Then he drew something and showed them. They all nodded. Dr. Soyuz turned to the crowd again. “The Sindrians will contribute their efforts in rebuilding the town of Happyland.” A few people clapped. Some were still resentful of the aliens, but just about everyone was relieved that the mystery was solved and they could return to their homes.


The coming months brought much change to Happyland and its inhabitants. All citizens of Happyland—plus visitors such as Juneberry, the bakers and the Sindrians—worked together to rebuild the structures that had been destroyed. Certain individuals such as Carl and Mr. Kindling volunteered to work every day on the all-night shift as a penance for their wrongdoings. In time, most people forgave them. People were very quick in embracing the fairy and her caterpillar, for they soon saw that she was a delightful girl and that Spot was a loyal and gentle pet. And, after working side by side with the Sindrians for weeks and weeks, most Happylanders came to respect them for their strong work ethic and kindness, which was communicated even without a common language.

Juneberry stayed in Happyland to help on the work sites and with anything else that the town needed her to do; sometimes this involved caring for children while their parents worked, or helping Dr. Pelt with his patients. She often told her friends that she missed her family, and wondered when she would see them again. She hadn’t quite made up her mind whether she would return home or whether she’d stay in Happyland.

Sebastian only worked on the construction sites for a day or two before he took his plane and left town. Juneberry and the bakers were sorry to see him go, but he promised to come back soon. In the meantime, life in Happyland returned to—well, if not normal, then a new normal. People had a different attitude now: They became somewhat more serious about life, less carefree; but at the same time, they also became more appreciative of everything they had, especially their friends and family, and they learned that they were not alone in the world. A few Happylanders had a difficult time adjusting to this knowledge and felt much fear, but most regarded it as the entrance to a new life with more possibilities and more excitement.

The townspeople and the Sindrians finished the construction in record time. The Sindrians bid farewell to the Happylanders. To everyone’s surprise, Dr. Soyuz announced that he would be leaving with them to explore their planet; just as Juneberry had before leaving her home, he, too, knew he would never forgive himself if he missed out on this adventure.

Soon after that, the hospital and post office reopened, and school officially started. The children were excited to resume their studies and loved the new school building. Ms. Hart, the schoolteacher, asked Juneberry to help her with the children, because her former assistant had been one of the people who had fled after the attacks. Juneberry was happy to help out while she tried to decide once and for all whether she should go back home or stay in town.

She was at the school when she heard a familiar voice call her name. She turned and was shocked to see who it was. “Father!” she exclaimed. Mr. Fairy hugged his daughter tight. “Oh, Juneberry, how I’ve missed you,” he said. “I’ve missed you too,” Juneberry said. “Children, Ms. Hart, this is my father, Mr. Fairy!”

Ms. Hart told Juneberry she was free to leave for the day. Juneberry said good-bye to her and the children, then said to her father,”I can’t believe you came all this way! How did you get here?” Mr. Fairy smiled. “Come with me. You’re going to love this.” He took her outside. Parked on the street was the most darling car Juneberry had ever seen!

“Wow! Where did you get this, Father?” Juneberry asked. “Your friend Sebastian made it,” said Mr. Fairy. “What? Sebastian? He made this whole car?” “Yes, he’s quite handy with machines. He made his own plane! Oh, but of course you know all about that.” Juneberry was amazed. “So that’s where he’s been all this time! Did he come with you?” “No. Some of the Happylanders have come looking for us, I guess after meeting you and finding out about fairies. Several want to settle down in the forest, away from the town. So, Sebastian is helping them build houses.” Juneberry marveled at how much was changing, not just in Happyland but all over! Before she could comment on it to her father, she heard a very manly voice say, “Do my eyes deceive me?” They turned around to see Mr. Ferry, who oversaw all construction in Happyland and with whom Juneberry had worked closely for months. “Steven!” Mr. Fairy exclaimed, and embraced Mr. Ferry. “Brian,” said Mr. Ferry. Both men had tears in their eyes. “You… know each other?” said Juneberry, utterly confused. Her father nodded his head, wiping his tears. “Yes, Juneberry. It’s part of the reason I came to visit. I mean, I missed you, too, of course, but when Sebastian told me everything that had happened and how strong you were through it all and how well you liked it here, well… I felt I needed to tell you some things.”

