What to Do When Winter Storm Juno Hits

All Images: Sarah Pinault

Despite the barrage of news stories about how off track meteorologists were with the weather report for New York last week, up here in Maine they were spot on, if not a little light. We were supposed to get up to 24 inches, and by the time we were done it was more like 34. My husband went out three times to clear the snow, for fear that it would be too much for our snowblower once the storm was done.

We ended up having three snow days this week, for which a rather rambunctious five year old was kept cooped up. As he tends to get a little surly over movies and video games at the moment, we are severely limiting screen time right now. So what do you do for 12 waking hours when you are trapped inside? Turns out, there are a lot of household items easily adaptable to some serious playtime.

1. Masking Tape. We discovered the joys of masking tape last winter. You can play hopscotch, make a “corn” maze, make a city scape for cars, or make a railroad for trains. You can also tape children to support beams so that they can pretend to be The Incredible Hulk and bust out of said tape. You can create a laser security system in the hallway, and either tear through it (because you are still pretending to be The Incredible Hulk), or you can navigate your way through as a jewel thief or secret agent. Be wary of wooden floors, though. We now have a permanent hopscotch field where the masking tape peeled up tiny fibers of our wooden flooring.

2. Cotton Balls. Oh cotton balls, these can be so much fun during a storm. Pile a stack of pillows up between two halves of the room and have a good old fashioned indoor snowball fight. They aren’t cold, they don’t hurt, and you can throw so many of them at one time. You can hold them in front of a fan and make it snow, you can stick them to paper airplanes and see if they fall off mid-flight. You can make snowman with them, you can pretend to roast marshmallows with them. They can also be used in conjunction with…

3. Pool Noodles. Not just for summer days at the pool, these are great indoor tools if you don’t mind cutting a few in half. Did you know that a cotton ball fits perfectly inside the hollow middle of a pool noodle, and that when you blow into that pool noodle the cotton ball shoots across the room at ridiculously high speeds? Entertainment gold right here. And it doesn’t matter if the cotton balls hit anything; nothing is going to break because of a cotton ball. Something might get broken when using the pool noodles as light sabers, for karate practice, or when pretending to be He-Man, though.

4. Food Coloring. I can seriously get away with pulling this out and not using it in cookies or cupcakes, if I will just add a drop or two to a bowl of water and let my kids play with some Tupperware. It is quite ridiculous how long this will entertain them. Adding different colors mid play session ramps it up a notch and keeps them interested for longer. Very little clean up too, just drain the sink and wipe out quickly.

5. Blankets and Pillows. Never underestimate the power of a blanket fort to entertain. Especially a blanket fort with four walls and a roof that allows for the rare privilege of using a flashlight in the house during the day time. Blanket forts are an almost daily occurrence in our house, whether group homes or individual fortresses of solitude.

6. Paper. This may seem like an obvious one, but paper airplanes are often the way to go. I’m not talking an 8.5 by 11 standard plane here. Check out the recycling bucket, and experiment. Which types of paper or cardboard make the best planes, what type of material flies farther or fastest, which one folds best? You can take the simple activity of folding and flying a paper airplane and turn it into an hour long science experiment.

For a more extensive list of things to cure cabin fever check out GeekMom Laura’s list of forty cures. I know that people don’t just suffer with snow at this time of year. These activities will work really well in the mid-summer heat when you are trapped inside by heat waves and air conditioners too.

40 Cabin Fever Cures For Kids

Stuck inside? Might as well extract some fun out of all that togetherness. Try something you’ve never done to make cabin fever recovery more memorable.

1. Set up an obstacle course. Release some pent-up energy with a temporary indoor obstacle course. It might consist of a few chairs in a row to wriggle under, six plastic cups to run circles around, a squared off area to perform ten jumping jacks, then three somersaults down the hall before turning around to do it all in reverse. Older kids can set up a simple obstacle course for smaller kids. The adult in charge might want to put safety rules in place before the frenzy begins.

2. Make Flarp. It’s said to have the same properties as Silly Putty, except it also farts. (You know this will be a hit.)

3. Paint without using your hands. Try taping the brush to a remote control toy, dangling it by a string, or rolling it across the paper. Or you might paint as this talented young artist does, by holding a paint brush in your mouth.

