How to Make a Super Easy Zombie Cake

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Our zombie cake

What’s better than birthday cake? Zombie birthday cake, obviously. I have few domestic talents, but this is a cake that even the most clueless chef can tackle with ease. Mistakes? No such thing. This zombie rises up out of a grave of chocolate cake, frosting, and crumbled cookies.

What you need:

What to do:

  • bake or buy your cake
  • line a cookie sheet with foil and put the cake on top
  • hollow out a small space in the middle of the cake (or use a bundt pan as I did)
  • frost – no points for neatness, sloppy is better
  • smear some of the frosting thinly over the exposed foil to make mud/dirt
  • put your cake topper in the middle of the cake
  • cake toppers are generally naked, cover in frosting to create clothing
  • smear green gel food coloring and some of the black frosting on the cake topper to create a zombie look
  • separate the creme filling from the cookie shell of the Oreos and crush the remaining cookies
  • arrange larger broken cookies in a circle around the zombie to suggest that she is rising from her grave
  • sprinkle smaller cake and cookie crumbs around the cake and into the frosting on the foil
  • adorn with gummy worms
  • stick in eyeballs or other plastic creepy things for atmospheric effect
  • cover a cardboard box in foil, and decorate to create a headstone (with happy birthday wishes) for your zombie’s grave

That’s it! It’s easy enough to do the same thing with cupcakes. We used mini bundt pans and small cake toppers for these little treats. To create small headstones, we used the creme filling leftover from the Oreos to frost mini-chocolate bars and then decorated with gel icing. No birthday for a while? There’s always Halloween. Ah, heck, who needs an excuse? These are good for the zombie geek any day of the year.SAMSUNG

OK, TSA, This Breast Pump Thing is Just Too Much

TSA, I’ve had it with you. Really and truly. I know we never really got along in the first place because I wasn’t impressed with your security theater and your poor treatment of passengers and general ineffectiveness.

But I thought we could get along, develop a kind of working relationship. You’d learn from your mistakes, mature. I’d learn to be more patient, more forgiving. I was wrong.

The final straw was this story, about how your employees asked a lactating mother to prove her breast pump was real. She had to go into a public restroom and pump her breasts in front of strangers.

Seriously.

I doubt that GeekMoms really need me to enumerate the ways (oh, let me count them!) that this is wrong for nursing mothers everywhere. We get that, when possible, breastfeeding is ideal for mom and baby. We know society doesn’t offer enough support for the nursing mother, asking her to cover up and feed her baby in public restrooms. We recognize pumping is a private activity, and moms should have a private space in which to do it.

But could I spend just a moment to point out how fundamentally stupid this was from a security point of view? Do you not get that she could have just mixed up a little formula and put it in the bottles? Or purchased some cow’s milk and poured that in? Grabbed a little creamer from the condiment stand at the Starbucks kiosk? That unless your agent stood there, and watched the pump attach to the nipple and then watched the milk flow out and into the bottle, there was no way to know if that liquid in the bottles she produced actually was proof that the pump was what she said it was?

Yeah, I know. You’ve released a statement saying that you “‘accept responsibility” for the “apparent misunderstanding” and the “inconvenience or embarrassment” you “may” have caused her. News flash, TSA. That’s like saying I’m sorry if I hurt you. If you mean it, say it. “I’m sorry I hurt you” goes a lot further. I also know about your “new” procedure for the elderly, which is another piece of PR spin that I’m just not buying.

And while we’re chatting, you know, just the two of us, can I ask about the complaint that I recently filed with you? About how an agent did a little dance move to mock me? And the supervisor threatened me? And the pat-down agent touched my lower genitals? Because so far, I have received four emails saying that you can’t respond to my inquiry and one email saying that you have concluded that your personnel followed standard operating procedures in my screening. Yo. I disagree.

In the meantime, I hope we do get passenger advocates. I also hope, though, that Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) realizes that having TSA employees do the job will never work. If they could stop themselves from abusing passengers, they would have already done it.

