Portcullis Peeps: What They Are and How to Find Them

Do you guys remember this post in which  I shared a story about a little boy, a garden trellis, a portcullis, and Google?

Oh, and I also used the dreaded g-word.  Continue reading Portcullis Peeps: What They Are and How to Find Them

In Defense of Hypocrisy

I’m a hypocrite. There, I said it. I’ve heard it from my kids before (they’re 14, 11, and 9, and quick to point out the unfairness of different rules for different kids, and I too am included in this), and as I strive to be the perfect parent, always practicing what I preach, it’s a tough criticism to encounter.

But frankly, my kids and I are not equals, our lives are not to be viewed as being on a level playing field, and I refuse to feel guilty for it. In fact, I would argue that being a hypocrite makes me a better parent.
Continue reading In Defense of Hypocrisy

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks – Video Game Style

I adore video games. Ever since I played that first Atari game when I was a kid I’ve been hooked. Later I had a Nintendo NES and I’ve yet to find anyone that can beat me at Dr. Mario. Let me know if you’re up to the challenge, though. I’m more than happy to show you how wrong you are.

I’ve tried many different types of games through the years and found my favorites in MMORPGs. In my 20’s I discovered Everquest and would spend hours every evening camping spawns, training to zone (I was epically notorious for this one), and running all over the place turning in quest items for special gear. Even more hours on the weekends were spent questing with my guild. And there have been many other games since then.

So when my son (age 10) asked me if I’d play Minecraft with him I thought it would be a great experience. For him. I’d be able to teach him a few things since I’d been playing games for so many years. Little did I know he’d be the one teaching me. Continue reading Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks – Video Game Style

Here’s to the Old School: A Thank You

I’m pretty sure she didn’t consider herself a geek.

In fact, if I had used the term to describe her in her presence, I probably would have gotten The Glare. Maybe not. Maybe I would just have earned a smile.

Because it was true. My mother-in-law was a geek, in the best sense of the word, and I offer that up as a compliment. I just wish she could here me say it. We lost her recently, a loss we’re all still coming to grips with.

I called her a force of nature more than once, and it was true. Continue reading Here’s to the Old School: A Thank You

The Best Trick To Play On Your Children — So Sneaky!

My husband and I have this little trick we play on our children.

Every night, we try to get our three children in bed as close to 7:00 pm as possible. Our rule is that they need to stay in their rooms quietly and lights must be off. Oh, unless they feel like using this

Are you scratching your head over there? Continue reading The Best Trick To Play On Your Children — So Sneaky!

Falling for Chuck, Part Three: Hey There, Chuck

Part 1 – The Worst Day
Part 2 – A Screen, Not a Diagnostic

First, some words to Chuck: I’m lying here with you in bed as I compose this. It’s crazy that you’ve only been here for 6 months, crazy that everything I’ve described over the past few days was a year ago. If someone had told me then how normal life would feel today, I’d never have believed them. Everything was so crazy starting from the time I got pregnant with you.
Continue reading Falling for Chuck, Part Three: Hey There, Chuck

Getting the Non-Geeks in Your Life to Try (and Have Fun!) Playing a Tabletop RPG

In our family, holidays often mean gathering around the table twice: once to eat (duh!) and once to play board games. As our daughter has gotten older, this has become more fun; we’re no longer confined to the excitement of Candy Land and have instead moved onto Scrabble, Monopoly or Apples to Apples. But as our daughter has gotten older, she’s also gotten geekier… and it didn’t take long for my husband to recruit her to try a tabletop RPG.

The problem? Those games require at least two players plus a game master. Great. Dad’s the game master. Kid’s one of the players. That leaves Mom for the second player, and Mom has absolutely no experience or interest in playing. What are a geeky dad and daughter to do? Well, they convinced me… and we all learned a few things along the way. Continue reading Getting the Non-Geeks in Your Life to Try (and Have Fun!) Playing a Tabletop RPG

4 Amazingly Memorable Gifts That Won’t Break the Bank

We are getting down to the wire here, folks. Have you finished your shopping?

It can be so difficult to find the perfect gift. Then, sometimes, when you do, it’s way out of your price range.

Today, I’m sharing 4 amazingly memorable gifts that won’t break the bank. Continue reading 4 Amazingly Memorable Gifts That Won’t Break the Bank

Anova Precision Cooker – Worth the Investment

Cooking has always been something I’ve enjoyed, which is lucky seeing as this family of 6 makes meals from scratch for the most part. We are also Sabbath-observant, so every Thursday night and Friday is spent in a frenzy of cooking.

I’d been thinking about taking the idea of molecular gastronomy out of the magazines and websites I was reading and into my kitchen, but I constantly psyched myself out. Sous vide in particular seemed an accessible and useful tool, but I shied away from experimenting with it.

For those not in the know, sous vide is a method of cooking which entails sealing food in a plastic bag (usually vacuum sealed, but Ziplocs work in a pinch) and leaving it in a warm water bath at the precise temperature to which you want it cooked. Sous vide is particularly famous for cooking roasts to the doneness you want from tip-to-tip rather than the typical gradient one usually gets in a roast or steak of an outer crust, a layer of medium-done or above, and a middle of the doneness you actually want. Continue reading Anova Precision Cooker – Worth the Investment

STEM Education for 3-Year-Olds: Teaching Toddlers To Count in Binary

A long time computer science professional and mother of a young family, Lisa Seacat DeLuca is sharing her profession with both her twins and children everywhere.

