5 Books That Can’t Hit The Big Screen Fast Enough

It’s inevitable.

I get excited, borderline giddy sometimes, when a favorite book of mine gets ready to make its way onto the big screen. I follow the trailers, pour over pictures of the casting choices, sets, and costume designs. I gather up the family or plan a date night when the book hits the big screen, but am always unable to turn off my “book was better” skepticism.

I loved both the Harry Potter and Peter Jackson’s Hobbit/Lord of the Rings film series, but had my criticisms of these big-screen versions. Too many characters and scenes added to The Hobbit, and too many scenes and characters left out of Harry Potter. Where was Peeves, for goodness sake?

This has always been an issue. How many ways can they mess up Wizard of Oz? Or Peter Pan? Or Treasure Island?

Continue reading 5 Books That Can’t Hit The Big Screen Fast Enough

GeekMom Lisa’s Secret Origin: “Ugly In The Face”

I had been wanting to add to wonderful list of GeekMoms’ origin stories for some time, but had been putting it off for fear I would say the wrong thing.

Let me offer this disclaimer to say in my story I am NOT:

  • Saying it’s okay to bully someone or to allow a bully to continue their hurtful behavior, once it has been discovered.
  • Hoping everyone has to go through being bullied in order to grow creatively. No one should have to hear nasty things.
  • Going to lecture anyone on positive “body image.” At least, that’s not my intent.

What this story is about is how I used my personal experience with bullies to propel me forward into not being afraid to embrace my own passions. Continue reading GeekMom Lisa’s Secret Origin: “Ugly In The Face”

Let “Top Gear” Die With Dignity

Matt LeBlanc’s name started a little Twitter frenzy.

Well, if you want to get technical it all started with Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson fist-to-face Olympics last March started a domino-like chain of events that resulted in two new car shows.

Here’s the highlights: Clarkson tossed from Top Gear for punching producer. Television and radio presenter Chris Evans brought in, Clarkson’s fellow presenters, James May and Richard Hammond, say “no thanks,” and leave the show. Top Gear fans angry. Clarkson haters happy. Clarkson, Hammond, May and producer Andy Wilman acquire lucrative deal with Amazon Prime and start new company, W. Chump & Sons. Evans begins to reinvent Top Gear for a new generation. Evans gets car sick, and has to learn to talk and drive at the same time. W. Chump & Son has to learn to run a production company without the BBC taking care of everything for them for once.

Most recently, Top Gear announced its new presenters…all seven of them…and W. Chump & Sons started filming their still unnamed show set for a fall 2016 debut with their own established threesome. The Twitter-verse exploded with pithy commentary.

Two of the things my family and I “geek out” over are the series Top Gear and anything with my creative muse, James May. As such, I’ve been closely following the string of constant articles, press releases, Facebook posts, Tweets and memes from experts (or people who think they are) saying which show will be better. Some of these comments are insanely funny. Others are just plain rude, but welcome to the worlds where Top Gear and social media collide.

Many of these comments are on having to now pay to see the same show that has been free for so long, as well as on the over-abundant line of new Top Gear “underlings.” The new line up includes actor (and Top Gear’s fastest star to drive the “reasonably priced car”) Matt LeBlanc, race car driver Sabine Schmitz, former race car driver and F1 analyst Eddie Jordan, YouTube car commentator Chris Harris, and automotive journalist Roy Reid. Anonymous driver and Top Gear mainstay, The Stig, is back, but with two experienced racers on the new team (Schmitz and Jordan), he looks like a desperate attempt at familiarity. In the official promo shot, Stig looks like I do when I have to take a group shot with my in-laws’ extended family. Nice enough people, but I don’t fit in.

None of these new presenters will be actual “co-hosts” of Evans, barring LeBlanc who will be on every show. Evans remains the new Top Gear top banana. BBC is so confident this new format will be hit, they hope to move the program from BBC2 to the big leagues on BBC1 after the first series, which premieres in May.

Top Gear Twitter Wars
It only took a short time to see all these comments pop up on social media, and these images were all just via Twitter. Photo collage by Lisa Kay Tate.

This whole muddle, in my little world at least, is the death of my Top Gear.

See, this is the real issue with me, and what I would assume is every Top Gear fan. BBC could send every viewer a brand new car, fly everyone out for free live tapings, allow us all to be presenters for a night, and even throw a free coupon for a year’s worth of car washes, but this new BBC show is just not Top Gear.

Actually, the very first Top Gear incarnation wasn’t even Top Gear. If you go back to the original set up of the show debuting in 1977 there was a diverse group of male and female presenters (including on occasion, Clarkson and May). It was a decent car show, to be honest. It wasn’t until it’s first “reinvention” in 2002, the show became Clarkson’s milieu, with co-hosts Hammond and used car king Jason Dawe. May replaced Dawe in the second series. This new threesome soon turned the “car show” Top Gear into a cult phenomenon with a loyal fanbase worldwide, despite there having been American, Australian and other “international” Top Gear offshoots. CNN and others news sources reported the show had a global audience of 350 million viewers in 2015. That’s a bunch of eyeballs watching three guys.

As for the “new” Top Gear team, I don’t dislike any of these presenters, and if LeBlanc had joined the old trio for the occasional guest hosting stint, I would be pumping my fist and yelling “Yes! U.S.A!”  like I did when he completed his lap on the “old” show. However, he is not joining this group. He’s part of a “new era,” which has gone to great lengths not to be the Top Gear that has become a viewing tradition for so many for 22 seasons.

There is a simple solution to this confusion.

Simply retire the Top Gear name, like a star player on a sports team. Let it die with dignity, and let Clarkson, Hammond and May have their BBC legacy. Give Evans a new motoring show, with a new name for new audience. It seems to be what he is intending to do, anyways.

The whole idea of recreating a new show within the shell of another long-running popular show is like a new hipster eatery trying to occupy the same building of a longtime favorite mom-and-pop restaurant. No matter how good the fare is, it just doesn’t feel right to be in there, as if the ghost of its former occupant is always looking over your shoulder saying “this is all good, but don’t you miss those old burgers?”

This is the vibe I get every time look at the group of happy new faces standing in front of the Top Gear logo. It’s simply ill fitting. Give Stig one final “Best of” special, have him make a final appearance on the new show to drive off into the sunset like a storybook legend, and lay Top Gear to rest. Bring on the unmasked driver as yet another presenter on the new show and no one is out of work.

Meanwhile, no matter what W. Chump & Sons end up calling their new show — it could be named “Jessica” for anyone cares — everyone watching will know they are still watching the real spirit of Top Gear.

By all means, let Evans and his new crew have their show, but build a new show from the ground up. May, ever a class act, has even defended BBC’s efforts and applauded the appeal of having worthy competition in interviews. Instead, however, Evans and the BBC are trying to place a new, shiny high rise structure on still very visible remains of a historic landmark. That doesn’t make for a very stable foundation. The “Magnificent Seven,” as they are being dubbed by some, need to find new plot of unused land, and make something entirely their own.

Those of us who love our familiar trio, will keep on watching them, not because we want a good car show (there are plenty of shows, podcast and publications for that) but because we love these three, scruffy idiots. We love the camaraderie. We love the trash talk, impromptu back-and-forth, and face palm inducing ridiculousness that can come only from those who have known each other and worked together for so long. I’ll repeat a sentiment I made in a post last year. Clarkson, Hammond and May are like family for many of us, and well, I miss them.

