How To End Distracted Driving? Listen to Your Kids!

Ruff Texting and Driving
Ruff Texting and Driving. WGBH 2015

A new approach to road safety launches this week! It’s an unusual campaign to reduce distracted driving. Its spokesman is bright orange, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a butternut squash with glasses. That’s because it’s none other than former TV host, sometime spy, and all-around Renaissance dog Ruff Ruffman, who’s currently running a media literacy and technology project, Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius, at PBS KIDS.

GeekDad sat down with Mr. Ruffman to talk about his latest endeavors. Continue reading How To End Distracted Driving? Listen to Your Kids!

Power Up and Read with he Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge Powered by Energizer

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Image: Scholastic

When I was a kid, my favorite part about summer was the fact that I could read as much as I wanted, for however long I wanted. There wasn’t homework, or assigned reading. I could go into the library, grab as many titles as I could carry, and read from dusk until dawn. I’m pretty sure that some days I did. Our sponsors at Scholastic certainly get that kind of kid—but they get other kids, too.

Now I’ve got kids, two of them. One is almost nine, and he’s reading at a near college level. But reading isn’t his thing. He can do it, and do it fast, but unless he sees the benefit, he’s not about to give in to his fiction-obsessed mother. The other one is quickly learning the magic of libraries and stories, but has yet to do any reading on her own. She just turned three, she’s got time.

Image: Energizer
Image: Energizer

Anyway, I’ve been thrilled with the Scholastic and Energizer “Power Up and Read” program for the summer, running from May 4th – September 4th, 2015. With their approach, both kids are reading toward their goals—for our son, a good mix of nonfiction and fiction, and for our daughter books with lots of pictures and easy words. The best part of the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is that I can download sheets (and certificates) all along the way. And as they log hours, they can earn virtual rewards, enter sweepstakes, and even play games. That’s definitely up their alley.

What’s particularly nice, too, is that you can match your kid with book suggestions. And, there’s a fun component with the INSTANT WIN Games—you and your kids could win a trip to NYC, or lots of lovely books.

Our goals are simple: Make reading fun. Some days that’s harder than others. But with all the tools from Scholastic, I’m convinced it will be a blast for all involved.

Check out their tips and resources below, including a great Harry Potter book party!

Resources from Scholastic Parents:

More about the program:

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

7 Reasons We’re Counting Down To Universal’s Diagon Alley Debut

Looking down Diagon Alley toward Gringotts. Image: Universal
Looking down Diagon Alley toward Gringotts. Image: Universal

Stock up on floo powder. When Universal Orlando unveils Diagon Alley, the second land in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you’re going to want to magic yourself there.

Diagon Alley debuts this summer at Universal Studios Florida, joining Hogsmeade, which opened at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in 2010. Here are a few reasons we’re charmed.

  • Two words: Leaky Cauldron. The eatery promises not just pub grub, but a chance to sit down and soak in the Potter-sphere over fish and chips or a glass of pumpkin juice. As much as my family loves the innovative Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, we find that pulling up a chair at the Three Broomsticks is one of Hogsmeade’s most enjoyable immersions. The Leaky Cauldron could be even better.
  • Speaking of rides: Universal Creative president Mike Woodbury promises that the new ride, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, will raise the bar. It’s hard to imagine topping the excitement of Forbidden Journey, but Harry’s Gringotts adventure seems tailor-made for a show-stopping ride.
  • Just like Harry, visitors will enter Diagon Alley via muggle London. A functional Hogwarts Express will connect Diagon Alley with Hogsmeade (but you’ll need a two-park pass to visit both).
Visitors will enter Diagon Alley through muggle London, just as Harry does. Image: Universal
Visitors will enter Diagon Alley through muggle London, just as Harry does. Image: Universal
King's Cross Station will link Hogsmeade with Diagon Alley. Image: Universal
King’s Cross Station will link Hogsmeade with Diagon Alley. Image: Universal
  • Which new attraction is Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood, excited about? At the webcast revealing the Diagon Alley attractions, she geeked out on the Magical Menagerie shop, where visitors can adopt plush familiars from owls to Hippogriffs. Other shopping ops will include jokes and toys at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, cosplay heaven at Madam Malkin’s Robes for All Occasions, geeky accoutrements at Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, team gear at Quality Quidditch Supplies, and quills and parchment at the Hermione-pleasing Scribbulus.
Shopping at Wiseacre's. Image: Universal
Shopping at Wiseacre’s. Image: Universal
  • If you dabble in the Dark Arts, head to Knockturn Alley, where you can slip into Borgin and Burkes and explore the sketchy part of town.
  • Fans of Hogsmeade’s Honeydukes shop will be glad to hear that it’s expanding, with the jokes formerly sold at the neighboring Zonko’s moving to Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley.
Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. Image: Universal
Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Image: Universal
  •  Diagon Alley-goers will have a new lodging option. (Alas, it’s not a room at the Leaky Cauldron.) But when the ’50s-themed Cabana Bay Beach Resort opens at Universal on March 31, guests will have 1,800 additional on-site rooms to choose from. Staying on-property is well worthwhile for the early admission perk: Resort guests get into the park an hour before opening, which beats not only the lines, but the summer heat.
Cabana Bay will add 900 suites and 900 rooms to Universal's lodging options. Image: Universal
Cabana Bay will add 900 suites and 900 rooms to Universal’s lodging options. Image: Universal

Upgrade Your Rafting Trip With Geocaching

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Returning to our raft after conquering the geocaches. Photo by Jeremey Clark.

When my family visited Montana this summer, we knew we wanted to take a rafting trip, but we weren’t sure how to choose between all of the outfitters and itineraries.

Then we saw a trip tailor-made for geeky families: Pangaea River Rafting’s Clark Fork River geocaching excursion. The float combines rapids and raft games with a stop at a breathtaking location to hunt for a series of custom caches.

On a sunny morning, we headed to the river from Pangaea’s headquarters in Superior, Montana. On the Clark Fork, we paddled through rapids and even rode on the nose of the raft, hanging on as tightly as we could, through some of the calmer rapids. While floating in the flat water between the craggy cliffs of the Alberton Gorge, we spotted wildlife and dared each other to try raft games like rodeo, balancing on the outer edge of the raft while the guide spins it in ever-more-dizzying circles. After a picnic lunch on the riverbank, we set off hunt our geocaches.

No geocaching experience is necessary for this trip, but I’ll warn you: If you haven’t geocached before, the splendor of this location and the creativity of its caches might just ruin you for run-of-the-mill variety.

I was expecting a typical cache that anyone can look up online and find with their smartphone or handheld GPS. Instead, what we got was a multicache so involved that Pangaea’s owner, David Lawrence, visits the site the morning of the trip to set out each of the caches he dreamed up. (He also meets the group at the cache location, so you don’t have to take your GPS device on the river with you.)

Once our guide pulled the raft up to the beach where our hunt began, David handed us our first clue. We used the coordinates and the rhyming clues to find the cache, an ammo box that held a pretty big hint about the location of our next cache, and what we’d have to do to find it. I don’t want to spoil the surprise for future guests, but let’s just say it put us face-to-face with the trout in Fish Creek, a gorgeously clear, cold, and scenic tributary of the Clark Fork. Our third cache had us scrambling up a cliff with gorgeous overlooks on both sides.

I told David that if we hadn’t stopped to hunt for the caches, we might have floated past Fish Creek without even noticing it. He said that’s what he loves about these trips: showing visitors the lesser-known parts of the river he loves.

Letting Go (and Holding on Tight) in the Treetops

Pushing the envelope at TreeUmph! treetop adventure course. Photo by Alisson Clark.

My tween is clinging to a ladder 60 feet in the air. Watching from the ground, I see that there’s nothing beneath him but the wind whistling through pine trees. Normally, this is the stuff of nightmares for me, the risk-averse mom of a fearless climber. But not today.

Over the past three hours at TreeUmph!, a treetop adventure course that opened this year on Florida’s Gulf coast, I’ve witnessed how carefully my daredevil 12-year-old has listened to the staff’s instructions, clipping his carabiners into the safety loops that are the only thing between him and that long, long fall. His silhouette gets smaller and smaller as he nears the top of the tower leading to a 650-foot zip line. If I squint, I can see how he precisely places the carabiners on the metal cable that will keep him safe as he flies through the air, attaching them so their openings face in opposite directions, just as we were instructed.

Our adventure didn’t start out this smoothly. Upon arrival, we trained on a ground-level course, where a 15-minute overview described how our safety equipment would, if used correctly, get us through the meandering 14-acre attraction intact. The only things keeping us safe, our trainer explains, are the two carabiners, which must be detached and re-attached properly on each obstacle to avoid any, um, unplanned departures from the course. There will be no guides on the platforms to clip us in, test our harnesses, or give us the go-ahead. Staff watches from the ground, but up there, we’ll be on our own unless we yell for help.

I’m listening ardently, but my son seems more interested in chatting with a fellow climber during the lesson, which culminates in a test where each of us demonstrates our understanding of the equipment and its role in keeping us alive. During the test, he twice commits the ultimate no-no: unclipping both carabiners at the same time. I reiterate that if he does this on the actual course, there will be nothing keeping him on the tiny, sky-high platforms connecting the elevated obstacles. He seems unimpressed.

Walking to the first course–adults and kids 12 and older can climb through five progressively harder and higher courses–I tell him that he’ll need to wait for my go-ahead before setting off on each obstacle, so I can make sure he is clipped in properly while navigating the Tarzan swings, wobbly bridges, and dangling ropes.

As soon as we ascend the first course, however, I see the flaw in my logic: I can clip him in before the obstacle, but once he crosses the yawning space between platforms by triumphing over the hair-raising device that separates them, I cannot be on the other side to clip him to the next platform. He’s 12, and his survival depends completely on his retention and execution of instructions I’m pretty sure he ignored. Oh my.

As it turns out, I’m the one with something to learn. After struggling to properly attach my own safety equipment, I look across the swinging footbridge to see him clipped in to the next platform, smiling and waiting for me to catch up. He has done everything right. Next obstacle: Same thing. I realize I was wrong to think he couldn’t handle this. I start to wonder, as I cling to the safety rope and squeal as I lose my footing on the suspended log I’m crossing, what other ways I might be underestimating his abilities, his maturity, his capacity for independence. Twelve seems young, but the teen years are near, and with them, driving, dating, college. Those days feel as far away as the distant platform at the end of the rope bridge I’m shuffling across, but I realize they are closer than they seem.

We clamber through two entire courses, but at the end of the third course, we reach the first obstacle that stops me in my tracks: A rope swing that ends near a cargo net, requiring the rider to jump off of the rope and cling, spider-like, to the net on the other side. I’m buffaloed, but he attacks it without hesitation, my fearless boy, who, as it turns out, has just enough fear to double check his carabiners before flinging himself off of the platform. The next thrill is the 650-foot zip line, which will require not only the two carabiners but the metal pulley that’s strapped to each of our safety harnesses. (The zip line is the final leg of the junior ticket for ages 9-11, but older climbers can tackle two additional, advanced-level courses.)

I don’t like the looks of that ladder, but my son sure does. The normal me would be panicking as he climbs higher and higher, but I feel calm, trusting him, shading my eyes from the sun to follow his progress. Then he clips in, gives me a thumbs-up, and flies.

Beyond the Beach: Geek-Approved Outings on Florida’s Gulf Coast

TreeUmph! Adventure Course in Bradenton. Photo: Alisson Clark
TreeUmph! Adventure Course in Bradenton. Photo: Alisson Clark

When Sarasota’s Siesta Beach topped the country’s best beaches list in 2011, the Florida city got plenty of attention as a sun and fun destination. The snow-white sand and gentle Gulf of Mexico waves do make it an ideal beach town for families, but geeks like us tend to get restless after a few days in a beach chair. In the Sarasota area, however, we found plenty of side trips to engage our brains.

Some top picks:

Swing through the trees
If you’ve tried ziplining, you might think you know what Tree-Umph! Adventure Course is all about. No way. This jungle gym in the treetops gets progressively harder as you go, combining wobbly bridges, hanging nets, bungee swings and Tarzan ropes to test your mettle. A lower-key kids’ course lets younger climbers in on the fun.

Meet manatees (and more) at Mote Marine Laboratory

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Manatees, gentle marine mammals common in Florida, are a star attraction at Mote Marine Laboratory. Photo: Alisson Clark

This research institute doubles as an educational attraction where families can see sharks, fish, and marine mammals, with touch tanks, baby animal nurseries, and rehab rooms where injured animals rest up before they’re released. (Add a boat tour of Sarasota Bay, and you might see dolphins in the wild, too.)

Join the circus (for a day) 
Sarasota became the winter home of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1927, and circus life remains part of Sarasota’s culture today. Learn aerial skills with Circus Sarasota, or leave the flying to the pros and take in a performance of the circus or its youth troupe, Sailor Circus. The Ringling Circus Museum, part of a complex including the spectacular Ringling Museum of Art, displays wagons and costumes as well as a 3,800-square-foot miniature circus model that took 50 years to complete.

Paddle (with) your kids
Kayak and canoe trips abound: Overhanging mangrove trees create shady tunnels around Lido Key that are best explored by kayak, while Oscar Scherer State Park offers canoe rentals for spotting otters in South Creek. On Wednesdays, park rangers lead guided paddling tours.

Feed a tiger
Visit bears, tigers, lions, and ligers—yes, they really exist, and they are phenomenal—at Big Cat Habitat, a refuge for rescued exotic animals. Don’t miss the opportunity to feed the residents, or the show that displays the sanctuary’s animal performers in action.

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Beach games at the Ritz-Carlton. Photo: Alisson Clark

About those beaches… 
Mix up your relaxation on the powdery, 99.9 percent quartz beaches with some action: At the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota’s Beach Club (which provides complimentary transportation to guests of the resort three miles away) counselors lead kids and families in beach games, races, and shell-seeking.

Other beach diversions include the Crystal Classic sandcastle competition Nov. 15-18, where professional sand sculptors decorate the beach while vying for top honors.

GeekMom’s visit was hosted by Visit Sarasota.

Crushproof, Waterproof, Teenproof: Pelican ProGear S130 Photo Backpack

Photo laptop backpack by Pelican
Crush-proof and versatile, the Pelican Pro S130 keeps gear safe on the road. Photo: Pelican

Our 13-year-old techie does not travel without his electronics, even on our recent multi-sport trip to the Pacific Northwest. It was going to be an action-oriented week, with whitewater rafting, mountain biking, and hiking, so I was concerned about how his DSLR and its components would fare.

When we got a chance to test out the Pelican ProGear S130 Sport Elite backpack, which offers dedicated space for a laptop and photo gear, it was the perfect opportunity to put the pack through its paces.

As budding photographer, his must-haves for the trip included the DSLR and its cables; charger, batteries, and lenses; a toughcam and its accouterments; and a tripod. All of that (plus his phone) fit easily into the divider compartment, which is easily customizable: The positionable, padded Velcro dividers allow you to quickly arrange the space to suit your needs. I felt confident that the high-impact door of the compartment and the interior padding would protect the equipment stowed in there, even through the ravages of air travel.

The Pelican had lived up to its name by swallowing quite a bit of gear already, but we were just beginning. Into the waterproof laptop compartment went his computer, although the brick and cord had to go in the main compartment. (The laptop compartment was a bit difficult to snap closed with his full-sized laptop inside, as it is designed for thin Ultrabook styles, but it closed successfully and never popped open during any of its outings throughout the trip.)

Not finished packing tech, however, my son stuffed in two full-size computer speakers for music production during our downtime. I had my doubts that any clothes would fit after all of that, but we managed to cram in a few days’ worth into the 25-liter main compartment.

photo laptop backpack Pelican Pro
Velcro dividers make it easy to customize the backpack to suit your gear. Photo: Alisson Clark

By this time, I had serious doubts that the backpack would fit under an airplane seat as advertised. However, it did, which posed another test: How would it hold up to getting stomped on and dragged in and out of its berth on two cross-country flights? Answer: Admirably. The high-impact front panel earned its keep, and the ripstop nylon pack wasn’t even scuffed up when we returned home.

We stopped short of testing out the waterproof feature when, upon further reading, we realized that just the laptop portion is waterproof, not the entire backpack. So while you don’t want to take this backpack rafting, it would keep your gear safe in a pouring rain or protect your laptop in the event of an accidental dunking, as it is rated to stay dry at a depth of 1 meter for up to 30 minutes.

The only drawbacks we discovered:

  • The straps, while well padded and reinforced with chest and hip straps to distribute weight, are sized for the wider shoulders of an adult, making the straps less comfortable for a younger wearer with a narrower chest. Lumbar cushioning and ventilated padding make the pack comfortable on the back, however.
  • With all of the gear we crammed into it (speakers, for Pete’s sake), the pack was pretty darn heavy. Even empty, it was heavier than I imagined at just over seven pounds.

At $300, this is definitely a splurge for an amateur. But when you’re protecting a gear investment that totals far beyond that, it may well be worthwhile for photo-inclined teens.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

My Tween Does Laundry. Yours Can, Too

laundry
Yes, it is super to have help with the laundry, but marking the preferred setting also helps simplify the laundry process for tweens.

Laundry may be the most Sisyphean of household chores: Unless everyone in your house is stark naked, it’s literally never done. That’s why, when my son turned 11, I decided he could do his own laundry.

That’s right, he washes, dries, folds and puts away his own clothes. Reactions to this news from other moms fall into one of three categories:

  1. How can I get my kid to do that?
  2. That would never work in my house.
  3. You are a terrible mother, and I bet your kid looks like a slob. (They say this with facial expressions, not words. Usually.)

If you’re interested in delegating some of your household laundry to the creatures who create it, here are some hints on why, how and when to get kids doing their own laundry.

Why it’s worth a try:

  • Well, obviously, it’s easier on you. When I started working in an office after several years of working from home, I needed more help from the family to stay on top of the housework. That’s when we each took responsibility for our own clothes.
  • Kids who do their own laundry are more cognizant of how much laundry they’re generating, creating less unnecessary washing. My son was in the habit of going through three pairs of socks throughout the day and often as many outfits, but he quickly changed his ways when he had to wash it all.
  • I’m not a stickler for chores, but I do feel it’s good for kids to contribute to the smooth functioning of the household. I knew a twentysomething guy who didn’t know how to load a dishwasher – I don’t mean he was bad at it, I mean he literally didn’t know where to begin – and that has served as a cautionary tale for my parenting. I have no wish to raise a prince.
  • Knowing their way around a washer and dryer will prevent kids from ruining their clothes in the dorm laundromat when they go to college. I recall laundry-challenged freshman boys looking like dorks in pink-splotched white T-shirts and shrunken sweaters, or sporting something absurdly dressy because nothing else was clean. Let’s call it an investment in their independence.

Some common concerns and ways to deal with them:

 

  • “My kids just won’t do it.” Well, sure they will, if you don’t step in to bail them out. It helps to roll out the policy around the time they start caring about what they wear and how they look. If you truly feel that your kid would be content wearing dirty clothes every day, maybe she’s not ready. In our house, allowance isn’t doled out until the laundry’s done (AND put away – this is important) so that’s a powerful motivator.
  • “They’ll ruin their clothes, or the laundry room.” Start them out with their play clothes and pajamas instead of their Sunday best or school uniforms, then build up to the rest as you (and your kids) gain confidence. Show them how to load a washer without overstuffing it, and eliminate concerns about too much detergent with a super-easy
    Method’s concentrated pump dispenser makes laundry foolproof.

    pump bottle brand such as Method. Four pumps for each load is easy to remember – it says it right on the bottle – and the container makes spills impossible. Because I’m not wild about my kid pouring bleach, not to mention the fact that he doesn’t have enough whites to make a full load, I do his whites along with mine. (But he folds them!) I also made the laundry process foolproof by marking the correct settings for kids clothes right on the washer and dryer. I used Sharpie to mark the preferred setting on the machine, but you could use a bit of colorful tape if that galls you.

