Advent 2017: Day 14

I had a decent rest last night so I’m much better but feeling extremely tired. J’s friends came round for a playdate so I fortified myself with mini-apple crumble tarts for breakfast and just carried on.

The kids are playing “Ravensburger Labyrinth (I talked about this in a previous post) and another game called Marrakech.

This is a really fun carpet-laying strategy game set in a busy market square. It’s easy to learn, very tactile and requires some keen thinking, and is a real hit with the kids including Thumper, who just likes putting out the moroccan blue carpets in a zigzag pattern. (Buyer’s note: We bought our set from My First Games, but you can also find it on Amazon.)

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

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Advent 2017: Day 12

We spent the day with the Aged P today – the kids have missed her so much!

 

By the way, the game that we are playing is called ‘Qwirkle‘. It’s a simple colour and shape matching game with a good measure of strategy thrown in, so it’s a good one to play across generations! (Buyer’s Note: We received this game as a Christmas gift from a relative who purchased it from My First Games, but you can also find this game on Amazon.)

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Advent 2017: Day 10

The Barn Owl and Thumper are both still recovering but after a nap this afternoon, Thumper was back to his usual happy self, so we took him out with us. He was getting cabin fever from being kept indoors for so many days.

 

Hopefully the Barn Owl will be back to normal tomorrow as he has a particularly tough work week ahead.

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Advent 2017: Day 7

I have written about volunteering with The Boys’ Brigade Share-a-Gift Project before and this year was the first time that we were delivery volunteers with our own BB boy!

J joined The Boys’ Brigade at the start of the year and I cannot tell you how proud I was to see him in his full uniform, valiantly helping to carry the heavy bags of groceries to the Share-a-Gift beneficiaries.

Sadly, this year the donation drive has been a little bit slower than other years – so if you are at the supermarket and see the Boys in Blue, do stop by and see what items they need! As of this post, they need more 2L bottles of cooking oil, halal tinned foodstuffs, condiments (like soy sauce and ketchup) and instant noodles!

For more information on the BB Share-a-Gift project please click here

By the way, the board game that we are playing is called ‘Ravensburger Labyrinth‘ and it was a gift from the Outlaws last year. We still love it – and sometimes Thumper gets in on the action too! (Buyers note: You can get this game from My First Games or from Amazon)

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Advent 2017: Day 5

Well now, we had some friends round in the morning to join us in our Advent activities – and they brought a delicious homemade gift! 10/10 would playdate again.

The kids really liked the origami angel that I folded yesterday, so we tried our hand at folding paper ‘Mary’ dolls together. We followed these instructions from Soulful Mamahood. I was surprised that the kids could actually do it with some guidance, although they had to be constantly reminded to be slow and precise with each fold! Origami is a real exercise in patience.

P.S. We are following the Advent calendar from Truth In The Tinsel this year!

P.P.S. Check out our other Advent posts here with lots of crafty fun for the season and subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Book Series that we love (Chapter books): My Blade Quest

We’ve recently been introduced to yet another homegrown Singaporean author, Don Bosco, and his Super Cool chapter book series – My Blade Quest!

These adventure books are definitely good for readers who need to gain confidence in moving away from picture books, and are looking to slowly expand their vocabulary. Each chapter is only 3-4 pages long, and will not appear intimidating even though the illustrations are few and far between. This makes them perfect for primary schoolers who are not yet confident readers, but don’t want to be caught reading ‘kiddy books’ during the silent reading time in class!

The stories are funny and exciting, with a smattering of pop culture elements to capture the attention of our technology and media savvy kids. The main characters Jay and Shu, heirs to the Blade Quest card game empire, are intrepid and intelligent…and I really like the fact that they have a loving sibling relationship!

don-bosco-my-blade-quest-book-series

A quick read before bedtime

I introduced this series to 9 year old J, and he was glad to have something fun to read to unwind during the hectic end-of-year exam period. The series has 9 year old J’s stamp of approval and he has since re-read the books several times.

J says – If you are looking for an in-between mystery and adventure book series that is more challenging than Geronimo Stilton and less silly than Captain Underpants, then these books are good for you. I enjoy imagining Jay and Shu going all over the world to find treasures and meet new friends. And I wish I had a Blade Quest Card Game!

Little E is just beginning to start reading chapter books, so I’ll be reading My Blade Quest with her during school holidays and hopefully this will help her to read more independently!

Bonus For Owls Well Readers: If you are looking for a great gift idea for a special little person in your life, the fine folk over at Armour Publishing have kindly offered an exclusive discount code for all Owls Well Readers! Hooray!  Just enter the code OWLS17 at checkout to enjoy 20% off any purchase of My Blade Quest Series (Books 1 – 4). (Discount code is valid from 17 Nov to 8 Dec 2017).

Buyer’s note: I received a set of My Blade Quest books from Armour Publishing for this review. If you would like to get the books for a little adventurer in your life, you can find My Blade Quest and other books by local authors here. Don’t forget to use the discount code!

NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge Round 2: Chess at Heaven’s Gate

So, I managed to make it to the second round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge!  Woo!  For those of you wondering, I came in 6th place in my group with 9 points.

This time, I was required to write a Ghost Story.  As you guys all know from my podcast diet, I’m a big fan of true crime stories, so I wrote a piece inspired by the serial murders committed by Alexander Pichuskin, the Chessboard Killer, whom I had recently heard about on the Parcast’s Serial Killers podcast.  Once again, DebsG inspired me to keep it local, so I’ve written about Xiangqi.

