Goodbye, Farewell, Amen: Ten Episodes of Trapper John

I awoke on January 1st 2016, to a bright new year, but also to the death of Wayne Rogers. Wayne Rogers played Trapper John Mcintyre on M*A*S*H, a show which early on helped to define my sense of humor, and made me realize that I could never practice medicine. M*A*S*H is my go to show. It is what I watch when I am sick, it is what I watch when I am homesick or nostalgic. Continue reading Goodbye, Farewell, Amen: Ten Episodes of Trapper John

Nesting in the 21st Century

I’ve just had my third child in six years, and have noticed certain patterns about myself. For me, an early indication of pregnancy is uncontrollable irrationality. For about a week, I will be irrationally irritated with everything and snapping at everyone. So much so that with my second pregnancy, my husband said, “You better be pregnant.” I was. I crave greasy burgers from Burger King and strawberry milk from a dairy, but mostly I am averse to foods. This time around, I was averse to almost everything and hardly gained away weight. Each time I have been pregnant, I have waited for that nesting instinct to kick in, waited, and waited. I thought it had never hit, but as I look back over the months of pregnancy, I see a different kind of nesting. I nest with gadgets and gizmos. I reach for time saving technology and devices to make life easier.

Image: Reliable Corporation

The Steam Cleaner
This was the year we decided to potty train our second son, a mere month before my due date. I already have one little boy peeing in my bathroom, but with the addition of a second, the urinal smell began to linger in my home. During my last pregnancy I discovered the wet Swiffer to help me keep the bathroom clean. During this pregnancy and potty training I added the Steamboy 200. So now I can Swiffer the pee away and then steam the heck out of my floors!

The Steamboy is a pretty nifty gadget. Thankfully it assembles easily because the instructions were not compatible with my sense of logic. It asks you to “Attach the carpet glide to the floor head,” which is fine to say but it doesn’t actually attach. Neither the picture nor the description in the instruction manual help, but if you go to the company website they show you how it works. It glided nicely over all of my surfaces and the extension cord was a great length, deceptively long even; I managed to pull the cord out of the wall.

The microfiber pads say hand wash only—so I see great potential for hand made pads. But the instructions say mild detergent at 40 degrees will be okay, this is what I did, because the whole point is to make life with three kids easier, and they survived just fine.
Image: Sarah Pinault

Now don’t get me wrong here, this device is not to help me clean the visible stains caused by my growing brood. This is to get rid of the germs that follow them around like puppies. It’s great for kids, great for pets, and great for allergies. It does deal with minor scuffs and marks, just not deep carpet stains. It deals with 99.9% of household germs, so now when my son lies down on the bathroom floor, I know that his face is safe from his pee germs! It also cleans with just water, no added detergent, so he won’t have that nice Clorox smell on his face!

It can be really hard to tell if it’s done any good just by looking at the surface involved, but just looking at the pad after you’ve finished reveals exactly what has been sucked up. It’s quite disgusting really, to actually have a visual on the filth we’ve been wallowing in.

It’s nice and lightweight but could do with a hook on the handle to hang it up, and a clip on the wire to keep the cord in place. To use the clip on the top of the machine you have to wrap the cord in a particular way and that messes with my OCD.

Image: Courtesy of Behmor

The Coffee Machine. We have gone through many coffee machines over the years. Gevalia, Coffeemate, Keurig, we’ve tried it all. With a third child on the way, it seemed appropriate to replace our old models. So this time around we got to test the Brazen Plus craft brewing system from Behmor. Try saying that three times fast. This is several notches above where we usually like our coffee; we’re Dunkin Donuts people who don’t mind an instant cup. But I have to say, after working out how to use the machine optimally, it’s the best cup of coffee I’ve ever made at home. My husband spends as much time with this machine as he does with his Alienware these days.

Basically, this is the home version of professional coffee makers. The settings enable you to adjust for water brewing temperatures and the pre-soak function lets the coffee bloom before brewing. I didn’t know that coffee grounds could bloom before, but it’s blooming marvelous. Settings are so precise that you need to program in your altitude to allow temperature calibration. Water does not simply flow through this coffee machine; it has an over-sized shower head which pulses the water to allow “complete coffee bed saturation” to extract all the coffee out of the coffee. The Brazen Plus is one of  few home brewers certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. It is fully programmable so that your coffee can be blooming while you are still rubbing sleep out of your eyes, and when the power goes out you don’t lose your altitude settings; believe me this is a huge plus.

We followed the directions as to types of coffee to use, and experimented with local brands, and generic coffees. We find that Starbucks Pike Place works well, and more often makes a cup better than you would be purchasing at the store itself. Our favorite brew thus far has been the Dark Oak Roast from our local place, Scarborough Grounds. We regularly ship this to friends in Mississippi; it’s just that good. In a pinch we’ve used our old standby Folgers, and this machine elevates that cup of coffee too.

The drawback of having this machine at home is that we have become coffee snobs now. A gas station cup of coffee used to do us just fine, but now we have seen the light and we won’t go back I tell you, we won’t go back!

Once the machine is setup, it is ridiculously easy to get to good coffee fast, but it is also easy to clean up too, a big plus in a family like ours where it is go, go, go from 6am till 7pm with very little napping. We are not a napping house, and coffee helps us survive!

Image: Medela

The Breast Pump. I have had all manner of feeding experiences with my three children. With the first I failed miserably at nursing, but found success with my breast milk. So I exclusively pumped and bottle fed for ten months. With my second son, I went straight to formula. This time around, my surprise baby, I decided I would stick to it and nurse no matter what. Even with that in mind, I knew that, based on my supply the first time around, I would need the support of a good breast pump. Thanks to Obamacare, I didn’t have to spend $300 on the pump of my dreams, as it’s free or subsidized to get one these days. I did not upgrade this time, but went straight back to my buddy, the Medela Pump In Style Advanced. Easy instructions mean it is quick and easy to use the first time around, so you get comfortable with it very quickly. Sure, you will always feel like you are hooked up at a dairy, but it’s a much smoother process than I would have imagined.

The battery pack on the Medela is fantastic. I pumped twice a day for two months on the same eight AA batteries before it started losing its juice. The car charger works brilliantly for pumping in airports, parking lots, etc. This pump has the option for single or double pumping, and I have only used the single option once or twice.

Big advantages for this product: It’s one of the most widely used pumps, so parts and accessories are easy to find. If you save your pump for the next pregnancy, you can request new piping at the hospital, Medela generally supplies them for free.

I was ridiculously excited on the day I got the email notification that my pump had arrived at the house. I almost passed out when I opened the box. I never said I was normal.

Image: Reliable Corporation

The Iron. Every time I have a baby, I get obsessed with ironing little clothes, though this compulsion fades as the exhaustion grows. I used to do this with a $6 iron, but then I upgraded. When my mom moved to the U.S. last year, she took a liking to my iron; British people like their irons! So of course she now has that and I now needed a new iron. What I ended up with looks more like a space ship and you could easily fit my new baby into it! It took me a while to warm up to the Maven 100IS, but now that I’m getting the hang of it, I’m quite ready to build a laundry room just to accommodate it. The website describes it as a lightweight steam powerhouse, and powerhouse is right.

This is not the kind of iron I am used to—this is a lightweight iron that comes with a docking station. So the station contains the water and controls the pressure, 3.5 bars of it, and the iron that you hold in your hand is more of a conduit. This took a lot of getting used to, and the advantage for some people was a distraction for me. The steam comes out fast and furious; this is the commercial iron of the home and not for the faint of heart. Getting used to the footprint aside, this beast irons faster than most irons I’ve had before. The Velocity could give it a run for its money, but the Maven gets the job done. It takes 7-8 minutes to reach full steam, but can then run for 1.5 hours according to the manufacturer.

I wasn’t really sold on this new gadget until I accidentally left it running one day. I grew up hearing nightmare stories about leaving the iron on, but on the day I left the Maven on and unattended for over two hours, I couldn’t have been happier. It was no hotter than when I had left it, and had done no damage, either to the machine itself or the area it was in. If you are looking for safety and protection from baby brain in an iron, then this is the one. It may not have made my life significantly easier with regards to my ironing needs, but the security of this over use knowledge is worth its weight in gold. I need protecting from myself after all.

Baby Swing. What on earth happened to baby swings in the last five years? I went to Babies R Us to register and couldn’t find a nice simple swing with a small footprint. They were all enormous with bells and whistles, so to speak. This time around we are doing quite well without a swing. A happy baby and a mama who doesn’t want to put her down will do that.

There are many gadgets designed by companies to make things easier, or at least seem easier for parents, and a lot of them we do without. We didn’t sign up for bottle warmers when we bottle fed but used a glass jug and boiling water. We have never subscribed to a wipe warmer; we breed ’em tough in New England. Our humidifier is cast iron and on our stove top, our nightlights are the twinkle stars on the ceiling. Of course my husband thinks a Steambox will help him with the nesting phase; I say the tax return in 2016 will help him with the Steambox phase!

My third pregnancy may not have produced any scrapbooks or decoupage, I may not have repainted and re-ordered everything, but I certainly managed to accumulate some time-saving and brain-saving gadgets to help us get through babyhood with three kids in the house. I’d love to hear how you nest; head on over to our Facebook page and let me know.

Holiday Philately

Christmas is a time when we all seem to embrace, or run screaming from, one of the oldest geekdoms in existence: philately. No matter what your holiday inclination, it is hard to escape this season without a visit to the post office to pick up, purchase, or peruse the postage. This week, while mailing coffee from Maine to Ohio, my husband got an education in shipping that tickles my love of the absurd.

The woman in line in front of him was shipping Maple Syrup to family. Now to my mind, this is a liquid, and so I’d have headed straight to UPS or FedEx, but no, oh no. There is a Maple Syrup exception to the liquid exemptions. There is even a special form and a special sticker for the box you are mailing. The postmaster gave everyone waiting in line a quick history lesson this week, and all learned that when the post office first banned liquid goods, a mighty fuss was raised by the New England states, and thus the Maple Syrup exemption was born. I can find no trace of this on; Google searches come to naught. But I know this Christmas tale is true; it came direct from the Postmaster. An online search on the Maple Syrup forums will tell me that a large flat rate box will hold three 1/2 gallons or two 1/2 gallons and one quart, and then that a medium flat rate box will hold two 1/2 gallons or one 1/2 gallon and one quart or pint, but nothing about this secret club that is the shippers of Maple Syrup.

Continue reading Holiday Philately

The Twelve Chores of Christmas Eve

On the Twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… With three children under the age of six, and both my husband and I working full time, I fear a trend where Christmas Eve becomes our last minute chore day. If I can just have the laundry put away, I’ll be okay on Christmas day…. If I can just get those cookies made, the kids will be okay on Christmas day… Well this year I’m rebelling. Instead of focusing on what is still left to do before Christmas, I’m making that to-do list and tossing it out. All that need happen between now and Friday is a trip to the grocery store, and the kids presents getting wrapped. Clean underwear is a bonus this week, so here are twelve things I will not be doing this Christmas week. More importantly, here are twelve things I had planned on having done but will not be stressing about not doing this week.

Image: Sarah Pinault. Last Year’s Christmas cookies, and cake, and Reindeer Food.

On the Twelfth day of Christmas… I will not be making a dozen Christmas cookies. Be they chocolate chip, or sugar cookie cut outs, this year Santa’s Christmas cookies can come from a store and I am going to save myself the baking time.

