K’nex Builds Interest In STEM

There was much celebration!
There was much celebration!

We received six K’nex sets for my kids to test and review. We have two girls, aged 9.5 and 8, and a 5-year-old son. My son immediately opened a treasure chest full of parts and a book of 70 model ideas and started building. He was beyond excited for a K’nexosaurus Rex set, a motorized dinosaur build. The four other sets were aimed specifically at girls, and after a few minutes of looking at everything we’d received, my son wanted to open them all ASAP.

The sets aimed at the girls are meant to encourage interest in STEM. The sets included activities such as framing a house, building simple machines, and building a car with a motor. We received a plane and hang glider set, a carnival set with manual carousel, a set with two different houses, and a clubhouse set with a simple elevator, zip line, and the aforementioned car.

As soon as the girls got home, we started the build on the houses. I never played with K’nex as a kid, and as a LEGO builder I was very impressed with the packaging. The sets are well packed, with both the rods and the connectors color coded by length and shape. The pieces are also well-bagged in intuitive ways; main connectors were in their own bag and the pieces were organized in the order they’re used.

We had two main issues with the sets. First, some of the diagrams were really hard to mimic. As a 36-year-old, I found myself studying the pictures, trying to figure out which way pieces went and how they connected. While I wanted the kids to build independently, there were times that they really needed help.

More frustrating, though, was that the figurines in the girls’ sets kept falling apart. Legs and arms were popping out. The dolls’ hands were also not able to grip the zipline, and when using the elevator, the side of the clubhouse hit the figurine’s head multiple times. The company assured me that the loose limb issue has been fixed in the new sets they’re releasing, and I look forward to testing them to verify.

Much to my son’s disappointment, all the figurines are girls. K’nex has no plans at this time to add boys to the line as the sets are specifically targeting girls. The kids had a great time building, and my 9.5-year-old daughter was ultimately able to do a few full builds by herself. Every kid who has walked into our house for the last week has salivated at these sets and sat down to play for hours. Having played with the review sets, the new K’nex are on my list of things to buy for our home.

Sets can be purchased at multiple retailers; prices range from $12-$40.

Photos: Dani Weiss-Bronstein

Are You Brutal With Your MacBook Pro?

Who out there has a MacBook Pro? Go ahead, raise your hand! Are you as brutal with them as we are here in my house? It’s okay…in today’s day and age we are using laptops on the go more than ever, right?

I’ve been a Mac convert — a serious one — since 2009. My change of heart occurred during my Middle East deployment; we had to go to a public space to access the “non-official” WiFi, and I would see folks on their MacBooks video chatting with their families easily. Meanwhile, I was on an older Dell laptop screaming obscenities while I suffered through spotty connections during my own once-weekly video chat*.

*I want to caveat my whining here by saying that I understand that the ability to chat with my sons and husband while deployed via Skype, ooVoo, or Google Hangouts was a privilege, not a right. My only point here is that those around me with MacBooks had far less trouble doing this, on the same WiFi that my Dell was on.

The very first purchase I made after returning home in spring 2009 was a MacBook Pro and it was glorious. I’m now on my second MacBook Pro (I had to get my second one in 2012, because the 2009 version fell from a car-top carrier). My husband has one of the newer “retina display” MacBook Pros from 2013.

It is with my husband’s newest model that we were able to check out the Urban Armor Gear case for the 13″ MacBook Pro. This case is for those who are seriously brutal on their laptops — perhaps by wanting to toss them into duffel bags, running to catch the commuter train with laptop in hand, or walking back and forth from office to classroom with the laptop open and running**. Continue reading Are You Brutal With Your MacBook Pro?

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

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

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

Apps For the Running Geek

Even though I’ve recently gotten into virtual running (see my previous post on running virtual races), I don’t really consider myself a runner. I’m not in peak physical condition. I don’t have fancy running gear. I’m not part of a running group.

But the other day as I prepared to run, and opened not one, not two, but three different running apps, I realized somewhere along the way I’ve become a running geek. 

When getting ready to run, the first app I open is Runkeeper, by FitnessKeeper, Inc. I only recently started using the free version of this app to log miles for one of my virtual running challenges. As a data nerd, I like this app. Not only does it keep track of distance and time, it will let you know whenever you’ve broken a personal record and give you a map of your run. You can set up a schedule for training, whether it is to run a race, lose weight, or just become more fit. You can also friend other people for some friendly competition.

The upgrade to the free version, Runkeeper Go, is $9.99 monthly or $39.99 for the year. I haven’t yet upgraded to the premium version, so I can’t really say if the upgrade is worth the price. I do know in the few months since I’ve started using it, I’ve seen several offers to get the premium version at a discount. Continue reading Apps For the Running Geek

Disney, You Lost Money On My-Four-Year Old Daughter

Disney has decided to withhold Rey toys, because, you know, no boy would want to play with a girl doll, and girls don’t want to play Star Wars. The magic marketers know it all.

Left unchecked, you will crush my daughter, who plays house with boys and superheroes with girls, loves her ballet, and has a huge stack of unused princess toys because many of her relatives and friends won’t shop for her outside of the girl section.

Don’t worry, I will not let you pull the joy from my four-year-old’s play, no matter how she doesn’t fit the segmentation you believe she is in. I will help her find the toys she likes best.

You will, however, lose any revenue you might get by properly conducting your market research and your segmentation, and actually create toys my daughter would like, then market them to her. That choice and loss is yours.

Continue reading Disney, You Lost Money On My-Four-Year Old Daughter

An Inviting Children’s Section For All, Fred Meyer

After writing about Target’s failure to invite my daughter into their children’s section, many questioned, among other things, how a store could sort toys in the traditional manner, limited by the toy manufacturers. Several called for a look at the manufacturers, not the toy stores. They failed to grasp the most important part of the article:

Target failed to keep its word when I knew there was a way.

My little princess has a very different feel for Target than she does for another toy section, one in our local Fred Meyer. So today, I am looking at why Fred Meyer invites my daughter deep into its “boy” section. So I walked through the toy section, with one rule, I could not touch anything. I had to see the invite where my daughter did, with my eyes.

There are two differences I saw between the stores. The obvious one, the size of the toy section, ended up taking a back seat to the very subtle one, inclusiveness. Further, the lack of a third, different section breakout, is equally interesting. Which brings up the key question:

If Fred Meyer and Target have the same section break out, one probably required by the toy manufacturers, how does Fred Meyer bring inclusiveness into its toy section?

A close look at the toys showed a possible answer to this question.

Continue reading An Inviting Children’s Section For All, Fred Meyer

The Future of Gaming: Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) has been thrown around the gaming forums a lot over the last year or two. It’s not a new thing. I am totally aware I am not submitting ground-breaking journalism here.

With the start of a new year, the discussion has come up again. Is this the year we see VR units in every home? Is VR really going to revolutionize gaming? Or will VR be another demographic divide in the world of gaming?

Continue reading The Future of Gaming: Virtual Reality

Organizing Nerd Needs

Image By Mike Collins

Yes, yes, your computer, smart-phone, whatever, keeps you completely organized, I know. But if you are like me, there is something about paper, stickers, pencils, and organizers on my desk that is more FUN! And putting some of my favorite geeky themes on those organizing tools makes it even MORE FUN! I recently puttered around the web finding cool things for myself and my family. Here are some of my favorites:

This is my new favorite site, and I had a hard time picking one item to share: The ghost sticky-notes. You can see through them and write on them! And they’re so cute! Sorry for all the exclamation points, but I love these!

How about a Star Wars cozy mug organizer? This is genius: it keeps your beverage warm, and while you walk around, you have all your things in it too!

Cords all over my desk are a pet-peeve, so here is a nifty way to keep ’em tight- with a ninja!

Eeek! “A Little Golden Book: WONDER WOMAN” Planner / Journal. The original book has been upcycled into a nifty planner — what a great and geeky idea!

I always keep a notebook in my purse for my fabulous ideas (ah-hem), and this one should strike fear in all who know manga…


Ok. I don’t technically need anymore erasers (I made my husband buy me adorable mushroom ones with faces for my birthday last year…) but brains! Brains!

And finally, when you need to chill out during the day, do it the Sherlock way…Sherlock: The Mind Palace: A Coloring Book Adventure

Tabletop Game: Battle Sheep

Battle Sheep is an abstract strategy game from Blue Orange in which players try to fill fields with their herd of sheep. Sounds pretty easy in concept, so I jumped at the chance to play it recently. I grabbed a couple of kids (9, 11, and 12) and we dove right in. Continue reading Tabletop Game: Battle Sheep

Beanie Bags: Happy Mail for Yarn Junkies

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

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

Continue reading Beanie Bags: Happy Mail for Yarn Junkies

RawSpiceBar Saved My Christmas Dinner

Food lovers looking for a way to spice things up in 2016 should give the subscription box service, RawSpiceBar a try.

The idea behind RawSpiceBar is to receive spices from around the world that have been toasted, ground or blended just days before being shipped. This will not only introduce the subscriber to new flavors and cooking ideas, but gives them an a chance to enjoy spices that haven’t been sitting on a grocery store shelf for several months.

This service works on the same premise of many other subscription service boxes. Each month, subscribers receive set of three one-recipe sized samples of spices representing a different region of the world, along with corresponding recipes for each sample. The recipes serve around 4 to 6 individuals, and include some history and facts about the regions of which they represent.

Past boxes have represented flavors from Istanbul, Memphis barbecue, Punjabi cuisine and New Mexican Navajo spices, among other areas.

