Saturday, January 31, 2015

Packages And Returns

It seems as though there is one package or another that arrives at the office on a daily basis. All different shapes, sizes, and weights. Some business and others personal (especially around the holidays). Also a common sights is the occasional box that is put aside to be picked up and returned to where it came from. I have heard all the reasons for send something back even though I rarely do so myself from wrong size or color to poor quality, wrong item all together, or arriving too late and everything in between.

Every time I see one of those packages heading out the door I can’t help but think about the cost of those returns and how the “free returns” policy isn’t really a free service as those anticipated costs are factored into the price of the object. When I looked into the data behind returns (focusing on the online side of things) I was taken aback by the percentage… in 2013, The Wall Street Journal found that nearly a third (33%) of all online purchases were returned for one reason or another. That is a lot of money spend on “free returns”.

Beyond the money it just seems like a pain in the what to have to go through that process and I tried finding some more information on what impact it has on the retailer. From a recent survey I found the following statistics:
  • 54% of respondents stated that the reason for returning an item purchased online or by phone is because the item is the incorrect size or color
  • 97% of respondents stated that the return process is important to their future intentions to shop with a retailer
  • 73% of respondents who receive an incorrect item after already returning it once stated that they are much less likely to shop with that retailer online or by phone again for future purchases
  • 45% of respondents who have experienced continuous return process issues with particular retailers stated that they have limited shopping with that retailer altogether (both online and in-store)
  • 26% of respondents expect the correct item to be shipped to them within one to two days after returning the incorrect item
While I rely more on the end cost of the item and tend to put up with these errors, it seems as though I am among the minority. But it makes me think more about the disconnect that many people have from the products they buy while maintaining the “I see it now and I want it now” mentality. While I prefer going into a store and buying the items that I want or need, online is an inexpensive alternative to get the same thing at a much better price. I wonder how many of those in the above survey could have avoided the return had they seen the color in person and determined if something ran large or small while trying it on in the store.

We have to remember that while online shopping is convenience and cheaper, the in-store experience is sometimes worth the ten minutes out of your day and ten cents out of your pocket. Heck, sometimes it is cheaper to buy in the store if you simply talk to the sales person, manager, or owner. That little bit of time can end up saving you a lot of aggravation if not money and if people stop returning so much stuff online it might even drive down some of those “low prices” even further.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Firearms Friday: SNAFU

When Sig Sauer originally started producing the Sig Brace they insisted that reviewers, especially those on YouTube, not shoulder the brace so that the ATF wouldn’t get their feelings hurt. The brace was designed with a specific purpose at its inception in that it would assist those unable to shoulder an AR-15 by allowing them to put the brace on a pistol length platform and wrap the brace around their forearm allowing for one handed operation. Since the ATF was fine with people shouldering an unaltered pistol, the brace was frequently being employed as a means to circumvent NFA requirements and making AR pistols function similarly to the highly regulated short barrel rifle.

The Sig Brace even came with (and probably still does) a letter from the ATF securing the legality of the brace and the multiple purposes that it serves. Everything was fine for a while but as soon as the first video was posted of the brace being shouldered, the letters to the ATF came pouring in. The astounding thing is that these correspondences were not from the registration and regulation happy crowd, they were from law abiding gun owners basically asking the federal agency if they were really really sure that shouldering was okay.

Well finally the ATF had enough and like most people in politics they decided to flip flop and declare that the shouldering of the brace was no longer allowed. That’s right, we had a good thing going and we are the ones that screwed it all up. So now we are going to have to wait and see if Sig Sauer decides to fight the ruling and eventually we will find out if the ATF will reverse their decision again.

But, for the time being, here are four simple words for some of the gun owners out there: “Shut The Heck Up!”

Of course, there are many of us that see the Bureau of Always Totally Fudged more as a waste of money rather than an effective means of regulation. After all, who are they really regulating anyway? That’s right, it is the law abiding gun owner (some obviously a little too overzealous in their caution) not the ones that would use any of the NFA items in a nefarious way. The $200 tax stamp, extra paper work, and additional background checks are only ensuring that they know where all the legal firearms are and doing nothing to remove them from the hands of criminals. 

Heck, maybe the ones who need to be controlled are the hoplophobes who like to randomly tackle citizens legally carrying a firearm into a Florida Walmart. Those people are nuts… and fortunately now they’re going to jail. Who’s the real criminal here?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Times They Are A Changing…

Hello... is it me your looking for? 
We are now getting to the point in the pregnancy when there is nothing that can really make my wife comfortable and, therefore, there is no way that I am going to be comfortable. Sleep is sporadic at best and the smallest amount of stress (completely unavoidable at this point) cause the occasional contraction. While that may be worrisome to many, we are at the point when this is a completely normal irregular thing to happen. It’s when they become regular that we have to considering hauling to the hospital.

We still have some things that we need to take care of around the house but, overall, everything seems to be under control. With that said, there seem to be things that will come about every other day that just throw all of our plans out the door (where they are stomped on and lit on fire). I guess that is just another way to prepare us for having a baby in our life… you really have to take things as they come once he arrives.

The doctor appointments are now every week with the mad rush out of the office becoming more and more difficult but still completely manageable. And so far, with the exception of a few times when we have had to wait a little longer than usual or reschedule due to weather, everything has checked out and our son is happy, healthy, and active to the point that even the nurses are surprised. The doctor actually considers our son’s development completely normal… I guess he shouldn’t get used to being described that way given the family around him.

