Sunday, August 31, 2014

Family Day Trip… To Delaware

My wife and I grew up in the Philadelphia area but there are many places in eastern Pennsylvania that we have yet to see. This is largely what motivated us to begin taking day trips last summer. While we have been less active this season, we are still getting out when we can and visiting places that, for one reason or another, we have not explored in previous years. Thankfully, my aunt and uncle helped us check another one of those places off our list yesterday when they treated us to a day at Winterthur.

After falling behind schedule early in the morning trying to get a few urgent items taken care of for the lodge (it is that time of year again) we made our way south and across the state line to meet them in the parking lot of the historic site. We got there a little later than expected but the timing actually worked out well as it allowed us to enjoy a nice lunch in the cafeteria before beginning the tour of the old DuPont estate. Of course, we also discussed some recent genealogy findings during the meal but that is another topic for another post (very exciting new information though).

Half past noon and we boarded the tram car at the visitor’s center to meander through the gardens, forest, and fields. While I wasn’t able to capture much of the 25 minute journey I did manage to get a few reasonable pictures across the vast fields of the gazebo….

…and a farm house in the distance.

It really is an excellent little ride and I am certain that it would be even better during the spring bloom. Maybe next time we will just spend the day walking around the grounds and enjoying the sights and smells.

The ride terminated at the massive mansion which truly is something that you have to stand beside to appreciate the immense scale. Even when looking at the main entrance it is startling to think that this once was a private residence.

Within a few minutes of arrival, we were back in the reception area waiting for the house tour to begin (actually, it is only one floor of the house that you are touring). Before piling our small group into the elevator we passed an interesting hallway that gave a little hint as to what was to follow.

While that small hallway was a hint, it really couldn’t fully provide us an insight as to the elaborate staging that was to follow as was evident in the first room that we entered after getting off the lift…

After a couple more rooms and many details, most of which I cannot recall, we turned the corner and I couldn’t help but notice the silhouette at the far end of the building…

We made our way in that direction and while we didn’t venture out into the sun room with the sculpture, we did find ourselves beside pains of wavy windows…

…and in front of a magnificent staircase.

When you look at the staging and the impact of the sweeping curve it just makes you want to ascent the stairs. As that was not a possibility, I had to at least lean over and take a picture up the center of the spiral…

At this point we were at the far end of the building and while we made a few stops and toured a few rooms on the way back, it was a few of the items in the rooms that caught my attention such as the chandeliers that hung from the ceiling and the varying designs and styles of each one.

However, every once in a while you come across items that make you stop for a moment. The kinds of things that you nearly forget that you have a camera in your hand because you are just caught in the history of the objects before you. That is the kind of feeling you get when you stand in front of George Washington’s china set from Mount Vernon.

While it seemed like it had just begun, the tour was over, we went down the escalator, and we were walking back through the main foyer with a feeling of wanting to see more. Still early in the afternoon, having seen a little bit of the inside, it was time to explore a little of the outside spaces. So we made our way past the soup terrene exhibit and up the stairs where you can get a clear view of the extensive window work currently underway.

From there we strolled down the paths past the open windows…

…the blooming trees….

…and into the open courtyard.

Just above this entertaining space was the heated pool full of fish (I couldn’t catch any with the camera so no picture of the pool this time). Just beyond the far end of the water, you could really appreciate and you could almost see the houseguests slowly making their way down the long staircase from the house to the pool.

We took a few minutes to sit and chat when I noticed that the camera card was full so this is where the pictures end. Front this outdoor entertainment area of the main house, we made our way across the entry courtyard (where we first entered the house) and into a smaller but still grand structure which served as the second DuPont residence when his collections overtook the main space in his home. Now the gift shop and café, we were able to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee and continue our conversation throughout the remainder of the afternoon.

By 4:30 we were heading back to the car and on the road again heading toward the state line. I honestly can’t remember the last time that I spent the day with my aunt and uncle beyond the usual family get together or being at my parent’s house. Actually, I had sadly forgotten how much I enjoy spending time with them and talking with them. I’m glad that we made the time to do this and I am happy that my wife and I were able to see Winterthur for the first time with them. I really couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a Saturday.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

From Genealogy To Freemasonry To Religion: A LinkedIn Group Conversation

Well, I should have expected it but I posted a discussion on LinkedIn with the hope that people would keep to the topic of the group and the intention of the post. Basically, I had taken a post from a few days ago regarding the tour that I gave to a perspective candidate on Tuesday night and how we shared a commonality in our journey to Freemasonry. Our similar stories revolved around the genealogy that we had done on our respective families. With that in mind, I thought that those in the various genealogy groups that I am in would appreciate this coincidence. I also wanted the post to serve as an introduction to masonic records as a valuable genealogical tool.

Thankfully, there were a few people, masons and non-masons alike, which read this post and contributed to the discussion in the way that it was intended. However, there were others that proved to me that the anti-masonic movement is still alive and well (and now on LinkedIn). My favorite fallacy was posted by a supposed former Brother who wrote the following:

Freemasons Hall in London is very helpful with enquiries about masonic ancestors. It is indeed a fascinating subject.

However, having myself been Master of four lodges including one in the Antient and Accepted Rite, I concluded that Freemasonry is in fact a major perpetrator of heretical ideas, notably indifferentism, pelagianism and relativism or modernism. These heresies, pushed to their logical conclusion, deny God, and this is what Freemasonry, despite apparent assertions in its ritual to the contrary, also does.

Further down in the discussion I found the following comment:

I suggest that all should read "deadly deception" and find out the true background of masonry - i havebhad the opportunity to denounce all 33 rd degrees and curses over me ( unknowingly ) by two grandfathers - an uncle and my father .... I agree this forum is for Genealogy NOT masonry!

