Monday, December 15, 2008

The days Jesus came to visit!

It has been a really hard two months.  The pain gets worse and better with no particular pattern.  Wednesday when I saw the Neurologist, I was in pretty good shape.  By Friday, the pain was so bad we thought about going to the hospital for the pain medicine.  Today, it's under control.  But this post isn't about me, it's about all the love that has been shown to us by family, friends, and strangers.  This will be a very long post.

Our lot has four really big silver maple trees.  That means a lot of leaves come down late in the fall.  The day after Thanksgiving, Jesus came in the form of 8 men from the Men's Club at church who came over and raked all the leaves up and mowed the lawn.  These are folks who I might have met twice at the two meetings I went to, so I barely know them.  But when the president of the Men's Club saw me limping through church one day, he stopped me and asked if there was anything they could do to help.  And so they spent a couple of hours cleaning the gutters.  Thank you!

A few days before Thanksgiving, Jesus came in the form of St. Gerald parishioners unexpectedly delivering a box of food.  I am still working,  we can afford food, and we put money into the poor box at church to help those less fortunate.  We've both worked in food pantries and met some people who need food a lot more than we do, so this gift was challenging to accept.  We wondered if our situation was really bad enough to warrant a food box, and contemplated bringing it all back to church the next week.  But as we looked at the boxes sitting in our hall for a few days, we realized that it was more than a gift of food.  It was a gift of support, fellowship, and solidarity.  It was really nice for the next few weeks to be able to grab some soup or cereal and say a prayer for the family that donated it.  This was a gift of real generosity to Susan, who has a lot on her plate right now.  The easy to prepare meals have been a blessing.  Thank you!

Last week, Jesus came as a group of Susan's friends who delivered a card that included a variety of gift cards.  Again we were overwhelmed with gratitude and emotion.  I am still working, and for now, the paychecks are still coming.  But this gift has been an offset to the extra expenses we've encountered lately.  I take a train to work, and the walk at the other end is 9/10ths of a mile.  I can't walk that far, so I take a $6 cab ride each way, when I do go into work, and this gift has helped to offset those expenses.  And even though we've reached our out of pocket maximum on the insurance, there are still parking fees, drugs, acupuncture, and copays.  Thank you!

I've had a lot of visits, tests, and followups with "ologist's" during in the last two months.  Jesus regularly comes in the form of Susan's mom or sister watching Karen so that Susan can accompany me through this journey.  And has Karen has grown, Lori has kept a steady stream of hand-me-downs coming!  It has been helpful to have Susan with me at all the appointments.  Thank you!

Right before this all started, we did demolition on a room upstairs to add insulation.  When I was in no condition to finish the job, Jesus came in the form of Susan's dad who came and helped Susan build the wall.  Our house is much warmer this winter.  He's also helped with a lot of odd jobs around the house that I normally do.  Thank you!

The early days of going back to work were a bit of a challenge.  And I was always able to ask my friend Bill Murphy for a ride.  He normally takes a train also, but has been more than willing to drive when I feel like I need it.  Also, he drove me to work the day I went in for a 2.5 hour MRI.  Our plan was for Susan to come and pick me up when it was done, but at the last minute he surprised us and offered to stick around in the waiting room.  Thank you!

And then, Jesus came again last night when the Church delivered some Christmas gifts for Karen and our family.  Again, we are humbled by the generosity of so many.  It still feels a little wierd to have been chosen for this, but it also feels wonderful to receive so much love from a parish which we only joined in August 2007.  We really appreciate the Church reminding us that is how it is with Jesus too--you give a little and get so much in return.  Thank you!

Susan has been amazing.  Our baby is due March 1, so she's getting bigger every day!  In the last two months, she's been so wonderful in her loving care and concern.  Normally, I do do some work in the kitchen, and with her being so far along in the pregnancy, I should be doing more, but she keeps cooking great meals as well as holding my arm to help me walk when I need, driving me to doctor's appointments, and let's not forget building a wall for insulation.  More importantly, she prays with me, talks with me, and loves me.  I do not envy the pain I know she feels.  At least I can point to my pain and say "this hurts here."  Her pain is that of watching the one you love ride a roller coaster of good days and bad days.  I pray that I never have to feel that pain, but if I do, that I will support her as much as she has supported me.  Thank you Susan!

Jesus comes to us in many different ways.  This experience has been humbling, and has opened our eyes to a whole different perspective of Church.  We just asked for some help with leaves, and they have seen that we are having a hard time and are helping in whatever ways they think of.  All of us, every day, have the opportunity to give to help those less fortunate, and that is definitely a spiritual gift which we have some control over.  Having been helped so much in so many ways and by so many people this past month, I can tell you that it is also a spiritual gift to be on the receiving side of unexpected help.  We would never ask for hardship upon you, but we do pray that, at some point during your life, you have an experience like ours, where friends, family, and Church come together to show you how much God loves you.  Thank you!

