Monday, July 30, 2012

On the Road: Prince Edward Island

My Sister and her family live in southern California, pretty darn far from our house in northwest Vermont.  As such, we don't see them very often.  Last fall, we hatched a plan to gather in Prince Edward Island.  My Sister has been a big fan of the Anne of Green Gables series since childhood and has wanted to visit the books' idyllic setting for many years.

It's a long drive to PEI from here but a spectacular one, taking us through New Hampshire, Maine and New Brunswick en route.  I'm always excited to explore a new place.  Not only did we get to add two new Canadian provinces to the life list but this was also our first time in the Atlantic Time Zone.

Like seemingly all of Canada, Prince Edward Island is beautiful.  However, the island has a very different feel from the rest of the country, mainly due to its diminutive size.  Canadian provinces are enormous, except for this dinky one.  Driving through New Brunswick, one could look to the north and imagine dense forest extending all the way to Quebec and beyond.  On PEI, you can travel from one side of the province to the other in under an hour.  I would guess that a far greater portion of PEI is cultivated land than in other provinces as well.  None of this detracts from the island's charm, of course.

We did the Anne stuff on the first day.  Going to the House of Green Gables with My Sister was a lot like going to the midnight opening of The Avengers with Mock.  It is such a privilege to ride shotgun for someone's personal pilgrimage.  The house itself is part of the Prince Edward Island National Park, though one pays a separate fee to gain entrance.  The house is almost exactly what one would expect - maybe a bit smaller.  The site of Anne author Lucy Maud Montgomery's Cavendish Home is just a short walk away.  Both sites have gift shops, the H of GG one a bit kitschier.  We managed to find treasures in both.

Living in a landlocked state, I believe strongly in making an annual family visit to the ocean.  Beyond the obvious appeal of beaches, I love the multi-sensory experience of a seafaring community.  We took full advantage of the ocean's plentiful bounty.  In addition to some decent meals out, we (mostly My Wife and My Brother-in-law, that is) cooked our own mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops and - oh, yes - lobsters.

We spent two days at the beach, both at PEI National Park.  We visited the very popular Cavendish Beach on Thursday.  It was relatively quiet when we arrived late morning but filled up quickly by midday.  On Friday, it was the more serene Brackley Beach.  We didn't spend as much time in the water the second day but did have a very gratifying walk along the shore.

Most important, of course, was the time with family.  Our Girl, especially, thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to play with her cousins.  The house afforded them ample room to romp.  Our Nephew is just a month younger than she whereas Our Niece is three years younger.  Our Girl was very sad to leave.  We've tried to ease the blow by selling her on the value of pen pals.

I'd definitely recommend PEI as a family vacation destination.  I'd be up for further Maritime adventures as well.  Nova Scotia would be my choice for our next visit. 

Links and Recommendations


Carr's Oyster Bar (Stanley Bridge) - We had our first meal on the island at Carr's which, of course, has a lot more than oysters on the menu.  Carr's also has a fish market nearby.

Dorion's (North Rustico) - We preferred this fish market to Carr's as they had live lobsters.  It's also right on the wharf.  Everything's very fresh.

Cedar's Eatery (Charlottetown) - To make up for our disappointment in Montreal, My Wife found a Lebanese restaurant in Charlottetown, PEI's provincial capital and largest city.  She was underwhelmed but I enjoyed my lunch a great deal. 


Riverside Resort & Conference Centre (Fredericton, New Brunswick) - a charming inn with a spectacular view of the Saint John River.

King's Landing (North Granville, PEI) - We were very happy with our rental, a fine choice for adults and kids alike.  The view of (we think) the Stanley River is wonderful.

Comic Book Stores (Of course, I did!)

The Comic Hunter (Charlottetown) - A well-lit, ground level establishment with a very helpful staff.  In addition to comics, they have lots of Doctor Who paraphernalia which made my ladies happy.

Lightning Bolt Comics (Charlottetown) - A grungier basement shop.  The proprietor has a Godzilla figure decked out in full Anne of Green Gables gear, complete with hat and red braids.  Both stores are in a Charlottetown neighborhood chock full of book stores, well worth a wander for any avid reader.

