Tag Archives: settlers of catan

Tips for Adulthood: Five Ways to Enjoy Lockdown Christmas

jigsaw puzzle
Image: Ross Sneddon via Unsplash

Over on her wonderful blog, Gretchen Rubin is exhorting us all to make this Christmas memorable and special, even if it’s different. She’ll be celebrating by listening to Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, buying a white narcissus, and making a graham cracker house.

Here in London, we are just entering “Tier 3” lockdown restrictions as I write this, which means – among other things – no going to restaurants or pubs except for takeout. But even if we were still in Tier 2, my family wasn’t going to be doing much anyway this year. Nor is anyone else.

Taking a page from Gretchen, I thought I’d share five ways I plan to make this holiday season special. These aren’t terribly original, but I hope they serve as inspiration for your own holiday cheer:

1. Read David Sedaris. I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided that if my family of four needs to spend a lot of time indoors over the coming weeks, we’d all better do a lot of reading . My husband and I got our kids several books for Hanukkah this year, including (without consulting one another!) David Sedaris’s new collection of essays, The Best of Me – one for each child! I suspect all four of us will devour that particular book, if for no other reason that no one can send up family life quite like Sedaris. And, let’s face it, we all need a good laugh right now.

2. Watch Love, Actually. On her list, Gretchen recommends watching some holiday films like Miracle on 34th Street or Elf. Personally? I incline more towards Love, Actually, another staple of the Christmas season. I watch it every year, largely because it unites the downright funny – Hugh Grant’s famous dancing scene in #10 Downing Street – along with the deeply touching – the Emma Thompson character weeping as she listens to Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. If you don’t know this film, do have a go, as we say ’round here. Delightful.

3. Do a jigsaw puzzle. When I was young, friends’ parents would phone up my mother and ask what I’d like for my birthday. She always told them to get me “a puzzle or a game.” I resented her for this, because I didn’t *want* a puzzle or a game. Fast forward 50 years and – in yet another sign that I’m turning into my mother – that’s exactly what I want. Jigsaw puzzles – especially large, 500- or 1,000- piece ones – are something everyone can participate in, but on their own time. You don’t have to be together to enjoy it, but, equally, you get to share in that collective sense of accomplishment as the pieces gradually come together.

4.Play a board game. When you’re ready to step away from your book or television set, I also highly recommend playing a board game. Board games are a great way to have “family time” that also entails focus. If you’re into strategy, I’m a big fan of Settlers of Catan – which can last for hours. This year, I got my daughter a new game called Dialect where you build a language. As my family spends half its time together arguing over who’s using which word correctly – (or not) – I felt this might be a good way to while away the days.

5. Drink your favorite tipple. “Tipple” means alcoholic drink and it’s another great British-ism. In the years since I’ve become a lightweight in the drinking department, I’ve become a real connoisseur of low-alcohol beers (which I define as beer with an APV under 4%, but most people classify as under 3%.) I’ve not been drinking too much this autumn as I’ve been busy with work. So I’ve amassed quite a collection in my “liquor cabinet” (which is really just a dimly lit cupboard in my laundry room.) On the principle that it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere, bottoms up!

Tell us some of your special plans for this unusual holiday season in the comments section…

Tips For Adulthood: Five Signs You Think Like A Man

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

A few weeks ago, I posted a link to a quiz on the BBC website called Sex ID that purported to let you know whether you think like a man or a woman. (Warning to those who have yet to take it: the quiz lasts about 20 minutes.)

If you managed to make it through this quiz, you’ll know that a lot of the tasks that they have you do boil down to whether you’re good at reading maps and judging the angle of parallel lines (more typically male traits) vs. whether you can read people’s expressions and identify with them (more typically female traits.)

I’ve since been informed via The Guardian that a new study is out showing that behavioral differences between the sexes are not, in fact the result of fundamentally different wiring in the brain, but rather the result of societal expectations.

