Small Game Night for Three

With Laura's parents on planes back to Texas and Kathleen sick, it was only us and Matt for game night tonight. I suggested The Queen's Necklace, since it's best for three players, and it also worked better now that Matt had played the game once. It's weird how some games you can pick right up and others take a time or two to appreciate how they work; also in the past few games, the Queen's Necklace card has been buried in the last few cards and never came into play, making for some weird games. I like this one, but I think you should play it twice in a row to balance out the bumps and randomness from just one game.

We followed up with Matt's pick of Settlers. This is a game that you can pick up on what's going on your first game, since there are so many rounds and the cards and actions fall into just a few categories, and you'll pick up what's going on as you go. It's not a text-heavy game, and is a classic for a reason. Laura and I competed for the longest road, while Matt charged forward, making good use of the robber early to steal resources, but karma caught him in the mid-game when the best place for the robber was always Matt's hexes. It was a squeaker, but Matt was victorious in the end, although feeling a little guilty about his Machavellian methods.

Posted by Mark @ 10:56 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Car Repairs and Candy

Yesterday, my Dad showed Mark the insides of my little toyota car as they replaced the AC Clutch. I think this was the first time that Mark got inside of a car and saw how easy everything is manipulate- as long as you remember the order you took everything out in :) That is one of the cool things about my 1982 Toyota Carolla- you can see and manipulate the parts yourself, unlike these newer models that hide everything from the owner. It took all morning and a trip to the hardware store, but the little car should have AC for the next 20+ years of its life! Even in Wisconsin the summers get hot enough that without AC you can be miserable- I am very happy to have the AC working again.

While the guys were out with the car in the cold, Mom and I put the Christmas tree up in the livingroom and started on a classic dinner of country fried steak and mashed potatoes. The key with making the crust stick to the steak is to squish all of the air out from between the chopped steak and crust. With a little pan gravy we have one of my most favorite meals!

Today Mom and I made treats of almond bark with pretzles, chocolate with pretzles (the almond bark-chocolate mix was the best), pecan clusters and peanut clusters. The clusters were a new experience and turned out very well. Afterwards we got the oil changed in the little Toyota- unfortunately we went to the Car Care Clinic- which we will never go to again due to incompetent service- but then we hopped over to Mieneke on the West side to replace the muffler and pipe- they were very professional and busy- and we will happily go there for all of our car issues from now on.

This evening we had an early birthday from Mom with pizza, spaghetti with Mushroom and Parmesean Prego, and Lemon Merengue pie, with French Silk Custard (from Michael's frozen custard). All stuffed we watched a wonderful French foreign film with subtitles called Bon Voyage, set in WWII. While I normally dislike subtitled films because reading tends to pull me away from the plot and the visuals, this is a must see film!

Posted by Laura @ 10:55 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Visit to Red Wing

Friday, Mark drove us all up to Red Wing, Minnesota, taking the scenic route along the Mississippi. Unfortunately it rained all the way there- Mark was really great to dive all the way there. After checking into our hotel, we ate at Liberty's Restaurant and all got the buffet. After we were all filled up, went on the down town Christmas stroll where every shop was festively decorated. In the Red wing shoe shop Mark and I received an early christmas present from my parents of pairs of waterproof and very comfortable red wing shoes. I also got a pair of warm fluffy slippers which I can't wait to lounge in at home.

Saturday, we woke up to a covering of snow- the first we have seen since Wisconsin has been quite snow free so far. After oodles of small muffins from the hotels continental breakfast we headed out to the Red Wing pottery show room. There we saw many varieties of pottery from Red Wing and other potters. After eating brunch at an old fashioned family restaurant next door we went to the Pottery Place to visit the red wing museum and antiuqe stores. It was very impressive to see some of the larger crocks (a person could fit inside)- in our fast society today, it is hard to imagine why those crocks would be useful- but they are all worth a pretty penny. A little further down the road and we came to the Red Wing factory where we got to watch a potter throw beatiful large bowls in a matter of minutes. The lady in the shop was very sweet and answered all of our questions.

On the way home, Laura drove back a more direct route through western Wisconsin. After a nice sit down dinner at the Country Kitchen we ended up home a few hours later where we all slept well.

