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Maureen’s Pickled Cucumber (Tsukemono)

Command Zone rolls one-year anniversary party

HANFORD — It’s been a perfect roll of the 20-sided die for Command Zone Games & Hobbies.

The gaming and collectible shop, located at 140 S. 11th Ave. in Hanford, is celebrating its first anniversary this weekend.

“We wanted to build a place where people could have the opportunities that we didn’t have in this area when we were all kids,” Kelemen said.

Kelemen, along with co-owners Ken Bailey and Ron and Justin Ethridge, opened the shop last year, creating a place where players of games like “Pokemon,” “Magic: The Gathering,” “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Warhammer 40,000” could not only buy supplies for those games, but play the games as well.

As teens, the four would play Magic at a collector’s shop in Visalia, the owner of which “tolerated them,” Kelemen put it, as they played their games standing up, shuffling and dealing on the tops of old comic books.

Tuesday afternoon, multiple groups were sitting comfortably playing card games at the shop’s many tables available to anyone who wants to get in a quick —or not so quick — game with any of the cards or materials they’ve just purchased.

Kelemen said that players in the shop, most of whom are regulars, are welcoming and that those with little to no experience with the games would be quick to find someone willing to take them under their wing and show them the ropes and rules of any of the fantasy-themed games being played at any time.  

All age groups are also welcome and Kelemen said that most of the shop’s regulars are in their late teens and 20s.

Kelemen and Ron Ethridge agreed that they expected a market for “Magic” while preparing to start the business, but weren’t necessarily expecting such large fan bases for other games and have been pleasantly surprised by their support.

“I didn’t expect that we’d have two or three Dungeons & Dragons games going on every Friday and Saturday,” Kelemen said.

Magic: The Gathering is an immensely popular card-collecting game, wherein each player builds their own deck made up of illustrated cards, each with their own function, to play against other players. It has been estimated that over 20 million people play the game and that between 2008 and 2016, 20 billion cards were produced.

“Magic has changed my life. The best relationships I have are with people I play Magic with,” Ethridge said.

Players can purchase entire pre-made decks, booster packs and individual cards.  Cards can range in value from a few cents to thousands of dollars, depending on rarity and function. World championships are held annually, preliminaries for which happen regularly at Command Zone.

“The thing about Magic and Pokemon, too, is that the interactions in the game are wonderful, but it’s also about the interactions with the people you’re playing with,” Ethridge said.

The shop also sells figurines, board game, specialty dice and other items. 

For Saturday’s anniversary party, during which the shop will be open from noon to 7 p.m., the shop will be hosting raffles with prizes, as well as Magic draft games scheduled every two hours.  Winners of those games will receive prizes, as well. There will also be free play, and other types of games being played throughout the day.

“We’re excited to show our appreciation to the folks who helped us get here,” Kelemen said.

Forwarding the blessings

HANFORD — You don’t have to speak Spanish to know that leaders at a south side Hanford church are excited about something, you can see it in their eyes as they show you around the church’s back rooms, which are currently filled with boxes upon boxes of clothing.

Iglesia Brilla la Luz de Jesus, which translates to “the light of Jesus shines” church, has started a Thanksgiving tradition that members hope others will soon become a part of.

For the past five years, the church has hosted a free community Thanksgiving luncheon that will once again take place Saturday. Previously, the luncheon was held at the Longfield Center, but was held at the church last year and this year’s lunch will be held at the church as well.

Although the luncheon takes place on the south side of Hanford, everybody is welcome, including those who are homeless. Event coordinator Melissa Zuniga Ramos said as long as someone is in need, the church is there to help.

A small church with only about 45 members, volunteers plan on setting up tables both inside and outside the church to accommodate as many people as they can.

Ramos’s parents, Eduardo Zuniga and Rocio Zuniga are the pastors of the church, which has a mostly Spanish-speaking congregation. The church coordinates the event with the Ministerio Mujeres Hispanas (Hispanic Women’s Ministry).

Wearing matching purple shirts on Wednesday, the Zunigas and other church leaders prepared for  the event by sorting clothes. But they said the real work will come on Saturday, when they will prepare and serve meals to hundreds of people.

The luncheon has grown since its inception and served over 220 meals last year, Ramos said. This year, she said they are planning for at least 250 meals, which include turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables and other holiday favorites.