Mr. Fairy smiled at Mr. Ferry and put his arm on his shoulder. “This is my cousin, Steven.” “What? Mr. Ferry, you’re my relative?” Juneberry said, wide-eyed. Mr. Ferry looked just as shocked. “This is your daughter, Brian? But she’s a…” “A fairy, yes,” said Mr. Fairy. “You see, Juneberry, I was born and raised in Happyland. But I grew tired of life here in town. I wanted to live in nature. So, when I was old enough, I said good-bye to everyone I knew and left for good. I lived alone in the woods until I met the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen. Your mother. She was a fairy, of course, which was unexpected, and for her it was unexpected that I was a human.” Juneberry gasped. “You’re a human?” Mr. Ferry laughed. “My dear girl, haven’t you ever noticed that your father has no wings to speak of?” It was true! She had never noticed that before! “Um, I guess I thought boy fairies didn’t have wings…” she said, more embarrassed than she had ever been in her life. The two men laughed. “Well,” Juneberry said, fluttering her wings, “I guess this explains why I can’t fly. I… I’m half human!” “Don’t feel sheepish, Juneberry. There’s no way you could’ve known about me, because I never told you,” said Mr. Fairy. And I never told you because it never mattered. As soon as your mother and I married, I changed the spelling of my name, changed the way I dressed, the way I thought, everything. I totally embraced fairy culture, and I was truly happy for the first time in my life. When your mother died, well, it seemed even more important to raise you girls strictly in the fairy way.”

That night, Mr. Fairy and Juneberry stayed at Mr. Ferry’s house. Mr. Ferry had never married but had built himself a big house, so there was plenty of space. The cousins talked all evening and through the night, catching up on decades’ worth of stories. Juneberry listened for as long as she could, but finally got so sleepy she had to excuse herself and go to bed. The next day, Juneberry introduced her father to all the new friends she had made. Some of the older Happylanders remembered her father and were thrilled to see him again. Juneberry could see in her father’s face that he was reliving many memories, both happy and sad.

Mr. Fairy stayed in town for three days to catch up with everyone he knew and to spend time with Juneberry. At last, he felt it was time to get back to Juneberry’s sisters. He had left Honeywell in charge while he was gone, and he was worried about how the household was being run. The morning Mr. Fairy was to return home, Juneberry said to him, “Father, I… I won’t be going with you.” He smiled. “Oh, I know that, Juneberry.” “How do you know that?” she asked. He patted her hand. “You are my daughter, after all.” She smiled at her father, then shed a tear. She was grateful to him for understanding, but also felt very sad that she wouldn’t see him for a long time.

“Ready to go?” said Mr. Ferry, whom Juneberry now called Uncle Steve (even though really he was her cousin, once removed). “Oh, are you going with Father?” she asked. Uncle Steve shook his head at Mr. Fairy. “Don’t you tell this girl anything?” he said, and jumped into his truck. “Well, Juneberry,” said her father, “you are to live here, with Uncle Steve. You can’t live in your friends’ camper forever.” “Oh, how kind of Uncle Steve to let me live here,” Juneberry said. Her father gave her a kiss on the cheek and said, “And Uncle Steve will be coming to stay with me and your sisters for a while. He needs to get acquainted with his cousins, and they with him. And, Juneberry,” he added, “the car your friend Sebastian made? It’s yours. He actually made it for you, not me. I only delivered it here. He built the car for you so that you may visit your family from time to time.” Juneberry squealed with joy. “Yes, Father, I will visit as soon as the school lets out for break!”

And that’s what she did. A couple of months later, when the schoolchildren had a weeklong vacation, she drove the little car to the boot house. And, wouldn’t you know it, there were more surprises waiting for her.


(All sets except runway by Nica)