Twas the Night Before Christmas, ICE Style!

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

Kickstarter Games ‘Bane’ and ‘4 the Birds’ are 4 the Family

Kickstarter Logo Image: Kickstarter
Kickstarter logo. Image: Kickstarter.

I live in the Pacific Northwest. I live in a land of microbrews (yum), hipsters, and gourmet donuts (super yum). It is also the land of board game creation. So many great board games have hailed from the minds of Pacific Northwesterners that game stores are becoming as common as Starbucks (not a bad thing).

Two more games from the land of moss and rain are available to check out on Kickstarter now. Both games were made with families in mind.

Bane box art by Ryan Yee of Magic: The Gathering fame. Image: Gamesicle, LLC, on Kickstarter.

Bane is an expanded game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Remember a couple of years ago, when I talked about the social card game at GameStorm that had the attention of all of the kids who were in attendance? The full board game is now on Kickstarter. Werewolves, humans, and vampires battle each other to see who is fastest and can reach the level of Master first. Luck and strategy are both used in this card game.

Werewolves eat vampires, vampires hunt humans, and humans are after werewolves. The highest number played gets to try and hunt first. In this case, the human 6 wins. Image: Cathe Post.

The artwork on the cards will give this game a 13+ rating, but if your younger child is used to the artwork on Magic: The Gathering cards, this is at about the same level. My kids (5 and 9 years old) have both seen the cards, and it was fine.

Bane will be lurking on Kickstarter until June 10. If you back at the $28 level, you will receive a copy of the game if the project is successfully funded.

4 the Birds box art. Image: Blackspot Games on Kickstarter.

4 the Birds is a dice-rolling, sneakily educational game. I previously wrote about this game after play-testing it at GameStorm in 2012. Roll the dice to find the point on the board and place one of six of your birds. Get four of your birds in a row or  square shape and you win. It’s deceptively simple. But, when you add crows, a hawk, and cards with special powers, it is either the start of a bad bar joke or the gateway to adding quite a bit of strategy to a fun—and pun heavy—game.

A group of us played through the prototype of 4 the Birds. (This is not what the final game will look like.) It’s simple enough for young players, but has plenty of room for adult-level complexity and strategy. Image: Jonathan Liu.

This game can be played by any player old enough to roll dice and recognize numbers. The game can be just that simple or much more complex, depending on how much planning you put into the hawk and crows who join the flock (and how the ability cards are used.

4 the Birds will be nesting on Kickstarter until June 18. Backing at the $29 (+$5 shipping) level will pre-order the game for you, since the game has funded. Even with shipping, it is a deal. Retail price for the game will be $40.

Summer + Nerf = A Blasting Good Time!

Ohh boys! Who wants to play. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
Oh boys! Who wants to play. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

The latest addition to my family’s Nerf arsenal are the Nerf N-Strike Mega Magnus and N-Strike Elite Centurion blaster. The Centurion is almost as tall as my 8-year old son, while the Magnus reminds me a lot of Starlord’s gun in Guardians of the Galaxy.

What makes these guns really special are the darts and their shooting range.

The darts are twice the size of a regular Nerf dart and whistle when shot. Both blasters bring the heat with an impressive shooting distance of 100 feet and 85 feet respectively. The downside to both the size of the dart and the shooting range is the sting that happens when you get hit at close range. My husband and son learned the hard way that shooting each other at point-blank range wasn’t the brightest idea they’ve had all year. I’ve actually had to make a rule (that is rarely followed) that players must be a minimum of 6-feet from their intended target.

Watch out daddy! We are armed and ready. \ Image: Dakster Sulliva
Watch out daddy! We are armed and ready. \ Image: Dakster Sulliva

The sniper-like N-Strike Elite Centurion measures in at a whopping 39-inches in length and packs six darts in a clip. Since my son is only around 54-inches, you could say it’s a little difficult for him to cock a dart into position. Despite the problems he has holding the blaster and loading it, he still has a lot of fun when playing with it. My husband, who stands at 5-foot 8-inches, can handle it with ease and has no problem taking advantage of our son’s lag time when reloading his blaster.

As a cosplayer, I appreciate the Centurion for its sleek design. I’ve already been told more than once that it would go great with my 501st Legion Clone Trooper costume and with some bondo and black paint, I think they’re right.

The Nerf N-Strike Mega Magnus blasters are a bit easier to carry, load, and cock after each shot. This blaster holds up to three darts at a time and sounds really cool when you lock and load. It took my son a few practice games to cock this one right, but he’s since mastered the pullback action it takes to prep it for shooting.

The Magnus blaster is my favorite of the two, because it’s easier to handle than the larger Centurion blaster. I wish it held more than three darts at a time, but oh well. I stuff extra darts in my pockets for reloading.

While the darts are a plus for their size, the design is a bit flimsy. I suggest you purchase a backup set of darts for more fun when you wear out the darts that come with the blasters.

Of all the toys in our house right now, I have to say that the Nerf N-Strike Centurion and Mega Magnus blasters are my favorites because of the fun I’ve had watching my husband and son play with them. I’ve jumped in to a few games, too (and played double agent a few times). They never know whose side I’m really on until it’s to late for them.

