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…

Math: All You Need Is Games

Image By Rebecca Angel

I was the kid that had to stay in at recess in second grade. Was I bad? No, I needed extra help in subtraction. Sister Brendan, a very nice old lady (who gave me snacks too) sat patiently with me each day to get my wee brain to learn the tools of taking away in an equation. I was a smart kid, and I could memorize how to do it, but I didn’t understand why and that made me second guess myself and screw up on tests. Eventually I got the concept, but I also learned another lesson: Math isn’t fun.

But it can be! My teen son loves to play board and card games with his young cousin. They both homeschool, so I suggested he come up with a math curriculum for her that incorporated games we already owned to teach the concepts she was supposed to learn in second grade (according to Common Core for a reference). Her parents thought that was great, and when she took a simple test at the end of the year, she aced it. No boring textbooks and worksheets!

Unlike most math curricula that teach one concept at a time, games utilize several skills at once in a fun atmosphere that keeps the challenges from getting overwhelming. Basically, instead of learning to do math on its own, the student is using math to play the game.

Granny Apples is a good example of multiple math skills at once. It is a simple game of tossing wooden apples on the ground and counting the different types to find a total score. However, it involves fractions, addition, subtraction, sets, and is all mental math in a visual setting. There is no writing involved, which is perfect for learning concepts without tripping over the writing/reading challenges. It is a fast game with tactile satisfaction with smooth wooden objects.

Bakugan is perfect for those writing/reading challenges, and so fun that kids will not care. Each sphere is tossed into a ring and pops open to reveal a monster. Each monster has a number printed on it for its “battle score.” But these scores are up to triple digits. The student must keep track of all the digits, keep their columns neat, and continually add and subtract to figure out if they win the battles.

Polyhedron Origami is not a game, but the best way to teach geometry of three dimensional shapes—by building them with paper. It is not difficult, but requires attention to detail, with a satisfying ending of something beautiful with math. Using this method, even the youngest students can make truncated octohedrons, and know what that means!

Phase 10 Card Game is all about sets, patterns, and reasoning.

Could there be a more entertaining way to learn graphing skills than Battleship?

The top half of the Yahtzee sheet is a fun introduction to multiplication. Rolling dice, counting, and writing. Over time, students will count the dice faster and faster based on the visual sets of dots on each die. This is learning sets and geometric reasoning for multiplication skills. Sounds complicated, but in this game, it’s just fun.

Games like Cathedral Chess, TangoesMancala, and Connect 4 are ways to teach spatial reasoning, patterns, shapes, strategy, structure, reasoning, and mental acuity. They range in complexity, but are able to be played by children as young as five in simple formats.

Check out some other posts about math games here and here and here and here.

What games does your family play that teach math concepts?

Lessons Learned From SciFi and Comic Book Conventions

Let’s cosplay! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

I’ve been attending conventions in costume for five years now. I’ve had a lot of fun and I’ve also learned quite a few lessons.

Don’t wait till the night before to plan your costumes.
Some costumes take from a few months to a year to complete. Start planning your costumes way in advance so you have it all done in time with no stress the night before.

Focus on one build at a time. 
Focus on completing one costume before starting on another. If you start looking for next year’s ideas now, you won’t get this year’s build done. Give yourself time after the convention to think about what you want to do next year, and then do it.

Put your entire costume on at least a week before the convention.
Don’t try out a new costume at a convention without wearing it for a few hours first. This allows you to work out any kinks and make any adjustments.

Call your local comic book store and see if they will let you make an appearance in costume for a few hours to get a feel for everything. This will also help you get used to people looking at you and asking for pictures.

Practice makes for perfect pictures.
Every costume has its limits when it comes to mobility and posing. Try your poses out in front of a mirror or with someone taking your picture. This will allow you to become comfortable in the poses and be quick to strike one when a photographer asks for a photo.

Set a budget and bring cash.
Not all the vendors take credit cards because most conventions make them pay to use the internet in the vendor room. Take enough cash to cover what you must have and then use credit for the little things.

Be aware of your surroundings and who is pointing a camera at you.
While cosplaying as Aayla Secura at MegaCon in 2013, a fellow 501st Legion member was helping me to adjust the top half of my costume. In her words, “It looked like I had been punched in the chest.” Where she had her hand would have looked strange if you didn’t know I had a shirt on under where her hand was. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash go off and a photographer with his camera pointed in my direction. I’m not sure if I was the intended subject or not, but either way, I just allowed myself to be photographed in a compromising way. If you need to make costume adjustments, the best place to go is in the bathroom or behind a curtain of a booth. If neither of those are easily accessible, get a group of friends to surround you while you make the adjustment.

Don’t just hang out in the vendor room or at the panels.
Past years I’ve noticed that I don’t have as many pictures of my cosplay circling the internet as I had hoped. This was because I spent 99% of my time in the vendor room and not in the hallways where all the photographers hung out.

At all the conventions I’ve been to, you don’t have to pay to enter the convention center itself. You only need to pay if you’re going to a panel or into the vendor room. A lot of photographers would rather just spend their time walking the halls for cosplayers rather than in a crowded vendor room with limited lighting and space. After a photographer takes your picture, make sure to ask for a business card to find them later.

Do not be afraid to defend yourself or say no!
This is a big one. Last year, I was in my Robyn Hood (Zenescope) cosplay and a guy walked up and not only looked down my shirt the entire time he was talking to me, but also decided it was appropriate to play with my belly button ring, while asking if it was real. You’d think I’d have slapped the stupid look on his face, but instead I was too stunned to do anything. I looked at him as a “special kind of stupid” and moved on, while wondering how I should have handled that situation without overreacting.

If you are not sure you have the voice to tell someone to stop something, have friends that are not afraid to speak up and tell people to back off.

Go with a friend.
Having a friend nearby not only makes the convention that much more fun, but keeps you that much safer if something happens.

True story – I made the mistake of wandering a convention by myself in Aayla Secura and after four hours, my head was hurting so bad, it felt like Iron Man and the Hulk were going at it in my skull. It took me over 45-minutes to walk a 20-minute span of space to my hotel room because I was stopped so many times trying to escape. If I had listened to my friends at the 501st Legion booth and just stayed by them, I would have gotten out of pain much quicker and with less attention.

Have a “non-costumed” day
I love wearing my costumes, but they can get tiring while trying to enjoy the vendors room and going through the massive amount of comics on sale. I give myself one day of the convention to relax in regular clothes and scope out the sales and take pictures of other cosplayers. I usually make this the last day of the convention since most people wear their hardcore costumes on Saturday. I also have an “easy day” costume for Friday’s when I’m getting the layout of the land.

Hydrate the night before and the day of (and I don’t mean with alcohol or sugary drinks).  
Don’t think that just because you’re indoors that you don’t need to hydrate as often. Drink only water the day before you get dressed up and drink only water or the occasional sports drink the day of. This will keep you feeling great while looking awesome in your build.

Have fun and be safe!
Regardless if you bought your costume, are going in casuals, or worked for months to get that perfect look, have fun with it! Take pictures, talk to other convention-goers, and let your geek flag fly.

Remember! It doesn’t matter why you are at the convention or how you got there. The most important part is to have fun and be safe while doing it. Use your common sense when walking to and from your car or hotel and have a meet-up spot in case you get separated from your group. If you have kids with you, write your contact information on their wrist so they can show security if you get lost from them.

Do you have any advice for convention attendees? Let’s hear it in the comments!

This Saturday Is Ice Cream For Breakfast Day!

Ice Cream Cutie By Lilianna Maxwell

Celebrate Ice-Cream For Breakfast Day this Saturday, February 7th. What? You’ve never heard of this splendid holiday? Gasp! Well, now you do and there’s no excuse. And your kids will love you for it. Here are some resources.

For recipes and random love of the creamy stuff, The Ice Cream Geek has great ideas.

You know you tried this as a kid yourself. Astronaut ice-cream.

Did you know the ice-cream scoop was reinvented?

Go all out and get some Superhero Ice Cream Treat Tubs to make it even more fun.

The Hulk ice-cream sandwiches are cool. They use matcha (green tea) powder, so this tea geek gives them a big thumbs up!

Several ice-cream parlors around the country use this day to raise money for children’s charities. Check if there’s one near you: Make your kids happy and do good in your community. What’s not to like?

Enjoy your sweet holiday :)

Elevenses: Tea With Strategy

Photo on 11-26-14 at 7.56 PM #3
Image by Rebecca Angel.

“You are a respectable 1920’s socialite striving to serve the finest morning tea!”

Sounds like a light, silly card game, right? Nope. This is a diverting strategy game by David Harding that just happens to be clothed in pale pink, with sugar cubes as tokens. It is distributed by AdventureLand Games. I purchased Elevenses because I’m a wee bit obsessed with tea and gaming, and wondered if the twain could meet? Why, yes they can!

My son, my mom, and I played first. It was an easy setup with clear rules for a quick start. I enjoy games where I can learn as I go—no studying tombs of rule literature just to begin. My son found it annoying that all of the pronouns in the rules are feminine. Ha. Welcome to how I feel as a female gamer All. The. Time.

The rules state that the person who most recently sipped tea is first. With my mug still in my hand, I started us off. We each chose a colored deck of cards. The artwork by TJ Lubrano is stylin’ and elegant, depicting various essentials for an 11 o’clock spot of tea and snacks. Unfortunately, the back of these cards have eye-straining stripes with blunt colors that don’t match at all. What happened there?

After choosing our deck, we shuffled and placed our eight-card “spread” face down in front of us. The rest of the cards were held in our hands, called the “kitchen.” We then proceeded to play our kitchen cards, following directions right on the cards as our actions, or rearranging our cards for later actions. Some of the actions are being able to peek at your spread, exchange cards with other players, take extra rearranging chances, etc. Each card played has a point value (the number of tea spoons depicted on the cards). It’s a race to have the most points face up in your spread, then play the “elevenses” card to end the round, and gather up sugar cube points.

This isn’t easy. Our first round was slow as we began to understand the various strategies to stay ahead long enough to play the ending card. The second round was more conniving towards each other, and we finished the game by the third round with some clever moves. My son and I played a two-person game later and it was fine, but not as fun as with three. We hope to play with four people.

The game comes with a mini-expansion: Extra guests come to tea bringing extra points with them if you can match up your face-up spread to what they like most on the various cards.  We played with them, and it was more interesting to have that extra challenge.

The cards all have sayings on them to bring some proper fun, while trouncing your opponent. (“Setting the table correctly is of utmost importance!”) Sipping my tea while playing added to the experience, of course. It is recommended for ages 10 and up, though I think younger gamers could get a handle on it pretty quick. I recommend Elevenses for anyone who enjoys a fast-start strategy game where fancy hats are optional, but will make it so much more fun.

Unbored Games: Serious Fun for Everyone

Photo on 11-19-14 at 9.39 PM
Image By Rebecca Angel

My 8-year-old niece and I were sitting for a few minutes waiting for her sister to finish up. Before she could sigh in frustration, I handed her Unbored Games and told her to open it to a random page. Now this was taking a huge chance. The book is chock full of instructions, illustrations, and easy to follow guides to over 70 games, but they aren’t all indoors, under ten minutes, and for two people to play. Luckily, she opened up to a page detailing a few hand-clapping games. Perfect! We learned some silly rhymes, and tried to keep a rhythm together with snaps and claps. By the time her sister was ready, we were both laughing.

Unbored Games by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen begins with a rundown of why games are important. That’s right! Games aren’t just something to fill the time, or only do at parties. All their reasons are legit, but I like these three the best:

“Gaming encourages you to develop skills and expertise, by practicing something over and over. More importantly, gaming challenges you to teach yourself how to do something.”

“Gaming teaches you that your environment is modifiable. You realize that everyday life is a puzzle to be solved: the more difficult the obstacles, the more fun you’ll have figuring out how to beat them.”

“Jumping in and making mistakes is the fastest way to learn how to play a game. Not worrying about being perfect, and just trying your best, is known as ‘fun failure.'”

The book is divided into four chapters:

PWNAGE: This is what most people think of as games, like board games, back-of-the-classroom fun, and dice and card rules. But there are also “secret rules” games, app recommendations, and more.

HOMEGAMES: Whether for a simple family night or a big party, there is entertainment in these pages. There are even games for the car. I especially enjoyed the section on croquet. My family plays croquet often (really!), and the variations mentioned look intriguing.

GAME CHANGERS: These aren’t your typical ones. Online activities to fight climate change, “guerrilla kindness” in your neighborhood, and a list of cooperative board games to mention a few. I really liked the outdoor, big group game “Survive! Predator and Prey.”

ADVENTURE GAMES: The final section has plenty of ideas to create your own fun indoors or out. There are photographic instructions on how to build a rocket, for example. And a whole section on LARP (Live Action Role Playing).

Within each chapter of the book are short histories of gaming, and suggestions on how to modify, vary, or hack any and all the games presented. The illustrations are in a likable, quirky style, and all the instructions are clear.

Regardless of age, there are games in the book that will interest anyone. Whether you work with kids, have kids, or are a kid yourself, I recommend Unbored Games!

Geekmom received a copy for review purposes.

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.

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Macbeth

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Image by First Second.

“I like how it got all the plot points across, but kept it kid-friendly.”

This was my son’s comment after reading The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth by Ian Lendler and Zack Giallongo. He recently took a Shakespeare course, and Macbeth was one of the plays studied, so I was curious about his take on this graphic novel. My son gave it a thumbs up.

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents Macbeth is a First Second offering for this fall that will appeal to Shakespeare fans of all ages, but especially the younger set just meeting the Bard. This version is full of animals, food, and humor.

The story takes place in a zoo, where the animals put on shows for each other after the human crowds go home. The audience is as much fun as the cast, with silly-to-witty commentary throughout. I particularly liked the little aside from the vultures with their opera glasses:

“Ooh! I love the witches look!”
“They say warts are the new black.”

Macbeth is played by a lion who thinks he loves food more than anything until he meets the witches, and realizes he’s really hungry for power! However, he would have to eat the king to become king himself. He talks to his wife, Lady Macbeth the leopard (out damn spot… hee-hee!), who hands him a cookbook, “100 Ways To Cook A King,” suggesting they saute in lemon-butter sauce.

“But still, Macbeth refused. Eating someone just didn’t seem polite.”

He finally relents and eats the king: “What follows was horrible and gruesome and definitely the best scene in the whole play…” But of course, we don’t see it because the elephant shows up right then to see the play and blocks the whole stage.

And so the silliness continues in this amusing version of classic theater. The artwork bounds through the pages, with the dialogue and narration clear, but with a kid-friendly twist. Like the best animated movies, the jokes are on a couple of levels, so parents reading this to their children will find it just as fun.

The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth comes out the end of this month, recommended for ages seven and up. Check it out!

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

The 2015 VW Golf GTI: The Hot Little Car That’s Big Fun

Image: Nicole Wakelin

I learned how to drive a stick, or manual transmission, back when I was in college. It was after someone totaled my car and I was buying a new one on a budget. I saved $500 going with a manual so I learned, on my brand new 1991 Jetta GL, and the car lived to tell the tale. When I got behind the wheel of the new 2015 VW Golf GTI I was reminded of why everyone should learn how to drive a stick. The answer is one word and that word is fun.

Now, I’m not going to say the actual learning bit is fun. That’s kind of terrifying as you try not to roll back on hills, and embarrassing as you stall in front of your friends, but it is so worth it. It’s worth it so you can get behind the wheel of a car like the VV Golf with a manual transmission and see just how much fun it can be to drive. That’s exactly what I got to do at this year’s Volkswagen full-line drive.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

It’s available as a 6-speed automatic, but, really, if you’re going for a hot little turbocharged hatchback with 210 horsepower, then you need the 6-speed manual because that’s where the fun lives. It’s right there, in that little knob that looks like a dimpled golf ball (cute, Volkswagen) and you hold it in the palm of your hand.

If you know how to drive a manual transmission, then you totally get me. There is something empowering about revving an engine hard, taking it up to that redline, and then shifting gears. The car doesn’t do the work for you, deciding when it thinks you should shift as if it knows better. You do the work for yourself and in the Golf GTI it’s work that will make you all kinds of happy.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

The thing is, in a car like the Golf GTI, it’s not fair to call it work because it’s just too darn fun. Some manuals are difficult, with finicky shifts and touchy pedals, but not this one. Within just a few minutes I was cruising the winding roads of Virginia with my driving partner, Julia Coney of All About The Pretty.

Both of us were in love with our bright red Golf GTI. This is the sport-tuned version of the Golf and it loves to be driven. We also thoroughly enjoyed our time in Virginia and The Salamander Resort which fellow blogger Carissa Rogers fell in love with during the trip.

I say “our” Golf GTI because we both wanted to drive it home. In fact, Julia loved it so much she was seriously considering buying one when the program was over! I took a different approach and decided to see how seriously they took that VW commercial where the guy licks the handle of the VW he wants so no one else snags it from the lot. Sadly, it did not make the car mine.

You’ll get some stellar fuel efficiency while you’re having fun since the Golf’s 2.0-liter inline four cylinder is not thirsty. Its 25 city/34 highway EPA estimates will have you driving past the pump more often than you stop.

Not only will it save you money at the pump, it won’t break the bank with its $24,995 starting price. This includes a leather-wrapped, multi-function sport steering wheel, 18″ Austin alloy wheels, 5.8″ color display touchscreen, Bluetooth, and LED fog lights. If you want it completely tricked out, it can still be yours for under $30K.

Image: Nicole Wakelin

Driving shouldn’t just be about getting from point A to point B. I know, a lot of the time that’s all it is when we’re rushing from one thing to another, or stuck in rush hour traffic. Driving isn’t so fun then, but the right car can make dull driving bearable, and good driving absolutely joyous.

And that’s what the VW Golf GTI is all about. It brings the joy to driving. If ever there was a car that was made to be a manual, this is that car. This hot little hatchback looks good, is comfortable, handles beautifully, and on a warm summer day with the sunroof wide open, it’ll make you want to keep driving until you run out of road.

Volkswagen covered my expenses to attend this event.

Cosplay, Conformity, and Funky Tights

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Rebecca Angel and nieces with their tights! Image by Rebecca Angel

I recently attended a local con and thought about cosplaying, but ultimately rejected the idea because the attendees were mostly college-age, and I felt…awkward. I’m stepping towards forty. Maybe if my daughter had joined me, but she wasn’t feeling it (despite having an adorable hand-made Totoro costume.)

When I first got into the fandom scene, I was a young mom excited to find a group of people just as geeky as I was, and my kids were happy to go along for the ride. My first time cosplaying was with a Yoruichi outfit my own mother helped me create. I had such a good time posing for pictures and hugging other Bleach characters I met. I was proud of the outfit, I looked good, and was part of something bigger than ordinary life. Even if just for the day.

Something changed as we all got older, and I’m still trying to figure it out. When my kids became teenagers, I tried to balance not embarrassing them with modeling the behavior to always be yourself. Is there an age when cosplay is not appropriate? Or just not visually appealing? Does this have to do with being conscious about getting older in a young fan scene, or about my body not looking like a magazine cover?

I admire the women who couldn’t care less, and let it all hang out, but I’m not one of them. But do I want to be? What cosplay would I feel comfortable with? And what does my “normal” clothing say about me?

Several years ago, a friend of mine got me an interview at her work. She bluntly stated what kind of clothes I should wear, instead of the usual jeans and anime t-shirt. Although I had been planning on dressing “nicer,” I was annoyed that I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. Another geek friend advised me to think of it as a costume for a role. That made it more fun. And I got the job.

All of us dress in costume to fit in, or stand out, depending on what role we are playing. Looking at billboards, watching TV, and reading magazines tells us what costume is expected. That’s why I find it ridiculous when regular folks laugh or put down cosplayers. When I really think about it, I’ve always been cosplaying.

Before my late teens, I wore what my mom bought for me because it fit and was usually clean. She liked the “Upper Middle Class Child” look. Then senior year in high school I realized that I didn’t have much time left to exercise my “get out of normal free” card that society gives teenagers. I went somewhat goth since that was the mode of dress at the dance clubs I frequented in the early ’90s. Showing a lot of skin was also acceptable. It wasn’t so much rebellion as conforming to a different group.

Suddenly I was a teen mom, and tried to fit in with other moms by looking like them: mono-tone nursing shirts, flower dresses, sensible shoes. Yet another costume. Amusingly, it was my mom that visited and dragged me shopping to buy a couple of pairs of pants that were form fitting, stating that I was young and pretty and should show it off! I wore them when I started performing at open mics. The “Sexy Musician” role.

A few years after that I attended my first con and felt so BORING. I realized I had some more interesting clothing I could wear, and still be on the tamer side of this crowd. The next con I had fun with weird outfits. The following year was my Yoruichi cosplay. Then a steampunk year. Always something different from my everyday.

Except recently. Maybe I’m having an identity crisis, and if I don’t know what role I’m playing, how do I know what costume to wear? I’m talking about both at cons and in everyday life. For the first time, I want to express who I really am, not dress up just to fit in. But what does that mean?

Looking back over the years of costumes, the only common thread is tights: My favorite part of being goth was the fishnets and lacy stockings I found to wear with skirts and ripped jeans. I fell in love with Hanna Andersson‘s bright striped wool tights while doing the “mom” role (they don’t sell adult tights anymore—darn). I have purchased a dozen or so funky tights from a shop in Penn Station, NYC, that I wear at cons, on stage as a musician, and on happy days. :)

This past Halloween, my older sister decided she wanted to be She-Ra Princess of Power, and our mother created a fantastic costume for her. I am toying with the idea of borrowing it to wear at ConnectiCon over the summer. Am I just conforming again? Only older people who grew up with ’80s cartoons will even recognize me. I like that thought. I’m not trying to fit in with the younger crowd; I’m having fun with childhood memories. Both my kids told me they really don’t care either way. (And my daughter said she might break out her Totoro…)

Or maybe I’ll just wear my favorite funky tights.

Small Cons vs Big Cons

Rebecca in a blue wig playing Kung-Fu with Ceili Conway (home-made Jack Frost cosplay!) Image By Karen Conway
Rebecca playing Kung-Fu with Ceili Conway (home-made Jack Frost cosplay!). Image By Karen Conway.

I was introduced to geek conventions with a small con in my home city called Albacon. It hosted maybe one hundred people? I played some games, listened to fantasy authors, and watched anime with a friend for a day. As a parent with two early elementary aged children, it was a wonderful escape.

“That was fun!” I enthused. My friend shook his head.

“No. No. You have to come to ConnectiCon.”

So I accompanied my friend that summer to ConnectiCon. Ah. I understood why my friend had not been impressed with the other one. ConnectiCon, a fan-run convention, had a few thousand people (now they have close to 10,000), many dressed in elaborate cosplay, tons of panels on such a variety of topics, famous guests, soooo much anime, and way more than I could take in. As someone new to being a geek, and an older woman with kids, I felt somewhat out of place. But I was intrigued by this culture, started getting into it, and went back year after year. Eventually I brought my kids when they were teenagers. Love it.

I’ve also been to NY ComicCon, Arisia, and PAX East. Some big conventions around here.

And I’ve enjoyed myself at Pi-Con, “The Friendliest Little Convention in the New England,” as well as subsequent years at AlbaCon.

A couple of weeks ago, my kids and I tried out GeneriCon, another small geek convention close by. We played games with friends we knew (Kung-Fu!), watched some anime (Angel Beats), attended panels (Bad Anime by ConArtists was brilliant), admired artwork, participated in Iron Cosplay (10 minutes to put together a costume on a random theme with random materials), and generally had a good time.

I love the energy of big cons: famous names, rows and rows of cool art, crazy panels with loud crowds, big stage cosplay events, jammed-packed late-night dancing, test playing new games, and the incredible realization that THERE ARE SO MANY GEEKS OUT THERE! I remember describing NY ComiCon to someone, “If you took the entire population of Albany, turned them into geeks, and threw them together in one building—that’s what it’s like.”

At smaller cons: Cheap tickets. No lines for the bathrooms. No lines to get into anything! Plus, keeping track of my kids was darn easy in a small space. There’s also something else: getting to know the geeks in your community. At GeneriCon, I kept bumping into people I knew from other walks of life. They didn’t seem surprised to see me there (I do write for GeekMom) but I didn’t know THEY WERE GEEKS TOO!

I’m a fan of cons, and I’ve had good and bad experiences at large and small ones. What are your experiences? Do you like larger or smaller exclusively?

Russian Caravan Fantasy

Image By Lilianna Maxwell
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

I fondly remember being with my nephew, sitting around a campfire under the stars on a Russian plain with colorful people singing songs, sipping dark tea…

…in our imaginations, of course. We were actually sitting in a comfortable booth at a local tea shop inhaling the deep intoxication of Russian Caravan tea.

My nephew is an adult, and one of my favorite people to hang out with. We both find it all too easy to let reality become a backdrop to more exciting pursuits that exist in our minds. Together, we can get carried away. One day, the smell of smokey tea took us to another dimension.

It all started innocently enough: my kids had an event far from home, and I decided I would hang out in the little town of Ballston Spa while waiting. I asked my nephew if he was free to keep me company for the afternoon. He was, we dropped the kids off, and parked the car near a little stream.

There was a splash and we jumped.  Something swam in the water, but we couldn’t make it out.

“A fish?”




We yelled and ran away into the parking lot of an old, crumbling, brick factory. Exploring the outside with rusted doors, strange windows, and odd metal lying about made my nephew think of post-apocalyptic video games. The more he described what could be lurking, the more jittery we became. A siren wailed and we freaked and bolting across the street into a small bowling alley.

Unfortunately, he said there is always a bowling alley in zombie games. We didn’t last long with suspicious looks from the locals. Back on the sidewalk, my nephew and I continued our search for a safe haven from impending doom, and found The Whistling Kettle. Cute, warm shops apparently don’t fit into shooting games, so our imaginations took a pleasant turn into the world of tea.

It was a busy place and we wouldn’t be seated for a bit. They had a sniffing bar with dozens of little jars to smell their vast selection. We opened them, inhaled, had strong opinions, comparing and exclaiming over the variety. And then I found Russian Caravan. It hit my nose like a movie trailer, encompassing my attention.

“Peter, check this one out…it’s…it’s like a…”

“Whoa. I’m suddenly around a campfire!”


We grinned and couldn’t stop taking strong whiffs, happy drug addicts. Finally seated, we ordered a pot of the stuff. Strong! Smokey! In the words of my dad, “It’ll put hair on your chest!” Every sip added to our excitement and the shop faded into a Russian night sky, campfire smoke around us and our fellow travelers.

When was the last time you spent time changing the real world into something from your imagination? Were you six? I highly recommend you try it again. It’s better than a book, movie, or video game, especially when shared with someone equally willing to go along for the ride.

Grab a friend, spouse, kids, and take a whiff of something new, floating into your own collective fantasy escape.

Geeky Fun with 100 Ghosts: A Gallery of Harmless Haunts

100 Ghosts \ Images: Quirk Books
100 Ghosts \ Images: Quirk Books

Initially, I saw 100 Ghosts: A Gallery of Harmless Haunts by Doogie Horner as simply another Halloween-themed coffee table book. However, once I started flipping through it, I realized: this is more than a mere coffee table book…it’s a costume reference library!

After all, ghosts are not only synonymous with Halloween, they are the most simple of costumes, gentle on both the creator and the budget, so that anyone can make one!

Not all the ghosts in the book are possible costumes but many are and with 100 pictures–including some extraordinarily geeky options (phantasmic Fantastic Four, anyone?)–there is bound to be a beloved bogey or apt apparition for everyone in the family. Personally, I’d go with spectral Harry Potter. He looks easy and recognizable.

I’m not the only one jumping on the geeky ghost wagon! Check out these great images of other GeekMom’s geeky ghostly creations!

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100 Ghosts: A Gallery of Harmless Haunts is available on Amazon for $8.99 and is reading fun for the whole family.

Disclaimer: GeekMom was given a review sample

Learning Statistics With Tea

Image By Lilianna Maxwell
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

According to the results of a survey, 100% of people drink tea. What kind of people? Do they drink anything else? Does herbal tea count?

A few years ago, my kids learned about surveys: how they are made, distributed, results calculated, statistics, etc. We made our own to distribute to family and friends, getting twenty five kids and adults to participate. It was about tea.

Every part was a learning experience into the world of polling and statistics, which makes for informed citizens. Ever since our tea survey, my kids take “according to polls,” with a grain of salt. What are your kids into? Have them survey their family and friends. Tally the results. Make colorful graphs. Talk about the shortcomings of the survey, and misleading numbers.

If you’re interested in the results of our survey, here they are!

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Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule!

Image By Rebecca Angel
Image By Rebecca Angel

“A card game of rhyme and reason for kids of all ages.”

Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule is a card game with delightful images, silly names, and rhyming fun. It’s been played about a dozen times in my household; a new popular pastime. This is interesting to me because I think the game has a kink to work out, yet the kids in my house won’t stop playing it, figuring out their own rules to get around any issues. Continue reading Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule!