10 Best Offline Apps for Traveling Toddlers

Tablets have become a necessity for many families these days. After all, they can offer endless hours of entertainment along with educational opportunities for kids. It’s surprising then that kids still get bored with their tablets, especially when there’s no access to WiFi. For traveling families, this can be the situation more often than not, especially when they’re traveling to remote or rural areas, are on the road constantly, or on planes without free internet accessibility.

Although they outsmart us sometimes, my husband and I usually control our toddlers’ tablet time. We make sure that they often don’t get it for long stretches of time and that they’re not just always on YouTube Kids, especially before a trip. This helps when we are stuck in transit and let them have their tablets, it’s almost like they’re getting their devices for the first time, every time! We’ve also discovered that there are apps out there that keep them interested as much as YouTube Kids does, and these apps are actually both interactive and creative-something that the kids really don’t get when tuned in on videos. Here are some of the apps we’ve found to be both entertaining and appropriate for our toddlers.

 

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1. Toca Dance – iOS/Android – $2.99

Toca Dance is one among many of Toca Boca’s highly entertaining kid-approved apps. Kids can choreograph endless dance routines, make costume changes as needed, and even interact with app characters. This paid app also has a free version with limited features, but the paid version is well worth the money. Toca Boca also features a bundle package if you want to save money and purchase all their other apps on this list.

2. Mrs. Potato Head – iOS/Android – FREE

The digital Mrs. Potato Head is just as fun as the original toy, now as portable as ever. Mrs. Potato Head features tons of fun costumes that your kids can take photos of. Kids can be as creative as possible by mixing and matching costumes from different collections.

3. Endless Reader – iOS/Android – FREE

This app is free to download, but you’ll need to purchase a reader pack in order to get all the letters in the alphabet. This is great for learning on the road and is designed for kids aged 4 and older. My kids have been using this app since they were 2 though, and they find the graphics and sounds very entertaining. It’s also great for beginner readers to practice with.

4. Toca Hair Salon 2 – iOS/Android – $2.99

Kids can be stylists in this incredibly ingenious app. Toca Boca’s Hair Salon 2 is a hair styling app that features the ability to wash, cut, color, and style different characters’ hairdos.

5. Toca Kitchen 2 – iOS/Android – FREE

With the addition of new characters and kitchen tools, Toca Boca has made Toca Kitchen even better with its 2nd version. Kitchen 2 lets kids get creative in the kitchen (and messy too!) as much as they want.

6. Ocean Swimmer – iOS/Android – $2.99

This app from Sago Mini is probably one of the most interactive and comprehensive apps out there for kids. You can discover lots of characters and pretty much interact with all sorts of creatures in this app. Kids can swim the ocean all day with this one.

7. Hoopla – iOS/Android – FREE

Hoopla is a digital library app. You can download it and get access by putting in your local library information (as long as your library location participates). You can browse through thousands of available videos, music, and books and download ones that you like to keep on your device. Much like how a library works, you can only borrow a limited number of digital items at a time and have a set number of days to keep them. Also, take note that you must have internet connection at the time of download. After the download process, you can have access to your materials when offline.

8. Kids Doodle – iOS/Android – FREE

There are tons of drawing/sketching apps out there. My kids happen to like this one because it’s really easy to use. There are no how to’s or intricate designs. There are just tons of bright colors they use to pretty much just scribble away. I can imagine that once the kids get older, they’re going to want something with a little bit more capability. But for now, this works and it’s free!

9. Toca Band – iOS/Android – $2.99

Kids can put together their own bands and play an endless array of music they create with this app. There are thousands of instrument combinations you can make with this app; it can get pretty crazy. That’s a warning for parents, though, as the songs your kids come up with might be a little too catchy. You might find yourself wanting to play as well.

10. Photo Booth – iOS – FREE

This iOS app doesn’t need to be downloaded as it comes bundled with the rest of Apple’s standard apps. I can’t tell you how much time me and my kids have spent making faces and adding effects for this camera app. It’s even funnier when the kids learn how to use the app themselves. You never know what kinds of faces your kids make when you’re not looking.

 

There are other Sago Mini and Toca Boca apps our kids love that are worth to check out. Just go to either iTunes or Google Play and type in Sago Mini or Toca Boca.  At the toddler age, they aren’t too interested in playing games on their devices just yet, and these apps provide just the right amount of fun and creativity to keep them entertained for a while. Enjoy and safe travels!

