Tuesday, May 31, 2016

TMI Tuesday: Oh, Pickle Juice!

Over the last several months our son’s obsession with Mickey Mouse has slowly intensified. It has gotten to the point that we have to be careful when walking around stores so that items featuring the Disney icon are not in his direct line of sight. While he doesn’t always reach for the red and black rodent, there have been times when all of his intense attention is focused on this particular character. That being said, Pluto also elicits a similar response on the rare occasions when he sees something with that character on it.

In addition to the small collection of books that we have amassed over the past year (and we have read many of those small books over and over and over and over again), we have also adorned his bedroom with wall decals of all the Mickey Mouse clubhouse cast of characters and they were a bit of a distraction during the first few nights they were up, we have taught him that they go to sleep when we put him down. This usually results in our son waving to each of them as we carry him across the room first to get his nightly story ready to him and then to his bed to go to sleep. He has gotten used to seeing them and he no longer tries to engage them in conversation. But…

A few weeks ago we made the mistake of putting his Mickey Mouse stuffed animal in the crib with him when we put him down for the night. While it seemed like he was having a great time, the problem was that he didn’t go to sleep until hours after we put him down. He may have been happy at the time but he was absolutely miserable in the morning and grumpy the entire day… sounds like daddy when he doesn’t get enough quality sleep. Obviously, that was the first and last time that we let him bunk down with Mickey.

However, since then he has become quite chatty in the middle of the night no matter what fluffy friend he has sleeping with him. In fact, there have been countless occasions since then when we have heard him talking with Bear Frog in the middle of the night. Seems as though he may have had to talk through a dream he just had. And then there are the other times when the cuddly creatures seemed to have said something out of turn and end up being punched in the face and/or thrown across the crib.

Of course, sometimes this happens more out of frustration as lately the crib has become a lot smaller given his recent growth spurts. We can’t do much about it as this is just one of the phases that will come and go over time. Like the many different situation prior, this one is both amusing and frustrating depending on the night. In the end, it will definitely be interesting to see how his fascination with Mickey Mouse evolves over time and whether he will continue to hold court in the middle of the night. Like many things, only time will tell.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Today Is About Listening

There is much more to today than showing our appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who served in the military. Today is about those who gave everything, the most that anyone can give, to this country and to us. Today is about showing our humble gratitude to those who will never be able to read or see our words. Today is about listening rather than speaking.

In between the countless posts and comments streaming across the screen of my laptop confusing Memorial Day with Veteran’s Day there have been a few instances when I paused and simply listened to what was said or stopped to read what was written. Those words were from the men and women who survived, many of whom attest to their survival coming at the cost of the life of another soldier. Others were recollections of the smiles and aspirations of soldiers who never returned home.

At the same time, I see the pictures and faces of families now absent a son, daughter, father, mother, brother, or sister. These are the instances that give me a moment of reflective pause as I think about those with whom I shared a barracks and I wonder how many of those soldiers never posed for another family photo after those sweltering days in Missouri. And I also think about who had to take my place once I departed.

I also think about the leaves in the family tree that never fully developed having been pruned early in life during a time of war. Whether it is my 7th great grandfather, Rufus Cone, having been captured by the British during the Battle of Long Island he subsequently died aboard a prison ship on August 27, 1776, or my 4th great grandfather, Jacob Teaford, who watched as his fellow militiamen were buried in mass graves in Norfolk, Virginia in the fall of 1814, or my 3rd great grandfather, Jacob Worth, being entombed in the USS Tecumseh during the Battle of Mobile Bay on August 5, 1864, or many of the cousins, close and distant, that have given all to defend this country. All of these family tragedies and sacrifices remain at the forefront of my mind on this day.

It is because of this, these accounts past and present, that we must always listen to what needs to be said and understand that many of the sacrifices that were made were so we could live the life that we do in a free country. At the same time, there is no telling what would have happened to us had someone not stepped in and paid that price. Past or present, today we must honor the memories of the true heroes of this country.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sunday Search: Three Months In Norfolk

In September 1814, as the first draft of the Star Spangle Banner was being drafted by Francis Scott Key in Baltimore Harbor, my 4th great grandfather, Jacob Teaford, was standing guard at Fort Norfolk over 200 miles away. During his time at Fort Norfolk, much of the combat was taking place elsewhere as, having been soundly defended in June of the previous year during the Battle of Craney Island, the British had turned their attention to other ports in the Chesapeake Bay. However, there was much with which Jacob had to cope during his service which frequently fails to gain mention in the history books.

Born around 1790 in Augusta County, Virginia, Jacob Teaford enlisted in the 6th Regiment of the Virginia Militia on July 14, 1814 for a term of 6 months and served in Captain Joseph Larew’s Company of Infantry under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Henry E. Coleman. When he first was assigned to Fort Norfolk, Captain Samuel Thayer of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had just begun work on improving the defenses which would continue through the summer and early autumn of 1814. There is little doubt that many of the men assigned to the Fort at that time participated in the completion of the necessary improvements.

However, by the fall of that year, the soldiers at Fort Norfolk faced a new challenge as disease ran rampant through the ranks of the militia. As the weather continued to get colder, the casualties continued to mount to the point that mass graves were dug in what is now the city of Norfolk. While there is little evidence to substantiate this claim, it is likely that Jacob fell ill during late September or early October of 1814 as he was discharged from service on October 14, 1814, exactly three months since he first enlisted.