For those who want to see Evans’s show succeed, then give him and the others a fair shot at making things work, don’t give him the sloppy seconds left behind by another group who has managed to sally forth to what fans hope are bigger and better things. As long as the Top Gear name remains, it will never be Evans’s show completely.

Having a choice for new motoring shows isn’t a bad thing, but Top Gear isn’t one of those choices, despite the title. All “ambitious but rubbish” photo illustrations by Lisa Kay Tate.

Summing up, if you loved Top Gear, you loved the Clarkson, Hammond and May dynamic. These people will watch the Amazon Prime show, (which everyone knows is the true Top Gear with a pretty new “not Top Gear” package).

If you hated Top Gear (there were plenty who did), and are planning on watching only because of the new format, you don’t really want to watch Top Gear. You want to watch this different motoring show. That’s fine as well.

As for me, when the dust from the spinning wheels finally settles, and the clatter of fans and detractors has quieted down, I’ll likely be among those coughing up the subscription price for Amazon Prime, and follow my irritatingly addictive threesome on their new misadventures.

I’m not going to lie, though, I might check out a few episodes of Evans and crew, just out of curiosity.

I know one thing, though, even if I do watch this new BBC show, I won’t, nor will anyone else, really be watching Top Gear.

Let’s Doodle With Deadpool!

Well, Deadpool hit theaters recently with a big, violent, bloody, and hilarious bang, boom, slash, and splatter.

Yes, this comic book intended for grown ups, which has been around for 25 years by the way, is all of a sudden being “discovered” by fans of this new, profane sensation, causing juvenile giggles from young adults, and an endless Advil jar worth of headaches from parents like me who have to say “not ’til you’re older…much, much older.”

Continue reading Let’s Doodle With Deadpool!

Who needs Cartier or Tiffany when you have Legos?

There’s no need to go crazy on high-end jewelry for Valentine’s Day, birthdays or anniversaries when you still play with toys!

Discarded or extra small toys can be changed into a fun jewelry gift of any occasion.

The raw materials for the toy box jeweler. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.
The raw materials for the toy box jeweler. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

Each of these toys chosen — Legos, marbles and bouncy balls — have three things in common: Continue reading Who needs Cartier or Tiffany when you have Legos?

Revved Up for the ‘CARtoons Magazine’ Revival

Timing is an amazing thing.

Out of the blue, I started thinking about one of my favorite pastimes as a teenager;  following the “How to Draw” guides in my brother’s CARtoons Magazine.

These were pretty basic, albeit, but they still inspired me to learn about perspective, shading and structure. Plus I was able to create some dream cars I would never in a billion years be able to recreate in real life. At least not on my current budget.

I got the itch to try some of these out again, but sadly, I hadn’t seen a CARtoons in a store since my junior year in high school. As it turns out, CARtoons Magazine, a labor of love created by Pete Millar and Carl Kohler in 1959, went bye-bye in 1991 after had a pretty good run for more than 30 years.

Well, thanks be to Google, I was able to pull up some old images of these “How to Draw” pages when I ran across something that made me giggle out loud.

CARtoons is back in print! Continue reading Revved Up for the ‘CARtoons Magazine’ Revival

Why Does Manga Mean So Much to My Kid?

Two years ago, we dragged two daughters along to cover Las Cruces Anime Days at New Mexico State University. They enjoyed it, but granted none of us really knew that much about Manga or Anime.

This year, we took one daughter and one over-the-top Manga-loving enthusiast to that same event. My younger daughter still enjoyed herself, but my teen Manga-nut was in Hog Heaven. What a change two years make.

I was curious what created this Manga Monster. I mean, we’re a family of readers and self-admitted geeks, so she has learned much about books, comics, music and more from us. But, Manga? Honestly, I never got into it, beyond my Batmanga collection, a series based on Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and a fantastic collection of Matrix-inspired shorts, called Animatrix. Continue reading Why Does Manga Mean So Much to My Kid?

Make Rey’s Rebel Pilot Doll

The Star Wars universe’s newest hero, Rey, struck a nerve with many viewers of all ages and demographics. Everyone has their own reason and theory of why she is so popular.

For me it was simple. Rey was someone’s daughter, and I couldn’t help but see in her the strong, intelligent, and fiercely independent person my own two daughters are growing up to be. One little detail in particular cemented this perception for me: Rey’s doll.

Continue reading Make Rey’s Rebel Pilot Doll

Jungle Versus Jungle…Book

Rudyard Kipling’s beloved short story collection, The Jungle Book, was written in the 1890s, but is still the inspiration for big screen interpretations today. Currently, there are two notable versions coming in the next two years, including the much-anticipated Disney production this spring.

The new Disney project is actually the second live action Jungle Book film Walt Disney Studios has done in recent years. Brandon Lee starred in the 1994 live action version, but the best known is still the original 1967 animated masterpiece. The 2003 animated sequel Jungle Book 2, was pretty forgettable.

This latest Disney version comes out April 15, keeping with their trend of large-scale live-action reimaginings and reboots of their own animated classics, from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella.

Following in October of 2017 is the Warner Bros. film Jungle Book: Origins, which also promises to be a larger-than-life effort, judging from the cast list. Continue reading Jungle Versus Jungle…Book

Bad Advice To Follow in 2016

It’s that time of year again to starting thinking of bettering yourself. Each year we put together a list of ways to make us better people, and every year many of us fall flat on our faces trying to keep up with the cadre of good-intentioned self-help advice.

Well, here’s my advice on following that good advice this year: DON’T.

This year, give yourself a little leeway in the self-improvement area, and work on giving yourself a year to remember, one where you dove into the pool of experience, and swam boldly against to tide of “in my opinions,” and be the boss of your fate, no matter how ill-fated some “experts” say it may be.

To get you started, her are five pieces of bad advice I hope that little red devil on your shoulder convinces you to follow:

Beat Yourself Up. In this world of embracing one’s flaws, and improving self-esteem, nothing helps get a person motivated more than that proverbial chewing out.

If you have something you want to accomplish this year, whether it’s a project, fitness goal or family matter, put aside those daily affirmations be your own Drill Sergeant.

If you are needing to finish writing, give yourself heck for looking at a Twitter feed instead of your manuscript, Slacker! If you need to lose weight for health reasons, mentally kick your lazy butt of the couch, and scream at yourself until you do those sit ups you promised yourself you’d do.

A pat on the back is always nice, but sometimes you also need the occasional kick in the pants to get things done.

Quit Caring Who You Offend. This is not an invitation to be as disgusting or blue as you can around the wrong crowds. Don’t deliberately drop the F-Bomb around other mothers at a toddler’s birthday party, or tell others how much their favorite show, book or band sucks just to show how much better you are than them. That’s not being forward-thinking, cutting edge or even clever. That’s just being a jerk. Continue reading Bad Advice To Follow in 2016

3 Geeky Games to Play Anywhere…With Anyone

There’s always the need at parties or get togethers to fill in those awkward gaps with something other than just small talk, but sometime there’s not a board game or set of dice in sight.

