Review: Coconut M&M’s

Coconut M&M’s. Let me put it this way: I was out shopping and I bought these to try and I ate the whole bag, not saving any to share with my family. I felt a little guilty and I had to skip part of dinner. But I am sharing my discovery with you (although you’ll have to go buy your own). If you like Mounds bars, you will like these. They don’t have the texture of moist coconut like Mounds but they do have the flavor. Coconut M&M’s are chocolatey and coconutty at the same time–really, really good.

Coconut M&M's
I saved the bag (to blog about), but none of the candy

*I paid for these with my own money. No one bought them for me. However, if you would like to buy some for me, I won’t complain.   Available in my area at Smith’s, Walgreens, & Shopko.

Books for Girls and their Moms

I haven’t blogged because I’ve been busy planning a mother-daughter book club.  I was hung up on the guest list–not wanting to exclude anyone who wanted to be included, but worrying that it would get too big, worrying about different girls’ different reading levels, little sisters, etc.  My new plan: I’ve simply invited every girl (and her mom) from Amelia’s fifth grade class and not any others.  This way, they are all the same age, they all read on an advanced level, and no one is included or excluded on the basis of popularity.  

I've been feeling like the library's best customer recently . . .

I've been feeling like the library's best customer recently . . .

I assume that not all 12 girls and their mothers will want to participate, but a group with 12 mother-daughter pairs would be too large anyway.  I think just 4 mother daughter pairs would be enough to make it a success, so I hope we will get that many. 

If we were a well-established book group, I think it would be best to have the girls help choose the books.  But since this group is just meeting for the summer at this point, and we need a jumpstart, I decided to just pick the six books (we will meet twice a month this summer) and let the girls and moms sign up if they were interested in reading those books.   

I was surprised how difficult it was to pick the books! Each book needed:

1) to be relatively short, because we are meeting every two weeks

2) to provide good material for discussion

3) to be interesting and well-written

4) to be in print and available at both our local library and as a cheap paperback at Amazon

5) to include only material that was appropriate for 11 year olds to read and discuss. 

(A further stumbling block was that my 11 yr old didn’t want me to plan any books she had already read–and she has read a lot.  I ended up planning to read The Giver despite her wishes for new material).

The mix of books I came up with is heavily weighted toward realistic fiction; I struggled to find fantasy and science fiction books that met all of my criteria.  These books have some challenging (yet appropriate) topics, but they won’t be a challenge in terms of reading skill.  I figure it is better to err on the side of too easy rather than too difficult.  These books are also a little on the heavy side–you can’t escape the “life is full of adversity” message in these books–I’m not sure if that comes along with the “good material for discussion” criterion or if the list turned out that way by chance.  

Anyway, drumroll please!  Here are the books I selected:

Listening for Lions                    Gloria Whelan (National Book Award winner), 2005

Rachel has lived in British East Africa her entire life, but when the flu epidemic of 1919 leaves her an orphan, she is forced to leave the only home she knows.  Scheming neighbors coerce her into  pretending to be their deceased daughter and send her to England.  Can she undo their web of lies without hurting others?  Will she ever be able to return to Africa?  Will the mission hospital her parents worked so hard to build ever reopen?


Cousins                                              Virginia Hamilton (Newbery Medal winner), 1990

Cammy loves her  brother,  mom and  grandma—but has a father she doesn’t know and a cousin who is an enemy rather than a friend.  She makes a terrible wish that she doesn’t intend to come true, but when it does, her family must help her learn how to heal. 


The Breadwinner                            Deborah Ellis, 2000

Parvana lives under the harsh restrictions of Taliban rule with her family in AfghanistanWhen her father disappears, Parvana is the only one able to get food for the family, but she must transform herself into a boy and risk her own safety to do it.     


The Bomb                                          Theodore Taylor (author of The Cay) , 1995

Sorry Rinamu lives on Bikini Atoll at the end of World War II.  The Americans liberate Bikini from the Japanese, and life is good until the Americans select Bikini as the best place to conduct atomic tests.  Sorry and his fellow Islanders are asked to relocate.  Will they? Can the tests be stopped?


Out of the Dust                                  (1998 Newbery Medal                       Karen Hesse, 1997

This novel is written in free verse.  Billie Jo lives in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great DepressionHer father’s crops fail again and again, dust seeps into their food, their truck, and their piano, and it seems like things can’t get any worse.  But then an accident takes her mother and baby brother and Billie Jo’s hands are left burnt and useless.  How will she and her father find hope when life seems hopeless?


The Giver                                           (1994 Newbery Medal)                            Lois Lowry, 1993

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world. (Summary from

Duncan and the Ants!

