High Notes

It’s Holy Week and I am, as usual, late to the music stand with my Easter selections. Every year I go to the same box of music that I’ve had since I was 14. It has a “color printed” word art sheet on the front – done with Lotus Amipro – that says, “Classical Trumpet: It Ain’t No Oxymoron!” This was my way of expressing my individuality and ironically bad grammar as a youth. Shockingly, I was never one of the cool kids…. Anyway, I’ve played Handel or baroque music nearly every Easter for the last five years because: I know it, it sounds great, it goes with the other music nicely, and I own it. I would pretend that I decided this year that my church had been subjected to enough baroque brass music, but in reality I had played through everything I owned that was baroque and not lento and that I could play.

Yes, I did miss my senior prom because it conflicted with my orchestra concert - how did you guess?

I really wish the publishers would come out with a book called, “Really Flashy Awesome Easter Music for Trumpet Players Who Play Twice a Year But Were Good Once”. I would buy that book, and love it forever.

What I settled on were some Sacred Harp tunes – which are not really THAT Eastery, but at least provide some variety from “The Trumpet Shall Sound”.

By the way, you’re all invited to my church this Sunday for our Easter celebration (with pancake breakfast starting at 9!). I’ll have some awesome music! (If I learn it in time and have a good lip day). And your reasons for not coming because you’re heathen/pagan/on another coast/bursting into flame when you enter a church… well, they can stop you if you don’t WANT to come, but we’ll welcome you all the same if you secretly DO want to come.

I didn’t feel like I had quite enough material in my “complaining about Easter repertoire” up there to make it’s own post, plus I’m about 6 posts behind in my head, so I though I’d throw in a picture that – on another day – I might turn into a vast discussion.

In truth, I’m endlessly amused by the stuff Grey draws. It goes from heartwarming (two happy smiling characters, labeled “Rich” and “Poor” cheerfully exchanging a full bag of coins), to funny (like the favorite animal as the hydra one), to extremely nerdy. The other day he came home with this “board game”. He made it at afterschool. The design and drawing are his, and he made clay tokens to represent the players. I took quite an extensive video of him explaining it to his beaming father. In this picture you can see the game board, the three auxiliary cards and the clay figures.

Grey's Game
Grey's Game

OK, I’m off to go ice my lips!

Battle Lines and Blind Side

Sunday night, an hour or two miraculously appeared after the boys were in bed. As my husband finished the story-reading, I delved in our well-stocked game cupboard for a new offering for the evening. After sorting through various boxes “The claim that this game plays with two is a lie” “Why do we even own games that have a 3 hour play time?” “I don’t have the 2 hours we’d need to assemble this game”, we settled on Battle Line.

It’s a lightly themed logic and planning game. It incorporates significant elements of poker (to my disadvantage — I’ve never played) in terms of winning card combinations and card counting. You also can gain an advantage by having a poker face, or being able to read your opponent’s intentions. However, there are six “suits” up to 10 cards, and a deck of “break the rules” cards which kept play interesting and unpredictable.

We both loved it. We split two games. We’re champing at the bit to play some more (although if your partner is, like mine, an optimizer, this might be an appropriate game to break out the play-timer for). It’s a small, light game, which means that it just shot to the top of our list for travel. I think it could be even more compact if you replace the “flags” with regular playing cards (they’re simply place holders). This is also the rare game that I believe will be able to handle numerous repetitions of play. There are lots of games that are fun to play 2 or 3 times, or once or twice a year. There aren’t as many games (like chess) that have much higher play potential — that can be different every time you play them, even if you play them for a year.

Then on Tuesday, a second Christmas miracle occurred. We had a free night. And we had a babysitter. I know, I know. Astonishing. Seriously, I think our last evening out together was late September. ANYWAY, I’m a sucker for a heart-warming story, so I’d really wanted to see “The Blind Side”. Ah, friends! Go see it! It is a story of radical hospitality and courage. It is a story about small and great kindnesses. It is a story about the best of people. And, most of all, it is a true story. Mom, this one is rated “K”. I was inspired and warmed by this increasingly rare vision of people behaving with love towards each other, in a family full of kindness.

I also see the movie as a challenge. I wish I had her courage and compassion.

It was awesome to spend time with my dearly beloved, and to have the time so rich. Nothing is so disappointing as making all the effort to get out, and then have your meal/movie be a total dud. These two were the opposite of dud-ish-ness!

Odin’s Ravens

Adam and I play a lot of board games. They’re our “go to” activity for date nights. After a long spree of “Roll Through the Ages” and “St. Petersburg”, I was finally up for a new game. Adam has been trying to talk me into Odin’s Ravens for well over a year now. It was marketed as a good two-person games.

Fun two person games are actually harder to come by than you might think. There are classic games like Chess and Go. But most of the builder-games I most enjoy work best for 3 – 4 people. Games that are meant for 3 – 4 people may claim that they work for 2, but rarely do — which is why we enjoyed RTTA and St. Pete’s so much.

The conceit of Odin’s Ravens is good — you’re two of Odin’s, er, ravens, trying to traverse the landscape of the North quickly. To accomplish this, you mess with your competitor, line up your travel route, play some politics on the side and put down a cache of cards to be used later. When one person has accumulated 12 points (12 spots ahead of the other person) the game ends.

The artwork was really lovely. The rules were clear and simple. Simple enough, actually, that we’re thinking about modifying it for Grey. If we stripped it down a little further, he could get it.

But if you have two relatively evenly matched players (which my husband and I usually are), you tend to have close races. And close races means no one gets many more points than the other. So a game that was billed as a 30 minute match took us closer to an hour and a half. I have to admit that, towards the end, I was getting a bit bored. There just weren’t infinite possible strategies, like some other games seem to have.

Odin’s Ravens seems like a good intro game — the sort you play with a younger player, or someone who is unused to board games and needs to be coaxed into the fold. Unless we both totally missed a strategic element, it’s probably not the board game for a pair of hardcore players.

Board Games

A common scene in our household
A common scene in our household

My husband and I have always played a lot of games. In the gravy days, back when we had TIME, we mostly played games in group setting — with friends. But lately, board games have become one of our primary date activities. That’s what we do when we want to spend time together.

Board games (and I’m not talking Monopoly here, people) fall into various categories. There are epic ones, quick ones, medium ones. There are hand-builder games (Dominion), resource games (Agricola – I first played this while in labor with Thane), spatial reasoning games (Richochet Robots), screw-your-neighbor games (You’ll probably disagree with me, but screw-your-neighbor is usually a defining feature of our games of Catan), strategy games (Memoir ’44) and party games (Werewolf).

There are games that play best with 6 or more people, and there are games perfectly balanced for 2. (Although it seems like most of MY favorite games are best with 3 – 4 players.)

Lately, Adam and I have been playing lots of Dominion, Roll Through the Ages and St. Petersburg. We’ve been playing so many games lately, that I’ve started to see and perceive patterns in what makes a game fun for us, and how we’re different in our makeup.

For example, Adam has a slight edge in Dominion, I dominate Roll Through the Ages, and he completely trounces me in St. Petersburg. Reliably. I have a slight edge in Memoir ’44, but that one takes so long to set up we rarely play it. All four of those are games we both enjoy playing.

What’s the difference? Adam is a perfectionist – an optimizer. He will take as long as he needs to figure out the absolute optimum strategy and apply it. I’m more of a good-enough-er; an executive decision maker. I go with what seems like a pretty good idea, make my decisions quickly and change my strategy midstream if it seems appropriate.

Neither one of our personalities is better, not even for game playing. I enjoy games that overwhelm him, like Race for the Galaxy and Agricola. He doesn’t like these games because he can’t really map out all possible outcomes and plan accordingly — there are too many and the fellow players at the table get impatient. He hates Catan because his careful planning usually gets spiked by the moves of other players in a way that feel malicious.

It’s been fascinating to watch how RELIABLY he beats me in St. Petersburg, even though I’m really trying my best, haven’t made huge mistakes, and have a competent strategy. In that game, night before last, the difference between competent and not making mistakes vs. perfectly optimized was a mammoth 30 points.

We’ve played a lot (a LOT) of games together to notice the differences between our decision making styles. I’m glad we have, though, because the styles hold true whether it’s in a board game or in life. I would (for example) win many more games if the scoring included the speed with which decisions were made. It always takes him a lot longer to decide what he wants to do, because he’s weighing all his options carefully. The same holds true for, for example, buying a computer. He’ll investigate all the options. I’ll find one that seems pretty good. Sometimes the difference between the third one on Amazon that seems reasonably priced and has high ratings and his careful research is nil — I end up with the same computer he finds after weeks of investigation. Sometimes it’s terribly significant. I begin to wonder if he should be in charge of some of our more major financial decisions. Or if, alternately, choosing a mutual fund for our IRAs might paralyze him with choice.

What about you? What kind of decision making process do you use? Have you discovered truths about yourself by playing board games?

The training starts early
The training starts early

Insert thoughtful educated post here

Let’s see here. I’ve done the milestone “see how big they’re getting now!” post. I’ve done the “here’s what I’ve done with the house” lately post. I’ve done a Domestic Diva post. I haven’t had any adventures in the last two weeks, unless you consider getting lost in Boston adventurous. That means I’m due for a “Deep Thoughts” post. (Sorry to pull back the curtain.)

Just one problem.

Right. No deep thoughts.

I’ve been contemplating this issue all day, trying on topics to see which ones would work. I’ve listening to Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga lately on audiobook and just came to the stunning revelation that Sergyar was named for Prince Serg. But aside from a psuedo-English-major essay on how Miles Vorkosigan is a namer as defined in Madeleine L’Engle’s books, I don’t think I have a lot to contribute on the topic.

I have been programming in a new language at work, but I’m still at the confused stage, so I don’t think I have anything valuable to add. Plus, a readership nourished on cute kid stories probably doesn’t want to hear my rant about WHY we can’t just have one standard universal data typing scheme so I don’t have to remember if it’s a float or number or numeric or if it’s a varchar or char or character or string or text.

I have played several new board games lately. I enjoyed Pillars of the Earth even though I lost badly. I think Roll Through the Ages is one of the best-designed two-player games I’ve played possibly ever and am sad that my six consecutive victories makes it unlikely I’ll be able to con my husband into it again soon. I liked St. Petersburg, but need to play it again to completely master the intricacies.

I just discovered to my shock and dismay that the Red Sox traded Justin Masterson while I was on Mt. Rainier and unable to use my psychic powers to protect him.

Let’s not even get in to politics, eh?

So here you have it. I have managed to write a 350 word post about how I have nothing to write about. I’ll attempt to salvage my bloggy-honor by promising that next week will be a meaningful post. And maybe I’ll do something interesting in the next 24 hours that I can tell you about tomorrow.