Breakfast at the Grange

“The Grange is a fraternal organization in the United States that encourages families to band together to promote the economic and political well being of the community and agriculture”

It is amazing how a little Vermont maple syrup can make even the most stoic farmer smile. I have this habit of taking my own Vermont maple syrup with me whenever I know I am going to have pancakes for breakfast. My wife and son just shake their head but not long ago, I used to take my son to the buckwheat pancake breakfasts at the Mt. Nebo Grange and always brought my maple syrup. This time of year when the sap starts running(not me running- the sap out of the maple trees), and the northeast starts the process of manufacturing syrup, I take advantage of the buckwheat pancake breakfasts that spring up locally on my way to the ski slopes. It is a rite of passage with spring skiing and in his formative years, I would take my son Jack to the Mt. Nebo Grange before we would head to the mountains. He didn’t quite know what to make of it but when we entered the building, the elder ladies and gentlemen of the Grange would seat us and serve the most delicious buckwheat pancakes. Interesting thing about buckwheat pancakes is that there is quite a bit of preparation which includes making the batches of batter ahead of time and allowing the yeast to do its thing. When you slather butter on them and pour the maple syrup and take your first delectable bite, there is a hint of a brewed substance almost like the taste of beer. Jack was not a fan but satisfied himself with the regular pancake offerings and bacon which brought a smile to his syrup smeared face.

It is curious that when you enter a place like the Grange, all of the members seem to know each other and even though the breakfasts are open to the public, there is this sense of belonging and if you are a stranger, you are given a seat with a wary eye. That all starts to melt when they see a young guy like Jack as they try to make him feel welcome even though we are not “Grangers”. The old farmers would check us out and when I brought out the Vermont syrup, their Log Cabin generic swill started to look pretty average at best. I would see the curiosity in their faces and offer to share my treasured gold with them. They willingly took up my offer and looked over at Jack and me and a crack of a smile came to their rather serious faces. The next thing you know, the table was swarming with curiosity seekers and my syrup suddenly vanished. I learned my lesson on subsequent visits by bringing more syrup and suddenly Jack and I became known as the “syrup guys” and like “Cheers” we all were greeted with a robust “hello” when we entered the building. It was only for a couple of weekends but somehow, Jack and I felt like we fit in to this fraternal organization of farmers or would be farmers which is slowly fading with urban sprawl.

I always made it my business to expose Jack to a lot of events and experiences when he was growing up. I explained the mission of the Grange and although we were not of an agricultural bent, he understood what the organization meant and why it was slowly losing membership as the farms were being sold to developers and the membership of the Mt. Nebo Grange was aging. But to share that experience of home made food, and seeing the culture of the farm life, was a good experience for father and son.

So, if you happen to be looking for some entertainment and good food during “cabin fever” time, look for buckwheat pancake breakfasts near you. They tend to pop up at this time of the year and if you need some syrup, contact and tell Pauline I sent you. We have good syrup here in Pa. but I must admit that I am partial to Vermont Grade A Golden Color with Delicate Taste. That is what you want to order. Thanks for reading.

Miss Molly Could Turn ’em

My sister Molly and I had a great childhood learning to ski thanks to the initial encouragement of our parents and subsequently with the opportunity to stay at the Rich cabin on County Line Road every winter weekend. Bob and Sally Rose, Barley and Dixon Rich, and our parents,Carol and Dick, made it a priority that all of us kids would ski and enjoy the winter with the opportunity to stay in the mountains together-with spread out sleeping bags all over the living room.

Fast forward, my sister attended Carnegie Mellon University,majoring in Music Theater, and I would take her on her spring breaks to ski areas in the east and the west. When we would drive to New England, I forced her to ski in the most challenging conditions( rain, sleet, snow, ice,) and we would drive forever trying to find the best snow. She skied the bullet proof conditions at Killington, Sugarloaf and Stowe, and when she returned to school, she was exhausted after a week with her Type Quad A brother.

We would also go west to Snowbird, and Alta with my friend Mike Smith from Lake George and oftentimes she would stare down the Cirque with some apprehension and I would encourage her to go for it because she had the technique to ski it. After a harrowing trip for her on the High Traverse to the top of High Rustler at Alta, Molly started down and initiated a small slide. Her eyes were as wide as a pie plate and I said it is all fine, just ski it – and she did.

