Geek Fuel Unboxing – January 2017 (SOOOO LATE!)

I used to do a lot of apologizing about late subscription box openings, but I refuse to apologize for this one! (Although it is going up on the blog even later than…you know what? Just shush.) We were quite certain upon opening that this was February’s Geek Fuel, but it turned out to just be an extraordinarily late January box. Fancy that. But did we enjoy it regardless? Watch the video to find out!

Glorious Gifts

Memoir MondaysRecently I was telling a coworker about my daughter’s special Rocket Raccoon stuffy from Santa and how much she loves it. That got us talking about some of the best presents we’d ever received in our childhood. One of the top ones, which I’ve mentioned before, was when my parents managed to track down a used copy of Final Fantasy III/VI for the Super Nintendo. I nearly lost my mind over that one, but of course there were plenty of other memorable ones.

  • When my cousins and I “graduated” from kindergarten (pre-school, to some of you), our teachers put together this cardboard-and-construction-paper wishing well for us to toss pennies into. I got a coin from my parents and tossed it in while wishing aloud for a teddy bear. This must have been quite amusing to my parents because, lo and behold, when we got home they had a teddy bear waiting for me. With good nature they insisted that the wishing well must have sent it, and my believe in magic was rock solid for months, at least.
  • When I was around the same age, some family friends gave me my first ever Play Doh set, the Fuzzy Pumper Barber Shop. My mom had to grit her teeth at the gift because we had lots of carpet at the time (and if you don’t understand the issue you obviously have never watched a young child play with Play Doh) but I was ecstatic. That play set was the bomb, and I maintain to this day that it was the best Play Doh play set ever.
  • Someone, at some point (my memory is actually quite fuzzy on this one), gifted me with a large make-up pallet. It was full of lip gloss, eye shadow, and blush in bright, vibrant colors, and was probably meant to be marketed to teenagers, but I got it when I was around ten. I looked like a complete doofus whenever I tried to apply anything and I totally embarrassed myself by going to school with a bunch of it on one day, but I had a blast screwing around with it until the whole case was empty.
  • When the Nintendo 64 console came out I was a loyal subscriber to Nintendo Power magazine. I was always reading the articles about the new system and gushing about how amazing the “3D” graphics looked. Fast forward to grading day. My parents handed me a tell-tale rectangular box and I thought, “Yay! A new game for my SNES!” But when I ripped off the wrapping it turned out to be “Shadows of the Empire” for the N64. Knowing that my parents weren’t exactly geniuses when it came to video games (my mother called the games “movies”) I assumed they’d messed up and told them so. Then my father pulled an N64 box from behind the wall. I was never so happy to have been mercilessly fooled by my parents.
  • When I was younger (say, 8-ish), it was actually pretty difficult to find video games. We only had so many stores that sold them, and they generally only carried so many. So whenever we’d travel to the bigger city where my aunt and uncle lived it was an opportunity to look for a new game. During one such trip we were walking through Toys R Us when my father noticed that a new game called Mario Paint was on sale. I had no idea what the game was (this was before my Nintendo Power subscription and long before we had internet), but when my father asked if I wanted to get it I happily said yes. It turned out to be absolute loads of fun. My cousins and I played it for hours, and it was the kind of game that I would keep coming back to month after month after month.

I was a lucky kid for sure, to regularly receive so many fun and memorable presents…some of the things I mentioned I even still have today! I hope that someday my daughter will be able to look back on her childhood and remember some of her favorite gifts…perhaps even a particularly special little stuffed raccoon…

The Funko Pop! TAG!

I’m a big believer in allowing yourself to enjoy the things you love, regardless of outward influence. Such an attitude is more difficult to cling to when you’re, say, a teenager, because at that age it seems like no matter what you do or say there’s someone waiting in the wings to torment you about it. But as an adult I’ve settled into myself and come to know that it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about how you spend your time and money; as long as you’re enjoying yourself (and, obviously, not hurting anybody).

