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Monday, August 24, 2009

Jack Benny Ain't Got Nuthin' on Me

Perhaps you remember Jack Benny's classic schtick, here in a sketch with Grouch Marx... which reminds me of my son's first aquarium, where we named the fish after the Marx Brothers: Grouch, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Karl, but that's really not what I want to write about today...

When I was growing up, Jack Benny (1894-1974) was already a thing of the past or, more accurately, he was a thing of the past by the time I became aware of him, since he passed away when I was four years old. Benny was, of course, famous for his comedic vices of bad violin playing, tight-fistedness, and vanity. I became aware of his comedy through the persistent references of senior citizens in churches I served who would always claim that they were the same age as Jack Benny.

Well, as of today, I can claim to be everything that Jack Benny was. I'm a lousy violinist, having had only one semester's worth of instruction from a friend when I was in college. I'm fairly aggressive in not spending money -- in fact, I've never quite outgrown the "grad-student mentality," though I have, at least, stopped buying only generic groceries. And now, I can finally join all of those elderly church members in saying that I'm the same age as Jack Benny.

Oh, Rochester...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back from Vacation in Maine

Last week, the family piled into the station wagon and made a pilgrimage to America's second-most-visited national park: Acadia on Mount Desert Island. Over the years, we've been several times, camping in various campgrounds and coming to the conclusion that our absolute favorite one is Mount Desert Campground because it is right at the head of Somes Sound (said by some to be the only fjord on the east coast of the U.S.) and because it has hardly any mosquitos, partly due to the elevation and the breeze and partly due to the fact that it isn't surrounded by salt marsh, I suspect. The only real drawback is that you have to bring along plenty of quarters (U.S. only!) if you want to take hot showers.

During our week on MDI, we stayed busy with agressive outdoor recration. We spent our first day, Sunday, hiking Cadillac Mountain which, at a little over 1500 feet is the highest mountain within 25 miles of the US Atlantic coast. We took the free Island Explorer Bus right to the trailhead and hiked up the North Ridge Trail, with Ian zipping ahead on a one-man race to the summit while Kimberly and I moseyed up, stopping to enjoy the views and to eat lots of wild Maine blueberries. When we reached the top, we decided to take the West Face Trail back down to catch the bus back to town. As it turned out, we missed our turn and ended up having to take an alternate route down the Featherbed Trail, which may be the most ironically named trail in all of traildom, with a steep boulder-hopping descent before it joined the Jordan Pond trail, which took us to the Jordan Pond House, where we caught the bus back to Bar Harbor for dinner. (Lobster & blueberry pie!!!)

Having used our legs on the first day, we switched to using our arms for day two. We went to Long Pond, where we spent a good part of the day paddling our canoe and kayak. We stopped on a small island for lunch and Ian swam for a bit, even though the water was quite cold.

Tuesday was a "town day" and we spent a lazy morning in camp before heading in to Bar Harbor to wander through the various shops and making a run out to Ellsworth to buy groceries and to stop at the L.L. Bean outlet.

On Wednesday, we had a lazy morning in camp. In the afternoon, we went to the Wild Gardens of Acadia, where we saw many of the native plants in a botanical garden in a beautiful botanical garden at the Sieur de Monts spring. From there, we went to the Jordan Pond House, where we enjoyed midafternoon tea and popovers. After returning for dinner to our campsite, we drove up Cadillac Mountain to see the stars and to watch the Perseid meteor shower. The night sky was breathtaking and we watched for nearly an hour as the meteors streaked across the sky, sometimes as often as every thrity seconds. It was an awesome sight!

Thursday we started out early and went to Bar Harbor, where we walked out to Bar Island at low tide. It was a much shorter walk that we had imagined, since half of the island is privately owned, so we were back in the village in more than enough time to wander around for a bit before boarding the Friendship V for a whale watch tour. Though the day began cloudy, it had cleared by the time we left the dock and the Gulf of Maine was as smooth as glass, which gave us ideal conditions for watching a pair of humpback whales for a long period of time and for spotting two otthers before we had to head back in to shore. Dinner was at a lobster pound just opposite the Seawall campground outside of southwest harbor.

