Hogwarts or Bust! Building Excitement for a Universal Trip

Before my family visited Walt Disney World in spring 2013, I went a little crazy.

I poured over hotel room plans on Disney planning websites before we even selected a site. I studied restaurant menus and booked all our major meals at 180 days out. I joined multiple Disney forums, talked to countless helpful people, and actually made friends that I retain to this day.

As a family, we watched every Disney movie I could get my hands on. I haunted the Disney Store website for sales. I made tie-dyed T-shirts with Mickey heads on them. I made Mickey-shaped cookies. I made Mickey-shaped pancakes.

Yes. Just a little crazy.

This spring, we’re going to visit Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in Orlando, spurred on by a pair of little boys who love Harry Potter, Spider-Man, and the Jurassic Park movies. (OK, I just might be a little excited about the Wizarding World myself.) After we made the decision, I immediately jumped online and started to look into all the wonderful possibilities for researching and obsessing and planning and counting down the days. Did I have enough time to make dining reservations? How many hotels were there, again? What sort of touring plan would we want?

I was, perhaps, a tiny bit dismayed to find that obsession and long-range planning isn’t quite as necessary with the Universal parks. Dining reservations might not even be necessary with the dates we had planned, let alone reservations made 180 days ahead. Touring plans were much looser, if they were needed at all. And there didn’t seem to be many ideas for the build-the-excitement type activities I love so much. I saw a few tales of parents surprising their children with letters from Hogwarts. That was about it.

What’s a planning-happy mom to do?

Create her own, of course. Continue reading Hogwarts or Bust! Building Excitement for a Universal Trip

Geeky Valentine’s Day DIY Gifts

Want to give your sweetheart something totally awesome, unique, and affordable? Check out these do-it-yourself geeky valentine’s gifts! From cards to decor, there’s a project for everyone!

Continue reading Geeky Valentine’s Day DIY Gifts

Geeky Coffee Cozies to Knit and Crochet

Even though paper coffee cup sleeves are biodegradable, they still create unnecessary waste and use needed resources. Most of the time these sleeves end up in the trash instead of recycled. Why use a boring paper sleeve when you can rock a piece of geeky art work instead?

These projects are very quick to finish and require only a small amount of yarn. They make good stocking stuffers or birthday gifts. They are practical, unique, and sure to please. I use mine on both disposable and reusable cups. Here are six free patterns for coffee cozy sleeves you can knit and crochet:

Continue reading Geeky Coffee Cozies to Knit and Crochet

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

Between the Bookends – August 2015

Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown
Between the Bookends © Sophie Brown

This month the GeekMoms dove deeply into the Chris Carter-verse with books featuring both The X-Files and Millennium, fallen in love again with Star Wars through a new series of Little Golden Books, enjoyed home crafts, and finally found something to draw them away from a beloved series. Read on to find out more about what we’ve been reading this month.

Continue reading Between the Bookends – August 2015

Power Up Your Hairstyle with a ‘Super Mario’ Fire Flower Barrette

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Little gamer girls need something to power up their hairstyle, and what better way than with a fire flower from Super Mario Bros.? All you need is felt, a barrette, and glue to create an eye-catching, adorable hair clip in almost no time at all.

What You Need

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox
  • Barrette (alligator hair clip)
  • White, black, yellow, orange, and green felt
  • Scissors
  • Hot glue or school glue (for young crafters)

Get Started!

Begin by cutting two leaf shapes out of the green felt. Hot glue the two leaves on the barrette.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Next, cut a small oval (about 2 inches in diameter) out of the orange felt. Cut a smaller oval out of the yellow felt, and glue that oval on top of the orange one.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Next, cut a smaller oval out of the white felt and glue it on the yellow oval.

This part can be tricky, so young crafters may need the help of a grownup to cut the small shapes. Cut two small black ovals for the eyes, and glue them on the white oval.

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

Finally, cut two small white ovals for the top of the eyes, and glue them on. Your barrette is complete!

Crafters, Assemble! Make Your Own Captain America Bulletin Board

Photo: Kelly Knox
Photo: Kelly Knox

It might not be made of vibranium, but your kids will love having Captain America’s shield hanging on their wall nonetheless! With just a few inexpensive items from your local craft store, you can turn a small round cork board into a shield that will always catch your kids’ attention.

Thanks to a sale at Michael’s, I found everything I needed for this project for less than five dollars total.

What You Need

Captain America Bulletin Board

  • Round cork board, approximately 7″ (available at Michael’s)
  • White star (wood or paper), approximately 3.5″
  • Red, white, and blue acrylic paint
  • Paint brush
  • Hot glue gun
  • Twine and thumbtacks or sticky Velcro strips

Get Crafting!

Start by drawing a circle the same diameter as your white star in the middle of the cork board. If you’d like to use a template, take the opportunity to encourage the kids to go on a quick scavenger hunt around the house for circles you could trace. Trace or freehand two more circles so that the stripes are approximately half an inch apart.

Once your lines are lightly traced, begin by painting the middle circle blue.

Captain America Bulletin Board
A coaster and bowl served as my templates. Photo: Kelly Knox

Allow the blue paint to dry completely. Next, paint the two red stripes, keeping the middle stripe free of paint. Paint the outside stripe along the edge of the cork board. Allow the red paint to dry completely.

Finally, paint the middle stripe white, and let it dry.

Next, hot glue the white star into the center of the blue circle.

Captain America Bulletin Board
Photo: Kelly Knox

Once the paint is dry and the hot glue has cooled, flip the cork board over. To hang the board, you can use Velcro strips on the wall, but I’ve had varying success getting those to stick well to cork board. The board is even small enough to glue magnets to and stick on the refrigerator.

You can also take two thumb tacks, and press them lightly in the middle of the board. Tie a string (at least 4″ in length) on the pin of each tack, and then press them in completely. Tie the two strings together.

Captain America Cork Board
Photo: Kelly Knox

The bulletin board is now ready to hang on the wall! Pin reminders, homework, and more on your new star-spangled bulletin board.

For more Marvel-themed family crafts, check out my She-Hulk clothespin doll and Squirrel Girl TP roll doll!

Cricut Explore Is a Crafting Powerhouse

Image: Cricut
Image: Cricut.

I’m semi-skilled with a pair of scissors. I mean, I can successfully cut out a pattern from paper or fabric, but it’s probably my least favorite part of any project. It’s always been a necessary part of the process, however, since I had no way to automate the task for larger projects. Until now.

Enter the Cricut Explore. I’d heard of the Cricut brand before, and knew it had something to do with cutting things out of paper. And that there might be cartridges. Or something. I also recall one device for cutting fondant for cakes. I always thought that it wouldn’t be something I would use, because my crafting tends to not include much papercraft. Or cake decorating. Little did I know that the Cricut has come a long way since the original model.

Control the Cricut Explore from your computer, or from the iPad app. Image: Cricut
Control the Cricut Explore from your computer or the iPad app. Image: Cricut.

The Cricut Explore and the Cricut Explore Air are the newest in Cricut’s line of devices for cutting things out. The only difference I’ve found between the two models is that the Air has Bluetooth capability built in. You can purchase a Bluetooth dongle for the non-Air model, but it also works just fine with the included USB cable.

Compared with the older Cricut models, the Explore allows you to create in many more ways. It has a very long list of materials that can be cut, including normal paper, cardstock, and vinyl, and also things like tissue paper, vellum, window clings, Washi tape, Duck tape, light chipboard, silk, cotton, burlap, felt, leather, and craft foam. It will still work with the Cricut cartridges, but they are not necessary. You can run the free software from your computer or use the iPad app. You can also upload your own images and fonts for free, so you’re not limited to what’s in their library. This feature alone makes it perfect for our needs. My husband Rory and I are very crafty, and we make bags, pouches, dolls, and many other items. To be able to cut out pattern pieces perfectly each time makes for a better end product. Once your design file is set up, it’s just a matter of pushing a few buttons and you have your cut piece(s).

Image: Cricut
Image: Cricut.

More than just cutting, the Explore series also allows for specialized markers, which write on your materials. There are a wide variety of colors available, though the machine will only hold one at a time. There is also a scoring tool available for scoring lines for boxes or 3D projects. Additionally, there are cutting mats available in different sizes and levels of stickiness. If you’re a heavy user of your Cricut, you’ll go through mats pretty quickly, so plan accordingly. Each cut puts some markings on the mat, so eventually, mats do need to be replaced.

What was it like to use?
I’d never used anything like a Cricut before. We got everything out of the box and dove in, trying to follow what few instructions there were in the box. They guided us to a help website, which was a little light on the help, but it gave us enough information to make the thing go. The videos and PDF files were sufficient to get started, but it wasn’t intuitive at first.

This is what the page looked like after cutting four images. Photo: Jenny Bristol
This is what the page looked like after cutting four images. Photo: Jenny Bristol.

We don’t yet have our sewing patterns digitized, so I played around with some of the free art available through the Cricut Design Space software. (There are plenty of options that cost money—probably everything you can imagine—but the free choices are pretty extensive as well.) The design program itself is pretty capable. You can save projects, have layers, use different colors of paper and markers, etc. Your projects can be as simple or as complex as you like. The fancier the project, the more time the Cricut will save you.

I picked a few patterns that appealed to me, stuck some red cardstock to the mat, and let the machine do its thing. It cut the shapes out beautifully. The only problem came when I un-stuck the paper from the cutting mat. It was a bit like peeling up photos from those old photo albums from the 1970s. It kind of bends and warps your paper. But if you’re careful, and you have smaller sections to peel up, it all comes up pretty well. Cricut also sells a set of tools to help with such things.

A hodgepodge of shapes I cut with the Cricut Explore. It's tricky to line up the pieces when the finished piece has multiple parts, as you can see from the left two. The right image cut in all one piece, and worked out well. Photo: Jenny Bristol
A hodgepodge of shapes I cut with the Cricut Explore. It’s tricky to line up the pieces when the finished piece has multiple parts, as you can see from the left two. The right image cut in all one piece, and worked out well. Photo: Jenny Bristol.

The whole process wasn’t intuitive to me, but after I got through it once, it was a snap. Now I find my mind frequently thinking, “Ooo, can I use the Cricut to help me do that?” It’s hard to imagine one machine doing all that the Cricut does, but indeed, it does.

Is a Cricut necessary to your craft hobby or business? Only you can determine that. But it definitely makes intricate projects endlessly simpler and faster. No more need for the German art of scherenschnitte, unless you really love working with scissors.

So how does it all work?
Once you get the software installed and everything plugged in, go through the calibration process to make sure the device is reading the paper properly. Then just create designs, choose your material, put the material on the mat, press the Load/Unload button, and press the Cut button. Then wait. It’s cool to watch as it cuts and draws.

The Cricut Explore also comes with sample materials, allowing you to experiment before investing money in other supplies. It also comes with a handy carrying bag, which keeps the machine clean and makes it easy to carry. The cords fit in the carrying bag, but the cutting mat has to be carried separately. There are also little cubbies to store extra pens, blades, and the Bluetooth adapter inside the Cricut itself.

One thing I did find out the hard way, though, is that since the design software is web-based, if your internet connection goes out, you’re out of luck for a while. You also have to be logged into your Cricut account to actually start a cutting job.

Also, I wish that the Cricut Explore came with an extensive manual. The basics are easy to learn with the online tutorials, but what about deeper questions? What information do you need to properly choose a setting? What is light cardstock versus heavy cardstock? “Fabric” is just one setting, but fabric comes in a variety of thicknesses. Same with vinyl. I’d hate for trial and error to be my teacher. Good thing the internet is filled with help.

The Cricut Explore and Cricut Explore Air are available now, and are perfect for crafty types. This is the kind of tool that can be what you make of it. Your imagination is your only limit. And I know that you’ll find even more uses for it once it’s in your crafty clutches.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

The Meanest Thing You Say to Your Creative Friend

What I could really use is a time turner on my hands. Photo by lozikiki on Flickr

There’s a sentence every creative person hears eventually (or frequently) that’s a slap in the face every time:

“You have too much time on your hands.”

It’s in Urban Dictionary. There are snarky (and occasionally inspirational) Pinterest boards with “too much time on your hands” titles. Even Engadget, a site that arguably is for people with “too much time” to play with gadgets, is guilty of using it as a post title. (And it’s a Styx song, but that’s different.)

You may not think you’re being rude when you say this, but that’s because you’re not. You’re being incredibly, rudely, offensively mean. But you’re also revealing a lot.

When you say this phrase, what the creator hears is, “Wow, that was a really pointless thing you did.” And let’s be honest: That is exactly what you just said; it’s just not quite what you meant. What you were really saying was more like, “Wow, you spent a lot of time doing something you really enjoyed and created something you felt was worth sharing with me. I spent the same amount of time re-watching all of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix, pinning recipes I’ll never actually make, and playing through to level eleventy billion of Candy Crush. Now I would like to avoid reflecting too long on any of this.”

Let’s look at that. Especially this part: You spent a lot of time doing something you really enjoyed and created something you felt was worth sharing with me. It can take a lot for a creative person to share what they’ve made. It’s an act of trust. Creativity often comes with a pretty large ladle of self-doubt. And instead of supporting, encouraging, or even so much as politely smiling and nodding, you’ve declared the creation a waste.

If you’re a creative person yourself, let me offer some advice. The appropriate reply to the offender is, “No, actually I have the exact same 24 hours in a day that you do. I just choose to use them differently.” My experience is that this usually results in gobsmacked silence, which is exactly what should happen.

You can reserve the bonus snark for people who use the even more offensive version, “You should get a hobby.” (Wait, what? I just showed you the result of hours of learning a craft, but I don’t have a… I’m sorry, what?) To these people, you actually ask how they’ve been using their time. Rarely do they have a real answer. When they do have hobbies of their own, all you’re left with is the knowledge that this person, whether it was an anonymous commenter on a blog or your favorite aunt, is a little bit of a jerk. Then you have to choose whether it’s worth the time and/or potential loss of relationship to point out that you do have a hobby, and this is it, and that it’s incredibly rude to call someone’s hobby less valuable than your own.

And if you do? Worst case, you’re labeled “the weirdo,” but I gotta tell you—there are more of us. And we’re way more fun. Alas, what we don’t have is much time on our hands. We’ve got too many awesome projects.

To that, in closing, I offer you five fantastic things I found online with the phrase, “too much time on their hands”:

Scott Weaver’s Rolling Through the Bay (click that link for a video), which I’ve seen in person, and it really is fantastic. Photo by vivve on Flickr.
I am a huge sucker for latte art, and if you care that much about my coffee, it is absolutely not a waste of time. Photo from demotivateur.fr.
Vegetable carvings come up a lot in this search. I made a Skylanders Chompy out of a watermelon once. It took about 15 minutes. This, though? I have a huge amount of respect for this much patience. Photo by myprontopop on Twitter, who did not call it a waste of time.
I’m pretty sure the person who pinned this under “too much time on your hands” wouldn’t say that if somebody offered her a slice. Photo from blog.hwtm.com, where you can also get the recipe. The dyes are from actual foods, not food coloring!
Finally, this isn’t exactly high art, but it’s pretty funny. And took way less time than you spent tweeting from the toilet. Found on Pinterest, repinned from wehartit.com.


DIY Star-Lord Infinity Orb

Guardians of The Galaxy was one of the most popular films of last year, but considering how crazy we all went for the ragtag bunch of intergalactic misfits there’s shockingly little official merchandise available. I needed Star-Lord’s Orb for a cosplay and put together this tutorial for anyone who wants to have a go at making one themselves. They make excellent party bag favors and are incredibly fast and cheap to make.

What you need:

  • A Polystyrene Ball (the Orb should fit comfortably in your hand so consider whether you are making one for a child or an adult when choosing what diameter ball to purchase, mine was three inches in diameter)
  • A Hot Glue Gun and Glue Sticks (I used three sticks to cover my ball)
  • Black and Silver Paints (grey optional)—I used a mix of acrylic and enamel

Continue reading DIY Star-Lord Infinity Orb

Mad Scientist Halloween Tablescape on a Budget

Mad Scientist Tablescape. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Mad Scientist Tablescape. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Looking for something eye catching and spooky for your Halloween decor this year? Maybe a Mad Scientist tablescape is just the right thing for you!

It all started when GeekMom Natalie sent me a link to a fantastic tablescape from Pottery Barn featuring a periodic table. The gears in my mind immediately started turning as I wondered how I could do something similar in my own home and on a budget. Recently, I started creating a new tablescape on my kitchen table each month, and I decided to concoct a chemistry-themed tablescape for October and Halloween.

Choosing the Glass

I knew I needed some spooky chemistry glass, and I thought my local thrift store would be a great place to start looking. Let’s face it, I’m a thrift-store-aholic with my favorite being the non-profit Guardian Angel in Fuquay-Varina, NC, which raises money to fund Alzheimer’s research. I wasn’t disappointed with what I found in their “Vases” section. I just about danced in the isle as I filled my cart with amazing glass finds!

Thrift Store Glass. Photo: Maryann Goldman

For $20, I walked away with the majority of glassware that I thought I would need to fill up my kitchen table. I would love to have used real chemistry Pyrex glass, but after pricing some beakers and flasks, they were way over my budget with each piece being $5 or more. I decided that vases with a flared outer rim at the top would work best. Luckily, they had quite a few of those. I felt the rim disguised the vases enough so that they didn’t look like they were for flowers. I also realized that coffee pots with the handles removed did a great job of simulating real flasks. Most of the clear glass was in the $1-$2 price range. Quite reasonable for my budget.

My Glass Selections. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Making the Labels

Next I did a lot of research on Halloween bottle labels and created a Potion Bottle Labels board on Pinterest. I was going to make my own bottle labels, but I ended up ordering some glow-in-the-dark labels from Amazon and Oriental Trading Company. I decided that I wanted the glow-in-the-dark look and the ease of application of the store bought labels. Maybe I’ll make my own next year!

Getting Just the Right Bottle Glow

I also needed to figure out what to fill my bottles with so that they would look great in daylight and also under a blacklight. I created a Halloween Chemistry board on Pinterest as I did my research. What I found out is that there are quite a few options for getting liquid to glow. To summarize, you can use glow sticks, highlighter pens, tonic water, and neon paint, to name a few techniques.

I decided to go with neon paint because I thought it would be the least expensive and least toxic. This is the same paint kids use in preschool to fingerpaint. Just make sure you get neon colors. To make a bottle glow with the paint, just squeeze in several tablespoons of paint, add tap water, and stir.

Washable Neon Paint. Photo: Maryann Goldman

I tried this special blacklight paint for the purple and pink, but it was not as bright under the blacklight as the neon paints that I used. Next time I would just get neon pink and neon purple paint.

Blacklight Paint. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Picking Some Other Elements

So what other items did I think would look good on the table and complement the glass? I pulled out my microscope which I thought would fit right in. I also found a ceramic piece shaped like a stack of books labeled “Spells,” “Potions,” and “Magic” at Michaels that I figured would be a perfect addition to the table. I used a few candles and to fill one of the glass jars with cotton balls and plastic, glowing spiders. I picked up a sparkling, tiny owl to clip onto one of the glass jars too. I also included a small sprig of the yellow wildflower tickweed, currently growing near my home. I got the idea to put green food color tinted water into plastic medical gloves for a spooky hands effect. And, I created a creepy brain by filling one of my larger bowls with cooked spaghetti and green food tinted color water. I picked up some ping pong ball style eyeballs too. I didn’t want my table to be too gory, but I just couldn’t resist the eyeballs. Last but not least, I used some Water Beads. Have you ever used those in a vase? They are so much fun to look at and play with! My kids can’t get enough of them. Check out this post by GeekMom Cathé where her daughter does an interesting experiment with water beads. Just make sure to put your water beads in water 4+ hours before you’re ready to debut your table or take pictures of it. The beads need some time to absorb water and grow bigger.

Glass Beads. Photo: Maryann Goldman

I spent a long time hunting for just the right periodic table of elements poster.  I wanted the largest poster I could find for the cheapest price; I also needed it sooner rather than later.  I ended up buying one off eBay for $10, and I was pleased with it.

Laying Out the Table Foundation

Before you can start laying out your table, you need to decide if you want to use a tablecloth, and what placemats, napkins, plates, and even silverware you want to use. I ended up using a green and white checkered piece of fabric that I found in the attic for the tablecloth. I had two orange and black checkered tablecloths, but I decided against them because I felt they would be too dark when I had the blacklight on. I knew that I wanted purple placemats and couldn’t find any locally, so I used rectangles of purple felt. That left me looking for just the right napkins. Walmart has some pre-cut rectangular fabric pieces in their craft department, and I picked up a pack of various patterns all with a purple and green theme to tie the tablecloth and placemats together. The fabric is pretty easy to fold like a napkin.

Turn Fabric Into Dinner Napkins. Photo: Maryann Goldman

For daytime use, I decided to stick with my Country Cottage and Melissa (green and white checker) Corelle plates, but at night, I decided to go with clear plates that I could light up with necklace size glow sticks.

Melissa Corelle Plate. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Clear Plate With Necklace Glow Stick. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Assembling the Table

When I had gathered all the items I wanted to use, and on the day I was ready to assemble the table, I started out by filling one bottle at a time with the paint and water mixture and placing it on the table. I repurposed a few margarita glasses as risers so that the glass could be displayed at varying heights. I saved a few of the bottles for the water beads, and mixed them up, and placed them on the table too. And most importantly, I enlisted help from the kids who were very excited about the project.

Johnny Mixing Neon Paint. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Johnny Preparing the Spaghetti Brain. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Once you have the bottles laid out in a way that makes you happy, you can add the other elements such as bottle labels, ribbons, flowers, etc. Just keep adding elements, adjusting the layout, and tweaking things until you are satisfied. There is no right or wrong with this.  Just have fun!

Johnny With a Water Filled Rubber Glove. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Checking the Blacklight

I was very pleased with how the table lit up the first time I put the blacklight on it, but there were a few items that didn’t light up. The owl and the “Spells,” “Potions,” and “Magic” books ceramic piece were just as dark as could be. I scratched my head for a minute and decided to try painting them with some glow-in-the-dark dimensional fabric paint that I had lying around. The paint is pretty transparent and easy to apply, so you don’t have to be an expert painter to make this work. Just get a small brush, and apply a thin layer of the paint to anything you’d like to have glow.

Dimensional Glow-in-the-Dark Fabric Paint. Photo: Maryann Goldman

In just a few minutes, my “Spells,” “Potions,” and “Magic” books ceramic piece went from being black and obscure to being one of the most eye catching items on my table!

Glowing “Spells,” “Potions,” and “Magic” books ceramic piece. Photo: Maryann Goldman

I just love how this turned out and couldn’t imagine my table without it! I almost wish I had more items that I could have painted with the glow-in-the-dark paint.

Getting the Most Out of Your Glow Sticks

Although I avoided using the chemicals inside glow sticks to make the majority of my bottles glow, I ended up with one glow stick that broke open accidentally while we were snapping it to make it glow. Instead of throwing it away, I wanted to put it to good use. I had some large and somewhat see-through Glitter Flakes that I poured into a teardrop-shaped bottle. Then I added all the liquid from inside the glow stick. I used an old, but sharp, steak knife to open the glow stick plastic enough to get all the chemicals out. Sometimes you can use scissors, but many of the plastic tubes are too thick to cut easily. Whatever you use, be careful not to cut yourself and to thoroughly wash your hands when you’re done. Otherwise you can have a lesson in how germs spread in your home by turning off your lights and seeing where all the little hands have touched with the glow chemicals. To finish, put the cap on the bottle, our hold your thumb over the opening, and shake up the glitter and liquid. You’ll be amazed at the results!

Glitter Flakes. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Remember those jars of fireflies you collected as a kid? Well, your glowing glitter bottle will look very similar! Bottles lit up this way are truly mesmerizing to view. Since glow sticks only glow for a limited amount of time, bottles prepared this way will only look this beautiful for one evening. However, if you want to light the bottle up again, say the next night, you can always just add the contents of one more glow stick and a bit more of the glitter flakes.

Magic Bottle with Glitter and Glow Stick Chemicals. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Explaining Fluorescent and Phosphorescent

All the kids I’ve ever spent time with are fascinated by things that glow in the dark after being charged under a light or by things that glow under a black light. When I turned on the black light over my table for the first time, my boys were amazed at how it lit up. I even got lucky, and the tablecloth glowed. Another way to include your kids in setting up this tablescape is to take a few minutes to talk about why things glow under various conditions. Take the time to explain the difference between items that are fluorescent versus phosphorescent.

Taking Your Pictures and Sharing Your Result

Make sure to take some pictures to save all your efforts for posterity.  I took many shots with the light on and using my flash.

Neon Concoctions. Photo: Maryann Goldman


Daylight Table Wide View. Photo: Maryann Goldman


Daylight Table Tight View. Photo: Maryann Goldman


Daylight Table Tight View #2. Photo: Maryann Goldman

I also took a bunch of pictures with the lights off and the blacklight on. I used a stick-style blacklight and my guy held it for me as I took the pictures, but you could also put a black light into your dining room table light fixture or a lamp (freestanding or tabletop). I used a tripod to keep my camera still, but you can keep your camera still by leaning on your kitchen counter or against a doorframe. The Auto setting on your camera will probably work just fine as long as the camera is still.

More Glowing Table Elements. Photo: Maryann Goldman


Glowing Table Tight View. Photo: Maryann Goldman


Mad Scientist Tablescape with Blacklight. Photo: Maryann Goldman
Glowing Table Wide View. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Feeling inspired to create your own chemistry-themed Halloween table? You can get some more ideas by checking out my Halloween Tablescape board on Pinterest. I’ve seen some tablescapes that make use of beautiful natural light and various types of foliage from your yard. There are others that gore up the items filling their bottles. You can use traditional Halloween black and orange colors if you like. Or maybe you’d like to have an old manual typewriter that the Mad Scientist can type up his research notes on. If the Mad Scientist gets hot in his lab, an old, black metal fan might be just the prop to add to your table. A black chalkboard could be just the thing for the Mad Scientist to write up his notes on. The Mad Scientist might even have some old tools and scissors for working on his experiments and patients.  How about the perfect old clock? Set your creativity free, and see what you can come up with!

5 Geeky Things to Do With Old Keys

Get those keys out of the junk drawer and onto the crafting table with these five geeky ideas. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

Tarnished, old junk drawer keys.

Nobody can remember where half of them came from, much less what they actually unlocked in the first place. Yet, no one wants to be the one to get rid of them.

Some keys are relics from past homes, vehicles, or school lockers, while others are attractive-but-unnecessary family heirlooms tucked away in shoeboxes or desk drawers.

An old locker key on a chain can become the perfect Whovian accessory.

These crafty uses for keys of all shapes and sizes, from easiest to more advanced, will give these keys a chance to be useful again—by opening the doors to imagination.

Emergency TARDIS Key. Most of The Doctor’s keys (barring a few elaborate incarnations) have been almost comically nondescript. Adding a plain silver Yale lock-style key to a necklace chain creates an instant Doctor Who prop replica. Display it in a shadow box or inexpensive box frame, with the following printed or handwritten instructions:

“Break box in case of emergency
in Time and Space.”

These are great additions to a Doctor Who-themed room or can be an easy gift for a favorite Whovian.

Keys of any shape and size can become little alien and monster charms.

Alien and Monster Charms. Using glossy craft paint, spray paint, or novelty nail polish, paint some plain keys bright colors. Then, paint “Roswell” Alien eyes or monster eyes and teeth.  They look cute on their own, but they can also wear a  little “cloak,” using a square of felt or craft foam. Use these little guys for necklaces, earrings, or bracelet charms.

These also work with plastic baby’s teething ring keys for “Baby’s First Christmas” tree trimmers, mobiles, or gift wrap accessories.

The flying key replica from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone takes only a pair of vellum paper wings.

Hogwarts’s Flying Keys. You can make the flying keys that guard one of the entrances to the Sorcerer’s Stone hiding place in the first book of the Harry Potter series. Just take various shapes and sizes of skeleton-style keys and add “wings.” Fold a piece of vellum paper in half and cut into wing-shaped pieces. Then, glue them onto keys to make simple wings.

These can also be made into a mobile, by hanging them from plain wooden dowels or chopsticks. However, a single key hanging near a door or window or placed on a shelf can be a nice subtle touch to a library.

Steampunk Snowflakes. Arrange six to eight decorative skeleton keys in a circle. Using a glue gun, add steampunk embellishments in the center, such as nuts, clock faces, or gears (make sure to glue one on both sides).

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 3.31.20 AM
Steampunk snowflakes will look like you spent a lot of time on them.

Although these make great ornaments during the holiday season, they make cute wall or window art year-round.

Locke & Key “Known Keys” Replicas. One of the unique things in Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Eisner-winning dark horror fantasy graphic novels is the “Known Keys,” which can open portals to various dimensions. Since it was recently announced at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, there may finally be a motion picture trilogy based on this comic. In other words, these weird little keys could get pretty popular soon.

Creating replicas of some of these keys’ simpler designs is a fun use of over-sized craft keys that have been haunting the dollar bins in craft stores lately. This is the most difficult of the crafts, because it does include a little imagination and sculpting.

Polymer clay and imagination is needed for this Locke & Key-inspired craft.

Use bakeable polymer clay to enhance skeleton-style keys with designs and symbols resembling some of the more popular keys (Echo Key, Shadow Key, Omega Key, etc.). If the designs are built over the keys, no glue or adhesive is needed.

Once the clay is hardened in the oven (the keys can be baked with the clay), use paint or felt-tip markers to add additional designs.

There are several illustrated lists of these keys online, as well as a one-shot Guide to Known Keys by Hill and Rodriguez, but it isn’t necessary to replicate the designs perfectly. This last craft is a chance to get creative and come up with original designs.

Display them in shadow boxes or on bookshelves for conversations, or with eerie Halloween displays.

A DIY Mid-Century Medieval Guest Room Upgrade


With two kids, a dog, and space at a general premium, having a guest room has never been an easy task for our growing family. We’ve made some sad attempts over the years to accommodate visitors, including a futon (shudder), a second-string queen sized bed (which ended up covered in marker), and an office/nursery combination.

A year ago, we finally moved to a house that had an additional bedroom, a flex space. Naturally, that means that for the last year, it’s pretty much stood as a testament to every last box we didn’t unpack, and included a mountain of computer junk.

No. More.

When I had the chance to try out a new mattress from Simmons—the Simmons ComforPedic iQ™—I knew the time had come for a redesign. A DIY project of, well, moderate proportions (kids, job, deadlines).

First things first: Behold the mess of our guest room.

Before - Room.jpg
I don’t even. Image: Natania Barron

Believe it or not, this picture was taken after two room overhauls. We knew we couldn’t lose the office space—face it, we’re not the kind of family that can afford to let a whole room sit unused most of the time. But the setup we had didn’t work. My husband Michael works from home up to two days a week, but the big square table we had just wasn’t happening.

I envisioned a wall dedicated to the office, while the rest of the room could serve as a comfortable space for sleeping and resting guests. The ComforPedic iQ™ is a particularly nice choice for guests (and non-guests, as I have a feeling our 8-year-old is getting a bit jealous) because it’s all about, well, you guessed it: comfort. Seriously, I can attest to how comfortable it is—and not just in the ways you’d imagine. The mattress itself is built around Smart Response™ Technology, which naturally adjusts to the sleeper’s body weight and proportions. Plus, it’s topped with Ultra Cool™ Memory Foam to help regulate temperature. If you’re at all like we are, that’s a really important part of the equation. (Also, diamond dust. Yup. Diamond dust.)

Now, we purchased a bed a few years ago from Costco that we call the Space Bed. That’s because it’s a knockoff of another foam bed and was significantly cheaper. It certainly does its job, but the support is nowhere near as comprehensive as with the ComforPedic iQ™. In our testing of the bed, we found less aches and pains (and my husband suffers from sciatica, so we’re very familiar) and, in my case, less legs and arms falling asleep. Not to mention that you can, quite literally, feel it subtly adjusting to you as you relax. It’s kind of amazing.

A cross section of the ComforPedicIQ — image: Simmons

So, good for the goose, good for the gander. Actually, in this case—better for the gander. (Wait, are my guests ganders? I’m confused.)

But I digress. I’m unapologetically addicted to Pinterest, and given the opportunity to design a bed in a small space, I decided to gather my craftiness and have a go. Initially, I was going to make a headboard out of some material I got over at the Scrap Exchange in Durham, and affix it to cardboard. But then I did some more Pinteresting and decided that, given I had extra curtain rods, a sort of medieval drapery action would do the trick. As a result, the whole room has a medieval feel. The yellow and black fabric was cut and draped (no sewing for this gal…) and then I hammered some medieval-looking mirrors to the backdrop. A duvet set from Amazon and Ikea added the final touch for the bed and, I’ve got the say, the final result is a lot nicer than I thought it’d be. I call it Mid-Century Medieval.

The desk situation is a more difficult nut to crack.

Initially, since our budget is basically as thrifty (not cheap) as humanly possible, we were going to use an old door to make a long desk. Now, I already have a DIY standing desk that I put together with some shoe organizers from Target and an old desk we had (total price: $50). But Michael needed something that would allow him to sit and stand during the day because he’s just not as awesome as I am.

Anyway, given that I didn’t want to turn our precious weekend into a sojourn and since we didn’t find anything serviceable at The Scrap Exchange, we went back to Costco and took a look around. While they have some really awesome and awesomely expensive computer desk arrangements, it was a simple, sturdy, foldable table that got my interest. Yeah, it’s pretty basic. No, it’s not gorgeous. But set with some more risers and some lightning, it really gets the job done. Most importantly, it allows for free movement in the room and it doesn’t crowd the living arrangement. And best yet? It was $50. Sure, we’ll likely spring for something nicer down the road, but the current setup is smooth. I’m thinking of upholstering the table with some oil cloth for some extra texture and color.

As a special bonus? For the last six years, we’ve been schlepping around a large Dwarven Forge collection, which is absolutely phenomenal stuff, but… well, pretty much took up the entire space of our closet. But with a bed comes an added magical plus: under-the-bed space. And wouldn’t you know, the whole collection fit there seamlessly. It’s sort of like the TARDIS of beds.

That's more like it!
The final product. Plus kid. Image: Natania Barron

Oh yes, I also have a sword by my desk. Because you never know when you—or your guests—might have to fend off zombies. See? I’m thinking ahead.

This weekend, we have our first guest arriving. And for the first time in a decade, I’m ready to show the room off. I don’t feel like I have to make apologies for the crib/desk/blow-up mattress/futon lumps. It’s a room I’d like to live in, and where sleep will come easily to those who seek it. Zombie invasions, notwithstanding.

This post is brought to you by our sponsors, ComforPedic iQ™ by Simmons.
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Unboxing the How to Train Your Dragon Collector’s Edition

The version of the How to Train Your Dragon Collector’s Edition with the flying dragons is a Walmart exclusive.

Hiccup, Toothless, and the rest of the How to Train Your Dragon crew are just weeks away from new adventures. This is absolutely the perfect time for Paramount to release the How to Train Your Dragon: Collector’s Edition.

It’s easy to scoff at another release for the 2010 film—especially, if you already purchased the 2010 DVD or Blu-ray (or the 3D version from 2011). Well, I don’t know about you, but in my house, discs are easily lost and even more easily scratched. Maybe you could use an upgrade.

Since you’ve probably seen the movie a few hundred times at this point, I’m not going to bore you with plot points and how this is an awesome movie. (Just know that I even cried in the theater!) Instead, let’s focus on how this release differs from the last release.

As far as the picture and image are concerned, you can expect a carbon copy of the 2011 release. It doesn’t have any 3D options, but it does have the same 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the same Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track. (The audio was upgraded from 5.1 to 7.1 in 2011.)

The extras are where things get sort of interesting. On paper, most of the extras were picked up from the previous release. That includes the commentary track, the picture-in-picture commentary option, and an on-screen trivia track, as well as a short on the voice actors, two on the animation, and another on “The Story Behind the Story.” There are several additional featurettes, including the animated “Book of Dragons” and “Ultimate Book of Dragons.” It’s a nice release, but it’s worth mentioning that the Blu-ray no longer has any of the games from the last Blu-ray and both the deleted scenes and the “Legend of the Bonekeeper Dragon” short is now only on the DVD that’s included (not on the Blu-ray).

The only new featurette is the “Frozen” episode of DreamWorks Dragons: Riders of Berk. There are a few non-disc perks, including DVD and digital versions of the film and a free movie ticket that will get you up to $7.50 off one ticket for How to Train Your Dragon 2. However, my two favorite perks are part of the Walmart exclusive for this release. I had my son unbox them in the video below.

In case you couldn’t tell, the Walmart edition comes with a book, the How to Train Your Dragon 2 Racing Guide. Since I didn’t think a video of my son reading would be all that interesting, it was hard to get the gist of this one on video. Although it’s geared towards the sequel, the characters will be very familiar and the racing aspect is really fun—and very appropriate for this release. As mentioned in the video, this set also comes with five “flying dragons.” These are like paper airplanes. Whenever I am assembling crafts like this one, I feel like I have an extra thumb. However, the directions are easy to follow and the pieces are pretty sturdy. Here was the end result:

The How to Train Your Dragon Collector’s Edition is available now on Blu-ray and DVD. Just know that the version with the flying dragons is a Walmart exclusive.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

DIY Paper Award Ribbons With Spirograph

DIY Paper Award Ribbons
Image by Julie Tiu

We’re in the home stretch of the school year and I have end-of-the-year everything happening. So what’s a girl to do when she wants to say, “Good Job! Way to go!” to her pals in the school Math Club? I make paper award ribbons… with Spirograph designs. It is math-based after all.

And, who doesn’t like getting award ribbons? Now this multipurpose craft can also be a gift tag, gift wrap/bag ribbon, locker decoration, and card attachment. I’m sure we could think up some more uses. Here’s how to make the ribbons (sorry, no tutorial today on Spirographing).

What you need

Spirograph (or Hypotrochoid) design set
Left over party streamers
Glue Gun
Optional: Circle cutter (Martha Stewart), X-Acto knife

DIY Paper Award Ribbons with Spirograph
Image by Julie Tiu

Play around with your Spirograph set and choose one large design and one small design to layer. For this project, I used a black marker for the larger design and alternated between red, blue, and pink for the small design. Cut out your designs when you have enough.

DIY Paper Award Ribbons
Cutting out Spirograph designs. Image by Julie Tiu.

If you happen to have a circle cutter, it makes cutting easier and quick! These circles were between 2-3/8″ and 2-9/16″.

DIY Paper Award Ribbons with Spirograph
Image by Julie Tiu

You can also try cutting the profile with scissors. (It totally makes cool scraps.)

DIY Paper Award Ribbons with Spirograph design
Image by Julie Tiu

This is the challenging and colorful part. You will need anywhere between 28″ to 40″ of streamer. The more pleats you make, the more frilly and full the rosette looks. Personally, I like the frill.

Pictures from top left, reading across

1) Using your hot glue gun, adhere one end of the streamer to the back of your cardstock circle, with the rest of the streamer hanging towards your right (flip if you’re left-handed).

2) Now, begin pleating, or gathering, the streamer into your non-dominant hand (my left). It should resemble a paper fan.

3) Every fourth or fifth pleat, use your hot glue gun and adhere the streamer to the cardstock. Please take care not to burn your thumb. I did.

4) Continue pleating and slightly rotate to follow the curve of the circle. Glue sections at a time.

5) When you complete the circle, glue the tail to your starting point and trim any excess.

DIY Paper Award Ribbons
Image by Julie Tiu

The rosettes are done! To turn it into the award ribbon, take 6″ to 8″ lengths of fabric ribbon and glue to the back.

DIY Paper Award Ribbons
Image by Julie Tiu

I like the look of two or three ribbons, and they don’t have to match (it adds to the kitsch factor). This is a great project to use up those remnants of fabric ribbon you may have laying around the house.

All set to hand out at the next (last) meeting!

DIY Paper Award Ribbons
Image by Julie Tiu

3 Toddler-Friendly Art Hacks

toddler art hacks
Tea and coffee drawings, flatbed scanner photography, and substituting play dough for bakeable polymer are three quick tips for young artists from toddlers to teens. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

I live in a house of busy hands.

Both of my girls are on continuous searches for the next creative project. Although I am proud of my girls’ creative passion, I’m also in a constant struggle to keep supplies on hand to meet their latest whims. Not to mention, the need to come up with safe, age-appropriate ideas.

A flatbed scanner and small found objects make some clever photography projects.

This is especially true with my four-year-old, who is extremely hard to corral when her artistic urges get the better of her. Fortunately, through working with my older daughter, repeated trial and error, and many instances of panicky rifling through craft closets, I picked up a few little “life hacks” over time.

Here are three of the simplest:

Flatbed Scanner Photography. When kids bring in their small “treasures” from outside, a regular flatbed home office scanner is a good way to display them in a more permanent manner. Place small flowers, leaves, feathers, or other flat items on the scanner and hit the “photo” setting. Make sure there’s no dew or moisture on the items. Once scanned, print out on regular letter-sized paper, or as an instant “snapshot” if the scanner includes a print setting for 4-by-6-inch photo paper.

tea paint
Out of watercolors? Brew up some tea and coffee paint.

Tea and Coffee Painting. My daughter goes through watercolor paints alarmingly fast. In those instances when no paint is available, use small cups of very thick tea, coffee, fruit drinks, or other beverages to make natural paints. Anyone who has dyed eggs with natural dyes should know how much variety in color there is from different tea types (green tea, Earl Grey, etc.). Textured manila paper works best for this, and gives the drawings a natural, rustic look. They also smell wonderful while painting.

preserve playdough
Sealing play dough with decoupage on smaller projects is a good substitute for polymer clay.

“No Bake” Play Dough Sculpture. Bakeable polymer is the best medium for small-scale sculpting, but when it’s not on hand, kids’ play dough works just as well as a “no bake” version. As this type of clay tends to crack when it’s dry, use a little school glue thinned with water or decoupage to seal it. This will preserve the projects much longer. For smaller sculptures (like clay beads, flowers, etc.), this will look about as good as anything made with bakeable polymer, minus needing to use the oven.

All of these tips take little-to-no preparation and clean up, and are quick boredom busters for weekends or after school.  Toddlers can manage these tasks with the help of parents, and older siblings will want to try as well.

Plus, kids love to tell others how they made things, and watch the impressed looks on Grandpa’s face when they declare, “I drew this with coffee!”

More Geek Loom Bands

An Evil Minion my daughter and I made for Gramp’s birthday. Image: Cathe Post

Loom band projects are still all the rage. With the Rainbow Loom just being named Toy of the Year (for both Specialty Toy of the Year and Girl Toy of the Year) at the 2014 Toy Fair, it’s no wonder that kids (and adults) love doing projects, and teachers and occupational therapists have yet another tool in their arsenal. Geeks have found a niche in the loom band craft, too. Jenn previously shared some of her favorite geeky loom patterns. I have a few more to add to your list to check out.

My attempt at a Spiderman charm. He doesn't have a face or webs, and too many of the bands broke in the neck area to keep him, but it wasn't a bad attempt. Image: Cathe Post
My attempt at a Spider-Man charm. He doesn’t have a face or webs, and too many of the bands broke in the neck area to keep him, but it wasn’t a bad attempt. Image: Cathe Post

Spider-Man (and the Avengers): The site PG’s Loomacy is one of my favorites for these characters. There is even a PDF pattern available for making your own Spider-Man. From this pattern, you can also fill in the correct color schemes for the other members of the mighty Avengers team.

Minecraft is still extremely popular (and is yet another award winner for Toy of the Year). What better way to make pixellated jewelry than with bands? You can make a chainmail-type Steve face or Creeper face cuff, or make your own charms in the same style as the Avengers I mentioned earlier.

Rainbow and chainmail make a wonderful combination. Image: Cathe Post
Rainbow and chainmail make a wonderful combination. Image: Cathe Post

Chainmail bracelets without the pixel-art are pretty nifty by themselves. Following one these patterns gives you all of the chainmail pattern without the weight of using metal. We just did one that was narrow, but you can do them much wider if desired. This pattern I found is by SoCraftastic.

One last design we have made quite a few of for birthday presents is the minions. These are very easy to make either evil or normal based on the color of band used. (Helpful hint: If you can’t find googly eyes with a slit in the back, hot glue works well to hold on the band.

A Good Minion my daughter and I made for a friend’s birthday. Image: Cathe Post

One last one I want to try and haven’t had time for are the horse patterns. I figure it would be really easy to change the colors to match any of the My Little Pony cast.

On a less geeky note: There are patterns for every season. There are patterns for St. Patrick’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Valentine’s Day—the possibilities are endless. If you want to take a look at some of the patterns and ideas I have been stockpiling for my daughter and myself, take a look at my Pinterest board.

In our house, we have had a similar experience as Jenn when it comes to the little colorful rubber bands. They seem to be distant relatives of Tribbles. When they aren’t lost in the carpet or part of a geeky work-of-art, our supply tends to run a little low. I have found a couple of things as this hobby has taken over our house: First, since coupons can’t be used to buy the name-brand bands most of the time, I have found a company through Amazon that sells a good quality band for a really good price. My test for a good quality band includes being able to stretch over five pegs in length, and being able to “cap” (the term used when twisting and folding a band so that it is two bands thick instead of one—but only using one band) a band over three pegs without the band breaking.

The other thing is that the real Rainbow Loom is truly the way to go. My daughter received Crazy Looms for Christmas which are just okay and only work for some projects. We found the Rainbow Loom is far superior and well worth the extra few dollars. The pegs were easier to dig in to get the bottom loops up, the bands didn’t fall off the pegs as easily since they are more straight up and down than slanted, and the ability to move the pegged strips into different configurations gives it a bigger array of uses than the standard solid-piece knock-offs.

What have been some of your favorite loom projects? Have you made larger projects like purses or phone cases? Do share!

Bare Conductive: Electric Paint for Crafts & More

Bare Conductive © Bare Conductive
Bare Conductive © Bare Conductive

I’m always interested in trying something new in the world of crafts, so the idea behind Bare Conductive’s battery-powered cards made with electric paint fascinated me.

Bare Conductive sells kits that contain everything you need to make a selection of flashing cards: batteries, LED bulbs, a tube of electric paint, and cards printed with instructions. The idea is very simple: Punch holes in the card to affix the battery and bulb (making sure to line up the positive and negative sides correctly), then squeeze a line of electric paint along the marked line to create the circuit. Once the paint is dry, the circuit will be complete and the bulb will begin flashing.

A Finished Card © Sophie Brown
A Finished Card © Sophie Brown

There are, sadly, several issue with this. Firstly, if you follow the instructions as suggested, then the bulb will simply blink until the battery gives out—not very useful, if you plan to actually give the card to someone. I solved this issue by leaving a small gap in the paint line that could then be bridged at will by a paper-clip or other small metallic object. You could also put some of the electric paint onto a small piece of paper or a stick to create a flap that could be opened and closed by the recipient.

Secondly, there’s the difficulty of actually getting the card to someone. You have now created a card that has a small glass bulb sticking out of it, so if you plan to send your card through the mail, you’re gonna have to package it very well for the bulb to remain intact. OK, that’s not a huge design flaw, but it is something you need to consider before putting money down on cards that are not cheap to begin with. Personally, I’m not sure I’d risk it, which of course limits me to creating these cards only for people I can hand-deliver to.

Bare Conductive Paint © Sophie Brown
Bare Conductive Paint © Sophie Brown

Finally, I had a lot of issues with the cards themselves. My first card was something of a bust because the LED bulb was so faint, I couldn’t see it blinking. I actually thought I’d done something wrong on the circuit and spent a long time trying to find the problem, until I leaned over the card and spotted the faint blinking when it was in my shadow. I tried again with a second card, which worked much better; however, this one stopped working after a short time. I again hunted down the problem and determined that the electric paint had developed a hairline crack, which had broken the circuit. Cracking after only a short time could be an issue if you use the paint for repair jobs as the manufacturers suggest on their website.

One of the other products on the Bare Conductive website is the Glowing House Set, which contains all you need to build two cardboard houses that can then be lit from the inside with the LEDs and more powerful batteries. A more permanent project such as this, which also allows for easier battery replacement, seems like a better use for the electric paint than the card kits; assuming of course, that the paint doesn’t crack. The paint can also be bought fairly cheaply on its own, so you could create your own projects after a trip to the local electronics store. The possibilities for prop-making are limitless and could allow people with no soldering experience to create their own electronic devices. I have visions of glowing steampunk ray guns dancing in my head already.

I love the concept of electric paint and the ideas it opens up. While I would be nervous about allowing my son to use a soldering iron until he was in high school, this would allow us to start playing with basic electronics and circuitry at home from a much younger age. It’s not a perfect product and there are issues, but if these can be resolved then the possibilities are endless.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes. 

Viking Fun

"Vikings didn't really have horns on their helmets, but I liked to use them as decoration to make my art look pretty." By Lilianna Maxwell Age 7
“Vikings didn’t really have horns on their helmets, but I liked to use them as decoration to make my art look pretty.” By Lilianna Maxwell Age 7

“Swords were used in Viking battles. They were made of iron. They were decorated on the hilt. Swords and battle axes were used in different ways. You could throw an axe, but you always hold a sword.”

Proper use of weaponry was an important part of my daughter’s education. This is a quote from my daughter’s Viking project she did for 4H when she was seven years old. It goes on for awhile. She made the above picture, plus another one, plus a shadow box with a popsicle stick ship, cloth sails, and clay Vikings off on a painted sea background.

She was really, really into Vikings that year. We took out every Viking fact book from our library. I enjoyed it!

Image By Dutton Juvenile Books

Here’s a book about a girl obsessed with Vikings by Judy Schachner. Yo, Vikings!

Apparently, 2014 big year for Vikings with the whole Viking Apocalypse. That I missed. Darn it. One of my music students mentioned it, after it already happened. No matter, there is always fun to be had with Vikings with your kids, or on your own:

Make some runes, the Viking writing system. There are several versions and it can get as complicated as your kid is interested. Here’s a site with how the runes sound, rather than trying to replace English letters with Viking ones directly. Writing secret messages in runes is fun, but carving messages in clay is way cooler. We made some clay necklaces too.

The middle one is supposed to say, “Kiss Me I’m Viking.” Image By Rebecca Angel

Thor’s hammer is always a conversation starter. I have a friend (yes, an adult) that always wears a pewter version. But you can make your own. After the clay dried, we just colored it with a silver marker. Unfortunately, the marker would come off on our skin. If I were to do this again, I would use silver paint instead.

Speaking of Thor: Norse mythology has the best stories! Just ask your friendly librarian to recommend books that are age appropriate for your child.

Image By Rebecca Angel

What about the Thor movies? Eh…not particularly true to the myths, but a good way to get your kid interested in the topic. For myself, I’m a Loki fan, so I never mind watching them with children. :)

Of course Thor is part of the comic book world too. But like the movies, this is more of a jumping off point to then find out the actual myths. Teens and up might enjoy a new comic: Loki: Agent of Asgard. My fifteen-year-old son enjoyed it, and I did as well. But I’ll admit, I stared at the pictures longer. It starts off with Loki (looking a lot like Tom Hiddleson) in the shower, which my friend Karen says,”Finally, Marvel is realizing women read comics!”

Any other Viking projects? Books? Movies? Has anyone else or their children become obsessed over Vikings?

Geek Loom Bands

photo by MarloomZ Creations

If you’re like me, loom bands are strewn all over your house. I find them in the laundry, when I vacuum, I can’t seem to get away from them. Rainbow looms are the craze sweeping the elementary school set and there doesn’t seem to be an end to the fascination. Creations like triple singles or fish tails, the looming ranges from the simple to the extraordinary. Now geek looming has infiltrated geek culture and is taking on a life of it’s own!

Amazing creations that are influenced by sci-fi, comics, and cartoons are the new rage and the crafters that are doing it are truly know their stuff. Their loom banding looks just like the characters they’re emulating and they usually put up tutorials for you to follow along. Here are some  of the best geek looming creations out there for your inspiration!

MarloomZ Creations provides wonderful step-by-step tutorials. Her Disney and Muppets creations are a sight to behold but I’m particularly taken with her Muppets Animal loom band! That hair! Those teeth!

Boo from Monsters Inc loom band
photo by MarloomZ Creations

Another favorite from the wonderful MarloomZ is Boo from Monsters Inc! Look at that attention to detail! Quickly recognizable and oh so adorable. Check out MarloomZ Youtube channel for even more step-by-steps.

photo by Izzalicious

Izzalicious Designs hits close to a geek’s heart with tributes to some old-school classics. First up is everyone’s favorite, Ghostbusters! Proton pack and all, this loom band is detailed right down to the colors of the uniform!

he-man loom
photo by Izzalicious

Another classic from Izzalicious is He-Man! Again, the detail on this is fabulous and I love the idea of a little loom He-Man swinging from a keychain. Izzalicious not only has a Youtube channel so that you can learn along with a video but she also has an Etsy store, even better if you’d rather just have the finished product in hand.

star trek
photo by Izzalicious

Finally, one last geeky loom band—and it’s a big one. Again from Izzalicious, she’s boldly gone and created the entire Star Trek the Original Series crew in loom bands! Uhura‘s earrings are to die for.

Now perhaps you’ll think twice about vacuuming up those loom bands and sit down and see what you can create. Or, maybe just bag up the bands in geeky packaging and let the kids have at it, that’s a good option too. I hope these awesome loom crafts provide you inspiration to make your own geeky creations!

Pinbusted or Pintrusted: Fireworks in a Jar


This one comes straight from a Pinterest link to About a Mom’s post on Science Fun for Kids. I’d grabbed the pin because of the pretty picture and the simple ingredients list:

  • Warm Water
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Food Coloring

The instructions read:

Fill your jar with warm water.

In a separate bowl, mix 3 – 4 tablespoons of oil and several drops of different colors of food coloring. We used red, blue, yellow, and green. Use a fork to gently mix the oil and food coloring together.

Pour the oil mixture into the jar of warm water.

So when I found myself with an hour to kill after dinner, alone with the 2.5 year old toddler, I decided to give it a try. I took the oil, several drops each of the four colors of food coloring, and water that was near boiling. I poured the oil into the water–and got an instant jar of black ink.

Photo: Karen Burnham

Whoops! I decided that the water I’d used was too hot, and maybe I used too much food coloring.

Try #2: warm water from the tap into the jar, three colors of food coloring with two-three drops each in the oil. Same result: instant kraken-like jet black ink mixture.

I was about to call it quits (the toddler had turned to my iPad by now, although each iteration only took a few minutes), but as I was putting ingredients away I took one last look at the instructions (thinking that maybe a different kind of oil would work better)–“Use a fork to gently mix the oil and food coloring together.” Oh. I’d been skipping that bit. So I hauled everything out again, and here’s what worked:

Photo: Karen Burnham

Take 3 Tbsp of oil (any kind of vegetable oil will do). Add just two or three drops each of each drop of food coloring that you want. At first these will make big coherent drops in the oil, sort of like a lava lamp. (The science behind this experiment is that the food coloring is not soluble in oil, but it is soluble in water).

Photo: Karen Burnham

You want to break these big drops up by using a fork to stir.

Photo: Karen Burnham

Now pour the oil slowly into a jar 3/4 full of warm water, which can be from the tap. Now the oil will sit on top of the water and the small drops will float gently down to mix in the water–then you get your fireworks display.

Photo: Karen Burnham

By initially using drops that were too big, they all dropped to the bottom and into the water immediately, causing the entire reaction to happen in less than a second. With smaller drops they descend more gradually, prolonging the display into something you can see for (in my case) 20-40 seconds.

I did manage to recapture my toddler’s attention briefly to see the colors, but then he knocked over his water cup. After rescuing my iPad and mopping up the spill, the jar was back to its black, inky state. But I did manage to capture the “fireworks!”

The moral of the story Is: follow the instructions. All of them. Then it’ll work.

I will try this again when the wee one is a little older, and see if he’s more interested in it when it works the first time!

Big Bang Barr Blanket

The Launch Acceleration
Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2012 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Whether you are a fan of Johnny Galecki in The Big Bang Theory, or remember with fondness his days as David Healy with the titular Roseanne Barr, you have to admit the best thing about either show is the blanket.

Okay I’m stretching it, but the blanket on the back of Amy Farrah Fowler’s couch, that I can only imagine Galecki pilfered from Roseanne’s couch, is awesome. Long before I realized the sitcom infamy of this particular style of Afghan, I was enamored with it. Pinterest abounds with variations on this style, most mommy bloggers have one lying around, in the background of several well crafted pictures.

While the idea of sewing a hundred small squares together has never appealed to me, I set out on an epic quest to own Farrah Fowlers blanket. Though, in all honesty, I preferred Roseanne’s style of blanket, bigger squares and more sporadic placement of color, so that’s what I ended up with.

Image in Progress: Sarah Pinault

Here I present you with a breakdown of the granny squares I ended up using, and the biggest tip a casual-crocheter can give concerning granny squares. Using Red Heart worsted weight and the recommended hook, I changed color for every row and ended each in black.

Row 1. Chain 6 and join into a loop.

Row 2. 3 dc (double crochet) into loop, ch 3, (four times) join final chain to the top of the first dc.

Row 3. 3 dc into the corner, ch 1. *3 dc into the corner, ch 3, 3 dc into the corner, 1 sc (single crochet).* (** three times) For final corner, put 3 dc into the corner you started in, then ch 3 and join together.

For the remaining rows, you simply work as follows:

Each corner:  3 dc into the corner, ch 3, 3 dc into the corner, 1 sc. Remembering that you will start a row with half a corner, and finish with half a corner.

Each edge: In between corners, you will put 3 dc into the top of each sc, remembering to put a sc in between each set of three.

Image complete: Sarah Pinault

It sounds like utter nonsense doesn’t it? Now I am no crochet pattern writer but if these, or any granny square directions, don’t work for you, you are not alone. My search for the perfect granny square was a mini voyage of self discovery, and self loathing!

While I find crocheting relaxing and simplistic next to knitting, the granny square presented me with a conundrum. Back in 2011 I was trying to find a pattern to make a blanket for my second son, who was gestating at the time. My husband wanted it to be square, I wanted it to be holey, so that it wouldn’t accidentally suffocate him. I decided to go for one big granny square. I had never before made a granny square, but as millions have done so before me wondered how hard it could be? I discovered that many people had done this kind of giant square, so felt confident in the pattern I found.

Yeah, not so much. The instructions were nonsensical. I tried several times, before giving up and finding a new pattern that made more sense. That still didn’t work, so I went to a third pattern. By this point I had unpicked and redone the center so many times I could have made the entire blanket. I knew what they looked like and I knew what the instructions were ALL saying to do, but the two simply did not match. So I took out my simple crochet book, which contained a pattern for a traditional granny square blanket. I looked at the picture, ignored the instructions and with my new experience of the style of stitch, winged it. This is the pattern I present you with today, if it doesn’t work for you, try a few more and I guarantee you’ll be able to wing it, though it may look different than mine. So the biggest tip of working up a granny square–go with your gut!

I didn’t stay true to the coloring of either TV land blanket, I also used a single line of hdc (half double crochet) instead of the dotted trim because I preferred it. Now I just need to get The Big Bang Theory cast over for Chinese food.

My blanket is 10 squares wide by 13 squares long, it will fit a Queen size bed. Averaging three blocks an hour, and an hour to sew each line of ten together, I average that it took 65 hours. Not exactly cost effective for a craft business, but a wonderful labor of love for my home.

How to Be a Super Frozen Mom

super mom frozen logo
Welcome to How To Be A Super ____ Mom! From crafts and recipes to fun toys and adventures, here are ways to take your child’s fandom and make it even more fun!

The biggest hit at the movies right now is Disney’s Frozen! I’m not just talking box office numbers here. The fandom obsession has taken off with fans creating cosplay, food, and crafts all devoted to the film’s characters! We at GeekMom called it by showing the very first homemade Anna cosplay back in August at D23, before the film’s release!

With people seeing the movie multiple times in the theater, fan creativity has been amazing and continues to grow everyday. Get inspired to “Let It Go” and showcase your own Frozen fandom!

disney frozen costumes etsy
Image by: Lady Herndon.

1. Frozen Costumes by Lady Herndon on etsy.
While many fans love to create their own variations of cosplay, not everyone has the sewing skills to pull it off. That’s where talented fans like Lady Herndon come in. The Lady Herndon Etsy shop is filled with beautifully created kids’ cosplay items with a definite geeky spin. The attention to detail is stunning, from seemingly screen replica material to perfectly placed trim.

Her Anna dress is perfection and a lot of that has to do with the adorable model, too! Check out Lady Herndon’s Etsy shop for even more geeky kids cosplay. I mean, how can you resist a Princess Bride Dread Pirate Roberts costume for a 6-year-old?!

disney frozen gloves
Image by: JInxNSparkyCrafts.

2. Frozen Anna and Elsa-Inspired Fingerless Gloves by JinxNSparkyCrafts on etsy.
Don’t want to fully commit to an entire cosplay outfit? No problem! One of the best ways to show fandom is through everyday cosplay! Little accessories here and there will be special just to you, but can also be noticed by eagle-eyed fans as well.

JinxNSparkyCrafts’ etsy shop makes these adorable Frozen-inspired fingerless gloves. There’s no doubt that they are an ode to Anna and Elsa and a great way to keep warm and stay functional!

elsa braid
Image by: @amy_geek.

3. Frozen-inspired Elsa braid.
Frozen fans aren’t just obsessed with the costuming, but also with the hairstyles of the two leading ladies. Hair is a major part of cosplay and getting it just right can equal costume perfection!

Hairstyles are another way to incorporate everyday cosplay into your life. Amy Ratcliffe tried her hand at creating the perfect Elsa braid with much success! She used a YouTube hair video from Rotoscopers to help her visualize how to get it just right. Following a tutorial and a little patience can really pay off!

frozen mickey ears
Image by: LunaLaLonde.

4. Frozen Mickey Ears.
What I love about fandom is the creativity that a movie or show can inspire. LunaLaLonde’s tumblr shows her love of Disney and Frozen—and she took it to the next level by creating these fun Frozen Mickey Ears! It’s the perfect mash-up!

Follow along on her tumblr and you can see her sketches, crafts, and even her etsy shop.

disney frozen snowflakes

disney frozen maze
Images and files provided by Disney.

5. Disney’s free Frozen printables.
Disney does a great job at providing materials to grow fan interest. Free Frozen printables like coloring pages and mazes are great activities to keep little ones busy and entertained!

How To Frame Your Fandom

how to frame your fandom bigAt this year’s Geek Girl Con I was on a panel called “Home, Geek Home” where we discussed ways to incorporate geekiness into your home. We talked a lot about decor and how easy it is to take every day decorating ideas and add a geeky touch. I like to use pinterest to collect ideas and then apply them to my geeky collectibles. To display all of the geeky artwork I collect, I created a small art gallery in my bathroom. It’s curated to my tastes and is a nice surprise when guests come over.

One wall in my mini-gallery is devoted to nothing but Wolverine art, which is pretty specific, and not always something you might want all over your house. By displaying the art in a hanging gallery format, it makes the pieces that much more special. You can definitely spend the money to get your artwork custom framed but it’s a cinch to do yourself. Here’s how to collect and frame your geeky art collection.

wolverine by thom zahler
all photos by justJENN

1. Art

If you collect something specific, like I do, a commissioned piece is great way to go. Artists at comic cons are usually open to commissions during the con, and you can request specific poses or details. I knew someone who asked every artist to draw pictures of Batman with a sandwich. If you can’t travel to a con, check out the artist’s website. If you don’t see a shop of prints you can also email them and ask about commissions.

While at Geek Girl Con I commissioned this fantastic Wolverine from Thom Zahler. His turn around was quick and he was willing to do pieces in a variety of price ranges. When you get the commission, most likely it will be just the art, so it’s your job to make it hangable.

Do your research and buy from an artist whose work you respect and who you can trust. Make sure you understand their pricing, payment, as well as terms of their time table. Some artists are fast and have a quick turn around time, while others are known to take your money and never deliver. Sadly, that’s pretty common.

sizing your art2. Frame

Choosing the right size of frame is crucial to hanging artwork. You want the piece to shine and a small frame that crowds the image won’t do the art any justice. Give it some breathing room and go a little bit bigger than the size of the piece. This happened to be drawn on a 9″ x 12″ Bristol. While that’s standard sketch size it’s not standard for frames, which means the paper would have to be cut or the image will just float in a large frame.

digital mattes3. Mattes

Here’s how you fix that offsize problem, my suggestion is to always go with a matte. You’d be surprised at how much a matte can help your print; it grounds the image and makes it look even more elegant. Think of the mood you are trying to set with mattes. White or cream provides a nice background, while black mattes are a great alternative for making stark images pop.

Frame stores now sell “digital print mattes” which have larger openings. These work great for sketches on odd-sized Bristol and they cost the same as regular pre-cut mattes.

Wolverine art gallery4. Hanging

Hanging frames in a straight line is fine, but when you have a hodge-podge of artwork from a bunch of different artists, it’s nice to create an art wall. I like to place the frames in a seemingly random order, in reality, it takes me a really long time to figure out how to “randomly” place the frames. I like to lay it out first, trying to keep the flow of the colors and feel of each print in mind as I place them next to each other.

Collecting artwork and creating a gallery of a character you love is a great way to grow your fandom. Over time, you can curate a beautiful collection too, and in the process you’ll be supporting amazing indie-artists!

Featured Wolverine artwork by: Thom Zahler, Jason Ho, J Salvador, Mike Maihack, Rogan JoshCliff Chiang, justJENN designs

DIY: Power Button Pillow Sewing Project

DIY pillow | Julie Tiu
DIY: Power button pillow. Photo by Julie Tiu.

What do you give to a 15-year old boy as a gift? If you know someone of that age, you’ll know it’s near impossible to choose a gift he will like. So, instead of turning to gift cards and gift certificates, I came up with a throw pillow fit for a video game-computer-loving teenager like my nephew.

The power button is a great icon for any tech head. I made the stencil from my pots lids—true story. For you readers, I made a printable template which you can enlarge for your own project. And note, to make your pillow nice and plump, cut your fabric so that its finished dimensions will be one inch smaller (plus seam allowance) than the actual pillow.

What you need:

  • 16” pillow form
  • Two pieces of cotton fabric cut to 15-1/2” square (get a ½ yard of fabric)
  • Power button template, enlarged to your liking
  • Freezer paper cut to 15-1/2” square
  • Acrylic paint (I used silver)
  • Matte gel medium
  • Sponge paint brush, or dauber
  • Iron and ironing surface
  • Other materials: scissors, utility blade, scrap fabric, scrap paper, paper plate, newspaper to place under fabric while painting
DIY: Power button pillow step. Photo by Julie Tiu.

Preparing the freezer paper stencil:

  1. Cut out the power button template with your scissors or blade.
  2. Find the center of the freezer paper by folding the square diagonally from both corners, mark the center. Place your stencil template, centering it on the freezer paper, and trace the power button.
  3. Cut out the power button stencil.
  4. Set your iron on warm, and while you’re waiting for the iron, place the freezer paper (shiny side down) on top of the fabric you will use for the front of your pillow. You could pin in place if you want.
  5. On your ironing surface, place your pillow front and stencil face up, cover with a scrap piece of fabric and evenly press (10-15 seconds) all over the fabric to “adhere” the freezer paper onto the fabric. Don’t worry, it won’t mess up the pillow front.
  6. After ironing, check to see if the paper is completely stuck onto your fabric, especially on the edges of your design. You want a crisp edge. If it starts to come undone while painting, you can return it to the ironing board and press again—just make sure the paint is dry.


Painting the design:

  1. On your paper plate or palette, squeeze a quarter size blob of acrylic paint, and add a dime size blob of gel medium. It’s to give substance to the paint otherwise the paint will be too transparent. (You will repeat this step often. I like to control the amount of paint sitting out so it doesn’t dry up fast.)
  2. Using your paint brush or dauber, mix until paint and medium is combined.
  3. Place your fabric on some newspaper or scrap paper before you start painting. Some moisture from the paint will seep through.
  4. Tapping off the excess off your brush, begin painting on the stencil. You want a fairly dry brush, not goopy. Paint until design is covered.
  5. Repeat two more times, letting each coat of paint dry for at least 20-30 minutes, preferably an hour or two. At the end of your third coat, the paint should be opaque. Let the pillow front dry overnight.
  6. When you’re sure the design is dry, peel the freezer paper off the fabric. Design should be crisp and awesome.

DIY pillow | Julie Tiu

Sewing the pillow:

  1. Place the pillow front and back with right sides together and pin in place.
  2. The seam allowance is ½”. Stitch around all four sides; make sure you leave a 7” opening. (I also backstitch at the beginning and the end.)
  3. After stitching, cut the corners at a 45 degree angle (shy of the stitching) to reduce bulk in the corners. Turn your pillowcase right side out and stuff the pillow into its case. Ladder stitch or slipstitch the opening closed.

DIY pillow | Julie Tiu

How to Be a Super Batgirl Mom

super batgirl mom Welcome to How To Be A Super ____ Mom! From crafts and recipes to fun toys and adventures, here are ways to take your child’s fandom and make it even more fun!

When the news broke this year at New York Comic Con that Stephanie Brown was returning to Batgirl, interest was kicked into overdrive into an already devoted fan base. The character has gone through so much with Gail Simone‘s recent Barbara Gordon Batgirl run having the heroine go through trauma therapy with a doctor named after a fan and consulant for the book, Dr. Andrea Letamendi, who is an actual real-life psychologist that helps kids get through trauma. Even superheroes need to work on their mental health.

Batgirl is a strong female character and it’s easy to see why geek girls of all ages love her. Here are some great ways for younger fans to discover more about one of Gotham’s finest female crime fighters!

say it dont spray it - batgirl and robin
image by: Say It Don’t Spray It

1. Batgirl and baby Robin cosplay

The most fun you can have as a GeekMom is dressing up your kids in their favorite heroes’ costumes. There are a lot of options out there now in the girl superhero department or if you’re a DIYer you can always craft your own! Nanette of Say It Don’t Spray It‘s daughter wanted to be Batgirl for Halloween and did a great job striking a pose too—nice character development! What else would a mom of two girls do but get the younger sister into the act as an adorable baby Robin sidekick.

image by: Mike Maihack

2. Batgirl and Supergirl Cookie Exchange Art by Mike Maihack

Mike Maihack is one of my favorite artists, not only because his work is beautiful but his stories are also sweet and heartwarming. I have several (way too many) of his pieces and often buy them as gifts for friends. His Batgirl and Supergirl strips are begging to be made into a series. I’m particularly fond last year’s Batgirl and Supergirl Christmas comic because as we all know, cookies solve everything.

batgirl cake
image via: www.homegeekonomics.com

3. Batgirl Cake

Doll cakes have been around for decades and have been turned into every girls dream from a standard pink doll cake, to Tinkerbell, and all the Disney Princesses. The superhero doll cake faction is definitely lacking out there, but never fear, Batgirl doll cake to the rescue! An innovative take on a classic, this Batgirl truly has the best superhero costume ever…because it’s made of cake!

batgirl little people
image via: amazon

4. Batgirl – Fisher Price Little People Wheelies

For the smallest Batgirl fan, Fisher Price’s line of cute superhero Little People are a great way to start off fandom at a young age. Batgirl comes in a two pack with another great female heroine, Wonder Woman, or solo in her own tiny Batmobile.

super best friends forever
image via: DC Nation

5. Batgirl – Super Best Friends Forever

As a rabid fan of anything adorable and geek girl superhero-related, I was jumping out of my seat when DC Comics started showing Super Best Friends Forever as part of their DC Nation shorts for Cartoon Network. Lauren Faust (My Little Pony, Power Puff Girls, and more) came up with ridiculously fun stories of Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Girl and their crazy, feisty, kid-friendly adventures. At just a minute and a half apiece you’ll be wishing for hours more; alas, the series was never meant to be. At least you can still buy SBFF merchandise.

Interview: Running a Kid’s Track at a Geek Convention

©2013 John O'Halloran johno@tyedye.org
Kids talking with real life astronaut, Cady Coleman. (Photo: John O’Halloran)

When I went to the World Science Fiction Convention (aka WorldCon, aka LonestarCon3, aka LSC3) over the Labor Day weekend this year, I was very impressed by their services for children. From the bonded, licensed day care that I used for my two-year-old to the impressively creative “Rangernauts” track that an 11-year-old of an acquaintance of mine enjoyed, I wanted to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes. I tracked down the organizers, James Bacon and Alissa McKersie, and they graciously agreed to an interview.

Geek Mom: Hello! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us. Could you briefly introduce yourselves, and maybe talk a little bit about how you first found your way to WorldCon?

Alissa McKersie: My name is Alissa McKersie and my first Worldcon was Denvention in 2008.  My husband at the time attended regularly and thought I would enjoy it.  And boy, did I!!!  I was told I fit in better than a fish to water!  It was a couple of years before I could attend again, however.  I was finally able to go to Renovation in 2011, and this is where it all changed!

James Bacon: I’m James Bacon, Irish Science Fiction fan living in London. I went with local fan friends by ferry and train to Glasgow ’95.  It was a great con, but I couldn’t get to another until 2004. I ended up helping the Children’s Programme there run by Inger Myers and Persis Thorndike.

GM: Once you made your way to WorldCon, how did you come to be involved in the kid’s track of programming?

AM: While looking through the program book of Renovation, I remember coming across a program item that I was really excited about called “Doctor Who Lego Build”.  Keep in mind, I was unfamiliar with Worldcons, and I had NO IDEA they even had separate programming for children.  On another note, I did quite a bit of volunteering. I helped out back stage for opening ceremonies!  That was quite fun! So, when I found out that this Lego Build was for kids, I thought that I’d just volunteer for it! Gosh, I work with kids everyday (I’d been teaching martial arts for 13 years), so let’s go have fun!  And, I did!  James Bacon was running the Kids’ Program at Renovation, so this was when we met.  I remember him coming to me the very next morning and asking me to join the team for the next year at Chicon 7.  Thus, ChiKidz was created.

JB: I’d been running unusual conventions, Aliens Stole my Handbag, Damn Fine Con, and They Came and Shaved us, which were ‘Fun Cons‘ aimed at adult friends in fandom who wanted an eclectic weekend. The organizers of the 2005 Worldcon, Vince Docherty and Colin Harris, asked myself and Stefan Lancaster to run the children’s program. This terrified most sane thinking parents in fandom. We ran Young Adult Fun Activities (YAFA). It was fun!  Iain Banks, George R. R. Martin, and Robin Hobb all participated!  We chopped up a car and even played with liquid nitrogen! There was a program item entitled ‘Where will the Future of Fandom Come From’—to everyone’s surprise, except the panelists’, we invaded from the back door bearing water pistols!  It was very rewarding.

After YAFA we ran Chaos Space Pirates in 2006, gave Aussicon ideas in 2010, and ran Reno Kids 2011, ChiKidz 2012 and Rangernauts this year. I think being able to run the program of a moving event like Worldcon consistently and consecutively is really helpful.  It allowed a build-up of team and resources.

GM: What would you say is vital for making a successful kid’s track program?

AM: Willingness to have fun, be a bit goofy and enthusiastic yourself, and be genuine about what you’re doing. Kids know who’s real with them, and they see right through people who aren’t genuine.  There’s also a lot to say for being organised and prepared.  We (James and I) come days early to prep ahead of time.  We have a great team each year that we are so grateful for that we couldn’t be successful without!  Everyone works so hard to paint, build, and even test… just to make sure things can be played with (and even broken, LOL) right away!  But, that is the BEST part!  The KIDS are what matter!  THAT is what is vital for making a successful Kids’ Program.

JB: Real support. Financial support really helps. The Worldcons make funds and world class participants available while giving us a great location and space. Kids’ Program is not a 2nd class stream, in actual fact to most Worldcon Chairs it is one of the most important. It’s a 5,000 person event and we are looking after 200 children, but it is still a cherished part of the convention.

©2013 John O'Halloran johno@tyedye.org
A stack of duct tape as tall as herself! (Photo: John O’Halloran)

A good Team is vital. A big one, it is exhausting. Planning, as Alissa says, everything must be ready. You cannot fail children, or run out of duct tape.

Listen. We did ‘Make Lightsabers’ nine years ago. The kids loved it. It never gets old. The best items we did this year were based on ideas, or successes and the feedback from children themselves.

If it seems or sounds dangerous, that is great, especially if there is a danger, but obviously the risk is managed.

Be flexible with the kids, while maintaining discipline and order. They are individuals, so everything is not for everyone, but a ‘Give it 10 minutes and see how it goes’ or ‘would you like to help me’ can carry children into something they subsequently enjoy. Be very relaxed, it is meant to be fun.

Would ‘YOU’ enjoy it? If Alissa or myself would genuinely enjoy an item, there is a good chance it will work. So, in a way we vicariously live through these kids, which is better than thinking like an adult and imposing what you think they might like.

GM: What worked particularly well at LSC3? What would you have done differently?

AM: Again, the team of people that supported our program was great. We had some returning staff members and some excellent new volunteers this year.  I think part of the difficulty we always have is that people don’t know that a separate program for kids is available.

JB: The Lead Pouring [with the artist Guest of Honor] was very successful, the warning that the molten metal will remove flesh from the bone got everyone’s attention. Frankenstuffies continues to be hugely popular, and the plush toy massacre was fun. The rockets propelled by pressurized air and water was good, too.

The best item was no doubt Astronaut Cady Coleman, accompanied by Scientist Tracy Thumm and Engineer Heather Paul: a full NASA team. They were fantastic and looked at the Lego Space Station and Ships the children made. We also had Corry L. Lee, a experimental particle physicist, and Lt Kate Zurmehly (US Army) for that item, and that made it quite the line-up. An amazing group of role models, and having them engaging with the kids was fabulous.

RN Frankenstuffie 4
Proud owner of a Frankenstuffie. (Photo: Alissa McKersie)

GM: OK, I have to ask: Frankenstuffies?

AM: Absolutely! What we do is we take stuffed animals and dismember them…yes, we cut them up! We actually try NOT to do this while the kids are around. Last year, a friend of mine and I did this at home in Phoenix because we had the time and the transport to Chicago…this year, we did it in the room, the day before the con started. If you ask our Team (Gaye will tell you especially), we had some traumatic events that day! So, for the activity, the kids can grab whatever pieces they want and stitch together their own Frankenstuffie! And we use embroidery floss, so it’s more visible, like Frankenstein! What they come up with is unbelievable! Some kids are very traditional, and some kids are so imaginative! The variety is so cool to see!

GM: What sort of feedback do you get from the parents and the kids?

AM: I am still getting emails from parents from Renovation that wish they could be coming each year! Every year that we are running a Kids’ Program, I hear from parents and kids alike “then we WILL be there,” or something to that effect.  Several parents have said to me that they enjoy the programming for the kids, so they volunteer for more activities (which is always nice, as we need more parent volunteers!) But the BEST feedback for me are the big hugs I get at the end of the convention from the kids that say, “this was the best part of my convention”!

JB: A lot of it is instantaneous. It is rather incredible. From mannerly thank yous to requests for hugs, one can see the happiness. Parents are always just grateful, and many are supportive and get involved. I have to be honest and say we had nothing but great feedback this year. But that is because we have a massive team, and the unseen people, like the Chair, Randy Shepherd, getting the NASA team; or the facilities team, Helen Montgomery and Joyce Lloyd, making sure we have un-damageable aluminum tables; it all makes it work, and the resulting positivity is really amazing.

GM: Do you have any final words of wisdom for those who might be thinking of tackling this sort of thing at their own conventions?

AM: Remember, Worldcon is a five day on-going event, so it’s a bit of an anomaly.  James and I spend the entire year working on it in various capacities.  I don’t know that another convention is going to be that intense.  However, that being said… I think we both have a blast at Worldcon, regardless of the intensity!  So, bring scifi (or whatever your convention is about) to kids, be genuine and enthusiastic about it, and like I said in the very beginning… be willing to have FUN!!

JB: Have a good team. We had Mary Miller, Scott Hipp and Gaye Ludwig, Joy Bragg-Staudt, Corry L. Lee, James Shields, Lia O., Linda Welzelburger all helping us, and we recruited some teenagers who turned up, and they were superb, too.

Yeah, have fun. Each evening I ensured I enjoyed the vast social scene, partied, danced. or attended amazing ceremonies, and that breaks up the continuous assault of children! Don’t worry too much about things, like girls love slot cars and train sets and boys like to make scrap books and dragon wings, make the stuff available and let them play where they like.

©2013 John O'Halloran johno@tyedye.org
The 2013 Rangernauts team with NASA astronaut Cady Coleman. (Photo: John O’Halloran)

Geeky Halloween Crafts and Treats

I love Halloween. It’s such a festive time of year when everyone can dress up and be a kid again! Childhood memories abound of favorite costumes and movies, all of the geeky variety! Here are some crafts and treats that are twists on Geeky Halloween favorites.

hocus pocus cake
image by Danna Maret

Hocus Pocus Cake – Danna Maret

If there’s one influential geeky Halloween movie that everyone can agree on it’s Hocus Pocus! Danna Maret did a wonderful job in bringing the magic to life in this Hocus Pocus cake. Check out the fabulous details; it makes you  just want to yell “Boooooook!”

Charlie Brown Emily McCall
image by Emily McCall

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown Cosplay – Emily McCall

It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a favorite movie of mine. Every year I wander through the pumpkin patch and think…is this the year?? Emily McCall dressed up her little Charlie Brown for the holidays and surrounded him with real great pumpkins. No one would dare pull a football away from this adorable kid!

reeses pieces cookies by noshwithme
image by NoshWithMe

E.T. Chocolate Peanut Butter Reese’s Pieces Cookies – NoshWithMe

Who can forget the little alien that warmed our hearts and filled our bellies with those delectable peanut butter candies? NoshWithMe took our sugary childhood memories and turned them into cookie form with Oatmeal Reese’s Pieces Cookies. I’m sure E.T. would want some of these for the road home!

mad monster party print
image by Drake Brodahl

Mad Monster Party Art– Drake Brodahl

I know I keep saying this is my favorite movie—no this really is my favorite movie— but I love Halloween so much they are all my favorites! Mad Monster Party was a movie I watched over and over. The stop motion animation is mesmerizing and the character voices from the likes of Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller really bring everything to life.

Artist Drake Brodahl shows off his love of the movie with this beautiful art print called “Just One Bite” from his etsy store.

image by justJENN

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Party – by justJENN

Ok, Buffy isn’t just for Halloween time; it’s definitely a geeky year round show for most of us. But wooden stakes, blood, vampires, and demons just seem fitting for October 31st. This Buffy the Vampire Slayer party had it all, from Giant Pocky “Mr. Pointys” to “Back From the Grave” cupcakes with zombie hands reaching out of cookie dirt. Spooky and delicious!

How To Be A Super My Little Pony Mom + Giveaway

super MLP mom logo Welcome to How To Be A Super ____ Mom! From crafts and recipes to fun toys and adventures, here are ways to take your child’s fandom and make it even more fun!

Like most memorable toys from our childhood, My Little Pony is back and now popular with our own kids! One of the biggest fandoms around and growing, DIY crafts, cosplay, and themed parties are just some of the fun ways that fans are expressing their love for the ponies of Equestria.

Here are a few ways to encourage your child’s My Little Pony fandom!

my little pony cookies justjennrecipes
image: justJENN recipes
warpzone mlp cutters
Image: Warpzone Prints

1. My Little Pony cookies

Baking is my chosen form for showing my fandom love. Who doesn’t love a tasty treat in the shape of your favorite character? Warpzone Prints has always been my go to place for finding the best in geek cookie cutters. The cutters are fabulously detailed and translate exactly the same onto dough. I’ve used the My Little Pony cookie cutters to make Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie cookies and have gotten rave reviews!

diy mlp rainbow dash hoodie
Image: Craftiness is Not Optional

2. Rainbow Dash DIY Hoodie

In our house we practice everyday cosplay. In other words, it doesn’t have to be a special day to dress up and pay homage to your favorite characters. While many outfits can be store bought, some of the best and most inspired are made by hand. Craftiness is not Optional gives a great step by step tutorial to sew your own Rainbow Dash hoodie!

mlp make your own silicone mold
Image: Doodle Craft

3. My Little Pony silicone mold

The best thing about My Little Pony is that everypony is unique. What better way to have fun with fandom than creating your very own pony? This tutorial from Doodle Craft shows you how to make a silicone mold, then just press in clay or even edible fondant and you have a base to craft a unique, customized pony!

mlp crafts pages
Image: Hasbro

4. My Little Pony free printables

Not feeling crafty? Don’t worry, Hasbro has you covered with several printable activity Pony pages. Games, mazes, and coloring pages are all available for free download!

shout factory mlp
Image: Shout Factory

5. My Little Pony DVDs

Having a pony party sleepover? Pop in a My Little Pony DVD and watch your favorite toys come to life! Shout! Factory, the company that brings classic favorites to DVD and Blu-ray has a whole line of My Little Pony DVDs. They just released My Little Pony: Equestria Girls! The best part is, it comes with an exclusive Twilight Sparkle Crown!


Here’s your chance to get a jump start at being a Super My Little Pony Mom! Head over to justJENN recipes to enter to win a My Little Pony Prize pack: a My Little Pony Friendship is Magic: Royal Pony Wedding DVD from Shout Factory, a Twilight Sparkle Crown also from Shout! Factory, two My Little Pony cookie cutters from Warpzone Prints, and finally, to pull it all together, a giant sized We Love Fine My Little Pony Bag! Good luck!

Batman Back to School Craft

Summer is over and after months of staying up late and sleeping in, it’s finally time to get back into the groove! Some kids have already gone back to school while others are just starting off their first days. Whether it’s a new school or one you’ve been going to for years, the first month back is always a transition. New teachers, new classmates, new friends, but one thing always stays true: Batman.

batman craft
image: justJENN

There’s always early morning anxiety before school starts.  Sometimes a nice surprise next to your kid’s breakfast plate will help get them started in the morning. This Batman craft is very simple to put together. I just use a black envelope and a few paper scraps.

You can easily craft your very own pocket pal. Fill him up with snacks or school supplies like craft scissors, pencils, pens in your school colors. Now your little one and the Caped Crusader are ready to take on the day!

Go here for step by step instructions or if you’re a craft genius go straight for the free Batman template!