Summer’s End

Photo by Paul Morris — Courtesy

Today is the last official day of summer break for me. Tomorrow, it’s time to wake up and head back to the school district. As always, it’s a bittersweet feeling. I will miss the time to myself, but I will be excited to teach a new crew of students.

The summer started with corrective eye surgery. I volunteered for it so I could ditch my glasses. It changed the start of my summer drastically and I felt limited while my eyes recovered. The double-vision has been going away and some days both eyes are crystal clear. If my eyes are tired, the vision in my right eye still splits a little. But it’s getting better and I’m glad I had the surgery done.

I did my best to catch up with friends and family. I spent a bit of time in bounce-houses this summer with my friend Joseph and his two toddlers. It was hilarious watching them running around from one slide set to an inflated obstacle course and then to the huge bounce room when they would take turns chasing us, laughing all the way.

I took two trips to Six Flags Great Adventure. On one trip, my sister Lisa and I went with her girls. The day was toasty and the lines were long. We rode Superman and a number of other rides, my favorite always being Nitro. I returned just last week with my friend Brian from work. Lines were much shorter and we were able to conquer the entire park. We even took a ride on the new Joker ride, which had a new gimmick — a freely rotating seated car — but it wasn’t the best ride of the day. I still keep Nitro at the top but Bizarro is a close second.

Lois and I had many adventures, some with Kevin, and some on our own. Trekking to Massachusetts to help her sister pack up her house was a real experience. Even though we worked without much rest through the day, we managed to get it all done. Then we sat up in the mountains, fire glowing, stars gleaming, and it felt like we had just gone away for a whole week to relax.

I didn’t get as much family time as I could have, but I did get to see mom and dad and hang out with Kim. Dad’s still doing his shows and is having a great time Taming the Shrew. Mom, unfortunately, has been having a rough time and will be heading in for surgery in about a month’s time, but it should give her a lot of relief once we get there. Kim, as always, has been taking care of so many things.

We’ve had great times with Mark and Leanne, including an amazing photo shoot just the other day to capture our engagement. I’m so excited and can’t wait to see the results! Our new friend Mike has been a flurry of activity, seeking improvements to his daily life so he can ultimately use his life experiences to guide and support others. I even helped him find a ghostwriter, which was a cool experience in itself. We celebrated with Brian and Taylor. We reconnected with Sean and Chris.

I did miss a few things. My pen pal friend, John, was in NYC for a week at Fringe and I was supposed to go see his new show. The days slipped by before I knew it and I was away in Massachusetts and missed the last performance. I had remembered incorrectly, thinking the last show was on the Sunday so I could make it, but it was a Saturday showing. I also missed Jared. We didn’t get to have a game day due to some scheduling complications. I also didn’t really see much of Kevin’s family this summer, so that’s on my list to work on too.

Through all this Kevin and I have been making strides for the wedding. We had a phenomenal engagement party, where Jay, George, and Jeremy at Piccolo went above and beyond in terms of service. The food was fantastic and everyone had a great time. It was wonderful having our friends and family there to celebrate with us.

We also finalized our DJ for the wedding, as well as the photographer. We’ve been planning a lot of little things along the way too, and this coming Saturday a small group of us are going with my mom to shop for her dress. We’re attending a showcase in a month to taste the food at a pseudo-wedding event — at least that’s how I picture it. We do still need to taste some cake!

And I did manage to get in some time with my video games. I couldn’t play them after the eye surgery, so I’ve been on a bit of a binge catching up. I love a good story and so I gravitate toward games that sweep me along with the tale. And some games are great for nostalgia or a laugh. I replayed Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2. I didn’t replay the third game in the installment because it has a bit of a dismal feel to it and I wanted something more cheery. Those I played on the new computer I put together this summer; an unexpected necessity when the other motherboard failed. I played Dragon Quest Heroes, Star Ocean, Arcania, Mario & Luigi Paper Jam, Gone Home, Tricky Towers, and just yesterday I started up the Witch and the Hundred Knight. (I don’t know what Nippon Ichi was on when they wrote that game, but some of the dialogue and language… Hooey!)

I haven’t exercised like I could have, but I did get an exercise bike to use while I’m gaming. I could use it more than I have, but it’s better than nothing. The neighbor’s tree fell in our yard and we were lucky nothing was damaged. It did cause complications with the pool, but those are cleared up too.

I didn’t have my “usual” major projects this summer, and that’s fine. I didn’t do much with Red Jade either. I’ve been contemplating going ahead with audiobook versions but after getting all four books out within the school year, I needed a break from it. There was no painting of rooms or moving of furniture. The most I did was put up a bookshelf in the kitchen to hold the small appliances.

Tomorrow is the first day back for teachers. No students yet. Typically, it’s a day full of welcome back meetings with some time to set up our rooms. There’s only a brief time to reconnect with colleagues in the morning before we’re split up. But I won’t be there for that this year. Instead I will be in negotiations for our teacher contract. It’s yet another school year starting off where we don’t have a contract. I obviously can’t go into details but at this point it just feels like we’re being treated with spite and disrespect. It is hard to feel that we don’t matter at all, but at the same time we are touted for our excellent work with the students. It has been a serious emotional drain and it’s hard to ignore its effects.

But the sun is rising on a new year with the students. It’s a chance to delve back into the science, sure, but it’s more about teaching them to think for themselves, to problem solve, to be creative while keeping certain guidelines in mind, to find ways of getting along when times are tough, of seeking help when they’re stuck, of growing as people and taking more responsibility for all they do. I love teaching. It is my passion and I can’t help myself from helping others to learn, whether it’s students, colleagues, family, or friends. I try to share my knowledge with others in a useful way. And sometimes that means not giving an answer but leaving clues.

I want to focus on the light this year and not the darkness. I want concentrate on the sparks and see how much my kids can shine. I want to continue to grow and shine. It’s going to be a great year. My sixteenth year. In a thirty-year career, this means I’m entering the second half of my career. It’s a good time to take all the best things I’ve got and make them even better.

Though my summer may be at its end, it’s time for a bright new beginning with a new crew of kids. To the future!

Logic Grid Puzzles

When I was in middle school, my 8th grade English/Enrichment teacher introduced me to many things that I still love today. One is writing. Another is logic grid puzzles. You may have seen them before. You’re given a story, though it has little actual relevance to solving the puzzle. You have perhaps five people from five different locations and they’re doing five different things on five different days of the week. Your job is to figure out each person’s day, activity, and location based on a number of clues.

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with them. Some days I’m more into the logic grid mode than others. Sometimes I stare at the board and I’m just lost; other days I shake my head and realize I missed something obvious. If you know me, then you know that I’m plagued with insomnia. Part of that is from thoughts that spiral around and get stuck — sort of like an earworm for the mind — and these puzzles have been enough of a distraction to actually break the loop.

Another part of me believes that if I become good enough at these to tackle the 7×7 grids without a hitch (and they are hard!) then maybe I will unlock some secret of the universe. Or something.

The iOS app I’ve been using for these is called Logic Puzzles – Classic Logic Grid Problems by Egghead Games LLC. The app is available for iOS, Google Play, and at Amazon. They have additional puzzle sets you can add if you crank out the initial set and want more. (That’s were I stumbled across the 7×7 grids.)

I did try other apps to get my fill. I started with Logic Grid Puzzles – Word Games for Brain Training by Ross McNamara. I recommend starting with that app. The puzzles were overall easier and made me feel like I had already mastered these things.

Logic Puzzles Daily – Solve Logic Grid Problems by Twin Wizards was another find. I haven’t used that one much but it’s still around for me to tinker with when I want a different look than the Egghead Games app.

Let’s take a look at one of the puzzles and go through it. I’m using one from the Egghead Games app (I hope they don’t mind). Before diving in, I want to mention a few of the app features.

  1. It’s easy to change the color scheme among a small set of options. Mine is set to night mode.
  2. You can tap a clue to strike it out if you’re completely finished with it. I usually find this distracting so I don’t use it much unless I’m trying to focus on two separate clues.
  3. There is a memo mode, but I haven’t been using it because I want to draw relationships, not type them.
  4. There is a nifty undo button that tracks back multiple steps. I haven’t tested how far they go.
  5. You can tap a square to mark it as not-a-match with an X. Tap it again and it turns to a green circle for correct, but this also X’s out the rest of that row and column, which is a time and typo saver. (Only one answer can be correct with a single row/column per grid box.)
  6. There is an Erase feature that wipes out any errors you’ve made, leaving the wiped-out cells highlighted until you click elsewhere. If I hit a roadblock and have this problem, I just wipe the whole thing out and start over.
  7. There is a tip feature that helps you out if you’re stuck. The tips are smart and don’t repeat anything you’ve already figured out. They guide you from proper logic using the clues and the indicators on the grid to guide your next move. Sometimes I’ve been a little lost on why some of the logic suggests a certain thing, but when I talk it out, then it makes sense.
  8. The app keeps track of your time too. I find a lot of the times to be a bit extreme in order to earn the mastery badge, particularly on the harder puzzles, but that’s ok. I’m not sure how it’s possible to solve a 7×7 challenge in under 10 minutes, but I guess it is.

Update: When I posted this story on Egghead’s site, they sent back a link to their tutorial. It’s a great one. Check it out!

The next page has a puzzle worked out from start to finish and it’s very picture heavy, so if you’re on a data plan, you may want to check it later.