Saturday, July 31, 2010

Take a Hike

You have likely heard the expression, “take a hike”, and ordinarily it is not used cordially. Typically, it is used to tell someone off, particularly if you are unhappy with them. However, there are occasions when it’s meant as something quite desirable and can in fact, be a remarkably “elevating” experience.

Each year during the family trip to Rangeley, there is usually a hike involved as one of the many activities. However, there have been some years when the “walk in the woods” didn’t happen for one reason of another. In past years there was the “death march”, the hike up Mount Blue, after a previously aborted attempt, the trip up Bald Mountain, the incomparable Tumbledown, and the old stand by, Saddleback’s ski trails to the top of Saddleback on the AT (Appalachian Trail).

For 2010, the committee announced that a hike up Saddleback was on tap for those interested in this rite of passage. The weather oftentimes dictates which day is best, but the earlier in the week we do it, the more apt we are to check it off the to do, list for the week. With the Canadian high pressure building in, we were given the “go code” for departure at 9:00am. Organizing 20+ hikers of all ages and levels of conditioning is no easy task, but the enthusiasm to go generally off sets any reservations against making the trek up the hill.

In typical fashion, the launch hour came and went, but there was ample enough movement afoot that we were under foot before the noon hour which was our real goal of setting the start time at 9:00am anyway. After taking a head count at base camp we began our assault of Saddleback for the umteenth time, but it remains one of the glorious walks, as the views from the summit are magnificent indeed. While on the trail, one of my brothers made the comment that he was tickled to see so many of us “out there”, regardless of our respective ages. The youngsters usually lead the way, and there were no exceptions this year. There are the usual stops for water and to catch your breath, but looking back offered panoramic views of the western mountains.

Once on top, the view was worth the effort. Although most of us have made this hike more than once, this little parcel of the AT is heaven on Earth. We rehydrated and enjoyed the sweet snacks that some kind souls hauled up the hill in their backpacks. We took lots of photos, and some will become the family Christmas card or just keepsakes; but the satisfaction of climbing to the top of Saddleback is truly priceless. Today, some will continue on to the Horn, while others will start the thigh burning descent to base camp, but for the moment, those of us who climbed were on top of the world, at least on this little piece of real estate anyway. And if you don’t believe me, then you can take a hike too!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Maine Menu

Computers and their use have become so common place today that we think nothing of pulling out a lap top and connecting to the internet, even in rather remote places like the Maine woods. However, there are some places where cell phone and internet access are still not readily available. Incidentally, it wasn’t that long ago when these activities were nothing more than a dream of some forward thinking individuals, and here we are in the techno-age wondering how we ever survived without them and even get frustrated when we don't have access.

Recently, while sitting in a café in Bar Harbor, the words main menu appeared at the top of the page of offerings, and it just struck me funny. Although the words are the same as those on my computer or on the telephone answering machine, I couldn’t help myself from thinking of all those delectable foodstuffs that I had been enjoying over the last few days. I had eaten a lobster roll and onion rings from Days lobster pound the night before, and I was about to have a tasty omelet with homemade wheat bread at this café. As the day unfolded, I found myself eating a lasagna meal with my friends at Walker Pond before leaving for Millinocket and a white water rafting trip. The dessert for this day was not ice cream but S'mores by the camp fire. Everyone probably has enjoyed those sticky treats, but when you cook them over an open fire, they just seem to taste better.

The following day we enjoyed homemade pancakes with fresh blueberries. What isn't on this menu? Not to be outdone, but wouldn't a trip to the Jordan Pond House in Acadia sound tempting for some of their famous popovers? Naturally, we had to sample this gastronomic delight too, but it wouldn't be complete if we didn't take a ride around the Park's carriage trails to help with our digestion. For dinner, it was another lobster roll, but this time we helped ourselves to some good old fashioned Hood's ice cream to round "ourselves" out.

