Monday, November 30, 2015

Mortgage Monday: Taking A Chance

This was the first attempt... really glad it fell through!
I am going to take a step back for a moment in this series and actually talk about a few months prior to us moving into the house. By the time the summer was coming to an end, my wife and I had a big decision that we had to make. Our lease was set to end today and while we had been looking at houses for some time, and we were under agreement on a property, there were no guarantees. While we usually take a more careful approach to situations, we decided to take a chance and give our notice that we will be not renewing our lease. So, when we sent our rent check in late August for the month of September, we included a note that, in accordance with our lease, we were not going to be renewing.

Technically, we had a place that, at the time, we thought we would be living but, as September slowly trudged on, that reality quickly dissolved and we soon found ourselves without a place to live come December. It was an interesting feeling of uncertainty and one that had us contemplating whether we should try to extend our lease but it was also freeing in the fact that it was one less thing to think about as we continued to search for a home. If anything, it certainly served as a motivator to get things done and step up our efforts to find a home.

Things do happen for a reason and our house hunt definitely proved that point. Within a week of terminating the agreement on the first house (based on inspections), we reached an agreement on a second, far superior, home. After talking with the bank the following week and shortening the escrow to 45 days, we knew that we would be moving and would be making the transition from a house to a home by the end of November. As it turns out, taking that chance in late August was going to pay off.

Contrary to the first ordeal which was rife with misleading statements and answers that didn’t match up with the facts and documents from the county, the process for the second house went as smooth as we could have hoped for and now that second house is now our home. No more renting, no more moving, and no more uncertainty about where we are going to be living this time next year or the year after. We are home.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Search: Land

The photo above is the barn on the original homestead for the Teaford family on Kerr's Creek, Virginia.  
Land is an important part of family history. It gives us the connection to previous generations, decades, centuries, and sometimes millennia after the lives of our ancestors. Knowing where we come from and finding those roots has always been something that has been of particular interest to me. This is part of what has driven me in recent years to find that land of our own where my wife and I can raise our family… and actual place, a piece of this earth, that we own. This was also important to the first generation of my family in the late 18th century.

From Nellie Teaford Wood’s book which is included on the family website:

In 1780 Jacob Düfford bought his first farm in Augusta County at the foot of Sugar Loaf Mountain, a small round hill on property now part of Silverbrook Farms. With his wife Christenah and six children he came from Shenandoah County, where he had resided since 1774 on land in the Fairfax Grant.

Düfford had arrived in Philadelphia on the ship Hero on 27 October 1764, but his origin has eluded researchers. That he spoke and read and wrote German is established by his signatures in Philadelphia and in October 1792 in Virginia. He joined 193 residents in petitioning the Virginia General Assembly, citing their unacquaintance with the English "language" to publish laws in German so that "they may more cheerfully comply" because they have "always contributed their part of the support of government."

Virginia State claims show that he, along with other "Augusta Germans," did his part by furnishing flour for the Revolutionary army in 1780. 

The immigrant Jacob died intestate in 1801, owning three farms. The papers settling the estate in Augusta County Courthouse offer a wealth of genealogical and historical information. 

We didn’t have much when came to this country, colony actually, but we worked and slowly accumulated land. This was particularly important during this time in history as only landowners could vote and have any say in such petitions as the one to which he affixed his name in 1792. In the end, over the course of his life, Jacob had acquired over 200 acres in Augusta County. Makes my nearly 3 acres, purchased 235 years after Jacob bought his first farm, seem almost inconsequential in comparison.

In the years since that first generation, the family has seen land come and go in the family but those original farms, while not in the family, still exist. They still remain as a connection to our past regardless of who currently holds the deed. Being able to go down to Virginia, gather with those who have this same connection, and enjoy the area where we know our family has been for hundreds of years is something that we were able to enjoy over the summer and an experience I look forward to revisiting many times over in the future.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Holiday Shopping

Because I haven’t had enough to do lately, I have also been looking around and taking care of some holiday shopping. In addition to the “Black Friday” and “Lightening Deals” that are found all over now, there have also been some moments over the past couple of months when better deals were found. And some of those discounts didn’t even require haggling like at Raymour and Flanigan. At this point, because we started so early, we are basically done our holiday shopping. We have either already ordered or picked up gifts or we know exactly what we are getting for some people.

Of course, that has only been half of the purchasing equation lately as many of our orders haven’t been for others but rather for things that we need around the house. Furniture obviously being the biggest of these expenses which would have cause a coronary had we not known the total beforehand and certain death had we not negotiated a decent discount. Most of the other exciting things have been replacements for what was obviously worn out and we had been putting off purchasing until now.

While there is a little more of a sense of immediacy in these orders, especially for our kitchen, I was still able to wait on a number of items and get really lucky on others. Most of the effort was actually in scanning through the Amazon “lightening deals” while keeping a slightly open mind as to brand and style. We managed to get a lot of the things we need for a significantly lower price than we were expecting to pay and, in most instances, the quality of the product was much better too.

With all of this said, there is a word of warning that I would like to share with you. While most of you are aware of this fact, the reality is that Black Friday and Cyber Monday aren’t always the best days to find deals. I spoke with one retailer who specifically said that those days might be the worst times of year to find deals as they already know people are going out to shop so they specifically offer a smaller discount compared to other holidays throughout the year (President’s Day was mentioned as an example). My response to this and my advice is simple… keep shopping around, track the prices of what you are looking to buy, and never be afraid to either price match with another retailer or haggle them down beyond the sale price.