Please do not write me back - i have 14 books on masonry and breaking free from it! I have studied for years as a born again spirit filled Christian.

So, if I said that I have 15 books on Christianity and have proven all aspects of the New Testament to be false, does that make me an expert? According to this comment it does. But, per her request, I am not writing her back (this post doesn’t count).

This largely religious argument is based on a very simple egotistical view, primarily promoted by the Roman Catholic Church, which is that one cannot see other religions or views of G-d as valid. To support such a view is the same as declaring that there is no G-d and that man is the true center of the spiritual universe. Well, that is there argument and there argument is flat out wrong.

While we accept men of all faiths, we see religion as an individual relationship with G-d based on a man’s proclaimed faith. We do not promote one faith over another and we do not hold one faith above another when considering a candidate. In fact, we do not discuss religion at all during lodge. The ‘faith’ that binds us together, and is a requirement in order for a man to become a Mason, is that we all believe in G-d. The comments such as the ones mentioned above make me wonder how secure those individuals are in their own faith especially those who have no understanding whatsoever of Freemasonry beyond the propaganda.

We are a world full of billions of individuals. While many of our beliefs and associations align and religion (and religious beliefs) are held very close by many of us, we are all still very different. As someone who spent time in my life choosing my faith, I hold those beliefs close to me. However, that journey has also given me substantial insight into the individual process of belief and the varying views that people and religions as a whole hold. If anything, Freemasonry has strengthened my faith in my chosen G-d.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sometimes I Have To Work To Relax…

I have a huge problem… don’t all chime in at once… in that I can’t seem to turn off my mind during my days off. For the first time in a long time, I took a day off today with nothing on the calendar. I didn’t have a specific place that I had to be or event that I had to attend. It was a bit of an odd feeling.

Without something to keep me occupied, I found myself getting up early, a little later than usual due to my not wanting to get out of bed, and almost immediately getting on the computer and sending emails. While there are a few things that had to be taken care of that carried over from the work week, there wasn’t too much that was pressing. However, while there is no doubt that I was working, it didn’t feel like work. I was in a completely different headspace while my fingers scurried across the keyboard.

Thankfully, I did have a general idea of a few things that I wanted to do so by the early afternoon I was out the door and on my way to the range. I can’t just sit back and dwell in the apartment, I need to be social and one of my social hobbies was calling me. Heck, it is a great way for me to relax as well.

By the time my wife called me after work, I was feeling much more relaxed. Usually by the end of the day, especially at the end of the week, I am wiped out but with the laid back but productive kind of day that I had, I still had plenty of energy to drive over to the mall and get a few errands taken care of before we sat down for a fancy food court dinner. Now, we have one less trip that we have to make this weekend which frees up a few hours to get some other things done in the apartment. After all, we still have three days left in the weekend.

With an easy day leading into the night, I find myself with a little extra energy and focus to check a few other items off my weekend list a little early. While I can’t say, by most people’s definition, that this is going to be a relaxing weekend, it is just what I need to get back on track with just enough down time so that I can go into the three day week reenergized. I know, sometimes I am pretty good at scheduling.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Why Am I So Tired?

After a longer than expected evening at the lodge (for good reason), I headed back to the apartment only to find that the fire department was using the front driveway of the building as a parking lot. It’s kind of sad, but this happens so often that I didn’t think much of it as I walked across the parking lot and opened the door. However, as soon as I put down my work bag I knew that it was going to be one of those nights. Within moments of walking through the kitchen and pulling the strap off my shoulder, the fire alarm began blaring.

Both from living in the building and working the front desk, I knew that this wasn’t going to go away quickly so I headed to the lobby to try and get some additional information on the situation. Can’t say that I was surprised when no one really knew what was going on at first and the president of the board refused to do anything beyond sitting in a chair and holding out her hand so the passersby could more easily kiss the ring. 45 minutes later and a couple of culprits emerged, neither of which involved smoke or fire.

As it turns out there was a faulty sensor in the pump room and some dust also got into the detector in one of the hallways 6 months finally getting drywall replaced 6-8 months after the bust pipe. With my wife only a few minutes away after her long day at work, I was glad that things seemed to be getting resolved. I really should know better!

Having not had time to eat before the debacle, I made a small snack as we talked about all that had happened during our days and the mess that was unfolding in the building. We got into bed around 11:00 and began slowly settling into sleep since we both had a long day ahead of us. With our eyes nearly sealed for the night, we jumped out of bed at 11:30 when the alarm began blaring again. Keep in mind that this was not for the whole building, just our apartment as they were testing the system.

We walked up to the front desk, quite perturbed by this point, and tried to figure out what was going on especially since the fire department was no longer present. Turns out that the fire department forced them to turn off the boiler until they could get the sensor problem figured out. They decided to continue working on the sensor issue so that they could turn on the hot water by morning.

I didn’t sleep well during the night. I would later find out that the alarm continued to go off throughout the night just long enough to wake us up but not long enough for us to realize what was forcing us to open our eyes. However, I was wide awake when the cold water hit my head in the morning. So, after little quality sleep during the night it was a cold shower in the morning. Just the latest thing to add to the list and that much more incentive to find somewhere else to live by the time our lease is up… I’m already looking forward to spring!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Favorite Kind Of Email

A pile of petitions ready to be filled out!
During the course of my regular morning at the office I opened up my lodge mail just to make sure that there were no masonic fires that needed to be put out. Just the usual daily task that I have integrated into my routine at work. Usually there is nothing to read however there are occasions when I get emails that have to be addressed right away. Fortunately, this was not one of those instances. Actually, I received the best kind of email… an inquiry from a prospective candidate who wanted to learn more about the lodge, becoming a mason, and freemasonry in general.