Monday, November 3, 2008

More updates will have to wait. Please Pray.

I am still in pain, and it's been almost a month.

I am seeing lots of specialists, but it will be at least two weeks before I know the results of some of the tests.

I just want to ask for prayers. Please pray for me and for my doctors.



Thursday, October 23, 2008

Two weeks, and it is still unclear why I'm in pain...

Yesterday I was in a lot of pain. My gastroenterologist wasn’t in the office so he couldn’t prescribe any pain medicine. I ended up seeing my primary care doctor for over an hour last night for a thorough evaluation.

He thinks that the pain is in my kidneys and not due to diverticulitis. His advice was to keep my colonoscopy scheduled, but to also see a urologist in case it is a kidney stone. Apparently, my pain is pretty typically the pain that one would have with a kidney stone, though it didn’t show up on the CT scan or in other tests. This is confusing to say the least.

So, I’m at the urologist tomorrow at 11 in case it is kidney stones. And I am pretty well stocked on Tylenol #3 (with codeine), that do seem to mask the pain, though I do get tired.

Please pray for a quick and conclusive diagnosis.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Work and The Wall

Today's post is in two parts -- one for the update on my health, and the other is an update on our construction.


My last update was on Friday, which was a particularly good day for me. I managed to work the entire day, without taking a nap in the middle of the day. On Friday, I decided that Monday would be a great day to try to go back to work.

Not so much. There are orders of magnitude of difference between getting out of bed and working from a laptop at the kitchen table to getting downtown to the office to work. Here's what the commute was like yesterday: Susan drove me the three blocks to the train station, where I had to stand and wait about 10 minutes for the train (that was 8 minutes late). The train jiggled me around for about 45 minutes on the ride downtown. Then I walked outside to pay to much for a cab to take me the 0.9 miles to my office. The elevator took me from the first to the ninth floor -- that actually went pretty smoothly. Then I realized that the new glass door on our office was a lot heavier than it ever was before, and had to wait for a co-worker to open the door.

After that, it's no wonder that my side was hurting pretty bad. Our COO made several comments that he couldn't look at me because I was in so much pain. Between my pain and realizing that being at work in pain was distracting my coworkers from getting anything done either, I ended up catching a cab back to Union Station to be on the 12:35 train home. After a little nap, I dialed in for one more meeting in the afternoon, but was pretty spent.

So I worked from home today, and had an amazingly productive day. I felt like I started to catch up on some of what I got behind on last week. It was great! But after dinner the pains returned. It is on my left side, right below the rib cage. It hurts to be in bed, so I'm up late writing a blog post...

Tomorrow, I'll call again to see if the doctor will give me some pain medicine. If I don't get an answer, I'll make an appointment. I need to be able to sleep.

The Wall
I normally do all home improvements myself. While sometimes challenging, I enjoy tackling something I've never done before and figuring out how to solve construction issues. But, since buying this house, we've had too much work to do. So, when it came time to remodel the upstairs, we decided to make an exception to the rule and hire help for the insulation and drywall. We even hired the drywall guy to come in early to remove all the old paneling for the insulation contractor. This demolition was done a week before I went into the hospital.

Unfortunately, the paneling on the outside wall was just attached to furring strips that were attached to the brick, so there was no room to put insulation. The weekend I was in the hospital, I was planning on framing out a wall that could hold the insulation. Obviously that didn't happen.

But, it's getting kind of chilly in Chicago, and not having any paneling or insulation in that room upstairs is having an effect on the comfort level in the Jones household, so we had to figure something out. Last week, Susan asks me "how would you build the wall?" So I explained it to her, and she says "that doesn't sound hard, can I do it?" Remember, she is five months pregnant, and asking if she can build a wall!!!

She did it!

Her dad came over, and while I sat in a chair directing, the two of them got the wall up, and neither had ever built a wall before. There are a lot of things I admire about Susan. Her "Can Do" attitude is high on that list. I am very grateful that my children have such a strong woman for a mother!

She's building a wall

Friday, October 17, 2008


On Wednesday, my side was very tender, and hurt with almost every movement. But I slept good on Wednesday night and woke up Thursday in pretty good shape. As the day wore on, the pain came back. I also went to the gastroenterologist yesterday. He was recommended by a family friend, and seemed like a pretty nice person. Though doctor appointments are always stressful and quick, and I always forget to write down my list of important questions. Next time I will write the list down.

The only weird thing was the nurse's insistence that I provide my social security number in order to have any procedures done in the office. Social security numbers should only be used for tax purposes. Unfortunately, they are also necessary for credit reporting.