On the Eleventh day of Christmas… I will not be hanging the rest of the Christmas cards that came this week. I’ve run out of miniature clips, I’ve run out of tape. They can sit on the bookshelf until after Christmas.

On the Tenth day of Christmas… I will not be painting ten fingernails with the delightful seasonal Jamberry wraps I have left from last year when I ran out of time to do my nails.

On the Ninth day of Christmas… I will not be worried about the nine times I forgot to move the elf on the blasted shelf this month, after we eventually found him in mid-December that is!

On the Eighth day of Christmas… I will not be finishing the last two years of Christmas scrapbooking (four pages a year, so I have eight still to do) and I will not feel guilty every time I walk past my craft desk and see cards from 2013 sitting there.

On the Seventh day of Christmas… I will not be fretting over a seven course meal. I have my Paxo stuffing and Bisto on hand, I have a beef roast in the fridge. Anything else that we eat is a blessing. After spending the last six years trying to find the perfect breakfast for Christmas morning and balance for Christmas lunch, the kids can eat cookies and milk for breakfast and be all the merrier.

Image Sarah Pinault: Holiday movies back in the box.

On the Sixth day of Christmas… I will not be watching those last six Christmas movies that I just “have” to watch each year. So Scrooged, It’s a Wonderful Life, Santa Claus The Movie, The Bishop’s Wife, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Holiday Inn, I’ll see you next year, or maybe in January!

On the Fifth day of Christmas… I will not be putting away those five baskets of laundry. Five people in our house and their clothes are all clean, this is a miracle in itself, they can get put away next week (or not).

On the Fourth day of Christmas… I will not be doing those last four loads of dirty laundry. Okay I lied, there’s always more dirty laundry in a house with three kids in it!

On the Third day of Christmas… I will not be worried about three sets of matching pajamas. Yes I made my new baby a jumper that perfectly matches the reversible Christmas pants I made her brothers. And yes her oldest brother wants to wear his store bought ones instead. So I will not worry about whether they are wearing them in Christmas Eve, and I will not worry about the prefect picture of three perfect pajamed children.

Image: Sarah Pinault. Three stockings hung with care, no more, no less.

On the Second day of Christmas… I will not stay up late making two more Christmas stockings, for myself and my husband. The kids have them, that’s all that matters. I’ll make ours in February!

On the First day of Christmas… I will not go and see the new Star Wars movie. It was vitally important to see this opening weekend, but I have three kids, one of which is a newborn. It was vitally important to see this before Christmas, but did I mention the three kids. I’ll see the movie eventually, and it will be just as epic after Christmas as I’m told it was before.

Instead I will be doing wonderful things with my family and not worrying about the things left undone. Not getting to my to-do list is nothing new, but not worrying about not getting to it is my Christmas present to me and my family.

What are you going to not worry about on Christmas Eve?

The Advent of the Legless Lego

Every year we count down to Christmas with Advent boxes full of chocolate. Every year I gaze at the paper calendars of my childhood with a glimmer in my eye, knowing that the boys will not appreciate them as I do. I look with wonder at the Playmobil and Lego calendars, not wanting to spend the money, or the crazy on locating one. I wonder what I could stuff the boxes with, knowing that only a sweet treat in the morning will placate my darling angel children.

This year the Lego calendars are everywhere, there’s even two different versions of them. Yet the skinflint in me, even at Christmas, still does not want to spend $29-$49 a pop on Advent calendars.

IMG_9367So I find myself in the week of Advent, desperately stuffing the boxes of years before, but not with the coveted chocolate treat. With Lego minifigs purchased on eBay. Continue reading The Advent of the Legless Lego

Cryptic States of America

Image: Google Maps

Over the past few nights, had you come to our house, you would have found a group of adults huddled around the kitchen table. Not playing a game or eating dinner, but poring over a list of the 50 states and 50 corresponding clues. On a recent trip to England, my father had picked up a book based on the UK game show Pointless. Hosted by Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman, the show is centered around obscure answers to even more obscure questions.

The book, The Most 100 Pointless Things in the World, is almost as obscure as the TV show. Containing information about game show hosts, things that hang from pub ceilings, dramatic pauses on TV talent shows and reality shows, and Luxembourg, it is a must read if you are a fan of the British and/or a fan of the obscure. There are playable quizzes, musings from the show’s hosts on the absurdities of life, and you are never quite sure if the information presented is riveting or just plain ridiculous.

The quiz that most caught our eye, however, was #81 “US States.” Osman likes to post competitions on his Twitter page, @richardosman, and this was one of his geeky wordplay quizzes. He presents 50 cryptic clues, each pointing to one of the 50 states. You will either consider it pointless or become addicted to solving each one, as we have been for the past few days. I am not a fan of cryptic crosswords, neither am I very good at them, but this had me hooked.

Some examples from this particular quiz are:

  • Heavy Laundry – Washington – “Washing” “Ton”
  • Horsehair – Maine – “Mane”
  • Two things you might need for a PhD – Alabama – “A lab” “An MA”

Bear in mind that for this particular quiz, if you decide you can’t live without the book, you have to think in British colloquialisms and not in American. Watch an episode of Downton Abbey before playing to get you in the mood. It’s also worth printing a list of all 50 states to go along with the clues. If you think you already know them, see how many you can name in 10 minutes, and you will more than likely be surprised by the ones you miss out. Apologies to residents of that beautiful state, but I always forget Wyoming. Wyoming incidentally is “I can’t understand why you can’t be more merciful,” and for that one you need to have a British attachment to the 1980 movie Flash Gordon.

If you have no interest in such a pointless book, but are intrigued by the premise of this quiz, has their own variation. Though I think that one is much harder and less enjoyable for being both online and timed. While you are at it, this State geography quiz is one that I allow to give me nightmares at least once a year. It tells you how many miles you are off in your placement.

Deep Water Interests

Blue Abyss
Image: Blue Abyss Facebook page

As a child we would go swimming at our local public pool. It’s an indoor pool in my hometown of Walsall, and was the biggest pool I had ever seen. For some reason there were plastic windows part way down underneath the water. I would swim down to see them, and my shadow looming over them would make it appear as though some creature of the deep was passing by. It was tranquil underneath that water, and I loved being there.

I have always had an obsession with water, a love of marine life, a borderline obsession with sharks, and so I read with interest this week that the University of Essex in England, in conjunction with Blue Abyss, is planning the construction of the world’s deepest swimming pool to conduct research into spaceflight and human endurance. At 164 ft, it would be deeper than NASA’s training pool in Houston, by 124 feet, and they say things are bigger in Texas? Currently the deepest pool is in Montegretto Terme, Italy, but it too would be in the shadows of this planned pool, by 23 feet.

109245The project is being crowdfunded, and personally I’m tempted by the Hollywood star at the bottom of the 50m shaft. You can keep track of the project and its crowdfunding efforts on their Facebook page.

So, beyond my obsession with the water, why the interest in this project?

One of my favorite quotes from Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing sums up how I feel about most projects of this nature, why I support them, and why I like my tax dollars to go to them when possible.

“Because it’s next. Because we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration and this is what’s next.” – Sam Seaborn (played by Rob Lowe) on NASA’s trip to Mars.

Many people think that we should be exploring our oceans more. That there is much of our own world still left to discover, let alone that beyond the stars. For me, this project seems to have it all. The creation of an environment that would help us study our own bodies, and find better ways of moving in deep space and in deep water. A deep water pool may not be what’s next in terms of exploration, but it’s certainly a step towards further exploration, whether we choose to sink to new depths or soar to new heights.

Build Your Own ‘Jurassic World’ With Lego

Image: Sarah Pinault

I’m a sucker for all things Jurassic World at the moment. So when given the chance to check out one of the associated Lego kits, well, I was on that kit like a Raptor on an Indominus Rex. Ahem.

My five-year-old’s Lego obsession has been well documented, but I have mostly stayed on the peripheries of the actual construction, since my husband shares our son’s enthusiasm and I apparently do it wrong. This time, however, nothing was keeping me from the construction site.

We checked out the T. rex Tracker kit. It has 520 pieces and is rated for 7-12 year olds. My five-year-old has great success with the kits that are rated for six and up, and we have had moderate success with the seven and up kits, so we figured this one was appropriate for his level. The kit comes with two instruction booklets and several different components.

Jurassic Lego

We put the T. rex himself together first; a handful of pieces and you’re done. In the time it took us to make the rest of the kit, my three-year-old played happily with the fully constructed dinosaur. The T. rex is quite poseable and has snapping jaws, which have become the source of endless merriment in our house. The T. rex Tracker itself is a vehicle featuring an opening cockpit, dinosaur containment cage, and a harpoon-style trap shooter. There is also a motorbike, three minifigures, and accessories such as a torch with flame, briefcase, and tranquilizer gun. For only 520 pieces, the fully constructed models are a decent size. The T. rex stands over five inches tall, the Tracker itself is 6 inches high, 8 inches long, and 3 inches wide, while the motorbike is understandably of minifigure proportions.

Right off the bat, it is obvious that this vehicle is not featured in the movie. In fact, much of the Lego line available in association with Jurassic World does not appear in the movie. Some of the dinosaurs don’t even appear in the movie. Yet, that does not diminish my, I mean, my son’s enjoyment of the kit. He is too young for the movie, so he simply enjoys that it is Lego and it is dinosaurs. I am somewhat obsessed with the movie, and the vehicle’s absence from the story itself just makes me wonder what kind of deleted scenes I’m going to see on my already-ordered DVD.

The Dilophosaurus that incapacitated Dennis Nedry in the first movie is featured in a kit, though not in this movie. The Dilophosaurus kit does contain a Gyro-sphere, heavily featured in this movie. The Indominus Rex Breakout Kit and Raptor Rampage are taken directly from prominent scenes in the movie, and contain some of the better minifigures. Then, the Pteranodon Capture Kit contains elements from the movie, but there is no Pteranodon capture scene that we know of. After talking to a fellow GeekMom who purchased kits for her family, we agreed that the T. rex and Raptor kits were the cream of the crop, for size and relevance of the kits, but also for the coolness of the dinosaurs.

Image: Sarah Pinault

This is the first Lego kit that I have sat down with from start to finish in well over a decade. As I said before, I usually observe from the sidelines. I found it be utterly addicting. The size of the instruction booklets, though daunting at first, were so well done that it was a snap (and a click) to put together. However, it is definitely not one I could have let my five-year-old free on all by himself. The volume of small pieces and peculiar arrangements would have disgruntled him very quickly without the assistance of a steadier hand, but it is definitely one you could do along with a child under seven.

The T. rex Tracker assembled logically and with great rhythm and symmetry. I have a bit of an obsession with symmetry in life, in everything really, and so watching this piece come together was remarkably soothing. Pieces were color-coded in such a way as to make them easily identifiable, and the process was laid out in an easy-to-understand way. Really, I expect no less from a brand like Lego, but it was nice to have all my assumptions from the past few years of Lego building observations confirmed.

Once fully assembled, it holds together for some quite rough play. There are one or two decorative pieces that do keep coming off, but the main body of the Tracker lends itself to being manhandled at kindergartner-miles-per-hour while chasing a toddler holding a T. rex. After a few weeks of play, we have determined that removing the cage makes it an even more malleable piece in the Lego universe. The cage remains easily attachable for dino-chasing days.

