Celebrating National Poetry Month With The Geek Moms

We thought it would be fun to wind up National Poetry Month with some of the Geek Moms’ favorite poets and poetry.

My own memories of poetry are quite early. My mother lived in Los Angeles and my father lived in the mountains over six hours away. This was back in the 70’s, so long before books on tape or DVD. So what did my father do to entertain one bored tween and two rambunctious younguns?

Why, recite 19th and 20th century poetry to us, of course. (Can you tell his mother was a librarian?)

My father has this deep, rumbly voice that was just perfect for reciting The Charge of the Light Brigade, Hiawatha, The Highwayman, or If. He could also whip out a mean rendition of Custard the Cowardly Dragon, one of my personal favorites when I was young.

My taste in poetry has changed a lot over the years. I am now much taken with Mary Oliver and still have a fondness for T. S. Eliot, most especially this bit from Burnt Norton (The Four Quartets):

What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.
Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?

In fact, I think that poem helped seal my desire to be a writer–to be able to explore the paths not taken.

Here are some other geek moms and their favorite poems:

Rebecca Angel:

The only poem I have ever memorized, and unfortunately I don’t know the source (I got it from a calender). I’ve tried looking for it for years, and the best I could find was something like “Antiphon Anglicus” which basically means it was written a very long time ago. It’s my favorite because it proves even hundreds of years ago being smart was cool.

Sabrina has a thousand charms
to captivate my heart.
Her lovely eyes are Cupid’s arms
and every look a dart.
But when the beauteous idiot speaks
She cures me of my pain.
Her tongue the servile fetters breaks.
And frees her slave again.




“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty place from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death
Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more
It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Shakespeare, Macbeth. (I had it memorized, but I did go double-check to make sure I had it exactly.)

Whenever I think of this in my head, I heard Christopher Plummer’s voice as I saw him play MacBeth on Broadway a loong time ago.

Sonnet 73:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

–Usually it’s the last line that is quoted but I love the whole thing. It may help that Edward Woodward recited it on an episode of the Equalizer. I’m a sucker for great English voices.



The only poem I have ever memorized is not suitable for GeekMom, even if it is about parents! (Warning: It is NSFW!)

Philip Larkin – This Be The Verse


When I thought about it, I realized a lot of those K-12 years stuck! I think I can still do all of “Annabel Lee,” which I performed for my 8th grade English class. I competed in the Poetry category of forensics for a long time with “Death of the Hired Man,” so I can do a chunk of that, as well as a few of the short Robert Frost poems. Oddly enough, I married into a lengthy arm of his family (my mother-in-law’s maiden name is Frost, and her brother is Robert). I still remember chunks of “Jabberwocky,” too.

Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me;


‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep

O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done;


That’s my last duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive.


Cathe Post:

From the Pocket Book of Ogden Nash


The cow is of the bovine ilk;
One end is moo, the other, milk.

From the first book (possibly the first thing)I ever purchased with my OWN money – Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

THE BAGPIPE WHO DIDN’T SAY NO (Poem selected because I loved bagpipes growing up)



Kansas City Octopus by Calef Brown from the book Polkabats and Octopus Slacks

Kansas City Octopus
is wearing fancy slacks.
just got ’em,
fifty bucks including tax.
Red corduroy,
and boy-o-boy,
they fit like apple pie.
Multi-pocket snazzy trousers
custom made for octopi.
Fantastic plastic stretch elastic
keeps ’em nice and tight.
Kansas City Octopus
is looking good tonight!

When I first read this I thought, “that’s what the English language was born to do.” And, I now like saying that things fit like apple pie.


Kathy Ceceri:

What came to mind for me was Laws Concerning Food and Drink; Household Principles; Lamentations of the Father by Ian Frazier. I thought of it as a poem (I had only heard it read aloud, on “A Prairie Home Companion”) but now that I’ve looked it up, it is formatted as prose, albeit Biblical. Here’s the opening line (the entire piece is rather long):

Of the beasts of the field, and of the fishes of the sea,
and of all foods that are acceptable in my sight you may eat,
but not in the living room.

There’s also Soap Soup by Karla Kuskin. I still think of it when I set the table:

Put the dinner
on the table.
Then sit down
and eat it, Mabel.

And if you are able,
you may also eat
the table.


Kristen Rutherford:

Favorite! I love Lorca – whenever I read his work, I feel like I have to put my hand over my heart as a shield to protect myself!




The still waters of the air
under the bough of the echo.

The still waters of the water
under a frond of stars.

The still waters of your mouth
under a thicket of kisses.


Suzanne Lazear:
I’ve always loved this poem because it’s a reminder of how fast our kiddos grow up and that we should cherish those small moments as they come.

Song for a Fifth Child

by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth
empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
hang out the washing and butter the bread,
sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
and out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
but I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
for children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.



I have to throw a shout out to Billy Collins! A must-read for moms is “The Lanyard” – here’s a portion:

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

And here’s part of one that cracks me right up – “Nightclub” – also by Collins:

You are so beautiful and I am a fool
to be in love with you
is a theme that keeps coming up
in songs and poems.
There seems to be no room for variation.
I have never heard anyone sing
I am so beautiful
and you are a fool to be in love with me,
even though this notion has surely
crossed the minds of women and men alike.
You are so beautiful, too bad you are a fool
is another one you don’t hear.
Or, you are a fool to consider me beautiful.
That one you will never hear, guaranteed.


Patricia Volmer:

I was in 5th grade.  I was in a gifted/talented elementary school program.  We were asked to learn a poem to recite, and we chose from a variety of poems presented to us as options.  I picked this one, and worked SO HARD to learn it, it has stuck with me 27 years later!

Is it necessarily a favorite?  I’m not sure it’s a favorite, but it’s truly inspirational, and I’ve even used it (the first two stanzas) in several of my military briefings as an icebreaker when presenting something challenging.

Ahem….here goes!

Titled “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Guest.

Someone said it couldn’t be done
But he with a chuckle replied
That maybe it couldn’t but he would be the one
Who wouldn’t say so until he had tried.
So he started right in with a trace of a grin
On his face.  If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, as he did it.
Somebody scoffed “Oh you’ll never do that;
At least no one we know has done it”;
But he took of his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle right in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That cannot be done, and you’ll do it




I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.

Write, for instance: “The night is full of stars,
and the stars, blue, shiver in the distance.”

The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

On nights like this, I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her.
How could I not have loved her large, still eyes?

I can write the saddest poem of all tonight.
To think I don’t have her. To feel that I’ve lost her.

To hear the immense night, more immense without her.
And the poem falls to the soul as dew to grass.

What does it matter that my love couldn’t keep her.
The night is full of stars and she is not with me.

That’s all. Far away, someone sings. Far away.
My soul is lost without her.

As if to bring her near, my eyes search for her.
My heart searches for her and she is not with me.

The same night that whitens the same trees.
We, we who were, we are the same no longer.

I no longer love her, true, but how much I loved her.
My voice searched the wind to touch her ear.

Someone else’s. She will be someone else’s. As she once
belonged to my kisses.
Her voice, her light body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and oblivion so long.

Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is lost without her.

Although this may be the last pain she causes me,
and this may be the last poem I write for her.

Pablo Neruda


Laura Grace Weldon:

This is a project after my own heart. I’m a fledgling poet (with a chapbook out of print and hopefully another coming out next year). I tend to have fierce reactions to poems—adoration or indifference with little in-between. Hard to imagine choosing a favorite when there’s so much to love about the work of so many poets: Lisel Mueller, Stephen Levine, Wendell Berry, Anne Sexton, Franz Wright, oh believe me I could drone on. Here’s one of my many favorites, one that I’ve been listening to in my head recently.



Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is. I met her
in a bar once in Iowa City.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.

Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life also.

Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe. I heard her singing Kiowa war
dance songs at the corner of Fourth and Central once.
Remember that you are all people and that all people are you.
Remember that you are this universe and that this universe is you.
Remember that all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember that language comes from this.
Remember the dance that language is, that life is.


~ Joy Harjo ~


French Arthur Rimbaud, the archetypal teenage-poet and “poète maudit“. His life is, of course, fascinating (Leonardo Di Caprio even played his role in a dispensable movie). But Rimbaud is also a wonderful seeker of a new language, the explorer of new images and new musics. An amazing poet.


Alexandra Siy

A TREE WITHIN by Octavio Paz

A tree grew inside my head
A tree grew in.
Its roots are veins
its branches nerves,
thoughts its tangled foliage.
Your glance sets it on fire,
and its fruits of shade
are blood oranges
and pomegranates of flame.
Day breaks
in the body’s night.
There, within, inside my head,
the tree speaks.
Come closer—can you hear it?


Who are some of your favorites?

Remembering the Comic Genius Behind the Famous Comic

Last week Madelyn Pugh Davis died. She is best known for the 174 scripts she wrote for the I Love Lucy show. Her career as a screenwriter spanned decades, through the mid-1980’s.

Davis was born in 1921 in Indianapolis, where she edited her high school newspaper. She earned a journalism degree at Indiana University, and moved to Los Angeles in 1933. There she met her long-time writing partner Bob Carroll Jr., and together they wrote scripts for a radio series about a ditzy housewife, played by Lucille Ball.

Once they made their move to television, the writing team combined zany situations with visual and clownish antics.  Davis was often the first to try out the physical comedy bits for a script early in the writing process, according to the New York Times, Dennis Hevesi article, Davis is reported as saying that Ball would do anything their script called for, and that the only time she hesitated was when they brought an elephant into the studio. Davis and the other writers had come up with a sight gag for her to talk into the elephant’s trunk to retrieve some money.

The following video (6 minutes, from a Criterion Collection 1991 laserdisc documentary) has commentary from both Davis and Ball, revealing the meticulous process they used to create slapstick comedy that looked spontaneous. Improvisation was not involved. Without Davis’s comic genius and her female perspective–Davis was also a mother and step mother–we may never have known one of the most famous clowns of the twentieth century. Thanks, Madelyn Davis. Thanks for all the hearty laughs.

The Post Title I’ve Always Dreamed of Writing: I Was Interviewed by NPR!


Friday morning my Greg-Mortenson-Controversy post went live on GeekMom. As per usual, I tweeted and Facebooked this news to my potential readership–which, in my mind, consists of eight friends from college, one amazingly hip and precocious sixteen-year-old, and a bunch of people who would actually prefer to hear how Kari Byron is doing.

My marketing responsibilities behind me for the day, I then moved on to checking my email.  I scan my inbox and immediately open an email from a familiar-sounding Larry Abramson–an email that references a developing National Public Radio story about Greg Mortenson and ends with the beautiful, beautiful words “Can you let me know how to reach you by phone?” printed above a tiny, tasteful NPR logo.

(Is there such thing as an NPR geek? Clearly, the answer to that question is YES.)

Understand: during the first ten years of my marriage, while my husband was in the Navy, I lived in five states and on two coasts. This was all well before email, social media, or affordable long-distance phone plans. NPR became the well-read friend with elegant diction that came with me to every new assignment, regaling me with beautifully-crafted, topical stories, always making me feel less alone. That email from Mr. Abramson rocketed me straight into “bucket-list” territory…

So how did my actual conversation with Mr. Abramson go? Well, you can hear the completed “Weekend Edition” segment here. I come in a little before the three-minute mark and am quoted with just one sentence. (The sentence that really nailed the story, according to many of my closest friends.) Alternatively, you can scroll down the transcript and read my response–it appears right after the words “Mr. Andrea Schwalm.”

What you cannot hear in my (nuanced) response, fortunately, are the two cats who ran into the bedroom to argue on my lap, mid-interview. Nor can you hear my oldest son, a room away, complaining loudly about being forced to give up technology for Good Friday while his mother, THE HYPOCRITE, talks on the phone, an open laptop resting on her legs…


Ten Things I’ve Learned From Failed Experiments

I learned from my mistakes. (See Number 7) And no, my daughter was not with me that day.

To trot out another overdone cliche, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. It never applied to me. If I didn’t pick it up immediately, I would get frustrated and drop it altogether. I have a terrible habit of pulling back and quitting when things don’t go right the first time. I suck at taking criticism and often lash out toward my critic. Even when I know full well they are correct. Especially when I know they are correct.

Seeing as I’m doing my best to recreate myself this year, I thought I would embrace my failures and share my new-found, hard-earned knowledge with the GeekMom readership. I’ve listed my ten most intriguing experiments that failed so that you may save yourself the trouble of recreating them. This ranges from home remedies to science experiments to experimental cooking. None of them went so well.

  1. Alka-seltzer does not a good toilet bowl cleaner make. I thought perhaps the effervescence would help break up the grimy grossness. Nope. It pretty much just makes dirty, fizzy toilet water. (On a related note, it does nothing for clogged drains either.)
  2. Contrary to popular Aegean bridal movie, Windex doesn’t do a darn thing for mosquito bites. You smell like Windex and you itch. Fail-fail.
  3. You cannot substitute construction paper for poster board or papier-mache when making an old-school volcano. You know the kind, with baking soda and food coloring and vinegar. For the record, vinegar eats construction paper. No, really, it dissolves it. (On a related note, baking powder is also useless for this experiment.)
  4. Combining a can of Cream of Celery soup and a can of corn does not taste like creamed corn. It tastes like grass.
  5. Hairspray and wasp spray are not interchangeable as bug anesthesia. I figured you can hairspray flies to anesthetize them before preparing them for bug collections. It traps their wings and makes them easy to collect. Surely it would work on wasps. It doesn’t. It just makes them mad.
  6. Driving around with 10 two liter bottles rolling around loose in your hatchback is a terrible idea. You see there is this thing called pressure and plastic doesn’t handle it well.
  7. When transporting a dewar of liquid nitrogen, remember that it is, in fact, liquid and liquid shifts in its container. And if a dewar of liquid nitrogen dumps over in your car while you are driving, the resulting cloud makes it damn hard to see.
  8. Be sure to triple check your shipping address when ordering from a science supply company. Your neighbors will be very angry to discover vacuum-sealed, dissection-ready cat carcasses on their doorstep. (At least mine were.)
  9. Hanging your son or daughter’s first tennis shoe from your rear view mirror is awfully cute. (You know the ultra tiny ones that did them no good as they couldn’t actually hold their head up yet, but gosh darn it, the shoes were so tiny and so cute you had to buy them…yeah, those shoes.)  Also; an awful idea. Rubber compounds do, in fact, melt in 225 degree (F) vehicles and paying to have a professional remove a puddle of rubber from your E-Brake is expensive.
  10. Back to Alka-seltzer and pressure and plastic, in an attempt to combine the knowledge gained from other experiments, I tossed a bunch of tablets into a water bottle, capped it off, tossed it away from me, and waited for the subsequent ka-boom. It didn’t happen. Alka-seltzer, it turns out, does not build up enough pressure to overcome the strength of a plastic water bottle. Even when you use twenty tablets. Really you just end up looking very odd as you fearfully approaching a slightly foamy water bottle. (For the record, dry ice does work…well.)**

**Disclaimer – Do not attempt experiments at home. Contrary to the evidence above, I am a trained professional and have been instructed on the proper and safe use of explosives, explosive compounds, and potentially dangerous elements & chemicals. Attempting experiments without proper training can result in serious injury or worse. I’ve said that and I know you are still dying to try the dry ice thing, but please be responsible!


