A Second Half of Life College Degree

I’ve always been a big believer in the fact that most 18-year-olds have no idea what they really want to do with their lives. Three out of our four children have hit that age and we have another who will wrestle with this problem soon. I’m sympathetic. I was there once too, and I even had the benefit of thinking I knew exactly what I wanted to do for a career.

When I was finishing high school I knew I’d study Elementary Education in college. From the time I was a little girl I loved the idea of teaching little people. I was fortunate to be able to do a high school senior year internship where I co-taught with a childhood mentor, in her first-grade classroom. I loved every minute of it.

Continue reading A Second Half of Life College Degree

Why Including Adaptive Sports at ESPN X Games is Critical

In January of every year, our family heads west to take in another year of ESPN Winter X Games. Standing at the edge of the Super Pipe while athletes do their tricks above your head is pretty exciting. Standing at the bottom (or the sides) of the Big Air ramp is mind blowing, no matter how many times you’ve seen it before. But there are a handful of events that mean even more to me – the adaptive races.

Sara Schultz (wife of athlete Mike Schultz) watches the Adaptive Snowboarder X on the big screen. Photo: Judy Berna
Sara Schultz (wife of athlete Mike Schultz) watches the Adaptive Snowboarder X on the big screen.
Photo: Judy Berna

This year I had a chance to see the Adaptive Snowcross, Adaptive Snowboarder X, and the Monoski races. Between practices that are open to the public and the actual races, there was a lot of excitement in the adaptive world at X Games this year.

I’ve been an amputee for the past dozen years. Even though I had a misshapen foot most of my life, I never imagined I’d someday be an amputee. Having a limb cut off is pretty low on the list of things most folks assume might happen to them in a lifetime. Continue reading Why Including Adaptive Sports at ESPN X Games is Critical

Seven Things to Do With Kids at X Games!

As a mom with four kids, the youngest being 15, sometimes it’s hard to find activities to do with them. They’d much rather disappear with friends than hang out with either parental unit. This is why I look forward to the Winter X Games every year. In years past I’ve written about different aspects of this event, from the top 14 reasons I love the X Games, to how the women athletes inspired me by their support of each other.

This year, as I walked through the Games, I noticed a lot of kids. Not just wild-haired teenagers, but school aged kids. It dawned on me that the X Games are not just a place to take your teens when you’re looking for a bonding experience, there is plenty to do with younger kids too.

While sorting through my 10 gazillion pictures, I came up with seven things to do with kids at X Games. After reading through them, you might just want to go ahead and put a trip to Aspen on your family calendar for this time next year. It’s a free event, after all, and you’ll take home a million bucks worth of new memories.

  1. Take a great picture! There are photo opportunities galore at the venue. From action cut-outs to huge silly inflatables. Your trip photo album will be full of toothy smiles on truly happy faces.

Continue reading Seven Things to Do With Kids at X Games!

Toys That Look Like Every Kid, Even Kids With Different Abilities

It’s been a big month for the toy world and its recognition of disabled kids. As your resident amputee GeekMom writer, I thought I’d share a few of the exciting things that are happening.

I’ll start with my favorite limb different kid, Jordan, of the website Born Just Right, who recently started a campaign to get the American Doll Company to consider making a limb different doll. Jordan was born with two arms but only one hand. She is very active in the limb different community. She found out that the company had added a diabetes care kit to their accessories option after a young fan who had diabetes drummed up over 4 thousand signatures on a petition. Because she loved her American Girls dolls and truly wanted one that looked like her, Jordan decided to start her own petition. That was 21,000 signatures ago.

Her story ran wild on the internet, being featured on the front page of Change.org, and also appeared on several national television broadcasts. Jordan finally got an answer. Continue reading Toys That Look Like Every Kid, Even Kids With Different Abilities

Has Your Santa Been to School?

It’s that time of the year. Time for sugar cookies, Christmas carols, and of course, a visit to see Santa. Some folks are determined to get a good picture of the red cloaked man with their children every year. Others (raising my hand) prefer to catch him only in low-stress situations, like at a friend’s party. It’s not uncommon for Santa visits to go terribly wrong. I dare you to Google “Santa fails”.

For every perfectly caught moment, there are dozens of snapshots that were declared “good enough” so everyone could move along. Sometimes it’s the child’s personality. I had a toddler who was terrified of Chuck E. Cheese. There was no way he’d even consider sitting on a bearded man’s lap. But sometimes it might be that Santa lacks the necessary people skills. Maybe it sounded like good money for a temporary gig, but it turned out to be much more complicated.

Photo: Julia DuBois
Photo: Julia DuBois

On the other hand, a well-trained jolly man has probably been to Santa school. Continue reading Has Your Santa Been to School?

Why My Nephew Will Get a GoPro for Christmas

It’s no secret that we are a GoPro family. When I was first introduced to the tiny action camera my first thought was of the crazy video that would be coming home from our ski days. I have three back country skiing boys (four if you count my husband) and I’ve never been in the back woods with them. I knew I’d suddenly get a peek into their world. And I was not wrong. We’ve collected hours of footage and made a few fun compilations to share with friends and family.

Then one day it hit me. This little camera that was so easy to take out on the slopes, and worked just as well on the days my boys were riding BMX bikes instead of strapped to skis, would also be a perfect fit for families with little kids. It’s small, hardy, waterproof, and takes high-quality footage. Sounds like a perfect fit for households with messy toddlers and energetic preschoolers. I shared my revelation with our readers, in a post I called Why You Need a GoPro in Your Diaper Bag. Continue reading Why My Nephew Will Get a GoPro for Christmas

Helmet Heads Can Be Cool

As the mother of four children, three of them extreme sport-loving boys, I am very familiar with the dangerous side of having fun. This is why I was thrilled to see GeekMom Ariane’s recent post about the importance of wearing helmets while ice skating. Fortunately, many people are finally realizing that flying down the hill on skis requires a good helmet, but it’s taken a bit longer to get the skating crowd on board.

I blame part of this trend on the movies and television shows. When you think about the life moments that might find you sliding around a rink, you usually envision the cute stocking cap on your head, or scarf around your neck. The skating outfit is usually a part of the winter fun scene that television and movie directors are looking for. Adding a rigid dome to the actors’ heads isn’t an option.

There is a reason life doesn’t really look like the movies. From wardrobe to relationships, most of us are smart enough to realize that the real world life is a bit messier.

It’s time for winter sports season once again. Whether you live near a scenic frozen lake or have a rink tucked conveniently in your local shopping mall or town square, a lot of people have access to skating once the winter months hit. So it’s time to talk about helmets. Continue reading Helmet Heads Can Be Cool

Raising Kids With Weed – Living the High Life in Colorado

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

Our family has lived all over the country, following my husband’s job. With each new location I made an effort to get to know the cultural climate of our new home town. In Utah I read up on the Mormon faith. When we landed in Upstate New York, we explored the Big Apple as much as possible. Then four years ago we moved to Colorado. It was immediately apparent that I needed to research the topic of marijuana.

Medicinal use had been legal in my new state since the year 2000. The summer we moved to town the country was gearing up for a presidential election and the state was gearing up to see if its residents would be some of the firsts in the country to allow legal recreational use. By the first week in November it came to be. We were now parenting our four children in the land of legal weed.

This lead to an exploration of not only how marijuana can be used by amputees like myself to mitigate pain but also, unexpectedly, how it might be used to treat one of my children for an unexpected and difficult condition. The answers were eye-opening.  Continue reading Raising Kids With Weed – Living the High Life in Colorado

Not Just for Snowboots, This Dial Also Adjusts Prosthetics

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

In the world of prosthetics, any little change in the design of a socket can make a huge difference when it comes to comfort. Much like athletic shoe design, when someone comes up with a new idea that works, it can change the game.

Three years ago, I told you about a new idea in prosthetic leg sockets that I was very excited about. A guy named Joe Mahon, who just happens to be the very first prosthetist I had after my surgery, had found a way to make a socket adjustable, using the same kind of dial you might find on a snowboard boot. In the amputee world, this means a huge reduction in the number of afternoons you sit in an office, waiting for adjustments by the professionals. It also means a lot more freedom when you’re far away from your prosthetist, say on a hiking trail or lounging on a long lost beach. Continue reading Not Just for Snowboots, This Dial Also Adjusts Prosthetics

Walking On A Foot That Costs More Than A Car

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

When you get the chance to try out a product that retails for $70,000, you clear your calendar and sign up. If the product happens to be a computerized foot, it’s even more exciting.

I’ve been an amputee for almost 12 years and have worn about six different feet. They have gotten progressively better through the years. When I chose to have my amputation in 2004, I knew I’d be happy with the technology they had at the time. However, I also suspected it was destined to be an exciting new field for engineers and designers.

In fact, I had several arguments with my surgeon about how much of my leg to cut off (true story). He saw me as a patient who had a deformed foot, but a healthy leg from the ankle up. He wanted to cut it off right above my ankle. I knew if I wanted to be ready for the feet of the future, I’d have to have the clearance for them. I’d needed room for the hardware. We met in the middle and he did the amputation halfway up my calf.

I had been hearing about a brand new design in prosthetic feet and ankles that was coming from the lab of a guy named Hugh Herr. Mr. Herr is a rock star in the world of prosthetics. An engineer and an amputee himself (from a rock climbing accident), he’s spent a few decades designing prosthetics that make sense. The BIOM foot is a new way of trying to master a more natural gait.

Inside my foot shaped shell, a mini spring. Photo: Judy Berna
Inside my foot shaped shell, a mini spring. Photo: Judy Berna

The foot I wear today is basically a smaller version of the Cheetah leg you see Paralympic athletes using. I get the energy return by pushing down on the spring action, which propels me forward. This new design (the BIOM) actually has a computer built in. It uses a battery. It also promises to be able to give much more precise energy return.

Once I heard there was a scientific study being conducted on the BIOM, and it was taking place not far from me in Boulder, I signed up. Ironically, one of the parameters to be able to be in the study was having enough clearance from the end of your socket to the ground. Once again, I was glad I won that argument with the surgeon so long ago.

I showed up at the lab on the campus of the University of Colorado ready to try out this new idea. I’d heard great things about it, but had never known anyone personally who had one (most likely because of the price).

After meeting the two interns, the prosthetist, and the woman from the BIOM company, we got to work. My regular foot was taken off my socket and the new BIOM was attached to it.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

For the next few hours, I walked up and down a runway. My ankle was connected by Bluetooth to the tablet the prosthetist was holding in her hand. She could make adjustments to fit my own personal gait. Each amputee has their own unique settings, taking into consideration not just their gait pattern, but their height, weight, and how far up their amputation goes.

My impression? It felt like nothing else I’d ever worn. It’s so hard to use words to describe anything related to how a prosthetic feels. It’s a unique experience to begin with. Having the nerves in my stump being read by my brain as “foot” nerves, including still being able to feel my missing foot planted firmly on the ground, just complicates the situation.

Let’s start with how the ankle works. Every time I’d push down the toe, in a normal gait cycle, the ankle read how much force I was putting on it, and responded by giving the foot more or less propulsion forward. The first word that came to mind when I started out on that runway was “squishy.” It felt like I was stepping on something squishy, but not in a way that interrupted my gait, as would normally happen. With the squishiness came actual forward motion. As the prosthetist played with the settings, giving me more and less response, I was trying hard to read what that was doing to my foot and to my gait. It’s a mentally exhausting process.

The treadmill that got the best of me in the clinical trial. Photo: Judy Berna
The treadmill that got the best of me in the clinical trial. Photo: Judy Berna

To complicate my situation, my real foot isn’t totally normal. I’ve lost some range of motion and it wants to roll to the outside. I wear an insert in my right shoe, which helps keep my ankle upright in everyday life. But when walking in such a specific way, down that runway, I found myself concentrating on keeping my real foot doing the right thing, as much as I was concentrating on the new computerized foot. It was more than a bit distracting.

After the extensive settings stage, I moved to the treadmill. This is where the study was actually going to take place. Eventually, they put millions of little dots all over each subject, and cameras were posted all over the room to read what each part of the body was doing, all while the subject walked briskly on the treadmill.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that this stage really tripped me up. I do some work on treadmills at the gym. I set it on a slow speed and practice long strides, as a way of teaching my body what normal gait should feel like. But I never crank the speed up.

