Peeling Back the Onion

I had the rare treat of eating my cereal last week watching the waves crash up on the sea wall. I was able to view the steady stream of fishing boats headed out for a day on the water with the exception of the days with a small craft advisory and rough seas. Life slows down a little bit when you are at the “shore” ( aka the beach in points south). I am not typically a shore/beach person but despite all the travels that we make, the annual visit to the Jersey Shore for over 30 years, is always appreciated by Janet and me. We live in the empty nest now and the time spent in Avalon and Ocean City brings back wonderful memories of our family together when our son Jack was a boy.

Although the pace is rather docile for me at the shore, I do appreciate some of the things I see from the seat of my bicycle when riding along the roads of Avalon. The meticulous landscaping of the homes in Avalon is really admirable. It is interesting to see the pristine condition of the homes there and also fun things like the flags of various colleges and universities proudly displayed indicating where the kids attend or the alumni status of the owners. Post Labor Day is a little slower than high season but you still see people clamoring for sticky buns at Kohlers, coffee at the Avalon Coffee Co., and when venturing north to Ocean City, the always delectable Johnson’s Popcorn and Manco and Manco Pizza. Perhaps my favorite is the hot donuts prepared each morning at the end of the boardwalk by Brown’s, a historic breakfast joint. All of this was introduced to me by my wife Janet, as she spent her childhood at the Jersey Shore. Her aunt and uncle have a place there and Janet and her cousins spent summers there growing up, and worked there all through high school and college. Jan has the Jersey Shore in her blood and no matter where we travel through the course of the year, she always looks forward to our time there. I have a feeling that as the years go by, we will spend more and more time in Avalon. Happy wife- happy life.

One thing that was different this year was that Janet and I are on our own now. The car conversations on the way down are different but we truly have the chance to connect. Although the Pandemic has me home and spending more time with Janet, the relaxed pace of a pending vacation , especially a road trip, is well worth the time spent driving. I am used to packing it in on a trip. Ski trips are my thing and the more runs I can make, the better I like it. Gas pedal to the floor and trying to get all we can with a lot of excursions. But the shore trip is different. Slower pace, long conversations on the beach, walks,riding bicycles together, and great books to read while continuing to catch up and discuss things. An interesting point in time on the trip this year was when we visited Via Mare, a classic Italian “go to ” restaurant. The food is always consistently good and the atmosphere is such where you could see Tony Soprano and Paulie eating in the corner listening to classic Italian tunes played on the restaurant Pandora system. I was explaining to Janet about Al Martino and several other Italian/American singers who we heard, when there was a lull in the conversation. I had talked myself out and in that moment of silence, I looked at Janet and appreciated her just like my times at breakfast appreciating the beauty and majesty of the ocean. I didn’t have to entertain her, I just relaxed and enjoyed her, reminiscing on the 32 years spent together as man and wife. The shore will do that to you. It slows the pace and the things that really matter overcome the daily grind and ” busyness” of everyday life. To me, life at the shore is like an onion. You slowly peel back the layers of the complexity of daily living at home, the politics, the Pandemic, the rush rush of daily living, and eventually come to the good part of the onion. What really matters.

I have learned to appreciate the shore. I learned that appreciation through Janet, and her love for the place is infectious. But more importantly, I have learned that life is short and although we are empty nesters now, we have a lot of life to enjoy and do it together. My type “A ” personality is mellowing a bit as I peel back the onion. I am hoping to keep some of that perspective and bring it back home. Thanks for reading.

Discourse

I subscribe to “Mountain” magazine which is a very high quality periodical with great photography and articles pertaining to the mountain life. I like to get lost in the articles and photographs and I am especially thrilled when it shows up in my mailbox. There is something still in me that likes print media and “Mountain” is one of the better quarterly periodicals that has survived. The editor is Marc Peruzzi who is also the founder of the magazine. Marc is an excellent journalist who I have followed over the years. He writes about cycling, skiing, and ski mountaineering in many other magazines like “Outside” and “Ski” . He is well known and has made his living creating interesting articles related to the outdoor industry, outdoor sports and general life of adventure. Marc- seen here on the left on the podium for the Breck Epic Mountain Bike Stage Race.

