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September 2017

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I played video games with Younger Nephew yesterday. He gets more fun to hang out with all the time. He's still very much a strong-willed kid, but he's learning to put a layer of social polish on it. For example, now when he wants to make sure I'm paying attention to something, he says, "Aunt Wendy, I think you're really going to want to see this."

He went through my game collection and picked out three games he wanted to try: Mass Effect 2, Lego Marvel Superheroes, and The Witcher 3. I can't possibly let him play The Witcher 3 -- it's waaaay too dark and adult. But he said he wanted to try it last, so I figured we just wouldn't get to it, and we didn't.

Mass Effect 2 is a game we've tried before - last time he didn't get through the intro, although he was clearly captivated by the graphics. This time he played for a little over an hour. He needed a little extra coaching to get through the tutorial, he mostly chose his dialogue options at random, and I did the hacking mini-game where you have to match code segments. He was very adept at the circuit matching mini-game once I explained it to him, though, and he got remarkably good at navigating the interface by the time we finished.

Then we switched to Lego Marvel Superheroes. The Lego games are really fun for kids and adults to play together.

(no subject)

Jan. 15th, 2017 05:02 pm
wshaffer: (short)
I drove Older Nephew over to his rehearsal for a school play this afternoon. Apparently he is playing Spiderman in a play about pirates? (School plays seem more interesting these days than I remember them being than I was a kid.)

He was reciting his lines from the back seat of the car:
"Yo ho ho! Yo ho ho!"
"Everyone's talking about Ho Hos. Don't they know that they're full of preservatives and cholesterol?"

That last was delivered with such genuine perplexity that I nearly answered the question.
Took my nephews climbing yesterday at The Peak of Fremont with some friends of mine and their kids. The Peak is a pretty cool little climbing gym - notably, it has 9 auto-belay routes, which is handy if you're short of belayers. (We had 6 kids and 5 adults, two of whom could belay, so the auto-belay was kind of a necessity.)

I think the nephews had a good time with the other kids, even if they were occasionally impatient at having to share Aunt Wendy's belaying services with other people.

Younger nephew very sweetly tried to console a 4-year old who was disconsolate because she couldn't manage a 5.11 route: "When you're big like me, you'll climb that with no problem!"

After climbing, we took the kids to a nearby pizza place. The boys were initially not keen on pizza, but when I explained to them that they could get a personal pizza and pick any topping they wanted, they got very excited. Older nephew chose tomato sauce, pepperoni, and cheese. Younger nephew chose tomato sauce and cheese.

Older nephew was very impressed that I had a booster seat in the trunk of my car for his brother.
Older nephew: Do you just keep that there just in case?
Me: Yeah. Do you remember that time I drove you a few blocks in my car and I didn't have any booster seats? I felt bad about that.
Younger nephew: Why?
Me: Well, because I want you to be safe and comfortable in my car.*
Older nephew: And besides, you don't want to break the law.
Me: Well, yeah, I guess not.
Older nephew: When I break the law, I feel bad. It makes me sick to my stomach.

I was too busy getting Younger nephew settled into his seat to inquire about what sort of life of crime Older nephew thinks he's been living. I do think this conversation demonstrates that Older nephew is Lawful Good alignment whereas Younger nephew is definitely Neutral Good.

Older nephew also described to me with great interest the political coverage he'd been reading in that morning's New York Times. He's passionately interested in the presidential election campaign. Perhaps we ought to just give nine year olds the vote.

*Actually, it was also that Younger nephew slouched down in his seat and proudly proclaimed, "The police won't be able to see me!" I wasn't sure if I was fostering the correct respect towards law and order.

Kids and Cars

Mar. 6th, 2016 04:51 pm
wshaffer: (bannakaffalatta)
My two nephews are participating in something called the "Pinewood Derby" as part of Cub Scouts. Basically, you build a little wooden car and roll it down a track. I did something similar when I was a kid, but it's all a bit slicker now. We started off the project down at the hardware store, where they had a guy with a bandsaw cutting out the shapes the kids had traced for their cars.