Music is the Meta-Game

Vast amounts of time and skill are invested in video game design annually. Everything you see and hear, and every move you make in a game was first drawn, composed and spelled-out in code by someone else for our enjoyment.

When gamers geek out about the games we play, there’s usually a lot of talk about the visuals and sometimes a bit of chatter about the story, but a game’s audio is often taken for granted during casual critique. It’s true that good sound direction tends to be subtle, but it adds such an important emotional dimension to gameplay that playing video games with the sound muted can be a very different experience.

Individual sound effects, like footfalls and jangling coin-sounds, are the straightforward stuff of game audio, but what about the music? In the movies, music crescendos before kisses and screams “WOO-HOO!” during car chases for a reason. Savvy game-makers perform the same sort of emotional manipulation to make gameplay more immersive, but there’s one element the makers can’t control: The players.

As it turns out, the internet is full of multi-talented people who play video games and musical instruments with equal zeal. What happens when one worthy pastime collides with another? Filk songs for gamers!

When you think about it, composing parodies, tributes, and covers of video game music is just another way for musical gamers to replay their favorite games. In other words, VG filk music is a type of meta-game.

Non-gamers may miss some of the inside jokes, but the songs in the following playlist are enjoyable even out of their original contexts. Listen, and get your meta-game on!

Printable Fun for Easter: Plus, the Link Between Eggs and Rabbits, Revealed!

Bunnies and Eggs! © Brigid Ashwood 2011
Bunnies and Eggs! © Brigid Ashwood 2011 (click to download)

“What the heck is it with Easter? I mean bunnies and eggs? What’s one got to do with the other?” Easter perplexes the heck out of my daughter. She loves the candy and the decorating of eggs of course, but she’s long been incredulous at the array of seemingly unconnected symbolism that is so associated with this spring holiday.

This year we decided to buckle down and do a little research. What we found was pretty interesting. Of course there is the usual history of Easter Egg decorating, the finest examples of course being the Pysanky designs of Ukrainian tradition. Who doesn’t love a good Pysanky egg? Wikipedia will tell you all about the pagan origins of Easter, and the tradition of eggs and bunnies as ultimate symbols of fertility. Still we’d found this information in the past. What we really wanted was a good solid link between bunnies and eggs.

Finally we found it! Well sort of. One theory oft repeated on various Easter history sites is that in the “olden times” people tended to confuse the ground nests of birds called plovers, with the forms (another word for nest) of hares. Occasionally an olden timer would come across one of these nests in the spring and confuse it with a hare nest, subsequently determining that hares must lay eggs in the spring. At least that’s the story the internet tells. I tend to think we don’t give folks enough credit, and probably this whole idea was just part of the overall Easter story grownups told to kids for amusement. Regardless in all the old stories the Easter rodent is always a hare, not a rabbit. Hares and rabbits are different animals, albeit related. Bunnies in particular are young rabbits, not hares. So in fact all this hullabaloo about the Easter Bunny is just kind of totally wrong. At least according to the internet.

But really who cares? Easter is fun. Bunnies, candy, decorating eggs? Sign me up.

This months coloring page is a bunny (not a hare), surrounded by an assortment of pysanky eggs.

Happy coloring! And Happy Spring!

Geek Ethics: Is it Important That Greg Mortenson Lied?

Watch the 60 Minutes coverage here.

Image: Penguin

Last Saturday, over a meal of chapati, daal, korma, and basmati rice that we’d come together to prepare, the youth group that I mentor sat down to discuss Greg Mortenson’s “Young Reader’s Edition” of Three Cups of Tea.  The book chronicles the events that ultimately lead Mortenson to create the Central Asia Institute, a 501C3 not-for-profit that raises money through penny drives at schools and churches to build schools  (particularly for girls) throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan. This meal and community-read were the kick-off activities for our group’s second annual “Pennies for Peace” fundraiser.

The story in  Three Cups of Tea (One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace … One School at a Time) that is continued in Stones into Schools (Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan) is absolutely inspirational: In 1993, after losing his guide during an unsuccessful bid to climb the mountain K2, Mortenson stumbled into the village of Korphe in Afghanistan, weak from exposure. The people of the village gave him food and shelter, and in return, after watching the teacher-less children of the village practice their lessons by scraping at the mud with sticks, he promised to find a way to build Korphe a brick-and-mortar school.

Mortenson returned home to California, sold everything that he had, and lived in his car while working to try and save the $12,000 that he estimated he would need to fulfill his promise. He also sent out hundreds of letters asking for contributions for his project. However, during this time, his most successful fundraiser occurred after students at the elementary school where his mother was principal organized a penny drive and raised $623.  Ultimately, this event became an important platform in his work: school children had the power to raise money and change lives in Afghanistan and Pakistan simply by collecting pennies.

In December of 1996 an angel donor appeared and the Korphe School was completed. In the wake of this first success, the angel donor told Mortenson that he seemed to be good at building schools and gave him seed money to continue building them throughout Afghanistan and Pakistan. As of 2011, according to the CAI’s impact statement on Guidestar (a not-for-profit agency that promotes philanthropy by encouraging nonprofit financial transparency):

The CAI has established 178 schools, and also runs an additional two dozen more temporary schools in refugee camps, areas of conflict, war, natural disasters, or where extremists have not allowed girls to attend schools. Approximately 68,000 students, including 54,000 females attend CAI schools, which are taught by a total of about 1,240 teachers.

For a hippie-ish geek like myself, Mortenson’s messages for a post-9/11 world–“books not bombs,” “war and violence are not the answer,” “one person’s ideas and hard work can make a difference”–synced with my own most deeply-held beliefs and hopes. After reading an Op-Ed piece by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in 2008 stating that the $500,000 price tag of one Tomahawk missile could fund 20 schools in Afghanistan or Pakistan, I began to ask myself, “Is a military presence in this region really the most effective, most humane way to make sure that a tragedy like 9/11 does not occur again? Could this Mortenson guy be onto a better strategy?”

I’m not the only GeekMom to admire Mortenson’s work, either. GeekMom and Air Force reservist Patricia Vollmer had this to say:

Not only have I read both of [Mortenson’s] books with enthusiasm, but I have sent school supplies to my USAF colleagues in Bagram who have distributed the supplies to schools that were funded by the Central Asia Institute.  The Department of Defense even has supported “getting through” to the Afghan people by laying a foundation in education for children, a foundation laid in part by their relationship with the CAI.  Three Cups of Tea is on the Joint Forces Staff College’s professional reading list (as well as other military professional reading lists).

Many world leaders have also supported Mortenson’s work:  President Obama donated $100,000 of his Nobel Peace Prize award to the Central Asia Institute and in 2009 the country of Pakistan presented Mortenson with one of its highest civil awards, the “Sitara-e-Pakistan” or Star of Pakistan.

Unfortunately, a day after the dishes from my youth group’s meal were cleaned and put away,  Mortenson’s work came under intense scrutiny after CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a highly-critical segment largely influenced by the research of an early CAI supporter–author and fellow-mountaineer Jon Krakauer. Coincidentally, Krakauer has also just this week released a 90-page “long-form journalism” piece called Three Cups of Deceit on the brand-new online-publishing site Byliner.com.

When I first began reading about this story in the media, the main focus as presented in the New York Times and elsewhere was that this was a publishing-ethics issue. Mortenson’s books profess to be biographical. If real-life events transpired differently from his books, how much discrepancy was acceptable?

Early response to the 60 Minutes story, then, focused on two questions:

  • Did Mortenson lie about the events that lead up to his decision to build his first school in Korphe?
  • Was Mortenson ever kidnapped by the Taliban and held hostage for eight days?

In response, Mortenson now says that in order to create a more “readable” story, he and his co-author compressed the time line surrounding his first visits to Korphe. Additionally, to this day, he does not know whether the people who detained him in Pakistan’s Waziristan region were Taliban or not, all he can say for sure is that his personal possessions and passport were taken and he was detained against his will for eight days in a small room.

These questions alone would not dissuade me from the legitimacy of using Mortenson’s books as teaching tools for children–they seemed forgivable “white lies.” 60 Minutes did make additional criticisms of Mortenson, however:

  • While CAI says on its’ website that 85% of monies raised are put towards “contributions on our programs,” 60 Minutes pointed out that more than half of that 85% is put toward promoting Mortenson’s public speaking tours and book promotions here in the United States. The CAI thinks of this activity as cultural-awareness education and claims that it is a vital part of their mission.
  • What is more, while CAI has financially supported Mortenson’s speaking engagements by paying for security, charter flights, and some marketing for his books, Mortenson keeps all book-profits and speaker honoraria. In response, the CAI says that Mortenson’s book talks are their single best form of marketing and fund raising. Additionally, the CAI says that an independent legal review completed this winter indicated that Mortenson did not accrue “excess benefit” from this arrangement.
  • 60 Minutes claimed that many of the buildings that Mortenson built were standing empty, never completed, or were now not being used per their original purpose. Mortenson claims that, depending on when the buildings were visited, school might not have been in session, as the Afghani school year begins in late March.

These questions give me pause–particularly when I hear that Mortenson gave more than 150 talks last year and can receive as much as $30,000 per speaking engagement.

In my own church, the decision was made to immediately pull the plug on our “Pennies for Peace” program.  Essentially, the thought was: there are many programs in existence that accomplish important work, why should we affiliate ourselves with someone who seems financially suspect? I cannot help but feel disappointed by this, however. This was a program that I really believed in and for which I still hold out hope. I also wonder: our little youth group’s donation was not going to be earth-shattering either way but how many other groups will make the same decision we have?

My concerns mirror GeekMom Patricia Vollmer’s:

I’m shaken up about how this report–and the subsequent media attention–might ultimately impact the end product: less support = less funding = slowing down of the building of the schools = slowing the education of those kids.

Clearly, the CAI needs to strive for greater financial transparency as well as significant  separation between “Greg Mortenson, author” and “Central Asia Institute, not-for-profit” in the near future. Mortenson is due shortly to under-go heart surgery–this might be an opportune time to bring on additional leadership. However, if this news story destroys the Central Asia Institute, will this exercise have been worthwhile?

The Times reporter Nicholas Kristof, for one, does not think so, and finds this story “heartbreaking.” On CNN, Kristof recently said that he’s visited some of the “truly impressive” schools in Afghanistan, himself, and that the public “should reserve judgment to some degree.”

Personally, I’m left thinking: was this simply the best business and book launch at the expense of a world-changing cause, ever? Is there a Webby category for that?


Tips For Introverted Parents Raising Extroverted Kids

istock photography

Last week we talked about some of the challenges and issues involved in raising an introverted child in an extroverted world. But what if the opposite is true? What if you’re an introvert who somehow has managed to give birth to an extrovert? Or two? Parenting—even with all its joys and rewards—can also be unbelievably draining, most especially if you are an introvert with a child whose needs for interaction far exceed your own.

My own family is comprised of three introverts and one lonely extrovert, so it has been a huge shift in education and focus for us to step out of our own preferences and learn to meet that child’s needs. Meeting our introverted child’s needs was clearly a no-brainer, but that extroverted kid—well, he was a different story. It involved a radical internal shift and some extreme self-protection maneuvers.

Again, one of the first things to understand about the extroverted child is that he needs and craves interaction as much as you need and crave solitude. Just as you need solitude to process and think and recharge—your extroverted child needs social interaction to do the very same. That is what his system requires to recharge his batteries and allow him to operate at optimum performance levels. However, to an introvert, the constant chatter as they interpret and process their experiences and thoughts and feelings can feel like an all out assault.

It is important to remember that they are not being overly demanding. At least not by their standards. They will feel drained and overwhelmed if they are kept from being able to socialize and share.

Extroverted children:

  • Are gregarious and outgoing.
  • Love to be around lots of people and other kids.
  • Prefer playing in groups.
  • Do not feel they have fully experienced something until they’ve shared it with others.
  • Talk a lot.
  • Find being alone extremely isolating and difficult.
  • Do not generally enjoy solitary activities.
  • Share. A lot. About everything.
  • Do not really get why anyone might want to be alone.

Being the parents, it falls on us to meet the kid’s needs. But being introverts, we can’t do this effectively unless we replenish our batteries on a regular basis. And clearly our coping strategies will depend on the age of the child: the baby that loves to be held all the time; the toddler who follow you everywhere, a constant stream of toddler-babble; the two year old who seems to be constitutionally unable to let you have two minutes peace, will all have different approaches.

As parents, it is our job to meet their very legitimate needs, but it is also our job to socialize them, and part of that can include learning to respect those who have different needs. Plus, you won’t be able to parent optimally unless you yourself have a chance to collect some energy. By insisting on a small recharging break each day, you may well be a much better, more effective, and certainly saner parent.

Coping Strategies:

  • Be sure your spouse understands and gets the whole introvert/extrovert thing. Their support will be crucial.
  • Create lots of opportunities for your child to interact with others, whether other adults, your extended family, or playgroups.
  • See if you can find another introverted parent who understands your need for solitude and see if you can spell each other for solitude breaks.
  • Do not feel guilty! You are not being selfish in needing this time—it is critical and will make you a much better, more loving, and effective parent.
  • If your spouse is an extrovert, try to let them take up some of the socializing slack. Washing the dishes by yourself might be more rejuvenating than trying to entertain an extrovert for a half an hour before bedtime.
  • Try to find ways to turn other duties/activities into recharging time. Play special music or listen to an especially soothing audiobook on your commute home; choose solitary activities for your exercise time—walking or running or biking rather than working out in a noisy, crowded gym.
  • Do not feel guilty! You are not being selfish in needing this time—it is critical and will make you a much better, more loving, and effective parent.
  • Teach your little extrovert to understand—and respect—others’ need for alone time. Have them do something for just five minutes, and for those five minutes, they cannot interact with you. Help them to build their self-reliance muscle because even though we live in an extroverted world, there will always be times when we have to work alone.
  • Insist on some kind of alone/recharging time every day—whether it is a bath once your spouse is home to take a turn with the kids, or a nap when your kids are napping, or even (horrors!) turning on the television or a DVD for half an hour. Let your housekeeping standards drop a bit and put solitude/recharging time at the top of your list.
  • Do not feel guilty! You are not being selfish in needing this time—it is critical and will make you a much better, more loving and effective parent. (No, this is not a typo–it is just that important to reinforce.)

