Holiday Sanity Guide

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With shopping and baking and lots of work making with kids screaming near! It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Except when it’s not. When everyone is rushing trying to do ten million different things in order to savor the season, it’s easy to feel like an over-baked cookie: burnt out and totally wasted. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results. This more or less defines my holiday season.

Every year, we over book, over work, and over everything. So this year, I’m going to work harder on keeping myself sane. In the interest of that, I’ve come up with a Holiday Sanity Guide.

Continue reading Holiday Sanity Guide

Four Creative Ways To Give Lego Gifts

Image credit: LEGO City Advent Calendar 2010 – Day 21/24 by Kenny Louie

Given that there are more than five million Lego bricks being made every hour (yes, really!), there’s a good chance there will be a box of them under your Christmas tree this year. But why just wrap them up in paper when you can get more creative with your Lego gifting? Here are four ideas to try:

Lego Advent calendar

Lego sells ready-to-go Advent calendars. Each day you open a panel and get a minifig or tiny set. They come in a variety of themes, including Star Wars, City, and Friends. This year there’s also a Minions-themed Mega Blocks calendar. But I’m more of a DIY-er.

There are two ways you could go to build one on your own. You could get small sets, like minifigs, Mixels, and the small polybag sets. It won’t be a cheap Advent calendar, but it’s an option! Or you could split up a set and dole out a few pieces each day. The most straightforward way would be with the Creative Supplement (which also comes in the bright Friends-set colors). It’s a box of 303 basic bricks. You could either put a dozen or so in the calendar each day, or you could use it as a countdown or count-up. With 303 bricks, you could give 1 on December 1, 2 on December 2, and so forth all the way to Christmas Eve (or vice-versa with 24 on December 1 counting down).

If you’d like to build anticipation a little more, you could do the same with an actual set. To reduce the torture, be sure to give out the pieces in the order it takes to build the set! A few sets with just about the right number of pieces for the countdown method are: Continue reading Four Creative Ways To Give Lego Gifts

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #3: Tabletop Games

Many geeks sure love their tabletop games. From family game night to weekend-long game fests to gaming conventions, tabletop games play a pretty big role in our lives. We’ve come a long way since the days of Monopoly and Sorry (though those games still have their uses). What are GeekMom’s favorite games this year? Check them out!

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #3: Tabletop Games

Cardboard STEM: 25 Ideas for All Those BOXES

There’s no escaping the cold, hard truth: Children love to play with cardboard boxes.

As parents, we’ve all experienced this cardboard-fueled phenomenon. It’s almost become an old adage: He played with the box more than the gift.

With the holidays on the horizon, there will be oodles of boxes to contend with especially if, like myself, you prefer to do your holiday shopping online in your jammies. And, as the holidays draw near, the to-do list increases. There are gifts to buy, presents to wrap, gatherings to organize. If your home is anything like ours, it can be tricky to get all the things done with children underfoot. Unless, of course, you have a plan.

And have I got a plan this year! This plan is sure to keep your children engaged and learning and provide you with some uninterrupted time to tackle that mounting must-do list. This plan requires your kids to get creative and to think outside of that proverbial box… while playing with all those cardboard boxes that are strewn about your home just waiting to be recycled. Continue reading Cardboard STEM: 25 Ideas for All Those BOXES

Surprise Your Kids With Leprechaun Magic

Byrne the leprechaun with mischief and gold coins
Byrne the leprechaun arrives. Photo: Maryann Goldman

My boys and I are having a lot of fun with Byrne the leprechaun. He showed up on March 1st, to kick off the month of all things green, and has been making mischief ever since. Our family can certainly claim some Irish ancestry on my mother’s side, and like many American households, we enjoy the festivities associated with St. Patrick’s Day regardless. Byrne is definitely bringing out our holiday spirit!