Other times, there’s a need to change the subject from some heated political differences, or calm down the frustrated “how much looonnngers?” on a car trip.

Been there, done that, created some anywhere party games to remedy it.

Just in time for those end-of-the-year and beginning-of-the-year celebrations, I’m passing them along to anyone in need of an ice breaker or a subject changer.

Each of these three games can be played pretty much anywhere (including cars) and need no more than a notepad and pencil. Continue reading 3 Geeky Games to Play Anywhere…With Anyone

RawSpiceBar Saved My Christmas Dinner

Food lovers looking for a way to spice things up in 2016 should give the subscription box service, RawSpiceBar a try.

The idea behind RawSpiceBar is to receive spices from around the world that have been toasted, ground or blended just days before being shipped. This will not only introduce the subscriber to new flavors and cooking ideas, but gives them an a chance to enjoy spices that haven’t been sitting on a grocery store shelf for several months.

This service works on the same premise of many other subscription service boxes. Each month, subscribers receive set of three one-recipe sized samples of spices representing a different region of the world, along with corresponding recipes for each sample. The recipes serve around 4 to 6 individuals, and include some history and facts about the regions of which they represent.

Past boxes have represented flavors from Istanbul, Memphis barbecue, Punjabi cuisine and New Mexican Navajo spices, among other areas.

The spice “box” is really a nice, tidy, plain brown little envelope, easy enough to fit in a regular mail slot, which is always nice when those little shoebox-sizes shipments from other services start to take of space after a few months. Continue reading RawSpiceBar Saved My Christmas Dinner

In It for the Laughs: A ‘Schmovie’ Review

Every year while I was growing up, Santa brought our entire family a tabletop game to enjoy after Christmas dinner, or, if the game was fun enough, New Year’s Eve.

Santa’s still pretty cool about doing that in my family’s home every year, although I have to say he’s getting quite a bit quirkier in his old age. He’s always seeking out something that challenges both the intellect, and tickles the funny bone.

The offbeat minds at Galactic Sneeze have come up with a game they feel might just do the trick with their recent bestseller, Schmovie. They gave me the chance to see if this is something in which I might recommend to everyone’s personal Santa or gift-giving service.

Continue reading In It for the Laughs: A ‘Schmovie’ Review

Google Takes Students on Virtual Field Trips

The Google Expeditions Pioneer Program has been visiting classrooms nationwide to help students and teachers learn more about incorporating the immersive learning opportunities of the “virtual field trip”

The program utilizes the Google Cardboard viewers to help students bring abstract concepts to live and give them a deeper, more personal understanding of the world beyond the four walls of the classroom. Continue reading Google Takes Students on Virtual Field Trips

The Rite of Passage of The All Ages Concert

I’ve had some pretty interesting live music experiences in my day.

I witnessed Mick and his boys endure constant drunk-dude outbursts of “Woooo, I love you, Keith Richards!” during what was otherwise a flawless Rolling Stones performance, and laughed as my mom’s asthma mysteriously cleared up from the nasty-smelling cloud of smoke wafting down on us at the Willie Nelson show.

I watched a performance by Pearl Jam with pure disgust, because an Austin afternoon traffic jam caused us to miss my only chance ever to see The Ramones. I yelled myself hoarse at both a Stray Cats reunion show and a Johnny Cash performance, and watched Gordon Gano chew out the audience like a school marm for throwing water bottles at a Violent Femmes show.

I pouted, because I wasn’t “old enough” to see The Clash yet, and thoroughly ticked off when former Sex Pistol John “Johnny Rotten” Lydon had a “throat problem” that caused him to cancel his show.

I’ve prog-rocked along with Carlos Santana, sh*t-kicked with Dwight Yoakum, and “rock concert moved” with the original Blue Man Group before they became an over-hyped brand name.

I’ve attended a chamber music performance at a motorcycle dealership, and seen countless jazz and folk concerts under the West Texas stars, while working summer music festivals.

I love live music, be it classical or heavy metal, pop or punk, blues or bluegrass. Just put me in that atmosphere surrounded by people drinking in the experience of absorbing that pure sound of notes and lyrics flowing from stage to ear; a sound without the sanitized filter of the car radio or Beats ear buds, and I’m where I want to be.

Now, here’s the overwhelmingly humiliating part. It all started with Lawrence Welk. Continue reading The Rite of Passage of The All Ages Concert

‘Doctor Who’ Comic Variant Covers Rock 2016

The Twelfth Doctor, has already proven his rock sensibilities on Series 9 of BBC’s Doctor Who. Now, Titan Comics is giving The Doctor and his companions a little more music cred with a series of variant covers inspired by classic album art.

Each cover is created by artist Simon Myers (Scarlett Couture, Ghost), starting with a special Forbidden Planet/Jetpack exclusive variant of Doctor Who: Eighth Doctor #1 depicting the Eighth Doctor incarnation (Paul McGann) via the style of Bob Dylan’s “The Freewheelin’.” Continue reading ‘Doctor Who’ Comic Variant Covers Rock 2016

The Force Awakens…A New Set of ‘Star Wars’ Snowflakes

Graphic designer Anthony Herrera has been creating snowflake patterns for Star Wars fans since 2011, delivering a fresh batch of designs each year.

For his 2015 set, Herrera celebrates the release of the seventh film in the Star Wars saga, The Force Awakens, with seven new character designs featuring Rey, BB-8, Finn, First Order Stormtrooper, Kylo Ren, Kylo Ren Lightsaber, and Poe Dameron.

This latest bunch brings the total to 57 different Star Wars patterns from which crafty fanfolk can get cramped fingers, crossed eyes, and a big smile making.

Another recent addition is Herrera’s Guardians of the Galaxy snowflake patterns set, with all five members of the team, as well as Baby Groot and Ronan. These join his already popular set based on the animated Disney hit, Frozen. Continue reading The Force Awakens…A New Set of ‘Star Wars’ Snowflakes

In Search of ‘Ten Pieces II’: My Battle With CBBC Envy

“Classical music is a little bit like having a spaceship. It can take you anywhere you want.”
— Dominic Wood (of CBBC’s Dick and Dom) in Ten Pieces.

We listen to a ton of music of all genres in our home. I’m proud to say my 6-year-old, who enjoys Yo-Yo Ma, can identify Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for Solo Cello, BWV 1007, as quickly as she can The Ramone’s “Pet Sematery,” the latter of which she just recently quit referring to as “Don’t Put Me in the Berry.”

Over the past month leading up to Halloween, we had been playing several “dark classics,” including, among other pieces, Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” and especially the goose bump-inducing Bach masterpiece Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Therefore, I tapped into the wonders of world-connecting Internet, as well as my insatiable journey for all things educational, and spiraled myself into a corner of frustration, as I tried to access the video content of BBC’s young people’s programming branch, CBBC’s, classical music film and outreach program for secondary schools, Ten Pieces II. Continue reading In Search of ‘Ten Pieces II’: My Battle With CBBC Envy

2 Disturbingly Fun Ways to Repurpose Broken Doll Heads

My girls have enjoyed their dolls…a little too much.

Their Barbie-sized dolls have enjoyed tea parties, but have also flown the Space Shuttle into a planet, with the help of a sling-shot and wall, fought crime and overly-playful dogs, cliff dove into a pile of cactus, and been strapped on the back of remote control cars like little NASCAR racers.

