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Gaming Out the Old Year

Now that our cumulative 14″ of snow has completely melted, and the presents are (mostly) opened, we have a moment of respite from our hectic Christmas schedule. We drove out to the Duckabush to spend Christmas evening with my folks, and stayed for a couple of days. It is never long enough, when we go out, and we slighted a few friends, for which I am sorry. :(

Sledding at the Duckabush
Happily, since the time of this photo, Daniel has acquired manly black snow pants.

The snow was still heavy on the ground, and had begun to melt by the time we were ready to leave. There was about 6″ of slush on the road, and I was very much afraid we would get stuck or slide off the road as we left the valley. I worked myself up into a fearful tizzy, and was quite short-tempered with Kathy — I just wanted to get the van down the two hills and get it over with, so I wouldn’t be afraid anymore.

I don’t think I’ve been that scared, since my Army days as a paratrooper. Funny how the mind can play tricks — we drove down both hills safely, and made it home with no trouble.

As soon as there was some quiet, Kathy rushed to fill the void: “How ’bout we have a New Years’ Eve party?”

I reluctantly agreed. As an introvert and a parent of five children, I treasure my hard-won peace and tranquility. “Couldn’t we just have a quiet evening at home?” I begged, querulously.

Kathy was relentless. “Let’s see, I’ll make Mesa Manna rolls, and Spiced Cider Tea … we’ll invite some of our friends, and it will be great!” One of the things I love best about my Kathy is her enthusiasm for life.

Killer Bunny Girls
Rachel’s good friends, Sarah and Jenny, came over before the party

We decided to host a game party, and phoned ’round to gather some friends. As is often the case, we forgot a few people (for which we apologize) but we still ended up with a houseful — 13 adults and 24 kids. We permitted guests to stand around and talk a little, but pretty soon we got the game tables going. We played many games:

King Don presides
A friendly game of Scum

The party divided into various groups: people who wanted to run around wildly, a few who wanted to hide from the wild people, social folk who wanted to play loud party games, and the intelligentsia, who wanted to do some serious bean growing.

A quiet book nook
There’s one in every party — a person who just wants to curl up with a good book.

“Stop running around wildly,” Kathy scolded me. So I spent the evening growing beans with a few like-minded deep-thinkers.

I’m sure they had fun at the “loud party game” table, but I lost interest in that table when I was relegated to Scum (the lowest-ranked player). Nobody says I have to be a graceful loser. :)

Bean Farming Bohnanza is a fun and addictive game in which you try to plant various bean crops, and are compensated according to the number and rarity of your beans. Some players tried to build bean empires on the rarest of beans, cashing in on Cocoa, Garden and Red Beans. I developed an occasionally-winning strategy with the mid-class beans, including Soy, Green and Chili Beans (although I dabbled in Garden Beans when the opportunity presented itself).

Bean Farmer's Anonymous
The Bean Futures Exchange

Our friend Steve lost a couple of rounds, so he decided to invest in the cheapest and most common beans, including Coffee, Wax and Blue Beans. Building an empire on bean donations, he managed to eke out a victory a little after midnight, much to the relief of his family. “We’re not leaving until I win,” he growled after the third round.

An assortment of cookies
Showing heroic diligence, I was careful to sample each of the cookie varieties.

I had a lot of fun, and there were many delicious things to eat. Julee brought a delicious Prime Rib soup and Cheesy Sausage dip, and cookies abounded. Don and Jennifer brought meatballs, and even set some aside that were ‘clean’ (no sugar added) for Kathy. There were brownies and Grape Fanta for the kids. Michelle brought some Chex mix and a white chocolate pretzel mix, and a chicken lasagna in a crock pot. There was a huge veggie tray and frosted pumpkin bars. Someone brought several bags of chips, and I broke out the last of my hoard of Banana Punch.

The next morning, we talked about the fun we had, and how many food items we forgot to offer to our guests. “We should have another party,” I enthused, momentarily abandoning my introverted ways. “Why don’t we do Game Night every Friday”? I asked, conveniently forgetting the all-day cleaning frenzy that had preceded this party.

Kathy smiled at me patiently.

“Or maybe we could just invite people for whom we don’t need to clean … ? ” I suggested tentatively.

Happy New Year!


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WFMW — MP3 Downloads

A couple of weeks ago we learned a new praise chorus in church. Written by Chris Tomlin, it is a simple, melodic song that, as we sang it in worship to God, reached a crescendo that touched my soul. I hummed it (off-tune, of course) all the way home. When I walked in the door, I immediately sat down and looked it up in Amazon’s MP3 Store. Sure enough, the song was entitled Praise the Father, Praise the Son, and was downloadable instantly for $0.99. I bought it on the spot, and was listening to it 60 seconds later. It turned out to be much better than my tuneless humming.

All this was done even before I had lunch, which just goes to show that there are more important things than Sunday lunch.

sarah, rachel and jenny

Rachel’s good friends joined us for church on Sunday.

When I was a surly young teenager, there weren’t very many voices in the Contemporary Christian Music scene. There were the Praise Maranatha Singers, Amy Grant, Keith Green, DeGarmo and Key, Petra, and somewhat later, that Johnny-come-lately, Michael W. Smith.

My parents had some deep misgivings about the godliness of this so-called ‘Christian’ rock music, and so I had to listen on headphones, or deep in the bowels of my basement bedroom. I remember feeling vaguely resentful about that, and using their seemingly-unreasonable stance against contemporary Christian music to justify (in my own mind, at least) my rebelliousness in listening to secular rock on the sly. (As is the case with many teenagers, I exercised no monopoly on logic.)

Now I have a teenager of my own, and two younger ones who seem to think they are teenagers. As a Christian parent, I am determined to encourage my children in godliness, and not to allow Satan a foothold in the area of music. For this reason, I permit, and even encourage my kids to develop their own tastes in the area of music styles, but I insist that they listen to music that has godly lyrics and is performed by people who love and follow Jesus. I don’t see any benefit that secular music would provide to my children, and so far nobody has argued that point with me.

sarah sweetie pie

Sarah doesn’t want to argue with her daddy, no sir!

In the old days, we would sign up for some CD-of-the-month club (like Sound and Spirit) and buy whole albums featuring our favorite artists. Or maybe we would go to a Christian book store and listen to some of their demo albums. Either way, we’d end up buying a whole CD. Then we would cull through those songs and find the one or two songs on the CD that we could stand, and add them to our playlist on the computer.

In this modern age of wonder, we can listen to each song in advance and we buy only the ones we like, at a competitive price, albeit in digital form.

For Kathy’s birthday, I made a list of all the songs I had heard recently, that I actually liked. (Kathy and I have similar, but not entirely congruent, tastes in music – but, hey, if I liked ‘em, she probably would, too. Either way, there would be music around that I like.)

I listened to our local Christian radio station for days, making notes every time I heard them play a good song. I searched the web for new songs by artists we have enjoyed in the past, and spent hours listening to their albums. Eventually, I had a list of 25 songs or so, and I spent an hour one evening buying them all. I loaded them on a flash drive, and wrapped it up for her so she could have something tangible to unwrap.

Amazon makes it really easy for you – once you’ve installed the download manager plug-in for your browser, you simply click to buy, and the song appears magically in the “Recently Added” section of Windows’ Media Player.

Now, when I want to reward one of my children, I buy them a song on Amazon. “Have a song on me,” I tell the fortunate child. They usually spend half an hour or so browsing around until they find a song they like. Then we download it onto my computer, and copy it to the laptop or the kitchen computer so we can play it from anywhere. If any of the kids really like it, they’ll put it on their mp3 player.

let's start a band!

Which one of these kids is gonna grow up to be a rock star?

