Saturday, April 30, 2016

Filling The Planner

It is amazing how fast my daily planner has filled up this year. As soon as I purchased the paper planner at the beginning of the year, I quickly started filling in the events and appointments that I had on hand at the time. This included work, lodge, personal and other reminders of what each day had in store for me. It has also served me well in scheduling different topics for the blog and had come in handing on a number of occasions both as a means to remind me of what I am writing about but, more importantly, of where I can move some topics when another blog needs to be written right away.

While some, many in fact, will see my bound paper planner as an antiquated form of organization, it still remains the most efficient form for me. Not only do I seem to do better when I am able to write things down, cross items off, and budget my time accordingly, it also forces me to slow down and remember what I am putting into my schedule. This is especially true for work engagements as it is too easy to simply accept a calendar invite. By pulling out my planner and recording the meeting, I tend to recall the commitment days earlier rather than fifteen minutes prior.

Of course, the most important part for me is the simplicity of this paper based system. I still enjoy writing many things by hand and editing documents by hand and having this out has allowed me to maintain my tactile focus without the constant windows and websites loading in the background just beyond the word document. It also eliminates the digital clutter that can become commonplace in an industry that relies so heavily on the digital world. Even when crossing off multiple items and shifting appointments around, the physical paper still seems cleaner than the digital jumble.

Another benefit of this ‘old school’ system has been the fact that I am able to schedule anything I need to without having to consult my computer or smart phone. It is a system that still transcends generations and given the frequent communication I have with many older generations, this can be a huge asset. Lastly, there is a sense of permanence and obligation when you write down a meeting in front of someone. The digital divide is still alive and well so appointments change regularly when simply typed into a computer or phone. Write down an appointment in front of someone and they tend to honor that arrangement more regularly.

In the end, I guess I am one of the few remaining that still prefers the physical planner over the digital calendar. In a sense, there is something a little out of touch about this method and I am okay with that. I don’t mind being ‘behind the times’ as it pertains to how I go about my day. There is a calmness to nostalgia and the simpler way of doing things that seems to be lost in most technology. All of these things are designed to make our lives easier but is that really what they are doing? For me, the pendulum swings both ways and sometimes it is nice to swing into the past.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Firearms Friday: Finally Getting Organized

Now that's a work bench!
It has only taken five months but I am finally getting around to organizing my work space. Within the first couple of weeks after we moved in, I did take the time to get all the boxes downstairs, unpacked a few, and stacked the rest neatly in the corner for when I had some more time to dedicate to the endeavor. With the exception of adding a few boxes and retrieving a few items, this is pretty much as far as I got with regard to organizing my work space.

The reason for this lack of progress is simple. It was quite the adjustment during the first few months in our new home and during that period of time there were other projects that took precedence over my designated basement work space. When there was some free time on the horizon a couple of months ago, once again, there were other matters that needed to be taken care of before I could spend the time needed below ground.

Now that a few things have seemingly slowed down and I am finally getting caught up on the various projects and responsibilities that have been hanging over me over the past couple of months, the time has come to set aside the time to get things organized. Of course there is also the motivation (mentioned last week) to complete a few projects and pull together a number of items to be sold. Sometimes you just have those moments when you need to cull the heard and with the unexpected expenses that my wife and I have incurred lately, a little extra cash would be welcomed.

It will also be nice to take stock of the parts that I have. While I have a spreadsheet to track much of the material huddled in the corner of the basement, I am certain that there are a few things that may have slipped through and I would like to know exactly what I have before I resume building. After all, you never know... I might be able to take a few of my personal projects up a few notches. However, the most important thing is that I will be able to have the space organized so that, in the future, I can take care of a few things when I have ten minutes here or there rather than waiting, as I have been, until I have a day to get things done. That would be nice.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Taxes… Late Again!

Well, it is that time of year again and as has unfortunately become an annual tradition we have filed an extension on our taxes. I was really hoping to get them done on time this year and had even lined up a new accountant but, with everything that has transpired over the last few months, it just wasn’t going to happen before the deadline. While I have much of the material and receipts set aside for this endeavor, I still need to print out a swath of statements and organize the mountain into the different deduction categories. It is definitely an undertaking that I am still not looking forward to.

The real issue that I am finding now is in the upcoming schedule that doesn’t seem to have too many free moments available to get the work done. Well, at least the next couple of months as the summer should provide enough time to pull everything together. This is a real issue, on the one hand I don’t want to spend the hours preparing the paperwork while on the other I really don’t want to give the government more money than I have to give them. After all, we are the ones that had to work for the money.

However, this rather large dilemma is actually proving to be a good thing as it is forcing me to take the tax proposals on the table by the various presidential candidates into more serious consideration. Essentially, this eliminates those whom I have already seen as a detriment namely both Democrat candidates. Basically, I have to look at what kind of financial position I will find myself in should Trump, Cruz, or Kasich take office. Well, at least what is being proposed… I won’t fully believe any of the ‘plans’ until they are implemented. And, let’s be honest, Kasich is done so I am going to focus on Trump and Cruz.

Simply put, you can go with an overhauled 10% flat tax as proposed by Cruz or a simplified graduated tax rate starting with those earning more than $25,000 ($50,000 for married couple filing jointly). For one, a flat tax is something that is manageable across the board and eliminates much of the overhead associated with the tax system (i.e. it would cut government spending) while a revised system would reduce the tax revenue while doing nothing to reduce the burden of associated overhead. Contrary to what many would want you to believe, the flat tax is sustainable and a sensible approach. Plus, I really don’t have a lot of confidence in someone proposing a tax structure when they themselves have spent years paying as little as possible while declaring bankruptcy many times over.

