Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Not a Mention of Christmas

One who knows me online but not personally might deduce from my Facebook and Blogger presences, or absences as they were, that Christmas somehow escaped me this year.  I posted no great, grand, nor glorious Christmas wishes, stories, anecdotes, or anything else in the usual places where I usually (Some might argue unusually.) share bits and pieces of myself online.  Christmas Day came and went online without me being obviously in it.  In "real life," however, it was a Christmas full of profound wonder and with a unique closeness to the Lord about Whom I don't usually preach in my various online manifestations.  I guess I was just savoring it all very close to my own heart without feeling the need to yell about the glory of it all in this contrived and limited existence on social media.

For various reasons I had much to be grateful for this Christmas, not specifically because of its being Christmas, but it’s difficult for a “holy” season to come without everything good in one’s life somehow being tied up in it and magnified in its greatness.  For the first time in many years, I stood before the Almighty, naked as it were – stripped of all pretense, half truth, self-centeredness and yet comfortable in my own skin, grateful for so many things having gone right in my life in the past quarter of a year or so during which events and circumstances just fell into place in a way that makes me not have to worry from day to day about where I’m going to go from here. 

I’m going to go figuratively and literally wherever the winds blow me.  Whenever I want to and can.  I’m going to waste good numbers of days while it’s bitter cold outside doing nothing, or as little as I can get away with.  When the weather warms up I’m going to ride my ass off on my scooter whiling away long distances on the odometer without venturing all that far from my front door.  I’m going to fill my life, again figuratively and literally with colored light because I love colors and live best when I’m surrounded by  all different shades of them.  I’m going to celebrate my life as never before and take not a second of it for granted.

 God bless us, everyone!  For Christmas!  In the coming New Year!  It is my fervent wish, and prayer, that everyone reading these words will come to know the kind of peace I now revel in on most days.  There’s nothing like it and I want it for everybody, so that every day is like a little Christmas of sorts – uniquely wonderful, and special, and different.  Holy even, perhaps.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Three Mile Island Scooter Club Christmas Party

Last evening it was my great pleasure to attend the Three Mile Island Scooter Club’s Christmas party in Harrisburg.  It was a two hour drive each way, but well worth it to spend a delightful evening with a number of old scooter friends and to meet a bunch of new ones!

When "Bar and Grille" is in the name of an establishment, I don't typically picture such a beautiful setting as Duke's provided.
 Although I’ve never been to a scooter rally on my scooter and haven't yet spent an entire weekend at one, I’ve been to a few as a drop by guest, and the Three Mile Island folks are always well represented at the few rallies that are held relatively nearby.  To have been invited to their Christmas shindig was truly an honor.

They’re a great group of people, as all scooter folks seem to be.  Whether you’ve known somebody for minutes or a few years, it just doesn’t matter; everybody fits right in like family.  I’ve yet to get to The Meltdown, their annual scooter rally, but it’s on my bucket list.

The setting was just lovely in the banquet room on the second floor at Duke’s Bar and Grille on the banks of the Susquehanna River right in downtown Harrisburg.  While it was already dark when we got there, the lights reflecting off the river added to the ambiance provided by the magical holiday decorations and festive atmosphere.  The sounds of old friends catching up with each other and the carols playing in the background completed the already plentiful delights in which we were basking.

I have no concept of "how many" it seems.  The object of the game was to guess how many things were in each jar without going over.  Typical numbers were in the low hundreds while I was guessing into the 600s and above.
There were “reindeer games” that were a lot of fun and a dirty gift exchange during which some folks stole away previously open gifts that had already thrilled their original recipients.  While I got to keep the gift I’d gotten I did feel a little bad for the ones who didn’t want to part with the presents they had to give to the Grinches who took them away from them.  It’s the only part of the evening’s events I’d have changed if I could have.
Denny whose Facebook scooter posts are plentiful and often side-splitting funny shot me while I shot him.
 The food, served buffet style, was fantastic!  For the price I had MUCH more glazed salmon than I’d ever have gotten in any restaurant for the same amount.  Of course I waited till seconds were available before having a much more generous portion than I’d originally taken.  Lucky for me, more guests were going for the chicken Parmesan (also delicious) than the fish!
We were delighted that Trish and Heather, friends we've known for quite some time were not only there, but dressed so sweetly!
 The evening ended a little after 9 PM which left us with nearly a two hour drive back, but the time passed quickly as we talked about the great time we’d had and how thrilled we’d been to have been invited to join the TMISC for their party.  Although I’m a little envious that we don’t have as active a scooter group up here as they do down there, but I can’t complain because I’m not at all the organizing type and admire greatly the folks who are able to jump in and plan rallies and parties and such great events on behalf of the rank and file and honored guests.
Photo borrowed from Tony Parker's lovely video of the party.
Thank you again to the great members of the Three Mile Island Scooter Club for helping to have made my celebration of Christmas all the better with your friendship and generosity!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Savoring the Warmer Cold Days

