Horror Author Sam Sattin Creates an Imaginary Game For His Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interior page from Marvels, book copyright Scholastic Inc.

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

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

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

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

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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

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

‘Star Darlings’: An Empowering New Series From Disney

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

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

3 ‘Star Wars’ Handprint Paintings for Younglings

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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

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

What You Need

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

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

Bradley Beaulieu Geeks Out on Mother/Daughter Connections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of it really opened Çeda up for me.

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

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

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

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

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

Be the Artist: LeRoy Neiman

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

The Artist: LeRoy Neiman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Project: Fantasy and Sci-Fi Sports Scenes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I like being outrageous,” he said.

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

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

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

“Let’s grab a drink!”

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

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

Lesson 1:

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


Lesson 2:

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

Ground Rules:

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

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

And away we go…


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

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

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


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


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

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


Glossary of terms that will impress your friends:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





Top 10 Tips For A DIY Haunted House

What's more fun than Halloween haunted house? Photo courtesy iStock Copyright egal
What’s more fun than a Halloween haunted house? (Photo courtesy iStock, copyright egal)

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

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

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

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

5. Dogs do not like large, animated spiders.

6. Dogs do like severed latex heads.

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

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

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

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

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

1. Build strong. I cannot over-stress how much abuse will be inflicted on your haunted house. No matter the age group, no matter how well-behaved, fear and excitement lead to wild behavior. I hire high schoolers from my neighborhood to work inside for extra scare, but they are all well-informed as to the risk (punches have been thrown) and are allowed to back out and take breaks. Anything I care about, animatronics and such, are behind screens and fences. Most people, even tween-age kids respect a barrier. I build with sugared-up 10-year-old boys in mind, and most things hold up.

This door might just be tough enough! photo courtesy iStock copyright Joe_Potato
This door might just be tough enough! (Photo courtesy iStock, copyright Joe_Potato.)

2. Don’t skimp on the scary. After several years of Halloween parties, I’ve learned that the kids who are going to be too scared, are just going to be too scared. Same for adults. Toning down the fright won’t help—they aren’t the audience you’re building for. I have other games or activities for that crowd, and I amp up the scare. The last year I built, I put in an air gun, which really brought the screams. But the folks that were into it couldn’t wait to go again. A few kids made their parents go with them, and a few parents made their kids take them through as well! Make it as scary as you can. It really will be appreciated.

3. It’s all about the lighting. Anytime someone enters a haunted house, they are expecting to be scared. Unless you have an actual zombie or weeping angel somewhere, very little you can do will live up to their imagination. But if the lighting keeps them from ever being completely sure where they are or what they are seeing, your scary will be helped along by their own internal fears. I like pitch black, black lights and strobe lights. You can buy high-quality strobe and black lights on Amazon or most Halloween stores. Use a variety, even together.

4. “Real” walls are a must. I’ve been in some homemade haunted houses that use sheets or boxes to make walls, but these eventually create problems. They rarely hold up—see number 1. Also, they allow the flow of the haunted house to become disrupted. Not knowing what’s around the next corner plays into that imaginary fear, but if folks can walk right through the walls, the effect gets spoiled. I use multiple plies of black plastic sheeting. These can be maneuvered to run floor to ceiling, and make very solid walls. I’ve used shower-type tension rods and zip ties to brace the sheeting, although sometimes we’ve built rudimentary frames with 2x4s. Granted, this will create some damage to the space you are working in. I suggest garages or unfinished basements if you want to go the full-frame route. The last time I went all out, we ended up remodeling the basement. Although, for full disclosure, the remodel was planned before October.

Good luck cleaning that mess! photo courtesy iStock Copyright dimjim
Good luck cleaning that mess! (Photo courtesy iStock, copyright dimjim.)

5. Small spaces work. Don’t be intimidated if you don’t have a ton of space. We used a 500-square-foot basement, and with the many twists, turns, and (yes) tunnels we created, the haunted house felt huge! Next year we are planning a giant haunted house in our three-car garage. I’m actually a bit intimidated by all that space!

6. Separate entrance and exit are optimum. While it isn’t always possible to have a one-way traffic pattern, if at all feasible, try to work this out. Folks will bottleneck at different points in the haunt even without having to make a return trip. Plus, as stated above, half the scary is in the imagination, so eliminating “spoilers” is best for optimizing fright. For our basement house, we used our exterior entrance—complete with a small, 2×4 framed canopy of black sheeting to block the light—as a queuing area and had the thrill-seekers exit through the house. It made for quite a wild time in the kitchen, where the basement stairs empty out, but was worth the headaches.