Youngest Niece wanted to ride in my car back to her house. "I like music in the car, not talking!" she declared. None of you will be surprised that I've given more than a little bit of thought to what things in my music collection are suitable for 4-year-olds. Unfortunately, I didn't remember most of those thoughts, so I threw on Katatonia's Last Fair Day Gone Night on the grounds that it's fairly melodic and doesn't have any screaming or swearing. (Well, not much screaming or swearing. I forgot that "Brave" is sung in a death growl and "Passing Bird" has a few f-bombs, but we didn't get that far into the album, so no worries.)

Youngest Niece declared "Yes! I like this song!" after the first few notes of this number, so I guess I didn't make a terrible choice:

She was of the opinion that it doesn't quite match up to the Frozen soundtrack, though.

We got to the house, and I helped Younger Nephew put his car together. What really got Younger Nephew excited were the transfer decals for decorating the car. He very patiently cut out tiny decals of flames, stripes, dragon claws, and a dragon tail for the back of the car, and I rubbed them all onto the car with a blunt pencil. Fortunately, he was entirely unbothered by any of the mistakes I made - those decals are fiddly. I got pretty good at them by the time we got to the last few.

Below I give you a photo of the two cars, which do an excellent job of expressing the personality of their creators:
My contribution to this year's Thanksgiving dinner this year will be a) my now-traditional chocolate mousse and b) some kind of vegetable side dish that is not squash (because someone else has squash covered). My initial inclination is to do green beans, because I like them, but I have half a mind to do try something new that I haven't made before. Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving side dish that is:
a) based on a vegetable that is not squash.
b) can be made ahead or at the very least can be prepped ahead and just needs to finish cooking on site?

Bonus points if you've successfully fed it to children and/or picky eaters.
I took both my nephews climbing at Planet Granite today, followed by lunch at Sweet Tomatoes. (I had soup and salad. The boys had a good go at eating their weight in tomato and cheese focaccia and soft-serve ice cream.) I believe this is the first extended outing I've done with both boys and no other adults, and it went very smoothly, which is primarily a testament to their increased maturity. (The boys do have superb comic timing. At one point, I was in the restroom thinking, "How nice that the boys are old enough that I can leave them alone for a few moments without anyone...." At which point, the restroom door was flung open and Younger Nephew hollered "Aunt Wendyyyyyy!!!!" at the top of his lungs.)

While we were at Planet Granite, Younger Nephew did manage to get in a tussling match with a younger boy. (I had to kind of admire the kid's brass - he was at least two years younger than Younger Nephew, and Younger Nephew has fighting skills of the kind that only sensitive middle-children develop, but this little kid was holding his own.) The moment I arrived on the scene, the two of them disengaged, and the kid I didn't know looked up at me, clearly expecting to get yelled at for fighting.

I crouched down so that I was at his eye level, and said cheerfully, "Hello. What's your name?"

He looked at me very suspiciously. "Paul," he said finally.

I held out my hand and he took it. I gave it a nice firm shake. "Hello, Paul. My name is Wendy. I'm very pleased to meet you."

Paul dropped my hand and took off running, presumably to find an adult who wouldn't try to *talk* to him. I never did get to the bottom of why he and Younger Nephew were fighting, but they didn't bother each other again for the rest of the time we were there.

I have belatedly realized that I was totally channeling Tom Baker's Doctor there. At least I didn't offer the poor kid a jelly baby.
I spent three hours or so this afternoon playing Lego Star Wars with Younger Nephew. It's pretty neat to observe the difference between the first time we gamed together, back in November or so: his hand-eye coordination is better, his problem solving skills are better (he not only solved some of the puzzles himself, but was much quicker to grasp what I was getting at when I suggested a solution to a puzzle), and his attention span was much longer. He's even more fun to play with than he was before.

He's also really into Star Wars.

I also got an interesting demonstration of the development of the capacity for delayed gratification: when his dad came to pick him up and we had finished playing, Younger Nephew wandered into the kitchen. I asked him if he was hungry or thirsty, and he asked if he could look in the fridge. I told him he could, and he opened the fridge, spotted a Cherry Coke Zero, and asked if he could have it. I said, "Yes, if your dad says it's okay."

His dad said, "Well, you can have the Cherry Coke now, or we can go get ice cream and you can have ice cream."

Younger Nephew looked very thoughtfully at the Cherry Coke for about 30 seconds.