4. Learn to play a free instrument you already have. Really, it’s in your kitchen.

5. Build geometric sculptures. This takes only toothpicks and miniature marshmallows. It’s a great way to make free form sculptures while discovering some principles of geometry. As the marshmallows dry they’ll adhere ever more tightly to the toothpicks. They’ll also form a surface hard enough for some sculpture enhancement. After a day or two of drying the kids can decorate their sculptures with markers or paint if they’d like.

6. Target shoot with the leftover marshmallows after first making marshmallow shooters.

7. Make the easiest homemade cheese. You need only one ingredient other than milk. Continue reading 40 Cabin Fever Cures For Kids

CABIN FEVER: Fun Without Electricity

Our winters in Oklahoma, USA are typically mild with occasional bouts of precipitation that melts within a couple of days. Last year, however, we had a blizzard on Christmas Eve and this year we had record snowfall. We don’t have blizzards here. We aren’t prepared to deal with that much snow. Our daughter’s school was closed for 9 days and it was so deep there was no hope of getting our little Honda over it. With no plowing done in the residential areas, we were stuck there until the thaw. We broke out our board games and other things and made memorable family moments. Here are some family favorites to help you survive your children those snow days and long, dark nights.

Topple: this game provides a nice lesson in balance, fine motor skills, and gravity. The playing board sits on a pedastal topped with a round ball. Each person picks a color, rolls the dice, and places his/her piece on the correct level. Who ever makes it all come crashing down is the loser or winner if your kid is into destruction.

Uno: I loved this fun card game as a kid and my daughter does too. It is easy to play and never gets old, at least to me. They also make versions for younger children that can’t read yet.

Ants in the Pants: This is left over from her toddler years, but she still loves it. Something about making that plastic ant fly through the air is just fun. We actually end up seeing how far we can make them go more than trying to shoot into the bucket.

Candyland: My daughter used to want to play this one ad nauseum. Over and over and over. It is a bit simplistic to keep the adults entertained, but she really enjoyed it. This one is good for any age as long as they can match colors.

Whac-A-Mole: This battery operated game helps to get the aggression out from having to spend days inside with your family. Parents, you know what I mean. Up to four people can play, each gets a hammer and you whack your mole based on light, sound, or a combination of the two. 

Tinkertoys and Lincoln Logs: these two classic toys (yes, I had both) are good for hours of creative play. You can build and create anything.

Blankets, chairs, furniture, and clothes pins: these are the makings of a super cool tent. All you need to add is imagination.

Arts and crafts: I keep a closet shelf stocked with construction paper, scrapbook paper, scrapbook scissors, markers, glue, glitter, ribbons, buttons, sequins, and all manner of left over art supplies that we have used on various projects. The munchkin can get in there and get whatever she wants to entertain herself for hours.

We have used each and every one of these winter, more than once. I am soooo ready for spring.

CABIN FEVER: Ten Sanity Saving Tricks with Tape

tapeI am not exaggerating one single bit when I tell you that masking tape saved my sanity as a parent. As we continue Cabin Fever Week here at GeekMom, take a tip from me: get tape. For some reason, my kids thought it was a great treat to have unlimited access to tape. Regular old masking tape will work fine, but for extra excitement, consider colored masking tape or patterned Japanese masking tape. Truly, your kids will think you rock. Now, got tape? Get busy:

