Raising Science-y Kids on the Cheap

raising science nerds, raising STEM kids,

Electron microscope image of an Arabidopsis thaliana leaf. It’s all how you see it. (CC by 3.0 CSIRO)

I’ve gotten a little weary (and wary) of STEM-promoted toys, kits, classes, and camps. I’m sure they’re wonderfully engaging but they make it seem as if parents have to spend a lot to raise kids who love science. That’s not the case. I’ve raised four very science-y kids while scraping along on a not-so-great income.

My husband and I don’t work in science fields. But we’ve found that keeping scientific curiosity alive isn’t hard. Instead it’s about saying “yes.” Projects that are messy, time-consuming, and have uncertain outcomes are a form of experimentation. They are real science in action. This sort of curiosity-driven learning can’t be contained in a kit or prescribed by a class. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says,

Parents come up to me, “How do I get my kids interested in science?” They’re already interested in science. Just stop beating it out of them…We tell them to shut up and sit down after spending a year telling them how to walk and talk. We teach them how to walk and talk, and they start touching things — “Oh, don’t touch that, Junior. Sit down. Stop making noise. Stop banging on the pots and pans.” Every one of those is an experiment.

When a kid wants to know, they want to find out. Not later, not next week, but right away. Finding out is engaging. It leads to ever widening curiosity. In our family this process of discovery-to-mastery started early.

When my oldest was just a baby he was horrified by vacuums. Even the sight of one made him scream with This Will Kill Me volume. So we let him learn he could control the “off” and “on” switch. His horror turned to fascination, leading him toward ever greater curiosity heading in all sorts of directions. He’s the four-year-old who, learning that bones have Latin names, became obsessed with memorizing them. He’s the eight-year-old who inspired our friends to save all sorts of broken appliances and equipment because he liked to take things apart. He’s the twelve-year-old who insisted on joining a model railroad club even though all the members were decades older than he was. He developed the passions, we simply facilitated them.

When my daughter was barely able to walk, around 11 months old, she was fascinated by the stones at the end of our driveway. Day after day she wanted to toddle close to the street just to pick up those stones. It occurred to me that it would be a lot easier to satisfy her curiosity than to keep saying no and turning her back toward the house. So she and I went there together and sat in those stones. She was enthralled. I marveled at all the different ways she chose to experience them. Holding, dropping, picking up one at a time then grabbing handfuls, handing them to me and taking them back, rubbing the smooth ones and, once I showed her, holding them up to the light. Sometimes she’d raise a stone to her mouth, then shake her head, reminding herself that stones weren’t for eating. Once or twice a stone did touch her lips. The result? I told her we were all done, picked her up, and went back to the safety of the lawn near the house. She remembered. I let her investigate stones day after day until she was done, her desire to know satisfied. (She’s now a biologist.)

When my third child was three he was entranced by the lighters and matches his grandmother used to light her cigarettes. Since she lived with us and sometimes unintentionally left fire generating devices out, his intense curiosity concerned me. He knew that children shouldn’t touch anything that makes fire, but he was so active (I’ve already described his chimpanzee-like abilities as a toddler) that I knew it was a matter of time before her forgetfulness might collide with his need for some hands-on experience. So, explaining this was only okay to do with an adult, I stood him on a stool at a sink full of water, letting him light match after match to drop in the water. He was a little afraid. His fingers were almost singed a few times. He also conquered the fascination with flame. He asked a few times over a period of months to do this again. Then he was done. Warning about danger doesn’t have the same effect as a child getting close enough to know that matches do burn. It also helps to know you can find out what you want to know, even about scary stuff, in the presence of a parent. (He’s now a year’s classes away from a geology degree.)

Some experiments shouldn’t have happened. One of my little boys quietly carved a small hole in the drywall of his closet, then attempted to spackle it with the unlikely combination of toothpaste covered by an ostrich feather he’d saved from a field trip. We didn’t discover it until we were emptying that closet as he packed for college. We still laugh about that one. (He’ll soon be graduating with honors as a mechanical engineer.)

Sometimes our science-y obsessions are entirely nonsense, such as a typical dinner table conversation about how many citrus batteries it might take to start a car. Ideas were proposed for this never-to-occur project, including the use of lemon juice instead of whole fruit.

Sometimes that science is pseudo-educational, such as the time we swabbed between our toes and let the bacteria grow in petri dishes. The “winner’s” dish had such virulent growth that she felt sure it deserved to live. She gave it a name and tried feeding it extra glucose and agar. It quite effectively kept her siblings out of her room. I insisted she throw it away when it began creeping past the lid. I am still blamed for the demise of this biological fright.

raising kids to love science,

A glorious backyard arachnid/ (image: L. Weldon)

Sometimes it goes on and on. My offspring seem driven to find out. They can’t spot a spider without observing it, wanting to identify it, and then going on about the hydraulic features that are basic arachnid operating equipment. Then there was a certain months-long project that involved observing and sketching the decomposition of a muskrat. They have to discuss all possible angles of a problem, often in such depth that my far more superficial mind drifts off. They tend to walk into a room announcing odd factoids which invariably leads to strange conversations about recently de-classified Russian research, turbocharged engines, or riparian ecology. Or all three. Woe to me if I question a postulate put forth by one of my kids. They will entertain my doubts playfully, as a cat toys with a mouse, then bombard me with facts proving their points. Lots of facts. I’ve tried to uphold my side in science disputes but it’s like using a spork to battle a light saber.

making math relevant, raising young scientists,

Other family homes probably have video game controllers. Our house has stacks of books and periodicals (who took the neutrino issue of New Scientist, someone yells); tubs overflowing with one son’s beakers, tubing, and flasks; culturing products in the kitchen (like the jar with a note that says “Leave me alone, I am becoming sauerkraut”); and random sounds of saws, welders, and air compressors as something entirely uncommon is being constructed or deconstructed. I know other families have nice normal pictures on their refrigerators. Ours tends to post odd information. The longest-running fridge feature here is a card listing the head circumference of every person in the family.

Then there’s the front yard. A headstone leans by the garage door. It’s not left over from Halloween. Our youngest is teaching himself stone carving using hand tools. This stemmed from his interest in ancient Norse language and myth and lifestyles. That led to a study of runes, leading to old runic carvings, well, you get the idea. He’s already carved runes in a few stones. So of course his brother got him a headstone as a birthday gift. Entirely natural.

Handmade Trumpet Man, yes, still wearing a Santa hat. (image: L. Weldon)

Handmade Trumpet Man, yes, still wearing a Santa hat. (image: L. Weldon)

Also in the yard, a giant sculpture another son welded out of scrap metal. He’s never taken a welding course, or an art course for that matter. No problem. He measured his own limbs to translate into the correct human form. We call the resulting sculpture our Trumpet Man.

And recently my daughter spent the afternoon in front of the house cleaning an entire deer skeleton she found in our woods. She was entirely happy identifying bones, scrubbing, and assembling it into the likeness of a very hungry  deer. (Maybe our front yard is why our mail carrier seems a little wary.)

Sure, my kids have known from their earliest days that I have a bias toward learning. They know I’m much less likely to nag them if they’re reading or working on a project of their own because I don’t want to mess with anyone’s state of flow.  My kids are much more science-savvy than I’ll ever be, but more importantly, they’re capable Makers and doers eager to get their hands into whatever they want to learn.

Get Your Geek On, Beautiful: Introducing Jordandené

Image: Jordandené - Doctor Who Don't Blink Tank

Image: Jordandené – Doctor Who Don’t Blink Tank.

Tracking PixelWe have some of the coolest sponsors, and Jordandené is no exception. Tonight, I wore my new favorite sweatshirt—a teal number that reads in script: “We’re all stories in the end.” Doctor Who fans need no introduction, but if you happen to be curious, this very awesome shirt is a quote from the eleventh Doctor and a perfect accessory for this novelist.

Hey, it’s hard finding geeky fashion. It’s hard finding geeky fashion that fits, is comfortable, and is part of something great. Jordandené helps you find all of that, and then some, with their made-in-Brooklyn designs encompassing a wide variety of designs and fandoms. The company itself is all women, so they know what we’re looking for when it comes to clothes. I’m particularly fond of their line of quotes on sweatshirts, T-shirts, and tanks, meaning you can let your geek flag fly at the gym, under a blazer at work, or just lounging about at home. It’s geeky fashion that’s subtle, gorgeous, and wonderfully well made.

Image: Jordandené - some of the sweatshirt line; I adore my Ninth Doctor one.

Image: Jordandené – some of the sweatshirt line; I adore my Ninth Doctor one.

Sure, the gym and work is great. But if there’s another room in the house where I geek out the most, it’s probably the kitchen. I mean, I’m totally in my element there, throwing together dinners after work and totally getting in “the zone” with the alchemical herbs and spices around me.

While there are some cute options I’ve seen at local kitchenware stores, I’ve never come across anything as clever and awesome as what Jordandené offers. Whether you’re a Gryffindor or a Star Trekker, a Disney princess aficionado or a TARDIS junkie, they’ve designed the most amazing aprons you can imagine. The designs are distinctive and minimalist and totally stunning, especially with the flared bottom skirts.

Robin_Apron_Hostess_Crop

Image: Jordandené – Kitchen superhero.

My personal favorite? Robin. Sure, Batman is cool. But I get a little giddy over the colors when it comes to Robin, and the design is too good to pass up. Second place awesome goes to the TARDIS, of course. But you can make your decision.

And if clothes aren’t quite your thing, you’ll be glad to know that Jordandené also provides a large selection of kids clothes, tote bags, and jewelry. If you want to get some ideas on how to integrate this delightful geekiness into your wardrobe, you’ve got to check out their Pinterest pages, like this Harry Potter themed one, and their Polyvore collections like below.

Image: Jordandené  - a perfect Polyvore ensemble, Khaleesi style.

Image: Jordandené – a perfect Polyvore ensemble, Khaleesi style.

Even more exciting than sharing all this is that Jordandené is sponsoring a giveaway for our littlest geeks—that’s right, one lucky winner (chosen at random) will get an Astroanimal Baby Onesie. Just enter the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And even if you don’t win, you still will, because you can get 25% off your purchase at the Jordandené store by entering geeklove2015 at checkout. It’s valid for anything on the site.

So browse, enter, and geek on, my friends.

This post is sponsored by Jordandené.

10 Purchases You Should Never, Ever, Ever Skimp On

Image by Natania Barron

Image by Natania Barron

Listen, I get it. I come from a long line of thrifty people. It’s in my blood. As soon as the weather is warm enough, I’m out there every Saturday with my mom, scouring the neighborhoods for tag sales (I live in the South now, but, y’all, it’ll always be a tag sale to me). Over the years I’ve managed to find priceless antiques, top shelf brand purses, and amazing vintage clothes—all at basement prices. My mom loves taking people to her house and making them guess how much she paid for things, then giddily explaining that it only cost her 25 cents for her amazing wall-hanging.

But now, I have a family of my own. And after years of being underwater with college debt, houses, cars, and the general insane expense of having two kids (seriously, how does an eight-year-old eat so much?), I’ve come to believe that there are certain non-negotiables when it comes to purchases. When it comes down to it, you want quality things for the most important components of your life.

Some of these really aren’t that expensive, some of them are. But I’ll make separate arguments and reasoning for each one.

Why does this matter?

No, I’m not saying you should go out and drop Benjamins like it’s 1997. I’m saying that moms have a habit of putting our own wants and needs on the back-burner. Of compromising for everyone else. No, a great cup of coffee isn’t going to change your life. But it can make a better, kinder moment. It might help you later that day, that month, that year, to find a little more zen in your life because you put yourself in a valued place for a bit.

By G.dallorto (Own work) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons - She's going to be sleeping on this pillow for a long, long, time yet.

By G.dallorto (Own work) [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons – She’s going to be sleeping on this pillow for a long, long, time yet.

10) Pillows.

It’s tempting to get cheap pillows, I know it is. But remember this: You sleep on your pillow every damn night of the week. You might scoff at a $100 price tag, sure. But a good pillow will last years and can make or break your bedtime routine. When it comes to good sleep hygiene, there’s no better first step than making sure your neck and back and shoulders, all places where I personally store a lot of tension, are kept nice and comfy all night long. I’m a big fan of Costco when it comes to finding foam pillows, my preferred type. But there are plenty on Amazon that will do the trick, too.

By MarkSweep (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By MarkSweep (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

9) Coffee.

Life is too short for crappy coffee, I say. Sure, this likely has something to do as my years as a barista. But one thing I can no longer abide by is awful coffee to start out my day (tea = same thing). I can’t even drink regular coffee (hi, anxiety, nice of you to hang out with me every second of my life), so I’ve got to stick to decaf, and that’s even harder since decaf is significantly more expensive and significantly less tasty. My approach? Pour over coffee method with these beans. More than whole bean some places, maybe. But the taste makes my morning ritual fabulous. And still a helluva lot cheaper than going to Starbucks.

andalou

Image: Andalou Naturals

8) Moisturizer.

Okay, sure. If you have superhuman skin, that’s fine. If any old moisturizer doesn’t bother your face or cause you to break out in hives and Mt. Vesuvius-sized pimples, cool. Ignore this advice. But it’s my face. I really like to think hard about what I put on my face. I spent years, years I tell you, trying to find a moisturizer that wouldn’t leave me in agony. When I finally found one that I could use every day—Andalou Naturals Clarifying Oil Control Beauty Balm Un-Tinted with SPF30—and had SPF in it (something that usually triggers the nasty reactions mentioned above), I honestly didn’t care how much it cost. Moisturizing your skin is just about the most important thing you can do for your face, regardless of your age. Cheap, fragrance-ridden, questionable ingredient-filled tubes might be tempting, but again this is something going on your face. Your face. If there were ever a place to make sure you’re playing it safe, it’s there.

Félicien Rops [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Félicien Rops [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

7) Shower heads.

Showers? What are you on about, Barron? Listen, I may have spent the better part of my graduate school career thinking about the Middle Ages, I never once took for granted that most blissful of modern conveniences: a hot shower. When it comes down to the end of a day, my brain is fried, my everything hurts, and I start seriously contemplating climbing out a window and running away to Bali… Well, there’s a good shower. Our house was built in 1968, and the fixtures it came with are what I think of as Army Grade. You know, they spit out water so fast at you, it’s like being pelted with glass. A $40 Waterpik later, and suddenly my shower is a spa, and I’m as happy as a clam… until I hear that scratching at the door.

Image: Merrell

Image: Merrell

6) Shoes.

