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What started out as an impulsive addition to my son’s list of Christmas presents, has morphed into an addictive and all-consuming passion for crafting. I’m of course talking about the insanely popular video game for the PC called Minecraft. I must admit I didn’t fully grasp what the game was all about before I bought it. But after watching my son play it for a couple of hours (while I read the wiki and gave him pointers), I realized why the virtual world of the game is so compelling. I started having flashbacks to my college days, and the countless hours wasted in “deathmatches” in the early days of games like Doom and Duke Nukem.
But despite the similarities of its deliberately crude bitmaps, which give the graphics an odd retro feel, Minecraft is so much more than a first-person shooter. (In fact, we have chosen to play with the monsters turned off, and the game is no less compelling.) At its core, the game celebrates the creative rather than the destructive, and being able to easily mine the raw materials, and carry large quantities around with you, inspires no end of creativity. Want to build a castle on top of a mountain? That feat can be accomplished in an hour or two. And then it’s time to move onto the next challenge.
It is also, dare I say it, educational. It is a lesson in engineering, chemistry, and economics, disguised as a game. There are also some valuable moral lessons hidden there. For example, when my son decided he would loot one of the neighboring villages, and attack its inhabitants, the consequential hit to his own individual popularity meant that he could not trade with them when he later discovered that there were things he needed.
After just a few hours of solitary gameplay, I decided to up the ante a bit, and set up my own server so the two of us could play in a world that we could shape together. This is where the real addiction begins, as we collaborate on certain tasks, like planting a garden or raising livestock, while at the same time choosing our own projects to tackle, periodically sharing our progress with each other.
After a couple of days, a new rule emerged at the dinner table: no talk of Minecraft. Our incessant discussions of what we accomplished “in the mines” each day were leaving little sister (and mommy) feeling left out, and it wasn’t long before I was cobbling another PC together from spare parts, so the entire family could join in the fun.
Our daughter is just starting to read, and hasn’t had a need to write. Until now. We have been amazed at how well she is able to string together sentences when using the chat function to talk to rest of us playing in the next room or downstairs.
So, in the end, while this new hobby can be a bit obsessive at times, it does provide some unique opportunities for learning, and bonding as a family.
We just got back from two weeks in Great Britain. We took a Trafalgar tour that took us from London, through southern England, northern Wales, the Lake District, and finally to Edinburgh, Scotland. We saw some amazing sights and some truly beautiful scenery. The weather was perfect and the people we met on tour were great. It was an awesome trip. Here is a short video showing some of the highlights. I also have a number of pictures in my photo album.
December 20, 2011 12:49 | Comments (3) | Dixie, Josie, Noah, video |
Six years running, here is our annual Pipes family christmas card. Best holiday wishes to all of our friends and family!
Although many people are unaware of it, St. Louis County boasts a world-class wolf sanctuary. Originally founded by Marlin Perkins, the Endangered Wolf Center in Eureka houses several species of endangered wolves and foxes from around the world. We spent the final day of our staycation on a tour of the facility. I guess we had pretty good luck because we saw quite a few wolves and some of them were active despite the heat. I’m including a short video below of our wolf-watching adventure. We followed it up with a fantastic seafood lunch at Gulf Shores in Creve Coeur.
It’s not often that you get a St. Louis weather forecast in August that calls for highs in the low 80s, so when you get one, you have to take advantage of it. Day 5 of our staycation found us enjoying a day at Six Flags. Here are the video highlights of our day.
Day four of our staycation took us to see the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica, a rather incongruous blend of Romanesque architecture and Byzantine art that took almost 70 years to complete. It houses one of the largest collections of mosaics in the world, all of which are stunning. The kids were impressed with the size of the space inside, and Noah really liked the stained glass windows. It’s hard to believe I’ve lived in St. Louis almost my entire life and I’ve never visited before. They currently have on display a bronze cast replica of Michelangelo’s La Pieta, a marble statue at the Vatican.
We ate lunch at the Central Cafe and Bakery that serves a refreshing menu of Lebanese cuisine. Dixie and I enjoyed the babaganoush appetizer, and I had a very flavorful salad of vegetables and herbs with some yummy lamb kabobs. Luckily their menu also includes a cheese pizza that was a hit with the kids. We followed this up with a walk around the block to The Cup for gourmet cupcakes for dessert. Dixie had a “Graceland” that is banana cake with peanut butter frosting. They even provide free candles if it’s your birthday.