As they increased the speed at the lab, I found myself in a panic. I had to hold onto the bars on each side to keep my balance. Even having one of the interns standing behind me, with his hand on my back to reassure me that I wouldn’t go flying off the back, didn’t seem to help.

I’m just not used to walking fast. I’ve never been a fast walker. With my old foot strapped to that leg brace for so many years, I sure didn’t walk fast. Since I’ve had prosthetics, I rarely needed to be in a hurry and prefer to walk a bit slower, concentrating more on accurate gait. This treadmill test was a real challenge.

When it became apparent that I would not be able to keep the speed that was necessary for the study without holding onto the side rails, it was obvious to all of us that my part of the study was over. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t help more in the development of this new technology, but the researchers assured me that every situation taught them something.

They not only needed to know which types of amputees loved the foot, but also which types of amputees weren’t comfortable in it. I fall into the second category. There is great energy return with the BIOM foot, but it was almost too much help for me. I learned something about myself through this study too. I never realized how much I concentrate on both sides of my body when I walk. I consciously think about doing the heel strike with my prosthetic foot to make it work correctly, but I’m also very aware of my right foot, to keep it from rolling to the side. Having so much going on, on the prosthetic side, was just too distracting for me.

My regular foot, exactly as stable as I need it to be. Photo: Judy Berna
My regular foot, exactly as stable as I need it to be. Photo: Judy Berna

I’ve heard that people who had two normal ankles/feet, then lost one, love this foot. They say it feels, by far, the most like their natural foot. I have never had a good ankle on my left side. It’s always been locked up with little range of motion. The bit of energy return I get from the foot I’m wearing today was life-changing when I put on my leg. It was just enough to feel like I had participation from the left side, something I’d never had before. And in the end, it seems to be the exact amount I need. Having more just gave me too much to think about.

What I do like about the BIOM foot is that it’s literally the next step. It’s destined to be the forerunner in a whole line of prosthetic feet that will respond in new ways to what the body is telling it to do. Next year, there will probably be a new version. The year after that, another. Who knows what I’ll be trying out by the time 2020 rolls around?

I also love that its design addressed the problem of slopes. Most prosthetic feet have no ability to pick up the toe. This means when you encounter a slope, even a slight incline, you generally have to walk on your toe or risk hyperextending your knee.

I was really excited to try out this feature and the researchers were kind enough to let me play with that at a slower treadmill speed before they switched out the BIOM foot. I kept having to tell myself that I was on a slope, because I was walking as normally as I would have on a flat surface. I even asked the assistant at one point, “Are you sure you set it to a slope?” That’s an exciting idea for the future of prosthetic feet. You don’t realize how many slight slopes you encounter in life, from sidewalks that gently incline to raised crosswalks on city streets, until you struggle with not being able to raise your toe.

I think the BIOM will be a good fit for many amputees. For those who had two healthy legs and lost one, it is definitely worth trying. I can see how it might be very close to what they used to feel when they had their natural foot. Here is a video of a double amputee walking up hills and slopes with the BIOM, which is very inspiring to folks who want to regain their activity level after an amputation.

Two issues will need to be addressed. One is the price, obviously. The second is the care of the foot. It is basically a computer strapped to your ankle. I wouldn’t be able to knock it around like I do my regular titanium foot. I wouldn’t be able to walk through a stream or even a very wet parking lot, like I can now. I’d have to carry extra batteries (the black square on the back, in the picture) and make sure they were charged.

I’m a pretty low-maintenance person. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about taking care of my current foot. It’s practically indestructible, if I make sure to get it cleaned out a couple of times a year. It fits in my lifestyle.

I was excited and honored to be even a small part of the study that will improve the technology available to amputees. It’s a fluid market, and every new idea is welcome. I can’t wait to see what designs show up in the future. Maybe I will get that slope-climbing foot some day—just in time for a hike up a mountain with my kids.

My Favorite Drug Commercial Ever

When you live in the mountains of Colorado, the views outside the window tend to keep life in perspective. But we’ve lived in many other amazing locations, following my husband’s job across the country. We’ve found breathtaking parks and outdoor areas in every single state we’ve lived in. With an archaeologist for a husband, and four kids to raise, I’ve found myself outside a lot.

That may be why I instantly fell in love with this parody of a drug commercial. I’m sure you’re like me, and practically need a medication to make it through those long, depressing commercials for the latest pharmaceuticals. But I guarantee this is one ‘drug’ commercial you’ll not only enjoy, you may find yourself replaying it over and over. Warning: It may lead you to walk away from your desk and head outside.


This inspirational video is brought to you by a group called Nature Rx. What is Nature Rx? Let their website explain: “Nature Rx is a grassroots movement dedicated to entertaining and informing people about the healing and humorous aspects of nature.”

Now that’s one prescription I would love to add to my medical history. I think I’ll have to sign up the husband and kids too.

Why People Are Upset About the New Disabled Lego Minifigure

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I’ve written extensively about Lego bricks. I’ve met and interviewed several Lego Master Builders. I’ve been to several of their traveling expo shows. I’ve even spent an afternoon with the talented brick artist Nathan Sawaya.

And because I’m an amputee, you’d think I’d be thrilled about the fact that Lego has finally decided to make a minifig that has a disability. But I’m not. And I guess many parents of disabled children are as disappointed as I am.

What’s the problem? The problem is that in the new Duplo set, Duplo Community People, there is a wide range of people. Many races, many job types, many skin colors. The one disabled figure is an old man in a wheelchair. In the non-disabled world, this might seem like a petty thing to be upset about. But in my world, it means a lot.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

When I was doing my research before my elective amputation, I had trouble finding a prosthetist or physical therapist who would tell me what life would be like for me, once I had one leg. Most of their stories were grim. Most of their patients were elderly. Most were not interested in keeping up with young children and going on hikes on the weekends. I started to feel even more like I would be one of the only amputees in the country.

Then, I dug a bit further. I found some online communities. In the dozen years since my surgery, the media has done a great job of featuring young amputees, and young disabled folks, involved in active lifestyles. I quickly realized I was not the only one. It’s definitely been a huge leap in the right direction.

Then, we get the first-ever disabled Lego person, and it’s back to the elderly person who needs to be pushed around by the younger figure who comes with him.

The audience for Duplo is little kids. My kids switched over to their smaller Lego sets about the time they started school. I would think that Lego would understand their demographic. So why in the world would they proudly have the first disabled figure, when they had the chance to do so much with it, and instead chose the grandfather a preschooler might visit in a nursing home?

This was their big chance to show little people what a truly diverse world looks like. For a preschooler to play with a disabled figure that is a child puts all kinds of new ideas into their heads. Yeah, some kids look different from me. Some have darker or lighter skin. And some might use a wheelchair or crutches to get around. We’re all part of the same world. And we all can be as active as we want.

Photo: Born Just Right Used with Permission
Photo: Born Just Right, used with permission.

I’m not lobbying for an amputee minifigure, although that would be awesome. But come on, Lego folks. Give me a break. Would it have been so hard to make a disabled figure, your first ever, to represent the millions of KIDS who use adaptive equipment to live their lives? Go ahead and include the grandpa. And he can even be in his wheelchair, with his grandson pushing him around. But don’t count him as your big new idea. Those ideas were old news, even a dozen years ago.

If you’d like to have your voice heard, and feel even halfway as passionately about this issue as I do, think about popping over and signing the petition on this page. It’s got a great explanation of what we’d love to see in children’s toys.

Is It Okay To Turn Amputees Away at Amusement Park Rides?

Photo: Judy Berna Canobie Lake, NH
Canobie Lake, NH. Photo: Judy Berna.

It’s summertime; the time you pack up the kids and head to the amusement park. If it’s hot outside you head to the water park. For most families, the only thing that might be worrisome is whether their youngster is tall enough to ride certain rides. But what if your child was turned away for other reasons—like the fact that they have a prosthetic limb?

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

In recent years, this has been happening more and more at parks around the country. It’s happening to children and adults. Sometimes it makes the local news and many times the article becomes a Facebook favorite. I have watched these stories with interest, since I am an amputee and have frequented many amusement parks without ever having a problem.

You might assume my point of view on this topic would be fully in support of the amputee in the story. Not necessarily.

First, let’s break down the issue. In the 12 years since I had my surgery, society’s acceptance of prosthetic limbs has changed dramatically. Amputees are no longer afraid of wearing shorts in public. In fact, the attitude has changed so much that most of the amputees I know have crazy designs on their legs that they like to show off.

I believe this change is part of the reason we’re seeing these stories about amusement park problems. Those who are missing limbs are no longer afraid of going on adventures with their families. And they are wearing shorts, so it’s very obvious they have bionic limbs. In past years, if an amputee showed up in line for a roller coaster, they most likely were wearing long pants, and the ride operator never knew.

Add to that the fact that amusement parks are more and more terrified of lawsuits. As our society becomes more sue-happy, these parks are having to be vigilant about safety rules and policies. For smaller parks, one major lawsuit could close their doors forever.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

So why would I ever not side with my fellow amputees, you might ask? The short answer is this: Every amputee is different, every prosthetic setup is different, and in some situations, they may not be safe on a ride they really want to try. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been an amputee, how strong the rest of their body is, how far they had to travel to get there, or how badly they want to try this ride. If it’s not safe, it’s not safe.

Let’s use roller coasters as an example to represent the average amusement park ride. Let’s say this particular ride has a bar over your lap and your legs hang down. This ride was designed by engineers who were using a standard body as their subject. The only deviance would be allowing for extreme heights or weights. My six-and-a-half-foot teenager is technically barred from a few amusement park rides because a person of his height is not technically safe in the design of that ride.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

If a body is of average height, but has legs that only go down to mid-thigh, this kind of ride could actually be very dangerous. Much like a child who is too small for a booster seat can slide under the belt and be harmed, an amputee with short limbs can easily slide out from under the safety bar. Even an amputee with one above-the-knee amputation runs a higher risk of sliding out.

Another issue is prosthetic limbs that might fall off. I am actually very surprised I was allowed to ride a roller coaster in NY that allowed the rider’s legs to hang down. I have a below-the-knee prosthetic, made of hard plastic, with a foot made of titanium. I was confident my leg would not come off, because the design I wear allows for me to be pulled across a room by my leg, with my prosthetic never even coming close to coming loose.

But if I didn’t have this system, or if it was a hot day and my leg was looser than normal because of sweating (which happens), there is a real risk that my leg could have come off and been a very dangerous projectile. With as tightly as parks now pack their coasters into the footprint of their property, there is a good chance a leg would hit a human target.

There is no way a ride operator can be trained on all the different kinds of leg systems. There is no way there can be a blanket policy that applies to every kind of prosthetic socket. There are many amputees who can ride specific rides very safely. But how do the teenage park workers decide who is safe and who is not? Herein lies the problem.

Amusement Parks are a fun way to make new family memories.  Photo: Judy Berna
Amusement parks are a fun way to make new family memories. Photo: Judy Berna.

I hate to see my fellow amputees, adults and children, denied a fun day at the park with their families. It breaks my heart to think of an amputee child being told they can “do anything” with their prosthetic limb, then be turned away once they are at a park. This actually happened recently.

And because there is much confusion about what is safe and what isn’t, the result is people who have perfectly safe prosthetic limbs being turned away. This is exactly what happened to the 8-year-old in the link above. She had a below-the-knee prosthetic covered in a gel liner, and was turned away from a water slide because her leg “might scratch the slide.” This is completely ridiculous.

Parks have become over-vigilant to the point of lacking common sense, which results in more and more news stories about amputees being denied access.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

After much thought, I’ve come up with one solution. It might never come to fruition, but we need to start brainstorming to solve this problem.

Since a prosthetist is really the only person who is qualified to determine how stable a limb might be and which rides it would actually be safe on, they need to be involved in the decision. There needs to be a standardized form, which is offered to all amusement parks and water parks. This form would be filled out by an amputee’s prosthetist and presented to the customer service desk at the park. Then a special ID could be issued to the amputee, which demonstrates to the ride operator that the amputee can board.

This form could easily be printed off from a park’s website. Parks could also offer a season “pass,” which allows an amputee to turn the form in once, then every time they visit that park, they can refer back to the original form and get their special ID tag.