So, in the end, my support of Senator Cruz has been reaffirmed. It has been a long road getting here (he is the third candidate that I have decided to back) but we are now at the point when he is the one candidate that makes sense to me. Additionally, I like his decision to name a running mate in Carly Fiorina who brings a more moderate voice to the ticket as well as a long track record of executive business experience. Now all we can do is wait and see how the remaining primaries play out and what kind of contest we have during the national convention. It will certainly be interesting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Third Masonic Birthday!

While I usually write about what is currently going on and sometimes complain about some of the things that have come up during the previous week, this post is a little different. This is not a post about the lodge, this is a much more personal essay as today I celebrate my masonic birthday and look back at the drastic changes that have taken place in my life over those past three years. It is hard to believe that it has already been three years but, at the same time, it seems like I have been a part of the lodge for much longer and known the brethren for my entire life.

I can still remember the day in the summer of 2012 when I decided to take a chance and I walked through the doors of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania to inquire about becoming a mason. I had just finished my morning meetings and I decided to finally act on my desire to learn more. That meeting was the turning point for me as I was no longer simply thinking about becoming a mason but was actually doing something about it.

In the following weeks I sat down with my uncle both to ask a few questions and to have him sign my petition. This was soon followed by a meeting with one of the trustees of the lodge (coordinated by the Grand Lodge) who both took the time to get to know me and gave me a tour of the lodge itself. As the months passed things slowly fell into place as I sat down the committee of inquiry (along with my wife) and simply talked about life and why I had decided to become a mason.

My reasons were quite simple… Freemasonry is a part of my family history and it is something far greater than myself. The connections that we have as brothers is something that I have been seeking for some time and something that too few people truly appreciate. Additionally, it allows me to be myself, strengths and flaws, while still being supported by my brothers. But, at the same time, we are held accountable for our actions and guided by one another to ensure that we continue to follow the right path. We are equal but unique and all striving to be better men.

Unfortunately, due to the chaos that was my work schedule at the time, it wasn’t until the one day class on April 27, 2013 when I was finally able to receive my degrees. However, I did make it a habit to join the lodge for dinner every month leading up to my degree conferrals. I will never forget having my uncle sitting on one side and my mentor (with whom I had been speaking with for months prior) on the other. It was a feeling of having my family with me and a means of introducing me to an extended family… all over the course of a Saturday morning.

As soon as I was raised, I began getting more and more involved at lodge. I immediately starting pursuing my Master Builder Award, received my 32nd degree through Scottish Rite, and was elected Secretary in December of that same year. It was already proving to be quite the journey and quite the change all within the first 8 months of becoming a mason. And while it has been difficult at times to get up to speed on certain things (especially since I was a participant in a one day class), the support I immediately received from my brothers constantly reassured me that I made one of the best decisions in my life when I decided to become a Mason.

Throughout the past three years, I have been proud of my association with Freemasonry and the work that we have done at the lodge. This fraternity has introduced me to experiences, people, places, and events that have proven to be invaluable moments in my life. It is also something that has given me a greater purpose both during those first few months when life was a bit up in the air but also in the years since as I have continued to look for ways to include my family and in my attempts to leave at least a small legacy for my son.

While there are certainly times that I have been guilty of complacency and there have been moments when I have had to make tough decisions, there is not much that I would change about my life. And while most of the moments in my life that I will continue to cherish involve family there are also many moments that meet that criteria that would have never been possible had I not taken the chance and decided to take action by walking into the Grand Lodge that day in the summer of 2012. Most Masons know that it is the first three that form the foundation to your masonic life. Well, I am now three years in with decades to go!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

TMI Tuesday: Milk Please!

In addition to chugging, he can also put the ball in the cup too... 
There are moments when my son tilts his head back and his sippy cup almost vertical when I want to poke a hole in the bottom and see how fast he can really guzzle his milk. This has been his routine ever since we got him off of formula a few months back. Basically, in addition to being much friendlier to our bank account, our son seems to enjoy whole milk much more than the rancid smelling concoction that we used to have to mix before every meal.

He has gotten pretty good at drinking too. Among his various techniques, in addition to the milk pounding mentioned above, he has many one handed and no hand ways that he enjoys drinking. He also does the same thing with the sippy cups full of water that we keep on a side table in the family room for whenever he gets thirsty.

However, there are moments when his overzealous chugging can be more problematic as it can put him off balance at times. This usually isn’t a big deal as, for the most part, he is either sitting or holding onto something while standing and drinking but there are times when he puts himself in a precarious position. Those moments include when he lets go of his support (usually leading to his legs buckling), he tries to emphatically drink while I am holding him (I almost have to hug him to keep him from bending backward), and when he is a little too quick throwing his head back (he usually ends up laying on his back when this happens).

Fortunately, these moments are more amusing than anything and we usually hear him giggling when they happen. The only exception being when I am holding him as there have been a few times when I have been startled or he has been startled or both. That usually leads to a look of “what the heck just happened” or “what are you doing daddy? I’m trying to drink here!” Sometimes some pointed baby babble follows. 

