Book Review: Ivy & Bean (and a Potential Giveaway!)

E has a new love, the Ivy & Bean books by Anne Barrows (amazon affiliate link – this is actually on my list of things to get E for a gift, it is the first three books plus a book that acts as a little treasure box for just 3 dollars more than the first book).  There are eight books in the series (amazon affiliate link). We haven’t gotten through all the series yet but the first book had me bursting into laughter as I read aloud.  Now, there are reviews online that get all uppity about the main plot of the book, complaining about the presence of “witchcraft” in the little girls’ pretend play but we had no problems with it.  There were a few things I glossed over a little bit – some details about using a frogs and worms for spells but I just did that because E is only 3.  Oh, and one or two slang words that aren’t yet in E’s vocabulary.

The story is of two girls on the same cul-de-sac and they each assume one another is boring.  That is, until they get to know one another and have wonderful, imaginative adventures.  The illustrations are inhabited by the words, which I love, and it makes some of the written descriptions less detailed – a boon for reading aloud.

The part that had me laughing the hardest (spoiler alert, by the way) was when Ivy and Bean see Bean’s crying sister through a window.  Bean starts to think about all the things her sister has done for her, kind things that only sisters can do (I’m both a big and little sister in our family so I love the sister interplay).  The reader starts to think Bean will feel a change of heart and not go ahead with her dastardly plan, and I think that if this was one of those books written more for adults than for kids that would be the case, but there is no moralizing here!  Bean realizes her sister is crying for a reason unrelated to worrying about her younger sister and gets mad as well as even.  The pacing in the scene is perfect.  I don’t think that a young girl reading the book would start playing pranks on her siblings just because it happened in a book, E really related more to the fun friendship Ivy and Bean have.

One side note, though.  Some of the things they do are things I don’t think kids can do today in their neighborhoods such as climb through neighbors’ backyards.  E and I talked about this as we read, probably just me over-lawyering things.  She now says in reference to rules, by the way, “that’s not the rule in the law!”  When have I ever said that?  Well, maybe I have told her seatbelts are mandated by the law but what does that have to do with not putting your feet on the table?


Ivy and Bean is a series from Chronicle Books – I have been following them on Twitter and they announced a neat contest.  I pick and list $500 worth of books from their site and if I win, I get all of the ones I selected, one commenter on this post gets all the books, AND the charity of my choice does too.  So, three sets of books!  I knew what I wanted to do was give them to my sister in law’s kindergarten class at Kenilworth Elementary in Phoenix, AZ: Here’s their blog. My sister in law spends her own money on books for her students, as do most teachers. We try to help buy supplies for her class, too. Last year she had 38 pupils!  If for some reason the rules don’t let me give it directly to the class, I’d give them to the school library.  It got me thinking that I should let her pick what books she’d want.  Here was her reply: “I LOVE spending imaginary money.”

Here are the books that YOU, Kenilworth, and yours truly could win:

Over and Under the Snow  $16.99

Winter’s Night Pop-Up Advent Calendar  $10.99

The Conductor  $18.95

What Puppies Do Best  $14.99

A Butterfly Is Patient  $16.99

The Woods  $16.99

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site  $16.99

Twelve Dancing Princesses  $16.99

The Big Wish  $16.99

Press Here  $14.99

His Shoes Were Far Too Tight  $16.99

Amazing Animals: Cheetahs  $5.99

Amazing Animals: Dolphins  $5.99

Amazing Animals: Elephants  $5.99

Amazing Animals: Wolves  $5.99

Out of Sight  $19.99

Eight Winter Nights  $16.99

The Story of Little Red Riding Hood  $18.99

Lots of Dots  $15.99

Chicken Big  $16.99

Shadow  $15.99

Day & Night  $14.99

One Too Many  $16.99

Sylvia Long’s Thumbelina  $17.99

Chicken Scratches  $14.99

Amazing Animals: Parrots  $5.99

There Was an Old Lady  $16.99

Eye-Popping 3-D Pets  $19.99

Creature ABC  $19.99

Spot the Plot  $15.99

Dinosaurs Roar, Butterflies Soar!  $16.99

Nana Cracks the Case!  $14.99

Animals Marco Polo Saw  $16.99

Little Oink  $14.99


So, do you want to give it a shot and enter?  If you have a blog, just post your pick list and submit it on the Happy Haulidays site but you should also comment here.  You can say whatever you like, if you need an idea, let me know your favorite imaginary game when you were a kid.  Who knows, worth a try, right?  And this list was selected by a fabulous kindergarten teacher so you know they’ll be great books for your little one(s).  I’ll be tweeting the link to this post for extra entries.

