Monday, November 15, 2010

Happy Birthday, Aunt Pat!

Harry & Pat Sears

I'm one day late, but "Happy 75th birthday Aunt Pat!" I hope you had a great day. The photo is courtesy of your son, Danny.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reflections on the Rally to Restore Sanity

So ... why, exactly, did I go to the Rally to Restore Sanity? The only answer I have is, “Because Jon Stewart asked me to!” For at least the last 6 or 7 years I’ve relied on Jon Stewart and The Daily Show to be the voice of reason and to restore my faith in the general United States population whenever it wavered. When Glenn Beck called President Obama a racist, there was Jon Stewart making it laughable. When Keith Olbermann called Republican Scott Brown "an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model”, there was Jon Stewart the next night with a parody. When everyone was pointing fingers during the financial meltdown, there was Jon Stewart hammering Jim Cramer of Mad Money who openly encouraged short-selling by hedge funds as a means to generate profits. And when President Obama inexplicably stated that the Cambridge police acted “stupidly” when they arrested Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates as he tried to break in to his own home, Jon Stewart commented, “I also don't have all the facts, but I think it's fair to say that Obama handled that question -- oh, what's the word I'm looking for -- stupidly?"

That’s the truly refreshing thing about Jon Stewart: he plays no favorites. To be sure, he’s a liberal Democrat, but he will skewer anybody or anything that is idiotic, illogical, or just plain stupid, whether it’s the NYC mosque hysteria, the ponderous speaking of John Kerry, Rick Sanchez having himself tased on CNN, John McCain’s willingness to backtrack on any issue in order to stay elected, or NPR’s firing of Juan Williams. After watching an episode of The Daily Show I usually find myself thinking, “Yes! People do get it, they do recognize the insanity! Things aren’t so bad …

So when Jon Stewart suggested a rally at the National Mall for anyone who was frustrated and/or disgusted by the insanity of our national discourse, I knew I had to be there. And I’m damn glad that I went! While it couldn’t possibly compare to the historic Inauguration of Barack Obama almost two years ago, it had the same underlying vibe. The Metro was packed, there were crowds of people marching in the streets, everyone was happy and smiling, and a good time was had by all.

Surprisingly (and noteworthy!), the Rally did not target any specific personalities of the far left or far right. Not Glenn Beck, not Sarah Palin, not Keith Olbermann, not Rush Limbaugh, not Nancy Pelosi, not Christine O'Donnell, not George Bush … not even Joe the Plumber! Instead, ideas were attacked, intolerance was attacked, and inciting baseless fear was attacked, using comedy sketches, video montages and, in one case, a “poem”. Like The Daily Show, it was both funny and deadly serious.

Jon Stewart ended with a short speech that did a great job of summarizing why over 200,000 people traveled to the National Mall on a Saturday afternoon in October. If you haven’t seen it, click here and view it on the Comedy Central website. It's the clip labeled "Jon Stewart - Moment of Sincerity" and it’s worth hearing.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

On the way to the Rally

Some clever signs!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Welcome to the family, Rachael Gilmartin!

Congratulations to Ashling Gilmartin and Tomas Munnelly on the birth of their daughter, Rachael. Rachael was born at 5am on September 14, 2010, and is my newest third cousin once removed. Test your skills and see if you can locate her on the Family Tree. (Hint: start at the dead center.) She looks like this:

Unfortunately, that doesn't give you the slightest clue as to how cute Rachael is in real life!

Welcome, Rachael ... hope to see you in person some day soon!

Rally To Restore Sanity!

I know that you all wish you could be at this event, but rest assured that the Extended Mullen Family will be well-represented at the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, DC. tomorrow. Tom and Mary Kinslow, Marilynn and I will be crashing at Chris Kreamer's house in DC for the weekend and checking out the Rally from noon until 3pm. For those of you who may not know what this Rally is all about, click here for the official web page and here for a fairly short but accurate analysis of what it's all about.

To tell you the truth, though, I'm not sure what to expect. Sure, there will be Tea-Party bashing and a stream of jokes at the expense of Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell, but how could there not be? But I'm also expecting the ineptitude and political cowardice of the Democratic Party to be skewered as well. That's the genius of Jon Stewart and what sets him apart from other pundits. Like The Daily Show, I'm expecting the Rally to be funny, silly, occasionally vulgar, but, at its heart, thought provoking and deadly serious in its attempt to point out the truly asinine actions and statements that dominate the U.S. political process. In short, this should be both fun and a catharsis.

I'll do my best to post a couple of blog entries tomorrow to give you a little flavor of the event. Or, even better, just turn on Comedy Central tomorrow at noon at watch it yourself!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Presenting Mr. and Mrs. Kirkwood!