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10 Best Things to Do on a Rainy Day

Rain, rain, go away;
Come again another day.

It’s easier to notice the rain when the world is quiet.  Its tapping on the roof sounds softer with the rising sun behind it, hiding the bold colors of the rushing dawn.  The rain.  It dances ever so slowly now above my head, drowning the afterglow of city lights and Friday night traffic.  I drove out tonight to pick me up a devilish hot fudge sundae with granulated nuts at the nearby McD.  Windows down.  Stars alight like glitter.  The slick breeze smelling of crisp youth.  It reminded me of long nights and the many incredulous things we as humans do in it.  Fun times.  Fun memories.  Then the rain decided to come pay me a visit, and I just couldn’t help but write.

It’s been raining for days.  Maybe even weeks.  What’s best to do on a rainy day?  Here’s my ultimate best ten to tickle your fancy.  Enjoy!

10.  Wear socks around the house.

What other reason would you have for wearing socks during 90 degree weather?  Nothing.  Just the rain.  You take off your clothes but leave the knickers on.  Keep the body cool, but always keep the feet warm.  Wear toe socks if you have them.  Your feet will love you.

9.  Red wine tastes better when it’s raining.

There’s a science to this.  I just don’t know it yet.  I will tell you, though, that red wine is amazing at any time of the day, any day of the week, rain or shine.  However, if your fine taste buds revoke the bittersweet, try it on a rainy day.  You will feel warm and cozy in and out, and next thing  you know, you’re parched for another bottle.

8.  Share some soup.

Cook up a delectable homemade soup and lovingly share.  My most recent soup endeavor was Chicken Tortilla Soup made solely because of the rain.  It was a huge success to my fans, both toddler and grown man alike, and I’m really itching to make another.  Piping hot wonton soup, maybe?  Or some matzo ball soup?

7.  Open up all the windows.

Yes.  I know there are quite a few weirdos out there.  But they can’t stand the rain when they’re acting all weird…so no, they won’t be standing outside your window peering in to see what soup you’re making today.  In a literal sense, you’ll be opening up to the world and letting all the light shine in.  There’s something serene and beautiful about rainfall.  The way the raindrops race each other down the glass as if they’re alive for my entertainment is fascinating to me.  The rain only wants to give you a show.  So go ahead.  Pull the curtains apart and enjoy!

6.  Play some background music.

I was going to suggest a particular kind of music to play instead, when I realized that it doesn’t really matter.  You can let any music lull you in the background long as you keep it there–in the background.  The rain has its own tone and rhythm to share.  Hear it out.

5.  Go for a late-night drive through downtown.

The sounds of rain boots and stilettos accidentally stepping on puddles.  Umbrellas of all sizes twirling in excitement.  The traffic lights as seen through beads of water on the windshield.  People happily oblivious to wetness since its late-night and we do many incredulous things at night.  The shiny asphalt reflecting the downtown energy.  Music blasting from the local club.  Careless chatter about the rain and how its ruining everyone’s hairdos but who cares really since we’re all still alive despite of it all.  The dangerous feel of slippery roads against rubber.  You, rebel, you.

4.  Go to the beach.

Watch as a raindrop carves itself onto sand, leaving it hollow and wanting.  Watch the surface of the ocean go prickly as the rain disturbs its deep flatness.  Enjoy the shore and its loneliness.  More than likely, you will be alone here to marvel at all the water you’re encountering at the moment.  Just make sure there’s no lightning.

3.  Cliche.

I rank rainy day cliches in the top three because, you’ve got to admit, they’re cliches because they’re good.  So by all means, cuddle up with that book.  Fall asleep to that movie.  Facebook it up all the way even de-friending if you want to.  Go down with MySpace, if that’s how you roll.  Or write a blog like I’m doing.  Ha!  Go update your diary.  Snuggle with your comforter.  The rain just makes all the cliches so much better to do.

2.  Sleep.

ZzZzZzZzZzZzZzZzZzZz

1.  Play footsies with your tongue.

Disclaimer: This action requires a partner.

Here it is.  Get with it.  Turn your romantic on.  The best thing to do on a rainy day is………french kiss someone.  With your socks on.  After red wine and soup.  With the windows open and music on.  In the car while you drive through the city or at the beach while you share a big, red umbrella.  While you watch a movie you’re not watching or just before you hit the hay.  Play footsies with your tongue.  Do it with raging passion and reckless wantonness.  Fall in love again.  There’s really nothing like it.  Try it in the rain.  You’ll see what I mean.

