walkitout: (Default)
We got a Show! I'm so excited about it. It is not flat. It has a weird sort of wedge shape to it that makes it sit upright on a flat surface very nicely. The speaker sounds quite decent. The screen is a bit small, but honestly, we have so many huge screens in our house I do not give a fuck. Placing the Echo Show was pretty straightforward: I wanted it next to my recliner. You know, so I never have to get up again. (<-- Joke.) This thing would have been so flipping perfect when I was breastfeeding. Oh well! But, you know, if you are a Millenial, and staying at home for some months with a little one physically attached to you, you might think about getting this. Also, if you are bedbound or whatever because of other issues (sprained ankle, broken foot, paralysis, etc.), I can see this really being a game-changer.

The main issue with putting it there is that we already had a regular Echo in the front hall, and that thing can hear decently far away (better than me, honestly. I'm old). So I kept having both of them respond, which really sucked. Yes, Dear Reader, you can be home alone and STILL have two people trying to tell you things at the same time and ignoring the fact that the other person is talking and you can't actually distinguish between them. For suitable values of "people". R. fixed this by having the main Echo respond to a different wake word -- it is now "Echo", and the Dot and the Show are now "Alexa".

Over the last few days, I have concluded that the single most awesome feature of the Show is that you can play music on it (wait for it) and it will scroll the lyrics with the music. Karaoke lovers might get a kick out of this, but my daughter absolutely loves it. Singing along is a blast.

It's nice that the weather forecast, your shopping list and similar features now no longer just "speak" at you, but also have a handy little display as well. T. is enjoying watching movie trailers on the Show. I'm sure we'll find more timewasting things to do with it. I hooked up my Apple calendar (my gmail calendar was already attached), and so it now shows on the scroll for the screen saver my next activity, along with random headlines and things that are trending on various social media. It's a little hypnotic just sitting there looking at it all go by. I'll probably eventually figure out how to configure that so it will show me index / stock / commodity prices and business headlines (because I cannot make head or tail out of the sports headlines that are currently scrolling by).

Should you get an Echo Show? I have no mortal clue. I suppose it depends on whether you read that and thought, "Awesome!" or "Why the hell would anyone waste money on that?" But if you _do_ get an Echo Show, and you and I call each other, make sure you call me on the Echo Show sometime because I want to try out the whole video call thing.
walkitout: (Default)
We _did_ have a small Beanie Ballz unicorn! And, in the middle of looking for the jump ropes (which I still have not found), I found it!

Here are all four Fluffy Unicorns:

Fluffy unicorns

I feel like there should be some Minions in that picture.

I found a whole other bin of toys I had completely forgotten about in the course of looking for the jump ropes. I also found some framed pictures we took down for painting that never made it back up. So I took a couple frames down and put their contents in albums, and put up a couple of things. Three more to go. I'm trying not to net increase the number of framed things on the wall, since there are over a hundred things up already, which makes me ... uneasy, now that I realize what I've done.
walkitout: (A Purple Straw Hat)
Earlier this summer, A. went to see Despicable Me 2 with B. We couldn't (still can't, I think) get that on video, so we resorted to watching the original movie, first from Amazon on the TiVo and then, once the kids wanted it on the iPad, R. bought it for iOS, which was mildly silly because he could have played it for her on the Amazon Video Player for iPad, but you know, whatever. I think that's streamed anyway and sometimes those things are a little unpredictable, whereas the iOS version is downloaded and thus, once on the tablet, not subject to network hiccups (farts? Bouts of interruption?).

The youngest of the three girls in the movie (the original and, presumably, the sequels) always has a stuffed unicorn. It's kind of a crappy one at the beginning at the Home for Girls, but by the end, she has a really awesome fluffy unicorn. There is a great fluffy unicorn power up in Minion Rush by Gameloft, which the four of us have all been playing a lot of lately. It was inevitable that after we had stuffed minions in the house (four: two with one eye and two with two eyes), I would go looking around the herd of stuffed animals in the house, thinking, hey, I think we _have_ a fluffy unicorn. Sure enough, I found a Melissa & Doug stuffed unicorn:


that Amazon says I bought in November of 2012. I put a minion on the unicorn (in an appropriate equestrian way, not in a ha-ha let's engage in adult humor with children's toys sort of way), and showed R. This made the fluffy unicorn a go-to toy for the next few days.

Inevitably, once A. was playing with a toy, T. wanted one, but I stalled. And when _A._ started asking for a second fluffy unicorn, R. found another stuffed unicorn that I had managed to forget existed, but T. probably had not. Because it is technically one of T.'s toys.


I didn't buy this on Amazon, so I don't know when it dates from (and R. may in fact have bought it anyway). And it was purchased in response to T. wanting a bigger version of one of these:


I think. Altho again, didn't buy it on Amazon so not sure, and haven't seen it in a while, so maybe we actually have one that is still smaller, or in between in size.

That's a disturbing number of fluffy unicorns, but still not enough for each of the four minions to have one of their own to ride.

Which is not a goal. Of mine.

ETA: The small Beanie Ballz turns out to be "Rainbow", which is a fish. The Beanie Ballz unicorn is "Fable". I don't know why I thought that "Rainbow" was a unicorn. Maybe there's another "Fable" around here somewhere, but I sort of doubt it.

Rainbows and Unicorns. *sigh*
walkitout: (A Purple Straw Hat)
R. got me a Logitech keyboard for iPad ... a while back. I have not used it a lot, but it's been handy for when I wanted to write longer pieces on vacation, when I don't have my laptop with me, just the iPad. When I saw they made a teeny tiny keyboard for the mini, I picked it up, on the premise that the resulting combination might make a usable micro-laptop that fit into a medium sized handbag (still need either a large handbag or a backpack for the iPad with or without the keyboard. I typically carry a Timbuk2 Candybar).

Here's the Mini in the two-piece case, the way I normally have it. Also in the picture are the keyboard and, for reference purposes, an original iPad in a beefy case.

Comparing iOS devices

Here's the Mini with the keyboard attached (alas, both parts of the case must be removed; I was hoping the impact portion could stay, but it can't). A dollar bill is included for scale.

Mini with keyboard

As with its older and bigger sibling, the iPad mini fits into a slot on the keyboard. The connectivity is via bluetooth and I expect the power consumption to be quite minimal, judging by its predecessor (if it isn't, I would assume a flaw in the one I got, not a design flaw). The punctuation keys are very tiny, even compared to the letter keys. I understand the design tradeoff involved and endorse it, but it can be a little bit of a problem typing.

As people have observed with netbooks and similar, small, keyboarded setups such as this one, they don't straddle the legs quite as stably as a classic laptop. Alas, this thing wobbles a lot when balanced on just one leg. It works fine on a table, or a lapdesk, so as an airline option it should work great with the tray, or more generally on an armrest (altho you'd get a heck of a crick in your back after a while).

I'll update this if/when I travel with it and attempt to write anything substantial with it. I'm typing this on my laptop. ;-)

ETA: For a much higher quality review, produced in context with reviews of competing products, see:

walkitout: (Default)
I don't shop for apps consistently. Every once in a while, as the kids lose interest in their current crop of apps, I go buy another batch. Sometimes an external prompt will cause me to go buy stuff. A while back, I bought Robot Labs by Toca Boca, and more recently I started it up and stuck it in front of my daughter, who is almost 4, and who may have been spending more than half her life at this point using iPads. She learned how to index her finger on an iPad. It's been that kind of life.

Anyway. Robot Labs has you create a robot (think, dress up, only with robot parts), then drag the Robot through a maze like environment with some arrows to help you out, possibly picking out up to three stars before finally hooking the robot up to a magnet at the end. Pretty visuals, calm music, weirdly appealing. The environment is way more interesting than my description of it conveys, while remaining non-threatening and not-overwhelming (unless your kid hasn't figured out about arrows yet, in which case it's a bit of a learning curve, but there you are).

I mentioned Robot Labs during my daughter's IEP meeting, along with My Playhome as apps that were of current interest. My PlayHome was actually the one I was mostly describing, because my daughter produces an incredible number of full, descriptive sentences as she narrates what she is making happen in the app. My PlayHome is a digital dollhouse (mom, dad, son, daughter, baby, living room, kitchen, kids bedroom, bathroom, backyard -- significant updates add additional rooms over time) and is ridiculously entertaining as well as the perfect iPad application: a bunch of largely unrelated animations make _sense_ in this context.

Someone at the meeting asked if there were apps for things like grocery shopping. As soon as this was mentioned of course I felt ridiculous for not having looked -- but I didn't think to look for a digital doll house, either. I found it when reading lists of good apps for kids especially kids with special needs. Off I went to find a grocery shopping app that was a game and lo and behold, Toca Boca has one of those. It is a fantastic turn taking app between a store operator and a customer.

Toca Boca also has a "house" app: you deliver mail to the house, sweep floors, clean dishes, mow the lawn, etc. It's another digital dollhouse, but stylistically and functionally different (less about play and more about the work of a house).

