Thursday, April 30, 2015

Not Such A Wonderful Life

Once again things are getting out of hand in another major urban area in the country. Last year we watched Ferguson get flipped upside down and now we are watching Baltimore burn. In each instance a rush to judgement, a rush to convict local law enforcement, fueled a rage within those communities resulting in the destruction of their own home and the disruption of life across the country.

These are just the most prominent instances when the community has rallied around the untimely death of a frequent felon. That’s right, I said it. When one looks at the records of the men who were killed in each of these instances you will find a long criminal record casting a shadow over the events that lead to their ultimate demise.

Could law enforcement handled things differently in each of these cases? Most definitely. Would the outcome have been different? There is no guarantee that it would have been any different or that the results would have been worse. Would there have been riots in the streets had the police officer been the one shot? I don’t think so.

No one in the streets is interested in hearing both sides of the story. They are only seeing one possible scenario, the one that fits into their own racist views, the cops are out to kill “black men”. Truth be told… black lives matter, white lives matter, blue lives matter, all lives matter. Don’t assign sainthood on someone just because it fits your agenda. Don’t use the loss of life as an excuse to destroy your own community.

Every time an alarm rings an "angel" gets his bling. That is the real modern twist on a classic. This isn’t such a wonderful life.

As for those who are taking to the streets to protest… anyone who participates in these riots or vandalism should be arrested. I’m not talking about those who are peacefully doing so… you may be misguided and annoying but you are certainly within your right to do so. I’m talking about those who insist on destroying property, harass people passing by, and shut down streets in major cities by recklessly blocking all the lanes. Arrest them all.

However, the most important thing that all of the people out there who are upset about what is going on should remember is that what you are doing now and how you are going about it will not bring about the change you are looking for. If you want your community to improve, your situation to change, law enforcement to act differently do something about it and get involved. Don’t just walk around screaming and throwing stones. Get a job, volunteer to help the community, go to school, run for office, or, better yet, become a police officer. Stop destroying the world and make an effort to improve it!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Thoughts While Preparing For The Next Meeting

For the past couple of weeks I had been fretting a bit not knowing if I could work through the long list of tasks that needed to be accomplished before the stated meeting. Of course, I didn’t help myself out by forgetting to take care of a few things earlier in the year. However, somehow everything seems to be coming together and I should be able to breathe a little easier heading into next week.

This isn’t to say that everything is done. As any lodge secretary can attest, there is still a mountain of work, tasks to be checked off, phone calls to be made, and general logistics planned out before the official visitation takes place. It is both a stressful time and also a highly enjoyable time of year. The latter usually occurring once the meeting is concluded and a minimal amount of complaints are fielded at my desk once everyone is walking abut afterward.

I will say that it is a much better feeling having this particular meeting take place in the spring rather than the fall as it did last year. It is a push to coordinate the night and afterward there is a feeling that we all need a break. With only one more meeting following this one before we go dark for the summer, this is the best timing that we could have to keep all of us going for the rest of the year.

So, with much of what has to be taken care of now out of the way, I am finally able to turn my attention to a number of lingering items that seem to never get crossed off of the list. While a week isn’t a lot of time, it should be enough to get these things finally removed to free up the space for countless others to take their place. However, hopefully a new routine in the coming months will alleviate some of the delays that have been hounding me so far this year.

It is interesting to think about all these things from the perspective of the office I hold at the lodge because when I step back for just a second it hits me that this whole process is still new to me. I have only been a Mason for two years… two years and two days to be exact. I am still taken back by how things have changed over that time and how much I have been fortunate enough to be a part of during that time.

I knew very little when I joined the one day class at LuLu Shrine in the spring of 2013 only having been able to talk to a few brothers at length and enjoying the fact that my uncle was able to welcome me as a brother. Now I find myself welcoming new brothers with the same love that was shown to me during those initial months and one day experience. This fraternity and this office are part of my life, my routine, and a huge part of my early masonic experience. It is drastically different from the experiences of many but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

TMI Tuesday: Squishy Doesn’t Mean Comfy!

Every night I look forward to crawling into bed onto the slightly squishy mattress and enjoying the comfort for a few minutes before falling asleep. Even when away from home, the same basic routine applies and while I prefer the firmer memory foam at home the plush squishiness on the road is sometimes a welcomed change. Regardless of where I am, it is this little moment of relaxation that ensures a long and restful slumber.

Our son has pretty much the same routine as his daddy. However, there is such a thing as too squishy which he proved early on within the first month of being home. It is this experience which has impacted the way that he has slept ever since.

It all started in mid-March when we hear his intense cry piercing through a rather pungent odor. It was clear that the mess in his diaper was not conducive to his ability to sleep which by this time was usually 5 or more hours at a time. When he was brought over to the changing table we couldn’t really blame him for being uncomfortable. Baby’s first night of swamp butt has stuck with him.  

Since that night our son has, for the most part, refused to poo while he is asleep at night. Naps seem to be a big exception to the rule. Basically, out son just doesn’t like the feeling of laying in his own stinky squishiness and would rather hold it in until morning.

This brings about an obvious drawback because the morning can be a rather vicious time of day. It is when everything seems to wake up and in the midst of his morning stretch everything is let loose. The people at Folgers didn’t take this into account when considering what might be the most dominant smell to perfume the morning.

Unfortunately, we have also found that while he still doesn’t like the feeling, he doesn’t quite have the mastery of his bowels when sitting in the car seat. Those seem to be the most interesting occurrences which usually result in the changing of outfits and a strong urge to give him a quick bath. All the while, pooping is fair game when someone is holding him.

