Go Gleek for a Week

Image: Chris Colfer via Twitter

Next week Fox is giving me an early Christmas present by combining three of my passions in life: Star Wars, Christmas episodes and show tunes. The hit show Glee will present an unusual guest star, Chewbacca the Wookie, in a tribute to both the Star Wars and Judy Garland holiday specials. The Christmas episode will be leading man Matthew Morison’s directorial debut. On a recent Jimmy Kimmel episode, Matthew chatted about the upcoming show.

“We called up George Lucas, and he gave us Chewbacca,” Morrison said. “There’s only one guy who can officially be Chewbacca, and he lives in Northern California. They flew him in. We had Chewbacca for the day. It was just great. We were taking pictures with him. He’s been doing it for 12 years.”

Whatever your opinions of the 1978 Star Wars Christmas special, it’s got to be worth tuning in to see what Chewbacca will make of the McKinley Glee club. The episode, “Extraordinary Merry Christmas,”  will air on Tuesday, December 13 on FOX.

GeekMom 2011 Holiday Gift Guide #5: Toys and Activities for Older Kids and Adults

The fifth in our series of 2011 Holiday Gift Guides covers toys and activities for the older kids and grown-ups on your holiday gift list. Some of these are aimed toward the under-18 crowd, but many of them are just as much for grown-ups as they are for kids. What catches your eye? Share your ideas in the comments.

Image: Lego

Lego Volkswagen T1 Camper Van
New this year from Lego is the Lego Volkswagen T1 Camper Van. Relive the days of your youth, or experience a different time while you build and play with this incredibly fun model. With 1,332 pieces, the Camper Van will give you and your loved ones hours of enjoyment during assembly, and even more fun playing with it afterward. With functional wheels, doors, trunk, and pop top, any Lego lover on your list will enjoy this gift.

Image: Lego

Lego Architecture Robie House (and other Lego Architecture kits)
This year’s incredibly detailed and ambitious Lego Architecture kit is the Robie House, complete with 2,276 pieces. Easier to build than the Lego Volkswagen T1 Camper Van because of its many identical pieces, this is a great activity to do with your kids, with a friend, or alone. You’ll end up with a fantastic model of a large, iconic Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house that will look great on your bookshelf. Also check out the new Lego Architecture Farnsworth House and the Lego Architecture Brandenburg Gate. There are plenty of other Lego Architecture kits in a variety of sizes and prices as well.

Image: Nanoblocks

Prices vary
Love building with Lego but can’t afford the intricate kits? Or have you run out of room on your bookshelf for all of your finished models? Nanoblocks offers a similar building experience, but on a much smaller scale. A bit like training a bonsai compared to trimming a regular tree, building Nanoblocks kits lets you create architectural or animal models with an itty bitty footprint.

Image: ThinkGeek

Get the arcade experience, on a slightly smaller scale, with your iPad and the iCade made by ThinkGeek. With a free Atari app, or one of a number of other iCade compatible apps, play games on your iPad with a joystick and buttons instead of finger gestures! Just like we used to.

Image: Amazon.com

Doctor Who Character Building The Time of Angels Mini Set
$18.99 from Amazon.com
For ages 5 years and over
The Doctor and Amy, along with River Song, went hunting for a solitary Angel but found an army of angels instead! From the fifth season of “Doctor Who,” little Whovians can play along with this construction set that includes a fully articulated Weeping Angel mini-figure. It is also compatible with other popular building systems, like Lego. Comes with one weeping angel figure, other figures pictured not included.

Image: Amazon.com

Doctor Who Character Building Eleventh Doctors Micro Figure Collector Pack
$42.99 fom Amazon.com
For ages 5 years and over
For the hardcore little Whovian, it’s the ultimate Doctor Who mini-figure set! All eleven incarnations of the Doctor as detailed micro-figures come in an awesome TARDIS display box. Each micro-figure includes a Doctor Who display base.

Image: Amazon.com

Doctor Who Character Building Tardis Mini Set with Figures
$25.00 from Amazon.com
For ages 5 years and over
The Tardis Mini Building Set comes with two mini-figures, the Eleventh Doctor and Amy Pond. Put this with other Character Building play sets, and kids can create their own adventures through time with the Doctor and his companions! It is compatible with other popular building systems, like Lego.

Photo: Lego

Star Wars Alarm Clocks
Less than $25
If you have a kid who isn’t generally friends with his/her alarm clock (and who doesn’t?) maybe you just need a change of pace. Maybe it’s time to switch out that blaring, round, boring clock for a menacing Darth Vader Mini Figure Alarm Clock. Who’s going to argue with the Master of Evil when it’s time to get up? And imagine how fun it would be to see this on the dorm or office desk of a grown up Star Wars fan that you know. He can be posed to run, stand or sit and conveniently does contain a snooze button. For less than $25, it also comes in Storm Trooper or Yoda versions, in case Darth is too intimidating for you.

Photo: Uncle Milton

Light Saber Room Light
Less than $20
If you’ve got a Star Wars loving kid, you can’t go wrong with this Light Saber Room Light. It’s a cool addition to any bedroom and does double duty as a nifty night light too. You can pick one up for less than 20 bucks at Amazon.com.

Photo: Brick Stix

Brick Stix
$6 to $8
Any Lego loving family will appreciate the newest product for Lego bricks, called Brick Stix. Designed by a nine year old named Greyson, who wanted to expand his play options, these clever, repositionable clings can turn your plain bricks into rescue vehicles, puppy dogs, or a detailed retail store. My favorite packs are the Zombie stickers, complete with boarded up doors and blood spattered shirts, and the WWII themed pack, which contains authentic military uniforms for your favorite mini figures. All of these stickers are temporary and can be peeled off and used over and over. They range in price from $6 to $8, which is a steal, since they open up a whole new world for your current Lego collection.

Photo: Lego

Lego Minifigures Fairy Tale/Historic Collection
Just over $40
There’s no denying that Lego mini figures open up a lot of pretend play opportunities and it’s fun to have options like this huge set of figures, called the Lego Fairy Tale/Historic Collection. The price tag, at just over $40, may seem steep, but considering how much individual figures cost, and the fact that this set contains tons of accessories, it’s really a great deal. There’s a nice mix of girl and boy figures too, with mermaid, witches, and queens mixed in with skeletons and pirates. Introducing this set into your child’s Lego collection will almost guarantee hours of ‘new’ play with their old sets.

Photo: Playmobil

Playmobil Toys and Sets
$8 to $40
It’s a sad day, when you have tubs of Playmobil that line the toy room and suddenly your children see them as “little kid” toys. Fortunately the company has stepped up and introduced some products that successfully link their great, detailed sets with older kid products. The Click and Go Jet is one example. It’s a fun flying toy, but it folds up and clicks onto a belt, for portability. This is one entertaining toy that could keep little hands distracted in waiting rooms and grocery store lines. For the slightly older child, there’s the new Secret Agent line. These include jets, race cars and trucks, equipped with special features, like a real spy camera and ultraviolet flashlights that reveal hidden stickers. The sets range in price from $8 to $40 and are all interchangeable with your current Playmobil sets.

Photo: Mighty World

Mighty World Toys
$12 to $80
The term educational toys doesn’t just apply to video games that teach addition and science kits that threaten to blow up your living room. Sometimes just introducing new careers to your little one can be educational. The “Mighty World’ series is a great place to start. First, there’s the Mighty World Marine Research Unit, which comes with a girl and boy scientist and all their gear. Or what about the Special Operations Unit, complete with a robotic defense system? And if you’ve got a mini firefighter in your midst, you might want to try the Mighty World Fire Chief set. Any one of the Mighty World sets, that range in price from $12.00 to $80.00, can open up great discussions about fun careers that are possible for every geek kid.

Photo: Patricia Vollmer

Beyblade Metal Masters Triple Battle Set
The official product description states, “Customize the BEYSTADIUM with three battle cores: the Zip Core forces straightline movement, the Chaos Core brings chaos to the tops’ movement, and the Deflector Core brings craziness because it affects rightspin and leftspin tops differently! With the tournament grids and official rule book, you’re ready to do battle with all comers!” According to my youngest son (age 6 1/2), “All of the three interchangeable core really affect all of the Beyblades differently. The yellow panel [Chaos Core] seems to cause the most damage to your enemy Beyblade, the performance tip will get caught in a groove and lose spin power. The green one [Deflector Core] does the second most damage, because the attack tops that usually move all over the stadium will get stuck in one of the grooves and lose power. The red one [Zip Core] does the least damage, with this one the tops will spend the most time battling each other instead of getting caught in the grooves.” (Read GeekMom’s review of this product.)

Photo: Patricia Vollmer

Transformers KRE-O Building Sets
$7.99 to $49.99
Hasbro’s new Transformers KRE-O building sets bring Lego-brick-like construction capability to America’s favorite transforming robots. Hasbro doesn’t pretend that their product is superior to Legos, and even advertises on the packaging that their bricks are compatible with many other brick sets. We’ve received feedback on our review post that the bricks interchange really well with Legos, but the minifigures don’t quite stand up to their Danish counterparts. This didn’t stop GeekMom Patricia’s sons from really enjoying assembling their Bumblebee set. Each set allows users to use the same set of bricks to make either the robot or their vehicle. Geek Parents are challenged to come up with a way to help turn the set into a truly transformable robot/vehicle! (Read GeekMom’s review of this product.)

Image: Lego

LEGO Mindstorms NXT 2.0
Lego Mindstorms NXT 2.0 is a robotics kit from Lego that lets kids (and eager parents) ages 9 and up design and program real, working robots. The kit comes with parts for bilding and a “Lego brick” that allows programming either from the device or using desktop software, which is also included. This is a toy that isn’t easily outgrown, and geeks around the world are constantly finding new uses for their NXT robots.

Photo: SpinMaster

APPfinity AppBlaster for iPhone/iPod Touch
Age: 8+
Do you have a favorite shooting game iPhone App? This iPhone/iPod Touch Accessory turns your phone iDevice into a life-like shooting arcade. The apps downloaded from the iTunes App store use augmented reality to create a completely safe shooting arcade out of your own living room.

Photo: Lego

Lego Shuttle Set
Age: 16+
This Lego building set is a great way to remember the final flight of the space shuttle program in 2011. This replica stands 17.5 inches tall with a 10 inch wing span. The detail on this set is impressive featuring a satellite filled payload bay, cockpit big enough to fit two astronaut minifigs, removable external tanks and a service vehicle. 1,204 pieces.

Photo: ThinkGeek

Age: 3+
This little gadget is a must for tablet gamers. It gives you more control over the touch screen motion controls in most games and brings your gaming to the next level. Simply attach the joy stick to your screen with it attached suction cup, no wires or batteries required. The JOYSTICK-IT works with any device which features a capacitive touchscreen, including the iPad and Android tablets.

Photo: SparkFun

SparkFun Inventor’s Kit for Arduino
Ages: 10+
The SparkFun Inventor’s kit has everything you could need to outfit the very beginner with everything they could need to explore programmable electronics. This kit includes all of the electronic bits to build 12 basic circuits, no soldering required.

Image: Uncle Milton

Uncle Milton Ant Farm Revolution
Your run-of-the-mill ant farm is already a pretty cool gift, but the Ant Farm Revolution from Uncle Milton takes ant farms to a whole new level. Not only is there a 360-degree view of the ants as they tunnel through the space-age green gel, but there’s also an LED light and projecting lens to project the creepy crawlers on your ceiling.

Photo: Thinkaway Toys

Lazer Stunt Chaser
The Lazer Stunt Chaser is not your ordinary RC car. This car comes with a laser gun, and the car will speed after any spot where you point your laser. If there’s something in the car’s way, no problem – it’ll probably flip right over the obstacle with its two-sided design. The Lazer Stunt Chaser inspires building as you devise new ramps and obstacles for it to conquer.

Photo: I Heart Guts

I Heart Guts Plush Intestines
Ever want to cuddle up with your organs? Now you can with I Heart Guts plush organs. Your stuffed intestines have never looked so adorable, and nothing says I heart you quite like a humongous heart plush.

Image: Amazon.com

LEGO Minifigures Collection
Remember the thrill and mystery of grab bags? Lego offers that same element of surprise with their new Minifigures Collections. Each collection includes 16 different minifigures, sold individually in an secret package. What’s inside is a mystery. We’ve written in the past about these collections, but new this holiday season? Series four and five. Series 4 features a hockey player, a punk rocker, and an artist. In Series 5 you might get a dwarf, a zookeeper, or a gladiator. Of course, there are no duds with these grab bags. At just $4.99 each, surely Santa’s snatching these up for stocking stuffers.

Image: Amazon.com

Traffic Signs
Whether your kids play with Matchbox cars, wooden trains, or create their own cityscapes out of blocks, these familiar signs are a great addition to their roadways. The set includes 14 signs and signals. Imagination not included.

Check out our previous GeekMom Gift Guides: #1: Holiday-Themed Gifts, #2: Games, #3: Books, and #4: Toys and Activities for Young Kids.

Math is Everywhere: The Kidz Korner Gift Shoppe Experience

The Kidz Korner Gift Shoppe provides schoolchildren a safe environment to buy holiday gifts for their friends and relatives in the safety of their own schools. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

Last week I spent several hours at my 9-year-old’s school, helping children with their holiday gift purchase experience.  It’s a program that my boys’ schools’ PTOs put on as a service for the children.  For this particular school district, this was not a fund raiser.  This is the fourth year in a row that I’ve done this, both in Nebraska and here in Florida, and it’s so enjoyable!  Why do I love doing this?  It certainly isn’t because of the top quality products being sold.  It isn’t to get a sneak peek at what my sons might be getting me for Christmas, either….

I get the most joy out of watching kids come in with a budget and seeing them make gift choices for their parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.

Items are grouped by price range. My job was to assist the children with gift choices, keeping them within their budget. I was also responsible for re-stocking items as they sold out. This is the super-inexpensive item area, which was tough to keep nice with 20 kids at a time picking through everything. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

It’s a great big math lesson!

The Kidz Korner Gift Shoppe program was started by two former PTA presidents who sought a “safe” environment for school-aged children to enjoy a holiday shopping experience, still allowing them to surprise their families and friends.  The products offered are low-cost and come in a wide variety of price ranges and qualities.  The shoppe focuses on tailored products for relatives, such as travel coffee mugs that say “#1 Mom” and “#1 Dad”.  Or pendants that say “Grandma” with a heart.

At the Gift Shoppe I helped with last week, we offered items ranging from $0.25 to $12.50.  In most of the price ranges were gifts tailored for men and women, old and young, serious and silly.

About a week prior to the Gift Shoppe opening, students were sent home with a gift planning guide envelope.  Parents could establish a budget for their children, and list what relatives and friends towards which the budget could be applied.   Money went into the envelope.

When I worked at this event in Nebraska, I was helping children ages 5-12 with their choices.  Needless to say, the younger children needed the most help.  Kindergarteners don’t all quite understand the differences between quarters, dimes and nickels.  So they needed a lot of patience and guidance working through their holiday shopping.

At my oldest son’s school here in Florida, we were only working with 3rd-5th graders, so it was much easier for me to guide the students’ choices without having to spell out everything for them.

These are among the least expensive items. If the children had leftover money in their budget, they had a good time in this area of the shoppe. The "Barrel-o-Slime" had to be rationed, in fact. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

Your typical student came in with about a $20 budget, with instructions to shop for their parents, siblings and grandparents.  Most of the students did a good job with the math on their own.  Often I would be called upon to help check the kids’ addition.  Or a student would ask me to help fine an optimum combination of gifts for Mom with a $5 budget.

These are not the highest quality products.  They’re made in China, very simple quality.  The website proclaims they’re “department store quality”, but I’m not so sure.  Every year that my sons have shopped with this program, my husband and I, as well as the grandparents, definitely know that it’s the thought that counts.

One of the things I happen to LOVE about the Gift Shoppe is the gift wrapping that the experience includes.  The PTO is provided with these nifty mylar gift bags.  After the student pays for his/her gifts, they’re taken to a gift wrap station where a volunteer will wrap and label the gifts.  So when the student comes home from school, he/she has wrapped gifts ready to go!

In conclusion, if your elementary school student has the opportunity to particulate in a “Santa Shoppe” or “Gift Shoppe” experience, I encourage it.  It’s a great math lesson waiting to happen!

Several of us volunteers really got a kick out of some of the language on some of the products.  I’ll leave you with this one, one of a number of coloring books that we recommended to the students for younger siblings.

Engrish at its very best! Photo: Patricia Vollmer

GeekMom 2011 Holiday Gift Guide #4: Toys and Activities for Young Kids

Fourth in our series of 2011 Holiday Gift Guides covers toys for the younger kids on your holiday gift list. Babies, toddlers, and possibly early elementary kids will enjoy the items below. What are you giving to the young kids on your list this year? Share your ideas in the comments.

Photo: Gigamic Games

Batik Kid
Age: 5+ (Younger geeklings do well while supervised.)
This is a great game to give as a child’s first board game. There are 18 colorful wooden sea creatures that all need to stay inside the tank, its your job to figure out how to not be the first to run out of room. This game encourages visual and motor planning skills in young children as they have to determine which piece will best fit the remaining space. Its quick, colorful and fun enough to keep a young geekling interested.

Photo: ThinkFun

Age: 4+
This portable game is a must-have for those long road trips. No need to worry about losing a small piece in-between the seats, Zingo-to-Go has everything self-contained and attached. Just shake the car, and see if the items are on your game board. The first one to get a complete line wins. Simple, and fun for everyone.

Image: Amazon.com

Fisher-Price Kid-Tough See Yourself Camera (in Black and Purple)
Finally, a camera designed to let the youngest child take photos! The lens swivels front to back, making self-portraits easy. This camera has big buttons for little fingers and the controls are so child friendly that no reading is required. It takes stills as well as videos with sound, features 4X digital zoom, stores up to 1,000 pictures, and performs well in low light. Additionally, you can download stampers and special effects. Includes 4 “AA” batteries.

Image: Amazon.com

My Pillow Pets
$15.98 to $19.50
My Pillow Pets are 18 inch, huggable stuffed animals made of soft chenille that open to become a full-sized pillow. Pillow pets come in dozens of “species,” including: penguin, dragon, puppy, monkey, turtle, and dolphin. They’re perfect for sleepovers, travel, and quiet time. My Pillow Pets are a hit with teens as well as toddlers.

Image: Amazon.com

The Sing-A-Ma-Jigs
$5.99 to $24.99
These huggable creatures are a surprise hit. There are dozens of different Sing-A-Ma-Jigs. Every Sing-A-Ma-Jig has three modes of play. They chatter. They also sing their own songs, letting you control the pace of the song as you push their bellies. And they harmonize with other Sing-A-Ma-Jigs. When they sing together, each Sing-A-Ma-Jig joins in with perfect pitch. The more Sing-A-Ma-Jigs you have, the larger the chorus and the better they sound.

Image: Amazon.com

KidKraft Fun Explorers Pirate Ship Play Set
This sturdy set comes with all sorts of accessories, making for imaginative play. Perfect for kids who love Peter Pan stories or Jake and the Never Land Pirates. This large wooden ship has lidded storage, a retractable gangplank, cloth sails, four molded pirates (including a captain with a hook), two cannons, two sharks, a gunpowder keg, and more!

Image: Amazon.com

Maxim Deluxe TreeHouse with Accessories
This natural wood playset will spark a child’s imagination. The 19-inch-tall treehouse includes ladders, play figures, a bucket, barrel, bendable leaves, doors that open and close, a table and chair set, a boom and winch, a pulley system, and more, for years of creative play.

Image: Amazon.com

Haba Building Block Sets
$26.99 to $40.49
Haba block are keepers. Made of natural untreated beech, they come in a variety of standard as well as architectural sets. Due to small pieces, they’re not advised for children under three. You’ll want to take a look at Haba sets such as Baroque, Russian House, Medieval Castle, and Antiquity. You may want to leave a set out on a coffee table so guests of all ages can have a turn. And don’t be surprised if the sets you buy are saved for generations.

Photo: Ellen Henderson

$22.99 for 1000-piece set
STIKITS are small cylinders of cornstarch that look like Styrofoam packing peanuts, except they come in various colors. When dampened, they stick together solidly and can be squished and molded into various shapes and configurations. They’re easy to work with — kids can easily make letters and all kinds of shapes, and they rarely fall apart or come unstuck the way dough sculptures can. They can dissolve if you put too much water on — the key is dampening, not deluging — but that’s actually one of the benefits: They’re totally natural and biodegradable.

Photo: Disney

Disney Cars 2 AppMATes
Lightning McQueen Single Pack – $12.99
Ages: 4+
Turn your iPad into an interactive play mat for your kids with these car shaped accessories and a free iPad app from the iTunes store. My geekling was exploring Radiator Springs and driving around the surrounding Cars universe in a matter of minutes. You can help Lightning McQueen and his friends jump, race and complete tasks. This augmented-reality game is perfect for the Disney Cars lover in your life, and is a perfect geekling accessory to the iPad.

Photo: B Chase Photography

Sonic Screwdriver Flashlight (11th Doctor)
Age: 3+
When you have a Whovian family, even the youngest Doctor needs his sonic screwdriver! There aren’t many Doctor Who items that hold up to the rugged adventures of a three year old, but this one does just that. It is only a light, so its not a problem when the little Doctor won’t go to bed unless he has his sonic. This is a must-have for a Whovian of any age, but especially for the little ones.

Image: Putumayo

Putumayo Kids Africa Coloring Book
This giant-sized coloring book is full of scenes and animals that come from Africa. Kids can have fun coloring in the pictures as well as learning more about life in Africa. There are even some blank pages near the back so that kids can draw their own African scene.

Image: Putumayo

Putumayo Kids Europe Sticker Collection
This sticker collection gives your child a chance to learn about Europe while playing with stickers. The set includes several sheets of reusable stickers depicting landmarks and musical instruments found in Europe, as well as a map of Europe and a blank background of a countryside where the stickers can be placed for safekeeping.

Image: © Mattel

Octonauts Octopod Playset
The Octonauts have yet to land on US shores, but when they do I have no doubt that the mixture of kawaii cute characters and science/environmentalism-based plots will make a huge splash with US audiences. With their motto of “Explore! Rescue! Protect!” the Octonauts are a sort of underwater Enterprise crew, making contact with new species and helping where they can. This playset is the centerpiece of Mattel’s Octonauts offerings, and includes the good ship Gup-A along with Captain Barnacles and Kwazii figures.

Image: © Early Learning Centre

HappyLand Space Exploration Range
£16 – £40
The Early Learning Centre has been making great toys for decades, and the space exploration range from HappyLand is the company at its best. The toys are cute, creative and robust. My son received the space rocket, moon base and Martian house for Christmas 2010 and after eleven months of (very) rough toddler play, nothing is broken or scratched. All the doors are designed to pop off so hinges cannot be broken–although you might get driven a little crazy having to reattach them every two minutes!

Image: Squishables

There’s just something about the spherical shape and giant size that makes these Squishables so… squishable. Kids will literally and figuratively flip over all of the different choices, including owls, dragons, and octopi. Fabulous geeky options include the Narwhal and the Cthulhu. Skip the minis and go right for the 15-inchers!

Image: LeapFrog

LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer
Does your geeklet want a tablet but you’re not ready to hand over the iPad? The Leap Frog LeapPad Explorer learning tablet is a great alternative for little kids (ages 4-9, though the sweet spot is really 4-6). This device goes beyond the Leapster Explorer with a larger screen, camera, video recorder, and accelerometer, while still being backwards-compatible with Explorer cartridges. You can also download games right to the tablet.

Photo: Fred & Friends

Fred XYZ Blocks
If your toddler needs blocks that are sturdy, durable, and hilarious, these are the blocks you’re looking for. These large cubes are easily stacked with a nice surface texture, but the alphabet choices are the best part. Q is for Quicksand, R is for Raygun, and J is for Joystick, to name but a few.

Photo: Tegu

Tegu Blocks Pocket Pouch
These simple magnetic blocks made from sustainably-harvested tropical hardwoods feel wonderful in your hands, and the magnets give them endless building possibilities, even in this 8-block travel set. The pocket pouch is a great gift for your preschool builder as well as your office mate.

Photo: Fat Brain Toys

When looking for a stacking toy for your toddler, it’s nice to have one as versatile as Tobles. The colorful weighted pieces fit nicely in one another, but there’s all sorts of other sensory fun to be had. The pieces can spin, wobble, and balance in a variety of different ways.

Check out our previous GeekMom Gift Guides for other great gift ideas: #1: Holiday-Themed Gifts, #2: Games, and #3: Books.

Holiday Children’s Books

Image: http://us.penguingroup.com

My daughter loves having books read to her and she even likes “reading” books herself. We have a great number of books partly because I inherited a bunch of books from my childhood along with getting many books as baby shower gifts. But one area our library was lacking was holiday books. But that was remedied when I got the chance to review several holiday books. I read each to my three year old and she liked them all. But there were some she liked better than others.

Listen to the Silent Night was a sweet story of the night of Jesus’ birth. It showed that it wasn’t quite a silent night as  there were all kinds of noises. My daughter enjoyed this book because of the animals. For me, it was a very easy read with a great story showcasing the meaning of Christmas.

Strega Nona’s Gift was probably my least favorite of all of these books. This was because there are a lot of words that I had trouble pronouncing. But it was a good book as it highlighted some of the lesser known holidays and my daughter seemed to enjoy it.

A Christmas Tree for Pyn is a sweet story about a little girl name Pyn who wants a tree for Christmas. It was one of my favorites as the search for a Christmas tree brings Pyn and her father closer than they ever have been before.

Grace at Christmas is a story about sharing. Grace has to open her home to a family who can’t get home for Christmas. At first, Grace doesn’t like this idea but she finds that she makes a new friend and has the best Christmas ever. It was a sweet story but I think it may have gone over my three year old’s head a little.

The Twelve Days of Christmas is the holiday song in book form. The illustrations in the book are beautiful and the text is just pretty much the same as the song. It was strange for me to read the words instead of singing of them.

Hansel and Gretel is the age-old story of the children who find a house made out of candy. While I knew this story, I had forgotten how violent it was. I was a little afraid that it was going to give my toddler nightmares, but she didn’t seem to and she liked the story.

The Scrawny Little Tree was one of our favorites. It is the story of a poor little boy who saved up his pennies to get a Christmas tree. He loved his tree so much that it grew bigger. This story really touched me and it touched my daughter as well. She still talks about Christmas trees that “grow bigger bigger”.

Mr. Men – 12 Days of Christmas is a cute story about Mr. Muddle who can never get anything right. He comes up with a plan to give gifts on the 25th of every month to make sure he doesn’t miss Christmas. It’s a cute story and one of my daughter’s favorites. When given a choice, this is one of the books she always picks to have read.

The Gingerbread Girl Goes Animal Crackers is my daughter’s favorite out of all of these books. It’s the story of the Gingerbread Girl as she chases down a box of Animal Crackers and tries to save them from being eaten by a fox. It’s a really cute story but the singing is the reason that my daughter loves it so much. When the Animal Crackers get out of their box, they run wild and sing a song. Then each different Cracker animal has a song as well. Since it said they were singing, I just started singing as well. My daughter loves it and it is a very fun book because of this.

All in all, we really enjoyed reading these books. They cover a lot of different aspects of the holiday season and any would be a great addition to your child’s library.

Note: I received copies of these books for review purposes.

GeekMom 2011 Holiday Gift Guide #3: Books

Third in our series of 2011 Holiday Gift Guides lists over two dozen books that we have discovered in the past year. Some are for grown-ups, some are for kids, and some are for babies. Some are educational, and some are just for fun. What are your favorite geeky books from the past year? Share your favorites for any age in the comments.

Image: LucasBooks

Bonnie Burton’s Star Wars Craft Book
If your craftiness has a geeky or Star Wars bent, don’t miss Bonnie Burton’s fantastic book, the Star Wars Craft Book. She has created Star Wars-themed crafts ranging from crochet to paper crafts to planters. There is something in there for all skill levels and relating to all Star Wars movies and shows.

Image: John Booth

Collect All 21 by John Booth
Geeky people of a certain age, usually those of us born in the late 1960s or early 1970s, have great nostalgia for the original Star Wars movies and all of the cultural references and personal experiences that came along with them. If you’re wishing to relive your childhood, or wanting to learn about what it was like for those of us who lived through that time, John Booth’s Collect All 21 is a must read. John takes us on his own personal journey, from the original Star Wars movie until the present, of all his experiences with Star Wars, from a young child, to being a parent of a young child.

Image: Kids Can Press

Evolution by Daniel Loxton
Teaching critical thinking skills from an early age is vital, so that kids can make their own decisions and not get sucked in or persuaded by emotional arguments or fallacies. Daniel Loxton’s excellent children’s book on evolution, called Evolution oddly enough, is a perfect place to start. It is quite lengthy, and addresses all of the arguments that people may try to use to dismiss evolution. Read this one with your children, and discuss the many questions that will likely come up afterward. This is an important read for all families.

Image: Kids Can Press

Ankylosaur Attack by Daniel Loxton
For kids who love dinosaurs, and especially love looking at pictures of dinosaurs, check out Ankylosaur Attack by Daniel Loxton. In the book, he weaves a storyline together that is filled with information and facts about the ankylosaur, alongside visually appealing digitally created illustrations that any dinosaur lover will enjoy. This book is aimed at young children, but parents will also enjoy reading it with their kids.

Image: Marvel

Jane Austen Comic Books From Marvel Comics
$14.99 to $19.99 each
If you prefer your Mr Darcy in comic book form, or you like a bit of very traditional romance in your graphic novel, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and now Emma from Marvel comics should appeal to you. With beautiful artwork and masterful retellings of the original stories, these aren’t to be missed.

Image courtesy Sarah Spear

My Little Geek
An adorable board book for your little nerdling. Or a great gift for the geeky mother or dad to be!

Photo credit: No Starch Press

The Cult of Lego
Just when you thought you knew all there was to know about Lego bricks, along comes a new book called The Cult of Lego, by John Baichtal and Joe Meno. These guys have done their research and compiled it in an interesting and organized way. The book is thick, and filled with pictures and fun facts, so even those who dread books with long text (and pre-reader kids) will enjoy it. From how the bricks are made, to the fan clubs associated with the brick, just about every category you can think of is included. This is a must have for any Lego lover, young or old. It sells on Amazon.com for $24.80 and is worth every penny.

Photo credit: Jim’s Pancakes

OMG Pancakes
Just under $13
Who doesn’t like pancakes on a lazy weekend morning? The perfect book for any pancake lover in your family was recently released. It’s called OMG Pancakes, by Jim Belosic. We reviewed it at GeekMom.com and it just has to be mentioned here in our gift guide. If you’ve been looking for a new family tradition, pancakes may be your answer. From airplanes to space ships, Jim makes it look easy, with strategic photos and specific directions. At just under $13, this one should be a gift to yourself, as well as your favorite pancake loving friend.

Photo credit: Perigee Trade

The Monster Doodle Book
Just over $11
If you have any long drives over any rivers or through any woods this holiday season, this may be the book you need. It’s called The Monster Doodle Book, by Travis Nichols, and can be found for just over $11 at Amazon.com. Filled with partially finished monsters and monster themed challenges, it will keep your kids busy for hours. On our drive across the country a few months ago, we passed it around, from kids to adults. Everyone found a challenge they were willing to accept. Never underestimate the fun of a good old fashioned doodle!

Stargazer Volumes One and Two by Von Allen, Graphic Novels for Children
Three girls are transported to a magical world by an amulet that one inherited from her grandmother. Not only is this an incredibly imaginative world well-rendered by Allan’s art but, at its core, it’s about the friendship between the girls in the face of adversity. There just aren’t enough girl friendship comics in the world and to find one that’s also a well-written fantasy is a real find.

Image: Random House

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This is a must-have book for anyone who grew up in the 80’s or has a healthy appreciation of the Big Hair Decade and the classic games it spawned. It tells the story of Wade Watts, a high school kid in 2044 who spends his time in a virtual reality called the OASIS where you can be anyone and anything you can imagine. When James Halliday, the genius behind it all, dies, he leaves behind the ultimate Easter Egg. Find it and you get his company and his fortune. Wade and thousands of others obsessively study Halliday’s life and his love of the 80’s as they make their way through a virtual world laden with pop culture and video game references. It’s not all virtual though, as there are very real world consequences to their actions that will keep you guessing right up to the last page. Oh, and if you prefer your books in audio, this one is read by ubergeek, Wil Wheaton.

Image: Amazon.com

Owly & Wormy, Friends All Aflutter by Andy Runton
Want to introduce a young child to comics? This is the first picture book outing for Owly & Wormy who have been appearing in Andy Runton’s series of graphic novels since 2004. This beautiful full-color book will captivate pre-readers with its charm and even the youngest of children will understand the story through the expressions of the characters. Once they’ve digested this picture book, they are primed and ready for the first graphic novel, The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer.

Image: Amazon.com

The Geek Dad Book for Aspiring Mad Scientists
Much like the previous Geek Dad books by Ken Denmead, publisher of GeekDad.com and GeekMom.com, this one will inspire you and your kids to try new things as you explore and learn. And although it’s a GeekDad book, you’ll find plenty of projects based on ideas from our very own GeekMom editors Kathy Ceceri, Natania Barron and Jenny Williams, so don’t think it’s exclusively for the dads of the world. Projects are rated for cost, difficulty and duration so you know exactly what you’re in for before you start. Whether it’s a weekend full of fun or an idea for a science fair project, this is a book parents and kids will both enjoy.

The Wildlife of Star Wars: A Field Guide
This beautifully illustrated guide details the animal population of the Star Wars universe. Organized by planet, it contains a brief description of each ecosystem, before delving into a more detailed account of individual species. Annotated and rendered in pen and ink, it is a beautiful and informative guide to the backdrop of the movies.

photo by Cathe Post

Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)
Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do)
is a great book of activities you might normally not encourage your child to take part in – let alone learn from.

Image source: Apress

Robot Building for Beginners (Technology in Action)
Robot Building for Beginners is a book for the high school student who wants to learn about robotics by building robots from scratch. This book takes you through electrical engineering concepts and teaches how to recycle old computer parts into cool new robots. (Full disclosure, one of our GeekMom writers is a published Apress author.)

Image Attribution: Make

Best of MAKE
MAKE is one of the hottest reads in the geek community. If you are just catching on to the MAKE craze and wonder what you have missed. This book gives you 75 of the best do-it-yourself projects from the first ten magazine issues.

Image: anndroyd.com

Goodnight iPad: A Parody for the Next Generation by Ann Droyd
This Goodnight Moon parody is a sweet story of putting our electronic devices to sleep. It reminds everyone young and old that we need to disconnect sometimes.

Image: First Second Books

Nursery Rhyme Comics
$18.99 retail, $12.26 Amazon (hardcover book)
An incredible assortment of artists contributed drawings to this gorgeous, contemporary hardcover collection of Mother Goose rhymes. Each poem is its own little one- or two-page comic strip. The format is genius and will appeal to both little ones and older kids. In the hands of some of the finest illustrators in the business—people like Gene Luen Yang, Raina Telgemeier, David Macauley, Dave Roman, and living legend Jules Feiffer, for Pete’s sake!—the familiar rhymes take on a dynamic new life. See our GeekMom review.

Image © DC Comics

X-Files/30 Days of Night Graphic Novel
For those of us whose favorite shows have ceased to be and gone to join the choir invisible, getting new canon stories is a rare and joyous thing. This year saw the publication of a new X-Files comic, crossed over with horror franchise 30 Days of Night giving Philes new material to enjoy. This excellent horror story is great for fans of both franchises and even general horror fans will enjoy it.

Image © James Hance

The House at Chew Corner by James Hance
James Hance is the creator of “Relentlessly Cheerful Art” and his Wookie the Chew series of prints have been hugely popular with geeks. Follow the adventures of Chrisolo Robin & Wookie the Chew over 24 pages inspired by the work of A.A. Milne, George Lucas and E.H. Sheppard.

Photo credit: Chronicle Books

Big Vegan
The holidays bring an end to the old year and a look ahead to new resolutions–and at the top of most resolution lists is a desire to “eat healthier and lose weight.” If you’re like my family, you are still interested in eating meat but are experimenting with part-time veganism or vegetarianism by participating in meatless Mondays. The Big Vegan cookbook by Robin Asbell is a primer on preparing vegan meals that look beautiful, taste amazing, and are easy-to- prepare. Author Asbell gently leads the reader in preparing meals that bring grains and vegetables to the fore of the dinner plate in an informative resource appropriate for the lifelong, committed vegan as well as the sustainability-minded noob.

Photo credit: O' Reilly Media

Fashioning Technology
Have any girl makers on your gift list interested in:
• Learning how to construct and wire their own beaded LED lamp?
• Repurposing and rewiring their old Gameboy charger instead of throwing it away?
• Learning how to work with polymorphic plastic (which is, frankly, a really cool, easy-to-use medium)?
• Making jewelry that glows, earphones that double as winter earmuffs, or whimsical interactive toys fuelled by solar power?
Well, first they’re going to have to learn how to solder, sew, and calculate resistor value—but Suzy Pakhchyan’s book, Fashioning Technology, makes all of these tasks seem do-able and exciting! Her book provides clear, comprehensive instructions for each of the dozen projects listed and includes lots of helpful color photos for visual learners. Additionally, the book is affiliated with an online community where young makers can find guidance, tutorials, and links to resources as well as view videos and photos of completed projects.

Photo credit: Andrea Schwalm

Can You See What I See? Toyland Express
I never thought I would say this…but now that my sons are teenagers, I miss their preschool obsession with trains and can’t help but get a little weepy-nostalgic whenever I see a preschooler in striped coveralls and an engineer’s cap… If you’re lucky enough to have an engineer-in-training on your gift list this year, know that they will adore Toyland Express, the latest addition to Walter Wick’s “Can You See What I See” series of picture-find books. The book works on a number of levels, from a simple reader, to a picture-find adventure that reinforces vocabulary and listening skills, to a sweet story of old toys that find a second life among new children, depending on the needs of the reader.

Image: Penguin

Manga Biographies
Shopping for a fan of manga? Introduce her to famous historical figures with the manga biography series from Penguin. The lives of the 14th Dalai Lama, Gandhi, or Che Guevara pop off the pages in these easy-to-read paperbacks.

Image: Penguin

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School
The idea of having kitchen skills has been largely lost in the fast food, ready-to-eat American household. If you’ve got a young person in your life who could benefit from learning the basics, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School is an excellent introduction to becoming adept at putting good food on the table.

Image: Adams Media

Math for Grownups
If you’re shopping for a young adult who’s heading out in the world, consider a gift that will keep on giving. Math for Grownups offers up solutions to some of those real life problems that may leave you scratching your head. The author discusses the math behind big issues like figuring out just how much you can afford to pay for a new home and smaller problems like what size turkey you’ll need to feed your Thanksgiving guests. With clear and concise instructions it’s easy to calculate whether or not a big warehouse membership is worth the cost, how much carpet you’ll need to cover your floor, or (maybe more importantly) how many miles you’ll need on the treadmill to burn off one doughnut. Read the full GeekMom review.

Image: Amazon

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
Unlike the other children at school, Wesley dislikes pizza and soda, and he refuses to cut his hair in the style worn by all of the other boys. He is an outcast, much to the dismay of his parents. Call him a geek, even. Wesley spends his summer vacation creating his own civilization complete with its own alphabet. Weslandia is a captivating picture book that is among my family’s favorites.

Check out our previous GeekMom Gift Guides: #1: Holiday-Themed Gifts and #2: Games.

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Congrats Jingle the Husky Pup Winner!

Jingle the Husky Pup Storybook and Story Buddy by Hallmark

Thanks to everyone who entered our contest last week. There were some wonderful moments shared about your favorite ornaments, but in the end, there can be only on and our random winner is KtCallista who will be receiving her very own Jingle the Husky Pup.

Thank you to everyone who entered the contest and to the folks over at Hallmark for making this contest possible!

GeekMom 2011 Holiday Gift Guide #2: Games

Second in our series of 2011 Holiday Gift Guides is one detailing many games that we know and love. Some of them are new, some have been around a while, but all are great fun. This guide encompasses board games, card games, video games, and even an app. Check them out! And please share your favorite games in the comments.

Image: Eternal Revolution

Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype
Games with hand-made pieces and quality parts are sometimes easy to find. Uncle Chestnut’s Table Gype, a board game similar to Chinese checkers but more like Traverse, is a great example. For 2-4 people, players try to get their pieces across the board before their opponents do, jumping pieces along the way. But here’s the trick: The pieces are six-sided cubes. Which side is up determines how the piece will move, and every time it is jumped over, the cube is rolled. A bit of luck is needed, but the game is also highly strategic. You’ll want to play it again and again!


Image: The Creativity Hub

Rory’s Story Cubes
Crafting a good story is something that is fun to share, but you don’t need to write it down or even to perfect it to enjoy yourself and get a good result. Gather friends or family around, and roll Rory’s Story Cubes (available in both the original dice and the newer Actions variety). Then tell a story out loud based on the images on the dice. The dice come with a few different game ideas, but you can think of your own rules or visit the Story Cubes website for more ideas. The dice are very portable, and can also be used for inspiration with more conventional writing activities.


Image: Bent Castle Workshops

Numbers League Card Game
Games that teach math are a great way for kids to reinforce their knowledge and have a great time. One math game that will keep you and your kids entertained and wanting to play over and over is Numbers League. Use simple and more advanced arithmetic along with your heroes and superheroes to defeat the villains. Decide whether you’d like to use a sidekick and/or a device, and then add up the values of the heroes to match the numerical value of a villain. Play by yourself or against opponents, and keep your city safe!


Image: Bent Castle Software

Numbers League App
The Numbers League Card Game also comes in an excellent app representation. This Numbers League version allows for playing against the computer, against human opponents, or a combination thereof. It also has a very large range of game settings and levels. There is no sidekick in this version, but otherwise the gameplay is very similar to the card game. Take this fun math game with you wherever you go!


Image: Gamewright

City Square Off
A bit like Blokus flipped on its head, City Square Off gives each player their own board on which to build, and each player plays the same piece on each turn. The last person to still be able to place a piece wins. A favorite in our house, this game is great for kids up to adults.


Image: Mayfair Games

Create a path for your piece to follow while trying to guide other players’ pieces off the board. This game’s very simple concept is a great deal of fun and offers a short game that you can play with kids and grownups of all ages. It is also great for a larger group, since up to eight players can play at once.


Image: Amazon.com

Loopz Game
Loopz is a skill and action game designed to get players moving. It can be played alone or with up to four participants. Loopz includes seven different games (some with multiple levels) to challenge memory, flexibility, speed, rhythm, reflexes, and more. The loops flash with patterns of color and light, making this engaging fun for players 7 and up.


Image: Amazon.com

Xbox 360 Console Kinect
$299.99 to $399.99, or add-on Kinect system for your Xbox 360 $119.99
Xbox 360 250 GB Kinect Bundle Special Edition
Xbox 360 4 GB Console with Kinect
Kinect Sensor Add-on
Kinect technology makes Xbox better than ever. Kinect sensor utilizes full-body tracking to mirror your movements within a game or to control an HD movie with a wave of your hand. No controller necessary. Features built-in WiFi so you can stream movies or television, download games, connect with friends on Facebook, and much more. The video game experience has never been so real. A great gift for kids as well as grandparents.


Photo credit: AwkwardFamilyPhotos.com

Awkward Family Photos Game
If your family is feeling the need for something new to play on family game night, or your group of friends has a great sense of humor, this is the game for you. If you’ve ever seen the hilarious website called Awkward Family Photos, and couldn’t stop laughing, this is the game for you. If you need an activity that young kids can play with older folks and everyone has the same chance of ‘winning’, this is the game for you. It’s appropriately called Awkward Family Photos and you can snag your own copy for less than $19. It comes with a two sided board, covered in pictures that have appeared on the website, and players compete to see who can come up with captions and answers to such questions as, ‘What happened right after this picture was taken?’. If you’ve worn out your copy of Apples to Apples, it’s time to break out this new gem.


Image: Nicole Wakelin

Star Trek Fleet Captains
This brand new board game is sure to appeal to your inner Trekkie. You command a fleet of Federation or Klingon ships, each beautifully modeled with a Clix dial on the base to track shields, weapons, sensors and engines. As you move across a board of random tiles, you’ll explore new planets, settle outposts and, of course, battle the enemy. To help you on your way there are cards with all your favorite characters from Kirk to Picard and, yes, there are even Tribbles wreaking havoc and threatening to sabotage your mission. With a huge assortment of cards and 24 ships to play, it’s never the same game twice.


Image: Nicole Wakelin

Mouse Guard RPG
If you’ve been looking for a great way to introduce your kids to the world of roleplaying, then the Mouse Guard RPG based on the series of graphic novels published by Archaia should be part of your gift-giving plans this year. Although it was not created specifically for kids but targets adult players, the images and the universe are perfect for children. Set in a forest populated by brave little mice in capes and hats, it provides a rich world with kid-friendly characters your children will be happy to return to again and again. And as your children grow, so can the intricacy and depth of your adventures.


Image: Amazon.com

Kinect Sports Season Two
This sequel to the bestselling Kinect Sports title for the Kinect on Xbox 360 gives you and your family the chance to match skills at football, skiing, baseball, darts, golf and tennis. You can challenge each other in your living room or friends and family across the country through Xbox Live. Winter may have everyone stuck inside, but this game will have you breaking into a sweat as you try to beat your opponents.


A game system comprised of stacking pyramids instead of playing cards. There are 23 variations of this game, the rules of which can be obtained from Looney Labs. Ice Dice is a fast paced, entertaining way to while away the holidays.


Star Fluxx
Quite possibly the best of the Fluxx variations offered by Looney Labs. Star Fluxx keeps the premise of the original game while adding in geeky elements, going to the limits of what you can do under copyright law. A card game that can last ten minutes or sixty, it’s a good way to while away some time while digesting Christmas dinner. Not for the easily confused!


Image from DNA family games, used with permission.

Is a word game for families, made by a family. It is fast, fun, and educational play. The game is $29.95 on the website and can be found in game stores in the Pacific Northwest.


Photo by Cathe Post

Under $25
Dixit is a card game similar to Apples to Apples, but with pictures. The artwork is amazing and the game is a lot of fun for kids and adults. The basic game is selling for just under $25 on Amazon.


Photo by Cathe Post

Once Upon a Monster
If you have a Kinect and children seven and under (maybe even older than seven), this is a great game. The artwork and graphics are top quality and the activities are fun for kids and parents. This is the first Sesame Street game that I actually want to play – even when my kids aren’t around.


Image courtesy of Disney Interactive

Disney Universe for Wii
Embark on a family-friendly trip through an imaginary robot-run universe that’s gone amok with mischief! Your avatar will attempt to free the costumes of numerous Disney characters and then don those costumes while attempting to save the different areas of the universe. There are blue bots that are helpful, and these black and red bots that are full of mischief and evil. For Disney, this game has some dark elements, but overall, it’s been fun to play with the family. Similar to the Lego video game series, players will use deductive reasoning to solve problems to get through each level, all the while collecting stars and coins, like the Lego games’ stud collections. The Disney franchise connection will make this video game a hit with the younger kids! Multi-player capabilities let teams work together to solve the problems. Rated “Everyone 10+” by the ESRB for cartoon violence and mild crude humor.


Image courtesy of Activision

Cabela’s Adventure Camp for Wii
Enjoy extreme sports gaming like never before! Cabela’s Adventure Camp takes on several sports with a new twist! Participate in biking, kayaking, wave runner riding, skeet shooting, fishing, archery, hogwhacking, and a very special version of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”…called “Bear, Hunter, Ninja!”. Unlike other sports games, while Player 1 is doing his/her sport, additional players can wreak havoc on the player by laying obstacles! Each of my sons enjoyed downing trees across the river while his brother was biking or kayaking! Rated “Everyone” by the ESRB, but it does contain mild violence.


Image courtesy Microsoft

Star Wars Kinect Bundle
This gift won’t quite make it under the Christmas tree. It’s being released on December 31, but I promise you won’t be sorry you put an IOU under the tree and waited the extra couple weeks. If you don’t own an Xbox, this is an excellent, extra geeky way to jump into a way to play video games that require you to get up and move. The Star Wars bundle, aside from coming dressed up as Droids, also gives you the Star Wars Kinect game and an extra large 320 gig hard drive.


Image courtesy Amazon.com

Lego Pirates of the Caribbean
Lego Star Wars is my favorite video game of all time. You can play it at any age. You don’t have to see the movie first. It encourages cooperation, and you don’t have to be able to read. We’ve enjoyed all the other Lego video games in the series as well. Lego Pirates of the Caribbean adds more complexity to the game and makes money matter more. As with the other games, it parodies scenes from the movies without directly copying them, so it’s not too much of a spoiler to play the game before you watch the movie.


Image: http://www.telltalegames.com/

Back To The Future – The Game (Wii and PlayStation 3)
This game is the combination of five episodes that had been originally released episode by episode between December 2010 and June 2011 on the Microsoft and Mac operating systems. You play the part of Marty McFly in an adventure to save Doc and then restore the future. It is a game that any fan of the Back to the Future series.


Image: Microsoft.com

Kinect Disneyland Adventures
This new Kinect game for the xBox 360 allows you do explore Disneyland from the comfort of your own home. You can explore the attractions, meet the characters and complete challenges.


Image: Activision

Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure (Nintendo Wii)
Take innovative toys and match them with super fun gameplay and you’ve got Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure. An evil villain has frozen the Skylanders and sent them to earth, but with the Skylanders portal, you can send them back and save the Skylands! The single player mode is fun, but the cooperative mode is really something special. Oh, and if you pick this one up, you’re going to want more of the toys. Trust us. Read the full review.


Image: Hasbro

Simon Flash
Back in the day, Simon was a simple but addictive game. There was something about those glowing lights beckoning you to play. Now Simon has a high-tech update using Hasbro’s Flash technology. You can play the classic mode by following the pattern with the buttons, but you can also shift the cubes around to play four different games. A great update on a classic.


Image: Amazon

Word nerds, rejoice! Bananagrams brings the crossword puzzle to the tabletop. The flexibility of the game means that beginning and advanced spellers can all play together. The compact game comes in a banana-shaped zipper pouch suitable for travel (or hey, Santa – for a stocking stuffer).


Image: ThinkFun

Rush Hour Traffic Jam Game
Have you played Rush Hour? And no, we’re not talking the 5 o’clock commute. A strategy puzzle that will have players of all ages contemplating just how to maneuver the gridlock, Rush Hour comes with a set of cars and a deck of cards featuring challenges. In this single player game, the challenges begin simply but progress to more and more difficult layouts. For younger kids, there’s a Rush Hour Jr. Animal lovers will appreciate the Safari Rush Hour version complete with elephants and rhinos. This mind bender has been a favorite in our household for years.

Check out our previous GeekMom Gift Guide: #1: Holiday-Themed Gifts.

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Back to my Childhood: Babar and Father Christmas

Image: Amazon.com

I’m a sucker for a Christmas movie. I can usually find a redeeming feature no matter how bad it is. So when I received a copy of my childhood favorite Babar and Father Christmas to review, I was both hopeful and hesitant. This movie lives in my mind as a snapshot of Christmas. A grainy VHS copy, an early morning showing before school, Babar was part of my Christmas repertoire. How would it fare after twenty years?

As it turns out, pretty good. The message isn’t dated as some of the early Babar episodes are. We are shown the joy of the children when they discover Father Christmas, the redemption of the scheming Rataxes, and the lengths to which a father, Babar, will go to in order to bring joy to his children. When I was young, it was a concern of mine that Father Christmas was overworked, I sent him a Christmas present and worried for his health. After re-watching Babar and Father Christmas, I wonder if that sentiment was not inspired by this short film. My two year old was just as enthralled by the movie as I was, he sat quietly for the whole thing, which rarely happens, and commented only on the snow. The next day, when out shopping, he knew who Father Christmas was when he spied him in a store. As a side note, I have to say I loved that he recognized the old man as Father Christmas and not Santa Claus, a subtle nod to my heritage and not choice of residence.

You don’t need to know anything about Babar to enjoy this tale, it introduces everyone’s characters quite nicely without overwhelming Babar fans with recapped detail. The book on which the movie was based, was written in 1940 and the film follows DeBrunhoff’s original illustrations. His depictions of the underground workshops, in fact, bear a striking similarity to those drawn by JRR Tolkien in the 1920s and 30s for his children. The animation is charming and I think even older children, used to Pixar and Dreamworks, will find it’s vintage look appealing. It is not fast paced, it’s humor is obvious not subtle, and it is a gentle tale. It makes for a nice quiet moment amongst the viewing choices I am generally offered by my son.

Thoroughly enjoyable after twenty years,  Babar and Father Christmas was released on DVD  on November 22 and will make a charming addition to your Christmas movie viewing traditions.

Thanksgiving Around the World

Image: Sarah Pinault

While the celebration of Thanksgiving in America dates back to 1621, and in Canada even earlier, we are not the only continent to set aside a day to be thankful. Adding to my list of ways to geek out over the holidays, a website that helps in searching online colleges, has posted a listing of eight of the more grandiose worldwide celebrations of Thanksgiving. It’s a neat way to look at this holiday, and see how similar and dissimilar our own celebrations are with other cultures. Food, folklore and fellowship of family and friends are common themes across the globe.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in all its Geeked out Glory

In November 2000, I hopped on a bus with fifteen other exchange students and went down to New York City. It was my first trip there and to say I was excited was an understatement. I was determined to take full advantage of my semester in the US, and so rather than go home with friends for Thanksgiving, I was to spend three days devouring everything that NYC had to offer. Luckily another student wanted to do the tourist thing with me so I was not alone on my mad rush. We woke early, hopped on the subway and headed downtown. Nobody told us there was a parade in New York on Thanksgiving morning.

Image: Sarah Pinault

When we encountered barren streets alternated with jam-packed streets, and police on every corner, we asked one of them where to go. We set up shop outside of a Duane Reade and for two hours, stomped our feet, hooted, hollered and made merry with the masses. It was amazing.

While I am a Christmas fanatic, my husband is decidedly a Thanksgiving man. Thus over the years I have become more and more vested in this wonderful holiday and it’s traditions. For me the highlight of my Thanksgiving celebrations is the parade. This particular parade began in 1924 with live animals and street performers, the first balloons were added in 1927 with the debut of Felix the Cat. That first year, Felix was filled with air, helium wasn’t used until the following year. Suspended only during World War II due to the need for rubber and helium in the war effort, the parade has been a Thanksgiving staple in New York every year since.

This year will be the 85th parade and we can expect to see 15 giant character balloons; 44 ornament balloons including balloonicles and balloonheads; 27 floats; 1,600 cheerleaders, dancers and performance group members; 800 clowns; 11 marching bands; numerous celebrity performers, and, of course, Santa Claus.  Sonic the Hedgehog makes his return this year, along with a balloon created by Tim Burton. Pikachu and Spiderman also make their return trip down 34th street this year. Here’s a run down of the more geeky offerings in the balloon department, listed by the year they were introduced. A full listing can be found on Wikipedia:

  • Image: Macy’s Press Release

    1939: Superman

  • 1966: Superman (second version)
  • 1972: Astronaut Snoopy (the second version of Snoopy in tribute to Apollo 11)
  • 1980: Superman (third version and also the largest balloon to appear in the parade)
  • 1987: Spider-Man
  • 1993: Sonic the Hedgehog becomes the first video game character in the parade
  • 2001: Jimmy Neutron and Pikachu
  • 2003: Super Grover
  • 2006: Pikachu with Poké Ball (2nd version)
  • Spider-Man (second version)
  • 2011: Sonic the Hedgehog (second Version)

Every year, I look forward to seeing which Broadway shows are going to be showcased in front of Macy’s. I’m a little scared this year to finally have a glimpse at the Spiderman Musical, but if I lived through Legally Blonde, I can certainly get through this. The disclaimer here being that I love all musicals, no matter how corny!

There have also been several floats over the years that nodded to the geek community:

  • 1985: Masters of the Universe
  • 1987: Marvel Comics
  • 2003: Tutenstein
  • 2006: Space Station Discovery
  • 2010: Pokémon Black and White
  • 2011: Universal Orlando Resort – though I’m reserving judgment on this one until Thursday.

As for me, I will always have a place in my heart for the Dancing Grandmas of 2000! Happy Thanksgiving.


GeekMom 2011 Holiday Gift Guide #1: Holiday-Themed Gifts

As we did last year, here at GeekMom we have rounded up some of our favorite products of the past year, along with a few older but still great products for our 2011 Holiday Gift Guide.

This is the first of our themed guides, starting you off with holiday-related gifts to get you in the mood. While this particular gift guide is short, we will start in earnest after Thanksgiving, running two gift guides per week. They will encompass such things as toys, games, books, and various practical gifts. Stay tuned, as we have a lot of great gift ideas for everyone on your shopping list!

Image: Playmobil

Playmobil Christmas Sets and Playmobil Advent Calendars
Prices vary
For the kids on your list, Playmobil Christmas play sets and advent calendars are a great option. Some assembly is required, but once they are set up, kids will enjoy playing with them all season. Be sure to get your advent calendar before December!

Image: New Kideo/Scholastic

Giving Thanks… And More Stories To Celebrate American Heritage
Giving Thanks is a DVD in the Scholastic Storybook Treasures collection of DVDs. It includes two stories on Thanksgiving, one from the Native American prospective and one from the Pilgrim prospective. There is also a story about Hiawatha as well as a story that tells of the friendship between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

Image: Hallmark.com

Jingle the Husky Pup Storybook and Story Buddy
Every kid wants a puppy under the Christmas tree, but just in case you’re worried Santa will drop the ball, have a backup plan with Hallmark’s Jingle the Husky Pup. This adorable plush is more than what meets the eye, though, since he reacts with bark, whimpers and even happy howls as you read his story. Jingle All The Way tells kids how Jingle finally finds a home, with the help of a guy in a sleigh. As you read, certain lines of text trigger reactions from little Jingle. Kids can even get creative, making their own Jingle stories and reading those same lines to get responses from Jingle. The perfect solution for kids who want a puppy this year!

Stay tuned next week for more GeekMom gift guides! Have a great Thanksgiving week.

Get Geeky for Thanksgiving

Okay, so I am a bit of a holiday geek. I tend to go overboard at this time of year, admittedly less so since having kids. I’m sure once they start participating more and destroying less, it will pick up again. So I thought I’d share some of my favorite holiday crafts to get you in the mood for Turkey Day next week. These are all things that can be done quickly, depending on your starting craft proficiency.

  1. The major craft I love to do at Thanksgiving is make turkeys. That’s right, I make them. Having discovered Amigurumi back in 2006, I soon realized I could use this new obsession to enhance my others. Thus emerged the year of Amigurumi turkeys. The best pattern I have found is free on a Vegan blog. Bittersweet’s pattern is simple, easy to follow and produces wonderful turkeys. I can knock one of these bad boys off in just a few hours. I made almost twenty in that first year. Toby has loved watching them come together this year, and loves playing with them. They are regular features now at our Thanksgiving table.
  2. Of course there are many other ways of crafting your place setting. This year I am loving turkeys made out of discarded books over at Lisa Storms’ blog. Though I do still struggle with the idea of desecrating a book, I do have a copy of It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown that is falling to pieces, it would make a lovely paper turkey.
  3. Decorations are not limited to the table of course, and this year I have big plans to adapt a favorite crochet rose pattern into a Thanksgiving pin. I’m thinking a deep rust yarn would be perfect additions to the family’s obsession. Whilst I have a cornucopia of Christmas themed accessories, thus far my Thanksgiving offerings have been slim. A leafy necklace and earring set from Danforth Pewter in Vermont, just about sums it up. I need to add to the Thanksgiving collection.
  4. Image: Nest of Posies

    Of course if you are not crochet-capable there are plenty of sewing crafts to tackle this weekend. One of my current favorites are the velvet pumpkins over at Nest of Posies. Her instructions are easy to follow and while you’re there, check out Fall Festival, a September project put together by Kellie to bring fall-themed crafts and obsessions all to one place. I also love her pumpkin themed staircase. Scroll down to the end for the Thanksgiving take on her Halloween decor.

  5. It would be remiss of me not to encourage kitchen crafts since most of Thanksgiving revolves around food. This year I shall be enjoying my famous pumpkin soup, a recipe that dies with me, Pilgrim Hat Cupcakes and as much green bean casserole as I can humanly consume. Try the leftovers as a dip with Tostito’s, you won’t regret it.
  6. And what’s a holiday without games? Get yourself a large picture of a Rancor, make Pilgrim hats out of construction paper, grab that blindfold and you are all set up for a Pinault family favorite: Pin the hat on the “turkey”. Make sure to spin each contestant before setting them off.

Go ahead and join my obsession this year and bring a little geek to your Thanksgiving celebrations:

Veteran’s Day 2011: A Reflection of Why I Deployed

This picture was taken on January 6, 2009. About a minute later, the boys were out of my sight for 100 days. Photo: Dave Vollmer

Happy Veteran’s Day!

As it’s been mentioned many times before, I am a Major in the U.S. Air Force Reserves.  I have been serving as a meteorologist for the Air Force since Spring 1995, where I joined the active duty ranks right out of college.  In January 2005, when my 2nd son was born, I had an opportunity to accept a Reserve job in Norfolk, Virginia and I made the transition out of active service.  This afforded my husband the chance to take an Air Force PhD program assignment in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Something he wouldn’t have been able to do easily if I had remained on active duty.

It was a whole new world for me.  Except for one-weekend-per-month, I was a stay-home-Mom!  Little-to-no adult interaction most of the days, weekly playgroups, preschool drop-off and pick-up lines, etc.

My friend and colleague Paul. This is the Reserve weather officer I "shared" my deployment with. Here we are during our overlap at Al Udeid AB, Qatar, April 2009. Photo used with permission by Patricia Vollmer.

One weekend per month, I’d travel to Norfolk and perform my reserve duty, and every fall (usually around peak hurricane season) I’d perform my two week tour.  In 2007, my job in Norfolk was cut and I transferred to a new position at Shaw AFB, South Carolina, this time with the Air Force weather unit that provides “reach-back” forecast support to the Global War on Terror: both Operation IRAQI FREEDOM and Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

It was tough to fit in with a group of Airmen who were constantly rotating in and out of the Middle East.  They would bring their forward-deployed expertise back to South Carolina and constantly make our forecasting processes better.  I had never taken a Middle East deployment — the cards had never fallen such that I had to go.

I still didn’t have to go.

But my credibility was at stake.  Not to others.  To me.  I had plenty of managerial experience.  I knew who to talk to to get things done.  I would fix countless issues in my job, but in terms of forecasting for the Middle East, I still lacked that hands-on experience.

The commander of the weather unit offered some of us a chance to take a non-Iraq/Afghanistan deployment opportunity, and Air Force Reserve Command took the opportunity a step further and said that if two reservists wanted to “share” a single 179-day deployment, we could do that.  So my friend/colleague Paul and I did exactly that.  We volunteered to serve in the Middle East.

I was given a spot in a required training class on the Florida Panhandle in mid-December 2008, then had orders to go “downrange” in early January 2008.  This was awesome in that I’d at least get the holidays with my boys before I had to leave.  The kids would be back in school by then, too…

I was ready for this — I got my training, I got all the child care arranged for the kids, my husband’s job (at the time) supported a standard work week so he could play single dad.  What I wasn’t ready for was the reaction from many of my friends, neighbors and extended family about this.  We were living in a non-military community at the time, and most of our neighbors and friends weren’t accustomed to someone they knew having to take a deployment.

  • “The kids are so young!  It’s a shame they’re making you go with such young children.”
  • “Couldn’t you get out of it?”
  • “Are you sure you have to do this?”
  • “I can’t believe you have to do this!”
  • “Can’t you call your Congressman?”

Then I say that I volunteered and it was as if I shot a puppy.  I can imagine the thoughts going through those fellow Moms’ heads, “She must hate her family…” or “How could she traumatize her children like that?”

I had not-so-nice thoughts in my head too: “I’m doing this so you don’t have to!”

Most of my friends were more understanding after a short conversation about it.  I’d merely explain that most other Americans who do what I’m trained to do had been already (such as my husband, who deployed to Baghdad in mid-2003), and that it was time for me to do my part in the Global War on Terror.  I’m sort of idealizing/glorifying the explanation here, but you get the gist of it.

My sons wrote me many letters and cards. This is my oldest son's first letter to me. He was in Kindergarten when I deployed in 2009. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

On January 6, 2009, I made the journey “across the pond” and had a very busy, educational, and rewarding experiencing serving “downrange”.  The forecasting was among the most challenging in my entire life (Afghanistan weather in the winter is NOT for the faint of heart).  I met hundreds of outstanding fellow military professionals and got to do full time work for the first time in 4 years.  It felt good.

My only negative about the entire experience was how much I missed my family.  I won’t beat around the bush, it sucked royally.  Because of my strange work schedule, I could Skype with my husband and the boys once a week.  This got a bit frustrating because I’d want the boys to talk to me, but they were more interested in the Skype software itself.  They’d constantly ask me to change webcam backgrounds and they’d goof off and be silly.  But upon thinking about it, I’m sure they took comfort in seeing my image on the screen once a week…and the rest of it was gravy.  They knew I was okay.

I came home at about 2am on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009.  I was waiting with my sons’ Easter baskets that morning…homecomings are rather tricky, so we didn’t tell the boys about it ahead of time, in case my flight was delayed.

I blogged about what deployment items I could while I was over there.  Don’t get the wrong impression, I did a TON of work, which I wasn’t allowed to discuss in detail.  But I could openly discuss the trips I made into Doha, Qatar five or six times, along with some pictures of the base I was living on.  I had some laundry service issues, and I did a step-by-step journey through growing a Chia Homer in my dorm room.  About 2 weeks after I came home, I wrote a big “Thank You!” note on my blog and it offers more perspective on why I chose to voluntarily make this trip.

I don’t regret it, and I thank my husband and children even to this day for giving me the chance to do it.  A trip to Disneyworld for Christmas 2009 with some of my deployment money softened the blow some too!

I also never forget that I had it easy relative to the thousands of servicemembers who have deployed and continue to deploy into the more dangerous locations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And I also never forget those who never made it home.

Happy Veteran’s Day!

Transformers KRE-O: A Review

I was pleased to have received a sampling of Hasbro’s latest addition to the building-brick genre: KRE-O Transformers.  We received a Bumblebee 75-piece set and Kreon minifigure in mid-October, both of which my youngest son immediately helped himself.

My sons were very excited to see this arrive in the mail! Photo: Patricia Vollmer

This set doesn’t pretend to be any better or different than that other plastic brick company’s product.  In fact, there’s even an emblem on the front of the box declaring these bricks fully compatible with other brands’ building bricks.

These bricks are VERY similar to those “other” bricks. Note the hollowed-out circle, which sets it apart from other companies’ bricks.  Photo: Patricia Vollmer

My youngest son (age six and a half) wasted no time assembling the robot variation of this set.  The directions and my son’s fine motor skills for assembling the robot were what I expected, very similar to Lego.  He’s able to do about 90% of the tasks, mostly asking for help in separating particularly stubborn bricks.  He didn’t fail to point out that the set is “just like Lego”, and wondered “Why isn’t this Lego?”

Assembling the KRE-O set was very similar to Lego. Photo: Patricia Vollmer
A completed Bumblebee! Photo: Patricia Vollmer

This is the point where we all expected that you can flip, twist and rotate the robot and voila!  You’d have a car!  But this is not the case.  To go from the robot to the vehicle, you have to disassemble everything and start from scratch with a separate set of directions.  Definitely not what we expected for Transformers!  Both the kids and the parents were disappointed in this, but our son took it in stride.

It didn’t take long for my youngest son to convert Bumblebee into the vehicle.

Following the second set of directions in the set will yield a vehicle. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

The 75-piece KRE-O Transformers Bumblebee kit retails for about $7.99 and can be found at major toy retailers.  There is also a 325-piece kit that retails for $19.99.  KRE-O kits are also available as Optimus Prime, Starscream, Megatron, and Sentinal Prime.

We also received a free “Kreon” minifigure sample.  The larger kits include these Kreon figures:

A “Kreon” Minifigure. Photo: Patricia Vollmer

GeekMom is pleased to pass along two promotional events that Hasbro is sponsoring if you are interested in purchasing KRE-O products for your loved ones this holiday season.

First, you can visit this link at Coupons.com, view a short promotional video and download a coupon worth $5 off any $20 KRE-O purchase (through 27 November).

Secondly, Hasbro’s KRE-O website is sponsoring a Great Brick Giveaway, where they’re giving away one KRE-O brick set per hour, 7 days per week, from now through December 9th.  That’s over 1000 KRE-O sets, and all you have to do is visit their website and play the game!  (Login is required).

Note: The KRE-O Bumblebee and Kreon minifigure were provided free of charge for review purposes.

Father’s Day 101 Years Later

Image: Sarah Pinault

This year Father’s Day falls on June 19, on this date in 1910 Father’s Day was celebrated for the first time in Spokane, WA. Whilst other towns have claims to prior celebrations, it is from this event in Spokane that we can trace the modern-day holiday. Though Calvin Coolidge was an advocate of the holiday, it was not until 1966 that presidential proclamation made it an official holiday, and even then it wasn’t permanent until 1972.

So here’s some fun facts to test dad’s knowledge on June 19 this year:

  • On this date in 1846 the first baseball game (according to the Cartwright rules) was played. The NY Nines beat the Knickerbockers 23-1.
  • On this date in 1940 the German 7th Armour division, under Rommel, began it’s occupation of Cherbourg.
  • On this date in 1947 the 1st plane to exceed 600 mph (1004 kph) was flown by Albert Boyd in Muroc, California.
  • On this date in 1955 Mickey Mantle hit his career home run with 100 runs.
  • On this date in 1956 Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin ended their partnership after 16 films.
  • On this date in 1976 U.S. Viking 1 went into Martian orbit after a 10-month flight.
  • On this date in 1983 Octopussy premiered in the US.
  • On this date in 1988 the world’s largest sausage was completed, it was 13 miles long.
  • On this date in 1992 Batman Returns opened.

Happy National Weatherman’s Day!

John Jeffries, The Father of American Weather Observing. By J. Russel, Caroline Watson (1760-1814) Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Today is National Weatherman’s Day!

I’m sure that now the gears in your head are turning. Perhaps the date choice has even prompted a question or two. Such as “Why not February 2nd, when weather folks already get all kinds of attention because they relinquish their scientific skills to a rodent?”

It’s not known when this started as an obscure holiday, nor who started it, but at least we can offer why it’s on February 5th. Here is a fascinating history lesson: National Weatherman’s Day is celebrated on the birthday of John Jeffries, the Father of American weather observing. He was born on this day in 1745.

John Jeffries is regarded by some as the first American to fly. Although some argue how American he actually was. Even though he was born in Boston (and died in Boston) he spent much of his life in Europe. He was a self-proclaimed Loyalist. Dr. Jeffries served as a surgeon for the British Military during the American Revolution, and was apparently the defense’s key witness during the Boston Massacre trial. It’s believed he originally thought to use the balloon as a weather observing instrument in 1783. He was on the first balloon to cross the English Channel in 1785, and he convinced the chief pilot to load the balloon with weather instruments, dangerously weighing it down. Jeffries and the pilot, John Pierre Blanchard, had to shed much of their clothing (in January!) to keep the balloon aloft over the channel!  This link provides a nice summary of his life.

If you want to learn more, particularly about his non-meteorological attributes, this is a much more thorough account of his full life courtesy of J.L. Bell, an American Revolution historian (you have to scroll through Parts 1-7 to read his entire biography, the cool weather parts start at Part 3).

12 Days of Awesomely Geeky Gifts: Gamma World

If your family is anything like us, you take gaming seriously. My husband and I have an amazing group of friends with whom to play games, but none so dedicated as our D&D group. We’ve been campaigning for about two and a half years, now, and I’ve got to say, I never imagined it could be so fun. After a few sour attempts at 3.5, I had very low expectations for 4th edition. But I absolutely love everything about it. Even more amazing, our fabulous group started as a pick-up D&D group at our local game store, Sci-Fi Genre, and now they’re all fast friends.

Anyway, while 4th edition is an excellent gift, I wanted to suggest something else in the D&D realm for this particular day. Gamma World is a funky, funky take on D&D, a fourth-edition re-imagining of the original. The short story to explain the setting is that an accident at the Large Hadron Collider sent all the various multiverses merging into one. As a result, all the worlds have gone crazy, and the rules for, well everything, really, no longer apply. It’s trippy, wonderful, and enticingly weird. It’s not designed for long campaigning, or for players who are precious with their characters (this took a lot of getting used to for me, since I concentrate more on character creation and portrayal than just about anything else). But it has a ton to offer.

First, it’s quick. You can roll up and play a character in under an hour. And the process is both hilarious and fun. In Gamma World, everything is wonky. You can be a rat swarm, a burning bush, a cockroach. It all depends on how you roll. Then, you go right into combat. Beware though: dying is part of the game.

I never played the original Gamma World, so I can’t really compare. But as far as the D&D realm goes, the ease of play and the hilarity that ensues makes it a top pick for me this past year. Not only that, but it definitely helped all of the players in our group branch out into characters we normally wouldn’t pick. Personally, I will fondly remember my giant and his most awesome gun that shot rolled-up books (the gun was lovingly called Steve Gutenberg) and I look forward to the next encounter (even if it means my poor character will end up as a bloody smear on the wall…)

You can purchase Gamma World at your local game store, or online.

Randy Rudolph: Cupcakes With Character

Image Jennifer Day

Since I grew up in a house with two parents who are educators, I have always appreciated how difficult it is to be a teacher. You spend a lot of your at home time grading papers and making up lesson plans. I always like to show my daughter’s teachers that we recognize the great job they do and make them something special at Christmas time.

Since it was freezing at our house this weekend, we opted to stay indoors and bake like crazy. I found this cute cupcake idea at Family Fun magazine and we made it our own. The best part was making all the different expressions.

Image Jennifer Day

We baked devil’s food cupcakes, added brown frosting, and the following items for decorations:
Antlers: pretzels
Ears: tootsie rolls
Eyes: coconut m&m and black edible ink pen, but I ran out so we used some marshmallows cut in half and doted with black gel icing also.
Nose: mini nilla wafers and m&m’s

Happy Baking!

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #6: Grown-Ups

HolidayLogoIIRegardless of what holidays you celebrate, the end-of-year festivities are right around the corner. If you choose to purchase gifts online, you need to order then in advance to allow for shipping time, backorders, and comparison shopping. We at GeekMom are here to help you with ideas for anyone on your gift list, from babies to grownups. This is the final post in our series of gift guides for 2010. Many of our writers have contributed to our series of gift guides, so the ideas run the gamut from popular bestsellers to more obscure, interesting gifts with which you may not be familiar. Chances are there will be something that appeals to you. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments below.

This week’s guide is targeted at the grownups out there. And remember to visit our other gift guides that have already run: Week #1: Books, Week #2: Games, Week #3: Small Kids, Week #4: Larger Kids, and Week #5: Toys For Most Any Age, Including Grown-Ups. Happy Holidays to all!

GeekParent Wear
Show off your parental geek pride by sporting a GeekMom Tshirt from ThinkGeek, or a GeekDad Tshirt for any geeky fathers you know. There is also a GeekDad mug and GeekDad ornament available!

Shades of Milk and Honey
Mix Jane Austen with a generous helping of magic and fantasy, and you get Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal. Ms. Kowal is an accomplished writer as well as amazing puppeteer, and was one of the puppeteers on the show LazyTown.

Damp Squid and How to Read a Word
If you’re interested in words, their history, and their usage, these two books will fascinate you. From the Oxford University Press, both of these books will take you on a journey of where our words come from, what constitutes a word, and how to learn more about words that fascinate you. (Photos: Oxford University Press)

This puzzle/game activity isn’t strictly for grownups, but it had to be included. Play by yourself, or in a group, and finding where all the pieces go can get as fun or as difficult as you let it.

Asus Eee PC
If you’re looking for a netbook to tote around, the Asus Eee PC is a very good option. With Windows 7, an excellent keyboard, and a very light weight, it is as useful as it is attractive. Read GeekMom’s reviews of the Asus Eee PC: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Apple App Magnets
Know someone who’s crazy about iPad and iPhone aps? These clever fridge magnets are the perfect gift. They look just like the ones on your iPhone or iPod and are just as functional, holding up scrap notes and grocery lists in style. Order a set for every app lover on your list. Eighteen magnets retail for $12.99.

Fracture: Photos Printed on Glass
Custom framing can be a drag. Literally. You drag your family portrait to the frame shop, pick out mat and frame styles, then wait for weeks, hoping the frame shop doesn’t lose your photo in the back room. After you lug the finished product home, you need to indulge in some cleansing breaths just to forget about the cost before you can hang and enjoy your portrait. Couldn’t technology save us from this fate? As a matter of fact, it can. A startup company called Fracture has figured out how to print your precious portraits – up to 11 x 14 – right onto shatter-resistant glass. Upload your jpg image to Fractureme.com, choose any border design you like (including none), and they ship it to your home, fasteners included. Brilliant! Prints start at $8.

iPod Touch (4th generation)
The newest iPod Touch version has two built-in cameras allowing you to use FaceTime and record HD video. And it has a retina display. These are improvements over the 3rd generation version. If you can’t afford the monthly fee of an iPhone, and iPod Touch is an excellent option. Now you can have everything you can have on an iPhone, without the actual phone part (or the 3G connectivity, or the contract headaches).

iPod nano
The stylish, new iPod nanos are square instead of oblong, and they’ll clip right on to wherever you need them. Wear them on your wrist and they’ll double as a watch! But mostly, they’ll play your music for you, including FM radio. Sensitive to movement, you can shake them to shuffle to the next song.

An excellent gift idea for this year, the iPad is more than just a large iPhone or iPod Touch. Because of its generous size, it is much easier to use to play certain things, such as chess or checkers, or to do work, such as editing documents or writing email. Use it for play, for work, or for education.

Marian Call CDs
Marian Call, geek musician lady extraordinaire, is extremely talented with a beautiful voice. Her 49>50 Tour has taken her to 49 out of the 50 states so far, with just Hawaii left to conquer. If you love music about geeks, Firefly, Alaska, or Battlestar Galactica, give Marian a listen.

Ultimate Geek Pen
There’s really no such thing as “ultimate” to a geek, since the next best gadget is sure to be more appealing. But the Ultimate Geek Pen is pretty handy. It’s a ballpoint pen, a stylus tip, and a laser pointer. But wait, there’s more. It’s also a flexible flashlight and UV light.

Have a great holiday season!

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12 Days of Awesomely Geeky Gifts: The Nintendo DSi XL

Image: Nintendo

Full disclosure: I’ve never really liked hand-held games. I’m a console girl, and I love my XBox, thankyouverymuch. And sadly, even though the Wii was cool at first, it failed to impress me overall. We ended up selling ours after a few months since we just didn’t get much mileage out of it, unlike the XBox which has become the cornerstone of our family media center.

That said, the Nintendo DSi XL is surprisingly awesome for a myriad of reasons. Initially, it was just awesome for me. In June I wrote about the America’s Test Kitchen game and the yummy recipes we made (with the whole family) over at GeekDad. In a rather surprising way, the game (and the recipes) made an impact on my kitchen regimen. However, considering how many other games I wanted to play, and my general obsession with Dragon Age which lasted the better part of the year, I really hadn’t anticipated on using it beyond the review.

Enter the kid. Now, it was with a very tenuous few steps that I relinquished the DSi XL over to my son. He’s four. He’s been known to destroy things time and again, sometimes on purpose but usually just because, well, he’s four. It sort of comes with the territory. And since he’s been weaned on my iPod (which, I swear, is indestructible… and wonderfully easy to wipe down after my son’s had his sticky hands all over it) I honestly didn’t think he’d like it that much. Earlier that year we’d found an old Gameboy and gave it to him, and he was furious at the had to mash buttons rather than touch the screen. Kids these days…

Anyway, he took to the DSi XL remarkably. At first I just let him play around with the sounds and drawing games built in to DSi, but then I made a leap. I took him to a used book and games store and got him a game for a whopping $4. Littlest Pet Shop has since become a staple in his entertainment. His desire to learn to read has tripled since he’s been using the game, as he wants to read the scrolling text, and he’s absolutely addicted to helping, playing, and interacting with his animal friends. He’s even become more attached to his toys of the non-car variety, in many ways because, I think, he sees them in a different light since the game. Now he can’t go to sleep without a half-dozen of his furry “buddies”.

Yes, four is a little young to be using the device. And I do have to watch out that he doesn’t spend too much time on it. When he’s focused on something, he’s really focused. But between helping him to read, developing a deeper nurturing instinct, and improving his motor skills, I’d say that the DSi XL has far more good things to contribute than otherwise. All things in moderation, after all. He’s never thrown it, and, as far as I can tell, the only damage done is a missing stylus. But he’s four. He’s learning.

So whatever the age of the geeks on your list, you can rest assured that a DSi XL is a good buy. With the right games, I’d say this is a great fit for anyone. I’m a huge fan of the bigger screen, hence the XL part, which is particularly good for those with little eyes and hands or, conversely, those with eyes that are not exactly as dependable as they used to be.

12 Days of Awesomely Geeky Gifts: Give the Joy of a Ukulele

This ukulele is by Luna Guitars, which are made for women; I own one of their guitars, and covet this lovely little uke.

My geekdoms are far and wide, but one of my earliest past-times is music. I grew up the daughter of a guitar geek, trolling the aisles of Downtown Sounds in Northampton, MA and the Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, MA, oogling the vintage amps and axes (a term we call “guitar gawking”). It’s in my blood, you might say, tempered in the New England chill. I started playing guitar around the age of twelve or so, and continue playing to this day. And until a few years ago, I found no greater joy in the world than rocking on out my guitar to They Might Be Giants and the Beatles.

But I’ll tell you, something happened when I picked up that first ukulele. It was a baritone, something inherited from my husband’s grandfather: A simple, 1950s style uke, easily tuned to the top highest notes on a guitar (so I could easily convert guitar chords to ukulele ones… a little hack to make the transition easier). Something simmered in my blood then, giving me a kind of happiness I haven’t experienced in a very long time. Playing the ukulele, I believe, is one of the most powerful anti-depressants on the planet. Just try playing “Here Comes the Sun” (penned by George Harrison, an avid ukulele lover) and feel sad. It just ain’t possible.

Ukuleles are remarkable little instruments, and particularly suited for people with smaller hands (GeekMoms and our geeklets). There are a variety of sizes and shapes, from vintage to modern, traditional and unusual. You can even make a cigar-box ukulele at home. Best of all? Even for the high end models, you aren’t going to have to shell out the kind of dough necessary for a real fancy guitar (still drooling over a lyptus Martin I played a few years ago, but didn’t have the nearly 2K needed to make the purchase). Amazon has a great selection, and our local Sam Ash has a ukulele alcove where I often visit. You know, to just commune with the ukes.

So if you’ve a musical geek in the family, you truly can’t go wrong with a ukulele. Young or old, or in between, it’s happiness in music form.

And if you need any more convincing, check out the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in the video below.  This is their interpretation of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars”.

12 Days of Awesomely Geeky Gifts: World of Warcraft Hoodies (or Anything, Really) from Jinx

As someone who’s been playing World of Warcraft almost since it came out (gnome warlock, primarily, but currently rocking a worgen mage with a sweet top hat) I’ve always had my eye on WoW-inspired gear. My favorite two tee-shirts are a Dalaran University shirt and a Gryphon Airways t-shirts, both by the company that does the majority of WoW-inspired wear, Jinx. I was introduced to Jinx one magic Christmas season a few years ago by my brother-in-law, who gifted us with tons of awesome from their line. Since then I’ve been keeping my eye on their styles, and heartily impressed with their variety of geek and game-inspired clothing, those that have to do with WoW and those that don’t.

My recent obsession? The new hoodies that just came out in concert with the launch of Cataclysm. While I’m all about going totally geek in my choice of clothing, this hoodie series (available in Horde and Alliance, of course) is that perfect understated look of geek and chic. I mean, I can wear this to the gym. I can wear it anywhere. Sure, their other hoodies are cute, but these are the sort of thing I could take with me anywhere and not have people ask me why on earth my shirt says +20 frost resistance. Really, I just don’t want to get into that conversation most days.

Since my husband has worn some of his Jinx shirts and hoodies for well over three years now, I can vouch for their longevity. The women’s t-shirts are a little thinner (think the stuff from American Apparel) but I actually prefer that. It’s great for layering, very soft, and the cut is cute. As another bonus, Jinx has a 120 day return policy. Which is amazing.

So if you’re stuck on what to get your gaming gal this holiday season, look no further than Jinx! Reasonable prices, great sales, and great products all around. FTW.

12 Days of Awesomely Geeky Gifts: Telegraph and Lightbulb Kits from Harris Educational

RS-LBI-Lit-BulbWhile it’s always great to meet geeks from around the nation, and the globe, I always find it thrilling to connect with local geeks doing amazing things. North Carolina-based Harris Educational is one of those such local connections, doing awesome science right here. The best part? The offerings from Harris Educational are both geeky and, well, as you might guess from their name, totally educational.

Sure, there’s a ton of science kits out there. But what I love about the Harris Educational products is that they allow you to do such cool and interesting projects with your kids. How about making a light bulb? Or a telegraph? These kits come with everything you need to do just that. I particularly like the steampunk angle, considering the approach to making these items are very old-school, yet the results are undeniably awesome.

You can purchase the kits at a variety of online retailers, including Maker Shed where you can find both the Edison and the Morse kits. Order soon for the holiday season, as the kits are quickly selling out, or consider this a perfect springboard for springtime science fairs.

Check out the videos below with the Morse and Edison kits in action!

Calling All Geeks: Star Wars Pride Day is Friday!

Leia the Riveter Design by Thomas G. Sullivan via Redbubble

Calling all Star Wars, Sci Fi, and Geeks in general: Show your pride Friday!

Friday December 10th is the day to show your Star Wars pride in support of our fellow Geekette, Katie. Back in October, Katie was suffering at the hands of Star Wars bullies. Thanks to the web, Katie has lots of love now from everywhere. Help show your support for Katie and all girls that like Star Wars by donating a Star Wars toy to your local toy drive and wearing your Star Wars paraphernalia! Join the Facebook event and support the future generation!

Oh and if you must have this rockin tee, it is available at Redbubble.

12 Days of Awesomely Geeky Gifts: Battle Ops Bumblebee Transformer

81JMyM0SdxL._AA1500_In my day, Transformers were these little itty bitty things. And they weren’t just plastic, they were metal. They were awesome, of course, and were one of the toys that definitely defined my childhood.

But times change. Bumblebee is no longer a Beetle, he’s a gorgeous Camaro concept car (this GeekMom has checked out the new Camaro many a time on the highway, and whispered sweet nothings to it… it will be mine, oh yes, it will be mine… in a thousand years when I can afford a car that doesn’t double as a bus/garbage can. How’s that for a Transformer? Eesh. Anyway.).

Now, with the film reboot, Transformers are once again a hot kids toy, and they come in all shapes and sizes. I had the chance to try out Battle Ops Bumblebee, which is recommended for the 5+ crowd; this bad boy is over a foot tall. And let me tell you, this Bumblebee is complex. If you’ve got a kid who adores puzzling out just exactly how to get from A to B, this is the perfect toy. While my son was most intrigued to have the car in its Camaro state (he’s a car aficionado, you see) he’s spent at least 15 minutes straight working out the parts. And while that might not seem like a whole lot of time, 15 minutes of non-chatter, non-movement, for my son is equivalent to a few hours for a typical person.

Depending on how you’ve arranged Bumblebee, he makes different noises. Because in his robot state, he is of course capable of different catch phrases than whilst a Transformer. And if you know kids, you know noise is super high on their lists when it comes to playability. It’s just part of their programming. While it might not go over as well with the parental contingent, when it comes down to a toy review I always try to think of it in terms of how much my kid enjoyed it. And our son adores Bumblebee. He’s better at putting him together than I am, that’s for sure. And after a visit to our in-laws, my father-in-law declared (after he’d spent the better part of an hour figuring out, without the manual, how to get transform him back and forth) that it was “the coolest toy.”

While the price is a little on the steep side, keep in mind how many moving parts there are in this thing, not to mention the variety of sound programming. While maybe not ideal for the budget conscious, it’s still a great splurge present that, if your kid loves Transformers and cars and challenges, is sure to please.

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #5: Toys For Most Any Age, Including Grown-Ups

Regardless of what holidays you celebrate, the end-of-year festivities are right around the corner. If you choose to purchase gifts online, you need to order then in advance to allow for shipping time, backorders, and comparison shopping. We at GeekMom are here to help you with ideas for anyone on your gift list, from babies to grownups. We’ll be running a series of half a dozen or so posts, sorted by category or age group, with suggested gifts this holiday season. Many of our writers have contributed to our series of gift guides, so the ideas run the gamut from popular bestsellers to more obscure, interesting gifts with which you may not be familiar. Chances are there will be something that appeals to you. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments below.

This week’s guide is targeted at almost everyone. Babies and very small children won’t get much out of most of the gifts listed here, but there is something for everyone else. And remember to visit our other gift guides that have already run: Week #1: Books, Week #2: Games, Week #3: Small Kids, and Week #4: Larger Kids.

Clock Without a Face
A fun book to read on the surface, Clock Without a Face has hidden mysteries and puzzles. It is a real life treasure hunt, with the solutions to the mysteries leading you to 12 real-life gems buried somewhere in the United States. As of this writing, eleven of the twelve gems have already been found, which means you still have a chance to find the final gem! Still, it’s a beautifully drawn book and is a great mystery to solve with your kids, whether or not you hunt for gems.

The Secret of Pirate Island
The Secret of Pirate Island is basically a kid movie, but it’s like Playmobil meets Choose Your Own Adventure. Geeky, Playmobil-loving grownups will enjoy watching this DVD as much as their kids will, so that’s why it is included in this particular guide. At several different crucial places in the story, decide which path that the two main characters will take, and see where their adventures take them. Then you can watch it again and try different choices.

Get An Action Hero Modeled After You
A hand crafted doll made to look like you or someone you love, dressed in clothes of your choice. Give an action figure to someone important in your life. Your dad. Your kid’s teacher. Your boss. Not just an ordinary action figure, a hand crafted replica based on photos or videos you send to Illinois artist Cyndi Safstrom.

Zometool – Crazy Bubbles
For a whole new angle on building kits, check out Zometool Crazy Bubbles. Construct shapes, then dip them into soap solution to create bubbles. This is an inspiring way for kids to discover principles of math and science while having fun.

The Greatest Dot to Dot Book in the World
If you need another gift idea for a big kid, consider The Greatest Dot to Dot Book in the World. Full of puzzles that go beyond the little kid version of dot to dot, it’s impossible to guess what these creations will be until every last dot is connected. A very addicting game book that will keep older kids and adults captivated (great for long car trips). Retails for $6.95 and has several sequels.

HolidayLogoIIStrawz from NUOP designs
A big hit with kids and adults, a product called Strawz gives a lot of bang for the buck. It’s fun to see how many configurations you can make with the 44 heavy plastic straws and connector pieces that come in the kit. An afternoon of building, then sipping fun! Retails for $15.00.

Minifigure Multipacks/Grab Bags
Remember the thrill and mystery of grab bags? Lego offers that same element of surprise with their new Minifigures Collections. Each collection (so far, Series 1 and Series 2 have been released) includes 16 different minifigures, sold individually in an secret package. What’s inside is a mystery. Series 1 features a clown, a cheerleader, and a magician. In Series 2 you might get Dracula, a Spartan, or a weightlifter. Of course, there are no duds with these grab bags. At just $4.99 each, surely Santa’s snatching these up for stocking stuffers.

Glob Paint
I worry about some of the chemicals in craft supplies for kids. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover glob paints. Available in six different colors, the paints are tinted with fruits, vegetables, flowers, and spices, giving kids the chance to go green in a rainbow of colors. These botanical paints can be used like tempera or watercolors, depending upon how much water is added.

Many Hands: Family Music for Haiti
Many Hands is one of those rare albums that a family really can enjoy together, featuring songs from kiddie music heavy hitters like They Might Be Giants, Recess Monkey, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, and Gustafer Yellowgold. There’s even the hilarious song “The Princess Who Saved Herself” by geek musician Jonathan Coulton. As an added bonus, proceeds benefit the Haitian People’s Support Project.

Natural History Museum RC Rattlesnake
Who doesn’t want to send a rattlesnake slithering throughout the house? With super-simple controls, even preschoolers will be able to send this deadly viper on its way, and laugh (or get grossed out) as its tongue flicks in and out.

Backyard Safari Bug Vacuum
For budding entomologists that don’t necessarily like to touch their specimens, round up insects with the Backyard Safari Bug Vacuum. This vacuum has enough suction to pull bugs into the magnified chamber, but not enough suction to hurt the bugs. This is also a handy tool to have around to remove unwanted household visitors to the backyard.

The Global Puzzle
Many world puzzles are beautiful maps, but don’t teach you much about country shapes and locations. The Global Puzzle has 600 pieces, and most of the 193 countries and island groupings constitute their own piece. Even most of the U.S. states and Canadian provinces are individual pieces. The ocean areas are filled with more information about countries such as capital and population. This puzzle is a challenge, but is great for adults or mid-elementary or older kids. It is an especially great puzzle to do as a group. Previous knowledge of geography is helpful, but not required.

Stay tuned next week for our sixth and final gift guide!

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #3: Small Kids

HolidayLogoIIRegardless of what holidays you celebrate, the end-of-year festivities are right around the corner. If you choose to purchase gifts online, you need to order then in advance to allow for shipping time, backorders, and comparison shopping. We at GeekMom are here to help you with ideas for anyone on your gift list, from babies to grownups. We’ll be running a series of half a dozen or so posts, sorted by category or age group, with suggested gifts this holiday season. Many of our writers have contributed to our series of gift guides, so the ideas run the gamut from popular bestsellers to more obscure, interesting gifts with which you may not be familiar. Chances are there will be something that appeals to you. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments below.

This week’s guide will appeal to those with very small ones at home, infants and preschoolers. Some of the products may appeal to older kids, too, but next week’s guide is more aimed at them. Also check out the gift guides that have already run, Week #1: Books and Week #2: Games.

Little Pim
Want to teach your baby or preschooler Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese, or one of several other languages? The Little Pim language videos are fun, and they teach basic language vocabulary. The speaking on the videos are only in the chosen language, so your children are immersed in the sounds of that language for the entire video. Put out by Julia Pimsleur Levine, daughter of Dr. Paul Pimsleur, these videos will engage your children and teach them language basics.

Kidz Gear Headphones For Kids
This product is for any parent who lets their kids use the computer to browse kid-friendly websites. Most of the time, those websites make music, show videos, or have sound effects. This can get old after a while, or distracting if you’re trying to have a conversation in the same room. Regular, adult-sized headphones don’t ever stay on the kids’ heads. Enter Kidz Gear Headphones For Kids. They are kid-sized, and have a volume control where the maximum sound level is lower than normal. These headphones also come in a wireless model.

Scholastic Storybook Treasures
My kids grew up on Weston Woods’ animated versions of classic picture books. (In fact, these word-for-word adaptations have been around so long I remember watching them as “film strips” in kindergarten.) As a child, Weston Woods introduced me to great stories like “Make Way for Ducklings” long before I was able to read. As a parent I loved being able to share my old favorites with my kids, and discovering new ones too. Today Weston Woods films are available as Scholastic Storybook Treasures, and they’re better than ever. Their DVD sets give you the option of Read-Along captioning, and many include behind-the-scenes interviews with favorite authors. I’m looking forward to checking out “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs…And More Animal Adventures!” featuring Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith’s wild take on the traditional tale. And collections like “The Treasury of 100 Storybook Classics” contain enough stories to keep your family occupied for a year. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy sitting down and watching them along with your kids!

The Bilibo: Funny Name, Awesome Invention
The Bilibo came up as a suggestion for my baby registry in 2009. After watching the video, I can understand why it has won so many awards. This is an awesome imagination toy. The Bilibo can be sat on, sat in, pulled, pushed, spun, loaded with treasures, worn as a turtle shell, and so much more. This cool toy will be one of the things Santa puts under the tree this year.

Natural Maple Bell Rattle
This heirloom-quality toy is made of sustainably harvested American maple and designed to last. It’s treated with a safe, plant-based finish because the makers know babies put everything in their mouths. A metal bell floats in the center of this classic toy. Recommended for ages newborn to 2 years. $9.95

Wonderfully Mismatched Socks
Give up on the silly idea that socks come in pairs. These rambunctiously colorful and cozy socks are perfect for the whole family. They’re made of 80% recycled cotton and come in a full range of sizes. A group of five coordinating socks for babies are called Socktinis $18.95. For older kids they come in sets of three—two to wear and one spare $18.95. And they’re available for adults too $17.95.

E-Racer by Hape Toys
This is one of those Made in China toys you won’t have to worry about.  E-racers are eco-friendly toys constructed of bamboo shoots.  You can actually see where it used to be bamboo, a touch of eco-friendly paints was added and POOF! You have a really nifty car that didn’t hurt the environment to produce. Also available are the E-Plane and the E-Offroader; they are ultra-chic and kids actually like them.

Deglingos Baby Blankie
These adorable animals are great for babies, starting from when they’re first able to grab. They’re super soft, and each one is loaded with different textures and bits to grab on to. What’s even better is that it’s not the usual nursery animal line-up. Deglingos include Molos the Lobster, Pikos the Hedgehog, Ratos the Rat, and BigBos the Wolf.

Food Face plate
Yes! Play with your food on this hilarious Food Face ceramic plate. How about pasta hair and some tomato lips? Or a syrup beard with mini-waffle curls? Asparagus mustache? The possibilities are only limited by your imagination and the food on your plate.

Stay tuned next week for our fourth gift guide!

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GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #2: Games

Regardless of what holidays you celebrate, the end-of-year festivities are right around the corner. If you choose to purchase gifts online, you need to order then in advance to allow for shipping time, backorders, and comparison shopping. We at GeekMom are here to help you with ideas for anyone on your gift list, from babies to grownups. We’ll be running a series of half a dozen or so posts, sorted by category or age group, with suggested gifts this holiday season. Many of our writers have contributed to our series of gift guides, so the ideas run the gamut from popular bestsellers to more obscure, interesting gifts with which you may not be familiar. Chances are there will be something that appeals to you. Feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments below.

Like last week’s Book Gift Guide, this week’s guide has a product category theme, Games. Learn about some of our favorite board games, card games, video games, and other types of games. The holiday season often means an impromptu game night, so I hope our suggestions add some variety to your fun!

Photo: Anomia Press

One of this year’s Mensa Select games, this seemingly simple card game will make you laugh and drive you crazy. You’ll also find yourself saying, “Uh.. Um..” a lot. It’s a fast paced game of pattern matching and finding words that fit into categories before your opponent does. It is great fun for many ages and group sizes. Play it full speed for teens and adults, or slow it down to include the kids. The simplicity of game play is appealing, yet it’s unlike anything else out there.

Photo: Gamewright

Rory’s Story Cubes
Rory’s Story Cubes are a set of nine storytelling dice with universal images and themes on them. With a group, roll them and tell a story using all of the dice. On your own, roll them to inspire creative writing. You can also make up your own games! These dice are versatile, and children naturally know what to do with them. Made by The Creativity Hub in Ireland, you can take Rory’s Story Cubes along with you on a trip, to holiday gatherings, or just keep them in your bag for instant inspiration.

Photo: Warner Brothers

Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4 Wii game
Great video game, or the greatest video game? If you’re a fan of both Lego and Harry Potter, the answer may very well be the latter. Potterphiles will delight in playing as Harry, Ron, Hermione, and more as they make their way through the story arc of the first four books, facing off against Lord Voldemort in his various forms. The puzzles are challenging without being frustrating, and interacting with Lego Hogwarts is a treat. Also available on Nintendo DS, PS3, and XBox.

Photo: Wiggity Bang Games

Looking for an inexpensive gift for a teen – or need to recommend a stocking stuffer to Santa? Quao (pronounced “cow”) is a card game from Wiggity Bang. The premise is simple. Be the first to discard all of your cards and you take the round. Win four rounds, and you’re the winner. The game requires players to follow instructions and share their thoughts on a variety of topics. The open-ended questions allow for a new answer each time and while there are no extra points for creativity, there’s plenty of potential for zany answers. Suitable for ages 12 and up. $11.

Photo: Fundex Games

Place cards in chronological order to win this history game. Sound simple? If the dates are close together, it can be tricky. Take turns placing new cards in amongst the cards you have already. A wrong answer gives the next person a chance to place the card amongst their cards. The instructions say that the first person who gets five cards in order wins, but that is much too easy. The older version of this game is better, if you can get your hands on it, and it requires you to go to ten cards. This is much more of a challenge. This game is best played by history-loving older kids and adults who are evenly matched.

Photo: Winning Moves

Mille Bornes
Created over 50 years ago in France, this family favorite has you car racing against your opponents, playing distance cards, trying to avoid hazards, saving up remedies just in case, and hiding safeties until you can triumphantly yell, “Coup-Fourré!” and gain extra points. Playing Mille Bornes is a real treat. Give it a try if you have never played.

Photo: MayFair Games

Settlers of Catan
If you tire easily of the same old, same old when it comes to board games, consider Settlers of Catan. In this strategy game, players collect resources that are used to build roads and settlements. Set in the mythical world of Catan, the game has a medieval feel as players barter and trade their resources. But here’s the uber-cool part: Comprised of sturdy cardboard hex shapes that can be arranged in myriad ways, the lay of the land changes every time you play. Three to four people can play the basic game, but for larger crowds or serious Catan fans, expansion packs like Cities and Knights, Seafarers of Catan, and Barbarians and Traders extend the possibilities. Suitable for adults and kids 10 and up. It sells for about $35, making it a great choice for a family gift.

Photo: Hasbro

Scrabble Flash
When you combine Scrabble with some really cool technology, you get Scrabble Flash. Letters appear on the cubes, and when you put them next to one another, they’ll recognize if you’ve made a word and score accordingly. There are different possibilities for solo and group play, and the game is fun for beginning readers through puzzle-addicted adults.

Photo: www.icandoitgames.com

Richard Scarry’s Busytown
I loved Richard Scarry’s books when I was a kid. So, when I found Busytown last year while doing some Christmas shopping, I couldn’t pass it up. This “I Spy” type game focuses on teamwork to get to the picnic at the end of the board before the ants eat all of the food. If you have younger kids and like playing games with them, I recommend picking this game up to put under your tree this year.

Photo: Out of the Box Games

Super Circles
This ultra-portable and fast-paced card game is great for anyone with quick hands. No reading is required (other than the numerals 1 through 4), and is fantastic for multi-generational play. To play, match colored rings on subsequent cards, but they have to be the same color in the same numbered ring. Be fast, though, or someone else will play on the pile and you’ll have to find another card to play! Since everyone is playing at once, you have to be quick because the circles on each card are different. Play your entire hand to win.

Photo: Bananagrams

Play many word games with Bananagrams, a free-form crossword puzzle game. Arrange letters to create words, then connect words to each other to create a crossword. Once you’ve mastered the basic game play, get Bananagrams! The Official Book, which is filled with challenges and games to play with the Bananagrams tiles. Great for educational use or for any game night.

Photo: Lego Games

Lego Games
In the last year or so, Lego has put out a slew of board games. They are designed to be customizable to make up your own games with the pieces, or just play as the instructions suggest. Some titles include Minotaurus, Creationary, Pirate Code, Ramses Pyramid, Atlantis Treasure, Wild Wool, and even a Lego Hogwarts Game.

Photo: Bent Castle Workshops

Numbers League
What do you get when you combine superheroes and math? Numbers League is a superhero building card game that requires you to do plenty of addition. Perfect for teaching kids their math facts, or for anyone who enjoys math, you mix and match cards to create unique superheroes to defeat villains. The basic set has two levels of play, and you can also get an expansion pack that includes multiplication and decimals.

Photo: Rio Grande Games

This strategy game is great fun even for people who roll their eyes when someone says, “Let’s play a strategy game!” In the game, you build and inhabit castles to score points, and use special cards to make special plays. There are two levels of play to challenge any newbie or strategy lover alike.

Photo: Rio Grande Games

Not another train-building game, you say. Well, TransAmerica plays much differently from Ticket to Ride, and is even thought by some to be even more fun. Race against your opponents to connect your cities up with track, while linking track with other players to expand your network.

Photo: Out of the Box Games

Word on the Street
One of this year’s chosen Mensa Select games, this team-based word game will increase your vocabulary while you laugh and play. Pull letters to your side of the street as your opponents pull back. Think of words with rarely used letters, or words that use the same letter multiple times. This fast-paced game can easily be slowed down or made more cooperative to play with children, or you can play Word on the Street Junior which has more tiles and more cooperative rules.

Photo: Out of the Box Games

10 Days in… Games
The entire series of 10 Days in… games teach about world geography. Pick an area of the world, such as the USA, Europe, Asia, Africa, or the Americas, or get one of each and play 20 Days Around the World. For each of the main game versions, game play is very similar, but there are a few differences to each one, in addition to the completely new maps. Regardless of which game you try, you will learn something new about the geography of the world.

Photo: North Star Games

Wits & Wagers
Combining trivia and betting, Wits & Wagers is easy to learn and fun to play. All the trivia questions have numerical answers. Each player answers each question, but then you bet on which answer is the closest to the correct one. You don’t have to know the answers to the questions to win, you just have to bet well.

Stay tuned next week for our third gift guide!

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A Recipe for the World’s Most Fabulous Pumpkin Bread

My Grandma Image: Jennifer D.

Yes, that is a pretty big statement, but this bread lives up to the hype. This recipe was passed down to me from my grandmother, who has been gone now for 18 years. My mother and I don’t know where she got it, but she made it every Thanksgiving and my mother continued the tradition until I took it up a few years ago. I often bake this bread in holiday foil pans, tie with a ribbon, and give as Christmas gifts.

And I have never given out the recipe. Until now.

What makes this bread special is that it has two unusual ingredients: coconut cream pudding and dates. I haven’t ever put nuts in it, but if that floats your boat go right ahead. Enjoy!

Grandma Martin’s Pumpkin Bread

Prep Time: Not quick        Yield: 3 standard size loaves

  • 2 ½ C. Sugar
  • 1 ½ C. Cooking Oil
  • 2/3 C. Water
  • 6 Beaten Eggs
  • 2 C. Pumpkin
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • Mix above in large bowl and set aside.
  • 3 ½ C. Flour
  • 1 tsp. Salt
  • 2 tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp. Nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. Allspice
  • ½ tsp. Cloves
  • 2-3- oz. Packages of cook and serve Coconut Cream pudding and pie filling (not instant)
  • 1 8-oz pkg. chopped dates
  • Nuts (if desired)
  • Mix above in a very large bowl. Make well in center and add the pumpkin mixture. Mix well. Pour into 3 greased and floured loaf pans. Bake at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Use toothpick to check for doneness.