Duncan discovered the crevice from which the ants emerge. 

What do you do with a 6 year old who believes ants are worthy of encouragement? 


Ants on Corn Chips

This is not a spill.  It is a pile of chip fragments strategically positioned next to the crevice.  A carefully arranged path of chips led from this crevice to under the dining room table.   

Duncan has lost his chip eating privileges.  Any other suggestions?

Ridemax: Don’t leave home without it!

ridemaxI would not go to Disneyland without Ridemax.*  I would not even go to Disneyland without Ridemax if someone else were paying.  Not everyone will like Ridemax.  For some people, vacations and regimentation are simply opposites that cannot be reconciled.  Not me.  The planning of the vacation is more fun to me than the vacation. 

I don’t worry about lack of spontaneity, I worry about standing in line.  What’s spontaneous about standing in line?  At Disneyland, if you don’t have a plan, you will stand in line.  I haven’t discovered any ride I like so much that I would wait an hour for it.  With Ridemax, you can ensure that you only ride when the lines are short.  Ridemax tells you what to expect and then you can plan accordingly. For example, if the only time you are free to go to Disney California Adventure (DCA) is at 6:00 p.m.and you hope to ride Toy Story Mania at that time, you will have to wait in line for an hour.  Because Ridemax is able to predict the wait for the date and time of day you hope to go, you can decide whether it’s worth it to you to go on that ride at that time. 

Also, Ridemax’s predictive powers made splitting up our group much easier.  With one part of the group determined to go on Tower of Terror and Mulholland Madness and the other desiring some nice kiddie rides, this was invaluable.  I was able to predict what the wait would be on the kiddie rides that time of day and plan fun stuff for the 3 yr old  to do while the others used up all the fastpasses. 

Ridemax helped me to manage expectations.  Our family was slow moving and needed to take a long afternoon break.  Most nights we couldn’t stay in the park very late, because we wanted to be at the park very early the next morning to beat the crowds. Obviously, these constraints cut in to how many rides we could ride.  Not only did Ridemax help us maximize the number of rides we could ride during our limited time in the park, it also helped me to understand  how many rides we would realistically be riding.  I could tell my family: “here’s what fits in the time we have today”–and that helped forestall possible disappointment.  

Ridemax is written by people who  understand the fastpass system and Disney strategy inside and out.  Lots of people understand how important it is to get to the park thirty or forty minutes before it opens.  But it is common for those same early arrivers to make the mistake of immediately proceeding to the ride they  like the best: Space Mountain, for example,  and to ride it while there is no waiting.  Ridemax asks you to have a little faith and to do some counterintuitive things.  Go to Space Mountain and pick up a fastpass even though there is no waiting.  Don’t ride it!  Why?  Well, if you are also planning to go on Dumbo and Peter Pan (or some other popular yet low capacity rides for which there are no fastpasses) you should ride those first–you will then be free to use the fastpass at your leisure. 

Caveat: It’s not perfect

While I would definitely buy Ridemax again, it isn’t a perfect program.  There are several ways in which the program could be more sophisticated.  On the other hand, it costs $15 for a part year subscription, and I wouldn’t want to pay more than that, so how much sophistication can I reasonably hope for?

One thing to understand is that planning your visit to Disneyland with Ridemax will require a little time and trial and error.  (If you are a planner, this process is  interesting and fun.  If you’re not a planner–well, your effort will be rewarded when you don’t have to stand around waiting in the heat.)  You probably won’t use the first itinerary you come up with.  You will want to make several different itineraries to learn what fits and what doesn’t and to see what tweaks–adding a ride here, or subtracting one there–will make your plans work better.  This is especially true if you plan to visit Disneyland and DCA over several days, because it will make more sense to plan certain rides for different days.  There are some days that are better for visiting Toontown and some that are better for visiting California Adventure, etc.  Also, you probably wouldn’t want to try to ride Peter Pan and Finding Nemo the same day.  These things become more obvious as you play with your itineraries.     

One obvious problem is that Ridemax doesn’t currently let you schedule shows or parades at Disneyland (they just added this functionality for Disneyworld) into your day.  You can schedule two breaks, but that many not be enough when all meals, shows, parades, etc. are considered.  I found that the best way of handling breaks or trying to find time to see the shows was to simply select all the rides we wanted to go on, but omit the breaks.  If my schedule didn’t end up with natural gaps in it, that meant I had too many rides scheduled.  The truth is, the best time to see the shows is during the afternoon when it is hot and the rides are very crowded.  Ridemax automatically tends to leave gaps in your schedule during this time because it is the worst time to ride the rides anyway.

