Category Archives: product review

Mama 2.0 is GEEKED OUT.

Okay, so I had something else to talk about today, but it is clear that I made a big mistake yesterday, so let’s clear that up first.  I accidentally wrote about my iPhone love the day before iTunes opened its new Applications store (yes: Music, Videos, Podcasts…and Applications).  Supposedly, we iPhone users weren’t going to be able to access these until tomorrow, but thanks to a tip from this blogger and some technical assistance from this husband, I have been able to geek out for hours today.  (Did I mention it’s Day 2 of 2 when the boys are both in camp this summer? And that Lyle came home and is napping while Baxter’s still at camp?)  Here is the info on how to do it today, if you are inclined to be at the head of the pack.

So here’s the thing.  We live in the future in a really big way.  I downloaded a ludicrous number of applications that range from incredibly useful to sublimely ridiculous…for free.  And they hardly took up any memory.  And if I don’t tell you about some of them, I am going to burst.  So the more serious post lined up for today?  You can come back and read that tomorrow, if you are so inclined.  But for now: technogeek time.

Highlights from the “incredibly useful” category:

* The new Contacts button on my home screen.  THANK YOU, Apple, for not making me go digging for that any longer!  Hiding that in the Phone category was just plain silly.  I love you to bits, but it just was.

* The If Found button that provides my phone number and a reward amount in case the phone gets lost.  I love that the icon is a dollar sign – what else would someone touch first if they found an iPhone just lying there?  “Hmm…what have we here?  Ooh, someone dropped their iPhone?  Aha – and maybe if I push this button I can get some cash, too!”

* The very nice Bank of America application that allows me to log securely into my bank so that I can check balances, transfer money, etc. when I’m away from the computer.  Which is quite useful for my business banking needs.

* Dial Zero: This application has a seemingly endless number of businesses to choose from or search for.  When you select one, it dials you – now, get this – straight to a human operator!  Of course, my grandparents don’t have an iPhone, but when I was staying with my grandmother, I spent a long time trying to find a human being for her to talk to at Medicaid about her prescriptions, and I just saw that I can select that company and be taken directly to a woman for her to rake over the coals next time.  Priceless!

* I’m impressed with Exposure, which links to my Flickr photo account, allowing me access to all of my photos with a nice, simple interface.

* There are some great new productivity applications for the phone as well.  I am currently trying out both Jott and EvernoteJott looks especially cool in that it takes voice recordings through the phone and transfers them into text for me.  And then I can organize them into my to do lists and files.  Whoa.  Both have potential to help with organizing my to do lists.  See what I mean about living in the future?  I just got this for FREE, Wonderfriends. (And by the way, these two applications are also on the web for free – check them out!)

Highlights from the Sublimely Ridiculous category:

* Multiple applications for Twitter.  I am trying out Twittelator and Twitterfic (which  is one I am familiar with).  Apparently you can set up Twittelator to send an all-points-bulletin to all of your contacts if you are ever in an emergency, which comes complete with your exact location.  Could be handy.

* Shazam! (They don’t put that exclamation point there, that’s all me.) When you open Shazam – seriously, listen to this one – you can hold your phone up near music that’s playing, and it will “listen” for a few moments, tell you the artist and song name, and then link you to iTunes or the music video if you wish.  You can also create an album of songs you capture on Shazam.  Huh?!  Oh, and I tried it – it works.

There are also a few I downloaded with next week’s solo flight with the boys in mind:  Moo, Phone Saber (makes lightsaber sounds when you move the phone – and of course shows one on screen, complete with color choices – !), JirboMatch, Yes/No (a simplified Magic 8 Ball!) and Finger Paint.

I should add that if I were willing to pay something for downloads, there would be infinitely more to choose from, but for now I have plenty of freebies to keep me busy.

iPhone users out there, tell me what you find in the iTunes Application store that is useful and/or ridiculous – I have equal respect for both!  I’m looking for your advice, insights, and suggestions.

iPhone Love

I’ve wanted to post about the wonders of my iPhone for about a year now, but I still find myself somewhat sheepish about the fact that I own one.  I want to say to everyone who sees it, “I’m running a business – it was a much-needed tax write-off last summer!!” as if anyone actually cares how I pulled it off.  However, I don’t hide it when I’m in groups like I did for the first few months (when just pulling it out of my bag attracted a large group of curious folks), but I do try to lay low with the thing.  At any rate, I decided to post about it because I realized two things recently:

1)  I’ve had it for a full year now, and I am still madly in love with it every single dingle day; and

2)  Now that the new one is coming out at a far more reasonable price, more people might be thinking about purchasing them, and therefore more interested in what I have to say about it.

So I won’t go on and on, but I’ll give you a few things that have made the biggest difference for me:

* Direct access to my personal and work email accounts anytime I want.  This is useful when stuck in traffic or waiting for a client, but especially excellent when I am traveling.

* Very easy key pad that pops up for typing.  People seem to be frightened of it, but believe me, you get used to typing on it within a few days, and the word prediction feature works very well for me.  I can write long emails, comment on blog posts, and send lengthy, grammatically correct text messages quickly and easily.  As I once wrote about, even a 6-year old can pick it up and start using text messaging well.