"You get to pick," I said. "But I think I would go for the ice cream."

He looked thoughtfully at the Coke a bit longer, sighed, and said, "I think you are right." And put the Coke back in the fridge.

That was such a hard decision for the little guy.

(no subject)

Jul. 19th, 2015 03:08 pm
wshaffer: (Default)
So, I decided to entertain my Youngest Niece at a family get-together by letting her look at photos on my phone.

(Niece brings up a photo of me.)
Niece: That's you!
Me: Yup.
(brings up a photo of Younger Nephew)
Niece: That's my brother.
(brings up a photo of Ferrett Steinmetz reading his novel _Flux_ at Borderlands)
Niece: Who's that?
Me: That's my friend Ferrett reading his book.
(brings up a photo from FOGcon last year)
Niece: Who's that?
Me: That's my friend Liang.
(brings up a photo of Behemoth performing at the Fillmore)
Niece: Who's that?
Me: That's Nergal.
Niece (laughing uproariously): "Nurggle?!"
(brings up a photo of the band Triptykon)
Niece: Who's that?
Me: That's...Tom.
(swipes, brings up another photo of Triptykon)
Niece(triumphantly): It's Tom!

I'm kind of amused that as far as I could tell, she found the photos of heavy metal bands in stage gear no more or less remarkable or interesting than ordinary candid shots of me and my friends.
I'm back from a week of traveling. Spent a lovely few days up at Lake Tahoe with a large collection of Daniel's family. Did some hiking, caught up with what various cousins are doing. Younger Nephew had a bit of an unpleasant time culminating in an emergency appendectomy, but he's fine now.

Then Daniel and I flew to Minneapolis for the 4th Street Fantasy convention. 4th Street confirmed its place as my favorite small con that I'm not involved in running. And I got to spend time with some of my favorite people who I don't see very often. (And some of my favorite people who I actually do see fairly often, but, hey, flying halfway across the country and then having dinner with someone who lives an hour's drive away is just part of the SF Fandom experience. I've decided to stop feeling silly about it. Note that this is not the same thing as actually stopping feeling silly about it, but it's a necessary if not sufficient condition.)

I wore this T-shirt for the flight home, and so had the amusing experience of going through security and being approached by a TSA employee who said, "Okay, I have to stop you here: where can I get that T-shirt?" Heh. I swear, I get more compliments on that shirt than on any other t-shirts I own.
I spent a good chunk of the day at Maker Faire with my sister-in-law and my nephews. It's actually a lot like going to the fair was when I was a kid, with carnival rides and stands hawking overpriced corn dogs and cotton candy. Except it also has battling robots, people zipping around in giant cupcakes on wheels, and lots of things that shoot fire.

Younger Nephew enjoys Minecraft:

But the thing that I think enthralled Younger Nephew more than anything else was tiny robotic air cannon that used a camera to home in on a red target, and then fired a mini-marshmallow at it. He got such a kick of holding up the target, waiting for the marshmallow to fire, and then trying to catch and eat the marshmallow.

Older Nephew had fun with the giant cardboard robot arms:

He also enjoyed various battling robot exhibits, and spent quite a bit of time in the Meccano booth.

Older Nephew was quite curious about the demographics of the event:
Older Nephew: Why are there so many teenagers here?
Me: Well, kids grow up into teenagers.
Older Nephew: I know, but there are so many of them. Look - there's another one!
Me: I guess teenagers like robots?

It was a fun day out, though I think if I go again, I'd like to try to go when it's less crowded.
I took Younger Nephew to the Hiller Aviation Museum today. Which marked a milestone for me in that I believe it was the first time I've taken one of the niblings out solo, without another adult for backup.

The air museum is a great place to take kids. (The place was packed today with adults being obediently towed around by enthusiastic 4-8 year olds.) Younger Nephew took great delight in the biplane flight simulator, methodically demonstrating to me how he could crash it into the ground, the ocean, a nearby building, and so on. He played with the helicopter simulator for a bit, before declaring that "helicopters are hard," an entirely accurate assessment given what I know about helicopters. We also got a surprising amount of mileage out of a weather simulator - it was a touch screen with sliders that let you set the humidity, surface temperature, and air temperature, and then it would display the weather that would result. After I explained to him what the three sliders were for, and showed him how to make it snow, that absorbed his attention for *minutes*.