Molly and I would ski locally at an area near her home,when she relocated to Westfield, N.J, named Vernon Valley which is now Mountain Creek. At the time, their best run had a great deli at the bottom and there was nothing like skiing a steep run, dodging the yahoos from New York City, and eating a great corned beef on rye for lunch and doing it all over until the lifts closed.

Fast forward again, Molly got a great gig as the host of a nationally syndicated TV show out of WOR TV Channel 9 in New York. Romper Room and Friends with Miss Molly was seen by children all over the country on the super station and when she would return to Pittsburgh to visit, she had “Doobie Stickers” in hand which would end up on the back of everyone’s season passes at Seven Springs – our local ski area.

Molly was not only a celebrity from the TV show, but a local celeb who skied very well. We would race together in the Poconos on Pro Am teams during our cousin’s tenure with Coca Cola and as a strong woman skier, the guys from the Pro Skiing Circuit were all too happy to have her on their teams. We got some nice hard wear from those Pro Am races,which were Coca Cola sponsored, and the Belden brothers(Kurt and Kent) from Pico, Vermont, always wanted us to be on their team. More money for them and bigger bowling alley trophies for us.

Life moved on for Molly and she had 4 kids and the skiing days started to become far and few between. I tried to encourage her to grind through and keep her ski days in the winter, but it just became too time consuming with her work of raising a family.

Recently, things came a little full circle when my nephew Charlie, his new bride Trina, and my niece Mary all visited Laurel Mountain for a ski day with Uncle Pat. . As I watched Charlie and Mary, I saw glimpses of their mother in their turns and it was a joy to me that somehow my sister’s genes rubbed off on the slopes. Trina was a natural even though she was never on a pair of skis before in her life. Charlie remarked that he and Trina will make this a priority in their lives together and that made me smile.

Molly has a new hip now and the excuses for a return to the slopes with her Quad A brother are quickly fading. Maybe we will see some more Doobie Stickers re-surfacing as she perhaps makes a comeback? I am hoping so. Life can get in the way of things that you really like to do. But if you make it a priority and grind through the BS, you can enjoy the mountains, the slopes, or whatever your pleasure is. Carpe Deium folks. Life is short. Enjoy it. Maybe you will be seen in the Magic Mirror again? Thanks for reading.

It is Tough to Teach an Old Dog New Tricks

So,I am up here in the Adirondacks visiting my old friend Mike Smith who I have skied with for 45 years. I have posted about Mike before. Acrobatic pilot, skydiver, marina owner, and general gas pedal to the floor guy. That is him on the left in the picture above. The other guy is Mark Hutchinson, my friend from Vermont. Ex ski race coach at Stowe and PSIA Level III 40 year ski instructor. Hutch coached Eric Schlopy and Chip Knight who were US Ski Team members, World Cup racers, and Olympians. Hutch knows skiing and makes great turns.

Now going back to Mike on the left, he has been hampered as of late with some knee issues because of past sins on a motorcycle. So, I have been hammering him on the use of the new ski equipment which allows for easier turns and shorter lengths. Despite the knee issues, he refuses to ski on the modern skis and insists on skiing with a 20 year old pair of Heads. He ridicules us for using the new skis and vows that he never will even try them and hurls a bunch of expletives which I cannot recount here. Hutch on the other hand, is a proponent of modern ski equipment and will never even think about skiing on anything that is not state of the art. He has had two hip replacements and is skiing like he did 30 years ago. He is in good shape, skis really well, all day long.