Her board book, A Robot Story, started life as a Kickstarter campaign and is now available on Amazon. Easy to read and interactive, the book explains binary at a level a young child can understand by the simple method of counting to ten.

The interactive “switches” in the board book that my daughter pretends to control based on the binary numbers provides a meaningful way to equate ones and zeros to on and off. Additionally, it expands the child’s vocabulary and uses industry jargon in a friendly way.

My four-year-old daughter even asked me what “allocate” means. The best part fo this? She later used the word to describe something else in her life.

But at the same time, the book is simple enough and short enough to read to an infant.

GeekMom had a chance to talk with Lisa about her career, family, and book’s concepts:

Continue reading STEM Education for 3-Year-Olds: Teaching Toddlers To Count in Binary

Why I Gave My Nephew Spider-Man

In our house, we limit screen time, maybe an hour a day. For the first two years, we capped TV watching at an hour a week.

We also tend away from the licensed products.

You know the ones I am talking about, the Elsa socks, Batman toothbrushes, or Elmo dolls. So imagine my husband’s surprise when I announced we were giving our two-year-old nephew Spider-Man for Christmas.

It all started with a sentence:

“I’m going to lose!”

Continue reading Why I Gave My Nephew Spider-Man

Combating Geek Prejudice… But Not the Way You Think

“Mom, I know I need to wait for Dad to help me with my math homework.”

“Mom, you’d never be able to build this Lego set.”

“Mom, you’ve never coded anything?!”

All of these are things my amazing 10-year-old future engineer has said to me.

She really doesn’t mean to hurt my feelings. She’s just calling it like she sees it. Her dad, her idol, is an engineer. They design stuff, build stuff, talk deeply about science-y stuff, and code stuff. My day job is in marketing and I don’t do any of that stuff. 

And frankly, I haven’t done myself any favors, talking about how confusing her math algorithms are to me (this is not a Common Core post, but it’s true fact that I do not recognize how to do long division anymore), how I’m “not into” building things, how I’ve never been interested in coding.

But it does hurt my feelings when she writes me off because the things I know are different from the things she and her dad know.

And most of the time, they’re not as relevant or valuable to her, because the things that are relevant and valuable to her fall very reliably into STEM and sometimes STEAM. There’s no “H” in there for humanities, which is where my particular strengths lie (I tried, but SHTEAM just didn’t work).
Continue reading Combating Geek Prejudice… But Not the Way You Think

PAX Australia 2015 (Part 1): The Geek Social Hub

If the “geek shall inherit the Earth” then PAX is where they divvy up the loot.

As an expo, it is a huge opportunity to try new games, find new talent, and “mingle with your people.” Trust me—I have plenty of new finds to +1 your geek status.

But as a social hub? It’s a whole other level.

Continue reading PAX Australia 2015 (Part 1): The Geek Social Hub

50 Ways to Fight Nature Deficit Disorder This Fall and Winter

You can’t go very far these days without hearing about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), but have you heard of Nature-Deficit Disorder?

In his best-selling book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit DisorderRichard Louv explores research linking children’s health and well-being to direct exposure to nature.

The reality is, nowadays, our children are better able to identify jungle and zoo animals than the animals that reside in their own backyard.

In this age of screens, our nation’s children are not getting out there and this has a direct impact on their health and happiness. And, lest you think nature only benefits children, Louv shares the benefits for adults in his book, The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age.

After reading Louv’s books, you won’t want to come inside. Louv uses research to show the many benefits of time spent in nature, including: Continue reading 50 Ways to Fight Nature Deficit Disorder This Fall and Winter

GeekMom Secret Origins: Samantha Fisher’s Journey Started With The Doctor

I’ve been asked many times through the years how I became the big ole nerd that I am. It has been asked in many ways by many types of people and I choose to believe it is always asked out of jealousy of my awesomeness. I mean, how could anyone not want to be just like me, right? I usually laugh, make a joke, or will reply with my standard response of, “It just happened over time, there was no one thing or event.”

Over the last few days, as I prepared to join this wondrous team known as GeekMom, I’ve been actively thinking about this topic. No easy task for a busy gal with ADHD and a to-do list that would make a lesser person weep, but perhaps highly overdue. Why did I become a geek? Most people I know can attribute their geekiness to someone in their family who is also a geek. They picked up their love of this or their fascination with that by observing loved ones in their passionate undertakings. Alas, there is no one in my immediate family who has the same predilections as I.

How did this happen? I’m going to tell you my story. You tell me yours.  Continue reading GeekMom Secret Origins: Samantha Fisher’s Journey Started With The Doctor

How I Became A Cool Geek Mom

Like most supermoms, I wear many capes. I’m a drama teacher by day, an actress by night, as well as a geeky mom, hot wife, and writer.

I was born with an extra dose of confidence and have never been one to worry about what other people think of me. I handle rejection like a seasoned pro and because of this, I have always felt free to dress the way I want to and express my various fandoms out loud for other people to see.

For example, when I drop my kids off at school, I might wear some Hello Kitty shoes with bright pink pants, a Doctor Who belt, and a Harry Potter jacket. Or I may wear my R2-D2 dress or Cinderella costume to promote my drama classes. I am no stranger to a raised eyebrow or sly smiles from onlookers. All of this was “normal” for my two kids until my daughter, the oldest, turned 11. Continue reading How I Became A Cool Geek Mom

Landing on Naboo: Geek Parenthood With a Special Needs Child

There’s a sort of essay/poem out there that’s often given to the parents of a child with special needs. It’s called “Welcome to Holland.”