Have a safe weekend folks, wet or dry!

Buying Experiences

I remember when I first got my walkman.  It was around the time when portable cd players were the fad, early 90s.  Yep.  I was just a tad behind with the tech culture.  The truth was I didn’t beg my parents for it.  I listened to music in whatever way I could.  However, since they knew I was very much into music, they got it for me nonetheless.  I absolutely adored my walkman like no other.  After school, I scouted for discount cassette tapes at the local music stores.  At night, I lightly slept with a small stereo as a pillow just so when I heard that one particular song air on the radio, I pressed the record and play button together to vandalize that brown strip of blankness in the cassette tape.  I vaguely remember buying Green Day’s Dookie album.  I played that tape on repeat like there were no other types of music out there.  It was awesome.  I carried my tiny walkman with pride like it was 1985.

I had a wonderful childhood.  Our lives, my siblings’ and mine, were simple yet slightly-above-average.  Growing up, we were taught not to put value on material things.  We
played outdoors, rain or shine.  We ran barefoot while being chased by rabid street dogs of all kinds.  We explored our suburban neighborhoods and played in our city backyards.  Our parents taught us the value of education early on and how it is the one true gift they could ever give us.  We exploited our opportunities for a great education and went overboard with extra-curriculars.  We spent the most memorable times with the best friends and family anyone could ever hope for.  We were blessed.  Truly.  Our parents bought us many nice things, but we knew to take care of them diligently.  We didn’t get twenty gifts during Christmas time or new clothes at the beginning of the school year.  We rarely went to shopping malls to actually shop.  Back then, the malls were just there for the free air conditioning that not a lot of people had in their homes.  Including us.  We had money.  But not the type to spend on “stuff.”

I did buy “stuff” as a kid.  How can you not?  Most of my allowance money were spent on paper dolls and gum and and soda in a bag.  Endless food trips.  Jeepney rides to the “rich” mall.  Change for use on arcade machines.  Street fighter.  Mortal Kombat.  Pacman.  Filipino street foods.  Oh yeah.  I spent money on ridiculous things.  The point is I didn’t accumulate as much “junk” or “toys” or “gadgets” as most kids do nowada
ys.  Back then, we spent our money on what to do.  We bought experiences.

Our less-than-perfect-yet-still-great parents bought us the best experiences of our lives by buying us plane tickets to travel to different places.  No one can put a price on first-hand cultural immersion.  It is the best type of learning there is.  Not that there’s anything wrong with buying gadgets and toys.  Everything has its place and purpose in our growth and our lives.  But a gadget can’t measure up to an interactive experience or awesomely thrilling memories.  We all have a tendency now to have our hands occupied by some type of device; I think we’re losing our abilities to look people dead straight into their eyes just as much as we’re losing our physical abilities to experience sensational memories to their panoramic fullest.  We rather crop everything into 1080P to be viewed and reviewed by others.  I think it’s the latest fad in excessive self-affirmation.  But that’s something else entirely.  A different post, I suppose.

IMG_0001Go do something.  Spend your money on an experience and live to talk about it.  Whatever “toy” you’re buying next might cost just as much as a drive-in movie or a pass to see the King Tut collection at the local museum.  Let the kids exercise their whole bodies in the jungle gym and not just their fingers.  Yes, parents should do the same.  Go spend money on some snorkeling gear or a paddle board or a trip to see The Lion King live on Broadway.  Play BINGO!  Go to the planetarium.  So many exciting adventures to experience.  If you’re going to pay for it, it better last a lifetime.

Buy an experience.  Make memories.  Should I say it again? 🙂

Once Upon a Toddler’s Time

There are days when I’m just hankering for adult time and adult conversations.  I seem to be on toddler time constantly with my 18-month old and my 2-month old newborn.  Yeah…we’ve been busy.  Among many things, toddler time consists of steady playing and activities, pulling random stuff off of shelves and out of drawers, constant snacking on anything that fits in the mouth, and the inescapable “MOMMY!!!” holler.  As independent as she is when doing activities, sometimes I feel guilty for putting my daughter in front of the telly too much just so I can catch up with things I need to do.  I’m still learning how to balance adult time with toddler time and it’s definitely a work in progress.  My daughter loves to be outdoors, and it isn’t always easy to go to field trips with a newborn.  So I always get excited when we get to do things, just her and I.

Destination: Downtown West Palm Beach at CityPlace

We went downtown with a few goals in mind: go window shopping, listen and dance to music, play at the fountains, get ice cream, and visit the bookstore to buy a new book.  We went to a couple of stores…tried on some hats and purses.  She happens to like looking at herself in the mirror, and I promise you that she didn’t get it from me.  Ha!  We listened to some live local jazz and blues at the plaza and danced along with anyone else feeling brave enough to groove.  I ran after her as she chased all the tiny bubbles floating in the sticky air.  We got wet as we interrupted with our hands the constant stream of water jetting from the fountains.  She loved that.  And of course there was the delectable Cookie Monster ice cream from Sloan’s.  Yumm.  We sat on the plaza benches and marveled at the twittering birds and the many kinds of dogs that strolled by.  We would’ve gone to Barnes and Noble except they closed it down to build another LA Fitness.  What?  I’m not even going to comment on that.  And this is a couple of years after they tore down the downtown public library.  Ah!!!  Like I said, I’m not commenting on it.

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Anyway, our night ended early as the little one got tired.  She expectedly fell asleep in the car only to get an expected second wind at the house.  It was an absolutely fun night.

Today was just as fun.  With the nonstop rain being the downer recently, we were blessed with a beautiful Saturday spent with good friends.

Destination: Okeeheelee Park at Greenacres

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This enormous park is pretty awesome.  Picnic areas, shaded pavilions, tons of barbecue spots, a dog park, a golf course, baseball fields, soccer fields, BMX tracks, kayaking, boating, water skiing, nature center, walking trail with exercise spots, lots of playgrounds and volleyball courts, and tons of huge trees.  Yep.  And it’s free.  It was a hotdog and hamburger kind of day.  The kids got to kick the soccer ball around and flew kites as we welcomed a nice breeze after a short drizzle.  Some of us just chitchatted while the others went fishing at the lake.  And the baby, of course, just slept on and on and on.  It was an absolutely fun day for the whole family and most especially for my toddler.

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It really isn’t difficult to keep her entertained.  No matter how much we try to make it about us, it’s always naturally about our children.  As long as they’re having the time of their lives, then I, myself, am having a toddlerrific time!

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Home-bound Adventures

This post was going in a completely different direction before I decided to take a turn.  I think it was the tequila sunrise.

We all know the cliche: life is an adventure.  It’s supposed to be exciting, a roller coaster ride, a thrill.  Is this in general terms?  Is every single day supposed to feel like the ultimate joy ride? Does everyone look for that kind of kick in life?  Or are we, as people, just driven to want more than just the ordinary?

The extraordinary.  I always search for it.  In many things I do and feel, I want to see and go beyond.  I know the vast universe is the biggest stage, and I play a role, somehow, in giving it poetic justice.  My life is supposed to be one out of many remarkable acts.  For sure, life did not take the magical turn I thought it would.  But every single turn leads somewhere.  And where I’m at now, I truly believe, is where I ought to be.  And that is home-bound, relatively.

Home, in this context, is not a freestanding occupied domicile.  It’s more of where-the-heart-is type of thing.  I can’t just take a weekend trip to New York or a week for a road trip to the West coast.  I can’t just go hiking in the Appalachian or backpacking across Europe.  I would love to go cliff diving or learn how to sail across the Pacific.  I would love to swim the depths of the Marianas or heck, jump ship to the ex-moon of ex-planet Pluto.  Eventually, I will.  Or maybe I will not. There are multitudes of adventures to trek, and many of them are small yet equally satisfying.  Discovering a secluded beach spot or an upcoming talented author.  Realizing that Indian food is pretty amazing and finding out there’s a great hole-in-the-wall eatery next door.  Learning how to be a bartender from your own kitchen since a cocktail costs more than dinner.  Reading an old novel again and again and finding that it takes you to a different place each time.  Driving down Ocean Drive and inspiring yourself with all the possibilities of success.

I cheat on this adventure thing every day because having children, for one, is probably the biggest and craziest adventure of them all.  I learned tonight that my 18-month old loves whole wheat couscous.  Couscous!  Who would’ve thought?  It may seem humdrum but to me, that just opened up a whole can of nutritional wonders.  It’s pretty awesome!  Yes…to me, it really is.

