A Different Kind of “Fangirling”: Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone

Throughout my years with GeekMom, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some amazing people. I have written about meeting book, comic, music, and film/TV celebrities and I get my share of fangirl “squeeing”—hopefully mostly internally—while I’m shaking his/her hand and talking.

A couple weeks ago, through a program at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I had the opportunity to listen to Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone (say that four times fast!) give an account of the events that led to his incapacitating a terrorist on a high speed train in France last August. The two-day event was filled with inspirational speakers, and I heard several wonderful talks from non-profit owners, industry leaders, and higher-ranking military leaders. However, I was the most excited about hearing Sergeant Stone’s account. Inside, I was certainly Kermit-flailing! Continue reading A Different Kind of “Fangirling”: Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone

DC This Week: ‘The Legend of Wonder Woman’ Soars

It’s rare when Ray and I rave about a book for multiple issues, and for the same reasons. When that happens, it usually means we’re reading something extraordinary. That’s the case with The Legend of Wonder Woman #3, our book of the week, and those superlatives apply to the series. The series is so good, and so what Wonder Woman has needed that I basically teared up reading that.

Sounds silly, right? But Wonder Woman means a lot to many people. There’s a reason everyone smiles at me when I wear my Wonder Woman shirts or hoodies or shoes: people love her. It’s about time she has received a story deserving of that love.

Overall, it was good week for DC issues, too, including one of my favorite issues of Batman & Robin Eternal for a long time, Constantine musing on how awful fairies are, Superman getting to be Superman again in Action Comics #50, and some good stuff from Gotham Academy, Starfire, and Batman/Superman. Plus, the crossover between Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles continues to work, even showing some character depth.

Yeah, there were a few that mucked it up for the rest. See the bottom of our list. Continue reading DC This Week: ‘The Legend of Wonder Woman’ Soars

I Need to Fun More

I know it’s not a verb, the word “fun,” but maybe it should be. Forcing me to use the word “have” before it, making it something I must acquire, adds that much more distance to the goal, an extra obstacle I must overcome before reaching my desired level of happiness.
Continue reading I Need to Fun More

Author Mishell Baker Geeks Out About Gaming

MBWalking-200x300
image courtesy Mishell Baker.

Mishell Baker’s urban fantasy series The Arcadia Project begins with the novel Borderline, just released this March. The series is narrated by Millicent Roper, a snarky double-amputee and suicide survivor who works with a ragtag collection of society’s least-wanted, keeping the world safe from the chaotic whims of supernatural beasties. Mishell’s short fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Daily Science Fiction, Redstone Science Fiction, and Electric Velocipede.

When Mishell isn’t convention-hopping or going on wild research adventures, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two changelings.  When her offspring are older, she will probably remember what her hobbies are. In the meantime, she enjoys sending and receiving old-fashioned handwritten paper letters.

I always hesitate to call myself a “gamer,” since my tastes are so specific. But within the very small subcategory of “story-driven fantasy RPGs for PC,” the term “enthusiast” doesn’t even begin to cover my obsession or these games’ effect on my writing. Here are five RPG series I could easily play (and geek out about) endlessly:

  1. Quest for Glory – My first gaming addiction was Sierra’s classic Quest for Glory series, by Lori and Corey Cole. I grew up right along with the game’s hero as I played and replayed a tale that is by turns silly, suspenseful, and heartbreaking. I began the first installment—in which a naive young hero saves a small town from a curse—at age twelve. By the end of the fifth installment, I was in my mid-twenties, and my hero was king of a powerful nation. Talk about epic!
  2. Guild Wars – This one had me at the tutorial. I painstakingly discovered lush forests and fields, quest by quest… and then the moment I completed the introductory section I watched everything I’d just explored get blasted into noxious wasteland. I was traumatized… and hooked. Both the original game and its follow-up Guild Wars 2 gave me plenty of opportunities to crawl back through the ruins of that first memorable area and experience a strange mix of grief and nostalgia. I love trying to recreate this feeling in my work: trying to identify readers’ strongest first impressions, then finding ways to tease, twist, and distort those memories later on.
  3. The Elder Scrolls – The lore of the Elder Scrolls’ world of Tamriel has changed the way I approach world-building. Unlike the typical coherent mythology created by a singular author, the books and scrolls you find lying about in the Elder Scrolls games reveal diverse and uncomfortably irreconcilable views of theology and history that only suggest, never reveal, the truth. The second book of the Arcadia Project series owes a lot to my fascination with this startlingly realistic approach to world lore.
  4. EverquestEQ was the grandmother of MMORPGs, and it’s where I discovered online roleplaying. During my time in EQ and EQ2, I practiced my character creation and dialogue skills and met some amazing writers. Most importantly, it was while playing Everquest 2 that I first invented a deadpan gloved warlock named Caryl Vallo. She didn’t thrive in that world; too many other strong-willed characters steered her story in directions that didn’t satisfy me. So I plucked her out of Norrath, gave her a different backstory, and found her a new home in my debut novel Borderline.

    BorderlineCover-300x453
    Image Courtesy Simon & Schuster. Available on Amazon.
  5. Dragon Age – Put off by the blood-spattered marketing campaign, I tried the first Dragon Age game only reluctantly. But within a week I was wholeheartedly immersed in the world of Thedas, and immediately after finishing the game for the first time I surprised myself by bursting into tears. All three Dragon Age installments differ radically in interface and design (a common criticism), but the world and characters consistently enrapture and move me to the point that I find myself irritated when I have to actually fight monsters to earn another 24-karat nugget of story. BioWare’s writers are astonishing; their games are master classes in how to set up and pay off emotional effect.

I’ve loved computer games as a storytelling medium all my life, and to this day it affects the way I construct story. As a writer I try to address what I think the readers will want to explore, not what I, as the Authority, feel the need to explain. The fun in plotting for me, as it may well be in game design, is trying to guess what the audience would choose. In deciding when it’s best to indulge them and when it will satisfy them more in the long run if I frustrate or subvert their desires. If I’ve learned anything from games it’s that when a story is well designed, losing can be almost as fun as winning.

Visit http://mishellbaker.com/ for more information about Mishell and her books!

My Favorite Read-Aloud Books Right Now: March 2016

Do you ever feel like you hit a streak of not-so-great books, and then boom! You get a ton of really great ones in one shot?

Below are the library finds my family and I enjoyed reading in the last month, including everything from picture books about having a can-do attitude to graphic novels strangely reminiscent of Doctor Who.

GeekMom Ariane features her family's favorite read-aloud books this month.
Edgar Gets Ready for Bed. Image credit: Gibbs Smith

Edgar Gets Ready for Bed, written by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Ron Stucki is, as you can probably deduce, a picture book inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Edgar is a boisterous young raven whose answer for everything is, you guessed it, “nevermore!” The kids won’t get the reference, but you will. Adorable!

GeekMom Ariane features her family's favorite read-aloud books this month.
I Had a Favorite Dress. Image credit: Harry N. Abrams

I Had a Favorite Dress, written by Bonie Ashburn and illustrated by Julia Denos, starts with a young girl’s favorite dress and a problem: her dress is now too short. Continue reading My Favorite Read-Aloud Books Right Now: March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

DC Comics’ Big Three Are Big Kids in ‘Study Hall of Justice’

When the team behind Li’l Gotham is back for a unique take on DC’s Big Three in a book for kids, it’s almost a no-brainer for any Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman fan to pick it up. You know, for the kids. (If you want to share it, I mean.)

Study Hall of Justice (DC Comics: Secret Hero Society #1) is a new middle-grade book series from Scholastic that is part journal, part graphic novel, and all DC Comics fun.

Continue reading DC Comics’ Big Three Are Big Kids in ‘Study Hall of Justice’

Horror Author Sam Sattin Creates an Imaginary Game For His Book

This week on Geek Speaks..Fiction!, horror author Samuel Sattin joins us to share what made him geek out while writing his new book, The Silent End, a chilling novel for mature teens and adults alike. His work has been described as being full of fun, terror, tragedy, and delight.
Welcome, Sam!

About the author: Samuel Sattin is a novelist and essayist. He is the author of League of Somebodies, described by Pop Matters as “One of the most important novels of 2013.” His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Salon, io9, Kotaku, San Francisco Magazine, Publishing Perspectives, LitReactor, The Weeklings, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Mills College and an MFA in Comics from CCA. He’s the recipient of NYS and SLS Fellowships and lives in Oakland, California.

It’s not overly difficult to describe what I geeked out on while writing The Silent End, mostly because the main character is a grade-A certified nerd, seventeen and on the edge of emotional collapse in many ways.

Continue reading Horror Author Sam Sattin Creates an Imaginary Game For His Book

Giveaway: ‘The Marvels’ by Caldecott Medal Winner Brian Selznick

Marvels, Brian Selznick
Marvels in hand! Photo by Jackie Reeve.

Today is the release day for Brian Selznick’s latest beautiful children’s book, The Marvels. This is huge news if you’re a fan of his work, since it’s been four years to the week since his last book, Wonderstruck, was published.

Selznick is one of my absolute favorite children’s authors. I read Hugo Cabret to my third grade classes every year, and I’ve recommended Wonderstruck I don’t know how many times. I’ve been so excited for The Marvels since its preview back in May, and now it’s finally here!

Here’s the synopsis:
From the Caldecott Medal–winning creator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck comes a breathtaking new voyage.

In this magnificent reimagining of the form he originated, two stand-alone stories—the first in nearly 400 pages of continuous pictures, the second in prose—together create a beguiling narrative puzzle.

The journey begins on a ship at sea in 1766, with a boy named Billy Marvel. After surviving a shipwreck, he finds work in a London theatre. There, his family flourishes for generations as brilliant actors until 1900, when young Leontes Marvelis banished from the stage.

Nearly a century later, Joseph Jervis runs away from school and seeks refuge with an uncle in London. Albert Nightingale’s strange, beautiful house, with its mysterious portraits and ghostly presences, captivates Joseph and leads him on a search for clues about the house, his family, and the past.

A gripping adventure and an intriguing invitation to decipher how the two narratives connect, The Marvels is a loving tribute to the power of story from an artist at the vanguard of creative innovation.

Interior page from Marvels, book copyright Scholastic Inc.

You can learn more about The Marvels here. And, check here for a list of Brian Selznick’s tour dates to promote the book.

To celebrate, we are giving away a prize package to one lucky GeekMom reader. It includes:

· A copy of The Marvels;
· A custom The Marvels jigsaw puzzle;
· and a $50 Visa gift card.

There are four ways to enter, and if you follow us on Instagram you’ll get a bonus entry.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The contest will close this Saturday, September 19th at 11:59pm ET. A random winner will be selected and announced following the end of the giveaway.

Happy book birthday to The Marvels!
Prizes are provided by Scholastic.

‘Star Darlings’: An Empowering New Series From Disney

Today, the Star Darlings take the spotlight on bookstore shelves in a magical new series from Disney. Chapter books, toys, and apps will tell the story of the Star Darlings, magical girls who are working hard to achieve their dreams of becoming wish granters.

“The message I hope kids take away from Star Darlings is that no matter where you were born, what you look like, or what your tastes are, you have the power within you to create the life of your dreams,” says Shana Muldoon Zappa, writer and co-creator of the series. Continue reading ‘Star Darlings’: An Empowering New Series From Disney

3 ‘Star Wars’ Handprint Paintings for Younglings

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

When my daughter was a toddler, one of our favorite activities was making handprint paintings together. She loved feeling the cool paint as the brush tickled her fingers, and I loved having a small keepsake of her little hands. Add a Star Wars theme to the handprints, and you’ve got a perfect painting to hang on the fridge or paste in a geek mom’s scrapbook.

Here are three Star Wars handprint painting ideas crafted with small hands to make happy memories.

What You Need

  • Washable paint (Crayola)
  • Paint brush
  • Black marker
  • Paper

Princess Leia Continue reading 3 ‘Star Wars’ Handprint Paintings for Younglings

Bradley Beaulieu Geeks Out on Mother/Daughter Connections

Join GeekMom in welcoming epic fantasy author Bradley P. Beaulieu to Geek Speaks…Fiction!

Bradley Beaulieu fell in love with fantasy from the moment he began reading The Hobbit in third grade. While Bradley earned a degree in computer science and engineering and worked in the information technology field for years, he could never quite shake his desire to explore other worlds. He began writing his first fantasy novel in college. It was a book he later trunked, but it was a start, a thing that proved how much he enjoyed the creation of stories. It made him want to write more. 

He went on to write The Lays of Anuskaya series as well as The Song of Shattered Sands series. He has published work in the Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies. He has won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award and earned a Gemmell Morningstar Award nomination. Learn more about Bradley by visiting his website, quillings.com.

Brad’s highly praised novel, Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, was released last week from DAW/Penguin Random House. Read on to find out what made him geek out while writing it!

When I start working on new books, it’s the world that gets fleshed out first. I write big-canvas fantasies, so it’s important to me to know the lay of the land, the kingdoms in play, their cultural histories, the political landscape, the magic, and so on. This is really important to me because I want to create characters that can believably inhabit this world. The world is the soil in which they grow, after all.

That isn’t to say that my characters aren’t individuals. They are. Of course they are. But this is the part that’s so interesting to me: Once you know the norms in this new world you’re creating—the social mores, the customs, traditions, religions, and so on—you can start to play with them and see where your characters diverge from those norms. They may hew closely to them, which may give clues as to how you can best challenge the character. Or they may diverge widely, bringing perhaps a more immediate and consistent sort of conflict as the characters struggle or fight against the norms.

The main character in Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is a young woman named Çeda (pronounced CHAY-da, like mesa). She’s a pit fighter, and a woman who runs packages in the shadows beneath the nose of the twelve kings of Sharakhai. The kings, who have ruled the city with iron fists for over four hundred years, kill Çeda’s mother viciously when Çeda is eight. In some ways it comes as no surprise. Her mother, Ahya, had been tempting fate for a long while, running out on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir, when all are forbidden from roaming the streets and the ghul-like asirim come to the city to take tribute.

Çeda is shaped by many things, but foremost among them was her upbringing with her mother and the questions left in the wake of her mother’s death when she is hung by the cruel kings. Çeda begins to find the answers to those questions only years later when she too goes out on Beht Zha’ir to save her best friend, Emre.

One of the asirim finds her and whispers long-forgotten words in her ear, words Çeda has read before in a book left to her by her mother. It is through that one strange event that Çeda begins to unlock the secrets behind her mother’s purpose on the night she was killed. Like a blooming rose, the answers to those riddles complicate, leading to more riddles in turn. They point her toward the very night, four hundred years before, when the kings made their dark bargain with the gods of the desert to secure their power.

I often find that I don’t really know what a character is like until after I’ve created the first draft. Why? Because while I know something about them, I don’t know enough details to know who they really are. By the time the first draft is done, though, I know so much more. The characters are no longer plans in a character sketch. They have stories and accomplishments. They have hopes and fears. They have become real.

The connection between Çeda and her mother, Ahya, was one I expected to explore, but not as much as I actually did in the writing of Twelve Kings. So much flowed from that mother-daughter relationship: Çeda’s often-rocky adoption on the part of Dardzada, an apothecary who loved Ahya but now finds only pain when he sees Çeda; her befriending of Emre, a boy who becomes not only a close friend, but her best friend, perhaps her soulmate (a thing Çeda refuses to acknowledge); her ties to a desert witch that eventually changes her life; her connection to the kings.

All of it really opened Çeda up for me.

I found myself coming back to Ahya’s legacy often. It advised me, a compass by which I could navigate this complex tale. More than anything, though, it made me care for Çeda deeply. It’s a form of geeking out, I think, coming to love your characters, or hate them, or whatever we want the reader to feel about them, because it’s only when we truly feel for them that we can write truths about them on the page.

So there it is. I geeked out about Çeda. And I hope you will too.

About Twelve Kings in Sharakhai:
Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings — cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite ompany of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

You can find Bradley P. Beaulieu at www.quillings.com and on Twitter as @bbeaulieu.

Be the Artist: LeRoy Neiman

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

The Artist: LeRoy Neiman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Project: Fantasy and Sci-Fi Sports Scenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I like being outrageous,” he said.

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

Everything You Need to Be a Craft Beer Geek—Except the Beard

Grab a brew and pull up a chair - We're talking beer! Photo Courtesy iStock.
Grab a brew and pull up a chair – We’re talking beer!
Photo Courtesy iStock. Copyright: Silvrshootr

“Let’s grab a drink!”

The next thing you know, you find yourself in a bar surrounded by copious amounts of facial hair, skinny jeans, and ironic conversation Ts. You look at the menu only to find 653 different types of beer—of which you know two. You have a couple of choices: play a game of craft beer roulette, or go ahead and order the domestic light. Of course, the only thing that screams “girl” more than that is a white wine spritzer. Allow me to offer a third option—a crash course in craft beer geekdom!

First, let me stress I have nothing against domestic light beers. They definitely have their time and place. I’ve never yet asked for a bully porter at a tailgate—but a sliver bullet goes down nicely. And the consistency (as we’ll learn later) of the American lager is a testament to the skill of master brewers. Of course, light beers are still the biggest sellers, but this is the era of the crafts, and a little knowledge is helpful. Unless you enjoy taking that brew gamble…

Lesson 1:

So what makes a beer a beer, and not, for example, wine?

The Four Essential Ingredients of Beer. Photo Courtesy iStock Copyright RBOZUK
The Four Essential Ingredients of Beer.
Photo Courtesy iStock. Copyright: RBOZUK

Beer is a deceptively simple drink. All varieties can be boiled down to four basic ingredients: water, yeast, hops, and grain. Seems simple enough until you remember the vastness of that beer menu and its 653 varieties.

Yeast:

These miraculous little beasties are what give beer identity and national style. At the most basic level, and the least understood if my impromptu poll of folks at the grocery store is any indicator, yeast determines if you are drinking an ale or a lager. Yes, it’s hard to believe while wading through a brew house, but all beer breaks down into these two categories.

Most craft brews are ales, while those domestic lights I mentioned are lagers. And here’s what makes that above mentioned consistency so impressive: Lagers must be brewed at a lower temperature, thus giving less room for error. Ales brew at higher temperatures and are more forgiving. Which is probably why they’ve been around longer, historically, and are the go-to for the basic home brewer. Those higher temps allow for a wider variety of flavors to break out, but that can often lead to slightly unique profiles in each batch. Lower temps require careful monitoring to create uniform flavor. So the next time you grab that fine American Pilsner, remember it has some impressive credentials of its own.

While many brewers will develop their own propriety yeast, you heard me right, it’s the ancestry of the little bugs that matters the most. If a beer is labeled as “Belgium,” that is simply a reference to where the yeast got its passport stamped, not the country where the beer was brewed. Nationality isn’t just a label where these little guys are concerned. Belgium yeast imparts different flavors than German or American yeast. And that’s just the prepackaged varieties—just wait until we get to the free-range critters!

Hops:

In case you don’t know, and very few of my grocery store interviewees did, the hops used by the modern brewer are actually the flower of the plant Humulus lupulus. Varieties are sold as bittering, aroma, or dual purpose, and just like yeast, contribute greatly to flavor.

Photo courtesy iStock Copyright: LICreate
A handful of goodness – brew ready hops!
Photo courtesy iStock. Copyright: LICreate

Hops add depth of flavor and help to balance the malt. While there are certainly many hop-heavy beers—some American craft brewers seem to subscribe to the adage “go big or go home” when it comes to hops—malt-intensive brews are equally available.

Like yeast, hops are unique to their area of origin. Their soils, climates, and country of birth help impart unique layers of flavor. But unlike yeast, they don’t determine the nationality of a beer. Often, a brewer will experiment with several types of hops added at different points in the brewing process. A true melting pot!

Grain:

When most people think of beer, they think barley. And they’d be right. It’s barley that becomes malt. And the char on that determines the color of the beer—the darker the char, the darker the beer. And without barley, the yeast wouldn’t be able to do their business. Barley is unique in providing just the right sugars for the little beasties to consume and make those byproducts we enjoy so much: bubbles and alcohol! Barley even provides that nice frothy head when not all its proteins get converted to sugar.

But barley isn’t the only grain to be found in that amber goodness. Wheat, rice, corn, rye, and even oats make occasional appearances in today’s craft brews. Wheat beer tends to have more body and a hazy, often tart, complexion. Rice in a beer is about as nondescript as on a Chinese menu: great as filler, but no flavor. Corn is similar, although it is often thought to impart a bit more sweetness. Rye can be toasted to add caramel notes or left natural for more spice. Oats give creaminess—think oatmeal stout.

 

Lesson 2:

Now that you know what makes a beer a beer, you can probably take a stab at that menu. However, to get more in depth, and provide the beer novice (or the beer-stuck-in-a-rutter) a slightly better idea of what they are ordering, I gathered a group of willing victims volunteers at our local Flying Saucer Draught Emporium to taste-test a wide variety. All for the sake of this article, of course.

Ground Rules:

While different arrangements are possible, many bars list their beers by either category (e.g., “sours” or “hop-heavy”) or country of origin. For the purpose of this article, I am using country as a means of categorization.

Along with my (slightly hung-over) friends, I was assisted in this tasting by Cari Contreras, girl-wonder-certified-cicerone, and someone everyone should take drinking. If you are wondering what a cicerone is, think sommelier but for beer. (Yes, they exist—and just knowing that word will go far toward your craft-geek-cred, but for a few more crafty words, see the bottom of this article.)

And away we go…

American:

American Craft Beers come in lots of styles. Photo courtesy iStock Copyright Maksymowicz
American Craft Beers come in lots of styles.
Photo courtesy iStock. Copyright: Maksymowicz
  • CLASSIC PILSNER: Craft varieties of this standard lager may be harder to locate, but if on a menu, this is often a safe bet. Although my group of tasters agreed it was “a standard beer” and “great for a summer day at the pool,” when drinking a craft beer they wanted “more personality.”
  • BLONDE: This is an entry level—i.e., easy to drink—craft ale. My tasters enjoyed this saying it was “more complex” and “a bit more bitter.” One even decided it had “just a tinge of s’mores.”
  • WHEAT: Wheat added to the barley gives this ale its cloudy color and crispness. Another entry level beer described by one taster as “the beer equivalent of the lemon drop.”
  • AMBER: Sometimes called “Red Ale.” Intended to be drinkable, but not bland with a strong toasty or caramel undertone. The tasters agreed calling it “a cozy, full beer with a slightly mouthwatering aftertaste.”
  • BROWN: The American version of the classic English Brown Ale does what ‘Murica does best and cranks the volume. More hops, more malt, and more brown. We agreed with thoughts ranging from “a beer latte” to “dessert!”
  • PALE ALE: This American adaptation (more hops) of the English brew has come to be the standard of craft beers. One taster decided this beer “goes with dinner and life pretty well.” But, if you don’t like hops, be warned.
  • IPA: Stands for India Pale Ale, and like many of these “American” beers, has a European cousin. But, as an American beer, the flavors are turned up to eleven. (If you don’t get that, may I suggest renting This Is Spinal Tap?) Most of the hop-crazy beers fall into this category or its brother IMPERIAL IPA.
  • BARLEYWINE: This is a beer, despite the name, but will have a higher alcohol content, often 7 to 12%. You are warned. The American versions are, you guessed it, hoppier but not as extreme as an IPA. The tasters ranked this one high, asking if it came in pints!
  • STOUT: Another American version of an English standard. Roasted and toasty, maltier and full of American hops making it stronger than its British ancestors. The tasters found it “thick and warm with hints of molasses and roasted coffee.”

English/Scottish/Irish: (Note: All the beers listed above as having British equivalents can often be found in both the amped-up American versions and the more sedate English brews on extensive beer menus)

  • PORTER: The first mass produced style of ale has a dark roasted, chocolaty malt flavor. The tasters were mixed, with one saying it was “too malty” and another liking it with the comment that “it didn’t taste as dark as it looked, like a stout-light.”
  • MILK STOUT: Also called a SWEET STOUT or a CREAM due to the addition of unfermentable lactose (milk) sugars. This beer lives up to its name with the tasters saying it “looks like a coke” and “smells as sweet as it tastes.”
  • OATMEAL STOUT: In either British or American versions, the oatmeal adds creaminess to the malty richness of the base stout. “Don’t be scared of how dark it is! It’s easy to drink, it just fills you up—bread in a glass!”
  • DRY STOUT: Guinness is the quintessential example. A favorite of many. “Not heavy,” with an unusual “umami nose.” “Crisper than it looks” Cari Contreras pointed out the unusual feature that Guinness uses nitrous gas to disperse the beer rather than the traditional CO2, which leads to less gas intake, and thus less gas (eh hum) output! (We can all appreciate that.)
  • RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT: Born of the connection between the English and Russian monarchies, this stout was brewed to survive the trip to the Russian court. Generally not a favorite with my tasters, with one saying “it feels like they threw everything at it,” and another calling it “ugh in a beer.” However, it has its fans, with a lone tester saying it was what she thought of when she wanted “to taste Russia.”
  • 60/70/80/90 SHILLING: A traditionally Scottish beer with a gradation of strengths from the weakest 60 (rarely found and then only on tap) up to the “wee heavy” 90. An interesting beer if you are looking for unique—very few hops, which don’t grow well in Scotland, but definite notes of the ever-available Scottish peat. The tasters gave this style top ratings saying it was “hard not to like” and “tasted like fresh air and Scottish Heather.”
Welcome to Cologne, Germany, home to fan favorite Kolsch beer. Photo courtesy iStock Copyright artJazz
Welcome to Cologne, Germany, home to fan favorite Kolsch beer.
Photo courtesy iStock. Copyright: artJazz

German:

  • WEIZEN/HEFEWEIZEN: The most popular beer in Southern Germany. In 1516, the use of wheat was outlawed in beer, but as the nobility could ignore these laws with impunity, wheat beer became synonymous with royalty. While that is an interesting fact to drop while bellied up to the bar, the most important thing to note about this brew is that it is usually found with an excess of yeast and you may be either asked how you’d like that yeast, or provided with the remainder in the bottle. Many connoisseurs like to sprinkle the yeast over the top of the beer. This met with mixed reviews, with one taster saying it was too much like “drinking sea monkeys.” The beer, sans sea monkeys, however, had high marks with notes of banana and crisp wheat.
  • KOLSCH: Traditionally brewed only in the city of Cologne, this beer is a hybrid as it uses ale yeast but is then cold lagered like a traditional lager brew. When my tasters gave point scores, this style got the highest overall score of any beer we tested. Universally described as “easy to drink but with enough oomph to feel authentic.”
  • VIENNA LAGER: Obviously not an ale. Very dark larger with lots of malt, but not enough to save it from being described as “crisp, drinkable, and completely forgettable.”
  • BOCK: What the IPA does for hops, this does for malt. One taster said it has so much malt it’s “almost chewy.” Enjoyment of this beer, like the IPA, is mostly determined by malt preference. Those who enjoyed the malty beers loved, those who didn’t, well, didn’t.

Belgium:

  • WIT/WHITE/WITBIER: This white ale was the first type of beer to include hops. This beer often incorporates elements of wheat and spices such as coriander and orange peel. Another highly rated beer with the tasters. Comments such as “smells like a barnyard, tastes like heaven.”
  • SAISON: Meaning season, this ale uses a yeast closely related to the yeast used in red wine which produces a uniquely spicy brew. Cari pointed out that all saisons have a higher alcohol content and a slightly bitter taste due to the increased number of phenols produced by this yeast. But what you need to know is our tasters’ opinion, which was to rank this their second favorite! With comments like “peppery” to “my husband’s first choice, one of my top three!”
  • DOUBLE/DUBBEL: If it seems like we skipped the single, we did! They are only available at the brewery with doubles found in retail. This is a strong beer with not so subtle hints of prune. Not a favorite with the tasters with one describing it as “cloying, like prune juice mixed with a beer.”
  • TRIPLE: This is a higher alcohol brew, but not exactly related to a double. A fruity beer described by my tasters as “a little like drinking a juicy fruit gum.”

