Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The General

While we were in Bantry Bay and preparing to eat at The Snug, we found ourselves reading about the near French invasion of Napoleon. I said near, because he never actually was able to invade for the gale winds blew and prevented his men from landing. Every army has its leader, and since we are talking about an army, that person typically is referred to as the General. Well, if an army has has to have a general, then why wouldn't every family? Well, I know one family who did, and allow me to tell you what I remember of "the general".

The general that I knew was a quiet man and who at first glance, might remind you of "Popeye". He came and went from the house, always on foot, and often returned with something that was rolled up under his arm. After taking off his overcoat, he'd either retire to the kitchen to unwrap his package or find his way to the front room for a smoke. That was the what I remember most, his smoking. Sometimes, especially when we were in Canada, he'd let us help him roll his cigarettes. They never had that store bought look, but I guess they served the purpose. I tried to get him to stop this habit many times, but to no avail. One day when he returned home I happened to be in the kitchen, and I saw him open his package. Evidently, in his travels, he would stop by the market and pick up fresh fish, smelts mostly. He'd add them to the frying pan on the stove that he had used dozens of times before, sometimes just adding them to the leftovers. He then might have a cup of black coffee or tea, while I would grab a carriage covered glass from the cupboard and fill it with milk and Ovaltine.

Once, when my mother ventured off to Canada with my 2 younger brothers and me, the general came along to keep us company. We went as far as Bar Harbor and took the Blue Nose over to Digby in Nova Scotia. It was a foggy trip and the car ferry pitched the entire time. I think there were a few sick passengers on that crossing. Finally, after arriving at Uncle Willy's, the general would assume his usual resting spot on the couch in the kitchen. That was his spot, and everyone knew it because he was, after all, the general. If we took a trip into St. John and wandered through the market, what would the general come home with? You guessed it, smelts wrapped in the wax paper just like at home.

Later in life, he assumed his position on the couch, but now it was at our house, first in the living room and then in the kitchen. He had a short stay at one of the local rest homes after he had fallen and broken his hip, but eventually returned to his domain in the kitchen once more. When I was about about 13, after having spent the night with my younger brothers at some dear friends, I received a call from my father. He informed me that the general had passed away. After a few minutes and having shed several tears, I was able to tell my 2 younger brothers.

Yes, he was the general. I can hear my father referring to him as the general, as if that was his given name. No, he was the general because he was one of 3 Johns living at Bristol Road, the general, Uncle John Flaherty, and his son John. How else could anyone keep them all straight, unless there was some nickname to properly identify each of them. From what I have been told, it was my Grandmother who actually nicknamed him the general, and why, I do not know. He was a quiet man, and to the adults, my Grandfather was known as "the general". But not to me; to me he was and always will be Grampy McNeil. In this case, the general was quite possibly the original "Quiet Man"!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

It All Starts with Family

When we look back, there have been advances that most of us would have a difficult time imagining life without today. I am reminded , as I sit on my return flight from Ireland, that this transatlantic crossing would have taken days instead hours just a hundred years ago. Even the very first flight across by Charles Lindbergh was something that occurred within recent history or even more spectacularly, our landing on the Moon. Why the technology I am using to craft this commentary hasn't been available that long, and the progress doesn't appear to be slowing down much at all either. However, in spite of these remarkable advancements, it all has to start somewhere, and I believe it all starts right at home.

Yesterday, I took a bus from Nenagh to the Dublin airport. It was a delightful ride, and little worry because I "left the driving to them. We had WiFi on board, although I couldn't get it to work, so I enjoyed the scenery from my perch in a comfortable coach seat. Thankfully, I didn't need the restroom as there wasn't an option on this bus. Now there's a luxury that isn't overrated, particularly if you've had too much coffee. It would be awfully difficult to make the 4000 mile, 8 hour plane ride without the benefits of the powder room. I still remember the outhouse at Uncle Willy's and the chamber pots that rested beneath our beds just waiting to be used in the dark of night. We encountered none of that on this trip. On our travels, we have ridden by plane, car, bus, car ferry, bikes, and naturally, by foot. We have used pay phones, cell phones, the internet to skpe and to blog, and we even wrote some postcards, so the post offices have been stops on our tour. Regardless of how much we did and saw, there still is plenty left for a future visit.

