Monday, August 31, 2009

Rock, Paper, Scissors: Party Preparation

For Ranger's birthday party, we wanted a no tears craft that would engage kids from toddler through 5th grade. After considering at a number of very clever projects, we decided to stick with what we know.

I printed off the crown template I use for fabric play crowns. The day before the party, I traced six of them onto each of five sheets of white posterboard ($0.70 x 5= $3.50+ sales tax for 30 crowns). A wonderful friends brought loads of crayons. An adult sized and stapled the finished crowns. (Hint: Staple from the inside of the crown so the flat side of the staple is against the wearer's hair and the points are on the exterior.)

The levels of interest varied greatly. Some kids put major effort into their crowns and wore them throughout the party. Other kids (Ranger among them) were more interested in getting back to the dance floor and playroom.

That brings us to the Rock. Jim put together a party mix from some of Ranger's favorite tunes:

  1. I'm So Happy You're Here Blue’s Clues
  2. The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song the Flaming Lips
  3. Mahna Mahna Cake
  4. Stayin' Alive the Bee Gees
  5. I Am a Paleontologist They Might Be Giants (w/ Danny Weinkauf) [free download- thanks, TMBG & Girlie Action! Thanks for the tip, Spare the Rock! *pre-order this great new album for the bargain rate of $9.99 on Amazon]
  6. The Hoppity Song Five for Fighting
  7. Mix Tape Jim’s Big Ego [free download courtesy of Jim's Big Ego!]
  8. A Little Less Conversation JXL Remix
  9. All the Small Things Blink 182
  10. Gotta Be Me Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
  11. Music Farm Xtatik
  12. Rockin' Robin Bryan White
  13. My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors Moxy Fruvous
  14. Family Tree Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
  15. Lovely Rita The Beatles
  16. Go Down Emmanuel Road Dan Zanes & the Rocketship Revue
  17. Silly Hat Blue’s Clues
  18. Flying Machine Father Goose
  19. King of Spain Moxy Fruvous
  20. Come Together The Beatles
  21. So Glad I'm Here Elizabeth Mitchell
  22. All Night Long Dan Zanes & Friends
  23. I'm Yours Jason Mraz
  24. So Long It's Been Good to Know Yuh Dan Zanes & Friends
Feel free to don a crown and break out your boogie shoes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

GenCon 2009: The Family Edition

Wonder Woman, a 15 foot tall pirate, the Ghostbusters, Buddah, Darth Vader, Chihiro, a Gamorrean guard, Jim, Ranger, the Raptor, myself, and 27,887 others attended GenCon 2009 earlier this month in Indianapolis.

As first-timers, we did not know what to expect. Despite the fact that my friends were making GenCon widow plans, I lack the graciousness required to jealously listen to stories about the awesome gaming convention. Our preschooler loves games, so we knew he would be amused; our only concern was keeping him from moving players' game pieces. At 9 months, the baby is very opinionated, but she loves riding in the backpack and her patience can now be bought with Cheerios (lots and lots of Cheerios).

After our first disorienting minutes in the vast exhibition hall, I wondered if I had made a huge mistake in coming with the kids. Polyhedra rarely seen outside of theoretical geometry labs surrounded me like tribbles, gleaming brightly from row after row of plexiglass bins.

My mind flashed back to the first night Jim's cousin brought over Descent. While he laid out the chits, cards, and *blush* statues, I cringed. When he dumped the bucketload of dice required on the table, I balked openly, "Um, guys, I think my ovaries prevent me from playing any game with this many dice." But they needed me for a quorum, so I set aside my derisive comments about "pizza boys" and picked up the biggest battle axe in the deck. I've never looked back. GenCon was no time for second thoughts.

We floated through the exhibition hall on a wave of humanity (and alienity). Suddenly familiar sights started appearing in the booths. Memories of great get-togethers (with and without space colonization and zombie attacks) popped up as favorite titles came into focus. Companies I have long admired offered opportunities to talk with employees, ask questions, meet designers, and try new games.

Ranger loved playing demo games, Jim grooved on the geek zeitgeist, I liked asking about kids' offerings (and getting good answers), while the Raptor contentedly left a Cheerio trail in case we needed to retrace our steps.

Party gamers Out of the Box [earlier review: Apples to Apples] introduced us to some new favorites for kids (and the rest of the family). Playroom Entertainment enticed us with their games for the preschool set. Simply Fun (a home-based consultant company- think Tupperware party) astounded us with their elegantly straightforward Ribbit by master designer Reiner Knizia. Gaming closet favorite Rio Grande came through with a great kids version of Carcassone that works for ages 4 and up (this must-have for Carcassonne fans quickly sold out at GenCon). Winning Moves' Cir*Kis caught both Jim's and my hearts, but we didn't move fast enough to buy a copy before they sold out.

