Episode VII: Looking Forward to Passing The Lightsaber

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Seeing the latest trailer for The Force Awakens made me realize I get to experience a new Star Wars with my own children. Image: ©Disney/Lucasfilm.

When the second teaser for Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens debuted last month, I had a reaction I didn’t anticipate.I cheered.

Alone in my office, in front of the computer, with no one around me but a sleeping dog, I emitted an involuntary, yet very loud, “Yeah!” I couldn’t help myself. All it took was the first glimpse of Han Solo’s never-failing crooked smile, and Chewbacca’s welcoming grunt, and I grinned so hard my eyes teared up.

I didn’t realize how much I missed this anticipation. There’s a new Star Wars movie coming out, and I get to experience it as a parent for the first time. I think this epiphany is what pulled me over the top. Not only did I get that child-like feeling once again, but I get to watch my own children experience it as well.

It isn’t like my children haven’t had their share of Star Wars. They have seen the movies—in the Machete Order no less, followed the Clone Wars and Rebels television series, and know the characters like the backs of their hands. Heck, our oldest daughter went as Ahsoka Tano for Halloween when she as seven, and our youngest had a Star Wars-themed nursery. That’s neither here nor there, really, as neither of them has had the opportunity to see a new Star Wars we haven’t even seen yet in an actual movie theater with original cast members and Andy Serkis.

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Star Wars has always been a part of our girls’ lives. Now they get their own new generation of movies. That’s a big deal. Image: Rick Tate.

I can’t stress enough what a big deal this is for parents who grew up with the franchise.

For the brief two minutes I watched the trailer, it was 1977 again and I was watching Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for the first time. Our entire family drove clear across town, as there were no theaters on my side of town in El Paso at the time, at least none that I remember. I recall being a little freaked out by the cantina creatures, but soon loved them. I remember the entire theatre sharing a regional inside joke when Han first introduced his friend, Chewie (“Chuy” is a common nickname for the name, Jesus).

I remember, just a week later, my dad actually asking me out of the blue, “You want to go see Star Wars again?” Well, that never happened before. Uh, yeah, Dad. I really do.

Little did we know this family outing would soon blossom into more than 40 years of fan frenzy, and countless memories:

  • Seeing, for the first time, Star Wars action figures… on my brother’s birthday cake.
  • Getting my first big screen fangirl crush, via Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones gets equal credit for this one).
  • Hearing my brother and his friends in a deep discussion about how George Lucas was planning on going back and doing Episodes I, II and III, and then later doing Episodes VII, VIII and IX. “Probably won’t get to those last three,” I remember a friend saying. This was before Empire Strikes Back, mind you.
  • Learning my soon-to-be husband was a closet fanboy, and buying our first set of Star Wars trading cards as a couple at the grocery store in Alpine, Texas.
  • Taking my first ride on Star Tours, and later on the new Star Tours at Disneyland Park.
  • Taking my daughter to see Star Wars In Concert, and watching Anthony Daniels’ great narrative.
  • Having “a bad feeling about this” whole business of Disney bringing Star Wars back to theaters, until I learned J.J. Abrams was directing it. Okay, it might work.
  • Finally, seeing that initial Episode VII teaser and realizing I want yet another new kind of lightsaber.

The thing is, this really isn’t about Star Wars at all, when you come right down to it. I like other movies as well.

What it’s about is getting to share something entirely new, yet very familiar with the next generation of fangirls and fanboys. Watching a new story unfold together on the giant silver screen with surround sound and an amazingly tasty overpriced bucket of popcorn. When we get home, we’ll have a whole new set of memories.

Come Christmastime, I’ll get to step into the shoes of my father and take my kids to their first new Star Wars movie experience.

I’ll get to experience something else my father never got to. I’ll get to see myself through their eyes, because I’ve been there before. And I can’t wait to be there again.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens hits theaters Dec. 18.

Story originally ran April 18, 2015 in GeekMom.