These dolls are no sissies in our house, which has led to a few plastic mortalities. On more than one occasion, we’ve gone to put away dolls, only to find one or two surviving pieces left, often the head.

Look what the cat dragged in…literally. Find broken doll head a better fate with some re-paints. All images: Lisa Kay Tate.

Continue reading 2 Disturbingly Fun Ways to Repurpose Broken Doll Heads

6 Picks for Halloween ComicFest 2015

Halloween ComicFest 2015 falls on October 31 this year, giving comic book lovers an even bigger treat his Halloween.

Now in its fourth year, the event is often seen as fall’s answer to May’s Free Comic Book Day. However, it stands on its own as a celebration of the spirit of make believe and imagination, which surround the festivities of both the Halloween season and the comic book genre.

This year’s event includes 21 free comics from which readers can choose—13 full-sized, and 8 mini comics—from various publishers, ranging from household names like Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse, to some impressive smaller press or independent publishers like Action Labs and Magnetic Press. Continue reading 6 Picks for Halloween ComicFest 2015

Make an Easy Shonen Knife Costume!

It’s a cool feeling when your own children embrace some of your memories, and make them their own. My six-year-old has discovered the pop-punk trio Shonen Knife.

Whether it’s their catchy beats, colorful homemade-looking videos, or their Ramones-meets-Hello Kitty look, they are her band, and she wants to dress like them. Specifically, she wants the two-tone heart dresses they wore in their sugar high of a video, Riding on the Rocket.

Per her request, I created a way turn two cheap t-shirts into one retro and colorful Shonen Knife-inspired costume that can be worn year round.

What you need:

  • Two inexpensive t-shirts (one white, one another bright color)
  • Fabric adhesive tape
  • Black cloth paint
  • One or two sheets of bright colored craft foam

    Basic materials for the Shonen Knife dress. Two tees will soon become one. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Continue reading Make an Easy Shonen Knife Costume!

‘Pan’ Isn’t Perfect, But Still a Great Escape

Pan, Warner Brothers’ new retelling of J.M. Barrie’s classic fairy tale, came out this weekend, and I was fortunate enough to catch it on opening day.

In this Joe Wright-directed version,  a 12-year-old Peter (Levi Miller), is living in miserable conditions in a London orphanage. When he finds himself abducted by flying pirates, he embarks on the journey to Neverland where he meets the not-yet-a-pirate James Hook (Garrett Hedlund), tribal warrior Tiger Lily (Rooney Mara), and the pirate leader Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). Yes, that Blackbeard. While forced to work in a mine looking for rare pixie dust bits left over from what is said to be an extinct race of fairies, he discovers his legacy as the island’s potential savior as well as his ability to fly. Continue reading ‘Pan’ Isn’t Perfect, But Still a Great Escape

Defending the Fart Joke

I love intellectual jokes.

Here’s a favorite: Helium walks into a bar, and the bartender yells, “We don’t serve noble gases here.” Helium doesn’t react.

Get it? Because it is a gas that…oh never mind.

I love to tell these kinds of jokes, and get some pretty good “reactions” (element pun intended) with these.


Continue reading Defending the Fart Joke

Turn Plastic Rings into Bat Bling!

DC Comics has now declared Batman Day to be an annual event, celebrating what they boast in their publicity as the “World’s Most Popular Superhero.”

It’s only proper to accessorize accordingly.

Here’s a way to make some unique bat jewelry out of those cheap plastic novelty rings that I’m assuming are now a legal requirement for most birthday goodie bags and carnival game prizes. All it really takes is some paint, rhinestones, and ambition.

Continue reading Turn Plastic Rings into Bat Bling!

Feelin’ The Shiny Force with ‘Star Wars Rebels’

rebelsfirefly main
Disney XD’s Star Wars Rebels didn’t set out to be a replacement for Fox’s Firefly in any way, but it sure helped fill that void for a great outlaw-style space romp. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

When Star Wars Rebels: The Complete Season One was released September 1, we received a review copy for our family blog.

I hadn’t gotten a chance to get into the series yet, and although I was expecting to enjoy it, I didn’t expect it to help fill a little aching sci-fi void that has been lurking around since 2003.

Star Wars Rebels, at least the first season so far, has helped to satisfy that little craving for new episodes of Joss Whedon’s Firefly  (which we all know aren’t coming). Continue reading Feelin’ The Shiny Force with ‘Star Wars Rebels’

Disney Infinity 3.0: Return of the Hoarder

The Disney Infinity pile up continues at our house with the addition of Star Wars and Inside Out worlds. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.
The Disney Infinity pile up continues at our house, with the addition of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Inside Out’ worlds. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

“We’re just going to look, okay?”

Ever utter these well-intended and ill-fated words to your children, before breaking down and displaying a disturbing lack of self-restraint?

This is the type of bad parenting Disney 2.0 did to us last year, as I talked about in my post “Confessions of a Disney Infinity Hoarder,” and Disney Infinity 3.0 is threatening to do this once again. When the first wave of 3.0 figures came out Aug. 29, our intentions were to purchase a starter set and a couple of figures for a surprise family Christmas gift.

That didn’t happen. Continue reading Disney Infinity 3.0: Return of the Hoarder

Be the Artist: LeRoy Neiman

Put in motion your favorite “fictional” sports by capturing motion and color using some LeRoy Neiman influence. (Image: “Slytherin vs. Griffindor” by Lisa Kay Tate)

The Artist: LeRoy Neiman

Everything about 20th Century American painter LeRoy Neiman was colorful, from his art to his personal style and attitude.

LeRoy Neiman was always colorful. His autobiography, All Told, was released just days before his death at age 91. (Artist image courtesy Creative Stuff, via Wikicommons. Program cover: New York Jets via Wikicommons. Book cover: Lyons Press.)

He was born in 1921 in St. Paul, Minnesota. His father abandoned his family at an early age, and he was raised by his mother, whom he had described as “spirited” and “ahead of her time.” He grew up in a working class neighborhood, and had even referred to himself as a “street kid,” but that didn’t stop his artistic cravings. In school, he painted signs for school assemblies (as well as tattoos on his friends during lunch). In the Armed Forces, he painted backgrounds for Red Cross shows.

Later in life, he continued several successful commercial art and fine art ventures, for everything from magazines to sports program covers.

His signature painting style came about in the 1950s, when he discovered that “free-flowing paint” produced fast-moving strokes and therefore, fast-moving action.

In terms of his art, Neiman was prolific. He could produce a couple dozen paintings a year, and was constantly sketching images he used for his painting ideas.

According to his biography on his official website, Neiman often painted on “Masonsite or Upson (a board made with ground wood and recycled paper products), and used a sheer coat of polymer ground (a type of primer)” on the surfaces. Then he laid on the color. He painted large brushed areas with oil paints, combined opaque and transparent materials to compliment each other, and made the most use of both positive and negative space as he could. There were often two or more media in each painting, including watercolor, ink, graphite, gouache, or felt-tip marker to achieve the look he wanted.

He said in a 1961 issue of American Artist he would use colors, painted outlines, and space to help him “describe whatever is emotionally necessary for its intended function in the picture.”

