Sunday, December 25, 2011

Peace, goodwill towards men

Christmas marks the celebration of a birthday, but this birth was not just any, it was the birth of the Christ child.  Even for those whose belief may not recognize Christ as the savior of the world, this familiar story is well known, even to those who don't believe.
However, regardless of one's religious convictions, few could refute the fact that the true message of Christmas is the message of hope.  Of course, one must escape all the commercialism that has become synonymous with this day first in order to find the true meaning, but that's what my hope is for everyone this Christmas day.  My wish is for peace and goodwill towards all.  Merry Christmas! 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving thanks at Thanksgiving

When the Pilgrims gave thanks after a successful harvest, having endured the hardships of a harsh New England winter the year before, the wonderful tradition we still call Thanksgiving was conceived.  Then, at the urging of Sarah Josepha Hale and through a proclamation from the hugely insightful Abraham Lincoln, the national holiday we call Thanksgiving was established.

By the President of the United States of America.
A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Today we are able to enjoy the freedoms afforded us by living in this great nation.  The Pilgrims were risk takers and they were survived by another group of risk takers called the founding fathers, and because of a long lineage of men and women who have been willing to defend that freedom, today we can give thanks for so many things.  Norman Rockwell painted a series of illustrations called the "Four Freedoms" and today I hope and pray that everyday people can have freedom from want.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The not so Joy of Sox

After the Red Sox won the World Series in 1918, their fans were prepared for an annual appearance in this great American classic.  However, shortly following that fabled season, "The Babe" was sold to the New York Yankees, and thus began the "Curse of the Bambino".  For the next 86 years, Red Sox nation had to endure watching other major league teams reach the promised land of a world champion while we collectively watched our boys of summer disappoint us sometime before a fourth win in the world series.  However, that all changed in the post season of 2004 when our team went on an 8 game winning streak and captured the world championship trophy with what seemed like relative ease in the end.  Life was good again for the Boston faithful, and who would have predicted, but that magic was repeated again in 2007.

For the young recruits to Red Sox nation, winning it all became a simple formula:  start the excitement with spring training, play the regular season to get to the playoffs, and expect to win it all in the postseason, right?  Well, for those of us who have enjoyed more than a handful of birthdays, the experience of those years from 1918 to 2004 prepared us for most anything that our beloved team could deal us, and allow me to recap.

After the 1918 campaign, the Red Sox would not make it back to the post season until the great Ted Williams led them in 1940's.  Unfortunately, there had been all those years of disappointment beforehand, and the hometown team faltered against the Cardinals.  The Sox met up with Cardinals again in 1967, the same year my passion for "the Sox" really began.  The Cardiac Kids pulled it out on the final day of the season when Rico Petrocelli recorded the final out against the Twins.  However, even with the triple crown winner, Carl Yaztremski, the Cardinals emerged victorious.  They ran into a pitcher by the name of Bob Gibson, end of story...another disappointment for Red Sox fans.  Then came 1975 and Carlton Fisk's homer, 1978 and the Bucky Dent homer, and then the 1986 series against the Mets and the Bill Buckner error.  Each of these events created an emotional high or a precipitous blow to the spirit of Red Sox fans.  How could this all happen?  It was all part of being a Red Sox fan.  In fact, this phenomenon is so well known, the folks in Hollywood made a movie about it..."Fever Pitch', and even that ending had to be changed because of the events of 2004.

Now, we have the 2011 Red Sox, and with them, we have had yet another season of heartache.  However, this time it's different.  The Sox "completed" an historic  meltdown, unlike any other team in history.  Why not?  They are the Red Sox, and they have been preparing us for generations.  In fact, my older brother quipped, "it kind of feels like the old days before 2004, and it's kind of nostalgic!"

Well, I'm not disappointed.  In fact, the team's demise has restored my faith that there are no guarantees in this life, except that games will be won and games will be lost.  However, for me, I was able to watch many of those games with my dad and talk about baseball, as if we were managing the team.  We'd ask each other questions, talk about different strategies, but that paled in comparison to just having time with my dad talking about the game and life.  Yes, the Red Sox may have disappointed their loyal followers, but they provided their fans with stories for a lifetime.  For that, there is joy in "this" Mudville tonight, and I, for one, look forward to another season talking about baseball and life with my dad.  Who couldn't find joy in that?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

65 and counting

For many people, 65 is a very important number.  It's the age that we become eligible for Medicare, and historically, many individuals face retirement.  However for some, the number 65 represents something far more significant, and in the case of my parents, it reflects the number of years since they committed themselves to a lifetime together.

After meeting in Boston during WWII, the two were married on September 7th, 1946, and what has transpired since has been legendary.  They have 8 children, 19 grandchildren, 1 great grandchild, over 40 nieces and nephews, and countless friends who have all been touched by their boundless love and generosity.

To my parents on this momentous anniversary, congratulations on achieving such a milestone.  Your family and friends have been richly blessed by the love you share for each other.  May God watch over you and keep you well.  We love you!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Proof there is a parallel universe

Recently, I was out for an early morning run and looked up at the last vestiges of the night sky in the west and the rising Sun in the east.  In spite of the effort spent getting my heart rate into my aerobic training zone, I often find that it is under these circumstances, that I do some of my most important thinking.  The pressures of life seem to melt away when one is distracted from it, even if it's just for awhile.  This particular morning was no different than any other day, but my thoughts had me thinking about the possibility of other life forms.  Could there be another group of individuals out there engaged in an exercise routine much like mine?