More Photos


New Brunswick:


My Baseball Fantasy: Morse Again

Private League: won, 6-4 (77-81-2 overall, 7th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: lost, 0-8-2 (76-69-15, 7th out of 12)
My Player of the Week: Michael Morse (First Baseman/Left Fielder, Nationals) with 3 home runs, 9 RBI, 5 runs and a .321 batting average

Photo via MASN

On the Coffee Table: L.M. Montgomery

Title: Anne of Avonlea
Author: L.M. Montgomery

Image via Stuck in a Book

I read the first Anne book as part of my 12 Books in 12 Months project, begun last summer.  I was thoroughly charmed by Montgomery's precocious redhead and Anne has played a very interesting role in my year since.  I just finished the second book of the series this past week while we were on vacation in Prince Edward Island (more details to follow in a future post).  I can't deny that it was particularly meaningful to read the story in its own beautiful setting.  One fully appreciates the glistening landscape of summer in the Maritimes as it was so exquisitely described by Montgomery. 

For those unfamiliar with the story, Anne of Green Gables leaves off as our heroine is about to take on her first teaching job at the Avonlea School at the age of (gulp!) 16.  Anne of Avonlea covers the next two years.  Many new friends are introduced: the new neighbor, Mr. Harrison, and his vulgar-tongued parrot; Anne's prized pupil, Paul Irving; the endearing Miss Lavender and her quirky maid Charlotta the Fourth among others.  

As I wrote regarding the first book, Anne Shirley reminds me of a lot of women I've known in my life - many of them huge fans of these books.  As such, I feel that getting to know her helps me to better understand my own life.  She is an unusual female character for the early 20th century, celebrated for her wit, eloquence and imagination.  Montgomery was careful, though, not to make her perfect.  She suffers from insecurities like any of us.

Full disclosure: My Wife tried Anne of Avonlea as a read aloud with Our Girl not long ago and couldn't even finish it.  The first book had been a big success for both of them so it was worth trying the sequel.  I guess it was a bit too precious for My Wife's tastes.  While I can understand that sentiment, it didn't bother me as much.  I must admit, though, that I'd love to see a Saturday Night Live interpretation of Anne Shirley - what her friends really thought of her.  Not surprisingly, My Sister didn't like that idea.

I am certainly up for more.  I picked up a copy of the next volume, Anne of the Island, at the Green Gables gift shop on PEI.  It was a great trip.  I promise to share more details soon.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Orioles 2012: Top of the 6th

The Orioles' most recent stretch has been a pretty good one: 6-3 over the last nine, including a five-game win streak.  Perhaps most encouraging is that their starting pitchers have been very sharp, turning in quality starts for eight of those nine contests.  Lefty Zach Britton is finally back in the rotation after struggling with shoulder issues to begin the season.  Britton has, in his short career, shown flashes of brilliance but has struggled with consistency from one game to the next.  He made his second start of 2012 on July 22nd against the Indians, pitching six scoreless innings to get the win. 

Photo via Baltimore Sports Report

The art of loving a bad team is in holding out hope for a brighter tomorrow.  But what kind of future should we wish for, one year of championship glory or perennial contention?  My own choice would always be the latter and the Birds are showing genuine promise this season.  The team is good enough that when all cylinders are firing, they win.  They are young enough that one can envision incremental improvement from year to year.  There are even a few blue-chip prospects in the pipeline who could eventually prove vital pieces of a formidable big league team. 

All of which makes the more cautious fan nervous as the trade deadline approaches.  Baltimore is currently 7.5 games behind the Yankees so even with more than two months left, a division title is probably out of reach.  Instead, my gang is one of several teams in a dog fight for the two American League wild card slots.  How much of the future would they be willing to bet on a shot at a one-game playoff against, for instance, Justin Verlander?   The Orioles currently boast two of the top ten minor league prospects in baseball.  Shortstop Manny Machado could be ready to move into the parent club infield as early as next year.  Righty Dylan Bundy is projected to be a future staff ace.  Would losing either be worth renting Zack Greinke's services for two months?