As it turns out, our journey of inquiry was very similar. While I had known about my uncle and my grandfather (different sides) having been masons, it wasn’t until I really got into the genealogy and the legacy of the fraternity that I became interested in learning about freemasonry and subsequently interested in becoming a Mason. The email I received came with a similar story as he had been researching his own family and discovered that his great great grandfather was a Mason in New York. That was the catalyst that started his initial journey to the fraternity and lead him to contacting my lodge.

So, after a few emails back and forth we agreed to meet at the lodge last night. Hey, I’m already there on Tuesday nights so I might as well not waste time and show him around and meet him face to face. I got to the lodge a bit early and took care of a few meetings before the 7:30 appointment. Just the usual weekly items that need to be taken care of with the Treasurer. With about 10 minutes to go some of the other Brothers began walking up to the front door. Soon after, and 5 minutes early, the prospective candidate turned the corner and approached us asking if I was the one with whom he previously spoke.

We walked around the lodge, top to bottom, and talked for about 30 minutes. While I can’t say that I am the best at giving tours, I have gotten better since the last time I showed someone around. He asked a few questions here and there but, for the most part, he seemed to want more of the formal introduction to the lodge that this tour was accomplishing. At the end of the evening, I handed him a petition and invited him to dinner next Thursday so that he can meet many more brothers and talk with them about becoming a Mason.

It is this initial reaction and exposure that really makes me think back to the moment I walked through the doors of the Grand Lodge in Philadelphia and asked to speak to someone about becoming a mason. That first step can sometimes be the hardest but at soon as you take it the rest of the steps soon follow and before long you are walking along the Masonic path in a journey that lasts a lifetime… sometimes a journey that spans generations. Yes, this morning I got my favorite kind of email and I look forward to the next one to pop up in my inbox.

Yeah, The Grand Lodge is a little bigger than my lodge.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Israel Under Fire (From More Than Rockets)

So, while under rocket attack from Hamas, Israel negotiated a cease fire. But, honestly, let’s call this what it really is… giving in to the mounting international pressure (especially from the anti-Israel UN) so that you can have a few days of silence before Hamas launches more rockets, you retaliate, and Israel is deemed the aggressor. Basically, a giant Middle Eastern circle jerk.

What happened to the hard line that Bibi seemed so proud to be walking? What happened to the putting an end to this conflict once and for all? Where did the common sense go?

Honestly, we shouldn’t be surprised. This is basically what has happened every time ever since Israeli politicians began giving up land fought for and earned by the blood of their fellow Israelis. This is a dangerous trend that seems to have no end and that, at best, Israel comes out of the conflict a little worse off in the eyes of the media and the gullible public. Of course, this brings up another interesting story that was making the media rounds today.

A former AP correspondent, Motti Friedman, published a story in Tablet magazine about the failings of the main stream media in reporting the war in Israel and reporting on Israel in general. This is a tremendous read and one that should be noted as one of the few, if not the only, honest account of the world media and their treatment of the Jewish state. Unfortunately, this kind of reporting is not new as Freidman writes:

“The lasting importance of this summer’s war, I believe, doesn’t lie in the war itself. It lies instead in the way the war has been described and responded to abroad, and the way this has laid bare the resurgence of an old, twisted pattern of thought and its migration from the margins to the mainstream of Western discourse—namely, a hostile obsession with Jews. The key to understanding this resurgence is not to be found among jihadi webmasters, basement conspiracy theorists, or radical activists. It is instead to be found first among the educated and respectable people who populate the international news industry; decent people, many of them, and some of them my former colleagues.”

While reporters face tremendous danger, death threats, and, as we have seen recently, death, there is still little criticism surrounding those who are making these threats, posing these dangers, and taking innocent lives. Not only has it prevented reporting of the facts from actually occurring, it has prevented the truth from being told on more than one occasion. This is best explained when Freidman writes:

“There has been much discussion recently of Hamas attempts to intimidate reporters. Any veteran of the press corps here knows the intimidation is real, and I saw it in action myself as an editor on the AP news desk. During the 2008-2009 Gaza fighting I personally erased a key detail—that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and being counted as civilians in the death toll—because of a threat to our reporter in Gaza. (The policy was then, and remains, not to inform readers that the story is censored unless the censorship is Israeli. Earlier this month, the AP’s Jerusalem news editor reported and submitted a story on Hamas intimidation; the story was shunted into deep freeze by his superiors and has not been published.)”

This is particularly startling when taken into account the means by which Hamas is reported. Actually, it’s more about how much is not written and how focused the media wolves are on every aspect of Israeli politics, culture, etc. It is not about wanting to better understand, it is all about finding the minute failings (this is a term applied by the outsider) in individuals and groups and applying them to Israel as a whole. This is not reporting, this is find a way to paint a picture, frame a story, box a topic that fits the views of the reporter and the media outlet. As Freidman explains:

“Israeli actions are analyzed and criticized, and every flaw in Israeli society is aggressively reported. In one seven-week period, from Nov. 8 to Dec. 16, 2011, I decided to count the stories coming out of our bureau on the various moral failings of Israeli society—proposed legislation meant to suppress the media, the rising influence of Orthodox Jews, unauthorized settlement outposts, gender segregation, and so forth. I counted 27 separate articles, an average of a story every two days. In a very conservative estimate, this seven-week tally was higher than the total number of significantly critical stories about Palestinian government and society, including the totalitarian Islamists of Hamas, that our bureau had published in the preceding three years.”

For those of us who have been paying attention to the media, listening to what is actually being said, and talking to those living in Israel we have been aware of this massacre of the truth perpetuated by the media. I am grateful for the honesty that has been so succinctly reported in this piece and I hold out hope that, one day, actual reporting will return to the Middle East and Israel in particular. Maybe we can have a few honest voices on the ground when this current ceasefire is shattered by the sound of rocket fire.

Monday, August 25, 2014

I Guess I’m Not Welcomed At The Cool Kids Table…

Forgive me for not being as excited as some others about this whole Ice Bucket Challenge thing. I have been a joiner and a follower in my life and it doesn’t really agree with me. I have other charities and causes to which I contribute both my time and, when I am able, a little money now and again. While ALS is a great cause which to donate, I have others which are where my passion lies and that are much more personal to me… that is where I chose to focus my efforts.   

With that said, I have to give credit to the person that started this campaign/fad. At this moment, I can’t recall a nonprofit having such a huge social media campaign that has crossed so many cultural, economic, and international lines. It’s the kind of marketing/fund raising campaign that makes you just marvel at the speed and efficiency of how fast this has spread. And while there is tremendous purpose and a great cause behind these videos, pictures, posts and the campaign in general, there is a bit of a downside to such success.

While this has raised awareness for ALS which is a great thing to have happened and probably the primary purpose behind this campaign’s creation, the campaign itself seems to be overshadowing the cause. It is no longer about how much money has been raised for ALS or really any education about the disease, it is all about seeing someone pour ice cold water on their head. It is slowly descending into the realm of an entertaining fad that people insist on being a part of… it is membership to the cool kids table.

I consider myself a bit indifferent at this point slightly leaning toward tired of seeing all the nonsense on the internet. While I don’t hold the same view of this campaign as one of my friends, I think it is important to share the views from the other side:

While there is a lot said in this screen shot, the comment he made following this post adds the color that as apropos to this discussion:

“And please don't take this the wrong way. I'm happy that these "games" seem to work and perhaps in some cases lots of people are helped, provided more than 5% of donations actually go to people in need and not administration. I might get ALS tomorrow, who knows! It's just that anything that is overdone tends to turn me off. I know it raises awareness. Just consider it a quirk in me or even a character flaw; I just can't help it; it's the way I am.”

Don’t get me wrong. I am by no means against supporting this or any other charitable cause I just wish that people knew what they were donating to and truly raising awareness about the disease. It really makes me wonder whether these kinds of campaigns, in the end, do more harm than good for the cause. In the coming years will this cause be considered ‘so last year’ among the celebrities and their followers? I honestly can’t give you a definitive answer to that. I hope not but it is not out of the realm of possibility.

However, if there is one message that I hope that everyone takes away from this social media one up game is that if you have a charity or cause you are passionate about take the time to not just donate but put some effort into supporting the cause and the work that they do. Don’t just post an over the top video, channel that effort into supporting a cause close to you. That is how we can make a greater difference above and beyond a clever social media marketing campaign.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Pulling The Cable Tow Into The 21st Century

I was out of the apartment and on the road by 6:00 am yesterday on my way to spend the day in Elizabethtown. You know it’s early when it is still a dark August morning when you start the car. It has been oddly cool this summer so the mist on the windshield stubbornly held on for about a half hour not completely streaking off until I hit the 70 MPH zone on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. All told, including a 20 minute delay due to a nasty car fire just outside of Lancaster, it took about an hour forty five minutes to get to the Masonic Conference Center. Just in time for the day long IT training to begin.

Surrounded by what are now familiar faces, it was an interesting delve into a completely overhauled online membership ad banking system that the Grand Lodge will be rolling out in due time. While we were definitely experimenting with an early version of the site, there are a number of things that, in the end, will be a huge upgrade to a currently antiquated system. Of course, with that said, there are countless holes and many things that will need to be adopted by lodges before the new tools and be fully leveraged.

It was a nearly ten hour day fully of demonstrations and explanations of how the completely unique system and overall way that things are done in a lodge is now being integrated in what is normally a one size fits all Salesforce model. While adjustments have been made, many of us familiar with the company can see where things didn’t quite fit and take note of how various programs and allowances were changed. Needless to say, it will be interesting playing the role of IT support specialist for the district once this is rolled out to all the Masonic lodges in Pennsylvania.

It was also interesting to watch a young group of presenters get up in front of the room and do their best to explain all the systems, capabilities, and programs that they normally pitch to a large company. This was not a crowd they were used to (but handled pretty well) and many of the questions and concerns were pushed back or handed off to Grand Lodge officers. Again, we are a unique fraternity with a system that goes back hundreds of years trying to pull the rest of our brothers into the 21st century. It is going to be a task and a half.

In the end, this is going to be much more than an IT support specialist role that we all play. We are going to basically have to sell this to our fellow brothers. We have to show them, no matter how long they have been a member of this fraternity, the benefits that this new system will bring to freemasonry in the state, the lodge, and especially to them. It is going to be a long haul with a lot of extra work, especially for Secretaries, importing, collecting, checking, and verifying all the data needed to ensure that we all get the greatest benefit possible from this new system. I guess it will just be a matter of time , most likely years, before this actually makes my job easier.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ever Lose Track Of Your Vacation Days?

That is exactly what happened to me this year. It has been tough to take time off this past year as business has been constantly busy and I really haven’t had a good reason to stay ways from the office. With that said, I find myself with a couple months to go before I get a new crop of vacation days. Well crap, I guess I am going to have to take some time off since they will not carry over. So, this past week I finally sat down and took a look at my calendar.