* The visual voicemail is just amazing.  I’m a big fan of the little numbers that show me how many voice mails and text messages I have, and I can choose which new message I want to listen to by touching that name or number. If I need to fast forward or rewind, I just move the little bar where I want to listen.  Actually, the whole phone/contacts feature is incredible to me.  Every bit of information in my MacBook’s Address Book is synched up with my iPhone, making it easy to make calls and look up addresses (which can be touched to pull up a map and directions to that location – and now there is a real GPS feature on the new ones).  I have also assigned my favorite photos of family and friends to their contact pages so that when they call I get to see their shiny, happy faces.

* It’s my iPod.  All of my music is on this thing.  And here’s a scenario for you from a drive to work (when I’m not carpooling): the iPhone is connected through the car stereo so that I can listen to whatever I want in the car.  I’m wearing my BlueTooth headset.  I’m jamming to music when all of a sudden, the music is turned down for me automatically because a call is coming in.  I touch my ear piece and answer the phone.  No sudden turning music down or off, or fumbling with the phone to answer.  That’s one smart piece of technology.  As soon as I hang up the call, my music comes back on. This never fails to amaze me.

* The camera on the iPhone is quite good.  I frequently take a shot of a child I’m working with doing something fabulous, and I zip it off to their parents via email in the middle of a therapy session.  As you might imagine, they love getting these.   I also love to send a cute shot to Matt or the grandparents seconds after I capture it.

The awesome thing about the iPhone is that it just keeps getting better.  Apple continues to roll out upgrades that I get automatically by synching it with my computer, and Google seems to be working overtime to make all of their super cool applications work on it.  On my iPhone home page, which I can now customize, I have added buttons for my Google Reader, for Google Talk, and my home/work Google Calendar.   And, of course, a direct link to The Wonderwheel.

This is only the tip of the iceberg, and there are plenty of features that I don’t even make use of on this device that I’m sure someone else would place at the top of her list. I briefly considered upgrading to the new phone being released this Friday, but there’s really no point.  I’m sure I could get used to a faster data speed right quick, but the current speed rarely causes problems.  I’m also not that interested in a more expensive monthly plan.  I do suspect that I’ll be ready to upgrade next summer when they come up with yet another version and I’ll be in a different financial position, but for now I am completely happy with the phenomenal little piece of technology that I’ve got.

Okay.  Thanks for letting me get that out of my system.

There’s Still Time

Reminder!   Leave a comment after my “Book Review: Road Map to Holland” post and I will enter you in the drawing for a free copy of the book!  The drawing will take place after work so I’ll accept comments until 5 pm tomorrow.  Good luck!   

Book Review: Road Map to Holland

When I started reading Jennifer Graf Groneberg’s new book Road Map to Holland: How I Found My Way Through My Son’s First Two Years with Down Syndrome, I knew I was in for a treat.  I knew this because I  love to read Jennifer’s posts at Pinwheels and MotherTalk so much that if she started writing for The National Inquirer, I’d buy it weekly.   Her writing is lyrical and her voice is one that I yearn to hear in person while chatting over a cup of chamomile tea, funny little boys running in circles around us.

Jennifer writes with poignant honesty about the life-altering experience of giving birth to twins Avery and Bennett seven weeks prematurely and then learning just a couple of days later that Avery had Down Syndrome.  With her 4-year old son Carter already a part of the family, life became extraordinarily complicated and challenging overnight for Jennifer and her husband Tom.

On the plane ride to New York last Wednesday, I was about two-thirds of the way through Road Map to Holland when I suddenly stopped reading, surprised by a memory that had come to me, something I hadn’t thought about for a couple years. 

Baxter.

When I was pregnant with Baxter, the doctor had told us that there was a small chance he had Down Syndrome, based on one of the prenatal tests.  I remember having a conference call with a genetic counselor, who took our family history on both sides and explained that amniocentesis was an option for me if we would like to rule it out.  Matt and I discussed it after the call, but not for long.  Our only question was, “Would the baby require additional medical care in utero or at the time of birth if he or she had Down Syndrome?”  The answer was “no” and so we opted out of any further testing.  We allowed this information to dance around the edges of our consciousness throughout the pregnancy, let our families know of the slim possibility, and waited.

I remember feeling completely sick about it.  Not about the possibility that my child might have DS but about the realization that this was why I wasn’t seeing kids with this diagnosis anymore – people were finding out prenatally.  That was the first inkling I had that our decision to let nature take its course was unusual.