It has been a wonderful trip, first visiting in Dublin and then around the southern parts of Ireland and back. A trip that would have taken weeks, perhaps, in the past, but for us, it was all part of week long journey to see the countryside from which many have come. Time seemed to stand still, at least for us but not for the locals. No. This is their life and their land, and they too have moved forward. They shared a part of it with us this week, and my how pleasant it has been, including the weather. Time has not stood still at all, but has gone forward in so many ways. We live most definitely in a global world, and as such, we are all connected in some fashion or another.

Whether you live in Newport, NH or Newport, Ireland, we all are living life. A life that is first defined by our family genealogy and then changed over time by our personal choices and experiences. The world is indeed a smaller world and hopefully a better world than the one our ancestors left us. Now that I've seen some of Ireland, I can appreciate that heritage. My mother always said, "it all starts with the family unit", and she was right once more. Let's do our share as those that preceded us did by doing theirs. Thanks to you Mom and Dad and to all my grandparents for what you have passed on to us!

Transportation Home

I arrive at 1:100 Pm from Detroit on a Delta connection flight 6407?
That would be great if you could pick me up, Will confirm from Detroit once stateside
Steve O'

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

When Babbling is Quieting

When you're trying to relax, you generally don't start playing loud rock music, start tackling a new project, or hope for the sound of a fire engine or police car. No, what you want are things far more soothing such as hearing the aspen quake in the breeze, waves rolling onto the beach, or that melodious sound of a babbling brook. These are sounds that are often associated with time for "de-stressing" and ones that'll help you regroup for yet another future onslaught of activity.

When we were kids, I remember asking my mother what she enjoyed most which would have provided that calming influence. She was quite clear on this one; it was the sound of a babbling brook. Of course, it does have a rather distinct sound and ironically, one that has been recorded frequently to sell in stores today. Yes, the ethereal sound of a babbling brook reminds me of our times in Black River at Uncle Willy's. Maybe that was the reason my mother found the soothing sounds of the brook so enjoyable. It reminded her of Black River, which took all of us back in time when we were there.

Yesterday, we started our day in Kenmare, a coastal community north of Cork to the West. After a full Irish breakfast, we headed downtown to the market and a stroll to the stone circle. Evidently, the circle is a remnant of the Druid civilization which first inhabited Ireland some 2-4 thousand years BC. It was quite fascinating to think that someone stood on these grounds and assembled this gathering place to possibly tell time or whatever. It was a message in a bottle without clues. We wandered through a few shops, Quills in particular, and then made our way north to Killarney. Killarney is one of the starting points for the drive around the ring of Kerry, but that tour will have to be for another time. From Killarney, we drove to Tralee and on to Tarbert where we caught the ferry to Killrush. Catching the ferry here was so much like the Eastport to Deer Island ferry we took years ago on our way to Black River, except no lobster rolls were available at the dock. Once we disembarked, we made our way to the Cliffs of Moher. How spectacular indeed; in fact I was "awestruck" at their beauty, much like Mom would have said. The cliffs reminded me of the rocky ledged coast along the Bay of Fundy, and formations like Split Rock were in the bay, only we were viewing these form hundreds of feet above the sea level. No worries about getting too close to the edge, because my profound fear of heights cured me from breaching my comfort zone. The sun was shining and everything at that moment was right with the world. You could just imagine Grandma McNeil saying goodbye to this land, not knowing whether she'd ever return. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been for any of the early emigrants.

Finally, we motored on to Galway, and when we arrived in the city, there was a palpable change to our sense of calm. Suddenly, things became more frenetic, however once we found the Villanova B&B, we were able to relax once more. Here we were in Kenmare, a sleepy little town, only to find ourselves back in the hustle of a city like Galway at the end of the day. However, once we settled in and had dinner at Monroe's with a pile of college kids, we could look forward to our trip to the Aran Islands tomorrow.

When we were in Kenmare, we had to cross a foot bridge to town, and as we traversed the bridge, the sound of that babbling brook from my youth echoed in my mind. This time, I wasn't placing bottles in the creek to catch fish or building dams as I had with my siblings and cousins. No. I was listening to nature tell me that it's OK to slow down and de-stress every once in awhile. It was just as relaxing as I had remembered it years ago. These are the things that permit us to deal with the chaos and stress of every day living, and the things that we look forward to most when our bodies and minds tell us it's time to relax. My mother was right, as she has been so many other times before. The sound of a babbling brook can produce a calm, virtually at a moments notice, and it is this period of tranquility that restores our passion for the hard work we do so regularly. It is unfortunate that we all don't have more to time to enjoy nature's hard work!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ireland's Version of the Bear Tooth Pass

After several days in the cities, we have now taken to the hills and what a surprise it has been. We left Cork and meandered our way down to Kinsale. The roads leading into town reminded us of the coastal roads of Maine. We didn't really get the same overwhelming sense of the ocean, but you certainly could appreciate its presence. Unfortunately, the rains came in a little heavier today, but the locals are graciously optimistic about the clouds breaking. One woman said that all the farmers were praying for rain, and now we have it. The early part of the month had been uncharacteristically dry. As she said, "Can you imagine 3 weeks in Ireland without rain?"

