Lessons From a First-Time Mini Maker Faire Exhibitor

The excitement in our household was barely containable. Anticipation, joy, and dreams of what could be all radiated from the two geeks who live with me.

What caused such enthusiasm, you ask? Was it Christmas? Someone’s birthday? An anniversary, perhaps? The new Star Wars movie?

No, my friends. It was the announcement that Barnes & Noble, in partnership with Make Magazine, was going to be hosting a Mini Maker Faire at every single store location in the U.S. Continue reading Lessons From a First-Time Mini Maker Faire Exhibitor

Why I Gave My Nephew Spider-Man

In our house, we limit screen time, maybe an hour a day. For the first two years, we capped TV watching at an hour a week.

We also tend away from the licensed products.

You know the ones I am talking about, the Elsa socks, Batman toothbrushes, or Elmo dolls. So imagine my husband’s surprise when I announced we were giving our two-year-old nephew Spider-Man for Christmas.

It all started with a sentence:

“I’m going to lose!”

Continue reading Why I Gave My Nephew Spider-Man

Combating Geek Prejudice… But Not the Way You Think

“Mom, I know I need to wait for Dad to help me with my math homework.”

“Mom, you’d never be able to build this Lego set.”

“Mom, you’ve never coded anything?!”

All of these are things my amazing 10-year-old future engineer has said to me.

She really doesn’t mean to hurt my feelings. She’s just calling it like she sees it. Her dad, her idol, is an engineer. They design stuff, build stuff, talk deeply about science-y stuff, and code stuff. My day job is in marketing and I don’t do any of that stuff. 

And frankly, I haven’t done myself any favors, talking about how confusing her math algorithms are to me (this is not a Common Core post, but it’s true fact that I do not recognize how to do long division anymore), how I’m “not into” building things, how I’ve never been interested in coding.

But it does hurt my feelings when she writes me off because the things I know are different from the things she and her dad know.

And most of the time, they’re not as relevant or valuable to her, because the things that are relevant and valuable to her fall very reliably into STEM and sometimes STEAM. There’s no “H” in there for humanities, which is where my particular strengths lie (I tried, but SHTEAM just didn’t work).
Continue reading Combating Geek Prejudice… But Not the Way You Think

PAX Australia 2015 (Part 1): The Geek Social Hub

If the “geek shall inherit the Earth” then PAX is where they divvy up the loot.

As an expo, it is a huge opportunity to try new games, find new talent, and “mingle with your people.” Trust me—I have plenty of new finds to +1 your geek status.

But as a social hub? It’s a whole other level.

Continue reading PAX Australia 2015 (Part 1): The Geek Social Hub

How to Introduce Your Kids to Things You Love

I didn’t read to my daughter when she was in the womb, but it wasn’t long after she was born that I started reading to her.

Some of the first books she heard were The Catcher in the Rye, and A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, because they’re some of my favorites. Plus, it’s never too early to know about phonies, and the fact that sometimes the smallest, strangest person can make the biggest difference in your life.

a prayer for owen meany
This is one of the first books I read to my daughter. Really. Image via HarperCollins.

The girl is six now, and reading is still a major pastime of ours. Through the years we’ve been able to introduce a few classics—Charlotte’s Web, The Wizard of Oz—and while it’s hard to wait on some of our favorites, we know it’s important to.

She’s afraid of people in masks, for instance, so the Star Wars movies are flat out. I’m ready to read her Harry Potter but I don’t want to ruin it for her if she thinks it’s scary.

Continue reading How to Introduce Your Kids to Things You Love

How I Became A Cool Geek Mom

Like most supermoms, I wear many capes. I’m a drama teacher by day, an actress by night, as well as a geeky mom, hot wife, and writer.

I was born with an extra dose of confidence and have never been one to worry about what other people think of me. I handle rejection like a seasoned pro and because of this, I have always felt free to dress the way I want to and express my various fandoms out loud for other people to see.

For example, when I drop my kids off at school, I might wear some Hello Kitty shoes with bright pink pants, a Doctor Who belt, and a Harry Potter jacket. Or I may wear my R2-D2 dress or Cinderella costume to promote my drama classes. I am no stranger to a raised eyebrow or sly smiles from onlookers. All of this was “normal” for my two kids until my daughter, the oldest, turned 11. Continue reading How I Became A Cool Geek Mom

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge: And Back to School We Go

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Image: Scholastic

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Summer is waning. Even here in North Carolina, where the hot season tends to linger a little longer than I’d like, we’ve had hints of autumn. My daughter just started preschool, and my son is back to school next week. But they had some great times this summer—we traveled, we relaxed (well, at least they did), and we immersed ourselves in some great books.

5 Word Book Reviews (or less)

Here are the books that rocked my kids’ summer.

Get in on the Instant Win Action

Image: Energizer

Energizer® and Scholastic are partnering to create the “Power the Possibilities” campaign which gives moms the tools they need to unlock their child’s talents, fuel their ambitions, and set them up for future success. Parents can buy any specially marked pack of Energizer® brand batteries to scratch for a chance to win one of thousands of prizes that will power discovery and learning.

Prizes include a family trip to New York City, a Scholastic Study Corner Makeover, a tablet with Scholastic apps, a library of Scholastic books and more! Everyone who plays can also download free digital stories for their family.

Refrain from Brain Drain

The summer is almost over, but thankfully the Power Up and Read Summer Reading Challenge has you covered. Scholastic’s Maggie McGuire has 5 easy tips for making reading a priority for your child, like setting a weekly minutes goal, reserving special time to read together as a family, and celebrating reading accomplishments. It’s not too late to get your kids reading.

More Reading Resources

Scholastic has joined together with ENERGIZER® to power the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge and encourage families to find innovative ways to discover the power and joy of reading. It’s not too late to take part! Now through September 4th, visit Scholastic.com/Summer. Click the links below for a sampling of the fun resources you’ll find with Scholastic:


Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

Skip the Summer Slide with Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge Powered by Energizer

Image: Scholastic

The summer slide is real. And no, I don’t mean the kind that includes water and a slippery surface. I mean learning lag, which happens during the summertime when kids are out of school. Thankfully, our sponsor Scholastic and the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is here to help. They’re challenging families like ours to “Power Up & Read”—powered by Energizer.

Teachers report that they end up re-teaching materials to kids during the fall because so much is lost over the summer. And with camps and family vacations—and the sometimes unbearably hot weather like here in North Carolina—it’s not surprising. After a demanding school year, the first thing my son Liam wants to do is not to read.

But we’re finding ways to help him, and you can, too. Picking books for him is the first big challenge. Thankfully, with the help of his teacher last year, we discovered a Minecraft series of novels. While they might not be my first choice of literature, they get his attention. He gets so invested in these books, you can hardly pry him away. Couple that with the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, and he’s got real motivation to continue reading—and to get rewarded all along the way. Bonus: There’s games he can play, and any time “screen time” is part of the deal, you know his attention is piqued.

Image: Energizer
Image: Energizer

What’s particularly nice is that we can let Liam choose his own books during the summer. With his ASD, the pressure to perform can be really overwhelming. But he doesn’t let it get to him this way. He can read whatever he wants, whenever he wants.

The free program runs from May 4 to September 4, 2015, and like I mentioned before, you can sign up for free on their website.

Even better is the new addition of short stories by some of the biggest names in kids’ writing. Kids can unlock stories by Blue Balliett, Patrik Henry Bass, Varian Johnson, Gordon Korman, Michael Northrop, Maggie Stiefvater and Jackson Pearce, Roland Smith, R.L. Stine, Tui T. Sutherland, Lauren Tarshis, Wendy Wan-Long Shang, and Jude Watson. For a fiction writer as I am, that’s a truly exciting reward! Not to mention, they’ve got a host of exclusive videos featuring kids’ authors, monthly Klutz books sweepstakes, and lots more.

The site is chock-full of great resources, including printouts, guides, and book lists for kids of all ages. And you can get Daily Digest tips and hey, even enter a prize packet for you that includes Scholastic tote bag, water bottle, a copy of Reading Unbound by Jeffrey Wilhelm and Michael Smith, a $10 gift certificate to Scholastic Store Online, Energizer® brand batteries, Scholastic books, and more.

Want more? We’ve got more! Check the links below.