Don’t forget that you can create as  many itineraries as you need.  This is useful not just for envisioning what your day will be like if you enter at 8:00 vs. 8:15 (it’s very different!), but also if you want to parkhop.  Simply start your itinerary at the other park at the time you plan to be there and then you will know what to expect in terms of lines and fastpass return times when you arrive.  Also, if you end your first itinerary early, to eat dinner or see fireworks, you can then make another itinerary that starts after dinner ends  and continues until the time you’ve chosen to leave.  Also, if you want to go on Space Mountain three times, just add it to your list of desired rides three times.  Ridemax will calculate the most time efficient way for you to satisfy this desire. 

Ridemax is not as flexible as would be ideal.  For example, there isn’t a way to schedule time for the second parent to ride if you are doing a parent switch in which one parent rides with older children while the other parent waits with the younger (or shorter) child.  This isn’t a game ender, even if you plan to do lots of parent switches.  You have a few options: plan to use the parent switch fastpass at the beginning or end of your breaks, or have one parent use the fastpass while the other parent takes the other children to the next ride on schedule (with the parent using the fastpass skipping that ride).     

Another area in which the program seemed to lack flexibility was in scheduling the runner.  Ridemax allows you to indicate that you will be using a runner, someone who is willing to run to another location with the groups’ entry tickets in order to get fastpasses for everyone.  Having a runner saves a lot of time.  It saves even more time, however, if the runner is okay with the rest of the group going on a ride while the runner gets the fastpasses.  However, Ridemax always assumes that the group will wait at the next ride until the runner gets there.  If the runner is the Space Mountain person in the family, and everyone else is just standing there waiting and watching the line for Dumbo build, that doesn’t make sense.   However, this is another problem that is easy to overcome: just ignore the fact that Ridemax thinks you will wait for the runner and go ahead and get on the ride.  The great thing about Ridemax is that you have the rides you plan to go on all mapped out and a predicted time for each one–this makes it much easier to plan how and when you will reunite with your runner (although you will still want your cellphone!) 

Thanks to MaryAnn and Sharon whose blogs convinced me to fork over the money for the program.  It seemed like an expensive luxury for a single Disney visit at the time, but now I understand that it was  an investment in getting full enjoyment out of my parkhopper pass (I did).  If you are interested in other positive comments from the web about Ridemax, see here and here

Look here for more tips on how to get the most out of Ridemax  (very helpful).  Negative reviews of ridemax are here and here .  I  think these reviews are mistaken on several points.  For each problem they raise, there is either a good response, or at minimum, a reasonably effective workaround.  If you have questions about Ridemax or about the points made in the negative reviews, please raise them and I’ll try to answer below. 

*I am not affiliated with Ridemax in any way.  I paid full price for my use of the program, and I have not received any financial or other advantage from reviewing it here.

Disneyland Tips

Duncan and Mickey Mouse

My Disneyland tips (and cute kid pictures):

#1: PLAN & RESEARCH.  Disneyland can be a hot, crowded and futile experience or a pleasant one.  There’s a place for spontaneity in vacations, but Disneyland is not that place.  Disneyland rewards the planner.   

  • The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland is awesome.  It is worth the money to buy the current guide. 
  • Ridemax software is even more awesome than the Unofficial Guide.  I wondered if it made sense to purchase Ridemax after I’d already bought the Unofficial Guide.  Yes!  You do have to play with the program and learn its quirks, but if you are willing to do that it will transform your trip.  I would not consider going to Disneyland again without using Ridemax.  Thanks Sharon & MaryAnn for this awesome suggestion!   

It is true.  Disneyland is not for 3 year olds.  It isn’t torture for them either [well, attending It's tough to be a bug unprepared might qualify].  But if you don’t have older children, wait.  I think six is probably the minimum age that makes sense if you don’t have older children or aren’t a huge Disney fan yourself.       

Kate on King Arthur's Carousel

Kate on King Arthur's Carousel

If you can afford it, it is wonderful to stay in a suite rather than a standard hotel room.  We saved money on food and were more comfortable with a kitchen and it was wonderful to have a bedroom for the kids to nap or sleep in  while we stayed in another room.      

Leaving the park in the middle of the day for lunch and naps is the great idea that everyone says it is.  If you have children younger than 10, it is probably a must.  But budget lots of time!  Unless you are staying within short walking distance of Disneyland it will take a long time to leave and return.  (And the problem with getting a suite is that in general the hotels with nice family suites are further from the park entrance).  It doesn’t matter whether you’re riding the ART shuttles or the shuttle to the parking garage.  It will take a while.  And your children might take a while to settle in their beds for a nap.  To avoid disappointment, alot plenty of time!  1-4:30 or even 5:00 p.m. is realistic. 