Cara Mullen and Christopher Kirkwood were married on Saturday evening, October 23, in Syracuse, NY. My iPhone, incredibly handy for so many things, came up woefully short in the picture department. As such, the only wedding photo I have (above) is courtesy of my sister, Karen McGarvey. Rest assured that additional photos will eventually make their way to the Mullenium website.

I think it's safe to say that everyone at the wedding had a tremendous time, and not just because it was an open bar (although that certainly didn't hurt). The food was excellent, the company was outstanding, and, other than one glaring exception, the dance floor was packed. That one exception? When Cara and Chris were blindfolded and swinging a stick in a vain attempt to break a piñata! I may be wrong, but I'm betting that's the first time that a piñata has made an appearance at a Mullen wedding!! Other highlights:
  • Cara with a picture of her late father and my brother, Tom, in her wedding bouquet.
  • Aunt Mary, at 89, being helped out to the dance floor (at her request) for one dance.
  • Aunt Nancy, at 82, coming off a marathon session on the dance floor and saying to me, "I used to be able to dance five fast ones in a row; now, I can only do three!"
  • The DJ playing the entire 7 minute album version of "Light My Fire" by The Doors. In honor of my brother, Tom, every one of my brothers and sisters were out on the dance floor.
  • An impromptu Rockettes-style leg kick dance to Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" by a bunch of New York Mullens who should have known better. No, our kicks were not "eye-high".
  • A heartfelt toast to the mother of the bride, Janet Mullen, by my sister Chris Kreamer.
Following the reception, a large contingent of the family -- including the bride and groom! -- made their way to the hotel bar and continued the party. A bunch of pizzas were ordered and we conversated, laughed, and played pool until about 2:30 in the morning when the bartender (who had mistakenly thought that he would have an early night) finally kicked everyone out.

But the wedding festivities weren't over yet! At 10am the next morning Janet hosted a brunch in a private room in the hotel. Over 60 people -- including the bride and groom! -- showed up. Everyone laughed and ate and conversated for another 2 hours until we all finally packed up and began heading back home.

For those of you in the family who need a little orientation on how Chris and Cara fit on the Mullen Family Tree, click on the excerpt below of the NY branch of the Philadelphia Mullens:

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Congratulations Andy and Rebecca!

Every other year, the "New York Mullens" (as we have come to be known), have a family get-together called a Mullenium where we eat, drink, recreate and conversate for almost a full week. A Mullenium is officially defined as "a time of great happiness and human perfection." Well, this year my son, Andy, took that definition to a new level. Right in the middle of Mullenium X, he hiked to the top of Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire and proposed to his girlfriend, Rebecca Slovak, under the stars. With the karma of the Mullenium swirling around them, how could Rebecca refuse? They're in the process of planning a late 2011 wedding.

Congratulations Andy & Rebecca!

Pop Pop or Grandpa?

That's the decision that I'll have to make sometime around January 10, 2011, the date that my daughter, Sara Sankowich, is expected to give birth. Yep, Sara is pregnant!! My sister, Karen, already knows what it feels like to be a grandparent, but this will be a brand new experience for me. Here's a recent sonogram of the latest bud on the Mullen Family Tree:

Sara is in her 5th month and doing very well. At this point, she has no idea whether it's a boy or a girl, and isn't going to go out of her way to find out. Stay tuned ....

Saturday, July 17, 2010

You Otta Go To Ottawa!

I have been waiting almost three years to see a Canadian band called Arcade Fire. Don't ask why I love them. I just do. So, a few weeks ago I was thrilled to find out that they were touring in the northeastern U.S., playing in Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and NYC (in Madison Square Garden no less!) Surely, I’d be able to attend one of those concerts. Not so. Sadly, the concert dates corresponded exactly with this year’s Mullenium gathering in New Hampshire. I had resigned myself to missing out on the entire northeast tour until Marilynn saved the day and bought me tickets to see them at the Ottawa BluesFest on July 13.

Ottawa is about 460 miles from Cranbury and the concert was on a Tuesday, so Marilynn and I had to take 3 days off from work. But we hardly ever go to Canada and know almost nothing about Ottawa (it's the capital of Canada?), so this sounded like a different and potentially fun vacation. That turned out to be an understatement. Marilynn and I spent four tremendous days in Ottawa. It felt like a mini-European vacation without needing an airplane or a power adapter. What follows may appear lengthy, but it's actually a very brief synopsis of why you really otta go to Ottawa.

Bed & Breakfast

We stayed at a B&B called the Alexander House, about a mile from the center of town, where all the action was. It was a small B&B -- only 5 total guests -- but talking to the proprietors and with your fellow guests is a great way to get a feel of a place (in my opinion). On top of that, the breakfasts were fantastic and we didn't have to clean up or leave a tip.