Although we also enjoy the Elf on the Shelf tradition at Christmas, and have quite the collection of elves, I find that we’re too busy at that time of year to really enjoy it. Here’s why you should consider establishing a different elf tradition and why you don’t need to follow the Elf on the Shelf rules.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to use the words “elf” and “he” to keep things simple, but your character can take on any shape or name that works for your family. While leprechauns work great for St. Patrick’s Day fun, you might use a heart man for Valentine’s Day, a pixie to celebrate spring, Uncle Sam for July, a leaf man for harvest, or a witch for October. Remember, you’re making the rules this go around.

Byrne the leprechaun takes a bath in the crock pot
Byrne the leprechaun takes a bath! Photo: Maryann Goldman

I find that the most important quality for having fun with your elf is that it’s posable. The Elf on the Shelf is actually pretty floppy although there are instructions out there on how to give him added flexibility. I have an affinity for Annalee elves, and that’s where our Byrne the leprechaun came from. The Annalee elves stand on their own, have both legs and arms that bend, and are hangable upside down or right side up! Dolls with bendable parts or homemade creatures made using felt and pipe cleaners will work well too. The more positions your elf can get into, the more fun you can have.

Byrne the leprechaun green toilet and elf feet
Byrne the leprechaun had to go! Photo: Maryann Goldman

What child wouldn’t want to wake up, or come home from school, to find that elf mischief has taken place in his house. I find the joy on my child’s face totally makes the whole experience worth it for me. Don’t pin yourself down so that the mischief has to take place at night. If you’re like me, by the time you get the kids in bed, all you want to do is veg out with a good TV show or book. Elves can work magic while the kids are at school, at a ballgame, or taking a nap just as well as overnight. We usually limit elf antics to once a day, but if I’m feeling energetic, the elf might be extra active too.

Byrne the leprechaun loves trains and sorting by color.
Byrne the leprechaun is a train lover and color sorter! Photo: Maryann Goldman

Elf pranks don’t have to be expensive. For example, elves can make use of the toys already in your house. Lego bricks, trains, cars, and all sorts of blocks can be used to either make a mess or create an interesting pattern.

Byrne the leprechaun shamrock Post-It Note art
Byrne the leprechaun is artistic with Post-It Notes. Photo: Maryann Goldman

Elves can also be very artistic. This Post-It note shamrock cost less than $1 and was completed in under 30 minutes. I did a Google search on pixel shamrock, but you might also look at Perler bead patterns. I envision a heart for Valentine’s Day, a flag for July, and a pumpkin for Halloween. I bet your elf can even handle multiple color designs!

Byrne the leprechaun in his Chinese paper lantern hot air balloon
Byrne the leprechaun wants to fly! Photo: Maryann Goldman

Elves should have magical powers to defy gravity and fly like Superman. A little fishing line goes a long way! Zip lines, rock climbing walls, gymnastic moves, and astronaut adventures are all fair game for your elf.

Byrne the leprechaun bowls plastic cups
Byrne the leprechaun wants to bowl! Photo: Maryann Goldman

We maintain the kids don’t touch elves rule at our house, and you’ll need few elf rules of your own. Elves shouldn’t get wet, become dog toys, be bent in ways they weren’t intended, etc. If your child needs to clean up an elf mess or interact with an elf prank, mom or dad should move the elf out of the way first.

Byrne the leprechaun and his Minecraft Creeper head
Byrne the leprechaun wants to play! Photo: Maryann Goldman

Although your elf has his own personality, sometimes your elf will want to take on an alter ego. Folded character heads are a simple and easy way to do that!

Byrne the leprechaun and balloons
Byrne the leprechaun and balloons. Photo: Maryann Goldman

My boys love to name their elves. For Byrne, we did a Google search on Irish boy names and picked one from the list. Our elves also write lots of notes. Sometimes they start up a dialog with the kids which encourages the kids to write back.

If you weren’t too keen on the whole elf idea, maybe you’ll give it some more thought now. We have an incredible amount of fun with our elves, and I feel like we’re making memories and traditions to last a lifetime. There are lots of other ideas on the web for stunts your elf can do, and I would love to see what you come up with! It’s not too late for St. Patrick’s Day either. Your elf could arrive on the 17th and stay until the end of the month. Annalee is even having a contest to design a leprechaun trap which could mark your elf’s arrival. Whatever you decide, have fun!

Holidays at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida – My Top Reasons to Visit

Holidays at Seaworld \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
Holidays at SeaWorld \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

The holidays are my favorite time of year to visit the theme parks. Each park has its own unique way of celebrating with shows, food, and attractions that make it special. SeaWorld takes their animal expertise and uses it to showcase the holidays in a way that only they can. Shamu Stadium shines with the holiday themed show. O Wondrous Night features animals that you don’t usually see in the park, and the decorations from the lamp posts to the recycled statues make it a must-see in Orlando.

Shamu’s Holiday Show – Shamu’s holiday show only runs once a night and it’s a must-see. The pre-show jazz and karaoke sing-a-long kept me and my son entertained before our favorite mammals took to the “stage.” The show itself fits right in with the holiday spirit with a very sweet portion dedicated to the love between a mother and child. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the soundtrack for Prince of Egypt was the music for the show. My favorite parts were when the mother and child were side-by-side. Since the accident with Dawn Brancheau, new regulations do not allow the trainers in the water with the animals. This is a huge bummer for both the trainers and the guests because the whales enjoy the interactions they get with their human companions and guests no longer get to see the special bond between trainer and killer whale.

Just before the show, we were checking out the underwater viewing area at Shamu Stadium, and an educator gave us some insight into the animals, including that the female killer whales are the dominant sex in the family. You could also see the floors of the viewing area were a bit different and I explained to my son that it allows them to lift the whales up for health checks and such. The educator overheard me and said that while that is correct, they use a different pool for that because it makes the mother and calf feel more comfortable. The underwater viewing area has always been one of my favorite places in the park, and I can’t wait to see it again when the massive expansion is completed.

O Wondrous NightO Wondrous Night is in the Nautilus theater and is so popular it fills up quickly. My son and I barely got in to see the 5:00 PM show the day we were there—we weren’t disappointed, so we are glad we made it in. It’s filled with upbeat Christmas music, sung by the Herald Angels, and the story is told by a cast of lively animal puppets. The grand finale includes a host of live animals including four camels, goats, sheep, doves, a young burro, and many more. To get a really good look at the animals, try to get a spot on the aisle to the left or the right of the stage near the side doors.

O Wondrous  Night \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
O Wondrous Night \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Polar Express – The Wild Arctic is redecorated to resemble the feel of the Polar Express movie. From the pre-show area resembling the house of the “hero boy” and the simulator itself being redecorated, you really feel like you are walking on the Polar Express. My favorite part of entering this area was walking off the Polar Express, and after a few rooms of presents and trees, seeing a Christmas tree and Santa’s sleigh, both of which look like they came straight from the film. My favorite part of the entire attraction was the interaction we had with Santa’s elves. They took their time with each of the guests who were next in line to see Santa and managed to get my son to come out of his shell. They talked Minecraft, Star Wars, and asked him about all of the things he liked to do. They stayed in character very well. I could have hung out with them all day.

Feels like we walked right into the movie! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
Feels like we walked right into the movie! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

I was disappointed to see that the Polar Bears, Johnny and Klondike, were not there and have since gone to that big snow castle in the sky. They were my favorite part of the attraction and were residents of SeaWorld for a very long time. In their place, SeaWorld has given the area to a few harbor seals for the time being.

Empire of the PenguinThe Penguin Encounter has always been my favorite attraction in the park, because penguins are one of my favorite animals. Thankfully, the environment underwent a much-needed massive renovation and is finally an attraction worthy of the flightless birds it cares for. Built around the theming of their Antarctic home, your journey begins after watching the birth of Puck, a baby penguin who is learning his way in the world. For the adventurous, the Wild Expedition will be a cool experience. Those who prefer a little less action in their visit should take the calmer expedition.

The ride takes you through Puck’s life and the dangers he faces in the arctic including having to escape his predators. Geeks will be interested to know that this ride runs off of a wireless network with GPS to help the ride know who is where and where they need to go.

When you exit the ride, things will be a bit nippy because you will be in the penguin environment with nothing more than a four-foot piece of glass between you and them. While in the exhibit I learned that SeaWorld plays host to over 250 penguins and to make sure they’re comfortable, they keep the lighting and temperature similar to what you would experience in their home of Antarctica.

Holiday village and bonfire – Spend a chilly Florida evening (and by chilly I mean a crisp 40 to 60 degrees) with some holiday music, food, and a fire to keep you warm. The reindeer band was hopping when we were there and the fire was a welcome relief from the cold wind that was blowing that night. The village gives you a great view of the Sea of Trees which features over 114 trees and over 39,250 feet of garland. The trees dance to music nightly and by the time the holidays are over, will have done over 150 performances for guests.

Sea of Trees \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
Sea of Trees \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Other fun things to do in the holiday village include festive musical performances, hot chocolate, shopping carts, and decorations galore to catch your eye. I don’t normally purchase souvenir cups, but the one the hot cocoa came in was really cute, so I splurged a few extra dollars on it.

On our way out of the park, my husband ducked into Manta for one last ride and my son and I checked out the hidden treasure that is the aquarium under the ride. There is one part of the aquarium where you are surrounded by glass walls and when you look up, you can see the sea life swimming over you. My son loved this part of the area and stayed there for a little bit just to enjoy the view. There’s another area of the aquarium where you can step into the fish world and have an “inside aquarium view.”  It’s the perfect size for the younger guests, but adults can squeeze in as well without too much discomfort.

I found Nemo! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
I found Nemo! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

As we walked back to the car that night, I took a moment to reflect on the day: We saw killer whales have a lovely interaction with their human friends; learned that all of the animals currently at SeaWorld were born in the park; fed a sea-lion ($5 for a really nice size amount of fish), and listened to their conversations with each other; and we saw the Penguins in their new and amazing environment, complete with freezing temperatures for us to experience. Overall, I’d say it was a fun day of learning and exploring and worth repeating in the future.

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Disclaimer: GeekMom received tickets into this attraction.

GeekMom’s Black Friday Deals Roundup

It’s dangerous to go Black Friday shopping alone. Take one of these. CC BY-SA Darcy Casselman.

Black Friday sales turn stranger and stranger every year. I think I got the first “shop Black Friday early!” email three weeks ago! Many stores are allowing you to shop at their sale prices online now and have been for a while. Nevertheless, it looks like the best deals are still to be had on the day itself, so we’ve got a roundup of the things your geek family is going to be looking for. Remember that items aren’t necessarily identical from store to store (video game bundles especially can be a bit different, movies have special editions for specific stores, etc.), so even if prices are listed for the same item, double-check on your own the specifics to be certain they’re exactly the same before making a choice. Some of these deals may also be offered only during limited hours, so check out the store’s website or ad to make your plan.

In the first column of each section is the Amazon price as of writing, and the links all go to Amazon so that you can both price compare (is it worth the line on Black Friday?) and to check out reviews in advance. Prices in each column reflect those given in early-release ads from each retailer.


Though not as much as they once did, cheap DVDs are still a draw into the store, so you’ll find plenty of them available. The following are a few of the popular choices this year. Remember to check the disc you’re getting to be sure that it’s the version you want.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Despicable Me 2 (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $9.96
Despicable Me 2 (WS DVD) $9.99 $7.96 BOGO $1 $9 with ornament
Frozen (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $24.94 $9.96 $29.99
Frozen (Sing Along DVD) $17.99 $14.96 $14.99
Gravity (Blu-Ray; some versions are 3D) $17.29 $7.99 $4.00
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $17.99 $7.96 $9.99
How to Train Your Dragon 2 (DVD) $14.99 $9.99 $14.99 $10.00
Ice Age 3 (DVD) $1.96
Maleficent (Blu-Ray+Digital) $24.99 $9.99
Maleficent (WS DVD) $19.99 $7.96 $12.99 BOGO $1
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $9.96
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (DVD) $14.96 $7.96 $7.99 BOGO $1
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $7.96 $5.99
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (DVD) $14.96 $7.96 $9.99 BOGO $1 $9.00
The Lego Move (2-disc special edition DVD+Digital) $17.96 $3.99 $9.99 BOGO $1 $9.00
The Lego Movie (DVD) $14.96 $3.96
Transformers: Age of Extinction (Blu-Ray+DVD+Digital) $13.00 $7.96 $9.99 $19.99 $19.99
Transformers: Age of Extinction (DVD) $17.69 $5.99
X-Men: Days of Future Past (Blu-Ray+Digital) $9.99 $9.99
X-Men: Days of Future Past (DVD) $9.99 $7.96 $9.99 BOGO $1

Phones and tablets

Features vary so, again, be sure you’re comparing apples to apples when you get a deal. Check the storage space, features like Wi-Fi, carrier, whether it’s unlocked, etc.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Galaxy Note 4 free with contract $0.00
Samsung Galaxy S4 $330-350 $0.97
Samsung Galaxy S5 free with contract $99.00 $1.00 $449.99* $0.01 544.99*
Phone (prices usually with contract) Iphone 6 16 GB $750-$1000 (unlocked) $179.00 $99.99
Galaxy Tab 3 Kids Edition 7” 8 GB $179 or $124.99 refurbished $129.99
Galaxy Tab 3 Lite 8 GB $99.99 $99.00 $119.99
Galaxy Tab 4 7.0 $139.00 $149.99 $149.99 $149.99
Galaxy Tab Pro 8” $349.00 279.99 (10.1” version) $199.99 $199.99
Galaxy Tab S 10.5” 10 GB $379.99 $399.99
iPad Air 16GB Wi-Fi $358.00 $397 with $100 gift card $319.99 $399 with $100 gift card
iPad Air 2 $482.48 $489 with $100 gift card $100 off $499 with $140 Target gift card


Whether you’re looking for your first DSLR or a video camera, Black Friday is often a good time to do it.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Canon EOS Rebel T5 1200D with 2 lenses $399-$599 (bundles differ) $449.00 $449.96
Canon Rebel T5i with 2 lenses $599-$849 (bundles differ) $699.00 $499.99
GoPro Hero3+ Silver Edition $299.99 $249.97 $249.99 $249.99
Nikon D3200 with 2 lenses $319-$546 (bundles differ) $499.00 $499.99 $496.99 $596.95
Nikon D7000 with 2 lenses and SD card $549-$1199 (bundles differ) $1,099.96
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 $519.00 $297.99
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LF1 $298.00 $249.00
Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS30 $239.00 $299.00

Video games

If you’re still playing Xbox 360 or Playstation 3—or would like to purchase one of those consoles—there are some great deals out there on those older games and systems. But as you can see below, if you want deals on the current version consoles, you’re going to have to look harder and check out the bundles.

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Disney Infinity characters varies 30% off $12.99
Skylanders Giants characters varies $9.00
Skylanders Swap Force characters varies $9.00
Skylanders Trap Masters $14.96 $15.99
Skylanders Trap Team characters $9.96 $9.00

Playstation 4

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Destiny $49.75 $49.99
Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls – Ultimate Evil Edition $49.89 $35.00 $29.99
inFAMOUS: Second Son $25.49 $25.00 $19.99
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor $48.51 $24.99 $29.99
NBA 2k15 $50.99 $35.00 $29.99
Playstation 4 console $399.99 $399 with $50 gift card $399.99 $399.99
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 $34.49 $24.99
Watch Dogs $41.54 $35.00 $44.99

Wii U

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Just Dance 2015 $37.98 $25.00 $24.99 $24.99
Mario Kart 8 $48.15 $35.00 $59.99+10% off the guide
Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit $49.99 $37.00
Wii U Super Mario 3D World Bundle $315.88 $299.99

Xbox One

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Destiny $49.35 $35.00 $49.99
Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes (2.0) Starter Pack $54.99 $39.99
Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor $47.45 $25.00 $29.99
Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit $49.99
Watch Dogs $48.89 $29.99
Xbox One Assassin’s Creed: Unity Bundle $349.00 $329.00 $329.99 $329.99 $329.99 $349.99

Nintendo DS

Amazon Wal-Mart Adorama Best Buy GameStop Kmart Toys R Us Target Newegg TigerDirect
Nintendo 2DS with Mario Kart 7 $151.05 $129.99
Super Mario Bros. 2 Golden Edition Bundle other variations $110-$220 $149.96
Frozen: Olaf’s Quest $19.99 $15.00
Nintendo 3DS XL Mario Party Island Bundle $249.99 $179.99

A Downton Abbey Christmas Wish List

Image: – preview. The perfect album cover; just look at that holiday dress.

By now, most of you would probably be severely irritated by me; most of my coworkers are. I began listening to Christmas music on September 30, which is about three weeks after I usually begin. Nothing can dampen my affection for holiday music, even in the absence of the holiday. One must begin this early after all, if one is to listen to all existing recordings of “White Christmas” in time.

If I wasn’t already in the mood for some sleigh bells, the news that there is to potentially be a Downton Abbey Christmas album would be enough to get me going. Now this announcement comes via The Sun, one of the UK’s most inflammatory publications, so it may all come to naught. But now that the idea has been planted in my mind, there is nothing to deter me. Tie in the fact that Lady Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is in a band called Sadie and the Hotheads, and I’ve just pre-ordered something that doesn’t exist.

So, powers that be, here is what I would like to see from a Downton Abbey Christmas album:

1. “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but not with regular 12 accumulations. I want something more like “The Twelve Days of Downton.” This would include “three female heirs, two eligible bachelors, and Edith in a pear tree.” Poor Edith. It would be sung by the whole cast, of course.

2. “Baby It’s Cold Outside” sung by Carson and Mrs Hughes.

3. “White Christmas” sung by the Dowager Countess.

4. “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” sung by the Dowager Countess and Mrs Crawley.

5. “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” sung by Lady Edith .

6.  “There’s No Place Like Home (for the holidays)” sung by Matthew Crawley—come on Dan Stevens, just one song?

7. “Blue Christmas” sung by Tom Branson. There has to be a weepy one.

8. “Rockin Around the Christmas Tree” sung by Mrs Patmore and Daisy.

9.  “Last Christmas” sung by Lord Gillingham.

10. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” sung by the whole cast.

11. “When a Child is Born” sung by Lord Grantham.

12. “All I Want for Christmas is You” sung by Daisy.

13. “Ho Ho Ho (Who’d Be a Turkey at Christmas?)” sung by Thomas.

14. “Fairytale of New York” sung by Lady and Lord Grantham.

Last, but certainly not least…

15. “Santa Baby” sung by Lady Mary.

I am far too excited by this prospect. What would be on your Downton Christmas wish list?

I Missed Pi Day, Now What?!

Pi Pie
Pi Pie image: Nicole Wakelin.

You don’t miss big holidays when you’ve got kids, but embrace them with a level of exuberance that makes the local high school cheerleading team look demure. But what if you miss not just a holiday, but a nerd holiday?

It’s not that I forgot about Pi Day. I remembered and had been thinking about it for weeks, even planning to bake a Pi pie, but then life got in the way of my plans. There was a snow day. There was a sick kid. There were all the little things that become one big thing that inexplicably sucks up all your time. All. Of. It.

And then suddenly, it was Pi Day and I had nothing. No Pi pie. Not even a lame store-bought pie. Nothing. I not only failed at “momming,” I failed at geeking, so it was like the double-rainbow of fails.

I’m sure you’re thinking this is no big deal because, technically speaking, it’s not a holiday. Banks and schools stay open. There are no parades and I’ve yet to see cards at the store, but it is a holiday for nerds just the same. It’s a big one—and I let it pass right on by, completely unnoticed this year.

I have vowed that next year, I will make the most epic of Pi pies in the history of pies in order to make up for my failure this year. In the meantime, I am writing this on St. Patrick’s Day and as penance for missing Pi Day, there is so much green in my house right now, you’d think a leprechaun had taken up residence.

And just you wait, when Easter rolls around, this house is going to be a pastel wonderland of adorable bunnies, cute chicks, and decorated eggs that will make the Easter Bunny jealous.

GeekMom Holiday Traditions: Blowing Ships

Younger children enjoy blowing their ship across the “lake.” Photo credit: Sam Cook.

Every year, my children and I make a craft/game called “Blowing Ships” to celebrate the Solstice and all of the wonderful festivals of light that happen this time of year. I first came across this activity in an amazing series of books I used as a resource for a culture and nature co-op class I taught. Written by Irmgard Kutsch from the Children’s Nature and Garden Centre in Reichshof, Germany, the series includes four books (one for each season) that focus on activities that integrate what is happening in nature into the rhythm of daily life.

Princess Anna and an Ewok watch as the lights float by. Photo credit: Sam Cook.

The wonderful thing about this tradition is that it has evolved with my children. They now help me make the ships, which are basically beautiful little candles in walnut shells, as well as help to design the game every year. The idea is to float your ships in a container of water and blow them from one side of the container to the other without blowing out the candles.

When my children were younger, I would give them straws to help direct their breath, but now they have gotten quite good! In the past few years, we have built more elaborate waterscapes with rocks and moss “islands,” around which they must navigate their little ships. We also love to make extras and give them as gifts. My favorite way to do this is to wrap three ships in a wax parchment bag with a little note of instructions on how to play the game. Blowing ships are easy to make and fun for every age.

This past Sunday, we decided to share our tradition with a larger group of kids, and everyone was delighted! Here’s how we did it:

Photo credit: Sam Cook.

To get started, we gathered our materials in one place. You will need whole walnuts, tools (nutcracker tools, a flathead screwdriver, and pliers), wax flakes, a candle wick, an aluminum pouring pitcher, a larger pitcher or pot, and a container for the ships to float in.

In order to make the ships, you need to crack the walnuts into two perfect halves. Nutcracker tools tend to crack the shells unevenly. We found that a flathead screwdriver inserted into the seam of the walnut works much better. You’ll get more surface area covered as you use the screwdriver as a lever. If one side cracks unevenly, a pair of pliers is a great (and accurate!) way of pulling the unwanted pieces of shell off. Inevitably, not every walnut will separate perfectly, and that is OK. Just save the nuts and make banana bread the next day.

Once you have your walnut shells cleaned out, you are ready to pour your candles. While you are shelling the walnuts, you can heat up the wax on the stove or an electric burner. I like using soy wax flakes. They melt quickly and are much cheaper than natural beeswax. In order to melt the wax evenly and prevent scalding, put the wax in a pouring pitcher, and then put the pouring pitcher in a boiling pot (or larger pitcher) of water. Remember that this pot could get wax on it, so avoid using your best All-Clad that you got for your birthday after asking for three years.

When all of the flakes have liquified, it is ready. Pour a bit of wax directly into the shell. As a bonus, if any of the shells have small cracks, the wax seals them up and your ship will still float. Place them on wax parchment or in empty egg cartons to cool. When the wax gets cloudy, insert a small piece of wick (about 1 inch in length) into the center of your ship. You must wait until the wax is the consistency of Jell-O or the wick will just fall over. However, you must also remember to put the wick in before the wax dries!

Photo credit: Sam Cook.

Once the wax has cooled completely, your ship is ready to set sail! A good beginning container to try is a lasagna pan. We also used a special zig zag pan (designed for all edge brownies) for more of a challenge. Finally, you can get really creative (as we have done) and build an entire waterscape with rocks, moss, and little people. Use whatever you have around to make a challenging course. Remember, the goal is to move the ship without blowing the candle out. (Helpful hint: Aim for the water right behind the ship!) Try practicing before lighting the candle, and let the kids figure it out. There is such triumph and celebration when they successfully pilot their ship! They also look festive just floating, in case you have extra. Everyone we have shared this tradition with has loved it and we hope you do, too.

Photo credit: Sam Cook.

Postal Fun! Make a Mailing Envelope From a Gift Bag


Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna.

It’s that time of year again: Time to load up your canvas bags with packages and claim your spot in line at the post office. If you’re lucky, you might run into a neighbor or two while waiting in line. Then you can spend your valuable time catching up with old friends, instead of cursing under your breath at the lady who has eight items to be mailed overseas with no customs forms filled out ahead of time.

My husband and I have lots of siblings between us. Lots of siblings translates to lots of nieces and nephews. Of course, they all live in far away states and if I’m not careful, I can spend more on postage than I do on the gifts themselves. Years ago, I started buying strategically light and small gifts. For older kids, gift cards are a welcome gift (all four of my teens agree). For younger kids, craft kits, stickers, and other small gifts can be shipped in a large envelope, skipping the hassle of finding a box that is just the right size and sturdy.

As a kid, I remember the joy of finding a colorful letter in the mailbox; it always made receiving a gift that much more fun. I’ve tried to find colorful envelopes, padded or otherwise, to use for gifts, but anything that’s not the standard yellow can be a bit pricey. (Have you picked up on the fact that I like spending money on the gift, not the packaging and postage?) A few years ago, I stumbled upon a fun way to mail my kid-friendly gifts without breaking the budget. In a word: dollar store gift bags.

Well, it’s four words, but you get the point. A few years ago, while shopping for stocking stuffers in the local dollar store, I noticed a large display of bright, colorful gift bags. Many of them were the exact same size as the pricey, printed envelopes I’d been eyeing at the office supply store. That was the year my new tradition started: Making my own mailing envelopes out of gift bags.

It’s quick and easy and will delight the recipient on the other end, I promise. Here is the basic game plan:

Lay the gift bag out flat and cut off the strings, the bottom panel, and the side panels. Now you are left with the front panel and back panel.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna.

Using mailing tape (the kind in the red dispenser; I swear by this stuff; it’s like my version of my husband’s duct tape), tape the front and back panel together on three sides. Stuff your gift inside, using it like a real envelope. I recommend some fun tissue paper, which makes opening that much more exciting for your recipient.

Tape across the top, making a nice flat edge. To make a label, I use one of two methods. If you have some self-adhesive mailing labels laying around, write your address on one and stick it to the front of the envelope (always remembering to include your return address). If not, cut a square of plain white paper and make your own. Write your addresses on it, center it on the “envelope,” and cover with several strips of the handy dandy packing tape.

There you have it: A fun, colorful envelope that will be snatched out of the mailbox on the other end by excited little hands—and all for just a buck. Now you can use all of that money you’ve just saved to buy a cup of coffee for that long lost neighbor. Because, after all, all of the good stuff you want to catch up on, you probably don’t want overheard in the line at the post office.

Black Friday Alternatives: Other Ways to Spend Your Day

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Be a tourist in your own town

Even if you don’t live in a major city or tourist destination, there’s almost certainly something interesting within driving distance. When was the last time you went? Have you taken the kids? Many of them will open for the Christmas season after Thanksgiving. Various city and park festivals and holiday light displays will open on Friday as well. Try finding one near you, perhaps:

Go skiing

Many ski resorts call Thanksgiving “opening weekend.” If you’re lucky enough to live near one, I don’t blame you for ditching the sales and hitting the slopes. Check the projected opening dates for the resorts near you.

See a parade or tree lighting

Maybe you weren’t in New York on Thanksgiving for the Macy’s Day Parade or in Philadelphia for the less-famous but oldest Thanksgiving parade in the country, but plenty of cities save their parades for Saturday. For example:

Run in a race

Who wants to do a Thanksgiving Day turkey trot when you could be stuffing your face with turkey and trotting to the sofa to watch a parade? Frankly, I’m not the sort to race any day, but if you are, you can either run from other shoppers on Black Friday, or you can run in races that still have registration available, including:

Go the traditional route

Or, of course, you can always save all of that for the next weekend and just go shopping. If you’re that sort, check out our Black Friday geek roundup.