Monday, June 30, 2014

Split Decision Fallout

"Frankly, I don’t just want businesses to stay out of the bedroom, I want the government out of the bedroom too."
It has been rather interesting today watching, reading, and listening to the debate following the decision of the Supreme Court in favor of Hobby Lobby. So, what happened? Under Obamacare, companies that pay for insurance for their workers (and decide not to be fined) are required to use plans that include contraception. In the lawsuit, Hobby Lobby (along with other businesses) argued that they should be exempt from the new rule because their owners object to some forms of contraception on religious grounds.

The primary objective was to allow the company to opt out of covering morning after pills and IUD’s totaling 4 of the 20 widely used forms of birth control in this country on the grounds that they believe these measures to be a form of abortion and, therefore, against their religious beliefs. The Oklahoma City-based craft store chain operates 600 stores across the county employing over 15,000 full time employees.

In the end, the court interpreted a 1993 religious-freedom law passed by Congress. In a summary of the decision (the final vote was 5-4), Justice Samuel Alito stated that the aforementioned law gives closely held companies a right to religious freedom. Specifically, Alito concluded, “a corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends.”

In the dissenting opinion, authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the majority was accused of finding in favor of the religious rights of a handful of corporate owners at the expense of “thousands of women” employed by Hobby Lobby and other companies who don’t share those views. To the surprise of no one, the Democrats took this opinion and did their best Forrest Gump impression. Run, Liberals, Run!

Since this decision, all social media streams have been flowing heavily and the party lines seemed to have become bolder since the final decision was reached. From the catchy slogans positioning this as anti-woman to the lies being spread that all forms of contraception are being pulled from the health plans offered by Hobby Lobby, it has been a day of sifting through the garbage and waiting for those brief glimpses of thoughtfulness (from both viewpoints). While the debate still rages as I wrap up this post, and it will certainly continue for the foreseeable future, the verdict has come and gone and individual liberty has won out.

While I am uncertain as to the means they used to reach their decision by expanding the rights of the corporation, I agree with the decision of the court. If it were an outright refusal to cover anything I would hold the opposite opinion. Preventative measures, still supported by hobby lobby, differ from those that are being refused. It is the gray world in which we live and no decision will satisfy everyone. We all make compromises in this country just keep in mind that these products are still available, they are still legal, it is simply a matter of who pays for them.

No one’s rights have been taken away it just takes a bit more effort to exercise those rights… individual rights are the responsibility of the individual. Too many people are expecting things to simply be handed to them. Frankly, I don’t just want businesses to stay out of the bedroom, I want the government out of the bedroom too. And I want the government out of my pocket as, in the end, we are the ones who are paying for these ‘expanded’ benefits whether we want them or agree with them. The government shouldn’t get in the way and/or exercise those rights on your behalf. It is your right, your freedom, your individual liberty, your faith, your responsibility. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Caution: Road Work Ahead

See, not all roadwork goes on for miles!
While yesterday we went on a short trip, today we did even less. At least less outside of the apartment. Today was not just a day of staying still but catching up as well. Today was a day, still going on actually, that I had to stay in the apartment, at the computer, and get a few things done for the short week that starts tomorrow. I know, this really is a repetitive thought that can be found in numerous posts especially lately. Oh well, sometimes that is the reality in which we live and work. Life isn’t always, and shouldn’t always be, on cruise control. The stop and go traffic is certainly annoying but it never lasts. Soon enough the roads will open up and you will once again be making progress.

One of the things, along many other that I have learned over the last few years is that sometimes, just as you are about to turn the corner you realize it is a one way street. At that point you just have to keep pushing forward for another block or two before you are finally able to turn in the right direction. Sometimes you have to turn around and find another way. Other times, you are able to make the turn but that doesn’t mean that it will be an easier, less bumpy, or faster way to go then if you continued straight.

The best thing to do sometimes is to just make sure you have enough gas, check the condition of your car, and just drive. That is what life is all about. It is about doing your best to try and find the best route while still keeping things interesting every once in a while. Sometimes you get on the highway and set the cruise control, other times you get on the back roads and slalom across the landscape. You may get lost every now and again, you may even find yourself going down some difficult roads, but if you just keep the GPS handy and go in the right direction, things will work out in the end.

Don’t let the road, the neighborhood, and the other cars on the road keep you from moving forward. Know when to be aggressive, know when to be considerate, and help others who may be lost or stranded. Don’t let work take you in unpaved circles and don’t let pessimism ruin your transmission. Keep your eyes open for signs, your foot on the gas, and trust those in your life to keep you awake at the wheel. This is not a journey that should be a solo endeavor. It is an opportunity to embrace experiences both planned and unplanned with those that you have in your life. If you pay attention and keep yourself open to life it can be a life that will leave you with satisfaction and peace when you arrive at your final destination.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Staying Local This Weekend

With all the driving that I have done over the past two weeks going to Scranton and Erie, this weekend I wasn’t about to sit in the car and go on another long road trip. However, we still needed to get out of the apartment so we settled on one of our nearby stand by destinations… Harvest Books in Fort Washington. And it actually worked out well as we both needed to pick up a couple cheap books to read. So, the destination was decided but we had to do something a little different so I began searching for a new place to grab lunch. After a few minutes of searching online and reading reviews, I found a place that looked pretty darn good.

We drove into Fort Washington at about 12:30 and continued down the road listening to Siri send us in the completely opposite direction. As we turned around we reloaded the directions and began heading in the right direction. With no actual store front or sign along Bethlehem Pike, we circled around the block a couple of times before blindly turning into the parking lot with the matching street address. Finally, we arrived at Hungry Bear Café.

It is a really small little café in the old train station building tucked along the side of the tracks but the friendly and inviting atmosphere and tasty options listed on the brunch menu more than made up for less than desirable location. After enjoying an excellent cup of coffee the food arrived at our table looking better than the high expectations set by the ingredients. Not only was the Brioche Benedict a tasty combination accented with homemade sausage and sautéed mushrooms but the pancakes we ordered on the side are, hands down, the best that I have ever eaten.

However, the most impressive and kind of surprising discovery was the Au Poivre Burger that my wife reluctantly let me taste. With all of the burgers that we have had in our lives, we didn’t realize such an amazing example of burger precision could be found in Fort Washington of all places. I am not one who usually votes online for various contests but I will definitely make an exception this time and vote for Hungry Bear Café in Philadelphia Magazine’s Battle of the Burger. We will be back to try more.

After lunch we headed over to our favorite book shop right down the street from the café. While prices have increased slightly, Harvest Books is still one of the best deals for those of us that still enjoy our books in a non-digital format. And there are always a few things that I discover that I can’t pass up, especially at $2.50 apiece. And it should be no surprise that I found a number of books on Freemasonry that I had to take home with me and a few that I will be purchasing at a later date (if they are still there). Of course, my wife picked up a couple of books as well so we both headed back to the apartment with some books that we will eventually find the time to read.

While it may not have been the furthest that I have traveled recently, it was still a great local day of travel and one that I was able to enjoy with my wife. Things should be back to normal next weekend, the long holiday weekend, when we will head back out on the road and explore a new Pennsylvania destination. With that said, I still have no idea where we are going to go. I guess we will have to find out next weekend.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Attempting To Find Space…

Not much space left.
Usually as some point during any given day there is a time when I just need a little space. Not just physical space but separation from the noises of the world. Definitely something harder to do than to simple ponder about. Sometimes I can even go all day and have to setting for those meager moments of slumber to escape the world and get some alone time. When I say this, many people see this as a bad thing, like I am trying to get away from people or some people get offended like I am trying to get away from them. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Everything requires some space in one form or another. When there is no space things can tend to run together and just seem to blur into a solid brick, much like this post. Sometimesthesimplespacebetweenwordscanmakeallthediffernceintheworldwhentryingtocomprehendwhatisrightinfrontofyou. Even the commute back and forth to work is filled with a lack of space from the cars on the road crowding the lanes to the constant connection maintained with my cell phone. Space is more than just a physical proximity. Space is that single moment of nothing that we all need in our day. That moment when everything around us stops, the phone is silent, and the computer hibernates. It is those times when you step out of the office for a minute, forgetting your cell phone, and feeling glad that you don’t have it flipped out in your palm as you scan the screen or pick up a call. Space, in many respects, is the most precious and healthiest part of the day when you are as even keeled as you can possibly be. But, with work, home, lodge, and all the other activities that fill my calendar, the necessity of space has quickly become a luxury. I guess it is just harder for some of us than others especially those of us that have a mind that doesn’t seem to want to stop. The damn thing just keeps on working jumping from one thought to another without taking that moment to enjoy the microscopic space between the neurons. Sometimes the best time in my day is when I am trying to think of something, finally recall the information, and stop caring about it as soon as the information is retrieved. It is a split second of mental silence after that moment of forgetfulness that can be the most peaceful time in the day. It is a moment of relief that is rarely experienced and one that I can’t seem to find often enough. It is this time of completely blocking out the rest of the world when the mind and body simultaneously relax. It is for this same reason that many of us enjoy one sport or another in our free time. It is the repetition and focus needed that blocks out the rest of the world. You are in your own space focused on the singular experience. That is the time when we have all the space we need. I need to find more moments like that during my everyday life when I can enjoy life. I just have to find the space.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

This Week In WTF: Healthcare and Immigration

Not saying he was a great President but he was pretty good compared to what we have now.
Yeah, I know, this is a completely random post but this past week there have been a couple of things that have forced me to record my thoughts. Not that anything bad happened there are just certain things that reminded me of the tremendous CF that we find ourselves in as a country with regard to policies in these two areas. Oh, how far we have come during the tenure of this President, the one who can do no wrong.

This week I had a few moments when I wished that the healthcare system was much simpler… the way it used to be when it was just a small PITA. While health insurance paperwork has always been a headache… the kind that is brought on by tediousness and nitpicking… it had only gotten worse in recent years. This was never more evident then when I went to enroll my wife on my health plan at work. Turns out the form is no longer enough and now they require special letters (no emails), answers to even more questions, and the blood of a virgin chicken that was discovered in Belize, carbon dated, and proven to be used in a Mayan ritual which then had to be verified by three archeologists (because four would be asking too much) with last names that have a “q” in them from three different countries that only import produce on even number days with temperatures above 55 degrees Fahrenheit and transported on a ship or plane where the entire crew has seen Back to the Future at least twice but has never watched the sequels.

I think this is how they will eventually made Obamacare solvent… people will turn over the extra money (it would cost us about twice as much for my wife to go on Obamacare) just so they wouldn’t have to jump through these hoops. It doesn’t even matter anymore whether you are in this country illegally, you can still get health insurance through the United States government. What kind of crap is that? Maybe, just maybe, if we let the immigration “reform” proposals collapse under their own BS we might have a chance at changing that. Maybe.

For now, people are streaming into the country where those who file applications for amnesty ‘shall not be detained, determined inadmissible, deported, or removed until their applications are finally adjudicated, unless they commit a future act that renders them ineligible with amnesty.’ Essentially, illegal aliens cannot be immediately deported unless they commit an illegal act. So, if they don’t do anything illegal (except of course for entering the country illegally) they are put into an application system that is more backed up and mismanaged than the VA hospitals in Arizona. Except instead of causing the deaths of those who fought for our freedom, it ensures a free pass to those who don’t even respect one of our most basic laws (and some of them don’t respect the law whatsoever as criminals are also eligible for amnesty and citizenship so long as they only committed one felony or three misdemeanors).

As Marty Huggins said, “It’s a mess.” I guess what this all comes down to is the fact that the system is broken, this administration had failed, and while I didn’t vote for any of this crap I, along with everyone else, have to deal with the fecal fallout. And if you agree with me then, according to the bluer than Violet Beauregard turning into a blueberry liberals, you’re a racist too. Never mind the fact that this is an equal opportunity cluster.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A Few Degrees Before Going Dark

Extra meetings can become somewhat routine if you let them and in June that feeling is what keeps many brothers from turning out to lodge to witness or participate in degree conferrals. While this isn’t an issue for me (I rather enjoy being a part of a brother’s Masonic journey) I have heard of this and seen this be the case with some of the brothers that I have spoken with or seen at these fraternal milestones… I saw plenty of heavy eyes during my own degree conferral (of course it was a one day class that took up much of the day). There are times however when things are changed up and something a little different is introduced into the evening.

Last night I had the pleasure to watch the Shield & Square Degree Team confer a degree on a new brother. This dedicated group of current and retired law enforcement brothers really know their stuff and the entire degree was not only spot on but you could tell that they really put a lot of work into making the night come alive. It was especially gratifying to witness this degree as the brother who was at the center of the evening first reached out to me shortly after I took office. I have literally been a part of the process from beginning to the times that the DDGM handed him his dues card and I am incredibly proud of that fact. I know he is going to be (actually he has already proven to be) an excellent and dedicated brother.

If that wasn’t enough, we also conferred two more degrees last night. While the late hour and steamy weather (again, no air conditioning in the lodge room) made the evening seem that much longer, it was a night that seemed to end before it really got going. Actually, I don’t know if it was the night or if it was the fact that this was the final meeting before going dark for the next two months but just as I feel I am finally finding my stride it is time to take a break.

Even though there are times when I am constantly running around before heading up stairs, I am going to really miss those meeting nights at the lodge. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of work that I will be doing but the fellowship is what this job is really about. Thankfully, there are plenty of Masonic events that I will be attending and writing about over the summer and the fall looks to be particularly busy. It is for this reason that I can’t wait for the weather to cool down.  

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Downfall Of The Long Weekend

For the first time in a while I was able to take a long weekend and not think about work too much. There really isn’t any way for me to get away from things so having a respite for a little while was a nice change of pace. Of course, being in the car for nearly fifteen hours over a two day span didn’t hurt my ability to turn things off for a while but it didn’t completely cripple my ability to get a few other things done. I guess I have to always be working on something.

Come Monday afternoon the tide began to shift and the undertow of emails was trying to pull me back out into the sea of work that awaited me today. Having taken Friday and Monday off to both head up to Erie and recover afterward, the mountain of projects, papers, and emails had grown at a rate that any weed would have been happy to achieve. Back in the office this morning, it was time to put my head down and dig as fast as I could before more tasks began filling my inbox.

Can’t say that I was completely successful but there has been progress made. What is really a bit annoying is the fact that I had finally gotten up to speed not long ago. This is a cycle that I hope doesn’t continue but I am not holding out for that luxury. For now, it is a matter of slowly plodding through the paper, scanning websites, and rapidly responding to and completing the projects that have been put on hold for just a small window of time. Some may see this as only a couple of days but that is a lot of time in my line of work.

With next week also being a short week, the new goal is to, hopefully, get everything cleared off by Friday but I am really expecting it to carry over into the weekend. Not the first time and certainly not the last. Somewhere, somehow I will also look for those small air pockets so that I might take a breath, take care of some personal and lodge items, before diving back down to the bottom of the pile. In the end, things could be worse. After all, this is the slow time of year. I don’t even want to think about what my days would look like if I had taken a long weekend in the fall or winter.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Quarter For Your Thoughts: Part II

I know you have already read about my little excursion to Erie over the weekend but I didn’t talk much about the actual meeting and my experiences with my fellow brothers. While there is much that I cannot divulge, I can still talk about things in broad terms to give you a little flavor as to the purpose of my trip. While I have attended a Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in the past (you can read about it here), this was the first time that I traveled any significant distance to such a meeting.

From the time I arrived at the hotel to the moment I departed, I was in the midst of what can best be described as a family atmosphere. Sure there are distant cousins that you really don’t know but you understand how you are connected to them. At the same time, there are many people in attendance that are much closer like an immediate family. In the end, you are all brothers sharing the same reunion-like experience.

It is during those events surrounding the actual meeting when you talk with the brothers you do know, reconnect with brothers that you only see on occasion, and introduce yourself to brothers whom you have yet had the chance to meet (it also helps when the DDGM introduces you). This rather easy when you go into the conversation knowing that you already have something in common and it makes future gatherings (whether it is a Quarterly, Annual, or some other Masonic event) more interesting when you can catch up with your fellow brothers. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that long as I found myself sitting at the meeting with a couple of brothers I had just met the day before.

