The Orange Cone

Orchard Hill Church was planted out in Wexford, Pa right after Janet and I got married in 1988. We were one of the first families to become involved and our friend Sharon Gregory got me immediately involved in the skits that were part of the non-denominational service. Janet was more traditional in her service in the children’s ministry, but whenever they needed a goof to play a part in a skit, the phone call came to me. Dennis Bowman, the weatherman, played Keith Jackson the famous sportscaster in one skit with me playing Myron Cope. Another time they got me to run around the stage with a big black hole on my shirt, signifying how my life was empty. I soon retired from the skits because the assistant pastor at the time kept changing the lines on Sunday mornings. Too much pressure for me and I still kid him about how he drove me out when I see him running at the park.

Fast forward, I wanted to do something else to volunteer and I saw these guys directing traffic in the parking lot wearing shorts in a snowstorm. I smiled and said, that is the service opportunity for me and I signed on to be a parker. Now my first session was Christmas Eve Services and our church gets really crowded. The boss put me out in the front of the lot near the road and my job was to direct people up the hill to the main lot. Equipped with an orange vest and two flash lights in a blizzard, I dutifully directed people up the hill. The only crazy thing about that point position is that even though I had two lights and a bright orange hunting vest, I was a magnet for the Ford F-150s. People get confused when they come for the first time and are not quite paying attention. I had to be quick on several occasions to dodge the big trucks but I came out unscathed.

My new crew chief is Mike Fischbaugh who is one of these guys who will wear shorts and a windbreaker when it is 20 degrees. I swear the guy must be the most hot blooded guy I know but also has the biggest heart. Along with Johnny Salvini, Larry Zamer, Steve Nagler, and Matt Warheit, we manage the lot every other Sunday and mayhem usually ensues in one form or another.

I often shout out when an vehicle is coming in hot. People don’t pay attention when they are late for church and on their cell phones. They come screaming into the lot at warp speed and I shout the warning and jump to get my toes out of the way. Volunteering in the parking lot can be a hazardous occupation. But we love it. Matt keeps us all in line despite vigorous conversations about fantasy football where some folks are left to park on their own if the conversation becomes lively. Cindy Adams has the dubious task of taking care of the parkers with coffee and food on the multiple Christmas services. We also fall under her general guidance- poor girl. Her smile is welcoming as we come in between services to get warm and get a nice hot cup of coffee only to get back at it at the beginning of the next service. I always tell her the worse the weather, the better I like it. I like adverse conditions because I can wear all my foul weather gear including a 40 year old pair of green wool pants that I brought back with me when I worked in Maine. Love the crappy weather, and I always remark to Mike that this is the best volunteer job in the church. I kid him and say, ” When I croak, take my ashes and put them in that orange parking cone to remember me. A part of me will be left in that lot. We get a good laugh about that one.

I guess the point of all this frivolity is the fact that I believe that it is important to volunteer and serve where there is a need. This happens to be fun but when asked what I feel about the parking ministry, I always remark that we are the first smiling faces people see when they come to church. Maybe they are new and not sure about the format of our services. But we make them feel comfortable with a friendly smile and a cheery hello. They probably think,” these guys are crazy with wool hats and shorts.” But if we can help someone feel at home in a new surrounding, our zaniness has been worthwhile. An old pastor of ours once said,” You don’t have to serve overseas to minister. Just look around in your own neighborhood, school, workplace, or parking lot. God is all around us and protects all of us. Even when they “come in hot.” Thanks for reading.

The Night Visitor

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This time of year, I kind of switch gears and get away from the mountain bike, and transition to skiing,running trails, or hauling out the snowshoes. I have always been a runner at night in the winter and it is a solitary pursuit whether running around the lake in our local park, or running trails.img_1227 I am not anti-social this time of year, but it is nice to go out at night with the headlamp and spend some time by myself. I enjoy my own company. I talk to myself. Sometimes I get answers. It gives me time to think and to enjoy the winter weather. There is nothing like a run with the softly falling snow accompanied by my Pandora Christmas selections on the I-Phone. In the old days, it was the Sony Walkman with tapes. But I move ahead with technology- kicking and screaming. img_1232

There were many nights that I had the chance to contemplate Christmas and the true meaning of the birth of Christ. I always had fond memories of nativity scenes or the “creche” because of a wonderful story that I watched as a kid- ” Amahl and the Night Visitors.” carnegie_presepio It was re-broadcasted in 1963 from its original 1951 production on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. Although the story is fictional with the shepherd boy and the Magi, the opera by Carlo Menotti was based on biblical truth. I was always fascinated with that production on TV and thought of it often when I would see a creche. Perhaps one of my favorite nativity scene locations was in the grove right near my run starting point at Stone Field in North Park. It was always nice to finish a run and walk up to the grove which was decorated by Allegheny County Parks and Recreation. The star was perched at the apex of the roof of the grove and the floor was coated with hay and the walls lined with hay bales. The Magi, the shepherds, the angels all were present with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. A brilliant display especially on cold, snowy, winter nights around Christmas time.