7. Staple guns are (unfortunately) your friend. There is really no way around this one. It is hard on walls, ceilings, and floors, but after trying absolutely every type of tape, tack, hot glue, and string on the market, I’ve come to realize that the only way to get fake spider webs and many other props to stay, and hold, up is via staple gun. Black duct tape is key for fixing lighting wires and holding the sheeting together, but nothing can replace those little staples. Once again, go with a garage or unfinished area. Or just plan a remodel.

8. Liquid props do not leave willingly. You are warned. One year, I decided to splatter a wall with fake blood. Two coats of primer and three coats of paint later, it wasn’t visible—until you turned on the lights. Seriously, if you are going to spray anything, use plastic painters sheeting to save the floors and be prepared for a massive clean-up job. Or just make the haunt somewhere appearance doesn’t matter. Bonus, if you use the same space the following year. The sprays will still be there! And if you are wondering, yes, I really did go to a movie with glow in the dark hands. And nose.

9. Hire Staff! This may seem like a silly expense, but trust me on this one. Don’t go all out—I use local high schoolers. You can usually pay babysitting rates and, if you hire the right kids, they really get into it. I always station someone at the entrance to control the entry flow and one person near the exit to keep the door shut after each terrified person flees. I usually like one or two people within the haunt to add some interaction. One year, I made a tunnel with a hidden side panel (plywood) to allow my workers to reach into the tunnel and grab the thrill-seekers. It was both evil and genius. I’ll use that one again. I make sure to have a few extras so someone is always on break and let them rotate positions. Like I said, this may seem like overkill, but it leads to our last tip…

Hire the right help and everyone will have a good time! photo courtesy iStock copyright AlbinaTiplyashina
Hire the right help and everyone will have a good time! (Photo courtesy iStock, copyright AlbinaTiplyashina.)

10. Have an adult beverage. The best thing about throwing a party is enjoying the party. You’ve done all the work to build the haunt, so now sit back, sip, and relax. Let your high-school employees take it from here; they will have a blast without being micromanaged. And, after all that work, you don’t want to see how your creation is treated, trust me! But the screams and giggles and folks running from the exit back to the entrance will be a great reward. That, and that frosty mug.

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

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

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

The Incredible Mind of Captain Slow

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

I had to fire a Time Lord.

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

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

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

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

Then I “discovered” James May.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But, why do I need a muse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

I only ask you one thing. Don’t stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cover copyright DC Comics.
cover copyright DC Comics.

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

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

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

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

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

Ray: Book of the Week. 9.5/10

Corrina: Buy It. 

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

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

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

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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

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

What You Need

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

Get Started!

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

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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

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

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

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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

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

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

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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

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

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ant-Man has become my tipping point.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel movies, you’ve had a good run.

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

But after that, you’re on notice.

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

Especially if they’re straight white men.

Give me a story I haven’t seen before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus question!

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

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

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

GeekMom Is On Instagram!

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

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

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

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

Changing the World: One Panic Attack at a Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Geeky House: Enchanted Forest Inspired Home and Garden

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

Image courtesy of Dellamorteco

Dryad Statue

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


Image courtesy of Bodner Chandeliers

Firefly Branch Chandelier

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


Image courtesy of Shawn Lovell Metalworks

Tree Bed

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


Image courtesy of Trustworth Wallpaper

Trustworth “The Fairyland” Wallpaper

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


Image courtesy of Terrain

Victorian Fernery Bench

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


Image courtesy of Karma Kiss

Toadstool Table

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


Image courtesy of FairyBehindTheDoor

Fairy Doors and Accessories

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

Home Sweet Geeky Home!

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

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

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

Whoops! Inappropriate Old Movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe we’re overreacting.

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

Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of lotr.wikia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning: total spoilers abound.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stress Relievers and Fun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slim Snack
($13.95 for a four-pack)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geek Speaks…Fiction! Guest Author Gail Z. Martin

Image: Melanie R. Meadors
Image: Melanie R. Meadors

What Made Me Geek Out Over Iron & Blood

by Gail Z. Martin

Writing Iron & Blood was so much fun, in part because the more we dug into Pittsburgh’s past, the cooler, geekier things we discovered. Iron & Blood is set in an alternative-history Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1898.

It’s a steampunk world of huge factories, fast trains, dauntless airships, mad doctors, clockwork zombies, crazy inventors, and artificially intelligent automatons, plus growing tension between old magic and new science. But the real Pittsburgh actually was the epicenter of steam-driven technology back in the late 1800s, with bigger-than-life figures like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, George Westinghouse, and many more. That created a lot of exciting, geek-worthy possibilities.

