Epic Lives Up to its Name

20th Century Fox

It’s a bold move to name your movie Epic. That’s a lot to live up to, even if you’re pretty sure your movie might be epic. Fortunately for us moviegoers, Epic lives up to its name.

I had a feeling I’d like this movie from the moment I saw the bit of animation in the trailer where beautifully-rendered dandelions suddenly turn to reveal themselves as tiny people. Stunning. My daughter and I were invited to the premiere here in New York City, and we had an epic morning. (We totally walked the red carpet, even if it was a green carpet.) We were certainly in a frame of mind to enjoy the show.

Continue reading Epic Lives Up to its Name

Big, Big News for Lego Star Wars Fans

Yoda loves New York
Go to Times Square you must! Photo: Amy Kraft

“We’ll send a car to pick you up. We’re taking you to an undisclosed location to show you something big, but we can’t tell you what it is.” Now, I wouldn’t jump in that car for just anyone, but when Lego sends a car, how could I possibly refuse? I doubted myself when we pulled onto a deserted, industrial road, but then I walked into an airplane hangar at the Islip Airport in Long Island and beheld the largest-ever Lego model, the Lego Star Wars X-wing Starfighter. Aw, yeah.

Continue reading Big, Big News for Lego Star Wars Fans

May the Force Be With Your Thumb Doodles

With a thumb print face and some doodling, Luke, Leia, and Han come to life. Photo: Amy Kraft
With a thumb print face and some doodling, Luke, Leia, and Han come to life. Photo: Amy Kraft

Klutz kits are consistently a hit in our house. We love the paper crafts and drawing and superheros and fashion crafts. And now we have added Star Wars to our collection.

Photo: Klutz
Photo: Klutz

I first came across Star Wars Thumb Doodles at this year’s Toy Fair, and couldn’t wait to get my hands (and thumbs) on it. The kit comes with a how-to book, a stamp pad, a pen, and a two-sided lightsaber pencil. One of the first things the book teaches you to draw, appropriately, is a lightsaber because don’t you want to put one in every picture? Yeah, me too.

All of your favorite characters can be drawn in five to six steps, combining thumbprints with black pen. Draw the droids, the AT-ATs, the tie fighters. Then you can start adding combinations of these doodles into scenes like Tatooine, Mos Eisley cantina, Jabba’s palace, and the Ewok village.

Continue reading May the Force Be With Your Thumb Doodles

What the GeekMoms Want for Mother’s Day


Each year, as we contemplate gift guides for Mother’s Day, we think about what we want for Mother’s Day. Chances are good your GeekMom will like this stuff, too.

Photo: Penny Arcade
Photo: Penny Arcade

Penny Arcade Match T-Shirts and Onesies: Mom and her Player 2 can team up in these cute matching tees. There are a bunch of different combinations available, including shirts for older kids and for Dad.



Photo: Oliver Jeffers for Digby & Iona
Photo: Oliver Jeffers for Digby & Iona


Oliver Jeffers Jewelry: Children’s author/illustrator Oliver Jeffers has turned his delightful illustrations into equally delightful jewelry, like this Paper Airplane necklace from his book, The Great Paper Caper.

Continue reading What the GeekMoms Want for Mother’s Day

Screen Free Week: The Wrong Conversation

My son plays one of his favorite puzzle games. Photo: Amy Kraft
My son plays one of his favorite puzzle games. Photo: Amy Kraft

As someone who makes games for kids to play on screens, I’m not a fan of the Center for a Commercial Free Childhood’s Screen-Free Week, which begins today. I’m all for kids getting more unstructured play, more time outdoors, more time reading, and other good stuff, but the label “Screen-Free Week” forces the wrong conversation that lasts all year long.

The Center for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC) has found receptive ears here in New York City and elsewhere. I know many parents who have thrown out their TVs and heavily restrict other screens in the house. I’m on the tech committee at my daughter’s elementary school, and there are parents who are outraged at having computers in the classroom. Computers! Just wait until we can afford iPads! The parent association and the principal enlisted me to talk to other parents to try to change some hearts and minds. Continue reading Screen Free Week: The Wrong Conversation

Playing in the Sandbox With Dale Dougherty

Last week I attended Sandbox Summit, a conference at MIT that gathers great thinkers in children’s media. This year’s theme was was about nurturing kids’ imagination in the digital age, which stood in sharp contrast to the events unfolding in Boston while we were there. Instead of gluing ourselves to the news, we pressed on with the conference. It was so reassuring to talk about inspiring kids and the good that we can do through media.

There are a ton of things that I’m still processing, but one thing I wanted to be sure to share with my fellow GeekMoms is the closing keynote from Dale Dougherty, Founding Editor and Publisher of Make Magazine (thanks to Scott Traylor of 360Kid for filming it). The way Dougherty talked about makers is the way we often talk about geeks here at GeekMom—people who are passionate about something and love to find a community to share that passion with. He also talked about the DIY movement, not as in “hey, you can make something” but as in “hey, you can make something.” Let’s all be makers. More importantly, let’s get our kids to be makers. Dougherty talks about the importance of maker spaces in schools, and I couldn’t be more in favor. Watch the video and learn more at the Maker Education Initiative.

The Intergalactic Nemesis: Radio Play Meets Graphic Novel


My daughter and I were invited to the New Victory Theater over the weekend, and invitation I’m always quick to jump at because they have a great history of kid-friendly shows.

The current show is The Intergalactic Nemesis, billed as a live-action graphic novel. On stage were three microphones, a grand piano, a laptop, and a giant foley setup. I explained to my daughter how radio plays used to work (though they were a little before my time), and how a foley artist uses all kinds of materials to make sounds. It was all a little strange to her until the performers came on stage. The versatile actors, Christopher Lee Gibson, Danu Uribe, and David Higgins, shifted seamlessly through a wide cast of characters while graphic novel panels by Tim Doyle flashed overhead.

