Monday, April 30, 2012

Dice Tower Gaming Awards 2011

Tom Vasel has asked his horde of minions podcast listeners to promote the Dice Tower Gaming Awards for 2011. Being a gullible loyal listener, I gladly post a link to the list of nominees, which includes many fine games for game enthusiasts or game novices, for adults and children, for brainy people and brain-hungry zombies. If you want to find a new, fun, and interesting game, this list has got you covered. There's all sorts of categories from family games to war games to party games to game expansions, etc. etc.

His hope is that the awards will become the American equivalent of the Spiel des Jahres awards, recognizing gaming excellence and recognized as a valuable source for the best in gaming from that year. Look for the Dice Tower logo to show up on game boxes in years to come!

Even though no zombie games received any nominations (if only they had their own category!), we wish the nominees the best of luck and look forward to seeing who will win.

The Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, Skipton

The Parish Church of the Holy Trinity in Skipton, UK, is a rather unassuming building from the outside, looking like a lot of other churches dating back hundreds of years.

Holy Trinity Church, Skipton

Originally built circa 1300, additions and refinements were made throughout the centuries. King Richard III donated £20 in 1483 contributing to the chancel and the oak roof. The church tower and roof were damaged during the bombardment of Skipton Castle in 1645. Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, had the damaged tower repaired in 1655, along with restoring the stolen church bells and repairing the Clifford tombs inside the church (her family, after all). The church was struck by lightning several times: twice on the tower in 1766 and 1853 and once on the north transept in 1925, all requiring repairs to the roof and some internal fixtures, including the organ.

After a visit to the loo (which was cramped and cold--Jacob was undaunted in his desire to try it out anyway) and a peek into the refectory where tea and such is served, we came back into the main body of the church. The children instantly gravitated to the play area, which included a short video on the history of the church.

The bear tried out all the different chairs

We went down the main aisle and saw the paschal candle and the organ.

The nave of the church

Jacob with the paschal candle

The organ

The organ was completely rebuilt in 1966 using the pipes from the 1866 organ (presumably the only survivors of the 1925 lightning-induced fire).

Nearby is the Royal Coat of Arms of King George III, dated 1798. Since the Reformation, it was customary to put the Royal Coat of Arms in churches.

George III's Coat of Arms

We continued to the main altar.

Main altar

The Reredos has Christ in Majesty surrounded by symbols of the four evangelists. The side statues are of the Virgin Mary, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Stephen, and St. James the Great.

The Lady Chapel is off to the right.

The Lady Chapel

In between is the tomb of George, Third Earl of Cumberland, from 1654 (another contribution from Lady Anne Clifford, who was his daughter). The tomb is especially striking with all the coats of arms on it.

By the main altar

Tomb of George, 3rd Earl of Cumberland

The church also has many amazing stained glass windows.

Sts. John and Stephen

St. Michael and the Dragon

Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

At the back of the church is the baptismal font. The stone font dates from the 1300s and the elaborate three-tiered top is from Jacobean times.

The top could be raised and lowered by ropes; here it is raised

We also found a small representation of Cavalry (since we were visiting during Easter week, it was not so surprising).

Cavalry with empty tomb

The back or western window was also a nice example of stained glass.

Dedicated to those who died in World War I

Off to the side, we noticed a little sign describing a discovery of the 1909 restoration: an anchorite's cell.

Note the small window behind the flowers

The sign reads:
Anchorite's Cell: In the Middle Ages an Anchorite (a man or woman who has withdrawn from the world to meditate and pray) lived in a cell attached to the church. The cell would be blocked up after the Anchorite entered and she or he remained there for life, spending the time in prayer and in offering advice and wisdom to visitors. A small window admitted light and food and gave a view of the church's altar. This is quite likely such a cell, and was revealed in 1909 during restoration work and the building of new vestries. The challenge to spend time apart from the world to meditate and pray is just as important a challenge for us today, even if we can only manage a few minutes...
Back outside, we ran into the town crier, who was about to do his duty at the town market on Skipton's High Street. He was glad to pose with Jacob, though Lucy was not at all interested in posing with him.

Skipton's Town Crier, sheltering from the rain for a little bit

The visit to the church was a great experience. Since we were in Skipton, we visited the Craven Museum again, though that is a story for tomorrow's blog post.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Game Review: Zombie Dice Expansion

I don't own this expansion, I just heard about it on the Dice Tower Podcast. Nevertheless, the rules and photos are available on the game's web page, so I thought I'd throw in my two cents (or two pence, since we are in England). The original Zombie Dice game is reviewed by me here.