Now Smith, because of his knee issue, will only ski half a day any more and if it is not perfectly groomed, he will not ski. He is trying to preserve his knee. So when a foot of new snow fell on Sunday night and we went to Gore, I pulled out the fat boards( 107 under foot) and enjoyed the windblown powder and the skis performed flawlessly in the cut up snow as well. Smith said no way with his old skis and went to the lodge. I told him how easy the new fat boards are but he had no interest. His curmudgeon attitude was coming out strong and he missed a perfectly good ski day

The Summit Chair at Whiteface was beckoning the next day, and as Hutch and I got ready to board, Mike said he would just ski the lower groomed trails and missed all the new fluff at the top of the mountain. Again, his old skis were limiting his fun but he refused to try the new skis that I sent up to him. He has a nice pair of Stockli GS skis in a 183 length sitting in his rack at his marina and refuses to try them. When Hutch and I rode him hard at The Cottage after skiing, over a nice Switchback Ale, he once again rattled off a bunch of lines about how he will never use skis like we use. Hutch and I had a great day at Whiteface, Mike once again packed it in at noon.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to paint a bad picture of my old friend, but he refuses to listen to advice about new equipment that would make his skiing so much more enjoyable and also easier on his knee. Mike has always been a good skier but if you don’t keep up with the times, you are limiting yourself and it only accelerates with age. Granted, Mike is a few years older that Hutch and me and has had a plethora of injuries due to his high risk hobbies. He says, ” McCloskey, I have 100,000 miles on my body and it is starting to show.” And I keep telling him that if he would only try the new skis that I sent to him, he would be so much happier. He said, ” when the Heads break, maybe I will try them.” That is the closest thing I have gotten up here to a capitulation. For a guy who has a successful business, survived 3 plane crashes, and has jumped close to 2500 times out of an airplane, he has lived all of his dreams for sure. We love the guy.

The tough part is that Hutch and I ski all day. We can do that because we take care of ourselves and we use equipment that helps our skiing. Mike admitted that he was sorry that he could not ski all day with us, but it is not for lack of skill, or even the knee, it is his refusal to come into the 21st century and it is costing him time on the hill with his buddies. He is an excellent skier. He could be so much better. He also needs to take care of that knee somehow with some surgery that would render it new again. But that is another discussion that did not go well.

Again, I was a smiling dog on top of Whiteface, and so was Hutch. But I missed my old friend when he threw in the towel and went in at lunchtime. So, what lies ahead? I think I have finally admitted to myself that I will not change Mike’s mind and it will only be him that makes any change. That seems to be a recurring theme with me anyhow and I need to let things go and let people make their own decisions. I can’t force my opinions and beliefs on anyone. I need to let people decide for themselves and if I have presented my case and they don’t follow the advice or the suggestion, I need to let it go. I am hoping that my buddy will get competitive again and get on the new boards and ski with his pals who so desperately want to ski with him. He is a crusty old tough guy, but I know he wants to be able to ski like he has always done in the past. So, if you see him up at the Pilot Knob Marina on Lake George, tell him to hang those old Heads up over his fireplace and get with the times. But don’t tell him I said so, because he will throw you in the lake. Thanks for reading and stay current in all that you do.

The Spinning Alternative

So this was a milestone winter for me in that I finally retired from running. 9 months of the year I ride a mountain bike but in the winter, when the trails get really nasty( not nasty for my fat bike friends) but nasty in my estimation, I always turned to running until the spring. My knee started to bother me on uphill runs and I decided to preserve it for future use. I have no issues with it skiing and riding and want to keep it that way so all my years of running are finally coming to a close. So aside from hiking, I needed an alternate form of exercise to keep in some semblance of shape and I returned to …………..the spin class at my local YMCA.

As I first entered the studio, I was welcomed by a wide array of folks getting set up on their bikes. The guy in front of me with his Tough Mudder Finisher T-Shirt warming up in a rage, the homemakers, the young girls in their yoga outfits, the tri-athlete with his headphones on oblivious to anyone in the room, and the instructor who began turning up unfamiliar music in the acoustically challenging loud room. Now I am an old rocker and used to loud music, but when the spin class music cranks up, I can’t hear a thing that the instructor says with her headset microphone planted firmly in her mouth. Maybe it is just me but all I hear is blah blah blah…………three, two, one………..and then whatever? So I just watch her and when she stands, I stand and when she sits, I sit, as I pedal to the beat of heavy metal or some other form of music. No Atlantic Records or Motown anywhere in sight. And that’s okay.

