A Cosplay Primer for Parents

I tend to be a pretty involved parent when it comes to current trends, shows, music, and fads. So when my 9 year-old son came to me three years ago and asked to make a “Half-Life Costume”, I was surprised I had no idea what that was or how to do it.

A bit of research on the internet had me spiraling down the rabbit hole, into an entirely new world: The world of cosplay. Continue reading A Cosplay Primer for Parents

The Dreaded G-Word: When Your Child is Asynchronous

I remember that morning as if it had happened yesterday. We were just leaving the restaurant, where we had enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with friends. I had met these women when we’d had our first babies, at a mothers’ group sponsored by the hospital where we had delivered. Those first babies were now 5-years-old and each had at least one younger sibling.

We held the door for one another and shuffled our tribe carefully out of the restaurant and into the parking lot. The kids were busy fooling around, and their laughter filled the air until one voice shouted above the rest. I knew that voice very well: It was my 5-year-old son, Leo.

“Hey! GUYS!! LOOK!! LOOK!!!! Doesn’t that latticework remind you of a portcullis? It’s SO BEAUTIFUL!” Leo shouted. He was jumping up and down, bursting with excitement, pointing toward the restaurant’s garden.

His friends paused for a moment, looked in the general vicinity of where he was pointing for a second or two, and then carried on with their play. I, too, looked at the trellis and then I grabbed my phone and Googled portcullis. Continue reading The Dreaded G-Word: When Your Child is Asynchronous

‘Oddly Normal’: Not So Odd, Not So Normal, Just Perfect

In September 2014, a quirky, beautifully drawn, thoroughly enjoyable, all ages book, Oddly Normal, appeared as if by magic in our pull box.

Our local shop owner, knowing that I’m always seeking out things for my son, had popped it in the box. Thanking her, as I normally do, I skimmed the comic and nodded “Sure!” Since her taste is almost inevitably spot on for my style, I took it home smooshed in the middle of my large pile of comics.

Once I opened the book at home, I was enchanted. Oddly is every normal kid who feels a bit quirky and out of place. Half witch and half human, her adventures begin as, in the typical ten-year-old child way, she wishes her parents away. Unfortunately, she doesn’t realize that she was born with the magic to make that possible.

Her great-aunt whisks her away to Fignation, the birthplace of her mother, beginning a new life in a new middle school with new kids.

Continue reading ‘Oddly Normal’: Not So Odd, Not So Normal, Just Perfect

NYCC Guide for Parents of Younger Kids

Three years of New York Comic Con visits. Three years of trial and error. Three years of family additions to NYCC. How do you negotiate that kind of insanity? Why yes, after explaining all the new additions, there is a guide to “How To Keep From Losing Your Child or Your Sanity.”

Let me first convince you as to why you want to take the littles. Then, learn from my experience as to how to make it fun.

“It’s 2012, New York Comic Con time!”

As post after post would travel through my feed showing me pictures of amazing cosplay, panels that seemed to be once in a lifetime experiences, and limited edition items or free swag that seemed incredible, my sitting-at-home-on-the-couch-with-a-baby self moped.

It’s too crowded, too expensive, too loud, too overwhelming to do with a child, I thought. Then, in 2013, back in those Jurassic days of being able to buy a Sunday ticket a month in advance, we decided to drive down for the day. One bright Sunday morning, we packed the two adults and one four-year-old into the car, expecting an epic adventure. The adventure was epic, complete with New York City parking ticket.

However, in 2013, even the kids’ day family friendly events were few and far between. Overwhelmed, we focused on the the main exhibition floor and on The Block. In a nutshell, we shopped. A lot. Last year, there seemed to be a few more family events. However, finding a place to bring an overwhelmed kid proved difficult. Again, shopping, shopping, and more free swag. Continue reading NYCC Guide for Parents of Younger Kids

‘My Little Pony Friendship is Magic’ – ‘Cutie Mark Quests’

MLP Cutie Mark Quests \ Image courtesy of Hasbro Studios
MLP Cutie Mark Quests \ Image courtesy of Hasbro Studios

I’ve enjoyed My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic since my son first introduced it to me. Each episode is filled with something fun that makes 20 minutes pass by fast. One of the things I enjoy is how subtle the writers make the lesson being taught. There’s no “lesson learned” speech at the end of the episode (well, not since Twilight stopped writing letters to Princess Celestia) and kids still get the point.

In Cutie Mark Quests, they take us back to five episodes about finding yourself and trusting your friends.

Image: Hasbro Studios

One of those episodes is the two-part episode, The Return of Harmony where the Mane 6 face off against the king of chaos, Discord. In 40 minutes of animated bliss, you watch as Twilight Sparkle and her friends put their studies on friendship to the test in an attempt to stop Discord from turning all of Equestria upside down (literally).

Another two-part episode follows the Mane 6 as they journey to a town where everyone is a blank flank (i.e., no cutie mark). While visiting, Twilight and her friends teach the townspeople that their cutie marks are a part of who they are and being unique isn’t something to fear, but instead something to be celebrated.

Not everything is about the Mane 6 though, and that’s where the Cutie Mark Crusaders come in.

In Showstoppers, Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Belle continue their journey to get their cutie marks, and, as usual, they are going around their manes to get to their hooves. When the school talent show comes up, they all want to have a piece of the spotlight. It was a 20-minute train wreck, and, in the end, each of them learned a lesson in sticking with what they already enjoy instead of forcing new skills on themselves.

My son and I are happy that we are able to add Cutie Mark Quests alongside our other My Little Pony DVDs including: Equestria Girls, Canterlot Wedding, and Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks.

Cutie Mark Quests arrives in stores on June 30th. 

Disclaimer: GeekMom received a review copy.

Power Up and Read with he Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge Powered by Energizer

Image: Scholastic

When I was a kid, my favorite part about summer was the fact that I could read as much as I wanted, for however long I wanted. There wasn’t homework, or assigned reading. I could go into the library, grab as many titles as I could carry, and read from dusk until dawn. I’m pretty sure that some days I did. Our sponsors at Scholastic certainly get that kind of kid—but they get other kids, too.

Now I’ve got kids, two of them. One is almost nine, and he’s reading at a near college level. But reading isn’t his thing. He can do it, and do it fast, but unless he sees the benefit, he’s not about to give in to his fiction-obsessed mother. The other one is quickly learning the magic of libraries and stories, but has yet to do any reading on her own. She just turned three, she’s got time.

Image: Energizer
Image: Energizer

Anyway, I’ve been thrilled with the Scholastic and Energizer “Power Up and Read” program for the summer, running from May 4th – September 4th, 2015. With their approach, both kids are reading toward their goals—for our son, a good mix of nonfiction and fiction, and for our daughter books with lots of pictures and easy words. The best part of the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is that I can download sheets (and certificates) all along the way. And as they log hours, they can earn virtual rewards, enter sweepstakes, and even play games. That’s definitely up their alley.

What’s particularly nice, too, is that you can match your kid with book suggestions. And, there’s a fun component with the INSTANT WIN Games—you and your kids could win a trip to NYC, or lots of lovely books.

Our goals are simple: Make reading fun. Some days that’s harder than others. But with all the tools from Scholastic, I’m convinced it will be a blast for all involved.

Check out their tips and resources below, including a great Harry Potter book party!

Resources from Scholastic Parents:

More about the program:

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

Happy World Read Aloud Day!

Photograph: Talento Tec – Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City (Creative Commons License)

My son and I have fought beside Peter in the Battle of Narnia. We’ve experienced the wonder of walking through the wall of Platform 9 3/4 on our way to Hogwarts. We’ve saved Prydain multiple times, and melted the Wicked Witch of the West. And we did it all from the comfort of our own couch.

My son is almost 13 years old, and every single night since he was old enough to focus his eyes, we’ve read out loud together. Every night, without fail, whether we are traveling or sick, or it’s late. It’s our time to regroup from the day, to escape for a while, to snuggle on the couch, and just share a bit of time with one another.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised to find out, when he was about 10 or so, that we were one of the only families who did this with a kid over about 7. It had never even occurred to us to stop (I think my son would cry mutiny if we did).

Today is World Read Aloud Day. If you click on the link, you’ll find a lot of information about reading to your kids and a link to a free story book.  Reading to your kids, whether young or older, is simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. Plus, according to Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report: 5th Edition, 8 out of every 10 kids from ages 6-17 say that they love being read aloud to and want their parents to do it more.

Most parents read aloud to their kids before the age of 6, mostly to develop literacy and a love of reading. After that though, the percentage tapers off dramatically, even though the benefits are the same. I would argue, in fact, that reading together becomes even more important as kids get older. There are so many other things competing for their attention. What better way to show them both the importance of reading and spending time together as a family than having some story time together. In fact, the top reason cited in Scholastic’s study for kids wanting to read together with their parents is because it gives them a special time together.

So, what if you stopped reading to your child, but now want to start back up? What if you want some more bonding time with your moody teen? Well, it’s not always easy to start new habits. Start off by letting your kid choose what he or she wants to read. It can be anything. A novel, a comic book, a book about science. Most of the kids surveyed said they would like to read something of their choice or something funny. Don’t get frustrated if your kid doesn’t join you right away. Read to your partner, or your pet. But encourage your child to stay in the same room. For example, after dinner, set a family time where no one is allowed to hide out in their room. Everyone can do something in the living room as long as it doesn’t disrupt the reading (like, no television). Again, this might not be easy with some kids. Teens are mysterious and complicated creatures. They want to spend time with their families but they want to do it on their terms and they can feel embarrassed about taking the first steps to getting closer to their families. The want independence, but don’t want to break too far away. Give them lots of space and choice in the matter. Let them pick the book out, and don’t make them read to you unless they want to. Just read out loud to them so they feel welcome and comfortable, and eventually they might want to read to you.

What if you feel like you aren’t good at reading out loud? Just do it. You’ll get better the more you practice, and no one is grading you on your performance. It’s a fun bonding time for everyone. You’ll make mistakes. Your kids will let you know when you missed a word. It’s OK. Just laugh at the mistakes, compliment your kid on being such a good reader that he caught a missing word, and enjoy your family time together.

Happy reading, everyone!

We Are All The Bad Mother

Recipe Rifle © Esther Walker
Recipe Rifle © Esther Walker

“I am a bad mother.”

It’s a thought that has gone through all of our heads at least once. Maybe you’re thinking it as you watch your child start their third consecutive episode of Peppa Pig, or as they stuff McDonald’s fries into their mouth sitting in their car seat, or (like me yesterday) as you watch them write out a note of apology to their teacher for being cheeky in class. It’s like a basic rule of parenting: Self-doubt and self-flagellation come with the territory. Everyone else always seems to be handling it all so much better than we are. Your sister’s children eat all their vegetables without complaint, your neighbor’s little girl is already taking her Grade Two piano at age three, another mom in the playground just proudly told you that her son is already on the second book band when yours hasn’t even been put on the first. How do all these women have it so together when you don’t? In the era of picture-perfect Pinterest parenting, the feelings of inadequacy come easily.

That’s why I’ve been subscribed to Esther Walker’s blog Recipe Rifle for the last few years. Esther is a writer and a journalist who I discovered through her husband, restaurant critic Giles Coran, whose show The Supersizers… was a favorite of mine. She’s also slightly neurotic and frequently anxious, which I think makes her my parenting soulmate or something. On her blog, Esther shares recipes along with stories about her life raising her two children Kitty (aged three) and Sam (aged one). The difference between her blog and many others is that she doesn’t hold back. About anything. With Esther you get the whole truth. It’s often uncomfortable, sometimes shocking, frequently gross, and always liberally sprinkled with the kind of language I wouldn’t dare repeat to my mother. When new posts appear in my inbox it’s like reading an email from your best friend. The honesty is more than just refreshing; sometimes it’s saved my sanity from simply knowing that at I’m not the only mother who has ever had these terrible thoughts toward my own family. Recipe Rifle got me through the toddler years—I just wish Esther would have had Kitty a bit earlier so she could have been there for the baby months too.

The Bad Mother © HarperCollins
The Bad Mother © HarperCollins

The Bad Mother is Esther’s second book (The Bad Cook came out in 2013) but this time the content is exclusively about being a mother with no recipes to be found. In it she covers almost every aspect of parenting: sleeping, eating, routines, holidays, sickness, poo. Now that I’m past the diaper phase I’d forgotten just how much the last five years of my life revolved around poo. This book reminded me and made me extra thankful that it’s all over. The whole thing reads like an extended, slightly categorized version of her blog posts, right down to the choice language (even one of the chapter titles could make a nun blush). She compares foreign holidays with very small children to being like a spy: “Having completed your training in your own country, you are then sent on a terrifying mission to a hot place, where you must complete your tasks in a totally unfamiliar environment.” I couldn’t comment myself—I wasn’t brave enough to take more than a weekend trip with my son until he had turned five.

The Bad Mother is not intended as a guide to raising children. In fact there are times where Esther points out that she got things entirely wrong and also that the things she relied on wholly for her family (such as strict routines from birth) might be totally wrong for you. Rather it is a personal story about being a mother, being hard on yourself, and realizing that you’re not a bad mother at all. That every choice is personal, that we are all doing our best and trying to make the right choices for our family. If someone else choose to call those choices “lazy” or “selfish” then, as Esther would probably say, “**** ‘em.”

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

How Voyager Got Me Through It All

voyager becca
Image By Rebecca Angel

The only time I stood up to my bullying stepfather was about Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show was on and I walked to the kitchen for ice cream. Returning, I went for the remote, but my stepfather took it first and changed the channel.

I told him that I was watching Star Trek. He replied something snarky like, “You snooze, you loose, kid.”

There were many ways this man held dominance over our lives, and being annoying about the TV was a small one. My usual response would have been to shrug and walk to my room to read a fantasy novel because I really hate fighting. But something snapped.

“I. WAS. WATCHING. STAR TREK!!!!” I screamed.

There was silence for a few seconds. My stepfather didn’t say a word, he just put the remote down and walked out of the room. I sobbed into my ice cream and watched the rest of my show alone.

Only a few short years later, I was a teen mother with a beautiful daughter. I had dropped out of college to take care of her, with my boyfriend going to school and working to take care of us. It being winter in Syracuse, New York, I was trapped in a tiny apartment with the baby. My (real) father came to visit and noticed we had no TV reception. With two different Star Trek series going on at the time, this was not acceptable. He started sending me video tapes with episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager.

Oh, how they got me through it.

Although DSN is great, Voyager captured my heart like nothing else. I wanted to be a crew member under Captain Janeway! She would know I was strong, capable, and intelligent—words that our culture does not tag onto teen mothers. The Doctor made me laugh. Chakotay made me swoon. The plots made me think.

Once the warm weather set in, our little family moved to Albany so my (now) husband could attend graduate school. We had TV reception. No matter what was happening in his lab, my man knew that Wednesday nights were Voyager nights. His job was to keep the kid (soon to be kids) out of the living room while mommy watched her show. If there was mint-chip ice cream brought home that day, happiness would increase. And sometimes, sometimes, the children would go to bed easily and I might even get a foot rub while watching my intrepid crew in space. Sci-fi fan heaven.

Being a parent is hard. Being a wife is hard. Being a young woman in this culture is really hard. Voyager showed me week after week that using your brain, working as a team, and caring for the people around you were the way to solve all problems. While lost in space trying to get home, no one on that ship cared what each other’s pasts were. They were only concerned about everyone doing their job to the best of their ability. I took that to heart.

As a child my role model was Sara Crew who taught me to have self-respect no matter how people treat you.

As an adult, I needed a new role model, and I found her in Captain Janeway. Thank you to the creators, writers, directors, actors, and everyone else involved in Voyager. You got me through it all.

Get Muddy with Daddy Pig’s Puddle Jump

A screenshot of the opening page of Daddy Pig’s Puddle Jump.
© Entertainment One

As every Peppa Pig fan knows, there’s nothing better than jumping in muddy puddles. However, if muddy puddles are in short supply, the new Daddy Pig’s Puddle Jump app is certainly a good substitute.

