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’

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.


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.

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

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?

2015-04-18 18.33.06
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.

2013-02-20 22.02.37
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:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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

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.


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.


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

http://www.flickr.com/photos/evilerin/ / CC BY 2.0
http://www.flickr.com/photos/evilerin/ / CC BY 2.0

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!

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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!

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…

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.

Image By Rebecca Angel
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…

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.

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:

Image By Rebecca Angel
Image By Rebecca Angel
Image By Rebecca Angel

I met other geeky families attending:

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!