Category Archives: Technology

Bedtimes Apps for your Toddler

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Total non-guilty admission: We love technology and think apps can be a REALLY good thing for children.

While bedtime is a time that we genuinely treasure – full of books, made-up stories, quiet songs and last minutes cuddles before The Duchess drifts off – we also sometimes need a step between the chaos of the day and that quiet period.

Here are a couple of apps that we have found have that lovely, calming touch right before the bedtime hour.  Image

Nighty Night is an interactive bedtime app where the user puts each of the farmyard animals to sleep by switching off the light in their room.

ImageIllustrated by Oscar-nominated Heidi Wittlinger and narrated by Scottish actor, Alistair Findlay, Nighty Night is stunningly done.  His beautifully soporific voice coupled with the sound of crickets and that instrument of glory, the glockenspiel, is enough to send me off to sleep.  A free version is available on Android, where your little one can put 6 animals to bed, or there is a fuller in-app purchase option (£1.99) for 13 animals.  On iOS you can purchase Nighty Night for £1.99 for all 13 animals.  Image

The Best Friend introduced us to Sandra Boynton (not in the flesh) when she bought us The Going to Bed Book in hardcopy shortly after The Duchess was born.  We loved it as it was, but when the app was in a Play Store sale, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have an interactive version.

We’re glad we didn’t.  Produced by Loud Crow, the little touches are what make this book especially wonderful.  With the lovely voice of Billy J Kramer providing narration (who I SWEAR sounds like Christopher Walken – you know, if Walken wasn’t so intense), a melodic piano tune playing in the background, and interesting interactive touches on each page – like turning on the bath tap and popping the bubbles from the tub – it is definitely one of our personal favourites and one we’d suggest to all parents of young children.

GoingtoBed2The Going to Bed Book is available on iOS for £2.49 and currently all Loud Crow apps are on sale in the Google Play store.  Unfortunately, I can only see the listing in US dollars, which is priced at $2.84.  This converts to £1.82.

I’d suggest both Nighty Night and The Going to Bed Book for children between the ages of 2-5 years old.

And just as proof that Billy J Kramer was the better choice for narrating The Going to Bed Book, here’s an old video of Walken on Jonathan Ross telling the story of the 3 Little Pigs.

Remembering 20

January has been a weird month for me.  Ever since returning from our trip to America, I have been wandering in this unexpected desert of dissatisfaction.  My ambitions have wandered.  I have gone from wanting to stay in my job to wanting to be a stay at home parent to wanting to open a burger bar.  (I blame you for that, Britain.  Sort your burgers out!)  My thoughts have wandered.  I have found myself losing hours of my time flicking through site after site on the tablet, knowing that I’m searching for something, but not really knowing what it is that I want to find.  I have been hoping, whatever it is,  that I would find it on Not on the High Street.

I could feel it all happening.  I knew the cause of my tiresome circuit through this decision-less desert.  I was simply dissatisfied, but I continued to do the same things day on day through the month of January.  I felt it affecting me.  I felt it affecting how I was parenting.  I couldn’t muster up the motivation to do more.  I would just let her get on with playing as my thumb would repeatedly slide across a screen – searching.

And then last week The Duchess turned 20 months.  That doesn’t even sound like a real thing, does it?   20 months.  Lost somewhere between a baby and a girl.

I decided that I should probably start to look into the local pre-schools.  In some areas of the UK, it can take up to 18 months before a place becomes available for your child.  And so this morning, as she was picking at the remnants of her breakfast, I leaned across the table and asked excitedly, “Do you want to go see a school today?”  She didn’t raise her eyes as she flicked the toast on her plate, “Yup.”  I grinned.  “You don’t know what school is.”

I carried her up to the painted yellow door of the tired looking building because carrying is what you do when they are still little enough.   Despite the neglected exterior, the large room was brightly coloured with children scattered on the floor, sitting in a reading nook and on themed tables, engaged in various activities.

“Hi, I’m Jane.  We spoke on the phone.”  She was the supervisor of the pre-school.  She was a slim, middle-aged lady who took the time to chat with me beyond just the standard explanation of how the school runs.  I liked her.  She invited us to stay and let The Duchess play.