As the puddle of sweat forms under my bike, I look around the room at the various forms of fitness. Standing and jumping is foreign to a mountain biker and so many times, I just sit and pedal to the beat and sweat profusely. A good workout, no doubt, but not really aligning itself with cycling in particular. I remember a few years ago, when my wife and I started taking the class together, the instructor at the time came in and said if we were talking, we were not working hard enough. She was a hard body, had a look of disdain, and looked right at me and said,” and- I beat all the guys at everything that I do.” With that, I kept warming up wondering what these classes would entail with this intense woman of stone. Interestingly, after a few weeks, she heard me mention that I was riding in the MS-150 ( the charity ride for MS that goes from Pittsburgh to Lake Erie). This event was a two day event with a stop over at my Alma Mater – Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa. She told me she wanted to ride with my friends and I said that she was surely welcome. Obviously she wanted to prove a point and she showed up loaded for bear.

At the start of the ride, my friends wondered who this woman was with the time trial bike and disc wheel. She had a skin suit and a time trial tear dropped shaped helmet and menacing sunglasses and as we began the slow ride from the start, my friends wondered what she was doing with a group of older riders who were out for a good time and not a race. Interestingly enough, after the first hill, she was gone. And I don’t mean in front of us. I mean she was off the back after the first hill. Long story short, she was weeping, mascara running down her face, as I waited 45 minutes for her outside of Meadville and we rode the hill together up to the college. She could not believe that she, a “professional athlete”, could not ride with a bunch of old guys. I felt kind of sorry for her seeing that it meant so much to her, but I encouraged her to keep riding outside and it will all come together. I told her that there is a difference in riding a road bike or a mountain bike and spinning in a studio. The experience of anticipating shifting, how to ride in a group, drafting, etc. Not that there is anything wrong with spin class, it is just different outside. She was somewhat comforted and encouraged as I deposited her into the loving arms of her man waiting for her at the college.

So as I continue to spin a couple of times a week, the exercise is good but I have no expectations that when I get out on the road or mountain bike in the spring, I will be in good riding shape. The spring is tough no matter what you do to stay in shape. The only guys who seem to overcome the spring pain are the fat bikers(not fat cyclists, but those who ride fat bikes) and the road guys who ride all winter no matter what the weather does. That is not for me as I like to do other things in the winter. But I know that I will be challenged for a while when the new riding season starts. But in the mean time, I will continue to form the puddles of sweat and listen to the pounding rhythmical cadence of music, bikes, and spinning flywheels. I just wish I could understand what the instructor is saying? It is hell to get old. Thanks for reading.

The Arctic Plunge

The picture you see above is Gus Brickner aka the Human Polar Bear. My dad was fascinated with the exploits of this long distance swimmer who distinguished himself by his winter swims in the Monongahela River in the winters around Pittsburgh. His famous New Years Day plunge in 1962 was witnessed here by yours truly and my dad. He said,” Patrick, lets go down and see Gus Brickner jump in the Mon.” As an 8 year old kid, I was thrilled that my dad wanted to take me and off we went to see the guy who eventually logged 38,500 miles swimming, two English Channel attempts, and swimming behind the ice breaker boats in the Mon during the most brutal winters near Charleroi, Pa.

My dad was an engineer and he always wanted to show me things that meant something to him as a technical person. I remember going to Geneva on the Lake when I was a kid and my dad taking me to Sandusky, Ohio to see the big ore freighters that traveled the Great Lakes bringing iron ore to the steel mills. He would explain the process of making steel and eventually built a continuous caster scale model for me to enter into the Buhl Planetarium Science Fair. Now, I knew nothing about continuous casting in the steel industry as a young kid and when asked about the project, I fumbled my way with the nuns trying to explain what my dad had told me. To my surprise, I was not a technical person, but my explanation along with my contrite personality with the nuns, got me a good grade and also an entry into the Science Fair. I( we- my dad) eventually ended up in the finals and once again, I had beads of sweat coming out of the arm pits trying to explain the virtues of the continuous caster. My dad was so proud of his- er a – my project.

Not long after the visit to the Mon to see Gus the Polar Bear, it seemed like spring came early and off we were to the ball games at Forbes Field. My dad, being a fan of baseball, explained the technical aspects of fielding a baseball to me and under no circumstances was I ever to do a “basket catch” like my idol Roberto Clemente. My dad dissed him as a “hot dog” but I was impressed that he could throw out guys at the plate all the way from right field. To me – the “Great One” was something but to my dad, if you did not have the glove over your head and trap the ball with the other hand so as not to drop it, you were not technically a good ball player. My dad- seen here in the middle with the great Honus Wagner back in the day in Bellevue.

It really did not matter to me that we went down in the middle of winter to see a guy jump in the icy river, or make the trek to see the giant ore boats, or go to the ball park, or launch Estes rockets across the street that my dad had built for me. It was the chance to spend time with my hero, my dad. He took the time for me and showed me things as a young kid that I remember to this day- a man in my 60s. I remember the kite flying when my dad would use three balls of string and stretch the kite out into the stratosphere- or so it seemed to me. The cleaning bag flying balloons powered by a little can of sterno glued to a cross bar of balsa wood – floating away into the clear night air. So many fun projects and excursions. The first time my sister and I went skiing, we were stuck in a raging snowstorm on the Pa turnpike – on my dad’s birthday, because he wanted to get us started on what he termed the sport of a lifetime. He and my mom did not ski but they made sure we did. The father and son swim competitions where I would see that big smiling face swim to the wall watching me take off in relay fashion.

Gus Brickner, the great Roberto were all heroes to me. But the main hero was the guy who took the time to take me to see them. For you young fathers out there, take a page out of R.J McCloskey’s book. Spend time with your son and daughter. You will never get that time back and they will remember it forever. I did. I saw Gus jump in the river when it was snowing in 1962. Thanks for reading.

The EVL Fix

No, not Evil. EVL- as in Ellicottville, N.Y. This time of year, the guys I ski with, here in Western Pa., are itching to get started on the season. We want to break that seal for the new ski year. I always say, locally, anything before Christmas is a bonus as far as the ski season goes. So, when we are trying to kick and claw out a start with sporadic cold snaps augmented by snow making technology, the pickins get kind of slim. This group of guys are fanatics like I am and we talk about skiing all year round. We plan our western or New England trips and can’t wait to ski the big mountains. But living where we do, we can’t be there all the time and we have to make the best of what we have locally- which is pretty good if you look at it in a positive manner. Enter Western N.Y. and the Lake Erie snow machine.

The guys here start to get jazzed when they see the cold fronts from Canada marching across the big warm Lake Erie producing colossal amounts of snow. We know that Western New York is going to get it and even though the vertical drop is not up to western standards, it still allows for lots of turns and smiles with lots of snow. You can say what you want about modern snow making technology and we would be nowhere without it, but there is no snow machine like the Lake Erie snow machine. My drives on I-86 will testify to the whiteouts that occur when this phenomena occurs. So the trek north begins and we all assemble in EVL and go …………..night skiing. I don’t particularly see well at night but our enthusiasm takes hold and we make turns in the shadows and hidden terrain changes. The cheeseburger and beer at John Harvard’s Brew House follows along with a host of stories and one ups from this group of expert skiers. The next day was sunny and the visibility was perfect, so it was a little better experience. But I would not have missed the night skiing for anything. Just fun to get out there and ski. If you added up the years of this group skiing, you would have well over 250 years of turns. We have skied together a long time here in the Laurel Highlands, and have shared laughs and ski days for many seasons. We appreciate the history of the sport too and the beer fueled conversations often lead to the equipment that we started with, people that we knew, and places where we have skied. When we stroll the hallways of Holiday Valley and Holimont up in Western N.Y., we see pictures like this showing the history of the sport and the traditions that are sacred to Western New York. You see, there are enthusiasts like us everywhere in the ski world and part of the mystique of skiing is respecting that tradition and keeping it alive no matter what tries to get in the way in our busy hectic lives. As I gazed closer at these relics in the case, I see the same Lange ski boots that I used as a kid. I see wooden skis and cable bindings and lace leather boots that I also used as a young guy just starting to ski.

It is fun to get together with my group every week during the winter, because we all share that passion. When the first snowflakes arrive, we can’t help talking to each other about the coming season. People who do not ski cannot relate and sometimes are mystified by our willingness to drive through raging snowstorms to get to our slopes. But when you are willing to drive in harrowing conditions, ski in the rain, battle the ice, basically ski the east, you are not just a person who goes skiing. There is a difference. You are a skier! I hear people all the time say, ” Oh, I only ski out west.” I say, ” Oh that’s cool- you only ski one week a year?” Ski locally, then when you do go out west you are ready and not needing a couple of days to warm up. Don’t be a ski snob. Real skiers use every opportunity, no matter where they live, to enjoy what they have and look forward to great ski days out west too. You can’t be there every weekend so why not enjoy what your local mountains or hills offer?

So my continuing theme in the chronicles is no matter what fuels your passion, get out there and do it and keep doing it. I love the winter. I make no bones about it. I love the snow and although I like the change of the seasons, I get amped with the first snowflakes and make every effort, like my group here, to get out and ski, snowshoe, hike, whatever. I even throw in some yodels just for good measure. Thanks for reading and think snow!

Don’t Circle the Drain

Janet and I went out to dinner the other night with some neighbors who are a little older than we are. They were laughing and joking about some friends of theirs when asked how they were doing? The friends remarked that they were just circling the drain. We all laughed about that visual but in the middle of the night, I took it a little more seriously and thought that I hoped I would never make that statement of being sucked into the vortex of oblivion. I want to be like the spider clawing furiously away from that drain and out of the tub. I try not to think about age but when I do, I make sure I am always taking every opportunity to be active and healthy, and not throwing in the towel. Lots of fun, active times ahead. My friends who are contemporaries feel the same. Take Helen and Eric above. They live in Tahoe and enjoy life in the Sierras. The photo above is from their month long trek in the Himalayas. They ski, hike, trek, and do not circle any drain.

This picture above is Nancy and Mark Hutchinson from Randolph Center, Vermont. They hiked the Long Trail this summer which is from the Massachusetts border all the way to the Canadian border. There are no drains in the Hutchinson household. They take their vacations and are active.

Now you have Bob Bannon. The Lord of Lumens. Bob schedules all the local mountain bike rides and is the guru of lighting systems for night mountain bike riding. Always has spare lights and batteries and is so enthusiastic about riding even with a full schedule of silk screening clothing for a living and being a referee in high school and college volleyball. He is not circling any drain any time soon.

Here is a guy recovering from a close personal tragedy. Mike Rich always has a smile on his face and spends his free time hunting and enjoying the outdoors even with a heavy heart. It would be easy for Mike to feel sorry for himself, but he gives unselfishly to others especially young guys who are at risk for lifestyle choices. No drains out there in Burgettstown.

How about my buddy Art Bonavoglia? He is in his 6th season teaching skiing in the Vail Ski School. When the graphic arts business went in the tank due to on-line publishing and the like, Art went down another path. They love him in Vail. They call him the singing ski instructor. He regales his students with Tony Bennett songs on the chairlift. Art is not going down any vortex.

My main man Mike Smith. Owns a marina on Lake George, flies his own plane, skis, hikes, and sky dives. An amazing ball of energy for a guy in his late sixties. He will work, ski, skydive, most people into the ground. The water is full to the top at Lake George. No swirling drains up in the Adirondacks.

Lastly- a great inspiration to me on enjoying life into his 90s was my grandfather John Reynolds. As an avid fisherman, we went everywhere to fish and he and his buddies would rise with the birds to get that first bite either in the Everglades, or on the lakes in Canada. I had the honor of being their first mate and seeing up close and personal guys in their 80s and 90s enjoying the wilds of nature. No sitting around for these guys.

I guess the point here is that sometimes we let people influence us with statements like, ” when are you going to slow down?” Or “aren’t you a little old for that?” Or maybe “wouldn’t you rather be sitting by the fire under an afghan?” Yes I would – after a great ski day or a great mountain bike ride. I don’t roll over under the comforter if it is cold outside. I like to get out there no matter what. So do these friends of mine mentioned above. They do not go gently into that good night. They are kicking and clawing to stay out of the vortex. Most of them don’t even get close to that swirl just yet. With a new year dawning, if you are thinking that somehow you are getting slowly sucked into that circling drain swirl, maybe it is time to reverse the process. Get active in 2018. You are never too old for anything. Thanks for reading.