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.

The Brendan Boat

Just trying to take a break from all the Covid-19 stuff and give you all a little enjoyment for St. Patrick’s Day. Back a number of years when I was in Ireland riding my bike, I peddled my arse to the west coast and ended up on the Dingle Peninsula. That is where I purchased the item above that depicts St. Brendan and his monks rowing their dory boat. You see St. Brendan and the monks were from a place very close to Dingle and they are famous for their explorations of the Aran Islands and westward spreading the gospel. Read Tim Severin’s book ” The Brendan Voyage” for a fascinating account of their voyages. It is said that they made it all the way to Newfoundland 500 years before Leif Erikson and close to 1000 years before Columbus made his way to the Caribbean. National Geographic also did a piece in August of 1977 reporting on Severin’s re-creation of the voyage outlined in the book. My point today is that St. Brendan and the boys were not much into social distancing. In fact they went way out of their way to spread the gospel and also meet new people and visit new lands on the way. The Irish are like that.

St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of what the saint did in Ireland as a Christian missionary and bishop. It also celebrates Irish culture with parades, Guiness, Irish Car Bombs, and similar merriment but also recognizes the social character of the Irish and their descendants like me. My mother was a huge fan of the day and also a huge fan of all things Irish. Her humor was represented in sayings like the above and also in her love for things like Belleek china, Waterford crystal and making Irish soda bread. But again- it involved people, and our house growing up had that classic Irish tradition of gathering friends and family and enjoying the humor and the company. I spent many times on the piano in my folk’s house playing Irish songs and to this day do the same at home. My mom’s favorite saying was that “happiness is like a perfume, you can’t spread it on others without getting a little on yourself.” And she did in many ways- cooking, singing, entertaining her friends and relatives, and well…….being Irish. I believe I received her sense of humor as a gift because I always try to look at life from the bright side. If I can offer some humor to my friends and family along the way, I feel good and I hope they do as well. I tell my inane stories of my experiences on the chairlift and on mountain bike rides, much to the amusement of my friends who have graciously heard the stories over and over again. But I believe that a little self deprecation, which is the root of many of my stories, leads to belly laughs and people shaking their heads and saying………..McCloskey???????”

 

So this Tuesday is St. Patrick’s Day. Yes- we are in the middle of a national crisis. The parades have all been cancelled, restaurants are closing, bars are closing, we are encouraged to be diligent and wash our hands and keep our distance. Not in the Irish tradition at all. But we need to do it. But when the day comes, and you have “The Quiet Man” on television or maybe “Waking Ned Devine” , think of the folks that you would like to be with and give them a call or a text. Have a laugh and try to keep some humor during some trying times. I will probably do that and bore people with more stories and corny Irish jokes, but they will laugh and say- ” thanks for the call man”.        Slainte’ .

Nothing Wrong with New Kicks.

So, I know that I have posted several times about my 46 year old Vasque Hiker IIs shown here on the right. These hiking boots are absolutely bomb proof and have their original laces and Vibram soles. Amazing! They have been everywhere and could really write a blog or a book themselves. But recently my toes have been hurting when I have been hiking and I realized that as I have aged, my feet have actually grown. I believe it is because the arch collapses and your foot gets longer. Oh well. But it has been causing an issue with my feet in my favorite boots. I would have used these until I died because there is absolutely nothing wrong with them and I even reported that to Vasque. They gave me a very nice response.

Fast forward- my lovely wife purchased a new pair of Vasque hiking boots for me for my birthday( shown on the left) which are great. In fact yesterday during our regular Sunday afternoon hike, I remarked how much I liked them and how comfortable they are. Janet and I like hiking and we have a lot of local options. But Janet’s response was not what I expected. In her quiet, unassuming way, she said that retiring the old boots and putting on the new ones is very much like what happens in life. Sometimes you need new things……like relationships, hobbies, food choices, even some friends. I was taken back on the friends and relationship part but she went on to explain. She quoted Dr. Henry Cloud when he said that some relationships are “unsafe.” Dr. Cloud says that sometimes relationships or friendships become strained and they can become toxic or “unsafe” and we need to be willing to acknowledge that and make a change and perhaps retire those people who are causing us pain and making us uncomfortable. Like an old pair of boots that now don’t fit too well. Sometimes you need to be willing to make a change for the better.

