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Secret Sauce

January 29, 2008 1 comment

“So, what’s your secret recipe for this great tomato sauce?”

I heard this from at least 8 or 9 people on Saturday night, when my wife and I served up 65 pounds of ziti and 480 meatballs, all covered in almost 25 gallons of our home-made tomato sauce. No, I don’t have a big family; this is a now annual fund-raising dinner to help out the confirmation class of the First Congregational Church in downtown Southington.

I know, I know – you came here to read about Freemasonry, not about my cooking skills. I’m getting to that part.

My wife and I had started cooking the sauce a week previously, using the 8 burner stove and large pots available in the church kitchen. I’m sure that the church meeting hapll must have smelled like an Italian restaurant by the end of the week, and by 5:30 pm – a good half hour before the advertised time – because people were ready to stampede lining up to get good seats. We started serving at a quarter to six, and didn’t get a lull until well after 7:00, at which time I was able to walk around, fishing for compliments asking for feedback for the next year. And that’s when I noticed something: even though I told people what I put in my sauce, everybody acted as if I were being cagey about the answer. But that certainly was not the case; I’m usually more than happy to tell people what my own recipes are, and in fact, I’m going to tell you right here how I make tomato sauce.

Yeah, yeah, I know – you’re waiting for the part about Freemasonry. It’s coming, really.

A word of caution: if you’re the type of person who enjoys “recipes” that include such syrupy metaphors as “Add a cup of courage, a teaspoon of tolerance, stir with passion, and serve with L O V E“, then get thee hence! This blog is a NO GLURGE ZONE. Sure, those cutesy sayings were funny the first six or seven hundred times I heard them, but enough already. The 70s are over, and those little naked kids with the big eyes and hearts over their heads are has-beens. Deal with it.

Yes, yes, I’m getting to the part about Freemasonry. Really.

Now, I take a dim view of people who refuse to share good recipe. I don’t care if your great-great-grandmother carried it in her boot when she came from the old country, or if you just discovered it while messing about in the kitchen. In my opinion, the kind of people who won’t share their recipes are merely feeding their egos while they feed you a meal. When they invite you to dinner, it’s either to brag or to play the “I’ve got a secret” game and are, in essence, saying “Hey, I’ve got this really great thing and I’m only going to let you have a little taste in order that I might feel special. But don’t worry; come back next year and I’ll let you have another little taste, just so you can remember how special this is.”

Even more odious are those that purport to give you the recipe, but hold back a key step or ingredient, thereby making you think that you are stupid for not being able to follow directions. A pox on all of them.

What? Oh, yeah – the Freemasonry part. Sorry.

When the first few people asked what I put in my sauce, I told them “A hell of a lot of tomatoes.” It was funny at the time, and very true – we bought over two dozen of those large restaurant sized cans at the local warehouse store, along with salad for 200 people, dressing, grated Parmesan, and sundry other items. We started by sauteing several bulbs – that’s bulbs, not cloves – of crushed garlic in olive oil. Once the smell started wafting through the church hall (I should point out that I did this during one of the services in order to remind people of the upcoming dinner) I added a few scoops of the crushed tomatoes, and some of the typical Italian spices: oregano, parsley, basil, and a bit of fennel seed. I let this cook for a good thirty minutes, and then put some into each one of the five large pots. This served as a base, to which we added the rest of the canned tomatoes. One pot we reserved as a marinara sauce, and to the others we added some cooked ground beef (left over from the Rally Day picnic in September), and some minced and cooked Italian sausages, both of which had been cooked and minced previously in order to save time. We cooked the sauce for about six hours that day, and then came back for a few hours mid-week, and put them on again first thing Saturday morning so that they had another good eight hours to simmer. Usually I put some red wine in the sauce to counter the bitter taste from the tomatoes, but after a few people had concerns about sensitivities to the sulfites in the wine, this year I opted to add some sugar and salt.

I have to say that this was one of the best batches of sauce that I’ve made in a few years. Even my wife will attest that this year it was particularly good, and the compliments from the hungry crowd was certainly a testament to how it turned out.

Yes, yes – I’m coming to the Freemasonry part directly.

I told every person who asked me exactly what I used in the sauce – which, as you can see, are just regular Italian spices. Every person had the same reaction: If I’m just using regular spices and ingredients that you normally find in sauce, then why did this batch come out so well? Certainly I’m leaving out a crucial step, a secret ingredient, a particular item that made this come out better, right? After all, you can’t just throw some tomatoes and spices in a pan and expect it to come out like that, right? Right?