We are all watching our pennies and, like taxes, why pay more than you absolutely have to… a good rule of thumb is to never accept a discount less than 40% during Black Friday sales. This is the generally accepted bar for a good deal. If you take your time, shop around, get to know some retailers and salespeople, and sometimes price match, you can get the best deal no matter what time of year no matter what you are buying. It really is that simple.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Firearms Friday: More Space

A similarly blank canvas...
When my wife and I first saw what would become our home, we pretty much knew what we were going to do with each of the spaces and rooms. Actually, we found a house with enough room that we had to put some effort into figuring out what each of the rooms would be after we filled the spaces that we knew we needed (this is how our son ended up with two playrooms). Two of the spaces that we were able to immediately figure out were my office (the former formal living room) and my work bench and safe space (the dry and clean unfinished basement).

Let’s just say that I have a very understanding wife. In our former rental I had taken over the basement with a combination office and work area. Now I have more room than I really know what to do with as the basement covers the entire footprint of the house with nothing else down there except the basic equipment (i.e. boiler, well filters, electrical panel, etc). There was already a small work bench tucked in the corner and now that small section is significantly expanded. I might be taking up an eighth of the space and that is pretty spread out.

For the first time I am going to be able to keep the vices, cleaning kits, and tools out and organized. This is a bit of an odd situation for me as I have always needed to put things away at the end of the day with the previous work spaces that I have had. In addition to being more convenient and feeling like it is a more permanent space, it is also much more efficient. With all those items already out and ready to be used, I am able to immediately start working on a project seconds after I open the safe.

Being able to separate my office from my work space is something that I have been looking forward to for some time now. Work is work. It is a completely different atmosphere and mentality. Relaxing at the bench is just that… it is a means to forget things for a little bit and focus on the small projects and working with my hands. Now that we have the space, and the fact that I have an understanding wife, I am able to have those two areas to myself. Hopefully this means that you will be reading about some long overdue updates to a variety of projects that I have mentioned before… at least after I get everything organized.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Different Thanksgiving

There is a lot to be thankful for this year. Seems to be quite the clichéd way to begin this post but sometimes the truth is in the cliché. There have been a lot of great things that have happened over the past year for which I am incredibly grateful for even in light of our usual annual routine being completely different than what we have become accustomed to over the years. Not all changes have been good ones but that doesn’t mean that this past year hasn’t been good or that we are less thankful for what we have. If anything, we are even more grateful for the things that we have now.

With everything that has happened this year and especially over the past month my wife and I decided to really change things up for Thanksgiving this year and do absolutely nothing. Well, more accurately, we decided not to go anywhere and stay home to both enjoy the holiday as a family and get a few things done around the house. Remember, we haven’t even been here for a week at this point and there are still plenty of things to do and organization that needs to be done.

It was actually a really nice break and while we didn’t accomplish all that we had planned, we were able to spend the extra time together and take a few moments to catch our breath. And, for our son, it was an extra day to catch up on his sleep and recover from the lack of routine offered by the daycare… thankfully we have found a solution for that as well. However, the most important part of thanksgiving this year was to step back and allow ourselves to try and transition from our previous annual routine and prepare for what the future holds for this day.

We are going to have to find a new holiday routine now that so many things have changed and we are now settled into a home with our son. And while we didn’t do much today we really experienced a lot over the past year so taking the day off was very much needed. We have a lot to be thankful for and a lot of memories to cherish. It is a different holiday at this point in our lives and one that has taken on an entirely new meaning. We are thankful for many of the things that have happen this year and, at the same time, we are thankful that the year is almost over.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Last Notice Of The Year

For the first time in months I am actually on schedule… the final notice of the year is done and ready to be mailed. This is usually the hardest message for me to write or at least it has been these past two years as there is limited space to both reflect on the previous year while also looking forward to the following year. Of course, it also wouldn’t be an end of the year message if I didn’t include another appeal to pay dues.

The past year has been a bit trying but we managed to get through it and now we are entering the new year with a clean slate. Actually, with an almost completely new slate as I will be one of the few staying in my elected office. While there were times over the past twelve months when I questioned whether I even wanted to run for reelection it all came down to living up to the promise I made to myself and others to see this to the end. We are at a point of turning things around at the lodge. While we may fishtail a bit at times, we are still moving in the right direction.

It is with this at the forefront of my mind that I wrote my final message of the year to the brethren. It consisted of wrapping up the events for the year as well as a warm welcome to the incoming officers. While I will in some regards miss the routine that I have enjoyed over the past couple of years under the current leadership, I am also looking forward to the changes on the horizon and getting to know some of the other brothers a little better. This is one of the benefits of being Secretary that only those who have held the office can truly appreciate… you really get to know the people with whom you work and the bond that you have with them is something that is shared, for a brief moment in time, among the officers.

Having missed the final meeting of 2014 due to a medical emergency, I am interested to observe the transition first hand. My first time as a sitting officer and only my second time as a mason. And during this upcoming meeting I am looking forward to seeing the faces of those taking office for the first time. I remember the feeling well and I will never forget it. It truly is a time to remember and an experience that I look to share with some newly elected brothers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

TMI Tuesday: Getting Used To New Surroundings

Our son was a little thrown off on Friday when he got home from daycare. He woke up in the townhouse and my wife brought him home to our house that same afternoon. Honestly, it was a bit of an odd experience for my wife as well. While there was a bit of an uncertain look in his eyes as my wife carried him through the door, it slowly subsided as we walked him around the house showing him all the rooms (including his bedroom and two playrooms), the variety of windows and views, and the bounty of grass that he will be able to enjoy when the weather gets warmer.

It was an abrupt change for him that first night but one that has gotten easier over the past several days. When we got him up the following morning he was more interested in exploring and less overwhelmed by everything around him. Slowly he became more comfortable and he seemed to come to the realization that we were now home. This is clearest when he is sitting the playroom downstairs. Every once in a while he will stop playing with his toys, flipping through his books, or trying to pry up the foam letters on the floor and look out the window at the grass and woods behind the property.