He is best known for sports paintings, and drew action-filled scenes of Olympic games, horse racing, Super Bowl bouts, and most every other kind of team or individual sport. His images also covered a spectrum of pop culture icons of hundreds of celebrities from Sylvester Stallone to Liza Minnelli. He even created 40-foot-high murals for dancer and choreographer Tommy Tune for a New York City theater. He also painted landscapes, animals, and images that inspired him on his travels to exotic locations.

Neiman’s own look of a New York-style “man about town” was recognizable as well, as he was always seen with his large handlebar mustache and, most the time, with his trademark cigar.

Neiman painted nearly his entire life. In 2010, he had a medical problem that resulted in the amputation of his right leg, but he continued to paint. He died at age 91 in 2012 in the New York home he and his wife shared for more than 50 years.

Even through his paintings weren’t always perfectly in tune with the natural color schemes of the actual subject, he said he remained true to the subject in his own way.

“I do not depart from the colors borrowed from life,” he said in VIP Magazine in 1962, “but I use color to emphasize the scent, the spirit, and the feeling of the thing I’ve experienced.”

The Project: Fantasy and Sci-Fi Sports Scenes

Neiman’s use of color often brought out what he called the “spirit” of the subject, not necessarily the expected norm. Fortunately, fictional bouts don’t have to worry about what’s always completely real. (Image: “GoGo On The Grid” by Lisa Kay Tate)

I’m ending this summer’s Be the Artist projects with something fun, colorful, and easy to explain…but not so easy to achieve that it doesn’t pose a good challenge.

In celebration of Neiman’s colorful spirit, as well as the start of many school and professional sports, let’s paint an action image of a favorite “fictional” sport.

This project is the perfect opportunity to play with mixed-media. If the color works…use it! (Image: Lisa Kay Tate)

One of the reasons Neiman’s work was so popular was that sports and fine art had never really come together before to a great extent. He had tapped onto a new and vibrant genre with this artistic marriage. Even those who prefer books or movies over playing fields and arenas have to admit, fantasy is filled with sports like Quidditch, Hunger Games, or Pod Racing. It’s out there, and it’s exciting.

Look at screen shots from favorite movies or comic book pages for a favorite “sports” or “recreational” image and paint it. Sounds easy, but can you capture that action? How far are they leaning on their brooms or ostriches? How far back is that throwing arm? Examine these pictures and see what clues make our eyes realize this static picture is actually full of movement?

Now, can you capture it with without “sketching” it or drawing it out first? Okay, I’ll go easy on beginners. Go ahead and sketch out your idea lightly, or take advantage of the method used in the Roy Lichtenstein project with just broad brush strokes. Don’t worry about facial details. Novices can even try tracing just the outlines like the Alphose Mucha art project, but only use these “cheats” to get started if you have trouble.

With Neiman, the key was in strokes and color. Neiman did do some portraits and figure drawings, but he was the king of energy and movement. Put your art in motion, by adding color along the figures edges, splashes or splotches in the background, and other touches of color overlaid through the entire picture.

Try some splatters and bold strokes, or use a sponge and pat down the background with layers.  Also, remember Neiman liked to combine media, so go ahead and use watercolor with acrylic, or colored pencil with pastels or crayons. If it looks good and works for the sport, then that’s the only rule you need to follow.

Whatever you pick, be bold! Be bright! Stand out! Whether it was his art or his own persona, quiet subtlety wasn’t what Neiman was often known for, as he said in a 1984 article in Esquire:

“I like being outrageous,” he said.

“Joust” by the Tate girls used acrylic, watercolor, and fine tip marker. (Image: Lisa Kay Tate)

The Incredible Mind of Captain Slow

James May is now my new muse of inspiration, and believe me I don’t take lightly who occupies that little spot below my office computer screen. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

I had to fire a Time Lord.

I’ve had a little cut out picture of actor David Tennant on the base of computer screen for a few years, now. He seems like a likable guy, and he is a great actor, but he’s never been my favorite. I don’t even particularly find him physically attractive (don’t tell my daughter this, please, I might get tarred and feathered), but I’ve looked the little speck square in the eye every day for several days on end.

You see, he was my “muse.” When my writing work load became increasingly larger, I found myself getting distracted by everything from the temperature of my tea to Facebook, which was where I ran across a meme of a judgmental little Tennant in full Tenth Doctor gear standing next to the text “YOU Should be Writing.” He was right. I should have been, so I got distracted again, printed out the picture and stuck it to my computer as motivation.

I talked a little about the importance of getting a muse a couple of years ago in my To-Do List post to help keep me in tune with my goals.

Well, I’m at the point in my life right now where I’m tired of the criticism and need some full-on sympathetic, and empathetic, encouragement. I’m tired of little snips of inadequacy from a former Time Lord, so I “retired” the image to my daughter’s bedside bulletin board of wiry British actors. For a short time, I was “muse-less,” guided only by deadlines, guilt, Chinese gunpowder tea, and Monster Energy drinks. Not a good mix, nor really a tasty one at 3 a.m.

Then I “discovered” James May.

I’ve known who May is for some time, everyone who watched the first 22 seasons of Top Gear UK does. I begin to delve into his work more and more of recent, when I begin mainlining the show, as I mentioned in a my Father’s Day Top Gear article. I got hooked on his Toy Stories, his Man Lab, his Big Ideas, his 20th Century specials, Things You Need to Know, and even his and wine expert Oz Clarke’s slightly buzzed road movies. I kept on a steady stream of his mind-filling online Head Squeeze web videos, now reborn sans May as BritLab, while working on otherwise mind-numbing computer jobs.

Somewhere in this video muddle, I found a kindred spirit. My husband holds the title as my “soul mate,” but May’s mind comes closer to my way of thinking than anyone else’s. Is it possible to have a “brain mate?”

This isn’t to say I don’t have plenty of role models and influences in my life. No one person can take up that mantle. My family, friends, educators, pastors, and a cadre of writers, musicians, and great thinkers help fill those hefty shoes.

However, I’ve resolved myself to only have one actual “muse” and May now claims that title with absolutely no competition.

I’m not planning on giving a laundry list of May’s professional achievements. Instead, I want to touch on the very nature of this man, from what I’ve casually noticed, that makes him so uniquely appealing to everyone and anyone with a maker’s mind.

Therefore, here are my main reasons May is my new, and I suspect permanent, muse:

I get him! And, whether he knows it or not, he gets me. Watching his Toy Stories achievements in particular, I completely felt for his failures and setbacks. I’ve personally teared up in frustration when some grand scheme of mine didn’t work, no matter how insignificant it seemed to the world around me. There’s still a rocket out there in the West Texas desert with a roll of undeveloped Kodachrome, likely with a picture of three idiots looking up at it from the Sul Ross Range Animal Science parking lot wondering, “where the hell did it go?”

I’m not trying to speak for all GeekMoms, but I’m reasonably sure we all share a fondness for Lego bricks. Fellow GeekMom Maryann Goldman has written some great pieces on them, and Judy Berna even wrote about May’s own Lego house project in 2011. Seeing how May has brought people together to achieve projects like this house was, and still is, inspiring.

