Nothing Wrong with New Kicks.

So, I know that I have posted several times about my 46 year old Vasque Hiker IIs shown here on the right. These hiking boots are absolutely bomb proof and have their original laces and Vibram soles. Amazing! They have been everywhere and could really write a blog or a book themselves. But recently my toes have been hurting when I have been hiking and I realized that as I have aged, my feet have actually grown. I believe it is because the arch collapses and your foot gets longer. Oh well. But it has been causing an issue with my feet in my favorite boots. I would have used these until I died because there is absolutely nothing wrong with them and I even reported that to Vasque. They gave me a very nice response.

Fast forward- my lovely wife purchased a new pair of Vasque hiking boots for me for my birthday( shown on the left) which are great. In fact yesterday during our regular Sunday afternoon hike, I remarked how much I liked them and how comfortable they are. Janet and I like hiking and we have a lot of local options. But Janet’s response was not what I expected. In her quiet, unassuming way, she said that retiring the old boots and putting on the new ones is very much like what happens in life. Sometimes you need new things……like relationships, hobbies, food choices, even some friends. I was taken back on the friends and relationship part but she went on to explain. She quoted Dr. Henry Cloud when he said that some relationships are “unsafe.” Dr. Cloud says that sometimes relationships or friendships become strained and they can become toxic or “unsafe” and we need to be willing to acknowledge that and make a change and perhaps retire those people who are causing us pain and making us uncomfortable. Like an old pair of boots that now don’t fit too well. Sometimes you need to be willing to make a change for the better.

Relationships and friendships are not the only ones that need scrutiny. Perhaps when we are doing some self examining and want to make some lifestyle changes, we need to look at the balance sheet of those things and determine if making a change will help us grow and move forward. Maybe it is time to start eating more healthy? Maybe we need to change our lifestyle and incorporate another kind of outside activity or any kind of activity that may change an unhealthy existence.

Recently I made such a decision and decided after riding a road bike for 40 years, I was going to sell my current ride and stick to mountain bike riding. That was a drastic change for me because I liked riding the road. But lately, my old routes through apple orchards and farms have now been transformed into routes through newly constructed subdivisions. Traffic is worse and people are texting, not paying attention, talking on the cell phone, changing channels on the XM Radio and all in all becoming a hazard to those riding a road bike. There have been several fatalities around here and I did not want to take the chance on trusting someone coming up behind me and not paying attention. Like putting the old hiking boots aside, I committed to my other ride( the mountain bike) and hiking with my wife. A lifestyle change for sure seeing that I have ridden/raced my road bike for years in many places. It was time for a change. Lots of good memories on the road bike but like the old boots, time to go.

The new boots are comfortable ( I am also an easy fit) and like any new experience, if you make the commitment and take a chance to improve your situation( relationships, friendships, lifestyle changes) the results can become surprisingly pleasant. To hike now without pain is a real pleasure. Off with the old and in with the new is a good plan for someone like me who wants to keep active and lead a healthy existence for the rest of my life. So as we get older, maybe we take a look at what has become routine and maybe be willing to reexamine what is really important,or what is hurting us, and make the necessary changes. Nothing like a new pair of kicks. Thanks for reading.

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Resolutions- 2020

So I was thinking the other day as we turned the corner on the new decade. How easy it will be to type 2020. Or write 2020. Tap tap. Click click. It was a kind of foreshadowing of how good I am hoping the New Year and the new decade will be. Lots of good things happening and surprises for sure for all of us. I was in our local park the other day on January 1 and chuckled a bit at all the Resolutioners that were out and about. You know, the ” this year I am going to get in shape, eat healthier and feel better about myself” crowd. They were out in droves walking and running around the lake and I even saw a guy in a canoe with full winter garb paddling furiously. Now don’t get me wrong, I always admire anyone who makes a change in their life as it is not only good for them but very admirable to see the commitment. The parking lots were full and the enthusiasm and some times expressions of pain, were abundant in the faces of those folks who were undertaking the process of getting in shape for the New Year. My advice to anyone who wants to start an exercise program is to start slowly. Ease into it so that you won’t get burned out and sore. Every day is an improvement and if you stick with it, good things happen with your health and mental state of affairs.

No matter what you do, cycling, walking, running,skiing,hiking, or any kind of activity that gets you outside is great. Take my old neighbor here. He got into running and now he is hooked, entering races, and leading a healthy lifestyle all because of a New Year’s resolution. I have made a couple of resolutions in my day as well. I started to write this blog a number of years ago upon the suggestion of my wife. I also made the choice to eat more healthy and try to reduce some cholesterol issues by quitting sweets,unhealthy snacks, and sticking basically to chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables. As a result, I lost 12 pounds and had one of the best riding years I have had in 2019.