Overall, our son seems to have followed in our lead and becoming much more relaxed at home. While there is still a clear adjustment taking place, he is much more active and happier overall. Actually, he seems to enjoy it when we take him around the house now that things are still new yet also familiar.

He is also getting used to the extra space in his room. There is a greater freedom in not having the walls so close and there is less interruptions to his sleep now that mommy and daddy no longer have to sneak by his room to go to bed. Just this simple fact has made a huge difference and, in a certain regard, has proven to be the biggest change to which we have had to adjust.

The important thing is that our son seems to be happy with his new home and my wife and I are happy to have found a home for our son. This is the place where he is going to grow up… but, right now, he is still getting used to it. Of course, what he doesn’t know is that there are more changes coming his way next week.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mortgage Monday: The Beginning

It is time for a new series… having purchased and moved into our new home last week I thought it appropriate to write a post every Monday about being a new homeowner. While the topics may vary these blogs will all be rooted in our recent purchase, the process, and some of the things that happen along the way. I will be writing about the services we use, experiences we have had, or simply how much things have changed in comparison to our years (and year) or renting. It is certainly a change for us but a great one that I want to share with all of you that continue to read these posts.

The process of finding a home was a long one to say the least. As I have written about numerous times before, this has been a dream of ours for years (certainly preceding the formation of this blog) and a search that has taken us to numerous places throughout the area, into other states, and even to a foreign country. While our criteria has changed since our first discussion about what we wanted our home to be, we currently find ourselves in the perfect place at the perfect time. Finally, we have a place to set our roots and a place where we can raise our son.

Looking back there are certainly things that we would have liked to have changed along the way. Even recently, it took a deal falling through on inspections in order for us to find our perfect home but, as we have been told many times before and as we keep telling ourselves, things happen for a reason. However, while we are happy with this wonderful change and becoming homeowners, my wife and I definitely agree and wish that this whole process had gone differently. Our ability to find a home came at a price that we were forced to pay and we know that we would give this all back if a refund were offered.

Look for more posts in the future that will get into some of the additional details about the process and some of the experiences that we have along the way both good and bad (hopefully there will be an absence of content for the latter). But, for now, we are going to enjoy this new way of living and the additional comfort and security that owning a home has to offer to us. And, of course, some stories about the adjustments that we are all making to this new reality.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Search: Moving Our Archives

As we are slowly getting settled into our new house, all the boxes that I spent packing long into the night are starting to get cut open and the contents roughly organized. Not only are we having to put clothes away, line the books neatly on the shelves, organize the boxes of toys, and get the kitchen put together, we are also having to get all of our binder and boxes of photos and figuring out a system for storing as well as a place to put all of them. Of course, now that we have a home and we are not anticipating any further moves, we are taking things a bit slower this time around and really figuring out a system that works for each of us.

Thankfully, we have enough room in our house that we each have an office to go along with an abundance of storage options. However, with options and wanting to take things slowly this time around, we are falling a bit behind in getting things to a place where we can readily pull out images or information. And with things previously so scattered it was a bit overwhelming when we realized just how much we have… we knew we had a lot but we didn’t fully grasp the sheer volume of research and images that we have collected over the past several years.

With a few more storage options, and more boxes, my wife has figured out her own system. While I have a few less places where I can hide the disarray, I have figured out a way to get organized and have started putting thing in an order that will allow me to pull out information I want fairly easily. Of course, this is only half of it as much of my information is still in a digital format. While there are certain advantages to this I still prefer to have hard copies and many times find it easier to pull up information rather than rummaging through files on my computer.

While there have been many attempts in the past to get all the family information and history organized, we are finally in a place when we can get it done and not worry about what would happen if we had to pack it all up and move it into a completely different space. So, for now, we are going to take a quick break from researching and focusing on the archiving of our legacies. In the end, this can be just as important as finding that next new piece of information.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Moving Day Recovery

As soon as we got out of bed yesterday the long and hectic day started. We had a lot of appointments scheduled and, needless to say, a lot of work ahead of us. Yesterday was moving day and that was not the only task that needed to be accomplished… we also had an ADT consultation in the morning, Raymour & Flanigan delivering furniture by noon, and the cable company coming out to the house to get our phone, internet, and cable up and running by the end of the day. While I was taking care of those tasks, my wife was at work, our son was at daycare, and my parents were supervising the sluggish movers.

With all of these things set to a certain schedule, my wife and I got up a little earlier than usual, got our son ready for ‘school’ and were about to head out the door when my parents arrived. Actually, while my wife was changing, feeding, and generally getting our son ready, I was busy finishing up the remaining packing around the house and making sure that every box we purchased was being used. By the time I stopped to take a breath we must have had over 100 boxes stacked in the various rooms all labeled with their new locations at our home.

By the time I finished putting things aside, closing off all the rooms that the movers didn’t need to address, and coordinating the day with my parents I was already behind schedule and ADT was calling just as I was about to get in the car and head over to the house. Fortunately, the woman with whom I was working was very understanding of the situation and had the patience to wait for me until I arrived about 15 minutes after our originally agreed upon appointment time. Just before we completed the walk through of the house for the quote, the furniture arrived and we officially began the transformation from house to home.

ADT left shortly thereafter and, just like it was planned, the cable company arrived and began work immediately. Thankfully, I remembered to bring a television, my laptop, and a phone with me that morning to test. By mid afternoon, all the furniture was in place, the cable, internet, and phone were up and running, and I already had the quote from ADT in hand. All that was left was waiting for the lackadaisical movers to arrive.

