Friday, February 21, 2014

animal jam, AN-i-mal JAM

while i was enjoying my time with my girlfriend, marin re-introduced animal jam to diana with ander watching intently.

it's a website sponsored by national geographic kids.  diana's loved publications by natgeo kids for ages (still does, in fact, but we could both really do without all the advertisements).  so, i felt pretty safe letting the kids explore in this MMORPG.  diana has all but abandoned minecraft in order to play this every chance she gets.  this does not surprise or worry me.  before minecraft, she liked playing papa's pancakeria and its variations until she grew disinterested in it.  ander plays sometimes, too, especially when they are working together on the computers at home (hooray for weekends and school's-out-because-of-snow days).

i've thought about why my kids, especially diana, are so drawn to this game:
  • she loves cute animals, like littlest pet shop toys, with their gigantic eyes and oversized heads. they have the same appeal as hello kitty.  this game is full of adorableness.
  • she can *be* the animal.  animals are the players' avatars.  they can name themselves, change appearance, and accessorize.
  • she can adopt animal pets.  i know! animals with pets!  the hamsters are especially sweet. the puppies drool a lot.  but the pets follow you around and keep you company.
  • she can earn plushies.  omg.  it's like being at a fair and playing the arcade games and winning All the Stuffed Animals Ever.  she's overflowing with plushies and they only take up virtual room in our house.  win-win.
  • she can design a den.  lots of dens.  ok, this has got to be one of the main factors-of-awesomeness for diana.  she loves interior design.  she does it all the time at home with her room and for her characters and their escapades.  now she has access to a multitude of den elements, so she can create and design and change and upgrade to her heart's content.  she gets so excited every time she creates something new and has to show it to me right away.  and it's not just living space: she's made trading centers and a school, too, that looks so inviting that i'd like to attend (spaces dedicated for music, art, patterns, reading, discussions, and communal eating).
  • she's learned how to navigate and work the system.  you cannot buy or sell, but you can trade.  she's acquired many a feature or item otherwise difficult to attain by finding people willing to trade for something she has.  she knows what to look for, how to ask, and what to offer.
  • she's able to work with large sums of gems (the currency) and experiment with delayed gratification as she has to decide when and how they will be redeemed.  she must manage her disappointment with poor decisions and feel the pride in figuring out how to make a good choice.
  • she's also working with real money decisions, too.  she can play a lot for free but can gain access to more via membership, which she pays for herself.  she's considering how much of her money she'd like to invest in the game and how she wants to earn/save for it.
  • she's become an adventurous explorer in this gaming environment.  during most of her young life she's tended to shy away from rabidly avoid games that involve competition or a time element or loss of points, every so often building her courage to try one and then getting frustrated enough at her first failure that she swears off trying ever again. slowly but surely, though, she's been working at different challenges requiring varying levels of skill, recognizing that she can improve with practice.  in this environment, her persistence is paying off in hard-earned feelings of competence and confidence.  ander has been watching and listening to her, too, and gauging his desire to branch out of his comfort zone and try new games based on her outspoken triumphs due to hard work.
  • she can be online buddies with her friends IRL.  they play games together without being in the same room.  it also allows her to guide ander via their avatars.  
i have to say that i really, really like the music choices for the game.  while different from minecraft music, it's so cheerful and peppy and not at all annoying to me.  i find it soothing, and i think diana does too, because she's decided to play her favorite doctor who selections in the background while she's involved in some of the competitive games that require particular speed and agility.  she says it pumps her up.  ander, being ander, incorporates all the sounds into his uncannily excellent memory for pitch and happily hums along, whether he's playing the game or not.

it's just another thing i can joyfully embrace.

update: steve has acquired the app for aj jump for her to play on our ipod. now she can be a kangaroo.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

would you care for some tea?

diana's second birthday party with friends did not, fortunately, involve this, though it was talked about quite a bit beforehand.

ander and his "girls": clockwise from lower left rita, maura, bao-han, and diana
over the years we have celebrated many a birthday and gathering of friends around tea.  one does not even need to like tea in order to enjoy our tea parties.  the only requirement is a desire to have fun.

i did, however, go all out for diana's party.  reflecting on memories of what has delighted her in the past, i offered the young ladies:

  • fruit tea selections (though they all went for peppermint, instead)
  • raspberry lemonade
  • butter croissants
  • orange-cranberry-almond scones
  • cheddar cheese wedges
  • ham, roast beef, and chicken rolls
  • fresh blackberries
  • chocolate-dipped strawberries
  • lemon bundt cake bedecked with milk chocolate and powdered sugar
fancy cloths, our china, silverware, and crystal, strategically placed flowers, and gentle orchestral sounds welcomed our prettily-dressed guests.

after taking tea, we played variations on mad libs.  we have the card game, so i passed out ten cards to each girl and had them make up the silliest sentences they could using as many cards as possible (and still be grammatically correct).  i allowed articles, prepositions, conjunctions, and other such tidbits to round things out, if necessary.

  • enormous poodles steamroll fiercely dancing kneecaps
  • shocking invisible gorillas bashfully desire pickled girls
  • endlessly lovesick eyeballs accidentally smack
  • stupidly bizarre boys cheerfully handcuff heartless girls (a bit precocious, that one)

after heartily laughing, i changed the rules a bit and allowed the girls to trade cards if they desired, identifying only the part of speech they were offering/requesting, so what they got would still be a mystery. 

  • hastily gorgeous baseballs worship massively sticky teachers impolitely
  • casually useless sweatsocks astonish flimsily heartsick computers and despise forcefully wicked file folders
  • forbidden cellphones horribly romance desperate hotdogs cheerfully
  • squished choirboys agressively bulldoze grandmothers and cuddle weirdos

for the final round, they each got five cards, had to create their own sentence, then figure out how to combine each of them into one long sentence.  the remainder of the deck could be used for exchanges.

  • stupidly useless fingernails hastily burn gorgeous baseballs, terminate impatiently massive monsters in prom gowns, hear desperate feverishly lovable hotdogs, and worship skeletons.
then came the much-anticipated Opening of the Gifts.  each friend knows diana fairly well and they all selected excellent presents for her.  one of them was a game called bubble talk, which is played much like apples to apples, a favorite with us, we played some of that, too, before having cake.

the time flew by quickly, and all too soon it was time to say thank you and goodbye.  and i could sigh with satisfaction at having pulled off a second party that more than met diana's hopes and expectations.  yes, i can definitely embrace that feeling.

me and my best girl

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Friday, February 14, 2014

epic doctor who birthday party

perhaps i may have mentioned once or twice about how diana is really, really into doctor who ?  stands to reason, then, that a celebration of her 11th birthday would have to be all. about. doctor. who.

she made up some invitations:

she drew up some party games, like Pin the Whisk & Plunger on the Dalek:

i adorned the walls with famous doctor who quotes and some of diana's own chibi art:

my heart goes wibbly-wobbly for david, but diana prefers matt. probably something to do with the bow tie.

i turned the bathroom into a tardis of sorts.  yes, it's bigger on the inside.

for munchies, we planned bananas (always bring a banana to a party.  they're full of potassium!), sonic screwdrivers, and honest-to-goodness jelly babies (from the fourth incarnation, tom baker period). also bow tie pasta because bow ties are cool.  i really, really wanted to have fish fingers and custard, but she flatly refused.  fish fingers and tardis (tartar) sauce?  nope.  french toast sticks and vanilla pudding?  still no.  oh, well. i did try.

as guests arrived, they were ushered to a voting booth to nominate their favorite of five episodes (so as to determine what would be viewed that day) and their favorite flavor of jelly baby.  we attempted to play doctor who bingo while watching the curse of the black spot but decided afterwards that the game would best be played during a marathon viewing session, which we are planning to schedule soon.

bless her heart.  she made a schedule.
i think it may have been the very first time she saw a dalek that she declared she absolutely, positively, must have a dalek cake for her birthday.  recall that my dear husband steve makes all of the kids' birthday cakes.  he's made some pretty complicated designs, but this one would really "take the cake."  (i know, i'm sorry, it's a groaner, but it practically begged to be written and i didn't have the willpower to resist.  resistance is futile, sayeth the borg.)

the cake consumption happened about midway through the party.  steve was a little concerned about the structural integrity of the cake.  (i stayed out of the kitchen, mostly, but i knew there were several boxes of cake mix, a lot of frosting, cardboard cake rounds, dowels, and other bits and pieces involved.)  it held up through the birthday song and candle-blowing, so that's all that was needed.  it was, by far, the most epic cake he has made.

four layers for the bottom. i think there were the same number for the top.

dalekanium never tasted so good


despite the cold, everyone needed to get outside to run around, so we played several rousing games of "weeping angel red light green light" in the parking area.  the best parts for me were the movements of diana's body, imitating a weeping angel every time she halted.  she freaks me out sometimes by her uncanny accuracy of facial expressions.

i have to mention diana's very own designed-and-built card game.  seriously, she put a lot of time and effort into making these.  each character card had a photo, descriptive details, and assigned attack and defense points.  i've never played a trading card game like magic: the gathering, but i suspect there were some similar aspects in the dueling and scoring of each round.

we didn't have the chance to play doctor who yahtzee, which i gave her earlier in the day as a gift. the tardis container is pretty cool.

we closed the celebration by making our own adipose babies from felt and cotton balls.  each guest brought hers home, along with a goodie bag of cake, solid chocolate tardis and dalek made from an excellent silicone ice cube mold, and her very own scarf lovingly knitted by diana.

yes, diana is dressed as a tardis and is holding a stuffed adipose. her friends taryn, nora, leah, and gabrielle rounded out the group, whom ander addressed as "my girls"
she made this jumper a week before her party and insisted on wearing it to school.
diana told us over and over that this was the epic party she had hoped and planned for.  everything went smoothly and according to her wishes.  what a success!

relaxing after the festivities with some of her new doctor who graphic novels. note the single yellow dalek sock. the other was in the wash.
diana, your upgrade to eleven is nearly complete.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

i have a great idea!

i was quite concerned when diana started public school this year that she would lose her desire to be creative in a world where everything is standardized and presented with so many rules.  i thought she'd be frustrated by the lack of time in her schedule to work on the things she really wanted to do.  for a while, that seemed to be true.

on her birthday, she blew all that out of the water

one of the gifts i gave her was a gigantic mylar balloon.  she played with it for a little while, went to play animal jam online with taryn, then disappeared into her room for a bit.  she came out again to find me and declare, "i have a great idea!"

this is not an unusual phrase uttered in our household, particularly by her.  this time, as most other times, i waited patiently for the explanation.  it came out, as it often does, in a jumble of words as she interrupted herself multiple times to tell me something else.  then she ran off.

she asked politely whether we had some materials.  if the answer was yes, she'd go to secure them.  if the answer was no, she'd stop and think for a moment, then come up with an acceptable alternative.  i have learned by homeschooling with her that if i am quiet and listen to her and allow her to express her disappointment that we don't have The Very Thing She Absolutely Needs (like a conveyor belt) and wait, she devises another option (like a a roll of paper pulled at one end) all on her own.

she asked for the camera.  after a short while she needed some help in uploading the videos to the computer and to youtube.

this is all her.  concept, costuming, scripting, editing, everything.  oh, and she asked permission to show it in class and was granted it.  now she has a little fan club and others who want to work with her on future episodes.

i think i can worry a lot less right about now.

Monday, February 3, 2014

year of the horse

sending wishes of joy, health, and prosperity to you in recognition of the lunar new year.


napa cabbage flower with clementine butterfly. picture does not do it justice for its beauty on the table.

our recipe for this year was a sesame noodle dish gleaned from a dear friend in st. louis. i have made some adjustments to it over time, and this time i was pleased to have found elements that each of my family members could enjoy.

3 tbsp peanut butter
2 tbsp roasted sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin (rice wine)
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
sriracha sauce to taste
red pepper flakes to taste

1 package udon noodles (the length is symbolic for longevity)
1 head napa cabbage

rotisserie chicken slices

shred cabbage and place in colander in sink.  cook noodles according to package (just a few minutes for udon).  whisk together initial ingredients into a sauce.  drain noodles into the colander so the hot water can wilt the cabbage.

in separate bowls, mix half the sauce with the noodles and the other half of the sauce with the cabbage.  garnish cabbage with red pepper flakes.

serve chicken on the side.

diana prefers plain, uncooked udon noodles to crunch on.  ander loves what he calls "prairie chicken" and the saucy noodles, but not cabbage.  steve enjoys the saucy noodles and chicken and complimented me on the cabbage this time.  i eat it all.

it's delicious hot but almost better as cold leftovers late at night while watching doctor who with diana.