We popped in and out of a few shops before hitting the "highway to heaven". Thankfully, heaven will have to wait yet another day for us. We made it to Skibbereen and visited with a cousin of a family from Newport. He was a pleasant chap who filled us in on some of the local history, including information about the great potato famine of 1845-1850. I marveled at the very courage the Irish possess to endure that and move on; it must have been devastating to face such hardship. I can only imagine what Grammy McNeil and her family encountered, and now I can better appreciate the magnitude of the challenges they faced. We sure do come from a heritage of hearty people and survivors.

Bantry was to be the next stop on our drive along the coast. We actually had dinner in a quaint seaside pub, and no live fiddling music yet I'm afraid. However, since the day still had some usable light, we decided to push on toward Killarney, realizing that we wouldn't go all the way today. We waved to Maureen O'Hara as we passed through Glengariff. The little we saw from the main road was much like Camden Maine or Rockport. Maureen O'Hara, now wouldn't that have been lovely to see her?

The road from Glengariff to Kenmare brings you across the county line of Cork into Kerry. Unfortunately, the fog lessened the spectacular views of the valley below and the scenic vistas surrounding us, but it had every bit the feel of driving into Yellowstone through the Bear Tooth. It was breathtaking and hair raising all in one. We passed Molly Galivan's...the first Molly sign for me in Ireland, and I couldn't help but think of my Molly.

We found 4 star accommodations in Kenmare, not that we were planning on that, but Mary O'Brien's was not to be found. The others were "not trading" tonight, as one gentleman said. After a bit of unpacking and a stroll to town, we had a delightful fill of dessert, bread pudding for me, at Foley's pub.

The drive and sites today were simply marvelous. We were in no hurry, because it's just too dangerous to drive on these roads quickly. As for me, I'm just trying to take it all in as I look around. Thankfully, I have 2 things, additional batteries for my camera so I can take all the pictures I want and a very competent driver behind the wheel. Funny thing, that was the same formula I had when we went through the Bear Tooth in 1967. The only difference I'd say is this one had a slightly greater touch of green!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Balance is all around

The stay in Cork has served us well, a good nights sleep and a tour around the grounds of UCC with Maddie. For us, the next stop along the parade route was a trip to the Blarney castle for a chance to kiss the sacred stone.

Blarney is just North of town, less than 15 kms. The ride out was hair raising, but we survived, evidently confirming that the luck of the Irish is alive and well. Once again, the countryside we viewed was beautiful. It's hard yet to imagine how green things will become once the warmer weather comes, but I am sure it is breath taking.

Even from the confines of Blarney itself, the castle, in spite of its magnificence and presence, can not be seen virtually until you get onto the grounds. Its very size offered an imposing sight, so I can imagine how safe you might have felt behind its walls. The grounds were springing to life with the sun shining and the temperatures rising.

Upon entering the castle, I realized that I was about to ascend a nearly 10 story building, and I am deathly afraid of heights and small confined spaces, 2 things that there were plentiful on this tour. However, my brother reassured me that the castle has been standing for several centuriess, and it was highly unlikely that it was going to fall down today, certainly at this exact moment in time. I almost immediately could feel my pulse rate drop to some tolerable level. Of course, you can't climb the castle and then not kiss its most famous stone. So, without too much angst, I positioned myself like so many have before me and accomplished the task at hand, no fan fare but it made me awfully dizzy.

The lore suggests that by kissing the stone, one will gain a sense of eloquence. The blarney will be gone, or at least according to legend anyway. I am not exactly sure that I have gained this new sense of eloquence, but I certainly enjoyed the wonderful views, after regaining my balance. Maybe it isn't eloquence that one acquires after kissing the stone but balance. If that is the case, it isn't lore about the stone but God's honest truth about finding your balance, because I sure found mine!

It's Going to be a Lovely Day

After viewing the Irish and Scots rugby match and having a taste of the ale in Temple Bar, we all headed off for a good nights sleep. The time change hadn't occurred yet here, and we were told that this was the weekend to lose yet another hour of sleep. Too bad for us, I guess. So we prepared ourselves properly, only to find out in the morning that the change is actually next weekend. All this cost us some valuable "Z's", but what the heck, we are on "holiday".

We found a nearby church for Sunday services and then headed out of town for the country, south on N11 to Wicklow. Driving over here is not for the faint of heart or the inexperienced, and remember, they drive on the wrong side of the road over here. Even with good maps and 2 pair of eyes watching for the signage, we made several incorrect turns. The countryside was as you'd imagine though, hills soon to be green and narrow roads with roundabouts. We stopped in the fishing village of Wicklow to stretch our legs and a much needed cup of coffee. After traversing the town and the hillside, we then made our way to Glendalough for a walk in the hills where St. Kevin had founded his monastery. A brief shower greeted us in the parking lot at the start of our walk, but that was all we had for the day; otherwise we had nothing but blue sky.

Reviewing the maps once again, we decided the trip to Arklow along R755 would be scenic and provide us with a good place to dine. It was just like Mr. Toad's wild ride, but we made it just fine. Dinner consisted of Fisherman's and Beef pie, deli-cee-ous, as Mom would say. We parted ways with J&C before heading to Cork on N11, M30, and M25. Unfortunately, the sun had gone down on our day, so we missed out on this region's scenic offerings.

The weather thus far has cooperated, rain showers only and minimal at that. We ended our day with a spot of tea and a scone. The 3 hour drive from Arklow to Cork left us a tad bit weary, and this little snack was just right before turning in for the night. In spite of the predictions, the rains have held off. The weather has been just delightful, lovely in fact, and therein lies the origins of an Irishman's eternal optimism, looking on the bright sunny-side of things!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Sweeter than a Packet of Sugar

After dreaming of coming to Ireland for many years, I have finally made it to Emerald Isle. This, too, was the dream of my late grandmother, only hers was to return to the land of her birth, not visit for the first time. She was the quintessential grandmother, but to me and my siblings she was so much more. Oh yes, I probably have dozens of stories to tell about her, but while my brother, sister-in-law, and nieces wandered the streets of Dublin today, 2 things came to my mind as if they happened yesterday.

To me, my grandmother always looked like a grandmother what with her gray hair and wrinkles. As she became more arthritic, long before wheelchair ramps, she had to be carried into the house on a chair. It was just part of having Grandma at the house. For Christmas, just 4 weeks before she died, she received the gift of her dreams, a return flight on Aer Lingus to Ireland. Unfortunately, she never would return to the land of her birth because she died from Leukemia in January of 1969.

While walking the streets, I noticed the young lassies wearing their high heels and thought of my grandmother's shoes, those black wing tipped, low heels, tie shoes like the ones worn by Mrs. Doubtfire. Those were the only shoes I ever remember her wearing, and when it came time for a new pair, you guessed it, low heeled, black tie shoes, classics, just like the person wearing them.

Naturally, we wanted to sample the fare of the Dublin pubs, so we made our second trip out to the streets to take in the the atmosphere of Dublin at night. After enjoying a delightful meal of fish and chips, and a pint of ale, we had our dessert and coffee, a fitting end to this day of my dreams. After putting in the cream and sugar, I was once again reminded of Grammy McNeil. For years, she 'collected' the packets of sugar from restaurants to have in case there was another Great Depression or famine, both of which she survived.

So, how would rate my first day in the Ireland? It was a perfect 10! Sure, if the weather was a little warmer and a little drier, I wouldn't have objected, but that wouldn't have broadened my enthusiasm or smile any more than it already was. Those fond memories have been absolutely priceless for me, and in some strange way, I think Grammy was walking down those streets with us today, listening to the music and smiling every step of the way too. It was a long time coming, but she finally made it back, and I can just imagine the smile on her face. Thanks for the 'trip' down memory lane Grandma, and even today, you always know just how to make the dreams come true!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Great Sense of Direction

Growing up on a farm in Iowa helped my father with many things, not the least of which was his good old fashioned common sense. But something that I always found remarkable was his ability to recognize which direction he was looking, pointing, or driving. He would refer to the sides of the house as the north side or the east side, while my siblings and I typically used terms like the backside or the side next to the driveway. It undoubtedly came from his innate sense of observation that he, along with his farmer brethren, seem to come by "environmentally". It often has been said that farmers would make the best weathermen, but according to my grandfather, they were the world's biggest gamblers too. Fortunately, it had little to do with Las Vegas but that they were bargaining with Mother Nature to supply them with the resources for a successful harvest.