Funny story. Once my husband Michael bet me that I owned more pairs of shoes than he had board games. I knew he would lose, since he’s already into the low 100s, but he had this perception that I had dozens and dozens of pairs. Turns out I had 16. I’m very picky with shoes. Y’know, women’s feet—just like their bodies—come in all shapes and sizes. And walking around all day in pain just isn’t my idea of living. When I get new shoes for work, or for play, I spend some serious time researching. Recent favorites include Franco Sarto boots (I have a red pair that wear like slippers and have clocked hundreds of miles in) and Merrell Women’s Vapor Glove Trail Running Shoe shoes. Target has some great shoes, sure. But my high arch and high bridge means that most shoes = aches. It means I get fewer shoes, sure. But I just can’t abide by aching feet. As my father in law says, “Oh, my dogs are barkin’.” I avoid the barking dogs like the plague.

Artemisia Gentileschi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Artemisia Gentileschi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

5) Crafting supplies.

Yes, this can easily get out of hand. But bad paint and bad yarn are just a waste of money. Sure, that three-skein pack seemed like a good idea. But now you’re stuck with it for a whole afghan and it’s turning your fingers blue. Which is really weird considering the yarn itself is red. Better to save up for a really nice set of oil paints than struggle through a whole set of acrylics that just don’t get the job done. When it comes to your hobbies, make them count. Don’t break the bank, but make a list of what’s most important. Paint brushes: non-negotiable. Palettes: maybe not so much.

By Paolo Neo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Paolo Neo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

4) Wine.

Two-Buck Chuck. Just put it down. Just walk away. Two dollars for any amount of fluid is too good to be true. Plus, ever since I read about dead bird wine I can’t even abide by the stuff. I’m not telling you to pay $30/bottle. In fact, I try to stay well under $15 if I can help it. Between Trader Joe’s (I suggest their Epicuro wines if you like a great value with lots of flavor) and Whole Foods (they carry a Globerati brand that is about $12/bottle and comes in a bunch of varietals), you can do really, really well for yourself.

Image: Amazon

Image: Paper Mate

3) Pens.

The art of writing may be dwindling, but not for me. When I’m at work I like to take notes, less for posterity and more just to help with memory later on down the line. But I’ve tried cheap pens and the result is always rather sad and unsatisfying. Paper Mate Inkjoy pens are one of my favorite new lines, and it’s far from pricey. Sure, there’s always Mont Blanc to save up for someday, but I’m happy with these colorful ones that suit just fine, whether I’m writing my next novel out longhand or scribbling a note to my husband. There is a special kind of rage I experience with crappy pens, and really, I prefer to avoid that if at all possible. No one should have to endure that fury, really.

By Rainer Zenz at de.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Rainer Zenz at de.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

2) Herbs & spices.

I know it’s tempting to go the McCormick route. But the quality of herbs and spices really matters when cooking. Not just because it adds good flavor, but because it’s one of the best things you can do to brighten up your meals without paying a ton. Sure, saffron might be a little out of the price range. But finding a local spice shop—I’m lucky to have Savory Spice Shop here in North Carolina—means access to freshly made blends. Throw out old herbs and spices. They’re tasteless and awful. Get good ones, and experiment. It’s an investment that will please everyone at the dinner table. My personal favorites as of late include Szechuan peppercorns, cardamom pods (amazing in aforementioned coffee), and Vietnamese sweet lemon curry.

Image: Tote

Image: Tote

1) Your purse.

Maybe you’re not a purse person. Then this isn’t a big deal for you. But my purse isn’t a status symbol—I couldn’t care less if I’m packing Michael Kors or Coach or Tori Burch (and LOL—yeah, none of those are even close to my budget). But what I do care about is something that fits my laptop. Some diapers. My wallet. My iPad. And it’s got to be able to take a beating, look cool, and essentially be a Bag of Holding all at the same time. I spend more time researching purses than I do researching cars. Some of my favorites include B. Makowsky (great cellphone slip pockets on the outside, high quality, and often available on clearance at Marshall’s) and Betsy Johnson (non-leather, most usually, but with lots of pockets and pizazz). I’ve actually taken a two-pronged approach. On the weekends I wear a cross body B. Makowsky bag that I got at a consignment store (I didn’t say you have to stop being thrifty!) and during the workweek it’s a Betsey Johnson tote I snagged at Stein Mart (they carry far more than old lady sunglasses and jogging suits). I swap my phone and my wallet between the two, and it’s worked incredibly well.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. A few others I could have included are vacuum cleaners, nail polish, and mascara. But maybe that’s another list altogether.

Either way, there are two factors at work here: Some are about the long tail, others are about better single moments. No matter what your time frame, if you save up for the purchases that really matter, it means less stress later on. And hope that you find little moments to put yourself first, instead of everyone else.

What are your non-negotiables?

Join GeekMom for the Oscars Sunday Night

Image Credit: oscars.org

Join Rachel and Patricia as they chat on the GeekMom Facebook page about the Oscars. Image credit: Oscars.org.

Did you get your invite to the Academy Awards?

“No, despite some of my favorite actors and actresses getting nominations, and the fantastic Neil Patrick Harris hosting, I guess my invitation got lost in the mail….”

Neither did I. I think my invitation got lost too…

If you’re going to be spending Sunday evening watching the big event, feel free to join GeekMom Rachel and me as we live-chat about the Oscars on Facebook starting at 7:00 p.m. EST/6:00 p.m. CST/5:00 p.m. MST/4:00 p.m. PST.

“OOOOoooo… I love watching Oscar night and would love to dish about it with other geeky parents! Where do I go to join in?”

This year, we’ll be on the GeekMom Facebook page, but if you want to let us know what you are thinking or hearing on Twitter, speak your mind with hashtag #oscarsgeekmom, and we will chime in over there too.

Are you looking forward to Oscar night? What do you enjoy the most about it?

The Cliffs of Insanity: The Oscars, Selma, & Agent Carter

Promotional poster for Selma. No white saviors.

Promotional poster for Selma. No white saviors.

Welcome to another installment of climbing the cliffs of insanity in pop culture. This week, I want to take on some criticism of Marvel’s Agent Carter, and how its only so-so ratings are related to criticism being tossed at the Oscar-nominated film, Selma.

First, a little personal blatant self-promotion and, later, a geek parenting level unlocked.

I’ve just received print copies of book three in my superhero series, Ghost Phoenix, and to celebrate, I’m hosting a giveaway on Goodreads.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Ghost Phoenix by Corrina Lawson

Ghost Phoenix

by Corrina Lawson

Giveaway ends March 13, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

It’s been an excellent month for the whole Phoenix Institute series, as it was named “Best Superhero Origin Series” in the SF Romance Galaxy Awards, an honor that resulted in mentions on USA TODAY and in an article at Barnes & Noble’s website.

I’m equally thrilled to see Science Fiction Romance receive this attention, especially as a counter to all the debate going on over 50 Shades of Gray, with which, despite my parody post earlier this week, I’m so done with right now.

I’d rather talk about Selma and how it fits in with the so-so ratings of the awesome Marvel’s Agent Carter, the best geek show on television right now.

Marvel’s Agent Carter: Yes, The Men, Even the Good Guys, Are Sexist

Selma: No White Saviors

I was struck by this statement from Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, when discussing Selma and why the film is unlikely to win an Oscar:

“It’s hard not to think that at least some of the attacks on this movie stem from the fact that it’s a black female filmmaker who turned that white president of the United States into the help.”

The quote reminded me of some male criticism of Agent Carter’s SSR work colleagues, at Den of Geek:

Up until “The Iron Ceiling,” most of the featured members of the SSR have been caricatures and different levels of male foils for Peggy Carter.

The objection is fascinating because the SSR men haven’t been caricatures at all. They have been shown as consistently sexist, leading them to underestimate Peggy, but even from the beginning, it was clear Dooley was no fool, that Thompson held inner demons inside, and that Sousa wanted to prove himself still able to contribute despite his injury.

But their sexism has been at the forefront of their interactions with Peggy.

We’re used to seeing good guys, our heroes, be admirable. I suspect it makes some men deeply uncomfortable to see the good guys be such sexist jerks to their heroine, Peggy. What’s more, the SSR men are the supporting cast in Peggy’s story. Like Dargis, I wonder how much criticism focused on the SSR men stem from the fact that in any other story, they’d be the heroes and Peggy’s story would be in support of them.

My guess is this uncomfortable feeling is partially responsible for the show not setting the ratings on fire. It’s been tremendously entertaining, well-acted all around, tightly plotted, suspenseful, emotional, and basically everything that I hoped Gotham (a hot mess) or the slow first season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. would be.

All six of my family members, including my husband (who points to Flash and Arrow as ridiculous) love Agent Carter.

If Peggy doesn’t get a second season, while Gotham does, I throw in the towel on ever getting a great superhero show that treats women as equal characters to the men.

At least my family has good taste. Speaking of which…

cover via DC Comics

Read the series before the show airs! Cover via DC Comics

Preacher: Geek Parenting Highest Level Achieved

My eldest son (19) wanted graphic novels for Christmas. He likes horror and several Vertigo series, so I bought him the first paperback collection of Garth Ennis‘ classic Preacher.

His reaction:

“Mom, I cannot believe you bought me this for Christmas. This is a sick, twisted comic.”

A day later. “Damn, this is good.”

Two days after that, he ordered all Preacher volumes.

With his own money.

My work is clearly done.

And now he’ll be ahead of all his friend when Preacher comes to television this fall.

 

Masques de Carnaval Pour les Geeks

masks

Big Hero 6, Harry Potter, and Doctor Who are three places to look for geeky carnival mask ideas, but they also bear cultural connections. Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

From Venice to Rio to New Orleans, Carnival season brings out colorful costumes—and some colorful characters—during the weeks leading up to the Lenten season.

Despite some cultural differences, and the unfortunate bacchanalia, that seems to take over these celebrations, one of the most beautiful, and mostly family friendly, elements is the creation of the Carnival mask.

Mask making has also always been an important part of pop culture from superheroes needing a way to protect their identity from their foes, and science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies often feature something hidden behind masked exterior.

The villain masks, in particular, are some of the most recognizable elements of their costumes, be it Darth Vader from Star Wars or Court of Owls from recent Batman comics.

Families can get into the spirit of Carnival year round, by creating and learning about the origin of three ornate villains masks: Clockwork Droid, as seen in Doctor Who’s Girl in the Fireplace episode; Death Eater Mask from the world of Harry Potter; and Yokai’s mask from Big Hero 6.

eyes

Mask makers’ tip: Lenses from cheap sunglasses will help hide tell-tale eyes. Images: Lisa Kay Tate.

Each of these mask ideas starts with a simple white face craft mask, and requires only a paint job (no cutting needed). For all these masks, make sure to lightly draw the desired pattern on the surface in pencil before painting on the final pattern.

Also remember, those planning on wearing these masks will notice a couple of things when the mask is on the face that they didn’t see when the mask was on the work surface—their eyes. If this detracts from the mask, use a glue gun to glue lenses from cheap dollar shop sunglasses on the back of the eye holes. However, this might not be the best idea if attending a party in dark location.

Death Eater Masks. This band of dark wizards and witches loyal to Harry Potter’s main foe, Lord Voldemort, use their masks to intimate their prey and hide their identity. Each Death Eater has created their own unique design, making it easier for fellow Voldemort loyals to identify each other. As terrible as these individuals were, they were pretty creative in the field of mask design.

Although there is no real mention of this connection, these masks resemble the iron masks used in various cultures to torture and humiliate prisoners and criminals. Examples include the legend of the Man in the Iron Mask from the reign of France’s Louis XIV, and the horrifying “scold’s bridle” used to subdue women and slaves in 16th and 17th century Europe.

Special instructions: To give the mask its metal look, give it a smooth coat of silver spray paint. Once the design is painted on with felt tip or a thin brush, give it a tarnished look by lightly antiquing it with a thin wash of black paint and water.

deatheater

A French museum displays mannequin inspired by the Alexander Dumas story Man in The Iron Mask (left), and its eerie resemblance to a Death Eater’s mask. Images: Public Domain and Lisa Kay Tate.

Clockwork Droid Mask. The popular episode of the Tenth Doctor’s meeting with Madame de Pompadour (Louis XV’s chief mistress), takes him back to 18th Century France. There he encounters a group of repair droids wishing to use her brain to repair broken star ship bearing her name.

The masks from this episode are heavily influenced by the elaborate masks of the Carnival of Venice, which ends the day before Ash Wednesday (the Venetian equivalent of Mardi Gras). The Carnival dates back to at least the 1160s, but Carnival attendees often take on the look of the Victorian era. The mask is so important to this celebration that one of the key events in Carnival is the “most beautiful” mask contest held the final weekend with an international panel of prestigious judges.

Special instructions: Once the colored pattern is painted on, the gilded outlines on the design can be created by carefully drawing the pattern on with a glue gun to achieve a raised texture. Once dry, paint over the glue with gold, silver, or bronze paint.

venicemask

A gilded Venetian mask popular at Carnival season (left), and the mask inspired by the Doctor Who villains, Clockwork droids. Images: Wikicommons and Lisa Kay Tate.

Yokai Mask. The villainous alter ego of Professor Callaghan, Hiro Hamada’s primary enemy, uses a red and white Japanese mask for to hide his identity.

Both the name and the mask are a centuries-old part of Japanese folklore. The Yokai (loosely translated as “bewitching” or “mystery,” among other terms) are phantom monsters who come in various human and animal forms. They have been known to bring both ill fortune and good luck, depending on the countless tales or incarnations of this creature.

Special instructions: The Yokai mask featured in the movie is not a full face mask, but when working with young crafters, it is safer to get this effect by coloring in the bottom portion with black marker or paint, rather than trying to cut it.

yokai mask

Japanese Yokai concepts in human and animal form (left) and Big Hero 6‘s Yokai villain mask. Images: Wikicommons and Lisa Kay Tate.

These masks look good on their own, but some particularly festive mask makers might want to add their own Mardi Gras elements to them, by adding ribbons, feathers, or other embellishments. That is more than fine.

Mask makers in Venice were so loved by party-goers, they were given special status with their own guild and laws. This means there are no rules in making these mask ideas a personal, original statement, for Carnival, cosplay, or just a conversation piece.

Raising Citizens of the World

Raising kids on a small farm has left us without the time or the means to travel. But we want our children to be global citizens. We want them to truly understand how fully they are linked to their fellow beings on this beautiful blue/green planet.