I hope you guys like it!


Chess at Heaven’s Gate

To truly master the art of Chess, one must spend several lifetimes dedicated to its study.

Genre: Ghost Story
Location: Chess School
Object: Safety Glasses

Xiaqi jostled with the crowd as they vied for precious front row spots around one of the many stone tables dedicated to Chinese chess.  All of them had come hoping to improve their game, and as their numbers grew, it became increasingly difficult to get a glimpse of the board.

Today’s feature match was between a schoolgirl and a businessman.  General, the oldest of the group, pointed to the girl’s defensive line and frowned.

“All right, everyone, this is a common mistake made by rookie players faced with the classic Centre Cannon versus Screening Horse[1] opening gambit.” He explained, “It’s never a good idea to move an unprotected chariot into enemy territory.  It leaves you open to all sorts of attacks.”

General continued with his lesson, explaining the concept behind the opening gambit and pointing out where the girl had left holes in her defence.  Sure enough, the man declared checkmate after four more moves.

General had started the amateur chess school at Heaven’s Gate Park to pass the time after his retirement.  Perhaps in deference to his skill at the game, he had been branded on his back, instead of on his face.  He still bore the tell-tale ligature marks from his death.

Xiaqi studied the board as the schoolgirl started another round.  She couldn’t help but think that the General was wrong.  The opening gambit wasn’t as important as a good endgame and a good offence often made up for weak defences.

She glanced at Right Elephant, a plump, middle-aged woman, then looked askance at one of the unattended tables.  Right Elephant smiled, her mouth twisting into the horrific brand on her cheek that left one eye melting out of its socket.  The two of them sat at opposite ends of the table and played with imaginary pieces.  Xiaqi laid out her strategy for turning the flawed opening gambit into a victory, forcing Right Elephant into the defensive quickly, once the woman had played into her territory across the river.

“That is an interesting idea.” Right Elephant giggled after Xiaqi pushed her general into a corner.

She headed over to join her sister, Left Elephant.  The twins were once identical, but Left Elephant had struggled less when they were being crushed to death and so kept both eyes during the branding.  Xiaqi herself had a brand – Cannon – after her aggressive style of play.  In keeping with the theme of her piece, most of her body had been burned before she was stabbed and thrown in the park’s cistern to drown.

After the sun had set, the ghosts watched as the businessman returned and carefully carved a small symbol under the table.  兵 – a Pawn.

Xiaqi hoped that the schoolgirl would keep losing.

* * *

The schoolgirl didn’t keep losing, but she didn’t end up in the cistern.

Instead, when the killer reached the chess tables with her body, Xiaqi gave the signal and the General led the charge.  With otherworldly shrieks, everyone rushed the man, running through his body.  The coordinated attack caused the wind to kick up, forcing him to drop the schoolgirl.

Each time the killer moved forward, the wind beat him back, howling and moaning in his ears, raising goose bumps, and making his hair stand on end.  Uneasy and frightened, he ran off into the night.  As the schoolgirl breathed her last, a new Pawn stepped out of the body to join the rest of the group.  Xiaqi knelt and closed the girl’s eyes.

Sometimes, sacrifices had to be made to ensure final victory.

* * *

A small crowd had gathered around Heaven’s Gate Park that morning.  Everyone watched with great interest as the police set up a cordon around the body, taking pictures and marking the surroundings with little placards for evidence collection.

The Detective bent down to get a sample of the victim’s torn clothing and cursed as the biting wind caused a bit of blood-matted hair to smack into his safety glasses, leaving an ugly red stain in its wake.

Spotting the chess tables in the shade, he sat at one of them, absentmindedly polishing the glasses with a sanitising wipe as he considered the case.  The victim was a well-known sugar baby with multiple daddies.  So, this was most likely some sort of Triad killing, with the branding on the face being a message to a rival gang.  Investigating such cases was futile.  Triad money always kept the perpetrators out of court.

His glasses grew hot in his hand.  Surprised, he dropped them.  They skittered across the concrete and landed just underneath one of the other tables.

“Butterfingers!” he grumbled as he stumbled forward to retrieve them.

As his fingers reached for the plastic frames, he saw the word Pawn – “兵” reflected in the lenses.  Turning, he looked up at the underside of the table and saw another chessboard painstakingly etched underneath, circles marking out where pieces would normally be, some of them blank, but others filled in with symbols.

He stood, making a note to check the table more thoroughly later.  As he reached for his glasses again, another gust of wind caught the light plastic frames and blew them into the bushes.

When he got closer, the glasses flew again, this time landing near a cistern hidden under the shade of some trees.

Later, when he explained his horrific find to his colleagues over tea, he swore that he felt an electric shock.  The glasses shot out of his hands, twinkling in the morning light as they dropped right through a hole in the cistern cover.

* * *

Xiaqi smiled as they pulled her bloated corpse from the depths of the cistern and laid her down beside the others.  She glanced up at the killer in the crowd, noticing the colour drain from his face as he watched the police pull victim after victim out of the wet darkness.

“Checkmate.” She grinned as she began to dissolve.

She wondered if there would be chess where she was going.

~END~


[1] For those of you interested, the General’s lesson is adapted from this Youtube video by Singaporean Xiangqi Grandmaster, Alvin Woo.

P.S. Here’s my previous submission for round 1!