Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Summer Travel Planning


With spring in full swing I have been giving some thought to where my wife and I should go this summer. We enjoyed getting away last year on the weekends and it would be nice to continue that and really spend some more time together. We both really enjoy the time away from the apartment, getting out, and taking plenty of pictures as well.

We had quite the list last year and managed to check off a lot of places on the list so this year it is a little harder to think of towns and destinations that we haven’t been to. Of course, we are happy to return to some of the places we visited previously but new places will definitely take precedence. We might even venture beyond the Pennsylvania boarder although we are still averse to venturing into the states that begin with New.

So far, there are a few places already on the list but, again, it is much more difficult to come up with places and this would be in addition to any work and lodge travel that I have coming up. Here is my list as it stands today (still have to discuss everything with my wife and get her input):

  • Jim Thorpe – This would be our third time visiting the small mountain town and we look forward to seeing a few things that we missed previously including the Butterfly Sanctuary.
  • Scranton – I have to be up there in June for a Masonic function which is when I will look for different things to do and places to see.
  • Hershey – Smells like chocolate! Haven’t really been there in a while so it might be time to finally get back over there and visit… maybe a trip to the park is in order too.
  • Lititz – The small Lancaster County town was on our list last year but was cut when we began slowing down toward the end of the summer.
  • Yuengling Brewery (Pottsville) – We tried doing the tour last year but arrived too late. We will be planning ahead this time.
  • Bushkill Falls - We passed this up last year as we didn’t want to pay the admission price and we had already walked around Raymondskill Falls. Hopefully we go there on a day when it is not mobbed by those venturing across the river.
  • Indian Echo Caverns (Hummelstown) – The spelunking was a big hit last year so it is time to explore another cave. We will be sure to save this trip for the peak of the heat during the summer.
  • Winterthur (Delaware) – Another hot day destination. I have always wanted to visit this DuPont estate but something would always come up and prevent it. Maybe this time I can actually check it off my list.  
As I said before, the list isn’t very far along but it’s a start. I’m sure that we will fill this in as the summer approaches. Any suggestions of where to go? Any great deals that you know of floating around out there? What to meet up or serve as our tour guide? Let me know in the comments or by emailing me at timetokeepitsimple@gmail.com.
 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Membership Audit


For the past two weeks I have going through the lodge membership line by line, name by name, birthday by birthday. My thought was that since we had just completed the financial audit of the lodge, why not put some effort into a membership audit. This is an important project that I have been meaning to start ever since I decided to take on the office of Secretary as there were too many instances, even a few since I took office, when it was discovered that a brother had either passed earlier within the year or, sometimes, even years ago.

This whole thing goes back to a blog I posted last week about the difficulties of keeping I touch but, in this instance, the job is ten if not one hundred times harder. We have so many brothers coming in and out and officers rotating around the lodge that sometimes we can lose sight of the people that are not around us every month. We also find that brothers move out of the area and nature gradually takes a toll on their bodies as well.

Unfortunately, we have not had a process in place for the families of individual brothers to inform the lodge of our passing. It has always been something that was conveyed by word of mouth with documentation rarely available. In recent years the communications have slowly deteriorated, Masonic funeral services becoming less and less frequent, and now here we stand trying to catch up and find all those brothers that have been called off from labor. This issue is particularly prevalent among those brothers who have been a member of the fraternity for over 50 years as they no longer pay dues and therefore our communication with them is limited even further.

However, this year we seem to have hit a turning point as we have put greater emphasis on keeping in touch with our distant and elderly brethren. While no system is perfect and I am sure that there will be the occasional oversight here and there, we are at least refocusing our efforts to ensure that those we may not see on a monthly basis are not forgotten. This may seem like an obvious thing to do but think about how many people you have lost touch with in your life and imagine having to do that for an entire lodge, even those people you have never personally met previously before.

So, with the conclusion of the audit the sad news stands that nine brothers were called off from labor in the last few years that were never reported to us. Even though the passing of these brothers was months and years ago, we will still be sure to remember them during lodge and make sure we reflect on the contributions they made to the fraternity. And every time, every month that we pause to remember, I am glad that I have my letter filled out already and ready for my wife to mail just in case anything should happen to me. You never know. I just don’t want to create more work for a future Secretary.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance Day

 
Today we stood in silence to recognize and remember the voices that ceased to whisper, the memories that refuse to fade, and the people who took a stand and fought for life and freedom from inside the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto. It is a difficult day to describe in words making the acts of this day that much more important. Even now, having been able to reflect throughout the day trying to pull my thoughts together and having written about this in the past, I am struggling to string the words together to form this simple post.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this day The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum summarizes this somber anniversary in the following way:

The internationally recognized date for Holocaust Remembrance Day corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. In Hebrew, Holocaust Remembrance Day is called Yom Hashoah. When the actual date of Yom Hashoah falls on a Friday, the state of Israel observes Yom Hashoah on the preceding Thursday. When it falls on a Sunday, Yom Hashoah is observed on the following Monday.

There is no set list of rules or means of observance for the general public and eve the means of observance in the Jewish community outside of Israel varies. However, in Israel, it is a national memorial day and public holiday. And while many in the United States have a certain perception when it comes to the term memorial day, this day is marked a little differently in Israel. In fact, there is a moment during the day that people outside of the holy land would find hard to believe as the Jewish State literally comes to a halt and honors this day in the best way that they can… in silence.


For me, today is one that I take a moment to appreciate all that I have and all that I have been given, large and small. On this day, as the hours pass, I grow increasingly grateful for the most overlooked gift which we are all given… life. It is that gift which we all have in common that makes us step back for a few moments and think about the ways that people embrace that gift living a loving and faithful life and those that use that gift to persecute others for the differences that they perceive in them. It is that dichotomy that forces us, at times, to fight for the freedom to live.

