Saturday, November 30, 2013

Would People Wait In Tents For A Tent Sale?


While we didn’t make it out of the apartment on Friday, my wife and I spent nearly the entire day going from store to store trying to get as many gifts purchased while the sales were in full swing. In the end, we could have done better but we could have done much worse. Our list isn’t completely crossed off at this point but there is a rather large hole in it with the rest of the items being relatively cheap and easily found on Amazon.com.

What did get in our way today was the desire to buy more than we really needed to get. Even though we purchase some extra items they were all cheap and we still kept ourselves within reason. However, Staples did provide us with a different challenge in trying to find more stuff to buy when we essentially had free money to play with… you know, when you have three things on your list that you need to get and a coupon that allows you to pick out several other things for free. I guess that was the best problem of the day.

One thing that I have noticed this year, more so than in previous seasons, is that all the sales remain the same throughout the holiday weekend. What used to be a heavily tiered system is now one that is nothing more than a sales plateau. Granted, there are a handful of items that are limited time (usually hours) offers but nothing that I would want to cap out for.

Granted, some of the selection is lost in the days following Black Friday Thanksgiving Thursday but there is still plenty of deals to be had in the aftermath. And by going on Saturday or Sunday you can avoid the risk of being tased trying to get in the door a half second before a disgruntled hoochie. I think that is pretty much a win-win situation.

It makes you wonder what is wrong with people that they have to miss work and/or time with family so they can camp out at Wal-Mart for a big screen television when you know they spent more money on the preparations for the extended stay in on the cold sidewalk than what they could conceivably save on electronics. Of course, as had been proven time and again, these people are whack jobs who will do whatever they can to get their hands on that discounted item (which will most likely be outdated within 12 months anyway driving the price down). This is just nuts.

Now, I have gone out on Black Friday, I have even gone out on Thanksgiving in the past, but I have never waited in line to enter a store, I have never fought someone for a product, and I have always walked out with everything on my list. If you have the patience and put in just a little bit of thought beforehand, it can be a very easy and smooth process. And that rule of thumb still applies to this day.

So, the next time the new Cabbage Patch Kid, Ferbie, big screen television, of laptop goes on sale put some thought into it… maybe there is a better place to buy, maybe you can get there 30 minutes later, avoid the line, and still get one, maybe it is, in the end, a POS not worth your time. Maybe there is greater discount at another, less popular, store. You don’t know until you stop, put away your tent and taser, and start thinking.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Turkey Fallout


Since we were out all day yesterday, today was our turn to cook the turkey. This was a maiden voyage for my wife and the first time I had attempted cooking a bird since college in 2001. Heading into the experiment we knew it was at least going to be an interesting experience.

With my wife prepping the carrots, celery, and onions I began getting the gobbler ready. Everything went smoothly with the exception of my wife getting a little disturbed by the innards neatly tucked away in the carcass. Having gone much faster than expected, the bird was in the oven in about thirty minutes swimming in a warm pool of Muscato wine.

Four hours later, the button had popped and we unwrapped the turkey to crisp up a bit. While it never achieved the golden brown seen in the cook books and on television, it was still a very tasty result with leftovers to last a week. We shouldn’t have any problem doing this again in the future.

Although it probably would have been smarter to get out of the apartment today and walk around. So much food, actually I wasn’t too bad this year, and little activity has given me the Thanksgiving lean and the occasional hunch. It is not a pleasant feeling and one that I haven’t felt in a while… it is the kind of feeling that sucks all the energy out of you and leaves you looking for the nearest soft and flat surface to lay on.

It is this sensation that took over soon after our dinner and began making me feel the fowl fallout. My body isn’t used to having to process so much turkey let alone two nights in a row and my body is slowing down rapidly leaving my eyes and fingers to struggle tapping the keys on my laptop. This is the lean to one side to get comfortable and yawn every fifteen seconds blog.

The only think keeping me up tonight at this point is the Comedy Central standup (or in the case of Bill Cosby, sitting down) marathon. Nothing like some dummies and a fluffy guy to keep you awake as you continue to laugh through the discomfort. But it is a pretty good end to a day that felt like Sunday from the time I woke up. Knowing that I don’t have to set an alarm for tomorrow makes everything better.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Changing Things Up For The Holiday


It was an odd feeling today not going to work today. The past couple of years have always been ones that I knew I would have to be working in order to get the holiday pay. This year it was a great feeling to be back on a salary system. It was nice to get up and out of the apartment knowing that we could be out all day and not have to worry about getting back for a shift. Today made it clear how important it is to have the day off in order to really relax and enjoy the time with family.

While we changed up the usual annual plans, it was a good day all around and one that carried some extra importance as was mentioned in my previous post. Although, I admit it was a strange feeling knowing that I had gifts for my wife for Thanksgiving. Nothing much but still not something I am used to.