Daddy Pig is the world champion muddy puddle jumper, but Peppa and George are going to try to beat him. Dressed in their stuntman costumes, with an Evel Knievel-esque red, white, and blue color scheme and star motif, the pigs compete across a range of courses to see who can become the muddiest. There are 15 courses to unlock, which gently become more challenging. With both a one-person and two-player option and the ability to play as Peppa, George, or Daddy Pig, this app is certainly has lots of appeal for Peppa fans.

My 4-year-old daughter adores Peppa Pig, so could hardly contain her excitement when I started the app. It’s bright and colorful and very easy for a young child to navigate independently. The controls are very simple: Just touch the screen anywhere to make the character jump. My daughter was rather hesitant at first, worried about doing something wrong. However, the game is organized so that if you don’t manage to press the screen at the right time to make your character jump and clear a hedge or land on a trampoline, it doesn’t matter. The levels very gently become longer and more challenging, so it never becomes too difficult. I particularly like how encouraging the characters are to each other, saying “Well done” after the races.

Daddy Pig clears an obstacle. © Entertainment One

The weakest part of the app for me is the two-player option. I thought that this might involve racing against each other, but it only runs the race twice, once with each character, comparing their muddy splat ratings at the end. I’d like to see something slightly more competitive, where both characters can race at the same time. Also, it would have been nice if the characters could perform more than jumps, such as being able to slide down the muddy hills. Because of this, it won’t hold the attention of older children or those used to more sophisticated games.

This is a lovely app for young children who will find the animations and voiceovers funny. I don’t think it will have the replay value for older children but it’s great for the three to five-year-old age bracket. It’s good to know that there are no in-app purchases or adverts too, making it very family friendly. However, the price of $1.99/£1.49 is a little bit steep; I think it would be better value at 99c/69p. Daddy Pig’s Puddle Jump by Entertainment One is available now from www.AppStore.com/DaddyPigsPuddleJump.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Mobile Phone Diagnoses Worm Infections

Scientists use an iPhone to diagnose intestinal worms.
Via Morguefile

And you thought your iPhone was only good for playing Angry Birds. In Tanzania, scientists recently used a mobile phone equipped with a makeshift microscope to diagnose intestinal parasites. It’s still a work in progress – in one test, accuracy didn’t quite reach 70%, shy of the 80% desired for a diagnostic tool – but the idea has potential. The method is significantly cheaper than using a conventional microscope, not to mention more portable.

Want to know how you can help cure the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that infect more than a billion people worldwide? This compelling video from End7 features Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films) and shows just how easy it is.

Get the Most From the Disney Theme Parks With Touring Plans

Epcot  Image: Dakster Sullivan
Epcot Image: Dakster Sullivan

Touringplans.com is a website that claims to have the power to save you four hours of waiting in line in a single day at the Disney theme parks. With touring plans, crowd calendar and a wait time app, Touringplans.com has everything you need to plan out and enjoy your day. The trick is making sure you follow their advice and not wander off. The website offers tools for both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but for this review, I will only be looking at the Walt Disney World side of things.

Home to the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland, the website is laid out so that even the most frazzled parent can understand what they are looking at.  The coolest aspect of the website for me are the touring plans. This is where you can find out how to see more of the park, while wasting less time in lines trying to see it all. With over 140 different step by step touring plans for the Walt Disney World resort, there is something for every family.

Continue reading Get the Most From the Disney Theme Parks With Touring Plans

Please Vote for Noah's Light Foundation

Jedi Noah and the Florida Garrison / Image: Florida Garrison
Jedi Noah and the Florida Garrison / Image: Florida Garrison

Jedi Noah Larkin was a very special boy to my 501st Legion garrison. We had the honor of helping him celebrate his birthday last year and this year, we helped honor him at this memorial service in Kissimmee, Florida.

Noah was a happy little boy who was perplexed that people would not do something to the fullest. He wanted to be the next Walt Disney or George Lucas because they “just did!” His battle with brain cancer lasted from October 29th, 2009 and ended when Noah moved on to his eternal home at 4pm on May 29th, 2012.

Noah’s life touched many of us in the Florida Garrison and his memory continues to live on through the foundation his parents set up in his name to help raise money and awareness for children’s brain and spinal tumors.

Like many charities, Noah’s Light Foundation needs a boost. Chase is currently giving away $5 million in grants to charity through voting on their Facebook page. It just so happens that voting ends on what would have been Noah’s ninth birthday. Personally, I can’t think of a better birthday present for such an inspiring and loved little boy.

Help me honor this little boy and his short (but very much loved) life by voting for Noah’s Light Foundation.

May the Force be with Noah and all those who were blessed to know him.

Isn't Your Child More Than a Number?

Poet-songwriters Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Barry Lane teamed up to create this poignant melody, which grew out of their concern over the American public school system’s obsession with standardized test scores. Says VanDerwater, who blogs at The Poem Farm, “Children’s spirits are deep and wide, beautiful and boundless, and it is our hope that all adults can remember this as we write policy and make decisions.” VanDerwater and Lane are both writing teachers who work closely with children and are keenly aware of how inadequately a test score reflects the many facets and talents of their students.

I am more than a number.
I am more than a grade.
I know the constellations.
Here’s a painting that I made.
I read books in my closet.
I will not be a ‘2’.
I am more than a number.
I’m a person just like you.

I speak one language here
and another in my home.
I daydream in both languages
whenever I’m alone.
I’m good at climbing trees.
Mom’s teaching me to sew.
I am full of secrets
a test can never know.

You can see the complete lyrics here. VanDerwater and Lane hope to bring more attention to the complex issue of how an emphasis on standardized testing affects students and teachers — an issue we’ve pondered here at GeekMom as well. Because aren’t we all full of secrets a test can never know?

Battle of the iPhone Cases

From Left to Right: Ballistic HC, G-Form X, Otter Box Defender, LifeProof
From Left to Right: Ballistic HC, G-Form X, Otter Box Defender, LifeProof

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t be a klutz and I would never drop my phone. On the off chance that something happened to my device, like my six-year-old son, it would survive the experience unscathed. Yeah … I’ll hang on to that pipe dream. The reality is that phones get dropped. If you have children, regardless of how high you put your phone, eventually they will get their hands on it.  So, what is the best way to protect your device? That’s a question I have been asking myself since I first got my iPhone last year.

My first iPhone case was an Otter Box Defender. I chose it mostly because that’s all we use at work to protect company phones. Their customer service has been great when I needed spare parts and overall the cases worked well enough for what we needed. The only issue I have with the defender model is how bulky it is. For the price ($30 on Amazon), it gets the job done.

My second case was a LifeProof case. I asked for it for Christmas because it had high ratings and the claim that it could go swimming and survive made me curious. After my son heard me brag that the case could be dropped and the phone would survive, I walked into my bedroom to see him standing on my bed dropping my phone. “I wanted to see if it bounced” was his explanation. With that said, I really enjoy this case for its slim design and ability to withstand drops. The only bad marks it gets are for not coming with a clip and the price (average is $70 on Amazon).

Continue reading Battle of the iPhone Cases

Review: Take a Deep Breath by Nina Shapiro, MD

There are plenty of challenges that we face as parents. Some are simple, like learning how to simultaneously change a diaper, finish a phone call and prevent your child from knocking over everything on the changing table. Others, like helping your child when they’re sick, are a lot more difficult and frightening. As Mom to a child with asthma, I’ve had my share of sleepless nights trying to decide if she needs to be dragged to the emergency room in the wee hours or if I should just ride it out until morning. And every time, no matter what I decided, I ended up second guessing myself. In an effort to help parents just like me, and you, Nina Shapiro, MD has written Take a Deep Breath to help us all understand how kids breath, and how to help them if they’re not breathing well.

The science behind how children breath is complex. It changes as they grow and what’s normal changes, too.  All this just makes it more challenging for parents to know what to do when a child is sick. Doctor Shapiro neatly breaks down normal breathing at different stages in their lives through three sections: Newborn to Three Months, Three Months to One Year, and One to Five Years.  In each section, she describes the way a child usually breathes and how it sounds. She makes all those wheezes and gurgles and odd little noises make sense.

