Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reminded Of Grandpop

This is the ship my grandpop served on during WWII.
I never got to know my grandpop. He passed away only a few years after I was born so everything that I know about him is second hand. Over the past few years I have been uncovering pieces here and there about his life. From what I have been told he was, putting it nicely, a bit of a complex man but, in the end, knowing my father and my uncle he must have done something right.

The complexities began the day he was born. As I have been told by both my great aunt and others in the family, his name was the first unique thing about him. The day that my grandpop was born my great grandfather decided that the best place for him to be was at the bar. I guess in Appalachia you have to earn the nickname “White Lightening”. This did not sit well with my great grandmother so she took revenge by naming her son after a former boyfriend and the doctor who delivered the baby. That is how the name Percy Davis (first and middle names) got its start in my family.

Later in life, with no work to be found in Western Virginia, my grandpop was the one who moved the entire family to Pennsylvania. Not long after that he enlisted in the Navy during World War II and served on the USS Cole crossing the equator several times during his service. I was reminded of both of these aspects of his life as I was recording the brief life history written by my great aunt.

After the war, with his family already started, he worked with my great grandfather at the Autocar factory in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. A facility that was less than a block away from my lodge. It is that connection which prompted this post. As I was calling the long standing members of the lodge, I dialed a particular number and spoke to a brother in his early 80’s. While I only knew him as a brother he recognized my last name.

At first I thought he was talking about my uncle but after he offered a few more details it was clear that he was talking about my grandpop. He remembered him from his days (decades actually) as a member of the Narberth Volunteer Fire Company. As a Captain, I guess people remember you even decades later. Heck, I have met a brother or two that remember my dad and my uncle as volunteers with the ambulance corps.

It isn’t much but at least I am able to learn a little about him. And as is often the case, it only takes a few details to begin a story and that is exactly what I plan on doing. Maybe if I can add some more details and connect, in a more concise manner, all of the events in his life I might be able to get to know my grandpop a little better.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Stop The Timer!

Last week my wife and I had some time off for Rosh Hashanah and while I would have preferred to spend the day in reflection of the previous year and planning for the upcoming changes there were other things that had to be done. It is just one of those times that we had to take advantage of the time that we had and make sure that certain things got done. It had already been too long and we weren’t left with any other option. Finally, we were going to have access to our entire apartment as, after two and a half months, the work to ‘fix’ the leak was done. Albeit a halfhearted budget cut remedy, it was done.

In the middle of the afternoon, one of the guys from the building came over with the carpet cleaner, filled the reservoir with tap water and dish soap (the building refuses to pay for carpet cleaner) and proceeded to take his time going over the 6x6 area in the corner of our living room. In the past the building had brought in professional cleaners when there was a leak in the office but things have obviously changed. This time it took half a dozen letters to management, countless stops at the front desk, two work from home days, a day off, and more patience than I thought I had to make sure that the work was complete but it was finally done.

This process pretty much epitomizes the drastic changes that have occurred since my wife and I first moved into the building in late 2011. Nearly half of the apartments in the building have been bought and sold, the board has been completely overhauled, management has been outsourced, and only a handful of staff remains from the time our first lease began. One positive is that the only thing that hasn’t changed is our rent.

While the apartment has served its purpose, things have changed so drastically that it no longer fits our needs. This would be the case even if nothing had changed and the ‘luxury’ tag that people like to plaster onto the building actually meant something. And while things are holding together at the moment I am constantly thinking and worrying about that which is on the other side of the ceiling tiles and behind the surface of the walls. Having lived in, worked for, and knowing the guys still dealing with the various issues on a daily basis, I know what condition the building is in and it leaves me very uncomfortable. But, right now, I am happy that the work is ‘done’ and that we finally have access to our entire apartment!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

So Long Harvest…

While I don’t read as much as I used to I still enjoy opening the pages of a book when I have time and furthering my informal education. The greatest resource for any avid reader is a great used book store and for the last 15 years my wife and I had access to one of the best, Harvest Book Company in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, this weekend was our last trip to the warehouse as the store is closing its doors to daily shoppers and transitioning to a completely online storefront.

Over the years, my wife and I have made countless trips to both buy and sell books, DVDs, and CDs at Harvest and not being able to swing by the store on the weekend for some inexpensive entertainment is a little disappointing. I guess we are going to have to find another outlet that will be able to come close to the $2 per book that we are used to spending. While I am confident that we will be able to meet the price, I doubt that we will be able to meet the quality and selection to which we have become accustom.

Harvest was the place we would go to find items for ourselves, gifts for one another, as well as gifts for friends and family. All of this while being greeted by a staff that recognized us when we walked in the door and knew us by name. That may be a bit old fashioned for some but it is a hugely important to me and something that I am finding in fewer and fewer places as stores change, towns evolve, and online commerce becomes more prevalent.

That seems to be the trend lately as I have noticed more and more places changing around me. Buildings are being torn down, storefronts are changing, and some of the places that I remember going to years ago are long gone. Of course with books no longer containing paper, Wal-Mart discounting just about everything, and Amazon providing greater selection than could ever be found in a brick and mortar location I can’t say that I am really surprised by all the changes happening around us.

But, until this weekend, we still had Harvest where we could go and pick up those bundles of bound paper, movies, and albums at prices that couldn’t be matched online or in any of the major retailers around us. Now we will be forced to wait until the occasional sales when they will open their doors again. But no more spontaneous trips to Fort Washington and picking up those last minute inexpensive gifts. Things change but that doesn’t mean that I like it.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

I Finally Got A New Phone…

For the last 5 years I have been relying on the iPhone to be my mobile office. There were only a handful of times when it didn’t hold up in this application so I can’t say that, overall, there is anything wrong with the iPhone as a whole. However, lately there have been a few issues that have become more prominent as the battery life has become shorter and shorter and the speed of the phone has been anything but fast at times. Having become eligible for an upgrade, I had an important decision to make as to whether I should stay with Apple or to cut the cord and move on to another company and operating system. That was the basis of my question last weekend.

