Thursday, April 29, 2010

Education Vs. Games

I am always cautious when it comes to introducing my kids to the newest technology toys- I would rather see them exercising their bodies and brains. My daughter pleaded for a Nintendo DS for three years before I thought she was old enough to have one, and I am very picky about the games we purchase (they have to be both entertaining and educational.) But whether it is a boy/girl or birth order thing, it’s been harder to keep my son from idolizing technology games and gizmos. Throw in the fact that my husband has a small menagerie of gaming devices and wants to share these with said son and it becomes downright impossible.

But it wasn’t until these two gaming buddies downloaded a free, but what I consider pointless and violent wizard game from the Internet, that I thought I had better step in. If I couldn’t keep my son away from the games, I could at least expose him to those I thought were more educational in nature. Thankfully the JumpStart Company, very well known for their educational games, contacted me about a review of their online site, and timing being everything, I hurriedly accepted.

Unfortunately, start up wasn’t as easy as I thought, and most of this was due in part to our DSL router that was slowly dying. Our Internet connection grew slower and slower, and if you don’t have a fast Internet connection either through a DSL line or Cable modem, playing these online games is next to impossible. But even with our router fixed, there definitely was a learning curve when it came to figuring out how to set up individual players and where to go to actually start play. There are a lot of places that you can click on like connection to Facebook pages, inviting friends, and Wii games, and with each having it’s own drop down list, at first it can seem a little overwhelming. It also took a little time (and a couple disagreements) to figure out how to let each of my kids have their own avatar to play the games, but that’s because the kids wanted to play right away while I wanted to stop to read all the information.

But when things were finally up and running full force, and nobody could blame the other for changing their avatar character, the kids really enjoyed the JumpStart site. The site itself is aimed at kids ages 3-10, but it’s divided into “worlds”-each world has characters that help your Avatar explore and solve problems, and these worlds are more specifically rated for particular age groups. (I.e. Story Land is for beginner readers ages three to five, Adventure Land is for ages five to eight) There is also a downtown section where kids can customize their avatars with clothes and pets. You move your avatar to different worlds by clicking on the map in the corner of the screen or by using both the keyboard direction arrows and mouse. (Worlds that are for smaller kids utilize only the mouse.)

I was pretty blown away by the graphics-screen shots are detailed and in 3-D and to say that they are engaging is definitely an understatement. I also liked how JumpStart wasn’t all education or all entertainment. The kids could complete educational games (disguised as missions) that allowed them to practice reading or math, and they earned points for their successes. They could also explore each world and rack up points for negotiating obstacles along the way.

The games were a great fit for my seven year old son, but I had to keep watch to make sure he completed the educational parts of the missions-he was pretty content to just run around the different worlds. There is also some patience involved with the games because there is a small wait time while different worlds load. My son is also new to using a keyboard and mouse simultaneously, and being left-handed he initially had some trouble. His favorite worlds were Adventure Land, Future Land, and Marine Land, and each world had a nice combination of fun as well as teaching elements.

My eleven-year-old daughter enjoyed all the personal touches involved with the avatar characters-dressing them, adding and decorating their houses, and acquiring pets-but I insisted that she needed to participate in the learning activities as well, and she too was challenged by the games in Future Land because this area allowed her to practice her multiplication and division skills.

Our experience with this educational Internet site was an overly positive one, and I don’t hesitate about recommending it to any of you. But while I agree that the games are a good match for someone my son’s age, I am not sure that a three year old could handle or understand how to move the avatar around to the different communities. I am also hopeful that the company will add additional age ranges so that my daughter can continue to enjoy the site.
Check them out to see if they are a good match for you too.

The opinions expressed in this post are my own. I was only compensated with a trial membership for the sole purpose of writing a review.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Some days good, some days not...

Ok, I’ve been suffering since Saturday with some sort of strange cold/allergy thing that makes me talk like a toad, cough up a lung, and, according to my husband, snore like a train, but I am not convinced it’s my snoring he’s hearing. I do not snore-I think he is hearing his own snoring self because I've been hearing him… So let’s recap-I got this crud of a virus thing and 4 days of no sleep (and did I mention a fresh batch of hormones to make me really feel special?), and that equals a cranky me.

