Messiah

I have to hand it to George Frideric Handel. His oratorio produced in April of 1742 still stands today as one of the finest pieces of orchestral and vocal performance. On my way out of the beautifully decorated Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh the other night, Janet asked me how I knew every word and the accompanying solo artist performance? Aside from the fact that “Messiah” is all based on scripture and reveals the salvation message of the Bible, the music is powerful and the choral work is so inspiring it brings people like me to tears. The Pittsburgh Symphony and the Mendelssohn Choir bring this masterpiece to life and I always take the opportunity to take it in during the holidays when I can. The reason I know it well, is that at Christmas time, I play it often in my vehicle.

“Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low.” Isaiah 40:4 “Oh thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain.” Isaiah 40:9

On my way to the mountains to ski, I listen to this verse and imagine the power of that day. In my meager effort to imitate the tenor part here, I sing it in my car much to the delight of passing truck drivers and toll booth operators. They laugh and think I am rocking out to something on the radio. Little do they know. Listening to this, and seeing the mountains around me in the car, it is almost like I am transported to a place higher than where I am.

“Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel; God with us.” Isaiah 7:14

I take this in silence in the vehicle. Contemplative and the counter tenor part is inspiring.

“And the angel said unto them: Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2 10-11

Aside from thinking about Linus and Lucy in a Charlie Brown Christmas here, the soprano part definitely stirs the Christmas soul in all of us. This is a signature performance for the soprano in the oratorio and in Heinz Hall the other night, Rachel Gilmore was spectacular. I crank this up in the car when I listen on the road, because I really appreciate the talent of a trained soprano.

“All we like sheep have gone astray,we have turned everyone to his own way;and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isiah 53:6

I hear this and think how crazy the world has gotten. Some of the things that have happened in the news- natural disasters, violence, division among us, it makes you think when you hear a chorus like the Mendelssohn sing this verse in a venue like Heinz Hall. Not only does the music stir you, but the words make you think about the message of Christmas. We need some help here folks.

Then comes the ultimate moment when tradition has all of us stand when the orchestra and the chorus sing the Hallelujah Chorus. One year I took my wife Janet to see the performance and it was a sing a long. All the local choirs came and sang each part with the Mendelssohn. When the Hallelujah Chorus was sung, all of Heinz Hall was singing and I almost jumped out of my seat. I sang the tenor part and was part of a powerful group of people singing their hearts out with one of the world’s finest symphony orchestras and an equally talented Mendelssohn Choir. We have a little history here in that my wife’s grandmother sang in the Mendelssohn years ago and when my mother in law went with us this year, she told the tales of the practices and performances in days gone past.

“Oh death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Corinthians 15:55-56

Driving, or listening in Heinz Hall, I think of all who have gone before us. This beautiful message sung by the tenor and the counter tenor, makes me smile and think that they are happy and enjoying the best Christmas of their lives in the company of a celestial chorus of angels. What a vision.

Heinz Hall comes alive for one last chorus of the Great Amen and everyone is up and reveling in the magnificence of the Pittsburgh Symphony, the brass,the violins,the cellos,the resounding kettle drums, and the combined voices of the chorus that shake the walls. To a sentimental Christmas guy like me, memories come alive of Christmas in the past, and great treasures of Christmas present. I hold my wife’s hand as we listen to the last verse from Revelations 5:9.

I love it. I cannot wait to take it in again. If you get the chance, take in “Messiah.” One of the truly great musical and visual performances you will ever see. Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading.

Let’s Keep Daylight Savings Time – all the time!

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was the first guy to have the bright idea about Daylight Savings time? Did you know that we could save more than 1% of electric use if we had DST all year? Did you know that the University of Michigan did a study that concluded that when the time change comes in the fall, there were 227 vehicle/pedestrian deaths versus 65 in the summer. Did you know that Carnegie Mellon did the same study with roughly the same results? Safer to drive with more daylight? Even when daylight dwindles in the fall/winter?

The old adage that standard time is better for chicken and dairy farms doesn’t hold water. In fact, the animals don’t like the changes and would rather have more daylight in the evening. They are used to being fed and milked in darkness and want to thrive, and distribute methane during the day,….. in more daylight. Nothing like a contented cow? How about a contented mountain biker?

I don’t mind pulling out the lights for night riding when the time change comes, but it sure would be nice to sneak in a ride before darkness after work or at least only use the lights to finish a ride. I was even a proponent of moving the clock ahead in the fall instead of falling backward to have more daylight in the evening. People are used to getting up in the U.S. before dawn(70 % of us do), so what is the difference if it is a little darker for more time in the morning if it affords you more light in the evening? People would be more active, use less electricity, drive more safely, (commute in daylight instead of darkness or dusk, driving home when they are tired.)