There were great moments during the holiday including some texts from my coworkers who seemed to be having a good time cleaning their plates. There were also some moments that I could have done without including a particular “conversation” with my mother-in-law that required some firm language and a courtesy warning for the future. Lastly, toward the end of the night, we heard that my nephew, who we usually see during the holiday, was looking for me all night. I kind of wish we were there for him.

But, good and bad, it was nice to change things up this year. It is a different year to begin with and one that has seen a lot of changes in our lives so why should this holiday be any different. While we have been thankful in the past it would take us a few extra seconds to pinpoint our gratitude. This year we have plenty to be thankful for and much to look forward to in the year to come. Maybe not as much as the friends on Facebook who have announced their pregnancy but great things to come nevertheless.

By the time we got home tonight I was exhausted. Actually, I was yawning for about half the drive back. So, I am going to close this post rather quickly and get to bed. No shopping for me this year just a slow trip to bed and a night full of snoring and not working while I enjoy being full, grateful, and hopeful for the future.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks On Hanukkah


Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah (or Chanukah) and, appropriately, it corresponds neatly with the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US. Both are times when we celebrate miracles whether it is for the oil which lit the reclaimed temple for eight days rather than one or the everyday miracles that we experience. We should be thankful for all these things.

Take advantage of this rare overlap and be thankful for the opportunity to experience this historic day. Because the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, as opposed to the familiar solar-based Gregorian calendar, these two holidays will not coincide again until the year 79,811. I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sure I’m going to miss that one.

While many of you are familiar with the gluttonous holiday of Thanksgiving, I wanted to take a minute to relay the story of Hanukkah as a bit of a reminder. There is more to it than Adam Sandler’s songs and movie. The following is the concise (which is why I’m not going to try and rewrite it) outline of the minor holiday:  

Chanukah -- the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev -- celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.

More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.

When they sought to light the Temple's menorah (the seven branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah (candelabrum) lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are kindled.

On Chanukah we also add the Hallel and Al HaNissim in our daily prayers to offer praise and thanksgiving to G-d for "delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few... the wicked into the hands of the righteous."

Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil -- latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts); playing with the dreidel (a spinning top on which are inscribed the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, "a great miracle happened there"); and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money, to children.

Click here for the complete story of Chanukah, and here for a comprehensive "How To" guide for the observances and customs of Chanukah.

Today is a day for celebration and family (and food). Be thankful for the things and people in your life for they are not guaranteed to be there forever. Be thankful for your faith and your heritage because for as long as you are thankful you will not forget. Memories and appreciation can quickly fade if you let them like the candles slowly burning down and dripping subtle reminders below its branches. Show your appreciation this holiday and embrace the opportunity that this time of year affords us.
 
 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Little Too Early!


Two days from tonight we will all, at least those of us in the US, will be sitting down for Thanksgiving Dinner. After stuffing our faces many of us will be heading home on the slow sleepy drive back home while others will roll themselves into the adjacent room, beach themselves on the couch, and go to sleep. It is a great day to spend with family without the obligation or expectation of gifts, it’s simply a time to get together and give thanks for what you have and the people around you (at least most of them).

At the tail end of the day, with only a couple/few hours until the calendar page is turned, stores will be opening their doors to throngs of people looking for the best deal of the year (until it hits the clearance rack) and the cheapest gifts possible for the impending gift giving season. Every family has that one person who goes to the Black Friday sales (or whatever you call the Thursday openings) and I will admit it that I am no stranger to the chaos although I have never waited in line to get into a store.

I can understand the need for a good deal and with Thanksgiving over it is natural for retailers to capitalize on the next big holiday on the horizon… Christmas. However, Black Friday does not mark the debut of the decorations, displays, cards, or freaking music. All of that holiday gaudiness begins creeping out right after Halloween.

At this point, I am pretty sick of it. It is too much, too soon, and it has to stop. Growing up I loved the Christmas season and I recall the sights, sounds, and music immediately surrounding the big day. Immediately surrounding, not the surrounding months. What has happened over the years?

While it is not my chosen celebration in my adult life, it is still a season that surrounds us. The message is positive and people are generally in a good mood but let’s stop trying to extend the season every year. Let’s go back to simple way that it should be and start all of the extravagance just after Thanksgiving. Actually, start it on Thanksgiving as it used to be. When Santa comes down the street on the float, the holiday season has officially begun.

So, sit back and enjoy the holiday season. Enjoy the fact that you are allowed to blame the dog for your farts for an entire month. Embrace the gifting ability to pick favorites in the family without saying a word. Reminisce about the days when Chevy Chase was funny and watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (snicker, snicker, snicker).

And, finally, enjoy your one day late in the year… long after we celebrated our eight days of Hanukkah (we will be celebrating while you are just starting your shopping). You might have missed the beginning since we don’t have a lot of songs to mark the holiday because we were too busy writing Christmas songs. By the way… O J Simpson, still not a Jew.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Embrace The Cold

First snow and a cup of coffee (2011).
While I did see some flurries earlier this month, tonight is the first night that it smells like snow. It’s not really a smell in the traditional sense, it is more like a lack of scent when the dry frigid air seems to flood your nostrils with the clean pure air of crystalized vapor. It is the kind of air that arrests your breath as soon as is passes across your lips.

It seems as if the spring, summer, and fall have all but disappeared into the past in a matter of moments rather than months leaving us with shock of a frozen world when we open our front door in the morning. The frost on the windows taunts us as if to say “I told you so, I told you I would be back.” The car seems hesitant to move as if woken up from a daily hibernation and unwilling to face the reality of daylight.

Midday offers some hope of relief as the sun warms our skin just enough to bring some comfort to our face just before the cool breeze rips across our cheeks. In what must be a slight of hand, the sky quickly turns dark long before the work day ends and the cold returns to dominate the world beyond the windows. By the end of the day it feels as though déjà vu has set in and our morning routine becomes our evening repetition.

But, for me, the sight of snow makes everything different. I don’t know why, but for some reason, the cold doesn’t seem as breathtaking and the wind doesn’t seem to bite as hard. Snow changes the world around us. Just like rain makes everything dreary, snow whitewashes the world as if to bring us a fresh start to the day, week, month, or year. Having the rough edges softened now and again calms the senses and eases the harshness that can sometimes be found in our surroundings.

I have lived in many different places and many different kinds of environments and I can say for certain that this happens everywhere not just in the Stars Hollow’s of the world. The scent of snow changes things and offers, for some of us, an eager anticipation while the sight of a winter blanket can make the ugliest view from the window something to look forward to and enjoyable to just watch. And, best of all, snow brings us together and allows us to huddle inside (or occasionally help one another outside) and enjoy the company of our loved ones.

It has the potential to make us slow down. Sometimes just for a few minutes and sometimes for days. But, most importantly, it changes our perspective and brings a different kind of appreciation to what we have, where we are, and the beauty that the weather can produce. It can be an amazing time of year if you let it so why not take the chance and embrace the cold.    

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Having Fun


Today is a bit of an odd blogging day for me. I have been having trouble all day trying to figure out what to write about while at the same time I have so many things I would like to rant about (mostly dealing with the complete BS deal that the US and other countries has struck with Iran). There has also been a very simple fact floating around in my head in that this is the tipping point for my year of blogging. This marks my 183 post and, therefore, I have managed to post every day for just over half a year so far.

Not quite sure how I feel about that as I think it is more of a serious cause for concern more than it is an accomplishment because to post every day, regardless of topic, is a little nutty. But it is also something that has given me a daily constant. No matter what is going on that particular day I always have those 30-60 minutes to myself to put a quick post together. Of course, sometimes they take a bit longer, usually with the genealogy and photography related posts but for the most part I try and not overthink things and let myself just write.

That may be the most important part of this whole process. It is an exercise in being. For years I have spent hours if not days writing, rewriting, and polishing single lines making sure that every word had its place and purpose. While that undoubtedly is an important process and skill to have, you can quickly lose site of the actual writing process and the sense of freedom that putting words on a page (or in this case a screen) can bring to you. It is a cathartic process that most keep behind closed doors, buried in the pages of a journal, or hidden away in a file buried beneath the desktop.

That is how I used to treat my writing. Obviously, that is no longer the case. My process and my thoughts are in the posts on this blog out in the open for all to read. Whether you like it or not, here it is and here are the topics that I think about and want to write about. Whether its hobby or passion or routine I am not really sure at this point but I can say definitively that writing is a part of who I am and has been for most of my life at this point.  

But this was never intended to be a one way discussion. I think I enjoy listening to people’s comments about some of my posts than I do writing them. Whether someone agrees with me or not I get a kick out of starting that dialog and maybe making that person consider a topic, subject, or perspective that they may have otherwise overlooked. So, I guess this entire blogging process, from beginning to ‘end’, is one of the ways that I have fun. I have no idea what that makes me but I really don’t care because it is another way that I am able to enjoy my limited abilities and life in general.


But that is to be expected after an evening
filled with Guinness and Pepto-Bismol.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Prepping For Black (Rifle) Friday!


In honor of the Eugene Stoner’s birthday (the engineer behind the AR-15) which I mentioned yesterday in my post about the assassination of President and NRA member John F. Kennedy I have decided, after numerous requests, to post an AR-15 parts list. Not just a simple list of what you need to get but a list of some of the prices I have seen over the past couple of months in order to build a budget rifle. I will tell you the websites and the lowest prices I have seen but I am not going to link to the product page as many of the dollar amounts have changed.

Of course, there are a few things to keep in mind with this list. While these are sale prices that I have seen during different moments may not be available now, you must be patient and wait as these parts will go on sale again for the same price or lower (I have no idea what Black Friday will bring). The quotes below do not take into account shipping or transfer costs (I am not even going to try and calculate that in as a factor). In addition to this list, there are tools that you would need to purchase to build the firearm and certain things that you may want to have a trained gunsmith work on rather than doing it yourself.

Lastly, keep it legal. Don’t build something in such a way that it would be deemed illegal (if you don’t like the laws in your state move). Make sure you go through your local FFL when you purchase your lower receiver. And, generally speaking, don’t be an idiot. You are building a firearm and you need to respect that fact.

 So, without any further delay, here is the list:

  1. Blemished Lower Receiver                                         $50 (PSA)
  2. Blackhawk! Lower Parts Kit                                       $30 (PSA)
  3. Blackhawk (Mil Spec) Buffer Tube Assembly           $30 (PSA)
  4. Blemished Upper Receiver                                          $40 (PSA)
  5. Upper Receiver Parts Kit (w/ barrel nut)                     $25 (PSA)
  6. PTAC Bolt Carrier Group (w/ Charging Handle)       $80 (PSA)
  7. 16” M4 Barrel (1:7 Twist)                                           $85 (SG)
  8. A2 Front Sight / Gas Block                                         $25 (PSA)
  9. A2 Flash Hider                                                            $8 (PSA)
  10. Carbine Length Gas Tube                                           $8 (PSA)
  11. Front Sight Post                                                           $8 (PSA)
  12. Carry Handle / Rear Sight                                           $20 (AM)
  13. M4 Hand Guard                                                           $10 (T)
  14. 30 Round Polymer Magazine (No Name)                   $6 (T)

For those of you keeping track that brings the total up to $425 compared to an off the rack rifle (new) which would cost you a minimum of $650 plus the additional tax put on complete firearms. This part list will complete the most basic of rifles but, if put together correctly, will function as good as or better than a basic AR that would cost you a minimum of $225 more. But, as I stated before, it takes patience both in waiting for the right price for parts but also in putting all the pieces together. It is not a complicated process but one that should be given your full attention.

However, be forewarned, I have seen people get carried away with their builds which is not that hard to do. Start with the basics. If you want to switch out parts later than go ahead. For now, you don’t need that $250 Geissele trigger in your first build. Keep it simple. Simple works. The last thing you want to do is build a FUBAR rifle.  

Finally, be a smart gun owner and support your right to own your firearm. Set aside time to train, enjoy, and appreciate what you have created in a safe and controlled environment. Know your rifle, become fluent in firearms safety, and make sure everything is locked up. And become a NRA member (or one of the following Gun Owners of America, Second Amendment Foundation, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership). Pick one or pick them all just make sure you show your support. This is your responsibility.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mourning An Anniversary And Celebrating A Birthday


Fifty years ago today the world stopped as President Kennedy’s motorcade sped through the streets of Dallas in a futile effort to save his life. It is one of those moments that becomes seared into the minds of those who lived through it much like 9/11 will forever haunt my generation. It makes you look at the world a little differently when you see the pattern of tragedy and the regularity of its occurrence in our history.

Whether it is a single life lost or the lives of many, they are all equally tragic and the questions will still stumble from the tips of our tongues about what we could have done differently. There will always be people unwilling to accept the reality of tragedy and there will be ones who go too far in the emotional response to such heinous acts. However, one thing we should keep in mind as we attempt to cope and recover is that we can’t rely on others for answer.

As President Kennedy said, “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”

If you come to the same conclusion as others after searching yourself and finding what makes sense in your own mind that is one thing but simply accepting the suppositions of others without the effort of original thought is what President Kennedy warned us about. Simply going along with the crowd does not make us free, in fact it makes us unable to grow both as individuals and as a nation. Agreement isn’t enough without the ability to offer your own means of drawing that conclusion.

Such has been the case in recent years with the frequent calls for gun control, the same lobbying that occurred in the wake of President Kennedy’s assassination. Why is it that in the past fifty years we have learned about every detail of one man’s life but we refuse to learn about society and the murderous motivations of people? Why are we so willing to glorify one man for his accomplishments but unwilling to condemn one coward for his actions? JFK didn’t make every Irish Catholic a Saint so why does a person who commits a murder with a firearm make every firearm owner a criminal?

I have read the articles leveraging this anniversary of mourning as a call to action for more gun control which is why I have made the statements above. But this is also a day of great contradiction which makes me wonder how well informed some of the antigun people are as today marks the birthday of Eugene Morrison Stoner who was born on this day in 1922 (we will celebrate his birthday tomorrow). For those of you who don’t know, Stoner was the genius behind the AR-15 platform which was designed just eight years before the world went silent.

So, on the same day that we mourn a great loss we also celebrate a tremendous innovation. Well, some of us mark the birthday of Stoner while other, those filled with hate, would rather eliminate this many from the history books. Kennedy and Stoner, one really has nothing to do with the other beyond a simple date… just like the actions of one deranged man has nothing to do with the rest of us.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Generation WTF

The aftermath of an attack.

It never fails that kids are going to do stupid things but this current generation seems to be taking things to a whole different level. In a year that started with the mass proliferation of twerking among a younger and younger demographic we have now seen the devolution of ‘fun’ into the realm of aggravated assault. As many of you have seen on the news lately, more and more people are falling victim to what has been coined the “knock out game”.

The basic premise of the game is for youths to troll the streets, find an unassuming pedestrian, and try to knock them out with one punch. Thus far, the victims (men and women) seem to be of various ages, races, and in a variety of communities but the assailants seem to have three characteristics in common… they’re young violent idiots. I think it’s safe to say that MENSA is out for the question for these fine examples.

The truly sad situations have yet to unfold (and hopefully they never will). As far as I have heard, no one has died because of these attacks. While unlikely, it is still a possibility as this is essentially blunt force trauma to the head. You never know and hopefully we won’t find out.

The other situation, which says more about the state of this country than the attacks themselves, is that there have been a few instances where people have fended off their attackers. This is something I fully support. However, it may not be long before one of these attackers is injured and they wind up suing the victim or pressing charges. That is just sad but it is the legal CF reality in which we live.

Personally, if you attack me be prepared. I am going to fight back and I am not going to settle for one punch.

When these individuals are apprehended I don’t think that the traditional sentencing (and hopefully restitution) will be enough. I think we need to take a step back and employ a measure that seems to have fallen out of favor in recent decades. I think we send them to the military for extended service. Nothing like a drill sergeant to get rid of an attitude and if you really want to rehabilitate and give them a second chance, that is the way to do it. This would also give them a salary which should be garnished and distributed to the victims throughout their service.

Things need to change and many members of this current generation are in dire need of a readjustment. They don’t need to be given anything which they feel entitled to, they need to learn the cost of their lifestyle and the price of their actions. The need to appreciate what they have and respect what others have rather than covet what others have earned. While previous generations have been labeled with various descriptors (“The Greatest Generation” and “Baby Boomers”) and more recent generations have been classified with single letters such as X and Y, this generation should be classified with a simple acronym, WTF.  

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Little Vocus Variety


I have been on Vocus for about a week now and I have received some interesting emails. To give you some idea of the variety that I am talking about, here are a few of the subject lines that have popped up in my email:  

  • Interview Husband and Wife Team / Balancing Love, Marriage, and (Fictional) Bondage
  • Newest DJH Hostel in Germany is also Ultra-Modern Sports and Conference Center for Top-notch Group Programs at Value Prices
  • Art Basel week editorial request
See, I wasn’t lying, that is a very diverse sample. While the above emails didn’t pique my interest I still give the people sending them credit for reaching out to the blogging community to try and get coverage. I wish them the best and I am intrigued as to what they will send me next.

On the other side of things, there were two emails that registered a bit of interest. On titled “Adventure story teaches families about safe pet travel practices” was a bit off for what I usually write about but the publicists in this instance was sending out advanced copies and I am willing to give it a shot. What the heck, I at least might get some random jeopardy knowledge out of it.

The other email that actually had me eager to try the product came with the subject line “Photographers Track Valuable Cameras with GPS Locator Locca”. The tiny GPS tracking devise looked like something that I might use and that I am pretty sure would be of interest to some of you so I immediately sent an email to see if I could try it out. Well… that didn’t work as they aren’t sending them out at the moment which is a shame because I was excited to test it out. Oh well, I guess I won’t be writing about this product beyond this paragraph (that is still being debated).


Because it was the most interesting product pitched
I am posting a picture.

As you can see, so far there have been a few emails that really got me interested and a lot that have kept me entertained many of which have not been included because I just wanted to highlight a few. The one thing that these people have in common is there willingness to get the story out and pitch. And while, as of tonight, I doubt I will write about any of the current emails I am certain that at least a few are in the works and will be hitting my email shortly which will require a dedicated post.

Until then, they will keep pitching, and I will keep working on both sides of the mirror.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This Is Not A Disney Movie

Well, there's your problem.

Trying to get to work on Monday was an absolute mess. What is normally a direct route that takes me forty five minutes to get to the office took me two and a half hours and numerous back roads. That annoying B, Siri, was actually very helpful yesterday and I was able to get to the office by ten. Today was more of the same as I tried to get to a meeting in Malvern which took me double the travel time than it should have.  

The cause of my delays was something that is becoming more and more common as the roads and highways around the city become more congested… accidents. These are the moments of mixed emotions. On one hand I am absolutely pissed at the mess that someone has caused and the delays that they have incurred upon all of us behind them while at the same time I am thankful that I wasn’t the one involved in such a serious incident that would shut down a multi-lane roadway.

What probably doesn’t help my mood during these situations is the fact that I am a regular talk radio listener and some of the things coming out of Washington are both appalling and enraging as the changed that was promised to so many people is becoming a reality. Unfortunately, it has come with lies and deceit that make the previous administration look almost passive in their initiatives. Trying to shove an unwanted program down our throats is one thing but outright lying to do so is a whole other level of wrong. Someone needs to let Obamapoppins that a spoon full of BS does not make the government sponsored medicine go down.

The latest radio tirades, usually when taking a breather from the healthcare fiasco, have been swirling around the falsified jobs figures leading up to the 2012 election. This is something that from one perspective seems to be the false persuasion of voters but, frankly, if you really believed that the job market has been improving and unemployment numbers have been correct then you have had your head up a certain orifice all along and false figures really had no bearing on your opinion anyway. It is interesting to hear how many ways the same topic can be rehashed though and I do give some of the personalities credit for some original takes on the subject.

I guess it could be worse. It may not seem like it when sitting behind a 1988 Nissan that hasn’t had an inspection since Clinton was in office but the fact of the matter is that we are alive to gripe about these things and we have enough of a mind, granted not much, to have an opinion. I have a job I love, I have a wife I love, I have my family, I have my brothers and Rotarians, and I have this blog to rant about such things. Things are actually pretty good right now. Some things could be better but there is not much to complain about at the moment. On top of that, at least I don’t live in New Jersey anymore. See, things seem to have gotten much better already.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Are You Being Served?


Sunday saw the second half of our Masonic weekend. Actually, it was more like the last third as I spent Friday night at Scottish Rite, Saturday raising money for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation, and yesterday I was enjoying and serving pancakes at our first annual flapjack fundraiser. Once again, we found ourselves at Applebee’s on City Avenue but this time the proceeds were to benefit our lodge and some of the work that needs to be done.

It was our first attempt at such an event and while we didn’t bring in a significant sum it was still a valuable learning experience that we got while, at the same time, remaining in the black. It was also another great day to spend with my wife and my brothers. Of course, we also kept the hat out from the day before and added a little bit from our total raising money for Alex’s cause.

Now, I’m not a morning person and an early rise on the weekend usually equates to a bad day but while my body may have been a bit tired I was full of energy at the same time. This is a different kind of good tired which I have written about previously. This is the tired that follows two days of putting forth the time and energy to give back. This is the tired that revitalizes you for the week to come and makes you look forward to the next opportunity to give of yourself.

But I must be honest, it wasn’t just about the fundraising. It was a great day to get to know a little more about each of the brothers present. Young and old, regardless of degree or affiliation with other Masonic bodies, we are all treated as equals. We all lead different lives with the commonality of a strong and ageless brotherhood. We welcome one another and our families. We welcome brothers and non-brothers alike with the same warmth and invite them to join us, in this instance, for breakfast.

It is moments like this past weekend that reaffirm my commitment and reassure me of my decision to become a Mason. I guess that it goes to show that not all light can be found within the walls of the lodge. Much, if not most, light is found in your fellow brothers and in your collective actions beyond the walls of the lodge. Light is limitless and is present all around us; it is our job to seek it out and recognize the illumination. If you seek light look around you, you may be surprised at where the rays originate.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Remembering Alex


Growing up I was never the kid who would set up a lemonade stand and try to make money or raise funds for a charity. Alex Scott was different. Even though she was only on this earth for a few years she started something much greater than herself, she was the driving force behind Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Yesterday was a long, but rewarding day, as my lodge sold lemonade at the Applebee’s on City Avenue to raise money for this truly worth, and locally based, charity.

It was a new experience for many of us and you could tell that there was a slight awkwardness that most of us felt when we first arrived but it didn’t take long before we banded together and sold as much as we could. Thankfully, it was a beautiful, and uncharacteristically warm, November day and the steady stream of cars (except when we dammed the flow of traffic for a few moments) provided for a constant flow of funds. Washington provided the bulk of the currency current with occasional ripple from Lincoln, Jackson, and Hamilton as well as one wave from Grant.

Many hands makes for light work and yesterday was no exception. Throughout the five or so hours that our lodge was on that corner we had brothers come and go contributing both time and money to the effort. Everyone gave a little bit of themselves to fill the hat as much as we could. It was a day that I was immensely proud to be wearing my apron outside the walls of the lodge.

Toward the end of the day things began to slow down. The lunch rush had dwindled and the foot traffic early came to a complete halt. It was a time for all of us to step back, recollect, and relax a little bit as we enjoyed being in the company of our brothers. It was especially nice for me because I also had my wife with me to enjoy the time we spent outside contributing to Alex’s memory.

It was around this time when we had a very special guest arrive at our little stand. Liz Scott, Alex’s mom, walked up to greet us and see how we were doing. Liz and her husband, Jay, supported Alex in the first few years with a small stand in their front yard just a few blocks from where we had our stand yesterday. Now she was supporting our efforts in the same way she supported her daughter.


By the end of the day we had raised almost eight hundred dollars (plus another five hundred from the lodge) for the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation. Not too bad for the first time around. Of course, we are not completely done raising money.

For those of you so inclined you can donate $10 by texting “Lemonade E118099” to 85944. You can also contribute by calling (866) 333-1213 or going online at http://www.alexslemonade.org/contribute. Lastly, you can send a check or money order to the following address:

Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation
333 E. Lancaster Avenue #414
Wynnewood, PA 19096


Whichever method you choose, please make sure you reference the code “E118099” so that we can continue to build upon our efforts and solidify a much loftier goal for next year. Thank you!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thirty Two Times Two

Yesterday I did something that I rarely do… I left work a little early for personal reasons. Actually it was for Masonic reasons. Last night I headed back to the Grand Lodge in Philadelphia to ‘complete’ my Scottish Rite degree work. While it is an education that will never end it was a night when I would receive my thirty second degree along with a number of my fellow brothers from my blue lodge (we may have been the most well represented of the lodges in the Valley).

Having gone through the one day class back in April, seeing so many brothers doing degree work all at once was not a strange sight for me. It is actually quite impressive to see so many committed brothers take another step in their Masonic journey. If anything it was an uplifting feeling being part of such a large group of 79 brothers (out of 88 petitioners) advancing at the same time.

I know that this achievement is just the beginning. There are a lot of degrees that I was unable to witness thus far and there are many things that I still need to learn. But the culmination of this first step has put me on good footing so that I can run rather than walk in my Masonic pursuits. How far and how fast will I be able to go I don’t know but I am going to try and make as much progress as possible.

My next planned step is to witness the wide variety of degrees that, so far, I have not been witness to and record my experiences with each and every one of them. I am looking forward not only to experiencing this part of the journey but also sharing it with a number of my fellow brothers. After all, that is part of being a member of this fraternity. We share our Masonic experience with our brothers and support one another in the journey.

It is an amazing sense of pride and accomplishment having gone from a man to a mason to a 32° Scottish Rite Mason in a matter of approximately six months. That’s right that means I received my thirty second degree less than two weeks after my thirty second birthday. And throughout this process I have been greeted, welcomed, and supported as a fellow brother. It just goes to show that, if you put forth the effort and are sincere in our intentions, you will be treated as family and your fellow brothers will stand behind you and beside you as you search for more light.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Night With Ben

Former Governor of Pennsylvania Mark Schweiker delivers
keynote address at the Marcum Innovator of the Year Awards.
Last night I was out again and this time I was at the Franklin Institute in center city. I guess you could say that the evening was a mix of both business and pleasure as I was there in support our client that was nominated for an award but also it was an enjoyable time just getting to meet a variety of new people. So, overall, it was my kind of night.

What began as a slow crawl into the city by way of the I-95 parking lot quickly picked up speed until I looked at my watch and wondered where the night had gone. Given the people in the room that really wasn’t a surprise. All present were there for a reason and all earned their place in the room.

I have gotten to know a lot of intelligent, even brilliant, people in my live and I even have the privilege of working with a few and I know many dedicated hard working people but, for some reason, finding individuals with that particular combination is becoming harder and harder to find. Maybe it’s a generational thing maybe it’s just me (I wouldn’t consider myself on the plus side of either of the aforementioned characteristics). But that room was completely different.

In every direction you could see a deep rooted intelligence and a flame in the eyes of all in attendance. Every nominee, every company, had an amazing story and people behind them with such drive that inspires one to work hard and look for the next opportunity to succeed. From small companies like BizEquity and bulogics to large companies such as Rajant and Nemours, the talent that exists in this all too often overlooked region is astounding. I highly recommend looking up each of those companies and learning about how they are going to continue changing the world.

The Marcum Innovator of the Year Awards accomplished its goal of highlighting some of the ideas and technologies that are bound to change the world not just the area. There is impact in the genius that churned in the audience under the shadow of Ben Franklin. And by having such a collection in that place which carries the name of greatness, you couldn’t help but be inspired, motivated, and maybe even a little bit smarter.

It was a night that was enjoyable throughout the course of the event but also one that will continue to bring much enjoyment in the future as I watch these companies and read about the advancements they are making. It is one of those corny things that makes me proud of where I grew up, where I live, and where I will continue to remain rooted. Simply put, we take pride in our commonwealth and continue trying to see all the positive developments happening around us even when other things aren’t necessarily going the way we would like them to.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Hello Vocus!

Photo taken in Jim Thorpe, PA by my wife during our trip in June.

Today I made a decision that could change the future of this blog. You could say it was a “through the looking glass” kind of day when I decided to get this blog listed on Vocus. The hope is that I might be able to introduce a whole different world of opportunities because of it. When writing and posting every day it all comes down to having something to write about. This is one way to have some stories come to me which is why I might be able to expand upon the subject matter and maybe introduce some new topics.

I have worked with this service for a number of years now and the lists that it provides are an excellent way to find new reporters and bloggers. However, this is my first foray being on the other side of the screen. The years that I have used the site have been while working in public relations (which I still do) and now I am the one, potentially, being pitched. Actually, I am kind of on both sides of the equation.

For those of you unfamiliar with Vocus here is the basic summary from the company’s about page:

Vocus (NASDAQ: VOCS) provides leading cloud-based marketing and PR software plus consulting services enabling companies to acquire and retain customers. The company offers an all-in-one suite of applications and consulting services to help clients attract and engage prospects, capture and keep customers, and measure and improve marketing effectiveness. More than 17,000 annual subscription customers across a wide variety of industries use Vocus software. The company is headquartered in Beltsville, MD with offices in North America, Europe and Asia. 

Furthermore, the reason public relations professional use the service is because it allows them to “Connect with journalists and bloggers, send press releases, monitor news, reach influencers, and measure and share your results. Vocus PR Suite is designed to help marketing and PR pros increase their influence and tell their story online, across social networks and through the media.” While most PR/media interactions are relationship based (or should be) there is no getting around the fact that sometimes cold pitching has to be done. That is the nature of the business.

Moving forward this will certainly be a balancing act between my professional life and my personal writing life. I will be sending pitches and, hopefully, fielding them as well. Fortunately, the topics that I have covered thus far in the blog and topics I hope to introduce are completely different from the ones that I represent when on the other side of the mirror.

However, I think the most interesting, important, and beneficial thing that could, in theory, come from this development is the fact that being able to see a story from both sides can only help me both in my writing and with my professional career. Knowing how people on both sides of the pitch feel about the process is something that too few people understand and I am looking forward to experiencing that interplay. I am hoping for an interesting ride.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Masonic Marathon

The Tuesday’s immediately following our stated meeting are the nights when we train for the Masonic Marathon. These are the nights that consist of multiple degrees, hours of lodge time, and impressive demonstrations of memorization on the parts of those participating in the degree work. While it is not every month that such late nights occur, there are still the occasional evenings when I know my wife is not going to be happy with me when I walk through the apartment door.

This is not something any of us are paid to do. This is something that we do for our brothers and soon to be brothers. It is in the passion to see men improve themselves that we find the motivation to participate and congratulate. It is a regular experience that I consider a privilege to witness and play some small role in simply by being there.

Last night I found myself in the lodge during one of the longer nights when two degrees were conferred (it would have been three but there was a hold up as one of the candidates was not prepared). It was a long night to be sure but one during which we were able to see a man take his first steps in Freemasonry during the first half of the night and another man become a Master Mason in the second half of the night. In all, we were there for over three hours and departed the lodge absolutely wasted from the day.

Driving home it was interesting to think about the similarities and differences that some of the conferrers have as I have seen a number of different Past Masters confer degrees over the past 6+ months. From a brother in his forties to a brother in his eighties, all have has different approaches, presentations, styles and inflections while all maintaining an impressive script running through their minds.

Like the conferrers, the men whom have become Masons have been of all ages as well ranging from a man in his twenties to a man in his late seventies. All determined to become a part of the fraternity it just took a few of them a little longer than others. I have seen all these degrees from various vantage points as well. From simply being present to lend support to sitting as a stand in officer, to knowing that next year I will be playing a small but significant role throughout the process as Secretary.

This is not just a matter of seeking more light. It is seeing how the light is refracted and reflected. It is seeing the light from all angles and trying to take in as much as you can. It is a never ending journey and a process without pause as one can never capture every ray of light that is cast upon them.  


 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Musings About Mobile Monday



Yesterday was a long day but, fortunately, it didn’t feel like a case of the Mondays. It wasn’t about what had to be done at the office it was simply being out of the apartment for so long and all for business purposes. A day that began at the office ended at a Mobile Monday Conference in Philadelphia (right next to 30th Street Station at the Cira Centre).

With the exception of running around like a mad man right before leaving the office, testing the limitations of the speed limit on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and having my patience tested when I missed the earlier train from Wynnewood by a matter of seconds, it was a great night that offered a lot of insight into the future of mobile in retail. Having recently delved into this space head first with my clothes on last month it really is a fascinating field and one that was interesting to hear multiple perspectives on during this event. It’s always fun to wade around in a pool of ideas.

During the evening it was also nice to simply get out and talk to people whom I may not have had the chance to meet during the usual course of my day. Of course, it was also an opportunity to run into a few people that I normally don’t run into during business hours including a fellow Rotarian whom I have met on a few other occasions at Rotary events along the main line. I guess if you get out and meet enough people you are bound to have some overlap here and there.

While meeting people is a great part of any gathering, the event really is only as good as the subject matter and speakers. The speakers may have seemed a bit dry to some but I found the discussion and audience interaction fascinating and the statistics definitely give you something to think about. Of course, leave it to me to be distracted by the fact that the panel moderator looked a lot like Robert Sean Leonard (Wilson from the television show House).


The idea of mobile in retail was not just something that got me thinking about the current applications and future implications (especially with the recent death null of Blockbuster) but it all got me thinking about how much things have changed in the short span of my own life. What once was advanced to play Oregon Trail on a green screen is not HD and 3D televisions and virtual gaming; what once involved taking an imprint of your charge card at the register is not a simple app that allows you to order ahead of time and pay with your phone.

It really is an amazing transformation that we have gone through in the last 20-30 year. Heck, even over the past 5-10 years. It makes me wonder what could be around the corner; what could be the next big breakthrough in technology. But, I think the main questions to be considered are whether the current technology (mobile retail included) is making our lives better/easier and whether the next step forward will, effectively building on the current innovations, will improve our lives or exacerbate our problems?