Thursday, June 30, 2016

Too Many Departures

While nothing has been as difficult as the loss that we experienced early last year, there have been moments since then that have forced me to stop for a minute and think about the people that have been a part of my life, large and small, over the years. I found myself going through this process once again when I received an email about the passing of a fellow Rotarian’s wife. Oddly enough, I had just seen him last week and, by the end of the meeting, wondered why I hadn’t asked how his family was doing as I normally would have. I guess even these seemingly inconsequential lapses happen for a reason.

I recall meeting his wife a couple of times in the past at Rotary functions and I recall having some very interesting discussions with her on a variety of subject. It was safe to say that there were a number of topics that we didn’t agree on but I remember having a pleasant conversation during which it was abundantly clear that I was discussing these subjects with a highly intelligent and informed woman. I guess you could say that she and her husband were very similar in that regard.

This loss is only one of many that has happened over the past year or so from those that I remember fondly seeing nearly every day in high school as was the case with the passing of my homeroom teacher and other times there are people that I had either met only a few times or that I had only corresponded with through letters, emails, or over the phone. Each time I was brought back to those discussions and encounters leaving me wondering why I hadn’t picked up the phone or wrote them a letter lately. I guess it is normal to think about the conversations you never had rather than the ones you did.

Of course, then there are the family members who have passed before I had a chance to talk to them or even really got to know them. Admittedly, there is a little selfishness in this thought but it also speaks to the unexpected, and potential, impact of those who have passed. While this has unfortunately been happening for years, it is a regular occurrence even today. However, the same lesson applies here as well… I need to do a better job of keeping in touch and reaching out to friends and family members. After all, as has been proven time and again, you never know how long you really have.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Quarterly Debriefing

This past weekend a few of the brothers from the lodge made their way across the commonwealth to attend the Quarterly Communication of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. While I have attended this meeting the past two years and I was considering making a day trip to Pittsburgh, I simply did not have the time to attend. These meeting are always an interesting gathering of brothers from around the commonwealth and I enjoy reconnecting with many of them whom I have gotten to know a little during previous meetings. However, the real motivation which made the decision of whether to attend rather difficult was that, for the second year in a row, our lodge was being recognized with the Grand Master’s Award.

There have undoubtedly been a few obstacles over the past few years and moments when quite a few of us have questioned whether we could continue but we have always pulled together and pushed through those barriers. And that is the real reason why we have been able to achieve such recognition recently. Not only have we been surrounded with brothers of great tenacity but, more importantly, we have brothers in the lodge that can clearly see what the end goal is and what we need to do, or fix, to reach that goal. Thankfully, this seems to be a common thread among many of the brothers that have joined our lodge over the past few years as well… a few of which have already become tremendous leaders in our small part of the fraternity.   

Having now been recognized with two award there is no doubt that the lodge has undergone a drastic change over the past few years and now we have set a new precedent for ourselves to continue the progress that we have made during this rather short period of time. The truly exciting aspect of this is that we have the leadership and new members that not just make that a possibility but a probability. I am not going to predict another Grand Master’s Award for this year but there will definitely be at least one more presentation made in the near future. After all, we have already accomplished a great deal and seeing the brothers continuing to invest in the lodge and in one another makes this almost a sure thing.

But, as was the case in the past, awards are not our point of focus. Education, fellowship, participation, and leadership are what will bring about the change that we all hope to achieve. If we can focus on these four foundation principles while maintaining our motivation there is nothing that will stop us from making our lodge the jewel of the district and one of the leaders in our jurisdiction. Do this and the rewards will be a natural result of our transformation.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

TMI Tuesday: Napping Away From Home

Definitely not as comfortable as the crib but it works!
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone when I saw that when our son was first born he would sleep just about anywhere. It didn’t matter if we were home, in the car, or, as was the case last summer, in a hotel room. It was one of the luxuries that, unfortunately, my wife and I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. As he has gotten older and more aware of the world around him things have definitely changed and it isn’t so easy to put him down for a nap as it once was. Heck, even when he is exhausted at night he would still much rather be picking blueberries than sleeping. Don’t worry, we learned our lesson (a refresher really) during that trip.

His considerable preference for his own bed is both understandable and frustrating at the same time as his nap is in the middle of the day which means we usually have to plan our activities accordingly. There have been time when we have taken the risk and had him sleep in the car but this has only barely been working as of late. With so many things planned throughout the summer we knew that we were going to have to get him used to sleeping somewhere else besides his crib.

We didn’t have much planned this past weekend beyond the usual house and yard work that needed to get done, so we coordinated with my parents to head over to their house for the day. This was a long overdue visit as we couldn’t recall the last time that we went to visit them. After going back and forth about when we should leave we finally determined that this was as good a time as any to try and have him nap somewhere else so we packed the car and made our way across the counties.

Shortly after we arrived and fed him some lunch we could see that our son was ready for some quite time. As he rubbed his eyes and explored nearly every cabinet in my parents’ kitchen, the pack n play was set up and situated in the living room just inside the front door. Surprisingly, he didn’t fuss when we put him down and before we knew it the kicking and babbling stopped as he fell into a deep and lasting sleep. About an hour and a half later and we were relieved that he was finally able to settle and sleep somewhere else besides his own bed at home.

