16 Actors Who Make Love Actually One of the Geekiest Casts Ever Assembled

Everyone’s favorite Christmas movie (if it’s not at least in your Top Five, I don’t think we can be friends anymore) is now over a decade old. And it turns out, the gloriously convoluted story of Londoners in love packs some serious geeky street cred. Before and after Love Actually, several members of the cast made their mark in some pretty big movies and TV shows. Here’s a catalog of their greatest hits (and this isn’t even including the various guest appearances on Doctor Who).

1. Andrew Lincoln

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All Love Actually photos © Universal Studios, 2003.

Let’s start with an obvious one. Lovesick Mark, with his cue cards and unrequited love, went on to become:

Sheriff Rick Grimes, the often-infuriating hero of The Walking Dead.

2. Alan Rickman

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Snape. Snape. Severus Snape. Continue reading 16 Actors Who Make Love Actually One of the Geekiest Casts Ever Assembled

Harry Potter and the Book of Stamps

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© Warner Bros. Entertainment
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Stamp Preview © USPS / USA Today

Starting November 19, the U.S. Postal Service is offering a magical opportunity to dress up your holiday cards, correspondence, and acceptance letters from Hogwarts with a collector’s booklet of 20 First-Class Forever Harry Potter stamps.

The stamps will feature 20 different photographs from all eight Harry Potter movies, including our favorite wizards like Harry, Ron, and Hermione; their classmates and professors; magical creatures like Hedwig and Fawkes the phoenix; and even villains like Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange. Nothing says jolly like Bellatrix Lestrange on your Christmas cards!

If you have Potterhead philatelists to shop for this holiday season (and who doesn’t), the USPS has you covered. The USPS web site is currently taking pre-orders for the collection, or you can head to the closest post office on Tuesday to get your Muggle mitts on the stamps.

Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film

Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film © BFI
Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film © BFI

From Harry Potter to Night of The Living Dead, the juxtaposition between the geek and the gothic has always been broad and varied. Magic, vampires, mad scientists and all things that go bump in the night sit happily in both camps, and that’s why, even as not much of a horror aficionado, I was keen to read the latest compendium from the BFI (British Film Institute), Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film. The book is a companion to the BFI celebration of gothic film and television currently taking place across the UK.

Published as a large format paperback filled with beautiful movie stills and film posters, Gothic looks at the history of all things creepy and sinister, beginning with silent era movies like Nosferatu and bringing the genre right up to date with modern British horror such as 2012’s The Woman in Black.

The book is divided into four parts. Part one deals with the Monstrous: vampires, werewolves, zombies, and other creatures of the night. We see how our treatment of these creatures on screen has evolved alongside society and trace their evolution, from the classic image of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula through to modernized images such as the sparkling Cullen family in Twilight and even Sesame Street’s own resident bloodsucker Count von Count. There is no judgement to be found, no argument that one portrayal is better or more accurate than another, only a fascinating discussion of how our reactions have changed and how Hollywood has adapted to keep us coming back for more.

Image from Nosferatu: The Vampyre © BFI
Image from Nosferatu: The Vampyre © BFI

Part two deals with the Dark Arts: from devil worship to mad scientists and serial killers. The range of films up for discussion is startling. While classics like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Fly are naturally ripe for inclusion, the chapter also covers films such as Shutter Island, Black Swan, and the Hannibal Lecter series.

Part three—Haunted—has an obvious focus on ghosts stories but tales like Sleepy Hollow, Psycho, and Misery also find their home within its pages; there are more ways to be haunted than you might wish to think about. There is a detailed discussion of the role of children in gothic cinema beginning with Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (who here wasn’t scared of the forest scene as a young child?) through to modern children’s gothic films like Frankenweenie via less obvious choices like Edward Scissorhands, The Addams Family, and Dark Shadows.

The fourth and final part of the book—Love Is a Devil—has some of the most disturbing content as it looks at the influence of love and the actions it can drive characters to. While some of those choices are more innocent (think Bella in Twilight), the chapter also highlights less romantic love stories such as Hannibal and Clarice.

The comparison between traditional portrayals of  Dracula and the charming yet twisted Hannibal Lecter had escaped me until now but is one of the points I will carry with me. My appreciation of the storytelling of gothic cinema has been truly changed by this book. Part four also takes an in-depth look at the role of women in these films and on television, from submissive Eleanor in The Haunting to vengeful Carrie and on to tough heroines Buffy and Ripley.

A Chapter on Haunted Landscapes © BFIThroughout the book are dozens of cutaways that discuss specific aspects of gothic cinema in detail. There are in depth looks at “The Architecture of Gothic Cinema,” “Children’s Gothic Television” (featuring such British classics as Knightmare and Children of the Stones as well as modern fare like Trapped! and Young Dracula), the “Southern Gothic” of New Orleans, and the surrounding areas and even “Queer Gothic.”

Each one gives a brief yet interesting look at its subject that will often have you wanting to go out and read more.

Gothic is a brilliant book that manages to cover almost every aspect of the gothic cinema without ever becoming pompous or self-indulgent. It perfectly toes the lines between academic treatment of the subject and unrestrained fanboy/girl adoration using a succession of great writers to cover the different subjects under review. Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gatiss, and Charlie Higson are amongst the enormous list of contributing authors. While the book does have a strong focus on British cinema, fans of all types of gothic cinema from Italian to Japanese will find chapters just for them. If you have even a passing interest in the genre then this book is well worth your time.

GeekMom received a PDF of this book for review purposes. Gothic is available to purchase on Amazon UK or direct from the BFI.

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

Transformers, Simpsons, and Minions Ohh My! — Universal Studios Orlando

Optimus Prime and Megatron battle it out \ Image courtesy of Unviersal Orlando
Optimus Prime and Megatron battle it out \ Image courtesy of Universal Orlando

This year, Universal Studios has unleashed the power of the Transformers and added a Springfield touch to its Orlando theme park. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to experience their newest ride, Transformers 3D, as well as check out the newly-expanded Simpsons area. After checking out Transformers, my husband and I gave a Flaming Moe a try, chowed down on Chicken and Waffle sandwiches, and  had Krusty Burgers. Afterwards, we hit up Despicable Me and the Curious George playground to let our son get soaked and let us relax after filling our stomachs with theme park cuisine.

The newest attraction at Universal Studios is Transformers The Ride 3D. When we first approached the N.E.S.T facility, we were greeted by a massive statue of Optimus Prime. Some guests have taken photos of themselves mimicking Optimus Prime’s pose in, what Universal calls, Optimus #Priming! If you have little kids, this is a fun picture to take before you enter the ride.

Once inside, we were greeted by “military personnel” who directed us into the Express Pass queue line. The Express Pass is Universal’s quick entry system that allows guests to wait in a shorter line to marquee attractions. Each pass allows you entrance into the Express Pass line once per attraction and can cut your wait down considerably during peak seasons. The Express Pass line is a lot less interesting to go through, however, so if you’re interested in the details and replica props–including the AllSpark and the Decepticon Grimlock’s tail scattered throughout the building–stick with the main queue line (this is best done as soon as you enter the park, so no dilly-dallying).

Admittedly, I didn’t ride Transformers The Ride 3D; I have a hard time riding Spider-Man over at Islands of Adventure and I was told Transformers has a lot of similarities to it. Instead of getting my own first hand account, I enlisted the help of my thrill-junkie husband and 7-year-old thrill-junkie-in-training son to ride it for me and give me their input. Once we got to the loading zone, I was shown the door into the child swap area and I watched my family jump into their Transformer escort, EVAC.

EVAC is the newest Transformer to roll-out with the Autobots and even though his only purpose is to be essentially the ride vehicle, he’s still a pretty cool Transformer.

A few minutes later, they met me at the child swap area and it was evident they’d had fun. My son had no problem letting out a loud scream of approval while we were walking out the exit so everyone around would know he enjoyed himself.

Once we were outside, my husband told me all about the ride.

“Visually, it’s stunning, especially the level of detail they went into. I know it has three separate floors, but I couldn’t tell we were moving from one floor to the next. Something that was really cool was at the end of the ride when you are going back to the loading zone, if you turn around, you can see Optimus Prime watching to make sure you get through safely.”

When I asked him what he thought the thrill level was on a scale of one (kiddy ride) to five (extreme), he said it felt like Transformers was about a three, because at times it really feels like you’re going fast down the track, when in reality it’s just the special effects messing with your head.

Be warned! Once you exit the ride, you will find yourself inside a tight-fitting gift shop. If you’re interested in t-shirts with the Transformers and Universal logo on them ($25 and up), this is the place to be. Little kids and big kids will find the selection of Transformers impressive—but almost all of the models can be found outside the park. The only Transformer you will not find outside of the park gates is EVAC.

Now, do you really think Universal would have created a new Transformer without making a toy version to sell in the gift shop? Of course not and my husband couldn’t resist picking up his own EVAC ($24.99) to take home and transform. My husband told me he usually pays around $12 to $15 per Transformer, so EVAC’s $24.99 price tag is a little steep. On the upside, my husband wasn’t disappointed in EVAC’s design, so he’s happy with his purchase.

When you’re done at the ride, head over to the Transformers Meet and Greet area to catch up with either Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, or Megatron. If you don’t see them in robot mode, they might be out in vehicle mode. Universal’s goal is to have at least one Transformer out at all times and they rotate on a set schedule, so my recommendation is if you want to see all three, stick around for the full rotation and get it done. The lines can get pretty long and the Transformers’ handlers are happy to tell you when to jump back in line for the next Transformer coming out. Professional photography is available, but it’s pricey—costing up to $50 for a photo package, so make sure you have your own camera handy and feel free to hand it to a N.E.S.T operative so they can take the picture for you.

After riding the Transformers, I was a little on the hungry side, so my family headed over to Moe’s Tavern and food court in the Simpsons area. While there, I noticed a sign on the wall that said “One Drink Per I.D.” I wasn’t sure how they monitored customers but the bartender explained to me that,

“The one drink per ID means one drink at a time. This is still a family park and we don’t want people walking around with more than one alcoholic drink at a time. If security sees someone walking around with more than one alcoholic drink, they will either ask that one of the drinks are thrown away or both are thrown away.”

This made me feel a little better about Universal selling alcohol all over their parks, rather than in just one area (like at the Magic Kingdom).

Moe’s Tavern’s signature beverage is the Flaming Moe, an orange soda drink with a dry ice touch and an expensive price tag ($7.99 per glass). This is a neat drink to try once, but after that, you may find Butterbeer satisfies your thirst a little better (and for the cost of one Flaming Moe, you can get two 16-ounce Butterbeers).

Located in the same area as Moe’s is the newly remodeled Simpsons food court, which includes restaurants such as:

  • The Krusty Burger – featuring the heavy-on-the-cheese-sauce Krusty Burger.
  • Cletus’s Chicken Shack – home to the Chicken and Waffle sandwich.
  • The Frying Dutchman – specializing in fried fish.
  • Lisa’s Teahouse of Terror – specializing in salads.
  • Luigi’s – which specializes in pizza.

