It’sa MAR10 Day! Make This Super Mario Pencil Cup to Celebrate

Nintendo has declared March 10 Mario Day to celebrate all things Super Mario Bros. This plucky plumber has been around for over 30 years, dashing and jumping his way into our hearts, and he’s not showing any signs of slowing down.

Take part in the MAR10 Day fun with this upcycled pencil cup craft for you and the kids. Continue reading It’sa MAR10 Day! Make This Super Mario Pencil Cup to Celebrate

Community Builds Support Construction-Minded Kids

When my daughter O was in preschool, we hosted an annual gingerbread house-making party for friends every December. We experimented with different pre-made kits, but the mini village with pieces that the kids could remix into freestyle builds was always the hands-down favorite. They worked for hours, swapping parts and suggestions. By late afternoon, everyone had created their own candy-plastered, gravity-defying structure cemented into place with royal icing.

In elementary school, O loved to build, but few friends shared her interest. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
In elementary school, O spent most of her free time building. Photo: Jen Citrolo

As O moved through elementary school, her passion for building grew. Sticks, Lego bricks, wooden blocks, and random recyclables were commandeered for an endless series of fantastical projects. Meanwhile, though, most of her girlfriends discovered other interests. So, we decided to retool our gingerbread gathering and the “community build” was born.

The idea was to convene a small group of construction-minded kids to experiment, exchange ideas, and inspire each other a few times a year. The format was simple: theme, inspiration materials, supplies, and lots of creative freedom.

Our community builds weren’t fancy. They were just a way to support my daughter’s interest and help her connect with other kids. O dreamed up the themes, developed the supply lists, and chose most of the inspiration resources. We reached out to friends who were game and gave it a shot.

Parents were thrilled to have messes made in someone else’s house and the kids had a blast together. O said that sharing ideas with friends who were into building pushed her to think differently and be more creative. And, they laughed at each other’s crazy jokes.

Here are a few of our favorite community builds:

GNOME HOMES (Ages 6-9)

Our first-ever community build was all about homes for gnomes (and, in some cases, minifigs). Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Our first-ever community build was all about homes for gnomes (and, in some cases, minifigs). Photo: Jen Citrolo

A hike around the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone inspired the theme for O’s 7th birthday party and inaugural community build.

Inspiration Materials: Gnomes by Wil Huygen, Rien Poortvliet, and Brian Froud, and this news footage on Firefly Forest in Overland Park, KS

This was the Gnome Home setup for six kids. Everyone started off with a wooden base and a pre-painted, red wooden door. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Everyone started off with a wood base and a pre-painted door. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Supplies:

  • Two hot glue guns
  • Ten glue sticks
  • Seven 6″ x 5″ wooden rectangles
  • Two bags of moss
  • Two bags of large stones
  • One bag of small stones
  • One bag of small pinecones
  • Two 3-packs of 1.5″ x 2.25″ wooden rectangles
  • One 5.5″-wide roll of burlap
  • One bundle of decorative twigs
  • One can red Krylon spray paint to pre-paint doors
  • Aluminum foil

Lessons learned: Yes, it is ridiculous to purchase stones, pine cones, and twigs. (Our supplies came from the floral and woodworking departments at Michael’s.) This is how I rationalized it:

1) Clean, smooth surfaces adhere more easily than gritty, jagged ones, thereby reducing the potential for frustrated freak-outs.

2) Eliminates the need to risk prosecution for illegal removal of natural resources from local parkland.

3) Parents are more likely to allow a clean-looking work product in the house.

MICRO-SCALE (Ages 8-12)

Building in micro-scale was new to all of the kids and kept them engaged for nearly two hours. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Building in micro-scale was new to the kids and kept them engaged for nearly two hours. Photo: Jen Citrolo

O wanted a Lego open build. I wanted to keep the budget reasonable. So, she proposed that we go micro-scale: “In Lego, there is this idea of ‘micro-building.’ Sometimes, you don’t have enough of the bricks you need to build a full-scale model. But with micro-scale, you can make an entire city with fewer bricks.” Done.

Inspiration Materials: Beautiful Lego by Mike Doyle, Lego Micro SquareTM tip clips, and a few sample micro-scale buildings

The ingredient list for the micro-scale community build: nine components and a streamlined palette. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
The ingredient list for the micro-scale build: nine components and a streamlined palette. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Supplies:

  • Disposable mini loaf aluminum tins to hold each builder’s supply allotment
  • One per child: 6×8 plate, White
  • One per child: 6×8 plate, Dark Green
  • Twenty-five per child: 1×2 plate, Transparent
  • Twenty-five per child: 1×1 plate, Transparent
  • Twenty per child: 1×2 brick, White
  • Twenty per child: 1×1 tile, White
  • Twenty per child: 1×2 tile, White
  • Ten per child: 1x1x2/3 roof tile, White
  • Twenty-five per child: 1×1 stud, Lime

Lessons Learned: To amass supplies, we hit up the Pick a Brick wall at our local Lego store and ordered the rest online. Once all the bricks had arrived, O and I divvied them up so that each builder would have her own materials to start with and trade.

  • Buying by the container from the Lego Store Pick A Brick wall is most cost-effective for small pieces: Go there first.
  • You’re able to fit the most 1×2 bricks in a large container if you stack them (14-16 bricks per stack) and then fill in the empty spaces with loose bricks.
  • To maximize value and creative flexibility, buy large quantities of just a few brick types and colors.
  • Plan ahead: Online Pick a Brick orders ship from Denmark and can take up to three weeks for delivery to the US.

VOLTAGE VILLAGE (Ages 9-12)

Goodbye, gingerbread! Our new holiday project by Bare Conductive. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Goodbye, gingerbread! Our new holiday project by Bare Conductive. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Once they had a few community builds under their belts, the crew lost their taste for gingerbread. So, we switched to an amped-up holiday activity: circuits!

Inspiration materials: Holiday music, candy canes, and string lights

Supplies:

Kids drew circuits with electric paint and LEDs to create their glowing houses. Photo copyright: Jen Citrolo
Kids drew circuits with electric paint and LEDs to create their glowing houses. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Lessons Learned: O got a kick out of seeing how the kit had been improved from the original, which we’d purchased a year or two before. Upgrades included perforated forms (no mat knife needed!) and a reconfigured circuit map, making the project easier for kids to tackle on their own.

Based on prior experience, we purchased one kit (two houses) per child in case of faulty components or the need for a do-over, which made for a particularly pricey community build.

  • Purchasing a pot of conductive paint wasn’t necessary; the kits came with conductive paint pens which contained an ample supply and were easier to use.
  • Kids used the mini tree holiday ornaments to create a wintry setting for their homes.
  • A little adult help was needed for wire stripping, but the crew built, “wired,” and decorated one house each in about an hour.
Made for a cute presentation, but this project was not a fan favorite. Photo: Jen Citrolo
Made for a cute presentation, but this project was not a fan favorite. Photo: Jen Citrolo

Were all the builds a success? Absolutely not. The 3D LED Christmas Tree stands out as a particularly unfortunate choice. We had one soldering iron to share and there were too many components to be soldered into place to hold the kids’ attention. Instead, they raided the playroom shelves and got to work with littleBits and Snap Circuits. It all worked out.

The best builds were open-ended. However, we did go with a kit for the LED houses because it made sourcing materials easier for a rookie like me. In most cases, adult supervision was minimal. Occasionally, we’d help the youngest kids with the soldering iron or hot glue gun, but the older kids would usually help out instead.

If you’ve got a kid who likes to invent or build cool stuff, consider the community build. If you don’t want to wing it, there are a number of helpful resources online to get you started. Two to check out: Google Maker Camp and the Fundamentals of Tinkering List from the tinkering studioTM Coursera course, “Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructivist Approach to STEM Learning.” Good luck!

How Four Kids LEGO of Self-Doubt and (MIND)STORMed the Castle

You know how I don’t like to spend Saturday? Watching kids play with Lego bricks. Especially if I’m not allowed to play with them myself. So how I found myself driving three sixth grade Montessori boys (one of them my own spawn) and offering to spend the entire day in an auditorium watching nineteen teams of four build Lego robots, then watch them try to push three other Lego robots out of a taped circle again and again, is beyond me.

Continue reading How Four Kids LEGO of Self-Doubt and (MIND)STORMed the Castle

Wordnerd T-shirts = Big Geek Fun

Last fall, while I was on the Tor Books Fall Flights of Fantasy tour, I brought along WordNerd t-shirts for my fellow authors Ilana C. Myer and Seth Dickenson (Geeks bearing gifts, get it?) and we got into all sorts of authorshaming shenanigans.

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Authorshaming, on tour. GeekMom Fran, at your service. Photo courtesy of Fran Wilde

The velcro-emblazoned t-shirts with the interchangeable letters just kind of lend themselves to shenanigans, what can I say?

I’m so happy that the inventor of these shirts, the word-nerdy Gabrielle Miller and her family agreed to answer a bunch of questions about the Wordnerd’s shirts – which include children’s and adult sizes, as well as different color letter packs. Gabrielle’s also generously offered a free kid’s shirt and letter pack to GeekMom readers at the end – so stick around! (Get it? Stick around?!! hahaha.)

GeekMom: Where did you get the idea for WORDNERD APPAREL?

Gabrielle Miller: T-shirts on the market are hilarious, but to buy them all would be expensive.  I kept thinking that someone is going to make them–but then no one did.  Now we are.  We decided to use hook and loop to bring the best to the world of customizable apparel.  We started with our own shirts and got so much positive feedback we researched and decided to take the entrepreneurial plunge.  It’s been madness ever since!  Pure wordy nerdy madness. Continue reading Wordnerd T-shirts = Big Geek Fun

DIY: When There’s Not Enough Gender Representation In Our Favorite Stories

Our guest blogger: Heather Massey searches for sci-fi romance adventures and writes about them at Galaxy Express 2.0 and Sci-Fi Romance Quarterly. Her SFR musings have appeared at a variety of places including LoveLetter magazine, Coffee Time Romance, Tor.com, Heroes & Heartbreakers, SF Signal, and SFR Galaxy Awards.
She’s also an author in the genre. To learn more about her published work, visit heathermassey.com. When Heather’s not reading or writing, she’s watching cult films and enjoying the company of her husband and daughter.

Hey, moms, you know the drill: you’re the parent of a daughter(s) who goes wild over a female character, but when you try to find merchandise, action figures, additional content, or heck, just anything to feed her new passion, there’s nothing there. Zip. Nada. Zilch.

In 2015, this scenario happened to me. My daughter was finally old enough to watch the Despicable Me franchise, so we consumed the first two films in rapid succession. For the uninitiated, the least you need to know about the series is that it’s about Felonius Gru, a supervillain who finds redemption after adopting three orphan girls.

Shortly thereafter, the prequel in the series, Minions, was released. My daughter was developing a love for the little deviled eggs, so I took her to see the movie. I expected a mildly entertaining cash cow—I mean, pastime; what I did not expect was for her and I to develop a seriously hardcore bond over the film’s main female character, namely, supervillain Scarlet Overkill.

Scarlet is the supervillain boss-turned-antagonist for whom the three main Minion characters steal Queen Elizabeth’s crown. Putting aside her villainous nature for the moment, Scarlet’s resume is a collection of amazing abilities. She’s a master thief, an accomplished pilot, and an expert fighter. Her huge, fairy tale castle fortress towers over London and includes a treasure-filled loot room. An ambitious woman, she’s skilled at marketing her brand and building a criminal empire. In fact, compared to the franchise’s other villains, Scarlet’s skill set is by far the strongest.

Scarlet is married to Herb, a groovy inventor with a penchant for warm milk and cookies. Though Scarlet is strictly a plot device, the filmmakers gave her just enough backstory, sympathy, and edginess to become a cult-worthy character.

Much as my daughter and I adore Scarlet Overkill, she isn’t without her problematic elements. Among them are her hypersexualized nature, ableist portrayal (co-director Kyle Balda has, unfortunately, described her as “bi-polar”), and weak characterization (of the “mile wide, inch deep variety.”). Based on my extensive research, the only woman who seems to have had significant input into her character development was Sandra Bullock, the voice of Scarlet. And thank goodness for that.

If nothing else, the Minions experience has given me an opportunity to discuss some of the issues related to gender representation in animation with my daughter (at an age-appropriate level, of course). There’s vast room for improvement regarding female animated characters, the most important of which is making more of them the leads in animated films (so we don’t keep ending up with gender-lopsided lists like this one).

I don’t have the power to influence animation studios, but I can sure as heck influence at least one member of the next generation of animation fans. Our daughters deserve far better.

As many of you are probably aware, female action figures for various franchises are difficult to come by. Avengers’ Black Widow and Star Wars’ Rey are recent cases. This is merely one of many examples regarding the scarcity of merchandise for female characters, animated or otherwise. It’s a pretty rampant situation and if the article cited above is any indication, the scarcity seems to have been deliberately orchestrated on an epic level. The toxic message that girls aren’t worthy has to stop.

My daughter and I bumped up against this scarcity when it came to Scarlet Overkill. Except for an expensive t-shirt, there’s currently no merchandise for her. My daughter, whose Minion figures are collecting dust, keeps asking me things like, “Can we get a Scarlet Overkill action figure?” “What about a poster?” And with a heavy heart, I keep having to remind her that such merchandise doesn’t exist and likely never will.

So what’s a parent to do? I can’t draw fan art, sculpt action figures, or make animated music videos. Neither do I have the budget to extensively commission such things.

DespicableScarlet_cover_small
Image via Heather Massey

But I can write, so that’s what I did.

