Setting Goals and Making Resolutions. Realistically, This Time

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Photo: Traveling-light. Used with permission.

Did you set any New Year’s resolutions this year? How’s that working for you? I’m of a split mind when it comes to those things. You may have seen those pictures of the gyms on January 1, chock full, and then two weeks later, it is empty. It’s easy to say you want to do something, but another thing entirely to take the action to do it. But why do all these New Year’s resolutions fail? Why can’t people follow through on them? Are they plain lazy? Do they not care? Are they just shooting their mouths off?

Well, maybe, but I know so many seemingly hard-working people who make resolutions, only to fall off the wagon a few weeks later. Heck, I’ve been one of them. Maybe part of it had to do with being lazy, but I think more of it has to do with goal-setting. Not all goals are the same. Some are destined to fail before the person even begins. There are a couple of ways, however, for you to set goals that are more likely to be achieved.

1. Make sure your goals are under your control. As much as we wish it were so, you can’t set a realistic goal of “making my kids behave.” You can’t force them to behave, because that is not 100 percent under your control. You shouldn’t have a goal to be rich, or to find Prince Charming, or to get a promotion. All of those things involve, at least in part, someone else’s decisions or actions. Even if you do everything you possibly can, there is no guarantee that the other person is going to hold up their end. More realistic goals are: Write a book, be kind, become more social, suck up to the boss, or spend more time with family. If you definitely want to help your children be more responsible—that’s under your control. There are steps you can take to help them. You can make a goal to practice archery, but if you set a goal to win all the tournaments, you will probably be disappointed.

2. Make those goals measurable in some way. Have some way of measuring your progress. This can be walking steps taken, miles bicycled, words written, places gone, hours gamed. I could say, “My resolution is to write more this year,” but unless I have some sort of measure, how do I know I’ve written more? Also, if I don’t have a measured goal, it’s easier to put it off. “Yeah, I’ll write more. Later.” A measurable goal will also give you a finish line to strive for. Want to keep your dining room clean all year? Progress on that is easily seen.

3. Set goals incrementally. Sometimes it is best to have planned steps to get to your goal. Divide the year up into quarters so your goal isn’t so huge. Re-evaluate things as time goes by and make sure your goals and the steps you are taking to achieve them are still realistic. Instead of saying, “I want to have an immaculate house,” you can set milestones. Living room first, then in two months, try to keep your living room and dining room tidy. Add your kitchen…

Above all, make sure your journey through the year is enjoyable. Yes, of course, some parts of attaining our goals are painful. But keep the joy in it by having a clear vision of your goal, and know that every day, you are getting closer to it.

Setting goals isn’t just for the New Year. You can start striving for something you’ve been wanting right now. Best of luck to you!

Letters to Aunt C: On the Power of Reading, Writing, and Good Advice

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Image by Natania Barron

 

The Power of a Pen Pal

Having a pen pal is a rite of passage for most kids born before the age of the internet—you know, when communicating with people across the continent was kind of a big deal. I remember we got assigned pen pals in elementary school, and I can’t tell you for the life of me who mine was. I am, and remain, a very terrible pen pal.

With one exception.

My great Aunt C has lived in Northern California all my adult life, but in the 80s and 90s she traveled the world with her husband. Over the years she sent me postcards from Venice, from Bali, from China, telling me of the sights and sounds and expressing how important it was for me to travel.

It must have been knowing, and coveting, that freedom that inspired me to reach out to her like I did. I was twelve, and overwhelmed with absolute, crippling misery. The kind of crippling misery that only twelve-year-olds are capable of. We had just moved to Hatfield, Massachusetts, a small town outside of Northampton, Massachusetts, that often didn’t show up on maps. Where I’d been in middle school, I was unceremoniously tossed back into elementary school in Hatfield, since sixth grade resided there.

I also left my best friend, Hilary—who was pretty much the only person in the world who got me—and didn’t fit in with anyone at school. Since I did all my growing at 11, I was approximately the same height I am now, so I was mistaken for a teacher more than once.

Misery.

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The view in NoCal. Image by Natania Barron.

I went on and on in my letter to C about how horrible my life was. My grandmother (her sister) and I were never very close, and I didn’t expect she’d understand.

But Aunt C understood.

A few weeks after I wrote to her about my plight, which was clearly the worst plight in the history of plights, she wrote to tell me that she, too, understood not fitting in. That when she was growing up in the Midwest, she felt terribly alone. But there was an answer—there was a bit of magic—because not all was lost.

Read, she told me. Read, and you can go anywhere in the world.

I did. I read so much that I started to write. I couldn’t help it. All those worlds, those adventures, those people I met, they welled up inside of me and had to be let out into the world… changed a little (or hey, not at all, sorry Stephen King). It was Aunt C’s advice that changed me, that shaped me, that gave me hope. No one had ever respected my plight, had acknowledged how difficult it was for me. Everyone else had always said: “Oh, you’ll get through it,” or, “It’s tough for everyone.” There was so much unexpected power in being given permission to suffer and simultaneously granted a way out that was actually useful advice. No, “Try making new friends,” or, “Join a club,” or, “Get a new hobby”—this charge, to read, was the greatest I’d ever been given.

Then, as kids do, I became a teenager. I stopped writing as often, then stopped at all. By the time I was a college student, my days of writing to C came to an end for a while (though she did provide me with the funding to get my first computer). We saw each other on and off, mostly at a funeral or two, but it wasn’t until I went out to San Francisco about seven years ago that we started up our correspondence again, this time in email, after my son was born and not long after her husband died (Liam was born the same weekend her husband passed away).

Picking up the Threads

So it was that from 2007-2013 we wrote back and forth dozens of times, and I visited as often as I could. But in the middle of that, she fell ill. Cancer, for a second time. And things changed. After adventuring in Chinatown together in 2007—she was in her early 80s during my first visit as an adult—her life changed forever. The cancer, and its constant pain, left her much depleted. Her enthusiasm for communication dwindled.

It has not gotten better. Computers have become strange to her, her memory erratic, her handwriting unreliable. When I went to visit her last, my heart broke to see her change so. She had always seemed so ageless to me, a beauty who never knew her beauty, a bookworm who never saw her worth, but a woman who lived life with vivacity in spite of that all.

I call her when I can. And visit her when I can. Every time I visit her she sends me home with books, more books. I take them because I know it’s the richest give she can give. Most recently it was a collection of Rumi’s poems and a biography of our favorite potter, Maria Martinez (what are the odds, right?). But there are no more letters, and we’re an entire continent apart. There are conversations—she worries about my son Liam, who has high functioning autism, a great deal—but we fall into the same patterns again and again. While I visited her most recently, the conversation we’d had ten minutes before evaporated, and we repeated it again. Then again. I realized for the first time that the sharp, ebullient woman I know is fading away.

But not all. As we sat together a few weeks ago listening to the blessed rain, she leaned over to me and asked, “Do you remember that letter I wrote you? After you told me about school in Massachusetts and you hated it so much? I told you to read, do you remember that?”

I told her I remembered; I remember it every day. Twenty years have passed, but those words, they’re still there, still inside of me. I don’t know where that original letter is for the life of me, but it doesn’t matter. I can still see her neat typing on the page: READ. READ. The words are so clear they might as well be tattooed on my skin.

Words Left Behind

Our email correspondences are treasures to me now, as I prepare to watch her slip away again. I was a busy new mom when we first started writing again, but her joy and beauty and love always shone through. Across a whole continent, from California to North Carolina, it strikes me as still being astonishing. Letters like these are absolute treasures to me now.

I shall make note to find your book on the Vikings, etc. They made it as far as Istanbul, I know. Energetic sorts. Your uncle and I were agog in Istanbul. It was/is an incredible city, with much preserved history. One book “Istanbul” by Orhan Pamuk was my dead-on favorite last year. Despite a pep talk I couldn’t manage to convince my book group to read it.

The garden is slowly coming in to shape. My new Chinese neighbors were stunned by the grapefruit, and helped to pick tons. The lemon hedge is groaning with fruit, so I picked a grocery bag full to give recently. Oh yes, if I could figure out how to use my “Zio!” gadget on my computer, I could send you a snap of a large king protea. One blossom. I am proud of it!

Maybe I am getting a bit loony. But gardening does help to keep one busy. I have to be here, definitely, the first week of July, when all the apricots come in.

Please visit and we’ll make a return to Chinatown, or go to Marin County, or drive to Carmel.

We did not make it back to Chinatown, or Marin County, or Carmel, as it turns out. But that’s okay. Because the traveling I do with her, and will do until my last day, requires no physical transportation.

Read.

Yes. I will read. I will read and remember and write. And I will get a little loony in my garden, and visit Istanbul, and try, try, to do right by you, my dear.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey: Circus Xtreme

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents CIRCUS XTREME Tabayera Maluenda

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents CIRCUS XTREME Tabayera Maluenda

The circus is coming to town and my family is excited to see what Ringling Brothers: Barnum & Bailey have cooked up for us this time with Circus Xtreme. My son really enjoys seeing the animals up close and watching them show off their power with the performers. In my opinion, I think it makes him appreciate them more than if he just saw them in a video at school. The circus has changed for his generation with more technology-filled acts and special effects. You could say that these are not your grandmother’s acrobats or strongmen.

The official show synopsis for Ringling Brothers: Barnum & Bailey Circus Xtreme, brought to fans by Feld Entertainment:

Prepare to be astonished and amazed by some of the coolest acts that can only be seen at The Greatest Show On Earth.® Children Of All Ages can let their imagination go wild in an exhilarating adventure with extraordinary circus artists and exotic animals.

In Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents CIRCUS XTREME, Ringmaster Andre McClain guides audiences on a quest around the world with the help of hilarious adventure seekers, Alex and Irina Emelin.

The show will thrill you as the Mongolian riders send arrows flying across the arena sky. This all-female troupe displays their skills in one of the most unique acts this year, performing a series of tricks and maneuvers atop elegant two-hump camels. Jaw-dropping freestyle BMX riders and free running tumblers fill the arena floor performing crazy-stunts mixed with acrobats leaping through a 15-foot transparent tower – and this is just one act!

During this energetic show, personal introductions to our performing pachyderms will allow audiences to be on a first name basis with our magnificent animals. All this and more happens during the most unexpected circus experience at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents CIRCUS XTREME.

My favorite part of past shows has been the clowns and their crazy antics. My son is big into the motorcycles and “all that stuff” as he put it. The last time we attended, it was an evening performance and at seven years old, a two hour show with a 15 minute intermission was to much for him to handle. I’m hoping that with us attending an afternoon show this January, he will be able to enjoy it even more because he won’t get sleepy (and sleepy = a little cranky).

To check out when the circus will be coming to your town, head over to Ringling Brothers website for tour and ticket information.

Stay tuned to GeekMom for a full review of the show when it comes to my hometown in January 2015!

When Your Adult Child Still Lives at Home and Their S/O Moves In

Your adult child still lives at home and they want their significant-other to move in. What would you do? I said, “No problem!” Why?

With more and more post-secondary students living at home to help cut costs, “empty nest syndrome” is being delayed by many years. For my eldest son and his education situation, he could very well be still living at home well into his mid to late twenties.

My eldest (hence forth called Kid1), has been in a long-term relationship for two years now. Kid1 and his significant-other (hence forth called NKOTB) have discussed marriage after he finishes his BSc, plus his PBDE, while he teaches high school maths and science, but before he begins his MSc or MEd.

We’ve entered a new phase in life; one we weren’t quite expecting. The “empty nest while the adult child goes off to post-secondary education” phase has been replaced with “adult child stays at home and their significant-other moves in” phase of life.