While it smells, it’s messy, and it can be annoying when it happens in a newly sealed diaper, you can’t help but laugh when he gives you that cheeky little smirk that he has already managed to master. He may crap, and crap a lot, but he is so darn cute while doing it that it doesn’t seem that bad… at least in hind sight. And the loud loads are just funny.

Monday, April 27, 2015

NOT A Relaxing Weekend

As I alluded to yesterday, the weekend did not get off to a good start. Unfortunately, it also proceeded to get much worse following the frustrating Friday. In fact, I am still dealing with the fallout today. It was one of those weekends that you just want to forget ever happened and move on to the next work day.

It all started with what should have been a simple drive into the city on Friday afternoon. I left the office at about 4:30 expecting to sit in a bit of traffic but with enough time set aside to make it to old city by 5:30. About a tenth of a mile away from the route 63 entrance, those plans completely fell apart as soon as my front right tire slammed into the crater.

Now with a donut on the car, I wasn’t about to drive on the highway or in the city so I slowly made my way down the remainder of route 1 and parked the car at the Wynnewood train station. My timing was still pretty good at this point as I made the right train which got me to the event on time. This was just the beginning of the weekend.

Following the event, I walked down the street to catch the next train at Suburban Station. With the event ending at 10 I thought I had plenty of time to make the 10:26 train. Well, by the time I found one of the few entrances to the train station still open at that hour, the train had departed and I was left waiting for the 11:26 train. In the end, I didn’t get home until 1:00am but that was not the worst part of the weekend.

After dropping the tire off at the dealer early on Saturday morning, running some errands, and grabbing a quick breakfast at Wawa we settled back down at the house to try and relax a little for the day and get some things done. By the time the sun began to set I was not feeling well and found myself heading off to bed much earlier than usual. Throughout the night I found myself sicker than I had been in a long time. Turns out that Wawa was offering an extra helping of food poisoning at no extra charge.

While I felt a little better toward the end of the day yesterday, and despite my gulping efforts, the dehydration caught up with me this morning and forced me to call out of work for the day. With a screaming headache I finally gave in and went to the local urgent care where they confirmed our suspicions and hooked me up to an IV. Finally feeling somewhat normal I all want now is for this weekend to finally come to an end.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Prolonged Work Week

Spring is generally a busy time of year at the office. While the accounts remain steady, there are a variety of events and shows that take place in the Philadelphia area. Friday night was one of those events. While I had managed to stay away from the city earlier in the week, the final event was something that I could not avoid. So with the entire office heading into the city, we all cleared out and got on the road a little early to get together beforehand.

Well, that was the plan and I attempted to carry out that plan but ended up making the long trek through North Philadelphia via route 1 all the way over to the Wynnewood train station where I hoped on the R5 into the city. It is not a very long or complicated story, in fact it has happened a few times before, but I will save that for another post. In the end, I am glad that we all decided to leave a bit early because even with the long delay/detour I was still able to make it to the Comcast Center with a few minutes to spare.

The Philly Tech Week Signature Event is something that we attended last year so we expected the large crowd crammed into the lobby of the office building. While it can be challenging to get from one place to another, the interesting part of the night is stopping by all the booths to see what kinds of companies are there and the different technologies that are being developed. Scattered among the larger companies like Comcast and Microsoft are other, smaller, ventures that really puts the Philly tech scene in perspective.

There were companies present that offered a new way for businesses to track employee expenses, personal DNA testing kits (to test for illnesses), 3D printing companies making portraits of attendees, and brain training glasses designed to increase focus and performance. Of course, this is just a small sampling of the different people with whom I spoke. It was quite the variety and I am interested to see where all of these companies go over the next year.

With the music having gone silent and the bars closed, we all gathered near the door and went our separate ways for the overdue weekend. It was a long night and a long journey home but thankfully there was a lot to think about during that extended commute. If only things had gone so smoothly… but you will have to read more about that tomorrow.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Milestone I Wasn’t Sure Would Happen

Seemed apropos. 
This is a blog that I did not expect that I would reach especially in the equivalent number of days. It was my original intent to do so but there were more than a few moments along the way when it seemed nearly impossible to keep up the pace. But here I am, 700 days and 700 posts later. What started as something to keep me occupied during the long nights behind the front desk has morphed into a cathartic daily exercise that has allowed me to vent, reflect, record, and sometimes just play with words.  

This space has allowed me to keep track of my various interests and maintain a record of my experiences in a variety of different areas. Some of the posts have been simple recounts of trips that my wife and I have taken or events that I have attended while others contain opinions on topics with which I am certain not everyone will agree. And there is everything else along the varied spectrum.

It is a given, as mentioned above, that there are many posts that I have struggled to write for one reason or another. Sometimes I just didn’t feel like writing while other times I wanted to write but couldn’t think of how to say something. And because it has been a daily process, there are many instances (too many to count) when I have found myself repeating the same point time and again… along those lines, I am sure that this post is similar to those that I wrote for the other centenary milestones.

In the end, it is a means to get things out and maintain my writing despite the obvious depletion of the minimal skills that I once possessed. It is also a way to start conversations with those that I know read these posts… some regularly and others on occasion. In these regards it is an incredibly self-serving endeavor and I have never denied that fact. After all, this is a collection of my experiences, opinions, discoveries, and interests.