When they were small, we read the stories, ate the foods, played the games, and celebrated the festivals of far-off lands. As they got older, we paid close attention to a rich variety of in-depth materials that helped us discover the global fibers that run through history, art, science, literature; really through any field of interest.

More than any materials we introduce, the connections my kids find most pivotal are those they make on their own, person-to-person across any distance. For example, one of my musician sons got interested in acoustics. He joined special interest forums to talk with fellow aficionados around the world about the technical details of repairing historic microphones, the artistic nuances of found sound recordings, and other topics. Friendships developed. Now they converse about everything from politics to movies. Some day, when he travels overseas, he plans to take them up on their offers to stay in New Zealand, Finland, Brazil, and elsewhere. Already he’s visited friends made online in the U.S., finding the rapport they developed holds fast in person as well.

Belarus, mapped. (Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps the most important connections any of us can make are lasting, caring relationships with people who live far away. For our family, one of the most enduring relationships we made was with an effervescent girl from Belarus named Tatiana. She came as part of the medical program Children of Chernobyl. Even in her first week here, the strength of her personality more than made up for the few words of English she knew and our poor pronunciation of Russian words we thought we knew. Tatiana was horrified by my vegetarian meals, refused to participate in the activities my outdoor-loving children preferred and let us know that she hadn’t traveled so far to live like a peasant. She wanted to be entertained! Like anthropologists to our own culture, we explored shopping malls and tourist sites, we bought kids’ fast food meals for the prizes, and went to amusement parks rather than wilderness areas. Tatiana displayed her brilliance in many ways, typically beating any of us at the board games we’d played for years and she’d just learned. Tatiana lived with us for five summers. She became a member of our family, a family which feels to us as if it extends to Belarus.

Each relationship made of understanding and caring warms our planet—but in a good way. Which leads me to recommend two excellent books to help you raise global citizens.

Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World by Homa Sabet Tavangar is packed with enrichment ideas, games, service activities, and resources to help raise children with the world in mind. Here are some great ideas from Tavangar’s book.

  • Boost cultural understanding and fun by listening to pop music from around the world.  (I suggest using online translation to figure out the lyrics.)
  • Talk about the origins and trading routes of products used every day in your home. Try tracing back a chocolate bar or T-shirt.
  • Discover what foods are said to heal common health conditions. Lime juice in armpits is recommended in Paraguay to solve odor, ginger and green onion tea is recommended in China to cure a cold.
  • Learn about practices for welcoming newborn babies into the family and community. Consider adapting customs to commemorate a new arrival in your family.

For a vigorous “go there” perspective, read The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost. A cure for any but the worst helicopter parents, Frost shows how learning in other countries best prepares today’s teens for the real global workplace. That means choices resulting in self-reliant, confident, and bold adults.

Here are five important things you can gain from Frost’s book.

  • Real-life accounts by young people who live and study abroad. Frost calls them “bold statements” and they offer invigorating examples of what travel can provide.
  • Why the Rotary International Youth Exchange program offers the best exchange programs. Frost says it has to do with the network of volunteers around the globe providing support to families and students, the affordable price, and the commitment to humanitarian work.
  • The stage of life between 15 and 20, when pivotal life skills are being developed, the reach of our young people tends to be limited. As Frost writes, “They zero in on the fit of their jeans rather than on the fit of a cultural identity within a larger population, and they devote hours to enhancing the clarity of their skin instead of the clarity of their thinking. They are digging into a plate of pettiness because that is precisely what we’ve served them. They deserve—and are ready for—so much more.”
  • How to arrange study abroad credits outside of university-affiliated programs for more freedom and frugality.
  • Ways to connect with helpful people in countries around the world.

Want more ideas?

May your children become global learners. May our shared home be one of peace and goodwill.

Gut-what? How to Tell Dew from Guttation

When I lived in Florida, I had a green lawn in the month of February.  In this case, upon closer look at my seemingly-dewy lawn, I noticed that it wasn’t dew, it was guttation! The droplets at the tips of the blades of grass are the giveaway. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Someone recently mentioned to me that I hadn’t written a good old-fashioned meteorology post in a while. So, here’s a fun topic for you, one that you can show off to your kids if you can catch it at the right time. I’m taking a bit of stretch here, since this topic overflows into biology, which was never my strong suit.

While many of you in the northern United States have been struggling with record snowfall and record cold temperatures this winter, along the Gulf Coast of Florida the precipitation will be in the form of rain. In fact, Nor’easter storms typically form just off the coast of Texas between about Brownsville and Houston, and in their infancy those systems will dump quite a bit of rain here.

When the excess rain saturates the ground, plant life will adapt accordingly. One of the ways some plants will adapt to the excess available moisture is through a process known as guttation. I know, a funny word, right?

Up close, recognizing guttation is easy on blades of grass. Look for the singular droplets at the very tip of the blade. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Guttation occurs when a plant has turned off its transpiration processes, usually at night, so excess moisture cannot evaporate from the surface of the leaf. Instead, root pressure will cause the moisture (along with other chemicals and sugars indigenous to the plant, known as xylem) to get pushed out through the leaf edges. Because of the tapering at the top of a blade of uncut grass, a larger droplet often forms at the very tip.

Guttation is not dew. Dew is atmospheric moisture condensing on colder surfaces, and is pure water. Guttation is moisture secreted from within the plant itself, and contains xylem sap.

Guttation allows for secretion through the edges of the plant. Look very closely (click through for the full sized picture if you like)…do you see the moisture along the edges of the blade of grass? Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

I have seen guttation year-round—so long as the air temperature is above freezing—in every state I have lived in during my adult life*. It’s more likely to occur during a period of excess rains, such that soil is saturated. The large droplets on the tips of the blades occur most often on uncut grass, so your lawn’s first growth in the spring before the first mowing is a good time to look for it. If you’re near a wild field or meadow, that’s a good place also. It happens most often at night, so you’d need to catch it close to sunrise. The moisture will evaporate quickly once the sun hits the surface.

*If you’re wondering what states I have lived in since age 18, they would be Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina, Nebraska, Florida, and Colorado.

The next time you see moisture on your lawn, check to see if it’s guttation instead of dew. This can make for a great lesson for kids, too. Ask the kids to talk about, write about, or draw what they see. Other topics that can be further discussed with guttation include:

• Evapotranspiration: One of the processes in the water cycle.
• Krebs cycle: How a cell can release energy from organic compounds into energy necessary for sustainment.
Colony collapse disorder (CCD): Guttation might draw up water that contains neonicotinoid insecticides blamed for killing pollinators such as honeybees. Studies have shown that this contributes to sudden disappearances of honeybee populations in North America. Read more from Laura about other contributors to CCD.

The photos in this post were taken on February 8, 2013, in Navarre, Florida, about 20 miles east of Pensacola on the Gulf Coast. I had to lie in my front yard with my camera’s telephoto lens on manual focus. We had heavy rain the previous day. This was the same day the northeastern U.S. started to experience the “Blizzard of 2013” (February 8-9, 2013).

How to Survive Snow Shoveling Season

snow shoveling

Photo by Jackie Reeve.

It’s been a wet and snowy winter, and while my heart is plotting spring adventures, my brain reminds me that it is, in fact, only February. We have not seen the last of snow, and I’m starting to wonder if the whole “March goes in like a lion, out like a lamb” thing will be more applicable to April this year.

Meh.

So, here are some tips for surviving the rest of the snowy season. And I don’t mean the snow angels and snowmen season of kids frolicking and having the time of their lives when school is closed. I mean the “I have to get to work and my driveway looks like an Ice Road Truckers route” kind of snowy season.

Artisanal marshmallows. You’re a grownup, but that doesn’t mean hot chocolate isn’t still the greatest thing about a snowstorm. If you want to tszuj up a cup of cocoa, try some fancy marshmallows. Whimsy & Spice make amazing fluffy squares in flavors like cardamom and maple. Keep a stash in your desk at work or in your cabinets at home for when you need some relief from cleaning off your car or shoveling the white stuff.

Get out the snow paint. Fill some squeeze bottles with water and food coloring, and get the kids to help you decorate your driveway and yard. This will in no way change the fact that the driveway still has to be cleared, but you’ll have a much more festive view when you do get around to it.

Invest in a UE Megaboom. Clearing snow deserves its own anthemic soundtrack. The UE Megaboom ($299.99) is a 360-degree portable speaker with a waterproof and stain-resistant skin. That means it can hold its own against splashes of snow and road salt while spreading sound throughout the neighborhood.

Logitech Megaboom

Screenshot by Jackie Reeve, from www.ultimateears.com.

The Megaboom is lightweight and delivers a surprising amount of bass for a Bluetooth speaker. It comes in a bunch of bright colors, and it does not come in white. This is an instant pick-me-up when the latest snowmageddon covers the world like the White Witch from Narnia has paid a visit (winter all the time and never Christmas… sounds like January and February to me!).

The Bluetooth range is 100 feet, so you can keep your phone in your pocket while you work. Park this speaker on your porch or in your garage, and play loud and epic music while you shovel. Like “Eye of the Tiger,” or Pat Benatar, or something. At the very least, get in the Super Mario Bros. theme, and don’t mind those looks from the neighbors. You have got this!

megaboom in a storm

Photo by Jackie Reeve.

Wax your snow shovel. Here’s a tip from This Old House: Put two thick coats of car wax on the business end of your snow shovel, and no more sticking snow when you’re clearing your front walk. Genius.

Build an igloo with the leftover snow. That snow has to go somewhere. Instead of piling it at the curb or on the front lawn, try this igloo tutorial from Your Modern Family. This is also an incentive to get the kids to grab a spare shovel and help.

Bake cookies and bring beer to the neighbor on your street with the biggest snowblower. In my experience, those who buy large, powerful pieces of outdoor equipment are dying to use them. All. Over. The. Neighborhood.

When all else fails and you simply cannot face that driveway one more time, ply this neighbor with sugar and booze… but not right before he (or she!) is set to go out and plow. Drop by the night before a storm with provisions to see them through it, and chances are you’ll have your driveway cleared for you by morning. This strategy works equally well in the summer for the neighbor who has a rider mower. You’ll thank me later.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Calling All Book Nerds! 7 Reasons You’d Love Volunteering at the School Library

Photo: Kelly Knox

Photo: Kelly Knox

Have you been looking for a way to help out at your kids’ school, but you’re not quite cut out to be a room mom? Or maybe you’re too introverted to be an active member of the PTA? Or perhaps you only have an hour to spare each week, but you’d love to help out somehow. Enter: the school library. Literally, I mean, go in the school library.

If you consider yourself a geek or nerd, libraries likely conjure many fond memories of your own days as a student. Finding new worlds to get lost in, hiding in the corner and reading during a free period, or even browsing through things that your own kids have never heard of, like “card catalogs” and “encyclopedias.” Having many such happy memories myself, and being too shy to be active in the PTA, I chose my daughter’s school library for my volunteering efforts.

And I love it so much that I just had to tell you all about it.

Here are 7 reasons why volunteering at the school library is a fun, fantastic way to give your time.

1. Learn about current books and authors and recommend them to your kids. After checking in the pile of books sitting on the counter every week, you start getting an idea of what titles are popular and what genres kids are getting into at their age. (Spoiler: Graphic novels.) If a picture book catches my eye that I know my kindergartener will enjoy, I write down the title to check it out for my daughter at the public library later.

My favorite section, though, is the chapter books/YA novels that I would have loved to read as a kid myself. Or, you know, now. So not only might you find your kid’s next book to love, you might find one for yourself, too.

Photo: Kelly Knox

Photo: Kelly Knox

2. Help a busy librarian. The school librarian has a lot more to do during the day than fiddle with the books on the shelves. He or she needs to write lesson plans, order books, coordinate school literacy initiatives, and find out just what the kids in the hallway are shrieking about. Your 30 minutes checking in books and shelving them helps them get it all done and actually take a lunch break.

3. Meet the kids in your child’s class. Some school libraries have weekly class times and allow a parent to volunteer during their child’s lesson. Checking out the books for your kid’s classmates lets you put faces to the names you hear about at the dinner table every night.

4. Shelving books is delightfully mind-numbing. I might have deadlines looming or a problem nagging me, but for one hour every week, all I worry about is finding 636.81. (Kindergarten girls really like books about cats.) Putting the books back on the shelves is a wonderful way to focus on something else for a little bit.

5. Help advocate for your school library by getting a firsthand look at where it might need some help. “They’re always under threat of budget cuts, and parents play a big part in saving libraries and librarians,” says Jackie Reeve, GeekMom’s resident school librarian. Spending time in there every week might highlight some problem areas (outdated books? in need of donations?) that can help you take your volunteer efforts further.

6. Get crafty. The school librarian once asked for my help with the books in the window display and you’d have thought I won the lottery I was so giddy. If you enjoy crafty stuff at all, helping with the bulletin boards and setting out books to display can help you get creative for a good cause.

7. Nerd alert: Learn the Dewey Decimal System. There’s something strangely satisfying about directing a curious kid to the Ancient Egypt section or a book about the Loch Ness monster without having to look it up on the computer. This probably doesn’t seem like a huge benefit or useful life skill—unless you’re a book nerd, which I personally am, and I have a feeling you might be, too.

How the Eff… Do You Keep a Toddler Entertained In the Dead of Winter?

Do you want to build a snowman? Uh, not so much when the snow is over your head. photo by Corrina Lawson

Do you want to build a snowman? Uh, not so much when the snow is over your head. Photo by Corrina Lawson

As the snow continues to come down in New England, keeping the kids entertained day after day has been much on my mind. There’s only so much that can be done with snow up to their shoulders and without Elsa’s power.

Solving this problem seemed to much for one person. Instead, we needed a GeekMom collective to answer the conundrum: How the Eff… do you keep a 2-year-old entertained in the dead of winter? 

This is our very first question in the new How the Eff… series. If you have questions, the GeekMom collective will have answers, usually more than one. Buzz us on Facebook or Twitter.

The best part of this communal response is that I now have activities for multiple days. Now where are my eye droppers, Play-Doh, assorted kitchen liquids, and pillows?

Stacy Phares: ABCMouse. Sorting seeds or playing with kitties.

Alison Curtin: I used the television as a babysitter on Monday morning while I logged into my work email…have to admit it! But after lunch and nap time, we played a ton of board games, made cookies, and then did yoga together (I live in an apt, seemed the only real exercise physical activity I could get in without busting a lamp!).