But, as time goes on and he continues to grow faster than we anticipated, he keeps getting better at these rudimentary tasks. Thankfully, he is a quick learner and many of the instances mentioned above only happened a handful of times, all with slight variations mind you. Soon these moments will be a thing of the past but I will still wonder how fast he can shotgun his sippy cup (I’m pretty sure a milk bong will work too).

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mortgage Monday: New Polling Place

One of the things that many people forget about when they move is the simple fact that, for many of us, our polling place changes. For those of us who move to a different district or county our representatives change as well. Thankfully, I know exactly where I need to be tomorrow morning to vote as I pass the municipal building on a regular basis. Of course, what will be interesting to find out is how the space is organized, how active the campaigning is outside, and whether I will be casting an electronic (as in Bala Cynwyd) or paper (as in Chester Springs) ballot.

However, knowing where to vote it only a small part of the equation. It is important to learn as much as you can about your new place of residence by researching your representation, finding out where they stand on positions important to you, and, when needed, getting involve in the process. After all, for those of us who are looking to stay in our homes for the long term, this is more important and we must be active in making it the best place to live as possible.

And while there are many political aspects about our new community with which I agree, the representation can sometimes be a little confused to figure out as we are bordering on many different areas. Simply put, there are clearly some moments and decisions when they didn’t know what to think. This is why I took things a bit further in my research, got on the phone, and asked them (at least their office) about certain positions that they have taken. After all, they are now representing me and I want to know if I can support them.

While voting this time around won’t be as crowded as November, it is a decent little practice run for the fall. And while I couldn’t help but laugh at the Bernie Sanders volunteer that called the house tonight, I hope that I will be a little more composed in the coming months so that I can challenge the positions of the politicians who chose to ignore my Do Not Call requests. It is a process for sure but, at least for me, it is necessary to more fully understand where I live and whether or not I need to take things to the next level in ensuring that my voice is heard. Now all that is left is more research and bracing for the conventions (traffic should by lovely around Philadelphia) and the general election when hopefully the right candidate is elected.  

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sunday Search: Genealogy Shows Return!

While many television shows are wrapping up for the season, there is another batch of programming that is just starting their new seasons. While Who Do You Think You Are? started it’s short season a few weeks ago and is already approaching the finale, Genealogy Roadshow has yet to begin with PBS scheduling the premier for May 17th at 8:00pm. Here is the preview for the new season:

Thankfully for many of us, having the genealogy shows starting now allows us to indulge in our passion for family history without having to miss some of our favorite dramas and sitcoms. While I am a fan of both, it is nice to take a break from the fictional world to watch people discover new aspects about their ancestors. And, in reality, some of the connections that people make to historical events and people would not be accepted as plausible in the eyes of many television producers. History will trump fiction just about every time. I have seen it and I have experienced it firsthand… it is hard to believe the stories that the facts provide sometimes.

What is also interesting to watch during this time of year are shows like “TURN: Washington’s Spies” on AMC which bridges the gap between history and fiction not only in the story itself which has elements of both but in the production as well. While you may watch scenes taking place in colonial Philadelphia in reality, many of those scenes were filmed in Colonial Williamsburg. It is actually quite interesting to watch an episode and see some of the buildings that I had walked by and through just last summer.

In fact, Colonial Williamsburg has started a sweepstakes this year for fans of both the show and the historic site. All you have to do is tweet at @colonialwmbsurg using #IspyCW every time you catch a glimpse of the colonial capital during each episode of TURN: Washington's Spies, for a chance to win. The winner will receive the following: roundtrip airfare for two, a $500 gift card, two nights' hotel stay at the Williamsburg Lodge, and two Colonial Williamsburg admission tickets.

This is one of my favorite photos from our trip to Colonial Williamsburg last summer... 
While these three aforementioned shows are quite different from one another I hope that the results are the same. I believe that history is an essential part of our knowledge and understanding the world around us and knowing your own family history can have the same impact on understanding ourselves. And the best part about it, at least for me, is that this is a never ending process. I know I will never be able to learn about every aspect of my family history let alone history in general but that doesn’t stop me from learning, researching, and sharing what I know with family, friends, colleagues, and anyone who reads this blog. After all, we must preserve history and perpetuate the ancestral knowledge that we have worked so hard to obtain in the hope that every succeeding generation knows just a little bit more.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Last Words Of The Seder

This was the first time we saw the Jaffe Gate in Jerusalem in June 2009. 
The Passover holiday seems to have snuck up on me this year. We have yet to find a synagogue near us and I haven’t been on Facebook much lately so my awareness of the Jewish calendar is sorely lacking as of late. It is a process at times to keep track of everything and the last month it has been hard to keep track of anything except what needs to be done in the moment. It is almost antithetical to that which we celebrate during this holiday as we look to both the past and the future. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the holiday, here is a great summary from

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

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

However, what really makes me wonder and forces me to think is the line with which we end the seder… “Next Year In Jerusalem!” Not only does it make me reflect on the story itself but also my own journey through life and it makes me wonder how things would have been different had we stayed, even just a little bit longer, in Jerusalem. And when I think of this I can’t help but hope that one day we will be able to share our love for Israel with our son. We want him to know the land, the people, the history, the meaning, and the heart of Israel. So, maybe, next year in Jerusalem.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Firearms Friday: Selling More?