Somewhere in the language of the form, there would have to be a disclaimer, so the prosthetist would not be responsible for any injury or accident that might happen. Otherwise, no prosthetist in his right mind would sign a paper like that.

It would take a lot of organizing to make this happen, but it would sure beat the system we have now, where every park decides for themselves what their rules about prosthetic limbs might be. And they usually err on the side of caution, which denies many “safe” amputees a chance to enjoy the park.

GeekMom Judy's nephew, Soul, enjoying an amusement park ice cream cone.  Photo: Judy Berna
GeekMom Judy’s nephew, Soul, enjoying an amusement park ice cream cone. Photo: Judy Berna.

As an amusement park customer, or as a mom or dad to kids who love them, how do you feel about amusement parks turning away amputees, solely because they have a prosthetic limb? I’d love to hear the opinions of you able-bodied folks out there. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Now excuse me as I go load up the car with kids. We are on our way to the zoo. That’s one place I know I’ll be welcome, bionics and all.

Amputee Round-Up: Prosthetics and Amputees in the News

Photo: Born Just Right bornjustright.com
Photo: Born Just Right.

As your token amputee GeekMom writer, I love periodically filling our readers in on what’s going on in the amputee world. Of course, there are always new advancements in designs of prosthetic limbs, but there are also issues facing today’s amputee that are unrelated to how our hardware fits.

Let’s start with some stories that have been making the rounds, about how amputees are accepted (or rejected) at amusement parks and water parks. This is a huge issue in the amputee world. It’s becoming an even bigger issue as more and more amputees are no longer hiding their artificial limbs, and celebrating the mobility they have achieved.

In my childhood, there would have been very few amputees seen at a water park, and if they came in the gate, they probably wore long pants and didn’t participate on the rides. Those days are over. Current amputees are realizing there is nothing to hide and no reason not to participate in fun activities with their family and friends.

Photo: Judy Berna Enjoying Canobie Lake in NH
Enjoying Canobie Lake in NH. Photo: Judy Berna.

On the flip side, you have amusement park owners who are living in a sue-happy society and are doing everything they can to stay out of court. Every summer, there are more and more local news outlets reporting on an amputee who was turned away on a ride, solely because of their prosthetic limb. I have a variety of feelings about this practice, some which might surprise you. I plan to share those with you in another post next week. For now, here are a few of the most recent stories hitting the internet.

This one hits me the deepest. It’s a story about a little girl who is very active, even with her prosthetic leg. She and her family have often frequented water parks and amusement parks and had no issues. Then, on their last visit, she was made to exit the water slide “because her leg might scratch the slide.” Now, I can understand if the park feels like her safety is at risk, but turning away an 8-year-old because she might scratch your slide? Ridiculous.

Here is one about one of our Purple Heart recipients, who lost both of his legs fighting for our freedom, being turned away from a ride at Six Flags.

And here’s one that might surprise you… a man turned away from an amusement park ride because he has no hands.

GeekMom Judy's friend Jordan, and her prosthetist. Photo: Born Just Right
GeekMom Judy’s friend, Jordan, and her prosthetist. Photo: Born Just Right.

Now, on to more uplifting stories. It has not been a burden to continue seeing this next story pop up in my feed over and over again. A fitness photographer named Michael Stokes has turned his camera on to some of our own military veterans, and photographed them like he would his able-bodied models. The pictures are stunning (but a bit too graphic to post here). He has started a Kickstarter campaign to be able to publish his photographs in a book.

When people approach Mr. Stokes and tell him what a great job he’s doing to help the self esteem of these amputee vets, he quickly corrects them. He has been amazed by the confidence and power his subjects had when they walked in his door. They are already at the top of their game and ready to take on the world. I have to say, I love seeing amputees portrayed in this empowering way. I know these stories help every adult who might lose a limb in the future and every child who is facing this surgery. It’s no longer about your life being over. It’s about your life being changed.

How can you not love a story about kids with prosthetics and Lego building blocks? Here is a great article about one of the newest bionic hands, which is Lego adaptable. This means a kid can build whatever he wants in that spot where a hand might go. Be sure to check out the precious picture of a little guy who built a backhoe for a hand. All of the sudden, not having a second “real” hand doesn’t seem so awful.

The field of prosthetic hands is changing by the day and here is one of the latest hands that has been created. I have a young friend who uses her “helper arm” for some things in life, and is watching with interest as these new bionic options are being created. For her, these are all just steps toward a hand she might wear in the future. It takes a lot of mental energy to operate a prosthetic hand. But for now, it’s fun to watch the technology explode in exciting new ways.

If you’re a gamer, you might like this article, about how they are using gaming technology to help some amputees learn to walk again.

Here’s another inspiring story, about a teenager with two prosthetic legs, who is excelling at high-school level sports and making his way to the Paralympics.

Are you a surfer by chance? Here’s a great link about a guy who is competing at the first ever World Adaptive Surfing Championships, as a double amputee.

And speaking of the ocean, we can’t forget the two brave teenagers who lost arms this summer off the coast of North Carolina, all because of shark attacks. Hunter Treschl is actually from my home state of Colorado, and has shown stellar maturity through is experience.

Twelve-year-old Kiersten Yow lost her arm on the same day, on the same beach, and is also showing great maturity as she was released from the hospital recently. I know both of these young people will be welcomed into the amputee community and will never have to feel alone in their journey.

Photo: Challenged Athletes Foundation
Photo: Challenged Athletes Foundation.

I can’t finish this post without calling attention to a great advocate of the amputee world, who is now gone. Robin Williams would have turned 64 last week. Yes, he was a genius in the world of comedy, but he was also a genius of humanity for the great energy he put into supporting disabled athletes through the Challenged Athlete Foundation. The CAF hands out grants every year, to help people of all ages be able to buy the equipment they need to stay active. Every year, they finance hundreds of those bladed running legs (and many more adaptive devices), so more amputee athletes can have the chance to run. If you were a Robin Williams fan, consider clicking over to the CAF site and making a donation in his name, in honor of his birthday. I’m sure he would have been very pleased.

So there you have it; some of the latest stories that are floating around the internet about the world I live in. Feel free to send me links that you might see. It’s nice to stay up to date on the latest in prosthetics and amputee life, with the help of my friends and family.

From Toddlers to Grandparents, a GoPro for the Entire Family – GoPro Hero4 Session

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

We’ve been a GoPro family for several years now. As my pack of boys head off for any adventure, from skiing the black diamond slopes an hour from our house to hiking mountain peaks with the family dog, they almost always grab a GoPro to take along. We also use our cameras for important events, like the day we adopted our shelter kitty.

A few days ago GoPro introduced a whole new kind of camera, the Hero4 Session. It’s still the same quality footage, but there are a few important changes. For one thing, it’s square. This makes it pretty adorable, and an easy photo op for the GoPro creator, Nick Woodman, as he holds it between his teeth like a big black ice cube. But the way its new shape changed the way I’d use it were not immediately evident to me.

After I received a review sample in the mail, the benefits became clear. Yes, it’s smaller and lighter than any other GoPro. That helps expand its uses (more on that in a bit). But the thing I immediately loved was that there was no need for a plastic case.20150720_145344

I’ve never been brave enough to use our GoPro cameras without the waterproof cases. There are too many things that can go wrong in the hands of rough and tumble teen boys. I couldn’t risk it. This not only affected the profile of the camera, but the audio quality.

When we attended Winter X Games, I found myself popping the case open in somewhat safe situations, so I could catch the cheers from the crowd. But for most of the day I felt more comfortable keeping the case closed, to keep my camera dry.

The new GoPro Session is fully waterproof (up to 33 feet) without a case. You can literally drop this little guy into a glass of water and film the ice cubes floating around. For those of you with little ones, this means you can have it rolling around in your diaper bag, toddler backpack, or even the kiddie pool, and not worry about getting it wet. Think of the fun footage you could get just by handing it to your toddler and having him roll it around in his hands, peer into it, and capture his view of the world. It’s literally like a wooden building block that happens to be filming.

I would imagine there are many science experiments that could be done with this camera, along with unique science fair projects.

It will be a new toy at the pool for any aged kids. It feels a bit weird to literally play catch with this tiny black cube, in the water or out, but the footage your kids can catch while not worrying about hurting their camera will be exciting to play with in the editing stages.

Here’s a little sample of what we came up with from the Water Day at the camp where I work. This was a half an hour of playing with filming (handing it around to kids and counselors), and about a half an hour of editing in GoPro Studio. It will be fun to see what I can make with more quantity of raw footage.

As small as the regular GoPro cameras are, there are still times you might be wishing for something even a bit smaller. It’s now here. My kids were immediately brainstorming about attaching it to a kite on a windy day. Or rigging it up on our cat, to see his view of the world as he stalks through the grass in our backyard. We’ve used the Fetch to attach our other GoPro to the dog, but finally the cat gets his turn.

Its size makes it easy to transport. You can literally carry it in your pocket. It comes with a housing that allows you to attach it to the other GoPro accessories (including the popular chesty), but it films just as easily when simply held in your hand (although be aware that it does pick up some extra shakiness if used without a case, so in many circumstances I’d pair it up with one of the many hand grips that are available).

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I can imagine how fun it might be to pass it around the picnic table at the next family reunion, like a hard plastic toy block, having each person look into it as it passes through their hands. It would make some great heirloom footage as those faces change in the coming years.

I work at a large parks and recreation center. I took it to work and tossed it to a young camper, in the middle of their Water Fun Day. He filmed himself, then his friends, as they navigated the water balloon fights and rides on the slip and slide. The footage, with the bright blue sky behind those precious faces, turned out awesome.

On the same day, I tossed it to our gymnastics coach. Her students did flips on the balance beam and jumped into the foam pit. Then it moved on to the pool, where the swim coach had his students tumble through the water with it, taking video and time release shots. These kids have seen and used GoPro cameras in the past, but this little guy was just too fun to resist. Once they had a chance to hold it in their hands, and toss it around, they were convinced they needed one of their own.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

One of the main things I love about it is how easy it is to use. There is one big red button. You push it once, the camera starts filming. Hold it a second longer, it starts taking time release pictures. A small display lets you know which mode you’re in. When you are done filming, one more push of the red button and it’s off. This feature also makes the battery last a lot longer than in other GoPro cameras. That’s a huge plus for this busy mom.

By syncing it up with the cell phone app, you can see what’s being filmed as it’s being filmed. I was able to change settings easily on my phone and review the files as soon as they ended. By the time the swim team was passing by my desk on their way home with wet hair, I had pictures printed out to show them.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

There are exciting changes to the audio too. Our family videos, especially the ones on the ski slopes, were usually dominated by wind noise. Of course you can delete the audio and put music to your footage, but in a lot of cases, you want the audio to stay. I loved hearing the voices of the little campers as they passed around the Session on the wet sidewalk next to the slip and slide. The Session has two microphones. If it senses that one is distorted (like wind noise) it automatically switches to the other. This is a genius fix that I never saw coming.

Photo: GoPro

Because it’s square, you can mount it in many more ways. There is a ball and joint mount that gives you 360 degrees of options. The camera recognizes if it’s upside down and flips the footage accordingly.

Even though my gang uses their GoPro cameras for sports, I’m very interested in how this product fits the family/mommy market. My first GoPro post was titled “Why You Need a GoPro in Your Diaper Bag”. After years of raising our four kiddos, I knew that there were thousands of options for the average family if they could see beyond the videos of ski flips and surfboards.

GoPro has been doing a great job of getting video samples out there, from a baby in a walker to that adorable dog on the beach who won’t let go of that stick. Just as important as knowing a GoPro will fit your family’s filming needs, I want them to be easy to use. Product development has continued to make changes that have me excited.

I’m a huge fan of the new Hero4 Silver that has a built in view finder. I know that the wide angle pretty much captures what I want, as my GoPro rep continues to remind me, but I am used to the feedback I get from my cell phone, and I’m spoiled with seeing what I’m filming/photographing. The Hero4 Silver version is a gem, in my book.

This is why I’m a bit surprised by how much I love the Session. I expected to not like that it’s too small for an LCD screen. But when paired with the app on my cell phone, I get the instant feedback and review capabilities that I want. Then the new options available, because of its small size, open up.

I have a house full of little people coming to visit this weekend. I have lots of new ideas for this camera that I plan to try on them. Add that to the ideas my older kids are brainstorming, and my desire to use it in some way with my prosthetic leg, and I feel a video packed post coming soon to GeekMom.com.