Relationships and friendships are not the only ones that need scrutiny. Perhaps when we are doing some self examining and want to make some lifestyle changes, we need to look at the balance sheet of those things and determine if making a change will help us grow and move forward. Maybe it is time to start eating more healthy? Maybe we need to change our lifestyle and incorporate another kind of outside activity or any kind of activity that may change an unhealthy existence.

Recently I made such a decision and decided after riding a road bike for 40 years, I was going to sell my current ride and stick to mountain bike riding. That was a drastic change for me because I liked riding the road. But lately, my old routes through apple orchards and farms have now been transformed into routes through newly constructed subdivisions. Traffic is worse and people are texting, not paying attention, talking on the cell phone, changing channels on the XM Radio and all in all becoming a hazard to those riding a road bike. There have been several fatalities around here and I did not want to take the chance on trusting someone coming up behind me and not paying attention. Like putting the old hiking boots aside, I committed to my other ride( the mountain bike) and hiking with my wife. A lifestyle change for sure seeing that I have ridden/raced my road bike for years in many places. It was time for a change. Lots of good memories on the road bike but like the old boots, time to go.

The new boots are comfortable ( I am also an easy fit) and like any new experience, if you make the commitment and take a chance to improve your situation( relationships, friendships, lifestyle changes) the results can become surprisingly pleasant. To hike now without pain is a real pleasure. Off with the old and in with the new is a good plan for someone like me who wants to keep active and lead a healthy existence for the rest of my life. So as we get older, maybe we take a look at what has become routine and maybe be willing to reexamine what is really important,or what is hurting us, and make the necessary changes. Nothing like a new pair of kicks. Thanks for reading.

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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

Make The Best of It

This time of year in Western Pennsylvania, people tend to get down because of the weather. We are right on the borderline of snow/rain/sleet/freezing rain/and with the time change, the attitudes of some folks tend to get a bit blue. It is also accentuated when the Steelers are not quite up to par and risk not making the playoffs. The major reason I write this blog is to encourage folks to get outdoors and make the best of it. With the weather pattern changing and the storms blowing off the Great Lakes, we tend to be like the Pacific Northwest and precipitation and cold weather go hand in hand.

For those of us who actually do make the best of it down here in the Banana Belt, the lights come out for mountain bike rides as we suffer through cold, wet and slimy conditions, at night, in the dark, illuminated by an array of really high quality lighting systems.


One of the things that makes it manageable is clothing. Rain pants and wicking underlayers are key. I happened upon an amazing full rain suit made by Frogg Toggs which I picked up in the hunting department of Dick’s Sporting Goods. Inexpensive, but it definitely blocks the wind and keeps you warm. And for 38 bucks, when it finally wears out, you can easily replace it. We even hang it in the car wash to hose off along with our bikes with a light spray.

Full disclosure here, we do use a light spray and not the high pressure spray which blows the grease out of all the bearings. We don’t want to incur the wrath of the Dirty Harry’s Bike Shop crew so we tend to be very conservative in the clean up phase after rides. When the splooge factor is high, we must visit the car wash. Splooge being the nasty, muddy, slop that coats your bike during wet winter rides. But it is all remedied at the car wash. And, you can hose off the suit too. And when I am lazy, I just hose off the suit while wearing it.  Just like a shower with the car wash wand.  Lots of fun rides in the winter if you have the drive to continue to ride year round.

A lot of us are skiers and snowboarders too, and we plan our western trips for the season. But living here in Western Pa, you can’t be out west all the time so you make the best of local conditions and just get out. No matter what the weather throws at us.