On Friday, we rented bicycles from the Bar Harbor Bicycle Shop and riding from town out to the carriage roads, built by John D. Rockefeller. Once on the carriage roads, we rode along the Eagle Lake and Jordan Pond loops. stopping back at the Jordan Pond House for some seafood chowder and popovers.

Saturday, we broke camp and loaded eveything back into the car and set off for home, stopping for lunch at a pan-asian bistro in Maine for lunch and then pushing on for a late dinner in New Haven at our favorite Mexican restaurant, Guadalupe La Poblanita.

For those of you who might want to see the photos from the trip, the album is here.

Editor's Note: After I posted this blog entry, Kimberly noted that I made a mistake in the paragraph about Wednesday. We did not, in fact, have a quiet morning in camp. Instead, Wednesday morning was spent at the Mount Desert Island Biological Lab, where we heard all about the lab's historical and current work with medical research, using marine animals for modeling. We also got to play with Lego models of DNA that were designed by folks at MIT and had the chance to go to the "touch tank" where there was a wide variety of sea-life from the Gulf of Maine, including lobsters, urchins, starfish, sea squirts, and many more.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Restaurant Review: Star Diner, An Unexpected Gem

Today, Kimberly and I traveled up to Sharon, CT, in the northwest corner of the state, to pick Ian up from summer camp. I've been driving to Sharon for years, first from the New Haven area when I was volunteering as a dean at Silver Lake, leading a conference on clowning, and then just as a camper's dad, driving from New Jersey, but this is the first year that I've made the trip up Rt. 22 from Norwalk. It is a pleasant drive, about two hours each way, past plenty of beautiful scenery.

Going to Silver Lake is always a chance to catch up with friends. When we took Ian up this past Sunday, I found out that Chris Hale, one of my confirmands from when I was at the Naugauck church back in the late '90s is now the "Camp Family Dad," or the manager of the camp's summer staff, while Jillian Dufresne, who was too young to be in that confirmation class, is now one of the deans of Ian's conference. Today, I spent a bit of time with Eric Anderson, who is up as one of the high ropes course facilitators, as well as touching base with the camp's directors, Anne and Tim Hughes, who also happen to be members of my church in Norwalk.

On our way home from Silver Lake, Kimberly, Ian and I stopped at the Sharon Craft Fair, and wandered around for a bit (buying a new turtle for Ian's collection, of course) before continuing to Paley's Farm Market in Amenia, NY. Paley's has become a regular stop on our Sharon trips and we sometimes buy local produce (often fresh peaches) when we're there. Another of our favorite buys is sheep's-milk yogurt from the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in Chatham, NY. (Kimberly likes the maple flavor and I'm partial to the ginger.) Having purchased our yogurt and some herb and cheese focaccia, we were back on the road toward home.

As luck would have it, we were driving down Route 22 through beautiful "downtown" Wingdale, NY just as we were all starting to think serious thoughts about food. We drove past the Star 22 Diner and made a quick U-turn to come back to the delightful little glass and chrome restaurant that looked like it came straight out of the 1950s.

The Star 22 Diner's menu wasn't nearly as extensive as many of the "big" diners that try to serve every kind of food imaginable (and so rarely do any of it well), but we all found something that appealed to us. Kimberly opted for breakfast -- blueberry pancakes and sausage links -- while Ian went for the chicken fingers and french fries. I ordered the open-faced hot turkey sandwich, with mashed potatoes and veg, which turned out to be carrots. The turkey was actual sliced turkey breast and not a processed turkey roll. The carrots were fresh-cooked and the mashed potatoes had little bits of unmashed potato in them. Some folks might derisively call them "lumps," but I believe that, in moderation, potato bits are just fine and they're also definite proof that the potatoes didn't come from a box. The food was good, of very good quality, was fairly priced and we all left full and happy.