However, things have changed a lot since I started recording my life… while it is still a record of my experiences and a number of my opinions it is also about my son and what I want to make sure I share with him. There is nothing that can replace the connection of telling him in person but there will inevitably be things that are overlooked and I don’t want to end up like Michael Keaton. While there are some topics and things that I haven’t written about there is a pretty broad range of posts that can sum up a large part of my life. The words on the screen/page and the act of writing tells much of my story and I want my son to know me, the good and the unpleasant, the passionate and the combative, the structured and the creative, everything.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Firearms Friday: Bad Glock!

I have always been a fan of Glock. The prices are reasonable, the guns are accurate, and I have never had any issues with the firearms that I have used on the range. Additionally, replacement and enhancement parts are plentiful and reasonably priced. It is for these reasons that I carried a Glock for a while. Never had any issues and still don’t have any issue with the actual firearms themselves. Period.

However, I recently received an email from a local gun shop (not my usual gun shop) that had me a little perturbed. In the subject line I read “ALERT: Response to Glock Blue Label Program Termination” and immediately had to open up the message to find out what this was about. I was expecting some kind of pricing dispute (the prices aren’t really that good) or some other kind argument that resulted in this termination. As soon as I began reading, I knew that this was a much different scenario. Please note that I have omitted the name of the gun shop as it is not necessary for the purposes of this post. The letter to customers begins as follows:

While I can understand Glock’s concern in the matter and wanting to find some way of accounting for all Blue Label sales, the sharing of information such as this is not something that I support. I am very familiar with this particular gun shop and know for a fact that they sell to a lot of military and law enforcement personnel. They always have great prices and are a high volume seller that does everything by the book and according to the law. There is no doubt in my mind that they are in the right. If anything, this whole debate demonstrates a lack of trust that Glock has with their dealers/distributors. While these first two paragraphs are bad enough, the details just kept on getting worse:

So, this wasn’t just a letter, phone call, or email… a Glock representative was physically in the store making these demands. Furthermore, he was focused on the ATF Form 4473 which, as you know, contain a lot of personal information including name, address, birthday, social security number, etc. Anyone who has bought a firearm at a gun shop has filled out this form. While dealers are required to keep these forms on premise they are only referenced under extreme and specific circumstances… Glock’s request does not meet the criteria. Thankfully, this local shop cares about their customers, their privacy, and their rights.   

This is a matter of personal privacy and individual freedom. This is a fight that we have been having for years now… the right to keep this information private. If access is granted to manufacturers why wouldn’t the government insist on the same access? It is a slippery slope but what do you expect when the hill is covered with this kind of BS. So, I fully support this gun shop in taking a stand against Glock and I encourage all dealers who participate in the Blue Label Program to take a stand as well. We have to do all that we can to protect and preserve our rights at every opportunity and not let instances like this slowly chip away and cause cracks in our foundation.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earth Day Needs To Take A Back Seat

The more you know... 'Palestine' was a British creation. 
You may have missed it but yesterday was Earth Day. While this particular box on the calendar may be important for some, it really takes a back seat for many of us as there is a much more important moment to celebrate. Actually, it begins with a day of mourning which is quickly followed by celebration. Besides, it is a little late to be celebrating Tu B’Shevat.

Beginning on Tuesday night and into Wednesday we honor the sacrifices that many Israelis, soldiers and civilians, who lost their lives. While Yom Hazikaron has been traditionally dedicated to fallen soldiers, commemoration has now been extended to civilian victims of political violence, Palestinian political violence, and terrorism in general. This Israeli Memorial Day is a serious and somber occasion as there is no one in the Jewish State who has not been effected by these losses. It is a day when, for a brief moment, the world stops and remembers…

We honor those sacrifices but celebrating the following day. We remember the lives lost and honor their memories by celebrating our Independence. It wasn’t long ago when this was impossible having been scattered into the diaspora for hundreds of years, persecuted, and murdered. Now, on Yom Ha’atzmaut, we celebrate the fact that we have been able to return home, live independently, and defend ourselves.

With all that has transpired in recent years, particularly in recent months, this day is more important than ever. It is a victorious moment in our history that we must carry with us along with the horrors that preceded our return to our homeland. Our existence, our independence, is a constant struggle that is continuously under attack from those around us. Some attacks are obvious while other undermining efforts are quite subtle… this has definitely been proven lately.

We all have our differences in this uniquely diverse holy land but it is also that same land that binds us together as one people. This bond goes well beyond religion as there are more than just Jews in the Jewish State. This bond is to the land, to one another, and to our right to exist. Our independence brings us together as one people, as Israelis.

So while some people, particularly in the United States, saw the day as one dedicated to nature and the environment, there are many that see this as a time to honor sacrifices as well as celebrate achievements. It is a time that marks the loss of life as well as a return home. It is both a day to celebrate people and the land, our land, our homeland, the Holy Land.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Technically, I Didn’t Miss Lodge

Just some random Masonic art found on the internet. 
I was originally planning on heading over to the lodge after work yesterday but, as has become common place, those plans were changed. Fortunately, it was not my doing this time around. With another event taking place within the district, the usual fellowship meeting was replaced and the brothers that are usually at the lodge for additional training, education, and fellowship headed over to Conshohocken for a meeting.

It really would have been nice to attend with them but I can’t commit the extra hours in the evening at this point especially with my wife and son not feeling 100 percent. I was at least able to spend some time in Ardmore this weekend (at the blood drive) so my absence wasn’t as long as it could have been. However, it will be nice once we are able to arrange our schedules and get everything back on track… I miss the weekly evenings with the brethren.