Needless to say, we were not happy with how long it took the moving company to get things done. While I did get them to move a bit faster upon arrival it still took them until 8:30 to get things done, close up the truck, and leave all of their trash behind (I will be checking for damage over the next few days). Today was largely spend cleaning up after them and moving many of the clearly labeled boxes into the correct rooms. But, the important thing, regardless of the issues that we encountered, is the fact that we are now home! Let the recovery begin.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Firearms Friday: Finding Local Stores And Ranges

No matter where we have lived in recent years one of the first things that I have done is try to find the local gun shops and ranges in the area. While this was a rather fruitless endeavor in the past when we lived in Bala Cynwyd, the ease with which I am able to find these places has drastically improved in subsequent moves. Our last rental did provide me with some hope as there were a few places within an easy 20 minute drive but I quickly found that either prices were exorbitant at the local chain store or the selection was lacking and the, hole in the wall, mom and pop shop.

Now that we have finally been able to settle into our new home, this task has been rather easy as there is a bounty of options within about a 20 minute drive from our house. Of course, I have yet to visit these places so I cannot speak to the quality of selection or the prices that can be found in the area but given the sheer number of shops I don’t expect this to be an issue. Given my experiences at one of the shops just beyond this search area, in Elizabethtown, the search should provide an interesting mix of both large and small stores with both prices and selection varying across the area.

And that is just the buying side of things… finding a range is even easier. Put it this way, we are not on the Main Line anymore. I haven’t even started looking for a place to practice and I already know of about a half dozen places where I can enjoy this relaxing hobby. I was able to spot all of these places during our explorations of the area over the past couple of years. Literally, no effort in finding these places.

So, in addition to reporting on some of the discoveries and experiences in the local shops and at the ranges in the area, I will be able to compile a list of the good spots to go and the ones where the first visit will likely be my last. With that said, when it comes to price, these places still have a lot to live up to having been spoiled over the years by the deals found at Tanner’s Sports Center. Local is easier but, in the end, sometime you want to go where everybody knows your name… at least until that is the case at the local shop.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Moving Quotes And Changing Plans

For the past week I have been busy not only prepping for settlement day (which has been pretty smooth thanks to those at the bank and our realtor) but also preparing for moving day which has been a little move involved. Having received quotes from about a half dozen companies in the area, it is amazing to see the difference in how the prices are calculated. While not as expensive as I had originally expected, it is still not a cheap proposition especially when you ask them how much it would cost to have the company pack up your belongings as well.

The range of prices that I received was rather staggering starting at the low end at $700 all the way up to a ten times multiple of that initial figure. Surprisingly the economic company that we used for our last transition, Two Men and a Truck, was the most expensive (by a wide margin) because of the fact that we are moving just outside of their ‘service area’. In the end, we didn’t go with the least expensive but rather the company that seemed the most inclusive, had the appointment available for tomorrow, and was reasonably priced (still on the much lower end of the range).

However, nothing ever goes as smoothly as it should and that was definitely proven about a week and a half ago when I got a call in the early evening which changed our plans. Who called? The realtor representing our current landlord… he wanted to start showing the townhouse in a couple of days. Keep in mind that we gave notice with our September rent check so he could have coordinated this whole process months ago.

Having not packed much of anything at that point I quickly rejected his proposal pushing the earliest possible day to this past Sunday also adding the reminder that we have a 9 month old and he will have to be flexible in scheduling appointments. What realtor in their right mind calls a tenant and asks to begin showing the apartment in a couple of days?

So, since then I have been packing the house deep into the night and making friends with the sales people at Staples, Home Depot, and Lowes. With an evening to go there are only a few more boxes left that need to be packed, the bathrooms and kitchen have been cleaned, and we are, for the most part, ready to move on down the road in the morning. One more night with the preamble coming to an end and the real story beginning tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

One Keurig At A Time

Lately there have been a lot of things that we have looked to move around at the lodge. Some are simply plans that we hope to follow through on in the future while other projects are well underway and will hopefully be completed by the end of the year. Of course, one space where a lot of moving around needs to be done is in the office… this is something that falls under both the former and, time permitting, will soon be a part of the latter. Frankly, I am not concerned with the space itself, although there have been talks regarding the moving of the office itself, it is more of a matter of all the stuff that has accumulated in that half of the basement.

Know in the middle of my own packing and sifting at home, I am really not looking forward to the monumental undertaking that will be required at the lodge. It really isn’t about how much stuff that needs to be moved as the room isn’t all that big. It all comes down to the fact that we have to go through each and every item, ever sheet of paper, and basically get approval to dispose of all the items that are unnecessary. At least at home I can, for the most part, take care of this pretty quickly as I know almost immediately what stays and what goes… the lodge is another story altogether.

I guess a bonus for my own move is the fact that there are a number of things that we have either replaced, plan to replace, or simply don’t need any more at the new house. While many of these things have been donated over the last couple of months (primarily shoes and clothes) there are a few other items that I am happy to donate to the lodge and some of the brethren. I always enjoy this part because it is a means for me to bring a little comfort to the lodge for all of us that use the space. While computers are completely practical and do a lot to accomplish this, having a Keurig in the new kitchen should be that little extra for some of us that makes it that much more comfortable.

I am sure that there are other things that would be beneficial to the lodge (there are definitely more important and pressing needs) but sometimes it is nice to satisfy that need for creature comforts. After all, we want the brethren to feel comfortable in the space. We want our families to feel comfortable in the space. And we want all of our guests to feel welcomed in our space. The lodge consists of the men who are members of the community with a common meeting place, the building is not just a home for those brethren but also a part of the community as a whole. By providing a welcoming lodge, we support a welcoming community.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

TMI Tuesday: Baby Gets A Bigger Room

The long day began with our usual morning routine which quickly changed once we got in our cars and met up at our son’s daycare. Today we both wanted to be there when we dropped him off as things were going to be quite different when we picked him up. It was a great feeling telling him “You have fun at school, mommy and daddy are going to go get you a bigger room!” From that daycare we drove to another… we haven’t been very happy with where our son has been spending his days.