The expansion is zombie-movie themed, adding three new dice to the game: The Hero, The Hottie, and Santa Claus. In Big Summer Action Movie, take out two yellow dice and add in The Hero and The Hottie (both black dice, though The Hottie has pink icons). The hero has a double shotgun symbol, so you might take extra damage; he also has a double brain symbol because getting him is like a two-for-one deal. The Hottie has three feet, so she can run, two shotguns (though no double shotgun), and a single brain. The extra twist is "rescuing," where The Hunk or The Hottie can save the other one. If The Hunk roles a shotgun while the Hottie is "brains up" she gets pulled out of the brain pile and back into the draw cup. The Hottie can save The Hunk in the same way.

In Santa Claus Meets the Zombies, take out a green die and replace it with Santa's red die. Santa has some special gifts: a helmet that lets the player take four shotguns to die (you're a tougher zombie); an energy drink that lets the player turn green Feet die into Brains (you're a faster zombie); double brains means Santa brought the player his favorite gift (BRAAAAIINNSSS!); and the three regular side (footprints, shotgun, single brain (i.e., you ate Santa's brain)). So Santa brings even more variety to the game.

Direct-To-Video Sequel adds all three dice to the game. Santa joins in on the rescuing action, though he doesn't get rescued if he gave the player double brains as a gift.

This expansion sounds like a fun way to mix-up a regular game of Zombie Dice. If you are a frequent player, you'd probably enjoy this. We don't own this yet, but I will definitely add it to my wish list.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Valley Gardens Reborn

This Easter saw another "in a mirror dimly" reflection of the Resurrection when the castle at Valley Gardens was reopened. The castle had burned down in the Fall of 2011 due to some malicious teenagers (who were apprehended and punished). A fundraising campaign followed. Enough money was raised to rebuild a new play area.

The week before Easter we went to Valley Gardens and made the happy discovery:

The castle is rebuilt!

Though it was not completely happy.

That's why no one is playing on it during a sunny UK day!

That day the kids played on the bouncy castle, which is a favorite of Jacob's. It reminds him of Jump!Zone and PumpItUp back in Maryland.

Flintstones and castles don't seem like a proper mix to me

Jacob belly-flops the slide

Siblings bouncing around the nondescript castle

We also appreciated the various signs of Spring approaching.

One of the "garden" parts of Valley Gardens

Blooming trees!

During the week after Easter, we had a fun morning that started at the library. I brought my camera figuring we'd be at Valley Gardens afterward. Jacob and Lucy wanted their picture taken again in the "statue niche" by the stairs inside the library. I obliged.

Chillin' at the library

After collecting some good books we proceeded to the playground. Jacob loved the new castle. It was a bit too challenging for Lucy, who played on other climbers and swings. The new castle hogged up all the picture taking, unfortunately.

Jacob begins his exploration

A nice and wobbly bridge

A new, crazy climber didn't stop Jacob

The castle's backside (so to speak)

Jacob and Lucy were very excited for a fun day at the resurrected playground. Now if the weather would just get a little warmer (we know better than to hope for a little dryer).

Friday, April 27, 2012

Library Easter Storytime

Back in England we had a story time just before Easter that involved big fun in many varieties.

The stories were bunny-themed. One that the librarian read was a book we had just returned the week before, My Friend Rabbit. It's about a mouse and a rabbit who get their airplane stuck in a tree and have to make a huge pile of animals to get it back. It was nonsensical but fun.

The craft was painting little eggs. Lucy was more interested in this activity than Jacob was. She especially liked choosing different colors:

Don't choose the white until you have a base coat!

While the paint dried, we went outside to break a pinata. As we were walking out, the string came loose and the pinata turned from a hanging item to a floor item. Outside, the decision was made to kick it until it came open. The youngest children started first so that they would get at least one kick in. Turns out it wasn't a problem as it was a rather sturdy pinata and almost everybody (including adults) got to take a shot at it.

Lucy goes to take her shot

The other Lucy tries her best

Jacob is unsure

One of the librarians shows Jacob how to get a really good kick in

Ultimately, the pinata let out its delightful insides, mostly little toys. Happily we returned inside for some more craft work.

Since the paint was not dry, we went back outside for another round of fun. This time the librarian played "Red Light, Green Light" with the kids. Jacob was more interested in this than Lucy was. He had a lot of enthusiasm though he did get caught once when the librarian said "Yellow light" instead of "Green light." To be fair, most of the kids were tricked by this subterfuge.

Ready to begin

First red light of many

Jacob was extra excited this time

We had a lot of fun and a long nap after such a great library story time.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hesketh Farm Redux

We finally went back to Hesketh Farm Park after our last attempt to go when it was closed. Jacob's class went on a trip there; Lucy and I were lucky enough to tag along.

The lovely group of pre-scholars

The day began slowly. We spotted a turtle near the playground and he was the first animal we checked out.