For these activities, clothing is just as important as seen here with my Patagonia Pro Gore Tex suit that keeps me bone dry along with my snow making gloves from CHS Snowmakers. http://www.chssnowmakers.com

If you can stay dry, skiing in rain is really good because of the soft snow and no lift lines. One of the best days I ever had skiing, was at Whiteface up in the Adirondacks in a torrential rain storm. The rain was cascading off my helmet and goggles as I rode the Summit Chair, but the snow was so soft and easy to ski. I hated to quit at the end of the day because the skiing was so good. Again, you have to be willing to get out this time of year. The cold weather will come soon enough and January and February and especially March, which tends to be more winter like. But in late November and early December, you take what you can get. Just get out and do it and you will feel so much better when you do.  I sound like Warren Miller?   

There are lots of activities in which you can participate during the “off season”. When the snow piles up, the snowshoes come out for my wife and me, and with a headlamp, you can snowshoe at night as well as during the day. Hiking is another fun activity for couples. As with skiing and snowboarding, the apres’ activity is also a fun reward. Nothing like a hot drink sitting next to a roaring fire. The IPAs in the parking lot after rides are pretty tasty too.

So, no deep message here this week folks,( not that I ever give a deep message), just some encouraging suggestions that will make you think about making the best out of rotten weather. Like my friend the Shark always says,” No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices.” Thanks for reading.

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Evensong.

At this time of the year, I have always enjoyed choral music. I guess my appreciation went back to my college days when I would end the semester at Allegheny College with the annual pre-Christmas holiday concert in the chapel on campus. There is something special about choir music that sets the mood for Christmas and when I headed back to the dorm, my head was right for the celebration of the birth of Christ. There was something comforting in that music and it always took the burrs off finals and cramming to make decent grades. I felt like all was right with the world as I relaxed and headed home for Christmas vacation.

Fast forward and I found myself cycling in England a number of years ago. At the end of every ride, I would head back to the B&B,shower, and then hustle over to the famous cathedrals nearby and listen to the 4:00 PM presentation of Evensong. This has always been a tradition in the Anglican Church where the choir sings in the late afternoon or evening and the public is welcome. So much so, that in Salisbury Cathedral, Winchester Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, I was invited to come up and sit right in the middle of the choir on either side of the main aisle. What an experience listening to the beautiful harmony on all sides. It was quite moving and I remember it vividly to this day. Some days I was running late and went straight to the cathedral in my cycling togs. I was hoping I was not too disgusting for the sharply dressed, starched, choir in their vestments, as I sheepishly sat in with them and profusely apologized between songs, as I perspired all over the stone floor. They nodded politely and continued on with the presentation.

Nowadays, I rarely have a chance to listen in person, but I do tend to take in choir music on my Pandora Channel with some renditions by Libera, and even more secular music by Lorenna McKennett or Enya that gives you the same relaxed feeling as you drive. Their Celtic music with that haunting melody, can be equally relaxing. Sometimes, this kind of music can actually alter your mood and relieve stress if you do like I do, and drive the back way to and from work without fighting the masses on the freeways. I would rather go a little out of my way, enjoy the scenery, and take in the changing leaves or the gently falling snow which decorates the pines in the hollows of my commute. Those of you who know me might be wondering if I somehow have a loose screw. But I am here to tell you that as much as I like rock and R&B, I can equally be entertained and relaxed on the Spa Channel or choral music on my drives to work.

This time of year, I also have the opportunity to drive to the mountains on Saturday mornings for some local skiing in our Laurel Highlands. Being the Type “A” person that I am, the day begins well before sunrise and I am on the road in the dark. That quiet time in the car is a wonderful time for me as I anticipate a great day of skiing with my friends and have the opportunity to sip some coffee and listen to some relaxing music on the Libera station on Pandora. Sometimes I will listen to Gregorian Chant by the Benedictine Monks on the album “Chant”. The byproduct of this mood altering music is the fact that I am totally relaxed as I enter the parking lot, go to the lodge, and begin the process of booting up. Once I am on the slopes, I can still hear the chorale music in my mind which helps me make relaxing turns on the hill as juxtaposed to the headphone wearing death metal music that the crazies are listening to buzzing all around me. My elbows are out! Efficient skiing and boarding is smooth. Relaxing music creates smooth turns. Flex the ankles and finish the turns. Kyrie Eleison.

