Holiday Philately

Christmas is a time when we all seem to embrace, or run screaming from, one of the oldest geekdoms in existence: philately. No matter what your holiday inclination, it is hard to escape this season without a visit to the post office to pick up, purchase, or peruse the postage. This week, while mailing coffee from Maine to Ohio, my husband got an education in shipping that tickles my love of the absurd.

The woman in line in front of him was shipping Maple Syrup to family. Now to my mind, this is a liquid, and so I’d have headed straight to UPS or FedEx, but no, oh no. There is a Maple Syrup exception to the liquid exemptions. There is even a special form and a special sticker for the box you are mailing. The postmaster gave everyone waiting in line a quick history lesson this week, and all learned that when the post office first banned liquid goods, a mighty fuss was raised by the New England states, and thus the Maple Syrup exemption was born. I can find no trace of this on usps.com; Google searches come to naught. But I know this Christmas tale is true; it came direct from the Postmaster. An online search on the Maple Syrup forums will tell me that a large flat rate box will hold three 1/2 gallons or two 1/2 gallons and one quart, and then that a medium flat rate box will hold two 1/2 gallons or one 1/2 gallon and one quart or pint, but nothing about this secret club that is the shippers of Maple Syrup.

Continue reading Holiday Philately

Trans-Siberian Orchestra Winter Tour Review and Interview With Tour Manager Elliot Saltzman

Trigger Warning: Some of the videos below contain strobe effects.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra is currently touring their brand new show, The Ghosts of Christmas Eve, featuring the best of the past and the latest of the present. I’ve seen a couple of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s shows in the past and this year, I was thrilled to share my love of TSO’s amazing theatrics with my husband and son for the first time. Continue reading Trans-Siberian Orchestra Winter Tour Review and Interview With Tour Manager Elliot Saltzman

The Twelve Chores of Christmas Eve

On the Twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… With three children under the age of six, and both my husband and I working full time, I fear a trend where Christmas Eve becomes our last minute chore day. If I can just have the laundry put away, I’ll be okay on Christmas day…. If I can just get those cookies made, the kids will be okay on Christmas day… Well this year I’m rebelling. Instead of focusing on what is still left to do before Christmas, I’m making that to-do list and tossing it out. All that need happen between now and Friday is a trip to the grocery store, and the kids presents getting wrapped. Clean underwear is a bonus this week, so here are twelve things I will not be doing this Christmas week. More importantly, here are twelve things I had planned on having done but will not be stressing about not doing this week.

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Image: Sarah Pinault. Last Year’s Christmas cookies, and cake, and Reindeer Food.

On the Twelfth day of Christmas… I will not be making a dozen Christmas cookies. Be they chocolate chip, or sugar cookie cut outs, this year Santa’s Christmas cookies can come from a store and I am going to save myself the baking time.

On the Eleventh day of Christmas… I will not be hanging the rest of the Christmas cards that came this week. I’ve run out of miniature clips, I’ve run out of tape. They can sit on the bookshelf until after Christmas.

On the Tenth day of Christmas… I will not be painting ten fingernails with the delightful seasonal Jamberry wraps I have left from last year when I ran out of time to do my nails.

On the Ninth day of Christmas… I will not be worried about the nine times I forgot to move the elf on the blasted shelf this month, after we eventually found him in mid-December that is!

On the Eighth day of Christmas… I will not be finishing the last two years of Christmas scrapbooking (four pages a year, so I have eight still to do) and I will not feel guilty every time I walk past my craft desk and see cards from 2013 sitting there.

On the Seventh day of Christmas… I will not be fretting over a seven course meal. I have my Paxo stuffing and Bisto on hand, I have a beef roast in the fridge. Anything else that we eat is a blessing. After spending the last six years trying to find the perfect breakfast for Christmas morning and balance for Christmas lunch, the kids can eat cookies and milk for breakfast and be all the merrier.

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Image Sarah Pinault: Holiday movies back in the box.

On the Sixth day of Christmas… I will not be watching those last six Christmas movies that I just “have” to watch each year. So Scrooged, It’s a Wonderful Life, Santa Claus The Movie, The Bishop’s Wife, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and Holiday Inn, I’ll see you next year, or maybe in January!

On the Fifth day of Christmas… I will not be putting away those five baskets of laundry. Five people in our house and their clothes are all clean, this is a miracle in itself, they can get put away next week (or not).

On the Fourth day of Christmas… I will not be doing those last four loads of dirty laundry. Okay I lied, there’s always more dirty laundry in a house with three kids in it!

On the Third day of Christmas… I will not be worried about three sets of matching pajamas. Yes I made my new baby a jumper that perfectly matches the reversible Christmas pants I made her brothers. And yes her oldest brother wants to wear his store bought ones instead. So I will not worry about whether they are wearing them in Christmas Eve, and I will not worry about the prefect picture of three perfect pajamed children.

Image: Sarah Pinault. Three stockings hung with care, no more, no less.

On the Second day of Christmas… I will not stay up late making two more Christmas stockings, for myself and my husband. The kids have them, that’s all that matters. I’ll make ours in February!

On the First day of Christmas… I will not go and see the new Star Wars movie. It was vitally important to see this opening weekend, but I have three kids, one of which is a newborn. It was vitally important to see this before Christmas, but did I mention the three kids. I’ll see the movie eventually, and it will be just as epic after Christmas as I’m told it was before.