My husband and co-author, Larry N. Martin, and I lived in Pittsburgh for ten years and we’re originally from north of the city, so we had some ideas of where to start looking for odd facts and weird history that we could use in the book and series. And Pittsburgh did not disappoint! I read through dozens of books on Pittsburgh ghosts, urban legends, and folklore, geeking out over the stories about mysterious jets crashing into the river (and government cover-ups), mad scientists trying to keep severed heads alive, famous scandals—including one considered to be the “crime of the century” at the time—and strange hauntings. Perfect fodder for the kind of book we were writing, one that combined enough history and real landmarks to be recognizable, but with enough of a twist to be somewhere different.

Image: Simon & Schuster
Image: Simon & Schuster

Then there are the “what if?” questions real history serves up. What if—George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla had continued to work together? (In Iron & Blood they do, forming the Tesla-Westinghouse company).

What if the urban legend about the Congelier house and its gruesome history of Frankenstein-like experiments, murder, and explosions was actually true—and had a Steampunk twist?

What if the group of mines that boasted the largest mine in the world also had the deepest mine in the world—and it uncovered something ancient and evil, better left buried? What if Pittsburgh’s many immigrant groups brought not only their languages and foods but also their magic with them?

What if some of the old relics in the Carnegie Museum really were supernaturally powerful? And what if the legendary “green fairy” liquor was potent enough to do Absinthe magic?

We made a trip to Pittsburgh to refresh our memories about specific sites we planned to use in the book, like the warehouses of the Strip District, the mansions of Shadyside, the Ridge Avenue area where the Congelier House was supposed to be, and Homewood Cemetery, the site of a very unorthodox battle in Iron & Blood. That was probably our geekiest moment. I arranged for a private tour of the cemetery, especially Millionaire’s Row, where the wealthiest Pittsburghers like the Heinz family and the Mellons have been laid to rest for centuries. Seriously—these are mausoleums that “sleep” 21 bodies and have real Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass windows! So after warning our guide, Larry and I started to block out the battle scene, deciding where people would crouch, aim, and shoot! Of course, afterwards, we had to celebrate with a Primanti Brothers’ sandwich (French fries inside the bun) and a Pittsburgh steak salad (French fries in the salad). So much fun!

About the Authors

Iron & Blood is available online and in stores! You can also find more stories set in the world of New Pittsburgh with the Storm & Fury ebook short stories on Kindle/Kobo/Nook, including Resurrection Day. Our stories about New Pittsburgh and the characters from Iron & Blood also appear in several anthologies, including Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens, The Weird Wild West, and the upcoming Unbound.

Larry N. Martin is the co-author of the new Steampunk series Iron & Blood: The Jake Desmet Adventures and a series of short stories: The Sound & Fury Adventures set in the Jake Desmet universe. These short stories also appear in the anthologies Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens and Weird Wild West with more to come. Larry and Gail also have a science fiction short story in the Contact Light anthology.

In addition to co-authoring Iron & Blood and the Sound & Fury Adventures, Gail Z. Martin is the author of the new epic fantasy novel War of Shadows (Orbit Books) which is Book Three in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga; and Vendetta: A Deadly Curiosities Novel in her urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC (December 2015, Solaris Books). She is also author of Ice Forged and Reign of Ash in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books, The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) from Orbit Books, and Deadly Curiosities from Solaris Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures, and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: The Big Bad 2, Athena’s Daughters, Heroes, With Great Power, and Realms of Imagination.

Please join us on social media: @GailZMartin or @LNMartinAuthor on Twitter, The Winter Kingdoms on Facebook.com/winterkingdoms, blogs at DisquietingVisions.com, podcast at GhostInTheMachinePodcast.com, and at our JakeDesmet.com home page, where you can sign up for our Chronicles newsletter which includes original flash fiction in every issue! You can also find Gail on Goodreads.com/GailZMartin and be part of frequent book discussions, giveaways, and events! Gail also features excerpts and the occasional full novella on Wattpad.com/GailZMartin.

About Iron & Blood

A Steampunk adventure novel set in the fictional city of New Pittsburgh.

New Pittsburgh in 1898, a crucible of invention and intrigue, the hub of American industry at the height of its steam-driven power. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood, and earthquake, New Pittsburgh is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the abandoned mine tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging to feed in the smoky city known as “hell with the lid off.”

Jake Desmet and Rick Brand, heirs to the Brand & Desmet Import Company, travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake’s cousin, Veronique “Nicki” LeClercq. Smuggling a small package as a favor for a Polish witch should have been easy. But when hired killers come after Jake and a Ripper-style killer leaves the city awash in blood, Jake, Rick, and Nicki realize that dark magic, vampire power struggles, and industrial sabotage are just a prelude to a bigger plot that threatens New Pittsburgh and the world. Stopping that plot will require every ounce of Jake’s courage, every bit of Rick’s cunning, every scintilla of Nicki’s bravura, and all the steampowered innovation imaginable.

