“If You Don’t Know Where You Have Been, You Can’t Know Where You Are Going”

I have always been a history buff, especially interested in the foundation of the country. My first interest was piqued when my folks took me to Fort Ligonier. I remember the day because I had a plaid sport coat on with a bow tie when we visited because we came right from church. In those days, you got dressed up for church and when I got to the famous French and Indian War fort, my dad bought me a tri- cornered hat and I was so proud wearing it around. I learned about the conflict and saw many relics of the period which made history come alive for me as a young lad.

Fast forward, my grandparents knowing my interest, took me to Gettysburg to get another take on local history. Again, I was enthralled with the Civil War conflict and again I got a hat- a Union officer’s hat- which again, I wore everywhere. I vividly remember the tour we took and the views from Little Roundtop, and Big Roundtop and the strategy of the Union and Confederate forces was explained in great detail. Much of it was lost on me until many later visits to the battlefield and an increased understanding of the conflict and the importance of the Gettysburg Address and the resultant emancipation proclamation.

In an effort to pass this on to my son Jack, my wife and I made it a point to take him not only to Gettysburg and Ft. Ligonier, but also to Williamsburg and eventually Washington DC. As a young kid, he complained a little about the mid summer heat in Williamsburg, as I explained to him the significance of the House of Burgess and the freedom speeches of Patrick Henry. It was a little lost on him but I continued during his formative years to explain what the wars were and why they were significant.   You see, where we live in Western Pennsylvania, history is alive everywhere you look. From the blockhouse at Ft. Pitt at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, to Forts Ligonier and Necessity just east of us and further east- the famous battlefields of the Revolutionary and Civil War. We visited all of them and history came alive for Jack and also my wife who was forced into learning about American history because of her marriage to me. LOL!! I can remember the guide putting them to sleep after a 3 hour tour in Gettysburg driving my car, and also me putting them to sleep on visits to significant sites rambling on to them about the particulars of the places we were about to visit.

The final visit with Jack and Janet before he was off and on his way in life, was during a college tour in Lynchburg, Virginia. I took them to Appomattox Courthouse where the armistice was signed by U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee ending the Civil War. We toured the quiet little farm house where the two famous generals met to effectively end the war on paper. Quiet, peaceful, and beautiful, the park is remarkably well preserved. I made it a point to venture out back to the slaves quarters to specifically show Jack the difference in living between the main house and the stark quarters where black slaves were housed to serve the owners of the farm at the time. When you read about the history of slavery on those walls, you get an understanding of the sadness that prevailed in those quarters and the atrocity of treating people differently because of the color of their skin. This was not lost on Jack because he was old enough to appreciate it. I explained to Jack and to Janet that Robert E. Lee went on to found Washington and Lee University whose founding precepts were to foster unity among the divided country. Lee was a reluctant warrior as a West Point graduate , and had no choice but to side with his home state of Virginia. But in later years, he did a lot to foster unity which he is not credited for in many accounts. Grant was the executor of Lincoln’s emancipation and, as President, he was intimately involved in crushing any further insurrection in the south and stopped continuing atrocities on the recently emancipated black citizens by the Ku Klux Klan. U.S. Grant is a hero to the black cause in America not only as a general in the Civil War but as President. Again, not always given the credit he deserves. Why the vandals tore his statue down recently in San Francisco is a mystery to me other than writing it off to random violence or people who don’t know the history of the man.

I think history is important. And it can’t be whitewashed. We have to teach our young people the good and the bad of American history so that we can learn of our mistakes and not repeat them. I can see the argument for not memorializing certain combatants in unrelated places but the battle fields and museums must be preserved to be a teaching vehicle for generations to come. Erasing history in those venues does a disservice to understanding where we have been so that we can know where we are going. The Jewish nation is a good example by their preservation of the concentration camps of World War II. When you visit Dachau, or Auschwitz, you understand the inhumane treatment of German and Polish Jews, and see first hand the evil of the Third Reich. That history should never be repeated and the preservation of those sites is essential to an understanding not only of Jewish culture but German history as well- good or bad.