That’s why, much to the eye-rolling disbelief of plenty of the older generation of family members, my husband and I have become collectors of the nerdy variety. We love figures, sculptures, posters, comics, toys, and collectibles, and in recent years have amassed a nice little hoard with which to decorate our still-in-progress Nerd Basement.

Amongst the collectibles that have been piling up in our house is my rapidly-growing-out-of-control Funko Pop! collection. I’ve shared my hauls here before, including the ENORMOUS one that was a result of my husband getting out of hand with last year’s Christmas gift. I just love the little guys to death, and there are so many of them in so many awesome fandoms that it becomes impossible to stop getting them.

Because of my obsession fondness, a while back I was approached by fellow YouTuber, The Lawn Gnome, about participating in his upcoming Funko Pop! TAG. I was more than happy to comply, and recently I finally got around to actually filming the video. So if you’re curious as to which Pops are my favorites, which ones I’m looking forward to, or how I got into Pops in the first place, feel free to have a look!

What’s your opinion of Funko Pops? Do you collect them? Which are your favorites? Which ones are you just dying to get? Please share!

The Little Things in Life

No one who knows my husband and I personally would dare disagree with the statement that we go a little insane at Christmas. We’re not crazy people with endless disposable income – it’s just that we don’t spend a lot of money throughout the year. Our hobbies are cheap ones (he mostly just plays video games, and I’m happy to write on my slowly-dying laptop), and we make a point of trying not to buy our daughter things regularly because we don’t want her to be one of those kids who thinks she can have anything she likes every time we go to the mall.

But at Christmas? Oh, we totally lose our minds at Christmas. It was bad enough when it was just the two of us buying each other geeky collectibles by the truckload, but the past few years we’ve had a kid to deal with as well and the resulting Christmas-tree explosion is a completely ridiculous testament to our mental states.

And I won’t say that the daughter doesn’t enjoy it, because what kid wouldn’t enjoy a mound of presents to open all at once? However, as usual, our adorable little mini-me shows us that quantity is not necessarily the be all and end all.


That little critter in her arms right there is a stuffed Rocket Raccoon. My daughter asked Santa (several times and through several different methods and mediums) for a Rocket Raccoon for Christmas this year, and so when she woke up on Christmas morning this little critter was sitting, unwrapped, at the front of the present pile with a little pink bow on his head. And you know what? She’s hardly let go of him since then.

I’m not saying that she ignored her other presents. Hell no. She loves the superhero action figures that she got, has been rocking out on the Barbie guitar that great-nana gave her, and I’m pretty sure she’d play Disney Infinity all day until bedtime if we allowed her… But this little Rocket Raccoon toy – this little stuffed dude who doesn’t do anything other than be hugged with a grumpy look on his face – has barely left her sight for the past week. She’s been sleeping with him cuddled into her arms every night, and he didn’t leave her hand the entire day when we went out shopping for Boxing Week sales. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that someone had super-glued him to her hand.

And you know what? There’s a lesson in there somewhere. Kids (and adults) these days are surrounded by technology, thousands of channels, hundreds of thousands of options, everything bigger and better and flashier and more expensive. And yet a kid’s favorite toy can still be a little plush that does absolutely nothing. It doesn’t play games, it doesn’t talk, it doesn’t move at all. And yet it’s exciting to her to be able to take him to the grocery store and buckle him in to the seat in the cart next to her. That’s pretty amazing, and something we should all probably think about emulating. Because toys (whether they be actual toys, appliances, electronics, or whatever else) don’t have to be the biggest, brightest, noisiest model with the most possible options to still be fun and enjoyable and make a person happy.

What were your favorite toys as a kid? Were they the simple ones or the complex ones? What about as an adult? Do you have to upgrade to the newest cellphone the second it comes out? Or are you the kind of person who is happy to snuggle up and enjoy an old movie favorite? Do you enjoy the simple things in life, or are you all about the complexity? Please share!

Tracey’s Gift-Giving Guide: Part 4 – MORE TOYS!

Battle-Shell Ninja Turtles

Do you have a Ninja Turtle fan on your list? Check out these awesome action figures of the Nickelodeon iteration. These four “battle shell” turtles are larger than your average figure, standing about 11 inches high, and come with weapons that fit snugly into a compartment behind each turtle’s shell. They’re perfect for a fan of the Turtles, and since my wonderfully rough-and-tumble niece has a couple of her own I can assure you that they are kid-resistant. A wonderful choice at approximately $30 each. 

Talking Sophia the First

My daughter very recently fell in love with Sophia the First, an amazing little show on Disney Junior that follows a young peasant girl who suddenly becomes a princess overnight when her mother marries the king. Toys for the show have just begun to explode this year, and this 10-inch doll is one of my absolute favorites. Pressing Sophia’s magical amulet makes her share one of dozens of phrases, and when you bring one of her three animal friends close to her amulet the two will “talk” to one another. It’s a sweet toy, especially for a lover of the show. A bit of advice: shop around for this one. I’ve seen it as low as $30 and as high as $45 depending on where you go.

Collector Series Exclusive Nightmare Moon

If you’re someone who has been paying any attention at all to this blog, you know that my daughter loves My Little Pony, so I consider myself something of an authority. That said, this Toys R Us exclusive Nightmare Moon would be an excellent addition to the collection of any lover of the show, or ponies in general. This large figure of the series’ premier villain talks, and her wings move and light up when you press the button on her “cutie mark”. She comes with a comb and four barrettes (of course) with which to style her mane and tail. This toy is an exclusive item that can only be purchased at Toys R Us, and is also part of a collector’s series that probably won’t be around forever, so if you want to get your little pony-lover something special, this just could be it. The regular price for this talking, light-up figure is about $25.

LeapPad Ultra

If you’re looking to spend a little bit of money on something fun and durable that is also an excellent learning tool, I present to you one of the biggest toys this holiday season: the LeapPad Ultra. I have to admit that I haven’t yet seen one of these in action, but I’ve read so many good reviews that I feel I can still tote it as an excellent gift option. The latest in a line of “kid tablets”, the Ultra is the largest and most durable version of LeapPad to come out. It brags excellent specs, a 7 inch screen, 8 gigs of storage space, and front-and-rear-facing 2 megapixel cameras. Unlike previous versions, this one is wi-fi capable, and incorporates a child-safe web-browser that only allows the user to access pre-approved sites (the PBS website is an example of an approved site). This model also has a built-in rechargeable battery – unlike previous models – which is gold considering how a child can chew through batteries on a toy like this. The game/book/app library is huge, and includes plenty of options for kids ages 3 through 9. If your little one is as ingrained in technology as mine is, the LeapPad Ultra would make a wonderful gift that lets them feel like they’re using a “real” tablet, while playing games with their favorite characters and learning a ton in the process. This model costs approximately $160, depending on where you buy, and in my opinion it’s worth every penny.

Do you have any great ideas for toy gifts? Please share!

Stay tuned for Tracey’s Gift-Giving Guide Part 5: Last-Minute Ideas

Tracey’s Gift-Giving Guide: Part 3 – TOYS!

My friends, I am an expert in toys, not only because I have a daughter of my own who teaches me lots, but also because toys are awesome and I love them. Don’t judge me. My knowledge is helpful this time of year.

My Pal Scout & Violet

For a younger child, I absolutely love this puppy pal. My daughter has one from when she was younger, and for a good year straight it was one of her favorite things. Scout/Violet talks to your little one and sings fun songs, all depending on your input – these cute little pups can connect to your laptop via LeapFrog’s downloadable software, wherein you can program the toy with your child’s name, favorite food, favorite color, and your choice of a number of songs. Squeezing the pup’s paws initiates interaction. My favorite paw was the blue one, which plays so many minutes of lullaby music depending on how many times you squeeze it. It’s an excellent daytime and nighttime toy for any little one, and will only cost you about $25.

Melissa and Doug Handmade Wooden Toys

I didn’t specify any one toy because there are tons, and it all depends on the age-range you’re looking for, but Melissa and Doug’s wooden toys are amazing. My daughter has a few of the puzzles (the number one shown above, and an alphabet one), and one of their “build-a-cake” toys, which is a three-layer wooden cake with Velcro decorations. All are very well made, colorful, and original. You can order directly from the Melissa and Doug website, but these toys can also be found in a number of stores; I’ve found many of the options in Winners, which incidentally seems to have some of the best prices.

Dress-Up Toys

Again, for this one I give you a broad range, not a specific toy. Kids love dress-up, and YES, that includes boys, this is something I know for sure. At the playgroup my daughter attends there is a large tote full of dress-up gear, and all of the kids love it. From the 1-year-old little girls to the 5-year-old boys, they all love playing with the fireman and police officer suits.

This gift is up to your own discretion; you can spend a little or a lot because there are tons of options. You can go to the toy aisles of your local stores and find lots of Disney Princess dresses and Ninja Turtles wearable shells, or you can go to the local Dollar Store for feather boas, princess crowns, superhero masks, and a multitude of plastic jewelry. Either way, I guarantee the child will have a blast. Dress-up and imaginative play is one of the best things about being a kid. Think back. You know it’s true. 🙂

Do you have any great ideas for toy presents? Please share!

Stay tuned for Tracey’s Gift-Giving Guide: Part 4 – MORE TOYS!

No Page Left Blank: Lifehacker Edition

Everybody has their little “life hacks”; little tips and tricks that make life easier in some way. In fact, there’s an entire websites dedicated to them. With the joy of the Internet, people are able to share little bites of wisdom such as using strips of masking tape if you don’t have a lint brush, or easy steps to learning how to be a speed reader (some hacks are more useful than others).

Today, spurned by a shopping trip with my daughter, I thought I’d share one of my own little life hacks, something my husband and I have all but perfected.

Every year, come the holiday season, we watch people running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They desperately run around looking for specific toys that are sold out everywhere. They visit every store while becoming more and more agitated that they can’t find a damn thing that their mother-in-law might actually like. They struggle with the money it will cost to actually get their kid the specific thing they asked for. They pitch fits because something that was everywhere in the summer suddenly doesn’t exist, and dammit it would have been the perfect gift!

Every year my husband and I sit back and watch this chaos with grins on our faces, because for the overwhelming part, we are not part of the insanity. How do we manage it? It’s simple, really.

We shop for the holidays all year through.

File this image under one of the lamest things I've ever done.
File this image under one of the lamest things I’ve ever done.

It sounds horrifying, I’m sure. Shopping during the holidays is bad enough; shopping for the holidays all year through must be absolutely sickening, right? Right?

Wrong. Let’s examine the pros, shall we?

Pro #1:
If you keep your mind open for possible holiday gifts all year through, you’re more likely to stumble across something that a loved one would like, rather than wracking your brain at the last minute trying to think of something. I can’t tell you how many gift ideas my husband and I have come up with in the middle of the summer that saved us losing our minds as the shopping days dwindled come the end of the year.

Pro #2:
SALES. Sure, sales happen during the holidays too, but generally it’s only on the stuff the stores are trying to convince you to buy. However, sales happen all year through as well, and if you’re paying attention to them it’s very likely that you’ll manage to pick up a gift for significantly cheaper than the same item will cost you if you’re buying it in December. This pro goes hand in hand with things like sidewalk sales, clearance sales, and store closing sales. I’ve picked up tons of toys at store closing sales for a fraction of the price they normally cost, and simply stored them away in a closet where my daughter isn’t allowed. Easy peasy and saves a ton of money.

Pro #3:
The most obvious one…by the time the holidays start to creep up and everyone around you begins to lose their minds, you could actually have almost nothing to do. This past Christmas, aside from a few small things, my husband and I basically had our shopping done by mid-November. All I had to do was wrap everything.

All it really takes is the littlest bit of extra effort. If you happen upon a big clearance sale, take a few minutes to browse through and see if there’s anything one of your loved ones would like to have. If you’re at the mall and your kids are rampaging through the toy aisles, take a look to see if anything you know they like is on sale. And even if nothing is on sale, if you happen to be shopping and see something that makes you think “so-and-so would LOVE this”, just get it! Unless it’s some kind of food item it won’t spoil while it’s sitting in your closet for a couple of months.

Trust me, it’s an outrageously easy method to make the holidays 200% easier. As I type this there are so many toys, arts and crafts stuff, and kids books hidden in my closet that we probably won’t have to even buy anything for our daughter come the holidays…and almost every item in there was on sale when we bought it. Two birds, one stone, zero stress.

You’re welcome.

A Childish Memory: Blessing or Curse?

I often say that when dealing with kids we should try very hard to remember what it was like to be one. I honestly believe that this is very good advice, but sometimes it can also be a bit of a curse.

When I was a little kid, I had a hard time sharing. Actually, I should reword that: I didn’t have a problem sharing when it came to other kids’ toys, but I was awful about it when it came to my own toys. The problem, I suspect, stemmed from when I was quite young and my cousin hid my Playskool flashlight while we were both staying at our grandmother’s house. When my parents came to pick me up it was still hidden and he insisted that he couldn’t remember where he’d put it. My grandmother did manage to find it before we left, but I was freaking out there for a few minutes because the thought of leaving a toy behind was absolutely unthinkable. It might seem like an innocuous event, but remember that small things can feel like a big, big deal to a kid. From that day forward I had formulated the belief that if I let other kids touch my toys they would hide them, steal them, or break them. Not a good attitude, but one I was powerless to expel from my head.

Now that I’m a parent, surprisingly, I find this attitude is still very much prevalent in the back of my mind. Recently we had our niece stay over for a night, and the two girls had a blast together, but every so often our niece would start playing with (what was evidently) the wrong thing, and my daughter would have a mini-breakdown. The first time it was her My Little Ponies. She had five of them lined up on the table in front of her when Niece ran over and took one to put in the farmhouse play set. Daughter looked like she was going to have the tantrum of a lifetime, complete with big, sooky, quivering lip. She couldn’t have looked any more upset if Niece had tossed the toy in a bonfire while laughing maniacally.

So here’s where “parent” brain began to have a vicious duel-to-the-death with “I totally remember exactly what it felt like to be in that position” brain. Of course I had to tell Daughter that she had to share, and that it was going to be fine, that she could have her pony back when Niece was done with it. But in my mind, while looking into those tear-filled little eyes, I was positively screaming bloody murder. Niece did absolutely nothing wrong (Daughter wasn’t even really playing with the pony at the time…it just happened to be physically in front of her), but my natural instinct was to tell Niece that the pony belonged to Daughter and to give it back right now.

This, my friends, is the curse of remembering (truly remembering) what it felt like to be a kid. Every time I try to teach my daughter a life lesson I get vivid flashes of memories from my own parents trying to do the same thing. The result is that I recall how frustrating it was to go through that as a child, as well as experiencing how frustrating it is from the adult’s point-of-view right this minute. It’s really just a vicious cycle of never-ending frustration.

Here’s another example to prove this wasn’t an isolated incident: food. I can remember, quite clearly in fact, my mother demanding that I eat my carrots when I was little. I hated carrots, and I couldn’t understand what was so damn important about my consuming them, especially when my father would side with me by saying things like, “There’s no point in trying to force it down her throat if she doesn’t like it.” Nowadays, here I am dealing with a picky eater who doesn’t even want to try things, and while I know that she has to have variety and that she can’t just get out of supper every night by saying she doesn’t like it, I keep flashing back to those feelings of, “Why would you force me to eat something I hate?!

I still believe that remembering what it’s like to be a kid is a good thing, but having too vivid a memory can definitely interrupt parental instinct a bit, and this is something I have a lot of trouble with. I’m working through it one instance at a time (while grinding my teeth down to little nubs), but it’s harder than it sounds.

Do you remember what it felt like to be a kid? Do you think that this makes it easier or harder to deal with children now that you’re grown? Do you ever have to restrain yourself from having childish outbursts because of how you acted as a kid? Please share!