New Year's Resolutions - April Update

A third of the year is over and I'm still chugging along on these resolutions. April was the make or break month to find some balance. About half way through the month everything started to click. The hard work now is maintaining the balance that I was able to achieve; every single month for the rest of the year.

1) Bake more bread from scratch
I picked up where I left off from the March update and decided to make a braided loaf in April. One of my favorite bread baking books, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, has a recipe for Challah so I decided to make that first. I've never made a sweet bread that required rising like a traditional dough so doing that and then having to braid it were both new to me. Most of the recipes in the book yield 4 one pound loaves but a lot of the time I make 2 two pound loaves or 1 large four pound loaf. Since I'd never worked with a sweet dough before, I decided to follow the directions to make the smaller loaves. After the dough had risen, I cut and shaped 4 one pound balls of dough. Then I froze two of them for later use and began rolling out ropes to braid the two loaves I'd make for now.
Rolling out the ropes was easy but when it came to braiding, it took a few attempts and some help from Christine to get it. While it's not exactly like braiding hair, she had a better grasp at it to get me started. After the first half of one of the loafs was done, I started to get into a grove but then the instructions told me to flip and rotate the dough to get a more even rise during baking and that just screwed me up both times. In the end I think they both look pretty good but I noticed a few braiding flaws in each. Challah is great for french toast because it's sweet but we ate it with just butter and a sprinkle of salt the day of, and then made toasts for the rest. I think I'm going to turn at least one of the frozen ball of dough into buns for sandwiches.

Whenever I buy bananas, some of them start to get past the point of where I enjoy eating them so then I let the sit on the counter and get brown spots. Once they sufficiently ripened, I throw them in a bag I keep in the freezer. When that bag fills up, I know it's time to make banana bread again. A full bag (8 to 12 bananas) will yield 2 to 4 loaves. I had 10 smallish bananas this time so I decided to go heavier on the banana flavor and make two loaves.
I've made dozens of loaves of banana bread so their isn't a whole lot to say about them for this post. They were definitely heavy on the banana but the extra walnuts I threw in were a nice contrast both taste and texture wise. The recipe I use is my mother's with one ingredient change, instead of whipped cream cheese I use plain yogurt. The substitution makes the bread slightly less dense but both ways taste great.

For May I'm thinking of making Italian bread because it's Grace's favorite. They'll go great with pasta, something we eat at least one a week.

2) Have no unplayed games when 2018 ends
 A quick update on the numbers:
  • I came into April with just 8 games that haven't been played.
  • I surprisingly did not buy any games despite it being my birthday at the beginning of the month and then there being a big Amazon sale at the end for International Tabletop Day
  • April was a net -3 month bringing my total to 5. At this point I'm practically salivating at the thought of having no unplayed games. I did just complete a big trade where I'm getting three new games but two of my unplayed games are leaving so I'll be starting this month up one extra game.
Some notes on what I played this month:

I traded for this a little over a year ago but finally got it to the table during my birthday weekend. It's a fairly light game where on your turn, you have one of four options: get more stones, place a stone on a boat, move a boat to a location, or play an action card. The whole point of the game is to score the most points which are earned by having your stones placed on the four lower location spots. Each location scores points in different ways. The whole crux of the game comes down to attempting to plan out in what order the stones get unloaded from the boats onto the boards. The problem is, just when you think you've set yourself up to score some big points, somebody else will likely move that ship to a different location. You won't come up empty handed in that situation but it was the optimal move for you, it might be for your opponent though.
I can see being able to knock this game out in less than a half hour, even with four players, if everyone has played before. I think the group liked this one okay so I'm unsure if or when this will see table time with them again. I enjoyed it quite a bit because there's that "take that" element to a degree. It's hard to tell from the picture but the stone (cubes) are big, chunky, and fun to handle. The boards are all double sided too so I'm eager to explore what those sides do. In the end, I'll keep it.

Broom Service
I took a big risk in buying this one during last year's Tabletop Day Amazon sale. It didn't really seem like a game the group would like but it had a really interesting mechanic that I wanted to play. It also came highly recommended from people on Twitter that have similar tastes in games that I do. In Broom Service, player play action cards each round to pick up and deliver potions to towers all over the board. They also collect wands to scatter away clouds while collecting lightning bolts. Each of those things scores players points and the player with the most points at the end of 7 rounds wins. Sounds easy right? Well that's where the interesting mechanic comes in. One at a time, player's play a card from their hand and announce whether they want to do the Brave (Strong) or Cowardly (Weak) action. If a player chooses Cowardly, then they just do the action. But if they choose Brave, they must wait and see who else has that card and if somebody else plays it after them and chooses the Brave action as well, then the original player gets to do no action at all.
The entire games is centered around that mechanic so you have to balance taking risks with playing the cards you HAVE to play. You also have to be willing to maybe take the less obvious choices during your turn instead of what would be optimal. If you know anything about our group, you might guess that this didn't go over well. I liked it but didn't LOVE it and would play it again but that probably won't ever happen so it was included in that big trade I mentioned in the numbers update above. It's a shame because it's a really smart design and deservedly won the "connoisseur/expert game of the year" in 2015.

The Quest for El Dorado
For International Table Top Day, I wanted to play at least one game so Christine and I sat down and played the 2017 Spiel des Jahres nominated game, The Quest for El Dorado. This is a great introductory game for the deck building mechanic. Each turn, players draw four cards from their personal deck and use them to a) move their adventurer and/or b) buy a single card from the market. Each of your starting cards allows you to move across a type of space on the board and it also worth some amount of money to use towards the market cards. As you use the cards in your deck and buy new ones, you'll have to shuffle them when you don't have enough to draw. So you're constantly trying to build a better deck. Spaces on the board allow you to remove cards permanently to help make your deck more efficient. The player who can reach El Dorado first, is the winner.
Playing as blue, I was able to squeak out a very close victory. Since the boards are all double sided, there are a ton of different combinations to increase replayability. We decided to play the suggested introductory map and rules but there is also a whole variant that allows for some push your luck that we didn't try. Overall it's a light game in terms of complexity and I think even some younger children could grasp it. I look forward to trying more difficult maps and playing at higher player counts. This one is a keeper.

3) Meditate on a regular basis
I did the meditation before sleep thing for most of April in an effort to work this into my daily schedule. I know in previous posts that I've been resistant to doing it but I have to say that I'm glad I started. I would still like to do more sitting meditation in the morning but if I have to do it before going to sleep each night, I'll take it. I've already noticed a change in my demeanor and I slept a lot better overall since starting. I've found it to be a great way to clear the mental clutter and relieve the stresses of the day. Starting the day off right with a session is ideal but doing it just at night is helping.
What finally got me into doing this was one night earlier in the month when I flew off the handle because something one of the kids was doing. It was an over reaction and when I got up from my seat, I promptly spilled my dinner all over the floor. I snapped in that moment and knew that I had to make a change. April was really rough month for me personally so finding a way to incorporate meditation into my daily routine was crucial in turning things around. By the end of the month I was sleeping better, being more patient, and becoming more observant to my surroundings. Working on this resolution is going to be hard but I'll be better for it.


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