That’s Why I Married Her

You learn a lot about patience when you are confined to your home in times like this. You become aware of things that maybe you were too busy to see before, or maybe just never took the time to notice. For instance, the patience shown by my wife Janet, for her ailing 89 year old mother, Joan, who lives with us. Janet is the only caregiver for her mom and outside of the weekly nursing visits, she is all alone in the care of her mother. Sure, I can assist by going to the store, getting supplies, cleaning up after dinner, and other mundane things, but for the most part-Janet is the one. Every day, every week.

We have someone who will come in and be with her mom when Janet and I wanted to get out,or go away, but now that there is nothing open, that option is tabled. I am sure she is like a lot of women who care for their elderly parents, but to see it up close and personal, is impressive.

I can remember my mom cooking and caring for our elderly relatives and she was good about that. But the difference is that when someone actually lives with you, the neediness as they age, becomes acute and you have to have a lot of patience and kindness in order to take each day at a time.

Janet and her mom are best friends. Sure they have their battles as they vied for supremacy in the kitchen. Two women in one house have different ways of doing things and after many years of living with me, Janet all of a sudden had her mom back in the house living with her. Joan can’t dictate in the kitchen any more. Her years of doing that are over. Strange times and a real need to adapt. We were able to get away before all of this Covid stuff, but as it turns out, Janet’s mom is becoming more needy as the days go on. We are not sure what lies ahead. Outside of the walks outside in the neighborhood, and using the elliptical machine in the basement, Janet has been pretty much confined to the house as is a lot of the population. I have been around a lot more than I usually am but am able to get out and ride some remote trails on my mountain bike and see some of my riding friends in a socially acceptable way. And it is helpful. But my wife, God love her, gets up every day and the first thing on her mind is her mom. How is she? Wonder what she wants to eat today? Does she need her shower? The aides that have been coming have been great, but with the need to isolate due to this disease, their appearance has been suspended to keep Joan safe. So shower time duties belong to Janet. Her mother’s laundry, her pills( how she keeps track of that I will never know), other things that I will not go into here are daily, taxing things that only Janet can do for her mom. Every day, every week, with no relief as long as this Covid- 19 crisis is with us, and beyond.

I try to support Jan by being here but I have to tell you, if I didn’t get out a little bit I would lose my mind. I don’t have the patience that my wife shows and although she gets frustrated from time to time, she is the archetype of what a caring, Christian person should be. Sure it is her mom, but I am sure Janet never thought this would happen. She and her mom cared for her dad while he was infirm in the last years of his life, and now she has the care of her mom every day.

I always tell Janet that someday, she will look back and know that she did the right thing. She extends grace, as grace was extended to her from our Savior. Her mom has macular degeneration, and hearing loss, as well as other life threatening issues. Her life here in our home, is really the best that she could have and it would not be possible without the daily, weekly, attention and care that she gets from her daughter.

Someday I hope she can get back to her happy place. Someday I will look at her and be happy that she found some relaxation. Today I look at her with love and admiration. She is a caring, loving, grace giving, person and that is why I married her and how blessed I am . Thanks for reading.

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These are the Times

” These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country. But he, that stands by it now, deserves the love and the thanks of man and woman.”

Prophetic words from Thomas Paine, one of the Founders, which rings true today. We are all in a position to come together – although not physically with the “stay at home” rules, but mentally, in communication with each other, and prayers to the Almighty in these trying times. With social media, I-Phones and technology, we can stay in touch, communicate, send pictures, work from home and call and talk to each other. We can have some semblance of normalcy if we band together to beat this virus or at least stem the tide of its advancement.


Looking at pictures of our groups, we can remember good times and look forward to good times ahead. When you view a picture, sometimes you can see someone who you have not talked to in a little while. Text them. Email them. Call them. Ask them how they are doing in these unusual times. In many ways, that is the service to your country. It pales in comparison to military service or perhaps the service of our many first responders, nurses, hospital workers, but in many ways- bonding together even virtually for a time is service to us all.

Janet and I are trying to do our part by being responsible. Yes, I am getting outside but not in big groups. Most often by myself on the trails just to get some exercise and fresh air which is encouraged by the stay at home edict. Janet walks in the neighborhood and greets the neighbors from an acceptable social distance. We are trying to avoid large groups. Shopping when necessary but trying to keep Janet’s 89 year old mother safe. She lives with us and is most vulnerable.