Contest ends 12/2/11!


On the subject of reviews, here are some of my latest ones on!

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

Book Recommendations for Two Year Olds (for the occasion of’s second anniversary!)

2010-2012 Subaru Outback vs. 2009-2011 Honda Pilot (A Tale of Two Vehicles)

I had no idea people were supposed to announce to their friends that they had a new car.  It reminds me of the part in one of my favorite movies, Fiddler on the Roof (amazon affiliate link), where a tailor gets a new sewing machine and the whole town calls it a “new arrival” as if it was a baby.  I will meet up with friends and, upon noticing my car, they’ll remark “you have a new car, why didn’t you tell me?”  So, consider this a PSA: let people know when a car joins your family.

We got our 2010 Subaru Outback before R was born.  We needed at least one reliable car and all we had were my 2003 Hyundai Accent (we later gave that to my Mom) and my husband’s Dodge Intrepid (story here).  We shopped around and my husband bought one in Colorado for a lot cheaper than here in Vegas.  The dealer here was rude and would not even come close to matching the price we were getting in Colorado.  Not a fan of the dealer here for other reasons as well in our later interactions with them but I think car dealers in Vegas on the whole are just not worth your time.

After the Dodge quit, we bought our 2011 Honda Pilot a little closer to home (no need to fly!), in Arizona.  Again, local dealers would not match to the price we were getting out of state (feigning disbelief).  Why write about both cars?  I think that our experiences are useful and it has been a while since my husband guest posted.

Without further ado…


These vehicles aren’t in the same class, I know.  But, my out the door price for the 2010 Subaru 3.6R (six-cylinder engine adds a few grand) was almost exactly $1000 less than my V6-standard Honda pilot.  So what did I get for that $1000?  Well, fewer miles per gallon, by about 3 mpg real world in the city.  But I don’t really worry about that … it’s a few bucks a week accounting for how much we drive.  I still have both vehicles.  The Honda is my wife’s, but mine on the weekend.  The Subaru is my daily driver.

What benefit did I get in the Honda for my $1000?

— A road-trip vehicle that will comfortably hold me, my wife, my mom, two car seat babies, and a week’s worth of food and clothes.  My Subaru will not do this because it’s about 10 inches narrower in the second row, as well as shorter and stouter.

— A very smooooooth ride.  The Subaru over a speed bump: front=plop, rear=SMASH;  The Honda: front=swoosh, rear=swoosh.  The Honda is unbelievably level in turns, unlike the Subaru that leans noticeably. To be fair, neither is Cadillac smooth over rough roads.

–More local dealers.  There is one Subaru dealer in Vegas and frankly I’m not impressed.  There are four Honda dealers in Vegas, so if one can’t get the job done, I’ll move next door.

— The Honda has no puzzling stall-at-stop-light issue, which has happened twice to the Subaru and cannot be solved. (See: You Tube Video of one of our issues with the Subaru)

— Third row seats. We call this our “people hauler.” There are LATCH car seat anchors in both back rows (five total).  Third row seats are not available in the Outback (not surprising considering it’s based on a sedan platform).

— Rear vents, second and third row – if you have kids this is especially for making sure they are warm or cool enough in their carseats. The second-row vents have separate controls as well though it is hard to see/adjust them from the driver’s seat.

— Door locks are automatic and user-definable.  They lock when I drive, unlock when I stop and put the transmission in park.  There are no automatic door lock on the 2010 Outback, though I’m not sure if this has been added for the 2011 or 2012 model years.  

— Paint job is a few paces ahead of the Subie.  Subie paint is painfully thin and chips easily.  My Mother ran a shopping cart into the Pilot.  A dent resulted, but the paint remained intact, allowing for a paintless repair.  However, the Pilot has been the victim of several rock chips, a problem I haven’t seen nearly as frequently with the Subaru.

— Tow hitch is standard.  Subie will tow 3500lbs, but the hitch install is a huge job and is optional on every trim line.

— Start “button” ignition, i.e. hit the key and release.  I thought this was silly but now I LOVE this and it has ruined me!  What sucker still holds a key???  However, I’m sure I’ll dislike this when the car is older and doesn’t start as reliably.

