The Montgomery Zoo

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Last week we took the kiddos to our local zoo in Montgomery. George found out about a Military Appreciation day which meant free admission and lunch. Money has been a little tight since our move so this was a great opportunity get out of the house and the kids to run around.

Since we have wrapped up school for the next couple months the kids have been sleeping in which makes for an almost impossible task of trying to get to something when it opens. The kids are usually pretty good about it but they are becoming quite the night owls and getting up just isn’t fun. After some coaxing we were able to get out the door and make it to the zoo shortly after its opening.

I kept to my normal of MO of not telling them but Hubby let the cat out of the bag. The kids were pretty excited as they all have their favorite animals. The biggest being Duke who has quickly fallen in love with every lizard he sees. Plus they really do love exploring somewhere new. It does help a little that they have grown to appreciate the word FREE!

The zoo has an amazing playground with a petting zoo. There were plenty of kids coming and going. The boys ran around trying to climb on everything while the girls helped other kids play on different parts of the equipment. George even jumped into helping and praise was given for his efforts. They kids played for a while until they realized it was just too hot. The zoo was great in providing cups as well as a cooler of water for its patrons.

The zoo also has a museum. The Mann Museum reminded me alot of the Anniston Museum of Natural History. The kids were able to see taxidermy animals set in natural habitats. The also had a fun addition of a touch zone with different types of furs. The museum staff is very proud of the fact the Smithsonian has asked for the collection. A pretty big accolade for a museum to be wanted by the Smithsonian. The kids walked around and ohh’d and ahh’d at all the animals until they were ready to go. It was nice to get out of the sun for a little while but they kids were starting to get tired.

After a very hot and tiring day at the zoo I thought it would be a great idea to stop at the splashpad. The kids loved this idea and happily enjoyed a chance to cool off. They ran around until they got tired again and had a snack before we headed home. A day full of fun was exactly what we all needed.

 

A House of Nerds

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A couple of weeks ago the older 4 and I went to have eye exams. If I am a Novice at anything in life it is getting an eye exam. I started wearing glasses when I was 7 or 8 years old. I was in first or second grade sitting in the back of class having no clue what was written on the board. We had the Lions Club or Shriner’s come to school at least once a year to do free eye exams. I think it was a case of no one believed me and thought I just wanted to get glasses like some of the kids in my class.

Jem started complaining about  not being about to see certain things. She wasn’t complaining too much but I knew she would need glasses. She was the only one we thought would need glasses. We just decide to have the all get an eye exam because it had been 4 yrs since their last exams. (All except Bubbles of course.)

I was able to go in with Jem and Pippi to start the process. The did okay initially but when it came to the part where the Doctor shines lights and puts drops in their eyes they didn’t do so well. Pippi has small eyes to begin with so it made the process a little bit harder. Jem even cried. The girls all whined about getting the drops put in their eyes. I always see dilation as  a good thing. The Doctor can see so much more in your eye. Because I have Graves Disease this has become even more important. For the kids it made a huge difference. The Doctor was not only able to determine that Bubbles should wear glasses again to help with reoccurring annoyances from her lazy eye but that Duke has the opposite problem. Duke’s left eye is wanting to turn out. To me it’s odd that Duke and Bubbles end up being so much alike. Anyways, Jem definitely needed glasses for nearsightedness like me. It sounds like Pippi wont be too far from getting glasses in the future.

The 3 kiddos all look super cute in their glasses and have made us truly a house of super nerds.

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Spectre

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Monday Night we watched the movie Big Fish. We had finished the book just in time to make plans to visit the town Spectre during our fun week. This was a huge deal for me because I really love the movie Big Fish. Before moving to the Montgomery area it was one of the really fun things that we found that I got the most excited about visiting. The kids speculated about whether the fish was real not. Bubbles and Duke seemed to enjoy the book and movie the most. I think secretly Pippi and Jem liked both too.