They have a cockpit section of a Boeing 747 out back, and we sat in the passenger seats and traded stories about flying.

Funnily enough, the thing I told Younger Nephew that seemed to intrigue him the most was that when I was his age, there were no red or blue M&Ms. This prompted all kinds of questions: "What colors did they have?", "How old were you when they added red M&Ms? How about blue M&Ms?" and, most amusingly, "Did you ever have a dream where you were waiting for the red M&Ms and then you woke up in a giant basket of red M&Ms?"

I think this opens previously untapped realms of conversation with Younger Nephew. We didn't even get into the fact that Skittles weren't produced domestically in the United States when I was his age.
Went bouldering with the nephews earlier today. Younger Nephew wasn't really into it - I think his favorite part of the whole event might have been the unaccustomed treat of getting to choose a beverage from Planet Granite's fridge. (Thankfully, all he wanted was a Limonata. If he'd set his heart on one of their weird energy drinks, we'd have had to have the "Oh, I may be Aunt Pushover, but even I'm not cruel enough to wire you up on sugar and caffeine and hand you back to your parents" conversation.) Older Nephew had fun, and wants to try top-rope climbing now.

I did put on my climbing shoes and try to scramble up an easy route myself. I still suck at bouldering, and my left shoulder is still not quite as strong or flexible as my right, but it wasn't a complete disaster.
An afternoon of video gaming with Younger Nephew was a success. We mostly played Lego Star Wars, but we also tried out Lego Marvel Superheroes (which I think might actually have been my favorite), and Lego Batman. The Lego games are just about perfect for a kid and an adult to play in co-op mode. And I don't think I've ever seen Younger Nephew persevere at a difficult task as long as he worked at some of the bits of Lego Star Wars that he had trouble getting through. If Jane McGonigal is right about games building resilience, we built Younger Nephew some Jedi-level resilience.

Younger Nephew spotted my copy of Mass Effect 2 and asked if he could try it. I told him that it was kind of complicated game and that I'd have to read a lot of it to him, but we could try. After a couple of minutes of the prologue, he handed the controller back to me and said, "This game is too complicated!" He was absolutely riveted by the opening cutscenes, though. Someday, we'll play Bioware games together.
Took Younger Nephew climbing yesterday. It was a hoot. He did some bouldering for a bit while I spotted him, and then did some top rope climbing with me belaying. He had a bit of fear of heights, but he dealt with it very well - he climbed partway up the wall, and had me lower him a bit, and then climbed up a bit higher and had me lower him a bit...repeat until he got to the top. (He also asked me at one point if I could climb with him so he could hold my hand and not be scared. Sadly, that is just not possible.) He also spent a lot of time just running around Planet Granite looking at everything - I think the idea of a place full of nothing but surfaces to climb on was very near a personal vision of heaven for him.

Younger Nephew also treated me to an extensive description of how to play Angry Birds Go! Seriously, I think it was the first time I've ever heard Younger Nephew speak in paragraphs.
Younger Nephew Critiques the Historical Accuracy of My Costume
Went trick-or-treating with my nephews and niece. (Why doesn't the English language have a single non-gendered collective noun for "the kids whose aunt I am?") I wore my fuzzy Warrior Dash helmet as a token "costume".

Younger nephew: What's your costume?
Me: I'm a Viking.
Younger nephew: You can't be a Viking, because [insert unintelligible 4-year old explanation here, that I think involved Viking helmets not being furry.] (thinks hard) You could be a buffalo, because they have horns and lots of fur.
Me: Okay, I'm a buffalo.

Older Nephew Educates Me on Pop Culture
At one point when we were out trick-or-treating, one of the houses that had a big soundsystem going took a break from playing "Thriller" on infinite repeat to play "I'm a Believer".

Older Nephew: I know this song!
Me: Yes, it's by the Monkees.
Older Nephew: Noooo, there aren't any monkeys in Shrek!

