Delilah Dirk strikes again! In the new graphic novel by Tony Cliff: Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling, we are once more in the company of the swashbuckling heroine and her faithful friend, Mister Selim. This time, it’s Delilah’s reputation in her homeland of England that is at stake. She gets on the wrong side of a new character, Major Merrick (not being the submissive woman he expected), and he decides to use her as a scapegoat for his own traitorous deeds. I had the opportunity to ask Tony some questions about his second book: the action, the friendship, and even the fashion. GEEKMOM: Creating, writing, and illustration on your own sounds overwhelming. How do you keep yourself motivated? Were there different challenges with the second book?Continue reading Delilah Dirk’s Second Adventure!
I honestly don’t remember how I came across American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. Librarian friend? Bookstore display? I read it somewhere and bought a copy to show my family this…comic book that wasn’t a comic because it was a real book, just with all pictures, kinda like a comic book but thicker. A graphic novel. My family really liked it too. The artwork was cartoon, but the message was deep. My husband and son picked it for their book club. My daughter found out about other graphic novels in the library. I became a writer for GeekMom and contacted the publisher of American Born Chinese wondering what else they had.
First Second Press is celebrating its ten year anniversary as a publisher of excellent graphic novels, many of which I have reviewed for this blog. Here are some of my favorites over the years:
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew: Another winner from Yang that brings the past of comics and the future of graphic novels into one fantastic adventure story.
Bake Sale by Sara Varon: This is one of those books that’s hard to describe when I recommend it. Saying it’s a kids book is like saying the Giving Tree is a kids book. It is, but… After reading it to my nieces, we had a huge discussion on the ending. (And this is when they were five and three!) I contacted Sara Varon telling her about the chat, and she wrote us back!
Giants Beware! by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre is currently on loan by my nine-year niece. We started it together and she is loving it. The heroine is great, but the side characters are what makes this one stand out.
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks: Pick this up. Pick this up. Pick this up. My daughter and I chose it for our mother-daughter book club a few years back. There was quite a bit of skepticism since we had only read “real” books. For the graphic novel novices, I gave the advice to read it through once, and you’ll probably just be reading the words because that’s what you’re used to. Then go back and reread it, this time looking at the characters’ faces, the background art, all the little visual details that fill in the subtext and mood. It was a good book discussion because this is a GOOD BOOK!
Sailor Twain: Or: The Mermaid in the Hudson by Mark Siegel: An adult book with art to savor. This one sticks with you. I heard Mark speak about the development of this novel, and afterwards he signed and drew on my copy.
My house has the Two Week Rule: no doctor unless the illness is getting worse after two weeks. Unfortunately, both my daughter and I passed that two-week mark for completely different bacterial infections, and found ourselves taking antibiotics. I was worried.
Both of us have digestive problems and antibiotics are harsh on that system. So I read some of my nutrition books, chatted with friends and family, and flipped through the web for advice. Here is what I found:
Yes, antibiotics can cause stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, and exacerbate existing intestinal problems. Why? Because antibiotics kill bacteria, but they don’t stop with just the infection plaguing you, they wipe out the beneficial bacteria in other parts of your body as well.
Yes, yes, your computer, smart-phone, whatever, keeps you completely organized, I know. But if you are like me, there is something about paper, stickers, pencils, and organizers on my desk that is more FUN! And putting some of my favorite geeky themes on those organizing tools makes it even MORE FUN! I recently puttered around the web finding cool things for myself and my family. Here are some of my favorites:
This is my new favorite site, and I had a hard time picking one item to share: The ghost sticky-notes. You can see through them and write on them! And they’re so cute! Sorry for all the exclamation points, but I love these!
How about a Star Wars cozy mug organizer? This is genius: it keeps your beverage warm, and while you walk around, you have all your things in it too!
Cords all over my desk are a pet-peeve, so here is a nifty way to keep ’em tight- with a ninja!
First, here are a few games that only require paper and pencil:
Celebrity: I played this with a group one New Year’s Eve a decade ago and some of us who were there still refer to it as one of our favorite parties. Hand out small strips to paper and a pencil. Everyone writes the name of one celebrity on each strip (alive, dead, real, fictional…) Depending on how many celebrities each person writes, the game can be long or short (4 – 10). Here is the complete gameplay. Be sure to do the Alternative Version which has three rounds.
Drawing Telephone: One of our favorite party games because the less-skilled you are in the art department, the better! Everyone gets a piece of paper and pencil. Each person writes a random phrase on the top of their paper and passes it to the person on their right. That person illustrates the phrase. Then everyone folds back the phrase so only the drawing is showing, and passes their paper to the right. Now the next person only sees the illustration and writes a phrase they think matches it. And so on. Here is a more detailed description of the game. We have some games taped up permanently in our house because they were so hilarious.
Round Singing: You all know Row, Row, Row Your Boat. And Are You Sleeping? Get everyone to try a round. No one needs to sound like a pop star, it’s just for fun. Here is a nice resource. Don’t be shy. If everyone is singing, who cares what individual voices sound like? (By the way, making live music together lights up more of your brain than any other activity, so this is good for you!)
And here is a list of great games to buy for lots-o-people to play!
Mad Libs You’ve got one around the house somewhere, right? If not, get one! Every theme imaginable is available.
Tsuro: The Game of the Path Explanation takes less than five minutes so perfect for non-gamers at the party. Also, it’s a really perty board.
7 Wonders Explanation takes awhile, but once the first round is played, people get it. New Year’s Eve is a perfect time to introduce a new game!
The next three games are ‘apples to apples’ types that can have multiple people, and end whenever you feel like it:
Snake Oil Card Game My son received this as a gift last year and it has become our go-to when we visit other people to have fun. I guarantee this game will make you laugh.