Uncle Doug takes his aim at poor Pikachu at the end of the hall. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
Uncle Doug takes his aim at poor Pikachu at the end of the hall. \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

If your family is looking to add a new Nerf blaster to your arsenal, make sure you check out the Nwef N-Strike Elite Centurion an Magnus blasters. Both blasters are available at your local toy retailer and on Amazon for $49.99 (Centurion) and $15.99 (Magnus).

For safety reasons, I encourage all players to wear safety-glasses when playing with any Nerf blaster. Better safe on the battlefield than sorry in the emergency room.

Disclaimer: GeekMom received a review sample. 

Hobby or Career?

Image by Rebecca Angel

For the longest time, my son was only interested in two things: games and Lego. Then we participated in the Science Olympiad, and he randomly chose astronomy as one of his study topics for the team. We found some books on basic astronomy, and he studied. My father heard about the topic of choice, and sent a season of The Universe on DVD.

By the time of the test, my son had become bored with studying the facts of astronomy, but was completely inspired by the DVDs. He would watch episodes with a friend of his and they would discuss the many ways Earth could be destroyed, or the true nature of a black hole. We found more interesting books for him to read like The Pluto Files and Death by Black Hole. His love of astronomy grew.

Could this be his career path? Astrobiology, the study of potential life on other planets, became his focus. There is a college program at our local university. Bingo! Although games and Lego are fun, I was starting to worry about how that might apply to getting a job in life. I looked into any local astronomy things. How could I foster this interest in a fun way?

This past school year, he was an intern at The Dudley Observatory. To be accepted, he had to write an essay, and have a recommendation letter. This is a great program. He was given a telescope of his own, and was expected to learn how to use it. He attended as many star parties as our schedule (and the weather—it’s very cloudy around here) allowed, there were specific education evenings for the interns, and he heard a few talks through the local chapter of the Amateur Astronomy Association. Plus, there were always people to chat with about the latest episode of Cosmos.

A highlight of the program was attending a star party at a local school, setting up his telescope with the other interns, and helping the school kids find different constellations. My son is shy, but he was happy to share what he knew, and to see younger kids excited about the stars.

We live in a city, amongst trees, so taking his telescope outside our house is rarely gratifying. But sometimes we can get a cool view of the moon.

Image by Rebecca Angel

Last month we visited his grandparents who live on a farm, far away from anything. It was a gorgeous night. The moon hadn’t come up yet, and the stars were just amazing. Through the telescope, we were able to see four moons of Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, Beehive Cluster, and everything else my son could remember.

The program is officially over, but his mentor invited all the interns to continue to attend the AAA meetings, local star parties, and of course, keep using their telescope. I recently asked my son what he thought about the program, what he learned, and his interest in astronomy.

“I realize that I really like astronomy, but studying all the facts and details isn’t as fun as just looking at the stars and talking to people excited like me. I think I want this for a hobby, not a career.”

Sigh… I’m not sure what this kid is going to do. But better for him to realize something is a hobby and not a career now, rather than after going into debt with a degree he won’t use. I just signed him up for a video game creation camp, also an area of study at our local university. We’ll see.

Mom@Play: 8 Reasons to Play Machine of Death

Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination. Image: Cathe Post
Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination. Image: Cathe Post.

Planning an assassination with your friends is fun. Following through with an assassination plan while making sure the Machine of Death prediction comes through is beyond hilarious. Here are eight reasons you should plan an assassination at your next game night:

1. This card game already has its roots in geek culture, since it is based on a series of short stories which is based on a web comic. The general idea being that there is a machine that takes a little bit of your blood and then predicts with 100-percent certainty how you will die.

The tools we have available for the assassination.  The dice represent the number we have to roll in order for the tool to succeed in its part of the master plan. Image: Cathe Post
The tools we have available for the assassination. The dice represent the number we have to roll in order for the tool to succeed in its part of the master plan. Image: Cathe Post.

2. This is a game of imagination. You are given three tools to form a plan, so that your intended victim dies in the manner they are supposed to. It’s sort of like an invisible Rube Goldberg role-playing event. These tools are unique and can range from imaginary childhood friend to heavy furniture.

This person is going to die by “free samples.” Image: Cathe Post.

3. A sense of irony is not lost in the predicted death methods. Your card might say “old age,” but that could mean you are hit 5 minutes later by some old geezer driving a car.

4. Your assassination team comes up with the details of your target. Take this chance to warm up your brain to be imaginative and silly.

5. As a team of assassins, you are given strange tools to kill your target.

Specialists are earned by completing your assassination and covering up your tracks before time is up. Image: Cathe Post
Specialists are earned by completing your assassination and covering up your tracks before time is up. Image: Cathe Post.

6. The planning stage is not timed, but once you put your plan in motion, you have a time limit to succeed at killing your target. If you succeed and still have time left, you can cover your tracks and earn bonus Specialists that you can save for another assassination.

7. This is a great alternative to other party games, if you are looking for something adult to play other than Cards Against Humanity.