The rest of the inklings trickled in over the years as I made my way through two pregnancies and fielded the usual questions from friends and acquaintances.   Although it didn’t bother me that others did extensive testing and gathered as much information about their unborn children as they could, it made some friends uncomfortable that I wasn’t doing the same.  I didn’t want to know the sex of the babies, nor did I want more than the very basic tests.   My reason was this: I believe that pregnancy can be the first step in letting go – letting go of the control we like to imagine that we have over our own lives, and preparing to bring a little person into the world who is not actually going to be ours to control.  To me it’s a mindset, not one that necessarily comes easily but that I have always felt was important.  As a pediatric therapist, I know that babies are born appearing perfectly typical every single day who are later diagnosed with autism or develop seizure disorders or have leukemia or get into a car accident on the way to the prom and suffer a traumatic brain injury and wind up living in a residential school.  I have worked with children and teens for whom each one of these things has occurred.  So what is prenatal testing, really?  Prenatal testing is no guarantee that our children’s lives are going to turn out just fine.  It’s little more than false security, to get that “all clear” before the child is born.  My intuition was:   Let it go.

I am often asked if, knowing what I know, I was afraid to have children in case they were born with special needs.  Quite the contrary.  What I have learned over years of observation is that parents gradually find the strength to do what needs to be done for their children.  I have watched a great many parents go through stunning transformations of attitude and even personality as they learn to look at the world in a different way, find other parents who are traveling on a similar path, gather their support networks around them, and keep moving forward.  That is not to say that I would be unafraid of the work, the emotional stress, and the financial strains, but I was not afraid to have a child with special needs, no.  I had seen countless other parents do it; I could, too.

The emotions are raw in Jennifer’s beautiful story and it details – often very painfully – that real and extremely difficult experience parents have when they discover that their children and the future of their families are not what they had anticipated.  But beyond that, as Jennifer has written so eloquently, finding reasons to celebrate as the much-loved child develops beyond one’s expectations can also bring a joy and pride that would otherwise be unknown.

When I began reading this book I was certain that it would be a must-read for parents with a child diagnosed with Down Syndrome.  When I finished it, I was certain it should be read by absolutely anyone who finds themselves in Holland rather than Italy, no matter how they got there, because the transformation we see in Jennifer is so real, loving, and full of hope.  In the book, she writes about watching Avery sign baby as she tries to find the words to express what it’s like to be his mother:

“That’s the sign I want to use to tell Sarah what it’s like being Avery’s mom.  Big love, big joy.  Let go.  Hug yourself and swing your body and smile and expect that the world will receive you just as you are, and it will.  It will because you make it so, with all your heart and your whole body, smiling, swaying back and forth so fast and pure that the surety of it makes you dizzy.”

*****

I am going to give away a copy of Road Map to Holland.  Not my copy, mind you, because that will have a place of honor in the loaning library at my private practice for other parents to borrow.  However, in support of this book, I will purchase one more copy and have it shipped directly to the lucky person whose name I draw.  Please don’t hesitate to leave your name in the comment section of this post, even if you don’t have a child with special needs.  This book is for everyone.

I will ask Baxter, my son who turned out not to have Down Syndrome but constantly teaches me to reevaluate my assumptions about parenthood and the world, to choose one name out of a hat on the 21st of this month, in honor of Avery’s 21st chromosome and all that he has brought to us just by being in the world.

Cool Shoes!

Although I buy myself high quality, comfortable shoes most of the time, I have tried to avoid spending a lot of money on shoes for the kids. Knowing that they may only get 6-9 months of wear from them, it seems silly to spend a lot.

However, it’s been hard to find good middle-of-the-road priced shoes…the ones I’ve bought at less expensive places that I expect to have decent quality (such as Target and Land’s End), have literally fallen apart and had to be returned. I refuse to buy shoes from those stores anymore. Most of the time I try to go for the Stride Rites or can get some good Merrells on sale. It kills me to spend as much as $50 on a pair of shoes for the boys but once in a while I end up doing it in a pinch. It’s a really good thing I don’t have girls, because it would be very hard to resist those pricey girls’ shoes, though!

It’s not easy, however, to get cool shoes for boys in a decent price range. So when Umi offered me a free pair of ultra-hip leather shoes for each of my boys, I (eventually) agreed to review them.

When I ordered the shoes over the summer, Umi’s website was brand new and there were very few choices (especially in Baxter’s big kid size) but I liked the styles I picked out. It doesn’t appear that more shoes have been added to their site yet. Lyle has the Sierra ($60) and Baxter has the Zazu ($65). (Remember, on Zappos (where it appears there are many more Umi styles) they’ll beat the price of an online competitor – looks like maybe the Umi.com site has them at a higher price so you might get a really good deal by ordering them from Zappos.com!)

Now that the boys have worn them for about a month and a half, I’m happy to say that these are great shoes. (Okay, so I’m mostly happy to say this because they look REALLY cool!) Baxter absolutely loves his, which has really surprised me, given his usual preference for sneakers. I think he secretly likes all the compliments he gets on them. They are sturdy and appear to be well made; he says they are very comfortable. Lyle wears his less because I’d rather he not spill paint all over them in nursery school, but they are adorable with a pair of jeans when we go out. He also loves wearing them. My kids each only have two pairs of shoes – a pair of sneakers and the Umi leather shoes (beyond beach sandals) – so their shoes need to hold up well.

I recommend Umi if you are looking for high quality, comfortable, and fashionable kids’ shoes. I’d buy them again in a heartbeat, but will look for them on sale.

Sharing the Zappos Love

Wow.

In case you didn’t love Zappos enough before, read this right now.