Go ahead, Blogger Bob, respond to me. I triple-GeekMom-dare you.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series about airline travel.  Part 2 was about Delta’s poor customer service. Part 3 is our tips for avoiding and dealing with airline hassles. ]

The National Book Festival Just Got Even Better: Two Days of Programs Plus Graphic Novels

Image: Library of Congress

With banned book week and the arrival of library books on the Kindle, it seems like this just couldn’t be a better week for Book Geeks. Wrong! The National Book Festival will be held in Washington, DC, today and tomorrow. The event, which has been put on by the Library of Congress since 2000, has expanded from a single day jam-packed event into a day and a half. Not to mention, the Festival has added a brand new category just for Graphic Novels.

The Festival features writers spanning a wide variety of genres, including children, teens, poetry and prose, contemporary life, fiction and mystery, history, and others. There are about 100 authors who will be speaking and signing books this year, but the addition of the Graphic Novels category seems to reflect the growing popularity of this art form among readers. When we saw Jeff Kinney speak at the Festival in 2009, he was located in the Children and Teens tent. While Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a kind of crossover book, there’s no question that people of all ages enjoy the blend of art and words.

Suzanne Collins autographing at the 2010 NBS. Image: Jessamyn

At the festival, you get a chance to hear about favorite authors talk about their favorite characters, how books came to be, and what the craft of writing is like. Having spent so much time in a world created by someone else, it can be a little astonishing to see writers in person. Martha Grimes took me by surprise, with her sharp wit and frank discussion of alcohol in her books and personal life. Some authors seem distant, a few are bewildered, but most seem downright exuberant in their love of their craft and the festival that celebrates books.

The award for Most Charming, however, clearly goes to Jeff Kinney. You can see his 2009 talk here. Not only was he humble and funny in talking about his success (he still had a day job at that point), he went the extra mile for his fans. The author autograph lines are long and exhausting. My son had waited patiently in line for well over an hour when the line was closed because another author was moving into the autograph space. My son was crushed, but Jeff

Our treasured Jeff Kinney autograph. Image: Jessamyn

Kinney came to the rescue. He knew that many of his fans had been disappointed, so he came back at the end of the day to sign even more books. We walked away with my son grinning ear to ear, saying, “Jeff Kinney just called me Buddy!”  Many, though not all, of the authors are recorded and the videos are posted to the Library of Congress website. While it’s not quite as good as being there in person, it’s still a unique way to connect with the authors and books you love.

If you go: The Festival will run on the National Mall September 24th from 10-5:30 and September 25th from 1-5:30. Pack rain gear, bring books to be autographed, and snacks for the family. Plan to use the Smithsonian museums for restroom breaks, lunch, and as a respite from the chaos of the festival. Try not to get pulled into too many autograph lines. You will spend hours there and miss out on the author talks. Take the Metro if at all possible, along with a healthy dose of patience and good humor for dealing with the crowds and anticipated rain. You can follow the event through the kids and teachers online guide, or by subscribing by email, RSS feed, Facebook, or on twitter @LibraryCongress. Wave hello if you see us – we’ll be the book geeks sitting in the front row.

 

6 Reasons to Get Your Kid a Smartphone

A few years ago I would have written a post arguing that no child needs a cell phone, let alone the mini-computing marvel of the contemporary smartphone. But now? I’m a believer.

I got my son a smartphone last year as I was changing service providers and getting myself a new phone. They made me a fantastic offer on the whole package and I didn’t refuse. A few weeks before our upgrade date, my son’s Blackberry went down a storm drain. “Well,” I said, “You have an old flip phone. You can wait a couple of weeks.” By the time the upgrade date rolled around, something funny had happened. I was almost as anxious for my son to replace his smartphone as he was! The convenience of the always-connected family is hard to ignore. So why should you consider getting smartphones for your kids?

1. Location, location, location. Signing up for a location service like Google Latitude or Foursquare allows you and your child to both know one another’s location at all times. Rather than having to call your child, risk being screened, then have to ask, “Where are you? Did you remember to go to Lego Robotics club after school?” every single day, you can just check the map. Likewise, when you’re running late after work, your child can easily see where you are and track your progress toward home. All of the major service providers offer family locator services for standard phones, but these cost an additional fee each month. Smartphones allow you to have the same service, with better features, for free.