Mad Scientist University This game takes creativity and the ability to just go with it. How can you write your name on the moon with only rubber bands? With science!
After water, tea is the most popular drink in the world. Here in America, the number of tea enthusiasts is growing every year. Chances are there is someone on your gift list this holiday season that geeks out about tea. So here are some ideas to make them squeal like a tea kettle in delight.
A Whole Buncha Bags: This is a good one if you are planning on giving out a tea present to several people. Buy lots of different kinds of tea that come individually wrapped. Then give each tea person on your list an assortment. The fun of this present is presentation: inside a pretty teapot, clothes-pinned on a wreath, tucked in a knitted cozy, or nestled in an elegant box. You can expand by including a tea mug, jar of honey, spoon, and a book like the classic: The Book of Tea.
Weekly Tea Gram: Who doesn’t love getting real mail? And so sweet if you have someone who lives far away. Each week, mail this person a different kind of tea. Tea bags are so light and thin, you won’t need more than the normal postage stamp. Make it a seasonal gift lasting three months, buy a 12 pack of pretty greeting cards, and put it on your calendar so you don’t forget to do the mailing!
Personal Tea Blend: For teaists on your list, nothing but loose-leaf will do. Go to your local tea shop, or if you are not lucky enough to have a teashop, buy some online. Your grocery store should have the rest of the recipe items in the spices section. Put some thought into your tea person and what they might like. Put the blend in a Mason jar decorated with ribbon and label with their name as the blend, along with a teaspoon and tea brewing bags. Here are some examples. They make about 20 cups of tea.
Ayla’s Healthy Zen:
1.5 oz green tea
1/4 cup dried berries
.5 oz raspberry leaf
.5 oz nettle
2 oz Rooibos tea
2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 Tablespoons cacao nibs
2 Tablespoons coconut flakes (unsweetened)
After mixing these together, be sure to let it air dry before packaging.
Peter’s Night Cap
2 oz chamomile flowers
2 Tablespoons cinnamon pieces
1 Tablespoon ginger
.5 oz anise hyssop (or dried licorice pieces—not candy)
Tea-infused Salts. These go for about $20/lb in the store, but are really easy and inexpensive to make yourself! The recipe is 1/2 the amount of flavoring to the salt. Again, packaging makes all the difference in a gift. Small glass bottles are the best for this one so you can see the pretty colors. The salts can be used as a finishing touch for soups, stews, grilling, or just some scrambled eggs. Any salt will do, but coarse salt looks nicest. Make all three for a colorful presentation:
I was startled into realizing that no matter what stage of life I was in at the moment, my brain was not done yet. Was that a relief that any mistakes were the fault of not-full-adulthood? Or should I second guess all my decisions now? I decided not to worry about it, shrugged and put it out of my still-developing mind. Continue reading Keeping Teen Brains Safe
“It clashes.” “No, it doesn’t.” “Pink and red clash.” “Do blue and light blue clash? Green and light green?” “That’s different.” “Why?! Pink it just light red! We’ve been culturally brainwashed to see pink as a completely different color!” “Mom…”
I argued this with my daughter. She agreed that it was strange that light red had its own name, but pointed out “grey” was also light black with its own name. I told her grey had its own cultural preconceptions as well and technically isn’t a color. It also depends if you’re talking about pigment or light.
She is an art student and we debated color and culture. She told me about a lecture she heard on how indigo was included in the rainbow. (There needed to be seven colors since that’s a super-duper-special number, and purple is only one color so it was made into two: indigo and violet.)
We touched on how we see color in the first place, but then how language shapes our perception of color. A study published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology looking at color and language from children in different cultures concluded: “Across cultures, the children acquired color terms the same way: They gradually and with some effort moved from an uncategorized organization of color, based on a continuum of perceptual similarity, to structured categories that varied across languages and cultures. Over time, language wielded increasing influence on how children categorized and remembered colors.”
I was having a horrible night of sleep (again), in pain, and woke up trying to locate the sea urchin that must have been shoved in my bed. I sat up and found the source of my agony: a wrinkle. One wrinkle in the sheet. Just one.
I stared at it and my exhausted brain cursed, “I am the $#@$ing ‘Princess and the Pea’.” A true princess is so sensitive that twenty mattresses cannot keep her from feeling a single pea underneath them all. It really sucks to be a true princess. Can I be a hardy peasant instead? Alas, I have to keep my royal pedigree to rule my vast lands.
If only hyper-sensitivity came with riches and servants. Instead, I get the migraines and sleepless nights without any seeming benefit. But my geeky-themed mind likes to twist my fate to the fantastical. Maybe the “Princess and Pea” was based on an actual princess who was sensitive like me? Spinning her bad physical luck into a badge of honor: Royalty is more perceptive than the average populace. Don’t try to pull anything on that princess because she can detect a tiny vegetable under her bedding!
I love cooperative games because the dynamics of the group shift from finding any possible way to beat the live humans hanging around with you to exploring all possibilities within a game system to triumph together. I also appreciate educational games that keep the fun.
Is it possible to have all three in one?
Why, yes, and the game is called Covalence: A Molecule Building Game recently put out by Genius Games. This is the latest in their series of science-based table-top games.
My local orchestra, The Albany Symphony, has a concert series aimed at families with young children. This season they are total geeks. Harry Sonata and The Baton of Power, Star Warriors: The Opera, and The Superhero Show. Here’s a write up for the first one:
“Young Harry Sonata doesn’t want to be an ordinary wizard; he wants to become a musical wizard. But to do that, he’ll have to do battle with the evil Lord Moldywart and learn to wield the “Baton of Power.” He’ll need your help learning all about the art of conducting so he can vanquish the forces of evil and make the orchestra SING! Great music by: Tchaikovsky, Sousa, Strauss, Beethoven, and others.”
