Sleeping (Hopefully) With The Pajanimals

Courtesy The Jim Henson Company
Courtesy of The Jim Henson Company.

One of my favorite jokes to make when I can’t remember something, or when I trip and fall, or do something weird like, I don’t know, dump a bucket of cold gazpacho on my head is, “Well, what do you expect—I haven’t slept in 4 years!” Then, I laugh really loud, with a crazy edge in my voice.

Look, I actually don’t like it when experienced parents regale n00b, blissfully hopeful parents-to-be with horror stories about the Herculean trials of sleep deficit. It seems cruel and very much a rain-on-their-parade-for-no-reason-except-schadenfreude kind of stunt.  You know what, new parents? It’s true, you’re probably not going to get as much sleep as you used to, but it’s a small price to pay in terms of the rewards you’re about to reap immediately.

But sleep is always a hot topic among parents. Always.

How much sleep you’re not getting, how much sleep your child should be getting, why won’t they sleep, are they getting enough sleep, how often should they be napping, what time they should go to sleep, why won’t they sleep, what’s the best way to set up healthy sleep habits, WHY WON’T THEY SLEEP, what I can do to help them transition into a new sleeping situation, and finally, why won’t they sleep, why won’t they sleep, it’s just that I’m so tired, please go to sleep.

This is what parents talk about. And over at The Jim Henson Company, things are no different. That’s what the parents who work there are discussing as well. And that’s why they decided to create the show The Pajanimals.

The Pajanimals is a show that is completely and utterly devoted to toddler sleep issues, and how children and parents can address them. In each short and soothing episode, Squacky, Apollo, Cowbella and Sweetpea Sue deal with letting go of the events of the day as they prepare for bed and sing each other lullabies.

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Courtesy of The Jim Henson Company.

I was invited to visit the Henson lot to interview Alex Rockwell, the creator of The Pajanimals, and Halle Stanford, the show’s executive producer. TOMY has a full line of Pajanimals toys that have been specifically created to help families with sleep transitions, and the three of us sat down to talk about each product and how it can be used to help ease nighttime woes. Both Alex and Halle are mothers. Halle has a teenager and a toddler, and when Alex writes these shows, she uses her experience as a mother of four to help address issues that can surface with children as they relate to sleeping. I’m always hearing Hollywood horror stories about people who are creating children’s programming, or people in charge of children’s programming that don’t have any kids or experience with kids, so it’s nice to have a show that is actually made by people with families.

The line of products range from the obvious, old-fashioned sleep transition device of books…

…to my personal favorite, The Under the Lights Projector.  I seriously love this thing.

Take a look at the whole playlist. You’ll find lots of tools to help with the bedtime transition. We are huge fans of The Pajanimals here in my house, especially the “La-La-Lullaby.” It’s such a sweet, simple song that’s easy to remember. Or, if you’re too tired to remember the actual words, it’s an easy song to la-la to. You’ll notice that in the lyrics they say, sing, sing, to myself, a la-la-lullaby…” It’s a small word choice, but an important one.  That one word can give a child the power and confidence to sleep all night on their own.

Hey, by the way, you should know that they put a lot of makeup on me, which is why I don’t look as tired as I feel all the time. And while you’re at it, I would love for you to find and enjoy the part where I admit that sometimes I get so frazzled at night, I forget to brush my child’s teeth! MINUS 10 FOR PARENTING!

From Up On Poppy Hill—A Gentle Golden Haze of Nostalgia

From Up On Poppy Hill
Image Courtesy Foundry Communications – ENTER TO WIN AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST!

With Hayao Miyazaki’s announcement that he’s really retiring this time, fans of the celebrated filmmaker are left with two final films to savor and enjoy. As you wait for the theatrical release of The Wind Rises, you would do well to get a copy of From Up On Poppy Hill and savor the gentle, sentimental, second to last film written by the master of anime.

From Up On Poppy Hill
Courtesy Foundry Communications

Directed by Goro Miyazaki, in this movie we are lavished with lush, vibrant colors and scenery meant to evoke a specific feeling from a moviegoer-–-and this time the whole film is awash in the golden light of nostalgia.  The time and place are 1963 Yokohama, Japan, where we meet Umi, a 16-year-old high school student living in, and running a boarding house. At school she meets a boy named Shun, who is part of a movement to save the building that houses the school clubhouse from imminent demolition. With the help of other students, they roll up their shirt sleeves, and set to work cleaning the Quartier Latin from top to bottom, in the hopes of persuading school officials to reconsider destroying it.

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Courtesy Foundry Communications

I call this a nostalgic sentimental film because you can’t help but feel like you’ve somehow been pleasantly caught up inside the golden amber of someone else’s memory of an event or time—and though you clearly feel that the memory is that of someone outside the story, telling you the story of Umi and Shun, you find yourself tumbling into the memories of the characters as well. Within these brilliant colored sunsets, you’ll find sad, grey times, or the echoes of a strong belief that is no longer felt—but it was there long, long ago. These are nothing but shadows of what was.

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Courtesy Foundry Communications

In other words, this film captures brilliantly what it feels like to grow old and recall what it was like to be young and spirited. And this feeling is universal, continuous, and in an eternal loop. There is a photograph that is often referenced in the film—and at one point, we see the men in the photograph on the day they sat for the photographer—young and alive and vibrant—a memory within a memory… within the memory of the filmmaker.

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Courtesy Foundry Communications

Should you watch this with your children? Well, it depends on the attention span of your children. My daughter just turned four, and she not only sat and watched the whole film with me, but she asks to watch it again and again. I think it’s the music that attracts her most of all—she even commented while we watched the film about how good the music was, and begged me to buy the soundtrack. And for what it’s worth, we now play “clean up the Quartier Latin!” and she insists on playing the music from the soundtrack to help our Poppy Hill LARPing feel full and alive!

And of course, I’m thankful to Miyazaki for giving us another great female heroine in a film. This girl can take care of herself, her family, cook for a boarding house full of people, and work to save an historic school building! What will we do when Miyazaki isn’t there to give us these wonderful girls? I can only hope that his “retirement” includes giving constant input to the new crop of young filmmakers that will come through the doors of a new Studio Ghibli.

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Courtesy Foundry Communications

We’re doing a Rafflecopter giveaway, and 3 lucky winners will get their own copy of From Up On Poppy Hill!

To enter our giveaway just log in to the Rafflecopter widget with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more entries! If you already like/follow us it will still enter you in the giveaway. Three winners will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and their name will be posted right in the Rafflecopter widget so you can check back to see who won.

 

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Disney Junior in the House!

Tunip! Photo: Kristen Rutherford

This September, my daughter turned 4, and for her birthday cake, she had a very specific request: She wanted an Octonauts cake. In fact, she was way more granular about it—what she wanted was, “A cake that has Tunip on the top part, and on the bottom part I want it to look like the ocean, and when you cut it open it should also look like the ocean.”  Thank goodness she designed her own cake like this, because, frankly, I was scared she was going to ask me to make the Octopod. Which, I “think” I could do-–-but it was going to require a lot of engineering, tons of butter, and several trips to Home Depot.

Photo: Kristen Rutherford

Why the Octonauts? Because that show is SO GOOD. Seriously: I predict that in 20 years there will be an influx of marine biologists, all because of their underwater adventures. And the books by Vicki Wong and Michael C. Murphy of Meomi Design are even better. You can watch the Octonauts on Disney Jr. but it’s not a Disney production—it’s a British import. (Some of the accents were re-dubbed for American ears-–-personally, I prefer the British version where Dashi is Australian!)

The big preschool American properties on Disney Junior right now are: Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Sofia The First, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Doc McStuffins.  And lately, Disney Junior has been paying a lot of attention to the four of them, and rolling out tons of fun and interesting live events surrounding them. And in an odd twist of events, my family has participated in a bunch of Disney Junior events in a short period of time.

It’s like I baked that Octonauts cake and suddenly the floodgates opened.

We live in Los Angeles, so Disneyland is right down the road. We have annual passes and head down there when the weather is nice and the park isn’t crowded. We go around my daughter’s birthday once the LAUSD kids are back in school, and top on our “this-is-our-routine-list” is the Disney Junior show over in California Adventure. The performance is a round up of the Disney Junior properties within the framework of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Mickey and the gang are preparing a surprise party for Minnie, and to get inspiration and help, Toodles suggests they check in with Doc, Sofia and Jake for ideas.  Yes, you get to call Toodles. Yes, surprises rain down Disney-style from the ceiling. Most importantly: Yes, you can sing those catchy Disney songs at the top of your lungs and nobody will judge you. (That last part may just be me, but I see other parents doing it-–-I see you.)

Photo: Kristen Rutherford

Coincidentally, around that same time the Disney Junior Pirate & Princess Adventure Live show came to Los Angeles, so we figured since we love the Disneyland version, we’d check out what they had planned for the big stage.  The show was playing at the Dolby Theatre, formerly the Kodak Theatre; that’s where they present the Oscars. It’s a huge, beautiful space that holds over 3,000 people. The show opened with a fifteen minute live show starring Doc McStuffins—and I was thrilled to see that the Doc was being played by an actual actress—not someone dressed up in the costume and sporting one of those giant character head things. Whenever I see someone in one of those get-ups on a stage dancing around, (as we often do when they do pre-shows at the El Capitan—the Los Angeles Disney movie theatre), I spend the whole time worrying that they’re going to plummet off the stage and meet an untimely death. Just me? Ok then.