Be that as it may (and I’m sure that this is one of those debates that will rage into eternity and beyond), I’ve been giving the whole male vs. female thing some more thought since taking that quiz, where I scored (huge sigh of relief?) as a prototypical-thinking woman. Here are some further indicators I’ve come up with that shed light on whether or not you think like a man:

1. You like reading instruction manuals. While I’m quite sympathetic to Gretchen Rubin’s admonition over on The Happiness Project to read the instruction manual, there is a distinction between doing something because you *ought* to do it and doing something because you enjoy it. I hereby submit that I absolutely hate reading instruction manuals and – as a result – have spent many a frustrated moment by either failing to consult them ex ante or failing to save them somewhere useful ex post. My husband, in contrast, has an entire file full of instruction manuals for virtually every single appliance in our house. Not only does he consult them regularly, he actually seems to enjoys it! And instruction manuals in video form are even better, as with this video on how to take apart and re-assemble my new Brompton folding bicycle. Hey, it’s your funeral, as they say…

b. You like to talk about gadgets. I’ve posted many times on this blog about my husband’s penchant for gadgetry. I don’t think that’s an inherently male trait – many of the things he’s bought for us have been hugely useful and I like them as much as he does. But there’s using them and then there’s talking about using them. And I’ve noticed lately that guys like to spend an inordinate amount of time cataloging, describing and comparing gadgets in a way that women don’t.

c. You read David Pogue’s column in the NYT religiously. Which brings us to a corollary of (b) – David Pogue’s technology column in the New York Times, Pogue’s Posts. Don’t get me wrong. If I’m in the market for a new cell phone or a digital camera, I turn to Pogue first. The guy is unbelievably knowledgable about technology and a terrific writer to boot. But as generic reading material on the order of “Here’s how I’m going to spend my breakfast?” Not so much. Whereas my husband is glued for hours.

d. You like playing strategy games. This may have actually been one of the questions on the BBC quiz; I can no longer remember. But since taking that quiz, my son and I happened to open up Othello, a game that one of his friends gave him for his birthday last year. It’s one of those deceptively simple games that actually requires an enormous amount of strategy on the part of the players. If you’re like me, you take the easy route on this game, maximize your winnings as you go, and ultimately lose. If you’re like my son or my husband, you look like you’re losing all the way along but at the very last minute you win because you’ve been thinking like 6 moves ahead the whole time. (Ditto Settlers of Catan, the greatest game of all time.)

e. You (still) like assembling Legos. Someone recently gave my husband one of those adult Lego kits. It was a model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Falling Water home (see above), a painting of which is hung in our living room. I think Legos are really cool, especially this new architectural series. But, much like gadgetry, it’s something I’d rather admire than actually build. So if this had been given to me as a present, it probably would have languished somewhere in a closet, taking up space on my never-ending “should” list. Whereas my husband spent weeks with the kids building this house, which now adorns the mantle in our living room right in front of our picture. (He’s in good company, btw. Apparently, to kill time during a recent trip abroad, English football legend David Beckham confessed that he spent a night in a hotel constructing The Taj Majal.)

As I read this over, I realize that it may provide more of an insight into my marriage than it does into generic male/female brain differences. Then again, I do think that having a division of labor is key to a happy marriage, so maybe that’s a good thing!

Image: falling water lego side by happy via flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Celebrating the Sabbath: Making Saturdays *Me* Time

I have an announcement to make:  I’m going to start celebrating the Sabbath.

No, I’m not getting in touch with my inner Jew. (For the moment, I think I’ll continue to remain Jew-ish rather than Jewish.)

I’m afraid it’s a much less lofty goal than that. I’ve decided not to work on Saturdays anymore (read: no blogging, no email, no Facebook, no Twitter) so that I can focus more on myself. Or – to put it more accurately – I’d like to designate Saturdays as a day for doing things outside of work that also make me happy.

Yes, I know it’s a radical concept. But as Colleen of Communicatrix fame points out with characteristic wit and insight, it’s really hard to find time for the things we wish to prioritize in our lives unless we make room for them. She’s turning all of January into December so that she can take stock, clear the decks and plunge in with some new projects. Back in November, I took a self-imposed vacation so that I could send out my novel to agents.