I know, I know; everything is online. It’s the death-knell of the magazine publishing industry. But not in my house. I love tucking a rolled-up magazine in my purse or flipping through one on the couch at the end of the day. I only have two online “subscriptions” delivered to my inbox: The Optimist and The Daily Tea. My email is overwhelming as it is; I don’t want anything else.
GeekMom: Hi Ben! Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for GeekMom about your new book, Little Robot. I really enjoyed it.
Ben Hatke: You are welcome! And I’m glad you enjoyed it.
GM: Did you always plan for this to be a (mostly) visual story? What were the challenges and most fun aspects?
Ben: The original Little Robot webcomics were newspaper comic strip format and they were also largely silent, save for a few robot noises. So, coming into the project, I already had a sort of history just using the robot’s gestures and “acting” to tell a story. I continued that going into the graphic novel and gave the robot a little co-star that operated in a similar way—gesture over dialogue.
It was challenging to decide just how little text I could get away with, but for the most part I find purely visual storytelling a lot of fun. I used one of my daughters as a reference for a couple poses.
GM: The “hand” becoming a friend was a great part in the book. How did you come up with that idea?
Ben: I think that’s one of the things that came from the part of the process where I doodle in my sketchbook. In the early parts of a project like this I tend to be working on the plot in text and the design in a sketchbook at the same time, and each of those elements informs the other.
Of course I’m definitely not the first person to use a “helping hand” type of character. I was watching a clip from The Iron Giant recently, which I hadn’t seen in many years, and was a little dismayed to find that there’s a very similar robot hand scene in that movie! Continue reading Creating ‘Little Robot’: Ben Hatke Interview
Well, here are three to check out with dinosaurs! pirates! robots!
First up is Carter Goodrich’s We Forgot Brock! It’s a tale about all kinds of friendship. Brock is the coolest pirate/rocker/hero young Philip could imagine. But when Brock is forgotten at the fair, another child invites him home. Will Brock ever find Phillip again…does he want to? The artwork is key to the book’s charm. The “real” world is colorful, round, and soft. The “imaginary” friends are black and white and flat, but with expression and sincerity. Although I was at first disappointed in the gender-stereotypical depictions of what boys and girls would imagine, it was hard to keep a chip on my shoulder as I read the story aloud to my nieces. We really, really enjoyed it. (And they thought Princess Sparkle Dust was as cool as Brock.) Highly recommend for all ages.
Next is Mark Pett’s Lizard from the Park. If you have ever visited the NYC’s Museum of Natural History, and then walked in Central Park, it’s easy to see where Pett got his inspiration. Those dinosaur bones are so huge! And where would these giants fit in our world? That’s the problem Leonard, a young boy in the city, has when he hatches a lizard egg that may not be just your average lizard. As the mother to a young girl who was obsessed with dinosaurs, this is a sweet book I recommend for all ages.
Finally, Little Robot is Ben Hatke’s new book. This is perfect for youngsters looking for the next level up in storytelling from picture books. Without the need for many words (there is some dialogue) Hatke puts the emotion and layering of story in his artwork. The protagonist is a curly-haired, barefoot girl who finds an abandoned tool set, and box-o-robot in the local junkyard. She activates the robot and they quickly become friends. Yet, they are so very different! Can they stay friends? What is the meaning of true friendship when robot is in danger?
I have an upcoming interview with Ben Hatke about Little Robot, so stayed tuned for that. In the meantime, I recommend this book for ages 6 and up.
One of my favorite things to do at a con is try new games. At ConnectiCon this year, my son and I played many and two stood out as the best: Paperback and Five Tribes.
My friend Tim brought Paperback with him to play with our group. He said, “It’s a deck-building game…” and my shoulder’s slumped since I rarely like those kind of games, “…with letters to make words.” And I brightened since I love word games!
First off, the design and artwork is retro-mid-20th-century-pulp-fiction cool. Players buy letters to build a deck to make words. Letters have special abilities, and your goal for length or type of word varies on those abilities to help you win. Making words grew more challenging as the game progressed and fewer cards were in play, but the strategy to actual win is based on points and gaining paperback cards, and watching how everyone else is doing. It moved along well, and kept everyone’s interest. I lost because I wasn’t paying attention to the other players, too focused on making interesting words. Highly recommend for ages 12 and up.
You can watch a video of game play:
“Crossing into the Land of 1001 Nights, your caravan arrives at the fabled Sultanate of Naqala. The old sultan just died and control of Naqala is up for grabs! The oracles foretold of strangers who would maneuver the Five Tribes to gain influence over the legendary city-state. Will you fulfill the prophecy? Invoke the old Djinns, move the Tribes into position at the right time and the Sultanate may become yours!”
I like that fantasy description introducing Five Tribes, a board game with mancala-based movement. My son and I play-tested this with a big fan of the game, who had his pre-teen daughter with him. Although it took some explaining, once we got going, everyone had a good time.
The game is brightly colored with fantastic artwork and tactile-satisfying pieces. Each round, turn order is determined by bidding. Then each player moves meeples around the board to land on a space they can gain influence. Like many modern games, there are many strategies to win. My son focused on gaining most of the land and specific color meeples, the gamer’s daughter collected resources and slaves, and I took as many djinn cards as I could. My son won.
We played it again the next day with our regular group of Con attendees and it was more fun now that I knew what I was doing. (Still didn’t win…)
And here’s a video of game play:
My son and I know what we want for Christmas this year…
Not spending money at a Con is very hard to do—so many cool things! But I do take business cards and look through them at home to shop online later. Here are some talented artists I saw at ConnectiCon this year:
Moss Fête: This hat shop features exceptional felt creations. Just beautiful.