As she started to make her way around the busy room, I looked back at a group of children on the floor.  About 10.  Adults were around, but not needed in that corner at the moment and 10 children were there by themselves.  Without their mummies.  Without their daddies.    Playing in a room, in a village and getting on with life.  Because that’s how school works.  My child will move from being solely ours each day to being one in a class of many.

She is 20 months and I was reminded of how special this privilege of parenting a toddler is. This time is precious.  It is so, so precious.

And right then, I made a decision to be more present.  Because in 18 months this time will change.  She will start school and that will be the next huge step towards independence – a step that is away from me.

So this is what I’m going to do.  3 things.  Only 3.  But I am going to do the poo out of them.

1. Put the technology down.   I don’t want her to feel that she has to compete with a piece of plastic for my attention.  She is my daughter.  I also don’t want to teach her that this is what relationships are like when she is someday old enough to have technology of her own.  Who knows what kind of crazy hologram, space contraption will be on the market by then.  She is watching me and I am teaching her how to treat other people.

2.  Doing stuff together.  I’ve just started a book (read: a whole 3 pages in) where he opens by observing, in a restaurant of non-engaged people,  a mother and daughter completely lost in each other’s company during a simple game of cards.  Doing stuff together builds relationships.  I will not buy a ticket for the crazy train and assume that I have to create a pinboard of elaborate activities in order for it to be worthwhile.  The kid likes it if we walk into town and scream “bus” whenever one passes.  Doing stuff is easy.  There is no excuse.

3. Look closely.  I am going to look closely at the way she crinkles her nose when she is pleased with herself.  I am going to focus my eyes as she lifts her hand to wrap her chubby fingers into mine.  I am going to study the tendrils of hair that fall and tickle the bottom of her neck.  I am going to relish and remember 20 months.  And 21 months.  And 22….. Image

A Blogiversary: 5 Things I’ve Learnt about Blogging

Like that big birthday you have been anticipating for months before, my blogging anniversary has come and gone. When I started on this journey, I had grand plans for this milestone.  Balloons, champagne, surprises and your odd performing circus monkey. But recent decisions to spend time doing those trivial things like talking to my husband, playing with my daughter, catching up on work and embarking on too-ambitious home projects kind of got in the way. The good thing about this period of absence means that I did actually spend time reflecting on this last year and I feel like I have learnt some interesting, and slightly unexpected lessons.  Here they are: the top 5 things I’ve learnt about blogging in a year.

1) Write about retainers.  Craft blog?  Psh!  Food blog?  C’est tres blasé.  War? Politics?  Charity?   I’ll tell you what the public really want to know.  The country, nay, the WORLD is all too interested in those instruments of torture, the retainer.  It is far and away the topic that leads the most people to LOAEP.  Apparently, there are quite a few who are either dying to get their snaggles fixed, a-like moi or for the poor soul who found me by searching for “How to remove a retainer” – I feel your pain and my teeth are screaming for you.

2) Weigh what you write.  Before you click “Publish” consider if those you love will appreciate what you are about to share with whichever Tom, Dick or Harry come across your site simply because they were looking for retainers. There is a way to write about what you care about and still to protect the most valuable things in your life.  Your relationships.  I’ve been pretty careful about what I’ve shared, but have had the occasional slip-up.  And usually that slip-up is because I want you to be interested in me, dear reader.  While I like you,  I really like my husband, my daughter, my family, my job and I don’t just want them to be interested in me, I want them to trust me.

3) Back off of Billy’s Mum.  This is specifically for the parenting bloggers and blog readers.  Billy’s Mum likes walks on the beach, knitting, baking and Gina Ford….  Wait….what?!  Gina “The Devil Incarnate” Ford?!   Well, Billy’s mum doesn’t know it but she better start selling those knitted jumpers because she’s going to have to save for therapy if she continues on this path.  Billy is bound to be a detached, traumatised basket-case by the age of 23.   People can write some pretty nasty things when there is a disagreement and they are safely behind a PC.   I will blog about how I parent from time to time and you don’t have to agree with me (ahem:: We’reNotDoingTheSantaThing ::ahem).  That’s okay.  Let’s talk about it civilly.  We can wear fascinators and sip tea while we do, if that helps.

4) Marry a web guy.  Is the spacing all wrong on your post?  Do you need advice about the intended use of Twitter?  Tips about tags?   Do you need someone to do a banner for you?  It’s blogging without the headaches.  Why learn it when you can pull your spouse over to sort it while  you pack away a whole pack of Caramel Digestives and catch up on the latest episode of The Newsroom?

5) Stop trying.  You are going places.  You’ve got things to say.   You’ve got time on your hands and as many social media accounts as you do pennies in your purse.  I stepped back from blogging in August, I tweeted less, I didn’t promote LOAEP and moved up 151 – ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-ONE – spaces in the UK parenting blog charts.    Who knows why but I kind of like that I can’t figure it out.  I know that it is a business for some.  I know that your livelihoods depend on it.  I get that you’ve got to invest to reap the benefits.  But if you are not one of these people, stop killing yourself.  Go hug a kitten.  Get some fresh air.  Live life without thinking “I can blog about this.”  Know that it will be okay if you don’t post today.  You may even find that you are writing because you really love it rather than because you’re trying to chart hop.  I promise it’ll be freeing.

An Unintentional Absence

Oh.  Hi there.

…..Wait.  Don’t shout.  I know I didn’t call to say that I’d be gone for a little while.

You thought I was dead in a ditch somewhere?  I’m so sorry that I worried you.  That was irresponsible.

Let me explain.

It started with one little decision.  On some unmemorable night three or so weeks ago, I got home from work and I decided that instead of blogging I’d do housework.  And then the next night, I decided I would finally get around to checking out the new Sorkin, The Newsroom.  Then there were some work-related things I needed to catch up on, and my Dad visiting and the Olympics and then I wanted to watch more of The Newsroom and well, I just lost track of the time.

Though over time, that one little decision became an intentional decision to take a little blog-iday, a little break from blogging.  I wanted to see if I could cope with it.  I wanted to see if maybe I even liked it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we – how I – live my life lately.   The world communicates differently now than it did when I was 10.  So much of the world documents their lives online.  We put up statuses about our days, we comment on how much a friend’s child is growing or what a nice job they’ve done on their house or on how envious their vacation looks.  We spend hours tweeting with people we’ve never met.  We build relationships with people that we may not have seen for years, that we rarely see now, that we may never meet.

Blogging can so easily pull you more prominently into this world, especially if your desire is to try and increase your readership.  And no lie, I have wanted that.  I do want that because I love to write and I hope that people enjoy reading LOAEP.

The Native and I often joke that often social media seems an opportunity for us to beg people to stroke our egos.  “Like my status, like my photo, like my life.  Like me!  Please, please like me!”  And maybe you can’t fully appreciate this if you don’t blog, maybe you can as long as you have any sort of notion of social media – but it is easy to begin to update, upload, download, and comment for acceptance.  All of the sudden you are living your life to please this cyber audience that exists somewhere “out there.”

As an expat, I can’t ignore what a godsend social media can be when my family and friends long  somehow to be involved in our lives, but neither can I ignore how convoluted our priorities can become by taking part in it because while my fingers were busy tweeting and my camera was snapping away for that next upload and my mind was busy constructing my next blog post, I would find myself missing moments and opportunities to live life in a more connected way with the people who are right in front of me.

I know I’m not saying anything new.  Watch WALL-E .  (How can a non-verbal robot say so much?)  I do think I needed this break to re-prioritize.  I still want to write.  I love doing it.  But I don’t want to obsess about whether I’m a top blogger.  I don’t want to take pictures simply because I need content.  I don’t want to live with my phone in my hand because I want to raise LOAEP’s profile.  I don’t want to live life next to family and friends as we lose ourselves in this “connected world” that is so readily at our fingertips.

I want to remind myself what “connecting” means by disconnecting a little bit more.