All in all, I am thoroughly impressed with this line. Now I just need to acquire a second set of dinosaurs for myself, I mean, for the younger sibling!

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Something Unfortunate to Netflix Comes

Image: Sarah Pinault

Two days ago, a trailer was posted to YouTube by user Eleanora Poe. What an interesting name you might think, what an unusual handle. Except that Eleanora Poe is the Editor in Chief of The Daily Punctilio, a fictional newspaper in the equally fictional world of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. After the less-than-stellar outing of the first three books in movie form, one movie going against the grain and taking three books into one instead of vice versa, Netflix obtained the rights and announced last year that it was developing A Series of Unfortunate Events; an actual series, that is.

Here’s the full trailer:

I wouldn’t get too excited just yet though. Turns out the trailer is a fan-made teaser trailer, completely unaffiliated with the Netflix project. Netflix has come out publicly and announced that it has nothing to do with Ms. Poe’s trailer.

I choose to still get excited, however.

My introduction to Snicket’s books came in the best possible way. I was perusing a bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts. A bookstore that was literally floor to ceiling with books. Books on every surface, books on every corner, books crammed into every available space. It’s a beautiful place. Suddenly, I spied a small stack of books, only six were available at the time, and I have to admit I judged the book by its cover. The delicious artwork by Brett Helquist, the size and feel of the books, the texture of the pages, the artistry of their physical design. I was overjoyed to discover that the words inside were just as meticulous and beautiful as the outer cover. For the next few years, I devoured the world of the Baudelaire orphans, and, along with countless children around the globe, learned some new vocabulary, and obtained a deeper appreciation for Volunteer Fire Departments.

I was utterly disappointed with the Jim Carrey adaptation. While it grasped some of the feeling of the universe created by Snicket, it did not reach for the nuances, and it blustered through story lines that were far too delicious to be hurried. I left the theater knowing that the subsequent books would never see a movie outing, and only feeling sad to not experience more of Jude Law as the incomparable Snicket.

But a television series? Television can do for story and detail what movies cannot, unless you are Peter Jackson, of course. It can create whole universes in thirty minute increments, conjure up alternate realities in between commercial breaks, and break your hearts just in time for bedtime. This trailer excites me. Not because it comes directly from the studio behind the forthcoming series, not because it gives a glimpse into the story artists busily weaving Snicket’s words into screenplay, but because it reminds me of the things I loved about the books in the first place, and I can live in hope once more that a screen adaptation will be worthy of the ink on paper that I so cherish.

GeekMomPoll: Our Favorite Pixar Movie is…

Note: back in 2012, the GeekMoms rated their favorite Pixar movies. Given the release of Inside Out this weekend, it seemed like a fun poll to revisit this weekend.

It was a close call. Seventeen GeekMoms rated twelve Pixar movies, assigning 1,298 points based on a one to twelve ratings system, and it was almost too close to call. In fact if you rate them one to twelve where twelve is the lowest vote, then rate them one to twelve where twelve is a higher score (as depicted above), that top spot is a hot debate.

  • Only one GeekMom placed Cars 2 in their top five, four GeekMoms placed it last.
  • Four GeekMoms rated The Incredibles as their favorite Pixar movie, making it the movie to receive the number one spot from the most GeekMoms.
  • Eight of the twelve movies did not earn a single bottom place vote from the GeekMoms. Not surprisingly Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc. , Finding Nemo and Toy Story 3 made that list. A surprise to this GeekMom was the fact that no one ranked The Incredibles, Ratatouille or Up as their least favorite Pixar movie.

But not every GeekMom has seen all the Pixar movies. Where the movie hadn’t been seen, a score of zero was assigned. Of movies not seen, four GeekMoms have not seen Cars 2, two have not seen Ratatouille, two have not seen Toy Story 3 and at least one GeekMom has not seen either A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, The Incredibles or Wall-E. Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Cars and Up were seen by all seventeen GeekMoms polled.

The GeekMom winner?

The Incredibles

While Toy Story seems to have an edge in points, it has been seen and rated by all polled GeekMoms. The Incredibles, has only been seen by sixteen of the seventeen polled GeekMoms. The remaining GeekMom would only need to place it in her top five, to give it the edge in points over Toy Story, regardless of whether one or twelve is considered the best movie. Only two GeekMoms did not put The Incredibles in their top five, and so it seems likely that it would make the lone GeekMom’s top five and edge out Toy Story.

‘Red Dwarf’: Ten Years Later

Image via

When I was 12, I began my second year at senior school in England. This was the “big” school and I had spent much of the first year in relative obscurity. With a few friends, but no one especially close, it wasn’t proving to be a stellar experience. Then a stellar sci-fi show injected new hope into my school social standing. While getting ready for gym one day, I heard a familiar song being sung by a fellow classmate. “It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere…” and as I finished the theme song’s refrain, I became fast friends with someone who would give me a confidence I had never known, and introduce me to many more people. I credit the BBC sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf with some of my most memorable friendships, and for my remaining years far outstripping my first in terms of camaraderie and fun.

Red Dwarf is an irreverent comedy set aboard a deep space mining ship. It follows the adventures of Dave Lister, the last man alive after an explosion on the ship kills everyone else. When he is awakened from deep freeze, three million years later, he finds that his only companions are a hologram of his bunk mate, Arnold Rimmer; the ship’s computer, Holly; an Android, Kryten; and a creature that evolved from his cat, named Cat. The show began with a low budget but a huge amount of humor and bizarre goings on. The later seasons did not agree with me so much, and I’m not usually one for re-hashing old ideas, but the thought of this show being re-booted, now that gets my original geek going.

What makes this even more exciting is that everyone is on board. Two seasons are anticipated and the original cast—Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Robert Llewellyn, and Danny John-Jules—have all signed up. The new series are also being written by the show’s creator, Doug Naylor. This has all the makings of a smegging fantastic comeback! If you are looking for some obscure British comedy to watch, you can catch Red Dwarf on Hulu.

‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’: The Friends of English Magic

@ BBC America

I was first introduced to the world of English Magic, as it pertains to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, back in 2007.

The book, penned in 2004 by Susanna Clarke, sat on my shelf for three years, and when I finally opened its pages, I couldn’t put it down. A few years later, my husband took to the audio book with equal attention. Ever since then, we have both waited patiently for someone, the right someone, to convert it to the big or little screen. Finally, this weekend was the debut of the miniseries in the UK, to be followed shortly on BBC America.

I can only say, it was worth the wait.

The first episode, “The Friends of English Magic,” sets the scene in location, history, and character for the series that is to follow. If you have not read the books before, there is only really one thing I would have you know before diving into the series: the story is set in an alternative reality, with an alternative history.

Much of the history is parallel with reality, but a great deal is not. There is just enough reality to make you feel as though this could have really happened, not so much as to feel like fantasy proper. As such, Magic is a real part of English history, though it has long ceased to be of a practical variety. The premise of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell rests on the re-appearance of magic in polite society, and what happens when you start to meddle in things not entirely understood.

I don’t wish to give spoilers of any magnitude. Suffice it to say that the two titular characters are like night and day. One a magician whose practical application comes through years of study, perseverance, and a great presence of mind; the other a magician whose magic simply drips off his fingertips, a natural affinity with no previous understanding.

Photograph: Matt Squire/BBC/JSMN Ltd/Matt Squire

The series begins remarkably well, though a tad confusing to begin with if you have not read the book. Just bear in mind the alternate reality and you should be fine. The actors portraying Strange and Norrell are perfectly suited, but the scene-stealer of the episode, and one has to presume the series, is “The Gentleman.”

Look closely, you may recognize the face of the man with the Thistle Down Hair, as he is referred to in the book. Showing the high caliber of his craft, Marc Warren gives a stunning performance as our first introduction to an alternate reality within this alternate reality.

You may be forgiven for not connecting him to his role as Albert Blithe in Band of Brothers or as Elton Pope in Doctor Who. Indeed his features are barely recognizable as the character actor I have come to know. But his performance as The Gentleman—oh this performance. I would wager that the series will be worth it for this character alone, and given the showing of the first episode, he will not be standing alone.

The scene is set perfectly, the cinematography exemplary, the casting to a tee.

After the first 60 minutes, I am exceedingly grateful that they decided to pursue a miniseries and not a stand-alone. Even more so, knowing that they extended a six-episode run to seven, so as not to compromise the integrity of the script. The only thing missing is that you can’t really include all the historical footnotes, which were employed in the book for depth, in a television show.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell will be on BBC America at 10:00 p.m. on June 13.

You can catch the trailer here, but I do not believe the trailer does the show justice. The first episode far exceeded my expectations. In the words of Vinculus, ‘Two magicians shall appear in England; the name of one shall be fearfulness, the name of the other, arrogance…”

Make sure they appear on your television screen on June 13.

In Defense of Time Spent on Facebook

EPSON scanner image
Bescot Railway Station circa 1962: Photograph used with permission of  Ben Brooksbank, under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Every so often I like to lament the future of humanity.

Usually my diatribes are aimed at two places: smartphones and Facebook. I don’t have a smartphone, though I am known to pilfer my husband’s on occasion. I do have a Facebook account, and frequently spend too much time perusing status updates and outrageous headlines. For the past few weeks I’ve been determined to limit my time on social media to a healthy amount, and not let it become my default mindless activity. Then every so often, something will happen, on the book of face, to remind me that it really is a great little tool.

This week, my dad found a Facebook page for Bescot Railway Station, in my hometown of Walsall. The fan page was for all former drivers and their families. He joined, he connected with a few people, and then the pictures showed up.

My Grandad was a driver at Bescot, my Great Uncle was a driver at Bescot, my Dad was a driver at Bescot. I spent most of my childhood leaving for adventures from that station, sitting in a cab with my Grandad (so I’m told) or playing with my Grandad’s signal lamp in his pantry at home. The sights and sounds, and even smells, of Bescot Station are etched into my memory with so much of my childhood. My Grandad died when I was 16; I was his only grandchild. Next to my dad, he was, at that time, the love of my life. He was a wonderful man.

Good old Facebook. Wonderful 21st Century. Within a very short time of joining the group, people were online remembering my Grandad and my uncle. One old friend and fellow driver sent along two pictures. I’m not going to lie, I burst into tears when I saw them, those happy/sad tears you cry when coming face to face with a wonderful memory of a departed loved one.

dad driver
My Grandad is on the right. Images from Martin Lowry, ex-Bescot Man.
dad driver 2
Image from Martin Lowry

These are not digital; they were taken in the 1960s. They have been in the home of a man I don’t know, and will likely never meet, for about fifty years.

If not for Facebook, my family would never have seen these pictures.

So I may lament the mis-spent youth of today. I may regret the twenty minutes I spend scrolling a news feed. My brain may cramp with every article I read entitled, “Fifteen things you never knew about your favorite…” But I can’t deny that Facebook has brought some pretty amazing things to my life, be it connections with my family far away, or with people I don’t even know.

A fad? Maybe. Annoying? Often. Without merit? Not at all.

Counting Down: One Month to Jurassic World

© 2014 Universal Studios & Amblin Entertainment, Inc.

I have never been a big fan of overly detailed movie trailers. It was a joke amongst my fellow international students back in college that American trailers gave away the whole movie. In recent years, studios have taken to issuing multiple trailers for a movie, and teasing scenes across various platforms.

I’ve never really been interested in this over population of advance shots until this year and Jurassic World.