For now, I give this new edition a two thumbs up. It’s packed with new features I didn’t realize I wanted. I can’t wait to spend more time playing with these options, and seeing what new kinds of footage I can come up with. Stay tuned for the update next week.

Mary Roach Gems on Audible for Less Than 5 Bucks!

Photo: Audible

Many of us at GeekMom love our Mary Roach books. I have personally read every one of them. I’ve had several email conversations with Ms. Roach, about how she should tackle the world of prosthetics next.  It’s just my little pet project that I want one of my favorite authors to cover. So far she’s found better uses of her time, but I’m working on her.

If the name Mary Roach doesn’t ring a bell, let me help you out. If you love learning about the world around you, but would prefer it be given to you in a fun way, with lots of anecdotes and interesting stories, Mary Roach’s books are for you.

The first book I stumbled upon was Stiff. Here is my GeekMom post about that discovery. It’s a very in-depth look at what happens to our bodies when we die, and how different cultures make different choices at the end of life. I was completely fascinated. Her writing and research actually changed a lot of my views about what I want done with my own body when I die.

Then I found her other gems. Having read her book Packing for Mars right before the family hit the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. was an amazing coincidence. All kinds of interesting back stories and behind the scenes information flooded through my head as I toured the exhibit.

Then I devoured Gulp, a book about how our digestive system works. It will make you think about everything you put in your mouth for weeks after reading it, and not for food quality reasons. Here’s the review of Gulp, from 2013.

Finish off your Mary Roach marathon with Spook, a look into the supernatural world around us, and Bonk, a very entertaining look at the psychology of sex.

The good news of the day is that through Thursday of this week, you can own any or all of these classic books for less than five dollars each. I’ve already clicked over and ordered my copies and didn’t want you to miss out on the same opportunity. These are all best selling books for a reason. They are a great read for even the most reluctant readers.

Chances like these don’t come along often. I personally am thrilled to have my audio book library now full of some of my all time favorite books. Don’t miss out on the big sale!

The Bacon Brothers Band: 6 Guys Worth Swooning Over—Not Just the Movie Star

Bacon Brothers Band  Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band. Photo: Judy Berna

In the five years I’ve written for GeekMom, I’ve discovered there are two ways to geek out about something. Most of us have something we do in our free time that makes us happy, the hobby we geek out about. Around here the list is long, ranging from comic books to knitting to attending fun conventions.

Then there are the things we geek out about that we can’t (or don’t) necessarily do ourselves, but we fully appreciate that others have mastered them. A friend once told me, “Some are here to create and some are here to appreciate.” That’s me. I appreciate a lot.

Music falls into this category for me. I adore music. I am fascinated by music. But I don’t play music. The perfect date night for me is to sit in one of our small local bars in my mountain town and listen to someone play live on the tiny stage. Whatever category of music they play, I’m there to appreciate.

Last week I had the ultimate date night. After traveling to Nashville to visit my two oldest kids in their young adult lives, I had tickets to go see The Bacon Brothers Band in concert. It wasn’t my first rendezvous with the band. In fact, I’ve possibly seen them a dozen times in the past 12 years.

Bacon Brothers Band   Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band. Photo: Judy Berna

In the early days after I found their music, and realized how talented they were, I lucked into becoming friends with their bass player, Paul Guzzone (which is a story for another day). Through the years our friendship has survived and thrived, even as I continue to move around the country. When we lived in New York, near many of their concerts, I had the treat of seeing them several times a year.

GeekMom Judy with her son,  and Michael and Kevin Bacon    Photo: Judy Berna
GeekMom Judy with her son, and Michael and Kevin Bacon. Photo: Judy Berna

Then we moved to Colorado. They don’t play many shows out west. I hit a dry spell. Several years went by without a concert, and I was feeling it. Hearing the new stuff on my iPod was great, but I began craving the live show they pull off so beautifully. Finally a trip east coordinated with their tour dates this year and I immediately had tickets in hand.

Let me tell you why I love their music. First, let’s get the elephant in the room addressed. Yes, the band is named after the two guys on the mics at the front of the stage, Michael and Kevin Bacon. Kevin, as in the guy who is home plate for the Six Degrees game. Every show will have a smattering of the squealers and the screamers, who came to increase their Kevin Bacon number. But eventually they die down and the music makes you forget about that thing called celebrity.

Bacon Brothers Band    Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band Photo: Judy Berna

On the stage are six guys who do this brothers band thing on the side. They are all accomplished musicians on their own. They all have day jobs to support this rocking jones. Michael Bacon is an Emmy winning composer who has been immersed in the industry for over 40 years. Kevin, nine years younger than his brother, grew up in a house full of music and never let it stray far from his heart. Even while he spent decades filming blockbuster movies.

One thing I appreciate about their live show is the way they make the crowd forget that there’s a movie star on stage, and they let each musician shine. Each song has places where the bass, or the percussion, or the guitar, or the keyboard has its own time to shine. Every band member plays multiple instruments, and play them all well. No one is left out and the joy of playing live is spread around.

In fact, Ira Seigel, their left-handed guitar guru, plays so well that the band made a hilarious parody video, appropriately called “Lefty,” where the brothers tell Ira he will have to stop playing so well, because it makes them look bad. The guys still smile when I bring up that video, even years later.

Ira Siegel, doing his thing.  Photo: Judy Berna
Ira Siegel, doing his thing. Photo: Judy Berna

It’s not just the style of this music that draws me in. From slow, heartfelt songs (Angelina is a favorite) to down and dirty, rocking out songs (Not Born to Beauty and Get a Little) the lyrics never stop delighting me.

As a writer myself I appreciate good lyrics. It takes time, creativity and expert rhythm to come up with great lyrics. They have to fit the mood and the musical style. They have to speak to their audience. They can’t be lazy.

Here are a few of my all-time favorites, from the huge catalog of music the band has created in the past 20 years.

In the song Angelina, about a spouse, who cares too much about the world and fixing all that she sees (sound familiar?), and trying to make her step away from that stress and disappear into something more peaceful for the night:

The light showed through your dress, like the refrigerator moon. And I dreamed I was your dancer. And I dreamed this was the tune. Tilt your head back Angelina. Close your eyes and drift away. You’ve done everything that you can do, to save the world today. Don’t you tell me where you’re going. I don’t need to know. But as soon as you are ready. Angelina, I’m coming with you when you go.

From my all-time favorite song, Not Born to Beauty, about all of the talented musicians out there, who will never be famous, but were born to make music:

Turn on your MTV. You won’t find them there. You can read that Rolling Stone cover to cover, you won’t find them anywhere. But in basements and garages, hotel lounges, roadside bars, close your eyes and hear the tunes and you’ll be seeing stars. They were born to do it. They were born to play.

The very first Bacon Brothers song I ever heard was Ten Years in Mexico. I was hooked from the first line. A song about a 10th anniversary trip to Mexico:

Last night I dreamed of ice and sleet. I dreamed of sidewalks underneath my feet. Woke to find my suitcase by the door. I asked the mountains and the Cortez Sea, how did she come to love a fool like me? I don’t need the answers anymore.

Three more classic songs to check out are TMI (too much information), Good News, and Guess Again. All three have too many clever (self-deprecating) lyrics to post and will leave you smiling, guaranteed.

Sound Check - Bacon Brother Band   Photo: Judy Berna
Sound Check – Bacon Brother Band. Photo: Judy Berna

I have to take a second to point out the other two guys on stage, Joe Mennonna, who is on keyboard and accordion, and Frank Vilardi, who is the guy hiding behind the drums at the back of the stage. With the talent these guys possess, I could do a post on each of them individually.

I finally got to attend that long awaited concert, with my oldest son as my date. It was amazing, as it always is. No matter the city or venue, there is something about hearing such familiar songs that makes me feel at home.

Bacon Brothers Band   Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band Photo: Judy Berna

I highly recommend seeking out a Bacon Brothers concert. If you’re a music creator yourself, I think you’ll respect the talent you see on stage. If you’re an appreciator, like me, you’ll definitely be in awe at the range of songs. Buy a few albums before you see them live, and get familiar with their sound. Be sure to take the time to really listen to the instrumentals and pay attention to the lyrics.

The band is just finishing up a summer tour but keep an eye on the website here, to find out about their future dates. In the meantime, head over to YouTube and cruise through some entertaining videos. I’ll start you with one of my favorite songs, Go My Way, that shows off all of the band members, including some amazing guitar work and some groovy moves by my friend Paul, on the red bass. Then head over to a clip that only has Kevin, but is from an amazing episode of Live From Daryl’s House. Next we’ll move to a fun clip from a radio appearance, where they covered Giving It Up For Your Love pretty awesomely. I love this one, from the same radio show, where they play another of my favorites, Old Guitars. For a nice acoustical taste, here’s a clip with just Michael and Kevin.

Michael Bacon on the cello.    Photo:  Judy Berna
Michael Bacon on the cello. Photo: Judy Berna

One the newest to the list, a song called 36 Cents. The chorus, listing what most musicians will have in their pockets when they die—“36 cents, a couple of  Fender medium flat picks, a crumbled up piece of paper, with the lyrics to this song.’ This song has amazing guitar sections.

Just do me a favor when you head off to their concert. Leave the crazy paparazzi attitude at home, then sit back and listen. I know you’ll enjoy the show. It’s a stage full of really talented guys. And yeah, they usually end the show with a rousing round of Footloose. Just to please the groupies.

A 3D Lesson in Animation!

If you’ve been around GeekMom for a while, you’ll remember the posts I’ve done about an outside-the-box kind of thinker, named Rufus Butler Seder, and his company, named Eye Think Inc. Many of you might know Rufus for his series of children’s books that seem to come to life. Do these pictures ring a bell?

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

And of course many of you might own the Star Wars version.

His company has created tiles that seem to come to life for many aquariums across the globe. They also love to make fun toys that challenge the mind. Here is my review of their Scanimation Lamp, which my kids and their friends loved.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I was thrilled to get an email from Rufus a few weeks go, because I knew whatever he had created next would be just as fun as his other creations. And I was right. This one is called Busy Body. It’s such a simple concept that brings to life what animation is all about.

Regular animation is time consuming. It takes hours to draw enough pictures that look almost alike to create any decent animation scene. The Busy Body is a way for even young kids to see how animation works. The carousel spins and you see the image of the little blue guys as they whirl past. The fun comes when you stop the spinning and move his bendable hands and legs into different positions. You can make him skip, jump, dance, all with the help of a simple instruction sheet.

Photo: Eye Think Inc.
Photo: Eye Think Inc.

My household has older kids these days but I was pleased to see my college son and the three buddies he brought home for Easter having a blast, making the little figure do all kinds of creative movements. I have no doubt that kids of all ages (and their parents) will enjoy this toy. The best way to see all the things Busy Body can do is to watch this short video demonstration. Fair warning: Gather the kids around the screen before you hit the play button. They’re going to love this.

It retails for less than twenty-five bucks, which makes it a perfect gift for birthday parties or holidays. If you’d like a whole list of creative toys that will intrigue you and your kids, go visit the Eye Think Inc. website. It’s filled with interactive, creative activities, books, cards, and toys.

Note: GeekMom received a sample of Busy Body for review purposes.

The Unbelievable Story of Nelly Toll

Photo: Nelly Toll
Photo: Nelly Toll

One of my jobs as a mom is to keep my children fed and clothed. Oh, and safe. It’s sometimes hard for me to imagine how parents in other cultures, and in other time periods, coped with these same responsibilities. Most of us have read The Diary of Anne Frank. It’s easy to feel disconnected from the events of World War II, and the way families were torn apart. It seems like those things happened several lifetimes ago.

Unbelievably, there is a woman named Nelly Toll, who lived through those years, and is still alive to tell her tale. She was only 8 years old when she and her mother were forced to hide from the soldiers who patrolled the streets in her hometown of Lwów, Poland. It was 1943 and not a good time to practice the Jewish faith.

Photo: Nelly Toll
Photo: Nelly Toll

For over a year Nelly and her mother lived in secret, trying to cope with the alternating boredom and fear. As a coping exercise, Nelly’s mother would whisper happy stories to her. Nelly began to paint watercolor pictures of the fantasy stories she would then create in her own mind. Her little black diary became a mixture of tragic stories of losing family members and fanciful tales, intertwined with happy, brightly colored watercolor pictures.