Our appointment began as the last of the children were dripped off by their parents and as soon as we had a moment to sit a look around, we knew that this was a completely different place than where our son was currently spending his time. By the end of the tour there wasn’t a question in our mind as to whether we wanted to change his daycare it was all a matter of when would he be able to start. While we were going to make the switch anyway the fact that it was a $100 per week cheaper made that decision a lot easier.

From there we drove up the road a few miles where we met with a brother from the lodge and his wife. It was a relatively quick meeting as we were all running quite a bit behind schedule and before we knew it we were up against the clock to get to our next appointment. We arrived slightly passed the time we had hoped to arrive but things seemed to work out as our room wasn’t quite ready. This gave us an opportunity to talk with all those who greeted us at the front door. At this point part of me was eager to get things moving while another part as nervous about the changes which were about to occur.

The delays seemed longer in the moment than they do in hindsight. I guess it was all the excitement and anticipation of the day. Looking back it seems like mere moments between the first handshakes to the final signature to the disbursement of checks. While all the leg work and preparations may have been time consuming, it was all worth the effort when we were handed the keys to our new home and our son’s bigger bedroom. Now we can finally call ourselves homeowners and now we have a place where we can see ourselves raising our family for many years to come. It is a great new feeling to have especially when you go to pick up your son and tell him that we found a place where he will grow up.

Monday, November 16, 2015


While I usually have the news or some kind of talk radio playing in the car on my way home, for some reason I decided to flip through the music stations when I got in the car after work on Friday night. As Talking Heads fed their unique rhythm through my speakers the song cut out as a text message came through the speakers from a brother from the lodge. The first part of the message was making sure that we were prepared for the following week which was immediately followed by a simple phrase that caught me by surprise, “Check out FOX news terrorist attack in Paris”.

I didn’t even reply to his message before tuning the radio to FOX News. While there were grandiose statements and tenuous links trying to be made by the commentators to other attacks from the past, namely 9/11, this was completely different. However, I couldn’t help but think about that moment when I watched the second plane plunge into the tower. That is immediately where my mind went so I could understand the desire that the host had to make the connection.

These events are certainly linked by the fact that they are heinous acts by terrorists but there is little else that can be said that they have in common. While the magnitude of 9/11 is far greater than that which has just transpired in Europe there is also a part of me that looks at these calculated events as something possibly more sinister. The hijackers on 9/11 only saw the faces of the people on the plane while many of the evil doers in Paris could see the people that they killed. In some instances they probably looked them straight in the eye. I honestly don’t know which is worse or if either could be considered worse. These animals are evil. That is basically all I can say.   

In the days since it has been a different reality in France. Their perspective on the world and of the terrorist element that taints society has certainly changed. This is one of those events that changes how people view the world in general and the capacity of evil that certain individuals possess in particular. For many, this is a conflict from which they are no longer removed. It is a time for change. I don’t know what that change will be exactly but there are certain aspects of life that will never be the same for some people.

However, for now, all we can do is hope for some peace in Paris, France, Europe, Western Civilization, and the world as a whole. After all, while evil will always exist and these visceral events will surely happen again, those who ascribe to this immorality are the minority. We are stronger than evil and we will prevail both in France and throughout the world.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

9 Months

It may have only been a month since I last wrote a post like this but a lot has changed over that short span of time. Our little boy who once hated being on his belly now enjoys rolling around and flopping on his stomach while trying to reach for a toy. He even lunges at his mommy and daddy when he simply wants to hug or kiss one of us. Of course, that last part is sometimes a little game he likes to play when he is all cuddly and loving one minute and then just goes about playing like nothing happened. When you ask him about it he gives you a momentary smile and goes about what he was doing.

One moment in particular was last weekend when I was taking a break from organizing and all of the sudden, while sitting in the middle of a scattered field of toys, he turned to me and said “daddy”. I tried to get him to say it again but it was one of those things that just happened in the moment when he wanted to let me know that he could say it but he chooses not to say it. The weekend prior had a similar moment during the middle of the day when I was laying on the floor next to him while he was playing. Out of nowhere, he turned, leaned over, and gave his daddy about a half dozen kisses. These are just a few of the spontaneous moments that I will always remember.

There are also new routines that have emerged during the last few weeks. Cheerios have become the favorite way to conclude any meal. Not really sure if it is the taste, texture, or the independence that make them so appealing to our son. Regardless, it is fun to watch him feed himself and play with them a little while sitting in the high chair.

The other regular activity is something that he does when he thinks that no one is watching. Every time that we put him down for a nap or for the night, he spends the first 10 or 15 minutes in his crib trying to crawl. You can tell that he just wants to be more mobile and that he wants to surprise mommy and daddy because while he works on this a bit while we are playing with him it is a completely different intensity when he is all alone with mommy and daddy watching him quietly on the monitor. I guess we should expect another spontaneous moment soon.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Reversing the Flow of Packages

While I have received a number of packages from Amazon and other retailers (i.e. Allen Edmonds) lately, I have also been sending a lot of packages out as well. In fact, I have been sending out more packages and items overall than I have been receiving. In addition to the returns process (which has been pretty good despite what some have said about Amazon customer service) because of clothes being absurdly smaller than that which is stated on the tag and overall descriptions not quite matching up with what I received, I have also been collecting the unused items, unwatched DVDs, and unplayed video games from around the house and selling them to Amazon for credit.