The spice “box” is really a nice, tidy, plain brown little envelope, easy enough to fit in a regular mail slot, which is always nice when those little shoebox-sizes shipments from other services start to take of space after a few months. Continue reading RawSpiceBar Saved My Christmas Dinner

From Collecting to Constructing: Shopkins Kinstructions

Shopkins have invaded our home this year thanks to a multitude of unboxing videos on YouTube Kids. Just like baseball cards of years gone by, the excitement and suspense of discovering what’s inside the package has kids hooked—especially my daughter.

I never imagined she’d be excited to open a box and squeal upon finding a mini, glittery stapler inside, but here we are.

The tiny toys are adorable, but each time we open a new package, I ask, “But what are you going to do with them?”

“Keep them in my collection!” is the invariable answer. On the shelf the toys go.

This month Moose Toys and C3 Construction released brick sets to answer that question in a more hands-on way. The new Shopkins Kinstructions are build-it-yourself kits that make perfect playsets for the collectible figures.

The Kinstructions sets proved to be too difficult for my six-year-old—and challenging even for this mom—but once assembled, the hassle was worth seeing the Shopkins figures off the shelf and into my daughter’s hands.

Continue reading From Collecting to Constructing: Shopkins Kinstructions

Holiday Peace, Thanks to the Lego Advent Calendar

Today I give thanks for one of the few things that kept me sane over the last month and the never-ending sense of impending holiday madness.

Thank you, Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar, for giving my child a reason to get up on the cold December mornings, where it was still dark outside and all he wanted to do was stay in bed. The struggle was real, but you gave him motivation, the motivation I happily exploited to get him to school.

Thank you, Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar, for giving my son and my spouse something to bond over when both were stressed and cranky. The discussions about which planet each little figure was from put smiles on both their faces.

Santa C3PO
photo courtesy of Jena Burne

Thank you, Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar, for giving me five minutes of peace and quiet every day while my son was busy building and playing with each new guy, ship, or weapon. A chance to drink coffee and just be was quite possibly the greatest holiday gift given to me.

Today, we say goodbye to the Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar for another year. The box will disappear, but the characters will live on, particularly because my son is creating a giant Star Wars display with everything he received over the last twenty-four days. I only hope that I will remember the joy you gave me over the month of December when in February I step on one of your adorable figures in the middle of the night.

Nesting in the 21st Century

I’ve just had my third child in six years, and have noticed certain patterns about myself. For me, an early indication of pregnancy is uncontrollable irrationality. For about a week, I will be irrationally irritated with everything and snapping at everyone. So much so that with my second pregnancy, my husband said, “You better be pregnant.” I was. I crave greasy burgers from Burger King and strawberry milk from a dairy, but mostly I am averse to foods. This time around, I was averse to almost everything and hardly gained away weight. Each time I have been pregnant, I have waited for that nesting instinct to kick in, waited, and waited. I thought it had never hit, but as I look back over the months of pregnancy, I see a different kind of nesting. I nest with gadgets and gizmos. I reach for time saving technology and devices to make life easier.

Image: Reliable Corporation

The Steam Cleaner
This was the year we decided to potty train our second son, a mere month before my due date. I already have one little boy peeing in my bathroom, but with the addition of a second, the urinal smell began to linger in my home. During my last pregnancy I discovered the wet Swiffer to help me keep the bathroom clean. During this pregnancy and potty training I added the Steamboy 200. So now I can Swiffer the pee away and then steam the heck out of my floors!

The Steamboy is a pretty nifty gadget. Thankfully it assembles easily because the instructions were not compatible with my sense of logic. It asks you to “Attach the carpet glide to the floor head,” which is fine to say but it doesn’t actually attach. Neither the picture nor the description in the instruction manual help, but if you go to the company website they show you how it works. It glided nicely over all of my surfaces and the extension cord was a great length, deceptively long even; I managed to pull the cord out of the wall.

The microfiber pads say hand wash only—so I see great potential for hand made pads. But the instructions say mild detergent at 40 degrees will be okay, this is what I did, because the whole point is to make life with three kids easier, and they survived just fine.
Image: Sarah Pinault

Now don’t get me wrong here, this device is not to help me clean the visible stains caused by my growing brood. This is to get rid of the germs that follow them around like puppies. It’s great for kids, great for pets, and great for allergies. It does deal with minor scuffs and marks, just not deep carpet stains. It deals with 99.9% of household germs, so now when my son lies down on the bathroom floor, I know that his face is safe from his pee germs! It also cleans with just water, no added detergent, so he won’t have that nice Clorox smell on his face!

It can be really hard to tell if it’s done any good just by looking at the surface involved, but just looking at the pad after you’ve finished reveals exactly what has been sucked up. It’s quite disgusting really, to actually have a visual on the filth we’ve been wallowing in.

It’s nice and lightweight but could do with a hook on the handle to hang it up, and a clip on the wire to keep the cord in place. To use the clip on the top of the machine you have to wrap the cord in a particular way and that messes with my OCD.