Nelly and her mother survived their ordeal and eventually found themselves in the United States. Nelly’s journal also survived, along with sixty of her watercolor paintings. In her adult years, Nelly became an inspirational teacher, counselor, and art therapist, specializing in helping those who have been through traumatic events.

In 1993, Nelly published her memoir, Behind the Secret Window. It was a mix of her journal entries, stories, and her bright watercolor paintings.

Photo: Puffin Books
Photo: Puffin Books

As a mother I cannot comprehend having to endure such a trial with my 8-year-old child. And it’s even harder to comprehend how an 8 year old could spend a year creating their own happy, optimistic stories and paintings, in the midst of such hatred and angst.

After winning many awards, there is now an Indiegogo campaign to bring Nelly’s book to video, in a documentary film, entitled Imagining A Better World, The Nelly Toll Story. Combining rare archival footage and 3D animation of Nelly’s watercolors (which hang in museums around the world), they plan to tell her story in a cutting edge virtual reality format.

Along with the creation of the documentary, Diane Estelle Vicari, the director, has partnered with the Massillon Museum in Ohio to launch a traveling exhibit of Nelly’s artwork. This means you may actually get the chance to see her paintings in your own neighborhood. Imagine bringing history to life for your kids, by showing them a captivating documentary, then taking them to a local exhibit featuring the artwork they saw in the movie.

Photo: Nelly Toll
Photo: Nelly Toll

If you’d like to help bring this documentary to reality, head over to the Indiegogo campaign page. There are some pretty special rewards for making a tax deductible donation. The sooner these film makers can get their financing, the sooner this amazing story can be told to a much wider audience. And the sooner we can have another quality resource to help us tell our children about the past, while making it come to life for them.

Share the awesome video of this project with your kids, friends and family. You can find it here.

16 Reasons Why I Watch ‘The Last Man on Earth’ With My Teens

Our family has been glued to the new television series called The Last Man on Earth. Because we are generally Will Forte fans, we knew we’d probably like it. But this mom has fallen in love with it, for the simple fact that it’s provoked some pretty deep and thoughtful conversations in our household. That’s saying a lot when the main “children” who live in our house are teen males who don’t generally like having deep discussions about any topic.

I’ll give you fair warning here, this post will be filled with spoilers, since that’s the only way to explain our family discussions. That being said, this is a show you can still thoroughly enjoy, even if you know what’s going to happen next. I’ll also tell you up front that you might want to watch it before your kids, since the subject matter gets a bit “adult” (but by no means more than PG), as it has to, when discussing things like whether the Earth should be repopulated, even if you are not attracted to the only other person available.

In the pilot episode we meet a heavily bearded man (Phil) driving a large RV around the country. At each state’s welcome sign he gets out and spray paints the words “Alive in Tucson” (alerting any other survivors of his whereabouts). From subtitles we learn that less than two years earlier the entire population of the world had been wiped out by a virus. Not a nuclear explosion, which is the premise of most of the other end of world movies and shows.

Photo: FOX Television
Photo: FOX Television

This is an important detail. When the world that remains is spoiled by radiation, a character’s options change a lot. Food is contaminated. The earth is spoiled. You get the idea. But in this show’s premise, the Earth and all of the “things” on it are just fine. There just aren’t any people (or animals, it seems). Oh, except for our main character.

Discovering he may be the last person on the planet (or at least the places he has access to) he spends a year driving around, trying to see if anyone else is left, then has to decide how he’ll settle down and live the rest of his days.

Here is where the juicy conversations start, especially when it comes to talking to your kids, and stretching their creative minds. What if you were that person? You have access to everything around you. There are no police, no rules, no locked doors you can’t break down. Where would you start? Here are a few questions we’ve tackled:

1. Would you bother driving around to see if other survivors existed? If so, what vehicle would you pick? A practical RV with plush amenities or a fun sports car that you could drive at any speed you wanted?

2. Would you model Phil’s actions, and collect interesting pieces of history from every museum you passed (like Michael Jordan’s jersey, a few Oscar trophies, and a variety of Monet paintings)?

3. Where would you choose to settle down? A warm state, that has mild winters, or a more mountainous state, with mild summers? What about seaside, where you could have recreational opportunities in the ocean?

4. Would you try to keep a signal fire going? Would it be worth trying to signal to others who might happen by? We all agreed that the main character’s effort to mark each state’s welcome sign was pretty brilliant.

5. What “toys” would you gather? Remember, you have access to every kind of store, as well as every person’s home, filled with all of their toys. Would ATVs be your priority, or a cool bow and arrow? What would be on your list (each of my sons had a different answer).

Photo: FOX Television
Photo: FOX Television

6. One of my sons said he’d worry first about safety, which had not occurred to me. He said he’d assume that anyone who might come along might not be friendly so he’d build a sort of bunker, in the house he picked to live in. He’d collect a stash of guns and ammunition, just in case. I think I want this kid on my team if it all falls apart in my lifetime.

7. You have access to all the food in the grocery stores, and other houses—what would you stock up on? Remember, you have many years ahead of you, and no medical doctors to visit if you get sick. (No dentists either…). A good creativity assignment was making them list all the foods that would be options and all the foods that wouldn’t make the list, mainly because of the fact they are perishable. Would you eat a healthy diet, balancing each meal with nutrients? Would you bother to grow fresh foods? It might take a lot of work to rig up a garden, but it also might be something constructive and mentally positive to do with the unlimited amount of time on your hands. Side bonus—the results would keep you healthier.

Photo: FOX Television
Photo: FOX Television

8. Speaking of mental health, would you keep a schedule? Would you make yourself have a routine, just for some order in your world, or would you be okay just taking every day and every hour as it comes? When driving around your community, would you stop at stop signs and park in parking spaces? We end up meeting a second character by the time the pilot episode is over, and the two have very different ideas on how laws should be observed if no one else lives in town (their argument over parking in a handicapped space is one of my favorite scenes).

9. In general, how would you spend your time? The show is pretty creative, showing Phil in many “entertaining himself” scenes, including an elaborate bowling montage, on the parking lot of the bowling alley, starting with bowling pins and graduating up to pyramids of fish tanks, full of water. There are also activities involving blow torches, which appealed to my boys. Phil’s out of the box thinking, on how to fill his days, was a good jumping off point for our family discussions.

10. This one is not fun to talk about, but very practical. How would you handle your human waste? Phil tries the old trick of pouring water in the bowl every time he wants to flush but soon tires of the effort and eventually cuts a hole in the end of the diving board of the pool in the backyard and creates a sewer pool. He does his business by sitting on the end of the diving board. As a mom who likes things to be a bit cleaner than that, I’d think in the long term that wouldn’t be the best option. The gorgeous views of the mansion he chose to live in would soon be tainted by the smell of a year’s worth of feces.

11. One of my favorite lines comes as Phil is taking the second character on a tour of his home, and they end up at his margarita pool. This is a small wading pool Phil has filled with several different kinds of alcohol, and on some of his more mentally challenging days, he’s spent part of the day soaking in it, in more ways than one. She asks what he does with his margarita pool. His reply: “There’s really no wrong way to use a margarita pool.” Great advice, even if the world hasn’t lost all its inhabitants.

Photo: FOX Television
Photo: FOX Television

12. Once we meet the second character (conveniently, a girl!), a whole new list of questions crop up. Who would be the perfect person, if there would only be two of you? A person of the opposite sex or a dude you could hang out with? You’d think the obvious answer would be someone you were attracted to, but for practicality purposes, sometimes having a friend to hang out with might be a more comfortable long term solution. We soon see with Phil’s situation, that as wonderful as it was to find out the other survivor was a girl, by the end of day one, he’s ready for some time alone.

13. Which also leads to, what would you do about repopulating the Earth? My boys are all old enough to have these more adult conversations and it was good to hear their views. If it ends up that you two are truly the only two people left on the planet, is it wise to have children? After all, pregnancy, childbirth and the newborn weeks would challenge a woman’s health and set her up for potential life threatening problems, with no medical help available. Then there’s the awkward fact that even if you have a boy baby and a girl baby, they really can’t keep the population going, for obvious reasons. BUT, if you choose not to have children, and a decade later you do find other survivors, will you regret not supplying options for more appropriate repopulation? Tough ethical questions for teens, for sure.

14. More importantly to short-sighted hormone filled teen boys, what if you are not attracted to the only other person left on the planet? Could you get past it, to have a long term intimate relationship, or would you insist it all stay platonic? Tough questions for even this 40-something mom.

15. The season is still pretty new and there are strong hints that other characters are on their way. Which opens up a whole new slew of questions to ponder. What is the ideal third person who could join the group? Another woman of childbearing age, or another man? A young person, who had health and longevity on his side? An older person with a lot of life history to draw on, including survivalist or military training? There are so many scenarios to ponder.

16. In our family we’ve decided that it would be fascinating to have this show start over in every new season. Begin Season 2 with the same guy, Phil, but have the second person who shows up be a very different option than the woman who showed up this season. Then add characters, one by one, who are extremely different from the characters introduced in season one. This would open up endless story lines.

Every time we watch a new episode, new discussion questions surface. I actually look forward to long car trips (like taking my son back to his college campus on Sunday afternoons) because we have so many discussion topics available. I’ve learned a lot about how my children think by posing these end of the world questions to them.

I highly recommend watching the first episode of this show, especially if you have older children in your household. I suspect your dinner table discussions might be very animated in the days afterward. Feel free to share your own discussion questions in the comments section. I’m always open to new ways to challenge my children’s thinking.

The 5 Reasons I’m Sticking Up For Facebook

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

Facebook has been accessible to the masses for less than ten years. Some love it, some hate it. I’ve had friends log off for good, saying it was taking too much of their time. GeekMom Patricia shared her feelings about Facebook a little over a year ago. A close friend texted me the words ‘Facebook is ugly’ recently, when a very personal event happened in her family and she was afraid more people would find out once it hit Facebook.

I get it. It truly is a place where information can travel fast. It’s a place where incorrect information can live forever. It’s a place full of tempting links full of awful viruses. It’s a place where bullies can run wild and have no consequences for their actions.

But that’s not all Facebook can be. Just like the internet in general, the good stuff is there, along with the bad stuff. It’s our job to make the choices.

I began thinking more about the impact Facebook has on my life after reading a post from Wired.com, called “The Weird Way That Facebook and Instagram are Making Us Happier”, by James Wallman. The author points out that in the past people generally ‘kept up with the Jone’s’ by acquiring things. In recent years the push has changed from amassing the right products to having the best experiences. As people tweet, Instagram, and share on Facebook their front row seats at a prime concert, or their perfect feet-in-the-sand picture from the tropics, the desire to experience their adventure can be powerful.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

Through all of the criticisms I hear, I remain loyal. I have several reasons for my loyalty. In fact, here are the top 5 reasons I don’t have negative issues with Facebook:

1) Let’s start with one of the top reasons I am addicted to my Facebook feed—my 15 nieces and nephews, who live all over the country. Before Facebook I had to rely on rare phone calls, or a few prints in the mail to know what my distant family was doing. Since I’ve been on Facebook, I know when my niece wins yet another horse show. I know that my nephew broke his arm and picked a bright orange cast. I get to see my niece’s wide grin as she hugs the man who just proposed to her (a picture I got to see just moments after the question was popped, in another state!) I am in the loop. With very little effort on my sibling’s part, I know what their kids are up to (and how fast they are growing). I get to feel close to a lot of children who I care very deeply about but rarely get to see. This is reason enough for me to have my Facebook account.

Photo: Judy Berna

2) I know how to read other people’s posts with perspective. I know I’m not the only one who rarely posts the terrible things that happen in our family. For one thing, it’s private, which is a huge deal when you have teens in the household, and generally helpful when it comes to long term marriages. For another, who wants to read a bunch of whining? Most of us would stop following those posts immediately.

