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I save cute voice mails from all the kids. And I have saved them for almost a decade. Violet singing me Happy Birthday when she was 2 (she’s 9 now). Emily begging me for homework help when she was 9 (she’ll be 19 next month). I have heard the phrase “To resave this message, press 9. Message will be saved for 100 days, the maximum time allowed” at least 700 times!

Because I decided to go with Comcast instead of Qwest for my phone and internet service, I needed a way to save those recordings. But I didn’t know how. I tried using a little microphone to record while playing the messages on speakerphone, but the quality was not great.

Luckily, I mentioned what I was trying to do on Twitter (a kind of micro-blogging community where you can keep up with friends and colleagues via 140-character posts). MurphyMac, who publishes lots of interesting screencast on his blog, suggested trying Audio Hijack Pro (software that can record audio streams from any source on your computer; you can also use WireTap Studio) and Skype (the internet telephone service).

It worked. It’s very easy to sign up for a Skype account. It’s free to call another Skype user, computer-to-computer. But if you want to use it to call a telephone, which I needed to do in order to access my voice mail box, you need to buy Skype credits, which are very inexpensive. Once you call into your voice mail box, you let the recordings place while the software picks up the audio and saves it as an MP3 file. I highly recommend MurphyMac’s screencast tutorial.

It’s actually shocking to think that I trusted Qwest not to lose those messages all these years.

I compiled all the voice mail recordings and sent them to the respective parents–if I wanted to make a nice gift, I would have burned them to a CD and designed some nice packaging with DiscLabel.

Here are links to the MP3. They open in QuickTime on the Mac. I’m trying to figure out how to embed them so that they will play on the PC.

Violet, age 2, singing Happy Birthday:
http://www.thefavoriteaunt.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/violet.mp3

Emily, age 9, looking for help with a homework assignment:
http://www.thefavoriteaunt.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/04/emily.mp3

It’s been just over a month since I moved into the new house. I’ve been traveling a lot in addition to moving, and it’s been hard to find the time and mental energy to keep up with the blog. However, now that I’m ensconced, the niece/nephews have started coming over to play, and there should be a lot of inspiring blog fodder.

What is an indispensable part of the new homeowner’s tool kit that also makes a great plaything for the niece/nephews?

(If you answered “cordless drill,” I’m taking away your aunting license.)

Correct answer: masking tape. I had a whole roll of it on hand, as I am more or less repainting every room in the house.

IMG_5568.jpgI discovered this non-painting use for masking tape while the kids were playing with that other standard cheap repurposed toy: the cardboard box. I have a huge one from IKEA, after buying a little fold-out sofa (Solsta) for the upstairs den. It is literally big enough for all three kids to fit into.

Dash and Violet were in the living room, taking turns getting into the box and closing the flaps, when Dash comes over to ask, “Jean, do you have any tape?”

I do have packing tape, but my mind immediately jumped ahead to an image of one of them being sealed shut in the box while I wasn’t looking, panic ensuing, followed by tense moments with the utility knife.

I also have Scotch tape, but that didn’t seem practical: too ineffective in small quantities, and they could easily use up a whole roll.

Then I remembered the masking tape: secure enough, but easily removed, doesn’t leave a mark on floors or walls. Added bonus: my roll was purple.

They had a blast with it. The addition of masking tape easily extended the entertainment value of the cardboard box for another 30 minutes. And Dash found an interesting secondary use: removable face painting.

IMG_5567_3.jpg
Aunt hack ratings:

Age group: 5-10

Duration of activity: 30 minutes each for tape and box

Cost: Masking tape: $3. (If you don’t buy the good stuff, it will stick and leave marks.) Box: free with a Solsta couch from IKEA ($129)

Child/aunt fun ratio: 70/30. It was fun to watch, and even better, easy to clean up.

iphonecal2.jpgI found Dash hunched over my iPhone last night, unusually engrossed in something. I looked to see what he was doing.

Playing with the Calendar app. Ack! Visions of my schedule scrambled flew through my brain. Until now, his iPhone activities have seemed relatively harmless. His favorite thing to do is add obscure cities to the Weather widget. (It’s 46 degree in Usa=shi right now, btw.)

Me: “Um, what are you doing with the calendar?”