Having tried both the ART shuttles and parking at the park, if the price is about the same– it was for us– I recommend taking the ART shuttle.  Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but you will have to wait and have a few hassles either way.  I thought that both the ART and the Disney parking were pretty impressive given how many people there were.   

The fact that long afternoon breaks are such a good idea also makes getting a multiday pass a very good idea.  We were lucky to have 5 day passes and I was really glad.  The difference in cost between a 3 day pass and a 5 day pass is not large.  The big expense comes in paying for that many more days of lodging and food.   

Last Shuttle Ride; Amelia waves goodbye to Disneyland
Last Shuttle Ride; Amelia waves goodbye to Disneyland

Unfortunately, visiting Disneyland is really expensive.  But, I think we covered the park so thoroughly with our multi-day pass we won’t need to return for 5 years.   

Do take bottled water.  My friend Amanda recommended this.  The water in Anaheim isn’t the best.  Even if you are okay with that, keep in mind that picky children may balk.  Also, you don’t want to spend your precious time at the park searching for fountains.  Buying water at the park  is crazy–each bottle costs $$.   Staying hydrated is a must though, because it will probably be hot and you will be walking a lot.  You could buy bottled water at a local grocery store, but remember California has a bottle deposit, so you might want to bring your water from home.

Look for two more posts about Disneyland coming up: one devoted to Ridemax software exclusively (I grew to love that program!) and one more focused on our Disneyland favorites and experiences (include more cute kid pics, of course).

Disneyland’s great, but there’s no place like home

Springtime in Disneyland

Pretty! But there’s no place like home. (I’m pretending I didn’t see that [final? fingers crossed] display of snow and cold).

We have popcorn popping on the apricot tree:

Popcorn popping on the apricot tree

Popcorn popping on the apricot tree

and daffodils and hyacinths:

Daffodills and Hyacinths

Could someone tell me why I didn’t plant more bulbs? I need better follow-through. I keep buying bulbs and then not planting them! That’s an expensive mistake and a sad one, when I see these and think there could have been more . . .

When extortion is a good thing

Having fun at Disneyland before the flu

Having fun at Disneyland before the flu


Are you familiar with the debate about price-gouging laws?  An anti-price-gouging law is one that seeks to prevent people from taking advantage of others during an emergency.  For example, in the aftermath of a disaster, should a business be able to triple, quadruple or octuple the price of water, ice, or batteries? If people need water badly enough, they will pay almost anything for it.  It makes us angry to see someone callously profiting from someone else’s distress.  It just seems deeply, deeply wrong.  That is why these laws exist.  Economists tell us, however, that these laws are not a good idea.  Profit is powerful motive.  If profit convinces a shopowner to move heaven and earth to have ice shipped in–despite all the associated difficulties and hardship in a time of emergency–because he will then reap a fat profit, then, the argument goes, many will benefit.  There will be more total ice available.  We want extortionately priced ice in our time of need, because the regular cost ice will have already been sold or will not be available at all.  Anti-price gouging laws result in fewer necessities being made available to the people for whom they are necessary. 

We had a little experience with these concepts this weekend.  Returning from Disneyland, Amelia suddenly came down with stomach flu (AGAIN–it just won’t leave our family alone) and was sick.  Our minivan was significantly um, impacted.  What do you do at 10:00 p.m. on a Saturday night upon arriving in a city where you don’t know anyone (St. George, UT) and you have a difficult cleaning job ahead of you?  Accessing water and/or electricity would be difficult and we didn’t have any of the appropriate cleaning supplies.  I tried to think about what we could buy at Walmart to help, but our lack of access to water and electricity was an obvious limitation.   It felt hopeless.  (I had unpleasant visions of being the driver of a stained and stinky minivan for the next ten years–never mind the 4+ hours we would have to drive to get home).  But Pdad is never without hope.  While I told him that it was a waste of time to call the local car detailing places because they simply aren’t open that time of night, he called anyway.  No luck, it seemed.  But then someone called him back and made an offer–drive out to Hurricane (improbably pronounced Her-i-ken), pay me $150 in cash, and I will fix it for you.  To put this in perspective, our local car detailing place would have done all the upholstery in the entire car for $25.  Since the entire car was packed with vacation junk, we only wanted one seat done.  But–it was Saturday night, it was late, and the guy already knew that vomit was involved.  Sold for $150! I think it may be some of the  best money we’ve ever spent.