The break I have in mind for Saturdays is somewhat different. The above projects are all about carving out space to move forward on the work front. What I have in mind is moving forward on the life front. For as I sat in a Viennese coffee house over the holidays and reflected on my life, I realized that in my never-ending quest to get on top of my to-do list, two things that  bring me true happiness had both fallen by the wayside:   doing yoga and reading The New Yorker.

You see, this is how my mind works. If something gets deemed a necessity in my life, it gets done. If it’s deemed a luxury, it may or may not get done. But if it does get done, that likely only happens around 11:59 p.m. on a Thursday evening with half an eyelid open and the corresponding amount of energy. And because I had begun labeling both yoga and The New Yorker “luxuries,” they just weren’t happening anymore, at least with the regularity that’d like.

So I’m making a change. For the next month – and I’m telling you this because one way you signal a commitment is to give yourself a time-line and say it out loud – I’m going to experiment with assigning myself only two jobs on Saturday – going to yoga and reading The New Yorker. My hope is that if I can do just those two things (with anything else a bonus), I’ll not only be happier, I’ll actually be more productive when I do return to the computer. If this strategy goes well and proves realistic, I’ll commit for the year.

Of course, I’m hoping that this new routine will incur other benefits as well. To wit:

*more face-to-face parenting, rather than shouting commands over my shoulder as I hurtle through my RSS feed

*making a dinner that does not involve something out of a jar from Tesco

*quality time with my husband so that we can watch more DVD commentaries and listen to Garrison Keillor together

*actually playing all those board games that I bought for Hanukkah (BTW: Settlers of Catan? Totally worth it…)

And who knows? Maybe we’ll even make it to synagogue one of these days…

*****

On a much more somber note, here’s a piece I did for PoliticsDaily.com about the ongoing drama surrounding the theft of a sign from Auschwitz.


Image: The New Yorker Fugitive by Rakka via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Board Games (Still) Worth Playing

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This year, for reasons that elude me – nostalgia for my own childhood? getting fed up with video games? – I decided to give my kids a bunch of board games for Hanukkah. And, as the story goes, I’m enjoying them more than they are.

If you’re in the same boat – or have simply forgotten how much fun board games can be – here are five that are worth your while:

1. Monopoly – Yes, it’s nothing more than unadulterated, crass capitalism. And why – in this day and age – would we want to teach our children that? But it’s loads of fun. And particularly for a child who has outgrown Chutes/Snakes and Ladders but isn’t quite ready for the strategy entailed in something like Risk, it’s a great introduction to what a real board game is, replete as it is with choices, consequences and a fun, colorful board. Best of all: kids love it and will happily play for hours.

2. Scrabble – OK, this is another old chestnut. But once your kids have a decent-sized vocabulary, it gets no better than this. I hadn’t played Scrabble in years, but when some friends showed up this summer, we played in teams (with our kids) and stayed up half the night. Plus, a great excuse to use the word poi. (I know I’m always looking for one.)

3. Scrambled States of America – On to the more obscure. Someone gave my son this game as a birthday present a few years back and I filed it under “random.” But then we opened the box and we’ve been playing ever since. It’s basically a really fun way to learn both the geography of the American states, as well as their capitols and nicknames. (Quick Test: What’s the nickname for Nebraska? Answer: The Cornhusker State. See! Aren’t you glad I reminded you?) Perfect for the 7-9 crowd.

4. Once Upon A Time – My mother gave us this one, so I knew it would be a gem. If you have a child who likes telling stories, this is a must. You hand each player 10 cards and they have to come up with a story that links the different people, places and events on their cards. But the other players can interrupt the story – based on their own cards – and take it in an entirely new direction, which you then riff off of when you interrupt them. Together, you jointly make your way to an ending. It’s loads of good, old-fashioned fun. (Remember that?)

5. Settlers of Catan – I can’t say much about this game yet – which we just bought for my about-to-be 9 year old son – other than to note that one of my husband’s colleagues said it was – and I quote – the best game “ever.” Based on this write up in Wired Magazine, I think I’d have to agree. The story behind the game’s invention (as told in Wired) was enough to make me buy it on the spot. Plus, it’s German. So it has to be good, right?

Happy Holidays!

Image: Come quando fiore piove by Auro via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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