Friday, December 31, 2010

The Sixth Day of Christmas Gaming

On the Sixth Day of Christmas: 'i9n', 'Bombay', 'Canal Mania' (and 'Asara' again)
Transport goods and oil wells!
Wow, I won!!!
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fifth Day of Christmas Gaming

On the fifth day of Christmas: 'Ascension' and 'Rock Band'
Wow, I won!!!
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

I'm not sure if Rock Band counts although I didn't state explicitly that video games were excluded it feels a little against the spirit of what I had intended. Hence the game of Ascension to make sure that my internal rules are satisfied :)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Fourth Day of Christmas Gaming

On the fourth day of Christmas: 'Hansa' and 'RoboRally',
Baltic Sea and Robots,
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

I've managed 6 games in 4 days, it's easy this week because I'm off work, but I wonder how next week will fair?

The Third Day of Christmas Gaming

On the third day of Christmas: 'Battles of Westeros'
Miniatures need gluing!
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

What will tomorrow's game be? Will I make all 12 days?

Monday, December 27, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas Gaming

I'm working on a different game every day for the 12 days.

Here's what I've played so far

On the First Day of Christmas: 'Evo' and 'Urpsuppe'
Be a Dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

On the Second Day of Christmas 'Asara' got a play,
Beautiful Towers,
Be a dinosaur, then go and eat poop!

Today is day three and I've yet to play a game, will I make it????

Friday, December 24, 2010

I didn't expect to be crying....

....but there I was, not with gentle tears running down my face but great body-wracking sobs as I stood in the kitchen preparing the vegetables for tomorrow's feast. I was listening to the live broadcast of the service of Nine Lessons and Carols from Kings College Cambridge, something I did nearly every year with my mum. She died 3 1/2 years ago, but the grief hit me this morning with a force that surprised me, and so, as a boy soprano sang the glorious opening to 'Once in Royal David's City' I put down my brussel sprouts and allowed myself to grieve again.

In Luke 1, Zechariah said 'In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.'

I used to think that the 'Shadow of Death' was a particular place or season of life, but now it feels like the shadow of death is always there with me, that grief is a thread that runs through my life, and at this time of year that is especially difficult. The songs of Christmas tell of 'the most wonderful time of the year' and a 'holly jolly Christmas'. There doesn't seem a lot of room for 'the shadow of death' amid the lights of Christmas.

But that first Christmas was fraught with shadows. Mary and Joseph, young, pregnant and without a place to give birth. A country occupied by a foreign army, a King slaughtering innocent babies all amid prophecies of conflict and pain...

...and so, I go to church and sit in the darkness waiting for the magic of Christmas to somehow touch my life. And it does. Not in an 'ignore your pain and put on a happy face kind of way', but in the realization that the tender compassion of our God will shine a light in the midst of the the shadows of death, that it's ok to attend to the shadows because by God's grace I will not be overwhelmed.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hilarious Animals!

As I spent much of my childhood shouting 'Alan! Alan! Alan!' to get my brother's attention, I thought this was incredible!!!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Chocolate Mint Tart

A great dessert for all you chocoholics out there, and the pastry is very 'user friendly' to work with :) This recipe originally comes courtesy of Bon Appetite!


1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large egg, beaten to blend


1 1/4 cups whipping cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar
20 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (yes that's not a typo!!!!)
1 3/4 teaspoons peppermint extract
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Butter 10 inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom.

2. For Pastry. Sift unbleached flour, powdered sugar, cake flour, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl and rub in the butter with your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse sand. (I normally sift into a food processor and let the blade do the hard work for me)

3. In a large bowl add the egg and stir until moist clumps form. Gather it together with cold hands into a ball, flatten into a disk and wrap in plastic. Freeze it for 10 minutes.

4. Preheat the oven to 400F.

5. Roll out the dough on floured surface (though I normally roll between 2 sheets of plastic wrap!) to about a 13-14inch round. Transfer the dough into the prepared pan gently. Trim the overhang to about 1/2 inch and then fold that overhang in and press so you form double-thick sides. Freeze the crust for about 20 minutes until firm.

6. Line the crust with aluminium foil. Fill with dried beans or ceramic pie weights and bake until the sides have set, about 15 minutes. Reduce the oven to 350F. Remove the foil and beans and bake until the crust is golden brown - about another 20 minutes. You may need to put some foil over the sides to prevent burning. Cool crust completely.

7. For Filling. Combine the cream, butter and sugar in a heavy large saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until the butter melts, the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate and both extracts until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth.

8. Pour 1 cup of the filling into a small heavy saucepan and reserve covered on the kitchen counter for the glaze. Pour the remainder of the filling into a medium bowl and refrigerate for 1 hour stirring occasionally.

9. Take the bowl of filing from the fridge and whisk for 2 minutes until the color lightens (if you do this by hand it will feel like a very long 2 minutes!!!). Spoon the whisked filling into the crust and smooth the best you can. Refrigerate until the filling is firm - about 30 minutes.

10. Stir the reserved filling in the small saucepan over a low heat until just lukewarm, about 2 minutes. Pour over the top of the filling as a glaze and swirl the tart around to evenly cover the top. Chill until the glaze sets, about 1 hour.

I normally put hersheys kisses around the edge to decorate!

You can make the tart up to 2 days before you serve it, if you cover it and keep it chilled.

To serve just push up the pan bottom to release.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

Remember and Reconcile

The Lord favored our ancestors, recalling the sacred covenant, the pledge to our ancestor Abraham, to free us from our enemies, so we might worship without fear and be holy and just all our days.

When I read this part of the Benedictus I asked myself the question 'Who are my enemies?', I created a mental list (one that I'm not particularly proud of) and began to attempt to pray God's blessings onto these peoples lives.

Then my mind did some gymnastics and the question came out as 'Who would consider me an enemy?' In some cases the names were the same, but mostly this time I produced a list of categories, groups of people that I prejudged because I imagined they were prejudging me.

The first question led me to prayer, the second one led me to get angry about things that a) may never happen and b) I have no control over.

I think that's why I need to 'recall the sacred covenant', it pulls me out of myself and the crazy corners of my mind that I am tempted to wander into. More than that, remembering how God was with me in the past helps me trust that God will be present with me now.

Jesus said, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift."

When I think of the people who I need to reconcile with, the enemies I need to love, the Persecutors that I need to pray for, it can be most of the time I don't think about it, and because I don't think about, I forget to reconcile, I forget to love and I forget to pray.

The Benedictus tells us that it is when we are free of our enemies that we can worship without fear and be holy and just. Jesus says that reconciliation comes before worship.

How can you 'remember the sacred covenant?
Who are your enemies?
Who would consider you an enemy?
Where do you need to offer reconciliation?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Reason for my Seasonal Anger!

(warning, inchoherent angry blogpost)


I received another one of those 'Jesus is the Reason for the Season' emails this morning. The ones that go one about Political Correctness and Crass Commercialism. This one really angered me, partly because it was factually incorrect and also dated. It talked about Madonna cds, and Kwanzaa, of Dan Rather and Bill Clinton. It made an unsupported assertion that the Senate is eliminating Jesus from just about everything and then it talked about stores promoting Ramadan!

(Ramadan started in August this year and finished in September. The last time it coincided with Christmas was 10 years ago!)

...and to top it all off it was written in bad poetry!!!

I found myself getting angry as I drove into work. Every year I receive emails like this one. Emails claiming that 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' is actually a secret christian song (false) or that the Candy Cane is a symbol of Jesus (also false). Why do we need to Christianize everything to make it acceptable? Even the date of Christmas was picked with that in mind. Christians 'stole' the date of Christmas from the Winter Solstice and the Festival of the Birth of the Unconquered Sun and the celebration of Mithra!

I get angry emails complaining about people saying 'Happy Holidays' instead of 'Merry Christmas' that seem to forget the fact that there is more than one holiday going on right now (Hannukah anyone?) or complaining that people are writing Xmas instead of Christmas without knowing the history behind it or the fact that it was Christians who started writing it that way!

I began to rant in the car.

"Christians are so hypocritical, the only difference between their Christmas celebrations and the rest of the world, is the fact that they go to church. They still spend as much on gifts as everyone else. They just spray some 'Jesus' on the top. If they really cared about 'Jesus being the Reason for the Season' they would stop sending out factually incorrect emails, step away from their computers, and be Jesus to the world this Christmas time!"

By the time I heard the commercial on the radio about 'Lottery Scratch Cards' being the perfect Christmas gift tradition I was in a fowl mood.

...and then I looked inward.

I saw how my Christmas doesn't differ that much from everyone else. I'm spending too much on gifts when many people have no money to purchase necessities. I'm obsessing about Christmas Dinner when many people have nothing to eat.

As a church musician at Christmas time a lot of my energy is spent facillitating Christmas for the congregation, but what about those who never darken the door of the church?

I need to be asking myself how I can be 'Jesus for the world' this Christmas. Maybe I need to make gifts to charity in other people's names instead of buying them things they don't need...

...that's a good start, but I need to 'Jesus for the world' every day, not just one season of the year.

I can say nothing...

I have no right to complain about others...

Guilty as charged...

(and to the friend who sent me the email, I know you were well intentioned, sorry for my rant!)

Monday, December 06, 2010

Saturday, December 04, 2010

November Gaming

November is always a bounteous month for games as I get to go to the BoardGameGeek.Com annual convention in Dallas.

So in November I managed 58 plays of 33 different games.

Here are the top three:

Fluch De Mumie (Pyramid) is a children's game that parents won't get bored by easily. I managed 7 plays this month - mainly as the Mummy :)

Ascension (6 plays). Ascension is the next hybrid of deck building games, it feels like the offspring of Dominion and Magic the Gathering.

Hang on Harvey (4 plays) Wow another children's game. But one that is very silly!!!

So what did I play at the convention???


Die Fugger (a favorite of mine)
Neue Heimat (2 plays) - a tense economic game about building real estate.
Black Friday - the new game from Friedeman Friesse. Buying and selling stocks while trying to avoid the market crash that happens at some point in the game.


Kings and Things an old school fantasy fighting game. Not really my thing.
Tichu (3 plays) I love a game of tichu, but three in a row for the tournament felt a bit much!
Crokinole - a fun partnership dexterity game!
Timber Tom - racing hikers trying to reach the tops of various mountain peaks first
Hive (3 plays) - a great abstract strategy game that plays quickly and I love.
Freeze - a rather silly party acting game, good for late nights.


Regatta - a table top sail boat race. It felt like an improved version of Techno Witches
Merchants of the Middle Ages - buying, shipping and selling goods. I like it, but I'm terrible at it.
Ascension - the first of many plays!
Great Fire of London - interesting. Running fire brigades around London trying to protect your property!
I9N (2 plays) - a deduction game. I needed either a notepad or a quiet room to be able to play this, I couldn't keep all the information in my head!
Rattus - because who doesn't love a game where you get to ravage Europe with the Black Plague!!!
funfair It was late at night, we were tired, enough said


Get Bit - 'You don't have to swim faster than the shark, just faster than your friends'
Castle Ravenloft - Dungeons and Dragons with a board and no Dungeon Master.
Abandon Ship - Reiner Knizia creates a dice game with rats trying to leave a sinking ship. Light and frothy and mildly amusing
Ascension - yes it hit the table again!!!!!
Innovation - I'm not sure my opinion on this yet. For some reason it reminds of Fluxx but with better mechanics!


Kaigan - Mapping Japan's coastline. I was so tired by this point in the weekend I could barely strategize!

So how do the statistics for the year look?

Well Werewolf is still top with 26 plays, but Hive is close behind with 23. Dominion is in third place with 17 plays and then we have a tie for fourth place with two children's games, Animal upon Animal and Fluch De Mumie.

As I look at the potential for Quarters, Nickels and Dimes (25, 5, 10 plays) it looks like there will be 14 games to achieve that illustrious status as a coin!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

O Little town of...Nazareth?????

It's just a throw away line at the beginning of Luke chapter 2, just some names that cause linguistic difficulties to anyone assigned to read this passage in a Christmas Service.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was Governor of Syria.)

It's a passage that causes problems for historians as Jesus was born around 5 B.C.E. while Quirinius was not governor of Syria until around 6 -7 A.D. There are various theories put forward as to how to reconcile the dates, but that isn't what caught me I as I read the passage this week.

The prophets spoke of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth 90 miles away, so to fulfill the prophets God had to get them to Bethlehem somehow. With all the angelic visits happening to Mary and Joseph I wonder why God didn't instruct Gabriel to tell Mary to give birth in Bethlehem instead of using the census as a means of getting them there.

An angelic pronouncement about traveling to Bethlehem would have given the journey a feel of the holy rather than one of inconvenience. God using the occupying forces, the 'heathen enemy' to make sure that prophesy is fulfilled. That alone should cause me to reflect a little more closely on events in my life to see if the hand of God is lurking in the background.

Augustus took a census of the entire Roman World, I've begun to think that I should take a census of my 'world' this Advent season as an aid to using this time as one of preparation.
  • Where is my 'world' functioning well?
  • What parts of my 'world' need greater attention?
  • What parts of my 'world' pour joy into me?
  • What parts of my 'world' drain joy from me?
To reflect causes me to see areas that need a response.
To reflect causes me to question assumptions.

But most importantly, to reflect helps me begin to see where God is birthing something new in my life, in unexpected places.