Off to see Uncle Bill (make sure you read the last paragraph)

I have heard it said that, “time heals all wounds,” crosses all streams and hopefully gives us wisdom. I like to think that I am not the exception to this idea. I have many faults which I partly attribute to my less than stellar childhood and the rest to genetics. Now that I am older, healed to some degree, a little wiser and having crossed many streams, I find myself wanting to make contact with many of the people I have known in the past, especially family members.
One of these people is my dad’s brother, Uncle Bill. Since I had very little interaction with my own dad, I see my uncle as a surrogate father. Since he has many of the mannerisms of my father and even looks similar, it is an easy transition for me to make. I can also talk with him, which is something I never did with my own dad.
So…I called my uncle and told him that my wife and I were coming to visit. After all, he did invite us. He lives in the Pocono’s, a mountainous region of northeast Pennsylvania. It was a long drive up route 81 for more than 4 hours. We arrived with the help of my GPS, hugged, said our hellos and walked to the lake which is 30 feet from Uncle Billy’s front door. Lake Henry and is a beautiful man-made lake with crystal clear water. Uncle Bill said that in the “old days” they carved large chunks of ice from the lake and shipped them to the town for refrigeration. Now, it is just a sleepy lake with summer homes lining the shores and covered wave-runners adorning the yards. Uncle Bill headed for the dock and motioned for us to follow…for a tour of the lake on his pontoon boat.

Lake Henrey

We returned to the house, had dinner, chatted for several hours and then went to bed. It was a cold night in the Pennsylvania mountains so we used every available blanket to stay warm. The next day we left for Scranton to see the town. Scranton is an old, hard-coal (also called anthracite) town that sits in a valley on top a partially abandoned coal mine. Like many towns in Pennsylvania it has large areas of scarred land, it’s fair share of fast food places and small, coal-related industry. Uncle Bill mentioned that there was a guided tour down into the coal mine. I immediately said, “Let’s go,” so we took of to the coal mine. We found the entrance to the attraction, bought our tickets and waited for the tour. This was not a Disney attraction!

The train to the center of the earth
The hole to the center of the earth

We went down a slanted shaft on a real coal car, with hard metal seats and very little to hold on to. We were supported by a single metal cable which lowered us down the 250 feet below the surface into the bowels of the earth. It quickly became dark and the air heavy as we descended deeper and deeper. When we reached the bottom, we left the train and began a walking tour through the mine. There is only one way to experience this, and that is to be there. I know no words to describe the eerie feelings that attack the senses so deep in the ground. One of the greatest things about this particular tour was the guide. He was an ex-coalminer who used his experience to help us experience what it was like to be a coal miner decades ago. After the tour we boarded our rickety coal train and sat quietly as the cable groaned and creaked pulling us out of the mine. The sunlight was a welcome sight, if only a small dot in the distance. Slowly we reached the top and climbed from the tiny cars. If you are ever in Scranton, DO THE COAL MINE TOUR!
We returned to Uncle Bill’s where we had a great dinner of his stuffed peppers and afterwards sat outside until the air became cold when we all called it a night. Next day we said our good-bye, packed up and returned home.
It is important, I believe, to reach out to touch the important people in your lives. With the frenetic state of everyday life and a constant hum in the back of our minds it is easy to forget what is important. As I have said before, life is about the people in our lives, not buildings, jobs or fast cars. As AT&T once said, “Reach out and touch someone.” That might not be appropriate in today’s world, but you know what I mean.


The Bike Ride


Yesterday the sun came out, the rain stopped, and nature presented me with one last warm day to ride my bike. My friend and I met at McKee Hollow Road and mounted our bikes and headed out for a quick 14 mile ride. The air was warm, the trees were showing off their blazing colors and the sun was beating down on us with its awesome power. We quickly got up to speed, pedals spinning, air rushing by as the quiet sound of a finely tuned bike joined the symphony of sounds nature creates on a day like this. The birds were adding their part such that I felt as if they were saying, the cold winds are coming. As we passed over a stream, with the water gently making its way over the rocks, it sparkled in the sun adding to the splendor of the moment. For the first part of the trip we moved more slowly as we made our way up a slight grade. When we arrived at our turn-around point at the top of a small hill, we took some time enjoying the beauty of the day.
We began our journey back moving slowly at first and gradually picking up speed until we were flying down the road at better than 25 miles per hour. The wind, the biker’s biggest foe, was putting up a fight, but it was no match for us today. We pushed on, with little regard to the complaining coming from our legs, enjoying the thrill of flying down the roads through nature’s glory, while making hardly a noise. After what seemed a short time, we arrived at our cars, sad that the ride was ended, chatted for a while and left for home, both knowing that days like this are far and so few between.

I thought the Obama Administration banned torture

It is easy to dismiss these two ordinary looking people as just everyday hometown folks. Little does the general public know to what extent they will go to inflict pain on unsuspecting individuals. I will use their undercover names to protect the guilty…Jerry The Spoke (known to some as MR Buff) and Hali The Hammer.

weight lifting
On Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 6:15am when the sun has not yet made its way above the horizon, I am drawn to the Wellness center for reasons I cannot identify, to be tortured, twisted and bent in ways I did not believe were possible… by The Spoke. Believe it or not I am not the only one there. There are at least 7 others whose names I will not divulge for obvious reasons.
During these grueling sessions The Spoke will call out, “Does that feel good?” or “Now, that’s a real good pain!” or “That’s the kind of burn I like!” The Spoke has no concept of time or the number system. He will say things like, “Give me 10 more seconds” and go on for 2 minutes, all the time calling out, “Now that feels good!” and other half crazed comments. When he counts down he will say 10, 9, 8, 9, 8, 10, 7 … with no apparent rhyme or reason to his system. About the time you are ready to lay down and die he says, “Give me ten more”. Ten more what? I do not even know what ten is anymore thanks to The Spokes counting system. I am approaching the vegetable state.
Even more deceptive is his shorter cohort, Hali The Hammer. With calves the size of Arnold Swartzenager,
she will take you through a full hour of “Peddle faster, stand up, sit down, turn up the tension, turn down the tension.” I may start calling her Sister Hali…from my old days in Catholic school…or maybe Sergeant Pain.
I think I am being trained for some covert mission…sort of like a sleeper cell or something. I know that I have been brainwashed by some secret method. Maybe it’s through the TV at the Wellness center or it is something they put in the air system. Oh Know, I just realized, I drank the water. Why else would I get up at 5:30 am and go work out?
Anyway, I think it is my civic duty to warn people of these suspicious people living in our midst. If you go to the Wellness center wear a mask over your mouth and do not watch the TV! Oh yeah, don’t drink the water!

weight lift 2

How I am going to get rich

camel with santa

*I am going to find a plant that when you chew it, it makes you
sick, but strangely enough makes you want to chew it again.
*As more and more people use it, I will gradually pick the plants
that make you want to chew it more.

camel women
*Then I will create the novel idea of rolling it in paper and inhaling
the fumes for a calming sensation…after you get over being sick.
*All the while I will continue to keep the plants that have the
biggest punch so that more and more people have to use it.
*Once I have the older people convinced of its merit I will
convince the children that it makes them look grown up.
*I will advertise on billboards, radio and TV how great this stuff is.
*Through advertising I will convince the men that the women are
more attractive when using my product and of course the other
way around.

camel with man

*I will make sure that all the cool people on TV are seen using my product

*I will give it freely to the solders that go off to war so that they may calm their nerves while protecting our country. I will quit giving it away when I started making lots of money.

*I will find doctors who are willing to say in public that this stuff is not bad  for  you.
*I will find lawyers who will sue any one who says different.
*When I have lots of money I will help the politicians who
agree with me get elected and pass laws to subsidize the
farmers who grow it.
*Then I will just sit back and let the money roll in.

I just need a catchy name…

Do you think it will work?

camel women in water

Not worth a dime

The decline of the dollar
The decline of the dollar

Remember that old saying: “That thing-a-ma-gig is not worth a dime?” Guess what is not worth a dime today…the dollar! It is worth somewhere between .04 and .06 cents in 1920 money rates. That means that what cost you $1 today cost less than a dime 90 years ago. Everybody is jumping up and down about the price of gold and oil. Their price is not going up; the purchasing price of the dollar is going down. This is not a Republican or Democrat mess up. It is the fact that Federal Reserve can print money most any time it wants.
When I began teaching in West Virginia in 1975, my salary was less than $8,000 per year. When I retired in 2005 I was making about $35,000 per year. If you figure out how much $8,000 dollars in 1975 converts to in 2005 dollars, it comes out to about $30,000. That means my salary went up $5,000 in 30 years of teaching. Now, that is really climbing the socio-economic ladder!
Let me explain it another way. If a company is worth 1 million dollars and sells one million shares of stock, each stock share is worth $1. If the company decides to double the number of stocks, the value of the stocks is reduced by one half to $.50, and so on and so on.
Now don’t get your panties in a twist! This financial philosophy has allowed us to live “high on the hog” for a long time. Even though we have not gotten any richer, we keep getting more dollars to spend. This makes us feel better, but in reality we are losing our spending power. We are becoming a third-world country which will allow our labor to compete in the world market. You have got to give the guys in charge, whoever they are, credit for such a masterful way of making us feel good about ourselves. The problem is this: the proverbial story of the lemmings heading for the cliff and jumping off as if they could fly.
The government had to print a lot of money to loan the crooked banks so that they would not take our homes, but the question now is, can the government take some of that money off the table. If they do, the dollar would stop losing its value and inflation would not become rampant.
Here is a link where you can calculate money worth based on inflation.