8. The box says it is for ages 14+, but I have played it with kids as young as 7. Parental guidance is advised.

Our team has succeeded on several missions. Image: Cathe Post
Our team has succeeded on several missions. Image: Cathe Post.

Do you want a reason not to play Machine of Death? The only negative I have found so far is the cards aren’t very sturdy. They can’t be shuffled traditionally without bending them.

If this game sounds like something that would interest you, check it out. Machine of Death has a website and is available for around $40 from Amazon and some other sites.

5 Reasons Every Mom Should Take Advantage of Free Comic Book Day

free comic book day
Enjoying the spoils of last year’s Free Comic Book Day, right before nap time.
Image by Lisa Kay Tate

In our home, as likely in the homes of all my fellow GeekMoms, Free Comic Book Day is written on the kitchen calendar.

To take it even further, we have a “plan of action.” Friday night we head to our comic shop’s preview party for boxholders, reserve the books we want and enjoy a hot dog with our fellow store patrons. Next morning, we head back, claim our comics, take part in giveaways, see the cosplay contests, and, if possible, purchase sketches from some talented regional artists. If we have time, we “road trip” to other comic shops and bookstores, just to see what they have happening.

For us, Free Comic Book Day isn’t just a chance to go grab some free swag, although I’m by no means opposed to doing that. It’s also a chance for our family to enjoy something special together.

This certainly isn’t groundbreaking news for GeekMoms, but hopefully something all other moms will take to heart. If approached with the right attitude, Free Comic Book Day is the perfect family event, regardless of one’s interest (or lack of interest) in the medium.

For those moms who can’t understand my enthusiasm, here are five reasons why every mom should embrace Free Comic Book Day. For all the rest of us, please share this with your favorite non-geek mom…or dad.

1. Comics are a stairway to reading “actual books.” You don’t have to tell me comics are a viable form of literature. I have a garage filled with long-boxes, and a growing “to read” stack by my bed. However, who doesn’t want to see their kids pick up and take on a classic tome? Give them a good Carl Barks Uncle Scrooge Adventure that mentions Jason and the Argonauts, and they might pick up a book on mythology. For older kids, look at the characterizations of Astro City or Mouse Guard, and this might lead to picking up Tolkien, Verne, or Lewis Carroll in the future. Get them into Iron Man and they might want to learn more about modern technological advancement or mechanics, and how to use them to make the world a better place.

Take advantage of the adventure that awaits ready to build family memories.
Image by Rick Tate

2. These events unleash the artist/writer within. Many Free Comic Book Day events are celebrated with other activities such as character appearances, local or national comic book writers and artists, costume contests, and other ways for stores to draw people into their fine establishments. This can really help let flow kids’ own creative juices. Whether or not your child shows a “natural tendency” as an artist or writer, there is something therapeutic and calming about taking a pencil to a clear sketchbook and seeing an image form or letting words spill out into a journal (or computer screen as the case may be for some). Not everyone may have a knack for realism or plot development, but everyone can draw or write something. “Talent” may vary, but creativity is universal. Don’t waste it.

3. This a fantastic excuse to get out of the house. Non-geek moms need to fight the misguided assumption that comic book readers are lonely little pizza-stained couch potatoes. Events like Free Comic Book Day will actually get kids off the couch and away from the game console or television. Even gamers need to get up every now and then and take a family outing. A stopover at the comic book shop could lead to an entire afternoon’s adventure. Grab your books, pick up lunch or ice cream (or pack a picnic), and take your reading to a local park. It’s May and springtime, after all. If you happen to live in a city like Chicago, New York, or San Francisco, take a comic book tour of the city and compare sights and places where action takes place. It’s a great way to learn more about your own town. I live in the Southwest on the edge of West Texas and New Mexico, not too horribly far from where a couple of little comic movie properties like “Thor” and “The Avengers” were recently filmed. Do I hear road trip?

4. It’s a way to remind your offspring you were once (and in many ways still are) a kid. I defy any adult not accustomed to entering a comic book shop to not get some twinge of nostalgia for a well loved (or even much hated) piece of pop culture from his or her own childhood. I love getting into cool conversations with my daughter about the evolution of Batman through the years, or why Brian Michael Bendis is the best thing to ever happen to the depiction of the character Nick Fury. Start talking about, bragging about, or even making fun of really bad comics from the past (<cough> Disco-era “Dazzler” <cough>) and next thing you know the generation gap is gone, at least for a short time. Pick up any random book, and find out how imagination spans the generations.

5. The real-life applications are limitless. When parents have a hard time getting kids to open up to you on any issue, they can find pretty much whatever is plaguing your ‘tween or teen or piquing the curiosity of a younger child in comics today, from “playing nice with others” to discovering your life purpose. Pick a topic and it’s there somewhere: family values, war and peace, racism, love vs. lust, loyalty, trust, really cool technological advancements, stereotypes…need I go on. Also, from the point of view of a mom with girls, it is great chance to talk about how women are depicted in pop culture, and what can cause body image or self-esteem problems. This is also an issue many boys might want to learn as well.