Following the war, Jacob Teaford married Sophia Catherine Snider on May 4, 1820, had ten children, and supported his family by continuing in the “family business” as a farmer in Augusta County, Virginia. Having lived through two wars and being predeceased by over half of his children, Jacob passed away on April 19. 1877 in Mount Solon, Virginia. While he received a pension for his brief service later in his life, as did his widow following his death, there is little known about those three months of his life during the war beyond that which has been reconstructed above.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Coming Soon: 1100!

It is a rather staggering figure when you think about it… 1100 blog posts in 1100 days. It is actually still amazing that I have been able to find something to write about on each of those days. Of course, there are clearly some days when one can tell that there wasn’t much to write about but sometimes that is what happens. It is a simple matter of having to work with the information given no matter how little that may be. For me, that means life is a lot like work.

On the other side of things, there have been quite a number of days when there are multiple events, thoughts, topics that I would like to write about. This usually has me pulling out my planner and trying to figure out where I can fit some of these subjects into the schedule. At times this is a rather easy problem to fix as the topics fit into some of the weekly themes. Other times, they are beyond the purview of these scheduled posts which leaves only a few days each week where they can be fit in.

I guess you could say that this is sometimes just part of the routine. However, the timeliness of topics can sometimes change things up. Also, the simple desire to write or not to write has to be taken into account. Topics can be a factor in this as there are times when I don’t have any desire to write about a topic that I previously planned no matter how rich the subject matter may be. This means that, for me, this blog is a lot like work.

All of that being said, somehow I have managed to put up a post for each day and, at least on occasion, these posts have resonated, entertained, of flat out pissed people off. However, more than that, it has started numerous conversations with people from around the world and with a wide variety of backgrounds because we share a common idea, interest, or opinion. Sometimes these communications have surprised me as I received praise for certain stances that I have taken on a variety of topics. Even those whom have disagreed with me have at least brought their own opinions to the fore and opened a dialog on specific topics.

This blog has always been a means of recording life and part of life is the wonderful conversations, experiences, and people that I have been able to meet along the way. So, in essence, this blog has been a means to enhance life and bring about experiences and provide introductions that I would have otherwise never had the opportunity to enjoy. It really is interesting how things come full circle in that regard and makes the time and effort that I have committed to these words worth much more than the modest investment streaming from the tips of my fingers.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Firearms Friday: New Products For The Wish List

This past weekend the NRA held their annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky during which a number of manufacturers announced new products… or at least had the first iterations of current innovations on display. It is one of those times in the year, along with Shot Show, when I look through the reports and reviews from the event, as well as those announcements from the beginning of the year, and slowly build a list in my head of all the new items that I would like to buy. Unfortunately, this is pretty much where things end as I am not one to run to the store and spend thousands of dollars to have the latest and greatest that the industry has to offer.

That being said there are a number of new firearms that pique my interest and I am curious to see what the reviews will be like and it they gain in popularity over the next year. If you take into account all the new firearms hitting the shelves this would be an absurdly long post so, for the sake of brevity, I will focus on the handguns that caught my attention. This year, that list includes full size versions of the Canik TP-9, Sphinx SDP Standard (accepts Glock 17 magazines!), and the competition ready CZ 75 TS. Of course, there have also been some brand new pistols that I am eager to see in my local shop which include the relaunch of the Llama 1911, Heizer Defense PKO, Honor Defense 9 mm, SCCY Industries CPX-3 (the .380 version of the popular budget pistol), the Schmeisser SLP-9, and, of course, the Smith & Wesson M&P Shield in .45 ACP.

Magnum Research will also have a light weight Desert Eagle in .357 magnum available this year but I am choosing not to expound upon that mistake. Oddly enough, the ones that I am most curious about are the Llama, Sphinx, Heizer, Honor Guard, and Schmeisser. Given those four, here are some of my thoughts:

  • The Llama was always a budget friendly option in the past that offered descent quality and I want to see if that has been carried over into this current incarnation of the, some would say, venerable line.

  • Heizer is bringing to market a semi-automatic firearm that has evolved from the success of their derringer style handguns… this could be a huge success or completely miss the mark.

  • Schmeisser is a completely new company to me and I am always fascinated to see what the adoption of a new manufacture is early on and the level of quality that they are able to provide during their first few years on the market. At first glance, the pistol seems to be a hybrid between many of the striker fired handguns currently thriving in the market. The question is whether this is the right combination of features from those popular pistols. The Honor Defense 9mm would also fall into this with a slightly different look which combines the features and aesthetics from other manufacturers.

  • Sphinx continues to have a great reputation and they have definitely earned it with the quality firearms that they have produced. However, they remain well above average with regard to price point and I am curious to see what kind of deterrent that will continue to be in the marketplace. That being said, there is a luxury afforded to the owner about being able to use standard Glock magazines and one that can potentially save the shooter a good deal of money in the long run.
In the end, it should be another interesting year for the firearms industry (not including the presidential race) and one that could provide some notable developments as well as returns to prominence. And while most of us can’t afford the $4.5 million dollar price tag of the Cabot Guns meteor 1911s, there are plenty of affordable options new to the market as well as some interesting new incarnations that will provide us with some different and sometimes unique range experiences. Whether or not these new products will be a success is an entirely different question altogether. Of course, the most important thing to remember this year is that our right to enjoy this sport, our right to self-defense, our right to own these tools is more important than ever and this industry will not thrive without our support, activism, and willingness to defend our rights.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

3rd Blog Anniversary

It has been three years since I made the decision to start blogging again. At the time it was a means to keep my mind busy while working the night shift and, honestly, I didn’t expect it to last too long especially after I started working during the day again. Over the years there have been many moments when I have fallen behind, when I have questioned whether or not I wanted to keep posting, and if this was all worth the time and effort. Those doubts have surfaced more times than anyone realizes.