Instead I will be doing wonderful things with my family and not worrying about the things left undone. Not getting to my to-do list is nothing new, but not worrying about not getting to it is my Christmas present to me and my family.

What are you going to not worry about on Christmas Eve?

Has Your Santa Been to School?

It’s that time of the year. Time for sugar cookies, Christmas carols, and of course, a visit to see Santa. Some folks are determined to get a good picture of the red cloaked man with their children every year. Others (raising my hand) prefer to catch him only in low-stress situations, like at a friend’s party. It’s not uncommon for Santa visits to go terribly wrong. I dare you to Google “Santa fails”.

For every perfectly caught moment, there are dozens of snapshots that were declared “good enough” so everyone could move along. Sometimes it’s the child’s personality. I had a toddler who was terrified of Chuck E. Cheese. There was no way he’d even consider sitting on a bearded man’s lap. But sometimes it might be that Santa lacks the necessary people skills. Maybe it sounded like good money for a temporary gig, but it turned out to be much more complicated.

Photo: Julia DuBois
Photo: Julia DuBois

On the other hand, a well-trained jolly man has probably been to Santa school. Continue reading Has Your Santa Been to School?

‘A Christmas Together’ With The Muppets and John Denver: My Annual GeekOut

Every year on my personal blog, I post the lyrics to a song from my favorite childhood Christmas album as my seasonal well-wishes to anyone reading. I’m a Christmas Geek, as I mentioned here a few weeks ago, so I want to make sure my well-wishes express my feelings without alienating anyone who doesn’t share those feelings, and this song manages that perfectly. It’s heartfelt and gentle, it’s inclusive and welcoming of all faiths without shying away from personal spirituality, it’s about love and peace and togetherness. And also, it’s sung by Kermit the Frog.

Continue reading ‘A Christmas Together’ With The Muppets and John Denver: My Annual GeekOut

GeekMom Recommends: Christmas Picture Books

Christmas is a time for traditions, with the same food, films, music, and memories brought out year after year. Yet it’s always great to add a little something new to the mix as well. Here are some of my favorite Christmas-themed picture books that I hope you might enjoy adding to your own library. Continue reading GeekMom Recommends: Christmas Picture Books

Make Your Own Christmas Scavenger Hunt

At our house, one of the Christmas traditions is the clue hunt. This started when our oldest was much younger, and I had bought her a 3′ tall Rapunzel doll. I had two problems. One, I didn’t want to wrap it. It’s huge! Two, I didn’t want a five-year-old to see this enormous doll and ignore the rest of Christmas.

To solve both of these, I put it on the third floor of our house and wrapped a note around a candy cane and hung it on the tree. After everything else was done, someone casually asked her, “What’s on that candy cane?” A series of (really terrible) rhymes led her from place to place around the house until finally they took her to the third floor, where Rapunzel was waiting for her.

It worked so well, I kept doing it! Read on and use the attached files to create your own.  Continue reading Make Your Own Christmas Scavenger Hunt

4 Amazingly Memorable Gifts That Won’t Break the Bank

We are getting down to the wire here, folks. Have you finished your shopping?

It can be so difficult to find the perfect gift. Then, sometimes, when you do, it’s way out of your price range.

Today, I’m sharing 4 amazingly memorable gifts that won’t break the bank. Continue reading 4 Amazingly Memorable Gifts That Won’t Break the Bank

Best Audiobooks for Family Road Trips: Holiday Edition

It’s that time of year when families gather for togetherness and merriment, and it reminds me of childhood hours spent in the car heading to this relative and that relative. Carols, snow, big family meals, presents, baking. So much good stuff.

This made me think about books. That’s what happens when you’re a librarian, everything makes you think of books. Our original list of audiobooks for family road trips has some truly great picks, but what if you’re feeling a little extra festive? This is a list of great audiobooks that are about the holidays, but also some that are about families, and the love (and humor) that binds us. It’s a great list for that drive to grandma’s house, but maybe you want to stick one of these on when you’re wrapping presents and need a break from Rudolph and Burl Ives, too.

The 101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith, read by Martin Jarvis
We all know the story of those adorable puppies and the dastardly plot to turn them into a coat by ultimate villainess Cruella de Ville. But if you haven’t read the original 1956 novel it’s really a treat, and this narration is wonderful. The plot to rescue the puppies unfolds on the streets of London with a plan to get all the little ones back home just in time for Christmas.

The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” by Sherlock Holmes, read by Alan Cumming
Every year, Audible gives away a free short story for the holidays. A few years ago they offered this Alan Cumming version of the Sherlock Holmes story of a holiday goose and a missing gem. It is so superb, and short (about 45 minutes), and available for $1.95. Continue reading Best Audiobooks for Family Road Trips: Holiday Edition

Twas the Night Before Christmas, ICE Style!

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through Gaylord
Not a creature was stirring because they were all frozen solid.
The stockings were carved on the mantle piece there.
Ready for people to walk by in parkas to give them a stare. Continue reading Twas the Night Before Christmas, ICE Style!