To those who are familiar with the ritual and activities of a local blue lodge, the meeting itself is very similar to a regular lodge meeting. However, it is fascinating to watch the slight differences and see those brothers participating who have achieved such distinction in the craft. It is also interesting to hear about what is taking place across the Commonwealth both at local lodges and with regard to Pennsylvania Freemasonry in general. This is of particular interest to me as I am focusing daily on the activities of my lodge and my district with only the occasional glance as to the Commonwealth. I would discuss this more and in greater detail but there are certain things that must remain unsaid.

When all was said and done there is a little disappointment that things have come to an end but, at the same time, there is anticipation for the next gathering (and not just because it will be at the Grand Lodge in Philadelphia which is a slightly easier commute). This is an experience that too few brothers are embracing and I hope that will change in the future as I look forward not just to the meetings that are close to home but also the ones that take me across the state. It really is just another part of what I enjoy about being a Mason.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On The Road Again… Returning Home From Erie

I woke up early Saturday morning still enveloped by the mass of comforters on the hotel bed. With a few things still having to be taken care of on the computer, it didn’t take long for me to make my way to the coffee maker before beginning my morning routine. I had been invited to breakfast the night before so there was little time to waste… it was going to be a bit of a mad rush to get myself together.

Once I got myself squared away, I packed everything up, and got out of the room (not before taking a final photo out the window at my view.

With everything back in the car, I walked over to check out before enjoying a quick nosh. There wasn’t much conversation as the Masonic herd (or is it gaggle? Flock? I don’t know) was already making their way to the Convention Center next door. A few bites later and I joined a small group heading over.

The meeting concluded by noon and we all made our way to lunch in the next conference room over. After an additional hour of discussion and fellowship we all went our separate ways with the Grand Lodge officers heading off to meetings and the rest of us heading either back to the hotel or beginning our journey back home. I made my way back to the parking garage and couldn’t help but to take a picture of the excellent view that my car was able to enjoy during the stay.

For the first time I made my way through the middle of the city and slowly glanced at the stores and people lining the main street. The drive home was pretty uneventful with cool weather and clear skies the entire way across the Commonwealth. While I wasn’t able to take any photos during my drive through the city, I did manage to get a few lucky shots while I was coasting down the highway.

The first section of highway was straight and pretty boring but I could tell that the clouds were going to be an interesting travel companion.

As the time flew by (mostly while I was on the phone) the elevation increased…

…and the clouds became even more intriguing.

Soon I was high in the mountains…

…weaving in and out of curves…

…and cutting into the mountains.

Not long after that excellent stretch of road, I stopped for a few minutes at the next rest stop. All of the rest stops that I encountered during my travel where in pretty good shape, clean, and the grounds were well maintained.

By the time I left the rest stop the sun was beginning to fall behind the range beside me. The longest day of the year was a great one for traveling and provided the perfect ending to my weekend trip to Erie and my time exploring the commonwealth.

One final push and my trip came to an end. It was long, tiring, and left me a little stiff from driving but it was a great weekend trip that I would do again in a second. In fact, I am already planning the trip next year with my wife. Now that I know what to expect, I plan on attending all of these meetings in the future.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Finding A Family Feeling In Erie

One of the things that greeted my in the lobby of the Sheraton... I guess I'm in the right place.  
The day began with a scramble to get everything in the car after making a large mug of coffee. While this is not much different than my usual Friday routine when I am rushing out the door to get to the office, this Friday morning was different… it was going to take me a little longer to get to my destination. With everything finally packed, I kissed my wife good bye, got in the car, and punched in the address into my iPhone. Estimated drive time approximately seven hours.

The actually driving started off with the usual traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway and the flow easing up as I headed north on the Blue Route. Where I would normally get off to head east however is where my route took a drastic change and I continued north toward Scranton. I was making good time and was slowly climbing further into the mountains when the mandatory coffee refill rest stop beckoned me to come inside. Fresh coffee in hand I resumed traveling and was turning onto I-80 shortly thereafter.

I will say that hearing the GPS say ‘continue on this route for 176 miles’ is a little disconcerting when it first echoes in the car but I had little choice in the matter, I was taking the most direct route. After many miles of cruise control travel winding back and forth between the endless streams of mountains, it was time to make another stop. Fortunately, this highway (no tolls by the way) had plenty of places to pull over and stretch. This is how I wound up in Snow Shoe.

As I had a meeting set up for shortly after my arrival, it made the stop a quick one and pushed through to the end of I-80 before turning north for the final stretch of my journey on I-79. Somehow, despite leaving the apartment later than I would have liked, I arrived in Erie with enough time to check in, put my bags in the room (I lucked out on Thursday night by booking the last available room at the Sheraton), and head down to the patio for the work meeting. During this get together, arranged back in March when we were all in Atlanta, we went over a lot of point, took some additional steps regarding working together moving forward, and also got to know a little bit more about each other beyond work. It was a great meeting that I am glad that we arranged while I happened to be in town.

Obviously, that meeting wasn’t the impetus for the trip. The reason I traveled all the way across the commonwealth was for the Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania which would be happening the following morning. These are the kind of meetings that I highly recommend brothers attend if they are able, especially when they are held a bit further from where they live. Within a few minutes of my meeting coming to an end and while I was on the phone with my wife, the District Deputy Grand Master noticed that I was sitting outside and invited me to join him and the other Grand Lodge officers and their families for dinner upstairs.

Here was the view I had out the back of the hotel before heading to dinner.
Well, I wasn’t about to turn down such an excellent offer so as soon as I signed the check and finished the conversation with my wife, I made my was upstairs and joined him for an excellent meal. This was only the beginning of the evening as, after an excellent discussion about all that is going on in the district and at my lodge (as well as answering a plethora of questions I have been meaning to ask) I was invited across the hall to the cocktail reception. So that is where our discussion continued and eventually concluded later in the evening.

