Monday, February 27, 2012

Goodbye furniture!

The Brown Elephant furniture truck arrived early Sunday afternoon to pick up our sofa, matching loveseat and ottomans, but they turned down the loveseat thanks to the cat scratches marring one arm. "We've gotten really picky," they said as they handed me a tax receipt and 25% off coupon.

Ten minutes later I had a listing up on Craig's List under Free. Five minutes after that I got my first response. The women arrived quickly and assured me that the scratched up loveseat was "nothing compared to what our 9 cats have done to our furniture." I helped them heave it onto the roof of their minivan and they "secured" it with bungie cords.

Now I'm not one to perpetuate stereotypes, but I did pause to notice that my second-hand furniture was snubbed by a gay men's charity only to be snapped up by a lesbian couple.

Anyway, last night we watched the Oscars On the Red Carpet broadcast from the rug in the middle of our otherwise empty living room. Ada oohed and ahhed over every dress, while Zoe remarked "They're showing too much of their breasts. It's embarrassing."

Our new furniture arrives on Wednesday!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ada as photographer

We spent part of Presidents Day morning enjoying the warmth and plant life at the Oak Park Conservatory. In a moment of generosity, I gave four year old Ada my camera and let her wander away to the other rooms to snap pictures. This is her first time taking photographs, and I love to see how different her eye is from mine--and how much bigger the conservatory looks from her perspective. You can see all the photos--larger--here.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The sting of coming in last

"This is the worst day of my life and I'm the worst kid in the world," sobbed Zoe as I pulled the car off the highway. She'd just bitten her lip to the point of tears and spilled half a container of milk all over her lap and the floor mats from frustratedly tangling with a Happy Meal toy baggie. I grabbed a few handfuls of paper towels from a gas station and blotted up the soon-to-be-sour puddle as she hiccuped, coughed and howled her dismay at how the afternoon had ended.

Zoe had been looking forward to her first gymnastics meet ever since she made the GIJO Level 3 team in September. The arrival of her velvety team leotard, warm up suit and monogramed gym bag only heightened her excitement. She was so amped up when I sprung her from Hebrew school that she only ate half of her sandwich before singing along--loudly and slightly offkey--with the Taylor Swift songs I'd gamely let her play over the car stereo during our 1 hour drive to far north suburban Grayslake.

She performed well, staying focused, never falling and supporting her teammates. She beamed when her name was called out for fourth place and she stood just to the side of the awards podium and positively glowed as she placed her medal around her neck. But as the rest of the awards were handed out, my sharp little girl figured out that fourth place was just fancy adult language for last place in her age division. And, tragically for her, none of her fellow teammates got anything lower than third place. Seated across the room, I could see a change in her face as she did the math. She arranged her expression the best she could, but it was pale and her lips turn down and slightly wobbly as she walked toward me. All the excitement from wearing her uniform, from walking in a line with her teammates and competing before the judges, from digging through her goodie bag... gone. She stuffed her ribbons in her bag, scorned her "dark, ugly, non-special" medal and looked longingly for exit.

I tried my motherly best to explain that I was proud of her and that she did great for her first competition. Her coach chimed in that her score and those of her teammates were mere tenths of a percent apart and she had still qualified for State, but she was tormented. She vacillated between blaming herself for being bad and blaming the judges for being unfair and mixing up her scores with someone else's. Then she just raged against the unfairness of someone younger and less accomplished getting 1st place (which happened when the kids are divided up by age). Her rage led to the miserable lip biting, which was shortly followed by the violent efforts to open a Happy Meal toy... and that's pretty much how the milk got spilled.

So she cried over that, too.

Ultimately, this will be a character-building experience for Zoe. She's academically gifted and used to being on top. She's academically gifted. She's a big sister. Hell, even though she never studies anymore, she's never scored less than 100% on her weekly Hebrew tests. Being at or near the bottom of the ability pool on her gymnastics team is new for her.

But she's not quitting. She's got my competitive streak and having had a taste of judge's scores, rankings and medal ceremonies, she's more determined than ever to succeed. March 5th can't come fast enough.