Of course, there are still plenty of things that need to get done and I am slowly sifting through each of them trying not to let one or another fall too far behind the rest. There are items that need to get picked up (I should really ask my assistant for his help on that one), things that need to get ordered, checks that need to be signed, calls that need to be placed, requests that need to be made, and a notice that needs to be drafted, printed, and mailed. Oddly enough, this list is only slightly longer than my usual monthly routine.

All of these tasks are simply to prepare for the next stated meeting. And now, after a few phone and email conversations, there are a number of other things that I have to make sure get done. While not an issue in the past I seem to be struggling a bit lately and even the smallest additions are delaying other, more pressing, priorities. I guess, when you look at it, it might be a good thing that I wasn’t at the lodge last night… or it could be a really bad thing. I’m not going to know until next month.

So, right now, the plan is to be back at the lodge next week. Hopefully, there will be a few things that I can tie up in person. After that I hope to be in Ardmore a few times in May but I am not going to finalize that for now… it will all come down to how things play out the rest of this month. I guess we will just have to see what happens.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

TMI Tuesday: Throwing Up (And Down)

Well, this is one of those inevitable things that we expected to encounter with our son. In fact, we were anticipating that this would happen more often than we are currently seeing. With that said, the throwing up is still something that happens and sometimes it is at some pretty interesting times.

Usually, the spew flows after a feeding but it is not always the case. These are the moments when he is usually half asleep and it just kind of bubbles to the surface… like in the opening credits of the Beverly Hillbillies. These are the moments happen before we have a chance to burp him and when you just grab a wipe and make sure you get it all off of his face and neck.

Of course, there are also the occasions when there is a little more force behind the projectile. Most of the time this is when my wife picks him up just after his feeding and during the transition she gets a little shower on her shirt. For some reason my wife can deal with the poop and pee but the puke takes her back a bit. When home, I am frequently reaching for a wipe at this point.

When it comes to burping this is one of the reasons why I prefer to put him on my knee. Having him slightly bent over makes it much easier to clean up when the regurgitation occurs with only a small bit on the hand and around his mouth requiring some attention. Anything more and the floor takes the brunt of the punishment. I would rather him throw down than throw up.

In addition to the feeding related emanations, there are also the times when, for one reason or another, our son gets a little too excited or worked up and the fountain is turned on. There are times when he cries and this is a little exclamation point and there are also instances when the opposite happens and the milk streams through a wide smile. And there are some moments when what little remaining burp bubble carries some luggage with it hours after eating.

All of these moments are pretty minor even during some of the moments when there is greater volume and force than usual. They are moments that can quickly be addressed and, as was stated before, come with the daily baby routine. Of course, just like we will encounter on the other end, we are still not looking forward to the escalation that happens with the introduction of other foods.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Where Did All Of Our Money Go?

Every couple of weeks I look at my pay stub and go through the growing list of deductions from my pay… taxes, 401K, and healthcare. Taxes have always been relatively consistent (too high and annoying but consistent), the 401K contribution is something that I set (this I hope to increase in the future), and the healthcare costs have gone up over time according to how many people are covered under my plan which now covers my whole family. However, it is this last significant deduction from my pay that is really annoying. Not because of the direct costs outlined in the deduction but because of the high costs that my wife and I have encountered recently.

For years, every month we have encountered a co-pay in one form or another, office or pharmacy, that is in addition to the insurance premium that we have already paid for that month. Over the past year, those required payments have become more frequently as we have had more doctor visits and prescriptions that needed to be filled. However, these last few months have been atrocious and it really makes you wonder where the money is going. Since our son was born, we have sent out checks for approximately $2500 just to cover the astronomical co-pays. I have seen enough doctors during my life that I have gotten used to the various expenses associated with healthcare but this is simply ridiculous.

I can hear some of you now saying this is why we need Obamacare. Well, in my experience, that is a load of crap! While the delusional utopian concept is intriguing to many it is not something that fits into the confines of reality. This is why we have seen those premiums increase faster since the bill was signed than at any other point in history. Additionally, due to the ridiculous requirements therein, not only have the premiums gone up but the co-pays have seen a sharp increase as well.

Of course, there is also the basic employment fallout. I know for a fact that many employers have set limits on hours simply to avoid having to offer healthcare benefits. Frankly, I have no problem with employers not offering benefits to full time employees so long as said employees understand that they will not be offered. So, instead of someone getting paid for 35-40 hours per week, they are limited to 29.5 hours per week. In the end, they still aren’t getting benefits and now have less money in their pockets.

Furthermore, there are some benefits that were being offered to those who worked 30 or more hours per week. A perfect example that I have seen is that of extended leave. However, because hours are now eliminated that benefit disappears as well. So not only are you getting paid less at the end of the week but you are also losing some of the benefits that you once had. An when you go back to the original gripe in this post, you are also going to pay more for insurance and more in co-pays. You couldn’t afford to get sick before and you still can’t afford it now. Thanks Obamacare!

Maybe we should focus on making sure people can have jobs where they can work full time hours. Maybe we should stop regulating and forcing coverage on people and stop strong arming companies to cover employees. Maybe we should address the high premiums and co-pays that have become the accepted norm in this country. Maybe we should provide a true freedom to choose to have coverage and what coverage to have, whether someone is willing to take a job without healthcare benefits, and whether an employer offers healthcare benefits. Maybe this is the change that we really need!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Last Time, First Time

I headed into this weekend knowing that it was going to be a long one. Earlier in the week I had to make the decision regarding where I would be going and what I would be able to get done. In the end, there were a couple of things that required my attention and so my long Saturday began with me staggering out of bed around 6:30.