Thankfully, our experiment bodes well for both future trips to see his grandparents as well as the various travels that we have scheduled over the next few months. We might actually be able to relax during our escapes and show our son even more of the scenery and places around the towns in which we will be staying. Next test will be determining the length of time that he can put up with being in his car seat… I don’t think he will tolerate the seven hour drives like last year. Hopefully it will work if we build those distances over the summer but we will have to wait and find out. But at least he can sleep when we get there.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Mortgage Monday: More Babyproofing

When my wife and I were looking for a house it was always in the back of our mind the steps that we would have to take with each property both right away and in the near future to make sure it was a safe environment for our son. Some places were better than others and while the home we eventually purchased wasn’t exactly what we had in mind, we knew that it had everything we wanted and we could baby proof everything with relative ease. When we first moved into our home we, once again, took stock of what needed to be done but, since our son wasn’t mobile at the time, nothing was pressing.  

A few months later and the trips to Lowe’s, Walmart, and other stores became more frequent. When he first started crawling we made sure to take care of the babyproofing basics around the house. This consisted of making sure that the outlets had covers, baby gates were installed, and a foam buffer was secured around the hearth. At this point, we were pretty much ahead of the game in most regards. However, we quickly fell a little behind.

Before I knew it, I was putting up additional gates, including some handyman work to install the one at the top of the stairs, putting covers on door knobs, and constantly surveying the house for the odds and ends that could cause a problem. After a long weekend, we were once again where we needed to be but that didn’t last very long either. With our son’s first few steps that pesky list reappeared and quickly began growing until finally we couldn’t put it off any longer.

This time around things were a little more involved as we installed locks on the kitchen cabinets, secured furniture to walls, and rearranges some of the other items throughout the house so that it would remain out of reach of our son’s tiny curious fingers. This was also about the time that we had to readjust our car seats and install additional doorknob covers. Again, we got caught up rather quickly but find ourselves with a list that refuses to go away.

Each time we have to add or install things here and there we think back to some of the houses that we looked at during our search. Every time we are relieved that we made the decision that we did and purchased the house which we now call our home. It just goes to show that even if a house seems perfect and could have immaculate staging, you still have to think about your needs and how well that space works for you now and, more importantly, in the future.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Search: Membership Approved!

On June 17th my family, being descendants of Private John Redcross who served in the Amherst County Militia, was officially approved for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution. The wait is finally over and years of genealogical research has now been verified. A lineage that was absent from our tree only a decade ago is now ingrained in our collective identity. An identity that now consists of Monacan blood and a history of patriotism that traces back to the founding of this country including our participation at the Battle of Yorktown (more about this story in a future post). There is no longer a question or beginning our statements with “I think” or “we believe”, now we can respond with certainty and clarity. Now we know.

This is the first of many applications that I will be submitting to verify various lines of my family history. In fact, I am nearing the end of completing my second application (first supplemental application) this time tracing back to Private John Noblit on my mother’s side of the family. Like the first, this is a lineage which we were unaware of until only a couple of years ago. With little information having been passed down in the family, much of what I have found over the last decade, including this discovery, was forgotten but now can no longer be considered lost.

While I am uncertain as to the order of subsequent applications there are many lines which I need to investigate further. Of the dozens and dozens of possibilities it will all come down to a simple process of proceeding with the one which holds the most promise and, more importantly, the most documentation. It will be a lifelong project that will never be “complete” and I am okay with that as each application, each patriotic line that is verified, strengthens the roots of our family tree.

There will be many applications that will be submitted but it is this approval that means the most. This is the first step to that lifelong process and is something that I am proud to pass down to my son. We are part of a greater history of this country and our family, like many others past and present, can now make the honest claim that we helped to form and shape this nation. This is the next step in our continued effort to strengthen our ties with our heritage which was started decades ago when those initial family lines were revealed to many of us. This is our history and we can never again allow it to be forgotten. This is an important part ensuring that we will always remember.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

What Happened To Our Summer?

Previously I wrote about trying to figure out where my wife and I were going to take our son this summer. Many of the plans mentioned in that post have been solidified but it still only reveals one small aspect of our summer scheduling. I wish it were that simple but that is simply not the reality in which we live. There are many other factors playing into the rearranging of days, times, projects, vacations, and obligations that many of us have to juggle during this time of the year.

In addition to our desire to escape for a day or two at a time we also have many other things scribbled into the small grids that summarize our season. The next group that we have to account for are the various projects that we are having completed at the house over the next couple of months. These include the small items like garage doors, landscaping (i.e. tree removal), and interior door installation. And then there are the not so small projects that I hope to see completed like the HVAC overhaul as well as deck and porch construction. All of these take a lot of time and, right now are a bit in flux with regard to timing which is why we need to keep a few spots open.

Next are the family events that round out the calendar and that have been scheduled for months. This doesn’t just include the picnics in August but also the times when we need to schedule times to get together with family. There are so many things happening at this moment that it has become necessary to schedule these weekends. Of course, there are also a few times, granted they are few and far between, that we have scheduled to meet up with friends as well.

Day trips and local events have also become important in our schedule as we want to take the time to explore the communities around our home and also find different places for us to visit on a regular basis. Finally, there are the obligations that we have both during the week and on the weekends that we have little flexibility in scheduling. Did I mention that we need to maintain our home and property too… yeah, that requires allocation of a few weekends. So, at this point, it is surprising to find that there really isn’t a great deal of free space remaining on the calendar and the few open weekends that do exist are going to be welcomed as a respite from the chaos of the season. That is, of course, if they don’t get filled up with some unavoidable occurrence between now and then.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Firearms Friday: We Need A Reminder

The past week has been an interesting one to say the least with regard to the protection of our rights. Following the defeat of four gun control measures proposed in the Senate as a knee jerk reaction to the mass murder that took place in Orlando, many democrats decided to stage a sit in. Leading this act of defiance was Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) who, if anything, did a great disservice to his own noble legacy. He was a leader in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s fighting for the equal rights of all Americans regardless of the color of their skin and now he is fighting equally hard to strip law abiding Americans, of all races, of their rights.

He would do well to heed the advice of Thomas Jefferson who wrote in an early draft of the Virginia Constitution in 1776 that “No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms. Thankfully, this brief, misguided, and ineffectual action came to an end just as fast as it formed. However, that hasn’t stopped many politicians from continuing the debate and calling for the formation of an asinine utopia. A prime example can be found in the musings of Congressman Charlie Rangel (D-NY) who feels that members of congress need and deserve armed protection but that law abiding citizens should not be allowed to possess a firearm.   

Unfortunately, there are many in this country that have bought into this falsehood that only certain people should be able to possess firearms namely the military and law enforcement. Of course, those same people are filling our streets with manufactured outrage whenever a member of law enforcement is involved in a shooting. These are the same people that troll the internet and leave comments along the lines of “the founding fathers never intended for the second amendment to apply to modern firearms… they couldn’t have anticipated “high capacity magazines” and assault rifles [they really mean semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15]… they only had muskets.”

Well, that is one stinky pile that they have stepped in. The simple fact is that the founding fathers were well informed as to what the present had to offer and what the future might entail. To this point, many people have responded to the aforementioned types of comments referencing the Puckle gun as one of the developments of the time. However, while the revolver like mechanism speaks to the innovation of the time, it doesn’t combat the tainted perspectives on display. For that you actually have to look further back in history to the Kalthoff repeater which saw action with the Royal Foot Guards of Denmark in the Siege of Copenhagen (1658-59) and the Scanian War. While not prevalent, the magazine fed (up to 30 rounds) firearm had a rate of fire unmatched until the mid-nineteenth century. This firearm was a legend by the time the founding fathers drafted the Constitution and it is certain that they were aware of the technology.

Others politician in this current environment, like Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA), look to try and please both sides by introducing legislation that would do nothing more than muddy the waters and create a system as flawed as the individuals running it. All that it would cost us is a little bit of our freedom. Well, as Benjamin Franklin wrote in the Historical Review of Pennsylvania in 1759, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” I’m not giving up my rights for the false sense of security that would be gained by the weak minded. Additionally, those who introduce such measures are walking a very dangerous line especially in Pennsylvania where it is written in our constitution (Art. 1, § 21 (enacted 1790, art. IX, § 21) that “The right of the citizens to bear arms in defence of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.” 

Sometimes we just need to remind people of these facts rather than allowing the propaganda to flow, unmolested, throughout the media. Right now, we face a serious crisis. It is not about what we own it is about the mentality of the people. It is about the the willingness to overlook the acts and intentions of the individual in order to assign blame to an inanimate object. It is about the willingness of some to give up essential freedoms for the empty promises of security. And, most importantly, it is about the paralyzing plague in this county that is mental illness and our unwillingness to do something about that problem. That is really what has to change.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Back To Bala: A Rotary Recap

Me with President George Hatzfeld.
Another memory captured by Richard M. Trivane,
President Elect of the Rotary Club of Bala Cynwyd - Narberth. 
It is hard to believe that it has already been over a year since I was last at Aldar Bistro in Bala Cynwyd. It was a drive full of memories as I made my way into town and almost all of those excellent meetings rushed back as soon as I walked through the doors of the restaurant. Actually, many of those remembrances came to me when I was greeted in the parking lot by the restaurant manager who, somehow, still remembered me after all this time. It had been too long and it was great to reconnect with many of the people whom I used to see every week and also speak with a number of people whom I was meeting for the first time.

The purpose of my return has been long overdue and required some time to arrange my calendar. I was asked several months ago to come back as a speaker/presenter but given my schedule it has been difficult to find a Wednesday that worked. But, I was finally back at a meeting and, per a request from the club, ready to talk about a passion that has occupied much of my time over the past few years… genealogy.

While presentations are usually about 30 minutes in length, the minutes seemed like seconds as I gave an overview of my journey of discovering my Revolutionary War ancestor and my recent acceptance into the Sons of the American Revolution. I reviewed not just what is required regarding proof but also some of the challenges that I have faced along the way especially given the fact that Native American genealogy has its own set of challenges (particularly in the Commonwealth of Virginia). Not surprisingly, especially for those who know me, by the time I got around to answering questions nearly 45 minutes had passed.

Having been away from the podium for so long it was a great feeling when the presentation when so smoothly and I was able to keep the attention of those in attendance. And the questions that were posed afterward were both thoughtful and showed a deep interest of those in attendance of the work that it takes to prove ones lineage through the centuries. It is good to know that I still have some, albeit limited, ability to offer a compelling presentation.

Another pleasant surprise during this gathering was the fact that the incoming club president purchased 15 copies of my book about my experiences with Rotary. It seems as though both my presentation and my book struck a chord with him and the club. Now, I have to make a more concerted effort to return to the club in the near future and not allow my absence to grow so long. And, of course, I will have to figure out what my topic will be the next time around as well but I am sure that I will have some help with that from those I met yesterday.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

No Shoe For You!