Youngest Niece Demonstrates a Positive Attitude
Youngest Niece, who will be two in January, unexpectedly refused to put on a costume at the last minute, but thoroughly enjoyed the novelty of walking up to people's doors and receiving candy. However, my favorite part of the evening was probably reading her Green Eggs and Ham, because she responds to every question uttered in the text with a tiny enthusiastic "Yeah!"

"Would you, could you, in the rain?" "Yeah!"
"Would you, could you, on a train?" "Yeah!"

It would have been a very short book if she'd been the protagonist. Sam-I-am would come along and say, "Do you like green eggs and ham?" and she'd reply, "Yeah!" and we'd be done.
1. Older Nephew demonstrates that he knows how to flatter me: "You're a strong girl. Can you help me with this?"

2. The moment when you've distracted Younger Nephew from asking every twenty seconds if it's time for cake yet by letting him play Bejeweled on your phone, and then you realize that you may have replaced the problem of how to get Younger Nephew to allow the adults to eat their dinner in peace with the problem of how to get your smartphone back out of Younger Nephew's clutches. Fortunately, he eventually got bored and handed the phone to his older brother, who handed it back to me. (I was actually impressed with how long Younger Nephew lasted with it - Bejeweled is probably a bit advanced for a 4 year old.)

3. Youngest Niece has somehow gone from just barely walking to toddling along at speed, and will cheerfully grab me by the hand and tow me along on walks around the back yard, the front yard, along the sidewalk, etc.
Younger Nephew decided that the best way to deal with my trying to get him to go to bed was to tie me to his bed with dental floss so that he could go downstairs and watch YouTube on the iPad. He was so disappointed when my escapology skills proved more than the equal of his knot work.

So, he climbed up on the bathroom counter and told me that mommy and daddy were going to be mad at me when they got home, because I had broken the rules.

So, I leaned on the counter and talked to him about why mommy and daddy were going to be mad, and what rules I had broken, and about whether he'd really rather sit on the bathroom counter all night rather than go to bed, and whether or not he was tired, and how proud of him his mommy and daddy would be if he went to bed. And after about 10 or 15 minutes of this, he climbed wearily down off the counter and put himself to bed. So I thanked him for being such a good boy, and tucked him in, and shut the light off, and he went right to sleep.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I bored a four year old out of an act of defiance. I'm not sure whether I should be proud or embarrassed.
So, I was wearing a T-shirt with a cartoon drawing of Sun Wukong on it yesterday, and The Nephews were quite intrigued. Who'd have thought that a talking monkey with martial arts skills and an a knack for thwarting authority would hold any appeal to 4-6 year old boys?

Which got me wondering if there are any kid-friendly adaptations of Journey to the West out there, in either TV, movie, or book form? The late 70s/early 80s live-action TV series Monkey (which used to be available in its entirety on Youtube, but, alas, seems to have been taken down) might entertain them and is scripted in such a way that the references to Adult Concepts would probably go over their heads, but it wasn't really a kids' show.

Oh - I wonder if anyone ever did a manga adaptation. Older nephew has become enamored lately of a series of comic book adaptations of stories from Greek mythology, and will happily pore over the pictures even when there isn't an adult handy
to read the text. I'll have to look in to that.
Younger Nephew was not only not going to go to bed, he was not going to engage in further discussion of why he was not going to go to bed. So he stuck his fingers in his ears.

So, I stuck my fingers in my ears.

"You can't do that!" said Younger Nephew, with delighted outrage. "You are not four!"

"It's true," I admitted. "I'm not four."

By the time his mother came back to have another try at getting him to go to bed, we were deep in discussion of what my next birthday cake would be like. Cake is a subject on which Younger Nephew is well-informed and passionately opinionated. I think he's on track to be quite the accomplished baker.

(no subject)

Apr. 15th, 2013 12:19 pm
wshaffer: (photo-me)
My family know me well: I went to my Younger Nephew's birthday party yesterday morning. After I'd been there for a while, my brother-in-law walked up to me and handed me a cappuccino. "Diana said you wanted one of these." I did, but I'm pretty sure I hadn't said so out loud.

Older Nephew took some of the other boys on a tour of his favorite toys in the playroom, winding up with, "And this is my aunt!" The other boys were understandably more impressed with the Batman playset and the knights on horseback, but I'm rather flattered that I rated a mention in such august company.