I hate it.

To be fair, I probably wasn’t in the right sort of mindset when I first read it, not so long after my husband and I found out our firstborn son would have Down syndrome. I was 30. I didn’t see this coming. I wanted to go to my original destination, frak it, and I was in no mood to be assured that our new destination would be just fine.

When you find out your child has special needs, you suddenly start to question everything you envisioned for your future, and for their future. Will he be able to live on his own someday? Will she be able to drive? Will he learn to read? Will she be able to speak and communicate?

For us as geek parents—for any parents with strong interests, really—there’s more. Will we be able to take him to conventions? Will he appreciate them? Will she be able to follow an episode of Star Trek? What about Star Wars? We’re both writers; will he develop our appreciation for the written word? Will we be able to take her to the Kennedy Space Center? Can I read him The Hobbit? Will he understand it at all? Continue reading Landing on Naboo: Geek Parenthood With a Special Needs Child

NYCC Guide for Parents of Younger Kids

Three years of New York Comic Con visits. Three years of trial and error. Three years of family additions to NYCC. How do you negotiate that kind of insanity? Why yes, after explaining all the new additions, there is a guide to “How To Keep From Losing Your Child or Your Sanity.”

Let me first convince you as to why you want to take the littles. Then, learn from my experience as to how to make it fun.

“It’s 2012, New York Comic Con time!”

As post after post would travel through my feed showing me pictures of amazing cosplay, panels that seemed to be once in a lifetime experiences, and limited edition items or free swag that seemed incredible, my sitting-at-home-on-the-couch-with-a-baby self moped.

It’s too crowded, too expensive, too loud, too overwhelming to do with a child, I thought. Then, in 2013, back in those Jurassic days of being able to buy a Sunday ticket a month in advance, we decided to drive down for the day. One bright Sunday morning, we packed the two adults and one four-year-old into the car, expecting an epic adventure. The adventure was epic, complete with New York City parking ticket.

However, in 2013, even the kids’ day family friendly events were few and far between. Overwhelmed, we focused on the the main exhibition floor and on The Block. In a nutshell, we shopped. A lot. Last year, there seemed to be a few more family events. However, finding a place to bring an overwhelmed kid proved difficult. Again, shopping, shopping, and more free swag. Continue reading NYCC Guide for Parents of Younger Kids

GeekMom Secret Origins: Our Weather Wizard, Patricia Vollmer

Boy, this post was a long time coming. I’ve been with GeekMom for 4 1/2 years and I’ve yet to summarize my geeky origin story for you…let’s remedy that, shall we?

I can think of numerous memories in my youth that I think contributed to my geekiness. Among my first memories is getting to see Star Wars in the theater with my parents in the late 1970s. I was a preschooler at the time, but remember, those were the days before the PG-13 rating, and there was a WIDE spectrum of what was appropriate for a PG movie back then. As a matter of fact, I went with my father to see all of the Star Wars original trilogy films in the theater.

Continue reading GeekMom Secret Origins: Our Weather Wizard, Patricia Vollmer

Games! ‘Paperback’ and ‘Five Tribes’

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Image By Rebecca Angel

One of my favorite things to do at a con is try new games. At ConnectiCon this year, my son and I played many and two stood out as the best: Paperback and Five Tribes.

Paperback

My friend Tim brought Paperback with him to play with our group. He said, “It’s a deck-building game…” and my shoulder’s slumped since I rarely like those kind of games,  “…with letters to make words.” And I brightened since I love word games!

First off, the design and artwork is retro-mid-20th-century-pulp-fiction cool. Players buy letters to build a deck to make words. Letters have special abilities, and your goal for length or type of word varies on those abilities to help you win. Making words grew more challenging as the game progressed and fewer cards were in play, but the strategy to actual win is based on points and gaining paperback cards, and watching how everyone else is doing. It moved along well, and kept everyone’s interest. I lost because I wasn’t paying attention to the other players, too focused on making interesting words. Highly recommend for ages 12 and up.

You can watch a video of game play:

Five Tribes

“Crossing into the Land of 1001 Nights, your caravan arrives at the fabled Sultanate of Naqala. The old sultan just died and control of Naqala is up for grabs! The oracles foretold of strangers who would maneuver the Five Tribes to gain influence over the legendary city-state. Will you fulfill the prophecy?  Invoke the old Djinns, move the Tribes into position at the right time and the Sultanate may become yours!”

I like that fantasy description introducing Five Tribesa board game with mancala-based movement. My son and I play-tested this with a big fan of the game, who had his pre-teen daughter with him. Although it took some explaining, once we got going, everyone had a good time.

The game is brightly colored with fantastic artwork and tactile-satisfying pieces. Each round, turn order is determined by bidding. Then each player moves meeples around the board to land on a space they can gain influence. Like many modern games, there are many strategies to win. My son focused on gaining most of the land and specific color meeples, the gamer’s daughter collected resources and slaves, and I took as many djinn cards as I could. My son won.

We played it again the next day with our regular group of Con attendees and it was more fun now that I knew what I was doing. (Still didn’t win…)

And here’s a video of game play:

My son and I know what we want for Christmas this year…

Disney on Ice! Celebrates ‘100 Years of Magic’ On Tour Now!