It hasn’t always been peaches and cream. The kids don’t all have the same tastes in music, and deciding whose playlist we listen to in the kitchen or family room has been the cause of some considerable strife in our family.

Ask me about the Strategic Music Compromise we have, dated and signed, on our bulletin board.

Still, I think when all is said and done, we’ll continue to glorify God in the music we play in our home, and (I hope) my children will not be tempted into rebellion in the area of music.


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Every now and then I am a little embarrassed at how I spend my time.

I’m a busy guy, most days. When I’m not working for my employer, or parenting, or involved in things with church, I sometimes work on side projects, most of them on a volunteer basis. Every now and then I take on some extra work that brings in additional cash, but even then it is hard to find the time, and projects languish.

Yet somehow I always seem to find time to play computer games. Lately, I’ve been playing Bookworm, a Boggle-like computer game that I bought for Kathy more than two years ago. Kathy (or maybe one of the kids) recently re-discovered it, and we’ve all been playing (even David and Sarah offer helpful suggestions). It is a very fun, and addictive single-player game. Significantly, we’ve not been requiring Computer Game Chips for this particular game, since it is, er, ‘educational’ in nature.

Bookworm Game
It is a very affirming game, announcing ‘Excellent!’ or ‘Astonishing!’ when you find a high-scoring word.

When I say it is a “single-player” game, I’m not being entirely accurate — Kathy and I have become the tiniest bit competitive as we vie for the highest score or level, or the longest word. “Hey, look at this!” Kathy chortles. “I’ve got ‘BLUDGEON’ — what a great word!” Joshua and Rachel rush over and nod approvingly.

“Hmmph,” I snort, miffed that the kids cheer Kathy. “That’s really not much better than my ‘ABANDON’. What’s one little letter, between family members?” Daniel smirks at my pathetic attempt to upstage Kathy’s word. “Fantastic!” the game crows, as she completes the word.

Not one to tolerate a slight, I switch gears to the other new game I’ve been playing: Knighthood. An application that runs within Facebook, it is a somewhat silly game in which you begin life as a Squire and work your way up the feudal ladder by constructing fortifications, recruiting vassals, and attacking your neighbors. I’m still in the ‘building’ stage, fearing to make the transition to ‘War Mode’, but I’ve happily recruited nearly all my ‘friends’ from Facebook to play. (Yep, all three of them.)

Some of them sidle up to Kathy at church. “I got this weird message from Tim — apparently I’m some sort of a … vassal?”

Kathy rolls her eyes, martyr to geekdom that she is. “Yes, he’s all in a tizzy about it. His cousin Kevin introduced him to the game, and it’s been nothing but ‘Knighthood this’ and ‘Knighthood that’, ever since. Just humor him, add the application, and he’ll be happy. I’d draw the line if he starts calling you a ‘varlet’ or a ‘wench’, though.”

Knighthood Logo
The Knighthood Logo

If my unsuspecting recruits accept my invitation, and add the Knighthood application to their profile, they become Knights (or Ladies) and are worth twice as much to me as when they were lowly Squires (or Handmaidens). Otherwise, after 14 days of servitude, they leave my court, and I have to recruit ‘em all over again. Presumably, if I keep bombarding all my ‘friends’ with Knighthood invitations, they’ll either add it to their profile or put me on permanent ‘ignore’.

Baron Tim
Wouldn’t you want to be a vassal to this Baron?

I’m currently a Baron, and serve as liege to seven or eight Knights and Ladies and a whole passel of Squires and Handmaidens. I’ve got to stay ahead of ‘em in rank, or they can win their freedom (and I’ll have no one to work in my castle buildings). It is a strange game, entirely virtual, played against strangers, yet (at least in ‘Peace Mode’) rather passive.

Two potential vassals
There’s nothing passive about these two potential vassals.

Days can go by with nothing really happening in your kingdom, if you’re in the middle of a large building or upgrading project. And yet the game has a certain charm. Many of us, who grew up reading stories of the middle ages, yearn for a time of Chivalry, Honor and Glory. Here in the game of Knighthood, I can arm my vassals with pikes and axes and make sure they all pray in church (to maximize their zeal). Once ready, I can raid the virtual castle of some poor, unsuspecting guy in Bangladesh, winning fame, gold, glory and (if I’m lucky) taking some captives. (Hmmm. Maybe I need to revisit that whole ‘Chivalry’ thing.)

My castle still needs some work, even if (in honor of Mr. Darcy) I named it “Pemberly”.

I’ll keep you posted if I ever go to war … I know several of you are on the edges of your seats. Drop me a line if you want to become my vassal. :)


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As if there weren’t enough things to occupy my time and distract me from life, now I can add Facebook to the list. Blogs, email, homeschool groups, online carnivals – I could spend my entire day glued to the computer screen.

It’s wonderful! Especially when you are sun-burnt and afraid to go outside. Well, maybe it’s not really wonderful since eventually the family needs food and clean laundry. It’s a little hard to wash dishes or fold laundry (as if I ever do that) while the keyboard is on your lap and the mouse permanently glued to your fingertips.

Sarah's too cool for Facebook

I keep trying to get Sarah to do all the cooking and cleaning but she gives me that Princess Smile and I’m lost.

Anyway, back to Facebook. Basically it’s a social networking utility where you can connect with friends, family, co-workers, and fellow students. It was originally created by a Harvard sophomore, exclusively for other Harvard students. Gotta love those brilliant (and slightly bored) college students! Facebook expanded to other Ivy league schools (no need to be exclusive when there’s money to be made and students to exploit, I mean reach), high schools and finally the general public.

I can’t quite explain why it’s so fun, something about reaching out through the cyber world and connecting with friends. I know that I’m way behind the times, but I can’t help it.

“Girl, Facebook is, like, so 2006. Get with it! This homeschooling thing is keeping you unsocialized and ignorant.”

Not only did I lose precious hours of my day adding “friends” to my list, I pulled Tim into the Facebook world.

“The woman you put here with me – she invited me to her Facebook, and I joined.”

David, Sarah and Caedie

This picture has nothing to do with Facebook but I just love the little playhouse and therefore it deserves a spot on the blog.

On the other hand, I connected with some College of William and Mary alums and found one of my closest high school friends. I couldn’t believe it! I haven’t seen Jennifer since Tim and I were married. What are the odds that she would be one of the first people I ran in to? Even stranger is the fact that I was talking about her just last night with Rachel.

Hardly a waste of time!

Joshua and David are not on Facebook, yet

No time for Facebooking, we’ve got basketball to play.

Next thing you know I’ll be hanging out at Twitter.

Maybe not, there’s only so much coolness I can handle in one week. So, tell me, do you Facebook? If so, what do you like about it? Do you share photos, connect with friends, poke people? This is a new world for me. Share your wisdom and insight!

Project 366 – Day 192

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Elizabeth Gail Mysteries

Rachel (age 12 and 1/2) is flying through the Elizabeth Gail books by Hilda Stahl. And by flying, I mean reading two books a day. I stumbled across this Christian juvenile collection at a homeschool used curriculum sale in May. The books looked interesting so I bought the entire lot – 19 books in all. How could I resist? A big fat stack of books for Rachel – just my type of present.

19 books in all

At first Rachel was reluctant to begin the series. Frankly, they seemed a little too thin, not meaty enough for her. Thankfully there’s nothing like the combination of a prodding mother and a long summer afternoon to encourage one to dive into a waiting book.

I’ll do my best to snag Rachel for a real review of the books this week. She can give us her opinion and recommendations.

What are you pre-teen daughters reading this summer? Are you participating in the summer reading programs at your local library? Rachel told me she recently passed the 10 hour reading mark and is ready to collect her first prize.

Ah, the joy of raising a family of readers!

Project 366 – Day 188

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