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

The Unexpected Way ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’ is Helping My 8 Year Old Autistic Son

Image: PBS Kids
Image: PBS Kids

In our house, viewing Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood usually starts something like this. The show clicks on, the music starts. My daughter, 3, starts dancing in anticipation. My son, 8, with high-functioning autism, starts whining and complaining that it’s the most terrible show in the world. Then it starts, and they’re both silent and rapt for the duration.

When I first saw ads for the show, I was a little reluctant. Riffing on Mister Rogers? With cartoons? It felt a little sacrilegious. Then I learned that the show was not just a rehash of Mister Rogers, my most favorite kid’s show, but a collaboration with people like Angela Santomero from Blue’s Clues. For our son Liam, Blue’s Clues was pretty much his favorite show in the world during his toddler years, in spite of being a very picky TV watchers (the show didn’t often feature his favorite thing in the world: cars). What I’ve always loved about Blue’s Clues is that it’s rooted in psychology, treating kids not as dumb little monkeys in need of entertainment, but as growing human beings in need of education and direction. It’s a lot to ask for a TV show, but it’s worked.

There’s a great NPR piece about the show that I caught when it aired, and this quote sums up what makes the approach so special:

“They developed a whole curriculum based on Fred’s research and teaching,” says Linda Simensky, vice president of children’s programming at PBS. “It’s very carefully designed for a certain age group to get the rules of how the world works—to see what happens when things go right and when things go wrong.”

But that said, I’m going to admit, after viewing a few of the episodes I wasn’t a huge fan and didn’t quite get the hype. The show is cute and simplistic, employing many of the “play along” techniques Blue’s Clues became so famous for. Every lesson is a song, teaching kids ways to remember common solutions for every day problems.

That changed very quickly.

Learning Through Songs and Repetition

What started happening with those lessons, though, rather stopped my husband and me in our tracks. Many of Liam’s most common challenges come from tantrums. Autistic tantrums. That’s when, no matter what happens, the tantrum continues and continues—I think his record is three hours—regardless of the outcome. In these moments he’s in a red zone, and there’s very little we can do to get him back to the present outside of just waiting for it to be over.

One day, he had a particularly bad red zone tantrum, and he hurt a lot of feelings—including his sister’s. I found myself giving him advice from Daniel Tiger’s neighborhood: “It’s important that you don’t just say you’re sorry—say sorry, and ask how you can make it better. Being sorry is about more than words, it’s actions, too.”

He did. Even if a little grudgingly.

Then a few days later, Michael and I were having a disagreement. Not a full blown argument, but it was clear that we were both very frustrated. Our daughter Elodie came up to us, put her little hand in mine, and sang, “When you’re feeling frustrated, take a step back and ask for help.”

Michael and I goggled at each other. Did she just use Daniel magic on us? She did.

Parenting a kid who doesn’t listen and spirals out of control is hard on any day. And finding way to remain calm as a parent, let alone as the kid going through it, is perilous. We forget (and many other adults do, too) that while he looks and speaks like a big kid, when it comes to reasoning and social skills, especially in times of stress, he’s like a toddler. As I once read in a book about kids with these kind of challenges, being a parent to an exceptional kid means sometimes being their frontal lobe. Now, I don’t have time to be my own frontal lobe let alone his some days. But Daniel Tiger helps.

“Wow,” said to Michael one afternoon. “I think Daniel Tiger is helping us with Liam.”

He Likes It, He Really Likes It

Image: PBS Kids; Katerina and Daniel
Image: PBS Kids; Katerina and Daniel

Then, one day, Liam turned to us and said, apropos of nothing. “I think Katerina is autistic; she’s my favorite. She has a hard time with things sometimes, and she likes ballet more than anything.” Well, that’s interesting.

Our daughter Elodie loves Daniel, and she sings the potty song (“When you’ve got to go potty, stop and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way!”) every time she goes to the bathroom. Liam’s aware of what we’re doing on some level, but we’ve found that the sound, short advice can really cut through some of the worst of his behaviors.

Short, helpful strategies, based in real research and proven techniques. For days I’m too tired to remember what to do when Liam is going off the rails because the cream cheese was spread wrong on his bagel (true story) I can take a deep breath (take my own step back) and calmly translate the words of Daniel Tiger: “Take a step back, Liam. I can help. What do you want me to do?” He might roll his eyes at me, but it often stops him in his tracks and in this instance he doesn’t hit me or shout or stomp away. He says, “Can you get me a knife? That way I can fix it. Or maybe you can if I can’t.”

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is streaming on Netflix right now.

Natania is a member of the Netflix Stream team.

Power Up and Read with he Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge Powered by Energizer

Image: Scholastic

When I was a kid, my favorite part about summer was the fact that I could read as much as I wanted, for however long I wanted. There wasn’t homework, or assigned reading. I could go into the library, grab as many titles as I could carry, and read from dusk until dawn. I’m pretty sure that some days I did. Our sponsors at Scholastic certainly get that kind of kid—but they get other kids, too.

Now I’ve got kids, two of them. One is almost nine, and he’s reading at a near college level. But reading isn’t his thing. He can do it, and do it fast, but unless he sees the benefit, he’s not about to give in to his fiction-obsessed mother. The other one is quickly learning the magic of libraries and stories, but has yet to do any reading on her own. She just turned three, she’s got time.

Image: Energizer
Image: Energizer

Anyway, I’ve been thrilled with the Scholastic and Energizer “Power Up and Read” program for the summer, running from May 4th – September 4th, 2015. With their approach, both kids are reading toward their goals—for our son, a good mix of nonfiction and fiction, and for our daughter books with lots of pictures and easy words. The best part of the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge is that I can download sheets (and certificates) all along the way. And as they log hours, they can earn virtual rewards, enter sweepstakes, and even play games. That’s definitely up their alley.

What’s particularly nice, too, is that you can match your kid with book suggestions. And, there’s a fun component with the INSTANT WIN Games—you and your kids could win a trip to NYC, or lots of lovely books.

Our goals are simple: Make reading fun. Some days that’s harder than others. But with all the tools from Scholastic, I’m convinced it will be a blast for all involved.

Check out their tips and resources below, including a great Harry Potter book party!

Resources from Scholastic Parents:

More about the program:

Scholastic is a GeekMom sponsor.

Shadows and BURPS: RPGs With Kids!

shadow pic small
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Gather your family at the table with paper, pencils, and dice.

First tell them to draw a quick picture of themselves—stick figures are fine. On the same paper, they should draw their shadow: the person, monster, or alter-ego that is longing to get them in trouble, to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences. Then assign one die (different colors) to each of these drawings. Finally, say to your family, “You are asleep in the house. Suddenly you wake up to a strange sound.” And so the Shadows game begins.

This is one of the simplest role-playing games around, which makes it great for kids. And perfect for adults who are interested in RPGs, but don’t know where to begin. Shadows, by Zak Arntson, is a group storytelling game with a fun twist. Whenever the leader of the group asks about a move, the player has to answer twice—what they want to do in a situation, and what their shadow wants to do. The decision is made by dice.

My children and I have played the Shadows game many times, and this was the game I chose when I did an “Intro to RPG” event at my local homeschooling group. I wanted a game with a short prep time, so we could jump right into the action. Experienced gamers really, really enjoy character creation, spending weeks on stats and backstories. But with kids, they just want to play.

There are many systems out there (feel free to comment below with your favorite) that are quick on the start-up. Risus by S. John Ross is one I like. It has enough structure to satisfy kids who want more than Shadows, but with a twenty second character creation, there’s no waiting. My favorite part of Risus is how characters are defined by cliches. You can make up your own or be inspired by their example list:
Gambler: Betting, cheating, winning, running very fast.
Computer Geek: Hacking, programming, fumbling over introductions.

My kids enjoyed the Percy Jackson series, so one afternoon I took out Risus, a list of Greek gods, and a list of Greek monsters. I told the kids they were demi-gods, and monsters were ravaging our downtown. They grabbed their dice, picked whom their powerful parent was, wrote down a cliché or two, and we were off on an exciting adventure.

