Monday, August 31, 2015

Sifting Through The Forgotten Cards

There are a few boxes on my office bookcase that I rarely look in. They are usually tucked below the boxes that receive more regular perusals which contain the loosely sorted family photos that I have accumulated over the years and the one with the random office supplies that always seem to come in handy every now and again. These other boxes are frequently added to when certain items are deposited into the mail box but that is the most interaction I have with the box… stuffing some of the cards and invitations under the lid to be seldom seen again.

However, while continuing my organizational endeavor, I opened these boxes just to see what I had put in them over the years. It is actually a great way to reminisce about some of the past family events, recall fond memories with friends, and look back on some of the holidays that have passed. It is interesting to look at the different kinds of cards that people have given me over the years. Some serious, some touching, and other funny. It is a pretty wide variety.

There are items within these boxes that made me pause for a minute and think about all that has changed over the years. All these cards and invitations are things that have already happened and with so much to look forward to in the future, it is a unique dichotomy when you hold these items in your hand. And, of course, there are some items, some cards that have taken on an entirely new meaning as I have gotten older like seeing my grandmom’s signature on a holiday card. I still miss getting those cards every year.

There are also the items that I am glad that I have held onto rather than simply pitching shortly after receiving them. I guess it is part pack rat and also part knowing what has become important to me when putting together the family history. Some of these types of things, the simple cards and notes, are more often than not lost during the course of life. These things are really what bring the memories back, sometimes more so than pictures. Being able to hold these items and see the handwriting of my grandmom, my parents, and my wife are what can trigger the memories of great times in my life. I should really open this box more often.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sunday Search: Keeping In Touch

It's never too early to start coloring in the family tree!
After the reunion in July, I was determined to improve my communication with family members both nearby and far away. After all, there is only so much that I can do with regard to genealogy and it is always best to be in communication with numerous family members trying to fill in the different pieces rather than all of use trying to find all of the answers on our own. Additionally, we all have access to different documents, photos, and stories that we should be sharing with one another. That might have been the biggest takeaway from the weekend, there is so much that we all possess and it would be nice for us all to have access to those pieces of the picture and leaves of the tree.

While in the past this would have been a more exaggerated process full of letters and a lot of postage. That isn’t the reality in which we live today. While there are some that still require the letters, phone calls, and face to face meetings, most can be accomplished through email and social media (I will write about genealogy specific online tools in a future post). Thankfully, there has already been a group formed on Facebook to help facilitate those communications and I have been able to connect with those who were in attendance as well as those who were unable to make it over the past couple of months.

Sometimes it is also these simple things that get other family members interest in family history. I have been able to connect with many family members, some of whom to which I have not previously spoken, based on the simple fact that they want to learn more about the family. In other instances, different stories have been shared… some I have heard before while others are completely new to me. I doubt that the correspondences would have come as easily through any other means other than Facebook or email.

Of course, there are a lot more stories that have yet to be told and information that hasn’t as of yet been shared but the lines of communication are open and I am looking forward to collecting and sharing these new tidbits with the rest of the family. Additionally, there is an open invitation to family members (and other with stories they would like to share) to write a post to be included on this blog (the author will receive full credit). So, the reunion turned out to last much longer than the two days in Virginia, and I expect it to continue until we are able to get together again five years from now… we should have a much more colorful and complete tree by then.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Still Looking

Lately our weekends have been filled (at least half of each weekend) with our search to find a home. Our weeks have also been packed with numerous searches on various real estate websites trying to find that perfect place. We have also been looking to find properties that have the potential to be exactly what we want (at a lower price point of course). It has been, and continues to be, a long process.

While we have our list of things that we want in a home, we also have a strict budget. One that we determined not just by how much we want to spend but also how much we have been prequalified for by the bank. Fortunately, this part went relatively smoothly as both numbers ended up being about the same with the slightly higher figure coming from the lenders. It is nice to know what we actually have to work with when we look at properties rather than running the possibility of seeing something we like and wondering if we can get approved.

What we have also been running into here and there is the fact that we are getting toward the end of the real estate season so there isn’t as many listings and sometimes when we have expressed an interest in taking a closer look there is already an agreement in place. On the one hand it says a lot about the areas in which we are looking but on the other it is, at the very least, cause for the occasional moments of frustration. We can’t really do anything about it besides look at the others that are available and hope that we find what we are looking for.

However, we have introduced slight adjustments to our criteria which have opened up a number of other options. You never know what you might find that falls just shy of some of the things on our wish list (this is most notably found in the size of the property). On the other hand, one thing that we haven’t adjusted and will not adjust is the commute time for my wife. I guess the same can be said for everyone’s search to find a home… you have flexibility in some areas and you have to hold firm in others.