Posted by Laura @ 10:51 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Turkey day!! Mom started the day early and got the cornbread going. It is a really neat skillet cornbread that I will have to get her to put in the ORC when she has time- it always turns out perfect! By the time I got up, the cornbread was all done and Mom was working on the dressing. This year we followed The Best Recipe and dried out the slices of bread for two days- They made great cubes for the dressing. We also go the turkey going in our bran new roaster from Mom which cooked in just 2 hours. This year we put pats of butter under the skin and ended up with a wonderfully tender and juicy bird :)

Next I worked on the cherry pie with a lattice top- a fiesty by fun experience. There was also a pumpkin pie and fresh cranberries cooling in the fridge. We also made my favorite deviled eggs and some punch for the festive occasion. Mom put a twist on her usual yams and mashed them with toasted marshmallows for a combination even I ate happily! My favorite- baked beans made Mom's way were added tool. Instead of mashed potatoes we diced and boiled Idaho and Yukon gold spuds for a colorful combination and added butter and sour cream when they were done- it was really yummy! With some more veggies- green beans, lima beans, and a wonderful brocolli casserolle from Matt and we were all set to eat- need to ask him to add that to the ORC too. It was our first meal on our fancy china that has been in Mark's family for generations, so it took a little bit of looking at the etiquette book to decide how all the place-settings should go. Dad added some french and rye bread to the table and Mark pulled out a nice red wine to top off the meal and we all ate to our hearts content.

Afterwards, while the parents were sleeping :) the kids (Mark, Matt and I) played a game of Citadels, one of Matt's favorites - I don't know what it was about that game- but I won which rather surprised me- must have been the spirit of Thanksgiving! What a wonderful day spent with family and friends!

Posted by Laura @ 10:45 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Games and Parties

Earlier yesterday Mom and I planted our boatload of tulips purchased late last week in the garden. I canít wait for the blanket of color in our happy little plot come spring. We were surprised to see the garlic doing so well in this cold weather. While the ground has not frozen solid yet, every night dips below freezing. We also picked some perky leeks, which are also unfazed by the cold.

Yesterday night was also game night. Mom, Mark and I started with a nice game of Yahtzee- one of my Mom's favorite games. Matt and Kathleen joined us for Queen's Necklace and Torres. While Mark and I played Torres once before with just the two of us- it was definitely more complicated with four players. Our "quick" last game for the night ended up taking almost two hours and we were all mentally fatigued by the end.

Dad arrived today, so we spent the morning decorating the apartment with streamers and creating a festive vanilla birthday cake with apricot and strawberry filling topped with a nice whipped frosting. For dinner we all enjoyed baked potatoes, steak, and lots of varieties of mushrooms (purchased in a Whole Foods extravaganza they included chanterelles, shitake, and crimini). To go with the cake we had some homemade strawberry ice cream. With very full stomachs we all sat down to watch The Terminal.

Posted by Laura @ 10:44 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Plants and Soap Hobbies Extravaganza

Saturday I got out the supplies to make soap from scratch. I have never made it with my Mom before, and I think that she was rather impressed with how quick it is and the interesting chemical reactions. For this batch we added food coloring for a bit of festive purple- but we should have mixed the colors together before adding them to the soap since there are patches of red and blue in the final product. I also was surprised that the inital amount of color added appeared to change the soap's color a small amount- yet after a few days, the color showed up quite well- another mystery of the world :)

That night, while the soap started its three month curing process, we cracked out the ingredients to make potstickers. For a similar recipe to what we made, you can look at Yee's dumpling recipe. The only major changes to the listed recipe were the use of 1 pound ground shrimp and pork and leeks instead of chives. Yee also had a great solution for cooking the dumplings well. Just steam them until the wonton wrapper getts nice and moist, then pan fry them in a bit of sesame oil. It worked amazingly well!

Mom and I then updated my plant stands to make it a bit more fire safe (no ropes holding up the lights) and plant friendly. To fix the lights we drilled two appropriately spaced holes into the bottom of each shelf and added appropriate screws to match the holes in the florescent light fixtures. We also added a new shelf to one of the more flexible wooden bookcases using culled lumber from Home Depot. Fortunately it only took two rips from the Home Depot employee to get the shelf to the appropriate size. Wrapping the shelf with imitation walnut shelving paper made the shelf fit in perfectly with the others. As a last tweak we covered up some of the lights with the contact paper to make a nice glow by the TV. Can't wait to see how the plants react!