So, what did I decide to do?

After considering what I really needed the phone to do during the day I made the decision to go a different direction and pick up the Nokia Lumia 635. That’s right, this past week I hopped off the iPhone bandwagon and joined my wife in using a Windows based smartphone. While I am not a fan of Windows 8 on a laptop, it makes a lot of sense on a mobile device.

Having been using it for a few days, I am pretty impressed with the functionality of this phone especially considering that the MSRP is about a quarter of that of the iPhone 5s which I was also considering ($140 vs $550). Especially convenient is the fact that the battery, with fairly regular use while I have been trying to figure out the functionality, lasts for about a day and a half. And while it may not have the same apps that are available from Apple, I can’t say that I am missing anything. In fact, some of the comparable on the Windows are actually better than the iPhone.

It has been interesting so far in that more people have asked me about this phone in just a few days than had asked me about my iPhone in the last 5 years. I guess people are just curious when someone doesn’t buy an Apple or Android based product. Of course, this is my initial experience with the phone.

There may be some things that I don’t like that will come up and there are certain operations that will exceed my expectations once I create a Microsoft account and gain full access to the entire suite of operations. With that said, having played a bit with my wife’s phone already, I am looking forward to the benefits and not expecting many shortcomings beyond simply learning a new operating system. Only time and use will really tell and I will be sure to write about the experience at a later date.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Guest Blog: Genealogical Verification

Whenever you attempt to write about your family history in narrative form, there are always potential problems. These usually come in the form of the difficulty of verifying family histories in times when community records were never kept or (at best) are incomplete. Such circumstances make it difficult to substantiate important ancestral events and their significance to the overall story you are trying to tell. The only way to address these issues is to take the following steps.

The first is to only use those tales that you can demonstrate to the reader has some form of truth or logical reasoning for its inclusion. In my novel, The Legacy of Two Gemini Knights, I would estimate that I only used around 40% of the tales in my family archive. The remaining 60% had to be disregarded because of questionable sources. Adding them, whether I liked it or not, may have lessened the power of the text in one way or another.

The second step is to try to cross-reference any type of material you are using. Books, magazines and especially the World Wide Web do provide excellent means of providing added credibility to your written arguments. For example, much of the information on the Battle of Teba, Spain in 1330 as employed in the book, did help me formulate the Logan brothers’ and the other Templar knights’ roles in this conflict and the impact it eventually had on the rest of the story.

Another way to look at family genealogy is to visit those places that your ancestors came from. Often, small details are not included in the notes of official texts. On a number of occasions I have picked up vital clues to a story line, by talking to people at the scene or looking at the physical evidence myself. Such things can often give a particular insight to events that would otherwise be lost and in doing so leave the material written rather shallow and without conviction. For example, my visit to Leith, Scotland, did help me understand how my ancestors coped with such harsh living conditions at the time. As a result one could understand how the social culture of that period shaped the characters thinking on a daily basis and so in turn helped me to enrich the content of the text.

Finally, one can verify genealogical situations by establishing a linear series of events that fit together in some fashion. This maybe over a time frame or within a cultural setting that has already been established in other recorded contexts. Again, when talking about the Gemini Knights and their association with the town of Lanark, the land estates in west Scotland and St. Andrews in Leith, they were all established as important to the next part of the story by the interlinking efforts of further research. Such facts enabled family stories and genealogy to fit into the context of the broader textual message of the existing story with some degree of reality and understanding. Thus, hopefully improving the thrust of the book in some way.

However, no matter how one tries, there will always be gaps in any story from such a long way back in time. And we as authors must always accept that someone else will come along in the future and say your analysis on certain situations today are incorrect. And unfortunately, this is the price we pay for taking the conversation one step further in the here and now. Nevertheless, all we can do is our best at the time of writing one`s book and just hope the reader appreciates the genealogical contributions and connections made to date.

Geoff Logan, a veteran university lecturer, has a master’s degree in education from Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia. He now serves as an independent education consultant. “The Legacy of Two Gemini Knights” is his first book.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Can’t Say I Saw Last Year Coming!

One of the other great aspects of the fall is the Rosh Hashanah holiday. It is the time when we take the time to reflect on life and all that has happened over the past year. It is safe to say that we have a lot to look back on.

In some ways I can’t believe all that has changed and that is about to change. While there are many things that I had hoped to accomplish by now (see my previous resolutions posts), there are many things that I did not expect to happen but I am glad that they have. From family and friends to work and lodge, my daily life is nothing like it was at this time last year and I am grateful for every change, no matter how chaotic and overwhelming they may seem at times.

While this is a time when I try my best to look back at what has happened. This year, I can’t help but think about how things will be different this time next year. A new family and a new home. Another year as a Mason and another year doing what I love for ‘work’. All of these things I hope comprise my reality a year from now. But this is all part of the ‘new year’ and how we embrace the holiday. After all, this is Judaism 101:

In Hebrew, Rosh Hashanah means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year." Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year. This name is somewhat deceptive, because there is little similarity between Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year, and the American midnight drinking bash and daytime football game.

There is, however, one important similarity between the Jewish New Year and the American one: Many Americans use the New Year as a time to plan a better life, making "resolutions." Likewise, the Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, looking back at the mistakes of the past year and planning the changes to make in the new year.