I make no efforts to control my excitement about this movie. I posted on Facebook that June 12 was to be my most anticipated day this year, which confused many a friend and relative as I have a c-section scheduled on September 15th!

After an internet-free weekend, I was delighted to find yet another advance clip/trailer from Jurassic World had been released as a television spot. Mostly, it contains already covered footage, but we do see a few new moments around some of the previously seen scenes.

So we now know that the Pterodactyl that gets eaten by the Mosasaurus had been carrying a woman, who is now somewhere in the Mosasaurus habitat. I think I saw her get eaten moments before the Pterodactyl but I’m not entirely sure, and I can’t wait to find out. I hope she’s alive. A Mosasaurus hunting scene would be amazing.

We also see an extended shot of the boys bubble literally being burst by Indominus Rex, and hear some extra dialogue from the delightful Bryce Dallas Howard.

My only problems are having to wait another month for the whole movie, and the fact that I still haven’t found a babysitter for June 12!

A Closer Look at Indominus Rex

Indominus 2
Image: © 2014 Universal Studios & Amblin Entertainment, Inc.

Call me crazy, and many do, but June 12 is akin to a holy day for me this year. June 12 will see the release of the fourth film in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World. I get goosebumps just from typing that. The new trailer that was released earlier in the week has given fans an extended look at the chase scene featuring Chris Pratt and Indominus Rex. Let’s take a deep breath and all watch together, shall we?

Be still my beating heart.

Idominus 3
© 2014 Universal Studios & Amblin Entertainment, Inc.

Now, I will be honest: After my initial jubilation when Jurassic World was announced, I was a little annoyed. Genetically modified dinosaurs? I agreed with Pratt’s character, dinosaurs weren’t amazing enough? We always have to go for the clones, the genetics, the aliens, when dinosaurs in and of themselves are cinematic history in the making. Three great movies (don’t debate me on The Lost World…you won’t win) of simple, unadulterated dinosaurs created from really old DNA. C’mon people, keep it simple. Yet as trailers came out, and casting was revealed, and as I began watching the original three movies again, I was won over. Genetically modified dinosaurs? If it means a fourth movie, one featuring Chris Pratt no less, then bring it on!

So what do we know about Indominus Rex? From the trailers, we know just enough to draw me to an IMAX on June 12:

  • Genetically modified.
  • Fast.
  • Big, but not Jurassic Park III big.
  • Hunts and kills for sport.
  • Capable of fratricide.
  • Highly intelligent. Capable of remembering where a tracking device was implanted and then removing it and setting a trap.
  • A pack leader. Capable of communicating with other dinosaurs and taking control.

From the Jurassic World website, we know a little more, using the handy dinosaur fact sheets they provide:

  • It’s name means “fierce” or “untamable king.”
  • It is currently 40 feet in length with an unknown weight.
  • While the T-Rex has a “high” aggression index, Indominus Rex is labeled “very high.”
  • While you may be inclined to say Indominus Rex resembles a T-Rex, “its distinctive head ornamentation and ultra-tough bony osteoderms can be traced from Theropods known as Abeliosaurs.” Indominus Rex is not merely a T-Rex advanced on, nor is it simply a hybrid of one or two dinosaurs. The placement of its horns use genetic material from Carnotaurus, Majungasaurus, Rugops, and Gigantosaurus. This is the grand master of genetic hybrids.
  • The roar of Indominus Rex reaches 140-160dB, which is roughly the same as a 747 taking off or landing.
  • While enclosed, it’s top speed reaches 30mph.
© 2014 Universal Studios & Amblin Entertainment, Inc.

While I have now maxed out my enthusiasm for Indominus Rex, the genetically modified dinosaur is just a small fraction of the movie’s appeal for me. I love the themes that Jurassic Park explores, never expressed more eloquently than by Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) in the first movie: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

In Jurassic World, we finally get to see what would happen if the characters from Pirates of the Caribbean actually did eat the tourists—forgive me while I squeal with excitement. I am intrigued to see how Pratt’s character trained the raptors to serve as what appears to be the island’s defense system. How did they go from being the bad guys, to part of the team? Given that great white sharks are among my top five favorite animals, I am also keen to see more of the habitat and behavior of the Mosasaurus. I don’t even mind that he eats sharks! Something dramatically missing from the trailers, and rightfully so given their dominance in earlier movies, is the role of the T-Rex. Let us not forget that which makes us take a second glance at the swimming pool at night, or that makes us ponder every time we see ripples in a glass of water.

Indominus Rex is exciting certainly, but Jurassic World as a whole concept? That is the deal-maker for me.

Clinging to Antiquated Tech

Image: Sarah Pinault


I’m a big fan of new technology. I like everything to have a touch screen, and I like it to take up as little physical space as possible. I am accustomed to the world of Wi-Fi, and I expect to be connected pretty much everywhere I go. I don’t go very far. Yet, there are still areas of my technological life in which I cling to, what some people would call, antiquated tech. Much in the same way that my dad clings to Zach Morse’s cell phone, or GeekMom Corrina clings to her rotary phone, I find myself clinging to first generation models or heaven forbid, their paper alternatives. Don’t even get me started on my typewriter.


My digital camera: While I long ago gave up on film, I’m still a point and shoot person at heart. Most of my friends and fellow moms have traded up over the years, and strayed into the realms of amateur photography. The closest I have come is with my Canon PowerShot which a photographer friend tells me “at least looks like a real camera”. If I want professional pictures I have somebody else take them. To document my life, I’m good with my point and shoot. I also have not converted to the phone camera, though my husband’s iPhone 6XL takes a pretty fantastic picture and is much more convenient for delivery of digital images. My son is already rapidly growing out of his V-Tech and soon will come the day when his amateur movie making skills require something far in advance than his mother’s tech.

My television: Until a few weeks back we had an eleven year old television set. It required a digital box, chopped off the corners of the every wide image, and got very fuzzy reception. But it worked. My dad was a television repairman back in the day that we actually fixed things instead of disposing of them, my husband is of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset. So we had fuzzy reception, we could watch DVDs just fine, and with a Roku box we were well set up. Just not highly defined. The reason we got a new television? Someone gave it to us, no upgrade wanted, but who turns away a free TV really?


My calendar:
 I still use a paper calendar, and am a source of great amusement to my geek friends when I pull it out to literally pencil in a game date. We use Google calendar as well, this is where we store all of our joint events and family adventures. My husband uses the Google calendar on his Iphone, I however, will always pull out my trusty old moleskin. Within which is stored, events, birthdays, anniversaries and the cute things that my kids say to me.

My taxes: To be fair, I only cling to this one grudgingly, because I cling to my husband doing our taxes instead of paying someone to do them for us. He fills out the paper forms and mails them in every year. No Turbo Tax, no electronic submission. Plain old paper, plain old stamp. I am sure at some point we will be shocked to find that paper is no longer an option.

My phone: Much like Corrina I cling to my landline. My entire extended family still live in England, and so a cell phone is not the best method of communication. I gave up my cell phone years ago when I realized it was merely serving as an answering machine and nothing else. Occasionally I miss having one, like when I am five months pregnant and get a flat tire, but for the most part it is utterly blissful to be turned off from technology in this way.

My DVDs: I did not convert to Blu-Ray, I have to admit it. Partly because it ticks me off when we come out with new technology every ten years and everyone rushes to replace things they already have. Partly because I just don’t see the point, especially with a decade old television set! Much like VHS, I am sure a time will come when I have to embrace something new, but by then it probably won’t be Blu-Ray but the next iteration of media storage. Don’t even get me started on digital media, if I can’t touch it, I don’t own it. I got rid of my VHS player a few months ago, having clung to if for my only copy of Jurassic Park, but much like Elsa I finally let it go… and bought the DVD.

Vinyl records: These I will never part with, and accumulate more of every year. This one I cling to, not to exclude all others, but because I love them so. I listen to Spotify, I have an Ipod, I have hundreds of CDs, I also have a vast collection of Holiday music and musical theatre that just sound better on Vinyl. This is pure nostalgia, I love the sound, I love the crackles, it makes me feel home. My record player is a piece of work, you can play records, cassette tapes, cds, and hook it up to a digital player, all of which I do regularly. It also has the capacity to record from Vinyl or Cassette onto CD, for when I don’t have a portable record player handy. This is a realm of geekdom I inherited from my father, who owns enough vinyl records to open several stores across multiple states. Listening to a record is like coming home, and I love sharing that spinning sound with my children.

And finally…


My Kindle: Yes, this does make it onto the list of antiquated tech, how times do change. I have a low range Kindle, it isn’t touch screen, isn’t backlit, it is wireless but has books and nothing else, and I like it that way. When I sit down with my husband’s iPhone or iPad for a few minutes, I get easily distracted. Facebook, Pinterest, Angry Birds, whatever the App DuJour is. But my Kindle holds my books and nothing else. I like not being able to accidentally swipe to the next page, or next app. I like that it does one thing, and that one thing well.

I think we all cling to certain things long after they’ve been upgraded, and in some cases the only thing that makes us stop using them is when they fail and customer support no longer exists. That’s why I stopped using Microsoft XP after all. Head over to our Facebook page and let us know what antiquated tech you cling to.

Alyssa Milano versus Heathrow Airport

Screenshot: @Alyssa Milano


This week, Alyssa Milano took to Twitter to lambast Heathrow Airport for confiscating her expressed breast milk. Meanwhile, in small town Maine, I jumped for joy at finally having these policies and their ramifications brought to light by someone with a big enough voice to make a difference. Having traveled between Logan Airport and Heathrow Airport extensively with my children, I know from personal experience how Heathrow treats pregnant or nursing mothers.

When traveling through Boston’s Logan airport, I could not have asked for more courteous staff. I flew to London while in my second trimester, and was encouraged to use the fast lanes so that I wouldn’t be on my feet so long, I was even brought to the front for boarding, though I didn’t have children with me yet and had no first class ticket. Simple gestures that made a 17 hour journey so much more comfortable. When traveling through Logan with infants or toddlers, even when witnessing families traveling with older children, I saw the same impeccable service. Families are directed by members of staff to shorter lines, sometimes even skipped ahead if a child is in distress. Before we get into the idea of this being a privilege, and parents shouldn’t expect such behavior, let me ask you this: People traveling without children, would you rather be stuck in line with kids screaming, or would you rather kids get pushed through lines and settle down quietly to wait for their plane? I remember pre-child travel, I know how I would answer this question. Boston is a pregnant or nursing mother’s dream. Staff are helpful, sensitive and there are even rocking chairs.

Traveling through Heathrow as a pregnant or nursing mother, is like moving through one of the inner circles of Hell. Now it’s a big airport, so I don’t begrudge the distances you have to walk to reach your gate, or the small amount of time they give you before announcing the gate number, and expecting you to be there. I get it, Heathrow is enormous, those things cannot be changed. But laws and regulations can, and the regulations currently in place for nursing mothers traveling through Heathrow are appalling.

Alyssa Milano was traveling without her baby, and so using a breast pump to pump milk. For the uninitiated, you can’t just let that stuff sit in you for the length of a trans-atlantic flight, the body doesn’t work like that. While going through security, her expressed milk was confiscated. Her shampoo was not. They said that if the child had been with her she would have been able to keep the milk, she countered that if the child were with her, she wouldn’t have to use the breast pump.

Milano 2
Screenshot: @Alyssa Milano

Well, I’m here to tell you Alyssa, even if your child had been with you, Heathrow regulations still don’t look on nursing mothers with fondness. I traveled with my first son when he was nine months old. For reasons beyond our control, I wasn’t able to nurse so I had committed to exclusively pumping for the first year of his life. I carried my Medela around with me like most people carry a cell phone. Every three hours for twenty minutes I hooked myself up and thereby was able to sustain my son.

Image: Medela

It’s a three hour journey from my parents house to Heathrow airport, we stopped on the way for a bite to eat, and so that I could pump. I was a bit of a milking machine, and Toby was a bottle fed breast feeder so we arrived at the airport well stocked with my milk. In a cool bag, with ice packs. Ice packs that had been purchased in America and had already made the trans-Atlantic flight over and landed in Heathrow. And here my adventure begins.

We get to security, where my biggest concern is if they will let the pump through, even though I had checked and knew it was acceptable. Their first concern was the sealed jar of baby food. They made me break the seal and taste it. Quite frankly, I’m glad they did, we had never used store bought baby food before, but thought it best for the 17 hour journey ahead of us to use something a little more preserved. So I tried it, it was vile and we bought bananas from a cafe once past security. Their second concern was my breast milk. 4 ounces in each bottle, they wouldn’t let it past without me drinking some in front of them. Now I may have been using breast milk and making my own baby food, but drinking my own breast milk was not a frontier I felt the need to cross. But I did, slightly perturbed, and then came the biggest challenge: The ice packs.

These ice packs, as I have said, had already been through this airport once before. Logan airport security was fine with them coming through, and Heathrow had no need to check till my return journey. They insisted they would have to confiscate them. I insisted on talking to many people, and spending much time at security before I would un-willingly leave them behind.

Three hours to get to the airport. Three hours at the airport. Seven-and-a-half hours in the air. One hour through US customs in Boston. Two-and-a-half hours back to Maine. Seventeen hours of travel time—what did they expect me to do with breast milk that needs refrigerating? Three officers told me I could buy frozen ice packs once through security. This turned out to be completely un-true, Heathrow has a large shopping mall, but no-one sells ice packs, let alone ice packs that are already frozen. Back to security we went, they would still not return the ice packs but suggested we get ice from a coffee shop instead. Ice to fill our cool bag with water within the hour. We were told, by security, that once on board the plane we would be able to use inflight refrigeration. Good old US hospitality to the rescue, Starbucks graciously gave me some crushed ice to keep breast milk at a safe temperature.

Image: Sarah Pinault. Waiting at Logan Airport.

Once aboard the plane, we discovered that airport security had once again misled us. By this point, it felt like they were doing this deliberately to get us to move on. We were informed that it was illegal to store passenger property in on-board refrigeration. Luckily, Virgin Atlantic has the nicest and most helpful staff of any airline I have ever flown with. By this time I was pretty distraught and rapidly making calculations in my head as to how much milk would need to be thrown away, and if I would be able to pump enough fresh to keep my son calm on the plane. The flight attendants immediately came up with a solution and they filled our cool bag with dry ice from their meal compartments, which would stay plenty cool through our remaining trip back to Maine.

I don’t think people traveling with children should get special treatment, though I think it’s in everyone’s best interests when screaming children aren’t kept in line. I don’t think moms with small children should be exempt from the rules. I think the staff at Heathrow follow the rules they are given. I do however think that in this case, the rules are wrong. Regulations on flying with expressed breast milk need to be changed, and I for one, am glad that Alyssa Milano is expressing herself so vocally.

March 25 is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day: An Education


My son started kindergarten this past fall, and it has been an education. From love letters to girls, to bullies, to hot-versus-cold lunch, every day is a new and exciting adventure. Then there is the fact that I am exposed to a whole new range of five-year-olds and parents, outside the realms of my own offspring. One of his classmates has Cerebral Palsy, and as today is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Day, it seemed about time to share my education.

So what is Cerebral Palsy? If you had asked me pre-kindergarten, I would have mumbled something about a wheelchair, maybe about limited movement. For a condition that affects 17 million people worldwide, I knew remarkably little. Yet still, my description would have been in the ballpark, if not hitting a home run. Cerebral Palsy is a physical disability that affects movement and posture. In fact, it is the most common physical disability in childhood. This information sheet from Ideas for Change has been key in informing me about this disability.

Infographic courtesy of Ideas for Change.

I have to pause every time I look over those associated impairments. One in three is unable to walk, I see that. One in 10 has a severe vision impairment, okay, understandable. Three in four experience pain? How is it possible that the scientific understanding of Cerebral Palsy, its prevention and causation, remains much the same as it did 50 years ago, when 1 in 303 children in America are affected, and of those children, three in four experience pain. I know more about which kinds of lunchmeat and shellfish to eat on my third pregnancy than I did on my first, but we haven’t made any breakthroughs in Cerebral Palsy in 50 years. I’ll say it again, three in four experience pain. This blows my mind.

But beyond these statistics and black-and-white images of what it can look like, there is the human aspect. To my son, his classmate is just one of the girls. To be honest, he’s a little envious of the wheelchair. I don’t worry about how he interacts. Adults, on the other hand, may need a few tips.

Infographic courtesy of Ross Feller Casey, LLP.

So what can you do today? Find a local need and support it, write to the NIH and CDC to request that they add line-item funding for research (there currently is none specified), and share these infographics. But more than that, speak directly, speak normally, and relax.

The Wild World of David Derrick


With a three-year-old who considers roaring his first language, and a five-year-old with a penchant for cosplay, we are happily enjoying the books of author David Derrick. Whether portraying an animal debate as to who is the scariest thing in the jungle, or showing a defiant boy pretending to be every animal under the sun, he really engages my boys’ imaginations.


If you are looking for a new author to explore in the wake of Read Across America Day, look no further than the wild world of David Derrick. His credentials lie in both the natural world and the animated one, which comes across strongly in his animal stories for children. He is a story artist at Disney and was previously at DreamWorks, where he was a contributor on Megamind, How to Train Your Dragon, Bee Movie, Flushed Away, and Rise of the Guardians. Derrick is both a wildlife artist and bronze sculptor, whose work is heavily influenced by extensive observations of his subjects. He wrote African Diaries: Sketches & Observations, an exploration of Africa in sketches and sculpture that arose from his safari in East Africa. He is an activist in addition to being an artist and writer, and participated in the United Nations 2009 Year of the Gorilla campaign. He has donated artwork to be used in raising both funds and awareness in order to save gorillas and their habitat. As well as being featured at book fairs across the country, Derrick’s works are often seen at events such as the annual convention for Zoos & Aquariums.


His first book Sid the Squid was published in 2010. Its protagonist, Sid, as you may have guessed, is a rather large squid. Painfully aware that everyone in the ocean seems to have their own particular job to do, except for him, he sets off on land to search San Francisco in order to find his place. After trying many jobs, Sid finally realizes that while having a job is important, having the right job, one that he loves, is just as important.

Sid the Squid was swiftly followed by Animals Don’t, So I Won’t, and while my boys enjoyed this book and I liked its whimsy, it was hated by my husband and quickly passed along. Be warned! The book tells the tale of a boy who doesn’t wish to co-operate with his mother. He transforms into all sorts of animals in order to get out of various activities, like tidying up or brushing his teeth. My boys love this story; they listen to it while hanging like a sloth or roaring like a lion. My husband hates it. He feels it encourages them towards such behavior themselves, and we already struggle to get them to brush their teeth! However, the story is imaginative and sparks their imaginations and the artwork is simply wonderful.

Scariest Thing

Derrick’s third book, released in 2013, is easily the family favorite. I’m the Scariest Thing in the Jungle tells the story of a young crocodile and young tiger, as they debate who is the scariest thing in the jungle. They list their features back and forth, each proclaiming why they are the scariest. The font color is different for each animal so that your child can easily identify who is talking, without any “he said, she said” language getting in the way. It’s a wonderful device that works very well. You learn all kinds of things about the behavior and habitats of each animals, as they progress through the jungle; though I’m sure the friendship isn’t as tight in real life. Eventually, the youngsters realize they have strayed too far into the jungle alone, and just who is the scariest thing in the jungle. I won’t spoil the ending for you. It’s too wonderful.

We have yet to dig into the most recent book, Play With Your Food, but I expect that to be just as visually stimulating and informative as the first three. In an eat or be eaten prehistoric world, a Coelurosauravus (small lizard) finds himself on the menu and tries to convince the Dimetrodon in question to play with his food instead of eating it.

Derrick is primarily an artist and conservationist, and this comes across heavily in his works for children. I have always been a big advocate of zoos and aquariums for putting people into direct contact with animals that they need to see, understand, and appreciate in order to protect. Derrick manages to accomplish that in stories that leap off the page. These are definitely worth exploring with your budding young adventurers. You can learn more about Derrick’s world at his blog.

GeekMom received two of the books for review purposes.

The Hare and The Tortoise: A Fast Family Favorite

Image: Courtesy of Dani Snell


Thank goodness for Wil Wheaton. Without Tabletop, I would still be in the barren wasteland that is life without Tokaido Season three of Tabletop continues to move along at a reliable clip. While I am mostly watching and realizing there are games I don’t want to play (I’m looking at you Forbidden Desert), I am pleased with the amount of new games we are experiencing. More than ever, this season has given us a chance to play more games with our family. The episode in which Wil played Catan Junior was interesting certainly, but it was the more recent episode featuring Tales and Games: The Hare and The Tortoise that we chose to share with the rest of our family and friends. So gathered around a table late one Friday night, four parents and four children played a team version of our new favorite game.

Image: Sarah Pinault.

The Hare and The Tortoise is a card-driven betting game for 2-5 players aged 8 and up. We played with four teams of two. Our youngest participant was three; he mostly just revealed my hand to everybody else. The five-year-olds present handled the game very well, and have played several times since then, without adults present. The company suggests that an average game takes 15 minutes. Ours took 45, but team play does make it a little more involved.

The point of the game is to bet on animals, loosely based on Aesop’s Fable of the same name, and race those animals down a track. The first three animals to cross the finishing line receive points, and the winner is the player with the highest number of points based on the animals they placed bets on.

At the beginning of the game, or race, each player receives an animal card chosen at random. There are five animals to pick from: turtle, hare, lamb, wolf, and fox. Each player then receives seven cards. From this seven, they choose another random animal. Both of these cards are placed face down and not revealed to the other players. These are the animals on which the player has bet. It is possible to bet on the same animal twice; you do not re-draw.

Image: Sarah Pinault.

Players will then take turns laying down between one and four cards of the same animal. You refill your hand to six cards before the next player lays down. The turn is over when four cards of any one animal have been played, or when there are eight cards played on the table at once. Yes this does have to be eight. If at seven cards down, someone decided to play two more and so nine cards are in play, you keep going until four are the same animal. Then, it is time for the animals to move or not.

The race track consists of 11 road cards, two of which contain water; configuration is at the player’s discretion upon setup. Each of the animals in play have distinct characteristics that determines how they move down the board. Kids and adults alike had fun getting into the mood of their characters. The animals always move in the same order.

  • The Turtle: Always moves one space, even if no turtle cards have been played. May move two spaces if four of its cards were played.
  • The Hare: Always moves two spaces, but only if a hare card is in play. If four hare cards are played and the hare is currently in the lead, then the hare takes a nap and does not move.
  • The Fox: Always moves as many spaces as the number of fox cards played.
  • The Lamb: Always moves one more space than the number of lamb cards played. If the lamb reaches water mid-move, it must stop and take a drink, regardless of how many moves are left. The lamb cannot move again until it’s next turn.
  • The Wolf: Moves one space if 1-2 cards are played, and moves one less space than the number of cards if three or more are played. The game also includes three howling wolf cards. If a howler is played, no one but the wolf moves. The wolf moves one space if one to two cards are played, and one less space than the number of cards if more are played. The wolf also has three cards with a howl; if one of these is played, no one but the wolf moves. (The track consists of 11 road cards, two covered with water.) If playing with kids, prepare for a lot of howling around the game table.
Image: Sarah Pinault.

Once all animals have moved, or not, a new round begins. The game ends when three of the five animals reach the finish line. Players receive points based on the ranking of the animals they bet on. The player with the most points wins.

The kids loved racing the animals down the track by choosing which cards to play, though it took a few turns for them to understand that we were betting on animals and weren’t actually the animals themselves. But this isn’t just a kids’ game. The dynamic and gameplay certainly lends itself to a family game, but it is thoroughly enjoyable without the kids around too.

The links in this post are to Amazon, but I would encourage you to seek out your local board game store. We purchased our copy from Weekend Anime. We love giving them our business and being part of a larger gaming community through the people we meet there.

The Tabletop episode shows the game off really well, but do not watch with the kids. The language isn’t as age-appropriate as the game.

Building a Personalized Library

Image: Sarah Pinault

Many years ago, my friend introduced me to The Tail of Emily Windsnap, a story about a girl who discovers she is a mermaid. This having been a childhood fantasy of mine, I found the book thoroughly delightful. I was even more taken with it when I heard the story behind the story. When my friend Emily was a little girl, her mother began buying books. She wouldn’t just purchase the classics, Dr. Seuss and the like, there was a specific focus. Now because of her mother’s passion, Emily has a collection of books with “Emily” in the title or as the main character. This made a great impression on me and planted a seed in my mind.


When I was pregnant with my first child in 2009, I came across a book while perusing my local book store. It was called Toby Alone, and was written by Timothee de Fombelle. I remembered Emily’s collection, and knew that this was something I had to do for my children. I read the book to Toby when he was a newborn. I was fighting post-partum depression, and worried that I wasn’t spending enough time with my son, that he wouldn’t know who I was. I read to him constantly so that the silence wouldn’t broaden the chasm I imagined between us. I particularly enjoyed reading this book to him, it made me feel more comfortable in my new mother skin.

These days it’s a much more casual, fun thing I do for my boys. I don’t scour the internet for books, I simply pick them up as I find them. It has led to the discovery of some wonderful stories, and the rediscovery of some forgotten ones. For my son Tobias, I have the following to begin his collection:

For my son Charles, I have the following:

Several of these are stories I expect them to grow into as they get older, so for right now I get more fun out of them than they do.

You can also go full blown mixed media with this idea. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been made into several movies, and as I used to call my son Charlie Bucket when he was a baby I have a soft spot for this one. Toby Tyler is an old movie, and the author of this book is the namesake of one of the elementary schools I work for. Thomas the Tank Engine, of course, is full of different names and is absolutely everywhere. For something really fun, you can also watch Freema Agyeman of Doctor Who reading Charlie Cook’s Favorite Book for CBBC. There are plenty of places to find books or cartoons that your kids will love all the more for having such an intimate connection. Check out the library and your local book store with them, they will love finding their name in print.

Lego Large Hadron Collider

All Images: Nathan Readioff

Whatever your level of interest in particle physics, you have to admit, the Large Hadron Collider is just cool. This is the new frontier in a way that the moon was for previous generations. In the way that the edge of the world was for Pythagoras. This is the kind of thing that humanity is meant to do.

Cern2Of course, humanity is also meant to play with Lego, just because. So it is with great glee that I urge you to vote for the LHC kit at Lego Ideas. That’s right, a LHC kit made of Lego bricks. Could you get any more technical? The idea only needs to get 10,000 supporters to be reviewed by the Lego content team, so come on GeekMoms, let’s rally!

With 10,000 supporters, the project enters the LEGO review phase. The review board consists of set designers and marketing representatives. The project will then be evaluated according to Lego review criteria, following which the board will hand pick the few projects that will become new LEGO Ideas sets. Lego guarantees that every project in review gets a fair shot.

The next step is simple. Projects that are selected during the LEGO Review phase will go into production. That’s it. The originating designer will be allowed to give their input to the professional LEGO designers, who will create the final set. Then it goes to the factory, and then is shipped around the world and released for sale. The original designer gets written credit, a financial share in the project, and the joy of seeing their finished product for sale.

Cern3The designer, Nathan Readioff, is a PhD student at the University of Liverpool in England. He is currently based at CERN and working on the real ATLAS detector where he is studying the Higgs Boson. This is as real a deal as you can get.

This is the kind of kit that motivates kids—it brings science to life in a tangible way. Let them get their hands on their own LHC, feed their imagination, and who knows what the next generation of physicists will come up with.

Can’t wait for the kit to go through this process? The plans are available on the Build-Your-Own-Particle-Detector website. You just have to supply your own building materials. There is a fully comprehensive parts list to go along with the plans.

Out of this World Constellation Cookies

All Images courtesy of Bridget Edwards

Occasionally I like to think that I can channel Martha Stewart or Delia Smith. It usually ends up with me in a very sticky situation, proclaiming a few choice words over something resembling food. I have tried and failed several times to create Cake Pops, and the closest I have ever come to domestic goddess status was making a rainbow layered cake for my son’s first birthday.

For quite some time now I have been eyeing up the cookies at Bakeat350 by the delightful Bridget Edwards. I purchased some of the equipment in 2010, some more in 2011, and her book Decorating Cookies in 2012. I have actually attempted to flood and fill cookies on several occasions. I have had moderate success, though I still cannot get the consistency done well enough to have the icing set properly. One of my favorite cookies of hers from over the years is her constellation cookies. When she posted these cookies, I was blown away. They look so simple that I think I may be able to do a half decent job with these, if only I can solve my consistency problem!

I love having her book at my side. Bridget gives a step-by-step guide to her methods, and pretty much covers anything the novice cookie fiend could get wrong. Her photography is excellent and leaves you wanting for nothing. On her website, she links to other “how-to” posts for further assistance.

For this particular cookie, I love that she stayed true to the actual constellations. By using a push pin and a print out of each constellation, she is able to give complete accuracy to these constellation cookies. For a space-themed birthday party, a meteor shower, or a NASA event, these are an absolute must.

Take a look around her site and you will soon find other geeky delicacies such as Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, and holy cookies Batman. She even provided a gift basket of cookies to fellow Texan, Jim Parsons. Next up, I’d like to see some more state cookies with some geographical markings for my map-obsessed family. The Texas ones she made for Jim were wonderful.

Adventures in Photography: The Toddler Years

All Images: Master Tobias Pinault

Having a large family that live mostly three thousand miles away, has meant that we take more pictures and capture more video than I would have thought possible. It’s a blessing in disguise, both cumbersome in storage and wonderful in experience, as we have such a large record of the lives of my children.

As my eldest grew he began to develop a fascination with the devices we used, so we got him his own camera. We’ve been excitedly watching ever since to see what develops.

First, the choice of the camera. There are several pre-school cameras on the market and it is easy to get lost in your child’s needs vs. the cmaera specifications. I did what any self respecting frazzled mom would do. I went to Target and bought the one that they stock!

Thus we ended up with the VTech – Kidizoom Digital Camera. For somewhat of an impulse purchase, it has been pretty impressive. It came with batteries that last long enough for your child to turn it on, take a few pictures, and freak out when the batteries die. Due credit, they do warn you on the packaging that the batteries have a VERY limited lifespan. Seeing as this was for a three year old we went top of the line on batteries and stocked up at the dollar store. There came my first pleasant surprise. The dollar store batteries lasted three weeks with my son clicking fairly consistently on a daily basis. This camera doesn’t suck up too much juice when in use. Even now he is older and has begun using it to make movies, the batteries hold up pretty well.

My second pleasant surprise, which shows how much attention I was paying in Target (bad GeekMom, bad!), was that the camera came with three games. One of these is a photo based game, the other two have photo options, which means your child can include their own pictures in the games they play. At the time we were trying to wean our son off his Ipad games, and so this proved a very useful distraction. Now that his brother is old enough to play along with him, they both enjoy making up new games on the camera with the pictures they take. It has become something they do together, and quite well. They can usually spend ten minutes or so sharing the camera before we run into brotherly discord.

For a shaky hand, both of my sons are able to take a lot of pictures, and have a decent percentage come out clear, pretty much all I ask for in a camera aimed at his age group. The specifications of the camera, which I rarely pay attention to in my own device, seem to be decent:

  • 1.3 megapixels with 4x digital zoom
  • 128 MB internal memory (up to 1000 photos)
  • Optional photo effects, meaning frames, mustaches and such
  • Video recording with sound
  • Takes 4 AA Batteries – device turns off after three minutes of idle time to preserve battery life.
There are a couple of downsides with this device. While the case is exceptionally sturdy, the battery covers come off with ridiculous ease for little fingers. My son had it cracked within 24 hours, although due credit, he very soon lost interest in removing the batteries. This provided me with ample time to teach him about the correct way of inserting batteries, which he was fascinated with. Also, the camera comes with a port to attach to your computer but doesn’t come with a USB cable. Luckily my husband is a hoarder and so we had the appropriate cable.
A Pre-schooler’s impression of JoAnn Fabrics. Prompted by a frustrated mom asking a bored pre-schooler to “take pictures of the things you see honey.”

I have found that my son responds well to being given tasks with his camera. If we don’t provide tasks, he inevitably starts to film the ceiling until the camera turns off.

Here are some options for fun photo projects with your toddler:

  1. Find like things. While running errands, have them find a group of certain things. In the grocery store, have them find their favorite foods. In the craft store have them find their favorite colors.
  2. Designated Family Photographer. Bring it to family gatherings and prompt them to take a picture of everyone they know. In photobook form, this will also make a great gift for grandparents.
  3. Nature Photography. Take a walk in the woods and have them photograph all the animals/plants/flowers/birds they can find.  Add variety to this based on what seems to take their interest that day – follow your child’s lead.
  4. My favorite things. To help adjust them to a new baby in the house, have them take pictures of all their favorite things to show the baby.
  5. Make your own blog. Teach them how to blog! At each stage of construction in a brio/playdoh/lego/blanket-fort project have them detail what they do. Help them write up the instructions.
  6. Map your world. Take a tip from the GeekMom book and make a map of your neighborhood, have your child take pictures and create a pictorial guide to where they live.
  7. My favorite things (the most wanted list).Make a photographic Christmas list. Take them to Toys’R’us and let them roam free with their camera. Make sure you have had plenty of caffeine and repeat after me “No, you can’t have it. No, you already have one. No, you already broke that.”
  8. Quite time book. After following tip #7 have your child photograph pretty things in your garden to help calm you down after your nervous breakdown, tell them to create a “Quiet time book” for mommy and see what they think will soothe you.
  9. Storyboards. Have them photograph each of their action figures/dolls/action dolls, print out the images and help them create storyboards of adventures involving their toys.
  10. On the move. Give them the camera in the car and play an updated version of I-spy. The resolution of the camera may not cope with high speed pictures, but it should prove entertaining on road trips.
  11. Snowed in. Since many of us appear to be snowed in right now, use the camera as a defense against cabin fever. Use the above indoor projects or suit up and go outside to document snowflakes, snow formations, and icicles. Then look at the pictures over hot cocoa.
Share your kids pictures on the GeekMom Facebook page, we’d love to see what your geeklings come up with!

Odd Squad: Warehouse 13 For Kids

© 2014 The Fred Rogers Company

Pete Lattimer and Myka Bering best move over; they have been replaced by a younger crew.

Agent Olive and Agent Otto are the stars of Odd Squad, a Canadian/American show that debuted in Canada and on PBS Kids on November 26, 2014. My sons discovered it about a month ago. I have to say, kids, grandparents, and parents alike are all enjoying the escapades of this quasi-governmental agency.

© 2014 The Fred Rogers Company

Odd Squad is an agency run by children, who seemingly stop aging at age 10. They investigate strange or odd phenomenon, as the local branch in their town. It is unclear whether this is a localized oddity, such as Sunnydale’s hell mouth, or if such oddities are nationwide.

If you open your mouth and start barking instead of talking, Odd Squad can help. If a swirling vortex appears in the park, Odd Squad can help. If pizzas across town are being delivered with two pieces missing, Odd Squad can help.

Sometimes the storylines are well suited to a kids show, but most of the time they could be easily adapted to Warehouse 13, The X-Files, or Once Upon a Time without skipping a beat. There is some excellent writing at work here, and some very innovative, creative minds. Each episode starts with a quick fix case before moving into the main storyline.

The show frequently nods its head at mainstream shows that have come before it. The transport operator is always O’Malley, O’Hare, O’Brien, O’Donohue, or something of the like, in seeming reference to Chief O’Brien from Star Trek: The Next Generation. There is an episode featuring animals called Centigurps, who populate headquarters like Tribbles. The storage facility, in which they store artifacts, animals, or other oddities that need to be contained and collected, is remarkably reminiscent of Warehouse 13. It’s a lot of fun watching for allusions and references in these episodes. Things that my children will never pick up on, but that tickle me to no end.

Ms. O © 2014 The Fred Rogers Company

The show has great writing and a great atmosphere, but also a great lineup of main characters. This really sets Odd Squad apart from other kids’ shows. The two main characters are Agent Olive and Agent Otto. Olive is the veteran, while Otto is her rookie partner. They play off each other nicely, and bring out the best in each other. Olive is the more straight-face agent, while Otto serves well as a foil. Their strengths play off each other, and the cases are solved best when the pair are working together.

The head of the organization is Ms. O. Ms. O has been around since the 80s, and rules Odd Squad with a big stick and an even bigger voice, but always with a juice box in her hand. Ms. O is obviously a homage to the Judi Dench years of the James Bond franchise, and it is wonderfully played. Ms. O has the answers to the most obscure problems, and is always several steps ahead of her agents. She trusts them implicitly, but will not tolerate running in headquarters.

Agent Oscar is the squad’s resident scientist and inventor. He has a gadget for everything—and I do mean everything. Olive and Otto go to Oscar whenever they need technical help, and he is usually sent to the field by Ms. O to assess a situation that the other agents can’t handle, such as the Hydraclops or the vortex.

Dr. O © 2014 The Fred Rogers Company

The cast has a great gender and racial balance, and so far stays far away from playing up to stereotypes. In one scene, Olive, Otto, Oscar, and Dr. O are fighting off robots in the princess room. Olive and Dr. O send Otto and Oscar out of the room, and retreat to the door backwards while firing at the robots. Olive proclaims “I never liked princesses” and Dr. O concurs. It’s a really well played scene. Just when you think they are going to kowtow to some form of stereotype, the producers subvert it, make fun of it, or make it irrelevant.

Dr. O is Odd Squad‘s resident doctor. She is a very eccentric character with great problem solving skills. She frequently reminds the other agents, “I’m a Doctor,” and while usually I might chaff against a girl character reminding us of that, in no way does it come across as negating her value. It is a personality quirk and simply amplifies her eccentricity. Nothing in this show belongs to the boy characters and nothing to the girls, and it is a wonderful to see and to have modeled to my two sons.

Odd Squad uses math to investigate strange occurrences and to come up with solutions. This is the only part of the show that feels laborious to the adults watching. However, both of my kids count and add along with Olive and Otto, and it has really made a dent in my five-year-old’s indifference to math.

The show also teaches perseverance and teamwork. It frequently goes over the idea that it’s okay to go through several wrong solutions on your way to finding the right one, a big believer in trial and error. The episodes always start with a voice-over by Agent Olive: “My name is Agent Olive. This is my partner Agent Otto. This is ____.” The third thing shown on the screen is always something random, that never has anything to do with the storyline that follows. The best one so far has been “This is Emmy Noether.” It is wonderful to think of how many kids (and adults, ahem) then looked up Emmy Noether, whom Einstein described as the most important woman in mathematics. This show uses math, but it shows how everyone can use math and how important it is.

So far my favorite episode has been episode 21: “6:00 to 6:05.” In this episode, we learn the dangers of confusing 6:05 with 1:30. It features the dinosaur storage facility at Odd Squad headquarters, a time machine, and a girl’s passion for toy dinosaurs. Absolutely brilliant.

My son’s favorite episodes are anything involving a character called Delivery Doug, who delivers egg salad sandwiches in his egg mobile. It’s what’s for lunch in our house these days.

You can watch Odd Squad online at or PBS Kids during the week. Each episode is made up of two 11-minute adventures and the show is aimed at ages 5-8. We stream through our Roku channel.

The Sequel Generation

© Disney. All rights reserved.

My five-year-old son is a connoisseur of animation, from Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Wallace and Gromit to Rio and 101 Dalmatians. A conversation with him a few weeks ago left me pondering how the current movie-making climate is shaping the collective mindset of his generation. His is the sequel generation.

Image: Fox/DreamWorks Animation.

I first began to notice this in him when we went to see How To Train Your Dragon 2. He seemed especially pleased that it was the second movie, proclaimed a preference for the second movie many times, and several times expressed his desire to see How To Train Your Dragon 3. Now when he talks about the movies, he is sure to add the “2” at the end, because that is his favorite. So Toothless is the dragon from How to Train Your Dragon 2, not simply from How To Train Your Dragon. His most recent love is the movie Rio, about the last two blue Macaws. He doesn’t even really know that they made a second one, but he assumes there are more movies. He actually believes there to be 99 of them. However, he does not call the movie Rio. In fact, he corrects everyone who says simply Rio; the movie is Rio 1.

So I am left wondering. While my generation typically rolls their eyes, and heaves a heavy sigh each time we hear of an unanticipated sequel, will my kids not only tolerate them, but come to expect them? Will they become disappointed in the stand-alone movie? Invariably, when we see a movie, my son asks when we can see the second one. This is his normal.

Growing up, I always used to wonder what happened at the end of my movies. What happens when Ariel and Eric have kids? How did they establish a dalmatian plantation? How does a peasant girl, who has been sweeping floors for many years, suddenly transition into a princess? My children won’t have to wonder such things. 101 Dalmatians 2: Patch’s London Adventure shows us the dalmatian plantation in action. The Little Mermaid 2: Return To The Sea explains how Ariel’s human daughter longed for the sea. Cinderella II: Dreams Come True shows Cinderella revolutionizing the palace banquet. My point is not whether or not we find these things annoying, but that our children do not see them as anything but expected.

While the past decade has seen the sequel, the franchise, and the reboot, become a work-a-day part of the movie going experience, the concept has been around for a long time. The first sequel, though now a lost movie, is considered to be The Fall of a Nation, which was made in response to D.W. Griffith’s incredibly racist The Birth of a Nation. However, not till The Godfather: Part II and Jaws II did sequels really take hold of the industry and captivate the nation. According to Back to the Future, we should be watching Jaws 19 this year. Where animation is concerned, I find myself to be more discerning about sequels. I set higher standards and more often than not, I am let down.

© Disney. All rights reserved.

In 1990, Disney released its first animated sequel into theaters. The Rescuers Down Under grossed $3.5 million on opening weekend, fourth after Home Alone, Rocky V and Child’s Play 2. It is worth noting that Home Alone would go on to spawn many sequels, Rocky V was the fifth movie, and Child’s Play 2 was a sequel that would later be extended into a franchise. The Rescuers Down Under was a decent story that, in my opinion, did not have the same narrative or lyrical grab as the first movie. It is the only sequel that Disney features in its canon; all other sequels (excluding Pixar) are considered separate. Presumably the success of Pixar sequels earns them a place on the classics list.

After The Rescuers Down Under, Disney sequels were mostly confined to home release. The Return of Jafar, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas were all released in the nineties to varying degrees of success.

There are some exceptions to the animation let down. The Toy Story movies are all equally charming. Monsters University, though unnecessary I feel, is a charming prequel. Planes: Fire and Rescue surpasses the original in both storyline and character. Non-Disney movies sometime suffer the same fate, with sequels that can be hit or miss. How to Train Your Dragon 2 surpasses the original in my mind, but Madagascar 2: Escape to Africa failed to live up to its precursor. The list goes on. While I may wail against the lack of imagination in animation studios, if we didn’t go see them or didn’t buy them straight to DVD, they wouldn’t still be making them.

I find it interesting therefore that my son will grow up with a different mindset than I did. That a preference for sequels and expectations for continuing storylines will be something that is just assumed by his generation. Happily ever after will now be spelled out in detail and surround sound forevermore, and while I may not appreciate it, my son certainly will.

We have passed by the time of stand-alone movies, we are now firmly in the sequel generation. Grumble all you want. I think it’s here to stay.

What to Do When Winter Storm Juno Hits

All Images: Sarah Pinault

Despite the barrage of news stories about how off track meteorologists were with the weather report for New York last week, up here in Maine they were spot on, if not a little light. We were supposed to get up to 24 inches, and by the time we were done it was more like 34. My husband went out three times to clear the snow, for fear that it would be too much for our snowblower once the storm was done.

We ended up having three snow days this week, for which a rather rambunctious five year old was kept cooped up. As he tends to get a little surly over movies and video games at the moment, we are severely limiting screen time right now. So what do you do for 12 waking hours when you are trapped inside? Turns out, there are a lot of household items easily adaptable to some serious playtime.

1. Masking Tape. We discovered the joys of masking tape last winter. You can play hopscotch, make a “corn” maze, make a city scape for cars, or make a railroad for trains. You can also tape children to support beams so that they can pretend to be The Incredible Hulk and bust out of said tape. You can create a laser security system in the hallway, and either tear through it (because you are still pretending to be The Incredible Hulk), or you can navigate your way through as a jewel thief or secret agent. Be wary of wooden floors, though. We now have a permanent hopscotch field where the masking tape peeled up tiny fibers of our wooden flooring.