Back To School 2015: Books To Stock Your Shelves

Minecraft Enchantment Table \ Attribution Some rights reserved by flickr user brownpau
Minecraft Enchantment Table. Some rights reserved by flickr user brownpau.

It’s time to head back to school and I’ve compiled a list of books I recommend you stock your shelves with for a profitable reading year.

Books For the Very Young

The Flowers Primer \ Image Fair Use
The Secret Garden: A Flowers Primer \ Image BabyLit Books

The Secret Garden: A Flowers Primer, and Don Quixote: A Spanish Language Primer ($9.99)
BabyLit, who specializes in introducing kids to classic literature with beginning reader board books, just introduced their latest pair to the series. Author Jennifer Adams and artist Alison Oliver celebrate “Little Miss Burnett” and “Little Master Cervantes” with The Secret Garden: A Flowers Primer and Don Quixote: A Spanish Language Primer.

The Flowers Primer shows young readers flowers featured in The Secret Garden, accompanied by a small quote. The Spanish Language Primer includes characters and items featured in Don Quixote, in both English and Spanish. This book works for both native Spanish and English speakers, with phonetic spellings on the back geared towards speakers of each language.

Both of these little gift books are a great way to get first-time students excited about reading and literature, as well as the natural world and different cultures. [Ages two and up.]

Books For Ages 8 and Up

Hamster Princess \ Image: Fair Use
Hamster Princess \ Image: Dial Books

Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon  ($6.49)
Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible is my favorite title on this list. It’s a graphic novel that follows Princess Harriet who learns that she cannot be harmed until her 13th birthday, thanks to a Sleeping Beauty-like curse she received as a baby. It’s a fun story about a young girl who wants the adventure and action usually reserved for the princes. Available August 18, 2015. [Ages 8 and up—though younger children will enjoy this title as well.]

Hilo Book 1 \ Image: Fair Use
Hilo: Book 1 \ Image: Random House

Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth graphic novel by Judd Winick ($6.99) 
A young boy falling from space has no idea where he came from or why going to school in his underwear is a bad idea. Sound like your kind of story? Then, this is the book for you. My son’s only complaint is that the sequel doesn’t come out until next year. It ends on a little bit of a cliffhanger, so if you have young ones who can’t handle waiting till next year (and who can blame them?), I’d use this as an opportunity to have them write their own sequel. Available September 1, 2015. [Ages 8 and up, although younger readers may enjoy this being read to them.]

My Brother is a Superhero \ Image: Fair Use
My Brother Is a Superhero \ Image: Viking Books

My Brother Is a Superhero by David Solomons ($10.61)
Two brothers are hanging out in their tree house, when the younger brother’s life is changed with the four little words: “I need to pee.” When he returns to the tree house, he finds that his older brother now has superpowers and he missed his chance all because “nature” was calling. It’s a fun story that my son loved so much, when I was too tired to read at night, he climbed into bed with me and read out-loud to me. [Ages 8 – 12.]

Mission Explore Food \ Image: Fair Use
Mission: Explore Food \ Image: Can of Worms Kids Press

The Geography Collective
Get kids moving and investigating with unique, pocket-sized books by The Geography Collective. Each one is packed with activities that are made to be marked up and smeared as they’re used. Try Mission: Explore Food, with over 270 pages of strangely enticing ideas. Other titles include Mission: Explore on the Road and Mission: Explore Camping. Perfect for home or travel, and teachers can use these ideas too. Also know that more titles are available in the UK. [Ages 9-12.]

Mission: Explore Food (hardcover $29.90)
Mission: Explore on the Road (paperback $7.99)
Mission: Explore Camping (paperback $7.99)

Medieval Lego \ Image: Fair Use
Medieval Lego \ Image: No Starch Press

Medieval Lego  by Greyson Beights ($11.06)
Take a journey through English history in the Middle Ages with Lego. Written with the help of medievalists and scholars, this title will keep your young knights and princesses interested in the medieval times. [Ages 8 and up.]

The Lego Adventure Vol. 3 \ Image: Fair Use
The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 3 \ Image: No Starch Press

The Lego Adventure Book, Vol. 3  by Megan H. Rothrock ($18.46)
Follow the story of Megs and Brickbot as they face their toughest challenge: the return of the Destructor. On their journey, the two meet some of the world’s greatest Lego builders and show you how to build a Renaissance house, a classic movie theater, sushi, and much more. Available September 25, 2015. [Ages 9 and up.]

