Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Part 5: The Christmas Projects

Mrs. BigKat had a great idea for the kids this year. Originally, she was going to have them make gingerbread houses. But instead she did something else. She made a big pan of Rice Krispy treats. Then she used a cut up milk carton for a mold and stuffed the Rice Krispy goop into it. She did this twice to make 2 huge Rice Krispy houses, one for each boy. She put some frosting into a ziploc bag with a corner cut off. The boys squeezed out the frosting onto their houses and stuck marshmallows, sprinkles, and little pieces of candy all over them.
Oddly enough, the messy red one was created by the 5 year old, while the nice neat one was made by the 3 year old.

Up next, Christmas Part 6: The Cinnamon Rolls

Christmas Part 4: Heroscape Deals and the Crazy Lady at Fred Meyer's

I love Heroscape. If I had Heroscape as a kid, I think I would've played it every day. There are so many cool little guys that you can play with: robots, ninjas, cowboys, aliens.

Well, a couple of days before Christmas, I was preparing to make my Christmas candy. I started taking out all of the ingredients when I realized that I didn't have enough corn syrup (the marshmallows take a full cup of it). So I headed off to Fred Meyer's to get some more (if you've never heard of Fred Meyer's, it's not some guy name Fred's house. It's a big store that sells everything: food, clothes, furniture, gardening stuff...and Heroscape!). I found the corn syrup pretty easy and picked up a nice big bottle of it. Then I decided to take a look at the Heroscape aisle...just in case.

Now Fred Meyer's is not the best place to buy Heroscape. Heroscape is normally pretty expensive. But it's very expensive at Fred Meyer's. But I always go take a look, like I said, just in case. A couple of days earlier, I had went to pick up $30 of stuff for Christmas dinner and came home with $65 of Heroscape. They had a 20% off sale, plus they had all of the wave 3 expansion sets, which I had never seen before. I decided to pick them up...just in case. That way I could take my time and decide if I really wanted them (they're still unopened in their boxes). I came home with an armload of secret agents, highlanders, gorillas, shaolin monks, and other cool guys.

So I didn't expect very much when I went back to do my Heroscape check, since I had just been there a couple of days before. But it was a good thing I did! They not only had the 20% off sale still going on, but they also had a buy one get one half off sale going on as well. They didn't have any more small expansion set since I had been there a couple of days before. But they did have some castle sets that were 50% off! But it wasn't clear if they were on buy one get one half off. So I grabbed a couple, just in case.

When I got to the check out aisle, I told the lady that I just wanted to check to see if the Heroscape sets were on the buy 1 get 1 half off sale. She scanned them and said that they were. I told her that I would be back. I wanted to see if there was anything else good that I could snag. She told me that I could leave my corn syrup and castle sets there and she'd ring them up when I came back. This was my first mistake...

I went back to the Heroscape aisle and found a couple of forest sets that I've been wanting. The forest sets are very popular so they're sometimes pretty hard to find on a good deal. I was glad to get them. I went back to the checkout aisle and, to my dismay, there were a couple of people there with lots of groceries. The people in front had a full cart of stuff and it was taking a while for them to get checked out. The lady behind them was in one of those motorized carts and also had a basket full of stuff. All of the checkout aisles had customers in them, so I figured that I might as well just wait where I was, my second mistake. After a little while, the lady in the motorized cart told me that she also had another full cart worth of stuff that she was buying and I might want to switch lines. I told her that the rest of my stuff was at the front of the line, so I needed to stay there. I waited a while and the people in front finally got done paying for their stuff. That's when the fun began...

The lady in the cart told the checker that there was another motorized cart full of stuff a couple of aisles down. It had run out of power so she had to get a second one. The checker got on the phone and had to call around to find someone that could find the cart for her. This took a while. Then the person came and she had to explain to him what was going on and where to look for the other cart. This took a while as well. The checker started doing pretty well ringing up all of the lady's items. But there were a ton of groceries, and she started running out of places to put them. This slowed things down a bit. It got even slower because the lady in the cart kept having to make sure that all of her coupons were getting scanned. And she had to verify that, when the checker put bags of stuff on top of other bags, that the bags on top contained items that would not crush the stuff underneath.

