Archive for the ‘planning’ Category

Wearing the Operative Apron

November 7, 2006 1 comment

I’ve written elsewhere that once made a Mason, we can’t very well remove our aprons and be “off duty“, as everything is colored by our new frame of reference. Accordingly, even while not in lodge one will often find me acting in various Masonic capacities. Last weekend found me – quite literally – donning an apron to cook and prepare several hundred pounds of local vegetables and almost 150 pounds of chicken at a local scholarship dinner.

Friendship Lodge is supposedly the third oldest organization in town, so it’s no surprise that my wife belongs to the first oldest, the First Congregational Church , located just across the Southington town green from our lodge. Twenty two years ago, several of the women got together in order to sponsor a fall dinner. The dinner became an annual event, and after a few years, they began to sell tickets in order to raise money for the scholarship fund. The menu eventually became a delicious biscuit covering a scoop of chicken, smothered in white gravy with hand-made cole slaw, potatotes and mashed butternut squash; owing to the method in which the dinne was cooked, they called it the Chicken Pie Dinner. Six years ago, my wife started helping out. After a couple of years some of the women, having managed the affair for eighteen years, asked Linda if she would be interested in taking it over. My wife, having some of the same congenital inability to refuse such offers as plagues me, soon compiled the notes and guidelines in order to manage the event.

Anyone in a position similar to mine knows the drill: when your wife or Significant Other takes over a project, you are one of the first ones to get drafted. So every year, just a few weeks after the Apple Harvest Festival, you’ll find me once again visiting one of the most well-known local orchards to pick up butternut squash, potatoes, onions, cabbage, and some other things that I’m sure that I’ve forgotten about. Oh, and the seemingly never-ending hunt for chicken breasts at a good price, preferably under $.99 a pound. Somehow this all comes together during the end of October, and the first Saturday in November is “C-Day”. I’ve noticed that there is a dearth of husbands involved, so the event also entails a good number of aspirin and ibuprofen on my part – the result of moving a dozen or so very, very large boiling pots from the old stove to the sink.


Chicken Pie 2006

A few years ago, we realized that a continually sell-out crowd meant that there were more people who might attend, but we had a limit to the number of people that could fit into the meeting hall. We began to offer “to-go” meals, and then a second seating. The first seating at 5:00 p.m. is always filled, but the dinner crowd typically doesn’t hang around afterwards. The second seating at 7:00 p.m. is smaller, and is when we and the kitchen staff finally get to take a break. This year – mirroring the success of our own fund raiser at Friendship Lodge – we served almost 175 people, for the biggest dinner ever. I know that Linda worked pretty hard over the last couple of weeks to make this event a success, and after everything was added and subtracted we added over $1,200 to the scholarship fund.

Events like this are not easy to run, and we are thankful for the continued help of many of the women who originally started the dinner. At various times during the preceding week some of them helped to peel squash and potatoes, debone chicken, chop up cabbage and onions, and volunteer to make pies for dessert. And on Saturday mornings, the church kitchen is overrun with women gossiping and chatting, and who seemingly just happen to make several hundred biscuits and gallons of gravy in the process. It’s also nice to see some of the new faces stopping in to help – perhaps to run errands, set the tables, serve the meals, and – thankfully – to help with the cleanup afterwards.

Tying this in to the general topic of Freemasonry, I should note that besides the rather cute apron (which, by the way, generated many compliments), First Congregational Church has a number of members who are also members of Friendship Lodge, several of whom showed up to support the dinner.

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Always Remember Rule One

August 25, 2006 5 comments

A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master. One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.

When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. “Isn’t it beautiful?” he called out to the old master. “Yes,” replied the old man, “but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I’ll put it right for you.”

After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. “There,” said the old man, “you can put me back now.”
Zen Stories, “Nature’s Beauty”

So, summer is almost over and in getting ready for the remaining part of the year I was leafing through my ritual book when out fell a paper with three names on it. It took me a moment to figure out why these names were on a paper.

They were the names of the three young men that I initiated the first time I sat in the East.

It was about two years ago when, during a phone call with the “New Age” Dave, the Worshipful Master of Friendship Lodge at the time, he asked who I had lined up for which positions in the upcoming Entered Apprentice degree. Momentarily panicked, I replied that I thought he, as the WM, was the one that scheduled all that. Nope, that was all mine, he explained. Start to finish, soup to nuts, A to Z. I tactfully mentioned that I’d wished he’d clued me in on this sooner, then I hung up and went to work.

