The Roundabout

The first time I ever saw a roundabout was when I was riding my road bike in Ireland, streaking into the town of Cork. All of a sudden I found myself in this circular juggernaut, riding the “wrong way” on the left hand side of the road as per Irish road rules, and battling cars coming from all directions. Somehow I found my way through and it spat me out the other side where I had to stop and take a mental breather.

It is my personal opinion that roundabouts are a cruel Halloween joke foisted on the public to cause strain and stress in an already volatile driving situation. Somehow engineers think that these roadway puzzles are helpful in relieving traffic situations but in my time on the road since Cork, I have seen nothing but potential mayhem ensue. Three of them in a row in Glens Falls, N.Y. For what purpose? One right in the middle of the main drag in Kings Beach, Nevada. Costing the taxpayers millions of unnecessary dollars. Then there is the infamous one that I navigated this past weekend in Westfield, N.J. for my nephew’s wedding. Driving through that circular death trap is nothing short of harrowing. New Jersey drivers are aggressive to begin with and when you couple that with a roundabout situation where they come at you from all directions, the white knuckles come out on the steering wheel, the language deteriorates, and you hang on for dear life. Here comes one racing in hot from the left…………..HORN……….incoming from the right…….no quarter at all……..the guy gives you the bird…………Hang on, the guy on the left is still coming hard…………make it to the third exit…………HORN………….another friggin HORN……Whew…………I made it!!!!!

Whenever I make it past Easton, Pa on my way to visit my sister, it is game on. I tell Molly that she and her fellow Garden State drivers are not good enough to drive that fast and cross four lanes without even looking. No wonder there are 21 car pileups on Interstate 78 headed east in New Jersey. I find myself uptight when visiting my sister because there are too many people over there and the drivers will cut you off without blinking an eye. I leave room between me and the car in front and in New Jersey, that is a license for 5 cars to squeeze in front, barely missing my front bumper. As my co-worker Jenni MacDonald says, ” Pat, turn signals are a sign of weakness.” She drives in Seattle and LA. Enough said.

Fortunately, I only had to drive the demonic roundabout in Westfield once this weekend and as I left on Sunday morning making my way back to the ‘burg, I felt the relief in my shoulders and my demeanor getting more calm as the miles went by. I tend to be a conservative driver much to the consternation of my family. My son Jack always correlates my conversation with the speed of the vehicle. He says, ” Dad, as you make your conversational points, your foot gets farther and farther from the accelerator and you become dangerous.” Whatever!

As I move on in life, the stress created in places like New Jersey is less appealing. Don’t get me wrong, I always like to see my sister and her family and there are nice things to appreciate in Jersey. But the drivers are nuts. Western Pennsylvania is miles from the mayhem of the east coast. I have many ways to commute to my workplace and I always choose the road less traveled. My route is non-stressful and bucolic in a way, especially this time of year. I appreciate the back roads draped in the changing canopy around me.

As I calmly navigate the back roads to work, sometimes with the SPA channel on Sirius XM gently soothing me on the way,(I know, I am a dorc), I think about how relieved I am not to live and work on the east coast where I would fight the dragons of the roadways,choking traffic, and face the evil roundabouts that troll for drivers like me. The devil himself lives in the center of those circular tempests and delights in frightening the uninitiated. No Halloween horror movie could be better scripted that the PA. driver in the middle of the Westfield roundabout. So my advice is, drive safely, heads up for the maniacs, and steer clear of roundabouts if at all possible. Thanks for reading.

Thanks a lot, Hutch!!!

My pal, Mark Hutchinson from Vermont, just got back from a massive 273 mile hike along the Long Trail in Vermont with his lovely wife Nancy. As soon as he got back, he is thinking about skiing and sends me this amazing video of Tina Weirather of Liechtenstein making amazingly perfect carved turns in summer training. https://instagram.com/p/BXc5g_Jl3cK/. For you skiers out there, STOP READING AND LOOK AT THIS LINK. DON’T SKIM OVER THIS!! HAHA! Amazing turns with lots of vertical motion and perfect flexing of the skis engaging the edges ahead of the fall line. No wonder- she is a World Cup racer and comes from good stock as both of her parents were World Cup racers. But now……this is in my mind like a song that won’t get out of my head. I am trying to enjoy the summer and ease my pain of making those last turns in late March with no option for more turns until November, 2017 at best. But Hutch, what have you done to me? I was on the wagon and now you have tempted me like all the magazines arriving in my mailbox with all the new eye candy for the slopes this season. I have all the out of town ski trips planned- with Janet,Hutch and Mike Smith, and the annual guy’s trip. I even bought an Epic Locals Pass. I live in Pennsylvania. Augghhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!! Addiction- it is terrible.

I try not to think about skiing in the summer but sometimes you get that itch and look at your equipment and think about what you have to get in the fall. I even used my ski gear to move a bird’s nest this year that was imbedded in a potted plant on my brother-in-law’s patio. My wife commented, “Only you would use a ski helmet and goggles to protect yourself from the attacking angry birds”. My brother-in-law could not use his patio or grill because of the protective, angry, flying robins. I changed that by moving the nest. Strangely, it felt good to put on the ski gear again. I am hopelessly addicted to making turns. I am counting the days now until the beginning of ski season and it just isn’t right. It is 85 degrees and I should be enjoying the mountain biking and the pool for as long as I can. But this video has put me over the edge and I feel those turns and see them in my mind. What have you done, Hutch?

As much as I like cycling and enjoying the warm weather, I look forward to the fall, the leaves changing and those first snowflakes that fall gently on the trails. I try to enjoy the moment, but people like Hutch make it impossible for me to rehab over the summer. So, if you see me on the trails for the balance of the summer, please know that I am trying. I enjoy the rides, I enjoy non-rainy days around here, I enjoy jumping in the pool, I enjoy cooking out on the grill, sitting in the shade with a cold one, all the good stuff of summer. But deep inside is this longing for those first turns. Tina Weirather is torturing me along with my pal Hutch who feeds me videos and commentary. Delta- you are guilty as charged too with your FB posts. Think snow…………..oh no, not yet!!! Thanks for reading.

Grillin’

I’ve been warped by the rain
driven by the snow
I’m hot and dirty don’t you know
and I’m still…………….grillin’

My dad taught me the finer points of grilling when I was a young lad. He was a charcoal guy and showed me the lighter fluid/charcoal method and I had my initial ash tray face before I was 13.

Singed eyebrows and burnt hair smell were common in those days as I learned the basics of lighting a fire for the grill. Fast forward to later years when I inherited a grill from a friend. The electric igniter didn’t work and I turned the propane on and stuck a BIC lighting stick in the grill and PRESTO!!! Another blast to the face with a hairless expression.

,’So, Honey, I was thinking, instead of barbecued steaks why don’t we just order in a pizza?’

But I have come a long way since then and now I have a wonderful grill and a nice setting in which to contemplate life and burn some bovine flesh.

So you might ask, ” Well Pat- what have you learned over the years as you have transitioned to a Weber with continuous natural gas feed?” Well may I offer up the following?:

Meat- always cook on medium heat. Pittsburgh rare, which is basically like the charred exterior of a catcher’s mitt, coupled with bloody red and still “mooing” interior, is not optimal. Cooking low and slow is the way to go. It also gives you a chance to catch up on your Facebook and email and enjoy the obligatory grill side beer- like in my Adirondack chair. You can sear steaks, burgers on a higher setting initially to seal the juices in and get the grill marks, but you better put it quickly to medium or you will have a 3 alarm fire in your grill and won’t be able to tell the difference between the burger and the coals. They tell you to use a meat thermometer but I always gently cut into the middle of a test burger or steak and see how it looks. I try not to lose the juices with this inspection but it is the tried and true method.

Fish and shellfish- if the cut of fresh fish has skin, put it skin down right on the grill. Again, low and slow on low to medium heat. Don’t flip it and test as per the meat method. When it is finished, you can slide the filet right off the skin which is left on the grates. That way you don’t have to deal with the skin while eating. Clean the dead skin off the grill later so the varmints don’t get it.

Olive oil and dill is a great preparation for any filet of fish. For anything that does not have skin or shellfish, a piece of foil over the grill with a good marinade will work. Believe it or not, a real nice fresh filet of bluefish or other oily fish can be marinated in gin and cooked on the grill. Amazing how that tempers the strong flavor of oily fish and actually makes it more moist and flavorful. I learned that trick from a crazy man up in Martha’s Vineyard years ago. He was the same guy that almost ran us into a buoy while touting his navigational skills.

Always pay attention. You can get engrossed in a conversation, or Facebook, or email, and the next thing you know the flames are shooting out of the side of the grill and your potential meal has been temperature compromised. Like that proverbial catcher’s mitt. Always check by lifting the lid and testing with your knife. Sipping a cold IPA will always go well and even in the winter, a wool hat, a puffy, quilted jacket, and boots are key elements to year round grilling even in the worst weather. A head lamp in the winter is also key to see exactly what you are doing even when the time change has left your grilling area dark and cold.

Probably the most challenging thing about grilling is the fickle nature of your family or guests and how they like their meal prepared on the grill. ” I like mine pink, but not red. A little pink, you know, not bloody, but not too well done. Can you do it a little pink? I don’t like it rare, but I don’t want it done too well.” What the hell????? Some pieces have to be moved to the upper grill so as not to get too well done while you are waiting for the others to finish cooking. The juggling around the grill is a true art which is learned by trial and error and lots of previous criticism from family and friends.

Chicken- always pounded flat. Or as they say here, pahhhhhhnded flat. Marinated overnight in Good Seasons Italian dressing is preferred.

Pork- forget it. Too dry no matter what you do. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Cook pork inside in a roaster.

Buns- must always be toasted on the grill with the exception of really fresh ones. Inside of the bun down on the grill and not too long. Just enough to get the grill marks. Otherwise, you can remove them and throw them at the neighbor’s dog.

If all else fails, have the local pizza shop number handy. Grilling is an art that is acquired with a lot of trial and error.

Well I’ve been kicked by the wind,
robbed by the sleet
Had my head stoved in
But I’m still on my feet
And I’m still…………grillin’

Thanks for reading and don’t burn yourself.

Lyric butchering courtesy/apologies to Little Feat, Apple Music, and Emmy Lou.

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 Chairlift

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So, I was sitting on the chairlift last weekend at Laurel Mountain here in Western Pa. The rain was sheeting off my helmet and cascading down over my goggles and I noticed that I was the only one on the chairlift. Looking back to admire the view of our beautiful Laurel Highlands there was no one behind me or in front of me and I turned back around and sat in silence. Even though the weather was foul, I was protected in Pro Gore- Tex and thought about all the times in my life I have sat in silence on a chairlift while skiing. Truth be told, we spend way more time on the chair than we do skiing so what is it like?

Personally, I like skiing by myself sometimes. On foul weather days, I can ride the chair in silence and contemplate the scenery around me and most of all…..take the time to think about things. One of the nice things about enjoying your own company is that you can relax and not have to wait or meet up with anyone. Not that I don’t like to do that with friends, but silent times on the chairlift are therapeutic to me. Kind of like riding a mountain bike by myself. I talk to myself…..sometimes I get answers.

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I have skied in 108 different areas so I have ridden a lot of chairlifts in my time. Single chairs at Mad River and Stowe, fixed grip chairs with no safety bars at Aspen Highlands and Crystal Mountain, with short seats that scare me, and of course my main nemesis that I ride annually out at Mammoth- the infamous Chair 23. chair-23

I have posted about that before and when you have a four person chair, with no safety bar, suspending you hundreds of feet in the air over a wide expanse, people like me who are a bit acrophobic, tend to do the Archie Bell and the Drells and do the tighten up. But I get through because it is the only way up. So, what happens when other people are on the chair with me? Friends engage in conversation about the day and what is happening in their lives. It gives us all a chance to catch up and the social aspect of skiing is always enjoyed on the chairlift because …..well, as I stated, we spend the most time of the day there. The funny thing is when you sit with a stranger on the chair or a group of folks who you don’t know. Depending on my mood, I can sit there and say nothing, nestled behind my high collar and goggles. But in most cases, I usually chime in and say at least a cheery “Hello- great day huh?” That usually elicits some kind of civil discourse and oftentimes you meet interesting people and find out how their day is going, where they are from, what they like about skiing at an area, and then you hit the exit ramp and never see them again.