  • “They’ll slack off and won’t have what they need when they need it.” Ease them into the responsibility by asking, perhaps on Sunday afternoon, to check and see if they have everything they need for the week. (Or check for yourself, at first, if you prefer.) The important part is not to swoop in and proactively wash that field trip T-shirt or favorite skirt for the dance – just remind them what the consequences will be if they don’t have what they need.
  • “They’ll  look sloppy, because they won’t do as good a job as I would.” Quite possible. How much does that matter to you? Besides, no one said you had to stop ironing.
  • “I will feel like a bad mom.” If you truly feel this is part of your motherly duties, launder away. But this is hardly Cinderella territory. You’re not making them wash the whole family’s clothes, mop the floors, and muck out the stalls before dawn. However, I expunge my mommy guilt by taking responsibility for the family’s sheets/towels/table linens and white loads, so I’m still doing more laundry than anyone else in the house.

Tips for success

  • Cover the rookie mistakes. Yes, two wash loads will fit in the dryer – but they won’t actually dry, as everyone who spent $9 in quarters on this in college knows. Teach them how to do a rough sort of lights and darks, but also that washing in cold water helps prevent shrinking.
  • Establish rules for folding and putting away, and have consequences if those rules are broken. Is it OK for them to dress out of a laundry basket of clean clothes, or will it drive you nuts? Establish the rules accordingly. Same goes for how neatly clothes need to be folded and put away.
  • Lower your standards. Do socks absolutely have to be matched before they’re put away? Do basketball shorts have to be folded? Of course it’s up to you, but pick your battles. We streamlined the process by eliminating dressers and only hanging what absolutely must hang: pants, dress shirts, etc. Almost everything goes in open-topped canvas bins.
  • What will you do if your kid announces he or she has no clean underwear on a school morning? I’m not saying there’s a right way to handle this, but it’s worth thinking through what you can stomach to drive the point home. It might sound complicated, but in truth, you might be surprised that if you let something go that makes your skin crawl (like fishing a beloved T-shirt out of hamper for an encore, or inside-out underwear), they’ll decide all on their own that it’s gross and won’t do it again.
  • A radical idea: Have fewer clothes. When laundry isn’t so overwhelming, it’s easier to tackle, and fewer outfits means kids have to do laundry every week or so, and it becomes part of their routine. It also makes putting away easier – no struggling with overstuffed dresser drawers. Culling an outsized wardrobe down to their favorites can eliminate headaches in the long run.

Geek Celebrates Hanukkah With Science: Day Eight

It’s been another wonderful science-driven holiday season! We’ve experimented with balloons that blast-off, nearly unsinkable dinghies, delicious math candies, stackable liquids, desiccated dancers, split light, and put a minature Jaques Cousteau in a bottle. Tonight we’re going to give Hanukkah a fine send-off with another trick of the light.

 

I got the idea for this experiment, not from the internet or a science book, but from a simple game I developed to teach my five year-old about angles. We call it the Acute Obtuse game, and all it takes to play is a ball and a wall. But balls aren’t the only bounce-able toys. It’s easy to turn wall-ball into flashlight geometry.

 

The instructions for this experiment are simple (materials are in bold):

  • Draw a target on a paper plate, and tape it to a wall or ceiling.
  • Using modeling clay, stand a discarded CD upright on a paper plate.
  • Turn out the lights in the room.
  • Shine a flashlight on the CD and try to angle it so the reflected light hits the target.
  • For more fun, use a laser pointer and multiple CDs to hit targets hidden behind obstacles!

Geek Celebrates Hanukkah With Science: Day Seven

Of all the science experiments we’ve done for Hanukkah this year, and last year, this one is probably the easiest to set up and demonstrate. It also turns into a very satisfying toy.

The Cartesian Diver (named after René Descartes) is not only easy to build and fun to play with, it also opens the door to discussions about fluid pressure, fish anatomy, the foundations of modern science, and even a little philosophy.

The instructions for this experiment are simple (materials are in bold):

  • Fill a plastic soda bottle almost to the top with water.
  • Cut a drinking straw in half, and bend one half in the middle.
  • Use a paperclip to keep the bent straw from unbending.
  • Form a blob of modeling clay onto the exposed curve of the paperclip.
  • Drop your ‘diver’ into the bottle of water.
  • Tightly close the lid.
  • Squeeze the bottle.
  • Play!

Geek Celebrates Hanukkah With Science: Day Six

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – for science! If you haven’t been following along with my family this Hanukkah, you’ve got some catching up to do. We’ve already launched a rocket, sank a few boats, transformed math into a form of dessert, poured some stripes in a jar, and danced with the raisins.

Tonight, huddled in a dark room with flashlights at the ready. We’re not afraid of the dark, we just wanted to unweave a rainbow. Or at least project one onto a wall.

This experiment has so much potential for discussion. After we finished playing with refraction and the visible spectrum, we talked about differences between human color vision and animal color vision, color blindness, and ultimately about light, the universe, and everything.

The instructions for this experiment are simple (materials are in bold):

  • Fill a tall drinking glass or glass bowl with water.
  • Darken the room as completely as you can.
  • Shine a flashlight through the water onto a white wall.
  • Voila! Roy G. Biv!

Note: There are many alternate ways to perform this experiment. Try them all! And let me know if yours show up better on video than ours did. *mutters* I swear, it was gorgeous in person, no matter how wimpy it appeared on camera…

Geek Celebrates Hanukkah With Science: Day Five

It’s Hanukkah, and in my house that means it’s time to celebrate with science! Tonight, we poured some bubbly and drowned our…raisins. Well, we tried to drown them, but raisins are surprisingly good swimmers. In the video above, my five-year-old explains how “The Raisin Lifting Experiment” works, but even after the experiment was finished and the candles on the menorah were long gone, we were still chatting away about density, volume, buoyancy, and carbonation. Who knew that tossing a few wrinkled snacks into some fizzy-lifting drink could turn into a conversation about the origins of life on Earth?

The instructions for this experiment are simple (materials are in bold):

  • Pour clear soda into a clear container.
  • Drop raisins in soda.
  • Observe!

For more non-traditional holiday fun, try build a blast-off balloon, sink the Tinfoil Titanic, get a sugar rush from edible mathematics, and concoct a liquid rainbow.

Christmas Movies You Don’t Want to Miss

All Images: Amazon.com

I moved from England to Maine in 2003. During this time, as I discovered many new family traditions, I came to the realization that the movie/Christmas special traditions of this country were vastly different from what I’d grown up with. GeekMom Nicole’s post earlier this month reminded me of this: all of the specials that she wrote about were ones I had never heard of prior to 2003.  It took me years to love Ralphie…and even longer to love Rudolph. I don’t think I have yet managed to convince an American friend or family member of how wonderful my own Christmas specials are. So here are a few of the specials that I grew up with in England. They aren’t all English but they aren’t at all commonplace over here (from what I have seen).