Apparently, my sauce admirers miss the essential point.

They had the list of ingredients that I use, and I even gave them some little tips. And while in theory there might be some small differences between brands of tomatoes or spices, in practice I’ve never noticed any significant difference.

So, what is the point of all this?

The raw tomatoes contain a lot of water, which needs to cook off. In that process, the heat breaks down certain proteins and acids, releasing certain chemicals, and causing others to bond. Five gallons of sauce in a pot takes hours to get up to the proper temperature, with constant stirring to prevent the bottom from burning and tainting the rest of the sauce. The heat also breaks down the chemicals in the spices, and the stirring allows the flavor to gently infuse throughout the pot of warm liquid. Eventually, the acids break down and dissipate, and the sauce itself tastes of the fragrant basil and oregano, perhaps mixed with the spicy saltiness of the sausage.

The secret, you see, is not the ingredients at all. It’s the time.

Those people who are accustomed to opening a jar of grocery-bought sauce simply can not conceive of the investment of time that one must make to cook a good, home-made tomato sauce. Despite the stereotype of old Italian ladies standing at a stove all day, few people really understand that it’s the process of cooking that makes the difference between a rich, thick, savory sauce and a thin, slightly bitter one. Too often we try to make up for the lack of flavor by adding extra garlic, salt, basil, or other spices. But these serve merely to cover up the fact that the sauce itself is a hastily prepared affair.

Even the cooking shows on television offer up tips on how to make good tomato sauce, especially tailored for busy people who only have an hour or so. And now question about it, some of those sauces are tasty. But they’re not the same; indeed, if I may be so bold, they’re not even in the same class.

Let me make this clear: In sauce making, as with so many other things in life, there is no substitute for the investment of one’s time. It is only through the lengthy process of cooking that the unwanted and unnecessary ingredients break down, and are replaced by the desirable aromas and textures. It is only through time that certain agents can be make their way around the large vat of liquid, moving here and there until the gentle stirring combines them with other agents to produce something delightful to the senses. And certainly, the larger the pot, the more time is needed.

Time.

Speaking of which, it looks as if I’ve run out. It appears that I’m just not going to get around to discussing Freemasonry, doesn’t it?

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Pierpont Edwards Award given at Friendship Lodge

September 11, 2007 Leave a comment

Pierpont Edwards Award given at Friendship Lodge in Southington

On Saturday, September 1st, Friendship Lodge No. 33 in Southington held a Ladies Appreciation Dinner. WM David Hubbs wanted to take the opportunity to laud the wives and partners of the lodge members who support Friendship Lodge, either by coming down to the various events and pitching in to help, or by “allowing your husbands to come out and play” as he quipped.

But there was another event planned for the day that everybody knew about – except for the honoree.

At the end of the wonderful dinner (prepared mainly by the officers) WB Peter Boychuck was surprised to be called to the podium by the Grand Master, where he was presented with the Pierpont Edwards Medal in Bronze. On hand to present the award was MWGM William Greene, accompanied by most of the Grand Lodge officers, and the officers of the 5th District.

The Pierpont Edwards Award is one of the highest given by the Grand Lodge of Connecticut. It is awarded to commemorate outstanding service. A little more about it can be found on the Grand Lodge of Connecticut website.

Yes, it’s hard to believe that even the Masons could keep a secret that big for over two months, but WB Boychuck had no idea that he was to be honored for his hard work and dedication to the CTCHIP program in his capacity as the State Chairperson for the last five years. WB Boychuck has been active with the CTCHIP program right from the start, and helped in virtually every capacity, from setting up booths to running the equipment, to coordinating events with local fairs and schools. Peter has been instrumental to the success of the program, and certainly deserves to be honored for his labors.

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2007 is the Year of Giving for Friendship Lodge

February 13, 2007 3 comments

WB David Hubbs, as the new Master of Friendship Lodge No. 33 in Southington wanted to have a project that would give back to the community. But once he began to discuss his ideas with others, he discovered that he could improve those projects by enlisting the help of others. By the time of his installation in January, WB Hubbs had developed a three phase plan which he called “The Year of Giving,” a plan that has been endorsed by the Grand Master, MWGM Charles B. Fowler himself.