The story follows reporter Molly Sloan and her sidekick, Timmy Mendez, who have a bit of a Lois Lane/Jimmy Olson thing happening. They stumble across the story of a lifetime when they meet time-traveling librarian Ben Wilcott, send back in time to save the earth from an evil, sludgy, alien master race, the Zygonians. Human hypnotist Mysterion the Magnificent is another bad guy that keeps popping up, aiding the Zygonians to be rewarded with control of all of humankind. Gibson is particularly hilarious performing Mysterion, and a French ally to our heroes, Jean-Pierre Desperois.

My only real beef with the show is that I could have used some more female characters, especially since the few we had, even the smart, savvy Molly Sloan, were party to propositioning and seduction (all PG, of course).

The multimedia show gives you so much to watch, it’s sometimes hard to know where to look. The actors have a physical performance as well as a vocal one, so its fun to watch their gestures and facial expressions, even though you’re missing some of the great retro comic book art up on the screen. I particularly liked watching foley artist Cami Alys work, making sound effects with cinder blocks, boxes of mac and cheese, and a remote-control cement truck, among a table full of other stuff.

The Intergalactic Nemesis began as a multi-part radio show in Austin, TX, before it was written into a long-form show. Since its premiere in 2010, the show has been on the road and has even spawned a sequel, Book Two: Robot Planet Rising. This coming weekend is the last weekend The Intergalactic Nemesis will be at The New Victory Theater, so New Yorkers, check it out! Outside of New York, check out the tour schedule on the website and catch upcoming shows in Canada, Florida, California, and Washington, D.C.

Birthday Week: Conquer Kaos with a Skylanders Birthday Party

My Skylanders birthday girl. Photo: Amy Kraft

A few of you have been asking in our previous Skylanders posts for ideas on what to do for a Skylanders birthday party. Couple that with the fact that I’m planning a party for my soon-to-be-seven Skylanders fanatic, and my tech gears have been turning. Here are some of my ideas and I invite you to add your own. With our hive mind, the Skylands will be saved from birthday Kaos!

My daughter and I tend to identify with some of the elements over others, me Undead and her Air, and that is the thread that carries through my party planning.

The Skylanders logo with a bit of my Photoshop trickery.


With a little bit of Photoshop trickery, I was able to swap my daughter’s name in for Spyro’s. Sure it’s not my finest digital work, but it’s enough to convince a group of kids. Stick that logo into an Evite and I’m good to go! For those of you who admirably kick it old school and send out invitations, the element icons from the logo are easy enough to draw to adorn your invitation.


Following the same icon drawing idea, grab balloons in the various colors of the elements and doodle the element icon on with a marker. Group the balloons to create element stations around your home or party space.

Name Tags

On their way in the door, have guests make name tags where they choose their Skylander name, their element, and their power. They can choose an existing Skylander, but judging from our recent writing contest, kids have no trouble coming up with Skylanders of their own invention.


Plan a game or activity for each of the elements. Depending on the size of your party, you can either set up stations or have the kids hang out together as they transition from one game to the next.

  • Earth: Head to Michaels or your local gardening store to buy cheap clay pots. Provide paints or Sharpies (at your own risk) and have the kids decorate the pots in the theme of their favorite element or character.
  • Tech: Have the kids put together some Snap Circuits or wire up some potato batteries.
  • Air: Divide kids into teams and see which team can keep a balloon afloat the longest without touching the balloon, only blowing it.
  • Undead: This is a tough one. Zombie face painting, perhaps? Pin the femur on the skeleton? Or have the kids draw the scariest undead monsters they can imagine.
  • Water: If it’s a warm weather party, water balloons are the go-to game here. If not, how about some watercolor battle scenes?
  • Fire: Seeing as how you don’t want to burn the party to the ground, sparklers are always a crowd-pleaser. Or, save the fire element to be the candles on the birthday cake.
  • Magic: Teach kids a simple magic trick, like the classic magnetic pencil.
  • Life: Plant seeds in the pots that are now dry from the Earth activity. Voilà! Party favors.


To stick with the elements theme, you can decorate cupcakes in the colors and icons of the eight elements, or you can go all out and make a Portal of Power cake topped with a real Skylander for your birthday boy or girl. Have a look at Flickr for some inspiration, and watch this mom’s how-to.

Please add more ideas in the comments! Together we can plan the best party ever.

Right Where You Are Now: Painting our Planet’s History

Cover image: Craigmore Creations

In the crowded aisles of New York ComicCon, a quiet book called out to me. My eye was drawn to the painterly, slightly retro style, and as I thumbed through the book, I fell in love with all of the paintings that let kids know about the wild ride our planet has been on for the past 250 million years or so.

Right Where You Are Now, written by Lisa Montierth and illustrated by Ashley Burke, isn’t your run of the mill picture book. On each spread, a location familiar to kids is established followed by a vivid description of what once was.

Excerpt: Craigmore Creations

Right where you are now, night is here. The yellow moon shines down on a quiet house. Soon, everyone will be sleeping. But once…

There were no houses. There was only a salty sea. Fish lizards called ichthyosaurs and carnivorous plesiosaurs swam through coral reefs. Warm rains fell into the shallow waters. The world looked very different, right where you are now.

Where icy mountains stand, volcanos once spouted out lava. Where now a bluebird nests in an oak tree, megacerops lumbered through the woodlands. Tall skyscrapers shoot out of land that was once underwater. The book emphasizes how the earth is ever-changing and invites the reader to imagine what could come next.