But really, what does it take to make a resolution? What do you want to change? How do you want to change? These are questions that pop up in your head anytime you want to do something different in your life. I speak of all the Resolutioners pounding around the lake on January 1 making the commitment to improve their health in 2020. But are there other things that we all should do to make a change? Personally I hope so. I would like to see people try to be more kind. Social media these days is dripping with sarcasm and vitriol for anyone who differs in opinion. It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and type some God awful things these days. It is sad. We are all Americans and this country was founded on discourse and discussion. Just because someone’s opinion is different than yours does not make them a bad person. I hope we can make an attempt to be more forgiving and kind especially in the election cycle ahead. I hate to say this but there is really nothing we can do about the political climate aside from casting a vote if we are honest with ourselves. Any change is really made at a grass roots level with all of us being more tolerant, kind and concerned for each other as Americans and as friends. I am hoping a lot of people in this country make that change. I am going to try to do the same in my own little way. We come into situations in our lives every day where we can help people if we look for that opportunity. John Guest, the famous evangelist, once said that ” you don’t have to go to a foreign country to evangelize or be helpful. You can serve people right in your own neighborhood. Your mission does not have to be in a foreign country.” I agree with him. If you make yourself available to people, you can be kind and helpful. What you say or do may move mountains for that person and you might not even realize it. People like to have kindness afforded to them. If we do it a little bit, we all can make a difference one person, one household, one neighborhood at a time.

So as 2020 (tap tap) evolves, maybe we all extend some grace as we have been extended grace. Look out for your family, friends and neighbors. After all, what is really more important than that? Thanks for reading.

” Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace.”
– 1 Peter 4:10

Creative Genius

You don’t have to be a Picasso, or Brahms or Mozart, or even Martin Scorsese to be a creative genius in my book. Lots of my friends are really creative and can look at an opportunity, or a problem, or a riddle and figure out how to best create a solution. Perhaps the best creative genius that I knew, who was able to solve most problems and riddles, was my father. A Carnegie Tech mechanical engineering graduate, Dick McCloskey saw most things as a fun challenge. His engineering mind was always at work and he relished the opportunities to create solutions that would last. He could plumb, do electrical work, solder, and artistically create things like the treasure chest that he made me as a kid. I still have it some 55 years later and store my mountain bike maps there. My dad made us an ice skating rink in the backyard by using 2X4s as rink perimeters and a large roll of Visqueen plastic as the liner to the rink. He would fill it with water every winter and we were not allowed on it until it was completely frozen for fear the skates would cut the plastic. Many nights were spent on that rink on the back patio and it was the centerpiece for the neighborhood kids for winter entertainment.

When I first started to go to Tuckerman Ravine in the spring for the ritual of spring skiing, I needed a way to lash my skis to the external pack that I owned. My dad rigged up some aluminum tubing with some hasps and wing nuts and presto, I had a frame that allowed me to attach my skis with the boots in the bindings to the outside of the pack. Skis pointed to the sky on either side of the pack.

Interestingly, my friend Eric who lived in Vermont at the time, was faced with the same challenge and he made his supports from wood. We have laughed about that in later years as the boy from Steeltown had metal supports and the boy from Vermont had supports made exactly the same from wood. Creative genius from two different perspectives.

But the masterpiece which was created around the same time by my dad, was the ski bench that he made me and I still use some 42 years later and is featured in my blog photo here. I remember going to my dad and saying to him that I needed to have a bench now that I knew how to tune my own skis. Thanks again to my creative genius friend Eric Durfee ,who taught me everything I needed to know about tuning skis. He was also perhaps the best ski instructor I ever had but that is another story. I told my dad that I needed to have a bench using the vices that Eric had given to me and he looked those over with great thought. What popped up in his creative mind was something I would never have imagined. A door from the hardware store complete with hinges. He knew that I needed to have a place for my bindings to fit and he cut the door to the specifications of my skis allowing the bindings to rest in a cut out hole in the door between the two vice pieces. He then mounted the door on the wall of my townhouse in the garage with supports underneath either side of the horizontal door. When I was finished tuning my skis. I flipped the door up to be secured by a hasp on the wall and pushed the supports up against the wall and the whole bench was out of the way until the next time I needed to use it.