  1. Gather a collection of recycled items like egg cartons, small boxes, cardboard tubes, and tissue boxes, then let your kids go to town building sculptures. Use the tape to hold together the recycled items and to decorate the creations. If your kids haven’t been exposed to open-ended art projects like this, you might have to offer some ideas – Rockets! Robots! Cars! Flowers! – but remind them that anything goes.
  2. Show the kids how to cut colored tape into squares and use them to make a mess-free mosaic.
  3. Let them use the tape to draw a “picture” directly onto the glass slider or refrigerator. It’s masking tape. It will come off.Just don’t leave it there for a long period of time or in the hot sun (though if there is hot sun to worry about, you’re probably not suffering through much cabin fever).
  4. Dust off their bikes and let them get it ready for Spring! Alternatively, let them cover binders, worn-out toys, or even an old pair of shoes. The novelty of altering these objects will thrill them and gain you at least an hour’s worth of whine-free time.
  5. Pull out some cardboard, bubble wrap, and yarn and let the kids use tape to create a costume. Of course, once the kids have a costume, they’ll want to put on a play, extending your whine-free time indefinitely (score!).
  6. Use tape to create a roadway for Matchbox cars or other vehicles. This can traverse the entire house, over carpet, tile, or linoleum.
  7. Have your child create an abstract design out of tape on the back of a cookie sheet. When it’s complete, pull out a piece of plain paper and some crayons and let her take a rubbing of the design.
  8. Make stickers. Stick tape to waxed paper in a solid pattern and then trace cookie cutter shapes onto the tape and cut out. Carefully peel the tape shape off of the waxed paper and use it as you would a sticker.
  9. Cover recycled candy tins with tape and glue on decorations like buttons, gems, and ribbon to make tiny treasure boxes.
  10. Turn the tape into bracelets or headbands by putting two lengths of tape together, sticky sides facing. Decorate one side with more tape and then punch holes in each end. Overlap the holes and secure with a brad to complete the loop.

Sexy Geeks We Love: Marie and Pierre Curie

“The Instability of Matter,” inspired by cyanotype images in Lauren Redniss’s new book  Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout.

I’ve been itching to get back inside the breath-taking, Beaux-Arts New York Public Library’s Main Branch ever since I attended Karen Armstrong’s lecture on compassion there in January. As embarrassing as this is to admit: though I’ve lived in the suburbs of Manhattan for much of my life,  I’d never set foot past Patience and Fortitude (the iconic marble lions that flank the building’s entrance at 42nd and 5th) prior to this year…

I know: Stupid, stupid, stupid. For a girl with dueling hardcover-book and marble-staircase kinks, you’ve gotta ask: What was I waiting for??? An engraved invitation from Nathan Fillion?

However, with mid-winter recess and a houseful of cabin-feverish children looming ever nigh, I ducked into Manhattan last week to rectify this situation and wound up happening upon a geektasmic exhibit: Lauren Redniss’s Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout–a narrative that, as the library’s exhibit literature states, “reflects the beauty, and the dangers, inherent in scientific progress and in love.”

As I started to make my way down the high-ceilinged hallway full of text-laden cyanotype collages, I dredged up what little I already I knew about the Curies:  They were married. Marie Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize–and actually received two in her lifetime, one for chemistry and a second for physics. They coined the term radioactive and were credited with discovering two elements (Radium and Polonium).

What I hadn’t known, however, was:

  • that when their daughters were just 8 and 2,  Pierre (possibly due to physical complications resulting from radiation poisoning) was run over and killed by a horse-drawn carriage.
  • that, years later, Marie entered into a relationship with another physicist, Paul Langevin, who was married but at that time estranged from his wife.
  • that Marie and Paul’s relationship became public knowledge when Langevin’s wife leaked copies of their love letters to the newspapers of Paris.
  • that this resulted in a request from the Nobel Foundation:  would scandalous Marie kindly refrain from attending the 1911 Nobel prize ceremonies (she attended in spite of the request).

Other results of the scandal included a duel…as well as a letter of personal support from Albert Einstein–SO MUCH SEXY SEXINESS!!!

The New York Public Library exhibit–which will be open until April 17 and is free to the public–is a real-world complement to Redniss’s graphic novel(ish) book of the same name. However, for those who do not live near Manhattan, the library has also created an online version of the exhibit with the same images and text, as well as tutorials on how to create your own cyanotypes or design your own typeface. Take THAT, cabin fever!

Video: How to Create a Cyanotype, by Lauren Redniss

CABIN FEVER: Perler Beads – My Shameless Pitch

Look at those cute little hands skillfully manipulating the beads! Photo: Patricia Vollmer

Back in 2008, I discovered a new craft addiction: Perler Beads!  You’ve probably seen these around, they’ve been around for years. It’s a great exercise to improve fine motor skills. I first saw Perler Bead crafts actually being made during my oldest son’s ice skating camp in Cary, NC back in June of 2008. It was one of the activities the kids could do before/after camp actually started. My older son wasn’t that interested, though.

