Category Archives: Parenting

Now for Something Completely Different: My Teen Babysits??

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Meeting two of Monty Python’s founding fathers had been a dream of mine since I was a kid, but it wouldn’t have happened if I let my worries about allowing my teen to babysit get in the way.

 Post originally ran in GeekMom on Dec. 9, 2016.

I’ve been a mom for 14 years now.

I’ve comforted nightmares, patched bruises, and wiped noses. I’ve held hands during first steps, calmed fears of darkness and scary movies, and celebrated victories like riding a bike or swimming across a pool. There have been road trips, school pageants, and baptisms. We’ve faced funerals, playground politics, and family crises. I’ve even spent two horrifying sleepless nights in the hospital watching one child conquer pneumonia and bronchitis.

In the process, I’ve watched my oldest daughter, Molly, turn into a young, independent teen, and my youngest, Erin, become an active second grader.

One would think that, by this point, I would be pretty well versed in this whole “parenting” thing. I did too–until it was time to let one of them babysit the other.

The idea of leaving my “babies” home alone was a completely new concept to me. I grew up in a house with a live-in grandparent who watched us on the rare occasion my parents went out. My brother was seven years older than me—the same age difference between my own two children—but I don’t remember him being “in charge” without other adults around.

I had friends and classmates whose parents both worked long jobs, were divorced, or, in one case, were neglectfully absent due to substance abuse problems. To me being “home alone” without adult supervision seemed unfathomable.

As for my own kids, my parents watched my oldest until my mother passed away. My oldest was six then, and our youngest wasn’t born until a year later. Then, when we went out, one of my husband’s former students, whom we knew well, would watch then, as well as my father from time to time.

However, my husband reminded me when Molly turned 14 it was time to let her watch her little sister… on her own. Gulp!

When it was announced in May (the same month my daughter turned that fateful age) tickets were on sale to see two of the founders of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, John Cleese and Eric Idle, I immediately went online and purchased two of the best seats in the house. Then I crumbled slowly into a panic over the next seven months.

What had I done? How will my kids cope on their own? They argue constantly. The world is filled with creepy people in vans, rabid wolves, tornadoes, and earthquakes… and sharp corners.

One thing they never tell you when you become a mom is how violent your unnecessary premonitions become. What if she falls on scissors? What if they stand on the bathtub and fall? What if they see YouTube video on making Molotov cocktails… and try it in the kitchen near that gas stove?

My husband, Rick, who had “taken care of his little brother on his own” since he was ten, said I was being ridiculous. He had to “cook,” “clean,” “get him to bed,” “re-wire the house,” “build their own beds,” and blah, blah, blah.

Okay, okay, I get it. I’m over-reacting. I had to keep reminding myself that being able to see these two men is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me. The Pythons were like The Beatles to me. I’ve memorized their skits and movies and even made a Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch to celebrate the anniversary of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

They are both in their 70s, and there likely would be no more “live” Monty Python tours after this–definitely not with the whole crew. Graham Chapman is long passed on, and it was recently announced fellow Python Terry Jones was diagnosed with a progressive form of dementia. There are very few “celebrities” I would fangirl for, but the Pythons are at the top of that weird list.

However, every loving parent knows that “first times” are always terrifying. Whether it’s sending them off to pre-K, dropping them off for an overnight visit with family, handing them over the keys to the family car, or (gasp) leaving home for college.

As a result, an event I would otherwise have been talking about enthusiastically I hardly

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It took two of my favorite comics, a patient spouse, and a “security watch,” of all things, to make my first night leaving my teen in charge less nerve-wracking. Image: Rick Tate

mentioned the entire summer and following autumn. I didn’t help that I kept seeing Cleese’s constant lamenting about sluggish ticket sales in El Paso on his Twitter feed. This couldn’t be a good sign. Was it an omen? Maybe I should cancel.

When the day arrived, my father (our only local relative) was out-of-town, and I felt a bubble of eerie isolation surrounding the home. We ordered the girls a pizza, and my husband gave Molly my cheap flip phone so she could text him in an emergency.

This meant I was left without a phone, or more specifically, without a lifeline to the kids. What if I needed to call them? He assured me it would be fine. He didn’t want me constantly checking my phone, but I needed some sort of “date night” security blanket. In a rush, I grabbed an old fob watch and carried it with me. My only logic to this move was I could check to see how long we’d been away–as if there some statute of limitations to them being good. If we were gone longer than two hours, then all hell would break loose.

