Hit the Road with “Old School” Car Games

My family ready to head down the road in a borrowed circa 1974 RV.

My family ready to head down the road in a borrowed circa 1974 RV.

This month, my family will be “gettin’ our kicks” on Route 66 with a car trip down the Mother Road. I’m planning on taking them back in time with some “old school” family car games we played when my brother and I occupied the back seat of our boat-sized “Border Patrol Green” Ford LTD (or assorted recreational vehicles).

These games were ways my dad used to help us to pass time, challenge the mind, take advantage of our competitive nature, and curb our fidgety impatience. I always assumed they were something every generation knew, but in the age of back seat DVD players and PS3s, the no-tech car game seems to be an endangered species.

In the spirit of historic preservation, here are five of my favorite nostalgia-inducing, road, technology-free, trip games:

The Alphabet Game: The definitive road trip game in our family. We were so anxious to play it, my mom made us wait until we got out of our hometown city limits before even starting. The rules are simple enough: find a word beginning with each letter of the alphabet in chronological order, by the time the day’s final destination is reached. We added our own extra rules: letters can be stand alone, or on the side of a semi, but not on a license plate. Both fun and frustrating, we could zip through the alphabet with ease until we reach J, Q, and X, and Dad would say “no cheating.” We eventually let the X-shaped railroad crossing signs count as X, so we wouldn’t keep asking Dad to drive through “those parts of town,” where there were plenty of strip mall theaters bearing that same letter.

License Plate Race: Unlike the Alphabet game, this one has is a competition, rather than a community search. Divide the 50 states into how ever many passengers there are in the car. There are four members in our family, so each member would get 12 states (we either tack the extra two onto the older players or eliminate trying to find Alaska or Hawaii altogether). Everyone keeps their states written down, and crosses off the ones they find. The first player to find all of the states on their list by the final stop, or at least the most by that time, wins.

Pack of plenty of interactive "no-tech" fun, like these mystery and puzzle books.

Pack of plenty of interactive “no-tech” fun, like these mystery and puzzle books.

The Beetle Game: This is one we called “The Herbie Game,” while one of my best friends called it “Doodle Bug.” Whatever the title, it is the classic tallying of how may Volkswagon Beetles we could spot before reaching any given destination. This game has been modified again and again throughout the history of mass-produced vehicles. We’ve played “Red Car,” “Green Car,” “The Van Game,” and my brother’s personal favorite, “The Mustang Game.” This later one was short-lived due to my brother’s over-abundance of rules: “Mustangs 1969 and earlier only…Shelbys count as two points, Fastbacks as three, and if you see a Cobra, it’s worth TEN!!!” Keep it simple, please.

First Letter, Last Letter: I’m not sure if this is the official title of this game, but it certainly fits it best. A sort of modified version of Categories, players must pick a topic (colors, cities, fruit, cartoon characters, books, etc.). The first player thinks of a word in the category, and the next player in line has to think of word in that category that starts with the last letter of the word mentioned. If the category is Superheroes, the progression could be “Batman…Namor…Rocket Raccoon….Nick Fury…Yellowjacket…etc” If a person can’t think of a word in five seconds, they are “out.” Continue on with the remaining players until all but one have been “stumped.” Make sure to pick a category with a pretty large base from which to choose. “Science Fiction Movies,” can be fun and challenging, while “Planets in Our Solar System” will be a little short lived.

Car Sleuthin’: This was by far my dad’s favorite road trip game, because he not only got be “in charge,” it really made my brother and I think. He would present us with a simple mystery to solve. For example:

“A dead man is lying face-down on the ground with a pack on his back. What happened?”

We had to ask only “yes” or “no” questions until we solved the mystery. With my own kids, we’ve used mystery books like The Sherlock Holmes Puzzle Collection by “John Watson,” and recently purchased Lemony Snicket’s File Under Suspicious Incidents for our next trip. This way, everyone can play. Believe it or not, this game actually kept us quiet and working together to solve a problem. We sometimes forgot about how long the trip was, we were so focused. The answer to Dad’s poser, by the way, is “his parachute didn’t open.”

It may be a challenge getting my own hi-tech family to slap shut the laptop, or switch off the iPad, but when they do, I promise them it will be worth it….at least down the road a ways.

Then, I’ll probably let them finish watching The Lego Movie.

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Maya Lin



Turn your favorite quotes and polymer clay into simple art pieces inspired by Maya Lin’s groundbreaking memorials and sculpture.