When it became apparent that neither merchandise nor future Scarlet Overkill film content would likely be forthcoming, I seized the reins and wrote a female-centric adventure I could enjoy with my daughter.

The result: Despicable Scarlet, a free, all-ages fan fiction redemption story about Scarlet Overkill. You’ll notice I wrote it as a screenplay. Why? Mainly to keep in line with the spirit of the story’s visual medium. Plus, I could include many elements that wouldn’t be possible in prose.

I also commissioned some beautiful art to help illustrate the story. Created by the talented Bananataffy, it includes a cover, a striking bonus illustration, and a collection of the early sketches.
Here’s the cover and story description:

DESPICABLE SCARLET picks up the adventures of supervillain Scarlet Overkill where MINIONS left off. Scarlet, along with her trusty inventor husband Herb, embarks on a revenge mission against Felonius Gru in order to reclaim “her” crown, with plans to take down the Anti-Villain League in the process. When an unexpected betrayal throws her plan into chaos, Scarlet suddenly faces the most difficult battle of her life.
***

I read the script to my daughter. She provided additional ideas and then surprised me with a drawing based on one of the scenes! I was so thrilled I included it as an illustration.

Despicable Scarlet is available as a free PDF download from my author site. It’s very readable, so don’t worry about encountering too much technical jargon.

Despicable Scarlet is especially geared for parents and guardians who crave more female protagonists for their daughters. Some will be old enough to read it themselves, and for others it’s best read to them. If your daughter was old enough to see Minions, she’s probably old enough for this story! Of course, feel free to vet it first.

My story includes progressive and subversive elements that not only entertain, but are also an attempt to counteract the sexism and problematic elements in Minions. In other words, Despicable Scarlet is what a Scarlet Overkill story would entail if a female creator had control over the project. It’s about reclaiming and re-imagining a faulty character and giving her not only agency, but new life altogether.

Download your copy here, and then share it with all your friends and family! And when you’re done, try creating your own stories with your favorite characters that might be ill-served by their corporate owners.

You can follow Heather on Twitter: @thgalaxyexpress @TheOverkills

Kitchen Witchin’: Magic Shell

Remember this stuff?

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Image via smuckers.com

It was truly magical when you were a kid, wasn’t it? I remember watching, eyes wide with awe and wonder as we squeezed that liquid goodness over ice cream and, almost immediately, it became another form of chocolate-y goodness you could crack with a spoon and crunch between your teeth.

Then, there was that time in college one of your friends bought it for erm… off label purposes only to discover, much to her disappointment, it didn’t harden at all at human body temperature?

What? Only my friends did that? Fair enough, we were mostly humanities people, we didn’t know any better. Pays to always have a chemist in your crew though I have been warned never to play pool with physicists.

I honestly didn’t give much thought as to how the various “shells” transformed until decided to introduce it to my kids. I made my own because I didn’t particular want them eating paraffin wax, food grade or no. I’m a tox nurse and I’m well aware that a little bit of wax isn’t going to hurt anyone, but if I wanted to eat it, I’d recycle those used birthday candles, thank you very much. Some commercial grade products have already replaced the wax with a plant based oil (Carvel, for example, has done this per Chowhound.com. Smuckers, the grocery store brand I see most frequently, declined to discuss their proprietary blend which makes me think they’re either still using wax or some sort of soylent something), but then you have to stand in the aisle and read ingredients and one kid is making a break for some sugar based Star Wars cereal and the other has decided to teach himself to juggle with the eggs…

The chemistry behind the wax and oil emulsifiers is essentially the same, which is why it’s easy to substitute the later for the former. Provided you use the right kind of oil.

You ready for me to lay the science down? Here we go:

Chocolate is the other constant (there are other flavors but why screw with a classic?) in the various ice cream shells. Chocolate, by its nature, contains a fair bit of fat, milk more than dark, but even dark has a goodly bit. Why is the fat already in chocolate not sufficient for our shell purposes? I’m taking a leap here, but after some research, it seems to me that shell needs the additional emulsifier for two reasons: 1) the fats native to chocolate are are of the more stable sort and don’t change phase easily or quickly enough for the shell to be fun rather than an eternal waiting game and 2) chocolate doesn’t have enough emulsifiers to add “tenderness” to, well, itself. Chocolate melted on its own does change state but it eventually dries out and get lumpy and/or gritty. The additional emulsifier in magic shell, much like the cream in ganache, keeps it it from dehydrating and congealing.