As I sit on my first transatlantic flight, I find myself thinking of yet another learning opportunity that my father shared with us as kids. He compared the direct route across the Atlantic, or as he'd say, "as the crow flys", versus the great circle route that the pilots would be using. I remember it now, he'd grab the globe, which was always available, and he'd take his finger and ask us the question, "which do you think is shorter?" Naturally, we fell right into his trap, but then he'd explain why. He and my mother frequently used this type of forum to extend our education outside the classroom. We had more maps and atlases around the house than Christopher Columbus most certainly would have had, and no doubt, our trip across the pond is going to be a whole lot faster too.

Yes, my parents found a number of ways to share their insights and knowledge of the world with us when we were younger, and perhaps that is the their true legacy. Although my eyes are getting heavy, my imagination won't let me relax enough to sleep. I am anticipating seeing 2 of my 3 brothers, 2 sisters-in-laws, and 2 of my nieces in a planned rendezvous in Ireland. How cool is that? Ireland in March, that has the potential to be very cool indeed. More importantly however, that legacy has one more key element, and that is the real sense of family. In this case, part way around the world, we remain very well connected, and there is no way we could get lost having that as our compass!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Haircuts by Appointment only

Growing up in a large family typically meant that you could expect to wear hand me downs and don't plan on left overs. My parents, who grew up during The Depression, came prepared to make ends meet, and certainly, when the circumstances necessitated it, the tough choices were made for balancing a family budget. Everyone had an equal part it making it all happen, and tips for economization of energy, time and money were always welcomed but reviewed by the finance committee. Well, my oldest sister thought that she'd make her contribution by testing her hand at cutting hair. Of course, my brothers and I needed hair cuts frequently enough that this cost savings proposal was accepted, without question, by the chairpersons of the finance committee. Now, in the words of Paul Harvey, "it's time for the rest of the story".

The barbershop quartet, my 3 brothers and I, generally had our appointment times reserved for Saturday nights, usually after the requisite baths. One by one we'd sit evermore "motionless", just like Samson after he had his hair cut off; and one by one we'd arise out of the ashes like Job and head to watch Saturday Night at the Movies. The ordeal of waiting just seemed so tedious compared to heading over to Gleason's or Bellevance's after school. However, this was the new mandate from above, and we were not likely to have our case heard by the "supreme" court of appeals. It was going to take drastic measures to undo this injustice, and my brother Chasmo was just the guy for the job. Mind you, there was no plan, just spontaneous behavior which was his specialty. After completing 3 of the 4, it was his turn. My sister, meanwhile, was fatigued too, so she wanted a break. Chasmo evidently felt compelled to speed this process along, so he took matters into his own hands. A young, impetuous boy should not have anything sharp in his hands, let alone a pair of hair clippers. You guessed it; the reverse Mohawk was born. He took the clippers right over top of his head and clear cut a trail about 2 inches wide from front to back. His first attempt at hair styling, and he was perfect, if you were enlisting as PFC CES. When my sister returned to discover the latest in haircut fashion, she realized that her job became a little easier. There was nothing else she could to do but to complete the buzz cut, which she did with the aplomb of the finest military barber.

As the years passed, my bothers and I grew our hair longer and longer, following the hair styles of the 70's. The haircuts were less frequent or non-existent, and now we call it hair styling instead of having a hair cut. We use styling gel instead of Score, Vitalis, or butch wax, and ironically, Chasmo has the fullest head of hair amongst the 4 boys. So perhaps there was something to be gained through this "shear" act of bravery, and most assuredly, his strength wasn't compromised at all like Samson's. Yes, his strength of character is second only to the kindness in his heart, and there is nothing short about that. Happy Birthday brother Chuck!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On Top of the Hill at Locke's Ski Tow

The calendar is telling us that we are closing in on the final days of winter, and fortunately, the temperatures are beginning to climb to aide with the melt off. Here in Ohio, we experienced a record amount of snowfall during the month of February, so everyone is about ready to experience some "climate" change. In spite of this year's abundant frozen precipitation, I seem to recall many winters when having more snow made us even happier because we could be outside sledding, skiing, or building snow forts. For my sister and me, all that snow meant that the local ski hill was open for business, and we were about the get our first lessons in "snow plowing".

It wasn't unusual for my folks to take my sisters, brothers, and me on a ride by the local ski hill to watch those enthusiastic Jean-Claude Killy wannabes executing their skills on the slopes. And if you were in high school, oh my goodness, you just wanted to get the chance to do some night skiing at Locke's. Well, when my sister and I were in grade school, my mother enrolled us in ski lessons through the YMCA. My oldest sister acted as the ski equipment consultant to my father as we selected skis and boots at the Mammoth Mart Department store. They were flashy red, and in those days, there were few features to the safety bindings, so once the bindings were secured, that was it. When we arrived home, we practiced putting the skis on and taking them off, right there in the living room.

We spent much of our first lesson just figuring out how to get the skis on and keep from getting too cold while doing so. Rather than using the rope tow, which I felt was a virtual death trap anyway, the instructors had us side stepping up the hill to begin our downhill experience. Lots of us fell just going up the hill, and here we were improving our position for Newtonian physics to take over. If there was ever a recipe for disaster, this was it; poles in hand, "vehicles" without brakes, gravity as a propellant, and excited parents shouting words of encouragement from below. Remarkably, no one was ever impaled or run over by the plebes of ski school. We eventually mastered the snow plow and learned to shift our weight sufficiently so that we could go all the way to the top. It was a veritable Mt. Everest to us, but we somehow managed to negotiate the terrain to the bottom, so we could do it all over again, and again, and again...!

There were a number of memories from our time on the hill, but one in particular I remember quite well. During one of the early lessons, the instructor showed us how to turn ourselves around simply by reversing one ski then the other. Naturally, she made it appear quite simple, but for us, it took some practice. My sister and I practiced that drill, seemingly forever, and ultimately, we both mastered the it. More importantly however, it illustrated a very key point to life for me. If you don't like the way you're headed, just stop and change direction, because it may just keep you from skiing off the trail and into the woods. Thanks for being there when I've been off course, and then encouraging me after getting myself redirected. You have been there with me for those trips both up and down the hill more than I can count. And just one more thing. If we play our cards right, I think we'll have enough time for several more "runs". Happy Birthday MT, and when I see you next time, it'll be my treat for dinner and a milk shake!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Training for Life

My brother and I recently attended a conference in Boston, and one of the most poignant points while at the conference came from a lecture on wellness. The amount of exercise recommended to help reduce all cause mortality was as little as 25-30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily. This was considered sufficient to reduce one's risk of dying from such things as heart disease. obesity, and even some cancers, by as much as 50% It was rather striking information, and one that left us questioning, "why don't people just start exercising more?" I suppose, if we had the answer to that one, we probably would be in line for some "noble" prize.

Let's take a minute to dissect this concept just a little. 25-30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise on a daily basis, how hard can that be? Finding the time becomes the real "challenge" for most of us, but if your life depends on it, maybe you should reconsider. 30 minutes? That is likely to be at least the amount of time that each one of us watches TV each day, sits reading the paper while having that morning cup of joe, or even the amount of time it takes to commute to and from work. Granted, we may still have to accomplish these other tasks, but if you make a concerted effort to economize on the use use of your time, I think most of us could come up with the requisite time.

I have been asked on a number of occasions just what am I training for, and my answer generally Sure, I love participating in organized races to face the competition, but it is no longer about winning and losing. It is all about surviving life and enjoying the quality of its offerings. How can you enjoy it, if you are not "training" for it? My brother has a sign in his office that reads, "exercise 25-30 minutes a day or be dead 24 hours a day, you choose". That just about says it all for me.

Perhaps none of this sends the real message for which it is intended, but essentially, we all need to make a personal commitment to ourselves. No one else is going to do it for us, at least a far as exercise goes, and there has yet to be a wonder drug that fulfills this fundamental survival skill. So, let's get it in gear, any gear for now, and keep on moving. However, it's your life, so you can do with it what you want. But as for me, I'm going to continue training for life, because when it's all over, I can sleep forever!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fish on Fridays, not just for Lent where I come from

Now that we are in the season of Lent, most Catholics traditionally will abstain from meat on Fridays. There has been some controversy just where this tradition of abstinence came from, but now that fish has been considered more of a delicacy, it hardly seems like a sacrifice to pass on the beef. Well, I may be able to shed some insight into why some families have fish on Fridays.