So sure- we all are beginning to have some cabin fever. We need to return to some kind of routine with work, social life, restaurant outings, and in general an active lifestyle again. It will come. It may take a little bit but with some patience, understanding, generosity, and compassion and not being selfish, we can get through this. Stay in touch with your family and friends. Write an encouraging email, text or better yet- make a phone call. So important in these days of isolation.

We will get there again. Say your prayers, be kind and generous with others. Short and sweet but thanks for reading and ……….wash your hands.

Resolutions- 2020

So I was thinking the other day as we turned the corner on the new decade. How easy it will be to type 2020. Or write 2020. Tap tap. Click click. It was a kind of foreshadowing of how good I am hoping the New Year and the new decade will be. Lots of good things happening and surprises for sure for all of us. I was in our local park the other day on January 1 and chuckled a bit at all the Resolutioners that were out and about. You know, the ” this year I am going to get in shape, eat healthier and feel better about myself” crowd. They were out in droves walking and running around the lake and I even saw a guy in a canoe with full winter garb paddling furiously. Now don’t get me wrong, I always admire anyone who makes a change in their life as it is not only good for them but very admirable to see the commitment. The parking lots were full and the enthusiasm and some times expressions of pain, were abundant in the faces of those folks who were undertaking the process of getting in shape for the New Year. My advice to anyone who wants to start an exercise program is to start slowly. Ease into it so that you won’t get burned out and sore. Every day is an improvement and if you stick with it, good things happen with your health and mental state of affairs.

No matter what you do, cycling, walking, running,skiing,hiking, or any kind of activity that gets you outside is great. Take my old neighbor here. He got into running and now he is hooked, entering races, and leading a healthy lifestyle all because of a New Year’s resolution. I have made a couple of resolutions in my day as well. I started to write this blog a number of years ago upon the suggestion of my wife. I also made the choice to eat more healthy and try to reduce some cholesterol issues by quitting sweets,unhealthy snacks, and sticking basically to chicken, fish, fruit and vegetables. As a result, I lost 12 pounds and had one of the best riding years I have had in 2019.

But really, what does it take to make a resolution? What do you want to change? How do you want to change? These are questions that pop up in your head anytime you want to do something different in your life. I speak of all the Resolutioners pounding around the lake on January 1 making the commitment to improve their health in 2020. But are there other things that we all should do to make a change? Personally I hope so. I would like to see people try to be more kind. Social media these days is dripping with sarcasm and vitriol for anyone who differs in opinion. It is easy to sit behind a keyboard and type some God awful things these days. It is sad. We are all Americans and this country was founded on discourse and discussion. Just because someone’s opinion is different than yours does not make them a bad person. I hope we can make an attempt to be more forgiving and kind especially in the election cycle ahead. I hate to say this but there is really nothing we can do about the political climate aside from casting a vote if we are honest with ourselves. Any change is really made at a grass roots level with all of us being more tolerant, kind and concerned for each other as Americans and as friends. I am hoping a lot of people in this country make that change. I am going to try to do the same in my own little way. We come into situations in our lives every day where we can help people if we look for that opportunity. John Guest, the famous evangelist, once said that ” you don’t have to go to a foreign country to evangelize or be helpful. You can serve people right in your own neighborhood. Your mission does not have to be in a foreign country.” I agree with him. If you make yourself available to people, you can be kind and helpful. What you say or do may move mountains for that person and you might not even realize it. People like to have kindness afforded to them. If we do it a little bit, we all can make a difference one person, one household, one neighborhood at a time.

So as 2020 (tap tap) evolves, maybe we all extend some grace as we have been extended grace. Look out for your family, friends and neighbors. After all, what is really more important than that? Thanks for reading.

” Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace.”
– 1 Peter 4:10

Messiah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Oldest Guy

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

-Hunter S. Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

The Bike and the Box Turtle

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

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

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

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

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

Duke

I first met Duke Bope when I was 15 years old. We played junior golf together. He was a long ball, really good player and I felt like I was handling a telephone pole when I grabbed a golf club. No real feel for the game but my dad encouraged me to play, so I did. Duke and I ended up in inter-club matches together and in some instances when they tried to stack the deck, he was stuck with me for a high school golf partner. It was there that I first saw…….”the look”. A guy from St Elizabeth accidentally stepped on Duke’s brand new driver and he looked at the guy with a look that could melt stone. The guy turned 50 shades of white and I intervened and said, ” Ah Duke, we can get that fixed – no problem.” And we moved on. I thought we were going to have a homicide on our hands that day.