The last couple of years we have been able to round up the brothers and converge en masse in Conshohocken to take the shoe for the remainder of the year. It seems as though, like many things, time has gotten away from me a bit and the reminders weren’t as frequent as they have been in the past. This was clearly an issue last night as our turnout to the last official district visitation of the year wasn’t nearly what it had been during our previous efforts. Because of this we all got in our cars knowing that another lodge would be holding the shoe until the calendar changes.

However, while we may not have walked away with the shoe, it was a great night when I was able to reconnect with some brothers I had not seen since this same meeting last year while others I was meeting for the first time… at least I think it was the first time. It was during these moments of re-acquaintance that some of the best conversations of the evening took place and I was able to find many more commonalities with a few of my brothers which I had not realized previously. Of course, as usual, there were also moments when I realized more clearly just how much more I have yet to experience in the fraternity.

The meeting itself is always a little odd for me as I am used to sitting in the east for the duration and actively playing a role in all meetings. Sitting on the sidelines for the entire meeting is something that I am simply not used to doing. I can’t tell you how many times that I nearly stood up when I heard only two raps from the gavel. That being said, there were things that I was able to observe from this perspective as I watched another secretary take charge. There were some things that I didn’t prefer while there were other items that I will certainly incorporate moving forward.

However, there was a singular moment that caught me completely off guard. As the names of those brothers that were suspended was read to those in attendance, my mind stuttered a little when I heard a brother who shares my family name was no longer in good standing. I guess this year my work will have to go beyond my lodge and I need to improve my communication not just with the brethren but within my own family as well. After all, no matter you endeavor, which is how we learn and that is how we band together both as brothers and as a family, separately and together.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

TMI Tuesday: Follow Me Daddy!

Ever since our son learned how to put one hand in front of the other he has greeted me at the door every night when I get home from work. Sometimes he even makes his way into the kitchen if I have only been gone for a few minutes or a couple hours. Recently things have changed and he no longer crawls into the kitchen when he hears the door open. Instead, he gets up on his feet and walks as fast as he can across the house until he is standing at my feet and looking up at me with those eyes that let him get away with just about anything.

It has been a quick progression from those slow almost methodical movements as he navigated through the chaos of his playroom and around the corners. From there he progressed to cruising the furniture until his sight caught up with the sound of daddy and he would drop to all fours and scurry across the floor. Now he is about a half step from running into my arms as soon as I turn around. Fortunately, he has learned over the past several months to give daddy a minute so that I can put my bag down and wash my hands before I pick him up and play with him.

It is both rewarding and a little scary to see how fast he is growing by all that melts away when I see him smiling up at me and when he reaches for my hand wanting to walk with me back to the play room. However, even that new routine isn’t so new anymore. What has also changed this week is the fact that he no longer needs to take my hand… he doesn’t need the extra security to walk from one place in the house to another. He would much rather have me follow him when I get home or, as is the case in the morning, have me follow him to the kitchen table.

Things are changing so fast and I always worry if I am missing too much being away from home so much during the day and sometimes at night. I guess our son isn’t the only one experiencing a little separation anxiety at this point in his development. But this is also why I try to make every moment count and why I will gladly follow my son when I get home each and every day that I possibly can and make sure that we share as many of these moments as possible. After all, this is a time we can never get back so we have to embrace it and enjoy each and every moment. And, most importantly, while he may not take it all the time, we must always have our hand out to support him.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mortgage Monday: The Small Things

Orkin may have gone overboard... 
Summer is now upon us and my wife and I have been busy picking up things here and there for the house and for the yard. So far the tractor has been running well and the other gas powered tools have been taking care of the rest of the property. Now it is time, at least for the outside items, to round out the things that we need to maintain our little piece of land. This includes all of the trimming items as well a ladder, saw, sledgehammer, and axe. You would be surprised by how useful the last two items are around the property.

Many of the other items that we have picked up or ordered lately have been more about the comfort and convenience around the house. Having a hammock in the back yard is not something that we need but with the deal that I found at one of my usual online stores it was well worth the nominal cost. Plus it completes the collection that we now have on the patio which includes a dining set and a couple of Adirondack chairs. Not something that we will use every day but relaxing when we get the chance.

In the house there have been a few upgrades lately including a new crock pot and coffee maker (nearly free when we combined the clearance price with an old gift card at Macy’s). Also added in the mix was a new microwave that fills the space that was designed into the kitchen layout. Our last one was struggling a bit and, again, a good sale price was found. Beyond those few things, everything else was pretty much purchased for our son as he is growing out of many of the products that we have been using for months (i.e. new sippy cups and utensils).

And with the first days of summer now heating up the landscape, we are also better protected now that we have had Orkin come out and do some preventative work and some mole remediation. While we haven’t had any insect problems beyond the few stragglers here and there, I would rather have the reassurance that it will not be an issue in the future especially with our son scurrying all over the house. Now, all the bugs and spiders know that this is not some place that they want to try and get into and the moles are digging their way away from the property (they were actually a real problem in the front and back yards).

So, let the summer begin. We have the tools and we have taken care of many of the things that we needed to in order to prepared for the weather. Now all that is left is to get all of the small projects completed followed by some larger tasks and we will be ready for years to come. That being the payoff, it is well worth making the investment now.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Search: Being True To Father’s Day

This is a long overdue post that I have kept putting off when the thought of writing it has entered my mind over the years. As the most recent urge to record my thoughts coincided with Father’s Day it really was no longer an option to write about my father at greater length. While I have briefly mentioned my father in previous posts, I have consistently left out many of the details… pretty much all of the details in fact. While by no means comprehensive and certainly a work in progress, I dedicate this post to my father.

Growing up in a rather modest row home on Iona Avenue in Narberth, Pennsylvania my father was one who, despite his academic abilities, focused largely on sports during his formative years. In fact, I have been told stories on a few occasions that there were even scouts in the stands when my father was a catcher on the varsity baseball team for Lower Merion High School. And not all of those scouts were focusing on other players on the team or opposing hitters in the other dugout like Reggie Jackson. Because major league teams don’t keep all of their scouting records, this is a story that has no substantiation but, given the honest passion with which they were told and the talent that I saw on display decades later, there has to at least be a little truth in those tales.

What I do know for certain is that following his high school graduation my father knew with near absolute certainty that he was going to be drafted. Not surprisingly, he took his fate into his own hands and figured out a way to go into the military as an officer without the luxury of a college degree. This how my father ended up serving as a warrant officer and helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. While he flew in excess of, conservatively, 50 combat missions and nearly paid the ultimate sacrifice during the Tet offensive on 30 January 1968 at 1830 hours when he was struck by one of the seven 30 caliber rounds that punctured his aircraft, he has yet to receive the recognition for his service with the 155th Assault Helicopter Company (Stagecoach) out of Ban Me Thuot. This is an oversight that I am trying to rectify… I actually found out that this is an issue common with the company in which he served.

Following his Army service, my father returned home and, with his newly found focus, truncated the time it took to receive his degree from St. Joseph’s University (then St. Joseph’s College). With funds remaining in his GI Bill, he immediately pursued and later received his MBA from the same institution. He considered law school but eventually decided to continue his career in finance. Mind you he was also maintaining full time employment and volunteering with the Narberth Ambulance  Corps. Also during this period in his life, he was introduced to my mother (thanks to her brother), a relationship that has lasted for over 40 years.

With his education complete and a young family at home, my father continued thrive in the business world. While there have been certain unpleasant monikers and unpleasant terms used to describe my father during this time, in the end, he was good at his job, didn’t accept failure, hated braggers and name droppers, and expected people to work just as hard as he did. Even years later, I can recall brief moments of conversations echoing from his office. I may not have completely understood them at the time and even now I can’t recall exactly what was said but, as I have gotten older, I have come to understand those moments to be glimpses into his aforementioned work ethic.

I have also come to realize that my older siblings may have had a different experience growing up but I remember my father trying to find the time to help me when he could, attend practices and games, and answer questions that broke through my stubbornness while completing homework assignments. I also recall the moments playing miniature golf on the board walk in Ocean City, my poor attempts to play real golf on various occasions, going to Phillies games at the Vet, and simply joining him during weekly short car rides into the city or along the main line with the oldies station or KYW News Radio (1060) playing in the background.

To this day I still look up to my father and there are new memories made every day. I have come to better appreciate everything that he has done for me and the lessons that he has taught me over the years… some I took to quickly while others it took years before I finally got it. While our conversations have changed over the years, I enjoy the times that he is able to share his experiences and knowledge about subjects with me as well as those rare moments when I am able to tell him about something new or a recent family discovery that I have made.

However, the greatest moment are when I am able to see him with his grandson with whom he shares his name. And the times when we can all experience something new as a family are the memories that will last not just my lifetime but my son’s lifetime as well. There is no greater feeling than when I remind my son that this is your granddad, this is daddy’s daddy. Happy Father’s Day Dad!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Two Years Makes A Huge Difference

My wife and I have been to Jim Thorpe several times in the past. Usually driving up for the day just to walk around the sleepy town near the entrance to the Pocono Mountains. We have always enjoyed our trips up there and we have been planning to return with our son at some point. This weekend we finally took the time and made the plans to travel into the mountains as a family.

Unfortunately, as is the case with many things in life, reality didn’t live up to the memories. That being said, the town itself has changed rather significantly since our last excursion two years ago and, for us, it has definitely not changed for the better. It all began as soon as we approached the valley and we could see the mass of cars and people filling the streets, sidewalks, and parks. It was rather odd seeing the main line atmosphere so far from Philadelphia but that is exactly how the trip unfolded over our two day stay.

While there were a few brief glimpses of what it used to be like in the muted stir of the evening, it seems as though this town is no longer the forgotten destination that it once was and the makeover that it has received recently demonstrates that the town is definitely well aware of its new windfall. But, they are certainly honing in on a certain type of visitor to the town as many of the new shops are more akin to what you would find in the small towns around San Francisco. There are certain demographics that certainly find this appealing but don’t count me as one of them.

Of courses, there were a few aspects to the short trip that didn’t really sit well with me either. In addition to the sheer number of people that had flooded the valley, the attitudes and mentalities of those people was something that I would prefer not to encounter especially when trying to get away and relax. And it seems to have had an impact on the great people that live and work in those small shops along Broadway and Race Street.

In previous trips, the people have always been one of the best parts about the town. Great scenery and great people… that is really what we look for when trying to find a place where we can relax. Now, in this little town, the drastic shift has seemly changed some people, broken others, and driven the rest out of town. The small family shops are nearly gone. The library is half the size that it used to be. Those remaining have a different way about them and a completely different attitude… no more friendly and casual conversations. And there are clearly people who have already gone or are moving because the sale signs are plentiful.