I get inspired by happy posts from those around me. It makes my day to see another smiling baby, growing in some faraway place, a place I may not see for many more years. At this point I’ve watched several of my friends’ babies go from announcement of conception, to first day of kindergarten pictures. In my pre-Facebook world, I would have been lucky to have a couple of 4×6 prints for my fridge. Once I’m lucky enough to be with those people again there will be more time for fun, and less time spent filling each other in on the past few years. We’re already caught up, we’re Facebook friends.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

3) I pick my friends strategically. In the beginning I vowed not to accept any friend request unless I knew the person well enough to pick up the phone if they called. I was not out for quantity. I’ve relaxed that rule just a bit, as I’ve added some new amputee friends from around the country, but I’m still pretty tight with my friend requests.

The side effect of this decision is that the people who are my friends on Facebook are people I respect. I don’t allow negativity or harsh political rants on my feed. If a friend starts that pattern, they are immediately un-followed. The majority of my friends don’t post pictures of their vacation so they can brag. They post because they are just so thrilled to finally have a chance for a break, and want to share their joy. Or they’ve seen a really interesting place and want to share it with the rest of us (like virtual travel!). My friends aren’t worried about impressing me, or their other Facebook friends. We share with each other online to keep in touch, not to keep score.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Wink Darling

The friends I have in my feed on a daily basis tend to post about a variety of things that interest me. I have some who are knee deep in raising little ones. They post precious pictures, but also the latest articles about child development and what issues are facing families these days. I have many amputee related posts in my feed – 5K races completed, new sockets broken in, and small personal victories I like to share in. I find many interesting stories (and writing ideas) from the links my Facebook friends post. From the yoga loving friend I get links to informative articles about healthy living. From my mountain neighbors I get articles related to quality trails or wildlife management. Several of my husband’s archaeologist friends post links to fascinating discoveries. I have older friends, and younger friends, which offers a wide perspective. I am friends with a few X Games athletes and Paralympic athletes I respect, which keeps me pushing forward when my old body wants to slow down.

I am seeking a term for the equivalent of ‘well read’, but related to Facebook. Most days, if I read the intelligent versions of the links in my Facebook feed, I feel pretty caught up on the latest news and events, locally and around the world. It’s a quick way to feel in the ‘world loop’.

4) I’ve found just too many long lost friends, that I once again cherish, to ever write off the value of Facebook. In recent years my husband and I have reconnected with many friends we’d lost over the years, and have loved catching up on their lives and seeing their children in online albums. Several of these friends we’ve met up with in person again, thankful for the chance to keep quality people in our lives.

Photo: Amy Smith, used with permission
Photo: Amy Smith, used with permission
Photo: Judy Berna

5) One word – support. There are so many ways that Facebook is a beacon of hope. If it wasn’t for Facebook I would have never known that my childhood friend’s dad had begun to slip into dementia last fall, and quietly passed away just after the new year. She has a large family, and young children, and she never would have had time for dozens of phone calls or hand typed emails. One post on Facebook, and we all knew the situation, and what we could do to help.

My friend who is a new mom and a military wife can be reminded every day, by those of us who love her, that ‘this too shall pass’. As a group, we can tell her that some day soon that baby WILL sleep. And some day soon he will have his first belly laugh and she will find tears streaming down her face from pure enchantment. I would have devoured those kinds of daily messages on my computer screen when I was raising our four little ones, far away from extended family.

On our local town’s page everyone shares pictures of their lost dog, or recently released fire ban updates. My son wanted an inexpensive used mini fridge for his college dorm. Our local area’s buy/sell page found him one within 24 hours. When there was a carjacking suspect in our area, I found out through a Facebook feed update and was able to walk my son home from the bus stop. One comment on Facebook last fall, related to the fact our son was returning from Afghanistan, led to a local Facebook uprising, which led to a huge welcome home party.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I choose how I interact with Facebook, and I choose to see the good. I choose to make smart choices with friend requests, and be brave enough to push the delete button when necessary.

I do believe the author of the Wired Magazine article. I think there is a strong leaning toward embracing experiences vs. material items lately. I think it’s a good thing. Even if a person can’t afford the latest concert tickets, motivating someone to look around and find some local activity to do, offline, is a move in the right direction.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I know it works for me. After I’ve checked in on all those long distance kids I love, then bookmarked the interesting links I want to explore later, I like grabbing the dog’s leash and being motivated by a friend’s picture, posted after her walk along a local meadow. No need to be jealous of her experience. I see it as a reminder that there’s a big world out there. Someone needs to explore it… then share it on Facebook.

Where Are All of the Circus Animals Going?

Photo: Wild Animal Sanctuary
Photo: Wild Animal Sanctuary

It’s not a secret that there has been a movement in recent days to make circuses animal free. Just a few weeks ago Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey announced they will be phasing elephants out of their shows. All of their acts will be elephant-free by 2018.

Elephants aren’t the only animals being released by circus acts around the world. Wild cats, lions and tigers, are being let go at a rapid pace too. All of these animals need somewhere to go. They need a retirement home that looks and feels nothing like the cages they’ve been raised in.

That’s where a refuge in Colorado is stepping in. The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado, will be expanding their enrollment very soon, to include 33 recently released circus lions. Twenty-four are coming from Peru, nine will be arriving from Columbia. In early April, a Boeing 767 cargo jet will arrive at Denver International Airport, and thirty-three lions will begin their new life.

These aren’t the first rescue animals to arrive in Keenesburg. In 2011, twenty-five lions moved to Colorado, from a circus in Bolivia. The staff at the sanctuary will treat the new lions much like the ones who have thrived since their arrival in 2011. Good nutrition and dental care are a first priority. Creating large, welcoming habitats is another.

The sanctuary is dedicating 100 acres and 10 large-acre habitats to the new additions. Updated habitats, added to the cost of food and veterinary care, means it’s going to cost a lot to give these new lions a home. The sanctuary is in the process of raising $75,000 to help offset those costs.

Aside from their new rescue animals, The Wild Animal Sanctuary plays a huge part in rehabilitating many kinds of wild animals. They occupy a 720 acre refuge, caring for more than 350 lions, tigers, bears, wolves, and other large carnivores. Their 7,000 square foot sanctuary building serves as a debriefing area for new animals. Many animals who were caged their entire lives need time to get used to large spaces. Each animal is given time to acclimate, before being turned out to the large outdoor areas they will eventually call home.

Photo: Wild Animal Sanctuary
Photo: Wild Animal Sanctuary

The Sanctuary building is also used for a lot of public education. Visitors can see the animals who are in transition, being treated for malnutrition, or just general bad health, and see engaging videos about protecting our wildlife.

Photo: Wild Animal Sanctuary
Photo: Wild Animal Sanctuary

Then comes the best part. At the Wild Animal Sanctuary you can walk on the “Mile into the Wild” walkway. A raised path stretches over 5,100 feet over the outdoor habitats and allows visitors to see the animals run free below them. This setup is not an accident. Once the folks at the sanctuary discovered that large carnivores do not consider air or sky to be their territory, they decided they’d try to put visitors up on elevated walkways, where they are not considered a threat. The typical zoo behaviors, like pacing, never developed, and the animals went on with their lives, ignoring the people in the sky. As they raised more money, they opened more habitats and built more walkways.

Photo: Wild Animal Sanctuary
Photo: Wild Animal Sanctuary

With the aggressive increase in their wildlife population next month, I’d love to challenge our GeekMom readers to reach out and help. If you are an animal loving family, and would love to be a part of the movement that rescues wild animals from the circus life, this is your chance. If you have school-aged children, consider ‘adopting’ this project, and sending the sanctuary a bit of money.

Photo: Wild Animal Sanctuary
Photo: Wild Animal Sanctuary

Then, if you live anywhere near Colorado, GO SEE this amazing place. Walk through their educational displays, then head outside and catch a glimpse of hundreds of wild animals in natural habitats. If you don’t live in or near Colorado, get out the date book and plan a family summer trip here. The refuge sits just east of Denver. There are lots of fun things to do in Colorado, but knowing that they get to tour this exciting animal park will make your kids twice as eager to start their summer break and head toward the Rockies. Being able to visit a location where they have contributed their own money is a great way to instill the joy of giving in our kids.

Here is the link to where you can donate. Read this page, about the history of the sanctuary, if you need more motivation. Highlighted words in this post will direct you to other pages of interest. Denver’s magazine, 5280, published this great article about the cause.

Since it’s not very safe to hug a lion today, why not do the next best thing and send a little money to save one?

Ski Joring – The Perfect Winter Family Adventure!

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

My family loves to attend somewhat nontraditional festivals and celebrations. When we lived near Washington, D.C., I’d scour the Thursday edition of the Washington Post, looking for the most unique thing we could do with our four kiddos that weekend. Among other things, we saw Native American Pow Wows and attended the National Kite Festival.

When we moved to Utah, then Upstate New York, the kids continued to grow, as did the crazy weekend adventures. Now we live in Colorado. Almost all of my kids are grown. But I keep dragging the youngest ones to crazy events. We’ve been to the Bacon Festival, Winter X Games, and Frozen Dead Guy Days. I thought we’d rounded up some of the best. Then child number three called home from college and said, “Are you guys coming up this weekend for Ski Joring?”

Okay. Hadn’t heard of that one. I started throwing the term around at work. Several of my co-workers had heard of it. I was astonished that this event had never been on my radar.

If you, like me, have never heard of ski joring, let me educate you. Ski Joring is a sport where skiers are pulled by horses, at high rates of speed. It’s a timed event. Skiers must navigate a course, involving several large jumps, as well as spear rings with their arms. It’s as crazy as it sounds.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

Last weekend we headed off to Leadville, Colorado, about an hour from our house. Fun fact: Leadville has the distinction of being the highest (altitude) incorporated city in the United States, at over ten thousand feet. These facts I learned from my college son, whose tiny college campus is at the far end of town.

The main street of downtown had been shut down and truck loads of snow had been brought in. A course was carved out that included periodic jumps of impressive height. Even my ski loving kids couldn’t believe that skiers would be clearing the jumps, then continue on to capture rings with outstretched arms.

Here is a video of one skier, mid-course. It was fascinating to me that a horse could pull a person at a high rate of speed, without dangerously jolting the skier as they began their run. See how fluidly these professional athletes managed this feat at this link.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

If you are looking for some pretty crazy, awe-inspiring entertainment, there is a national body called the North American Ski Joring Association. Here is the schedule of events across the country. You can find competitions in five of the United States and in several countries across the world. In some parts of the world, skiers are pulled behind dogs, mules, and snowmobiles. At the event we attended there were opportunities for children to try an abbreviated course, pulled behind a snowmobile.

Most of the ski joring events in the United States have wrapped up for this year. The courses are melting away and spring is just around the corner. But don’t forget this sport. When the snow starts to fly next year, this is one event that’s worth seeing. As plans are made for vacations, keep in mind the opportunity to catch a glimpse of this crazy new/old sport called ski joring. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Added note: Want to see what it looks like from the skier’s perspective? Catch this father (rider – Greg Dahl) son (skier – Jeff Dahl) team’s experience, from the GoPro, mounted on the skier’s helmet. Crazy fun!

David Sedaris and Prosthetic Limbs

“David Sedaris (June 2008)” by WBUR – . Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

If you’ve never read an essay by David Sedaris, I want you to immediately stop reading this post and dive into one (then promise you’ll come right back here). I’ll even give you a few to pick from. Here is one about how his Fitbit device nearly took over his life and contributed to his village being clutter free. Here is another about an argument he had with his boyfriend, discussing whether prosthetic hands are made of rubber or plastic.

I actually heard Mr. Sedaris’s work before I read his work. Almost a decade ago, I was taking a long car trip and checked out an audio book that had been suggested by a friend. I ended up not wanting to exit the vehicle. Not for potty breaks. Not even once I got to my destination. The essays and stories had me laughing and sometimes shedding a tear. At the end of each one I couldn’t wait for the next one.

Once home from my trip I checked out every David Sedaris book I could find. They were entertaining, but beyond that, they made me a better writer. I was fascinated by how he could take his everyday life experiences and make them entertaining. It made me see my own trivial daily interactions in a new way.

Through the years, his essay called Six to Eight Black Men, about the tradition of Santa Claus in other cultures, became a yearly tradition in our house. His descriptions of how others celebrate the holidays makes me laugh harder with each passing year. It’s to the point that my young adult children ask for it when November rolls around.

Last year I had the privilege of seeing David Sedaris in person. I headed down to Denver and listened attentively as he read many of his essays and had a very humorous Q/A session. When one audience member decided to spend her ‘ask a question’ time as a time to tell her own convoluted story, Mr. Sedaris skillfully turned it around and made it entertaining for the rest of us. He’s the master of off the cuff humor.