While I had planned on simply making the trip to attend the meeting on Saturday morning, the day turned out to be much more than that. This entire evening was as welcoming and friendly as any meeting I have been to since becoming a mason. It truly was a family celebration during which all brothers joined together to enjoy a great weekend of fellowship and freemasonry. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and one that I look forward to having again next year (hopefully with my wife).

Friday, June 20, 2014

From Simple Technology To Simplifying Technology

You know you miss it!
It’s amazing when you think about how much technology is woven in and throughout our lives. It’s one of those things, like gaining weight, that gradually takes hold of you a little at a time. Before you know it you are constantly checking your email at all times of day and night and you see people getting jittery when they don’t have access to their phones or, what’s worse, when they can see that their battery is getting dangerously low and they are crawling around the waiting room desperately searching for an outlet. You know you have seen those people. Heck, I am sure we have all done it at one time or another especially on long trips.

Personally, it’s interesting looking back to the typing classes in elementary school when we all did our best to get the work done as quickly as possible so we could play Oregon Trail on the green Apple screen. Or the time when I created my first email account, AOL of course, when I was in high school… “You’ve got mail” was something to look forward to in those days before the extreme inundation of spam that we sort through today. There are times when I miss that ear piecing screech before being able to retrieve my messages but those moments are usually very brief and only wash over me when my mental servers begin overheating.

Look back at how far we have come… do you think you could wait through the multiple dials before your modem would connect?

I think back sometimes when I spend the entire day, like today, writing press releases, blog posts, pitches, and emails all revolving around technology. That is what I do for a living and I am pretty good at my job. Of course, I am more about talking to people about the technology. Thankfully, my late blooming technology background, has served me well in that I am able to translate many of the complex topics and innovations that I am surrounded with every day.

Now, it has gotten to the point that I have people seeking me out to apply my abilities. In fact, this summer I will be delving into a new project that the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania is working on. Actually, it is more of an upgrade or overhaul rather than something completely new. Either way, I am going to be exploring the initial aspects of this program and looking for ways to easily navigate through and explain the details. This is what my brothers will be relying on me for when everything is rolled out.

So, it should be an interesting summer project but one that I am looking forward to as it is a great way to combine what I do for a living with my masonic life, much like utilizing my writing and PR background as Secretary. It makes it a lot easier and allows me to have a greater impact when I can apply my craft to the craft. Of course, there are also times when I want some separation like when you had to wait for the internet to load dividing the real and virtual world. In the end though I wouldn’t change a thing as I enjoy the constant connectivity. Besides, when we really need it, there is an off button for everything.  

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Another One Bites The Rim

Again I am in the midst of a short week and just like every other time I have tried to take a day or two off things are not going as planned. The basic schedule that I originally set this week was to put as many hours in during the four days was going to be in the office so that I could take Friday off knowing that nothing was being pushed back to the following week. Essentially, I didn’t want the day off to cause me to fall behind. That timeline took a few dings during work on Monday but nothing that I couldn’t address with my remaining three days.

Well, that all changed during my drive home on Monday night when the asphalt decided to jump up and take another victim. I was almost home when I was one of many cars forced to slam on the breaks to avoid an accident (thanks a-hole who decided last minute to turn into the first Wawa parking lot entrance). That sudden stop prevented me from avoiding the large crater waiting like a Venus Fly Trap to claim another tire.

Seconds later my dashboard lit up like a fireworks display and I turned into the next street. I know how to change a tire as, unfortunately, I have done it a few times before but having to do so on an incline still sucks. When I pulled off the tire I could see the rip in the tire but it was what I say when I looked on the inside that let me know that this was not going to be a quick tire change… the damn rim was bent. Given my past experience it was a rather quick stop and after sweating out my frustration of the day I slowly made my way to the apartment after about 30 minutes.

After shuffling our schedules, I ended up using my wife’s car this week while the dealer ordered a tire and rim… it actually worked out well as she didn’t really need the car too much this week and was able to quickly arrange for a ride to those places she was going. The prolonged process is finally, hopefully, coming to an end this morning but not without a little bonus discover at the dealer that the back right tire needs to be replaced as well. Another big expense that I am not paying for!

That’s right, thankfully I’m not going to be paying for two tires and a rim. While I am usually not a huge proponent of additional coverage when buying a car, I am a firm believer in purchasing tire and rim protection. With this latest stop at the dealer I think I am going to get about three times my investment back over the course of the two years since I purchased the car.

Since I have to be at the dealer I might as well get a few other things taken care of while I am already being inconvenienced so I figured to get the annual inspection and oil change done. With all the work being done to the car today, I should be ready to hit the road early tomorrow morning. It would be nice to get back on schedule for the first time this week. More about that later (hopefully without any other issues to report).

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Reaching Our Goals One Shoe At A Time

As some of you may recall, last year I attending a visitation at Fritz Lodge in Conshohocken when the “Traveling Shoe” was awarded to the lodge with the most brothers visiting that particular night. Well, last night I attended the same visitation and, just like that evening early in my Masonic adolescence, there was a huge turnout. This time around, however, the visitation didn’t simply involve showing up, there was a lot of preparation done beforehand to make things a bit more competitive. 

Less than two months after becoming a mason, I was one of four or five brothers from my lodge who attended the meeting, all of us new masons. It was a litmus test for me as I was, due to no officers being present, the one who spoke for my lodge. It was an interesting night and a lot to take in… I was not going to have our lodge represented in such a way for a second year in a row. With that goal in mind, I worked closely with the Worshipful Master (who had the same thought) to ensure that we had a chance this year especially with the next visitation being at our lodge in the fall.