But the one my daughter is completely hooked on (the first I tried of the new batch and I haven't been able to convince her to switch to anything else other than the new Mickey Mouse Clubhouse interactive Road Rally app) is Toca Doctor. It's awesome: kill bugs in the patient's hair, mend a broken bone, place organs, help the patient move along items inappropriately swallowed, burp out some bubbles, place gears in the brain, clean up a scratch, administer a shot -- and on and on.

Toca Boca's apps are not like Angry Birds or Where's My Water. They aren't about puzzles or physics or new levels (well, maybe they are about updates). They're sort of like Fisher Price toys, or PlayMobil: enacting things that are more or less from real life but in a play context, under the control of the kid but hopefully with the participation of an adult. I have no idea whether this has universal appeal, or this is specifically a spectrum-y thing, but I _love_ all of them (there's a tea party, that's probably my least favorite, and a hair salon and cooking apps, which I have not yet tried).

Finally, Blinq's Miny Moe Car has several related components. There's a car repair game (bits of the car break down and need to be fixed: dirty, tire puncture, gas fill, broken window). There's a go-around-a-track thing which is a very simple game where you start the car up with a gesture like a traction toy: pull back to make it go. It runs into things and you have to start it again. Finally, the most amazing part is the driving simulator, which is a very little-kid like car, but with a radio, reverse gear, gas and brake pedals, turn signals, washers, etc.

Duck Duck Goose's Trucks also probably belongs in this category. Again, I bought it a while ago and put in front of my daughter recently to her great delight (she's a huge car wash fan at the moment). You can get vehicles dirty and then run them through a car wash. You can red-yellow-green light traffic (and set off sirens and have a monkey buy ice cream from an ice cream truck, cause fender benders, etc.). And you can have some earth movers move piles of stuff around at a construction site. It's probably the simplest and least satisfying of all of these apps -- and it is utterly charming.

I haven't put any of these in front of my son (he is almost 7, and he's a huge Angry Birds and Where's My Water guy, altho he's currently expending some energy making me play Grooh and watching); I'll update this post if he displays any interest.
walkitout: (Default)
P. asked for a list for the even-younger set. This is dangerous, because my youngest is 2 years and 3 months and my memory is crap. Worse, looking through what I wrote down in detail for my website and thinking about it a little, there isn't much about toys and what there is distorted by our collection of diagnoses.

With all that in mind, here are some suggestions:

(1) The bookshelf. In this case, probably all fabric books. Board books dissolve in the face of dedicated chewing, so those may have to be stored out of reach. Get at least one that has pictures of baby faces. Try to get some fabric and/or board books with textural or other sensory elements. Buy everything produced by Sandra Boynton, including the book+cd stuff.

(2) Things that go buzz. There are a variety of vibration toys out there, altho it can be tricky to find ones for mouthers. Some of them have a pull to activate; this can't be a naked string for obvious reasons, but they often design stuff to cover up the string in a colorful and appealing way. If you have a kid with sensory issues and you get toys that go buzz and they reliably freak out when you get out the toys that go buzz, think about contacting early intervention, and think about seeing a neuropsych/psychologist specializing in kids, etc. Everyone will think you are crazy...except the professionals, who will be _really_ impressed.

(3) There will be lots of black and white and brightly colored things in your life. That's as much a warning as a suggestion.

(4) Ducks for the bathtub. I know. Seems too traditional, but there are some positives. You can get ones with a color change on the bottom that will warn you if the water is too hot, which is useful if you aren't good at judging.

(5) One or more baby dolls. It's tricky finding ones that people will commit to being safe for the mouthers, but these really do support pretend play, especially if you get a little bed (or make one out of a shoe box) and practice night-night. Baby-wearers can make or create a sling for their kid to carry the baby around in. Otherwise you can get a little doll stroller once your kid is walking.

(6) Corn popper. The fisher price thing. It is amazing. There are some wooden-toy sort-of equivalents.

(7) A wagon. When they are little, you can roll them around in it. When they are bigger, they do lots of things with it. You can get them in multiple sizes, including doll size.

(8) Fabric blocks. We had the Haba castle ones. They had texture, some squeakers, color and pattern. They were really cool.

(9) Musical instruments: a drum, a xylophone, maybe a keyboard. Definitely a Mozart cube.

(10) Rattles. I loved the wooden ones from Haba, and the silver ones from Tiffany.