I was surprised at Marc’s editorial page in the current issue which was named “History Doesn’t Stop”. I found it to be a bit too political for my taste and called Marc to task in an email . My point to him was that I want to read” Mountain” to get away from the political media editorials of today and just plain enjoy a magazine dedicated to the outdoors. To my surprise, he immediately responded with a well crafted message culminating with the following:
” Just as I always take my own opinions and beliefs to task, I am always willing to be taken to task by readers like you. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts instead of just reaching for the cancel button.” We went on to have an increasingly amiable dialog in which he aptly explained his views, but also respected the spirit of his magazine. He felt that today’s political journey does not exclude the mountain population and therefore would always be faithful to putting forth opinion that would relate to that community.

Marc also commented on the fact that I support his print media with a subscription. He thanked me. He also went on to say that it has been hard to attract the advertising that he once had and that print media in general was having difficulty. He wrote most of the articles in his latest issue and said that hopefully things will get better and the ads will start flowing more freely again. I understand his pain as I saw the demise of a lot of quality periodicals that fell prey to a vanishing ad base. Magazines like “Dirt Rag”and “Skiing.” But Marc’s exemplary journalism skills carry the magazine and I went on to tell him so. What started as a rant about his political views in an outdoor magazine, turned into a “discourse” of the spirit of the magazine and his thoughts on the publishing of “Mountain.” My wife Janet was amazed at the time spent on the email discussion with someone who took the time to have a half hour dialog with me on his editorial. Although our political views may slightly differ, the discourse and discussion was enlightening and educational.

Discourse is defined in some circles as ” written or spoken communication of debate.” My point this week is that in today’s divided world, there is often not much discourse. There is a lot of opinion on either side of the political spectrum which oftentimes turns personal in response instead of a healthy dialog or discourse. In this surprising interlude with an editor of an outdoors magazine, I found that discourse with Marc, which is so rare today. I found a person who was willing to discuss his views without getting personal and find a common ground with me. We both love the outdoors and both like to write about it. I was impressed with his passion about the current political scene and how it relates to the outdoors types for whom he writes. It is not often that one ever receives a reply from a letter to the editor, much less such the civil response that I received. But it shows you that people can disagree, but in the continuation of discourse, can find common ground. The Founders did it. Why can’t we all? Thanks Marc for the healthy dialog and thanks for reading folks. Subscribe to “Mountain”. Worth the read.

Garage Door Bob and the Thirsty Thursdays

The tough guy who you see in the middle here with the studded fat bike tires for winter riding is Garage Door Bob. Aptly named because of his highly successful garage door installation and repair business – B&V Garage Doors. B for Bob and V for his lovely wife Vicky. To say that Bob is an avid mountain biker would be a bit of an understatement looking at his own garage filled with bikes, wheel sets, and parts. Bob loves to mountain bike and loves it all year long. The amazing thing is that Bob will ride on 90 + degree, high humidity days after putting in a full days work installing or repairing garage doors. He will do the same in raging snowstorms on icy trails. But what makes Bob and his wife Vicky really special is his ability to round up fellow riders weekly with a text that simply says” Thirsty Thursday- 5:45- Devil’s Elbow Grove- no replies. Just show up or don’t show up- don’t care.” Really a misnomer because Bob does care. He just doesn’t want all the text chatter all day while he is working. LOL!!!

Thirsty Thursday is a tradition that was started by Bob back in the day and has continued along with other weekly rides for our eclectic group of mountain bike riders. There are the tough guys up front who push the pace and then the stragglers who keep the group in sight to the best of their abilities. The tough guys wait at the turns to make sure everybody is along for the ride as it is a no drop ride. But for the most part, all the riders are able to at least keep up and Bob is happy with his weekly band of followers on the trails. We are squeezed a little tight here for social distance but the picture was worth it showing the weekly group and some additions and subtractions as the weeks go by, all year long. But as much as everybody likes the ride, the real thing that people look forward to is the post ride at the grove with beers, snacks, and food graciously provided by Bob and Vicki and Tina and the Shark. Another fun couple who like to contribute to the camaraderie. As long as I have know GDB, he has always brought snacks, beers and been extremely generous at the post- ride festivities- socially distanced of course, and making sure that everybody has a good time. There is something to be said for the post- ride. Sitting in your chair, sipping a beverage, and reminiscing about the crazy stuff that happened. Mountain biking is an accident waiting to happen sometimes. The conversation also turns to what we all will do on future rides and if there are any trips planned. These post ride festivities remind me of apres-ski in the winter around a fire talking basically about the same thing. What happened, what was funny, what do we do next?

Bob and Vicki, Shark and Tina fuel this weekly gathering in more ways than one. And in these days of Zoom, Teams, social isolation, masks, and other Covid related precautions, it is important to somehow be able to get together with your friends in some outdoor activity and have that one on one conversation with a live person. GDB makes it happen each week and although he says he doesn’t care who shows up, he is the first guy to encourage you to ride the whole loop and stay with the group no matter what. He feeds you, he inspires you, he pushes you and he motivates you. Something we all need at least once a week.

Don’t we all need a Garage Door Bob to keep us motivated through these strange social times? Don’t we need more than Zoom, Teams and other forms of communication that really don’t cut it for interaction? Don’t we need that time to sit back and enjoy the remnants of the evening and the cool temperatures seeing the smiles on everyone’s post ride faces? Socially distanced of course. Sure we do. We all need people like GDB and his Thirsty Thursdays. Thanks for reading.

” People- people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.”
– Barbara Streisand – ” Funny Girl”.

Out of This World.

A long time ago, my dad bought me an army surplus tent and I slept a lot of nights outdoors behind my house. It was really the beginning of my fascination for the universe and the solar system that is highly visible on a clear night. Many nights I looked up and thought how small we are in the grand scheme of things seeing that what I saw was a fraction of the Milky Way, which is a fraction of the Galaxy, which is a fraction of the Universe. I could not even contemplate but was highly satisfied with what I saw. There is something about the smell of the night air when you are awake at 3:00 AM and you look up in the stillness and see the absolute beauty of the sky. God’s amazing celestial creation. Years later in my dome tent, during many backpacking trips, I looked up from my sleeping bag, through the ceiling screen, and had the same feelings that I had as a kid in my backyard, thanks to my dad and his creative entertainment for Molly and me.

Fast forward, I bought myself a telescope. It was so interesting to see the craters of the moon, the moons around Jupiter and the ring around Saturn. Of course, aside from our moon, the details are not as defined as a professional telescope, but for me, it was pretty cool to zone in on it and see it “live.” I remember the first night I was up in the field behind our old house and called my son to come up and see it. He said, ” Dad- I can see it 50 times better on the Internet.” Millenials! Oh well, my wife came up and said, ” Well- that is nice dear. I am glad you are enjoying it.” Always the supportive wife even though it was not her thing.

Eventually, I bought a pair of high powered binoculars and a tripod. I really went to town then, exploring with the Sky Walk app on my phone to look up new planets and stars and see the constellations. The binoculars and tripod are a little more mobile than the telescope and easier to use. Lately, these clear nights this summer have been spectacular viewing. Once again, I tested my wife’s patience the other night looking for the Comet Neowise. I had the poor thing sitting in a field getting bit by insects waiting for the sunset and looking right under the Big Dipper in the northern sky. No dice initially until I moved her up to the golf course where she patiently waited for me as I made my way to a really dark place and finally saw a small version of what I had seen by the professional photographers on the Internet. Again, not real clear but I felt like I had hit my target for the night. Again, my patient wife said, ” I am so happy for you dear.” After all these years she is still supportive of my quest to see what is in the sky. Well, it won’t be around for another 6800 years so I figured I better see it now. LOL!!

Logging on the ” Spot the Station” and entering my email, I get notices from NASA when the Space Station is overhead. Even thought I can’t pick it up too well with my binoculars because of the speed at which it moves, it is still the brightest thing in the sky and travels at amazing velocity. My neighbors all get a kick out of me, out in the street at night with the binoculars and I give them all a view. And again, they kind of give me a ” well, that’s nice Pat. Glad you are enjoying it.” Although a lot of them are now watching and waiting for the Space Station. I kind of got them hooked.

The other day, I watched the astronauts installing the high definition camera on the outside of the Space Shuttle and thought to myself how cool it would be to see the earth from their perspective. Azure blue oceans, puffy white clouds and the continents rotating in their view so clearly. I thought, what they see is so pristine. They don’t see the conflict, the division, the problems that we are faced with globally in today’s world. They just see the creation in its finest position like a fine painting on a celestial easel. They are “out of this world” for a little while and doing great work high above the earth. Like the little boy in the tent so many years ago, I am still fascinated by what I see in the sky. A great hobby recommendation for all of you. Especially in this time of social distance. Buy a pair of binoculars from Celestron and begin exploring the galaxy. It gives you some great perspective on how small we really are. Thanks for reading.