This Free Comic Book Day, all moms should be itching to venture into that comic book shop even if they’ve never set foot near a bag and backboard before, and open their kids up to new avenues of imagination.

Who knows, you might even have fun, but I won’t tell anyone.

Seed Science

Image By Rebecca Angel.

Science is about questions, getting dirty, observing, discovering, and having more questions. For many of us taught in traditional schools, science “lab” was about following directions and if you didn’t get the correct result, you were wrong. That is a great way to kill anyone’s curiosity or love of true science. Don’t let that happen with your kids!

Your child’s education may include a fantastic science program or not, but you can always do fun things as a family. It’s spring (it may not feel like it, depending on where you live, but technically…) and that means planning a garden. I’m no green thumb. That’s my husband, but the kids and I are involved throughout the growing season.

This year, my son (15) decided on a science project that involved growing seeds. He wondered about chamomile tea and if it was good for plants. Some websites said yes, but were really vague. He decided to do his own study.

We went to the garden store and spent a minimal amount of money on basil seeds (because they can be transplanted in our garden or grown inside in pots afterwards. And I like basil!), potting soil, and a few containers.

Next he planted the seeds in three groups:

1. Potting soil that will have plain water every day.

2. Potting soil that will have brewed (and cooled) chamomile tea every day.

3. Potting soil mixed with chamomile that will have plain water every day.

Originally, he only had groups 2 and 3, which led to a discussion on why you want a “control” in your study.

It’s been a couple of weeks and they are just starting to sprout. Guess what he’s found out so far? Light is far more important than anything else he’s doing. The seedlings closest to his light source are doing the best. Does that mean his experiment isn’t good? Not at all! He’s learning that there may be other factors that affect his outcome. This will lead to a better experiment next time. And that’s real science learning.

For your own experiment, let your child look through your spice or tea cabinet and choose something they think will help or hurt plants. Let them plant some seeds and take care of them. Will they spill dirt, take up space in your house, and need reminding about watering? Probably. But science isn’t neat and helping them succeed is worth the inconvenience.

Remember: Success is simply completing the experiment, regardless of the outcome. Look at the results together and chat about what worked in their design and what would make a clearer result next time. You don’t have to be a scientist yourself to have a conversation about it—just be curious and observant.

 Here is a lot of good information on what seeds need and how to plant them. And here’s a video on seed starting:

What are other easy seed experiments you have done (or want to do)?

Reaching Your Dreams With Your Kids By Your Side

Noelle-Pikus Pace celebrates with her family in Sochi. © AP Photo/Michael Sohn

At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the women’s skeleton event featured two fierce competitors from Team USA. Noelle Pikus-Pace, one of the women representing the U.S., had some very special fans cheering for her in the stands—her husband and kids.

After a disappointing finish in the Vancouver games in 2010, Noelle Pikus-Pace decided to put her family before her Olympic career. In the years since, Pikus-Pace has returned to the skeleton track, but determined to have her family with her every step of the way.

For Sochi, Pikus-Pace created an unusual training schedule for this year’s event, but one that many moms can easily picture in their own day-to-days. Once she dropped off one of her young kids at preschool, Pikus-Pace squeezed in a workout, toting along her toddler to the track to play as she ran. (Bringing along sandbox toys for him to play with as she trained? Brilliant.) Skeleton training came in the evening when the kids went to bed.

And all that hard work paid off: Pikus-Pace earned a silver medal on Friday in women’s skeleton.

Pikus-Pace shows all moms (and dads) that even on days when you’re changing diapers or making school lunches, you can still fight to make your dreams come true.

It’s not just Olympians who work hard to reach their lifelong goals. Geek moms might recognize some of these creative minds who “have it all,” working hard to fit in their dreams while staying focused on family time. These artists often squeeze in work while the kids are at school or sleeping nearby:

Captain Marvel scribe Kelly Sue DeConnick gets up at 3:00 AM every day to write multiple titles, including her creator-owned series Pretty Deadly.

• Matt Fraction wrote the first outline for what would become Hawkeye #2 in the car while his two kids napped.

Elephant House
“The Birthplace of Harry Potter.” Photo by Stafford Student, Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

• J.K. Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter novel in coffee shops and cafes while her baby daughter slept next to her.

• Singer-songwriter Frances England, well-known for her sweet kids’ albums, composed her first songs while keeping an eye on her son in the bath. She also writes while cooking, or as she waits for her kids to finish a martial arts class.

While we’re not all destined for Olympic medals, you can always think back to these hard-working parents for inspiration when contemplating reaching for dreams of your own. But if you’re just getting started, what are the best ways to find the time to explore your own creative outlets? Over at GeekDad last week, David Faith tackled that very question.

A Science Literate Family

Royalty Free Image. Caption By Rebecca Angel

“Science is the study of the world around us, using evidence to understand and explain how it all works.”

“Experimenting, testing hypothesis, observing nature on earth and in space, chemical reactions, things that have to do with motion…”

“Science is discovering stuff, figuring stuff out. It’s like solving mysteries.”

These are the answers I received when asking a few kids what “science” was. Then I asked them what “literacy” meant. Silence. With a couple of prompts, one boy hesitantly said, “Reading?”

Yes. Literacy in its most basic definition is the ability to read and write. According to Wikipedia, science is “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.” I think the kids’ answers were just as accurate. Science Literacy is a combination of these terms to express the ability to understand and converse within the world of science. Why does it matter, and how can you bring science literacy into your family?

According to a well-done publication on bringing science literacy into the American education system called Benchmarks:

  • When people know how scientists go about their work and reach scientific conclusions, and what the limitations of such conclusions are, they are more likely to react thoughtfully to scientific claims and less likely to reject them out of hand or accept them uncritically.
  • Once people gain a good sense of how science operates—along with a basic inventory of key science concepts as a basis for learning more later—they can follow the science adventure story as it plays out during their lifetimes.
  • The images that many people have of science and how it works are often distorted. The myths and stereotypes that young people have about science are not dispelled when science teaching focuses narrowly on the laws, concepts, and theories of science. Hence, the study of science as a way of knowing needs to be made explicit in the curriculum.

In a previous post, called Kids Talk Science, I suggested keeping up on the latest science through easily accessible magazines like Science News, passing it on to your children, and having interesting science chats during dinner. You don’t have to be an expert in a science field to discuss evidence of life on Mars, the latest in electric car racing , and if feelings of love are just a bunch of chemicals.

If you are within driving distance of a college or university, you can take it a step further by attending a talk. My family is lucky enough to be in a small city with numerous higher institutions. There are regular open lectures by the professors on their research, as well as visiting scientists from around the country. These are not dry lectures, but revelations so new most haven’t been published. It is a wonderful way to see how scientists are excited about what they do, don’t have all the answers, but LOVE questions.

One of our favorites last year was a talk on the science of smell, and that yes, mosquitoes do like certain people better than others! The speaker was dynamic, and the science was clear. Not only was it informative, but we were encouraged to participate. “If you’re ever in New York City, come be in our study. We always need volunteers!”

Just last week my son and I attended a lecture on astrobiology. Although the topic was of interest, the talk went over our heads with slides of physics equations. Was it a waste of time? Absolutely not! Afterwards, we asked someone in the audience if they could explain part of it, and she did. Ah… We had an interesting discussion all the way home about the possibility of life on other planets.

Attending these talks shows science as a process, as a social endeavor, and something that everyone can join—even if it’s just to ask questions. It should be a source of pride to hear first-hand all the cool stuff being discovered in your community. For the speakers, they are there to share their passion—they need an audience! And seeing kids is encouraging. Who knows? Your child might work under their microscope one day.

So I encourage everyone to peruse their local college or university websites for upcoming lectures and presentations for the general community, bring science literacy to your family. Plus, you might learn something too!

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Christmas Light Geekiness

My mom, my daughter, and I make a point every year to take a drive and see some of the wonderful Christmas lights in our area. Times have changed since I was a little girl with my lanky legs crammed in the back of my parents’ cream VW Bug, defogging the window with the sleeve of my Christmas dress to see a pretty string of lights here and there…maybe even a few houses in a row!

Thirty years later, we go cruising in a SUV with heated seats, large windows that defrost, and a navigation system. Though my mom and I inevitably have the same discussion every year of whether using Google Maps on my smart phone or her old paper map will do the better job of getting us to all of the locations, we have our favorite houses that we don’t really need a map to find anymore.

Lights, like so many things, show a household’s personality. Of course, part of personality is geekiness, so watching programmed Christmas light shows is right up my alley. So many houses in our area opting for fancy light shows set to music; we seek these houses out first, so anything else we see is just gravy.

Compare the car to the tree for scale. Gotta love the Pacific Northwest. Image: Cathe Post

Fancy light shows set to music are incredibly geeky. I talked to the owner of our favorite house, down the hill from where my husband works, about how much work goes into making a “show”. He told me that he works about 20 hours a week from January 1 through Thanksgiving to complete the coding involved in a five song set. Yes, coding. Computer language. I start drooling at the possibilities of what we could do…

Kits and equipment are easily available for making your own light show. They aren’t cheap, but the more computer and coding knowledge you have, the cheaper it is to piecemeal what you need together. There are dedicated websites with full kits, Instructables, and WikiHows on how to program light shows for the holidays and make your job easier as well.

Classic white lights found on this home in Vancouver, WA. Image: Cathe Post

As for the gravy I spoke of earlier, we seem to have our favorites: classic white lights outlining houses, red and white lights, twinkle lights, and my daughter’s favorite—lit candy canes—were found in almost every neighborhood we visited. Some houses though, were…a bit much. The term was used, “It looks like Christmas threw up on that house.” It happens. But hey, at least they have Christmas spirit.

This is one of a few houses we felt had gone a *bit too far with the decorations. Image: Cathe Post

We only have one string of lights that work this year, so our house looks a little like Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Next year though…next year…I might just have to get into a coding project with my family.

Happy Holidays!

How to Play Barbies Without Going Crazy

Photo: Kelly Knox

Not a day goes by that my daughter doesn’t ask me to play Barbies. I have fond memories of playing Barbie as a girl, too, so there’s always something fun about reliving my childhood with her. But once the hair is brushed and the clothes are selected, our playtime typically devolves into an acting performance by yours truly with the most demanding director in the world.

“Mommy. Make them say something. Make her say, ‘Hi, Teresa.’ No, not like that. Okay. Now change her dress.”

To get my daughter more involved—and to keep me from pulling my hair out (and Barbie’s along with it)—I needed to add something more to our doll playtime to capture both our interests. If you’re stuck in the same Barbie boat, here are four ways to play dolls that don’t involve shopping, weddings, or trips to the hair salon.

Haunt the Dreamhouse.

Barbie has to live somewhere, usually in her perfectly decorated pink Dreamhouse or some variation thereof. I was growing tired of the perfect and the pink, so in a sudden flash of inspiration, I suggested turning Barbie’s home into a haunted mansion. My daughter was in before I finished the sentence.

Photo: Kelly Knox

Using basically the same decorating method that we use on our own home for Halloween, we decked out the dollhouse in Kleenex ghosts, cobwebs, and spiders. Just decorating the haunted house took up one rainy afternoon, and the fun continues as we devise different ways to scare the intrepid Barbies making their way through. Playing “hair salon” turns into creative costume making as my preschooler thinks of new ways to use Barbie’s clothes.

It might not be Life in the Dreamhouse, but our spooky house is amusing, if I do say so myself. (Yes, I’ve watched Life in the Dreamhouse. Have I mentioned this kid loves Barbie?)

Invite Barbie to get involved with science experiments.

Barbie has never been one to tie herself down to a single career. She’s been a doctor, veterinarian, politician, and even an astronaut on a mission to Mars. In that same spirit, I’ve incorporated Barbie into many of the science experiments that we do together at home.

With the help of books like Science in Seconds for Kids and articles here on GeekMom like Kristen’s fizzy science fun with baking soda, I’ve found several science-themed activities that are well-suited to both my daughter’s attention span and getting some assistance from Barbie. Typically the doll can act as an observer and “ask” questions about the experiment, but she has gotten hands-on, too. Barbie is particularly good at dumping vinegar into a baking soda volcano.

Go BLARPing.

You guessed it, Barbie Live Action Role Playing.

Inspired by our recent trip to the Great Wolf Lodge to play ShadowQuest, my daughter and I crafted magic wands out of toothpicks for the Barbie Magi. My four-year-old turns herself into a tiny dungeon master, devising a quest and a list of items in our house that the dolls must hunt for. Part pretend play and part scavenger hunt, BLARPing gets my daughter’s wheels turning and adds a new dimension to playing dolls together.

Photo: Kelly Knox

As an added bonus, if I’m feeling a little down and in need of a smile, I just say “BLARPing” out loud. But not in public.

Star in a movie.

Sure, getting Barbie and Ken to go on a date to the movies is a pretty typical way to play. But how about being the movie? Once my daughter and I get the dolls settled in their chairs, we turn on music from our favorite film scores and act out the movies for our captive audience.

You might end up re-enacting scenes from Disney movies or dancing around to the music from the Fresh Beat Band, but you can also take the opportunity to show off the library of fantastic movie and game soundtracks you’ve amassed. As you can imagine, this leads to a countless number of lightsaber duels. My daughter has even watched me pretend to slay dragons from Skyrim (complete with a “FUS ROH DAH!”) as I blasted the main “Dragonborn” theme from my iPhone.


Do you have more suggestions to liven up playtime and beat the doll doldrums? Let us know in the comments below!

Silver Ball Museum Arcade

Image By Rebecca Angel
Image By Rebecca Angel

Ding! Whap! Whap! Ding! Ding! Whap!

“Awww….right down the middle.”


“Play again!”

Image By Rebecca Angel

While on vacation on the Jersey Shore, my family and I checked out the Silver Ball Museum Arcade in Asbury Park. It was clean, well-lit, and you paid $10 an hour for unlimited play on dozens and dozens of pinball machines dating from the 1930s on, and in working order!

We wandered around, each trying different games, all failing to get a decent score, but who cares? It was fun. I enjoyed a wooden and metal game from the fifties that launched a tiny baseball, and you hit it with a bat at different speeds to knock down “runs” flags. After a bit, I got the hang of it.

Image By Rebecca Angel

My husband and I tried out the two-person pinball machine that dips to one side or the other after each score, plus, your buttons are connected to two sets of flippers that act as offense and defense. A challenge.

They also had air-hockey and Skee-Ball. They were ancient machines—a couple with no electronic displays, just cards that would click over a number as you made your score, with smooth and heavy wooden balls. So cool and vintage.

Image Rebecca Angel

I spent half my time reading the signs over each game that gave a little history: How many machines were made of this type, any special features, movie tie-ins, history of game significance, etc. I kept finding my family members to tell them some interesting fact, and asked if they had found anything. “Mom, no one reads those signs but you.” Right. History nerd here.

It’s a good way to spend an hour on a hot or rainy afternoon on the beach. If you’re in that area, I recommend you check out the Silver Ball Museum Arcade.

The Post Family Free Comic Book Day Experience

GeekMom Cathe Post and her minions with the Hulk outside of Free Comic Book Day in Vancouver, Washington Image: Tim Post
GeekMom Cathe Post and her minions with the Hulk outside of Free Comic Book Day in Vancouver, Washington Image: Tim Post

For the first time ever, the Post family attended Free Comic Book Day together. My daughter and I attended our first last year, and liked getting there early to avoid the crowds. Continue reading The Post Family Free Comic Book Day Experience

The Hobbit "Roll to Win Giveaway" Announced

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  Image: Lego
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Image: Lego

To celebrate the arrival of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, in theaters December 14th, Lego is releasing the first installment of The Hobbit to a board game aisle near you. The board game looks really neat and in true lego fashion, you have to build the dice and board game yourself.

The story of the game revolves around the plot of the movie…with hints from from Gandalf the Grey, you must use your memory skills to find the missing Dwarves who have gotten lost in the Middle Earth. For a harder challenge, you can transform the game while playing.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hit store shelves on October 1st and to help celebrate its arrival, Lego is hosting The Hobbit “Roll to Win Giveaway” on Lego Games Facebook page.

Starting today, fans have a chance to roll a virtual dice for the chance to win prizes, including a grand prize package featuring the new board game, Lego The Hobbit construction sets, Lego Games’ “Host a Family Game” kit and two movie ticket vouchers to see the movie in theaters. The winner will be announced on December 14th.

Hopefully sometime soon, I will have a chance to check out The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey for myself, but until then, head over to Lego Games’ Facebook page for a chance to win some prizes.

Nerf Lazer Tag – GeekMom Tested. Bounty Hunter Approved

GeekMom tested. Cad Bane approved / Image: Brian Sullivan
Dakster Sullivan showing off her lazer tag skills./ Image: Brian Sullivan

Hasbro has reinvented laser tag for the new generation; the Apple generation that is.

I first learned about the system earlier this year and it looked promising. I’m happy to say that the fleshed out product is just as much fun as it was originally advertised. Compatible with the iPhone (3GS and up) and iPod (4th generation and up), this new laser tag is a ton of fun for the entire family

Since I’m an Apple junkie, I was thrilled to test this one out with my family after receiving the item for review. The basic kit comes with two blasters and, after installing the app on my devices (one iPhone 4s and one iPod 4th generation), I was all set to kick some tail. Continue reading Nerf Lazer Tag – GeekMom Tested. Bounty Hunter Approved

Smart Summer Fun: 30 Ideas For Your Geeklets

smart fun for kids, brain-building activities for kids,
Seeing more than ever before. (Image CC by 2.0 by jurvetson)

1. Make a marble run out of junk.

2. Mail yourselves postcards when you go somewhere for the day, even around town. It’s a hoot when kids get snail mail. Later in the week they’ll be glad to get a card reading, Hi Me. I had a great time today riding a paddle-boat with Grandpa. We both got wet. Bye self!

3. Learn to play a free instrument you already have. (Really, it’s in your kitchen.)

4. Learn chemistry using pennies.

5. Let yeast blow up a balloon. Have kids write their names on balloons with a permanent marker. Using a funnel, let them fill each balloon with 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon dry yeast. Add a little warm water to each balloon, tie shut, and shake to mix. Then put them outside on a hot sunny day. Check to see how big the balloons have gotten every ten minutes or so. Guess what might happen to balloons that get too big.

6. Subversively advance geographic knowledge using a wall map.

7. Designate your yard as a nature area.

Continue reading Smart Summer Fun: 30 Ideas For Your Geeklets

Geek Nation Tours Oh, The Places Geeks Go!

Geek Nation Tours

If you happen to be planning a trip to Italy, then you want someone who speaks Italian as your guide. If you’re going to backpack through the Swiss Alps, then you want someone who knows the best places to stop and camp for the night. But if you’re a geek, and you want to check out a convention, then you want the guys from Geek Nation Tours.

Tours have always been a great way to meet with like minded folks and experience new places. They take all the quess work out of your vacation and free you up to have fun without worrying over the details. Now there’s finally a company that is addressing that need for geeks and gamers by designing tours to your favorite conventions and special events.

Miniature wargamers can take advantage of trips to places like GenCon or Adepticon and get some great insider tips. At this year’s GenCon welcome dinner, for example, you’ll get game tips from the hosts of The D6 Generation gaming podcast and Megan Culver, GenCon Director of Marketing, will be handing out your badges and saving you from waiting in lines. In addition to scheduled events throughout the convention you’ll be given ample time to explore and game on your own.

But what if your significant other just isn’t into the same geeky stuff you are and dreads the thought of attending a geeky convention? No problem. The folks at Geek Nation Tours have the geek-adjacent covered and will happily help find activities and events elsewhere in the city. In fact, at Adepticon they’ve devised the special Non-Geek Spouse Tour that includes tours, dinners and a limo ride through Chicago!

Check out Geek Nation Tours for details on trips to GenCon, Adepticon, Star Trek Las Vegas and even places outside the United States like Essen Speil in Germany!

(Geek Nation Tours advertises on The D6 Generation podcast, on which I host a segment.)

Hallmark BlogOut Challenge: Family Time Offline

Hallmark's Abigail Story Buddy

One of the biggest challenges many families face is spending good, quality time together. Especially as children get older and become involved in sports and their own social lives, finding opportunities to just be with each other becomes more difficult. Sometimes, even though everyone is at home, each is engaged with one kind of screen or another so they might as well be miles apart. Computers, TVs, phones, game consoles, tablets, they all keep us entertained, but often in a solitary way. So, when Hallmark contacted me about participating in their BlogOut Challenge, I jumped at the chance.

The idea is a part of their Life is a Special Occasion campaign and encourages all of us to walk away from our screens for a day, or an afternoon, or even just a few hours and spend that time with our families. My family does spend a good deal of time together “doing things” so it’s not like we can’t disengage from our screens, but I will admit it can be a bit difficult. A lot of my work is online so the temptation to check things on my phone is overwhelming and when I find something that needs my attention it’s so very easy to pop open my laptop and take care of it while the kids play in the living room. I was definitely up for this challenge.

To get me started, they sent me a Hallmark Interactive Story Buddy and a Recordable Storybook for my two girls. The minute I took out the Story Buddy the kids were fascinated with her. We happened to receive Abigail, who is an adorable little plush bunny with a storybook all about how she wants to be a grown-up. You read the story out loud, and plush Abigail makes a comment after the last line on every page. I read this book to my kids, they read it to each other, and then they took turns reading it to every stuffed animal in their rooms. Even better, my oldest daughter figured out that it was the last sentence on the page that made Abigail speak, so she wrote her own little story to read and just inserted those lines to make Abigail talk.

We also spent an afternoon playing with the Recordable Storybook We’re Not Scared of Anything. The idea is for you, or your kids, to read the story and make a recording that will play as you turn the pages. You can do this as many times as you like, which has led to multiple recordings with all sorts of crazy voices. My job in this adventure was to make sound effects at all the right moments. I’m not sure we’ll ever have a finished version because every time they pull it out they have a new idea they want to test.

My initial plan was to spend an entire day free of screens, any of them, including my shiny new iPhone 4S, but this proved more difficult than I’d expected. So instead, we spent not one day, but several afternoons away from our screens. I found myself looking forward to a little scheduled one-on-one time with my family. In addition to playing with Abigail and the recordable book, we spent most of one afternoon cuddled in bed reading together. Another we made a fabulous disaster of the kitchen while decorating Halloween cookies. This weekend, we kept the kids up past their bedtimes playing their new favorite role-playing game, Mouse Guard, until we finally decided to be responsible parents and put them to bed.

We managed to take the idea of BlogOut and turn it into not just a single day, but something that we do nearly every afternoon. And really, that’s the idea, remembering to take time out from “life” to enjoy the everyday moments that make being a family special.

First Time at the Movies!

Image: Mandy Horetski

My husband and I are avid movie goers. When we were first dating, we would go see two, sometimes three movies in one day. We still love the movies, and still go all the time, though often not together if we can’t find a sitter.

Our local theater has a program where you can see $1 kid’s movies on Tuesday or Wednesday. This was the last week of it, and they were showing on of my daughter’s favorite movies, Despicable Me. This was going to be the first time that she had ever seen a movie on the big screen.

Since my husband works 2nd shift, we were able to make this a family affair. This made me happy because I think my husband would have been sad if he hadn’t been there for the first time.

As for my daughter, she was very excited. She was a little awed at the size of the screen when we got into the theater. She giggled at the previews, and watched the movie without talking too loudly through it.

It was a really good experience. I think it helped that we saw a movie that she’s seen about 50 times already. She sat in our laps because the chair was a little big and tried to fold up on her. And she fell asleep in the car on the ride home because it was such an exciting morning.

Oh Mom, Don’t Take YouTube Too Literally

My son imposes YouTube videos on me every day. I think it’s his way of keeping me from sliding completely into the pile of those who are hopelessly Not With It. Sorry to say, his efforts are futile since I’ve always found the other people in that particular pile to be fascinating.

Sure, sometimes I complain. I once whined about wasting a few perfectly good minutes on a video of a toothless Finnish man gleefully washing his face.

But I’m learning about my son as we watch YouTube together. I see what interests him and more importantly, recognize some of his strengths. I’m heartened to notice that he has built up a strong immunity to the relentless advertising that surrounds all of us. He prefers parodies of hype to the hype itself.  For example, he showed me the trailer for Halo: Reach. Not the standard trailer. He prefers the one re-narrated by Toby Turner which literally describes what’s on the screen. Pretty funny. Pretty much like the narration we do for ads as we fast forward around here.

I wouldn’t mind (heck I wouldn’t recognize) if my kids are Not With It. But it’s terribly important to me that they feel free to follow their interests. Well, as long as that doesn’t involve losing their teeth and moving to Finland.