It’s not the easiest book to read aloud, unless merychippus and nimravid roll off your tongue. Fortunately there’s a visual dictionary in the back, complete with pronunciations. There’s also a description of each animal or event named in the book.

Check out the book trailer for Right Where You Are Now. While it features little of the book, it captures the spirit of how alive the book feels. Also, it’s one of the best book trailers I’ve seen. My 22-month-old watches it daily.

Right Where You Are Now is a great book for the young and curious.

I received a review copy of this book. 

Make Your Date with Jon Stewart

The terribly exciting exterior of The Daily Show’s studio. Photo: Amy Kraft

Living in New York City, we try to make the most of what the city has to offer. We hit the museums often, try out new restaurants when we can, and take in the occasional Broadway show. One thing that never occurs to us to do is go see a taping of a TV show, except for that one time I went with a group of friends to see Regis host Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Then a couple weeks ago, my husband came across the @Spiffomatic64 Twitter feed, which provides up-to-the minute news on tickets for The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. My husband went to a taping of The Colbert Report when it first came on the air and was easy to get tickets, but somehow tracking down tickets to The Daily Show seemed hard. And we’re lazy like that. But with @Spiffomatic64, *poof* we had ticket reservations with no problem. They even list tickets for same day, so it’s definitely worth having a look if you’re passing through town or have an afternoon to kill.

A tweet from the day of our taping.

And it does take all afternoon. First there’s ticket pickup, which opens at 2:30 but people probably start lining up for around 1:00. You only need one person from your group to take on this task. My husband got there around 2:00 and was number 134. Everyone else in your group has to pick up tickets by 4:00. The line-up in numbered pens began at 4:30. (I’m making it sound more like cattle than it seemed. It was quite civilized.) While in the numbered areas, people came by to tell us the rules. First the little hipster kid gave us the run down of how it would all play out: We’ll get into the studio where everyone has to stay in their seat. We can go to the bathroom now if we want. Jon will come out for a Q&A before the show, etc., etc. The best part was this kid talking about the Q&A: “Just don’t be weird. Think about your question in your head, and if it sounds a little weird to you it’s going to be super weird to everyone else. So don’t be weird.” Then the guy who looked more like Secret Service came out as an enforcer to the rules. I have no picture of inside the studio to show you because no way was I going to face the wrath of this guy.

Entrance to the studio. Photo: Amy Kraft

At last, we were seated in the studio. We were numbers 134 and 135, and only a handful of people made it in after us (they overbook, so here’s where the getting early to the ticket line comes into play). For the first 15 minutes or so, it was very exciting just to check out all of the details of the set, which is amazing in person. We were hoping to see a green-screen correspondent segment because we couldn’t figure where they would record them on set. We were in the very back row of the studio, which doesn’t feel as intimate as it does on TV, but it was still a great view. Then there was more waiting while listening to incredibly loud music. I realized that without my electronic devices, I’ve totally forgotten how to wait. It was hard not to get antsy knowing I could be using this time to check work emails, seeing as how I was playing hooky to go see The Daily Show.

I joked with my husband about the warm-up act for Regis. You know that comic Paul Mercurio? I never got off his mailing list after he was working the crowd outside Millionaire. Sure enough, out comes Paul Mercurio, who again passed out paper to get people on his mailing list. Way to hustle.

Finally, out comes Jon Stewart for the Q&A. The audience, despite the hipster’s warning, was totally weird. One girl had this whole thing about making Jon a bumper sticker and it was her friend’s birthday and then this funny happened to them… Jon couldn’t get a word in edgewise. One girl asked him what he would ask Jane Austen if he had her on as a guest back from the dead. I can only imagine what he got asked before the ‘weird’ warning. You can see why he’s always making jokes at the audience’s expense. Audiences are weird.

Then it was showtime. There were monitors throughout the studio which showed the show as it looks at home, with the graphics and clips put in. I kept finding myself watching the monitor and not the desk, until I remembered that real-life Jon Stewart was just to the left of that monitor. The first segment was all about the latest Republican primary debate, with lots of Santorum footage. For more, Jon turned to Senior Political Analyst John Oliver, who was hilarious.

This segment ends with a brilliantly-crafted joke, which John Oliver flubbed a little bit. I was curious if they were going to redo it. During the commercial break, Jon and a couple of others (writers? producers?) leaned way over the desk in John Oliver’s face looking all serious. I watched a lot of The Larry Sanders Show back in the day, which made me really wonder what they were talking about and if it had anything to do with what they had just taped. They didn’t end up redoing anything, and John Oliver headed off with a friendly wave.

The guest was Paul Rudd. Why, yes, since you ask, he is even more adorable in person. He came out with candy for the crowd, which gives you a chance to see the extent of the studio audience. The interview was basically all about candy. I left the show starving for some Smarties.  He didn’t get the extended interview, so after a couple of minutes off he went. Then Jon reshot one joke from the first segment for time, and that was it. He came back out, thanked us for coming, and bid us adieu as we headed out into the night.

It was definitely worth doing, and it’s made me want to see more. Colbert is on my list, and it seems like we should see Saturday Night Live at least once. My sister heard we were seeing The Daily Show and demanded that I get her Jimmy Fallon tickets the next time she’s in town. Anyone got an inside scoop on that one?

What would you go see given the chance?

Toy Fair 2012: Toys for GeekTots

Every year I begin Toy Fair the same way, strolling the aisle searching for the big trends and narratives of the show, and every year I end up gravitating to the same things: toys that I would buy for my kids right now. All my six-year-old wanted was news about Skylanders, so I found myself looking at toys that would appeal to my 21-month-old. These are some of the best toys I found for toddlers.