At this point I think we have gotten rid of about five or six moving boxes worth of stuff that, in the future, I won’t have to haul from place to place, store here or there, and open and close trying to find that one misplaced item. Putting in the time and selling these items now is saving us a lot of time in the future and putting a little bit of credit in our account as well. Of course, that credit did lead to some of the aforementioned returns so really it is just a vicious cycle. But at least shipping is free across the board.

That credit has also served to help us get a head start on buying some of the Hanukkah gifts for our son. Nothing big but some toys that we have been eyeing since we either saw them in a store or at someone else’s home. However, while we have gotten a bit of a jumpstart on our holiday buying (definitely not the first time we have been in this situation) it has also introduced another issue. Remember that vicious cycle I mentioned earlier. Well, we may have gotten rid of a lot of stuff but we also have a lot of stuff coming in which is currently stacked in a few boxes along the back wall of my office.

It is actually a pretty eclectic pile as there are toys, home upgrades, gifts for family members, shoes, and a completely overhauled wardrobe. And those are just the things that I can remember or see when I glance over. Thankfully, the pile is a bit deceiving as the packaging takes up a bulk of the space, the clothes are replacing ones that I have already donated, and the gifts will be handed out in about a month so it really isn’t that bad and we are still saving space. Of course, I don’t expect this to last and I am sure I will find myself writing about this again like I am doing now and I have done in the past. But, until then, we will certainly enjoy a little extra space.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Firearms Friday: Fall Cleaning

Sometimes you just want to go back to the basics.
I realize that The Yankee Marshal may hunt me down (in high heels no less) for doing this but I decided to do some safe cleaning recently and some of the things that I plan on getting rid of I will not be replacing with another firearm. I know. Fortunately, I am in a constant state known as tactical butterscotch so I am ready for him when I hear the clicking of his heels as they approach my car from across the parking lot. Of course, just in case, should he show up at my house I have also strategically placed things slightly off center throughout the house which buys me at least three hours to respond while he goes around fixing all of them.

In all seriousness, as I wrote about previously, it was time to sift through the safe and get rid of the firearms that I hadn’t taken to the range in a while and that I don’t plan on taking with me in the near future. I don’t just want things sitting in there not being enjoyed and really not having any purpose… if they aren’t being used they shouldn’t be taking up space. After all, someone may be looking for exactly what I don’t want and will get some use out of it. So, with that in mind, I sorted through the shelves and brought the queens to the gun shop.

At the same time, it was also time to get a different kind of cleaning done. One important thing too often overlooked about firearms is the fact that they need to be well maintained. I am not talking about a Yankee Marshal degree of cleaning but a basic field strip, wiping down, and a thin sheen of oil. Enough to maintain the tools that are used regularly. Even this is more than most people as I also clean the firearm after I have taken it to the range. Each and every time.

This is the process that I plan on doing at the same time each year because I know that as the weather gets colder and schedules become more hectic during the winter, I just don’t have the time to get to the range as much as I would like. Now I know that there is plenty of space making it easier to find what I want when I have those few moments to get out. And I know that everything will be good to go without having to double check and prep before heading out the door. Doing all of the cleaning now just makes things easier down the road.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Lodge Work At The Office

Believe it or not it is that time of year again with our annual blood drive just a month away. Actually, it is exactly a month away. While we had originally planned on having it earlier in the fall, due to some staffing issues, we pushed things back to about the same time that we had our drive last year. While the weather might be a bit colder than we had hoped, we should still maintain our regular level of participation given the turn out last year as well as the experience we had in April when we donated the space at the last minute.

Over the past year and a half, I had been working with a particular organizer at the Red Cross… we got along rather well and things always got done. About a month or two ago, I got a note saying that things were changing and that we would be working with someone else from here on out. With time at a premium at the moment, I was wondering how we were going to be able to get together and properly get this relationship moving forward. Thankfully, she took the time and we met this past Tuesday at my office. I actually think that this is the only time that I could manage to squeeze out of my day.

The meeting went rather well and, like the woman we previously worked with, I easily got along with our new organizer. In addition to collecting all of the details that she needed and sharing with me the new forms and processes that are now in place, it was a time to also introduce her to who we are and what we do as masons… at least the broad strokes. It was also a meeting to coordinate an additional blood drive for the spring so also set aside some time in April if you are interested in donating.

Of course, now the work really begins to make sure that things run smoothly. While I may not have blocks of time available, there are moments and minutes here and there to make the phone calls, write the emails, and updating the schedule. This is really what it is all about on my end to make sure that this drive is as successful as the first two that I have been involved with. And, of course, I have to make sure to have all the blank forms available on the day of the drive for the Masonic Blood Club.

So, hopefully some of you will be able to make it to the lodge on Saturday, December 12th. If you are able to make it please stop by and say hello… if I am not at the reception area I will be laying on a table. Either way, I will make sure to shake your hand.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veterans Night And Day

I had been looking forward to the last stated meeting for months. Actually, ever since last November when we first had this particular program. This past Thursday we once again opened our doors to friends and family as we honored those who have served our country in the Armed Forces. Thankfully, despite some ups and downs over the past year, we were able to once again have nearly 20 veterans, brothers and non-masons, representing over two centuries of service honor us with their presence.

While I was unable to arrange for my family to be present, they were at the forefront of my mind throughout the entire evening. Not just immediate family but also those whom I had the pleasure of connecting with over the summer at the reunion. Obviously, this is also a night when I think back on the generations of family members who fought for us and also a time when I recall my own failed attempt to follow in their footsteps.