Of course we put the visitation in the notice and highlighted the importance of the night at our stated meetings. However, that is the usual means of communicating an event. This time we took it a step further. Over the past week there have been a series of emails, texts, phone calls, and speaking with brothers at other Masonic events simply to bring us all together to work toward one goal.

Who goes to Conshy for a shoe? We do.

That’s right. Thanks to a combined effort by all the officers, long standing brothers, and new Masons we were able to secure the old shoe. While we were fairly certain of this outcome as we saw one another arrive before the meeting, having the final tally and the presentation made is what made all the preparation worth it. While a minor achievement in the larger view, it was an exemplification of what we can do when we come together not as individual brothers but as a lodge.

I am proud of what we all accomplished together as a lodge and the diverse group of brothers, ranging from a few months to 65 years, who took the time to ensure that we achieved this goal. As the lodge goes dark for the summer, it is something that we can all enjoy and use as motivation for when we enter the final months of the Masonic year upon our return. I am looking forward to all that we can accomplish together as a lodge.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Another Milestone

Last month I wrote about reaching a major milestone with this blog in that I finally accomplished the main goal that I set at the beginning of this experiment by posting a blog every day for an entire year. Well, as you have been reading, I have not stopped writing and posting. In fact, I have yet to dip under 400 words per post which, at times, is painfully obvious. I know that many of you are aware to these moments because over the weekend this blog surpassed 20,000 views.

Certainly, a lot of you read multiple blogs so I am uncertain as to how many actual readers are out there but it is a nice little milestone nevertheless. And it is one of those things that I really have no control over as all I can do it write, post, and do a little bit of dissemination through my social media accounts. The rest is up to all of you. So, really, this is your accomplishment.

It also got me thinking about how many times this blog is read and all of the views that I have gotten that are not tracked by the aforementioned stat. I know that I have a few people who receive my posts via email which doesn’t register in the total above. I am curious to know what the total really is but also what posts people enjoy reading versus those that they either delete or don’t bother finishing.

While this blog really is serving more as a journal or public diary if you will, I am not going to ignore those that read the contents on a regular basis. Obviously there is something that is interesting of else I wouldn’t have had so many views to date but what is it that you want to read about? You have taken the time to read about my views, time and again, but what are some of your opinions?

While I am happy with the progress that has been made on this blog, there is still something that is lacking… your voice. There are opinions on a variety of topics in the pages of this blog, some popular while others not so much but it should not be solely my opinion that is expressed. While I am sure that what I say represents some people it, by no means, represents everyone. So I open up the discussion to you. You can comment, email me, or write up a guest blog (even if it is of a completely opposite viewpoint). I want to make sure that there are more voices heard rather than just the sounds coming from my mind and mouth.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Saturday Afternoon Detour

Final decision... Smith & Wesson M&P 9C
On Saturday I alluded to a stop that I made on the way back from Scranton with my mentee. Well, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone, at least anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time, that we stopped by my local gun shop. It was actually one of those instances that everything seemed to work out perfectly… we left Scranton earlier than expected, the trip was fast than anticipated, and it turned out that my passenger didn’t have to get back right away and was free for the afternoon. All of those things added up to a slight detour to enjoy looking at a variety of firearms.

It all stemmed from previous conversations that we had discussing additional carry options for him. An upgrade if you will. I kept telling him that we would eventually make it up to Tanner’s Sport Center so that we could take a look around and see what worked for him. This trip put everything into place so that our side trip made sense. We had the time to drive over there and we had plenty of time, up to Scranton and back, to discuss all the things that he wanted in a new carry gun. By the time we got to the shop I had a pretty good list of things that I wanted to show him for consideration.

Now, I want you to keep in mind that I am fully aware that a firearms purchase, especially one that is going to be carried, is a very individual process. Something that works for me, whether it be caliber, size, weight, action, etc., may not work for someone else. I am not a brand loyal shooter. There are too many options and high quality firearms out there that I couldn’t really settle on one brand, model, and caliber. I have my preferences but I am not going to rule anything out (even the cheaper options have their place).

His list was pretty basic: 9mm, smaller, double stack magazine (10+ capacity with larger magazine options as a plus... we live in a free state), and striker fired. Keep in mind that he was carrying a Ruger LCP at the time. So, with those options as a starting point we walking into the gun shop and began browsing the used gun case. While he was asking the sales person if they had a used Glock 26 I spotted a Smith & Wesson M&P 9C off in the corner of the case. While he had a few doubts at first, he soon realize when he put the two side by side that they were the same size with many of the same features. The only real difference is preference in both appearance and feel.

There were also a few single stacks that we pulled out of the case (Walther, Kahr, Smith & Wesson M&P Shield, etc.) but capacity weighed heavily on his decision. What finally pushed him to make the purchase was the various holster options that seemed to work well for him and the extra magazines that were available on the rack. So, in the end, I guess you could say that I helped to guide my mentee in more than just Freemasonry. In both instances, I am really just there to offer advice and guidance with the final decision being his to make. I’m just glad that I am able to help him with two things that he enjoys.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Reflections On Father’s Day

My dad with my grandfather (my mom's dad) from before I was born.
Today I was once again out of the apartment. Usually I don’t like to be out and about two days in a row but there was a darn good reason to get back on the road. This time it was a short trip to my parent’s house about 15 minutes down the road so that I could spend time with the best man I have ever known, my father.  

Father’s Day is commonly seen as a compliment to Mother’s Day and the history of the day expounds upon that progression. A good summary, as is commonly the case, can befound on Wikipedia which outlines the history of Father’s Day in the following way:

Father's Day was inaugurated in the United States in the early 20th century to complement Mother's Day in celebrating fatherhood and male parenting.

After the success obtained by Anna Jarvis with the promotion of Mother's Day in the US, some individuals, such as Sonora Dodd, wanted to create similar holidays for other family members, and Father's Day was the choice most likely to succeed. There were other persons in the US who independently thought of "Father's Day", but the credit for the modern holiday is often given to Sonora Dodd of Central Methodist Episcopal Church, who was the driving force behind its establishment.

Father's Day was founded in Spokane, Washington at the YMCA in 1910 by Sonora Smart Dodd, who was born in Arkansas. Its first celebration was in the Spokane YMCA on June 19, 1910. Her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who raised his six children there. After hearing a sermon about Jarvis' Mother's Day in 1909 at Central Methodist Episcopal Church, she told her pastor that fathers should have a similar holiday honoring them. Although she initially suggested June 5, her father's birthday, the pastors did not have enough time to prepare their sermons, and the celebration was deferred to the third Sunday of June. Several local clergymen accepted the idea, and on 19 June 1910, the first Father's Day, "sermons honoring fathers were presented throughout the city."

However, in the 1920s, Dodd stopped promoting the celebration because she was studying in the Art Institute of Chicago, and it faded into relative obscurity, even in Spokane. In the 1930s Dodd returned to Spokane and started promoting the celebration again, raising awareness at a national level. She had the help of those trade groups that would benefit most from the holiday, for example the manufacturers of ties, tobacco pipes, and any traditional present to fathers. Since 1938 she had the help of the Father's Day Council, founded by the New York Associated Men's Wear Retailers to consolidate and systematize the commercial promotion. Americans resisted the holiday during a few decades, perceiving it as just an attempt by merchants to replicate the commercial success of Mother's Day, and newspapers frequently featured cynical and sarcastic attacks and jokes. But the trade groups did not give up: they kept promoting it and even incorporated the jokes into their adverts, and they eventually succeeded. By the mid-1980s the Father's Council wrote that "(...) [Father's Day] has become a Second Christmas for all the men's gift-oriented industries."

A bill to accord national recognition of the holiday was introduced in Congress in 1913. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson went to Spokane to speak in a Father's Day celebration and wanted to make it official, but Congress resisted, fearing that it would become commercialized. US President Calvin Coolidge recommended in 1924 that the day be observed by the nation, but stopped short of issuing a national proclamation. Two earlier attempts to formally recognize the holiday had been defeated by Congress. In 1957, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith wrote a proposal accusing Congress of ignoring fathers for 40 years while honoring mothers, thus "[singling] out just one of our two parents". In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father's Day. Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

More and more there are moment in my life when I notice that I am beginning to sound or act like my dad (not in the Harry Chapin sort of way) and I couldn’t be happier about that fact. It throws my wife off every once in a while when she notices these things but whenever she points them out I just smile, nod, and think to myself how appreciative I am of that fact. Even the times when my dad and I discuss things we seem to think along the same lines and the discussion progresses quickly… we can summarize the problems of the world rather quickly when we get on a roll.

I wouldn’t trade any of the moments that I have had with my father for anything and I am grateful for all that he has taught me both when instructing me in how to do something, supporting me when things aren’t going well, and the lectures he gave me when I screwed up (I know, your shocked that I’m not a perfect angel). While it may not have been obvious at the time, each of those kinds of moments shaped me into who I am today. Not perfect but much better off for having such a mentor in my life.

While I don’t expect to ever accomplish all that my father has in his life I am trying every day to at least come close. Of course, I doubt that this will ever happen as he still works hard every day and, for the most part, refuses to retire. I just wish that he would stop working one of these days and enjoy all that he has worked so hard for in his life. With that said, I don’t plan to ever stop working either. So, I will end this simply by saying Happy Father’s Day Dad. Thank you for all the help and support that you have given to me over the years without ever asking for anything in return.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Masonic Day Trip to Scranton

Thankfully I took yesterday off because the alarm began blaring early this morning. By the time I got out of bed I knew that my schedule was probably not going to hold up. I had arranged to pick up my mentee by 7:00 am but thanks to some heavy eyes and a few undesirable drivers on the road, I didn’t pull up to his front door until quarter after. With a MapQuest estimate of 2 hours 30 minutes we got on the road with just about 2 hours to make the stated meeting of the Pennsylvania Lodge of Research in Scranton.

As soon as we got on the highway and began heading north, it seemed as though we had a chance to make the meeting on time. We had a great conversation over the many miles and I kind of surprised myself as to how much I have been able to absorb over the past year that I was able to relay to him. Of course, it was also nice to have a few things in common so that we were able to talk about firearms, politics, and may other topics that would make some other people cringe.

With a few miles to go I glanced over at the clock and was shocked by the time that was being displayed… we had over 30 minutes to spare (yes, I stayed close to the speed limit the whole way)! A couple of turns off the highway and we were turning down the block to find parking near the Hilton which we found immediately across the street for five dollars (all day rate). I can’t remember the last time I turned into a parking garage and found rows and rows of open spots as soon as I turned the first corner. You could tell that Scranton party town on Saturday morning.