He did this with his plasticine garden, and his 1:1 scale model of the Spitfire model. I loved seeing these teenagers get into these projects. I’ve already built models with both my daughters, as my father did with me as a young girl. We even tried…and failed…to get one to run on salt water. Don’t ask.

One of my earliest creative memories was collecting broken glass in the arroyo (desert) and wanting to glue them together to make house-shaped votives. My dad let me fill my pockets, but knew full well this was going to crash and burn after multiple attempts at trying to use Elmer’s school glue as adhesive. I was three. It just got worse from there. Backyard haunted houses, Millennium Falcon mock-ups, and re-creations of all most of Indiana Jones’s artifacts as home decor (did I mention the latter is a current project)?

We’ve been making little gardens out of Play-Doh for ages. Now my youngest wants a block of non-hardening Plasticine. Personally, I would have added a chile ristra to the wall. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

He strives to keep kids off electronic devices. No, he’s not saying get rid of all things electronic. He even did a great piece on how digital cameras work. He has repeatedly said on Toy Stories, and at other times, how today’s youth, and adults, need to get their faces away from living in their smart phones and hand-held video games, and explore more creative venues.

Again, I get this. I don’t want to rip these conveniences out of people’s hands, but I don’t—and will not—own a smart phone. My children do not need, nor own, cell phones yet, either. My oldest does have a Nook reader, and I allot an hour a couple of times a week for my youngest to play on the iPad, but we don’t keep these things permanently embedded in our hands as a primary form of entertainment. Believe it or not, we are doing quite well, thank you, and we still love technology. Don’t tell me how much I would love my smart phone and would use it all the time. Yes, everyone who tells me this is right. I would use it all the time. Ergo, I’m not getting one. I don’t need that extra distraction.

His parents, especially his father, are big influences in his life. May has not only had his parents on Top Gear and other shows, he has said numerous times how much they have influenced him. His father got him into model building, and influenced his design for the perfect paper airplane. He’s even joked about his mother’s aggressive driving prompting his moniker as the careful driving “Captain Slow,” by means of “childhood trauma.”

I hope I inherited a lot from my mother. Her creativity, her ability to do anything for her children at a moment’s notice, and her compassion for others’ well-being. I didn’t inherit her ability to talk to anyone and make friends. I’m actually consistently afraid to be around people I don’t know, except on a professional level, and sometimes I’m shy to the point where I come across pompous. I’m not, I promise, I just need to get to know you, first.

My father, however, influences me to this day. An in-flight refueler in the U.S. Air Force, he gave me an appreciation of both planes, and of those who serve in the military. Having put himself through college as a mechanic and a motorcycle racer, I spent a lot of time with my dad, brother, and his friends in the garage watching him work on our cars. This grew a love of all things that go. As an educator, he showed me the importance of a passion for learning. He was also my influence in spiritual matters, morals, and a strong work-ethic. I feel both privileged and proud to be my parents’ weird kid.

I’ve added this little “Get Excited and Make Things” quote May has worn on his Man Lab t-shirt, to one of my project closets. Perhaps it will help unclutter my poor laundry room a bit. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

He has to constantly be doing something. Anything! Plus, his interests seem to be all over the place. I’m not saying he’s scatter-brained, he can focus for hours on creating a Mechano erector set motorcycle chain or re-build a model train engine, but I wouldn’t let him go too long with no project to pursue.

When the “Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson vs. producer’s face” fiasco surfaced, he and fellow presenter Richard Hammond demonstrated loyalty to their long-time friend and left the show after his dismissal. The trio has since been picked up to do a similar show on Amazon Prime, but in the interim May created “JM’s umemployment tube” YouTube channel, where he made Shepherd’s pie and poached eggs in his kitchen, and filmed Hammond’s inability to hit a golf ball.

My long-suffering husband understands this part of my own nature too well. There’s a box of plastic water bottle pieces in my garage waiting to be made into to hot rod-inspired flowers (I’m planning on selling these, I swear). There’s always some project-centered mess awaiting completion, books to be read stacked on my nightstand like a Jenga game, and ideas for other things buzzing in my head like bees. In short…keep me busy or I might explode.

Finally, there’s that little detail that he is actually a music major, and plays piano well enough to “go pro,” in my opinion (and I have written plenty about chamber music in my day job). Instead, he’s incorporated this talent into his other work, and even used his appreciation of Beethoven to discuss how electronically mixed music just doesn’t hold up to capturing the creative essence of the human mind. YES!

But, why do I need a muse?

When I go through bouts of middle-aged self-pity, one of the things I lament about consistently is somewhere “I took the wrong path in life.” This has been happening more and more….and I’m still about a decade away from menopause. (Won’t that one be fun?)

“Where, oh, where did I go wrong,” I agonize like an overgrown toddler to my husband, who is always compelled to ask, “Well, what exactly is it you want to do?” Honestly, I never knew, until I saw what May was doing with his talents, and the pooled talents of those close to him.

That’s it! I want to celebrate creativity, ingenuity, the human mind, spirit, and soul with playful abandon. I want to mature in my interests, responsibility, and intellect, but I by no means whatsoever want to “grow up!”

I might not be able to live that dream, but May is, and I hope he wakes up every morning unabashedly thankful he is able to do this very thing.

As much as a dreamer as I can be, I’m a realist as well. I’m not writing a fan letter hoping it will one day reach May’s awareness, but I can still give him my appreciation.

Thank you, May, for helping me find my true muse, who now occupies the front of my computer with attractive and calm encouragement. Thank you for doing what so many of us wish we could, but don’t have the means, funds, or opportunity. Thank you for representing the collective creative minds of the childlike…but not childish…adult.

I only ask you one thing. Don’t stop.

May's airplane
Even if May isn’t your muse, please try his paper airplane. There’s a link to it in the story, and it works great! Pets hate it, though. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Be the Artist: Ansel Adams

moon over tatooine
Moons Over Tatooine, using a photo of the moon, and a set up display of plastic toys. Tatooine, by the way, has three moons. Two suns, three moons. Ansel Adams would have loved it there. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: Ansel Adams

Ansel Easton Adams, born in 1902 in San Francisco, California, was known for his black-and-white landscape photography, primarily of the wide open spaces of the American West.

Adams used the contrast of light and dark to make his images more dramatic. Adams portrait by J. Malcolm Greany, Public Domain. All other images by Ansel Adams from the National Archives, via Wikicommons

As a child, Adams was prone to hyperactivity and hypochondria. He did, however, love the view of the Golden Gate Bridge and the surrounding landscape around his home. He also loved the beauty of nature at a very young age.

Adams was a talented pianist through his youth, and his focus on piano was what helped curb some of his hyperactive tendencies. He even planned on making it his profession at one point.

He got his first camera in 1916, a Kodak Brownie, where he took his first photos of Yosemite National Park during a family trip. So began his love of the camera, and he was ready to apply it to his love of nature. He was so inspired by Yosemite, he returned there the next year with tripods and better equipment. He was soon learning basic darkroom techniques, and even acquired a job in San Francisco as a photo finisher, but kept returning to Yosemite. He eventually met and married Virginia Best there. Best ran Best’s Studio in Yosemite, which is today known as Ansel Adams Gallery. In the 1920s, he begin selling his photography of Yosemite from that studio.

An avid outdoorsman and environmentalist, Adams captured many of the wonders of the natural world on film including Glacier National Park, Carlsbad Caverns, Taos Pueblo, and many others. As a member of the environmental conservation group, Sierra Club, Adams even worked as a summer caretaker for the organization’s visitor center in Yosemite Valley when he was a teenager.

In the years before digital cameras and instant photo adjustments, Adams, along with fellow photographer, Fred Archer, helped develop a method of determining the best exposure for a scene. This is known as the “Zone System.” Even if his subject matter seems uninteresting to some critics, his pristine capture of shadows and light is still appreciated today. He did do some work in color, but found black and white more appealing.

Even his early photographs showed his care of balance, and he experimented with different methods of making images more beautiful, including soft-focus etching, the Bromoil Process, and other methods.

No matter how simple or vast his subject, Adams wanted it to be more than just a snapshot.

“It is easy to take a photograph,” he said in his self-titled autobiography, “but it is harder to make a masterpiece in photography than in any other art medium.”

The Project: Moon Over…Wherever

moon over Hobbiton
Moon Over Hobbiton, Middle Earth using my moon image and some cutouts from a movie magazine. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Adams took one of his most famous works while visiting New Mexico in 1941: Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. This darkly peaceful work depicts the quiet Northern New Mexico village, with snow-covered mountains in the background, residing under a full moon.

This piece, at least to New Mexico residents, often pops up in the news, as photographers still try to re-create it today. This in itself isn’t a problem, except for some reason or another the residents of Hernandez don’t enjoy getting visitors with cameras interrupting their solitude. It is understandable to want one’s solitude, but it is also no mystery, upon seeing the photograph, why is makes for an inviting photo op.

An old desktop calendar image of Adams's Moon Over Hernandez, New Mexico (bottom left) serves as inspiration for these pictures of the moon (and an eclipse) from our backyard. Image: Lisa Kay Tate
An old desktop calendar image of Adams’s Moon Over Hernandez, New Mexico (bottom left) serves as inspiration for these pictures of the moon (and an eclipse) from our backyard. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

To pay homage to this piece, which exemplifies Adams’s mastery of light and dark balance, as well as avoiding any trespassing issues, this simple photography and collage project takes advantage of the convenience of digital cameras and photo editing apps, while still demanding a little creative thinking on the part of the photographer.

First, take a picture of the moon from your home. You don’t have to capture your landscape in the photo if you don’t want, but make sure it is from where you reside (unless you can’t get a good shot of it, then take one from an area as close to your home as possible). Plus, it’s a good excuse to get outside and enjoy nature, like Adams did.

Once you have your image, print it. Color is fine for now. The black and white aspect comes later.

Next, either draw or set up a little scene from a favorite place, real or fictional, and cut it out. If you build one, take it at a slightly lighter time of day, so it will stand out against the moon. Again, color is fine for now.

These little plastic toys will look more authentic once changed to grayscale. Image: Lisa Kay Tate.

Take the little “landscape” and place it over the picture of the moon, so it looks like it is in the forefront. Once finished, take another photo of the finished product. Don’t scan it—as tempting as it would be—as that would be missing the point of the whole thing, taking photos.

Now, here’s the key. If you’ve taken these photos in color, use the grayscale tool on your digital device or photo editing app (they should all have one), and look at the difference. Much more dramatic, isn’t it?

If you have taken these in black and white, play with the levels to get that Ansel Adams effect or dark and light contrast. I also used the Pixlr web app to create the torn edge effect (also to add some stars to Gallifrey). Print them out on photo paper, and you’ve got your own personal Moon Over… image.

Fair warning, photography can be quite addictive (and I’m not talking about selfies). It only takes the spark of one inspiring view to ignite that passion to capture one’s world on film, just as Yosemite did for Adams.

“The splendor of Yosemite burst upon us and it was glorious..One wonder after another descended upon us. There was light everywhere,” he wrote in his autobiography. “A new era began for me.”

Maybe one will for you, as well.

moon over gallifrey
Moon of Gallifrey, using our moon photo, and a simple drawing of the Gallifreyan landscape, as well as an online filter to add some stars. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Our Adventures in Outer and Inner Space

The close proximity between Roswell and Carlsbad, New Mexico, makes for a vacation of otherworldly proportions. Images: Rick Tate.

In the midst of a busy summer, we managed to get away for a short three-day vacation. We didn’t realize at the time what a diverse range of experiences we were in store for in that short time span that would take us from beyond the stars to deep beneath the Earth’s surface.

The New Mexico cities of Carlsbad and Roswell are just a quick hour-and-a-half drive from each other, but they managed to create quite the journey. Roswell, being a three-hour drive from our home, seemed a fun destination that wouldn’t take too much car-trip time, but still seemed far enough away to feel like an actual getaway. Plus, as long as I’ve lived in the area and heard about the infamous “crash site,” I’ve never ventured to see the place myself.

Well, this year, we decided to get our Mulder and Scully sensibilities together and make this quirky little trip just for the sake of enjoying one of the weirder chapters of American history… or folklore.

Although our destination was a look at extraterrestrial pop culture, our trip took us through the town of Alamogordo, home to the New Mexico Museum of Space History and International Space Hall of Fame. The museum not only educates visitors in the history, science, and technology of space, it shows the State of New Mexico’s significant role in the development of the United States Space Program. There are plenty of interactive exhibits to keep busy hands as entertained as busy minds, including astronaut dress-up areas, a shuttle landing game (don’t ask how we did on that), and a platform to feel the vibrations created from different modes of space travel.

The New Mexico Museum of Space History offers plenty of educational and some interactive exhibits. Images: Rick Tate.

Our favorite, however, was the outside exhibits at the John P. Stapp Air & Space Park, which was named for the aeromedical pioneer. It features several full-sized artifacts celebrating the milestones in space exploration. Most impressive was the 86-foot Little Joe II rocket, which tested the Apollo Launch Escape System. Outside also has the final resting place of “Ham the Astrochimp,” the first primate to visit space.

There is no charge to visit the outside exhibits, but there is a separate charge for both the museum and IMAX. A package for both the museum and theater is also offered.

Take a look at Rick’s 360-degree panoramic view of the “Space Park” and the museum’s beautiful exterior on round.me.

The route from Alamogordo to Roswell includes its share of interesting stopping points, including the burial place of another four-legged icon, Smokey Bear, and the well-preserved historic community of Lincoln, the focal point of the infamous Lincoln County Wars for western history buffs.

Then, we hit Roswell!

For those unfamiliar with the “Roswell Incident,” an unidentified flying object crashed in a ranch near Roswell in July of 1947. Long story short, several details turned up, including three small “child-size” decomposing bodies, revealing it may have been an alien spacecraft. In true X-Files form, the government stepped in to say it was actually some experimental Air Force aircraft, and therein lays the continuing controversy. What was it?

What it was was the start of a thriving tourism industry, the now go-to look for aliens (almond eyes, large head, spindly limbs), and the spark that lit the imagination of everyone from stargazers to science-fiction writers.

Nearly 60 years later, that incident provoked a worldwide following of believers and skeptics, comic books, cartoons, novels, documentaries, motion pictures, and television series. It has also brought in millions of visitors and a substantial amount of tourism-based profits to local merchants.

My brother told me when we first mentioned visiting, “if you really want to believe, don’t look too close.” He had great point there. However, we learned fast it isn’t so much about believing whether the incident is true or not, it’s about celebrating the search of the unknown beyond the stars.

ufo museum
The International UFO Museum in Roswell includes a peek at the extraterrestrial presence in fiction and history. Don’t forget your foil hat. Images: Rick Tate.

The best place to decide for yourself is the International UFO Museum and Research Center. The museum has information on the Roswell Incident, as well as other UFO sightings and history, with photos, documents, artifacts and artwork, and even a sightings log to add your own close encounter to alien lore.

The center’s alien-landing diorama was the most photographed scene, but it really was the museum’s visitors who made it fun. One grandmother was entertaining her grandson with stories of her own recollections of the event. She had a “perfectly normal nurse friend” who was witness to the autopsy, so she said. There was also a group of visitors wearing homemade aluminum foil hats, and having a ball. One even looked like those stylish swan take-out designs they use in fancy restaurants. The whole experience was a blast, and worth the $5 admission ($2 for kids).

This is one city that has embraced its biggest tourist draw. Roswell aliens are represented everywhere, and in some of the most creative ways, ranging from delightfully kitschy storefronts to beautifully rendered works of art. Main Street alone, in the vicinity of the UFO Museum, is lined with gift shops, cafes, book stores, arcades, and other businesses taking advantage of the little fluorescent green men (who we learned weren’t really green, but who cares), with murals and window paintings of alien mariachi, ninjas, jazz musicians, and, of course, stoners. There were wooden aliens, inflatable aliens, and alien-faced street lamps. Even the McDonald’s is shaped like a flying saucer.

One shop which embodied this roadside attraction image best, was the Alien Zone and Area 51. The front part of the store housed a typical black-light gift shop, but for a nominal fee, you can visit its “Area 51,”which is filled with alien-centric photo areas, including a mock-up of a flying saucer crash landing.

Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 11.55.55 PM
Don’t pass up the chance to get some fantastically goofy photo ops, like these at Alien Zone and Area 51. Images: Rick Tate.

Some of these little setups look a little worse for wear, but it isn’t due to lack of business. We had to share the space with at least two other groups taking their pictures with alien bartenders, giant bugs, and little alien grill masters. It was amazingly cheesy, not to mention the fact that the real Area 51 is actually located in Nevada. However, these photos were some of our favorite, most personalized souvenirs of the entire trip.

The lady who worked the counter said you can’t even get near the place on July 4th weekend, when the UFO Festival takes place. She said thousands of people flock to the city for parades, lectures, book signings, alien cosplay contests, and everything in between. We were glad we visited on a non-festival week.

The alien crash may be the city’s most noticeable marketing point, but Roswell was also home to another pioneer in space history: Robert H Goddard. Goddard, who felt as early as 1919 that it was possible to construct rockets for space travel, experimented with gasoline and liquid oxygen fuels, eventually launching his first liquid propellant rocket in 1926 in Massachusetts. It was the ideal year-round climate of New Mexico that drew him to Roswell, and in his 12 years living there, he conducted 56 rocket flights, 17 of which reached altitudes of more than 1,000 feet. Pretty impressive, considering many of these took place in the 1930s.

The Roswell Museum and Art Center includes a wonderful homage to rocketry pioneer Robert H. Goddard, including a replica of his workshop and his actual rocket launchpad. Images: Rick Tate.

The Roswell Museum and Art Center, a free museum, includes a recreation of Goddard’s workshop as it was circa 1936. Set in the middle of a pristine art museum with white, sterile walls, you can walk into this dusty-looking workshop, lined with walls of tools and rockets in progress. From the musty smells to the muted light and vintage calendar on the wall, this little detailed trip back in time to the height of Goddard’s innovation was so thorough, I felt like I was back in my grandfather’s tool shed or dad’s garage. It took a lot of self-control not to cross under the barrier ropes, grab a wrench off the wall, and start tinkering with one of the random rocket parts laid out on one of the work benches.

Aliens may or may not have landed in Roswell, but Goddard reached the stars from there.

The next day, we came down from the stars to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Monument, 700 feet below the Earth’s surface. The caverns are actually located outside of Carlsbad in a tiny town known as White City, about a 27-mile drive.

carlsbad caverns
Carlsbad Caverns National Monument is one destination that should be on everyone’s road trip list. Images: Rick Tate.

Everything about these caverns impresses me. The formations are gorgeous and varied, and the walkway is well laid out to not only cover the most sights, but to blend with the landscape.

There is an option to take the elevator down to the “Big Room,” an 8.2-acre cavern you could plausibly fit six football fields in, if you were so inclined. However, if you are physically able, the natural entrance down to this room is the best way to go. There’s something both eerie and beautiful about twisting down the descending switchbacks from daylight to darkness, past the black abyss where the bats sleep away their summer days, and into a world where the temperature never changes. Once way from the entrance, only strategically-placed lights help guide the way. There are additional tours of other cavern areas available, as there have so far been 119 caves discovered. However, the main room is impressive on its own, with its the Bottomless Pit and Giant Dome.

It is a pretty good-sized walk, as the natural entrance trail is around 750-feet-long, with another mile around the perimeter of the Big Room. Get there early in the day, bring water (only water, as no other food or drink is permitted in the caverns), and be prepared to take a few breaks if traveling with younger kids.

One of the holdovers from the cavern’s mid-century days is the remnants of its lunch room. You can purchase a sandwich, pick up a souvenir, and mail a postcard from the bottom of the cavern. Yes, there are bathroom facilities in that location as well.

This is one of the most fascinating and surreal natural wonders around. It also has one thing in common with Roswell: visitors from all parts of the globe. This was probably the site everyone in the family got the most out of, and since it is part of the National Park Service, a Junior Ranger program is available for kids to earn a site-specific patch or junior badge after completing age-appropriate content in an easy workbook.

Since we were there during the “Bat Season,” we stuck around for the evening bat flight. This occurs at dusk each evening from around mid-May through October, when the summering Mexican (also called Brazilian) Free-tailed Bats descend from the cave’s natural entrance for an evening of feeding and revelry.

This is a free program, even if you haven’t visited the caverns, and it is just amazing. After the park ranger gave us a laundry list of rules for not disturbing the bats, she entertained questions until the light sun was almost set, and the cave swallows, who swoop around the cave entrance most of the day, almost instantly disappeared. Then, very quietly, wave upon wave of bats began to pour out and fly overhead, some so close you could feel them brush past. If you’re not squeamish about bats, this is an awesome experience. Unfortunately, there are no cameras or any electronic devices allowed, so you’ll have to see this peaceful spectacle for yourself. Early risers can also see them return to the cave at dawn. We did not, since we headed back home that night.

We may have only been away from home for three days, but we returned with heads filled with knowledge, 800 pictures on the old digital camera, some very tired feet, one little green hand-carved wooden alien tiki statue, some new insights in the world and universe around us (not to mention beneath us), and most importantly, some great laughs and memories.

As for the Roswell incident, the validity of the UFO crash is still a matter of opinion, but the adventure and fun is 100 percent legit.

roslwell aliens
Roswell’s aliens are everywhere from street lights to storefronts. Images: Rick Tate.