And here is when I say that it is all about the attitude.  Take life by its horns, even with the everyday stuff.  No day should be uneventful, no hour uninspired.  If traveling, get out of the comfort zone.  If finding a career, aim for the one you hold on a pedestal.  If doing anything at all, go above and beyond and more.  See simplicity and all the hushed beauty it hides.  When loving someone, go crazy!  Let someone love you back just as wild.  Let these kinds of endeavors wrap themselves around our ordinary lives.  Ordinary, by all means, is only an expectation.  Stop.  We are all sharing the biggest stage; how does one shine?  Be extraordinary and expect only the same.

I’m a home-bound adventurer…and I’ve got the world in my hands.  What’s in yours?

Surreal Persistence

Artistry.  Musicality.  Theatric.  Literary.  I was blessed with a rich childhood exposure to such things.  I guess it came with growing up in a city crossed between old school and new school traditions and beautifully sandwiched between Eastern and Western cultures.  As a kid, art was as simple as a pencil sketch of Marvel superheroes; music was the daily street jamming session with friendly voices and a guitar that sung chords strummed from a rumpled early 90’s songbook.  Theater was rehearsing class plays of various folklores and fairytales, while literature ranged from reading mythology to writing about the classics.  Pretty well-rounded, we were.  Suffice it to say, we attended an excellent school.

I critiqued a work of art in 10th grade as part of Art 101.  I didn’t know much about art then apart from pencils and watercolors and Leonardo da Vinci.  This experience stuck with me as it allowed me to pursue something I never thought I’d be remotely interested in.  I remember my teacher’s short, mousy brown hair and squarish, pointed nose as she told me I should take more art classes to improve my technique.  I didn’t even know I had any technique at that point.  Anyway, for the assignment, she asked me to review the famous Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory.  I had heard of Dali before, and I had seen the painting somewhere.  But I had no idea how to even begin a proper critique.  I did my research.  I did my assigned work.  I got a good grade, though I don’t remember what I wrote so many years ago about this painting and this artist that persists to inspire me.

Yes.  I was utterly inspired.  I was completely entranced by the surrealist movement.  I even dubbed myself a surrealist writer later on, writing dreamy poetry and short, blinking prose.  Later in my senior year, I took up an advanced art history class for some college credit.  I didn’t really delve into it, though, until I took art history again in college just for fun, part 1 and part 2.  Even though I’m no expert, I can say I know what I like, and I know what I’m looking for in a piece of artwork.  Through it all, surrealism stuck with me: weird, provocative, captivating, and full of thought.

I didn’t pursue art.  I have a box of charcoal and lead and graphite tucked away neatly just in case I get bit by the sketchy bug.  In 2007, I took a trip up north to Tampa to see a couple of friends, and on the way there, I stopped by St. Petersburg just to look around and see what the area was like.  I was pleasantly surprised by the existence of a Dali Museum, so small on the outside yet so grand on the inside.  Dali Museum for the Dali enthusiasts!  Like me!  I was ecstatic.  I thought I knew how eccentric this dude was.  I had no idea.

I’m not going to elaborate on the artful life of the famous Salvador Dali except for this one quick aside.  With the details all blurred and such, I’ll never forget one of Dali’s radical methods to genius surreal artwork.  It turned out that he used to starve himself of sleep and go on for some time without shut eye.  He would hold a key in between his fingers while he kept a metal plate  beneath him.  As soon as he nodded off, the key would nod off onto the metal plate sounding a clang that would wake him up immediately.  He claimed that this induced some sort of lucid dreaming that enabled him to heighten his cognitive awareness of his own dreams.  Thus, inspiration stirred and the wonderfully odd paintings and films and sculptures surfaced.

I’m not sure what it is about this story, but it drives me into inspiration overload when it comes to being persistent about your own craft.  Even though I know so well how much the brain requires the mental filtering it undergoes while asleep, I sometimes feel sleeping is wasteful especially when I’m inspired beyond contentment.  I’m not trying to go about without slumber; I’m just trying to elevate my dedication to my craft of choice.  I strive to be unrealistically persistent until I get there.

So if you happen to be by St. Petersburg, Florida, stop by the Dali Museum and be inspired by crazy.