Posted by Laura @ 10:40 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Madison - Thanksgiving Central

With Mom visiting and my schedule rather free, we explored the town of Madison. After living here for four years, I am a pretty efficient tour guide. Our first stop was to Orchids by the Ackers, where we both drooled over the beautiful orchids. Mom use to grow some of the most gorgeous orchids and we saw many of them in the green houses. Next we headed over to The Bruce Company where we couldnít pass up deals on tulips at 75% off. Mom purchased some beautiful lemon, yellow woodland, red, pastel, and deep purple tulips to plant in my garden. I canít wait for the beautiful color this spring.

Next we headed over to Target where Mom got to see hundreds of mallards in the run-off pond. We found an 18 quart roaster in Bed Bath and Beyond to cook the Thanksgiving turkey in on sale- and then I had a 20% off coupon! Tuckered out after the morning jaunt, we headed into town to have Big Mikeís with Mark. After Mom checked her e-mail in the CS lab and I went to a meeting we headed to do a little early thanksgiving shopping and picked Mark up for dinner at Noodles. Mom got the best pad thai dish- I have to remember to order it next time.

Today we did some more shopping for thanksgiving and early Christmas shopping. We hit the local card shop, the discount bookstore above the UW books store, Yue-Wah for potsticker ingredients and edamame (and some of the delicious coconut gel I had at Kuangís open house), Penzeys for pie and poultry spices and Leeís Oriental for some delicious candies I canít pronounce. Needless to say we were ready to watch OC and relax when we got home!

Posted by Laura @ 10:39 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Marlene in Madison

Today my Mom arrived from Texas. I havenít seen her in person since my birthday when Mark and I went to Texas. Fortunately her flight went well and there were no delays! She arrived in the newly renovated Madison airport which is really starting to look nice. It has a Frank Lloyd Wright theme from the beautiful stone flooring to the low overhangs. After Mark finished up some work and Mom got settled in the second room of our apartment, we all headed over to Sa Bai Thong. This local Madison restaurant is always a wonderful treat to visit. Mom and I use to frequent it often. Starting with an appetizer of assorted treats, we greatly enjoyed our dishes- my 57 with delicious straw mushrooms, veggies and tofu; Mark with his current favorite of spicy crispy duck; and Mom with her noodle veggie treat. It was a wonderful atmosphere to relax and catch-up. It sounds like Momís new job is going very well- she has a very thoughtful boss which always helps.

After all of our tummies were sufficiently full, we headed home to watch the new episode of LOST. Produced by the creators of Alias (our all time favorite show), LOST is a suspenseful mystery/thriller about the survivors of a plane crash on a deserted island with scary secrets. We canít wait for the next episode!

Posted by Laura @ 10:37 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

New Venue, Same Gamers

For a change of pace, Mike and Kathleen offered their place for game night tonight. They have a house, something we think about often as we look at our apartment crammed with our stuff. They also have cats, which Laura adores, and plays with every time we visit friends with cats; they seem to love her too.

After a quick tour, we pulled out a classic from Kathleen's collection, Rack-O. Your have 10 cards, and you want to get all your cards in order, but the only way to change the order is to replace them with cards from the deck. Very simple mechanics, too simple for us these days, but I can see how it worked well as a kids and family game. There are some 10 Days in ... games based on the Rack-O system that also teach geography, which I'll have to remember to pick up when we have kids someday.

Matt showed up just as we finished, so we moved on to the party game 25 Words or Less. It combines Name that Tune and Password, where you bid against the other team as to how many words you need to have your teammates guess all six keywords on the card. This game was inordinately hard, but we got better as it went along, eventually all merging into one team near the end when it was obvious Laura and I were not going to pull things off. The most fun was the bidding, not knowing whether to give in or try to push the other team lower. I think this game would work well with many more people instead of the five we had.

Our big game of the night was Trias, the Triassic dinosaur game. It's always fun to see the board divide into continents, and the competition for majorities on these continents can get fierce. Dinos were dunked in the water and rescued until the meteor hit, making for a great final game.