With the setting of the sun, the day came to an end and brought with it the dark of night that so many millions never escaped. But tonight we are grateful for the stars in the sky that will be only temporary and watch over us as we sleep. When we wake in the morning we will have the opportunity to once again embrace that precious gift that continues to both amaze and confuse us. We have another day to live and a life to fill with memories.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

‘Unbiased’ Coverage Of The Safe Carry Protection Act


This past week there was a huge decision made in Georgia that didn’t ripple across the national news… it swept across all media channels like a tsunami. When the southern state came to the realization that more common sense needed to be injected into the national firearms debate, there wasn’t a single silent voice on the subject. However, there was a clear difference in how the new law was reported in a variety of ‘unbiased’ media sources. While it may not be as clear to some, it is rather obvious when you take a second look at the language that is used.

Time Magazine can be balanced on a rare occasion and this was definitely not one of those instances as the first word in the article colored the remaining prose. Here is the title and tag line for the story:


Radical new gun legislation signed into law on Wednesday allows licensed owners to carry guns in more public locations than ever before, as places like churches can opt in to permit the weapons and bars can opt out if they want them banned

The Washington Post offered a little more balance to what is written as they accurate described the expansion of the rights afforded to law abiding citizens:


Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed a broad expansion of gun-carry rights into law Wednesday, allowing legal gun owners to take weapons into bars, churches and government buildings under certain conditions.

The measure, which will take effect July 1, also permits hunters to use silencers and authorizes schools to allow staff members to carry weapons on campus.

What you don’t see in this second example is the photo that was selected and prominently displayed at the top of the page before a single word is read. The caption to the photo of a grieving family standing over a casket reads, “Judith Skinner, mother of Indianapolis police officer Kim Carmack, and Dustin Carmack, son of Kim Carmack, take one last look at the casket after the burial services at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis on Wednesday. Carmack was slain by her ex-husband and fellow officer who then killed himself.” The story itself was a great piece of reporting but during the process that took place between the writing of the article by and the posting of the story was skewed by someone who clearly disagrees with the new law.

The law (House Bill 60 or the Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014), supported by politicians from both sides of the isle in the Georgia legislature (including President Jimmy Carter’s grandson) “specifies where Georgia residents can carry weapons. Included are provisions that allow residents who have concealed carry permits to take guns into some bars, churches, school zones, government buildings and certain parts of airports.” Essentially, those with carry permits (having no criminal background and are familiar with and accept the responsibility of carrying a firearm) will have greater freedom to carry in a variety of previously restricted places.

Is it a perfect bill? No, there are a few flaws in my view namely with the inability of law enforcement to question those carrying. However, if you are driving a car down the road a police officer needs just cause to pull you over and ask you for your license so, in that regard, I understand and accept this aspect. Honestly, I would rather lean on the side of individual rights and freedoms rather than control and fear mongering that seem to be so prevalent in the vocal views of the minority.

What do you expect from a group of people who have their priorities confused? While they teach children to fear firearms they teach them to respect and even revere an overbearing government. It should be the exact opposite… teach the next generation to respect firearms, treat them responsibility, and revere life. Fear those who strip you of your rights and freedom. Maybe if this fundamental formula was embraced by all we wouldn’t be having this debate and objects wouldn’t be feared because of the actions of criminals, law abiding people wouldn’t be punished for the monstrous acts of the insane. Maybe people should be our focus and the next generation should be our passion.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Last Chance To Find An Apartment


Throughout the week my wife and I kept scanning the maps on Trulia and Zillow with the hope that a new listing would pop up. While there were plenty of listings that came to market during the week, there was nothing that fit the criteria that we were looking for, most importantly, the price. With nothing to show for our efforts and our MIL Realtor not having any better luck, we did not make it out this weekend to tour some other spaces.

In an owner’s market, this just hasn’t been a good time to try and find an apartment within the budget that we set for ourselves. I guess we will be staying where we are for now with the hope that we can build up our bank account enough to get a nice starter home around this time next year. The other part of this year long project will be to improve our credit. It’s not that we have bad credit, it is rather good in fact, but there is always room for improvement and it would make things a bit easier when the time comes in trying to secure financing. The basic game plan is simple… build up our bank account, pay down debts, and continue being successful in our jobs (i.e. promotions/raises). How we achieve all this is also simple… work hard and work smart.

So, when the day comes, what will we be looking for in a starter home? The list is a little longer than a rental but, in an ideal situation, here is what the check list would look like:
  1. 3+ bedrooms
  2. 2+ baths
  3. 2+ acres
  4. Office
  5. Basement (finished or unfinished)
  6. Good schools
  7. Montgomeryville/North Wales/Lansdale area (there is a little flexibility there for the right place)
  8. Reasonable commute time to work (under 60 minutes for me, under 45 minutes for my wife)
  9. Garage
  10. Not on a main road  
I know what you’re saying… that is why it is called a wish list not a list of requirements. Some of the things are reasonable, some may be fantasy when considering that we will not have much to put into the home but it is a start and it is nice to have a goal.

The most important thing that we need to do now is to make do with what we have and the space in which we currently live. The basic translation of that statement means that we have to clean and organize both of which we have been putting off for way too long. We have a good spot at the moment, not ideal but it is a good apartment at a good rate. And while we may complain at times about various things relating to the building, location, people, and variety of other aspects we have a plan of action and we are better off than most. We have gone through a lot in recent years and we can make it through some more knowing what awaits us just on the other side of the hill.

So, until next year, the hunt is over.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Keeping In Touch... Not Such A Simple Concept


A large part of my everyday job is very simple… it is basically to keep in touch with people, clients and reporters, and make sure that they know everything that is going on. Some call it pitching and for the sake of making it easy I do to but it really is a matter of keeping communication going and talking to people. After all, there is only so much selling that you can do before someone just tunes you out and starts thinking about how they can get you off the phone.

However, as I previously mentioned in my blog yesterday, while I am constantly talking and writing while at work, some of the other connections that I have most importantly friends, have suffered a bit in my desire to keep working and pushing myself harder and harder. While I have made a little bit of progress as of late in getting in touch with friends whenever I have a minute or two here or there, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done. If only I had more hours in the day.

The way that I approach my job is not really a common practice for most people in the industry (at least most people that I have met over the years) but it has been working for me. I enjoy talking to people, getting to know them, and seeing if there are commonalities we share beyond the work that we do with a given company. I try to do the same thing with clients when given the opportunity as well. After all, success in this business is reliant upon the relationships that you form with people.

By approaching my job in such a way there are moments when I get a call or an email from reporters and editors and before we delve into business we see how the other is doing, any plans, and anything that may have happened since the last time we spoke. Without a doubt, talking to the media is my job but it is also the job of every other PR person out there. By treating the media as people and not publications or positions, there is a greater possibility of them actually talking to you and you looking forward to reaching out to them. Do that enough times and you have made a professional friend.

As has been a common thread in many of the posts since I began this blog, this is another instance where I need to keep seeking the middle ground. I can’t have work completely dominate my ability to keep in touch with people… there are many friends that I haven’t spoken to in some time. Actually, sitting and thinking for a few minutes, there are many that I can’t remember the last time that I actually heard their voice. Keeping in touch seems so simple until the day you come to the realization that you are only using ten percent of the numbers in your cell phone. Time to get that percentage up.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thinking Back There Seems To Be Something Missing


Every week I am amazed at how fast time seems to be drifting by. Every once in a while I stop for a moment, look back, and think about all that I have been able to do, see, and accomplish. However, this time around, I noticed something missing from my memories.

Truth be told, I haven’t been able to attend a Rotary meeting since September or October and while I have done my best to keep up to date with everything going on (thanks in large part to the weekly phone messages from my club) there is still a gap in my memory. Obviously, there is a huge difference between experiencing something and simply hearing about it. And because I really only write about my thoughts and experiences, there has been a lack of Rotary related posts since the last time I was surrounded by my fellow Rotarians.

That is something else that I struggle with. While I am still an Honorary Rotarian, I am pretty far removed at this point from the goings on in my club and in my district. Personally, I don’t know if I should really be called a Rotarian. Don’t get me wrong, I take great pride in my affiliation, but I really can’t say that I am earning that honor at this point. That is how I honestly feel at this point. With that said, I still carry the Four Way Test with me as a reminder and I still have a plethora of pins that are used in a Rotary rotation but that has been about the limit of my connection over the past half year.

I’m not sure if my current situation is fair to my club and to all the great people that I have had the pleasure of getting to know since I originally became a member in August 2012. I consider them all great friends who have supported me during a difficult transition period in my career but, since getting things back on track, I have not been able to enjoy their company. However, that only accounts for the meetings. I have not kept in touch with the club as I should have been doing all along. For that, I really don’t have a reason or an excuse.

It just goes to show that for many of us if we are not present and active in a club, organization, or fraternity we gradually become a bit disconnected both from the entity and from the people. I saw everyone once a week for over a year and now I haven’t seen them for over 6 months. A group of people and organization that was once a large part of my recollection and reflection is not oddly absent. I think it is time to change that. At the very least, I should pick up the phone.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sometimes The Only Cure Is Blindness


When it comes to education or employment I am like most people. I could give less than a crap about what race you are or where you come from. It all comes down to qualifications and ability. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case in this country and there are undoubtedly instances here and there when race and background are seen as differentiators. It is unfortunate but it is also reality.

Racism has always been a problem in this country. I would even call it an epidemic. It is a virulent societal infection for which there is only one cure… blindness.

The latest decision by the Supreme Court in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action is at least a step, albeit small, in the right direction. Affirmative Action was something that had a place and time. It is by no means a perfect solution but it at least prompted a slight increase in diversity in the educational system and the workforce. And what is the best way to fight racism? That’s right, with more racism. After all, Affirmative Action is inherently racist.

You don’t need to think about it too much to realize that the law was designed so that race is considered in all aspects of higher education and in the workforce. Regardless of the pool of applicants, there are certain quotas that must be met. How would you feel if your child was turned down from a college because the school must maintain a certain level of diversity? How would you feel if you got a job over someone else, someone who may have been more qualified, because of the color of your skin?  

We have gone from one extreme to the other as we try to play political sociologist. While it is without question wrong to discriminate, it should be equally despicable to be racist. And yes, in this scenario, those are two different concepts as it has always been wrong to discriminate based on race and you can’t turn someone down for a job solely based on race when they are otherwise equally or more qualified than the other applicants. However, the requirement to admit students based on certain racial ratios is not discrimination, it is racism. So, as you can see, they are treated as two completely different concepts. This is Affirmative Action in action.

Now, while Affirmative Action is not completely eliminated from the books it is at least in the hands of the people. That is what was done, the Supreme Court is allowing the states to determine whether race can be a consideration in admission to state schools. Specifically, as reported in the Washington Post, “By a vote of 6 to 2, the court concluded that it was not up to judges to overturn the 2006 decision by Michigan voters to bar consideration of race when deciding who gets into the state’s universities.”

In a show of restraint by the Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy (joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.) wrote the main opinion:
“This case is not about how the debate about racial preferences should be resolved. It is about who may resolve it… There is no authority in the Constitution of the United States or in this court’s precedents for the judiciary to set aside Michigan laws that commit this policy determination to the voters.”
So, in the end, it is up to us. We must demonstrate our blindness, fight for what is right, and also come to terms with the fact that life is not always fair! It is our individual efforts, responsibility, and work ethic that make up who we are. While we all have the opportunity to live life to be proud of in this country happiness is not guaranteed. It is our right to pursue happiness. Our decisions, our efforts, and our ability to see past many of our differences are essential in the achievement of that happiness. As was determined by the justices, it is our decision.
 
 


 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hippies, Earth Day, PETA... This Isn't Good!

 
So, today is Earth Day. Yeah, can’t say that the day is really one to take notice of. While I do enjoy nature and I appreciate many of the beautiful things that it has to offer, I have other priorities in my life at the moment that take precedence over the natural world. While some people will certainly be appalled by that statement, the truth of the matter is that Earth Day is a celebration for those that have the time, money, or skewed priorities. Some even embody the whole trifecta.

When you go on the Earth Day website you can see that this day was created to take advantage of the people already protesting and the work of a bestselling author. By combining the two and telling those people what to think, what they consider ‘what is really going on’, you have a brand new day and the rapid growth of a movement that now judges the world and condemns people and companies if they offer the slightest doubt as to their conclusions.


Each year, Earth Day -- April 22 -- marks the anniversary of what many consider the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970.

The height of hippie and flower-child culture in the United States, 1970 brought the death of Jimi Hendrix, the last Beatles album, and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. Protest was the order of the day, but saving the planet was not the cause. War raged in Vietnam, and students nationwide increasingly opposed it.

At the time, Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity. “Environment” was a word that appeared more often in spelling bees than on the evening news.  Although mainstream America remained oblivious to environmental concerns, the stage had been set for change by the publication of Rachel Carson's New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962.  The book represented a watershed moment for the modern environmental movement, selling more than 500,000 copies in 24 countries and, up until that moment, more than any other person, Ms. Carson raised public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.

Earth Day 1970 capitalized on the emerging consciousness, channeling the energy of the anti-war protest movement and putting environmental concerns front and center. 

While the people who originally started this whole movement may have fully embraced the utopian ideals and honestly encouraged those to be conscious of their actions and the repercussions on the environment, that sense of purpose is all but lost. Environmentalism is now nothing more than a business venture with dictatorship ideals. And now, if you don’t fully subscribe to the theory of climate change and support all of the policies, regulations, and legislation that furthers the cause of environmentalism that translates to the simple fact that you are a racist. That is the extreme that now exists and is largely thriving.

While I believe that there is much that we don’t know when it comes to the environment and the exact impact that we are having on the planet, I firmly believe that we should be cognizant of our actions and use that mythical thing called common sense. We cannot completely reverse our way of producing and living in this world overnight but we can make incremental progress. However, overregulation and EPA power grabs are stunting the progress that could be made by forcing people and companies into rushed compliance which not only has the long term negative environmental impact but also the immediate economic impact of overleveraged entities and reductions in the labor force. Additionally, prices for things like gas, electric, and basic industrial commodities spike and cheaper alternatives are shipped in from overseas where production isn’t as highly regulated.

But, I guess these environmental evangelicals could be worse… they could work/volunteer for PETA. Then again, environmentalists probably support PETA because, if anything, they prove that the Dodo isn’t extinct after all. Okay, rant over, time to go hug a tree.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Short Month


Today was one of those days when I realized, “Crap! It’s a short month!” It is not about 30 days vs. 31 days, it is all about how the calendar is situated. As it turns out, the next stated meeting of my lodge falls on Thursday, May 1st. What this means it that instead of having another week to pull the notice and minutes together, make calls, and coordinate a few other things, I have to get it all done this week. Translation, say goodbye to any breathing room during the work day and any chance of getting things done early.

In comparison, I am actually ahead of where I was last month but that early meeting day just threw everything off balance. Somehow, I think everything might come together just in time as a number of people got back to me today and a few of the other projects got checked off my to do list. But, at this point, it is still a matter of pulling those final things together and attempting to convey a sense of calm to the brethren as I jump from one thing to another. This is particularly challenging on stated meeting nights as there is, inevitably, someone who needs a document, card, signature, etc. at the last minute and it has to be done before the meeting.

Honestly, I can’t fault them. I have done the same thing in the past and, contrary to what some people might say, I knew exactly what I was getting into when I volunteered to become Secretary. And, really, it may be hectic and a bit stressful at times, but I enjoy knowing everything that is going on in the lodge (well, maybe not everything but almost everything). But, like the constant shuffle of the calendar, it is all about timing and how you manage that time. Lately, the management of that time has been a little off but I know that it will only get better from here as I learn more and figure out better ways of getting things done.

For now, I will continue scrambling knowing that there will be a slight respite this summer which should allow me to get caught up, step back, and figure a few more things out before heading into the final stretch in the fall. Until then I will continue trying to keep pace in this Masonic Marathon knowing that I can push through the wall. With that said, I am going to wrap this up and get back to work as a few things need to be wrapped up by the end of the day so that everything can stay on track despite the short month.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Finding The Afikomen In The Easter Eggs


I remember scurrying around the church grounds when I was younger looking for those little plastic eggs filled with assorted sweets. Looking back it is fascinating to think about how all the kids around me and I were so focused on a singular objective to find those mythical embryos. Fed by competitiveness and sugar, there was nothing stopping any of us until we were certain that all of those pastel containers were scrounged up and piled high in our baskets. In that moment, Easter was not a religious holiday it was simply an afternoon scavenger hunt.

These days, much like the Christmas holiday, Easter is a time to spend with family. As a Jew there is nothing that really appeals to my religious side but being able to spend time with everyone is something that makes me look forward to this time of year. Of course, seeing the little kids with that same singular objective in their eyes does make me think back to those afternoons and is also a reason why I enjoy this day. I guess you could say that his epitomizes the difference between watching or seeing and observing.

