Just when you think your day is bad.

I was listening to This American Life on a my commute back from Long Island to Southern New Jersey today.  In this podcast, I listened to a mother tell a heart wrenching story about her struggles with her eldest son’s behavior toward her and his younger siblings.  So the next time you think your day is bad, read or listen to this family’s struggle in trying to keep a family together and provide unconditional love to their eldest son.

The family’s blog.

Audio podcast of This American Life.




My me time

It’s after 8:30 in the morning, and I sit at my kitchen table, winter sun shining in through the windows, I am the only one awake in my house right now.

My wife was awake a little earlier, but has chosen to try and go back to sleep after her morning pee when she asked me to turn the volume on the podcast I was listening to in bed down a little.  Before coming downstairs myself, I checked on my kids, my oldest had another night where she had almost completely wrestled her covers nearly off of her bed.  When I checked, her lower back and feet were exposed to the chilly morning air.  It’s a crisp 11 degrees outside this morning and the house is proportionally chilly.  I straightened out the covers and recovered her back up. Immediately after doing so, she went from the fetal position she most likely spent the last few hours in trying to keep warm, to a full on stretching out underneath her comforter and blanket.  I received no visual or audile clues from her that she was ready to waken.  Next, I checked on my son, who was bundled up in his bed  and appeared to be very content, after I quietly asked if he was still asleep he gave me a slight nod , telling me he wasn’t ready to leave the warmth of his bed just yet.  After I softly told him that I’d see him down stairs a little later, he flashed the sign for I love you.

I’m sitting here, looking at the steam coming off my cup of coffee while I feel the suns rays warming my face.   The sound of the furnace blowing warm air is below me in the basement while I feel the warmth it’s providing on my lower legs.  In another hour, the house will be fully awake and we will come up with an adventure for the four of us to have today. Image

This my me time.

My comfort zone.

Today, I’ve basked in my comfort zone.  Both of my kids are sick, and both my wife and I are not feeling great.  My daughter has a sinus infection that has found it’s way to into her eyes.  She’s a trooper and has not let her lingering cough from the last two weeks get her spirits down.  My son, who’s dealing with a sore throat and a mild fever today and is simply not himself.  They both did visit the doctor yesterday, however, his strep test came back negative.  Their explanation; his molars are coming in.  After seeing him today, I don’t buy this explanation, but not sure what else can be done at this point.  Poor kid.

We’ve stayed at home yesterday and today, minus the Dr. visits yesterday morning.  We all slept late today and we had breakfast around noon today, a simple one of sausage and croissants.

My daughter sits on the couch next to me, with her headphones on, she’s playing games on Disney’s website and I occasionally hear her talking to herself or the game.  My son, is resting up in my bed watching TV in our bedroom.  He’s bundled up under the covers and we’re waiting for the next time we give him some Tylenol to help relieve him of his head and throat pain and reduce his fever.

I did some Christmas shopping today on Amazon today.  I got gifts for my wife, both of my kids, and for my Mom.  I think today’s purchase was the most items I’ve purchased in a single sitting, though not the most expensive.  I’ve vowed to my wife, that I was going to try and do all of my shopping online this year, avoiding stores as much as possible and the anxiety that goes along with seeing empty shelves.  There’s still more that I want to get, but I think I’ll wait until my wife gets paid next week.

I’ve been sitting on the couch this afternoon watching the Eagles game, where they seem to be on their way to another win under Nick Foles leadership.  There’s less about 6 minutes remaining in the game and the Eagles are up by 10 over the Cardinals.  I have the game on mute and I’m listening to my favorites playlist on iTunes.  My wife is at the grocery store right now.

Right now, despite everyone not feeling 100%, I thought this was a good weekend.  I was off on Thursday and Friday for the holiday, add in Saturday and Sunday and the 4 days off was just enough to recharge my batteries.  The weather has been typical Delaware Valley fall weather, cool and cloudy.  I’m not sure the sun had come out at all over the last few days.  Despite not seeing much of the sun over the last few days, my energy level is up.  I’m in a very good mood right now, and have everything I need.