Tuesday we made arrangements to visit Spectre. We packed a picnic and spent the morning just enjoying the quiet abandoned Spectre.I have grown to love surprising the kids with where our next adventure will be. When we pulled up to the gate the kids weren’t sure yet. They read the sign that said Big Fish and most of them got really excited. The short drive to the island reminded me so much of the movie it was amazing. Once we found the entrance to the town the kids were more excited. Big Fish was never one of George’s favorite movies but it was fun to hear him talk the kids through where we were in the movie. It was pretty kewl to be where a movie was filmed. The kids all looked up to see if the shoes were hanging on the line near the Spectre sign. Funny thing is some people have made it a point to add shoes. We walked done main street looking in all of the buildings and houses. It was so kewl to say this is where Ewan McGregor was in the Mayor’s house. Under the church live a family of goats. The kids laughed so much hearing the goats cry. Most of the buildings are falling apart. The couple that own the island have been working to repair what they can.

We explored more of the island and found Jenny’s house from the movie. Well not her house as it is gone but the pillars from her house. We also found a really kewl treehouse you can rent for events and such. The walk around the island was nice. There were a few people camping or fishing on the island. I reminded the kids that Jackson Lake Island was the second island we have visited. I want to make it my new favorite place not just because of the movie Big Fish but because of how quiet and beautiful it is out there. Please take the opportunity to visit. Donate to restoring and upkeep. No vandalizing. And enjoy the joy that Edward Bloom must have felt when he found Spectre.

That night we were very proud to watch Pippi, Jem, and Bubbles earn some badges at their American Heritage Girls Badge Ceremony. Pippi earned her Joining badge as well as crossed over to join the next level which is Patriots. Jem earned her Joining badge, Stick shifts, and Let’s talk. Bubbles earned her Joining badge and 7c’s. The three girls have worked very hard the past couple of months to earn just those few patches. They are hoping to earn more this summer to catch up with their new friends.

 

 

Enlisted Heritage Hall

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We recently wrapped up our final days of school. I thought with the break from the move and not taking any breaks since then we could use one. I didn’t plan for a week but George was able to take a week off from work. My initial plan was just to do a few fun educational things at home but since George took a week I wanted to make the most of it. On Monday, we decided to visit the Enlisted Heritage Hall before lunch.

The Enlisted Heritage Hall is located on Gunter AFB. The museum is filled with many great pictures,displays,and videos. George talked to the older four about some key parts of Air Force history while I did my best to keep up with Baby Kermit and Pooh. The kids really seemed to enjoy the growing museum. I was the most amused by the pictures of those who have served as enlisted airman. It was kewl to see Chuck Norris and Jimmy Stewart to name a few. We probably could have hung out longer but the kids had their fill of history. Outside there are several memorials, statutes and a few static displays. It’s an amazing tribute to the Enlisted side of the Air Force. It always makes me so proud to be able to add my name to the list of those who have served our country.

After lunch we visited our library to pick up some movies and books for the week. The kids read books so fast. Bubbles always complains about finishing her 5-6 books in 3 days and having nothing to read. For the first time in forever I had to make Jem get some books to help fight her boredom. The kids played at the playground nearby until little boys had red faces. We went home to cool down in the A/C with delicious Root Beer floats.

 

TableTop Day

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Holidays, in the modern sense, are days we stop to remember and/or celebrate an event, a people, or a place. There’s the ones we are all familiar with, e.g., St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, Halloween, Christmas, etc, but there is also countless lesser known holidays celebrated all over. Manitou Springs in Colorado celebrates “Fruitcake Toss Day” on January 3rd, Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan celebrates “Snowman Burning Day” on March 20th, Austin, Texas celebrates “No Pants Day” on May 1st, and the United Federation of Planets celebrates “Federation Day” on October 9th. A few years ago Boyan Radakovich, a game designer and web show producer, created “International Tabletop Day” as a way to celebrate the tabletop gaming community and industry. Usually we go to a local gaming shop, but since we were new to the area, and options were very limited, we decided to stay home and spend all day Saturday playing.