There are many holidays that happen around us every year, even within our own families, many of which we see all around us and we enjoy watching all that happens during those times of year. There are also times when we observe our holidays and the roles within our families are reversed. And there are times when I find doing a little bit of both during many of the Jewish holidays as I try to build a mental database of memories of all the different holidays and ways that people and families observe them.

This is something that many people who were raised in a faith take for granted. Seeing the different holidays from the very beginning you build upon a series of memories in youth which influences the way that you observe the holidays later in life. As converts we have a bit of a mixed bag in that we have those mental records from another faith but observe completely different holidays later in life. While it takes a little more effort during our chosen holidays, the memories of those former holidays easily surface during various times during the year.

The trick is harnessing those memories of childhood, accepting them, and looking for a ways to embrace some of those moments, like searching for eggs, and applying them to your chosen holidays. Maybe Easter has made us better as hiding the Afikomen. Maybe that need to search, that desire to see things to the end, lead us to take a lead of faith, search for, and find our faith. Maybe that Easter egg hunt was only the beginning of our search. Maybe that is the reason why those memories are so intense and the emotions tied to this holiday, for me, are absent of religion. Beyond the questions, it is a great day to spend with family and that is really what the focus should be on during all of our holidays.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Another Weekend Apartment Hunting


Today was an interesting day of apartment hunting as my wife and I drove around our target area quite a bit. We left the apartment around noon and made our way to a development that we had already seem two apartments in before with no previous success. They are nice apartments, condos actually, and we even demonstrated interest in one of them before the owners pulled it off the market in favor of selling. This time around, the place met most of our needs but it was priced above our comfort level. It would be possible to pay the rent but it just wasn’t enough to motivate us to move.

From North Wales we headed over to Lansdale which was actually closer to Hatfield to take a look at a two story townhome. The price was right if not a little high but, again, it wasn’t a place that motivated change. It was a solid home but it was at the top end of our budget, too far out, and wasn’t really an increase in usable space over what we have now. Time to move on and go a little further away from where we started our search and look at a house in Hatfield.

Driving up to this next location you could see the potential that the property clearly has but once we entered we both could tell that this was not going to be the place for us. With ragged furniture still scattered throughout the main floor from the evicted tenants, the owner was in the back of the house cleaning the kitchen area and slowly moving the overflow out the door. Heading upstairs, the ‘second bedroom’ was unusable as the roof got in the way of being able to actually utilize the space (turns out that there was no head up there either). So, after looking around, this would have given us a lot more outdoor space but would have been a downsizing in living space and a higher price over where we are now.

One more chance and one more trek across the area as we drove from Hatfield down to Dresher to take a look at the last property of the day. The converted farmhouse offered a lot of the quirks that make 150 year old properties interesting but it was the smaller of the two units in the old house. Perched above a busy street and across from an old hotel it was rather quiet for the location. It was clean and the layout was pretty good but, in the end, the square footage was lacking and the storage space was nearly nonexistent.

We managed to see four properties throughout the day but nothing that would meet our needs. It is looking more and more likely that we will end up renewing the lease at our current apartment building. Again, not the ideal, but after to failed attempts to secure a new place and numerous tours this seems like our best option at this point. We still have another full week and weekend to find a place but we are fairly certain that there will be no move this year.

Again, not ideal but we knew that this was a possibility when we started this weekly search. It also makes me more curious to wonder where we will be next summer. Maybe we can save enough to buy a house. I guess we will have to just continue waiting and see how things go but I am guessing that we will end up having better luck finding a rental this time next year. By that time we will really be ready to find a new place.

Friday, April 18, 2014

It Was A Good Friday


My wife was not happy with me this morning as my alarm abruptly interrupted her in the early hours of the morning as she attempted to sleep in during her day off. Oh well, it was time for me to get up and go to work. I already used my floating holidays earlier in the week so today it was time for me to again try to make up for those days off. And there was a possibility to making up that work as most of my colleagues took the day off and a lot of people were off as well being that it was a bank holiday. That fact was noticed immediately upon turning onto the Schuylkill Expressway and not having to slam on the breaks attempting to merge. It was the easiest commute that I have had so far since I started this job.

The office parking lot was about half full when I arrived and the building was quiet when I walked through the doors. The office was silent when I entered as only one other person was working with me today. With the exception of a persistent cough that he has been dealing with all week and a few quick conversations, we both put our heads down and attempted to get as much done as we could.

In a complete change from my usual workday routine, I texted my wife what I wanted from Wawa for lunch and waited for her arrival. About an hour later, my wife walked through the front door and we sat in the family/conference room and enjoyed a nice lunch together. Granted, I am not used to this. In fact, I believe that this is the first time that my wife has come to my work for lunch. And when I say that I don’t just mean this office, I mean any office. So, it was quite the change but something that was a fun twist on the daily routine.

Just as we were finishing up our hoagies (please note that they are not subs, grinders, or anything else you refer to them as) my boss walked in the door and greeted us in her usual friendly manner. It really is more of a family atmosphere of mutual respect rather than a rigid hierarchy. This was also a first as my wife had not met my boss since I started this job. About ten minute later I walk my wife back out to her car with her newfound knowledge of why I really enjoy going to work every day. After all, it is not just about the work/job, it really has a lot to do with the people I work with.

With my wife on her way back home it was time to continue working on various projects in an attempt to get things done. By the late afternoon I had made a lot of progress on multiple items but I couldn’t really call anything completed. When five o’clock rolled around, we were told to leave and enjoy the weekend a little early. Oh well, I guess I have a few things to work on this weekend. So, it was a productive day with an interesting twist right in the middle. I am already looking forward to the next time that I experience a day like today. However, I hope a get a little more work done the next time.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Back To Work


When hump day feels like Monday you know it is going to be a long week. After taking two days off to bask in the Passover holiday, it was time to go back to work and attempt to catch up on all the things that I missed in the beginning of the week. So, I rolled out of bed in the morning with eyes that refused to believe that I had not been up this early in the past four days and legs that, if they had any energy, would swing up and kick my own butt. It just goes to show that no matter how much you love your job, the people you work with, and getting back to productivity you still really don’t want to go back to the office when you know that there is days of work to get caught up on.

The morning commute seemed a little longer than usual but also not long enough as my sluggishness was not relieved by my usual cup of coffee. The really odd thing about the drive was that I didn’t dwell on what was awaiting me on my desk. What did keep interrupting my auditory perceptions was what I didn’t accomplish during the past four days. While there were plenty of things that I did, there wasn’t enough to show for it. This of course made me think about what I could have gotten done and what I plan to do in the future when the occasional day off occurs.

So, I walk into the office and the first thing I see are the papers and the notes left on my desk. While I took a quick glance at them, I pretty much knew what they said already so I pushed them aside, turned on my computer, and began the slow dig out from under the avalanche. It wasn’t that the notes didn’t contain anything important but I knew that I had to get to work as quickly as possible before the day began getting away from me. And it didn’t take long before my schedule slipped from my grasp.

By the end of the day I had barely made a dent in what needed to be done as other things came up throughout the day and I was called into several meetings which accounted for nearly four hours. In some respects I wish I had not taken so much time off but, at the same time, I am glad that I was nowhere near the office for a few days. I am sure that it will be days before I get caught up and, by then, I am going to be looking forward to the next break in the calendar. Sometimes that is just how things go and all we can do is hold on, try not to throw up, and enjoy the ride (so I used a cliché, bite me).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Back To My Usual Position


Having been put on stage on Saturday sitting behind the Secretary’s desk at Grand Lodge, it was nice to get back to my home lodge and sit behind my humble desk for another degree conferral. This one was particularly special as I was the first line signer on this particular petition. While I can’t give any specifics as to who he is or his profession, I can say that he is a man, now a brother, with an impressive and honorable background. I am proud to have been one of the brothers to support/endorse his petition and I am looking forward to assisting him in any way possible during his Masonic journey. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to share some common interests as we, and many of the other brothers in the lodge, share the same hobby.

However, there was also something else at work with regard to my enjoyment of the evening beyond the relief and pride that the night held. It was also a meeting when everything, I believe for the first time, was running smoothly for me. Everything was prepared in advance, all forms and the dispensation was ready for after the meeting, and I was, for the most part, up to date on correspondences and other items that have to get done every month. I even had time, unlike the stated meeting earlier this month, to enjoy a pleasant meal with my brothers before we opened the lodge.

This may have been the best combination of a day that I have experienced in a long time. I took the day off from work to reflect upon the Passover holiday (that is my way of celebrating) and also kept myself occupied with something to do. You know I can’t just have a day when I don’t do anything. So having some relaxation time combined with an objective was a great balance and what may have accentuated my ability to breathe while away from my desk during the week.

It was nice, for one day, for one night, to enjoy and observe everything going on. I don’t expect it to continue beyond a single day as the emails keep piling up and the petitions continue to thankfully trickle in, but I still had that one night of relaxation, relief, and pride. These really are the moments that keep many of us coming back week after week, month after month, and year after year. What a great way to conclude my first Masonic year.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Little Bit Of Passover Reading


Passover is a time when we reflect on the Exodus from Egypt and the struggle for freedom that has colored our character and influenced our faith and world view. However, when thinking about this, I can’t help but feel that the struggle has been forgotten and is only considered a part of our tradition, a story that does not go beyond the pages of the Torah. When reading Exodus, I came across the following sentence that made me stop and really put some long thought in the meaning behind the words:

“If, while breaking in, the thief is discovered, and he is struck and dies, [it is as if] he has no blood.” – Exodus 22:1

I read this as meaning that G-d will defend the actions of man when that man is just in his actions. Not satisfied with my own view, I went digging a little further I looked into the interpretation found in the Talmud. Rashi, considered the greatest commentator on the Tanach (for those of you unfamiliar with the term is the original, Jewish name for the 24 books of the Bible) considered the millennia of interpretation and produced the following commentary:

"He has no blood. [This signifies that] this is not [considered] murder. It is as though he [the thief] is [considered] dead from the start. Here the Torah teaches you: If someone comes to kill you, kill him first. And this one [the thief] has come to kill you, because he knows that a person will not hold himself back and remain silent when he sees people taking his money. Therefore, he [the thief] has come with the acknowledgement that if the owner of the property were to stand up against him, he [thief] would kill him [the owner]. - Talmud Sanhedrin. 72a"

The reason for expounding upon this sentence is quite simple. The Pharaoh, while not in the literal sense as the aforementioned thief, was depriving the Israelites of life. By keeping them enslaved and reliant upon him to provide them with their basic needs, he was stripping them of their freedom and leaving them, for the most part, powerless. It was not until they found the strength in G-d and from G-d to fight this tyrant that they were able to break their chains and become, once again, a free people.

While G-d clearly lent a hand in this endeavor, we must not forget that we are to be a reliant people granted with the innate ability to defend and protect ourselves as well as our fellow man. For when men strip us of our ability to stand up and fight for ourselves, do we once again find ourselves as helpless as a slave in Egypt. We have a responsibility to ourselves and to G-d to never again allow that to happen and so we must embrace our inalienable right to keep and bear arms.

We cannot become overly reliant on a government promising to provide us with our basic needs. We must be self-reliant and ready to work for what we want, fight for what we need, and defend the freedom that we have. In the end, while G-d undoubtedly lent a hand, the exodus required the actions of man. Moses was the one who led his people out of Egypt. Passover is a time to embrace the fact that we can still hold fast to our faith while at the same time fighting for our rights, our freedom, and our life.
 
 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Don’t Pass Over Passover


When it comes to Passover I have always been a ‘bad Jew’. Even during my more observant years, there were many observances that seemed to go unfulfilled. From attending synagogue to ridding the apartment of leavened products, the holiday always seemed to sneak up on me and these basic tasks were put off with the hope of improving next year. Well, like many things, if you put them off they are just not going to happen.

However, I always took time to remember the story of Passover and have taken time every year to think about the importance of that moment in my faith. Whether you believe that it actually happened or not it is a story that really makes you stop and think about the ‘what if’ that could have prevented Judaism from continuing to exist. For those of you in need of a quick refresher, here is the very condensed overview provided by Chabad.org (Click here for the full Passover story):

After many decades of slavery to the Egyptian pharaohs, during which time the Israelites were subjected to backbreaking labor and unbearable horrors, G‑d saw the people’s distress and sent Moses to Pharaoh with a message: “Send forth My people, so that they may serve Me.” But despite numerous warnings, Pharaoh refused to heed G‑d’s command. G‑d then sent upon Egypt ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.

At the stroke of midnight of 15 Nissan in the year 2448 from creation (1313 BCE), G‑d visited the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. While doing so, G‑d spared the Children of Israel, “passing over” their homes—hence the name of the holiday. Pharaoh’s resistance was broken, and he virtually chased his former slaves out of the land. The Israelites left in such a hurry, in fact, that the bread they baked as provisions for the way did not have time to rise. Six hundred thousand adult males, plus many more women and children, left Egypt on that day, and began the trek to Mount Sinai and their birth as G‑d’s chosen people.

For those of you that can’t believe such a series of events ever having occurred, I invite you to consider the explanations presented in “The Exodus Decoded”. Simply put, this is applying science to the story and applies many of the seemingly unrelated events and possibilities to the Passover story. If anything, it is something interesting to watch and will undoubtedly make you think a little bit.


In the end, regardless of your observance, Passover is a time to think about your faith and also what your ancestors have done for you to ensure that you have a place in this world and a faith to which you can hold fast. The story, the challenges faced by Moses, and the journey that began with that sequence of events is something that we can all apply to our own histories. This is a time to be thankful that sometimes G-d passes over us in order to save us and the challenges we endure will come to an end and bring us to a state of peace with ourselves and our faith. So, take time to embrace Passover, the freedom it represents, and apply that to your life.  Be thankful for all that you have, the challenges that you have faced, and the bright future that is always within reach.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Looping Around


Today was the first day in a long time when nothing was planned. We tried to schedule a few things for the day but, in the end, nothing came to fruition and we were left with some free time. While most days I prefer having something to do and/or somewhere to go, it was a nice change to not have to be anywhere and my wife and I could simply take the day as it came and enjoy just being together. So that is what we did… nothing in particular.
 
Actually, that is not completely true. With the weather clear and the temperature in the 80’s we couldn’t just stay inside and slowly simmer in our apartment with the sun beating through the windows and without the cool comfort of air conditioning. We are in one of those odd and uncomfortable in-between times when the weather fluctuates and the utilities aren’t quite in line with the daily swings. So rather than allow the discomfort test our patience, we got in the car, put the windows down, and drove in a large loop.
 
The highway was relatively clear with only the occasional insane person speeding by on a motorcycle and before we knew it we were getting off the interstate and heading north on route 611. While 611 is not the most pleasant road to drive, it is familiar and an easy way to loop around by heading north to the Route 202 intersection. Route 202, like 611, is for the most part not a pleasant weekend drive type road but between 611 and 309 it is actually a very nice mosey trip with plenty of open space and we are not the only ones who think so as there was a steady stream of cars on the road at this point and a plethora of pedestrians walking and biking on the parallel path.
 
Back on 309, our over traveled route, we stopped and took a break heading to the local Target to run a few errands. In the clean confines of the retail store we found all the items on our list and then some as the clearance racks were filled with other items that we had been putting off purchasing for some time. Nothing exciting, just some sweat pants, shirts, and coffee. The basic items that can add up quickly when paying full price but when on clearance can be a great way to stretch your money. Needless to say, I am good for another year for workout clothes and should be good for at least a month regarding coffee.
 
With bags in the back seat (my trunk is a mess that never seems to go away) and the windows flapping the plastic, we set the cruse control and headed back to the apartment. Even during the days when nothing is planned, we still tend to get things done. The constant activity can be tiring at times but today was just a relaxing day when we could go out and spend some time together without having to stick to a specific schedule. We need more of these kinds of days.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Grand Lodge and Mini Golf


As I approached the Convention Center parking lot early this morning I knew that it was going to be a challenge finding a parking space and navigating the sidewalks. Wave upon wave of teenage volleyball players and families were pouring out of the doors and scurrying across the garage without regard for cars driving to the top of the garage to grab one of the last remaining spots. It was a challenge to stay calm behind the wheel with that kind of reckless abandon occurring before my sleep deprived eyes.

With the car safely tucked in the corner of the 9th floor, I made my way down the cramped elevator and walked up the block to the shake hands with the growing crowd of smoking brothers standing just in front of the Grand Lodge. After about 30 minutes of chatting and catching up with the brothers I rarely meet except for similar occasions, we all headed up the marble stairs to get the morning started. My original plan was to simply observe the training sessions this morning.

However, moments after taking my seat the District Deputy Grand Master asked if I would be willing to sit in as Secretary for the first session of the morning. I have sat at my desk during regular lodge meetings many times now but sitting in the east at the grand lodge is a completely different experience and one that is very humbling when you are being critiqued on every word you say. In what seemed like a few fleeting minutes, the morning had evaporated and before I could give a moment of thought to the flying time, we were off to lunch at the Racket Club.

After a quick and tasty lunch, including a childhood favorite of Snapper soup, compliments of the Worshipful Master we went on a quick tour of the landmark building before walking back to the parking garage and headed off in various directions to meet again on Tuesday night. Surprisingly I was running on time for the first time all week and made it back to the apartment by 2pm. And, of course, within a few minutes of stepping foot in the apartment we were walking back out and getting in the car to drive around up north.

We set the GPS to drive by a rental in an area near where we were considering moving to check out the area and the travel time. With a nice drive behind us and a pleasant surprise in the location of the listing, we drove over to the next town where my wife knew of a miniature golf location. Seeing that the weather was so nice and we were in the area anyway be both thought that it would be a nice relaxing outdoor activity that would occupy the rest of the afternoon.

Following a crappy put-put performance, it was time to continue my sucking ways by walking over to the batting cages. Granted it has probably been close to a decade since my last time in the cage that is no excuse for just how badly I stunk. And, to make matters worse, the pictures my wife captured really are not flattering and are, in a certain sense, quite sad. Let’s just say I have a long way to go at the gym. But, in the end, it was a great day with some quality time spent with my brothers in the morning and my wife the rest of the day. Now, it’s time to rest a little bit this weekend.
 
 
 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ending The Work Week With A Trip To Philly


The work week came to an end this evening after another slow slog into the city for a final cocktail reception at the Comcast Center to wrap up Philly Tech Week. It was a warm night with a breeze that offered a cool respite from the heat generated by the tech savvy crowd filling the tent just outside the main lobby. I arrived early in the evening with sore feet and heavy eyes. Upon looking around, I was not the only one in this state as the mass of people seemed ready to put an end to the week with one final evening of demonstrating, promoting, and relaxing a little around the open bar.

With name tag hanging around my neck I began walking around the room to see what interesting companies, programs, and people were lined up at tables on the perimeter. It really was an interesting mix ranging from Neat scanners to AutismExpressed, mobile marketing technology and warehouse management solutions to foreign governments (got a really nice bag from the UK Tech Council). The companies were as diverse as the swag that lined their tables and it was a fascinating journey from one company to the next.

While many people might not see Philadelphia as a hotbed for innovation, the products and services that filled the reception area and some of the idea being pitched and discussed throughout the evening put that misconception to rest. It really was one of those evenings when you knew that you weren’t the smartest person in the room but, at the same time, everyone was walking around with that same sense which opened up the conversation and allowed for interactions that are pretty unique and very much embodied the Philly mentality. It was an experience watching this dynamic in the room as you could tell that many were not used to being in that position but embraced it nevertheless.

For me, this was also an evening to enjoy the people I work with. After making the rounds and learning as much as I could about the tech scene represented this evening, I joined up with my colleagues as we continued to meander around the reception area both in the lobby and in the tent. As the evening wound down, we all began to relax more and more spending many of the last moments catching up with (and in my case being introduced to) some former coworkers. Before long, exhausted from both the week and the evening we slowly made our way toward the exit stopping along the way for some final chats and a final Shake Shack burger.

As is the case with all receptions and events, it only took us about 3 minutes before we were able to finally exit the tent. The night had cooled significantly but the open space of the city sidewalk was welcomed even with a slight chill in the air. It was finally time to head home and get some overdue rest before rolling out of bed tomorrow morning at 6. The work week was finally over but my week still had another day to go.


 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Some Speakers Are Better Than Others


With a full schedule, I awoke early this morning looking forward to joining the Commonwealth Club for breakfast at The Radnor Hotel. While I did run a little late, I was there in plenty of time as I was able to get myself a modest breakfast and easily find a seat about five minutes before the meeting began and the speaker was introduced. I even had enough time to introduce myself to the distinguished guest and hand him a bag from his niece that I was asked to give to him. It is interesting how you seems to have, if you look hard enough, an existing connection to everyone you meet (I even figured out the loose connection to Kevin Bacon).

The meeting began like all the others that I have written about in the past with a few words from the Party Chairman and the introduction of the presenter for the morning. However, only a few minutes into the former Governor, Senator, and Attorney General’s talk (yes, he held all of those positions in his career) you could tell that this candid conversation was much different from those for which we had previously been present. Maybe it was the fact that he is no longer active in politics (at least he no longer holds an official office) but it seemed to be much more than that.

With all that continues to swirl around Washington and the divide that seems to widen by the day among the voting public, having someone speak to the unity that is needed, unity in the pursuit of liberty and opportunity and the diversity of this country as a blessing rang a unique tone. Not because it is a goal and a message absent from the party but because it is coming from a man who has been the target of so many attacks from the opposition but remains true to the hope of a country which embraces freedom rather than the overburdened policies and legislation designed to limit opportunity and growth within each free individual.

Hearing those sentiments from John Ashcroft really made me wonder about how this party, my party, is viewed from the opposition and how wrong that pervasive opinion really is. I have seen the people and the actions of this party with my own eyes and know the inclusiveness that is woven into the ideals ad opportunities that we promote. However, I have seen the actions of individuals who do not embody these ideals, tarnish our work and our party. But we do not let that stop us, we continue to support individual liberty and responsibility as a means to unify all of us and open the doors of opportunity to improve the lives of everyone as well as our country as a whole because, in the end, this country does not belong to one party or another, it belongs to us all.

Instead of looking for answers, look for opportunity. Don’t rely solely on the words of others, seek the truth of the matter through your own efforts. And, like Attorney General Ashcroft, focus on what is right (or the letter of the law as the case may be) rather than what is popular. After all, the truths are self-evident if we just open our eyes and embrace the rights of freedom and liberty. The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should not be negotiated or compromised or regulated by government. We, as a people, must be united in this continued devotion to ourselves, one another, and our country. And finally, remember that the opportunity to embrace our rights should not be ignored or else we begin chipping away at liberty.