We ended the day with a tour of the Herbaria Soap Factory on The Hill. They make all natural cold process soap with essential oils for scent and color, and if you ask, they’ll take you in back of the shop and give you a tour of the soap-making process, and even let the kids cut out their own bars of soap using cookie cutters. Humans have been making soap for thousands of years, and it is somewhat surprising that the process has remained unchanged in all of that time.
July 29, 2011 14:40 | Comments (1) | Dixie, food, St. Louis |
Having made reservations a full five months in advance, I had a long time to anticipate Dixie’s birthday dinner at Stone Soup Cottage in Cottleville, Missouri. Prior to attending the Chef’s Tasting Dinner last Friday, I had read that St. Louis Magazine had given them the Best New Restaurant award when they opened in 2009, and had named them Restaurant of the Year again in 2010, so my expectations were pretty high. Chef Carl McConnell and his culinary creations did not disappoint. However, I did find a few aspects of the overall dining experience that could be improved.
The food was simply fabulous — a unique blend of distinctive flavors, with many fresh ingredients from local farms and gardens. A bisque made with corn harvested that morning. A potato puff with black truffles and locally picked morel mushrooms. One should keep in mind that it is a tasting, so the portions are small, but with six courses and a few extras on the side, no one leaves hungry. We also chose to include wine pairings with our dinner (at an additional charge), and the selections (two white, two red) were very good.
The restaurant is a restored cottage that dates from the 1850s, with a small dining area that seats about twenty people, at well-appointed and candlelit tables. Having Chef McConnell personally deliver most of the courses to our table and comment on them only adds to the intimate atmosphere. But, my only criticism would be of the dining area itself. The room was dimly lit, and as we approched the final courses, well after sunset, I could barely see what I was eating, which is a shame since a great deal of effort goes into the presentation. With its hardwood floors, the room is also loud, and the night we were there, a boisterous party of 10 made it difficult at times to carry on a conversation. So I would think they might benefit from a few area rugs (if not wall-to-wall carpeting), and a few tapestries on the walls perhaps, as well as turning up the dimmer switch just a bit.
Overall, our meal was fantastic, and I would strongly recommend this cozy place to anyone looking for a unique dining experience to celebrate that special occasion.
In almost every project around our house, we invariably reach the point where this phrase is uttered. It happens so often that it’s a running joke. Today, Father’s Day, was no exception. It began with us simply wanting to swap out the hangers in both of the kids’ closets. Noah’s clothes have gotten big enough that they don’t stay on the baby hangers anymore, and if you’re going to go to the trouble of swapping them in one closet, you might as well do both of them. Josie’s room also involved moving in an antique dresser that’s been in the family for over 100 years. So it quickly devolved into a complete remodeling of her room, including plans for a play table like Noah’s, and a frantic search on Craigslist for a doll house. About an hour later, as we realized that moving Josie’s toy bins into the closet would require rearranging the modular shelving, I looked at Dixie and smiled. “This is the part where I go to Lowes,” and we both burst into laughter. Now, four hours later, the closet has been redone, her room is rearranged, and I am now working on Sketchup plans for a new doll house/play table thing. That’s how we roll.
Day two of our staycation took us to see the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. We watched Albert Pujols et al finish a three-game sweep of their long-time rivals the Chicago Cubs, defeating them 3-2 in the 10th inning. It turned out to be a beautiful day despite the forecasts of record heat and humidity, and though we were in the “nose bleed” seats, we were thankful for the shade underneath the stadium roof. We finished the day with dinner at Balducci’s, and I had what might have been the best cannelloni I’ve ever eaten. The personal deep dish pizza was fabulous too (according to my sources).
Dixie and I celebrated our ninth anniversary with a trip to the Boathouse in Forest Park. The weather could have been better, but the food was excellent and they even had a live band. But the biggest attraction at the Boathouse is, of course, the boats. You can rent either a paddle boat or a kayak by the hour and enjoy the scenery and wildlife while exploring the extensive waterways in Forest Park. We opted for a paddle boat and worked off our dinner as we plied our way to the Grand Basin and tried to imagine how “indescribably grand” the World’s Fair must have been. The Boathouse is truly a unique dining experience, and I would recommend it. Make sure to save room for dessert, and save your energy for some serious pedaling.
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