WB Hubbs has broken the year up into three phases. The first phase, called “Open Your Hearts,”is spearheaded by WB Julian Shull and will last until June 30th, and involves the collection of personal care items for the soldiers overseas, and also to collect supplies for the schools our troops have been setting up in in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The second phase is geared to benefit those closer to home as Friendship Lodge will host a clothing drive. From June 1st to September 30th Bro. Doug Hageman will set up collection points for people to donate gently used coats and other clothing.

The third phase of the program will be to collect toys for the children of those people incarcerated by the criminal justice system. WB David Edman will be organizing these collections from September 1st until December 15th.

Most of January was taken up with planning for the first collection organized collection day on February 10th. Realizing the importance of getting as much community support as possible, WB Hubbs organized a number of local civic groups. The first planning sessions saw a joint effort with both Masonic and other groups. Representatives from the Order of Eastern Star (Frederica 110) were joined by the American Legion Kiltonic Post 72, Lions Club International (Southington and New Britain), Knights of Columbus Council 25, BPO Elks Lodge 1669 (Southington), the Improved Order of Redmen – Wonx Tribe 28, the Sons of Italy, and members of the Southington Chamber of Commerce to coordinate the publicity campaign and the pickup and storage facilities.

 

WB David Hubbs (2nd from left) flanked by members of local civic groups.

Drop boxes had been placed at various stores and businesses in the Southington area, and fliers had been distributed to let people know about the program, and on Saturday Feb. 10th the plans came together as the first of several public collection days took place. Volunteers stationed themselves at Stop & Shop, CVS, Walmart, Ocean State Job Lot, and several other stores, while others went to the public library, the Southington Town Hall, the YMCA, and other sites that had collection boxes. The American Legion Post became the central point at which the larger containers were packed before being brought to a local storage facility. By the end of the day, the Open Your Hearts group had collected 2,500 pounds of personal care items and school supplies. The Sons of Italy donated $250, and several other people likewise donated money toward the purchase of more goods, while Pratt & Whitney collected 500 pounds and the UConn Medical Center collected 350 pounds. Several other lodges around the state, including Fredrick-Franklin No. 14, Sequin-Level No. 140 and Corinthian No. 103 have also made contributions. Additionally, the American Legion found a way to have the good shipped by military transport, instead of having to go by mail or other carrier.

WB Hubbs has issued a challenge to other lodges and groups around the state to join him in this project. The next public collection day will be April 14th. WB Shull has guidelines for the donations.

For the troops: Cookies, Pop Tarts, microwave popcorn, microwaveable packaged meals, beef jerky, Pringles chips (no bag chips, please), baby wipes, foot or anti-fungal powders, Stick-up air fresheners, breakfast bars, small flashlights or headlamps, ramen noodles, small pillows, small personal toys (Frisbees, hackey-sacks, puzzles, etc.), Game Boys, and batteries (AAs mostly, but AAA and D are needed).

For the children: School supplies – pens, pencils, sharpeners, crayons, markers, stamps and ink pads, rulers, pads, paper, solar calculators, coloring books. Toys – small cars, yo-yos, jump ropes, dolls, stuffed animals, kazoos, harmonicas, Slinkys, and small electronic toys (with batteries). Hygiene items – toothbrushes, toothpaste, bar soap (in plastic bags), combs, brushes, washcloths. Personal items – hard candy and gum, mints, t-shirts, socks, ball caps, sunglasses, hair clips, toy jewelry, watches, flashlights (with batteries). Please do not include war-related items such as toy guns, knives, or military action figures.

Those wishing to donate items should also make sure not to include used or damaged items, glass or glass containers, pork products, aerosol cans, chocolate, liquids or lotions, medications, drugs, or vitamins, easily breakable items, or edible items that are out of date, or will be out of date within 90 days of collection date.

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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You can’t guard the gate if you’re not watching the door

August 18, 2006 2 comments

I’ve mentioned that I am – for reasons best left for another entry – a member of a Grand Lodge committee, specifically the Committee on Masonic Education. Until recently, one of the main functions of the CME was to plan and hold seminars for the purposes of ritual instruction (mainly targeted at new officers) and lodge management (targeted toward Wardens and Masters-to-be).

Like most volunteer organizations, anyone who happens by showing even a passing interest ends up being drafted. Contrary to what H. Ross Perot once said, that “giant sucking sound” is actually the sound of committees looking for unpaid volunteer members, and sad to say, as our lives fill up with career and social and family obligations, Freemasonry is no exception. I’ve had occasion to sit on meetings of half a dozen different committees in the last couple of years, and I’ve noticed that it’s not at all unusual for a person to serve on two or three others. That’s when I came up with the hypothesis that out of the 16,000 Masons in Connecticut, only 1,600 are active enough in the state to keep things going, and only 160 are probably responsible for running the entire fraternity.

Anyway, earlier this year the elder members of the CME – guys with 20 or more years in Masonry – decided that it was time for me to stop observing and to actually do some work. I’m a few months shy of my 5th year as a Mason, and even though I’m serving as the Worshipful Master for Friendship Lodge, I still feel like a newbie. But apparently my co-members thought I could at least give a short – 10 minute – talk for the younger officers. Of course, anyone that knows me would tell you that I’m a quiet guy… until I get warmed up. The biggest problem might then be in limiting me to only ten minutes.

My subject was termed “Lodge Etiquette”, although I need a new name for this, because we aren’t talking about the etiquette while sitting in lodge; you know, the standing and saluting and all that. Rather, I wanted to address how new officers could be better at their jobs and responsibilities, and how they interact with others. I split it up to address some things for the Stewards, and some for the Deacons. While in the course of my speaking to the Deacons, I related an incident that I was recently reminded of.

First, let’s stop kidding ourselves that most lodges have full officer’s lines and that it takes 7 or 8 or 9 years for a new member to go through the line. While Friendship Lodge is very fortunate, we had a few years in which there was a lot of chair jumping – it happened to be when I joined, so I know this first-hand. We’ve been able to recover, but that is not the case with most of the lodges that I know of. In my admittedly limited experience, most lodges – even the ones that have a weak officer’s line – tend to put a new officer (who is usually a new member as well) in a Steward’s chair, although I’ve seen some go right into the Junior Deacon’s spot. One of my co-members likes to say “From a dead level to a living Senior Deacon”, and he’s unfortunately only half joking at times.

But barring those more extreme cases, by the time one is a Deacon, you can expect to have been around the lodge for a year or two and to have met a fair number of the more active members. I have explained to new Deacons that it’s time to stop being shy; stop hiding in the kitchen and start greeting your brothers at the door, run some errands for the Worshipful, and certainly get the names of any visiting brothers – especially the ones with purple aprons, signifying some rank with the Grand Lodge. It may not mean anything to you now, but those guys are your Worshipful Master’s supervisors, and part of your job is to make things a bit easier for him. But beyond that, if you make a point to meet and greet people at the door, then you’ll both get to know more of your brothers from your own lodge and from other lodges, and you’ll make your lodge more friendly to visitors.

I told the following story for the benefit of the new Deacons at a seminar back in February. The room had over a hundred new officers, plus a few dozen of Grand Lodge officers, District Deputies, and other Masonic types.

Back when I was a Junior Warden, I visited another lodge, and I happened to pull into the parking lot at the same time as someone else. I waited until he parked and went over to say hello. I didn’t recognize him, so I introduced myself as we walked to the door. I asked if he was a member there, and he replied that he wasn’t sure, but that after tonight it would have something to do with that. Ah… that explained the “deer in the headlights” look; he was the new Entered Apprentice candidate and it so happened that I stopped by on the degree night. So I told him that he was joining a great lodge, lots of friendly people, that I visit once in a while, and that I’m sure he’ll enjoy his new lodge.

Just as we were walking in the door, a few guys I knew were coming outside for a cigarette. I told the candidate that I would see him later, and he continued inside while I stopped to chat. We only stayed outside until they had finished their cigarettes, perhaps 10 minutes, 15 at the most. We went back into the lodge to get warm, where I was absolutely stunned, no, mortified by what I saw:

The candidate was still standing right inside the doorway.

Immediately, I asked if anyone had come to see him. He shook his head, so I asked him who his sponsor was. I didn’t know the name, but there were about 40 guys in the meeting hall, so I took him right over to a few of the guys that I recognized and made sure that they would take care of him. I was both embarrassed and angry, even though this was not my own lodge.

At this point in my story, the room had fallen dead silent; I think that suddenly just about everyone in the room felt almost as embarrassed for our fraternity as I had been two years before. And while this was a cautionary tale for the new guys, an example as to why a lodge should always have a few guys keeping an eye on the door looking for visitors, I think that everyone should be aware that such a simple oversight will completely negate the ideals of brotherhood that we try to emulate.

I don’t have any cute or witty ending to this tale. I understand that the candidate eventually took all of his degrees, but I have the feeling that he’s probably not an active member of his lodge. It’s too bad that while we bemoan the fact that our membership is dwindling that we’re not more aware of the little things that help “spread the cement” in our own relationships.

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All volunteers take one upright regular step…

July 10, 2006 Leave a comment

I would like to say, with all due modesty, of course, that I was invited to sit on an important Grand Lodge committee the other day. In fact, I’d also like to think that I was asked because the other members desired to hear my input, and respect my keen insights and quick wit. In fact, literally half the people recognized me and called me in to sit down.

Yeah, well, I’d like to say that. Unfortunately, it’s much more likely that I was asked because I happened to stick my head into a room in which there were only 2 people, one of whom knew me and wondered what the hell I was doing wandering around the building.

Good thing I’ve got a pretty good imagination to make up for my lack of ego, huh?

As it happened, I was looking for another committee meeting which I had thought was in that room. Having nothing better to do for a couple of hours, I sat in on this one, increasing the membership by 50%, as summer vacations and functions of appendant orders caused most of the other members to be absent that day. The Chair introduced me to the other member, a relatively new Mason who was trying to help re-write some of the new GL rules that this year’s Most Worshipful wanted to implement.

As I listened to the changes and the reasons for them, I began to think about that old quote attributed to Otto von Bismark about laws and sausages, and how it’s best not to see either of them in the making. Some of the discussion involved not only interpreting what the GM would want, but also trying to implement the new regulations in such a way as to not cause hard feelings for people in other positions who might be affected, nor to make it difficult for those who need to implement the rules, nor to cause people not even connected with the section to feel slighted.

Feel slighted? Hey, we’re all Masons, right? We’re all working for a common cause, right? Anyone would immediately look beyond their own area to see how it impacted the greater good of the Craft, right?

Yes, I’m a new Mason. Does it still show?

Freemasonry is an organization run on volunteer efforts, but like any organization there is a political component that one must understand. I’m using the word “political” in its widest sense; any organization with more than two people needs to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of its various members and apply them where most appropriate. The problems come in when some of the members need extra incentives or motivations for doing the things that need doing: some members want to feel that they’ve made an important contribution and want to be recognized for that. This in itself isn’t the problem, the problem is how to recognize and reward those people. In a non-paying organization, recognition and awards are often the currency, the speculative wages, if you will.

Before I joined the fraternity, I used to volunteer time, money, and energy to other causes, some of which would recognize my input with dinners or plaques. I pointedly told one chairperson that my own time is valuable, and when I donate, I want all of it to go toward the organization, so please not to waste any of it by spending money on a plaque or a dinner for me. Hey, look, a couple of bucks on a fancy pen with the organization’s name on it is one thing; treating me to a $50 dinner or a $20 plaque is wasteful – in my opinion, of course.

But that’s me. Other people really cherish their name on a brass strip, or being called up for a photograph in front of a group of their peers. While I disdain publicity (yes, I know I’m writing a web log, so please shut up), I’m also not oblivious to the fact that some people will work like crazy for such compensation. A brother elsewhere has whispered good counsel in my ear, explaining that if someone is willing to pitch in all year long to get a project off the ground, or to set up booths, or to flip pancakes, and if all it takes is a $10 pin and his name in the paper, then what’s the problem? And in that light, I have to agree.

Because I own a business and am used to just running things my own way, I too often get focused on the process itself, instead of considering how the process affects the other people involved. This makes me a little too quick to plan things and get them started, and I find that I’ve needed to learn to take a step back and let other people haggle over some of the details for a bit. It gives them a sense of ownership and an opportunity to “buy in” to the project because they know that they’ve had some input. And don’t get me wrong – I truly feel that this is important, especially when all of those involved get only speculative wages. My own impatience when trying to figure out all the details is my problem, and because I’m ultimately more concerned with what makes the fraternity operate better, I’m trying to take more consideration for that.

And that brings me back to my sitting in on this committee meeting. It’s difficult enough to get people to help with some of the heavy lifting, so we need to be as accomodating and appreciative as possible for everyone who puts in an effort. I have this theory that out of the 16,000 Masons in Connecticut, only 1,600 show up at lodge meetings and other functions, and out of those, only 160 are probably doing the work to organize and make things run smoothly… or as smoothly as can be expected in our volunteer organization.

Oh, and did I mention the reason that I had popped my head into that particular room? I was looking for the committee that I actually serve on. Turns out I had the right room, but the wrong time. Well, more like wrong day. My own meeting was, er, an entire week later.

Volunteers, eh? I guess you get what you pay for.

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