Years ago, I realized the benefits of regular exercise, but what I under appreciated was just how supportive doing that exercise with a group was to the consistency of training.  It was, and still is, far easier to get up each morning knowing that there is a group of equally "insane" individuals willing to brave the morning elements with you.  Of course, when you don't have such a connected group, then the motivation to get the exercise juices going comes down to pure self discipline.

Over the years, I have engaged in a variety of exercise routines, from running only, to running twice daily, and as my interest in triathlon grew, cross training with swimming and biking became an integral part of the schedule.  A typical week might go as follows:  swimming on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday;  running on Tuesday and Thursday; and a nice bike ride of Saturday morning.  More recently, however, the morning schedule was modified due to the lack of "water" for the morning swim, so spinning became a substitute.  Now, spinning is the Monday, Wednesday, Friday routine, with running on the alternate days.

What, you may ask, does all this mean?  Well, I have concrete evidence that, while I am engaging in my exercise program, I believe that there is another disciplined group of souls out there engaging in very similar activities at the very same time, proof positive that there is a parallel universe.  In fact, I am sure it exists because have seen them and have been included in their workouts, and they are just a great group of individuals.  However, there are some differences between the two worlds; after my workout I sit down to a cup of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, while I am willing to bet that my comrades are sipping a hot cup of Tim Horton's brew, and it tastes just fine, no matter where we are!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Run like an Amateur

On the eve of the annual Yankee Homecoming road race in Newburyport, Massachusetts, I am reminded of just how far road racing has come since those early days.  Some say the running revolution began with Jim Fixx and the "Complete Book of Running", but runners have been toeing the line in this 10 mile classic through the streets of Newburyport for 51 years now.  Obviously then, the revolution started slowly with only a few amateur, "patriots".  Today, however, the YH road race attracts runners of all talent levels, and that is why this event has truly become a community activity.  However, that wasn't always the case, and I'll explain.

I recall registering for my first YH road race in the 70's, and frankly, running 10 miles did seem to be somewhat daunting.  But what I remember most was that I had to apply first for membership in an amateur running association, before I could even submit my application to run the race.  Given the remarkable changes that have occurred since then, it is almost hard to conceive that there were ever such restrictions for participation.  Equally, the total number of runners in those days was minuscule compared to the crowds that will make it to the starting line today, and of course, there weren't any T-shirts.

Over the years, I have several vivid recollections of the YH race.  Along with the need to provide proof of my amateur status, that race was my first long distance run.  Consequently, I had little knowledge of the benefits of carbo-loading, so I had a nice steak and green beans as a pre-race meal; bad idea.  I was haunted by that fare later that evening; lesson learned, never run after eating such a heavy meal.  On another occasion, my brother, who had just eaten a Big Mac snack, asked me where I was headed for another of my YH appearances, and when he found out that I was going to run a race, he said he'd be happy to join me.  Who knew, a Big Mac was just like carbo-loading in his world.   He finished without as much as a hiccup.  I also ran one of the YH races in a torrential downpour, another bad day at the races.

Yes, the YH 10 miler served as a practical, early training ground for a lifetime of involvement in running.  As I reflect back on some of those plebeian behaviors, there should never have been any question about my amateur status given what I know today; and now that I have a lifetime of experience, I no longer have youth on my side.  Oh well, stay active my friends!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Real, Live Action Figures

Likely, you are familiar with the term, action figures; they are toys that were originally targeted for boys which often represent characters from cartoons or films that can be, through the imagination of their guardians, put into action.  The term surfaced when the toy maker Hasbro introduced GI Joe, and it has been applied to the long list of successors ever since.  Recently, I had the good fortune of spending some time observing my very busy nephews who personify the term action figures that they so passionately love.

It all begins with the detailed plans of 2 weeks of summer vacation spent together.  The check list for which GI Joe's and which trucks to bring was quite complicated.  However, once this detail was settled, then it was necessary to rally "the troops" and get them into troop transporter, the car.  This was accomplished by using an old wheel barrow to haul them to the car, just part of the unfolding, imaginary game, of course.  Next, it was the long convoy to the battlefield on the shores of this remote place that was in jeopardy of being taken by the enemy.  Once the battalion of "action figures" was sufficiently deployed, it was a matter of establishing their command center and doing some on site "recon".  Naturally, once this entire process was complete, it was time to get trenched in for the much anticipated conflict ahead and a full week of fun with his cousin/brother.

The actual "battles", fortunately, were rare and infrequent, but the preparation took a tremendous amount of cooperation and planning.  That was the true story behind these scenes, 2 boys who were just being boys with a common interest in their action figures.  However, from what I witnessed, these 2 diplomats of fun were able to develop a plan, implement that plan, and visualize its unfolding, while working out their respective differences without letting it hamper their overall goal, having fun.  It is remarkable how having a common objective can set the tone for the behavior that unfolds.  That was the real lesson that unfolded, but for these 2 action figures, it was all about spending time with their best friend/cousin.  Mission accomplished!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Today's special...trail mix

Restaurants many times have specials in addition to their regular menu items, and in my experience,  those offerings can be quite enticing.  Of course, if you have a favorite eatery, then you may not even consider looking at their specials.  However, every so often something just sounds appetizing, and that's what you order.  Hopefully, there are few surprises, and after the meal is complete, you are genuinely glad that you were adventuresome.  Well, when it comes to running, choosing something "off" the usual menu might just be more appealing too.