Anova Precision Cooker – Worth the Investment

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

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

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

DIY Gifts of Tea

Image by Rebecca Angel

After water, tea is the most popular drink in the world. Here in America, the number of tea enthusiasts is growing every year. Chances are there is someone on your gift list this holiday season that geeks out about tea. So here are some ideas to make them squeal like a tea kettle in delight.

A Whole Buncha Bags: This is a good one if you are planning on giving out a tea present to several people. Buy lots of different kinds of tea that come individually wrapped. Then give each tea person on your list an assortment. The fun of this present is presentation: inside a pretty teapot, clothes-pinned on a wreath, tucked in a knitted cozy, or nestled in an elegant box. You can expand by including a tea mug, jar of honey, spoon, and a book like the classic: The Book of Tea.

Weekly Tea Gram: Who doesn’t love getting real mail? And so sweet if you have someone who lives far away. Each week, mail this person a different kind of tea. Tea bags are so light and thin, you won’t need more than the normal postage stamp. Make it a seasonal gift lasting three months, buy a 12 pack of pretty greeting cards, and put it on your calendar so you don’t forget to do the mailing!

Personal Tea Blend: For teaists on your list, nothing but loose-leaf will do. Go to your local tea shop, or if you are not lucky enough to have a teashop, buy some online. Your grocery store should have the rest of the recipe items in the spices section. Put some thought into your tea person and what they might like. Put the blend in a Mason jar decorated with ribbon and label with their name as the blend, along with a teaspoon and tea brewing bags. Here are some examples. They make about 20 cups of tea.

Thea’s On Holiday:
2 ounces black tea
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 Tablespoons dried orange peel

Ayla’s Healthy Zen:
1.5 oz green tea
1/4 cup dried berries
.5 oz raspberry leaf
.5 oz nettle

Emma’s Treat
2 oz Rooibos tea
2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 Tablespoons cacao nibs
2 Tablespoons coconut flakes (unsweetened)
After mixing these together, be sure to let it air dry before packaging.

Peter’s Night Cap
2 oz chamomile flowers
2 Tablespoons cinnamon pieces
1 Tablespoon ginger
.5 oz anise hyssop (or dried licorice pieces—not candy)

Tea-infused Salts. These go for about $20/lb in the store, but are really easy and inexpensive to make yourself! The recipe is 1/2 the amount of flavoring to the salt. Again, packaging makes all the difference in a gift. Small glass bottles are the best for this one so you can see the pretty colors. The salts can be used as a finishing touch for soups, stews, grilling, or just some scrambled eggs. Any salt will do, but coarse salt looks nicest. Make all three for a colorful presentation:

Matcha Green Tea for a green color and light flavor
Lapsang Souchong for a dark color and smokey flavor (Russian Caravan works great too)
Rooibos Chai for a red color and spicy flavor.

Be sure to make extra of everything so you can enjoy the tea yourself!

Top 10 Reasons to Visit SeaWorld During the Holidays

SeaWorld shines the brightest at Christmas time, and this year, I’m counting down the top 10 reasons why you should stop by for a visit on your holiday vacation.

10. “Elmo’s Christmas Wish” – This is a very popular show and fills up fast. I’d say this is mostly for the younger crowd, but if you have some time to kill, it’s an upbeat and air conditioned presentation that is full of fun.

Tasha and Yar were a blast to learn with. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
Tasha and Yar were a blast to learn with. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

9. Dolphin training experience – SeaWorld replaced the feeding experience with a new interactive training experience. For $15 a person, you’re given a time and paired up with a trainer and two dolphins. This is a more intimate experience than hoping a dolphin will swim your way when you dangle a smelly fish over the water. Continue reading Top 10 Reasons to Visit SeaWorld During the Holidays

The Advent of the Legless Lego

Every year we count down to Christmas with Advent boxes full of chocolate. Every year I gaze at the paper calendars of my childhood with a glimmer in my eye, knowing that the boys will not appreciate them as I do. I look with wonder at the Playmobil and Lego calendars, not wanting to spend the money, or the crazy on locating one. I wonder what I could stuff the boxes with, knowing that only a sweet treat in the morning will placate my darling angel children.

This year the Lego calendars are everywhere, there’s even two different versions of them. Yet the skinflint in me, even at Christmas, still does not want to spend $29-$49 a pop on Advent calendars.

IMG_9367So I find myself in the week of Advent, desperately stuffing the boxes of years before, but not with the coveted chocolate treat. With Lego minifigs purchased on eBay. Continue reading The Advent of the Legless Lego

In Defense of Santa Claus

I’m a Christmas geek. I won’t listen to the music or put up decorations until the first day of Advent or the first of December (whichever comes first), but it haunts my subconscious all year long, popping up in dreams and doodles in the middle of May or the heat of August.

To me, it is more than a holiday. It’s even more than a holy day. It is mythic and universal and deeper than either the shopping malls or my Catholic religion can make it. I want to share it with everyone, whatever their own beliefs or traditions or financial status: Christmas is about hope! It’s about humanity gathering together to keep each other warm as they cheer on the arrival of the sun! It’s about light coming to burn away darkness, both literally and figuratively! It speaks to the deepest longings of our souls.

I say you can celebrate or not celebrate this time of year however much or little you want to, in whatever way you like, as long as you’re happy and you’re not purposely making anyone else unhappy (there are of course people who won’t be happy no matter what you do: they don’t count). And yet I still get up in arms about people who do it wrong.