The kids at school are approaching me very cautiously, and although some of them are acting inappropriately (hmm, now why would I possibly get upset when you blatantly refuse to take a seat, or when you lie to a sub when I am out sick?) little things are irritating me more than they should. And things aren’t much better at home with the kids and my husband. I just about bit my son’s head off when I thought he lied to me about completing his homework tonight-as it turns out, the couple incomplete worksheets he had in his folder are the result of working at different stations in the class today. They move on to the next station regardless of whether they finish an activity or not-man that better be right!

I do believe my husband has had his fill of my off-the-cuff commenting and snarling too-at the beginning of the week he was sending me “cheer up” e-mails to make me smile, but the last one I got yesterday just said, “I hope you are in a good mood when you come home.” And although I was trying to get things on the table tonight and he just plunked himself down and started to put food on the kids plates, I could have asked for help a tad bit nicer than, “I don’t know why you are sitting when I need some cheese grated.” I also said this with the customary hands-on-the-hips and roll of the eyes-just for effect. And let’s just say that it didn’t go over very well.

Just how am I going to change my terrible attitude? Well I thought that if I just dump everything that has ticked me off over the last few days in this post (lucky you!), I might be able to start fresh tomorrow. So, without further ado, here’s a rundown of conversations and observances for my Thursday rendition of Sunday Sage’ ness-I hope you can relate.

· Yes, your room looks better, but now I can’t see under your bed.

· Now if what you said is true and you brushed your teeth, then why is your toothbrush dry?

· You can only go to the commons area if you have an honors pass. I’m not going to give you a pass to the library so you can turn around and join your buddies in the commons area.

· If I am going to drag my butt into school on a Sunday evening to make sure you will be ok without me Monday morning, you had better do what the substitute says or else expect to face the angry women formally known as your teacher.

· Ok, it’s simple-you brush your teeth, rinse out your mouth, then throw your cup in the trash. Every time I walk into the bathroom, a horde of paper cups is waiting for me.

· If I am not allowed to get mad after asking you five times to take out the dog, then give me the number of times I can ask before I get mad, so I know when to get mad the next time.

· If I am not sitting at the table but you are, maybe you can help so that I can sit down too.

· How many people are going to walk past that pencil before someone picks it up? (The answer-two kids and a husband-I picked it up)

· Why doesn’t anyone else besides me see that the dog is not chewing one of his toys, but one of yours?

· Am I the only one who can use a phone-I could be alive or dead, but you wouldn't know. And the longer it takes, the more upset it makes-me-so don’t expect a pleasant conversation when you do call.

· I dropped a hint about seeing some dog hair on the carpet-I better finish this post so that the hinter can take care of it.

Well, I don’t know if I feel any better, but as promised, tomorrow is a new day (and it’s Friday and payday!) so I will check my sarcasm at the door before going into school or back home. (And not everything went wrong today-my daughter let me hug her so that I could feel better!) So I am going to follow Louis Armstrong's lead when he said this in a song, “When you're smiling, the whole world smiles with you.” (If that doesn't work, there's always cheesecake...)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Date Night Disasters

Why is it that dating my husband is so much harder and involves much more mishap than it was during our pre-marriage days? I’m not saying that our pre-marriage dates were always fantastic because many times they just involved dinner and a movie, but dating my husband takes an extreme amount of effort. You have to decide on the day, arrange for a sitter, plan the outing so that you are not completely exhausted the next day, and the date never seems to live up to all the hype-although it does make for a good blog post…

When my kids were smaller, we didn’t try to go out-with both of us working, the guilt of not being near our kids during our off time was just too much too bear, and we did everything together as a family. Then as our family grew and the kids got older, the stresses of family life and the workday naturally increased so my husband and I tried to incorporate little “breaks” from the kids a few times a year. Yes, you read that right-we still had trouble leaving the kids. We are more relaxed about things now, but both kids are in school so it makes things much easier. Besides, they both cheer when they hear we are leaving them with a sitter.

But while we overcame the leaving part, the actual dating part has, well, been interesting. At first, I chalked up our dating experience as just a case of bad luck-I mean, sometimes things go wrong no matter how much you plan. But then I started noticing a pattern and realized that we must be the ill fated victims of some type of tribal curse that affects only married couples, and we are destined, like in the movie Ground Hog Day, to suffer continued dating disasters.