2. Navigation is not just for cars. Despite our best lecturing, coaching, and worrying, kids occasionally wind up where they aren’t supposed to be. My son missed the bus once, and despite the fact that walking home only involves a single left turn, he somehow got terribly lost. Knowing that your child has access to instant GPS walking navigation provides tremendous peace of mind. A smartphone means never being lost.

Checking homework via Blackboard on the HTC Hero. Image: Jessamyn

3. Homework. OK, your child is likely to oversell this point, but the smartphone is, in fact, helpful for managing homework. For schools like ours that use Blackboard, there are mobile apps that allow your child to pull up classes online in no time flat. Add in apps for dictionaries and calculators, flashcards, learning games, reading apps like Kindle and Nook, plus the ability to surf the web, and you really do have a helpful homework tool. It’s always connected, available, and pocket portable, unlike the family computer.

4. Photos and video. While standard phones do allow you to take pictures and send them via MMS, you probably have to pay more for your texting plan to make meaningful use of these features. The smartphone bundle frees you up to take and send as many photos and videos you want. When my son’s locker was out of control, I required him to take a daily photo and text it to me. It was a great way to keep on top of the situation without having to drive to the school each night. And my new phone allows us to video chat. From anywhere. Awesome.

5. Your child will care for their phone better than the family pet. You can be pretty sure the phone won’t be lost or broken, barring freak accidents. Also, you now have the number one ace up your sleeve. Any rule infraction can result in the loss of the phone, thus motivating your child to get good grades, do chores, and generally grow a halo.

6. It costs less than you think. By the time you pay for the extras on a standard phone like family locator, unlimited texting, and more minutes because the phone can’t Skype on your home wireless internet service, you’re paying about as much as you would to have a smartphone with a data plan. If you’ve got a smartphone for yourself, adding one for your child doesn’t cost all that much more.

I pinkie-swear promise that I did not receive any payments, bribes, or “incentives” from the United Federation of Kids Everywhere to write this post. And I do know that there are arguments against giving kids smartphones or even standard cell phones. But for our family, the benefits win.

What do you think?

The Value of the National Spelling Bee in the Age of Spell Check and Predictive Text

Yesterday 275 kids gathered in Washington, DC, to take a spelling test. Today, they’ll start spelling in the preliminary rounds until just 50 spellers move on to the semifinals of the National Spelling Bee. A few of them are here by luck. Most of the spellers, however, got here through incredible hard work and determination. This is no fluke. This is the culmination of hours and hours of intense studying, rote memorization, and the deep exploration of language. These kids are the best of the orthographic best.

Why bother?

Even our smartphones are now capable of correcting our spelling, and contemporary spelling conventions offer wide latitude in expression.  A legitimate conversation today might consist of this jumble of characters:  Sup? Nm, u? K, gtg, ttyl. While some have questioned the value in taking spelling seriously, I think it’s a skill for the masses. Spelling should not be the private domain of one subset of specialized geeks.

Rote memorization is not all bad. Remember your times tables? You do?  Well, that was rote memorization. And thanks to mnemonics like King Phillip Came Over For Good Spaghetti, you can quickly access information that lets you move forward in a hurry. Can you imagine how much more difficult geometry and algebra would be if you had to work out 7 x 7 = 49 every single time?

Words are the building blocks of thought. While we have generic words like “thing” and “stuff” to get us through those situations when we are at a loss for words, language allows for sophistication. Shakespeare might have written “Could I think of you as like that one thing? You’re better than that stuff.”  But a richer vocabulary offers the romance of “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”  If we can’t spell words, we can’t communicate our most nuanced thoughts.

Spelling is so much more than memorization. Spelling connects us to history and culture, to science, poetry, and mathematics. A word is more than the sum of its parts. Words tell stories and act as the doorway to all the realms of knowledge. For example, I was once given the word S-I-L-I-C-I-F-E-R-O-U-S in a spelling bee. I’d never heard the word before. I asked for the definition. Containing silicon. I asked for the etymology. Latin. I asked for the part of speech. Adjective.