For those of us who are familiar with the sacrifices that many of these men have made, it is a night to celebrate those standing before us and also remember those who are unable to do so. Whether having passed long after donning a uniform or paying the ultimate price in the midst of war and conflict, all those who served to protect us, our way of life, and our country were recognized. It is a night that I recommend everyone attend regardless of whether or not they are a mason, veteran, man or woman. Everyone should take the time to show these veterans not only our respect but our heartfelt gratitude.  
However, these simple gestures of thanks should not be limited to ceremonies and celebrations. There are men and women we meet every day that should be thanked for what they have done for us. This is especially true today, Veterans Day, when we should keep our eyes open a little wide so that we might spot a veteran and go out of our way to thank them. And, along these lines, given the connectivity of the world in which we live, take this message onto Facebook or whatever your preferred social network might be (if you have not done so already). When you are there scroll through your list of friends and family. Those who are veterans, thank them, one by one. Don’t just post a blanket statement of appreciation.  

And, lastly, don’t let this be the only day that you offer your gratitude for the service of others. When given the opportunity, no matter what time of year or where you might be at the time, thank a veteran if you happen to meet one. After all, they have already paid the price so it doesn’t cost you a thing!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

We Are Getting There!

Well, we are almost there anyway. Tomorrow’s post will be the 900th on this blog but, given the fact that it will fall on Veterans Day, today we will take a moment to look back on the journey and take stock of all that has happened since I started this growing collection of research, reflections, observations, and gripes. The only issue is that many of the posts, the past two and a half years, are all blurring together. There have been so many ups and downs, so many places and events, too many words to remember many of the specifics that I have covered over the days, weeks, months, and years.

I guess it would be best to look at what this blog has become. What was started as something to simply keep my mind occupied and my fingers moving, this site is now a place where I am able to collect my thoughts, decompress, gain perspective, and sometimes vent about what happened during the day or during the past week. Honestly, when I put the first word to paper I didn’t think much of the longevity of the blog (definitely not thinking it would last this long especially given the daily regularity).

Now I look at the time when I sit down to write, whether at the office or at home, as a way of relaxing regardless of the topic on which I may be focusing. Even the most animated posts have become something that has calmed me as I am forced to focus and put things in some semblance of an order. And, thankfully, since that first introduction in 2013, I have taken the time to set some stricter guidelines and carve out particular days of the week to cover certain topics. Usually today would be about my son but sometimes it is also good to break away from the rigidity.  

Now that I have gotten to this point I am even more determined to keep pushing each and every day. After all, reaching quadruple digits would be something rather astounding to me. And I know that many of you will be coming along for this push to 1000 as the monthly views show me that many of you are interested in one way or another for one reason or another. But for these next 100 I would prefer not having the spotlight to myself. I would like to read your words and share your stories on this blog (you will receive credit of course). Thank you all for the support during the FIRST 900… now let’s work together, share the spotlight, and knock out these next 100 together. Who knows, maybe I will have to do something special for number 1000.

Monday, November 9, 2015

So Long DSW!

Over the years, I have bought and replaced countless pairs of shoes. Many of those pairs were purchased at the crap shoot known as DSW where the prices are usually pretty good (at least in the clearance section) but the durability can sometimes be questionable. In reality, most of the shoes that have any kind of longevity for me have been ones that aren’t usually found on the discount or clearance shelves.

My most recent workhorses were a couple of pairs of Johnson & Murphy dress shoes which I surprisingly found on clearance at Macy’s for about $40 a pair. The brown shoes met their maker a few years ago while the black ones held on until just recently. In the past, I had a pair of Allen Edmonds loafers that put up with daily abuse for over four years before finally giving up on me… holes in the soles are never fun when you step in a puddle. These were also the most comfortable shoes that I have ever owned and I hoped to once again buy a pair but the price has always been prohibitive running about $400+.

With my work and lodge shoe choices dwindling and few stores carrying wide sizes, I spent some time a few weeks ago trying to find some decent shoes at a good price. After having a few options returned to Amazon due to foot strangulation issues, I decided to see if I could find any of the Allen Edmonds shoes on sale somewhere at a price that I could at least justify. My thought process was rather simple… I currently spend about $50-75 on a pair of shoes that last me a year so if I can find a pair of Allen Edmonds for $200-250 that last me four years (like my last pair), I am basically breaking even.

So I started my search scanning the numerous Amazon sellers, sifted through the Nordstrom Rack website, and quickly clicked on and backed out of Shoebuy. All of them had limited selection, prices that were still too high, and didn’t carry the right size for me. I had just about given up on trying to find this unicorn when I clicked on one more link to a website that I didn’t recognize. This is when I found the Shoe Bank, Allen Edmonds' factory seconds website. It didn’t take long before I came to the realization that the site met all the criteria that I was looking for including prices that were far lower than I was expecting… basically at the same price point as lesser quality brands found at DSW. And I am fine with a small blemish that prevented it from passing quality control but that no one else is able to find.

The only aspect of the buying process that may prevent some people from taking advantage of these prices is the fact that there is no e-commerce capabilities to be found on the site. While the current stock and prices are listed, you have to call the store to place an order. Not an issue for me, I was on the phone within 30 minutes and had the receipt emailed to me shortly thereafter. A week later and my feet are once again enjoying the comfort of a luxury shoe. And now, a few weeks later, and nearly all my shoes have been replaced with the only holdovers being my work and combat boots.   

So, if you find yourself in the same position, definitely take advantage of the prices and quality offered at the Shoe Bank. You will not find the same quality for these prices anywhere else and, if you go through shoes like me, it is going to save you a heck of a lot of money in the long run. One big category checked off the shredded wardrobe overhaul list… on to the next.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Search: A Sea Of Irishmen

While research on my dad’s side of the family has been a project shared by many family members (both close and distant relatives) over the year, my mom’s side of the family has always been a more difficult endeavor. Where I have been able to build upon the foundation built by others on my dad’s side, the land had yet to be graded on my mom’s side until a few years ago when a few of us decided to break ground. It has been a bit of a slog at times but there is a lot of information now contained in our tree, a lot of family stories that have been confirmed, and a lot of documents that have been consolidated.