It is difficult for me to take the time for myself as, and I have been very clear about this in previous posts, I enjoy working. I like going to the office every day and making things happen. To do anything else would make the week feel a little incomplete. But I guess that is something that I have to get over especially now with how tired I have been lately and the massive changes that are on the horizon. Something has to give and if taking time off with help that situation then I am happy to oblige.

However, I know that the next couple of months are going to be critical to ramping programs back up for the busier time of year so my decisions on what days to take are influenced by that factor… no long blocks. Additionally, all of us that started around the same time are in the same position and we are making sure that our days don’t overlap… a few less options but nothing I was looking at anyway. What was left were a few long weekends that will do wonders for the rest of the year and while I don’t plan on using every one of my days (I might use about half of my work from home days as well), there are a few breaks that have been worked into the schedule.

There are a few days that I am taking off for the simple convenience of it (i.e. late night at the lodge the night before) but, for the most part it is going to be a few weeks of long weekends and doing my best to finally get caught up on everything else especially in the home office. Working in my favor I the fact that my wife just got a regular position in a local school district leaving me along for the day to buckle down and get things done. Maybe, just maybe, all of those projects that have been pushed back since I started working regularly will get done and we can go into the end of the year with a clean slate.

So, expect a few different posts in the coming months as I will have more time to enjoy and focus on other things. It will be an odd feeling not going to the office ‘just because’ but it give me an opportunity to relax, enjoy something else for a change, and record it all right here. Who knows, maybe there will be something that you aren’t expecting and if you want to get together during those days send me an email and maybe we can coordinate something a little different.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Social Hobbies

Growing up I went through a lot of hobbies and, in hind sight, wasted a lot of money. They were the usual stable of collections from baseball cards to comic to coins. As I got older those hobbies shifted slightly with the collection of signed books, movies, music, and various autographs. For the most part, they were all singular in nature allowing me to escape with my collections. While there were the occasional social aspects to each of those hobbies, they were more of a solitary process of sorting, cataloging, and researching.

Books may have been the start to the socialization of my hobbies as many of them I got signed while doing readings and interacting with other authors through phone, email, and in person conversations. Surprisingly, I was seen as an equal with many publications beginning to publish my own work. In fact, I was also becoming an enabler of their book obsessions as well as I would happily sell (or trade) and sign my books. The writing process still held that solitary safety for me but everything beyond that initial creation was completely social.

Event now, the writing process is one that I do at my computer without the distractions of the day (or, more commonly, night). It is a process that I continue to struggle with but one that immediately becomes social as the blogs are posted and the interactions (mostly on LinkedIn) begin. While these pieces differ greatly from my initial introduction into writing and publishing, the process remains the same. Writing has also brought my other hobbies into the public realm of discussion.

I find my family history fascinating and the research process is engrossing to say the least. Recording and sharing some of my findings and recreating many of the stories has become an important part of genealogy for me as it has become a means to share (and sometime correct) the various aspects of our eclectic family. Not only has the dialogue within my family been an amazing way to find additional details, sharing on this blog and through social media has opened up avenues of discussion that I wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed. Even the messages on have been great ways to socialize and learn more.

Writing has also made my firearms hobby one that is increasingly social as I am frequently asked by friends and brothers for reviews, recommendations, and general feedback on certain companies, makes, models, calibers, etc. For those of you unfamiliar with shooting sports, this is an endless list of possibilities. While I can’t say that I know a lot, I know a little bit and offer my opinions accordingly. Heck, I may even spend a few more minutes on those reviews/recommendations and post them to the blog. However, beyond the writing, range time, and frequent discussions, this is still a solitary sport that required focus and attention to detail at the firing line.

So, I guess to you could say that my hobbies have evolved from being primarily of a solitary nature to ones that are mostly social. And the same thing can be said about my personality. I was not an outgoing or social child growing up but, over time, I have come to enjoy a good crowd, great conversations with people I just met, and generally being out and about. Plus, the more social I got the more opinionated I have become and that has made this whole writing thing much more satisfying and fun.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

That’s My Child!

Helloooo Baby!
Early this morning I couldn’t help but quote the Big Bopper when I saw the picture come into focus. Before our eyes, we saw the profile of our baby slowly take shape as the woman moved the ultrasound around my wife’s stomach. What a drastic change from what we saw just five weeks ago!

We were still a little dumbfounded as they began measuring and checking all that they could in the image to make sure that the little one was progressing normally. Given their parents, this might be the only time in their life that they are considered normal. After these initial still shots, it was time for baby to have a little fun. Yes, it turns out that baby likes to mess with people just like their daddy.

Throughout the process, the baby was moving around and having fun in their little rent free dwelling. When it came time for some more pictures that required the baby to be in a certain position that is when it decided to do their own thing… we could hear the doctor talking, asking the baby to lay on its back followed by a slight nudge with the scanner.

Baby did exactly what you think it did, it rolled onto its belly. It took numerous attempts and a few minutes before the baby rolled all the way around. This is when we could really see the profile and see the face of our child. Five or six still frames later the doctor was almost done but baby had enough. Baby raised their arm, either to wave bye or make their first attempt at giving someone the finger, and rolled over again. That’s my child!

That was the end of our visit for today and I will say that this was the best reason to roll out of bed early. Even groggy, it was an exciting morning for the two of us and another day that we will never forget (at least until we are old and senile). Now we just have to wait for some blood work and come back for some more family photos in a couple months… I guess my wife knows what she is getting for her birthday this year!