With a bright sun and temperatures in the mid fifties there would be no keeping the scooter in dry dock today.  Hunting for Christmas decorations was the reason I gave myself for going out, not for justification which I never need for scootering, but to motivate myself to get up and get moving.  It’s all too easy to stay in a comy and cozy recliner since there’s no more getting up at 5:50 AM and heading out into the cold and dark to begin a work day so scootering is a wonderful way to force myself not to squander a day away in doing in nothing and loving it far more than I should.

 A month or so ago I got a picture of this same house decked out just as ostentatiously for Halloween as it is now for Christmas.  Call it tacky, but I kind of like it when somebody is this much into celebrating anything, but especially Christmas!  

Sugar Notch is ready for the season with its giant snowflakes.  So many great pictures get ruined here in 19th century coal town Pennsylvania because it’s almost impossible to take outdoor pictures without getting electric, phone, and cable wires in them.  Although they make for interesting geometry with their, perpendicular, parallel, and oblique patterns, they’re a certain throw back to when function during times of progress took center stage to any consideration of form or appearance.

With the camera held high atop a hill in Warrior Run one might think I’m paying a visit to the Grinch in his perch on Mt. Crumpet...

However, angling the camera just a little changes the view dramatically.  Once again the wires that connect everybody with everybody else are impossible to ignore although in this particular shot they appear to be part of the small town charm itself.

Just around the corner there’s the old Grinch himself popping up out of the chimney as his trusty reindeer, Max, waits for him to complete his task of robbing the Whos of their Christmas joy.  Little does he know that the joy really comes from within, though the props and fancies of Christmas do make it all more celebratory.

Although the Minions are quite adorable as they are in themselves, adding a Santa hat to one just makes him all the more whimsically delightful.  I was thinking that I wish we’d had such lovable characters when I was a kid in the early 60s, but upon reflection we did.  Rudolph came to life through Rankin and Bass in 1964 when I was a mere lad of six and the whole bunch of them are still dear to my old heart.  Other cartoons which are now classics that I look forward to seeing each season also came out during my childhood.

I came upon this unlikely juxtaposition of old metal things on the way to the foot of Alden Mountain.

Just across the street on part of the same property, a line up of boys’ toys from childhood to ripe middle age.


How I wish that the folks who put out inflatables for Christmas would spare the loose change to keep the poor things blown up by day to delight those of us who aren’t vampires traveling about exclusively in the dark.  It disgusts me every time I see one of these melted puddles of Christmas lying on a lawn until it gets dark and they can spring to life once more.  They just look so darned sad lying there in heaps.

As I turned from the deflated and defeated Christmas blow ups to pull back into traffic I released the throttle and grabbed the brakes again in spying this beautiful Autumn scene just across the street.  There’s always something to delight the eyes when one’s taking in the sights on a scooter.  The view from the saddle is unique and totally different than the same view as seen from the inside of a car.  I’d be hard pressed to say why that is, but I know it’s true from my own experiences.  My own simple but wonderful experiences!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Bring on Christmas!

Three days ago it was the day before Thanksgiving and I was turning my head away from every Christmas sight and sound that was out there because it was simply too early for the next season to be paraded out before me so soon.  What a difference a day makes!  Yesterday I put up the new Nativity cut-out in the front window and set the App Lights to the multicolored Christmas theme.  Voila!  Just like that I was ready for Christmas!

I started out the day around 9 AM when I got up, started the coffee, and checked my e-mail until the first cup as ready.  After a few more cups, and yes, it’s the fully caffeinated variety, and an hour or so of surfing the web and checking through Facebook, I was ready for what I call a long winter’s nap though a little shorter than the one that’s enjoyed by the speaker in “A Visit from St. Nick”, aka, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and his Mama.  I settled myself into the recliner disappointed that I wasn’t going out on the scooter to enjoy the relatively warm day, but I was THAT tired.  Two hours later, refreshed and eager not to waste the afternoon away, I layered up, hopped on the scooter, and took off!