Kristina Jager: Hmm…I take a large plastic tub, a beach towel, and glow sticks/cups/spoons/anything really and filled the tub with warm water (how much depends on you) and just set it up where I was and let her play. Think “Inside Beach.” I still do this—she’s three now and loves it. I also created a bean tub with various types of dried beans and trucks and spoons. It can be moved to wherever I need to be and is contained.

Carmel Johnson: For some reason my kids were fascinated with Rollercoaster Tycoon as toddlers.

Jane Berger: Play dates, lunch at the pizza shop, ha! Eventually we gave up and moved to Tucson, Arizona.

Cathé Post: Scavenger Hunt for random household objects. Take a picture, move along.

Rebecca Angel: Mopping the entire house with barefeet, hands, and rags. A fun way to get a workout with kids, and clean!

Rick Blake: Dress them up like an overstuffed marshmallow and throw them into a snowbank. Trust me. It’s fun.

Renee Titelbaum: I’m not in the NE (and this can be scaled for different ages), but a few years ago when we were snowed in we set up an obstacle course for my son (had to hula hoop, crawl under the coffee table, anything we could think of). Indoor scavenger hunts can be fun too. They could be educational (like using PostIts or 3x5s for each letter of the alphabet stuck to an item that starts with that letter, then kids collect them and put them in alphabetical order), or you can make the kids plan them for each other.

Karen Burnham: I had good luck on Super Bowl Sunday (nine inches of snow here in Colorado) with sponges and finger paint. He’s not up to holding a paintbrush well yet, and hates getting his hands wet, but he could make all kinds of interesting patterns with the sponges, and loved looking at the itty bitty paint bubbles it made. That worked for a whole 15 minutes!

Julia Johnson Attaway: An eye dropper, a muffin pan with different colors of water, and paper towels on which to drip the colored water and watch it spread.

Goop. Roll up white socks and have an indoor “snowball” fight. Build a fort. Collect things in the house that start with a given sound, e.g., things whose names start with B. Potions (my kids still do this a decade later) made with whatever kitchen liquids you are willing to spare.

Beth Hatch Maschmeier: Homemade play dough, and snow cream! And lots of movies.

Dreamers of Dreams: Mine will sit for ages with a pile of books! And she’s only one and a half.

Laura Grace Weldon: Let them help in the kitchen. My kids at that age loved to cut mushrooms with a butter knife, tear lettuce, clean up crumbs with a mini-vac. If I was really patient I let them “wash” plastic cups in a sink of soapy water. Also, throwing a blanket over a table for a fort into which they can take toys and (big thrill) flashlight.

Audrey Jankucic: My mom used to make us homemade play dough. It was the only time we ever got to have it, so strategically it kept us busy forever because we thought it was a special treat. Also, as I grew up in Maine, snow fort building was encouraged.

Malinda Long-Copland: Indoor trampoline.

Amy Vander Vorste: Put on swim suit and splash in the tub to their heart’s content.

Kathy Kay Moore: Play-Doh always worked wonders for us, also Silly Putty. We also had some “special” books that were only used with adult supervision… Pop-ups, paper engineering, old hand-me-downs, that we could get out for a special event. These started out as books to read to #1 while #2 was nursing, so there was a cozy feeling to it. We also liked to play with ice cubes at the tables, or in the bathtub. Since my two are close in age, they helped to distract each other.

Katie Lane: I’m told 5210 Let’s Go! has a lot of indoor active ideas….

Christie Abbott Fitzgerald: Freeze blocks of ice, give her some paint, and let her create frozen art.

Kalk: A Card Game That Makes Math Fun!

Pack+cards_press

Image: Kalk (Used with permission)

I was cruising Kickstarter the other day, as one does, and I came across something unexpected among the plethora of games and comics that I usually love to back. It was a math game.

Now, math is on my mind a lot these days. Both my son and I learn math almost organically. Workbooks are like tedious torture to us, because we need to see the math in action. So I have been looking for ways that I can help him learn in a way that makes sense to us. We’ve had a lot of fun with Math Dice and other games like that.

Kalk might just be the next math game in our library.

After watching their Kickstarter video (which does an awesome job at explaining how the game works) and talking with designers Tommy and Jonathan a bit via email, I could tell these guys were both enthusiastic about their game and passionate about sharing a love of math with everyone, even those who have a hard time with it. I took the opportunity to ask them a few questions about their game, so hopefully others could share in their enthusiasm.

GeekMom Mel: What inspired you to make Kalk?

Jonathan: When I was young, my mom and I used to go on the street and she used to ask me to sum up car’s license plates, after a while it became easy and she challenged me to get to specific numbers by using + – x ÷, just like our goal number in Kalk.

GMM: Why math? Do you have a special relationship with the subject?

Tommy: Jonathan is more into math actually, but we both created this game in order to bring math to kids and parents in a cool and fun way, so everybody will like it, like we do!

GMM: What do you think makes Kalk different?

Tommy: Kalk is a very simple game. It takes less than 10 seconds to learn how to play. This was one of our challenges in creating something simple, yet challenging and inspiring. You can actually choose the difficulty by adding more cards, playing with our magic cards, or choosing your competitors.

GMM: What do you think is the funnest part about math, maybe something that even people who hate math can appreciate?

Jonathan: The funnest part in math, in our opinion, is the ability to solve things in different ways. It always amazes us how creative our minds can be! For example, we are posting several challenges during the week on our Facebook page, and it’s always fun to see people solving our riddles in different ways.

3stepsGIF

Image: Kalk (Used with permission)

GMM: Were you good at math growing up?

Tommy: Jonathan was really good! He’s like a little professor even though he doesn’t admit it. He used to help me in school, but it didn’t help that much. However, since Kalk was created, my math skills got better. Jonathan still wins ⅘ of the times! :)

GMM: Tell us a little about the process of designing your game. What was the funnest part? Which part was the hardest?

Jonathan: The design process of Kalk was very cool! Me and Tommy used to play Kalk long before we launched the project. Back then, I started to imagine how it will look. The hardest thing I did was to design the right numbers that will look clear, fun, and appealing to both kids and parents. The funnest part was to print the first pack of Kalk and playing it for the first time!

GMM: Do you have any advice for parents who might have kids who struggle with math?

Tommy: We would suggest to go really slow with it, for some kids (like me!) it doesn’t come naturally. Try to make math more like a fun riddle, or a challenge and less like just an assignment.

TableTopPress

Image: Kalk (Used with permission)

GMM: Anything you’d like to add?

Tommy and Jonathan: We would like to add that we are really excited about this project and hope we will fund it within 20 days. It will be much appreciated if people could help us spread Kalk to the right people because unlike other “cool” projects on Kickstarter, those educational projects are a bit behind.

We really care about kids’ education these days, and believe that Kalk is a part of the solution with all the crazy technology games that you can find today. We miss sitting in the living room and play cards with friends.

We have created Kalk because we think it’s time to exercise our brain and reinforce our math skills (… and hopefully yours too!).

Best of luck with your Kickstarter campaign, Tommy and Jonathan. This looks like an awesome game, and I know I’ll be backing it!

For more details, or to back the Kickstarter, please check out Kalk‘s campaign!

Fund This: SkyMath Delivers Math Adventures on the iPad

Tracking Pixel

Image: Circumventure Learning

Image: Circumventure Learning

There’s no arguing that technology is redefining the way we, and our children, learn. We have all been there, scouring the App Store in hopes of finding just the right app to help our kids with a particularly difficult subject in school, and being inevitably disappointed in the outcome. Just because it’s a game doesn’t mean it’s fun—and just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s actually helpful. That’s where our sponsor, SkyMath, comes in hand.

SkyMath is a math program on the iPad that wants to leverage the power of learning apps and videos that are already out there to help your child master even the most challenging math concepts at the K-5 level. But don’t go thinking this is a run-of-the-mill math app on the iPad. Its entire approach is markedly different. The dedicated team behind SkyMath started in the most important way: they focused on creating a math experience that’s engaging and measurable.

You can see from SkyMath’s Kickstarter page, and in the app itself (for those of us lucky enough to get a sneak peek), that the artwork is stunning. SkyMath takes your child on a learning adventure, and every island has a different silly theme. Your child even gets to choose an adorable character to go on the journey with (my son chose the Otter as his player character).

Reward (1)

Real time rewards. Image: Circumventure Learning

The first set of islands serves as a placement test so SkyMath can figure out where your child is in math. With that information, the app creates a personalized learning path that’s tailored to your child’s math level. Parents will love how each island represents a math skill that their child needs to work on and the curated third-party apps and videos on each island really take the guesswork out of figuring out which apps are going to be the most helpful. With the number of recommendations available, the chances are good that your child will find the right apps and videos that he or she will love learning math with.

Throughout all of the gaming and practicing, SkyMath keeps track of the progress your child is making. Once your child has practiced enough to pass the post-test on each island, SkyMath moves your child on to the next math skill to work on. This focus on measuring growth and progress is a huge part of what sets SkyMath apart.

Which brings one of the most important aspects of the app into focus: incentives. Digital incentives are hard to grasp. For me, a mother of a high-functioning autistic child, finding the incentives that work (jellybeans) and the ones that don’t (long-term goals) is a big deal. But by tying real-world incentives that the parents can control in the app, the kids aren’t waiting for some digital happy face. They’re making real progress in the real world that you can celebrate with your child. Depending on your situation and your child, you can scale it from the small (those jellybeans again) to the large (trip to LEGO Land, anyone?).

Children are curious. They’re smart, too. They just need to be engaged and motivated most of the time. And a sad majority of apps out there really don’t take those concepts into consideration. SkyMath does. Built on careful attention to detail and a deep understanding of how children learn in the digital–and physical–world, I’m confident that SkyMath can make a real impact.

SkyMath’s Kickstarter campaign is going on now. Head on over to their page and make a pledge.

This post is sponsored by Circumventure Learning.

Might I Suggest The Next Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Cover

si2016

I might not be the best graphic designer, but you get the picture. Let’s do this. Parody photo manipulation by Lisa Kay Tate.

Dear Sports Illustrated:

I am so sorry to hear that, once again, there have been complaints and controversy surrounding your well-intended guide to helping women and men pick out a practical, attractive, and affordable swimsuit perfect for swimming, surfing, playing soccer, volleyball on the beach, and going out in public with your family.

After seeing the cover for this year’s issue, which apparently raised a few eyebrows and hackles, I saw the problem immediately. The poor woman on the cover wasn’t even given a suit that fits properly. She has to grab onto to suit’s bottoms to keep them from falling off. What an embarrassment for her and for your wardrobe department. Uh-oh, someone’s getting fired this year.

Well, I’ve got a solution for your next year’s issue that will solve all your problems. Might I introduce your new Swimsuit Issue 2016 cover model: Chris Pratt.

I know, I know, you can thank me later, for I’m sure this is a step you’ve considered taking in the past.

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I felt preserving swimsuit model Hannah Davis’s dignity was best until she is able to get a suit that stays up. Parody photo manip by Lisa Kay Tate.

I’m almost definitely certain this will work for you on many levels, and be a hit with readers of all demographics. Here’s are just three of the reasons why:

First of all, celebrity sells, and there is probably no bigger celebrity right now than Chris Pratt. I mean, wow, he’s everywhere, and I’m betting he’ll be even bigger next year. Isn’t that what you look for in a cover model? He’ll be a familiar face, whose talents stretch beyond just being a pretty face. Plus, I would think a prerequisite to being a cover model for a sports magazine is to play—or at least love—sports. Pratt loves sports! He knows football, and used his ability to trash talk with buddy Chris Evans (hey, another great choice, should Pratt be unavailable), as an excuse to visit sick children in hospitals. I’m told he does that anyways. That is what makes a person truly attractive, the fact he looks, well, “adequate,” in a bathing suit is secondary.

Second, of the other controversial subjects with this year’s issue, there was talk of a model described as “plus size.” I found the problem there immediately, as well. I looked all through that issue and didn’t find one person who I would rate as “plus size.” Only fit people, including one very beautiful woman in a black bikini, I’m sure you included just to make other women jealous. I assume “plus size,” in this case isn’t a size, but a grade, as in “A-plus!” When you promise a “plus size” model, there should be one, right? Here’s where Mr. Pratt could help you again, he was once considered “plus-size,” as well. The best part is, he didn’t seem to care. He seemed content to be who he was, no matter his girth, and even expressed as long as his wife and daughter loved him, who cares what others think of him. What a wonderful attitude for everyone, especially during the summer when people who feel they have less-than-perfect bodies spend entire summers swimming with t-shirts over their suits.

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The “old Pratt” would be ready to show readers how men of all shapes and sizes can be confident with their bodies. Parody photo manip by Lisa Kay Tate.

Finally, it has been recently brought to my attention, that the Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue isn’t really for women, as Sports Illustrated is primarily considered a “men’s magazine.” See, there’s another reason where you’re heading in the wrong direction. You’ve been showing off women’s suits, on the cover. Most men I know prefer to wear comfortable, loose-fitting trunks, rather than bikinis. I would think even the ones who enjoy bikinis, or rather bikini briefs, would want something that fits a little better than this year’s cover selection.

This, once again, is why my suggestion is perfect for your cover next year. Mr. Pratt will be advertising men’s swimsuits in a magazine for men! No more confusion over what men are wearing next season.

Of course, I always assumed women liked and played sports, too, but that’s another topic for another day.

There it is. I can’t wait to see next year’s cover! Everyone should be happy. I can’t think of one good reason why this won’t be the best swimsuit issue ever. Sure, there might be a few who think that the only reason they put him on the cover is to belittle and gawk at the male physique. Like, you all would ever issue a magazine with the intention selling sex over substance.

Oh well, there’s always somebody complaining for no reason, isn’t there?

The Top 14 Reasons Why I Love Winter X Games

Photo Op! Photo: Judy Berna

Photo op! Snow sculptures! Photo: Judy Berna.

Every year, I write about our adventures at Winter X Games. With four snow-loving kids, three of them risk-taking boys, this kind of event is right up our alley—and right down the road from our town. Even if you don’t live in Colorado, it’s worth a second look if you’re seeking out a winter vacation destination with your family next year. It’s always on a reliable date, held the weekend between the last NFL playoff games and the Super Bowl (the weekend of the Pro Bowl). That gives you plenty of time to make plans to attend next year. Need more convincing? Here are the top 14 reasons why this GeekMom loves Winter X Games:

1. It’s free! How can you not love something that will impress your kids, make great family memories, and cost you nothing?

2. It’s becoming more ADA accessible every year. As an amputee myself, every year I report back to one of the top ESPN guys in charge of Winter X Games, and tell him what they are doing right and what still needs work. This year, you could check out a souped-up, off-roading-type wheelchair, to navigate the tricky terrain between events (also free). There are dedicated ADA viewing areas that are well protected and actually very close to certain events. It’s exciting to see X Games become more and more accessible to adults and children with disabilities.

Large black mats make some tricky areas easier to navigate.  Photo: Judy Berna

Large black mats make some tricky areas easier to navigate. Photo: Judy Berna.

3. You can watch world class Paralympic athletes using the same courses as the able-bodied athletes. Every year, X Games includes more and more adaptive competitions. It’s great for people to see the incredible level of ability these athletes have, and makes watching the Paralympics a lot more relative. One of my favorite athletes, Mike Schultz, was a repeat gold medalist in Snowmobile at X Games, then lost his leg in an accident. In just a few years, he’d designed a new kind of leg, custom-made for athletes, and is now competing in Adaptive Snowmobile, as well as Adaptive Snowboard.

GeekMom Judy and Mike Schultz compare legs. Photo: Judy Berna

GeekMom Judy and Mike Schultz compare legs. Photo: Judy Berna.

4. Staying a few days is an option. You just have to know the trick. If you’d like to spend $800 to $1,000 for a hotel room, go ahead and book one in Aspen, which is just a few miles away. But if you book early and are willing to drive a half hour, you can secure a clean, comfortable room in Glenwood Springs, for 50 bucks and up. Add that to the fact that the event itself is free, and you’ve got yourself a pretty budget-friendly vacation.

5. It’s full of fun photo ops. Whether you’re on Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook, there are many places to stop and catch a shot of something unique. Much like Disneyland, half the fun is going through the fun pictures once you get home. Also remember that the event takes place in the heart of the Colorado mountains. Just about every picture you take, at any time of the day, will come out beautiful. Be especially alert at sunset, when the sky can turn amazing colors.

One of GeekMom Judy's favorite photo ops.  Photo: Judy Berna

One of GeekMom Judy’s favorite photo ops. Photo: Judy Berna.

6. There are free shuttles that are well organized. Parking has never been a problem. By using a commuter lot a few miles away, there is plenty of parking, and the access to the shuttle buses is efficient and timely. If you stay in Aspen, you can catch a free city bus that stops at Buttermilk every half hour.

7. It’s motivating and inspiring. Watching these events on television will make just about everyone who walks in the room say, “Whoa!” Imagine standing underneath that athlete as he jumps over your head. There are many opportunities to stand right next to the action, including the public access to the sides of the SuperPipe. You can literally hear the athletes breathing as they fly over your head in the middle of a jump. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Snowmobile practice session. Photo: Judy Berna

Snowmobile practice session. Photo: Judy Berna.

8. With practice sessions open to the public too, you have twice the opportunity to see your favorite events. The jumps are just as high and just as exciting when the athletes are warming up and there are great opportunities to get crazy photos, like the one above.

GeekMom Judy's daughter, standing at the edge of the Super Pipe during practice. Photo: Judy Berna

GeekMom Judy’s daughter, standing at the edge of the SuperPipe during practice. Photo: Judy Berna.

9. The athletes are accessible—to a point. Last year, I was amazed to see the difference between the X Games and the Olympics, which were a week later. While they aren’t necessarily cruising around in the crowds, at Winter X Games, many of the events have the athlete pass through a path in the middle of the crowd on their way to the snowmobile ride back to the top. Little kids and big kids alike got to high-five their favorite athletes, and many times take a quick selfie with them. At the Olympics and most other professional events, athletes are kept far away from the public. And if you keep your eyes open, you just may see your favorite athlete walking around later in the day, which leads us to reason number 10.

A high five as he makes his way back to the top, during competition. Photo: Judy Berna

A high-five as he makes his way back to the top, during competition. Photo: Judy Berna.

10. The athletes love being there. Every year at the press events, the athletes bring up how they look forward to this date in January every year. They love the way the SuperPipe is perfectly groomed. They love the interaction with their fans. Even in the midst of serious competition, the mood is relaxed. The athletes talk about it like it’s a big family gathering, where there is as much going on on the slopes as there is after hours.

One athlete, taking pictures of another athlete, with some excited fans.  Photo: Judy Berna

One athlete, taking pictures of another athlete, with some excited fans. Photo: Judy Berna.

11. You can choose to ski in the middle of the venues. Buttermilk Mountain does not close down during Winter X Games. The lifts still run and the ski runs all lead to one path, which runs through the middle of the festivities. As you ride the lift up the mountain, you get an aerial view of the huge jumps and snow cross courses. On the way down, you’re flanked by the SuperPipe on your left and the Snowmobile course on your right. You can ski all morning, then watch your favorite event in the afternoon.

12. It’s crowd-friendly. Every year, the attendance records are broken, yet it never seems as crowded as it should. Maybe it’s the wide open spaces that happen on a ski mountain. Maybe it has something to do with how the venues are spread out, leaving plenty of viewing room for the public. Sure, there are a lot of people around, but it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. It just feels like you’re surrounded by 5,000 excited friends.

Snowboarder Louie Vito, hangs out with the crowd after his run. Photo: Judy Berna

Snowboarder Louie Vito hangs out with the crowd after his run. Photo: Judy Berna.

13. There is music everywhere. As a backdrop during competitions, you’ll hear electronic beats. As you walk around the village, you’ll catch free bands playing periodically. This year, the paid concerts were big names—as in Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa. Maybe they aren’t your favorite artists, but I’m always excited to see who they’ve secured for next year’s Games. ESPN is determined to make X Games all about quality music events as much as athletic events. The concert venue is right on the grounds, so getting to the paid concerts is as easy as a quick walk after you’ve watched the last event of the night.

14. It’s one of those rare events you can share with your teenager, and both walk away with great memories. Winter X Games is very family-friendly (although I recommend a backpack carrier instead of a stroller for tiny people, because of the snowy terrain). But it’s especially friendly to teenagers. There are huge screens everywhere, showing constant clips of current and past events. The announcers are entertaining. There are many spur-of-the-moment “contests” while the athletes wait out commercial breaks (much like at a football stadium). The dance contest between three random people they pull from the crowd is a huge hit every year and even on the last night of X Games, there was a trivia-type contest being held on the mini stage, with the chance to win tickets to the immediate concert.

Huge screens placed all around the venue, keep everyone in the action. Photo: Judy Berna

Huge screens placed all around the venue keep everyone in the action. Photo: Judy Berna.

You may be wondering if I’m actually on the public relations staff for ESPN, as much as I gush about the Winter X Games every year, but alas, there is no such job on my resume. I’m just a mom who discovered this gem of an event and wanted to share it with as many other moms as I could. So get out your vacation planner for next winter and have a family meeting. Winter X Games could be just the unique family experience you’ve been looking for.

Geeky Pleasures Gift Shop!

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Image By Jules Sherred

“I just really want to give all you great people out there exactly what you want!” This is from Jules Sherred, author, web-designer, radio personality, and fellow GeekMom. After his wildly successful Indiegogo campaign, Jules has unveiled the LGBTQI and Everyone Under the Sun-friendly Geeky Pleasures online store—a one stop shop chock full of geeky awesome!

Geeky Pleasures offers oodles of fun and interesting must-have items for you or the favorite geek in your life. Using everything from licensed fabrics to his own imagination, Jules has created a rainbow of geeky things for all sexualities and genders: bow ties, wallets, dice bags, wristlets, phone covers, tablet covers, coin purses, and more that can be ordered through the shop.

There’s also a newsletter (with monthly prize drawings) and a Patreon program. This is the first I’ve heard of Patreon and it is a wonderful way to support artists. The dice bags are my personal favorite in the shop, fun and practical. Go check it out!

Homeschooling the Geeks into the Future of Education

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LOTR Chess, photo courtesy of S. Cook

Last week, Wired published an article addressing the increasing rate of homeschooling in the tech community. Among others, our family was featured as an example of the growing dissatisfaction with the public school system and the desire to cultivate an education that focused on individuality and child centered learning. This was not the first article, nor will it be the last, that seeks to understand why parents would forego the traditional education model for what is typically seen as the unknown.

The inherent issue is that all of these articles can hardly begin to touch the scope of why homeschooling is increasing, and not just in the tech or geek culture. But since I am a geek and our family is a part of the tech culture, that is the point of view I can speak from.

The common definition of a geek is: Someone who is or becomes extremely excited or enthusiastic about a subject, typically one of specialist or minority interest. I happen to be enthusiastic about many things, but especially about education. The reality is that removing one’s family from the public education system is not the unknown. It is not new. It is how children have learned through most of human history. Systemized public education is the experiment. The diversity of why families homeschool, the economics of how they make it work, and how that manifests in each home is so profound in it’s individuality, it is often very hard to understand outside the experience.

Case in point:

The morning the reporter spent with us was a Thursday. Beyond the description he gave, our morning actually started much earlier. After breakfast, my boys went outside to measure our yard because we are historically renovating a house and they feel a medieval knot garden is appropriate to the architecture. We also had a discussion on why goat glue is used to fix plaster.

Then, they came in and began mapping out the next 6 weeks of what they wanted to study. It is essential to me that my children remain the captains of their educational ships, and as such they play a central role in deciding what that looks like. I serve as a guide, a mentor, an expert when they need one (or find them someone who is), constant and reliable, adding new things and old into their path to help expand their worldview. My boys happen to like structure and routine, and created their schedule for 4 days a week of study. They love math and history, which are always included, and one of them will continue Japanese language and culture while the other chose to move on from Mod Design to App Development.

They had also decided to continue studying entrepreneurship by building their own businesses and wanted my help getting started after finishing their goals for math that day and watching CNN student news. One of my boys decided on a restaurant, the other on genetically modified creatures. The first eventually came up with a budget and created a set menu, which later he invited several families to attend an opening. The other started researching private and public funds that would support his research, as well as other organizations he could partner with in order to conserve resources.

We also covered history that day. We have just reached the Age of Enlightenment and I suggested it would be fun to try to create a modern marketing or social media scheme for some of the big ideas coming out of this time period. They both loved the idea, disappeared for a while, and came back. One had used Gimp to hack a Gravity (movie) poster, replacing the floating astronaut with Sir Isaac Newton, adding floating apples, and changing the text at the bottom to include information essential to the understanding of gravity. The other kid used iMovie to create a call-to-action film called “Free Galileo,” describing Galileo’s findings, his imprisonment by the church, and the need to protest against the injustice. I decided to create a few Gosling “Hey Girl” memes.

After we all stopped laughing, the boys went upstairs to participate in an online Skype gaming tournament with their friends and I went to pick up their sister. (My youngest wanted to try school this year, and attends an amazing constructivist school, for as long as she wants to go.) When I got home, I worked for a couple hours and then got ready to take the boys to Judo, where they are on a tournament team. During Judo, my daughter and I worked on a collaborative drawing. At night, we watched an episode of Firefly and then read until we all eventually went to bed.

I also solicited descriptions from other homeschooling GeekMoms (some of us do, some of us don’t) about their day:

On that same Thursday, GeekMom Jenny’s family got up to be ready to work on schoolwork by 9am at the latest. They focus on math first thing, because it takes a fresh mind. Next she had each of her two kids working on their other subjects, some independently, some with her as a guide, some with her as teacher. Things like writing, health (for her daughter), logic, history, Spanish, and art often end up on Thursdays. Mid afternoon, she took her son to his social skills class at a local middle school (even though he’s in 5th). Soon thereafter, she took her son to one of his book clubs at the library, rushed over to the YMCA for her daughter’s gymnastics class, rushed back to pick up her son, and then back to pick up her daughter. Family time in the evening included dinner together, games, family discussion time, and other things, including work.

At GeekMom Rebecca’s house, that Thursday was spent with her sixteen year old son, since her daughter is now 19 and in college. She drove her son to a homeschooling group where he takes Spanish, and Art in the morning. While he was there she gave music lessons to a family nearby. Then she picked him up and went home to watch a Star Trek: Voyager episode over lunch. After that they did a chapter in his physics book together. (She gave him an assignment to write up the difference between a regular oven and a convection oven, and he started it off with a comic about the convection oven being powered by the energy of “fan girls” screaming.)

For the rest of the afternoon she had music students, so he did random stuff on his own: math, philosophy, literature, exercise, his eBay pewter business. He has a written schedule that they work out together and tweak every month. Then, she took him to Aikido; his dad picked him up after work and they all ate dinner together. In the evening, he played video games with friends online, then his dad and he went over some of his math. Finally, he read the latest Harry Dresden novel until bedtime. Rebecca notes that Thursday is probably their busiest day. If I had asked her about Wednesday it would have been: went to a museum, went out for lunch discussing the museum exhibits, came home and did maybe an hour of work, played video games, in the evening he went to play Magic at a local gaming store. Every day is different!

That same Thursday for GeekMom Cristen started at 8:00 am. The kids played and had breakfast. Formal lessons on this day were light, because they had a friend arriving for the day at 10:30 am. So, her eight year old son did two Word Ladders, worked on his story about two dragons fighting over the same castle, then did some math with Beast Academy. Her kindergartner read a BOB Book out loud, and did some sculpting with clay while she helped her son.

Once their friend arrived, the kids played while Cristen packed some water and snacks. They then headed to the local roller rink for a mid morning session. In the car they listened to Joy Hakim’s The History of US. After skating the kids were  hungry, so they went and had a quick lunch. When they got home, a friend and her four-year-old daughter stopped by. Her two older girls were at co-op classes up the road, and the little one wanted to play. Eventually, her friend went to pick up her older two girls, while her youngest stayed and played. When she came back, all the kids played for a few hours. Folks left there at about 5pm, then Cristen put a movie on for the kids and made dinner. She notes that her typical Thursday isn’t quite as active, but this is truly how it all went down.

Finally, for GeekMom Melanie, the day started around 7am. Her son is 12, and for the past year or so he’s been getting started without her. He doesn’t think of what he is doing as school, though. He gets up, goes downstairs, and gets a cup of dry cereal. Then he reads while he eats it. That day, it was a book about dinosaurs, since that is one of his latest passions. He also has the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual next to him, and seems to be referring to it once in a while. At around 8am, he went upstairs to get his computer. He writes programs in both Scratch and Python, usually for making some sort of games, but lately he’s been approaching things more methodically. He has Help Your Kid With Computer Programming and a DK workbook about coding next to him.

After some breakfast and morning routine, it was time to do math. Her son wanted to go back and review some of the basics, so they have been working on various topics. She figured she would let him do easy stuff until he got bored and wanted a new challenge, and that Thursday seemed to be the day. He tells her that doing the problems is hard. When she suggested perhaps it was more that he was bored and found the work tedious, he agreed. The next day they will work on something a bit more advanced.

After math, they talk a bit about explorers, and read part of a book together about Christopher Columbus. After lunch, Melanie’s son announces it’s time for him to “work.” This is part of his daily routine. This particular day, work consists of working on a Snap Circuits project. He’s making something with a siren and flashing lights. Every now and then he’ll need help, so he will ask her a question, and she leads him on the path to the answer. She thinks he got a little frustrated with it though, because he asked if he can leave it set up on the table. Then he went back to his dinosaur book. He started asking a lot of questions about what Cretaceous Earth looked like, so they spent some time researching. She finds out he is writing a story about kobalds and dinosaurs, and he was trying to make his setting geologically sound.

He got hungry around 3pm, and had a snack while he read from Hiro’s Journal, a book about the character from Big Hero 6. He’s been very inspired by that movie and that character lately, and says he wants to go to Nerd School. They discussed what this means, and how he can get there for a while. Then… it was dinner time and time to wind down for bed! Before bed they always read aloud from a novel. They were towards the end of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Lights were out around 8pm.

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Squishy Circuits, photo courtesy of Curiosity Hacked

As you can see, just taking one day out of one year for a homeschooling family shows the uniqueness of the experience. Families tend to do what works best for their families, ebbing and flowing through passions, some more structured and some more fluid. Common misconceptions aside, there is no disconnect from the real world and community.

“Most revolutions begin in the margins. We can see this in many famous people for whom school never worked. Everybody from Einstein to George Lucas to Jack Horner, the paleontologist, are people for whom school was too narrow. They were marginalized. Students in the margins, as in any revolution, are pointing at the way towards the future.”
~David Rose, Founder and Chief Education Officer, Harvard School of Education

Something I have found as an educator outside the public system, whether I am in a museum or a non-profit or a hackerspace, is that people dedicated to public education often react to alternatives like homeschooling by becoming defensive. This is unnecessary and impedes progress. Alternative education is not symbolic nor is it competitive, it is participating in a movement that has to start somewhere, often in the margins. There is a palpable desire to integrate how we see children learning best into the public system. We can, in fact, change public education to be learner centered, creative, and innovative. But none of us is under an ethical or civic obligation to participate in a system we believe to be broken and all of us have the right to revolutionize education from a place free of standardization and test scores. It is without these restraints that we will be able to see how to rebuild public education.

Homeschooling is one choice, out of many, that is trying to use the knowledge we have had for decades to create learning environments that are based on child development, autonomy, and relationships. From the homeschooling movement, co-ops, clubs and programs have blossomed. Even my own work creating hackerspaces and programs for kids and their families has been heavily influenced by our experience as a homeschooling family—every child I work with is treated and respected as unique and every program we run holds the same vision. I work with public and private schools to integrate these ideas wherever we can, whether as an elective or a special event. Even if their time with me is the only time during the week that a kid isn’t told what to do, but in fact controls their own learning, it was worth it. I see parents every weekend who want to support their kids in this way and I try to help them figure out how. I am sure many educators feel they are trying to treat every child as individuals, but the reality of the system tells a story of limitation and frustration regardless of how hard teachers are working or how creative they get within the confines and expectations of performance. Some are more successful, many are not. It’s no wonder the alternative education movement is growing. I can see the shift happening.

Some believe that the tech community, especially here in Silicon Valley, should be able to produce a better public education system. Shouldn’t an industry that can make my phone learn how to identify all the gluten free restaurants near me without me even asking or a computer program that intuitively adjusts to my preferences be able to guide us to the future of individualized education? Perhaps, but only if they are willing to let go of concepts like scalability. Homeschooling was never meant to be scalable, please stop writing about how it’s not. What it does show us is a range of outcomes from average to outstanding, and rejecting this wealth of information is counter-productive. It is revealing evidence that the latest classroom trends are just that- trends- because they do not sustainably support how children learn. Perhaps then, with the values of innovation inspiring us, it is the education community (particularly alternative education), the people who study and work with children, and not the tech community should be the ones we look to, the ones we support and give credit to. Scalability is for network systems, not kids.

What we really are asking for is a reproducible and flexible public system that can be modified to meet the needs of its community while sharing values, information, and resources. The world is absolutely changing and, especially in the tech industry, work is becoming more creative, mindful, resourceful, self-directed, open source, and collaborative. Curious, passionate, life-long learners are made through these same values. If we invest in this, we will see the results we are looking for. Every child has a right to and deserves to learn in this way, but until we change our mindset about assessment and replace the old system, we will continue to see what is missing from our children’s education.

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Plein Air Painting at the beach, photo courtesy of S. Cook

Build This Periodic Table of Spices For Your Kitchen

Image: Wayne Hammond

Image: Wayne Hammond

Kitchen organization is a work in progress for many of us. It seems that once you get one cabinet organized, another becomes a bottomless pit of forgotten foodstuffs. The worst offender is often the spice cabinet or spice drawer or wherever all the seasonings end up at the end of the day. Instead of digging to find them, organize them—with science!

This periodic table of spices was built by Wayne Hammond who was suffering from an out of control spice drawer. It was hideous.

Image: Wayne Hammond

Image: Wayne Hammond

Hammond came up with a brilliant solution that not only makes use of an otherwise unused space in his kitchen, but adds a wonderful nerdy bit of science to his cooking. He designed a periodic table of spices using botanical taxonomy as his foundation. This yielded a fantastic chart that looks just like the periodic table of elements, but with things like garlic, chives, and parsley.

Image: Wayne Hammond

Image: Wayne Hammond

He constructed the whole thing in a spot housing a doorless kitchen cabinet that measured 11″d x 17″w x 30″h and originally held wine bottles. He removed the wine bottle racks and had metal shelves built to hold his spices. The chart he developed is now on the walls of the cabinet and it’s all highlighted by a spotlight. It’s just that cool.

You can get the full details on how it was made over at Make including a downloadable PDF of the periodic table. It’ll make you feel like a mad scientist every time you cook!

(via ThatsNerdalicious)

The Sequel Generation

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© Disney. All rights reserved.

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

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Image: Fox/DreamWorks Animation.

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

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

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

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

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© Disney. All rights reserved.

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

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

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

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

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

Comic Book Corner—Rat Queens, Secret Six #2, Super Dinosaur, and Powers: Bureau

Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery (Art by Fiona Staples) © Image Comics

Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery (Art by Fiona Staples) © Image Comics

Happy Comic Release Day! Welcome to another installment of GeekMom Comic Book Corner, where we recap our adventures in comics for the week. It’s an interesting week as I look at a missile carrying dinosaur, Corrina and Kelly check out Rat Queens, and Lisa gets excited about Powers! Corrina also gives us her take on Gail Simone’s latest Secret Six!

Kelly Knox—Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery (Volume 1) by Kurtis Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

It’s rare for me to venture away from the superhero books, but I’ve recently heard so many glowing reviews of Rat Queens from Image Comics that I just had to see what the fuss was all about.

It’s all about a seriously fun, irreverent fantasy series that I need to read more of. Now.

Rat Queens: Sass and Sorcery is the trade paperback collection of the first five issues of the series, written by Kurtis Wiebe. “Sass” is putting it mildly. The Rat Queens, a band of mercenaries for hire, aren’t afraid of anything to get the job done. These ladies might be a diverse group, but they all agree on one thing: doing whatever it takes and always having each others’ backs. That means there’s no shortage of violence and crude language, all with an undercurrent of humor and memorable characters to tie it all together.

The first trade paperback is a quick, fun read for under $10—what do you have to lose? Pick up the collection and meet Betty, Hannah, Dee, and Violet for yourself.

Note: Regular artist Roc Upchurch, who drew these issues, was arrested on domestic violence charges in late 2014 and was taken off the book in November. The May issue will feature the work of new artist Stjepan Sejic.

Age Recommendation: 18+

image via Image Comics

image via Image Comics

Corrina—Rat Queens Special: Braga #1 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Tess Fowler; Secret Six #2 by Gail Simone and Ken Lashley.

This special issue of Rat Queens focuses on the tale of Braga, the extra-large female orc warrior who’s proven popular with readers. This is also the first issue I’ve ever read of the series. I loved the issues, which details how Braga, then a male Orc prince named Broog, eventually came to leave her people. “It’s strange. I often wonder if I would’ve stayed had my people been more understanding. If they’d just accepted me for who I was,” Braga says at the beginning of her tale.

But this isn’t the usual tale of a transition from male to female, it’s the story of how Braga always felt out of step with her people, even when leading them in victorious battle as Broog. The Orc nation lives for battle and killing. Broog questions that and wants to end war itself. Her younger brother, of course, is in line with the more traditional warrior orcs.

This tale is bawdy, sweet, bloody, and melancholic all at the same time. It’s easy to see why the series has been so acclaimed. I need to pick up more Rat Queens.

Age Recommendation: 18 +

Secret Six #1 left our anti-heroes stuck in a coffin-like box at the bottom of the ocean. Secret Six #2 provides an ingenious solution to that predicament, fleshes out a couple of the newer team members, and flashes back to just why Catman is now so claustrophobic. The issue raises far more questions than it answers, firms up the new team, and contains some signature moments for the new group. More, please.

Age recommendation: 13 +

Dakster Sullivan—Super Dinosaur #1 by Robert Kirkman and Jason Howard (Image Comics)

Super Dinosaur is a hidden gem that I picked up at my local comic book store. I picked it up because it was on the dollar shelf and I needed another $.50 to get a stamp on my loyalty card. After learning it was an all ages book, I tossed it into my son’s reading pile and he went crazy with it from there.

The story centers around 10-year old Derek and his best friend and small in stature Trex, Super Dinosaur (or SD as Derek calls him). Together they protect Inner-Earth from Evil Max Maximus who wants the valuable DynOre. After reading half of volume 1, I can see why my son likes it so much. In his words:

“It has epic battles, super cool missiles, and other really cool technology. Oh and plus it’s really awesome.”

Super Dinosaur \ Copyright Image Comics

Super Dinosaur © Image Comics

If you have a child who might be into a video game playing dinosaur whose best friend is a 10-year-old genius kid, this is the series for them. Heck. If you’re an adult, this series is for you.

Age Recommendation: All ages

Lisa Tate—Powers: Bureau #12 (Icon) by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Michael Avon Oeming

Powers \ Image: Icon

Powers \ Image: Icon

Detective Christian Walker fans have been promised a Powers series for, well, like Walker’s lifespan, forever. On March 10 Walker (played by Sharlito Copley), Detective Deena Pilgrim, Power Girl, Zora, and other characters from the comic will finally be brought to life in an original series for the Playstation Network.

With this on the horizon, I felt it was time to finally read the last of the 12-issue Powers: Bureau series that wrapped up at the end of 2014. I had spent a year following this story, fearing for the well-being of Walker, the barely-there sanity of Pilgrim, now both Federal Agents, and wanting to find out who—or what—took out the team of young California powers known as The Circle, but they weren’t the answers I was hoping to get.

I closed up this final issue thinking, “Well, that sucked.” Not in regard to the series, which was incredibly suspenseful, sarcastic, and shocking (everything you’d expect Powers to deliver), but the actual situation for pretty much every character in the story. Fortunately, Bendis has promised more to come, hopefully with some sort of resolution. In the meantime, we have the live action series to look forward to.

The collected first volume of Powers: Bureau is now available, for those wanting to catch up on the series in one overwhelmingly intense and emotional fell swoop, but don’t race to the end too fast. It’s a doozy.

Pick it up on sale today on ComiXology!

Age Recommendation: Mature readers

Looking for something else, readers? Check out this week’s listed books:

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Arrow Season 2.5 #5
Astro City #20
Batman Dark Knight Dark City TP
Batman Eternal #45
Batman The Dark Knight Vol. 4 Clay TP
Coffin Hill #15
Coffin Hill Vol. 2 Dark Endeavors TP
Constantine #22
DC The New Frontier Deluxe Edition HC
Earth 2 World’s End #19
Fables Covers The Complete Covers By James Jean HC
Fables The Wolf Among Us #2
FBP Federal Bureau Of Physics #18
Green Lantern Corps #39
Harley Quinn Valentine’s Day Special #1
Hellblazer Vol. 10 In The Line Of Fire TP
Injustice Gods Among Us Year Three #9
Justice League 3000 #14
Justice League United #9
Klarion #5
Mortal Kombat X #2
New 52 Futures End #41
New Suicide Squad #7
Scooby-Doo Where Are You #54 Kid-Friendly
Scribblenauts Unmasked A DC Comics Adventure TP Kid-Friendly
Secret Origins Vol. 1 TP
Secret Six #2
Secret Six Vol. 1 Villains United TP
Smallville Season 11 Continuity #3 (Of 4)
Superman Krypton Returns HC
Worlds’ Finest #31
All-New Captain America Fear Him #2 (Of 4)
All-New Ghost Rider #11
All-New X-Men #36
Amazing Spider-Man #14
Avengers World Vol. 3 Next World TP
Bucky Barnes The Winter Soldier #5
Captain Marvel #12
Cyclops #10
Darth Vader #1
Deathlok Rage Against The Machine TP
Dexter TP
Guardians 3000 #5
Guardians Of The Galaxy #24 GM
Indestructible Hulk Vol. 4 Humanity Bomb TP
Marvel Masterworks The Mighty Thor Vol. 1 HC
Marvel Masterworks The Sub-Mariner Vol. 6 HC
Marvel Universe Avengers Assemble Season Two #4
Nightcrawler #11
Oz The Emerald City Of Oz TP
Rocket Raccoon Vol. 1 A Chasing Tale HC
Spider-Woman #4
Thanos Vs Hulk #3 (Of 4)
Thor #5
Wolverines #6
X-Force #15
X-Men #24
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7th Sword #7
Edward Scissorhands #4 (Of 5)
Library Of American Comics Essentials Vol. 6 Baron Bean 1917 HC
My Little Pony Micro-Comic Fun Pack Series 3 Kid Friendly
Popeye Classics #31 Kid Friendly
Star Trek #41
Transformers Dark Cybertron HC
Transformers Vs G.I. JOE #5
Zombies Vs Robots Warbook Omnibus TP
Abe Sapien #20
Avatar The Last Airbender The Rift Library Edition HC
Blood Blockade Battlefront Vol. 7 TP
Conan Red Sonja #2 (Of 4)
Creepy Archives Vol. 21 HC
Itty Bitty Comics The Mask #4
Prometheus Fire And Stone Omega #1 (One Shot)
Resurrectionists #4
Samurai Executioner Omnibus Vol. 4 TP
Usagi Yojimbo #1 (1 For $1 Edition) Kid Friendly
X #22 

Acronym Key: GM = GeekMom Recommended Reading

Lee Mendelson on the Peanuts Franchise, Bullies, & the Future of Charlie Brown and Snoopy

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Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown is coming to DVD this Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Paramount.