Along with food, donated jackets, clothes and blankets will be distributed to those in need.

“In this weather you can see homeless people who don’t have blankets, so we want to be a blessing and give them that blanket or that jacket,” Ramos said.

Ramos said, spiritually, God teaches giving and that is why the church does the Thanksgiving event every year.

“We’re very honored and humbled and it’s exciting for us to give back to the community,” Ramos said. “God has been blessing us, so we want to be a blessing for the community.”

Another aspect the church wants to highlight is that this is the first year it is a designated spot for families to sign up for Toys for Tots.

“We are really encouraging the community to come and register for anybody who wants to bless their kids with toys,” Ramos said, adding the church will also have a Christmas celebration in December.

Ramos said the church is truly thankful to the volunteers — some of whom come from different local churches — and all the people who have donated food or clothing.

Church leaders said they really just want to get the message out that everyone is welcome.

“We don’t want to have any food left over,” Ramos said with a smile.

Grim search continues; 56 dead

PARADISE, Calif. — With at least 130 people still missing, National Guard troops searched Wednesday through charred debris for more victims of California's deadliest wildfire as top federal and state officials toured the ruins of a community destroyed by the flames.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined Gov. Jerry Brown on a visit to the leveled town of Paradise, telling reporters it was the worst fire devastation he had ever seen.

"Now is not the time to point fingers," Zinke said. "There are lots of reasons these catastrophic fires are happening." He cited warmer temperatures, dead trees and the poor forest management.

Brown, a frequent critic of President Donald Trump's policies, said he spoke with Trump, who pledged federal assistance.

"This is so devastating that I don't really have the words to describe it," Brown said, saying officials would need to learn how to better prevent fires from becoming so deadly.

Almost 8,800 homes were destroyed when flames hit Paradise, a former gold-mining camp popular with retirees, on Nov. 8, killing at least 56 people in California's deadliest wildfire, Sheriff Kory Honea announced Wednesday evening. There were also three fatalities from separate blazes in Southern California.

Honea said the task of searching for bodies was so vast that his office brought in another 287 searchers Wednesday, including the National Guard troops, bringing the total number of searchers to 461 plus 22 cadaver dogs. He said a rapid-DNA assessment system was expected to be in place soon to speed up identifications of the dead, though officials have tentatively identified 47 of the 56.

It will take years to rebuild the town of 27,000, if people decide that's what should be done, said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains looks like a wasteland.

"The infrastructure is basically a total rebuild at this point," Long said. "You're not going to be able to rebuild Paradise the way it was."

Temporary schools and hospitals will be brought in, Long said. Officials are also looking to bring in mobile homes for thousands of people left homeless.

Debris removal in Paradise and outlying communities will have to wait until the search for victims finishes, he said.

That grim search continued Wednesday.

The soldiers targeted homes of the missing. If anything resembling human remains is found, a coroner takes over.

The number of missing is "fluctuating every day" as people are located or remains are found, said Steve Collins, a deputy with the Butte County Sheriff's Department.

Authorities on Wednesday released the names of about 100 people who are still missing, including many in their 80s and 90s, and dozens more could still be unaccounted for. Sheriff's department spokeswoman Megan McMann said the list was incomplete because detectives were concerned they would be overwhelmed with calls from relatives if the entire list were released.

"We can't release them all at once," McMann said. "So they are releasing the names in batches."

Authorities have not updated the number of missing since Sunday, when 228 people were unaccounted for.

Sol Bechtold's 75-year-old mother was not on the list. Her house burned down along with the rest of her neighborhood in Magalia, a community just north of Paradise.

"The list they published is missing a lot of names," said Bechtold, who's still searching shelters for his mother, a widow who lived alone and did not drive.

A sheriff's deputy asked Bechtold on Wednesday for information that could identify her remains, like any history of broken bones. He told the officer she had a knee replacement. Bechtold predicted that the death toll would rise sharply.

"I feel horrible for the sheriff. I feel horrible for the people of Paradise and Magalia," he said. "It's just a no-win situation unless a few hundred folks just show up out of nowhere."

To speed up identification of remains, officials are using portable devices that can identify genetic material in a couple of hours, rather than days or weeks.

In Southern California, authorities were investigating a body that was found Wednesday in a burned residence in the Agoura Hills area. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department called it an apparent fire-related death but did not immediately have any further information.