Continue reading In Defense of Santa Claus

Holiday Sanity Guide

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With shopping and baking and lots of work making with kids screaming near! It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Except when it’s not. When everyone is rushing trying to do ten million different things in order to savor the season, it’s easy to feel like an over-baked cookie: burnt out and totally wasted. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. This more or less defines my holiday season.

Every year, we over book, over work, and over everything. So this year, I’m going to work harder on keeping myself sane. In the interest of that, I’ve come up with a Holiday Sanity Guide.

Continue reading Holiday Sanity Guide

Four Creative Ways To Give Lego Gifts

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

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

Lego Advent calendar

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

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

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

Geeky Ornaments to Knit and Crochet

The air cools; fall begins, and out come the sweaters! I love knitting and crocheting, but as a mother of three small children I don’t have the time for large projects like sweaters.

This year I thought I’d spend my autumn months knitting and crocheting some geeky holiday ornaments! Here is a list of both knitted and crocheted ornaments you can make. Keep them for yourself or gift a bit of geek to any nerd on your list! Some of these are actual ornaments and some are amigurumi that you can add a simple yarn loop or a hook to for hanging. Continue reading Geeky Ornaments to Knit and Crochet

Holiday Crafts for Cheapskates: Gift Card Glitter Globes

sno-globes
Kids can make creative use of their after-Christmas downtime to upcycle used gift cards. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

This December, I’ve been sharing a few inexpensive and easy crafts kids can make to check off the always high number of teachers and friends on their gift-giving lists. To wrap up my series, here’s a way to upcycle some gifts and help find a way to channel that post-Christmas energy in a creative way, with Gift Card Glitter-Globes.

materials
Gift cards and jars are the main ingredients for these simple snow globes.

Materials:
• Used gift cards (make sure they’ve been spent)
• Small food jars  (screw-on lids work best)
• Glitter
• Glue gun

Gift cards can be refilled, recycled, and re-gifted. However, when the holidays roll around, they seem to come in waves. Plus, some of the cards’ designs are so cool, my daughters try to use them for everything from bookmarks to coasters.

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Gift cards can be cut to fit the container or to make more interesting designs.

We came up with this next option as a fun new way to display them.

Some cards come in unusual shapes, while some can be cut to create little cityscapes and holiday scenes. If working with younger kids, make sure to cut the cards yourself, if needed.

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Use a jar with a good seal or secure well with a glue gun to prevent leaking.

Use a glue gun to fill the lid and mix in some glitter to make it sparkle. Place the cards or cut-out card pieces upright in the glue while it is still warm (it dries fast). Then, let it dry. You may need to hold it in place for a bit.

Fill the jar to nearly the rim. Then, add some glitter. Carefully turn the lid over and close the jar tightly. If a little water overflows, that’s fine. It’s best not to have any air bubbles in the water. Seal off the edge of the lid with a glue gun, to prevent leaks.

These are also good little gifts for those unexpected “after Christmas” friends or neighbors we’ve forgotten who have shown up with a plate of goodies or “just a little something.” Make a few and keep them on hand throughout the season.

Happy Holidays from the GeekMoms!!!

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Can you guess what GeekMom Maryann’s friends want for Christmas? Photo: Maryann Goldman, used with permission.

All of us from GeekMom want to wish you, your family, and your friends a Happy Holiday season! We’ve enjoyed geeking out with you in 2014 and can’t wait for continued geekery in 2015!

Happy Chinese and a Movie

Photo illustration modified from Morguefile.com stock image.

There was no Christmas tree in our house. There were no stockings, and Santa never came down the chimney. This is how I grew up. Seven percent of Americans do not celebrate Christmas. That includes members of many religions (including some Christians) and other Americans for whom, for whatever reason, it’s just not a holiday. I grew up in a Bahai household (just like Rainn Wilson), and we didn’t observe Christmas. Or any other winter holiday, actually. Bah humbug.

Chinese and a movie is a cliché among Jews, but it’s actually pretty standard for  anyone who doesn’t celebrate. Everything closes on Christmas, except a few Chinese restaurants and movie theaters, so if you want to go out and do something on your day off, that’s about all there is to do. Sometimes it was TV dinners and a rental.  And like the rest of you, I pretend the Star Wars Holiday Special never existed.

Continue reading Happy Chinese and a Movie

The Doctor Who Christmas Quiz

Doctor Who (s8) Christmas Special
Image: bbc.co.uk

Whether it’s David Tennant and a hot air balloon, or Matt Smith and some creepy snowmen, one thing’s for certain: All bets are off with the Doctor Who Christmas special. A staple of British viewing over the holiday season, the Doctor Who Christmas special has a long history of great story telling. No matter the events of the season, if you like the companion or not, even if you like the Doctor or not, the Christmas special always delivers.

So, while you are waiting to see Peter Capaldi and Father Christmas dance their holiday dance, why not take the Doctor’s Christmas quiz over at British Sci Fi Magazine SFX and see how well-versed you are in the festive side of our favorite Galifreyan.

I scored 30%. Now I shall go drown my sorrows and shame in mince pies.

Give the Gift of YES!

Coupon Book Cover

With my son’s room overflowing with toys and gadgets he’s accumulated over his short lifetime, we decided this year would be a “no toys” Christmas. Instead of toys, we wanted our friends and family to give him theme park tickets, cash, gift cards to his favorite restaurants, or subscriptions to comic books he enjoys. However, this put us in a bind for figuring out what to put under the tree for him.

One day while brainstorming how we could give him gifts without contributing to the mess that is his room, I remembered the coupon books I gave my parents as a kid. We made them in school and they were for things like vacuuming the living room, putting up the dishes, doing the laundry, and other household chores. My mom would then “redeem” her coupons for us to take over chores for the day.

Then I had a brilliant upon brilliant idea: What could be a better gift for a child than saying “yes” to something they want to do?

After completing my happy dance and patting myself on the back for my genius idea, I sat down to figure out what kinds of things my son would love to hear me say “yes” to.

A few ideas I came up with were:

  • 1 additional hour on Minecraft.
  • Get out of cleaning your room.
  • Pizza and a movie night.
  • Bedtime extension (valid for 1 hour on a weekend or 30 minutes on school night).
  • New game on the iPad (value not to exceed $______).
  • One additional hour on a game of your choice.
  • Family game night (you pick the game).
  • One family video game competition.
  • A trip to the comic book store for a book of your choice.
  • An extra dessert with dinner.
  • Dessert first at dinner.
  • Grocery store snack and drink of your choice.
  • Lunch with Mommy/Daddy at school.
  • Trip to restaurant of your choice.

Once I had my list, I remembered that my son has a very scheming mind (I wonder where he got that from…<looks away>) and realized that a set of rules would also be a good idea.

I looked back over my list and came up with a disclaimer for any of them that I thought he might try to be evil with. For instance, “pizza and movie night” has a disclaimer that it’s only valid on weekends (no staying up late on a school night in this house). I also threw in a stipulation that if a coupon required us to spend money, we have the right to refuse it on grounds of financial stability (but we also have to give him a new date that will fit our budget better). Another stipulation I threw in there was that he can’t use the coupon book when grounded. This prevents him from getting out of his punishment with a coupon.

While this list will make my son very happy, my fellow GeekMoms came up with a few additions that suit their own families.

Lisa gave a couple of suggestions based on what her girls enjoy:

  • New book…for no reason at all.
  • One day of getting to choose the station/CD we play in the car or at home.

Sarah’s suggestions suited her family and what they like:

  • Hot cocoa and extra stories in mom’s bed at bedtime. Toby loves when we do that—so much so that he asks to go to bed half an hour early so we can get more stories in.
  • A trip to the mall without siblings.
  • Pancakes without siblings (we usually do IHOP).
  • 10 extra minutes of video games.
  • An impromptu trip to the library.

Kay has some teenagers in her household and came up with a few things they would find worthy of excitement:

  • Choosing the audio book on a long car ride.
  • Getting the choice of being first for anything in a sibling situation.
  • Choosing desserts.
  • Extra time in the shower or bathroom, especially for a teen.
  • Extra time to sleep in, for a teen.
  • Chore trading or chore randomizing.
  • Picking the bedtime story.
  • DQ. DQ. DQ. (It’s an obsession at our house.)

Thanks to Rebecca Moore, we have some template coupons for you to use for your own kids’ coupon book. Just click on the image you want to use, save it to your computer, and add some text to it by hand or with your preferred program. Remember to come up with a set of rules that suit your family so that this is fun and not frustrating. I laminated my coupons and used a couple of binder rings to hold it together and keep them neat.

But wait! There’s more. Once they give you a coupon, keep it. The next time your child does something worthy of a treat, give them a coupon back to reuse. See? It goes from a Christmas gift to a reward system instantly. Cool huh?

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coupon_template_minecraft coupon_template_vgame

Gaming This Christmas With Holiday Fluxx

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Image: Sarah Pinault

No Christmas is complete without gathering the family round the table for a rousing game of (insert favorite game here). In our family, no Thursday is complete without it, but that’s just us. We’re a big fan of Looney Labs for a quick and fun card game, and this holiday season they have done it again with a seasonal twist on their most popular game: Holiday Fluxx.

HolidayFluxx.Box-3d_sm
Image: Looney Labs

The basic rules and tenets of the game remain the same. Each player starts with three cards, and the rules are draw a single card and play a single card, until a new rule card changes the rules. The goal is an ever changing object that you determine by playing certain cards. On your turn you can create a new goal, lay down a “Keeper,” or play an action card and do something immediately. It’s a game of both short- and long-range goals, all of which can be thrown out at a moment’s notice. All of the cards are rather more holly jolly than usual.

Unlike the most recent iterations of Fluxx, this version does not have any creepers, those dastardly little cards sent to thwart your victory. I am, however, tempted to make up a blank creeper card and create a few myself; Scrooge, the Grinch, and Bill Murray spring to mind. There was a special card issued in their holiday package this year: Mrs. Claus, a keeper that has the same properties as the Santa card. Also, this version includes a few ever popular surprise cards to throw an extra turkey bone in the works.

There are twenty-one new keepers, four surprise cards, thirty-two goals, and twenty-four new rules—a new rule for every day of Advent. The holiday game incorporates elements of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, though it is heavy on Christmas. Holiday-specific rules are the “Xmas Bonus” and “Regifting” cards. Some of the best themed cards come on the action cards however. In “gift Give-Away” every player must give away a keeper that they have before them. If you don’t have any, you are to be the first to receive a gift. In “Clear the Table” you must remove any keepers, held by any player, that are food related, such as Side Dishes or The Roast. In “Today’s Special” you get to draw three cards and play a different amount of them depending on what day it is. If it is your birthday you can play all three; if it is a holiday or a special day in your family, you can play two. For a normal day you can play one card.

HolidayFluxx_3D-Contents_sm
Image: Looney Lab

The production value is of the high quality we have come to expect from Looney Labs, but it is the illustrations by Ali Douglass that absolutely steal the show. In an old time style, Douglass has created some wonderful images that add greatly to the enjoyment of game play. The old fashioned ornaments and twinkle lights are my favorite. Douglass’ Etsy store is on hiatus for the holidays but I thoroughly recommend checking it out in the new year. Her Sound of Music illustration is wonderful but the cityscapes are stunning: classic and eclectic in the best ways. It is rare that a game introduces me to a new artist, but this was a wonderful treat from Looney Labs.

All in all this game is a great stocking stuffer, great office gift, or just generally a great addition to both gaming closet and holiday repertoire.

GeekMom was provided with a copy of Holiday Fluxx for review purposes.

 

 

Pirate vs. Ninja Christmas

Slide1
Image By Rebecca Angel

In my house, there is a year-long… shall we say, “disagreement” between my son and I. He is a ninja fan, and I am most certainly pro-pirate. Both of us share a love of Christmas, so naturally our inclinations come into our decorating and festivities. Or maybe not “naturally”–but mashing two unrelated things together does make us giggle.

Now obviously pirates would be more fun at Christmas time than ninjas. Carousing! Singing! Hot Buttered Rum!

Pirate Christmas – by Captain Dan & the Scurvy Crew

But Santa is most certainly a ninja as “Ask A Ninja” explains. Probably one of the best lines about Santa’s suit I have ever heard: “The red comes from the blood of children who have woken up in the middle of the night…”

What about decorations and gifts? This pirate stocking really puts me in the spirit:
il_570xN.697188577_shbl

But then I came upon these Ninjabreadmen cookie cutters.
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What about entertainment? I found a Facebook page for a ninja Christmas show, but no real details on it. Yet there is a published children’s musical called “A Pirate Christmas“. Obviously, pirates win on that one.

What do you think? Pirate Christmas? Ninja Christmas? Or, why do people try to ruin a perfectly peaceful holiday with karate and rum?

DIY Mickey Mouse Wreath

Mickey Mouse Wreath © Sophie Brown
Mickey Mouse Wreath © Sophie Brown

On my recent family vacation to Walt Disney World, the park was beginning to get ready for the holiday season and decorations were everywhere you looked. I spotted some amazing wreaths, so once I got home I wanted to try to make one of my own. My wreath cost me under £5/$8 to create and looks beautiful hanging on my front door.

You will need:

  • Three flat-backed Styrofoam rings, one larger than the others. Mine measured 8″ across for the large and 4.5″ for each of the smaller ones.
  • Dark green paint (optional)
  • Green felt (I used about four 8″x11″ sheets)
  • Handful of red buttons

You will also need a hot glue gun or other strong adhesive.

Supplies © Sophie Brown
Supplies © Sophie Brown

Step one:
Position the three rings into a classic Mickey Mouse shape. I used a cutting board with guidelines to help place both small rings at the same height. Then use a hot glue gun to stick them in place. Make sure you do not allow the glue to dry with the wreath lying flat or it will end up glued to the surface (I know this from experience). The glue dries quickly, so I found it easiest to simply hold the wreath for a couple of minutes until it was no longer tacky.

Once the glue has fully dried, you can paint the whole thing green. It will eventually be entirely covered in the felt but I chose to paint mine just in case any small gaps showed through.

Cut out a LOT of felt leaves © Sophie Brown
Cut out a LOT of felt leaves © Sophie Brown

Step two:
Cut out the felt leaves. Each of mine measured approximately 1″x1.5″ and you will need several hundred. I used around four letter paper sized sheets of felt and the cutting out probably took about two hours in short sessions. I sat and caught up on Serial while I cut mine out. Don’t worry about making them all identical—have you ever seen a real holly bush with perfectly uniform leaves? However many you cut out though, you’ll probably need more. A lot more.

Cover the wreath in leaves © Sophie Brown
Cover the wreath in leaves © Sophie Brown

Step three:
Start gluing the leaves onto the wreath shape. I used a hot glue gun but any kind of strong adhesive should work just fine. Try to make sure to overlap the leaves so you don’t leave any gaps. To make the wreath look thicker, layer leaves on top of one another. I tried to avoid being TOO regular with placement but also kept some order so it didn’t look completely haphazard.

Stick on buttons and hang © Sophie Brown
Stick on buttons and hang © Sophie Brown

Step four:
Position the red buttons randomly around the wreath. I used a mixture of single heart shaped buttons, and circular buttons grouped in threes to create more Mickey Mouse shapes. Glue these in place on top of the felt leaves.

Step five:
Attach a hook or string for hanging; where to put this will depend on where and how you want to hang your wreath. I used hot glue to attach a Mickey-shaped paper clip to the back, then strung Christmas-colored twine through it for hanging before adding an extra bit of glue for good measure. The finished wreath is very lightweight so nothing too heavy duty is required.

You’re done! It’s probably worth noting that these wreaths are not at all weatherproof and thus need to be kept indoors. You could also use foam rings that are rounded rather than flat backed and continue the design all the way around to the back – this would work well if it was to be hung on a glass door; just increase the quantity of felt and buttons to suit.

If you make your own wreath then please share it on our Facebook page.

Build a Lego Arcade Machine Christmas Ornament With The Kids

Lego Ornaments
Image: Chris McVeigh

It’s a lot of fun to get creative at the holidays and make the ornaments that decorate your Christmas tree. Artist Chris McVeigh has some great ideas for adding a little Lego flair to those decorating efforts. His latest nerdy offering is a trio of classic arcade machine ornaments in a festive red, yellow, and green.

Those aren’t the only designs that will delight your inner Christmas nerd. He’s also got a TARDIS for all you Whovians and the Death Star and Millennium Falcon for Star Wars fans still giddy over that new trailer. If you and your kids love playing with Lego bricks, then these designs are sure to provide plenty of fun getting the tree ready for the holidays.

Even better, McVeigh has made all of his designs available as completely free PDF downloads on his site. He’s got all his nerdy designs and some that look like the more traditional balls and baubles that decorate our trees.

There are also some designs available for purchase in his store that include all the bits needed to make each ornament so you don’t have to work at pulling the pieces out of that giant Lego bin overflowing in your child’s closet.

(via NerdApproved)

Geek-twisting Holiday Songs

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Image By Rebecca Angel

Oh, who wants the same old boring lyrics to our holiday favorites?  Altering words to existing songs is a playful, challenging, and creative endeavor. It’s the fan-fiction of music. Winter and Christmas tunes are so well-known, it’s a great place to start. Here are some people who have already done so with a geeky twist:

The Twelve Days of Future Christmas created by Bridge 8, goes through a list of current science topics that are on the verge of becoming reality! “12 drones delivering…”

OH NUMBER PI
(TUNE: “Oh Christmas Tree”)
Oh, number Pi. Oh, number Pi. Your digits are nonending,
Oh, number Pi. Oh, number Pi. No pattern are you sending.
Want more math Christmas songs? Go here!

Hee-hee. This is some crazy editing. Star Trek TNG in “Make it So!”

You better watch out; you better not sneeze.
You better not cough, ’cause you’ll spread a disease….Viruses are comin’ to town.
“Catch” all the lyrics here.

This one doesn’t change the lyrics so much as it is performed in a geeky way. All electronic devices band in “Feliz Navidad.”

Pirate Christmas Carols! This is from me. I’ve written a lot of these. Here is one you can listen to with lyrics. No Ale!No Ale! No Ale! No Ale! Six months at sea with no dark, stout or pale.

So what’s does your family geek out about? Make it a family game to rewrite lyrics to a familiar holiday tune. You’ll be singing it every year afterwards!

Here’s one I wrote about my favorite Avenger…

Loki Was A Gentlemen
(To the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)
Loki was a gentleman when he took all the power.
His smile was quite debonair as he told us to cower.
“Sweet lady, kneel before me now, no need to look so sour.
Many thanks, this encounter’s been a joy, been a joy.
Many thanks, this encounter’s been a joy.”

A Doctor Who Christmas Teaser

DrSanta
Photo courtesy of the BBC.

So what does a man with two hearts and over 900 years under his belt ask Santa for? Will this be Clara’s last outing? Will we see a new companion or have to wait for next season? Will there even be a next season after Moffat’s interesting writing choices in the last one?

All this and more may or may not be answered in the Christmas Day special of Doctor Who. The annual Christmas episode arrives just as certainly as the man in red.

According to the press release: “In Doctor Who, the Doctor and Clara face their Last Christmas. Trapped on an Arctic base, under attack from terrifying creatures, who are you going to call? Santa Claus! Will this really be the Last Christmas for the Doctor and Clara? And what exactly are these terrifying creatures? It’s not the first time the Doctor has visited the Arctic of course. It’s previously been home to an Ice Warrior in Cold War—and the Cybermen!”

The episode, entitled “Last Christmas,” may or may not feature the song of the same name. Though I am a huge fan of Christmas music, I am erring on the side of not having a George Michael appearance!

GeekMom’s Black Friday Deals Roundup

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It’s dangerous to go Black Friday shopping alone. Take one of these. CC BY-SA Darcy Casselman.

Black Friday sales turn stranger and stranger every year. I think I got the first “shop Black Friday early!” email three weeks ago! Many stores are allowing you to shop at their sale prices online now and have been for a while. Nevertheless, it looks like the best deals are still to be had on the day itself, so we’ve got a roundup of the things your geek family is going to be looking for. Remember that items aren’t necessarily identical from store to store (video game bundles especially can be a bit different, movies have special editions for specific stores, etc.), so even if prices are listed for the same item, double-check on your own the specifics to be certain they’re exactly the same before making a choice. Some of these deals may also be offered only during limited hours, so check out the store’s website or ad to make your plan.

In the first column of each section is the Amazon price as of writing, and the links all go to Amazon so that you can both price compare (is it worth the line on Black Friday?) and to check out reviews in advance. Prices in each column reflect those given in early-release ads from each retailer.

Movies

Though not as much as they once did, cheap DVDs are still a draw into the store, so you’ll find plenty of them available. The following are a few of the popular choices this year. Remember to check the disc you’re getting to be sure that it’s the version you want.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Despicable Me 2 (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $9.96
Despicable Me 2 (WS DVD) $9.99 $7.96 BOGO $1 $9 with ornament
Frozen (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $24.94 $9.96 $29.99
Frozen (Sing Along DVD) $17.99 $14.96 $14.99
Gravity (Blu-Ray; some versions are 3D) $17.29 $7.99 $4.00
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $17.99 $7.96 $9.99
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DVD) $14.99 $9.99 $14.99 $10.00
Ice Age 3 (DVD) $1.96
Maleficent (Blu-Ray+Digital) $24.99 $9.99
Maleficent (WS DVD) $19.99 $7.96 $12.99 BOGO $1
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $9.96
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (DVD) $14.96 $7.96 $7.99 BOGO $1
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $7.96 $5.99
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (DVD) $14.96 $7.96 $9.99 BOGO $1 $9.00
The Lego Move (2-disc special edition DVD+Digital) $17.96 $3.99 $9.99 BOGO $1 $9.00
The Lego Movie (DVD) $14.96 $3.96
Transformers: Age of Extinction (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $7.96 $9.99 $19.99 $19.99
Transformers: Age of Extinction (DVD) $17.69 $5.99
X-Men: Days of Future Past (Blu-Ray+Digital) $9.99 $9.99
X-Men: Days of Future Past (DVD) $9.99 $7.96 $9.99 BOGO $1

Phones and tablets

Features vary so, again, be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when you get a deal. Check the storage space, features like Wi-Fi, carrier, whether it’s unlocked, etc.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Galaxy Note 4 free with contract $0.00
Samsung Galaxy S4 $330-350 $0.97
Samsung Galaxy S5 free with contract $99.00 $1.00 $449.99* $0.01 544.99*
Phone (prices usually with contract) Iphone 6 16 GB $750-$1000 (unlocked) $179.00 $99.99
Galaxy Tab 3 Kids Edition 7” 8 GB $179 or $124.99 refurbished $129.99
Galaxy Tab 3 Lite 8 GB $99.99 $99.00 $119.99
Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 $139.00 $149.99 $149.99 $149.99
Galaxy Tab Pro 8” $349.00 279.99 (10.1” version) $199.99 $199.99
Galaxy Tab S 10.5” 10 GB $379.99 $399.99
iPad Air 16GB Wi-Fi $358.00 $397 with $100 gift card $319.99 $399 with $100 gift card
iPad Air 2 $482.48 $489 with $100 gift card $100 off $499 with $140 Target gift card

Cameras

Whether you’re looking for your first DSLR or a video camera, Black Friday is often a good time to do it.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Canon EOS Rebel T5 1200D with 2 lenses $399-$599 (bundles differ) $449.00 $449.96
Canon Rebel T5i with 2 lenses $599-$849 (bundles differ) $699.00 $499.99
GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition $299.99 $249.97 $249.99 $249.99
Nikon D3200 with 2 lenses $319-$546 (bundles differ) $499.00 $499.99 $496.99 $596.95
Nikon D7000 with 2 lenses and SD card $549-$1199 (bundles differ) $1,099.96
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 $519.00 $297.99
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 $298.00 $249.00
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 $239.00 $299.00

Video games

If you’re still playing Xbox 360 or Playstation 3—or would like to purchase one of those consoles—there are some great deals out there on those older games and systems. But as you can see below, if you want deals on the current version consoles, you’re going to have to look harder and check out the bundles.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Disney Infinity characters varies 30% off $12.99
Skylanders Giants characters varies $9.00
Skylanders Swap Force characters varies $9.00
Skylanders Trap Masters $14.96 $15.99
Skylanders Trap Team characters $9.96 $9.00

Playstation 4

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Destiny $49.75 $49.99
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls – Ultimate Evil Edition $49.89 $35.00 $29.99
inFAMOUS: Second Son $25.49 $25.00 $19.99
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor $48.51 $24.99 $29.99
NBA 2k15 $50.99 $35.00 $29.99
Playstation 4 console $399.99 $399 with $50 gift card $399.99 $399.99
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 $34.49 $24.99
Watch Dogs $41.54 $35.00 $44.99

Wii U

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Just Dance 2015 $37.98 $25.00 $24.99 $24.99
Mario Kart 8 $48.15 $35.00 $59.99+10% off the guide
Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit $49.99 $37.00
Wii U Super Mario 3D World Bundle $315.88 $299.99

Xbox One

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Destiny $49.35 $35.00 $49.99
Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes (2.0) Starter Pack $54.99 $39.99
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor $47.45 $25.00 $29.99
Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit $49.99
Watch Dogs $48.89 $29.99
Xbox One Assassin’s Creed: Unity Bundle $349.00 $329.00 $329.99 $329.99 $329.99 $349.99

Nintendo DS

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Nintendo 2DS with Mario Kart 7 $151.05 $129.99
Super Mario Bros. 2 Golden Edition Bundle other variations $110-$220 $149.96
Frozen: Olaf’s Quest $19.99 $15.00
Nintendo 3DS XL Mario Party Island Bundle $249.99 $179.99