When my extroverted son was in middle school, he got into online computer games and let me tell you, those were a goldmine! Guilds, leagues, clans, alliances, corporations, agencies, groups, people to talk to—he was able to shift some of his needs for feedback and socializing from his introverted family to his new online community. In fact, this sort of interaction can be critical for extroverted teens who live in small communities or have limited social choices available to them—it’s such a great, positive way for them to reach past their physical boundaries and connect—at that fully engaged, extroverted level—with people with similar interests.

One of the Meyers-Briggs’ biggest uses is in companies that want to help their employees work more effectively together. I think understanding each others’ preferences is equally important in families. As parents, we need to help our kids step outside their own experiences and preferences so they can become fully socialized, interactive beings. What better place to begin than in our own homes?

And yes, I realize that is much easier said than done, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And repeat after me: You’re not being selfish. You’re saving your sanity.

We’d love to hear any great coping strategies or ideas any other geek moms or dads might have. Please share them in the comments!

Pulling A U-Turn Mid Career

Have you ever thought about a job change? I think most people would answer this question with, “Yes”. I know many people who shop for other jobs while employed. The reasons for this could be because they are under-employed, wanting a similar job with better pay, wanting a job that is higher up the ladder, or they could just be plain old bored with their current position and need a change.

Have you ever thought about a major career change? By major career change, I mean either doing a U-Turn or completely starting over, reinventing yourself in the process. Or changing degree choice when you are one semester away from graduation, having to start over, while putting yourself in further debt in the process.

Once upon a time, in the not so distant past, doing so was not that big of a risk. The markets were good. Finding a job, even if part-time for minimum wage, was not a difficult task. Keeping you and your family afloat, whilst trying to figure out your next move, wasn’t as large of a source of stress. Now, the situation is vastly different. If you have a job, one is more likely to hang onto it, no matter how much they hate it. Some parts of the world, it is easier to find a new job. There are other parts of the world where one feels stuck, perhaps even shackled against their own will, in their current job. The choices are extremely limited. Deciding to change the game could spell disaster.

But what if you were feeling so stuck that you could no longer breathe, having anxiety attacks any time a work related e-mail entered your inbox or your boss wanted to speak with you? What if you were waking up in the middle of the night because you are having nightmares about your current situation and you have no escape from work related thoughts? What if the situation was beginning to seriously affect your health, physically and mentally?

A friend of mine just quit her job in Hollywood and packed up her life to move to New York. She has no job to go to. She has no idea what she is going to do. Luckily, she is young and she has no-one to support except for herself. Luckily, she has a friend who has offered to house her until she can figure out what she wants to do, giving her time to find a job where she doesn’t feel like she is dying every time she goes to work. She took a major leap. Some may say that in this economy, especially one where people would give their limbs to be gainfully employed, she should have counted her blessings and stayed put. Or alternatively, stayed put until she had found another job to go to. I think that she is brave. I also think that she is lucky to have a friend who is so very supportive of her. Her friend threw her a life-preserver and helped pull her out of a situation that was threatening to consume her with long-term depression. We could all hope to have at least one friend like that in our lives.

More close to home, I just made a very similar decision. I resigned from my position as assistant general manager and programming director of the radio station I helped to create and decided to build a radio station of my very own. I’ve either made the smartest career choice I’ll ever make or I’ve made the worst decision, to date, of my life.

On the one hand, it is the smartest choice I’ve ever made because the job was beginning to affect my health in ways that were becoming very scary. To date, I’ve helped build two radio stations. Each time, I got burned in the process. I promised myself going into this station that at the first sign of trouble, I would leave and do my own thing. It was a difficult promise to make to myself because I feel as if I’d be disappointing people and letting them down should I make the choice to leave. However, I need to think of my family’s needs and my well-being first and foremost. I’m not of any good to anyone if I am in hospital, as I was a couple weeks ago.

On the other hand, this could be disastrous on two fronts. First, I could appear to be flighty and non-committal. The entertainment industry can be extremely fickle. It is very easy to say or do the wrong thing, destroying any reputation you may have in a nanosecond. However, I do think that my reputation is strong enough, at least with those who it matters, where I should be safe. But new potential supporters may see it as being unreliable and not give my new venture a chance. Second, I need the help of those who, to this point, have supported my career by cheering me on, to help out financially. I need to convince at least 300 of those who consume my various media offerings to donate at least $10 each or I will no longer have a radio show. I’ve created a ChipIn page and elaborated more about my intention and goals, both short-term and long-term, on Geeky Pleasures. Now, I have to hope that I have not committed career suicide.

There are some who think I’m being silly by worrying so much about this. I am being told to have faith and that it will all work out. I am being told that I’ve had to reinvented myself more times than any one they know and I always come flying through, with grace and ease. In return, I thank them for their support and tell them to keep being optimistic, while I remain pragmatic and realistic. In the back of my head, I hear, “That is easy for you to say. You’re not the one who very well could have flushed their career down the toilet.” Then I hear the other back of my brain say, “Shush! You can be so mean! They are just trying to be supportive and let you know they have faith in you.” There is so much conflict when one decides to make a life-changing decision. Now, I wake up in a cold sweat while I wait to find out the consequence of this choice.

I have dreams. I have aspirations. I have things I want to accomplish. I also want to help others accomplish similar dreams and aspirations by offering them a place to do their own shows, providing them with all the necessary software and training. I have a wonderful lady, with an autistic child, who wants to do a talk show about Autism Spectrum Disorder, by parents for parents. A show that tells the reality based side of the story, in an attempt to undo some of the damage caused by Jenny McCarthy and the antivaxxers. I have people who want to do music shows. I am also in discussions about another talk show that is both mom related and geek related. I wonder if you can guess what that is? I have my own shows, both music and the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show. I want to build a place where people can hear the shows they want to hear, whilst talking with those who are providing the entertainment and talking with fellow listeners. I want to give back opportunities that I’ve been lucky enough to have. None of this will be possible without support.

So did I make a stupid choice? Or did I make a necessary choice to preserve my well-being, even if it carries a lot of risk? Am I brave for doing so? Or am I a git? Should I have waited? There are so many questions to ask and answer when one faces a game and career changing decision.

So again I ask you, have you ever had to make a similar choice? What did you end up deciding to do? What played a factor in reaching that final decision? Would you do it the same way again or would you have made a different choice?

World War II History – USS Missouri, Day 2

miss31-225x300Following our harrowing day of bus rides in Honolulu, we set out early to spend the entire day at the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites. A recent renovation makes it super easy to maneuver all four of the sites. Two of the featured sites—the USS Missouri and the Pacific Aviation Museum—are actually located on Ford Island, an active military base in the middle of Pearl Harbor. We pick up our tickets and head for the free shuttle bus that will take us there.

First stop: the USS Missouri. This was the site that Carson really wanted to see during his visit and it didn’t disappoint.

Our tour guide walked us around the deck of the ship, pointing out various details and sharing factoids about the ship itself and the history of the USS Missouri. While the ship sits in Pearl Harbor today, the USS Missouri wasn’t actually there on the “day of infamy”—she was still in production in New York. The Missouri, an Iowa class battleship, joined World War II in the final months and participated in several critical battles, including the Allied invasion of Iwo Jima. (In later years, Missouri participated in the Korean War and Operation Desert Storm.)

It’s the battle history and the firepower of the USS Missouri that enthrall the boys. They listen intently as our guide tells us that the barrel of the 16” guns on deck weigh as much as the Space Shuttle and the projectiles weigh as much as a Ford Mustang. (How does this ship stay afloat? I wonder.) They are astounded to hear that three barrels can fire a round as far as twenty miles every 60 seconds. And they are humbled to stand on the spot where World War II came to an end.

Our guide tells us in detail about the 23 minute ceremony in which the Japanese surrendered, thus ending World War II. On board the Missouri, representatives of Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, and other Allied representatives signed the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, 1945 in Tokyo Bay. General MacArthur used six different pens to sign his name, giving them as souvenirs of the historic event to several key players in the war – and one to his wife. The technology of the day: the ceremony was filmed in 16mm and then sent to movie theaters. Anyone who wanted to see details of this historic event paid admission at their local movie house.

Below decks, we take a self-guided tour of the maze of rooms. We maneuver with the aid of marked arrows, but wonder how anyone can ever find their way around. Carson stops to test out a bunk, but I’m more interested in the various rooms set aside for food preparation. There’s a kitchen, a bakery, and even a vegetable preparation room. On display is a Christmas menu that includes turkey, ham, and duck along with side dishes like sweet mixed pickles, raisin sauce, stuffed celery, and fried rice.

During our visit, Fely Sunio was on board. She was ten years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and remembers it vividly. She had taken her two younger brothers out crabbing, even though there was a lot of noise coming from Pearl Harbor. Standing at water’s edge, she saw two Japanese fighters approaching, flying slow and low along the coastline. One of the pilots waved at the children as he approached. “Wave back, maybe he won’t shoot us!” she told her brothers. Shortly thereafter, her father came to tell them they must come home to safety.

Hearing this personal account from someone who was actually near Pearl Harbor during the attack was like touching history for the boys, who up until now had only read about the attack or heard second-hand stories.

We enjoyed our time aboard courtesy of the USS Missouri.

Juggling And Balancing On The Tightrope


We all know them. The moms who seem to be always doing. Whether they are balancing a chequebook in one hand whilst nursing a babe in the same arm, simultaneously talking on the telephone with the other hand to schedule a playdate for the other sibling, all the while going through the grocery list in their mind. Or the mom who is busy jumping from soccer practice to dance classes to Parent Advisory Committee meetings whilst preparing the agenda for tomorrow’s big meeting. We look at them and think, “Dear FSM, woman! How do you find the time for it all!?” I have a confession to make. I am one of those women. I’ll admit, I often find that I’m asking myself the exact same question.

I’m new here. I suppose that is pretty obvious. Let me give you a very brief snapshot into all that I do. First, I’m a mom of two wonderful boys. My oldest will be sixteen in September. My youngest will be twelve on April 16. I would describe my oldest as a nerd and I would describe my youngest as a geek/gamer. Our home consists of a 24 hour nerdfest.

My educational background is in Psychology. I had planned to eventually get my PhD, specializing in abnormal psychology of children and adolescence, but then life threw me a huge curve-ball which goes by the name of Lupus, causing me to have a hysterectomy at 29 and a full-blown left-sided stroke at 30. I had to build my career doing things that I could do from home.

Roughly three years ago, a job opportunity crossed my eyes. I saw an advert for internet radio personalities. The job was remote with no previous experience necessary. Having acted and danced on stage for many years and with a passion for entertaining, I knew I would be perfect for the job. Despite the fear that my application would never see another person’s eyes, I applied. Within five hours of sending my application, I received an interview request. The rest is, as they say, history. But what is this history?

Shortly after being hired as an on-air personality, I was promoted to programming director. Eventually, I would also hold the title of assistant general manager. Among my various radio shows, I began a radio show known as the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show. After she launched, I had the awesome opportunity to interview Wil Wheaton, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait PhD, Shane Nickerson (MTV executive producer), Jonathan Coulton, Runic Games and musician Mike Lombardo. I had a personal blog on Blogspot, however my radio show became so popular that I had to launch my Geeky Pleasures website and a separate personal blog. Eventually, I had to step away from my position at that radio station. However, my Geeky Pleasures website and personal blog continued on.

I had it in my mind that running a website that requires updating at least three times a day, Monday – Friday, plus a personal blog, plus raising two children on my own, was not enough to keep me busy. So I launched the Lupus Awareness Virtual Art Gallery. Because of my work to raise lupus awareness, I was asked to interview Patrizia Hernandez, the lead actress in Love Simple, and John Casey, producer of Love Simple. I was later asked if I would write for The Lupus Magazine and I accepted.

But still in my mind, I was not busy enough. I would later be asked to contribute to Star Wars vs Star Trek and NerdsInBabeland. Still not enough to do, I volunteered my time as the layout and design editor of The Vaccine Times. One would think that would be enough, right? Wrong. Late last year, I was asked to help build another internet radio station and I agreed. That radio station would become The Force 925, where all my old radio shows, including the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show and frequent co-host of a political talk-show, would find a new home.

Since launching at the beginning of his year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview: musician Jeff MacDougall; Paul and Storm; GeekDad and musician John Anealio; Len Peralta of GeekAWeek fame; Lauren Crace and Sylvester McCoy; and New York Times best selling author Steve Hockensmith. Scheduled to appear in the coming weeks are 101010 Productions and Richard Hatch of The Apollo Awards, plus Maurissa Tancharoen-Whedon. You’d think that would be enough, but here I am at GeekMom.

In my spare time, I do a lot of crafting and creating in more ways than I think I can currently list. I also found time to write two books whilst doing all of the above.

It is no wonder that many, including myself, ask me how do I manage it all, whilst raising two boys on my own and dealing with a disease that likes to attempt to royally kick my behind. I think the easy and lazy answer is to say: It is just like having children. The more that you have, they tend to keep each other busy and occupied. It is nothing for me to be updating one website while I have the dashboard of another open, editing and updating them simultaneously. Plus with Twitter, it is easy to find material as most of my content inspiration comes from there. However, a great deal of it comes down to planning, organizational skills and scheduling. The first four hours of my day are busy spent receiving press releases, deciding what I’ll post, making a list of updates which need to be made to other sites and taking a break whenever my body demands it. I also remember to take a lot of time to breathe. Many of us forget to do that.

If I did not have the luxury to work from home, none of this would be possible. Once my posts are scheduled on any given day, then I am free to fart around for the rest of it, surfing the internet for inspiration, chatting with my tweeps, interviewing new personalities for the station and training them, doing my radio shows, thinking about the articles I will write for projects that I am not personally responsible to maintain, nerding out with my children whilst they are busy playing WoW, watching Doctor Who, or asking me some question about astrophysics and what would happen if they jimmied open the microwave in such a fashion that it is fooled into thinking it is closed and turning it on. It also helps that the Geeky Pleasures website and the radio station are the only things that must be done daily. The Vaccine Times is a quarterly print publication, NiB and SWvsST is when I have time, The Lupus Magazine is once a month, health and life willing. Writing here is also casual for the time being.

In the end it is a careful juggling act whilst balancing and walking a tightrope. The smallest misstep and I drop my balls. Thankfully, they are picked up easily enough and the world will not end if I have to stop for a day or two or ten. However, being an extreme overachiever, it is difficult to stop.

If you think I’m busy, I know many other moms who do far more than I. Maybe we are all a wee bit insane in some way. Perhaps this comes with the territory when one is a geek, especially if one is creative.

So let me ask you, how do you mange to juggle family and career? What are some of your tips?

Are You Raising An Introvert?

It’s not easy being an introvert in an extrovert world—especially when you’re a kid. It is even more difficult if none of the adults in the kid’s life recognize that the child is an introvert. This doesn’t happen only when the child’s parents are extroverts, but also with introverted parents who have never understood their own introverted nature.

I was in my early thirties when I discovered that there were such beings as introverts, and that I was one of them. Suddenly, so much of my quirky, odd, misunderstood behavior had meaning. There was nothing wrong with me, it was simply that being around people drained my personal batteries. I wasn’t shy or lacking in self esteem or even anti social; I merely needed solitude to recharge. So much of my life and my own behavior became clear to me! So of course, being a mom, the second thing I did after discovering I was an introvert was tested my kids to see if they were as well.

One was a very pronounced introvert while the other was an extrovert. Talk about built in sibling conflict!

There are a lot of misconceptions about what being an introvert actually means. It does not mean shy, or socially anxious, or socially backward, or anti-social—although I would venture to say that a number of those characteristics can occur when an introvert is pressured or forced to behave in an extroverted manner.

Quite simply, introversion is an explanation of where an individual draws their energy; from solitude or from the company of others. Those who recharge their batteries through solitude are introverts. Those who recharge by being with others are extroverts. These differences are hardwired into us and affect everything from how our memories work to how we process information, where we focus our attention, how we communicate and even how we use our bodies. Introverts are, in the words of Carl Jung, interested in “the inner life of the mind.”

Funny he should say that because the theory of introversion and extroversion came primarily from Jung and his work on psychological types and temperament. Jung (an introvert) believed we are born with specific preferences that, for the most part, do not change as we grow.

Studies estimate that introverts make up only 20-30% of the population, so it is probably no surprise that we are misunderstood. This is made even more difficult for us parents in that our kids can’t tell us they’re introverts—they have to trust that we’ll figure it out on our own.

It is probably not surprising that a fair number of geeks are also introverts. Part of being a geek involves having a strong, sustained, deep interest in something—and that is often a trait of introverts.

Not sure if you’re an introvert? Here’s a great, quick, online assessment you can take.

Clues Your Child Might Be An Introvert:

  • They are very, very good at entertaining themselves for long periods.
  • Seems exhausted after parties or social gatherings. Needs down time.
  • They have one or two close friends and don’t feel the need for more.
  • You have to pry information out of them, such as how their day was or if they had a good time at their friend’s house.
  • They have a very highly developed sense of personal space and are disturbed when it is not respected.
  • They are a very private person.
  • They do not like to have to participate in classroom discussions or be called upon for an answer.
  • Hate making mistakes in public.
  • Enjoys their own company.
  • Does not understand the need for small talk.
  • Tires easily in large groups or crowds.
  • Tends to withdraw from large social gatherings.

Note: many introverts can actually do quite well in large gatherings or social situations. Introversion is a spectrum ranging for those expressing a strong preference for being alone to those who only need solitude to recharge before venturing once more into the crowd.

Signs of introversion can show up very early in life, often first making an appearance in the first year. As babies, introverts can be reluctant to be held by strangers, are easily overstimulated at the grocery store or at the park, get fussy when their personal space is invaded.

As parents of introverts, we have three important tasks: 1) We need to understand and accept their need for solitude, 2) Help our child understand her own needs, and 3) Act as advocate for our child with other adults or in other situations until she develops the skills to do that herself.

Introverts do a lot of internal processing and reflecting, recharging their spent batteries with solitude and quiet time. If they do not get sufficient doses of this recharging time, their behavior, performance, and spirit will suffer. They will not have the energy they need to learn new things, take new risks, explore, develop, and thrive.

In addition to alone time, introverts need physical space, some place they can go where no one else can interrupt them or make demands on them while they recharge. It can be a room of their own, or if that’s not possible, a curtained off area of a joint room, a special, cozy corner of the house, someplace that feels safe to them and not prone to random interruptions by other members of the household.

One of my sons’ early elementary teachers (clearly an introvert herself!) told all the students in her class to imagine they each had a big invisible bubble around them and that it was their job to respect each others bubble and not get close enough to “pop” it without permission. Not only did I love this, but all her six year old students were able to understand that concept. This personal space issue is so true of introverts! If a child complains, “He’s looking at me,” or “Her placemat is touching mine,” or “That’s my spot on the couch,” chances are that child is an introvert. Occasionally, introvert children have such a high need for having their space respected, and so little help from adults in maintaining this right, that they can end up defending this space by pushing or hitting other kids. To uninformed adults, it can be seemingly for no reason, but oftentimes space is the heart of the issue. It’s important to be mindful that these are very real emotional needs they have. Not having them met detracts from their ability to move effectively in the world.

But make no mistake; there are a lot of upsides to being an introvert! We are independent, self reflective, deep thinkers, excellent communicators, quiet achievers, and excel at one on one connections with people. We make excellent artists, scientists, psychologists, counselors, poets, writers, architects, mathematicians, historians, engineers, computer scientists, teachers, and designers, among others.

Also, if your child is an introvert, she is in very good company. Some famous introverts include: A. A. Milne, Albert Einstein, Anne Lamott, C. G. Jung, C. S. Lewis, Garry Trudeau, William Shakespeare, Katie Couric (that one surprised you, didn’t it!) Lance Armstrong, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Oprah Winfrey, Rene Descartes, Sir Isaac Newton, Socrates, Susan B. Anthony, Charles Darwin, Warren Buffet, Jane Goodall, Thomas Edison, Dwight Eisenhower, Abraham Lincoln. (And look at how many geeks are on that list!)

Some Tips For Helping Your Young Introvert:

  1. Give him plenty of alone time.
  2. Respect his need to not talk.
  3. Make sure he has a private place he can retreat to when needed.
  4. Teach his siblings and other relatives to understand and respect his need for solitude.
  5. Give him the time he needs to grow accustomed to new people and situations.
  6. Protect him from a world that might not recognize just how valuable his introverted traits are and help him see them as the strengths they are.

An Ode to Alistair: Love, Lust, and Loss in Fereldan

If you’ve not played Dragon Age or Dragon Age II, you might want to avert your eyes. You can’t tell a good love story without some spoilers, eh?

Alistair. From Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins.

I’ve been playing video games for the better part of my life, and through the years, I’ve certainly had my crushes. So when Dragon Age came out, it was bound to happen. Having played World of Warcraft for quite some time, Dragon Age was a revelation. My brain had been filled with so many fantasy novels, medieval dalliances, and general chatter regarding all things dragony and sword-like, that being able to play a video game in which, ostensibly, I was the center attraction in a marvelous world… Yes, crack. I can’t even tell you how many hours I put into the game. But I can tell you that I played through three times.

And I only fell in love once.

First I was a dwarf warrior, but I didn’t last long. The second time I played was was an elf mage. It was marvelous, riveting gameplay, and I had a very delightful relationship with Alistair, the reluctant Grey Warden and would-be king (there was something devious and devilish about convincing him to bed me, considering he was an ex-Templar). All was glorious (save for the looming Blight). And he looked great without his clothes on.

Then something terrible happened.

I found out that after all my work (i.e. lots and lots of conversation, questing, and gift-giving)  trying to get Alistair to marry me, he wouldn’t. It all came down to the fact that I was an elf, a detail that would have seriously been appreciated twenty or so hours of gameplay earlier (I mean, Zevran was so much easier). As Alistair explained in that cocky, darling little British accent, it was hard enough that the king was going to be a Grey Warden. Asking the people of Fereldan to accept me as their queen was simply too much to ask.

So, instead of finishing the game (I was very close to the end) I decided to make a human rogue just for Alistair. It’s a very hard thing to articulate, but the truth of the matter is that I had an abiding crush on the character. Alistair just made me a little giddy sometimes, and I absolutely had to be his wife. I wasn’t just going to be his elf mistress! It was no longer about my character, it was clearly about me. (I’m happily married, I might add… but a girl can fantasize, can’t she?)

Of course, in the end, I was able to secure Alistair’s hand with my rogue. After all, my elf mage had done all the hard work. I have to admit: even though I was scheming to marry someone completely fictional, I honestly cared. I cared so much that in the end, when the game ran out of things to say, I was a bit furious. The mechanics of the game interfered with my emotional response, and I felt a bit cheated.

Also this. … what?

Well, time heals all wounds. And, like a good gamer, as soon as Dragon Age 2 came out, it had to be mine. Even though in many ways the game is an improvement over the other – with far smoother combat and a better range of responses to questions – the scope of everything has been scaled down. It’s  scaled down so much that my favorite part about the first game – the relationships – has all but disappeared. To quote the immortal Heart: “What about love?”

Yes. Love. So, let me tell you about Anders. My mage, in this game, decided to pursue Anders. Those who played the expansion of the first game will recognize him. (In all honesty, I had no idea he was even interested in women. But there you go. He was kind of cute, definitely British, and had a certain cocky air. And most likely I chose him because he reminded me the most of Alistair. He was also not a beardless dwarf like Varric or a mage-hater like Fenris. Talk about choices.)

However, instead of being able to strike up a conversation whenever I wanted like in the original game, the sequel insists that I only interact with certain characters in their homes. If, and only if, they have quests, that is. No casual banter, here. This makes conversation with your significant other little awkward, to say the least, not to mention the rest of your companions.

Anders, who has arrived with a rather complicated past, and somewhat controversial political views, is no easy egg to crack. But once I did a bunch of stuff for him, found him some items, and initiated the correct lines of dialogue, we pronounced our love for one another.

Hunky dory, right? Not exactly. In the third act, I finished one quest for him and he informed me that the relationship was over. No real explanation, just that he knew he would “break my heart”. I had no option other than to walk away. (Well, personally I had other options. Which was to say some choice words to the Xbox.)

I was a bit miffed, but even moreso when I returned my character back home. In spite of the fact that we were, for all intents and purposes, broken up, he hadn’t left my house. He  simply lingered on the staircase. Oh, he had changed his clothes. Now he looked more emo than ever. But when approached he only repeated the same line of dialogue over and over again, and never moved.

Anders. So not Alistair. Also, kind of stalkery.

Yeah. Creepy, right?

While I certainly have to give Bioware props for being very forward thinking in their portrayal of characters and sexuality, this aspect of the game was a grave disappointment. The truth is I settled for Anders. With Alistair, I never felt that way. He was someone to conquer. To flirt with. Someone that, in spite of the game’s shortcomings and the fact that he wasn’t even a real person, I felt as if I had been through something with. As the conclusion of DA2 came to an end I saw that my “romance” was nothing more than a plot device, and I had no desire to play it differently.

Yes, love is fickle. Especially when it isn’t real at all. I only hope that in the future companies like Bioware think really hard about what makes their games special. Sure, Dragon Age 2 was fun. But it felt like an arcade game, not an epic fantasy with a good heap of romance. I still miss Alistair. Not only the one in the first game, but the one in my head who, like in so many things, really was the better version.


No Sex Please, We’re Mulder & Scully

Mulder & Scully: No Contact Here

If you wanted to define a chaste relationship, you could do far worse than the X-Files‘ lead characters, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. For nine seasons and two feature films they have exemplified emotional control and chastity in a way that makes Edward Cullen looks like a sex-crazed maniac. Will this change in the upcoming series? We’re not sure that’s a great idea.

Almost anyone who watched the show knows that Mulder & Scully clearly fell in love very early on in its history, even if they didn’t realise it. Even by the beginning of season two Mulder is barely able to function without the stabilising effect of his partner, as we see through his almost complete breakdown when she is abducted for several weeks. By the time the show came to an end in 2002, the pair were as deeply entwined in each other’s lives as any long-married couple. However despite whatever affection they may have felt, practically nothing ever transferred itself to outward displays whether in public or in sight of the viewers. This is the show that made its fans wait until season seven for the chastest of midnight kisses on Millennium Eve.

Mulder Being Unsubtle About His "Interests"
Mulder Being Typically Unsubtle About His “Interests”

The pair were hardly innocents of course; let us not make the mistake of confusing caution and control with a total lack of interest in the baser pleasures. Mulder’s pornography fetish was established by the show’s fifth episode and became a running joke for the duration of the show.

Even the tightly-wound Agent Scully let loose occasionally, getting herself a tattoo in season four’s Never Again during a few minutes of screen time that were probably as close as the show ever came to a sex scene, all subdued lighting and lingering close ups of flushed skin; and that’s before we get to the little moans and gasps from Scully herself as the somewhat suggestively shot phallic needle pierces her skin .

However, it is the show’s general lack of overt sexuality that has led to an interesting side-effect; fans took heart in the tiniest of gestures in a way not seen in other series. The constant sexual tension between Mulder & Scully has led to incredible amounts of thought and depth being applied to the tiniest raise of an eyebrow, half smile or touch.

If they so much as held hands, and even this amount of physical contact was vanishingly rare, you could practically hear the X-Files fan community screaming and cheering in a manner reserved in other fandoms for the lead characters declaring their undying love and leaping into bed whilst simultaneously discarding most of their clothing.

Many fans cite the ending of Season Six episode “The Unnatural” as a favourite moment between the characters as Mulder teaches Scully how to hit a baseball, keeping his hands well positioned on her hips. The resultant physical flirting is possibly the most intimate moment between the pair where one of them isn’t facing death and has caused “hips before hands” to become a motto amongst fans.

Whilst thinking about this, I reached out the the vast fan community of X-Philes on-line; I asked them for their thoughts on the lack of obvious sexuality, and on the way this seems to cause so much electricity to flow through the small things that perhaps go unnoticed in other shows. Amidst the responses was this beautifully succinct paragraph from journalist and X-Phile Rachel George:

It’s not just the rarity, in my opinion at least, which imbues these moments with the frisson of excitement which they hold. It’s also the very nature of the juxtaposition between the deep intellectual, professional bond between the two and the almost total lack of physical contact. Mulder confesses his darkest secrets to Scully, and she trusts him implicitly, yet they rarely even hug. This is in addition of the emotionally challenging and professionally isolating nature of their work… Even the tiniest hint of sex when added to that potent mix can’t fail to produce a reaction far in excess of its presence.

Finally, a Proper Kiss
Finally, a Proper Kiss, It Only Took Eight Years…

Rachel makes very good points; the lack of physical contact was completely at odds with the depth of the emotional connection between the pair. Enough that when the inevitable happened, no one was even remotely surprised to realise that Mulder and Scully were now a couple.

The extent to which The X-Files kept sexual content firmly behind closed doors was truly exemplified when Mulder & Scully finally succumbed to a sexual relationship – it was never even mentioned. The first clue fans had was when an episode opened with Scully getting dressed in Mulder’s bathroom one morning whilst he slept, in what was hinted at as being a state of significant undress. Five episodes later, she announced she was pregnant.

Of course being The X-Files, even that wasn’t proof positive than anything less than platonic had occurred between them. Scully’s pregnancy was terrifyingly mysterious considering she had no ova, thus throwing Mulder’s role as father into significant doubt. It wasn’t until the show’s ultimate finale that his role was seemingly confirmed, as Scully referred to her baby William as “our son”.

Cuddling in The Second Movie
Cuddling in The Second Movie

The second film, released in 2008 saw Mulder & Scully living together, and even sharing a bed. No pretence of this being a purely platonic friendship was made, these were clearly two people in a loving and comfortable relationship, however the most we ever saw on screen was a kiss or two.

Will this upcoming series finally give the fans something more explicit than hand holding and hugs?

Part of me wants it to, I’ve been watching this show for fifteen years now and I’d like to see my two favourite fictional characters finally get some on-screen loving – something real, unambiguous, graspable.

But another part of me worries about what such a scene would do to the dynamic. Could it ever possibly live up to the weight of such long-standing expectation from so many? I think that deep down, I’m secretly hoping for more of the usual Chris Carter induced frustration.

The X-Files is the show that showed the world that popular, audience grabbing television didn’t need to thrust sex down our throats. With just the right character development, a gangly nerd and a frighteningly authoritative woman with (an initially) terrible taste in pant-suits could capture our hearts and make us follow them to the end of the world and beyond.

Plus, if we need sexual resolution, there’s always fanfiction!

Let the Games Begin! Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the American Civil War

My dear husband and me at the 135th anniversary Battle of Antietam Reenactment, September 1997. Can you spot the one anachronism in the photo? We joined about 35,000 fellow reenactors in the largest ever American Civil War reenactment to date.

On April 12, 1861, 150 years ago this week, the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, as the state militia attempted to take the fort from Federal troops.  While this “battle” itself didn’t result in any casualties — only two accidental deaths due to a Confederate cannon misfire and Union a 100-gun salute, the 2-day incident was the green flag for 4 years of intense fighting and strife that reshaped our nation.

My husband and I are Civil War reenactors.  Perhaps I’m more accurate if I said “My husband and I WERE Civil War reenactors,” but I’m not ready to give it all up yet.  Let’s just say we’ve taken an 8 1/2 year hiatus since we’ve had our two sons.  I enjoy sewing the costumes, and we both really enjoyed a unique way to enjoy a weekend of camping and camaraderie with fellow American history fans.  I don’t know how many times the guys would be sitting around the campfire after a day of “battle”, passing around a flask of moonshine, discussing not sport scores or the federal budget, but rather whose historians’ interpretations of the battle diagrams of the skirmishes between Atlanta and Savannah are most accurate.

But with the war’s 150th anniversary coming up, and my husband being stationed east of the Mississippi River these next 2 years (if not longer!), there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to get back into the hobby, and we’re excited about the prospect.  We’ve been hauling around about 200 lbs. of uniforms, hoop skirts, tents, leather goods, and a replica Springfield Model 1861 musket from home to home all these years.

We’re even more excited about introducing our kids to the wonderful world of Civil War reenacting!  I have sewing patterns at the ready to make some handsome circa 1860s costumes for my boys.

I won’t go into Civil War history here, but I would like to bring to your attention some of the commemorative reenactment events on the calendar over the next four years.  The first significant combat action, the First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run*, will be reenacted July 23-24, 2011 in Prince William County, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.). Word on the street is that the current economic and political climate is contributing to a lower-key approach to the observances, with lectures and walking tours leading the list of commemorative activities, more so than the all-out reenactments.

*Many of these battles are known by two separate names.  The Union Army leans towards geographical features for names, such as Bull Run, the creek that ran through the battlefield.  The Confederates used the names of nearby towns and cities, such as Manassas.  You’ll see other examples of this with Antietam Creek v. Sharpsburg (Maryland), Pittsburg Hills v. Shiloh (Tennessee), and Sabine Crossroads v. Mansfield (Louisiana).

I don’t think the First Battle of Manassas will be on our summer travel itinerary this year, but we are looking at other 150th anniversary events during our two years on the Florida Panhandle that might fit our travel schedules.  Shiloh is definitely a finalist (late March 2012)!  It’s easy to do web searches for smaller reenactments near you.  Websites such as the Camp Chase Gazette and Civil War Traveler have extensive information on reenactments, and the Civil War Traveler webpage even has special designators on the 150th anniversary events.  Here are some other key reenactments that will probably do something special for their 150th anniversaries:

Events are also being planned for western and even the Pacific theaters and the calendar links above can tell you more about that.

CarCheckup – A New Way to Keep My Teen Safe.

carcheckup-300x296When we had our first two children just over a year apart, we knew that it might make some stages of life tricky. Potty training, times two. Science fairs, times two. And then, eventually, teen drivers, times two. So when products started coming on the market that could track a teen driver, I sat up and paid attention. When one of those products became available for review, I practically raced to the front of the line, screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!”.

At this moment, we have two and a half teen drivers living in this house. The nineteen year old has been driving for a couple of years now. Her eighteen year old brother has a permit but has stalled on getting his official license. Coming up the ranks is their fourteen year old brother, who will be eligible for a driving permit later this year, according to the laws of the state we’re moving to. If we survive all of those driving adventures, we have one more son, who is five years away from taking the wheel. I am definitely the person to try out a teen driver tracking device.

The product we’ve had in our house for the past few months is called the CarCheckup. Their slogan is “Connect. Drive. Know.” I was surprised to find it’s a handy little device that can be used for much more than just monitoring teens. The more I thought about it, the more I wished we’d had this thing when my grandmother was on the edge of needing to hand over her driving privilege (she was legally blind and still driving). CarCheckup can also be used to track business miles and, one of my favorite features, it monitors the car’s check engine light.

To break it down, let’s start with the teen application. The device plugs into the OBDII plug in your vehicle. If you’re like me, and have no idea what that means, the website has very specific instructions (and a handy video). In most cars newer than 1996, it’s located along the bottom edge of the dashboard, near the brake and gas pedal.

(This was the only real drawback I found in the device, that it was almost ‘in the way’ of the driver’s leg, although not to the point of affecting safety. You wouldn’t be able to ‘hide’ the device from your teen, it’s very obvious when it’s plugged in. I can see that as a good thing though…they know they’re being ‘watched’, so they make better driving decisions).DevicePlugInAnimationSmall

Once plugged in, the device records information about all the trips the vehicle takes. When you’re ready to read the results, you pop it out of the car, and plug in into the USB port on your computer. It could not be any simpler. The data uploads to the CarCheckup website and the analyzing begins. You can view your results in basic trip summary form or opt for graphs and charts. For each trip the car takes, you can view what time they occurred, what the highest speed was (helpful!), how long the car spent going different speeds, how many times the driver had hard braking or accelerations, and if any car trouble codes had activated.

I had kind of expected a feature that told me exactly where the car had been, using GPS, but it was not an option. When I asked the company rep about this he said, “Many parents are reluctant to use GPS info because of privacy reasons.” This made perfect sense to me, but personally I’d like to have the feature, especially if I were using the device to track a grandmother who often got lost and drove around the neighborhood before finding her way home.

The option to see how many times the driver had had a hard acceleration or extreme braking was very helpful though. Trusting three different teen boys with our vehicles, I’m a bit nervous about the wear and tear on my engine, and having them know someone’s keeping an eye on their driving, but more specifically their pattern of driving, does ease my mind quite a bit.

Side note: There’s also a really great teen contract that is free to download, that spells out exactly what you expect out of your teen when he or she is behind the wheel.  I love the idea of teens signing a contract of expectation with their parents, even if just for the fact it brings up the discussion in a straight forward way, not in the heat of the moment.

Another person who could benefit from this product would be the business traveler. Not only does the device keep track of miles, it prints out customizable reports. There’s no longer a need to have a notebook in the glove box (and remember to use it).

Now here’s the bonus I didn’t expect. The CarCheckup also reads the trouble codes in your car’s computer, the same codes the mechanic gets. The website translates the codes and explains them in a way even I understood.  It even picks up on pending codes, and lets you know if there’s a quick fix, or if you should call your mechanic.

We drive older vehicles and I was intrigued by this feature. Last year I drove around with a check engine light on, that was caused by a gas cap not being fully locked. Fortunately I have an honest (patient) mechanic, who ‘diagnosed’ by problem in the parking lot of his garage, after I dropped in on him without an appointment. If I’d had the CarCheckup plugged in, I could have spared him the favor.

Because of this feature, it would be a handy device to plug into a car you’re test driving. If you buy older vehicles, like we do, it would be nice to know what trouble lies unseen and undetected by a simple test drive. Granted, you have to buy a separate $25.00 subscription for each car you add to the device, but if it saves you thousands by preventing you from buying a lemon, I have to think it would be worth it. And if a vehicle suddenly has problems just months after you’ve bought it, the CarCheckup would be your reassurance that there were no problems waiting to happen when you bought the car.

So, here’s the low down on price: To get the device, and service for one car, for one year, it will set you back $149.97. For each additional car, it costs $25.00 (the one device can be used in many cars, each having their own registration online). For the information it provides, and the ease with which I could access it, I’d say this product is definitely worth the price. That said, I would be thrilled if there were a version of it that included GPS, so I could know exactly where my son went on that Friday night when he stayed out an hour past his curfew. For now, I’m pleased to know he was not driving like a crazy man, and was on the road just about the exact amount of time he’d need, to get to where he said he was going, his friend John’s house.

Disclosure: We were allowed to try out the review copy for several weeks, free of charge.



How To Get Laid in Every RPG Session

I refer to role-playing, not actually having sex with your fellow gamers (unless it’s a whole different kind of role-playing group.) I played a character for about a year that had had sex every single gaming session (not alone), and you can do it too!

I did not set out to make such a stud, but it became a highlight in my role-playing career. He was a good guy, but a total jerk. I had the fun of acting like a villain in my personal life, but plot-wise I always did was the hero (so the party wouldn’t kick me out.) I’ll tell you my experience and I encourage you to steal any part of my character for your own sordid enjoyment.

First of all I played a guy. I had always played girl characters because I am a girl, and feel we need to be represented in the traditional male-dominated fantasy setting. But I had just played a couple of girls, and one pre-gendered teen (long story for another post) and was in the mood to try something different.

Into my imagination waltzed Prince Percy (Percival, but don’t call him that) Victors, complete with 18th century pink satin and ruffles; looking at me with a bored expression. He was a royal, pampered, wealthy “dandy”, a squeamish vampire (hated the sight of blood- yes, it made for interesting moments), was lecherous and very, very charming. He was also bisexual, but preferred women. Percy was an impeccable dresser and carried a black-lace Hello Kitty parasol to keep off the sun. Oh, and he was a complete asshole.

I announced quite early on that I planned to seduce the entire party one way or another. Some of that was because I needed blood to survive, and it was convenient to feed during sex; I was distracted from the icky blood thing. But I also enjoyed the conquest and told them that letting me screw them would be the best night of their lowly peasant lives.

We had three women and three men in the role-playing group. In the first game, I rolled a critical success for charming one of the ladies, along with her critically failing any resistance. This meant that she was desperately in love with me. I used her on a regular basis, and the rest of the party was immediately disgusted. Yet, I still managed to make one of the other women drunk enough to come to my bed, another was tricked into sexual favors from some plot episode where I helped her, and I did manage to kiss one of the guys (though he tried to punch me afterwards.) Along with having sex with every NPC (girl or guy) that came along, Percy was perfectly promiscuous.

I had a great time, and the other players couldn’t help but laugh (out of character of course.) I also had a ridiculously lucky set of dice. In the entire year of playing Percy, I only failed a seduction role once (and the barmaid poured water over my head) and had regular crits for how good the sex was. So although I was just being my egotistical self when I said the sex would be fantastic, it turned out to be true. Even the party members I tricked had to admit I made them very, very happy.

The best part was constantly flirting with the girls in the group. In every role-playing game I’ve played, flirting is awkward or silly because no one wants to make anyone think they’re “really” trying anything. Flirting and sex were always with NPCs or glossed over like a movie where the actors fall into bed kissing and the camera moves to the flowing curtains and CUT! But my real life sexual orientation is heterosexual, and the other players know that. So when I was flirting with the girls, it wasn’t awkward, it was hilarious. When I flirted with the guys, they got annoyed. I think this was because my character was having more sex than they were in real life, but that’s just a guess (heh.)

The only part of it that annoyed me, was how much the girls liked my character. He was a jerk. He used them and was proud of it. And yet, they still giggled (in and out of character) and flirted back. And even though the two girls I tricked into sex were mad for a few sessions, they quickly wanted a real relationship with the guy, and tried to “get” him. I (Rebecca) was incredulous.

Girl Player: My character secretly wants to marry Percy.
Me: Marry Percy?! You know he’s a jerk, right?
Girl Player: Yes, but there’s something good in him.
Me: Of course, but don’t think he’s going to change for you.
Girl Player: We’ll see.

So there you have it role-players. Be a rich, sexy, blood-sucking, egotistical slut (with good taste in clothes) and other characters will not only succumb to sex, but also secretly wish to marry you. Who knew it could be so fun to be a guy?

Against the Odds: Inspiring Books to Share with Geek Kids

From the “only-slightly-crazed-years” archives. Photographer unknown.

By the time my older son was four months old, he would sit on my lap, point at images he enjoyed, and help turn the pages of  the board books we’d read together. At this age he was a stormy, intensely-observant little person already passionately opposed to doctor’s offices, food stores, malls, elevators, escalators, cribs, playpens, sitting still, quiet, music, bright lights, nail clippers, solitude, crowds, darkness, clothing tags, naps, and loud-noises-that-were-not-trains. Book time was just about the only peaceable time we had each day that did not involve either somebody lactating or Johnson’s Baby Shampoo.

Through the seemingly endless parade of meltdowns that framed a period that most children just SLEEP THROUGH,  I discovered that we could usually reconnect and calm down with a book. The increasingly ill-named diaper bag rarely contained actual diapers, wipes, or changes of clothing…but as God is my witness: I knew better than to leave home without the entire Thomas the Tank Engine oeuvre in board-book form by the time this child was on rice cereal.

Sometimes now I think there was a Darwinian purpose to my son’s behavior. Because today that baby is 15 years old, almost six feet tall, perfectly capable of reading to himself, and actually working on his own novel–and yet I still read to him and his brother most evenings. It is, after all this time, still the point in the day when I know we can all calm down and reconnect. The cats know it, too. They pad upstairs most nights and curl up into contented loaf-shapes on one bed or the other to listen along, eyes closed, purring intermittently.

I have read all seven of the Harry Potter books aloud to my children, with different voices for each character (it is a point of no small pride in our home that each of us can do reasonably proficient Cockney, Irish, London, Cornish, and Scottish accents, on demand), as well as a great many favorites from my own childhood: fairy tales, nonsense poetry, stories of magic and fantasy…

Initially, my goal was to entertain and intrigue: Aren’t books wonderful? Don’t you want more? Do you hear that delicious no-one-screaming sound? But somewhere along the way, as my sons got older, I wanted something else from the books we read. I wanted inspiration.

As it turns out, a precocious appreciation for a ripping tale well-told does not guarantee a life of academic ease.  The occupational therapist that ultimately worked with my older son once told me, “I’ve never met a child with such profound sensory integration dysfunction before.”  Three years later, she amended her statement upon meeting the younger son: “…until now.”

The sensory gates that we all possess, that allow some environmental stimuli through while blocking out extraneous information so that we do not become overwhelmed by the world around us, didn’t work quite right for either of my children–by which I mean: at all. This resulted in attention deficits, impulsiveness, phobias, sleep dysfunction and some oppositional defiance (as well as profound irritability on everyone’s part)–all of which did nothing to help the underlying language-processing disorders both children also had.

My sons have had to work harder than other kids. Very little of what we consider “normal” has come naturally to them: holding a pencil, tying their shoes, reading a book, kicking a ball, adding two numbers, sitting in a chair, buttoning a coat, writing a sentence, making a friend…despite possessing “normal” IQs, they have required therapies and specialists to master each of these milestones.

I recognized early on that I would need all of the help that I could get in supporting these two and ever since the fateful day on which I came upon Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey’s website and read about his experiences with AD/HD, I’ve expanded my support network to include fictional characters, as well–a strategy sometimes referred to as bibliotherapy.

Bibliotherapy is the use of books and relationships with characters to help children cope with challenges. In the context in which I use the word, this does not mean self-help books for children. Instead, it means well-crafted stories where compelling characters prevail against seemingly-insurmountable odds through a mix of grit, optimism, and moxie. As GeekMom Laura explained in an earlier post: Childhood books make us who we are. I want kids who are independent, creative, problem solvers who adore their mother but do not plan on living in her basement in their 30’s. I choose our titles accordingly.

What follows here is a list of some of the best “against the odds” books I’ve read to my sons in the last two years. Some of the titles border on dystopian-lit but I try to temper the despair of dystopia by alternating with choices that are uplifting and lighter.

  • Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – Not a book for the faint of heart, this is the biography of Lou Zamperini, a one-time Olympic track star who survived 46 days on a near-provisionless raft in shark-infested waters after his plane crashed into the Pacific only to become a Japanese  prisoner-of-war for four years during World War II. Caveat: the book is never profane but the sheer level of trial and degradation Lou suffers is probably too intense for elementary-aged children or more-sensitive older children.
  • Science Fair Season by Judy Dutton – Each chapter in this book introduces you to the rich back-story of another child participating in Intel’s high-stakes science and engineering fair in 2009. The students come from all walks of life, from the relative privilege of a Connecticut film geek who almost-accidentally falls into studying colony collapse disorder (see her C-Span “Student Cam” winning film on CCD here) to the quiet poverty of a young Navajo man living in a trailer on a reservation who invents a solar water heater for his family out of soda cans, black paint, and an abandoned Pontiac radiator. At the end of each chapter my sons and I would agree, “Oh, now this kid should win!” Each child had to overcome their own unique set of challenges to make it to the competition floor with their awe-inspiring projects–as October Sky’sHomer Hickham says in his review of the book on Amazon, “Within the[se] pages are tales of true heroism, that of courageous students who are willing to struggle and persevere and finally succeed.” This is just a great, uplifting family read-aloud.
  • Shackleton’s Stowaway by Victoria McKernan – The explorer Ernest Shackelton really did lose his ship Endurance to the ice of Antarctica in 1914. Ultimately, he was forced to leave most of his crew on Elephant Island for four months and navigate a small lifeboat across 800 miles of open ocean to  South Georgia in order to get help for his men. The book Shackelton’s Stowaway adds a fictional overlay to this tale in the form of Perce Blackborow, a young man so enthralled by Shackelton’s reputation that he stows away on board Endurance in order to take part in the explorer’s adventures. The experiences of the men that are left behind (amazingly, all survived), their struggles to eat, stay warm, and remain hopeful, are all told through the lens of Perce’s observations. Caveat: Tender-hearted readers may struggle with the fact that the men resort to eating penguin and dog to stay alive. Erm…we had no such struggles…
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen – 13 year old Brian is on his way to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness when the pilot transporting him on the last leg of his journey has a heart attack and dies. The plane crashes into a lake and Brian manages to survive two months alone, in the wild, with little more than the clothes on his back and the birthday gift his mother gave him before he left home: a hatchet.  Teaser: You will NEVER look at moose the same way again!
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier – Jerry Renault is tired of school fundraisers and decides he isn’t going to sell chocolate this year for his high school. Displeased, the school’s assistant headmaster, Brother Leon, colludes with the school’s secret society “The Vigils” and it’s sociopathic leader, Archie Costello, in order to force Renault to change his mind before other students at the school follow his lead. Caveat: According to Wikipedia, “Because of the novel’s language, the concept of a high school’s secret society using intimidation to enforce the cultural norms of the school, and the protagonist’s sexual ponderings, [The Chocolate War] has been the frequent target of censors and appears at number three on the American Library Association’s list of the “Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books in 2000-2009.” All I can say in response to that is banned books make for really rich discussion…
  • Honorable mentions go to: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, Holes by Louis Sachar, and Hoot by Carl Hiaasen.

If you’ve got additional titles to suggest, by the way, I’m all ears.

The Science of Happiness

I live with two teenagers, and sometimes their collective negativity drives me crazy.

I don’t get it. I’ve raised them to see the glass half full, to take a lemon and make lemonade. When they were little, I read them The Little Engine That Could. I’ve pointed them toward zen lessons and exposed them to metaphysical thought and the power of meditation to observe thoughts and to consciously change negative attitudes for a healthier ones. Unfortunately, in their current state of teen cynicism, getting them to act as if they’re feeling positive or even neutral when they are in any way grumpy, is beyond my parenting skill.

None of this change your attitude/change your life philosophy is new information. Once upon a time, long before parenthood was on my radar, when I was young, single and training to be a city Metro driver, a crotchety old-timer on the fleet taught me to smile at each and every passenger who stepped onto my trolley. He was quite sure it would change the entire ride for everyone on board. In the following two years, I experienced this truth first hand. The handful of times I was too grumpy to start my run in a good mood, the entire trolley would empty onto the downtown Seattle sidewalk, unleashing a collective foul mood on the city.

So, I wasn’t surprised to learn that the most current trend in psychology is called Positive Psychology. The basic idea is if you have a happy attitude, you will raise your success, raise your productivity, raise your speed and accuracy and effectiveness. It’s a win, win, win.

One champion of the science of happiness is Harvard-trained Shawn Achor. He speaks widely about the current research in psychology and neuroscience. In the following three clips, you can watch his talk given recently in Texas. (Even if you don’t have time for all three, it’s worth watching the first five-minute clip for his unicorn story.)

Here’s a summary of Achor’s practical tips for how to train the brain to function at a happier level:

  • Start every day with this 15 minute writing exercise: Tell something that makes you feel good.
  • Simplify vs. multitask
  • Use your strengths.
  • Exercise.
  • Meditate. Watch your breath.
  • Write down 5 things that are good right now. (a.k.a. Practice gratitude.)

Achor’s current focus is business productivity, and that’s a useful application. But why wait to establish these life habits? Why not loop Achor’s steps into educational curriculum? Why not train kids from their earliest to be happy? Why not train teachers that the most important thing that they do is to create a safe and joyful environment? (All the best teachers do this instinctively, and always have done so. Even trolley drivers do. They don’t wait for Harvard research to give them the green light.)

For more information Achor has written a book, The Happiness Advantage, where he expands on the findings and ideas he’s outlined in his public talks. If you want to hear him in person, he’ll be speaking May 14th at TEDxBloomington — shameless plug — in southern Indiana.  The conference theme is “The Wisdom of Play.” Interestingly, Achor was a student and teaching fellow under Happier author Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D.

One of the best things about the research done on the science of happiness is that Harvard experts have determined you can train your brain to make this positive shift at any age. The only thing that surprises me about this new line of research is that it’s taken Harvard academics this long to figure out what every mother knows–that when she and her kids are happy, everything else falls into place.

Now, if I could only convince my moody teens!

Transparency in Nutrition Labeling–The FDA Wants Your Input

If you are what you eat, do you have any idea what you are? In an increasing push for nutrition transparency, you’ll soon at least know how many calories you’re taking in, whether you want to or not.

If you live in California, you’re already familiar with this. In 2008 it became the first state to require calorie counts on chain restaurant menus and menu boards. A visit to In ‘n Out Burger feels a little different when you look up to order and see that a Double Double, fries, and shake will total 83% of a day’s allotment in a 2,000-calorie diet. (Download a map of other areas that have attempted or passed such legislation.)

Last year’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act includes a provision that would require restaurants and vending machines with 20 or more locations to give their patrons specific nutrition information, including on drive-through boards and buffets by January 1, 2014. The FDA has written two proposed regulations about menu calorie labels and is inviting public feedback on them through July 5, 2011.

“Americans now consume about one-third of their total calories on foods prepared outside the home,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. “While consumers can find calorie and other nutrition information on most packaged foods, it’s not generally available in restaurants or similar retail establishments. This proposal is aimed at giving consumers consistent and easy-to-understand nutrition information.”

Not everyone supports the change. Study results are mixed. Some show that offering the information doesn’t make a difference. One study of parents showed that while they didn’t make different choices for themselves, the did choose lower-calorie meals for their children. The Wall Street Journal cites two other examples, one of New Yorkers in 2009 that showed no influence from menu labeling, and one from Stanford University that showed average calories per transaction fell by 6% among Starbucks customers after calorie labeling started.

And it’s not strictly restaurants. The LA Times reported last week that the National Association of Theatre Owners is particularly displeased with the proposed rules. They feel that because their primary business is providing movies, not food, that their revenue from food (up to 1/3 of a theater’s income) will decrease when customers see that a bucket of popcorn is, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, as much as 1,460 calories, or the equivalent of three McDonald’s Big Mac burgers. They also contain as much as 60 grams of saturated fat.

“If a movie theater is going to be serving people with 1,000-calorie tubs of popcorn, the least they could do is tell people about it,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the center, in the LA Times story. “Just because you happen to be doing something else while you’re eating doesn’t mean that those 1,000 calories won’t stop going to your waistline.”

Movie theaters may see a drop in the number of popcorn buckets sold, but an increase in nutrition transparency can have only good results for consumers. Even if it makes no change for some, for those who do take it into account, it could lead to better choices. (I confess that my earlier In ‘n Out example was from recent personal experience. And I chose to skip the fries when I got the shake.)

The one possible difficulty is in customizable menus where calorie counts can be complicated. Attention to menu design and making the choices as clear as possible (again, increased transparency) to customers can help alleviate that.

Further nutrition transparency is also, of course, only one step in changing how we eat. Calorie intake is but one aspect of a person’s complex nutritional picture. (Under the proposed rules, further information would have to be available on request, but if you’re dedicated to looking, it usually already is.) And just knowing the number of calories you’ve eaten in a day doesn’t help if you don’t know an appropriate total number, or if your sources are not themselves the healthiest.

Arguably, some people would even return to eating out more. Imagine if increasing transparency on this one factor led to an increase in labeling in other ways, not just about vitamins and fiber, but potentially even about things like the sources of your food and how it was produced. The increasing subset of the population that is concerned about such things has turned inward, shopping at farmer’s markets and from CSAs, purchasing locally grown vegetables and meat produced on small farms with friendlier, more sustainable practices. Beyond them, there are even more people who would like to make more such choices but find it difficult. What if when they all sat down to eat in a restaurant, they could know which farm the meat came from and that the vegetables were seasonal and locally produced?

Scientia potentia est.

What Comics Taught Me About Parenting

We have a guest post today from former comic book editor Nicole Boose. She contacted GeekMom about writing for us and I promptly took her up on the offer.

Boose worked on the editorial staff of Marvel Comics for five years, beginning as an Assistant Editor and departing as an Editor. She’s now a freelancer and stay-at-home mom.marvel-editor-475x356

What Comics Taught Me About Parenting

It must have been a good four years ago already, the night that my coworker and I were talking over drinks about where we thought work might take us in the long term. We were editors at Marvel Comics.

“One thing I keep coming back to,” I said, “is that I’d like to have kids before too long. And I don’t know how it’s possible to do this with kids.” He nodded knowingly.

For a whole list of reasons, my life at the time seemed completely incompatible with parenting. I woke up early, traveled a long way to get to work, stayed at work a long time, traveled back home and basically collapsed. Child care options were limited, and none of them really matched my schedule—nor would I want them to. Logistics aside, there were my own and my husband’s feelings to consider. For us, having one of us at home was the preferred option. And since I had the boobs and the lower-paying job, that person would probably be me.

