Virtual Reality. Really?

One of the more enjoyable evenings that I ever had was when I was in Yosemite a few years back and went to the evening star gazing event. As I reclined on the huge tarp that was laid on the ground, I looked up and saw the most amazing celestial show that I had ever witnessed. It was so dark, which allowed the visual of millions of stars and planets accompanied by shooting stars that rocketed across the sky every couple of seconds. The ooohs and the ahhhs eclipsed the park ranger narrative. But he was used to it as he remarked that the spectacular night sky was way more interesting than him.

Along with a suggestion by my star gazing friend, Viola Christy, I purchased an entry level telescope and began searching the heavens back home for planets and stars. I can remember texting my son to come and look because I had Saturn in the the view finder as well as a full moon another night, and his response was,” Dad- I can see it 50 times better on the Internet.” But I replied, ” Yes Jack- but this is real. It is small and barely detectable, but it is the real thing and not a picture.” It was kind of lost on him.

I must say that with the younger generation, there is an attraction to virtual reality and many millenials today would rather play a video game like Madden, than actually participate in the  sport itself. My son calls it “E-Sports” and no doubt it is gaining huge notoriety and millions and millions of dollars as a business. But is it really a sport? We have this debate all the time and my point is that it is important to get out and do something physical rather than spending all your spare time in a virtual physical activity world. At the risk of sounding like the old guy in his bathrobe yelling at kids to get off his lawn, ( as my friend Jeff Mihalsky laughingly says), it is a generational thing I guess. But at least my son plays sports and is active, even though the virtual world is still in his wheelhouse in his college years.

Personally, I think that there is a time and place for everything and relaxing with a video game is ok as long as it does not take over your life. I think it is really important for parents to expose their kids to all kinds of activities, whether they be hobbies, or individual or team sports. The outdoors are a wonderful education. Whether it is hiking, riding a bike, skiing, skating, the fresh air is great and the outdoor vision of the change of the seasons and activities has always attracted me. I never played Pac Man – I just did things outdoors. But that is me. But I do regret hearing that local grade schools sometimes cannot field a football team because no one tried out. Maybe the concussion concern is more apparent today, but more likely it is that the kids would rather play a video game than practice and play ball. Just a different attraction, I suppose.

For me, there is nothing like that night in Yosemite. I also like the occasional camping trip where I can smell the night air from my dome tent. Deep powder skiing days with brilliant sunshine. Mountain vistas. Riding an epic trail with friends. The camaraderie is real and you can actually enjoy it with others who value the outdoors like you do.

It is interesting to hear that video gaming is social. People actually make friends on X-Box Live even though they have never physically met them. But for me, the value of friends is to interact with them and see their emotions, their joy, their disappointments, their efforts in climbing a hill, making a three point shot, hitting a great fairway wood, skiing a great line and witnessing the event live.

Nothing wrong with gaming mind you, but for me, virtual reality is not really…..real. The real thing is that moon in the view finder, that wicked crash that I had last night on the mountain bike, the executed carved ski turn,that beautiful model airplane and how it flies, the chess match, breathing the salt air at the beach. Life is to be lived. Not virtually lived. Just my two cents. Thanks for reading.

Security in an Unsure World.

A long time ago, I rode my road bike through the Netherlands. A wonderful trip which included a visit to the eclectic city of Amsterdam. Resplendent with its canals and cafes it had an interesting vibe and an integral part of my visit was to the Rijksmuseum and the van Gogh museum. Now the sad thing was that I knew nothing about art as I took in the Rembrandt paintings and the students of Rembrandt on display in the Rijksmuseum. Making my way to the van Gogh museum I also felt extremely inadequate when I took in the art there. Although I have heard that art appreciation is in the eye of the beholder, it would have been nice if I had some semblance of understanding of what I was viewing in two of the most famous art museums in the world. What a rube I was. I was determined from that point that I would learn more about art.

Fast forward light years, I found myself last weekend in Charleston,South Carolina in yet another famous art community for the wedding of my friend Nathan Durfee.

Now I have known Nathan most of his life and as a young guy, he always impressed me with his love for the arts. He played the guitar and the cello and was very musical at a young age. It was apparent early on that he was talented and when he matriculated at the Savannah College of Art and Design, we all knew that this could be the start of something big. Little did we know how big! Among his achievements are Best Local Visual Artist – four years in a row by Charleston City Paper, Charleston Portrait Slam winner, and The Teatrio Cultural Association book award for his children’s book entitled “Hello My Name is Bernard”. Nathan’s paintings are an expression of his personality in that his subjects are whimsical characters who are faced with tough, universal decisions, conveying a sense of security in an unsure world to the viewer. Again, I felt inadequate as I wandered the Robert Lange Studios http://www.robertlangestudios.com for Nathan’s rehearsal reception. Nathan is one of the featured artists for Robert Lange and I made it a point on the trip to investigate more about Nathan’s art.

Another interesting part of the wedding journey to Charleston for my wife and I was our stay at The Vendue http://www.thevendue.com which is touted as Charleston’s Art Hotel. Among the many galleries within the hotel, there is an artist in residence studio where you can visit and see the creation of oil paintings currently by Fred Jamar.

Now Fred was born in Belgium and had a very successful career in the financial world. He has since retired and has taken up residency in The Vendue and is a very engaging person who is more than willing to show you his works and let you view his artistic ability as he paints. Janet and I were in awe as we saw Fred touch up a beautiful Charleston scene on his easel. The colors were magnificent and along with our marvel at the art work of our pal Nathan Durfee, my education in the world of art took a more modern turn as we made our way through the art community of Charleston. We learned about collaboration where two artists share their strengths and combine their art into one painting. Typically Nathan either paints a central part of a work or finishes the work of another in these collaborations which are wildly popular and sell out even before the works are started. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn’t know about the art world. But it sure is interesting when you take the time to appreciate the talent of others.

Charleston is a wonderful town on the water. It’s history is well documented but little did I know what a vibrant art community it has. In my quest to be “Younger Next Year”, continuing education must be part of the plan. I have decided to know more about art. I also have decided to try to resurrect any talent I had in playing the piano. Janet had our piano tuned and I need to use my mind and start to play again. It is great to stay in shape, ski the steeps, ride the good trails, but in order to stay relevant, it is a must to continually educate ourselves. Nathan and his lovely bride Michelle have shown us a glimpse of what that entails. Thanks for welcoming us into your world.

Paintings displayed in this post are all by Nathan Durfee.  www.robertlangestudios.com/nathan-durfee/

Tuscany in Ontario

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Sometimes the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know. Take wine making for instance. Now, I have been to a lot of wine making regions on various trips but that was not the focus of the trips and I have not paid much attention. My lovely wife enjoys a glass of wine but I admit that giving me a nice glass of wine would be like giving a beautifully ripe strawberry to a hog. However on a recent trip to the Niagra on the Lake, Ontario region of Canada, my education process began. img_1050

There are hundreds of wineries in this beautiful region and we had the opportunity to visit two of them complete with tastings for Janet. I observed and listened intently to some things I did not know. For instance, the glasses used for some wines are different in that they are wider and deeper and encourage one to get their nose in the glass and smell the aromas which enhances the taste on the palate. We learned about pairings of wines with food. Cabernet Franc is an excellent choice with tomato dishes and pizza. Merlot is excellent with lamb. Chardonay, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are great with seafood. There are red blends that are great with filets and all things chocolate that include berries and other fruits along with a blend of wine. We learned about the different grapes that are grown to produce the various selections of wines. img_1043

Most of this information was given to us at the Trius Winery where we also had a delicious lunch on the patio in the brilliant fall sunshine. img_1049

We then moved on to the Colonari Estate Winery where I was intrigued by the “Appassimento” process of drying out the grapes to a certain degree to enhance the body and structure of the juice which in turn enhanced the sweetness of the wine. This is labor intensive and involves moving trays of grapes into a drying greenhouse. Only three wineries in the region use this process and blend some of their wines with 40% juice from this process. This particular winery was amazing and the grounds looked like you were right  in the middle of the northern Italian wine regions. img_1052

If you take the time to do the tastings at selected wineries, you can learn a lot. Again, I don’t know much about wine but I learned a considerable amount from listening to the hosts who served the various choices of wines at the tastings. I asked what was the difference between California wines and the Ontario wines and the comment was made that California has a consistent warm climate which enhances the sweetness of the juice. The “Appassimento” process facilitates this to a degree in the Ontario region because of the short growing and wine making season. img_1039

As an aside, the Niagra on the Lake region is an excellent place to ride a bicycle with a beautiful bike path that extends all the way to Niagra Falls winding its way along the wineries and flanked by the Niagra River. You can also ride by Ft. George which was built by the British in 1789 and recreated and restored in the 1930s. Riding into town, you can take in the various shops and restaurants of which Zees is one of our favorites with excellent food like braised lamb shank and the house specialty grilled swordfish. A great place to stay is the Harbour House B&B which is right on Lake Ontario which is beautifully appointed and maybe has the best house made granola I have ever tasted at their complimentary breakfast. img_1048

All in all, we enjoy Niagra on the Lake and venturing into Canada from our house in Pennsylvania is only a four hour drive. But once you are there, it has the feel of Europe with the vast areas of grapevines, road signs in metric measurement, and bilingual tourists from all over the world. img_1037

Again, introducing me to good wine is kind of lost when I prefer an ice cold IPA. However, I am learning and the process is definitely interesting. I learned just about how much I don’t know about a particular subject but I will venture north again with my lovely wife to learn more and enjoy the wonderful ambiance of Canada. Thanks for reading.

The Gap

You know, when you sit on a beach chair at the shore, your mind gets baked like your body and you tend to wander as you look at people walking down the beach. That guy with the black socks, and sandals, …..what does he do? Then you think of all the crazy scenarios that run around in your sun baked mind and you laugh. Now there is a young family……wide eyed and full of the future ahead of them…..wonder where they live? The mind thinks of nothing important in a beach chair. As my eyes located our two young life guards, I saw them constantly talking and laughing and I was thinking, ” I wonder what their story is?” ” Are they college room mates working together for the summer?” ” Maybe they are lifelong friends on a summer adventure?” IMG_0938

Then my mind went back to when I was not ready to enter the working world just yet after graduating from college. I said to my dad, ” I want to work at Sugarloaf, Maine this winter as a ski instructor. I will be staying in Bob Irish’s cabin in Stratton, Maine. I want to get the hours and training in so that I can pass my PSIA Certification for Ski Instruction.” My dad looked at me in a funny way and said, ” Don’t make a career out of it.” I could have done that, as many have done and enjoyed their life in the mountains, but I knew this was a need for a specific purpose and that I most likely would not make a career out of it. But, I was sure glad that I went and worked at one of the more premier ski locations in the East. It was cold as hell that winter, but the experience was great and it prepared me to go to Killington and pass my exam. I subsequently made another trip to Tuckerman Ravine and camped and skied with some friends and eventually made my way home straight to Marilyn Young’s party- 15 hours of driving right into her driveway looking pretty much like what you see here. 70019150-SLD-001-0028

A lot of young people take a “Gap Year” to do something they might never get to do if they just pursue their education and take the subsequent job after college. Some quit mid-stream and ” find themselves” when they are perhaps lost in the educational shuffle and need some time off to find their way. Others leave and never come back because college is not for them. I have seen both paths and most of them have worked out best for the person who is willing to take the time off, travel, experience new things, but knowing that someday, they would finish their education or move on to the job that awaits them after college. I really did not have much direction other than the half baked idea that I would go to law school. But that fizzled and the “Gap” at Sugarloaf gave me some perspective of being away on my own, earning a meager living, and working in the resort industry. It was a lot more fun than my summer job in the box factory and it prepared me for something outside of my formal education. I traveled a lot in my 20’s because I was more interested in my outside of work activities than I was with my job of working in my dad’s small company. It was important for me to have this “extracurricular” life because my work life was not all that fulfilling. My dad was understanding but the catalyst for my wanderlust began with my winter in Sugarloaf.

Personally, I think most young people are really not ready to go to college after high school. And if they do go, sometimes there are difficulties or questions that lead to taking the ” Gap”. Questions need to be answered and needs met so I tell young people all the time that if they have a particular passion to do something for a little while outside their prescribed path, they should take the opportunity. You have your whole life to work, have limited vacation time, and then the pressures of family, mortgages, and life in general. You feel better sometimes if you get it out of your system. Some people make a living from their “Gap” passions and if you can do that, you are fortunate indeed. But at the very least, you have had the experience and you can have the pleasure of relating your experiences to your co-workers in the future or your family and friends. To this day, I still tell of my adventures as a young guy in New England and I am happy for it. I am glad that my path took me to Sugarloaf and I am glad the the result of my winter was fruitful in many ways. I should have done more of that.

So, these two in the lifeguard chair have a lot of life to live. They will remember these days for the rest of their lives and when they are sitting in a cube or perhaps in their own business someday, they can look back with fond memories of the laughs at the beach, and the stories from their “Gap” experience. Parents- encourage your kids in all aspects of their development.beachwater Thanks for reading.

Single File……………..who is that talking?

We recently returned from the Jersey Shore where we annually visit the nuns who are in residence at their retreat house at Nun’s Beach. The retreat house is run by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Immaculata, Pa. This location is also the site of the east coast’s most famous surf contest run by the nuns. We always pick up the latest T-Shirt and hats to support the cause and it always takes me back to my days in the Catholic education system. IMG_0952

First of all I want to preface this by saying that the best teacher I ever had was Sister Judith of the Vincentian Sisters of Charity who taught me phonics in the first grade. Her work with me made me appreciate the English language by enhancing my reading skills. However, the descriptor of the Sisters of Charity was a bit lost on me at times when I had to stand in the wastebasket and face the corner because I was talking in class. The standard line in St. Sebastian Grade School was, ” Who is that talking?” And when we moved anywhere it was always single file. My dad provided brass rulers to the nuns that were a gift from my grandfather who was in the novelty business. They were used on my knuckles many times and if I “juked” it meant another rap on the knuckles. The Sisters of Charity was a bit of a misnomer. b6126223d8712ae0b20f38d6477c4b0a

Moving forward to the second grade, I made my first confession. I was a bit intimidated by the whole process and when the sliding door came open as I was greeted in the confessional by our new pastor, Father Getty, I peed my pants. It was a bit uncomfortable most of the day but it was not an unusual thing in Catholic grade school. We had a girl who sat right in front of me who peed at the same time every day about 3:00 P.M. and the floor was slanted. I yelled out, ” Here comes Bernadette again” We all raised out feet and I was back in the wastebasket. IMG_0951

The crowning achievement of my confession days was in the 8th grade when Father Fay jokingly asked if ” this was Patrick McCloskey” in the confessional. I was telling him that I committed a sacrilege and he asked if it was me. Of course I lied and said “no” and we both laughed and he gave me my penance and told me to get lost.

As my memory drifted forward at the beach, I thought about my days at North Catholic High School on Troy Hill in Pittsburgh. We were taught in an all boys environment by the Brothers of the Society of Mary. WYD13_D8_'DSC_1539

Now coming from a suburban atmosphere to meeting kids from the inner city, my first day was a bit traumatic when a freshman with a 5 o’clock shadow told me he wanted to hang my flag bell bottoms up on the pole in front of the school. Fortunately I had some upper classmen friends who came to my aid and told the man/child to back off. Disputes were an interesting thing at North when the rumors spread like wildfire that there was going to be a fight after school. We all missed our bus and congregated at Cowley or Gardner Field to watch the melee which often resulted in some serious carnage. One guy took a chunk out of another guys ear and out came the brothers to the field. They had no issues rapping us on the head and telling us to get back to the building. One of our knuckleheads says to one of the brothers that he would sue him. The brother said, ” Go ahead.I took a vow of poverty” and rapped the kid in the head again.

Our vice principal was an ex- Golden Gloves boxer who routinely offered to put the gloves on to any senior willing to take him on in a dispute. Not many takers in those days in light of the reputation of Brother Ray. This guy must have had a clone because every time we got in trouble in the class, we saw Brother Ray outside the window beckoning us to come out with his finger. He would twist our sideburns and admonish us and wipe his hands on our shirt, rap us in the head, and tell us to behave in class. IMG_0950

Sitting on the beach, I had my final vision of graduation, spring-1972. We all were on the stage to receive our diplomas and my dad remarked to me later that it was amazing to see the amount of cigarette smoke drifting up towards the rafters on that stage. Guys smoking during the mass and the ceremony was the final insult to the Marian community but not without penalty.

Discipline was first and foremost the hallmark of Catholic education in those days and a lot of the tactics used by the nuns and the brothers could not be employed today. Parents are very protective of their little Beaufords and Sallys and would never tolerate the capital punishment of the Sisters of Charity or the Marianist Brothers. However, our parents were from a different era and what we got in school often time was doubled at home. But if you took a survey today of those of us who were educated in the Catholic system, you would find that we are no worse for the wear and that the discipline served us well. Sister Judith’s phonics still is in use today and my last typing class at North (taught by the infamous Brother Ray) still is a most valuable tool- some 44 years later.

Laughing in my chair after visiting Nun’s Beach, my afternoon was amusing. My wife asked me what I was laughing about and I remarked ” a future blog post.” “Single File Mr. McCloskey” Thanks for reading.