Well, that's a decent goal. 
There have been so many unexpected expenses that my wife and I have incurred over the past couple of months and many more that we are anticipating over the next months that the time has come for me to start culling some of the firearms from the safe. I hate having to do this again but it is sometimes what needs to be done. Besides there isn’t anything that I own that isn’t replaceable and the benefits are at the point when they significantly outweigh the desire to hang on to what I have. And that is what I have to remind myself of during this process… I’m not getting rid of everything and what I do sell I can find again in the future.

Of course, now is the difficult part of making the decision of what stay and what has to go. This also may require an investment of my time in completing a few basic builds to flip. On the positive side of things this will force me to finally get my work space organized and free up some of the clutter that has continued to plague me. This also means that I have to find the time somewhere in my schedule to head over to the local (actually not so local) gun shop in order to hopefully add some much needed funds to our account.

At the same time, I hope that this process pushes me to finally complete the other projects that I plan on keeping. They have been on the shelf (in the safe actually) for far too long and I am missing the cathartic benefits of working with my hands to actually build something. There are also a few parts that have to be installed and some customizations that have to be made… maybe there will be time to get these done once I get back into the rhythm of building. And, having cleared some extra space, there will undoubtedly be some extra room to store all of these new creations.

This is what I have to keep telling myself as I am definitely not the only one that dislikes having to sell off on item without immediately replacing it with another. That being said, this is a common ebb and flow of the sport and I am certain that I am not the only one that keeps going through this annoying cycle. But, again, we do this for our family as there are more ways than one with which we can protect them.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I Can See!

Definitely better than the glasses I was issued by the Army in basic training!
A couple of weeks prior to my last business trip I decided to do something that I hadn’t done in nearly five years (a couple of months before making Aliyah). I wasn’t having any issues with my eyes but my glasses had definitely see better days (I don’t think there was an original screw left in them). Besides, it was long overdue and I do have vision benefits through work so it was the right time to finally take care of this task. Additionally, as a diabetic, I am supposed to have my vision checked annually so it was even more urgent that I finally make the appointment.

Thankfully, I knew where the local Visionworks was located as we have shopped at many of the stores in the same complex so I booked an appointment (three weeks in advance). When I arrived at the store, there was still a rather long wait so I took advantage of the free time I had after completing the paperwork and pulled some frames off the racks. I had put together a basic list of requirements a few weeks prior as to what I was looking for which made the culling of the optic heard a lot easier. Knowing what my insurance covered also helped during this process but was by no means a deal breaker when considering the options. By the time I had filled a tray and had it put behind the counter, they were ready to proceed with the first of many tests.

With my exam nearly complete and having to wait fifteen minutes for my pupils to dilate, I was surprised to find that my vision had not changed much if at all from my last appointment five years ago. What that translates to is that my vision still stinks but I am not legally blind. So, with my vision further blurred by the nasty little eye drops, I squinted with every pair that I tried on and slowly began eliminating both the options for my everyday glasses and those that I would use as sun glasses… I had made the decision a few years ago to do away with the transitions lenses as they were more of a hindrance over the year than a help.

By the time they took me back for a final look (after the drops were in full effect) I had already made my decisions on the two pairs of glasses and had begun filling out the order. And while they were not ready for my business trip, as promised, I was able to pick them up soon after my return from Atlanta. I forgot how nice it is to have new glasses, ones with all the original parts, without chips or scratches, and with a completely updated prescription. And, of course, it is also nice to have two pairs that properly fit my face. Hopefully it isn’t another five years before I am able to do this again.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Climbing The Desktop Mountain

It seems like the last meeting was only yesterday and as the time has continued to fly by, the projects have continued to pile high. The last couple of months have been trying in more ways than one and as the district visitation and numerous other deadlines approach, I am continuing to struggle to get things done. But sometimes this is what we have to do as the Secretary of the lodge… we have to prioritize the various wants of the lodge, complete the needs, and slowly start working down the list.

Unfortunately, there are more projects that need to get done now than at any other point during the year and so the hours of communication, processing, sorting, and filling out forms has been a bit more arduous than usual. It hasn’t helped that I have also been absent from the lodge for many of the meetings and other gatherings as well but, again, that is part of the personal prioritization that we must all find for ourselves. But it has been tough trying to balance everything.

It has not just been the many new things that have come up since the beginning of the year. There have also been a number of items that have carried over from 2015 and, undoubtedly, many things from the previous year that have had a significant impact on our ability to check things off the list over the past few months. And for each of those items it has been a constant stream of emails, phone calls, and conversations at the lodge. Those are the moments when I would like to have an answer for the brothers asking the questions but I have nothing to offer or very little to report. Some things, whether I like it or not, are simply out of my hands.

However, there are a few things that seem to be coming together albeit a little later in the year than we had planned. I can see the peak of the pile and soon hope to be gliding down the slope into the summer. Of course, that will also be the time when all the projects that have been moved to the bottom of the list should be competed so that maybe, just maybe, we can head into the fall and the final four stated meetings of the year with a clean slate… at least of the myriad of things on my desk. But, right now, I just have to make it through the next few months.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

TMI Tuesday: Finding EVERYTHING on the floor!

Even before our son began crawling he would find the most minuscule piece of trash, hair, dust, crumb, lint, or string hiding in the carpet around him. Now that he is mobile and crawling at a clip that would impress even the most hard-nosed drill sergeant, he is finding more and more nearly imperceptible things within the field of carpet throughout the first floor of our house. It is actually quite impressive the amount of things that he has been able to find and also rather annoying since we have to keep a constant eye on anything that may seem out of the ordinary in the beige and brown floor.

Thankfully his toys keep him occupied more often than not and he tends to ignore many of the small pieces that we are able to quickly pick up behind him. Although there have been moments when I have contemplated putting some kind of shammy on this hands and letting him loose in the kitchen. He would probably have fun with it but I think it is a little too early and there might be something in the child labor laws about it. However, I think with his OCD tendencies he might do that all by himself when he gets a little older.

While we don’t keep a spotless house, and we probably never will, we do keep track of what could possibly be hiding in the fibers across the floor and in the kitchen around his highchair. We know where the possible discoveries are and we make sure to sweep, Swiffer, and vacuum enough to keep him from ingesting something we don’t want him to. On the other hand, the harmless things we don’t give much attention as he does have to learn every now and again that something, while perfectly safe, doesn’t taste very good.

And this is a lesson that he is quickly learning especially when he spends some time in the yard. Not only do leaves leave a bad taste in your mouth but they can also stick to the roof of your mouth even worse than peanut butter… something we avoid bringing into the house until we get some additional testing done. Now, fully mobile, he finds everything and he tries to eat everything which is proving to be humorous at times but, more than anything, a very tiring and challenging daily routine. And it is only going to become a bigger challenge when we start some of the improvement projects over the summer.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mortgage Monday: Needing Separation

While I have a home office, I have yet to use it as much as I would like. In fact, I have used the kitchen more than any other place in the house to get work done and it has actually worked out well so far. While it may not be the optimal place to get projects done, it allows for greater flexibility to switch from work to family. Again, not the optimal work conditions but I can’t help it.

To be honest, the space I am currently using to get work done is more because of the fact that there are a few projects still incomplete around the house. Namely the organization of my office which at one point was pretty close but it now a bit disheveled. However, the biggest thing preventing me from using the space is the simple fact of noise. My office is currently open to the main entrance of the house and the stairs to the second floor. Any work that I do in the office could wake up our son.

This is just one of many projects (which have all been discussed previously) that have to be completed. I consider this one to be an essential change to improve the functionality of the space. And that it important to note… we have the space. This is a luxury that we have to work with… we don’t have to move things around or have multipurpose rooms. We have the space to separate everything and our goal is to separate work from the family.

That strong divide is something that I would like to reestablish sooner rather than later. Not only am I able to be more efficient and productive but I can keep the piles of papers and my computer out of the family space of the house. We all need that divide between work and home whether it is a long drive or simply a door between rooms. Of course, the nice thing is that my wife and I both have our own spaces which we can make our own because, again, we have the space to do it. But this will also take a little time.

It just goes to show that things still need to be figured out over time even though you may have found the perfect home for your family. There are always going to be projects that have to be done to fine tune the house to fit your needs. This is because of the simple reality that a perfect home is going to be an imperfect house.  

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Search: Requesting Records

Excuse me, have you seen my family? 
A recent conversation with a brother from the lodge got me thinking a little about some of the organizations that I could possibly join in recognition of my ancestors. Namely those who participated in the Civil War both in the Union and Confederate armies. I know that there are plenty who fought on both sides and I even have a few of the records, mostly pension papers, for a number of people who participated in the conflict. That conversation also had me wondering about the lives and service of a few others in the family tree.

Early this week I decided to take action on these thoughts while also taking a chance that there is more information out there that still exists by submitting service record requests with the National Archives and Records Administration. The first form I filled out is also the most obvious. While I have been able to piece together some of the detail surrounding the death of Jacob Worth (1836-1864) during the Battle of Mobile Bay while serving at a First Class Fireman aboard the USS Tecumseh (Union), that is pretty much the limit of my knowledge. Anything regarding his service before that fateful day is a mystery and hopefully there is a service record available to provide some answers.

The second ancestor I submitted was George William Clapsaddle (1834-1916) who served as a Private in the 28th Regiment, Virginia Infantry, K Company (Confederate). The only details I have about this 3rd great grandfather’s service is in the regimental history and in his application for assistance from the Federal Government that he filed on 10 November 1902. According to records, he enlisted on 20 July 1861 (one day before the regiment’s participation in the First Battle of Bull Run (Battle of First Manassas) and mustered out on 30 September 1861. I am particularly curious read about his time at part of the 28th Virginia especially given his short length of service.

The request I made was for the service record of Jacob Teaford (1790-1877) who was part of Captain Joseph Larew’s Company of the 6th Regiment Virginia Militia. While there is little I have been able to find regarding his service during the War of 1812 beyond his basic pension listing, I did find that the 6th Regiment Virginia Militia did take part in the Battle of Baltimore in September of 1814 in support of Major George Armistead in defense of Fort McHenry. Obviously, I am curious to know whether my 4th great grandfather was present when Francis Scott Key was inspired to write what would later become the Star Spangled Banner.

The final file that I hope to receive is that of John Redcross (1740-1800) about whom I already have a mountain of information but still have a few holes that need to be filled with regard to his service. He served in Captain William Long’s Company, 2nd Virginia State Regiment, for nearly the entirety of the Revolutionary War including active participation under the command of Major General Lafayette and later as part of Colonel Charles Dabney’s band of regiments during the Siege of Yorktown. I am fascinated to see if any additional information is provided.

So those are the four requests that have been submitted. I am going to wait to see what is sent to me before submitting anymore but really any new information will be well worth the time, energy, and nominal fee. Of course, there are still other request that I have to make from other organizations but, being more recent records, there are a few more steps that I have to take. I guess I know what my next genealogy task will be. Stay tuned for results.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Another Season, Another Blood Drive

After a long week I left the house this morning with some trepidation. Our son still hasn’t completely recovered and his schedule has been off lately. And with him still on the mend, I knew that I wouldn’t have my family with me in Ardmore as I had been expecting when I originally organized the event. As I woke up early this morning, I knew that it was going to be a long day but I was also looking forward to reconnecting with a few of the brothers as we all converged upon the lodge for our spring Blood Drive.

Arriving at the lodge a few minutes later than expected (thanks to abnormal Saturday traffic), I didn’t waste any time in coordinating with the Red Cross drivers parked next to the building and immediately opened the doors, turned on the lights, and adjusted the heat. With these minor preparations out of the way, I finally turned around and assessed the space only to find that nothing was ready for the event. So the work continued and even though we had to spend an additional twenty or thirty minutes in setting up the space, everything was ready to go by the time our first appointment arrived at 10:00am.

As usual, the bulk of the appointments were at opposite ends of the day with morning schedules and late afternoon schedules proving to be the most flexible. By the time lunch came around, the steady flow of people had slowed to a trickle and we found ourselves falling well short of our goal for the day. In actuality, while not great our attendance was pretty good but we ran into a number of hiccups along the way as there was an unusually high number of people disqualified from donating (new travel restrictions in particular where not helping).  

The afternoon brought a welcomed flurry of activity both in donations and other brothers joining us for a couple of hours. In the end, while we only received 12 out of a possible 21 donations, it also provided many of us the opportunity to meet brothers whom we had not seen in some time, brothers from other lodges, and also members of the community and from the extended masonic family. It would have been nice to have held a successful blood drive but there was at least some good that came out of the event in the way of fellowship, sure up plans for other events, and gaining greater understanding of what we need to do next time around to far exceed the number of donations that we have received the last two events.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Firearms Friday: Knowing Where And How To Travel

Traveling can sometimes come with a whole host of issues… at least for those of us that have a concealed carry permit or just enjoying going to the range every now and again. Even traveling within your home state can be problematic if you find yourself venturing into urban areas. This is why it is important to know the laws and regulations of the place to which you are traveling.

When I am traveling within the Commonwealth, I know that there are certain areas where the legal concealed carry of a firearm will bring undue attention, and attempts at legal action, from residents and local authorities. While an uncomfortable predicament in certain areas, I do abide by the regulations outlines in those more densely populated areas. Further, even when in a firearms friendly part of the state, I do pay close attention to the signage posted by proprietors. After all, they have a right to ban firearms from their establishment and I have the right to not give them my business.

For those who have a concealed carry permit that are traveling beyond the borders of your home state, the first step is to find out which states will honor your rights. For me, the states that will honor (through reciprocity agreements) my Pennsylvania concealed carry permit are as follows:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona          
  • Arkansas        
  • Colorado        
  • Florida
  • Georgia          
  • Idaho  
  • Indiana           
  • Iowa   
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky       
  • Louisiana        
  • Maine 
  • Michigan        
  • Mississippi      
  • Missouri         
  • Montana         
  • New Hampshire         
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota 
  • Tennessee       
  • Texas  
  • Utah   
  • Vermont         
  • Virginia          
  • West Virginia 
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming
It is a surprisingly extensive list given the “Shall Issue” status that Pennsylvanians enjoy in this current political climate… it goes to show the authority that a State Constitution should have in granting rights to citizens. What is not surprising is the fact that many adjoining states will not recognize my right to carry (i.e. Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York) so when planning my travel I must take the appropriate steps to make sure that I am not in violation of the laws in those states. Of course, I try to limit my exposure to such intolerant climates.

And that is the most important thing to remember when traveling and being a supporter of the second amendment in general. While we are members of the majority in this country, there are many that will insist on relegating us to the role of second class citizens. They would prefer to segregate us from the rest of the entitled population and attach derogatory labels and unfounded allegations on us in an attempt to promote their intolerant message in the hope to strip us of our rights.

Well, that isn’t going to work as we are law abiding citizens that promote and the defend the rights of all people and want nothing more than to prevent violence rather than incite it as the anti-gun movement has done for years. However, those motives speak to the importance for us to be diligent in our observation of state and local laws. The last thing we want is to give them the ammunition because while they may oppose our rights, they will shoot you every chance that they get.  

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Setting Aside Networking Time

Every day I try to set aside about 15 minutes simply to send out a few emails or make a couple of calls to people that I have met recently or to reconnect with those that I haven’t spoken to in some time. This is both something that I enjoy doing but also part of my job as networking is essential to my line of work. Investing that nominal amount of time each day is well worth the effort and has proven to be hugely beneficial over the years both personally and professionally.

However, there are a few things that I have found to be essential to this outreach over the years. The first being that you cannot be selling when trying to open or reopen communications with someone. I have fallen into this trap a few times in my life when trying my hand at various occupations related to sales. That being said, I have never claimed to be a salesperson and never will claim to have the skill set necessary for success in that line of work. But it is an aspect that I am still well aware of in my current outreach as I prefer to focus on getting to know people rather than trying to get business from them or persuade them to attend an event.

The second essential aspect to effective outreach for me has been to forego social media. While these sites have undoubtedly proven useful in making the basic connections with people and to learn a little bit about them, they should not be used as a means of communication. Personal emails are much more effective in opening up a dialogue but still have limits. Connecting over the phone provides a personal touch and demonstrates that you are taking the time and putting forth the effort to not just talk but to listen and learn about the other person.

The third and final piece of the puzzle is the easiest of them all… listening and learning. Don’t just blankly reach out to people; learn all you can about them before writing that email or picking up the phone. This is where social media should be leveraged. See what they have posted, liked, commented on. Find their birthday, dates of life events, work anniversary, previous places of employment. Essentially, find that commonality that you share with them and use that to start the conversation. Networking is not about business, it is about getting to know people and finding things in common with the people you know is a great way to strengthen your network.  

Finally, familiarize yourself with pictures. There have been countless occasions when I have been at business and social event when I have seen a familiar face. Many connections have started in the virtual world but, by knowing what many of my connections look like, I was able to properly introduce myself in the midst of a large crowd. Most of the time, this is what truly separates you from the countless other connections that someone has made in the virtual world. In the end, never forget the importance of meeting someone face to face… networking can only survive and thrive in the real world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Welcome Back Extra Meetings

It has been too long since we had an extra meeting. Thanks to the work of many brothers at the lodge, we resumed degree conferrals last night for the first time in over a year. While we have had a few transfers and reinstatements since the last extra meeting, I hate to admit it but it has been that long since we welcomed a new brother to the lodge. Things are changing once again for the better and it really is a credit to many of the brothers who have taken a leadership role in the lodge.

While these are my favorite kinds of meetings to attend I was, unfortunately, unable to attend once again due to family commitments. It has been one of those periods when other unavoidable occurrences seem to be part of the regular routine. Actually, I haven’t been able to get completely caught up from the last stated so I now find myself two meeting behind with an official visitation looming in the near future. It is going to be a trying remainder of the month for sure but I am confident that I can, with the continued support of the lodge, make it through these tenuous weeks.

Even though I wasn’t able to attend the meeting, I did manage to stop by the lodge before the meeting and make sure that the candidates were present and that everything was relatively in order for the night. It may have been the most relaxed that I had seen the brethren before a degree conferral in a long time and I hope that this pattern continues as more and more petitions are received and read. Seeing this also reassured me that I was making the right decision to be with my family last night as my only concerns were at home.

By the end of the night, before heading off to bed, it was a great feeling adding three brothers to our roles following the transfer of one brother and the initiation of two others. While I don’t expect a drastic increase in membership, I hope that we can repeat our slow and steady growth from 2014 (2015 was an off year) and build upon these additions to the lodge. At the very least, it will be great to see new masons pursuing the Master Builder Award again along with mentors pursuing the newly established Master Craftsman Award (or Master Pillar Award for that matter). It will take time and effort, but we gladly give of ourselves as these meetings and pursuits will certainly pay dividends in the future.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

TMI Tuesday: Long Weekend

When I got the call from my wife on Thursday afternoon it seemed like everything was under control, worrisome but under control. As the end of the day approached, we knew that the situation wasn’t as clear cut as we once thought and so, as I previously wrote, I made the arrangements to hand everything off at lodge and made my way home as soon as possible. That was only the beginning. It has been a long few days with little sleep at night and too many hours of worrying during the day.

On Thursday, my wife arrived at the daycare to pick up our son not knowing what she was walking into. Almost immediately, the staff pulled her aside to show he some hives that had popped up on our son’s back and diaper area. Without hesitation, my wife called the pediatrician and had an appointment for early that evening. It didn’t look to be serious (reaction to the medication he was on) during the checkup and, instructions and new prescription in hand, she brought our son home to get some rest. By the time I walked in the door, things had progressively gotten worse but in so much as was to be expected based on the information she was given.

When we checked on him that night we knew that something was definitely wrong and we weren’t about to wait until the morning to see a doctor so we took him to the emergency room at three in the morning. A few hours later we had a slightly different plan in place to get everything under control and, after putting our son down for a nap, I headed off to work for the day. I was able to spend some time with my son when I got home but he was soon in bed trying to fight whatever was causing his issues. While there was some progress during the day something was still off by the time the sun went down.

Again, we checked on him around midnight and, after consulting with the pediatrician’s office over the phone, brought him back to the emergency room where his treatment was adjusted. By this point the medical chaos was taking a toll on all of us and we headed back to see the doctor on Saturday morning to have our son checked again. Having slept for most of the day, we were surprised when our son willingly went to bed at his usual time on Saturday night and while the evening was by no means normal, we did avoid a third trip to the hospital.

By Sunday morning, our son was no longer himself at all. He was definitely still uncomfortable from the hives/rash and now, as he began to swell, we could tell that he was in pain and wasn’t able to move around normally. With these changes we once again sought the advice of the pediatrician with little change to his treatment. By the time we woke him up that evening we knew that it was going to be another long night in the emergency room.

Thankfully, we got the information that we needed and the right routine put in place after hours upon hours of waiting and numerous tests performed on our poor baby. In the end, it is nothing that will impact him long term but the recovery is going to be much longer than we originally anticipated... around 6 weeks. This is definitely something that will require some adjustment over the next several weeks but it was certainly a relief that there is an end to this illness.

While we have had some trying times since our son’s birth dealing with minor health occurrences, this experience was really the first time when I felt the full range of emotions. There were moments when I was angry, scared, exhausted, and happy but the most prevalent feeling was that of helplessness. I pleaded and prayed on countless occasions that this wouldn’t be anything serious and that our baby boy would feel better. I couldn’t do anything but try to comfort him and be there for my family… it just didn’t seem like I was doing enough no matter what I did.

We are all recovering now but it is a weekend that is etched in my mind. While I know that it is unavoidable and that I have to come to terms with the fact that I can’t control certain situations I hope that our son never has to be in that situation again and I hope that my wife and I never have to feel so helpless again. But, for now, we are going to focus on recovering and making sure that our son continues to know that we are always there for him.

Monday, April 11, 2016

House Mail

Over the last few days my wife and I have received a few letters in the mail regarding our house... another couple of firsts… which were equally good and bad. The first letter that we received was something that we knew was going to show up eventually and we weren’t looking forward to it… our property tax bill. It is almost like being lulled into a false sense of relief when looking at this total with the knowledge of what our total annual taxes are on the property. This was obviously the first and much smaller bill… the school tax bill will arrive this summer.

Having paid our taxes up front at settlement… actually, our mortgage includes the funds being held in escrow that we need for our annual taxes… I scanned and sent the invoice off to the bank. While it means a pretty significant increase in your monthly mortgage payment I do recommend having the bank hold these tax related funds in escrow as the last thing that I wanted to pay this past month was a rather substantial property tax bill. It was reassuring to see this invoice taken care of without a big hit to our account and without any impact on the amount we still owe the bank.

Another piece of mail that I scanned and sent to the bank was our official approval for our Homestead Exclusion. Essentially, since we own this property which serves as our primary home, we are entitled to a slight reduction in our school taxes. And when I say slight I mean very, very small. But, at the end of the year, whatever that amount may be, it is still money that stays in our account. Given the size of the invoice that we are bound to receive, about 2-3 times more than the initial bill from the township, it will be nice to be able to hold on to a few extra dollars.

I guess you could say that these are a few of the unpleasant first time experiences as new homeowners but, in the end, we wouldn’t change a thing. There are some ‘negative’ things about ownership and the responsibilities that we now have as partners in this endeavor but, in the end, they are minor in comparison to the benefits and security that we now have in our home. We know where we are going to be for the long term. We know where our son is going to grow up. We own our home and we have land that we are free to enjoy (after taxes).

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sunday Search: Topic Of Conversation

This past week I spent a lot of time at business dinners where the topics of conversation varied pretty significantly from course to course and from meal to meal. However, there were a few subjects that came up regularly during those times around the table. The first two were, of course, the most obvious as business and the actual trade show we were attending were discussed at great length. Beyond that discourse, the primary topic that we talked about at length was genealogy.

Many of the people with whom I spent the first part of the week had at least a basic knowledge of their own family histories or were interested in pursuing that knowledge. Because of the neutral nature of the discourse, we went from moment to moment and from generation to generation of predominantly United States history with each subject and time period allowing us to learn a little more about each other while remaining appropriate for a business gathering. I guess you could say that this is one of the ancillary benefits to the work that I have done regarding my family history.

It was actually quite surprising the commonalities that many of us possessed in both geography and in the participation of our ancestors in particular events. There wasn’t a single statement that wasn’t followed up by either a story or a question. And this was going both ways as there were definitely some aspects of history of which my knowledge is limited or a local history of which I am completely unfamiliar. In the end, we all came away with a much broader sense of the reach and inter-connectivity that our histories have in relation to one another. And that was just the people that knew at least a little about their own ancestry.

For those who were still unfamiliar with their familial past, it was an eye opening experience that ignited a desire to know about their own families. Hopefully the basic outline that they were given is enough to keep that interest going and that they begin to fill in some of their own trees. After all, it would be great to learn a little bit about their families the next time that we are all together around the dinner table. Who knows, maybe we will find some stronger historical ties between our ancestors. And maybe they can use that new found knowledge, as many of us have, as a great topic of conversation during casual business meetings and, more importantly, with their own families.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Family First

I left the office with plenty of time to get to the lodge and meet with a few of the brothers before the meeting. This is nothing out of the normal except this time I knew when I got in the car that I wasn’t going to be able to stay for long. Because of some other unavoidable occurrence the only thing that I had time for on Thursday night was to check the mail and hand everything off to my assistant for the night. It is an odd feeling every time that I have had to do this and especially since this is the first time that I would be missing multiple meetings in a single year. However, in the end, the brethren understand that family has to come first.

It is during these moments, above all others, that I am glad that I have an assistant that I can count on to take over and whom I trust with the various duties during the meeting. Each time that I have had to leave early for personal reasons I was able to hand everything off, run through the agenda, and get out the door to see to other obligations. At no time have I wondered if something was taken care of in my absences. The past couple of years in particular, knowing that I can count on this brother for the information that I need has been an invaluable resource and I greatly appreciate the assistance of my former mentee.

With that said, I have made it a point to follow up the following day to see what I missed and if there were any action items that I needed to address. More accurately, see what action items I needed to address. Each time that I have made that call I was given a clear rundown of what was accomplished the night before and what I can expect in the weeks to follow. This makes the following meeting that much easier.

I hate missing any night at the lodge but especially a stated meeting. But, as I stated above and as we all hold close to our hearts, family must come first and I have never received any push back for having to miss a meeting for this reason. And each time that I have made the decision to forego the evening gathering, especially this past meeting, I have been glad that I made the right decision. The brethren rely on me to assistance here and there for the tasks that fall under my purview and occasionally for general council but my family needs me during difficult times.