There have certainly been mistakes made over the past year but nothing I would change and not really anything that would cause me to change my outlook on the coming new year. While by no means perfect, the new year is something that I am eager to embrace and share with those I love. However, even though I can’t say I am looking forward to screams replacing the sounds of the shofar the next time autumn comes around, I am excited to share this holiday, this holy time of year, with a gift that only G-d can give. L’Shanah Tovah!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Filling The Chairs

No, we did not have to turn to our plastic brethren.
When I left work yesterday, I did so with some trepidation. While I had a few brothers reach out to me letting me know that they would be at the meeting, I still had not heard from enough to fill the chairs. With everything that has been going on lately, I was concerned that the meeting got lost in the deluge of communications. However, I also held out hope and took solace in the fact that every time that I have asked the brethren for their assistance they have come through.

Pulling into the parking lot there were a few cars that I recognized and I could see that the windows were open and already circulating the autumnal air throughout the building. These were both welcomed sights which allowed me to take a deep breath, grab my bag and tux, and make my way to the front door. Walking into the foyer, I could see a small collection of brothers. A modest group that was sure to grow as the minutes passed and the meeting time approached.

Per my usual routine, I immediately turned around the corner and made my way to my office in the back of the basement. With everything else that had to be done leaving up to the evening, there were a few last minute items that needed to be taken care of before the meeting. So, while waiting for the computer to boot and, later, the web pages to load I filled out dues cards, inscribed the Bibles, and changed into my tux. It may seem hectic but it was actually pretty close to a normal night.

With the former secretary lending a hand with a couple of items, I was able to heading up the stairs and into the hall where I found enough brothers to ensure a successful evening. Knowing that the evening was to begin momentarily, I did my best to ensure that everyone was on the same page and that each brother knew what chair they would be sitting in, what role they would play that night. It was a long night with a few rough spots but we were successful.  

What has been a bit of a trying time for us has not stopped us from being successful in our endeavors. I have had my doubts at times and there were moments when I questioned whether things were going to happen but those concerns were proven to be unfounded. Once again, we pulled together as a lodge and by the end of the night we were rewarded by having the privilege to welcome two new Master Masons.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

First Full Day Of Fall

It never got too hot this year and so the transition was not as noticeable as it has been in the past but today was the first full day of my favorite season. The weather is getting cooler (comfortable for me) and the leaves are slowly catching fire as the air becomes lighter and crisper as the pages of the calendar float into the past. It is a time of year when people seem to try and embrace the last semblance of warmth before shutting out the world hibernating in the warmth of their homes.

There is an openness to the fall that is more welcoming than the other seasons of the year when we tend to embrace the opportunities to be out and spend time with the people close to us. One would think that this is a characteristic of spring or summer but during those times we tend to want to get away leaving behind our homes and apartments. Those are the seasons of exploration, fall is the season to embrace what we have and enjoy the place where we live.

I have always enjoyed the fall as a time to begin a new year. I guess it was from all the years spent in school when I was able to start things all over again. Of course, as I have gotten older this seems to be right around the time of year when I would start a new job… at east all the ones where I have spent a reasonable amount of time. Now, it is time when the lull of summer comes to an end and the PR programs ramp up again in the final quarter of the year. Work is not the only place where the activity picks up as we are also back to our usual routine at the lodge as we work toward completing another successful year.

So, while some may look at spring in the same way, I see autumn as a time for new beginnings. At the same time, it is the season when we are all brought back together. It is a time of great comfort and a lot of activity. It is a busy season but also one that allows me to relax in the fact that I am never without something to do, somewhere to go, and people to be with. Fall is, by far, my favorite time of year for precisely those reasons.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Cecile’s Story

I was recently given a copy of a few pages my great aunt wrote about her life. I have talked with her many times over the past few years about genealogy, her life, and all the memories that she is happy to share with family. Now in her early 90’s her memories are still there just a little harder to access. Unfortunately it has been some time since I last spoke with here. I should change that in the coming weeks especially since we can now share some more information with her about her roots for which she has always been passionate.

The dedication event in Elizabethtown over the weekend had me thinking about all of the veterans in my family and while there are many stories that have been told and many that have yet to be recorded on this blog, my mind immediately thought of my great aunt and the pride she has in her service in the Marine Corps during World War II. She has led quite the interesting life and while the following is by no means complete, I wanted to record her words as she wrote them. While I will write a more complete story about her early years and service at a later date (as those are the most vivid memories that she described to me in her advance age), here in her own words is her “Life History”:

Grew up in Virginia. My mother was a very disciplinarian on us. I loved to be with people old (although scared of them) and young. After school at age 18 (1941) I came to Pennsylvania – had a hard time becoming a Yankee but as long as I could go home to Virginia for visit I gave in and became to like it. My first job was Freas Glass Works in Conshohocken. Mr. Freas didn’t have a job for me but took me on because I had the determination to survive.

The Marines were recruiting for women – I joined being first Lady Marine. I was sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina for training then to school for placement. My last assignment was Arlington, Virginia on the cemetery grounds – it was a great place to be. I had the pleasure to do recruitment and cooking school taught by a Johnson & Wales Culinary School Where I had the rank of Sergeant. Where I met Truman and Bess and Margaret on several occasions. I did voluntary work at Bethesda Hospital and Walter Reed during off duty for hours. All five of us decided to take pilot lessons where I turned the stick too fast and turned the plane upside down when I landed. I never went back. It’s called a drop out.

The war was over. I came home, picked up where I left off. Alan came home from the Army. We got married in 1945. Bought our first home in West Conshohocken. Alan, after some persisting, became a buyer at Chatlins [?]. I had some jobs, Lil Tire [?] and Hale Pump, but a stay at home mom. We moved to Mechanicsburg for short time where we were involved in school and church. I joined a golf club which I always had to be in some sport and chose golf. Son Alan was always in sports and Janet had Ballet and calisthenics.

Now they are grown and we are free to travel which we did. Alan always took me back to Virginia – he enjoyed it as much as I. We did genealogy as a hobby. Now my children said they never knew anything about me. I belong to the Marine Corps which was in Conshohocken home and school PTA. Conshohocken Junior Women’s Club, [?], Valley Forge DAR, Women’s Marine Corps Military Monument at Arlington Cemetery, Car and Auto Club Norristown, and Church Deacons, Women’s Fellowship, ??? and other boards.

The most rewarding thing I can do and enjoy is helping people even if a visit to the nursing home. Or where I can do a little bit at my age. The Lord has blessed me I feel with an ongoing gift and I thank him for it. As I leave this world, I can only say thanks to all the wonderful people left behind. I love y’all.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dialing Decisions

It is that time again… my iPhone is beginning to slow and the battery life is not what it used to be. Normally I would simply go to AT&T and get whatever the $0.99 upgrade is at the time but due to some of the changes to their policies that doesn’t seem like the most viable option. So, with that said, I am expanding my search for a replacement.

The iPhone has served me well over the past few years. Both the 3 and the 4 have held up well and I have year to break one (I don’t know how people do it). The apps, when not a complete waste of time, are actually quite useful and some of them have even been beneficial at times. However, the compatibility issues with my laptop and the limited battery life are getting on my nerves. Additionally, I am getting tired of the idea of having a phone which require proprietary cords, apps, and doodads rather than a simple platform which communicates with my other non-Apple devices.

So, I have taken a few minutes of the day and looked at my phone trying to pinpoint what I really use it for, how I could use it, and how I should use it. By stepping back I realized that all of the things that do nothing but waste my time are things that I can really do without and I don’t care if they are not available on other phones. At the same time, some of the other apps that I use regularly are not just in app form and so a mobile website can easily take their place (i.e. Ancestry, Facebook, Blogger, etc.). Everything else can be found on other smart phones just in a different configuration and/or under a different name.

With that said, I am used to the platform. I know where everything is and I know exactly how it works. Changing things over isn’t really a challenge but it can simply be time consuming getting used to and figuring out a new way. Time is something that I have very little of at the moment. When I think about that though, given the frequency with which I have to stop using my phone just so it can charge, it might not be that much of a time difference if any.

What I would like to be able to accomplish is to have a phone that doesn’t cost $500+ just in case I need to replace it. Something that I can easily sync with my computer and other devices. Much more efficient use of power… I miss the days when I only had to plug in my phone every other day even with constant use. And, maybe something that I can work on just in case my computer craps out… it has happened before and an iPhone is not a pleasant working tool in that regard.

So, that is my dilemma. What phone should I switch to? Should I stay with Apple (a 6 is NOT an option people)? What is on your mobility wish list? Let me know what you think. I will be sure to write about the phone I chose (probably later this week or next).

Saturday, September 20, 2014

All Gave Some, Some Gave All

It was another early Saturday morning on the road and this trip I have been looking forward to for months. With the final appeals to the brethren to join us in Elizabethtown we convened just after 10:00am and gathered on the lawn waiting for the dedication of the eternal flame to begin. This monument, dedicated to all those brothers who have served in the armed forces, was the focus of the morning so it was only fitting that the first brother from our lodge we met at the event was a World War II veteran, a machine gunner in Patton’s 3rd Army, who actually became a mason the same day that I did just over a year and a half ago.

Just behind our brother, the Grand Lodge officers were preparing for the precession.

And waiting for the program to begin was the largest crowd, filled with veterans from all branched and various decades, which I have ever seen at Elizabethtown.

Without a doubt, our lodge was well represented as two of the brothers from my lodge, both veterans and members of the Sojourners, recited “A Toast To The Flag”. I have hear both of them recite this poem before and this might have been their best performance to date. Certainly no better and more poignant venue.

Branch by branch, war by war, each veteran was acknowledged in a way apropos to the tone of the morning.

With the dedication nearly complete we all took a few moments and turned our eyes to the sky as a B25 flew low and slow over the crowd.

As the event concluded and the crowd converged on the monument to bravery, Governor Corbett made a point to personally speak with the oldest veteran present this morning who was also recognized earlier when he received a valor blanket.

We slowly made our way to the flame to both take a closer look, find friends, family, and brothers and also to take a moment for ourselves to think about those in our lives that have made the monument possible. All gave some, some gave all. It was during these moments when I was fortunate to capture an image of three of the brothers in my lodge at the flame dedicated to their service.

However, the image that will stay with me from today was an unguarded moment of my brother reading the plaque at the base of the flame. This after taking some time shuffling around the monument looking for small pieces that represent those from our lodge. A veteran of World War II who served on the USS Missouri, I can’t imagine what must have been going through his mind.

Having said farewell to our brothers, we made our way to the Autumn Days Festival just a short walk from the dedication. Of course, with most people arriving at the festival around noon, the food was the first thing that we came across.

In the middle of the festival, in the courtyard, the crowd convened on the lawn to enjoy the shade and entertainment.

After walking around for a couple of hours, we turned around and began making our way back to the car. We were not the only ones who were running out of steam as all the quiet spaces along the sides had at least a few people stopping for a moment to rest.