The Artist: Maya Lin

Maya Lin is an American-born artist, architect and memorial designer. Her parents came to the United States from China ten years before her birth, to flee Mao Tse-tung’s rule.

As an active environmentalist, many of her works make use of the surrounding landscape. She has been known to use recycled materials, natural mediums such as marble and granite, and even the land itself.


Maya Lin and her memorials. Photos from Wikicommons.

One of Lin’s most visited creations it the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or “The Wall,” in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Gardens. She designed the memorial in 1982 while she was still an undergraduate at Yale University. Her design beat out more than 1,400 other design entries for the honor.

This memorial is more than 246 feet long and made up of 70 inscribed black granite panels bearing the names of all those in the military who died or who remain missing in the Vietnam War. There are currently 58,272 names on the wall, each placed there by a computerized photo stenciling method called “gritblasting.”

Her idea of the Wall was to create a “park within a park,” creating a quiet and protected space. The polished granite surface was meant to be mirror-like to reflect the current day surroundings while people looked over, remembered, and touched the names on the wall.

Other memorials include the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama, and The Women’s Table, in honor of the Women at Yale, on the campus of her alma mater. Both of these works feature a thin layer of water running over a flat surface, encouraging people to place their hands along the smooth top.


These little pieces, made by simply carving quotes into polymer, may not look like much until they are settled into their intended environment.

Her current projects include what will be her final memorial, entitled “What it Missing?” The multi-sited project focusing on the awareness of habitat loss and biodiversity, debuted in 2009, with an installation at California Academy of Sciences.

 The Project: Mini Quote “Stone” Carvings

Two of the most beautiful characteristics of Lin’s work are the way they becomes part of the landscape or setting, and their overwhelming invitation to be touched. Rather than just stand starkly and impersonally amid a field on the middle of a plaza, Lin’s work utilizes its surrounding to bring it to life.

This project takes only bakeable polymer clay, a favorite inspirational (or humorous) quote, and a specific space you want this little “monument” to go in.

Choose polymer colors that most resemble granite or marble, or mix two or three together to get a marbled effect. Most brands of this clay come in 2-oz packages, and one of these (if just using one color) should be enough to make a nice little monument.

Think about what this is sculpture is going to be. Is this a motivational piece for a shelf corner or a work desk edge, an inspiring quote for a backyard, or something to simply evoke smiles and happy thoughts on a window garden?

Figure out how you want the shape to fit into its in environment. Will it be flat like a stepping stone or tucked into a corner like a triangle or brick? Try a wedge, if you want to burrow it the landscape, similar to Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Use your hands or a rolling pin to smooth the surface that will contain the phrase. You can also flatten it by softly “smashing” it against a smooth, flat surface. The more you work with it, the easier the clay will be to shape.

Next, think about a simple, brief quote that would suit the space best. Think of a favorite movie, television show, or book quote, a line of poetry or favorite personal phrase. Using a toothpick or large yarn needle, gently write the phrase on the clay by lightly making little punctures in the clay. This makes it easier to rub over and correct mistakes, plus it won’t warp or “drag” the surface as much.

When you get the phrase the way you want it, go back and slowly make the letters a little deeper. Younger artists can use clay letter stamps, usually found near the clay packages at craft stores. Bake the little sculptures at 275° for 30 minutes to harden them.

Once these are done, they will look like little oddly shaped stones. Not really exciting in themselves, to be honest. When they become part of their intended environment, however, they can be seen and enjoyed from an entirely new perspective.

Invite people to run their fingers over the phrase, or feel the smooth surface of the clay. Get up close, look at the piece from different angles and really explore it. After all, this is what Lin often invites visitors to her memorials to do.

“I try to give people a different way of looking at their surroundings,” Lin says of her work. “That’s art to me.”


Some quiet little tributes to science fiction, carved in “stone.”

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Andy Warhol


Use modern Geek culture icons to pay tribute to Andy Warhol’s pop art style.

Part of my GeekMom.com summer-long series where kids, teens, and fun-loving adults can learn about influential and popular artists by lending their own geeky edge to their styles.

The Artist: Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol was an American artist, filmmaker, printmaker, and photographer, who led the Pop Art movement with colorful flair, most prominently in the 1960s.


Andy Warhol’s influence in the Pop Art movement of the 1960s included paintings and silk-screen prints of “iconic” stars such as Marylin Monroe. Images: Public Domain.

Unlike abstract art that was popular in the 1950s, Pop Art often depicted immediately recognizable subjects, from cartoon characters to everyday items.

One of Warhol’s most recognizable examples of this was his Campbell’s Soup series of simple paintings on canvas. The soup can, an unlikely model for a portrait series, may have been indirectly inspired by a fellow artist of Warhol’s who told him to paint what he loved. The soup cans were part of his first major exhibition, and he claimed to have had the soup nearly everyday for lunch.

Warhol also liked to work with monoprinting (making “one-time” prints), silk-screening, using slide projections to trace drawings from projections, and experimenting with nearly every form for visual art.

He started out in the 1960s as a commercial illustrator, but soon moved away from commercial work into the world of popular art. His bohemian and counterculture attitude and appearance soon made him a celebrity in his own right, and he was dubbed the “Pope of Pop.” Actors, poets, musicians, and models were just a few of the people wanting to be part of his circle of friends. He has also been the subject of paintings, poems, documentaries, and even two children’s books, written and illustrated by his nephew, James Warhola.

Warhol passed away in 1987, but his work still feels new and current to many art lovers. In 2011, New York auction house Christie’s sold his painting of Elizabeth Taylor for more than $622,000, while his Double Elvis print was sold by Sotheby’s Auctions for $37 million.

The Project: “Geeky” Icons Portrait Series

One of Warhol’s techniques was to use images of popular individuals at the time, primarily historic figures and entertainers, such as Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, or Mick Jagger, and “re-imagine” them through changes in color schemes that go beyond what one would normally associate with a portrait.


Don’t be afraid to experiment with new materials and techniques, just like the pop artists did.

Warhol’s silk-screen method was very precise and similar to how mass-produced prints were made. He used this method because he felt many of the celebrities themselves were “mass produced,” existing on paper and film as much as in their regular human form.

Since Warhol was very in tune with the current materials and methods of printmaking and commercial art at the time, one might imagine what he could have accomplished with modern-day, computer-based methods and photo apps. Whether or not he would have been happy with this progress, no one knows.

This project combines the best of both worlds—computer-based art and hand painting—in a tribute to both Warhol’s Icons and today’s geeky fandoms.

First, find a head shot of a favorite geeky icon—Stan Lee, Princess Leia, a Walking Dead zombie, etc.—and use any photo-editing program to make them black and white or a sepia tone. Another way is to take a color print and simply make black-and-white copies.

Copy and paste four to eight images of this photo, using any desktop publishing program.

Those who might not have one of these programs can print out as many copies of the image as they need, and cut and paste them by hand on a letter-size sheet. Don’t use the “pop art” or Warhol-inspired pre-done apps for this project, as they often don’t go beyond changing the background or image colors.

Once the repeated image has been printed, use whatever medium is desired to give each image its own unique personality. Felt tip markers, watercolors, colored pencils, and even crayons will work, depending on the age and skill of the artist.

Pop Art projects often encourage artists to go beyond the conventional way of looking at things, as artists look for creating something new and clever out of normal everyday images.

Even with this “no rules” attitude, there are three rules for this geeky project:
1. Use at least three different colors on each image.
2. Don’t make any two images the same. The whole point is to stretch the creative chords as far as possible.
3. Think about what would make Andy smile. Warhol and his art might not have appealed to everyone, but it wasn’t boring. Have fun and don’t be afraid to giggle a little at the results.

Even though this method is a little different and much less complicated than the one Warhol himself used, he might approve. After all, his definition of Pop Art was open to experimentation, imagination, and new ways of doing things.

“The pop idea was that anybody could do anything,” Warhol said. “So naturally, we were all trying to do it all.”


Warhol style creations or current pop icons by four-year-old Erin (top) and 12-year-old Molly (below).

Keeping Our Fandoms in Check


fanzines“Mom, you’re such a liar,” my oldest daughter retorted back to me with a knowing smirk when I told her I’m not a “fan” of anyone.

This may seem like an impossible statement coming from someone who has not only written articles about, but also designed craft tutorials based on favorite television shows, comics, movies, and even individual actors. Heck, I’ve even referred to myself as a “fangirl” in some cases.

My daughter proudly pointed out the movie or show franchises I love, the fan art I collect and create, my Pinterest pages focusing on characters I enjoy, and even actors who I, embarrassingly enough, find physically pleasing to the eye.

These are merely hobbies that I hope help feed the creative process.

Yes, it is fun to love the art, characters, setting, universes, and overall “aura” of a fandom. It also helps make complete strangers connect with one another over something as seemingly simple as a logo on a t-shirt or a particular band resonating from an iPod. People may come from different cultures, backgrounds, or geographic regions, but when they call themselves “Whovians,” “Trekkies,” “Fanboys,” “Browncoats,” or “Ringers,” they suddenly relate to others from all over the world on at least one level. That’s a pretty cool notion, when we think about it.

Make no mistake, though, I am no one person’s fan.

I’m not saying I dislike everyone who has made his or her career in front of a camera or from behind a microphone, but I’ve learned that investing too much of one’s affections toward an individual—no matter how talented or appealing they may seem—is almost always a way to become disillusioned and disappointed. I used to get sad seeing girls and boys waving their hands around like wings and screaming with tear-soaked faces upon seeing a person who makes their living pretending to be someone else. How undignified.

I try to extend this attitude beyond the entertainment industry, as there are those in the field of literature, science, and art, as well as world leaders, whose achievements I greatly admire. I try to separate their works from their personal lives and views; something I’ll admit isn’t always easy, and so I created a list of self-imposed rules.

DO read articles about an upcoming movie, concert tour, or book coming out from a favorite person. This is what they do for a living and these are products they are offering to the public. Movies, books, and records are fun to get lost in. By all means, escape to those worlds every now and then.

DON’T read any article that includes the phrases “gets engaged/divorced,” “vacations with family at, ”or even “comes out about” in it. This is none of our business, even if it seems that person invites this attention. We have friends and family going though similar things everyday, who deserve our attention more.

DO remember that celebrities are strangers. We don’t know them, despite how many times we may see photos, gifs, posters, paintings, action figures, or videos of their likeness.

DON’T think being that person’s “biggest fan” will remedy this. Celebrities live in a world where “everyone” is their biggest fan, and making this statement to them will not suddenly make you their new BFF. Don’t expect it for any reason.

05_02_010064_fullDO tune in for performances or interviews on talk shows. These are usually centered around an upcoming project that is really the main focus of the talk, anyway.

DON’T watch voyeuristic reality shows about “famous” people’s everyday lives. What they do on stage or screen belongs to the public. We really shouldn’t care about what they do at the dinner table, in the bathroom, or in the bedroom.

DO use photos of celebrities for fashion or style ideas. I’ve gotten ideas for jewelry, scarves, or hairstyles after seeing photos of actresses, musicians, or even historical figures. Of course, I’m just as likely be inspired by someone with a cool pair of Converse at the supermarket.

DON’T let any celebrity give you advice on what your body or face should look like. Sometimes, the biggest self-esteem issues a person can have is when they compare how they look to how a movie star, who spends hours in a make-up chair, has someone pick out their outfits for them, or gets paid to spend hours in the gym. These people’s images are carefully packaged and they don’t always look the way they do at pre-planned photo ops.

DO applaud or feel happy for a celebrity when they win an award in their own field, especially if it is for their portrayal of a favorite character.

DON’T feel your own achievements in life are any less important, just because they aren’t awarded with a gold-plated trophy in a fancy theater. I do respect actors’ achievements. The fine arts are important, but no more so than being fed, healed, educated, or clothed. Everyone in this world is important, from the celebrity behind the podium, to the one who designed it, to the one who cleans the stage at the end of the evening.

DO give a listen to a band a favorite celebrity might like or pick up a book they are reading. This is just another way to expand your own interests, but please don’t pretend to like something that doesn’t appeal to you just because you-know-who does.

DON’T let a celebrity invalidate your one belief or opinion, just because their’s is different. This might be on how they feel about big things like social issues or religion, or little things like football teams or favorite shows. Your beliefs are your own, not their’s. You wouldn’t (I hope) belittle someone else’s opinion if it were different from your own, so don’t let someone make you feel bad about who you are, if you feel in your heart of hearts you are right.

DO learn about a new charity a celebrity might suggest. As a matter of fact, there is never a good reason to not look into new ways of helping others, even it if turns out that charitable cause might not be your cup of tea.

DON’T let them tell you how to vote. Every election year, people of celebrity status gather around their favorite candidates to try to drum up votes. I’ve always found this distasteful, even if they are supporting the same candidate as me. My vote is my own, thank you.

DON’T be so blinded by a person’s attractive features or cute personality that you ignore their ongoing behavior issues or bad habits. There’s a popular song out today with the line “we are how we treat each other, nothing more.” If someone’s behavior is repeatedly offensive to you, they might not be worth your time.

DO forgive these people for their flaws. These people are human. They will stumble. They will screw up. They will not always be at their best. I heard a saying once not to let one bad thing a person does make us forget all the good things they have done. This holds true with everyone, from close friends to coworkers to even the celebrities I’ve spent the last thousand words cutting down to size.

Whether or not my daughters heed all or any of this advice is up to them. However, I’m certainly not going to begrudge them those excited moments during a photo op or autograph session upon meeting a favorite actor, author, or musician.

I do hope, however, they see these experiences as no more than just a few of many souvenirs of a fun and active life, and not compare them to the true shining moments of each one’s future, such as educational achievements, career, first loves, discovering one’s true purpose and talents, traveling to new places near and far, and even becoming a fun, strong, and geeky mom someday.

I also hope that if either daughter ever meets her celebrity “idol” someday, whether it’s one she has now or in the future, that person realizes that meeting my incredible daughter is an even bigger honor and privilege for them than it is for her.

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Josef Albers


A representation of The Incredible Hulk inspired by Albers’s “Homage to the Square” series. Albers used simple squares because they didn’t distract from the color schemes.

Part of my summer-long “Be The Artist” series for GeekMom.com where kids, teens, and fun-loving adults can learn about influential and popular artists by lending their own geeky edge to their styles.

The Artist: Josef Albers


Albers worked on his “Homage to the Square” series from 1949 until his death in 1976.

Josef Albers was born in Germany in 1888 and was an active artist and teacher at the celebrated German art school Bauhaus in the 1920s.

Although he was accomplished in many visual art forms, including photography, typography, and printmaking—not to mention being a talented poet—he is best known as an abstract painter and theorist.

It was after he moved to the United States that he began working on his famous Homage to the Square series in 1949. This series meant so much to him that he continued it until his death in 1976 in New Haven, Connecticut. These works, consisting of three or four layers of nested squares, may look at first like just a series of square patterns, but they were really all about color.

Albers was very serious about “chromatic interactions,” or how colors look when seen next to each other as well as how they appear one at a time.

According to Albers’s own writings on the topic, the way people experience color is “varied based on our individual personalities and on factors such as hue, dimension, and placement.”

For example, orange might make some people angry or anxious, and others energetic and excited. Place it next to yellow, and someone might see fire, while others see feathers, or flowers. Everyone, he realized, sees colors in their own way.

 The Project: Homage to the Superhero

For this project inspired by the series, we’ll take a look at the personality of favorite superheroes through color.

First, pick a medium to paint/draw with and on. Albers did much of these paintings on masonite in oils, but any medium will do (acrylic on canvas, watercolor on paper) as long as the attention to color relationship is the focus. If using a rectangle piece of paper, fold or cut it into a square shape, if possible.

Find an image for the shape that might represent that hero. Logos work well, but keep them as simple as possible. Albers used the square because it was a neutral shape that would not distract viewers from focusing on the colors. Keep that in mind when picking a shape.

Use a template for reference, if needed, or draw it freehand, off-centered on the paper. Draw two or three larger outlines around the shape, so they look like concentric, or “nesting,” images.


Albers inpired Batman and Superman, using simple shapes and colors.

Find three or four colors to represent the hero. Starting with the center image fill in each outline in an order so it conveys the hero’s personality or mission. Superman or Wonder Woman might have the brightest or lightest color on the outer edge, to represent hope or strength. Batman, on the other hand, might be a bright light surrounded by darkness.

Younger artists can try making different color patterns when doodling with crayon or marker and see how certain colors can create a mood, convey a personality, or even tell a story. Even the same four colors arranged in different patterns can change the mood.

For an extra challenge, use only squares, as Albers did, and represent the superhero entirely with colors. Many heroes may utilize the same colors (red, blue, and yellow is popular with many heroes), but the different arrangements are what make them unique. Anyone can draw squares, but squares using the right color patterns will make all the difference if distinguishing Supergirl from Wonder Woman.

Even then, Albers said everyone will interpret the pattern in very personal ways.

“If one says ‘Red,’—the name of color—and there are fifty people listening, it can be expected that there will be fifty reds in their minds,” Albers said. “And one can be sure that all these reds will be very different.”