Here's a glimpse at her routines. 4 hours of waiting and watching condensed into 2 minutes for your viewing pleasure.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Our favorite iPad apps

Zoe demos iPad apps for her cousins, who also have an iPad
I've had my iPad for a little over a month, and it's very much become a welcome member of the family. I don't commute with it (fear of theft combined with lack of wifi) and it isn't a replacement for the iBook when it comes to blogging (it really isn't for content creation at all), but it has its many uses.

I much prefer browsing my favorite internet sites, blogs and news outlets via Flipboard and Zite, both free apps that make content consumption more like flipping through a magazine than the scrolling, clicking and scrolling we're used to do when reading online. I like playing Words with Friends on a larger screen and I got a free download of Scrabble from Starbucks that I use to play with Zoe, passing the iPad back and forth.

But it is the kid apps that have made the iPad such a hit in our household, and the girls gave the device a real workout during our trip to and from Mexico (and, to be honest, there was probably an hour or two of iPad time each day as well). The following are the apps that have stood the test of time and and travel and are still popular with my daughters, 7 and 4.

Grimm's Rapunzel and Hansel and Gretel by PopIris are virtual pop-up books that read aloud slightly unfamiliar versions of classic children's fairy tales and alternate traditional print pages with elaborate, interactive pop-up pages that function as mini games. Both girls are big fans and return to these story-games again and again. Although they lack the pop-up games, MeeGenius! Kids Books offers a small shelf full of free book titles that children can read or have read to them by a narrator. Since Ada still can't read independently, she likes to have the iPad read to her when no one else will.

My PlayHome is a dollhouse in iPad clothing. The girls delight in moving the family members around the virtual home, washing them off in the shower, feeding them breakfast and jumping on the bed. Easter eggs hidden throughout the house and yard and clever sound effects gives what seems like a limited interaction long-term play appeal.

Among the educational apps we've sampled, Montessori Crosswords is a great word-building app inspired by the Movable Alphabet that my 4 year old can't get enough of. Both girls have spent some time with MathGirl (technically for iPod, not iPad), which rewards correct answers with items the player can use to build a garden, and Zoe has made progress moving through Grade 3 SplashMath, a math challenge program that rewards kids with aquatic life for their virtual aquarium.

When it comes to promoting creativity, we've had a lot of luck with free apps. Toontastic is a fantastic program that lets young children storyboard a cartoon, record the VO and play it back. Drawing Pad has provided Ada with hours of contented drawing time, and Zoe, having used it to create a podcast at school, likes recording made-up songs using GarageBand. Scribble Press is another great app for school children--it allows them to write and illustrate books that can then be ordered in the mail (for a fee).

One of the apps I was most excited to purchase and experience was Alice, a beautifully rendered version of Alice in Wonderland. Unfortunately, it lacks recorded narration and the moveable graphics, and, while lovely, doesn't take full advantage of the platform's capabilities. That and the kids couldn't be less interested in this $8.99 download. We've had much more fun with the iPad version of The Monster at the End of This Book.

Other apps I'd recommend to parents include the Wiggles Alphabet Adventure (which is more appropriate for 2-3 year olds), Toy Story, Paint with Time and MoodyMonstr (the last 3 are all free). Although they haven't grabbed my kids' imagination to the extent of the others, I've found them solidly build apps that are easy to navigate and take advantage of the iPad platform.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Akumal, take 4

We returned from our fourth trip to Akumal, Mexico on Saturday night, and I'm only now updating my blog, an hour after getting off a plane from Minneapolis. If I'm neglecting this space, it isn't just because Facebook is so much easier to update. It's also because work's reached a new level of busy/crazy.

Regardless, it was a fantastic trip. With cousins to play with, grandparents to babysit and naps no longer a threat to afternoon activities, we finally enjoyed a relaxing vacation with our children. Well, at least until the drive to the airport rental car return, during which Ada threw the kicking and screaming temper tantrum to end all temper tantrums.

Highlights included zip lining with Ada at Aktun Chen Eco Park, snorkeling with Zoe in Yal-Ku Lagoon and sipping freshly made margaritas and pina coladas courtesy of Josh the bartender.
2012-02-01 09.42.11
The silly games of make-believe never stopped with these two
Like Aunt, like niece
We went swimming with the fishes