Young Adult

Smart Girls Guide to Privacy \ Image: Fair Use
The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy \ Image: No Starch Press

The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy by Violet Blue ($13.76)
In the digital age, everyone needs to be more careful about what they do online. The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy takes young girls through the various ways they can protect themselves. It’s hard to believe how quickly a photo or video can spread, and this book covers what to do when you are a victim of a compromising photo online, how to fix reputation mishaps, how to act if your identity is stolen, and much more. A must-read for anyone.

Game Art \ Image: Fair Use
Game Art \ Image: No Starch Press

Game Art  by Matt Sainsbury ($28.03)
Video games are not just fun, they are a work of storytelling art. This book is ideal for art students, who will get a kick out of the art from 40 video games and interviews with their creators.

Automate with Python \ Image: Fair Use
Automate the Boring Stuff with Python \ Image: No Starch Press

Automate the Boring Stuff with Python by Al Sweigart ($22.86)
This title is perfect for anyone who has menial tasks they don’t want to spend hours doing. In this book, you can learn how to write simple programs that will help you rename files in bulk, search for text across multiple files, and add a logo to multiple files without opening each one. There’s also 18 chapters’ worth of fun programs to play with.

Math with Python \ Image: Fair Use
Doing Math with Python \ Image: No Starch Press

Doing Math with Python by Amit Saha ($15.79)
I’m all for anything that makes high school math easier. Doing Math with Python helps students learn how to do math with the help of a little programming. It’s like learning two subjects at once. Available August 25, 2015.

Start Where You Are \ Image: Fair Use
Start Where You Are \ Image: Perigee Books

Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration by Meera Patel ($7.97)
Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration is a hand-drawn, full-color journal by self-taught artist Meera Patel. Each left-side page offers an endearingly illustrated quote, while each right-side page asks the journal writer to answer a question in words, drawings, or both. This little book can fit easily into a backpack or dorm room, wherever it’s needed. You might want to include a package of colored pencils, because color.

Team Challenges \ Image: Fair Use
Team Challenges \ Image: Chicago Review Press

Team Challenges: 170+ Group Activities to Build Cooperation, Communication, and Creativity by Kris Bordessa ($15.10)
Former GeekMom contributor Kris Bordessa has created the best activity book out there for teachers and parents, as well as leaders of groups such as scouts, 4-H, and other enrichment programs. It’s a perfect resource to keep on hand!

Shakespeare's Star Wars  \  Image: Fair Use
Shakespeare’s Star Wars \ Image: Quirk Books

The Royal Imperial Boxed Set: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy ($26.12)
This beautifully illustrated retelling of George Lucas’ Star Wars in the style of William Shakespeare contains Verily, A New Hope; The Empire Striketh Back; and The Jedi Doth Return. Han shooteth first? Forsooth! Also included is a full-color poster.

Do you have a favorite book to start off the school year? Let us know in the comments!

GeekMom received review copies of these titles.

Fund This! Launching Your Own Campaign!

Image used with permission from Rocio Lara under CC BY-SA 2.0

Since I’ve been covering GeekMom’s Fund This! article for a while, I frequently get questions on crowdfunding and how to approach using community-based fundraising to launch a product or project. Having run my own successful Kickstarter, and perusing hundreds of other campaigns, I definitely have a few insights on what works and what doesn’t.

Campaigns usually fall into two categories. The first come from companies, organizations, or people with an established following who are using this platform to expand their offering. Great examples of this are The Oatmeal’s Exploding Kittens Game (which my family has been playing for about a week straight. Every night. Because it’s awesome.), NASA’s Reboot the Suit (in which the public proved that they valued something that needed funding outside of the regular budget), or Amanda Palmer on Patreon (in which one of my favorite artists took control of her ability to produce and connect with her fan base).

The second category is entrepreneurs. People who have an idea and are going for it. It’s this second category that needs the most support and the most thought before launching. But a well-planned campaign can make your project dreams come true and possibly launch a whole new business. There are also two other categories: the campaigns in which you are buying a product and the ones in which you are investing in a cause you believe in.

Probably the most common way that homegrown projects fund their startup costs these days is through crowdfunding. Websites such as Kickstarter, IndieGogo, GoFundMe, and Patreon allow your community to invest in your project. Some, such as Kickstarter, only fund you if you meet your goal. If you use this model, make sure you set an attainable goal amount. Other platforms allow you to keep whatever you raise. You should know that while all these companies take a percentage of what you raise (which should be calculated into your asking amount), some take a higher percentage if you do not make your goal. You are not charged an extra percentage for exceeding your goal on any platform. There are many choices online, but some of the popular platforms include:

Kickstarter: Probably the most well-known platform, great for launching new products. Advantages include popularity and sense of urgency, disadvantage is the funding is all or nothing.

