Monthly Archives: December 2013

Our Geeky Family Christmas Photos

who card

A very Whovian Christmas

Merry Christmas, all!

Call it tradition, call it extra work during the holiday season, or just call it a bore to read: that blasted Christmas letter and photo.

For many families keeping touch with friends and family far away, the holiday letter and photo is a necessity (some might say a necessary evil) in letting as many people know the joys and sorrows of the past year in the most efficient manner.

In addition to the annual letters come the accompanying family photo, sometimes featuring the entire family, other times featuring just the kids. Most of these tend to fall in one or two categories: “here we are in coordinating shirts” or “here we are on vacation.” More often than not, these come via the elaborate photo cards that make them even more pristine.

I am not by any means criticizing these, as I love seeing everyone, how they’ve changed, and what they’ve done over the past year. It is a joy having friends from all over the globe.

Zombie christmas

The 2012 Zombie Apocalypse

However, once I’ve waded through the sixth full-page letter of vacations, new babies, graduations, moves, and job changes, I wonder if I’m the only one who actually takes time to read these things. Does anyone read or look at mine? As a bit of a storyteller by nature and occupation, this is a genuine concern. After all, happy feedback from my readers (even if it is just friends and family) to a writer is like a round of applause for an actor.

Even before my oldest daughter was born, I wanted to send photos and notes that people would not only be happy to receive, but actually look forward to getting. Plus, I wanted to send something that wouldn’t end up on the cover of an “awkward photos” holiday special.

christmas pic final copy

Expedition party for the great airbourne caribou migration.

It all started when my husband and I were living with three pets in an itty-bitty farmhouse. I wasn’t particularly happy with my appearance that year, so I decided to draw our photo… Manga style. I didn’t realize how much people loved this until I starting getting calls and comments from friends and family, some of which I hadn’t heard from in a while other than via the annual Christmas card.

My geeky lifestyle choice actually brought people closer. Since then, I’ve turned our family letter and Christmas photo into a creative challenge. We’ve been everything from a pirate crew on Pirates of the Caribbean’s “Wicked Wench” to a steampunk expedition on a hunt for the elusive “flying caribou.” We’ve been transformed into The Simpsons, The Osbournes, and an American Gothic portrait (heavy on the “Goth”).

One year, the entire letter itself was comic book one-sheet. Another year, our letter was in the form of the iconic Star Wars opening scroll text, complete with a link where people would go online and watch the letter actually “scroll.”

The 2012 “Zombie Apocalypse Survivor” photo and letter was by far a family favorite, as it coincided nicely with the multiple “world-ending” predictions that year. I still don’t think I’ll ever top that one.

This year, everything in the geekosphere seems to be about Doctor Who, so who are we to ignore this trend? Not us, that’s for sure.

These projects have given the entire family a way to be silly and creative together, and have also been a way to share our year in a way that will bring laughter and smiles to all those we miss dearly.  This may seem like just another chore added to a busy schedule, but if keeping in touch is so important, why not have fun doing it?

After all, isn’t that zest for fun and life one of the best parts of being a nerd, especially during the holidays?

geeky christmas shots

Clockwise from top left: Pirates of the Caribbean, a comic book Christmas letter, American GOTHic, and our family Simpsons style.


Letters From Father Christmas: How Tolkien’s Family Holiday Tradition Inspired Our Own

Hobbiton letter

Three aptly-named penguins visit Hobbiton in New Zealand on one of the world travels they share each year.





For more than 20 years, the children of J.R.R. Tolkien received a letter from Father Christmas sent from the “North Pole.”  These letters, written in spindly script reminiscent of an ancient hand, told tales of the adventures and antics that occurred over the past year, many of which dealt with the exploits of the North Polar Bear and his sidekick cubs.  These letters were accompanied by illustrations by Father Christmas himself, although they bore a striking similarity to Tolkien’s own work.

The letters were posthumously released in book form, titled “Letters From Father Christmas” and I was fortunate to receive one of these books as a gift from my husband several years ago. I wasn’t just taken with the book; I was inspired by it. When my eldest daughter, Molly, turned three in 2005—the same age Tolkien’s oldest son was when he began receiving the letters in 1920—she began receiving her own letters from the North Pole and Father Christmas’ American counterpart, Santa Claus.

krampus penguin

Rosie learns about Krampus

The first letter introduced Molly to a pair of penguins whose penchant for wandering landed them in the North Pole, far from their Antarctic homeland. Santa, being Santa, quickly adopted them, and they have been having adventures ever since. Santa named this bird pair “Merry and Pippen,” after another pair of accidental adventurers.

surf penguin

Christmas Down Under

Over the past eight years, Merry and Pippen have joined Santa on his global trek and learned a lot about holiday traditions around the world. They’ve attended La Posada in Mexico, been frightened by Krampus in Germany, donned Santa Lucia’s crown of lights (with nearly disastrous results) in Scandinavia, delivered presents on January 15 in some parts of Russia, and enjoyed a sunny December “summer” on a beach in Sydney, Australia. Last year, they couldn’t resist visiting New Zealand, one of the first places to see Christmas Day each year, and have a holiday celebration in “The Shire.”

These letters have evolved a bit over the years. Santa soon realized writing in calligraphy was for the birds (no penguin pun intended), and his scrawl soon took on the curvy look of Father Christmas’. In 2009, the penguin pair received a special gift, a baby girl named Rosie (named for Samwise Gamgee’s “rustic” love). Who could have guessed Merry would turn out to be a female, and a fertile one at that? This was an interesting turn of events for the penguins, as that same year, Molly became a big sister. Since then, Santa’s letters have been addressed to both Molly and her little sister, Erin.

santa lucia penguin

Donning’ Santa Lucia’s crown

Of course, there are simple illustrations of the penguins’ yearly happenings, although not nearly as elaborate as the ones Tolkien’s kids were treated to. No matter, as the girls look forward to the arrival of these letters almost as much as the arrival of Christmas itself.

Who knows what quest lies ahead for Merry and Pippen this year?  Will they enjoy sweets with La Befana in Italy? Learn about Hanukkah in the Holy Land? Take a TARDIS to the birth of the Christ child (well, The Doctor did say he was there)? Maybe they will don a paper crown in the United Kingdom after popping some Christmas crackers. I guess the girls will have to wait and see, but the anticipation is just part of the fun.

posada penguins

Enjoying Posada in Latin America

The Twelve Whos of Christmas Cookie Craft: Reloaded

Twelve Whos

The Twelve Whos are ready for their favorite Time Lord…Santa!

Remember last year’s “Twelve Whos of Christmas” Cookie craft?

Well, now there’s actually Twelve “Whos” to work with this year as Eleven (Matt Smith) passes the torch…or screwdriver…to Twelve (Peter Capaldi) on Christmas Day.I’ve updated this fun holiday project via to include a guessing game for the Twelfth Doctor.
You can use the same templates from my original article here or see the updated version here.

Still not a Ginger, but a least he can be Gingerbread.

three 12s

Three Twelfth Doctors…three ideas. How do you think he’ll look?