The Western New Hampshire trail run series held its fourth race in the 2011 season this past weekend in Charlestown, NH, the Wicked Wildcat Wander.  My brother invited me to join him on this little "walk" in the woods, and with the heat and humidity, there was plenty of that.  However, the conditions didn't discourage us or the other entrants, but it wasn't exactly a cake walk.  The terrain really dictates the pace, and in this case, the first part of the course was predominately uphill.  But what goes up must come down, so the second half really was all downhill.

Trail running offers a unique and different experience when compared to road racing, but that can be a welcome contrast to the usual fare.  In the end, my brother and I enjoyed ourselves, not only for the trail running experience, but the race organizers handed out homemade bread and a cutting board to the winners.  Now that isn't something that you see everyday either.  In our case, we had to settle for a few tasty bagels.  However, judging from our excitement following our day in the woods, I think we will just have to ask for seconds.  Trail mix anyone?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Surf's up at the Bagaduce

The expression, "surf's up" refers to the rising tide and the waves that accompany it.  In the surfing world, it would be time to get your board and head out in hope of catching the big one.  In Hawaii that big one would probably be known as the Big Kahuna, and if you were on the north shore of Oahu you'd be riding the pipeline hoping for that perfect wave.  Well, if you are in Maine on a hot summer's day, and you time the tides correctly, you might just have to head on down to the Bagaduce to "catch" the waves.

On a return visit to the Blue Hill peninsula, my good friends and I pondered our options for the sun filled morning in Maine.  After throwing out a few ideas, a trip to the Bagaduce river won out by popular demand.  The Bagaduce River runs through the Blue Hill peninsula but reverses its flow depending on the tides. So, a trip to the Bagaduce meant loading up the trailer with kayaks, tossing in the life jackets and paddles, putting on the sun screen, getting the water skis and tow rope, and timing the tide change just right to experience the reversing flow, surfing phenomenon.  When we arrived at the bridge, we looked at the current thinking that we had missed the peak.  However, shortly after we arrived, we realized that we had timed the changing tides perfectly, so we could witness and experience this natural water park.  This really meant that the surf was up, and it was time to have some fun.

We wasted no time getting wet while negotiating the white water in the kayaks, however, after some moments of sheer terror, we decided it was time to literally take the plunge.  We convened on the bridge for the annual baptismal leap, and with the rushing water below and the Sun shining brightly, what better alternative could you have had?  So, without much further discussion, we began the countdown, 1...2...3...jump, and that we did.  The raging waters carried us down about a quarter mile through white water and and you made your way over to the edge, an eddy current carried you back up stream for another jump...perfect.  All of this was followed by the final event, water skiing from the bridge.  After tying a tow rope to the bridge, several of us attempted to ski the rapids of the Bagaduce.  Unfortunately, not all of us were able to master that skill, but no one could fault us for trying.

A day at the Bagaduce is not even a day at all, but as long as the tide is changing, there is plenty of opportunity for fun.  We kayaked, jumped, swam, and even tried some novel water skiing, all in the course of a few hours, and much like so many other creative activities, we made our own kind of fun.  So, when the surf's up at the Bagaduce, we go down!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Runner's Hi

Undoubtedly, you have heard about the runner's high.  That's when you have exercised enough to allow all those endorphins to be released which are supposed to make you feel good from head to toe.  Although it doesn't come predictably as part of every workout, it comes regularly enough to keep us searching for the next installment.  Quite possibly, that is what all the hullabaloo is about; this mythical sense of well being that doesn't really exist, but one that we are constantly trying to experience.  However, I really think that it goes far beyond the endorphins and the sweat; it goes to the core of the participant and spreads out from there.

I remember the first time I ever ran more than 4 or 5 miles continuously.  I joined my high school's cross country team during my senior year simply so I could start the basketball season in better condition.  On my first day of practice, I laced up my leather Converse All Star sneakers and headed out with the team.  Fortunately, my coach recognized that I hadn't done any off season training, so he directed me to a shorter loop that day, instead of the 8 miler that the rest of the team was taking.  About midway through the proposed run, I had this epiphany...'this running stuff isn't so bad, but I sure wished I had a better pair of running shoes'.  That evening, I purchased my first pair of Nike's, and I have been running, for the most part,  ever since.  There have been a few hiatuses, but they generally were short lived and associated with some life altering event.

Yes, the runner's high is different to different people, but for me, that first time I ever took to the streets for more than just a micro burst, I experienced something that forever changed my life.  I have run marathons, half marathons, sprint distance triathlons, all the way up to a full Ironman.  Along the way, I have presumably stayed healthier, traveled to a number of interesting destinations, but most of all, I have made an infinite number of friends, and quite assuredly, that  camaraderie is the "runner's hi" that has always made me feel it's all worth it.  That's what it's all about Charlie Brown!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It's Deja vu...all over again!

I am sure that you are familiar with the word deja vu; it comes from the French meaning to see again and in the case of a deja vu feeling one quite literally has the sense that they are reliving a prior experience.  Well,  riding north on the interstate the other day, I had one of those deja vu feelings, and let me explain.