Overall, this is whole process is both exciting and frightening. We are both looking forward to owning our own place and finding our home but I am terrified of two very simple things. The first being the fact that we would be taking on around $200,000 of debt. Enough said about that one. The other is just part of my nature… if we agree on a deal and purchase a house, is there a better one out there, is there another place about to come on the market that would be a better fit for us. I guess we will have to just wait and see what we find but, for the most part, these are two things that I am eventually just going to have to accept and be happy with what we have. From beginning to end and afterward, it is not going to be easy.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Firearms Friday: Blame

Once again, we end the week looking back on another cowardly tragedy committed by a clearly unstable individual. Unfortunately, it was also no surprise that the shooting was politicized before the suspect was even found… the calls for more gun control range out louder than the shots fired early on Wednesday morning. Another heinous act blamed on inanimate objects and those who own them rather than the individual who committed the crime.

It wasn’t long before posts from my liberal friends on Facebook began filling my feed and with quotes posted my conservative friends following this initial deluge. The most commonly used of which was a quote from then Governor Ronald Reagan when he addressed the Republican National Convention in Miami Florida on July 31, 1968 amid a time of tremendous racial turmoil which erupted in riots. The excepted says simply “We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Essentially, violence is an individual act and must be treated as such… the idea of railing against a group of people because of the acts of an individual must be rejected.   

Yesterday, the coverage continued and, of course, the calls for more laws intensified. While there was plenty of political banter, the quote that really crystallized the debate for me was that of Senator Marco Rubio who was quoted by the New York Times at a campaign stop in New Hampshire having said “It’s not the guns, it’s the people who are committing these crimes. What law in the world could have prevented him from killing them?” And that is what this all really comes down to… we must hold individuals accountable for their acts especially those with premeditated plans who would have followed through with this act regardless of means. In the end, this is why there are more knife attacks and beatings in the UK… people find a way to accomplish their goals regardless of whether they are good or evil.

Lastly, the other part of this whole equation that is being overlooked is the fact that even when bills are passed, they are not being enforced and/or the funding is not being spent (i.e. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System). The NICS Improvement Amendment Act was signed into law by President Bush on January 8, 2008 with the explicate mission to improve the background check system in this country. The law, endorsed by the NRA by the way, allocated Congress $1.3 Billion to improve record keeping in states which would allow greater transparency and improve the Federal gun background check system. To date nearly 90 percent of funding has never been spent and the Obama administration will further reduce spending from its peak in 2015 of $78 million down to $55 million in the President’s 2016 budget request.

Why don’t we focus on the real issues at hand instead of the hype and politicization of tragedy? Instead of the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent by gun control groups (keep in mind that I am well aware of the money spend by gun rights advocacy groups in response to various proposals and campaigns calling for the stripping away of our rights), what if we focus and put our money elsewhere that would really have an impact on the issue at hand. What if we committed hundreds of millions of dollars to mental health? What if we actually improved NICS and spent the $1.3 billion? We don’t need more laws and we definitely don’t need to prosecute and entire group of people in this country. We need to improvements in mental health in this country and we need to improve the effectiveness of the background check systems already in place. This is not a debate… this is the solution!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Back To Zero!

The last time we have been able to experience a moment like we did today was right before our flight to Israel in the summer of 2011 (we were in debt once again before we even boarded the flight back to the states). After a couple of years of budgeting and chipping away at the payments, we got on that plane without the burden of debt. Today, while we still have other debts, we finally cleared the balance on our credit cards. Over four years later, after numerous struggles and setbacks, we have finally brought all those totals down to zero.

I must say this is a damn good feeling knowing that we don’t have to make those payments anymore. Well, at least not to pay down previous balances. We actually have a plan in place to keep these cards active having assigned specific charges, to maximize points, on each card. Order something on Amazon, use one card. Buy gas or groceries, use a different one. Go out to dinner, this third one will work. At the end of the month, we settle all the tabs. Heck, we are spending the same money but we are now getting points for the purchases we are already making.

Of course, as I stated before, we are not completely debt free. There are still a few other commitments that we need to take care of and, at the same time, we are looking to move by the end of the year so that means there is at least thirty years before we have to stop making payments on our debt. So, in reality, this is only one portion of our debt that had gone to zero unlike that short time in 2011 when, for a few months, we had absolutely no debt.

But, for now, we are just going to enjoy the feeling of those high interest pieces of plastic having been paid off. There is something uniquely satisfying about zero. I am also less stressed knowing that if something were to happen and we needed funds immediately, we have the credit to take care of most situations. Not the big stuff (the limits are still pretty low) but the moderate issues that everyone faces in life (i.e. something breaks, gets lost, needs to be replaced, etc.). And it is going to be that much more satisfying being able to focus on taking care of other debts rather than focusing on those high interest cards. It still isn’t going to be quick or easy but we can really start making some progress now!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

One Week To Go!

Alright, who has been joyriding in the Delorean again? At this point I question whether June actually happened, July was more than a week long, and whether August started yesterday… however, according to this blog it, somehow, did happen. It doesn’t change the fact that it seems as though the summer lasted about a week and a half as we are already getting ready for the next stated meeting after having been adjourned from labor over the past three months. Three months to prepare and it still seems as though there is a bit of a rush to take care of some last minute items before the meeting.

With the meeting rapidly approaching it is once again time for the notice to be completed and sent out to the brethren… of all the things, this is what gets delayed? With everything else going on, projects that need to be managed, and fires that still have to be put out, it is going to be an interesting return to the lodge this fall. On one level I am looking forward to it but at the same time, I could do without some of the things that will most certainly be brought up during the night.

This time last summer, it seems as though things were much further along than they are now. It was also a time absent of some of the issues that we are now facing. But that was a different year and, sometimes, the worst thing that you can do is think about the past. This is a new year with new issues that need to be addressed and a future that is still with some uncertainty… nothing major just some questions I was hoping to have answers to by now.

Just over a week to go until the September meeting and there is a lot yet to be accomplished. At the same time, there are a number of projects in the works that will surely be great additions to the fall and a large group of dedicated new brethren that I am looking forward to seeing in action when the meetings resume next month. There are always challenges, it is one of the consistent aspects of the office, but there are always great programs, initiatives, and achievements (especially from the newer brethren) that make all the difficulties evaporate. All of these things make the lodge better in the long run and make this good men just a little better in the process as well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

TMI Tuesday: Holding Back

Our son is one of those babies that enjoys being out of the house. He likes being in the car (for the most part), visiting new places, and being around most people. It is nice to see him be so outgoing and we try to get him out of the confines of our house and around other people as often as we can. The simple fact that our son is so outgoing made it just a little easier when we decided to put him in daycare.

Today was his first day and while his personality made it a little easier for him, it was still hard for my wife and me to leave him there for the day. He didn’t shed a single tear or really seem phased by this new environment as his curiosity had him looking around the room and searching for other babies with which to “talk”. It was kind of a surreal experience that left us wondering where the last six months had gone and how our son could already have gotten so big.

While we have left him in the care of family in the past to watch him, this was the first time that we parted ways and entrusted his safety to strangers. We had met them in the past but not for very long. However, we were familiar with the daycare and knew of others who have their kids there so we made the decision to ensure that he is able to socialize while my wife and I are at work. Of course, that didn’t keep us from wondering and worrying throughout the day and making a couple of calls to check in on him.

At the end of the day we were both able to pick him up (I spent the day home from work with a headache probably caused from stress and a lack of sleep). As soon as our son heard our voices we could see the smile overtake his adorable face. Again, no crying or fussing, he was just happy to see mommy and daddy again after spending a day with his new friends.

As soon as we left the building we knew that our son was holding back all day as the gas and poop flowed freely now that he was back home. I guess he already knows not to burp and fart in public. Having spent the day apart they were welcomed sounds as we held our son although I could still go without the smells. One day down and a new routine started.

Monday, August 24, 2015

No More Fees For You!

Over the years I have had accounts at a variety of banks. For one reason or another, I have also changed banks numerous times. Usually it was because of location or the simple fact that it was bought out by one of the larger financial institutions. In the past it was never much of an issue as I didn’t have many automatic payments and I didn’t write too many checks. However, things change and I am now in the process of shifting things over once again.

While the hours at TD Bank have always been very convenient and the sheer size of the company assures that there is always a location just around the corner, the benefits pretty much stop there. Over the past couple of years I have watched as the various fees have been scattered throughout my monthly statements. I always pay bills on time but ATM and ‘Balance Inquiry’ fees have been a source of annoyance. I sometimes wonder what the account balance would be if those $2 and $3 fees over the past several years where returned. Actually, I really don’t want to know.

In addition to this, the speed at which transactions are processed is about as fast as a constipated turtle. Having already transferred most of our funds to another bank, I can say with certainty that this is not the normal pace at which a bank should be operating. A perfect example is when, some time ago, I transferred my credit card balance to another bank and while I know this other bank sent the electronic payment and posted it to the other account, it still took TD Bank nearly two weeks before confirming the transaction and reflecting that on my statement.

I am done with this particular company. Heck, this bank wasn’t my choice anyway as I originally had an account with Commerce Bank. So now I am taking my funds, as limited as they may be, and moving them to a local bank. While there hours and locations may not be as convenient, the service and speed thus far is something that we haven’t experienced in the past. When we have a question there is always someone there to answer it, transactions are posted within a day, and the fees have magically disappeared replaced by an interest bearing checking account. It is a bank that choses to deal with their customers not solely the accounts associated with them. It is nice to be a person again… a welcomed change… only the latest of a year full of changes.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sunday Search: Missing Documents


Over the past few months there have been moments when I have made surprising progress researching my family trees and there have also been instances when I have hit some pretty significant walls. No matter how hard I have tried to hit the brick or how heavy the hammer, the structure remains solid. While there is still some small glint of hope that these records will turn up, it is not an endeavor that will likely produce significant results anytime soon… I guess I will have to get the chisel out and try to find the answers that way.

After all, that is how I found the few details that we know about John Uttley’s service in the Philadelphia Police Department. After dozens of calls and many hours leveraging various resources I was able to find out that while the full personnel files have long since been destroyed, there are pieces (i.e. rank, badge number, date of swearing in, rank, accounts in the newspaper) scattered across multiple sources. It isn’t much but it is a heck of a lot more than we have had in the past. Other endeavors haven’t even produced this level of information.

My great grandparents (William Edgar Yeagle and Bessie Wirth Uttley) divorce is something that is still interpreted different ways depending on with whom you speak. His first family, which is my line, sees the dissolution of marriage in one way namely that it was his drinking and abuse that caused the divorce. However, his second family, according to his granddaughter with whom I briefly spoke a couple of years ago, sees things a little differently in that it was my great grandmother that caused the issues in the marriage. When I called the court records office in Philadelphia City Hall (where they got divorced), there was little information that they could share as the records have long since faded and the only information on hand was that of the actual decree (without mention of cause). But at least that record can be produced unlike some others.

The marriage certificate of Paulus Redcross and Frances Beverly continues to be one record that we are continuing to search for through various offices, depositories, and whatever other means out there. It is something that we know exists as it is recorded in the Amherst County, Virginia ledger but the actual document seems to have disappeared. Not faded or destroyed (as far as we know) it is just gone. No one has been able to provide any definitive explanation although there are plenty of theories out there which is a completely separate topic altogether.

All of these documents have the potential to provide my family with a wealth of information (and answers) beyond what the existing documents ever could but there is significant doubt as to whether we will ever be able to read them. While we will continue seeking answers to other questions and look to fill in the family tree, these are things that we will always be looking for even if the possibility of finding them is slim. While these situations may be a deterrent for some, it only serves to motivate me to find and write the story without them (or at least try).  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Searching For The Home Amongst The Houses

Sometimes I wonder when we will finally have a quiet weekend when we can simply enjoy the time at home or we can drive somewhere without having a particular schedule in mind. I guess we have to have the weekends like this one in order to finally achieve that kind of relaxation. Today was another one of those days when the miles seem a little longer and the properties don’t look quite as good as the pictures. My wife and I agree that this might be the worst part of moving… trying to find that right place. This is about as far from a relaxing weekend as we could get at this point.

It is both a stressful and an exciting time for us as we look for a place where we can finally let our roots grow rather than restrained in a rental pot. We have seen a long list of places, some better than others, all with something that we really like and all with faults of varying degrees. While in the past we have settled for a place to live, some better than others but all that met our needs at the time, now we are in a completely different situation, now we are looking for a home not just a place to live.

Obviously, just the noise in our own minds processing all we are seeing with each property is contrary to the concept of a quiet weekend. Actually, the uncertainty of finding a permanent place has increasingly impeded this simple request to have peace between the work weeks. But I am looking forward to settling down and enjoying the fact that we have a place where we can watch our son grow up… we will have a home not just a roof and walls… something that we have been searching for over the past several years.

Now is obviously not the time for the quiet weekends. Now is the time to do what we can to ensure that we have those quiet weekends in the future. Those free spaces in life when we can enjoy time together without the stresses and distractions of the work week. Now is the time to ensure that those moments highlight our lives tied together with the consistency of place. No, we don’t have the time for quiet weekends right now but weekends like this ensure that we soon will.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Firearms Friday: House Hunting Edition

One of the things that I have enjoyed about our current rental is the fact that I have room for my desk and my work bench. It allows me to escape a bit and go somewhere quiet so that I can either get work done, research a few leaves on the tree, or build/upgrade a few firearms. It has been nice having this space and something that I hope to have in a new home.

While it is common for home buyers to include an office space on their wish list, my request takes it a few steps further. While I need the space for a desk, bookshelves, and filing cabinets it also has to have additional storage and space for both my work bench (I will be bringing the current one with us) and a rather large safe (I plan on upgrading once we move). And when I say large safe I am not kidding around. Best guess is that we will need to have a floor that can support at least a couple thousand pounds (empty).

If we are going to find a place where we can stay for a long time (we hope to never have to move again), this is one of the things that I would like to have. Some may see this as an expensive and somewhat selfish item and to a certain extent they would be right. It is something I want. However, it is also something that we need in our home as I want everything to be as secure as possible. This is also why I am going to take things a step further and have a full security system… something that we both agree on.  

Basically, what it comes down to is that this is a hobby and a passion of mine. Something that relaxes me and something that I enjoy in my free time. I hope to one day share this passion with my son while also teaching him about the importance of safety both in proper handing at the range and, as in this case, proper storage at home. I would much rather him grow up thinking that this level of security is the norm as opposed to the contrary.

In the end, there are many things on our wish list for a new home. The majority of those items are things that both my wife and I want to find while other things are on the list that we have each added. It just goes to show that it is both our similarities and our differences that bring us together and what make up the perfect (and safe) home for our family.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Monday Morning Puking and Crying

It was an interesting way to start the week as I was fortunate to join my wife for our son’s six month at the pediatrician’s office down the street. We did our best to schedule the appointment early enough so that this would be a possibility and, up until Friday afternoon last week, this was seeming more like an impossibility… thankfully an important meeting got moved without me having to say anything. So, with everything working out logistically, instead of arriving at the office around ten until nine, we were walking into the waiting room watching our son turning his head back and forth trying to take everything in.

Now, I have to be honest about what I feel as we walk into these appointments (beyond the feelings of frustration when they take way too long). I have mixed emotions about going to these appointments. On the one hand I want to support my wife and be there for my son while on the other, selfish hand, I can’t stand seeing my baby boy crying in pain.