The first stop of the morning was at the lodge where I had to ensure that the Red Cross had enough time to set up for the Blood Drive which was scheduled to begin at 10. For those of you unfamiliar with the logistics, they usually begin unloading the truck between 8 and 830 in the morning. Thankfully the traffic was light so my slightly late departure had me arrive just as the truck was pulling up alongside the building.

I stayed at the lodge through most of the set up and left for my second commitment about an hour before donors were supposed to begin showing up. It was time to backtrack a bit and take care of some final things at my mother-in-law’s house. My wife and I arrived at about the same time and double checked what had to be moved out. Once my brother-in-law pulled up, the moving went quickly (the 4 larger items were much lighter than expected) and we were soon headed back to our house to unload everything.

Fortunately, the only items that my wife decided to take from the house are ones that have a practical use and that we were going to pick up at some point in the future anyway. Because of this, we had plenty of room and knew exactly where everything had to go. After offering a little compensation to my brother-in-law for his help, my wife and I took a few minutes to relax and plan the rest of the afternoon.

My wife and I agreed that she would join me in Ardmore giving me a bit of a head start so that he could take care of our son before leaving and so they didn’t have to spend too much time at the event. With our plans in place, I got back in the car and headed off to the lodge for the remainder of the blood drive. After a quick retrieval of the mail, I walked back through the doors and checked on the donor progress… the turnout wasn’t bad for a last minute arrangement and it soon got a little better as a brother walked into the hall and signed up.

While we were catching up on things, my wife arrived and seeing others laying on the tables decided, for the first time, to donate. Of course we had to double check first but given that she was well beyond the 6 week waiting period, she walked up and registered to donate. As it turns out, she was perfectly fine and somewhat surprised at how easy the whole process was from beginning to end.

So it was an interesting and busy day that came to an end with the lodge once again having been cleared out and my wife and I enjoying the weather by taking our son for a walk along Lancaster Avenue. And after a quick dinner with my parents at a local restaurant, we headed back home a little tired but having gotten a fair amount accomplished during the day. We all slept quite well last night and looked forward to a mostly open schedule for the rest of the weekend

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Frequent Errands

One thing that has definitely increased both since we found out about our son’s arrival and since his birth is the number of errands that we have to run. This is pretty much on a daily basis as there is always one thing or another that we have to pick up, drop off, exchange, or just get more information as well as a plethora of appointments. And it really doesn’t matter how well prepared you think you are, there is always that one essential item that is missing from your stockpile of baby stuff.

I do my best to take care of most of these things, so long as they can wait until the end of the work day when I am on my way home, but, for the most part, my wife is the one that has to run back and forth trying to get everything done during the day. This would be hectic enough if it was just her but adding the preparation and logistics needed to get the baby ready and out the door adds to both the length of the commitment and the energy it takes to get some of these seemingly simple things done. I don’t know where she finds the energy but, somehow, she is managing to get all of the constant errands done.

All of these small time and energy consuming trips during the day are something that we tried to prepare for but, in the end, we weren’t expecting. While no one thing in particular is consuming the hours in our days, all of these small trips have added up. Some days more than others and overall having a huge impact on our schedules. Hopefully things will calm down a bit in the coming months but we are definitely not holding our breaths for that.

This is why I have been trying to stick to a more consistent schedule at work. In the past, my departure from the office has been fairly open ended. There were some nights when I would get back home well past eight and sometimes long after 10. Now I am doing my best to get home by 7 while trying to walk through the door around 6:30. This allows me to both get some of those other things done but also allows me to spend more time with our son while giving my wife a much needed break at the end of her day.

It is not a perfect system by any means but it is working fairly well thus far. It may be time to take a day off here and there to better prepare above and beyond our anticipated needs. Until then we will have to keep trying to become more and more efficient with these small trips.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Firearms Friday: Inexpensive Alternatives

Anyone familiar at all with firearms knows how expensive this hobby can be. I have been at the store and seen some of the astronomical totals that people have spent on firearms. It doesn’t matter who you are, you always get that feeling of ‘if I only had the money’. Barring some sort of lottery windfall, that isn’t going to happen for most of us. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some interesting options out there that are considerably less while retaining a decent level of quality.

While last week I wrote about some of the interesting firearms that I have come across at the gun shop (Tanner's Sports Center), this post will focus on the budget firearms. These are the ones that are affordable even if you bought them new. Of course, if you buy a used firearm you can get a lot more for your money and expands the budget minded options considerably. While I may write about the used market in a later post, today I am going to focus on the new models (which you can also find used to save even more).

While cheap firearms are not something that are usually well received, inexpensive ones are and the CPX-1 falls in the latter (Hi Point would be a good example of the former). With a MSRP of $334 and unfired used examples on the market for below $200, this is a great firearm for the budget minded. Having come across these in the local shops on numerous occasions, the quality was rather surprising even if the trigger is far from average. Overall reliability has been good with little wear to be found on many of the more heavily used examples that I have come across. And you can’t really argue with a lifetime warranty which follows the firearm. This minimal investment is definitely worth picking up especially if you find one in the used case.

Smith & Wesson Sigma / SD9 / SD9VE
Shortly after Smith & Wesson introduced the Sigma, they were sued by Glock for infringing upon their patent. While there have been a variety of similar accusations made over the years between various manufacturers, few have been successful. That was not the case in this instant as Glock won and now Smith & Wesson has to pay royalties for every Sigma / SD9 / SD9VE they sell. When you handle one of these Smith & Wesson introductory models you realize why they lost in court. However, while there are numerous similarities that this line has with their Glock counterparts there are a couple of glaring differences namely in the trigger and the price. While a Generation for Glock regularly sells for around $550, the Sigma can easily be found for right around $300. 