The guy drove up in the second motorized cart. The lady in the cart then informed me that I was going to have to remove my items from the belt so that she could fit her items on. My things were kind of big and I didn't want to hold them. So I told the guy that I would unload the groceries from the cart. That way, I could keep my items on the belt and just keep moving them back as room was needed. When the checker saw the guy go away, she became very confused. She said something to the effect of 'Where's he going? He needs to unload the cart!' I told her that I was going to do the unloading. She asked if I was sure I wanted to do that. I replied 'Well, I've got nothing else to do.'

At this point, I'm really trying to figure out if I should just go back and get a new bottle of corn syrup and new Heroscape sets. Or just stick it out. Since I now had cart unloading responsibilities, I didn't have much of a choice. Besides, I had made it this far, it seemed like it would've been a shame to quit.

The checker was really running out of space, so she had to get on the phone again. She needed someone to come bring another cart to her. Again, it took a while to find someone. Then the lady in the cart let the checker know that she couldn't find any large packs of 'Ferrero Rocher' candies. So the checker had to call to find someone who could go look in the candy aisle for a box of these candies. This took a looooong while (they didn't have any).

Finally, the checker finished ringing up all of the lady's stuff. I was disappointed to find that the total was only $322. I was hoping that all that stuff was going to be at least $1000. Oh well.

I quickly paid for my stuff and headed for my car. I had been in that line for over 20 minutes. I could've went back, picked up new Heroscape and corn syrup, went into another line, and still saved myself 15 minutes. But I didn't. My quick 20 minute errand had turned into an hour long adventure. The store was closed at this point and people were told that they could only exit through the doors in front of the grocery part of the store. I was just about headed out the door when I realized that there was no corn syrup in my bag! I checked my receipt and saw that the checker hadn't even rung it up! It was the only reason that I went to the store in the first place.

I went back to the checkout aisle to go get my corn syrup. When I got there, there was already a nice line of people with full carts waiting to pay for their stuff. I went up to the checker and said 'I need my corn syrup.' She handed it to me...and I left.

That's right. I left the store. With the corn syrup. That I didn't pay for. I STOLE corn syrup! I just really did not want to wait in line anymore. I know, I know, I'm a horrible impatient shoplifter. But it was 11:30pm and I just wanted to get home and make my candies. (My plan is actually to give them the money for the corn syrup the next time I'm at Fred Meyer's. At least that makes it so I'm only kind of stealing.)

I got in my truck and called Mrs. BigKat to tell her I was coming home. She had actually started to get worried about me because I was taking so long. I told her what happened and we had a good laugh about it.

The thing I realized was that even though I wasted 20+ minutes standing in line, I now had a story that I could look back on and laugh about for the rest of my life: How I went out to buy $4 in corn syrup and came back with $40 in Heroscape. And how a crazy lady in a motorized cart turned me into a common criminal.

Coming soon, Christmas Part 5: The Christmas projects

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas Part 3: The Candy

When I was little, I enjoyed dessert making. I used to bake a lot of cookies. That's mainly because making cookies from a recipe was not too hard. You just do whatever the directions says and, soon, you end up with a bunch of cookies. Just mix some stuff up in a bowl, spoon out some blobs, and then bake said blobs according to the instructions. Nothing real complicated. There might be some butter creaming involved at the beginning, but that's about it. And even if you're off a little, what you end up with is way better than Chips Ahoy. I would even venture into pies and cakes once in a while. I liked recipes that had easy to follow instructions as well as some room for error. And no complicated techniques. Just mixing and scooping.

So when I'd see cookbooks with pictures of interesting looking candies, I'd take a look to see if it was something that I could do. But the mere mention of a candy thermometer destroyed any hopes I had of even attempting it. I was very much intimidated by the candy thermometer. Candy making just seemed like some crazy mad scientist ritual with terminology that didn't make any sense. What in the world does hard crack mean? And what would happen if the thermometer got fogged up and I couldn't tell if it's on soft ball or hard ball? What if the temperature shot up too quickly and I was too slow to do anything about it? It all seemed way too...dangerous. I didn't want to deal with it at all, even if it meant not being able to make my own caramels.