And she helps set your mind at ease so that you’re not panicked at every last sound your child makes. Her descriptions of the problems children face breathing when they’re sick or have allergies is presented in a way that parents can easily understand. There are plenty of things that sound wrong to a parent’s ear that are perfectly normally, and Dr. Shapiro makes understanding the difference a little less intimidating. There’s also a quick reference page at the end of each section with “Worry” or “Don’t Worry” as a guide for some common concerns.

Take a Deep Breath, Clear the Air for the Health of Your Child provides a framework for understanding how children breath and for helping them when they’re ill. Whether your child is healthy or suffers from chronic problems like asthma, you will find this book a comforting guide to managing your child’s health.

A copy of this book was provided for review.

Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey – Review

Last week, I had the pleasure, the very wonderful pleasure, of taking my youngest son Sammy to our local indie theater for a viewing of Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey. The film follows the rise of Kevin Clash, puppeteer and voice of every child’s favorite furry, red Sesame Street character, Elmo. With a lot of documentaries, I expect to be amazed at the amount of turmoil or struggle that the subject had to endure to make it where they are today. Not so with Clash; it was refreshing to see that he had very supportive parents, who instead of making excuses when others ridiculed his hobby of making puppets, they encouraged him and found ways to to help him achieve his dreams, and Kevin Clash was a big dreamer.

The film makers did an excellent job of telling Clash’s story, narrated briefly in part by Whoopi Goldberg. At the young age of nine, Clash had already started making his own puppets, in large quantities no less, giving them names, distinct personalities, and using them to hone his craft. He hoped to someday work with The Muppets or on Sesame Street, and as the years flew by, he moved up to local children’s shows, eventually landing a puppetry and acting gig on then popular and now classic Captain Kangaroo. Through the love and support of his family, not to mention an opportunity to meet famous Muppets creator Kermit Love (thanks in no small part to his mother), Clash eventually attained that life-long goal of working with all things Jim Henson.

Official movie poster via Wiki

The story of how the character of Elmo emerged in the midst of it all is one to only be seen in the film. One thing I will note is that the actual name and puppet of Elmo was in use for awhile on Sesame Street before Clash made him who he is today. The character was so unlikable that the puppeteer that brought him to life couldn’t stand having to do so when the time came. Now anyone who has children, and even a lot who don’t, can tell you what Elmo represents, because of those three little words that he says that define his personality: “Elmo Loves You.” Clash certainly embodies the love that the character of Elmo represents, by using his talent to allow children to have private visitations with him and Elmo, courtesy of the Make a Wish Foundation, which gives children with a terminal illness a chance to live out their biggest hopes and dreams. This was the point in the film where tears started to flow freely from my eyes, and I looked over to my son and saw that same expression of sadness and joy combined on his face, reflected in the glow of the projection on the screen.

The film runs only a little over an hour, and when the credits began to roll, I exclaimed out loud, “No, don’t be over yet!” There were only a few of us in the audience, but my son and I started to clap and the rest of the theater joined in our applause. It might have been the clapping of only a few hands that night, but it was richly deserved. I would recommend that if you have any chance of seeing this movie in a theater, that you don’t miss the chance to do so.

I was compensated two tickets by the Robinson Film Center in Shreveport, LA for the viewing of this film for the purpose of this review.

Coming Soon:The Walking Dead Video Game

The Walking Dead series on AMC is in its second season and is hugely popular, so it seems only natural that it would be getting its own video game. Although there is no release date yet, sources say that it should be coming in late 2011 or early 2012. It will be available for the Playstation 3, Xbox, and Wii game systems, and also for PC and Mac. I haven’t heard about a rating, but if I had to guess it would be that it will be rated “M” for Mature, which means my kids won’t be playing it, but I will!

Telltale Games is the developer, and they have confirmed that it will not be the typical “first person shooter” that most other zombie-themed games feature. The game will not feature the plot of the show or the comics; rather, it will introduce the player to new characters and situations. It should go without saying that there will be zombies. The game play will involve making decisions, solving puzzles, and “figuring things out” in order to move on. Certain decisions will give you a certain kind of gameplay, reminding one of the “choose your own adventure” books. There isn’t any video of game footage available yet, but I can imagine that the player’s stress level will be high during the decision making process during gameplay, due to the fact that there may be zombies hanging around. The Walking Dead comic series creator and television series executive producer/writer Robert Kirkman is fully supporting TellTale’s issue of this game, and it has been reported that he is pleased with what he has seen so far.

Screenshot of The Walking Dead game featuring new characters Lee and Clementine, from ForeverGeek.com.

Most people assume that since I am such a huge fan of the zombie genre, that I also play zombie video games like Resident Evil, Dead Island and all that good stuff. I actually don’t play first person shooter games, but this one sounds like something I would enjoy very much, considering that it is not like that, but it still has zombies in it. Strategy and puzzle games are right up my alley. One little tidbit I heard is that Glen makes a cameo early in the game, which is cool because he is my favorite character from the comics and the AMC series. If this video game is slated for holiday release, I will definitely have it on my Christmas list. If not, my birthday is at the end of January!

To sign up for updates about the game from TellTale Games as soon as they are released, visit the official site at telltale games.com/walkingdead.

What Veterans Day Means to Me

My son Michael, Master of Ceremonies at the Veterans Day Ceremony at his school.

A few days ago, my son Michael had the privilege of being the Master of Ceremonies at the Veterans Day Ceremony at his middle school, Caddo Middle Magnet. He did an excellent job, and I am very proud of him. Why did he get picked to do it? Because the person organizing knew that he is the son of a Veteran that has given so much for our country.

Today is Veteran’s Day, and my sons are sans their dad. He’s not deployed this time, but away for training that he needs to transition to a new job in his full-time Army National Guard position. He’s been a full-timer since about one month before 9/11. Since then he has deployed two times, been to several schools and trainings, and been away quite a lot due to his job obligations. My sons have come to terms with the fact that dad won’t be here for some birthdays and important holidays.

Our boys have learned the fine art of how to Skype with dad, how to deal with an emotional mom, how to make their own fish sticks or hot dogs for dinner when said mom just wants to sit on the couch and watch re-runs of The Golden Girls when having her own personal pity party, and how to be just a little more resilient to some things in life that a lot of kids their age don’t have to deal with. They’ve also learned how to get ready for an awesome day: Dad coming home. They know how to help in getting the house clean and ready, make welcome home posters, make chocolate chip cookies, rake the yard, and make the best of a great situation.

Sammy readies his sign for dad's bus to arrive!

Last year, their dad was deployed for the entire year. The boys, especially Michael, were very nervous the entire time. Sammy was four and Michael was six the first time he deployed, so Michael remembers the events better than Sammy does. Their dad had trained in country for six months, then was in Iraq for six months before he was badly injured by a vehicle-bourne improvised explosive device (VBIED) and came home earlier than the rest of his unit. It was a tough time; he had to recuperate and we had to deal with explaining it all to our young children. It was pretty funny when he came home, all wrapped in bandages and looking pretty rough, when Sammy, only four years old, said, “No offense Daddy, but you look…kind of ugly.” We still crack up about that every time we talk about it.



It’s extremely heartwarming to see the average citizen walk up to a member of the Armed Forces that is in uniform, simply shake their hand and say, “Thank you for your service.” It means a lot to the families and friends of Veterans and currently activated military members, that the sacrifices of our military are appreciated not just today, but everyday.

Bil Keane, Creator of The Family Circus Comic, Passes Away

Image: Wikipedia.com

Bil Keane, who is best known for creating the comic The Family Circus, has passed away at age 89. He passed away from congestive heart failure after his condition worsened over the last month.

When I was young, my parents got the local newspaper every day. Being a kid, my favorite section of the paper was always the comics and one of my favorite comics was The Family Circus.

Now that I’m a mom, I still like reading this comic when we get our weekly Sunday paper because it reminds me of my childhood. And the antics of the children in this family remind me a bit of the things my daughter says and does.

So R.I.P. Bill Keane and thank you for making the comics section of the newspaper a little more sweet and whimsical. You can read more about this story at Yahoo.

Review of Just Dance 3 for Wii

Image from Just Dance 3 Wiki.