When my daughter was just a "munchkin", about 18 months old or so, she and I were doing some Saturday morning errands which frequently included a trip to Sam's Club to walk around or to McDonald's for a happy meal.  After we had completed our appointed tasks, we were driving along the interstate on our way home.  We were passed by one of those large semis with the company name plastered across all sides of the sides of the trailer which read "Shaws" in bright orange letters.  There was nothing particularly striking about the moment until this little voice from the rear seat of the car shouted out in her little voice, "Shaws".  It was one of those father daughter moments that I will never forget.  To this day, every time I drive on this short stretch of highway, I have a momentary flashback to this precious memory and can almost hear that little voice from the back saying, "Shaws" while looking for the trailer passing me by.

Life offers us a million memorable moments, but Lord knows we can't remember them all.  In fact, we don't, but one just hopes that there are enough of those moments that you recall the underlying themes.  In this case, all I have to do is hop in the car and head north on this section of the interstate, because when I do, I hear that little voice, and that brings a smile to my face again...and again...and again...!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Not so Famous "Moving" Trailers

A movie trailer is a preview for an upcoming feature film scheduled for future release. The term "trailer" was originally used because they were often shown at the end of the featured film. That practice did not last long, however, because patrons tended to leave the theater after the films ended, but the name has stuck. Trailers are now shown beforehand, but if you are the driver, "moving" trailers that fail to follow the main event are far more exciting than you'd want.  Allow me to explain.

Have you ever driven a car with a trailer in tow?  It takes some getting used to, after all, you have to account for the added weight when slowing down or the added length when making a turn or passing another vehicle.  However, provided one takes these things into account, it isn't all that difficult.  An experienced driver is likely to feel just as comfortable under these conditions as any.  However, even a veteran can encounter situations that you'd hope would never happen. 

My dear friend recently had one of these "near misses" while trailing his boat home.  Evidently, even after a considerable number of hours on the road and well after the Sun was down, he hit a pothole which seemed to change the way the car was performing just moments before.  It turns out that the trailer had become detached and was "competing" for the adjacent lane on the freeway.  You can imagine the sparks flying and the grinding steel on the road bed, not a welcome sight at any time, let alone when you are tired and nearing the end of your trip.  However, Lady Luck was on his side as the cargo came to rest with a minimum of damage or to the passengers leading the way.  After assessing the situation, the root cause was traced to a failed hitch pin that had become disengaged; all the other parts were inpected and accounted for.  Thankfully, what the road takes, it often times gives back to someone else and in this case, a replacement bolt for the hitch pin...perfect for this application.

Over the years, I have viewed my share of movie trailers, and I have seen oodles of trailers moving; but never have I seen a "moving" trailer that wasn't directly following the pace car.  In the end, this near catastrophic ordeal did not turn out to be the "boat buster" it was billed to be, and thankfully, that has everyone giving it rave reviews.  Popcorn anyone?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Let Freedom Ring

America is the land of  opportunity, but on the Fourth of July, we too are reminded that many of those opportunities present themselves because our founding fathers were committed to freedom from tyranny.  We now enjoy the rights and privileges of free men and women thanks to their convictions, and the ongoing sacrifice that our armed forces make maintaining that freedom.  For that, we all say thank you.

It is now our personal and collective responsibility to uphold those freedoms.  We live in a great nation founded by a group of courageous individuals, patriots and statesman alike, who were willing to commit and sacrifice dearly for a unified cause.  Let the celebration of Independence Day ring out today and everyday; and as we go forward, we must come together as a nation, for together we will stand stronger and more resolute in our commitment to that freedom.  Happy Fourth of July!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The ride of a lifetime...

When I was a kid, my parents often times would load us all into the car and simply go for a ride.  We'd drive up along the coast, maybe stop to walk the beach or ride out in the country with the hope of spotting a deer or other form of wildlife.  Sometimes the ride would turn into an opportunity for a nap or perhaps we'd end up at the local ice cream stand for a treat.  Regardless of the reason, the chance to go on a ride on a lazy afternoon was generally a treat unto itself.  Well, as my parents have aged, the shoe now has fallen on the other foot, but the reasons for going remain the same.  It's a chance to share some quality time without the distractions of life.

On Friday this week, with the seemingly interminable rains hindering the outdoor activity, it was time for a ride.  I used the excuse of needing to do a few errands, but what I really wanted to do was spend some time with my Mom.  She has always loved to "joy" ride and is always at the ready when to comes to this sort of adventure.  So, without the use of our GPS device, we headed off for a ride.  Our only goal was to get from point A to point B and back again, no flight plan no maps, just our instincts and enough gas to get us there.  We followed the old carriage roads along some of New England's infinite stone walls and passed through several of those little villages you could imagine Currier and Ives would have depicted in their lithographs.  It was all so quiet, even with the rain pelting down on our windshield and the wipers vigorously doing their job.  However, it was all worth the effort because we both could reminisce about the good old days when she'd be driving my brothers and me out to The Mill or to the apple orchards for an afternoon of errands.  We talked about things that happened many years ago as if they had happened just yesterday.  It was lovely, she said, just like she had said a million times before; and it was.

We finally arrived at our first destination and quickly moved on to the next,  wasting little time "shopping" as we had many years before.  This time I was in charge, as Mom waited patiently in the car, unlike we had years ago.  Regardless, it was all good.

As we made our way back home, I thought about how life comes full circle.  Those many eons ago my mother took us over many of the same roads carrying out her business with all of us in tow.  Now it was my turn to return the favor, but really, who was doing whom the favor?.  Once again, she was the one who was nurturing my soul with her quips and her effervescent smile just sitting there enjoying the "ride".  Yes, she was up to her old tricks again, and thank God I have been along for the ride.  Mom, how would you like to stop for an ice cream on our way home?  This time it will be my treat!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Shore to shore

The lyrics found in the hymn,  America  the Beautiful, speak of the beauty in America while going from sea to shinning sea, and if you have ever traveled about this great country, those words couldn't be more true.  I have been fortunate enough to have crossed this land solely, with friends, and most memorably on family camping trips when I was younger.  However, when one goes from sea to shining sea, you have to cross the land in between, but if you go from shore to  shore, then one has to cross a body of water.  Well, my friends and I recently did just that, we swam across the lake at Chautauqua just so we could say we swam across the lake.

Guy's weekend at the lake has become a tradition for our group of "weekend" warriors.  Generally, there is an abundance of exercise, followed by a proportionately substantial amount of eating, in turn followed by a whole lot of "fellowship".  Although the name guy's weekend implies participation by only a fraternity of brothers, most of us have outgrown the need for male bonding, so the families are all included in the festivities as well.  Truthfully, the logistics of some of our activities are made infinitely more easy because of the "X" factor.

This year we decided it was time to man up and cross the lake, swimming the entire distance, 1.85 miles.  So, with the aid of our support staff in the safety boat and putting a "strategery" together for the swimmers, we donned our wetsuits, swim caps, and goggles and took the plunge.  It was a lovely day with calm "seas" and sunshine.  In no time at all, we were almost there, and then almost there, and then almost there.  The distant shore grew ever closer, but you couldn't have convinced any of us of that fact.  The primary target seemed to get bigger as we crossed the lake, but I truly believe that was more simply just wishful thinking.  However, we finally did emerge from the lake an hour and a half later to set foot on terra firma once again.  What a relief indeed for all those involved, especially the support staff, because, without their help, we couldn't have done it safely.

Without a doubt, the guys in this group have become truly special to each other over the years.  We have run, biked, and swam our way to becoming, quite literally, a band of brothers.  Now that we have conquered the crossing of Lake Chautauqua, we can say that for "shore"!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Spinning out of Control

With the wild weather that most of the country has been experiencing of late, it is no wonder that there has been much attention given to all those whirling dervishes known as tornadoes.  In fact, here in the East, the weather this evening looked more like tornado alley than the gentle, rolling hills of New England.  However, even though most of the media coverage has been on the "spinning" air masses outside, some forms of spinning are found in the more sedate confines of the gym, and permit me to explain.

Most of us who engage in triathlon training recognize the value in cross training, and certainly as age catches up with each of us, the merits of mixing up the routine from day to day clearly provides benefits.  Because of the protracted number of recent rainy days, I was "forced" inside for my early morning constitutionals.  However, what I soon discovered was that spinning "class" offered a wonderful alternative when the weather outside was, shall we say, less than ideal.  There are some compromises, however, but when Mother Nature rears Her ugly head and fails to accommodate us with favorable conditions, then taking it the "seats" isn't so bad.

I have spoken to a number of "spinners" over the years who have encouraged me to try this indoor form of exercise, but my fondness for the outdoors has generally kept me on the "outside".  However, with the exceptionally wet spring we've had this year, I was forced indoors in order to keep up with my bike training.  I suppose one could say that quite "literally" being wet behind the ears now has me spinning out of control!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Splitting Headache may warm you up

Likely you have heard the expression, " I've got a splitting headache".  Unfortunately, if you have ever suffered from such a malady, you can appreciate the accuracy of the graphic description.  Quite literally, your head feels as though it may split in two because of the intensity of the pain.  However, sometimes a splitter may be something other than a severe headache, and in fact, may be just what you need to prevent one.

With the rising cost home heating oil or natural gas, heating one's home has become a real challenge for so  many families.  However, there are alternatives, such as solar energy, wind energy, and if you have access to "free" hardwood, then heating with a wood burning stove may offer a viable alternative.  Well, when it comes to good ole' Yankee thrift, free becomes every one's favorite four letter word.  My parents recently took down a few aged trees and Mother Nature assisted with Her contribution too, so there was plenty of "free" inventory to justify renting a wood splitter for the day.

The day started with the usual tankard of coffee and breakfast, before turning our attention to the task at hand.  Fortunately, the Sun was shinning, which has been a rarity this spring, so working outside was indeed a pleasure.  We quickly developed a "dis assembly" line, and we began splitting the inventory.  By days end, we had created quite a pile of firewood that will serve as the fuel for the coming season, and it will take that long to adequately dry out too.

New Englanders are well known for being frugal, and this is a classic example of good old fashioned frugality.  In the end, however, this little wood splitting exercise will do more to reduce the headache caused when next winter's home heating bill arrives than a handful of Ibuprofen.  In fact, the memories of our day spent splitting wood may even just warm us to the core!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

E=mc2...the relative truth is easy to swallow

Einstein is best known for his work in general relativity, and for this, he is considered to be the father of modern Physics. His now famous equation, E=mc2 , seems a bit simplistic to some, but this discovery has essentially transformed modern Physics. How he arrived at this revelation is probably far more complicated than I could ever understand or explain, but when I think of this seemingly basic equation, I find myself pondering the possibilities, much like Einstein must have in the years leading up to his discovery.