Yes, this trip to Maine has me connected, but not through the internet or by telephone, but by reconnecting me to what is good in life, enjoying the fellowship with family and friends. Indeed, we have sampled some of life's pleasures and even had seconds in some cases. When I was welcomed into the state the sign said, "Maine, the way life should be", and they are right but when you are on vacation, it's awfully easy to feel like this is the norm. Oh well, I think I will just have to opt for the way life should be, sometimes, and thankfully, it has allowed me to download and recharge my batteries!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Hawthorne is Inn

Fads come and go just like the tides, and we all are aware of them. Glenn Miller and the Big Band era, The Beatles and Rock and Roll, and Michael Jackson with his Pop Rock all come to mind when I think of music genres. Fashion trends are equally changing all the time, just the wind. Paisley prints, Nehru jackets, bell bottoms, mini skirts, and now baggy jeans have all been the rage at some time or other. However, some things, perhaps, considered more traditional never seem to suffer the ill fated demise of a trend and have remained constant over the years. Jos. A. Banks has had great success maintaining that classic look in its clothing line over the years, which supports the notion that change doesn't always translate into something better.

Friday marked the wedding celebration of my niece to "DJ". It all started at Holy Family Parish, formerly known as St. Joseph's, in the sweltering heat of the day at 3:30pm, but the invited guests said, "don't "sweat" it" because we wouldn't want to miss it. We were greeted by the angelic voice of "Pashi" resonating from high above the congregation. As my sister came down the aisle with her son, I had this deja vu moment recalling her wedding day, in the same church over 30 years ago. The faces have changed some, and certainly there are a number of new ones with the nieces and nephews, but the atmosphere was the same.

After the service, we made our way down the front stairs to greet the newlyweds. Grandma wasn't going to miss this opportunity, as she made her way down the front steps of the church, just like the old days. This time, however, she moved at her pace which was considerably slower than in years past. Once everyone made it through the receiving line, it was off to, "witch" city again?; that would be Salem, Ma., of course.

The reception was a grand affair for sure. The families gathered for hors d'oeuvres and libations to start the evening off right, and the meal was then preceded by several toasts from the heart. The parents of the bride, the maid of honor, and the best man all delivered reflections that joined the past with the present and decidedly set the tone for the future.

After dinner, the "spirits", both past and present, must have been flowing as the dance floor rocked to its core with activity from the youth, but they weren't to be outdone, as many of "oldies but goodies" tripped to the light fantastic too. Uncle Chasmo even led the conga line with his knee immobilizer in place. The bride later told me that "The Family" ruled the dance floor, and she looked quite pleased that all the invited guests certainly appeared to enjoy themselves.

Yes, this was a wedding reception held in the "city of witches", but the entire day from the service through the reception was one for the ages. If my niece and her new husband can survive through the years like the Hawthorne has endured, then they clearly are on their way to a life filled with happiness and success. The Hawthorne has a rich legacy, and now we all have become part of that history. I would have to say that makes us part of that "Inn" crowd too, wouldn't you?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Everyone Needs a Shower

When I was younger, I recall my mother and father reminding my brothers and me that it was bath night. In those days, we didn't take a bath every day, even though my brothers and I had played "trucks" in the dirt all day long. Of course, the sisters didn't need any reminding, but the brothers, that was a whole other story. You can only imagine how dirty we'd get playing like we did under the lilacs in the backyard. Years later, the idea of not bathing became incomprehensible, but I suspect that comes with "maturity". However, there are times when even the women need a shower, and frankly they insist on it; let me tell you why.

My niece is getting married this week, so naturally, what does a bride-to-be need? A shower, of course. No, she was not felt to be offensive to her mother, aunts, cousins, or other invited guests. They preferred, instead, to shower her with gifts in the very traditional sense. The women, and a few special menfolk, gathered at the grandparents for the "affair". From all reports, the shower was a great success, in that the bride now has an ample dowry to proceed with the nuptials.

Yes, showers can be quite refreshing, especially when the dirt and grime of the day have accumulated, but showers can be cleansing for those preparing for the big day too. It is a time for all involved to start that transition of blending the two families. Good luck "ME" and "D" on the eve of your wedding. In the words of your Grandmother, "Is everybody happy?" You bet we are, and we all hope and pray for your happiness!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Title IX, just a moment too late for some

Title IX. The law states that:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance...
—United States Code Section 20.

Although Title IX is best known for its impact on high school and collegiate athletics, the original statute made no explicit mention of sports, however. Well, I know one "student, female athlete" whose time came before this inequity was righted.

My oldest sister was one such student athlete. She was blessed with an uncanny aptitude for playing basketball and softball, in an age when women were supposed to be taking home economics and typing. When she was still in high school, she hit a softball into the second story window of the English teacher, Roland Woodwell, who immediately commented that there was only one person in the whole school who could have done that, and yes, that would have been none other than my oldest sister, JM. Her athletic prowess didn't stop with high school, as she blazed a trail to UMass, Amherst where she got her degree in, you guessed it, Physical Education while playing basketball and softball for the Redmen later changed to the Minutemen. Ironically, both my sister and Dr. J have varsity letters from the Zoo, although most people only remember "the" Dr. J.

Following her collegiate career, she went on to teach PE and later earned her Masters degree in Education, not bad for your "average" athlete. Finally, when she picked up the game of golf, she refined her skills sufficiently to become her club's champion at least 4 times, with many other tournament victories as well.

For a female athlete before Title IX, her accomplishments went largely unnoticed, except by her family and close friends. However, without the fanfare and accolades, she was clearly ahead of her time, and on top of her "games". Although her competitive days have passed, few can hold a candle to her achievements, both on and off the field. Happy Birthday to our "Doctor J" as you round the bases on another year, and I couldn't have "swished" for a better oldest sister!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Living room use takes a few bounces

Years ago, many people had formal living rooms, and they were usually off limits for everyday use, except of course under special circumstances. The Christmas tree might be in there around the holidays, or when grandparents came to visit for Sunday afternoon dinner, then the living became the focal room in the house. Fortunately today, many families no longer have the formal living room and have the family room instead, which is far more utilitarian. However, for some of us, we still remember those days when the living room was the equivalent of the in home museum, but they could be transformed under the right conditions, and let me tell you how.

On Saturday evenings when I was younger, the living room became the epicenter for social activity. My father would put on a stack of 45's and my brothers and I would square off to a gentleman's game of "football". We made several modifications necessary to accommodate the indoor arena. Of course, the idea was to have fun, but we would consider it a success, if we didn't break anything. Once the game ended, we'd transform the room into a tent site replete with all the sleeping bags for a night's sleep under the "stars". What could be have been finer for the "Brothers Grime"?

Years later, I did the same thing with my daughter, only we set up the real tent inside. Naturally, the comforts of camping were better under these circumstances, including the use of our air mattresses. We'd also do our Arthur Murray routines to some background music of Nat King Cole. Additionally, instead of football, she and I decided to put up the ping pong table in the sacred space because the garage was simply too cold for us to play. Well, that sure turned up the temperature in a hurry on a cold winter's day, but as I recall, it has "served" up some fond memories.

Yes, the living room can be a room for living too, and in most homes, it has been a focal point for such wonderful memories. In the case of my brothers, my daughter and me, we enjoyed ourselves on countless occasions in the formal living room, even though the rules committee, shall we say, may have at times objected to our playing out of bounds!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

50 is the new 30, at least in "MA" mind

Last summer, while sitting on the beach during the family vacation in Maine, my brother said that at this time next year, all the brothers and sisters will be at least 50 or older. Naturally, this "disturbing" revelation did not settle well with any of us, including some of the in-laws who were joining this "elite" club too. Unfortunately, it is the harsh reality of celebrating that "29th" birthday too many times over. On the bright side however, it beats the obvious alternative of failing to reach this epic milestone, and we all know individuals who have been less fortunate than us. When my brother said that 50 is the new 30, several of us took consolation in that, even though he was not terribly convincing. July 10th is such a milestone for my sister-in-law, so let me explain why she epitomizes this new axiom.

I first met "MA" at my brother-in-law's, sister's wedding, where she was a bride's maid, and unbeknown to me, that proved to be the beginning of her relationship with my older brother. It ultimately grew into a lifelong commitment, and they were later married on a beautiful fall day in October of 1986, marred only by the collapse of the Boston Red Sox and Bill Buckner's mishap. Since that day, the rest of the family and myself have come to know her more fully. She has a passion for life which is evidenced in her family, her work, her community service, and most definitely in her faith. Those qualities, along with her effervescent smile and wonderful laugh, all are at the very core of her personality which we have come to know and love.

Over the years, I have had the good fortune of traveling with my brother and "MA", and those trips have created some of my fondest memories as an adult. We have been to Washington, DC, San Francisco, Chicago, and most recently Ireland, and I have always been welcomed wholeheartedly and without "reservation".

I am not sure that I truly subscribe to the tenet that 50 is the new 30, but it works for me, now that most of us have arrived on its doorstep. During a recent conversation with "MA" sister-in-law, this concept resurfaced, and we both agreed that, in reality at 50, neither of us feels our age. There is so much of life yet to live, only the sense of urgency seems to be greater to accomplish all those remaining goals. On your initiation into the half century club, I have and always will consider myself fortunate to have you as "MA" sister-in-law. Remember, life comes at you fast, so make the most of it. Happy Birthday and welcome to the club!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Oh No, Not Another Mary

Having grown up in a Catholic family, you can imagine that there were a few women whose given name was Mary. Both my grandmothers were named Mary, and I have a sister named for her grandmother. Surprisingly however, it is a name that has largely fallen off the most popular list, except perhaps among the Catholics, and that has even changed in recent years. It can be quite confusing when the entire cohort is gathered, to say the least, because there are so many within the family. Consequently, the respective middle names are additionally used to distinguish them all from one another, and in the case of one niece, she primarily is known only by her middle name.

The youngest of 4 girls, MG has grown up in the shadow of her older sisters, but certainly that hasn't deterred her in any way. In fact, I dare say that it may have inspired her all the more. She enjoys basketball just like her father and twin sisters and recently picked up the LAX stick to join her high school team. However, although she possesses an athletic spirit, she rounds out her personality with a strong academic aptitude. During a recent trip to Ireland, I realized first hand how skilled she is with the computer too, which comes as no surprise for these young people of today. Incidentally, I had a grand time with her family while traveling around the Emerald Isle.

Yes, MG is not just another Mary, but rather she is her own person indeed. She is spirited, perhaps consistent with her curly hair, but since I also share this genetic trait, I prefer to think of it instead as having a real zest for life. That she has. So, on this day, I wish you Happy Birthday Ms. MG. Although you are a Mary, I prefer to call you Gretchon in my pretend French accent. Au revoir!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Dark Shawdows and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, what they have in common

Dark Shadows was a popular TV show that came on around 4:00 pm back in the 60's. I remember how seemingly mesmerized we were at the prospects of Vampires and Werewolves. Barnabas Collins had us all "by the neck" as we watched the daily drama unfold, and of course, being in New England in the Fall, the shadows of the afternoon setting Sun enhanced the experience. Like so many TV shows, its popularity declined over time, and the show disappeared from the airwaves. That was how it was in 1966, but a generation later the fascination with vampires morphed somewhat and thus the birth of Buffy was upon us.

I never actually have seen an episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", but what I can tell you is that it became a particular obsession for one of my nieces. She developed a "taste" for this version of the occult. Evidently, the series' narrative revolves around Buffy and her friends, collectively dubbed the "Scooby Gang", who struggle to balance the fight against supernatural evils with their complex social lives. The show mixes complex, season-long story lines with a villain-of-the-week format; a typical episode contains one or more villains, or supernatural phenomena, that are thwarted or defeated by the end of the episode. Though elements and relationships are explored and ongoing subplots are included, the show focuses primarily on Buffy and her role as an archetypal heroine. As the show evolved, I believe my niece may actually have been transformed into Buffy herself.

Yes, these were shows involving vampires; one was more traditional, and the other was apparently a more metaphorically applied adaptation. However, what they have in common is that they have connected two generations, my own and that of my niece. These stories, perhaps, are what some people would refer to as the common threads that run through families; and as you can see, it is not about the shows, but about the common bonds that we share. I guess you could say that it follows the "blood" lines, and I am so fortunate to call you my niece. Happy Birthday Megster from one of your "blood" relatives, and don't forget, you are indeed a vital part of the family's "necks generation"!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"BOGs" almost die tri-ing

Most of you have probably heard of the Ironman Triathlon, but if you haven't, it was a race conceived of by a Navy Captain while stationed in Hawaii. The original race was linked to the Honolulu Marathon, and it served as the final leg of the 3 part race; participants were expected to cover a distance of 2.4 miles swimming, 115 miles of biking, and then finish with the marathon. Over the years, it has morphed into an international event with the winner being crowned the "Ironman", and with it comes the distinction of being one of the world's most fit athletes. It is the kahuna of triathlons, and their tag line...Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life" is the truth. However, for a certain bunch of "BOGs", even a modified version of the infamous Ironman has its rewards.

For the last few years, one of the members of our "running group" and his wife have graciously extended the invitation to join them at their house on Chautauqua Lake. By design, the weekend is as much about fellowship with friends as it is about exercise. Ordinarily, the masses begin to convene late on Friday afternoon, and those arriving early may even get in some sailing or other water activity. However, the major focus for the athletic endeavors is on Saturday and early Sunday morning. Typically, there is a morning lake swim, followed by a run and/or bike, and then we finally enjoy a few deserved calories. As you can see, there is plenty of commotion to justify the nourishment.

By day's end, the "BOGs" have engaged in a swim, a bike, and at least a short run, which by my observations, qualifies us as having completed the three legs of any triathlon. Perhaps it isn't the Ironman, but for a group of "buff old guys", the distance and speed doesn't matter; it is more about our friendships than it is about the other stuff. Lance Armstrong has a book titled, "It's not about the bike", and for us it's not about the exercise. However, it is about survival of the fittest. We must be living on the edge because we will either die tri-ing or just keep from trying to die. Exercise has been our fountain of youth in many ways, but remind me, what are we doing next?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

What is Independence Day and why do we celebrate it? Well, for anyone who has read the immortal words of our Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson could not have empowered his colleagues any more clearly; and celebrating it, well, as Americans we ought to be forever mindful that the Continental Congress took those bold steps necessary to create our freedom.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Freedom came at a price for the founding fathers and their fellow colonists, but to have the rights entitled to us under the Declaration of Independence makes having that freedom priceless. On this Independence Day, let us remember all those who have sacrificed to give us that freedom and to those protecting it today. It took a courageous group of individuals to stand up against insurmountable odds and believe in its eventual, successful outcome. With freedom comes the prospect of happiness, so let's celebrate and pray that one day all men and women will be free!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hannah Banana

When I was growing up, I always felt fortunate having older sisters, and to this day, I still do. I could always seek some motherly advice when Mom wasn't around, and sometimes I'd get it, even when it wasn't solicited. Of course, the bond that exists between siblings is very special, but in particular, the one between a brother and a sister has that unique character unlike that of a brother to brother or sister to sister relationship. Well for one certain niece, she has 3 brothers which has tripled her bonding experience.

Born the only girl in a family of boys, Miss HJ obviously has had to adapt to her environment. She has survived the antics of her brothers, both older and younger, and she has done so with the grace only a young girl can display. I am sure that she gets singled out at times. Heck, she is the only girl, so the odds are clearly not in her favor. Consequently, she has the fight of a lion, but deep within, she has a heart of gold. For those of us who know her, we recognize her for the kindhearted soul that she really is.

So, on this day, July 1st, let me wish you Happy Birthday Miss HJ. In the words of your famous Great Uncle, "you are a great kid, no matter what anyone says". And don't despair, your brothers will someday recognize just how much you complete their lives, as much as you have ours. God bless you always!