Matt Becker has a variety of art, but I was intrigued by The Disciplines. All are women of various body types, ethnicities, and ages depicting the sciences. Very cool. This is “Biology.”
SkimLines: My son and I were very impressed with this young woman’s pottery. He loved her tea mugs, I loved her yarn bowls.
Mink Works: My son loved her fox print, and I loved her soup print (adorable anthropomorphic food…if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am). But these martini-glass-monsters made me squeak with delight.
Next time you’re at a Con, be sure to check out these and other talented artists in our geeky world!
What defines the worst cosplayer? Perhaps not remembering much about the character. Not even their real name. That was me!
This is She-Ra, Princess of Power. In case you aren’t familiar with her, you might know her brother He-Man. When I was little, I watched He-Man on a regular basis, and then She-Ra too. I have fond memories of visiting my Grandma with my sister. First we got a snack of two cookies (never enough!) and a cup of milk (eww, but I had to drink it.) Then we would sit in front of the TV and watch those two cartoons.
Skeletor was seriously bad when I was six. The speedos didn’t faze me. I wondered why that scene of He-Man throwing a rock was in every show. I loved, loved, loved She-Ra’s pegasus. And she was so cool.
Flash-forward to now, decades later. My sister decided she wanted to be She-Ra for Halloween last Fall. Our mother made a fantastic costume. Getting ready for ConnectiCon this year, I remembered the costume and decided I could cosplay! I haven’t cosplayed in several years, and with no work involved getting it ready, I figured I was all set.
Forgot about the research part. Research? Yeah. I watched the cartoon thirty years ago, so my memories are really, really vague. It didn’t occur to me that I should review some stuff before going to a geeky convention where people might actually be FANS of my character. Oops.
It started the morning I was getting my costume on at a house crowded with people all going to the Con.
ME: (getting the headpiece on over the wig)
CON-GOER 1: You look adorable!
CON-GOER 2: That’s fitting since her name is Adora.
ME: No. I’m She-Ra.
CON-GOER 2: Right… and her real name is Adora.
ME: It is?
CON-GOER 1: (laughs)
CON-GOER 2: (sighs)
ME: Didn’t He-Man have another name too?
CON-GOER 2: Yes.
CON-GOER 2: Adam.
I filed that information away in case someone called me Adora instead of She-Ra. I was all set! Except I wasn’t. The first person to recognize me unfortunately knew way more about the show.
REAL FAN: She-Ra! Yes! Great costume!
REAL FAN: Watch out for (insert random strange name here.)
ME:…um…yeah! Yeah, I will!
(Walking away with my son)
ME: Was it obvious I had no idea who she was talking about.
MY SON: Yes.
I ran into the fellow con-goer from the morning and pumped her for more info. I couldn’t remember most of what she told me (should have written it down) but I did remember the power sword words: “For the honor of Grayskull… I am She-Ra!” Good for me. By the end of the day, I didn’t run into anyone who quizzed me, but I did get some thumbs up from fans, and one photo taken. Yay!
Next time I cosplay I promise to know a little more about my character before parading around. I really am a fan of She-Ra, just a very old one.
I have been attending ConnectiCon for over ten years now. When I first went, I enjoyed it, but felt that it was geared for people in their teens and twenties (I was cusping thirty then.) I had young geeky children, but I didn’t feel that this convention was for them. Besides, I liked my weekend away.
However, my kids would hear all about my adventures at this mystical world of geek fandom, and couldn’t wait to attend. I started taking my older nephew. When my daughter turned thirteen, I took her with me. Then my son was allowed to join in the nerdery and fun. And that’s when I started noticing families with young kids attending the Con. The con noticed this too and added some programming for kids. This year, there was a whole track just for the younger set. I love that.
Here are some pics of geeky families enjoying themselves and passing down the fun of fandom:
Practicing meditation has become part of my daily routine. Even if I don’t want to, think I don’t have time, or sit there and wonder when I can get on with my day, I do it. Why? Because it works. For what? Oh, so many things.
I like to figure things out myself, do research, and come to logical conclusions. In this way, I started keeping a food diary to understand what was triggering my heartburn. Although I had had mild heartburn before, now it was waking me up with pain at night, randomly during the day, and getting worse. My daughter, an herbalist, created a soothing tonic for me that worked well, plus I had some other natural remedies on hand. But what was causing it in the first place? My husband and I read up on GERD, and I checked out some books from the library. Diet seemed to be an obvious culprit. So the food diary. I wrote down everything I ate for two months, including time of day, plus information about my cycle, how I was feeling, and general events of that day. Conclusion: It wasn’t food.
The solution wasn’t going to be as straightforward as cutting out chocolate (though I was happy it wasn’t that!), because all signs pointed to stress. Staying home reading and drinking tea for the rest of my days might sound nice, but not practical. My husband pointed out the obvious: “Now you need to figure out how to handle stress better.” Doing my next round of research, regular meditation kept popping up. What did science say? Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis says, “Despite the limitations of the literature, the evidence suggests that mindfulness meditation programs could help reduce anxiety, depression, and pain in some clinical populations.” Could I be the right clinical population? Only one way to find out!
As a teen, I had bought some incense and tried out mediation for a few weeks. It was easy to slow my breathing and completely chill out (oh, the ease of the young… and empty-headed). But one night, I kept holding my breath longer and longer until I scared myself from meditating (plus my mom complained about the incense). As an adult, I took up yoga and always enjoyed the short relaxation part at the end lying down. Since I do yoga in the mornings, my thoughts during this resting time were usually planning out my breakfast menu (I love breakfast). I needed some help with this mediation thing.