So what’s the point Pat? Well- simply put, give choral music, Gregorian Chant, and Celtic music a chance. This time of year it always gets you in the mood and is a nice alternative from Santa Claus is Coming to Town. And, if you are headed to the mountains for skiing, or a ride, or anywhere else where a car ride is involved, make the most of it and unload the stress from the week. Also, this type of music can make you think about the reason for the season. The words bring you to the real meaning of Christmas and release you from all the stress inducing secular time crunches for a consumer oriented holiday. I think of Evensong and am glad that I had that experience to make me appreciate the season. Thanks for reading and enjoy your Christmas or Hanukkah, and quiet times in the car.

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You Can Never Go Back to the Green.

So as I was driving up to the mountains last weekend, I was listening to the Billy Joel Channel on Sirius Radio. Bopping along the turnpike to the tunes of “Stiletto”, ” Piano Man” and my all time favorite ” Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”. I thought about Brenda and Eddie and how they had it all together with their crowd at the Green. But life got in the way, they divorced, and tried to resume their former life. ” The King and the Queen went back to the Green but you can never go back there again.” That line always hits me. You can never go back there again.

My friend Frank, down in Virginia ,always says to me that he would like to come back home and hang out at Stone Field again to ride road bikes and run with the Hot Harry’s crowd. Fact of the matter when I talk to Frank, is that there are not many left of the Hot Harry’s crowd and people have moved on and there is a whole new crowd at the park with the kings and queens being fresh new athletic faces whom we don’t recognize. Not the same Frank. You can’t go back to the Green Frank. None of us can.

I thought of all the good times that I had with the ski group back in the day. We all were young and at Christmas time, we boarded a big flatbed truck and sang Christmas carols around the mountain and drained everyone’s booze and beer supply. So much fun but again, reminiscing is fine but that crowd, for the most part, has married, and had kids, and now grand kids, and life has changed. My life has changed too but in many ways, I feel like Peter Pan wishing life would not change and we could go back to the Green one more time. But that is not to be and clearing my head, I think how blessed I am with my family and friends.

Driving in the car, you have a lot of thoughts in your head as you listen to music. You think about where you were when that song played. Songs remind you of the Green when you were among the kings and the queens of a younger day. You have fleeting thoughts about reuniting with old friends who have maybe moved on but like Billy says, you can never go back to the Green. It isn’t there and reminiscing all you want won’t take you there .

Janet and I put up our Christmas tree last night and as I looked at all the gold ornaments from the Danbury Mint that belonged to my folks, I thought about Christmas past in the McCloskey house. Many good memories and some not so good but for the most part, my folks made Christmas special for me and the ornaments reminded me of those days. But now I think how that tree fits in my house, and how those ornaments are part of our tree and Janet and I try to make memories for our son Jack and Jan’s mom who is 89 and living with us. 

Riding the chair lift the other day while skiing at our local resort in the Laurel Highlands, people were remarking how things had changed. This tree was cut down, and new construction completed, and widening of familiar slopes to accommodate today’s skiers all was viewed with different takes. But the bottom line is that the new ownership does things differently than the folks who started the resort back in the day. I looked at all the old pictures in the upstairs ski lodge lounge and thought about how good it was back in the “old days” and how much fun it was when we were the kings and queens of the mountain. But you can never go back.

As I get older, I start to realize that I can’t be like Brenda and Eddie. Or as the New Yorkers say, ” Brender and Eddie”. You have to embrace change. You have to look to the future. You cherish your old friends and make new ones. Life moves on folks and it is nice to have memories but now is the time to make new ones. Thanks for reading.

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