In this day and age of rampant identity theft, we have to guard our social security numbers well. I can think of no good reason for the doctor to need my social security number. They obviously need the insurance ID in order to be paid, and in the past, I've confirmed that our insurance company does not require the social security number for doctors to be paid. The doctor agreed, but when meeting with the nurse to schedule, she said "it's our policy that to have a procedure done in the office, you have to provide your social security number" and that's the best explanation she could give. If she had said that they needed to run a credit check, I would have been disturbed, but understood. But there's no good reason to have my SSN listed on the coversheet of my medical file, available for any worker in the office to see.

At any rate, I'm going in for a Colonoscopy and Upper Endoscopy on December 2nd.

And I hope to be going back to work on Monday!!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My co-workers are trying to kill me

A good friend from work, Bill, came over to visit tonight.  He brought a card from all my coworkers at work.  It made me laugh so much it hurt.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Three days after three days at the hospital...

It is Tuesday now, and I was released on Saturday. My best day in the past week was the day I came home from the hospital. I wasn't in pain, rather I just had a little discomfort. Solid food also hadn't worked it's way entirely through my system either though...

Sunday, my belly was a bit more tender, but I was able to rest and make it through the day.

Monday, my goal was to take it easy working from home, preparing for a training that was today. But I had already missed two days of work, so I had plenty to catch up on. And in my new job, there are always URGENT SITUATIONS that need to be addressed right away. Yesterday was no exception, though I did break away a few times to lie down for a rest. Monday, my belly was tender most of the day, though there were a few times when I noticed it didn't hurt too much.

Today, a vendor we recently purchased a tool from came into the office to give our professional services team a bit of hands-on training. Since I'm now the director of professional services, and I led the effort to choose this tool, I felt a personal responsibility to be there. I woke up with some pain in my belly, so I decided to webex into the training. Then, there was a company meeting and a meeting with a big client that had already been rescheduled twice due to my illness. Needless to say, I didn't get the rest I needed today. And the pain was pretty constant most of the day.

Tomorrow, we will make an appointment with a gastroenterologist. I should be doing better than this, and I'm almost out of antibiotics. When I was admitted to the hospital, they assigned me a doctor who works there, but neither Susan or I were very impressed. He kept talking about the ultrasound I supposedly had done in the ER, when I had a CT Scan, and no ultrasound.

That's where it's at. Please keep me in your prayers.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Three days at the hospital!

From Blog Photos
It all started Thursday morning at 2:50 am when I awoke with the worst pain I have ever felt in my abdomen. I tried to sit on the toilet but that hurt too much and I ended up lying on the floor. Susan (and Karen) woke up about then. We talked about pulling the car around to the front and driving to the hospital. But I could not bend to sit in the car. Pretty quickly we decided to call 911, and within minutes, the Oak Lawn Fire Department was there to transport me to the hospital. Susan stayed behind to wait for her parents to arrive to watch Karen.

The initial thought given the type and location of the pain was a kidney stone. But initially I did not have back pain, which apparently is normal with a kidney stone. Still I drank the "contrast" solution and waited two hours for the CT scan. Blood, urine, and CT results were all normal except I still was in a lot of pain. The ER doc at 8am said that he did not know the problem since all the tests came back okay, but decided to keep me for a 23 hour watch to see how I handled the pain. Then I was moved into the hallway to wait for a room.

At about 4 I was taken to a room, and at about 7 I saw Dr. Poleszak. He said the only other cause he could think of was diverticulitis, and prescribed antibiotics and pain medicine. That evening and night I took lots of pain medicine which helped a lot.

I was not allowed to eat until Friday at lunch when they gave me a liquid lunch. I am not sure if grape juice and Italian ice counts as really eating anything, but it was better than the ice chips I had been limited to before!!!

Friday night I finally got to eat some solid food. That went well and when I woke on Saturday, I felt good and ready to go home. I miss Karen!

Now, it is 2pm, and my cantankerous old neighbor is snoring while the football game he was watching still plays on the tv. The nurse says my doctor said he would be here between 3-4. So I expect him here by 8pm to discharge me!

UPDATE: The doc was there at 3:10, and by 3:45, I was out the door!

Thank Yous
In times of crisis and unexpected pain, there is always room for much gratitude.
To Ron and Bettie -- Thank you for answering the call at 3am on Thursday and taking care of Karen while Susan took care of me. And thank you for visiting last night.
To Lori -- Thank you for watching Karen all day on Thursday and Friday so Susan could spend the days with me. And thanks for being there for Susan so she could be there for me. It really helped.
To Ken and Jenny (neighbors) -- Thanks so much for the blueberry and banana (nut-free) muffins that were baked fresh when you saw me arrive at home!
To everyone who prayed -- Thank you! I am grateful for your prayers!
To Susan -- Thank you for handling everything so well. I know I was the one in physical pain, but I know this took it's toll on you too. More than you know, I appreciate all the time you spent in the hospital with me.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Two Year Height Prediction

Karen had her two year appointment on Friday. Her official height is 33 inches, and she weighs in at a whopping 25 pounds!