However, when following the paternal line on my mom’s side, there is quite the thick fog when delving into the 19th century. While I have been able to have a relatively complete record of my great great grandfather’s life, his father remains a mystery. Unfortunately, trying to find a specific William McKenna among the waves of Irishmen during the Potato Famine is a task that is difficult to say the least. And while the name isn’t as common in Pennsylvania in the second half of the 19th century as one would think it is still nearly impossible to verify the scarce documents that I do come across.

The other consideration is the simple fact that with limited job opportunities and significant backlash against the influx of Irish immigrants during that time, there are countless countrymen that remain without official records (an informational famine)… even the census has its limitations. In fact, much of the information I have been able to find about this particular generation comes from his children and what they later reported to the census taker and wrote on various documents. In the end, we have what we are left with is a name, approximate year of birth (1840), country of origin, and approximate immigration between 1845 and 1865 (port unknown).

That leaves a rather large pool of potential candidates when trying to sift through immigration, census, limited death records, and family trees. I have a mountain of names and documents that all seem to fit in one way or another but, when I try to put the pieces together, the shape is all wrong. While this is by no means an impossible endeavor, it is one that will take a considerable amount of time, more information, and a few lucky breaks in order for us to find this generation during my lifetime. And, unfortunately, I know I am not the only one who faces this challenge.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

An Interesting Meeting

It was an interesting night at the lodge to say the least. While there was a great program to begin the evening (look for my Veterans Day post), there were also some other things that needed to be worked out. However, it was a great night for progress, planning, and discussion from the moment that I walked through the doors. In addition to the gracious assistance that was offered by a few brothers to help both with personal and lodge matters, there were a number of visitors that I had the pleasure of meeting. While I always enjoy catching up with the brethren that attend every month, it is nice to have a different mix every meeting.

In addition to terrific performances by members of the Sojourners and The Savoy Company respectively, we were also honored by the presence of our District Deputy Grand Master. After a wonderful Veterans Night program and devoting the appropriate time to take care of our monthly business, it was great to hear of all the charitable causes to which we are able to contribute. On one level, I am happy we are able to give as much as we do and, on another level, I wish that we were able to give more especially of our time.

This was followed by a discussion that was a long time coming. The remaining time that night was devoted not just to setting forth a plan for the coming year but also refocusing our efforts to ensure our success now as well as in the future. There have been times when our eyes, ears, and attention have strayed to meetings like this are essential to our continuing to build upon our successes and overcome what some may see as our mistakes. Frankly, I simply look at those moments as instances when vision and ambition has clouded our perception of the current reality.

By the time the meeting ended, there was a different energy in the room. While I could see that some were still processing what had been said, there were many of us grateful for the words spoken just moments prior. We have a clear direction, guidance, and a plan for current stability and future success. We also have a Worshipful Master heading to the east that is the perfect brother to oversee this adjustment in our operations and I am looking forward to supporting him as well as the other officers to ensure that this transition is as successful as possible. Can’t wait for the December meeting!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Firearms Friday: Reacquiring

I previously wrote about firearms wish lists last month and while this post is quite similar it is also different in its specificity. We all have those lists we keep, regardless of what the collection may be, of those items we wish to acquire at some point in the future. Sometimes those items are obtainable while others are of the good fortune variety that require a significant influx of cash in order to make those acquisitions feasible. This particular list definitely falls into the former category as at one point in time I owned each of the firearms listed below.

There are various reasons why I decided to let some of these go and there are plenty of firearms that are not included for one reason or another. What it really comes down to is what I would like to take to the range again and what performed well for me in the past. Nothing outrageous is included and they are all readily obtainable but, at the moment, it is not the time to be buying. Now, before I go further, I will let you know that today is my birthday so if you are looking for a gift idea feel free to cross something off.

There have been three Sig Sauer firearms that are no longer stored in my safe: P238, P938, P226 MK25. They were all great performers on the range even for someone such as myself who is not the most accurate. The quality on each of these handguns is superb with accuracy and reliability living up to the Sig Sauer name. While the P238 is much further down on the list due to its caliber, I would welcome an opportunity to bring back the other two if given the opportunity.

I have always been a huge fan of Smith & Wesson from the moment I purchase my first handgun (a well-used 910). When I sold that first handgun I ‘upgraded’ to a new SD9 which was later replaced, naturally, with the M&P 9. If anything, I would like to reacquire the SD9 for nostalgia as it was with this firearm that I really learned how to shoot. During this time I also came to own a 39-2 which had, by far, one of the best triggers that I have ever experienced. This is definitely one that I regret letting go because of both how great the gun was and for the simple fact that I can’t really find any in as good a shape as the one I previously owned.

The next two are the outliers. I have always been a big fan of Kahr Arms (more so now that they are manufacturing in Pennsylvania) and the CW9 proved to be a perfect concealed carry option given its medium sized single stack frame. It helps that the trigger and accuracy are exceptional as well. The CM9 is great but that little extra grip surface does make a big difference. The last on this list is the H&K USP9. While definitely not as exceptional at the P30, the USP model still exemplifies the exceptional H&K build quality, accuracy, and reliability. This one may take some time to reacquire as it might be the hardest to justify given the presence of the aforementioned P30.

Anyone who has enjoyed this sport for any length of time has a similar list floating around somewhere. It may not be the fanciest collection of names or models but, for one reason or another, it is the one that we look forward to completing the most. Maybe one day I can check a few off of this list and hopefully that doesn’t mean that I would have to add one at the same time.