Posted by Mark @ 10:36 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Star Wars - The Drinking Game

I have never been a fan of drinking games, partly because I donít like alcohol in drinks or otherwise which may be due to the fact that I am allergic to sulfur- when the items used to make alcohol ferments, it makes sulfur (not to mention that sulfur is added as a preservative in most wines and liquors). But when Burr suggested having a non-alcoholic Star Wars drinking party, I thought why not. In undergrad I had heard about drinking parties, but had never been to one. The obvious purpose is to get the watchers as drunk as possible- our in our case hold in the pain of needing to go until you just canít. For all who know me, I donít drink much- I donít think I have ever followed that rule about eight eight-ounce glasses of water a day- I am lucky to get in two glasses a day. Needless to say I went to the restroom first. But the nice part about going to the restroom- and losing the game is that you donít have to drink anymore :) Mark on the other hand loves to drink water and did a wonderful job of lasting through a tape and a half, up to when they are visiting Lando. Everyone lost to one college student who said his bladder capacity had been extended with training in high school- apparently he went to a high school where boys were beat up in the bathroom, so he learned to hold it all day. There may have been fights and stabbings in my high school, but there was no fear of going to the bathroom with teachers as monitors. Overall a fun experience, but one I donít think I want to repeat.

Posted by Laura @ 10:13 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Mad Gab and The Gift

No games for a week seemed to get everyone out of the woodwork and over to play games tonight. We met our neighbors Adam and Pricilla here in Karen Arms again recently, and they joined us tonight for the evening along with regulars Matt and Kathleen. Our first game was Geschenkt, a new release I had read about on the net, and one which I could make myself with a few business cards and gaming stones. It's very simple, you start with 11 stones, which are worth positive points, and use them to pass on cards, which are worth negative points. The player with the most points wins. It was intriguing, and we played it three times in a row, watching people pass on cards, and take them when they were out of tokens.

Burr and Natalie then joined us, bringing over the next game, Mad Gab. It's a game of mispronunciation, where you're given cards with phrases like "ASK RUDE ARRIVE HER" and you need to say it outloud to discover the real phrase (a screwdriver). This game had us laughing at almost every clue, while the "game" element left some things to be desired, it's more of an activity than a game. Next, as none of us wanted to play a large group game of Trivial Pursuit or Cranium, we split into two groups, one played Lord of the Fries, a game with zombies running a crazy restaurant where you try to fulfill orders for food with your cards, while the others played the classic Carcassonne, which went fairly quickly with four experienced players. Every week seems to be a varied mix of game types, sometimes party games, sometime deep thinkers, but I really enjoy them all and we are glad to have such indulgent friends willing to learn new games each week.

Posted by Mark @ 10:10 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Death and Crafts

Saturday we watched a cable sit-com called Dead Like Me. The first DVD contained the pilot that got us hooked on the show. Overall it is a very interesting show about a different take on the afterlife and the role of grim reapers. It was a very well made show and if you donít mind several people meeting their demise every episode and you have an open mind to different ideas of death, it could be the show for you (still working on accepting that first bit).

Sunday I had Ina, Irene and Lorene over to make soap and candles. We made soap the quick way using melt and pour glycerin soap. Just a quick nuke in the microwave and the soap is ready for any additives. This time I tried adding some rosemary powder and leaves to get a very beautiful looking horse soap. Ina really got the pattern down and made some beautiful combination soaps- I remember one where a dark blue starfish rested inside of a light oval. She also used some blueberry tea to make a lovely blue hewed soap. Lorene brought some beautiful gel candle shapes of flowers and polygons making a lovely votive with blue flowers inside clear gel and the wonderful mold which I used to make my horse soap. Irene brought some great books on salt dough- it is amazing what one can make with flour, salt and water. She made a cute orange and a snowman.

While I was being crafty with my friends, Mark played some games at Pegasus: the Egyptian bidding game Amun Re, a Zoo management game called ZooSim and a quick, cute Flea Circus game. Since I donít like Zoos, we thought I probably wouldnít like ZooSim unless I treated it like an animal reserve game, which is very easy to do since the tiles don't have cages on them. Overall, they were games we probably wonít get but Mark had a great time!

Posted by Laura @ 10:09 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

The Election Party

It's Tuesday, but no games tonight. Voting is not a game, it's a privilege, or something like that. Matt, our resident political expert and snarky blogger, hosted the second quadrennial election party at his apartment. We all gathered around and watched the results roll in, slowly looking good for Kerry, then as the night wore on, we seemed to be moving away faster in space, as the red shift began towards Bush. However, no matter how things were going, we all laughed and cried at The Daily Show, then returned to CNN for even more depressing results. Partiers trickled off, and we headed home about 11, where tomorrow we're sure there will be a victory for Bush. At least 2008 will be interesting with a cleared field of candidates.

Posted by Mark @ 10:07 PM CDT [Permanent URL]