Looking at that scene at the end of a run was comforting to me and I noticed a lot of other runners, walkers, and hikers in the park making the trek up through the field to the grove. Children were amazed and even the dogs seemed to be silent in reverence to the serene scene in our county’s largest park. It has been several years since that nativity scene or creche has been present in that grove. As we all know, there is controversy about separation of church and state and due to nationally recognized litigation, the grove is now an empty, silent, space this time of year. img_1229

Now I am not one to get political or controversial on my blog at all. I also hold any opinions to myself on Facebook posts. But I must say that I miss that creche in the park and the wonderful job that the County did on the presentation each year in that grove. I also believe there are many people who feel the same way as I do. We miss it – that’s all. We are not here to debate the first amendment but rather reminisce on the nice feeling that was present on those winter nights at the end of a solitary, contemplative run. Christmas has many meanings to different people. For me it is a celebration of my faith and the wondrous miracle that took place 2000 years ago. I never see the creche as a graven image, but rather a reminder of the humility of Christ as He came among us.

So, I continue to run, in the solitary darkness. I watched the space shuttle soar overhead last night in the presence of hundreds of stars that can be seen from the darkness of our beautiful county park. For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I wish you a blessed time with your family and friends. Enjoy the season and thanks for reading.

Creche picture courtesy of Carnegie Museum.

A Colonial Christmas

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I am a history nut and particularly the history of the Revolutionary days in this country. We here in Western Pennsylvania are fortunate in that a lot of the events that took place to shape the direction of the new nation took place right here in our region. I often daydream of what it would have been like to be an 18th century man. At this time of year, that daydream turned into a bright vision as I walked down the Duke of Gloucester street during my visits to Williamsburg, Virgina. 6c3139f39b95ad590a6b9fe3fffca04e

Wiliamsburg just might be one of the nicest places to visit during the Christmas season. Not only is it rich in history dating back to the 17th century but the reconstruction of historical sites make it seem like you are walking back in time. There were many nights when it was colder and  I walked the streets and talked to colonial dressed people standing beside an army stack of firewood burning brightly and warmly on the street corner. Their discussions of topics of revolutionary times not only made it seem real, but for visitors like me, it gave me great pleasure to see how it might have been had I lived in those days.
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Williamsburg is also famous at this time of year for their decorations on the doors of the shops and pubs and the Christmas decorations in general are exceptionally well done especially with a dusting of snow on the buildings and the streets. 605fd664dfc5584d478748da52c67ef3

One of my more vivid memories of those visits was to take in the Candlight concert series at Bruton Parish Church which was founded in 1674. When you come in from the cold and are greeted by candlelight and a choir from a visiting town, you can really get into the Christmas spirit absorbing the atmosphere and listening to the harmonies and the musical excellence of the chamber orchestras.

During warmer visits, I took my mountain bike and joined the evening rides with the shop guys from Bikes Unlimited ( 757-229-4620). You can call them for the ride schedules and can be treated to trail rides on the William and Mary campus trails as well as the Chambrel trails near by. The rides are always followed by a gathering of riders at the local Panera. These trails are twisty, turny, singletrack and although there are no measurable hills in the Tidewater region, they are challenging enough with the meandering trail construction. It is interesting to take a break on the campus of William and Mary and be facing a statue of Thomas Jefferson. Knowing that he attended here as a student and looking at his countenance was a treat to this history buff.

Sometimes history is lost on people. I had my family in Williamsburg one summer when it was 100 degrees. As I was extolling the virtues of Patrick Henry to my son as we heard his speech done by an actor, my son looked at me and said,” Hey dad- where is the pool.” Now there were no 18th century pools available but he eventually soaked his hot little bones in the hotel pool. My wife was looking for relief as well but all I could think about was ” give me liberty, or give me death.”

The Williamsburg Inn is the hallmark location to stay in the village. images-1
This is a beautiful hotel with first class amenities but the Williamsburg Lodge is another option if the budget for the Inn is not there. 806309_44_b

If I were to offer a suggestion, I would still stick by my recommendation for Williamsburg at Christmas time. If you get lucky with some snow and winter weather, you will really feel the colonial ambiance. Take it in and take a walk back in history. Thanks for reading.

The Old Man and the Skimobile

Posting a little early to beat the Christmas rush, but this time of year, I always think of some of the great mountain towns that I have visited during the Christmas season.  One that comes to mind this year is North Conway, New Hampshire in the Mount Washington Valley. http://www.mtwashingtonvalley.org  I have visited this iconic location many times in my life with trips to Tuckerman Ravine and adventures on the legendary Mt. Washington. http://www.mountwashington.org  I have skied Wildcat and Attitash and have done some extensive hiking in the White Mountains.  But the true spirit of this location lies in the history of the area which was introduced to me by a business associate of my dad’s -John Lennon. obs-aiare2013-02-05-the-bowl

John owned a company in Boston named New England Tank and Tower and my dad represented his company among others in his manufacturer’s rep business.  John called my dad after learning that I was an avid skier and invited me and a friend to come up to Boston and then go to the Mt. Washington Valley to ski Mt. Cranmore.  I jumped at the chance during my freshman year in college and along with my ski buddy, Tom Herder, we made our way to Boston, weaving and bobbing through the suicidal traffic along Storrow Drive to I-93 North and New Hampshire.  We met John at his cabin near Mt. Cranmore and the initial fondness for the Valley began.  John was the typical New Englander, quiet, reserved, but willing to show two young guys some serious skiing in the Whites.  Our first stop was Cannon Mountain which was the home of the famous aerial tramway and close to Franconia State Park’s famous icon- the Old Man of the Mountains.download (1)  When I first looked at that rock formation which resembled an old man’s head, I thought it was funny as John was giving us the history of the area, that we were skiing with an old man and looking at the famous “Old Man” which subsequently crumbled in 2003.  Cannon was a challenge that day as it was icy and very much like skiing on a marble table. tram John explained that this weather was typical for for the area and that if you could ski Cannon, you could ski anywhere.  Tom and I were so enthused that we skied right through lunch- much to John’s dismay.  We gave him all he could handle that day and he called my dad to tell him that Tom and I tried to kill him.  We all laughed and made our way back to John’s rustic cabin for a venison dinner.  Now the last time I had venison, it had tasted like a catcher’s mitt and I was not happy that this was the first meal that we would have other than breakfast that day.  But like the history lesson, the gracious invitation from John , and his New England hospitality, his meal was equally enjoyable.  John knew what he was doing and we learned that he had many talents besides his acumen as a businessman.

The next several days were spent at the local area, Mt. Cranmore, which was John’s home hill.  Founded in 1938, it had a rich history of skiing as well as ski instruction dating back to the days when the local entrepreneur Carroll Reed brought  ski instruction to the area via Hannes Schneider and his group of Austrian instructors.  This history continued through the decades and Mt. Cranmore became a legendary resort in the Christmas town of North Conway.  The thing that was really interesting to me was the Skimobile.cranmoregr1  This had been invented in the late 30s and with the encouragement of Hannes Schneider, it became the main lift at Cranmore. Cranmore_ski_mobile_TN It was an incline where you sat down in the cars with your skis, and took an enjoyable ride to the top up a very steep track.  The Skimobile is history now along with the Carroll Reed shops, but the memory of those days at Cranmore, skiing and riding the famous skimobile, are etched forever in my mind.  John Lennon was a wonderful host and Tom and I made our way back to Pittsburgh with a lot of great memories and stories about our times in the Valley.  The seed was planted for me and I made it back there numerous times in my ski life.  I still have memories of the Christmas lights all through the town and the ambiance that was created by that place.  It is as if when you enter town after driving the famous Kancamagus Highway( voted by AAA in years past as the most scenic highway in America), you feel the town and the White Mountains almost give you a warm, welcoming hug. Weird but true! kancamagus  You feel protected in the town especially in light of the wicked weather at the ski areas and the world’s worst weather on top of Mt. Washington.  I have camped there skiing the Ravine where 90 MPH winds and sudden snow squalls were common right after a sunny start to the day.  I did the Mt. Washington Hill Climb(bicycle race) there one year when it was sunny at the start and 41 degrees and sleeting at the top- in September.  But walking in the valley and seeing the peaks while dining or shopping is especially inviting at this time of year.

One of my most historic memories of being in the Valley was one year when I attended a PSIA clinic at Cranmore.  I had the opportunity to meet Toni Matt who recounted his famous winning run in the Inferno Race on Mt Washington.  This run was legendary and to actually meet a person who would go down in history as a member of the New England Ski Hall of Fame was really special to me.  As you can tell, I have a real fondness for the Mt. Washington Valley.  I would highly recommend vacationing there at any time of the year.  Christmas is particularly scenic and a stay at the famous Omni- Mt. Washington Hotel might be appropriate. HotelCloseupWinterweb Ski Bretton Woods along with Cranmore, Cannon, Wildcat and Attitash and you would have the classic New England Ski Vacation.  Think of me, munching on that venison beside a crackling fire and enjoy your world class experience.  Think Snow and thanks for reading.