Zastava CZ999
I previously mentioned this firearm as a Sig Sauer P226 clone. While no one can deny the quality produced by Sig, not everyone can afford the price tag associated with the name. However, for those interested in Sig’s flagship pistol but don’t have the means to spend $700, the CZ999 is a decent alternative which can easily be found for $300. While you may not get the same high quality and finish (machining marks are notable on the inside of the slide) the firearm is well constructed and reliable. Not a bad alternative for half the price.

1911 Alternatives
For those who want to practice more often without spending the money on thousands of rounds of 45 ACP, the 1911-22 has proven to be a great alternative. With rising ammunition prices in recent years, the 22LR variant has grown in popularity. Besides being a heck of a lot of fun to shoot, the practical training aspect cannot be overstated. Of course, it helps that previous reliability issues have been addressed and they are now a much more effective training aid. Current models made by Walther / Colt, GSG / Sig Sauer, Chiappa, etc. are pretty much on par with one another and can easily be found for under $300 new and under $200 used.   

Cobra Derringer
While there is a practical purpose (and has been for over a century) for a derringer these tiny firearms are falling further and further out of favor as semiautomatic firearms get smaller and smaller. However, Cobra is making a half decent effort on the old design offering small bore models for just north of $100. At that price, even given the questionable fitting of the firearms, they are worth picking up for the heck of it. Of course, if you want the same size and better quality I would consider either the North American Arms mini revolvers (22LR and 22 Magnum) or the Double Tap derringers (9mm and 45 ACP) both of which can be found brand new for around $200.

While you’re not going to win any competitions with the aforementioned options (although Jerry Miculek could probably win with just about anything), they are decent options for those of us without the means to buy the top of the line. And, honestly, there are a number of high end firearms that aren’t really that much better than some of the lower cost alternatives. If you take your time and consider the options that are available (which go far beyond those mentioned above), you can find something that works for you so that you can both enjoy the shooting sports and, if need be, protect yourself and your family.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Looking Back On The Last 2 Months

It is hard to believe that it has already been two months (and a day) since our son was born. There have been a lot of changes that have occurred, both for better and worse, with each of them bringing us to this point, two months later. While there is still a little disbelief in our eyes when we watch him sleep, my wife and I are enjoying this new phase in our life (even if we don’t readily admit it when our baby is screaming in the middle of the night).

The memories are still so vivid going all the way back to the moment when we found out about our pending arrival. Each and every moment we will carry with us: the reactions when we told our parents, the first time we saw him on the ultrasound, the first time he breathed the same air as us, and all the details surrounding each of those moments and days. We will never forget them.

All of the tiring and trying moments seem to have faded leaving just those moments that remain seared into our memory: his first smile, the first time he found his thumb, the first time that he cooed at us, the first time he rolled over, his first car ride, and countless other moments. These are the times when I don’t need a picture to see his smile and I don’t need a recording to hear his coo. They are forever carried with us so that we can look back at the cuteness when he gets older.

It hasn’t been an easy couple of months but seeing him grow and slowly become more aware of his surroundings is something that I can’t really describe… all the parents reading this know what I am talking about. And the love that you have for your child is something that remains indescribable as well. There are already so many great moments and memories to look back on and so many things that we are looking forward to. Before we know it, they will all be memories.  

While time has flown as our baby had grown, we remember each time he grew just a little bit. Now he is nearly 12 pounds and will soon be too big for the bassinette. It will be another interesting adjustment for us not having him beside the bed. But it is also going to be another memory to look back on… the look of a peaceful sleep that occurs when he doesn’t have to listen to daddy snoring on the other side of the room.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

From One To Many

There is always a time each year when a variety of events seem to converge during a single month at the lodge. Sometimes it can even come down to a single day. It is hard enough when there are a variety of Masonic commitments converging, having family projects that need to be addressed at the same time just adds to the difficulty.

While it would be nice to be able to go to everything and not lose out on the time at home, it isn’t a realistic scenario. Anyone who is or has been an officer knows this routine all too well. And while I have recently significantly cut back on the time I have been spending at the lodge, I am uncertain as to whether I can avoid the pull of my office much longer.

Things have to get done this month and there are certain commitments that I have to make. This is nothing new but the number of things that have to get done before the next meeting, an official visitation, has become overwhelming at times. I can’t even find the time to coordinate the transitioning of tasks to my assistant.

However, when I step back and take a look at the problem it really doesn’t seem that bad. There have been times in life when I had to look for something to do and now I am looking at a variety of options. While it would be nice to be able to pick just one, I still have the options and people who want me to be present at each. It is a really good feeling and on that is too often overlooked.

This is a message that I do my best to relay to the new brothers that come into the lodge… we want you to be here. We are all integral to the success of the lodge and the fraternity as a whole. You never have to look for a place to be or somewhere that you can go… there is always a place for you, sometimes a chair for you, at the lodge. It is a powerful thing to think about especially during this time when the digital barriers as so ever-present. We want you here, as an equal, as our brother.

Even though Michael Keaton warned us of the pitfalls, it looks like I may have no other option than to be present at two or more events… I am pretty sure that the simple one will be showing up to one of them calling everyone Steve. The trick is trying to figure out how to accomplish this seemingly impossible task. It is just nice to know that wherever I find myself I am going to be welcomed and I will be among family.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

TMI Tuesday: Watch The Winkie!