1. Santa Claus: The MovieThis is the Father Christmas I saw in my mind as a child. When you talk about Christmas, this is the face that I see in that red suit. John Lithgow plays an evil toymaker to Dudley Moore’s optimistic elf. We follow the life of Santa in the 80s and watch a ragamuffin child and little rich girl help Dudley’s elf, Patch, learn what it truly means to be loved by Santa. The music sticks with me till April.

2. The Christmas Toy. Pretty much Jim Henson’s take on Toy Story, well before Pixar was around. What happens when you leave the room and your toys come to life? What happens when one of them believes that he will get to be unwrapped every Christmas morning. This show has some heavy moments in it (for instance, the toys “die” if they are seen out of place), but this is one I have already been watching with my two-year-old.

3. Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman. Having seen what toys who come to life do, this shows us what snowmen who come to life do. No dialogue from anyone, not even John Goodman, just music. If you have ever heard “Walking in the Air” and wondered why it’s always around, this is the source. It’s a beautifully quiet reflection for Christmas.

One of the things that I always looked forward to in December was getting the two-week edition of the Radio Times, Britain’s version of TV Guide. Usually published weekly, the two-week special encapsulates both Christmas and New Year’s, thus giving you the chance to schedule all of your holiday-time viewing beforehand. My dad still sends me a copy every year, though I can’t actually watch any of the shows. Still, I like knowing whether Zulu will be airing again on Christmas day, and I also like to be reminded to watch the Queen’s annual Christmas address. This year’s edition has me wishing for Gillian Anderson in Great Expectations  and Christopher Eccleston in The Borrowers. I’ll have to settle, though, for ABC’s “25 days of Christmas” and get my Heat Miser fix on Christmas Eve.

Geek Celebrates Hanukkah With Science: Day Four

This year, as in years past, my family is celebrating Hanukkah with a series of science experiments. We launched under pressure on the first night of Hanukkah. On the second night, we triumphed over buoyancy. Last night, we ate mathematics for dessert. Tonight, we’re hosting a mixer.

Or not. The Layered Liquids experiment has more to do with liquids that don’t mix easily, than the other way around. The most straightforward things to demonstrate by creating this colorful column are density and miscibility, but from there it’s a short conversational tangent to intermolecular force and the hydrophobic effect.

The instructions for this experiment are simple (materials are in bold):

  • Pour honey into a clear container.
  • Pour liquid dish soap slowly down the side of the container onto the honey.
  • Pour colored water slowly down the side of the container onto the dish soap.
  • Pour cooking oil slowly down the side of the container onto the water.
  • Pour colored rubbing alcohol down the side of the container onto the oil.
  • After liquids have settled into layers and discussion has slowed, STIR THE LIQUIDS!
  • Observe!

A Quirky Christmas in Walsall

Image: Kevin Bennett

Driving into work this morning, my husband commented on the abundance of giant cardboard boxes waiting for trash pick up. Giant cardboard boxes with pictures of flat screen televisions on them. It must be the gift of the year. I like the idea of a family Christmas gift. When my son was a newborn, my parents bought the three of us a combined gift: a snowblower. It gave my husband more time in the house to help me and to be with our son, and it gave them peace of mind knowing that we could get out quickly if we needed to take Toby somewhere.

We almost became part of the fad this year, as we were going to go the flatscreen family-Christmas-present route. We opted to be selfish and get other things, instead. Multiple other things that could be opened greedily on Christmas morning…

My Dad has a store back in England. He sells action figures of all kinds, trading cards, all manner of dice and board games. He sells bags and mugs emblazoned with Wonder Woman and Betty Boop. He sells each kind of monopoly and a beanie baby for every TV character that they make one for. He sells remote-controlled Daleks and 12-inch Freddy Kreuger room guards. For special customers he seeks out unusual items from their geekout of choice. He is responsible for a good chunk of a small house nearby being filled with obscure Star Trek merchandise from the far corners of the globe. I’m always curious every year as to what the Christmas favorite is in my quirky home town, and my yearly report just came in:

  • Betty Boop– figurines ranging in size from six to forty eight inches. The bride and the angel Betty were in most demand this season.
  • Doctor Who – a perennial favorite since the dawn of Mr Christopher Eccleston, this year’s “must haves” were Doctor Who Monopoly and Doctor Who Chess.
  • The Moomins – Toys and merchandise based on a series of Finnish children’s stories. My son has the books, I long for the amigurumi pattern. This year’s favorite – a 12-inch plush.
  • The Chipmunks Beanie Babies – ah David Seville, you have a lot to answer for.
  • Paraphernalia from Only Fools and Horses, a sitcom that ended in 1991, but continued with Christmas specials until 2003.
  • Pokemon plush – every year for as long as I can remember.
  • Wands – specifically those belonging to Harry Potter, Albus Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort.
But the number one request, kept off the top spot only by lack of availability? Mr. Bean’s Teddy Bear. Also kept off this list through lack of availability, though not lack of requests, a Rory Williams action figure.
What’s your “must have” gift this year?

Antikythera Mechanism Built Out of LEGO Bricks

I’m not even going to pretend I understand the finer details of this – but the fact that I’m not a mathematician doesn’t make this project any less awesome. Andrew Carol is an Apple engineer by day, but in his spare time? He’s busy creating things like an Antikythera Mechanism out of LEGO bricks. Modeled after the ancient Greek original, it calculates the date and time of solar and lunar eclipses over a hundred year period. With more than 100 gears and 7 differential gearboxes, it’s accurate to within a day or two. Carol covers the abstract math and the construction of the device in detail, in case you might like to try it.

Of course, not all of us are ready to tackle such a huge project. For those of us who would tear our hair out in large clumps trying to figure out those gear ratios have a little less time on our hands, Carol has created a smaller project that seems pretty easy to replicate at home. A compass built out of LEGO bricks. No magnet required. Based on ancient Chinese engineering, the device – called a south facing chariot – is part steampunk, part genius. New Scientist shares a step-by-step guide, complete with a parts list and a video of the compass being built. Guess what we’ll be tackling this week?

Snowflake Physiology

Image via flickr user Juliancolton2

Here in my little part of the United States, we have snow in the forecast for the first time this week. Snow always brings out the kid in me. Probably because it is such a special occasion here: It will snow, the snow will linger on the ground for just a few days, and then melt–so we don’t usually have to deal with it very long…

If you have ever wondered how snowflakes form, expand your weather knowledge and read all about it.

