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

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.

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

• 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.

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.

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!!!

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 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

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?

coupon_template_kids coupon_template_time
coupon_template_toys coupon_template_food
coupon_template_minecraft coupon_template_vgame

Gaming This Christmas With Holiday Fluxx

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.

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.

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

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:

But then I came upon these Ninjabreadmen cookie cutters.

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

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…”

(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

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

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.


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


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

The Fall of the Christmas Sweater

Is it time to pack away the Christmas sweater? © Sophie Brown
Is it time to pack away the Christmas sweater? © Sophie Brown

The ugly Christmas sweater. A few years ago you couldn’t have paid most of us to wear one and yet during the 2013 holiday season you couldn’t take a step without seeing one. Traditional ones, rude ones you couldn’t possibly wear in front of your Great Aunt Mildred, even ones that light up or play animations—2013 was clearly the year of the ugly sweater.

But now Christmas is over and we’re slowly getting back into our routines, so what do we do with our often rather costly, sweaters? When exactly should you stop wearing them? Well it seems there are several schools of thought on the subject:

A: December 26th

Christmas is over, the stores are open again and we’re all just tidying away the aftermath. Time to pack the sweater away ‘til next year.

B: New Year’s Day

The celebrations often continue on until New Year’s Eve with extended visits to or from family and friends. Keep the sweater love going throughout the celebrations with one last hurrah on New Year’s Eve before putting it away for good.

C: Twelfth Night

Tradition states that Christmas decorations should be taken down by the end of Twelfth Night or bad luck will fall upon the household. Surely Christmas sweaters fall into this category (after all they decorate our bodies to an extent) so they should stay out until the tree and other decs are packed up too?

D: You Shouldn’t

You paid good money for that sweater and it’s a perfectly practical and serviceable item of clothing, especially given the current weather situation. Why would you pack away something of use simply because of how it looks? Keep wearing it until the climate means you no longer need to.

Which category do you fall into? Did you pack the sweater away with the turkey leftovers or are you still using it as an extra layer against the “Polar Vortex”?

Advent of Christmas Past: Our Pirate Christmas Island Adventure

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What happens when Pirate and Christmas Playmobil Advent Calendar lands collide? Well, in the case of the Advent Calendars I found for my kids (Playmobil Forest Winter Wonderland and Pirates Treasure Cove), my husband decided to make a photo story out of the treasures that were opened each day. Come join us as the Christmas and Pirate Playmobil Advent Calendars are opened and hi-jinks follow…

Playmobil is a big hit in our house. Finding these Playmobil Advent Calendars on clearance over the last year made for a really exciting December for the kids. They were able to expand their Playmobil universe, and dad was able to share his quirky sense of humor with our kids and with friends on Facebook. Since he only shared a few days on Facebook, he has gone back through and taken a picture for each day so that I could share the complete collection with you.

GeekMom Video Playlist

Parody Image by jamescovenant

2013 Recap!

YouTube has a unique rewind of all their top videos of the year: They asked popular channel stars to recreate scenes from those famous videos to a soundtrack of 2013. How many do you recognize?

If you need the explanations, you can watch the original videos here (I have to admit, I watched Miley Cyrus for the first time. I couldn’t make it through one of her videos because she was licking a metal bar and I was worried for her, “That’s not safe! You shouldn’t lick metal!”)

And then here’s a nerdy Harvard Medical School parody from one of those famous videos; this one is called, “What Does The Spleen Do?”

Random videos:

Why did I not hear of this sooner? The people who brought us “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” are at it again, this time with a modern blog version of Emma.

I run a history club, and we were talking about the role media plays in the government. One of my students shared this with us, wondering, “I want to know who are the guys in black hooded robes in a secret room writing all this?” It makes you wonder…

And holiday fun!

I’m sure you have been sent this link by a Star Trek geek in your life, but in case you haven’t yet, here is Christmas-time, Picard-love:

Here is a twisted take on Santa. It’s short, strange, and made me laugh:

And finally a beautiful wintertime song called “Identical Snowflakes” by Hem. A sweet story of two snowflakes “falling” in love. Be sure to check out the lyrics.

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Make a Geeky Christmas Wreath

All photos in this article by Cindy White.

There’s nothing like the smell of fresh pine to put you in the holiday spirit. Although I can appreciate the convenience of a faux tree and other pre-fabricated decorations, it’s not Christmas in our home without the real thing. That’s why part of my holiday tradition has been making my own wreath.

I save the frame and basic components from year to year, so all I need to make a new one is the fresh greens. And here’s where I’m going to let you in on my little holiday secret: I get them from the local big-box-store tree lot for free. (If you’re lucky enough to live in a wooded area where pine branches are plentiful, this may also be an option for you, but in our suburban neighborhood we’re limited to the tree lot.)

Look at all those lovely branches just sitting there.

If there’s a lot near you with a cutting area, you can usually find plenty of cast-off branches waiting to be thrown out. But you can save them from that fate (at least until the holidays are over). I politely ask one of the employees if I can take some off their hands. I’ve gotten a few confused shrugs, but I’ve also gotten enthusiastic responses and offers to help carry them to the car. No one has ever said no or tried to charge me.

As a bonus, you might also find some stumps cut from the tree trunks, which are great for all kinds of holiday art projects (check out what fellow GeekMom Lisa Tate does with hers). I make sure to get enough greens so that there’s some left over after the wreath is finished. Add some candles and a few shiny baubles and you’ve got a lovely centerpiece. If you’re not going to use them right away, make sure to put them in a bucket of water to keep them fresh. I forgot to do that this year and ended up with a few crunchy branches. Fortunately, there were still some good ones in the bunch.

The only new thing here I had to purchase was the wire.

But back to the wreath. It’s simple to make and infinitely customizable. You’ll need a frame (available at most craft stores), paddle wire in 24 gauge (or coiled wire from a home improvement store, which is less expensive and just as good), straight wire in 24 gauge or thinner, a pair of sturdy clippers, ribbon, and, of course, the decorations.

This year I made two wreaths, since our neighbor mentioned wanting one. I stuck with a traditional look for her—pine cones (recycled from years past), ornaments, and ribbon. For our wreath I decided to give it a geeky twist by incorporating pieces from last year’s Lego Advent Calendar. You can use anything you have handy to personalize your wreath, including action figures, toys, circuit boards, hardware, whatever strikes your fancy. Since the elements are wired on, not glued, they won’t be damaged and are easy to remove when you take the wreath down.

Before you put your wreath together, cut down the branches to a manageable size. They should be somewhere between six inches and a foot long. Make sure the wood is flexible and not too thick. Don’t worry if they’re a bit unruly; you can always cut them down later. I use a combination of noble and douglas fir, because that’s what I usually find in the bin and I like the contrasting textures.

Start by laying the frame on a flat surface and attaching the end of the wire to it. Next, begin layering the branches around the frame in one direction, overlapping them slightly as you go around and alternating the different kinds of greens.

This project can get a bit messy, so make sure you have something to protect your work surface.

Wrap the wire around each branch as you place it, securing it to the frame. Leave it loose enough so you can tuck each new branch under the last wire you wrapped. You may need to go around a few times until the frame is completely covered.

The greens can be a little wild, so don’t be afraid to trim away any branches that are sticking out. Try and keep your wreath to an even, circular shape. To add in additional branches, just tuck them under the wire. If you’ve wrapped it well enough, they should stay in place. Once I’m happy with the fullness of the base, I like to do one more pass with the wire to keep everything in line. If the frame you’re using doesn’t have a hanger, make one out out of ribbon or a piece of jute twine.

The finished base.

Next, it’s time for the main bow. You can use a pre-made bow, tie a shoelace bow, or make your own following the picture instructions below.

Bow Making 101.

Once the bow is placed, it’s time to decorate your wreath. This is also where you can get your kids involved, picking the decorations and placing them around. Using the thinner, straight wire, attach the ornaments around the wreath with equal spacing all around. Wire them where it will be the least conspicuous. It’s okay to tie your Minifig around its neck, it won’t look like it’s choking from far away. I added some festive elements to the wreath alongside the Lego figures to give it a nice holiday look.

That’s pretty much it. Pick a theme, grab some items from your display shelf or your storage bins, and start wiring away. The beauty of this project is that you can do it all over again, year after year, using the same frame and supplies. Change the design or keep it the same, it’s up to you. Anyone who knocks on your front door will appreciate the festive, personalized touch.