We are currently operation at DEFCON 2!
It is pretty much guaranteed that when I get home after work our son’s diaper is going to be a little bloated. At nearly 12 pounds, he doesn’t really hold anything back. However, most of the time it is not what you usually think of when you hear about the droopiness of his drawers. While sometimes it is of a stinky nature, most of the time it is the flood waters that are testing the limits of the dam. This is confirmed by the bright blue racing stripe that appears on the front of the diaper.

Of course, whenever in doubt just wait for the crying to begin… our son is not a fan of the squishiness. These are the easy diapers to change… most of the time. Regardless of what he just finished doing, whenever the seal is broken and the emanations are exposed, the shields have to go up… there is just enough help back that a launch could occur at any moment.

While the nerves don’t take to kindly to the free flowing of flatus, it is the tinkle that usually causes the most trouble. At least with a number two you can hear him pushing and watch as his face turns a deeper and deeper shade of red. When it comes to the whiz his only tell is when his winkie decides to imitate a cold war missile drill. The launch could happen or it might not. Best thing to do is prepare the defenses and hope for the best.

My wife and I have discovered that you can really change a diaper quickly when under the threat of attack and most of the time the new diaper is on before the rain begins to fall. When this happens we just hope not to hear thunder which pretty much guarantees that precipitation is eminent. That is when we see the redness disappear and the smirk slowly grow into a full smile… at least it tames the fussiness for a moment.

In hindsight, all of this is a simple source of amusement. Thankfully, we haven’t had any major issues with changing our son… not like the rainbows that we encountered during our first month. With that said, we still have to remain cognizant of the limits of the diaper sizes. Our son is growing quickly and so are his volume requirements so we are continuously cognizant of the issue of proper containment. Hopefully we can continue limiting the onesie casualties, stay ahead of the growth curve, and make sure we keep changing him as fast as possible.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Taxes Done?

The past couple of years have made me dread this particular day on the calendar. Having received hefty bills from the federal government and not enough funds to cover the costs, we have filed extensions. Seems like this is the time of year when everyone does some spring cleaning especially the government which likes to clean out your bank account. This year, we have the funds to pay what I am certain will be a ridiculous amount but don’t have the time to pull everything together. The extension streak is alive and now in its third year.

We were actually keeping things organized for much of 2014. This was in large part due to having to pull together all the documents in early fall before that extension ended. It was rather easy to put some of those items aside in a folder designated for the current year. Yep, things were pretty organized by the time December came around.

It really is amazing how cluttered things can get when you move from one place to another. Not the space in which we were living but in the individual boxes where all of our papers and documents were relegated. All of the organized folders seem to blend together in a pile of muddled ink... this reminds me, we have to set aside those receipts from the move. This is only accentuated by the fact that all of the tax forms arrived the following month so now what was once consolidated into one place is now in a few places waiting to be collected again.

Normally it wouldn’t be a problem pulling things together as in the past I have had time to do it. And that is the key. February and March were, to say the least, busy months. With all the hours that I have put in at the office and doing my best to protect the time that I have with my son, there are few minutes remaining during the day when I can take care of all these other projects that keep building up. Time is not being kind at the moment.

It doesn’t help that the days seem to be evaporating before us. Just as we get ready to plan for one thing or another, the pages of the calendar have turned and the time we once had was gone. Other things seem to pop up now and again as well chipping away at the days when we thought we would have a chance to catch our breath. But, as we have done many times over, we will find the time to get the taxes done and hold our breath waiting to hear the final total… hopefully the news will allow us to breathe afterward.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Weekend Drive

So far, we are enjoying taking some small trips in the new car. 
My wife and I have been waiting for a warm weekend just so we could get out of the house for a little while. Sunday we were afforded that opportunity as the wind subsided, the sky cleared, and the temperature ticked up a few more degrees. We had originally planned on driving somewhere to walk around for a bit but give our son’s fussiness as of late, we decided to drive down another exit on the turnpike for lunch.

During our explorations over the last few months of 2013, we had crisscrossed the turnpike around the Morgantown exit. During one of those trips we came across the Windmill Family Restaurant. While they aren’t going to win any awards for their fair, it remains an inexpensive place to stop for a good meal. Actually, their chicken corn chowder is what brought us back this time so I guess you could say that is an award worthy item.

It had been months since we last ate there and, obviously, the first time that we were bringing our son. When we walked through the doors this time I kept on thinking about how similar the feeling and d├ęcor was to some of the places I ate growing up. Ironically, I kept thinking about the places where we stopped (the names of which have long since been forgotten) when we drove down and back from the family reunion in Virginia. Some may call it old and outdated but I prefer to use the term authentically nostalgic.

Our son was surprisingly quite throughout the meal allowing my wife and I to enjoy the time out and catch up on some of the conversations that get overlooked during the course of our hectic week. With a quart of soup to go in hand, we got back in the car and turned away from the highway. With the moon roof open and the windows slightly cracked, we drove up and down the backroads moving generally in the direction of home. This weaving across the landscape was to enjoy the time out, get some fresh air, and allow our son to catch up on some much needed sleep.

About a half hour into our return trip, having not heard a sound from the back seat in a few minutes, I glanced in the rearview mirror to check on our son. There he was still sleeping… and so was my wife. So I continued driving, turning when the asphalt changed direction, until I found a road that would lead us back home. It was a quite drive but it was still time out with my family. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Investing Again

When I started at my current company there were many things that were discussed. The firm was newly formed when I first walked through the door in September 2013. In fact, the owner of the company was still waiting for the cable company to arrive later that afternoon to set up the internet. It was an interesting experience and much different from the previous conversation I had with her.