I do not want today to end, despite everyone not feeling well, I only wish they’d start to feel better.

The start to my weekend.

As I lay there, I feel the gentle push of air from the ceiling fan, the room is completely dark, save for a few hits of light coming from around the blinds and the clock on the cable box.  I squint at the clock and see it’s 4:31am.

My back, hips, feet are aching as I try to get comfortable on my old mattress.  I toss and turn; my wife is dead to the world right now.  Although I can barely see her, I sense her presence and non-movements and hear her rhythmic breathing.  She will not be waking any time soon, at least if she gets her way. The house is completely silent, except for the sounds of the sleeping.

My body seems to wake itself around this time every morning, with my alarm clock scheduled to announce its self with in the next 30 minutes.  As I try looking into the darkness, it is warm in our room, just under the threshold of being uncomfortable.  I have an old quilt covering my aging and aching body.  After I push this quilt aside, I feel the air from the ceiling fan hitting my feet and legs and instantly start too cool down. I position myself under a sheet, and start to prepare myself for my alarm clocks version of revelry.

A thought occurs to me. I’m too tired, something is not right. I’ve already gone through this early morning routine for the last the last few days. While I don’t count the consecutive number of days in my head, my body’s fatigued state is sort of like it’s own calendar. My internal calendar and clock are telling me something.  After a few seconds of processing, I’ve come to the realization that it is Saturday morning.

I won’t have to hear my alarm clock shortly.  I won’t have to go to work today.  I don’t need to get up any time soon.  I can sleep late today.  It is this surprise revelation that I find to be some of the greatest and short-lived joy in my life as of late.  It’s the actual act of realizing that I can sleep late, which brings me so much euphoria, albeit short lived.  My body craves the rest, will the few more hours of sleep that may allow me to stay up tonight well past 10:00pm, 11:00pm; maybe?

I reposition myself and move my pillow, straighten my legs and stretch.  I prepare for a long sleep.  How late will I be able to sleep today?  Would I actually be able to sleep until 9:30?  10:00am?  In reality, it is just 7:15.  But that 2 hours and 45 minutes was enough, according to my body that was all I needed today, anything more would just be greedy.

I will go through this again tomorrow, no doubt whatsoever.  And the euphoria as I realize that I can sleep late again will not be diminished one bit.  I have gone through this early morning weekend routine for the last few months, and each time is as exciting as the last.  This is my weekend.

It was a sad day yesterday.

Yesterday, we found out that my barber of the last 20 plus years, had recently passed away. While I didn’t personally know Nick very well, his barber shop was somewhere my son and I had gone every 6 weeks or so for the last 7 of his 9 years.

IMAG0855When my son was much younger, we knew he was different than most children, displaying an unusual sensitivity to certain sounds, hair clippers being one of these sounds he didn’t really tolerate. In an effort to make the hair cut experience a little less stressful, my wife and I thought it should be something that I do with him. For both my son and I, rather than springing the news of that it was haircut day that morning, I would start to let him know about our upcoming schedule a few days beforehand, reminding him from that point daily. I wanted to make sure that we did it on a regular interval, so we settled on every 6 weeks. I would let him know that it was just him and I going out together, and we incorporated bringing breakfast the rest of our household after we were done.

I don’t know if it was because my son was getting older or if it was because we have started establish a routine (something we’ve later found out that my son really likes), but he started at first to not only tolerate the haircuts, but then I think he started to enjoy this time we spend together.

Yesterday, we set out as usual about 9:30 am after shoveling a pathway from the previous night’s snowfall and clearing the cars, we left for our ritual. We stopped at the ATM, grabbed some money, and head over to the Colonial Barber shop. Upon our arrival, I knew something was amiss. The spinning barber’s pole that was normally visible from down the road, wasn’t there. A while back, I was thankful when Nick had replaced this pole a few years back, it was now visible from down the road and I easily would easily know if he was open for business that day or if he was on vacation.