I was browsing our local Hobby Lobby and saw an area featuring little starter kits for $7.99 each. I had a coupon (of course) so it was more like $5 for a transportation-based kit: it included 2200 beads and 3 assembly trays.

I brought it home and it was instantly a big hit with my youngest son. He and I worked on vehicles for over an hour — together! With no TV, computer or other distractions. I was VERY impressed with his attention span and even more impressed with his dexterity. Those beads are LITTLE….

My youngest son loved Perler Beads when he was 3, he still loves them at age 6! Photo: Patricia Vollmer

…and they get everywhere. I bumped a tray full of beads once and spilled them all over our living room! I was able to gather up most of them, the rest came up when I vacuumed.

Between my youngest son and me, we’ve made a bunch of items!  Mostly I will outline a particular color — such as the bottom of the sailboat — and he fills in the rest.

Some of the creations my youngest son and I made in Summer 2008. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

After school one day in the winter, both boys and I made this satellite. We downloaded the pattern from the website. Jake did the body of the satellite, Timmy and I did the solar panels. We ran out of gray beads.

You can download patterns from Perler Beads' website and make cool 3D creations like this satellite! Photo: Patricia Vollmer

So there’s my shameless pitch — Perler Beads are quite cool, and I’m pleased to have found an activity that commands my sons’ attention besides TV, video games and the computer.

CABIN FEVER: Seven Ways Geeky Families Cure Cabin Fever

brain-building indoor fun, cure cabin fever, smart at home kid games,
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Stuck inside? Might as well extract some fun out of all that involuntary togetherness. Try something you’ve never done to make cabin fever recovery more memorable.

1. Stage a treasure hunt.

First, hide a prize. The prize doesn’t have to be a toy or candy. Try a “find your packed lunch” treasure hunt. The real fun is hunting for it.

Next, hide clues throughout the house. For non-readers the clues can be rebus pictures, digital photos, or magazine cut-outs. For readers create age-appropriate clues with riddles, short rhymes, or question-based hints. Each clue should lead the child to a spot where the next clue is hidden. If you have more than one child let everyone search for clues and figure them out together. Or stage treasure hunts for each child in turn using the collaborative efforts of those who are waiting.

Once kids are familiar with treasure hunts they can easily set them up on their own. But beware. They may turn off your cell, hide it, and chortle gleefully while you track it down through clues left under the bath mat and behind picture frames.

2. Make soft pretzels.

Might as well make a recipe that isn’t complicated, just time consuming. Soft pretzels fit that description. Together you can roll and shape them into initials, symbols, or yes, pretzel shapes. We use Alton Brown’s recipe although we knead it by hand and divide the dough into more pieces. The kitchen will smell great even if you’ve used every inch of counter space. And just think, you’re teaching some delayed gratification skills because after all that time the end result is fantastic.

3. Play with tape.

Rolls of painter’s tape or masking tape can spur kids to new creative heights. Especially when they’re bored. Give them the following suggestions or encourage them rely on their imaginations.

Toy vehicles and action figures can travel along roadways made of tape stretched along on the floor. Use more tape to make overpasses, buildings, and other roadside features from shoeboxes and other cardboard discards.

Tape a giant tic-tack-toe board on the carpet, then use two sets of matching items for x’s and o’s.

Stretch tape across a hard-surfaced floor to mark out hopscotch or skellzies.

Collect objects like string, paper clips, cardboard tubes, boxes, and a small ball or two. Then use tape to construct ball rolling systems from one piece of furniture to another. Kids will quickly discover they need to start at the highest point.

4. Guess and check.

Make your home and family into a guessing game. Take turns making challenges. Then write down your guesses and work to prove each other right or wrong. The proof part is particularly fun as kids hurry to count, measure, and calculate.

You might choose to guess how many shoes are in the house. How many books. How many countries are represented in a drawerful of shirts (as long as they have origin tags). Guess the circumference of each other’s heads. How many inches it is from the front door to the TV, the refrigerator, the bathroom. Guess how many days or hours each person has been alive. How long each person can stand on one foot. Well, you get the idea. The kids will not think this is fun if you have them guess how neatly they can put away their Legos.