I really should have known better. Dave and I are long-time friends, and I should have remembered that Dave is a “big-picture guy”, as I like to call him. Not really much for details, though…

Lodges have different ways to prepare the upcoming WM for his duties. At Friendship, we typically have two sets of degrees: one set in late winter/early spring and the other in the fall. In the fall, the Junior Warden takes the East for the EA degree and later, the Senior Warden takes the big chair for the Fellowcraft degree. When you consider that at some point we’ll have a Past Master’s degree, then it seems like the WM hardly has to do anything at all!

Yeah, right.

Since I had already been studying, I made the phone calls to make sure that the rest of the guys were studying, too. Not only is the WM spot taken by another officer, but we usually move every officer up one chair to prep them for the next year. Our degree was scheduled for the second meeting in September (we meet twice a month on the first and third Wednesdays), and all of the officers were prepared, or at least assured me that they would be prepared in time.

Friendship Lodge is crazy. In a time when many lodges can’t fill the officer’s chairs, and when some WMs need to stay in the East for two or three years until the rest of the line is “seasoned”, our lodge usually has a complete line of officers, none of which are Past Masters. While it happened that I skipped three chairs, it appears that it was an anomaly; we have not had to recycle a PM since 1978.

But that’s not why we’re crazy. We’re crazy because at any time, out of the seven officers in the line, five of them will really, really enjoy doing the degree ritual. I’m one of them. Seriously, if you had told me five or six years ago that I’d be hamming it up with archaic British turns of phrase, I’d ask what you were smoking. But now, once I get through memorizing the words I start working on my delivery. I stand up, walk around, wave my arms, modulate my voice… in short, I try to get into the mindset of a WM from the 1700s trying to make an impression of the seriousness and solemnity of the degree on a nervous candidate in the back upper room of some old inn. And I’m certainly not the only one in lodge who does this. We have not one, but two rehearsals for every degree, and we rehearse from the opening to the closing. Crazy, I’m telling you.

The upcoming EA degree was special because the Senior Deacon was bringing in one of his sons, and the Junior Deacon was bringing in his younger brother. I had escorted the JD around for his own EA degree, and I was happy to have a part in bringing his brother into the lodge as well. The JD and SD, each taking the part of the next station, were going to join me at the altar for the grippy part. The Stewards had rehearsed the First Section Lecture (we added some floor work to make it more interesting and meaningful). One brother, a Senior DeMolay, was going to take the Marshal’s chair and deliver the charge at the end of the evening.

Yup, we’re all set.

A few of the guys missed the first rehearsal; no biggie. The second rehearsal was great, even with a lot of fooling around. Admittedly, we goof off a bit in rehearsal, in part because we pretty much know what we’re doing, and while we want to take it seriously, we also want to have fun with it. So a couple of days before the degree we’re having a Trowel Club meeting (other lodges have similar groups with different names; Craftsmen’s Club, etc.), and the young Marshal-to-be asks if I’m sure I want him to do the charge. Of course I do; he assured me that he did particularly well at memorizing DeMolay ritual, and that he’d have no problem getting the EA charge down. Well, seems that he’d been working a lot and really hadn’t put the time into it that he should have. I told him that I had every confidence in him, and that he still had a couple of days, so we wouldn’t worry about it. He thought about it for a moment and agreed that he should be able to make a good job of it. And since I was already in a dither over my own part, I promptly forgot about it.

A couple of days later, it’s not a rehearsal anymore. I’d taken half a day off from work just to get calmed down and into the correct mindset. Dinner was great, not that I could eat anything (even now I still get nervous before meetings and won’t eat until afterwards). The degree itself was great; the first half moved along smoothly as everyone did everything right on cue, including an optional bit that the SW and the Deacons added in without telling me first – just because they wanted to impress me. The obligations came off without a hitch, and we soon took a break. The candidates were suitably impressed, and when we came back to labor the officers did a fine job with the new version of the lectures. I was proud of the work of the evening, it seemed that I’d never seen any degree come off so well.

Then the Marshal got up to do the charge. He was sweating profusely. He faced the candidates, got through a few sentences, and paused for a prompt. Big deal, right? Well, it was that night; especially impressive because it was the first time in their respective spots, the degree had come off with only one or two prompts, at least up until that point. The Marshal, aware of this, got even more nervous. And paused. Paused again. And again. And again. When he finally finished, you could almost see the huge weight falling from his shoulders, although he looked horribly downcast as he returned to his chair.

We ended the degree on a high note, with lots of hand shaking and back slapping and high-fiving, and we all went downstairs for coffee and, that is, except for me and a PM that I considered to be a mentor. Richie told me not to worry about it, and pointed out that the Marshal had learned a lesson and would never again be so unprepared; indeed, he does very well, and is now serving as the Junior Steward, and does a fantastic job as a DeMolay advisor. Later, the candidates all told me how “believable” the degree was, and how much they enjoyed it, and how impressed they were. Visitors congratulated our work, seemingly impressed that everyone was serving in a different chair. I went home, proud of the fantastic job that they did, and proud of myself as well.

Now, you might think that this is a lesson to young officers to make sure that they study up. Yeah, sure, if you want. And if my JS is reading this, believe me; I’m not trying to make you feel badly or relive a bad moment. That’s not the point here.

No, this is not a lesson for the junior officers. This is a lesson for the Worshipful Masters out there.

See, the Marshal warned me that he might not have it down. He told me that he thought he’d be able to memorize it in a few days because of his DeMolay background, but apparently it just didn’t come together for him. He came to me two days beforehand, and although he reassured me that he’d be okay, I completely ignored Rule Two:

Always have a Plan “B”.

I should have contacted a PM to ask if they could brush up “just in case”. I should have offered to work more closely with the Marshal. I should have done something other than what I’d done, which was to smile and be supportive and to hope for the best.

As the Master of the lodge, you have a responsibility bordering on the sacred to make certain that the candidate gets the absolute best degree work possible. That means not just your own command of ritual, but using your best managerial skills to make sure that everyone else is going to work to the best of their capacity as well. Especially for an EA Degree; it is the first exposure to the mysteries of Freemasonry that a brother will have, and it should be one of the most impressive, solemn and thought-provoking experiences that he will remember for years to come.

Okay, it was my first time in the East. The candidates were impressed, and things ended well. Besides, nothing is perfect, and we need these little bumps in the road to allow us to appreciate the good parts of life’s highway, right? I’d even forgotten about it until that bit of paper fell out of my book the other day, but even with only four months of meetings left in my year, Rule Two is still a lesson worth remembering.

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Communication Gap or Fault Line?

August 14, 2006 6 comments

I have a small manufacturing business, and my company is in the middle of the process of becoming certified to an AS-9100 / ISO-9000 Quality Standard. For those not familiar with this, it’s a way of organizing the processes within a company to make sure that everything that needs to be done is carefully documented and those instructions are then passed on to everyone involved in any particular product.

So, I’m sitting at my desk, trying to catch up on all the paperwork that mysteriously multiplies when one is on vacation when I get the call from Jim, a young brother currently serving as my Junior Warden and as the Secretary for our Temple Corporation. In Connecticut, most lodges have a separate board that manages the affairs of the building and grounds. Because I didn’t use the word “No” in time, I happen to be the President… but that’s another story waiting to be written.

“Tom, you’ll never in a million years believe what just happened.”

Knowing that Jim is involved in local politics, I resist the urge to tell him that I’d never believe anything a politician tells me anyway. “What’s going on?”

“You know how they were supposed to dig up the area for a little footing wall on the side of the building?”

Of course I knew. But hearing the question phrased that way made me jump to several possible outcomes too horrible to contemplate. I could feel myself wincing as I asked him “Do I even want to know?”

“They dug up the entire section, all the way to the front of the building,” he said.


“For some reason they thought that they were doing the foundation for an entire handicap access ramp. They tore off the steps to the side door, and it looks like they might have broken the sewer line, and …”

His cell phone cut out. I waited a few minutes and dialed back.

“Yeah, there’s definitely a broken sewer or drain line or something, and they might have cracked a gas line, too,” he continued. “And we can’t get into the building now because they dug right up to the front door, and we don’t have keys to the back door, so we’ll have to get a locksmith down here.”

Well, at least they didn’t run the backhoe through the side of the building, right?

Confident that things couldn’t get much worse, we spent the next hour and several phone calls getting information and trying to straighten out the apparent miscommunication.

Like many small New England towns, Southington has a number of small buildings built close together around the town green. Friendship Lodge is located in the old home of former Gov. Marcus Holcomb, a 3 story house built in the mid 1800s and bought from the family in the late 1930s. The old building on the left (to the south) was replaced by a small brick office building years ago, and the current owner has been remodeling the outside to add a drive-thru window for the new tenant – a local bank. Our lodge is leasing the little strip of land between our buildings to him in exchange for his doing some remodeling and repairs on our admittedly deteriorating home. He did a great job with the back entrance, which is the one that we tend to use. Our next project was to make a small footing wall on which we would – eventually – build a handicap access ramp. Since the drive-thru area was right next to that section, it seemed like a good idea to make the wall while the bank was under construction. When they put in the driveway, on the edge of it they were supposed to dig a narrow, shallow trench in order to place some footings.