The kids created individual lists of what games they wanted to play, and we stacked them in the screen room. Of the 11 selected, we managed to play 7 in a day. In all of the games the wife, myself, Pippi, Jem, and Bubbles played, and occasionally Duke joined in when not playing outside with his brothers Pooh and Baby Kermit.

To start things off we played a little card game called Tempurra, where anthropomorphic cats have an eating contest in a Taiwanese Snackbar. The short explanation of gameplay is players stacking matching dishes (cards) face-up and when a player can’t place a card they eat the dishes (draw that many from the deck). If they get indigestion (draw a “No More!” card) they get a negative point. The game ends when someone gets three negative points. I got fairly unlucky as I drew the most indigestion cards, followed by the wife. None of the girls drew indigestion cards, so Pippi won having the most cards in hand (15).
Overall: A short card game with a funny theme. Like most card games, luck of the draw largely determines play although with strategic early “eating” and careful hand management players can last longer in this game of attrition.

After having warmed up with a card game we moved onto Dixit, a story telling party game revolving around cards but with some “board” aspects. Each player draws a hand of six cards, and each takes a turn playing the “Storyteller”. The storyteller selects a card from their hand, places it facedown, and says a word, phrase, or sentence represented by the picture. The other players select a card from their hand they think represents what has been said. The storyteller then shuffles the cards and repeats what they said earlier each time they reveal one of the played cards. All players then vote, using cardboard chits, which card they think best represents what was said. The pictures on the cards have a Salvador Dali-esque feel to them.  The challenge comes from the storyteller needing at least one person to select their card, but if nobody or everybody selects their card they get no points. Other players get points if somebody gives their card the number one chit. A fun aspect I found to the game is often other players played cards that better represented the spoken word. Points are tallied using meeple-esque wooden bunnies racing around a track trying to get to 30. Bubbles and Pippi tied in our game.
Overall: A great party game that keeps children involved using their imagination. Best played periodically due to the limited number of cards (although there are seven expansions that provide an additional 84 cards each!)

We moved into formal board game territory with Pirate’s Cove, a European take on pirates racing to acquire the most fame in a year.  There’s a large square board with various islands, and each player has a map representing their ships various strengths, e.g., sailing speed, cannons, crew size, and hull capacity. Each island has a stack of treasure cards, and during a turn players use a ships wheel to select in private which island they’re sailing for. If more than one ship arrives at the same island, a sea battle ensures, which involves dice rolling based on the pirate’s crew and cannon ratio. Some, like Gem, were able to sail most of the game uncontested and were able to continually upgrade their ship. The wife, Pippi, and I were continually unlucky, often battling it out, and more often than not, being forced to retreat to Pirate’s Cove to recoup. You could retreat early before your ship was crippled but it always risked a disastrous mutiny. Midway through the game Bubbles managed to gain a significant lead, after making critically successful power plays. Final scoring:

  1. Bubbles – 46 fame
  2. Jem – 39
  3. Mom – 34
  4. Dad – 32
  5. Pippi – 30

Overall: A chaotic game of risk and reward. Ironically, it’s often better to avoid battle and focus on middle of the road rewards, as even winners have to repair battle damage, which cuts into their supposedly better rewards.

We moved onto a lighter game, Enchanted Forest, a children’s roll & move game with memory aspects. Each player plays a wizard (who has no magical powers) searching the forest for lost items from famous fairy tales. The board, artwork, and playing pieces are good quality. A stack of cards is placed on the castle and a card is revealed. Players search the forest, looking under plastic trees for the item. When they find the right tree, their supposed to get back the castle, without raising suspicion, and reveal the items location. As the game progresses the guessing speeds up as players recall which items were under which trees. Jem won the initially revealed card, and we called it quits from there.
Overall: Urgh, shoot me. We thought this game would be more fun, but the rolling and moving was tedious, as you often missed landing on the trees exact location. Then there was the whole aspect of getting back to the castle. Rinse and repeat for each card. Blah. Good for kids with a lot of time on their hands, and who don’t know better games.