Lisa’s Teahouse of Terror is basically a refrigerator with pre-made salads, wraps, and sandwiches (entrees start at $6.99). This is the best option for healthy meals, so if that’s important to you, make sure you are in this area of the park around lunch time. Luigi’s also has a vegetarian pizza.

Even though it’s a food court, you still have to enter a line to get to the food locations, so I would eat lunch a little early, say around 11 A.M—certainly no later than 11:30 A.M, to beat the crowds.

The “Taco Truck” outside of the food court is also a great place to eat and has some of the tastiest steak tacos I’ve ever eaten (cost is around $8.99 for two tacos with guacamole, salsa, and chips). For picky eaters, this is a nice option because you can customize your taco with flour or corn soft shells, meat, and toppings.

We spent $40 for three entrees and two drinks for lunch. Included in that total is one Krusty Burger, one Chicken Waffle sandwich, one cheese pizza, one large soda, one Flaming Moe, and two cupcakes.

Moe’s isn’t the only location in Universal that sells alcohol. Many of the cart vendors spread throughout the park offer adult beverages for purchase–as do the restaurants–so no worries if you get away from Moe’s and suddenly have the urge for a cold brewski. For those interested in Duff Beer, I’ve been told the brew in the Simpsons area is unique and created locally.

Journeying to another area of the park, I went on one of my favorite Universal rides…

Despicable Me is the most kid-friendly simulator I’ve ever been on. I’ll go ahead and warn you the line goes really slow, because they can only load so many guests into the building at a time. Once you’re inside, it goes by a bit quicker and you have Gru and the girls to keep you entertained.

After you pick up your 3D glasses, Gru walks you through the process of becoming one of his minions. Unexpectedly, your training gets handed over to the girls and they take you on a ride through the minion lab and eventually you help save the day. As you exit the ride, the minions are there to great you with a dance party as you exit the ride. The downside is they’re only around for about five-minutes each time and only while the ride is exiting (in theme parks this is known as a “show-dump”).

Not everything worth checking out at Universal Studios is complete. Half of the fun can sometimes be in watching the progress of a new attraction take place.

It’s no secret that Universal is expanding the Harry Potter area in Universal Studios, and while not much is known about this area, it has been confirmed that Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts Express, and Gringotts Bank will be featured areas. I’ve heard plenty of rumors about what Gringotts Bank is supposed to be, but one thing is for sure: This is going to be a family-friendly marquee attraction.

Universal isn’t just for the big kids. For families traveling with little ones, make time to take them to Barney (hear me out here) for the indoor playground area, so you can get some air conditioning and they can run off some energy. Curious George is also a great play area, but be warned…you will not come out dry!

If you get a chance to head out to Universal Studios, make sure you hit up Transformers, Despicable Me, and have lunch with the Simpsons. My advice is to arrive before the park opens so you can hop on Despicable Me first and then go straight to Transformers when you’re done. Both rides can have over a 90-minute wait on a good day, so hit them first and get them out of the way.

Tickets start at $92 for adults and $86 for children for a one day one park ticket. Make sure you visit Universal Orlando’s website for the most current ticket prices. If you plan on coming down this year, my advice is to arrive just after Thanksgiving to avoid the Christmas peak season.

GeekMom received tickets to visit these attractions.

On Breaking, or Not Breaking, the Harry Potter Spell

One of the many dog eared copies of Harry Potter strewn about our home. Photo: Cristen Pantano

“Oh Potter, you rotter, what have you done?”

Last November my husband began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to our son. After a few chapters, they were both hooked.  Within a few weeks, they were on to book two.

One weekend our son told us that he had been thinking about some things from the first book and wanted to know if he could reread it to himself. This is where it all began.

He reread the first two books, and was then frustrated with the pace at which my husband was reading book three aloud to him. We told him that he could go on and read it to himself.  He was enchanted by Harry and Hogwarts, and there was no stopping him.

When it was time for book seven he dove right in, but,  he put the book down after about three chapters. He has been elusive in his reasons for not finishing, so we haven’t pressed. I’m thinking he was scared; others have suggested that he probably doesn’t want it to end.

When he put book seven down, we thought that after almost eight months of nonstop Harry Potter, he would read something else. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Each day he picked one of the Harry Potter books and carried it around all day long. He would read various chapters and passages at random, then decided to start at book one again. The books have become an additional appendage on his body. They are dog-eared, stained, tattered, and strewn about the house.

At first I thought this was great, he was reading and loving what he was reading. But then, as the calendar moved toward September it hit me that he hasn’t read much other than Harry Potter for almost a year. I asked friends for suggestions: What did their kids read after Harry Potter?

Percy Jackson was a fail, but children’s Greek mythology books were a hit. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, score! Meanwhile, Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys are collecting dust as Harry Potter continues to log many miles.

I decided to ask my fellow GeekMoms if their children had done this with Harry Potter, and whether I should just let it go, or encourage other books. Many responded that their kids had a similar experience with Harry Potter. Some let it go, and some encouraged one other book in between each Harry Potter book. Many also shared with me their own book obsessions. There were also a few responses that stopped me in my tracks.

GeekMom Samantha had this to say, “…there is clearly something he is working out, something he is grappling with that the books are providing for him. Something that only reading them over and over will give him. Eventually, he will move on when he comes to his moment of clarity or closure.”

GeekMom Ariane posed this succinct question, “What’s your concern with this behavior?”

What was my concern?  Honestly, I still can’t  completely answer that question. I guess I would prefer that he read a variety of books.  Maybe I feel that that is what he is “supposed” to do? Maybe I fear an unhealthy obsession? I seriously don’t know. I don’t even know if I am that concerned, or if it’s just that I think that maybe I should be. Ariane stumped me.

With all of the GeekMom responses in mind, and my inability to pinpoint what my concerns were, we decided to let it go but keep other new books available to him.

Last weekend we visited our favorite local bookstore. The owners chatted with our son and helped him pick out some great new books for us to read to him, and for him to read on his own. He has read one and the others are sitting on the coffee table, waiting…

I have asked him many times why he keeps reading the books. He usually just shrugs and keeps on reading. Today I told him that I was going to write about his love for Harry Potter. This time he looked up and said, “I just don’t want it to end.”  With GeekMom Sam’s words in my head, I told him that as long as he keeps reading them, the adventure will continue.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters Director Thor Freudenthal Balances Humor and Darkness

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Thor Freudenthal on set with Logan Lerman. Photo: 20th Century Fox

I recently had the opportunity to join a discussion with some of my fellow bloggers and Thor Freudenthal, director of Percy Jackson: Sea of MonstersDuring the Q & A about the movie, Freudenthal revealed some of the thinking that went into his direction of the movie, such as taking it in a darker direction than the first. (If you’re not familiar with Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, the latest installment in the Percy Jackson franchise, check out my movie review.)

Thor Freudenthal: If you have an ensemble piece like this one, with Tyson’s journey of accepting who he is and coming to terms with it, Percy regaining his confidence as a hero, Annabeth overcoming her prejudice, Clarisse and Percy sort of making up at the end…there are a lot of threads to keep track of. Central to it all, to me, was the story about kids who have all been dealt kind of a rough hand because their parents are gods, and they’re absent gods. It’s up to them to sort of find their own place in the world.

Now as far as the darkness is concerned, I tried to lean a little bit more on the pacing and the sense of humor in the books. There is kind of a light tone from the chapter heading in the books to Percy’s own voice really narrating everything in the kind of funny, sardonic, irreverent way that we wanted to translate here. The challenge is that you’re also dealing with the death of characters, the sort of looming darkness of the villain, and so forth. It’s a tough thing to kind of all bring under one hat, but that was the attempt.

I felt—at least from what I’ve heard in terms of responses—that people felt the humorous tone was more present in this movie than it was in the first one.

Chris Columbus is the director who brought the first Percy Jackson movie to the screen. Seeing Thor Freudenthal’s take on Percy Jackson is reminiscent of when Alfonso Cuarón took over for Chris Columbus in the Harry Potter movies. Good on Chris Columbus for being the first to bring these huge properties to the screen, but it’s nice when a new director can come in and add more depth. Freudenthal talked about the challenges of making the second movie in the franchise, taking into account feedback from the first movie.

TF: [Viewers] were presented with a series of decisions that were already made, from casting to how the story was sort of left at the end of the first movie, so it’s challenging to pick up the pieces and try to do the book justice. But it’s also very liberating because the setup has already been done, meaning Percy has learned who he is. We’re already in that world. It’s established, so now you can sort of dig a little deeper into it, as far as how you create the different aspects of Camp Half-Blood. I wanted to create more of a life in the camp; I wanted to show different sides of it. And I wanted to sort of widen the scope of it.

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On set with Alexandra Daddario and Brandon T. Jackson. Photo: 20th Century Fox

Thor Freudenthal is no stranger to bringing book properties to the screen. He was the director of the first Diary Of A Wimpy Kid movie. (I love that movie.) Freudenthal spoke of his different experiences on the two films.

TF: It’s always tough to translate a book to a screen simply because they’re such different formats. A movie is not a book. In the case of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, starting the franchise, we were very, very concerned with casting it correctly. That was the one thing that at some point seemed to be a sheer insurmountable task: Finding a kid that in everyone’s mind matches the stick figure drawing character from the books that sort of embodies the attitude of the character as well as a certain look that you think matches, even though all you have to go by is a circle and two dots.

What maybe both book adaptations have in common is that in a book—and this is specifically in the Wimpy Kid book—you can open the book at any page and read a fun episode or story or a tangent, something awesome or something funny, whereas the movie generally has to be on one particular track. It’s a very singular track. It’s one straight line that moves forward without much deviation. That means you have to find the sort of simple story arc, as we call it, or the goal that the character has or faces, and then group everything else sort of underneath it. Everything that the movie does has to be in service of that story.

In the case of Wimpy Kid, we decided that it should be a friendship story between the wimpy kid, Greg Heffley, and his best friend, Rowley, which is sort of present in the book but really more in the background. In the movie, I wanted to make it sort of the general through-line of the story.

Percy Jackson was even more challenging because the book is a sprawling, multi-hundred page epic. And in a two-hour movie, you can’t really do that. We had to sort of make really tough choices to keep the pace up and create a three act structure. And the result—since the story is about Camp Half-Blood becoming vulnerable and the barrier of Camp Half-Blood being destroyed—that’s where we had to start our movie, rather than start it in school where the second book started and spend a whole lot of time there, which really wouldn’t have amounted to much in the movie. So, it’s fine in the book, but it doesn’t really help the general plotting of the story, which means we have to introduce characters differently and bring them to the table differently.

Speaking of differences between the book and the movie, Freudenthal spoke about the tough choices where the movie is different from the book. [Warning: Spoilers ahead.]

TF: It was partially me reading the books and discovering that there is a sort of bigger mythology under the story, mostly having to do with Thalia’s tree and the back story of Thalia. Thalia sort of becomes the beacon of courage to everyone at camp: What the tree means as a symbol, the barrier, the prophesy—which wasn’t introduced in the first movie— we had to somehow segue it into this movie. That in itself was interesting. [It was] essential to have Percy be confronted with his supposed future and make it sort of add in okay. Of course the character’s journey results in [Percy deciding] himself what his destiny is. So, that was a neat thing thematically and something that was not in the first book that I felt should be included.

Now here’s another interesting thing about making a movie like this. Kronos is such a lingering threat throughout that we talk about him in the prophesy. Luke, the villain, talks about him. When you talk about a thing so much through your first and second act, you have to show it. If you talk forever about Kronos, and there’s no Kronos, it doesn’t really work as a one, two, three act. In a book, it’s fine because you’re closing a book and you’re looking forward to book three, and ultimately Kronos will appear. I think if the movie series continues, the movies can adhere very much to the outcome of the prophesy as it relates to Kronos, Luke, and Percy, and so forth. But for this movie, I felt that it needed a finale that delivered on the promise.

And finally, I loved hearing about the inspired casting of Nathan Fillion as Hermes.

TF: Well, I have to tell you, I will gladly take full credit for this because I was prepping the movie, working with the writer, and I was hanging out with my little brother. We’re both Nathan Fillion fans. I mean, I loved Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. I love Firefly. I was always a huge fan of comedy. And his pacing, his timing, he seems like a great guy. So, we’re watching Firefly, I forget which episode. I was thinking about Hermes, and Hermes is a guy who’s very much a showman, very much sort of in love with himself, but holds that sort of deep regret with how he dealt with his son and what that might mean for the future. So, he’s a regretful dad. And I was, like, “Oh, my God.”  Suddenly it just came to me. What an inspiring kind of lucky thought. What if he’s Hermes?

So, I called up 20th Century Fox. I met him over coffee. He was the nicest guy. When I described it to him he instantly said that he wanted to do it, which was lucky. And so, there he was. And my little brother, being such a fan, he’s, like, “Hey.  I’m coming to visit you in Vancouver when you shoot that scene.” My little brother is actually in the scene with him.  He’s an extra.

Check out Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters now open in theaters, and you can explain to your book-loving tween about how sometimes directors have to make tough choices.

Destination: Great Family Games for Casual Gamers

Destination Games © Sophie Brown

Destination is a British board game which places players in the role of a taxi driver attempting to visit all of his or her destinations and return to the taxi rank first.

It’s a deceptively simple idea made all the more tricky by the need for fuel and the twisting roads that make planning out a route harder than you might imagine. For this review I was playing the London edition of Destination; many different cities and a number of special edition versions have also been released but we’ll come back to those later.

Destination is a game with very few rules that are all easy to explain. It is perfect for game night, with more casual gamer friends & family, or with kids. The game comes packaged in a tiny box and the board is assembled jigsaw style from four pieces to form a map of the city you’ve chosen. While clearly not to scale, the map tries to be at least close to geographically accurate. The London edition shows the Thames curving through the city and there are lots of illustrated landmarks to spot: Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and The British Museum are among those found on the board. Before you even start playing it’s fun trying to recognize each of the 40 numbered destinations from their location and surrounding pictures.

The Destination London Board © Sophie Brown

At the beginning of a game, each player is given seven destination cards from the deck and two fuel cards, each of which is valid to get the player to one destination. Each player places their taxi in the rank and the game is off as the players race to reach each of their destinations and return to the rank first. There is a lot of simple strategy involved: To reach a destination you must have a fuel card in your hand. This means planning routes that will take you past the garage to fill up with more fuel cards (up to a maximum of four in your hand at any time), trying to avoid doubling back on yourself which wastes time, and trying to plan a logical route through the city. Landing on traffic lights forces you to pick up a traffic light card which has a chance of helping or hindering you. You might have all your fuel stolen, be forced to the garage (helpful if you need fuel but irritating if you’re sent there from the other side of the city when you don’t), or get free fuel.

Whatever happens, these cards can significantly alter your approach so you can’t go planning your strategies too far in advance. To win the game, you must be the first player to visit all your destinations and return to the taxi rank by exact count.

One of the best things about Destination is the variety of editions available. Over 15 different cities and regions have now been released and the games manufacturers hope to one day produce enough editions to create a map of the entire UK. There’s something appealing about playing on a map of familiar landmarks. It’s the same lure that has made the thousands of Monopoly variants bestsellers in their respective regions.

While pretending to drive around Norwich wouldn’t mean much to the majority of us, for locals (and possibly even more for ex-locals) there’s a clear nostalgia factor involved. I can guarantee you that if and when Destination releases a game of my home city of Manchester I will be buying it. The simplicity of the underlying game mechanic has also made it possible for themes to be easily overlaid giving rise to special editions for Pixar, London 2012, and Harry Potter.

The Harry Potter edition of Destination, actually titled Destination Hogwarts, plays slightly differently to the standard edition of the game. In the original you visit your seven destinations and race back to the start to win, but in Hogwarts once you reach a destination you collect a number of house points (paper notes akin to Monopoly money) and then take a new destination from the pile to replace it. The game only ends after every destination has been visited. Once you have visited all your destinations and there are none left in the pile you race back to your common room (dependent on which character you are playing as) and the first player back wins an extra 150 house points, however as in Quidditch that may not be enough to secure their victory.

The Destination Hogwarts Board © Sophie Brown

Destination Hogwarts also removes the need for fuel cards (or at least some sort of magical replacement, broom servicing kits perhaps?) which results in a much simpler and less strategic game. The traffic light cards are still there as Dark Mark cards that affect your house points. Examples include: receiving a howler from home, being burnt by a blast-ended skrewt and sent to the hospital wing, or conjuring a patronus to save another pupil from a dementor; but these do little in regards to affecting your strategy. This is however one Dark Mark card you really want to avoid; if you are caught with a copy of The Quibbler you are expelled and instantly lose the game!

This brings up another issue with Destination Hogwarts, the ambiguity of several rules.

As you travel around the beautiful Hogwarts board you move through the school, the grounds, the Forbidden Forest, and the lake via boats. Normally you throw two dice but the rules state that “if you choose to travel by boat you may only use one die” and that “you may only use one die when you enter the Forbidden Forest.” That’s fine if you’re already there, but what if you’re not? If I’m one space away from the boats then surely I’m “choosing to travel by boat” but I’m still technically on land so do I throw one die or two? It’s even more of an issue the further away you are. I could easily be well within Hogwarts, but with two dice, end up rolling a large enough number to end up in the lake or forest. Do I need to stop my turn before I enter them and roll again with one on my next go? It’s up for debate. The same goes for the Quibbler expulsion rule. If I am holding an invisibility cloak “get out of trouble” card can I use it to avoid being expelled or does the Quibbler rule override it. You might find that you need to lay down some of your own rules prior to playing.

My final issue with Destination Hogwarts was pretty much the first thing I noticed when I unpacked the game. The very first sentence in the rules instructs each player to “select a piece and [be] sorted into a Hogwarts house.” Here are the pieces, I’ll give you a moment to spot the problem:

Playable Characters in Destination Hogwarts © Sophie Brown

Where is Hufflepuff? I know the house isn’t exactly the most popular but to completely omit one of the four houses from a Hogwarts themed game is simply ludicrous. Even Ravenclaw only manages one showing. I know Gryffindor will always be the most popular option, especially in a game aimed at children, but would it really have been so difficult to even out the character options a little bit?

The Destination Games are highly enjoyable if very simple for more experienced gamers. They’re great for playing with kids or casual/non-gamers who would be overwhelmed with highly strategic or rules-heavy games. Hogwarts is a stunningly beautiful game that will heavily appeal to Potter fans willing to overlook the obvious flaws and play for the sheer enjoyment of running around Hogwarts attempting to win the House Cup. Neither of these games will set you on fire with their brilliance but sometimes great theming is enough to carry a game and that’s what Destination pulls off. Despite the issues in the game-play, the themes are so beautifully captured that I wouldn’t hesitate to buy more variants of the game if the right ones came along. I’m already imagining Destination Star Trek, Star Wars, and X-Files among the thousands of possibilities out there. Please make it so!

GeekMom received these items for review purposes.

Diving Into Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

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Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters © 20th Century Fox

Fans of Rick Riordan and Percy Jackson rejoice! The second movie installment, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters hits theaters this week. I recently attended a press screening and brought with me the biggest Percy Jackson expert I know, my 12-year-old niece.

If you are new to the Percy Jackson juggernaut, here’s a quick recap. Percy Jackson thinks he’s an ordinary boy, but then finds out he’s the son of Poseidon. He meets other half-human, half-god kids at Camp Half-Blood, sort of an outdoorsy Hogwarts for demigods. In the first installment, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Percy goes on a quest to recover Zeus’ missing lightning bolt. By the end of the movie, [spoiler for the first book and movie] he discovers Luke, disgruntled son of Hermes, is the Lightning Thief.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters begins back at Camp Half-Blood. The heroic luster of retrieving the lightning bolt and saving the world has worn off, and Percy is full of self doubt. Clarisse, daughter of Ares, the god of war, fuels his doubts by being generally awesome in camp activities and snarky and competitive with Percy. Percy’s friends Annabeth, daughter of Athena, and Grover the satyr, try to bolster his confidence, but it’s the help of his absentee father that he seeks. Instead of getting his father, though, he gets a half-brother he never knew he had: a brother that happens to be a cyclops.

When there’s a serious threat to Camp Half-Blood, it’s Clarisse, not Percy, picked to go on the quest to save it. The tree that protects the camp has been poisoned, and only the Golden Fleece can heal it. Now it wouldn’t be a movie if our heroes didn’t go after it, too, so Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and his new cyclops brother, Tyson, start a quest of their own. The villainous Luke is back, and he wants the Golden Fleece for a wholly other purpose — resurrecting Kronos to bring about the fall of Olympus to make room for a new generation of gods.

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© 20th Century Fox

The movie is an entertaining, action-packed adventure with comedic touches to keep it from getting too serious. I enjoyed Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters much more than Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. The first movie was goofier and had cheeseball special effects. Sea of Monsters features more sophisticated movie-making, with effects that are actually worthy of being in 3D.

The performances are all great. This may mark my age, but Logan Lerman who plays Percy reminds me of a young Christian Slater. He just the right mix of dreamboat and nerd. Brandon T. Jackson as Grover steals every scene he’s in. He really needs to be the star of his own movie. And the movie grownups have casting that will make many GeekMoms very happy. Anthony Stewart Head plays Chiron, a sort of Giles to Percy’s Buffy. Stanley Tucci is perfectly cast as Mr. D, also known as Dionysus, the god of wine. In the best casting of all, Nathan Fillion places Hermes, a smooth-talking businessman and messenger to the gods. Firefly fans will enjoy a little side joke he slips in about cancelled shows.

I wish I liked the girls a bit more. Annabeth and Clarisse have such similar smart-talking styles that it can be a little hard to tell them apart. It’s nice that they’re both powerful, though, and thanks to them, the movie passes the Bechdel Test. I also appreciate that though there are clearly sparks between Annabeth and Percy, there’s no action on those sparks. She’s not there to be a love interest. She’s a friend, a hero, and a demigod.

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© 20th Century Fox

I’ve only read the first book, but my niece was generally pleased with Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters‘ faithfulness to the book. She was very glad to see Annabeth’s hair restored to blonde after being a brunette in the first movie. [Spoilers ahead] She was a little bit put out that Kronos, who doesn’t make an appearance this early in the book series, makes an appearance in the film. The scene he’s in really called for it, though.

For the non-Percy fan, I also brought my 8-year-old daughter. It may be scary for some 8-year-olds, especially with a scene that gets all Arc of the Covenant, but this is a girl that’s read and seen the entire Harry Potter series. She’s not easily shaken. She enjoyed the movie but isn’t in a hurry to read the books. Instead, she’s been devouring George O’Connor’s Olympian series. That’s fine by me, but I’m going to go read The Sea of Monsters now.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted: Golden Snitch Cake Pops

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As you might tell, I’m having a blast with these Pinbusted or Pintrusted posts! I didn’t realize how powerful Pinterest can be when used with a goal in mind.

For example, I have a Nyan Cat birthday party board, which I used to plan for my youngest son’s birthday party earlier this year.

Last summer, my oldest son requested a Harry Potter birthday party. We were on the heels of Dragon*Con, when he had a magical experience as a pretty-darned-good award-winning Yule-Ball-attending Harry Potter, so of course I started a Harry Potter birthday cake board on Pinterest. When I found this Pinterest pin for “Golden Snitch Cake Pops” I thought: I can do this for my son.

My Harry Potter met Professor Dumbledore at Peachtree Center at last year's Dragon*Con. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My Harry Potter met Professor Dumbledore at Peachtree Center at last year’s Dragon*Con. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

I’ve been a Bakerella fan for years. Her cake pops are works of art! I am the proud owner of the original Cake Pops cookbook. (GeekMom Judy reviewed it a couple years ago.) I can’t be sure Bakerella invented the cake pop (her post where she first thought about sticking a stick in a cake ball is very cute), but she certainly brought them — and the ability to make them — to the masses.

But all these years, I never made cake pops. For my sons, though, I’ll try anything!

While I didn’t do the butterbeer flavored cake as suggested in the pin (my kids don’t care for it, after having tasted it at Harry Potter World at Universal’s Islands of Adventure earlier in 2012), I did follow the guidance on how to mix the crumbled cake with icing, roll the cake pop balls, and attempt to dip them in melted candy melts.

It didn’t go well at all. I couldn’t get the cake balls to stay on the sticks, nor could I maintain the correct consistency for the candy melt to dip the cakes properly. I used Wilton gold-colored “Color Mist” product to turn the pops gold. At least that part was easy.

I like to think I’m a pretty good cook/chef/baker. I can’t say whether it was the humidity or just my incompetence, but this whole process was incredibly frustrating for me. How does Bakerella make it look so easy? It must be my incompetence: thousands of people — besides Bakerella — have successfully made them, right?

A tray of wingless golden snitches drying. I used a gold-colored edible spray paint to make them gold. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
A tray of wingless lumpy golden snitches drying. The candy melt product was too thick. I used a gold-colored edible spray paint to make them gold. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

I had no problem rolling out the gum paste to cut out the wings, but I had a hard time keeping the wings on the cakes, even though I made a point to cut one side of each wing to fit into the pop. Out of 36 cake pops, I could only get the wings to stay on about six of them.

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One of my most successful cake pops. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Did the kids mind? No. Did the cake pops taste good? Yes, I think they did. In the grand scheme of things, was my son’s birthday ruined because the cake pops came out a little lumpy? No, not at all.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted? For me, pinbusted! Call it the perfectionist in me. However, I have friends who have done perfectly successful cake pops. Perhaps this is one of those instances where practice makes perfect. I know I can do this. Time to break out the candy melts!

Show us your cake pops! Go to our Facebook and/or Twitter pages and upload pictures of your cake pop successes and failures. Be sure to tag @GeekMomBlog on Twitter!

Life Geekery Tablet Covers

Life Geekery, used with permission

I stumbled across Life Geekery’s shop a few months ago when I was searching Etsy for Harry Potter goodies (as one does). I  wasn’t even looking for a Kindle/iPad/iPhone cover at the time, but when I found this shop Ihad to have one. The heart wants what the heart wants, so Harry and my iPad Mini have been together for three months now.

Life Geekery is run by the husband and wife team of Matt and Nikki Mason, and their handmade designs are witty, made with Eco Felt, and priced around $30. I contacted Nikki to find out what inspired them and how they got started.

We’re a super nerdy husband and wife team that love to craft! The whole geeky cozy business started simply because I wanted a fun little case to store my own Kindle and couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. After coming up with a few different ideas we decided to make them and put them up on Etsy just to see if other people would like them as much as we did…and they did! Now we get to spread the joy to nerds everywhere and we couldn’t be more happy about that!

So, basically, the couple behind this business is just as much fun as their product. With more than 700 sales in less than two years, the shop is definitely popular. In addition to the awesome Firefly, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Dr. Who cases pictured above, designs also include Chewbacca, Frodo Baggins, and several others (Sherlock cover, stop flirting with me!). I’ve seen a Ron Weasley cover on their site, and I could swear I saw a TARDIS flash by on their website banner.

Sherlock cover by Life Geekery, used with permission
Sherlock cover by Life Geekery, used with permission

I asked Nikki who comes up with the designs, and she told me, “My husband and I collaborate on the designs, but he’s more of the designer and I’m more of the sewer.” Nikki and Matt are based in Hawaii, and each case is handmade to order—you can specify the tablet or phone it’s meant to fit. This means your case will not arrive right away. I waited a good few weeks to get mine, but I’ve had it since early March and thought it was well worth the wait.

I had to get used to having the opening at the bottom since these are sleeves and not cases (my typical cover preference). I’ve never used a sleeve for a Kindle or iPad before, so for the first few days I nearly dropped my Mini a few times because I kept carrying Harry right side up. And felt is slippery. I think I would slightly prefer to have the opening at the top of the sleeve, but I’m torn because I like the instant access when plugging it in to charge. Cases are fiddly on that point. And, honestly, once I got used to carrying Harry upside down it was no longer a problem. My Mini is protected, and it looks very cool. It’s also very easy to find in my giant, bottomless bag of stuff, and it makes me happy every time I see it. This has been one of my favorite purchases of 2013.

For the love of all that is awesome, check out Life Geekery’s shop!

Eat Like a Geek: Peppermint Toads

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My daughter recently had a Harry Potter themed birthday party. The festivities of the day are for another article, but part of the Honeydukes gift bags were homemade Peppermint Toads.

My husband and I are foodies. Why do something food related halfway when you can do it right? This includes candy recipes that call for those Wilton flavored discs that are used as candy coating. Why make candy if you are going to use those? Continue reading Eat Like a Geek: Peppermint Toads

Before Geek Was Cool

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Credit: accountrements.com

Being a geek is no longer geeky. Role-playing games are being used in classrooms, “graphic novels” are considered literature, conferences about geek pop culture are in major cities with thousands of attendees, and every cool kid is going to see the latest Harry Potter in the theaters. After this movie about magic and monsters, what’s the next most popular thing around? Vampire love. Yeah, times have changed.

Back in my day (creak of my ergonomic office chair) fantasy and science fiction were lumped into one genre: nerd. And that wasn’t a good thing. It was a lonely thing. Years ago there was no Harry Potter phenomenon, The Lord of the Rings had yet to come to theaters, and Star Wars consisted of three movies from the last decade. I would bring novels I was reading into school, and kids would peer at the cover with some fiery demon being fought by a sword-wielding warrior.

“Huh…you’re into that stuff?”

Yes, yes I was. I loved fantasy adventure books, especially if they had some humor. (The Xanth series was particularly amusing in junior high.) Never once did anyone look at my book and reveal that they were into that “stuff” too. Maybe that’s why I kept bringing my books in. Not just to keep me from being bored in class, but in that hopes I would find my geeky tribe. Interestingly, I had friends. They just weren’t geeks. The only two kids in school that, in retrospect, may have been geeky were two Chinese boys that read manga. But at the time, that was considered weirder than my stuff.

I did book reports on The Hobbit and The Illustrated Man. Other students in my class were confused as to why, but didn’t say too much about it. I was more known for my musical ability than the books I read. I never showed anyone the fantasy stories I wrote at home, not because I was embarrassed, but because I didn’t think anyone would be interested in them.

Like many geeks, I was introduced to the culture through my family — mainly my dad’s love of science fiction books and movies. The introduction came early when I hid under the seat at four years old during The Empire Strikes Back. My dad still laughs while telling that story. Amazingly, I wasn’t scarred too much, and grew up with a love of the unexplained and fantastic. When I first met my husband, I was dumbfounded that someone else read the same books as I did. Plus, he had had friends all through junior and high school that did too. His uncle had introduced him to Role Playing Games, he showed the game to his friends, and that was their main source of entertainment. I couldn’t imagine being with a whole group of people that liked fantasy. Is it any wonder I married this man?

Then along came a book about a boy wizard with a scar on his forehead, and now my kids and their friends happily declare, “I’m geeked!” You whippersnappers have no idea how good you have it. No, no, you don’t. And I’m thrilled.

Molly Weasley Comfort Cooking

Eating shepherd’s pie just like Harry. Photo: Amy Kraft

After a long winter’s day, ever wish you could just cozy up in the Burrow and have Molly Weasley whip you up a little roast chicken with mashed potatoes? Or feast in the Great Hall on some lamb chops? Now you can… with a bit of Muggle work.

When I was sent The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook for review, I thought it was going to be little more than some fun gimmickry. But, on thumbing through the pages, there are some delectable-sounding treats, including a lot of stick-to-your-ribs winter fare, the kind I usually have to head to a pub to get.

Sure, the gimmickry comes first, but that’s what makes it great fun for fans. It appears that author Dinah Bucholz has scoured the seven books for any mere mention of food, and then paired that nugget with a recipe. Mr. Weasley mentions to Kingsley Shacklebolt that Molly’s making meatballs for dinner? Accio meatballs! Here’s a recipe for Molly’s meatballs with onion sauce. Like Harry, want a taste of treacle tart while Ron and Hermione argue? Or a taste of the vol-au-vents from Bill and Fleur’s wedding? Early and often we’re warned that this book is unofficial. JK Rowling has nothing to do with it. Please don’t sue them! However, this unofficial book reads as wonderfully delicious fan fiction.

But does it work as a cookbook? The organizing principle not only gives the book a structure that follows the arc of a Harry Potter book, it also encourages a wide range of recipes:

  • Chapter One: Good Food with Bad Relatives
  • Chapter Two: Delights Down the Alley
  • Chapter Three: Treats from the Train
  • Chapter Four: Recipes from a Giant and an Elf
  • Chapter Five: The Favorite Cook’s Dishes
  • Chapter Six: Breakfast Before Class
  • Chapter Seven: Lunch and Dinner in the Dining Hall
  • Chapter Eight: Desserts and Snacks at School
  • Chapter Nine: Holiday Fare
  • Chapter Ten: Treats in the Village

The recipes focus on British cuisine, and lacking any other British cookbooks I decided my first crack at the book would be something basic: shepherd’s pie (though as both the book and GeekMom Sarah would quickly point out, I actually made cottage pie because I only had ground beef on hand). Surely you’ll remember in Chamber of Secrets when Harry barely touched his shepherd’s pie because he was so dreading his detention with Professor Lockhart?

Harry and Ron slouched into the Great Hall in states of deepest gloom, Hermione behind them wearing a well-you-did-break-school-rules sort of expression. Harry didn’t enjoy his shepherd’s pie as much as he’d thought.  Both he and Ron felt they’d got the worse deal.

Overall, the recipe was pretty easy, made with mostly staple ingredients. The timing of elements in the instructions could be clearer, but an experienced cook won’t have much trouble parsing these recipes. As for taste, it totally served it’s purpose as wintertime comfort food, but I already have a few things I’d do differently next time – definitely use lamb to make a proper shepherd’s pie, and spice it up a bit. I expect to start scribbling in the margins like the Half-Blood Prince.

It may not be the finest cookbook for British food out there, but it sure is fun cooking to these literary references. And if you have any plans to throw a Harry Potter theme party, this cookbook is a must-have.

Geek Tragedy in Middle America


My twelve-year-old son finished Americus and said, “This is a good book.”

I’m always annoyed to read the list of “banned” books in American schools and libraries. It’s one thing for a parent to decide what to put in their own child’s head, but a town board? Harry Potter was banned in many places because ignorant people believed that by reading these books, children would learn about satanic practices. Morons. When I heard about this I wrote a song called, “Fool’s Blues.” I’m guessing MK Reed and Jonathan Hill felt similarly angry to churn out the graphic novel, Americus.

In their book, which I checked out from my library, a young geek named Neil has to save his beloved fantasy book series from being banned. He already knows, through junior high hell, that being a geek sucks in a small town, but he also learns that you can find your tribe and stick together to protect what matters.

“You kids better stop thinking on your own and start listening to what I tell you!” pretty much sums up much of the adult mind-set in the town of Americus, Oklahoma. The main plot is about a mother (see quote above) trying to convince the town board to ban The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde from the public library on the grounds that it is akin to pornography in its moral degradation of youth. This same mother sent her son (Neil’s best friend) to military school for declaring he was gay. However, the graphic novel is really showing what life is like for outsiders in real towns like Americus, where the enemies are, “liberals, atheists, and gays.”

This is a place where Neil’s mother gets flack from other women for letting her son wear black shirts. Apparently, only troubled youth that will eventually burn down the school wear black. Neil reads for fun (big mark against him) and the library is one of the few havens for geeks in Americus. Charlotte, the librarian, is a friend.

Mr. Howard, Neil’s neighbor, tells of his experience in high school, “Each day brought another indignity…now I sell them steaks, and they pretend like all that never happened.” Later, Mr. Howard defends the fantasy series at the town meeting, saying everyone needs an escape from reality.

Neil’s POV in high school is a highlight of this book. The first day of class speeches by the teachers are spot on. I reread them out loud to my husband to our mutual amusement. The biology teacher: “Now we all know that God created the earth 6,000 years ago for man to live on, but science tells it another way…” is hilarious. Though my favorite is:

“Realistically, most of you will quit or graduate high school and become cashiers and waitresses, and those of you with lofty goals might be a real estate agent or car salesman. Regardless, you’ll never use algebra again. But some of you might go to college and to prove that you’re more intelligent than a field of corn, you’ll need to take the SATs, half of which is math…”

Neil is pessimistic, frustrated, and misses his best friend. Yet, the young boy finds music and books that make him happy. He speaks up for what he cares about and makes friends along the way. I recommend this book for junior high and up.

Quidditch: Nerds Fight For Gender Equality


I was busily buying tickets to attend the Quidditch World Cup next month, and found myself perusing the IQA (International Quidditch Association) website. There is a documentary film coming out about the 2010 World Cup: what started as a Harry Potter fan game in Vermont a few years ago has become a sport drawing hundreds of teams from around the world to New York City.

On their website, I found this video about a new ruling in the sport. If you watch it, skip to 3:25 to get to the point. Basically, as the sport is growing in popularity, women are becoming marginalized. The board of directors at IQA decided to pass a rule that would require all teams to have a 4:3 ratio of gender equality. Apparently this has not been enthusiastically embraced. You may be surprised that anyone cares enough about a fantasy sport to get riled up. However, Muggle Quidditch, based on the Harry Potter series, has become its own legitimate world. Quidditch is not a joke, it’s a way to socialize and exercise and yes, to have fun.

Why is it co-ed in the first place? Because that’s how it was in the books. Because everyone can be athletic. And because the founders made it that way. In the video, the board of the IQA is passionate about their sport and the impact it can have on gender relationships and sports around the world. It’s still for fun, but fantasy books are for fun, yet Harry Potter changed the way the world looks at geeks. You know it.

I actually got teary-eyed listening to the Commissioner speak about how Joanne Rowling was pushed to change her name so no one would know she was a women, since it would hurt sales of the book. He and the board believe women and men should be treated equally in all areas of life, and if they have the power to do something about it, they will. I applaud their decision, and also their willingness to wait to implement it until after this year’s cup, so teams do not have to restructure their member rosters last minute. That’s just polite.

Next month, I’ll be cheering with my two kids, one boy and one girl, at the World Cup. It will be one of the few places where both my kids can be inspired in creativity, competition and community.

Music Week: Confessions of a Soundtrack Geek – Part One

The London Philharmonic Orchestra Playing The Lord of The Rings Symphony © Henry Burrows via Flickr
The London Philharmonic Orchestra Playing The Lord of The Rings Symphony, conducted by Howard Shore © Henry Burrows via Flickr

Before I start this article, I think I need to get one thing straight with you. I am a soundtrack geek.  When a new movie is coming out that I am excited about, such as Deathly Hallows just the other week, not only am I eagerly awaiting the release of the film itself, but also the soundtrack. It’s the same with TV shows. Right now I am getting rather excited about the potential for a Doctor Who Series Six album to tie in with the second half of the series that begins airing at the end of this month. I have the soundtrack albums from countless movies and TV shows plus I even have several gigabytes of background and on-ride music from the Disney theme parks.

I’m not entirely sure when my interest in scores developed. I remember buying the score album from The X-Files: Fight the Future back in 1998 when I was just eleven, but that was more out of an obsessive “buy everything related to this movie” phase than genuine interest in the music. I certainly don’t think it was listened to that much. I also had an album of cult sci-fi and fantasy TV themes back then, but I think the real love for this music began with a friend a few years ago. When we would drive around in her car, she would usually have the soundtracks to Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter or some other film playing, and I found myself increasingly drawn to them. I began getting copies for myself and now I have a vast collection of soundtracks and scores. I find them great for listening to when I’m writing, as the vast majority are instrumental so I don’t start singing along or inadvertently typing the lyrics instead of whatever it is I’m trying to write. It never ceases to amaze me how such deep emotions can be conveyed without needing to speak a word.

As the terms soundtrack and score can be used somewhat interchangeably, I feel I should clarify that my interest lies with the orchestral background and incidental music, rather than albums that compile tracks by various music artists that are heard in the show or film. Often, two albums are released, an example being with Twilight: New Moon where both a score and a soundtrack collection featuring tracks by Muse and OK Go are available. Although I do own several of these soundtrack compilations as well, to me they are more like themed albums rather than the true music of the film or show.

Here then are some of my personal favourite soundtracks (or series soundtracks) for you to check out. This post will focus on film soundtracks with TV shows coming later this week. The linked track titles in my favourites will take you to short clips courtesy of Amazon and iTunes.

 

Star Wars Album Covers
Star Wars Album Covers

If there was an award for the most iconic film theme ever created, I’d say it was a fair bet Star Wars would be in the top three at least. I am one of those rare people, especially amongst geeks, that genuinely likes the prequels as well as the original trilogy. They certainly aren’t as good to me but the originals are such genuine classics that they never could match up. Nonetheless I will most certainly be hitting the cinema to watch them all again in 3D from next year – if only to see some of my all time favourite movies back on the big screen.

One way the prequels do match up to, and for me, possibly even out-do their predecessors, is in the quality of their scores. Even Phantom Menace, which even I concede as the worst Star Wars film (well, if you exclude the Clone Wars film) has some truly fantastic music. “Duel of The Fates” is easily one of the best Star Wars pieces of all the films put together, as is the epic “Anakin vs. Obi-Wan” from Revenge of The Sith. The original trilogy also has some outstanding pieces but, no, the Cantina Band is not among them for me! Naturally the “Imperial March” ranks as a classic but there are other great tracks including “Binary Sunset” and “The Battle of Yavin”. However for me, if you want great Star Wars music, this is probably the only time I would always turn to the prequels over the original trilogy.

My favourites: Duel of The Fates (I), The Hologram/Binary Sunset (IV), Across The Stars: Love Theme from Attack of The Clones (II), Victory Celebration/End Title (VI), Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan (III)

 

Album Covers for Harry Potter 1 - 8
Album Covers for Harry Potter 1 – 8

In terms of iconic themes, the twinkling Harry Potter theme (actually entitled “Hedwig’s Theme”) is hot on the heels of Star Wars as one of the most well-known pieces of music in film history. Out of all the films series I own, the Potter scores are probably the ones which are most different from beginning to end.  The light-hearted, jovial sounds of the Philosopher’s Stone soundtrack with its fun brass sections is a million miles removed from the quiet tragedy and swelling drama of Deathly Hallows Part Two; however certain scenes do hark back to the early films such as the comical “Detonaters” in Deathly Hallows Part One giving the soundtracks as a collection a feeling of being the individual pieces of a whole. A number of different composers have worked the Potter position over the years, almost as many as there have been Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers at Hogwarts, each lending their own unique flavour. The result is a collection that progresses along with Harry’s story, not disjointed despite including so many styles, but gradually changing and darkening over time.

My favourites: Hedwig’s Theme (Philosopher’s Stone), Fireworks (OOTP), When Ginny Kissed Harry (HBP), Into The Rushes (HBP), Obliviate (DH1), Lovegood (DH1), Lily’s Theme (DH2), Dragon Flight (DH2)

 

Independence Day Score by David Arnold
Independence Day Score by David Arnold

Films like Star Wars have become known for their scores, the theme music being instantly recognisable and other bits of their music well-known as well. Independence Day on the other hand is a far more obscure soundtrack but no less beautiful for that. A big blockbuster movie that relies more on impressive visuals needs an equally large scale score to match so this album is more about big sweeping pieces than intimate, touching ones; that being said a standout track for me is “The First Lady Dies” which plays over a scene I count as one of my top ten tearful moments in sci-fi.

My favourites: 1969 – We Came in Peace, Aftermath, The First Lady Dies (extended edition only so no mp3 available)

 

Covers of Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse
Covers of Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse

With two more scores yet to come from the two parts of Breaking Dawn, this collection is far from complete, yet it already includes several great tracks. Creating the lullaby written by Edward for Bella in the first film was always going to be a challenge for any composer, however Carter Burwell created a beautifully simple piece that stands out from the rest of the album which manages in turn to convey well the mixture of overwhelming teenage passion with a constant sense of foreboding. Taking the reigns for New Moon was Alexandre Desplat who was later responsible for both Deathly Hallows scores; to me there is a marked similarity between the three scores which can be heard distinctly if you compare “Obliviate” from Hallows Part One with New Moon’s “Memories of Edward”.

My favourites: How I Would Die (Twilight), Bella’s Lullaby (Twilight), New Moon (New Moon), Memories of Edward (New Moon)

 

Cover of Wall-E by Thomas Newman
Cover of Wall-E by Thomas Newman

Whilst Disney movies are well known for their big musical numbers, Pixar films are less musically driven. However the speechless robots and corresponding lack of dialogue in Wall-E really threw the score into the limelight more than with any of its predecessors. The love story between Wall-E and Eve had to be told almost completely non-verbally and so tracks like “Define Dancing”, where the pair dance through space together, are vital to the film in a way few score pieces get to be. The characters of Wall-E and Eve are partly explored by their music too, with the former having fun, bouncy pieces when he is on screen, shifting to far gentler, flowing strings for Eve.

My favourites: Define Dancing, First Date, 2815 A.D.

 

The Fight The Future & I Want to Believe Album Covers
The Fight The Future & I Want to Believe Album Covers

The two X-Files films were released ten years and four show seasons apart, in every way they are completely different beasts.  While the first film, Fight The Future focused and progressed the show’s central mythology, the second, I Want to Believe was a stand alone story which only briefly hinted at the main plot.  A result of these differences is a significant difference in sound styles.

Fight the Future uses a score that sits perfectly within the TV show; in fact many pieces from it were later used in season six episodes. It begins with the classic six-note theme music presented in a hauntingly quiet stripped down with just a lone instrument sounding them out before the full orchestra bursts in dramatically. The score does for the music what the film did for the visuals, taking the same basic outline and doing it on a far grander scale. This was the first time an orchestra had been used for the franchise—all previous music being entirely created by synthesizer—and it gave the film a much more dramatic feel. Hearing the theme motif being played out by a full brass section was incredibly thrilling the first time and continues to be so.

The second film is overall a far slower, more melancholic affair. Mulder and Scully are older and have suffered far more over the years than they had in FTF. The plot itself is also darker and creepier that the blockbuster feel of the first film. There are no helicopter chase scenes or huge explosions here so the music is subtler and sweeter in some ways as we are now seeing a couple finally admitting their love for each other. Of course there is plenty of angst between the pair that results in quiet and terribly sad moments too. These things can never be allowed to run smoothly.

My favourites: Threnody in X (FTF), Soda Pop (FTF), Corn Hives (FTF), Facts (FTF), The Trip to DC (IWTB), The Surgery (IWTB), Good Luck (IWTB), Home Again (IWTB)

 

Jurassic Park Album Cover
Jurassic Park Album Cover

Jurassic Park is, and will always remain, one of my all time favourite movies. It was released when I was was only six but I got to see it soon after once it came out on VHS and I have loved it ever since. This was music I truly grew up with and so it holds a very special place in my heart. The classic theme tune plays at the entrance to the Jurassic Park island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando and I can honestly say that it was that piece of music that almost brought me to tears when I first walked under that gate as a seventeen year old finally getting to experience a sort of childhood dream come true—walking through the gates to Jurassic Park. Just listening through this music as I write this is enough to almost bring me to tears, this is the music that is truly close to my heart. As with Independence Day, a film of this scale needs a big sound, one capable of lending the appropriate majesty and awe to creatures most of us grew up holding in real reverence and, as usual, John Williams delivers the goods in spades.

My favourites: Journey to The Island, Dennis Steals The Embryo, Welcome to Jurassic Park

There are so many great soundtracks that it would take forever to cover them all. Here then are a few honourable mentions from other great movie soundtracks. No doubt I’ve missed dozens more. Why don’t you comment with your favourites too? Don’t forget to check back later this week for part two which will be all about the scores from TV shows.

Married Life (Up) – Michael Giacchino
King of Pride Rock (The Lion King) – Hans Zimmer
The Medallion Calls (Pirates of The Carribbean – The Curse of The Black Pearl) – Klaus Badelt
Mind Heist: Trailer Music (Inception) – Zack Hemsey
The Raider’s March (Indiana Jones Quadrilogy) – John Williams

Geeky Novel Word Counts–How Long Are You In For?

Earlier this week, I found myself in a discussion about the lengths of various novels. It was spurred by two similar conversations I’ve found myself in repeatedly, based on the recent Game of Thrones TV show and the release of the final Harry Potter film. They go like this:

Game of Thrones Harry Potter
Friend: *complaint about TV show, usually about a character being killed off* Friend: *complaint about final movie, usually regarding the slowness of Part I*
Me: You should try reading the books. I think it’s a much better experience. When characters are killed off so quickly, you don’t have a chance to get attached to them in the TV show. You also don’t see the variety of points of view that the book offers. Me: Did you read the books first? The movies have to cut a lot out, so it seems like people who didn’t read didn’t understand a lot of the first part of Deathly Hallows.
Friend: There are books?! Friend: Yeah, they’re just too long.

A Dance With Dragons, the latest book in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, weighs in at 1,040 pages. (The series title is actually A Song of Ice and Fire, but TV-only people have never heard that name.) Deathly Hallows is practically bite-sized in comparison at 784 pages.

All this got me wondering how those two compared to other epic series. Available word counts vary, and since I’m not inclined to count the words individually myself, consider the following to be reasonably accurate, but not perfect.

Your favorite may be missing from this sampling–feel free to add it in the comments. But there’s one that I intentionally left out because it threw the chart off so far. If you decide to get into Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, you’re in for 4,012,859 words, over 635 chapters and 11,308 pages. Even in audio format, you’ll be committing to 17 days, 11 hours, and 30 minutes. Deathly Hallows doesn’t sound so bad any more, does it?

Harry Potter Week: The Busy Traveller’s Guide to Harry Potter’s London

Harry, Hermione & Ron in London
Harry, Hermione & Ron in London © Warner Bros.

There are countless reasons to visit London but for many fans of Harry Potter, getting to see some of the real life locations from the films has to up near the top. A quick Google search will provide you with countless options for everything from self-guided walking tours to week long vacations taking in all the Potter goodness you could possibly wish for, but a good number of visitors to London are here on business without the time for such extended tours. If you only have an hour spare in your trip, what’s worth seeing and what is convenient? Here then is the guide to Harry Potter filming locations for those people who are in a hurry and just want to squeeze a bit of Potter magic into a hectic business trip.

 

1. Kings Cross Station/Platform 9 and Three Quarters

Underground Station:
Kings Cross St. Pancras (Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern, Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines)

Is it worth visiting?
This is the location that gives you the most Potter for your time with three distinct Potter locations within minutes of one another and all right at the station, meaning there’s little chance of getting lost in London’s winding back streets. If you only have time for one Potter experience, this is where you should head. It is worth noting that the current location of the entrance to Platform Nine & Three Quarters is outside and the brick wall into which the trolley appears to be vanishing is actually a shiny plastic photograph of a brick wall and very fake when close up, not the genuine brick wall inside the building which was used previously. This may be because of the major renovations currently happening at Kings Cross in preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games and so the platform entrance may eventually be moved back to a real wall.

What is the location like?
For the unseasoned London traveller, it is very important to know that Kings Cross actually comprises two different stations which are set across the road from one another, Kings Cross and Kings Cross St Pancras International. Past visitors may recall a third Kings Cross station – Thameslink which has now closed with services to that station now re-routed to St Pancras. Make sure you are aware which station you will be arriving at, Kings Cross is one of the largest hubs in London and is nearly always very busy, even late at night. You will need to cross a road to see both areas but a pedestrian crossing is located close by and the area is usually so busy that the traffic is often stationary for long periods anyway.

What will I see?
Kings Cross itself is home to Platform 4, where the bridge scenes from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone were filmed, however the bridge that Harry & Hagrid walked across has been demolished. Scenes from Chamber of Secrets were also filmed on Platform 4. You cannot access the platform itself without a valid ticket however it is easy to see the distinctive arched roof from the station concourse. Outside the station (follow the signs for lost property) you will find the false brick wall that marks the entrance to Platform 9 and 3/4 – if you get lost, look for the crowd of people queuing up for a photograph, it was a constant presence during my time waiting for a friend there.

Platform Nine & Three Quarters
Platform Nine & Three Quarters

Finally, to your immediate left as you look at Platform 9 and 3/4, you will see the distinctive architecture of Kings Cross St Pancras, where the exterior shots from Chamber of Secrets with the flying Ford Anglia were located. Crossing the road and heading up the stairs immediately in front of you will take you away from the traffic and into the courtyard of the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel which will allow you to really see the location and the beauty of the building. This is also where several publicity shots for Deathly Hallows Part Two were taken last week.

 

2. Grimmauld Place

 

 

 

Lincoln's Inn Fields
Some Houses at Lincoln’s Inn Fields

 

 

 

Underground Station:
Holborn (Piccadilly & Central Lines)

Is it worth visiting?
This is rather debatable as the true location for Grimmauld Place is still up for some debate, meaning there’s a good chance that what you’ll see has nothing to do with Harry Potter except baring a bit of a resemblance to the film set. However when we went along to the most  touted location for Grimmauld Place, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, there was no mistaking that the houses here are an uncanny match to those at in the films.

What is the location like?
We used Holborn underground station and followed the signs to Lincoln’s Inn Fields from the station exit, they were clearly signposted. This is not scenic, picturesque London by any stretch of the imagination but if you want to see something closer to the “real” London, this is a good stop. The location was around five minutes walk and unmistakeable upon arrival. Lincoln’s Inn Fields is believed to have been the inspiration for New York’s Central Park as all the houses face out onto  a scenic open square, accurate to the film. If you’re on a lunch break and want to mix your Potter sightseeing with a nice spot to get lunch, this is the place.

What will I see?
All the houses facing the square have elements of Grimmauld Place to them, walking along the roads we would spot a familiar railing at one house and the next would have the correct window surrounding. Take a stroll around the square and you can probably amalgamate the appearance of Number 12 by piecing together the different bits from each different front. Naturally you wouldn’t actually be able to spot Number 12 anyway, unless you have been there before.

 

3. Shaftesbury Avenue & Piccadilly Circus

Shaftesbury Avenue
Shaftesbury Avenue

Underground Station:
Piccadilly Circus (Piccadilly & Bakerloo Lines)

Is it worth visiting?
This is where Harry, Ron & Hermione apparate to when they escape from the wedding in Deathly Hallows Part One. There is little here to actually mark the location as being a Potter location but you will certainly see some of the same sights around you from those scenes.

What is the location like?
Busy! This is the heart of tourist London, expect huge crowds from dawn ’til dusk. The underground station has numerous exits that bring you out on various sides of a huge road junction with multiple streets converging. It is difficult to truly see much of the area because of the crowds and tricky to get your bearings. Unless you really want to see everything or are interested in the tourist attractions, theatres and restaurants here, this may be one to avoid.

What will I see?
This stop is more about atmosphere, especially if you’re visiting at night, perhaps before a show in one of the countless theatres located nearby. The crowded pavements, roads filled with bright red London buses and neon signs of the theatres and restaurants give you the feel of being in the scene along with the characters which is a feeling you may struggle to attain at other locations. One of biggest tourist attractions here is Ripley’s Believe It Or Not which can be seen very briefly in the film as can the famous Piccadilly video screen wall.

 

4. The Ministry of Magic

The Ministry of Magic
The Ministry of Magic

Underground Station:
Charing Cross (Northern and Bakerloo Lines) or Embankment (Bakerloo, Circle and District Lines)

Is it worth visiting?
This is one of few locations that are almost identical in reality to the way they appear on screen. It is a significant walk (perhaps 10 minutes) from Charing Cross, where we approached from however you will get to see Trafalgar Square on your walk, combining the location with some more traditional London tourism. This one is certainly worth it if you have the time but there are certainly more scenic places to see.

What is the location like?
The Ministry of Magic  is aptly located, close to many real governmental buildings including the Ministry of Defence, Cabinet Office and Downing Street – home of the Prime Minister. Coming from Charing Cross, you will pass by Trafalgar Square and you are close to other famous London landmarks such as The Mall. The surrounding areas aren’t much to look at, this is a government area with little to attract non workers so expect grey monotony. You are also right by the original home of the Metropolitan Police at Scotland Yard.

What will I see?
Scotland Place is where the trio staked out the main entrance to Ministry in Deathly Hallows Part One and also where we see Harry & Mr Weasley enter the Ministry in Order of The Phoenix. The phone box Harry & Arthur used to enter the Ministry was a prop and does not really exist, however apart from this nothing was changed for the film so this is one of few places where you can stand in the exact locations seen in the films. Nearby is Trafalgar Square where the premiere of Deathly Hallows Part Two took place last week.

 

5. Other locations

London is a big city and, partly due to several large protests that were converging on Parliament the afternoon of our trip, we didn’t have the time (or consider it entirely safe) to visit every filming site. The Millennium Bridge which is destroyed in the opening scenes of Half Blood Prince can be seen from many points along the River Thames as can several other bridges and the Houses of Parliament where we see Harry & members of the Order flying in Order of The Phoenix and Lambeth Bridge where the Knight Bus squeezed between two London buses. Australia House (interior of Gringott’s Bank) is close to the Ministry of Magic location and can be accessed best from Temple underground station; Leadenhall Market (Monument underground) is the location for Diagon Alley and a flower shop in Borough Market (London Bridge underground) marks where the Knight Bus pulled up to deposit Harry at the Leaky Cauldron. Finally, if you do find yourself with a little extra time, you could always visit the reptile house at London Zoo and see if you can talk to any of the residents there or take the 17 minute train ride from Waterloo to Surbiton Station where Harry flirted with a waitress in the platform cafe at the beginning of Half Blood Prince.

Wicked Fun with the Kodak All-in-One ESP C310 and Design Gallery Software DVDs

Kodak Harry Potter graphics softwareYou’re likely already read the printing adventures by our own GeekMoms over the course of the week. I am admittedly a bit of a Harry Potter fangirl, so this project seemed like a no-brainer for me. Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ boasted all sorts of wicked good fun, and seeing the faces of my familiar and favorite characters come to life in a variety of creative (and with a decidedly Potterian aesthetic) was equally exciting.

But let me start at the beginning.

Because any good project is only as good as our printer. For reference, we had an HP all-in-one before Kodak sent the ESP C310 my way. And we were generally happy with it. At least, marginally so. I mean, printers are only as good as the ink you use, right? And the last time we went and bought ink (right before a hurried convention appearance where I was supposed to be printing out little cards for promotion) we just about broke bank. Not to mention that the printer was notoriously finicky with my MacBook Pro.

Well, I’m happy to report that there were no such problems with the Kodak All-in-One ESP C310. Setup was a snap, and after a restart and a short calibration period, we were connected to the printer via wireless network. Wireless printing is one of those things I marvel at, still. Geek that I am I can’t help but feel like printing without a cord in the middle is just a little magic.

Add to that that the price of ink for the ESP C310 is significantly lower than our previous printer, and that the print quality is great… well, I’m a happy camper, let’s just say.

Now. On to the projects. You’ve seen this week that there are many possibilities when it comes to projects with the Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™. That’s no surprise. I love the many symbols and designs, and they really all do evoke a sense of the world of Harry Potter, right down to the menus and elements in the program.

A screen shot of the project in progress.

However, I am biased. Sure, there are all sorts of camps when it comes to the Harry Potter oeuvre. But personally there is no home like the Burrow, and no hero like Ron Weasley. Okay so he’s a little tempestuous at times. And the whole fight between Ron and Harry really dragged out in Book Four, to the point where I wanted to knock both their skulls together. But when it comes down to it, Weasley really is my king. He’s the most likely character to make me laugh, cry, and giggle. Yes, admittedly I have a thing for ginger guys. But that’s hardly the point!

While there were a few odd bugs with the Macintosh version — switching between windows caused the program to blank out until I clicked on “Home” and it does not fill the whole screen — the tweenager in me was still quite thrilled to print a project featuring my most favorite wizard. And if I were so inclined I could also emblazon his face upon banners, doorhangers, and calendars, all as easily as if I had a wand of my own.

Just don’t call me Lavender.

At any rate! If you, too, would like to experience a great printer with some fun software, remember that Kodak and GeekMom are giving away the last and final bundle this week. All you’ve got to do is comment on Monday’s post to enter.

What are you waiting for? Appararate over there already.

How to Make Fun Harry Potter Printables with Kodak Design Gallery Software DVDs

Kodak-Harry-Potter-2-small-475x633Just in time for the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 movie premiere on July 15, Kodak has come up with some great software for making your own Harry Potter collectibles. The Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ DVDs let the crafty witches and wizards in all of us create printable masterpieces. You can design and print papercrafts such as invitations, banners, posters, calendars, collectible cards, or anything that will fit on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper.

I had a fantastic time designing projects with the software DVDs, and then was able to easily print them on the Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One printer. Unlike the last printer I had to set up, the Kodak C310 was incredibly simple to set up. With my family’s varied needs, the copying and scanning functions will get used frequently, and being able to print directly from my SD card or iPad will be useful, too.

The printer was also easy to set up on my network. It was simply a matter of following the included directions. They were a bit like IKEA assembly instructions (which I consider fun), but they were very clear and I encountered no difficulties. It detected my network automatically, and I only had to put in my network key. Then it just worked. No hooking it up to my computer or router. Just plugging it into the wall.

But back to the projects. The main menu presents you with many project choices. All of them have access to the same tools and graphical elements, so it’s just a matter of what shape and format you are looking for. For my first project, I made some collectible cards with various Harry Potter themes. They are more like art cards than ones with particular people or places, but I could imagine having cards for each of the cast members, one for Quidditch, one for Runes, and so on.

There are four already-created collectible card sheets in the software for you to look at for inspiration, print out as is, or embellish with additional design elements. (This spot is also where projects you have saved will show up for later printing or editing.) Or to make your own project, just start with a blank card template. Then design your own collectible cards with photos of the Harry Potter cast, scenes from the movie, house flags and crests, and many borders, patterns, icons, swatches, and phrases. Everything is perfectly Potter. And whether you want to do high quality photo-based projects, or line drawing and artistic ones, there are plenty of built in options in the library for you to use. Many of the items are in black and white, but most of the Harry Potter character photo images and plenty of the other elements are in color.

On the design page, all of the elements are able to be moved, resized, rotated, written on (with Harry Potter-esque fonts), or changed in color. You can send elements to back or to front, so you can have the right layering. Save your designs as you go, and print them when ready. The working area for collectible cards is divided up into spots for four cards, with a blue border to stay within for easy cutting. These borders also print when you print the page.

To keep you in the mood while making your wizardly creations, there is Harry Potter music in the background, but it can be turned off if you so choose.

As I was working, I had more and more ideas of designs to create, and thought up plenty of extra reasons to use collectible cards. One idea is to make them into little stationary notecards that could be part design, part blank area. They could be used to hand write notes or messages to send to people or to include with a gift (such as a Harry Potter book). Another idea is to make personalized Hogwarts Express train tickets to give to each kid at the start of the school year. The ink cartridges that this Kodak printer uses are quite affordable compared with inkjet cartridges for other printers, making all this printing feasible.

I especially had a good time with the borders and icons. There are enough graphics to choose from that there should be something to fit anyone’s style, or particular house sympathies.

Don’t feel like you have to keep all of the elements entirely within the print boundaries. I purposely went over the lines much of the time, to create a layered, larger look for when the cards would be cut. Having an element only partially showing is sometimes a good thing. When I was done with all of my wizardly wares, I printed everything out, cut the cards apart, and showed them off to my kids. They are now inspired to make their own!

Since these are meant to be collectible cards, or notecards in general, these would best be printed on card stock, whatever your printer can handle. The Kodak C310 printer that I was sent takes up to 110 lb card stock paper, but I had to make do with the regular inkjet paper I had on hand.

These Kodak DVDs are the perfect way to make projects for your own Harry Potter party or personal celebration. They are also just as useful for creating more general projects. I found myself wanting to create more collectible cards than I really had time for; the design elements you can use are that fun.

To sum up, the Kodak Design Gallery DVDs mingle classic art styles with modern Harry Potter memorabilia to create really special design software. Visit Kodak.com for more information.

Also, don’t forget! To win a Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ Part 2 DVD and a Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One printer, go to Monday’s Kodak post to tell us what you plan to do for the final Harry Potter movie premier. And feel free to  share your photos of Harry Potter parties, celebrations, and countdowns in the GeekMom Flickr group. We can’t wait to see what you all have planned for the big event!

Note: Kodak provided GeekMom with free samples of their software and printers for these posts.

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GeekMom and Kodak Bring You Some Magical Giveaways (Now Ended)

In four short weeks, Hogwarts fans will be lining up to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, the last movie in the series based on the great adventure novels of J. K. Rowling, which opens July 15. And in honor of the event, GeekMom has joined with Kodak to give you a chance to show off your magical celebration of this momentous occasion.  For the next month, we’ll be giving away four packages that include the Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One Printer and the Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ Part 2! (See entry information below…)

The Kodak Design Gallery Software lets you make your own fun Harry Potter printables using over 300 images and graphic elements. You can use it to make invitations, banners, collector cards, door hangers, posters, and lots more cool printable projects using images from the movies. It also includes a collection of Harry Potter crests, borders, patterns, icons, swatches, and phrases. Using the unique customization tools, you can add your own photos, type in your own text, draw, color, rotate and scale the images to create your own personalized designs. Or select a pre-designed template, add any special touches you want, and just print!

The Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One Printer that will be included with all four giveaways is a wireless printer with an easy Wi-Fi setup. And it’s affordable — it’s priced at $99, and it uses KODAK 30 Series Ink Cartridges with the lowest ink replacement cost in the industry. Like all KODAK All-in-One Printers, the C310 Printer delivers crisp, sharp text documents, brilliant graphics, and KODAK Lab-Quality Photos that dry instantly and last a lifetime.

On Wednesday we’ll be sharing some of the designs made by GeekMom Jenny Williams and her family using the Kodak Design Gallery Software and the Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One Printer. In the meantime, enter to win a Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ Part 2 DVD and a Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One Printer of your very own by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post, telling us your plans for the culmination of the great Harry Potter movie series next month! You have until midnight Friday night to enter this week’s drawing. And we’ll have a drawing each week, so you have four chances to win!

We’d also love to see your Harry Potter-related photos and images, so put a link to them in your comment, or just add them to the GeekMom Flickr group! We’ll feature the best in future posts.

And be sure to visit Kodak.com for more Harry Potter goodness over the coming weeks. Thanks to Kodak for inviting GeekMom readers to be a part of their celebration!

(UPDATE: We’ll be giving away four Kodak packages, each with the Kodak Design Gallery Software featuring Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows™ Part 2 DVD and the Kodak ESP C310 All-in-One Printer!)

The Magic Behind Real-Life Butterbeer

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure just sold its millionth butterbeer, which creates a nice segue into two burning questions about the Hogsmeade brew of choice: Does it contain butter? Does it contain beer?

No on both counts.

Having a son who’s ragingly allergic to dairy, I shook down several WWoHP staffers on several different occasions about the dairy content, and they all professed that the potion was dairy-free. We ordered ours – one frozen, one regular – but I got a little concerned when the butterbeer slingers (the patient souls seen in the clip above) topped the concoction with a creamy foam. They assured me that the foam was also dairy-free, and judging by the fact that we didn’t wind up in the Wizarding Emergency Room for a magical encounter with the Epi-Pen, they were right.

On to more fun topics: What does butterbeer taste like? Not beery at all, but more like a sophisticated take on cream soda. Butterscotch can be oversweet and cloying, but butterbeer is not. I’d recommend trying both the frozen and the regular kind, as they taste a bit different. If it’s early in the day, though, pass on the souvenir mug, as it’s a drag to carry it around all day.

Another wizarding potable worth trying is Pumpkin Juice: It’s for sale in souvenir bottles the shops of Hogsmeade as well as in cups the The Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head pub, where–in case you were disappointed at the non-alcoholic nature of butterbeer–you’ll also find Potter-inspired cocktails, beer and wine. In the books, pumpkin juice never sounded all that appealing to me, but Universal’s version is a treat: made of apple juice with pumpkin and apricot puree and spices reminiscent of pumpkin pie, it’s refreshing and less soda-sweet than butterbeer.

Stay tuned for a look at the shops and attractions of Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. More questions about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Post them in our forum, and if I don’t have the answers, I’ll find ’em.

And be sure to check out Matt Blum’s review of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter over at GeekDad!

The Top 25 Ways You Know You’re A GeekMom

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Jenny Williams, circa 1980. Photo taken by her mom.

What is it that sets a Geek Mom apart from the mundane mass of mothers? Have you ever questioned if you qualify? To really know if you are part of this proud parental pack of geeks, read on…

  1. As soon as your daughter’s hair was long enough, you put it in Leia buns.
  2. You make hot cocoa with a Bunsen burner and a beaker.
  3. You told your kids you were watching Avatar: The Last Airbender because it had such an amazing plot, but really, you just had a crush on Zuko.
  4. Your diaper bag is covered with anime character pins.
  5. You drag the family out of bed at 2AM to watch a lunar eclipse.
  6. Your children KNOW what to do in case of a zombie-pocolypse.
  7. Talk Like A Pirate Day is an honored family tradition.
  8. Your children think going grocery shopping means going to the game store.
  9. Your children’s names are Logan and Jean Grey.
  10. You have to explain to your eight-year-old daughter why she can’t dress up as a Lolita.
  11. You expect your child to know as many digits of pi as their age.
  12. As soon as a new book came out, you would send your children to bed early so you could get a head start on Harry Potter.
  13. You worry more about the font choice than content in your child’s essay.
  14. You try to make cut out cookies in the golden ratio.
  15. You crocheted Star Trek communicators for the whole family.
  16. You rearrange your kid’s extracurricular activities around your role-playing game schedule.
  17. Legoland is a perfect family vacation.
  18. Your children’s toys equipped with LEDs are in extreme danger if you can ever find that tiny screwdriver.
  19. The Toys R Us big book has two colored pens…one color for your kids’ wish list and one color for yours.
  20. You and your children sing RE: Your Brains by Jonathan Coulton on the way to school.
  21. You have a photo of your infant holding a joystick at a computer.
  22. You teach your twins to say, “Wonder Twin powers…ACTIVATE!” when they fist-bump.
  23. You sing lullabies in Elvish.
  24. You have a Zelda cosplay Christmas card.
  25. Your children think this is all normal.

What else, geek moms?

With thanks to: Kathy Ceceri, Jenny Williams, Corrina Lavitt, Catherine Post and Jenn Tylbon

What’s To Read After Harry Potter?

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Book covers: Scholastic Press. Mashup: Kate Miller.

Readers, I’ve got something explosive to say. OK, here goes (nervous throat-clearing sound):

I just don’t like Harry Potter.

I don’t loathe Harry Potter, I just don’t see the magnificence and originality that others do. The first book left me cold, and even my boys lost interest at around book three.

There, I’ve said it. Please don’t yell at me or arrest me. I’m just speaking out for a tiny, overwhelmed minority in America. We Potterphobes cower in our closets.

So why am I posting on our Harry Potter week? Just to be a downer? To be the critic everyone hates? No! My job here is to recommend an alternative series, good for Potterphobes as well as Potterphiles who are ready for fresh material.

And my recommendation is – drumroll, please — the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins. My older son and I picked up the first book a couple of years ago when I was still reading aloud to him. We buzzed through the next four books with the urgency of addicts. Like Harry Potter, the protagonist of this series is a boy with a mysterious destiny who moves between the real world and an equally real alternate world. But the resemblance ends there.

Gregor is a smart and troubled 11-year-old New York kid who inadvertently discovers the Underland, a human civilization living in enormous caverns deep beneath the city. There, humans uneasily co-exist with species of rats, bats, spiders, mice, cockroaches, and other creatures, all grown to enormous size. These creatures are also highly intelligent, armed to the teeth, and as flawed and unpredictable as humans. It’s a blazingly original landscape. Shifting alliances and misunderstandings propagate the plots, and we watch as Gregor navigates. He’s decent. And conflicted. It’s awesome.

The books thrum with themes of war and peace. One plot closely parallels Hitler’s rise to power and the Holocaust. Gregor is strategically placed to answer some of those old philosophical chestnuts you toss around in college: “It’s 1939. You have a loaded gun and a clear shot at Hitler. What do you do?” Or, more to the point, what would Gregor do? (WWGD?) These questions sparked lively discussions with my son, for which I’ll always be grateful to Suzanne Collins.

So if you liked Harry Potter — or even if you didn’t – you might give Gregor a try. Oh, and when you do, let me know what you think of Ripred, a vicious and brilliant rat with traitorous tendencies. We adore him.

GeekMom Games: Harry Potter Wizard’s Dueling is for Everyone!

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Image courtesy Warner Brothers

It’s here.  The second to last Harry Potter movie.  The books are done.  The movies are coming to an end, and by golly, my obsession is not nearly over.  I’m a Harry Potter fan through and through.  Admittedly a latecomer to the series I didn’t read the first book until after the release of the second movie (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets).  Even then I only did so because a particularly insistent friend gifted me the book in college.  A tried and true bibliophile I couldn’t not read it.  It’s a book, that’s what its for, right?  Six hours later I was in the car praying that the local Border’s was still open at two in the morning so I could get the rest of the books that had been released at that point.  It was and so my obsession began, late and in-austere, but obsession nonetheless.

I own a channel-changing wand (courtesy my paycheck devouring fave site, ThinkGeek), I regularly don a Professor McGonagall costume, and have taken every blessed Which Harry Potter Character Are You quiz ever written on the internet.  I draw the line at writing fan literature although that can’t be far behind with the book and movie franchise drawing to a close.  I have however created my own version of Wizard’s Dueling to be used by my geekiest of friends.  My three-year-old daughter even plays it.   With the movie premier nearly here I thought I would share my abbreviated version with GeekMoms to use in the theater as you wait for the midnight showing.  The beauty of this version is that it can be played from memory, much like Rock Paper Scissors. If you can remember three spells you can duel your fellow wizards.  It is easy for kids to learn and you get to yell out Harry Potter spells as loud as you can.

You’ll need three spells and an optional wand:

  • Confundo
  • Petrificus Totalus
  • Expecto Patronum
  1. Confundo beats Expecto Patronum (In order to cast a Patronus you must be able to focus your thoughts on things that make you happy.  Under a Confundus Charm you would be unable to focus.)
  2. Expecto Patronum beats Petrificus Totalus (Expecto Patronum is a simpler spell to cast if you know how to do it and a Patronus, when conjured properly, can have physical effect on its target.  Since it takes a bit more wand work to cast Petrificus Totalus, the Patronus would have your opponent on the ground before the spell could be cast.)
  3. Petrificus Totalus beats Confundo. (You can’t cast a curse if you can’t move your arms.  Petrificus Totalus is the Full Body-Bind Curse and is pretty effective.)
  4. In case of a tie, it is a draw and you have to cast again.
Wizard’s Wand Remote from ThinkGeek

Yes, I’m that a big a nerd.  Most of my information is from extensive reading (and re-reading) of the books as well as this awesome spell compilation I found on Wikipedia.

You can add various dimensions to this by assigning point levels to each spell.  You can also add your favorite spells, just be sure to write down what beats what.

Another variation to try:

Using the above matrix, assign point values.  I use increments of five (5) because it makes the math easier.

Confundo gets 5 points, Petrificus Totalus gets 10 points, Expecto Patronum gets 20 points.  Each time you win using one of those spells you get that number of points.  However you lose the assigned number of points when you lose the match, so you can’t just yell Expecto Patronum every time. Now we add a bit more.

Add to the list Expelliarmus (expels the wand from the opponent’s hand) and Finite Incantatem (negates the effect of most spells):

  • If you use Expelliarmus your opponent loses 10 points.  You, however lose 5 points. Great tactic if you are close in points.
  • If you use Finite Incantatem you win the match, however you receive no points.  Your opponent still loses the points associated with the spell they attempted to cast.
  • You play in rounds.  A round consists of ten castings. You can only use Expelliarmus and Finite Incantatem once each per round.

Again, these are the kid friendly versions of the game.  When playing with my grown-up Harry Potter fan-friends we have a much more complicated version that more closely resembles the old-school table top games.  There is a point system, the forbidden spells (which I left out of the children’s versions, even the loudest geek part of me really can’t condone kids yelling out imaginary killing curses at each other), tie breakers and the like.  I’m choosing not to post this version for two reasons.  First, it is painfully complicated and it involves diagrams and matrices and insanity.  Second, I’d like you to post your own variations of Wizard’s Dueling without mine to taint the creation.  Use the comments section and share your tales of dueling. I look forward to hearing from you!