Image: Courtesy of Behmor

The Coffee Machine. We have gone through many coffee machines over the years. Gevalia, Coffeemate, Keurig, we’ve tried it all. With a third child on the way, it seemed appropriate to replace our old models. So this time around we got to test the Brazen Plus craft brewing system from Behmor. Try saying that three times fast. This is several notches above where we usually like our coffee; we’re Dunkin Donuts people who don’t mind an instant cup. But I have to say, after working out how to use the machine optimally, it’s the best cup of coffee I’ve ever made at home. My husband spends as much time with this machine as he does with his Alienware these days.

Basically, this is the home version of professional coffee makers. The settings enable you to adjust for water brewing temperatures and the pre-soak function lets the coffee bloom before brewing. I didn’t know that coffee grounds could bloom before, but it’s blooming marvelous. Settings are so precise that you need to program in your altitude to allow temperature calibration. Water does not simply flow through this coffee machine; it has an over-sized shower head which pulses the water to allow “complete coffee bed saturation” to extract all the coffee out of the coffee. The Brazen Plus is one of  few home brewers certified by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. It is fully programmable so that your coffee can be blooming while you are still rubbing sleep out of your eyes, and when the power goes out you don’t lose your altitude settings; believe me this is a huge plus.

We followed the directions as to types of coffee to use, and experimented with local brands, and generic coffees. We find that Starbucks Pike Place works well, and more often makes a cup better than you would be purchasing at the store itself. Our favorite brew thus far has been the Dark Oak Roast from our local place, Scarborough Grounds. We regularly ship this to friends in Mississippi; it’s just that good. In a pinch we’ve used our old standby Folgers, and this machine elevates that cup of coffee too.

The drawback of having this machine at home is that we have become coffee snobs now. A gas station cup of coffee used to do us just fine, but now we have seen the light and we won’t go back I tell you, we won’t go back!

Once the machine is setup, it is ridiculously easy to get to good coffee fast, but it is also easy to clean up too, a big plus in a family like ours where it is go, go, go from 6am till 7pm with very little napping. We are not a napping house, and coffee helps us survive!

Image: Medela

The Breast Pump. I have had all manner of feeding experiences with my three children. With the first I failed miserably at nursing, but found success with my breast milk. So I exclusively pumped and bottle fed for ten months. With my second son, I went straight to formula. This time around, my surprise baby, I decided I would stick to it and nurse no matter what. Even with that in mind, I knew that, based on my supply the first time around, I would need the support of a good breast pump. Thanks to Obamacare, I didn’t have to spend $300 on the pump of my dreams, as it’s free or subsidized to get one these days. I did not upgrade this time, but went straight back to my buddy, the Medela Pump In Style Advanced. Easy instructions mean it is quick and easy to use the first time around, so you get comfortable with it very quickly. Sure, you will always feel like you are hooked up at a dairy, but it’s a much smoother process than I would have imagined.

The battery pack on the Medela is fantastic. I pumped twice a day for two months on the same eight AA batteries before it started losing its juice. The car charger works brilliantly for pumping in airports, parking lots, etc. This pump has the option for single or double pumping, and I have only used the single option once or twice.

Big advantages for this product: It’s one of the most widely used pumps, so parts and accessories are easy to find. If you save your pump for the next pregnancy, you can request new piping at the hospital, Medela generally supplies them for free.

I was ridiculously excited on the day I got the email notification that my pump had arrived at the house. I almost passed out when I opened the box. I never said I was normal.

Image: Reliable Corporation

The Iron. Every time I have a baby, I get obsessed with ironing little clothes, though this compulsion fades as the exhaustion grows. I used to do this with a $6 iron, but then I upgraded. When my mom moved to the U.S. last year, she took a liking to my iron; British people like their irons! So of course she now has that and I now needed a new iron. What I ended up with looks more like a space ship and you could easily fit my new baby into it! It took me a while to warm up to the Maven 100IS, but now that I’m getting the hang of it, I’m quite ready to build a laundry room just to accommodate it. The website describes it as a lightweight steam powerhouse, and powerhouse is right.

This is not the kind of iron I am used to—this is a lightweight iron that comes with a docking station. So the station contains the water and controls the pressure, 3.5 bars of it, and the iron that you hold in your hand is more of a conduit. This took a lot of getting used to, and the advantage for some people was a distraction for me. The steam comes out fast and furious; this is the commercial iron of the home and not for the faint of heart. Getting used to the footprint aside, this beast irons faster than most irons I’ve had before. The Velocity could give it a run for its money, but the Maven gets the job done. It takes 7-8 minutes to reach full steam, but can then run for 1.5 hours according to the manufacturer.

I wasn’t really sold on this new gadget until I accidentally left it running one day. I grew up hearing nightmare stories about leaving the iron on, but on the day I left the Maven on and unattended for over two hours, I couldn’t have been happier. It was no hotter than when I had left it, and had done no damage, either to the machine itself or the area it was in. If you are looking for safety and protection from baby brain in an iron, then this is the one. It may not have made my life significantly easier with regards to my ironing needs, but the security of this over use knowledge is worth its weight in gold. I need protecting from myself after all.

Baby Swing. What on earth happened to baby swings in the last five years? I went to Babies R Us to register and couldn’t find a nice simple swing with a small footprint. They were all enormous with bells and whistles, so to speak. This time around we are doing quite well without a swing. A happy baby and a mama who doesn’t want to put her down will do that.

There are many gadgets designed by companies to make things easier, or at least seem easier for parents, and a lot of them we do without. We didn’t sign up for bottle warmers when we bottle fed but used a glass jug and boiling water. We have never subscribed to a wipe warmer; we breed ’em tough in New England. Our humidifier is cast iron and on our stove top, our nightlights are the twinkle stars on the ceiling. Of course my husband thinks a Steambox will help him with the nesting phase; I say the tax return in 2016 will help him with the Steambox phase!

My third pregnancy may not have produced any scrapbooks or decoupage, I may not have repainted and re-ordered everything, but I certainly managed to accumulate some time-saving and brain-saving gadgets to help us get through babyhood with three kids in the house. I’d love to hear how you nest; head on over to our Facebook page and let me know.

In It for the Laughs: A ‘Schmovie’ Review

Every year while I was growing up, Santa brought our entire family a tabletop game to enjoy after Christmas dinner, or, if the game was fun enough, New Year’s Eve.

Santa’s still pretty cool about doing that in my family’s home every year, although I have to say he’s getting quite a bit quirkier in his old age. He’s always seeking out something that challenges both the intellect, and tickles the funny bone.

The offbeat minds at Galactic Sneeze have come up with a game they feel might just do the trick with their recent bestseller, Schmovie. They gave me the chance to see if this is something in which I might recommend to everyone’s personal Santa or gift-giving service.

Continue reading In It for the Laughs: A ‘Schmovie’ Review

(Non-Spoiler) ‘The Force Awakens’: Reinventing the Past for the Future

As someone who came late to the Star Wars franchise, I have always said that I loved the world Lucas built and the mythology he built more in the abstract. I love the idea of Han, Leia, Yoda, The Force, and the whole creative world behind it. I felt that the movies always disappointed me when it came to what I imagined Star Wars could be. Since I approached the movie with that perspective, The Force Awakens gave me the movie that I always really wanted Star Wars to be. It was big, bold, beautiful, cheesy, but not as stilted in the narrative and dialogue.

That being said, knowing our six year old was freaking out about going, I will give a few pointers. As GeekDad pointed out in their review, there’s a lot of intensity to this movie. Little man is pretty much a kid who had no empathy until he was four and a half and then BLAMMO it exploded into his tiny brain. He is worried about watching things where people die because “on the screen it looks more real because it’s like more specific and you can see things more in detail.” With this in mind, we brought with us a “scare package” that included a blanket to put over his head when he got scared and his favorite stuffed animal, and we let him wear pajamas because it was late. I would definitely recommend a “scare package” if you’re bringing a sensitive little with you. The first twenty minutes are pretty intense, and little man used the blanket a few times during that. We also used it later on during the climax of the movie when a lot of battle action happens.

Continue reading (Non-Spoiler) ‘The Force Awakens’: Reinventing the Past for the Future

Protect Your Photos, Video, Documents, and Data With Drobo

I’m a bit particular about making sure I back up all of my important files. And, to me, they are all important. Baby photos, things I’ve written, movies, songs… I worry about losing it, so I’m always on the lookout for the perfect backup storage solution.

A number of years ago, I learned about RAID systems from a friend of mine who knows way more about computer hardware than I do. They made it sound easy, but, of course, there was plenty to know that they weren’t mentioning. When I looked into getting something like that to back up my data, it was like reading a foreign language.

I’ve had other useful external hard drives that worked well, but weren’t protected against drive failure. Thus, I still felt like my data wasn’t as secure as it wanted to be. And as someone who works on the internet, that’s important. But I have finally found the solution.

Continue reading Protect Your Photos, Video, Documents, and Data With Drobo

Is ‘The Force Awakens’ Okay for Younglings?

As the first of my Facebook friends to have seen The Force Awakens, I have gotten a lot of questions about whether it is little kid appropriate. My own L is 6-years-old, precocious cognitively, but very 6 emotionally. So, my answer is:

It is kid dependent. Multiple factors have to be considered before taking your youngling to go see this movie.

Continue reading Is ‘The Force Awakens’ Okay for Younglings?

Geeks in Sneaks: Running Virtual Races Through Hogwarts and Beyond

Before I got pregnant, I would go running several times a week. I would use different training apps like Couch25k or Zombies, Run!. I was by no means “good”; I frequently felt that people walking could outpace me. But I did enjoy running different routes through my neighborhood.

Now going on walks throughout my neighborhood brings back memories of the time I spent running. My running hobby was put to on hold when, towards the end of my pregnancy, I developed high blood pressure and was put on bedrest. I’ve only recently started to get out and get walking with my baby.

A few months ago, I discovered a community on Facebook called Hogwarts Running Club. It’s a virtual race.

Continue reading Geeks in Sneaks: Running Virtual Races Through Hogwarts and Beyond

Build & Imagine: STEAM-Powered Dollhouses

Here at GeekMom we definitely love STEM toys, but when you add art into the mix to make STEAM, the result is a well-rounded toy built for imaginative, unending play. Laurie Peterson of Build & Imagine had this idea in mind when creating the StoryWalls dollhouses.

The vibrant playsets combine construction pieces with magnetic dolls that can be dressed up and accessorized. With bright colors—but very little pink!—and detailed, lively illustrations, the Build & Imagine sets encourage girls ages 4+ to be both builders and storytellers.

Continue reading Build & Imagine: STEAM-Powered Dollhouses

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #7: Clothing and Household Goods

Geeks love to dress the part, regularly donning their Doctor Who T-shirts or multi-pocketed Scottevests. They also love their household tools and goods, finding products that make their lives easier. What are the GeekMoms’ favorites for 2015?

Images: Dyson
Images: Dyson

Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal+Allergy & V6 Mattress Vacuum
Prices vary
Dyson makes quality and extremely effective products, and these two vacuum models are no different. The upright vacuum will suck more debris out of your carpet and off your floor than you ever thought possible, improving your indoor air quality and ridding it of animal fur and dander, along with other allergens. And the V6 Mattress Vacuum is a great handheld solution to vacuum mattresses, car interiors, stairs, and anywhere else an upright would be tricky to use. These bagless, easy-to-empty vacuums will make your life easier. They did mine.

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #7: Clothing and Household Goods

So Your Kid Wants a Hoverboard

It’s that time of year. If the prospect of our kids being home for one to two weeks isn’t scary enough, we also have to shop. Sure, the holidays are about peace, and goodness, and religion, and all that stuff that we wish life were always about. But it’s also—let’s be honest here—about the stuff.

And what bigger craze is there this year than the hoverboard? What do you do if your kid wants one? Do you give in? I mean, we’re now firmly set in the future of Back to the Future II, and the Hoverboard is officially a reality. And since you can’t take them to see Jaws 19 at the Holomax, can’t you at least make this dream (of yours) come true (for them)?

The easy answer is yes. Absolutely. Here’s the $400 (or $319 plus tax somewhere, I’m sure). Kids, enjoy the future and all its wonders! If that is your choice, good for you. You’re all set. Happy Holidays.

But what if, while the idea of having a hoverboard in your home sounds Totally Tubular to the 80’s kid in you, the adult in you thinks it might be kinda dangerous, expensive, or otherwise a bad idea?

What do you do then?
Continue reading So Your Kid Wants a Hoverboard

CloudPets – A Message You Can Hug

CloudPet a great idea for anyone with family or friends who live far away. Children with parent(s) on deployment, friends who have moved away, or other loved ones that aren’t near enough to give hugs in real time.

The toy is a stuffed animal with the ability to receive recorded messages sent via the Cloud Pet app. Messages can be up to 10 seconds in length and are transmitted to the animal via Bluetooth signal from the free CloudPets app.

When a message is received the red heart on the bear lights up and allows the holder to listen to the message with a press of a paw. In return, pressing another paw allows the child to send a message back to the original sender.
Continue reading CloudPets – A Message You Can Hug

How To End Distracted Driving? Listen to Your Kids!

Ruff Texting and Driving
Ruff Texting and Driving. WGBH 2015

A new approach to road safety launches this week! It’s an unusual campaign to reduce distracted driving. Its spokesman is bright orange, and bears an uncanny resemblance to a butternut squash with glasses. That’s because it’s none other than former TV host, sometime spy, and all-around Renaissance dog Ruff Ruffman, who’s currently running a media literacy and technology project, Ruff Ruffman: Humble Media Genius, at PBS KIDS.

GeekDad sat down with Mr. Ruffman to talk about his latest endeavors. Continue reading How To End Distracted Driving? Listen to Your Kids!

Anova Precision Cooker – Worth the Investment

Cooking has always been something I’ve enjoyed, which is lucky seeing as this family of 6 makes meals from scratch for the most part. We are also Sabbath-observant, so every Thursday night and Friday is spent in a frenzy of cooking.

I’d been thinking about taking the idea of molecular gastronomy out of the magazines and websites I was reading and into my kitchen, but I constantly psyched myself out. Sous vide in particular seemed an accessible and useful tool, but I shied away from experimenting with it.

For those not in the know, sous vide is a method of cooking which entails sealing food in a plastic bag (usually vacuum sealed, but Ziplocs work in a pinch) and leaving it in a warm water bath at the precise temperature to which you want it cooked. Sous vide is particularly famous for cooking roasts to the doneness you want from tip-to-tip rather than the typical gradient one usually gets in a roast or steak of an outer crust, a layer of medium-done or above, and a middle of the doneness you actually want. Continue reading Anova Precision Cooker – Worth the Investment

Choosing a Mattress: Being Specific Matters

Science says that there’s no one perfect mattress, just the perfect mattress for a particular person. In my dealings with Saatva Mattress, and their memory foam division, Loom & Leaf, I discovered that is exactly their focus: finding a suitable mattress for each individual.

Saatva advertises their product as “America’s best-priced luxury mattress,” promising to provide a top quality coil queen-size mattress for $899, while the memory foam Loom & Leaf line starts at $999. If you haven’t seen Saatva or Loom & Leaf  mattresses in stores or the name is unfamiliar to you, that’s not a coincidence, as they are an online only retailer.

Ron Rudzin, the CEO of Saatva, said the company philosophy is to provide a clear, high-quality product at a lower price by eliminating brick and mortar costs.

When Saatva offered to send me a mattress for review, great, I thought. A new mattress? I need queen-size. What else is to decide?

Turns out, a great deal.

Loom & Leaf mattress, image via Saatva
Loom & Leaf mattress, image via Saatvia

First, I had to decide between the coil mattress from Saatva or the memory foam from their Loom & Leaf division. I spent time googling information on mattresses in general and browsing the Loom & Leaf website before deciding.

I picked a queen-size memory foam. Why? Because I’ve slept on coil mattresses my whole life and while they seemed fine, they never did anything for my periodic insomnia. I wanted to take a chance that a different type would help.

Also leading to my decision was the promise of no motion transfer with memory foam. My husband is a heavy sleeper. My tossing and turning rarely wakes him. But I’m a light sleeper, and his tossing and turning wakes me. A solution to this issue seemed a godsend.

The research told me that the two biggest issues with memory foam are chemicial smells and overheating. However, Saatva, aware of this, have taken steps to eliminate both those issues.

“We have 16 companies in United States that put together our product. Some companies ship wet and  shrink-wrap, to save on shipping. We don’t,”Rudzin said.  That practice, shrink wrapping before the foam dries, contributes to  unpleasant smells.

“We do not allow the foams to come to any of our factories, moist or shrink-wrapped, we prefer to have any small amounts of off-gassing happen at our supplier before the beds get put together,”Rudzin added.

As for the overheating, a solution to that is built into the design.

“Our top layer is an inverted foam, which create air chambers,”Rudzin said. “There is also a medical grade cooling gel in the center of the bed to help keep the body cool, plus and organic cotton cover.”

Satisfied with my choice, I thought the call to customer service to order my mattress would be quick and easy. Not so. I ended up talking to them for about half and hour, and that was a good thing because without going through all the details with Darlene, my customer service rep, I might have ended up with the wrong bed.

Among the questions Darlene asked:

How high was my current bed? Did I sleep alone or with someone else? Was I a side sleeper? What about my husband, how did he sleep? Did his sleep disturb mine? Did my headboard have anything that might be covered up by a higher mattress?

Darlene walked me through the various firmness choices for memory foam.  I ended up going with their most popular, the Relaxed Firm. During the course of the call,  I had to decide on the height, both of the mattress and the box spring, and Darlene was patient enough to wait for me to grab a ruler and double check those heights. Estimates were not enough. Without measuring beforehand, I would have been surprised at the height of the mattress when it arrived.

This way, I knew it would be higher and that I would likely have to buy new sheets to fit the mattress. And, yes, there were several different heights available, for both the memory foam and the accompany box spring.

“The first qualification for people working for us is someone who is naturally nice,” Rudzin said of my experience. “We don’t try to sell the product. We explain the product so they know what they might like or might not like. If someone likes a real soft bed, we might not be the right people for the job.”

Darlene provided the kind of service they insist from all their representatives, Rudzin said.

“We are very adamant about heights because people can make errors when they buy. We train our people to go over this with our customers. We can’t resell anything we take back, so we’re being careful for the consumer but also for us too, as we get hurt anytime we do an exchange. That’s why we prefer not to have a true sales system but more of a customer service/information system.”

After that, comes delivery.

“Seventy percent of our customers need the old product taken out,” he said. “We have 112 fulfillment centers and, in most cases, we’re building the product fresh for you, so that takes 7-15 days, depending on where you are.”

I was informed the night before delivery when to expect the truck, they arrived on time, and then set up the mattress and box spring on my bedframe quickly and efficiently.

As promised, there was no unpleasant memory foam smell. And, as promised, my new Loom & Leaf is a comfortable but firm mattress. Best of all, no motion transfer. I don’t feel my husband rolling over any longer. That’s a huge relief.