I recall quite vividly when my older brother went off to college. He had done very well in high school and thought that he'd like to attend a smaller school so that he could continue his basketball career. Hamilton College in Upstate NY was his first choice, but after some "soul" searching, he picked up the trail left by his 2 older sisters. When he was moving into the dorm, someone dropped a set of dumbbells out of the window crashing into a nearby parked car. I was concerned that this might have been an omen for his college career, but that first experience with college life, didn't deter him from becoming the professional he is today.

Since he was the first son to head off to college, I think my mother always felt she should do something special for him when he came home. You know, like the prodigal son. Naturally, he and my sister would usually come home weekends, starting with Friday night. She would typically ask him what he wanted for dinner, something special of course. Generally, my Mom would fix his favorite, scallops. She had her own recipe to bread them before popping them into the oven. So, if my brother was coming home, it was scallops for dinner...Fish on Fridays.

Although the tradition for fish on Fridays is observed primarily during Lent, I dare say that Fridays, any time of the year, could be nights where the Omega 3's are flowing aplenty. Certainly in the case of my brother's visits home, it didn't matter whether it was Lent or at any other time of year, we were having scallops when he was coming home. "Shellfishly", I was even more thankful to see my older brother because scallops just happen to be one of my favorites too. Thanks Lawrence Arturo!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Pump it up" and become "BOG"s

Arnold Schwarzenegger popularized the line, "pump it up", during a guest host appearance on SNL a number of years ago. Since that time, whenever anyone talks of weight lifting, I can almost hear his thick German accent saying those words and then hearing them echo in my mind. In spite of not having a fondness for pumping iron all these years, I now have to admit that weight training sure does have some benefits.

My friends and I have recently incorporated some rather basic weight training into our weekly exercise routine of triathlon's 3 disciplines, running, biking, and swimming. During the winter months and even challenging the temperature cut off, we still typically don't get as much bike training, as we do the others. Bearing this in mind, we all now have come to the conclusion that our little rendezvous with the weight machines has proven invaluable to our overall strength and conditioning. I actually never had subscribed to this, simply because we were faithfully engaging in these other activities, and I thought that was adequate enough strength training by itself. Alas, my old high school AD, Mr. D. Wood, was right; weight training is beneficial, however it may be valuable beyond just for playing football, which was his contention.

As most of us have eclipsed the half century milestone, hitting the weight room has proven quite utilitarian indeed. Mind you, I did not say "Herculean", and those "performance enhancing drugs" advertised for old guys like us have a very different desired clinical response. So, with the addition of just a little weight training to our other "activities of daily living", I am now a convert to its benefits. We are becoming "buff old guys", but please, let me have my afternoon nap!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stars of the day, who will they be?

Remember the old talent show, Community Opticians? It aired on Sunday mornings in the Boston area along with "The Adventures of Gumby and Pokey". In the "old days", we didn't have the wide selection of choices that the networks provide today. The closing melody from Community Opticians went like this:

Star of the day, who will it be? Your vote may hold the key.
It's up to you, to tell us who, will be star of the day.

After the show, you'd be asked to vote on your favorite act. Nowadays, you'd probably be asked to "txt" using a cell phone, but back then, you wrote in or perhaps called on the old rotary phone and the "winners" would be announced the following week. So, on Sundays following the 8:30 mass, you could count on my sisters to lay claim to the one TV in order to watch their program.

After a long courtship and subsequent marriage, my sister-in-law and brother announced that they were expecting twins. This was fantastic news because they were an older couple by some standards or at least my brother was, and this news was about to change their lives forever. When Mother Nature finally started labor, it was the 1st of March. This was an omen because each family already had a set of twins whose birthday was on the 1st. However, after some 48 hours of "labor", Miss Pickslix arrived at the dance, and due to a genetically linked gene from his father, Chachi came some 2 hours later. Fortunately, the whole family was healthy and well. Although a severe snow storm had hit while they were in the hospital, mom and dad were determined to get their newborns home. As I recall, when they arrived on Sparhawk St., they had to hoist them over some very large snow banks to even get them into the house, and their mother literally followed "behind", due to her anemically low blood count.

Now that the "boy" and the "girl" have grown up some, they have started school, ride the bus, play baseball, basketball, and attend swim and dance lessons. Miss Picks has even been known to help Grandpa with his insulin shots, a Florence Nightingale in the making.

Recently we watched an old movie together, "The Court Jester" with Danny Kaye, and I was reminded just how bright these two kids are. They were able to repeat his famous lines which go like this, "the vessel with the pestle has the pellet with the poison, and the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true". They could recite that little jingle in no time at all. Youth, what a wonderful thing. Happy Birthday you "jesters", and remember, you two will always be "stars" in my eyes!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Who wants to go on a Moose Ride?