They say that a person's eventual height can be determined by their height at two years of age. Their height is supposed to be double that of their two year height. The doc said she'd likely end up being 5 foot 4 inches, which I believe is the same height as my mother.

In about 15 years, we'll check the blog for this entry to see what her height was when she was two!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Baby2 Update

Tuesday we had another appointment with the Midwives. Susan is doing great. If you want to listen to the baby's heartbeat, click here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chicago's Rainiest Day. Ever.

From Chicago's Rainiest Day. Ever
6.63 inches is what they recorded at O'Hare. Our basement has an area that is unfinished, and an area that is finished. On the unfinished side, there was a leak that allowed water in every time we had a big rain. Saturday's rain kept up for hours, so I was able to find all four places on the unfinished side where water came in.
The biggest leak was where the gas line comes in. You can see in the photo there is a gap between the pipe and the concrete. When you are in a closet, and the leak is on the bottom side of a pipe and you can't get below the pipe, it's really hard to capture a photo, but trust me, the water isn't just dribbling in, it is pouring in. Google saved the day once again! A quick search told me that the answer to my problems is Hydraulic Cement. This is really cool stuff. You can apply it while the water is pouring in. And it sets permanently in 3-5 minutes. What makes it special is that most cement shrinks while it cures, but hydraulic cement actually expands slightly.
Two of the other leaks where between the foundation and window sills. One of them was easily accessible from the outside where I was able to dig out the area around it and patch from the outside using the hydraulic cement. The other window is right next to our concrete back patio. Over the years, the patio has shifted away from the foundation creating a crack which is allowing the water to pour in. Once it is dry, I'll apply Pli-Stix to fill this crack.
And the last leak on Saturday was the "Clean-Easy Drain." The seller said that it was the last remaining part of an incinerator they used to have, but had to remove once they became illegal. I really wish they would have really taken it all out, as we now have to have a bucket below this drain to catch the drip!
At any rate, by 5pm on Saturday, we were satisfied that we had taken care of the problems, and were grateful that our finished side hadn't shown any signs of leakage.
At about 10am on Sunday, I went down to the basement to check on the improvements from Saturday and was pleased to find that the hydraulic cement had really worked to fix two of the leaks, and the bucket from the third wasn't overflowing. The fourth was still a problem, but we knew we couldn't fix it until it is dry outside. I then went over to the finished side, checked my e-mail, and life was good.
At about 2pm, I went downstairs again, and everywhere I stepped on the finished side, I made a big wet footprint in the carpet as water seeped up from the padding below. This made me sad.
So, I ran around and got all the toys and books up off the floor, and we decided to just wait it out. Tonight I'll go down with a wet/dry vacuum, but I suspect the carpet will have to be removed to prevent mold. We don't live in a flood plain, so we didn't have to buy flood insurance. I doubt that it will be covered, but we'll be checking with the insurance company anyways. The good news was that it seemed slightly drier this morning, though the carpet was still soaking wet. Basements should not have carpet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Choosing a birth practicioner

With another baby on the way, we find ourselves looking for a birth practitioner to accompany us on our journey of welcoming our baby into the world. Susan did a lot of research on birth in America before Karen was born, and what she learned was shocking, and makes it difficult to find a doctor or midwife who shares our outlook on birth.
When comparing the maternal death rate around the world, America is ranked 26th, right above Costa Rica. That’s right. 26th. We have more medical equipment at our births than anywhere else in the world, yet our rate of maternal deaths is high. This could be related to our obesity rates, or it could be related to the unique experience that is birth in an American hospital. Consider the Netherlands, which has the lowest maternal death rate. 75% of the births there are home births attended by midwives. Obstetricians are only brought in when there is a problem. Fetal monitoring occurs intermittently rather than having to wear a strap throughout labor. Women are free to eat and move around during labor to ease their pain.
In the developed world, America has the highest rate of cesarean section deliveries. At 29%, this is far higher than necessary. Why? Because for a doctor, it is a twenty minute operation and he gets to go home? Because if they get sued, at least they “tried everything possible?” Because labor started with an epidural? Because women needed the epidural because the doctor wouldn’t let them move around to ease their pain? We don’t know, but it seems clear that questioning the rate is justified.
So, after all this research, Susan has decided on three things she’s looking for in a birth practitioner.
  1. Freedom to move around during labor – We’ve talked a lot about what went good and not so good about Karen’s birth. And the ability to move around, in and out of the waterbirth tub was a huge help. At most hospitals constant fetal monitoring and IVs are standard. Constant fetal monitoring has not been shown to be more effective than intermittent fetal monitoring, and IVs are really just a preparation for a cesarean section.
  2. Freedom to deliver the baby in whatever position is most comfortable at the time – No, she probably won’t be standing on her head and delivering a baby, But there are other positions such as squatting which many women find comfortable. Susan leaned on the edge of the waterbirth tub when Karen was born, and while she’s never delivered a baby on her back, she does feel like her position was helpful.
  3. Freedom to decide what medical treatments will be delivered to Susan and Baby. We want our birth to be as stress free as possible. We don’t want to fight with our practitioner during birth to avoid getting pitocin or an epidural, and we certainly don’t want our baby to have treatments such as eye ointment administered without cause.
It shouldn’t be that hard to find a natural minded doctor or midwife. Homefirst certainly fits the bill, but their bill is a bit steep. The midwives at West Suburban hospital are great, but it is a one hour drive each way for each prenatal appointment, and there’s a concern about getting to the hospital in time to deliver the baby.
We live within a mile of one hospital and within two miles of another. Susan has asked around on some internet groups to see if anybody knows a doctor who delivers at one of these hospitals that is more natural minded, to no avail.
Alas, we are ending up at West Suburban Hospital, with a birth attended by some really great midwives.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pregnancy Update

Well, this time around, Susan isn't nearly as sick as she was the first time. Of course she is tired and can't keep all her food down, but it's not as bad. The hardest part this time around is choosing a doctor or midwife.

Though it was hard, Susan and I are fans of natural childbirth, and we'd like to find a practitioner who will support us. Susan is a member of a few online forums for mothers in our area, and she's asked if anybody on those groups knows of a doctor or midwife who is natural minded. The results of these inquiries has been a bit depressing. Our options are either midwives at West Suburban Hospital or a homebirth with Homefirst.

Now, we were very happy with Homefirst for Karen's birth. When Karen was born, they billed insurance and we were settled. Now, however, they bill insurance and charge a $2,000 "Home Fee," which is not billable to insurance. Given that even with the pretty good insurance we have we will already be paying around $1,500 in deductibles, an extra $2,000 is quite a hit. There is a lot we could do with $2,000.

The other option is midwives at West Suburban Hospital. They have some really great labor and delivery rooms, and women can even deliver in the waterbirth tub. And we really like the midwives we have met who practice there. The biggest problem with West Suburban is that it is an hour away. While we probably should be more worried about driving an hour during labor, we really don't want to have to drive an hour for all the prenatal appointments. That would be really hard on both Susan and Karen.

Upon visiting one of the midwives and explaining our issues with Homefirst, one of them
said "It's really too bad that women are losing another great option
for childbirth. I wonder if Dr. Eisenstein knows how many women have
come in here since he started the concierge fee?" It is strangely comforting to know that we are not alone in our frustrations.

So please pray for us that we will make a decision and feel peace about our decision.

Thank you!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

How our house almost burned down last night

I love my Macintosh computers, and would recommend them to anybody. My MacBook is wonderful. It's not too big, not too small, has plenty of power, and comes at an affordable price. But I really wish it wouldn't have come this close to burning my house down.
Check out that power cord!! It is supposed to have fuses in the brick to prevent these things from happening. I'm just glad that the fuses finally blew before our new smoke detectors had to have a real world trial. I just hope the computer isn't fried as well. I'll find out tomorrow when a friend from work lets me charge it with his power cord.

UPDATE: MacBook seems to be accepting a charge now. Yeah!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Strep Throat

A mere two days after finding out we are having a baby, Susan had a very sore throat last night. Fevers can be bad for babies so young, so she went straight to the doctor today. Strep throat was the diagnosis.

She starts on antibiotics today, and we are sure everything will be okay. But it's a good time to ask for prayers for a safe pregnancy and delivery.

Thank you,

Matt, Susan, Karen, and Baby2

Monday, June 30, 2008

June 2008 Photos

I've just posted some June photos to Picasa. Included are some more of Karen on Father's Day, some fun ones that Susan took during the day, and some portraits we just took on Friday night!

After you click the link to go to the album, click on the "Slideshow" button to see them full screen.

2008.06 Karen

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Baby2: Coming in February 2009!