    Belgium beers and glass of Triple. Photo courtesy iStock Copyright JurgaR
    Belgium beers and a glass of Triple.
    Photo courtesy iStock. Copyright: JurgaR
  • LAMBIC: Strange things happen in Belgium. I mean, honestly, waffles? I love them, but who decided to start ironing food? So maybe it’s no surprise that Belgium would be home to free-range yeast. This beer is made by opening the windows and the tanks and inviting whatever little beasties are nearby to stop in for dinner. The yeast bring their bacteria friends and have a party. If Cari’s dreams come true and sour becomes the new hops, this style will be everywhere. The yeast do the fermenting and the bacteria make the sour. Oddly, this was something of a hit with my tasters with one saying she must “have a masochistic streak” because she couldn’t stop sipping. “Like an aged cheese, or sour patch kids,” you have to keep sampling.
  • FRAMBOISE: This is a raspberry beer with a lambic base. Surprisingly, the berry moves the sour into sweet. In fact, the tasters thought it tasted “more like dessert” or “it’s the beer equivalent of a parfait!” Sweet and fizzy, “the smart girl’s answer to the apple-tini.”

 

Glossary of terms that will impress your friends:

Abbey: Beers brewed in the style of the Belgium (Trappist) monks, but not by the monks. Any beer can be named Abbey, but very few can be called Trappist.

Bock/Doppel Bock: Fun facts: Bock means goat, so look for that on most Bock labels. True Doppel Bock names will always end in “Atop” or “Ator.”

Cicerone: The sommelier of the beer world. Fun fact: there are close to 200 master sommeliers but only 7 master cicerones alive today. There are three levels of cicerone: certified beer server (level 1), certified cicerone (Girl-wonder-Cari is one of these), and master cicerone. Why so few? They’ll tell you its harder—believe it or not, beer is more complex. More ingredients, more origins, thus, more flavors. Just imagine the food pairings!

Daytime: Exactly like sessionable. Drink this at lunch and then head back to work. You’ll still be productive. Sort of.

Esters: Along with phenols, CO2, and alchohol, a byproduct of yeast fermentation. Usually responsible for fruity taste elements. More often found at higher temperatures of fermentation, thus more common in ales than lagers.

Humulus Lupulus: The plant that produces hops. From the Cannabis family. Only the female plant produces the “cone” that become hops.

Imperial: In a beer this means higher alcohol. You are warned.

Phenols: One of the by products of yeast fermentation, along with esters, CO2, and alcohol. Usually responsible for the spicy tastes such as clove and pepper. Can also create an undesired “medicinal” taste.

Reinheitsgebot: The German beer purity law of 1516 outlawing the use of wheat. Beer was strictly limited to barley, hops, water, and yeast.

Now get out there and order something new! photo courtesy iStock Copyright SensorSpot
Now get out there and order something new!
Photo courtesy iStock. Copyright: SensorSpot

Trappist: Beer brewed in one of the eleven Trappist monasteries in Europe.

Sessionable: The opposite of Imperial, lower alcohol. Meant to be drunk as part of a session of beers.

Umami: Another category of taste (sweet, sour, salty, and bitter) meaning a meaty, savory taste. Warning: In the wrong company you will just sound pretentious if you use this word.

 

 

 

 

Top 10 Tips For A DIY Haunted House

1.  Spray paint is not water-soluble—wear gloves.

2. If using a handyman for labor, be specific. Just telling him you want a “table covering the toilet” will result in a small piece of plywood balanced on the stool.

3. When covering the walls in plastic sheeting, clearly mark where the outlets are hidden.

4. Do not replace all lighting sources with black lights until after you decorate.

5. Dogs do not like large, animated spiders.

6. Dogs do like severed latex heads.

7. Turn off sound-activated animatronic zombies before giving your mother-in-law a tour.

8. You may think you’ve scrubbed all the glow-in-the-dark spray off your hands, but you can’t be sure until you go to the movies.

9. If using a basement or garage, count the fake plastic spiders. It makes finding the real ones easier.

10. The interwebs lie! The recipe using brighteners and phosphorescence does not make black light paint. It does, however, make a potent smoke bomb.

Okay, so those may be my top 10 lessons learned, but unless you too get a call from your neighbor to report a runaway Golden Retriever carrying a bloody head, they may not be the most applicable. But after building several over-the-top haunted houses, I’m happy to pass on some hard-won advice: Continue reading Top 10 Tips For A DIY Haunted House

Here Are All 7 New ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Lego Sets

Photo courtesy of Lego, used with permission.
Photo courtesy of Lego, used with permission.

It’s Force Friday, and that means brand new Star Wars: The Force Awakens merchandise is appearing all over the place. We’ve been waiting to see what Lego was going to roll out, and now the sets are here and they are EVERYTHING WE DREAMED OF. Continue reading Here Are All 7 New ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Lego Sets

The Incredible Mind of Captain Slow

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

I had to fire a Time Lord.

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

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

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

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

Then I “discovered” James May.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, why do I need a muse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I only ask you one thing. Don’t stop.

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

Actor Jon Heder Gets Funny & Sort of Strange in Our Q&A

PICKLE AND PEANUT - "Greg" - Pickle lends his new pimple friend Greg to frenemy Lazer in hopes of landing an invitation to his cool party. When they realize Lazer has no intention of returning Greg, Pickle and Peanut must save him. The series premiere of "Pickle and Peanut" will air Monday, September 7 (9:00 p.m., ET/PT) on Disney XD.(Disney XD) PEANUT, PICKLE
Pickle and Peanut premieres September 7 on Disney XD. Photo: Disney XD.

Names like “Pickle” and “Peanut” are ones that you’d give your cats. However, if you’re execs at Disney XD, you’d give names like that an entire TV show.

That said, the upcoming animated series Pickle and Peanut isn’t about two fluffy creatures. It’s about a pickle and a peanut—and as you’d imagine, it’s pretty weird. It’s not just weird because the main characters are living, breathing, and sometimes screaming pieces of food. It’s because it revolves around two pieces of food entering their last year of high school, and experiencing all sorts of wacky adventures. (You can sample some of those in the video featurette below.)

Adding to the weirdness is actor Jon Heder, who voices Pickle, the emotional half of this comedy team. (22 Jump Street‘s Johnny Pemberton is Peanut.) You probably know him best as Napoleon Dynamite, the 2004 indie film phenomenon, with all sorts of sweet jumps and even sweeter dance moves. I know him as one of the weirdest, most entertaining people I’ve ever had the opportunity to interview.

Here’s what happened when I asked Jon a few questions about his role in Disney XD’s Pickle and Peanut.

PICKLE & PEANUT - (Disney XD/Todd Wawrychuk) JON HEDER
Jon Heder. Photo: Disney XD/Todd Wawrychuk.

GeekMom: Exactly what kind of personality does Pickle have? (Do pickles have a personality?)

Jon Heder: No, pickles do not have a personality. They are inanimate objects and are only for human consumption. But they taste like silliness and mild annoyance mixed together.

GM: What do your kids think about their dad voicing a pickle?

JH: One thinks it’s funny and the other rolls her eyes. Yeah, she started rolling those eyes a year ago, and life has been lovely ever since.

GM: This show has some serious weirdness to it. What age group do you think it’s designed for—and why? 

JH: Well, it’s on Disney XD, which caters to the 6-11 year-old boy audience, but I think Disney wants this show to step outside the normal demographic and appeal to young girls too and especially dads who like a little irreverence in their cartoons, such as Ren and Stimpy.

GM: What are some of your favorite cartoon characters—and did you draw on any of them for inspiration? If so, how?

JH: Pickle is the Stimpy in this show. He is the Flapjack. Fat Albert might also be drawing some obvious comparisons, but they both have similar emotional personalities. I love Scruffy from Futurama. Uncle Iroh from Avatar: Last Airbender is also one of my favorites. They both have deep emotional cores that carry the morals in each of their shows.

GM: Do you have a favorite type of pickle (half sour, etc.)?

JH: Are there many different kinds of pickles? I know there’s dill and sweet. That’s about all I know of. I mean, dill is delicious, especially chilled in a mountain stream overnight and enjoyed on a hike the next day.

GM: I have to ask: Did you keep anything from the Napoleon Dynamite set?

JH: I kept a wolf and unicorn poster, some boondoggles, a stinky foot fungus given to me by the moonboots, and the “Vote for Pedro” shirt.

Pickle and Peanut debuts Monday, September 7, on Disney XD.

DC Comics This Week: You’re Gonna Love This Wonder Woman

cover copyright DC Comics.
cover copyright DC Comics.

Welcome to our reviews of this week’s DC Comics. Ray is the long-time DC reader and I’m the more skeptical, lapsed DC reader. As the last week of the month, it’s a relatively light week but the shining stars for me and Ray are twofold.

One, Detective Comics #44, which manages to be darkly funny and handles the cast of Gotham’s police officers better than any story since the late, great Gotham Central. This is what the Gotham show could be, if it focused on the right elements, instead of attempting to be an over-the-top villain fest.