For instance, let’s look back at when the dates started going sour-my husband and I decided to get a nice dinner and finish our Christmas shopping. I was so looking forward to this but as the date grew closer, and money spent on Christmas gifts started flying through our fingertips, we decided on a sandwich joint instead-we used the fact that we would have more time to shop as a way of softening the disappointment. Things started off well because we were able to get most of what was on our list, but then it was time to eat. We stopped off at a favorite hang out of ours-one we have been to a thousand times-and we ordered our usual choices. But things took a bad turn after I had finished my last bite-I had a peculiar feeling in my stomach. I had eaten more than I usually do so I just thought I was overly full, but oh how wrong I was!

I remember that we were in the car and my husband was relating some story involving something at work, but all my concentration was on the sick feeling in my stomach. I mentioned that I wasn’t feeling very well and may have to use a bathroom, so my husband nonchalantly said I could go at the sitters. That seemed plausible enough until my hands and feet started to itch, and we're not talking a little itch here-I’m saying that if I could have scratched my skin off, I would have done so that night!

I turned the dash light on-I had monster hands and feet, all red and swollen and I had blotches on my face. I remember my husband uttering “whoa” when he snuck a peek at me-I was that hideous. Then the nausea increased and I begged my husband to get me to the nearest bathroom. One of the county parks was nearby so he pulled up close to the public bathrooms, but it was getting dark and the bathroom had no electric lights, so my husband kept his headlights on so that I could find my way to a stall. Let me tell you that these facilities were only one step up from a porta-potty, and the stench alone could have made me wretch, and wretch I did do, several times in a scope of about 20 minutes. By this time my husband’s headlights went out and I had to endure my miserable state in pitch black, but then I heard voices. The parks close and lock their gates at dark, so a park ranger had come by to see what was up, and to make matters worse, we both knew the guy!

After completely emptying my stomach of all of its contents, I tried to feel my way out the door and walk nonchalantly to the car, but the ranger shined his light (he shouldn’t have) before I could crawl back in. We made it to the sitters but my husband went in alone to get the kids. We figured that the restaurant had added something new to the dish and that I had a nasty allergic reaction to whatever it was. A little Benadryl and a good nights rest set everything right again, but like I said before, that one date was the start of a trend!

Now I would be lying if I said that every outing where I was alone with my husband ended badly, because there were a few times this year when both of us were off but the kids had school, and those couple days were wonderful. But these were spontaneous outings, with no planning involved, so they ended much better than anything we ever planned. So I decided to compile a list of all the bad luck that has happened on our dates of late to prove my curse theory:

·At a recent outing, we were forced to entertain a co-worker’s drunken husband.

·We attended an evening wedding that left us wiped out that night and for the rest of the weekend, and I became the designated driver...

·We decided on a new restaurant but had to wait 45 minutes for a table, 30 minutes for our food, and 20 minutes for the check. There were no happy thoughts on the way home.

·I was so excited about meeting my husband at a nearby restaurant-of course traffic was terrible and I was running late. I glanced at a nearby eatery but didn’t see the car in front of me slam on their breaks-I totaled our 6 month old van and got a ticket! My husband met me at the crash site instead and dinner was, um, canceled.

·Before another date my husband and I got into an argument about whether we were going to a movie or just out to eat. Well, we had a bad meal, no movie, and we barely talked the entire time.

So you see, we are cursed and it seems the only sure way to have a good date is to make sure that the date isn’t planned. But with two kids, sports practices, and work, this is next to impossible-were talking the earth-moon-sun angle needs to be 180 degrees with a full moon at midnight… But tell me, has this same blight affected you, or have you mastered “date night” at your house? I sure hope this malady isn’t contagious…

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Meme and a Party...

I have a combo post today- Shelly over at Tropical Mom tagged me for a photo meme, and I am taking party in a virtual blogging party that runs from April 9-16.
The instructions for the photo meme are as follows:

1. Locate your oldest photo folder in your computer
2. Scroll down to the 10th photo
3. Post the photo with the story behind it
4. And then tag 5 more people to continue the thread.

We were a little behind when it came to jumping on the digital camera bandwagon, so the oldest photos in my computer are from January/February 2005, but my kids were pretty small then, so I guess it will be alright.