The interesting thing is I still use the bench today and as an aside, it also serves as a refrigerator in our garage for items that my wife wants to keep cold. My dad never saw that coming, but the creative genius of my wife allowed her to think about a place to keep things cold in the winter and as long as I did not get metal filings or wax in the food, she was open to storing things on my ski bench when it was not in use for it’s original intent.

I could go on and on about my dad’s creative genius. There were so many things that he made for me that we enjoyed together when I was a kid. Today people just buy things. My dad made them, and his love for creating solutions is something I will never forget. Perhaps the biggest benefit about my dad’s creativity was the chance for me to spend time with him. I cherished those moments and I think about him every time I open up that bench, heat up the iron to wax the boards, and get the file ready for the side edge tunes. My dad never skied, but he and my mother made sure my sister and I did and I am in their debt so many years later. Creative genius is more than just the solution. It is the catalyst to education and a chance for guys like me to appreciate and look back so many years later with thankfulness and love for my dad and mom. Although my creativity is on the other side of the brain, I still look back with respect and love for those who educated me with their ability to see the solution. Thanks for reading.

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You Can Never Go Back to the Green.

So as I was driving up to the mountains last weekend, I was listening to the Billy Joel Channel on Sirius Radio. Bopping along the turnpike to the tunes of “Stiletto”, ” Piano Man” and my all time favorite ” Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”. I thought about Brenda and Eddie and how they had it all together with their crowd at the Green. But life got in the way, they divorced, and tried to resume their former life. ” The King and the Queen went back to the Green but you can never go back there again.” That line always hits me. You can never go back there again.

My friend Frank, down in Virginia ,always says to me that he would like to come back home and hang out at Stone Field again to ride road bikes and run with the Hot Harry’s crowd. Fact of the matter when I talk to Frank, is that there are not many left of the Hot Harry’s crowd and people have moved on and there is a whole new crowd at the park with the kings and queens being fresh new athletic faces whom we don’t recognize. Not the same Frank. You can’t go back to the Green Frank. None of us can.

I thought of all the good times that I had with the ski group back in the day. We all were young and at Christmas time, we boarded a big flatbed truck and sang Christmas carols around the mountain and drained everyone’s booze and beer supply. So much fun but again, reminiscing is fine but that crowd, for the most part, has married, and had kids, and now grand kids, and life has changed. My life has changed too but in many ways, I feel like Peter Pan wishing life would not change and we could go back to the Green one more time. But that is not to be and clearing my head, I think how blessed I am with my family and friends.

Driving in the car, you have a lot of thoughts in your head as you listen to music. You think about where you were when that song played. Songs remind you of the Green when you were among the kings and the queens of a younger day. You have fleeting thoughts about reuniting with old friends who have maybe moved on but like Billy says, you can never go back to the Green. It isn’t there and reminiscing all you want won’t take you there .

Janet and I put up our Christmas tree last night and as I looked at all the gold ornaments from the Danbury Mint that belonged to my folks, I thought about Christmas past in the McCloskey house. Many good memories and some not so good but for the most part, my folks made Christmas special for me and the ornaments reminded me of those days. But now I think how that tree fits in my house, and how those ornaments are part of our tree and Janet and I try to make memories for our son Jack and Jan’s mom who is 89 and living with us. 

Riding the chair lift the other day while skiing at our local resort in the Laurel Highlands, people were remarking how things had changed. This tree was cut down, and new construction completed, and widening of familiar slopes to accommodate today’s skiers all was viewed with different takes. But the bottom line is that the new ownership does things differently than the folks who started the resort back in the day. I looked at all the old pictures in the upstairs ski lodge lounge and thought about how good it was back in the “old days” and how much fun it was when we were the kings and queens of the mountain. But you can never go back.

As I get older, I start to realize that I can’t be like Brenda and Eddie. Or as the New Yorkers say, ” Brender and Eddie”. You have to embrace change. You have to look to the future. You cherish your old friends and make new ones. Life moves on folks and it is nice to have memories but now is the time to make new ones. Thanks for reading.

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The Quintessential Pennsylvania Hunting Camp

If you are familiar with Pennsylvania, my home state, you will know that hunting is BIG around here. Especially this time of year. There are lots of white tail deer in our state and I mean lots, and this time of the season they are running! A tradition that has been passed on by hunters here in the Keystone State is the maintenance and upkeep of the classic hunting camp. So many stories about guys ” going up to camp” for the hunting season. Plenty of food, booze, and camaraderie to spread around for days. The camps are typically built from salvage material and over the years they are improved and additions made by family and friends. Marienville, Kane( the icebox of Pennsylvania), Bradford, and other central Pa. haunts have been the home of hunting camps for generations.