Unacceptable behavior

I had a good friend pass away a number of years ago who often said, “We need a war to get this country back on track.” I have never been an advocate of war and neither was he, but he explained that sometimes people show their better side in the shadow of adversity, much like we pulled together after 9/11. I mention this in light of the recent mania that took place when our country lost its bid for the 2016 Olympics. OUR president, despite an incredibly busy schedule, traveled to the site of the Olympic selection to put in a plug for the good old United States. You know the place, it is where we all live together under one flag and a great constitution. As you are aware, we were not awarded the Olympic games for 2016. Apparently many people in this country were caught on tape cheering because WE lost the Olympic bid. I am having a hard time understanding this behavior. How could it possibly be good for our country to lose a bid for an Olympic event regardless of who is president?
History has taught us that most civilizations decay from the inside out. A good analogy would be a football team. If the players spend all their time arguing and putting down their teammates, chances are they will not have a winning season. In most cases this kind of descent comes from a small portion of the team and spreads to the rest through lies and misrepresentation. Needless to say, there is little good that emanates from this type of behavior. Our country is a team in serious discourse. We need to pull together and realize that we are on the same team with many shared goals like the education of our children, nuclear disarmament, health care reform and staving off environmental disaster.
I understand that many people are unhappy that we elected Obama President. I understand that there are some Americans who are frightened by the fact he is African-American. I understand that some Americans are certain that President Obama is not a good person or even more bizarrely, that he was not born on American soil. I wish there was a way we could trust the government enough to believe that all these scenarios are totally untrue and without validity. I wish there was a way to come together as a country before our season is over.

40th Reunion at DuVal High

After 40 years I decided to attend my high school reunion. That seems like a long time to me and it probably seems like a long time to most of the people I know. The stars had never lined up close enough for me to attend and I never had a real desire. As I have said, Life is a series of twists, turns, roadblocks and general chaos as we make our way with our eyes partially closed to someplace in the future. Currently I am making my 60th trip around the sun and I think the realization of that has tempered my perceptions.
I attended a large high school with over 800 students in my class alone. This number of people allows for many academic opportunities but lacked severely in the most important part of growing up, community. Bill Gates has said that no school should be larger than 500 students, and I agree. My school had more than 3000 souls.
After graduating from college I left the city and headed for the hills of West Virginia, not because it was my Mecca but because it was somewhere else. I had decided that I wanted a simpler life with smaller schools where a wife and I could raise a family. When Hampshire County begrudgingly offered a job to this long-haired hippie (at the time) they gave me two choices: Capon Bridge Jr. High with a student body of 200 or Romney Jr. High with over 500 students. My decision was simple, Capon Bridge. As I look back I think my decision was a reaction to the lack of community I experienced at my high school. At the reunion I drifted around talking to the many people I remember and exchanged stories of the crazy things that always happen in high school but I kept going back to those great years at Capon Bridge. With 200 hundred students in the entire school we were more of a community for many reasons, one of which was, not too much happened that did not become news. At my high school we were more like a small college, moving from class to class, not knowing most of the people we saw everyday in the halls.
Please do not misunderstand me. I had a great time at my reunion and I talked to many old friends I had not seen in over 40 years. All in all, it was an incredible experience. I also saw so many faces that I did not know, that I had never gotten the chance to know. This made me a little sad because I am sure many of them are great people.
This whole event took place because a few people were able to devote the many hundreds of hours needed to plan and implement an occasion of this magnitude. Special thanks go out to Dee Barringer and Charlie Arnold who spearheaded the committee. It would be hard to calculate the amount of energy and devotion they brought this occasion.