Friday, April 24, 2009

Heartfelt Handcrafting: Project Awesome Blobbies Wraps Up

The best man from our wedding came to visit last night. While he's long known that I'm generally an apathetic housekeeper, a token shuffling of clutter still seemed appropriate.

It was finally time to part with a cheerful tower of blankets which friends and family contributed through the last two months. The giant box I had designated couldn't hold all 38 handmade blankets with the 16 additional blankets given.

Wonderful friends and family shared time, materials, postage, and talent to fill these cozy parcels.

This project, especially watching the pile of fuzzy blankets grow, was a great precursor to Spring.

Want to try your hand at something similar? You too can send blankets to Chicago Children's Memorial or another institution. Or you can join the Project Awesome crew as we sew some dollies for craft hope's project #2.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Toddlers See the Light:Teach Me Time! Clock Makes Mornings Easier

Since my shortly after midnight arrival in the world, my dad has called me a night owl. My proclivity for preferring dusk over dawn always frustrated my morning lark parents.

And now I understand. Ranger, like Jim, can be an early riser. When he was in a crib, I would hear an insistent "MOM, I'M UP!" far before I could shake the haze out of my gourd and find my way into the emerging light.

When Thingamababy reviewed a wake-up clock, it caught my imagination, however the clock he reviewed lacked numbers. Ranger loved numbers and analog clocks/watches, so it seemed a shame to choose a picture clock which removed them.

Googling, I found a reference to American Innovative's Teach Me Time! Talking Alarm Clock ($40). On top of having a learning game, audio alarm, and talking time feature, the clock can change colors to indicate waking time.

We put the clock in Ranger's room before his third birthday, so I didn't know what to expect (the recommended ages are 3 and up). As a compromise, I set the alarm for a time that was later than Ranger's rosy fingers of dawn, but earlier than my mid-morning sloth-like crawl from bed. Jim explained that he could call out as soon as the clock turned green in the morning.

The next morning he called out at a reasonable hour ("MOM, it's greeeeen!"). Even the morning's bright glow couldn't dampen my enthusiasm.

In subsequent months, by pressing the clock's talking time toe, Ranger has learned to identify the hour indicated on a clock face. He's still working on minutes, but he loves checking the time. I suspect he'll make the leap in the next year especially if we turn on the learning game. This cute gadget teaches gradually in progressive increments: hours, half hours, quarter hours, and 10 minute intervals.

The control panel is a bit intimidating, but a well-written manual clarifies everything.

If you are looking for something with fewer bells and whistles, American Innovative will soon release an Okay to Wake clock with color alarms and a Tick Talk! clock that allows you or your child to record their own wake messages ($30 each).

We received a sample Teach Me Time! clock ($40 value) from American Innovative after our request. Baby Toolkit has no affiliation with or financial interest in American Innovative. We are not professional chronographers; we're just geek parents with strong opinions (and a little extra sleep each morning).  Disclosure: We are Amazon affiliates and a small portion of purchases made through our Amazon links helps support Baby Toolkit's operating costs (thank you!).

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Worst Bedtime Stories: Some Origins of My Childhood Nightmares

At Easter dinner, my brother mentioned relocating a book from childhood. As he intoned the title, I asked "Is that the one with the monkey's paw?"

"You mean 'The Patchwork Monkey,' and yes..." he said.

The Patchwork Monkey: the story that made me twitch a little in the presence of stuffed monkeys and patchwork stuffed animals of all stripe. The story that made me afraid to be alone, especially in the dark. How could I forget it?

"Baleful Beasts and Eerie Creatures? I remember seeing that book around," my mom answered.

My brother continued, "...and there was that story about the box."

"Oh, the thing that gets loose in the house, and grows?" I queried.

While my brother filled in the rest of the plot, my skin chilled as if cold wind swept suddenly through the dining room. I hated that book. It terrorized me, but I could not resist it. Over a long period of time, I read each story in the anthology. For the first time, I realized that it had also bothered my brother.

He continued "Funny thing, do you know the year on the inscription?"

Mutely, I shook my hood.

The year he turned 5 and I turned 3. He could read well by 5. He could read aloud by 5. I doubt he read it to me at 3, but I suspect it was before First Grade. In my foggy memories of reading that first harrowing story, he looms large. It seems quite plausible that he played the role of narrator.

Suddenly all those years (and I seriously mean years) of night terror suddenly seemed less mysterious. And it explained why I stuffed the unusually heavy hand-me-down patchwork dog in the back of my closet and NEVER wanted a sock monkey.

The reemergence of Baleful Beasts touched a nerve in him. "Do you remember this other book? I'm SURE someone read it to us at [elementary school]. There was this hunter who shot a monster's tail off?"

More childhood memories returned. Carefully tucking every inch of cover around myself (head included) after my mom left the room at night. Realizing in horror that my teddy bear fell from the bed to the floor and then crying because I was too scared to rescue her.

The title of this terrifying tome? Tailypo. It's downright comical now.

My dad and brother embarked to find both books online. It turns out Baleful Beasts is a desirable collector's item and Tailypo's spooky illustrations aren't that much different than Farmer Brown from Click Clack Moo taking on an oversized dust bunny (on the other hand, Baleful Beasts' cover still creeps me out).

When I walked in the computer room dad said "Baleful Beasts sells for $150." There was pride in his voice that he'd had the foresight to give my brother such a valuable book.

My brother started reading me the Amazon reviews for Tailypo. It's amazing how many reviewers were traumatized by the book via elementary school teachers. Lots of adults echoed his feelings about Tailypo: "Aside from teh [sic] mental scarring, I love this book."

Next thing I knew I was reading all the comments for both books (especially Baleful Beasts). Seeing the readers' remarks I realized those texts were pretty powerful stuff for young kids and inspired more than a few nightmares worldwide.