However, what was once a means to keep my mind active and prevent creative constipation is now much more than those basic founding reasons for keeping this blog going day after day. I have spoken on the importance of keeping a daily record of my life, no matter how mundane it may be, but there is also the simple fact that this has given me, for the most part, a routine amidst the sporadic chaos, a means to think through certain topics and situations, and, occasionally, a venue where I can vent both and share the good and the bad. While there have been moments that I have bit my tongue before writing (despite one of the main ‘rules’ that I set for myself in the beginning), this has been largely a free flow of topics and ideas.

Over the life of this blog, things have also evolved. What was once a free form venue with few rules, has morphed into a loose structure where there are certain topic for different days. This schedule has reinforced the original purpose of the blog in that not only am I forcing myself to write every day but I am pushing myself to consider specific topics every week. As has been evident, some weeks there is more fodder for a certain topic than others but, in general, it has pushed me to learn different things about topics which I am already interested in as well as give more thought to some of the routine events in my life. As a bonus, it has also given readers more guidance as there are some people who avoid certain days while other that only read about a topic or two that I cover.

At this point, I don’t see much changing in the coming year on this blog. While I am not in a position to guarantee anything, I plan on maintaining the daily pace, sticking to the 400 word minimum per post, and continuing to write about the weekly topics that many of you have come to expect. Beyond that everything is still up in the air. So, at this point I will finish this post with a simple thank you to all that have stopped by, those who read regularly, the people who leave comments (here, on social media, through email, and in person), and the people in my life who both inspire me to keep writing and tolerate the commitment that I continue to make to my writing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Transitioning To The New System

Now that things seemed to have settled down at least a little bit, I have been circling back to try and figure out the new website launched by Grand Lodge late last year. While there are many quirks to the old system it is something that I had gotten used to and knew exactly where to go if I needed anything. This new site is something completely different and I am finding that it is taking much longer than I anticipated to find the information and functions that I need. It isn’t that there is anything wrong with it, it is simply new and unfamiliar which takes time to figure out.

However, there are a few things that I have noticed that are both incredibly helpful and also lacking in comparison to the legacy system. While I enjoy having access to the names and lodges of brothers from across the commonwealth, I don’t need that information all of the time. In fact, 99% of the time I just want to see the members of my own lodge, read and respond to emails, and update and input records when needed. That is the bulk of the work that I do on the website and all of these other things just seem like unnecessary bells and whistles to me right now. Of course, that could change over time but that is what I am finding at the moment.

And this speaks to the larger issue at hand… simplicity. I make my living distilling and simplifying complicated concepts into easily digestible text and quotes… it is a necessity of the industry in which I work and partly why companies pay for my services. However, this should not be something that is needed when trying to update records and input data. There is an overly complicated nature to the new process that will undoubtedly keep some brothers from serving as Secretaries in the future… especially those brothers who may be a few years older than the rest.

But the main issue that I have had with the new system is that I didn’t start using it earlier. After all, this could all simply be a matter of unfamiliarity. Because I continued to use the legacy system for so long I am finding myself having to reenter the same information again into the new system… I could have avoided this extra work. Like many things in life, sometimes the biggest obstacle lies in the person sitting at the computer. This is something that we all learn in our lives and especially during our time in the fraternity. The biggest hurdle to get something done can sometimes be in the individual(s). In the end, in order to keep moving forward and moving this fraternity forward, we can’t be afraid to point the finger at ourselves. It really is that simple.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TMI Tuesday: Watching Him Sleep

There are moments as a parent when the world stops for just a second. Sometimes it happens because you are scared out of your mind while other times, especially lately, it is because there is a perfect simplicity to that singular time when nothing in this world could improve upon it. It is these latter moments when there is no place you would rather be and there is nothing in the world more important than simply being there to experience the peace and tranquility of parenthood.

Sure there are times when the last thing that you want to hear when you walk through the door after a long day at the office is your son whaling from the playroom. There are those times when that sudden scream in the middle of the night ten minutes after you had just fallen asleep makes you want to pull your hair out (I can actually sense my hair getting gray in those instances). And there are instances when the world stops as you can tell there is something wrong with your child and you don’t know whether to yell, cry, shut down, or take charge. But these moments tend to fade and fold deep into the recesses of your gray matter.

The moments that I remember, that get me through those stressful times in my day when I just want to throw my hands up, that make me take charge when things are difficult, are the times when I walk through the door and I can hear my son let out a joyous squee before scurrying into the kitchen and scrawling up my leg. It is the times when he is feeling tired and shy and all he wants is to be picked up so he can lay his head on my shoulder. It is that moment when I woke up last week to see my son sound asleep between us in bed with his hands behind his head and a big smile on his face.

Those are the moments that remain with me and keep me pushing forward in an effort to be a better example for my son. While I falter more times than not, I am continuously motivated to be a better man, to be a better husband, and to be a better father. Those moments are what live within us as parents and why we tend to forget the difficult times as time passes. It is also why we lay there in disbelief when we realize just how much of the bed our little boy now takes up when it seems like just yesterday that he was so tiny.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mortgage Monday: Estimates

While I was hoping to get a head start on this process much earlier in the year, sometimes things just don’t go exactly as we plan them. Of course, there isn’t anything really pressing at the moment… there isn’t anything that absolutely needs to get done at the house. There are projects that should be started (and finished) soon like replacing the garage doors but there is nothing that needs to be done.  

Unfortunately, without things being set into motion, there is plenty of time to add things to the list. And the list is getting quite a bit longer than was previously disclosed. All of that means is that the dollar figure at the bottom of the sheet of paper keeps climbing which makes me look back and really start cutting some of the unnecessary expenses from the growing budget. This has become an even more essential task of late as we have received a few quotes.