Monday, July 23, 2012

My Baseball Fantasy: Michael Morse

Private League: won, 9-1 (71-77-2 overall, 7th place out of 10 teams)
Public League: lost, 1-6-3 (76-61-13, 5th out of 12)
My Player of the Week (really the past two weeks): Michael Morse (first baseman/left fielder, Nationals) with 1 home run, 7 RBI, 6 runs and a .333 batting average

Photo via The Roanoke Times

Morse's nickname is The Beast.  I'd been stuck in 8th place in the private league for a long time.  It's nice to finally be moving up.  My public league team is heading in the opposite direction but I'm choosing not to panic - yet.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Little Vampire

Title: Little Vampire, Volume 1
Writer and Artist: Joann Sfar

Image via

Yet another successful purchase from Drawn & Quarterly over the weekend, Sfar's Little Vampire holds cross-generational appeal.  The title character is eager to go to school, only to be disappointed to find it abandoned at night, his own waking hours.  He begins a correspondence with Michael, the boy who shares his desk during the day.  Their friendship becomes the basis for the series.  Rarely have the undead been so adorable. 

First published in French under the name Petit Vampire, Sfar's work again asserts the broad-based appeal of the comics medium outside the English-speaking world.  It occurs to me that this phenomenon can't be unrelated to the more sophisticated animated films one regularly sees coming out of both France and Japan.  The message is clear: cartoons are not just for children.  While animation holds obvious appeal for younger viewers, that's no excuse for dumbing down the narrative to the point where stories are formulaic at best or unwatchable by adults at worst. 

Graphic novels at their best provide yet another opportunity to share our love of books with children.  I'm eager to find similar books that all three of us can enjoy. 

Orioles 2012: Bottom of the 5th

Jim Thome is a sure fire, first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the most under-appreciated power hitters in Major League history.  Have 600+ home runs ever been hit so quietly?  At 41, he is still plenty good enough to make solid offensive contributions every night.  I have nothing but the highest respect for him as an athlete. 

Photo via Baseball Nation

And yet, I wonder at the wisdom of my Orioles trading away a couple of prospects for him a couple weeks back. At the time, the Birds were clinging desperately to a playoff position and I can understand wanting to beef up a lineup overrun with injuries.  But is this really the best way for a team on the rise to spend its resources? His .364 on-base percentage since joining the team is respectable, though the .297 slugging percentage is not exactly up to his usual lofty standards.  Unquantifiable, of course, is his value as a clubhouse presence.  It certainly can't hurt to have a player of his caliber and experience around to set an example for the Birds' talented, though still frightfully young team.

Meanwhile, Baltimore's playoff prospects seem to be slipping away.  The downward spiral continues as the O's have only won two of the past nine games.  In that stretch, they have struggled against contenders (Angels, Tigers) and doormats (Twins) alike.  One hopes that they can at least pull things together in time to salvage their first winning season since the Clinton administration. 

Photo via Lansing State Journal

One of the best stories of the past week for the Orioles was the extra-inning heroics of Taylor Teagarden on July 14th.  Called up as a backup catcher from the minors, Teagarden made his first appearance as a defensive sub after Matt Wieters was pulled for a pinch runner in the tenth against the Tigers.  The game carried on to the 13th when, in just his second Major League at-bat of the season, Teagarden hit a walk-off, 2-run homer.  Unfortunately, he's had no hits in his three at-bats since. 

Photo via WWMX-FM

On July 7th, Joe Mahoney had his Major League debut, starting at first base against the Angels.  He went 0-for-3 and was sent back to the minors soon afterwards.  He was the organizations' minor league player of the year in 2010.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Berlin

Title: Berlin, Book One: City of Stones
Writer and Artist: Jason Lutes

Image via Wikipedia

The readers of historical fiction have a distinct advantage over the characters: we know what's going to happen next.  Berlin in the late 1920s is a vital period in world history.  The socio-political drama being played out on the streets of that extraordinary city would have serious consequences for Germany, Europe and the world at large over the following two decades.  But the characters in Jason Lutes's Berlin don't know that.  Like most people of any era, they're just trying to get on with their own lives and make sense of the world around them.  Such personal stories in extraordinary circumstances are, of course, what make good historical fiction so compelling.

Berlin is an ongoing comic book series, first issue published in 1996 by Black Eye Productions.  The current rights are held by Drawn and Quarterly, who also own our new favorite Montreal bookstore. Book One includes the first eight issues of the series.