Have you ever seen a moose in the wilderness? They are gangly looking quadripeds, but in a strange way, they are also quite adorable. In spite of their intimidating size, they are vegetarians and can float because of the hollow nature of their fur, remarkable for animals that can routinely weigh in excess of 1,000 lbs. For the members of my family, these night "walkers" have been an intrigue for generations.

When we were young kids, we didn't know of that place we call Rangeley, but we all knew of Black River and Uncle Willy's. My grandfather came from New Brunswick, Canada, and just outside of the city of St. John was his family's homestead, the "old sod" in Black River. We'd head down to Canada maybe 2 or 3 times a year for some international diplomacy. The itinerary was fairly typical, take the Maine turnpike to Bangor and stop to see Paul Bunyan, then follow the airline route to the border crossing at St. Stephen, and then on to St. John, crossing the reversing falls outside of the city. The first stop was a visit to the Owens girls to share a cup of tea. While my mother and the uncles caught up on the family news, we'd play with our trucks in their long hallway. From here, we'd begin the final push to Uncle Willy's. I always knew we were close when we passed the I R V I N G oil tanks, with the flame burning above the refinery, then past the airport at Loch Lomond, and finally on to those infamous dirt roads. We were going back in time when we'd go to Black River. Once we turned on to Duffy road, you knew it wouldn't be long, and you could sense the excitement in the car. It was usually late, so when we pulled into the "grass" driveway, we often times had to use the car head lights to see the rest of the way. After climbing through the window into Uncle Willy's bedroom, we then had the task of turning on the electricity. That necessitated going upstairs and climbing into this crawl space to throw the switch. I think it was even scary for my uncles. However, once we all unpacked and got the wood burning stove going, we could finally settle in for the night.

We filled our days by playing and fishing in the creek below the house, picking cranberries on the back hill, or just poking around the older farm house at Austin's. But after a full day and dinner, there was always the anticipation of a ride to Wallace's for ice cream or a trip up the Duffy road past Collin's to look for moose. My uncles always loved to take us on those moose rides, although I can't really remember ever seeing one.

A generation later now, we start by heading up the Maine turnpike, the usual stop at Gifford's in Farmington for ice cream and then the unpacking at the Saddleback Lake Lodge. For you younger members of the family, does this pattern of activity sound at all familiar? It seems strangely similar to those trips we made to Black River, only a generation removed. Now the in-laws, my siblings, and I constitute the tour guides for those trips to Pine Tree Frosty for ice cream, followed by a moose ride up the Saddleback Hill road. Of course, we have seen our share of moose over the years, mostly in Maine and perhaps in Black River, but the very excitement and anticipation of going on those moose rides, remain the same. From generation to generation, it's our traditions that we pass along which enrich those memories from our lives. I don't know about any of you, but let's get an ice cream and head on up the hill for a moose ride. Anyone interested in going?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Truly a double take

Recall the old commercials for Doublemint gum? Generally, they would feature a pair of identical twins, dressed similarly and speaking simultaneously during the advertisement. At the time it was, I'm sure, considered quite an innovative piece of marketing. It made an impression on me, because I still remember it. Well, I know a set of twins that weren't part of that advertising campaign, but they sure could have been.

My older brother and his wife were anticipating the arrival of their newborns, and in those final days of her confinement, the doctors did several ultrasounds to monitor the prenatal health of the babies. Remarkably for twins, their estimated combined weight was comparable to 2, well sized, term infants. I still marvel at how my sister-in-law was able to manage under the circumstances. By ultrasound, the doctor felt reasonably certain that the expectant parents were having twin boys, so they were ready with their choices for names.

Lo and behold, "D" day came, but instead of two boys, they became the proud parents of 2 "strapping", newborn baby girls, weighing in at 7 lbs, 15 oz. and 8 lbs, 1 oz. respectively. 16 pounds of bouncing babies, how did my sister-in-law do it? I could only imagine the reaction of the new parents, perhaps a double take.

Over the years, I have witnessed the development and success of these 2 young ladies. They have accomplished much and excelled, regardless of what they have undertaken. They were part of a state champion basketball team which made both of their parents proud, especially their basketball playing Dad. I couldn't imagine what life would have been like if they'd been boys, but more importantly, I can't imagine life without those two, wonderful nieces. Happy birthday S&A. I will say that again, and in this case, I most decidedly have "two"!