While riding my bicycle recently, I found myself enjoying the fresh air, the sunshine, and the solitude which allowed me an opportunity to get lost in my thoughts. There is nothing like getting out for a little exercise to clear the cobwebs from your brain, especially when you are about to take your inaugural “spin” of the season after a long winter on the wind trainer. Although it had been several weeks since my last “ride”, I felt energized by the springtime sun, so the miles seemed to be roll by with relative ease. I mapped out my route beforehand, so all I had left to do was sit back, relax, be safe, and ponder life’s unsolved questions. It was great!

Right after I realized I had failed to bring along a water bottle, my thoughts turned to other things. I pondered participating in some short distance triathlons this summer, doing a little sailing or woodworking after a day at the office, or simply relaxing with my parents watching a Red Sox. It all seemed quite manageable because my calendar was virtually empty, except for the weekends. Then I had this epiphany, perhaps just like Einstein would have had. E=mc2! I finally understood what the equation represented, at least for an athlete like myself. Eating= more (cardiovascular exercise)x(cardiovascular exercise). It was genius maximus. I could feel the pace of my cadence quicken just pondering the real value of exercise; it allows you to eat and feel good about it afterward.

Exercise, consequently, turns out to be a fundamental variable in this equation which has so dramatically changed our understanding of modern Physics, and if one routinely engages in regular exercise, it will likely have a dramatic effect on one's "physique", just as Einstein discovered.  Of course, for those of us who enjoy regular exercise,  it's all "relativity" anyway.  Keep moving folks!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Backed into a Corner...sort of

I am quite sure that most people have heard of the expression, “backed into a corner”, and quite literally, if this has ever happened to you then you are familiar with the sense of anxiety that follows. Fortunately, if you maintain a cool composure and gather your thoughts, options may begin to present themselves that you may not have considered initially. Hopefully, enough alternatives will become apparent that you can actually “escape” this, shall we say, incarceration. Well, I recently took a wrong turn while driving that left me no option but to back out of the corner, and allow me to explain.
While in the scenic hillside community of Lierna, Italy, along the shores of Lake Como, I was driving a minivan that was designed to carry a large payload of people, but was clearly not designed for some of the narrow “viales” in Italy. I proceeded down one of the many unmarked roadways that should have led to the main street leaving town. Of course, we were on a tight schedule, so Murphy’s Law was lurking at the end of this wrong turn. As we descended the hillside, the road became narrower and more limiting. Just then, what appeared to be a quick route to the bottom of the hill, looked more like an astronomical , “black hole”; no way out. We dead ended into a series of driveways that would only have permitted one of those mini-eurocars, and that wasn’t what we were driving. I felt like we had just checked into the Hotel California; you can check in but you can never leave.

After several feeble attempts to turn ourselves around, it became apparent that there was only one way out and that was to back out without the luxury of our side view mirrors or the skill of a seasoned driver. However, somehow by the grace of God and good fortune, the minivan tracked its way out of this tomb, arising from the “dead end”, so to speak. After gathering our collective energy once again, we reconvened at the top of the hill for our trip back to Milan.

Of all the turns that we face in life, some are more daunting than others, and in this case, there were no turns. It required a concentrated effort and the support of many to retrace our path, quite literally in reverse, which allowed us to get back on the road home. We all agreed that a return trip to this little part of Italy would be worth it, particularly with our dinner in Verena on the shores of Lake Como the night before. However, our little misadventure on the roads of Lierna almost left us in the corner, and I assure you, there was nowhere to turn. Ciao!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Ostersonntag 2011

When I was growing up, my father occasionally would throw out a few words of German that he had learned from his childhood.  With both parents being of German descent, his primary language for thôse preschool years was German.  However, over the years he remembered just the important ones that came in handy around young listening ears.  He'd say, "mein Gott in himmel" when I was getting into some sort of mischief.  After the last few days here in Switzerland where German is the preferred language, I wish I had taken a few lessons from him or from our Austrian neighbors across the street.

We arrived in Brig, Switzerland via the train from Milan.  It was a relaxing ride, since we left the driving up to the Italian train engineers.  It was a magnificent 2 hour ride north along the western border of Lake Maggiore and on across the border into Switzerland.  The trains run just their world reknown time pieces.  The train station was just a short 10 minute walk up the streets of Brig, with the Alps as a back drop.  We scoped out the local Catholic church and the eateries, all before sundown. 

We found a quaint dinner spot where we had some traditional fare, the schnitzel with noodles.  We passed on the strudel, much to my dismay, but there would always be tomorrow, Ostersonntag.  The early service was the high mass for the Easter celebration, and it was not just your ordinary high mass, let me tell you.  They had a full choir and their own orchestra;  I felt as though I was at the symphony and not at an Easter Sunday service.  It was delightful and truly a highlight. 

After services, we boarded the train to Zermat for a day in the Alps.  The views were impressive and the skies were as blue as you could imagine, perfect for this outing.  The first glimpse of the Matterhorn left me awkstruck...much like another day in the mountains.  We walked about town and even made our way up the trail abit before sitting down for a cup of hot chocolate later on.  We visited the Catholic church in town, and the views leaving the church were breathtaking, a divine creation indeed.  We later dined on more traditional food of weiner schnitzel and sauerkraut all washed down with a little German ale.

Our day in the Alps fell on Easter Sunday, an unplanned coincidence to say the least.  Mein Gott in himmel reminded me that no human hand could have created all of what we saw.  It was truly divine.  Thanks Dad for helping me find the words to describe this glorious part of the world.  Al weidersehen!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Some say patio, others say piazza

When we were young kids, I recall my mother organizing her flower pots on the back porch getting them ready to put out for the season.  Of course, she had kept them in from the harsh winter weather, so they would come back on their own in the spring.  She was among the first ecology minded individuals to grace her generation, or perhaps it was simply a behavior she acquired during the Great Depression.  Regardless, she frequently used these opportunities to enlighten us about life through her peripatetic teaching style.  During one of those lessons, she graced us with her knowledge of the Roman plazas or Italian piazzas.

For as long as I can remember, we referred to the back porch as the back patio.  On this particular day, however, she decided that we needed to know what a piazza was, only she pronounced the double zz softly, more like an "s" sound.  From that day on, the back porch or patio became the the back piazza.  For many years, I just thought that she had her own way of saying the porch which was different than what we originally had learned, but over time, what she really was doing was educating us about life.

While sightseeing in Italy, I had the ocassion to visit a number of those famous "piazzas", only this time I tried to pronounce it in my best Italian accent, much like Stefano would do.  As I wander the streets, drive the roads, and ride the rails all over northern Italy, I find myself smiling over the informal manner of education my mother took  with all of us when we were younger.  It has served us well over the years, and to that I toast my mother with a nice glass of red wine, "saluti".  Ciao!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Has anyone looked at the map?

Many of us have access to a Garmin or Tom Tom, so map reading and directions are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.  However, not all roads lead to Rome when it comes to finding your way out in the country along some lonely, deserted highway.  If the signage isn't just right and the traffic is heavy, you can almost forget getting there on time when you are traveling in unfamiliar territory.  We had an experience like that today, so let me recap it for you.

We picked up our rental car in La Spezia and had what we thought was a short ride to Lucca.  Before we left the city of La Spezia, we logged several additional miles on the car while we were looking for the Autostrade.  Just about the time we felt we had taken the proper turns to arrive at the on ramp, we missed some critical turn in the road that left us off the beaten track again.  However, after much random luck, we eventually ended up up on the route out of "Dodge" with a glimmer of hope of arriving at our next destination safely.  This time we were headed for Lucca, an ancient city surrounded by walls but a whole lot of charm.

From here, we were planning the short 35-50 km ride to Castle Florentino which, in the real world, should have taken us only an hour or so, even under the most strained conditions.  About 2 1/2 hours later, we were still cruising about the countryside in our rented minivan.  None of the roads looked as though we had traveled them more than once, but we sure as heck didn't make short work out of that little trek.  It took us nearly 3 hours, one bottle of Rolaids and the hope of a few liters of local wine to get through that ordeal.  We didn't think the Sun ever set in Tuscany, but we were decidedly misinformed!

However, we did finally reach our "humble" villa in the hills just north of Siena and have enjoyed the time we have had ever since.  Today, we visited Florence, viewed the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, and walked the streets unimpeded, all while leaving the driving to the Italian train engineers.  It was lovely.  So, the next time you need to follow the map...don't, especially if it isn't up to date.  And remember, if you're there, then that's where you are, and if you are here in Tuscany, who cares?  Ciao!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ka-"Cinque" Terra

When the $$ signs roll up, there is a common reaction called, "ka-ching" reminding us of the sound the cash register makes when you rack up a big bill.  Often times, it is an expression associated with one of amazement or surprise, but clearly, it is not one that you would like to experience if you are on a reasonable budget.  Well, sometimes mishaps occur, and ka-ching, the savings go by the wayside.  We had one such slight miscalculation today, and it cost us a few extra euros.

After a delightful day of loitering around Monterosso and then having a lovely dinner, we arrived at the train station to make our way back to Manarola where we were planning to to take the moonlight hike up the hill to Volostra.  However, in our haste to catch the earliest train back to Manarola, we boarded the wrong train and were off to La Spezia instead.  Our Italian conductor rewarded us with the bad news that we were indeed headed to a different destination than we had in mind.  Once in La Spezia, we checked for the next train heading back to Manorola which wasn't until 11 pm.  As we considered our options: 1. wait for the next train or 2. find out how much the cab ride to Volostra would be.  After haggling with the taxi driver over the price of 40 euro, about $55-60, we opted for the cab ride back to our hotel.  Ah, the sound of those clinking nickels going out of our pockets, "ka-ching" with a capital E for euros.

Yes, this little mishap cost us a pocket of change, but in the end, we didn't have to walk up the hill which would have added dearly to the long day.  What's a few euro among friends and
 when you are on vacation?  The reality it's still a few euro, but we had a great time talking about it.  Ciao!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A High Five for Sure

Likely you have heard the expression, "give me five or give me a high five".  Ordinarily, it refers to giving one a handshake of greeting or a gesture of congratulations after some sort of accomplishment.  Well, for the last 3 days, our travels have taken us to the Cinque Terra region on the Ligurian Sea where we have taken to the ancient paths of yesteryear.  The trails have been here for years and apart from the arriving traffic from the sea, they served as the only connections between these ancient cities on the hillsides of the Italian Riviera. 

We arrived via train to the village of Manarola, the second in the series of seaside villages.  From the town, we made our way up to Volostra where we have been staying at a B&B.  This has served as our ground zero for the last 2 days of hiking.  Our elevation from the sea is nearly 1000 feet, which means that the ascents and descents have been significant.  Unfortunately, the "sientero azzurro" or the trail along the sea has been washed out, so our feet have had to carry us up and down the hillsides but have provided us with some spectacular vistas.  Equally, we have not encountered any inclement weather which has made this experience possible all the more enjoyable too.