Then there are the ear bud types who play their music and just want to be left alone. Sometimes they look up and give you a loud, ” Hi. ” But most often they nestle behind the collar and the goggles and keep to themselves. That’s cool. You hit the exit ramp and never see them again.

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Late next week I hit the epic snows of the west. No more chairlift riding in the rain for me this season, but even though we have had a dismal winter here in the east, tenacity wins the day and one of the benefits has been time alone on the chairlift. I can look around, use the time to take in the beautiful mountain scenery of the Adirondacks, the Laurel Highlands, and on to the breathtaking vistas of the west. I will be hanging on for dear life on Chair 23, with my friends laughing at me all the way. But I won’t ride that chair by myself- that’s for damn sure. 🙂 Thanks for reading.

Not a Pine Knot!

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This winter is a weird one for sure here in the East. Some weeks are cold and snowy and others are really warm. We had the great opportunity to enjoy The Lodge At Glendorn this past weekend and got some good skiing in at Holimont and some nice snowshoeing before it all started to melt.fullsizerender The last day we started a new sport- mudshoeing because of the deteriorating conditions of the trails. However, any time spent at the Lodge at Glendorn is a good one and the weather was generally cooperative for a winter stay. http://www.glendorn.com dining-6more-gd-pics-039

One of the other activities that Mike Smith and I take part in when we are at Glendorn is learning a little bit about skeet and trap shooting. The Glendorn facility is second to none and the instructors are well versed along with the equipment that is available. The collection of shotguns is impressive and some of those pieces of equipment are over $12,000.00 each. It is harder than it looks folks, and I am here to tell you that as much as I enjoy it, I can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a bag of rice. Enter George.

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We were first introduced to George as we walked into the facility for our 3:00 appointment at the range. George is a retiree working at the resort with 43 years in at Kendall Refining behind him. A nice older gentleman who asked us what we knew about skeet shooting. When we feigned mostly ignorance, he thought we were sandbagging him, but I told him he will surely see we were rookies when we first hold the shotgun. We all laughed and George explained the finer points of skeet and trap before we stepped foot on the range. George is a good instructor. He is patient and kind and understanding. He said that he gets as much of a kick out of us breaking a clay pigeon as he would himself. I didn’t want him to be disappointed in my lack of skill but he guided us all the way through. The poignant conversation began when George stopped and said, ” You know fellas, you might think I am an old pine knot up here taking up space in the woods, but I was a 5 time Pa. State Champion at Skeet.” I was not surprised at all because of his knowledge and the way he handled the shot gun. But I was more taken by the fact that he was a little insecure because of his age and perhaps what we thought of him. Nothing could be further from our minds as we respected his knowledge and skill. It struck me that older gentlemen sometimes feel like they have outlived their usefulness and that life has somehow passed them by. It became my mission to make sure George felt comfortable even though I was the one intimidated by trying to perform in front of a 5 time State Champion.

I like older guys. I would bet that in fact, George was not all that much older than me, but all in all, probably had a few years on me. You could see the 43 years of hard work in his hands, the slight fatigue of an older gentleman, but the twinkle in his eyes still showed me a passion for his sport and the thrill of passing on his knowledge to others like Dr. Mike Smith and me. I do notice young people today sometimes do not respect the older generation. They sometimes dismiss them as old men who don’t know anything. I always have taught my son Jack to respect the older guys as he learned a lot over the years from his grandfather- another George, George Bope. These guys have seen a lot and in my zeal to make George feel comfortable, I truly wanted to show him that in my eyes, he was not a pine knot at all but someone who was truly interesting to me. I asked him about his years at Kendall Oil and he obliged me with stories from the refining days and his experiences in the back woods of Pennsylvania. His slight intimidation disappeared as we continued to shoot and BS, and he realized that Mike and I truly appreciated our time with him. I told him, ” George- it may be nothing to you, but just having the experience of handling a shot gun and knowing how to load and shoot it was a good experience for me.” Even though I kept shooting behind the target, I was hitting the mark with experience and a good time in the wilds of Pa. with my friend Mike and our new buddy George.

Returning to the cabin to meet our wives, we discussed our meager results. img_1391 But more importantly, we discussed how much we were impressed with George. I am looking forward to seeing him again when we return to Glendorn. He may think he is an old pine knot, but to me, he is wealth of experience. Respect the older guys, you will learn something. Thanks for reading.