Fast forward: our awesome daughter was born in 2008, and I eventually decided to step down from editing comics full time. Since then, I’ve supplemented stay-at-home motherhood with occasional freelance assignments and part time work, and this, combined with my husband’s efforts, has given us enough flexibility to relocate to a wonderful new city and enjoy more time together, all of us.

And although my prediction turned out to be pretty accurate—the way I worked then would not have been compatible with the way I parent now—I wouldn’t have it any other way. Initially it was an adjustment, and being a homemaker felt like a completely different life from the professional world I used to occupy. But over time, I’ve also started to notice the similarities between the demands of the professional world and the demands of domestic life (there’s actually a good book about this called Motherhood is the New MBA, by Shari Storm). And there are some lessons I took from the comic book industry in particular that have been helpful to have in my back pocket. With a work history that includes toiling long hours, emotional exhaustion and lots and lots of ego management, a life in comics has made me uniquely prepared to be a mom.

So in honor of geek parents of every stripe and profession, here are a few things that I’ve learned about how life as a comic book editor translates to raising a little one.

Embrace your own authority, even when you secretly feel like an idiot.

One of the tasks new editors dread the most is portfolio reviews. This is when an editor sits down with beginning or aspiring artists, usually at a convention, looks at samples of their artwork, and provides constructive feedback. Our day-to-day work doesn’t give us a lot of preparation for this, and it’s always unnerving to sit across from someone you’ve just met, who may or may not be talented, indignant and/or creepy, and tell him or her—but usually him—how to be a better artist. Most new editors are a little put off by this, and there is just no way to get good at it other than to put on a confident face and just go. After some practice, hopefully the confidence part starts to come on its own. As one established artist once told me, it’s scary enough for an artist to be in front of an editor evaluating your work. It’s scarier still to be a geeky guy artist having a female editor evaluating your work. In short, we already have a head start when it comes to being viewed as an authority.

But being an authority is intimidating too, and I think we’ve all felt this same feeling as new moms. For the first several months of my daughter’s life, I questioned every move I made. Even when I knew everything was fine, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that anything I did might have been a lost opportunity to do something else, something that would have been better. What really changed things for me was befriending a group of local moms and seeing them in action. Once I saw that other moms seemed comfortable with whatever it was they were doing, I stopped questioning my own actions so much.

Life gives many of us the impression that parents, even at their most flawed, know what they’re doing. But to paraphrase the paragon of wisdom that is TV’s Modern Family, we get there ourselves and eventually it dawns on us that we’re all just making it up as we go. So did our parents, and theirs. So we carry on, do our best, and trust that experience will lead to confidence. And if we’re lucky, one day we’ll recognize that we’re not actually bluffing anymore.

Be patient about things you cannot control.

There are some things we can get our kids to do, even when there’s a price to pay. My daughter doesn’t want to leave the library? Well, I can encourage her gently and hope for the best. I can compromise and agree to stay longer. Or I can physically carry her away, knowing that it might cause a scene. Bottom line, I know my options. But some things we just physically can’t enforce, like eating a particular food or using the potty.

Working with comic book creators is a little bit like trying to tell a toddler when to poop.

Once I was assigned to work with an artist who was notorious for blowing his deadlines. I saw it as an opportunity to revolutionize the delicate art of schedule enforcement. I wanted to become known as the editor who transformed this pathological procrastinator into a punctual, reliable guy. I would approach with patience, heart and firm discipline. If that didn’t work, I would be mean. I tried all of those things, and I failed miserably.

Parenting and editing both ask you to be in control, in situations where control is quite literally impossible. In fact, part of both jobs is knowing how to exercise control without losing it, and when to relinquish it gracefully in favor of authoritative guidance. I can’t make an artist finish an assignment on time, but I can try to figure out what’s holding him up and help him work through it. I can’t make my daughter stop crying, but I can come up with some things that might make her laugh instead.

And in learning to subtly influence what you can’t control outright, another important skill emerges…


Many of the comic book projects I managed were custom publications, meaning that other companies and organizations would commission us to create a comic for their own business or cause. In many of those cases, I received multiple, contradicting sets of instructions. Oftentimes, clients’ demands would fly in the face of everything I knew to be plausible. You want a 22-page comic written, penciled, inked, colored, lettered and printed in one week? You want the plot tied into an upcoming movie? You want your child to appear as a character in the comic? And you want Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee to write it?

I learned very quickly that people will turn difficult when you tell them no, even when their request is wildly unreasonable. So when I eventually had to hand over these projects to another editor, the first suggestion I offered my replacement was to avoid saying “no” at all costs.

That doesn’t mean you have to agree to the requests, it just means that you lay out the facts and let the other party reach their own conclusions. To wit: Yes, you can have it in one week, but it will suck. Yes, we’ll tie it to a movie if you can exceed your budget. Yes, your child can be in it if you’ll sign a release form, send a picture, and wait an extra week. Yes, we can ask Stan Lee to write it, if you’re comfortable being rejected by Stan Lee. In the end, people would usually be eager to work something out, no conflict necessary.

After I became a mom, I started reading all kinds of articles about how to turn down your kids’ requests in positive terms. Not to shield them from all negativity, just to repackage it a little. Yes, you may have a cookie… after you finish dinner. Yes, I will stop the car and remove that sock that so deeply offends you… after we reach our destination. Yes, we can go play outside in subzero temperatures… but ooh look, Play-Doh!

When I read that kind of advice, I think, Ha. I knew that already. I was a comic book editor.

Imiloa Astronomy Center

P1230772-225x300The ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center on the Big Island of Hawai‘i blends past and present with a focus on the night sky. Part of the University of Hawaii at Hilo, the center is a kid-friendly, hands-on sort of place where families can roam through various exhibit areas or enjoy a show in the planetarium.

My husband and I spent some time at the center over the weekend with two teen boys – one mine, one visiting from out of state. Before entering the exhibit area, we learned a little about Mauna Kea, a mountain significant to the native Hawaiians as well as the astronomers who count on Mauna Kea’s clear skies for some great views of the Universe. We got a chance to explore both inside the exhibit hall.

Polynesian voyagers arrived in the islands by navigating with the stars. As we stood on a mock voyaging canoe painted on the floor, we wondered at the ability of the Polynesians to survive on such a small vessel in the open ocean with no technology to guide them. Rather than technology, these voyagers used the stars in the sky to find their way, eventually making their way to the Hawaiian Islands. Interesting side note: This skill was nearly lost to the Hawaiian people as modern technology took over and voyaging with the stars as guides became unnecessary. The Polynesian Voyaging Society was founded to revive this lost practice, and with the help of Mau Piailug, or “Papa Mau,” this cultural practice has been successfully restored to the Hawaiian people. Today, two traditional voyaging canoes ply the waters around the islands: Hokule‘a and Makali‘i.

Moving into the present, a large photo mural gave us an up-close look at the high-tech observatories atop Mauna Kea today and a bank of computers allow us to take a virtual tour inside the Gemini observatory. The boys traversed the top of Mauna Kea and tried their hand at maneuvering a black black hole, astronomy, stars,hole (epic fail!). Throughout the room are big, clear columns filled with different amounts of sand. The grains of sand represent different items. One, with very few grains of sand, represented the known objects in the Universe. Another, full of sand, represented all of the galaxies in the Universe. This was accompanied by a placard that notified visitors that even if they started with the column full of sand, it would still take them 3,200 more years of counting grains of sand in order to tally the other galaxies.

galazies, sand, planetsThere is plenty to see and do at ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center and it’s a favorite weekend spot for locals and frequented by visitors as well. The center has done an amazing job of integrating the cultural and the scientific. Beyond the exhibits, one thing I love about the center is that all of the placards throughout the facility include information in both the Hawaiian and English languages. Some of the exhibits, too, offer the option to listen in either of the official languages of the state of Hawai‘i.Hawaiian, English, language

Of course, we couldn’t call it a day until we’d enjoyed the Planetarium show. We had two to choose from, and ending up watching Natural Selection, a 3-D movie about the discoveries of Charles Darwin. That is, three of us watched while one member of our party who’s famous for falling asleep in theaters took a little nap.

We enjoyed our day as guests of ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.

Not-so-trusted Third Parties: Why You’ve Been Getting “Your Email Was Leaked” Notices

Got a kid taking the SAT or AP exams? It’s time to have a little talk about how to avoid phishing schemes–their email addresses may have been lost to spammers last week. Epsilon, one of the world’s largest such companies, had their databases breached.

You may have noticed something was up this weekend when you got several emails from companies saying your name and email addresses had been leaked, or that their database had been breached. It’s because those companies used Epsilon, a third-party company for their email marketing. You probably don’t know the name Epsilon, but you know them in the context of “we may share your email address with trusted third parties” when you sign up for mailing lists.

Based on Epsilon’s estimate that 2% of their clients were affected, there are probably about 50 affected. They’re not naming the affected clients, though. I’ve been compiling a list based on news reports and complaints on Twitter. So far the affected companies I’ve seen reports of are:

  • 1-800-Flowers
  • AbeBooks
  • Air Miles
  • American Express
  • Ameriprise Financial
  • Barclays Bank Delaware
  • Beachbody
  • Bebe
  • Benefit Cosmetics
  • Best Buy
  • Borders
  • Brookstone
  • Capital One
  • Charter Communications
  • Chase
  • Citi
  • City Market
  • The College Board
  • Dillons
  • Disney Destinations
  • Eileen Fisher
  • Ethan Allen
  • Food4Less
  • Fred Meyer
  • Fry’s
  • Hilton Hhonors
  • Home Depot
  • Home Shopping Network (HSN)
  • Intuit
  • Jay C
  • JPMorgan Chase
  • King Soopers
  • Kroger
  • LaCoste
  • LL Bean Visa Card
  • Marks and Spencer
  • Marriott Rewards
  • McKinsey Quarterly
  • Meijer
  • New York & Company
  • QFC
  • Ralphs
  • Red Roof Inn
  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • Robert Half Technologies
  • Smith Brands
  • soccer.com
  • Target
  • TD Ameritrade
  • TigerDirect
  • TiVo
  • US Bank
  • Verizon
  • Visa
  • Walgreens

If your kids are old enough to have their own email addresses, and you haven’t talked about email safety yet, this is a good time. And an excellent opportunity to talk about reading privacy policies and making choices about your email address. Although in this case, I suspect few people would have hesitated to join these lists.

***Edit 4/6 If you’re looking for a complete list of affected companies, please now refer to http://www.databreaches.net/?p=17374

How Childhood Books Make Us Who We Are

Children’s inner lives may not seem all that complicated. But they are, even if kids may not fully be fully aware of the complexities they’re dealing with until they’re much older. That’s one reason it’s hard for them to talk with their parents about ways they are gaining strength, inspiration, and a strong sense of self.

Their favorite books offer a clue.

Kids are drawn to stories that resonate with challenges they’re facing. Authors know that kids seek out tales that present certain compelling themes. Speaking one’s truth, overcoming adversity, enduring tragedy, relying on wit or cleverness, making a sacrifice, finding a kindred spirit, gaining new powers or knowledge—this is the stuff that translates into purposeful meaning for the young reader.

To understand what our kids are going through as they grow up, it helps to look back at the pivotal books that made a difference during our own formative years. We here at GeekMom have been discussing exactly that.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I (Laura) am everlastingly grateful for The Secret Garden.

It provided solace at a time when none of the well-meaning adults in my life could ease my fears. After several deaths in the family I asked questions about the beginning of the universe, the reasons for existence, and the purpose of death. But the limited answers I was given only fueled my angst. I wasn’t aware why The Secret Garden was such a comfort. I only knew that reading and rereading certain passages helped ease my childhood insomnia.

It wasn’t until years later when I flipped through the pages of my old copy of The Secret Garden that I understood. I was surprised by what else I found in those pages. This book is connected in so many ways to the life choices I’ve made. As I wrote in a recent article, I’m convinced this book saved me.

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

No. I don’t think I had the words to express how profoundly the book restored something that seemed lost to me. I’m not sure I do now either.


Chronicles of Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander

Ellen says that she read this series over and over, starting when she was 11 or 12 years old. She notes,

“While I didn’t realize it at the time, these books had a profound influence on me. Particularly the bit about how Taran, our hero, is galled by his lowly title of Assistant Pig-Keeper. As a nerdy little overachiever, I was galled by it, too, on Taran’s behalf. He was always doing heroic and brave things — sometimes ineptly, sure, but he was a kid. And I wanted to see him get rewarded for his deeds — I wanted to see him elevated to greater status. That doesn’t happen until the very end of the series, and by that time, it’s obvious that glory comes with heavy responsibility.

That’s the lesson, or part of it, and it has affected my viewpoint on life ever since, reminding me of the value of humility and the fact that the value of a person exists apart from the sum of his/her accomplishments.”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“I don’t recall discussing this particular lesson with my parents — mostly because I didn’t exactly realize I was learning it at the time. I do remember getting so upset by the death of a major character that I had to wake my mother in the middle of the night (I was up late reading under the covers, of course) to help me deal with my overwrought emotions. That’s another lesson I learned from the books — the emotional impact fiction can have — and it certainly pushed me along the path to becoming a fiction writer myself.”


The House With a Clock In Its Walls by John Bellairs

Amy is so fond of this book that she says,” Whenever I see that book, even now, I want to hug it to my chest. I can’t wait to read it with my kids when they’re old enough.”  She explains,

“The story follows a boy named Lewis Barnavelt who goes to live with his uncle, who he discovers is a wizard (long before Harry Potter, which I would have loved as a kid). I think my close connection with this book came because of seeing Lewis as a pudgy, misfit kindred spirit. I could relate to him trying to find connections with new people, and wanting to try his hand at something powerful, like magic spells.”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“I don’t remember doing so, but I now talk about it often with other parents, especially when talking about books in the Harry Potter genre.”


A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Delphine, who describes herself as “mostly built on books,” says,

“This book is the reason I grew up seeing myself as a princess, and still do, in a way. Not a silly-pink princess. But not necessarily a kick-ass princess, either. I learned that being a princess was mostly a question of moral dignity, the way you act, the way you treat other people, the way you fight and endure, the way you keep your head held high.

That’s what I tried to do, since then.

That’s not easy. Even if you succeed, not every person likes it. Some think you’re too perfectly civilized to be true and dislike you for that reason. Some are intimidated. But that happens a lot to Sara, the young heroine of the book, too, so I could understand and go on using her as a guideline.