— Substantially longer maintanence periods.  Subie wanted a 3,750 mile first oil change, for example.  The Pilot has a “maintence minder” that dictates oil changes according to actual vehicle use.  Some people are reporting 8,000 – 10,000 change intervals.  The Honda will go as long as one year between changes, the Subaru will only go 7.5 months, maximum.  Over a 10-year life, that’s $400-$500 worth of extra oil changes.  That’s a car payment plus a tank of gas.  I’ve changed the Subaru’s oil three times so far, with only 9,000 miles on the odometer in less than two years (every 7.5 months).  In the Pilot, I could possibly still be on my first or second change at this point.  That’s $40.00 – $80.00 in real money.  That said, the Subaru 6-cylinder engine has a lifetime timing CHAIN.  The Pilot requires a new timing BELT every now and then, a $500+ job at the dealer or three days in my garage.

What about Subie, what does it do for me?

— Free roadside assistance for 3 years.

— Easier to get in and out of parking spots as it drives like a car.  (It is a car).

— It is the quickest car I have ever owned.  This thing has so much power to spare I can load it for bear, add a top box, and it doesn’t seem to notice.  Push gas, go fast.

— More standard goodies.  The only thing I have really missed in the Honda is steering wheel radio buttons.  But I really miss them.

— Standard alloy wheels.  A step up to alloy on the Pilot would have cost me $2500 and put the Pilot out of the running against the Subie for puposes of this comparison.

—  The interior materials are luxurious by comparison, with substantially better fit and finish.  The Pilot’s interior is cheap looking and marrs easily, with noticeable gaps between some panels.  

In sum, these cars are in the same class by MY COST only and for no other reason.  I moved the Subaru “up” $3000 with the  engine, and I moved the Honda “down” $2500 by going with the cheapest trim line.  Without these moves, a person with a high-20s budget would not be considering both vehicles.  That is, if you demand goodies; navigation, fancy speakers, etc, you will not likely be cross-shopping these vehicles.  The top-of-the-line Honda breaks the $40k mark.  The fully loaded Outback is $8000 or so less.  The short version: if you have or plan to have just two babies, either is great.  If you want more than two, go bigger.  Space runs out quickly, and not just on road trips, but shopping trips, family hauling, etc.  The Honda also comes standard with a trailer hitch, into which I stick this hitch basket from Harbor Freight for longer trips.  

I will gladly plug my Subaru dealer, with absolutely no favor or compensation, Heuberger Motors in Colorado.  They will ship cars anywhere in the country and offer rock-bottom pricing over the Internet.  They will give you everything; dealer incentives, advertising fees, cash back, the best financing rates, etc.  I’m told and believe they make money largely on volume, including volume incentives from Subaru of America.  They beat Subaru of Las Vegas by $3000.  It cost me about $250 to fly out there, spend a night at a hotel, and drive back including gasoline.

With somewhat less enthusiasm (and still no compensation) I will recommend the Internet department at Arrowhead Honda in Phoenix, AZ.  I caught them in a few (pointless, not sure why they would bother) half-truths.  However, in the end, it was the best price I could get anywhere, and they ended up beating the lowest price I could find in Las Vegas by $1400.  I won’t argue with that!  I drove down for the night, visited my mom, and drove back in my new ride.  That said, Findlay Honda in Henderson was the most reasonable local dealer and was actually willing to deal online.  I’ll go there for regular maintenance and warranty work as long as the vehicle is new.  

Note:  There were minor updates to the 2011/2012 Outback and the 2012 Pilot.  

The Princess and the Knight (Doll Peg People)

Another win for Pinterest!  I found this while looking through the boards I follow: “Box O’ Princesses” at Lil Blue Boo and loved it.  Seriously, click over and see them – her tutorial shows sketching the designs on the doll pegs and painting each color.  You’ll want to wait for each color to dry (doesn’t take long) before adding another.  I wanted to mimic the idea but make a custom version for the kids.  E has been building elaborate castles out of her Melissa and Doug blocks, we actually just bought another set for her for a gift (amazon affiliate link) so I thought the little wooden peg dolls would be perfect inhabitants.  The next day I was at the fabric store buying supplies to make some for R and E.  I am also making one for E’s best friend, she’ll have an all blue dress.

E wanted hers to have a blue skirt, green top, and pink sleeves.  I gave her little curls just like E.

For R I did a little boy but he looked like he was wearing a business suit and that didn’t go with the princess – hence the knight.  We’d bought glitter acrylic paint so the copper and silver were just right.

They love them.  I couldn’t be happier.  The pegs came in two packs and I bought a very fine paintbrush along with a variety pack of paints.  So not a pricey project at all.  Watch little ones with these since they are smallish but R is pretty good about this stuff and I put them up when I’m not with them.  Quickest craft turnaround for me, well, ever.  Couldn’t resist, could you?


