I Am the Princess and the Pea; I Am the Wolverine

I was having a horrible night of sleep (again), in pain, and woke up trying to locate the sea urchin that must have been shoved in my bed. I sat up and found the source of my agony: a wrinkle. One wrinkle in the sheet. Just one.

I stared at it and my exhausted brain cursed, “I am the $#@$ing ‘Princess and the Pea’.” A true princess is so sensitive that twenty mattresses cannot keep her from feeling a single pea underneath them all. It really sucks to be a true princess. Can I be a hardy peasant instead? Alas, I have to keep my royal pedigree to rule my vast lands.

If only hyper-sensitivity came with riches and servants. Instead, I get the migraines and sleepless nights without any seeming benefit. But my geeky-themed mind likes to twist my fate to the fantastical. Maybe the “Princess and Pea” was based on an actual princess who was sensitive like me? Spinning her bad physical luck into a badge of honor: Royalty is more perceptive than the average populace. Don’t try to pull anything on that princess because she can detect a tiny vegetable under her bedding!

The world is a lot to handle for the average person, but what about those with super senses? Continue reading I Am the Princess and the Pea; I Am the Wolverine

Release Your Inner Robot With ‘The Robot Factory’

The Robot Factory Icon
The Robot Factory Icon. Photo: Tinybop

There’s a new must-have app for the robot enthusiast in your house! Tinybop, Inc. just launched The Robot Factory in the App Store. Designed for kids 4+, it’s the first app in Tinybop’s new educational series Digital Toys. The app provides 50+ parts to spark your child’s robot building imagination, and thousands of robot creations are possible. The app also allows your child to manage their inventory and play with their robots in a fantastical world.

I asked my son Johnny, age 10, to check out the app because he’s my robot enthusiast and First Lego League participant. I knew he would be excited for an opportunity to build robots on his iPad. As soon as I turned him loose with the app, I started hearing a lot of positive chatter from him. “This game really is cool. I like it!” “I think this is a game to express how creative you are.” “Look, Mom, I made him fly. They can fly!” In a short amount of time, he taught himself to use the app and created quite the robot collection.

The Robot Factory Johnny's Robots
Johnny’s Robots. Photo: Maryann Goldman

As you create robots, they are stored in your inventory. You can add new robots to your inventory, take turns playing with different robots, and modify your previously-built robots.

The Robot Factory Robot Inventory
Johnny’s Robot Inventory. Photo: Johnny Goldman

You can test drive your robots too. How do they handle the terrain?

The Robot Factory World
The Robot Factory World. Photo: Johnny Goldman

You know how siblings can be. If one is doing something, the other wants to do it too. I set up my older son Joey, age 12, with The Robot Factory app on his iPhone, and he was determined to outdo his brother with his robot building creativity. The most exciting element for him was the color palettes. He was totally engaged by the color choices and excited to create a butterfly robot for his mom who loves butterflies.

The Robot Factory Joey's Robots
Joey’s Robots. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Actually, the app inspired some teamwork and sharing between my boys as they exchanged robot building tips and excitement over their latest creations.

The Robot Factory Competitive Building
Johnny and Joey competitive building with The Robot Factory. Photo: Maryann Goldman

I even got in on the act by creating my own Girl Power robot.

The Robot Factory Girl Power Robot
Girl Power Robot. Photo: Maryann Goldman

The Robot Factory gets a big thumbs up from everyone in our family and is priced at $2.99. There are no in-app purchases or advertisements to deal with either.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Reality Is for Those Who Lack Imagination

Getting into the “spirit” at EverGreenSpirit College. Photo By Rebecca Angel

Last summer, I took my daughter and her friend to a college information fair. Afterwards, we sat at a coffee shop and perused the catalogs. One college in Vermont stood out for its “green” way of life on campus. We started making up things about the college that weren’t in the catalog, giggling about how they didn’t have freshman dorms, no way, they must have yurts.

This college went in my daughter’s “keep” pile because we are quite the granola-crunchy family. Poking fun at it is really poking fun at ourselves. But the yurt thing. That was funny. I started getting more ideas for an imaginary college that was extremely environmentalist, ridiculously spiritual, and with a touch of fantasy.

I decided to call it EverGreenSpirit College. It naturally formed the acronym EGS, which became the mascot and motto: A college to develop, grow, and hatch into the beatific being that you are!  I opened a twitter account for it, posting as an employee sending out campus-wide messages like:

“New course! The Zen of Boxes 346. Prerequisites: Zen of Longhorn Beetles and Zen of Ben (or equivalent.)”

“As per student request all vending machines have been replaced with mini-greenhouse Foraging Nooks.”

“Attention Off-campus students: The Hover Bus is changing its schedule (again.) Also, the massage therapist on board is weekdays only.”

Why put effort into something that, I’ll admit, only a handful of my friends ever read?  I needed something easy, positive, and distracting.

I was diagnosed with Lyme disease in September after over a year of random symptoms taking over my life. This fall was especially challenging physically, and I stopped doing many creative things, including writing or performing live music.

EverGreenSpirit College was the first thing I did on the computer every morning. It was fast, silly, and had no plot or plan, just world building. It kept my creative energy churning without any expectations or exhaustion. Twitter was perfect to keep me succinct. The campus came to life, yurt by bio-dome, each day.

This is not the first time I’ve used imaginary worlds to keep me going. Sometimes it’s fandom that keeps me happy. But I’ve created my own universe before. Many years ago, I was homeschooling two young children, teaching, finishing my college degree, and feeling lots of stress. In response, I created an alternate surrealist college called Freaky University, and kept a livejournal series called Journal Of An FU Freshman. It was really, really weird. But composing those entries took my mind on a vacation and made me giggle. I eventually gathered it into a little book, giving it to some friends and family for Christmas one year.

EverGreenSpirit may have run its course. All setting and no plot can only go so far. That’s ok. It served its purpose: every day it jump-started my imagination. Plus, I always amused my kids over breakfast:

ME: So, Maxine the Shepherdess is telling people to get off the EGS main quad so her sheep can graze today.

KIDS: (amused expressions)

Everyone deals with stress differently.

Do you escape into movies? Books? Or worlds of your own making?

Get Creative! Win Money! Inspire Science!

Muse of Nerds By Lilianna Maxwell
Muse of Nerds By Lilianna Maxwell

I love science fiction and fantasy. Although fantasy is a great escape, there’s a sadness when I finish a book or movie. It’s not real. But science fiction? I know it’s not real, at least not yet. Could it happen? Often the answer is “I certainly hope not!” because the stories can be warnings about paths we don’t want humanity skipping down blindly to our destruction. But sometimes, like the Star Trek universe, we can be inspired by a hopeful future, and dream of all that cool stuff!

The Society for Science and the Public, in collaboration with the Tomorrow Project, Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, and the Intel Foundation, is hosting “The Future: Powered by Fiction.” It’s a contest for stories, essays, videos, and comics in the science fiction genre with a cash prize. The competition is open to people ages 13-25 anywhere in the world. Entries due November 14th, 2013, so get going!

But wait, there’s more!

As a kid, my dad would regularly take my sister and I into his biology lab to try out simple experiments. My sister is now a biology professor, and I have a life-long love of science. It would be nice to say it was because of my science classes in school, but really, it was being able to play with cool stuff, make up new experiments, and having science fun-time with my dad at his work.

Not everyone has a parent in the science field, but that shouldn’t stop anyyone from having fun with science. Another competition, this one sponsored by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, is the Science Play and Research Kit (SPARK): Reimagining the 21st Century Chemistry Set. It is for those eighteen and older, with a longer deadline (January 2014) and a bigger prize. Entrants are asked to create or make the plans for a chemistry set that will engage both children and adults to become more hands-on with science.

Encourage your kid to imagine science and technology in the future with the first competition, and why don’t you imagine the coolest chemistry set there could ever be?

Toon Academy: Minecraft

Toontastic, a creative animation tool for kids, has partnered with MinecraftEDU in a contest called Toon Academy: Minecraft. Using Toontastic, kids create animated “How Toons” explaining to other kids how to play Minecraft, focusing on their favorite things to do in the game and why other kids might enjoy them, too. The contest excites me not just because it brings together two tools that can really spark kids’ creative abilities, but because it’s about kids teaching other kids, a marvelous way to learn. We are not yet a Minecraft household, but my daughter has shown an interest in it. When I showed her the videos kids have uploaded so far, she sat and watched a dozen of them. I think she might be ready.


The contest runs through October 17th, and winners will receive a prize package from Launchpad Toys and MinecraftEDU. Teachers can also get a lesson plan to do this in the classroom. Check out details on the Launchpad Toys blog.

Geeks, Music, and Lyrics

Image by Keith (TheBigTog)
Image by Keith (TheBigTog)

(This was my very first post on GeekMom waaaay back when. It eventually ended up on Wired as well. I’m still writing and performing all my geeky songs!)

Take, take, take me away.
I’ll drink whatever you put before me.
In this world I can’t stay.
Only the faerie can cure me.

“Mortal Slave” by Camelot’s Destruction

As a singer/songwriter, I’ve been told by other musicians to never share your inspiration. Let the audience decide what the songs are about. I agree for songs about love and life, experiences the listener can put themselves into. But what about a song about the perils of having an evil wizard as an ex-boyfriend? Or one about creating a clone to take over your life while you have outer-space adventures? Those songs need explaining.

Several years ago a friend emailed me his really cool dream. I turned it into the start of an urban fantasy novel. It still languishes on my hard drive. But this isn’t about failure, instead, that never-finished book sparked a whole new facet of my musical life.

In the novel-that-will-never-be, there is a teen girl who I wanted to be wearing a band t-shirt. Considering her character’s love of rebellion, I decided this band should be from the forbidden realm of Dreamtown. But what would the band be called? Something dark, but over the top, like most band names I make fun of. I came up with Camelot’s Destruction.

Continue reading Geeks, Music, and Lyrics

CABIN FEVER: Ten Sanity Saving Tricks with Tape

tapeI am not exaggerating one single bit when I tell you that masking tape saved my sanity as a parent. As we continue Cabin Fever Week here at GeekMom, take a tip from me: get tape. For some reason, my kids thought it was a great treat to have unlimited access to tape. Regular old masking tape will work fine, but for extra excitement, consider colored masking tape or patterned Japanese masking tape. Truly, your kids will think you rock. Now, got tape? Get busy:

  1. Gather a collection of recycled items like egg cartons, small boxes, cardboard tubes, and tissue boxes, then let your kids go to town building sculptures. Use the tape to hold together the recycled items and to decorate the creations. If your kids haven’t been exposed to open-ended art projects like this, you might have to offer some ideas – Rockets! Robots! Cars! Flowers! – but remind them that anything goes.
  2. Show the kids how to cut colored tape into squares and use them to make a mess-free mosaic.
  3. Let them use the tape to draw a “picture” directly onto the glass slider or refrigerator. It’s masking tape. It will come off.Just don’t leave it there for a long period of time or in the hot sun (though if there is hot sun to worry about, you’re probably not suffering through much cabin fever).
  4. Dust off their bikes and let them get it ready for Spring! Alternatively, let them cover binders, worn-out toys, or even an old pair of shoes. The novelty of altering these objects will thrill them and gain you at least an hour’s worth of whine-free time.
  5. Pull out some cardboard, bubble wrap, and yarn and let the kids use tape to create a costume. Of course, once the kids have a costume, they’ll want to put on a play, extending your whine-free time indefinitely (score!).
  6. Use tape to create a roadway for Matchbox cars or other vehicles. This can traverse the entire house, over carpet, tile, or linoleum.
  7. Have your child create an abstract design out of tape on the back of a cookie sheet. When it’s complete, pull out a piece of plain paper and some crayons and let her take a rubbing of the design.
  8. Make stickers. Stick tape to waxed paper in a solid pattern and then trace cookie cutter shapes onto the tape and cut out. Carefully peel the tape shape off of the waxed paper and use it as you would a sticker.
  9. Cover recycled candy tins with tape and glue on decorations like buttons, gems, and ribbon to make tiny treasure boxes.
  10. Turn the tape into bracelets or headbands by putting two lengths of tape together, sticky sides facing. Decorate one side with more tape and then punch holes in each end. Overlap the holes and secure with a brad to complete the loop.

Mom@Play: 7 Reasons To Play Warhammer Fantasy

Saurus warriors ready for battle. Photo by Cathe Post

My husband brought home a dark red cardboard box that was no bigger than a schoolbook.  When I found out the little rat warrior miniatures in the box weren’t for any Dungeons and Dragons story line we were playing, but instead were for a wargame called Warhammer, I quickly lost interest in what my husband was doing…until he started getting into my polymer clay to make unique bases for each miniature, and into my paints and paintbrushes to bring out the detail of the characters.  Then, I started thinking, maybe this game is for me.

Warhammer is a miniatures war game that is (from my observations) predominately played by 25-50 year old males. Thankfully, I was not terribly nervous about joining an escalation tournament in a local league. It’s sad there aren’t as many women as men playing this game. There are so many reasons to play!

IMG_56177 reasons as a wife, mom, or woman that you should play Warhammer:

  1. Strategy – As a mom, it is always important to not let your strategic skills drop to a non-adult level.
  2. Spacial reasoning – Use game play as an opportunity to hone your interior decorating skills. If you can deploy and march your miniatures army effectively, imagine how efficiently you could arrange your living space or pack luggage.
  3. Spirited debate – Even with a four year old I feel like I am constantly arguing with a teenager. There is a fine line between arguing and debating, but one game of Warhammer normally contains at least one rules debate.
  4. Adult time – Let’s be honest: it’s fun to play games with the kids, but how many games of Candyland can you take?
  5. Carnage – After a long day, you just want to go ‘Office Space’ on something – ANYTHING! What better way than with dice and fantasy creatures!
  6. Date – Chances are, if you are starting to play Warhammer as a mom, you know someone else who plays it as well. If the person you know is your husband, make it a date night! If you are lacking a significant other to play with, there are a good number of nice single guys who play (and would probably think it’s totally HOT that a single girl plays or wants to learn).
  7. Art – Okay, even if you aren’t for imagined blood and carnage, there is an artistic side to this game. You pick your army, you assemble them and you paint them. If you don’t like what a member of your unit looks like, find what you like and create it. You are given complete artistic license over what your army looks like.


I should probably point out that Warhammer Fantasy is a different game from Warhammer 40,000.  Warhammer 40,000, or 40k,  is a futuristic space-themed game that attracts a younger crowd than Fantasy (‘tween and teen age boys are much more likely to play 40k), but I choose to play a game that I can share company with a (generally) more age appropriate crowd, at least in my area.

I looked at all of the armies and chose to play a Lizardmen army. What army will you choose?