My perpetual trepidation was constantly in the foreground of my mind. When the ushers opened the main theatre, Rick sent a quick text to say the show is going to start soon and he was putting the phone on quiet mode. Molly texted back that everything was fine.

“For now,” I thought.

I kept running a little prayer in my head over and over, “please let them be okay,” although who was I kidding? It should have been “please let me be okay.” I wondered if there was a way I could hijack Rick’s phone on the way to the bathroom and zip a quick note to the girls.

No dice. It was firmly in his pocket, but at least I had my watch, and I knew the show was about to start at 8 p.m. When the little stage lights went on, and Cleese and Idle wandered on stage, I got a moment of giddiness… then checked the time. It was 8:04 p.m. Somehow this was comforting. Throughout the first half, where they talked about their histories, showed film clips, and read hilarious skits, I kept checking the watch as if it was somehow going to give me a magical glimpse of home.

Seriously, what was my problem? I had wanted to see these guys (even if it was just two of them) in person for more than 30 years. I needed to let go of my worries and enjoy myself. Yet, my mind kept wandering from the show to how my girls were doing at home, and by intermission I made Rick send a text. Actually, he was already doing it when I asked.

All calm back at the ranch, apparently. My husband asked if I was enjoying the show.

Of course I was, except for that part of my brain releasing that little medley of disaster scenarios.

I glanced at the watch, which had made a nice indention in the palm of my hand. Nine o’clock and the second half was about to start.

“They could easily go another hour,” my husband said happily.

I inhaled deeply. A lot could happen in one hour.

By the time the second half of the show began, something very strange started happening. I slowly “forgot” to worry and begin really enjoying myself. I laughed more genuinely at these men’s re-enacting of favorite sketches and film clips of iconic scenes from The Holy Grail and Life of Brian.

 “We dine well here in Camelot
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot!!!

Even through my worries were easing, the girls were still floating around in my head, although not so much near the front. I had remembered I wanted to show Molly Holy Grail but not Brian quite yet. Wait a few years on that one.

By now I was having such a good time, I had even neglected to grip the fob watch, and the mark on my hand had disappeared. The show ended with Idle leading an enthusiastic audience in “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” and we all stood up and sang along:

“You’ll see it’s all a show,
Keep ’em laughing as you go.
Just remember that the last laugh is on you!”

After the show, we waited a few moments for the crowd to thin out, then headed quickly out of the theatre. I couldn’t wait to get home to my children. Parked in front of the entrance was a large, white limo with a few hopeful fans lingering around it. We ignored it. Had to get home to the girls. Probably a “decoy,” anyway.

We were parked on the other side of the building, and I found myself speedily walking around the back to get to the car. As we passed the “backstage” door, we saw a small gathering of people.

Not massive but big enough to be suspect. Then I noticed Cleese’s head looming over the rest of the crowd. At that moment, I did something “awful.” I forgot who I was, for a bit… at least in terms of being a parent. I grabbed my nice little leaflet with the caricature of the two Pythons and made my way into the crowd. Idle was also hidden in the midst of them. I managed to meet him first and thanked him for being such a big part of my growing up (at least that’s what I hope I said; no telling what actually came out of my mouth). He signed my leaflet, and I managed to make my way to Cleese and tell him similarly as he added his signature to the paper. I had just met two of my comedy heroes, and I was practically skipping back to the car.

I was coming down from my middle-aged fangirling when a sudden wave of panic hit me: I had let my guard down and not thought of my children for a few moments. What kind of parent was I?

Then my husband sent one last text to Molly before driving home and got that familiar “bleep” back with a note saying all was well and “see you soon.” My nerves suddenly calmed. Yes, all was well.

It is right for parents to worry about their children’s well-being, but I had been clinging so desperately to the torturous visions of my own over-protective mind that I never realized part of their “well-being” was to learn self-reliance and independence.

Molly needed to take on the responsibility of caring for her little sister. As a result, she began looking at little sister as less of an “annoyance” and more as an actual person. This was, like her, a very special, precious thing to her parents. She was going to do the best job she could to keep her safe.

Erin also needed to realize, even when her parents were away, they still love her. She needed to know she could rely on her big sister and to not be afraid to have us out of her sight.

My lesson was the hardest.

I needed to know I could trust them. I had to trust my teen to do what’s best in the case of emergency and to know we now see her as a responsible, smart, and resourceful young woman. I had to trust my youngest to follow instructions, get herself ready for bed, and to take on more small chores of her own.

I had to trust they would be okay and that being away from Mom and Dad for an evening wasn’t going to cause any permanent trauma… to me.

When we got home, Erin was already in her pajamas, but she had waited up for us so she could hug us goodnight. The house was clean, the pets were alive, there were no signs of flooding, smoke damage, or any of the other Biblical-level plagues I had concocted happening in my mind.

They were happy. They were unhurt. They were… just fine.

“Mom, I missed you,” Erin announced, running up to hug us as we entered the house. “We had a fun time.”

At that point, my guilt for “abandoning” my kids had vanished, and it was replaced with relief we all made it through the night… but even more with pride in my children.

Then, before heading to bed, she asked, “When can Molly watch me again?”

The next day, we bought tickets to a show the following month.

DIY: Great Gatsby Era Dalek Dress

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Image: Lisa Tate

Here’s a little Dalek dress costume that might fit in just as well as at an art deco Great Gatsby-esque Roarin’ Twenties party as it would at any Doctor Who fan event or comic con.

The Headpiece:

1. Find a dark brown or black knit cap at any accessory, clothes or craft store.

2. Sew on one large blue jewel button in front for the Dalek’s eye and tear-shaped clear baubles for the lights.

The Dress:

3. Find a simple, plain cotton tank dress in tan or light brown. Can’t find the right color, “tea dye” a white dress by letting is soak one or two nights in a container of tea (use a black tea, not green).

4. Sew 32 bronze, gold or copper-colored buttons evenly over the lower half of the dress for the Dalek’s globes. Space them evenly, four across and four high (16 each on front and back).

5. For the top half, (or Dalek’s “main chamber”), securely sew three ¾ inch black satin ribbons, parallel from each other, around the dress.  To get the look of a Dalek, gently cut two sets of slits the width of the ribbon on both the front and the back of the dress. Lace the ribbon through and make sure to sew these slits securely to prevent the ribbon from catching or the dress to tear more.

6. Add a ruffle around the skirt’s hem with a large satin or mesh ribbon (about four inches in width) for the Dalek’s bumper or “motive power system.”

The “Arm” Wands:

7. For a basic “sucker arm” make a cone out of black felt with a small hole in the center and place it at the end of a chopstick or dowel. Cover the chopstick with black ribbon or electric tape. Make it fancy or “wand-like” by adding ribbon, mesh or glitter.

8. For a basic “gun arm,” cover a dowel or chopstick with silver ribbon, and cut eight to 10 pieces of sturdy silver craft or floral wire about ¾ the length of the arm. Carefully use a glue gun to secure the ends around the chopstick, and carefully bend the wire out so it resembles a whisk or mixer beater (for a lazy method, either of these kitchen items can be used in lieu of making a gun). Secure the bottom ends of the wire around the dowel with glue gun, and cover both the top and bottom ends of the wires with more ribbon. Like the sucker arm, these can be embellished with ribbon, silver pipe cleaners, cheap rhinestone costume buttons or other items.

Now, wear it with pride. Extermination never looked so stylish and cute.

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Classical Music for Science Lovers

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Post originally ran in GeekMom on April 16, 2016:

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Albert Einstein and Alexander Borodin knew the importance of being inspired by both music and science. All images by Lisa Kay Tate.

In 1991, I had just graduated with a bachelor’s in Animal Science, and was cleaning out stalls for an area veterinarian in the mornings, waiting tables at a comedy club most nights, and working as an overnight disc jockey on the odd weekend.

I hadn’t yet decided to go on to graduate school, and was, at least for that summer and one semester to follow, lacking a “calling.”

I only knew I wanted to continue with a higher “fallback” degree in some type of animal or biology-related science, but try to pursue a career in the arts or journalism. When I continued with my Master of Science, I joined the campus radio station, newspaper, dabbled in radio theatre, and even joined the local “contemporary stage band” my final semester. I loved the sciences, but was more in tune to the arts. The disciplines of science and music, in my mind, worked well together.

Of course, this lofty and slightly off-center opinion was met with equal sneers from my fellow science majors and extracurricular arts participants, but is it really such a weird marriage?

Think about it. The innovation of various sciences can be a beautiful art form, and there is an almost mathematical science to composing a musical masterpiece.

I was really thinking about this in 1991, when I ran across a CD by a classical pianist named Richard Kastle. He played straightforward classical standards, but his gimmick was his Harley-riding punker look.

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Present day composer Richard Kastle was inspired by an image from the news, but he isn’t the first to create music based on the animal world.

The label bore the warning: “Parental Advisory: This album contains classical music, no lyrics whatsoever.” I liked that, and I purchased the CD.

This punk-meets-classical angle gained him some good attention over the next few months, and while some found him original and refreshing, others found him to be a hack. I’ll leave that decision to the individual listener, but there was one thing about Kastle’s CD, Streetwise, that I really found intriguing: an original piano piece called “Batcave at Dusk.”

In his liner notes, Kastle explained Nineteenth Century composers often wrote music inspired by paintings, a practice called “impressionism.” “Batcave at Dusk” was inspired by a news story, in what Kastle called “video impressionism.”

“I saw a news program in which the reporter interviewed a guest who had taken a video camera into a batcave in South America,” Kastle wrote. “The footage inspired me to compose a piece about bats in their environment.”

This stuck with me, because it combined my own fascination with animals with my life-long love of music.

If I had heard this song when I was a kid, I might have been more serious about my musical training, and be more of a refined guitar player rather than the mediocre enthusiast I am today. However, this classical soundtrack helped me remain in the animal-related science towards an advanced degree. In short, it worked. Science and music worked together to helped me towards a goal.

I’ve since learned this mix of science and classical music is nothing new. Many of the great composers were influenced by the sciences, and some of the world’s greatest scientific minds were influenced by classical music.

In order to help young scientific (or musically) inclined minds blend these two worlds, I’ve “curated” a very basic and short classical music soundtrack for both young scientists and budding audiophiles.

Physics:Sonata for violin and piano in G major, K.301” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1778)

The world’s most famous theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, was a music lover and amateur musician. He traveled everywhere with his violin (he called “Lina”), and even performed some benefit concerts. Reviews of his musical talent were mixed at best, but he often cited Mozart as an influence and inspiration, his musical harmony mirroring Einstein’s own work in understanding the physical nature of reality.

“Life without playing music is inconceivable for me,” Einstein once said, according to an article in the educational site Open Culture. “I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.”

He loved violin sonatas, and admired Beethoven and Bach, in addition to Mozart. Apparently, however, he wasn’t too crazy about Debussy or Wagner.

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“The Planets” by Gustav Holst looked more at the emotional appeal of planets than their physical properties, but that doesn’t mean this work can’t inspire budding astronomers to look towards the skies.

Astrophysics: “The Planets” by Gustav Holst (1914-1916)

In “Los Planetas,” Holst explored seven extraterrestrial planets of the Solar System–before Pluto was discovered, then demoted–and gave each planet it’s own movement and personality. Mars was the warrior, and Venus the peacemaker. Mercury was the winged messenger, Uranus a magician, and so on. Holst wanted to convey each planet’s emotional appeal, rather than just the Roman deities for which they were named. Holst’s work was influenced more on astrology that actual astronomy, and but that doesn’t make the allure of wanting to travel beyond the stars, and learning more about them, any less powerful.

A fun video interpretation of this piece was done by children’s show hosts Dick and Dom of CBBC fame for the U.K. educational music program, Ten Pieces. A link the video can be found on my GeekMom post about Ten Pieces and its secondary grade counterpart, Ten Pieces II.

Ecology: Symphony No. 6 by Ludwig Van Beethoven (1808)

Beethoven lived in the “big city” of Vienna, but often got away from it all by taking countryside strolls and retreating to rural workspaces. He loved the natural world around him, from the meadows and streams to the changing of the weather and the time of day. This was his inspiration of his Symphony No. 6, more commonly known as the “Pastorale,” the Pastoral Symphony. Consisting of five movements, this piece travels through a day in the country, starting with an Awakening of early morning, a Scene by the brook, and a happy gathering of country people. It later takes a darker tone as a thunderstorm rolls in, but concludes with the peaceful “after the storm” feeling and Shepherd’s Song. Not only did Beethoven use instruments to depict natural sounds of water, rain, and wind (or “storm instruments”), but also for regional animals, especially birds.

Now, here’s the test for true music and nature lovers: try to listen to this piece without picturing Walt Disney’s mythical interpretation from his 1939 film, Fantasia.

Pathology:Grande Messe Des Morts (Requiem)” Op.5 by Hector Berlioz (1837)

This piece was commissioned by the Minister of the Interior of France to remember soldiers of the Revolution of July 1830, but it wasn’t completed for seven more years. Sure, many composers have a Requiem to their credit, but there’s one thing about Berlioz’s piece young medical minds might find interesting, including those wanting to be part of the world of forensic pathology. Berlioz studied medicine. Well, at least for a short time. Despite writing small musical pieces as early as 12, his parents sent him to Paris after high school to begin his studies in medicine. He had no interest in practicing it and was disgusted by human corpses, much less having to see them dissected. Three years later, he went against his parents’ wishes and concentrated on music. His Requiem is one of his most famous works, despite his distaste in the subject of corpses, and he even revised it two times, the second only a couple of years before his own death. I guess that’s what we call ironic.

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Berlioz didn’t like to deal with cadavers. Even so, one of his most famous pieces is a Death-Mass.

Zoology: “The Carnival of the Animals” by Camile Saint-Saëns (1886)

This is the most obvious of selections, but would be a shame to leave it out. Animals and nature influenced so many writers, artists, and composers (and still do today), but there is no piece so perfect for animal lovers of all ages than a 25-minute work that incorporates and entire zoo’s worth of animals, from mammals (wild asses, lions, elephants, and kangaroos), reptiles such as tortoises, an aquarium’s worth of fish, and fowl swans, hens and roosters, cuckoos, and an aviary, not to mention pianists. There was also a movement on fossils that could easily make paleontologists happy. Saint-Saëns wrote this piece after a less-than-successful concert tour, and had so much fun doing it he put off working on his Third Symphony. He gave a couple of private performances of the work, but he made sure it wasn’t published until after his death, so he could maintain a reputation of a “serious composer.” He died in 1921, and first public performance of the piece was in 1922. Serious composer or not, “Carnival of the Animals” is one of it’s one of Saint-Saëns most famous pieces, and music teachers–and kids–love it.

Meteorology:The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi (1725) This is four-part violin

This four-part violin concerti is known as a “le quattro stagioni.” Each of the four parts, of course, represents a different season of the year, and is actually associated with a larger work called “The Contest Between Harmony and Invention.” I debated choosing a less obvious selection for this field. Charles Giffes’s “Clouds” is also a good choice for weather-related music. However, “The Four Seasons” is a more complete all-weather, year-round piece. Plus, there’s an amazing variation on it, the “New Four Seasons,” by another punk-meets-classical performer, violinist and violist Nigel Kennedy. This one definitely worth picking up.

Chemistry:Polovtsian Dances” by Alexander Borodin (1890)

At first glance, one would think I chose this selection because it is part of the opera Prince Igor, which immediately conjures images of a mad scientist’s in the lab. Not even close. I chose a piece by the Russian composer Borodin because Borodin was a chemist and a doctor. Despite being known for his symphonies, operas, and other works, including the popular “In The Steppes of Central Asia,” music was only his secondary career. He was first and foremost a chemist and physician. He is credited as one of the discoverers of the Aldol reaction, he spent a year as a surgeon in a military hospital, and lectured extensively. As an advocate for women’s rights, he helped establish medical courses for women in the 1870s in St. Petersburg.

Unfortunately, his own knowledge in medicine couldn’t help him, as he died of a heart attack at age 53 while attending a ball. Even so, Borodin is a true example that one can become proficient in both science and music.

I hope this list will encourage others to look for new ways to combine musical note-making with scientific note-taking, because there is one beautiful thing the marriage of these two disciplines will always spawn: imagination.

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Natural elements and phenomena have always inspired composers, including Beethoven and Vivaldi.

Cooking with the Kitchen Overlord: A Parent/Kid Whovian Food Review

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Originally ran May 30, 2015:

Images: Lisa Kay Tate

I recently had the privilege of talking with Kitchen Overload creator Chris-Rachael Oseland about her work on a “Regenerated” edition of her popular Dining with the Doctor unofficial Doctor Who cookbook for GeekMom.

The book, funded with the help of a Kickstarter campaign through June 2, will offer more than 140 Whovian recipes, including 60 from the original cookbook and more than 60 new recipes, high-quality photography, interior artwork by Tom Gordon (illustrator for Oseland’s Kitchen Overlord’s Illustrated Geek Cookbook), bonus chapters for cocktails and Fish Fingers and Custard, and an updated index with dietary restrictions.

“Dining With the Doctor: Regenerated is going to be a brick of a book because I’m including a recipe and mini recap for every episode of series 1-8. So if you’re into NuWho (the 2005 reboot onwards) I’ve totally got you covered,” Oseland said.

Oseland also shared a few favorite Whovian recipes for myself and my family to try out, and the Minion Feeding 101 clan was more than anxious get started.

We had been familiar with Kitchen Overlord for sometime, and even used The Doctor’s Yorkshire Pudding recipe during Christmas dinner. This was the first time, however, the girls took on the task of creating a recipe themselves.

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Five-year-old Erin took her job of creating Zygon French Bread Pizza Heads very seriously. That didn’t mean she couldn’t sneak a few mini-pepperonis.

The first recipe we attempted was the Zygon French Bread Pizza Heads. This was the easiest of the three, and the best suited for my youngest daughter, Erin, a recent Kindergarten “graduate.” My only part in the process was slicing the bread and peppers, and adding the “nostrils” afterwards. Erin adeptly arranged the Zygon heads, and followed the recipe perfectly with the cheese, pepperoni and roasted pepper placement. She was extremely thrilled at these coming out looking close to the ones in the official recipe, and couldn’t have been happier if she’d made a perfect soufflé.

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My awkward little eggs, compared to the official image from Oseland’s beautifully crafted recipe. They were, however, still extremely nummy.

I tried the Deviled Ood With Horseradish and Bacon myself, primarily because it allowed me to face long-time culinary fear — hard boiling eggs. I’ve been able to get away with shoddy boiling jobs during the annual Easter egg hunts, but I really wanted to get this one right. The filler mix was easy enough, and temptingly good. If I didn’t want to go Whovian, I would have just mixed the egg whites, bacon, cucumber and basil in with it to make a sandwich spread…which I may do in the future, because it IS that good.

Now here’s the embarrassing part….of the three recipes Oseland suggested, it was the “grown up” who messed hers up the most. Despite thinking I have followed every “how to boil an egg” instruction to the letter, my poor Oods’ heads looked like they were still waiting for their skin to clear up after those awkward teen years.

I also didn’t realize until after they were half-consumed how squishy I had their heads, so they weren’t only battling a skin condition, they were getting over that adolescent Ood baby fat. Poor things. Despite this, they were still presentable, and very edible.

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Molly, now 14, spent her last day as a 12-year-old perfecting the art of dough-making…with a little help from official “glaze-master” and companion, Erin.

My oldest daughter, Molly, wanted to do the Pull Apart Bow Tie Rolls, because the little scientist in her wanted to see the process of making dough from scratch. She also confirmed, of course, that “bow ties are cool.” I was at first worried about her attention span in making the bread, but creating dough by scratch worked perfect for the tween. She got to take an hour break, to play on her “three Ps,” Pinterest, Polyvore, and Pottermore,” before getting to punch a big wad of dough. The assembling of the bow ties was also great fun for her, and they looked really good.

They turned out really nice, and the consistency and taste of the bread was wonderful. We saved them, and had them for her birthday breakfast with tea the next morning. And, she made them, all by herself…almost. Little sister insisted on helping so much, we designated her official glaze-master. She handled the task like a true companion. Better, actually (we don’t always have the highest confidence in the Doctor’s people collection).

This one turned out to be our favorite recipe of the three, and we plan on making this one again soon.

Once we successfully created all three recipes, my girls offered their official on-the-record opinions:

“The recipe was fun to make, and it was really, really easy. I thought the dough would be hard to make, but it wasn’t at all. I was very happy with the way they came out. It was delicious. My favorite thing about making it was eating it!”

— Molly, age 12

“I thought these pizzas were really tasty. I really liked putting the cheese on them the most, but I also liked eating the pepperoni when we were putting them on the heads.”

— Erin, age 5 (who I estimate consumed a good two Zygons worth of mini-pepperoni pieces)

The final consensus from all of us was the recipes were simple, but not “simplistic.” There was actually something to them, not just a configuration of prepackaged foods made to resemble a pop culture character. The only one to actually come close to this description was the pizza bread, but that was a perfect fit for the busy hands and easily-distracted mind of an active five-year-old.

As for my older daughter, the bow ties were easy enough to not get discouraged, but involved enough to not be bored. Plus, you can never go wrong with “The Doctor” in our household. Most importantly, though, everything we made was genuinely yummy. Everyone in the family enjoyed all three recipes. Cooking and baking are fun, but what good is a recipe if you can’t have just as much fun consuming it?

Other books by Chris-Rachael Oseland we recommend. These aren’t “kids” cookbooks either, but recipes that are just fun to make and eat for geeks of all fandoms.

Other books by Chris-Rachael Oseland we recommend. These aren’t “kids” cookbooks either, but recipes that are just fun to make and eat for geeks of all fandoms.

The entire Minion Feeding 101 wholeheartedly recommends cooks of all ages and levels check out Oseland’s books and website to find a fandom befitting their culinary and pop culture tastes.

We’re looking forward to picking up a copy of her “Dining With the Doctor: Regenerated Edition” next year, as well as “going on an adventure” with another favorite of ours, Bilbo Baggins and crew with An Unexpected Cookbook: The Unofficial Book of Hobbit Cookery.

One of the best ways to maximize that important dinner-table family time is to get my girls in the kitchen beforehand taking part of the process. These were a perfect excuse to get them laughing together, talking about their day, arguing over who the best “Doctor,” is and just enjoying each others’ company. This isn’t easy with two strong-willed kids separated by seven years.

Being able to compare the results of their labor, and be proud of learning something new  and showing it off to Dad, Mom and Grandpa was a positive as well. Plus, this gave them a huge pool of ideas for parties, summer projects and other boredom killers.

When else can you get to hear at the dinner table, “can I have another Zygon?”

Find more great recipe, tips and product reviews on Oseland’s Kitchen Overlord website, or pick up her books online at Amazon.

Read the entire interview with Oseland at GeekMom.

— Lisa Kay Tate

We Are The Music Makers with “Compose Yourself”

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Originally published in Minion Feeding 101, November 14, 2015

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ThinkFun’s Compose Yourself is a simple set of music cards that contains a world of imagination for budding composers of all ages.

“We are the Music Makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

These opening lines of the Arthur O’Shaughnessy, poem “Ode,” were the first thing that popped into my head when I saw the title card for ThinkFun’s musical learning product, Compose Yourself.

The cards were created by celebrated maestro, composer and cellist Philip Sheppard, who said he created the product with one goal in mind:

“This is a labour of love aimed at one single, simple point; that is to enable a child to feel (with goosebumps) that a bar of music can have the potential of a Lego block,” he said.

This is a very simple premise that opens up a vast pool of creativity. The product itself consists only of 60 transparent note cards, a simple instruction booklet, and a pull-string carrying bag. The entire thing is contained in a box small enough to be a stocking stuffer, but the worlds of musical inspiration it opens up are outstanding.

Plus, it is overwhelmingly easy to use.

The title card contains a code to log into and register on the Compose Yourself sit. Using the cards, users can put together a musical composition. Each card has four ways its notes can be played, with a coinciding number designation for each note pattern. Once at least four cards are plugged in (although the piece can be longer), it can be played back with marimba style, orchestra, or a combination of both sounds. The composer can then go back, add, or change cards, move them around and refine the piece.

Once completed, they can name their piece, print out the sheet music so they can play it offline, share it via email and social media, and (if using a desktop computer) download an MP3. The cards work with both desktop and tablet devices, but not with mobile phones.

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Erin, 6, took her music choices very seriously.

Sheppard described one of his own struggles working on a particular piece as a reason for creating these cards.

“(Late) one night, I was working on some music for a film and I was stuck,” he said. “I thought to myself, what would Bach or Mozart do? Well, they would take a few notes and turn them upside down or backwards until their musical lines danced across the page, through an orchestra right into your heart and soul.”

He then found a piece of transparent paper on his desk and tried this idea out. By being able to physically flip these notes around so quickly, he ended up writing three pieces that night. And so, the seeds of Compose Yourself were planted.

My biggest complaint with this product is that it didn’t come around sooner.

When my oldest was in fifth grade, she was active in both choir and her beginner guitar club at school. Unfortunately, her experience in music class was so frustrating it nearly poisoned her love of music. There was nothing wrong with the instructor (who was also her guitar and choir teacher), but this particular year was the dreaded “Recorder Class.” This simple plastic woodwind-meets-whistle has been the way music teachers have taught beginning music concepts for ages. Somehow, my daughter just couldn’t master even the simplest song on it.

Whether she couldn’t synchronize her fingers with the right holes, or whether the sound just didn’t move her, she became more and more bitter (and at times downright angry) with the instrument. She did learn enough to earn a good grade at the end of the year, but grew to hate the instrument so much when her class performed a end-of-the-year recorder concert, she found me in the audience as her class filed back out of the “cafetorium,” deliberately got out of her line to approach me, and defiantly planted the recorder in my lap.

“There! I’m done,” she said, as she hurried back in line, relieved to be rid of her musical bane.

What if, just what if, I had said, “Why not write your own piece to practice with; one the shows your frustration with this instrument?”

She would have loved that, I think.

Having access to Compose Yourself might have been a simple way to do this, making the experience so much better.

To find out how much this product would inspire, I had both my daughters (and myself) create some personal compositions. The outcomes, not to mention the reactions from my girls, were much more impressive than I would have thought.

My youngest, 6-year-old Erin, tried first.

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Molly, 13, loved being able to save her composition as an MP3.

Using an iPad, we sat at the kitchen table while she insisted on putting together a song without our suggestions. Her face upon first seeing her result was priceless, and she named her piece “Angel Songs” because they “sounded like angels,” and she liked hearing it in both the Marimba and Orchestra/Marimba combined versions.

“I felt is was neat that I got to hear my song, and I want to listen to it everyday,” Erin told me. “I like having the printed paper that has the musical notes. That was really cool.”

She told me she wanted to share her song with her choir teacher in church (a member of the local symphony orchestra), so he can play it for her on his guitar.

“I love my song,” she said. “It sounds like an angel playing an angel song and drum, and I want to play with (the music cards) for a long time.”

Since using a tablet devise prevented her from being able to create an MP3, she really wanted to make sure she was able to save her song later using a desktop. I told her when she finishes her homework each day, she can create a new piece. Being able use something educational as an incentive for taking her school work seriously is appreciated.

Listen to Erin’s “Angel Songs” here.

My 13-year-old (and former recorder curmudgeon), Molly, used the desktop computer to create her piece. The age 13 is a tough one when it comes to getting them excited about something, but she really wanted to try this product. After kicking little sister out of the office so she could concentrate, she composed a piece she called “Into The Garden.”

She said this piece was “really fun to create and compose.”

“You can create up to four lines with your own music,” Molly said. “It can help teach people to write and compose their own music. It can also help to calm down and relieve stress. I thought that it was a good idea for teachers to try out in a class for a lesson or anything related to this subject.”

One of her favorite things, was being able to create an MP3, and putting it on her iTunes list among some of her favorite artists. In the days of digital downloads, this made her feel she was a worthy musician. I was happy to see her love for making music was still intact.

Listen to Molly’s “Into The Garden” here.

Finally, I had to try this myself, and created a song for (and about) my young composers: “Two Daughters.”

I won’t go into to too much “composer notes” details, but this piece takes me through a day of being woken up by the over-enthusiastic six-year-old, the sluggish awakening of the young teen, the manic mornings, sibling bickering and laughter, and the calm-downtime at the end of the day. One thing I wanted to work with was repeating certain note patterns to hold it together. Not too bad for my first digi-composing attempt.

Listen to my “Two Daughters” here.

I will say this: the game suggests age 6 and older, but adults will find it addictive as well. This was a very relaxing and fun process, and one which will be repeated often by my family.

ThinkFun’s Compose Yourself retails for $19.99, but is available on Amazon for $14.99. Visit ThinkFun.com to learn more about this and other games and products.

Molly, 13, loved being able to save her composition as an MP3.

The first three installments in our “TVW,” aka the Tate Works Catalogue. Being able to print out sheet music for use with multiple instruments is one of the great features of Compose Yourself.

— Story and Images by Lisa Kay Tate
— Music composed by Erin, Molly and Lisa Tate.