The First Four Years…

I know that Heather Armstrong at linked to this a while back but it keeps coming to mind so I thought I’d share it here: “On Parenthood” (it has some strong language if you prefer a warning about such things).  The thing that really jumps out at me is the following passage:

It’s also a history lesson. The first four years of your life. Do you remember them? What’s your earliest memory? It is fascinating watching your child claw their way up the developmental ladder from baby to toddler to child. All this stuff we take for granted, but your baby will painstakingly work their way through trial and error: eating, moving, walking, talking. Arms and legs, how the hell do they work? Turns out, we human beings are kind of amazing animals. There’s no better way to understand just how amazing humans are than the front row seat a child gives you to observe it all unfold from scratch each and every day, from literal square zero. Children give the first four years of your life back to you.

(emphasis in original).

Ever since I read it I really have mulled it over as I watch R and E. I don’t even have many pictures of my babyhood, being a third child and all. I certainly don’t have video….  I watch their little interactions, their friendships, their struggles.  E started practicing skipping and even did a ballet routine in our Mommy and Me class with me on the sidelines, just eyeing the teacher.  I actually filmed her dancing and when I watch the video I can see her determined little face watching the teacher move, all while contemplating how to emulate her.  As an aside, I never realized how much went into ballet.  You aren’t just moving your legs, you’re holding your arms just so and pointing your toes and the like.  I was so proud to watch her but at the same time there was that “wow, she is growing up before my eyes” moment.

There are not so great things I remember about being a kid, but I do get a thrill thinking of the neat stuff my children have yet to experience.  Yes, there are heartbreaks but there are moments like E’s first theater show that we caught on Halloween – the moment the house lights went off and the stage was illuminated her hands flew to her mouth and she gasped in wonderment.  Good stuff — even with our challenges, aren’t we so lucky?

Watching the Planes at McCarran

I think that this works for any community with an airport, you can’t beat an activity that is free and operating 24/7, right?  We finally got around to stopping at the viewing area (on Sunset Road, just west of Eastern) for McCarran airport the other day.  The kids enjoyed it though I think visiting it during the day would be better just so they could see the airplanes taxing in the distance.  In the evening you miss out on some of the sights, I think.

The funniest thing to me was that the parking lot was almost full of families doing the same thing we were.  I remember as a kid you could wait for arrivals at the actual gate inside airports but security now doesn’t make that possible.  Outdoor viewing it is.  One neat thing about Vegas is that the airport is not on the outskirts of town, it is pretty central for most people, especially if you’re in the southern or eastern parts of town.

Today is Veteran’s Day, by the way.  It is certainly difficult to think of my brother in far flung places and also contemplate that R could be subject to a draft someday.  I hope my son’s interest in planes (he loves to point them out in the sky, helicopters too) is satisfied by domestic craft.

Allergy Free Vegan Chocolate Chunk Blondie Photos

I was going to use the last of our prune puree from R’s first foray into solid food to try the Brownie recipe from  The Allergen Free Baker’s Handbook by Cybele Pascal (amazon affiliate link) but the Blondie recipe was adjacent and didn’t require melting chocolate (I don’t use a microwave so I would have had to wrangle with the stove).  So glad I finally tried these, it is like making a giant cookie.  My only gripe is that the recipe calls what you make “batter” and the consistency is more like “dough” so don’t be shocked if you’re using your hands to spread the dough versus being able to smooth batter around your baking pan.

My husband likes the fresh baked texture of these moreso than the second day version but I like them both, though they are different.  Another winner for sure.


Allergy Free Snickerdoodle Photos

So, that (my last post) was a brief break from my favorite cookbook.  I am still trying to photograph as many of the recipes from the Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook as possible because (1) we love it and (2) I hope someone searching for options finds these pictures and knows there’s good food to be made still!  As mentioned in my April review of the Allergen-Free Baker’s Handbook, these snickerdoodles were the first recipe I tried.  I didn’t have all the correct ingredients but they were good anyway and I knew the book had to be a winner if I invested in the right materials.  Well, here are the cookies as I make them these days.

It makes a nice batch and the cinnamon flavor is great for the holidays.  E loves rolling the balls of dough in the cinnamon sugar mixture and flattening them with the palm of her hand before they go into the oven.  So good!

Recipe from Cybele Pascal’s Allergen Free Baker’s Handbook (amazon affiliate link).