So it was a nice surprise when I was invited to come to camp with my friends Bob and Julie, and as I made my way on a cold Saturday morning with snow on the ground, I turned off I-80 and made my way eventually to the  double track that led to …..” the camp.” As soon as I saw Bob cutting wood for the wood stove, and smelled the smoke in the cold air, I was reminded of how much I like fires and fireplaces and wood stoves. I exclaimed to Bob, as I came into the camp, that this place was the classic Pa. hunting camp to which he had a big smile on his face and agreed with a wheelbarrow full of wood and told me to get to work. It was cold last Saturday and the main source of heat for the house was the wood stove. But as the other folks entered the camp, food and sleeping bags began arriving and placed in the kitchen and the living area near the wood stove. No matter what ever happens, a mattress and a sleeping bag is all you need at a camp for pure comfort at night. The heat of the stove is mesmerizing and you know that no matter how bitter the weather is, there will be warmth, wood, and plenty of craft beers and food to feed the guests for the weekend.

As Julie rolled out the breakfast sandwiches and Charlotte tended to her large pot of chili, I got ready to roll for a day of outdoor adventure in the Pennsylvania wilds. You see, I love cold weather, fires, snow and the smell of wood smoke. Did I mention I like fires? LOL!!

Hunting camps have been passed on for generations and the traditions of a day in the woods followed by a hot meal and some beers and discussions of the one that got away have been the stuff of legend for Pennsylvania hunters. Yes there is hunting in the surrounding states but when you talk deer hunting, and camps, you are most likely going to reference central Pennsylvania. Really no argument there because we do have the largest deer population and also a very large black bear population. The group had been down in the woods before I got there and were still marveling at the sighting of two large bald eagles by the lake. Dr. Jack came rolling in and the group was complete. As we made our way to S.B Elliott State Park and through Parker Dam State Park, we were treated to a scenic drive right into the parking lot. As we forded some rather deep stream crossings we came upon our friend John who mystically appeared out of nowhere and when I asked how on earth he ever found us, Bob responded that they all had ridden motorcycles up there for years and knew all the terrain quite well. You see, we were there for a mountain bike weekend and not a shot was fired. No ammo, rifles, or any mention of the buck that got away. But rather the buck that we saw while riding some of the more scenic trails this state has to offer. Most of us had orange or yellow clothing to distinguish ourselves from the running herd, but yours truly had on a black rain suit which I quipped, ” I will be mistaken for a bear which should be ok seeing that it is not bear season yet.” In any event, at the end of the ride, the merry band of riders settled in again by the wood stove and the beers started cracking. As the chili made its rounds and the rest of the nuts, chips and snacks were enjoyed, our pal Tom probably summed it up best when he said, ” You know, the best part of the ride is sitting around afterward, enjoying a cold beer, some good food and stories shared by friends in the woods. Yes, I was invited to a hunting camp. But the aura of the camp was just as good for riders as it is for hunters because it is all about the people.

Good friends getting together to ride mountain bikes, but so much more than the ride. The company is great, in a classic setting.  And the older we get, the more we appreciate it. Turning 65 this week was a revelation and it made me take stock in life and remember that there are people who care about you and like to be with you ……….up at camp. Thanks for reading and remember to follow the blog by entering your email address to the left of the page or scroll down to the bottom on your smart phone.

Seasons

To paraphrase an often used cliche’,” The only thing constant these days is change.” That is for sure in life and also with the seasons, as we are starting to see with the radiant colors bursting forth with the fall foliage. Whether you are hiking a mountain trail or just driving in your car, you can’t help but notice that the leaves are starting their annual conversion to brilliant hues brought on by cooler nights and dry sunny days. I love everything about the fall. The cooler temperatures, the sweaters and wool hats, that cool crispy morning air that hits you in the face as you make your way out the door in the morning. We are blessed with the daily changes in the foliage which are noticeable for weeks at a time until the spectacular color show ends in late October. Then another change occurs. But what about change?

As I sit in my car and admire the show, I also think about how many fall seasons I have seen in my life and how each one is different and should be appreciated in its own way. I reminisce with scenes in my head of grade school fall soccer with my son. Hikes with him in a backpack and naps in the car afterwards. I go way back and think about my grade school football days where I knew absolutely nothing and just ran around to get my uniform dirty. I think about those first classrooms and the changing kids each year both physically and otherwise. New kids, old kids, kids that had become friends as we played in the piles of leaves that my dad raked in the lawn. Yes the only thing constant is change for sure and it happens more rapidly as the years go by.

Riding my mountain bike in the fall and hiking is another way to see natures portrait and when I am alone, I have more time to think about change. Things have happened in my life that have taught me lessons. Sad changes like death and illness for people once loved and now in their eternal reward. Disappointments, heartaches, and changes that have made me sad……….and happy. Let’s concentrate on those for a moment.

Perhaps the biggest change in my life has been my marriage to my wonderful wife Janet. Today we celebrate 31 year of marriage and though our years together have provided changes full of laughter and tears, the important thing is that we weathered the storms together and continue to do so. We also have had our share of laughs,many laughs,and as they also say in true cliche’ form, ” every pot has a lid.” And Janet has certainly been the lid to my pot of boiling, roiling, mixtures of angst, strain, humor, laughter, heartache,crazy thoughts and outbursts, and miscellaneous issues and feigned solutions all bubbling in that pot. Janet tends to be the level headed and strong personality in dealing with me as I tend to be like my mother with emotional solutions and impulsive and at times impetuous behavior. Trying to fix everything and be the peacemaker. Janet tempers that with thought, and taking that much needed deep breath before she takes the lid off and stirs the mixture into a recipe that can be palatable for our family. I am not the easiest person to live with and she has done it with grace far beyond what I deserve.

As you think about change this fall season, think about whether you have received grace from that special person in your life. Think about how you have given grace and been even tempered and loving in the midst of change in your life. Think about those leaves and how they react to changes in the weather. Are you a colorful light to your spouse, significant other, friends, family, older person? I find myself thinking a lot more about those things as the years go by and the changes that constantly occur in my life. And how absolutely blessed to have someone to share those things with throughout this lifelong season of ………..change. Happy Anniversary dear. God Bless ya!! You are quite the lid to my pot.

” To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.”
-Ecclesiastes 3 1-8.

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“Self Betterment”

Listening to a podcast the other day on my way to the mountains, I heard the term “self betterment” and thought it was an awkward word combination. I know what the author was trying to say which probably would have been “self improvement” but so be it. It caused me to think about what to do as we age and how to keep moving forward.

My friend Pete and I were talking the other day about education and how important it is to continually read and listen to books on tape or podcasts. Maybe take continuing education classes?  You learn something when you do those things and your mind is challenged. I, for one, am a voracious reader and enjoy mostly non-fiction of which my focus has been French and Indian War history as well as the founding of this country. I live in an area rich in history especially pre-revolutionary and revolutionary times. Places like Fort Ligonier are precious to me as I can gaze into the past while looking at uniforms and artifacts housed in the museum there. I like to read books by David McCullough such as his recent book, ” The Pioneers”. I learned a lot about the western emigration to Ohio and the life on the Ohio River in the early days of our country. The more I read, the more I learn and can truly up the ante in my appreciation of local historical lore.

Sometimes “self betterment” comes in the form of lessons learned. I always say, no matter what happens, you always take away a learning from any experience – positive or negative. Take a recent trip to Chicago. After a conversation with an Uber driver who was from the Middle East, he became agitated with me. I was trying to make conversation and keep things light, but he didn’t take it that way and told me flat out that he didn’t have to talk to me. After he dropped me at the hotel, he gave me a look that could melt stone as I reached for my bag. I didn’t know what was about to happen as he told me to ” get the f out of his car.” Kind of un-nerving to say the least and he didn’t care in the least what rating we gave him. But I think things were lost culturally there and most likely my fault. My humor is sometimes not appreciated and the learning or ” self betterment” I learned that day was to keep my mouth shut and speak when spoken to.

Associating with people who value life and experiences is always a path to ” self- betterment”. People with positive attitudes, a kind spirit, a volunteering heart, are people who can make you a better person. Just because you age, does not mean you cannot improve your life and your appreciation of life. I am trying to slow down and smell the roses so to speak and I surround myself with people who can teach me things and make me a better person. My wife has done that for sure. She has good insight on many things and her kind spirit is always a message to me as she selflessly takes care of her aging mother every single day. The old saying that ” you are who your friends are” is so true. My grandfather also said on the flip side of a coin, that ‘ if you fool with a skunk, you end up smelling the same way.” Look for people who make you better.

My friends tend to be skiers and mountain bikers. But we have more than that in common. Many of those folks have made me a better person. They educate me, they are thoughtful and kind, and they enjoy the outdoors and point out things to me that I would never notice. People who now have retired and give back to the community in ways that cannot be measured.

Bottom line…………”self betterment”? Education? Experience? Friendships?” If you pay attention, as you age, you can learn something every day. Thanks for reading.