With this information, I was able to construct the word in its entirety. I knew about silicon, and thus had the S-I-L-I-C-I beginning. The Latin root told me that the middle part of the word would be F-E-R rather than P-H-O-R and the fact that it was an adjective, not a noun, told me that the word ended in O-U-S rather than U-S. Siliciferous. One word can encapsulate an entire education.

When we encourage kids to learn to spell and applaud their accomplishments, we are celebrating the fullness of thought that can only come from human beings.

Rock on, National Spelling Bee contestants!

Geeky Ways to Love the Iditarod: Build a Better Dog Sled

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Image Jessamyn

Talk about an amazing race. The Iditarod dog sled competition, which started Saturday,  stretches more than a thousand miles from Anchorage to Nome, crossing some of the toughest terrain in the world under some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Mushers come from all over the world to compete, but, at its heart, the last great race is a unique competition that captures the very essence of what it means to be an Alaskan. It’s about grit and perseverance, survival and courage. The race also symbolizes compassion and responsibility for our fellow human beings as it commemorates the heroic efforts of a group of mushers who ran the life-saving serum needed to treat Nome’s diphtheria outbreak in 1925.

And there are so many ways to geek out on the Iditarod!

To start, try your hand at building a sled out of anything you have on hand. Others have used Lego bricks and plastic wrap, but we used a broken down laundry hamper.

Some things you may want to consider:

–runners for your musher to stand on
–a space for provisions to sustain you and your dogs
–a harness system for your dogs to pull the sled
–how to improve your sled’s performance
–wheels if you live in a climate without snow

We connected Sherlock and Watson, our little rat terriers, to our sled. Sherlock turned around and stared at the sled, then flatly refused to pull. Watson, the better sport, enthusiastically pulled Sherlock around our house, which led to lots of crashes and barking and laughter.

If you do build a sled, be sure to take photos and send them in to the Build A Better Sled project.

Teachers-Guide-Mystery-on-the-iditarod-trailThere are plenty of other ways to learn with your kids through the Iditarod. You can follow the racers by visiting the Anchorage Daily News each day or check in with ESPN. The official website has a section for teachers filled with learning activities.

You can track the progress of the mushers, do some math, learn some grammar, stage a reader’s theater, and study all kinds of science pertaining to the race. Or you might read about Libby Riddle, the first woman to win the Iditarod, one of the many first-hand accounts of running the race including one by Gary Paulsen, or build a learning unit around The Mystery on the Iditarod Trail. Finally, there are many videos about the race, including Balto.

Sled dog racing is the only professional sport in which women and men compete against each other equally. While many women have run and won the race, Susan Butcher was one of my childhood heroes.  Susan was an amazing four-time winner who, with other women, inspired a common saying and t-shirt slogan.

Alaska – where men are men and women win the Iditarod.

For most of you, Alaska is a strange and far-off place and you probably think I’m joking when I tell you that they didn’t cancel recess until it was -25F. Think that’s tough?  Next time your kids are hoping for a snow day, you can tell them that my elementary didn’t close until the thermometer hit -55F. Building a sled is a great way for me to share with my son – and your kids – a little piece of what it was like to grow up there. There are so many life lessons to take from the Iditarod.

But if your kids learn nothing else, remember: we don’t eat yellow snow.

 

What Do Smart Zombies Want? Apps For Better Brains!

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Image by Tim

I’m not sure what kind of geeky conversations go on in your households, but a common lament in my house is the lack of quality zombie apps on the market. Rather than listening to this diatribe yet again, I suggested that my son write it all down. Here’s his take on the state of the zombie app market, along with his idea of the perfect zombie app.

Do you have a strange obsession with the undead? I certainly do, but when I look for apps that are zombie related, they’re always either violent or boring. A solution? An app that is

  • Educational. If you’re going to be on an app, may as well get more brains.
  • Entertaining. I despise boring apps, especially educational ones.
  • Non-Gory. Zombies don’t have to splatter blood even if they need a little brain hors d’oeuvre every once in a while.

So how could this be combined, while making it attractive to geeky kids?  Maybe something like this.

The app could ask this question: You’re trapped in a pet store. You have locked the zombies in the back room, but need that space. In order to get in without getting attacked, you need to do some quick thinking.

Each zombie used to have a pet. The number of pets each zombie had are: 3, 2, 0, 5, 10, 6, 4, 1, 9, and 10.

What is the mean number of pets formerly owned by the zombies? What is the modal number of pets owned by the zombies, and what is the median number of pets?

A: Mean: 5, Median: 4.5, Mode: 10

B: Mean: 8, Median: 6, Mode: 0

C: Mean: 0, Median: 6, Mode: 8

Say you answered A.

A: is correct. The average number of pets owned by zombies is 5. The middle number of pets owned by zombies is 4.5, and the most common number of pets is 10.

Then a game screen would come up. It would look like a whack-a-mole stand, except at the top it said Whack-un-dead.

Hands would start to rise from the ground, like the moles in whack-a-mole, and you could tap to hit them.

Say you answered B or C:

Hands would start to come from the corners of the screen and make the screen look like it was cracking. Then a scream. The question would come up again with the wrong answer you just guessed marked by an X that looks like it was made by finger nails.

Sounds pretty cool right? I’ve looked for apps in the past. One was called Math Zombie. I thought this would be perfect. I opened the app, and it turned out just to be a math game that had nothing at all to do with zombies. I then tried an app called Zombie Farm. It turned out to be fun, non-gory, but not educational. Then Zombie Pizza. I thought this would be good with fractions and things. It was, again, fun, non-gory, but taught absolutely nothing. I’ve searched just zombie in general in the app store, and the ones that come up are often violent. Some of these other games do have valuable skills to offer though, like hand eye coordination, faster reaction times, and strategy. But they don’t have just plain skills out in the open. Maybe someday this is will be a reality, but for now, good look finding an app  that’s not soaked in red, entertaining enough to raise the dead, and helps build your BBRRAAAIIIIINNNSSS!!!!!!!

—Missing-Limb Tim

So, GeekMom readers, can you help a Geekling out?  Does anyone have a worthwhile zombie app to recommend for a discriminating tween?

There’s No Such Thing as Girls’ Toys and Boys’ Toys

We’ve had a lot to say about princesses, Disney-style and otherwise, during this past week. Our relationship to princesses is as much about our personal identities as it is about the social messages about princesses that come from both popular culture and corporations. Throughout it all, I think the essential question that nags at us is this:  What does it mean to be a girl?

The answer is complex and is generated by each and every one of us, females and males, kids and grownups, authors and artists, movie studios and toy companies. The social construction of girlhood in general and princesshood in particular is like a crazy funhouse mirror maze in which we all project and view different images, simultaneously trying to figure out which ones we like, which ones we don’t, and which ones we actually resemble.

Although I have these kinds of conversations with my friends all the time, I was astonished to have a chat about gender, toys, and marketing with a Disney representative the other day. Several weeks ago I bought my son a gift on Disney’s online shopping portal. Some time passed and I received an email with an invitation to take a survey about my shopping experience. I take those surveys. Every time. It’s easy enough to kvetch about things you don’t like, but corporations are not mind readers. They need actual feedback and your views can’t be considered if you never voice them.

I voiced my opinion. Overall, I like their website, it was super easy to find what I needed, and I was happy with the quality of the product I ordered. The only thing I had to say that wasn’t positive was a small comment about the gendered nature of the toys. I can’t stand the way they are categorized as toys for girls and toys for boys. In response, I received an email asking if I would mind providing my phone number so that they could talk to me more about this. Really?  I was game, and after a couple of missed calls, I found myself on the receiving end of a call from Disney’s presidential service team.

I expected someone who was either disengaged from the issue or a corporate representative who was in some way going to try to continue to sell me on Disney despite my concerns. That is not what I got. The man on the other end of the phone sounded like he actually understood.