Twelve weeks in, the baby is healthy and the reality is really starting to settle in. While I was never in denial, seeing a much more developed picture of our child really hit home and has me both a little concerned about our living and financial situation but also eager to meet him or her (I still think it is a boy). It has been quite an early morning and a really long day of thinking.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Not Just Another Doughboy

My great grandfather, John Lewis Hallman, was born on 29 December 1894 to a farmer father in what is now considered the Philadelphia suburbs. By the time he turned seven he was helping his father support the family without a mother in his life. Nearly a decade late, when he was 16, he was employed as a driver for the Hansell family. While he had no idea what he would face later in life, it is clear that this experience would serve as a formidable introduction to the automobile.

The Autocar Logo, 1912.
Now in his 20’s, John was working as a machinist at the Autocar Company in Ardmore. For those of you, especially locals, unfamiliar with the manufacturer, despite innovative and commercial success of their cars, Autocar retooled their plant in 1911 to focus exclusively on producing commercial trucks. Most likely, this is when John Hallman joined the company as training and new positions with the company were readily available. The largest employer in the township, he would remain with the company throughout his working life. Of course, there was one 19 month period when he was forced to work elsewhere.

John registered for the draft in June of 1917 and proceeded to wait while the conflict intensified. In December of that year, John Hallman was enlisted as a Private in the United States Army. While in basic training, the government was looking for ways to more efficiently support the new mechanical army. This lead to General Order No. 75 and the formation of the Motor Transport Corps (MTC) out of the Quartermaster Corps on 15 August 1918. At the time of its formation, this new corps recruited from within the existing ranks skilled tradesmen who were previously working in the burgeoning automotive industry. My great grandfather was one of those men recruited to serve in the 301st MTC.

The 301st was one of three units of approximately 1,150 men each that worked in the 1,000 acre MTC reconstruction park in Verneuil, Nievre (central France). During the Great War, the reconstruction park was the end of the line for service vehicles. While at the overhaul parks, when the repair of a vehicle exceeded 30% of the initial costs, they were sent to the reconstruction park for salvage. These parks were an essential part of this new kind of warfare as was made clear by the Distinguished Service Medal being awarded to Colonel Harry A. “Bull” Hegeman who was in command of the park during the war. The park was also visited in early 1919 by Generals John J. Pershing and, later, James Harbord. The MTC was dissolved after the war in 1920.

On 18 June 1919, ten days before the signing of the Treaty of Versaille, John Hallman was discharged from the Army and returned home and resumed his employment with Autocar where he would later work with his son-in-law (another story for another day). Later that year he married my great grandmother, Sarah Mabel Ardis, and two years later they welcomed their first child, my grandmother, Isabelle. John Hallman died on 3 January 1957 less than a year after the old Autocar plant in Ardmore was torn down.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Coming Out Of The Dark Months

While I have been going to the lodge every Tuesday evening throughout the summer, tonight was the official back to work night as training resumed and other projects began pouring in. Maybe it is because of my schedule, but it really doesn’t seem like I have had any time away from the business of the lodge. Of course, that might be because of the ongoing meetings, appointments, and other events that were spread throughout the dark months.

While I enjoyed the slower pace for a time, I have also gotten behind on a few things with forms that still need to be submitted, orders placed, and coordination in dire need of being figured out. These are the things that lead to my ever so slight ‘oh crap’ moment when the long list of things that needed to be handled was still hanging above my desk without any check marks having been placed beside the items. What can I say, slow months just don’t work for me as they inevitably lead to a bit of procrastination and disorganization.

Thankfully, the brothers will soon be filling in the rooms of the lodge and the additional push I needed has already begun. Schedules are beginning to fill up and meeting are already being planned. Things should return to some semblance of normalcy just in time for Grand Lodge to change the entire online system that we have all been struggling with as of late. While I am not looking forward to the long training sessions and change over, I am hopeful that the end result will be a much better system that will save a lot of time and effort.

All of those things will be taken care of in time… very soon as a matter of fact… but, right now, it was great seeing our new brothers once again walk through the door undeterred by the long summer respite and ready to take the next step. It makes me think of last summer when shortly after being made a mason the dark months descended upon us. I eagerly anticipated the fall when the meetings resumed. It is a moment of returning from a long vacation similar to when you come back to the comforts of home after a business trip.

Now, my business is at the lodge but I still look forward to that September meeting in the same way and I am excited to reconnect with all the brothers that have stepped away from the lodge for the summer. Yes, it is time to get back to work but it is the work that I enjoy. Maybe more importantly, it is time to continue the traditions and further the fellowship among brothers especially those who are new to our fraternity.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Prolonging The Conflict

Israeli-distributed candies in the West Bank bear the slogan
'Here are some sweets because Hamas is making life bitter in the West Bank.'
For more than a month, Hamas and Israel have been doing back and forth both on the ground and in the conference room. Papers and missiles have been exchanged on a regular basis with no realistic end in sight. Those that haven’t been keeping current on the conflict probably don’t realize that it has been that long… it seems as though this is one of those unfortunate wars when we lose sight of the beginning.

During this prolonged conflict, ceasefires have come and gone and holidays have passed by without peace prevailing. Tisha B'Av offered little respite during this time but hope remained palpable as people reflected on the loss, the strife, the anger, the fear. What are usually marked as days unlike other in the surrounding blocks of the calendar, were a continuation of the same emotions dominating the regional psyche. For Jews, this was just another event to mourn during this sorrowful day.

Tisha B'Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which have occurred on the ninth of Av.

Tisha B'Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.).

Although this holiday is primarily meant to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, it is appropriate to consider on this day the many other tragedies of the Jewish people, many of which occurred on this day, most notably the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and from England in 1290.

It is during these times of what is usually holy celebration and reverence when the claws are drawn throughout the world. The back and forth between conflict and ceasefire, holiday and conflict, has the world in an uproar for all the wrong reasons. So who is to blame? Unlike many of the protests and ‘reports’ Israel is not to blame for the elusiveness of peace.

Every ceasefire that has been negotiated and strong armed have not been times for the people of Israel to break or the IDF to relax. They have served as perpetual countdowns to the next rocket to sail over the boarder at innocent civilians. This FACT seems to be lost on the world. However, as we have reflected on what has seemed like a prolonged period of mourning, we have kept in the forefront of our minds that, while the situation is tenuous, it will pass and be but a memory which we will forever remember. We are strong, we will fight, and we will not allow the world to destroy our land or expel our people. Hope will prevail and peace will once again return to our land.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Not The Kind Of Day I Look Forward To Or Enjoy…

I had been dreading today for weeks now (i.e. procrastinating) and I have, unfortunately, done everything that I could to postpone, delay, and generally ignore the issue for too long. Of course, every time I did that things got a little worse with a little more dust collecting in the corners. Today, like many times before, we finally took the time to clean the apartment. Well, at least most of it as there is still about twenty five square feet that is still unusable as a result of the delays in getting the leak ‘fixed’. It’s only been about six weeks (or more).

Anyway, even with that section of the apartment out of commission, there was still plenty of areas that needed to be addressed and sorting projects that needed to be checked off the list. What was a little different this time was that we were both finally ready to get a handle on the problem so we were able to go back and forth getting small things done one after the other. Of course, I made sure that my wife had a few projects to do where she could sit at the dining table which was were much of the sorting took place.

As a result of this deep dive into the dust and unsorted mess, we found a number of things that we had both forgotten about as they were set aside for one reason or another to be dealt with at a later time. From books, to papers, to cloths, we had a variety of such discoveries and now they have been put back where they are supposed to be and where they are readily accessible. However, one of the things that is all too common is the realization of how much crap you have accumulated and how many things should have been thrown away but, for some reason, weren’t.

Between cleaning and sorting out the crap, I hauled nine trash bags to the dumpster throughout the day. Also, as is a natural result of our deep cleanings, we set aside a few bags of things that we will be giving away and a few items that we will be selling (mostly books and DVD’s). It was just one of those times when we realized that we hadn’t been missing them and haven’t taken them off the shelf for such a long time that it wasn’t worth the limited space to keep them. I am sure there will be more stuff once we are able to complete the cleaning and sorting (see roadblock above).

So now, after some sweeping, vacuuming, and dusting, I am finally taking the time to relax for the day knowing that this project is far from over. In addition to the things that we need to take care of in the main living space we still have piles of laundry to do and an entire office to sort. But, we made progress and the apartment does feel a lot better than when we got up this morning. Finally, there seems to be an end in sight.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Driving And The Local

It’s great to set plans and get away for a weekend but sometimes it is nice to just get in the car and drive somewhere without a particular schedule. This was the balance of our Saturday as we drove up the northeast extension, got off the highway just north of where we had previously looked at apartments, and meandered up and down the semirural roads just enjoying the scenery and looking around. Despite a few pockets of traffic, within a couple of hours since leaving the apartment we found ourselves sitting at another small restaurant beside the railroad tracks although this was definitely a distinctly different location than Hungry Bear Café.

The Local was chosen on a complete whim as we quickly pulled up a map of lunch spots as we crossed the line between Telford into Souderton. Sitting at a table on the old train platform it was a beautiful small town location with Main Street peaking between the sunflowers at the far end of the repurposed depot. I really wish I had gotten a picture of this to share but as we let the house just for a little exploration I completely forgot to put the camera in the car. I’ll get one next time.

The food was pretty darn good as I had eggs benedict (with extra crispy Scrapple on the side) and my wife had a veggie omelet. The coffee was surprisingly tasty as well. You’d be surprised (well, some of you wouldn’t) at how hard it is to find both a good cup of coffee and properly prepared scrapple. Eggs benedict is a fairly consistent way to measure a small breakfast spot as well. So, yes, in addition to the view, we will be returning to The Local in the near future when we continue exploring that area.

After our satisfying stop we got back in the car and continued to weave our way through the small towns as we made our way back to the highway. With the moderate August weather and the roads fairly clear, it was a nice day to be out driving without a plan especially away from the business of the main line. With the afternoon quickly passing us by, we made a couple final stops. The first was to partake in a classic summer treat (for the second weekend in a row) at Rita’s and the second was a stop to a local book store where we actually walked out empty handed.

Nearly home from our casual day, I couldn’t help but think about the ways that things will be different this time next year. With a new baby on the way, we hope to have a home of our own next summer. Where? No idea at this point as we have to restart our search in future months. I just hope that with all the changes, and another year at my current job, we have a greater sense of security and permanence in our life. That would be a welcomed change from the past few years of wondering and worrying about what was going to happen next and were we were going to end up.

Friday, August 15, 2014

WTF Of The Week: Missouri Riots Edition

Throughout this past week I have been listening to the radio, reading the articles, and watching the news surrounding the protests, riots, and general insanity taking place in Ferguson, Missouri. I have been hearing people talk about the militarization of the police in the this country and I have been watching Al Sharpton stirring up the crowds filling the streets in an attempt to further incite the racial hatred that continues to brew. All of this stemming from a tragic incident that no one is able to explain or even tell you exactly what happened. The only thing we really know for certain is that a community is so pissed off that they have decided to riot and tear apart their own community.

Yeah, I don’t understand it either.  

This is one of those events that is playing out across this country fueled by visceral reactions. Like many of the other polarizing heinous acts that we have all witnessed, people are taking to social media, writing editorials, and screaming from the sidelines without having any facts to support their intense feelings. This incident has also served as the jumping off point to further the agenda of those looking for a reason to leverage race to make and accusation of racism and inequality…. like Al Sharpton.

This just goes to show that the fact that we do have are being forgotten namely that we doing know what happened and that tragedy doesn’t have a race. Insisting that tragedy is associated with race is inherently racist. But this is what debates have come to today especially those that touch upon, in any way shape or form, politics. Knowing that we have a crappy President is, according to today’s standards, racist. Forget the fact that he is just a crap President who has played more rounds of golf since he took office than Tiger Woods (look it up).

And it is this liberal mentality that has many newspaper outlets scared. It doesn’t matter if you are telling the truth about what is going on in Ferguson. If people don’t like what the picture is portraying they will let you know and, in the case of the Philadelphia Daily News, force the publication to change the cover. After all, media is a business. And with newspaper sales in the toilet, they can’t afford to alienate any readers. It’s not like the days when you your audience was so expansive that you didn’t have to worry about losing part of your audience. Of course, at that time people cared about the facts more than the emotion.

Given that the more confrontational and overall vocal portion of the audience is of the liberal persuasion, this is a big reason why journalism is beginning to rot away under heavy liberal bias required by much of the readership. Facts have become secondary as credible sources and quality reporting have become a target of doubt rather than news. Only time will tell if this will bring about the eventual downfall of the media as we used to know it or if the media polarization will soon neutralize and return to an unbiased state (or at least get close).  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Remembering Speed Bump, Cujo, and Munchkin…

On my way home from the office this evening I got a call from my wife who was sobbing on the other end of the line. Now, given the fact that she is pregnant, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something wrong. However, tonight she had a darn good reason as she had just learned that her beloved little doggy was gone.

She got Little Prince at a time in her life when she needed a furry companion (long before I filled that role) and while she hadn’t lived with the dog for many years, it was still her dog. He had been struggling for some time now so, while sad, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to the partially blind, diabetic, little Munchkin. While it has been a long time coming, it was still a sudden turn of events and it got me thinking about the pets I have had and lost during my life.

I have had a lot of pets during my life from cats and dogs to birds, goldfish, and a hamster. Heck, we even had a pig. While I enjoyed having each one of these animals especially when I was growing up, I had a particularly affinity for the two dogs that have come and gone. Those were the two that were particularly hard to lose and I still think about each of them from time to time.

The first was Laddy (also known as ‘Speed Bump’). This is the dog that I have written about before that completely lost the use of its tail (this was at the same time he became a barking speed bump). This was my first dog and I can still remember coming down the stairs in the morning and seeing him lying on the family room floor. My parents were away and my grandmother was watching us at the time. While she thought the dog was just sleeping we knew that it was time to call my uncle as that speed bump was no longer moving.

Hally followed soon after and while she might have seemed like Cujo to the little kids in the neighborhood, she was the nicest dog and always knew when I wasn’t feeling good or if I was in pain. Both times that I had my knee cleaned out I remember the dog following me around the house and jumping onto my, at the time, slim stomach as soon as I would lay down on the couch. Of course, the funniest thing was that during my healthier times when I would be running outside she would join me only taking a break to run over to the neighbor’s yard to take a crap. She wasn’t the same dog toward the end, which she seemed to know was near, and while it was sad I was glad to see her no longer struggling.

Now my parents no longer have a dog and instead have a cat with an odd obsession with concussions and an abnormal aversion to nature. She continues to live up to the name we gave her as a kitten, Nada, because there is little going on between those ears and behind that Scooby like expression. And while I do not have the same connection with this animal, it will still be sad when her single synapse stops transmitting.

For now we say so long to the little doggy that got my wife through a hard time without which we may have never met. He is no longer enduring his daily struggle and will now, finally, be able to rest. His worries are gone and my wife’s constant worries about his well-being can now cease occupying her mind. And with a baby on the way she will soon have another furry munchkin to love.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Early Morning Phone Calls

Still groggy from my unfulfilling sleep last night, I woke up this morning moving a little slower than usual and not completely processing everything efficiently. By eight o’clock I was getting ready to get out the door when the phone rang. I noticed that it was maintenance and, knowing exactly what it was about, I let it go to voicemail. I will pick up my apartment key when I get home after work.

Five minutes later my phone rang again (I really have to remember to turn the volume off at night). My initial thought was that maintenance was calling again so I slowly made my way to the annoying noise and looked at the screen. Well, it wasn’t maintenance and it wasn’t a number I recognized. I figured it was probably a really ballsy solicitor so I let it ring through, put my phone in my pocket, and walked out the door. Thirty seconds later my phone vibrated again. I guess they weren’t selling something. Whoever it was left a message so I pulled my phone out and hit play.

I was originally skeptical when I heard the recorded message and even more so when I was asked to call back the number. It just seems like a scam when you get an automated call telling you that there might be a fraudulent purchase on your credit card. So, I quickly looked up the number on the internet and it seemed like it was a legitimate call. Still wary of the number in the message, I pulled out my credit card and called the number on the back.

Well, turns out that someone decided to put an $85 purchase on my Cabela’s credit card on the Sports Authority website at around midnight last night. I know that it wasn’t me because I don’t shop at that store and my Cabela’s credit card has been paid off for months now. Needless to say, I immediately denied the charge and had the number deactivated. Thankfully, the transfer to a different account (closing of the old one and opening a new one) is taken care of in house and is not reported to the credit bureau keeping my credit score intact.

So, that was not a fun start to my day but at least Cabela’s gave me a call and let me know of the suspicious charge. While it is not a lot of money to some people it is still $85 out of my pocket and it was also only the very beginning. So, thank you Cabela’s for making sure that this is taken care of properly. While your prices may be high, your customer service/support is pretty darn good.