Just before we walked across the field and got back in the car, I couldn’t help but take one final picture of the Eternal Flame off in the distance. While the dedication only lasted an hour, the monument remains and the sacrifices represented can never be measured by time. These are the moments that make me particularly proud to be a Mason and I will never forget this morning. I look forward to sharing moments like this with my growing family.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Detour To The Hospital

This week started off a little more hectic than usual but, for some reason, went much faster than I could have ever expected. However, there were times when I couldn’t help but slow down and step outside of the chaos for a few moments. It is something that comes naturally when a brother, a friend, is in need in some way. Those are the times when we come together and realize the bond that we have with our fellow brothers.

Over the weekend I had gotten an email from the Worshipful Master that he had fallen ill and would require a couple of days to back on task. I didn’t think anything of it at the time as we all have those moments when it simply takes a little bit of time to recover. A couple of days passed without improvement. Finally, he was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday night with, what I would later discover, was a severe infection.

Strangely enough the office had cleared out on Thursday by 5:30pm and I found myself driving down the highway, past my usual exit, and into the hospital parking garage. I really don’t like hospitals and tend to avoid them but that fact didn’t creep into my mind that night. I wasn’t sure if he was taking visitors or if he would be happy to see me but I couldn’t just go about my usual days and nights without checking in on him. It was only then when I was made aware of how serious things had gotten and how much improvement was already being made.  

It was an interesting experience as this was truly the first time that I was able to feel the bond that I have with one of my fellow brothers beyond the usual tasks and projects of the lodge. I have had similar experiences but not like this, not with a brother I have been working closely throughout the year. And the thing is, I know he would have done the same exact thing had the roles been reversed.

It was actually a good visit, at least as good as could be expected, and after about two hours I was on my way back home for the night. On my way back home with a list of tasks that I am happy to help him complete. I don’t know how they are going to get done but we, as a lodge, will somehow find a way. We always do!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Reality of HGTV

More and more I find my mind wandering during the day. Sometimes it is because I am working on and jumping between projects constantly which gets to the point when my mind needs to take a break. Other times it is the exact opposite when I am just sitting there listening to a conference call or presentation when my thoughts just go on a little jaunt around the block. Admittedly I think about other work projects during this time knowing that I am not under deadline with them… the enjoyable kind of work. Other times I am thinking about some of the pieces missing in the genealogy and I brainstorm how and where I might fill in those gaps. Lately, I have been relaxing by going online and looking at real estate on Zillow or Trulia (sometimes other websites).  

I have written extensively about the issues with our current apartment so this new habit should not be a surprise. At the office, when we have a little bit of time to take a family lunch we always have fun offering our commentary during the various HGTV real estate shows and this is kind of the same thing that I do when looking at listings. It adds a little fun given the fact that all of the properties are within the area to which we will eventually consider moving. It is a long way off but it is fun to see both the reality of the market and the outrageousness of certain areas.

It really is amazing to see the variety that is on the market both in terms of location and size as well as quality and price. But I guess you could say that I am still in the luxury of criticism state so that I can pick and pick at all the little ‘flaws’ in a property until there is nearly nothing left. The real problem is that the one that I can’t find those little items they usually have one huge issue… price. But I guess those properties fit into the time of day when I am looking at them as they will be little more than a day dream at this point.

Regardless of what we find down the road, I am looking forward to having a home. Whatever it is we can change things that need to be changed, customize to fit our needs, and make it our own. After all, that is really what we want so sometimes picking a property apart is simply a matter of looking past the present. So, until the day we find our home (and probably after) I will continue to day dream about what can be done the only difference being that right now I don’t know what the starting point is going to be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Quiet Time Never Lasts…

I got to the lodge a little earlier than expected last night anticipating an early evening. When I opened up the doors I had the entire building to myself and I looked forward to knocking out a variety of small projects that have been lingering since the state meeting earlier in the month. This is how the night started but after toiling away in the office for about an hour I knew that my night would not end in the same way.

With so much interest in the lodge from those wanting to join as well as a full slate of activities coming up later I the fall, it is a busy time of year for me. Add to that the fact that there are a few bugs making their way around and it has already struck down a couple of officers. I guess I am going to have to step up and get those items done as well.

While I entered the lodge alone, I locked the door behind me having three other brothers joining me as I exited. During the course of the two hours behind those doors I jumped from task to task doing my best to juggle the various requests that were being thrown in my direction (including via email). Of course, with the drastic shift in the evening, I still had a few items left unfinished but, fortunately, they were the ones that could hold off another night.

Walking out the door, while in conversation with the brothers around me, my mind was still running through the various things that need to be accomplished over the next few days as well as the next couple of weeks. From dues and petitions to awards and event coordination/planning, things seem to all be converging in the last few days of summer and the first few moments of the fall. Maybe this is why we are cutting back on a few items because things would most certainly be lost in the shuffle had the calendar not been paired down.

Finally back at the apartment, the emails continued to stream in as if I had never left my computer. Thankfully, the name badges were waiting for me in the mail box so I have one less thing to think about. And this morning we are continuing to push forward trying to drive attendance for this weekend and tying up the loose ends for next month’s official visitation. And, of course, there are a pile of other things that are being worked on simultaneously. But, in the end, this is the job I chose (at least one of them) and I enjoy every (well… most) chaotic moment.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Not A Happy Anniversary

There are some days that you mark on the calendar that you look forward to and there are other that you hope never some to fruition. Sometimes it is a major life event while other times it is just an annoyance that keeps frustrating you every day when you come home from work. Unfortunately, today we marked the latter of the two which I had been anticipating but hoping that I would be proven wrong. That’s right, for those of you that recall the gripes from the summer, the work on the leak is still not complete.