It’s funny that many of the conversations that I’ve had with people they all expect me to be nervous and ‘not ready yet’ but, above all else, I am excited to see and hold our son. As each day passes the anticipation grows and the nerves subside ever so slightly. I don’t expect this to be easy but I am looking forward to his arrival probably more than anything else that I have waited for in my life.

I wish that was the only thing that was going on in our lives right now but nothing in life is ever easy no matter how smoothly things may seem to be progressing at times. We have to take the bad with the good no matter how hard it is to handle. With everything that surrounds us and occupies our days, I can’t wait for that moment when I can hold our baby and forget about everything else that is going on in the world (even if he decides to poop on me).

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Little Lodge Surprise

 Having received the email earlier in the morning, I was sitting at the kitchen table yesterday continuing to work on a variety of pressing projects while rummaging through the overflow of papers that had taken over my work bag. In the middle of all this I was going back and forth on my lode email trying to determine whether or not we would still be having fellowship during this cold and windy night. As the afternoon continued, it seemed less and less likely that I would be joined by my fellow brothers… it looked as though it was going to be a quick evening.

With no real anticipation of being joined in Ardmore that night, I took my time finishing up a few things, packing my bag, and heading out the door. While I would normally arrive after work around 7, last night I turned the corner about thirty minutes later than usual and noticed something surprising… all the lights were on. After checking the mailbox across the street I walked through the main doors only to find a first floor void of any activity. Without a second thought I made my way up the stairs and found the lodge room door wide open and a few muffled instructions coming from within.

I entered the room only to find that I had become the longest standing member of the lodge in this small but dedicated group of 6 brothers. I think that might have been the first time that I had experienced that and it was a bit of an odd feeling. They were all there to learn some of the roles during the degree work going step by step lead by a brother raised only 5 months prior. Impressive leadership to say the least.

With things well under control I walked to the front of the room, pulled out the mail and the ledger, and took care of a few of the items that I had just retrieved from the post office. Once those few items were taken care of, it was time to pull out the computer (another odd feeling for me sitting at desk in the lodge room) and get some other work done that I had been putting off all day. Basically all the items that are without deadlines but should be taken care of as soon as I have a free moment or two.

Even while working I was still able to look out over the screen and check on the progress of our new brothers. Occasionally a question would be cast in my direction and, to my surprise, I was able to respond rather quickly. I guess I have absorbed more than I realized over the past couple of years.

The night came to an end around the usual time and we all made our way back out into the frigid weather. Some of us heading home to family while others taking the time to grab some dinner before getting on the road. However, we all left knowing that we would see each other again the following week which is a welcomed change from just a year ago.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

From Above

It seems to be lost in the news today with weather reports seemingly playing on a loop. No matter how much snow is on the ground, today will never be remembered for the weather that occurred or never happened. Today is the day we remember the liberation of Auschwitz. Today, Holocaust Remembrance Day, we rededicate ourselves to NEVER FORGET what happened, how it happened, and what was not done to prevent the horror.

The past 70 years have done nothing to ease the pain that permeates the conscious of the world, the families of the survivors, and the generations that were cast into the sky across Europe. For those that survived it is not simply a memory, it is a reality as vivid as the number on their arm. It is history that requires the strength of the living in order to ensure that those who did not survive are forever remembered.

Unfortunately, the lessons taught in the schools are continuously being tempered removing much of the horrifying vividness and barbarism that can be found in the words of those who survived the Nazi reign. As the number of survivors slowly dwindles we find ourselves in a situation where the only people that can describe what happened are disappearing. While we can do our best and even gain praise from those who were there, our words will forever fall short as our experiences will never come close to what actually happened.

Sometimes when we are doing our best we still feel as though we are falling short of reality. I have attempted to tell the little known stories of those who have vanished into history but I know that my words are just that… words on a page. Even the images that we have all seen on the screen can only convey so much. We watch, removed no matter how engrossed, far away in both time and space.

The emotions are still fresh even in what would seem to be an objective view such as the aerial footage of Auschwitz released by the BBC today. I watch that video and see the expanse of the camp from the vantage point of the countless Jews who floated up the smoke stacks and drifted over those same buildings on their voyage to meet G-d. It is an emotion and a connection that keeps me from watching the short video straight through.

However, just above where the camera hovered, jets scream across the sky. Hope flies above as the Israeli Air Force conducted a fly over of the concentration camp today. This, above and beyond any words that I can write, is the best way not only to say but to declare NEVER AGAIN!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Snow Falling Short

Um... No!
So far the season has been as mild as we could have hoped for with little snow and reasonable temperatures. There have been a few questionable days when the ice caught everyone off guard but nothing in comparison to the frozen deluges that we experienced last year. This has been the story of the season up to this point.

However, beginning late last week the story that dominated the nightly news has been that of the storm that was making its way across the country set to veer northward as if in a sudden drunken rage. We all knew that the dry time that we have been enjoying would have to come to an end at some point but it is still an unwelcome shift in the seasonal demeanor. Of course, that is a rather mild summary of the predictions that dominate the television, internet, and radio.