I have a new respect for Mr. Sedaris now that I have his signature on my artificial leg. After his appearance last year I was in the line of people who got to meet him. After nearly every one of his shows he sticks around, to say hello or sign an autograph for any fan who is willing to brave the line. As a person who appreciates the oddities in life, he laughed as he signed a unique message on my prosthetic socket (which is now proudly displayed in my home). He has a “No Photos” policy at his book signings so suddenly having a picture of myself, David Sedaris, and my signed leg is on my bucket list.

I love how freely he mentions prosthetics in his essays, from the rubber hand argument with his boyfriend Hugh, to the casual way he threw in my mode of transportation in his newer essay about the Fitbit. As he talked about increasing his Fitbit goals he says, “I look back at that time and laugh–fifteen thousand steps–Ha! That’s only about seven miles! Not bad if you’re on a business trip or you’re just getting used to a new prosthetic leg.” He’s absolutely right–it does take time to work in a new prosthetic leg. I like to think that example came to him as he recalled holding my prosthetic leg in his hand last spring, and signing his name.

I’m one of the lucky ones who lives near one of his appearances (Denver!) this spring. On April 6 he begins a tour around the United States, then heads overseas. Check out his tour schedule here. If you live anywhere near these locations, seriously consider snatching up some tickets. In the meantime, snatch up as many David Sedaris books as you can find–audio version, ebook version, or good old fashioned paper version. Then keep an eye open for those references to prosthetic limbs, rubber and otherwise.

Kevin Bacon and… Well, Eggs.

Okay, I’ll say it. I’m a fan of Kevin Bacon. I love the band he’s in with his brother and several other really talented guys (The Bacon Brothers Band). A few years ago the whole band signed my prosthetic leg and I’ve cherished it ever since. So when his name popped up on my Facebook feed, I bit.

It seems that Mr. Bacon has once again embraced the puns that surround his name. He’s a good sport about all the pig and pig product-themed gifts his friends and family continue to give him, and when the Egg Council came sniffing around for the perfect celebrity representative, Kevin signed on.

The television commercial (here is the long version) is being released alongside a print ad of the campaign, all of them making a play on the actor’s name. Here is a funny behind the scenes cut. You can see the clever print ad here.

In the commercial, a woman is making eggs for breakfast and turns around to find Mr. Bacon lounging on her kitchen counter. He tells her how nutritious eggs are, even playing around with the phrase “6 degrees.”  After he sniffs the plate of eggs and says he loves the smell of eggs, she does some sniffing of her own and announces she loves the smell of… bacon.

It’s very clever, and I think even works to sell the product it’s designed to promote. I’m suddenly finding myself craving a certain breakfast food.

Being Cautious With News Stories About Prosthetics

My adorable friend Jordan, and her helper arm. Photo: Born Just Right
My adorable friend Jordan, and her helper arm. Photo: Born Just Right

There has been a lot of news lately about prosthetics. I wrote a compilation post for GeekMom just a few days ago. As an amputee myself, I receive many links about prosthetics from friends and family. Add to that the fact I’m a part of many online amputee groups, and it’s amazing to watch the lifespan of a well written story about some new advancement.

The part that worries me is the perception by the able bodied world.

When media outlets decide to jump on a story, they want it to be the most interesting, awe-inspiring story they can find. If it includes new technology or 3D printers, it’s almost a guaranteed hit. Throw in a cute kid who’s trying out his new hand or lightning fast running foot and you’ve got pure gold.

This leads the general public to think these options are suddenly out there, available to every amputee, and desired by every amputee. That’s not necessarily the case.

Most of the new designs are cost prohibitive. If you read the fine print, many of those new advancements cost more than your last house. The government is working on a lot of new designs, to help veterans who lost limbs in the battlefield. But even the government can’t afford to outfit every deserving amputee with the newest advancements.

And sometimes the new designs aren’t as practical as you might think. This is especially true when it comes to arm and hand prosthetics. I have a friend whose daughter was born with just one hand. Her website is cleverly titled Born Just Right. Jordan, her daughter, is active, not just at school and in sports, but in raising money so other kids with challenges can attend camp. They are an active, involved, compassionate family who lead by their amazing example.

It's Jordan for the steal! Photo: Born Just Right
It’s Jordan for the steal! Photo: Born Just Right

This week, after yet another inspiring story rose to the top of the news feeds, my friend sat down and wrote a thought provoking post. She put into words what I had wondered all along–how much do these exciting new advancements mean to her daughter? What role do they play in her real life, the one where she lives her life pretty much like every other little girl in her elementary school class?

You can read the whole post here (And please do click on the link. I promise you’ll see amputee kids in a new way).

The crux of her post comes down to this quote: “Prosthetics aren’t a solution. Prosthetics aren’t a ‘fix.’ Prosthetics are a tool that can be helpful at times.”

I think my friend would agree that we are all in favor of new ideas, new inventions, and new technology. Every new development paves the road for amputees of the future. Even if it’s not available to the folks who would love to use them today, just figuring out the kinks will lead to products that are available to the average amputee in the future.

But if you’re an able bodied person, one of those freaks of nature who actually has four working limbs, be cautious as you read the next exciting news story concerning prosthetics. Appreciate the science involved in creating the specimen, and be in awe of the capabilities of each new creation. But be careful about making assumptions and having the attitude that the world of prosthetics is finally fixed, that every amputee can now relax, because help has arrived. There is more, so much more to the story.


Jordan's Lego castle  Photo: Born Just Right
Jordan’s Lego castle Photo: Born Just Right

Lady Brigade – Apparel for the Female Veteran

Photo: Lady Brigade Used with Permission
Photo: Lady Brigade
Used with Permission

Veterans are a big deal in our household. My father was in the Air Force. I was born in a military hospital. My brother served in the Navy. My oldest son is an Army Cavalry Scout and returned from Afghanistan right before Christmas last year. I have the greatest respect for service men—and women.

The vets in my life happen to be male. But the military is made up of a wide variety of people, many of them of the female persuasion. I’ve always had amazing respect for women in our military, and not just because the work is physically exhausting.  It’s tough on a man to leave behind a new baby or toddlers who might not remember them when they get back from deployment. Women have to leave behind the same children, but sometimes have to end breastfeeding early in the process. They can carry a child in their body, give birth, and be carrying deployment gear before the year is over. I can’t imagine that kind of sacrifice. Which is why a new company, started by a woman veteran, is something I want to promote as much as possible.

Nadine Noky is a veteran. She served in Iraq in 2005, leaving behind a four-month-old baby boy. She’s proud of her service and proud to be a veteran. But, she got tired of having no options for casual clothing that represented her veteran status. They were all men’s clothes, and the slogans and sayings were all male soldier related.

Being the awesome woman that she is, she decided to fix the problem herself. She learned how to screen print and got to work. She called her company Lady Brigade and not only does she screen print the shirts herself, she packages and ships them too. Here are some of the masterpieces she came up with:

Photo: Lady Brigade Used with Permission
Photo: Lady Brigade
Used with Permission
Photo: Lady Brigade Used with Permission
Photo: Lady Brigade
Used with Permission
Photo: Lady Brigade Used with Permission
Photo: Lady Brigade
Used with Permission

Check out the Lady Brigade website for more styles. And, be sure to join the Lady Brigade Facebook page, for interesting tidbits that relate to women in the military. On the Lady Brigade website you’ll find a gallery of products, but you’ll also find a blog that most veterans, male and female, will relate to. Check out this list of 8 things only a veteran who uses the VA health system will understand.

Noky quickly realized that not only is there a need for apparel, women vets needed their own version of emotional support too. As she was starting her shirt company, the Facebook page she’d created for it turned into a gathering place for women who have served. Noky often saw that women sometimes don’t realize the terminology refers to them, too. “Many women vets don’t self-identify as veterans. Some don’t even know they are veterans. They just don’t associate themselves with the idea of it the way men do.”

Noky has organized the first ever Florida Women Veterans Conference, an event designed to “offer quality services and programs” for women vets and “ensure they have the resources and ability to lead healthy and productive lives”.  The conference will commence April 17-19 in Sarasota Florida. Here is the website, if you know any women veterans who might like to attend.

What’s Up In the Amputee World?

Because I’m involved with a lot of online amputee communities, I tend to see a lot of the most current news in the field before many of my friends. In the past few weeks several stories keep popping up in my news feeds and I thought it was maybe time to share them with our GeekMom readers. Here are a few of my favorites:

1) Although it’s not usually on my radar, New York Fashion Week is in full swing. It’s pretty much a given that the runway will be filled with attractive male models, but this year there will be a specific guy to watch out for as the show gets underway. He’s tall, ruggedly handsome, and he’s only “wearing” one leg. Jack Eyers had his leg amputated 16 years ago after a birth defect left his right leg deformed and painful. Losing his leg meant giving up his dream of becoming a fire fighter, so Eyers looked into modeling. This week he will be modeling for one of the major designers, Antonio Urzi. It’s the first time a male amputee has been hired to model at New York Fashion Week. That’s pretty exciting news in the amputee world.

Photo: Models of Diversity  Used with Permission
Photo: Models of Diversity. Used with Permission

The next two stories have been around for a year or longer, but every few months they begin to make their rounds on the internet again, and show up in my email box as links from thoughtful friends and family. Upper arm prosthetics in general receive significantly less research funding and development time. Because the greater majority of amputees have lost lower limbs, most of the funding goes to creating better legs and feet. It’s been exciting to see the new surge in progress when it comes to prosthetic arms.

2) Losing the ability to navigate the world is only one of the major losses arm amputees face. Those of us with both arms intact underestimate how important it is to be able to touch and feel the items in our environment. One of the most exciting developments in upper arm prosthetics has been the newest prosthetic arm that allows its wearer to actually feel sensation again. One of the test subjects reported that he could, for instance, sense the difference between hard and soft objects. It’s definitely an exciting advancement for upper limb amputees, although, like most prototypes, it will be years before it’s affordable to the general amputee population.

3)  Another advancement concerning upper arm amputees is the creation of the DEKA arm. Created by Dean Kamen, who also gave us the Segway, this is the first upper arm prosthetic that can accurately be controlled by the user’s thoughts and brain control. For decades, arm amputees have continued to rely on the old fashioned hook, because it could most accurately perform daily life functions. With a huge leap into brain control, the game changing arm will most likely prove to advance the basic arm prosthetic into the high tech age. Unfortunately, like the prosthetic hand that can “feel,” this prosthetic might not be available to the average amputee for a very long time, because of price restrictions.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images, http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Creative/Frontdoor/embed

4) The most recent news for arm amputees hit the news circuits in December, as Les Baugh showed it was possible for a double arm amputee to wear a mind controlled arm on each side, and operate them simultaneously. It was not as easy as just strapping the arms to his shoulders. Baugh, who lost his arms over 40 years ago, had to first go through a surgery where neurosurgeons reassigned the nerves in his shoulders to new locations, which enabled Baugh to use the new prosthetics more accurately. Within ten days Baugh was able to navigate his home life efficiently, using both of his thought controlled hands. You can see the incredible video here.

Photo: Johns Hopkins University Hospital
Photo: Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Used with Permission

5) Now let’s get to the most recent story in my news feed. This week, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the annual NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was played. One of the celebrities arrived on two prosthetic legs. Blake Leeper is one of the top amputee athletes for Team USA and the Paralympics. He has graced many podiums in the track and field events and is considered “America’s Blade Runner.” Leeper played alongside movie stars and television personalities, and held his own quite well. You can read the highlights here. His main goal was to represent the Paralympic athletes, and amputees around the world. Mission accomplished.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images, http://www.gettyimages.co.uk/Creative/Frontdoor/embed

6)  This last one fascinates me. Much like at trade shows for cars, it’s common for exhibitors at camera trade shows to invite attractive models to their booths, to draw attention. This week in Japan, one of the booths at a camera trade show featured female amputees with interesting prosthetic limbs. It’s the first time that female amputees have modeled in this venue in Japan, and possibly even the world. The story (click on link to see the picture) has been circling the news stories around the world. I am pleased with the positive exposure amputees receive in the United States and sincerely hope that this development will bring about the same kind of atmosphere in cultures around the world.

All of these stories are fascinating. Having been an amputee for over 10 years now, I’ve seen a huge change in how amputees see themselves, and how society sees us when we cross paths in public. I love sharing new stories about what’s going on in this world I’m proud to be a part of. But I share with you not just to entertain you, or give you a new topic to bring to the water cooler (do those even exist anymore?). I bring them to you to remind you that we all have our challenges in life. Some are easier to live with than others. But when it comes down to daily life, navigating the details of our world, new developments are not just great news story links to share on social media. They are changing people’s lives.

One of the comments Les Baugh made after he successfully tried out his new double arms was this: “Maybe for once I’ll be able to put change in a pop machine and get pop out. Simple things like that, that most people never think of.”

Today when you put that change in the vending machine, and easily navigate your product from the bottom tray, think of Les. And take a second to be thankful for your two working hands.

The Top 14 Reasons Why I Love Winter X Games

Photo Op! Photo: Judy Berna
Photo op! Snow sculptures! Photo: Judy Berna.

Every year, I write about our adventures at Winter X Games. With four snow-loving kids, three of them risk-taking boys, this kind of event is right up our alley—and right down the road from our town. Even if you don’t live in Colorado, it’s worth a second look if you’re seeking out a winter vacation destination with your family next year. It’s always on a reliable date, held the weekend between the last NFL playoff games and the Super Bowl (the weekend of the Pro Bowl). That gives you plenty of time to make plans to attend next year. Need more convincing? Here are the top 14 reasons why this GeekMom loves Winter X Games:

1. It’s free! How can you not love something that will impress your kids, make great family memories, and cost you nothing?

2. It’s becoming more ADA accessible every year. As an amputee myself, every year I report back to one of the top ESPN guys in charge of Winter X Games, and tell him what they are doing right and what still needs work. This year, you could check out a souped-up, off-roading-type wheelchair, to navigate the tricky terrain between events (also free). There are dedicated ADA viewing areas that are well protected and actually very close to certain events. It’s exciting to see X Games become more and more accessible to adults and children with disabilities.

Large black mats make some tricky areas easier to navigate.  Photo: Judy Berna
Large black mats make some tricky areas easier to navigate. Photo: Judy Berna.

3. You can watch world class Paralympic athletes using the same courses as the able-bodied athletes. Every year, X Games includes more and more adaptive competitions. It’s great for people to see the incredible level of ability these athletes have, and makes watching the Paralympics a lot more relative. One of my favorite athletes, Mike Schultz, was a repeat gold medalist in Snowmobile at X Games, then lost his leg in an accident. In just a few years, he’d designed a new kind of leg, custom-made for athletes, and is now competing in Adaptive Snowmobile, as well as Adaptive Snowboard.

GeekMom Judy and Mike Schultz compare legs. Photo: Judy Berna
GeekMom Judy and Mike Schultz compare legs. Photo: Judy Berna.

4. Staying a few days is an option. You just have to know the trick. If you’d like to spend $800 to $1,000 for a hotel room, go ahead and book one in Aspen, which is just a few miles away. But if you book early and are willing to drive a half hour, you can secure a clean, comfortable room in Glenwood Springs, for 50 bucks and up. Add that to the fact that the event itself is free, and you’ve got yourself a pretty budget-friendly vacation.

5. It’s full of fun photo ops. Whether you’re on Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook, there are many places to stop and catch a shot of something unique. Much like Disneyland, half the fun is going through the fun pictures once you get home. Also remember that the event takes place in the heart of the Colorado mountains. Just about every picture you take, at any time of the day, will come out beautiful. Be especially alert at sunset, when the sky can turn amazing colors.

One of GeekMom Judy's favorite photo ops.  Photo: Judy Berna
One of GeekMom Judy’s favorite photo ops. Photo: Judy Berna.

6. There are free shuttles that are well organized. Parking has never been a problem. By using a commuter lot a few miles away, there is plenty of parking, and the access to the shuttle buses is efficient and timely. If you stay in Aspen, you can catch a free city bus that stops at Buttermilk every half hour.

7. It’s motivating and inspiring. Watching these events on television will make just about everyone who walks in the room say, “Whoa!” Imagine standing underneath that athlete as he jumps over your head. There are many opportunities to stand right next to the action, including the public access to the sides of the SuperPipe. You can literally hear the athletes breathing as they fly over your head in the middle of a jump. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Snowmobile practice session. Photo: Judy Berna
Snowmobile practice session. Photo: Judy Berna.

8. With practice sessions open to the public too, you have twice the opportunity to see your favorite events. The jumps are just as high and just as exciting when the athletes are warming up and there are great opportunities to get crazy photos, like the one above.

GeekMom Judy's daughter, standing at the edge of the Super Pipe during practice. Photo: Judy Berna
GeekMom Judy’s daughter, standing at the edge of the SuperPipe during practice. Photo: Judy Berna.

9. The athletes are accessible—to a point. Last year, I was amazed to see the difference between the X Games and the Olympics, which were a week later. While they aren’t necessarily cruising around in the crowds, at Winter X Games, many of the events have the athlete pass through a path in the middle of the crowd on their way to the snowmobile ride back to the top. Little kids and big kids alike got to high-five their favorite athletes, and many times take a quick selfie with them. At the Olympics and most other professional events, athletes are kept far away from the public. And if you keep your eyes open, you just may see your favorite athlete walking around later in the day, which leads us to reason number 10.

A high five as he makes his way back to the top, during competition. Photo: Judy Berna
A high-five as he makes his way back to the top, during competition. Photo: Judy Berna.

10. The athletes love being there. Every year at the press events, the athletes bring up how they look forward to this date in January every year. They love the way the SuperPipe is perfectly groomed. They love the interaction with their fans. Even in the midst of serious competition, the mood is relaxed. The athletes talk about it like it’s a big family gathering, where there is as much going on on the slopes as there is after hours.

One athlete, taking pictures of another athlete, with some excited fans.  Photo: Judy Berna
One athlete, taking pictures of another athlete, with some excited fans. Photo: Judy Berna.

11. You can choose to ski in the middle of the venues. Buttermilk Mountain does not close down during Winter X Games. The lifts still run and the ski runs all lead to one path, which runs through the middle of the festivities. As you ride the lift up the mountain, you get an aerial view of the huge jumps and snow cross courses. On the way down, you’re flanked by the SuperPipe on your left and the Snowmobile course on your right. You can ski all morning, then watch your favorite event in the afternoon.

12. It’s crowd-friendly. Every year, the attendance records are broken, yet it never seems as crowded as it should. Maybe it’s the wide open spaces that happen on a ski mountain. Maybe it has something to do with how the venues are spread out, leaving plenty of viewing room for the public. Sure, there are a lot of people around, but it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. It just feels like you’re surrounded by 5,000 excited friends.

Snowboarder Louie Vito, hangs out with the crowd after his run. Photo: Judy Berna
Snowboarder Louie Vito hangs out with the crowd after his run. Photo: Judy Berna.

13. There is music everywhere. As a backdrop during competitions, you’ll hear electronic beats. As you walk around the village, you’ll catch free bands playing periodically. This year, the paid concerts were big names—as in Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa. Maybe they aren’t your favorite artists, but I’m always excited to see who they’ve secured for next year’s Games. ESPN is determined to make X Games all about quality music events as much as athletic events. The concert venue is right on the grounds, so getting to the paid concerts is as easy as a quick walk after you’ve watched the last event of the night.

14. It’s one of those rare events you can share with your teenager, and both walk away with great memories. Winter X Games is very family-friendly (although I recommend a backpack carrier instead of a stroller for tiny people, because of the snowy terrain). But it’s especially friendly to teenagers. There are huge screens everywhere, showing constant clips of current and past events. The announcers are entertaining. There are many spur-of-the-moment “contests” while the athletes wait out commercial breaks (much like at a football stadium). The dance contest between three random people they pull from the crowd is a huge hit every year and even on the last night of X Games, there was a trivia-type contest being held on the mini stage, with the chance to win tickets to the immediate concert.

Huge screens placed all around the venue, keep everyone in the action. Photo: Judy Berna
Huge screens placed all around the venue keep everyone in the action. Photo: Judy Berna.

You may be wondering if I’m actually on the public relations staff for ESPN, as much as I gush about the Winter X Games every year, but alas, there is no such job on my resume. I’m just a mom who discovered this gem of an event and wanted to share it with as many other moms as I could. So get out your vacation planner for next winter and have a family meeting. Winter X Games could be just the unique family experience you’ve been looking for.

Winter X Games – Watching Women Support Women

GeekMom Judy, navigating X Games with her daughter. Photo: Judy Berna
GeekMom Judy, navigating X Games with her daughter. Photo: Judy Berna

Every year my family and I go to the Winter X Games. We had watched them for years as we lived all over the country, and once we moved to a mountain town just a few hours away from Aspen, we knew it would be an annual trek.

This year, one of my favorite moments happened on the very first day. On Wednesday afternoon there was a press event, where a row of X Games athletes, representing a wide range of events, sat in front of reporters and answered questions.

There was the usual barrage of questions fired at Shaun White, one of the most famous of the X Games athletes. There were questions about the Olympics last year, where many of these athletes competed just weeks after last year’s X Games events. And then there was a question that touched my heart.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

The reporter directed the question at Kelly Clark, about her relationship with Chloe Kim. If you’ve seen any of the press about X Games, you know that Chloe Kim, at 14, is the youngest person to win a gold medal at X Games. She won the silver medal in the same event last year, at the age of 13. She’s the real deal. She is pretty much destined to be the women’s version of Shaun White in years to come. That is, if the women stopped being overlooked.

The current women’s version of Shaun White is Kelly Clark. She began competing back in 1999, at the age of 16 and in the years since has racked up an impressive list of medals, including medaling in two Olympic Games, twelve years apart. She’s been around a long time and has been at the top of her game for a long time. Yet no one knows the name Kelly Clark like they do Shaun White. I’m hoping that thinking changes in the years to come. Maybe with Chloe Kim’s generation, it will.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

The reporter asked Kelly to describe her relationship with Chloe. The athlete who has been in the trenches literally longer than the athlete who is chasing her tail has been alive. Snowboarding is a small world. The athletes are thrown together, through travel and competitions, all year long. There is a fine line to be balanced between being friendly and staying competitive. The answer Kelly gave was refreshing (you can see a video clip of it here).

She talked about how talented Chloe is. She talked about how much she loves the sport and how it’s all about building a legacy, building up a sport to be all it can be.

“Knowing there are people like Chloe coming up, who will take what I’ve built and do things on snowboard that I never could, I’ll be able to look at women’s snowboarding and know that not only is it in good hands but in the hands of somebody that I built up.”

Chloe, who continuously grinned under her floppy hat, returned the affection when she got the microphone. Earlier in the session she had remarked about how Kelly was like big sister to her, always helping her navigate the world of extreme sports. “I always feel so much more comfortable with Kelly and I’m so thankful for her.”

Wait. Where’s the cutthroat competition? Where’s the “cut you off at the knees so I can have an advantage”? Where is the older athlete who refuses to be replaced by some younger, possibly faster athlete? That attitude was nowhere in sight at this press event.

I don’t know if the men’s athletes in the same events have similar sentiments. But it was so refreshing to hear a young woman gushing about the love and support she regularly receives from the woman she grew up watching, her idol becoming her mentor. Kelly not only accepts that she will be replaced some day, she is honored to be the one who is shaping the next generation.

How amazing would it be if that attitude could survive in other areas of competition and life? Every woman secure enough in her own abilities that there was no need to knock down the woman coming up behind her. Every woman recognizing that the lessons she could pass on to a protégé could mean building a legacy, not negating her own self-built kingdom.

Photo: Snowboard Magazine
Photo: Snowboard Magazine

This press event took place three days before the Super Pipe Snowboard event that decided the medals for 2015. After earning the gold medal in the event for the last four years in a row (and in 2006), this year Kelly took the silver. Standing next to her on the podium, with that bright gold medal around her neck, was the young woman she’s been grooming. I’m sure it must hurt at least a little bit, to give up that spot, at least for this year, but Kelly held up her medal and smiled. Just like the classy athlete that she has proven to be. A valuable example not just to a young woman named Chloe, who is paving her own way, but to all of us who have something worth passing along.