2. Cotton Balls. Oh cotton balls, these can be so much fun during a storm. Pile a stack of pillows up between two halves of the room and have a good old fashioned indoor snowball fight. They aren’t cold, they don’t hurt, and you can throw so many of them at one time. You can hold them in front of a fan and make it snow, you can stick them to paper airplanes and see if they fall off mid-flight. You can make snowman with them, you can pretend to roast marshmallows with them. They can also be used in conjunction with…

3. Pool Noodles. Not just for summer days at the pool, these are great indoor tools if you don’t mind cutting a few in half. Did you know that a cotton ball fits perfectly inside the hollow middle of a pool noodle, and that when you blow into that pool noodle the cotton ball shoots across the room at ridiculously high speeds? Entertainment gold right here. And it doesn’t matter if the cotton balls hit anything; nothing is going to break because of a cotton ball. Something might get broken when using the pool noodles as light sabers, for karate practice, or when pretending to be He-Man, though.

4. Food Coloring. I can seriously get away with pulling this out and not using it in cookies or cupcakes, if I will just add a drop or two to a bowl of water and let my kids play with some Tupperware. It is quite ridiculous how long this will entertain them. Adding different colors mid play session ramps it up a notch and keeps them interested for longer. Very little clean up too, just drain the sink and wipe out quickly.

5. Blankets and Pillows. Never underestimate the power of a blanket fort to entertain. Especially a blanket fort with four walls and a roof that allows for the rare privilege of using a flashlight in the house during the day time. Blanket forts are an almost daily occurrence in our house, whether group homes or individual fortresses of solitude.

6. Paper. This may seem like an obvious one, but paper airplanes are often the way to go. I’m not talking an 8.5 by 11 standard plane here. Check out the recycling bucket, and experiment. Which types of paper or cardboard make the best planes, what type of material flies farther or fastest, which one folds best? You can take the simple activity of folding and flying a paper airplane and turn it into an hour long science experiment.

For a more extensive list of things to cure cabin fever check out GeekMom Laura’s list of forty cures. I know that people don’t just suffer with snow at this time of year. These activities will work really well in the mid-summer heat when you are trapped inside by heat waves and air conditioners too.

Paddington: A Jolly Good Movie

Image: The Weinstein Company

Having grown up in England, Paddington Bear was one of those essentials of childhood. Much like Dr. Seuss, even if he wasn’t your particular cup of tea, you still knew the Paddington stories and understood the references.


My generation grew up with the FilmFair television series, which was narrated by Michael Hordern. Hordern also voiced the rabbit god Frith in Martin Rosen’s 1978 adaptation of Watership Down, another essential of British childhood. The FilmFair series was a combination piece: Paddington himself was done in stop animation but the other characters and backdrops were a series of two dimensional animated drawings. The series was originally broadcast in the latter half of the seventies, but was shown extensively in my eighties childhood. The animation style and music easily evoke my memories of childhood and home.

To introduce my eldest son to Paddington Bear had actually not crossed my mind, until I found out there was to be a movie. At that point I became firm in the cause that he should be acquainted with “the real Paddington” before being exposed to the new version. It is a peculiar trait of us geeks, that even something we only have a tenuous attachment to becomes “the real thing” the moment that a remake is rumored.

So we began with the stories, which he devoured night after night, and then with a few FilmFair episodes. To this bibliophile’s delight, he much preferred reading the stories with me than watching the animation, though he did find them amusing. And so, for a month before the movie’s release, our evenings were filled with the bear from Darkest Peru.

Then one cold January afternoon, while his brother was napping, and his father was languishing on the couch with this season’s must-have cold, we set out to the movie theater.

Image: The Weinstein Company

The movie had several things going for it at the outset. Firstly, they did a darn good job with the bear himself. The visual effect of the fur, the features, the movement, all seemed spot on in the trailers I had seen. Secondly, the casting was stellar. Hugh Bonneville is a must for any British film these days I feel, Nicole Kidman plays an excellent bad guy (as in The Golden Compass), and a glimpse of Peter Capaldi doesn’t hurt either, even though it is disconcerting to see him in such an awkward role.


One of the things I love about the Paddington stories is the simplicity of the adventures. There is no turning point needed to move the plot along, it moves along at its own pace and concludes with a marmalade sandwich. It is simple and comforting. For a movie however, you need a good catch, a foil, a bad guy, something on which the simple and comforting storyline hangs. In this movie, that is played out delightfully by Nicole Kidman as the exceptionally creepy Taxidermist Millicent. When her storyline first began to play out before me, I had a momentary flash of dislike for the use of such a story arc in my sweet, simple Paddington, but it is written so well, and acted so deliciously by Kidman, that my aversion departed as quickly as it arrived. Her backstory, so interwoven with Paddington’s himself, is wonderfully written.

Image: The Weinstein Company

There is much of Mary Poppins in this movie, in that the defining rooftop moment, while ostensibly about saving Paddington, is actually about saving the father from himself. Hugh Bonneville is delightful, both as a distracted and terrified father, and as an all-hands-on-deck dad. You never dislike him, you just feel sorry for him, and in turn for the kids. The kids are very well done, nicely updated for a modern movie but with elements of the older stories thrown in. This is something the movie does well, keeping it modern whilst also tipping its head to the original stories and setting. I suppose given that it is a Brit-centric movie featuring London, Paddington station, and The British Museum, it was bound to. Keeping the old and new together is something we Brits do well in our media.

Overall I enjoyed the movie. I was not bored, which is a must for a children’s movie in my opinion; a great children’s movie will entertain the entire family. It was not too predictable, there was an excellent twist in the main story line, and it was aesthetically pleasing. The score is fantastic, anything that incorporates Calypso music has my vote. Calypso music was quite common in my childhood music classes at Whitehall Infant School, so it is nice to see a nod to this part of “British” culture. The inclusion of the band, which was put together just for the movie, in several scenes was delightful. I took my five-year-old son with me to see this movie. He paid attention, he asked pertinent questions, and he asked to read more Paddington stories when we got home. Above all of that, he sat perfectly still for 95 minutes, and in Five Year Old Land, that makes for the highest rating! There was just enough fart humor for my son, and not too much for me. Just enough dialogue for me, just enough action for my son. I still can’t convince him to try marmalade though, even though his Nanny has offered to make some from scratch!

What I had not expected from this movie was the delightful back story of Aunt Lucy and Uncle Pastuzo. That I will not spoil, but I will say that this is one movie not to arrive late to. The first fifteen minutes are a treat that stands alone from the rest of the movie. Bring tissues.


The Doctor Who Christmas Quiz

Doctor Who (s8) Christmas Special

Whether it’s David Tennant and a hot air balloon, or Matt Smith and some creepy snowmen, one thing’s for certain: All bets are off with the Doctor Who Christmas special. A staple of British viewing over the holiday season, the Doctor Who Christmas special has a long history of great story telling. No matter the events of the season, if you like the companion or not, even if you like the Doctor or not, the Christmas special always delivers.

So, while you are waiting to see Peter Capaldi and Father Christmas dance their holiday dance, why not take the Doctor’s Christmas quiz over at British Sci Fi Magazine SFX and see how well-versed you are in the festive side of our favorite Galifreyan.

I scored 30%. Now I shall go drown my sorrows and shame in mince pies.

Twice as Much Awesome: Sharknado 2, The Second One

Image: SyFy
Image: SyFy

Sharknado 2 was an epic television event that will be remembered for years to come. Sharknado 2 was the worst movie to be made in 2014. I have heard both of these statements in the past few months, but in my opinion, the year of the “bad” TV movie certainly saw a great moment in the continuing story of Fin Shepard and April Wexler. Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for movies like Sharknado and Croctopus, I know, but Anne Wheaton does and so I know I am in good company.


The movie picks up with Fin and April on their way to the Big Apple to see family. April is on a book tour for her bestselling book How to Survive a Sharknado. I love how apropos that plot device is for the current era of reality tv and Zombie escapades. Of course a storm is brewing, and of course there are an unnatural amount of sharks in the area. There is nothing surprising about the progression of the plot in this movie, but it’s predictability does nothing to diminish it’s awesomeness.

I tried to keep a running death tally but lost track pretty quickly. Kelly Osborne is the first to go, followed by the co-pilot, then a nasty woman on the toilet, Wil Wheaton is next (only Wil Wheaton is credited though his wife sits beside him, what’s with that SyFy?), and Tara Reid loses her hand but not her life. Incidentally this will lead to not only a great Bruce Campbell moment later in the movie, but a pivotal moment for our young heroes.

This movie is highly entertaining, but is taken to new heights by the cameos. Some of the best one liners come from these throwaway parts. Robert Hayes commenting “This is nothing, I’ve flown worse.” Judd Hirsch driving a taxi. Richard Kind playing a reminiscent ex-baseball player at Citi Field, who finally gets to hit one, and by one I mean a shark, out of the park. Judah Friedlander was originally a one line role, but grew into one of the main characters. Billy ray Cyrus, Andy Dick, Jared from the Subway commercials, the movie is littered with amusing cameos.

Of my two favorite moments in the movie, however, only one is cameo related. Kelly Ripa killing a shark with her exceptionally high heel, now that’s style. Yet I would have to say that the best moment is when Ian Ziering plays Frogger across the water and literally jumps the shark. He jumped the shark, people. He actually jumped the shark, and they actually make the frogger reference in the movie. This is classic cinema history in the making.

The DVD is full of gems, almost as delightful as the movie itself. To begin with, you simply have to watch the trailers at the beginning of the disc. While there are some dime a dozen movies such as The CoEd and the Zombie Stoner and Bachelor Night, there are also some must see movies, and no I do not say that tongue in cheek:

  • Bermuda Tentacles: The President goes missing over the Bermuda Triangle, and an elite team must go in to save him from an alien octopus creature from the deep. Yes, please!
  • Mercenaries: Hijinks ensue when only an outlaw team of the world’s most infamous female criminals can rescue the presidents daughter. “We go PMS from hell on this place!”
  • Blood Lake—Attack of the Killer Lampreys: I mean really, do you need more than the title to want to see more from this movie? You do? Well it stars Christopher Lloyd, you’re welcome!
  • Hercules Reborn: Really this looks like Russel Crowe’s Gladiator but with a Hercules theme. It did provide me with my new closing statement for arguments though, “Let us finish this with blades.”
  • Age of Tomorrow: Robert Picardo stars in this alien attack movie. It has similar tropes to Armageddon except once they land on the asteroid, they realize that it is not an asteroid.
  • Sleeping Beauty: I’m all for fairy tale remakes and this “Aurora meets Helms Deep” style movie has a Heath Ledger-esque lead so I’m game.
Patricia Schlein/Star Max / Getty Images Contributor
Patricia Schlein/Star Max / Getty Images Contributor

Previews aside, the remaining extras on the DVD are pretty good for such a low budget flick. There is a ten minute documentary about the cameos in which the director chats about the process. When talking about casting the airplane scenes, they had wondered out loud if they could get the actual guy from Airplane, and they did indeed get Robert Hays. There were hints of a Sharknado Musical, but even I’m not sure about that! The gag reel is a little over five minutes long but there aren’t really many gags. “Sharkchum: From the cutting room floor,” contains more gags in its eight minutes and you get to see the Canadian edit which features Toronto mayor Rob Ford getting impaled with a shark. There are some great extended bits with Al Roker and Matt Laeur, and I have to say I simply love the running gag about Matt Lauer not wanting to use the gauche term “Sharknado.” “The Making of Sharknado 2” contains ten minutes of chatter about the origins of the movie, and some more information about the cameos. Some worthy extras, and a decent commentary from Ian Ziering and Tara Reid make this a pretty good deal for a movie that in any other world would have been straight to DVD.

GeekMom was provided with a copy for review purposes.