Apparently the communication broke down somewhere.

Now, knowing that my business is in a very quality conscious industry, one might think that I rarely see such huge mistakes and that I’m taking this opportunity to rant and rave about how good communication is imperative.

Hah! Were that only true.

I don’t blame the construction crew for this. I don’t blame the contractor, the bank, nor the owner of the building. Hard as this may be to believe in these lawsuit conscious times, I really don’t blame anybody at all. Stuff simply happens.

Recently, one of my customers in the aerospace industry sent me a print for a part that they needed made. The print was originally drawn in the 1960s, and some of the dimensions were not specifically drawn in; one needed to calculate several critical dimensions from the information given about certain others. While anyone with decent math skills could do it, I had to ask myself why it would even be necessary. My own math skills, honed by years of reading similarly vague prints, is very good, but even I’ve been known to mistype a number on a calculator or to miss a line on a sine table. We spent a couple of hours with our customer to make sure that everyone would measure and interpret the drawing in the same way. So, why didn’t our customer – another AS-9100 certified company – simply redraw it to be more clear? Simple: the print was fine back in 1966, so why change now?

We machined the part and sent it out for a complex electroplating process in which a type of plating had to be deposited on one section and other coatings applied to another section. Our supplier was an ISO-9000 company and was approved by a dozen other aerospace companies for their electroplating processes. Naturally, when the part came back to us it was wrong. They claimed that the drawing wasn’t clear enough.

Keep in mind, now, that we have three companies, all with a professional commitment to better communication to ease the process along and to ensure that there are no mistakes. The thing that constantly amazes me is that the sheer number of screwups in everyday life aren’t bigger and more frequent than they already are.

Of course communication is important to us; without it, we couldn’t have a culture, let alone a civilization. But despite the wonderful modes of expression in our language, we so often fail to communicate our essential meaning. We can paint glorious verbal pictures but can not manage to create drawings that are easy to understand. As Masons, we acknowledge the importance of our symbols and ceremonies; indeed, most of our degree work is taken up in explaining the meanings behind various tools and implements of our craft, and we explain that we believe that communicating through symbols is the best way to pass along knowledge. Even our meetings are described as “Stated Communications”, at which we have “trestle boards” and “tracing boards” to help us explain and teach each other those esoteric truths.

So, why is it so much easier to communicate ancient wisdom than to explain where and how to dig a ditch?

Friendship Lodge – Building Improvements

When I left work a few hours later I stopped by the lodge to see the damage. Fortunately no sewer or gas lines were broken – the workers had dug through some old drainage lines that are no longer in use. But I did see the huge misunderstanding in the form of a trench 5 feet wide, 5 feet deep and 30 feet long (3 and 5 being important Masonic numbers); enough to bury several Hirams, and with nary a sprig of acacia in sight with which to mark the spot.

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Echoes in the Masonary

July 11, 2006 2 comments

When I started this blog… well, when I tried to start this blog last fall, it was my intention to write a little bit about the things that I was doing during my year as Master of Friendship Lodge in Southington, Connecticut. After a number of false starts, I finally got this off the ground, and heading in what I think is a good direction. I’ve decided that I want to post original content, that is, my own thoughts and ramblings. There are scads of great Masonic resources out in cyberspace, and I certainly don’t need to duplicate them, nor do I have the time or resources to research and publish the way that some of the more prolific authors do.

I’ve noticed that as I move from Usenet to the blogosphere, my blogroll – the list of other Masonic blogs that I read and respond to on a regular basis – is gradually increasing. One of the interesting things about blogging is that when someone on your blogroll “discovers” a new site, blog, or item of interest, it’s only a matter of time before you’re checking it out yourself… and quite possibly adding it to your own list.

That said, I thought it was a wonderful coincidence when Masonic pundit Tim Bryce published this essay for Masters halfway through their year in the East, nicely coinciding with my own labored ruminations. Tim’s article is less wordy and more useful than mine, and I urge both Masters and upcoming Wardens to check it out.

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Master of my Domain

July 6, 2006 11 comments

I’ve never quite understood why most lodges in Connecticut – indeed, in New England – close down for a couple of months in the summer. This is generally – and erroneously – referred to as “going dark”, an expression that should only be applied to lodges that actually give up their charter and close for good. I’m sure that there was some Yankee economy involved in this, but nobody has been able to explain it to me.

But getting ready for the summer break was the reason that Dave (the best SW east of the Mississippi), and I were sitting in the lodge after our St. John’s Day observance, eating donuts, drinking coffee, and speculating on the low turnout of brothers for the service at the historic First Congregational Church on the town green across the street from our lodge building. Graduation parties, involvement with other activities, sleeping late all came up… and suddenly, a question that had been napping fitfully in the back of my brain woke up, stretched a bit, and popped into the forefront of my thought processes.

Did I, um, remember to announce the event in the first place?

For many of us, being the Master of the lodge is our first time in a managerial position, and while we’ve prepared ourselves by honing our ritual work for our new position, learning the proper introduction for the seemingly endless titles of Grand Lodge officers, and getting the phone number of the Grand Lodge secretary, most of us aren’t prepared for the real secret of the Master’s chair: Almost none of the things that were important last year will apply to you this year. That said, you’d think that those of us with years of managerial experience would sail through the year with nary a slip, right?

At this point, perhaps I should further add to my embarrassment and mention that I actually own a business. So much for my own managerial skills. The fact that we make money is a testament to the well-organized and hard-working people who keep me on task. I’ll be the first to admit (albeit only by a slim margin) that “organized” is not one of the words usually used to describe me. This is evident when one sees the number of people each day who keep asking me if I’ve called this person or filled out that form. This is also evident because I see that I’ve gotten way off track from where I was going with this essay.

Anyway, Dave, who is finally getting a little nervous about next year, started talking about some of the projects and plans that he’d like to accomplish, and in listening to him I began to feel a little disappointed in myself for not carrying out all of the plans that I began outlining last year at this time; moreso because he mentioned several of the same things that I had wanted to do, myself.

On the way home I reflected on how things seemed to start going wrong right from the second meeting. Maybe not wrong so much as the normal flubs and fluffs of everyday life seemed to get in the way. I’d planned an EA degree for the second meeting in February, but the candidates hadn’t been available for investigation, which meant that we couldn’t vote in time, and the entire degree series ended up getting pushed out a month. That messed up the scheduling of certain other programs for other nights – not necessarily a bad thing, but one of the goals I had set was to have something interesting at most, if not all of the meetings. I wrote about the several changes of schedule in order to have the MM degree at a lodge halfway across the state; the last meeting before we close for the summer is generally the Awards Night (Ah! That explains why I had the bad mojo!).

But I’ve got the summer off, so now isn’t the time to dwell on what didn’t go right – it’s time to look forward to 4 more months (4 being a number with deep Masonic significance), which for the most part are already programmed. An EA in mid-September, FC in mid-October, the Past Masters MM in mid-November, then elections and the annual meeting in December. We have a dinner scheduled for one of the nights, so that leaves only 2 or 3 “open” meeting nights.

Gosh, re-reading that makes it seem like the year is pretty much over!

I’m not upset that things didn’t go as planned; part of being a grown-up is that we understand that some things are simply out of our control, and we learn to adapt to new situations. On one night when plans fell through a couple of days before the meeting, a brother – one of the several engineers in our lodge – created a set of button controlled lights and we had a Masonic Jeopardy game. Another night, when we should have been having our first EA degree, we ended up with a “mini” awards night, at which a brother presented something to the lodge, and I presented several awards that hadn’t arrived in time for the previous WM to present.

And of course, some things did go well, perhaps even better than planned. We had a St. Patrick’s dinner, which was served by the Rainbow chapter that we sponsor. We had a Cinco de Mayo night, and while I did not wear a sombrero, we did have a visit from a newspaper reporter that was looking to do a story on the local fraternal and civic groups. We gave him so much information that he ended up writing the entire article just on our lodge. And although a local event was rained out, the next night a group of us went to see “The DaVinci Code” as a group – meeting first for some pizza to get us into the mood (The 8 triangular slices being of deep-dish Masonic significance, you understand).

More importantly, I think, is that the lodge overall seems to be functioning smoothly. Officers and members seem to enjoy coming to lodge and attendance seems to increase a bit with each meeting. I never lack for volunteers when I ask for committees to investigate new candidates, plan projects, or take a degree part. In fact, we’ve never had a last minute no-show; the couple of times that an officer thought he’d have a problem, they’d made arrangements with someone else to keep things covered. And after meetings, guys and visitors are always hanging around for hours afterward, talking about Masonry, computers, gossiping, and generally enjoying themselves.

Hmm. The lodge seems to be having fun. That can’t be such a bad thing, right? So I’m going to stop worrying about the plans that didn’t materialize and about the programs that didn’t work. I’ve got two months in which I can take stock of what went right, and to fine tune my plans for the fall.

Now, where the hell did I leave my Palm Pilot?

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