This is a phase I’m sure many parents, and non-parents alike, would take issue with. Different cultural backgrounds, right down to a regional level, are likely to shape opinions.

A Little Bit More Background Information

In our home, we have a rule. The rule is: As long as you are going to school, you can live at home for free; if you do not go to school and want to continue living at home, you must get a job and pay some rent.

I’ve shared a little bit about Kid1’s school situation and his relationship status. Now, on to NKOTB.

NKOTB works very close to our home. Her other house is in a town about a 20-minute drive from my city. She doesn’t have a license—which is very common now in certain Canadian urban areas because of public transportation—and the buses to her town don’t run when she’s off shift, which can be anytime between 8 pm and midnight.

She started staying here a few days a week because it was convenient for work. Then, she just happened to be here seven days a week.

She fits quite well into this crazy household and we love having her around.

And I really like being in a position where we can help them out. Kid1 is helped because all he has to worry about is going to class, finishing his assignments, and passing. NKOTB is helped out because she can save money for their future and be in an understanding and supportive environment.

Present-Day Information

Because of our “no-school-pay-rent” policy, NKOTB pays rent in the form of helping out with the cost of groceries because that is the only bill that increases with her living here. When we brought it up with her, she was completely understanding and happily agreed to the amount. Part of me feels bad because she is so great to have around, but the rules are the rules.

Benefits of Having NKOTB Live Here

I love being able to watch how Kid1 and NKOTB interact with each other. I like hearing how they resolve conflicts and communicate. I love seeing Kid1 walk NKOTB to work or to the bus stop for work; and then pack a backpack with a cool drink in NKOTB’s water bottle, and walk to pick up NKOTB from work or meet her at the bus stop. I love seeing how Kid1 will cook dinner every night and keep a plate warm for when NKOTB gets home from work.

NKOTB made some tweet about how she likes watching Andrew and I interact and how cute she thinks it is. So, I like the fact that Andrew and I are able to model some good relationship qualities and be a guide for communication and conflict resolution and what it means to be in an equal partnership where all parties involved do little things to care for the other.

I also like that we can give both Kid1 and NKOTB a warm and loving environment, and often chaotic environment, as they practice cohabitation. A little bit of experience with chaos and crises—with some support—before venturing off alone is a good thing, I say.

Kid1 teaching NKOTB how to play MtG. I had to sneak attack this photo from outisde, otherwise Kid1 would have ran away. - Photo by Jules Sherred

Kid1 teaching NKOTB how to play MtG.
I had to sneak attack this photo from outisde, otherwise Kid1 would have ran away. – Photo by Jules Sherred

I adore watching Kid1 indoctrinate NKOTB in many things geek. A few things of note: He’s introduced and hooked her on MtG; she’s learning about chemistry because when Kid1 isn’t in class, he does chemistry experiments as a hobby; and Kid1 is introducing NKOTB to Star Wars—which caused much debate in our home over which order she should watch the movies in. I assume he’s already indoctrinated her in all things Doctor Who, and will eventually move to Star Trek.

It’s Not All Positive

There is one drawback. But it’s not a huge one. The drawback is: aside from the animals, NKOTB is the only woman in the house.

For the first month or so, I quietly wondered what it is like for her to be living with four men. One day, I decided to bring it up with Kid1. He said something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s come up a few times. Like, she’ll ask me if you have something she needs, and I’ll respond, ‘There is none of that in this house. You have to remember, you’re the only woman here.’” I assume one of these things is feminine hygiene products.

NKOTB knows I’m a trans man. She has no issues with it. She understands why Kid1 and Kid2 still call me “mum” even though my gender is man. But, I’m not sure she’s aware that I had a hysterectomy 10 years ago.

(Aside: I find it absolutely amazing how many pairs of shoes she has. This is not a negative. But, I’m fascinated over what appears to be a new pair of shoes showing up every other week. I’m a one-pair-of-shoes kind of guy.)

Another slight drawback is: No one gets a quiet night to themselves for some un-muted coitus.

Before NKOTB moved in, Kid1 would spend the odd weekend at her house. A lot of those times, it fell on a weekend that Kid2 was at his dad’s or staying at a friend’s house. So, everyone had some alone couple time.

Now, there isn’t a time when someone outside of the coupling isn’t home.

I not only feel a little stuck (for lack of a better word) in my sex life, but I feel bad that Kid1 and NKOTB also have to be consciously aware of other people being in the house during their time together.

But these things are not insurmountable. They’re just little bumps we have to navigate.

The Possible Future

I can imagine a time when children stay at home long after marriage and the beginnings of their own families. It is more economically feasible to move into a bigger house that has room for adults and new children, than it is for two separate households.

While I’m not sure if it would happen with my family because Kid1 will have a good paying job, I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea. I have a little bit of envy over cultures where families stay together, despite not liking how women tend to be treated in some of those cultures. If I could be around my grandbabies 24/7, and help take care of them, I’d be stoked! Andrew may have other thoughts on this issue.

What Other GeekMoms Had to Say

GeekMom Rebecca said:

My daughter is 18, and my son 16, so this is certainly on the radar. I don’t have a problem with extended family moving in, including long-term partners of my kids. Twelve years ago we bought a house with an “in-law” apartment above it so my mother could be with us, but have her own place. My nephew moved in with my mom when he started college in the area a few years ago, and with regular babysitting of my two young nieces by all of us, we have already had to deal with the frustrating but rewarding experience of extended family living.

Things like food, paying for WiFi, taking out the garbage, respecting each other’s space, etc., are all constant discussions. If one of my kids needed to live at home, and their s/o moved in, there would specific expectations beforehand. That makes is so much easier. Vague agreements like, “you’ll help out with rent” can only lead to miscommunication. “You will cook dinner for everyone three nights a week and clean the kitchen, do all yard work, and snow shoveling etc…. Having other people over is fine, but no large gatherings unless okay’ed by us, etc. And we will re-evaluate each semester” may sound strict, but is the more peaceful route. Since I’d only agree to this for an adult, serious relationship, I’d assume they would share a room.

My son already announced he wants to take a “gap year” when he graduates high school since college is so expensive and he isn’t exactly sure what he wants to do. So we’re already talking about what that means.

GeekMom Karen said:

I have this fantasy that my kids will (like I did) go off to college and only come home to visit after that. Considering that they’re three and one right now, I’ll be able to hold on to that fantasy for a few more years yet. But I know it won’t be that simple. My parents were always willing to host our friends for extended periods of time when they needed a roof over their heads for various reasons. I expect that I’ll do the same from time to time. For adult kids with partners, I hope in the most hopeful way possible that my kids will pick cool partners who will do their share around the house and cause the least drama possible, if it comes to that.

GeekMom Lisa said:

I have no experience whatsoever on this topic but there was another article recently that touched on this and I couldn’t help but think that in other cultures, children stay with their families their whole lives. Their spouses come to live with them. Multi-generational homes!  It is only here that we force a very particular strain of independence, and then judge others against it.

For the record, my children will always have a home. If it works for a family then why not? Geez Louise!

GeekMom Judy said:

If we had the space, I’m pretty sure we’d be open to it, IF they paid rent and bought their groceries. And it would have to be a privacy-oriented living condition (MIL apartment). When we stayed with our in laws while moving to NH (for a few months) in our early married years, there was an apartment above the garage. Rough, but livable.

But I think we’d always lean toward inclusion. If our kids, adult or otherwise, need help, we are there. If they truly needed housing we’d make it work!

GeekMom Patricia said:

I do think this is something we families need to be prepared for. Except for some very outlying circumstances, my husband and I would have no problem being there for our sons and their S/Os if they need a roof over their heads. Beyond a certain age (college graduate, probably), we will fully expect some sort of contribution to the household, whether it’s financial (if employed) or service (if not employed).

The part of this where I might not have the most popular opinion is for how long we would be willing to have this setup. If our house is big enough I think we can do this for quite a while, but as a military family, we aren’t in the same house for very long. There’s no prediction of how big/small a house we might have next. Many Americans gravitate towards only getting “as much house as you need” just for the immediate members. We tend to do that ourselves. So unless we get a house with the intention of having the extended family living with us permanently (such as is the model in many other countries), we would expect our adult sons and their partners/families to live with us just temporarily.

A GeekMom who wishes to remain anonymous said:

I have no issues with my adult children coming back to the roost, if need arises. As for allowing a long-term partner to move in, that is a little bit trickier because of issues with space. But in a perfect world, if I did have the space, I wouldn’t be opposed. But we’d have the same house rules as my own kids: pick up after yourself, quiet after a certain hour for the younger members of the family, etc.

Another GeekMom who wishes to remain anonymous said:

While I was in college, my parents let my long-term college boyfriend move in with us. They even gave us two bedrooms to use as a bedroom and living room, like a private mini-apartment within the house. It didn’t seem weird to me at the time, but since becoming a parent myself it seems weird to me now! I can’t imagine doing the same for my daughters, but they are so young I can’t even imagine them ever dating. Only time will tell what kind of parents we will become, and what kind of teenagers and young adults our daughters will become. There’s just too many unknowns to make any sort of prediction about our lives in 10-15 years!

It’s interesting though to see how other cultures handle the multigenerational housing issue. It’s easy to think that they do things differently somewhere far away, so far away that it doesn’t affect us in any way. But we live on a small planet and there is always something new to learn from the people directly in our lives! I work with a lot of Indian guys, who were born and raised in India but that have been living in the US for many years. They’ve all gone through with the tradition of arranged marriages, despite living in the US. Then when they had kids, their parents and/or in-laws visited them from India for months at a time to help with the baby, meanwhile staying in their house. Every time I hear about this, I can’t help but sympathize “wow, it must be really hard to have your parents around all the time!” They always respond that it’s no problem at all because in India they would all share a home their entire lives anyway. My own mother must have gotten a taste for freedom since my at-home college days, because when she came to help me with my babies, she took an apartment in my town rather than move in with us. She said we would all appreciate having our own space, herself included!

So, let me ask you something. What are your thoughts about your adult child (future or present, depending on your family situation) bringing their significant-other into your family? Would you consider it, or is it a flat out, “No”? If the answer is “No,” why? If the answer is “Yes,” why?

Geek Parenting: You’re Doing It Right (Yes, YOU!)

Doing It Right. Photo: Cathé Post

Doing It Right. Photo: Cathé Post

Each time I have the privilege to sit on a “raising geek kids” panel at a convention, I look out at the attendees and I wonder what brought them into the conference room. It’s certainly not to be regaled with tales of the latest cute thing my five-year-old said, and it’s not just to win a door prize. (Well, okay, maybe it’s the door prize.)

But I’m pretty sure they’re there for the same reason I also attend panels about parenting, that lingering question in my head, “Am I doing this right?”

I want to assure each of them, yes, you are. You gave up your time at a convention—often precious alone time, if you’re lucky enough to have found a sitter—to listen to other parents share their tales from the trenches and offer up advice about raising the next generation of geeks. Usually anyone willing to give their time to thinking about being a better parent is already a good parent.

We all need some reassurance once in a while, especially in those moments where we stare at our kids and wonder if we’re doing this whole parenting thing right. So here’s a handy list to remind yourself once in a while that yes, you’ve got this.

Geek Parenting: 14 Signs You’re Doing It Right

• You read GeekMom. (Bonus points if you also read GeekDad.) You could be trolling Pinterest for Chris Hemsworth photos, but instead you’re reading blog posts about doing stuff with your kids.

• You work just as hard on your kids’ cosplay as you do your own. You know that amazing feeling when you adore what you’re wearing, and you want your kids to feel that, too.

• You share your favorite things from your childhood (She-Ra marathon, anyone?) but you also give your kids the freedom have their own childhoods—not relive yours.

• You don’t hold yourself to perfect Pinterest Parenting standards and embrace the lovely chaos of childhood.

One small section of the game room. Image: Nicole Wakelin

One small section of the game room. Image: Nicole Wakelin

• The family that games together… (Video games count, too!)

• You let them break apart that 665-piece LEGO Guardians of the Galaxy set you just spent two hours building together.

• You consider GeekDad’s classic 67 Books Every Geek Should Read to Their Kids Before Age 10 a challenge to accept.

• You encourage your kids to explore the world (and moon) around them.

• You know how to build a decent blanket fort.

• You know when it’s time to put away the screen. That means the times you switch off your iPhone to play LEGO or My Little Pony (or both) with your kids.

• You cried during The Force Awakens trailer because, not only is it all the nostalgia feels for you, you know your kids will also get to marvel at new Star Wars movies at the theater during their childhoods.

• You laugh at your kids’ corny jokes.

• When your kids geek-out about something, you don’t mock or laugh—you know the feeling.

• You’ve stood in line for more than 30 minutes for an Iron Man made out of balloons or Frozen face painting that your kid just has to have.

Basically, if you give your time, attention, and love to your kids, you’re doing it right.

What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Gaylord Palms ICE!: A Chilly Family Fun Experience

Let's Get Chilly!! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Let’s Get Chilly!! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

ICE! at Gaylords Palms, in Kissimmee, Florida, has been a tradition with family for the past four years. Each year is themed to a different Christmas tale, and this year we were taken into The Nutcracker ballet. I’m not a big fan of this story, but I still enjoyed walking through the 9 degrees Fahrenheit exhibit and looking around at all the wonder that the 40 artists from Harbin, China, created for us.

This year wasn’t as extravagant with special effects as last year’s theme, Frosty the Snowman, but if you enjoy the story of The Nutcracker, I don’t think you will be disappointed. The four ice slides were a hit as always and my husband and son learned that by sitting on their parka they would go faster down the ice slides and were less likely to get stuck on their way down.

In addition to the regular ICE! exhibit, Gaylord Palms has added a new ice bar for the 21 and up crowd. For an additional $15.94 adults can make a stop inside the exclusive bar inside ICE! Included in the experience is a sampling of Johnny Appleseed gluten-free cider poured through an ice luge, and a choice of the Maker’s Mark specialty drink, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio or Rutherford Hill Merlot, served in a souvenir glass.

In the past, Gaylord Palms has tried various “ice villages” to entertain guests after they walked through ICE! and the general consensus was that it left you feeling like they owed you $15.00 in change for your $10.00 ticket. I’m happy to say that this year, they got the formula right with the Alpine Rush Snow Tubing experience.

They can have up to eight lanes of tubing going at once and, thanks to physics and gravity, every ride down is different. I lost count how many times my son went tubing while we were there, but we had to drag him away when it was time to go. A standard ticket comes with ten runs down the slopes and there are chocolate-stands-a-plenty to warm you up when you’re done.

While looking through my pictures of previous years, I felt a warm fuzzy feeling. Maybe it’s because last year’s theme was Frosty the Snowman, my all-time favorite that they’ve done. This year however, I didn’t see as much “WOW” to the event that my family and I have enjoyed the past four years.

If you have never been to ICE!, it’s a fun experience that needs to be done at least once. If you’ve been in the past, it’s worth going through if nothing else for the ice slides and the Alpine Snow Rush (separate ticket).

ICE! tickets start at $16.99 and can be purchased online in advance (recommended) or at the door. Alpine Snow Rush starts at $18.99 per ticket. If you would like to experience both, ask about their combined ICE! and snow tubing tickets.

Strollers are welcome inside ICE! and can get through the attraction pretty easily from what I could tell. Make sure you pack some blankets for the little passenger(s) to prevent them turning into little snowballs by the end of exhibit. Closed toed shoes are required and I also recommend everyone packs a long sleeve shirt, jacket, scarf, hat, and gloves (the parka works okay, but it won’t protect you 100%). Also, cameras should be rated for cold weather to prevent risk of them freezing up on you inside the attraction (pun intended).

ICE! is only around until January 4th, 2015, so if you’re in the Orlando, Florida, area make sure you stop by Gaylord Palms and check it out.

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Disclaimer: GeekMom attended a media event at Gaylord Palms Resort.

This Book Just Ate My Dog!

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Image by Henry Holt and Co.

I had believed the Choose Your Own Adventure books were as interactive as it got. But what about a book where the book itself is a character? And the reader has to help out to move the story along? Yeah, that blew the mind of my five-year-old niece, too.

That’s exactly what happens in This Book Just Ate My Dog! by Richard Byrne. He got all meta on himself with this picture book. Brightly illustrated with adorable-looking characters, it’s a quick read and very, very silly. Both my nieces enjoyed it, the younger one especially. When has your child been asked to shake a book sideways by a character?

The main character here is Bella. She was innocently walking her dog across the page when the book ate her dog (it disappears into the crease). Her friend Ben walks by and is eaten too, then an ambulance, and finally Bella! It’s up to the reader to sort it all out and save the day. Though, things aren’t sorted out perfectly in the end…

Interactive and funny, I recommend This Book Just Ate My Dog! for preschool and up. GeekMom received a copy for  review purposes.

Our Epic Family Road Trip to GenCon

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Helping build Cardhalla. Image: Nicole Wakelin

We’ve been to GenCon for the last five years, but it has always just been me and my husband. We’ve flown out and driven out and decided that driving is more fun. Flying can be a hassle and I love road trips, so we always stop at fun places along the way. World’s largest ball of twine? I’m in!

This year, we did the whole trip a little differently because we decided to bring our two girls for the first time. They’re 12 and 10 and have been to local conventions, just nothing this big and all consuming. It’s one thing to drive into Boston for the day to attend PAX East, but an entirely different thing to drive 14 hours and then spend four days straight at a convention.

We thought about this, a lot, before we actually decided to bring them on the trip. It’s not just the distance, but the whole intensity of the thing. We wondered, as much as they love to play games, would The Best Four Days in Gaming be too much? Would they stay up late and be so tired that by day three they’d be little wrecks? Would this somehow make them hate gaming and never want to go near a board game again for the rest of their lives? We had concerns.

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Image: Nicole Wakelin

In the end, we decided that we’d make the trip with the girls and just play it by ear. We didn’t plan to attend a lot of events. We didn’t have a crowded schedule of games to play. We didn’t even plan our exact drive route. Instead, we figured we’d see the sights on the way and take it easy once we arrived at the convention.

Lots of people make the drive from New Hampshire to Indianapolis in one day, but we broke it into two, stopping in Buffalo, New York, at the Staybridge Suites so we could have Buffalo wings for dinner. It’s what you have to do when you’re in Buffalo, right? Last year when we made the trip on our own we stopped there, too, and tried Anchor Bar. This year, we went with Duff’s Famous Wings because we were told that these are the places you go to in Buffalo for wings.

Although we liked Anchor Bar, Duff’s won our hearts for their super hot wings and giant bowls of french fries. If you want great hot wings and plenty of fries and giant pitchers of soda at a price that won’t break the bank, then try Duff’s. Also, there are two locations and though you might be tempted to go to the original, the one near the airport is not far and way less crowded with no wait when the other location is packed.

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Paula’s Donuts. Omnomnom! Image: Nicole Wakelin

We also found a great stop for breakfast at Paula’s Donuts. This and Duff’s are all within just a few minutes of the hotel which really makes this a great pit stop. Sure, donuts aren’t the healthiest breakfast but I’m choosing to channel my inner Bill Cosby and his famous chocolate cake bit. If you go, try the cheese donut. I know, sounds odd, but think cheese danish. Everyone local suggested we try it, and they did not steer us wrong.

We arrived at GenCon on Wednesday night, the day before the convention started, and the kids had plenty of time to unwind in our room at the JW Marriott. This is where we stay every year. The staff handles the crazy of everyone checking in at once as though it was no big deal. They’re friendly, helpful, always professional, and never frazzled.

There are lots of places to eat in Indy, but the hotel offers a little break from the mobs of gamers. Their restaurant, Osteria Pronto, offers a wonderful breakfast buffet and a selection of upscale meals for dinner. It is on the pricey side, but the food is worth it, and the wait is never as long as you’ll find at less expensive restaurants in the area.

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Ready for GenCon! Image: Nicole Wakelin

First thing Thursday, they were ready, and when I say ready, I mean ready like it was Christmas morning! There was no plan to get there the minute it all opened, but the kids wanted to see the crazy.

It was packed, and they were totally fine with the mob. They held our hands through the initial rush through the doors and happily wandered the show floor with us, checking out games and dice and stuffed animals and t-shirts and hats and, it was a lot of stuff. This is a big convention and it hit a record number of attendees this year at nearly 60,000 people, but the crowd was still manageable.

The girls loved every minute. They tried out some demos, had fun looking at the cosplayers, discovered the joy of eating at food trucks, and my oldest narrowly avoided being thrown in jail by a Stormtrooper. Hey, it happens at GenCon.

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A little Imperial entanglement. Image: Nicole Wakelin

This was a GenCon unlike any other for me and my husband. We still went out and gamed, but we ended up splitting up with the girls so we could show them each the things they wanted to see. One night, the three of them played a new game at some chairs in the hotel lobby and the girls thought it was the best thing ever.

During GenCon, gamers take up every square inch of space in the local hotels. There are games being played everywhere you look at all hours of the day and night. This small moment, simply playing a game with my husband in the hotel lobby, made them feel like they were a part of it all and it was wonderful.

They even helped us at at our panel, where we recorded an episode of The D6 Generation with a live audience. Let me tell you, if you’re trying to get a room of unruly gamers to behave, nothing works as well as having two little girls give them all sad puppy dog eyes.

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Cosplayer: @meaghanslottje Image: Nicole Wakelin

At the end of it all, we were all exhausted, but in the best way possible. We stayed up too late playing games. We walked around all day long hardly stopping to rest for fear of missing something good. And we all ate like we were on vacation.

But what made it perfect was going with the kids. We shared something we love and they loved it, too. It wasn’t the same as going on our own, but in the end, this GenCon was so much better. The last day, my youngest was very sad and said, “That went too fast. I don’t want it to be over.”

I know exactly how she feels.

A Walk Through the Universal CityWalk Orlando Expansion

Universal CityWalk \ Image courtesy of Universal Orlando

Universal CityWalk \ Image courtesy of Universal Orlando

Universal CityWalk is a unique place to visit in the Orlando, Florida area and sits as the middle man to Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios theme parks. With 30 acres of food, shops, movies, and partying to indulge in, you can bet that there is something for everyone in the family.

Depending on the time of year and when you arrive, parking can be anywhere from $6.00 per day (after 6pm during slow season) and $17.00 to park during the day. The pricing is a little high, but it makes sense because this is the main parking hub for both parks.

My first stop at CityWalk is always the food. Of the 20 options, I have two favorites for dinner. The first is Red Oven Pizza Bakery. This place has the best pizza I’ve had south of New York. If you want a light, but filling meal while going in between the two parks, this is a delicious place to hit up.

You have the usual choices to pick from, along with a few specialties including:

  • Pear & Fig with mozzarella, blue cheese, San Marzano tomatoes, and rosemary.
  • Funghi – a mushroom medley, red onions, fontina, mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, thyme, roasted portobello white truffle oil emulsion.
  • Alla Benno – Prosciutto, pineapple, jalapeños, San Marzano tomatoes, and mozzarella.
Antojitos at CityWalk  \ Image courtesy of Universal Orlando

Antojitos at CityWalk \ Image courtesy of Universal Orlando

My second favorite for dinner is Antojitos, and in my opinion is the best restaurant at CityWalk. If you plan ahead, you can make reservations online to keep your wait to a minimum. My choice entree is the steak tacos with a small side of guacamole. For entertainment, they have a house Mariachi band and it’s fun to hear them go from traditional Mexican tunes to current pop hits, such as “Wrecking Ball.”

Before you leave, check out the artist who is hand painting Mexican wrestler masks at the front of the restaurant. The masks are free of charge and you can request the artist to make a special one for you (tipping is appreciated).

In addition to my two favorites, CityWalk also has a food court with Moe’s, Panda Express, Burger King, Bread Box, and Fusion Bistro: Sushi and Sake Bar. The Bread Box is my favorite stop in the food court and offers hot or cold sandwiches starting at  $7.95. If you try something and don’t like it, feel free to ask for do-over and the staff will be happy to oblige you with a new selection.

Hot Dog Hall of Fame at CityWalk \ Image courtesy of Universal Orlando

Hot Dog Hall of Fame at CityWalk \ Image courtesy of Universal Orlando

If you’re more into the American fair for dinner Margaritaville, and the newest restaurant The Hot Dog Hall of Fame, are going to be the best places to hit up. The Hot Dog Hall of Fame is a must visit for any hot dog lover with a specialty two-foot-long hot dog and a slew of mustard choices. The outdoor stadium seating goes great with the big screen TVs that are mounted to the building.

Margaritaville is a nice indoor party for those whose motto is “It’s 5′ o clock somewhere.” I’ve eaten here plenty of times and insist you try the nachos.

I hope you didn’t fill up on dinner because Menchies is the next stop on my food tour. I was first introduced to Menchies by a friend during a girls-night-out and that one visit started a wonderful love affair. What’s Menchies? It’s a frozen yogurt shop that makes you do all the work for your snack. It plays out in your favor, because unlike at Cold Stone Creamery, you can add as much or as little into your bowl as you like.

Each station has two flavors and a mix it switch for you to do a swirl of the two taste options. They have flavors like cheesecake, key lime pie, fruit punch sherbet, and a slew of other odd-balls to choose from. The catch is you’re charged by the weight of your cup, so watch the kiddos when they’re making their selections.

For those who aren’t sure what to try, here’s my personal recipe for “Cheesecake extravaganza:”
(1.5) scoops of Honey Graham cereal (this acts as the cheesecake’s crust)
Desired amount of cheesecake soft serve
(1.5) scoops of Honey Graham cereal on top
(6 ea) frosted animal cookies
(1) scoop of favorite cheesecake fruit, mine is strawberries
Couple pieces of cheesecake thrown in for good measure
(2) cherries (chocolate covered or regular, it’s up to you on this one)

Okay, by this time you should be stuffed and loosening up the buttons on your pants. Time to walk off all of that food and check out the shops.

One of the most funkadelic shops at CityWalk is P!Q. They have some awesome stuff in there including Kidrobot’s famous Labbits. I’d advise keeping your kids away from the books. Some of them are not suitable for children (or my husband for that matter). For the silly-toy-geek, this will be the place you take your time and savor the shiny things.

If you are into GoPro, Oakley, backpacks, or the laid-back life of the surfer, check out the Quiet Flight Surf Shop. This is also a store you can cut through to avoid the crowds when walking to the park or back to the parking lot.

On top of my favorite places to shop, CityWalk also has the Universal Store with a little bit of everything including:

  • Harry Potter
  • Minions
  • Transformers
  • Simpsons
  • And more.

For the upscale shoppers, check out Fossil, The Island Clothing Company, Element, and Hard Rock. If you want to commemorate your vacation with a permanent souvenir, the artists over at Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company will be happy to oblige.

Now that we’ve eaten too much, done a little shopping, it’s time for a little friendly competition at the Hollywood Drive-In Miniature Golf.

Hollywood Drive-In Golf \ Image courtesy of Universal Orlando

Hollywood Drive-In Golf \ Image courtesy of Universal Orlando

What makes this miniature golf course special is the magic that happens when the sun goes down. The lights and the magic of the two courses turn on and it transforms into a new experience that you don’t get to see during the day. The pricing is a bit steep at $15.00 per adult and $12.00 per child. If you feel like being a big spender, you can play both courses (36 holes) for $27.00 per adult and $22.00 per child.

On those hot Florida nights, you may want to consider something that’s both air conditioned and less pricey, check out AMC Universal Cineplex 20 and relax while watching a movie on one of their 20 screens.  The popcorn is good, the seats are comfy, and sometimes they have special movies playing.

CityWalk is just as much fun on a rainy day as it is on a sunny day (and let’s face it, this is Florida, the rainy state). On a rainy day, do your body a favor and avoid the Blueman Group sign area by the theater. There’s an incline in the pavement that has claimed many a knee on a rainy day (including my own). On the upside, if you do slip and fall, screaming loudly will get security’s attention and the medic will be right behind them. The crew that took care of me when I was hurt one a rainy day were great and got me back on my feet in no time.

With the largest expansion in CityWalk’s history almost complete, the 30 acre entertainment complex truly does have something for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you have a picky eater, a big spender, a minion lover, or a Gryffindor quidditch player in your group, there really is something for everyone at CityWalk.

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Ben Hatke’s New Book: Julia’s House For Lost Creatures

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Image By First Second

Every page of Ben Hatke’s new book has a visual delight to make you wonder and dream. The first page has a sleeping kitty made up of patchwork. Is it made of cloth? Is it as soft as it looks? The second page has a giant walking turtle with a house, complete with wrap-around porch, on its back. Where is it going? Where did it come from? Who lives in the house? Can I go visit?

And those are just the title pages!

Ben Hatke, best known for his Zita the Spacegirl graphic series, has come out with a picture book from First Second. Julia’s House for Lost Creatures will have your child asking questions about this world, and the creatures that inhabit it. Most of the questions will be left to the imagination—perfect!

Julia has settled on the coast, somewhere, with her big house on the back of a turtle, but it’s too quiet. So she makes a sign in her workshop to put outside the front door: “Julia’s house for Lost Creatures”. Very soon she has plenty of magical guests who need a home. But they are not being the most respectful of roommates, and Julia goes back into her workshop to make a new sign with some basic rules for living in harmony with a most eclectic group.  It’s a book about making a home, and how to work together to create a family.

Every knock, scritch, and bang on Julia’s door is an opportunity to ask your child, “Who could that be? What kind of creature will come next?” From the very sad troll who had his bridge torn down, to the floating ghost who enjoys a game of checkers, these strays are strange—but lovable.

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures goes beyond the text with a world rich in visuals to inspire your child to perhaps create their own set of lost creatures…

GeekMom was given a copy for review purposes.

ConnectiCon: A Much Needed Break From Reality

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Image By Lilianna Angel Maxwell

What a bunch of weirdos.

I can’t say I was in a good frame of mind when I went to ConnectiCon last weekend, but I certainly came home in one.

My family and I travel to Connecticut each year to this multi-genre convention of fandom and fun.  I was dragged there by a friend and enjoyed myself so much that I started dragging my own people with me. In the past ten years, I’ve only missed one. This year I took my two teenagers, plus one of my daughter’s friends. We stayed at the family of a friend’s house, camping in their backyard. (I utilized all the tips I suggested in a previous post to go to a con on the cheap.) At this point, the kids and I meet up with over a dozen people each year we attend—and always meet new friends, too.

So why the negative start? I had just spent a stressful week in the “real” world, and had a lot of work to catch up on. Going away for the weekend seemed like just one more item on my to-do list, and I wasn’t in the mood to cosplay, interview celebrities, or participate in discussions. When I walked into the con, I looked around and had a very negative attitude.

Then I realized that I go to these things all the time. I’m a weirdo!

For a split second I was dismayed. Did other people judge me that way? And then the atmosphere of ConnectiCon started seeping in: the relief of expressing something you love, the joy at seeing friends, the happiness at being yourself in an accepting little universe even if only for the weekend, and the fun of sharing it all with my kids. Who the hell cares if people judge me for being a geek! And I certainly will not start doing it to others. After that, the weekend was a blast. So what did my family and I do at ConnectCon? Lots!

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Image By Rebecca Angel

The best part is seeing our fellow geeky friends. I had thought one of my best friends in the world (the same person who brought me that first year) couldn’t make it, but then he did! We watched the FMV Contest (Fan Made Videos) together. I try to pick the ones that really match the music with what’s going on. There was a superb one that used a Bjork song…and I didn’t write it down… and I can’t find a list on the website…

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Image By Rebecca Angel

My son played Magic for most of the weekend. Although he had a great time, he felt like he had been at a party and only talked with one person. Next year, he said, he’d try to branch out in his activities more.

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Image By Rebecca Angel

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Image By Rebecca Angel

My daughter and her friend cosplayed on Saturday: Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games, and Chihiro Ogino from Spirited Away.  

We danced, danced on Friday, but I let my daughter and her friend dance on their own Saturday (my feet hurt by the evening—old lady is me.) They said it was lots of fun. They wanted to go to Tea Time, but were unable to get in. It’s a popular panel! Yay for tea!

Several of us went to see the 18+ Art Fight. This is where two teams of cartoonists are given random words/phrases from a spinning wheel and have to draw on a huge board. The artists (and words) change every five minutes, while a host chats with the audience, and makes comments and jokes about the art being made. Although the format is well-done, the 18+ excuse only led to frat-house humor. One of my group said he had seen their regular show, and with more random words/phrases, there was more creativity and less penis jokes. After fifteen minutes of the extreme sex humor, we got bored and left…

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Image By Rebecca Angel

…to find a spot to see the fireworks! ConnectiCon coincided with the River Festival in Hartford, and Saturday night had a great show (complete with a beautiful full moon.) We decided to go outside the con to see them, but quickly returned after the fireworks were over. We missed the happy vibe of geeks, even for just an hour.

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Image By Rebecca Angel

I enjoyed walking around the Artist’s Alley, bought some new comics, and chatted with artists, including this young girl and her proud mom:

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Image By Rebecca Angel

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Image By Rebecca Angel

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Image By Rebecca Angel

I met other geeky families attending:

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Image By Rebecca Angel

My daughter bought me an adorable Loki t-shirt. Yay! And I played LOTS of games (I’ll make a separate post about my favorites.) We saw the panel with Janet Varney, the voice actress for Legend of Korra. She was very entertaining, and even got some calls from other actors from the series to answer fan questions.

Oh, and the cosplay, the cosplay, the cosplay. I had been debating about this, but the She-Ra costume stayed home—maybe next time. Instead of my lame photos, check out this video by Beat Down Boogie of some of the fantastic work people do on their costumes.

This weirdo can’t wait till ConnectiCon 2015!

Gearing Up For ConnectiCon

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Meeting up with friends at CTCon! Image by Rebecca Angel.

I have attended ConnectiCon for almost 10 years. First, I went as a musical performer, then on my own, then with my teenage nephew, then with my daughter, then with both of my kids, and finally with my kids and their friends along for the ride. I just keep inviting people because it’s really fun!

Each year, we meet up with many of the same people who I only see once a year at ConnectiCon. We all have our favorite things to do, but always meet up for some group activities as well. I had waited until my kids were teenagers to take them, so I wouldn’t just be babysitting at my favorite con.

Is ConnectiCon right for you—or you and your family? First, see if you would like a big con or a little one.

Then, here’s a rundown about this particular con.

Want to be part of the action? My daughter was in their Artists’ Alley for a couple of years. I wrote about her experience there, plus all of the other interesting things we got into: The first year selling tea art and the second selling photographs and taking commissions.

We have a very busy summer. However, we are looking forward to a weekend away from reality, where we see old friends, dance, dress up, laugh, play games, find something new to obsess about, and have a good time with the whole family.

The One Photograph You Should Take Today

Family at Chatsworth House 1988 © Sophie Brown

Family at Chatsworth House 1988 © Sophie Brown

Several years ago, I decided to take on the task of digitizing the immense number of old family photos stored at my mother’s house. The pictures dated back to the 1870s with the quantity taken per year exploding in the mid-1980s. There were photos of old houses, old pets, and old friends. All-in-all, it was a deeply emotional experience.

For the most part, the task is now complete. It’s hard to give an accurate number of photos because some smaller ones were scanned together in groups and haven’t yet been separated into individual files, but the number is well over 8,000; possibly much higher. However in all of those photos there is not one single image that contains me, my sister, and both of our parents together. Every other possible combination is represented multiple times. Me and my mum? Check. My sister and my dad? Check. My mum and dad? Check. But not one single photograph holds us all together. Not one.

My father passed away suddenly when I was five years old (which is admittedly very early in my life). We had five years to take that photograph. Five whole years where all four of us lived together under one roof. My dad was an avid photographer and my sister even worked in a processing shop—yet it apparently it never occurred to anyone to grab a camera and take that one photo. These days I’m hoping that a picture might one day show up in a relative’s album, something snapped at a family get-together that I’ve never seen before. But as elderly relatives slowly decrease in number and the elusive shot I’m hoping to see continues not to materialise; I have to admit my hope is starting to wear a little thin.

This Mother’s Day you might be getting together with your family and if you are, I’m going to ask you do to do something. Take a photo. Grab everyone together and take it today. Don’t worry about the lighting, or whether someone’s a bit tired or  hasn’t quite got over a cold. Just take it. Set up a timer if you can or just hold you phone out at arm’s length and snap a selfie. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is capturing that moment. It might seem morbid to think about loss on a day like this—I’ve never been very good at judging what others consider depressing—but you really don’t know how long you have together. Before we know it, people leave and the opportunities become fewer and fewer. So today, take out your cameras, gather everyone together and take that photo with everyone together. If nothing else you can frame it and give it to your mom next year, present sorted!

The 2015 Hyundai Genesis: Luxury That Won’t Wipe Out the College Fund

2015 Hyundai Genesis

2015 Hyundai Genesis, Image: Nicole Wakelin #NextGenesis

Luxury cars are the kinds of things people dream about getting someday even if they have no idea when that someday will arrive. Once you have kids, the idea of putting their sticky little fingers in a pretty car, and the thought that the price could wipe out the college fund, make the prospect seem even more unlikely. Here’s why the Hyundai Genesis makes it possible for a family, even one with sticky-fingered kids, to enjoy a luxury ride.

Kids are tough on cars. They make construction workers in clunky, dirt-covered boots look elegant and refined by comparison. There’s no way around the fact that they’re going to mess up your car no matter how much you try to keep it looking neat and pretty. And that’s why you want fancy leather seats instead of fabric upholstery.

2015 Hyundai Genesis Interior

2015 Hyundai Genesis, Image: Nicole Wakelin #NextGenesis

It may seem counterintuitive, but keeping leather seats looking good is far easier than keeping any kind of fabric clean. Ground in whatever-it-was-she-carried-into-the-car wipes off of leather. Leather also doesn’t absorb whatever-it-is-she-just-spilled when you didn’t even know she had a sippy cup in her hand in the first place. Guess what? Leather seats aren’t an expensive add-on but standard in this car.

You also want to keep you and your family safe with all the latest whiz-bang technology, and the 2015 Hyundai Genesis has plenty of that, too. There’s a rear-view camera to better see kids who might run behind your car, nine air bags, anti-lock brakes, rear-cross traffic alert to help avoid people cutting behind you at the last minute when you’re backing up, and traction control and stability control to help when the weather gets bad. And once again, it’s all standard.

2015 Hyundai Genesis Grille

2015 Hyundai Genesis, Image: Nicole Wakelin #NextGenesis

It’s got all the convenience features of a luxury car too, one of my favorites being a trunk that will automatically pop open when you stand next to it for just a few seconds. No balancing on one foot and waving the other under the bumper. There’s also dual temperature control so you don’t have to fight with your passenger, and a 12-way power driver’s seat that’s heated. Yup, it’s all standard on the 2015 Hyundai Genesis.

And how much do you have to shell out for this snazzy new luxury automobile? It has a very not luxury starting price of $38,000 for features that will cost you an extra $20,000 with other brands. It’s not cheap, but it’s a darned affordable luxury car.

If you’ve dreamed of getting a luxury car someday, that someday could be a lot closer than you think once you get behind the wheel of a 2015 Hyundai Genesis.

I attended the 2015 Hyundai #NextGenesis media lunch with all expenses paid by Hyundai. Opinions are my own.

WonderCon: Kids Cosplay

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Anna and Elsa
images by Jenn F.

This weekend was the third annual WonderCon, since its move from the Bay area to Anaheim. Each year this con gets bigger and bolder both in size and popularity. The caliber of cosplay at WonderCon has been improving along with it and looks like it may reach DragonCon levels of participation. Family and kids cosplay is huge here and the attention to detail is exquisite. Kids have set poses that they must get into before their picture is taken, proving that even the littlest of this generation already understand the power of their image going viral on social media.

Here’s a roundup of kids cosplay from this weekend’s WonderCon!

Above, sisters Chihiro and Chieko make an adorable Anna and Elsa. By the way Elsa’s posing, you can tell these girls have seen the movies more than a few times.

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Amidala and Ahsoka
image by Jenn F.

More fabulous cosplay sisters! Bella and Eva do their best tribute to the women of Star Wars in Amidala and Ahsoka cosplay. You may remember Bella as Leia from last year’s Star Wars Reads Day!

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Dalek and Doctor Eleven
image by Jenn F.

Ah, family. You love them, you hate them, but in the end you need each other—much like a Dalek and a Doctor! Giana’s Dalek dress is beautiful in person and the plunger is a hilarious accessory. Michael’s casual Doctor is perfect for a con, comfortable and easily recognizable.

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Emmet and Wyldstyle
image by Jenn F.

This was one of my favorite cosplays of the day! Again, comfort is king when you’re strolling the con halls and these easy to put together costumes were a great match for adorable siblings Michael and Lena!

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Baby Gandalf

I stopped in my tracks when I saw this Baby Gandalf. Little Eli was quite a trooper during the con, even though he wasn’t really into his beard he still patiently posed for pictures. I imagine his cry would be YOU SHALL NOT NAP.

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Apple Bloom
image by Jenn F.

This is a brilliant cosplay idea for any My Little Pony Fan. As Apple Bloom, one of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Sophie Hanson was working double duty. Not only was she cosplaying and posing for pictures, she was also handing out flyers at her dad’s booth, Eisner nominee Travis Hanson of The Bean!

cap

Captain America
image by Jenn F.

How’s this for an adorable Cap? I bet you didn’t know Captain America wore pigtails and a skirt! Well when Ella cosplays as cap, she wears it fabulously! I think the Chuck Taylor’s set off the whole outfit.

flash cap

Flash and Cap
image by Jenn F.

HANna Solo

Han Solo
image by Jenn F.

Cons can be exhausting and everyone needs a break now and then. While Flash and Cap took a load off, this little Han Solo named Anna took a snack break.

captain marvel squirrel girl

Captain Marvel and Squirrel Girl
image by Jenn F.

More siblings! Stella and her sister Anya were showstoppers as everyone wanted to take their picture in their detailed and gorgeous Captain Marvel and Squirrel Girl costumes!

robins

Nightwing family
image by Jenn F.

A family that cosplays together…well, is the best! This family took their love of Robin to the next level in a family tribute to Robin and Nightwing. Great costumes with awesome poses to match!

super family

Superman Family
image by Jenn F.

I absolutely loved this Super Family because everyone got into the act. I don’t think they ever moved around the con because they were swarmed by adoring attendee paparazzi!

magneto scarlet witch and quicksilver

Magento, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver

No spoilers here, but this family definitely has the cosplay of the moment. Perfectly timed with Marvel movies, I love the idea of taking a comic book family and translating it into real life family cosplay! Well done!

Review: Muppets Most Wanted

Still from Muppets: Most Wanted. Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

Still from Muppets Most Wanted. Photo credit: Walt Disney Pictures.

You’ve seen all of the pre-movie build-up—some of it quite charming—but your wallet has been burned by kids’ movies in the past. So before you shell out 10 bucks a head, you’re asking yourself that perennial question of 21st century parenthood:

See it? Stream it? Or forget about it? Is Muppets Most Wanted actually worth seeing in the theater?

The short answer, of course, is see it. In a theater. Now. I mean, what kind of a heartless bastard are you, anyway? This is the Muppets we’re talking about. It’s the only show your parents ever allowed you to watch at the dinner table in the entire 873 years of your misbegotten childhood—not some anodyne, anthropomorphized travesty devised by Madison Avenue Mad Men in order to fill in the space alongside the fries in a Happy Meal box.

Now, once you get to the theater, you’ll need to spring for a treat, because this is a cause for celebration. Skip the $4 bottled water, however: This baby moves at a decent clip and a mid-movie trip to the bathroom is going to mean missing one, maybe two of Bret McKenzie’s brilliant songs. If that means missing Constantine and Ricky Gervais’ toe-tapping, soft-shoe laden “I’m Number One” duet, well…I’m here to tell you, you don’t want to do that (#ruetheday).

While we’re on the subject, you will also not want to miss the Russian Gulag gang’s Tina Fey-led “The Big House” or Ty Burrell and Sam Eagle’s Sondheim-ish “Interrogation Song.” Really. All people with walnut-sized bladders should be told that they have the rest of their long, happy, productive lives to hydrate and that children who want to live to see tomorrow should quietly rot their teeth with Jujubes or Rolos and allow their mother to enjoy a brilliant piece of musical theater uninterrupted for once in their lives.

As to the plot of Muppets: Most Wanted, frankly, we’re not exactly treading on unexplored plot-device territory here. Turns out, the number one most-wanted criminal in the world, Constantine, is a dead ringer for our favorite amphibious hero, Kermit—and with the help of his henchman, Dominic Badguy (a brilliantly-cast Ricky Gervais), Constantine plans on stealing the royal crown jewels and framing Kermit for the crime.

Meanwhile, the freshly-reunited Muppet gang is putting on shows all over Spain, Germany, and Ireland with the booking guidance of their new assistant manager, Dominic Badg–heyyyy, wait a minute—all the while, wondering if there’s something just a little different about Kermit these days. The gang is onto something because the real Kermit is actually imprisoned in Siberia, forced to produce Broadway-caliber shows with the inmates, all while Constantine breaks into some of the world’s most famous museums, woos Piggy, and plots the theft of the century.

  • Will Constantine succeed in his dastardly plot?
  • Will Ty Burrell’s Jean Pierre Napoleon solve the caper in time to take six weeks of vacation with his family?
  • Will Tina Fey’s prison matron, Nadya, single-handedly bring back the ushanka and long coat?

For now, I leave the answers to these and other questions to your frenzied imaginations…

"MUPPETS MOST WANTED" (Pictured) KERMIT. Photo by: Jay Maidment ©2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Photo from Muppets Most Wanted by: Jay Maidment ©2013 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

But Andrea (I can already hear you saying), I was hoping for more from the cameos. Where was the surly, tyrolean brilliance of Steve Martin’s sommelier in this new Muppet movie? Or Madeline Kahn’s mythic lush? And surely you thought Christoph Waltz and Salma Hayek were grossly under-utilized? Yes, absolutely. I hear you. At the same time, I see your Steve Martin and raise you a Tom Hiddleston… and a Zach Galifianakis…

Listen, I didn’t say that this movie was perfect (did I mention the Celine Dion/Miss Piggy duet? That is your chance to run to the bathroom if you need to; like her heart, that particular song goes on. (Forfreakinever!) With those small caveats I am here to tell you, though, that Muppets Most Wanted is very good, charming, sincere, clean fun. You will feel as if you are holding hands with your younger self as you hum and laugh along with the film—or maybe that was just me. Actually, I make no promises there.

Just know that in an entertainment landscape where dystopia and sexuality (both of which have their place and time) seem to be encroaching on movies for younger and younger demographics, Muppets Most Wanted winds up being an all-ages-appropriate, song and dance-filled romp—and if you ask me, that is worth endorsing with your hard-earned cash.

(This is promotional material from Disney Australia. Hence, the April 10 release date. Don’t be fooled, the movie opens Friday, March 21, in the United States.)

You Are Not Alone: Kids Overcoming Obstacles

Used with permission from GrayHaven Comics

After the Sandy Hook tragedy in December of 2012, many of us were left wondering, “Why? How?”

The same questions were being discussed among the editors of GrayHaven Comics, a small independent publisher that strives to give new writers a voice and forum. Many of their editors are parents of young children themselves, and while discussing the tragic events with their colleagues they realized that two issues were “at the core” of the trend of violent tragedies in this country; bullying and violence.

Rather than sit idly, the group decided to reach out to kids that are victims of abuse, bullying, racism, homophobia, mental illness, and poverty. The editors and staff at GrayHaven wanted to create a way to let kids struggling with these issues to know that they are not alone, and more importantly, that violence is not the answer.

GrayHaven has created an almost 200 page book with vivid and intense stories covering difficult topics such as depression, bullying, and gun violence. The art work of the stories highlights the emotions and struggles of victims, and depicts how kids can help each other. Interspersed between chapters are resource pages with links and numbers for victims to find help. The message that kids are not alone no matter what they are going through is powerfully woven into each story. While the topics are intense and powerful, over all the book is hopeful. The books are available for free to school and organizations nationwide and The goal is to get it into the hands of as many kids as possible.

The response to You Are Not Alone has been so positive, that the editors are working on expanding the project and opening it to new stories and topics. To help them, check out their KickStarter, also to request a copy of the book for your school, youth group, or homeschool co-op, you can email Andrew Goletz : GrayHaven Publisher & Editor in Chief – gatheringanthology@hotmail.com. Get one, the kids in your community will thank you.

I had the opportunity to see a preview copy of the book, and to speak with one of the editors, Marc Lombardi, about the project. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

GeekMom: In all honesty, this book is the one of the most intense and realistic looks at abuse, bullying, and homophobia that I have ever seen. Did you all know that the use of comics would be such an effective means of communicating these issues to young people?

GrayHaven: That was our hope. We all grew up in the age of after school specials and those horrible videos you would watch in Health Ed class. The subject matter was always important and the intent was always genuine, but the result was quite often off the mark. We realized that comics were a much more accessible way for getting a message out to people of all ages, but especially younger readers. Even though some of the topics are a little more mature in nature, the ideas that people who are suffering through these issues can find hope is something that is more universal across all age groups.

We knew that doing something like this book would make the message more available, make it easier to understand, and hopefully something that is more sustainable.

GM:The thing that really strikes me, along with the text, is the art. The art really conveys the pain that victims of abuse and bullying feel. I think that it is easy to read an article online, or listen to a talk in an assembly about these topics but not really internalize the issues. The pictures in these stories draw you in and don’t give any option to run away from the issue. Can you comment on the process of matching the art to these stories?

GH: Matching artists to the stories is something I always loved doing, but for this book it was fellow editor Glenn Matchett who took those reigns and he did a really masterful job.  Some of the stories, when they were pitched, already had artists attached to them that the writers brought into the projects.  Others, as the editors read them, just yelled out certain artists who were already in our stable of regulars. You know how when you read a book and you can picture a particular actor or actress being perfect for the role of one of the characters? That’s how it is sometimes. The wrong art for the story can really take you out of it, so it was very important that we put a lot of care into the pairings that were made, and I think Glenn was really amazing in what he did.

Used with permission from GrayHaven Comics.

GM: I really loved the Silent Story by Ken Godberson III and Brent Peeples. As I was reading it, I thought, “Here we go, his best friend is going to turn on him.” But that isn’t what happened. Do you think we are reaching a place where this will be more common? Kids sticking with their friends through the “coming out” years of high school and college?

GH: I sure hope so. I mean, in this day and age so many things that were previously taboo are almost commonplace, but society just hasn’t caught up with this yet. Kids are going to be cruel — that’s just something that doesn’t seem to change over time — but I think that kids are also more likely to be the ones who change their minds about what to be cruel about. They’re less likely to have a problem with people that are gay than our parents did. You would hope that as the years go on and the laws change and everyone is given the same sort of rights regardless of who they are sexually attracted to that you will see less and less of a big deal made about it.

Used with permission from GrayHaven Comics.

GM: The bullying section was intense and I have read it multiple times. Back to an earlier comment, the art work was spot on. It showed that bullying really and truly hurts it’s victims. In the story “Letting It Go” by Thacher Cleveland, the Dad tells his son in great detail how much the bullying affected him. In “Your Secret, My Secret” the bullying victim is clearly distressed. I think a lot of folks in our society brush bullying off as “just part of life”, almost as necessary for development. From this book, and the accompanying art, is it safe to say that you and GrayHaven Comics disagree with that adage?

Used with permission from GrayHaven Comics.

GH: We absolutely disagree with it, and it’s really the main reason we created this book. Bullying, no matter the reason, is unacceptable. It shouldn’t be “just a part of growing up” any more than physical abuse should be tolerated. Mental abuse has a long-lasting affect for people on both sides; those who are bullied and the bullies themselves.  And that’s something else we considered. We were hoping to not only reach out and give a little bit of solace to people who read these stories with the experience of being in those same situations, but we also wanted to maybe catch the eye of some of the people who are bullying others and give them the perspective from the other side. I think — hope — that someone who is bullying someone else could pick up this book, read it, and realize that what they are doing is wrong. So if this book gives one bully a different outlook on what they’re doing then I think we did something good.

GM:I like that your stories show kids helping other kids. That’s a great message. Care to elaborate on that part of the stories?

GH: That was another big message for us to get through to people in the book…that help and hope can come from anyone. The earlier that you realize that you can make a difference the better it is. I mentioned earlier that kids can be cruel, and while that can be true, kids can also be resilient and remarkable in the way that they reach out to others in need. We wanted to reach out to the target audience, give them hope, give them the resources they need to get help if that’s the case, and educate them in (hopefully) an entertaining way to being a better person.

I think the reason that so many different writers all had the same idea to make the kids the heroes just as often as we make them the victims is because, in reality, that’s often the case. In my own struggles with bullying it was more often my friends, not teachers or other adults, who came to my aid.

 

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A Science Literate Family

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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!

V-Day Blues? Here Are Seven NON-Romantic Relationships You’ll Love

Only a tiny percentage of your meaningful relationships are likely to be romantic © Caden Crawford via Flickr

Only a tiny percentage of your meaningful relationships are likely to be romantic © Caden Crawford via Flickr

Valentine’s Day can make anyone not in a couple feel somewhat left out. If much popular media is to be believed then romantic relationships are the pinnacle of the connections we can share with other human beings. Forging a romantic pairing is often shown as one of the most important goals we can strive for in life; however for most of us these relationships form only a tiny fraction of the meaningful connections we will enjoy throughout our lives.

We form deep, meaningful bonds with our parents, siblings, teachers, colleagues, and friends that are every bit as powerful and rewarding as those we share with our partners—sometimes more so. We are starting to see more varied relationships on screen lately such as Frozen’s Anna and Elsa so I wanted to look at a variety of different relationships and how they are portrayed.

Sisters: Anna & Elsa (Frozen)
Without going too far into spoiler territory for those who haven’t yet seen Frozen, the relationship between royal sisters Elsa and Anna is something truly special. As young children they were as close as sisters could be, but after a near-tragic accident forces Elsa to pull away for reasons Anna can’t know, they must grow up estranged. Anna never stops hoping for reconciliation though, and even after she finds romantic love she seeks Elsa’s approval. What happens next sets off a series of catastrophic events, but sisterly love trumps all in this story and turns out to be the key to saving an entire kingdom.
Important Quote: “Do you want to build a snowman? Come on, let’s go and play. I never see you anymore. Come out the door. It’s like you’ve gone away.”

Sam & Dean Winchester in Supernatural © Warner Brothers

Sam & Dean Winchester in Supernatural © Warner Brothers

Brothers: Sam & Dean Winchester (Supernatural)
They say that blood is thicker than water and we’ve certainly seen enough of it spilled from Sam and Dean Winchester. The pair are so utterly committed to one another that they risk everything to save each other, including casting themselves into the fiery pits of Hell for all eternity. While I’m not advocating making deals with crossroads demons to keep your siblings safe, it’s a strong reminder of just how strong family ties can really be.
Important Quote: “All I’m saying, Sammy, all I’m saying, is that you’re my weak spot. You are, and I’m yours.”

Father/Daughter: Richard and Alexis Castle (Castle)
Watching your kids grow up is hard for every parent, but there’s something especially difficult about the single father/daughter dynamic. Alexis was 14 when Castle first began airing and since that day we’ve all watched her grow up as she progressed through high school, found and lost love, graduated, and moved on to college. Castle himself has watched these events too, often unsure of exactly how to help out whilst still allowing her to navigate her own path—especially difficult when his daughter was frequently the more mature one of the pair. However the two have always been there for one another to offer support and advice.
Important Quote: Alexis: “How come we never had a nanny?” Castle: “Well, your mother and I decided if someone was going to screw you up, we wanted it to be me.”

Mal and Zoe from Firefly © Fox

Mal and Zoe from Firefly © Fox

Friendship: Malcolm Reynolds and Zoe Washburne (Firefly)
Friendships formed in the armed forces can be some of the most long-lasting and powerful bonds you will form. There’s nothing like suffering a harrowing experience to really bring people together. Mal Reynolds served with Zoe Washburne (then Alleyne) during the Unification War and together they survived the devastating Battle of Serenity Valley, the only two in their platoon to make it out. After a brief stint with a “terrorist” group, Zoe joined up with Mal to serve aboard his new ship Serenity where the pair worked together so well that it caused occasional jealousy between Mal and Zoe’s eventual husband Wash.
Important Quote: “I wouldn’t stand for it anyway, Captain, jealous man like me.”

Bromance: Tony Stark and Bruce Banner (Marvel Universe)
Iron Man and The Hulk are two of the most layered characters in the Marvel universe; both have an outward image that masks the flawed, even damaged, men underneath it. By the beginning of The Avengers Bruce Banner has become so disenchanted with people’s reactions to him that he has effectively hidden himself away from the world. He instantly senses the fears of everyone involved when he is finally ousted from his private world. Tony Stark is the only person who doesn’t react that way and is simply delighted to meet him, even thrilled at Banner’s reputation, a reaction that genuinely surprises Bruce and sparks their friendship.
Important Quote: It’s good to meet you, Dr. Banner. Your work on anti-electron collisions is unparalleled. And I’m a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.

Womance: Dana Scully & Monica Reyes (The X-Files)
A lot is made of the so-called “bromance” but little is ever said about its female counterpart. According to Urban Dictionary the word for this relationship is a “womance” but it is certainly not as commonplace. Monica Reyes’ character wasn’t introduced on The X-Files until season eight and didn’t become recurrent until season nine but this does not diminish the importance of her relationship with Agent Scully.

The relationship is best understood when considered within the context of the death of Scully’s only sister Melissa at the end of season three. Melissa was the polar opposite of her sister, a flighty spiritualist prone to taking off suddenly on journeys of self-discovery. However, the few scenes we saw of the pair together showed how close they were. Melissa’s death was a huge blow to Scully and left her with seemingly no close female friends excluding her mother for the several years until Monica’s appearance. Despite her initial wariness (trust no one after all) Scully became close friends with Monica who clearly began to fill the hole left by Melissa. As the show’s ninth and final season drew to a close they were clearly portrayed as close female friends, one of the relationships the show had yet to explore with Scully.
Important Quote:  “I was thinking that you reminded me of someone that I was close to—my sister.”

Buffy and Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer © Fox

Buffy and Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer © Fox

Mentor/Student: Buffy Summers and Rupert Giles (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
The mentor/student relationship is most commonly seen between characters where the younger individual is lacking a parent and the older individual ends up filling that role to a greater or lesser extent. Giles took on a fatherly role to the entire Scooby Gang but mostly to Buffy, a relationship that far surpassed even the often intense bond between Watcher and Slayer. He not only supported her through her progression as a Slayer but personally too, a role that increased over the years especially after the sudden death of Buffy’s mother.
Important Quote: “If it’s guilt you’re looking for, Buffy, I’m not your man. All you will get from me is my support. And my respect.”

Colleagues: Dale Cooper and Harry Truman (Twin Peaks)
Dale Cooper’s approach to solving a case couldn’t really be more different from Harry Truman’s but together the pair began a partnership that was every bit as complimentary as Holmes and Watson. The relationship between the two is deeply rooted in respect and despite Truman having countless opportunities to ridicule Cooper, he never takes them up. Cooper and Truman are the perfect example of a yin and yang relationship where two wildly different types of people can work together perfectly to solve impossibly difficult problems.
Important Quote: “Agent Cooper is the finest lawman I’ve ever known. I’ve had nothing but respect for him since he arrived in Twin Peaks.”

This list is by no means comprehensive, I had to cut out more than I left in, so I’d love to hear about the relationships you love that have nothing to do with romance. Let me know your favorites.

A Game Of Hangman Turned Dinner With My Girls Into a Party

Image: Nicole Wakelin

Image: Nicole Wakelin

There are some games that we come back to again and again no matter our age. Hangman is one of those games. It’s a great way to pass time stuck waiting for things like a plane or dinner and you can feel like you’re doing something educational. It’s a spelling lesson in disguise!

Hangman is also a good choice because all you need is something to write with and something to write on. A barely there stub of crayon works just as well as a perfectly sharpened #2 pencil, and a napkin will do instead of a clean sheet of paper. It’s the game you can play almost anywhere, anytime.

Last night I took my girls out to dinner after a busy afternoon running errands. Dad was out for the night so it was just the three of us sitting in our favorite Italian place waiting for our meals. As the girls colored, I grabbed a crayon and my drink napkin and started a game of Hangman.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

Image: Nicole Wakelin

We sat there eating our rolls and sipping our drinks, and took turns coming up with words. The waitress jumped in on the action checking to see how we were doing and even taking a couple of guesses, until my oldest daughter came up with a word that we just couldn’t get.

I stared at that napkin, covered in crayon scribbles from our previous games, and had no idea what half-formed word was staring back. I even thought that maybe she was spelling it wrong because it just didn’t make any sense. We kept guessing. We kept missing. And our little man bit the dust, but was given a reprieve thanks to my daughter’s creativity.

She decided to give him a hat. And clothes. And a face. We still didn’t get the word. She added a sun and then a bird and a couple of clouds and we were hysterically laughing as she kept trying desperately to save us with art. We had the most fully realized Hangman scene in the history of Hangman!

Killing time by stacking creamers. Image: Nicole Wakelin

Killing time by stacking creamers. Image: Nicole Wakelin

I finally figured out that the word was butterfly. Don’t judge. That word does not jump out at you without the right letters! We started our next game which, of course, required an equally ridiculous level of detail. I don’t think we’ll ever play plain old Hangman again because drawing the scene became half the fun. One hangman even had a ninja executioner!

Dinner arrived, and we were having such a ridiculously fun time that we didn’t dig right in, but finished up our game first. I even had to put on the brakes and make the kids eat before they started in on the next word.

Last night, all I wanted to do was take my girls out after a busy day and enjoy a meal that I didn’t have to cook. Instead, we had our only little party at the back table with ninjas, butterflies, and the chance of death looming with every letter.

It’s a dinner I won’t soon forget.

“Mmm, it’s got new game smell!” or The Joy Of Raising Gamer Girls

One small section of the game room. Image: Nicole Wakelin

My husband is an avid gamer and I’ve become a bit of one myself over the years, so it was only natural that my kids would become gamers, too. It wasn’t something we tried to do, more something that just sort of happened.

Every family starts off planning things that are born from what Mom and Dad enjoy. It’s not that we don’t want our kids to find their own paths, but that we naturally want to share the things we find interesting.

If you were big into the outdoors before the kids, likely your kids were hiking before they could walk via those snazzy kid-carrying backpacks. If you’re a bookworm, you likely read to your kids a lot and they’ll be dying to learn how to read on their own. And if you’re a gamer, then pulling out a board game is the perfect way to spend time together.

My husband with all the games, GenCon 2013, Image: Nicole Wakelin

My husband with all of the games, GenCon 2013, Image: Nicole Wakelin

My family falls into that last category. I blame my husband because he is a hardcore gamer. Really, the man eats, sleeps, and breathes games. He hosts The D6 Generation podcast which reviews games and interviews game designers. He has so many games that they spill out of his man cave like lava and there are always a half-dozen work-in-progress minis being painted in his game room.

I didn’t start off a gamer, but became one because of my husband. Gaming is one of those things that, once it gets you, sucks you in for good. Kind of like the mafia, but without the guns and cannoli. Although, I bet there’s a game out there with guns and cannoli that we just haven’t found yet.

So, when my girls were born, they were playing games right from the start. They started with the games that all the kids play like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. We happened to have a Dora the Explorer Candy Land and let me go on record here saying that I played that more times than is sane and I have PTSD issues related to that perky little child.

My daughter made this for a school project! Image: Nicole Wakelin

We moved on, as quickly as possible, to other games that you couldn’t find in the average big box toy store. These were the games you could only find in an honest-to-goodness local game store. Now, my kids ask to go to the game store every weekend and who are we to say no?

They’ve also experienced the joy of opening games and the New-Game-Smell that accompanies the event. If you’re a gamer, you understand, but if not, you are confused. Let me try to explain.

New Game Smell is that first whiff of untouched goodness that emanates from the box the second you remove the lid. It’s a combination of cardboard and ink and if you hold the board up to your nose it can make a gamer giddy.

Sometimes there’s a hint of plastic, but only a hint, and if you’re lucky there’s also a good dose of freshly cut wood. This would come from the meeples or other tokens rolling around the box. This is New-Game-Smell. In fact, I can smell it now as my husband sets up Rampage, freshly un-boxed, which we will be playing later today.

Rampage, freshly unboxed. Image: Nicole Wakelin

Rampage, freshly unboxed. Image: Nicole Wakelin

The other day we had dinner at a restaurant that we’ve been to many times and they handed us new menus. You could tell because they were super shiny and had none of the creases or sticky spots that eventually end up on every menu. These were pristine.

My eleven-year-old opened up her menu, looked at it for a second, and then held it right up to her nose saying, “Mmm, it’s got new game smell!” This led to all of us holding the menus up to our noses to get a good whiff. She was totally right, and despite the odd looks from the surrounding tables, it was a proud moment.

My daughter the gamer. Your training is now complete.

Killer of Enemies: Kick-Butt Heroine

Killer-of-Enemies copy

Image from TU Books

Lozen is a young, female warrior trying to keep her family alive in a post-apocalyptic world in which electricity no longer works, and monsters and myths once again roam the earth. She has the strength of grown men, amazingly fast reflexes, combat training, skills with various weaponry, and burgeoning mental telepathy. But Lozen’s most powerful tool is her compassion for all living things, passed down from her ancestors, the Apache and Chiricahua tribes of Southwest America.

In Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac, the world consists of corporate-controlled nations where the elite have cyborg implants and genetic modifications to maintain their rule of a greedy planet. Then the Silver Cloud settles into the atmosphere, knocking out all electricity, bringing technology to archaic levels. Out of the chaos, small tightly controlled groups of people huddle in strongholds like abandoned prisons, unfortunately still ruled by some of those genetically modified elite. Lozen’s skills as a tracker and killer of the many monsters makes her valuable.

Lozen’s family and a couple dozen people were surviving on their own in the new wild world until they were discovered, then murdered or captured by a stronghold leader. Lozen’s family is held hostage and she is named Killer of Enemies for this stronghold. Her task to destroy all the local monsters. She is not alone, though. There are secret friends within the stronghold, and a mysterious voice in her mind that may or may not be someone she can trust.

I breezed through this YA fiction in a day, going along for the ride with Lozen as she tackles larger and more dangerous monsters: Genetically enhanced mutant animals that were freed from their “zoos” once the electricity vanished. She is not just physically capable, but intelligent and resourceful as well. What sets her apart from just a bland killing machine are strong ties to her native ancestors who also hunted in the desert. Stories passed down through the generations help our heroine remember history, using it for her cunning plans. The book is filled with characters and stories from different native tribes, and I enjoyed reading about a culture I am not familiar with coupled with a strong young woman in a crazy modern world.

(On an amusing note, I participate in a role-playing game with friends, pretending to be a large, Scottish warrior named Guy. In Killer of Enemies, there is a large, Scottish warrior named Guy. No kidding. I immediately warmed up to the story once he showed up.)

I recommend Killer of Enemies for ages 13 and up. From page one there are intense, bloody battles with creatures, and the spiritual side of the book may be lost on younger readers. It’s an exciting read with a message of family and survival.

 

GeekMom received a complimentary copy for reviewing purposes.

 

23andMe and the Fight for Genetic Information

23andMe

As a birthday present to myself, and as a way to face the inevitable health concerns that tend to arise with another ritual blowing out of the candles, I decided to explore 23andMe.

Named for the 23 pairs of chromosomes in a normal human cell and described as a “home genetic test maker,” 23andMe is a privately held personal genomics company backed by Google. For just $99 and your spit, it offers rapid genetic testing. The test results can provide participants with information about their ancestry, potential health risks, and genetic predisposition to things like coronary heart disease or breast cancer.

When 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki started the company six years ago with her husband, Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, her idea was to allow participants to assess their health risks. And, according to Bloomberg, when her husband received his results, he learned he had a gene that would make him susceptible to Parkinson’s disease.

Woman Spitting

All images courtesy of 23andMe.

For me, as the carefree days of my 20s (and even 30s)  morph into the  health-conscious zealotry of my 40s, I am curious to know about the genetic cards I’ve been dealt. Information is power, and the more I know about myself and my genetic makeup, the better able I am to maintain my health. For example, I’m Irish. So I already know by the various skin cancers I’ve wrestled with over the years that I need to avoid the sun, not seek it. But what about other health issues I don’t already know about?

I also thought 23andMe would be a great experiment to do with my kids, to help them better understand the role our genes play in who we are. Think about the dinner conversations around male pattern baldness, Neanderthal percentages, lactose intolerance! For their sakes, it would be good to know if there are markers to inherited conditions that might affect them.

Not to mention, this all sounded pretty futuristic and cool.

So in late October I registered with 23andMe and awaited my saliva-collection kit. On November 12, I received confirmation that my spit had made it to their laboratories in, I assume, Mountain View, California, where the company is based.

Then on November 26, the  same day I learned they were starting to analyze my DNA, 23andMe made the news. The FDA had stepped in, ordering 23andMe.com to halt sales of its DNA analysis product.

The FDA’s complaint? It says 23andMe is currently operating “without marketing clearance or approval” from regulators. The FDA cites “the potential health consequences that could result from false positive or false negative assessments for high-risk indications. . .” For example, the FDA notes that if a 23andMe user receives a false positive for breast or ovarian cancer, it could “lead a patient to undergo prophylactic surgery, chemo prevention, intensive screening, or other morbidity-inducing actions.”

Physicians groups tend to support these arguments. And now there is even a class-action lawsuit filed against 23andMe.

Saliva Collection Kit SingleBut as a consumer, I don’t want the FDA denying me information that might be life-saving. Why can’t I be trusted to use the information 23andMe provides and work with my doctor to determine the best means of treatment or prevention? As the calendar shows with my birthday here again, I’m a big girl now, and I can handle the information.

Genetic testing has typically cost in the thousands of dollars and been out of the reach of everyday people. Companies like 23andMe make this information accessible to a broad audience. A recent Change.org petition seeks to discourage the FDA from banning companies like 23andMe that provide genetic testing and information.

I can’t help but agree with what 23andMe’s Anne Wojcicki said in a recent Fast Company article about her business: “Everyone’s going to die and everyone’s going to get sick at some point. But I do believe that there are choices you can make in life that will make you as healthy as possible.”

Who Was Your Sam?

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We all received “laminated” cards at our final get together. By Rebecca Angel

Awhile back I asked my sister how she was able to emotionally get through her PhD program.

“I read Lord of the Rings a few times. That kept me going.” She answered.

“How so?”

“Frodo and me, we were on a journey. Sometimes I’d be in my lab and I wasn’t sure if I could continue, but then I’d remember Frodo deep in Mordor, and so I’d take just one more step in the right direction.”

“Who was your Sam?” I asked.

My sister sighed, “Oh, I had many Sams.” And then she told me about the amazing people that helped her through her journey. Like Frodo, she would never have made it without her Sam.

A month ago, my kids and I finally finished an epic read-aloud of Lord of the Rings with two other families. We started back in 2009. Yes, it took four years to get through the books. (We also watched the movies afterwards.) Why did it take that long? Those four years contained such life-altering events for everyone involved, it’s amazing we got through the books at all.

The transition from child to teenager can be rocky, especially for friendships. Meeting together to hear a story, a good story, read out loud, was the one continuous part of the lives of these kids. It was something they had in common, at a time when their other interests were diverging, and life was taking them down different paths. It’s a memory they will always have together.

It was more than just normal life transitions that made it hard to stay committed for those involved. In fact, mid-way through The Two Towers, it had been five months since we had all last met. I turned to my kids and told them I wasn’t sure the read aloud was going to happen anymore—all the dates kept falling through. I told them we could finish it alone, but they didn’t want to. Just so they would know what happened, I told them we could watch the movies at least? We agreed to wait one more month before we gave up. The group started meeting again a couple weeks later.

To be very vague, we were part of a larger group of friends, and during this time period there were some messy divorces, which led to a complete upheaval of our social network. There were financial struggles, starting new careers, moving to new houses, etc. Plus, we had met as homeschooling parents, and during these years, some children started going to school, while other continued at home.

Looking back, I am amazed at the sheer number of life challenges and changes we three families faced during our time reading Lord of the Rings together. It was truly our own journey of epic proportions.

As for me, I felt very alone, trying to keep one foot in front of the other. People I thought were there, pulled away just when I needed them most. Others purposefully tried to sabotage my work, or hurt the people I cared about. But in each corner of my life, I had a Sam. Someone, out of nowhere, without asking, stood by me with encouraging words, or sharing the load when it was just too heavy that day.

When we had our final get-together, watching the extended version of The Return of the King, it was very emotional. Yes, we cried during the movie, but the three moms cried for more than that. We had been through so freakin’ much, but there we were with seven beautiful children, on the other side of it all.  I found it so strange that the books and our lives had so much in common, so much to relate to. But perhaps that’s what makes a series like Lord of the Rings endure.

We have all been Frodo. We have all needed Sam. Together they saved their world. If we could only remember in our darkest moments to look for that unexpected hero, that person who is not there for glory, but steps in to help you out of love.

Who was your Sam?

Indiegogo Campaign: TinySuperheroes

 

I have to thank my mom for pointing this one out to me. Last summer Robyn Rosenberger made a cape for her two-year-old nephew’s birthday. She was also following the story of a little girl named Brenna, who was fighting a serious skin disease. The idea of the cape met the reality of children battling incredible obstacles, and her organization TinySuperheroes was born.

Since making their first cape in January of 2013, they have made 500 capes for sick and disabled children. This Indiegogo campaign (which ends on June 18th!) will help raise money to make and distribute 1,500 more capes in the next year. Their motto is “Empowering Extraordinary Kids – One Cape at a Time!”

Marvelous.

Integrating a New Geek Into Your Family

Rory, our new geek. Photo: Jenny Williams

Rory, our new geek. Photo: Jenny Williams

The past several months have been an interesting and very rewarding experience. The kids and I have managed to integrate a new geek into our home and our family.

Rory moved in last December. It was an easy transition for me, since I’m the one who wanted him there. It was a bigger challenge for the kids, since they’d had a much harder time with the divorce than I did. Plus, Rory was now in a role that, while not replacing their dad to the kids, filled the partner role in my life. But, we found that with shared interests, both those that had already been established and those that were newly acquired, everyone bonded more closely.

The kids and I brought a lot of board games to the table. I’ve loved games my whole life. My daughter also enjoys them. My son is obsessed. Rory’s often up for a good challenge, and has really enjoyed playing games with us. We also have been introducing and encouraging a lot of geek culture in him. Star Trek, Doctor Who, and the like.

[Read more…]

Looking at Life Through Facebook

I love TMNT. Can you tell? \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

I love TMNT. Can you tell? \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Many parents start baby books for their children. Looking at my son’s book, I realized he won’t learn as much about his early years through his baby book as he will through my Facebook page and the posts I’ve written for GeekMom.

The other day at my mom’s house, I discovered my baby book. I’ve never seen it before and she warned me not to be disappointed that it wasn’t filled out completely. Having a son of my own, I completely understand that she only filled it in up to my third year of life.

[Read more…]

When Do You Stop Reading a Blog?

Screenshot - not an entirely true representation of my reading habits

Screenshot – not an entirely true representation of my reading habits as this is an ill used feed.

Shortly after my son was born in 2009, I was introduced to the world of blogging. The time swallowing, opinionated, photo heavy world of blogging. I’m not talking about blogging like we do at GeekMom, or blogging like Jenny Lawson or Wil Wheaton.

I’m talking about the family oriented blog, the no-longer-confined-to-mommy mommy blog, the craft blog.

I’m going to preface this by saying I do not judge what you choose to blog, I’m just judging what I choose to read! I have been following the exploits of one unnamed family for a while, I have even followed one of her “haters” because I find the sarcastic retorts hilarious. As with most things in my life, I take what I find useful, endearing, or entertaining and disregard the rest. All I see is a snapshot of a life, I know I’m not getting the full picture. I know it’s not important that I agree with everything.

[Read more…]

“Are You Done Yet?” In Defense of our 5th Child — ChildrensMD

Photo by Flickr user Ryan Smith Photography, via CC 2.0.

Photo by Flickr user Ryan Smith Photography, via CC 2.0.

Even though I have but two children — and I don’t plan to have any more — I’ve never had problems with families having as many children as they would like, provided the children are raised safely and with the intent of being positive contributors to society.

This Mom, who recently announced she’s pregnant with her 5th child, presents statistics supporting how and why her 5 children won’t be a burden on society.

“Are You Done Yet?” In Defense of our 5th Child — ChildrensMD.

International TableTop Day: Creating New Gamers

Image: Sarah Pinault

Image: Sarah Pinault

Today has been a momentous day. The first International TableTop day, and the day my son became a Gamer. He has been playing board games for a while now but this was his first event, and his first independent purchase.

Our local event was hosted by a co-worker who runs Weekend Anime in Westbrook, Maine, with her husband. We told her ahead of time the kind of games he likes, Monsters Menace America, Battleball, Jenga, and the types of games we like, Catan, Roll Through The Ages, Stratego. She had only one suggestion, and so when we walked through the door, she was there with Takenoko ready to roll, ahem. Her description of the game “Like Catan but simpler, and with Pandas.” We were sold.

DSCI0878I will never forget the wonder in my sons eyes when he stepped into the store and all around him were kids of all ages playing games. But that was unmatched by the pure joy he experienced when he realized he got to sit down and play a game, with other gamers, and only one parent involved.

In Takenoko, you are given the responsibility of providing a habitat for the Giant Panda, a gift from the Chinese Emperor to Japan. You must cultivate and irrigate the land to make sure the Panda is well fed. The first person to achieve seven objectives ends the game but might not win, the person with the highest number of points wins the game. It is rated for ages thirteen and over but with just a few simple tweaks to the rules, barely even tweaks, it was the perfect game for my three year old.

DSCI0882Up until this point we have played simple games with him, or taken games that we like and invented completely new rules for the pieces. With Monsters Menace America, we attempted to modify the actual rules for a younger audience and had some success. In Takenoko, Toby had his first full gaming experience where each person took a turn, rules were not bent for ease and avoidance of tantrums, and the game play was natural and progressive. We played up to seven objectives, Toby lost interest after about four, so that will be something we tinker with the next time we play. The beauty of this game is that there are options for making it longer and more complicated or short and simple.

When he was done playing, there was still so much to do. He helped his dad bring in old games to trade for new, he perused the other board games in the store, and then he became assimilated into the lifestyle. He walked over to a group playing a variation of Magic, he watched, he asked questions, he moved on. He thoroughly enjoyed every moment he was there and, despite having come directly from an Easter Egg hunt, he was engaged and well-behaved for a full two hours. When it was time to go, he was perfectly content, having used leftover Christmas money to purchase his own copy of Takenoko.

DSCI0881The great thing about Tabletop day is that it is an event for all ages. Hard core gamers were perfectly content to wait their turn while the kids took their time, were prepared to answer his bizarre questions about the game they were playing, were willing to set up a game and sit waiting for someone to play with. Babies were everywhere and everyone was having a thoroughly good time. It was an unusually wonderful experience to sit and talk about mastitis with a fellow GeekMom and not have a single person bat an eyelid. The rest of the day is being spent at home learning how to play Castle Panic with his dad. Thank you Wil Wheaton, you’ve made my three year old a very happy gamer.

Note – I link to Amazon in this post but I encourage you to find your local independent gaming store and purchase through them if at all possible.