Infected by Pandemic – A Great Board Game

January 6th, 2015

Pandemic is a great board game. Just before Christmas I dropped into I’m Board, a local game store in Middleton, WI. Feeling a need to feed the disease, I found their last copy of Pandemic, a board game for 2-4 players – the perfect gift for my teenage daughter. (There were still several copies of a dice-based version, though- a faster playing Pandemic-maybe for camping trips!) As Ebola still rages, flu spreads across the globe, and the Zombie Apocalypse always looms, Pandemic has that urgency that adds to the fun.

In Pandemic the players attempt to save the world by finding cures to deadly diseases that breakout in various places in the world. Players join together against the game, clearing infections, building research stations, and inventing cures…before time runs out.

As a family, we had a great time playing Pandemic. Because the game is strategic and collaborative, we were able to work together to solve the problems we encountered. We actually won our first attempt. We did wonder if we didn’t break a few rules at the outset, though.

Pandemic is a bit complicated to set up. In retrospect, the setup instructions are clear, but at the outset we had some difficulty understanding. There are some excellent Pandemic instructional videos online, though, that helped us set up and see how we needed to work together.

I recommend Pandemic to all you gamers out there. We played – 2 parents, one 17 year old and one 11 year old, and everyone wanted to play again as soon as we discovered we had saved the world.

Here’s a youtube video from Wil Wheaton and friends on TableTop showing how to play the game.

John Muir – A Wisconsin Connection

January 6th, 2015

170px-Muir_and_Roosevelt_restoredJohn Muir is my new intellectual crush. I saw an episode of Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea tonight. The part I was most impressed with concerned John Muir. I only know a little about him. I was aware that he had done a great deal to preserve Yosemite National Park for America. But you could fill a paragraph with all that I knew of him, including his studies at UW-Madison, in my hometown. Here’s a picture of Muir with another great American, Theodore Roosevelt. I robbed the photo from

I was truly inspired by the insight, energy and spiritual perspective that John Muir had. I’m also interested in his Madison and Wisconsin connections. So, first project: get some books by Muir to read. I’m also going to scour the library for some biographies, especially ones written for kids or young adults. I’d like to learn more about this man and what he learned. I’d also like to learn about how he was able to accomplish what he did in the face of the opposition he encountered.

Legos Stop Motion Movies

December 9th, 2013

Frankenstein's MonsterI wrote a little while back that I’m not enjoying reading Frankenstein, so I rarely pick it up to finish it. But, ever since last Thursday I’ve been looking forward to crawling through a couple paragraphs a night just before I fall asleep. Why? Frankenstein would make a great Lego’s stop motion movie.

I was driving to pick up my oldest daughter from school when I got the idea. We have some legos and boodles of playmobil stuff from when they were little and we could fashion a really sorry version of Frankenstein from them. If we do this right we could even dubb our voices in for the characters. I texted my daughter with the idea and got the affirmative.

Now, the hard part. first we have to find the time and then We’ve got to put together our script and storyboard and then cast the film with appropriate Legos and Playmobil characters. Then we’ll build a set and start the arduous process of taking a photo, moving the character a bit, taking a photo, and so on. This should be fun.

Or, as I just found out when I started looking for pictures, Lego makes a Frankenstein’s Monster in its ‘LEGO Monster Fighters: The Crazy Scientist & His Monsters.

Decorating the Tree

December 2nd, 2013

making ornamentsThe tree went up last weekend. The kids still love to decorate the tree as much as ever. Now they have their ‘own’ ornaments that only they can put up each year. It’s funny and loud; “Hey! That one’s my ornament! I get to put that up!”

For some reason they both started making paper chains for the tree. It got quiet and they had fun together. Even the teenager enjoyed making the chains which surprised me. She didn’t even decorate them with her favorite fangirl stuff, like a tardis or Hiccup’s helmet. I’d like to get them to make more ornaments just like they made in the lower grades-well not just like those, but I mean making ornaments themselves. I need to see if they can dream up any good ideas that use stuff we have around in the craft shelves and kitchen cupboards.

Snake Oil – Great Family Game for Laughs and Creativity

December 1st, 2013

We went to I’m Board Black Friday evening and left with a few games. I had hoped to find something to use as game pieces for a game my kids and I are trying to develop for ourselves but they didn’t have anything that would work. What they did have was a bunch of great games. We played one last night – Snake Oil.

Snake Oil is like Apples to Apples, but a little bit reversed. One player get to be a type of customer – a hitchhiker, or executioner, or whatever. The other players take two of their cards and create a product that they pitch to the customer. The seller who is chosen by the customer wins the round.

The fun is in the combinations of cards that the players put together to make appropriate products to sell and pitches that the players make to persuade the customer. They got wild, crazy and hilarious and very noisy, too. It was the most fun we’d had with a game in a very long time. The creative sales spiels were amazingly imaginative. I recommend Snake Oil highly.

Anyone Watch Elf on a Shelf last night?

November 30th, 2013

Snowman Watching TVWhen I was a kid, 2, maybe 3 hundred years ago, there wasn’t so much Christmas stuff on TV. At least not that I was aware of. We had Rudolph, Charlie Brown Christmas, Little Drummer Boy, and maybe a Mickey and Goofy cartoon on Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, or even the Mr. Magoo version of a Christmas Carol. We looked forward to these. These shows still draws audiences.

Last night it was a stinker double header. First, the Hoops and YoYo Christmas special followed by the most abysmal miscarriage of Christmas cheer I’d ever seen – The Elf on a Shelf special.

There are lots of creative people out there. I guess they can’t get a producer, through, and they’re forced to work on junky Christmas specials like those two. Well, there’s probably going to be more to come and that’s a bummer. Maybe I’ll read The Christmas Carol out loud to the family over the next couple weeks.

You can wreck the turkey

November 29th, 2013

TurkeyThis year my wife cooked the whole meal with some help from the kids. I was banished. I don’t think it’s fair. I cooked most of it for years, starting when my wife was in grad school and she took the time to work. But last year my feast didn’t go so well.

It seemed like a good idea. I probably should have discussed it with my wife. She can think these things through better than I can.

We had friends coming over. Their kids and ours get along great. They like hot food like my wife and I so I made a habanero glaze for the turkey. When it looked like the bird was about 45 minutes from ready I applied the glaze to one half of the turkey. That leaves the other half for the kids.

Problem was I started basting the turkey after about another 15 minutes. The glaze had dripped and run down into the fat at the bottom of the pan and I dribbled that over the whole bird and into the stuffing to keep it moist and tasty. I did this over and over, maybe 5 or 6 times.

The glaze turned out to be a lot hotter than I had expected. Worse, it tasted awful. Actually awful is too kind. The habanero spoiled the gravy too. Some of us tried to eat a bit while the wives tried to save the dinner. It’s really tough to save a dinner when the whole thing depends on the turkey. Good thing the pies were awesome.

I’m Not Buying It – Sitting on the Black Friday Sidelines

November 29th, 2013

I read a rant by Ben Bromley about the creeping Christmas Shopping Season earlier this morning. I’m in total agreement. Thanksgiving has been destroyed by retail sales. Not only has the focus shifted from giving thanks, humility, family and rest (and that includes FOOTBALL -c’mon Pack, get the magic back!), but now its a shopping day, too, not just a shopping strategy day. And, as my daughter just reminded me – it turns Thanksgiving into a working day away from family for millions of retail workers.

Not to say I wasn’t tempted to enter the fray. I want another TV. One thing that helped resist the sirens’ call was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal that talked about those deeply discounted TVs and electronics that send fellows like me into an eye-spinning stupor of materialistic lust. Seems that the big retailers enter into agreements with the manufacturers specifying the profit margin retailers would like to see and the specs for a gizmo that will deliver it. So, that Samsung for half the price of the one you’ve been eyeing also turns out to be half the TV. Kind of cools the ardor. Besides, in 10 years will my kids really care that I scored some crummy TV on Thanksgiving night when I could have spent that time with them? Is a TV more important than them? I don’t think I want that memory playing at the edges of their minds when my kids are contemplating putting me in a nursing home.

But lest I sound too pure, all is not lost in retail land for me. Later today, Black Friday 2013, I’m taking the girls to I’m Board, a board game speciality shop in nearby Middleton. They have games of all sorts and lots of cool little things you could use in making a game of your own. It’s those little cool things we’re going to shop for.

A couple years ago when Borders was closing the last of their stores I picked up a copy of Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share. This is a compilation of articles by the author of fun DIY stuff to do with your kids. One chapter is on making your own board games. My youngest is just crazy about board games and her enthusiasm has infected the rest of us. Last time we played Clue, we started talking about making our own game following the template from Geek Dad.

One idea after another, each expanding on or improving the one before it, and DIY game fever had fatally infected all of us. That’s a better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend than feverishly tracking down items in a store at 10 PM Thanksgiving night or 6 AM Black Friday Morning. My kids are going to remember this. I will too.

A Thanksgiving Tailgate

November 28th, 2013

Today is Thanksgiving. It snowed a lot more than they had forecast. I had just gotten in from snowblowing the driveway and walks when Pete called. He’d scored 4 full cases of turkey hot dogs by chance the day before. The father of one of the kids at the school where he works and coaches, works at Oscar Mayer. He had some extra Hot Dogs, he said. Did Pete want any? Pete thought sure. He wasn’t expecting 4 cases. He didn’t know what to do with them since they turned out to be turkey and not the regular kind.

This morning when he saw the big snow he had an idea. Pete got his pickup ready and loaded up his grill – he was ready for some tailgating. He picked me up and we went to all the convenience stores on my side of town and bought all the hot dog buns, mustard, relish and ketchup we could find. Then we headed for the Capitol. Pete’s wife and kids, and my kids, too, came along in the van.

The Capitol in Madison is right downtown. It’s pretty much the center of everything. On the far end of State Street is the UW-Madison and the Capitol is on the other end, only eight blocks apart. On the Capitol end there are some homeless shelters and the square around the Capitol is pretty much where you’ll find most of the homeless folks in Madison. At least it seems that way.

On the Carroll Street side, near the Episcopal church where they have the men’s shelter, Pete parked and fired up the grill. I put up a table. The girls went together to spread the news. We cooked up the Turkey dogs and fed maybe a hundred or so, mostly men, but some women and children. Pete’s a good man and I’m glad I’m his friend.

Reading Frankenstein

November 28th, 2013

I’m reading Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. It has its ups and downs. It can drag on incessantly and then suddently move at a good pace. Mostly, half-way through, it is dragging. I can see why no one says ‘You must read this!’

The core of the story is good. I like it more than the movie versions I’ve seen. I can understand, and even expect, Frankenstein’s self-recriminations. But Shelley hammers these nails long after she’s driven them all the way into the board and it becomes tedious.

I had hoped to finish this before Halloween, but between the tedium of reading it and the busyness of work and family, I haven’t gotten it finished.