Who’s with me?

Watching your favourite TV shows abroad – UnoTelly

At one stage in my childhood my Dad was a sports broadcaster.  I grew up being the +1 on my Dad’s press pass as I tagged along to college basketball games, professional football games, baseball games, and ice hockey matches.  I know sports and I love them, but I don’t love them equally.  There is a time of year I love more than any other.  It is a time of unpredictability of Cinderella stories and game winning buzzer beaters.  It is college basketball.  It is March Madness.

I remember participating in my Mom’s work brackets when I was only 12 years old.  I remember falling on my knees and covering my eyes in front of the TV in university in the final seconds of another exhilarating game.  For a few weeks every year, my TV was on throughout the day as 64 became 32 became 16, then 8, then 4, and the final 2.

Being an expat has meant that 8 years have passed  since I’ve seen The Madness in its fullness and every year I really, really miss it, but I can’t justify buying into Sky solely for this reason and then, on top of that, paying the additional charge of £9/month for access to ESPN America.  I felt like I just had to learn to let go of the idea that I’d ever fully get to participate in the rollercoaster of March Madness while I lived abroad.

But then I heard about UnoTelly.  UnoTelly gives you access to your favourite programmes, no matter where you live, at a fraction of the cost of digital packages.  That’s right, my friends – I can now access The Madness along with so many of my favourite American television programmes.   You don’t have to be an expat to benefit from UnoTelly. The Native and I love great television and it can give us access to shows like Modern Family, Parks & Recreation, *Homeland and Game of Thrones.   And for Brits abroad, you get access to the likes of BBC iPlayer and Channel 4 OD.  No more waiting for months on end for the programme to reach your distant shores, but you can instead watch them the week they air.  

What we love and what we’ve learnt: 

  • Have you ever gone to a channel’s website to try to watch a show only to find out that you are blocked from viewing it due to living abroad?  This is where UnoTelly comes in.  Signing up doesn’t give you access to the channels directly, but to their websites.  Registering with UnoTelly opens up access to all of the programming offered on each of these channels’ sites.
  • You can use your PC, Tablet, Mobile, or games console to watch your favourite programmes.  You will have to set it up on each of your devices, but we did that without any extra support thanks to their helpful set-up instructions.  If you’re technologically tentative,  they do have customer service reps at the ready.
  • While it’s useful to set it up on all of your devices, we found that using your laptop or PC seems to give you easiest access to the biggest selection of programmes.
  • The price.  It ranges from $4.95-$7.95 (apprx £3.20-£5.15) a month, depending on whether you go for their Premium or Gold package ( by comparison Sky digital is £19.50 – £52/month depending on your price package and that doesn’t include the initial installation fee).
  • *You’ll need to bear in mind that while ABC’s and NBC’s websites are free to watch, if you are looking for a programme that can only be accessed in America with cable, you would need to pay for access in the same way that you would if you were state-side.
  • It provides you access to an existing American Netflix account.  If you do have access to an account, it offers you 5x the selection of your foreign account.
  • We found it streams pretty smoothly.  Some channels seem to stream a bit better than others, but none are as stilted as what you’ll find with other providers.

Do you want to give UnoTelly a go?  Well, I’ve got a discount to give away that will give one reader 6 months free access to a Gold account.

To be in with a chance of winning 6 months free access to UnoTelly, leave a comment below telling me what TV programme you’ll be watching when you use UnoTelly.

If you don’t win, not to worry, “like” my facebook page: Life of an Expat Parent – and in the weeks to come, I’ll give 5 readers a chance to pick up a 25% discount.

Competition Rules for 6 months free access:

1 entry per reader.  

Entries are counted when a comment is left.  If more than one comment is left by a reader, those additional comments will be removed.  

The competition is open until midnight 4th June 2012.

After the competition closes, a winner will be selected.  The winner will be notified via e-mail.  If you do not respond within 3 days, another winner will be selected.  

Disclosure:

UnoTelly has provided this service, free of charge, for the purpose of review.  All opinions are my own.

This giveaway is now closed.