I have two boys in my house and watch as they play video games that they like; the ones where you have to beat a level or find the secrets, beat the boss and save the day. My attention span for those kinds of games fell by the wayside about the same time as the Super Nintendo. There are a few video games I do still like to play, the more recent of those being the Just Dance series of games.

Just Dance 3 was released for Wii, Playstation 3 and XBox in early October. It builds on the already popular franchise by adding lots of hit songs and new modes to extend and vary game play. The best thing about these series of games is that they get you off the couch and moving around. Although I do occasionally play them by myself, I have the most fun when family and friends are visiting and we are all playing together. It seems that Just Dance has replaced our old get-togethers that we once dubbed “Rock Band Parties.”

Just Dance 3 isn’t just for people who have the moves of a professional dancer. Anyone can play and have a great time, no matter if they can really dance or not. It’s easy to start it up and get to the mode that you want to play. If you are so inclined, you even have the choice to “Just Sweat,” which is a training program that does calculated cardio. If not, you can just dance, alone or with a group. Basically, you choose from about 45 different songs, some available as downloadable content, and just follow the moves of the on-screen dancer. You hold the Wii remote (or no controller, if you are playing Kinect) in your right hand and the sensor keeps up with where it is in relation to the dance moves happening on screen. My boys and I had a blast with this game, discovering the new songs and watching the dancers, who are always in funny-looking costumes and doing creative, different dance moves that keep you laughing while you’re dancing.

A screen shot of "Apache (Jump on It)" from the Ubisoft website.

New to this version are the Dance Crew Mode, Smart Shuffle, Flash Mob Mode and Dance Mash-up. I tried out one of the dance crew songs by myself, “This is Halloween,” and although it was fun, it would have been a blast if three other dancers had been in the living room with me. I danced to a lot of the songs so I could get an idea of the new moves and scoring. The scoring doesn’t make you feel too bad if you stink at it; you get a number of stars and a rating like “Energetic,” or “Wild,” or even “Creative.” You don’t get booed, which is nice, especially if you have kids playing who may not do so well at first. I’m interested in trying out another new feature in the Wii version, the “Hold My Hand” mode, where up to 8 players can share 4 Wii Remotes and dance together. It sounds pretty cool, but I don’t know if my living room can hold that many dancers, so we might have to save that for a church youth party with the kids.

We don’t have to have a party or a get-together to play this game; my kids get excited when I want to play any video games with them, even this one. My son Michael has some great moves, so when I convince him to take a turn, it is quite entertaining. It never fails that if we put in one Just Dance game, we will end up playing all of them that we own, Just Dance 1 and 2 and Michael Jackson: The Experience. Ubisoft has released several dance games, like one just for kids, one that features Broadway tunes, and one that features The Black Eyed Peas.

My cousin/best friend Sara and I always play Just Dance when we spend time together.

For myself, when I popped in Just Dance 3 after everyone in my house had gone to sleep for the night, I had an absolute blast playing it. My favorite song to dance to was “Apache (Jump on It).” I couldn’t stop smiling and thinking about Carlton and Will doing their strip-tease on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air years ago. I would recommend this game for anyone who already has the previous Just Dance games, or who has never even played them. If you plan on having a get-together for the holidays this year, this would be a perfectly fun way for everyone to work off all of that yummy cornbread dressing and pumpkin pie!


For a listing of all songs featured in the game, and more information, check out the Just Dance 3 Wiki.

I received a copy of Just Dance 3 for the Nintendo Wii gaming console from Ubisoft for review purposes.

Geeky Crafts at the Maker’s Fair

I let my geek flag fly and made a little money at the Texas Avenue Maker's Fair in Shreveport, LA.

Every once in a blue moon I get in a crafty mood; I put my laptop aside and take out the paint, scissors and glue. Occasionally, I take my hand-made wares to a craft market, or in this case, a maker’s fair, and sell them to those who might appreciate them. This past weekend, I took some of my usual; aged gift tags, a few painted signs, and highly-scented potpourri (which has been dubbed “Christmas Crack” by one of my frequent buyers; she says she can’t start the Christmas season without it).

I took my chances and made some geeky wares to sell this time. As a kid, I loved making Shrinky Dinks. While browsing Hobby Lobby a few weeks ago, I found a new product: Shrinky Dinks that you can print on. My imagination reeled with the possibilities. I made earrings, necklaces, book marks, zipper pulls, and cell phone charms. Now many people in my town and the surrounding area are sporting Dalek and TARDIS jewelry, Nyan Cat book marks, and even a few pieces that feature The Goonies, Ghostbusters and lots of other fun stuff you won’t find at your local shops. As proud as I might be of my geeky goodies and the profit they turned, I am even prouder of the fact that both of my sons participated in the maker’s fair for the first time and made their own little bit of money.

My fourteen year old, Michael, played two separate sets on his acoustic guitar, and with permission from the organizers, collected tips in his opened his guitar case. He got a lot of compliments on his playing skills and choice of songs; he is a fan of classics like The Eagles and Bob Marley, and good old grunge-rock, Nirvana.


My son Michael playing some tunes to entertain the shoppers.

Sammy, who is eleven, set up a small area within my booth space and sold his hand-made duct tape items. Most popular were the wallets, which several people had custom-made while they shopped. He turned a pretty darn good profit, and was excited that even our mayor bought a wallet from him!

Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover holds his new duct tape wallet, made by Sammy.

All in all, it was a pretty fun day. There were so many different and interesting makers, so many cool things to see and buy, and lots of yummy food to eat. We are looking forward to being a part of the next Texas Avenue Maker’s Fair, which I am pretty certain will be happening again!

What Time Is It? Adventure Time!

Sammy shows his love for Adventure Time and the many faces of the main character, Finn.

Have you seen this strange cartoon that appears Monday nights, on Cartoon Network? It’s called Adventure Time, and I have to admit, my whole family is in love with it. When I say that it is strange, I mean that it is like no other cartoon you have ever watched before. When I say that it is wonderful, I mean that it is funny and creative, holding the attention of kids and adults equally.

It took me watching a few episodes to understand what the main premise of the show is all about. Jake is a human boy and his best friend is a dog named Jake. The two live in a strange land called Ooo, which I suspect is future Earth after magical creatures have populated it and humans have become extremely rare. Jake and Finn are heroes; their goal is to help anyone that needs their assistance, and protect innocent creatures. In most episodes, the main villain is “Ice King.” Ice King’s main goal in life is to steal a princess and marry her.

Many of the Princesses from Adventure Time. Image from Wikia.

There are so many princesses to choose from in this crazy realm; from Princess Gumball,  the Hotdog Princess, to an eerie Ghost Princess. Then there is my personal favorite, Lumpy Space Princess, who has the attitude and accent of a valley girl, but a deep, man-like voice. I can’t help but laugh every time “L.S.P.” gets angry and spouts something like, “Don’t lumping yell at me!”

If I had to list just a few things that make this series stand out, I would have to say they are as follows:

  • The animation style, which is bright, colorful and clean. It reminds me of other shows like Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends and the Miyazaki films.
  • The clever story lines; they are inventive and different from all of the usual plots you see in shows these day. The writers can do anything in Adventure Time; Ooo is a world of fantasy so the possibilities are endless!
  • Recognize that voice? A lot of the characters are voiced by famous voice actors, such as Tom Kenny, who lends his vocal talent to the title character in Spongebob Squarepants and in this show, Ice King. John DiMaggio voices Jake in Adventure Time, but you might also recognize him as Bender from Futurama. Minor characters have been voiced by actors such as George Takei, Ron Perlman, Lou Ferrigno and Andy Milonakis.
  • There are lessons to be learned; yes, there are a few things in the series that parents may not approve of, like the way the characters exclaim their dismay with phrases like “What the stuff!” and “Don’t squeeze me, I’ll fart!” I would recommend that ten-year-olds and up watch it, lest you want your young child to go around making jokes about passing gas that no one but lovers of the show (and bathroom humor) would appreciate. With that out of the way, kids can take away from Adventure Time that the good guys always win, the bad guys always have to face consequences, and Jake and Finn are always great friends who help others in need.


Sammy got bored at work with me one day and built his own N.E.P.T.R. out of spare parts.

If you can find it online or a re-run, my favorite episode is “What is Life?” which features a robot that Finn builds to throw pies in Jake’s face, to be the prank of all pranks. A short clip of the episode can be watched on YouTube. Andy Milonakis voices the robot, known as N.E.P.T.R., which stands for “Never Ending Pie Throwing Robot.”

My advice? Watch for the talking balloons and Ice King’s minion penguin, Gunter. They are the funniest part of the whole episode.

The show is in its third season on Cartoon Network, but season one was recently released, titled My Two Favorite People, on DVD and is available to purchase. New episodes premiere Mondays nights at 8/7 Central Time. Lots of fun games and video clips, including a few full-length episodes, are at cartoonnetwork.com/tvshows/adventuretime.

Fantastic Mr. Fox: An Interactive Puppetry Experience You Can Really Get Into!

When I saw the advertisements around my humble town of Shreveport, Louisiana for a production of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, I thought to myself, “Oh, a puppet show. That’s nice; another way to enjoy the story, besides just watching the movie.” After actually experiencing it a few days ago with my husband and 11-year-old son, Sammy, I quickly realized that my previous thoughts on the matter were glaring understatements and didn’t do the production justice at all. In the words of the well-traveled Sammy, “This is the best thing I have ever been to in my entire life; it’s even better than Legoland!” That’s a serious comparison coming from a boy who for three years, before actually spending a day at Legoland, saved up every single free pass to the theme park that came with a new Lego set, even after they had expired.

Sammy gives his review of Fox after the show while hagning out with narrator Caleb Gaston, who is his buddy and fellow Whovian!

After buying our tickets online, I did a little research about the production and the people behind the making of Fantastic Mr. Fox. I found out that it is the brain-child of three totally cool guys (in my personal opinion). Arthur Mintz, who had previously worked on Disney’s James and the Giant Peach, came up with the idea of adapting the story of Mr. Fox’s adventures into such a cool, interactive experience. He got together with pals Jacques and Rene Duffourc, who agreed to help make it all happen. It wasn’t long before Hi-YAH! Productions was started. Fantastic Mr. Fox opened in New Orleans, in late 2010, to rave reviews and eventually sold-out shows. It had to be extended several times due to its immense popularity.

William Joyce, creator of the PBS animated series George Shrinks and the hit Disney cartoon Roly Polie Olie, calls Shreveport his home and is on the Advisory Board for a local art, theater and music exhibition center, not to mention all around amazing place, in our downtown called artspace. I got to chat with Jacques Duffourc after the show, and he told me that Mr. Joyce made them “an offer that they couldn’t refuse” to bring Fox to artspace in Shreveport. Even with a list of demands, like needing to cut holes in walls and take up space on several floors of the building, Jaques told me that artspace has been wonderful and that they couldn’t have pulled it all off without the support they’ve gotten from everyone involved. I have to admit that I am glad it all worked out:  I’m about to tell you a little bit about the show, without spoiling it, because if you are lucky, you may be within driving distance. If not, Jacques seems pretty confident that Fox is on it’s way up; several agencies from New York and Los Angeles have shown interest in the production, so it could be headed your way sometime soon, after a hoped-for blessing from the Roald Dahl estate.

The creators of the show, Hi-YAH Productions. L to R: Rene & Jacques Duffourc, Arthur Mintz. Image courtesy of artspaceshreveport.com.

We first entered downstairs, to a normal looking basement-type of room, decorated with the artwork of children who had drawn their own “wanted” posters for Mr. Fox. A television played a loop of a short preview of what was to come. It wasn’t long before Jacques greeted everyone and lead the audience of about 25 kids and adults (the maximum per show is 30) to an elevator that we we all rode up one floor, ten at a time, to a seating area where the show would begin. The first thing I noticed was the curtain; it was sewn together with bits of fabric and various clothing; most recognizable was a pair of khaki-colored corduroy jeans. “Neato!” I said, pointing them out to Sammy. The curtain parted and the very exuberant narrator, wearing two different-colored Chuck Taylor All Star tennis shoes, began telling us a little of the back story of Mr. Fox, the main character. He imparted a few gags that the kids got quite a kick out of, but I won’t ruin it here, in case you are ever an audience member. One in particular got praise from Sammy, considering that the narrator that night happened to be one of his older classmates from kung fu class, a young man named Caleb, and he gave a little extra attention to my son, who was sitting on the front row.

Over the Hill, image courtesy of artspaceshreveport.com.

The audience didn’t sit long; we were soon given headlamps and adults were offered knee pads (which I later wished I had taken advantage of) so that we could literally crawl into the story book! Our head lamps lit the path as we found our way through dark tunnels, pieced together quite creatively from pieces of cardboard boxes, and came out into the first of many wonderful sets, called “Over the Hill.” Being inside the set like that, crawling around and sitting on the cardboard-covered floors, looking around in wonder at all of the great detail and artistry that went into making it all so wonderful and elaborate, made me feel like I was a kid again. I was back in my own bedroom, an eight-year-old little girl, playing house inside of a shelter that I had carefully built with the sheets and blankets confiscated from all of the beds in my home. It was magical, without a doubt.

We moved into different sets, by means of more tunnels, a ladder and even slides. Some parents opted to take the “back way,” and I even did that a time or two, to save my knees a little grief and to get to see what the outside of the set looked like. It was amazing! Overtaking the stairwell and several floors of the building were the tunnels and slides, covered in up-cycled cardboard that had been torn apart and pieced back together again. Jacques later told me, after the show, of the “cardboard parties” they hosted in order to build the set, inviting volunteers to come and piece it all together, with the promise of a little food or drink in exchange.

Mr. Fox and his puppeteer for our performance, Cazes Verbois.

The audience never sat back and just “watched a puppet show.” We were actually in the show. The puppeteers were in the sets with us; they wore clothes that blended into the background and although it was obvious they were there, after awhile, you just didn’t notice or care that they were. At times throughout the show, the narrator encouraged us to shout, to yell, to tell the characters what they should do. We all formed a bond and were very comfortable with one another; we were are in this experience together and we were having a great time! A few of the younger kids got a little frightened at moments, like when scenes went dark or a rather large puppet would come into a scene unexpectedly. The show is recommended for ages four and up due to the “athletic nature of the performance and crawling and sliding required,” but I think that is a good age to judge its appropriateness by also, considering the few screams and whimpers I heard from the under-four crowd when a few thematic elements got underway. It seemed so real at times that a few toddlers wanted to leave, but to me, that just shows the high quality of the production itself. I also noticed that towards the end, some of those same kiddos showed a little more bravery and were no worse for the wear. When I asked him what one of the most rewarding parts of putting on the performance was, Jacques told me that for him, it was watching the transformation of the children, going from unsure and a little bit frightened, to brave and ready to take on whatever the next tunnel would bring. I would have to agree with him on that; after reassuring a few kids that it was all going to be just fine, I noticed them later cheering and exclaiming about how much they loved it and wanted to come back.

The puppeteers of Fantastic Mr. Fox, showing for a limited time at artspace in Shreveport, Louisiana.

In today’s day and age, our children are over loaded with digital devices and electronic entertainment. It’s rare to find a kid who doesn’t own an iPod, iPhone, Nintendo DSi or other hand-held device that keeps them from ever having a dull moment. Even in taking our children out of the home for entertainment, we all usually just sit and watch, depending on someone or something else to dance, sing or make bright colors interesting enough to take us away from something else that could possibly be even more interesting and engaging. It is truly refreshing to be a part of an event — yes, I will call it an event, because it is not just a “show” in my opinion — that makes the audience feel like they are right there in the story, and the only way they will find out more is to get on their hands and knees and crawl to the next scene. Instead of just absorbing moving images on a screen, we were participants and we had to be engaged. The children got to touch, jump, slide, climb, crawl and even at one point, snack, right there in the performance.

Sammy hangs out with Cub, who is a little geekling, much like he is!

Parents in today’s society, as a whole, seem to have gotten away from letting kids really have fun. We’ve all heard of “helicopter parents,” the kind that constantly hover over their children, fearful that something bad may happen to them if they don’t watch over them all the time. Kids need to just be kids; they need to jump, run, crawl, slide and get dirty sometimes. I did it when I was a kid and I seemed to have turned out okay (for the most part!). How else can children learn to rely on themselves and figure things out on their own, if their parents are always making every little decision for them? Fantastic Mr. Fox at artspace is a wonderful example of good ideas, creative interactive theater, great fun, and a great way for kids (and parents) to let go and have a good old-fashioned fun time, while leaving the television and video games systems at home for a night. I truly hope that a lot of GeekMom readers are within driving distance; it is well worth whatever number of hours away you have to travel to see it. It is only showing until the end of November, and there are plenty of other great things to do in the area, so it would be well worth it to make a day, or even a weekend out of it.

For more information, including showtimes and tickets, visit artspaceshreveport.com/fantastic-mr-fox

Change the Subject – I Dare You!

Many of our daily conversations are dominated by some combination of these four topics: Our homes, our partners, our children, and our appearance. This is particularly true for women, as social pressures drive us to focus on these things above all else. However, habit can become stifling, and it’s probably not healthy to fulfill any stereotype too well.

So here’s the challenge: Go one day without talking about your home, your partner, your children, or your appearance. Do what you must to make it happen. If you find yourself veering into a conversation about these things, change the subject to one of your other interests. Plan ahead to keep yourself busy with or distracted by something new!

It’s just one day. It may not even be hard. But it might be interesting, it might be fun, and it might add a little self-appreciation to the things that already matter to us. And who knows? We might find we have even more of interest in common than our everyday lives suggest.

Juggling And Balancing On The Tightrope


We all know them. The moms who seem to be always doing. Whether they are balancing a chequebook in one hand whilst nursing a babe in the same arm, simultaneously talking on the telephone with the other hand to schedule a playdate for the other sibling, all the while going through the grocery list in their mind. Or the mom who is busy jumping from soccer practice to dance classes to Parent Advisory Committee meetings whilst preparing the agenda for tomorrow’s big meeting. We look at them and think, “Dear FSM, woman! How do you find the time for it all!?” I have a confession to make. I am one of those women. I’ll admit, I often find that I’m asking myself the exact same question.

I’m new here. I suppose that is pretty obvious. Let me give you a very brief snapshot into all that I do. First, I’m a mom of two wonderful boys. My oldest will be sixteen in September. My youngest will be twelve on April 16. I would describe my oldest as a nerd and I would describe my youngest as a geek/gamer. Our home consists of a 24 hour nerdfest.

My educational background is in Psychology. I had planned to eventually get my PhD, specializing in abnormal psychology of children and adolescence, but then life threw me a huge curve-ball which goes by the name of Lupus, causing me to have a hysterectomy at 29 and a full-blown left-sided stroke at 30. I had to build my career doing things that I could do from home.

Roughly three years ago, a job opportunity crossed my eyes. I saw an advert for internet radio personalities. The job was remote with no previous experience necessary. Having acted and danced on stage for many years and with a passion for entertaining, I knew I would be perfect for the job. Despite the fear that my application would never see another person’s eyes, I applied. Within five hours of sending my application, I received an interview request. The rest is, as they say, history. But what is this history?

Shortly after being hired as an on-air personality, I was promoted to programming director. Eventually, I would also hold the title of assistant general manager. Among my various radio shows, I began a radio show known as the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show. After she launched, I had the awesome opportunity to interview Wil Wheaton, Bad Astronomer Phil Plait PhD, Shane Nickerson (MTV executive producer), Jonathan Coulton, Runic Games and musician Mike Lombardo. I had a personal blog on Blogspot, however my radio show became so popular that I had to launch my Geeky Pleasures website and a separate personal blog. Eventually, I had to step away from my position at that radio station. However, my Geeky Pleasures website and personal blog continued on.

I had it in my mind that running a website that requires updating at least three times a day, Monday – Friday, plus a personal blog, plus raising two children on my own, was not enough to keep me busy. So I launched the Lupus Awareness Virtual Art Gallery. Because of my work to raise lupus awareness, I was asked to interview Patrizia Hernandez, the lead actress in Love Simple, and John Casey, producer of Love Simple. I was later asked if I would write for The Lupus Magazine and I accepted.

But still in my mind, I was not busy enough. I would later be asked to contribute to Star Wars vs Star Trek and NerdsInBabeland. Still not enough to do, I volunteered my time as the layout and design editor of The Vaccine Times. One would think that would be enough, right? Wrong. Late last year, I was asked to help build another internet radio station and I agreed. That radio station would become The Force 925, where all my old radio shows, including the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show and frequent co-host of a political talk-show, would find a new home.

Since launching at the beginning of his year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview: musician Jeff MacDougall; Paul and Storm; GeekDad and musician John Anealio; Len Peralta of GeekAWeek fame; Lauren Crace and Sylvester McCoy; and New York Times best selling author Steve Hockensmith. Scheduled to appear in the coming weeks are 101010 Productions and Richard Hatch of The Apollo Awards, plus Maurissa Tancharoen-Whedon. You’d think that would be enough, but here I am at GeekMom.

In my spare time, I do a lot of crafting and creating in more ways than I think I can currently list. I also found time to write two books whilst doing all of the above.

It is no wonder that many, including myself, ask me how do I manage it all, whilst raising two boys on my own and dealing with a disease that likes to attempt to royally kick my behind. I think the easy and lazy answer is to say: It is just like having children. The more that you have, they tend to keep each other busy and occupied. It is nothing for me to be updating one website while I have the dashboard of another open, editing and updating them simultaneously. Plus with Twitter, it is easy to find material as most of my content inspiration comes from there. However, a great deal of it comes down to planning, organizational skills and scheduling. The first four hours of my day are busy spent receiving press releases, deciding what I’ll post, making a list of updates which need to be made to other sites and taking a break whenever my body demands it. I also remember to take a lot of time to breathe. Many of us forget to do that.

If I did not have the luxury to work from home, none of this would be possible. Once my posts are scheduled on any given day, then I am free to fart around for the rest of it, surfing the internet for inspiration, chatting with my tweeps, interviewing new personalities for the station and training them, doing my radio shows, thinking about the articles I will write for projects that I am not personally responsible to maintain, nerding out with my children whilst they are busy playing WoW, watching Doctor Who, or asking me some question about astrophysics and what would happen if they jimmied open the microwave in such a fashion that it is fooled into thinking it is closed and turning it on. It also helps that the Geeky Pleasures website and the radio station are the only things that must be done daily. The Vaccine Times is a quarterly print publication, NiB and SWvsST is when I have time, The Lupus Magazine is once a month, health and life willing. Writing here is also casual for the time being.

In the end it is a careful juggling act whilst balancing and walking a tightrope. The smallest misstep and I drop my balls. Thankfully, they are picked up easily enough and the world will not end if I have to stop for a day or two or ten. However, being an extreme overachiever, it is difficult to stop.

If you think I’m busy, I know many other moms who do far more than I. Maybe we are all a wee bit insane in some way. Perhaps this comes with the territory when one is a geek, especially if one is creative.

So let me ask you, how do you mange to juggle family and career? What are some of your tips?

Toddler Morning Routines: There’s an App for that!


Having a two year old who is completely proficient at using the Apple iPad and iPhone has its advantages sometimes, especially when iPad apps are developed to aid in my day to day parenting.What parent wouldn’t want a little help reenforcing the everyday mundane tasks through play? I know I appreciate the help! When I heard about the iTouchiLearn Musical Morning Routines for Toddler and Preschool Kids by Staytooned, I was very curious as to whether or not it would help my very rambunctious two year old remember the tasks he was supposed to do complete each morning. So when I was offered a free promo code to download this app, I figured I’d give it a try.