At the start of the year, I joined up for the Albany Peace Project, which combined daily guided meditations with a science study. My daughter, on break from college, decided to join me each evening as we listened to that day’s guided meditation. Since our house is small, the best place for us to sit together was on the couch. It’s a small couch, so if one of us moved, the other did too. The couch is also right near the kitchen where my husband would be doing dishes or getting a snack, or make a snarky comment about a part of the meditation he was forced to listen to. My son might wander in and out, or ask me something really important like, “Mom, where’s my book?” “Wherever you left it.” “No, really, do you know?” “Did you spend five minutes looking before you asked me, while I’m trying to meditate?” “Um…” And the daily meditations were by different speakers and some of them made us giggle… a lot.
We tried our best, though I didn’t notice any change in my heartburn. Once my daughter went back to college, I attempted to meditate on my own in my quiet bedroom with some online guides. My son recommended some he used. I kept falling asleep. I gave up. A few weeks later, my book club picked A Tale for the Time Being. One of the main characters learns how to meditate (sitting zazen to gain her “supapowah!”) from her great-grandmother Old Jiko, (love, love, love her). And this inspired me to try meditation again. Besides, my heartburn was making me cry. The character in the book meditated in the morning, so I decided that might be my whole issue—wrong time of day! Of course! Now, I’d be able to meditate like a zen master.
I spent much of the spring sucking at meditation. By “sucking,” let me give you an example: I get out my timer, set it for 10 minutes, sit down, close my eyes and fidget while trying to count, forget which number I’m up to because I need to fidget some more, take a few deep breaths to calm down annoyance, start from “one” again, get to “two,” and then remember that I just bought a fancy cheese that would probably be good on toast, open eyes quickly and start to rise, remember I’m meditating and can wait 10 minutes before the cheese, sit back down, close my eyes, start from “one,” realize I never called back X, open eyes and look around for a pen and paper to write that out so I don’t forget, realize I should finish the meditation—just freakin’ finish—take a deep breath, close eyes again, start at “two” just to encourage myself, get to “three”… get to BEEP! Timer goes off! Yay!
But I kept trying. Everyday. A couple of months went by. Regardless of how badly I meditated, I couldn’t help noticing that my heartburn was improving. Days in a row would go by without any pain. Finally, I had a breakthrough. I had just completed a yoga class where the teacher had us visualize different colors for different points up and down our spine. I liked that. When I meditated that day, I decided to visualize a color of the rainbow for each exhale instead of counting. Amazingly, I was able to keep most random thoughts at bay. I did that for a week, and then I remembered I was a musician. I focused on one note in the do-re-mi scale for each exhale. To be specific, I listened to the Mystics from The Dark Crystal singing each note in my mind. Not only did it help me focus and slow my breathing, but even after I finished the Mystics were still singing—and my breathing was calm for awhile afterwards.
My heartburn continued to go away. Other issues were also improving (migraines!). I have sleeping problems, and one night was particularly bad. I thought, “I will never sleep well again and slowly go crazy until I die!” (Things always look bleak at 3:00 a.m.) Then, I remembered meditation. It occurred to me that I didn’t want to fall asleep while meditating, so I had that going for me. I sat up and the Mystics sang while I inhaled and exhaled. At some point, I realized I was (ironically) nodding off. I looked at the clock and had been meditating for over an hour—a new record! I smiled, lay down, and drifted back to sleep.
Six months since that first January distracted meditation, my heartburn is barely a thing for me. My migraines are minimal, and other issues have steadily improved. My meditation experiment will be a long-term study. My daughter encouraged me to keep it up. (“It can’t hurt.”) With the warmer weather, meditating outdoors has been a change of pace. I am still not anywhere near a master. I think about upping the time to even 12 minutes, but I’m not ready yet. I still can’t go the full 10 minutes without being distracted—even with my Mystic singers. But it’s in the journey, right?
“…we will bridge the connection between everyday learning and the latest scientific discoveries, as reported in our award-winning Science News magazine, and inspire more young people to pursue careers in science.”
I am a huge proponent of science literacy, and a big fan of Science News magazine. As a family, we regularly discuss the amazing discoveries in each issue. As a teacher, I have used the magazine to foster students’ curiosity about their world. The Society for Science and the Public conducted a survey and found out that 95% of teachers polled wanted Science News in their classrooms. Of course they do!
A Kickstarter campaign has begun to bring the fantastic magazine and Teacher’s Guide to classrooms around the country. The Teacher’s Guide will help high school classrooms best utilize the information in the magazine. Jump in to promote science for all.
Science experiments are fun when you can play with them, but they are more fun when you can eat them! Or, in this case, drink.
Litmus paper is used to show the pH scale in chemistry. Litmus is what chemists call an acid-base indicator. Although it’s great for science, do you have it handy in your home? Well, I don’t, and any extra step means I never get around to doing the science. For the busy (lazy) parents like me, we need a different acid-base indicator. And I love tea.
In a previous post, my daughter made me violet flower tea, which is blue but turned pink when lemon juice was added. She also gave a good explanation on how this happened. If you have some violets, it’s a simple recipe to try (and pretty! and tasty!).
How about regular tea? Tea (Camillia Sinensis) contains tannins, which can act as acid-base indicators with color: Acidic lemon juice and tea turn light yellow, alkaline baking soda and tea turn reddish-brown.
Kashimiri Tea, Pink Tea, or Noon Tea are all the same names for a distinct tea recipe from Kashmir, a region near the Himalayas in South Asia. (A quick geography lesson would be appropriate here too.) The tea turns pink! And you can drink it! Yummy science!
5 cups water
1 tablespoon semi-fermented tea, such as oolong (some recipes use green tea, so use it if that’s what you have)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (traditional, but sugar can be substituted)
cream, half and half, or whole milk (Yak milk is often used, if you have it…)
cardamom seeds and star anise (optional)
1. In a sauce pan, combine a quart of water with the tea and baking soda. Let it come to a boil and then lower to medium heat for a half hour.
2. Turn off heat.
3. Add cold water.
4. Mix the tea by lifting a ladle filled with tea up about 8 inches and letting it pour back in the pan. A parent or older child should do this since it will splash. Repeat 10-20 times. This is the fun and messy part!
5. Add some cardamom and star anise.
6. Add salt (or sugar).
7. Let sit for a few minutes.
8. Strain the tea.
9. Pour in cream until the color is pink.
10. Drink up!
As you can see in my picture above, I didn’t get a super pink color, but since I really liked the flavor, I’ll be trying it again. Here is an explanation of tannins and color changes. Remember, if you have acidic water, it won’t work! What other acid-base indicators are in our kitchens? And did you like the tea?
This review for the live show of the podcast, “Welcome to Night Vale” comes too late for you to see a show, which is too bad because it was a fantastic stage performance. I wasn’t sure if the voice actors’ talents would extend to live theater, but my son and I enjoyed ourselves the entire time.
Cosplaying is an important part of any fandom, and there were plenty in the audience. I think the best part of cosplaying Night Vale is that it’s an audio-only story, so everyone imagines the characters differently. My son recognized a group in costume that ran a Night Vale panel at Genericon. I liked the Ominous Glow Cloud a few seats in front of us.
The weather was performed by Mary Epworth. We liked the lyrical dance music, but the volume was too loud. Actually, the music during the main performance (by the brilliant Disparition) was often louder than the speaker.
Cecil Baldwin, the narrator of the show, carried us along through a murder mystery in the town of Night Vale. I am very impressed. He was onstage the entire time and kept the energy going. He was joined by many guests, each greeted with enthusiasm by the fans. They looked like they were having as much fun as the audience. The actors were polished in their performances, and the humor was constant: “Just listen to my smile!” The audience even had a participation element to the storyline.
I would love to tell you more about the plot, and the guests that appeared, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Yes, the tour is over, but the DVD will be out soon and then all the fans who couldn’t get to the theater can see for themselves who graced the stage and kept us delighted the entire evening.
Imagine a place where librarians must be confined in their libraries because they are so dangerous. A place where the weather report is a song. A place where the company cat is suspended in air in the men’s bathroom (but with water and food and is doing just fine). This is Night Vale, a desert town somewhere in the American Southwest that’s creepy, odd, and somehow really funny.
Welcome to NightVale is a podcast presented as a radio show. Kind of like A Prairie Home Companion… as an episode of The X-Files. My son and I are fans of the series. He even went as Carlos (the scientist with beautiful hair) for Halloween this year. We soared through a bunch of episodes last Spring when we were down with the flu. Let me tell you, Night Vale is already surreal, but with a fever? Wow.
Welcome to NightVale is currently on tour with never-before-heard tales of the famed town. The live stage version is coming to a theater near us, and we are so very excited to go! Listen to a few episodes, or binge on the whole thing, then score some tickets to the stage show. But you have to be quick: Their tour ends next week!
Dragons Beware! is the latest graphic novel of Claudette, a fearless girl who adventures with her younger chef brother, and princess best friend. What? You haven’t read Giants Beware! yet? Go! Go! Go!
I asked the creators of both books, Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre a few questions about the series and the latest adventure, and they were happy to oblige:
GEEKMOM:Claudette is a “leap before you look” type of character. Was there a particular person (or people) in your real lives that inspired her?
JORGE/RAFAEL: We both have lots of leap-before-they-look kind of people in our lives, but there wasn’t a single person who inspired Claudette. Her personality is somewhat inspired by the character Mafalda, an Argentinian comic-strip that both Jorge and I read as kids.
GM:I really enjoy the relationships between Claudette and brother, and best friend. Having a strong female lead in any story is breaking stereotypes, but to have good relationships with her brother (instead of being jealous or competitive with siblings) and enjoy her unashamed girly-girl best friend (instead of putting down “girly” things)—well, that’s just fantastic! Was it purposeful to create the series to be so different?
JORGE/RAFAEL: Thanks! We both like to put new twists on familiar archetypes. But we’re also trying to create interesting characters who we care about that. That means fleshing them out three-dimensionally and when you do that, you can avoid stereotypes. As for Claudette and Gaston: we love that their relationship is both that of siblings and friends–maybe it’s a Latino thing; we’re usually pretty close with our siblings.
GM:What were your favorite stories growing up?
RAFAEL: I loved superhero comics, Batman and Fantastic Four were my favorites. Anything by Kirby, especially in the 70s (Kamandi, New Gods, Mister Miracle).
JORGE: I loved Greek myths, superhero comic books, fantasy books, that sort of thing.
GM: Claudette’s father is a tough and capable guy who is also in a wheel chair. Have you gotten any feedback from wheelchair-bound kids and/or adults who have read the series?
JORGE/RAFAEL: We have not heard from any wheel-bound folks, however we both loved the idea of a warrior not impeded by the fact that his mobility is partially restricted. It makes him even more of a tough guy. And by the way, May is National Mobility Awareness Month.
GM:The dress up scene with Claudette in all the different outfits had my family and I cracking up–hilarious! Did you make yourselves laugh with the sketches? Were there outfits that didn’t make the final cut?
JORGE: I love the scene too. And it’s a pretty good example of how we work to entertain each other. The script only specified that Marie wanted to play-dress up and Claudette was not happy about that. And Rafael drew the really funny page of costumes.
RAFAEL: We always try to crack each other up first! If that works, we run it past our kids, and if that works, then we know we’re on the right track. As I go through the script I’m always trying to find ways to make it visually funny, to complement the funny dialogue that Jorge’s come up with.
GM:In this second book, each of the kids are moving forward in their own plot-lines: Claudette trying to get her father to officially train her, Marie and her suitors. But my favorite was Gaston and learning magic spells are like cooking. Was this planned from the first book? Do you already see where each of their personal stories are going next, or is that book to book?
JORGE/RAFAEL: We’re mostly figuring out the specific steps of each character’s journey as we go along. However, we have a pretty good idea where these characters end up. It’s the getting there that always takes time to figure out. How far do you let each character grow in each book—that’s a toughie. We had talked about Gaston using magic spells since that does feel related cooking. And Rafael drew the spellbook with the ingredients in the back of the book and that just felt right for Gaston.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Dragons Beware! is recommended for ages 5+.
GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.
I was the kid that had to stay in at recess in second grade. Was I bad? No, I needed extra help in subtraction. Sister Brendan, a very nice old lady (who gave me snacks too) sat patiently with me each day to get my wee brain to learn the tools of taking away in an equation. I was a smart kid, and I could memorize how to do it, but I didn’t understand why and that made me second guess myself and screw up on tests. Eventually I got the concept, but I also learned another lesson: Math isn’t fun.
But it can be! My teen son loves to play board and card games with his young cousin. They both homeschool, so I suggested he come up with a math curriculum for her that incorporated games we already owned to teach the concepts she was supposed to learn in second grade (according to Common Core for a reference). Her parents thought that was great, and when she took a simple test at the end of the year, she aced it. No boring textbooks and worksheets!
Unlike most math curricula that teach one concept at a time, games utilize several skills at once in a fun atmosphere that keeps the challenges from getting overwhelming. Basically, instead of learning to do math on its own, the student is using math to play the game.
Granny Apples is a good example of multiple math skills at once. It is a simple game of tossing wooden apples on the ground and counting the different types to find a total score. However, it involves fractions, addition, subtraction, sets, and is all mental math in a visual setting. There is no writing involved, which is perfect for learning concepts without tripping over the writing/reading challenges. It is a fast game with tactile satisfaction with smooth wooden objects.
Bakugan is perfect for those writing/reading challenges, and so fun that kids will not care. Each sphere is tossed into a ring and pops open to reveal a monster. Each monster has a number printed on it for its “battle score.” But these scores are up to triple digits. The student must keep track of all the digits, keep their columns neat, and continually add and subtract to figure out if they win the battles.
Polyhedron Origami is not a game, but the best way to teach geometry of three dimensional shapes—by building them with paper. It is not difficult, but requires attention to detail, with a satisfying ending of something beautiful with math. Using this method, even the youngest students can make truncated octohedrons, and know what that means!
Could there be a more entertaining way to learn graphing skills than Battleship?
The top half of the Yahtzee sheet is a fun introduction to multiplication. Rolling dice, counting, and writing. Over time, students will count the dice faster and faster based on the visual sets of dots on each die. This is learning sets and geometric reasoning for multiplication skills. Sounds complicated, but in this game, it’s just fun.
Games like CathedralChess, Tangoes, Mancala, and Connect 4 are ways to teach spatial reasoning, patterns, shapes, strategy, structure, reasoning, and mental acuity. They range in complexity, but are able to be played by children as young as five in simple formats.
Not that I’m a Disney fan, but my teen son showed me these, and they are a great way to procrastinate for geek moms and dads! (WARNING: The language is NOT for young kids…)
Disney Princess rap battles! There are a few of these, but this one features Sarah Michelle Gellar & Whitney Avalon as Cinderella and Belle. “Cindy’s dreaming she’s important; well, someone should wake her. This gold-diggin’ trophy wife is the royal baby-maker. Fear the nerdy, wordy princess…”
Honest Trailers take clips (or full trailers) of your favorite movies and do voice overs that are…well, a little too honest. “Meet Ariel: a half-naked fifteen year old, who’s a confirmed hoarder.”
Remember back in the early days of YouTube when there were lots of youngins putting out their videos each week? Where are they now? Most faded away either because they ran out of ideas, got tired of it, went to college, got a job, etc., etc. But NigaHiga (Ryan Higa) has been making consistently funny videos since 2006. Here’s one with a Disney theme. The Lion King one made me snort (even though I did see it coming…).
I hope I helped you take away valuable work time to laugh today.
While sitting inside the loveliest tea house I had ever been in, I read their tea guide which explained that the difference between green and black tea was fermentation.
“What? No!” I exclaimed loudly to my friends, who were trying to enjoy their beverages. “Regular black tea is oxidized, not fermented! How can a tea house get it wrong!” My friends shushed me and didn’t think it was a big deal. But I wrote a long explanation on a comment card when we left.
In another tea house bathroom, they had a wall display that also stated this fallacy. I took my pen and boldly crossed out “fermentation” and wrote “oxidation” in its place. There. At least the ladies would be informed of the truth in that establishment.
Green, black, white, oolong, and pu-ehr tea all come from the same plant: camellia sinesis. Yet the tastes are different depending on the growing location, harvesting techniques, and most importantly, how they are processed after picking.
Most teas are dried in different ways with different levels of oxidation happening. There are teas that undergo fermentation, like pu-erh. Who cares? I do. If a book, company, or shop is going to bother explaining the science behind their product, get it right!
So what is the difference between oxidation and fermentation? I’m going to step away from tea for a moment to explain, since the tea videos I found are boring and/or interchange “oxidation” and “fermentation” as if they were the same thing. If I leave my metal bike outside in the rain, it will rust. That’s oxidation.
If I coat my bike with sugar and let some wild bacteria start to grow…then I have a bad example. Nevermind. Back to drinks.
Fermentation involves bacteria or yeast that eat sugars to produce carbon dioxide, and in the case of yeast—alcohol. Beer is made with fermentation. If you let beer oxidize, sadness. The difference is important! Here’s a video about fermentation and an example of making soda.
They are two completely different chemical processes and anyone who is in the tea business should make it their business to get the science correct. Science literacy and delicious tea forever!
Gather your family at the table with paper, pencils, and dice.
First tell them to draw a quick picture of themselves—stick figures are fine. On the same paper, they should draw their shadow: the person, monster, or alter-ego that is longing to get them in trouble, to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences. Then assign one die (different colors) to each of these drawings. Finally, say to your family, “You are asleep in the house. Suddenly you wake up to a strange sound.” And so the Shadows game begins.
This is one of the simplest role-playing games around, which makes it great for kids. And perfect for adults who are interested in RPGs, but don’t know where to begin. Shadows, by Zak Arntson, is a group storytelling game with a fun twist. Whenever the leader of the group asks about a move, the player has to answer twice—what they want to do in a situation, and what their shadow wants to do. The decision is made by dice.
My children and I have played the Shadows game many times, and this was the game I chose when I did an “Intro to RPG” event at my local homeschooling group. I wanted a game with a short prep time, so we could jump right into the action. Experienced gamers really, really enjoy character creation, spending weeks on stats and backstories. But with kids, they just want to play.
There are many systems out there (feel free to comment below with your favorite) that are quick on the start-up. Risusby S. John Ross is one I like. It has enough structure to satisfy kids who want more than Shadows, but with a twenty second character creation, there’s no waiting. My favorite part of Risus is how characters are defined by cliches. You can make up your own or be inspired by their example list:
Gambler: Betting, cheating, winning, running very fast.
Computer Geek: Hacking, programming, fumbling over introductions.
My kids enjoyed the Percy Jackson series, so one afternoon I took out Risus, a list of Greek gods, and a list of Greek monsters. I told the kids they were demi-gods, and monsters were ravaging our downtown. They grabbed their dice, picked whom their powerful parent was, wrote down a cliché or two, and we were off on an exciting adventure.
Now perhaps you are an experienced gamer and want to bring your geeklings into the fold of serious RPGs. There are also many systems that allow for expansive character creation and detailed worlds (again, list your favorites below.) Anything with the PDQ# system by Chad Underkoffler is creative and easy to run. I once ran a long campaign with my kids and their friends in the Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies world with great success.
My husband did a few one-shot Dungeons and Dragons games with the kids when they were younger. But he made their simple character stats for them, “I want to be a really cool warrior with a big sword!” I had asked if he ever wanted to run a family game, but he remembers the amount of time it took to create a satisfying game week after week for his friends way back when. So that was a “no.”
My personal introduction into RPGs is a system called GURPS (generic universal role playing system). However, I will never read all those books for the GM (game master). Luckily, there’s this handy-dandy version called GURPS LITE. It’s perfect for playing with kids, and I used it for a short series with my own kids a few years back. The character sheets were still too unwieldy, so I wrote up my own called BURPS (beginner universal role playing system). Please feel free to grab it for your own game.
Not enough suggestions? Go here. Spend an afternoon on an adventure with your children using your collective imagination and the clattering of dice.
I am not a scientist, but I consider myself science literate. I understand how studies are conducted and I have a basic knowledge of statistics. But more importantly, I actively keep up with science articles in everyday magazines, compare them to each other, and ask questions of people I know in the science fields. Being science literate means I care about how science affects my life. I also thinks it’s pretty cool.
My children are surrounded by scientists in the family: Their father, aunt, and grandfather all have PhDs in molecular biology, and their great-aunt is currently working on her doctorate in nursing. Granted, the science topics veer towards biology more than astrophysics, but as scientists, they all enjoy talking about any new discoveries.
I started college as a psychology major, not because it was better than “undeclared” but because I thought it was interesting. I ended up in music, but I still enjoy hearing about new studies in that social science. All this means is that my children consider science a part of life, not just a subject in school.
I decided to take this science literacy skill into our homeschooling group. For six weeks, I led a class of kids from ages six to fourteen on a discovery of what science literacy means. Their homework was to find a science article from a lay-person’s source, and then try to find the original scientific article referenced. This was very tough because real science journals are often expensive for libraries to carry, are not easily accessed on the web unless you are part of a scientific community, and are generally not for sale in stores. Yet, many were at least able to find the original title and abstract for their chosen article. The most amusing part of class was when the children would read the lay person title like: Alzheimer’s Linked to Lack of Zzzz and then the scientific study title, Rapid appearance and local toxicity of amyloid-beta plaques in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. They came to appreciate good science writing for non-scientists.
That first class, I told the kids to choose any topic, as long as it was a current scientific study. I’m running a science literacy class again this spring and decided to narrow down the topic to health and nutrition. This time around I’ve also allotted more time for discussion. I hadn’t counted on how intense the kids’ options would be on the various studies presented in the first class. I had to cut them off just to make sure everyone had a chance to present.
What about at your home? Don’t have a couple of PhDs to pass the potatoes and ask a question about the validity of the latest diet craze? Start reading good science articles. Science News is by far the most accessible, varied, and current science publication. Regardless of your educational background, you will be able to understand and get a quick look at the most recent and groundbreaking work in a variety of scientific fields. Read one of the shorter articles aloud at dinner and start a conversation about possible life on the moon of another planet, how robots are learning like babies, or if obesity is linked to too many hours playing video games.
Here’s a short checklist for evaluating science in the news:
-Who funded the study?
-How broad was the sample (people of different ages? genders?)
-How many people?
-Was it a blind study? Double blind?
-Did the reporter tell you about other similar studies to compare?
-Did other scientists review and comment on this study?
Science shapes our culture, politics, and personal health. Read about it, talk about it, become more science literate with your kids!