Maybe this is a brief phase for the town and things will change back in the near future. Maybe our perspectives were off those days. Maybe, but it doesn’t look like we will be have any time in the near future as there are so few opportunities to get away and we are not going to risk completely wasting one on a return trip... that is the feeling that we got this time around. I guess some things are best left as memories.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Firearms Friday: A Time Of Contradiction

In the wake of the mass murder at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando this past weekend I didn't want to simply react to the tragedy but rather take the time to think and give the space to honor the memory of those who lost their lives. This is not a partisan issue, we should all be mourning their loss. After all those people who were murdered were human beings and fellow citizens of this county and should not be assigned or limited to a specific group or label. To me, right or wrong, it really is that simple. While there have been various halfhearted comments, disgusting accusations, and ludicrous statements made to date from a wide variety of groups and individuals, I have found the most succinct responses to this tragedy to be that of The Pink Pistols and that of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  

What we should be doing now is not placing blame on any party, person, or group of people unrelated to the actions of the individual who committed this heinous act. These psychotic actions and other mass murders that have become and an unfortunate part of our collective conscious aren’t going to be cured by the rhetoric that is currently being bandied about. We will never truly know why these person did what they did. The fact of the matter is that we are facing an unprecedented crisis regarding mental health in this county.  

Those who wish to ascribe blame on these rampages on firearms are completely off base in their assertions as the PEW Research Center already noted that the “nation’s overall gun death rate has declined 31% since 1993. This total includes homicides and suicides, in addition to a smaller number of fatal police shootings, accidental shooting deaths and those of undetermined intent.” Additionally, nonfatal gun victimizations has dropped from 725.3 per 100,000 in 1993 to 174.8 per 100,000 in 2014. Max Ehrenfreund at the Washington Post noted that “Much of the decline in violence is still unexplained, but researchers have identified several reasons for the shift.” He subsequently listed five very plausible reasons for this decline which included more police officers on the beat, police using computers, decreased consumption of alcohol, decreased exposure to toxic lead, and an improved economy.

However, while overall gun violence has experienced a precipitous drop, the FBI has noted a marked increase in the number of active shooter incidents from 2000-2013 with the average number of incidents increasing from 6.4 from 2000-2006 to 16.4 from 2007-2013. This is in direct contrast to the decrease in the violent crime rate reported by the FBI which noted a 27.1% decrease in violent crime from 506.5 per 100,000 in 2000 to 369.1 per 100,000 in 2013. Consequently, questions must be asked as to why we have such a chasm between the two stats and why the numbers going down with regard to crimes committed with firearms and violent crime as a whole but active shooter incidents and mass killings are on the rise?

The truth is that firearms know no race, gender, age, height, weight, economic status, political viewpoint, national identity, immigration status, or sexual orientation. Firearms are inanimate objects that require the user to impose their will. This is why, despite the aggressive and illogical accusations of some to the contrary, the National Rifle Association’s slogan is indeed true: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Contrary to what many zealots may suggest, the increased frequency of these heinous acts has nothing to do with firearms or the politics related thereof.

The crisis that this country faces is that of mental health which has always been a matter of public safety since the first patient was admitted to the Public Hospital for Persons of insane and Disordered Minds in Williamsburg, Virginia in 1773. The sad fact of the matter is that care for the mentally ill is not a priority in this country today. While a touch dated, the evidence is clear that the mentally ill are not receiving the care that they need because the care simply isn’t available in the United States.

This is in large part due to various deinstitutionalization policies that have been wreaking havoc on the system for the past 60 years. A staggering statistic to exemplify this point is that “in 2005 there were 17 public psychiatric beds available per 100,000 population compared to 340 per 100,000 in 1955” which translates to a 95 percent reduction in the number of the beds in 2005 compared to 1955. For those unfamiliar with the term, The Treatment Advocacy Center defines it in the following way:

Deinstitutionalization, the name given to the policy of moving people with serious brain disorders out of large state institutions and then permanently closing part or all of those institutions, has been a major contributing factor to increased homelessness, incarceration and acts of violence.

Note the last part of that sentence. Further proof of that point in particular can be found in our prison system as a 2004 study, as reported in Mother Jones, suggested that “approximately 16 percent of prison and jail inmates are seriously mentally ill, roughly 320,000 people. This year, there are about 100,000 psychiatric beds in public and private hospitals. That means there are more three times as many seriously mentally ill people in jails and prisons than in hospitals.” Later in that same timeline, it is also noted that “In the aftermath of the Great Recession [2010], states are forced to cut $4.35 billion in public mental-health spending over the next three years, the largest reduction in funding since deinstitutionalization.”

The further reduction in funds has had a significant impact on the mental health system in this country which was noted in a report from The Treatment Advocacy Center titled “No Room at the Inn: Trends and Consequences of Closing Public Psychiatric Hospitals. The reality we currently face is that there was an additional reduction in the number of beds available between 2005 and 2010 by 14 percent with the current per capita falling to a level not seen in this country since 1850 at 14.1 beds per 100,000 with additional decreases having been experienced since then. To put this is further perspective, the consensus target for providing minimally adequate treatment is 50 beds per 100,000 (the ratio in England in 2005 was 63.2/100,000). This has resulted in “states that closed more public psychiatric beds between 2005 and 2010” to experience “higher rates of violent crime generally and of aggravated assault in particular.”

There is plenty of blame to go around, in both political parties, across decades, as to the insufficient mental healthcare system that we have in place today. And, at this point, I would like to make it very clear that while the institutional system is by no means perfect, it clearly makes a difference regarding the evil acts that are perpetrated by the mentally unstable. And the degradation of this system and the care available overall to the mentally ill population is something that we need to address if we are truly motivated to change the climate in which we live. In the end, the slaughter of innocent people was committed by an individual who was clearly mentally ill and motivated, by self-proclaimed during his 911 call, by a group that preys on the mentally malleable. That is where your finger should be pointing.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Busy Day Off

A day off is never simply a day off anymore. While there are occasions when I have taken some time to travel or go to different events, lately that hasn’t been the case as there are simply too many things that need to get done or appointments that need to be scheduled. Yesterday was a prime example of this new, self-created, reality as I originally took the day off to speak at an event in the afternoon and go to my son’s appointment in the early evening. Well, that isn’t exactly how things ended up working out.

Having slept in an extra thirty minutes on Sunday, I told my wife that I would take care of breakfast for our son in the morning. It is actually pretty fun spending the time with him and he is usually pretty patient with me when it takes a little longer to prepare his meal. By the time he was done eating and I had finished waking up, half of the morning was already gone and the first appointment of the day was about to begin. When I previously said that I needed to get more estimates done for the various projects around the house I wasn’t kidding.

As I discussed all the options and what exactly needed to be done with the garage door company, my wife headed out to a local event as one of the orchards in the area with our son. After my meeting was done and the quote in hand, I got in the car and drove the ten minutes down the road to meet up with them. It was actually pretty interesting watching my son walk along the long rows of strawberries eating all of the fruit out of the small basket almost as soon as my wife put it in there. When we finished picking our pile (pile and a half when accounting for all the ones our son consumed), we got back in our cars and headed home where we finished feeding out son his lunch, played a bit, and put him down for his nap.

Just as we were about to take him upstairs, the doorbell rang and the second appointment of the day began. This time we received a quote for my office doors (and a few ballpark figures for the deck and porch that we would like to add later). Like the first quote of the day, it was much lower than the initial estimates that I received. Unfortunately, that was the end of the estimates as the third appointment had to be rescheduled for next week… honestly, I don’t know if they are going to be able to beat the price I just got from this company but we will have to wait and see.

After taking a short break when I was able to check the mail, send a few emails, and waking up our son for his snack, we got back in the car and headed north to the pediatrician’s office. It was a great checkup that I will write about later and, fortunately, the waiting room wasn’t filled with Gosselins. Like many days away from the office, time seemed to evaporate from by grasp and before we had another moment to catch our breath, the day was winding down and we were planning for the follow day. All of this and I still wasn't able to fit everything into my schedule. And, at the moment, it looks like my next day out of the office will be just as busy next week.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fellowship… With Horseshoes

It was nice knowing that when I arrived at the lodge last night that there were no emergencies, no meetings that needed to take place, and nothing that needed to be completed that night. It was an opportunity to go to the lodge and enjoy the fellowship while casually discussing topics that happen to come up in conversation. What I didn’t expect was that those conversations would be happening over a game of horseshoes in the back yard.

I honestly can’t remember the last time that I tossed a horseshoe across the grass in the hopes of hearing it ring on the post. It has probably been at least fifteen years since I flipped the steel from my fingers so there was quite a bit of relearning taking place throughout the evening. Of course, the last time that I recall playing was simply as a fill in while one of my uncles took a break so there wasn’t much of a technique to be found in my past either.

The most important part of the whole evening was that fact that we could enjoy the fellowship with our brothers without an agenda to be mentioned and we were able to get to know one of our newly raised brothers a little more and in a relaxed setting. While we have had conversations in the past and I have spoken with him at great length, there is something to be said about seeing a person’s personality during a casual competition. Safe to say, more so than I was before, I am glad to have this new mason as my brother.

It is this type of environment that I would like to see constantly fostered and built upon as we move forward. This is a return to the way brothers used to interact with one another all over the world not just at lodges here and there. This is what we need if we are going to see our lodge and our fraternity as a whole thrive in the coming years and decades. Brothers of all ages and experiences simply going to lodge to enjoy the fellowship found in our fraternity.

Nights like this are part of why I decided to become a mason. It is not just about learning something new and striving to be better men, it is a brotherly bond that you share with your fellow mason, with whom you truly enjoy spending time with at the lodge and beyond the confines of the building. This is certainly something that I have to improve upon and embrace as I rarely see the brethren outside of a masonic setting. I guess I have another goal for the summer.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

TMI Tuesday: Walking To Daddy!

Our son has been cruising the furniture for well over a month now and he has been able to pull himself to his feet for quite a while but he has remained hesitant to walk on his own. In May he finally got the courage to take a step or two from the table to the couch. Of course, we helped him a bit by spreading them apart. And, soon after, he was confident enough to hold my hand and make his way across the play room with his irregular gait.

All of that changed a couple of weeks ago when I was walking our son to the kitchen. He had been strangling our fingers for a couple of weeks as his off balance sway staggered his steps but, this time, he had a loose grip on my index finger as we made our way across the room. When we turned the corner behind the couch, he let go and with both hands in the air took five or six steps all by himself before falling to his bottom with an audible thump.

Last week, having cancelled my plans for the evening to spend the night with my family, we were all sitting in the play room when our son decided to crawl over to the family room. This was nothing unusual as he likes to scurry about the house. However, this time was different, this time he was determined to walk. As he cruised along the chair and back into our view he had a wide smile on his face with a light chuckle echoing across the room.

This is when he let go of the chair and slowly made his way, step after step, across the room and into my arms. After an excited laugh and happy hug, he turned around and made his way back to the chair to repeat the same milestone again and again over the next twenty minutes. Each time he is getting a little better, a little steadier, and a little faster. And now he is even able to catch himself when he gets a little off balance and he can even turn around and change directions when the mood strikes him. Of course, some of those detours and changes in direction aren’t completely voluntary.

He is now comfortable walking both at home and while we are exploring a new place. It is actually pretty entertaining watching him push his own stroller down the sidewalk. He is gaining more and more confidence each time that he is on his feet and he enjoys practicing as much as possible leaving no opportunity lost to walk across the room, down the sidewalk, or around the property. All the while with the same wide smile across his face that we saw with that initial voyage across the room.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Mortgage Monday: More Estimates

Whenever work needs to be done at the house that is beyond my limited capabilities, it is rarely a simple process to get that job done. Early last week I was finally able to set aside the time research some of the contractors and other service providers in the area. Home Advisor was actually a pretty useful tool for this in addition to work of mouth and local publications. We have had our project list pulled together for some time now and I did receive a couple of estimates for a few things that we need done but I am never one to settle for a single quote. So, with a break in the chaos of the week, I pulled together a list and got on the phone making dozens of calls and leaving a multitude of messages. With all the research done and calls placed, the rest of the week was filled with fielding responses to my queries.

The first set of calls that I placed was to some of the reputable tree service companies in the area. There are at least three trees that need to be taken down around the property and probably a few others that will need to come down in the near future. Heading into this initial investigation I knew that this is an expensive proposition as a couple of the trees are at least a hundred feet high and not in an easy location on the property. Additionally, at least one of them is so far gone that scaling in the trunk is not going to be a possibility. Of all the companies I called I was only able to get a hold of one of them who stopped by the house on Friday and delivered an unofficial estimate at a figure that I was in line with my thought process.

The next call was to a company to replace our garage doors. While one is still serviceable the other door is useless at this point and given the age of both it just makes sense to replace the pair (as well as the motors). Again, I already have a quote for this project but it is definitely one that I believe can be beat by, hopefully, a significant margin. This is one of the companies that I will have stopping by the house this week.

The last group of correspondences were to a few of the recommended general contracting firms and smaller craftsmen in the area. The one recommendation that I did receive to install some doors to my office was booked… and when I say booked I mean that he didn’t have an opening in his calendar until February 2017. A couple of the other companies I contact gave me a call later in the week and will be coming out to the house this week as well. It is definitely going to be busy around the house with all of these people coming and going but at least I will have a few sets of numbers to work with.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday Search: Just Around The Corner

 Barren Hill Cemetery
This past week I was finally able to find the marriage license of my great great grandparents, William McKannan and Susan Laura Corner. It proved to be a difficult task as like many first generation Irish Americans the McKannan surname has been recorded in a myriad of different ways. While I was familiar with the current spelling and the way by which it was recorded for my great grandparents and grandparents in the 1940 census, McKenna, this new document brought to light another possibility, McCann. However, every single one of the other details in the document where accurate leaving no doubt in my mind that I had finally found one of the family records that had eluded me for nearly a decade.

Marriage License - 9 December 1890
When looking at this record I was surprised to find that the marriage actually took place on 9 December 1890, only five days prior to the birth of my great grandfather William Jacob McKannan when my grandmother was seventeen years old. Seems as though there may have been a little rush to the alter to say the least but the marriage did last for the rest of their lives so there must have been more of a connection beyond the simple fact of an unplanned pregnancy. Additionally, as I researched the details of their lives, it was fascinating to see the full lives that they had especially with regard to my great great grandmother.

1880 Census
Susan Laura Corner was born in Philadelphia on 20 August 1873 to Jacob Corner and Tamise Culp. Growing up the daughter of a farmer in Whitemarsh Township, Montgomery County, she experienced loss at an early age as her twin sister, Emma Flora Corner, passed away on 17 September 1875. It is unclear how they met but by the time Laura was 16 she was pregnant and by the time she was 17 she was married to William who was six years her senior.
Sunday Times Advertiser - 22 January 1928
While my great great grandfather was working for the Pennsylvania Railroad (eventually becoming yardmaster at Morrisville), Laura was busy first raising her family and then, later in life, increasing her social activity among many of the organizations in the Trenton area. This is one of those situations where she may not have had an occupation listed in the census but she did work and she worked hard. This resulted in her being mentioned in the various Trenton newspapers over 140 times during the approximately 30 years prior to her passing in 1949. While she was a founding member of the Get Together Club (seemingly started after her husband’s passing in 1933, she was also active with her Bible Study Class, a member of Iska Council No. 33 (Improved Order of Red Men), a member of Laurel Temple No. 3 (Knights of the Golden Eagle), and, most prominently, she served as District President of the Patriotic Order of Americans and, later, appointed as Director of the National Patriotic Order of Americans Home and Orphanage in Lambertville. In the latter she also held various roles in Camp No. 6 ranging from Orator to Publicist to Trustee.

Sunday Times Advertiser - 2 December 1934
It seems as though both William and Laura slowly moved up in their respective social circles over the course of their unlikely marriage. They had at least 3 children, William, Mary, and Reuben and were married for 43 years at the time of my great great grandfather’s passing after a six year illness (still uncertain as to the cause of this illness). And, by the time she took her final breath only her daughter, three grandchildren, and four great grandchildren remained. Beyond the simple documents that have been found she is remembered as a good hearted, happy, giving, thoughtful, and intelligent mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and community leader. And, in the end, that is really all that any of us can hope for.

Trenton Evening Times - 3 November 1949