Two, DC Comics Bombshells, which features a Wonder Woman we can get behind. Heck, the story in this issue would make a great start to a Wonder Woman movie.

But we part ways on Omega Men, a slow boiling SF story about terrorism, rebellion, and how far those oppressed are willing to go.

Detective Comics #44, Brian Buccellato, writers and colors, Fernando Blanco, art

Ray: Book of the Week. 9.5/10

Corrina: Buy It. 

Ray: Buccellato brings his  run to a close this month, making way for Pete Tomasi next month, and he closes it out in style.

This story could have easily gotten ridiculous, pitting Jim Gordon against a giant Joker Robot made from the power core of his own suit and piloted by the Joker’s Daughter, but the creative team has a deft touch that makes it work really well. The story doesn’t lose sight of the fact that Jim is very out of his element here, and his commentary on the absurdity of the situation is very welcome, as his practical, military-minded approach to taking out the threat. Continue reading DC Comics This Week: You’re Gonna Love This Wonder Woman

Accio, Books! Make a Hermione Granger Bookmark for Back to School

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Go back to school with the brightest witch of her age by making a Hermione Granger bookmark to nestle in her one of her favorite things: a book.

This bookmark is inspired by the look of the new Pop! Hermione Granger recently released by Funko.

What You Need

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox
  • Black, white, maroon, gold, brown, and light tan/peach cardstock
  • Black enamel dot stickers (like these from Doodlebug, found in craft stores with the scrapbooking supplies)
  • School glue
  • Scissors
  • Black marker

Get Started!

Begin by cutting two black strips the same size, approximately 1.25 inches by 6 inches (or 4 inches for a shorter bookmark). Cut a small oval for Hermione’s face, and a strip smaller than the black strip for her neck and shirt.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Next, cut a small shape for the tie out of the maroon cardstock, and a small strip of gold for the tie’s stripes.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Cut a hair shape out of the light brown cardstock, using the oval as a guide for size. (Remember, this is Hermione, so the poofier the better!)

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Now it’s time to start putting it all together!

Glue the oval behind the hair, and then glue the white strip to the bottom of the face.

Then, glue the maroon tie under Hermione’s chin. Cut the gold strip to fit and carefully add two stripes to the tie.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Next, cut a small triangle in the top of one of the black stripes for the front of the robe. Line it up with the tie and glue the robe to the shirt.

Flip the bookmark over, and glue the other black cardstock to the back to finish the robe and give the bookmark a cleaner look.

You can also trace her hair on the brown paper, cut it, and glue to the back of her head to finish the clean look.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

You’re almost done! Place two black enamel dots for Hermione’s eyes, and draw a smile beneath.

Finally, to add some texture, use the school glue to draw waves in Hermione’s hair and down the length of the robe to give it some detail.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

After the glue on the front dries, flip the bookmark over to add waves to the back of her hair with school glue for the final touch.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Allow the bookmark to dry completely, and Hermione is complete.

‘Ant-Man’: I’ve Had Enough of the Man Pain

Marvel's Ant-Man Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal © Marvel 2015
Marvel’s Ant-Man—I’ve seen/read/watched his story far too often. Ant-Man/Scott Lang (Paul Rudd). Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal/© Marvel 2015.

One of the best things about growing older is that you become pickier about the ways you spend your time. Eh, why spend hours hoping that a show/book/movie will get better? Enough. Time is better spent elsewhere.

The other best thing? The amount of f*** s one has to give about certain things decreases.

That brings me to Ant-Man, which I finally saw this weekend.

Ant-Man is the story of four insecure and broody men who behave like adolescent children. Two of them learn to grow up by the end of the movie, the third minor supporting character learns to be mature about his stepdaughter’s father, and one is killed.

It’s a decent enough movie. It lacks the wonder and surprises of Guardians of the Galaxy, the thematic heft of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and it’s predictable enough that I turned to my son as soon as that particular theory was introduced and said, “We’re going to see that thing at the climax.” But it’s not awful by any means.

However, I’ve experienced this story a thousand times. It’s usually about a straight white guy who’s acted immaturely because reasons, makes a mess, and finally does enough to redeem himself—thus allowing the audience to cheer for him at the end.

Ant-Man has become my tipping point.

Enough.

I’ve been on Earth now nearly 50 years and, right this moment, I’ve had enough of your man-pain stories, Hollywood, and you too, Marvel.

I’ve had enough of lovable losers doing stupid things but getting second and third chances because, wow, they’re so lovable and they really mean well.

Not to mention, they get the girl. Because that’s required right? Getting the girl as a reward?

You’re cute, Paul Rudd, and you did well with the part, but I have no f***s left to give about poor Scott Lang.

I’ve had enough of remote fathers who hit people when they’re pissed off because they can’t admit that, dammit, they’re grieving because someone they loved died.

As Rocket said in Guardians, “We’ve all got dead people!” Grow up, Hank Pym. You screwed up your kid, behaved like a child when she needed an adult, and messed up your company because you wallowed in your pain.

Am I supposed to be happy because you finally admit you were wrong after, oh, 20 years or so? I have no f***s to give about you.

I’ve had enough of whiny man-children who get pissed off because people didn’t recognize their genius or trust them. The villain in Guardians was an angry force of nature. A little sketchy, but it worked. The villain in Ant-Man is a little whiny snot who shouldn’t have been trusted with anything, never mind a company. He annoyed me so much, he brought the entire movie down. Seriously, that’s the motivation to murder?

My mentor didn’t trust or praise me enough. Oh, grow the f*** up.

As for the stepfather? Let’s have a vendetta against the man who’s the beloved father of a future stepdaughter that I’m supposed to care about. I have no more f***s to give about this penis-measuring contest.

Know what I could care about? Know what stories I haven’t seen often enough?

Marvel's Ant-Man Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal © Marvel 2015
I haven’t had nearly enough stories about people like Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly). Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal/© Marvel 2015.

I haven’t had enough stories about mothers forced to be single parents because their supposed partner in child-rearing did a dumb-ass adolescent thing, and rather than being viewed as the bad guy for insisting this stupid adolescent man prove he’s grown up.

I haven’t had enough stories of *mothers* who run into houses to save their daughter instead of letting the studly man do it because, well, see above on the penis-measuring contest.

I haven’t had enough of daughters whose fathers shut them out for no reason and decided to follow in their mother’s footsteps by themselves, without the help of said distant father and immature male.

I haven’t had enough stories of people of color who are already disadvantaged and abused by our society, who come up with a way to survive in a world stacked against them.

I haven’t had enough stories where these people are the heroes instead of comic relief or the way to prove that our white hero is going to be good enough to save the day.

Marvel's Ant-Man Luis (Michael Peña) Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal © Marvel 2014
Can we have a world where Luis (Michael Peña) is the hero and not the comic relief? Photo Credit: Zade Rosenthal/© Marvel 2014.

Marvel movies, you’ve had a good run.

I’m looking forward to Captain America: Civil War, about grown-ups dealing with problems like being good people brainwashed to do horrible things, and about a friend who helps because it’s the right thing to do, a friend who is formidable in his own right and not there as a rumble to prove another hero is cool.

But after that, you’re on notice.

I want something beyond more man-anguish and man-pain because the guys made bad decisions because they didn’t grow up fast enough but deserve second chances anyway because, hey, the potential for being a hero is already there.

Especially if they’re straight white men.

Give me a story I haven’t seen before.

Give me a story where I can give a f***.

‘Ghost Hunters’ Season 10: An Interview With Jason Hawes

Back in June, I was given the chance to talk with Jason Hawes, founder of T.A.P.S. (The Atlantic Paranormal Society) about his life in the paranormal and parenting worlds. Now, in celebration of the 10th season of Ghost Hunters airing this month, I’d like to share with you the second half of that interview, where Jason gives some behind the scenes knowledge about the show and things he has experienced.

GeekMom: How long does the average episode take from researching the case to end credits? What kind of research goes into each case prior to filming?

Jason Hawes: Cases can take a long time. We’ve had some “not on TV” that have lasted months.

Cases for the show take about two weeks to film. Then the editing process can take a few months to put it together. For every hour we film there are 4-5 production cameras rolling. So every hour equals 4-5 hours of footage for the editors.

The way the show is edited does make it look like we are in a location for a couple hours and then done. That is not the fact. We investigated the Stanley Hotel for five days, but you can’t tell that when watching the show. In infrared, all our shirts look the same color, so most of the time people can’t tell that we are in a different outfit from shot to shot.

We try not to research anything about a location until after the investigation and then see if our evidence matches or connects with any history or claims of the location. Doing things this way allows us not to contaminate ourselves.

Think of it like this: If we researched prior and found that a young boy by the name of Timmy died in a back room in a location, then we may automatically assume anything we catch is related to that boy. Instead, we go in with a clear head and see what, if anything, is in the location.

GM: What do you think about how the paranormal is depicted on TV in shows like Supernatural and in the movies?

JH: I have no issue with it. People are going to find some things they like and dislike about any show. The fact that it helps people connect to the paranormal is the most important thing. Just like with the other shows that have come and gone, everyone has their own style, their own method. It’s truly what helps propel this field.

Ghost Hunters Season 10 Crew! \ Image courtesy of SyFy Channel and used with permission
Ghost Hunters Season 10 Crew! \ Image courtesy of SyFy Channel and used with permission.

GM: What kind of tech do you take on the average case?

JH: I always take digital voice recorders, camcorders, thermal, and EMF meters.

GM: If you were stranded in a haunted house, what one piece of equipment (other than a flashlight) could you not live without?

JH: My common sense. Lots of times things are not always as they are perceived. Anyone can carry equipment, but if they don’t have enough common sense to be willing to truly look for an explanation then there isn’t any piece of equipment out there that will assist them in finding the truth.

GM: Is there anything about the upcoming season that you are particularly excited about?

JH: First, hanging with my oldest daughter Samantha. I’m so proud of the woman and the mother she has become in her life. Secondly, seeing how far Steve Gonsalves has stepped up since Grant’s departure. Most don’t realize I have known Steve longer then I’ve known Grant. We’ve been friends for over 20 years. I have pictures of him playing with my daughters Samantha and Haily when they were babies. We have had some incredible cases this season. Some unbelievable evidence as well. I’m very excited about it being viewed.

GM: How does the film crew react while filming? Do they ever get freaked out?

JH: We have had production crew members quit the show after seeing things that they can’t explain or having a startling experience. They signed on to be production members, most are far from ready to encounter a ghost or spirit.

GM: Have you ever had an investigation where something happened that was too personal or private for TV?

JH: I did. We did a case in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. While there I was given a reading by a sensitive “psychic.” Now, I felt he wouldn’t get anything so I was okay with it. He started really hitting points in my life that no one had ever brought up and I have always kept private. I had to cut the reading short.

GM: What are you doing behind the scenes when the rest of the team is looking over the evidence?

JH: Sleeping in the truck. LOL. No, Seriously I go over evidence as well. They just don’t ever show it. Most of the time because I take the evidence home with me and analyze it there. I keep the cameras away from my home and children for their safety.

GM: How do you handle situations when you’re on an investigation and find that the owners have rigged it to mess with you or trip you up?

JH: I show it. I figure it this way: You want to be famous, then okay. It may not be how you wanted to be famous, but you made the decision. Also, the fans and other investigators who have supported us need to know what we sometimes have to deal with.

Bonus question!

GM: My husband wants to know if you ever plan on going to the lighthouse in St. Augustine again and if so, do you have room in your truck to bring him along?

Jason: As long as he’s willing to help setup, break down and climb 200 stairs numerous times. LOL.

Make sure to tune in when Ghost Hunters returns to SyFy on August 26th at 9/8 Central.

GeekMom Is On Instagram!

Follow us on Instagram @GeekMomBlog. Logo courtesy of Instagram.
Follow us on Instagram. Logo courtesy of Instagram.

GeekMom has joined Instagram as @GeekMomBlog! Follow us to see the products we’re loving right now, events we’re attending, great DIYs, and some old favorites from our archives.

We’ll be kicking things off with some back-to-school ideas and photos from PAX Prime this weekend. We’ll also be at DragonCon!

Tag your geeky photos #geekmomblog so we can see your geeky adventures, too.

Changing the World: One Panic Attack at a Time

You can usually tell what kind of day I'm having by the messages I write to myself on my arm. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
You can usually tell what kind of day I’m having by the messages I write to myself on my arm. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

It hasn’t always been easy to be open with my struggles. I would hide my pain and suffer in silence. One day, I realized that I was tired of being quiet. I realized that I have nothing to be ashamed of and it’s not something I do for attention. It’s a real struggle and I wasn’t going to be silent anymore. In fact, I would find a platform and scream about it at the top of my fingers. In comes GeekMom.

I started slowly by talking about my struggles on Facebook with “friends only posts.” This was an eye-opening experience, because as I shared, other people came out of the woodwork by commenting or sending me private messages. And just like that, I wasn’t alone anymore.

This small step turned into my next big step. Writing about it on GeekMom.

My first post about anxiety and depression went live when we were on Wired.com. You’d think that on a platform as big as Wired, I would have had at least one troll.

In truth, I didn’t receive one single negative comment. Instead, messages of support and understanding came pouring in.

It may seem like it’s easy for me to write-up about my struggles, but in truth, it can be rather difficult. Not the writing part, but putting the post in for editing and scheduling. Reading it on the site and promoting it. Those are the hard parts.

My post about my experience with Ashley Eckstein was one of the harder ones I’ve done and, in truth, I’ve nearly cried several times reading it after it went live. Reliving the painful experiences and panic attacks through writing can be hard. But reading them live on a website can be downright draining.

Despite the emotions that writing about my struggles causes me, I’m glad I do it.

I’m lucky enough to have a support system that surrounds me with love and understanding every time I have a panic attack or I’m having a bad day. Not everyone is that fortunate.

While I’m going through an episode, I’m certainly not happy with my situation. I’ve screamed “WHY??” and waited for an answer. I’ve wished it would all end quickly and let the pain be over with permanently.

When it’s all over, though, and my son is there to give me hugs and my husband to get me a cold cloth to wipe my face, I realize how strong I really am. The panic attacks and anxiety do not define me. The strength I show by getting up after they are over with and going on with my life, do.

I show my struggles on Facebook, Twitter, and here on GeekMom because I know not everyone has the support system I do and I want others to know that I’m here. I understand.

For those who don’t have anxiety and depression, I show my struggles to teach them that it’s not all in our heads. It’s real. It hurts. And just like anyone else with an illness, we should be treated with kindness and respect.

Recently I took my mission to be open to the next level and shared a video on Facebook of me having a panic attack.

In the video, I talk to myself and say out loud what is going on in my head. I made sure to emphasize to my friends and anyone who saw the video that I was not in any danger and had no thoughts of hurting myself or others. To put it simply, I was scared. Terrified actually.

When I felt I had shown and talked enough, I turned off my phone, sat up, and realized I felt a ton better. My therapist said it’s because I acknowledged the feelings and by hearing myself talk, I realized how illogical my fears really were. My brain was once again playing tricks on me.

Unless you know someone with anxiety and are privileged to be close enough to them for them to let you in when the really bad times hit, you’ve probably never seen a panic attack or recognized what it was when you saw someone else having one.

By having my sharing start out small and by forcing myself to have the courage to take bigger steps each time, I’ve learned a lot about myself and the people around me.

All of this sharing hasn’t been easy, but the rewards of support and seeing others who have suffered in darkness coming into the light have made it worth it. When having a panic attack or going through a depressing day, it can make us feel like we are totally alone. By being open with my struggles, I’ve shown others they are not alone and, in turn, I’ve ended up with a support system stronger than anything I could have begged for in my darkest hour.

To see more posts that I’ve written about anxiety and depression, click in the search box at the top of this page and do a search for “anxiety.”

This Geeky House: Enchanted Forest Inspired Home and Garden

Summer is waning, and I am trying to hold on to the last bits of warm before the fall sets in and the colors change. The magic of summertime inspired me to find some modern treasures that put a little magic into your home. Here are seven (a magical number) that will enchant your rooms and gardens and make you feel like you live within a fairy ring:

dryad
Image courtesy of Dellamorteco

Dryad Statue

This gorgeous statue from art studio Dellamorteco is made out of handpainted resin will have you wondering which of your trees are also inhabited by nymphs. He also makes a beautiful Dryad Winestopper and a spirited Titania (The Fairy Queen) statue!

 

ledBranch
Image courtesy of Bodner Chandeliers

Firefly Branch Chandelier

While this one was my favorite, Bodner makes a whole line of woodland chandeliers that are quite pretty. If you don’t want to buy the lighting, this is also a very easy item to make. There are a thousand and one examples online.

 

bed_tree
Image courtesy of Shawn Lovell Metalworks

Tree Bed

Yes, the price tag on this bed is steep, but LOOK AT IT. Stunning. Anthropologie makes a similar bed for much less, and if you are on a budget, creating your own could be as simple as attaching some natural or spray painted branches to a cheaper canopy bed, or hanging them like a canopy from the ceiling.

 

fairyland
Image courtesy of Trustworth Wallpaper

Trustworth “The Fairyland” Wallpaper

There are actually several Trustworth wallpapers that would fit in an Enchanted Forest home, but this one was my favorite and the most appropriate in my opinion. Can you imagine a wall of this? It’s magical enough to evoke the spirit of the forest but abstract enough to be very modern.

 

34182923_010_a
Image courtesy of Terrain

Victorian Fernery Bench

I can already see myself sipping tea in the garden on this incredible fern bench, surrounded by the trees and plants that provide shelter to the fairies and the woodland creatures. I also love this little set.

 

21181e702774dd3f9a26e941b35a404b
Image courtesy of Karma Kiss

Toadstool Table

Can you imagine your little fairies and gnomes playing and snacking at this adorable table? Inside or outside, this would make everyone feel happy and magical! There’s another version at Hearthsong as well.

 

il_570xN.385907456_6dbz
Image courtesy of FairyBehindTheDoor

Fairy Doors and Accessories

I’m going to tell you a little secret, there is nothing more powerful than a fairy door. If you hide it in your garden, it gives your family and friends great delight. If you put it somewhere passersby can discover it, their delight will be your joy. You can build a full village or just one little door, but it immediately enchants its surroundings. The one above came from Etsy Shop Fairy Behind The Door, who carries all sorts of styles and options. There are also many others on Etsy. I even saw a section for fairy accessories in the garden section of Target the other day! Last but not least, make your own! Using natural and recycled materials you can DIY some awesome fairy shelter and playgrounds!

Home Sweet Geeky Home!

Good Idea or Bad Idea? Taking the Kids on an Anniversary Vacation

We couldn't bear to see Alaska and the Pacific Northwest without our sons, so we brought them on our anniversary celebration -- and we're so glad we did! Photo: Patricia Vollmer (with a selfie stick!)
We couldn’t bear to see Alaska and the Pacific Northwest without our sons, so we brought them on our anniversary celebration—and we’re so glad we did! Photo: Patricia Vollmer (with a selfie stick!).

Earlier this month, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Well over a year prior, we had decided to plan a very nice trip for our anniversary. Since we had such a wonderful experience with our 2012 Disney cruise, we made reservations for a Disney cruise to Alaska. Continue reading Good Idea or Bad Idea? Taking the Kids on an Anniversary Vacation

Whoops! Inappropriate Old Movie

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

When my husband and I were first dating, we loved broad parodies like Blazing Saddles, Sleeper, and Airplane! We used movie lines as code between us (hardly the first teenagers to do so) and, a decade or so later, I had the lame-brained inspiration to revisit those movies with our kids.

It’s not till I watched these old favorites with a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old that I realized, to my surprise, they weren’t entirely kid-friendly. Racist jokes meant to lampoon racism? Jokes about sex-and-drug-crazed pilots and stewardesses, not to mention plane crash jokes? The Orgasmatron? Yeah, my kids haven’t let me forget.

In my defense, old movies (as well as old books) can be great conversation starters. True, sometimes these are conversations you weren’t ready to have just yet. But it’s downright fascinating to get a kid’s perspective on outdated social mores, especially asking where they draw the line between what’s funny and what is demeaning.

Apparently, I’m not the only parent whose judgment is memory-impaired when it comes to movies. My fellow GeekMoms have done the same thing.

We tried showing our then 5-year-old Home Alone over Christmas—it was definitely a different experience! We didn’t make it far. I was allowed to watch whatever I wanted when I was a kid (Blues Brothers was often on repeat), but I don’t think I have the same philosophy as a parent now!—Kelly

There was that one time when I let my eldest son, then nine, watch The Terminator with me when it was on regular cable. He wanted the DVD and I bought it for him. I totally spaced on the nudity that had been cut from the television version we watched. Oops.—Corrina

I think I watched a ton of inappropriate movies because a) I had an older brother by seven years, and b) we watched most of them edited for television, with commercials. As I got older, I could see how awkward and terrible the edited versions were, but when you’re small you’re oblivious. Here are the movie mistakes we’ve made with kids: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Beverly Hills Cop, Romancing the Stone, Ghostbusters (I think I was 30 before I realized what that ghost was doing to sleeping Dan Aykroyd).—Jackie

My sons are 10 and 12, so we’re slowly dipping our toes into that zone. I just had a conversation about how PG in the early 80s (before the invention of the PG-13 rating) isn’t the same as PG now. This discussion came up while we were watching Romancing the Stone the other night. It had come up during National Lampoon’s Vacation (the 1983 version) too.

Right now, we’re on the Christopher Guest and company comedies. Our sons are *barely* old enough to handle the humor. We just finished Best in Show (full of innuendo!), and just started For Your Consideration. I want to show them A Mighty Wind most of all (they’d get a kick out of the music), and maybe This is Spinal Tap soon. We have yet to watch Blazing Saddles in front of the kids. Call me lazy, but we don’t feel like saying “Don’t repeat that” over and over and over.—Patricia

My kids, at 5 and 8 or so, really wanted to watch Mamma Mia, and they did indeed love it. But at the end, I was really glad nobody asked why she doesn’t know who her daddy is or what “dot dot dot” in the diary reading implied.—Ruth

Monty Python and the Holy Grail… my favorite comedy of all time… went do share with my oldest… totally forgot   “and then comes the oral sex.” Aye, aye, aye… oops.

My dad’s the most conservative of all of us and makes fun of me when I get embarrassed around him. The first time I saw Slapshot unedited, I was so embarrassed to be watching it with him while he’s cracking up at me. I totally forget about a few of those scenes. I mentioned in my Top Gear post having my then five-year-old ask what a bellend was… right in front of Grandpa. Three generations of awkward, but now it’s a running gag at our house.

We all love the Hanson Brothers, though. I’ve had to learn the hard way when you see a movie on TV the first time, make sure it hasn’t been too edited before sitting down to the full version with your kids. Of course, they all got treated to the Jackman butt in that last X-Men, but they’re at the state where butts are just plain funny, even Wolverine’s.—Lisa

We sat down to watch Ghostbusters with my son recently. I love this movie and was thrilled that he was really into it. Well, until it got to that part where Dan Aykroyd is having the… ahem… erotic dream. Hey, everyone… who wants popcorn??

Also, this wasn’t something we sat to watch, but the topic reminded me… one holiday season, my husband and son were out and I was watching Love Actually. They came in, so I changed it. My husband hit “return channel” button right to the scenes with Martin Freeman going through his “lines” to that girl… with all of the various porno scenes. Thank goodness my son’s back was to the screen at the time. (That actually made it funnier.) I was like… “change it back!!”—Rachel

Or maybe we’re overreacting.

Samantha says,  “Huh. I have or would let my kids watch any of these.”

Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

This special edition of Fund This features what very well may be the most epic geek campaign ever. A group of architects has launched Realise Minas Tirith, a crowdfunding venture to raise the equivalent of almost $3 billion to build a functional, livable Minas Tirith in the south of England.

Minas Tirith, of course, was the capital city of Gondor. It was also called “The White City” as its courtyard held The White Tree. The city was featured heavily in The Lord of the Rings trilogy film The Return of the King for the final battle against the forces of Mordor and the coronation of Aragorn.

The campaign’s leader, Jonathan Wilson, states on the campaign page:

“We are a team of Tolkien fans who are passionate about creating a beautiful, inspirational and fully-functioning replica of Peter Jackson’s depiction of Minas Tirith, as seen in his Lord of the Rings films. We all share a love of Tolkien’s work, and a desire to challenge the common perception of community and architecture. We believe that, in realising Minas Tirith, we could create not only the most remarkable tourist attraction on the planet, but also a wonderfully unique place to live and work.”

Minas_Tirith
Image courtesy of lotr.wikia.

They had me at Tolkien. Continue reading Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

DC Comics This Week: ‘Secret Six’ Is A Slam Dunk

Welcome to our capsule reviews of this week’s DC comics releases. Ray Goldfield is the long-time DC reader and I’m more the cynic. I might have faith in nothing but quality. I also look at these issues with an eye for a new reader. If it’s impenetrable to all but the most diehard of DC fans, I won’t recommend it.

This week, we have our biggest disagreements yet but we’re both happy to recommend Secret Six #5, which zips along dropping all kinds of revelations on the reader while it rights a serious comic book wrong.

The rest? Ray loves his Robin, Son of Batman. I’m already a tired of the pre-adolescent, arrogant assassin. But I highly recommend Martian Manhunter, which is an imaginative take on that a classic SF story, an alien invasion.

On the bad side, we’re waiting for the day we can announce the cancellation of Doomed and the ill-conceived Superman/Wonder Woman title.

Warning: total spoilers abound.

Continue reading DC Comics This Week: ‘Secret Six’ Is A Slam Dunk

Back To School 2015: Electronics, Gadgets, and Shiny Stuff!

Back to School \ Image: flickr user Jesuscm some rights reserved
Back to School \ Image: Flickr user Jesuscm, some rights reserved.

It’s time to head back to school and in this year’s planning guide, we have a little bit of style, a little bit of gadgets, and a lot of coolness. So let’s get started!

Electronic Accessories
Witti Dotti ($69.99)
This app-controlled pixel light will keep you posted on all of your notifications, with the added bonus of being able to customize the lights to suit your style.

Photo App Keyboards \ Image: Photojojo
Photo App Keyboards \ Image: Photojojo

Keyboard Shortcut Skins ($30)
Keyboard Shortcut Skins by Photojojo are one of my go-to accessories for my MacBook Pro. I have the one for Final Cut Pro and it’s a huge help when trying to learn the program. Shortcut Skins are also available for Photoshop (CS4/CS5/CS6), Aperture (2.0/3.0), Final Cut Pro/Express, or Lightroom (2/3/4/5). The available keyboard models include the MacBook with black or white keys, Macbook Air 13″, Apple Ultra-Thin Keyboard w/o Numeric Keypad, and the Apple Ultra-Thin Keyboard w/Numeric Keypad. Use coupon code: GEEKMOM for $5 off!

Scosche’s freeKEY ($49.99)
For the student on the go, check out this roll-up bBuetooth keyboard.

Ultimate Screen Care Kit by Dust Off ($24.99)
Electronic users should have one of these in every bag they carry. It comes with a bottle of screen cleaner, a cleaning shammy, and a mobile cleaning pad.

Power Tap \ Image courtesy of Thumbs Up UK
Power Tap \ Image courtesy of Thumbs Up UK

Power USB Tap by Thumbs Up UK ($19.71)
The Power Tap is a fun and unique way to “turn on” power to your device for charging. The blue/red light tells you if the device is charging or not and offers a great little nightlight to any room.

Scanmarker ($79.99)
I’m not a fan of highlights in my textbooks because I usually end up typing my notes anyway. With the Scanmarker, I can just scan my notes in directly from my textbook without marking them up (makes for better resale value as well). The Scanmarker lets you capture text and then edit it on your computer.

Gunnar Optiks Gaming/Computer Glasses ($50-150 depending on whether you need a prescription)
These glasses ease eye strain for anyone who spends a lot of time looking at screens (computer or gaming). They really work. It’s not magic; it’s a combination of anti-glare coating and amber tinting.

Nyrius Aries Prime ($199.99)
Apple users have been able to stream their PC to a TV with the help of Apple TV and now Windows users can do the same thing with Nyrius Aries Prime. I use this at home when previewing my slideshows for class and I love it. My son loves it too because he likes to stream his Minecraft games to our TV.

Inateck MP 1300 13.3 Inch Macbook Air Sleave \ Image courtesy of Inateck
Inateck MP 1300 13.3-inch MacBook Air Sleeve \ Image courtesy of Inateck

Inateck MacBook Sleeve ($16.99)
A soft, felted sleeve for your MacBook. This gender neutral case allows you to transport your laptop in your backpack or purse in style.

Lumo Lift Posture and Activity Tracker ($79.99)
Posture is something everyone needs work on here and there. The Lumo Lift will tell you when you are slouching and keep a record of how much time a day you spend in a good posture. It’s a nifty little device for those of us who spend our day sitting at a desk and are not always aware of how we are sitting until it’s too late.

Kinivo BTH220 ($20.99)
I’ve had more than one pair of Kinivo headphones and for the price, they’re pretty good. These are over-the-ear headphones that work via Bluetooth, with buttons to play your music as well as make and receive phone calls.

Audiofly’s AF33 Headphones ($39.99)
If wired headphones are more your thing, check out Audiofly’s AF33. They may be on the pricey side, but they offer noise isolation and are comfy to wear.

Scosche’s goBAT 6000 ($54.99)
I love this little battery charger because it doesn’t require any cables. Just plug it into the wall when the battery dies and wait for the red light to go off. It’s also lightweight compared to other chargers and is small enough to fit into your back pocket.

Coffee Cup Power Inverter V2.0 ($34.99)
When my husband first saw this, he thought it was a mug you can heat up in the car. He was kind of close. It’s a charger that looks like a coffee cup and can accommodate up to two wall chargers and one USB cable. The best part is that it fits in your cup holder so there’s no awkward worrying about where to put it while it’s plugged in. 

Tablift ($59.99)
My brother saw this and thought I would be lazy for using it. He obviously hasn’t tried to lay in bed while watching lectures and taking notes. Not to mention, it’s great for keeping your hands free while watching a movie, so you can eat your snacks. I set it up the other day to hold my iPad to help me follow directions on a sewing pattern. Tablift helped keep it off the floor and out of my pup’s mouth. 

Stress Relievers and Fun

Recess for the Soul \ Image courtesy of Deepfun.com
Recess for the Soul \ Image courtesy of Deepfun.com

Recess for the Soul by Bernie DeKoven
Meditations on the mind’s “inner playground” are perfect for teachers to practice with kids of all ages. Parents too. Check out the recording Recess for the Soul by Bernie DeKoven to practice exercises for “inner swing set” and “teeter-taughter teachings.” It’s $20 for the CD, $9.99 for the iTunes album, or $0.99 per track.

Oregon Scientific Aroma Diffuser Elite ($99.99)
Who doesn’t want to wake up to the smell of their favorite essential oil? Instead of waking you up with a noise you just hit the snooze on, this alarm clock wakes you up to the essential oil of your choice. If you are not allergic, I suggest starting the day off with peppermint. It’s my favorite.

DreamPad 26 \ Image courtesy of ILS
DreamPad 26 \ Image courtesy of ILS

Integrated Listening System’s Dreampad 26 with Optional Bluetooth Receiver ($209)
Not everyone wants to fall asleep to white noise or music. Integrated Listening System’s Dreampad 26 has a built-in speaker that lets you plug in your device and listen to your heart’s content, while not disturbing those around you. If you want to keep your device charging while you sleep, pick up the optional Bluetooth receiver as well.

Lunch Box Jokes \ Image courtesy of Lunchboxjokes.com
Lunch Box Jokes \ Image courtesy of Lunchboxjokes.com

Lunchbox Jokes: 100 Fun Tear-Out Notes for Kids ($7.99)
Add extra humor to cafeteria time with Lunchbox Jokes: 100 Fun Tear-Out Notes for Kids. It’s especially good for 1st to 3rd grades.

Color Me Crazy: Insanely Detailed Creations to Challenge Your Skills and Blow Your
Mind
($11.00)
Pick up some colored pencils, make yourself a blanket fort, and color your cares away in this adult coloring book. I enjoy coloring in mine when I have a headache or when I’m anxious and it helps me forget the pain.

Scrabble Twist ($19.99)
Scrabble Twist is my newest addiction. It’s small enough to fit into a purse and has multiplayer and solo game features. A single game lasts about a minute, so it offers a quick break from studying. 

Bags

Xventure SmartCord Sling bag \ Image courtesy of Brakentron
Xventure SmartCord Sling bag \ Image courtesy of Bracketron

Bracketron: SmartCord Sling Bag ($24.99)
The Braketron: SmartCord Sling Bag will protect your tablet/smartphone and other personal belongings from the weather and has a special holder to make sure your headphones are close by. Great for anyone who has minimal stuff to carry.

Zelda Eject Backpack ($54.99)
My favorite part of this Zelda-themed backpack is not that it’s Zelda, but that the lunch box is on the outside and comes off. If you want to carry just the lunch box, unzip the edges and attach the shoulder strap. Otherwise, you have a cooler and a backpack in one.

Pelican Elite \ Image courtesy of Pelican
Pelican Elite \ Image courtesy of Pelican

Pelican Elite Luggage ($505)
For the students with expensive stuff in their luggage or who plan on taking it white water rafting, check out the Pelican Elite Luggage. I use mine for carrying my costumes to and from events so I don’t arrive with a broken Bat cowl.

Build On Brick Bookends ($19.99)
Build your own bookends with ThinkGeek’s Lego bookends. Lego bricks not included.

Zoku Ice Cream Maker ($25.49) and Zoku Slush & Shake Maker ($17.95)
The Zoku Ice Cream Maker and the Zoku Slush and Shake Maker are a must-have for the dorm room refrigerator. My family loves pouring soda into the slush maker and getting a frosty treat within minutes. And with Pinterest having truckloads of ice cream recipes, it’s hard to pick which one to make first.

AutoSeal Kangaroo Water Bottle with Pocket ($12.18) and Gizmo Sip Kids Water Bottles ($9.81)
Keep your student hydrated with the Kangaroo Water Bottle or the Gizmo. Both have a great seal on them and won’t spill when tossed in your backpack. (I toss mine in with my iPad all the time.) The Kangaroo comes in a variety of colors and holds 24 ounces. The Gizmo model comes in four different colors and holds 14 ounces of your child’s favorite drink. Both are dishwasher-safe. My suggestion is to keep only water in them if your only option is hand-washing.

Slim Sack \ Image courtesy of Greenpaxx.com
Slim Sack \ Image courtesy of Greenpaxx.com


Slim Snack
($13.95 for a four-pack)

Talk about your eco-friendly, multi-purpose product. Slim Snack is it. These leak-proof silicone tubes are perfect for packing fruit, granola, applesauce, veggies, or whatever. When school’s out for the summer, use them to make your own ice pops out of blended fruit or juices. Each one is easy to fill, even for kids, especially if you stand one up in drinking glass.

Clothing

Toothless Tail Fin Fighter Skirt \ Image courtesy of WeLoveFine
Toothless Tail Fin Fighter Skirt \ Image courtesy of WeLoveFine

WeLoveFine Toothless Tail Fin Skater Skirt ($25)
Get your dragon training on with this skirt inspired by Toothless the dragon.

Avengers Assemble Charm Bead Set – ThinkGeek Exclusive ($119.95)
Assemble the charms!

Rocket Raccon \ Image courtesy of SuperHeroStuff.com
Rocket Raccon \ Image courtesy of SuperHeroStuff.com

Rocket Raccoon Hooded Women’s Tank Top w/ Tail ($44.99)
This is one of my favorite pieces from SuperHeroStuff.com because I get so many compliments on it. I love the fluffy ears and the removable tail.

Superhero Belts from Superherostuff.com ($17.99)
Keep those pants where they should be with superhero style.

Batgirl Rhinestone Watch ($34.99)
Every superhero needs a watch and this one is sparkly and awesome.

Tote and Scarf \ Image courtesy of Uncommon Goods
Tote and Scarf \ Image courtesy of Uncommon Goods

Library Card Tote Bag and Literary Scarf ($20 for the Tote and $48 for the Scarf)
Uncommon Goods, which specializes in high-quality items from independent makers, offers this pair of stylish accessories for teachers, librarians, or book lovers. The natural cotton tote is printed to look like a vintage library card, instantly noticeable by anyone who has every checked out a book from a library. The silk-screen cotton infinity scarf contains passages from a choice of three timeless classics: Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, or Wuthering Heights. Both products are sold on their own, with the tote made in Brooklyn and the scarf by  Tori Tissell out of Portland, Oregon.

When it comes to back to school, you can never have enough gadgets. What items are in your students’ arsenal for the new school year? Let us know in the comments!

Disclaimer: GeekMom may have received samples of some of these items.