Finding Nemo Disney on Ice "100 Years of Magic" \ Image courtesy of Feld Entertainment
Finding Nemo from Disney on Ice “100 Years of Magic” \ Image courtesy of Feld Entertainment

Disney on Ice! is on tour this year with the 100 Years of Magic. With 100 years to cover, I’m excited to see the over 50 member cast bring fan favorite characters to life on ice. Feld Entertainment is promising to bring an long list of Disney favorites to the rink. In the past, I’ve seen the Disney Princesses, Frozen, and Toy Story brought center stage and will see the addition of Finding Nemo, the Lion King, and other Disney misfits.

With 100 years to cover, there is also an impressive list of dance numbers and songs for Feld to pick from and it will be interesting to see which ones they decided were the most influential for this show.

For tour dates and ticket prices, head over to Disney on Ice! and see when they are stopping by a rink near you.

Stay tuned to GeekMom for a full after-show review in September!

 

From Toddlers to Grandparents, a GoPro for the Entire Family – GoPro Hero4 Session

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

We’ve been a GoPro family for several years now. As my pack of boys head off for any adventure, from skiing the black diamond slopes an hour from our house to hiking mountain peaks with the family dog, they almost always grab a GoPro to take along. We also use our cameras for important events, like the day we adopted our shelter kitty.

A few days ago GoPro introduced a whole new kind of camera, the Hero4 Session. It’s still the same quality footage, but there are a few important changes. For one thing, it’s square. This makes it pretty adorable, and an easy photo op for the GoPro creator, Nick Woodman, as he holds it between his teeth like a big black ice cube. But the way its new shape changed the way I’d use it were not immediately evident to me.

After I received a review sample in the mail, the benefits became clear. Yes, it’s smaller and lighter than any other GoPro. That helps expand its uses (more on that in a bit). But the thing I immediately loved was that there was no need for a plastic case.20150720_145344

I’ve never been brave enough to use our GoPro cameras without the waterproof cases. There are too many things that can go wrong in the hands of rough and tumble teen boys. I couldn’t risk it. This not only affected the profile of the camera, but the audio quality.

When we attended Winter X Games, I found myself popping the case open in somewhat safe situations, so I could catch the cheers from the crowd. But for most of the day I felt more comfortable keeping the case closed, to keep my camera dry.

The new GoPro Session is fully waterproof (up to 33 feet) without a case. You can literally drop this little guy into a glass of water and film the ice cubes floating around. For those of you with little ones, this means you can have it rolling around in your diaper bag, toddler backpack, or even the kiddie pool, and not worry about getting it wet. Think of the fun footage you could get just by handing it to your toddler and having him roll it around in his hands, peer into it, and capture his view of the world. It’s literally like a wooden building block that happens to be filming.

I would imagine there are many science experiments that could be done with this camera, along with unique science fair projects.

It will be a new toy at the pool for any aged kids. It feels a bit weird to literally play catch with this tiny black cube, in the water or out, but the footage your kids can catch while not worrying about hurting their camera will be exciting to play with in the editing stages.

Here’s a little sample of what we came up with from the Water Day at the camp where I work. This was a half an hour of playing with filming (handing it around to kids and counselors), and about a half an hour of editing in GoPro Studio. It will be fun to see what I can make with more quantity of raw footage.

As small as the regular GoPro cameras are, there are still times you might be wishing for something even a bit smaller. It’s now here. My kids were immediately brainstorming about attaching it to a kite on a windy day. Or rigging it up on our cat, to see his view of the world as he stalks through the grass in our backyard. We’ve used the Fetch to attach our other GoPro to the dog, but finally the cat gets his turn.

Its size makes it easy to transport. You can literally carry it in your pocket. It comes with a housing that allows you to attach it to the other GoPro accessories (including the popular chesty), but it films just as easily when simply held in your hand (although be aware that it does pick up some extra shakiness if used without a case, so in many circumstances I’d pair it up with one of the many hand grips that are available).

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

I can imagine how fun it might be to pass it around the picnic table at the next family reunion, like a hard plastic toy block, having each person look into it as it passes through their hands. It would make some great heirloom footage as those faces change in the coming years.

I work at a large parks and recreation center. I took it to work and tossed it to a young camper, in the middle of their Water Fun Day. He filmed himself, then his friends, as they navigated the water balloon fights and rides on the slip and slide. The footage, with the bright blue sky behind those precious faces, turned out awesome.

On the same day, I tossed it to our gymnastics coach. Her students did flips on the balance beam and jumped into the foam pit. Then it moved on to the pool, where the swim coach had his students tumble through the water with it, taking video and time release shots. These kids have seen and used GoPro cameras in the past, but this little guy was just too fun to resist. Once they had a chance to hold it in their hands, and toss it around, they were convinced they needed one of their own.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

One of the main things I love about it is how easy it is to use. There is one big red button. You push it once, the camera starts filming. Hold it a second longer, it starts taking time release pictures. A small display lets you know which mode you’re in. When you are done filming, one more push of the red button and it’s off. This feature also makes the battery last a lot longer than in other GoPro cameras. That’s a huge plus for this busy mom.

By syncing it up with the cell phone app, you can see what’s being filmed as it’s being filmed. I was able to change settings easily on my phone and review the files as soon as they ended. By the time the swim team was passing by my desk on their way home with wet hair, I had pictures printed out to show them.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

There are exciting changes to the audio too. Our family videos, especially the ones on the ski slopes, were usually dominated by wind noise. Of course you can delete the audio and put music to your footage, but in a lot of cases, you want the audio to stay. I loved hearing the voices of the little campers as they passed around the Session on the wet sidewalk next to the slip and slide. The Session has two microphones. If it senses that one is distorted (like wind noise) it automatically switches to the other. This is a genius fix that I never saw coming.

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Photo: GoPro

Because it’s square, you can mount it in many more ways. There is a ball and joint mount that gives you 360 degrees of options. The camera recognizes if it’s upside down and flips the footage accordingly.

Even though my gang uses their GoPro cameras for sports, I’m very interested in how this product fits the family/mommy market. My first GoPro post was titled “Why You Need a GoPro in Your Diaper Bag”. After years of raising our four kiddos, I knew that there were thousands of options for the average family if they could see beyond the videos of ski flips and surfboards.

GoPro has been doing a great job of getting video samples out there, from a baby in a walker to that adorable dog on the beach who won’t let go of that stick. Just as important as knowing a GoPro will fit your family’s filming needs, I want them to be easy to use. Product development has continued to make changes that have me excited.

I’m a huge fan of the new Hero4 Silver that has a built in view finder. I know that the wide angle pretty much captures what I want, as my GoPro rep continues to remind me, but I am used to the feedback I get from my cell phone, and I’m spoiled with seeing what I’m filming/photographing. The Hero4 Silver version is a gem, in my book.

This is why I’m a bit surprised by how much I love the Session. I expected to not like that it’s too small for an LCD screen. But when paired with the app on my cell phone, I get the instant feedback and review capabilities that I want. Then the new options available, because of its small size, open up.

I have a house full of little people coming to visit this weekend. I have lots of new ideas for this camera that I plan to try on them. Add that to the ideas my older kids are brainstorming, and my desire to use it in some way with my prosthetic leg, and I feel a video packed post coming soon to GeekMom.com.

For now, I give this new edition a two thumbs up. It’s packed with new features I didn’t realize I wanted. I can’t wait to spend more time playing with these options, and seeing what new kinds of footage I can come up with. Stay tuned for the update next week.

Family-Friendly ConnectiCon

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My son and I enjoying the Con. Image By Rebecca Angel.

I have been attending ConnectiCon for over ten years now. When I first went, I enjoyed it, but felt that it was geared for people in their teens and twenties (I was cusping thirty then.) I had young geeky children, but I didn’t feel that this convention was for them. Besides, I liked my weekend away.

However, my kids would hear all about my adventures at this mystical world of geek fandom, and couldn’t wait to attend. I started taking my older nephew. When my daughter turned thirteen, I took her with me. Then my son was allowed to join in the nerdery and fun. And that’s when I started noticing families with young kids attending the Con. The con noticed this too and added some programming for kids. This year, there was a whole track just for the younger set. I love that.

Here are some pics of geeky families enjoying themselves and passing down the fun of fandom:

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Adopting Baby 2: Why Adoption?

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Photo by Sarah James

O turned two in March.  And, for me, the question of Baby 2 suddenly became an urgent one. I was an only child until my dad and stepmom welcomed my brother—when I was 15. Needless to say, we have a hybrid sister-aunt relationship. While I appreciate many of my only child traits, and love my not-so-little-anymore brother to death, I have always known that I wanted at least two children, relatively close in age.

Which brings us to the great Baby 2 debate. My husband doesn’t feel the same way. He loves his siblings and his large, blended family. But he thinks being an only child would have been A-ok too, and that O will be fine as long as we have close friends with kids. Oh yeah, and he is also a committed environmentalist, and feels that having another biological child would selfishly add to our family’s burden on the earth.

And let’s add to this discussion the difficulties of having O. I won’t take you through the details, but let’s just say it was a long process to even get pregnant, and his birth would qualify as a horror story.

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Photo by Sarah James

For us, the best compromise seems to be adoption. We’ll get to have a second child, O will get a sibling, we won’t have to ride the conception and birth roller coaster anymore, and my husband can feel better about our carbon footprint.

Except, adoption is a whole other roller coaster.

My mom and uncles were all adopted in the early ‘60s in closed adoptions that were typical at that time. All have had serious issues throughout their life related to that closedness—feelings of otherness, longing for biological brothers and sisters, health questions, etc. There is no way we would ever consider this type of adoption.

We are also liberal atheists and want to know that the birth mother was not forced to carry her/our child by religious or organizational biases. We knew we needed to choose an agency that provided equal counseling for all options.

There are only two agencies in the whole country that fit these criteria. One is in Vermont. Luckily for us, the other one is in the Pacific Northwest, with offices in Portland, Oregon and our hometown, Seattle, Washington.

We’re in the very early stages of this process. Over the next few months we’ll be making a budget to be able to afford this, putting together a family book for potential birth families to look at when choosing who will raise their child, completing a homestudy to give the birth family an idea of our home life, and going through counseling to prepare for all the vicissitudes of adoption. This is all just to enter the pool of waiting families.

I plan to continue updates on this story over the next few months and years as we enter the pool, wait to be chosen, navigate adoption planning with the birth family and finally, hopefully, finalize the placement of Baby 2. I hope you will follow our journey and chime in in the comments with your own experiences.

Play It: ‘Sushi Go!’

Sushi Go! \ Image Gamewright
Sushi Go! Image Gamewright.

Every Monday night, we have family night. It’s a time that is designated for family interaction that doesn’t include electronics. More often than not, we put in a movie and sit down to play a game. And while Monopoly is fine and Uno is great, playing them every Monday night was getting boring. I decided it was time to dish up something new. It was time for a little sushi.

Sushi Go! by Gamewright was recommended to me by a friend over at The Read Pile. Knowing my 9-year-old son like he does, my friend told me it would be a good intro card game before hitting up harder titles, like Munchkin.

Looking over Gamewright’s website, they say that the game is for ages 8 and up and reinforces the ideas of probability, strategic thinking, and visual discrimination.

As the name implies, each card has a type of sushi drawn in an overly adorable fashion and a designated point value.

Who's hungry for some Sushi? \ Image Gamewright
Who’s hungry for some Sushi? Image Gamewright.

In terms of setup, Sushi Go! is as simple as Uno and consists of three rounds.

To start the game, the dealer gives everyone their first set of cards (the number of cards is determined by how many people are playing). Once everyone has their hand, they look it over, take the card they feel is the most valuable, and put it face down in front of them. Next, everyone passes their hand off to the player to their right and you pull another card. This happens only as many times as there are players in the game, so that everyone has a chance at everyone’s first hand.

Once the cards have made a full round, you turn them over, reveal your choices, and the scorekeeper marks down everyone’s points (and in case you’re wondering, yes, there is an app for this).

This is where the strategy comes into play.

After you see the other players’ picks, you keep that in mind when the fresh set of cards is dealt out. Since some cards are only worth points if you collect two or more, you can choose your card based on either stopping someone from getting a combo or adding points to your own set.

Each round there are fewer cards given to each player. After three rounds, the idea is that everyone will be stuck with two or three cards (and those will more than likely be the not-so-great ones).

My husband and I played a few rounds before letting our son in on the fun because we wanted to make sure the game was what my friend cracked it up to be. We were surprised at how much fun we were having with just the two of us. When our son finally jumped in, he got the hang of it very quickly and did pretty well his first few games.

He liked how the three rounds go quick enough to keep his attention and fun enough that he was hungry for more.

My husband and I agree that it’s a nice “strategy intro” game that isn’t overbearing (like Dice Masters), but still involves a little bit of luck (like Uno). It’s also enjoyable to have a game in our arsenal that’s fun and only takes 15 minutes to play a full game of three rounds.

Much like Munchkin though, you lose something when playing with just two players.

To spice things up, my husband and I made a few house rules:
• Maki rolls get zero points (with two players, it can be far too easy to win the game on just Maki rolls).
• The person with the most pudding gets six points and the second player gets nothing (instead of the -6 points that the rules call for).
• The standard three rounds goes by fast for two players, so sometimes we go with as many as seven rounds.
• At the start of each round, each player picks their card to keep and then picks a second card to discard so that their opponent can’t use it to their advantage.

We designed these house rules to work with two players, but feel free to modify them to work with more.

For those wondering what the replay value is, it’s really good. It’s similar to Uno and as long as you shuffle the deck well, you will have a unique game every time. If you feel like it’s getting too easy or going too fast, get creative and make up your own house rules.

Even though Gamewright suggests this game for between two and five players, if you get inventive, you could buy a second game and I’m sure you could make it work for more people.

Gamewright recommends this game for ages 8 and up because it might be a simple and quick game to play, but the strategy element could frustrate some younger kids. Of course, you know your child best, so feel free to give it a shot if you think they can handle it.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

SpongeBob Comes Ashore for World Oceans Day!

SpongeBob The Movie: Sponge Out Of Water \ Image: Paramount Pictures
‘SpongeBob The Movie: Sponge Out Of Water’ \ Image: Paramount Pictures

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea and is going on a tour across the United States? SpongeBob SquarePants. Just in time to honor “World’s Oceans Day,” SpongeBob is touring the country to tell everyone about his latest movie coming to Blu-Ray 3D, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water. 

In addition to promoting his new movie, SpongeBob will also be handing out reusable tote bags and asking families to go plastic bag free for one year. And if you have the munchies while visiting, SpongeBob’s crew will be handing out tasty treats and other goodies.

Invision Paramount Sponge Bob \ Image Courtesy of Paramount Photo by Steve Boxall
Invision Paramount Sponge Bob \ Image Courtesy of Paramount Photo by Steve Boxall

If you’re interested in meeting up with SpongeBob and his alter ego “Invincibubble,” head over to one of these tour stops:

Miami
5/19 at Zoo Miami (12-4pm)

Tampa
5/21 at Lowry Park Zoo (9:30 am-12:30 pm)
5/21 The Florida Aquarium (1:00 pm-4:00 pm)

Atlanta
5/23 The Children’s Museum of Atlanta (11:00 am – 3:00 pm)
5/23 Atlanta Aquarium “Dive In Movie” event (7-10pm)

Houston
5/25 at Houston Aquarium (10:00 am-2:00 pm)

Dallas
5/27 at Dallas World Aquarium (10am-2pm)

Albuquerque
5/29 at Albuquerque Aquarium (10am-1pm)

Phoenix
5/31 at Location/time to be announced

Los Angeles
6/2 at Location/time to be announced

For more information check out the official website for Sponge Out Of Water and World Ocean’s Day!

A Letter to My Neurotypical Daughter

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Photo: Natania Barron.

We tried to go on a family walk today. You know how it is. Your dad, your brother, and the two of us. It’s been just you and me for a while now, but I thought the boys would like to come along… I keep thinking we’ll get it right one of these days.

But just like the last time, something triggered your brother and we ended up hiking up the hill on our own to get the car because he wouldn’t use his bike, and was screaming all sorts of terrible words. Words he uses a lot that someday you’ll get in trouble for using. Waking up the whole neighborhood. You just played with your Hello Kitty toys and sang to yourself like it was no big deal, and on we went.

You’re not even three yet and I’m talking to you like a teenager. I’m expecting things from you that are beyond your years, too. When I found out I was having a daughter, after six years being just your big brother’s mom, I burst into tears. It’s not that I worried you’d have autism, too—I didn’t actually know that’s what your brother had until after you were born—but I suddenly had this understanding that you would be like me. That you would experience life as a girl. A woman. I thought I was a feminist before you were born, but then I became a fierce lioness.

Your dad and I spend so much time worrying about your brother, fretting after him, taking him to appointments, and making the world around him safe that I worry we’re forgetting you. Or missing things. Or overlooking the fact that you see and experience all of this, and you don’t have answers, either. Well-meaning friends and family remind us of this sometimes, too. Which makes me fret even more. But this is our family. It’s just part of the entrance fee, I guess. They just want to make sure that we’re not losing you in the shuffle, I guess.

You ask me, “Why is he so LOUD?” “Why is he so MAD?” “Why does he hurt me?” Then say, “I love him…”

I expected you to share your brother’s characteristics—like him, you’re curious and funny, bright and musical. But I didn’t expect you to be so kind, so thoughtful. But, love, you’re so strong, too. You get right up when you’re pushed down, you move on when you hear an unkind word.

The world will say you’re the lucky one because you’re “neurotypical.” But they won’t understand that you’ll be different, too. You will be changed, every step of the way, because you are the closest person in the world to your big brother. You’ll understand him, maybe better than we even do. If your lives are kind, you’ll both outlive your dad and me, and you’ll just have each other. But you’re different because he’s different. And different isn’t bad, no matter what people tell you. Every step will make you stronger, and working to understand him and his challenges will make you a better person. It has made me one.

I never take your kindness for granted, nor your innate ability to trust me and to love me. Your concern, your gentleness… I wasn’t used to that in a kid. I’m a different mother to you than I am to him, and that can’t be helped. But as you sing along to Frozen with your ukulele and you give me that smile of mischief, I can’t help but think how you make all of this easier. We didn’t ask for a child with autism, but it’s like you’re his perfect compliment. You can learn so much from each other.

I hope you learn from your brother to question. To stand up for yourself even when the odds aren’t in your favor. I hope you get a little of his stubbornness—but not too much—and his ability to push boundaries. But wait until you’re past your teen years, maybe?

I already see him learning from you, becoming more imaginative, finding interest in the things he missed as a toddler. You’re teaching him more every day about patience and play and pretend, and it’s exhilarating to watch.

You have taught me to treasure each smile—from both of you—as frequent or infrequent as they might be. You’ve taught me to sing along to “Let it Go,” even if I worry about the high notes because, to you, it’s just like having Elsa in the flesh. You’ve taught me to love more and hug longer and try harder, because you’re watching everything I do, and you need me to be your mother, your teacher, and your sister sometimes… Thankfully, I had a little sister. I know how things work, even if I made some mistakes that time. I’m up for the challenge.

There are some difficult conversations in our future. There are some dark days. We’re working on it—your brother is making great progress. But there are days when I won’t have answers, but I’ll always be here to do my best hear you out. And if I tell you “I love you” one too many times, or if I cry my way through too many sappy movies, I hope you understand, at least in part, why it’s that way.

Happy World Read Aloud Day!

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Photograph: Talento Tec – Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City (Creative Commons License)

My son and I have fought beside Peter in the Battle of Narnia. We’ve experienced the wonder of walking through the wall of Platform 9 3/4 on our way to Hogwarts. We’ve saved Prydain multiple times, and melted the Wicked Witch of the West. And we did it all from the comfort of our own couch.

My son is almost 13 years old, and every single night since he was old enough to focus his eyes, we’ve read out loud together. Every night, without fail, whether we are traveling or sick, or it’s late. It’s our time to regroup from the day, to escape for a while, to snuggle on the couch, and just share a bit of time with one another.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised to find out, when he was about 10 or so, that we were one of the only families who did this with a kid over about 7. It had never even occurred to us to stop (I think my son would cry mutiny if we did).

Today is World Read Aloud Day. If you click on the link, you’ll find a lot of information about reading to your kids and a link to a free story book.  Reading to your kids, whether young or older, is simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. Plus, according to Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report: 5th Edition, 8 out of every 10 kids from ages 6-17 say that they love being read aloud to and want their parents to do it more.

Most parents read aloud to their kids before the age of 6, mostly to develop literacy and a love of reading. After that though, the percentage tapers off dramatically, even though the benefits are the same. I would argue, in fact, that reading together becomes even more important as kids get older. There are so many other things competing for their attention. What better way to show them both the importance of reading and spending time together as a family than having some story time together. In fact, the top reason cited in Scholastic’s study for kids wanting to read together with their parents is because it gives them a special time together.

So, what if you stopped reading to your child, but now want to start back up? What if you want some more bonding time with your moody teen? Well, it’s not always easy to start new habits. Start off by letting your kid choose what he or she wants to read. It can be anything. A novel, a comic book, a book about science. Most of the kids surveyed said they would like to read something of their choice or something funny. Don’t get frustrated if your kid doesn’t join you right away. Read to your partner, or your pet. But encourage your child to stay in the same room. For example, after dinner, set a family time where no one is allowed to hide out in their room. Everyone can do something in the living room as long as it doesn’t disrupt the reading (like, no television). Again, this might not be easy with some kids. Teens are mysterious and complicated creatures. They want to spend time with their families but they want to do it on their terms and they can feel embarrassed about taking the first steps to getting closer to their families. The want independence, but don’t want to break too far away. Give them lots of space and choice in the matter. Let them pick the book out, and don’t make them read to you unless they want to. Just read out loud to them so they feel welcome and comfortable, and eventually they might want to read to you.

What if you feel like you aren’t good at reading out loud? Just do it. You’ll get better the more you practice, and no one is grading you on your performance. It’s a fun bonding time for everyone. You’ll make mistakes. Your kids will let you know when you missed a word. It’s OK. Just laugh at the mistakes, compliment your kid on being such a good reader that he caught a missing word, and enjoy your family time together.

Happy reading, everyone!

Goals, Part 2: The Big Picture

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image24962539
Photo: JennBang, used with permission

Last week, I talked a little about setting realistic goals. But what if you are already doing those things? What if you have the most realistic goals ever, that should be attainable one step at a time, only… you just never get there?

Well, there is one piece missing. And it’s kind of a doozy.

One area of life alone can’t be changed—you have to look at things as a whole, and see how everything fits together. You can’t set goals that will completely conflict with other areas of your life. I can’t both write every available second AND give my son an environment for a successful year AND become a domestic goddess AND become a health nut. I could follow all my other rules about goal setting and still have completely unrealistic resolutions. The missing piece is:

Look at your whole life, not just the bits you want to change. Last year, I was pleased with what I accomplished. I really got my writing life on the go again, I got out of a pretty nasty bout of depression, and I feel like a real person. That is good, and that’s what I wanted to accomplish. This year, however, I see that we have to keep a sense of balance about things. I could easily accomplish a hefty writing goal, but everything else would fall to pieces. That’s not good. Then I’ll have to spend the next year trying to fix my family or my house, or whatever else fell to the wayside this year. My writing will fall behind then, and a vicious cycle will begin. So, here is how I do things to ensure that I have balance and that I am actively involved in improving the things that are the most important to me.

1. List the top three to five things that are the most important. This does not mean list the five things you want to change. This means simply the five things you always want to stay on top of, the five things you need to be happy and healthy. My top five are: 1) Family; 2) Arts; 3) Writing Career; 4) Health; 5) Finances. That is a lot. Do not list more than five things, because you will never be able to get to all of that, even if your life were perfect. You would be stretched so thin that you wouldn’t be able to enjoy any of it!

2. Under each of your three to five, list a few tangible, visible, or measurable things you need (goals) in order to be happy with these things. For example, under family you might have: 1) environment; 2) relationships; 3) simplicity. Under writing career, one might have 1) craft; 2) business skills; 3) production; 4) community.

3. Under each of these goals, write one or two ways you can improve on these things this year. This is where you make your resolutions. And remember from my previous post—these resolutions must be measurable in some way, or they won’t work. They also need to be under your control. I can’t make other people do things in order to attain my goal. I can behave in a way which might inspire them to do something, but I can’t count on their action at all. The other thing is, make sure you don’t overdo it. Every single one of the things you listed in the last step does not need to be improved upon this year. In fact, backing up to step 1, when I listed “arts,” all I am going to be doing this year in regards to that is simply practicing my drawing when I can, and when I do make something, I will post it somewhere in order to get some confidence in that area. Look at the things that are the most vital to you, and take things one step at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Under family, maybe you want to work on one aspect at a time. So make a plan to work on simplicity first (if that’s what moves you), and only work on that list for a month or three. Then move to relationships, or whatever else works for you.

I find that working in quarters/three months works really well, because it’s long enough to make a habit of something, and then you can move on to a next step while maintaining what you’ve accomplished in that one. Slow steps make for lasting change. Even though you could list a hundred things you can do to improve one area of your life this year, focus on two or three things at the most. Write only those two to three things on this list. If you accomplish those things early, hey, you can write down two more things and do that. But if you write down five things, how are you going to feel when you don’t make it to all of them? Or if you start doing them and can’t finish? It’s always better to start small.

Of course, there are people who need a shove, who need a larger goal to keep them motivated. This is really where planning things in quarters helps. Start with your two things. Aim to complete them in a quarter (or another unit of time). Have a bigger goal in mind, maybe, to be complete at the end of the year, but really make sure you have it divided up into steps that are measurable. (Example: losing weight: Want to lose 40 pounds this year? Try eating healthier a tiny bit at a time, then add exercise after a month, then eat a little more healthier [be specific], add another exercise routine after another month, etc.) At the end of your months or quarter, check and make sure things are still realistic.

New year’s resolutions are great, but remember that you can change your life and make goals at any point in the year. If you have already fallen off your new path, make some changes and climb back on. You can do this!

Setting Goals and Making Resolutions. Realistically, This Time

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-images-goals-concept-image25458594
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!