“I think girls should be more empowered to play with active toys,”  I said. “I agree!”  he replied. And so it went, even when I explained that I wanted my son to feel more comfortable with toys typically marketed to girls.

Now, I’m not naïve enough to think that Disney’s entire corporate structure is going to change as a result of this call. I recognize that more than any other company that markets to children, Disney has mastered the art of making its customers feel cherished and welcome. In fact, when people ask me what it was like to spend a day undercover with a cult (true story), I often explain that it was a lot like being on a cruise ship or at Disney World. Everyone makes you feel loved and welcome and snuggly inside. To draw you in. And get your money.

Photo: Jessamyn

Nevertheless, I was very impressed at the effort that was put into a small comment that reflected a big thought. I’ve always told my son that there is no such thing as girls’ toys and boys’ toys. Toys are just toys. I wish that marketers would consider this too, and stop playing such a strong role in defining gender for our children. I had the chance to say that to Disney, and hung up the phone pleasantly surprised.

On such small pebbles are castles built. Perhaps even castles with self-rescuing princesses.

How Stephen King Taught Me Percentile Rank and the Normal Curve

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Adapted from Wikimedia Commons

I was driving my ’58 Plymouth Fury on a long trip out of Boulder, Colorado to a strange town in Maine, when I stopped at a hotel along the way for a needed caffeine boost. A man in glasses and a way with words came over and asked, “So, what do you know about percentile rank and the normal curve?”  It was strange for a pick-up line, but…

Ok, ok, that’s not what happened. Frankly, I doubt that Stephen King could have taught me these fundamental concepts in a conversation as well as he taught them to me in one of his novels. Here’s what really happened.

I was taking a research methods class, going through a phase in which I transformed from Geek Type E (English Lit Major) to Geek Type S (Social Scientist). The statistics gave me trouble, given my earlier career as a math-avoidant bibliophile. I understood, on a basic level, the concept of the normal curve. I was willing to accept that many kinds of data follow a distribution pattern where there are a few data points at one end, a lot in the middle, and a few at the other end. We’ve all heard of the bell curve.

Percentiles and percentile ranks (definitions differ slightly) also made intuitive sense to me as an overachieving nerd who understood that my SAT score could also be expressed as what percentage of test-takers scored at or below my score.

What I couldn’t get was how these two concepts relate to one another, and the biggest stumbling block was that percentile rank is not an equal-interval score. That means that the difference between the 25th and 30th percentiles is not the same as the difference between the 55th and 60th percentiles, or the 90th and the 95th percentiles. 30-25 = 5. 60-55 = 5. 95-90 = 5. So why is it that when it comes to percentiles, 5 does not mean the same thing as 5?  The technical explanation is that percentile ranks are tied to the normal curve, so some are closer than others.

I still didn’t get it.

Enter the Master of Horror. In a serendipitous moment, I picked up a copy of King’s The Long Walk. In the novel, 100 boys living in a contemporary dystopia participate in an event called the Walk. They have to maintain a speed of 4 miles an hour, there are no stops or resting breaks, and failure to keep moving or abide by any of the strict rules of the contest results in immediate death. Soldiers stay with the walkers, ready to shoot at any moment. The contest ends when there is only one walker alive.

As the novel opens, a few boys are shot right away. They have mental or physical problems that immediately take them out of the contest. Most of the others keep on going, until there are big losses around the midpoint. When it gets down to the last five walkers… well, what they go through is unbearable. The tension of wondering who will make it, who can keep lifting his feet and putting them down, who can suppress the psychological terror of it all long enough to keep on going, is vintage King.

It’s also a near-perfect representation of percentile rank and why differences are not equal. I realized that if you plotted how long each boy walked before being shot, you would end up with a normal curve. Since there were 100 boys, each boy’s placement could be equated to percentile rank. Now I could see that 5 does not always equal 5. The difference between walkers who came in at, say, 55th and 60th places was inconsequential. It is easy to imagine them switching ranks because there was very little to distinguish them from one another. But the difference between coming in as the winner and coming in fifth was profound. The boys in the middle were all about the same, the boys who died at the beginning and end were both very different from the group as a whole and from one another. Aha!