Looking back at it now, I think that my main problem was that I didn't understand the science behind basic candy making. If I had, I think I really would've enjoyed it. Well, thanks to my favorite food show, Good Eats, I've learned a little bit about what goes on when you cook a sugar solution. And, you know what? It's really fascinating. And knowing things like what will happen to my candy if I let it cook too hot or if I don't add corn syrup makes me a lot more comfortable. If something goes wrong, I'll probably be able to figure out what to do about it next time because I understand what's happening when the candy is cooking. Also, using modern recipes that say '240 degrees' instead of 'soft ball' makes me much more at ease. So now I know what bazillions of other Christmas cooks have known for years. Candy making is really easy, and it's pretty fun too.

This year, I made 2 different candies. One was the chocolate marshmallows that I had made earlier in the month. They turned out really well, so I made a bunch more. The other candy that I made was my toffee. A long time ago, a guy that I worked with brought some toffee in that his wife had made. It was some of the best candy that I'd ever had. Kind of like Almond Roca. But way better. I asked him if he could get the recipe for me, and he did. It took me a while before I actually tried making it (afraid of candy thermometers and all). And even when I did try it, it took some modifications to the recipe for it to come out right. Anyhow, what I have now is a recipe that I make pretty much every year at Christmas time. I make big batches of it and give it out to our friends. Everyone seems to love it, so I keep making it.

Here's the recipe in case you're interested:

1 cup unsalted butter

1 1/3 cups sugar

3 Tbl water

1 Tbl corn syrup

1 cup chopped walnuts

11 oz Hersey milk chocolate

1 cup finely chopped walnuts

1) Line a 13"x9.5"x2" pan with aluminum foil. Set aside.

2) Melt butter in a large saucepan.

3) Add sugar, corn syrup, water. Cook on medium high, stirring occasionally, to 280 degrees.

4) Take saucepan off burner. Quickly stir in chopped walnuts (NOT the finely chopped ones), and spread into the pan that you lined with aluminum foil.

5) Let pan cool about 10 minutes.

6) While you're waiting for the pan to cool, melt the chocolate. I do this by breaking it up into pieces and putting it in the microwave. Microwave it at half power in 1 minute intervals. Check after each interval to see if the chocolate is melted.

7) Lift cooled candy out of pan and place on flat surface.

8) Spread top with half of melted chocolate. Sprinkle with half of the finely chopped walnuts.

9) Place a piece of wax paper over the candy. Put an upsidown cookie sheet on top of the wax paper. Carefully flip the whole thing upsidown so that the cookie sheet is right-side-up with the candy in it.

10) Spread the rest of the chocolate on top of the candy. Sprinkle the rest of the finely chopped walnuts on top of the chocolate.

11) Let sit in a cool, dry place or refrigerate until chocolate has firmed.

12) Take a big knife and cut it up into squares like a checkerboard.


Make sure you use butter, not margarine.

Pyrex pans work well.

You will need a candy thermometer.

Don't store in refrigerator.

If the toffee is too hard, you probably cooked it too long.

If the toffee doesn't have a nice carmelized taste, you didn't cook it long enough.

280 degrees has worked well for me, but you can move it up or down a bit to suit your tastes.


Up next, Christmas Part 4: Heroscape Deals and The Crazy Lady at Fred Meyer's

Christmas Part 2: The tree

For a long time now, I've been telling Mrs. BigKat that we should get a fake tree. And although, she's shot down my idea each year, she is slowly but steadily warming up to it. There are many great reasons to get a fake tree:

1) You only have to buy it once. Pick one up on an after Christmas sale and you're set.

2) You can set it up whenever you want. In the past, we've picked out a Saturday when we could go get it, only to have it start pouring rain. Then we have to wait a whole week for the next Saturday. And hope it doesn't rain again.

3) You don't have to cut it down. Cutting down trees stinks. And the trees we cut down always have these huge trunks. Not only do I have to spend a lot of time cutting through the massive trunks, but I also have to shave a bunch of the trunk off to get it to fit into our Christmas tree stand. Sure I could just buy a stand that holds bigger trunks. But I'm trying to get us to get a fake tree! And buying live tree equipment doesn't fit into my plan.