While the actual issue with the water seems to have been solved, or at least the band aid is holding up, and the painting was completed a couple of weeks ago, the building has yet to clean the space which we still have quarantined in our living room. Keep in mind that maintenance has not been in to check this ‘fix’ since they closed the ceiling so it is questionable whether or not the mend will hold. If it were a few little pieces and drips on the carpet I probably would have addressed this once the painting was done but this is a much bigger mess than what our vacuum can handle. This is the kind of job that requires professional carpet cleaning which the building manager had agreed to employ not long after this whole debacle began.

So now I have to burn another early morning and corner this woman in her office to at least get a response to the countless queries that have gone unanswered. While we had issues with the previous building manager it was never this bad and things continue to deteriorate the longer this management company runs the facility. Hopefully, this issue will be resolved soon but I lend that statement no more credence than the cliché of yelling fire in a movie theater.

With all of that said, there is a positive side to this whole thing in that it has motivated us, more so than before, to get the heck out and find another place to live. While we made an attempt in the spring, we will be successful this time around as our lease winds down to a close. Hopefully, if we begin looking a little earlier we can find a better place to call home not just a box in which we live. I guess we will just have to wait and see what we can find and hope that there are options available to us.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Poet As Reporter

This weekend we marked the 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner or, as the poem was originally titled by Francis Scott Key, "Defence of Fort McHenry”. It was during the War of 1812 when this young lawyer looked on from the British naval position in the bay as his fellow countrymen fought off the bombardment from the British. It was during these nights and in the hazy aftermath that he penned the words we now know as our National Anthem.

Rarely can someone write a narrative of a single conflict that transcends time and place to represent a greater ideal. However, Key managed the nearly insurmountable task when he put his pen on the parchment. Rarer still is the fact that this anthem that epitomizes the strength, endurance, and courage of our nation was written during what is widely considered a war that was lost or, at the very least, considered a draw. Here is how the events unfolded around Key:

On September 3, 1814, following the Burning of Washington and the Raid on Alexandria, Francis Scott Key and John Stuart Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard the ship HMS Minden, flying a flag of truce on a mission approved by President James Madison. Their objective was to secure the exchange of prisoners, one of whom was Dr. William Beanes, the elderly and popular town physician of Upper Marlboro and a friend of Key's who had been captured in his home. Beanes was accused of aiding the arrest of British soldiers. Key and Skinner boarded the British flagship HMS Tonnant on September 7 and spoke with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane over dinner while the two officers discussed war plans. At first, Ross and Cochrane refused to release Beanes, but relented after Key and Skinner showed them letters written by wounded British prisoners praising Beanes and other Americans for their kind treatment.

Because Key and Skinner had heard details of the plans for the attack on Baltimore, they were held captive until after the battle, first aboard HMS Surprise and later back on HMS Minden. After the bombardment, certain British gunboats attempted to slip past the fort and effect a landing in a cove to the west of it, but they were turned away by fire from nearby Fort Covington, the city's last line of defense.

During the rainy night, Key had witnessed the bombardment and observed that the fort's smaller "storm flag" continued to fly, but once the shell and Congreve rocket barrage had stopped, he would not know how the battle had turned out until dawn. On the morning of September 14, the storm flag had been lowered and the larger flag had been raised.

Aboard the ship the next day, Key wrote a poem on the back of a letter he had kept in his pocket. At twilight on September 16, he and Skinner were released in Baltimore. He completed the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel, where he was staying, and titled it "Defence of Fort M'Henry".

As the ships rocked back and forth in the bay the events unfolded before him and Key recognized that he was a witness to much more than history. In the end, Key served as both poet and reporter as these are the words that solidified the patriotism of the nation and banded us together until the end of the war and beyond. It allowed us to look past the current struggles and strive for a better and brighter future. Key’s words brought us solace during a time of rebuilding and drive us to this day to see that our nation remains strong. It is only fitting that a man whose name may have otherwise been lost to history, speaks to us and for us in the words that he wrote 200 years ago.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Leaving Things Unfinished

While it inevitably happens from time to time, I hate leaving things that are half finished but sometimes other priorities come to the fore and there is no other option. Eventually, I go back and complete that item or project but there is generally no guarantee when that will happen. However, that task is always on my mind and it doesn’t take much for me to return to the work that was once abandoned.

I was reminded of this when hearing the president speak last week. Unfortunately, his hand had to be forced in order to return to an unfinished war. There was no golf course to which he could retreat that would hide him away from that speech that you could tell he was dreading. When the words were spoken we listened hoping that we would hear of a solution that we could all stand behind. For many of us, the ‘solution’ presented fell far short of what we wanted to hear.  

The threat that we currently face from ISIL is one that many of use feared would grow out of our abrupt departure from the region. We hoped to hear of an all-out campaign to obliterate this terrorist organization that some report to be as much as 31,000 strong. While we have been engaging in targeted strikes, this does not seem to be stemming their growth. We need to show strength but we were left with the following rhetoric from the president:

Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL.  And any time we take military action, there are risks involved –- especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions.  But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.  This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.  This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.  And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year:  to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order. 

With a government a mere days old at the time of the speech and our greatest source of intelligence in the region, Israel, having to fight alone to defend their borders, we have little regional support that could counter this growing threat. There are times when overwhelming force is not the answer but this is not one of those situations. We gave up once, we let this threat grow unchecked, and we failed in finishing the job. We can’t let that happen again and trying to claim victory from a distance is not a viable solution.

There is a time for rhetoric… not now. There is a time for negotiations… not now. There is a time to let others handle the problem… not now, we started it. There is a time to step on their necks and not stop until they are wiped off the map and relegated to the biography of a failed president… that time is now. Now is the time to claim victory and fight for the peace and stability of the region.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Morgantown And A Smorgasbord

When I got up this morning I had a different plan for the day as I was going to relax at the range and meet up with my wife afterward to do a little bit of exploring. It was an overcast morning but it looked as though it was going to hold off. Well, the plans didn’t completely hold up and the weather decided to be uncooperative as well.

My wife headed off to a training commitment later in the morning and I was busy getting a few things done on the computer. Just a few things that needed to be cleaned up before the coming week so I didn’t mind getting up mid project to enjoy the day. Before I had a chance to get the day started I got a call from my wife to let me know that the plans for the day had changed. So, with the new plan, it was time to get the second part of the day started right away.

Half way to our meeting point – it just made more sense to meet in the middle – that is when the weather decided to be uncooperative. As I began putting air in the tires at the rest stop the light rain began to slowly falling on my back. At least this made the fact that I forgot to bring the camera a little better. After picking up my wife, we began making our way west. Not long after getting back on the road the rain was no longer light and the windshield wipers struggled to keep up with the downpour.

While we had driven around Morgantown in the past – sometime last year – it was always a quick drive through. Today we just took our time and allowed ourselves to get lost. It really is a nice area when you take the time to drive around without keeping to a particular schedule. It would have been a lot nicer had the rain stopped for more than a minute. I would like to see the views from some of the hills one of these days with a clear sky. Maybe sometime later in the fall as the leaves are beginning to change.

After a long day weaving in and out of side streets and stopping a few moments here and there to enjoy the scenery, it was time to head off to dinner – especially since neither one of us had much to eat for the day. So, we decided to head a little south and go somewhere that neither one of us had ever been, Shady Maple Smorgasbord. After 30 minutes waiting in line we were walking up and down the buffet line deciding what we wanted to eat for dinner and, looking at the people around us, feeling rather skinny. I have to say that, for a buffet, it is pretty darn good.

With bellies full we got back in the car and heading back to the apartment. It was a long day of driving and while everything didn’t really go to plan it was nice to just take the day to go exploring again. Maybe next time I will remember the camera and the weather will hold up.

Friday, September 12, 2014

You Don’t Know Jack… Actually, We Do!

Earlier this week I was scanning through the news seeing what kind of interesting things were going on the world when I came across an article that really got my attention. As it turns out, an amateur investigator and historian, Russell Edwards, has seemingly solved the Jack the Ripper case through the use of DNA evidence found on a shawl at the murder scene of Catherine Eddowes nearly 126 years ago. In the end, it was determined that the killer was not royalty, a surgeon, or a barber but rather a Polish immigrant who lived a mere 200 yards from one of the five (or more) crime scenes in London.

After a number of years that had led to countless dead ends, Edwards was made aware of the shawl heading to the auction block in 2007. After hearing the story of where it was found and how it had survived in such remarkable condition, the real investigative work began. As was written in The Mail on Sunday (UK):

I reasoned that it made no sense for Eddowes to have owned the expensive shawl herself; this was a woman so poor she had pawned her shoes the day before her murder. But could the Ripper have brought the shawl with him and left it as an obscure clue about when he was planning to strike next? It was just a hunch, and far from proof of anything, but it set me off on my journey.

Before buying it, I spoke to Alan McCormack, the officer in charge of the Crime Museum, also known as the Black Museum. He told me the police had always believed they knew the identity of the Ripper. Chief Inspector Donald Swanson, the officer in charge of the investigation, had named him in his notes: Aaron Kosminski, a Polish Jew who had fled to London with his family, escaping the Russian pogroms, in the early 1880s.

Kosminski has always been one of the three most credible suspects. He is often described as having been a hairdresser in Whitechapel, the occupation written on his admission papers to the workhouse in 1890. What is certain is he was seriously mentally ill, probably a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered auditory hallucinations and described as a misogynist prone to ‘self-abuse’ – a euphemism for masturbation.

McCormack said police did not have enough evidence to convict Kosminski, despite identification by a witness, but kept him under 24-hour surveillance until he was committed to mental asylums for the rest of his life. I became convinced Kosminski was our man, and I was excited at the prospect of proving it. I felt sure that modern science would be able to produce real evidence from the stains on the shawl. After a few false starts, I found a scientist I hoped could help.

However, even with the DNA now recovered, it was another monumental task to find a current member of the family who was willing to potentially admit their relation to one of the most famous and heinous murderers in history. Like many of us research every day, the genealogical research was the key to finding the results and bringing this century old case into the 21st century. The decade long search finally came to a head as samples were recovered and compared to the prime suspect.

Kosminski was 23 when the murders took place, and living with his two brothers and a sister in Greenfield Street, just 200 yards from where the third victim, Elizabeth Stride, was killed. As a key suspect, his life story has long been known, but I also researched his family. Eventually, we tracked down a young woman whose identity I am protecting – a British descendant of Kosminski’s sister, Matilda, who would share his mitochondrial DNA. She provided me with swabs from the inside of her mouth.
Further on in the testing, a descendant of the victim, Karen Miller, the three times great granddaughter of Eddowes provided the DNA sample for cross reference with the blood on the shawl which had since been proven to be eastern European in origin. Needless to say, all samples recovered were a perfect match. All of the pieces have come together to paint a complete picture, confirming what the police could not prove at the time, and providing answers not just to the questions of the general public but of the families connected to those dark moments in history.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Things Could Have Been Different…

Another year has come and gone and I can still remember the chaos that surrounded us all on this day 13 years ago. The memories, which I wrote about on this blog last year, still remain and the emotions that flooded both my heart and mind, while faded, still linger. I was one of the lucky ones in that I didn’t know anyone who lost their life as the Manhattan skyline forever changed but, unfortunately, I know many who have since lost their lives in resulting wars.

