Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

This special edition of Fund This features what very well may be the most epic geek campaign ever. A group of architects has launched Realise Minas Tirith, a crowdfunding venture to raise the equivalent of almost $3 billion to build a functional, livable Minas Tirith in the south of England.

Minas Tirith, of course, was the capital city of Gondor. It was also called “The White City” as its courtyard held The White Tree. The city was featured heavily in The Lord of the Rings trilogy film The Return of the King for the final battle against the forces of Mordor and the coronation of Aragorn.

The campaign’s leader, Jonathan Wilson, states on the campaign page:

“We are a team of Tolkien fans who are passionate about creating a beautiful, inspirational and fully-functioning replica of Peter Jackson’s depiction of Minas Tirith, as seen in his Lord of the Rings films. We all share a love of Tolkien’s work, and a desire to challenge the common perception of community and architecture. We believe that, in realising Minas Tirith, we could create not only the most remarkable tourist attraction on the planet, but also a wonderfully unique place to live and work.”

Image courtesy of lotr.wikia.

They had me at Tolkien. Continue reading Fund This! One Campaign to Rule Them All!

Eight Geeky Crochet and Knitting Patterns to Get Started On

Living in the southern U.S., it’s hard to get interested in balls of yarn during the heat of summer. But when fall kicks in, I always want to start crocheting or knitting. Here are patterns (many of them free!) for eight projects to kick start your cool-weather crafting:


Fingerless Iron Man gloves

Image by Louie’s Loops

Baby Groot

Image by Twinkie Chan

Ewok hood cowl

Image by Amber Flowers on Ravelry


Image by April Draven Designs

Bonus—your crochet projects will be even more fun if you’re doing them with a sonic screwdriver or light saber.


Baby Dalek dress

Image by Allison Bitter on Ravelry

One Ring Scarf

Image by Samako on Ravelry

Sherlock wallpaper pillow

Image by Andrea “Trooperschaf” on Ravelry

Bat’leth scarf

Image by Kimberly Gintar on Ravelry


Which Lego Set Is Age Appropriate?

All Images: Sarah Pinault

For years, my eldest son has happily played with his Duplo bricks. We have whiled away many hours building towers, farms, boats, all manner of things. But a few months ago, he became disgruntled with them. There were several contributing factors. Having a little brother playing with them too, having a little brother destroying them, and quite frankly, they just didn’t do what his imagination wanted them to do.

So we moved on with some small packs aimed at 5-7 year olds. These packs came free with a newspaper that his grandparents buy in the UK. There were little pieces, so the first rule set was that they were only to be played with at the kitchen table, where his brother couldn’t reach them. The rule was agreeable to everyone but the little brother in question.

IMG_0179Turns out that for a young four year old who turns five this coming September, the 5-7 age range worked very well. The first half dozen kits were done with some very hands-on help from his dad, but after that he just went with it.

He finds the instructions easy to follow, only has trouble with some of the more peculiar pieces, and thoroughly enjoys the construction process. The second rule we set was that he has to put the pieces together according to the instructions the first time around, and after that he can do what he wants with the pieces. This rule is also one he follows willingly, so we build everything per the instructions, and then he disassembles the kit to come up with his own ideas. He heavily favors cars and rocket ships in his own designs.

Some of the packets we have are for ages 6-12, but there seems to be no difference in difficulty level between the five and six year starting line. So when he finally got to visit the Lego aisle at Toys R Us, we focused mainly on the small six-year-old packs such as Lego Creator 31014 Power Digger and Lego Creator 31015 Emerald Express. Ultimately he chose Lego Creator 31013 Red Thunder which is a pack of three. And again he had no difficulty.

But, oh, he longed for that display Coast Guard helicopter.

When we took him to the Legoland Discovery Center which recently opened in Boston, we agreed that we were going to let him purchase a bigger pack this time. He had proved his mettle and earned it. But once in the store, I felt intimidated by the size of the packs, and the quantity of pieces. I felt certain that my boy would have the skill set for such a piece, but at four years old would lack the patience required for something bigger. So I steered him towards Lego’s new line of mid range Lego kits.

Intended to bridge the gap between Duplo and the more traditional Lego, the Lego Juniors line had intrigued me for a while, and I wondered if this might be what we were looking for. He zeroed in on a kit larger than his usual size, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kit*, and back home we went.

The clerk in the store explained that the difference between regular kits and the Juniors was in the instructions. The idea is that Lego Juniors instructions are easier to follow than the instructions provided with kits aimed at an older audience. I found this hard to believe, as my son had been following the instructions for a six year old exceptionally well. Putting together the kit was no problem; in fact it was easier than any of the smaller models he had previously constructed.

It was in the deconstruction and imagination aspect that we found the downside of this well meaning product from Lord Business.

Traditional pieces on the left, Junior piece (singular) on the right.

What makes Lego Juniors so simple to construct, what makes the instructions so easy to follow, all boils down to the same thing: pre-connected pieces. The base for a car in the Juniors kit is not a collection of pieces; it is one solid piece. There are no angle plates, no bearing elements, there are no rims or tires. For my son, this was and still is extremely frustrating.

Now, when he disassembles the kit to construct from pure imagination, he has less freedom to play. He has fewer pieces, and fewer ways to manipulate his car design. The first time he encountered this problem he tried to bite the wheels off the base, because “they have to come off mommy, they always do.” After a couple of go rounds with this, he gave up trying to take it apart and now simply sighs when encountering that piece. Much like the bulk of his kits, he adapts, but he breathes a heavy sigh as he does so.

IMG_0887Because the pieces are pre-connected, the instructions become intrinsically easier. There are fewer steps, because there are fewer pieces. There are fewer small pieces as they are welded together, so the more minute aspects of the traditional instructions simply don’t exist. There is no difference in style of instruction, as I had thought there would be, but simply the instructions are easier because the pieces are simplified.

In the example pictured here, the instructions on the left are for a basic car, in a kit for ages 5-12. On the right are the Juniors instructions, ages 4-7. You will notice that step one in the Juniors kit is a complete base, while the base is not complete in the 5-12 kit until the wheels are added in step seven (not pictured).

While I still maintain that my son has the skill set but not the patience for a physically larger kit, I do not think the larger kits designed for the Juniors range are challenging enough for him. They do not keep his interest, and they do not stimulate his own creations either.

But that is not to say that the Juniors line does not have a place in the world of Lego. If you are a parent who has no experience or interest in Lego, but you have a young child who does, this would be a great place to start. Perhaps your child has shown no interest in doing anything but making the pre-determined kit; these kits would not hinder that goal. From a safety perspective I am aware that my son is working with kits beyond the manufacturer’s recommended age group, and so if your child is prone to swallowing small pieces, or has a propensity to get frustrated with bits and pieces, this might be preferable to a five and up kit.

However, if you have already begun your Lego journey with regular kits and had success, the Juniors range is not for you. Likewise, if your child likes to see how things are put together, see how they work, then the limitations of the pre-connected pieces might prove too frustrating and a hindrance to the enjoyment of Lego as a whole. If you have an older Lego addict in your family—in ours it is my husband—that has the time and patience to sit and work through the kit, then the regular kits would be a better group activity.

One of the other pieces of information we garnered on our adventure in the Lego store was that since the advent of licensed products, such as the Star Wars kits and The Lord of the Rings kits, the age ranges on the packages have changed. The criteria for aging is not the same as it was when we were kids.

If a kit is based on a movie that is rated 12 and up, then the kit is not designated under age 12. For example, Lego LOTR79006 The Council of Elrond is a relatively simple kit compared to some of the kits we have been doing for five year olds, and yet it is rated 9 and up. The architecture kits contain many similar pieces and are therefore often quite simple to put together. Yet the finished product is not intended to be a toy, and so the age rating is higher. Certainly the number of pieces, complexity, and size still play a part, but they are not the only determining factors you should consider when picking a kit.

For my young four year old, we shall continue with the kits rated for ages five through twelve, with a few six and ups thrown in. As long as the size of the overall construction can fit in my cereal bowl, it is not too big for him too handle without frustration. There are a wide variety of kits for this young age available, and with some assistance from very willing parents, we will not be purchasing anything else from the Lego Juniors range.

*I am assuming that the Lego Juniors Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kit we purchased is a store exclusive, as it is not available in the online store.

Take A Geeky Pub Crawl St. Patrick’s Day With DIY Pub Signs

pub sign finished
Pay a visit to your favorite fictional watering hole with these DIY mini pub signs.
All images by Lisa Kay Tate

I’m not a drinker, but I am a mixed-bag of British, Welsh and Irish heritage (heavy on the Irish). As such, I’m constantly drawn to the cozy atmosphere of the pub, where friends and fun can mingle and enjoy a pint, cuppa, or bottle of the libation of their choice. I have a sneaky suspicion there might be a few others enjoying that atmosphere come St.Patrick’s Day.

I also have a geeky affinity for pub signs from both real and fictional establishments, and have made a few of these for my own kitchen, which we like to call our Southwest Pirate Pub. Naturally, when last year’s Pegg/Frost vehicle The World’s End was released with 12 great fictional pubs, including the title pub, I thought, “I must have me one of them nifty signs there.”

I had a similar reaction when I first saw Shaun of the Dead, Fellowship of the Ring, American Werewolf in London, and read all the Harry Potter novels. Rather than wish I could visit fictional establishments, or their real-life counter parts like Hobbiton’s Green Dragon, I decided it’s easier to bring them home by creating mini-pub signs based on my favorite gathering spots.

Screen shot 2014-03-10 at 2.47.14 AM
Clockwise from top left: Gather your materials (listed at right), cut out your pub sign image, cut a balsa or cardboard wood sign to match the image, seal it with decoupage.

What you need:
• Small squares of balsa wood or corrugated cardboard (balsa preferred)
• Print-outs, catalog and magazine cut outs, stickers or photographs depicting your favorite fictional watering hole
• Black or dark brown craft or antiquing paint
• Craft glue and/or decoupage glue
• Yarn, twine, hemp or other ribbon
• A nice cup o’ hot tea for refreshment when you’re done… or have a pint if you’re of age. We’re at the pub, after all.

long signs
Geeking up the kitchen.

Cut out the pub sign image to eliminate any background you don’t want shown. Place the cut out on the wood or cardboard (don’t glue it yet) and use a crafting blade to carefully cut around it. Make sure to leave about a half-inch at the top (you’ll need that space in a minute).

Paint or antique the sign and let it dry. Then use a thin layer of glue or decoupage to paste the pub image where you want it. When in place, paint the entire sign with decoupage or 1:1 water/craft glue mix.

Use a small screwdriver or drill bit to gently poke holes in each of the top corners of the sign, and attach the yarn or other twine. Ready to hang!

Make one each year and build up a collection, or give them as fun housewarming gifts with a coordinating pint glass or mug.

sign and mug
A matching mug and pub sign make a fun gift set for a favorite fandom.

The fun part is being creative and finding fictional pubs that will suit every personality: Mos Eisley Cantina (Star Wars), The Prancing Pony (Lord of the Rings/Hobbit), Moe’s (The Simpsons), Hog’s Head or Leaky Cauldron (Harry Potter series), Merlotte’s Bar & Grill (True Blood), Tapper’s (from the Midway arcade game), One Eyed Jacks (Twin Peaks), and plenty more.

We might not be able to enjoy a pint with Pippin and Merry, but at least we can feel a little more like we’re there.


Lego Rivendell Wows at BrickCon 2013

As the mom of a confirmed Lego junkie, I’ve learned to appreciate the nuances of a good Lego build. It’s tricky to use a brick system meant to create a specific item—say, a space shuttle or pirate ship—to build something new and entirely different. Even so, plenty of A.F.O.L. and T.F.O.L. (adult/teen fans of Lego) builders do it and do it well. Many of those builders displayed their best work at BrickCon 2013 in Seattle this past weekend, but one stunner stood out: Rivendell.

All photos: Kris Bordessa

Conceived of by Alice Finch and David Frank, the two builders discussed the idea the first time they met three years ago as novice builders. With a little experience under their belts—Alice created the large Hogwarts display that won honors at past BrickCon events—they decided to go for it this year. Planning started in February, with images from Weta Workshop, the folks behind the breathtaking visuals for The Lord of the Rings movies. Using stencils based on those images, the pair created a plan that allowed them to build on 48-stud base plates that would eventually fit together to create a scene measuring 4′ x 6′ or so. (One of those components ended up weighing in at about 75 pounds!)


The actual building process began in March. Alice and David worked on the project at their respective homes, sharing progress pictures via email. Their plans changed a bit when The Hobbit was released in theaters; they decided to expand the scene to include images that appeared for the first time in the movie.


The intricate details of the build required lots of assembly—even the simple details had to be pressed together, brick by tiny brick. For this, David and Alice enlisted the help of their kids. They even had a two-family tree-making workshop to create the amazing forests. (Notice that the trees change from spring green to the rust colors of fall across the model.) Even with that extra help, David tells me, “We’ve lost many nights of sleep in the past few weeks.” The final few days before BrickCon found David crashed on Alice’s couch, grabbing a little shut-eye when he could.


Their goal was to make the final piece seamless. Done and done. The Rivendell display is simply stunning. To create something so fluid and aesthetically pleasing from a very angular building material is a feat. And yet, while the display won several awards—including the People’s Choice Award—I had a fascinating discussion with a BrickCon attendee by the name of Rick, comparing Rivendell to Alice’s previous winner, Hogwarts.


“Look at the roofs,” Rick said. “Nobody’s ever* done that with cheese slopes. Alice can say she’s the first one to have used this technique.” And yet, Rick feels that Hogwarts is a better build. The architecture and the various diorama scenes based on the Harry Potter movies that are tucked within the castle are more technically challenging, he says, than the landscape work that makes Rivendell so visually appealing.


Another thing to consider, some of the attendees tell me: A build like Rivendell wouldn’t have been possible a few short years ago. Why? Some of the parts—in particular the railings and many of the tree leaves—are third-party Lego-compatible pieces that have only become readily available in the past few years. The use of a variety of leaf colors is just one of the techniques that makes Rivendell seem so lifelike; official Lego colors are extremely limited but third-party sellers offer a wider selection of colors.


Read GeekMom Kelly’s interview with Alice Finch about her popular Hogwarts display.

*Says Rick. I have no way to verify this with every Lego builder in the world.

Who Was Your Sam?

We all received “laminated” cards at our final get together. By Rebecca Angel

Awhile back I asked my sister how she was able to emotionally get through her PhD program.

“I read Lord of the Rings a few times. That kept me going.” She answered.

“How so?”

“Frodo and me, we were on a journey. Sometimes I’d be in my lab and I wasn’t sure if I could continue, but then I’d remember Frodo deep in Mordor, and so I’d take just one more step in the right direction.”

“Who was your Sam?” I asked.

My sister sighed, “Oh, I had many Sams.” And then she told me about the amazing people that helped her through her journey. Like Frodo, she would never have made it without her Sam.

A month ago, my kids and I finally finished an epic read-aloud of Lord of the Rings with two other families. We started back in 2009. Yes, it took four years to get through the books. (We also watched the movies afterwards.) Why did it take that long? Those four years contained such life-altering events for everyone involved, it’s amazing we got through the books at all.

The transition from child to teenager can be rocky, especially for friendships. Meeting together to hear a story, a good story, read out loud, was the one continuous part of the lives of these kids. It was something they had in common, at a time when their other interests were diverging, and life was taking them down different paths. It’s a memory they will always have together.

It was more than just normal life transitions that made it hard to stay committed for those involved. In fact, mid-way through The Two Towers, it had been five months since we had all last met. I turned to my kids and told them I wasn’t sure the read aloud was going to happen anymore—all the dates kept falling through. I told them we could finish it alone, but they didn’t want to. Just so they would know what happened, I told them we could watch the movies at least? We agreed to wait one more month before we gave up. The group started meeting again a couple weeks later.

To be very vague, we were part of a larger group of friends, and during this time period there were some messy divorces, which led to a complete upheaval of our social network. There were financial struggles, starting new careers, moving to new houses, etc. Plus, we had met as homeschooling parents, and during these years, some children started going to school, while other continued at home.

Looking back, I am amazed at the sheer number of life challenges and changes we three families faced during our time reading Lord of the Rings together. It was truly our own journey of epic proportions.

As for me, I felt very alone, trying to keep one foot in front of the other. People I thought were there, pulled away just when I needed them most. Others purposefully tried to sabotage my work, or hurt the people I cared about. But in each corner of my life, I had a Sam. Someone, out of nowhere, without asking, stood by me with encouraging words, or sharing the load when it was just too heavy that day.

When we had our final get-together, watching the extended version of The Return of the King, it was very emotional. Yes, we cried during the movie, but the three moms cried for more than that. We had been through so freakin’ much, but there we were with seven beautiful children, on the other side of it all.  I found it so strange that the books and our lives had so much in common, so much to relate to. But perhaps that’s what makes a series like Lord of the Rings endure.

We have all been Frodo. We have all needed Sam. Together they saved their world. If we could only remember in our darkest moments to look for that unexpected hero, that person who is not there for glory, but steps in to help you out of love.

Who was your Sam?

The Art of Charles Thurston

Charles Thurston \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
Charles Thurston \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Recently, I discovered the art of Charles Thurston. He makes some wonderful little geekling books as well as paints some great geeky art.

The books are parodies of classic children’s tales such as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and The Teddy Bear’s Picnic.

My favorite of the set is by far Nighty Night Wampa and If You Give a Jawa a Broken Droid. The stories have a child-like magic to them and felt like they should have a place in the Star Wars Universe.

Live Laugh Love \ Image: Charles Thurston
Live Laugh Love \ Image: Charles Thurston

For Doctor Who fans, 11 Little Doctors was a cute parody on the tale of 10 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. Goodnight Sweetie, Cyberman’s Picnic  and his most recent book But Not the Dalek are also wonderful parodies of with a Dr. Who touch.

Another classic tale he touches on is The Hobbit. If You Give a Hobbit a Ring is a cute introduction to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and he does a nice job putting it together in only a few pages.

In addition to these little books, he also makes and sells other great pieces of art.

My favorite piece is his Live, Laugh, Love piece that sold out in ten minutes of the first day of Mega Con this year. He recently found more of the frames and after adding his Joker and Harley touch, is selling them in his Etsy store.

Check out his Facebook page to learn more on what is available and where.

If you are looking for a cute and fun way to introduce your little geek to the wonderful world of geek classics, I highly recommend you check him out.

 I was given a set of books to use for this review. As always, that didn’t hinder my opinion.

My Precious: Adventures with the Lego Lord of the Rings Video Game

Promotional screen shot from Warner Interactive/Lego

I have a serious love of Lego interactive games, and Lego Lord of the Rings was something I’d been waiting to try since they announced it this summer. Now in hand, my family has been busy playing the heck out of it. Unlike some games that ease you into the play, this game starts with a boss fight:  reliving the battle of Sauron from the movie introduction. Talk about epic!

As usual for Lego series video games, this is best when played with two players, although it can also be played by one person. As a mom, my love for two player mode is that it requires cooperation in order to solve the puzzles and complete the levels. Perfect family bonding time. Like similar Lego titles, you also can go through the adventures multiple times and re-play once you’ve unlocked characters and want to return in free play mode.

The cutscenes in Lego Lord of the Rings come directly from the movie with a few comic gags thrown in. My husband and I miss the silent pantomimed cutscenes from Lego Star Wars, but my daughter thinks the spoken dialog is the best thing ever. I guess Lego knows their audience. Speaking of which, there are very few surprises in terms of plot if you know the books and movie. That’s as you’d expect, since the plot is long and complicated enough as is. It doesn’t make it less challenging to know the basic goals of each scene. In some ways it enhances the experience. Continue reading My Precious: Adventures with the Lego Lord of the Rings Video Game

Hobbits Make Best Airline Safety Video Ever

Air New Zealand has what are probably the best airline safety videos ever. Heck, who knew I’d even want to watch a safety video when not strapped into a seat with no choice. This one features some great cameos. I’ve always wanted to visit New Zealand one day, and now I know what airline I’d choose. Well played.

They’re also running a contest to win a trip to see The Hobbit premier in Wellington, New Zealand. I bet I know which safety video they’ll run. Just count the number of times the Elvish appears in the video and enter it here.

Their previous safety videos are pretty hilarious, too. Here’s one with Richard Simmons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Top 25 Ways You Know You’re A GeekMom

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

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

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

What else, geek moms?

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