IndieGogo: Another well-known site, but this one has the option of keeping what you raise, although the percentage they take is higher if you do not reach your goal.

GoFundMe: Personal fundraising website. Good for things like raising money to receive training or gain a new skill that relates to your goals or business.

Tilt: Formerly know as Crowdtilt, this platform is a great way to collect and track money for a project or cause, particularly from an established group.

Patreon: Platform to support artists of all kinds on an ongoing basis.

Choosing your platform is directly related to your end goal and who you think is going to fund your idea. When approaching a crowdfunding campaign, consider the following:

  • Who is your audience?
  • How big of a community will your space serve?
  • Is there any component to your project that would serve others outside your community?
  • How will you connect your mission to your audience?
  • Who will write your campaign and film your video?
  • What perks can you offer and who will fulfill them?
  • Who will do the daily marketing required for your campaign?
  • If you fail to meet your goal, what is your back-up plan?

The good news is that statistically, your crowdfunding campaign will either never make it out of the gate or you are almost guaranteed to fund, and that gives you some control. Preparing for a campaign by gathering and motivating your community, lining up local media coverage, and making smart choices around perks can set you up for success before you have even started. You don’t necessarily need a finished product, but you do need enough of a prototype or a plan to demonstrate feasibility and success.

If you are doing a crowdfunding campaign, my advice is to keep it simple and doable. I wish someone had told me before we launched ours the amount of daily work it would take to market and push our project in every direction we possibly could. I still would have done it, but I would have delegated more.

I also wish someone would have warned me about how much time and energy fulfilling our perks would cost. If your project is a product, the reward is fairly straightforward. For campaigns that are causes, physical perks such as t-shirts are costly and time consuming to mail, and honestly people generally do not want more “stuff.” Perks like “A Month of Making: 30 Days of Projects” sent by email, which was a reward of the Austin Tinkering School Kickstarter, offer an experience and information that you can provide easily with very little overhead and deepen your connection and value to your backers. Every person I have talked to that has run a crowdfunding campaign has stressed that while all the small reward backers add up, offering really dynamic rewards at the higher levels can make all the difference. Those backing at a higher level will have different expectations and you should plan accordingly.

Finally, my last piece of advice is you may not need any crowdfunding website. If you are running a local campaign or have backers waiting with money in hand, you could bypass using an external site completely and post your project on your website with a link to Paypal or another money collecting system. You would decrease the cost to your backers and keep more of the funding by appealing directly to your community.

So, what do I personally look for when I am choosing campaigns to feature on Fund This? First, was I able to make it through the whole video or explanation? Second, does it really offer something new and unique? Third, does it spark joy, do I want it? And finally, has the campaign demonstrated to me that they can accomplish what they have promised? I tend to focus on campaigns that appeal to our geeky audience, but since that is who I am, the research can be very personal as well. Therefore, campaigns that show personal investment and enthusiasm always catch my eye.

My (last) last piece of advice is to make sure you show yourself and connect with your audience. Passion is infectious, and can make all the difference.

Happy Funding!

Amazon Echo: Did It Change My Life?

Amazon Echo Location
Amazon Echo in our home. Photo: Maryann Goldman.

I’ve been an Amazon Prime member since December 25, 2011. I ordered my first Kindle that month, and the Amazon Prime membership tagged along with it. I’ve been very happy with Prime shipping ever since, and occasionally I use Prime Video or Prime Music. When the Amazon Echo was announced, I wanted to hop on the bandwagon right away and order one, but I waited a bit to see what others had to say about it. I also needed to consider the value-to-cost ratio. Would our family really use it?

On July 2, our Echo arrived, and our adventure began.

GeekDad Z recently reviewed the Echo and all the functions delivered with it, so I won’t repeat those. However, I’m pleased to report that I get an email about once a week announcing newly added features. For example, this week, Echo added support for three third-party developed skills: Crystal Ball, Math Puzzles, and StubHub. Crystal Ball is a fortune teller. You think of a yes/no question, and Echo will answer it for you. I wondered if the sky is really blue and when I tried it out, Echo said, “Maybe.” If you really want to know why the sky is blue, read GeekMom Patricia’s post. Math Puzzles gives you a list of numbers and asks you what the next number will be. I found this hard to do in my head, but fun if I got out a sheet of paper and wrote the number list down. You have to think fast before Echo times out. StubHub helps you find out what’s going on in your town this weekend or on a specific date. You have the option of going into the Skills category of the Echo app on your smartphone to decide whether to enable these new skills or not. Why not?

Now that I’ve been using Echo for 45 days, what do I think? I love to be in on new tech. The Echo certainly classifies, but is Echo really changing my life? Although I would order it again without hesitation, the answer, sadly, is, “No.”

The first few days, we were talking to Echo hourly, testing out her skills. She does a great job telling you the current weather, looking up interesting facts on Wikipedia, and setting alarms. However, you can do all of these things from your smartphone too. Eventually, the newness of talking to Echo instead of pressing a few buttons on my smartphone wore off. Instead of interacting with her multiple times a day, we were down to only one or two times a day, even missing days sometimes.

The kids love to ask Echo jokes. She has that feature built-in, and it can be a lot of fun. The developers even update her with new jokes on a regular basis. What happens though, is that my kids try to outdo each other and end up talking at the same time. Poor Echo is confused. It’s hard enough for the software to clearly understand one person talking in a normal voice. Imagine what happens when two or more excited kids start shouting multiple commands to the device at the same time. Of course, this is not a deficiency in just Echo. Any voice recognition device will have the same difficulty. You can train Echo to your voice, but I don’t think you can train her to multiple voices. And, there’s no good way to get her to isolate one voice out of many talking at the same time.

Primarily, we use Echo to set alarms. “Alexa, set an alarm for 5:15 p.m. today.” That’s a good reminder to go preheat the oven for dinner. If I think I might fall asleep before it’s time to pick up the kids from school, I can set an “end nap time” alarm. Alarms are a great way to manage my day. Echo will even allow you to set multiple alarms and timers. However, what happens is that sometimes the alarm goes off and you have no idea why. Seriously, one day it went off, and it took us 15 minutes to figure out why we had set the alarm hours ago. I have submitted a new function request to Amazon Echo Support asking them to allow a description to be added to the alarm. I would be tickled pink if the alarm went off and Echo said something like, “8:30 p.m. alarm—time for Joey and Johnny to get ready for bed.”

We were very hopeful that Echo would help us nag the kids with less involvement from us. We want Echo to tell them to go to bed, remind them to brush their teeth, wake them up in the morning, etc. Besides the alarms not providing a description, there’s also the problem of needing Echo in more than one location in the house. The current price for Amazon Echo is $179.99. It’s a serious investment to buy one of these devices, let alone two or more to give coverage all over your home. In our house, three would be about the minimum. We’d like one in our kitchen/family room area, the boys’ TV room, and the boys’ bedroom. The master bedroom would be nice too. We ended up putting the one we bought in our kitchen/family room area, where everyone in the house has good access to it. However, this prevents us from using it as an alarm clock or a kid-friendly reminder device.

Amazon Echo supports a wide range of home automation devices (lights and switches) including Philips Hue, Wink, and WeMo. You can turn your lights on and off with a voice command to Echo. This is a super cool feature, in my opinion. The only problem is that we invested in a SmartThings hub a couple of years ago, and Echo doesn’t support SmartThings (yet). We knew that when we bought Echo, and we still hope that SmartThings will get added. It’s either that or we’re going to have to buy a new hub with a price tag of $49 or more. For now, we use the SmartThings app on our smartphone to control our lights when desired. We use the switches to turn on/off outside fountains, Christmas lights, and to manage our primary entry door lock.

Then there’s the issue of music. Echo does a great job playing music and podcasts from Amazon Prime, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. When I’m in the mood, I’ll ask her to play something for me, and I enjoy it. The problem is that the music library I’ve been building for years is on iTunes. I think Amazon with Prime Music and Google with Play Music are nuts if they think I’m going to rebuild my library in their store. Not happening! Until I can play my iTunes music and playlists on Echo, which I realize will never happen, I’ll just keeping using the Bluetooth speakers we have in strategic locations around our house to play my usual music from my iPhone or iPad.

It’s great that we can engage Echo to help us whenever we want, but we’d also like her to engage us sometimes. For example, I have my Google calendar hooked up to her. I can ask her what’s on my calendar today, and she gives me an accurate response. What I really want is for her to remind me about certain calendar events a given amount of time before them. If I have a 9:00 a.m. dentist appointment, I want her to wake up at 8:00 a.m. and say something like, “Maryann, you have a dentist appointment with Dr. ABC at 9:00 a.m. in XYZ.” It doesn’t do me any good to get an email reminder on my phone; I may not see that in time. I don’t want the reminder to be reliant on my remembering to ask for my daily schedule. Right now, we use sticky notes on our primary entrance/exit door or our bathroom mirror to remind us of events that deviate from our normal routine. I’ve even put a sticky note on the steering wheel of my minivan, so that when I go to leave to take the kids to school in the morning I don’t forget to do something. Echo could remind me so much better!

As I said at the start of this review, if I had it to do over, I’d still buy Amazon Echo. I see huge potential in this device and others like it, and I love being on the bleeding edge of this new technology. Besides alarms with descriptions, I have submitted several other new function requests to Amazon Echo Support. I’ve asked them to let Echo act as a calculator. I want to say, “Alexa, what is 3 + 5?” or “Alexa, add $5.23 and $11.37.” I would love for Alexa to quiz multiplication facts to my 5th grader. I want Echo to ask, “What is 3 times 7?” and wait for a response. The new Math Puzzles skill is similar to this, so hopefully multiplication fact-quizzing is coming soon. We are just about out of that phase at our house, but we would still embrace that functionality. I’d also like Echo to manage multiple calendars in our household. It’s great that she’s hooked up to my Google calendar, but there are three other members of my home, and they all have Google calendars too. What about them? Is Echo an individual device or a family device? I need to be able to specify which Google calendar I want to check and to have a way in the Echo app to set up every calendar in our household.

For those who have trouble with the small keypad on a smartphone or TV remote, voice automation through Echo could be a real asset. For those who are really focused or for those who have trouble focusing, prompts and reminders from Echo could be very helpful. She truly could be a life assistant, as well as a home automator.

What’s your experience with Echo? What would make or break your decision to add an Echo to your home? Leave me a comment with your thoughts.

3 Picture Books for Grammar Geeks

Art by Mark Shulman © Chronicle Books
Mom and Dad Are Palindromes, illustrated by Adam McCauley © Chronicle Books

These picture books picks aren’t for the kids this time: They’re for all the parents out there who are unabashed grammar geeks! If you love grammar, writing, and word play, you’re likely to be more entertained than your kids when you read these clever books aloud together. Introduce writing concepts, palindromes, and grammar to your kids with the entertaining books below.

© Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
© Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I Yam a Donkey! by Cece Bell

A fun read-aloud for everyone in the family, I Yam a Donkey! is sure to get some giggles. Simple, bold illustrations accompany the story of a yam and a donkey who just aren’t understanding each other.

A simple grammar lesson and a twist of an ending make this book memorable.


© Chronicle Books

Mom and Dad Are Palindromes by Mark Shulman and Adam McCauley

Teach kids about the fun you can have with words in this clever and unique book. With over 101 palindromes to spot, this picture book is an interactive addition to family story time.

Younger kids might have some trouble grasping the concept of a palindrome, but there’s no better introduction to learning to recognize one. As a bonus, parents will love trying to spot them as well. (My favorite has to be “too hot to hoot.”) If your kids enjoy this one, Ann and Nan Are Anagrams by the same author and illustrator is another great picture book to pick up.

© Chronicle Books
© Chronicle Books

Little Red Writing by Jean Holub and Melissa Sweet

A brave little pencil chooses her own adventure in this one-of-a-kind picture book.

Read this ingenious twist on Little Red Riding Hood to the kids to explore ideas like story structure and different types of words (like adverbs and adjectives), and you just might pass on your love of grammar and vocabulary. You might even learn a new word or two yourself, like “bosky,” a new one for me.

GeekMom received a promotional copy of I Yam a Donkey! for review purposes.

Between the Bookends – August 2015

Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown

This month the GeekMoms dove deeply into the Chris Carter-verse with books featuring both The X-Files and Millennium, fallen in love again with Star Wars through a new series of Little Golden Books, enjoyed home crafts, and finally found something to draw them away from a beloved series. Read on to find out more about what we’ve been reading this month.

Continue reading Between the Bookends – August 2015

Cover Girl Announces Star Wars Edition Makeup

Image credit: CoverGirl via Allure Magazine

Last month, Lucasfilm announced an assortment of product partnerships for the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, including Verizon, Duracell, General Mills, Subway, HP, and FCA US. The seventh was CoverGirl cosmetics, and today we finally got to see what that will look like.

On the up side, Star Wars! Possibly on the down side, depending on your makeup preferences, the colors are very trendy and not necessarily daily wear, featuring shimmery purples, a gold, and a silver shade. But on the other hand, while a luminous lilac might not be office wear for your day job, they could be perfect for your next cosplay. The nail colors are a bit more wearable. (And I’m amused that one is named Nemesis, which seems more like a Star Trek color name.) There appear to be two mascaras, a Light Side and a Dark Side that are repackages of their Super Sizer mascara. They come in 10 different tubes, each with a Star Wars quote on it, from “Do. Or do not. There is no try,” to “You will meet your destiny.”

See all the pictures in the preview at Allure magazine and get it in stores September 4.