After taking a break we came back to Oh Gnome You Don’t!, a roll & move game involving gnomes brawling each other as they attempt to collect the most gems. For an American game this game has a strong, albeit silly, theme. The artwork is well done and gameplay is relatively balanced so most gnomes stay within a few spaces of each other. Most gems are gained from selling plants and other items to local merchants along the way, although gems can also be gained from fighting and trickery. Bubbles actually reached the finish line first long before anybody else, however this hurt her as she essentially skipped the last fourth of the board. This allowed others to collect more items, sell them, and generally collect additional gems. Some of the girls got upset when cards were played against them, taking the slights very personally. Final gem count:

  1. Mom – 51
  2. Duke – 47
  3. Jem – 47
  4. Bubbles – 45
  5. Pippi – 44
  6. Dad – 43

Overall: This game can be fun at times, but pacing is uneven. It starts at a slow pace, the mid-game is quite rowdy and fun, but then the end game gets monotonous. The back and forth between players can be fun for some, and upsetting for others. Certainly a “once-in-a-while” game.

We didn’t plan it this way, but we played two cutthroat games back to back. Survive: Escape from Atlantis, is a modular board game where players attempt to fleeing the sinking island and make it safely to the neighboring islands. The board is mostly water spaces, and the island is made up from six sided cardboard pieces of three different thicknesses, representing sandy beach, island jungle, and mountains. We took turns placing our plastic guys on tiles, followed by each of us placing two empty boats. Gameplay has each player taking three actions, which involves moving their pieces, then removing one tile from the game, and finally rolling the dice to see which sea creature (dolphin, shark, whale, and sea serpents) moves and how far. The game ends when one of the mountain tiles (after all the sand and jungle tiles are removed first) containing the volcano is revealed. Players count points on the bottom of guys that made it to the islands. Things get cutthroat quickly as boats are moved away from the island early, tiles player’s pieces sit on are removed, and sea creatures are used to attack other player’s pieces. Jem and Pippi managed to get their high value guys to the islands, relatively unmolested. On Bubbles and I’s side of the island it was pure chaos as whales destroyed boats and sharks ate swimmers. Bubbles encouraged other players to attack my guys for some minor slight, lost in the end when she didn’t get any guys to the islands, despite having three boats full.

  1. Jem – 18 points
  2. Pippi – 16
  3. Mom – 14
  4. Dad – 8
  5. Bubbles – 0

Overall: This game is actually a reprint of the one I played three decades ago, which produces strong nostalgic feelings for me. The game has great tension and stark realization dawns that not everyone can be saved. The modular island and the variety of sea creatures allows different scenarios offering great replayability. Again, like the “Oh Gnome You Don’t!” game, this one isn’t recommend if children are sensitive to negative actions being played against them.

As it grew late in the day we finished with a card game. Exploding Kittens is a press your luck card game with outrageous artwork from Matthew Inman, author of “The Oatmeal” comic website. In this game you don’t want to draw cards. Matches are played, or cards are played to reverse turn order or force another player to play two turns. Each draw from the deck increases the chance of drawing a bomb. If a player has a defuse card they can place a bomb card back into the deck where ever they want. However, other players knowing your holding a previous defuse card will play cards to draw a random card from your hand, hoping to gain the defuse card. Despite having played it before the girls goofed on one of the rules, saying defuse cards go back into the desk, when they shouldn’t. Through strategic card playing the wife and I outlasted the girls but went into a never-ending loop since the defuse cards were being recycle along with the bombs. Ultimately we decide the wife won since she held more cards.
Overall: In my opinion this game is overhyped. Sure it’s got wacky artwork and a silly premise, but it lacks substance and relies too heavily on luck. Kids will enjoy it for the wackiness but adults will grow tired of it quickly.

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