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.
• Used gift cards (make sure they’ve been spent)
• Small food jars (screw-on lids work best)
• 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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!
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.
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.
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”?
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.
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?”
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeyHl1tQeaQ
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjQzJAKxTrE
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoxQ4Ul_DME
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0A8KT365wlA
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJ6kJ7GWtv0
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8gmARGvPlI
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjmGbI-Mnys
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: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jbdgZidu8
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.
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!
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!
This year I’m on maternity leave, so instead of creating large projects at school, my 4-year-old helped me to design and make a decoration for our window at home. Here’s what we did, so that you can make your own, too.
You will need:
PVA glue (white glue)
Paint brushes for gluing
Cling film (plastic wrap)
Tissue paper in a variety of colors
Permanent marker (a thick one is best)
Piece of cardboard
Empty yogurt pots (for putting the glue and torn paper in)
Draw a simple design onto a piece of paper. If you feel artistically challenged, you can download and print my tree, snowman or stocking designs (these are all sized for A4/letter paper). If you are using lettering or text, make sure to write backwards, as you are going to be turning the design over when you have finished.
Tape your design onto a piece of cardboard. If you haven’t got cardboard, you can stick the design onto a table, but I find cardboard more convenient because I can move the whole thing out of the way while the design dries.
Wrap your piece of cardboard in two layers of cling film, and tape the cling film down on the back to keep it in place. The cling film doesn’t need to be completely flat, but it does need to be fairly taut.
Draw your design again, using the permanent marker. This is a good opportunity to mend any mistakes in your design!
Decide what colors you are going to use for your design, and tear your tissue paper into small pieces. The more intricate your design is, the smaller your pieces of paper will need to be. I like to put the pieces of paper into empty yogurt pots to keep them organized and stop them from blowing off the table.
Use slightly watered down PVA glue to stick the tissue paper down, overlapping the pieces. I like to put a little bit of glue onto the plastic first, before placing the paper down. Dab glue gently on top: if you brush too hard the paper will move. I like to work around the edge of the area first and then fill in the middle. You can overlap the permanent marker lines a little. Once it’s complete, leave your design overnight to dry.
Cut the design free from the cardboard, turn over, display in a suitable window, and admire!
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.
Secret Santa Basics
If this is your first Secret Santa rodeo, don’t fret! There isn’t too much involved in setting the exchange up.
1. Draw names from a hat (or a virtual hat like Elfster) to see who has who. This usually takes a few attempts with a real hat because someone invariably draws their own name.
2. Set a price limit and a date for the exchange.
3. Choose a theme, like one of the examples below.
4. Procrastinate and Google “Secret Santa ideas.”
5. Panic and order something like a King Kong whisk, which is actually a pretty awesome gift.
6. Exchange gifts. You can reveal yourself as the giver immediately, or let the recipient try to guess.
Secret Santa Theme Ideas
Themes for your Secret Santa gift exchange give everyone equal footing for a starting point, in case you happen to draw a co-worker who started two days ago or a family member you haven’t seen in years. Themes also give you the chance to show off your creativity in front of your family, which is what Christmas is all about. You can even combine themes, like “handmade” and “Doctor Who,” if your family particularly enjoys a challenge.
• Handmade gifts. This doesn’t necessarily mean something you made; we called it “the Etsy Christmas” the year we chose that theme.
• Gifts that start with the letter of the recipient’s first name.
• Gifts that start with a randomly chosen letter.
• Gifts of a specific color.
• Fandom gifts from a common family love, such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel or DC Comics, and the like. Many franchises have official stores, and Etsy again is a phenomenal resource for unique gifts.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Have everyone bring their wrapped present to the party. Display the presents where everyone can see them.
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.)
Person 1 chooses a gift and opens it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
Pittsburgh – The My Macy’s Holiday Parade will be held on Saturday, November 30 with all the celebrities and giant balloons you’d expect.
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:
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!
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.
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 theRasilisk, you’ll find a several pixel art holiday creations, like this Super Mario themed Christmas tree.
Your favorite superheroes can even get in on the holiday action. This stunning “Season’s Greetings from Wonder Woman” from Redbubble artist Renato Roccon 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.
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.
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.