Normal curve in The Long Walk

If it still doesn’t make sense to you Primary Geek Type Es, read the book and then come back to this post. You’ll see what I mean. Students take note, however. Reading horror novels as a method of studying for your statistics classes is generally not recommended. On the other hand, we could explore probability calculations for encountering scary creatures in dark, wooded areas, or incidence and prevalence rates for vampire infections in the general population…

Holiday Air Travel: Getting Yourself and Your Geeklings Through the New TSA Procedures

Provision_xray*Note: Use discretion when clicking the links to read the discussion and viewing images produced by the TSA scanners as some material is inappropriate for children.

As a frequently flying GeekMom, I’ve flown under the old and new guidelines, had my very first aggressive pat down, and learned a few things through the friendly and not-so-friendly skies as a business and leisure traveler, a domestic and international vacationer, a single woman alone and a single mom with an infant-toddler-kid-tween. As a criminologist, I travel with a professional eye as well. It’s easy enough to plot the inverse relationship between new security measures and ease of travel, but there are ways to minimize the fuss.

To full body scan or not to full body scan: That is the big holiday travel question. The controversy over full body scanners, now deployed in many airports throughout the United States and abroad, is well-documented. So what does the savvy GeekMom need to know to make an informed decision?

If you go through the full body scannerCheck out the images produced by the machines that are viewed by an agent, who may be of the opposite sex, in a separate location. Learn about the radiation issues, and decide whether the possibility of stored images is too much for you. But there’s more to consider. First, your belongings will be out of your view, albeit for a short time, while you are in the scanner. This probably matters more to you as a person who is more likely to be traveling with awesome expensive gadgets. Most importantly, you need to know that going through the scanner does not exempt you from one of the new aggressive pat downs. If the viewing agent spots something or there is some question about items in your personal belongings, you will get the new pat down even though you’ve just been through the scanner. Take absolutely everything out of your pockets to minimize this possibility.

If you opt out of the full body scanner: State your preference for alternate screening calmly but assertively. TSA’s clear intent is to make the pat-downs so uncomfortable that passengers will feel coerced into the scanner. And the new pat-downs are more aggressive. The touch is definitely more firm and there is more contact with genital areas. The search is always conducted by a member of the same sex. The stance you will adopt is actually pretty similar to the stance in the scanner, both of which may make some women feel vulnerable. Make sure you tell the agent if you have any medical equipment, or even just mildly sore spots and bruises. The pat down involves a certain amount of squeezing that could be painful if you have an injury. You absolutely have the right to have your children and your belongings in your view at all times. Ask to have each family member patted down one at a time rather than simultaneously so that you can keep an eye on things. Don’t hesitate to assert these rights.

Victims and survivors of any kind of sexual abuse or assault should weigh their options very carefully, and prepare themselves or their children for the potential emotional difficulty of having the genitals handled in this manner. All parents and kids should talk about appropriate and inappropriate touch. Children might come away with the impression that it’s OK for other people to touch them in this way after they see what happens in the patdowns.

Decide before you get to the airport whether or not you will go through the scanner, but always be prepared for the patdown given that you may wind up doing both. Your Geeklings most certainly need to be educated about what to expect and how to act. If your child is 12 or under (carry proof of age), they are exempt from the new aggressive patdowns, but they can still experience the a modified patdown which can be unsettling for a young child. Ask a trusted adult to pat you down in front of your children to give your kids a preview. You’ve seen enough CSI and YouTube footage to know what to do.

All of the security theater may also make your Geeklings fearful about air travel, especially if they are old enough to understand the connection to 9/11. If your child responds to the Spock/Data brand of logic, statistics demonstrating the safety of air travel are easy enough to find.

The issues and considerations are complex. Read the links in this post and try to devise a plan that works for your family. Regardless of how you feel about the new procedures, you’ll have to deal with them if you are flying this holiday season. More than ever before, it’s important to get to the airport early, be knowledgeable about TSA rules and policies, be prepared to respond if something goes wrong, and approach stressful situations with a positive attitude. Safe and happy travels to all, and to all a good flight.

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