Tegu blocks, now with wheels. Photo: Amy Kraft

Tegu Blocks

I fell in love with these smooth wood magnetic blocks at last year’s Toy Fair, and this year they’ve added mobility. The magnetic wheels pop right onto any Tegu blocks. These blocks don’t come cheap (car building sets are $38), so I’ve permanently put them on the grandparent wish list, and they came through with a set this past Christmas. We’ll need the wheels come birthday time.

Irregularly-shaped blocks from Brinca Dada. Photo: Amy Kraft

Brinca Dada Blocks

Speaking of blocks I can’t afford, I love the shapes and colors of these new sets from Brinca Dada, which retail for $59. I need to stay far, far away from the Brinca Dada booth. Last year the thing I coveted most at Toy Fair was their super-deluxe Dylan House dollhouse. I still want it. (You know… for the kids.)

Rubik’s Blocks from Jakks Pacific. Photo: Amy Kraft

Rubik’s Toys from Jakks Pacific

Okay, I’ll lay off the expensive hardwoods long enough to tell you about this new block line from Jakks Pacific based on Rubik’s Cube. I’d love to see some research done to see if playing with these blocks as a toddler can enhance your ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube later in life.

Pretend play camping sets from Campfire Kids. Photo: Amy Kraft

Campfire Kids Camping Sets

Upon discovering these delightful campground sets from Campfire Kids, I have determined that every kid needs a toy ax. So many pretend play possiblities!

Duplo building board books from Lego. Photo: Amy Kraft

Lego Building Books

Of course Duplo blocks are always a good bet for little builders, but now Lego has incorporated some storytelling into the building. This Busy Farm set comes with the book plus all of the blocks to make the animals on each page: a sheep, a pig, a rooster, and a cow. There’s also Let’s Go! Vroom! featuring vehicles, and Grow Caterpillar Grow with cute little critters.

Stacking cups and teethers from Green Toys. Photo: Amy Kraft

Green Toys

Our living room floor is currently covered in stackers and vehicles from Green Toys, so you could call us fans of these lovely toys made from recycled milk containers. Some new things in their line caught my eye, including the Twist Teether and the volumetrically accurate Stacking Cups. All of the cups are numbered, and you can pour them into each other to work on some early equations. Fill cups one and two, and pour them to fill cup three!

Count ‘Em Up Popcorn from Learning Resources. Photo: Amy Kraft

Count ‘Em Up Popcorn

I like this Count ‘Em Up Popcorn game from Learning Resources both as an early math manipulative (see how perfectly the right amount of popcorn fits into each container) but also for pretend play. I can see my six-year-old setting up a movie concession stand with this one.

Anamalz. Photo: Amy Kraft


Yes, they’re hand-painted and made from sustainable woods and azo-dye-and-formaldehyde-free fabrics, but I really like these Anamalz environmental toys because they’re super cute!

Donkey and Elephant from Topozoo. Photo: Amy Kraft

Topozoo Animals

New to the line of Topozoo animal-building playsets are a donkey and an elephant. I think we should all buy both for our kids and teach them how to mix the two together.

Previous Toy Fair 2012 posts:

A Sampling of Toy Fair 2012

Oh, Lego, I Can’t Stay Mad at You!

Skylanders Has Giant News

Also, if Skylanders is your game, I’m giving away the Toy-Fair-exclusive Cynder on Media Macaroni, and Anton is giving it away on GeekDad.

Silly Dragon, Robots Are for Toddlers

Some of our new robot friends: Skylee, Hexbug Spider, Wappy Dog, and Mechatar

I noticed the trend starting at Toy Fair last year: robots for kids. Booth after booth featured our future overlords, and I thought my six-year-old daughter would love most of them when she got her hands on them.

About six months passed, and then the robots found their way to our house for us to review. Most followed the same pattern of use. My daughter would open the box with a “coooooooooolllll!” Then there’d be frantic button pressing to entertain her for about five minutes before her interest waned. Wappy Dog held her interest the longest, but that’s because it came bundled with a DS game. First she played the DS game with the robot reacting nearby, but she soon discovered travel mode and abandoned the robot completely.

Enter my 20-month-old. While I was playing with Wappy trying to figure out if she could do anything more than bark at the commands coming from the DS, my son comes over and presses her nose a bunch of times until she started barking a song. Who knew? He clapped and danced along. Clearly he’d heard that one before.

Ozzie figures out the remote for the Hexbug Spider. Photo: Amy Kraft

He’s fascinated by the Hexbugs in the house. He likes holding the Nanos against his little cheeks and then letting them loose under the sofa. Lately he’s grown quite interested in the Hexbug Spider and has figured out how to work the remote control for it, setting it off on a path of destruction.

I had the highest hopes that my daughter would love Skylee, the dragon robot that comes with a little Bebe (dragon baby) that she can recognize and respond to. There’s a sequence of button presses that you can do to get Skylee to play games, but we can never remember what they are. Mostly she’ll tell you that she loves you and that her wings are tired from flying – boring for the six-year-old but positively enchanting for the one-year-old.

My son’s Skylee-love ropes in my daughter, too. Photo: Amy Kraft

Skylee has become one of his favorite toys. He won’t go to bed unless he’s waved goodnight to Skylee, and finding her in the morning is one of the first things he does. As with Wappy, only he knows the secret trick to making her sing her song and do a little dance for him. His interest in her occassionally drums up interest from my daughter, too, and they’ll play with Skylee together. It’s awfully cute.