Though it hadn't been ordered before we left, I suspect a copy of Tailypo will soon be winging its way via parcel service (or flying monkey) to my brother.

I made him promise not to show either book to Ranger or the Raptor until they are much older.

So what scared the heck out of you as kid?
How do you plan to handle similar materials with your own kids?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Hiccups Gone in a Jiffy, Skippy: The Miraculous Peanut Butter Cure

Jim has always teased me about my seismic hiccups. Their size was rivaled only by their duration.

One day my office assistant mentioned that peanut butter worked as a cure, and she happened to have a jar in her purse.

Since that miraculous advice, a big spoon full of peanut butter has never failed to drive away even my loudest hiccups.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Pedicures for the Churlish: Video-Gaming the Resistance

Ranger is no fan of nail trimming.

After a few episodes of wailing and flailing, Jim and I became clipper-shy. In an epic battle of parental buck-passing, we each denied knowledge of his long, uneven nails until the situation demanded immediate action (with luck, by the other parent).

Last month, Jim wielded the nail clippers for an emergency preschooler pedicure while a sock footed Ranger screamed bloody murder in anticipation.

In the living room, I unearthed our Nintendo DS Lite: it's one of those rare secrets we've managed to keep from the curious kid. With Kirby Super Star Ultra on board, I handed the kid "the toenail game."

Instant tranquility via electronic rapture. After his toenails were finished, Ranger offered his hands to buy more time with the flashing pixels.

In order to keep the entertainment special, we allow no non-persuasive access to the DS.

When we will stop exploiting the boy's love for video games? Whenever it stops working so well.

Related posts:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Games Month Marches On

March turned out to be a rough month around the Jones house. We were all sick. And the very moment I started feeling better, I dumped a glass of water in my laptop. Ironically, I had not one, but two waterproof USB keyboards within easy walking distance at the time of the accident.

Our goal for Game Month was 31 game reviews, so by my count we're hoping to get out 27 more reviews in upcoming weeks. Wish us luck and stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Tag Winner: Congratulations Renee!

Yesterday, I managed to pour a glass of water in my laptop keyboard. Fortunately the contest entries were on web-based Google Docs, so we could select a winner before my laptop is fully drip-dried.

Congratulations, Renee (I just emailed you the details)!

Thank you to everyone who entered.

Maximize Your Educational Time: LeapFrog Announces New Dream & Learn Orb

We're in love with LeapFrog educational products for young children. As I prepare to announce the winner in our LeapFrog National Reading Month contest I just received word of a new study aid to be released later this year (alongside the Tag Jr. and Text & Learn).

Anyway, here's the skinny (direct from the press release):



“Study While You Slumber” Product Will Make Every Kid Valedictorian

EMERYVILLE, CA—April 1, 2009—Today LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (NYSE: LF) proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that learning can happen anytime, anyplace—with satisfaction guaranteed. After a decade of top-secret, government-funded testing at underground research facilities in several undisclosed locations, LeapFrog has released the revolutionary Dream & Learn Smart Orb. Dream & Learn is the first product to harness the unique ability of children’s brains to absorb raw intelligence delivered via high frequency sound waves. Now all kids (and the occasional cocker spaniel) can instantly comprehend difficult-to-learn concepts—while they sleep!

“Every child sleeps an average of nine hours a night, so why not turn this normally wasted time into a painless study session—and ace that chemistry final?” said Nancy MacIntyre, executive vice president, product, innovation and marketing. “Parents who despair that their child will ever grasp the quadratic formula, Zeno’s Paradox or the answer to ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’ will now rest easy. We’re happy to say that, thanks to our space-age engineering, having the brightest kid on the block is no longer just a dream.”

Turning centuries of educational theory on their head, the patented smartification technology embedded within Dream & Learn—Subjective Neurological Osmosis Retention & Entertainment (S.N.O.R.E.)—allows children to go to sleep as usual and simply wake up noticeably smarter (albeit, in approximately 10 per cent of test cases, somewhat groggy). The Dream & Learn’s ( compact size, sleek spherical shape and hermetically sealed shell allow it to be nestled safely and unobtrusively next to any standard-sized pillow. And the ”infinity dial” of subjects lets parents choose exactly which Amazing Knowledge Archive (how to calculate a molar solution; baking a perfect pie crust—every time!; exactly who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?) will grow their little one’s brain each night.

Fighting Over Homework—Never Again!

Dream & Learn eliminates the need for any parent ever again to nag their child to finish homework. Parents simply set the Dream & Learn dial to the topic of their choice, place the device near their child’s pillow and off the little one goes into productive slumber. The S.N.O.R.E.’s proprietary sonic algorithms infiltrate and effectively “hijack” the child’s unconscious and download the selected information directly to the appropriate lobes of the brain. A satisfied parent said, “My son used to fail every math quiz he took. But now, at only eight years old, he is heading to Antarctica to do stuff my wife and I can’t even pronounce, let alone understand. Thanks, LeapFrog!”

Already in development are next-gen products that will actually allow a child to sleep around the clock—and get smarter, faster, than possible while awake. And depending on their particular parenting philosophies, moms and dads can even choose not to tell their child he or she is “Dream & Learn”-ing, placing the orb after bedtime and removing it in the wee hours of the morning. The child will awaken smarter—but none the wiser.

Availability and Money-back Guarantee

Dream & Learn Smart Pod is now available from LeapFrog’s web site. If within ten days your child is not a seven-language-speaking viola virtuoso leading NASA’s mission to DNA profile the rings of Saturn, you are guaranteed a full refund of the purchase price plus applicable shipping and handling charges.

...and yes, LeapFrog did actually send out this release today.

Happy April Fool's Day!
Check out The Toby Show and Google Maps' street view icon for more 4/1 fun.