Susan wasn't feeling so hot today, so she decided to take a pregnancy test. Much to her surprise, it was POSITIVE!!!!! According to the internet, the due date is February 27th, 2009. That's just one day after Susan's birthday! Here are a few notes....
  • We really don't know who will deliver the baby or where. Our homebirth doctors who delivered Karen have added a new fee called a "Home Fee" that is not billable to insurance. It is unclear what home I get to own after paying the "Home Fee."
  • There are some midwives on the north side of Chicago who do homebirths and would travel this far south. But you have to go to the north side for prenatal visits. And that's not going to be easy when Susan is nine months pregnant in February.
  • The other day, Susan said "You'd think that I'd feel better when I make a smoothie every day, but I don't." That was Thursday. The smoothies have protein powder, spinach, peaches, strawberries, rasberries, and lots of other good stuff. They certainly give me more energy, but Susan just wasn't feeling the improvement. Now, it seems clear that the smoothies have probably been helping with morning sickness!
  • Within the past month, Susan's sister Lori gave her a bunch of maternity clothes, well before we knew we were pregnant!  Thanks Lori!
  • A few weeks ago, we met Dave during coffee and doughnuts at St. Gerald's. The next day, Dave e-mailed us to ask if we wanted a jogging stroller with an infant carrier. He said it was free to a good home, and we were very grateful. Of course, Karen is too big for an infant carrier, but she'll have a brother or a sister someday. This morning after church, we went to pick it up, and when we got home Susan decided it was time to take another test. It is amazing how God's Providence works, even when we didn't yet know that we'd need an infant carrier! Thanks Dave and family!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Talk amongst yourselves, smoke detectors.

A co-worker at work subscribes to Consumer Reports and almost always consults them when he's making a buying decision. So last year, when he said that he bought new combination smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, I asked him which he chose. He said the Kidde Hardwire Combination Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarm with Battery Backup and Voice Warning was the one to get. Susan and I promptly purchased three, one for each floor in the house.

That was a year ago, before we even moved in to the house. In the meantime, the old smoke detector that came with the house has been working fine. Sure, it was located right outside the bathroom and would go off after a hot shower, but it was still sensitive, right? Then, we had a hot day a few weeks ago, and the smoke detector thought our house was on fire. Time to actually install the smoke detectors. That was the project for the last two weekends.

There are a few factors that make these smoke/CO detectors so cool.
  1. They are hard-wired into the circuit breaker box.
  2. They have a battery backup in case the electricity ever goes out.
  3. They talk to each other. When one goes off, they all sound the alarm.
  4. They speak. When there is a fire, the alarm says "Fire," and when there is a carbon monoxide issue, it says "Carbon Monoxide." In an emergency, it is important to know what the problem is.
The coolest feature of all is that they talk to each other. If there is a fire in the basement, it will wake us up if we are sleeping upstairs, and that gives us peace of mind. I wonder if we can get a discount on our homeowner's insurance?

In Cook County, all electrical wiring in a house has to be run inside of metal conduit. So, to complete this project, I had to run conduit throughout the house. The hardest part was figuring out how to get the conduit from the basement to the attic. Turns out, in a brick house, there is just enough room between the brick and the frame to slide a ½ inch conduit pipe straight up to the attic. The (now obvious) thing I learned was that it is a bad idea to put any kind of connector behind the wall, because if the fishtape is going to have problems going through anything, it will be at the connector you can't access. Once I replaced that section of conduit with a single piece, the project wasn't all that daunting anymore.

And we'll all sleep better at night. Unless of course there is a fire or a carbon monoxide leak, in which case we'll all be waking up, regardless of where in the house we are sleeping!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day 2008

Being a dad is great!

We celebrated Father's Day over and Grandma Bettie and Grandpa Ron's house. Grandpa Ron had made a lot of progress on the play structure over the last two weekends. But the Father's Day Project was still to attach the tube slide. But, once that was done, Karen and the nieces and nephews had a whole lot of fun going down the slide and playing on the other parts of the structure.

Click the image below to see more photos of the fun day!
Father's Day 2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008

T.E.A.M. SpringCM does Chicago Cares

On Saturday, about 25 SpringCM employees, spouses, and children participated in the 15th Annual Chicago Cares Serve-a-thon.

We went to Cook Elementary School on the south side of Chicago. There was a total of about 150 people there when you include the other companies. The SpringCM group painted 7 classrooms. Along with the other companies, we painted 19 classrooms, the hallways on both floors, and a mural.

Susan and I have been working on painting the interior of our house for a couple of weekends, and we've only got the primer up. A large team certainly can accomplish a lot more than one or two people. Together Everyone Achieves More, that's what T.E.A.M. is all about!

After 5 hours, it was amazing to see how much brighter the school is. As we were leaving the principal commented that she can't wait to see the childrens' faces on Monday as they walk in for summer school and the school is a whole array of new bright colors. That would be fun.

And a big thanks to Quiana for organizing the SpringCM bunch!

SpringCM at Chicago Cares

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Freecycle is great!

Have a bunch of stuff that might be useful to somebody, but don't want to have a garage sale? Want something but don't want to spend the money? Try Freecycle!

Freecycle provides community based e-mail lists where folks post things they want to get rid of, and other folks post things they want. And it's all local, so it's also a great way to meet people in your community.

Here's two examples of how we've used Freecycle.
  • After moving, we had a bunch of boxes that were still usable, but we didn't want to store them. So, Susan posted them as available on Freecycle. Somebody else who was moving soon responded, and within a few days the boxes were gone and were re-used!
  • The other day, we got to thinking it would be cool to have a kiddie pool for Karen. So, Susan posted that we wanted a small kiddie pool. The first reply was from a woman who had an inflatable 3 feet deep by 12 feet diameter pool in her garage that she wanted to get rid of. The pool has pumps, filters, and everything. All for free!
So head on over to and sign up today!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Grandma and Grandpa decided they wanted the biggest and coolest swingset/play structure ever for their grandkids to play on. Looks like the one that fits this description is the Arcadia II Ultimate Playground. So yesterday, I went over to help Grandpa assemble this structure.

It comes in 7 boxes. The first four are lumber. These boxes are extremely cumbersome to move, as they are filled with varying lengths of boards which all have to fit into the same size box. Little Tikes does their best to put a few long pieces into each box along with staggered lengths, but the boxes are still very large and difficult to move. Bill (the other son-in-law) got the lucky job of moving these seven boxes from the store into the garage. I just had to move them outside. Here is a photo of the seven containing lumber.

And here's the two sides of the tall structure after step 4. The instructions have 38 steps. A step to them is a page of instructions and illustrations. Each "step" has from 2 to 12 different parts to it.

Step 5 was a big one. The kit started to look three dimensional here. If you find yourself assembling one of these someday, the key to step 5 is actually before step 1. You need to make sure your ground is level. We did that, but if you are assembling this, I'd add an extra foot all the way around to the area that you level. The photo to the right is of step 5. Steps 6-10 were installing the two lower decks and the ladders.

This set is huge. It's hard to see just how big it is without a person in the photo. To the left, that's Grandpa, Karen, and I after step 10. We worked hard, fast, and efficient from 9am to 5pm, and only completed step 10 of 38. The boxes of wood aren't nearly as full as they were, yet, as we cleaned up for the day, looking at the number of bolts and screws we still hadn't touched made us realize that there really are another 28 steps remaining.

So, I'm sure we'll be assembling this for days to come, but the rewards will be well worth the effort. Karen will have lots of wonderful memories of this play structure.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lifetouch Strikes Again!

As a former independent school photographer, I have a lot of problems with Lifetouch. Their three year contracts that automatically renew unless you notify them 180 days prior to the end of the contract make it nearly impossible to get into a school, because schools rarely will go look for a new photographer at the point in which the contract automatically renews. That's my personal beef with them.

But today's news comes from CNN. "Besides the head and body switching, some necks were stretched, one
girl's arm was missing and another girl's head was placed on what
appeared to be a nude body, with the chest blurred." Can you believe that?

Apparently, the high school had required Lifetouch to make heads the same size and eyes at the same level in all student photos. Lifetouch says that this request was ""unusual and definitely very particular." I disagree. Any school who wants a yearbook is going to want the heads to be about the same size and will want all the eyes to appear at about the same height. Think about it. Wouldn't your yearbook look wierd if all the heads were different sizes and the eyes were at different heights?

And why did these photos have to me modified in the first place? The Lifetouch cameras should have Crop Lines in the viewfinder. With these, the photographer can ensure that the heads are all the same size. I think the school would have shown a little leniency if Lifetouch showed two photos of people whose heads were the same size, but had dramatically different sizes of foreheads, thus making the eyes not quite at the same height.

My advice to McKinney High School would be to use this as an opportunity to fire Lifetouch and hire an independent photographer. Now that we are all digital, it's a lot easier for an independent photographry company to handle the work associated with photographing up to 3,000 students in a day.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

So, I haven't been writing much on the blog lately, because I've been spending my train time working on a surprise for my lovely wife Susan!

Here's a video of the iPhoto book Karen gave her for Mother's Day!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Don't take recycling for granted...

I come from Portland, Oregon, a place where if it can be recycled, you can recycle it there. Susan and I now live in Oak Lawn, Illinois, where one of the major grocery chains is Dominick's. We primarily use reusable grocery bags from Trader Joe's, but occassionally, we still find ourselves at the grocery store without them, and have to take home the disposable bags. Well, Susan just went to Dominick's with a bag full of bags to recycle, and when she couldn't find the bin she asked the customer service desk where it was. She was told "Oh, we haven't had that for at least a year!" In 2008, we should expect our stores to be more socially responsible than this. So, from now on, we'll take our bags, and our dollars, to Jewel, which has recycled 14,200 tons of plastic (that's the weight of 2,500 elephants) in the last 17 years..