I pull into his normally immaculately plowed driveway, which wasn’t plowed this morning and see two orange traffic cones on the side of his house, blocking the path to the small parking lot behind his house. I pull into one of the handicapped spots in front, and see a handwritten note taped inside one of the front windows. The note read something like, Nick is resting peacefully now and the family was thanking us for the years of patronage and friendship.

It took me a few seconds to process this message. I had forgotten that Nick was ill. During visits over the last year or so he would often talk about how his dialysis treatments were wearing him out; we had also just seen him about 6 weeks, and although he was thinner and seemed tired, he looked like he was doing OK.

Then the message sunk in, he had died.

With my son sitting next to me in the car, I said out loud “The barber died”. My son said “What!?”. I said, “the barber died, you remember, he was sick.” I look over at my son, and his eyes are closed and there were tears coming from them. I sat there for a few seconds and thought about what this meant to my son. Although, he really didn’t have an understanding of Nick’s illness, he knew something that something would change in his routine. A routine that he found safe and predictable.

I really like going to this barber. First, it was never crowded. I could walk in with my son at 9:00 am on a Saturday, and be out the door by 9:30am. We never had wait for more than two customers to be finished before it was our time. Next, he was close to our house. It was a source of pride for me to be patronizing a local business, one of the small businesses that this country is built upon, and it took only a few minutes to drive to his shop from my house. It also made me happy that I was spending my money inside of our zip code. Finally, he was an old school barber, not a hair stylist. He had a small shop that looks like it was built in an attached two car garage, (although he later told me that was build as a barber shop from day one), that reminded me of a hunting lodge one of the type of places where men hung out. There were popular mechanics magazines on the racks, there was a deer head and an owl hunting trophies hung on the wall as well as pictures of his hunting cabin in the Poconos and old time ammunition ads. The country music station was always playing on a small radio and the ceiling was wood planks, and the obligatory barber tools that hung from hooks on hand made cabinets.

It was a comfortable place for my son and I and Nick was always friendly to us, many times complimenting my son on how much of a good kid he was, and offering the complimentary lollipop for him and his sister if she were to tag along that day. Nick has watched him grow from a small child who sat on the booster seat who squirmed and cried the entire time he was getting his hair cut, to a youth that would often engage in conversation with him while getting his hair cut. We also liked that Nick knew how we wanted to get our hair cut, not even asking how we wanted it over the last few years, like many good business owners, he knew what his customers wanted.

While I’m sure that Nick will be missed by his family and close friends, he’ll also be missed by some of his loyal customers who found his shop as local place they could get a haircut for a reasonable price by a friendly barber. For my son and I, he was a part of our Saturday routine for the last 7 years or so that we participated in every month and a half, something that will take time to re-establish.

Words with Friends for Android review.

The immensely popular iPhone game Words with Friends was released for the Android OS this past week. Zynga, which purhcased the game’s developers Newtoy back in the end of 2010, had committed to creating an Android version of the game that would allow players of both versions of the game, iPhone and Android, compete against each other head to head from day one.

If you’re not familiar with Words with Friends, it is essentially a Scrabble clone. The game is played by two players each starting with a set of 7 lettered tiles that are automatically and randomly drawn. Each tile is assigned a point value from 1 through 10 (higher points for less commonly used letters like Z,Q,J,K less points for the more commonly used such as E,A,S,T), words are formed by placing tiles on the board, either from left to right, or from top to bottom. In addition to the values of each individual tile, there are bonus spaces on the board (which is a grid of 15×15) that increase the value of specific letters (either 2x or 3x) if the tiles are place on that spot on the grid and there are spots that increase the value of the entire word if just one of the letters from that word falls on one of these spots (either 2x or 3x). Points are assigned to each word based upon the sum of their individual tile points and account for any tiles placed on any of the multiplier locations. The rules are simple, more points wins the game. Oh, and they have to be real words based upon a dictionary called the Enhanced North American Benchmark Lexicon (ENABLE). This dictionary is the basis for their list of accepted words, Newtoy has gone and added some of their own words that are commonly used today, but are not part of this dictionary.