Some of the things on the previous list which I didn't mention here work fine with littles, too: balls, collapsible tunnel. And there's a million toys-attached-to-useful-things: high chairs with trays that toys fit into, mobiles attached to cribs and crib plushies which are music boxes with a pull string and some lighting effect, baby "gyms" for mobiles-on-the-floor that are graspable. Get a baby "armchair" (all fabric, but structured). T. loved the Elmo one from Target because it made giggle sounds (and had an off switch, which we loved) and had a face on it. Duplos are surprisingly useless, but a good way to entertain an adult who is watching a kid and bored stiff.

And you may hate me for this, but get Teletubbies videos if you can. You can usually find them on eBay. They were the only thing that held my kids attention when they were very small. (Okay, T. also liked football, but our theory was that they basically looked like tubbies: green field, funny shaped people, wandering around).

I've probably forgotten a ton of things, but mostly, my recollection was that the toy requirement ramped up fast after they were walking; before that, they were happy with remarkably little, and my focus was on other gear.

ETA: There's a huge category of toy designed to deal with the almost-walking stage. I know people who love walkers, despite the epic stigma now attached to them. A. loved the saucer version of that; T. would never put up with anything like that. Neither kid was all that interested in the classic push-toy-to-help-you-walk. We never got a toy shopping cart (altho I continue to think about it). That's a classic, supports pretend play, and is available in plastic and non-plastic versions.

ETAYA: OMG I forgot shape sorters! And bead mazes. And probably a bunch of other stuff, like those things that you push buttons or switches or whatever and stuff pops up and then you push it down and do it all over again. Chicco, Battat and International Playthings all have great stuff along these lines, if you're okay with plastic. Wood shape sorters and bead mazes are easy to find (well, they have metal for the wire, obviously); I don't think you can get non-plastic versions of the pop-up stuff.
walkitout: (Default)
I'm never entirely sure whether the way I use the word "gearhead" is entirely appropriate. Here's a paragraph about what I mean by gearhead.

Let's say Jane and Mary are both totally into a hobby. Say, hiking. And let's say that Jane is what I would call a "gearhead" and Mary is not. Let's further assert that Jane and Mary actually hike about the same number of miles, gaining about the same amount of total elevation, in approximately the same region of the country, over about the same number of outings. From every perspective but one, Jane and Mary are indistinguishable as "hikers" in terms of actually "hiking". But Jane is the kind of person who carefully researches different footwear options, including different sock choices. She has opinions (strong ones) about which ones are appropriate under which situations, and at some point, she took a strong dislike to synthetic fabrics (probably after seeing the "after" photos of a piece of technical clothing exposed to the open flame of a very tiny camp stove) and has a real liking for Merino wool and a deep and abiding love for a certain clothing line whose name starts with "I". Jane may love or hate walking sticks. Depending on whether Jane and Mary are day hikers or overnighters or through hikers, Jane may know an unreal amount about exactly how much certain tents weigh, and has probably cut down her closed cell foam pad to 3/4s length.

Anyway. Jane is a "gearhead". Being a gearhead isn't good or bad. It just is. Mary is not a "gearhead", and she probably has a fine time hiking, too, altho I, personally, would prefer to get hike recommendations from Jane, because she'll be able to answer my detailed questions about the difficulty of the hike and what equipment I should bring. Because I'm a gearhead, too.

I recently realized that I'm even more of a parenting gearhead than I realized. Anyone who dug through my parenting articles on my website may be a little surprised to learn this. Let's just say, when I found out that a lot of houses have small children and don't have art boxes, I figured it out.

Here are the gearheady things that we own, that it might not occur to other parents of 1-2 preschoolers to own, but which might help you survive a snow day, Christmas vacation, being sick at home together, etc.

(1) The Art Box: In our house, the art box is a plastic bin. This is because whenever we have a whole lot of small items that are related to each other, we put them in a plastic bin. There are other, arguably better, more aesthetic choices, possibly more functional. The first Art Box was a Crayola bucket-like bin, but it deteriorated and it was too small.

An art box should contain: crayons, markers, paper, construction paper, scissors, glue stick, stickers, paints, paint brushes, dots (daubers, bingo thingies, whatever) and over time it may evolve into a scrapbooking kit. Broken crayons, dry markers/paints/dots/glue stick should all be thrown away and replaced. There should be a secondary location somewhere in the house (basement, attic, closet, etc.) where you store replacements. The art box itself should be stored wherever art is usually committed: near the easel, if one exists, otherwise somewhere near the kitchen table or wherever.

(2) The bookshelf: In our house, it's "bookshelves". But there should be children's books, and they should be accessible to the children. I have friends that wishlisted a fabric sling book storage thing to make cleanup easier for a pre-k-er. Brilliant. If your kids are too destructive to be allowed access to the picture books, store them up high, and store the board/fabric/whatever books down low.