These toys are all expensive for toddler toys (Skylee, for example, retails for $59.99), not to mention that robots with voices all seem to be crazy loud with no volume control, but I’m glad these toys have made their way into our home. Could me my son’s started on a path to future robotics engineer. Or dragon-trainer. Or dancer. Thanks, robots.

Molly Weasley Comfort Cooking

Eating shepherd’s pie just like Harry. Photo: Amy Kraft

After a long winter’s day, ever wish you could just cozy up in the Burrow and have Molly Weasley whip you up a little roast chicken with mashed potatoes? Or feast in the Great Hall on some lamb chops? Now you can… with a bit of Muggle work.

When I was sent The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook for review, I thought it was going to be little more than some fun gimmickry. But, on thumbing through the pages, there are some delectable-sounding treats, including a lot of stick-to-your-ribs winter fare, the kind I usually have to head to a pub to get.

Sure, the gimmickry comes first, but that’s what makes it great fun for fans. It appears that author Dinah Bucholz has scoured the seven books for any mere mention of food, and then paired that nugget with a recipe. Mr. Weasley mentions to Kingsley Shacklebolt that Molly’s making meatballs for dinner? Accio meatballs! Here’s a recipe for Molly’s meatballs with onion sauce. Like Harry, want a taste of treacle tart while Ron and Hermione argue? Or a taste of the vol-au-vents from Bill and Fleur’s wedding? Early and often we’re warned that this book is unofficial. JK Rowling has nothing to do with it. Please don’t sue them! However, this unofficial book reads as wonderfully delicious fan fiction.

But does it work as a cookbook? The organizing principle not only gives the book a structure that follows the arc of a Harry Potter book, it also encourages a wide range of recipes:

  • Chapter One: Good Food with Bad Relatives
  • Chapter Two: Delights Down the Alley
  • Chapter Three: Treats from the Train
  • Chapter Four: Recipes from a Giant and an Elf
  • Chapter Five: The Favorite Cook’s Dishes
  • Chapter Six: Breakfast Before Class
  • Chapter Seven: Lunch and Dinner in the Dining Hall
  • Chapter Eight: Desserts and Snacks at School
  • Chapter Nine: Holiday Fare
  • Chapter Ten: Treats in the Village

The recipes focus on British cuisine, and lacking any other British cookbooks I decided my first crack at the book would be something basic: shepherd’s pie (though as both the book and GeekMom Sarah would quickly point out, I actually made cottage pie because I only had ground beef on hand). Surely you’ll remember in Chamber of Secrets when Harry barely touched his shepherd’s pie because he was so dreading his detention with Professor Lockhart?

Harry and Ron slouched into the Great Hall in states of deepest gloom, Hermione behind them wearing a well-you-did-break-school-rules sort of expression. Harry didn’t enjoy his shepherd’s pie as much as he’d thought.  Both he and Ron felt they’d got the worse deal.

Overall, the recipe was pretty easy, made with mostly staple ingredients. The timing of elements in the instructions could be clearer, but an experienced cook won’t have much trouble parsing these recipes. As for taste, it totally served it’s purpose as wintertime comfort food, but I already have a few things I’d do differently next time – definitely use lamb to make a proper shepherd’s pie, and spice it up a bit. I expect to start scribbling in the margins like the Half-Blood Prince.

It may not be the finest cookbook for British food out there, but it sure is fun cooking to these literary references. And if you have any plans to throw a Harry Potter theme party, this cookbook is a must-have.

Star Wars MMXII: A New Hope

For New Year’s this year we rented a house in the Catskills with our good friends and their son. He and my daughter have been best friends since birth, and they’re now six years old. Our plans for the weekend were simple: eat delicious food, drink delicious drinks, and introduce our children to Star Wars.

As every good parent knows, Episode IV comes first.

I was a little nervous. The first time we introduced our kids to a classic was a couple months ago with The Goonies. Boy, that has a lot more swearing than you might remember. But it went OK. My daughter thought that Chunk and Sloth were awesome just as I did as a kid. But Star Wars is bigger. There’s a real pressure to introduce it at the right time. Her best friend is well primed with Star Wars books and card games and a general sense of who Chewbacca is. My daughter prepared herself last week with something she found streaming on Netflix – an episode of Hello Kitty’s Furry Tale Theater entitled “Cat Wars”. Yes, that’s what it sounds like.

Screen capture of Hello Kitty on Leia duty in “Cat Wars”

The moment arrives. We pick a quiet, chilly afternoon while our toddler is napping. Our friend does a dramatic reading of the opening text, trying to convey the importance of this moment. The kids settle in and start watching. I think it’s going well. My daughter moves to the floor, and I can sense her being drawn in by The Force.

The two 6-year-olds settle into watch Star Wars. Photo: Amy Kraft

20 minutes later…

The long stretch of Luke whining puts my daughter to sleep. Photo: Amy Kraft

Well, maybe the timing wasn’t perfect. I don’t blame Star Wars for this rare nap. She was sharing a room with her early bird friend, and I think they were up before 5 a.m. That evening she asked to watch it again and she and her friend cozied up into an armchair and spread the iPad across their laps. They made it about 75% of the way through, enough for this reenactment the next day:

Catskill light saber battle. (Thanks to Hasbro for sending my the light sabers on last year’s May the 4th. Knew they’d come in handy.) Photo: Amy Kraft

Tonight we’re back home and she asked to watch it again, watching it all the way through. I told her my favorite part is when they go into the bar to meet Han Solo, to which she replied, “Mom! I like that part, too! It’s just like in Cat Wars when they go into the ice cream bar and the one guy doesn’t like how the penguin guy is eating his ice cream and they all throw ice cream at each other.” Yeah, like that. I wonder if penguin guy shot first.

Overall I’d rate the introduction a success. The coming winter weekends will surely bring The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Then comes the even bigger question of when to introduce Harry Potter.

How old were your kids when they watched Star Wars? How did it go? Did they react like this kid?

Geek-Pleasing Finalists for the Toy Hall of Fame

The Toy Hall of Fame put out the call to nominate toys for the 2011 batch of inductees, and apparently that call was answered by geeks. Just look at the amazing list of finalists.

Photos: Toy Hall of Fame

Dollhouse – Well deserved, I’d say. And while I might once have wanted Barbie’s Dreamhouse with the functional elevator, now all I can think about is a wildly expensive modern masterpiece for myself my daughter.

Dungeons & Dragons – While I never played the game (please don’t strip me of my geek cred!), the countless hours spent playing by people I love merits D&D’s spot in the finals.

Hot Wheels – Classic. Affordable. Everywhere. Heck, I’ve got two in my purse right now ready to entertain both my 6-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son.

Jenga – This is my least favorite toy on the list. I rarely played it by the rules. I always got distracted using the pieces as blocks, and blocks are already in the Toy Hall of Fame.

Pogo Stick – For people to nominate a pogo stick I’m guessing there are people out there who actually have the balance and coordination necessary to use one.

Puppets – Geeks, without puppets there would be no Muppets. Plus, puppets for your home puppet theater are getting cooler all the time.

Photos: Toy Hall of Fame

R/C Vehicles – I’m a little bitter about this one. When I was growing up, these were solidly considered boy toys and I never got one. The world is changing though, and last year for Christmas I bought my daughter an R/C snake.

Rubik’s Cube – Oh, the hours. The many, many hours.

Simon – Oh, the hours. The many, many hours. (Dude, it was at my Grandma’s house where there was nothing else to do.)

Star Wars Action Figures – You didn’t take them out of the packaging to play with them, did you? Did you?!!

Transformers – I’d quibble a bit that Transformers have stood the test of time. They were awesome in the ’80’s and they’re pretty cool now, but did you give them any thought in between?

Twister – Such a great looking game with a simple premise, but I always found the idea of the game more fun than the game itself.

You can read more about all of these finalists on the Toy Hall of Fame website. Winners will be announced at the National Museum of Play on Thursday, November 10. You can also share your memories about these toys to win an Amazon gift certificate with which you can purchase more toys.

Music Week: Baby’s First Jazz

My kids love jazz. We can listen to John Coltrane albums on endless repeat thanks to a single animator, Michal Levy, who explores “the visualization of sound.” When my daughter was a few months old, my husband discovered Levy’s animation for Coltrane’s Giant Steps. She was riveted.

We showed the animation to our 1-year-old and he had the same response. Every time he sees a computer screen he points at it with a “That! That!” until we play him a video, though he’s come to prefer a different Michal Levy animation, One.

I’m a visual person, so I thought that it was primarily the animations that grabbed baby’s attention. But when we listen to albums (Giant Steps in particular), the jazz has a soothing quality that captures their attention in a similar way, even still for my daughter who is now six.

If you like jazz, these animations are a great gateway for your kids.

Book Expo’s Books for Geeks

Take a convention center, fill it with books and the people who love them, and you’re bound to make a geek happy. Book Expo America is such an event, and it’s one of my favorites each year. Though it’s largely about publishers letting book buyers and librarians know what’s new in their catalogues, Book Expo is great for fans, chocked with author and illustrator appearances and signings.

I saw many books that I’m excited about, including these particularly geeky titles:

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the average kid’s first graphic novel is something in the Dav Pilkey oeuvre. My daughter has recently discovered Captain Underpants and its various spinoffs, so of all the books that I came home with, she was most excited about an advance copy of Super Diaper Baby 2: The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers. Spoiler alert: it’s even more hilarious than the first, with a pitch-perfect parody of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

The title of The LEGO Ideas Book is misleading. It’s not about different ways to use the blocks you have, rather it’s an amazing look at the different sets, themes, and minifigs that Lego has released in its history.

Have you seen this delightful video from Saturday Night Live’s Jenny Slate called Marcel the Shell With Shoes On? Well, Penguin is coming out with the book Marcel the Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me.

Geeky science kids like mine will enjoy the Basher Science line from Basher Books, including The Periodic Table: Elements with Style. Each element is represented by a character. Look how adorable Tungsten is!

I picked up a copy of the parody Nancy Drew, Vampire Slayer. Co-author Stefan Petrucha said that when he watched Buffy, it always seemed like Nancy Drew to him, so the parody was a natural fit.

Chronicle Books showed a wonderful assortment of Geeky books, including The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir by Michael E. Uslan, producer of all of the modern Batman films. Chronicle also had the upcoming The Art of Pixar, The Pirate Handbook, and Obsessed With Star Trek, featuring 2,500 questions about the Star Trek universe.

I’m a sucker for Medusa, and this first spread I opened of Encyclopedia Mythologica: Dragons and Monsters was this one.

The Candlewick Press booth also had another great pop-up book, Super Science: Feel the Force, “full of pop-up physics fun!” My daughter will love this.

Speaking of The Force, Book Expo is paradise for Star Wars fans. The geekiest booth award goes to Abrams during Tom Angleberger’s signing of his new book, Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset.

Tom Angleberger is also the author of the bestselling The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, and a hipster Darth Vadar was there to hand out little, awesome origami Darths to warn of the sequel, Darth Paper Strikes Back.

Mini Star Wars fans can chew on Star Wars board books from Scholastic, like Star Wars: Heroes, though I prefer the villains.

Hardcore fans with deep pockets are going to want Star Wars: The Blueprints from Epic Ink, a gigantic limited edition that’s going to retail at around $500 a pop. Epic, indeed.

That’s all just the tip of the iceberg. You can read more about upcoming kids’ books I’m excited about on Media Macaroni, and keep your eyes peeled for book reviews when these titles are released.

What to Get Your GeekMom for Mother’s Day

Here it is, the definitive GeekMom Mother’s Day shopping guide. I surveyed my fellow GeekMoms to see what everyone most wanted for Mother’s Day, outside of the lovely pleasantries of nice meals cooked for us, time spent with our adorable children, and moments of solitude. This is our list, and chances are there’s something on it for the GeekMom in your family.

The Sims Medieval made it onto a few GeekMom wish lists this year, perfect for the GeekMom who wants to rule the kingdom. Then you can top off a day of gaming with dinner at Medieval Times.

16 rainbow-striped red resistors + 12 gold choke coils + 12 red and black diodes = geek chic with these earrings from Etsy seller girlgeekboutique.

For a GeekMom who travels with her lunch and wants to do it in style, give her the Thermos Dual Compartment Superman Lunch Kit with Cape. It also comes in Batman and Hello Kitty!

For the GeekMom who loves her iPod but would happily trade in playlists for liner notes, hop onto eBay or Craigslist and find her one of these amazing and stylish music credenzas. What home wouldn’t be better with one of these in it?

Sometimes mom just wants to curl up with a great new book, like Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake or GeekMom icon Tina Fey’s new Bossypants. If you could magically create time for her to read it, that would be awesome, too.

For lounging and gaming, give the Sumo Omni Lounge a try. One GeekMom described it as the Best. Chair. Ever.

While lounging, mom might want to enjoy her favorite beverage from a mug that’s perfect for her style, like this stoneware teacup from Bennington Potters or a Poppet mug from Momiji.

If yours is a steampunk-loving GeekMom, how about a lovely leather underbust corset?

Gardening GeekMoms will dig a Fermentation Pot to give a little culture to the veggies from the garden. Or give your GeekMom a Cast-Iron Griddle to cook up the backyard harvest.

If you read the Sleep Talkin’ Man blog, you’ll understand why a GeekMom will double over laughing if she receives this messenger bag that says, “Don’t leave the duck there. It’s totally irresponsible. Put it on the swing, it’ll have much more fun.”

Give a TV-loving GeekMom a box set of her favorite show, especially if it’s one you can watch as a family, like the Star Trek Voyager complete box set.

For some moms, gifts in tiny velvet boxes are a standby, surefire hit. The sure thing for GeekMoms comes in larger packages, say packages that are Nook Color-shaped, netbook-shaped, or the diamond of them all, the iPad 2-shaped.

Or, if she already has her dream device, pop over to Etsy and get her an handcrafted case, like these fabric covers from Etsy user dobeeubags.

Most of all, just throw some love your GeekMom’s way. And, as some of my fellow GeekMoms have pointed out, don’t forget to show a little extra love to the single GeekMoms out there.

That Coffee Table Is Gonna Kill Your Kid! (Not Really)

olive_scar-225x300An article appeared recently in the New York Times with the headline “With Kids and Coffee Tables, It’s Trip, Fall, Ouch.” The article goes to great lengths to warn parents of the dangers of having a coffee table in the home.

OK, yes. When we were little, my younger brother went to the emergency room because of an altercation with a coffee table. And a survey of my fellow GeekMoms reveals two of them have coffee-table related scars. Another has one from a chair. Another recalls crashing into the media console. I myself had a run-in with a bit of shrubbery. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Last year, 143,070 children age 5 and younger visited emergency rooms after table accidents, according to estimates from the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission. Coffee tables, in particular, turn up in more than a quarter of the accident reports, in the commission’s sample count.

Perhaps your thought when reading this is “That’s a lot of kids! I’m throwing away my coffee table right now!”

But then, as you’re hauling your living room menace to the curb, you start thinking more about those numbers. If you take the quarter of those accidents that were coffee-table-related and compare that with the approximately 20 million kids in this country under the age of five, that’s a 0.18% chance that your unfortunate trip to the emergency room is related to the coffee table.

A child’s facial scar can seem like a mark of Cain, a permanent reminder of mommy or daddy momentarily failing.

That picture up there? That’s my daughter, and here’s how that knot happened. She was sitting happily on a little concrete stoop at the playground with her friend. Her dad and I, along with her friend’s parents, were all standing one foot away from the kids. All of the sudden, for no apparent reason, she pitched forward and BAM! Her face met the pavement. If ever there was a case of proper supervision, this was it. And yet, the accident still happened.

Ultimately, the coffee table presents parents with a familiar dilemma: We cannot shield our children from every possible danger. But is that any reason not to try?

Why stop at the coffee table, you mean?

Sure, let’s kick out the chairs, entertainment centers, nightstands, step stools, cabinets, stairs, and sidewalks. Oh, and don’t forget shrubbery.

But we’re all still OK with putting our kids in the car, right?

Pee-wee Herman: The Luckiest Boy in the World

Pee Wee Herman Show on Broadway

The temperatures dipped below freezing and the frigid winds were gusting. A stomach flu threatened to take down my whole family. But did that stop me from taking a friend’s extra ticket to see The Pee-wee Herman Show on Broadway? Of course not!

I had been debating about taking my 5-year-old daughter, but it was great to go see the show with another Pee-wee Herman fan. It was a surreal moment when Pee-wee walked in front of the red curtain. I mean, there was Pee-wee Herman! When the curtains parted to reveal the playhouse, it was as though my eyes had never truly seen color before that moment. It was electric.

Fans get their nostalgic trip satisfied with a stroll down familiar territory: Pee-wee’s greatest wish is to be able to fly, but he spends his one wish on Miss Yvonne so that Cowboy Curtis will like her. Remember? There’s new stuff, too, particularly a funny plot line where Pee-wee gets the playhouse wired for a new computer. Conky, Magic Screen, and Globey are threatened by this new technology and conspire against it. Who could possibly need more than the three of them. There’s also a new character, Bear, who Pee-wee outright makes fun of  for being the new character. It’s all very meta and wonderful.

I love that Pee-wee is gracious enough to give some of the biggest laughs to the rest of the cast. Miss Yvonne, played wonderfully by the original Miss Yvonne, Lynne Marie Stewart, had me laughing the hardest with a bit right out of a late-night infomercial.

The big question I had was can you take kids to see it? I only saw one or two kids on the night I was there, but I do think that you can take kids. I’d add a few conditions to that, though. The show is filled with sexual innuendo, including a bit about Pee-wee wearing an abstinence ring. Just about all of the innuendo would fly right over the head of my 5-year-old. Once you start getting to the 7-10 range, if you’ve got a curious kid who wants things explained, you’ll have a lot of explaining to do. Older than that, kids will probably just find it funny. At it’s heart, the show is for grown-ups like me who want to feel like a kid again by seeing The Pee-wee Herman once again.

There are still tickets available, but hurry! The show closes January 2. If you can’t make it, fear not. HBO will be recording it to air as a comedy special in 2011.

Waiting–and Waitlisting–for Superman

Photo: Paramount Pictures

My daughter just started Kindergarten at a New York City public school. The process of getting her there began when she was two years old and I started touring schools, fearing that if I didn’t like any of the possibilities we’d need time to move. The past year has felt like a part-time job, my time filled with tours, applications, and even an essay. Fortunately, we’re zoned for a pretty good school, but children in the zone had previously been waitlisted for reasons of overcrowding. Gifted and talented testing (yes, taking your 4-year-old for a standardized test) can open up more options. Then there are several schools of choice, meaning anyone from the district can go, but there’s only one way to get in: a lottery.

The school lottery is the central metaphor in the controversial new film, Waiting for Superman, from the director and producer of An Inconvenient Truth. The film follows five students and their dedicated parents as they try to escape the failing school lot they’ve been given in hope of a better education. Of course, there are only so many seats at the schools that are succeeding, so the only fair way to accept students is by lottery. It is absolutely gut-wrenching to watch these kids, seeing two paths laid out in front of them and the path they’ll take is determined by a slip of paper or number on a ball. Bring Kleenex, and lots of it.

If you’ve heard about this film already, you’ve probably heard something from one end of this spectrum: it’s filled with the answers to our nation’s education woes or it’s full of lies and does nothing but demonize teachers’ unions. As a parent, I appreciated the film’s desire to totally deconstruct the way education works now. It goes to great lengths to show that decades of education reforms have not made a dent in school performance. So what, then? The reformers in the film, notably Harlem Children’s Zone president, Geoffrey Canada, and Washington, D.C., School Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, face one clearly identifiable hurdle: the teachers’ unions.

From where I sit, the film isn’t anti-teacher, but it does call the unions to task on two things: the desire to attract and keep fabulous teachers through merit pay, and the need to fire underperforming teachers. I was fortunate enough to see a screening of the movie where producer Leslie Chilcott spoke afterwards, and I wish everyone could have the same experience because the conversation after added so much to the viewing experience. The perspective that Chilcott added that wasn’t in the film included:

  • Chilcott said that they used the lottery as a metaphor for solutions, and that they don’t believe that charter schools are the only answer. The analogy she used is that charter schools are like FedEx and public schools are like the post office. FedEx didn’t make the post office go away, but it did force the post office to innovate with things like overnight mail.
  • The film already needs an update. Some of my moments of outrage in the film have already been addressed. I knew about NYC’s “rubber rooms,” where teachers awaiting disciplinary hearings go to sit in a room for weeks on end while collecting their full salaries. What I didn’t know is that the city has already struck as deal with the union to end this practice, though some of the underlying problems still persist.
  • The filmmakers wanted to reverse the thinking about a bad school in a bad neighborhood: Perhaps a school isn’t bad because a neighborhood is bad. Maybe the reverse is true. A neighborhood can’t thrive without a good school at its center.
  • Chilcott said that she supports the union, and that wanting to work with the union on things like tenure shouldn’t be seen as being anti-union. She said Randi Weingarten attended a recent screening of the film. Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, is supposedly the villain of the film, which I didn’t find to be the case. Anyway, Chilcott said that after seeing the film, Weingarten agreed to take a look at tenure.
  • Most importantly, the thing I really took to heart, is that the film takes all adults to task on the state of education, including director Davis Guggenheim who admits in the film to driving past three public schools to drop his kids off at private school. The people who can do something about education reform aren’t just teachers, principals, and politicians, but also parents and any adult who cares about the future of this country. Everyone must do a part, and why not start by looking hard at what’s successful to try to recreate it on a broad scale?

I hope that everyone will see the film, if for no other reason than to keep this conversation in the public eye. As an extra incentive to the film, you can head to the Waiting for Superman website and get a $15 gift code to give to the classroom of your choice on DonorsChoose.org for every ticket purchased.

The end of our own lottery story is that after being waitlisted for months, we won the lottery. We got into our top pick, a progressive school that seems like a perfect fit for my daughter. Sure, it took plenty of phone calls and sleepless nights but it was all worth it. And now that we’re there, and my daughter’s in a class with a wonderful teacher, I’ve volunteered to be class parent and to help the Parents’ Association. We can all wait for Superman or we can put on a cape.