It was during that initial discussion when we talked about the clients, my role in the company, and many of the other benefits that would be part of my employment including healthcare, profit sharing, and a 401K (among others). Every salary position I have ever had, and then some, have offered healthcare so that was not a surprise to me. However the other two piqued my interest and were really bonuses to the position that I was not expecting.

Since that time over a year and a half ago, she has been true to her word. While none of us expected any sort of profit sharing at the end of 2013 we weren’t really holding out for 2014 either. After all, we are a new company. However, we were all pleasantly surprised at the end of the year when we each received an extra deposit into our accounts (which was particularly useful at that point in time).

Toward the end of last year we also continued our conversations regarding setting up a 401K. It had taken some time but things were progressing and as the calendar turned over we all started contributing to the future. While we don’t have much extra at the moment, I started with a small contribution from each pay check.

While I have had investment accounts in the past, this was my first time having a 401K. Previous accounts have long since been liquidated to pay for graduate school and other expenses. Many would consider this a tremendous loss but given the fact that I finished graduate school in the spring of 2008, it wasn’t a bad way to use the funds.

Since that time, my ‘investments’ have been on a much smaller scale and consisting of hard assets. I honestly can’t recall how many times I bought silver (and a tiny bit of gold) over the past decade but it is safe to say that I didn’t lose money or break even. A coin here and there can add up especially before the market shifted and the prices began to spike.

All the small items were nice and served a purpose when we needed that little extra. Now, it is a great feeling to be contributing to our future even though it may be one small deduction from my pay every couple of weeks. It may not seem much at the moment, it never does, but it will certainly add up in the end (especially when I start decreasing my take home pay). And it sure beats flipping coins.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Firearms Friday: Second Looks

Anyone who frequents gun shops or shows comes across some interesting firearms during those periods of browsing. It is one of the reasons why I enjoy browsing through the used case and why it is the first place I look when I walk into the store (Tanner’s Sports Center has a phenomenal used selection). During my many trips over the years I have come across a variety of firearms that have piqued my interest that many simply pass by for one reason or another.

It is with this in mind that I decided to go over some of the firearms that caught my attention. Sometimes the reason why people look the other way is because of appearances or because they don’t recognize the name on the side of the slide. Each of the following firearms had me taking a second (sometimes third and fourth) look for one reason or another.

Beretta 9000s
Commonly known as “that gun” from the movie Minority Report, this firearm looks like a 92FS that had an unfortunate encounter with Wayne Szalinski or Willy Wonka. It is an interesting little firearm which was originally conceived by Beretta as a concealed carry option although the bulk of the firearm leaves little to be desired when compared to modern firearms designed for the same market. While no longer produced (in favor of the subcompact PX4 Storm), it is an interesting firearm and one that shows the modern evolution of the old world manufacturer.

Tressitu TZ99
Even those with little exposure to firearms are familiar with the Sig Sauer P226. Even if they don’t know it by name they have seen it countless times on the big and small screens (NCIS comes to mind). However, the clones that can be found are rather interesting as well. While the most common and familiar is the Zastava CZ999, there are other companies and countries that have offered their interpretation over the years including the South African made Tressitu TZ99. While price and built quality are common points of comparison, the TZ99 is a solid piece of craftsmanship if you can find one. The only real difference being in the mechanical functionality is the fact that the decocker also serves as the slide stop. These firearms are seldom seen as there was limited quantities produced and imported (by Mitchell Arms) before the South African company declared bankruptcy. However, if you are interested in seeing it in action you can always watch episode four of the first season of Top Shot.

Heizer Defense PAR1
Unlike the aforementioned two above, the Heizer Defense PAR1 is a new firearm that pretty much defines the concept of “because we can”. Despite no real practical use, the single shot pocket firearm is a rather interesting sight to behold. And that is pretty much as far as I would go as I have no desire to fire a rifle round from a barrel barely extending beyond the tip of the bullet. I imagine the sound from this noisy cricket wouldn’t be very pleasant either even with ear protection. If you really want one by all means go ahead but I think there are better options for under the $499 MSRP.

Chiappa Rhino
Revolvers are simple. Easy to maintain and easy to use (even though some of us can’t shoot them well). Chiappa decided to change us “grandpa’s pistol” and while the design is slightly (despite the looks) more complicated, it is a great improvement on a proven design allowing for a much lower bore axis (allowing for greater accuracy and faster follow up shots). While the prices are still way too high (MSRP of $800+) for firearm from Total Recall, it is something a little different for those who enjoy a good revolver. However, I am not one of those people (at least not at the moment).

1911 Alternatives
I added this section to the post because depending on with whom you speak, these can be seen as unique firearms. While the traditional size 1911’s have been chambered in other calibers, the recent popularity of the Sig Sauer P238 and P938 have sparked greater interest in the pocket 1911 market beyond that which was seen when the Colt Mustang was introduced two decades prior. These are great options for those who prefer the 1911 platform either as a small primary or a backup. Despite the small size I can attest to the high degree of accuracy hitting the red consistently at 25 yards at a medium rate of fire. None of the aforementioned models are cheap but are well worth the investment if you looking for a high quality, 1911 style, pocket option.

As you can see, it is a mix of some new and some that can only be found in the used case. Each has their merits and each has a few things holding them back. However, if you see any of them in the case I recommend taking a look. Maybe you will be surprised. Maybe you might have to spend a little more time in the store filling out some paperwork. Of course, you may look at all of them and wonder what the heck I was thinking when I wrote this. You won’t know until you take a look.