5. Set up an obstacle course.

Release some of that pent-up energy with a temporary indoor obstacle course. It might consist of a few chairs in a row to wriggle under, six plastic cups to run circles around, a squared off area to perform ten jumping jacks, then  three somersaults down the hall before turning around to do it all in reverse. Older kids can set up a simple obstacle course for smaller kids. Set safety rules in place before the frenzy begins. Trying to do so during the frenzy makes you seem like another obstacle.

6. Make geometric sculptures.

This takes only toothpicks and miniature marshmallows. It’s a great way to make free form sculptures while discovering some principles of geometry.

As the marshmallows dry they’ll adhere ever more tightly to the toothpicks. They’ll also form a surface hard enough for some sculpture enhancement. After a day or two of drying the kids can decorate their sculptures with markers or paint.

7. Have a picnic.

Yes, a picnic. Fling a tablecloth or beach towel on the floor. Eating on the floor may be novel enough but make sure the meal consists of picnic-y finger foods for real authenticity. You might want to fire up the grill to cook hot dogs and roast marshmallows.

If you’re eating on a tiled floor consider amping up the fun by ending the picnic with a brief rainstorm you impose with a squirt bottle. Then again, maybe not. The kids will get you back some day.

(Activities excerpted from author’s book Free Range Learning)

CABIN FEVER: How to Play “Spot the Geek” (Classic Movie Edition)

Film images L to R: 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios, Liberty Films, Cineguild. Mashup: Kate Miller

Recently my family endured a week of cabin fever brought on by snow, weblessness, and our general proximity to one another. We survived by watching movies together each night after dinner, but were limited to our rental cabin’s movie collection. This included only dusty classics that every adult Homo Sapien has seen at least fourteen times. The movies were on “videotapes,” which we played in a big machine called a “VCR.”

The films we saw were made long before high-tech gadgetry, Dungeons & Dragons, or the rise of nerdy-cool. The word “geek” had not even arrived to brighten our world. Yet as I watched each movie, a proto-geeky character emerged, someone who embodied a certain early, nascent geekness.

(For all you definition hawks out there: I take a geek to be a smart person with an intense interest in something — as opposed to a nerd, who may have more trouble with social interaction. Here, this Venn diagram explains the whole thing. Come on back when you’re done.)

So without further ado, I present you with the four great classic films that we watched, along with my votes for their ur-geeky characters.

The Sound of Music, 1965

This one’s easy: Max Detweiler is the geek. He’s that friend of Herr von Trapp and the Countess, always ready with a bon mot and an impeccable suit. He’s also the one obsessed with his music festival and on the lookout for new acts. If he existed today, he’d be a gigantic Gleek.

Through most of the film Max cares more about putting on a fabulous show than about the recent Nazi occupation of Austria. Now that’s some impressively geeky singlemindedness. But in the end of course, he wields said fabulous show to thwart the Nazis, proving that geekiness can be a great tool for any underground resistance.

(My husband interjects that Max is also the prototype of the Swishy Gay Friend. Food for thought.)

Great Expectations, 1946 (David Lean version)

If geekiness is part obsessional interest, then Miss Havisham is our 19th century gal. Perhaps you remember this nutty old bat. Jilted at the alter as a young woman, she avoids her pain by freezing time. She stops the clocks, boards up the windows, and remains in her wedding dress, sitting beside the still-set wedding dinner table for, oh, about fifty years. At the start of the movie she’s absolutely ancient, surrounded by ancient cobwebs and ancient cobwebby servants.

“That’s not geeky,” I hear you cry, “that’s downright insane. She’s several cards short of a Pokemon deck.” OK, good point.

But hear me out. Think of how singlemindedly Miss Havisham focuses on that one day! She’s had no visitors, no news from the outside, for decades. If anyone wanted to get accurate historical information about that day –What were people wearing? What were the headlines? – she’d be the undisputed go-to geek. She is to her own wedding day what a Civil War geek is to the battle of Antietam. I rest my case.

To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962

You may be thinking that the geek here is Boo Radley, the reclusive neighbor of Scout, the little girl who narrates. But friends, do not be fooled!

The geek is none other than Atticus Finch, Scout’s father, played by Gregory Peck. Oh, Atticus makes me swoon. Really, if that guy stepped out of the movie and proposed to me, I would have to disappoint my husband brutally. (Sorry, honey. The truth hurts.)

Atticus is smart and tall, and has the geekiest glasses possible for the Depression-era deep South. But what really clinches his status is his obsessional interest in justice. He is – dare I say – a justice geek. He puts himself and his kids at risk of life and limb to pursue his fight against intolerance, which he wages with his quiet, firm, intelligent, decent ways. Oh my. I’m getting all worked up again.

It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946

This one is verrrrry tricky.

Could the geek be protagonist George Bailey, who is second in my heart only to Atticus Finch? (Sorry again, honey.) George certainly has his interest — traveling the world — but isn’t too obsessive about it, distracted as he is by little things like love, marriage and fatherhood. No, not so geeky.

I sifted through the movie’s truckload of characters: Mary Bailey, Uncle Billy, Mr. Potter, little Zuzu, and all the others with whom director Frank Capra viciously manipulates us into feeling a deep love for humanity. None of them are geeky. Could it be that Wonderful Life is geek-free?

Then it hit me. I’m the geek. I’m the one absentmindedly reciting each line along with the movie, down to the syllable. I’m the one who in high school painstakingly transcribed all of George’s speeches from the VCR (“The moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair…”) and affixed them to my bedroom wall. I’m the one who still – still! – sobs uncontrollably at the end. Every. Damn. Time.

And I’m not alone. There are thousands of us Wonderful Life Kool-Aid chuggers, and I submit that each time one of us watches the movie again… well … we’re the geek.

Playing “Spot the Geek” is like discovering fossils of ancient creatures that turn out to be our ancestors. “Aha,” we geeks say, “so that’s where we came from.” The whole process is enriching, enlightening, and of course an exquisite waste of time.

Perhaps you’ve played this game with other classic films. What’s your vote? Citizen Kane, anyone? All about Eve, Gone with the Wind, Philadelphia Story?

CABIN FEVER: Funnel Cakes!

Even my oldest son, at age 7, knew how much I love to capture the details! Photo: J. Vollmer

Recently at the grocery store, I asked my oldest son what kind of snacks he might want, and his answer was “funnel cakes like at the ball park.”

Sigh. I was expecting an answer like “tortilla chips” or “Nutter Butter cookies” or something more normal like that.

But in typical overachiever fashion, I said, “Okay!”   I then whipped out my handy-dandy iPhone and surfed for a basic recipe so I could gauge what ingredients I might need to pick up while at the store. Looked like all I needed was some vegetable oil (since I had just enough to fry up the cakes.)

So here we go. In this case, I wasn’t looking for anything for mass production or anything super complicated in terms of batter preparation. This recipe seemed to fit the bill:

Easy Family-Portioned Funnel Cake Recipe on Cooks.com

Let’s start with the “hardware”, as Alton Brown would say: my trusting cast-iron skillet and a bottle of Crisco oil. Pardon the schmutz in the skillet, it’s burnt kalbi marinade from when the grill ran out of propane in the middle of cooking and I had to break out the skillet. Like I said, trusting!

Pardon the schmutz from the last thing I cooked in the pan. Photo: J. Vollmer

People have differing opinions about the "best" cooking oil for frying up foods. For sweet stuff, I prefer canola oil. Photo: J. Vollmer

Instead of a traditional funnel, I figured I’d have some fun with a decorator piping bag fitted with my wide tube metal tip:

This is a Wilton "Featherweight" piping bag fitted with a wide tip. Photo: J. Vollmer

Then I put together the batter, which was so easy, you guys don’t even need step-by-step photos. Just combine everything and mix well, like a pancake batter:

Add enough liquid to bring this to a smooth, pourable pancake batter consistency. Photo: J. Vollmer

While you were making the batter, you should have filled the skillet about halfway with oil and began to heat it at medium heat (at least, that’s what I do with my electric range). Use a test droplet of batter in the oil to gauge readiness — when the droplet of batter bubbles in an animated fashion, you’re ready. This should be about 370F or so, but I can’t find my candy thermometer to check absolutely, sorry.

Filling the piping bag is pretty tricky. You can also use a quart-or-larger sized zip-top bag with a corner cut out to do this. I used a cup and propped the piping bag in it, then filled the bag and QUICKLY moved it to the batter.