Last weekend, Susan went to a bridal shower for one of her cousins, and Karen and I went to the park and had some fun with the camera. See that shiner on her forehead? Three weeks in a row, she fell and just when it was about to heal, she'd get another bruise in the same spot. We think this was the final one. Here's a link to the rest of the photos!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Karen's Independence

Karen is now 19 months old. In the last week, she's picked up on a word that I've been dreading for a while. She now says "no."

At this point, I would say that no is not yet in the realm of an early childhood rebellion. Rather, her saying no is how she is asserting her independence in the world. For example, going down the stairs, she doesn't want anybody to hold her hand, because she's quite confident she can do it without any help. But at 19 months, Susan and I need to explain to her that it's for her own safety. We try to compromise with her and say that we'll hold her hand down the top stairs, but let her walk down the last few steps, which she is quite successful.

Baby Blog Archive

This morning, I woke up at 1am and couldn't sleep any more. Unfortunately, the first train that goes downtown doesn't show up until 5:38. In between small sections of time trying to sleep, I finished porting the Baby Blog to Soon, I'll disable, since all the information is here!

Friday, April 18, 2008

10,000 for a child's birthday party?

CNN has a story right now about parents who spend $10,000 or more for their children's birthday parties. I love my children too much to go overboard on birthday parties. As parents, we have a responsibility to prepare our children to be responsible adults. $10,000 birthday parties are pretty irresponsible.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

HWA Home Warranty of America Scam

So, when we purchased our home last summer, the seller kindly purchased a home warranty from Home Warranty of America. We thought, that's great. If something goes wrong in the first year, we'll have the warranty. What a joke.

Tonight, I went to go to Staples, and discovered that one of the garage door springs was broken. Naturally, I thought, let's look up that home warranty that came with the house. It says that it covers Garage Door Systems. Here's the quote:

Garage Door Systems
INCLUDED: All components and parts except:
EXCLUDED: Garage doors - Infra-red sensors - Chains - Tracks - Rollers - Springs - Remote receiving/transmitting devices.

So I called anyways, just to ask what exactly is included in the Garage Door System coverage. Turns out that if anything goes wrong with the $124.99 motor, they'll cover $24.99, after the $100 deductible.

Clearly, HWA is a joke.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Python and the Google AppEngine

While I don't have an AppEngine account that I can deploy to, I did download the SDK to try it out. When I saw that Python was the first runtime supported, I was a little disappointed because I hadn't used Python for any projects yet. But, that's a great opportunity to learn a new language. So, yesterday on the train, I played around a bit with Python and the AppEngine SDK. The SDK seems really great, but I am not impressed with Python.

In most languages, whitespace (tabs and spaces) are ignored. When you have an if statement in code, you have brackets {} or an end statement to note the end of the conditional statement. In Most languages functions are wrapped by either {} or end with an end statement. Not so in Python. In Python blocks of code are marked by indentation. Now, I'm smart. I have a track record of picking up new programming languages pretty quick. But this is so annoying that I don't even want to spend any more time picking up Python, even though it's the only language supported by a platform (Google AppEngine) that I am extremely excited to learn.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Google's AppEngine

Google's AppEngine was released Monday night at a campfire session at Google. Google has introduced a lot of serious applications over the years, but AppEngine may be the most important application most people will never hear about. From a developer perspective, this is huge. When I have a big idea, I am perfectly capable of writing the code to create the application. But to make that code run, I'd have to buy servers and bandwidth to run the code. I'd also have to spend a lot of time, or hire somebody to spend a lot of time configuring and maintaining those servers. Any time (or money) spent on configuration or maintenance is time that cannot be spent improving the application.

With AppEngine, Google is providing their scalable infrastructure to the common man. No longer does a developer with an idea have to worry about configuring a firewall and SAN, or worry about mundane details like Apache configuration. Developers get to write code and push it to an instantly scalable platform.

We don't know what they'll actually charge for this, but I expect it will be quite affordable, based on the prices the competition (Amazon EC2) is providing. Amazon charges 15 cents per hour for their EC2 instances, but they are not providing the same level of service that Google is providing. With Amazon, you get a virtual machine in their data centers, but you still have to configure, administer, and maintain that machine. The biggest drawback I see to AppEngine right now is that they only provide a python runtime. Python looks like a cool language, but it's not one I've had any experience with. With Amazon's additional responsibilities of configuring and maintaining the server, you also get a lot more flexibility.

Google made the announcement Monday night that 10,000 developer accounts would be made available to the first people who signed up on their website. When I filled out the form on Tuesday morning, all 10,000 accounts had been given away. A friend of mine, Kevin, was lucky enough to get into the first beta.

I look forward to my trial account!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

101 Great Computer Programming Quotes

I haven't read them all yet, but number 37 had me rolling.....

101 Great Computer Programming Quotes

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