I had to pause in the very center of Plains, Pennsylvania, about 1.3 miles from where I hang my helmet to get this picture of their Christmas lights strung over the main intersection in their downtown area.  When I was a kid they were full sized light bulbs in a variety of festive colors up there with the red bell in the center.  They appear to be LED lights now, but just as delightful and wonderfully traditional in their simplicity as the big bulbs were a generation ago.  Seeing them fills me with a childlike glee and every time I’ll pass by there until the Christmas sesaon will be put to bed I’ll grin like a schoolboy who’s waiting for Santa and counting the days till his arrival.

I pulled over as often as there was nobody behind me and I spied some early Christmas decorations.  Although I didn’t find many yet, I did find a few to share.  I was thrilled to be out on the Piaggio after having lain in the recliner choosing to nap instead of going out earlier.  I really didn’t think I was going to feel like getting dressed and going out when I laid down with Google Home streaming some soft Christmas music.

After getting home and getting supper together I was ready to finish watching whatever Christmas movie was playing on the Hallmark Channel as I filled my belly.  I can usually jump into a mostly spent show or movie and enjoy it till the end even though I have no idea what the first half or better was about.  And so it was while I made some Italian wedding soup, stuffing, green bean casserole, and a turkey sandwich disappear that I saw the inevitable “they kiss and fall in love” ending that I was expecting.

Since last night the Hallmark Channel displayed a countdown in the lower left hand corner of the screen for some Christmas Train movie they’ll be airing this evening.  I find that practice of wasting screen space during a show with obnoxious advertising to be quite detestable, and after a full 24 hours, maybe more of it, that damned train better be raising people from the dead or something for how they’re touting it.

When I finished with supper and added my dishes and things to the dishwasher I brewed yet another cup of coffee to take to the deck while I’d contemplate what I might write here.  I do like the look of my new eyeglasses and I’m still getting used to seeing them on me.  I fancy myself to look a little like Tom Selleck in “Blue Bloods” but that’s probably more wishful thinking than anything else.  Well, here I am at the end and ready to mark some time till that train movie comes on.  I’m not caving into their advertising; I just happen to like trains.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Stay tuned for more Christmas decoration pics in the days ahead.  The nice days at least.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017

Thanksgiving is usually a great day around here with family and a magnificent turkey and all the trimmings, but I find it difficult to consider a single day set aside for giving thanks.  I’m quite a grateful person, offering thanks regularly not only to the Almighty but to everybody who makes a day brighter for me from a pleasant clerk at some store to those who are closest to me.  I found the need to offer thanks just this morning when I bit into a cookie at my sister’s and then ran to where she’d gotten the box of them so I could get myself five boxes.  Thanks all around to the folks who baked ‘em and boxed ‘em.  To the shippers, the stock boys, the clerk.  To my sister for having gotten them in the first place.  To the Lord for providing such delicacies by inspiring the bakers and creating the ingredients that make them possible.

Though that might’ve sounded a bit flippant it’s not meant to be.  I’ve always been in the habit of giving thanks.  Even if I drop a piece of bread and it lands butter side up I find myself exclaiming, “Thank you, God,” like the kid in Animal House who had a Playboy bunny come flying through the window to land on his bed.  (That kid is now a grown man and a pastor!  You can read about him here.)  Expressing thanks is just something I’ve always done and probably because of my maternal grandfather who taught me most of my earliest lessons in the Faith and about being a good person or at least trying to be.

I find that being thankful highlights the good in life because it makes me conscious of how blessed I am rather than going through life just expecting everything to work out the way I want it to and considering myself as simply being lucky when it does.  As I approach my sixtieth year of life I even find myself grateful for each day when I say my evening prayers and express thanks for my having had another day of life to enjoy.  When I was younger I used to wonder about old people, if they ever think about their lives being mostly spent.  Now that I’m “old” myself I know that yes, the limit of our mortality is something we sometimes think about.  I don’t have a bucket list.  I can’t think of anything at all that I’ll wish I had done when I’m lying on my death bed.  My best fantasies about adulthood have all come true.  Everything I ever really hoped to have I do, and I’m grateful to be content and mostly happy most of the time.

I suppose if I could make a heartfelt and fervent wish for everybody in my life it would be simply that – for each person to be content.  Happiness is nice when it’s around, but it’s fleeting.  Contentment is long lasting and while there might be a grey cloud over it some days because of circumstances that don’t warrant happiness in the moment, the overall contentment with life makes even those times better than they’d be if one only dwelt on the immediacy of the right here and right now.

 Getting around on a scooter was never something I wished
for nor dreamed of as a child.  It’s a decided bonus!

So, after all, I suppose it is that for which I am most grateful – contentment.  Knowing that there’s nothing out there that I need in order for me to be thankful.  In terms of the things that, as a child, I wanted for my adult self to have, I’m as rich as any king, and grateful beyond measure to have them.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and my
wish for your own contentment!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Gruel for Breakfast

I’m fairly certain that a spoonful of oatmeal hadn’t passed through my lips between the mid 1970s and September of 2015 when it was served to me in the hospital.  I gave up eating breakfast in the latter part of my high school years when I started showering daily, and washing and blow drying my hair each morning to try to attract the attention of a certain Judy K., a gorgeous strutter in the marching unit.  Skipping breakfast allowed me to add the hygiene ritual to the start of my school days without sacrificing any precious minutes of sleep.  I volunteered to switch from playing the baritone horn to the Sousaphone to try to catch Judy’s eye too.  Guess how well that worked out for me.  Suffice it to say I was the cleanest tubist in the band.  Well, maybe.  I’m not sure how often Denise, the other tubist, bathed, but she and I are Facebook friends these days.  I have no idea what became of Judy.

Anyway, since the hospital stay in 2015 oatmeal has been on the shelf and occasionally eaten, especially during the colder months.  I just started having it again because of the change in the weather in the past few weeks and it was my choice this morning before I even thought about taking the scooter out with the temperatures still only in the high 30s.  I prepared my bowlful and brought it into the living room to have with whatever cop show happened to be on the TV.


 As I often do before digging into a meal, I paused before slurping up the first spoonful to snap a picture of the stuff.  It was then as I stared down at the brown mush with the camera poised that my odd brain, noted for popping up strange thoughts quite regularly, cranked out the phrase, “A bowl of gruel.”  Only then did I realize, even after having read my share of Dickens in my time, that I had no idea of what gruel actually was so I called out to Google Home, “Hey, Google, what’s gruel?”  Admittedly I was surprised to discover that my bowl of oatmeal was indeed a type of the glop of which the bold Master Twist requested more.  I felt complete for the day having just learned a new and interesting fact; everything else I’d enjoy after that would be a decided bonus!

My bowl rinsed out, my taste buds happy, my brain feeling smarter, and my belly full enough, I layered up for a scooter ride that I wasn’t totally sure I wanted to take with the sun still hiding behind some obstinate clouds and a brisk wind blowing the Penguins flag and turning the pinwheel on the deck at a decent speed.  My ensemble complete with a tee shirt, flannel shirt, hooded sweatshirt, and nylon jacket I ventured out.  Before I’d reached the street I knew I was going to be happy with my decision to take the scooter out even if I wasn’t going to be toasty warm.


 I stopped at the garage to arrange for a grease and oil change for the car, rode to the bank to get some money out for the weekend, and then to the bakery where I knew the trays of what I call “Friday pizza” would be calling to me.  The bakery only makes its fabulous pizza on Fridays and more often than not it’s my choice for a Friday lunch.  (I might have noted my love of the stuff here before.  Maybe more than once.)  I selected four fat slices of their Sicilian, over a pound of it by the kitchen scale as I'd discover later, and headed home satisfied with my ride and glad that I’d taken it in spite of my initial reservations.  It was just a nice length to satisfy my desire to do some riding but without chilling me to the bone.

 I suppose that’s all I was planning to write here which is good because Jeopardy will be coming on in just a little while and I need to make my nest on the couch with pillows and a plush fleece blanket and park myself so a cat or two can climb atop me for the evening.  I know winter will be here way too soon, but until it comes I’m planning to enjoy the autumn as much as I can, chilly scooter rides included!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Shrimp for Lunch

I abhor change!  I abhor change unless there’s some form of significant and guaranteed pleasure to be gained at minimal cost, and cost here doesn’t necessarily mean some monetary amount.

For over 40 years I’d worn aviator style eyeglasses with their large lenses set in metal frames.  When I saw the upper part of my face in a mirror, that was how it was supposed to look with the large expanse of vision correcting hardware covering it.  As I picked up my glasses from the nightstand a few weeks ago I heard a small “Ping!” and the left temple piece came off in my hand.  It was the second time that had happened to me with that style of frame; the tiny spring inside the piece that was supposed to allow the temple pieces to bend outward to a small degree had snapped, rendering the entire frame useless.

Because I was leaving town for the better part of a week the day after the frame broke I did my best to make the glasses functional by using some malleable wire and solder.  It worked, but it wasn’t very pretty, so as soon as I got back home I visited the optical department of my optometrist’s office and $500 and a week later I had proper functioning glasses again but with a huge difference.

“Burn me once shame on you.  Burn me twice shame on me,” as the old saying goes.  There was no way that I was going to get the same style of frame that broke the very same way twice.  And so, the big change!  I opted for a plastic frame rather than metal, and I shopped for a frame with temple pieces of a significantly different design that the ones that crapped out on me.  My first noteworthy eyeglass style change in over half my life!  I think the new style makes me look more distinguished as I approach turning 60 in a few months.  Then again, it might just be wishful thinking, but I do like the “new me.”

 I took my first scooter ride with the new glasses this morning on a forced ride.  I say forced because when I got up and saw the gloom outside and the forecast for the day, scootering wasn’t anything that immediately came to mind.  I took the car to the morning Mass and it wasn’t until I was back home and thinking about what I’d do with the rest of the day that taking the Piaggio out was even a consideration.  I checked the hour by hour forecast at that point and with the rain still a few hours away and the temperatures in the mid 40s and decided that it was now or never so I bundled up and off I went, as usual with no real destination in mind.

I was nearly downtown when I felt the first little shimmy that whispered to me that something wasn’t quite right with the bike.  I looked over the front when I came to a red light to see that the front tire which had experienced a bit of a chronic deflating problem a while back was perfectly fine.  I glanced to the rear, but couldn’t manage to get an eyeball on the rear tire.  I rode a little more, and again I felt an occasional bit of wobble.  When I was able I pulled to a curb that wasn’t beside a gutter full of wet leaves, dismounted, and to my horror saw that my rear tire was halfway to being a pancake.  If you could have seen my brain at that point as I thought long and hard about which gas stations near me had air pumps, it might have appeared as though it were going to begin running a marathon at the sound of a starter’s pistol.

The closest place I could think of was at least a half a mile away and around a number of turns that I’d have to make to get myself there.  I rode slowly and other motorists seeing me taking the turns at a snail’s pace so I wouldn’t have to do a normal lean might have thought it was my first day on two wheels.  I managed to get where I planned to fill the tire without incident and a dollar’s worth of quarters later I was back on my way to nowhere in particular.  The tire held the air as I rode around for close to an hour, but I’ll have to keep an eye on it now.

I ended up on Main St. in Edwardsville, PA, wanting to get a picture of what had been a fabulous seafood restaurant for much of my life and where my favorite uncle and I got clams to steam on Friday nights when I was in junior high and high school.  I hadn’t been near there in years and I knew that Vic-Mar’s had gone out of business, but didn’t know what became of the building. 

It’s a pizza joint now, but in pausing to get the picture I got hungry for seafood, so off to Price Chopper I went.  I thought about getting clams for lunch, but I wasn’t in the mood to deal with the mess of steaming them and then getting rid of the shells, so I decided that I’d get some shrimp, or perhaps a nice looking hunk of salmon or any other of the usual variety of meaty fishes that might’ve caught my eye and taste buds once I got to the back of the store.  When I saw the $8.99 sign on the one pound bag of shrimps that were the size that a person of my means only sees at a high end party of some kind the decision was no contest.  On the way home the thought occurred to me that I might very well have been the only person in the world at that point in time who was riding a scooter with a pound of huge shrimp hiding out under his saddle.

 I rode on, just for the sake of riding and ended up at a nearby playground where I like to get a picture or two of the colorful gazebo whenever I visit.  During my teaching years, I often went there at the beginning of a summer vacation to get a few pictures of myself smiling at the prospect of having a bunch of free weeks ahead of me, and then again in the late summer to photograph myself with my smile then faded and resigned to having to go back to another year behind the big desk.  

 It disturbs me sometimes to realize that in spite of having loved my job for most of my career, I don’t miss teaching at all.  I read a bumper sticker years ago:  A bad day of fishing is still better than a good day at work.  Although I’ve never gone fishing, I understood the sentiment perfectly, and now that I’m retired it resonates in me loudly and clearly when I wake up every single morning from September through June and realize all over again that I DON’T HAVE TO GO TO SCHOOL!  Every morning becomes a small celebration of that wonderful fact whether it’s going to be a good day for riding or not because it’s sure as hell going to be a good day for something!

Like just standing in a colorful gazebo enjoying November.

 Like visiting the farmer’s market downtown.

Like remembering fondly the best parts of childhood.

Like casting long shadows and not having to worry about being home before dark.

Like stopping to make pictures out of anything and everything I see.

But especially like having jumbo shrimp for lunch on a random Thursday!

Life is Good!