The biggest expense on the horizon is replacing the existing heating and air conditioning systems (which also means we have to swap out our hot water supply). Currently we have an undersized air conditioning unit (I have to call the home warranty company about this) and a loud boiler in the basement providing us with both hot water and heat through the zoned baseboard system throughout the house. While functional, it is not working for us. We will be switching to a central HVAC system with a hot water heater in the basement. While most would balk as we did at the $25,000 estimate (lowest available for quality work), the simple fact is that we will recoup most of that expense in the increased efficiency.

Some of the essential repairs and alterations needed are also quoting out much higher than expected. Actually, the garage doors and motors were a little lower at $2500 while the interior French doors to my office are much higher at $2500. Some may consider these as extra expenses but, for us, they are two smaller projects that need to be done. I am not going to simply repair or replace one garage door with an uninsulated patch… it makes more sense to just replace both and take care of the motors at the same time. And the office door is needed so that I can actually utilize my office.

The last think on this list of initial quotes is the removal of dead trees. While we had much of the property taken care of a couple of weeks ago, there are still a few leafless monsters swaying in the breeze. Because of their size and location it is not going to be a cheap endeavor. The first estimate is about $2800. Some may see them as simply an eye sore but they are within striking distance of the house and it is an unnecessary risk to leave them standing. I just hope that we can find a better price.

Everything else on our long and growing wish list is pretty much on hold as we pursue these projects and try to find a way to pay for them. Once these are done we will re-prioritize the rest of the list and decide when we want to tackle additional improvements and whether we will be able to budget for them. Of course, we will also factor in what makes sense for us now and in the long run… sometimes it is best to get something done now and other times the better option is to wait. We will just have to see what happens with these first few items from our list.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday Search: Speaking For My Ancestors

A few weeks ago I was at a business event in the Fishtown section of Philadelphia. While I did notice the construction being done on I-95 in that area I didn't take notice beyond the fact that the resulting traffic and detours delayed my arrival at the venue. However, after a conversation I had this week, there is certainly greater significance for me concerning that highway expansion project. It all started with a simple email that I received through my Ancestry.com account.

As it turns out, as part of this project they are conducting extensive archaeological excavations around the area that will be impacted by the build out. Again, being that I am not too familiar with that section of the city, I was unaware of this research being done. And while they slowly sift through the layers of history they are also digging into the records for each of the impacted properties. Well, to my surprise, my family turned up during this examination of historical documents.

The connection and the basis of the query which I received was because of Adah Mary Worth, my great great grandmother on my mother’s side, being listed in the 1870 census. At the time she was living in the Mullin household and the researcher was curious as to the connection she had with the family. He had been consulting both my public tree on ancestry.com and had been reading a few of the relevant posts on my blog to try and figure things out himself but, in the end, still needed to connect with me in order to put the pieces together. Well, after a long conversation where we each shared what we have been able to uncover, the resulting story was rather interesting.

As I have written about previously, Adah’s father, Jacob Worth, was killed in action during the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864. Adah’s two siblings passed away at around the same time leaving her as the only remaining child. By the 1870 census, Adah’s mother, Mary Eppright, had remarried to a man named William Mullin, a widower with a young daughter of his own from his first marriage (to Mary Pote). The duplication of Mary’s is what originally confused the research but we were able to verify everything shortly after our conversation. This new merged family lived in the area in question.

Adding further intrigue was the fact that Mary Eppright was born in Haverford, lived in Roxborough while married to Jacob Worth, moved to Fishtown with William Mullin, and, once again a widow, moved back to Roxborough soon after Adah met John Uttley who was a Philadelphia Police Officer in the 5th Ward (Roxborough). This answered the researcher’s additional question of why only Mary Mullin and Adah Worth are found living in Roxborough in the 1880 census (Adah and John Uttley married in 1881).

So, as it turns out, my family touches on more neighborhoods in the Philadelphia area than I originally thought and, once again, the census has proven to be a valuable tool in filling in some of the interesting colors and shades of some of the leaves in the family tree. And now I am interested in learning more about the archaeology being done in a few of the Philadelphia neighborhoods… some of the initial information can already be found at diggingi95.com. While by no means the primary reason for devoting the time and energy to researching the various lines in my family tree, this has been a crystal clear example of the impact that our work can have on others. Furthermore, by trying to find out as much as we can about our ancestors, it puts us in a better position to give them a voice in situations such as this. There are few feelings and situations more rewarding than that.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Did You Remember That Today Is Armed Forces Day?

Too often, Armed Forces Day is one that is overlooked on the calendar. For whatever reason, that is what happens just about every year. This, in part, is why I try to pay particular attention to these words and why I wanted to share my thoughts on this day. First, let us take a look at how Armed Forces Day came to be established as recorded on the Department of Defense website:

President Harry S. Truman led the effort to establish a single holiday for citizens to come together and thank our military members for their patriotic service in support of our country.

On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Days.

The single day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces under the Department of Defense. 

The only thing that I would add to this is that while we cannot express our thanks to them personally, this should also be a day when we reflect upon the service and sacrifice of all those in our family tree. Their service has, in many ways, allowed us to reach this day and made it possible for such a recognition to come to fruition. When looking back in my own family, there are specific generational touch points in every US conflict from the foundation of this country to the present day and touching upon all branches of service.

While anyone familiar with the military knows that there is a certain banter between branches, this is one of the days that unifies all who have served or are serving. While Veteran’s Day primarily focuses on those who have served or are serving at this moment and Memorial Day honors those lost in service to their country, this is a day that tends to give an overarching recognition by honoring the service of all. It is also a day that transcends time not ascribing respect to one generation or another.

This is the primary reason why this day is one that gives me pause as I reflect both on the decision that I have made in my own past as well as those on the decision made by my family members past and present. And while I commonly write in a similar way on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, one can never think about the service of others enough. Collectively, those men and women served our country and for that I will forever be grateful.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Firearms Friday: Going Silent

Those of you hoping to read all about silencers are going to be highly disappointed. While they are legal in my state and I do plan on purchasing in the future, this post has nothing to do with those over regulated and wonderfully useful devices. I am actually talking about something completely different and a little beyond the norm for this series of rambling posts. This is an opportunity for me to talk about my first experiences with target shooting and the hope to return to that much simpler time.

While I was first introduced to firearms while in college thanks to my former ex-Navy Seal roommate, the majority of our time spend shooting targets wasn’t at the range… and it wasn’t with firearms. We did climb up the old ski slope every now and again with our 7mm Savage rifle and Beretta M9 but the majority of our time peering down the sights was on that of a few air pellet rifles and BB guns that we picked up at Wal-Mart. We decided to save a few pennies so that we could use those pennies for target practice… literally.

Most of those early moments pulling a trigger were along the rural highways of Vermont with pennies perched atop and embedded in a snow bank. It was hours of relaxing, and sometimes frustrating fun, taking aim, splitting copper, swapping out CO2 cartridges and generally having a good time with some interesting conversations in-between shots. There have been several moments over the years when I would pass a Wal-Mart and hesitate for just a second before continuing down the road.

Now that my wife and I have some space to enjoy the outdoors and we live in an area were people respect the right to so whatever you want on your property so long that its legal, I have been tempted to partake in some of the quieter alternatives to firearms. While there are a few neighbors that, from time to time, will take their rifles into the back yard, I want to at least be considerate should I find this to be a regular routine. It is with this in mind that I have been thinking about picking up an inexpensive air rifle or crossbow.

It would be nice to head out the back door, set up a target, and send a few quiet rounds across the property. After all, I can’t always get to the range despite several options located within 10 minutes of our house so that might be a means to keep my limited skills from becoming completely dull. Not to mention that it would simply be nice to return to a simpler time and enjoy not just being in front of a target again but, at the same time, remembering those first few shots that got me hooked into this hobby.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Rant Time: Protesters And Immigration

It has been about a month since I thought about writing this post but I wanted to give it a little time and think about what I wanted to say. In this instance, that was the wrong approach as the rant has, for lack of a better term, festered a bit. So, what got me riled up? It was all the protesters taking to the streets of Philadelphia in mid April… most of which should have been charged, at the very least, with disturbing the peace.  

I don’t have anything against protests in general as there are many messages and policies about which people are passionate about whether they are right or wrong to hold those views. However, the recent trend has been to, at best, disrupt the lives of those in the vicinity of the marching and chanting and, at worst, simply a collection of misguided hooligans that could care less about the negative impact that they have on those around them. A prime example of the latter occurred during the morning rush hour last month when a small group gathered in Old City with no clear message but with the purpose of simply terrorizing those who got in their way. This small gathering was only the preamble to mass chanting of vitriol slogans during the protests during the evening rush hour.

While many of the “peaceful” protesters that have recently come out of the woodwork there is nothing peaceful about the words that they are using or simply their actions during these gatherings. In many cases there is no question that they are using this ‘peaceful means of expression’ to incite violence and hatred (for which there are a few that should be charged accordingly). In the above mentioned incident, those involved in that small group in Old City should be facing charges as they were clearly guilty of false imprisonment (a woman was unable to move her car or get out of her car) and corruption of minors (they encouraged kids on their way to school to participate in their act of harassment). But, not surprisingly, no charges have been filed.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t expect anything else from a city that insists on breaking the law. Following the Obama administration’s campaign to only deport those ‘undocumented workers’ who commit a crime, many delusional cities have declared sanctuary status including Philadelphia in January of this year. While the DHS directive birthed from that declaration has citied that enforcement will only occur if the person in question is a known criminal or breaks any additional laws after illegally entering the United States. Guess what, I am not buying that load of crap!

Let’s make things really simple. If I break the law, I should be held accountable. By entering the country illegally, by breaking the law, you have committed a crime and the penalty for that crime is to be deported. It is a rather cut and dry matter. The government is not to be held accountable should you have children in the United States (they would be citizens in this instance and cannot be deported) after illegally entering the county… it was your decision to not obey the laws of this country. You are the one tearing apart your family.

Am I saying that the immigration system is perfect? Heck no, it is broken to say the least. But there are many departments and agencies in this country that could be described as FUBAR but that doesn’t mean that we can simply ignore the laws and regulations enforced by those agencies… the IRS is a perfect example of this. Unfortunately, there are misguided politicians in this country that are declaring sanctuary status for their cities. And they should be held accountable for their actions as well as they are aiding and abetting a known criminal with the possibility of criminal conspiracy charges being leveled should it be proven that this was a coordinated and calculated effort to break the law. Arrest them or impeach them (or both) but hold them accountable for their actions like the rest of us are in our daily lives.

But, for now, enforce the law. Don’t just overlook the criminal acts of others and hand out free passes. We have to be held accountable for our own actions and we must protect ourselves and our rights before simply handing them over to others. Now, if you want to see the system changed, get involved. Don’t just start yelling in the streets and making hollow declarations. Take action and put forth the effort to effect change in this country. After all, 99% of the people in these protests are the ones who voted for change in the first place but what are they doing to influence the process and make progress on the policies about which they hold the greatest passion?

However, don’t preach about the rights of others with one breath and try to strip the rights from law abiding citizens in the next like I have heard many politicians and protesters do as they jump from an immigration rally to an anti-gun rally! My rights are not on the table, they are not for debate, and any politician in Pennsylvania should face impeachment should they question that right.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Different But Similar

There have been several occasions when I have heard people compare the first meeting with a candidate with that of a sales meeting. I wholeheartedly disagree with this premise. Meeting with those men interested in becoming masons should never involve any kind of sale whatsoever and should never come across as such. Meeting with a candidate for the first time should be a time to answer questions and start and interesting conversation. At no point during such conversations have I had the goal of getting a petition signed… my objective has always been to have a great conversation.

By approaching the process in this way it allows all the cards to be put on the table. The potential candidate gets to know me and I get to know them. We find our similarities and, sometimes, we discuss our differences. While I do my best to answer any questions they may have about freemasonry and give a very broad overview of the lodge, the fraternity, and the process of becoming a mason, it is a very open and broad conversation as a whole. Right or wrong, this is how I approach these opportunities to meet interesting people from the community.

This was the case last night as I had previously coordinated a time to meet with a prospective candidate last week. After a brief introduction and welcome, we made our way into the hall and sat at one of the dining tables to simply have a conversation and to get to know one another. Over the course of the evening there were a number of other brothers who introduced themselves and joined the conversation and by the end of the night we had discussed a wide range of topics. However, the most important part of the evening was that we were able to learn a little about him and he was able to learn a little about us as individuals, the lodge, and freemasonry in general.

As we talked about our families and the reasons why freemasonry piqued our interest there were a number of commonalities in our perspectives and in our lives that wouldn’t necessarily be evident to someone who would simply see the two of us talking. The reasons for our interest in the fraternity are nearly identical and we are both interested to learn about our grandfather’s lives within freemasonry. However, he did surprise me by the end of the night by immediately completing a petition on the spot. This surprised me both because I didn’t expect him to do so (I never go beyond handing someone a petition and asking them to think about it) and because it is the same way that I would have reacted had I been given the same situation.

Again, I walked toward the parking lot reinvigorated by the night and excited to have another good man interested in joining our lodge and becoming part of this fantastic fraternity. I consider myself very lucky for having witnessed that same passion and excitement so many times in so many good men over the years (especially over the last several months). There is a lot to be thankful for and a lot to look forward to during the second half of the year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

TMI Tuesday: DIY Baby

Next Project!
Our son has always had a fascination with texture and anything that seemed out of the ordinary. Basically, anything that catches his attention in one way or another is going to be examined closely and, in some cases, destroyed. It is our son’s natural curiosity that can sometimes get the best of him and there are occasions when you can tell that he has been checking things out when we weren’t looking.

While there have been instances of this before which started soon after he was born, he seems to have taken things to the next level in our new house and especially as his mobility has increased. It used to be that he would insist on staring at something to try and figure it out. This started with looking at mommy and daddy as he studied every line and gray hair that he was already starting induce. Later on he started using his sense of touch wanting to know what daddy’s beard felt like or nuzzle in the softness of mommy’s shirt. It was rather the adorable process.

Now, when he spots something out of place, he will scurry across the room to take a closer look and examine both how it looks and how it feels. Once this initial investigation comes to an end he tries to figure out a way to alter it. It is a trial and error process. Sometimes he will rub or pick at something without any effect while other times he is quite entertained by what he can accomplish in a short period of time.

There have been two instances in particular where his curiosity is evident on the walls of our home. The first started soon after we moved in when he first caught sight of the small flap of wallpaper starting to peel away from the drywall. Unfortunately, this small spot is in his playroom. While we have been pretty good about catching him when he gets that mischievous look in his eye, it only took one instance with our attention averted for our son to capitalize on the opportunity and start one of our many projects a little early. At least that small flap is gone now.

The other example surprised us both. We has previously secured the video monitor on the wall above his crib with Velcro and the wire heading to the outlet with staples and duct tape. Classy but effective… at least that is what we thought. One morning many of those staples (all of which we recovered later) were pulled from the wall and the cord was turned into a toy dangling just outside of his crib. Other mornings we caught him a little earlier with only the tape having been partially peeled back. Needless to say, we moved his crib so the cord is now out of reach.

In each of these instances he seems to give me this look of sly confidence that seems to say “Daddy, I took the liberty of destroying the house while you were out”. While minor annoyances, in the end he could be getting into much worse things and I am certain that will be the case in the future. If only he would stop growing so fast… it is sometimes hard to keep up especially since he is sometimes too smart for his own good. With that in mind, I am certain that there are things that we have yet to uncover.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Mortgage Monday: The Next Purchases

Another purchase down and many more to go... 
Now that the lawn has been taken care of and the property is in a state where we can actually enjoy some time outside it is time to start looking for all the other things that we previously avoided. While there was some outdoor space at our last rental we pretty much didn’t spend any significant time outside on the small patio and opted to take advantage of the spaces maintained by the homeowners association. Of course, we didn’t really have the time to plan anything especially since we considered that place a stopgap.

While we previously bought a tractor and already had a few other items necessary to maintain the property (i.e. snow blower, rakes, trailer for the tractor, leaf blower, etc.) we have still been needing a few other things to round out the tool shed. And thanks to a $100 refund on the tractor, we did cover a few of those things by picking up a weed eater and other small items. However, that is only a small part of the long list of things that we need for our outdoor space. Thankfully, the other items are more about relaxation rather than work.

Having purchased a lot of furniture late last year just prior to settlement I am not really looking forward to buying any more but that is the situation that we are in now. Thankfully, this is a much smaller endeavor this time around as we are looking for something to complete the patio. While we have one adirondack chair out there now for relaxing and we will be purchasing another shortly, we need to find a decent table and chairs that is also toddler friendly. We did take a quick look at a few things this past weekend but didn’t end up buying anything… some of the options at the big retailers are really expensive!

This is going to be one of those searches that both needs to get done rather quickly but that is also going to require some online investigation and, possibly, some trips to various consignment stores and thrift shops. It all comes down to finding some outdoor furniture that will allow us to enjoy the outdoor space that we now have while, at the same time, keeping it budget friendly. After all, we have had a lot of expected and unexpected costs lately and we want to retain some semblance of financial sanity. This is not an unmanageable task and we are all looking forward to making the outdoors part of our home.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Search: Connections Through Occupations

There is a wealth of information that can be found in the census. Some of those facts prove to be quite useful when trying to pull the pieces together in order to learn about a distant relative. And while there are a number of things that should be checked and double checked, there is one piece of information in particular that seems to be regularly reliable… occupation. While the spelling of names, use of nicknames, and inaccurate dates abound in these national reports, the occupation of the individual is something really hard to mess up unless the census taker is told the wrong information on purpose.

While most of my family can be found listed as farmers and homemakers, there are the occasional outliers that catch my attention. Not because they are of any extraordinary profession but because it is simply something different than the norm and it makes me think about what that job must have been like at the time. After all, while the basic functions and responsibilities associated with a particularly line of employment, the means by which the tasks are completed are vastly different from that of over 100 years ago. There are exceptions to that rule as well.

Of course, what is even more interesting to me is the interplay between the different lines of the family tree. Sometimes there are other common connection both in geography and occupation that makes you wonder if ancestors in question ever ran into one another. This is where the intrest is really piqued and when the imagination can sometimes wander in to the realm of possibility regardless of how improbable it may have been. Let’s just take the 1900 Census for example.

In 1900 and at the time of his death in 1902, my great great grandfather on my dad’s side, Samuel Ardis, was a clerk for the railroad most likely the Pennsylvania Railroad which, at the time, was headquartered in Philadelphia (my three times great grandfather was a messenger for the railroad as well). Who knows, maybe he ran into my great great grandfather on my mom’s side, William McKannan, who was a Railroad Night Caller in Trenton. While he may have lived and worked in Trenton, there was still a lot of family that remained in Philadelphia. It is interesting to think about the duties and responsibilities that they each had and whether there was a possible connection between the two families over 70 years before my parents got married.

Another interesting consideration is the fact that at the turn of the 20th century another one of my great great grandfathers on my mom’s side, John Uttley, was a Philadelphia Police Officer in Ward 5 (Roxborough). For good reasons or bad, I wonder if he ever ran into some of the other members of my family years before the trees would merge. You simply never know if there was ever an introduction among the families before the actual connections were made years later.   

And this is just one year of the census, one family, and one geographic location. There are undoubtedly times when you will see different families within the same page or two of the census but it is fascinating to look back decades before the families would eventually merge to find the possible points of contact and connection that may or may not have existed at the time. In a dedicated passion that requires facts, sometimes it is nice to think about the possibilities despite the lack of evidence. I guess you could say that this is part of the process as well. After all, you never know what you might find.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saying Goodbye To The Jeep

March 2016: Jeep at the scene of the accident. 
Once I heard back from the repair shop following my first accident this past March stating that the Jeep was going to be repaired my wife and I had an important decision to make. With the frame having been bent in the accident (and now having to be bent back) were we comfortable driving and riding in the car? More importantly, did we trust the car enough to have our son in it? In the end, it wasn’t the same car and we no longer had the confidence in the vehicle to continue using it as my daily driver (especially on those days when I have my son in the back).

While we knew that it would be a costly decision, we decided to start looking for a replacement vehicle (a process that I have written about before). The Jeep was a great car so that is exactly where I started my search. I went online and priced out the 2016 version of the exact make and model of my car. Once I input that information I added the features that I wanted in the new car to see where the price would fall. Seeing a replacement price within inches of $40,000 I quickly questioned whether I would be buying another Jeep. So, given the new price point, I searched for a few other options.

June 2015: The day I bought the Jeep. 
With a full roster of cars on my list (a compilation I never thought I would pull together in my lifetime) we dedicated a weekend to hopping from dealer to dealer looking at all the options that I had uncovered and determining whether or not there was any wiggle room beyond the USAA price. A few cars were eliminated because of the lack of fit and finish while others were great cars but simply not the right one for me. In the end, I had to decide between the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and the car that I picked up today the Mercedes Benz GLC 300 4Matic.

May 2016: The Mercedes replaces the Jeep.
Once everything was factored in including price of the car, the options that I wanted, the interest rate on a loan, the cost of insurance, fuel economy, and other numerous factors the Mercedes just made much more sense. Believe me, I was shocked by this revelation too. While there are certain trade offs between the two (i.e. off road capabilities vs. highway comfort), I am completely happy with the decision that we made. On top of all this, in a bit of creative financing, we actually traded in my wife’s car and leased a GLA 250 4Matic with all the options that she wanted on the car. In the end, we both ended up in new cars and, considering all financial commitments before and after, pretty much broke even financially.

All that is left now, besides enjoying our new vehicles, is to complete the insurance claims which should, to put it nicely, be the most ‘interesting’ part of the whole process. We also still have to come to terms with the simple fact that we are both driving Mercedes which, at the very least, is one of the more surreal feelings that we have encountered in a long time. Just add one more thing to the list of changes over the past couple of years.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Firearms Friday: Open Projects

There are a number of projects that are on the table which, as I stated before, I hope to complete over the next couple of months. Knowing that I will finally be able to get some work done at my bench it is time to pull together the project list. While by no means complete, this at least gives me a starting point and a way to track my progress on these initial projects. Hopefully this will also keep me from getting distracted by the other parts and pieces that are tucked away in my work space.

The first set of items that need to be taken care of are the AR15 builds. While there are a few personal projects that I would like to complete and others which I hope to modify, there are rifles that are still in pieces and that, once assembled, I hope to sell to one of the local gun shops… a few extra dollars in the bank account would be nice. However, there are a number of trigger installations and optics that need to be mounted that I have been putting off as well as a few pistol builds that keep getting pushed to the side so I hope to finally get those done. This will clearly be the bulk of the work and also clear the most space on my bench.

The next project is to swap out a number of the parts on my Smith & Wesson M&P9 Pro CORE. Already a fine firearm out of the box, there are a few easy modifications that can be done to customize the pistol. Those adjustments include an extended magazine release, replacing the magazine base plates, and installing a red dot. Nothing outrageous, just some solid upgrades. Of course, I may just start with my Glock 17 which is in need of an upgraded magazine release, slide stop, and replacement base plates. So, I guess you could really combine these two to almost being a single project on the list.  

The third thing on the list is to secure a few of the safes that need to be installed around the house, testing, and adding bit of concealment. Everything else comes down to maintenance, organization, and culling through the inventory to see if there are any items that just aren’t getting used and would be better served if I were to sell them and let someone else enjoy the craftsmanship. Hopefully by the end of the summer I will have a better handle on the work space and everything moving forward will consist primarily of maintaining and enjoying what I have in my safe. At least that is the goal.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Looking Back On Independence Day

There is one day more than any other throughout the year that I miss being in Israel and sharing in the joy that the people of the country has to offer… Yom Ha'atzmaut. Every year I can’t help but think about all the people that we met and others that we got to know through the internet during our Aliyah experiment. Many of those people I am still in contact with to this day, nearly five years after the fact, and I enjoy seeing the lives that they have built for themselves in our homeland.

The images of that time remain vivid in my mind. While it seems but an instant in our lives, the moments are more ingrained in my being that many other that have happened before or since. I can recall the uneven stones along the sidewalk as we walked to old city. The warmth radiating from under our feet as the sun disappeared beyond the ancient hills.

I recall many of the moments of getting lost in the alleys and streets both in the daylight and well past the setting of the sun with only the faintest of sounds echoing between the buildings. However, most enduring are the moments when we were welcomed into the homes of others and into the community around us. While we didn’t fully process the companionship that was shared with us during those moments and meals, it is something that remains with me to this day. Only in Israel can you be welcomed in such a way.

Of course, what has become more poignant now is the memory of my wife and me sitting on a bench along King George Street discussion our return to the states. It was at this moment when we finally realized that we were ready to start a family. More accurately, with all the changes that were happening and things that were beyond our control, we realized that there was never going to be the perfect time and decided that it was time. In the end we were a little delayed but that was the moment when we made the decision to start a family.

However, and most will agree with this sentiment, there are two moments that supersede all others when I think of Israel. Both of these experiences were actually on our first trip to Israel during our honeymoon nearly seven years ago. They happened in relatively quick succession the first occurring when we turned the corner walking along the wall around old city (the Ramparts Walk) and saw the Kotel for the first time. We continued toward the wall wide eyes and when I laid my hand and head against the cool stone, the world disappeared around me. I will never forget that feeling.

So, on this Independence Day I celebrate the people, the land, the history, and the faith that makes Israel not just the Holy Land but our Homeland. And when we return it will be as a family and I hope to find that same bench where we had the discussion that would eventually result in our having a son. And, most importantly, I look forward to experiencing Jerusalem and Israel as a whole as a father and I can’t wait to introduce our son to his homeland. Am Yisrael Chai!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A Shared Journey

As I sat at my desk and opened my lodge folder, I couldn’t believe that it had been over a year since I found myself participating in a degree conferral. At the same time, I was excited at the prospect of being able to attend extra meetings throughout the remainder of the year. There have been some good men who have already entered the fraternity and a number of other men who have demonstrated interest. Additionally, we have already had some great brothers transfer to our lodge. It is quite the interesting group that we have brought together but also a group of brothers passionate in their own ways about the freemasonry and eager to do their part to improve the fraternity.

I have always enjoyed extra meetings as it is a time when we all come together to continue someone on their masonic journey but it is also a time when we are a little more relaxed when beyond the outer doors. The same can be said about fellowship nights but there is something about the purpose and importance of degree nights that resonates on a much deeper level for me. The simple fact of the matter is that we are all choosing to be at the lodge and participate in these important occasions not just because we believe it to be expected of us but because we enjoy the company of our brothers.

Throughout the night there was a welcoming atmosphere felt by all, newly passed brothers and all others sitting in chairs and on the sidelines. To my recollection, this is a completely different feeling than that which I experienced during the last conferral for which I was in attendance. And it was a great mix of masons from those who are approaching 50 years in the fraternity to those who upon which the last bestowed. All of us present for a singular purpose… to further our collective progress on our respective masonic journeys.

These are the nights when I walk back to the car and drive home feeling as though I have helped to accomplish something… I have participated in something much great than myself. While this is certainly part of stated meetings as well, it is a much more pronounced emotion following the conferral of degrees. What is additionally satisfying about these nights is that soon the men whom I witnesses advancing to the next degree may be the ones conferring those degrees in the future. After all, while I wasn’t present for the meeting, I know that it has already happened once during my short time as a mason.