Mr. Ozanam

I first met Darelle Porter when he and Maurice Montgomery coached my son’s AAU basketball team in high school. I was introduced to basketball when Jack was in grade school, and then on to high school and culminating in a wonderful experience with the DeJuan Blair All Stars- the AAU team. Looking at the picture above, you can see Darelle dunking on Alonzo Mourning back in the late 80s when he was a Division 1 star player at Pitt. I am an outdoors guy and basketball was foreign to me as I had never spent much time in a gym, much less know anything about basketball. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my flannel shirts and Bean boots. But I learned a lot from Darelle and Alvis Rodgers during our time up at the Ammon Rec Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and at the various tournaments that the DeJuan Blair and the Metro team played regionally and nationally. To have a Division 1 star coach the team and give the outdoors guy instruction was special, but that is not the story I want to tell here. Darelle’s passion is kids. More than any records at Pitt, more than any times as a Division 1 coach, Darelle’s heart is with the Ozanam Program whose mission statement is ” We are committed to making a difference in the lives of the youth we serve.”

I first learned about Ozanam when I saw the after school basketball program up at Ammon. As executive director of Ozanam, Darelle has a lot to do coordinating after school basketball, after school homework tutoring for high school kids, dinner programs at the Rec center, and a general care for the welfare of kids entering a critical time in their lives. There are many ” make it or break it” moments in the inner city and kids can easily be steered in the wrong direction. The Ozanam After School Program makes it possible for kids to learn in a friendly environment, enjoy a nutritious hot meal, and get expert instruction on homework or applying for college scholarships and admissions.

The impressive thing about Darelle is that as busy as he is, he personally handles all the training on the court with all the kids in the program. His passion is kids and basketball and he is there every day, after school, and in the summer promoting skill development and team work along with Alvis Rodgers and Karen Hall who was a former U.N.L.V. star and NCAA Div 1 coach.

The grade school programs are generally centered around the Rec center and as the kids move on to high school, Darelle makes a point to take groups to college campuses and cultural events throughout the east. He is one busy person but the smile on his face leads one to believe that he really enjoys his work and has a passion for the physical and educational welfare of the children and young adults that he serves.

On a personal note, I got Darelle and Maurice involved volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh and both the AAU Team and the Ozanam After School Program became involved serving meals to the families of the children who were getting critical care at Children’s Hospital. Darelle and the Ozanam ASP still are involved and enjoying Darelle’s Italian Ice which he brings to every event. He has a side business selling Italian Ice all through the city at different venues and his stands are manned by kids in the Ozanam Program. The energy that he brings is amazing and the value of a job for the kids is not lost on the community.

As I learned from our involvement in basketball, there is a lot more to it than just the game. Coaches like Darelle, Maurice, Alvis Rodgers-another Div 1 standout at Wake Forest, and Karen are inspirational. It is not just about winning and losing. It is all about team work, personal development, family gatherings and discussions at the tournaments, and binding people together. In this day and age, programs like AAU and the Ozanam Center bring unity and not division. People like Darelle make a difference and devote their lives to a higher cause.

Ozanam needs your help. To continue to make a difference in the lives of the youth they serve, financial help is needed. If you would like to participate, you can log on to http://www.ozanaminc.org and make a donation. Programs like this are extremely valuable and need to be supported by the community. People like Darelle need to keep up the good work that they do. Ozanam makes a difference. You can too. Thanks for reading.

A Natural Cause

A number of years ago, my wife Janet and I were strolling through Sausalito, California when we came upon a gallery featuring the artwork of Grace Slick. Now, I was a huge fan of the Jefferson Airplane when I was younger and Grace fronted the band with her sultry yet powerful voice. I was pleasantly surprised to see that she was also a very talented painter held in great esteem in the Bay Area. People surprise you. Not that you think they are not capable, but it is a pleasant surprise to see folks from one genre of accomplishment, move into another with relative ease. Case in point- my friend Angelo Ross.

I first met Angelo while we both were ski instructors and he was making his way up the PSIA ladder to his current position as a Development Team member of the Educational Staff. Angelo always took ski instruction seriously along with his main line of work as an Environmental Science teacher at Greensburg Salem High School here in Western Pa. I also ride mountain bikes with Angelo and on a recent trip to West Virginia, he told me about yet another passion that has turned into a very interesting business.

You see, Angelo is a talented artist whose work has developed over the years and now is featured on athletic and casual wear.

The story goes that Angelo became acquainted with the equally talented folks at Commonwealth Press in Pittsburgh who saw the value of his work and mentioned to him that they should begin the process of marketing Angelo’s art work on casual and athletic wear. Thus was the birth of http://www.naturalcause.org One of the interesting things about this is that Angelo is marketing his art work through the medium of clothing, but he has another cause in mind besides pure mercantilism. You see, he lives Environmental Science – his passion, and therefore is dedicated to furthering the goals of local environmental causes like the Youghiogheny Defense Fund. This is part of the Mountain Watershed Project http://www.mtwatershed.com which preserves the environmental integrity of the Youghiogheny River among other waterways in our region. Whitewater rafting and fishing are prominent in these waterways and Angelo is dedicated to preserving these for generations to come. A portion of all proceeds that he generates through Natural Cause goes to organizations like these. Another cause for his generosity and passion is the Mt. Davis Challenge bicycle race, run in conjunction with the Confluence Tourism Association which promotes recreational activity in the Laurel Highlands. Jim Sota runs the event and it has been a successful race for many years. Angelo supports the cause. The man walks the walk and does not just talk the talk.

I am continually amazed by people. You know them through one area of your life and then you realize that there is much more to this person than you thought. People have abilities that cross over in their lives and it is refreshing to see that a young guy who you know from skiing and mountain biking has such a passion and such a talent and that he is creative enough to market it and donate to causes that reflect his passion.

I love hearing the stories like Natural Cause. I like to hear how they were created and how the business is doing. There is a lot of negativity swirling around these days and I make it my business to always be positive and encouraging. It is great when I see positive attitude and generosity come from others like Angelo. Natural Cause is a breath of fresh air to our local environmental causes and I hope that you all will go to his website http://www.naturalcause.org, view Angelo’s art work, and order some product. You can wear it with pride knowing that your money has been well spent and that the beneficiary of your generosity are the watersheds, trails, and events that make our region so special. Well done Angelo Ross!!! Thanks for reading.

Doing it Right

This letter is almost 50 years old. The compensation for mowing Mr. Cooper’s lawn was 9 dollars/week.  The generous $5.00 bonus was more of a compliment than anything and I owe all of that to my father. Keeping this letter all these years was a testament to his influence on me. You see, my dad was an engineer and also a perfectionist. He insisted that if I was going to cut 11 lawns in the neighborhood, I needed to make sure that I trimmed after each mowing. No dipping the wheels in the gardens to avoid the trimming. The burned grass and dirt would be a dead giveaway and my dad would be none too pleased. He initially inspected our lawn and the neighbors lawns until he was satisfied that I was doing it the right way. The McCloskey way.

Fast forward, when we moved from Siebert Road, there was a lot more maintenance at our new home. Not only was I instructed to rake the leaves away from the hedges, but I had to grub out the leaves in the trunks of the bushes. This was on my hands and knees, digging under the bushes. A less than noble task. When my dad planted his thousands of flowers, he manned an auger attached to his drill and again, I was on my hands and knees planting the flowers. The end result was beautiful but I learned quickly that manual labor was not a Spanish Diplomat. R.J. McCloskey got me involved in caddying and parking cars at his golf club and eventually some stints in the kitchen when they needed me. He eventually got me a job at St. Joe Paper in college summers, initially as an outside laborer- once again cutting grass and painting, but eventually a 3 shift union laborer. I learned a lot in the bowels of McKees Rocks, Pa. especially at the end of the night shift.

I had an orange International Scout once upon a time, and my dad thought I could go anywhere and do anything with that vehicle. While constructing his greenhouse he needed several pieces of 9 foot steel angle iron and he made a deal with his friend Clyde” the glide” Snyder to pick up some of these steel pieces at the National Steel Warehouse on the Northside of Pittsburgh. When I pulled in with all the flatbed trucks the guard laughed and said, ” What are you doing here man?” I told him I was here to pick up the order for the angle iron, he said, ” Well, if I loaded you, the crane would probably put the front of the load right through your windshield.” ” Come back with at least a pickup.” I did and he loaded me and as I went around a steep bend on Venture Street, I lost the load on the street with a loud clang. AAA eventually came to help me reload the steel with their hook truck and I made my way to Wexford, cursing my dad all the way. We had a good laugh about it later, but in typical fashion, my dad thought he had molded me into some kind of super human – which I was not. I turned out to be a good laborer, but nothing like he envisioned . My dad and I were very close. I miss him.

I don’t cut grass anymore. I don’t mulch, weed, plant flowers or rake leaves. I live in a carriage home community now where all of this is done for you. My friend Porter tells everyone that I have moved into assisted living. He laughs hysterically but deep down envies the fact that my manual labor days are over and he is still cutting grass. I cut grass for 50 years, so I did my share. But getting back to …………..the letter. The important lesson that has stuck with me all of my life is to do things right. My dad insisted on that. Even in my job today, I take care of customers. I follow up, see that things are done correctly and that the customer is satisfied. My dad gave me that ethic and it is so important today. There was nothing half assed with R.J. I don’t miss cutting grass or raking leaves or grubbing. But I will always cherish the good lessons that my dad taught me. He grew up in the depression. Tough people who did things right. The Greatest Generation. Thanks for reading.

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.