While I wouldn’t say that he is happy to be there, he has at least gotten to the point where he tolerates going to see the doctor and he is actually pretty happy and smiling at everyone until one of two things happens... being naked or getting shots. He wasn’t even phased when he threw up on me taking him to the scale or throwing up on my wife as she was bringing him back to the examination room. He is an equal opportunity chucker.

Even with the spewing, it was fun watching my wife’s when the doctor confirmed that he was only half a pound away from 20 and well on his way to being taller than mommy. He is a big boy but, more importantly, he is a healthy baby and one that surprised the doctor by what he is already able to do. While there are a few areas where he is not really excelling in (not really behind either), the doctor was surprised at how advanced his hand eye coordination had become as well as his ability to self sooth.

All of that pretty much went to pot once the vaccine and needles came out. In addition to the nasty taste in him mouth he also left the appointment with two sore legs. But now he is all ready for day care although I don’t think that my wife and I are fully ready for that change as of yet. However, I will say that this time around he calmed down much faster and the tears stopped by the time we walked back around to the front desk. Needless to say, it was a tiring morning for all of us and afterward my wife and son went back home while I made some phone calls on my way to the office.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Shifting And Adjusting

The past week has been rather interesting regarding the phone calls that I have received. It began last week with a call from a trustee regarding one of the utility bills that we recently paid. It was just a matter of double checking that everything was taken care of and, honestly, I appreciate the personal interest that this brother, and many others like him, take in the lodge. They just want to see the lodge continue to grow and return to prominence… they have been and continue to be the gate keepers.

After a brief conversation I told him that I would double check and give the service provider a call just to make sure that everything was good to go. As soon as I hung up I immediately scrolled through my email, found the representative’s number, and gave her a call. As expected, everything was good so I thanked her for her time and got back to my usual work.

About 20 or 30 minutes later I got a call from an unfamiliar yet familiar number. I answered in my usual way and was surprised to hear the same voice on the other end of the line that I had just heard a half hour ago. I guess she really appreciated the call as it turns out that she did a little crunching of the numbers and was calling me back to offer a 40% reduction in our rate. Same exact service from the same company for 40% less… that was a no brainer. I like these kinds of calls.

The other phone call I received was on Monday morning as I was on my way to work (a little later than usual). With our Red Cross blood drive scheduled for October I was wondering when I would be receiving the materials. This call put a little kink in that planning as they are currently experiencing a ‘good problem’ in that there are more people wanting drives that weekend then they have staff. The call was simply to ask us if we could move our drive. I can’t answer that one on the spot so I had to agree to call her back… in the end, the drive is moving from October to December.

Not ideal but sometimes doing the right thing isn’t the most convenient. Actually, for me it works out well in that I will be able to support one of my fellow brothers on the day that the drive was originally scheduled… I was wondering how I could accomplish both that day. So, sometimes things work out for the best even if they aren’t exactly what you were planning to happen. Hopefully, this is the end of the interesting phone calls for a while… actually, never mind, I hope I get more calls about reducing rates. Those are easy calls.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

TMI Tuesday: ‘Tis The Season of Swamp Butt

During the colder winter months and even into the slightly warmer spring, the aroma that filled the car during our son’s moments of colonic expression weren’t really that bad. When they happened we had a little time to get where we needed to go before changing him. However, as the weather has gotten warmer and the sweltering sun beats through the window during these late summer months, the window of opportunity is much smaller before we begin gasping for air. There have been more than a few occasions when a window had to be opened.

Such is the dilemma during this season of swamp butt. While you want to get to where we need to be as soon as possible, the smell that permeates every crevice of the car at times prevents us from staying on the road. There have been some interesting stops in the past couple of months from small dirt patches on the side of the road to all kinds of parking lots. We have actually become quite adept as spotting a clearing in the distance where we know we can stop, open the hatch in the back, pull the stroller out, and get the job done on the all-weather mats (something I am glad that we got for the car).

There are even times when our son gets a look on his face that shows that even he is a little disturbed by the smell rising up from his car seat and swirling around in the cabin. Sometimes he can smell the swamp butt before the wave hits us. This is particularly interesting given the fact that he is becoming more aware of his surroundings with every passing day. Even while we have been house hunting, there were a few moments of stink when the next stop seemed so far away despite our appointments being so close together.

So, for all the new parent out there I would like to leave you with a little jingle to which we can all relate during these summer months when the sun wreaks havoc on the senses and our eyes water as we search for the nearest place to pull over…

Deck the car with bowels of dookie,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
‘Tis the season to be stinky,
Fa la la la la la la la la.
Don we now our stained apparel
Troll the summer colonic carol,
Fa la la la la la la la la.

Monday, August 17, 2015

My Solution For Disappearing Pens

A few weeks ago I got a package left on my desk at the office. Just like every other item that I have delivered to me at work, someone inevitably asked what I had ordered. This is especially true when the items arrive from overseas and most of the writing on the envelope, with the exception of the address, is in another language. However, this time, when I responded to the query I received a somewhat blank stare followed by another question of “what is that?”

