Sunday, January 31, 2010

Got Stray Socks?

You have a laundry basket full of stray socks in your house too, don't you?

You hold on to these loners because you just know that the match is going to turn up one of these days.

I hate to tell you this -- but those strays are likely not going to turn up. Ever.

You should pluck out the cute socks from your pile of singlets and make something cute with them. That's what I did for my craft column in Chicago Parent this month.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Seven Days in Sanibel

We needed a change -- of temperature, pace and scenery.
It was good to get away.
And now it feels good to be home again.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Review: V.Smile Cyber Pocket by Vtech

We are not video game people. Well, not yet at least.

We don't have an XBox. Or a Wii. I'm not even sure that I am spelling those things correctly. We just haven't really gone down the video game route yet.

But the infiltration has begun -- slowly but surely. My daughter received a Leapster L-Max as a present last year. And she loves it. I limit the amount of time that I let her play with it because the sound makes me batty, but she really enjoys it and is able to use it totally independently.

This same curious daughter returned home from a play date last week and informed me that she wanted a Wii for her birthday because her friend's older brother has one. And so it begins -- the coveting of other people's fancy toys.

I am not saying that video games or hand-held electronic toys have no value. I certainly think that limited, independent play with educational electronics is a nice alternative to say . . . . plopping the kids down on the couch to watch Sponge Bob Square Pants. And anyone who has ever traveled long distances by car or plane with a busy preschooler can also tell you that a little portable entertainment doesn't hurt.

I am trying to navigate my way through the world of kids and electronics as my children start to become interested in these sorts of things. I have some reservations -- but I am open to exploring the options out there.

So imagine my delight when Vtech Toys offered me the opportunity to review something called a V.Smile Cyber Pocket. I figured this might be something that my kids would like so I agreed to take a look.*

Although we didn't own any Vtech toys before this, I was familiar with their products. In fact, I think that Vtech does a great job of marketing their brand and their social media outreach to moms is first-rate.

When we opened our new Cyber Pocket (which retails for $49) both my three and five-year-old were eager to try it out with the Zayzoo: An Earth Adventure game that was included. This product is designed for kids ages 4-7 and my three year-old was pretty baffled by the whole thing so after he and I worked on it together for about ten minutes, he lost interest and abandoned it on favor of a set of wood blocks. Seriously.

My five year-old was more successful in her attempts to use the Cyber Pocket, although the stylus wasn't somewhat difficult to use and she was confused about what some of the buttons were for (and so was I frankly). The device includes activities for a wide variety of skill sets -- from spelling to math and music. After playing with the Cyber Pocket for awhile, she went to her room to retrieve her Leapster L-Max that she received as a gift for Christmas last year. She pointed out that the buttons and pen on the Leapster game were easier to use. Over the next few days, she continued to play with the Cyber Pocket and she started to get more familiar with the both the device and the game.

And then the Cyber Pocket totally stopped working. I changed the batteries, but still, nothing. When I told the Vtech folks about this problem, they couldn't have been nicer and overnighted me a new Cyber Pocket -- which has been working just fine for week now.

So what's my bottom line on the V.Smile Cyber Pocket? I continue to think that these types of hand-held electronics are a good thing for kids to use in a very limited way (I keep them up high so that my kids have to ask for my permission first). Our initial experience with the V.Smile Cyber Pocket has been a little bit disappointing but I think that it is something that my kids will enjoy more as they get older and more proficient at using the device on their own.

And although our experience with the V.Smile Cyber Pocket has been just so-so, I am definitely willing to consider their educational electronic products in the future as my kids become more interested in these sorts of things -- which seems inevitable because of older brothers and their fancy Wii systems.

* Vtech provided this item to me for review at no cost. And when the first one stopped working, they sent me another one. I was not paid for this review. This is just our experience with the V.Smile Cyber Pocket.

Friday, January 15, 2010

'Tis the Season for Comfort Foods

No better time than the sweater-wearing months to indulge in a little comfort food! And indulge we have.

In the past few days, we've made braised short ribs, creamy potato leek soup, ragu from the leftover short ribs over pappardelle and of course this damn good batch of homemade mac and cheese pictured above.

I read an article about mac and cheese in the January issue of Fine Cooking (a post-Gourmet era culinary magazine that I highly recommend by the way). I've been making my own macaroni and cheese for a few years now but I was starting to tire of my recipe which frankly seemed a little bit gloppy the last few times I made it. So I made a few changes based on the ingredients and techniques suggested in the article.

Oh, it was so good. And we have at least three more months of big, heavy, chub-concealing cardigan wearing left around these parts so we are sure to indulge in this meal a few more times in the chilly months to come.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Snow-covered Apple

When I look out into my very cold and very snowy backyard, this one little rotten apple still hanging from our apple tree is serving as a gentle reminder that buds, daffodils, and the return of all things green isn't as far away as it may seem.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Richard Scarry Revelation

Today I learned that if you give two busy boys (age three and four respectively) a copy of Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, their little transportation-obsessed minds fall into an almost trance-like state -- causing them to cuddle up together on the couch and sweetly flip through every single page of the book.

They attentively poured over each page, discussing which "soldier man truck" is superior and debating whether the hook and ladder truck is "more awesomer" than the regular old firetruck. This went on for over an hour.

Little boys and mothers agree -- Richard Scarry is a genius.

Monday, January 4, 2010

See Mom Run: Side-splitting essays from the world's most harried moms

This aptly titled book of essays compiled by Beth Feldman (also known in as Role Mommy) offers simple nuggets of truth that all mamas can relate to. It isn't always pretty (see one particularly disturbing piece about diarrhea), but this collection of essays touches on the many universal aspects of motherhood.

As I read through the essays, I wondered what harrowing (but also hysterical) mommy moment I would write about.

Maybe enduring a two-hour flight with baby poop on my clothes from a diaper change gone awry while fellow passengers did their best to sniff out where the offending odor was coming from. Or the park district play group where a fellow mom offered me one of the beers that she had stashed in her purse -- at 10:00 am -- at a toddler play group. I could even recount the fancy-schmancy preschool interview where the admissions director seemed distracted by my shoulder the entire time. Only later would I discover that the sleeve of my black turtleneck sweater was absolutely covered in dried baby snot. Needless to say, our daughter was not admitted to this silly and pretentious school -- and we have her baby brother's runny nose to thank for that.

The obvious point is that none of us is alone in this whole motherhood thing. See Mom Run is a good example of the value of sharing these experiences (even the totally embarrassing and disgusting ones) and having a good laugh about it -- together.