Singing with the Ladies

Coming at you a little early this week. Things to do, places to see.

I remember my first interest in music on the radio, stereo, etc. was when I first drove my mom’s old 1964 Buick Special convertible to high school and I had KQV AM Radio blasting, along with WAMO and Porky Chedwick, the platter pushing Papa. The Pork played a lot of Motown and Atlantic Record hits and I was hooked on driving to music.

Fast forward and I was in college and first became enamored with the female folk and rock singers of the time. Joni Mitchell was interesting to me with my deeply buried rebel side. ” They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot” and ” Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now”, appealed to me as did her haunting voice and chords that no one else could possibly re-create on a guitar. Joni and the LA Express were cool and I played her records along with Linda Ronstadt – ” when will I be loved?” That one went rocking out the window with the KLH speakers. Grace Slick, Janis and Big Brother, were other female rockers who held my attention. joni-mitchelllinda-ronstadt-580

Moving along with my life, I found myself in Cambridge, Mass. post college graduation, visiting my future brother in law. He was a student at B.U and we went to a little venue that specialized in local talent on stage. Sitting there drinking a beer, a cool looking lady comes out with her cowboy boots and silver cockroach killers on the boot tips. She wore jeans and a neat blouse and when she bent over her Fender Stratocaster and slipped on the little glass bottle on her left finger, I knew we were in for something special. Her flaming shock of red hair swayed to the blues riffs and I knew I had found my new female singer attraction. Bonnie Raitt played a lot of venues in Boston and Philly at the time and she was taking off in the music world and I was a fan. I bought all of her tapes and subsequent CDs. bonnieraittnickoftime

Love had not found me yet, and I had a period of time driving my car to work and to ski areas where I felt sorry for myself and comforted myself in the melancholy tunes of Karla Bonoff. Driving along dark lonely roads, I felt like she was singing directly to me, the poor soul- no girlfriend and nothing in sight. A cactus in the desert, as I referred to myself. The old tune” The Water is Wide” left me shattered along with ” Someone to lay down beside me.” But things started to pick up and eventually I found the love of my life with my Janet. 012_karlabonoff

I spent a lot of time in the car and still do. My percussion skills on the steering wheel, aka timbalis, go well with my bass drum gas pedal. Now mind you, I don’t endanger myself but the truck drivers laugh when they look down on me and see me rockin’ with the ladies on the radio in my Jeep.

Janet and I found a new female recording artist when we went to an outdoor concert at Hartwood Acres here in Pittsburgh, and first saw bluegrass sensation Allison Krauss and Union Station. I had always liked bluegrass although the genre was lost on my bride. But sitting up front in the cool evening of late summer, she was enthralled with Allison’s voice and song selection and soon we had all the CDs and I played them relentlessly on the road tapping the steering wheel and swinging and swaying my way down the turnpike. alisonjpg-8733181b71368ffa

So why the fascination with female singers? I can tell you it is not anything sexual, but rather somehow, a woman singing is really beautiful to me. It had been that way since I was a little child and when I first heard stereo recordings of some of the world’s best female singers, I was hooked. Opera singers, folk singers, rock singers, they all had that quality of voice that appealed to me and although I rock out in the car to The Dead, The New Riders, The Eagles, The Stones, and on and on at ear splitting decibels, I find that most of the time, I am listening to the soothing sounds of female folk singers and soft rockers.

I am open to new artists and listening to Pandora the other day, I was taken by a singer who passed away in 1996. Eva Cassidy had a wonderful voice and her renditions of blues favorites are really well done. Imagine that I had not heard of her until now?maxresdefault She actually only gained notoriety after her death and it is a shame that she is gone. Her rendition of ” What a Wonderful World” and ” Over the Rainbow” left me speechless when I first heard them. Please take the time and listen to her and see if you are taken the same way that I was. Really….listen to this. https://youtu.be/2rd8VktT8xY

I have listened to a lot of music over the years, and when you put as much time in the car as I have, you gain an appreciation for music and lyrics. I am constantly searching for new artists but still play the old tunes. I sing with the ladies on the road, in the shower, and anywhere my travels take me. The truckers till laugh. Thanks for reading.