(3) The doll house: In our house, the dollhouse is from Plan Toys, as are the accessories. I was looking for something gender neutral, because it was a present initially for my son, but expected to be used by both children. There are plastic options (Fisher Price has some amazing stuff for really little kids) and there are more explicitly boy-y options (spaceships, fire stations, etc. that are themed as same but have all the basic doll house accessories).

(4) The rebounder: many families get by just letting the kids jump on the bed and/or the couch, but our son was destroying furniture also many of our mattresses are foam and/or futon-style and thus not really fun for jumping. We got a Needak with a 300 pound weight limit, so adults can jump if they want to. It's small, thus discouraging use by multiples. Needak makes a folder, which we got for travel.

(5) Potatoheads: I'm a little embarrassed about this one. It started out innocently enough. One of T.'s caregiver's gave him a Potatohead suitcase with head and basic clothes in it. And Disney has this thing where it's a flat rate for all you can cram in a box, which makes an awesome souvenir from DLR or DW. Unfortunately, we keep going to Disney, and as a result, we have a substantial plastic bin (yeah, one of those) full of potatoheads and accessories. There are _6_ heads in it. Someone very sweet gave one of the kits a basic head for Xmas. It's nice, and it's a great place to start, but you should probably have a minimum of 1 head per kid, plus 1 for the adult providing supervision. 6 is probably overkill.

(6) The horse: If you can afford and are inclined, by all means get a real one. We are not inclined, altho we do take the kids to ride on other people's horses. The first horse was an extremely ancient wooden glider rocker from the nanny's grandfather (old friend of the family). The current horse is a Radio Flyer Liberty, IIRC.

(7) The teaset: This was an accident. I was buying Little Tikes play kitchen and workbench from the consignment shop and got a ton of accessories, including a Disney teaset. It is an unbelievably cheap (and not in a good way) set, but it is the basis of an incredible amount of pretend play. In a family of spectrum-y people, this is somewhat amazing.

(8) The play food: Ditto.

(9) The table and chairs: We got something from Svan that's all Scandinavian modern. If I could convince my son to move it out of his room and into the playroom, I would, but he is currently objecting. Try to find one with an adult weight limit and at least one "chair" with no back, so you can sit at the table, too.

(10) The easel: Gift from one of R.'s sisters. It lives in T.'s room, and it has seen way more use than I ever would have expected. Paper roll in the middle, blackboard paint on one side, dry-erase on the other.

(11) The slide: Our current slide is part of an utterly ridiculous indoor playset from Cedarworks. Our previous slide was a folding plastic thing from Little Tikes. The original idea was to support some gross motor stuff through ugly New England weather, and at the time, we didn't have enough living space to get a Little Tikes playset. When we moved and had a dining room, I sort of engaged in overkill. The plastic option really is the smart one.

(12) Balls: And possibly things like a basketball hoop, but definitely balls. Ideally, at least some of the balls should be so insubstantial you can throw them at the child's head (right in the face, hitting them in the eye) and they'll just think it's hilariously funny. Because sooner or later, that is going to happen.

(13) Musical instruments you are okay with the kids using: a grand piano only for adults is awesome, but probably does not satisfy this criteria (altho if it does, I envy your children). We have a really ridiculous looking cat-themed electronic keyboard, for example, along with a kazoo, a wooden train whistle (replacing the much better sounding but unfortunately more breakable than I had realized plastic one from Storyland), a xaphoon, two small xylophones, innumerable drums (one plastic and electronic, the rest not), a Mozart Music Cube, innumerable plastic maracas like things, an elderly but functional piano. Somewhere around here there was a crappy harmonica. I wish I could find it because I can currently only play the good harmonica when T. isn't around, since he wants to play it, too, and I'm not prepared to share.

As a person who had music lessons as a child and can sometimes read music, I am a huge believer in just letting people noodle around in an undirected way. As long as the instruments aren't too loud, and aren't horribly out of key, most noodling is kind of cool sounding, certainly better than a truly atrocious rendition of a "official" song.

I'll stop at a baker's dozen, at least for now. It's worth noting that this is _truly_ a pre-k edition; if your kid is still immediately mouthing everything, almost none of this is a good idea.

PS: Finger puppets. Puppets. Slinkies. A play parachute. A collapsible tunnel. Wooden blocks. Legos...

ETA: OMG! I forgot playdoh! How could I forget playdoh? Our lives would end without playdoh.

PPS: jigsaw puzzles.

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