Dash: (engrossed, no answer)

Me: (Looking over his shoulder) “Oh, are you looking to see what day your birthday is next year?”

Dash: “No, I want to see how far in the future I can look. I want to go to 3000!”

- a minute or so goes by -

Dash: “Darn it! It only goes up to 2068. (Pause.) You’ll be dead then.”

So now I know what I’ll be doing in 2068. Apparently I still have some meetings scheduled, though.

(Original iPhone image from Lovely Fig Rolls on Flickr. Photoshop enhancement by me.)

Happy Birthday, Dash

babyfeet.jpgToday is Dash’s birthday. He’s eight.

How did he get so big? I was there when he was born. The nurses put him on a table for a few minutes while ministering to my sister, and he was looked so alone. I walked over and put out my pinkie for him to grab, which he did. Another nurse said, “That’s nice, you feel better now that you’ve got Auntie.” Sniff…

Those are his little feet in the photo.

To the Aunt House

I’ve been a bit behind on the blog. I’m in the process of moving. A major motivation behind wanting to move out of my small studio and into an actual house is to have more space for nieces and nephews to visit.

When I was trying to decide about buying this house, I showed some photos to my friend Shonna, who said, “It’s such an aunt house.” “Oh no,” I said. “Don’t say that–then I’ll have to buy it.”

IMG_5444.jpg Which I did. I am very excited about moving, but it’s a total time sink right now. I will be posting updates on how the kids like the new house, but in the meantime, here’s a cute photo of Dash and Jack-Jack, who love the walk-through closet upstairs. Excellent prospects for building forts!

Aunt hack ratings:

Age group: All ages

Duration of activity: 30 years, according to the bank.

Cost: All your money. And then some.

Child/aunt fun ratio: 40/60. The kids are really enjoying playing in the empty house. The fun factor for me is somewhat mitigated by the work factor getting ready to move in. My fingers are covered in paint as I type this.

ghero.jpgMy brother (aka Uncle Bob) and I have been plotting for some time to get a Wii for the niece/nephews. I have been wanting to play a video game called Guitar Hero for ages. Can you say “ulterior motive”?

Now, Court (bro-in-law) says I only come over to play Guitar Hero, rather than to visit the niece/nephews. Not true. I come over to play *with* the niece/nephews. Violet and Dash are both better than me. Jack-Jack is a little young for it.

For those who don’t know, Guitar Hero lets you “play” classic rock and heavy metal tunes as part of a rock band. You choose your avatar (see mine at the right) and you pick a song to play. The game comes with a guitar controller that is a kind of miniature plastic guitar with five buttons on the neck and one “string” button to “strum” on the body. As the song plays, a series of color dots appear on a guitar neck on the screen. You have to press the corresponding buttons on the guitar and “strum” the note at the same time in order to score points.

Warning: the first few times you try this game, you will suck. And when you suck, the audience starts booing. Try not to take it personally.

Once you make it through a song, you’ll earn some money for the gig. It’s fun to go to the store and pick out new guitars or outfits. My avatar now has a sweet all-purple leather outfit. I’ve also bought a new guitar, but new outfits are more satisfying. Nobody said Guitar Hero was about the music…

Before you go judging me for leading Violet and Dash into Nintendoland, let me just say that I have tried to turn it into an educational experience. Dash is taking guitar lessons now (on a real guitar with strings, not buttons) and he has a cool teacher who is teaching them guitar riffs from Jimi Hendrix and Cream. So I’ve downloaded those songs (Purple Haze and Sunshine of Your Love) on the iPhone and let him listen to the real thing. We’ve gone to YouTube to look for videos of Hendrix playing Purple Haze live.

My biggest complaint about Guitar Hero is the small number of songs by female rockers available. But I’ve used it as an opportunity to show Violet some old videos of Heart, whose Barracuda is one of the most fun songs to play in the game.

I’m almost done playing my “career” through the Easy level. All that’s left is a guitar battle, a kind of competitive contest against a computer character, to the tune of The Devil Went Down to Georgia. Dash and Violet are already on the Medium level, and I might have to accept the fact that they will always be better than me. Unless I get my own Wii…

[2/15/08 Update: I'm a rock goddess now. I had to wait until the kids went to bed though, so I didn't get heckled for all my failed attempts. And Medium level is going to be soooo hard for me.]