I read a lot about history and am happy that I was able to at least pass some of that interest on to my wife as well as to my son. This is a good book by the way for anyone interested. I am hoping he will take the baton from me and perhaps make history come alive for his children someday. I would be happy to tag along. Maybe with a tri-cornered hat much to the horror of my prospective grandchildren in the future. LOL. Thanks for reading.

Road Trip!!!!!

You know the familiar call to battle? ROAD TRIP!!!!! I always love to take road trips because of the excitement that is causes. The planning is almost as much fun as the trip. ” What are you bringing?” “When do we meet?” “Where are we staying?” “Who all is coming?” The emails and phone calls start flying and the excitement crescendos when the vehicles are all lined up and rolling. Sometimes you join in the caravan of fun from another location – bike racks loaded, your favorite music blaring. Road Trip!!!!!
I like road trips also because I can spread out my gear. I don’t have to have it all consolidated on a plane and can take my time enjoying the ride with my top popped, sun glasses on, and my favorite music making me tap my toes and bang on the steering wheel. This past weekend was no exception as my mountain bike group converged on State College, Pa. to take on the heralded Coopers Gap and Tussey Mountain Trails in the rocky mountains of Central Pennsylvania.

23 really good riders began the weekend rolling out of Pittsburgh at the direction of Jeff Chetlin and Josh Royston, our spirited and heckling leaders. As people came screaming into the parking lot at Tussey Mountain Ski Area, the conversation became lively and the comical sidebars of discussion ensued. Chetlin needled everyone and as the merry band of riders assembled, and rode up the first climb, the cameras came out. My friend Mike Smith, from Philly, was amazed at the quality of riders in this eclectic group including some fast couples- Jeff and Julie, Darren and MJ Allworth, Tim and Barb Girone, Dan and Mary Moore, and Dave Gault with his new gal Stephanie McCague Hughes who was our MVP. She was riding a demo bike and is a new rider. The rocks on the trails punished her but her determination to ride as much as she could impressed the veteran group.
I told the guys who I was riding with that these women ate nails for breakfast. Their skill and speed over the heinous rocky sections of the trails was a sight to behold.  

 

We had two docs on the trip who can really ride the rocks with speed. Mike Smith and Syed Hyder. Along with the Chetlins and Steve Guertner who are fast riding dentists, we were set with any medical issues or if someone smashed their choppers on the boulders. The balance of the group was made up of highly skilled veteran riders- Denny Lovell, Mike Connors, JB Loughery( who gave me great visuals on how to get over some really rocky sections), John Casuccio, Matt Graver, Craig Matthews, our local guide and trailmaster from State College, and the Pittsburgh Ride Kings themselves- Bob Bannon and Garage Door Bob Kowalski.

The rocks and roots really punish you but this group handled them with style.

Jeff Chetlin seen here on his new IBIS dual suspension carbon rig,along with his wife Julie, seemed to relish the punishment. As with most road trips, the evenings are spent with some beers and good food and a raucous recounting of the day on the trail. ” Did you see that endo?” ” I thought I was going to barf on that rooty, steep climb.” ” How about Mary riding that section?” Riding bikes through the lobby of the hotel had the guests and the employees all laughing at our crazy band of mountain bikers. Popping out of the elevators on bikes surprised some but made all laugh. One thing about mountain bikers is that they all like to have fun. No egos, no unfriendly passing on the trails, just smiles and laughs all the way.

Brice Minnigh from Bike Magazine has an interesting article in this month’s issue where he states that his riding group are the “trees that make up my forest.” A little corny but when you stop and think about the camaraderie of the people who make up a road trip, they are indeed a close clan that share a common goal. They are your forest of close friends. We are once again planning a fall trip to Rothrock State Forest and Cooper’s Gap when the leaves are ablaze and the weather cools to a comfortable temperature. I can hear the call to arms now in my mind. Road Trip!!! Take a look at the following video to see the difficulty of the trails but the skill level of this very talented band of riders. I was honored to be able to ride with them. Thanks for reading.

 

Videos by Jeff Chetlin.  Photos by Tim Girone and Jeff Chetlin.

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 Cinnamon Roll ( and it’s cousin- The Sticky Bun)

In my January 8th 2015 post, I told you about my plight as an acraphobic skier. I opened up and admitted that I am afraid of heights which is kind of strange for a skier. But I suffer through the aerial tram rides and chairlifts to get to the top. Now, I bare my soul again and reveal a hidden vice that due to my upbringing in Catholic guilt ridden hell, I must reveal. I am an addict. I am addicted to cinnamon rolls and sticky buns. o-1

Sadly, this aversion to healthy eating began with my wife’s grandmother Thelma Curren, who made hot, fresh sticky buns in the oven and called me over to my future in-laws house when they were ready. I was not a coffee drinker at the time, and prepared for the feast by bringing my own freshly squeezed orange juice and enjoying my own rack of buns with raisins. These were prepared especially for me much to the chagrin of my future brother in laws and my future wife Janet. How dare Mrs. Curren make Pat McCloskey his own batch. I loved every bite.

Fast forward to riding my road bike at the Jersey Shore. As I make my 50 mile round trip to Cape May and back to Avalon, I justify my stops at Mallon’s, which after much research, I found to have the best sticky buns at the Shore. I bring a rack back to my family who devours them with glee and then they tell me to never bring them back again. Their perpetual diets are sabotaged by this practice so after the first rack, I ride to Mallon’s and eat a rack by myself, sweating and stinking all over their outside bench. The minimum order is 6 buns and if I cannot inhale them all with a coffee, I sneak the rest back to the condo and hide them in the fridge. I make my way back from the beach feigning a bathroom break and sneak the buns out to the microwave an no one finds out. ocean-city

This helpless habit continues to this day on ski trips. I volunteer always to go to the grocery store after skiing and sneak a bun or a roll on the way back. I find the great bakeries. A weekly ritual in the winter, locally, is to stop on the way back from Laurel Mountain and eat a couple of cinnamon rolls from The Pie Shoppe in Laughlintown. Nothing makes the drive home easier than a coffee and a couple of rolls. o I used to bribe my son Jack to come skiing with me by enticing him with a visit to the Pie Shoppe and he always bit. Now beer is a more likely bait for him. But not for me. As much as I like my IPAs, I will take the buns and the rolls first and foremost.

Penn State people like my wife will extol the virtues of the grilled stickies from Ye Old College Diner in State College, Pa. These mass produced beauties are great grilled and can provide a doughy base in your stomach after an all star night on the town. ye-old-college-diner-stickies But something is lost on me with these buns when you can buy them in the local grocery stores as well as at the Diner. The fresh, warm bun or cinnamon roll right out of the oven in a great bakery cannot be beat. I know my health conscious friends are rolling their eyes at me now and even though I try to eat mostly healthy fare, I can’t help myself when tempted with these treats after a great ride or a ski day. But I know other people slip, like my chiropractor who is deeply into holistic health. Even he goes off the wagon here and there by buying a bag of cookies from Whole Foods and devouring them before he gets home. I outed you Ray. Guilty people love company.

The only justification for this aversion to healthy eating is my diligence in trying to pay for the indiscretion. I truly think in my mind that I can run off that bun or cycle off that roll. I will sweat like a dog trying to burn up that treat and in my mind, after a vigorous workout, I have paid the price. Only to be tempted again in a day or two and the whole vicious cycle of sin and penance begins anew. img_1547

As I have grown older, I have finally found the holy grail of cinnamon rolls dangerously close my home. The Bartram House Bakery has, hands down, the most delicious, cinnamon packed, warm doughy treat one could ever consume. It is so decadent that I find myself paying for it with an over extreme workout. Instead of being a connoisseur of the sticky bun and the cinnamon roll, I have become a common sewer with weekly stops. What am I supposed to do? This sweet toothed practice haunts me as I struggle to lead the healthy lifestyle. So there it is. I have outed myself, dropped my drawers and told you of the struggle that plagues me. I have come out of the closet much like a drinker and the first step to redemption is to admit it. But, chances are, you will catch me sometime with a smile on my face and icing all over my chin. Thanks for reading.