Once we were able to stretch and walk around to recover from the drive we made our way into the hotel and up the stairs to the meeting were we found a few other brothers from around the commonwealth to chat with for the last few minutes before the gavel sounded. The meeting itself was in a form that we were well familiar with the presentation of a couple of very interesting research papers that I look forward to reading at a later date. The meeting ended about an hour earlier than we were both expecting and, instead of trying to get a couple of last minute tickets for the hotel lunch, we walked down the block a little bit where we came across the numerous statues that surround the Lackawanna County courthouse.

We continued down the street reading the inscriptions and enjoying the different vantage points of the beautiful building.

Before we knew it we had gone around the block and passed what seemed to be a common Rite Aid store until we glanced at the plaque just below the high windows of the pharmacy...

…that’s right, it wasn’t just any Rite Aid, it was the first Rite Aid.

We walked a couple more blocks, enjoyed the clean streets and some of the very well preserved architecture…

…before stopping at City Café Mediterranean Restaurant just as they were opening their doors for lunch. The food was good, not great but good, and the prices were excellent. It was a great way to conclude our time in Scranton as we were only a half block away from the parking garage. While it took us much longer to get back than it did to drive into the mountain town, there was good reason for our delay but I will write more about that little detour on Monday. In the meantime, I look forward to returning to Scranton. This was my first time there and I hope to do some more exploring the next time I am in town (maybe next time I can go up there during the week and stop by Dunder Mifflin).

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Workaholic’s Dilemma

What happens if I turn one of the other two directions?
I decided some time ago that I was going to take today off. The problem that I am running into is that I really don’t know what to do with myself with this extra day away from the office. All of the other days that I have been out of the office had another reason behind them beyond just needing to take time off. I have taken a days off here and there because of holidays, illness, and other commitments during the day. I had something to do. Today I am not sure how I am going to fill the day.

There are a few options. I could go to the range. I could run some overdue errands. I could spend the time in the apartment cleaning or organizing. I could sit at my computer, get ahead on work, catch up on a few lodge tasks, and write a few blogs for future use. There is also a research article that I have to get done for the fall. Nothing seems to be jumping out at me at the moment. I know that my wife will be productive today but I have no motivation to get that much done. Maybe I should just let the day play out and not set an agenda for this rare time away from the office.

On the other hand, I might want to get things together now as this is the first of four consecutive weeks when I will have short weeks. That’s right from this week until the week of the 4th of July, I will be working four days a week. Sounds like a great way to start the summer but if things continue as they are starting off today it may not be as nice as it sounds. I have to find a way to fill my days and be productive but also have the time off be relaxing as well.

The other issue I have with taking time off is that I have a check list constantly running through my mind of things that need to get done as soon as I get back to the office. I am also thinking of the possibilities of things that may come up that someone else will have to handle since I am not at my desk and, potentially, not at my computer today. And, no surprise, I am constantly trying to think about things that I may have possibly forgotten about yesterday that I should have gotten done before the long weekend began.

So, I guess I am going to have to work today as it is going to take some significant effort to calm my mind and focus on the day in from of me. I am going to just let the day play out and pretty much do what I want to do. All of this while staying out of my wife’s way so that she can get everything done that she needs to focus on. Will it be a successful day, I don’t know but I am going to try and see how things go. This might help though...

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Keep Your Debts To Yourself!

Well, with her new book being released, it should be no surprise that Hillary Clinton was in the news again this week. Something else that should not be surprising is that fact that, once again, she is backpedaling to ‘clarify’ the statements that she gave to Diane Sawyer. One thing that you have to keep in mind when this happens is the fact that it is more than likely that all of the questions that she was asked were vetted and responses rehearsed for weeks prior to the two women sitting down for their conversation.

I am sure you have either watched, read, or listened to Mrs. Clinton expounding upon her hardships upon leaving the White House in January 2001 with particular focus on the financial ‘struggles’ that the Clintons’ faced reentering private life. As was reported by CNN, “Mrs. Clinton said she and former President Bill Clinton were "dead broke" and "struggled to piece together the resources" for mortgages in pricey Washington and the New York suburbs and their daughter Chelsea's tuition at prestigious Stanford University.” Yeah, even CNN is calling BS on this one.

Be careful what you say, your face might freeze that way!
I know, it must have been hard struggling to find some means of gainful employment so they could keep paying their mortgages, resolve their debts, and scrape together the pennies to cover Chelsea’s college tuition. Obviously, she had no other choice but to take advantage of the bountiful ‘limited’ opportunities at hand. She didn’t really want to but she had to force herself to make millions of dollars in speaking fees. How else was she going to pay off her millions in debt, keep current on her mortgages, and pay for her daughter’s schooling? It’s not like she could simply move to another state and swipe a Senate seat.

Maybe if Chelsea were in college now Hillary may not have had to work so hard to pay for her college tuition. It seems as though this administration wants everyone to have a college degree that they don’t have to pay for, at least not at full price. Now, I agree that higher education has become outrageously expensive and I am always for getting a discount but I am offended that we, as taxpayers, are going to have to pay for that discount. Where did you think that money was going to come from? If you are going to offer money for education we should, at the very least, give the funds to people that have earned that money and funnel the additional funds into the GI Bill. Oh wait, that's right, you already screwed up the VA.

I don’t know about you but I already have plenty of personal debt that I am trying to pay down without taking on someone else’s burden. I struggle every month to find that little extra so that we can make progress. Slowly we are inching closer and closer solvency but every time a new tax (which is what this whole scheme will end up being) that is a little less each month that I can apply toward solvency. So stop telling me how hard you had it trying to make payments on your numerous homes and the struggles you faced when you were forced to earn millions talking to the mindless throngs of sheep. And, most importantly, stop spending my money on things that don’t make any darn sense and are an insult to financial responsibility.