Per Paula Figoni’s How Baking Works, oils are, “any lipids that are liquid at room temperature,” (pg. 215). Oils are usually vegetable based (canola, corn, olive). Most are liquid at room temperature. Tropical oils (coconut, palm, etc), however, are solid at room temperature but melt quickly and within a relatively small temperature window: solid at 70 degrees F, liquid at 74.

image via http://www.foodgroove.co.uk/info/?p=75
image via http://www.foodgroove.co.uk/info/?p=75

 

Chemically speaking, all oils are trigylcerides: three fatty acids attached to a three-carbon glycerol molecules. Fatty acids are made up of carbon chains that have anywhere from four to twenty-two carbon atoms. Saturated fatty acids are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms (they can’t hold any more) which means all of the carbon bonds in the molecules are single bonds. Unsaturated fatty acids contain carbon atoms that are not fully saturated with hydrogen; carbon atoms that are not saturated form double bonds in order to maintain structural integrity. Double bonds create stronger atoms, stronger atoms create stronger molecules and stronger molecules create stronger substances. Due to the aforementioned, double bonds are also more difficult to break and if you want to split them to force a change of state, you have to use more energy than you would to break a single bond.

That’s why coconut oil, which is high in saturated fats, is frequently used as the emulsifier in Magic Shell; single bonded as it is, it can be broken down from a solid to a liquid with very little expenditure of energy – or just a four degrees of heat. The bonds reform with a proportionately small drop in temperature, allowing the shell to harden almost upon contact with a frozen dessert (or an ice cube if you’re just testing for funsies).

image via science-all.com
image via science-all.com

When I made my shell, I subbed olive oil because that’s what I had around. Coconut oil is a little spendy and I was hesitant to shell (heheh) out for a whole container; oils do go bad and odds of that happening before I used the whole container, even a small one, were good. Because vegetable based oils are lower in saturated fat, and thus carry double bonded carbon atoms, however, it takes more energy, and hence a greater temperature differential, to force a phase change. It worked, to an extent, but it was really cold in my house at the time, cold enough to solidify even the olive oil, which meant I had to re-melt every time I wanted to use the shell (which eventually lead to dehydration and grittiness) and then the kids had to wait a good five minutes from application to re-shelling. And, as we all know, things are only magical when instantly gratifying. They thought it was cool, but not as cool as I’m sure they would have if it had been essentially immediate.

Lesson learned.

Yay for books!

Yay for chemistry!

Yay for Chef In Training for posting the recipe I happened to see!

Yay for shell!

How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science is by Paula I. Figoni. It was originally published in 2004 by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. I have used, quoted from, and now purchased the 3rd edition, originally published in 2010. I’d be happy to share.

Have other cooking or baking questions? Shoot me a line. I’m always looking for new topics.

 

A Cosplay Primer for Parents

I tend to be a pretty involved parent when it comes to current trends, shows, music, and fads. So when my 9 year-old son came to me three years ago and asked to make a “Half-Life Costume”, I was surprised I had no idea what that was or how to do it.

A bit of research on the internet had me spiraling down the rabbit hole, into an entirely new world: The world of cosplay. Continue reading A Cosplay Primer for Parents

Let’s Doodle With Deadpool!

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

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

Continue reading Let’s Doodle With Deadpool!

How Not to Install a Water Heater

Say your water heater leaks, and the home warranty company sends a plumber, who tells you the water heater needs to be replaced. Say that same plumber arrives the next day with a new water heater that has fewer BTU than the last one. Say you discover this while the water is being drained from the tank, and the pipes have been cut. Is it too late to tell the plumber to stop working? Or do you let him install a lower capacity tank? More importantly, what are the steps that should be taken by a plumber to replace a water heater, so that you know whether what’s happening is a-okay or a harbinger of worse things to come?
Continue reading How Not to Install a Water Heater

What Type of Scanner Do You Really Need? (It May Be Your Phone)

No. Scanners are not created alike. There are mobile scanners, flatbed scanners, document scanners, and overhead scanners. I’ve used and reviewed a ton of these things over the years. There have been a few points that scanners have piled up like a big collection of old magazines.

So what scanner do you really need? Do you really even need a scanner at all? Here are a few scanners you might consider and why you would or wouldn’t need one: Continue reading What Type of Scanner Do You Really Need? (It May Be Your Phone)

Who needs Cartier or Tiffany when you have Legos?

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

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

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

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

BB-8 Symmetry Painting for Kids (or Grownups)

This Star Wars: The Force Awakens painting is so quick and easy, you might end up with a BB-8 art gallery in mere minutes! Plus, it’s so fun that you don’t have to leave the painting just to the kids: Grab a paintbrush and make one yourself.

What You Need

  • Paper
  • Black paint
  • Orange paint
  • Gray or silver paint
  • Paintbrushes

Get Started!

Fold the paper in half lengthwise. Continue reading BB-8 Symmetry Painting for Kids (or Grownups)

Do You Pinterest?

“No, I prefer Quarterest. I don’t gallonterest because they charge.” – my witty fourteen-year-old.

I could browse through Pinterest for hours, and have. It’s a great place to waste time, to find oodles of inspiration. As a mom and writer, I love Pinterest. And now that I can keep some boards secret, I love it even more. In addition to being the keeper of the family schedule, I also coordinate our teacher gifts, Halloween costumes, and meals. As a writer, I could use a little inspiration to get me back on task, while keeping track of all the ideas that gradually coalesce into a writing project.

I am by no means a Pinterest pro. But other than the usual Food, Fashion, and Fun Boards, here are a few ideas on how to use Pinterest to organize our crazy lives: Continue reading Do You Pinterest?

Geeky Valentine’s Day DIY Gifts

Want to give your sweetheart something totally awesome, unique, and affordable? Check out these do-it-yourself geeky valentine’s gifts! From cards to decor, there’s a project for everyone!

Continue reading Geeky Valentine’s Day DIY Gifts

Make Rey’s Rebel Pilot Doll

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

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

Continue reading Make Rey’s Rebel Pilot Doll

Kitchin’ Witchin’: Why Does Yeast Make Things Rise?

“Why” is a common question in our home as I’m sure it is in yours. Right now, the kidlets still think I’m a genius because I can read more easily and faster than they can, though I know those days are rapidly coming to a close. And thank goodness for the internet and the quick Google… I think their tiny little heads would explode if they had to wait for me to look something up in a book.

One of the activities we enjoy most is baking and both kids, but Stinky 2 especially, is starting to express an interest in why things happen the way they do in the baking process. So, this is really me crib sheeting various answers before the fact. Hopefully, they’ll come in handy for you too.

Why Does Yeast Make Things Rise?

Yeast is a single celled fungus. That’s right, a fungus. For those of you who hate mushrooms but love bread, I have news for you.

Fungus. Continue reading Kitchin’ Witchin’: Why Does Yeast Make Things Rise?

Beanie Bags: Happy Mail for Yarn Junkies

Subscription “boxes” are popping up all over the internet these days! From makeup to nerd gear, there are so many out there! I looked into yarn subscription boxes but most of them were $32+ a month like Yarnbox, Fiberista Yarn Club, and Yarn Crush.

These boxes are definitely appetizing, but as a mother of three small children, I just don’t have the money for that. In September, I saw a suggested post on facebook featuring the Jimmy Beans Wool Beanie Bag. Beanie Bags debuted in October, and I was lucky enough to grab one before they ran out. For $10 a month, this sweet little bag of yarn and goodies is a steal! ($10 USA, $15 international.)

Continue reading Beanie Bags: Happy Mail for Yarn Junkies

Top 20 GeekMom Articles of 2015

As 2015 comes to a close and we prepare for 2016, take a look at some of your top viewed GeekMom posts from 2015.

What does this list tell us? That you are a diverse group of readers, interested in everything from creativity to conventions to coding to knitting to Lego to pop culture discussions.

What’s ahead? There’s sure to be more about women in the world of geekdom, DIY articles putting geeky spin on clothing, knitting and baking, more tech and more strong opinions about everything from Marvel movies to the comics.

Thanks for joining us in 2015 and here’s to a great 2016!

If you like any of the below articles, let us know why in the comments.

1.The Meanest Thing You Say to Your Creative Friend

What I could really use is a time turner on my hands. Photo by lozikiki on Flickr
What I could really use is a time turner on my hands. Photo by lozikiki on Flickr

Article by Ruth Suehle.

You just worked your creative butt off and finished the final touches on your amazing project only to show it to a trusted friend, family member, or blog community and this is the response you get:

You have too much time on your hands.

In her article, Ruth discusses how this phrase can take on dual meanings. She also addresses how one should respond to such comments, with or without snarky retaliation when dealing with friends, family, or anonymous commenters working on their troll skills.

2.Whoops! Inappropriate Old Movie

Whoops, inappropriate movie.
That’s a whole different sort of entertainment. (CC 2.0 by Nadia Hatoum)

 Article by Laura Grace Weldon.

Have you ever thought about showing some of your favorite cult classics to your tiny human?

Check out Laura Weldon’s article about showing Blazing Saddles, Airplane, or Sleeper to her kiddos.

Also, check out some of the comments other geeky moms have faced when watching movies that are inappropriate for kids. Pop some popcorn, scroll through the hilarious comments from fellow GeekMoms and enjoy this article one more time.

3.Why I Won’t Be Attending Wizard World

An upcoming Wizard World convention’s webpage with the “Cosplay & Fan Communities” section conspicuously empty, but representative of their attitude towards those groups. Screenshot by Ruth Suehle (thanks to Boycott Wizard World on Facebook for pointing out this glaring hole in event information).
An upcoming Wizard World convention’s webpage with the “Cosplay & Fan Communities” section conspicuously empty, but representative of their attitude towards those groups. Screenshot by Ruth Suehle (thanks to Boycott Wizard World on Facebook for pointing out this glaring hole in event information).

Article by Ruth Suehle.

Wizard World-branded Convention, is it a Fandom gathering or Fan-exploitation.

In her article about the pros and, well, cons, Ruth takes on the Wizard World convention and how they move in after other major conventions come to town. She even explores several instances when Wizard World feigned ignorance when prize winners stepped forward to claim their prize, only to receive blank stares from the Wizard World officials.

Explore Ruth’s hard hitting article about disappointed fans as they get slapped in the face by Wizard World Convention and its dark secrets.

4.  The Dreaded G-Word: When Your Child is Asynchronous

Image Source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley
Image Source: Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley

Article by Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley.

Parenting isn’t neat, clean, or pretty. Most days parenting consists of chaos and emotional highs or lows. Continue reading Top 20 GeekMom Articles of 2015

And That Was the LAST Time I Had Sex With an Embroidery Major: Rhinebeck 2015

Whichever flavor of geek you fancy yourself, there’s a gathering for you. We all love to be able to mingle among our own people, to learn from them, to get ideas from them, and to make friends that will last beyond the week(end). Who doesn’t love the idea of being somewhere where everyone gets you?

If you’re a knitter or crocheter (I’m the former myself), then the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY is just that place for you. It is the ultimate pilgrimage for anyone with a fondness for yarn, making yarn, making things with yarn, buying yarn, and/or the furry animals from which the yarn originates.

Continue reading And That Was the LAST Time I Had Sex With an Embroidery Major: Rhinebeck 2015

DIY: New Year’s Eve Masquerade

Christmas has collapsed around you and the Post-Holiday Blues are making it so easy to just … Netflix. But then *gasp* … A party invite!! A New Year’s Eve party invite!! And it requires … A mask?!?

Hold on to your spandex, minions!! We are going blow your night away with the best DIY masquerade costume ever.
Continue reading DIY: New Year’s Eve Masquerade

DIY Lego Ornaments

In our house, the annual holiday tradition is to make ornaments for all the family members. Every year, I scour Pinterest and various websites to find an age appropriate ornament craft that we can do quickly, without a lot of trauma to the stubborn child’s sense of free will. This year, inspired by Chris McVeigh’s ornament tutorials, I decided to design something that would be easier to find pieces for and easier for my six-year-old to build.

Since we have a Lego store nearby, we have the opportunity to specifically buy the pieces we needed. When looking for pieces, I tried to find ones that would be easy to find if you, like I, have a house filled with random tubs of Lego. If I had prepared more, I would have been able to locate the pieces needed just by sorting through our current gigantic plastic tubs of used and abandoned Lego.

Continue reading DIY Lego Ornaments

‘The Force Awakens’: Star Wars Nail Art Tutorial

Manicures and Star Wars. Nope, this isn’t a “which one of these is not like the others” puzzle. When I randomly ran across the the Cover Girl Star Wars makeup collection of nail polish, I bought them all. OK, well, FIRST I bought the lipsticks because I also really love lipstick. Then I went back and bought all the matching polishes. Because LIMITED EDITION. I mean, that’s the nerd equivalent of a dog whistle.

The problem was that I had sort of become tangentially addicted to nail wraps because they were so much prettier! And there were designs! And it was EXCITING. However, my cheap self decided that if I had just dropped a ridiculously obscene amount of money on nail polish, I couldn’t just let it sit in a drawer. They needed to be used in a way that incorporated as many polishes as was humanly possible at one time.

This led me to my mortal crafting enemy, Pinterest.

Continue reading ‘The Force Awakens’: Star Wars Nail Art Tutorial

A Very Cannibal Christmas: Cookie Recipe Cards From Hannibal’s Janice Poon

How do you cook and serve a human? Hopefully, this is not a question you have ever needed to answer, but it is one that Janice Poon—food consultant and stylist for NBC’s Hannibal—has spent much of her time considering. This holiday season, Janice has teamed up with Freddie of Tattle Crime to produce a batch of cookie recipes that even the fussiest of foodies will love.

I was able to try out some of the recipes myself, and to speak with Janice about her work on Hannibal and her advice for any aspiring chefs who have been inspired by Hannibal‘s culinary command.

Continue reading A Very Cannibal Christmas: Cookie Recipe Cards From Hannibal’s Janice Poon

DIY Gifts of Tea

Image by Rebecca Angel

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.

Thea’s On Holiday:
2 ounces black tea
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 Tablespoons dried orange peel

Ayla’s Healthy Zen:
1.5 oz green tea
1/4 cup dried berries
.5 oz raspberry leaf
.5 oz nettle

Emma’s Treat
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:

Matcha Green Tea for a green color and light flavor
Lapsang Souchong for a dark color and smokey flavor (Russian Caravan works great too)
Rooibos Chai for a red color and spicy flavor.

Be sure to make extra of everything so you can enjoy the tea yourself!

Geeky Coffee Cozies to Knit and Crochet

Even though paper coffee cup sleeves are biodegradable, they still create unnecessary waste and use needed resources. Most of the time these sleeves end up in the trash instead of recycled. Why use a boring paper sleeve when you can rock a piece of geeky art work instead?

These projects are very quick to finish and require only a small amount of yarn. They make good stocking stuffers or birthday gifts. They are practical, unique, and sure to please. I use mine on both disposable and reusable cups. Here are six free patterns for coffee cozy sleeves you can knit and crochet:

Continue reading Geeky Coffee Cozies to Knit and Crochet

DIY: Winter Cat Shelter for Outdoor, Feral, and Free-Roaming Cats

My daughter and I are cat people. We have four at home and every Wednesday we volunteer at our local cat shelter, Cat Tales. We spend up to ninety minutes feeding, grooming, and socializing the approximately 100 cats who live there, including the two in the image above.

On the right is Sundance who strongly resembles Captain Marvel’s flerken cat, Chewie, and on the left is Bruce, named after the Batman. The shelter is made up of four rooms, all with access to the fenced-in outdoors. In the last month more and more cats have come indoors due to the colder weather. But what about the cats who live outside the fences?

Aeris and I decided to build a cat shelter for feral or free roaming cats to take refuge in this winter. It’s what Catwoman would do.

WHAT YOU NEED

  • A large plastic bin, with a lid
  • A foam cooler, with a lid
  • Straw, shredded newspaper, or batting for insulation
  • Measuring tape or ruler and an X-acto knife or like cutting tool
  • Duct tape
a photo of supplies required to make a cat shelter
Photo by the author

Continue reading DIY: Winter Cat Shelter for Outdoor, Feral, and Free-Roaming Cats

Forget Pepe. #ifoundmurky at BlizzCon 2015

Throughout October, leading up to BlizzCon 2015, one hashtag ruled them all as far as Blizzard games were concerned. The tag #ifoundpepe took off as players tweeted images of their characters with the beloved bird on their head.

When the Blizzard Gear store released a plush Pepe, the frenzy around him reached a fevered pace. But while there were dozens of Pepes to be seen throughout BlizzCon, another character also seemed to have caught the eye of crafters throughout the fandom. So I would like to propose a new hashtag, #ifoundmurky.

Murky is a murloc, a small creature that most World of Warcraft players would recognize as one of the many mobs that characters plow through in their quest for experience and gear. Heroes of the Storm players might recognize him as a niche character that shocks everyone when a player selects him.

No one really gives the poor creature much of a thought, outside of being a humorous addition to any game. But he has found love among a small group of crafters and I caught up with a few of them at BlizzCon. Continue reading Forget Pepe. #ifoundmurky at BlizzCon 2015

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

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

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

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

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

How to Throw a My Neighbor Totoro Birthday Party

When I was pregnant with my second child, we figured out the perfect theme for decorating the baby’s room: a Totoro nursery!

When we found out the baby was our second girl, we figured out the perfect middle name: Mae—different spelling, but same name as the little girl from My Neighbor Totoro. So when the first movie she actually watched end-to-end was My Neighbor Totoro, it only made sense. And when it came to letting her choose the theme for a second birthday, again, it only made sense that she would pick Totoro. Continue reading How to Throw a My Neighbor Totoro Birthday Party

Eat Like a Geek: Bonfire Night

In the United Kingdom, November 5th is known as Bonfire Night. Across the country, bonfires are lit and firework displays held to commemorate the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot way back in 1605.

There are many different foods associated with Bonfire Night although few of them could be called healthy. Among them are toffee apples, treacle toffee, and baked potatoes cooked within the fire itself, but perhaps the most classic Bonfire Night food is parkin.

Continue reading Eat Like a Geek: Bonfire Night