I love all the classic holiday stuff you see on television each December. Even though I have most of my favorites on DVD there’s something special about seeing them when they’re actually being aired. It doesn’t count if you record them or stream them later. I’m talking about the random channel surfing that suddenly turns up one of your favorites, as if the network aired it just for you. I tend to obsess over the things that make me happy and one of my biggest obsessions is Christmas specials.
Back when I was a kid, in the days before you could record stuff and watch it at your leisure, when a Christmas special aired the whole school would be talking about it for days. The news travelled like wildfire, so if you hadn’t managed to see it in the TV listings or catch a commercial, by the time snacktime rolled around at least a dozen of your friends had told you what was on that night.
Then there was the interminable wait. Seven o’clock seemed to be the time of choice and I swear the minutes were actually longer on those days. I’d get in my pajamas, grab a blanket and possibly a stuffed animal and curl up in front of the TV just waiting for the little pre-special montage that notified you there was, in fact, a special about to air. Some of these shows stuck with me so much so that to this day I can recite half the lines. So, in honor of all things Christmas, here’s a list of my favorite childhood specials that still hold a place in my heart today.
There isn’t a kid who celebrates Christmas who hasn’t looked out the window and imagined seeing a faint red dot in the sky on Christmas Eve. And if you saw that little red dot in the sky, the image that came to mind was likely of Rudolph as he was in the Rankin/Bass stop motion animation special that first aired way back in 1964. But more than the story of Rudolph and how the other reindeer were mean until he saved the day, this special introduced us to the Island of Misfit Toys. In fact, it’s all the other characters from this one that make me love it. An abominable snowman named Bumble, a prospector named Ukon Corneilus and little Hermey, the elf that just wants to be a dentist. The supporting cast nearly out shines the lead’s nose.
Every single year I built a snowman. Every. Single. Year. And that darn thing never came to life no matter how many different kinds of hats and scarves I gave him. But, it was okay, because I still had my Frosty movie to keep my hopes alive and show me what might happen if I persevered and kept building happy little snowmen across my lawn. Since 1969, the Rankin/Bass animated version of this classic has been keeping kids hopes alive and bringing them to tears. Come on, who didn’t cry when that stupid Profesor Hinkle trapped poor Frosty in that greenhouse? I hate that guy.
Another stop-motion animation classic from Rankin/Bass that debuted in 1970, this one shows us how Santa got his start as a little orphan baby taken in my elves. I mean, how cool is that? Can you imagine growing up with elves? Meanwhile, Mayor Burgermeister Meisterburger is making the children in the town of Sombertown miserable by outlawing toys. Yeah, he’s one evil dude but he does have the best villain name in the history of forever. I always imagine the creators of this one were super hungry when they came up with that one. Despite the coolness of his name, the Mayor fails and eventually good ole Santa Claus delivers toys to the children of Sombertown and a legend is born.
This 1974 movie has my all-time favorite songs sung by my all-time favorite stop motion animation characters. Heat Miser and Snow Miser perform the best sing and dance-off in history to determine who’s the better brother. The rest of this movie centers around trying to save Christmas when Santa is a bit under the weather, but these guys steal the show. Their crazy hair, mini-me minions, and ragtime dance sequence make them the most memorable stop motion characters ever. Ever. I love those guys.
Although it didn’t make it’s debut until 1983, this has become the grandaddy of all Christmas movies. It doesn’t matter that it’s set way back in the late 30’s, this movie captures the essence of being a kid in any era. From the iconic leg lamp (the ornament is on my tree) to the bullies, the triple-dog dare to the ridiculous bunny outfit, every single one of us can relate to little Ralphie. You may never have longed for a Red Ryder BB Gun, but we all had an “it” toy that we were dying to see on Christmas morning. And really, how can you not like a movie where a kid gets his tongue stuck to a flagpole on a dare?
That’s my list. These are the movies that I watch every year and sing along with like I’m a seven-year-old up past her bedtime. There are so many good ones out there, though, that I’m sure there are a few that didn’t make my list that are tops on yours. Tell me, what did I miss?
Second in our series of 2011 Holiday Gift Guides is one detailing many games that we know and love. Some of them are new, some have been around a while, but all are great fun. This guide encompasses board games, card games, video games, and even an app. Check them out! And please share your favorite games in the comments.
Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype
Games with hand-made pieces and quality parts are sometimes easy to find. Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype, a board game similar to Chinese checkers but more like Traverse, is a great example. For 2-4 people, players try to get their pieces across the board before their opponents do, jumping pieces along the way. But here’s the trick: The pieces are six-sided cubes. Which side is up determines how the piece will move, and every time it is jumped over, the cube is rolled. A bit of luck is needed, but the game is also highly strategic. You’ll want to play it again and again!
Rory’s Story Cubes
Crafting a good story is something that is fun to share, but you don’t need to write it down or even to perfect it to enjoy yourself and get a good result. Gather friends or family around, and roll Rory’s Story Cubes (available in both the original dice and the newer Actions variety). Then tell a story out loud based on the images on the dice. The dice come with a few different game ideas, but you can think of your own rules or visit the Story Cubes website for more ideas. The dice are very portable, and can also be used for inspiration with more conventional writing activities.
Numbers League Card Game
Games that teach math are a great way for kids to reinforce their knowledge and have a great time. One math game that will keep you and your kids entertained and wanting to play over and over is Numbers League. Use simple and more advanced arithmetic along with your heroes and superheroes to defeat the villains. Decide whether you’d like to use a sidekick and/or a device, and then add up the values of the heroes to match the numerical value of a villain. Play by yourself or against opponents, and keep your city safe!
Numbers League App
The Numbers League Card Game also comes in an excellent app representation. This Numbers League version allows for playing against the computer, against human opponents, or a combination thereof. It also has a very large range of game settings and levels. There is no sidekick in this version, but otherwise the gameplay is very similar to the card game. Take this fun math game with you wherever you go!
City Square Off
A bit like Blokus flipped on its head, City Square Off gives each player their own board on which to build, and each player plays the same piece on each turn. The last person to still be able to place a piece wins. A favorite in our house, this game is great for kids up to adults.
Create a path for your piece to follow while trying to guide other players’ pieces off the board. This game’s very simple concept is a great deal of fun and offers a short game that you can play with kids and grownups of all ages. It is also great for a larger group, since up to eight players can play at once.
Loopz is a skill and action game designed to get players moving. It can be played alone or with up to four participants. Loopz includes seven different games (some with multiple levels) to challenge memory, flexibility, speed, rhythm, reflexes, and more. The loops flash with patterns of color and light, making this engaging fun for players 7 and up.
Xbox 360 Console Kinect
$299.99 to $399.99, or add-on Kinect system for your Xbox 360 $119.99 Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle Special Edition Xbox 360 4 GB Console with Kinect Kinect Sensor Add-on
Kinect technology makes Xbox better than ever. Kinect sensor utilizes full-body tracking to mirror your movements within a game or to control an HD movie with a wave of your hand. No controller necessary. Features built-in WiFi so you can stream movies or television, download games, connect with friends on Facebook, and much more. The video game experience has never been so real. A great gift for kids as well as grandparents.
Awkward Family Photos Game
If your family is feeling the need for something new to play on family game night, or your group of friends has a great sense of humor, this is the game for you. If you’ve ever seen the hilarious website called Awkward Family Photos, and couldn’t stop laughing, this is the game for you. If you need an activity that young kids can play with older folks and everyone has the same chance of ‘winning’, this is the game for you. It’s appropriately called Awkward Family Photos and you can snag your own copy for less than $19. It comes with a two sided board, covered in pictures that have appeared on the website, and players compete to see who can come up with captions and answers to such questions as, ‘What happened right after this picture was taken?’. If you’ve worn out your copy of Apples to Apples, it’s time to break out this new gem.
Star Trek Fleet Captains
This brand new board game is sure to appeal to your inner Trekkie. You command a fleet of Federation or Klingon ships, each beautifully modeled with a Clix dial on the base to track shields, weapons, sensors and engines. As you move across a board of random tiles, you’ll explore new planets, settle outposts and, of course, battle the enemy. To help you on your way there are cards with all your favorite characters from Kirk to Picard and, yes, there are even Tribbles wreaking havoc and threatening to sabotage your mission. With a huge assortment of cards and 24 ships to play, it’s never the same game twice.
Mouse Guard RPG
If you’ve been looking for a great way to introduce your kids to the world of roleplaying, then the Mouse Guard RPG based on the series of graphic novels published by Archaia should be part of your gift-giving plans this year. Although it was not created specifically for kids but targets adult players, the images and the universe are perfect for children. Set in a forest populated by brave little mice in capes and hats, it provides a rich world with kid-friendly characters your children will be happy to return to again and again. And as your children grow, so can the intricacy and depth of your adventures.
Kinect Sports Season Two
This sequel to the bestselling Kinect Sports title for the Kinect on Xbox 360 gives you and your family the chance to match skills at football, skiing, baseball, darts, golf and tennis. You can challenge each other in your living room or friends and family across the country through Xbox Live. Winter may have everyone stuck inside, but this game will have you breaking into a sweat as you try to beat your opponents.
A game system comprised of stacking pyramids instead of playing cards. There are 23 variations of this game, the rules of which can be obtained from Looney Labs. Ice Dice is a fast paced, entertaining way to while away the holidays.
Quite possibly the best of the Fluxx variations offered by Looney Labs. Star Fluxx keeps the premise of the original game while adding in geeky elements, going to the limits of what you can do under copyright law. A card game that can last ten minutes or sixty, it’s a good way to while away some time while digesting Christmas dinner. Not for the easily confused!
Is a word game for families, made by a family. It is fast, fun, and educational play. The game is $29.95 on the website and can be found in game stores in the Pacific Northwest.
Dixit is a card game similar to Apples to Apples, but with pictures. The artwork is amazing and the game is a lot of fun for kids and adults. The basic game is selling for just under $25 on Amazon.
Once Upon a Monster
If you have a Kinect and children seven and under (maybe even older than seven), this is a great game. The artwork and graphics are top quality and the activities are fun for kids and parents. This is the first Sesame Street game that I actually want to play – even when my kids aren’t around.
Disney Universe for Wii
Embark on a family-friendly trip through an imaginary robot-run universe that’s gone amok with mischief! Your avatar will attempt to free the costumes of numerous Disney characters and then don those costumes while attempting to save the different areas of the universe. There are blue bots that are helpful, and these black and red bots that are full of mischief and evil. For Disney, this game has some dark elements, but overall, it’s been fun to play with the family. Similar to the Lego video game series, players will use deductive reasoning to solve problems to get through each level, all the while collecting stars and coins, like the Lego games’ stud collections. The Disney franchise connection will make this video game a hit with the younger kids! Multi-player capabilities let teams work together to solve the problems. Rated “Everyone 10+” by the ESRB for cartoon violence and mild crude humor.
Cabela’s Adventure Camp for Wii
Enjoy extreme sports gaming like never before! Cabela’s Adventure Camp takes on several sports with a new twist! Participate in biking, kayaking, wave runner riding, skeet shooting, fishing, archery, hogwhacking, and a very special version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”…called “Bear, Hunter, Ninja!”. Unlike other sports games, while Player 1 is doing his/her sport, additional players can wreak havoc on the player by laying obstacles! Each of my sons enjoyed downing trees across the river while his brother was biking or kayaking! Rated “Everyone” by the ESRB, but it does contain mild violence.
Star Wars Kinect Bundle
This gift won’t quite make it under the Christmas tree. It’s being released on December 31, but I promise you won’t be sorry you put an IOU under the tree and waited the extra couple weeks. If you don’t own an Xbox, this is an excellent, extra geeky way to jump into a way to play video games that require you to get up and move. The Star Wars bundle, aside from coming dressed up as Droids, also gives you the Star Wars Kinect game and an extra large 320 gig hard drive.
Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
Lego Star Wars is my favorite video game of all time. You can play it at any age. You don’t have to see the movie first. It encourages cooperation, and you don’t have to be able to read. We’ve enjoyed all the other Lego video games in the series as well. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean adds more complexity to the game and makes money matter more. As with the other games, it parodies scenes from the movies without directly copying them, so it’s not too much of a spoiler to play the game before you watch the movie.
Back To The Future – The Game (Wii and PlayStation 3)
This game is the combination of five episodes that had been originally released episode by episode between December 2010 and June 2011 on the Microsoft and Mac operating systems. You play the part of Marty McFly in an adventure to save Doc and then restore the future. It is a game that any fan of the Back to the Future series.
Kinect Disneyland Adventures
This new Kinect game for the xBox 360 allows you do explore Disneyland from the comfort of your own home. You can explore the attractions, meet the characters and complete challenges.
Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure (Nintendo Wii)
Take innovative toys and match them with super fun gameplay and you’ve got Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure. An evil villain has frozen the Skylanders and sent them to earth, but with the Skylanders portal, you can send them back and save the Skylands! The single player mode is fun, but the cooperative mode is really something special. Oh, and if you pick this one up, you’re going to want more of the toys. Trust us. Read the full review.
Back in the day, Simon was a simple but addictive game. There was something about those glowing lights beckoning you to play. Now Simon has a high-tech update using Hasbro’s Flash technology. You can play the classic mode by following the pattern with the buttons, but you can also shift the cubes around to play four different games. A great update on a classic.
Word nerds, rejoice! Bananagrams brings the crossword puzzle to the tabletop. The flexibility of the game means that beginning and advanced spellers can all play together. The compact game comes in a banana-shaped zipper pouch suitable for travel (or hey, Santa – for a stocking stuffer).
Rush Hour Traffic Jam Game
Have you played Rush Hour? And no, we’re not talking the 5 o’clock commute. A strategy puzzle that will have players of all ages contemplating just how to maneuver the gridlock, Rush Hour comes with a set of cars and a deck of cards featuring challenges. In this single player game, the challenges begin simply but progress to more and more difficult layouts. For younger kids, there’s a Rush Hour Jr. Animal lovers will appreciate the Safari Rush Hour version complete with elephants and rhinos. This mind bender has been a favorite in our household for years.
My son Luke turned twelve in November, and all he asked for was money to buy his coveted items in the Lego catalog. I have a problem with this consumeristic tendency of my offspring. Does he need more Legos? No. Does he want them? Oh, yes.
When Luke was younger he would occasionally convince random family members to buy him a little Lego toy here and there whenever they took him out. They’re cheap and he’s so happy and thankful. I put a stop to that telling him that he could only receive gifts (Lego or otherwise) at his birthday and Christmas. And if he secretly got things from people, then I would be sure to forbid any Lego presents at those holiday times. Knowing that the big, expensive sets came then, he quickly changed his begging ways. He started saving the catalogs instead.
At first this seemed like an improvement, but Luke would spend his free moments dreaming of all the Lego items he wanted. His stack of Lego “magazines” (really just advertisements of upcoming products) grew, and his mind was filled with the desire to have stuff. I was unsettled because I once did the same thing: keeping around catalogs of things I could never afford, circling, even cutting out my favorite items…for what? I was an adult, and when someone asked me what I wanted for the holidays I always asked for something practical that we could use as a family. But I secretly wanted to buy, buy, buy like many Americans.
One day I just threw out all the catalogs. I didn’t like that part of myself. If I needed something, I would remember it, I didn’t need a visually happy model showing me what I was lacking. I don’t miss them. Oh, I’ll flip through a Harry and David catalog and dream of trying all that yummy food. Gaiam is filled with sustainable stuff, still just stuff. I told my son he could only keep the latest catalog in the house. The rest would be recycled. He was upset; it was a fun pastime to dream of getting things, and Legos are his favorite things. But he did it. (I later found out a grandma took a few for him to keep at her house…)
His room is filled with Legos; no other toy comes close to his obsession with the products. But he uses them. They are not things that are purchased and then sit idle in a drawer. He makes stop motion animation with them, creates action set-ups to photograph, he engineers awesome contraptions and creatures constantly. Plus, there are much worse ways to spend free time than actively building something. And is it that much different than buying my daughter cloth and sewing supplies on a regular basis? I know I cannot change the lust for things; it’s a losing battle in our world. But I can set limits, and encourage using our things for creative purposes.
So, for Luke’s birthday my husband and I gave him BrickJournal– a non-Lego sponsored magazine. Its pages are about people using Legos (bricks) as art, or in education, or how to build really awesome designs with the bricks you already own. When he had his party with friends, he asked for money to buy Legos. With that money he bought several Christmas-themed sets and the advent calendar. Our piano looks festive and cute. He has daily excitement from his calendar. And he’s so happy and thankful; it’s hard to complain.