[Editor’s Note: Here’s another explanation by GeekMom’s resident meteorologist, Patricia Vollmer, on the formation of Beautiful Dendrites.]

Best! Present! Ever!

Judging by the look on my face, you'd think that clock radio was my favorite present ever. But no, there was a much more memorable present for this GeekGirl.

I’d guess that the year of my best present ever was 1983. I was in 5th grade and I opened an object of great wonder and mystery that rocked my 10-year-old world. No, it wasn’t a Sears AM/FM clock radio, though I do look awfully happy about it in this old picture. It was an IBM personal computer. I screamed when I opened it and proceeded to teach myself to program in BASIC over Christmas break. I made my first bit of multimedia art – a snowy outdoor scene with Christmas trees that would play Christmas carols while you gazed upon their pixellated holiday glory. There was some serious groundwork laid that year for my future self, and it’s a present I’ll always remember. Thanks, Santa!

I shared that story with my fellow GeekMoms, who in kind shared memories of their favorite presents from Christmases past.

GeekMom Andrea: My all-time favorite Christmas present was a Fisher-Price castle with a staircase that pulled out to create a secret hiding space. One of the turrets had a trap door, too: when you put one of the people on the trap door, they’d fall down into a jail that you could only get to by raising a portcullis. Oh, and the front door was a drawbridge! I got this castle when I was 7 but I remember sneaking to play with it in middle school (when I should have been “too big” to be interested in it).

GeekMom Mandy: I remember the year I got an NES. I was so excited. We had an Atari, but the Nintendo was a new kind of cool. I played that thing until it died.

GeekMom Rebecca: In seventh grade my best friend Stephanie got me two books for Christmas because she thought I might like the covers (I liked pictures of mythical creatures). She had no idea about the content. They turned out to be Xanth books – a very popular fantasy series. My dad had already introduced me to the sci-fi genre, and while I thought they were better stories than what I was forced to read in school, I never sought out more on my own. Out of curiosity (and the covers were really cool) I read the two books…and something sparked. I used my babysitting money to buy all the previous books in the series, and my love affair with fantasy novels began. It’s been a long and happy relationship. Thanks for the awesome present, Steph!

GeekMom Patricia: My parents usually try to keep above the hype and trends in toys and fashion. I totally credit them for developing this attribute in me. I’d ask for something faddish and they would say “No, that really isn’t necessary” and they’d try to make me see the big picture: would I care about this product in a year? Of course not. I think it was 1983 or 1984. I asked for a Cabbage Patch Kid. After all, every little girl in America was asking for one, right? For those who might be a little younger, in the early 80s the Cabbage Patch Kid was the equivalent of Tickle-Me-Elmo in the 90s. I got really upset that year when my parents said “no.” I was a little older than “Santa age,” but my sister was similarly asking Santa for one. My parents usually did their best to respect our requests to Santa growing up (I’m the same way now). What were my parents to do? Well, they braved the crowds…and this was the year that parents were fighting tooth and nail for these dolls! Christmas morning…there were two Cabbage Patch Kids sitting in front of the tree! My Mom did it! She (a) braved the fighting parents and (b) gave in to letting my sister and me get a fad toy. I remember the trend being to find a Cabbage Patch Kid that looks like the kid, but mine had long blonde hair. Mom tried to find a left-handed brunette with glasses and 1-2 years later she found me one…well after parents had stopped fighting for them. I kept that doll well into my college days, and she got so grubby and gross I think Mom trashed her when Dad was transferred to Guam while I was in college. It was okay. We military folks have to be very discriminating with our sentimental items.

GeekMom Helene: I think the most memorable Christmas for me had to be the Christmas that we adopted a family. I must have been in 8th or 9th grade. My family decided to provide Christmas for a family in need. When friends of ours heard that we had adopted a family, they also bought gifts and cooked food. On Christmas Eve, we showed up on the doorstep of this little house with two cars full of stuff. We had gotten our adopted family a tree with lights and decorations, presents for all of the members of their family (three generations under one roof if I remember right), stockings filled with sweets and fruit, and a huge Christmas meal. By the end of the evening I had a memory so vivid: the look of happiness on their faces when we showed up was one I’ll never forget…

What’s your most memorable present?

Geek Celebrates Hanukkah With Science: Day Three

Unconventional holiday traditions are fun for the whole family! So far this year, my family has celebrated Hanukkah by launching rockets indoors and constructing small boats in order to sink them. Today we’re delving deeper, into the very language of science. That’s right; it’s math time.

Roger Bacon said, “Mathematics is the gate and key of the sciences. … Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since he who is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences or the things of this world.” After today’s celebration, my son says, “Mmm, delicious math!”

The instructions for this experiment are simple (materials are in bold):

  • First, open a small bag of multi-colored candies.
  • Count the candies, and note on a chart how many candies were in the bag.
  • Sort candies by color and note on the chart how many candies you have of each color.
  • Repeat several times! (We opened eight bags, one at a time to avoid mixing candies.)
  • For fun, chart total candies, average candies per bag, and percent of each color.
  • Translate your data into a bar graph, line graph, and pie chart for easy comparisons.
  • Analyze and discuss your data before devouring the samples!

Geek Celebrates Hanukkah With Science: Day Two

Hanukkah is the festival of lights, and in my family, we celebrate with illuminating science experiments. Yesterday, we launched a balloon rocket, and today we’re sinking ships. Well, tin foil boats, actually, but this small experiment holds greater drama than you might expect. We thought it would be a simple to float and then sink a couple of flimsy dinghies, but we were surprised but the tiny vessels’ epic buoyancy.

Initially, I’d hoped to introduce the concept of density to my son, but the ‘Floating and Sinking’ experiment provides an excellent gateway to talking about volume, fluid displacement, and the many other contributions of Archimedes, including the origin of “Eureka!” as the go-to exclamation of scientific discovery. As an added bonus, this — like all good experiments — gives the opportunity to practice the scientific method. Of course, sometimes the most fun is had when the experiment doesn’t go as planned…

The instructions for this experiment are simple (materials are in bold):

  • Shape a boat from tin foil.
  • Drop it in a container of water to see if it floats.
  • Crumple the foil boat to see if it sinks.
  • If not, shape another foil boat and float it.
  • Place objects, like pennies, paper clips or small magnets, in the boat until it sinks.
  • Repeat!

Special note: In honor of Archimedes, try this experiment at bath time!

Start a New Family Tradition this Holiday Season

Even if you’re trying to reduce your use of gift wrap this holiday season, as I am, you can bet that a fair amount of wrapping paper will still cross your threshold. Instead of just recycling that paper this year, start making a gift wrap ball that you can enjoy during the next holiday season. It’s become a much-anticipated family tradition around here.