While the crowds (especially in the exhibition hall) were daunting with young kids, the attendees and staff made the kids' experience quite good. People were gracious and generous with the baby and very willing to help our preschooler have hands-on gaming time. On the whole, it seems like the people at GenCon welcome kids more than the average crowd. I wouldn't have wanted to navigate the place with a large jogging stroller (it would just seem rude in the limited space of the exhibit hall), but other parents seemed to do okay with infants in mid-sized strollers.

A few tips for those thinking about taking kids in 2010:
  • If you're going strollerless, take along a large comfortable bag (that you can wear) if you might do any shopping. The vender bags tend to have small hand holes, so something you can sling over a shoulder is valuable.
  • Toting a lot of small gear (changes of clothes, snacks, toys, etc.) that you want on site, but not on hand? Rent a locker in the morning (seriously, they sell out fast) to use as a home base. The lockers I saw were 75 cents to a dollar and only take quarters. You'll need to pay each time you visit the locker, so you won't want to visit too frequently.
  • Kids from elementary school on up could really thrive in this environment. It's exciting and there are lots of games to play. If (or, more accurately, when) we take older kids, I will purchase an unlimited library card ($20) to the GenCon games library. That way kids can try new games and household standards even if there's not much for them in the demos. If we had a group of families with kids going (you know who you are: hint, hint), it seems quite reasonable for kids to game in the library with adults exchanging supervisory time.
  • This trip we stayed with our gracious friend in Indianapolis. While such wonderful free housing would be a fine arrangement for adults, the commute to and from nap time was extended. The skywalk connected convention hotels (there are a number to choose from) seem a great asset with young kids. Not only could the wee ones get better naps, pit stops and snack times would be easier too. Plus, while the kids napped, an adult (assuming more than one are in attendance) could go back to the convention halls for some solo gaming. Our kids would love the opportunities to swim in the hotel pool. The zoo and State Museum would become workable side trips (as we wouldn't be driving around town so much). The event schedule runs literally 24 hours a day, so one parent (or both if they alternate childcare) could still participate even after the kids have been put to bed.
  • For game-friendly teens and tweens, GenCon seems a great playground. The cos play and LARPers give the con a festival atmosphere that's irresistibly offbeat (4 year old Ranger insisted on wearing a cape after our first visit). Adults seem quite willing to give a young geek a place at the gaming table, so kids with interest won't be relegated to the sidelines or simply shopping the hall.
GenCon was a great experience for our family, and we are already making plans for 2010. I'm sure we'll have more to say on this year's con and the great games and companies we met there throughout the next few weeks.

Photo credit: Gurney5 on Flickr, Creative Commons

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Dial Down the Stains

With babies come stains. I've had more than one Stepford Wives conversation where friends discuss the BEST pre-treater they've found.

In a rare bout of silence, I tend to keep my mouth shut. Pre-treaters just don't seem that effective to me, at least not compared to a cheap bar of Dial gold.

A little warm water, a quick rub of a Dial bar, and some hand scrubbing can remove a remarkable assortment of fresh stains.

One bar lasts for months, costs under $1, looks perfectly normal in the shower, and easily packs for travel (in carry-on even). It also carves into swell little boats in a pinch.

I have friends who swear by Fels-Naptha (also made by Dial), but I'm just too lazy to go to the one grocery store that carries it.

You can stock up on Dial at Amazon, but unless you own a bathhouse or do laundry for the whole Little League it's probably easiest to find a sale on the 3 bar pack closer to home.

Baby Toolkit has no professional expertise in soap, are only gifted amatuers in the field of staining, and have no extra-consumer connections with Dial or its parent companies. The only free Dial we've ever recieved have been hotel soaps (which probably aren't really free).

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Beautiful URLs: Some Favorite Links, August 1

We were off enjoying some sun, sand, and 60 degree temperatures in Michigan. Friends and family kept us too occupied to really mind that didn't have Internet access.

In the meantime, my feed reader filled with bloggy goodness.

Here are some recent favorites:
  • Maker's Schedule, Manager's Schedule (by Paul Graham) explains a lot about how my life works (or doesn't work). Babies and kids don't really understand either kind of schedule, but the Raptor definitely wants a manager momma which makes blogging (and many other activities) complicated. (thanks, Z Recs)
  • Speaking of stuff, Z Recommends adopts and explains a new Keep No Stuff review policy. Jim and I have been discussing our own review policy. We currently disclose any free review samples and vested interest in companies (it's pretty simple, we're far too lazy to invest). When I get a little maker time, we'll discuss our own review, advertising, and privacy policies.
  • I've always wondered how people could maturely combat real life trolls like hatemonger Fred Phelps, and this solution seems divinely inspired. Thank you, Bill Childs.
  • By the way, if you're not listening to Bill, Ella, and Liam Childs on their excellent kids' radio show Spare the Rock, you are most certainly missing out. [podcast feed]
  • Another hankie doll you can make in a pinch with only a handkerchief and a ring or a piece of string. [earlier]
What posts have drawn your attention lately?