The Operative Word is “Yes”

This photo was taken over the weekend up at McConnel’s Mills State Park here in Western Pa. Janet and I were hiking and I was experimenting with an app on the I-Phone called Pro HDRX. Pretty cool playing with that and also having an opportunity to spend some quality time with my wife on the trails. Janet and I are ” empty nesters” for the first time in a long time, and trying to be as active as we can in the current world circumstances. For us lately, the operative word has been “yes.” I participate in two major activities with friends but it has been important for me to spend time with Janet and get her more into the great outdoors than she already is, and doing some of the things that I have enjoyed for many years. She jokes that I have had a whole separate life when we talk about my activities over the years and the pre-Janet world. But now, we are in a situation where we can enjoy the time, activities and places together.

I must commend many of my friends who find themselves in the same situation and it has been fun to get together with them because we share the same thoughts about the empty nest and what that entails. The gift of time has enabled us to participate in hiking, cycling,swimming,shooting, skiing and snowshoeing. My wife and I laugh when I refer to myself as the “human crowbar.” I sometimes have to crowbar Janet out of her comfort zone and pry open that door of complacency and comfort. But once she is out the door and participating, she is happy and enjoying the many activities that we can do together. I am a Type A personality and Jan will never be in that mold, but that is why we do so well together. She tempers my enthusiasm where needed and I get her out the door enjoying things that she might not do on her own.

The interesting thing is that we have a lot of time to talk. That hasn’t been the case in many years because we were always on the go with activities with our son Jack as he was growing up. Not unlike a lot of couples. Games, practices, school, and also in the more recent years caring for her ailing parents and the constraints that are associated with that. We have no regrets but we are really enjoying the time together now that we have not had in a long time. We try to be safe in this Covid-19 world. We wear our masks, wash our hands frequently and respect others on the trails and other outdoor venues. But at some point, we will all have to accept some level of risk to be active. That is still being sorted out nationally and also in our own sphere of influence. But we persevere and try to get that fresh air that is sorely needed during this strange time.

Finally, we discuss why we feel the need to be active and go places. Is it just to check the box and say we have been there and done that? Is it because we want to post it on Facebook, or do we really like to participate because of the true gratification of being outdoors and being together. We both think it is the latter and when you see gorgeous scenery even right in your backyard, you appreciate the opportunity. Time spent together is priceless and whether you have a spouse, significant other, friend, or children, the gift of time is precious. The outdoors presents many opportunities to bond in discussion as well as a mutual appreciation of God’s great creation. We are all living in uncertain times and it is important to make the best of these times together. “Yes” is the operative word to opportunity and kindness goes hand in hand with that. Thanks for reading.

Be a follower and enter your name in the box to the left of the post or at the bottom of your I-Phone. Thanks .

Uncle Bob

Uncle Bob Smith was my dad’s best friend. They first met when they lived at the Perry Manor Apartments in the same building as my parents. As life moved on, Karen, Bobby and Cindy Smith became friends with my sister Molly and me and we all went on trips together and had great times at each others homes over all the years. Even though they were not blood relatives, we called them Uncle Bob and Aunt Jean because we all were so close. Basically like family. Karen, Bobby and Cindy were our cousins. Plain and simple.

Uncle Bob was raised by his mother in Lawrenceville because his dad died early. As a city fireman, Uncle Bob’s dad had a hazardous job and one day he fell into an oil tank which was on fire and died leaving his young wife behind, who was pregnant with my Uncle Bob. Growing up in the depression and post depression was not easy for a mother raising a son alone and Uncle Bob spent a lot of time at the local Catholic Church which provided needed resources for a young guy growing up in a tough neighborhood under dire circumstances. Father Jack McDowell took my Uncle Bob under his wing and was, for all intents and purposes, his surrogate father allowing him to work around the church and helping with neighborhood missions directed by Father Jack. Uncle Bob played a lot of baseball in the neighborhood and around Pittsburgh, and eventually became good enough to be drafted by the Chicago Cubs farm organization. But instead of the path to professional baseball, Uncle Bob joined the Navy to better provide for his mother financially and found himself on the USS Copahee, an aircraft carrier deployed to the Philippines and Japan.

Fast forward- I first got to know what a character Uncle Bob was when I asked him to be my sponsor for my confirmation at St. Sebastian’s Parish. The nuns had us all in line and glared at us if any one of us made a move that would somehow ruin the ceremony. As we walked down the aisle, Uncle Bob was cracking jokes to me and I tried desperately not to laugh. When we approached the Bishop, it was a silent, reverent moment until Uncle Bob blurted out” Hey Jack- How the hell are ya?” To which Bishop McDowell, the former Father McDowell from Lawrenceville responded,” Bob Smith you old rascal – what brings you here?” His miter( the bishop’s pointy hat), almost fell off his head as the two of them shared a laugh and the nuns were horrified. I knew how cool Uncle Bob was that day and he became a legend among all my friends from grade school.

Over the years growing up, I shared a lot of laughs with Uncle Bob. His irreverent humor was so funny to me and he and I became close and saw each other a lot in those days. He was truly an uncle in every form of the word and was a mentor to me on how to not take life so seriously.

I attended Uncle Bob’s military funeral this past week at the Cemetery of the Alleghenies. He was 94 and was the last of my dad’s friends to leave this earth. The military service was so moving and the Navy personnel along with some veterans from the local VFW presided.   The flag ceremony along with the 21 gun salute and “Taps” brought tears to my eyes. The Navy personnel presented the flag to Uncle Bob’s daughter Karen, and there was not a dry eye in that chapel. Three shell casings are placed in the flag representing Duty, Honor, Country. All befitting my Uncle Bob who served selflessly in a war far from his home. The World War II guys are leaving fast and soon there will be no veterans left from that war. As I left the ceremony I thought a lot about Uncle Bob and his life in Lawrenceville, and his service to his country. People like him were truly from the greatest generation and I also thought about what Uncle Bob would have said about the current situation in our country. I am sure he would have laughed it off and called a lot of the anarchists a few rude names but would understand that a lot of them have no idea of what it takes to be in the war time military. Education and understanding will do a lot to heal things and Uncle Bob got his education in the streets and hard knocks of life. We all should be so fortunate to have an Uncle Bob who made the best of his situation, helped his neighbors and friends, loved his mother, wife and family, and served his country. Rest in peace Uncle Bob and I will see you on the other side someday. Thanks for reading.

“If You Don’t Know Where You Have Been, You Can’t Know Where You Are Going”

I have always been a history buff, especially interested in the foundation of the country. My first interest was piqued when my folks took me to Fort Ligonier. I remember the day because I had a plaid sport coat on with a bow tie when we visited because we came right from church. In those days, you got dressed up for church and when I got to the famous French and Indian War fort, my dad bought me a tri- cornered hat and I was so proud wearing it around. I learned about the conflict and saw many relics of the period which made history come alive for me as a young lad.

Fast forward, my grandparents knowing my interest, took me to Gettysburg to get another take on local history. Again, I was enthralled with the Civil War conflict and again I got a hat- a Union officer’s hat- which again, I wore everywhere. I vividly remember the tour we took and the views from Little Roundtop, and Big Roundtop and the strategy of the Union and Confederate forces was explained in great detail. Much of it was lost on me until many later visits to the battlefield and an increased understanding of the conflict and the importance of the Gettysburg Address and the resultant emancipation proclamation.

In an effort to pass this on to my son Jack, my wife and I made it a point to take him not only to Gettysburg and Ft. Ligonier, but also to Williamsburg and eventually Washington DC. As a young kid, he complained a little about the mid summer heat in Williamsburg, as I explained to him the significance of the House of Burgess and the freedom speeches of Patrick Henry. It was a little lost on him but I continued during his formative years to explain what the wars were and why they were significant.   You see, where we live in Western Pennsylvania, history is alive everywhere you look. From the blockhouse at Ft. Pitt at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, to Forts Ligonier and Necessity just east of us and further east- the famous battlefields of the Revolutionary and Civil War. We visited all of them and history came alive for Jack and also my wife who was forced into learning about American history because of her marriage to me. LOL!! I can remember the guide putting them to sleep after a 3 hour tour in Gettysburg driving my car, and also me putting them to sleep on visits to significant sites rambling on to them about the particulars of the places we were about to visit.

The final visit with Jack and Janet before he was off and on his way in life, was during a college tour in Lynchburg, Virginia. I took them to Appomattox Courthouse where the armistice was signed by U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee ending the Civil War. We toured the quiet little farm house where the two famous generals met to effectively end the war on paper. Quiet, peaceful, and beautiful, the park is remarkably well preserved. I made it a point to venture out back to the slaves quarters to specifically show Jack the difference in living between the main house and the stark quarters where black slaves were housed to serve the owners of the farm at the time. When you read about the history of slavery on those walls, you get an understanding of the sadness that prevailed in those quarters and the atrocity of treating people differently because of the color of their skin. This was not lost on Jack because he was old enough to appreciate it. I explained to Jack and to Janet that Robert E. Lee went on to found Washington and Lee University whose founding precepts were to foster unity among the divided country. Lee was a reluctant warrior as a West Point graduate , and had no choice but to side with his home state of Virginia. But in later years, he did a lot to foster unity which he is not credited for in many accounts. Grant was the executor of Lincoln’s emancipation and, as President, he was intimately involved in crushing any further insurrection in the south and stopped continuing atrocities on the recently emancipated black citizens by the Ku Klux Klan. U.S. Grant is a hero to the black cause in America not only as a general in the Civil War but as President. Again, not always given the credit he deserves. Why the vandals tore his statue down recently in San Francisco is a mystery to me other than writing it off to random violence or people who don’t know the history of the man.

I think history is important. And it can’t be whitewashed. We have to teach our young people the good and the bad of American history so that we can learn of our mistakes and not repeat them. I can see the argument for not memorializing certain combatants in unrelated places but the battle fields and museums must be preserved to be a teaching vehicle for generations to come. Erasing history in those venues does a disservice to understanding where we have been so that we can know where we are going. The Jewish nation is a good example by their preservation of the concentration camps of World War II. When you visit Dachau, or Auschwitz, you understand the inhumane treatment of German and Polish Jews, and see first hand the evil of the Third Reich. That history should never be repeated and the preservation of those sites is essential to an understanding not only of Jewish culture but German history as well- good or bad.

I read a lot about history and am happy that I was able to at least pass some of that interest on to my wife as well as to my son. This is a good book by the way for anyone interested. I am hoping he will take the baton from me and perhaps make history come alive for his children someday. I would be happy to tag along. Maybe with a tri-cornered hat much to the horror of my prospective grandchildren in the future. LOL. Thanks for reading.

“Stuff” My Folks Used to Say.

My wife Janet and I had a good laugh the other day when I said something that my dad used to say. I mean, some of that stuff is drilled into my psyche and I say some things where one would say……”Whaaaaaaaat?” Things like, ” that one’s got a rear end like a 40 dollar cow.” Whaaaaaaat?? Or maybe ” look at that one ahead, looks like two cats fighting in a sack.” Whaaaat????? My mom used to say things like, ” that one looks like he fell out of a nest?” Or”he looks like Willy Lump Lump.” Say whaaaaaat??? Or maybe the classic, ” I wouldn’t know him from a cake of soap.” Where did they they get these sayings.

My grandmother had some good ones too. Like when you invited someone to something and they politely refused- much to your delight. Her line was ” an invitation is as good as an acceptance.” Kind of indicating that you went out of your way to invite them even though you really didn’t want to and you got off the hook because they said “no.” LOL!! No chance at getting invited again. Or when she didn’t like someone or had a spat with them, she looked at me and said, ” I rubbed her out.” Meaning no way that person was getting back into my grandma’s life again. Just rubbed out. LOL!!! My grandfather would pass gas and look at me and say, ” well, there goes the Sputnik.” You have to go back a few years to relate to the Soviet satellite.

I was riding my bike in Ireland one time and came upon a farmer with his dairy herd. They were stopped in the middle of the road and one of the cows started to relieve himself and it was like a fire hose. I had to move back so I would not get splashed. I then knew what my dad meant when he said, ” It is raining like a cow peeing on a flat rock.” Pretty hard rain. LOL!!!

Then there was the historical “stuff” that my mom used to say. Things like ” that guy is as cheap as Peter Liebach” Never knew what that meant until I read a biography of the Rooney family here in Pittsburgh and Art Rooney referred to Peter Liebach. The guy was known on the North Side for being cheap and turns out that when he passed, they found a bunch of coffee cans buried in his yard with cash in them. Lots of cash. A real person on the North Side of Pittsburgh back in the day.

Weather would bring out some of the good “stuff”. My dad would say, “wow- it is cold outside.” How cold is it dad? ” It is as cold as a well diggers a#$.” Or “bring in the brass monkeys” referring to the fact that the brass monkeys(door walkway ornaments) would freeze their private parts off in this cold.” Whaaaaaat? Or ” how hot is it dad?” ” It is so hot you could fry an egg on your shoes.”

If you looked disheveled before going out the door, my dad would say” get back in here, you look like a dog’s breakfast.” Or ” you look like a sack tied in the middle.” WTH????? The other classic was when he was angry with me he would say, ” you’ve got your head up your a#$ and locked.” LOL!!!

There are so many funny things that I remember that I catch myself saying. Like ” here we go, off like a herd of turtles.” Or ” that one was four sheets to the wind last night.” Or, ” that one is as cheap as hen poop.” Well now, that is cheap!!! ” I have to go so bad, my eyeballs are floating.” My dad had a million of them and I say them sometimes because they just run through my brain and out of my mouth. Another quotable one was , ” work is the curse of the leisure class.” Not sure if my dad could take credit for that one but he used it a lot.

My dad was no fan of Roberto Clemente because he didn’t like the basket catches that the Great One made. He would look at me and say,” you need to put some mustard on that guy.” Or if I would ever catch a ball like that, he said laughingly that he would ” tan my hide.” LOL!!

Who ever called a couch a davenport? Or when my dad would say, ” you mind Joe Brown – used to live up in the valley?” I reminded him that I did not “mind” or know Joe because that was back in my dad’s Bellevue days and I was not around then. How about ” that one is as useless as teets on a bull.” Or, ” I need that like I need a second navel.” Millions of them I swear. And I am plagued with them in my speech as I see things that trigger these inane responses. I am sure you all can add to this list especially if you are older. The “stuff” your folks used to say just drives you crazy as it comes out of your mouth, and your spouse, kid, or friend, says…………..whaaaaaaat???? Thanks for reading. Thought you could use a Covid sequestered laugh today.

Mountain Bikes and Bluegrass Music

Did you ever daydream while listening to music and think of a place where that music takes you? I am a big fan of bluegrass music and every time I listen to Allison Krauss, the Steel Drivers, Nickel Creek, Rhonda Vincent or a host of other musical talents, I think of the mountains of West Virginia and the fun times I have had there over the years. The first time I ever spent some time there was with Chuck Greenlee when we went for the 24 Hour races in Davis and Timberline. There was no music at that time because Chuck and I BS ed each other the whole trip while trying to beat the Parrot Man and his souped up van all the way down the interstate. We did set the land speed record in Chuck’s pickup but it was a harrowing ride especially when Chuck’s friend, Sam Dyke, would find us along the road just outside of Morgantown and it was a three way race in short order.

After a while, I started to know my way around down there and always drove. Not only for self preservation but it was nice to have all my gear with me in one place. Driving to Davis and Slatyfork was always a long drive on the back roads but really beautiful as I made my way through the mountains listening to bluegrass and kind of getting into the spirit of West Virginia. Through the years I have gone with several groups to races and events like the West Virginia Fat Tire Festival hosted by Gil and Mary Willis at the Elk River Touring Center. The Wild 100 was another event that was a true back country race that Elk River hosted and oftentimes we would stay either at Elk River or The Jerico in Marlinton. At the Jerico, the grandfather of the proprietor would always tell me that they had some Yankee boys buried on the hillside above the cabins and I would always sleep with one eye open down there. All in jest but kind of unnerving,

But all the while in all of the trips, I had my bluegrass on and there have been nights on the deck of the Elk River Touring Center that Gil had some local bluegrass bands play for an event. What a treat after absolutely flogging myself on the rough, rooty, rocky West Virginia trail systems. The one thing you have to remember about riding in West Virginia is that it is the toughest riding you will ever do because the West Virginians want it that way. The locals like Sue Haywood, ( former pro with Trek and many times national short track champion), love to take you out and show you the treasure trove of demanding rock strewn trails. It is their turf and they not only know it well but they ride it even better Sue is a noted local and has raced all over the world but makes Davis home. She is a great teacher and riding those trails in Davis are a real challenge. But watching her makes it look easy. Even on the famous ” Moon Rocks”

But after a ride down there, which can be a whole different ball game when it rains, you are exhausted, beat up, bleeding, and hopefully your bike has remained in workable shape. Otherwise, it is a visit to Blackwater Bikes in Davis for repair. http://www.blackwaterbikes.com But sitting behind the grocery store at the trail head after the ride and sipping a nice cold IPA with my pals, I quietly turn on some bluegrass in my Jeep and really enjoy the wilds of West Virginia with a musical flair.

I am proud to say, that on the last trip to Davis, I introduced the boys to what I consider a real treat musically speaking. We drove just north to Thomas,WVA. and took in some bluegrass at the Purple Fiddle.

It is a locals place that specializes in good food, beer, and hosting some of the best touring bluegrass bands in the country. http://www.purplefiddle.com I hustled the group along and after a much needed shower, we made our way to one of the front tables and listened to a band from North Carolina named Mipso. Pretty talented and what I thought was a great way to end a Saturday after getting slayed on the wet, demanding trails of Davis. I believe in atmosphere and The Purple Fiddle delivers all the time. After this last trip, I thought maybe Davis was getting to be too tough for the 65 year old kid. But listening to Allison Krauss on the way home, and this week in my car again, the pain has subsided and we probably will make our way to the mountain bike festival in the fall in Davis if the Covid thing doesn’t play havoc with the trip. Look out Sue- here comes the old guy posse again. Laughs for you for sure.

There has been a lot of bluegrass fueled fun down in the mountain state over the years and thinking about all of the trips and riding that I have done down there, I think I have created some really good memories for myself. I will never forget the NORBA races in Snowshoe and after our races, it was fun to watch the pros. Even when they lose like the year Missy Giove lost the dual slalom finals and had a message for the crowd. Hilarious.

Last fall we all made it to the World Cup Finals at Snowshoe and watched the best in the world compete as well as get some miles ridden on the infamous Tea Creek Canyon trails early in the morning before the races.

Another fun trip with another fun loving group who also appreciated the atmosphere and down home hospitality of the Mountain State. Loved listing to the locals in the woods singing “Almost Heaven, West Virginia” while the racers bounded down the course at breakneck speed. Yes, music takes you back to great times and bluegrass always takes me back to West Virginia either in my mind, or planning my next adventure. Thanks for reading.

We All Need The Magic Mirror

As many of you may know, my sister, Molly McCloskey Barber was “Miss Molly” on the syndicated children’s television show “Romper Room and Friends” back in the 80’s. Her tenure began with taping shows at WMAR in Baltimore and eventually working at Channel 9 WOR TV in Secaucus, New Jersey. Lots of work was done on that show to validate children, their feelings, their hopes and dreams and make them feel special as they watched in their homes every day. New puppet characters like Granny Cat and Kimble were introduced to the show and created a cast of characters that evolved over the years as trusted friends to all the children.

But the one thing that stuck with a lot of kids who became adults throughout the country was an accessory called ” The Magic Mirror”. At the end of every show, Miss Molly would pull out the mirror and say these immortal words, ” Romper bomper, stomper boo. Tell me, tell me tell me, do. Magic Mirror tell me today, did all my friends have fun at play?” And she would go on to mention many many different names each day and if you were sitting at home and she mentioned your name, you would feel so special and excited because she saw you in the Magic Mirror. There are people today that I relate this story to that watched the show as a kid and either Molly mentioned their name or in many cases, they told me that Molly never mentioned their name. I would immediately call my sister on the phone and have her recite the famous words to that person and see them absolutely melt with appreciation or weep like a baby. It had that kind of impact.

As I think back on those days, I think of the underlying message of the Magic Mirror. What made it so special and why do people today love to talk about having Miss Molly see them in the mirror as a kid? Personally, I think that it was a chance for kids viewing the show to be validated. When Molly would mention their name, they thought for sure that she was talking right to them. All their fears, hopes, expectations, unsure moments, would all be blended into a happy frenzy when Molly mentioned their name. Their faces would light up like a candle and their smiles were infectious as they screamed to their parents, ” Miss Molly mentioned my name in the mirror!!!”

Molly was good about inviting kids to the live taping of the shows at WMAR and WOR. She always made sure they felt special and that everything would be ok in the unfamiliar environment of a television studio. Their parents were so happy and oftentimes speechless as they saw their children interact with the characters on the show.

So I was thinking just this weekend about how we all need ” The Magic Mirror”. Maybe we all need someone to reach out to us and see that we are all ok in this time of isolation? Maybe we need to be the mirror for someone who is feeling lonely, isolated, afraid, and make them feel special because we thought of them? Maybe we all need to look in the mirror and see if all our friends are having a good day? Thanks Miss Molly and thanks for reading.