With Halloween rolling around, it's once again time for the annual tradition wherein parents examine the contents of the children's trick-or-treat bags. Ostensively, this time-honored task is done so Mommy and Daddy can look for dangerous things—like nuclear waste and poisonous snakes—that Bad People may have put in there. The real reason, of course, is to take inventory of all the good candy and separate it from the funky stuff. Here's this year's top- and bottom-five Halloween candies, as ranked by our panel of experts (i.e. me):
The Top Five
All but one of our top five picks are miniature versions of full-size real-life chocolate-based candy bars. Certainly, some are better than others; note that Almond Joy and Mounds don't make the list. If you give out these, you're pretty guaranteed not to get your car egged or your jack-o-lanterns smashed by ungrateful children.
Long about the end of summer I always start thinking about the really cool Halloween costumes that I can make for my kids. And by "really cool" I mean something fun and unusual and sophisticated (somewhat) and creative and reasonably inexpensive. The only problem is trying to convince two small children that my costume ideas are really cool. That's the difficult part. Indeed, it's usually the part that derails all my carefully laid plans.
This year was no different than in years past. At the beginning of the school year my son and I started trying to develop a nifty Halloween costume. One of the things that he had in his current costume inventory was an ancient Egyptian headdress that I get from work. We decided King Tut could be a pretty cool costume—heck, we were halfway there already.
Ponyo is the English-language version of the 2008 Japanese film Gake no Ue no Ponyo (literally, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea), the latest creation of animation master Hayao Miyazaki. This movie is a rare creation: an art-house piece that's enthralling to both children and adults.
The plot revolves around Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas), a young boy, and Ponyo (Noah Cyrus), the goldfish-like sea creature/little girl who befriends him and longs to become a real human. Sosuke and his mother (Tina Fey) live in a house on the seaside and await the return of his sea-captain father (Matt Damon, who doesn't have all that much to do). One day, the little boy happens upon a odd, small fish with a human-like face, whom he christens Ponyo. It turns out Ponyo can speak and has an extreme fondness for ham, but before long she's retrieved by her father, Fujimoto (voice of Liam Neeson), a formerly human magician who lives underwater and helps tend the environment, and has a really cool submarine powered by flippers.
To mark the beginning of summer vacation, we recently packed up the family and took off on a road trip for a long weekend. While we had a good time, I still harbored a little bit of anxiety about unexpected and unspecified car problems stranding us 20 miles outside of Oakdale or another middle-of-nowhere type place. I never thought about this kind of thing before we had kids. When I was in college I routinely took my elderly '71 Volvo "Berkeley Bomber" up to Tahoe, the Mother Lode, or the Central Coast, and more recently (but still before children), we took my fun-to-drive but overly complicated Alfa Romeo GTV-6 to such far flung spots as Mendocino and Bend, Oregon without a worry.
Of course there were occasionaly problems, such as having the water pump on the Alfa go the moment we returned from that Mendocino trip (good timing, actually!), and the time on yet another trip to the Mendocino coast when my wife's Mazda RX-7, which was previously the most reliable car that either of us owned before we were married, decided to come down with a blocked radiator on a 102º day somewhere between Cloverdale and Boonville. In both cases, no lasting harm was done to either machine or occupant, and we chalked it up to experience.
At age three, my daughter Lexie is a cute, sweet little kid. At least that's what people think. While she really can be sweet and cute and all that, there's a mischievous side that comes out when you least expect it. Right now we're dealing with the "creative insults" phase. At least that's what I'm calling it, as my son never went through that. Lexie, on the other hand, has a colorful, if unconventional vocabulary. Right now, her insult du jour is "You big buffalo", whereas previously it was "garbage can" or "kook".
A few weeks ago she came into work with me and I introduced her around. Of course the common reaction was "Ooooh, look at you—you're so cute!" Maybe she had a case of "the shys" or something, but when asked her name she just sat there silently and tried to hide behind me. After a second or two she grinned and said "Nobody!"
Everyone laughed and said "How cute!" And I smiled and thought "At least you don't have to leave with it every day…" She did this at least twice, with two separate groups of my colleagues.
Last year I reported on the sad demise of Oakland's venerable Mother's Cookies, and specifically lamented the fact that my children would be unable to experience the childhood wonder that are the Mother's Circus Animal Cookies. Well, mourn no longer, because Mom is back in the game!
Well, actually, Kellogg's is. You see, they apparently bought the intellectual property rights and cookie recipes from the now-defunct Mother's, and just this week have reintroduced the brand to California's store shelves. Cookie lovers rejoice! We, and our children can once more enjoy the shocking pink and white amorphous animal cookies (is it a chimp or a buffalo? No, wait, it's a kangaroo…) covered with candy sprinkles. Apparently other Mother's cookie types are making it back into grocery stores, too. But really—who cares? It's the Circus Animals that really matter.
Apparently it's also the 95th anniversary of Mother's cookies, too. And it's Mother's Day this Sunday. So why not celebrate with Circus Animal cookies?
One day my son came home from Kindergarten all excited, because one of his classmates brought in his t-ball trophy for show-and-tell. The presence of that trophy sealed it—he simply had to play t-ball this season. This was fine, since we were looking for a sports activity for him to do in the spring.
In case you're not familiar with the concept, t-ball (or Tee-Ball) is a game for little kids derived from baseball. The primary difference, to the casual observer, is the lack of a pitcher. Instead, the children take whacks at a ball mounted on a tee. It's a gentler version of baseball intended primarily to build skills in a fun, non-competitive way.
Actually, in hindsight, I have to change my mind and state that the primary difference is this non-competitive aspect. There are no losers, and no winners. Or, perhaps, everyone's a winner. Either way, it can be a little confusing for parents new to the game, especially when trying to figure out when an inning's over or puzzling over the fact that a kid who was clearly "out" is still running on to third base. Everybody gets a turn at bat. There are no strikes, no outs, and no score. It's for fun.
Last weekend we went through the garage and sifted through at least a dozen boxes and bins full of old children's clothes and toys to find fodder for the annual Novato Mother's Club Rummage Sale. Last year we netted a cool $350 by simply getting rid of stuff we no longer used or wanted. Who would have suspected? My favorite rummage sale tactic, which we repeated last year, was to fill up one-gallen ziploc bags with miscellaneous el-cheapo toys acquired over the past year, mostly from McDonalds (the drive-thru toy store). We charged a buck apiece for them and consequently emptied at least two storage cubes from the kids' room. Cool!