Put the piping bag in a cup to support it while filling with batter. Work quickly, the batter will immediately start flowing through the bottom! Photo: J. Vollmer

By squeezing the bag, I could control the flow a bit, better than with a funnel.

Photo: J. Vollmer

Just swirl the bag over the oil in a nest-type of pattern. Photo: J. Vollmer

I didn’t use enough oil today…the funnel cake stuck to the bottom at first, and I used my cooking chopsticks (yes, I use cooking chopsticks thanks to my Tiger Mom’s influence) to nudge it off the bottom of the pan and let it float to the top.

Had to nudge the funnel cake from the bottom of the pan. That shouldn't happen. Try to use at least 1.5" of oil in your pan. Photo: J. Vollmer

Unfortunately, when I flipped the first funnel cake over after about 90 seconds, the golden-brown-deliciousness was marred by flakes of burnt kalbi-marinade. Oops.

Oops, some schmutz made it onto the funnel cake...that'll be face-down on the plate. Photo: J. Vollmer

So we’ll just pretend those flecks aren’t there from here on out:

Yum! Photo: J. Vollmer

Remove the funnel cake to a brown-paper bag or papertowels (I prefer the brown paper):

Brown paper bags are excellent for sopping up excess oil. Photo: J. Vollmer

Dust with powdered sugar or Hershey’s syrup, and you’re all set:

Add some powdered sugar or Hershey's syrup and you're all set! Photo: J. Vollmer

Did I mention my oldest son has been the photographer for this blog post so far? Even he knows I like showing off the details!  Here’s one of J. enjoying his snack:

My oldest son enjoying a funnel cake snack! Photo: Patricia Vollmer

So in conclusion, making funnel cakes is pretty easy, and you know what ingredients are going into the batter. I personally don’t care for frying foods in the house, but this time it didn’t seem to horrible. Monitor the frying closely and if you don’t overcook the cakes, it won’t be an oily mess — unlike what you probably get at the ball park or state fair.

Surviving Snow Days Without Sibling Squabbles

All day long I’ve been reading about my online friends gearing up for a snow day – or more than one – as a result of the storm that’s expected to slam the East Coast. Supplies at retailers have been wiped out in anticipation of days on end of being housebound. And parents (especially those who work at home) are groaning about how to manage a house full of unexpected noise from their kiddos.

If you, too, are ready to pull your hair out at the thought of entertaining your kids and listening to them squabble, take heart. With just a few items from your kitchen you can keep them occupied, encourage creative thinking, and perhaps even get siblings to work together toward a common goal. My book, Team Challenges: Group Activities to Build Cooperation, Communication, and Creativity, has plenty of easy to implement activities that can be done in ten minutes or less with basic household supplies – a perfect foil to snow day fever.

What?? You don’t have this book in your emergency snow day kit? Not to worry. Let me share an activity with you right here on GeekMom. But first, you need to know this: there is not a “right” answer to this challenge. It’s entirely open-ended. There will be as many solutions as there are kids/teams who attempt to solve the challenge. Cool, right?

team building, siblings, rivalry, Cheerios, teamwork, cabin fever
Simple materials you probably have in your kitchen.

Elevate an Apple

Here’s what you’ll need:

5 drinking straws
10 toothpicks
1 large marshmallow
3 recycled plastic lids
About 2 cups of Cheerios in a bowl*

*may not be altered or used as part of the solution

Read these instructions out loud to your kids:

Your task is to elevate an apple a minimum of two inches above the surface of the table. You may combine the materials provided in any manner to solve this problem. You have seven minutes in which to work. When building time expires, the apple must be in its elevated position and team may not be in contact with any part of the solution. You will be notified when only one minute of building time remains.


You will receive up to ten points each for creativity, cooperation and communication (scoring is entirely at the whim of the person monitoring the challenge). Teams that successfully elevate the apple will also receive twenty bonus points.

Seriously. How’s that for a geeky way to spend a snow day? If you’re curious to see how others have solved this challenge, you can click through to this page of solutions – but don’t let your kids see until they’ve made their attempt! If you need more ideas, there are a dozen more listed here.