I can also tell you from a skier’s perspective, the light starts to get flat around 3:00 in the afternoon. If you had a little extra light you could ski right through that 3:00 benchmark and make a full day out of it with decent daylight until the lifts close. You ski so much more confidently when you can see clearly. To me, there is a lot of benefit to extended daylight in the evenings even in the fall/winter months when the sun is low on the horizon for those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere.

There is a lot of history to DST. Franklin Roosevelt was a proponent to protect our soldiers in World War II. And in fact, lately, with the passage of legislation, the clocks are changed later than in the past with the spring ahead slated for the second Sunday in March and the fall back on the first Sunday in November. But if we can do that, why don’t we just go the full gamut for the four months and continue the summer time schedule? We can all get through the dark winter better,and when the spring rolls around, we will have more daylight anyhow. More Vitamin D for all of us, improving our moods. Less crime on darkened streets during regular pedestrian hours. So, we need to start to pester our politicians about this matter. Maybe a note to your senator or congressman? Have a farmer, mountain biker, skier, or anyone else for that matter that values daylight after school or work, do the same. The vociferous rooster, the clucking chicken, the farting Holstein, will all thank you. Enjoy your Thanksgiving. We all have a lot to be thankful for- especially the prospect of more daylight.

You Are!

I am not a Penn Stater. But my wife is. An avid one at that, and so is her mom, her uncle and aunt and her cousin. They all bleed Blue and White. They all shout…..” We are!!” For almost the last 30 years, I have been witness to a phenomena that is reserved for those who have been through the State College experience and have gone through leaps and bounds in their love for their school and their PSU friends. No group could ever be as close as my wife and her PSU pals.

Every fall, we make the trek to Happy Valley to take in a football game and get together with Jan’s whole clan. The fact of the matter is that we get together with them frequently. Ski trips, football games, the beach, weddings, bar mitzvahs, graduations, all are attended by this really close knit group of Nittany Lions.

Personally, I get the bonus of riding mountain bikes in Rothrock State Forest Challenging to say the least but equally as scenic riding along the ridges of Tussey Mountain with my friend Mike Smith- the spouse of my wife’s good friend who was a cheerleader for the Lions. I see the traditions of ice cream at the Creamery, a box of Rocks at the Skellar, hamburger a la Corner, and many others that have been introduced to me by Janet and her friends.

The ladies are particularly close and a lot goes into planning the trips, the food and drinks at the tailgates at the Smith’s motor home. How Judy(the cheerleader) manages to drive that behemoth through traffic, set up the tents, the food, the drinks, and welcome friends and strangers alike with her husband Mike, is really remarkable. For almost 30 years this crowd has invaded the Ritchey home as they graciously allow us to crowd in and crash for the weekend. Mark and Kathy are an amazing couple whose generosity over the years is inspirational. Kathy was Janet’s “roomie” and they are the best of friends. Dunz, Copes, Fru,the O’Donnells, the Readings, the incredible food prepared by Diane Barrett and her husband Billy. These guys all blow your mind with their love and passion for each other.

But the spirit of the Penn State Experience was truly on display this weekend when a record breaking attendance was set in Beaver Stadium for the game against Michigan. If you have ever experienced a “white out” it is a most intimidating sight for the opposing team but the zeal of 110,000+ people chanting “we are” stirs the collective soul of everyone who calls himself or herself a Nittany Lion.

However, if you really want to understand the soul of the Penn State experience, it really lies in the friendships that are created over the years. Penn State people love their school but more often than not, their fondest relationships and memories are with their friends from their days in Happy Valley. Janet’s best friends are her Penn State friends and they make an effort to get together, email,talk on the phone and plan the next get together. My wife recently lost her brother and the last crowd in the corner at our house was the PSU crowd. Gathering around Janet and her mom, crying, laughing, sharing feelings and hurts, and collectively wrapping their paws around two of their brood who were sad and hurting. This is the soul of the group. They love each other in the good times and in the bad times. They are there for each other through thick and thin and often it is no easy task seeing that the group is spread all across the country.

As I sat among Michigan fans this past weekend( the way the tickets worked out), the people around me remarked what a great experience they were having in Happy Valley. They said, there is nothing like the Big Ten experience and I am sure that friendships like these can happen at most schools who create that kind of atmosphere. I had a quite different experience going to a Division 3 private college but I have learned a lot watching the Penn State crew over all the years. They have become my friends as well and have embraced me like one of their own. Their paws have comforted my wife and me in hard times and welcomed us in all the good times when we get together. They are generous,kind, attentive, and would do anything for you. When I looked out on that massive crowd this past weekend, I thought about the cheer “we are!” It vibrated through the stadium and echoed in the mountains around Happy Valley. It was broadcast nationally on television and as I took it all in,I can surely say….., without a doubt…….. ” Yes- you are!!!” Thanks for reading.

The Roundabout

The first time I ever saw a roundabout was when I was riding my road bike in Ireland, streaking into the town of Cork. All of a sudden I found myself in this circular juggernaut, riding the “wrong way” on the left hand side of the road as per Irish road rules, and battling cars coming from all directions. Somehow I found my way through and it spat me out the other side where I had to stop and take a mental breather.

It is my personal opinion that roundabouts are a cruel Halloween joke foisted on the public to cause strain and stress in an already volatile driving situation. Somehow engineers think that these roadway puzzles are helpful in relieving traffic situations but in my time on the road since Cork, I have seen nothing but potential mayhem ensue. Three of them in a row in Glens Falls, N.Y. For what purpose? One right in the middle of the main drag in Kings Beach, Nevada. Costing the taxpayers millions of unnecessary dollars. Then there is the infamous one that I navigated this past weekend in Westfield, N.J. for my nephew’s wedding. Driving through that circular death trap is nothing short of harrowing. New Jersey drivers are aggressive to begin with and when you couple that with a roundabout situation where they come at you from all directions, the white knuckles come out on the steering wheel, the language deteriorates, and you hang on for dear life. Here comes one racing in hot from the left…………..HORN……….incoming from the right…….no quarter at all……..the guy gives you the bird…………Hang on, the guy on the left is still coming hard…………make it to the third exit…………HORN………….another friggin HORN……Whew…………I made it!!!!!

Whenever I make it past Easton, Pa on my way to visit my sister, it is game on. I tell Molly that she and her fellow Garden State drivers are not good enough to drive that fast and cross four lanes without even looking. No wonder there are 21 car pileups on Interstate 78 headed east in New Jersey. I find myself uptight when visiting my sister because there are too many people over there and the drivers will cut you off without blinking an eye. I leave room between me and the car in front and in New Jersey, that is a license for 5 cars to squeeze in front, barely missing my front bumper. As my co-worker Jenni MacDonald says, ” Pat, turn signals are a sign of weakness.” She drives in Seattle and LA. Enough said.

Fortunately, I only had to drive the demonic roundabout in Westfield once this weekend and as I left on Sunday morning making my way back to the ‘burg, I felt the relief in my shoulders and my demeanor getting more calm as the miles went by. I tend to be a conservative driver much to the consternation of my family. My son Jack always correlates my conversation with the speed of the vehicle. He says, ” Dad, as you make your conversational points, your foot gets farther and farther from the accelerator and you become dangerous.” Whatever!

As I move on in life, the stress created in places like New Jersey is less appealing. Don’t get me wrong, I always like to see my sister and her family and there are nice things to appreciate in Jersey. But the drivers are nuts. Western Pennsylvania is miles from the mayhem of the east coast. I have many ways to commute to my workplace and I always choose the road less traveled. My route is non-stressful and bucolic in a way, especially this time of year. I appreciate the back roads draped in the changing canopy around me.

As I calmly navigate the back roads to work, sometimes with the SPA channel on Sirius XM gently soothing me on the way,(I know, I am a dorc), I think about how relieved I am not to live and work on the east coast where I would fight the dragons of the roadways,choking traffic, and face the evil roundabouts that troll for drivers like me. The devil himself lives in the center of those circular tempests and delights in frightening the uninitiated. No Halloween horror movie could be better scripted that the PA. driver in the middle of the Westfield roundabout. So my advice is, drive safely, heads up for the maniacs, and steer clear of roundabouts if at all possible. Thanks for reading.

The Oldest Guy

” Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming,” Wow! WHAT A RIDE!”

-Hunter S. Thompson

I have also heard this with the ending, ” missing parts, leaking oil and screaming “Geronimo.” I always subscribe to this way of living because I like adventure, travel and experiences in my own way. However, due to a series of events recently, I have had some thoughts that question my verve. Some of this began a couple of weeks ago when I was discovering that I was the oldest guy on the mountain bike rides.  I really should not let that bother me but with the death of my brother in law at 61, and some other news of contemporaries who have had their troubles, I began to question my lifestyle as I march quickly towards 63. Sometimes, I feel like I am in an out of control vehicle and can’t stand on the brakes hard enough. Life is screaming by.

Then God plops me down right in the middle of Somerset county in an old barn for Biff Swager’s 65th birthday party( Is that the greatest name in the world?……Biff Swager!!!). Biff’s wonderful wife Annie organized the surprise party and all the old ski crowd came out in force. The food was wonderful, the band was GREAT, and the group danced their asses off( no other good way to put it), yes they danced their asses off and the joy of life was in full swing. Sue Baum Treacy summed it up best when she marveled at the group and vowed that we all have to get together this winter and ski because that is what brought us all together as kids in the first place. She and her husband John walk the walk by recently retiring and hopping on the back of their motorcycle, touring the west.

So, that was a real shot in the arm and dispelled any thoughts about age when I saw my group of contemporaries really enjoying each other’s company and killing it on the dance floor- of an old barn. Even Herman Dupre who is in his 80s, said he has so much work to do, he wants to live until he is 124. His wife Sis said “I will give him 100 from me and that is it.” We all laughed and as I drove off into the night, I thought what a great group and a great reason to keep living life as large as possible. You don’t have to climb Everest or do something outrageous to be adventurous. For me, taking that first ski turn down a chute out West, or rolling over a giant boulder field in West Virginia on the MTB is adventurous. Just have a positive attitude and engage in new ventures. The joy of a bike ride in cool fall weather can garner the same feeling of adventure that Jimmy Chin feels on a mountain peak. Not as dramatic, not as bold, but still relatively speaking, a personal adventure. Do what you can but like NIKE says…………just do it!!!

I remember asking Scot Nicol, the founder of IBIS Bicycles, one time on a ride,” how long do you think we can keep riding mountain bikes like this Scot?” He looked at me and said, ” Pat- don’t even think about it. Just keep riding.” This is sage advice from a Californian who really enjoys what he does. But what else dispels those internal thoughts that say, ” you are 63- who are you kidding?” Besides the joy of a ski turn and the beauty of the mountains, and the fitness created by riding a mountain bike, there are things that define self worth. The love of a spouse, the caring for friends, volunteering, being there for a cause, and spreading the good word of the Kingdom. True self worth is nothing more that knowing you are loved by the Good Lord. We are so blessed. It is incumbent upon all of us to care for each other, one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time. Make the effort folks, because as I have recently seen, life is fragile and we need to make the most of every moment. The time that is spent with your family and friends is so valuable. Sometimes you don’t realize it until someone is gone.

I know where I am going someday. But in the mean time, I will definitely leak oil, skid broadside in a cloud of smoke, and live life with that promise ahead of me. Who cares if I am the oldest guy? Thanks for reading.

The Bike and the Box Turtle

So, I am pounding up the Bathtub Trail, kind of clearing my head on a solo mountain bike ride this week and I come upon a box turtle right in the middle of the trail. I did something unusual- I stopped. I checked him out and marveled at the way the color of his shell blended in with the rapidly changing leaves all around me. I looked at the texture of his shell and thought to myself, what a wonderful Creator who weaved this beautiful ecosystem we have to enjoy right in my own county park. As I made my way up the trail, I noticed the diversity of the leaves that were beginning to cover the ground. Flaming red maple leaves, brilliant yellow oak leaves, multicolored ash, chestnut, and other species of deciduous trees that spread their foliage like a patchwork blanket before me. Fall has arrived and I am contentedly happy.

Usually I try to ride for a good workout and push myself, even on solo rides. But this day was reserved for more pleasant riding, kind of like mobilized hiking enjoying the natural world all around me. At this time of year, the trails are usually dry and you can pretty much ride as fast as you can and feel “in the zone” as you rail the corners and pound up the hills. This is the time when most of us are in peak shape and the euphoria that you feel after a fast paced ride is intoxicating. But, there are days in the fall when I like to just ride the bike for relaxed transportation in a world that is peaceful, welcoming, and shelters you from the pressures of the real world. The changing leaves are all around and along with the shorter evenings, the cooler temperatures, and the smell of the tannin in the leaves displays something that Western Pa. has in it’s bag of tricks to entice travelers and natives alike. If you are out in it, close your eyes and take a deep breath of that musty, woodsy, cool air into your lungs. Only at this time of year does it smell like that. Summer fragrances, winter blasts of cold air,spring evening smells, are all good eye closing intakes, but the fall air is the best.

The mountain trails in our Laurel Highlands are coming alive with color, and arm warmers, vests, tights, are all practical wear as the cooler temperatures welcome in the coming winter season.

But back to the box turtle. Instead of using him as a speed bump, I took the time to examine him and notice how he fits in. The diversity of the changing flora seem to welcome him as part of their patchwork of color. The buck are starting to surface and as they stare at you with their fully grown racks, they are part of this diversified animal kingdom that makes up the forest in the mountains and parks of Western Pa. Turkey, grouse, groundhogs, raccoons, birds of all species, including the majestic osprey and red tail hawk, are busy preparing for the long winter ahead. Bald eagles are visible in the mountains and their wingspans continually amaze me as I stop to take in their flight pattern in the ridges to the east. I see open chestnut pods releasing their treasure to the scurrying squirrels and chipmunks. Acorns,and seeds of all kinds are being scooped up by very busy little rodents who take great chances using the trails full of hikers and mountain bikers. The come perilously close to losing their life as they dodge the knobby tires of the many bikes on the trails.

But as my mind wandered, I thought about how all of this fits together. The trees, the leaves, the animals, all form the ecosystem that we call the forest. As I ride along, not in anaerobic debt, I take in the smells, the sounds, and the sights of a changing natural world. Yet it is one entity created out of a patchwork of diversity. Kind of makes you think doesn’t it? Enjoy the fall. Thanks for reading.

Being a Brand Ambassador

For those of you who know me, you are aware that I get excited about things. My friends always laugh and say, ” Really Pat, is this the best?” I say, ” this is absolutely the BEST!” They chuckle and laugh at my enthusiasm for a wide variety of products. Recently, I went camping with a friend and used an instant coffee called Alpine Start out of Boulder, Colorado. Now I am a bit of a coffee snob but cranking up my Jet Boil, I got the water nice and hot and used the packet of Alpine Start which is a convenient instant coffee for the outdoors crowd. I was pleasantly surprised and so was my friend when we sipped the absolutely delicious coffee each morning. When I tell you it is the best, believe me, it is. I can hear my friends, but try some Alpine Start.   info@alpinestartfoods.com

As part of my enthusiastic nature, I usually contact a company and tell them how much I like their product. In some instances, like with Alpine Start, they made me a “brand ambassador.” I am not on the payroll, I just get some courtesies for promoting the product and a nice SWAG box full of goodies. It is their way of saying” thank you” and hoping that I talk it up with my friends. So what makes me a candidate to be a “brand ambassador” for anything? Well, lets go to another example from my friend Niall who is in the bicycle industry. He asks me from time to time to post something on my blog about new lines that he carries. For that courtesy, he makes me a “brand ambassador” and I get more SWAG and some courtesies from his companies that he represents. I don’t do it unless I believe in the product, but Niall says that I cover a wide swath of outdoor people with whom I interact and that makes me, in his eyes, a good brand ambassador. I am not a pro athlete, I am not on the payroll, the companies just see me as an enthusiastic guy who might exert some influence on my friends in the outdoor world to try a particular product.

When I became certified as a ski instructor back in the day, it opened up another similar opportunity to take advantage of “pro deals” which gives me deep discounts on ski equipment and clothing. For this courtesy, these companies rely on us to use the product when skiing and generate some conversations on the chair lifts which may result in a sale of the product to the public. Again, not on the payroll, just promoting the products in exchange for some nice discounts on products which I would normally use anyhow.

Taking this a step further, being a brand ambassador can be applied to recommending a shop with whom I am comfortable. I like Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop in Verona, Pa. and recommend their products and services. Barry and the boys are always nice to me down there when I buy something or get my bike repaired. I appreciate their friendship and great service and recommend them mostly because they are my friends. I am not on the payroll, just promoting them because of their friendly expertise.

Taking this a final step, our marketing department for the company where I am employed recently had a lunch and learn where they said that we all are “brand ambassadors” for the company when we interface with customers, carriers, and suppliers. When you think of it, if you are employed, you are representing your company every day. In exchange for a good job, benefits,culture, and the occasional SWAG, you should promote your company like I do with Armada. We do a great job for our clients like McDonald’s, and they appreciate the hard work and ethic that we have in servicing their supply chain needs.

So again, you don’t have to be a pro athlete to be a brand ambassador. I do it as an employee of my company. I also do it for companies like Alpine Start where I believe in their product. I promote my local bike and ski shop. I also promote product which I believe is superior in the outdoors industry such as Stockli Skis, Lange boots, and Patagonia clothing. Yes I get a pro/bro deal, and it helps my financial bottom line, but I would not do it if I did not believe in the product. You have to be true to yourself, otherwise, you are just a deal monger and your influence and recommendations are nothing short of shallow. So, think about it. You can be a brand ambassador. If you are enthusiastic about a product, email the company and tell them. You never know, they might come back to you and ask about your sphere of influence and make you a “brand ambassador.” I doesn’t cost you anything other than the specified guidelines for promotion and your good word. Thanks for reading.