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.

I am a provider.

I don’t know what’s more satisfying as a father and as a husband than being able to ‘provide’ for my family. Sure, my wife works and earns a good salary, however it’s the basics of saying “I am able to not only provide for myself, I can and want to provide for others as well”, that I find the most satisfying thing about being part of a family. It’s the being able to do this the most rewarding.

For me, there’s no more satisfying outlet to express this pride than going food shopping. I think that food is the most basic essential for human existence. Not shelter, but food.

Plain and simple, without food we die.

It’s nice to have warm shelter and protection from the elements, but from an environmental standpoint we could live without a house. We probably could not live in Southern New Jersey, but there are areas on this planet that do not have the swing in temperatures that we have across the seasons.

I get a certain sense of pride when I go food shopping for my family. Leaving a house with little food and then coming back with many bags of food, seeing the refrigerator and freezer fill up give me a great deal of pride. Sure, my wife and I provide for my family in other ways too, but this is the way that gives me the most pride.

Good Morning To Me.

It’s a mid December morning, it’s cold 19 degrees outside, it’s cold in the house, there’s a light snow on the ground, and the sun is coming up. I’m on my second cup of coffee while I sit tapping away on the keyboard of my laptop, my 7 year old son sits across from me, on his laptop watching a video on Alcatraz Island.

The sun is peeking into my kitchen, just rising above the roofs of the houses behind me and I’m feeling good right now. I’ve grown accustomed to sitting at my kitchen table, tapping away; I just really enjoying sitting at my kitchen table, in my house, looking out at my back yard, through my dirty and drafty windows, all while sitting in my uncomfortable kitchen chairs.

This is my home, this is my Saturday morning.

How I spent my Father’s Day

My Father’s day started out just like every other day, I wake early around 5:30am and then shortly after I realize it’s a weekend day, I attempt to go back to sleep. This morning it was a little tougher to go back to sleep, because my 9 year old daughter had fallen asleep in my bed last night, and she was a little restless this morning. She gave me a few friendly kicks and attempted to snuggle up to me, at this point I didn’t think I was going back to sleep. Once I finally did fall back asleep again, I was awakened by my 7 year old son tapping me on the back around 7:00am. Once I said good morning to him, the first words out of his mouth were “Happy Fodders Day”, I tried to get him to lie down with the three of us already in the bed. He complied for a short time, but then finally went back into his own bedroom. He’s such a sweet kid, and I’m surprised that he remembered that it was Father’s Day today.

About 7:20am, I decided to get out of bed; my back was starting to give me some discomfort, so I decided it was time to go downstairs. I could see that my son was still in his bed, so I invited him to come down with me, so we went down and relaxed, shortly afterwards my daughter came down, which was unusually early for her, she doesn’t normally doesn’t arise until 9:30 on weekend days.

While downstairs, my son was eyeing up the Legos we had purchased the day before for his birthday, once my daughter had come down, we started to build the 188 piece set, or I should say, I started to build the set. While I was building, my son and daughter were playing with the two figurines that were included in the Lego set, while I finished building the space ship. Shortly after finishing up, my wife came down stairs; I decided to go for a ride on my motorcycle.

About 9:30, I told my wife that I’d like to go out for a short ride on my bike. I was very pleased that the bike started right up, this was most likely as a result of purchasing a replacement battery a few weeks ago and filling it up with fresh gas. I proceeded to convert my riding jacket into a warmer weather jacket, and the headed out on this humid Sunday morning. I rode through Sicklerville, and wound my through Williamstown, then back through Sicklerville, all in all riding for about 30 minutes, certainly enough all suited up on this humid late spring day.

I returned home around 10:00am, started a pot of coffee and started up my laptop. I ready the news from the previous day, World Cup scores from the day before, and my usual tech news. My kids then gave me the Father’s day cards that they had made me, both of which they had made in school. My daughter had seemed excited about give me the card she’d made, and when I read it aloud with her, a tear started to fall from my eye. The card was the top 10 reasons why I was the best Dad, and while the two of us read it together, I could tell that she actually felt that these items were true. It made me feel really special. My son had given me a card that was stapled to a bag of Sun Chips, again, it sort of re-iterated the points of why they had felt that I was a good Dad, I was feeling good at this point.

My wife then told me that we were invited to her brother’s house for a cook out and swimming, however she told me that if I wanted to stay home, it was up to me. I though it’s be a good idea to go swimming today, I knew it was going to be a hot one, and it’d be good for my kids to get outside today, and god knows these kids love to swim. It was about noon now, and my wife told me that she needed to run to the store to pick up a cake and some things for dinner. I was feeling a little groggy, so I wanted to take a nap. I had asked the kids if they wanted to go into the basement and watch a movie because we were going to be leaving for the party in about 2 hours or so. They agreed and we watched Toy Story 2, the three of us snuggled up on the couch in the basement, which was a little chillier than I last remember, underneath a light blanket, while we watched the movie. During the movie, I was able to squeak out about 15-20 minutes of sleep, and surprisingly so, the kids pretty much stayed put in their seats during the movie and really seemed to enjoy it. This may be because we had just seen Toy Story 3 on Wednesday, so the story line was probably fresh in their mind; either that or the basement was a little colder than usual. They had laughed and enjoyed themselves, and end of the movie I had turned the sound on up on the closing credits while the two of them danced to Robert Goulet singing “You’ve got a friend in me”, it was one of those moments that as a parent, you know you don’t have too many remaining, but it was something I wanted to last forever, they were singing, laughing, and dancing, it’s was truly a priceless moment for me. Shortly after that, my wife returned from the store and about 30 minutes later we were on our way to her brother’s house. Today was going to be a good day for swimming; it was hot and humid outside.

We arrive at the kid’s uncle’s house, Grand mom, the other uncles and aunts were there, and the kids were ready to get right into the pool. They did; immediately. I put a little sun block on myself, and got into the pool. At first, the water felt cold, but after a minute or two, it was all good. The sun was bright, it was hot, it was perfect swimming weather; I was in the pool with my two kids and we were enjoying ourselves. My daughter and I were the only two in the deep end of the pool, when I thanked her for making today such a good father’s day, her response was as simple and genuine as it gets, she said in her small sweet voice “You’re welcome Daddy”. We played in the pool for a few hours, alternating our time in and out of the pool, not being able to escape the sun’s blistering rays, we all started to get a little hungry. I got out and snacked on a few items, while I finished my margarita I was definitely feeling good, it was a beautiful day, I was surrounded by family all of whom seemed to be in equally good moods.

After we ate, the kids got back into the pool, and I was feeling so full all I wanted to do was vegetate, so I got back in and got on a float. By this point the sun was starting to fall being the trees and it was not as inescapable as it was a few hours earlier. Having just had a good meal, as I bobbed up and down in the pools gentle waves, I was thinking that today was a good day, no, it was a very good day. A short time later, we decide to head home. The kids were tired, the adults were tired, our hosts were tired, rather than out stay our welcome we headed for home. Driving home it had cooled off considerably, I opened up all of the windows and the sunroof, it was just a pleasant slow ride home.
Today was a great day, it was an even better Father’s day.