Begin by wrapping a small prize (or if you have teens, cold, hard cash) in a section of used gift wrap. Layer on additional wrap to create a ball, securing it tightly. Throughout the year, on birthdays and other holidays, add more layers of salvaged gift wrap to the ball. By the time next December rolls around, you’ll have an impressively sized ball.

  • Short of gift wrap? Raid the recycle pile and use newspaper or magazine pages. I’ve even used cardboard, Tyvex envelopes, and packing material.
  • To secure the layers, I use duct tape, electrical tape, masking tape, and packing tape, along with yarn, string, and leftover ribbon bits.
  • The bigger the ball, the better, especially if you have a large group.
  • There are no points for beauty. Martha Stewart would not approve.
  • Use different kinds of tape for each layer, and alternative wrapping materials, too. It will prolong the game and possibly – if your kids are as goofy as mine – elicit much joy as your family realizes that you’ve found an alternative use for all of those crinkly plastic bags that come with every LEGO set.

To play, have family members sit in a circle with the ball and a pair of dice. One player begins unwrapping the ball as fast as he can while the player to his left rolls the dice repeatedly until he gets a 7. When he does, the ball is passed to him to unwrap, and the dice are passed to the next player. Ripping and dice-rolling continues until someone finally reaches the prize and claims it as the winner.

Here’s what we’ve found: Kids? Grandparents? Once the dice start rolling, they’re all in it to win it.

The Hobbit Teaser Trailer is Here!

Image: http://www.warnerbros.com

I’ve been a fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings since I was very small. My dad is a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien, to the point that he actually wore out his hard cover copies of the trilogy. So one of my favorite memories is sitting on the edge of my dad’s chair as he read these wonderful stories to me.

When The Lord of the Rings came out, I saw each of the movies several times in the theater. It would get to the point that I wouldn’t have anyone to go with and would have to see them by myself. So, I’ve been following the progress of the films that will bring The Hobbit to the big screen.

The long wait has been worth it as the first teaser trailer was released tonight. The movie looks fantastic, but you can see for yourself below. The first poster has been also released tonight. Both of these things are making me so excited for this movie to come out. For all the fans of The Hobbit, it is going to be a long year until we get to see this book come to life. But at least we now have a trailer that we can watch as we wait.

Geek Celebrates Hanukkah With Science: Day One

Every year, my family celebrates the eight days of Hanukkah with eight fun experiments. We’re at it again this year, starting with a balloon rocket experiment. It’s an easy, playful way to demonstrate Newton’s third law of motion. It’s also a good bridge to talking about air pressure, thrust, velocity, and a gateway to a host of other interesting physics experiments.

The instructions for this experiment are simple (materials are in bold):

  • Inflate a balloon and tape a drinking straw to it.
  • Let the balloon deflate.
  • Tape a thin string to one chair and feed the free end of the string through the straw.
  • Tape the free end of the string to another chair and pull the string taught.
  • Re-inflate the balloon, and pinch the end, but don’t tie it.
  • Release!
  • Repeat!

Watch our demonstration in the video above to see how it’s done!

Grab Your Chance to Catch Up on Downton Abbey

The second season of Downton Abbey, Masterpiece Classic’s award-winning, Edwardian-era costume drama, begins on PBS on Sunday, January 8th–and many of us at GeekMom are counting. the. days…

Even if you’ve missed the first season, there’s no need to feel left out. In these last days before season 2 begins, local PBS affiliates will be re-airing last season’s episodes. Even more convenient, for the next month, PBS will be streaming episodes online, as well. Catch up on the fun: the pouched bodices, the scullery maids, the glorious exterior views of Highclere Castle, and we’ll see you on the couch January 8th!

Easy DIY Snowman Cookies

Image copyright thedecoratedcookieblog.com. Used with permission.

Here is a great and easy way to decorate Oreo cookies to give as gifts. I originally saw the idea at the decorated cookie, a blog that has tons of great ideas and lots of good recipes and advice. What initially caught my eye was a post where white Oreos had been decorated with snowflakes and snowmen faces. I have to admit: I tried the snowflakes and mine came out, well, less-than-perfect. On the bright side, you can eat your mistakes and no one has to know.

I decided that the snowman might be simpler, and I gave him a go. I started out with white fudge covered Oreos that I’d purchased at my local grocery store. I whipped up a batch of royal icing, tinted it black and orange, and piped on the snowman’s features. When piping, you can use either bags and tips or a squeeze bottle. Personally, I prefer the bottles, as I feel like I have more control. Either way: the end result is super cute!

For my second batch, I couldn’t find white Oreos, so I bought some peppermint ones and dipped them in chocolate. This is fairly simple. You buy chocolate melting wafers (available at craft and baking stores) and just follow the directions for melting. To make mine extra peppermint-y, I flavored the chocolate. (Warning: Don’t use the peppermint extract you bought last year at the food store for this project! It contains water, which will make your chocolate seize up. You’ll want to buy the candy flavoring, instead.)

Back to the dipping! Take one cookie at a time and drop it in the chocolate, turning to coat. Slide a fork under the cookie and gently tap on the side of the bowl to remove the excess chocolate. Scrape the bottom of the fork on the bowl and then gently slide the cookie onto wax paper to let dry. Once the chocolate coating is dry, you can use the royal icing to pipe on the eyes, nose, and mouth. On some of my snowmen, I used black sugar pearls for the eyes (which resulted, I think, in a cleaner look). After the cookies were completely dry, I bagged them into treat bags and added this cute bag topper I found at Skip to My Lou (graciously provided for free) as a finishing touch.

These decorated cookies will make great gifts for neighbors, teachers, family, etc. and they are easy enough that the kids can help, too!

Survivable Holidays: Our Christmas in the Trenches

All Images: Sarah Pinault

Last year my husband took ill just before Thanksgiving. He was out of work for about 10 weeks with severe damage to his inner ear. It came on suddenly, knocked him on his back and kept him there. I had a 15-month-old, a full time job and it was the holiday season. Thanksgiving was the biggest problem as he took ill within a week of the big day. We adapted, our family and friends rallied round us and we made it through.

For Christmas, I decided to get a table top tree since we couldn’t go and chop one down. I thought it would be easier to handle by myself. The thought of it depressed me and seemed to represent the way we would spend Christmas; reduced, diminished and not quite as holly jolly as usual. So I made a decision. I was not going to let one setback, no matter how serious, affect anyone’s enjoyment of Christmas. I called my father-in-law and quick as a flash we had the biggest tree we could find; we had to chop the top off for it to fit in the house!

Every day I made a conscious effort to celebrate. I knitted in Christmas colors while watching Christmas movies, I lit the advent candle each night, I wore something festive everyday in December. It was magical, and after about a week it was no longer an effort, it just came naturally. Some years these are tactics that I have to employ anyway to kick the holiday season into gear. Last year it was survival and I used every method I could to get festive for my own sanity and for my 1-year-old son. I’m sure he won’t remember last year; he won’t recall if it was good or bad, but I will. When I look at our pictures from last Christmas, I don’t see a family torn apart by illness, I see one brought together by the magic of this time of year.

I recently read a truly awful novel about Christmas, truly awful, but one good thing I took from it was the difference between illusion and magic, between the things that appear magical that we can explain, and those that appear magical that we can’t. Last year we experienced both, and I stopped caring about where the line was. If you find yourself struggling to celebrate this year, whether you are alone or with family, here are my tips from our Christmas in the trenches:

  • Make cookies. This is a cookie time of year no matter what anyone says. You can follow the recipe on the package, make cut outs with extravagant piping or you can contact me for the ultimate cookie recipe – it involves Andes Candies – but make cookies this year. Sharing them makes it even better.
  • Wear something festive every day, even if it’s just a pin on your jacket. Looking down and seeing a wreath pin or a bright red shirt is a nice reminder.
  • Start an advent tradition. You can light a candle each day, pop a piece of candy from a calendar or make your own tradition. Lego make a number of advent calendars
    that are great for kids of all ages.
  • Forget about catching up on the DVR and watch a holiday movie. Pull out the VHS of the Star Wars Christmas Special, dig out Home Alone. Watch something that only gets watched at this time of year. For that added dash of peace try sitting down and watching it instead of just multi tasking through it.
  • For me, the holiday season is an especially crafty season. Learn something new this year if you don’t have a craft instantly at hand. You can be adventurous, a santa hat or a snowman takes very little time to crochet. Or you can be simple and make paper chains to hang around the house. If you aren’t crafty, the stores are full of premade kits at this time of year, all you do is follow the instructions and voila, instant cheer.
  • Get a tree! Whatever size your home and budget can accommodate, the sight of this tree every morning will lift your spirits. All you need are lights in my opinion. If you have a fake one, get a scented candle to go with it and create that pine fresh scent.
  • Take advantage of technology.  My parents live in England, we live in Maine. Last year we each bought a copy of How the Grinch Stole Christmas and my dad read the story to Toby via webcam, while Toby looked at the pictures in his book.

Do any or all of the above with family, friends or a neighbor you barely know. People make the holidays so much better, whether they are the people you would prefer to be with or not!

 

 

Survivable Holidays: Coping With Christmas

My reason for being jolly (Image: Mandy Horetski)

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays. My mom loved Christmas so it was always a big deal growing up in my house. My love for the holiday waned some after my mom passed away, but it was starting to be wonderful again after becoming a mom myself.

Last Christmas was the worst of my life. I got very sick, losing two days that I don’t remember at all. Those two days just happened to be Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I ended up in the hospital for five days and I had a long recovery time afterwards.

While I’m completely recovered,  the memories of last Christmas are making this one very hard. I knew it was going to be hard this year, but I didn’t realize how hard it was going to be. There are things that I’m doing to help me cope with this holiday season. I just want to try and make it a good Christmas for my daughter as well as just getting through it for me.

First, I’m trying not to push myself. I usually do a lot of baking during the holiday season. This year, I’m skipping Christmas cookies and rock candy just because I don’t think I could deal with the mess. I usually watch a lot of Christmas shows during December, but I’m finding that I’m just not in the mood lately. I’ve been watching a lot of other shows and only watch Christmas shows when the mood strikes me.

We usually stay home for Christmas, but I don’t think I could cope with being home this year. So we are driving up home to Michigan. It is going to be different and I think that will be good. A change of locale is a good one because I’ve heard that other people go on vacation during the holidays to avoid the stress.

I’m also trying to take time for myself and trying not to stress out. This is partly because it is helping me cope with the holidays, but it’s also because stress seemed to play a factor in my illness last year. I do not want that to happen again so I’m trying to stay calm and as stress-free as possible.

These things are working to help me, but some days are better than others. I’m coping as well as I can, but I think I’ll feel much better once the whole holiday season is over with. The holidays are hard for lots of people for a variety of reasons. If you are having a hard time too, just be gentle with yourself and know you aren’t alone.

Netflix + Firefly = A Browncoat’s Dream Come True

Browncoats of all ages would love more Firefly (Image: Mandy Horetski)

Ever since Firefly was canceled all those years ago, Browncoats all over the world, including me, have been longing for more of the TV series. While we were lucky enough to get a major motion picture in Serenity, more of the series would be like a dream come true.

There have been several times that it looked like Firefly might have a chance at coming back, but each of these times have ended in disappointment. Now there is a new but distant hope for our beloved show.

A blog post on Tumblr pointed out the fact that Netflix would have the resources to bring back Firefly. Netflix is already producing new episodes of Arrested Development, which adds to the hope that they may be able to do the same for Firefly. The blog has been posted all over my twitter and Facebook feeds today with even Nathan Fillion posting it on his twitter with the comment of: Hmm. Hmmmmm. HMMMMMM.

While Netflix has been making some mistakes lately, resurrecting a beloved show like Firefly would gain them a ton of subscribers. I’m not getting my hopes up, but as a Browncoat I would dearly love to see more of my favorite show.

Getting Back Into The Groove

My Dragon Age Character (Image: Mandy Horetski)

Having a baby seems to disrupt things in your life, but that’s to be expected. But I didn’t expect some of the things that fell to the wayside. Now that my daughter is three years old, I’m finally getting back into a groove with some of the geeky pursuits I had put on the back burner.

I love video games. I have since my family got an NES in the mid-80’s for Christmas. Thankfully I married a man who loves video games as much as I do so we have nearly all the latest and greatest consoles. We are very well known at our local GameStop because we are always trading in games to get new ones.

But when my daughter was born, things changed. I had to decided to try and breastfeed her. It worked out well, but she nursed a lot which tied up one of my hands since it was being used to hold her. I learned how to surf the internet and play World of Warcraft one-handed, but it was impossible to play console games.

As my daughter got older, I considered playing console games again. But I thought a lot of them might be too scary for her to see. She also would grab at the controller and try to push the buttons. So I got out of the habit. I still used my Nintendo DS a lot and played quite a bit of World of Warcraft. But I was missing out on a lot of great games being released on the consoles.

Finally, I’m getting back into the groove. My daughter is old enough now that she can play with her toys while I’m playing a video game. The game that really got me back into wanting to play console games is Dragon Age: Origins. My best friend has been telling me how good this game is and finally I see how right she was. I don’t get a lot of time to play it, but it’s nice to be able to use my xBox 360 again and play a great game. I have Dragon Age 2 waiting for when I’m finished with the first game.

It’s just nice to be able to start to do some of the things I enjoyed before I was a parent. Is there anything you were interested in that it took you a while to get back into after you had kids?