Aunt hack ratings:

Age group: 7 and up

Duration of activity: 30 minutes minimum; if you’re not careful you could play this for hours. I recommend against that–it doesn’t set a very good example.

Cost: Nintendo Wii: $250; Guitar Hero III: $90. Guitar Hero is also available for PC/Mac, so you wouldn’t need to buy the Wii, although from what I’ve read, the Wii is more responsive

Child/aunt fun ratio: 50/50. Until it’s bedtime, and then it’s 100% aunt fun. :-)

I realized that my last post was about being very sick, and given that I haven’t posted for three weeks, someone reading this blog might wonder if I’m still around.

I am. And I’m almost better. Not quite 100%. I caught a bug at the Macworld Expo trade show in mid-January, as did most of my colleagues. It was the worst cold I had in a long time.

In my last post, my sister was on her way over to bring me a thermometer. That ended up being pretty comical. She picked up a little digital thermometer, and we could not figure out how to work it. Two women who’ve worked in high-tech and software for years, and yet the thermometer’s instructions (tiny agate type, double-sided, like the warning insert that comes with drugs) mystified us.

Finally, Peg just held the back of her hand to my forehead, and said, “Nah, it’s not that high. Not over 100.”

Mom knows best. Who needs a thermometer?

thermometer.pngA mom will always have a thermometer handy.

I have the worst post-Macworld Expo cold. I think I have a fever, but I have no thermometer. My sister Peg, mom of the niece/nephews, is on the way.

There’s a lot of things I like about living on my own, but being sick with no one to take care of me is not one of them. On the other hand, I don’t know how I would cope with being this sick AND taking care of the kids.

Sigh. Life is nothing if not a long series of tradeoffs…

jm_podcast.gifDespite the craziness that is Macworld Expo Week, I had a chance to sit down on Wednesday with Megan Morrone and Leo Laporte on their podcast, Jumping Monkeys. The general theme of the podcast is “parenting in the digital age” and it’s one of my favorites. Even if you’re not a parent, you can pick up some great tips for activities you can do with your niece/nephews.

I talked about how you can use DiscLabel to make fantastic packaging for your nieces’ and nephews’ favorite music, and how the iPhone is the ultimate aunt tool.

I brought along The Preschool Money Manager Kit from The Tessy & Tab Reading Club. Megan’s kids are trying it out the magazine now.

You can check out the podcast on iTunes or at the TWiT website.

Armchair Parenting

I’m in the San Francisco Bay area this week, down from Portland for the annual Macworld trade show. If you’re at the show, come say “hi” at booth S313. (It’s a crazy week for those of us who work in the Mac industry–if I don’t get a chance to blog again before January 20, I would not be surprised.)

Yesterday I went out to brunch with my very good friends Greg and Yunor (Greg is the “boss” of me, Yunor is his partner) and our friend Sean, also down for Macworld. We were at a pretty funky neighborhood joint in Castro Valley called JDs. We sat outside (yay, California!), a couple of tables away from a big family.

While we were waiting for our food, Yunor noticed that the little girl at that table, who was about 4, had wandered over to an empty table, picked up the salt and pepper shakers and licked the tops of them. [Pause for you to say "Eww".] None of the adults at her table seemed to have noticed what she was doing.

Yunor let the waitress know, and she promptly removed the shakers from the table. The incident prompted discussion amongst the four of us (and the waitress) on the classic theme of “What is wrong with those parents?” and its accompanying riffs:
- “How could they just let her roam around the restaurant?”
- “My parents would never let me get away with that.”
- “Don’t you hate how some parents have no clue how inconsiderate they are?”

I started to feel a little sheepish about being a bit judgmental, and said, “Actually, sometimes when I’m out with the niece/nephews, letting them run around a bit, I wonder if people are saying the same things about me.”

Everyone else at the table is thinking about starting a family. I’m sure when they have kids, there will be moments out in public where total strangers will think “What is wrong with THOSE parents?” I’ve definitely learned, from observing parenting up close, that it’s an ever-changing mixture of art and science. Kids don’t behave and sometimes there is nothing you can do about it.

Still, I am pretty sure that I’ve never let Jack-Jack lick the tops of salt shakers while we have been out… and my parents certainly would have never let me do that. :-)

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