This is how the app is described on the Apple App website:

★Featured on TV News Report: Using iPads to Teach Kids Life Skills★
3-year-old Julia refused to brush her teeth until she played iTouchiLearn Morning Routines, the FIRST and ONLY iPad app that teaches toddler, preschool and special needs kids morning routine life skills through music, animation and engaging interactive activities.
Morning routines come to life as players progress through each routine and receive virtual rewards for completing a task. Kids interact with the catchy “Ready for School” song sung to the tune of “Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush”.

iTouchiLearn Morning Routines includes 3 modes of early learning: Game, Music and Activity. Players first pick the character they would like to be in the game. By incorporating creative play, kids are treated to a whole new level of learning. Morning routines come to life as players progress through each routine and receive virtual rewards for completing a task.

iTouchiLearn Morning Routines helps build early learning literacy, and life skills.
★Colorful animation, interaction and virtual rewards to motivate children and focus their attention.
★Games use multiple learning modes to teach concepts.
★Patterned activity sequences provide structural framework for children with learning disabilities and special needs.
★Verbal directions and modeling aid students with speech difficulties.
★Perfect for toddler, preschool or special needs kids life skills training.


Our Experience

Within a couple minutes of allowing him to play on my iPad, my son found the new backpack icon and opened up the app. Together we (meaning me watching over his shoulder) worked through the morning routine sequences. He enjoyed the “Ready for School” song and the characters doing the routines on the screen. In addition to the main routine, he really enjoyed the puzzles that are offered as extras. He was easily able to figure out the key strokes needed for each part of the game. It kept his attention for a good 15-20 minutes, which is a lot for a 2 year old!

I watched him play the app, on and off, for about a week, then I noticed that he would ask to brush his teeth on his own, he suddenly knew how to put his shoes on(even if he still needed help) and wanted to help get breakfast each morning. All in all, I’d call that a success for just over a weeks worth of practice with no additional new input other than this app.


  • It seems to work!  (Well at least with my 2.5 year old.)
  • Perfect ratio of activity to teaching for my son.
  • Nice animation, basic enough to focus the attention to the morning routine tasks, however interesting enough to keep the attention to the app.
  • The app is really designed to be simple enough for toddlers to play on their own.
  • The concept is simple, and the song is repetitive, so it doesn’t take long before your child is singing along.
  • Its nice that the routine sequences are broken up with puzzles and games to keep the attention of the child while playing.
  • The “choose your musical track” was a nice way to be able to tailor the pre-set morning routine to something a little closer to our families normal routine.


  • As a parent, the song is very repetitive and gets stuck in your head, it would have been nice to change it up a little bit for each part of the routine.
  • The puzzle piece game was tough because the pieces had to be perfectly aligned in order for the program to recognize that it was the right piece.
  • The memory game was the only significant problem in this whole app.  It would allow more then two cards facing up at a time, and would not flip cards back if it was an incorrect match.  If there were more then two cards showing, then the program didn’t recognize when there were matched pictures that showed up. My son got very frustrated trying to get this to work and eventually gave up.
  • The song is geared for getting kids ready for school.  While morning routine is very important for school age kids, it would be nice to have other options for the kids that don’t yet attend school or day care since this is billed as a toddler app in addition to a young school age children’s app.

In conclusion, I think this is a pretty good quality toddler education app. I think it is a good teaching aid when you, as a parent are having little luck communicating to your child, or if you were a therapist trying to work with a child that does not communicate well.

I would like to thank StayTooned for the preview copy of this app.

iTouchiLearn Musical Morning Routines for Toddler and Preschool Kids is currently $1.99 on iTunes.

Fibonacci: It’s Not Pasta

Count the petals! (Photo by Alexandra Siy)

Did you count thirteen petals on the Black-Eyed-Susan? It’s fun for kids to count petals on blooming flowers “springing” out of the ground. It’s also a lesson in higher math.

Last week I attended the NSTA Conference in San Francisco where I met Sarah C. Campbell, author of the picture book Growing Patterns. Sarah presented her book to an audience of teachers, librarians, and authors in an engaging  talk–which she began by saying Fibonacci is not a brand of of pasta, but the name of a 13th century Italian mathematician. She pointed out that the sequence of numbers named for Fibonacci were known to scholars in India long before his time.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144…

The pattern is easy to spot, even for elementary school children. Just add the two preceding numbers in the sequence to get the next number. Growing Patterns shows how the Fibonacci sequence is revealed in nature. Colorful photographs of flowers, pineapples, and pinecones help readers discover the pattern.

Sarah has also developed the  Fibonacci Folding Book  Project, a hands-on multidisciplinary activity  that combines math, science, language arts, and art. Sarah’s website features a video tutorial and detailed instructions for downloading and printing instructions. This a fun and rewarding springtime project for students of all ages.

Great Things From Clavis Books

Image: Clavis Books

Though I no longer have babies or toddlers in my house, I still appreciate a good product aimed at itty bitty folk. I really enjoy the simplicity and innocence of early childhood books and toys. So when Clavis Books, a Dutch publisher, sent me some unexpected books to review, I was quite pleased. It was also interesting to see what kinds of things publishers are working on over in Europe.

For the very youngest among us are Books for Babies: Crinkle Animals by Guido van Genechten. This series of four books show animals in four different areas: Farm, Water, Jungle, and Garden (I received Jungle and Garden). The books are decorated with soft pastel colors, and the pages are made of both cushioned and crinkly material. The crinkly noises keep babies’ interest, and the books are completely washable. Garden has these animals: snail, mouse, caterpillar, ladybug, bumble bee, and puppy. Jungle has: elephant, tiger, giraffe, alligator, zebra, lion, and monkey. There are no words on the pages, only simple animal drawings and fun crinkle sounds.

Image: Clavis Books

Books for Babies: Crinkle Animals are for wee ones from birth to age 3. They retail for $9.95 each and are available online.

Clavis Books also sent me a picture book for slightly older kids called Lucky’s Little Feather by Peggy van Gurp, who is both the author and the illustrator. This story was originally written in Dutch, but has been translated into English for our reading pleasure. The original title was Geluksveertje.

Lucky’s Little Feather is a very optimistic story about a mouse named Lucky who has a lucky feather. He feels it keeps him safe. Lucky’s friend Lucy doesn’t believe the feather is lucky until the evidence stacks up. And it is also a love story. Lucky continues to escape or thwart danger, all with the help of his little feather.

Image: Clavis Books

The story is pretty simple, and obviously doesn’t teach critical thinking, but the illustrations add quite a lot to the appeal. The art seems to be cut out paper pieces with patterns and textures. The pages in the book are very thick, and will be more difficult for little hands to accidentally tear.

Lucky’s Little Feather is good for ages 4 and up. It retails for $15.95 and is available online. Perhaps you can accompany it with discussions on whether your children think the feather is lucky.

Note: I received these books for review purposes.

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2011 Golden Kite Awards Announced


The Golden Kite Awards are given each year to the most outstanding children’s books published during the previous year, and written or illustrated by members of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The following blurbs are from the SCBWI Press Release.

Jennifer Holm’s novel Turtle in Paradise receives this year’s Golden Kite Award for Fiction. Based on stories Holm’s mother used to tell about her childhood, this hard-scrabble, Depression-era coming-of-age tale follows 11-year-old Turtle who is sent to live with relatives in Key West, Florida from New Jersey. Hilarious and heart-warming, Turtle in Paradise draws in the middle-grade reader with vibrant imagery and a fast-paced plot with an adventurous twist.


The award for Non-Fiction goes to The Good, the Bad and the Barbie by acclaimed nonfiction author Tanya Lee Stone. In passionate anecdotes and memories from a range of girls and women (including a forward by Meg Cabot) this compelling book takes an insightful and incisive look at how Barbie became the icon that she is–and at the impact the doll has had on our culture (and vice versa.)


Rooted in the experience of an immigrant family, siblings of all nationalities will see themselves in Rukhsana Khan’s Big Red Lollipop, this year’s winner for Picture Book Text. Illustrated by Sophie Blackall, Khan’s honest story reminds us of how assimilation is transformed from generation to generation, and offers a heartfelt, moving, commentary on sisterly relationships.



The Golden Kite Award for Picture Book Illustration goes to A Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes in which Salley Mavor’s gorgeous fabric relief techniques offer precise and intricate illustrations of beloved nursery rhymes. Even old poems are fresh and new in this beautiful reinterpretation that will delight many generations.


The 2011 Sid Fleischman Award for Humor goes to Alan Silberberg’s second novel Milo: Sticky Notes and Brain Freeze. Hilarious and poignant, the story of 13-year-old Milo’s struggle to come to terms with the loss that hit the reset button on his life comes to life through text and cartoons.