Lee Mendelson was a huge part of my childhood. He was a big part of yours, too, and you probably don’t even know it. That’s because Mendelson was involved in almost every Peanuts cartoon ever produced.

After making the 1963 Willie Mays documentary, A Man Named Mays, Mendelson contacted Peanuts creator Charles Schulz about being his next subject. However, instead of a documentary, The Coca-Cola Company talked to Mendelson about doing a Christmas special. From there, Schulz brought in animator/director Bill Melendez and Mendelson hired jazz composer Vince Guaraldi. Soon, the holiday favorite, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was born.

From there, Mendelson went on to work on It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and countless others. In fact, his resume features a total of 50 different Peanuts productions, including Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown, which after 38 years, is finally coming to DVD this week.

Despite the time that has passed, the themes of Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown will be all too familiar to kids today. Sure, there are plenty of summer camp hijinks, but also the fear and strength that comes with encountering bullies. You can bet that Charlie Brown can tackle those kids better than he handles a football!

Besides his role as an executive producer for Peanuts and Garfield, Mendelson wrote the lyrics to “Christmas Time Is Here,” which has been performed countless times over the years. This year, at the age of 81, he received the Winsor McCay Award at the 2015 Annie Awards for his career contributions to the world of animation.

Recently, I got the chance to speak to Mendelson about the Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown DVD release, how the Peanuts franchise fares 50 years after A Charlie Brown Christmas, and what he sees for the future of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus, and the rest of the gang.

Lee-Mendelson

Lee Mendelson served as executive producer for 50 Peanuts cartoons. Photo courtesy of Lee Mendelson/Paramount.

GeekMom: Can you explain a little bit about your role in the Peanuts franchise? What exactly does the executive producer do?

Lee Mendelson: The executive producer normally makes the deal either with an advertising agency or a network and gets a budget for shows. Then, he hires the writer, the producer, the director, and so forth. Although we didn’t hire Mr. Schulz, obviously. He was one of the partners.

GM: I know that the Christmas special came first. Did you ever think that this one special would lead to so many other Peanuts productions?

LM: No. We thought it had failed. When we showed it to the animators before it went on the air, we thought it was too slow and when CBS saw the show, they thought it was too slow. We thought it was going to be one and out. But the next week, when there were only three networks, of course, 50 percent of the country tuned in. Half of the United States tuned in for this little cartoon. We suddenly realized that we had lightning in a bottle and the next day, the network ordered four more shows. But until it went on the air, we thought it was going to be one show and out and I would go back to making my documentaries.

GM: So would you say that A Charlie Brown Christmas is your favorite one?

LM: Oh sure. Not only has it become kind of a staple at Christmas time, it has the music; and without a doubt, we wouldn’t have been able to do the other 49 specials and I wouldn’t have been able to do all of the documentaries and entertainment specials that followed. It was like the grandfather to everything else.

RFYLCB-DVD

Courtesy of Paramount.

GM: I know that some of the program ideas came from Charles Shultz’s comic strips. Was that the case with Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown?

LM: No. That was an exception. In the early days, almost all of the ideas came from the comic strips, particularly because they were around the holidays. Later on, we started to deal with other themes apart from the strip. We did one show about a little girl in Charlie Brown’s class who gets cancer, we did one about World Wars I and II, we did the mini-series This is America, Charlie Brown. The four movies did not come out of the comic strips. The characters did, but the themes and the action and the plot were totally apart from the strip, as far as the story goes. Race for Your Life, of course, and one of the main themes of Charlie Brown is to overcome bullies and that’s why Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown was important to us—to have these bullies get defeated.

GM: That theme of overcoming bullies is definitely important to today’s generation. Is that why some of these characters and films seem so timeless? My son loves the cartoons and I still watch them with him. What is it about them?

LM: I think Charles Schulz dealt with basic truths. What was true back then is true today. What was true 50 years ago is true today and will probably always be there is that we all struggle every day in our lives to overcome problems—and Charlie Brown’s struggle is our struggle. He keeps coming back over and over again and keeps trying and sometimes even has some success along the way. But again, Shultz was dealing with failure and overcoming failure. In baseball, you fail all the time, three out of four times. He [Charlie Brown] failed, of course, all the time. In love, all of the unrequited love sequences between the different characters, was always fraught with potential failure. And then the whole thing of overcoming bullies, these are themes that people identify with every day. And Schulz himself said once, he always felt that Charlie Brown was like a little kid you’d like you have as a next door neighbor. It’s just a matter of what was true 50 years ago is true now. And the whole bullying theme is as big a topic today as it ever was, as we know. All of the bullying that goes on in so many different areas. It’s as timely today as it was 50 years ago.

GM: Which of the characters do you most identify with?

LM: I enjoy Linus a lot. Mr. Schulz used to say that if the kids ever grew up, Linus would be the most stable because of his sucking his thumb and having the security blanket got him off to a good start. I just enjoyed him the most of all of the characters. I liked Peppermint Patty a lot, too. He kept adding characters to the strip and she was this independent latchkey kid and I got a kick out of her.

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Woodstock and Snoopy in Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown. Photo courtesy of Paramount.

GM: Are you at all involved in the new film that’s coming out this year? And what do you think of it?

LM: No. That’s Charles Schulz’s family’s production and CGI and we don’t do CGI. It looks really good and I’m really excited because I think it will get a whole new audience, just like this HD version of Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown will get a bunch people who just know it from television. I think it will help the old shows and it will help get a new audience.

GM: Why do you think it took so long to get a new movie? It’s been like 30 years since the last one…

LM: We had done four feature films and we just moved on to other things. There was no particular reason. And of course, Mr. Schulz passed away in 2000, so for the past 15 years, there was no discussion about the movie. Then his son, Craig, came up with a good idea, so now they’re going ahead with it. But there was no reason. It just wasn’t time and now it is.

Look for Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown on DVD for the first time, starting February 10, 2015.

This Girl Loves #thisgirlcan

thisgirlcan

Billboards like this one accompany the TV portion of the campaign. Image credit: Sport England

For me, visits abroad always include at least a few minutes in the hotel of the local television fare (even if I don’t speak the language—sometimes that’s even better). My visit to London last week came not too far behind the January 12 launch of Sport England’s already-viral “This Girl Can” campaign, designed to both celebrate women being athletic as well as to encourage them to be so more often, regardless of whether they look like any other ad campaign might portray them. Because I’m a woefully out-of-touch American, this was the first I’d seen it, so for those of you who already have, forgive me for the late sharing.

My first reaction, before I even knew what it was, was an internal cheer of solidarity to the opening shot, as we see the rear view of a woman who no doubt has been discouraged from wearing a two-piece swimsuit. She adjusts her bottoms in a defiant snap.

I jiggle, therefore I am, the spot later echoes.

I’m not an especially large woman, but I’m also never going to look like a Danskin ad in ballet class, much to my teenage self’s chagrin, nor a Lululemon ad in a yoga class, which my adult self is quite OK with. And that’s what this campaign reinforced. Real athleticism doesn’t look like the photos in the gym brochure. (Except when it does, that every once in a while, and that’s OK, too. Somebody has to be in those other ads.) Every body has the potential to be an athlete’s body.

It reminded me of another project I saw recently, where SmugMug took the opportunity of decorating the company gym to prove that anyone can look like those perfectly sleek athletes—with the right lighting and photographer, of course.

Sport England launched their campaign based on researched that showed 75% of women aged 14-40 would exercise more but held back for fear of what others thought of them. Let’s put that more bluntly. A solid 3/4 of women surveyed chose to negatively impact their health because somebody thought they might look a bit chubby in their yoga pants.

Similar to SmugMug’s internal project, the women featured in the spot are street-cast, not actresses, simply doing the sports that they enjoy doing, montaged to the beat of Missy Elliott. (Read more about the production of the spot at thedrum.com.)

The Guardian had a quite different response to the ad, though. I’m not going to link to that story, but I will share this excellent response to it for those who didn’t find the Sport England spot encouraging.

The bottom line is a spot that tells the important story: Fitness isn’t just for the already-fit. It’s for the will-be-fit and once-were-fit and would-like-to-be-fit and the dammit-I’m-going-to-try-this-one-more-time-anyway.

Geeky Tea Tasting

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Our score sheets for our Geeky Tea Tasting. Image: Cathe Post.

A long time ago, at a convention not so far away…

A tea shop called Friday Afternoon said, “Try my teas!” I, of course, could not refuse. I even bought one to take home to my tea connoisseur of a husband.

I got the teas home, proudly showed them to my husband, and we brewed a couple of cups. I had already tried the teas I brought home, so I thought I was home free.

I was wrong. My husband took one sip and decided the ingredients weren’t to his taste.

“HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO REVIEW THESE TEAS FAIRLY IF YOU DON’T LIKE THEM AND I DO?!” I exclaimed.

The answer came to me after many, many weeks of mulling it over and staring at the bags of tea on my counter:

Have a geeky tea tasting!

This was a new endeavor for myself, as I am not the pinkies-up-pretty-pink-dresses type of girl. So, I found a flavor wheel, invited a bunch of geeky people who like tea, and headed to a friend’s house who was equipped to host such an event (yea, I don’t even own a teapot).

The reviews that follow include: a picture of the tea; a graph for each individual tea smell, color, and flavor; and an interesting quote from a taster regarding the tea. The ratings are a 1-10 scale where 10 is best and 1 is least favorable.

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Friday Afternoon teas to be tested. Image: Cathe Post.

Friday Afternoon Teas were the first batch my awesome friends tested. Corrina had a couple of teas to try out of the Hogwarts line of teas. I had the others, plus an additional tea I picked up for my husband.

 

Badger Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Black tea, lemon peel, and honey.

Badger’s Blend is the Hufflepuff tea. It was certainly a favorite among the Friday Afternoon Teas we tried this afternoon.

 

Serpent Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Green tea, lime peel, lemongrass, and natural apple flavoring.

The Slytherin House representative was not a favorite with our testers, but my husband and I didn’t have a problem with it.

 

Lion Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Rooibos, Assam black tea, orange peel, marigold, and natural flavorings.

Testers of the Lion’s Blend, the Gryffindor tea, seemed to be evenly split. They either really liked it or they really didn’t. I fell in the “really liked it” category, while my husband didn’t. This is the tea that spurred the entire party idea.

 

Pirate Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Black tea, marigold petal, and natural irish cream flavor.

The Pirate King blend, though unrelated to the Hogwarts line of teas, was among the favorites from Friday Afternoon. It was simple, but had enough extra to offer that it can be made by the pot and guzzled.

 

Tins

Doctor Who Fandom collection. Image: Cathe Post.

In order to have a proper tea tasting, I figured we needed more than four flavors to try. I searched the web and snuck a peek at Corrina’s post on where to find geeky teas. After looking at several different options, I ended up purchasing the Doctor Who Fandom Sampler. We found a favorite out of this bunch, too—who would have thought the 9th Doctor would be an overwhelming favorite?

 

9 Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Black tea, Assam melody tea, Ceylon sonata tea, gunpowder, and natural chestnut flavor, accented with aniseed and cinnamon.

Everyone really liked this tea. This may have been the favorite out of all of the teas we tried that day. We will be getting more! If you can tell, that little pile has white around it because that is all we have left! It was complex, but didn’t try too hard to be complex. It was just amazing.

 

10 Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Black tea, Ceylon sonata tea, Assam melody tea, cocoa nibs, and natural chocolate flavor, accented with chocolate chips and marigold flowers.

The tea representing the 10th Doctor was a huge disappointment. Have you ever wanted hot chocolate, gone to make a cup, and found that you only have one scoop of powdered goodness remaining instead of the four the directions say to use? Then, because you want hot chocolate so badly, you just use the one scoop and suffer through, only to be disappointed to the point of gagging because the chocolate is so weak it is like water was poured in a cup where chocolate wasn’t quite rinsed out from the last drink? Ya, that is what this tasted like. You can see the chocolate in the picture, but it certainly did not transfer to the taste.

 

11 Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Black tea, Assam melody tea, natural vanilla flavor, natural coconut flavor, and dried coconut.

The 11th Doctor tea had a good showing. No one really had anything bad to say about it. It seemed to fall in the category of a good tea to have on hand.

 

Rory Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Assam melody tea, Ceylon sonata tea, green tea, and natural vanilla flavor.

Rory’s tea provoked a reaction along the same lines as the 10th Doctor’s: It was just too weak. There was a lot of green tea here, and not a lot else. It was sad and disappointing.

 

Amy Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Black tea, rooibos tea, cinnamon bark, ginger root, orange peel, cloves, cardamom, raspberry leaves, natural cranberry flavor, natural vanilla flavor, cranberries, and natural orange flavor.

I am going to have to give Amy another try sometime. Its ingredients are similar to that of a chai, which have a better flavor if the water and tea are cooked together and not just steeped. I have a feeling if we would have done that, the rating for Ms. Pond would have been much different.

 

River Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Black tea, rooibos tea, orange peels, blue cornflowers, natural vanilla flavor, lemon grass, natural bergamot flavor, natural creme flavor, marigold flowers, natural lemon flavor, natural coconut flavor, and dried coconut.

Hello, sweetie. Your tea is a solid okay. I thought it was pretty good, but then again I like (tea) Earl Grey (hot).

 

Genmaicha Chart

Image: Cathe Post.

Ingredients: Green tea and toasted brown rice.

Not geeky, per se, but one of my husband’s favorites. You see those outliers in the graph? That 6, 3, and 1? Ya, those are me. I hate Genmaicha tea. Because I was so far removed from the other people who tried this tea, I did not include my quote, but it was along the lines of feeling like all of the moisture had been sucked out of my mouth and nose so that I was left with an aftertaste of burned rice and ash. It was not pleasant to me at all.

 

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Star Wars sugar cookies. Image: Cathe Post.

What would a tea party be without cookies? We dug out the Star Wars cookie cutters, so my husband could whip up some sugar cookies for us to nibble between teas. Overall, I was quite happy with how the party went and I am excited that everyone was willing to give their input on the teas so I could provide you with geeky over-the-top graphs and non-biased opinions.

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Friday Afternoon Hogwarts teas provided for review purposes. All other teas were chosen and purchased by me.

Hack Your Candy Conversation Hearts

conversation heart hacks,

Hearts can say whatever you want (CC by 2.0 1lenore)

Valentine candy conversation hearts don’t have much to say. Unless “Be Mine” is exactly the sentiment you’re trying to get across. And really, who wants to eat what tastes like flavored chalk? Here are some ways to subvert upgrade the conversation hearts experience.

1. Sand off the unoriginal words with a microplane. Then on the other (smooth) side,  use food markers to write more unique messages.

2. Consider a metaphorical message. Carefully arrange a whole bag of candy hearts into one heap resembling a large heart and bake it in the oven. It will fuse together in a bizarre you-melt-me sort of way. Unless you don’t follow the instructions exactly, in which case your heart will break before it ever cools down completely.

3. Use candy hearts to write your sentiments where everyone can see them—on the sidewalk. These candies not only taste like calcium supplements, they also work as somewhat usable chalk although the colors (disappointingly) aren’t really noticeable.

4. Turn them into a rebus message. Glue a few conversation hearts on some sturdy paper and write between them, incorporating the hearts’ words into a larger message.

5. Devote some kitchen time to making homemade conversation hearts. This way, candy hearts will actually have the size and flavors you choose. You can also cut them into any shape that warms your geeky heart: Minecraft, Pac-ManStar Trekninja, or zombie. Make them big enough, and you might have room for the perfectly geeky Valentine quotes suggested by GeekMom Lisa Tate.

6. Toss them. Do it with some maker flair by flinging them across the room with a craft stick catapult. Here’s a version that’s easy for kids to make, or construct a catapult clever enough to take to the office.

Get all heart-melty. (CC by 2.0 oskay)

Get all heart-melty. (CC by 2.0 oskay)

 

Why is the Sky Blue Here, Not There?

Both are partly cloudy days, except the one on the left is in Colorado, the one on the right is in New York. What’s going on here? Photos by Judy Berna, used with permission.

It’s right there in my byline, GeekMoms!  Ask her why the sky is blue at your own risk. I say that because sometimes my answers to weather questions might make your eyes roll. I probably look like Brainy Smurf, complete with my right forefinger up in the air, being a serious know-it-all…

Speaking of blue…this is how I imagine myself when folks ask me weather questions. Any second now, someone will proclaim, “Shut up Brainy Smurf!” Photo: Flickr user premier-photo.com via CC.

GeekMom Judy took the risk back in 2011, except she didn’t ask “Why is the sky blue?” She asked about why the sky isn’t as blue in New York as it seemed to be in Utah or Colorado. Being the awesome GeekMom she is, she even presented a very accurate hypothesis.

“Someone once told me that the humidity in the air determines how blue the sky is. I always thought that was an old wives’ tale. But the longer I live here, and the more I look at the pictures we took in Colorado recently (on our house hunting trip), the more I’m convinced that the states with low humidity have much bluer skies.

Is this true? Does humidity affect the depth of blue that the sky appears to be? Or am I imagining things and buying into the wives tale?”

It is true that the humidity in the air will contribute to the blueness of sky over our heads, especially in the east where the Appalachian Mountains are acting as a barrier for the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean humidity.

Are you ready to delve into why the sky is (and isn’t) blue? Strap in, here we go! Stay tuned, GeekMom Helene also provided us an experiment to share this with the kids!

Rayleigh scattering. Here is the official answer to “Why is the sky blue?” It’s the scattering of light (or any electromagnetic radiation) by particles smaller than the wavelengths being scattered. The intensity of the scattering is inversely proportional to the wavelength. Air in our atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and oxygen, with a little bit of argon. Those values are pretty consistent worldwide and consistently will scatter the blue wavelengths the greatest, giving us our blue skies. In reality, all the colors in the visible spectrum are being scattered, but the strongest scattering is in the blue-violet part of the spectrum.

Without actually looking at the sun, we all know that near the sun we see yellow/orange as there’s a more intense amount of light coming straight from the sun’s direction towards our eyes and more of the blue/violet is scattered elsewhere. As the sun sets, more of the blue/violet spectrum is scattered away as there’s more atmosphere between our eyes and the sun… leaving us the red/orange hues.

Mie Scattering. Now let’s talk about what happens when water droplets/water vapor/humidity—among other things—come into play.

This is where I got all Brainy Smurf on the GeekMoms.  Let’s introduce three contributors to the hazy skies east of the Mississippi:

1. Pollution.  The eastern United States has more concentrated populations and has a tradition of concentrated areas of manufacturing that still exists today.  Therefore, expect increased pollutants in the air and those act similarly to the water molecules serving to scatter light in colors other than the blue wavelength.

2. Isoprene/Terpene. The varieties of trees in the eastern United States is known for emitting an organic compound known as “isoprene” (also might be called “terpene”, they are the same compound). Oaks and poplars are two of the most prolific isoprene producers, and this compound is what gives the Blue Ridge Mountains their namesake bluish-colored haze.

3. Atlantic Ocean/Gulf of Mexico. The impacts of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico contribute to much of the haze obscuring the sky between the Appalachians and the coastline. The haze can develop not only from the water vapor that can travel inland, but also the salt particles.

In “Mie Scattering,” we are talking about the behavior of light waves/particles when the size of the scatterer is comparable to or larger than the wavelength of the light. So in the case of the atmosphere east of the Appalachians, the scatterers in question include water vapor, isoprene molecules, and all those pollutants (such as sulfate aerosols from sulfur dioxide). Each of those scatterers will act differently—scattering the light at assorted wavelengths.

What happens when a wide range of scatters are emitting at assorted wavelengths?

White light! Hence the whitish appearance to the sky.

A partly cloudy day in rural Indiana last April. Trust us, the clouds are there!  Photo by Judy Berna, used with permission.

But strip out all that water vapor, organic compounds, and pollutants, and you get this fantastic sky in Colorado!

GeekMom Judy looking happy in Evergreen, Colorado! Photo by Judy Berna, used with permission.

If you’d like to learn more about haze in the eastern United States, I will now refer you to Steve Corfidi’s paper on the topic from 1996. Mr. Corfidi is a forecaster for the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center—the agency that issues the Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Watches—but has had a fascination with haze from growing up in Baltimore.

GeekMom Helene has a kids’ experiment that easily demonstrates the effects of introducing scatters.

GeekMom Helene’s Blue Sky Experiment

Materials: Flashlight, drinking glass, eye dropper, water, milk, spoon

Procedure:

1) Fill glass with water

2) In a darkened room, direct the flashlight through the side of the glass and through the water.

3) Observe the color of the water

4) Add 1 drop of milk to the water and stir.

5) Again shine the light through the water.

6) Observe the color of the water.

Result: The light passes through the clear water, however the milky water has a light blue-ish tint.

Explanation: The waves of color that make up white light are actually many different sizes (wavelengths). The particles of milk in the water are small enough to block and reflect the blue light waves. Those waves are bounced around and cause the predominant light that we see coming from the milky water. Nitrogen and oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere are also small enough to separate out the blue light waves from sunlight. The blue light scatters throughout the entire atmosphere making the sky look blue from the ground, and the Earth look blue from space.

The color in the milky glass isn’t perfectly blue because milk contains molecules of several different sizes, and larger molecules are also reflecting light. This same phenomena happens in the atmosphere when large amounts of dust and water vapor scatter more than just the blue light waves. Clean, dry air, free of dust and water vapor, scatters the most blue waves.

Magic Card for Love

magic valentine big

Image By Luke Maxwell

 

I love seeing what my son comes up with to give as Valentine cards each year. Sweet and geeky is the usual. Using Powerpoint, he created a Magic card for Love that’s quite powerful.

Now the only question is: will he pull it out when playing Magic with friends?

10 Signs You’re Raising a Science Nerd

A workbench in a chemistry laboratory. Jean-Pierre from Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire (Nièvre, Burgundy region), France. CC BY-SA 2.0.

A workbench in a chemistry laboratory. Jean-Pierre from Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire (Nièvre, Burgundy region), France. CC BY-SA 2.0.

You might be the parent of a science nerd if the following 10 things go on in your house:

1. You come home from shopping and the following conversation occurs:

Parent: Why is there dirt baking in the oven?
Child: I’m sterilizing dirt for science.

2. You tweet, “I wonder what construction is happening upstairs but I’m too afraid to ask.” Your child responds to the tweet with: “Oh, that’s just me shaving my magnesium block.” (You know, as you do.)

3. You walk into the bathroom to see the following:

bathroom science

Bathroom science. Image by Jules Sherred.

4. Your child never uses the generic names for household items. It’s always things like: NaCl, Na2CO3, 570–590 nm, etc.

5. You hear an, “Oh, crap!” Followed by running footsteps to the bathroom. Followed by somewhat calmer footsteps descending the stairs. Followed by, “I think I need to go to the emergency room.”

6. You tell your child, “Hey! You dropped some of your science on the floor. You need to clean it up.” Upon showing your child where, in a very dire tone they respond, “Oh. That’s not good!” Upon your child learning someone stepped on it, the following is said in a very serious tone, “You should probably go to the doctor for that.”

7. You ask your child what they are making, and they respond with some of the following in an “as you do” tone: Copper (II) Chloride, Copper (II) Acetate, Magnesium Chloride, Ethyl acetate, and Iron (III) Chloride

8. Your child has chemicals they purchased online held for weeks at Customs while they test it for drugs, anthrax, and other dangerous substances that come in a fine white powder.

9. You can’t find side burner, pots, and measuring cups because they are currently in use, because science.

10. The following happens on a regular basis at midnight on your porch:

If you are the parent of a science nerd, what are some other signs?

This post inspired by the actions of Kid1.

Elementary, My Dear Roger

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An image from the first clip from Mr. Holmes, starring Ian McKellen as an aging Sherlock Holmes. Clip courtesy of Roadside Attractions.

Roadside Attractions has releases its first clip from the upcoming movie Mr. Holmes.

Set in 1947, nonagenarian Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen) has seen some incredible—and some unspeakable—things in his long life. He now resides quietly in his seaside residence, maintaining his lifelong interest in beekeeping with the company of only a housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker).

It is here Holmes faces two challenges, the re-opening of his final, unsolved case (one that forced him into retirement), and the unavoidable deterioration of his own mind.

The film is directed by Bill Condon, who has worked with McKellen in the biopic Gods and Monsters, in which McKellen portrays another icon nearing the end of his days, Frankenstein director James Whale. Mr. Holmes is based on the novel A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin (Tideland).

For the past few years, the image of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been steadily morphing in to an intellectual sex symbol, including roguish steampunk character of Robert Downey Jr. from the Guy Pierce movies, the saber-tongued and debonair Benedict Cumberbatch of the hit BBC series, and the edgy bad boy of Jonny Lee Miller from the CBS crime series.

All three of the actors have taken on this role with confidence and ease, and should be collectively congratulated for the continual rise in popularity of all things Sherlock. No matter his exterior, however, the absolute core of the great sleuth is his extraordinary mind. What happens if that wonderful, sometimes thought provoking and sometimes thoughtless tool of deduction begins to wear out? How would Holmes tackle his greatest challenge yet: the battle within his own head?

If anyone can take up that ultimate mystery of Mr. Holmes, it should be Sir McKellen.

 

 

Musical Love Chemistry

Zen Valentine copy

Image By Lilianna Maxwell

They say that love is just a drug
An addiction you keep thinking of
But don’t get the wrong impression
We’ll teach you all a science lesson
About the chemistry of love

Ah, those sweaty palms, the obsessive thoughts, the dopamine rush. Yes, geeks fall in love and we like to be specific about it, thankyouverymuch. Infatuation has lots of chemical components, and desire can be broken down into an excellent lesson on biochemical processes. Boring? Not at all! Especially when you learn about it in song.

Here’s a song called “The Chemistry of Love” by The Midnight Society, which should lower your levels of serotonin, just like falling in love. With geeky stylophone! Free listen and download here.

Now, go boost someone’s testosterone tonight!

Living the Lefty Life in a Righty World

Lefty power! Image capture: Patricia Vollmer.

I’m a southpaw! I’ve always been proud to be in this elite 8-15 percent of the world population. Did you know that in 2008, you had no choice but to elect a left-handed president? Four of the last seven presidents are left-handed, and seven presidents total have been lefties (16 percent). Fascinating, don’t you think?

I polled the other GeekMoms and it turns out, I’m possibly the only one (out of those who responded) who is left-handed. I was particularly intrigued by this, since there are around 20 of us, and if I’m truly the only lefty that would make our group only 5 percent left-handed.

Left-handers also have an advantage in sports, particularly in baseball, since they can add an element that most players don’t train for.

I remember my parents making sure I had left-handed scissors for school each year. I also remember my mom struggling to teach me how to use chopsticks, knitting needles, and crochet hooks as a young girl. Luckily for me, I play sports (including fishing) and musical instruments right-handed. I also use firearms (for my Air Force work) right-handed.

In today’s world of spending most of my time at a computer, there’s very little that I need to do that really reminds me (and the world around me) of my sinistrality.

But every once in a while… I’m reminded. And sometimes it can be downright frustrating! Most often, I’m reminded in the kitchen. Today while making a fruit smoothie with my Ninja Blender, I was reminded once again.

The Ninja Blender is designed for right-handed use, evidenced by the handle on the right, spout on the left. The motor only fits on top of the pitcher in this direction—believe me, I tried it the other way! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Here are some other kitchen gadgets that favor right-handers:

What on earth is this? Holding it with my left hand, it’s hard to tell. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Oh! I see! It’s a can opener! I got it as a gift and don’t use it. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Pay no attention to the chip on my favorite geek coffee mug, covered in weather facts! I know, I can use it as a lefty just fine! Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

But if I were right handed, I’d be greeted with this pretty cloud and sun art with every sip of my AM elixir. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Most can openers are designed for right-handed folks. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

This is a pie server. Actually, I’m not sure of the Emily Post-sanctioned name for this utensil, but that’s what I call it. Note the serrated edge that faces up when I’m holding the utensil in my left hand.  Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

So the next time you are shopping for your favorite sinistral southpaw, consider ambidextrous kitchen gadgets :-)