We don’t get loads of snow here, but when we do it’s pretty major-the photo I posted is of one such storm and it was probably one of the first that my son was able to enjoy (he was two here and my daughter was five). Now I say, “enjoy” but he wasn’t quite sure about the sled at the time. My husband stuck the two of them on it and dragged it around the yard a bit before seeing if my son would enjoy a small hill or two. As it turned out, he did like his first big snow adventure (as you can see from this other photo) and both my kids pine for big snowfalls every winter.

Now for my second reason to post today: The Ultimate Blog Party 2010! Susan and Janice over at 5 Minutes for Mom are hosting this "virtual" party as a means of finding more blogging friendships-there is also a chance at some really great prizes, and you know how I am about giveaways…  Since I started blogging this past August, I wasn’t around for previous parties, but I noticed that a lot of the blogs I follow were participating, so I thought, why not? The rules are simple:

1. Just link up at 5 Minutes for Mom with a blog party post

2. Include the blog party banner in the post

3. Look over the list of giveaways, and list your favorites on this post

4. Provide links back to the blogs hosting the giveaways

5. And for the fun part, find some new blogs to follow.

My first choice in prizes would have to be the grand prize-a Toshiba Satellite L505D-ES5025 laptop, but I'm not sure if I can put this in my list, so here are my other choices:

US11- A $100 gift eCertificate to provided by Amy LeForge at Earnest Parenting

US39 -Be My Guest certificate ($250 value) for one lucky winner, (2 night stay for a family of four) at any Hilton Garden Inn from bloggin2noggin

USC 15 – $50 Target gift card offered by princesshaley

US61 – Win a $25 e-gift certificate to Toys-R-Us offered by FrugFabMom

US15-$25 e-gift certificate to the Disney Store provided by

US73 – $30 Amazon gift card provided by escalatenetwork 

US28 – A Guy and Eva Jewelry Necklace provided by Jessica Fuqua – Ind. Guy and Eva Advisor

US37 – $20 Visa Gift Card provided by Grocery Shop For FREE

USC 25 -$25 Barnes  Noble Gift Card offered by Babasfarmlife

USC 41 – $25 Gift Card to Macy’s from Mels_World

US63 –Razor® Rip Rider™ 360 offered by busymommymedia

Well, I know I am supposed to tag five others for the meme, but I am exhausted from looking over this extensive list, and my daughter wants on my computer.  (I promised...)  I am also pretty excited about the party and I hope to see you all there!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I've got a new hobby

Ah hello world, glad to be back. I know my post tonight is long overdue but I have reasons, good reasons. I injured my hand at work (I’ll save this for when I think it’s funny-it’s not funny yet) so typing has been difficult, although not impossible, and any extra time I may have had in the evenings has been committed to a newfound activity.

This is an actual picture of products from SmartKnit Kids
Things started out so innocently, fueled mainly out of curiosity-Tesa over at 2 Wired 2 Tired had a few unique giveaways this past fall that I took an interest in. One was for socks without seams offered by SmartKnit Kids, for kids who can’t stand seams on their socks, and my daughter is one such kid. (I finally gave up battling her about wearing her socks inside out because she was at least wearing socks!)

Actual Product picture from Healthy Kids
The other giveaway was for a musical hand-washing timer from Healthy Hands, and since everyone was worried about having to battle the big N1H1 virus, I thought this might get my kids washing their hands more often, and better yet, keep all of us from getting sick. I won both giveaways and fortunately (unfortunately?) the products were a hit-my daughter started wearing socks and both kids (and mom) enjoyed boogying down to the musical rendition of Real Gone from the Cars movie every time we washed our hands.

The products were so distinctive that I was hooked-I was just like Pavlov’s dogs, maybe not quite salivating, but just as thrilled at the prospect of winning more and more “stuff.” There was a giveaway for greener cleaning products and everyone needs to be more environmentally conscious so I entered. There was a giveaway for new age defying lotions and creams, and since I need to stop Father Time from marching all over my face, I entered. My closet of late is looking pretty sad since I haven’t added any new spring fashions, so why not enter a few giveaways that not only promise to outfit me in attire that will set me apart, but will also give me a coupon for future purchases? The chore of cooking will become the joy of cooking once I win that new cast iron pan, non-stick skillet, or Le Creuset Cookware. And maybe I would spend more time cleaning if I had the help of new vacuum cleaners or state of the art mops.

I entered over and over again, because at first I wanted more stuff, but now I need more stuff, my kids need more stuff, and my whole family could use more stuff. I mean that’s what makes America great-you can accumulate as much stuff as you want and everyone is ok with it, right? There is no way my sister can live without a stone teething necklace for her daughter, so I must win one for her. And to keep my dog from being the laughing stock of the dog park I just have to enter to win that dog grooming starter kit. Then there are the bellybands that promise you can still wear your normal clothes even if you are five months pregnant-my friend at work undeniably needs this and I am sure she wouldn’t be offended if I won it for her.

But I haven't won anything lately.  My husband claims I have become addicted, but if that’s the case, I am not alone. I googled “addicted to blog giveaways” and blog after blog popped up with blog names claiming the same thing! There are the giveaway addicted blogs, and addicted mommies, then there are other addicts like the yoga addicted blogs, the wrestling addicted, and the lip balm and crazy quilting addicted blogs-a bit bizarre but to each his own.

But an addiction isn’t a good thing-Merriam Webster defines addiction in this way, “to devote or surrender oneself to something habitually or obsessively.” Now while I think I have become somewhat obsessive, I can pass up a giveaway or two, especially if they involve putting my kids in some pretty ugly footwear. And I do recognize the fact that I really don’t need $50 worth of lip balm or a crazy quilt to be happy, even though it may be free. I just need to reign in some of my excitement at actually winning something-I know I must have won something else during my adult life, but the only other thing I can remember winning was a drawing contest in the third grade. So I promise not to live or die based on the latest giveaway, no matter how tempting, and I won’t enter another unless it’s something that will truly make my life easier. (The t-shirt giveaway I entered tonight doesn’t count…)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Just 5 little questions

I had quite a few computer woes the first half of the day, and after spending nearly two hours getting my Internet connection back up (the Internet didn’t recognize the IP address of my router), I wasn’t in the best mood to write today’s post. I changed my mind only after reading Stacey’s answers to this 5 Question Friday Meme, so I linked up with Mama M over at My Little Life and answered them too.

1. Do you sing out loud in the car when you’re driving?
Ok, I may sing to a tune or two but if I croon a little too loud for a little too long, I hear from the critics riding in the back. Now when I'm by myself and a good song comes on, I keep the beat by bobbing my head up and down and pounding the steering wheel, and then I let it all out.


2. What would you never be caught doing?
I have two answers for this question: wearing short shorts and drinking from someone else’s glass. Why no short shorts? When you have chicken legs and knobby knees, well you get the picture. And everyone knows that when you take a drink, a bit of your guzzle always escapes your mouth and goes back down into the glass-I don’t ever want to swallow someone else’s spit. Case closed.

3. Will you go #2 in a public restroom?
I won’t even go #1 in a public restroom unless it’s an emergency, and then I only do so if the seat is completely covered by a nest of toilet paper.

4. Have you ever broken a bone?
You name it and I have broken it, but just about every break but one happened due to a car accident when I was a senior in college. I was a camp counselor for the summer up in the Pocono Mountains, and on our night off, we were hit head on by a van driving down the wrong side of the road. (The driver of the van was European and forgot about driving on the right side…) I broke my left wrist and forearm, my right femur (thigh), my right tibia (shin), right fibula (back of the leg), my right ankle in two places, and my nose. (I used to have a bump in the bridge of my nose, but I got a “free” nose job thanks to this accident.)

I broke my right ankle once again when I was still a newlywed. I tried to shoo our cat down the basement steps-she moved out of my way, and down the stairs I flew. My husband was taking a shower at the time and he was stark naked when he came down to see why I was screaming. I still laugh when I think about what he said as I lay on that cold, basement floor, “Just stay where you are. I will be back in a minute.” Um, I didn’t go anywhere-he went back upstairs to dry off and put clothes on.

5. Do you prefer cooking or baking?
I like to cook some dishes but only tried and true recipes from Better Homes and Gardens because these usually turn out fine. With baking I have to be in the mood, like when it’s cold outside and there is nothing to do except hunker down at home. This is when the baking bug strikes me, and I usually try to get my kids involved because then they aren’t fighting with each other…

Have a wonderful weekend everybody!