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Eric Wise

Eric Wise

Eric Wise is a stay-at-home dad with three children, ages 11, 9 and 3. He was formerly a reporter for the now-defunct Hershey Chronicle newspaper, and he has 10 years of experience in public relations with four different statewide associations. His home improvement column, "Around the House," appeared in daily and weekly newspapers around Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2009. He is a graduate of Hershey Senior High School and Elizabethtown College. He enjoys reading, playing guitar and photography. 

Secret -- for your back yard grilling

Sunday, 13 July 2014 02:33

I am going to share a big secret with you. It's my secret seasoning recipe for grilling pork chops or chicken. Cook at med-high to high.

First, for pork chops, use center cut pork chops. Season with Montreal steak seasoning, lemon and pepper seasoning and garlic salt. Grill for 120 seconds and rotate 90 degrees on your grill. Cook for another 2 minutes, then flip. Add a pat of butter to the top after you flip them. Don't overcook. You may want to cook your pork chops and wrap in aluminum foil to allow them to finish cooking without drying them out on the grill.

For chicken, it's nearly the same deal. Use Montreal chicken seasoning, lemon and pepper seasoning and garlic salt. Season the whole piece of chicken, then cook it. If you used chicken breasts or other cuts that allow, you can add the pat of butter when you flip them. But basically, cook them until they are done.

If you are so inclined, you may use the spicy version of the Montreal seasoning. I like it with the regular seasoning or the spicy version. 

There you have it. A great way to season your meat for grilling. Let me know how it works out!

When demolition of a condemned property in Middletown unearthed the entrance to an old 60-foot chamber, speculation began that it was part of the Underground Railroad. Unfortunately, the chances of it being linked to the network of abolitionists who helped runaway slaves escape are slim.

The Underground Railroad, America's first civil rights movement, operated in the decades that led up to the Civil War. In the early days, abolitionists worked the system using a medley of legal tricks, gimmicks and shenanigans to help slaves along their way -- and protect them from being returned to slavery. However even this assistance from progressive-minded folks ignores the major player in the system: the fugitive himself. (Typically, it was male slaves, perhaps teens through men in their 30s, who were more likely to run away.)

Fugitives did run away from slaveholders, mostly slaveholders in the South because the Northern states abolished slavery by the early 1800s. Runaways were most successful when they left Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Almost all of the time, fugitives made the most dangerous part of the journey, through the slaveholding territory to a free state, by themselves. Slaves kept in states like Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia had little chance of a land journey to freedom.

Pennsylvania's location made it a vital link in the underground network of people willing to help slaves, in fact, the southeast region of the state covering Lancaster County through Philadelphia might be called "Underground Railroad Central." The Quaker population in and around Philadelphia was a big contributor to this effort, especially in the network's early days.

Despite the focus on the southeast, every county of Pennsylvania has documented Underground Railroad activity. Yes, it's been well-documented. For some reason, there is a great deal of speculation that it was so secret that it's impossible to find out what happened, which is not true at all. Underground Railroad activity has been documented.

Equally misleading is the idea that the Underground Railroad frequently "hid" the fugitives. It's common for people to jump to conclusions about the Underground Railroad when a hidden room is found, yet it's extremely rare to find any type of construction built especially for hiding fugitives. It was also rare for slave catchers to be in "hot pursuit" of fugitives.

For those reasons, the Underground Railroad was more HARBORING and less HIDING. In Warren County, Pennsylvania, a series of richly documented sites show that fugitives frequently stopped on their journey (mainly from the region that later became West Virginia). They stayed in quarters like other farm workers. Underground agents taught them to read, helping them to pass that test, as it was unlawful to teach slaves to read in the South. A literate fugitive just might pass the reading test and convince slavecatchers he was simply a free Black man. The agents also provided clothing, and gave them jobs that allowed them to save for the next part of their journey. It was an open secret, as fugitives often stayed for months.

Lancaster County's Thaddeus Stephens helped runaways in Lancaster, but more importantly, owned an iron furnace where he employed fugitive slaves in Franklin County, in what is now Caledonia State Park. Stephens' iron furnace was another open secret, and it angered the Southerners so much that Jubal Early took his troops their to burn the place down during the Gettysburg Campaign.

Historians have pieced together information about the Underground Railroad for 100 years now. In some parts of New England, one common style home from the 1800s had short doorways into a storage area in the second floor. Many people who visit one of the surviving homes conclude that it could be used to hide slaves since these doors could easily be hidden behind furniture, but that's not how history works. History comes from evidence, not hidden rooms. It has nothing to do with quilts, either. With 150 years of evidence, quilts were never mentioned as a part of the Underground Railroad, but somebody came up with the idea that quilts were "maps" for fugitives and wrote a book. Nobody was going around teaching slaves to read secret quilt symbols at various plantations, and no evidence has shown fugitives relied on quilts. That's bad history.

The evidence seldom is there to back up old, hidden chambers being built to hide fugitive slaves most of the time. Without that evidence, Middletown has itself a cellar for cool food storage, or you might even say it's an unused and forgotten room. With some evidence, perhaps it may have been a speakeasy, but that seems unlikely. In any case, no historian would tie it to the Underground Railroad or Prohibition without verifying exactly when the building originated.

Solving a problem that doesn't exist

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 22:25

My grandmother Elsie lived in rural northern Lebanon County in an old house that lacked indoor plumbing. She lived there until the day she died. 

She raised nine children (the tenth died as a preschooler), and managed to get by, sometimes thanks to the potatoes and other vegetables she grew herself. She wasn't always destitute, but she was poor. She never had a car, and she never learned to drive.

One thing she almost always did was vote, and according to my mother, she got in that habit thanks to a friend. A neighbor would call Grandma and ask if she could pick her up and drive her to the local polling place. Without her friend, she would have missed many elections.

Under the scheme that our governor spent years promoting and millions of dollars defending, Grandma would never have voted. In fact, my other grandmother, who also never learned to drive, never would have had the chance either. Honestly, I could not imagine either one of them wading through red tape to get a photo ID issued by the government.

At the polls this week, I observed dozens of people walking up and whipping out their Pennsylvania drivers licenses in case they were needed. Fortunately for all the people like my two grandmothers, Pennsylvania courts ruled against Gov. Tom Corbett's "Voter ID" that he tried to foist on us with plenty of help from the Republicans in the Senate of Pennsylvania.

To be perfectly clear, a voter who is voting for the first time in a precinct must show identification. Unlike Corbett's Voter ID, this requirement allows practically the widest possible definition of identification, including a utility bill showing the voter's name and address.

For some reason, I heard a lot of grousing about the failure of Voter ID. I was even told that "You need photo ID to get yer fishin' license, to buy beer if you look young and bettin' at a casino." Funny thing is that none of those things are a right discussed in multiple amendments to the United States Constitution. Requiring a photo ID hits disadvantaged people the hardest, including those of who live in cities and typically rely on public transportation.

As the Republicans began passing laws requiring a photo ID to vote, they trotted out horsefeathers arguments about "voter fraud." It was the favorite topic of a former coworker of mine, who watched his favorite news channel and was convinced that while voter turnout seemed low throughout Pennsylvania, it was "250 percent" in all Philadelphia's Democratic-leaning precincts. This led to several exhaustive studies of in-person voter fraud. Turns out it was more codswallop than imagined, except in Pennsylvania, where it was pure "Tomfoolery," in honor of our governor.

I appreciate the efforts of those who sued Pennsylvania and kept this twaddle from going into effect and preventing elligble people from voting. 

Let's make jury duty fun!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014 13:45

A friend posted online that she's spending the week in jury duty. People do all sorts of things to avoid jury duty. I know some who still won't register to vote because they think it will protect them from being summoned for jury duty (not anymore). I had an uncle show up and make a scene by telling everyone about his prostate and how he had to tinkle all the time. 

If you do get called, I think you should make it fun. So here are some suggestions to liven up the place.

1. Wear a tux. Women could wear a costume dress with fairy wings. Definitely with fairy wings. Or women may prefer a tux and men a dress with fairy wings. Either way, because I don't know what you like.

2. Bring a cooler with dozens of drinks. It could be sodas, water, juices or anything else. Hand them out to other jurors or anyone who looks thirsty.

3. Cheer for others as they are called. Encourage others to do the same. It's like The Price is Right!

4. Bring a set of exercise bands. There's no excuse in falling behind in your workouts because you have jury duty. The whole process of jury duty involves a whole lot of sitting around waiting. Somebody might look at you strangely, but at least you are being productive! Just don't hurt anybody.

5. Find out what else there is to do in the court house during your breaks. Scout things out. You could visit the county's Board of Elections office and ask to see the results of the last election. Better yet, ask to read the write-in votes for president in the 2012 election because the answers are hilarious. You could also apply for a gun permit, find out where to do some genealogical research and request public records. Each county divides up tax money to support fire departments in different municipalities, and you could ask to see how they did it for this year.

Have more ideas? Post a comment. 

You can take that to the bank

Sunday, 02 March 2014 15:48

Somewhere between regimented top productivity and a lackadaisical work day exists a point where employees will perform the best. From what I have seen, there are many managers and business owners who fail to understand the concept.

A few years back, I took a job where, for the first time in my life, I had a specifically defined time for morning break, afternoon break and lunch. I was expected to be at my desk at a certain time in the morning, keep my head down and work until the first break, take 15 minutes and plow ahead through lunch. Same deal after lunch. Even if I used my own time, I was chased out by my manager if I lingered to finish a task 10 minutes after quitting time.

This approach was quite possibly the worst I had worked under in my life. I felt like they should blow a whistle for breaks and lunch. I never adjusted to it. 

At other positions I held in the past, I was able to come in, say hello to coworkers, get a cup of coffee and ease into my day. When I last worked at an association, we had a subscription to a digital news clips service. Under the terms of the subscription, we were permitted to gather and read clips related to the industry and email them to members as a service of the association. That was my "coffee task" as I began my day. I browsed the clips and selected ones related to the business of our members. It kept me in touch with their business, which helped me as an editor of the association's publications.

As the day progressed and I worked through my other tasks, I might take a morning break 90 minutes into the day. Or three hours. No one missed me if I did not appear in a break room chair, at the water cooler or in the rest room at a certain time. I did my job, and I did not feel like I was in preschool. Sometimes I traveled to various parts of the state to speak to members, to attend various functions or to interact with our vendors. I knew it was part of the job, and it was not a problem that extra hours were involved. It was not also a problem if I ran down to the block to pick up a prescription once in a blue moon. As coworkers, we gave each other a ride from the nearby repair shop if one of our cars got an oil change during the day. 

While these interruptions were not uncommon, they were not something that happened every week, either. Yet it meant a lot to employees to have a certain amount of flexibility available. The flexibility was a way the employer made deposits in the Bank Account of Good Will with employees. In return, the employees made deposits when they worked extra hours for a variety of functions that were also fairly regular. 

I don't know if everything balanced on a minute-by-minute basis for each employee. The greatest benefit I saw went to the employer: Workers who felt they were trusted put in extra effort and likely were more productive. When employers show no flexibility and make each day a grind, employees have little motivation to put in that extra effort. I know I felt more comfortable with a job where I was shown respect in this regard.

Yet another previous position was at a workplace that had been quite flexible. However, they had brought in an overeducated expert who trained management on the danger of letting employees steal little bits of time through this type of flexibility. One Friday, I asked to leave 15 to 20 minutes early because I wanted to beat some traffic to get a flat tire fixed so I could get back on the road for a 75-mile drive that evening. I knew leaving before 5 would get me to a repair shop much faster than if I hit the worst of the traffic. 

My supervisor would not allow me to leave early because management had been too lenient about things like this in the past. She recommended taking care of my car on Saturday or Sunday. I disagreed; I wanted it addressed because I had a lot of miles to drive that weekend. I left at 5. Traffic was awful, and I barely made it home by 9:30 p.m. The "expert" never seemed to account for minutes employees spent working through lunches, getting started early or staying late to finish a task. After it was made clear to me that there was a new "no tolerance" policy for stolen time, I made certain that no time would be stolen from my lunch breaks or after my official work hours ended. My flexible salaried job was becoming more rigid, and I felt less trusted. 

I understand that flexibility is not possible in all jobs, and that some people may abuse their privileges. But I stand by the assertion that giving employees some amount of trust and flexibility will improve your bottom line more than pressuring people with rigid schedules that demotivates them. The Bank Account of Good Will goes a long way toward mutual respect and the ultimate productivity of a business.

Tap, tap

Saturday, 22 February 2014 19:17

Hey, is this thing on?

By the mid-1800s, thousands of orphan kids roamed the streets of New York City, and to a lesser degree, other East Coast cities. Immigrants could not always find suitable work or support a family, and as a result, children had to find ways to get by living in the streets. 

Some New Yorkers found a solution for this: They would put the kids on trains and allow families to adopt them in America's heartland. Teen boys were seen as laborers for midwestern farms, but the trains ran from 1853 until 1929, sending kids ranging in age from 4 to 18 from New York and Boston to various points in the west. 

Their arrival was advertised in advance in newspapers, and the children were cleaned up and displayed in public on a stage before potential parents. Some stories of the trains reported that the children sang and danced to attract parents; others were poked and prodded to judge their general health. To make it convenient for the new parents, the organizers allowed splitting up siblings, which along with the public display prior to adoption, led to some negative comparisons to the horrors of the American slave trade. 

The movement started with the work of the Children's Aid Society, which was joined by other agencies. Catholic orphanages were overrun with more children than they could handle, so the Catholic-backed New York Foundling Hospital also organized trains so nothing ghastly -- like an orphan being placed with a Protestant family -- happened to the children. 

The initial shock of being loaded on a train -- not much better than a livestock car in the early days -- must have been hard on the children. In some accounts, adult veterans of the orphan trains would describe riding "the orphan train" as if there was only one. Over time, as many as 250,000 children rode the orphan trains to their new homes, putting estimates at 2 million descendants of orphan train children living in America today. 

The movement provided thousands of children a year with a fresh start, a chance to improve their lives. Two riders grew up to be elected governor of two states. While it didn't survive the Great Depression, the movement laid the foundation for foster parents and adoption that replaced it in the 20th Century.

The TV Show of the Year

Wednesday, 29 January 2014 20:19

Although I generally ignore it, the Super Bowl is coming up. Over the years, I realized that the Super Bowl is simply a popular TV show. The coaches and players (especially one cornerback), realize this. I think most people who attend in person do, too. 

It's set up and packaged for you like a WWE event, and the wrestling folks got it right when they picked "Entertainment" for the sporting organization's name. When it comes to Richard Sherman or any other players posturing before the game, it's clear just how similar WWE personalities and the NFL's participants are.

The TV program of the Super Bowl offers more than going to the game. People enjoy the commercials they avoid any other day. The NFL and its broadcasters are heading toward a point where the Pre Game Show will start on Saturday and run up until kickoff. When you finish watching the game, there are no shortage of analysts available for those who have not heard enough prattling about the game yet. It's a TV show, and it's a marathon of a TV show.

I don't mean calling the Super Bowl a TV show as a complaint. The NFL has succeeded where MLB and the NBA lagged. The Super Bowl outshines college bowl games. The only other sport that comes close is the NCAA's basketball tournament, specifically Division I men's. For the Super Bowl and March Madness, the event transcends the sports normal fans, drawing in casual fans who scarcely watch a game and others who don't follow the game except for the Big Event. But taking the two head-to-head, the Super Bowl has created traditions based around a single day that nothing else has.

Motorsports, hockey, baseball and the Olympics can't compete. Regardless of its appeal everywhere else, soccer never attracted the masses or the money like American football. Considering the popularity and moneymaking growth since the first Super Bowl, it's astounding.

As a matter of fact, the Super Bowl should easily be enough to prove that the NFL is undeserving of its status as a nonprofit and it should start paying more taxes. But that's a separate argument. 

If the Super Bowl is your thing, I hope you enjoy the matchup this year!



Getting better

Wednesday, 06 November 2013 15:51

Earlier this year, I wrote about my attempt to get myself back in shape, improving my health and fitness. After 10 months, I have a lot to report. 

According to my recent visit to my doctor, I have lost 23 pounds. I realized early in the process that making changes I could live with would yield better long-term results than a quick crash diet. I made some changes, and I have seen results. My exercise program has been focused on weight training, with some high-intensity interval training thrown in, and that has added some muscle while cutting fat. 

Just over halfway into the year, I participated in a Spartan Race to gauge my progress. I did a three-mile Spartan obstacle course/mud run in the Poconos in July. I knew going in that running isn't my strength, so I approached the event as a challenge, not a race. It was held on a ski resort, so the course began with a mile and a quarter of scaling the mountain before you hit the obstacles. Doing the event without a team or a companion, I had to push myself to keep going in the summer heat and get through it. This took me nearly 4 hours, but I felt good afterwards because I knew I could not have done it in 12 hours the prior summer.

My wife, Deb, also ran a mud run in the summer, and we decided to enter one together in September. It was the Biggest Loser Walk Run at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, which is essentially the Spartan Run without the pressure of being timed. I made it through in about 90 minutes (unofficial), a vast improvement from my performance in the Poconos. This time, I was able to get through more obstacles and run more of the course. My recovery also came faster. 

The winners of the Spartan Run (male and female) finished in a little over half an hour. We saw them posing with their plaques as we ate bananas and drank Powerade recovering from our race. Deb said, "I think it's more impressive that someone your age got yourself in good enough shape to finish in 90 minutes than the winners finishing in under 40 minutes." 

From the struggle to make it to the gym, to make it through the high-intensity interval training classes and to make it through two obstacle races, I know I put in a lot of work this year that has improved my health. It's made me feel better overall, and I feel better about myself. 

As I blogged about previously, I have spent a lot of time this year trying to improve my health and fitness. I started working out in January, and I have also been trying to eat healthier (although I love food too much to be extreme about it). 

In July, I saw my doctor for the first time since I started this adventure. He said my test results were all good and I looked better than I had for some time. He was also quite pleased that I had lost 15 pounds. I was shocked when I heard 15 pounds. My home scale had lied to me! I knew that I was adding muscle while cutting fat, but I thought I had lost quite a bit more than that.

It was difficult to step back for a second, take a deep breath and focus on what I had achieved. Since January, I had been working out regularly. I was lifting weights equal to or more than what I lifted in college. I participated in exercises classes -- high-intensity interval training -- at the gym (usually twice a week, depending on our family schedule). I had even started using my bike on a regular basis, introducing it to trips outside the block where I live for the first time. 

In July, I also finished the Spartan Race in the Poconos. For me, it should be the Spartan "Race." This event is a 5K mud run with 15 obstacles. It started with going a mile and a quarter straight up the mountain. At that point, we got to pick up a 45-pound sandbag and carry it up a steep incline -- either on slippery grass or loose rock. Ugh. I knew from the start that I would be walking the "race," thanks to the state of my fitness and a lifetime of exercise induced asthma. I had no idea that would mean finishing in a hair under 4 hours. It was a slow go, mostly because the hike up the mountain followed by the sandbag carry exhausted me before I really got into the other obstacles. In the future, I think I will chose events not held in the mountains or at ski resorts.

I had met some goals I set in my lifting routine in the first 6 months. These were basic benchmarks, goals that were in sight that I felt I could do in about 6 to 8 weeks. After I met a few in various exercises, I decided I wanted to be able to pull my weight. "Pulling" is the jargon for deadlifting, where the lifter grabs a loaded barbell from the floor and pulls it up until standing upright with the arms straight down in front. My trip to the doctor threw a wrench into this goal, as I was not quite as close as I thought I was. 

Although going heavy for just a couple of repetitions is generally not my focus, I decided to attempt my weight, and I was able to get it twice earlier in August. 

All of these things are important for me to keep in mind when I disappoint myself in other ways. There have been a few days within the last week where I fell into bad habits with heavy late-night snacking. I attempted to make it through a HIIT class when I was hungry, sore and lacking a proper night's rest, and it went badly. My inner voice beat me up during that workout and for hours afterwards. I know I could achieve more if I overcame these issues and started forcing myself to eat the right types of meals and got myself on a good schedule of a solid night's cleep. There's only so much your workouts can do without the diet and rest components.

"Aye, there's the rub." Find a way to stay positive while forgiving yourself for your stumbles along the way -- and yet push yourself to improve on that in the future. It's a work in progress. 

If any of you are working on self improvement through fitness or anything else, please share your ideas for staying positive in the comments.