For much of my working life, I would do to the supply area and pull out a pen or two to keep at my desk… not everything is done on the computer contrary to what some people may say or the younger generation thinks. This has pretty much been a weekly routine as I would either run out of ink or, what was more common, I would leave it in the conference room where someone would inevitably pick it up and bring it back to their own office. These are just disposable pens so it was no big deal to just go get another one from the supply drawer.

However, I have always been one that enjoyed a good pen while at the same time, I don’t want to spend a lot of money on something that I could easily lose. Those aforementioned packages contained something to solve a large part of my problem of going through so many writing instruments (while also saving my hand). What I found out in those simple questions from a younger colleague was that many people are unfamiliar with fountain pens.

I have always been a proponent of fountain pens as I can write almost all day without my hand getting tired and it is easy to replace the ink cartridge in something that I have become used to. What I am finding now is that if I do leave it somewhere, it is brought right back to me. Some of those returns are because people are unfamiliar or uncomfortable using them. It is actually quite amusing when you see someone use a fountain pen for the first time… it is almost like they are learning to write for the first time.

It is a unique pen to carry these days but, for me, it is completely functional as my hands are no longer sore after a long day of taking notes or writing and I know that it will always come back to me should I leave it on the conference room table. And, frankly, I am rather surprised with the quality that I received in these shipments from China given that I spent about two or three dollars (including shipping) on each pen (under a dollar for the disposable ones)… especially when you consider that the prices for the ballpoint and rollerball pens of similar quality are about five times higher. It is nice to enjoy the practicality of the fountain pen even though many may wrongly believe that it is an absurdly outdated writing instrument.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sunday Search: Beyond The Camera

The McKannan Family c. 1920:
(L-R) William Jacob, William Reuben, Robert James, Helen Walker (Fulton).
In the last few years of my grandmother’s life, she went back and forth between wanting to pass things along to many of us (I will never forget her telling me that she wanted me to have her, and my grandfather’s, High School class rings) and just wanting to get rid of things “because no one would want them”. Unfortunately, what she thought no one would want were the piles of family photos piled in many of the drawers in my parent’s house. In hindsight, I wish I had told her that I wanted to see them from time to time and ask her who everyone was. Definitely a missed opportunity.

Thankfully there are some photos that have survived and recently I came across a few of the older photographs that I don’t remember ever seeing. While sorting through the boxes and files that have been piled in my office for the past several months, I came across a Priority Mail box that my Aunt had sent to me just prior to our move out of the old apartment last year. I had put it aside with the plan of opening it once we got settled and looking through what I thought would be an album of photos from when my mom was growing up.

When I finally pulled the tab on the box I peered in and saw an expected album along with an envelope. I first pulled out the bound pages and only half of it was about what I was expecting. There were also photos from long before that time back to around the year that my grandparents met. I didn’t think that this discovery could get better until I put the binder aside and opened the envelope.

In this unassuming package I found, in layers and layers, a wealth of family history in images. Sliding from one photo to the next, I was unaware of the existence of each image. Some of them were simple portraits and family photos while overs told a little more about the lives of the people in those images. Knowing the basic family history beforehand only added to the story even behind those moments captured. Having done the research, I know that the following photo shows my grandfather around 1910 as a driver for a local grocery store (as was recorded in the 1910 federal census).

Additionally, looking at the family portrait at the top of this post (my great grandparents, grandfather, and great uncle) I can’t help but think about what is happening beyond the scope of the camera. The picture was take around 1920 and shows a family of four. At one point, in 1919 and early 1920, this was a family of six (my great aunts passed away in 1920 and 1922 respectively). By the end of 1922, this was a family of three with my great grandmother having succumb to a stroke in September of that year. It just goes to show that pictures are truly representative of a single moment in time.

Of course, this is just a couple of the photos that have been shared with me and just the stories behind the photos that I have been able to piece together. There are still a lot of images that I have yet to scan, people in those photos that I have to identify, and stories that I hope to find. It is an ongoing project that I hope never ends but I need help from the family to accomplish that… I just hope that I don’t come across another situation when people don’t think that anyone wants these pieces of family history. I want to do everything I can to avoid that situation and prevent that regret for not talking about the photos and asking about family history. Definitely a lot of work but well worth the effort.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Half Year At Ludicrous Speed


When our son was first born people kept telling us to enjoy this time in our as it will go by faster than we could imagine. While there were some long days here and there that common sentiment holds true as the past six months have gone by at ludicrous speed. Things have certainly changed and it is hard to imagine that our growing boy was once so small trying to grasp my finger as the nurse bathed him for the first time.

Soon our son will be heading off to daycare as my wife returns to work and we hope to have a new (and permanent) place to live in the very near future. There are changes that are fast approaching and I can’t imagine that the next six month will move any slower than the last half year. I’m just glad that we heeded that early advice and done all that we could to take in each and every moment and spend as much time as we could with our son. A routine that we look forward to continuing as the days, weeks, and months slowly slip by.

While he has yet to speak a coherent word (he sounds like a drunk talking to his imaginary friend right now) he keeps trying and it is only a matter of time before he surprises us both with an as of yet unknown first word (hopefully not a Focker moment). It is one of those moments that will seem like it takes forever to happen but will actually go by so quickly that we will once again wonder where the time went. This seems to be the case with all of his milestones, major and minor.