He loved to drive my ’64 Buick convertible even though he did not have a license and I always let him have the helm after school with our group of nitwits holding court with the top down. Not real bright on my part but how do you refuse a “Big 33” football player?

Moving forward, I went to see Duke at Boston University and we had some fun times hitting the music scene in bars in the Cambridge area. I specifically remember one night when we went to this joint and saw a flaming red head wailing on her guitar and singing the blues as well as anyone we had ever seen. Bonnie Raitt went on to international fame but we saw her in her Boston club days and still talked about it years later. Duke was a music guy and we always talked about the latest albums and concerts. For an ex B.U. football player, he had an artistic side which helped him in later life working with his dad and brother in the tile business in Pittsburgh.

As we both entered the working world, football was always entertaining to Duke and he always thought that if you didn’t wear a helmet and pads, it was not a sport. He never understood my love for cycling and remarked, ” I thought you quit riding bikes when you are 14?” I took him to the Thrift Drug Classic to see the international class cyclists ride up Sycamore Street in Pittsburgh and he was amazed. I said, ” Duke- these guys are in amazing shape” and he agreed but never really understood until I nurtured his understanding over the years. My son Jack taught him a lot about basketball and he became a big fan of Lebron James.

He and I were pals and as different as we were, we learned a lot from each other. Duke was a strong Christian and his love for the Lord was evident in his daily life. He always quoted scripture and had a serious demeanor to him. Over the years, I saw…….” the look” but I always liked to make him laugh and often at our dinner table with Janet, Jack and his mom, I would catch him off guard and make him belly laugh. He and I were so different yet we learned so much from each other.

I remember when I first dated his sister who eventually and fortunately became my wife, I made the trek to Bellevue where they both lived in the apartment building that their dad owned. As I pulled up to the curb, I saw Duke in the yard. His remark was, ” What brings you to Bellevue, Pat.” And “the look” came out again. I stuttered and stammered a response about a date at Hartwood Acres. He chuckled and went inside. I learned later that he remarked to Janet,” He is a nice kid.” Janet said, ” Kid? He is older than you.”

As the years went on, Janet and Duke spent time at the beach with their aunt and uncle and became very close as brother and sister, caring for their mom after their dad died.

Duke maintained his love for golf all of his life and as a single digit handicapper at Sewickley Heights Golf Club, he was well known for his ability and had a lot of friends there. He lost in a playoff this summer for the Senior Club Championship and his competitive nature came out when he talked to me about the match. He had the guy on the ropes and let him off the hook and it made him angry. The fiery competitor was not amused and no matter how I tried to say that it was amazing to make the finals, he wanted to win. He was a winner. Second place was never good enough.

We eventually moved into the same neighborhood with Duke so that his mom, Jack, Janet and I could live close by and we spent a lot of time together grilling, sharing time on each other’s patios and spending holidays and fun times together. When you talk to Duke’s friends, the common denominator besides being a strong Christian is that he was extremely generous. Case in point, when we moved in, the next day, a beautiful Weber grill was on my patio, courtesy of Duke. He would entertain his mother’s friends and buy them gifts along with taking them out to eat. He would have parties at his house and always had beautiful gifts for the ladies. He couldn’t do enough for you. His mother tells the tales that Duke would not of his anonymous generosity with people who were in need at CMA Church on the Northside. Picking up peoples tabs at McDonald’s where it was obvious that needy people were scrambling to put together enough money for a meal. He never wanted it known that he was the gracious host.

We lost Duke this week at 61 year old. A tragic and sudden illness took him away and we all feel the void in our house, the neighborhood, his workplace and among his customers and friends. A big strong human being was taken at short notice,and we are stunned. The only consolation for us is that we know he is with the Lord who he loved with all of his heart. If there is a golf course in heaven, I know that his dad was waiting on the first tee with a smile on his face. ” You’re on the tee, Duke.” I am sure he approached the ball, gave it ” the look” and creased it right down the middle as strongly as ever. Life is fragile folks. Love your spouse, your family, your friends, and take the time for all of them. Duke surely did. Thanks for reading.