Traditional or fun?

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: British Christmas Music

My Son Decorating Our Tree Last Year © Sophie Brown
My Son Decorating Our Tree Last Year © Sophie Brown

Many years ago, I read a book in which the American author made a comment about his first Christmas in the UK and how it didn’t really feel like Christmas because none of the songs he grew up with during the season were played here.

Instead, they were replaced by a selection of other songs that he had never heard but which every British person seemed to know off by heart. The passage was something of a revelation. It had never once occurred to me that there would be millions of people who had never heard “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” by Wizzard and who didn’t know the appropriate place to yell “it’s Christmas!” during Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody.”

These are the songs I’ve grown up with. They play constantly in every public place from around mid-October and I’d wager that everybody who has grown up in Britain can sing them word-for-word—even if they would never admit to it in public. Here then are some classic Christmas tunes from the UK to inject new life into your iTunes Christmas playlist (admit it, you have one).

Song: “Merry Christmas Everyone”
Artist: Shakin’ Stevens
Released: 1985 (postponed a year so it didn’t clash with Band Aid)
Notable for: The deeply creepy video which features the longest intro ever (a full minute elapses before the music actually begins) and a number of children who look as if they are being forced to smile for the cameras.
Listen here:

Do They Know It's Christmas Cover © Phonogram/Columbia
Do They Know It’s Christmas Cover © Phonogram/Columbia

Song: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”
Artist: Band Aid
Released: 1984
Notable For: The story of the song’s conception and recording as well as inspiring the Live Aid concert in 1985. Band Aid was a supergroup and included members of Duran Duran, U2, Genesis, Ultravox, and dozens more who all recorded the song, written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, on a single November day in London. Geldof even phoned Boy George (asleep in a New York hotel when recording began) and persuaded him to fly to London on Concorde that day so he could eventually record his lines in the evening.
Listen here:

Song: “I Wish It Could be Christmas Everyday”
Artist: Wizzard
Released: 1973
Notable for: The adorable small children in the video. The song was kept off the Christmas number one by Slade.
Listen here:

Song: “Merry Xmas Everybody”
Artist: Slade
Released: 1973
Notable for: The bit at the end where lead singer Noddy Holder screams “It’s CHRIIIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAAS!” Screaming along with this is an impromptu staple of all drunken Christmas parties.
Listen here:

Song: “Lonely This Christmas”
Artist: Mud
Released: 1974
Notable for: The terribly cheesy talky bit in the middle where the singer speaks directly to the girl who has recently broken his heart. The song is performed in the style of Elvis’s later career and is often mis-attributed to him, there is even a video on YouTube that incorrectly identifies Presley as the singer and runs a slideshow of photographs of him as the song plays.
Listen here:

Last Christmas by Wham! © Columbia
Last Christmas by Wham! © Columbia

Song: “Last Christmas”
Artist: Wham!
Released: 1984
Notable for: Competing against Band Aid for the Christmas number one spot; Wham! later donated all the profits from the single to the same charity appeal. The cheesy video is also notable for being the last filmed appearance of George Michael clean shaven.
Listen here:

Song: “Mistletoe and Wine”
Artist: Cliff Richard
Released: 1988
Notable for: Being one of very few popular Christmas songs in the UK that actually uses religious lyrics. The song was originally written for the musical Scraps which was based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl.” Richard changed the lyrics to reflect a more religious theme with the agreement of the original writers.
Listen here:

Song: “Fairytale of New York”
Artist: The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl
Released: 1987
Notable for: Being easily the most inappropriate popular Christmas song ever. The duet features the two singers bickering and calling each other a number of offensive names as they reminisce on how their lives have gone awry thanks to drugs and alcohol. Despite this apparent negativity the song was voted Britain’s “Favourite Christmas Song” in 2012 after a nationwide survey.
Listen here:

There are of course hundreds more amazing Christmas songs you may not have heard before. Some of my favorites include “In Dulci Jubilo” by Swimming, “Once Upon a Christmas Song” by Geraldine McQueen, “Sleigh Ride” by the Late Greats, “Troika” (the fourth movement of Suite from Luitenant Kije) by Sergei Prokofiev, and the soundtrack to The Muppet Christmas Carol.

What songs do you play every year?

A Perfect Lego Christmas

Besides people, my son loves two things in life: Lego and Christmas.

The day after Thanksgiving, our holiday tradition is that we start playing our extensive list of holiday songs on iTunes  and the decorations make their way upstairs.  That includes the Lego-based decorations courtesy of my son.

My son was never a kid that wanted to grow up. He was truly depressed when his voice started changing, getting taller meant he couldn’t hide in the best spots, and, of course, growing up meant more responsibility for a kid who’d rather lie on the floor of his room snapping bricks together.

But at fifteen, he has adapted to reality and can still enjoy things he loves. He can sing “White Christmas” in its original baritone key, he is strong enough to hold both his little cousins and swing them around, and being in control of his own schedule means he gets his work done early enough to always make time for Lego, especially at Christmas.

This year, my son was given more space to work with in his Lego decorating and you can see his set up in the above gallery.

My favorite aspect of his set-up is how he includes other figures to make a unique, happy, perfect Lego Christmas.

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Debating Santa Claus

Used under Creative Commons license, credit

I was by far the youngest of four kids (the “caboose,” as it were) so with two teenagers and a middle schooler in the house any allusions I may have had about Santa didn’t last long. Actually, I don’t remember ever believing in Santa Claus. So each Christmas I would very reasonably try to explain to my parents that they didn’t need to worry about the whole Santa thing, because I knew he didn’t really exist. And each year they’d argue that he did!

It was always a fun background dialogue for the season. I’d come up with various bits of evidence (why so many mall Santas?) and they’d come up with rationalizations (helpers dressed up as Santa for the busy season, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t real). And I’d go off and think some more and then come up with a new argument.

This may seem like a kind of negative, downer “tradition.” But it wasn’t! It was fun! The twinkle in my dad’s eye let me know that he knew that we were playing a game. And it was a real challenge, one that grew as I grew older. The arguments I could marshal got slowly more sophisticated, as did their counter arguments. I was introduced to logical fallacies (either by committing them myself or noticing when my parents did). I learned a lot about the difficulty of proving a negative. Eventually we called the game when I was thirteen, when we all agreed that while there isn’t a man in a red suit living at the North Pole, there is a symbolic embodiment of the abstract concepts of charity and goodwill that are meant to be the focus of the season.

So if your kids aren’t going along with the whole “Santa” ruse, you might want to consider playing this sort of game with them. It could hone their logic and debating skills, and it’s a whole lot less work than leaving footprints leading from the fireplace to the tree!

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Crafting “Stained Glass” Windows

One of the best things about being a teacher is being able to share your hobbies with your class. As someone who loves to make and create, I always make sure that some type of artistic project is included. One of my favourite holiday traditions during December is to spend some time with my class creating Christmas/winter themed artwork. We’ve made baubles of every type, gift boxes, decorated biscuits, and a host of other projects. My favorite project however is my “stained glass windows.” I make them every year to decorate our classroom. These are really popular with the kids and look especially festive. They’re easy for children to design and create, as well as simple to make in a variety of designs and sizes. I normally make them big enough to fill an entire window with up to six children collaborating on each one!

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Crafting “Stained Glass” Windows

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Secret Santa Geek-Style

Like GeekMom Amy, my family participates in a gift exchange every year. We’ve gone the Secret Santa route to save money and add even more enjoyment to the gift-giving experience.

Not only do we keep the name we’ve picked a secret, like a traditional Secret Santa, we’ve also started adding themes to our gift exchange to give it a bit of a fun challenge.

Here are the basics for a Secret Santa gift exchange, along with some twists on Secret Santa themes for a grand geeky gift-giving gala. Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Secret Santa Geek-Style

Diving Into Christmas Movies Disney Style

Image: Sarah Pinault

The Turkey is eaten. Thanks have been said. Family has gathered. Black Friday has been ignored. Now I can safely engulf my family in the deluge of Christmas music that I have been listening to steadily since September. I’m a bit of a nut when it comes to Christmas music and movies.

The first movie of the holiday season is always Home Alone. I watch this on my own in early November, while wrapping the English Christmas presents for their long journey. The second movie is usually Holiday Inn, watched on Thanksgiving evening as a transitional piece. Since having kids I have been trying to find as many not-awful Christmas specials as I can, though I do enjoy the occasional awful one, too! This year Disney helped me out with a few re-released classics containing some great extras. A film from my childhood, the 30th anniversary edition of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and a movie I missed the first time around, A Very Merry Pooh Year.

Image: Disney

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is exactly as I remember it. Scrooge McDuck, of course, is absolutely perfect as Dickens’ Scrooge, Donald superb as nephew Fred. The casting of the ghosts is equally wonderful, Goofy as the deceased Marley, Pete as the ghost of Christmas future, and Willie the Giant as the ghost of Christmas present (whose pronunciation of pistachios has been cracking me up my entire life). Mickey is actually the weakest link in this movie, but the ensemble works too well for that to be an issue.

The main movie aside, the DVD extras have actually been watched more by my boys over the past few days than the main feature! Easily the favored cartoon on the disc is “YodelBerg.” Mickey and Minnie yodel their love for one another as Mickey tries to make his way silently up the mountain, ever in fear of an avalanche. The Yodeling song that forms the main “dialogue” of the story is supposedly taken from a scene in The Swiss Family Robinson from 1940. This may be hearsay; my husband remembers the song, but I can find no such evidence! I am told I have a good yodel, so my eldest son and I have been proclaiming our love through yodeling ever since first viewing the cartoon. We have watched it dozens of times and I am still enjoying it. The animation is reminiscent of the early days of Disney, with a touch of Cartoon Network thrown in. In fact, “Yodelberg” is the second episode of “Mickey Mouse,” a series of animated shorts that began their release this year, as a throwback to the golden days of the mouse. The series is executive produced and directed by Paul Rudish, who is known for his work on cartoons such as Dexter’s Laboratory and The Powerpuff Girls.

The other short movies featured on the DVD release of Mickey’s Christmas Carol are old favorites I am very happy to re-visit with my boys:

– “The Hockey Champ” featuring Donald Duck with Huey, Duey, and Luey

– “Pluto’s Christmas Tree” featuring Pluto and Chip and Dale

– “The Art of Skiing” featuring Goofy, who else!

– “Corn Chips” featuring Donald with Chip and Dale

Image: Disney

The second Christmas Disney release comes at a most opportune time in our household, as my youngest son is just discovering Winnie the Pooh in all his incarnations. A Very Merry Pooh Year is a combination of two Christmas specials, one from 1991 and one from 2002. It contains the 1991 Christmas TV special Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too, and the straight to DVD Happy Pooh Year.

Told as campfire stories to little Roo, both tales are presented as flashbacks. How J.J. Abrams of them. In Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too, the gang writes and sends a letter to Santa. Rabbit wants a fly swatter, Christopher Robin wants a sled, and Pooh realizes the next day that he didn’t ask for anything. This begins his journey to get the letter back, rewritten, and re-sent in time for Christmas Eve. It’s a sweet tale that focuses on giving to your friends, rather than seeking your own reward. A Very Merry Pooh Year sees the gang relaying the story of the year in which Rabbit got sick of everyone and wanted to move away. Easily the weaker of the two movies, but my boys didn’t seem to notice! We’ve been devouring The Heffalump Movie of late, so they were keen for more Winnie the Pooh. Though he wasn’t always my favorite character as a child, my youngest seemed disappointed by Owl’s absence in the second tale, probably because he was holding his stuffed Owl at the time.

The DVD extras on this one are pretty weak, including only some sing-alongs and a screensaver. The Blu-ray disc includes Disney Intermission and contains some decently entertaining games and a countdown to the New Year. One of the nicest features of the Gift of Friendship Edition comes physically in the box. Two postcards ready to be mailed to Santa. Kids can check off whether they’ve been naughty or nice and list three Christmas wishes. The cards come with pre-addressed envelopes to Santa at the North Pole. My four-year-old had never written a letter to Santa before and I have been debating how to go about this. He really enjoyed the postcards and beautifully decorated envelopes, and he loved the pen that came with it. I loved the simplicity and the fact that it only had three lines for gift requests! We got to have the “Santa doesn’t bring everything on your list” conversation. A lovely addition that makes this worth cracking open as early in the season as possible.

 GeekMom received samples of these products for review purposes.

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Gamify Your Gift-Giving

Choose, but choose wisely! Photo: Amy Kraft

We reached a moment, my extended family and I, where we collectively realized that it was super fun to buy presents for the little kids, but less fun (and considerably more expensive) to buy gifts for all of the adults. That year, I suggested something I had recently experienced at my office holiday party—a Yankee gift swap. I don’t know what makes it “Yankee” other than that it took moving from Chicago to New York to learn about it.

The result is great. Every adult only needs to buy one gift, and  you get a fun party game out of the gift giving. The basic flow of the game is as follows (though Wikipedia has an impressive list of variant gift swap names and rules):

  1. Set a dollar value for the gift. We usually do something in the neighborhood of $25. Everyone should also agree on whether you’re giving serious, thoughtful gifts or tacky white elephant gifts.
  2. Have everyone bring their wrapped present to the party. Display the presents where everyone can see them.
  3. For every participating person, put a number in a hat. Then have each person draw a number. (This is a great activity for the kids, both the making of the numbers and handing them out.)
  4. Person 1 chooses a gift and opens it.
  5. Person 2 can either steal Person 1’s gift, or open a fresh one from the pile. If Person 2 takes Person 1’s gift, Person 1 then opens a new one.
  6. Now things start to get interesting. Person 3 can steal any unopened gift, or open a new one. Say Person 3 takes Person 1’s gift. Person 1 can either take Person 2’s gift or open a new one.
  7. As you get further down the chain of people, the stealing starts to get interesting, and some gifts become quite sought-after. To avoid infinite present stealing, we only let a person steal once per “round” and you can’t steal back a gift that’s just been stolen from you.
  8. It’s good to go last because you get your pick of the presents. If we’re feeling charitable, we let Person 1 go again at the very end.

All this talk of stealing may make this game sound mean-spirited, but if everyone is taking the game in good fun, and it’s more about the togetherness and less about the presents, it’s happy-making. Spiked egg nog can help. It’s also a real point of pride when the gift that you put in is one of the sought-after ones. Some of the gifts I’ve done well with over the years, both to give and to receive are:

*  Cookbooks, especially anything by Mario Batali
*  Saké set with a bottle of saké
*  Scarves and gloves
*  A molcajete (that was fun to take on the plane)
*  Dishes and glassware
*  Kitchen gadgets
*  Funny t-shirts

My family happens to have a lot of foodies, so every year has some of the above list. If you have a sports-loving family or a particularly outdoorsy family, I can see this list looking totally different. Just try to shoot for what you think the most people would like. Of course, I’ve been known to employ the opposite strategy and buy something with a particular person in mind. Through gaming magic, that person usually ends up with that gift.

Though I haven’t tried doing the gift swap with kids, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s hard to get kids focused on “togetherness” and not “the stuff.” We’ve found that it’s good to do this when the kids go to bed. Or we give the kids jobs like shuttling the gifts around the room, and helping to select ones to unwrap. That way we can lazily stay in one spot with our egg nog, the way Christmas was meant to be enjoyed.

Black Friday Alternatives: Other Ways to Spend Your Day

CC BY-SA The Next Web Photos

Be a tourist in your own town

Even if you don’t live in a major city or tourist destination, there’s almost certainly something interesting within driving distance. When was the last time you went? Have you taken the kids? Many of them will open for the Christmas season after Thanksgiving. Various city and park festivals and holiday light displays will open on Friday as well. Try finding one near you, perhaps:

Go skiing

Many ski resorts call Thanksgiving “opening weekend.” If you’re lucky enough to live near one, I don’t blame you for ditching the sales and hitting the slopes. Check the projected opening dates for the resorts near you.

See a parade or tree lighting

Maybe you weren’t in New York on Thanksgiving for the Macy’s Day Parade or in Philadelphia for the less-famous but oldest Thanksgiving parade in the country, but plenty of cities save their parades for Saturday. For example:

Run in a race

Who wants to do a Thanksgiving Day turkey trot when you could be stuffing your face with turkey and trotting to the sofa to watch a parade? Frankly, I’m not the sort to race any day, but if you are, you can either run from other shoppers on Black Friday, or you can run in races that still have registration available, including:

Go the traditional route

Or, of course, you can always save all of that for the next weekend and just go shopping. If you’re that sort, check out our Black Friday geek roundup.

Geek Up Your Holiday Cards This Year

Photo Credit: Kelly Knox

Your love of all things geeky goes strong all year long, so why not geek up your holidays as well? Thanks to the wealth of original, handcrafted cards on Etsy and Redbubble and independent stores like Monkey Minion Press, you can find a fantastic selection of geek-themed holiday cards online. Here are some noteworthy notes—and it’s not too soon to order them now!

© Redbubble Artist rydiachacha

Have a Timey-Wimey Christmas

Doctor Who is known for memorable Christmas specials, making the Doctor a more than worthy companion for your Christmas cards. Etsy seller comradecards has a collection of geeky greeting cards for birthdays and holidays, but Season’s Greetings from the Doctor will get a smile out of any Whovian this Christmas.

Over on Redbubble, you’ll also find a Christmas sweater version of the Tenth Doctor and Rose wishing you a Happy Christmas. (No way this can be called an ugly Christmas sweater – the mini 3-D glasses are too adorable.)

The TARDIS also makes an appearance on many custom cards offered at Etsy, but “All I Want for Christmas is Who,” found in the shop sweetgeek, might be the most awwww-inspiring.

Deck the Halls with Braaaaains

Zombies shamble their way into everything lately—even the most wonderful time of the year. Monkey Minion Press offers undead options for the holidays, such as this zombified Hanukkah card and a Christmas card with a distraught Santa.

Pixelated Paper Goods

Video game inspired holiday cards are another fun way to send your best wishes to your gamer friends this year. Over in the Esty shop , you’ll find a several pixel art holiday creations, like this Super Mario themed Christmas tree.

If your friends and family have whiled away the hours in Hyrule, this merry The Legend of Zelda Christmas card from Redbubble artist Tom Clancy is a surefire hit.

© Redbubble Artist Renato Roccon

Heroic Holidays

Your favorite superheroes can even get in on the holiday action. This stunning “Season’s Greetings from Wonder Woman” from Redbubble artist  will catch the eye of any friends you send it to, and you’ll probably want to keep one for yourself to include in your holiday decor.

If your tastes run to the more irreverent, though, Batman and Robin can come to your rescue with a meme-inspired card by bern67. The meme might be ubiquitous, but this version of it is sure to get a smile from your Reddit reading friends.

And More!

A “Ho Ho Ho” from Darth Vader, holiday greetings for chemistry geeks, Season’s Greetings from the Lannisters, Trek the Halls… There is a card for every flavor of geek out there. You can even take a geek-themed family photo and print your own custom holiday cards. And if you do, we want to see it!

Warning: Downton Abbey Christmas Special Is Spoilerific

Image: PBS Masterpiece

If you’re an American and trying to do the right thing when it comes to only watching shows when they become legally available to you, I’ve got a big warning. Don’t watch the Downton Abbey Christmas Special until late February, even if it’s available for streaming early. You’re watching things out of order, and it will become very apparent what you’ve missed. In fact, don’t even Google Downton Abby to find out when the show will be legally broadcast here in the US. That was my mistake last month. I’ve been spoiled by something very major, very inconvenient to know in advance. Thanks. Thanks, a lot for that.

The US airing will start on January 6th on PBS. The episodes will also stream online after the stations air them.

When will media broadcasters finally learn that the Internet goes everywhere, and so do the spoilers? All this delayed streaming has caused fans to either become disengaged from the fan communities out of self defense or download their favorite shows illegally. Either way, you lose. At least Doctor Who has learned that fans would really prefer seeing their favorite shows as close to the original broadcast date as possible. Their foresight was rewarded. It’s time for everyone else to take notes.

While we’re at it, quit cutting the show down. If we weren’t interested in period dramas with complicated plots, we wouldn’t be watching the dang thing. Fortunately, we can catch up with the original UK versions. (One comment pointed out that this didn’t happen with Downton Abbey. We’ve endured edits on our other British imports, mostly around time slot and commercial break constraints – two things that don’t matter anymore for those of us who watch them from legal streaming sources.)

Catch up quick. It’s less than two weeks before we can start enjoying season three.