Just like every other instance of any significant precipitation, it is cast as though Armageddon will be bearing down on us. The stores were bombarded yesterday leaving my wife and me to change our plans and head to an alternative place to shop. Snow removal supplies were dwindling all across the region. It was the usual effect stemming from the worst case scenarios that have been promoted for days.

Because of the ominous sky and the preacher-like warnings broadcast throughout the previous evening and early morning, the roads were a little lighter than usual allowing me to make good time to the office in the morning. During the day we heard much of the same from the various media outlets with an additional suggestion to purchase supplies for the specific purpose of making life sustaining French toast. An interesting suggestion given the warnings of possible power outages.

I managed to leave the office a little earlier than usual but still later than most. We put off plans and appointments earlier in the day so I was able to get on the highway and enjoy the sparse traffic all the way home. There were a few slightly slick spots along the course of my commute and the snow picked up here and there but nothing like the blizzard conditions that were being called for.  

By the time my wife headed off to bed this evening the snow had nearly stopped with a little more than a dusting falling from the sky less intense than Ally Sheedy’s artistic flair in The Breakfast Club. As I finish this post the night is nearly clear with a forecast now predicting nothing more than cold air and a white landscape. I guess Armageddon isn’t that bad after all.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Cursing At The Furniture

For the past several evenings I have been able to get out of the office at a normal time and head straight home without having any other obligations in the evening. There was also a few free hours the past couple of weeks. This “free” time was quickly cashed in so that we could finally get everything put together and moved into place in the baby’s room. By the end of the day I was really wishing that Babies R Us had offered assembly when we ordered online. 

All of the furniture arrived earlier this month and has been sitting in pieces in the middle of the room. It is not that putting together the functional jigsaw puzzles was complicated it really just came down to finding the time to read the directions and putting them together. The first attempt to do so came last Saturday when hutch pieces were strewn across the floor and I started screwing the pieces together. Ten minutes later the initial project was put on hold as the pot metal hardware bent and broke thanks to a few holes that were drilled too deep. This was only the beginning of the cursing at inanimate objects portion of the day.

After a quick trip to Home Depot for some replacements and spares, we got back on track putting things together. I built the furniture and my wife supervised… our son isn’t old enough to help lift things yet. It is a model that has worked in the past so why mess with it. An hour in and the hutch was put together and attached to the dresser. I could see my wife’s eyes light up as the first piece was put into place (and then put into a new place when we reconsidered the layout.

The crib and changing table was next. It is safe to say that directions are not the company’s strong suit as there were numerous instances of putting together, taking apart, and reassembling parts where the instructions were clearly left to interpretation. However, with the sun slowly setting and the lamp we found on clearance prolonging the work day, everything finally came together leaving only the glider still in its box.

The glider and ottoman proved to be, by far, the easiest items to build and within 20 minutes of putting the crib in the corner, the room was complete. My wife, both tired and eager, soon followed by letting me know of her plans of where she wanted to place the pile of things that we received at the baby shower. By the time we went to bed that night, some of those things were already in place.

Now we are down to the details. Getting the clothes cleaned, organizing the shelves, decorating the walls (thanks to the clearance sections at Babies R Us), and stocking the room with many of the things that we will need for our son. It is all coming together and while many of the things are in place and ready, I am sure that there are even more things that we are forgetting about and will only remember once we need them. Until then, we will get everything else together and wait for baby.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Reading With A Bit Of Envy

During my life I have enjoyed travelling to many different places around the United States and to some other parts of the world. Every once in a while, such as this week when I was corresponding with a reporter, I am even able to pull from those experiences and offer a few suggestions of places to go, things to see, or where you can get a nice meal. While I am more traveled than some, I fall tremendously short of others.

Maybe this is the reason why I experience a slight hint of envy when I read my friend Nadine’s blog. Nadine and my wife used to work together years ago and since that time she has been to some amazing places and accomplished some impressive feats. She has been to France for a season, Italy to visit a friend, and, this past summer she walked the entirety of the Camino. All of these places would be wonderful to see but I have yet to travel to those places.

Thankfully, she has proven to be quite the prolific blogger and photographer so, on occasion, I will venture over to her page and read through some of the informative and entertaining posts… most of them have centered on travel but there is also a good mix of both humor and reflection. I think the most recent incarnation of her creative passion, “Begin With A Single Step”, touches on all of those things and more. This was evident in her first post when she wrote the following:

A single step feels both enormous and insignificant. Whether it’s an actual footstep, the beginning action of something, a small part of a process or even a decision to start; it’s one step. It takes stringing the steps together, putting one foot in front of the other over and over again, day in and day out- often tirelessly- to get somewhere. To create something. To change one thing in your life. To change your entire life.

I read the words and look at the picture and while I would like to see those places first hand there are also places that I have been and experiences I have had that have filled my life. Some people have even read my posts about them or heard me mention them in conversation and reacted the same way that I do to Nadine’s adventures. Even if I never make it to the places that I read about in books or on blogs, there are so many other things that I would have never been able to experience had I packed my bags and hit the road.

I guess we all just live different lives with each of us seeing different things while others simply imagine them. We can do everything and be everywhere. We all put one foot in front of the other but it doesn’t mean we are all going to walk on the same path or in the same direction. And, honestly, I am blown away by the scenery that surrounds me on my journey.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Firearms Friday: Pennsylvania Pride

Last week I came across a post on The Firearm Blog about a new handgun that was being introduced to the marketplace. Produced by Evans Machining, Nite Owl Firearms is only the most recent firearm to come out of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The new offering from my state joins a long list of manufactures that call Pennsylvania home. Here is a list of some of the companies that are producing high quality items:

Nite Owl Firearms / Evans Machining Services (Clairton):
Evans Machining Service Inc. has over 35 years of experience in the manufacturing sector and a long history of producing key components and assemblies for all types of small weapon systems for the United States Department of Defense. With the launch of the consumer facing brand "Nite Owl Firearms", their vision is to be recognized as the most modern, reliable and customer friendly manufacturing company in the Outdoor & Personal Defense Industry.

IWI (Israel Weapon Industries) US Headquarters (Harrisburg):
IWI US, Inc. is a subsidiary of Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) Ltd., which for many years has operated in the global Defense and Law Enforcement markets. IWI US, Inc. was established in 2012 in order to offer the highest quality and most advanced products available - as well as to provide a high level of service and support for American consumers. Located in Harrisburg, PA, IWI US has appointed a very experienced team of senior managers to oversee its operations in the US market. The IWI US line of products includes several configurations of the TAVOR® SAR, GALIL ACE®, UZI® PRO and Jericho® pistols.

Kahr Arms / Magnum Research / Thompson / Auto-Ordnance (Pike County):
 Kahr Arms, an innovative firearms manufacturer, was founded on fifteen years of manufacturing service in precision metalworking industries. Kahr incorporates the inherited professional, technical expertise into all of its operations. Kahr's parent company, established in 1981, has been a leading supplier of computer numerical control (CNC) machine tools and applications engineering. In 1986, the company expanded by forming a manufacturing division which provides quality contract machining, manufacturing and assembly services for diverse industries, including aerospace, automotive, electronics, medical equipment, scientific instrumentation and telecommunications. This division offers in-house engineering and precision tooling services, as well as, secondary operations that complement the machining and manufacturing capabilities.

Cabot Guns (Cabot):
Cabot Guns is collaboration between Cabot Guns and Penn United Technologies Inc., a world-leading precision manufacturer. Together they design, build, and market seven model 1911 handguns. Cabot Guns are machined from solid blocks of 4140 billet steel to within tolerances of 2/10,000th of an inch. Cabot believes our frames and slides are the most highly-engineered components ever made for a 1911. Penn United Technologies' proprietary technology allows the frame and slide of a Cabot 1911 to be completely interchangeable with other Cabot 1911 frames and slides. This is unheard of in our industry. Cabot Pistols exceed National Match Standards for accuracy right out of the box.

Geissele Automatics (North Wales):
Geissele Automatics was established in 2004 as a manufacturer of trigger mechanisms for the AR15 rifle. Our first trigger, the Hi-Speed National Match, was designed by our Founder, Bill Geissele, for CMP and NRA Hi-Power Rifle competition. Although designed for target shooting, the Geissele Hi-Speed trigger was found by the U.S. Military to have applications in semi-automatic sniper weapons. In 2005 Geissele Automatics received a request from the Department of Defense: "Can you build us a select-fire trigger that is as good as your Hi-Speed?" In response, Bill designed the Geissele Super Select-Fire trigger (SSF). After rigorous testing the SSF was adopted by entities in the U.S. Special Operations community and has become their trigger of choice for M4 carbine based weapons. A derivative of the SSF trigger was developed to meet the needs of law enforcement and civilians who do not need select-fire capability. This trigger, the Super Semi-Automatic (SSA,) combines stellar performance with the safety, reliability and forgiveness for which 2 stage triggers are known.

While Pennsylvania remains a second amendment friendly state and gun owners across the commonwealth are now able to legally defend their rights, it remains important that we hold fast to our tradition and continue to produce industry leading firearms and accessories. While we carry the northern stigma from those that surround us, we remain far different from our neighbors and embrace the rights that every citizen should have. We are dedicated to supporting individual rights and, despite recent political turnover, those rights will continue to flourish in this great commonwealth. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Double D’Oh!

On my way to the office on Tuesday morning the radio was full of both local and national discussions as we would see a new Governor take office in Pennsylvania around lunch time and the President was set to address the nation in his State of the Union speech in the evening. It should be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I wasn’t looking forward to either of these speeches. Two meals ruined by the double d’oh!

The morning flew by as I as jumping from project to project trying to make sure things were lined up for what was going to be a scattered afternoon. As I walked out of my office to head to a meeting Tom Wolf (in sheep’s clothing) was being sworn in as the 47th Governor of the Commonwealth. While his speech was innocuous there are too many questions still unanswered stemming from his previously stated views from the campaign. While by no means all encompassing, this was pointed out later in the evening by 6 ABC (a local Philadelphia news station) when they reported the following:

“Wolf outlined his goals in positive, general terms - creating good-paying jobs, equalizing educational opportunity in public schools and providing "a government that works." He did not mention a projected $2 billion-plus revenue gap for the fiscal year that starts July 1 or his proposals that include levying a new tax on the natural gas industry, overhauling the state income tax and increasing public school funding.”

Basically we are all just waiting for the state and local taxes to go up along with the federal taxes that are certain to be on the rise as well. Having a greater chunk taken out of our pay is a near certainty heading into the final two years of the Obama administration. Some will say that it will only be imposed on the top 1% but those are not the ones that are going to feel it. Trickle down taxation is something that is not discussed as much as it should be but simply put the ripple from top to bottom is certain and, in the end, we are all going to have lighter wallets.

By the way, Business Insider has a great state by state chart of how much you would have to make to be considered part of the 1%. The Atlantic has another chart that breaks it down by age. While still high compared to what many of us take home each year, it is takes far less than a million dollar annually to be considered part of the 1%. In fact, when you think about it, nearly every politician that you vote for would fall into this top echelon.

However, what really struck me about the evening speech by the President is the combative tone which he used throughout the night including the record threat to veto four separate initiatives expected to be passed by Congress. This is particularly striking when paired with his other pleas for understanding and cooperation. With an economy that is still lagging and national security in question, might we consider the fact that there are other ways to go about doing business. Of course that wouldn’t work. Instead we are going to keep paying more and more money to support failed and flawed policies because the best way to fix a problem is to throw money at it and the best way to get people to accept something is to give it to them for free (you just get taxed for shipping, handling, and processing). The state of disillusion is strong indeed!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Brother Helping Brother

With a rather hectic day behind me I found myself trying to catch up and take care of those quick phone calls that seem to get lost in the minutes of the calendar. Having checked off a few of the things that I had fallen behind on I made one more call before I left the office. It had been well over a week since I placed the print over at Staples for the lodge and I haven’t heard anything from them. I am glad that I decided to pick up the phone as I was able to swing through Bryn Mawr and pick up everything that we needed to send the notice out this weekend (with the exception of the notice which will get done later this week).

With a fresh stockpile of dues cards, an address stamp, and newly retrieved mail in hand, I walked through the front door just as the Worshipful Master was heading out. After reviewing a few quick items (including the aforementioned dues cards which have a very minor change over the old stock), we circled up on a couple of things, shook hands, and parted for the evening. When I walked in I didn’t notice many brothers in the hall with the exception of a new mason putting together the announcement board in the corner. However, it was quite and I soon found myself finishing up a few items a little faster than usual and heading up to the lodge room to grab the embosser.

It was here where I found all the brothers that I thought would be at the lodge. Split into a couple of groups to work with new candidates, many of the recently raised brothers were instructing them on what they had just learned the previous week. Can’t say that I would have been able to do the same thing so soon after being raised. It really was something to behold as this was for them a normal part of being a mason. The fellowship that we have tried so hard to foster over the past year was slowly becoming part of what is expected from candidates and, therefore, new masons.

It was the epitome of brother helping brother. The room was mostly filled with those who have been masons for two years or less with a Past Master offering his wisdom and experience when needed. While I offered a few tips here and there to the new masons, I pretty much stood back and enjoyed being in the midst of such a drastic change over what we experienced last winter. While there are things that need to be done every week at the lodge, this is really what makes me look forward to driving to Ardmore every Tuesday night.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Overlooked Anniversary

There is a certain pall to this day on the calendar and it has nothing to do with the weather outside our windows. It is a day that hangs over us not just for what happened but also because the majority of those reading this post have no idea what happened on this day in 1942. While the results of this day will never be forgotten, the day itself seems to have been lost. 73 years ago today the Wannsee Conference took place and the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was officially put into action.

There is little that I can say about this day so rather than write at length on the atrocities that resulted from this meeting I will simply encourage you to talk to a Holocaust survivor and/or someone who was at the liberation of one of the concentration camps as there is little time left to hear their accounts first hand. I have spoken with people from all perspectives and the realities revealed are more horrible than that which you can read in a book. Seeing the memories in their eyes cannot be replaced by words on a page or images on a screen.

In addition to the human connection (which directly contradicts the actions of this anniversary), learn about what happened during this meeting, on this day. The movie "Conspiracy", while no means a replacement for research, offers as thorough an overview of the conference as you can find on the screen. However, the historical fiction on the screen should only serve as a reminder not as an actual recounting of facts.

Seek out local holocaust memorials and museums. You do not need a special day or anniversary to mourn what happened but it days such as this do offer additional meaning to those visitations. Having been to Yad Vashem and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (as well as exhibits in a few other countries), they are powerful places that envelope you and bring you as close as you can get to the actual items and stories of the victims and survivors as possible. Many of these places of remembrance also have survivors who volunteer their time to tell visitors of their experiences. Don’t miss the opportunity to speak with them.

Lastly, probably the best way to remember what happened and to ensure that conferences such as the one held in Wannsee can never be successful is to support the State of Israel. This must serve and always be the final solution of the Jewish question. We are united with a place to forever call home; we are able to support ourselves; and we are able to defend ourselves. That is the final answer of the Jewish question!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Reflections On This Day

As has been obvious to anyone watching or reading the news, over the past year (especially during the last six month) there has been a tremendous amount of racial discourse. There have been many instances when the protests have been thoughtful and thought provoking while there have also been numerous occasions when the messages have been lost in the rage and rampage both physically and verbally. There have been calls for peace as well as race baiting accusations. Overall, the dichotomy has been tremendous especially considering that each has called on the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to support their actions.

In the majority of these instances, the verdict was declared before a pursuit of justice could even begin. On more than one occasion, those who sought to tell the truth were threatened with their lives… some came forward but too many remained silent. It makes me wonder how those who seek to prevent justice view this holiday when we remember a man who spent his life and gave his life in the hope that justice, freedom, equality, and peace could be embraced by all regardless of race, religion, or nationality. As Coretta Scott King wrote in “The Meaning of The King Holiday”:

On this day we commemorate Dr. King’s great dream of a vibrant, multiracial nation united in justice, peace and reconciliation; a nation that has a place at the table for children of every race and room at the inn for every needy child. We are called on this holiday, not merely to honor, but to celebrate the values of equality, tolerance and interracial sister and brotherhood he so compellingly expressed in his great dream for America.

It is a day of interracial and intercultural cooperation and sharing. No other day of the year brings so many peoples from different cultural backgrounds together in such a vibrant spirit of brother and sisterhood. Whether you are African-American, Hispanic or Native American, whether you are Caucasian or Asian-American, you are part of the great dream Martin Luther King, Jr. had for America. This is not a black holiday; it is a peoples’ holiday. And it is the young people of all races and religions who hold the keys to the fulfillment of his dream.

We commemorate on this holiday the ecumenical leader and visionary who embraced the unity of all faiths in love and truth. And though we take patriotic pride that Dr. King was an American, on this holiday we must also commemorate the global leader who inspired nonviolent liberation movements around the world. Indeed, on this day, programs commemorating my husband’s birthday are being observed in more than 100 nations.

The King Holiday celebrates Dr. King’s global vision of the world house, a world whose people and nations had triumphed over poverty, racism, war and violence. The holiday celebrates his vision of ecumenical solidarity, his insistence that all faiths had something meaningful to contribute to building the beloved community.

The Holiday commemorates America’s pre-eminent advocate of nonviolence — the man who taught by his example that nonviolent action is the most powerful, revolutionary force for social change available to oppressed people in their struggles for liberation.

This holiday honors the courage of a man who endured harassment, threats and beatings, and even bombings. We commemorate the man who went to jail 29 times to achieve freedom for others, and who knew he would pay the ultimate price for his leadership, but kept on marching and protesting and organizing anyway.

Every King Holiday has been a national “teach-in” on the values of nonviolence, including unconditional love, tolerance, forgiveness and reconciliation, which are so desperately-needed to unify America. It is a day of intensive education and training in Martin’s philosophy and methods of nonviolent social change and conflict-reconciliation. The Holiday provides a unique opportunity to teach young people to fight evil, not people, to get in the habit of asking themselves, “what is the most loving way I can resolve this conflict?”

In Dr. King’s memory, I hope that we can all seek peace during this tumultuous time and seek truth and justice rather than assume guilt simply based on whether the person is black or white. To strive to accomplish any less in his memory would be to contradict all that he fought and died for. Remember, his dream was that ALL men are created equal!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Putting An End To The Apartment

This weekend, after many months of appointments and events requiring us to be in one place or another, we finally had a weekend without anything on the schedule (at least nothing that required me inputting information into my calendar). However, while I didn’t have to be anywhere, there was still plenty that needed to get done. This is why my entire Saturday was spent in our old apartment packing up the last few boxes and cleaning every corner of our former residence.

While we have been in our new place for nearly a month, there simply has been no time for me to dedicate to the project. There have been a number of nights when I stopped over there before lodge or picked up a necessity or two, but the cleaning and final clean out has had to be put off until now. The dirt, dust, and personal items have now been removed from the apartment but the memories, good and bad, will remain.

We made some great memories and had a variety of issue in our old place. While we put it behind us with some rather significant discontent, I am sure that we will at some point look back and think about the place with a fond nostalgia for the moments that brought us to where we are now. I am not going to hold my breath for that time to come but it is certainly bound to happen as it has time and again during my life.

Now we are looking forward, without the anchor that has been tethered to our ankles for the past couple of months. There are many great things that we have to look forward to and also some that we would rather not see come to fruition. Having a place where we can relax and call home has always been a goal of ours and while no place will ever be perfect, the house in which we now live is a heck of a lot closer to that goal and it is a place where we can comfortably start our family.

Even though it was a long day (one that I am certain to feel for the next week) it was quite satisfying finally putting the last few years behind us. It was a space that served its purpose but things change and now we are in the place where we need to be. Now we are in a place that we can welcome home our baby boy!

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Lost Genealogy Show

In a recent discussion on LinkedIn there was another genealogy program brought to my attention. After reading the back and forth around the pros and cons of the mainstream programs (i.e. Who Do You Think You Are, Finding Your Roots, and Genealogy Roadshow) I was interested to watch the YouTube video to see if this program did a better job especially with regard to process. Honestly, my expectations were not very high as I have seen numerous attempts at programs online but I figured that I would give it a shot.

While the intro to “Legend Seekers” leaves a little something to be desired the program itself is excellent. It is kind of the best of all worlds in that it is not reliant upon celebrity and it does not overburden itself with trying to take too broad a view of a family tree. Rather, the focus of the program is on a singular event in the family tree of a regular family. It is the kind of thing that all of us immersed in our own family history do on a regular basis just in a more condensed and presentable format.