Now perhaps you are an experienced gamer and want to bring your geeklings into the fold of serious RPGs. There are also many systems that allow for expansive character creation and detailed worlds (again, list your favorites below.) Anything with the PDQ# system by Chad Underkoffler is creative and easy to run. I once ran a long campaign with my kids and their friends in the Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies world with great success.

My husband did a few one-shot Dungeons and Dragons games with the kids when they were younger. But he made their simple character stats for them, “I want to be a really cool warrior with a big sword!” I had asked if he ever wanted to run a family game, but he remembers the amount of time it took to create a satisfying game week after week for his friends way back when. So that was a “no.”

My personal introduction into RPGs is a system called GURPS (generic universal role playing system). However, I will never read all those books for the GM (game master). Luckily, there’s this handy-dandy version called GURPS LITE. It’s perfect for playing with kids, and I used it for a short series with my own kids a few years back. The character sheets were still too unwieldy, so I wrote up my own called BURPS (beginner universal role playing system). Please feel free to grab it for your own game.

Not enough suggestions? Go here. Spend an afternoon on an adventure with your children using your collective imagination and the clattering of dice.

Ski Joring – The Perfect Winter Family Adventure!

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

My family loves to attend somewhat nontraditional festivals and celebrations. When we lived near Washington, D.C., I’d scour the Thursday edition of the Washington Post, looking for the most unique thing we could do with our four kiddos that weekend. Among other things, we saw Native American Pow Wows and attended the National Kite Festival.

When we moved to Utah, then Upstate New York, the kids continued to grow, as did the crazy weekend adventures. Now we live in Colorado. Almost all of my kids are grown. But I keep dragging the youngest ones to crazy events. We’ve been to the Bacon Festival, Winter X Games, and Frozen Dead Guy Days. I thought we’d rounded up some of the best. Then child number three called home from college and said, “Are you guys coming up this weekend for Ski Joring?”

Okay. Hadn’t heard of that one. I started throwing the term around at work. Several of my co-workers had heard of it. I was astonished that this event had never been on my radar.

If you, like me, have never heard of ski joring, let me educate you. Ski Joring is a sport where skiers are pulled by horses, at high rates of speed. It’s a timed event. Skiers must navigate a course, involving several large jumps, as well as spear rings with their arms. It’s as crazy as it sounds.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

Last weekend we headed off to Leadville, Colorado, about an hour from our house. Fun fact: Leadville has the distinction of being the highest (altitude) incorporated city in the United States, at over ten thousand feet. These facts I learned from my college son, whose tiny college campus is at the far end of town.

The main street of downtown had been shut down and truck loads of snow had been brought in. A course was carved out that included periodic jumps of impressive height. Even my ski loving kids couldn’t believe that skiers would be clearing the jumps, then continue on to capture rings with outstretched arms.

Here is a video of one skier, mid-course. It was fascinating to me that a horse could pull a person at a high rate of speed, without dangerously jolting the skier as they began their run. See how fluidly these professional athletes managed this feat at this link.

Photo: Judy Berna
Photo: Judy Berna

If you are looking for some pretty crazy, awe-inspiring entertainment, there is a national body called the North American Ski Joring Association. Here is the schedule of events across the country. You can find competitions in five of the United States and in several countries across the world. In some parts of the world, skiers are pulled behind dogs, mules, and snowmobiles. At the event we attended there were opportunities for children to try an abbreviated course, pulled behind a snowmobile.

Most of the ski joring events in the United States have wrapped up for this year. The courses are melting away and spring is just around the corner. But don’t forget this sport. When the snow starts to fly next year, this is one event that’s worth seeing. As plans are made for vacations, keep in mind the opportunity to catch a glimpse of this crazy new/old sport called ski joring. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

Added note: Want to see what it looks like from the skier’s perspective? Catch this father (rider – Greg Dahl) son (skier – Jeff Dahl) team’s experience, from the GoPro, mounted on the skier’s helmet. Crazy fun!

Happy World Read Aloud Day!

Photograph: Talento Tec – Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, Mexico City (Creative Commons License)

My son and I have fought beside Peter in the Battle of Narnia. We’ve experienced the wonder of walking through the wall of Platform 9 3/4 on our way to Hogwarts. We’ve saved Prydain multiple times, and melted the Wicked Witch of the West. And we did it all from the comfort of our own couch.

My son is almost 13 years old, and every single night since he was old enough to focus his eyes, we’ve read out loud together. Every night, without fail, whether we are traveling or sick, or it’s late. It’s our time to regroup from the day, to escape for a while, to snuggle on the couch, and just share a bit of time with one another.

I have to admit, I was a little surprised to find out, when he was about 10 or so, that we were one of the only families who did this with a kid over about 7. It had never even occurred to us to stop (I think my son would cry mutiny if we did).

Today is World Read Aloud Day. If you click on the link, you’ll find a lot of information about reading to your kids and a link to a free story book.  Reading to your kids, whether young or older, is simple and doesn’t take a lot of time. Plus, according to Scholastic’s Kids and Family Reading Report: 5th Edition, 8 out of every 10 kids from ages 6-17 say that they love being read aloud to and want their parents to do it more.

Most parents read aloud to their kids before the age of 6, mostly to develop literacy and a love of reading. After that though, the percentage tapers off dramatically, even though the benefits are the same. I would argue, in fact, that reading together becomes even more important as kids get older. There are so many other things competing for their attention. What better way to show them both the importance of reading and spending time together as a family than having some story time together. In fact, the top reason cited in Scholastic’s study for kids wanting to read together with their parents is because it gives them a special time together.

So, what if you stopped reading to your child, but now want to start back up? What if you want some more bonding time with your moody teen? Well, it’s not always easy to start new habits. Start off by letting your kid choose what he or she wants to read. It can be anything. A novel, a comic book, a book about science. Most of the kids surveyed said they would like to read something of their choice or something funny. Don’t get frustrated if your kid doesn’t join you right away. Read to your partner, or your pet. But encourage your child to stay in the same room. For example, after dinner, set a family time where no one is allowed to hide out in their room. Everyone can do something in the living room as long as it doesn’t disrupt the reading (like, no television). Again, this might not be easy with some kids. Teens are mysterious and complicated creatures. They want to spend time with their families but they want to do it on their terms and they can feel embarrassed about taking the first steps to getting closer to their families. The want independence, but don’t want to break too far away. Give them lots of space and choice in the matter. Let them pick the book out, and don’t make them read to you unless they want to. Just read out loud to them so they feel welcome and comfortable, and eventually they might want to read to you.

What if you feel like you aren’t good at reading out loud? Just do it. You’ll get better the more you practice, and no one is grading you on your performance. It’s a fun bonding time for everyone. You’ll make mistakes. Your kids will let you know when you missed a word. It’s OK. Just laugh at the mistakes, compliment your kid on being such a good reader that he caught a missing word, and enjoy your family time together.

Happy reading, everyone!

Ever After High – Destiny and Fairytales on Netflix Streaming

Image: Mattel, Netflix
Image: Mattel, Netflix

If you have a young daughter who likes princesses, as I do, it’s likely that you’ve heard of Ever After High. Like Monster High before it, these dolls have a unique look that’s somewhere between Victorian princess and 80s punk rock. Now, aside from the book series and dolls, there’s a new show streaming on Netflix that follows the story of the girls in high school.

What’s particularly impressive about the show is that it’s not your garden variety fairytale show. No doubt spurred on by other popular shows like My Little Pony and even the Tinkerbell franchise, the storylines are complex and the central challenges are far more than makeup and crushes. In fact, the central factions in the show — the Rebels and the Royals — fall on two sides of an age-old question: do you follow your destiny, or do you challenge it? If you’re born to an evil queen, does that mean you have to be the same when you grow up?

Sure, it’s a show that the ten-and-under crowd will enjoy. But at the heart it’s a show that makes you think beyond fairytale endings. If you’re anything like me, you were probably the kind of kid who questioned all the fairytales I read, and wanted more satisfying endings. I far prefer my daughter, who’s absolutely besotted with her princesses, to be given a more complicated view. I love fairytales as much as she does, but there’s a real power in changing those expectations and asking the hard questions. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they’re so enduring.

And that’s to say nothing of the fashion on the show. As in their doll form, the characters on the show have a really amazing sense of fashion — and it varies greatly from character to character. I’d personally love to see someone chasing their own destiny in some of these gorgeous outfits.

You can catch both seasons of Ever After High streaming on Netflix.

Natania is part of the Netflix Stream Team.


Quick & Geeky Valentine Paper Clip Greetings

Julie Tiu DIY Planner Clips Paper Clips for Valentine Card
Quick DIY Valentine greetings to make with things you have at home. Image by Julie Tiu.

It’s easy to go to your local store and buy a box of Valentine’s Day cards for your kid’s class, but maybe you can make a couple of special Valentine cards for a teacher, older kids, or even your favorite planner geek. These are easy and inexpensive greetings that you can make with supplies you may have at home.

Julie Tiu DIY Paper Clip Planner Clip for Valentine Card
Puffy stickers make easy embellishments for paper clips! (Note: The large paper clips shown are upside down.) Image by Julie Tiu.

I found some Hello Kitty puffy stickers, along with superhero and Despicable Me minion stickers—because they’re just the type of GeekMom supplies I have lying around my house. You’ll also want to scrounge up the following items:

  • Paper clips (any size, test to see what is appropriate)
  • Sharp scissors (smaller works better for details)
  • Index cards or heavy cardstock
  • Glue gun (optional)

The larger paper clips work better for most applications.

Julie Tiu DIY paper clip planner clip greetings for Valentine Card
Use easy-to-find materials in your home like index cards and paper clips to make these easy paper clip greetings. Image by Julie Tiu.

Take your puffy stickers of choice and sandwich a paper clip between the sticker and your index card. Apply a good amount of pressure all over the sticker. Be careful how you position the paper clip; you’ll want to make sure that you can slide the paper clip onto the edge of a piece of paper (or whatever you’re clipping together).

Julie Tiu DIY paper clip planner clip for Valentine Card
Puffy sticker adhesive is usually strong enough to hold onto the paper clip and cardstock backing. Image by Julie Tiu.

After the stickers are adhered to the index card for backing, cut around the sticker shape. (Yes, this can be a little tedious. I had a better time with the square-shaped lenticular superhero stickers.)

For stickers that are not puffy (typical stickers), you can still make paper clip embellishments by adhering the sticker to cardstock first, cutting the shape, and then using a glue gun to apply the paper clip. I would not recommend sandwiching the clip between the sticker and cardstock because the sticker will likely rip.

DIY paper clip planner clip for Valentine card
Use regular stickers to make cool clips. Image by Julie Tiu
DIY paper clip planner clip for Valentine card
Hot glue thin stickers or decals that are adhered onto cardstock first. Image by Julie Tiu

If you’re lucky, you may find an exact double of a puffy sticker, so you can just sandwich the clip in between the two stickers.

Julie Tiu DIY paper clips planner clips for Valentine Card
Stickers may be adhered back-to-back for these embellished paper clips. Image by Julie Tiu.

Lastly, take another (plain) index card (or cardstock) and hand-write a greeting to go with your embellished paper clip. I used washi tape to hold the clip in place.

**UPDATE** A friend commented about handwriting. What if you don’t like yours? I say it’s all about the homemade feel… use what you have: a print-out, rubber stamps, labels, stickers, etc.

DIY paper clip planner clip
Give your little Valentine to a favorite geeky loved one. Image by Julie Tiu.

I know some teachers who will totally enjoy this little treat… and as for the rest of my stickers, I may need to buy some more large paper clips so I can use them in my own planner or as bookmarks! Enjoy!

This Saturday Is Ice Cream For Breakfast Day!

Ice Cream Cutie By Lilianna Maxwell

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

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

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

Did you know the ice-cream scoop was reinvented?

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

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

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

Enjoy your sweet holiday :)

Little Boy Sees Star Wars for the First Time, Completely Loses It

Star Wars came out a decade long, long ago when the only way to see the movie was in a theater. I was seven, so my Dad took me to see it and the movie completely and utterly blew my little mind. According to him, I watched half the film with my jaw dropped down to the floor. Now kids see it for the first time in the comfort of their own homes. This 3-year-old boy is one of those kids and his reaction is brilliant.

It appears that he’s already familiar with the characters as he calls out Darth Vader and “Storm Woopers.” Storm Woopers? I will now think of them this way forever and until the end of time. It makes them much less scary and makes this kid unbearably cute. He’s adorable and the way he keeps adjusting his glasses to be sure he doesn’t miss anything is just killing me.

His dialogue is great, but his physical reactions will have you giggle-snorting your coffee onto your monitor, so be warned. He shushes Dad with a finger held up as the movie starts and then he has the most incredible freak out. There is jumping up and down. There is flailing. There is dancing and there is a huge smile.

Since I saw the movie for the first time in a theater, I could not jump up and down, but if I could have, I’d have done exactly what this kid did, right until they kicked me out. If we’re being totally honest, and we are, that’s exactly what all Star Wars fans do inside every single time that music starts to play.

The completely rapt look on his face is how we’re all going to look when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters in December. You guys, that’s this year! Yup, absolutely flailed my arms at that thought and barely refrained from jumping up and down at my desk.

(via NerdApproved)

Give the Gift of YES!

Coupon Book Cover

With my son’s room overflowing with toys and gadgets he’s accumulated over his short lifetime, we decided this year would be a “no toys” Christmas. Instead of toys, we wanted our friends and family to give him theme park tickets, cash, gift cards to his favorite restaurants, or subscriptions to comic books he enjoys. However, this put us in a bind for figuring out what to put under the tree for him.

One day while brainstorming how we could give him gifts without contributing to the mess that is his room, I remembered the coupon books I gave my parents as a kid. We made them in school and they were for things like vacuuming the living room, putting up the dishes, doing the laundry, and other household chores. My mom would then “redeem” her coupons for us to take over chores for the day.

Then I had a brilliant upon brilliant idea: What could be a better gift for a child than saying “yes” to something they want to do?

After completing my happy dance and patting myself on the back for my genius idea, I sat down to figure out what kinds of things my son would love to hear me say “yes” to.

A few ideas I came up with were:

  • 1 additional hour on Minecraft.
  • Get out of cleaning your room.
  • Pizza and a movie night.
  • Bedtime extension (valid for 1 hour on a weekend or 30 minutes on school night).
  • New game on the iPad (value not to exceed $______).
  • One additional hour on a game of your choice.
  • Family game night (you pick the game).
  • One family video game competition.
  • A trip to the comic book store for a book of your choice.
  • An extra dessert with dinner.
  • Dessert first at dinner.
  • Grocery store snack and drink of your choice.
  • Lunch with Mommy/Daddy at school.
  • Trip to restaurant of your choice.

Once I had my list, I remembered that my son has a very scheming mind (I wonder where he got that from…<looks away>) and realized that a set of rules would also be a good idea.

I looked back over my list and came up with a disclaimer for any of them that I thought he might try to be evil with. For instance, “pizza and movie night” has a disclaimer that it’s only valid on weekends (no staying up late on a school night in this house). I also threw in a stipulation that if a coupon required us to spend money, we have the right to refuse it on grounds of financial stability (but we also have to give him a new date that will fit our budget better). Another stipulation I threw in there was that he can’t use the coupon book when grounded. This prevents him from getting out of his punishment with a coupon.

While this list will make my son very happy, my fellow GeekMoms came up with a few additions that suit their own families.

Lisa gave a couple of suggestions based on what her girls enjoy:

  • New book…for no reason at all.
  • One day of getting to choose the station/CD we play in the car or at home.

Sarah’s suggestions suited her family and what they like:

  • Hot cocoa and extra stories in mom’s bed at bedtime. Toby loves when we do that—so much so that he asks to go to bed half an hour early so we can get more stories in.
  • A trip to the mall without siblings.
  • Pancakes without siblings (we usually do IHOP).
  • 10 extra minutes of video games.
  • An impromptu trip to the library.

Kay has some teenagers in her household and came up with a few things they would find worthy of excitement:

  • Choosing the audio book on a long car ride.
  • Getting the choice of being first for anything in a sibling situation.
  • Choosing desserts.
  • Extra time in the shower or bathroom, especially for a teen.
  • Extra time to sleep in, for a teen.
  • Chore trading or chore randomizing.
  • Picking the bedtime story.
  • DQ. DQ. DQ. (It’s an obsession at our house.)

Thanks to Rebecca Moore, we have some template coupons for you to use for your own kids’ coupon book. Just click on the image you want to use, save it to your computer, and add some text to it by hand or with your preferred program. Remember to come up with a set of rules that suit your family so that this is fun and not frustrating. I laminated my coupons and used a couple of binder rings to hold it together and keep them neat.

But wait! There’s more. Once they give you a coupon, keep it. The next time your child does something worthy of a treat, give them a coupon back to reuse. See? It goes from a Christmas gift to a reward system instantly. Cool huh?

coupon_template_kids coupon_template_time
coupon_template_toys coupon_template_food
coupon_template_minecraft coupon_template_vgame

Planner Geeks Unite for an Organized 2015

Image source: Julie Tiu
Mom’s Weekly Planner or Day Planner, what do you use? Image by Julie Tiu

Did you have an assignment notebook when you were younger? I loved mine. It was a beautiful example of collage and an altered book before I even knew what that was. I would doll up my August-to-August Chandler’s Assignment Notebook (Chicago-based company in the 1940s and closed in 1995) with stickers, drawings, and cut-outs from magazines stating my teenage pride and angst. Clear packing tape was my adhesive of choice. I color coded everything with my Stabilo Boss highlighters. Of all the journals I ever owned, I wish I kept those.

Image Source: www.jasco.com.au
These were my favorite highlighters back in the 1980s | Image Source: www.jasco.com.au

I gave up the Chandler’s Notebook, and graduated to a university-sanctioned notebook (AKA free). Then Day Timers and Franklin Planners came along in the workplace. I was a young professional and I didn’t think to accessorize my planner, to make it fun and colorful, except for the occasional highlighter and red pen for deadlines.

Fast forward to today. We’re all familiar with using regular calendars to plot our busy days as parents, and I’m not knocking online or electronic calendars. I just love paper! I’ve used a Mom’s Planner for the last three or four years. Mom’s calendars or planners have space for listing all family members activities. Next year I’m going back to my Franklin Planner (picture above)… and going back to making it my own. I’m so excited that I already started decorating. Lately I’ve been using washi tape and stickers to make the pages pop. Three inch by four inch cardstock (i.e., Project Life scrapbook cards) are used as weekly reminders or just inspiration. I was inspired by a pen friend who shared some of her paper goods. (A scrapbooker, I am not—but I will paper craft!)

Washi tape, plannerjunkie, plannergeek
Washi tape (paper tape) can be used to embellish your planner. Image by Julie Tiu
Image source: Julie Tiu
Geek out and pull your crafty tools to decorate your planner. Image by Julie Tiu
Christmas- and holiday-themed tape for a December week. Image by Julie Tiu
Planner embellishments, Julie Tiu
A planner is a great place to use up stickers and supplies you may be hoarding. Image by Julie Tiu

Now there are companies like:

  • Filofax (origin: loose-leaf system to hold engineering data in a small portable binder, file-of-facts);
  • kikki.K;
  • Blue Sky (check out Sugar Paper); and
  • Erin Condren Design (maker of Life Planner).

These have exploded in popularity among planner geeks. You can also find upscale planners by Kate Spade, Louis Vuitton, and Tory Burch. So why are agendas and planners so popular? They’re just calendars in journal form, right? In the end what it holds is our life in progress, so why not make it personal and fun.

You’d be amazed at the variety and enthusiasm people have for their planners! Just try searching these keywords on Instagram or Pinterest: #plannergeek, #plannernerd, #planneraddict, #plannerlove, #plannerjunkie. You can also try looking up #filofax, #filofaxlove, #kikik, #erincondren, and #simplifiedplanner.

Are you a planner geek? How do you organize your calendar? We’d love to know!

Tiny Hands Apps Puts the Joy of Learning in Toddlers’ Hands

Image: Tiny HandsAs the mother of two kids in a very tech-connected geek household, apps are often on our minds. Which is why I’m so excited to share Tiny Hands Apps, our sponsor, with you.

Our daughter, the youngest, is only two. And while she’s fascinated with the iPad and certainly wants to use it like her brother does, there’s not much out there that caters to her. Generally speaking, it’s too complicated for her—and to be honest, I don’t just want to throw her the iPad to keep her busy when it’s not something that’s helpful for her.

That’s where Tiny Hands Apps comes in. Tiny Hands Apps are designed with toddlers in mind, from top to bottom. They’re educational and fun, and go beyond being just apps—really, they’re developmental apps. Everything is designed with a great deal of thought, not just a bunch of bright colors and sounds. In fact, Tiny Hands Apps are put together with certified child psychologists and produced in such a way to be exciting and interesting but never compromising on the content.

Even better? There’s no ads. No pop ups. No network access. Your littlest curious kiddos are free from the advertising crush that we so often see in games. It’s a gateway to learning without interruption.

Image: Tiny HandsA great example is Tiny Hands Raccoon Tree House. Your toddler sees a friendly raccoon character, and a story to go along. But you’ll know that it’s far beyond that. Tiny Hands Raccoon Tree House includes sorting, classifying, hand-eye coordination, concentration, vocabulary… and so on.Image: Tiny Hands

But that’s just the beginning. The world of Tiny Hands Apps is full of bright and colorful fun, learning about the world and all that’s in it.

We all know that it’s almost impossible to avoid technology—and we certainly never would want to. But we always want to make sure that we’re delivering the best quality to our children, both appropriate and exceptional. If you have a toddler who’s ready, we can’t think of a better place to start than Tiny Hands Apps

You can see the full lineup of Tiny Hands apps at the iTunes store, and follow them on Facebook, too.

This post is sponsored by Tiny Hands Apps.

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Building the Future with Lego Space

LEGO Space: Builiding the Future \ Image: No Starch Press
Lego Space: Building the Future. Image: No Starch Press.

All kids go through learning phases where they just can’t get enough of a particular topic. For my son right now, that topic is space and what better way to learn about it than through Lego? That’s where Lego Space: Building the Future by Peter Reid and Tim Goddard comes in.

I was really excited to check this book out because: 1. My son is really into space and I knew he would love it; and 2. it puts the topic in a way that will not only teach my son, but also inspire him to get creative with his own Lego bricks.

The book doesn’t so much tell the real history of space as much as it tells it’s own story. The first 10 pages are filled with some history, but after that, the book goes its own way and takes some creative licensing. Throughout the story, the authors take some time to stop and show you how to build what you are seeing. I thought this was a neat aspect of the book, because my son already wanted to build what he saw, so this gave him a head start.

LEGO Space: Builiding the Future Sample Page \ Image: No Starch Press
Lego Space: Building the Future sample page. Image: No Starch Press.

The only downside to this book that I can tell is the price. I showed it off at my son’s science fair night and the first thing the librarian and his teacher did was note how expensive it must be. Considering the quality of the photos inside and the fact that’s a pretty hefty size, it doesn’t surprise me that it costs $24.95 retail.

Lego Space: Building the Future has inspired my son to put down the video games and instead got him to focus on his much-neglected Lego bricks. I’m not kidding when I tell you that he spent hours building space stations and looking over the book for ideas. A few times, I would hear him get really excited about a particular fact and he would read it out loud with enthusiasm that I’ve only seen when he’s in a theme park.

If your child is into Lego, space, or both, I highly recommend Lego Space: Building the Future. It might be a bit more expensive than other books, but in my opinion, it’s well worth it if it gets my son reading.

Lego Space: Building the Future is available on Amazon for $19 (hardback) and $12 (kindle).

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

ConnectiCon: A Much Needed Break From Reality

Image By Lilianna Angel Maxwell

What a bunch of weirdos.

I can’t say I was in a good frame of mind when I went to ConnectiCon last weekend, but I certainly came home in one.

My family and I travel to Connecticut each year to this multi-genre convention of fandom and fun.  I was dragged there by a friend and enjoyed myself so much that I started dragging my own people with me. In the past ten years, I’ve only missed one. This year I took my two teenagers, plus one of my daughter’s friends. We stayed at the family of a friend’s house, camping in their backyard. (I utilized all the tips I suggested in a previous post to go to a con on the cheap.) At this point, the kids and I meet up with over a dozen people each year we attend—and always meet new friends, too.

So why the negative start? I had just spent a stressful week in the “real” world, and had a lot of work to catch up on. Going away for the weekend seemed like just one more item on my to-do list, and I wasn’t in the mood to cosplay, interview celebrities, or participate in discussions. When I walked into the con, I looked around and had a very negative attitude.

Then I realized that I go to these things all the time. I’m a weirdo!

For a split second I was dismayed. Did other people judge me that way? And then the atmosphere of ConnectiCon started seeping in: the relief of expressing something you love, the joy at seeing friends, the happiness at being yourself in an accepting little universe even if only for the weekend, and the fun of sharing it all with my kids. Who the hell cares if people judge me for being a geek! And I certainly will not start doing it to others. After that, the weekend was a blast. So what did my family and I do at ConnectCon? Lots!

Image By Rebecca Angel

The best part is seeing our fellow geeky friends. I had thought one of my best friends in the world (the same person who brought me that first year) couldn’t make it, but then he did! We watched the FMV Contest (Fan Made Videos) together. I try to pick the ones that really match the music with what’s going on. There was a superb one that used a Bjork song…and I didn’t write it down… and I can’t find a list on the website…

Image By Rebecca Angel

My son played Magic for most of the weekend. Although he had a great time, he felt like he had been at a party and only talked with one person. Next year, he said, he’d try to branch out in his activities more.

Image By Rebecca Angel
Image By Rebecca Angel

My daughter and her friend cosplayed on Saturday: Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games, and Chihiro Ogino from Spirited Away.  

We danced, danced on Friday, but I let my daughter and her friend dance on their own Saturday (my feet hurt by the evening—old lady is me.) They said it was lots of fun. They wanted to go to Tea Time, but were unable to get in. It’s a popular panel! Yay for tea!

Several of us went to see the 18+ Art Fight. This is where two teams of cartoonists are given random words/phrases from a spinning wheel and have to draw on a huge board. The artists (and words) change every five minutes, while a host chats with the audience, and makes comments and jokes about the art being made. Although the format is well-done, the 18+ excuse only led to frat-house humor. One of my group said he had seen their regular show, and with more random words/phrases, there was more creativity and less penis jokes. After fifteen minutes of the extreme sex humor, we got bored and left…

Image By Rebecca Angel

…to find a spot to see the fireworks! ConnectiCon coincided with the River Festival in Hartford, and Saturday night had a great show (complete with a beautiful full moon.) We decided to go outside the con to see them, but quickly returned after the fireworks were over. We missed the happy vibe of geeks, even for just an hour.

Image By Rebecca Angel

I enjoyed walking around the Artist’s Alley, bought some new comics, and chatted with artists, including this young girl and her proud mom:

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

I met other geeky families attending:

Image By Rebecca Angel

My daughter bought me an adorable Loki t-shirt. Yay! And I played LOTS of games (I’ll make a separate post about my favorites.) We saw the panel with Janet Varney, the voice actress for Legend of Korra. She was very entertaining, and even got some calls from other actors from the series to answer fan questions.

Oh, and the cosplay, the cosplay, the cosplay. I had been debating about this, but the She-Ra costume stayed home—maybe next time. Instead of my lame photos, check out this video by Beat Down Boogie of some of the fantastic work people do on their costumes.

This weirdo can’t wait till ConnectiCon 2015!

Build Your Own Ninja Turtle, or Not?

Build Bear Turtle
Image: Build-A-Bear Workshop

Last weekend, I took my boys, ages two and four, to our local Build-A-Bear Workshop. I was flying solo, but if you hit the store just as it opens, you’ve pretty much got the run of the place. My husband does not enjoy the same affection for an abundance of soft toys that my sons and I do, so I try and leave the voice of reason at home.

Build Bear Leo
Image: Build-A-Bear Workshop

This was to be a special event. Unbeknownst to my eldest son, the store had debuted a line of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I felt certain that he would “neeeeed one,” and had thought briefly about using their online reservation system. This enables you to pay ahead of time and have the store reserve the carcass of your choice for you. If I believed the promotional emails I was getting (and I did), the store would be inundated with Ninja Turtles fans and was going to sell out quickly. Therein lay my first dilemma. I was certainly not going to turn over $100 plus tax on all four Ninja Turtles, and his favorite Turtle changes as often as his underwear. Most of the time it is Leonardo, as we are daily informed that blue is his favorite color. He will occasionally give allegiance to Michelangelo, as he knows that this was my childhood favorite. Sometimes he will even give a nod to Raphael as “red’s okay.” Poor Donatello never gets a look in. I felt pretty certain Leonardo would be the chosen one, but I have been wrong before.

Boy was I wrong this time.

We are Build-A-Bear Workshop aficionados. We have a bear, a bunny, a puppy, and a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer complete with roller skates and sound box. If I had my way, there would be an AppleJack in our house right now. My youngest son has yet to fully develop this inherited affection, but my eldest son at four (he would want me to add “almost five”) is a die-hard. It’s never, “We’re going to Build a Bear,” but always, “We’re going to Build-A-Bear Workshop.” Choosing the bear in question is a momentary thought for him; it is in the details that he thrives. He loves the construction, helping with the stuffing, and picking out a heart. He loves to watch the stitching and takes great pride in the bathing. He loves to name the bear and helps me fill in the birth certificate. He loves to pick out the accessories, which is usually a piece of equipment rather than an item of clothing.

On this particular visit, we came screeching to a halt after running the entire length of the concourse. We were faced with oh-so-many Ninja Turtles. The advertisement I had seen contained pretty decent pictures, and so they were of the quality I had expected—which incidentally, is greater than the quality I would expect of a cuddly Ninja Turtle. Having not read the details too deeply, they were bigger than I had expected them to be. They don’t come with their accessories; your base Ninja Turtle is $25 and if you want nun-chucks or swords, then you’re going to have to play the Grandma card.

Build Bear 2
Image: Sarah Pinault

Instantly, one of the lovely, calm, and patient, cast members started to engage my son in conversation. His side of the conversation went something like this: “Aha, aha, yup, erm, the blue one, yeah that one, aha, yup, okay bye.” All the while, his eyes darted around the store, and down the long row of empty bodies to the beloved “fluff machine.” He made a beeline for the bears, bypassing the buckets of Ninja Turtles. I asked if he wanted Leonardo. “Nope, this guy,” he proclaimed, holding up a generic black bear.

And so, I learned a classic lesson of geek parenting: You can lead your child to geek, but you cannot make them geek out.

Thus far, he has acquiesced in one form or another to anything we put in front of him. Darth Vader for Halloween? Sure. Rocket ship-themed birthday party? Let’s blast off! Frozen at the movies with mommy? Let’s go. Ninja Turtles cuddly toy, something that would have been cherished in my ’80s childhood? Nah!

So this is where it begins, where we start loosening up the steelton cables. We always knew this day would come.

Hero turtles
Image: Screenshot

I am kind of shocked that he wanted a black bear. The name is “Bathy” by the way, as in Kathy, but not. I had fully expected him to want Ninja Turtles, as he has been the one leading me back into my childhood memories. Although growing up in England, I watched the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles. My shock was therefore not his rejection of my own love, but more a reaction to his preference of something so simple, over something he loves. He is getting quite the diverse personality, my little man.

I love watching him explore the world around him and being privy as he develops his own style. Sure it’s great when we share something. One of my favorite things to do is sit and read with him, and I love it when he chooses Each Peach Pear Plum. I also love it when he asks me to read his Yogi Bear comic books, though I hate reading comic books aloud. I love it when he wants to go swimming with me, but I also love it when he wants to race our bikes across the lawn. Then, I collapse in a non-bike-riding puddle.

He starts kindergarten this year and is about to get bombarded with a wide range of new influences, and I get a front row seat to everything he discovers and loves, and learns to love. I get to watch as he dislikes things and help him deal with that. I couldn’t be more excited and more terrified.

Now I just need to get my own Ninja Turtle!

Summer Science Fun: Playing With Water Phases

Screen capture from google images

Phases of water are constantly changing in the summer: dew on grass in the morning that is gone by lunch, water droplets forming on the outside of a cup, “clouds” appearing in covered dishes left in the sun. We see these things all the time, and kids are always noticing as well. Here are some fun activities, and explanations, for your kids to learn the science behind what they are observing.

Water Evaporation and Condensation: Cloud in a Cup

Have your kids grab two clear plastic containers. Fill them about half way full, and mark the water level. Cover one container with a clear lid, or plastic wrap. Leave the other container open. Place both containers outside in a sunny spot. Leave for a few hours.

Go back and notice what is developing on the inside of the lid. Wait two days and look again. When you go back to observe the containers, the open container will have lost water. The water was heated by the sun, turned into water vapor and evaporated. The container with the lid will also have a lower water level, but there should also be visible water droplets on the lid, or plastic wrap. The air in the covered container can only hold so much water vapor, without a way for the vapor to escape, it condenses back to water and forms droplets. The droplets will fall off the lid and back into the container.

This is a great example of how water from the earth evaporates, cools, forms clouds, condenses, and falls back to earth as rain. Your kids can think of the open container as an ocean, river, or lake. Heat from the sun turns liquid water into its gas phase, water vapor. The water vapor then evaporates and is cools back into liquid water and eventually becomes part of a cloud. The plastic wrap of the covered cup acts like the atmosphere, and traps the water vapor. In a real cloud, the water vapor cools back into liquid water. In the covered cup, the air can only hold so much vapor, and the vapor condenses back to liquid water forming a “rain cloud” on the plastic wrap.

You can change this up by doing some variations. Put a set of covered and uncovered cups out in the sun, and another set in a shady spot. Also, put one set in the refrigerator. See the differences in evaporation, and condensation over time.


Change the Phase of Water With a Cold Drink

All kids have held cups of ice water in the summer and felt, or even played with, the condensation that develops on the outside of the cup. We all do this, but we may not always think of the science that is behind the condensation. Telling your kids that the cool cup is changing the phase of water in the air, making it go from a gas to a liquid will get them thinking about the fun science that is happening right in their hands.

Grab a cup of water, add some ice cubes, and go outside on a warm sunny day. Within a minute or so, there will be drops of liquid water on the outside of the glass or cup. The temperature of the ice water in the cup is cooler than the temperature of the air. The cup cools the surrounding air, and the temperature change causes the water vapor surrounding the cup to turn back into liquid water. Now, make another drink with ice and put it into the refrigerator. Did the same thing happen?

This is a fun experiment, because let’s face it, we all love drawing things in water condensation. Grab a bunch of cups, add water and ice and have fun creating art with the beauty of science!

International Scratch Day: Saturday, May 17!

Do your kids Scratch? Nope, this isn’t a medical question.

Scratch is a free programming language developed for kids. From elementary school to college, kids use it to create interactive stories to building animations and games. In the meantime, they’re learning programming principles and collaboration skills—important stuff for the future. Scratch is available in over forty languages, and is in use in one hundred fifty countries.

This Saturday, May 17, is International Scratch Day—and events are popping up everywhere. See if there’s an event near you where you and your kids can learn more about programming!

The MIT Media Lab group Lifelong Kindergarten developed Scratch in 2003 and the project has received grants from the National Science Foundation as well as Intel Foundation, Microsoft, MacArthur Foundation, LEGO Foundation, Code-to-Learn Foundation, Google, Dell, and others.

Ford Combats Distracted Driving By Educating Teen Drivers

Ford Driving School For Life, Image: Ford
Ford Driving School For Life, Image: Ford

We all know what distracted driving means and we all know it’s dangerous, but that doesn’t mean we all avoid falling prey to the many distractions that assault us behind the wheel. Kids in the backseat, your phone buzzing, the music playing too loudly, and now there’s the #DrivingSelfie trend. It’s a scary thought, but even more so when it’s possibly your newly licensed teen who’s driving distracted.

April is Distracted Driving month which makes it a good time to remind ourselves, and especially our kids, of how dangerous it can be to not pay attention behind the wheel. There are so many distractions these days that it’s easy to forget that, when you’re driving, everything else can wait.

Auto companies are incorporating more and more technology in cars, but they’re also making it less distracting by disabling certain features when the car is in motion and adding voice-activated technology that lets you keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road. The Ford SYNC system has hands-free features that are voice activated, but they’ve gone one step further with their Ford Driving Skills For Life program.

Ford Driving School For Life, Image: Ford
Ford Driving School For Life, Image: Ford

This program, established in 2003, aims to give teen drivers the edge by teaching them more than what they learn in a typical driver’s education course. Much of the program is web-based but there is a hands-on component with instructors travelling the country to give teen drivers instruction behind the wheel in controlled environments. And, of course, there is plenty of discussion about distracted driving.

Selfies are nothing new, but the #DrivingSelfie trend is gaining a lot of momentum, particularly with younger drivers. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that teens and 20-29 year old drivers are over-represented in fatal crashes. Holding up a phone in front of your face to snap a picture while cruising down the highway is not going to help.

You can’t force your kids to be safe, but you can educate them about the dangers of distracted driving. Talk to them about safety, encourage them not to use their phones in the car, and do something that will keep you and your family safe—teach by example. If you’re picking up your phone to send a quick text, you’re telling them it’s okay with your actions no matter what you say.

Ford Driving Skills For Life, Image: Ford
Ford Driving Skills For Life, Image: Ford

It’s also up to kids to help each other stay focused behind the wheel. Encourage your kids to speak up if they’re a passenger in a car with a distracted driver. It might be their friend texting behind the wheel, but that won’t make the passenger any better off in an accident.

You can find out more about the Ford Driving Skills for Life program at their website which has a list of all scheduled classes as well as downloadable materials to help coach your kids. #JustDrive

Kids Rule at Emerald City Comicon 2014 [Gallery]

Emerald City Comicon 2014 / Photo: Kelly Knox

Emerald City Comicon, held in Seattle this past weekend, was completely sold out for all three days and packed to the walls with families from across the country.

With a well-organized area for kids to complete superhero missions, a booth raising funds for charity from the 501st Legion, and even a kids’ costume contest where everyone takes home a medal, an argument can be made that ECCC is the most family-friendly comic convention out there.

Here is a photo gallery with some of the best family and kid cosplay from the weekend. Stay tuned to GeekMom for more coverage from the convention!

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Small Cons vs Big Cons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Your RPG Character Says About You

Guy McNorm4 copy
A cute version of Guy by Purple Lantern Studios

Do I really want to be a large, bearded Scottish warrior with a quirk called, “Piss and Vinegar”? At the moment, that’s my role-playing character in a GURPS game. His name is Guy McNorm and his only goal is to live quietly as a blacksmith in a small town. Unfortunately, he’s a Weirdness Magnet, so that’s not possible. Which is why he’s really grumpy all the time. Yet when the crazy starts to happen, he’s the first one in the mess of things swingin’ his blacksmith hammer. Fun character to play. Totally unlike me…well…huh, come to think of it:

I fantasize about having quiet days, but they rarely happen. Honestly, when I have too many days in a row without kid interruptions or mad dashing around, I’m itchin’ for something. And when chaos strikes in my family or friends, I’m right in there.

Darn. Going into this post, I was going to say how I was the opposite of my character, how our fantasy life is a way to escape. And that’s true too.

I’m not physically strong—Guy is. I’m the least intimidating person I know in real life—Guy is a six foot four, large man with long white hair and a kilt; he has lots of points in “Intimidation.” So, perhaps there is some fantasy happening. Unlike in my real life, Guy punches people in the face when they annoy him. He doesn’t care if you’re crying or hurt; he’ll just tell you to keep moving. He doesn’t cuddle. He’s not romantic. Guy eats whatever he wants, whenever he wants. And very unlike me, Guy curses a lot.

However, Guy also writes bad limericks. We share that in common.

There is a survey that can tell you what you would be if you were a Dungeons and Dragons character. But that’s “what kind of dream will I have according to who I am?”, instead of “what do my dreams say about me?” If you are interested in taking it, or seeing results of over a thousand other people taking it, go here.

Each game system is different in character creation, whether it’s online or tabletop. GURPS has a wide range for types of characters, which makes it very revealing about what you choose. Some people take on similar guises from game to game, while others (like me) never have the same type twice. My theory is that my character creation is less about overall personality, and more about what’s happening in current situation.

What about your characters? Do you agree?

Let’s look at my characters over the years and what was going on at the time:

Kira: A beautiful, red-haired female mage, very nice and shy. I didn’t create this character. She was an NPC I took over as my first introduction into RPG gaming with friends in college. That sums up my life at the time since I didn’t feel much control of any part of it either. Yet I managed to be happy with what I had anyway.

Essie: A small, quiet female exotic dancer, deadly with knives, with a horrific past that gave her a death wish, and wore only black. This was my first original creation. My life at the time was homeschooling two small children in a parenting world where everyone was ten years older than me, while going back to college with students ten years younger. I didn’t fit in anywhere and was kinda angsty about it. That’s reflected in my character. Not sure about the exotic dancer part…

By Lilianna Maxwell at 14

Lindor: A pre-gendered teen with awesome magical powers, dewy-eyed and ready to explore the world. I had graduated college and was amazed at how much time I suddenly had. I  was also teaching music to a great group of kids. So, I guess my character reflects my happiness? The pre-gendered thing was an odd, but interesting concept I made up with dangerous herbs Lindor’s people took to delay any knowledge of gender until firmly established as an adult. Maybe having two kids on the verge of puberty made me realize how much our culture pounds in gender-specific stuff?

Percy: A squeamish male vampire dandy who had sex with pretty much anything that moved. This is less about my life at the time, and more about acting as one of the callous jerks I have met too often in reality. He is probably one of my favorite characters ever, and you can read more about him here: How To Get Laid in Every RPG Session.

Takamina: Tak! Tak! She’s a pyromaniac! A short, young woman with two long braids, who made exploding potions that she wore in a bandolier. She was cute and dangerous. In the midst of playing this character there was a lot of stress financially and career-wise with my husband, and then my social network collapsed. Or exploded. Exploded is probably a better word since I felt like my life was daily picking up pieces.

Guy McNorm: See description from beginning.

So what’s next for me? In two years I will have both kids away from home, and I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I’m curious how that will manifest in a fantasy world. Maybe someone with wings…






Twitterpated Kids: Safe Twitter Feeds For Kids to Follow

A girl gets her first Twitter account. Image: Cathe Post
A girl gets her first Twitter account. Image: Cathe Post

On this #FollowFriday I am forced to ponder what Twitter accounts are appropriate for kids to read and follow.

Kids: They are too smart for their own good. Who am I to squelch curiosity and learning avenues, though? My daughter is always reading my Twitter and Pinterest feeds over my shoulder in the morning. She comments on most things that have to do with science, comics, or art—which is most of my feeds.

The problem is, not everything in my feeds are kid appropriate. Gasp.

My daughter will be getting a tablet for her birthday in a little over a month. In figuring out what she would be using the tablet for, my husband and I started wondering if she would enjoy and be safe with her own Twitter and Pinterest accounts. I went ahead and signed her up. There are so many great kid resources out there that aren’t necessarily just for kids. If your kiddos are anything like mine, my daughter is really good about ignoring the occasional potty language and is looking for fun things to do or learn. She is also a strong reader, which makes me want to share these things with her more. I feel fairly safe in giving her a personalized account. We will have rules (which she has been awesome about following since she got her own netbook almost three years ago). It also doesn’t hurt that there are many articles out there focused on the topic of kids internet safety, even specifically articles about kids using Twitter.

But who should she follow? She isn’t interested in Sesame Street anymore (though the Twitter feed is entertaining), but she does like PBS Kids on weekends. She loves science, music, math, art, museums, and comics, which is what I focused on. There are also some other suggestions peppered in from the other GeekMoms.

I started searching for streams that met several criteria:

    1. No/few curse words in their streams
    2. Tweets that had links to projects a kid could do with stuff in the home
    3. Links to kid safe”ish” sites
    4. A feed that didn’t just have “buy this” and “support that”
    5. A feed that didn’t just have notices about events on the other side of the country

After going through several hundred feeds I came up with a good list based on my daughter’s interests:

Fullscreen capture 272014 11238 PMSpace and Astronomy:

NASA tweets pictures and tidbits about the universe.

Mars Curiosity Rover mainly shares images it has captured.

Chris Hadfield always seems to have an inventive YouTube video to share when he’s on a mission. Wringing out washcloths was one of my favorites.

NASA_Astronauts tweets from various NASA astronauts. This can be a little dry, but still interesting.




Science and Math:

Henry Reich makes little minute long videos explaining physics principles in simple terms.Fullscreen capture 272014 11259 PM

MinuteEarth is facts about Earth in short tweets and quick animated videos.

Emily Graslie is probably best known for her work on the Sci Show Talk Show with Hank Green on YouTube. She is now in Chicago focusing on baking, art, animals, and her YouTube show, The Brain Scoop.

Dr. Kiki Sanfordor Kirsten Sanford, is into neurophysiology and getting out of the lab.

Vi Hart is a math genius. I have learned more from her YouTube channel videos about math than I did in middle school and high school combined. Her videos and tweets are interesting, fun, and sometimes involve experiments on food.

Numberphile is another Twitter user who knows how to make math fun.



Peter Hollens has an amazing voice. He does vocal scores of geeky instrumental music pieces and other bits. He also just seems to be a pretty nice guy.

Lindsey Stirling is a geeky violin player. She is known for doing her own instrumental covers to video game music and geeky movie songs.


Art Projects:

Kathy Barbro posts links and pictures to art projects for kids. She teaches art to a variety of ages and posts to all age groups as well.

Create Magazine has tweets about up-cycling leftover things from in your house, kids with food allergies, art projects, and so much more.


Fullscreen capture 272014 11351 PMReading:

Grammar Girl‘s feed is educational silliness regarding English grammar.

GeekMom Blog: These moms with super powers write articles about their geeky passions and share them on a website. They also delve into the social media and chat with readers.

Pottermore tweets about tiny tidbits in the Harry Potter universe and updates to the Pottermore website.

JK_Rowling, who is the author of the Harry Potter books. What other reason do you need to follow her?

Good Comics 4 Kids shares reviews and release dates for kid-appropriate comics.

Origami Yoda is a Twitter account for Origami Yoda author Tom Angleberger. He has the same sense of humor that he does in his books.

Sandy Boynton is one of those rare individuals who can entertain all age groups at the same time. If your toddlers were fans of her books Moo Baa La, La, La or Barnyard Dance, her twitter feed is equally entertaining.

Meg Cabot is the author of the Princess Diaries, a geek, and into girl empowerment.

Judy Blume, author of many books, mainly has conversations with her fans and shares moments from her life.

Officially Ally, author Ally Carter, shares tweets about her interests and books.

Camp Halfblood is the Twitter account of Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson books. His tweets are entertaining and sometimes in Spanish.

Random House Kids shares books, articles, and pictures regarding literature for children.

Penguin Kids is a publishing house that shares tweets about books for kids.

Scholastic Books has various feeds for parents and kids.


Other Fun stuff:Fullscreen capture 272014 11333 PM

Lego Group has a bunch of links to Lego brick related articles and products.

PBS Kids tweets up-to-date information about upcoming shows and events on PBS for kids.

My Little Pony is an unofficial Twitter feed for the famous ponies, but has many interesting and fun pictures and comments about recent episodes.

Cheecker the Chipmunk tweets for the U.S. Forrest Service. Yes, it is as cute as it sounds.

Kids.gov tweets about science projects, activities for kids, and tips for everyone who works with (or is) a kid.

Sesame Street: Even if your kids (or you!) are too old for it, it is still a fantastic and entertaining feed to follow.

Cookie Monster‘s feed makes me hungry for cookies.

Yoda tweets in Yoda speak, he does.

Evy Lynch, the popular actress who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter series, tweets about kittens and quirky life moments.

Family Fun tweets about activities and games for families.

Marvel tweets about comics, movies, and various art from the Marvel universe. Some art is a tad gory, but not horrible. Use discretion.

Hasbro Game Night encourages families to play more games together and gives ideas and recommendations for games to play.


There are a lot of monuments and museums that also have Twitter feeds. There are so many across the country though, I stuck to some local ones like Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum, The Evergreen MuseumThe Oregon Zoo, The Museum of Glass, and The Seattle Art Museum.

As you can tell from the images, there are even more accounts I let my daughter follow that aren’t in this list. If your children are on Twitter, what feeds do they enjoy? Share in the comments below.