My Laugh-Out-Loud Reading List

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IMG_9834-561x470There are some writers who make us reflect with silent amusement the absurdity of some aspects of life. There are others who produce a few inner chuckles at their quick and thoughtful wit.

Then, there are those who makes us afraid to read them in public, because we know at some point we are going to embarrass ourselves trying to stifle an outburst.

These are the ones who make readers erupt into a silent giggling fit in a crowded room when something reminds them of that particular chapter, quote, or line.

Since April is National Humor Month, here is a teensy sampling of some of the authors who make me laugh, whether I’m reading a bedtime story to my daughter, or talking about the book to others who “share the joke.”

Children’s Picture Books

Mo Willems. Willems is one I always pick when it’s my turn to choose what to read at story time. He knows what IMG_9824-660x413it’s like to be both a kid and parent, and captures this in bringing out the hilarity of everyday family issue through Knuffle Bunny, by celebrating that over-the-top stubborn nature of kids in his Pigeon series, and giving kids a fun way to learn to read with the snappy dialogue in his Elephant and Piggie series. Most of all, through his books like Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, he just wants us to laugh. Don’t worry Mr. Willems, we do.

Sandra Boynton. Boynton’s books are so simple, yet so fun to read. Her art is charming, and her words just flow easily. She also manages to put in little nifty “plot twists,” in much of her work; something you wouldn’t normally expect in a 12-page counting book consisting of mostly dogs barking. It’s usually at that finishing point that the laughs really come, like her books Happy Hippo, Angry Duck and Fifteen Animals. She’s built up a pretty great following, too, as her song books with accompanying CDs like Dog Train show. Only Boynton could write a series of sing-a-longs that could gather Blues Traveler and Steve Lawrence on the same disc, and pair up Weird Al Yankovic with Kate Winslet in a “naptime” duet. Our family has read her stories and listened to her songs so much we have inside jokes…“Blender solo!!!”

Nick Bruel. Bruel and his Bad Kitty series are goofy fun from start to finish. His artwork drips with cat-like sarcasm, and the look on Kitty’s face alone will cause a chuckle. He has successfully expanded his series into early chapter and picture books like Bad Kitty Gets a Bath (an absolute riot, by the way), that parents will steal and read themselves. His original Bad Kitty is still my favorite, especially some of Kitty’s ways of showing her displeasure with her situation. The pictures accompanying her “plotting against us” are worth the read. Give me this crass Kitty over Grumpy Cat any day for sheer comic pleasure, as this very very bad bad bad kitty is very very very funny.

Karen Kaufman Orloff. Orloff makes this list for her “I Wanna” series, including I Wanna Iguana and I Wanna New Room. Written as a series of correspondence between a young boy Alex and one or both parents, Alex is usually pleading his case for or against a very important issue. The exchange is straight up funny, with the parents getting in some of the best, straight forward zingers:

“Dear Mom…I need a new friend now! This iguana can be the brother I’ve always wanted…Love, Alex.”

“Dear Alex, You have a brother. Love, Mom.”

The extreme artwork in these books by veteran illustrator David Catrow are a perfect fit.

Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. Scieszka and Smith have taken the world of nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and fables and turned them on their pointy ears. The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs is a genuine classic, but the fable compilation of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales packs some of the best punch in the humor department. There is the side-effect of learning something, however, as Scieszka and Smith have produced pictures books that tackle subjects like math, science, visual art, reading, foreign languages, and history in completely original ways. When my daughter chooses to take a book about the United States’ founding fathers to school because, “it is soooo funny,” that’s quite an accomplishment.

Young and Teen Readers Chapter Books

IMG_9826-660x425Lemony Snicket. I am almost always frustrated when I read a book by the devious and covert alter ego of Daniel Handler (a funny man in his own right), but I just can’t help but read them. I know, no matter what fresh hell he puts his characters through, it will be done with some of the funniest and most clever ways. Snicket’s Unfortunate Events and All The Wrong Questions are the ultimate in kids-empowerment, as it seems every grown up is a bumbling idiot, placed on this earth to make things worse for some very resourceful and savvy kids. He uses his talent for wordplay to his advantage in teaching young readers vocabulary skills.

Case in point from, All The Wrong Questions Book 3:
“(Sabotage) refers to a person damaging or destroying something on purpose,” Moxie said.

“I know what it means,” I said. “For complicated reasons, I had to learn that word in kindergarten.”

His picture books, including The Composer is Dead and 13 Words are also worth a read, even if you don’t have kids. He may repeatedly warn you to not read his work, but ignore these heeds.

Cressida Cowell. The animated How To Train Your Dragon films are adorable, but those who haven’t read the original series are really missing out. These are nothing like the film, so those unfamiliar with Cowell’s Monty Pythonesque style of writing will join an all-new adventure. Toothless especially steals the show, as unlike the large dog-like quality of the movie dragon, this miniature little monster is boisterous, stubborn, and actually “toothless.” I actually had a hard time accepting the large-scale and cuddly Toothless in the movie, because I had actually grown attached to that little snarky poop-head in Cowell’s books. I bet if you read her books, you will too.

J.K. Rowling. Let’s be honest. The world of Harry Potter is magical and moving, but part of the massive appeal is that these books is they are also really funny. Rowling kept her sense of humor very much intact, even when the wizarding world faced some of its darkest times. Whether the jokes were subtle or slapstick, Rowling mastered them. I could just imagine myself sitting around the table with The Weasleys laughing at Fred and George’s commentary of using their street magic prowess to pick up Muggle girls. She was able to make us truly believe in magic, move us to tears, and give us an entire world of characters, places, and creatures to love, but that doesn’t also mean Rowling couldn’t make us laugh.

Tommy Angleberger. Star Wars fans love the Origami Yoda series for its many inside references (McQuarrie Middle School, Bus #3263827), but the middle school playground politics and challenges faced by the tween set are so funny because they are so real. These students are not only subjected to problems between each other, they have to endure curriculum and lunch menu changes, school “fun nights,” and assemblies with Mister Good Clean Fun. The fact it is written from the point of view of the students themselves keeps the story both fresh and fun. Plus, he included origami patterns, so you can play along at home.

John Green. My first experience with Green was through his absolutely fabulous fast-paced Crash Course education video series he created with his just-as-witty brother, Hank Green. It was hard for me to believe he was the same guy who wrote a series of wildly successful young adult novels. On the surface, his work can seem introspective and deeply melancholy, but there is some wickedly great humor throughout. I recommend An Abundance of Katherines for lines like “they like their coffee like they like their ex-boyfriends: bitter.” I confess I did not and will not read The Fault in Our Stars. As good a writer as Green is, I know I will be in for a really, really good cry at the end of this one, and I’m just not up to that task at the moment. I guess I need to remember even this moving book is by the same guy who said “Whenever you’re furious with your parents, just remember that you vomited on them, and they kept you.”

Books for Adult (But Not Necessarily Grown Ups)

Jasper Fforde. Fforde is one of those authors who has done a splendid job of making both adults and young IMG_9829-581x470readers laugh. The obvious place to start for adults is the first in his Thursday Next series, The Eyre Affair, or one of his Nursery Crime. Make sure to pick up The Last Dragonslayer for young readers…and yourself. I haven’t gotten around to reading his latest novel, Shades of Grey, but I can say it is the only novel with the words “shades of grey” in the title I have any interest in reading. The best thing about Fford is that he caters to book lovers. His works are primarily seeped in the worlds of literature, and filled with all sorts of references from classic literature to nursery rhymes. I also appreciate the fact his lead characters are women, and I’m still waiting to audition for the lead should they ever see fit to adapt the Thursday Next series for movies or television. In the very least, I’d like a dodo for a pet.

Mary Roach. Roach has my sense of humor, but she’s putting it to much better use than I ever could. She can be dark, matter-of-fact, sarcastic, and intelligent. I used to borrow my dad’s Reader’s Digest just for her column, but thankfully her books are now abundant. She has fully admitted to not having a science degree and “must fake my way through interviews with experts I can’t understand,” yet she has produced some of the funniest and most eye-opening looks at popular science-based subjects no one else could make as funny, for example, oh, postmortem bodies. A typical quip from a line from Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, is “I like the term ‘decedent.’ It’s as though the man weren’t dead, but merely involved in some sort of protracted legal dispute.” Every one of her books if filled with bits like this from start to finish, and are so much fun you won’t even realize you’re learning something new, and often unpleasant.

Christopher Moore. Ikea-loving zombies. Man-made whales. A reluctant angel of death. A vampire love story actually worth reading. Moore’s stuff is just all over the place. His leads are usually a little geeky, sometimes outcasts, and weirdly relatable, but the supporting characters are never dull. His works are also over-the-top edgy, and there have been more than one occasion I’ll admit I was a little disturbed. Still, it is hard not to laugh at them. All of Moore’s books have some kind of connection to each other, and characters from other series often make cameo appearances. Even his Biblical-times book Lamb gets an appearance by the demon Catch, of Practical Demonkeeping fame. As a nice contrast to the sparkly or sexy vampires of today’s fiction, his Vampire Trilogy characters could be any of us, and utter phrases like “not unlike the toaster, I control darkness.” Fluke and Coyote Blue were not as funny as the others, but in all fairness they’re up against some pretty steep competition.

Douglas Adams. The fact that there are five books in the late author’s Hitchhiker’s Trilogy should be enough to tell you there isn’t much to be taken too seriously in these books.  Adams is often the first one on many people’s minds when they people think of “funny” authors. His humor was both silly and sophisticated, strange and familiar. His characters, like Arthur Dent and Zaphod Bebblebrox, are iconic, and Adams has influenced a gaggle of copycat writers. That’s not a bad thing, mind you. I speculate at least one of them is on my list. The original Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was always…and I mean always checked out at my high school library, forcing me to purchase this paperback on my own from the Waldenbooks in my local strip mall. This book was my first real foray into his world, and I couldn’t get enough. I’ve read everything by Adams, and even purchased his Starship Titanic computer game—which we won’t talk about, okay? Adams has influenced me in so may ways. Not just as someone who wants to write, but as someone who wants to see the humor on this planet….and others.

Sir Terry Pratchett. Pratchett’s bestselling Discworld fantasy parody series has sold more than 80 millions books worldwide, but he has dabbled in everything from children’s fiction to the paranormal. One thing all his books have in common, however, is they are consistently and continuously laugh-inducing. I wouldn’t even know where to start in saying which is funniest. Just start at the beginning, with is debut novel The Carpet People and plow through them all. Good Omens, which he co-authored with Neil Gaiman, remains one of my favorite reads of all time. Pratchett recently passed away at age 66, but if he lived to be 150, it is likely wouldn’t have been long enough for him to put all his ideas down on paper. He even showed his weird, and unique perspective in life. After he was knighted in 2010, he felt he needed his own sword and forged one himself from iron deposits he found near his home. That’s just cool.

Comic Books (or Should I say Funny Books)

IMG_9830-561x470Brian Michael Bendis. Hands down, there is simply no other comic book scribe who makes me laugh like Bendis. He is one of the few writers who just consistently cracks me up, sometimes to the point of having to put the comic down and “wait it out.” I don’t know what I love best by this guy. Powers is disturbingly funny in places. Alias had some fantastic moments, and one of the funniest uses of profanity I’ve read involved Jessica Jones flying head first into a lake. Both of these have been made into series…Finally! He’s even given us a great all-ages read in Takio, about sisters, no less.  For wall-to-wall funny, though, are his partly autobiographical compilations Total Sell Out and Fortune and Glory, in which readers can see how he honed his precision skill for mastering conversational dialogue in comics by just listening to his friends share some pretty funny anecdotes. There’s also a one-pager of Bendis’s first meeting with the great Stan Lee, and the most hysterical interchange between Bendis trying to pitch his graphic novel to a pseudo-intellectual Hollywood producer who is convinced Eliot Ness was a fictional character. His work strikes me in such a way, I had to stop writing this post for a second to stop laughing at a random quote of his that just popped in my head.

Joe Kelly. They don’t call the mercenary Deadpool the “Merc with The Mouth” for nothing, and no one produced so much edgy and hilarious quotes and situations as Kelly did in his underrated 1990s Marvel series with artist Ed McGuinness. Deadpool can be a pretty unloveable anti-hero, but Kelly had so much fun with him it was a little too easy to overlook his dark side. Kelly said in a 2009 Newsrama interview they got away with a lot because “everybody just expected the book to be cancelled every five seconds, so nobody was paying attention.” Kelly has worked on a ton of comic-related projects, including DC’s Super Girl, but nothing has been as consistently funny as his Deadpool series. Deadpool even made an appearance in the Kelly-produced Disney XD series Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-Man. Deadpool is about to get very mainstream soon, thanks to the upcoming motion picture, and it would be a shame for the movie version of him to be people’s first real experience. If you don’t know or like Deadpool, don’t talk to me about it until you’ve read Kelly’s series. Fortunately, these are available in omnibus form.

Carl Barks. Yes, the late father of Uncle Scrooge is old-fashioned and old-school, but his Uncle Scrooge Adventures and Donald Duck Adventures are still worthy reads. The best way to read these is with kids, and you’ll find yourself laughing along with them, as well as learning a little more about folk tales and mythology. They are also a bit prophetic, when you think about it. Commercial space travel? Using ping-pong balls to raise a shipwreck? My favorite, however, will always be Phantom of Notre Duck and its running “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” bit. His artwork is also detailed and filled with little sight-gags that many all-ages comics neglect to do. That must be why we all called him the “Good Artist.” Reading Bark’s stories is like watching a Golden Age movie classic. They might not have the sharp-edge humor of today’s comedies, but they stand the test of time the way Some Like It Hot or Arsenic and Old Lace do. They might seem a little dated at times, but they never grow old.

Mike Mignola. Bear with me on this one. I know Mignola’s Hellboy stories are not always funny. As a matter of fact, his books are downright dark horror and adventure tales. But there is always, without fail, at least one instance in everything I’ve read by Mignola, be it Hellboy or The Amazing Screw-On Head, that has caused me to laugh soundly: “As I always say, all really intelligent people should be cremated for reasons of public safety.” Much of the Hellboy humor comes from the title character. He’s just a down-to-earth, easy going good guy, despite his being a demon baby raised in secret non-governmental agency lab. There could be an evil soul-sucking demon on the loose, and his way of approaching the monster is by yelling. “Hey, jerk!” You can’t help but like the guy, even if you don’t want to get on his bad side. As Hellboy casually admitted in one of his stories, his biggest fault is that “I sometimes get angry.” Ya think?

Ben Edlund. Who would have thought the creator of The Tick is the same guy who is now a driving force behind the hit series Gotham? This mental-patient turned superhero is the epitome of everything that makes superheroes not just entertaining, but ridiculous. What really makes him is that he completely, and in all seriousness, believes his own hype, leaving the reader to just shake their heads, facepalm, and laugh at comments like “destiny’s powerful hand has made the bed of my future…and it’s up to me to lie in it.” The animated series also had some of the funniest lines in television I’ve ever heard, like the frank observance of Arthur’s sister, Dot: “Dad really messed you up.” I’ve never really cared for straight-up comic parodies like Mad Magazine, but The Tick is just so absurd and nuts, he draws you into his delusional world…and you are more than willing to share in his battle cry, “Spooon!”

I know there are still several funny-bone ticklers who are conspicuously absent from this list, and encourage people to let me know who I erroneously neglected to mention.

In a world where everything has become so serious, there is always room for more reason to laugh.

Post originally ran in GeekMom on April  5, 2015.

Three Ways to Turn Song Lyrics into Fan Art

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Need some fan art inspiration. Turn on the radio!

Both my daughters love to draw, but sometimes when the urge hits them they have a hard time deciding what to do when the pencil meets the paper.

I completely sympathize with this, as I often appease that itch in the fingertips by doodling some quick fan art of a favorite character or fictional world. When there’s a little more time, however, it’s good to branch out from the norm, and get inspired by something new.

Since many people, ourselves included, listen to music when we’re sketching, why not try capturing a song? The practice of interpreting music through visual art has been around long before the advent of the music video, and I’ve attended more than one art class where this has been a fun student exercise.

Most of the time, however, these exercises are understandably done with instrumental classical or jazz style pieces, in order to let the interpretations of each artist remain as open and free as possible.

However, songs with lyrics can be seen differently by each listener, and every song, even mediocre songs, tell a story. Treat these songs as a favorite movie, book or show, and turn them into fan art. It doesn’t even have to be a “favorite” song. Try thinking of a song that represents a certain era, or remember a simple nursery song from school. This project can also help get rid of a song that has been lodged in one’s brain for a good part of the day.

Here are three ways of taking on this creative exercise, depending on how much time and effort you want to put into this project.

Easy Method: Minimalist Movie Posters

The minimalist movie poster trend is popular among fan artists, using only simple images, or one image, to capture the entire essence of the story. For example, a minimalist page of Star Wars might just have an outline of the Death Star, or Beauty and The Beast might just have a wilting rose. There are several examples of these on sites like Pinterest. Listen to a song and find a recurring reference or standout phrase. Some will be harder to pinpoint than others, but the challenge is part of the fun.

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Some minimalist looks at 80s tunes.

Intermediate Method: One-Page Comic Sheets

Turn some song lyrics into a one-page comic spread, or even a comic splash page (a page with just one image). This one is particularly fun with children’s songs or old standards. Give these old time lyrics a chance to be comic book heroes. To make this even easier, I took advantage of artist Tim van de Vall’s Comic Book Paper site that offers several comic page layouts available for free download for sole the purpose of getting other artists inspired.

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Comic page inspired by the poem-turned-lullaby “Twenty Froggies.”

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Splash page inspired by Social Distortion’s “Story of My Life.”

“Hard” Method: Young Reader’s Picture Book

This method isn’t actually that hard. It is the most time consuming, and may take more than one day to complete. There have already been some successful picture books based on folk songs, like “Puff The Magic Dragon,” or “Sloop John B,” so it isn’t too much of a stretch to find a song that could work. There might be few songs you might love to see turned into children’s book, but no one else has taken the bait. Why wait? Just make your own.

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Children’s book idea inspired by Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had A Boat.”

On all of these, it is perfectly okay to find a font you like, type it on the computer and print it out. Unless you are an expert calligraphy artist or you think a hand-made style looks best, it is just easier this way, and gives you more time for the fun part.

These don’t have to match the level of art in any published book. Simple black and white line drawings will work.

This could open up the lines of communication between parent and child, close the generation gap by a shared enjoyment of a song and make these works of art even more special.

Post originally ran in GeekMom on March 28, 2015.

Fine Art “Toy Box” Photos

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Raid the Toy Box for some fine art tributes

Originally ran on Geekmom on March 23, 2015.

One of my weird bucket list items has always been to capture on film the beautiful balance of my favorite M.C. Escher illustration, Three Worlds.

The illustration is one of Escher’s gentler pictures, depicting “worlds” below, on the surface of, and above the water of Woodland Lake. I had been constantly scoping out the perfect setting, time of day, and year to capture this scene, but it has just never fallen together exactly right. I eventually decided to take matters in my own hands—and camera—and create my own, with the help of whatever household items I had available.

This was the result:

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“My Three Worlds,” based on M.C. Escher’s Three Worlds.

Here is what it actually was:

bucketThis is the inspiration of the next spring break-long project of creating a “toy box” photo exhibit based on famous paintings.

The idea and process is quite simple. Find a painting or illustration that catches your fancy, and recreate it using toys and found objects around the house. Use action figures, dolls, and stuffed animals for portraits, scarves and blankets for background and costumes, and any other item you find that captures the work in your own unique way.

Part of the fun for kids, besides that unavoidable urge to play with cameras, is being able to look over some classic pieces of art and see what moves them. This is a chance to bust out any old art history text books, sit down with a pile of catalogs and magazines, or search the web for some great museum or art print sites. A few of our favorites to peruse are Art.com‘s poster and print site, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Tate galleries in London, the Smithsonian Institution’s site, The Guggenheim museums, the Lourvre in Paris, and the all-purpose print and poster site Allposters.com.

Another added bonus is getting kids to help clean up their rooms and closets looking for the right figure or prop for their masterpiece.

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“The Groot With the Pearl Earring,” based on The Girl With A Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.

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“Marooning Jack,” based on Marooned by Howard Pyle.

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“Monsters,” based on Raphael’s Cherubs.

These don’t have to be exact copies, but should be able to be recognizable as at least a tribute or parody of the painting. It’s okay to play around with easy photo editing and filters to add any finishing touches. Snapseed and Pixlr are both free and easy to use.

Work on these throughout the week, and gather your favorite results for a family art unveiling. This is something everyone in the family can work on together for fun or they can work individually for their own “secret” project. Once the week is up, hold a Saturday or Sunday afternoon art show for family and friends or have a guessing game to see who is best able to name all the works.

One side effect is kids might be pretty proud of these and want to display them year-round, so either clear out some wall space and stock up on printer ink and photo paper, or print them small enough to handle.

Don’t be surprised if you see your kids spontaneously working on these throughout the year. It might be a good time to invest in a fun little point-and-shoot camera as a gift… or hand over your own, as this has the ability to fire up an interest in art history, photography, or set and prop design—or all three.

Geeky Kid-Friendly Mixology

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Originally ran in GeekMom on March 13.
What would spring and summer be without a party?
Being a geeky mixologist is sometimes just as simple as mixing two or three ingredients with the proper presentation for impressive results. This is also a good way to teach kids that those fancy drinks they see at restaurants don’t have to have alcoholic to be cool.

Here’s a week’s worth of simple ideas:

Lazy Butterbeer
Ever since J.K. Rowling wrote the word “butterbeer,” Potter fans have concocted their recipe ideas. After The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park introduced their own version, there have been even more copycat recipes.

A quick and “lazy” version of this recipe kids can make anytime is to take one 12-ounce can or bottle of cream soda and drizzle in some butterscotch syrup (ice cream topper) to taste. Mix together and top with plain old whipped cream (hence the “lazy” version). For those with snow-cone makers, this mixture also tastes great blended in with a cup of shredded ice for a frozen butterbeer.

Smaug’s “I Am Fire” Sipper
Take a cup of cranberry juice and one-half cup of orange juice for a fiery drink, and give it a little extra heat with a teaspoon of cinnamon dolce syrup.

For presentation, dip the edge of the glass in water and in a small plate of gold sugar sprinkles (before adding the drink, of course). Cut a slit at the end of a gold-wrapped chocolate coin for a garnish on the side, and your drink is ready to accompany a dragon’s hoarde.

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Gild the sipper with sugar sprinkles to give Smaug his “gold.”

Superhero Layered Smoothies
Every superhero and villain has one thing in common: a color scheme. These super smoothies can also get kids excited about different types of fruit and flavors. The base of all of these smoothies is a mix of vanilla or Greek yogurt and a small amount of milk (about three parts yogurt to one part milk is a good consistency). Then, make the colors:

  • Red (strawberries or raspberries)
  • Orange (orange juice or mangoes)
  • Yellow (bananas or pineapple)
  • Green (green mint syrup, or for veggie lovers, spinach)
  • Blue (most “blue” fruit will be purple, so use a very small drop of blue food coloring and coconut extract)
  • Purple or black (blackberries or blueberries)
  • Brown (powdered cocoa or natural cacao powder)
  • White (eave the yogurt mixture plain)

Find a favorite character’s colors and add a toothpick garnish of their symbol (stickers and paper cut-outs are fine). For example, red, white and blue for Wonder Woman or Captain America; black and yellow for Batman or Batgirl; orange, brown and yellow for Rocket Raccoon; or green and purple for Hulk or Joker.

Let kids mix and match their own “hero” ideas, but be careful. It’s really easy to get carried away and over indulge on these, healthy or not.

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Coming up with super color combos is part of the fun.

Those Disney Drinks 1 (New Orleans Square Mint Juleps)
Disneyland’s New Orleans Square likely goes through a swimming pool’s worth of those non-alcoholic mint juleps. For good reason too, as they are as addicting as the strongest alcoholic drink. They do have an official recipe for these, but an easy version is to take a can of concentrated limeade, add a tablespoon of lime or lemon juice, and a tablespoon of green mint syrup. This will make the base mix. Add one part of this mix to two parts club soda per glass. Modify this ratio if too sweet, or not sweet enough. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and a mint sprig.

Those Disney Park Drinks 2 (Non-alcoholic Sangria)
Walt Disney World’s Tortuga Tavern had a popular nonalcoholic sangria. As a native Texan, I’ve learned the key to Sangria is fruit. Lots and lots of fruit!

To get this effect, add sliced apples, oranges, grapes, and limes and soak them in a pitcher of grape juice for at least an hour. Some people like include berries like blueberries and strawberries, as well as even pineapple. In my opinion, the more the merrier.

Once the fruit has soaked, add one part grape juice with one part club soda, lemon-lime soda or sparkling water. Pour into individual glasses, fruit and all. Garnish with even more fruit. I can’t stress enough the importance of the fruit.

Tatooine Blue Milkshakes
Star Wars blue milk is so easy to make, it’s a shame to not modify it for party purposes. Instead of just adding a drop of blue food color to milk, mix in some vanilla ice cream for a blue milkshake and garnish with a green, blue, or red glow stick. We have some lightsaber chopsticks we like to use as well.

Hint for My Little Pony Fans: Tie strips of thin multicolored ribbon or tissue paper to bamboo skewer for decoration and the blue milkshake becomes “The Rainbow Dash.”

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One colorful drink stick turns Star Wars into My Little Pony.

Sonic Screwdrivers*
Mix a can of lemon-lime soda with a drop of blue or green food coloring. Then, add a little flavor to taste celebrating one’s favorite Doctor (banana extract or vanilla for custard-lovers).

The garnish is what makes these. Place a bamboo skewer through the middle of a Jammie Dodger (we’ve found these in gourmet food stores, but any shortbread jam-filled cookie will work), a slice of banana, and a “jelly baby” or gummy bear. Use a glow stick or novelty glowing ice cube (available at party supply stores) to give it that sonic glow.

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A simple drink gets a “sonic” effect with the right garnish.

Gather the ingredients for all of these drinks over the course of the week, and work on perfecting a different drink each day. By the weekend, you should be ready for a springtime “Geeky Tiki” party, where you can serve your friends some colorful concoctions. Make it a potluck-style event where everyone can bring their own geeky snacks.

*A popular trend among some hipster Whovians of recent has been to order an orange soda at Sonic restaurants, and add a bit of vodka to it when they get home. They call it, of course, the Sonic Screwdriver. I can’t vouch for how they are, but I’ve heard they are quite good for any geeky parents looking for date night options