Besides, no one really has fun going to the Christmas tree farm. The kids have an ok time finding the tree. But they get pretty cold and bored waiting for me to cut it down.

4) You don't have to worry about watering it all the time or cleaning up tree junk all over your living room.

5) There's no bad spots. Unless you want to put one in when you're assembling it.

This year, we tried somewhere new to find our tree. In the past, we've gone to these big crowded tree farms. One we went to last year had a hay maze thing with a big slide. It had all these different attractions. Even pony rides! And you had to pay to use all of them. This year, if we were going to cut a tree down, I wanted to go to a place with just trees. No big parking lots. No bouncy houses. No gift shop with expensive ceramic Christmas knick-knacks. Just trees.

We found one near our church that looked pretty good. It was just a family farm. You parked in front of their driveway and paid in their garage. Perfect. We got there and I asked the guy how things worked. He said that for a noble fir (they had mostly noble firs), it was $40 per tree. Any tree. Could be 2 feet tall or 60 feet tall. Forty dollars. Mrs. BigKat immediately thought that this was a great thing and basically told me that we should get the biggest tree that we could find. Great. Now I'm all for getting a good deal on things and getting the most bang for your buck. But the thing that kept going through my head was: Big tree = Big trunk = BigKat with a Big backache.

Well, it didn't take us too long to find a nice tree. And yes, it was pretty big. Much bigger than any tree we'd gotten in the past. Mrs. BigKat and the boys took a look around a bit more to make sure that there weren't any better ones out there. And there weren't. So I got started cutting.

Boy was I miserable. First of all, the trunk was really big. I actually had to cut it down a foot off of the ground because the part next to the ground was way too big. Second, I was tired. I had run 10k that morning and I was still feeling the effects of it. Third, it started raining. No fun. And finally, it just took a looooooooong time. At first, I was making really good progress. And then my arms started to get tired. And it went much slower. Eventually, I felt like my arms were going to fall off. No fun at all.

Well, I finally was able to knock the tree down. Which made me feel good. For about 5 seconds. Then I realized that I was going to have to carry the Big Huge Tree up to the house about a hundred yards away. I started to drag the tree up. It only took 2 or 3 steps for me to realize that it wasn't going to happen. It was raining really good at this point and I wanted to get the kids somewhere dry. So we all started heading up to the main house (by the way, the boys actually had a great time while I was cutting the tree down. They were digging holes in the ground with sticks. They did this the entire time I was trying to saw the tree down. And they loved it. Even in the rain! Who would've guessed?). My plan was to see if I could get someone to help me bring the tree up. Well, it turned out to be a great plan. One of the guys drove down on this little tractor and hauled it up for me. And after he brought it up, he said that he'd load it in the truck for me. Perfect! Since they were doing that, I went in to check on the kids. Well, it turned out that loading it in the truck wasn't so easy. Mrs. BigKat saw them trying to put it in and said that it took 2 guys and a lady to lift it up and in. I'm not sure why it was so heavy. Maybe the rain gave it some extra weight? Well, I was just glad that someone else did it for me.

We got the tree home and put it in the garage. The following day, I set it up. Wow! It turned out to be our nicest tree ever! I just loved looking at it, especially after Mrs. BigKat put the lights on. I think it fit our living room perfectly. Nice and tall. But at the same time, not too wide. Just a very nice fit.

The funny thing is that as we were driving out to the tree farm, I think Mrs. BigKat was just starting to be convinced that we should pick up a fake tree after Christmas this year. Now, she's not so sure. Even I'm not so sure. You know, if I could get a nice tree like this every year for only $40, I may be willing to put up with an annual aching-back-arms-falling-off weekend.

Coming next, Christmas Part 3: The Candy

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas Part 1: The Plan

Christmas is over. It seemed to come and go so quickly. But I think the recap is going to take a while. Therefore, I've decided to break  it apart into sections. Part 1 is 'The Plan'.


Here's how 'The Plan' started. Last year, Christmas was crazy. There were piles of presents under the tree. We got the kids some stuff, but they got a whole bunch of things from their grandparents. LilKat1 had so much trouble getting to sleep because of all the presents. At one point, I went to check on him and he said to me:


And it wasn't really Christmas he couldn't get his mind off of, it was the presents. Christmas day itself was even worse. To begin with, LilKat1 got really mad when we started reading the story of Jesus' birth from the Bible because he just wanted to get to his presents. And when he started opening them, he was really just tearing through them without even really stopping to see what it was that he was opening. By the afternoon, our living room looked like Santa's workshop had exploded. There were pieces of toys and games strewn all over the floor and hunks of Christmas wrapping shrapnel covering the furniture. Not a pretty sight. It was quite stressful actually. The whole day was just so presents-focused. It really bothered me.

I decided that this was not going to happen again. I'm fine with gift giving during Christmas. I'm fine with grandparents giving their grandkids piles of presents. But I'm not ok with kids not being thankful for what they get. And I'm not ok with Jesus not being the focus of Christmas. My solution was to have almost all of the presents opened before Christmas. With the presents out of the way, Christmas could be just a big Happy Birthday party for Jesus. And by spreading the opening of the presents out over a whole month rather than all at once, the kids would not be as overwhelmed and would have some time to appreciate the things that they got.

It worked out really well. Our plan was to give the boys a present on each Sunday during Advent. On Christmas Day, they would still have the gifts in their stockings, as well as the things they picked out for each other, plus a couple of small things from us. The presents from the grandparents came a couple of weeks before Christmas. They were separated into small piles. The boys knew ahead of time which pile they could open on which day. And during this whole time, I kept explaining to the boys the reason why we were doing things this way. I think it worked. One time, My Friend Who Lies came over and LilKat1 gave him a very good explanation of why they got to open their presents before Christmas.

And on Christmas day, LilKat1 was actually very excited about reading about Jesus' birth from the Bible. Ok, I admit that right after we were done reading, he shouted 'Let's go open the stockings!' But he truly enjoyed listening to the story. And when I told him that before we opened the stockings, we were going to pray together, he happily joined in. Yeah, our living room still looked like a Merry Chris-mess when it was over. But we have some ideas on how to fix that next year. It's still a work in progress.

Anyhow, be sure to stay tuned for Part 2: The Tree.

New Record

See this ball?

I bounced it on my head nine times in a row last night!

I'm amazing!

Thursday, December 20, 2007


I just saw this, and it made me laugh. According to the article, Papa John's Pizza had some kind of a special deal on 3 Medium 'Unlimited Topping' pizzas. Sounds like a lot right? I mean, with Unlimited toppings, you could stack your pizza with 10 feet of pepperonis and still be within your rights to ask for more. Apparently, in this case, 'Unlimited' means 5.

I tried to think about what would happen if this applied to other situations:

'Wow, so you're saying that with this new phone, I get unlimited long distance calling?'
'That's correct sir!'
'That's fantastic! I'll be able to talk with my parents everyday!'
'Well...not can call them every day for 5 days...but then you have to wait until the next month.'


'Have you seen this kid jump? I mean, his athleticism is virtually unlimited!'
'Wow, what's his vertical?'


'Hey! The Mona Lisa! I've always wanted to see it! Can I buy it?'
'Sir, the Mona Lisa is priceless! It's value is unlimited!'
'I'll give you five dollars.'


'Sarah! God spoke to me! He said to count the stars in the sky! That is how many descendants he will bless me with!'
'Abraham, that is impossible! The stars are too numerous to count! To my eyes, they are unlimited! I guess we will never know how many descendants we'll have.'
'Actually, it doesn't take that long. There's the big bright one, and the two next to it, and the one a little bit above it, and then the one on the other side. Soooo...Five!'
'Doesn't seem like much of a nation, does it?'

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Comic Book Guy

LilKat1 has been collecting a few Yugioh and Pokemon cards. He doesn't really know what these cards are for. There are some kids at school that have a bunch and decided to share some of their cards with him. So he has a little stack of dog-eared cards held together with a rubber band.

I thought it might be fun to buy him a few cards of his own. I didn't want to actually buy a pack of cards, since they're ridiculously expensive for little thin cardboard rectangles. But I thought I could go to a comic book/game store and buy some individual cards. Not the expensive rare cards, but the common ones that people end up with a whole stack of when trying to collect the rare cards and just want to throw away. I've seen a comic book store in town, so I decided to stop in and see if they have any cards that I could pick up. Anyhow, I drove down there and walked in the door. And do you know who I saw?

Seriously! This is the guy that worked at the comic book store! I don't know if this is just how he looks and really fits a stereotype or if he was just trying to go for this look since he's a comic book store guy (if this is the case, then he really hit the nail on the head!). I asked him if he carried what I was looking for and he said that he didn't. I tried to make some interesting conversation with him about comic books (I used to collect them when I was little), but he pulled out his elite-comic-book-snobby-nerd attitude. It was PERFECT! He even smelled funny!

Sunday, December 16, 2007


So maybe someone can explain this to me. My boys are incredibly picky eaters. I mean really, really picky. Here's what they will eat for dinner:

LilKat1: Macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, sandwich (with butter and cheese only, sometimes with ham), grilled cheese (sometimes), spaghetti (sometimes), corn dogs, pizza, ramen

LilKat2: Chicken nuggets, hot dogs, spaghetti (sometimes), pizza, toast

Not a lot there, right?

But when we go to Costco and there's someone giving out samples, they will eat ANYTHING!!! Seriously! I really don't understand this. Today, LilKat2 had a chipotle chicken flauta. And he liked it! He ate the whole thing! You think he'd eat anything resembling a chipotle chicken flauta if I made him one at home? No way! But wait, you say! Why don't you just buy a box of the kind that they're selling at Costco. Surely, he'd eat that, right?

Nope...He'd have none of that. I guarantee it.

So here's my new plan. I'm thinking of getting rid of our kitchen table and chairs. I'm going to replace them with a couple of stainless steel carts. Mrs. BigKat will man one and I'll take the other one. One cart will be for the entree, and other cart will be for the side dish. Instead of cooking the food on the stove or in the oven like normal, we'll just cook their meals in toaster ovens that are on the carts. And instead of putting the food on plates, we'll just cut it up into small bits and put the pieces in little paper cupcake wrappers. When it's dinner time, we'll have the boys come over, and the cups of food will be available for them on the carts on little plastic trays. The boys can just meander back and forth between the carts, eating cups of food until they're done. Oh, and we'll probably have to wear white coats and shower caps too.

Think it'll work?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Thumbs up

Every once in a while, LilKat1 will be using the potty standing up and he'll miss a little bit (and sometimes more than a little bit). This is not that big of a deal in and of itself. After all, a tour of any typical men's room would lead one to the conclusion that a good 95% of all men have this problem (on a semi-related note, I don't know if I wrote about this already, but a while ago, I was in the locker room at the YMCA and there was this old guy using the urinal. He had no clothes on. None. And I thought to myself...'Now there's a guy who's not afraid of cooties...' I, however, am afraid of cooties. Which is why, when I take my kids to play on the McDonald's play structure, I try to tell myself to always have them wear their slip on shoes. Because if one of the boys has to go use the potty all of a sudden, I'm not going to have them walk around the public men's room in their socks. I realize that often, in those gotta-go-potty-now situations, time is of the essence, but we still need to get those shoes on! Anyhow, back to the story...). But it is not very fun to walk into the bathroom (keep in mind that we have one of those houses where you're not allowed to wear shoes inside) and all of a sudden notice that the bottom of your foot is soaking wet. And then you look down and realize why it's soaking wet. Yucky...As LilKat2 would say, I can't really want that.

So I had to have a talk with LilKat1. I told him that I know that sometimes he misses the potty. And if he misses the potty, he won't be in trouble. But he NEEDS to tell me or Mrs. BigKat that he has missed the potty so that we can go in and clean it up before someone steps in it. He was fine with that.

Well, I'm happy to say that he has taken to this new rule quite nicely. In fact, he is quite outstanding at it. Now, he'll go into the potty, and a few minutes later, I'll hear a sing-song voice coming from the bathroom saying 'Daaaaaaaaaa-ddyyyyyyyy! I miii-iiiiissed! And then he'll poke his head out the door, flash me a huge grin, and give me a big thumbs up! That's my boy...

Mr. Jack


Mr. Jack is currently my favorite 2 player game. Want to know why?

1) The theme is fun: One player is Jack the Ripper. The other is the Inspector. Jack the Ripper is pretending to be one of 8 suspects. The Inspector has to figure out which one he really is before Mr. Jack can escape.

2) The components are quite nice: Little wood pieces with stickers on them for the suspects. Nice thick cards. And great artwork. As you can tell from the box picture, it's somehow dark and cartoony all in one. Fun yet...menacing! When I look at the board, I feel like the artwork fits the game perfectly.

3) Games play pretty quickly: The Inspector has only 8 turns to figure out which suspect is Mr. Jack. The box says that the game length is about 30 minutes. When Mrs. BigKat and I play, it's usually more like an hour (but we're playing at a pretty casual pace, making snacks, chit-chatting about the day, etc.). This works out great for us because we can easily fit it in during the evening after the kids go to sleep and not go to sleep too late.

4) A variety of characters: Each of the 8 characters in the game has unique special abilities. Not only does this help tie the game to its theme, but it also makes repeated gameplay much more interesting, as you figure out different ways to use each character more effectively.

5) Gameplay is easy to pick up, but has some depth (you can go here to find out the details of how the game is played): At first glance, this looks like it's a deduction game. Each player has access to all 8 suspects. As the suspects are moved around the board, the Inspector eliminates some of them from suspicion. This is done by moving the characters into or out of 'the light' (characters that are either next to a lit streetlight, or next to another character are in the light, all others are in the dark). At the end of each turn, Mr. Jack tells the Inspector if his character is in the 'light' or 'dark'. The Inspector then eliminates the appropriate characters from suspicion. In other words, if Mr. Jack is in the dark, then the Inspector knows that all of the characters that are in the light are innocent, and vice versa.

Now, clearly, this is not much of a deduction game. Knowing that a character is innocent because they are next to a lightpost when you know that Mr. Jack is not next to a lightpost is not a great exercise in logic. What you end up with is more of a puzzle game. The Inspector is moving pieces around so that they are split up evenly between light and dark, in order to get rid of as many suspects as possible. Mr. Jack wants to limit the number of suspects that can be eliminated as much as possible. In addition, if Mr. Jack can maneuver his character correctly, he can actually escape from the board before the 8 turns are up. It's hard to do, but it's something that the Inspector always needs to be aware of.

So now we have a fun puzzle game right? Well, not really. It turns out that near the end of the game, even if the Inspector doesn't know exactly who Mr. Jack is, he should have a 50-50 guess (or possibly at worst a 1 in 3 guess). The trick then becomes to figure out which one of the remaining suspects is guilty based on the previous actions of the Mr. Jack player. Is there one player that Mr. Jack always played? Is there a character that Mr. Jack seemed to need to protect or try to put near an exit? Are there any characters that Mr. Jack didn't seem very interested in protecting? This is where a lot of the fun comes in to play. As Mr. Jack, you not only need to protect your character from being revealed, you also need to keep them out of suspicion. Which makes the game into an interesting bluffing game! Do I make this move, knowing that it's the safest move because it will protect Mr. Jack, or do I do something riskier because it will cast more suspicion on another character? I remember one time while playing as Mr. Jack, I needed to allow Mrs. BigKat to control the guilty character because if I didn't, she would easily figure out which one he was. Fortunately, the bluff worked and she suspected the wrong person. But she could've easily move my character to a spot where I would be unable to hide his guilt and lost immediately.

And this is basically why I love this game. A nice puzzle, with some depth. Not too light and not too heavy. Great replayability with a fun theme. For me and Mrs. BigKat, it all adds up to a fun evening together.

Blanket Project

So, remember what I wrote about on Friday about What's it to Ya? Well, the guy that created the game, Mike Petty saw it and sent an email to me, which I thought was nice of him.

He gave me some information about the Blanket Project. Last year, Mike was able to go down and help some of the families who had their homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. It inspired him to do more to help people in need, so he came up with the Blanket Project. Basically, the royalties from his games go to the hurricane relief efforts.

So there's yet another reason to go buy What's it to Ya? Not only is it a great game but it also helps people out that need help.

This has got me started thinking about ways that I can take the things that I'm good at and creatively use those skills to help out other people. Generating a bunch of barbecue for the the 'soup kitchen' ministry at our church? Finding good deals on toys and giving them to toy drives? One thing that I'm currently looking into is starting an outreach sports ministry for kids at our church. Hmmm...we'll see. Definitely something to pray about...

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Chocolate Marshmallows

Ok, here are the marshmallows after they've been dipped in chocolate. They're very good...

Friday, December 7, 2007

What's it to ya

Last week, My Friend Who Lies (MFWL) and his girlfriend (MFWL'sG) came over to play some games. We decided to break out 'What's it to Ya?' It's a party game, kinda similar to Apples to Apples, but a little different. Here's how it works...

The game comes with a big stack of cards. Each card has a noun on it, like 'Truth', 'Patriotism', 'Garbage Collectors', 'Theatre', 'Family', 'Fast Food Restaurants', and 'Dentists'. 5 of the cards are drawn and displayed for everyone to see. Then someone puts them in priority from most important to least important. There are several variations that you can play. The way we did it, one person would prioritize the items, and the others would try to guess the order that they put them in. We also tried it in pairs, where one player of each pair would be the prioritizer and the other player of the pair would be the guesser.

We had a great time with this. The sign of a good party game is how much laughing it generates, and this game generated plenty. On one turn, 'Birthdays' and 'Criticism' were two of the cards. I consider Criticism to be pretty important. I mean, how can you improve on stuff without any feedback? Obvious, right? My partner was MFWL'sG, who I think is pretty level-headed, so I went ahead and put Criticism down as A (A is most important, B 2nd most, and so on down to E). I gave Birthdays a D. They're fun and all, but really, when you think about it, every day is someone's birthday. Take today for example. Millions of people have their birthday today. Millions! But it doesn't really feel like it's a special day.

Well, it turned out that I was a little off. MFWL'sG had put down A for Birthdays and D for Criticism. Next thing you know people are laughing at me and making comments like 'You think getting yelled at is more fun than having a birthday? BLAHAHAHAHAHA!' and 'Oh yeah, I really value getting yelled at! BLAHAHAHAHAHA!' I tried to explain that Criticism is different from Getting Yelled At. But I don't think anyone listened to me because they were too busy laughing at me.

I think this is a great game to add to a game collection. I got mine here and it wasn't too expensive. It's a great way to have some laughs, get to know your friends a little better, and create some fun memories that you can bring up now and then when you feel like making fun of your spouse. In fact, I was just telling Mrs. BigKat, who rated Spoons over Rights, that it brings a smile to my face imagining her in Braveheart telling a group of soldiers that...'they may take our lives...but they'll never take OUR SPOOOOONS!!!'


The other day, I was thinking about marshmallows. I've always purchased them from the store, but I don't think I've ever seen a homemade one. I asked Mrs. BigKat if people ever make marshmallows. They just seem so round and poofy and un-homemade. She said that she didn't know. We both wondered if Alton Brown would ever do a marshmallow show. Well, he did. About a week after we had that conversation. Scary, huh?

Well, since the Food Network obviously has my house bugged, I felt compelled to try my hand at marshmallow making. It's actually pretty easy. You basically put together a sugar syrup, cook it up to 240, and mix it together with some gelatin really, really fast for about 15 minutes. Then pour it out into a pan, use some sugar/cornstarch to keep it from sticking, and let it sit for a while. You end up with something that looks like this:

That big poofy rectangle is officially the biggest marshmallow that I've ever met in person!

Next, you just cut the rectangle up into little squares and you end up with...

Homemade marshmallows!

These were pretty fun and easy to make. But spreading them out in the pan is an adventure. The stuff is incredibly sticky! I tried using an oiled rubber spatula, but I may as well have been using a giant sucker. They have to sit out overnight to set, so I was able to try one this morning (only one though, since I haven't had breakfast yet). It was pretty good! Definitely more homemade tasting than a regular marshmallow (although LilKat1 says it tastes the same. And yes, I gave my son a marshmallow to eat with his breakfast).

Next step: dip them in chocolate...mmmmmm...