Would I buy my next mattress from Saatva/Loom & Leaf? Yes, for several reasons:

  • It’s been a quality product that has performed as promised so far, especially with the lack of motion transfer on the bed.
  • I like companies that provide great customer service, like Southwest Airlines. Saatva did so. If I have any problems, I’m confident I could call them and they’d resolve the issue.
  • The company is attempting to be as “green” as possible. The products are America-made and use plant based foams. The foams are 30 percent soy and corn oil/bio-based, cutting down on the petroleum in the foams.


Hail to the Paper Chief: the Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset

In these days of apps, games and show-streaming, it’s unusual to amuse yourself with something as analog as paper dolls. Leave it to Quirk Books to come up with a fun, pop culture-friendly take with the Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset.

Illustrated by Caitlin Kuhwald, the paper doll set imagines Hillary as the first woman in charge of the Oval Office.

Continue reading Hail to the Paper Chief: the Hillary Rodham Clinton Presidential Playset

‘Star Wars’ Saga Gold Box Unboxing with SuperHeroStuff.com

Just in time for The Force Awakens, SuperHeroStuff.com has debuted the latest in their HeroBox line, the Star Wars Saga Gold/Silver boxes. The Gold box promises $100 worth of force-filled joy for $79 and the Silver box has at least $70 worth of goodies for $49.

I jumped into my box with graby hands and the hopes of a few new Star Wars items I could take with my on my upcoming Disney Cruise.

Here is a listing of the items shown in the video with their respective prices:

Socks: $8.99
Han Solo in Carbonite Ice Cube Tray: $12.99
Star Wars: The Force Awakens 3D Puzzle Tower: $4.99
Star Wars Cups: $5.99 (this item is only available through the HeroBox program)
Metal Earth Millenium Falcon Kit: $14.99
Poe and Ren Tote Bag: $6.99
Vader Pom Beanie: $19.99
Star Wars Badges Decals: $5.99
Star Wars R2-D2 Fuweet Women’s T-Shirt: $23.99
Grand Total: $104.91 before tax. 

I have to say that out of the other HeroBoxes I’ve reviewed, this one has the most promising amount of value for the money and I’m happy with what I was sent.

The Star Wars Saga Gold and Silver boxes are available for a limited time, so grab one while you can. If Star Wars isn’t your thing, check out the 13 other choices that they have on a monthly basis! Boxes start at $49 for a small box of goodies to $69 to a larger box.

Disclaimer: GeekMom was given a review sample. 

Ditch the Trees. Get a Wipebook.

An ode to the trees.
Ohh tree. So nice and pretty.
Killing you for your many uses.
I’ve wasted your trunk.
I’ve wasted your branches.
But no more.
I have a Wipebook now.

Okay, so Shakespeare I’m not, but nor am I a paper waster anymore.

While so many people are going digital, I still prefer to write with a pen and put my thoughts or notes down on something tangible. I usually have a small pad of paper handy in my backpack, my desk, my house, my car, and anywhere else I normally visit. It became taxing, though, because I end up with so many pads and notes. That forces me to would combine them all into one sheet of paper once a week or so. Then I would end up rewriting those notes to a new pad and rehashing my to do lists (because I can’t stand having complete items on the same page as to do items).

Take into account that I’m a full-time Network Administrator, wife, mother, student, and writer, and that equals out to a lot of notes.

It was a cycle of self-destruction.

Wipebook offered me a solution: one notebook of about 50 sheets of wipe off goodness. I could put all my notes in one notebook and after I was done with something, just wipe it off the page; instant blank slate to start over

Continue reading Ditch the Trees. Get a Wipebook.

Four Creative Ways To Give Lego Gifts

Image credit: LEGO City Advent Calendar 2010 – Day 21/24 by Kenny Louie

Given that there are more than five million Lego bricks being made every hour (yes, really!), there’s a good chance there will be a box of them under your Christmas tree this year. But why just wrap them up in paper when you can get more creative with your Lego gifting? Here are four ideas to try:

Lego Advent calendar

Lego sells ready-to-go Advent calendars. Each day you open a panel and get a minifig or tiny set. They come in a variety of themes, including Star Wars, City, and Friends. This year there’s also a Minions-themed Mega Blocks calendar. But I’m more of a DIY-er.

There are two ways you could go to build one on your own. You could get small sets, like minifigs, Mixels, and the small polybag sets. It won’t be a cheap Advent calendar, but it’s an option! Or you could split up a set and dole out a few pieces each day. The most straightforward way would be with the Creative Supplement (which also comes in the bright Friends-set colors). It’s a box of 303 basic bricks. You could either put a dozen or so in the calendar each day, or you could use it as a countdown or count-up. With 303 bricks, you could give 1 on December 1, 2 on December 2, and so forth all the way to Christmas Eve (or vice-versa with 24 on December 1 counting down).

If you’d like to build anticipation a little more, you could do the same with an actual set. To reduce the torture, be sure to give out the pieces in the order it takes to build the set! A few sets with just about the right number of pieces for the countdown method are: Continue reading Four Creative Ways To Give Lego Gifts