The ByWard Market

Named after John By (who supervised the construction of the Rideau Canal), the ByWard Market's claim to fame is that it's the oldest continuously operating farmers market in Canada. But it has become much more than that. There are bars and shops and restaurants of all types and varieties. And because of BluesFest, the entire market area was packed with people of all ages and nationalities. As such, it was the perfect place to watch the World Cup final between Spain and The Netherlands. The photo below is of an outdoor bar called "The Grand" where we watched the end of the game. If you look closely, you can just see Arjen Robben blowing by a Spanish defender (Sergio Busquets??)

After the game, Spanish supporters were riding around ByWard Market all evening, honking their horns and waving their flags. It was great to see!

Rideau Canal and Locks

I'm a lockaholic. I freely admit that. I love looking at canal locks! Luckily, I'm married to another lockaholic. As a result, Marilynn and I spent parts of three days looking at the locks of the Rideau Canal from every possible angle. We strolled along the side of them, we walked on top of them, we looked at them from above, and we kayaked up right to the edge of one and peered over. Hell, we even walked across the Ontario River and looked at them from Quebec! We just couldn't get enough! And since they're the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America, they're also famous. Go see them.

Marilynn, showing off her back muscles during our three-and-a-half hour kayak ride on the Rideau Canal. What am I doing while she's paddling? Well, someone has to take the photos!

Parliament / Parliament Library

Marilynn has the uncanny ability to transform any conversation into a library story. Those of you who know her will agree that I'm not making this up. Well, in the case of Canada's capital city, the story of their Parliament turns into a library story! As you can see in the photo above, the Parliament building itself is extremely beautiful. (Unfortunately, in my desire to keep Marilynn in the photo, I cut off the top of the Peace Tower, requiring me to add a cheesy insert.) But, back in 1916, most of the Parliament was destroyed by a huge fire. Due to the ingenuity of the Parliament Librarian, however, the library was saved. Read all about the fire here. Below are photos of both the outside and the inside of the Library. Both are much more spectacular in person, believe me.

The free tour of Parliament was excellent and, in contrast to similar tours in the U.S., visitors were encouraged to take pictures and, believe it or not "touch the walls"!


I'm a little torn here. On one hand, I want to tell you everything I possibly can about Mosaika. On the other hand, it's best if you know as little about it as possible before you see it. I'll tell you this much, though: it's basically a sound and light show which tells the story of Canada using the Parliament building as its "canvas". But the technology they use and the effects that they are able to achieve are like nothing I've seen before. For those of you who can't stand the suspense, click on the Mosaika web page to get a taste. But be warned ... it's nothing like the live experience.

Balanced Rock Sculptures

On Monday afternoon, after three and a half hours of kayaking, Marilynn and I were looking for some down time. We decided to take a scenic drive along the Ottawa River Parkway and find a place to rest, read, and watch birds. Instead, we stumbled upon the scene above. It turns out that the National Capital Commission (NCC) has been sponsoring an artist by the name of John Ceprano to create "balanced rock sculptures" for over two decades. We ended up spending a couple of hours walking around the beach, checking out the sculptures, and talking to the artist. A few additional photos are below, but you might want to check out his website here for some truly stunning creations.

The artist himself (shown above in red shorts and white tank top) was a pretty colorful character as well. He was born in the U.S. but headed to Ottawa during the Vietnam war to avoid the draft. AfterI joked with him about the SDS, he claimed to know Jerry Rubin personally. He might have been blowing smoke, but he appeared to be the real deal: an ex-hippie who has found his niche in Ottawa and is living life on his own terms.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot. Bluesfest! The actual reason that we decided to go to Ottawa in the first place! I had never heard of the Ottawa Bluesfest before this summer, but it has apparently been going on for over 15 years. This year, it began on July 6th and ended today, July 18th. Now, I like to think that I'm fairly up-to-date regarding music, but I have to admit that I recognized less than 10% of the artists that performed. That being said, here were some of the major groups that were there over the 12-day event: Iron Maiden, the B52's, Santana, Taj Mahal, Joan Jett, The Flaming Lipps, Rush, Crowded House, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Weezer, The Moody Blues, Hole, Steve Winwood, Kevin Costner, Jimmy Cliff, Passion Pit, The Cat Empire, Derek Trucks, Renaissance, and, of course, Arcade Fire. Marilynn and I only went for one day, July 13th, but managed to see two other groups besides Arcade Fire: "The Aggrolites" (a ska band) and "Steve Dawson’s Mississippi Sheiks Project" which was just superb. If I ever go back (and I might!) it will be for multiple days!

"Mississipi Sheiks Tribute", "The Aggrolites", and "Arcade Fire"

One last thing: Arcade Fire is appearing live on the Jon Stewart show on August 12. Click here to see their performance on Letterman a few years ago. Man, I love these guys!!

Lake Ontario

OK, technically Lake Ontario is not in Ottawa. But it is partly in Canada and you skim right by it on Route 81 in New York just before crossing into Canada. So, for the purposes of this blog, it counts. If you've never seen a Great Lake, find an excuse to do so. They're mind-blowing. As you can see from the above photo, it's like looking out into the ocean. Keep in mind that Lake Ontario is one of the smallest of the 5 Great Lakes!

Wrap Up
Yeah, this ended up being longer than I intended, but I was truly impressed by Canada in general and with Ottawa in particular. Not only was it a very clean and safe city, but you got the impression that everyone was extremely proud to be Canadian. And well they should be. If it wasn't for the extremely cold weather ("Portage and Main 50 below") and Reynaud's Disease, I could easily imagine living there.

Further Reading:

Discovering Canada's Cool Capital
Arcade Fire Concert Review
Arcade Fire and Charity Work for Haiti

Audrey Ryan Ferguson Has Arrived!

I'm a Grand Uncle again!

Audrey Ryan Ferguson was born at 4:13pm on July 15 to Katie and Ryan Ferguson. Audrey weighed in at 6 pounds 7 ounces. Both mother and daughter are doing fine. Below is a photo of the happy Ferguson family:

Audrey, Katie, Chelsey, and Ryan Ferguson

But this blog entry would be woefully incomplete without a photo of the proud Grandma, my sister, Karen McGarvey:

Congratulations! Now to update the Mullen Family Tree ...

Charlotte Leary: My Newest Third Cousin Once Removed

Congratulations to Avril and Tony Leary on the birth of their first child, Charlotte. The Mullen Family Tree grows ever larger! Below is an excerpt from an email written by Avril a few days after Charlotte's arrival:

Hi all,

Just a very quick note to let you know that our beautiful baby girl, Charlotte Mary Leary, arrived safely into the world on Friday, 25th June at 8.20am, weighing in at 6lbs 13oz. It was a bit of a traumatic entrance for her after 28 hours, but she made it eventually and is a happy and content little girl, who sleeps a lot so far anyhow!! She is so perfect and we are absolutely in awe of her! Thanks to you all for all the good wishes.

- Avril, Tony and Charlotte Leary

In the event that you need a refresher as to what "third cousin once removed" means, click on the diagram below.

And here's a shot of the happy Leary family:

Tony, Charlotte, and Avril Leary

Can't wait to see you guys again!!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Mystery ... Solved!

Memorial Day Greetings to the extended Mullen Family! I hope that everyone had an enjoyable day while remembering those who sacrificed their lives in the defense of freedom throughout the world.

Marilynn and I spent the day relaxing in Cranbury. For some reason, it's always fun to simply set up a couple of lawn chairs and watch the Cranbury Memorial Day parade pass by our house. In many ways, it's an old-timey-time parade -- no lavish floats, a couple of marching bands, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Brownies, Twirlers, local politicians, antique cars, lots of fire engines and, if we're lucky, a 5 or 6 gun salute by the Civil War reenactment group.

Once again this year, Marilynn marched in the parade as part of the Cranbury Library. I thought I had caught Marilynn in the photo below, but she was lagging far behind the front banner, handing out bookmarks, shaking hands, and tirelessly campaigning for Library funding by the state.

I applauded everyone that went by. Anyone who was dedicated enough to march in 90 degree heat deserved at least that much!

Last year, my son, Dave, was in Cranbury for Memorial Day Weekend. After watching the parade together, we partook (?) in another Memorial Day tradition -- watching the NCAA Division I Lacrosse Championship game on ESPN. Last year's game was a nail-biter, with Syracuse beating Cornell on an incredible last-second goal. I remember the entire Syracuse team erupting into a frenzy and piling on top of one another on the field. And I remember looking at Dave (a former lacrosse player at Princeton High School). I knew what he was thinking: "Man, that looks like fun. I wish I had that experience."

Fast forward to this weekend. I repeatedly tried to contact Dave to see if he wanted to watch the parade and lacrosse game with me again. At first, I got nothing. Dave was totally incommunicado. Then, finally, I got the briefest of text messages with a lame and somewhat suspect excuse. What was really going on here? I attempted to contact my other two kids, Andy and Sara, who were up in Lake Winnipesaukee enjoying the weekend. While I was unable to actually talk with them, Sara posted the photo below on Facebook. It shows Andy, his girlfriend, Rebecca, a bonfire, and No-Dave.

Clearly, if Dave was at the lake he would have been all over that bonfire . So where the hell was he? I soon found out.

Daveless but undaunted, I sat down and watched the entire 2010 NCAA Division I Lacrosse Championship game on ESPN by myself, sans beer. At the end of regulation, the game between Notre Dame and Duke was tied at 5-5. I settled down to watch the overtime, but it ended in a flash. Some long pole from Duke won the face-off, streaked downfield and scored the winning goal in about 6 seconds. The entire Duke team rushed onto the field. Pandemonium ensued. And then, I saw him. Unbelievably, it was Dave!!!! Right in the middle of the pandemonium!! How he managed to convince the Duke coaching staff to let him dress up in a Duke lacrosse uniform and stand on the sidelines, we'll never know. Great job, Dave! Congratulations! I hope it was everything you thought it would be.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bluegrass Brunch!

[Left to Right: Tom Clifton, Marilynn Mullen, Hannah Davies, Rory Macqueen, Scarlet Shore, Eli Davies]

Eli Davies and Rory Macqueen came to New York City for a week to visit Hannah (while she's still a New Yorker) and to take in the sights. Since Rory has recently taken up the banjo, Eli sent me an email and suggested that Marilynn and I meet them on Sunday for "Bluegrass Brunch" at the Nolita House Restaurant on Houston Street. Also joining us for brunch were Tom Clifton (Rory's friend from King's College of Music in London), and Tom's girlfriend, Scarlet Shore.

It was a damn good thing we had reservations, because the Nolita House was fairly small. But that was actually a good thing: even though the band was at one end of the bar and we were at the other, we could still here the music. Rory probably didn't get a chance to learn any new finger-picking though.

The food was pretty good but the conversation was even better. As expected when dealing with the anyone from the Davies family (and, apparently, any of their friends as well), the conversation was all over the map. In about 3 hours we covered the political landscape (English and US), music (The Smiths, karaoke), geography ("You don't know the capitol of Sudan?"), religion ("What's up with the Pope?", lapsed Catholicism vs. lapsed Lutheranism) and books ("You wouldn't believe the crazy stack of books next to Hannah's bed!") Tons of fun that went by in a flash.

After brunch, we all went our separate ways. The Davies Sisters, incongruously, went for a pedicure. I'm not sure where Rory, Tom and Scarlet ended up, but Marilynn and I took the opportunity to stroll around NYU, Washington Square, and Greenwich Village for an hour or two. Washington Square was jammed with people enjoying the afternoon sun and listening to the buskers. Below is a photo of a group called "The Baby Soda Jazz Band" that had a large number of people crowded around them:

It turns out that these guys aren't just buskers ... they're appearing every Sunday in April at a place called Pete's Candy Store in Brooklyn. If you're ever in the area, these guys would be well worth your entertainment dollar. Oh yes, accompanying the music were three swing-dancing couples, at least two of whom were professional dance teachers as well. They were as much fun to watch as the Jazz Band!

In the southwest corner of the park, a number of chess boards had been set up and virtually all of them were in use. Marilynn and I stopped for a while to watch a little girl compete against a guy who we think was a member of the NY Chess Club:

I'm guessing he was taking it easy on her, but who knows? She was holding her own against him when we left.

All in all a beautiful day --- New York City at its best!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!

And to all of you who don't speak Irish, "Happy St. Patrick's Day!"

To commemorate the day, here's a brief and undoubtedly incomplete summary of some of the more noteworthy events in the extended Mullen Family since last St. Patty's day.

First and foremost (at least from my vantage point), Marilynn and I were extremely fortunate to be able to spend over a week in England last August, allowing us to become better acquainted with the following UK-based relatives:

- Brian Fowler
- Dympna [Messenger] LeRasle
- Peter LeRasle
- Máire Davies
- John Davies
- Huw Davies
- Hannah Davies
- Tom Davies
- Elinore Davies
- Patrick Mills
- Kathleen Duffy
- Susan [Fowler] Harrison
- John Harrison
- Betty Cahalin
- Avril [Gilmartin] Leary
- Tony Leary
- Madge Messenger
- Sheila [Messenger] Dore
- Martin Dore
- Rosalind Dore
- Joseph Dore,
- Imelda Messenger
- Anne [Naughton]Lillis
- Ashling Lillis
- Cliona [Lillis] Beadle

It was a whirlwind vacation, to be sure, but one of our first thoughts upon returning to the U.S. was, "When can we go back??"

  • Herbie Hucklebury Timothy Peter Frankel was born on September 7, 2009 to Madeleine LeRasle and Tim Frankel.
  • Edward (Ted) Beadle was born to Cliona [Lillis] Beadle and Mike Beadle.
  • Matthew Beeney was born to Grainne [Lillis] Beeney and Rob Beeney.


Marriages / Engagements:
  • Mike McGarvey married Sarah Rector on August 28, 2009
  • Avril Gilmartin married Tony Leary on September 26, 2009
  • Janet Mullen announced the engagement of her daughter, Cara, to Christopher Kirkwood
  • John and Máire Davies' celebrated their 40th Wedding Anniversary on October 4, 2009.
  • Avril [Gilmartin] Leary and Tony Leary are expecting their first child.
  • Katie [McGarvey] Ferguson and Ryan Ferguson are expecting their second child.
  • Eli Davies and Rory MacQueen visited the U.S. in late October.
  • The Sears family took Harry Sears, a longtime fan of the Fighting Irish, to his first Notre Dame football game on October 31, 2009.
  • John and Máire Davies came to the U.S. in December to visit their daughter, Hannah, during the Christmas holidays.
  • Sheila and Martin Dore came visited New York City for 5 days to celebrate Sheila's 60th birthday.
It's been a busy year .. and the Family Tree continues to grow! I'll be raising a glass of Mullen's Irish Cream to the entire extended family this evening. Best of luck to all of you in the year ahead.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Harry Sears: September 14, 1928 - February 20, 2010

Annie Mullen Patrick, Harry Sears, Mary Mullen Kinslow

The Intelligencer

Harry C. Sears, father of six, passed away Saturday, Feb. 20, 2010, after several months of battling cancer. He persevered for more than a decade with Parkinson's disease as well. He was 81.

He was the beloved husband of Patricia Mullen Sears. He was the best father to Timothy Sears (Lisa), Colleen Kada (Steve), Sharon Slusarski (Mark), Patrick Sears, Shawn Peikin (Doug), and Daniel Sears (Donna). He was the awesome Pop Pop of Taralyn, Kerriann, Shaun, Brendan, Dennis, Riley, Cassidy, Jade, Madelyn, Zachary, Christopher and Jake. He is also survived by his sister, Frances Lorraine Cerritelli. He was preceded in death by his grandson, Dennis, and his sister, Anne Curry.

Harry C. Sears was born on Sept. 14, 1928, to Francis J. and Florence Sears of Philadelphia. Because of Harry's Christening, his father switched work days with a co-worker. Francis was employed by the federal government as a U.S. Treasury agent during the prohibition years. On October 28, the day that Francis worked for his co-worker, he was killed in one of Philadelphia's most publicized fires at Publicker's Alcohol Plant.

Harry attended LaSalle College High School on scholarship and graduated in 1946. He was a lettered member of their legendary crew team which rowed out of Vesper Club on Boathouse Row.

Harry was a devoted son to Florence Sears who died in 1983. He lived with Florence until he met and married Patricia Mullen, "the most beautiful woman he ever saw," in 1956. They moved to Willow Grove in 1961 and immediately registered at St. John of the Cross Parish, where they and their six children were active members.

After college he began his construction career with a small survey company. On his first day, his co-workers had a good laugh when he showed up at the muddy job site meticulously dressed in a suit and tie. In less than two years he progressed to the position of lead surveyor. During the post-war construction boom he worked in the development and expansion of the Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs infrastructure.

Harry's intellect and affinity for mathematics made him an ideal construction estimator. On July 3, 1961, he began his career at James D. Morrisey, Inc. Harry secured for JDM some of the largest private contracts in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys. Some of his clients were PECO, United Parcel Service (at the Philadelphia airport), Bethlehem Steel, and Mack Truck. His work also at times included public road contracts including major highways throughout the Philadelphia area. While in his 50's Harry taught himself computer programming to automate much of the estimating process. He led and trained many newly minted engineers from local universities while at JDM.

During the mid 1960s, he became a member of Willow Manor Players, a local theater group. He began as a member of the chorus and progressed to lead comedy roles. His all time favorite was the part of "Moonface Martin" in Anything Goes. All who remember seeing him recall his rendition of "Be Like the Bluebird" which he would perform on command for years to come for the delight of his family and friends. He also served as business manager and president for the theater group.

Harry was involved in the cultural phase of CYO at St. John of the Cross Parish in the 1960s, working with high school students while his own children were still in grade school. Using his expertise with the theater group he directed One Act Plays with the teenagers, winning first place in the Philadelphia area in his second year of directing. He also directed several variety shows so all interested teenagers could participate. In the 90s he and Pat filled in as bit players in shows on Ocean City's Music Pier where their granddaughter, Kerriann Kada, had leading roles.

In the 70s, Harry and his wife, Pat, were in leadership in Marriage Encounter in the Eastern Montgomery County area. They were Team Members on many Marriage Encounter Weekends, sharing their relationship with other couples.

Harry and Pat also became involved with the Charismatic Renewal in the Catholic Church. They led the "Life in the Spirit Seminars" for several years and Harry taught many times. Many remember his teaching on True Humility which Harry's life exemplified.

Harry had numerous talents and interests. He loved to dance and especially loved the Mummer's Strut, line dances, and the jitterbug. Whether it was sketching, cooking, concrete work, playing the guitar and piano, acting, photography, carpentry (he built most of the family home), upholstery or comedy, Harry pursued his interests with a patient, persistent, and relaxed style.

Whether performing his Mummer's Strut or sitting at Sunny Willow Swim Club or the beach in Ocean City, N.J., or at a restaurant, Harry was always very close to his immediate family as well as his and Pat's extended families. Harry was much more concerned with others than himself. His family never wanted for anything and lived a very comfortable existence.

Despite his very busy life, Saturday afternoons in autumn belonged to Notre Dame. He usually sat on the floor watching TV, mesmerized by the game, oblivious to the confusion that surrounded him especially while the children were little. In October of 2009 his children took him to Notre Dame to watch the "Fighting Irish." Harry could never put into words his appreciation for this trip especially since he was on the field with the players as a guest of the coach.

Harry's family and friends will remember him by his countless stories which embody his warmth, kindness, intellect, love, caring and probably most of all his sense of humor. Many will never forget his "Martha, the Wide Mouthed Frog" story. To know Harry was to love and admire him. He commanded the respect of all who knew him. In the words of his wife, Pat, "He is truly the finest person I have ever known. I am truly blessed to have been loved by him for 56 years."

His funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, at St. John of the Cross Church, 2741 Woodland Road (at Thomson Road), Roslyn, PA 19001. Interment will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. Relatives and friends are invited to his viewing at William R. May Funeral Home, 354 N. Easton Road (at Keswick Ave.), Glenside, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday and to his viewing at the church at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Donations to LaSalle College High School Fatherless Son Fund, 9605 Cheltenham Ave., Wyndmoor, PA 19038, or St. John of the Cross Church would be appreciated.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Happy 60th Birthday Sheila!

Marilynn and I had the pleasure of getting together with Sheila Dore (my fourth cousin!) and her husband, Martin, for dinner in New York City this past Tuesday. To properly celebrate her 60th birthday, Martin gave Sheila a 5-day trip to NYC. Nice present, Martin! Much better than giving her a new vacuum like some insensitive, unromantic husband might have done. The Dores arrived from the UK on Sunday, February 14, just in time to experience our latest (last?) snowstorm of the season. Sheila's niece, Hannah Davies, (who lives and works in NYC) made an "executive decision" and reserved a table for us at a great Mediterranean restaurant called The Barbounia on Park Avenue. The food was fantastic and the conversation even better. Below is an unfortunately grainy iPhone photograph of the group (minus Marilynn, who took the photo):

Happy Birthday, Sheila, with many more to come!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Curious Case of the Salamander Safe

Pull up a chair. Crack open a beer or pour yourself a glass of wine. This particular blog entry will be a tad longer than usual. Stick with it, though ... it has an interesting finish.

The story starts almost 24 years ago, in April of 1986, when Marilynn and I purchased our house in Cranbury, NJ. Included with the purchase (by default) was a huge, virtually immovable, cast iron safe in the basement. This safe (shown below) is enormous, measuring 37"x35"x24" (HxWxD) and weighing somewhere around 800 pounds:

Here's the shot of the interior of the safe:

While the safe itself was open, the door was in the locked position. Iron bolts protruding from the bottom and sides of the door (which fit into corresponding holes on the inside frame of the safe) prevented the safe door from being closed. The knob attached to the front of the safe (presumably for manipulating the bolts) would not budge. Here's a close-up of the inside of the door with an arrow pointing to one of the troublesome bolts.

The safe had a funky lock on the center of the door with a thin slit in it to insert a key. Miraculously, we actually had that key! It was with a pile of other old keys that the previous owner had left us.

Inserting the key into the lock caused a small metal button on the lock itself to pop out, but it didn't unlock the door. The knob on the safe still refused to turn and the rounded bolts protruding from the door could not be retracted for love nor money. That left us with a safe that could not be closed, i.e., a worthless safe.

In truth, it wasn't an entirely worthless safe. It had a purpose, albeit one that its 19th century makers could not have envisioned. For about 15 years, it functioned as an incredibly sturdy TV stand for a black and white television hooked up to a Nintendo console. It also doubled as a storage chest for all of our kids' Warhammer armies. Sadly, it had lost most of it's glamour over the years, but don't we all?

A few years ago, in order to make room for some additional exercise equipment in the basement, Dave and I managed to roll it under the basement stairs. It wasn't easy to maneuver that beast, let me tell you, but we did it. And I had no intention of ever moving it again. But fate intervened.

Last month, following Mullen Christmas in Cranbury, my daughter, Sara, and her husband, Pete, returned to Rhode Island and discovered that their house had been burglarized. The thieves ransacked the place and managed to find all of their most expensive possessions wherever they were hidden. The very next day, Marilynn and I rolled the safe out from under the basement stairs and gave it one more look. My plan was to learn as much as I could about it and enlist the aid of a locksmith to fix it.

I started by examining the identifying plate affixed to the front of the safe. Below is an image of a plate on eBay which is identical to the one on my safe:

This told me that it was an "Improved Defiance Salamander Safe" manufactured by a company in New York called "R.M. Patrick". Painstaking examination of the lock (see the close up image earlier in this post) yielded the following bits of text: "Goffin", "Patent", "MAR. 54", and "1251". Armed with this information, I spent the better part of a Saturday exploring the web. Here's what I discovered:
  • The lock on the safe was patented by a man name F.C. Goffin in March of 1854. Unfortunately, the patent number was not 1251 and the U.S. Patent Office search engine was abysmal. I literally had to inspect every single patent issued in the United States in March of 1854. It was as painstaking as it sounded, but, just before I was about to give up, I hit paydirt. Patent number 10660 provided me with a perfect description of the lock on my safe and how it worked. (Aside: I later learned that Google has a much better Patent search engine!)
  • A "Salamander Safe" refers to a fireproof safe, so named because the salamander, according to myth, is supposed to be able to endure fire without harm.
  • R.M. Patrick was a manufacturer of Defiance Salamander Safes at 192 Pearl Street in New York City.
While all of this was great information, I was amazed and frustrated by my inability to find any information at all about my particular safe. Having details about the lock was fantastic, but it would have been nice to know how that lock had been integrated into the safe. This lack of information would come back to haunt me later.

My next order of business was to contact a competent locksmith who specialized in antique safes. After a few searches on the web I found a site called AllExperts that looked promising. I entered my problem on the website and, within a few hours, received a response from a safe expert in California. After exchanging a number of emails, the California expert -- after expressing his regret at not being able to work on my safe personally -- gave me the name of an individual in New Jersey that might be able to help me, a guy by the name of Jeff Sitar.

I searched the web and found Jeff's email address and phone number. I sent him detailed information about my safe but received no reply. So I gave him a call and left a message on his answering machine. Still nothing. I was just about ready to give up on Jeff when he returned my call at 8pm one night. (It turns out that Jeff is a pretty busy guy!) I described the Salamander safe problem to him and he was immediately interested. He then pointed me to his website which described him as a championship safecracker, and I was immediately interested! After a number of abortive attempts to meet, I finally got Jeff and my safe together last Saturday. The results were truly astounding.

Jeff showed up and got to work immediately. He began by taking off the inner plate of the safe door and exposing the interior of the door. As he expected, it was completely encased in concrete:

Jeff then carefully chipped away about 50 pounds of concrete to expose the locking mechanisms.

In the photo above, the Goffin lock is in the center. To the right of that lock is a horizontal bar which controls the movement of all of the iron bolts. That horizontal bar is free to move only after two things happen: the Goffin lock must be opened and the second metal bar fitting into the horizontal bar must be raised. See the close-up below:

I went upstairs at this point to do some work in the kitchen while Jeff tried to figure out how to raise that second metal bar. I was upstairs for no more than 2 minutes when I heard him yell, "Paul, come down here and look at this. You will not believe it!!!"

I ran downstairs thinking that Jeff had discovered a second lock requiring a second key, but it was much, much better than that. When he pulled up on the metal bar that was restraining the horizontal bar, a small piece of metal on the front of the safe moved. Go to the top of this blog and click on the very first safe picture. Notice a tiny bit of gold-colored molding on the upper left portion of the safe? A close up of that bit of molding is shown below:

As it turns out, that's a tiny bit of brass that is attached to a lever that raises the restraining bar. When the Goffin lock is open, pressing down on this brass switch raises the restraining bar and allows the doorknob to turn and extend or retract all of the iron bolts. The locking mechanism of the safe was in perfect working order all these years ... we just didn't know its secret!

Jeff was both exhilarated and humbled: exhilarated because, after 30 years in the trade, he had just learned something brand new, but humbled because he had to take the door of the safe apart to figure it out. Me, I was just happy to have a fully working, almost impenetrable, antique fireproof safe in absolutely perfect working order!

As long as this story was, it may actually have a postscript. Stay tuned ...