It has already been six months and there are definitely things that we could have done differently and times when I wish I was able to be there but there is also a plethora of memories that I will cherish forever, those moments when I made sure I was there, the time during the daily routine that makes the day just a little bit better (and sometimes stinky). One would think that all of those smiles and laughs would begin running together by now but that is certainly not the case as each morning, each laugh, and each smile at his daddy, remains as vivid as the moment it happened. Six months later and I am more excited to be a dad with every new day that passes.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Firearms Friday: The Sound Of Range Music

As I noted last week, I would rather take a pistol to the range over a rifle. It is what I have more experience with and frankly I am much more proficient with a pistol. Now I am sure that this will prompt much debate, but, as of this moment, here are a few of my favorite handguns and the ones that find their way into my range back most often.

Smith & Wesson M&P Pro CORE / Smith & Wesson M&P9 Full Size

In the end, this is the handgun that I shoot the best with at the range. While the trigger is far from the best on the market (the Pro CORE model is far superior to the standard package) the ergonomics and reliability are on par with the best. Additionally, there is a little bit of simple unexplainable preference. I also prefer the consistent pull of striker fire pistols which leads me to my second choice…

Glock 17 Gen 4 / Glock 34 Gen 4

Probably the most natural to get on target than any other pistol in my hand. The slight change in the grip angle is superb and the trigger is just above average. However, the fit and finish leaves something to be desired. Overall, this is probably the firearm which I am second best with at the range. Again, striker fired but not all the handguns on my list have that in common…

Para Ordinance 1911 Expert 14.45 / Para Ordinance 1911 Expert Stainless

Until relatively recently, I wasn’t a big fan of the 1911. While they have great triggers (for the most part) and are highly accurate), I wrongly viewed them as overpriced with limited capacity. They were also predominantly in a caliber which I was much less familiar compared to the 9mm. However, I came across these models at a price point far below those firearms previously mentioned and one of them settled the capacity argument pretty handily. Once those two dubious arguments were settled, caliber wasn’t really a question anymore. This leads to the next firearm on my list…

Kimber 1911 Poly Pro Carry 4

A high capacity 1911 with a polymer frame. Any questions? This is a great combination between old and new with a reliable design upgraded with additional capacity and a lighter frame. As a bonus the frame was actually made by BUL in Israel much like another one of my favorites…

Really this is the Magnum Research Baby Eagle as the Jericho (the name it has before Magnum research and the one it bears again today) has a frame mounted safety rather than a slide mounted safety of which I am familiar. This is another highly accurate firearm which takes much of its functional design from the CZ 75 (another favorite) and adds a rugged Israeli edge to it. This is a great range companion but not something I would use in competition like the Smith & Wesson Pro CORE, Glock 34 Gen 4, or the following firearm…

Springfield Armory xDM Competition / Springfield Armory xDM

While further down the list than some of its direct competitors, Springfield does produce a fine striker fired firearm with the xDM. The feel is a little different and the grip safety is something you have to get used to (similar but different from the 1911) but it is accurate, reliable, and just plain fun to shoot at the range. You also don’t have to reload as much with a magazine capacity, in 9mm, of 19+1. A few more rounds than something that you could easily conceal…

Sig Sauer P938 (Limited Edition)

This particular model had a beautifully engraved a blued slide. It is the perfect balance of concealability with the function and accuracy that you would find in a full size 1911. So much so that it performs surprisingly well as 25 yards on the range. The only minor issue that I have heard from people is having to carry a pocket gun cocked and locked… not an issue with a good holster but that is another topic altogether. It does take some getting used to but then again so does every firearm…

H&K P30S

Some people love the H&K trigger while others hate it. For me it just takes some getting used to as I have improved at the range each and every time that I have taken it out. On top of that, there might not be a firearm on the market with better ergonomics (the Walther PPQ is close) or fit and finish. One company that is pretty close when considering the latter also has a pretty impressive Special Forces pedigree…

Sig Sauer P226 MK25 / Mitchell Arms TZ99

The MK25 is built to take a beating but that doesn’t meant that Sig cut any corners… on the other side of this equation are copies like the TZ99 which offer the same form and function but with limited attention paid to the fit and finish of the pistol. The MK25 isn’t the most accurate or the best overall firearm on the market but it does the job in any conditions. While the double action trigger is lacking, it is one of the best when it comes to single action with regard to both feel and accuracy when compared to others with the same action.  

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield

Light, concealable, reliable, and accurate. One of the best in class for concealed carry and a great compliment to the M&P. In addition to being a practical firearm that doesn’t break the budget it is an easy to use striker fired pocket pistol with a reasonable amount of accuracy and capacity for its size. Not my favorite but certainly nowhere near the bottom of the list (that spot is reserved for the Remington R51). However, I will say that the Khar CM9 (CW9 and PM9 should also be considered) is really close and I would have no reservations recommend those firearms as well.

So those are my top 10 (and a few extras) which I really enjoy taking to the range. There are a lot of others that I have enjoyed shooting but there is limited space on the list. But, since I know there are a lot of you that didn’t see your favorite mentioned above, here are the next 20 on my list:

  1. Beretta PX4 Storm / Stoeger Cougar
  2. CZ 75 B / EAA (Tanfoglio) Witness
  3. Sig Sauer P320F
  4. FNH FNS 9
  5. H&K USP9
  6. Glock 21 Gen 4
  7. Beretta M9A1 / Taurus PT99AF
  8. Smith & Wesson 39-2
  9. Ruger SR9 Stainless
  10. Sig Sauer SP2022
  11. CZ P-07 Duty
  12. Kimber Pro Carry II
  13. BUL Cherokee / EAA (Tanfoglio) Witness (Polymer)
  14. Walther PPX
  15. Canik TP9
  16. Taurus PT24/7
  17. ATI Fatboy Lightweight
  18. Beretta 9000-S
  19. Ruger LC9 CTC
  20. Beretta Nano
Still not seeing your favorite? Well, either I haven’t shot it or I don’t much care for it. But, in the end, this is simply my opinion. Doesn’t mean that I am right or wrong (mostly the latter on a daily basis). That is my list, what is yours? Share your top 10 below just please don’t mention Hi Point.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Wet And Stinky

It is safe to say that we did not have a relaxing start to the week. When my wife and I finally finished sorting and packing all the things that we wanted to store on Sunday night I made a big pile in front of the basement door. I was hoping that I could simply make a few trips up and down the stairs while sliding the boxes onto the shelves. There isn’t much room left but there was enough to accommodate our recent cleaning. This was the quick and easy plan when I first balanced those boxes and bins atop the stairs… sometimes plans just don’t work out.

It all got derailed during my first trip to the unfinished storage room. I opened the door, turned on the light, and squinted a bit as the glint reflected off the wet floor. Something was obviously wrong and I soon found the culprit in a leaking pipe coming out of the HVAC unit. After taking a quick picture and sending it to the maintenance guy for our house, I quickly stacked the shelves before calling to report what I had found. Thankfully, he was up at midnight and quickly got a plan together which had everything taken care of in a couple of days.

Stuff happens and things were taken care of quickly so no complaining on this one (unlike in the past). However, our fun didn’t stop there as when I got home from work on Monday I was welcomed with fumes filling the house and my wife, with a rather pissed look on her face, greeting me at the front door. As it turns out, our neighbor decided to refinish all of his hardwood floors next door and didn’t even think to let us know. By the time I got home they had just finished stripping the floors and the stink was permeating the walls.

While we can’t stop him from improving his property, it would have been nice to have had a heads up. After all, we spend a couple of hours going back and forth and double checking that our son would be okay sleeping in his own bed. This frustration could have easily been avoided.

The following days was met with more stink as the finish was applied. It wasn’t until I left for work this morning when the smell finally somewhat dissipated and the noxious wall finally fell (it still stinks but it isn't as bad as when it started). So hopefully this is the last of the leaks and soon to be the last of the smells for a while but one thing that this reinforced for us is the fact that we are definitely going to look for our own free standing home with a little bit of a buffer of land around us. Thankfully, that was already part of our list.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Questions Follow Answers

Over the last few weeks I have been able to provide a lot of answers regarding a few things that were still up in the air at the lodge. It was nice to be able to check a few things off the list and get back to what needed to be done to finish up the year. However, that transition, as many of you know, leads to more questions than answers. It is a dilemma that all lodges face as the second half of the year unfolds and one that we do our best to navigate in the final months of the year.

You can usually count on participation being rather high as the calendar turns to a new year which drives attendance and involvement across the board. This inevitably begins to waiver at the weather warms and comes to a near standstill as we call off from labor for the summer. Just like returning to work after a long vacation, it is difficult to get back into the routine and, in this situation, hard to get the brothers back to participating at the lodge.

In addition to attendance of the brethren, we also wonder about the current candidates and the possibility of new petitions. We haven’t seen as many this year but the hope remains that we will be seeing some fresh forms this fall. Thankfully, we have a decent process in place for our new candidates and brethren but I can’t help but think about the ongoing need for petitions that will surely occupy my mind for the remainder of the year. Hopefully, any new petition and subsequent brother will be as dedicated and involved as those who have recently been raised.

The final months are also a time of transition as we will have new officers in the chairs for the coming year (this is true even in Grand Lodge for the coming year). While we are well aware of the brother who will be stepping up, there are always questions that we have regarding style of leadership (I actually have no concerns with the incoming Worshipful Master), schedule of programs for the year, and the officers that will be supporting him. Some of us will be staying on but there is never a guarantee and a lot can change over the next several months… we have all certainly seen that happen a time or two.

I am both concerned and excited by these questions and eager to see how the remaining seasons unfold at the lodge. We are always striving to improve the lodge (with regard to both membership and the building itself) and I am looking forward to seeing many of our projects and endeavors come to fruition. There are great things in store both this year and in the coming years and I am going to do my best to both support those initiatives and stay the heck out of the way. It just goes to show that change can be a very good thing.