This one's a keeper.  Not only will I insist that My Wife reads it but I think I might even convince my parents to give it a shot.  The cast of characters is rich and varied, their stories seemingly disparate, yet intersecting in interesting ways.  Tensions in Berlin were already mounting as the story begins in 1928, tension which we all know would only mount, not really having a meaningful release until the Wall came down 61 years later.  Book One ends on May Day 1929.  Again, we all know that the Wall Street crash a few months later will only make everything worse, worldwide.  I can't help being curious as to how all of it will impact Lutes's characters.

The artwork is entirely black-and-white.  I am finding in my comic explorations that quite a lot of the more interesting stories are.  If the book has a primary protagonist, it is Marthe, a young woman who has come to Berlin as an art student.  I was very impressed by how her art lectures, particularly one on perspective, influenced my perception of the very book I was reading - neat trick on the author's part.

Family Adventures: Montreal

My Wife's birthday was last week.  As such, the choice for how to spend Saturday was entirely hers.  Naturally, she wanted to go to Ikea.  Let it not be said that I don't love her.

I'm not sure what it is about Ikea that is so painful for me.  I'm not a big fan of shopping for anything and furniture shopping is among the most tedious - plus it generally involves heavy lifting and great disruption to our living space upon our return.  I shouldn't really complain.  In the end, we have three new chests of drawers that were, I will admit, desperately needed.  It's just the process of getting to that point that's so brutal.

Image via BRFC

For us, Ikea means a trip to Canada.  There are, of course, many potential side benefits to visiting the Montreal area and My Wife did mercifully want to make a day of it beyond my own private retail hell.  As I've no doubt made clear in previous posts, I adore Vermont.  I've lived in many places in my life and I've never been happier living anywhere than in our current house.  The Green Mountain State does, however, lack two things which I occasionally miss: big cities and sea coast.  For all of its many assets, Vermont does not have the world's most diverse population.  Most of the time, one would never suspect that one of North America's most cosmopolitan cities is just a short drive away. 

I like Montreal a lot.  It is a bilingual city full of life, offering all of the cultural attractions you could want.  Our original lunch destination was Garage Beirut, a Lebanese restaurant downtown.  Upon arrival, however, we discovered that they don't open until 5 on Saturdays.  Disappointed but undaunted, we went for a wander on Saint Catherine Street, a lively place this weekend as it was closed to all but pedestrian traffic.  Apparently we picked the right weekend to go.  It's the only time they close it off all year!


We ended up at Les 3 Brasseurs (The Three Brewers) for lunch.  It was a bit on the pricy side but with generous portions.  I had the peppy flammekueche, a sort of creamy cheesy pepperoni pizza.  My favorite aspect of the restaurant is the fact that the menu has beer pairing recommendations for most of the dishes.  The blonde was recommended for mine but I went with the amber.  The food was okay, the beer and the service very nice.

Next was a tour of bookstores.  We visited two comic stores recommended by Mock: Carsley's and 1000000 Comix, polar opposites in terms of atmosphere.  Carsley's is on the top floor of a high rise office building.  The space is well-lit, clean and easy to move around.  The staff is helpful and very professional.  1000000 Comix feels like it's in a basement, even though it's at ground level.  It's more what you'd expect a comic shop to be: a bit grungy, stuffed to the gills with merchandise and a fanboy shopkeeper.

Image via The Montreal Buzz

We had to go a bit further afield to reach Drawn & Quarterly, an independent bookstore My Wife had found with an extensive graphic novel collection.  This last shop was the find of the day.  All three of us were able to find satisfying treasures.

On the way home, we stopped at Chow Bella in St. Albans, Vermont for dinner.  Neither of us had been before but had heard good things from the locals we know.  I had the barbecue ribs - not quite what you'd expect from a fine dining establishment but they were good.  The meal was nice but again, I'd say a little overpriced.  I'm not sure I'd go out of my way for it when we've got preferable options closer to home.

We won our final regular season kickball game, 3-1.  More importantly, I felt we all played well - no errors in the field.  I seem to have found a home in right field, where Mock put me for all five innings.  I've grown to like it, my responsibilities including to cover the foul line and backup throws to first, easy enough to do since there's little point in playing a deep outfield.  I did well at the plate, too, with a single.  We finish the regular season 4-3-1, a winning record!  Playoffs are three weeks hence.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Bedtime Stories: The Fellowship of the Ring

Title: The Fellowship of the Ring
Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

Image via ANNIE HORN

After we finished The Hobbit as a read-aloud back in December, I was a little surprised, though certainly pleased, that Our Girl was eager for more Middle Earth adventures.  Nearly seven months later, we have just tonight completed the first book of Tokien's Lord of the Rings, entitled The Fellowship of the Ring.  "That's it?" she asked as I closed the book on the last page, clearly expecting a more dramatic finish.

"Well, that's it for this book."

"Can we start the next one tomorrow?"

"It's just as long as this one."


"And there's one more after that, just as long."

"Okay.  Is Gollum in the next one?"

"Oh, yes."

"Cool." So, we'll start Two Towers tomorrow night. 

There were 17 years between the publications of The Hobbit (1937) and The Fellowship of the Ring (1954).  As much as I adore the first book, there's no denying that the time in between was well-spent.  A far richer world is offered in this longer and broader story.  This was, I think, my third time through the Fellowship.  The Ringwraiths are always scary.  Tom Bombadil is good fun and I find myself asking the same questions the hobbits do: why not just leave the Ring with him?  This time, I was particularly touched by Gimli asking for the strand of hair from Lady Galadriel and his sorrowful parting from Lothlorien. 

While I would admit that The Lord of the Rings is the superior story to The Hobbit, it's far more challenging as a read-aloud.  There are sections of the earlier work which really come to life.  "Riddles in the Dark" is gorgeous and one can hardly read Gollum's lines without a creepy, dregs-of-the-mud voice.  While I did not actually sing all of the songs in Fellowship, I did my very best to slog through the Elvish.  I'll be interested to see if the reading gets easier with the next book, especially with Gollum playing a more prominent role.  We may need a flow chart going forward as there will be a lot more characters to keep track of soon.  Our Girl forgot, for instance, that Aragorn and Strider are the same person - understandable, and not the last time such confusion is likely to come up.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On the Coffee Table: Second Foundation

Title: Second Foundation
Author: Isaac Asimov

Image via Solomon Says

The original Foundation series ended with this volume, originally published in novel form in 1953.  It would be nearly thirty years before Asimov finally published a sequel.  Here are my two previous posts on the series:

On the Coffee Table: Isaac Asimov
On the Coffee Table: Foundation and Empire

While the Foundation series has provided a blue print for other futuristic empires, it's very different from the standard science fiction/fantasy fare.  It's not exactly an adventure tale.  One story often takes place a generation or more after the one before it with an entirely new cast of characters.  Highly consequential space battles are glossed over.  Instead, the plot moves forward with what are essentially conversational chess matches.  The fate of mankind is decided not so much by military exercise as through the intellectual sparring of academics and politicians. 

The pervasive theme of the narrative is the centuries-old philosophical/religious debate over free will vs. predestination.  The citizens of the Foundation are guided and, they believe, protected by the Seldon Plan put forth by their founder and patriarch as the Old Galactic Empire began to crumble.  The two stories in Second Foundation, Part I: Search by the Mule and Part II: Search by the Foundation, address the meddling of first the enigmatic Mule (a sort of Alexander the Great/Napoleon mash up) and then the mysterious, secretive Second Foundation at the other end of the Galaxy. 

The second story, in particular, gets highly technical in Asimov's invented science of psychohistory, the prediction of the future of galactic society through mathematical analysis.  It is this idea, in particular, which made the Foundation story different.  Though now, the concept that people's mass reactions are quantifiable and predictable hardly seems revolutionary at all.  Billions are spent daily in both public and private enterprise under precisely that assumption, even if it can't be managed with quite the precision of Asimov's characters (let's hope).

Asimov's greatest gift as a writer was taking complicated ideas and making them accessible to the average reader.  His highly prolific career went far beyond fiction.  Most of his 500+ books were non-fiction, many of them in science but he was not shy about taking on other subjects like history, religion and Shakespeare.  His fiction, even in its highly technical moments, manages to affect a conversational tone.  As a result, he's able to keep stories moving at a respectable pace.  Keep a dictionary handy, though.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On the Coffee Table: The Second Apostle

Title: The Drops of God, Volume 4: The Second Apostle
Writer: Tadashi Agi
Artist: Shu Okimoto

Image via Amazon

If you are new to this series, please read my previous posts first:

On the Coffee Table: The Drops of God
On the Coffee Table: The First Apostle

Volume 4 chronicles the continuing adventures of Shizuku, his friends and his rivals in pursuit of the mysteries of wine.  The final chapter reveals the second wine described in his father's will.  Obviously, I'm not giving away any spoilers.

Volume 4 concludes "Season One." By author's request, the next English edition will skip ahead in the story, right past the second and third seasons to a segment on "New World Wines" from the Napa Valley.  One would assume that the intention is to drum up interest in wines from the English-speaking world or, perhaps more likely, to connect the story to products already familiar to American readers.  This seems a shame to me.  Anyone already invested in the story will be disappointed to skip ahead, I would think.  Maybe they're not getting the sales they expected.  Perhaps they're hoping that by promoting domestic vintners, the winemakers will encourage American bookstores and wine shops to carry the books.

The promotion at the end of the book does indicate that increased interest will help assure that there will eventually be second and third seasons to fill in the gaps.  So, go out there and buy these books, people!  A quick rundown of why you should:
  • This is the best comic series I've found so far.  The story is masterfully told.  The characters and their relationships are complex and nuanced.  Their quest is highly engaging.  The translation is occasionally a bit awkward and reading the pages from right to left takes a little getting used to but those are small prices to pay for the overall quality of the work.
  • The artwork is wonderful - all black and white.  Mixing artistic styles within a single book has long been a part of the Japanese comic aesthetic and The Drops of God does so with great effect. 
  • If you've ever had an interest in learning about wine, I think this book is a great place to start - very informative.  The characters are genuinely passionate and their descriptions of the wine inspiring.
This book is a bit racier than the first three volumes.  Sexual encounters are portrayed - tasteful, nothing pornographic.  Images of breasts are ubiquitous in Japan.  One becomes desensitized to them after a while.   There are bare breasts here but with only faint hints of nipples.  There are also some adult-themed conversations regarding unexpected pregnancy and the difficult choices one might make in that situation.

Family Adventures: Stoweflake Balloon Festival

Through her employer, My Wife scored free tickets to the 26th Annual Stoweflake Balloon Festival.  It is a weekend-long event but we only went for the Saturday evening launch.  The Mocks joined us, too.  None of us knew much of anything about ballooning going in.  I think I may have gone on a tethered ride as a child but as an acrophobe, that's the sort of thing I wouldn't remember too well because a) I would have been cowering in a corner of the basket screaming to be let down and/or b) I would have blocked as much of the memory as possible as a means of self-preservation.  It's also possible that I just watched other people doing it and had sympathetic anxieties.  Phobias are fun!

Needless to say, I didn't opt to go for the tethered ride this time and I'm delighted to say that all of my companions also decided against.  Otherwise it was fun.  The food was alright but definitely overpriced.  If we were to do it again, I think we would either bring food or eat beforehand.

While there was a lot of waiting involved, it was really most impressive once the balloons started to inflate.  We counted 23 in all.  It was a bit like watching sleeping giants awake, then take off for the sky.  Obviously, it's a great opportunity for taking loads of photos.

On the way out, I asked My Wife if she'd want to do it again and she said yes?  "Would you be willing to pay $10 to go again?"

"Oh no," she laughed.  "It would be contingent upon getting free tickets again."

So, there you have it.

The ladies went hiking on Sunday while I sat riveted to the Federer-Murray match at Wimbledon.  Here is My Wife's write up:

Hike #14 - Sunset Ridge Trail

I did get to meet them for the creemies afterward.  The Underhill Country Store had orange again.  I've found that the orange/vanilla twist makes for a better Creamsicle effect than just orange alone.

We won in kickball, 7-4.  Mixed performance by me.  I got to play right field the whole game which I enjoyed but I dropped two pop-ups.  I did get a third to atone for my sins - sort of.  I did better at the plate: 1-for-1 with an infield single.  We have one more game before the playoffs.  Our record stands at 3-3-1.

I leave you with more Balloon Festival photos: