An Appeal Upon Returning.

Hello again,

It’s been longer than I realized since I’ve written here, and I have some ideas on how I’d like to improve my blog as I return to it. I think it will help me organize my ideas if I refocus on a few major topics. Writing and books, science and other geeky news, and gaming, mostly. There will still be an occasional recipe and other randomness, because I love finding new things to share.

Today I’ve signed up for an event on short notice, and I’m sorry I couldn’t give more fair warning. I’m seeking sponsors for the Extra Life gaming marathon this Saturday, October 15th. I’ll be playing one of my favorite old MMOs – Anarchy Online.

Here’s a link to my sponsor page:

Extra Life - Play Games. Heal Kids.

All the proceeds from the marathon are going to support Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. I’m playing in support of UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital here in Cleveland, Ohio. I think it’s hard to find a family in Cleveland whose life hasn’t been touched by the skilled teams at this hospital. I had friends growing up who might not have lived without the care they received there. And I have friends now whose children are thriving thanks to their incredible doctors.

I’ll be straight-up honest with you guys: I don’t plan to play a full 24 hours on this. I just can’t with my family’s crazy schedule. They come first, gaming is just for fun. I just thought it might be nice to use my fun time to give back a little. If you have the money to spare, please click through and pledge what you can. All donations are 100% tax-deductible.

Thanks for your support,

Geargoyle

Great Book Giveaways: Halo, Orson Scott Card and Tor Books!

Halo: Cryptum by Greg Bear

Tor.com is giving away some great books and other prizes today to celebrate the release of Halo: Cryptum by Greg Bear and The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card. These giveaways are only open for 24 hours, so hurry and join in the fun!

The first two giveaway are on their Facebook page. You must ‘Like’ the page before you can add comments:

I believe there are also instructions for entering these contests on Twitter, so feel free to try it that way if you prefer. I have never ‘tweeted’ in my life, and I have no plans to start now. After you’re done at Facebook (or Twitter) you can head over to Tor.com and click on ‘Community’ to visit their forums. That’s where you will find five more giveaways, and maybe more later. They’ve been posting them all morning.

The Lost Gate by Orson Scott Card

And finally here’s one more book they are giving away that has nothing to do with Halo. It’s from the amazing author Orson Scott Card and it’s called The Lost Gate. Enter to win at the following link:

I’ve entered all of these contests myself and I hope you will too. Let me know if any of you become lucky winners!

Geargoyle

Meme of the Day

Sorry I’ve been too busy to write lately, but I caught a cute post on FB I wanted to share with everyone:

Copy and Paste if you have enjoyed the blessing of meeting people online that you never would have met any other way. This is my end of the year shout out to the many “friends” I have never been in the same room with but who have inspired, amused, comforted, encouraged, and touched me in so many ways. I love you all! Here’s to another year together! ♥

I’ve been on the net since 1990, and I could go on for days about the awesome people I’ve met around the world through irc, chat rooms, BBSs, MMOs and more. The net has an incredible way of bringing people together, and showing us how we have far more in common than we might have imagined. Here’s hoping you all are having a wonderful Holiday season, and I’m wishing you all a brilliant New Year to come!

Geargoyle

Book Review: Little Brother by Cory Doctorow (Publisher: Tor Teen)

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

Little Brother (Published by Tor Teen) is the story of Marcus, an internet-savvy seventeen-year-old who’d rather ditch class and play augmented reality games than deal with the bullies and uptight administrators at his school all day. When he meets his friends in San Francisco to work out a new puzzle game, they find themselves in the worst possible place at the worst possible time. Caught in a terrorist attack that throws the city into chaos, the teens are taken into custody by Homeland Security as possible suspects. Locked away without a way to contact legal advice or their families, they are questioned for days before being released with strict instructions to remain silent about their experiences.

Marcus is a sharp young man, and the way he responds to his treatment makes this story remarkable. The attack on his town turns out to be just the beginning of his incredible adventures, and there are many fascinating characters he meets along the way. There are a lot of things to learn about security and privacy in this book, and I have been recommending it to everyone lately. As a warning, there are some mature themes included, so I’d suggest reading it yourself before letting a younger teen read it. Decide if it is appropriate, or if some of the content should be discussed before reading. You should know what your kids are ready to handle, and it’s better to have the conversations before problems arise.

This story sucked me in to a very timely and frightening glimpse of what our world could become. Marcus and his friends felt like real kids full of the worries and complexities we all face daily, even in the middle of an incredible crisis. Cory Doctorow’s rich storytelling and insights had me thinking deeply about this story and what our country has been struggling with for years now. There are a lot of conversations we (as a country) need to have about security, and lots of better answers we need to find.

One of the many things I love about this book is the fact you can read it for free. Cory Doctorow makes many of his books, writing and interviews available in multiple formats and in a wonderful array of languages on his website.  There’s also great information there about the best places to buy his books, including signed copies, so check there first if you want to order one for yourself or a friend. They also have a way to donate copies of his books to libraries that have requested them. Here’s a link to Donate Little Brother.  I’ve read most of the books available on this site, and I really enjoyed every one. If you enjoy compelling stories and real characters, give Little Brother a read.

Can you think of a book that really made you think about something in a new way? Share your recommendations in the comments below.

Geargoyle

What Could You Learn Today?

I want to share some fun sites with everyone today. I found some magazines and news sites, and others full of games and activities for kids. I believe in life-long learning; if I wasn’t always learning new things, I would be bored silly. Science and similar disciplines constantly evolve; languages are living things which change over time. Some of the things I learned in school about geography and genetics are already obsolete, and I like seeing where research and innovation are taking us.

Since I have kids in school, I also like keeping an eye out for great sites that encourage kids to be curious about science, engineering and other fascinating subjects. Games and videos are fun ways for kids to get extra study-time in. It’s been shown that it can be extremely beneficial to study in different ways and in different places to improve memory retention and recall. ( NY Times Article: Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits )

Here are reviews of five sites covering Math, Science, Engineering and Language Arts/Reading:

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eGFI (Engineering, Go For It!)

eGFI

This interactive magazine showcases careers like Engineering, Computer Science and Chemistry for middle and high school students. The site is creatively designed and fun to explore. It shows kids how the things they study can grow into incredible careers designing new products and materials. They can meet real students and engineers and read about the things they are creating. There are lots of links to help plan their education and find scholarship support as well.

I’m adding a link to one particular article I found on this site. It’s about 3-D printing, one of my current favorite subjects. My hubby recently became a certified technician for one of these printers, and my inner geek is über-excited about this kind of technology. I even have a copy of the gargoyle shown in this article sitting by my computer right now; it was a gift he brought home from his training seminar. Read more about 3-D printing here: http://students.egfi-k12.org/printing-in-3d-from-toys-to-organs/

The Discovery Channel & Discovery Kids

Discovery News is one of my favorite sites to check for info about animals, science and the world. Their site is full of articles and photos for all ages about things like space, technology, history, animals and more. Discovery Kids has lots of games and fun activities. They even have a section of videos and games devoted to yucky science, which can be a fun way to introduce science to reluctant kids.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy

This site is a powerful resource for studying Math from basic Arithmetic to Calculus, Differential Equations and Linear Algebra. They have over 1800 video lectures available for all kinds of different subjects. While Math is the primary focus, there are also lessons about Science, History, Finance and more. This is all free to use and community supported. Khan Academy was founded as a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization by MIT alum Salman Khan, who started recording his lessons as a way to help his cousins with their studies. His philanthropy is inspiring and I love the way he uses digital media to distribute his knowledge globally. They are adding self-paced testing for the subject matter designed by their users. I highly recommend this site to any student who feels they need extra help with their Math studies.

National Geographic & National Geographic for Kids

National Geographic has been full of fascinating articles and gorgeous photographs for as long as I can remember. I know as a kid I loved looking though them any time I was at the doctor’s office! Their online sites are just as much fun to visit. They are full of beautiful images and great information for adults and children. Their kids’ site features games, videos, stories and activities to encourage young explorers.

Scholastic & The Stacks (Scholastic for Kids)

The Stacks @ Scholastic

Reading was one of my first loves, and there’s little I enjoy more than losing myself in a new book. My family and my husband’s family are full of voracious readers. Books have a special place in my heart and I had to share at least one site about books in this list. The Stacks is packed with tons of great books and games based on popular children’s series like Deltora Quest and Goosebumps, even Captain Underpants. A person who enjoys reading can learn anything in the world. There’s information about everything available, almost all for free and online; but if you can’t read, you can’t benefit from it.

I hope you enjoy exploring some of these sites, and I look forward to hearing about fun places you’ve found online. Do you know a good museum site, or a site devoted to a special branch of study? Maybe one of your kids showed you some fun games they heard about at school? Share your links in our comments section, and have fun learning something new!

Geargoyle

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls by The Geargoyle

I just wanted to share with you all that the cinnamon rolls are a great success! My little guy helped with the mixing, and we had a lot of fun. These grew a bunch, and boy are they sweet and yummy! I worked from the ‘no yeast’ recipe at MomsWhoThink.com ( Link ) with some small modifications. The dough and filling were pretty much as they had them, but since I didn’t have the stuff for cream cheese frosting I just whipped up a simple icing (1 cup confectioner’s sugar with about 1 or 2 Tbsp. of milk, stirred until smooth – you can add a little vanilla if you like, just cut back on the milk.) I left a few without icing since my hubby likes them less sweet. As a warning: I had some of the cinnamon-sugar filling bubble up out of my cake tin, so you might want to put a cookie sheet on the rack below these when they bake.

Anyone who likes cinnamon rolls should try this recipe. The taste could give those fancy mall stores a run for their money. With such simple, cheap ingredients, you can whip these up any time you’re having a sweet tooth attack!

Cinnamon Rolls (without yeast)

Ingredients:

Dough:

2 and 1/2  cups flour, plus extra for your counter
2  Tbsp regular sugar
1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 and 1/4 cups buttermilk  (if you don’t have it, add a tsp of vinegar to regular milk)
6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and divided

Filling:

3/4 cup packed brown sugar – I used light, they called for dark
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Directions:

1. Heat your oven to 425°. Grease a 9 inch round cake pan and set aside.

2. Combine the filling ingredients until it looks like damp sand. Set aside for later.

3. Mix the dough: In a large bowl, stir together the first five dry ingredients.

4. In another bowl, mix the buttermilk and 2 Tbsp of the melted butter together.

5. Mix the wet mixture into the dry mixture until combined. The dough will be a bit wet and sticky.

6. Flour your counter and hands well, then knead the dough until smooth, it only takes about a minute.

7. Shape the dough into a 9 by 12 inch rectangle using your hands or a floured rolling pin.

8. Brush 2 Tbsp of the melted butter onto the dough, then sprinkle on the filling, leaving a little border. Press the filling onto the dough.

9. Loosen the dough from the counter with a spatula or piece of plain dental floss.

10. Roll the dough into a log from a long side, pressing lightly to seal the seam.

11. Slice the dough into 8 even pieces and place in your cake pan. There will be some room between them, but they will grow.

12. Brush the tops with the remaining 2 Tbsp of melted butter. Bake until the edges are golden brown, 20-25 minutes.

13. Loosen the buns from the pan with a knife and flip them out onto a wire rack. Turn the buns upright and cool them about 10 minutes before frosting (if desired) with simple icing or cream cheese frosting. (Frosting recipe is at MomsWhoThink.com, link above.)

Geargoyle

Snow Day!

Snow Scene

Snow Scene (Image Source: Ian Britton)

I wanted to get some writing done on those posts I mentioned, but we had a snow day! And not the “take the kids out and make snowmen” kind of snow day, this was one of those “bitter shifting winds trying to blow me down and sweeping all the snow down the street into our yard” kind of days. Believe it or not, I’m not complaining. I actually love snow and we haven’t had much yet, so it’s still fun for me.  I used to ski in high school and I love being outdoors year-round. We’ve had maybe  2 – 3” on the ground so far, but the winds are sweeping some parts lower and drifting other parts higher. Of course, our driveway got most of the deepest drifts. I was able to get down to the corner store alright for some quick groceries, and I got in before dark from shoveling out our driveway, walkway and the sidewalk. And I’m extra happy because I had enough energy to clear our neighbor’s sidewalk too. She got home after recovering from surgery recently, so I’m trying to help out where I can.

I’ve lived in and around Cleveland for most of my life, so I’ve learned a lot about living in the cold. The secret to staying warm outside is layering your clothes. Concentrate on your torso. I wore a t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and jeans. I borrowed a pair of my son’s gym socks, which cover me up to the knee and used plastic shopping bags to give me an extra water-proof layer inside my shoes. If it were colder I would have put a second pair of socks over the bags and worn long john pants or over-sized sweats over my jeans. My coat is a big part of how I stay warm, too. It’s heavy denim with a quilted cotton liner. It covers me down to my knees, and the sleeves are folded back just far enough to cover the back of my hands. Yes, it’s a few sizes too big, but that’s just perfect for working outside. It doesn’t cut down my movement and the pocket of air inside the coat keeps me warmer than a tight coat would. Add my leather work gloves, a scarf and knit cap and I was toasty warm within the squalling snow. The temperature was only about 19° F outside while I was working, but my wind chill index tells me it was feeling closer to 1° F. Thirty minutes of exposure to that can equal frostbite, so you have to respect the conditions if you need to work or travel outside in the cold.

I’m just making pasta for dinner tonight, but I’m going to try making my own cinnamon rolls as a treat later. ( Cinnamon Rolls @ MomsWhoThink.com ) While I’ve enjoyed being a good cook for many years, I was always secretly intimidated by baking. So recently I’ve been challenging myself to do more of it. I’ve baked a few loaves of my very own bread from scratch ( Homemade Bread @ TheSimpleDollar.com ), and even one of herb-cheese bread. Using one of my dough recipes I also made a pepperoni roll! That was pretty good, though I think next time it will be even better. That’s one of the things I love most about cooking, the experimentation. Every time I try something new I learn things and get new ideas on how to improve something. I love using lots of herbs and other flavors in the things I cook. I find most of my new recipes on the internet these days, and I really encourage everyone to try it. Even if you aren’t a confident cook yet, you can find videos to teach you techniques you might not be familiar with, and wonderful step-by-step guides for all kinds of things. Do you have any favorite foods you haven’t had in years? Do a quick Google search and find out how easy it can be to make it for yourself!

Geargoyle