While there is a lot that is left on the floor with regard to the process, there is still much more information regarding the resources that are available for people to conduct their own research and to whom they can turn to find the information that they are seeking. There are also tips and additional information to assist the viewer in their own search particularly regarding Census records and the wealth that can be found in cemeteries. While many of us who have been doing this for a while know this information it is always worth being reminded and it is of huge value to those who may just be getting started.

The program also shows the slight bumps and detours that we all run into. However, similar to mine and many other experiences that I have read, persistence can sometimes pay off as it did in the search for the Lively family in this episode. This is both an interesting and motivating program for those who are interested in researching their own family.

With all of that said, I do have one rather large problem with the program… this is the only episode that was made due to the lack of funding and not having been picked up for a full season. There are so many stories out there in every family that it would be great to see the stories that, for the most part, remain untold. Heck, I can think of a half dozen in my own family (a few of which I have mentioned on this blog) that I would like to see produced in this manner. Hopefully, sometime in the future, the show will return and give us a better example of what the real process is like… I would much rather spend the time watching more episodes of this rather than the aforementioned mainstream programs.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Firearms Friday: Time To Ban Paper

This counts too!
The fear of inanimate objects continues to run rampant across the country and my state, Pennsylvania, is not immune to these ludicrous sentiments. While there has been progress made over the past year and the commonwealth is still seen as firearms friendly, there are areas in the keystone state that seem to be shaped from a different rock. A prime example of this was the recent announcement regarding “Shooting Range Legislation” made on January 8th by State Representative Thaddeus Kirkland which states the following (note that this is only one the many loopy proposals that he has made):

In the near future, I will introduce legislation amending Title 18 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, which will address the use of human silhouette targets at shooting ranges.

Rather than perpetuate violence by continuing to allow individuals to practice their target shooting by shooting at human silhouette targets at shooting ranges, my legislation will prohibit the use of targets that depict human silhouettes at shooting ranges across the Commonwealth. Instead, silhouette targets could include, but are not limited to the following: white-tailed deer, black bear, wild turkey, and elk.

My legislation creates a new section under Title 18 Chapter 61 regarding firearms and other dangerous articles. Specifically, the bill prohibits the use of human silhouette targets at shooting ranges across the Commonwealth except by law enforcement officers, military personnel or other public safety personnel in line with their official duties. If a person violates the provisions of the new section, he or she will commit a summary offense.

So basically, if this lunacy passes, you have to pretend that the person breaking into your home and trying to harm your family is a deer. That just doesn’t make sense. Nor does pretending to see a target on the perpetrator. Given the revolutionary history of the commonwealth, I can just imagine the command given to the militia (not covered in this proposal) sounding something like “Don’t shoot until you see the white of their tails!”

Of course, this irrational idea doesn’t just have implications to the practice range. If passed, this would drastically affect the shooting sports that have thrived within our borders. So, the actions of one man from Delaware County can both limit the sporting culture in the commonwealth as well as put citizens at a significant training disadvantage putting them in a situation that could endanger their lives as well as those of their family. Training is crucial to the safe ownership, carrying, and operation of a firearm and training with silhouettes is integral to proper training. After all, criminals don’t have four legs.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

600 Really Sneaks Up On You!

Honestly, 600 is a number that I wasn’t even sure would be possible when I first started this blog in May 2013. My goal back then was to just get through the first year as I knew that the daily routine of writing is something that I had long forgotten about. My writing remained dormant and while this is vastly different to the daily work that I was producing a decade ago, it is still keeping me productive beyond the confines of the responsibilities and stresses of life.

I have shared more personal items as of late while still respecting the anonymity of those around me, I have written about some of the things that bother me and piss me off, and there have been other posts that I wrote because a topic or certain thing that I watched or read interested me. There have been moments, especially over the last few months when I have doubted my ability to continue writing every day and I seriously questioned whether I should continue committing the time to these words. Those moments continue to come and go but, in the end, I made a commitment to myself to keep writing so that is what I am going to continue doing.

The usual topics persist throughout these digital pages as my weekly lodge posts and frequent genealogy musings have been joined by the weekly firearms related material and frequent baby updates. Now more than ever, you can see the diversity in the topics that I write about and why I chose from the onset to not focus on any one subject. This may be the most important aspect in keeping this thing going as there are times when I come up with the most random thoughts for posts and I know that I don’t have to second guess as to whether they would fit.

There is tremendous freedom in not being limited in what I can say. Sure I keep names off the screen but I can still make my point without calling people out or making others uncomfortable (and, given some of the posts I have put up, I am sure that my writing wouldn’t help them with their friends or employers if their name was found on here). And where there is freedom there is also structure.

I have made it through 600 posts now and few people can find their name anywhere on the blog. Considering the fact that given the 400 word minimum for each post that is at least 240,000 places where their name doesn’t appear. Of course, if you have read this blog for any length of time you know that I seldom come close to the 400 so it is probably more along the lines of 300,000 words.

Well, here is to the next 300K with the hope that things smooth out a bit. There at least should be plenty of fodder that will keep me busy. I just don’t know if it will keep my too busy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Hubcap To End The Night

I got an interesting text early yesterday afternoon asking if I was able to fill in as Junior Warden. Having not had any time over the past few months and buried deep in other projects at the office I knew that it would not be possible to learn that chair in a matter of just a few hours. We resolved that it might be a good idea that I do my best to learn the dialogue for future months when we could find ourselves in the same situation. That was the just the first sign that it could be a rather interesting evening at the lodge.

Sometimes things happen and we are left with few brothers that are able to attend lodge especially extra meetings. This month it was a great variety of reasons that caused attendance to dwindle but, as we have many times before, we made it work and still made sure that our new brothers could continue their advancement on schedule. Just like the lodge as a whole, we may be a small group of masons but we get things done and we make sure that the light keeps burning bright.

Given the lead up to the evening, it was a pleasant surprise to find an excess of brethren at the lodge last night. All the chairs were filled and the evening when as smoothly and quickly as possible. Additionally, we had enough brothers present that we were able to have a few planning conversations without having to run around and scramble to ensure our preparedness.

The night was longer than some and shorter than others but that is to be expected when two degrees are being conferred. Of course, there is always plenty on the Secretary’s desk that needs to be taken care of at any given time so part of the night is a bit of a blur. Also not helping is the fact that my mind was elsewhere for much of the evening as there are a number of things beyond the lodge that envelop my daily thoughts.

By the time the night ended, I had caught up on many of the tasks that await my presence at the lodge each week and plans were in place for the next couple of meetings. It was at the end of the night that we also came to find out that we were already well ahead of schedule with regard to our recently increased Change for the Troops goal for the year of $1000. With the meeting having gone so smoothly I was waiting for something to happen to tarnish the night.

Getting drilled by an oncoming hubcap on my way home at 10:30 at night on Route 320 did just the trick. What’s worse is that my car is getting repaired at the dealer so it’s not even my car. I really could have done without it but lately that is the way things have gone.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Importance Of Client Dinners

Last night, after a long day at the office during which my evening schedule remained in flux, I walked out the door and headed to Sports Clips to prepare for our persistent client dinner. Thankfully I left a little early as my simple haircut and trim took much longer than expected. However, I still had plenty of time to drive up to Yardley for dinner (and I didn’t even get lost).

The Yardley Inn has become one of the regular spots where we meet this particular client for dinner. It is only about 20 minutes from each office location and the food has always been excellent. At least this is what I have been told as this was my first time there and so everything was new to me. However, after last night I can highly recommend the beet salad and the pork paprikash. And it doesn’t hurt that it is located on a beautiful lot right along the Delaware River.

Client dinners are always something that I look forward to as they are generally a more relaxed time to meeting and discuss other things besides work. These are the time that we really get to know our clients on a personal level and the one we met with last night is a perfect example of that. Too often we get caught up in the position that someone holds or the current projects that we are working on. However, we have to keep in mind that there needs to be a bit of a separation as those projects and insights basically encompassing the entirety of my job.

The stories that each of us shared last night are really fascinating as they both demonstrated the common interests and clearly defined the different experiences that have shaped us. All of which led each of us to the same table. The glimpses into life and experience that has shaped the people we work with and the things that they have accomplished in life are really what piques my interest and what motivates me to want to work even harder for them.

As the orders were placed and the drinks poured, the night continued in excellent fashion. We have worked hard all year and have had countless conversations with our client through email and over the phone but moments like this are the true motivators and give us that little bit extra drive when a project is nearing completion or an event is quickly approaching. In fact, I am looking forward to our next client meal after the long days on the show floor in Chicago in a couple of months. This was just the additional motivation I needed.  

Monday, January 12, 2015

Errands, Sales, And Gift Cards Result In A Retail Hangover

With only one day this past weekend free from commitments, my wife and I spent the entirety of Sunday running errands. Some were overdue and now on a ticking clock, others were the result of the baby shower the day before, and some were just errands of opportunity. By the time we got home in the early evening we were tired and ready for another weekend.

The first trip was to the old apartment to pick up the cable boxes that I had forgotten to put in the car numerous times. I had gotten a call from Comcast last week and I really didn’t want to see another bill from them in the coming weeks. Now that this is done, it shouldn’t take much longer before our previous residence is finally a thing of the past.

From there we drove to Staples where I spent the next hour of my life scanning, formatting, and confirming the order for new lodge dues cards and address stamps. This is why I have been putting off this trip for so long. Of course, while we were there, it took the opportunity to restock on a few essentials (i.e. ink, envelopes, etc.). Between rewards dollars and coupons we did pretty well.

After swinging by my parent’s house and picking up a few baby shower gifts that got lost in the shuffle, we drove back west. On our way to drop off the aforementioned Comcast boxes (they don’t really have many convenient locations), and because I took a slightly longer route, we drove by the local Office Max which, turns out, is closing and was in the midst of clearing out the store. So, with the drop off taken care of, we circled back and slowly walked through the store. Got to love saving nearly 70% on items that you had been looking to pick up when the price was right.

By this point we were starting to slow down but we were only 5 minutes away from Babies R Us and we had both coupons and gift cards in hand (both from the gifts we brought home the night before and some that were in envelopes in the trunk that we had just retrieved). Needless to say, we decided to check a few more items off the registry and cherry pick the clearance racks and shelves. Even with a cart load of baby items, we actually still have some funds left to round things out a little later. Of course, there is still a lot of stuff on the registry too.

After a quick dinner (Bob Evans doesn’t mix well with pregnancy) we finally headed home for the day. While tiring we did manage to get a lot done that won’t muck up a future weekend. With that said, the retail hangover this morning was something that I don’t look forward to experiencing again.