Once I had heard that the game was going to be available for the Android OS, I started checking the Android Market regularly to see if it was available. On Wednesday evening, I had checked and saw that it was finally available for download. I had gone ahead and installed the free ad supported version and within a few minutes I had started my first game with a random opponent. Gameplay does permit up to 20 simultaneous games going at once.

During this first game, my first thought was this game board is visually busy. I think it’s the detailed graphics used to outline the tile spaces on the board, the graphics detail used in the tiles, in addition to the color scheme used; in my opinion this game is not friendly on the eyes. In addition to the busyness of the game board, after each move you are presented with an ad that you must manually cancel out of, or press the back button. Currently, there’s no paid version available for Android just yet that omits the ads as there is for iOS. While the ads are not “that” intrusive, you do see a lot of them over the course of a game.

Having played other Scrabble clones for quite a while, I found the actual game play to be very similar. When it’s your turn, or during your opponents turn, you have the ability to move the tiles around to try and find or form words. This is done by the simple sliding of the tiles either left or right, or the game can take advantage of your devices accelerometer by shaking your device. While the shaking is a neat idea, it’s not very conducive to fluid game play, and just does more of a random shuffle of your tiles. There’s a nice zoom feature that is activated by double tapping on the game board. Depending on where you double tap, that is the area that becomes the center of focus. Double tap a second time, and the board zooms out so that you can view the entire board. Placement of letters on the board, will automatically zoom into that area so that tile placement is more accurate. This is a nice feature and I have found the zoom animation to be very smooth and fluid. Other options when it’s your turn are to swap tiles, or pass on a turn, or simply resign the game. If you placed tiles on the board that do not allow for a proper word, you can easily recall them all by pressing the Recall button. The game also provides an in game chat feature, allowing you to converse in an SMS style chat session. This is also a nice feature, although I have found that I don’t use it too much.

I have found the initial release a little buggy. Playing a game with my wife, she could not join the game despite sending an invitation to her user-name. I was seeing that she was in the game, however, she could not see the game. It was not until I sent her an in game chat message was she finally able to see the board and her tiles. Another issue I noticed is that if I want to swap tiles I don not see the tile from the swap screen unless I cancel out if the swap and attempt it again. Another minor annoyance, is that I keep getting notified that there is an update to the game, however, when I tap the update button I am taken to the Android market page only to find out that I already have the update applied. The update allowed for a few sound options, allowing me to turn off the sound completely and customizing the notification time frame. When it comes to game settings, that’s pretty much it; two settings. I had the notifications set to a 5 minute interval, which may have caused excess battery drain. When I check battery usage within the Android OS, it will show Words with Friends as being one of the bigger offenders of battery usage. I find this rather odd given the frequency that I play the game, again i think this goes back to the polling interval being a little to frequent. We’ll see if changing that to 30 minutes makes a difference.

In summary, over the last few days, I’ve found Words with Friends to be a suitable Scrabble clone. While I don’t feel it’s the best one available for the Android platform, it is also not the worst. When compared to games like Wordfeud, it pales in comparison. The game in it’s early releases is a little buggy, I don’t find it visually pleasing, and there are too many adds with no current option to purchase an ad free version. The biggest benefit is the ability to play head to head along with your iOS toting friends, as well as options for several million opponents. If you’ve installed this game, either in Android or iOS, send me an invite to play. My username is CRG625.

UPDATE: Changing the update notification time frame did not change battery drain. I had even gone so far as to set the notification interval to 60 minutes, and it doesn’t appear to be any better.  This application is a battery hog.