Tomorrow we make our way to the final city of the quintet, Monterosso.  I suspect that we will find it just as fascinating as the others have been, but it is not just the cities but the whole experience that makes this region so pleasant.  It is no wonder that it is the destination of so many tourists, but it is not for anyone who is unwilling to climb even a few hills.  You quite literally rise from the sea, and over the centuries, its inhabitants have built their cities into those hillsides.  From what have seen, it has taken both hands of its laborers to fashion this magnificent place, and that deserves a high five and then some.  Ciao!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Boarding Pass

For anyone who has ever traveled by air, you are undoubtedly familiar with the significance of the boarding pass.  It is swatch of parchment that gets you past the gauntlet of security and onto the jetway.  From there,  it’s simply a matter of identifying your assigned seat and settling in for the ups and downs of air travel.  However, even with that ticket to ride in hand, it doesn’t guarantee that the flight will actually push back from the gate and allow you to put your seat back, relax, and enjoy the flight.
I remember my very first flight, a trip home from Biloxi Mississippi with my Dad.  We had visited my uncle and aunt who were stationed  at Kessler AF base.  It was one of those older, propeller planes; it reminded me of the plane in the closing moments of Casablanca, only it had 4 engines which was a relief to me.  Since then,  I have flown on many different types of aircraft, including the workhorse 707,  regional  jets, the L1011, a 747, 727’s, 737’s, a 757, a 767, a 777, and the A300 Airbus.  What do these jet powered successors to the Wright Brother’s  prototype have in common?  They all carry people places, and as a result, have made global travel a practical reality.
Yes, with a boarding pass and the proper identification, you  can go just about anywhere.  However, when you fly standby, the airlines don’t issue a boarding pass until they are absolutely sure there is room enough to accommodate you.  For my sister, her family, and myself, we were fortunate enough to get the “golden” pass.  In the end, the angst associated with our standby status led to a first class trip across the pond to Milan.  The complimentary wine, the delicious crab cakes, and the heavenly ice cream sundae capped off a truly first class junket to the start of our holidays.  Ciao!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Just say Uncle

In the United States, the expression "say uncle" or just "uncle" may be used to indicate submission, such as when wrestling, or a cry for mercy in a game.  However, when someone says uncle at our family gatherings, the phrase takes on a whole new meaning.

With several generations of large families, the number of aunts and uncles can't be counted on one hand; in fact, the total number can't even be counted on two hands.  However, each has a unique personality and is loved for those personal qualities.  My Mother's youngest brother was just that.  To us, he was known as Uncle Lonnie but to most of his friends he was simply Larry.  I remember the many trips to Canada to visit the family homestead replete with moose "hunts", flat tires, and walks in the fields looking for wildlife and cranberries.  When my grandparents were living, he and his brother would chauffeur them to our house for Sunday dinner, bringing along the pastries from Lyndell's.  Once he moved into the Harbor Towers in Boston, he became a regular at Boston's Filene's great basement, just like my grandmother had been years before.  Markdown days became his specialty, and that was definitely a McNeil trait.  Lladro, cooper lanterns, and a host of other cherished gifts came from that downtown crossing store.

Yes, my uncle was a character.  He could make a mean fish "chowdah", something that he loved to do for his sister.  But most of all, he was a kind, gentle, unselfish gentleman with a strong commitment to his faith.  Now, whenever I see my younger brother sitting at his law desk, I am reminded of my uncle who saw the value in everything, as he "recycled" it from the statehouse.  We will miss you as you have enriched the lives of  your family and friends, and that is a legacy which is both priceless and can never be discounted!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ask not...

Today marks the 50th anniversary of JFK's inaugural address which he delivered from the frigid steps of the nation's capital after becoming the 35th president of the United States.  In that speech, he propositioned the American people to become the new generation of torch bearers who would carry on the principles for which our great country was founded.  Likely, many have heard those now famous words, "ask not what your country can do for you --ask what you can do for your country".

Although the number of Americans who were actually alive at that time in history is now fewer than the total number who have been born since, the message ought to resonate even louder today than it did then.  It's time for all of us to carry the torch, and with it, we can light up the world!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


MIA is a familiar acronym for persons missing in action.  Ordinarily, it is reserved for soldiers who are unaccounted for, but in a broader sense, it has been used for anyone who has been, shall we say, "off the radar".  In the case of this blogger, I have most definitely been MIA from musing the "masses" with my rapier wit.  Ever since we turned the page on another calendar year, it seems that I haven't been able to sit down at my keyboard to "express myself".  Well, IM taking this opportunity to "reconnect", in a manner of speaking, just to let you all know that IM alive and well.  As soon as the dust settles from this chaos, I intend to amuse you once again with my stories of life.

OMG it's "MIA" bedtime, so buenos noches mis amigos!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year

Every year it's the same; New Years follows Christmas by a week and it also brings a conclusion to the holiday season.  However, what happens through the season varies with from year to year, and that's what characterizes those memorable moments that, hopefully, won't be forgotten anytime soon.  Now that we have come to the end of the holiday season but are about to embark on another year, Happy New Year to everyone and may the year ahead be full of happiness and good health!