The so-called Woolsey Fire started Nov. 8 and quickly became one of the largest and most destructive fires in state history. Firefighters have made steady progress this week but warned many hotspots remain.

Before sunrise Wednesday there was a flare-up in rugged wilderness at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains as winds buffeted parts of the region. The flare-up sent a huge column of smoke out to sea.

The cause of the fires remained under investigation, but they broke out around the time and place that two utilities reported equipment trouble.

People who lost homes in the Northern California blaze sued Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on Tuesday, accusing the utility of negligence and blaming it for the fire. An email to PG&E was not returned.

Astronomers find a cold planet three times the size of Earth

An international team of astronomers has detected evidence of a cold planet at least three times the size of Earth orbiting an ancient red dwarf star, right in our stellar neighborhood.

If you were traveling at the speed of light, it would take you just six years to reach it.

In the context of the universe, that’s basically right next door.

The newly discovered world, described Wednesday in Nature, is associated with a small, dim star known as Barnard’s star that is older than our solar system. It takes the planet 233 days to complete a single orbit around its cool red sun.

It is now the second-closest known planet to our solar system.

The only closer known planet is an Earth-sized body that orbits the small red star Proxima Centauri in the Alpha Centauri triple star system. That planet was discovered in 2016 and lies just four light-years from Earth.

The planet around Barnard’s star is probably too cold to host life, researchers said.

Although it is about as close to its own star as Mercury is to the sun, scientists say it is probably as cold as Saturn. That’s because Barnard’s Star emits only 0.4 percent of the sun’s radiant power.

But the new discovery is exciting for other reasons.

The proximity of the newly found planet to Earth makes it an excellent target for future observations. It is so close that the next generation of telescopes may be able to image it directly, the researchers said.

In addition, the new find provides further evidence that planets are nearly ubiquitous around red dwarf stars, said Ignasi Ribas, an astronomer and director of the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia in Spain, who led the work.

"The chances of finding new ones is quite high," he said.

The new detection was made by a team of scientists working on an astronomy collaboration called Red Dots. Together, they are scanning the night sky for planets orbiting nearby dim red dwarf stars. Ultimately they hope to find a world in the habitable zone of these stars, where liquid water could pool on its surface.

This is not the first time that astronomers have thought they had found a planet around Barnard’s star.

Back in the 1960s Peter van de Kamp, a Dutch astronomer based in the United States, reported the discovery of two planets roughly the size of Jupiter orbiting the red dwarf.

To come to this conclusion he used a technique called astrometry that measures the movement of a single star across the celestial sphere. The idea is that the gravity of a planet orbiting that star would cause the star to shift its position ever so slightly compared with more distant background stars.

Based on his observations, Van de Kamp believed one of the planets completed a full orbit around the dim star in 12 years, while the other completed its orbit in 20 years.

However, as astrometry measurement techniques became more precise, scientists found that the supposed signals of Van de Kamp’s two planets did not exist after all.

The new discovery of a single, much smaller planet orbiting Barnard’s star is based on a different observational technique called radial velocity. In this method scientists use spectrometers to look for a small wobble in the light from the star that would indicate it has a planet orbiting around it.

"A light source that comes toward us would have its wavelength slightly blue shifted, while a light source that moves away from us has its wavelength slightly red shifted," Ribas said.

The magnitude of the wobble reveals the minimum mass of the planet that is responsible for the motion.

The radial velocity method was developed in the 1990s and has been steadily improving ever since, Ribas said. Even so, the size of the newly found planet is just on the edge of what current instruments can detect.

This particular discovery was possible only because the research team was able to examine hundreds of measurements that had been made over 20 years, he said. That gave them enough data to detect the small signal of the planet.

To ensure the detection was accurate, the authors also observed Barnard’s star every possible night during 2016 and 2017 from the Calar Alto Astronomical Observatory in Spain. A clear signal at a period of 233 days arose again and again.

Rodrigo Diaz, an astronomer at the University of Buenos Aires who was not involved in the new work, said that while the findings are promising, he'd still like to see more evidence of the new planet’s existence.

"Difficult detections such as this one warrant confirmation by independent methods and research groups," he said in an essay accompanying the new study.

The European Space Agency’s Gaia Space Observatory may be able to make detections that would further confirm the presence of a planet around Barnard’s star, he said, but those data aren’t expected to be released until the 2020s.