I think about them from time to time and wonder if I had been able to make it through basic training. I wonder how things would have been different if my body had held up. These are the thoughts that crowd my mind during this day. I guess you could say that I am also fortunate in this regard as well because if I wasn’t discharged the following summer, there is no guarantee that I would be here today.

This is a day of remembrance and reflection for me. Even having working in Manhattan for a number of years, I have only been to ground zero once. However, I can remember the chill that came over me changing trains in Brooklyn… do I take the A, C, or E to work today? I remember that year, I couldn’t take the E, I had to take the A train and get to mid-town as quickly as possible. While it wasn’t necessarily logical, I couldn’t bring myself to walk onto the E train as it waited for passengers at the station.

Now, far removed from those days in New York City, I was sitting and talking with my colleagues about where they were that morning. Some of us were in college, a couple were working, and a few were still sitting in their grade school classes not fully comprehending what was happening as the events unfolded. I guess you could say that none of us could comprehend at the time.

For the first time, I am witnessing the change in the perception of events that I so vividly lived through. The age gap is slowly widening and I am meeting more and more people for whom the memory of this day seems more of the abstract variety rather than the visceral. I will never forget that day and I will forever be grateful for the twists that occurred in my life since then that not only allows me to look back but appreciate all that has changed, all that has happened, and all that could have been different.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Another Year, Another New iPhone

Picture via @Apple Twitter account.

In the not too distant future there will be lines wrapping around the block of people waiting to get their hands on the ‘latest and greatest’ Apple product to hit the market. As with previous releases, Apple held a massive marketing meeting launch party to announce the iPhone 6 yesterday. I would say that this is an exciting turn of events for me but I honestly wasn’t even aware of it until I turned on the radio last night on my way home. Oh course, my immediate thought upon hearing the broadcast was “didn’t they just release the iPhone 5?”

I have never been one to eagerly adopt the newest technology. I am surrounded by many such products on a daily basis at the office as clients roll out new innovations and reporters discuss their most recent conversations but, personally, I am perfectly happy being a little behind. In this instance, my iPhone 4S is still functioning (for the most part) and my computer can handle all of the basic tasks that I need it to process. With that said, Windows 8 still sucks.

I guess the most interesting part for me during this perpetual upgrade cycle that most people have bought into is the ebb and flow of expectations that people have for these products and the lengths to which they are willing to go to be one of the first people to own one. And all of this so they can have a sleeker design and a slightly larger screen or, for those unwilling to hold their phone, a watch that goes beyond the boundaries of James Bond and into the realm of unnecessary functionality. It's a freaking watch people. Screw the Jones’, this is more like keeping up with the Jetsons.  

In the end, the biggest winners in this adoption cycle is not the people buying the products. The people benefiting the most from these launches are Apple, the credit card companies, wireless service providers, and criminals looking for another way to access information. Well, this time around U2 got a good boost as well. Touché Bono!

As for me, I will stick with my now antiquated iPhone 4S until it finally dies. And when it does I will try to get another one as I don’t ever plan on spending $200 on a new phone and I don’t want to have to buy a whole new set of plugs for the iPhone 5. As for my watch, I’ll stick with my Hamilton as it does what it is supposed to do by telling me the time whenever I look at it. Thankfully, I don’t have to wait in line for either.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What Happens In Atlantic City, Stays… On The Front Page

According to the Atlantic County, New Jersey prosecutor it is better to intentionally beat your wife than to accidentally carry a firearm into the state. Something seems a little off with that logic. I don't know what but there is something that doesn't quite make sense. Oh, that's right, one is a crime and the other was an innocent mistake. But recent events have proven that delusional fact as the cases of Ray Rice and Shaneen Allen have caught the attention of the media and the public at large.

In the case of NFL running back, excuse me, former NFL running back, Ray Rice he was caught on camera knocking out his then fiancé, now wife, inside an elevator at a hotel in Atlantic City seven months ago. While most of this is fairly recent new, the case has, in fact, been going on for months. As it turns out, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Michael Donio and New Jersey District Attorney Jim McClain agreed to put him in a diversion program for 1st-time offenders to keep him out of jail. That’s right, he may not be playing in the NFL at the moment but he also isn’t sitting in a jail cell like he should be.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the New Jersey judicial system hasn’t been as understanding with Shaneen Allen. From The Huffington Post (yes, the Huffington Post):

Allen, a mother of two from Philadelphia, was driving in New Jersey last fall when she was pulled over by a police officer. She informed the officer she had a handgun in her purse and a Pennsylvania license-to-carry permit, at which point the officer arrested her and charged her with a felony for unlawful possession of a weapon, because New Jersey does not recognize out-of-state gun permits.

Allen tried to avoid a trial and jail time by applying to a pre-trial intervention program in New Jersey for first-time offenders… But Atlantic County prosecutor Jim McClain, the same prosecutor who allowed Rice to avoid prosecution, denied Allen's application to the program…

Without question, she should have known the law but the dichotomy in the judicial system seems a bit out of whack. While one is a famous football player making millions of dollars and the other is a single mother trying to protect herself and her children, the same opportunity should be given to each of them. As it stands, the prosecutor and judge seem to think that gun owners, however innocent and naïve they may be, are flat out criminals who don’t deserve a second thought while a little boy (I can’t call him a man because of what he did) who knocks out his fiancé deserves a second chance.

I don’t remember reading about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of your wife into the elevator so you can beat the crap out of her”. Did I miss that passage? Was a recent amendment passed? However, I do recall the second amendment which many seem to have forgotten. Interesting how that works.