Photo Courtesy Disney

Once the Doc finished her little mini-episode/performance, the show kicked in. Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are the emcees, the show kicks off with a live episode of Sofia the First, a short break for intermission, and then a live episode of Jake and The Neverland Pirates. First things first—this is a live performance, in that there are real people on stage acting out the parts—but the whole thing is entirely lip-synced to sound true to the voices of the show. Don’t go expecting a full-on Broadway version of Sofia and Jake, the way you would if you went to see The Lion King, Beauty and The Beast, or even the abbreviated but amazing Aladdin at Disneyland. This lip-synced performance isn’t necessarily a bad thing, if you ask me—I’m 100% in favor of getting kids to see live theater as early as you possibly can. Doesn’t matter if it’s Broadway, dinner theater, local ballet troupes, operas, school plays—whatever it takes to get them interested in theater is ultimately a good thing. I loved seeing tons of families there with babies, all ready to experience an event together. I don’t know if this will be true at your local theater, but the Dolby was fine with kids dancing in the aisles too.

Photo: Courtesy Disney
Photo: Courtesy Disney Junior

The show quality, costumes, and set design were top-notch, and the parts well cast, with excellent dancers. I asked my daughter what she thought of the show (she’s four) and she loved it—but she wondered why children didn’t play the kids’ roles. Whenever we see live shows of any kind, we place a lot of importance on the ways we can show the performers our respect for the hours and hours of hard work they put into a show. We dress up, we arrive on time, we pay attention, and we clap hard or give a standing ovation to show our appreciation. So we explained that the huge amounts of rehearsal time, performance hours, and the fact that the show tours around the country would be hard on a kid as far as schoolwork and family goes.

Photo: Courtesy Disney
Photo: Courtesy Disney Junior

The Sofia portion of the show was fine—a good solid episode with a lot of great special effects and surprises for the audience—but the pirate portion was much more exciting and engaging. If you want to see the show, you can check the schedule on Ticketmaster and grab some tickets. That same week, wouldn’t you know it, the Doc Mobile was in our town! The Doc Mobile is a beautiful silver Airstream trailer, decked out in a theme titled, “So Much You Can Do… To Take Care of You!” Children were encouraged to bring a toy that they could perform a check-up on, and the focus was on health and wellness. My daughter had her annual check-up that same week, and I asked her pediatrician if people came into her rooms now singing “Time for your check-up!” She said yes, and that in fact, Doc McStuffins had made her job a lot easier, that kids knew what to expect and weren’t afraid.

Photo: Courtesy Disney Junior
Photo: Courtesy Disney Junior

The day the Doc Mobile arrived, it was a blisteringly hot morning in Los Angeles, and the line for the mobile was HUGE. I was impressed with how the Disney Junior PR team handled the crowd—they had people walking up and down the line with tubs of sun block and bottled water, and they immediately assessed the situation and started handing out wristbands with a time frame for people to return to the event. Just like a Fast-Pass at Disneyland! We made our way through the nutrition charts, and the dance party that taught kids about exercise, and walked through the trailer, and it was fun—but the thing that made this event rise above being just another promotional tie-in to a kids’ show was the presence of actual doctors from the Artemis Medical Society. This group is made up of almost 3,000 women physicians of color from around the world, and was formed after the release of Doc McStuffins. They saw themselves reflected in this young, animated, would-be doctor, and they aim to serve as even more inspiration for young girls who may want to follow in their footsteps. How cool is that?

Photo Courtesy Disney Junior

And okay, the event featured a “big headed” Doc McStuffins—a character that made her debut at the D23 Expo—but you know what? I’ll suffer through my worry of her toppling off any stage. It’s an easy exchange for a show that promotes good health, fear-free doctor visits, and does so much to empower and inspire our little girls.

5 Ways to Make Your Preschooler’s Life a Touch More Magical

Running Fairy
Photo: Kristen Rutherford
  • Take a used box—we always have a few laying around from Amazon—and decorate it. Dub it the mailbox. Have your child choose a special place to keep it and while they’re sleeping, drop little notes in there from their favorite characters, fairies, or sprites— whomever they wish to be in touch with.
  • Plant some jellybeans in the garden. While they are sleeping, replace them with pinwheels or lollipops that have “grown” in the same spots.
pinwheels
Photo: Kristen Rutherford
  • Sprinkle a little glitter here and there in the backyard, or on the sidewalk, and go on a hunt for “fairy footsteps.”
  • The next time you’re at the park, try unlocking any “fairy doors” you find. These can be deep knots in a tree, maybe a hole in the ground, or a gap in a fence. It’s hard to find the keys to a fairy door—try stones, or rocks, or anything that seems like a woodland key.
fairy keys
Photo: Kristen Rutherford
  • Put some sugar cubes in a bowl. Count them. In the morning, check to see if any are gone. If so, you have borrowers living with you!

Butterfingers! Part Two: Road Testing iPad Covers

Earlier this summer I wrote about some of my favorite covers for the iPhone – now it’s time to give the iPad some love. (No iPads were harmed in the making of this post… though I did drop one by accident once or twice…)

Let’s kick things off with:

The iGuy by Speck

Courtesy: Speck

Design-wise, I adore this cover. It’s clever and hilarious – I can’t tell you how many people stop us and ask about it when they see it. Have you ever handed your child your iPad (you don’t have to admit it out loud, it’s totally fine, you’re safe here…) and spent the entire time on edge about them dropping it? If you want full toddler protection – this is the cover for you. It’s durable, soft, and sproingy. (Yes, I think that’s the appropriate word to use here.) The arms serve as comfortable handles your child will have no problem gripping and hanging on to. Remember above where I said I may have dropped an iPad here or there – yeah – this would thankfully be the one that I dropped. And it bounced on one of the arms, and then bounced on the face of the iPad (cue me sucking in my breath and cringing in that way one does when a gadget drops) and it was fine.  Boooiiinnnggg!

This is a great cover if you’ve upgraded your iPad and given your kids the old one as “theirs.” It is not a cover you can pop in your purse and it takes up a lot of room in a backpack, so if you’re traveling on a plane, this may not be the right case for you or your child.

As an aside – I’d like to mention that even though the iGuy is designed to allow you to take pictures with later versions of the iPad, we shoved an original iPad in that sucker and it worked fine.

FitFolio by Speck

 Courtesy: Speck

Speck has a line of super stylish iPad covers in their FitFolio line that I road tested while I was working in an office for a month or so. I love the designs they offer – my favorite being the grey retro boom box one. This cover is extremely light and tight fitting, with a magnet in the cover to put your iPad to sleep and gently wake it up when you need it.

I loved how easy it was to throw this in my purse or tote – I felt confident that my iPad was fully protected, and asleep. My one issue with this cover is standing the iPad when you fold it over – often the iPad would slip out of the notch in the cover and slam down. It happened so often in meetings that I had to stop trying to prop the cover up in a standing position, and resort to folding the case in a triangle underneath.

Speck Wanderfolio

 Courtesy: Speck

I was intrigued by the idea of the Wanderfolio—aka iPad case as wallet—idea because I dream about paring down my life, but it never seems to happen. I wrote about how much I loved the Speck wallet case for the iPhone – so this seemed like the logical thing to try for the iPad.

When I get a new purse, I start out by streamlining all the things I carry, but alas, eventually, I end up with 3 random colored crayons, a stick and a rock from the park, a 2-month-old Trader Joe’s receipt, 14 lip glosses that I will never remember to use, a discount card to the Koreatown Galleria, and a parking ticket somehow littering the bottom of my bag. (Full disclosure – I just now looked in my purse and these are all things I actually found in there. RELATED: I need to clean out my purse. ALSO RELATED: I should pay that parking ticket. SOMEWHAT RELATED BUT VERY IMPORTANT: Always remember to put change in the parking meter.)

The Wanderfolio keeps you honest – it’s not that easy to overstuff it, though you know I tried. The design is slim with and without things in the pockets of the generous wallet area. Inside you’ll find two large pockets, two medium pockets, and two small pockets in a section of the case that snaps shut to keep everything secure.

I had some kind of mental block using this case as a combined wallet and iPad cover. Maybe it’s because I am so in love with the ease of my wallet iPhone cover, which feels less cumbersome to me. But let’s face it – carrying around your iPad is cumbersome. You just get used to it. I found myself using this case with the wallet part empty because the lining inside is EXCELLENT for propping up the iPad. No slippage. No embarrassing WHAPS! during important meetings, with me sheepishly re-propping up my iPad. To me, that’s a huge selling point for this one.

But you still, as it turns out, have to carry a purse, since, uh… where am I supposed to put my keys?

Griffin Elan Folio – Cabana

Griffin_GB03844_Product_ElanFolioStripesPoolBlueiPad2_01

So you’re looking for a cover with some verve? Want something feminine and neutral all at the same time? This cover is quite durable with a classic look.

This cover is not my style at all. No, really! Remember that I often have rocks, sticks and rogue crayons in my purse. But it doesn’t stop me from appreciating the color and clean lines of the design. This is the kind of cover that some amazing art director would put in a photo shoot for a magazine as set dressing – like for an article titled “She Works Hard For The Money!” or “Daily Beauty: Casual Friday!” Of course there would be a model in a super stylish outfit awkwardly clutching a facing-out-baby while she dials a phone with a pencil in her other hand. And on her desk is an iPad propped up with this very cover on it. The light streams in from the window. And that office looks so stylish, so breezy and clean that your heart fills up with hope that your life can feel this good if only you buy this cover.

Xdoria Smartstyle

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If you’re just looking for something simple, no bells, no whistles, no gimmicks or bonuses, then this is a great cover for you. This is a no frills, good, solid iPad cover. The craziest it gets is a small embellishment on the cover, separating it from the Apple store magnetic covers; a quite nice little  design detail. This cover was the lightest of the bunch, and a great all-purpose, don’t notice me and my iPad kind of cover. It does what it’s asked to do – protects the iPad, wakes it up and puts it to sleep with a magnetic cover, and doesn’t add bulk. You can’t go wrong.

The Props Power Case by Digital Treasures

Props Power Case 1

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I fall into bed at night, exhausted, then wake up in the morning, pull out my iPad and realize I’ve forgotten to charge it. Hello 5% battery life! This would be no big deal if I could just, you know, plug it in and leave it to charge up as I went about my business. Unfortunately, I often use my iPad for work, and bring it everywhere I go. So I don’t have that luxury.

Enter the Props Power Case.  I can’t tell you how many times this 12,000 mAh battery came in handy as I road tested this case. It’s surprisingly light for something that packs such a power wallop! I really loved this case the best of all and am still using it as my regular every day accessory. This is by no means a light load– when you pop this in your purse, you really FEEL the weight. But knowing that I have back up battery power whenever I need it is worth it – it suits my work on the go lifestyle.  And it’s especially important to me to have while traveling.

Hope this helps you narrow things down a bit. It’s hard to believe there’s an entire industry built around personalizing our i-devices. I still marvel at things like this, because I still have all of my LPs, and remember when the 8-track would click off in the middle of the song so it could switch tracks.

More Great Bonding Opportunites for Mom & Daughter From Spil Games

 

Sara's Cooking Class: On Holiday
The folks at Girls Go Games have a new version of their popular cooking game that I reviewed last year: Sara’s Cooking Class. That’s right, there’s a new version of Sara, and this time she’s on vacation! Sara’s Cooking Class: On Holiday is now available on iTunes and GooglePlay (where it’s called Sara’s Cooking Class: Vacation).

In this new version of Sara, you’ll once again go step by step through a real recipe that you can actually recreate in your own kitchen, but this time the game is taking players on a virtual trip to Chichén Itzá, Mexico City, Pisa, and Venice. My daughter and I were ridiculously excited to have new recipes to work with, and we especially love making piñata cookies, gelato, and spaghetti.

Sara in Italy

(I have ONE criticism of this game and it’s this: never pour olive oil into your pasta while it’s boiling or after you’ve drained it! The sauce won’t stick to the pasta as well. Every time we make spaghetti in this game, I feel the need to tell Vivienne, “yeeeah, don’t do that.”) Do it for the points, don’t do it in your life.

I was really impressed with the presentation Spil games gave last year—they have their fingers firmly on the pulse of what tween girls and their mothers want and like, and they’re very good about listening to requests and actually implementing them. So in this new version of Sara you’ll find some updates. They’ve made it possible for you to decorate your finished dish in your own unique style. Keep in mind that my daughter is four. She’s not in the tween demographic they’re aiming for—so her decorations of finished products are wildly and endlessly hilarious. It’s become my favorite part of the game, her reveal of the dish.

Sara Italian Dishes

They’ve also increased the visible rewards—that pleasing ching!ching!ching!ching! as the stars bounce up into the counter. Man, ya don’t have to be a tween girl to love the sound of rewards. Just ask my former Japan Life addiction.

Also, Sara’s a bit more modest now—in the past version of the game, she was wearing a midriff baring shirt. This version has 100% less belly button.

Almost a year later, Vivi and I are still loving this game. We play it together quite a bit—it’s one of the things I really like and appreciate about the games Spil produces—they can be played collaboratively and are so much fun to bond over.

Which brings me to My Dolphin Show, also by Girls Go Games.

My Dolphin Show

We were traveling to the east coast last month, and I was looking for apps to put on Vivienne’s iPad. Before we travel, I like to find some new things to surprise her with, and keep her entertained on the flight. I figured since we liked Sara so much, I should check out Spil and see if Girls Go Games had anything else we might enjoy.

My Dolphin Show looks pink and purple and sparkly and so so so terrifyingly girly, but we had so much fun with Sara, I gave it a shot and downloaded it to her iPad. We were about 2 hours into our flight back east when I realized that she had been playing it the entire time on the plane. Usually she plays an app for a bit, maybe hops to a television show, goes back to a game—but this kept her attention for an unusually long amount of time.

My Dolphin Show

The object of the game is to have your dolphins perform jumps and tricks so perfectly that more and more audience pop into the stadium to see your show. If you screw up a trick, they leave in droves. When the final audience count is made at the end, you’ll either get a shiny medal for having high audience count, or a shake of the head and disappointed look from the trainer for failing to achieve.

The trainer creeps me out. It reminds me of the old days of playing Goldfinger on the N64—those weird graphics of realistic heads on top of cartoon bodies. I can’t help but wonder whose image they stole to make this woman in her purple clad spandex showgirl outfit. Personally, I think she may be mentally unstable—her emotions are up and down and up and down! Look lady, I’m trying to jump through the hoop! Have a little patience, okay?

The next thing I know, there we are in flight, taking turns playing the game, desperately trying to get enough coins to purchase a fantastic mermaid costume that will make our dolphins swim faster and jump higher! It was so much fun to work toward a common goal of a shark, or a peacock leotard. (For the dolphin, not the trainer—she feels comfortable in her garish purple and black skintight unitard, I guess)

My Dolphin Show

And maybe, just maybe, that night when Vivienne was fast asleep, I ended up playing all by myself, going through performance after performance. Because, dude—that mermaid costume isn’t going to buy itself.

Rachel & The Treeschoolers: A Worthy Kickstarter!

Courtesy Two Little Hands Productions
Courtesy Two Little Hands Productions

Want to help back a kickstarter project that’s been called “Too educational for TV?” Now’s your chance!

I’ve always been a huge fan of the television series Signing Time, and was extremely excited to check out their new venture: Rachel & The Treeschoolers, and the first episode did not disappoint. This new series features Rachel Coleman (host of Signing Time) and a gang of cartoon preschoolers learning about weather—specifically thunder and lightning. One of the treeschoolers finds the booming sound of thunder scary—and the prescription for not being scared of something is a good dose of knowledge. Rachel & the Treeschoolers walk him through different weather phenomenon through catchy music that doesn’t condescend to or patronize children. It’s clear cut science with a catchy tune. (Those of you who are fans of Signing Time & Baby Signing Time are already aware that Rachel Coleman, who writes all the songs, is the master of the earworm!)

Courtesy Two Little Hands Productions

I for one, would like to see more television like this made for kids, and that’s why I’m backing their kickstarter to create more episodes of Rachel & The Treeschoolers. We’re all familiar with educational television that’s really just a thinly veiled advertisement. Now, it’s time to give a hand to some folks who are working their hardest to make smart television for smart children. I’m thrilled to report that they’ve already made their original goal, but the more we all pitch in to help, the more episodes we get in the future. Count me in!

Butterfingers! Part One: Road Testing iPhone Cases

Candy Shell From Speck

A few years ago, my husband gave me an awesome case for my iPhone 4. It was made by Speck, and it was durable, clean looking, and best of all – it had a slot along the back that was big enough for my credit card, drivers license and my ID from work. To put it professionally: It totally ruled.  When you work for NBC Universal, you can’t get anywhere without your ID I’m sure some of you out there have jobs like this where you need an ID to get by a front desk, swipe for the elevator, swipe to open doors, use for security–on and on.  Many people wear lanyards or those little clip things with the retractable ID leash you attach to your pocket. I loathed both of those things, and so, having my ID in my phone, and being able to just swipe my phone instead of pulling a card out of my pocket or purse made my life easier.

So many people have commented on this case – co-workers, cashiers, waiters, et cetera, that I thought it might be a good idea to share it on GeekMom, as well as highlight some other great cases for both the iPhone and iPad that I’ve road tested.

So let’s start with that fabulous CandyShell Card from Speck:

I’ve already described a lot about what I like about this case, so let me just add that as a mom, this case has streamlined my life. It’s one less bag to carry, and only one thing to add to the diaper bag, as opposed to a phone plus wallet. I can run errands without having to lug my huge purse around, and I’ve said goodbye to the days of turning around to go back home and get my phone. I cannot leave the house without my phone. Because now, this is simply not an option. There are too many things on the leaving the house checklist wrapped up in my phone. If you’re wondering why credit cards don’t get demagnetized, it’s because there’s a thick rubber backing protecting them. So don’t worry.

If you’re nervous about carrying your cards around in your phone, but still want a durable, shockproof case, then consider any of the awesome bright candy shell phones from Speck. In general, you can’t go wrong with a Speck case. They’re marvelous and fun.

The Q Card Case

Q5-GREEN-01
Q Card Case by CM

Next, I gave the Q Card Case by CM a try. This promised the same kind of ease and convenience as the Speck case in that it has a little wallet area in the back. It’s also got the added bonus of a more flexible leather opening. The leather gives after a while to give you enough room for 3 cards and a little bit of cash. That’s very nice for a small purse on a Mom’s Night Out, I have to admit, and while I initially worried that it would get too loose, it didn’t relax so much that I worried about things falling out. I loved the look of the leather flap too, more so than the Speck – but the one thing I didn’t like was that any card or ID I put in there was a little more obvious. The outside flap on the Speck case covers more of the card, so it doesn’t scream, “Hello! I am carrying credit cards so why not steal my phone kthxbi.” But not so much that I wouldn’t continue to use it.

This case is thick and protective without making my phone feel like a brick, and easy to slip in and out of a wallet or purse. I hate rubberized phone cases that get stuck in pockets. Hate may be too strong a word, but you’re the one reading about iPhone cases, so maybe you feel me on this. ::fistbump::

The Pantone BookCase

Pantone Bookcase – Scarlet Sage 6

I’m not going to even pretend I don’t sometimes hand my child an iPhone at a restaurant, just so I can have an adult conversation. I totally do this.  I could pretend that I only do this kind of thing when we’re on long car trips or plane rides, or that she only plays with toys that I hand carve from wood pieces that I up-cycle, but please.

I loved this Pantone case–it’s sleek and pretty, and has a nice texture. True to its name, it has a book-like feel to it–and best of all, you can use the case to prop up the phone for landscape viewing. The texture of the case keeps it from slipping and collapsing–something I appreciate since, hello, I am in the middle of a rare adult conversation and don’t want to keep readjusting the screen. The drawbacks? While sleek, this case is not super shock proof, so I wouldn’t allow a 2 year old to just toss it around. And unless you’re a fan of the Pantone color wheel, which certain color geeks are wont to be, you may not like the Pantone logo and color strip on the cover.

The X-Doria Kick

6950941409841_Kick_PinkWhite_4
X-Doria Kick

If you’re looking for shock proof, the X-Doria Kick might be the one for you.  I loved how super light this case was–and I can tell you, as a bona fide spaz that has dropped her phone more than once, this case is shockproof. I wish I could just tell you that I think it’s shockproof, but sadly, I am not super graceful.

The kickstand is sturdy and great for FaceTime or watching media on your airline tray table. (See above for confession about other occasions where I also use kickstand like features on iPhones.) Good, simple, functional case.

Obex iPhone Case

 

The Obex Waterproof Case & Holster

Look, I’m not a sporty lady. My husband affectionately calls me “City Mouse.” I’m not a girly girl–it’s just that I’ve never been camping. We recently went on a trip to Yosemite, and for me, being out in nature, and witnessing those mountains and forest was a revelation. While we were there, we stayed at a place where you can rent a cabin and have room service delivered to your door, so don’t worry–I still technically haven’t been camping. But I did actually do a couple of honest to God hikes while we were there, and I tried out the Obex. See, I look at a phone case like this, read the specs, and I think, “What the heck are people doing that they might drop their phone in a lake?”

But when we hiked up to some of the falls, the spray was so heavy that I was glad to have the waterproof case! It does come with a holster that seemed secure to me, but I don’t know, I feel kind of dorky wearing a holster. Maybe that’s because I was around for the decade of pagers and didn’t feel like kicking it 90s style.

I hope this helps you narrow down the field a little bit. Sorry I didn’t get to any of those cases in those mall kiosks, though I totally have my eye on that giant rubber monkey one. In my next installment, I’ll run through some great iPad covers that I’ve also been putting through their paces.

Quick Summertime Toddler Activity: Fizzy Science Fun!

Photo: Kristen Rutherford
Photo: Kristen Rutherford

It’s never too early to introduce a child to the wonders of science! Here’s an example of a multi-step reaction that’s super simple, extremely cheap, and a great summertime activity for your toddler.

What you’ll need:

  • 1 Pyrex dish
  • 1 box of baking soda
  • 1 bottle white vinegar
  • liquid food coloring
  • plastic dropper bottles (I bought some on Amazon here but you can find droppers at dollar stores – or you can use cheap plastic bowls for each color. Just fill them up as if you are going to dye Easter eggs. Then, use a spoon instead of a dropper when you add the vinegar.)

Cover the bottom of the Pyrex dish with about ¼” or ½” of baking soda. (You can use more if you want!)

Pour vinegar into the dropper bottles and add food coloring to each one.

Give your child the colored vinegar droppers and let them drip it into the dish with the baking soda.

Photo: Kristen Rutherford
Photo: Kristen Rutherford
Photo: Kristen Rutherford
Photo: Kristen Rutherford

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ta da! Bubbly fizzy colors!

What’s happening here is that the acetic acid in the vinegar reacts with the sodium bicarbonate and forms carbonic acid. Carbonic acid is unstable, and immediately decomposes into carbon dioxide and water. That’s what causes the bubbles!

Photo: Kristen Rutherford
Photo: Kristen Rutherford

Bonus: if you’ve put in an extra thick layer of baking soda, you can stir the colors up and maximize your fizz.

Have fun!

Oz The Great and Powerful: Tea Parties and Giveaways!

Oz Box Art

Let’s talk about The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz for a moment, shall we? The familiar grey look and feel of Kansas. Dorothy, The Scarecrow, The Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, The Munchkins, and Winkies. There are the Quadlings in the south and Gillikins to the north. Plus the silver shoes and that magical golden cap that can summon the winged monkeys only three times per wearer. How can anyone ever cross the endless shifting sands of the Deadly Desert without a magic rolling carpet or a—oh wait, were you thinking about the movie The Wizard of Oz when I mentioned Oz? Sorry, I was talking about the book. I apologize if that was confusing. But there’s been a lot of different manifestations of Oz overlapping in my house as of late.

Frank L. Baum’s series of Oz books have always been some of my absolute most very favorite books of all time ever, ever, ever. I read the series so many times while growing up, that the stories are ingrained in me. Something about them just imprinted all over my soul, since as a full grown adult I catch myself dreaming about them somewhere behind the general cacophony of my to-do lists and internal brain chatter. Opening a packed lunch reminds me of Dorothy picking lunch and dinner pails off the trees—you know, the trees that the Wheelers claimed belonged to them. I think about the Nome king turning the royal family of Ev into bric-a-brac when I look at the tchotchkes on my kitchen windowsill. I imagine Polychrome dancing too far off any rainbow I spot, and when I make soup, I think of the Scoodlers throwing their heads at people.

And now, at last, at last, at LAST, Vivi is old enough for us to start reading the books.  We’ve just finished The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. As we read the book, we talked about the story, and since the movie is such a massive part of popular culture, I walked her through some of the differences before we viewed the film.

And oh, that movie! I adored it as a child and beyond. I played my Judy Garland records over and over. Yes, records. I’m an old lady who came up in a time when there were no DVRs or VCRs or even poor obsolete Betamaxes. The Wizard of Oz was a television event that everyone circled in red pen in the weekly newspaper TV guide, and talked about all morning in school the day after it aired. If you didn’t see it, you had to wait for the programming gods to put it on again! When Vivi and I finished reading the book, we watched the movie together. And after she went to bed, I watched Oz The Great and Powerful—a movie that I was excited to see previews of at San Diego Comic Con, but missed in the movie theatre because—well—do I really have to explain how this kind of thing happens when you’re a parent?

This one-two-three back to back hit was incredibly interesting for me as a long time Oz fan. For the first time in my life, I realized that my being a fan of the books and being a fan of the movie are mutually exclusive. One simply has no bearing on the other.  I don’t know about other fans of Oz, but it seems like if you try and mesh the two together, you’ll just get angry and frustrated.  To enjoy the original film, you’ve just got to let the book go. Okay, *I* have to let it go. Otherwise you’ll (and again, by you, I mean *me*) spend the entire film saying things like, “Glinda isn’t supposed to be around until the end.” “Why are they making this seem like just a DREAM that Dorothy had. Oz is REAL. It’s REAL, she MOVES there with Uncle Henry and Aunt Em.” “The winged monkeys aren’t mean! They just have to do what the owner of the Golden Cap tells them to do!” (And note that in one scene, you can glimpse the Wicked Witch holding a golden cap that matches the drawing from the book in exact detail.) But most of all, you’ll notice, and no disrespect to the legendary Judy Garland, that Dorothy is kind of, well, whiny and a big old crybaby. Baum’s famous for his strong female characters, and Dorothy, while wanting to get home, doesn’t whine about it nearly as much.

At first, as I watched Oz The Great and Powerful, I felt super frustrated. As a prequel, I expected it to be more faithful to the books in the telling of the Wizard’s story. I honestly don’t know why I thought it was going to be this way! I had no reason at all to think this. I guess I just decided in the effete precincts of my tiny brain that that is how it would be. And once I let that notion go, I was really able to enjoy the film. I especially adored the many love letters, callbacks, and nods to the original Judy Garland movie—they were wonderful. I loved how the Quadlings have a matching spiraled origin point of their yellow brick road, just as the Munchkins do in Munchkinland. Glinda travels via bubbles, the wizard sees mysterious things in the swirling winds of the cyclone, some of the characters we meet in the black and white world of Kansas come back in other forms, the throne room of Oz is the familiar Art Deco style, and there’s a wonderful callback to the poppy fields.

Sadly, we’re still facing the problem of high def televisions making the use of green screens super clear—something we wouldn’t notice (as much or as clearly) in a movie theatre. And that was one of my complaints, though it’s a small one and not detrimental to the Oz experience. Having watched the films back to back—I find that I prefer the giant soundstage with a painted background—because Judy Garland and Ray Bolger actually WALK and SKIP along a road, instead of that weird green screen walk-in-place-toward-the camera thing. But on the other hand, I’m glad we live in a celluloid world where CG characters can be so well executed that we are able to feel for and relate to them. Finley the winged monkey and China Girl are great examples of how far CG has come—they’re a seamless part of the story.

I had the opportunity to speak with Joey King, the actress who plays China Girl. Miss King is 13 years old, quite sweet, very talented, and extremely self-possessed. She told me she hadn’t read any of the books, which is a shame, since China Girl is a wonderful reference to China Country that Dorothy and her friends encounter on their way towards Quadling territory in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But since Oz the Great and Powerful seems to be a love letter to the film, with only the occasional nod to the books, I won’t hold it against her. And her performance as China Girl was gorgeous. Miss King was at an event I attended launching a series of afternoon “Oz inspired” afternoon teas at the London West Hollywood here in Los Angeles—I knew it was an event surrounding the release of Oz the Great and Powerful on Blu-Ray, but I thought the tea party was a one time thing—so I was pleasantly surprised to find out about the tea series! I’ve always loved taking afternoon tea, and am always looking for good places to experience it. My current favorite LA afternoon tea is the one in the Rose Café at Huntington Gardens.

The London West Hollywood & Disney Present The Launch of "Oz The Great and Powerful" on Blu-ray Hosted by Joey King
Oz Inspired Tea at The London West Hollywood: (Photo by Jennifer Graylock/WireImage)

I would absolutely recommend that if you’re a denizen of Los Angeles, or planning a trip here this summer, this would be a fantastic thing to put on your must-do list. The hotel is offering afternoon tea on weekends January 22nd through August 11th, from 2:30-4:30. They’ll be serving things like Dark Forest chocolate cake, Yellow Brick Road Lemon Meringue bars, and Emerald City miniature sandwiches with Dilmah tea (I am now obsessed with the Italian Almond Black Tea, thank you very much).

Yellow Brick Road Bars (Photo by Jennifer Graylock/WireImage)

The cost is $28 per adult and $14 for children. You can make the required reservations by calling 310-358-7788. It’s a nice way to experience being pampered in a “Hollywood” style without breaking the bank, or feeling like a tourist. I’ve already made reservations for two weekends with different friends.

Tea Sandwiches at The London (Photo by Jennifer Graylock/WireImage)

If you can’t make the series, fear not—I have a wonderful giveaway available to two lucky GeekMom readers that includes:

  • Wicked Socks
  • An Oz OPI nail polish set
  • A Glenda Tiara
  • An “Emerald City” necklace
  • A green facial mask
  • The Art of Oz The Great and Powerful book
  • Oz The Great And Powerful Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack

To enter our giveaway just login to the Rafflecopter giveaway with your Facebook account or email address (use a valid email so we can let you know if you win). You can then like us on Facebook and Twitter for up to two entries! Two winners will be chosen at random at the end of the contest and their name will be posted right in the Rafflecopter widget so you can check back to see who won!

Good luck!

Do You Want to Write for GeekMom?

Not now, Vadar, I am VERY BUSY searching for like-minded GeekMoms
Not now, Vader, I am VERY BUSY searching for like-minded GeekMoms

Well, do you?

We’re looking to add to our fine roster of writers here on GeekMom, and would love to hear from YOU, if you’re interested!

Here’s what we’re looking for:

  • Someone who is super crafty! The nerdier your ninja crafting skills, the better!
  • Someone who has a knack for coming up with cool activities geek parents can do with their kids – toddlers to teens.
  • Someone who is a Maker, anything from robotics to geeking up traditional DIY.
  • Someone who is super tech oriented. Do you love gadgets? Do your palms itch to try out new devices? If Mashable and Gizmodo were sentient beings, would you have them on speed dial?
  • Science! Are you involved in the field of science in some way? Maybe as a teacher, professor, or researcher? (Or MAD SCIENTIST who lives in a spooky castle with a neon light that says “boo!”)
  • CosPlay! Are you the kind of person who thinks Halloween is a high holy day – but once a year isn’t enough for you? Do you know where the fabric district is in not only your town, but the towns that host major conventions? Are there random sequins all over your house? We’d love to hear from someone who will share their love for dressing up, and teach folks how to do it themselves!

or finally

  • Are you a GeekMom who lives in the Los Angeles area? There’s so much cool geeky stuff that goes on here in Hollywood, we just can’t cover it all. And by “we,” I mean, “me,” since I’m the only GeekMom that’s in LaLa Land. I’m just ONE PERSON FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY. Please help me do and cover all the cool events and stuff that happen here on a regular basis.

If you are a mom-writer with a flair for the geek, and if any of those descriptions fit you perfectly, then here’s what I want you to do: I want you to send me a nice email at geekmomkristen@gmail.com introducing yourself. Tell me what your specialty is, and what you could bring to the table. If you have a blog, by all means, please send me the URL so I can internet stalk you. If you have articles you’ve written for other websites, I want to read them, so go ahead and include links to those too!

My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle: Blu-ray At Last! PLUS! GHIBLI GIVEAWAY PACK!

Totoro prize pack

Today is a very good day for fans of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki. At long last, the magnificent masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro, and the marvelous Howl’s Moving Castle, are available on Blu-ray! And as part of the celebration, GeekMom has a fantastic giveaway pack for 2 lucky readers!

But first, let’s discuss Totoro. Released in 1988, this edition marks the 25th anniversary of the film. Let’s all pause for a second while I cry violently over my keyboard, hitch sobbing, “Where did the time go?”

If you’ve been a fan of the film from the start, then you probably remember the first English dub – where, sadly, the main character Satsuki was unfortunately and cringingly pronounced “sat-SOO-ki.” (Proper pronunciation is “SOT-ski.”) The film was re-dubbed in 2005 by Disney, with real-life sisters Dakota and Elle Fanning playing the lead characters Satsuki and Mei. Around these parts, we prefer this re-recording. I was so glad when the film was re-dubbed, but that’s just me. I know many families with children who grew up watching that original run-and-gun dub session, and are absolutely devoted to it.

For me, well… I used to be the writer for a show called Ninja Warrior, otherwise known as Sasuke. So I’m a little touchy about Japanese pronunciation. It makes me crazy when people say “sah-SOO-kay” instead of “SAH-skay.” This anniversary edition of Totoro contains the 2005 re-dub.

My_Neighbor_Totoro-Box_Shot_under_1mb

Whenever other parents ask me what movies I recommend for a child’s first feature film experience– Totoro tops my list. Totoro was Vivienne’s first film in a movie theater, and last year I spoke with today.com about the importance of Ghibli in my home life. I’m always surprised to discover that despite knowing the Academy Award winner Spirited Away, many people still have no experience with the many other Studio Ghibli films, much less the wonderful, magical Totoro. It’s always a pleasure to introduce someone to the catalog. Continue reading My Neighbor Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle: Blu-ray At Last! PLUS! GHIBLI GIVEAWAY PACK!

A Selection of Great Titles from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books

 

A while back, I reviewed some of the loveliest books I’ve ever encountered. They were a series of Kokeshi books by Annalore Parot, and they remain in heavy rotation in our bedtime reading sessions. It was this series that brought Chronicle Books to my attention, and I’m so thankful they’re on my radar now, because I find that their children’s books are well curated.

It’s like when you find a clothing store that suits your style – most of the books from Chronicle fit so nicely into our reading lifestyle. And since they’ve been knocking it out of the park with so many new releases this year, I thought I would do a mini reading round-up of some of our favorites.

 

It's A Tiger! Chronicle Books

1. It’s A Tiger!

This book, written by David LaRochelle and illustrated by Jeremy Tankard is, hands down, one of the best read-aloud books I’ve ever come across. The first time we read through it, the whole family was screaming laughing at this roller coaster of a book, and it was the first book I threw in my bag when it was my turn to bring a book or two to read to Vivienne’s preschool class. My only word of advice about this book is that it’s so exciting, so fun, and so silly, that you’re best served beginning with this book in your nightly reading routine – lest you rile up your kids!

Ruby's Wish from Chronicle Books
Courtesy of Chronicle Books

2. Ruby’s Wish

Written by Shirin Yim Bridges and illustrated by Sophie Blackall, this inspirational story of a young girl in old China who yearns for more than what girls were usually afforded in those days.  Continue reading A Selection of Great Titles from Chronicle Books

Come Hangout Tonight over at Geek & Sundry’s #parent show

 

It’s a new year, and Mike Phirman and I are kicking it off right by talking about games of all kinds, in all realities. Joining us will be the ever fabulous Wil Wheaton, and his hilarious wife Anne, as well as my old friend from the ilovebees days; Jane McGonigal.We’re going to talk about games… all kinds of games. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Wil’s show on the Geek and Sundry channel Tabletop. And Jane McGonigal is changing the way we view games in our daily lives. She wrote a book called: Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World.

We’d love to have you join us live tonight on the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel for the hangout, starting at 8pm Pacific. But hey – Mike and I are parents, so we know things get busy, life is chaotic, and people get tired and like to go to bed early. So if you can’t make it to the live hangout, never fear – the lovely folks at Geek & Sundry will have it archived for whenever you have a moment.

3 Elles : 3 Great Women, 3 Great Apps

Whenever people ask me to recommend apps for their children — specifically the preschool set — at the top of my list is always “every app by 3 Elles.” Formerly Les Trois Elles, these three friends — Marilyne, Valérie and Gaël — are sequestered deep down in the catacombs of Paris, churning out amazingly gorgeous and layered Montessori apps for the children of the world. (Okay, I may have made up the thing about them living in the catacombs, but you let me live in my world, and I’ll let you live in yours.)

Recently, Valérie, one of this trio of fantastic women, contacted me to let me know that they were ready to release their third app, Montessori Geometry. So I gave it a test-run with my daughter (who is three) and frankly, it’s another home run. Already my girl is identifying shapes as cylinders or isosceles triangles, so that makes me pretty happy.  But instead of another dry review, I thought it would be nice to celebrate the convergence of threes with a little insight into the history of 3 Elles and what we can expect from them down the road. Here is my interview with Valérie:

Continue reading 3 Elles : 3 Great Women, 3 Great Apps

Written By A Kid: An Interview with Creators Josh Flaum and Will Bowles

One of my all time favorite shows on the internet right now has to be Written By A Kid on Geek & Sundry.

Full disclosure: I do host a show over on Geek & Sundry called #parent — but I liked this show long before I became part of the G&S family. In fact, I know Josh and Will from my days as a writer on Attack of the Show! — they were two of our favorite actors to have in sketches; they’re both super talented, very versatile, and incredibly funny.  If you haven’t checked out the show yet, you really should click take a look. If you have kids, or spend time with them, you are familiar with the twists and turns their stories can take, and I think this show is doing a genius job of capturing the feel of surrendering yourself, and going on an oratorical journey with a child.

The show up for several awards including TV.com’s Best of 2012, under the category Best New Fiction Web Series.  They’re also up  for an IAWTV Award for Best Visual Effects.

And, as we discussed over on Geek Dad: now when you fly Virgin America, you can catch the show on their in-flight programming!

So here we go: My interview with Josh & Will:

Kristen Rutherford: Hi. You don’t have to be nervous or anything.

Josh Flaum: Can I pretend to be nervous? [Will], how are you feeling? I’m very nervous.

Will Bowles: Yeah?

JF: Yeah, I got the jitters. The stomachs.

KR: It’s me. I’m very imposing.

JF: You are! I’m nervous that you’re going to be overly harsh! Continue reading Written By A Kid: An Interview with Creators Josh Flaum and Will Bowles

Sara's Cooking Class: Spil Games Knows Tween Girls (Part 2)

Sara’s Cooking Class on iPad and iPhone. Image: Spil Games/GirlsgoGames

When we last left off, I was in Amsterdam for less than 48 hours for the mobile launch of Spil Games/GirlsgoGames incredibly popular desktop title: Sara’s Cooking Class. To review: Sara’s Cooking Class is a desktop game with 50 million users worldwide. Under the tutelage of Sara, an animated chef, tween girls learn to cook in a virtual kitchen.

I played the game, and enjoyed it (I made macaron!) but I really try to stay away from playing games on my desktop. Hence I dare not sign up for WoW, SWOTOR or Guild Wars 2 – once I get entrenched in these types of games, I find it very hard to leave the computer. Or get any work done. When you work from home, you have to be disciplined, and I am already severely lacking in the discipline it takes to say, “I don’t need to complete another mission.” I realized this back  during ye olden days of Myst. But I do play games on my phone and iPad (*cough* JapanLife *cough*). I don’t feel guilty when I’m killing time on my mobile, as opposed to the crushing guilt I apparently feel sitting in front of the computer, leveling up a character, or beefing up my cities in Hex Empire.

Continue reading Sara's Cooking Class: Spil Games Knows Tween Girls (Part 2)

Sara's Cooking Class: Spil Games Knows Tween Girls (Part 1)

Food is very important to me. Wait, that sounds dumb, doesn’t it? Because really, whether you eat to live or live to eat; food is important to all living creatures. But I love to cook, I love to bake, I love to eat out, I love to eat in other people’s homes. If you tell me you’ve gone to a particular restaurant, I will ask you what you ordered off the menu there, and, as my husband pointed out, will actively listen to your answer and even ask pointed questions.

“You’re not just being pleasant,” he said to me, early on in our relationship. “You really want to know!”

When I go to another country, one of my favorite things to do is find the local supermarket and browse the shelves.  I know I get this from my mother and her identical twin sister. My father’s half-sister came to visit us once, and upon returning from a “quick trip” to the supermarket, she said to me, “My God, we were there for ages! And then I looked at them, and I realized, they’re window shopping in the local supermarket chain!”

In my experience, when you pop into the local supermarket, you will find chocolates, candy, and cookies that are interesting and unique to the culture – and you can buy them as souvenirs and gifts for friends back home. They will be much cheaper than the same product being sold in tourist areas. And it’s not just international. Oh no. Honey, I once killed a pleasant three hours in a Winn-Dixie outside of New Orleans while I waited for Delta to fly my luggage to the right city. Supermarkets say a lot about where you are visiting. And New Orleans had a plethora of indigenous products to gander at.

I cook a lot, and I involve my daughter as much as I can. We have a Learning Tower in our kitchen, and Vivi spends a lot of time up there at counter level, helping me make our meals, or treats. I want her to grow up knowing how food gets to her table, and understand what goes into the food she eats. At the beginning of Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential, he explains why food in restaurants tastes so much better than the food you make at home: monte au buerre. I think it’s important to know things like this, so you have an understanding of the work that goes into making a meal. When we cook something together and eat it, I always say that it tastes better because we are proud to have made it.

So I was intrigued when Spil games contacted me and invited me to Amsterdam to discuss, and be a part of the launch of their wildly popular game Sara’s Cooking Class on mobile devices. (In the interest of full disclosure, they invited fellow GeekMom Melissa Wiley, who had to decline due to previous commitments. She, weepingly, but graciously recommended me for the trip instead, and was rewarded handsomely with Stroopwafel.)

Continue reading Sara's Cooking Class: Spil Games Knows Tween Girls (Part 1)

Review: Disney's Secret of the Wings

Courtesy: Disney

Let’s just kick this off by saying: Diana Prince and Leia Organa aside, I am not too keen on the prospect of bringing the whole princess thing into my house. But I am down with the Disney Fairies. Why? Because they’re all friends, they have specific jobs that they’re good at, and they have to work together to make the seasons, or the world tumbles into chaos. To me, they’re similar to the X-Men, in that each one of them has a very specific power, or “talent,” that they use in very particular ways. Plus, Tinker Bell is spunky, curious, makes mistakes, and learns from them.

Vivi is three now, and so we were new to the first three Tinker Bell movies. Which is like being new to reading Game of Thrones. You just plow through them, and don’t have the agonizing wait of several years in between installments. Ah! The benefits of being a late adopter! But then you catch up, and suddenly you’re forced into an agonizing wait for the next one to come out.

Using this analogy, you could say that Tinker Bell: The Great Fairy Rescue was our A Dance With Dragons. We. Have. Been. Waiting. For. Secret of the Wings.

The DVD came out this week. October 23rd, if you’re looking at my white board, or any of my other calendars that I marked, YES MARKED. But as denizens of Los Angeles, we are lucky to have the El Capitan – the Disney movie theater, which does spectacular events surrounding Disney films, and makes going to the movies an incredible experience. To wit: They ran Secret of the Wings for two weeks in early September, and before each showing of the film, Tinker Bell and Periwinkle (the new fairy) came out on stage and danced a little number – and then they MADE IT SNOW IN THE THEATRE. (Pro Tip: Cover your popcorn.)

Continue reading Review: Disney's Secret of the Wings

The Apogee MiC: Great For A GeekMom On The Go

Okay children, sit down and listen. Grandma’s gonna tell you a story, and when I’m done, I’m going to give you a quarter.

Back in the olden days, my voiceover agent would let me know I had an audition. Usually this was done by calling me on the phone. YES. Calling me on the phone! There was no email in my inbox! There was no alert from a 3rd party casting website! Why, in even OLDER olden days, I would get a message on MY BEEPER with my agent’s number on it, and if I wasn’t home next to my phone, I ran around trying to find a PAYPHONE to call them back on! (And FYI even SPELL CHECK is giving me the red line of death under the word PAYPHONE. Et tu, spell check?) I would schedule a time with the office to come in, and drive there at said appointed time to record my auditions in the booth.

Around the year 2007 (or so, I’m really fuzzy on the date, and if I were really your grandmother, this is where I would spend an agonizing [to you] ten minutes trying to figure it out), my agents over at VoX sent out a missive to all clients letting them know that from now on, we would all have to set up our own home studios and have the capability to email our auditions to them in a timely manner. They told us, “the business is moving faster than ever!” The new drill was: They’d email us our audition sides with a deadline marked on the top of the page, and we’d have to record them and email the files back to them by the time indicated.

Some voice actors have super amazing Fortress of Solitude-esque studios in their homes – some have tiny ones. There are some who’ve taken a small closet, sound proofed it, and put a mic in there. Me? I plugged a Blue Snowball microphone into my computer, and when I record auditions, close the windows & pocket doors in my office, turn off the fan, put this weird box thing over/around my head, and record.

Not the best situation, but hey, it worked.

The Blue Snowball is a good directional microphone – but it’s big and not great for traveling. Basically, what I’ve been doing when I travel is to just “book out” with my agent for the dates I’ll be gone, so they don’t send me any auditions. It’s easier than dragging that microphone across the country/world. (Plus, I need that suitcase space for indigenous candies.)

Then I saw a review on GeekDad for the Apogee MiC, with the focus on being a mobile musician. So I wondered how the Apogee MiC would fare with a GeekMom who needs and uses a studio quality microphone nearly every evening, and who was looking for something portable to boot. I’m not looking to lay down different tracks, or layer sounds. I just need a professional sounding, simple, clean recording of my voice that I can quickly email over to my agent.

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Montessori Letter Sounds: Another Winning App From Les Trois Elles

Montessori Letter Sounds: Courtesy of Les Trois Elles

Last year, as I prepped for a trip to Seattle, I wrote about one of my all-time favorite appsNumberland by Les Trois Elles. It was not an app that I was asked to review, or given for free. I found it through a great aggregator called “Moms With Apps” and gave it a try. I loved it so much that I reviewed it, and then contacted the company to tell them how much I appreciated such a smart, interactive, and highly layered app for learning.

So I was very pleased when they contacted me and sent me a free copy of their latest app, Montessori Letter Sounds, for review.

Once again, Les Trois Elles has come up with another charming, super interactive, and multi-level app to engage toddlers getting ready for school.  Here we are again with Tam and Tao, but this time we’re working on our ABC’s — recognizing them, listening to the sounds they make, tracing them against a template, and ultimately drawing them on our own. And we move along and up from there. This is what I love the most about Les Trois Elles: a great deal of care has gone into the layering of their games, so the app grows with the child. Sometimes I buy apps for Vivienne, who is almost 3 years old, to play with, and they’re just so … disposable — fun for a little while, but then she moves on, like she’s eaten a piece of candy. Les Trois Elles delivers years of fun, and gorgeous graphics to boot.

Montessori Letter Sounds, like Numberland, begins with the basics of ABCs and then builds on what the child learns. So once they’ve mastered the recognition and phonetic sounds of each letter, and can draw them on their own, they’re ready for the next step. In the game “I Spy,” children pick a photo, and record themselves saying what they see in the picture. The only heartbreaking thing about this game is that I’m a little sad when Vivienne records over herself — i wish I could hold on to the recordings of her attempts, so I can listen to them when she’s finally in college, and I’m at home crying and eating Tunnock’s Tea Cakes. (Those of you who know me IRL are nodding your heads, “yes,” that is exactly what she will do for days on end when Vivienne finally flies the coop.)

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My Little Geek Is Now an App


A while ago, I reviewed the adorable book My Little Geek by Andrew & Sarah Spear with illustrations by Edit Sliacka, and I’m back once again to let you know that it’s now an app! If you are looking for books to read on a plane or car trip, this is a must-load for the iPad or for your iPhone.

Pick it up here at the iTunes store!

An Exquisite Look at the World of Kokeshi

Annelore Parot's Kokeshi

What do you do when a series of books you are supposed to review are so beautiful, so creative, so artistic and so imaginative, that you can’t summon up the words it would take to describe it?

This is the quandary I find myself in over a series of books about Kokeshi dolls by author Annelore Parot. I received copies of Kimonos, Yumi & Kokeshi Notecards from Chronicle Books for review, and frankly, I’m surprised I didn’t pass out from lack of oxygen; what with all the gasping I did as I leafed through them.

Kokeshi (Koh-Keh-Shi) are traditional Japanese dolls, usually fashioned out of wood. In the book Kimonos, Parot introduces us to the world of her Kokeshi — each doll tells you a little bit about herself, and you learn a little Japanese along the way.  The books are highly interactive, with flaps everywhere revealing more and more gorgeous images and fun little matching games. One of these Kokeshi is Yumi – and in her book, we find out more about what it’s like in her Tokyo world — the things she likes to do and the friends she spends time with.

Annelore Parot's Kokeshi

I sincerely hope that Parot plans to release a book about each Kokeshi we were introduced to in Kimonos. One of the first things I did after I received these books was look for more. I bought Aoki, and it’s just as gorgeous as the others. Aoki is another one of the Kokeshi we’re introduced to in Kimonos. In her story, we learn that she lives in Kyoto, she always wears cherries in her hair, and she’s about to take a bullet train to Tokyo to visit her friend Yoko – another Kokeshi.  Once again, there are flaps to lift, things to discover or find, and games to play. We match the luggage of each rider on the train to the kimono or obi they are wearing. We find Yoko’s apartment by finding the curtains that are the same pattern as her kimono, we fly colorful carp flags and drink cold green tea with our sushi lunch.

I thought these books would be wonderful to read with Vivienne. But once they were in my hands, I’m not ashamed to admit that I totally hoarded them on my desk for a long while. I would pick them up and drink them in, the colors, the patterns, the pretty details of the cherry blossoms, and then tear myself away. I lied to myself and said I was doing this because they might be a little above Vivienne’s age right now. But here, under the watchful eye of the internet, I am ready to admit it was because I was scared she would accidentally rip them! WHAT KIND OF MOTHER DOES THAT? What am I? A five year old? Whenever I briefly considered showing them to her, I changed my mind and very seriously thought about buying A SECOND SET. You know, just IN CASE they got ripped. I’m going to blame this childish behavior on the fact that I am a Libra with Virgo rising. That’s like a perfect storm right there, huh? A PRETTY thing that must be KEPT IN ORDER. I didn’t stand a chance. Plus, I’d much rather blame the alignment of the planets than own up to the fact that I was being a freaking weirdo.

Remember when I said I had no words to describe how lovely these books are? The best I can muster is to say that if I had endless money to spend on lovely books, I truly would buy a second set of this series — so I could frame every page and hang it on the wall. And in fact, that’s the worst thing I can say about these books: It’s a shame they are books and must stay closed, because it’s such a tragedy to lock such art away. A tragedy!

I finally relented, and sat down with Vivienne to read them. Guess what? She loves them. She loves peeking behind all the panels, playing the guessing games, pointing out the details, discussing all the characters. They’ve been in heavy rotation ever since. And no, she hasn’t ripped or destroyed a single panel, page or pop out. And if she did, I’d take the part that ripped and have it framed.

The Art of The Secret World Of Arrietty: Book Review

 

 

Viz Media Studio Ghibli Collection

As a child, I spent many a happy afternoon poring over a gigantic book called “The Art Of Walt Disney.” It sat on our bookshelf collecting dust, until one day I discovered it there, and lugged it down. It turned out that my dad had brought it back from one of his many business trips. The story behind how he got the book is a little murky in my memory. I seem to remember him saying that he had meetings in Orlando, FL, and while he was there, he was given a tour through the underbelly of Walt Disney World, and they gave him this book at the end of the tour. I guess I dismissed his story about the getting of the book in a very kid-like way as “yeah yeah yeah YOU GOT BOOK NOW GIVE ME BOOK GIMMMEEEEE.” I really should ask him about it again.

Anyway, inside were gorgeous drawings and stories, and just tons of things to discover. There were plates of background animation for both popular and obscure Disney cartoons and films, penciled drawings, vintage photos, and notes from Walt Disney – among many other wonderful details. I never got tired of it. So when fellow GeekMom Corrina asked me if I wanted to review The Art of The Secret World Of Arrietty, compliments of Viz media, I jumped at the chance to give this book a go.

Of course, at two and a half, my daughter is way too young for this book. But it doesn’t stop me from leafing through it with her. After all, she loves looking at my Howl’s Moving Castle book, and I look forward to reading it with her someday. I feel the same way about this book. We enjoy talking about Arrietty, and I tell her stories of borrowers that live in OUR house. But right now, this book is truly a treat for mommy.

I love diving into the pages and drinking in the incredible details in the lush background art. The film, which I reviewed last month, was so rich with minutia and lovely things to look at, but it all flew by so fast as the movie progressed. This book gives you the chance to really soak it all in. It’s an absolute pleasure to take all the time in the world appreciating the talent and care that goes into making all of these plates so enchanting.

© 2010 GNDHDDTW. All Rights Reserved. 

I also enjoy the rough sketches of the characters. It’s incredible to see the progression of each one – the way they express themselves, the way they are dressed, the way they wear their hair. Lots of interesting tidbits to be found here – for instance – director Hiromasa Yonebayashi said that he dressed Arrietty in white with her hair down for the scene where Shawn first glimpses her because, “I wanted Shawn to think he’d seen a fairy.”

This is an excellent book for those of you with budding artists in your house. A fun crafty thing to do would be to xerox some of the pages with rough sketches and give them to your children to trace, or try drawing free hand.

At the end you’ll find the complete voice over script for the film. In case you want to practice your best Hara impression.

Right now, this book is serving as excellent inspiration for the faerie garden I am plotting out.  And I’m already thinking about Halloween 2012. Arrietty would be a fantastic (and remarkably easy) costume for my daughter. Well, there is that clothes pin to figure out…

But most of all, the joy I am finding in this book as I leaf through it again and again, is the hope that someday my daughter will find it on the shelf, take it down, and spend time poring over it, letting her imagination run wild.

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Anticipating Brave

Brave: Courtesy of Pixar
Brave: Courtesy of Pixar

As the mother of a two and a half year old girl, I can’t help but wonder if pink and princesses are around the corner. (Alternate versions of this sentence include the words: “dread” and, “be scared of the possibility.”) I’m adamant that these things not be forced on her – NOT AN EASY TASK AS YOU CAN IMAGINE – but on the other hand, I would never tell her she can’t like something.  As I’ve explained to my husband: if SHE is the one who shows an interest, and comes to me with it, then I’ll be the first person to say, “Okay, darling, let’s glitter this sh** up right!”

Recently she became interested in Tinkerbell and Arrietty, and now I’m obsessed with making her a faerie garden.

Last week, GeekMom Kelly wrote about the search for “plucky protagonists” for her little girl who is into princesses. In her post she mentioned the upcoming movie from Pixar: Brave.

Brave: Courtesy of Pixar

I have high hopes for this film, the first Pixar movie that features a female protagonist. Thus far, I am really pleased at what I see in the teaser trailer. Merida, voiced by Kelly MacDonald (Mrs. Schroeder in Boardwalk Empire) seems strong, spunky, and, well.. brave. Have a look for yourself, then you tell me – are you excited? Do you think Pixar can give us a girl that we’ll be proud to show our little ones?

 

A New Monty Python App – Let The Rampant Quoting Begin!

On March 6th, the blu-ray version of the beloved and oft quoted film Monty Python And The Holy Grail hits shelves. To celebrate, the folks at Melcher Media are releasing an iPad app that animates the 28 day production of the 1970’s film.

Check out the deets here on Venture Beat!

Yay! A spanking! A spanking!

The Secret World Of Arrietty: Lush, Quiet, And Absolutely Wonderful

We are huge Miyazaki fans in our house. There are Totoros everywhere, stuffed catbuses and soot sprites litter the floor, and on my desk (where I am typing this right now!) is a tiny replica of Howl’s Moving Castle, another soot sprite, and a postcard of “Le Voyage de Chihiro.” Our daughter’s first movie – both here at home and in a movie theatre is “My Neighbor Totoro.” (Thank heavens we live in a city where you can find random Miyazaki retrospectives playing at local art houses!)

Back in 2007 I was very lucky to be cast in a small role in Howl’s Moving Castle. To even have this tiny, tiny part in a Miyazaki film is one of the greatest honors ever bestowed on me. It’s safe to say that he is considered a master of animated film. On my kitchen wall hangs a flyer advertising the Japanese version of The Secret World Of Arrietty. When we were in Tokyo visiting the Ghibli Museum in 2010, we grabbed a couple to take home. I’ve been looking at it every day since then. So, yes, you could say that this film has been “highly anticipated” here at Chez Rutherford.

I was invited to a screening of the film over at Disney Studios, and I braved rush hour traffic to the VALLEY to see it! I know, right? I’m a hero.

And this film did not disappoint. What a lovely treat. It’s one of the most beautiful, lush and highly textured films I’ve ever seen. I’m always blown away by the rich background mattes in Miyazaki’s work, but the attention to detail in this film is just beyond belief.

The story is based upon the famous children’s book series, “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton. I loved these books. I’ve always been taken with the idea of tiny people just out of sight, living their lives around us – be they Borrowers, Faeries, or Leprechauns. Arrietty is a 14 year old Borrower, and it’s her first time to go “borrowing.” But Borrowers must never be seen by humans, and when an invalid boy named Shawn spots Arrietty, her whole family’s life is thrown into turmoil.

Nature always plays a big role in Studio Ghibli films, but in The Secret World Of Arrietty, nature is the absolute star. Scenes would change, and I would audibly gasp as I took in the loveliness and exquisite attention to detail. It’s the kind of beauty that makes you instinctually place your hand over your heart, lest it fill up with gorgeousness and break. Everything was done with such care – flowers that you could reach up and pluck off the screen, the intricate bits and bobs around the house – both human and Borrower. Each droplet of water sparkled – and as Arrietty’s mother poured her family a cup of tea, or served them soup, you could see the surface tension on the droplets as they pushed out of the tiny kettles and pots. Swoon doesn’t do it justice.

Even the sound design transports you in and out of worlds. You hear the way the world sounds to us humans, and then suddenly you realize that without noticing the transition, you’re listening to the gigantic world as it sounds to a Borrower – the room tone is huge, the clock is suddenly deafening.  Outside, the rain has a heavy sound to it, the crows “caw” just the way they do in Japan (I’m always struck by how they actually say, “caw! caw!” in Japan, as opposed to a screech here in the U.S.) You’ll even swear that you can hear the humidity in the air -but maybe it’s just the honeyed sounds of locusts singing about summer.

Lately, I’ve had the soundtrack to Spirited Away on repeat, and so I was looking forward to more music by Joe Hisaishi. But he’s nowhere to be found on this soundtrack. Producer Toshio Suzuki felt that a french artist named Cecile Corbel was the person to write the theme songs for Arrietty and Shawn. The music is lovely – there is the feel of a Scottish ballad to it, and weaves itself well into the film… And then.. well, the movie ends and suddenly there’s another track. It’s called “Summertime,” and it’s performed by Bridgit Mendler, the voice of Arrietty. It’s jarring and makes no sense in relation to the film. To me it felt like someone at Disney said, “We need a hit single! Something the kids nowadays can relate to!” Thankfully, it’s at the very very end of the credits, because WOW is it out of place – it totally has that “tacked on” feeling.

However, the voice acting is not dissonant or jarring at all. Sometimes celebrity voice casting can take you right out of the story. But Amy Pohler and Will Arnett don’t yank you out of your reverie to remind you, “HI I AM AMY POHLER AND I AM SAYING THIS LINE NOW.” Even the very adorable fact that they are married in real life doesn’t have an adverse affect on enjoying the characters. Arnett has an especially tough gig – Arrietty’s father, Pod, is a man of very little words. But Arnett packs a lot in every one of those, “hmms.”

The film is full of quiet moments between so many characters. In many scenes, characters simply look at each other, and it’s all their in their eyes. Mom and Dad, Arrietty & Shawn, Arrietty and the Cat – Arrietty even has a lovely quiet moment with a roly poly!

Within these quiet moments, nature remains the absolute star of the picture. There’s always breathing space within the story for us to watch a ladybug fly away, glimpse a fish swimming in the water, or ants eat some leftover sugar.

And I carried the hushed tone with me. Since it was an evening screening, the drive home offered me the rare absence of my tiny, adorable chatterbox in the back seat. I planned to use the time to catch up on the people I owed phone calls to. You know, fire up the bluetooth, and have some adult conversations. But instead, I found that I was just brimming with the feeling of the film and wanted to stay in that lush, quiet space. I drove in absolute silence all the way home, my head full of sleepy summers, magic, and plans to get started on building faerie gardens in my backyard.

Juliette And The Shiny Red Balloon

A couple of months ago, I received a lovely email from the folks over at Long Weekend asking me if I would like to try out a new story book app they were developing called, “Juliette and the Shiny Red Balloon.”  It’s a bedtime story app that you can read or be read to in English or Japanese. I said yes, and downloaded it on my iPad, with the intention of taking a closer look at it once I had a moment to focus on it.

A few days later, Vivienne asked me if she could play “The Cat Game” on the iPad (it’s actually called Toca Kitchen, and it’s a great app by the ever fabulous Toca Boca.) I said, “Sure – I will join you in a minute,” and then went to make myself a cup of coffee.  When I came back, she was absolutely entranced – but instead of the sounds of cooking – I heard the lilting, bubbly sound of a woman speaking Japanese. Vivienne had found “Juliette” and had already navigated the menus to have it read to her in Japanese.

And ever since then, she keeps going back to it and asking to read it with me! That’s a selling point – when my child returns to an app again and again… I was going to say, “like a book,” but this *is* a storybook, so, well, it’s EXACTLY like that. The review copy I received was for the iPad only – and one day, Vivi was looking at my iPhone and said, “Mommy, where’s the red balloon one?” UM, SOLD.

The story is adorable and simple – Juliette receives a red balloon as a present from her father, and proceeds to have all kinds of wonderful adventures with it. Each page is brightly colored and sweet, Juliette is spunky, and there are little interactive things to do as the story rolls along.

You can choose to read it, or have it read to you in English or Japanese. In both instances, the voiceover is well done – very pleasant – especially the Japanese version. That’s important to me – there is nothing worse than crappy voiceover. I’m looking at you, most Fisher Price toys. All in all, it’s a delightful little bedtime story for toddlers.

And even better – 90% of the proceeds from the sale of the app go to The Tyler Foundation.  The foundation was started in Tokyo by Mark Ferris and Kim Forsythe-Ferris, whose son Tyler was diagnosed with leukemia before he was 1 month old. Their goal is to improve the quality of life for kids during cancer treatment, and ensure a smooth transition to normal life.

A sweet story, a darling app, and a good cause. This is a keeper. It’s available as of today in the iTunes store.

 

 

Gearing Up For The Secret World of Arrietty!

We are huge Ghibli fans in this house. So we’re VERRRRRY excited for the upcoming release of The Secret World Of Arriety! Disney has been sending out coloring pages for us to while away the time until release…

 

 

I’ve been using glitter glue to decorate mine. Wanted to wash my hands, but I can’t find the soap… Ah, well. Guess I’ll watch the trailer again. Join me, won’t you?