Little Princess is a book from the 19th century. I don’t believe 19th century’s children books’ values are all good and accurate for our time. Of course not ! But some are. Smiling to people in the streets, helping them if you have the chance, being generous and kind when you can, apologizing when the anger wins you over (for it will happen, of course). And don’t forget to be proud of yourself sometimes, if you succeed, for you’re a princess, after all.

The other reason why I loved and still love this book is the role it gives to stories. Stories from books or stories from your imagination. Stories read, or read aloud, or told to little ones. All stories are magic. And they are a real comfort when everything else fails you, as it happens for Sara.”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“I tried to tell about that to my mother, as a tween or teen. That wasn’t a success. Perhaps I wasn’t able to explain, perhaps my (wonderful) mother isn’t this type of person, isn’t Sara-type as much as I am.”


The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel

The Kin of Ata Are Waiting for You by Dorothy Bryant

Rebecca says she read these two books when she was fourteen and they shaped who she is today. Both were given to her by adults in her family. She explains,

“My dad gave me Clan of the Cave Bear telling me woman kick ass. Although I think I was too young to read that rape scene (though what age would it be OK?), it was the herbs and healing aspect of the book that really pulled something up from inside of me and created a passion I still have to this day. To be fair to my parents, they both are very healthy and raised my sister and I to read labels, take vitamins, and avoid artificial anything. We were the only kids on the block that didn’t have Fruit Loops and Oreos in the cupboard, and I’ve been taking flax oil years before it was hip. But after reading Clan, I started reading non-fiction books about natural healing and herbal medicine. When I became pregnant and a mom at a young age (only a few years after reading that book) I made a commitment to have a natural pregnancy and raise my child with wise woman healing. My family to this day uses 99% natural remedies, especially essential oils, for any sickness and general health. My daughter is now making her own beauty products from all natural ingredients. Yet, I have not given her Clan of the Cave Bear yet. That rape scene still haunts me.

The book that is on my daughter’s reading list (she is fifteen, btw) is The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You. My Aunt Maryanne gave me this book, along with others like it. She and my Uncle Gary (now deceased) have been my spiritual guides from a very young age. I was raised Catholic, and still practice today, but my mind is permanently open from the readings and discussions of theology, spirituality and the soul with my Aunt and Uncle throughout my life. This particular book stood out because it is fiction. I remember sitting on my bed when I finished reading about someone’s incredible spiritual journey that involved dreams (something I have always been obsessive about) and then looking at the cover and seeing the author. A woman. Not a man. The main character was a guy. It wasn’t true. It wasn’t a memoir. How could a fake story affect me so deeply? And that’s when I got the point of the book. Fiction and non-fiction, dreaming and waking…is there that much of a difference? It’s what you take and make of what comes your way that makes you who are are, and your destiny. Stories are powerful, regardless if they came from a true experience or someone’s imagination. After that book, I don’t think my own border between reality and dream has ever closed. Everything just is.”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“Clan of the Cave Bear was discussed a lot in the next few years with several people in my family because it was a popular book (and the whole series was a family favorite.) They all thought it was cool that I got into plants. My aunt and I chatted briefly about The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You, but I wasn’t really good on discussions that mattered at that age. But I did tell her I liked the book when I gave it back to her.”


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Alexandra remembers reading this book back in ninth grade. It became her favorite. She writes,

“The character, Francie, was a strong girl growing up in Williamsburg Brooklyn in the years before WWI. Loss of innocence, rebellion, perseverance, and hope were all themes I could relate to. Although I was growing up in a much different time and setting, my life was chaotic and uncertain (my mother was diagnosed with cancer and our family was falling apart). The book resonated with me. It was a great story and I was sad when it was over. Besides, I  love trees. The tree as a symbol and as a living character has stayed with me my whole life.”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“I think I told my mother that I loved the book. She grew up in Queens NYC in the 30s and may have read the book as a young adult (it was published in 1943). As I mentioned my mother was ill and my teen years were defined by that. I know I told my English teacher that it was my favorite book, and I think she gave me a copy as a gift–I seem to remember that. I excelled in English and writing in HS  (I was awarded the award for creative writing at graduation) and I know the book influenced my love for the written word.”


A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Andrea offers two books she regards as “game changing.”  She says she discovered A Wrinkle in Time in fifth grade.

“I loved the character Meg and found it really empowering to read about a character in glasses who was insecure but with hidden brilliant depths. Go figure. I was the oldest child in my family so maybe I liked that about Calvin, too.

In 9th grade, I discovered Wuthering Heights. Oh my! Probably set me up for a couple of really dysfunctional relationships before I realized that Heathcliff was not actually the ideal man. Also set me up for a lifetime love affair with gothic novels and Victorian literature.”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“I didn’t tell my parents. They just expected me to read and be a good student. I don’t remembering them ever being too interested in what I was reading.”


The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley

Corrina started reading the Black Stallion series when she was in second grade. She writes,

“I read The Black Stallion over and over to the point where I nearly read the cover off. Then I
discovered the rest of the series and my all-time favorite was The Black Stallion’s Filly because it was about a filly, Black Minx, that won the Kentucky Derby. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was resentful of the fact only boys seemed to be allowed or encouraged to be interested in sports. To read about a girl–even though it was a horse–accomplish something that everyone said couldn’t be done was empowering to me. It gave me hope for the future that even though I was a tomboy, I could do whatever I wanted.

Just last year, I needed a name for the hero of my superhero story and I went back to these books. I came up with Alec Farley, a mix of Alec Ramsey, the hero of the Black Stallion books, and Walter Farley. I re-read the stories as well and I still got that thrill when Black Minx wins.”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“My parents knew and encouraged my love of reading, though horses were a slightly different matter. (Riding lessons cost.) But whenever I wanted books or needed quiet time to right, my parents were always very supportive. To this day, I still have a tapestry that my late father bought for me of three horses, nose to nose, at the end of the race. It meant so much that he acknowledged what I loved.”

The Luckiest Girl by Beverly Cleary

Patricia is somewhat reluctant to disclose the most memorable book from her preteen years. But she warms to the topic.

“Even though it was written in the 50s, it’s a pretty timeless story of a girl trying to rebel against her mother. She gets the chance for a clean start at a new school. I remember the slicker argument Shelley has with her mother. Shelley, the protagonist, wants to wear a plain yellow slicker to school, but her mother gets her this prissy pink raincoat with black velvet buttons. Shelley gets mad and tosses a bouquet of roses down the garbage disposal — apparently a 1950s girl’s ULTIMATE rebellious act– and declares she wants to spend the school year in California, which she was invited to do by a family friend.

It’s a touching first-love kind of story, but with no kissing or sex or anything. Anyway, I distinctly remember thinking ‘Hey — this 1950s girl rebelled, so could I…’

I love the book and now I want to read it over again.”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“No, I don’t think I did. I don’t remember discussing any books with my parents.”


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Kalynn read Little Women annually from age eight. She says it molded her self-identity as well as her my understanding of the world. She writes,

“The main character, Jo March, was acutely aware of both her close relationships and the historical events that buffeted her family. The combination of breadth and depth in this particular work of auto-biographical fiction has been a touchstone ever since.

I identified with Jo’s hot temper and her gangly body. One way I have been profoundly influenced by this character is the way Jo made life decisions that went against expectation. Her best friend, the boy next door who was attractive, kind, and wealthy, wanted to marry her. Even though all external signs, and even her own affection for the boy (who by that time a young man), pointed to a happy and prosperous union, she refused his offer. Instinctively, she knew she did not love him in that way and that she was meant to forge a less secure, different path. On more than one occasion in my life, I have followed Jo’s example. Rather than automatically making the more secure, on-the-surface easier choice, I have listened to my heart.”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“I don’t remember ever talking to anyone about how much that book meant to me, although I did mount a theatrical adaptation of the story in a friend’s backyard (5th grade, as I recall) and charged a nominal admission for neighborhood kids to watch me play Jo. A handful of people knew about that, including the kids in the audience, and I referred to it in my film school application as my first writer/director/producer gig.”


The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis

R. L. LaFevers says that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe started her on the series of books that most influenced her as a child. She explains,

“It was my first exposure to fantasy and for the first time I realized that books could deal with more than what was real; that the world of books could match the wildness and longing of my imagination. I had devoured fairy tales and myths as a young reader, but the Narnia books were the first time I learned that stories didn’t have to be old or passed down through the ages in order to have fantasy elements. This completely validated my wild and crazy imagination, which had gotten me in a fair amount of trouble so far. But even more importantly, as a kid the world around me seemed much more layered and frightening and wonderful than any of the adults around me would admit to, and The Chronicles of Narnia spoke to all those layers of reality that were so present for me.

When I closed the last page of the last book, I hugged it to my chest and thought how wonderful it would be, to grow up and have a job where I got to make up new worlds and systems of magic for a living. And now I do. ”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“It never occurred to me to talk to anyone about how much that book meant to me, although they probably guessed since I reread them twice a year for about four years. But it was too important to me, too precious to risk having the adults in my life ruin it with their lack of understanding. So I kept mum.”


The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Natania says it was all about discovering hobbits. She writes,

“Most people started the Lord of the Rings at the beginning. But, seeing as the library didn’t have The Fellowship of the Rings, I figured there was no harm starting with The Two Towers. I was fourteen, I think, and this was oddly after I’d read lots of very grown up things, like the majority of Stephen King’s oeuvre. But hobbits, indeed, and Merry and Pippin, especially, considering they are the first hobbits to appear in The Two Towers. I read every scene they were in with bated breath.

I had a tough childhood (who doesn’t, I guess) dealing with illness and a family always struggling to make ends meet. I often felt as if the kids around me didn’t understand that sort of trial, having grown up in a very privileged area. But the inherent merriment in hobbits, the youthful optimism, the camaraderie… for me, Merry and Pippin (and to some extent the rest of the Fellowship) really were surrogate friends in a world where I felt as if I didn’t fit. More importantly, those hobbits went on to do amazing things in spite of a world that didn’t expect it of them (neither locally nor globally you might say!), and I took that to heart. Sometimes high school felt like my own personal trip to Mordor. But I made it. And now I live a very hobbity existence with my husband, son, animals, books… but always writing my adventures into the margins.”

Did I tell the adults in my life what the book meant to me?

“Oh, I tried. But my parents didn’t read. Or at least, they hadn’t read fiction for so long (in the case of my dad; to my knowledge, my mother never read fiction) that it fell on deaf ears. I sat in my room for hours putting Tolkien’s poems to music, I wrote the continuing story of Merry and Pippin. Sometimes I think I wanted that story to be real so much that I purposefully kept it to myself. There is something remarkably powerful about a private joy. Later, I branched out into the community that grew around the films and whatnot, but in my early teens, Middle Earth was very much my own place. And I was definitely reluctant to let others in. I remember a friend casually telling me he’d read the books and didn’t think they were anywhere near as good as Robert Jordan, and I felt very furious indeed that one could say such terrible things about Tolkien’s Middle Earth! Clearly, he’d missed something.”


What books made you who you are today? Did you share any of that book-related inner growth with the adults in your life? And does looking back at these influences give you a glimpse of your own child’s complex emerging selfhood?

Cue The Imperial March: The Death Star Pinata

We have been busy at our house preparing for the galactic event that is our kid’s birthdays. Geekette will be turning 7 and little bro will be hitting the big one, all within 6 days of each other. How we did that I will never know, but my mom and her dad were born on the same day and my husband and his dad were born a day apart. Must be genetic. At any rate, as our theme is the original Star Wars movies, I have had to make pretty much every decoration we have. This year, big sis decided she wanted a pinata. I found several good pictures of death star pinatas on the web so I set to  work.

I just saw that spot I missed. Sigh. Image Jennifer D.

Things you need to make a planet destroying space station:

I purchased a soccer ball pinata at a local craft store. It was covered in this weird tissue paper that was fluffed out so I proceeded to tear that all off. The death star is definitely NOT fluffy. Once it was pretty much denuded of tissue paper, I filled it with candy left over from Halloween. This step is very important. In my zeal to get the thing painted I nearly forgot to put the goodies in it. That would have been an epic fail.

Once the candy was inside, I pulled the area closed as best I could, put masking tape over the hole and spray painted it with a flat gray spray paint. Another important step, be sure you are standing up wind while spray painting. I let that dry for a couple of hours and then, using my illustration as a guide, I attacked it with a black sharpie. I had thought about using a paintbrush, but my hand is just not that steady and I was worried I would screw up the details. Which I would have. Remember, it doesn’t have to look perfect because it will ultimately be destroyed thus saving the galaxy. Unfortunately it is too late for Alderaan.

Is Your Cat Speaking Elvish?

How many times could your swear your sweet kitty is trying to tell you something? Something wise and powerful? Something a mere human cannot grasp? The latest research in cat speech shows that these noble animals are trying to communicate, however, they don’t speak English, Spanish or Chinese.

Dr. Barbara Fuzzmacher, of the deGato Medical Center, has made a startling discovery in the field of Felinguistics. “We interviewed cat owners from around the globe and none of them could understand their cats.” Fuzzmacher explained. “This led us to the obvious conclusion that cats must be speaking a non-human language.”

Fuzzmacher admits that cat sounds may also be used to communicate with other cats, but because of breeding and domestication, she believes the majority of meowls, squals, smews, and blurrps are actually attempts to give information to their beloved owners.

So what are these furry gurus trying to tell us and how can we understand them? Fuzzmacher’s lab started to focus on languages from other humanoid species like Klingon, Na’vi, and Elvish. When questioned about the fictional aspect, Fuzzmacher quickly dismissed these concerns as irrelevant.

“The cats are real, right? The sounds are real. So what does it matter how it all comes together? Reality is relative. It may be hard for non-scientific people to understand that concept, but trust me on this one. Cats speak Elvish.”

Amazingly, after testing dozens of non-human languages, Elvish, the language from Tolkien’s Middle Earth, was the Rosetta stone for Felinguistics. For example, one cat, Pookins, in the laboratory, was elegantly extracting a sphere of fur. The sounds were quickly recorded and put into an Elvish translator. The result was: “Gurth an Glamhoth!” which literally means, “Death to Orcs!” But the metaphorical meaning was taken to be, “Time for a nap!” because Pookins immediately curled up in a very cute position and fell asleep.

Fuzzmacher plans to make these “Cat to Elvin to Human” translators available to the public to enable a better understanding between sleek, intelligent felines and their owners. And isn’t that what science is all about?