No, you touch it first!

We went inside the barn where one of the teachers settled accounts with the farmer while the other children tried out the indoor playground, including this little climber.

Lucy gets in on the action quickly.

Pretty soon, we were checking out lots of different animals. First up was the guinea pigs, who had a nice little home in the middle of some hay bales. Jacob sat down to hold one. Once in Jacob's lap, Jacob laughed and said, "He's tickling me, he's ticklish!"

Maybe his name is "Giggles"?

Jacob had me put the camera in my pocket so the tickling could end. I held the little guy for a while and then passed him on to another classmate. Meanwhile, Lucy was feeding some lambs.

"Hay is for horses...oh wait, it's for me too!"

We had a little time before the formal tour started, so Jacob ran off to the indoor maze while Lucy tried her hand at a big, big puzzle.

Jacob is the needle among the haystacks

I think someone else was taking the same picture and Lucy was looking at her

Just before the formal tour started, both the children went to work brushing some of the piglets.

The pigs were napping, so the children came gently tapping

The regular tour started and the first thing we got to do was feed the chickens, followed by collecting some eggs from the hen house.

Getting some seed to throw to the chickens

Uh-oh! One chicken flew in just as Jacob threw in!

Lucy was more cautious about throwing

Lucy was also cautious with picking up the eggs

We then went inside with one of the eggs. The lady from the farm asked what we thought was inside. Some guessed a chick; others a yolk. No one guessed chocolate, which answer I think she was secretly hoping for. She opened the egg and explained about the different parts inside. Then she asked us to be quiet. The sound of chirping filled the air! But from where? She pulled a five-gallon bucket from under the table and showed us some of the baby chicks. Jacob was not interesting in holding them but he did watch intently.

Latest additions to the farm

Classmates carefully cradling chicks

Our next activity was making milk for the calves. We carefully measured out some powdered milk into a bowl on a scale. Each child put one spoonful in. Then the powder was put in a bucket of hot water, mixed, and poured into bottles for feeding. The children worked in pairs to fill the bottles.

The pink milk brigade!

Carefully pouring!

Pour Jacob did not have a partner!

We then went to the calves' stalls to feed them. I was only able to capture Jacob's exploits with my camera. Lucy went off somewhere else to feed.

Feeding the calf

Getting him to finish the bottle

Next on our agenda was the tractor ride. Jacob was happy for that. He was getting tired of standing and walking around. The way out to the tractor took us perilously close to the playground but the children managed to avoid being sucked into that fun. The area by the tractor was a bit muddy. Too bad I forgot to bring our wellies! We didn't get too muddy though. Soon we were on the tractor and ready to see the fields of sheep.

The tractor

Ready to ride!

Lucy sees some sheep and lambs

On the ride, the farmer explained one of the mysteries that has been confounding us about the sheep around here. They always have some sort of spray paint on them. What could the meaning be? He said that when a ewe has lambs, the lambs are marked with the same colors as their mother so that the farmers can keep them straight. Also, neighboring farmers don't use the same colors so they know their sheep from their neighbor's sheep.

Another interesting tidbit was the explanation for which breeds were kept on the farm. The farmer said that the breed really depends on where the farm is located. If the land is at the bottom of a valley, less hardy and hale sheep are raised there. Further up hills and mountains, more rugged sheep are raised since they can stand the difference in climate (wind and chill being the big factors).

He also talked a lot about birthing the lambs--how it's done, what to do when things don't come out in the right order, how soon they leave the barn where they're born and get to enjoy the fine Yorkshire weather. In the interest of keeping this a family-friendly blog, I will only relay the final answer. Typically, the newborn lamb is let out in two days unless there is some complication with the newborn or the weather is really severe. The lambs are typically born in the springtime. He said there was only 40 or so ewes left to give birth out of the "just shy of 11 hundred" sheep on the farm.

We had some very spectacular views of the Yorkshire Dales.

Sheep on the Dales

This lamb seems to be confused about where the milk comes out

More Dales

Back by the farm buildings, we visited the duck pond and the very gentle, very large horse named Queenie. Jacob petted her nose but Lucy was very reluctant to go near such a large animal.

No ducks in sight, alas!

Queenie was a favorite among many of the girls

Then we had lunch back inside the barn. After we ate (or as we adults finished eating) the children played on the inside play equipment, which includes some pedal-powered tractors and a sand box in addition to the climber and the hay maze. Jacob came and asked if he could play outside. The teacher said yes. The conventional wisdom was that it would be very difficult to gather the children back together for more touring. That was fine. We all had a wonderful experience visiting the farm with Jacob's class.

Farewell pose #1

Farewell pose #2

Here's a video about the farm from a professional company: