Thursday, October 30, 2008

Time To Say Goodbye To Northern Maine

Maine will always be a special place to us. We may move to several more homes in our life, but I am sure that we'll always manage to make the pilgrimage back to Maine -- where Amie was born and her family lives, where we graduated from college, and where we met for the first time.

Amie and I awoke this morning to the signs of the coming winter. The temperature had dropped about 20 degrees cooler than in recent mornings. The magical glow of the leaves are darkening and dulling. Their stems are weakening and are giving way to the colder, swirling winds. The leaves have begun to fall en masse. Amie and I had packed our mini-van; it was time to visit our friends Josh & Rebecca in Brunswick, the Salah family in Ipswich, and Christiana in Coventry.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"Ice" Tamales and "Extra Long" Twizzlers

Amie recently posted that she saved approximately $115.00 in purchasing cold & flu medicines at Rite-Aid. In my opinion, this is only a little bit better than a poke in the eye. You would think that Amie and her Maine friends struck gold on their little morning shopping trip. Coordinating the evening before with her friends, waking up early Sunday morning to beat the post-church Rite Aid crowd, and then finally divvying the merchandise was the scene that awaited me upon waking up late Sunday morning. Who gets excited over this stuff? Amongst the numerous items in the bag of goodies was a bottle of Chloraseptic Sore Throat Spray, a box of Sucrets Complete Cough Drops, and then the big daddy of them all -- the grand prize of the cold & flu season treasure hunt -- the Ayr Saline Nasal Rinse Kit -- "A Soothing Sinus Wash"! I deeply ponder as to why Amie did not trade this last gem away? Now I know why so many us (men in particular) refuse to acknowledge when they are sick. We are armed with the knowledge that the Chloraseptic Spray and Ayr Nasal Rinse Kit are imminently made available if we were to falter just a bit to the winter season. Having this stuff around certainly works as preventative medicine as I refuse to get sick this year! (I might have the Sucrets, however, as they are like candy).

Without any doubt, I am the undisputed treasure-hunting champion in our family. My acquisitions are odd in nature and cannot be found in your corner Rite-Aid store. Though I did not find initial success with the Chocolate Skittles, I was able to unearth 2 fine discoveries in the Marden's Surplus & Salvage candy aisle -- "Ice" Hot Tamales and "Extra Long" Twizzlers.

That is 9.5 oz for $0.25 per box!

The "Ice" Hot Tamales were actually not hot in the cinnamon, traditional Hot Tamale sort of way, but rather, in a chewy mint flavor. Similar to the Chocolate Skittles, I was initially surprised by the chewy mint flavor, but unlike the Chocolate Skittles, I quickly came to enjoy the burst of mint flavor in my mouth. I could certainly sneak this 9.5 oz box into the movie theater and enjoy every single last tamale before the end of the movie.

18-inches per strand @ $2.99 per bag!

I am most proud of the "Extra Long" Strawberry Twizzlers. The bag weighs in at 3 lbs, and each Twizzler Strand is 18 inches long! I actually took the tape measure to them! Regular Twizzlers are already fun to eat and delicious, but these extra long twizzlers inspire the child's imagination. It's what you would expect to run into at Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. I haven't eaten one yet as they are quite daunting. I would venture to guess that each strand is nearly equivalent to a whole meal, and Amie won't let me substitue one for a meal. I might have to wait when she's sleeping or out with her friends shopping at Rite-Aid. I really can't just eat half a strand as that would defeat the spirit of buying the Extra Long Twizzlers. Also, I'm wrestling with the challenge of keeping them fresh after opening the bag. Not many of us have 18-inch+ sandwich bags just laying around, and I'm certainly not going to allow them to go stale. Nevertheless, I love the idea that Hershey Company actually made a 3lb bag of 18-inch long Twizzlers!


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Bargains we'll actually use

Yesterday, Hung told you about his bargain shopping palooza at Marden's. While we were in Maine, I also had a chance to snag some fab deals. It all started when I saw my cousin Holly. She knows that I love coupons, rebates, and freebies, so when she saw me on Saturday morning she started waving the Rite Aid weekly circular at me--it had two full pages of FREE AFTER REBATE ITEMS. I instantly started planning my attack. Of course, I started telling everyone I saw about the $144 of free merchandise at Rite Aid--I couldn't hog all the good fortune! So on Sunday morning, I hit Rite Aid with my friends, Kim and Meghann.

I ended up spending $121.39 after tax and have requested a check for $115.56. Rebates do not reimburse for the tax paid. So what did I buy? Advil, cough syrup, chapstick, cough drops, etc. I pretty much filled our "medicine cabinet bin" in the mini van. Unfortunately, I'm sure we'll be needing some of these freebies during our trip.

Check out all this free stuff!

Some background on Rite Aid's rebate program; each week Rite Aid releases a circular with sale and rebate deals. Their program is called Single Check Rebates. I really like this program because it is easy. You buy the stuff, come home from the store, enter information from your receipt at Rite Aid's website (store number, register number, transaction number and transaction date--they show you on the web site where this info is located on the receipt), and after you've finished shopping for rebates each month you hit a button and request your check. About three weeks later a check arrives in the mail. EASY!

New deals pop up all the time. The deals below are from this week's circular--good until Saturday at midnight! Happy saving.

If you are looking for hints on shopping at Rite Aid check out the website:


Monday, October 27, 2008

Chocolate Mix Skittles!?!

My gosh, did you know that Mars makes a Chocolate Mix Skittles?

Amie and her mother had planned a nature walk in Mt. Katahdin for the day. As they had scheduled to depart at 5:00 am, I cited their need to have some exclusive quality time together so I "volunteered" to remain comfortably sleeping in bed. After awakening at my leisure and having breakfast at Raymond's Diner, I had planned a little excursion to Marden's Surplus & Salvage! How could you not love a store that claims that "they are willing to buy anything that they don't have to feed"? "I should have bought it, when I saw it at Marden's" is their catchy little jingle. According to their website, "The real beauty of our company is from week to week even our buyers don't know exactly what is coming in or how fast it will sell." Over the years, I have found such great deals as Columbia Hiking Pants for $10, goose down feather pillows for $5 each, and a big blue lobster pot for $6. Marden's is definitely a "rumbling, stumbling" sort of place as you never know what you're going to come upon. I suppose that is the thrill of Marden's. If you always knew you were going to come away with something, then the shopping would probably lose some of it's lustre. However, every now and then, you love finding that great bargain.

I was immediately drawn to the Chocolate Mix Skittles in the candy aisle. I had not even known that Mars made a chocolate variety of Skittles. I have fond childhood memories of those fruity and sour traditional skittles. My initial reaction was hesitation but at $0.69 for a big 4 oz box, I believed that I was getting a bargain. I should follow my gut reaction more often. My gosh, those Chocolate Skittles just made me gag and want to throw-up those bite size flavors of brownie batter, chocolate pudding, chocolate caramel, s'mores, and vanilla! I could not believe how awful they tasted. My next thought was to just throw them all away. However, I wanted to be open-minded and fair. I considered that my expectations were possibly biased. I had an expectation for chocolate and a very different expectation for Skittles. The chocolate flavor combined with the chewy texture just seemed unnaturally odd at first tasting. So I endeavored to try once again without any preconceived notion of a Chocolate Skittle. I had willed mind and taste buds to savor those blend of flavors...

I could not savor them for more than a millisecond as I can honestly convey that their flavors did not improve a single iota. Though I gagged and convulsed a bit, I managed to swallow what I know to be my very last bite of Chocolate Skittles ever.

I had to learn how these Chocolate Skittles ever came to market. I'm sure that every new candy for Mars Snackfoods undergoes extensive initial marketing tests so I wanted to see what my Google search would turn up. There is actually quite a detailed review at Not surprisingly, there are quite varying opinions. There are quite a few positive comments, but the following are a few of my favorites,

"Chocolate Skittles are like Fear Factor in a bag" - Megan

"I hate these things. I am the kind of guy who buys a bag a candy and does not stop until I am done with all of it. Not the case with these absolutely aweful things. They are still in my office drawer and I do not plan on eating more of these any time soon. The person who came up with this idea should be fired for damaging the reputation of skittles." - Wil

"I'm not gonna lie but this product does not taste good at all. I think that the producers are going to lose a lot of money because nobody is gonna buy this product once they try it. I am no expert here but Im just throwing it out there: “this is the worst product they have ever made”. Stick with the regular or tropical because they are great tasting and dont waste your money on the chocolate ones, you are just going to regret that you bought these." - Andre

Chocolate Skittle were actually introduced at the All Candy Expo in 2007 and to the best of my knowledge, the remaining boxes are all making there way to all of the 14 Marden's locations in Maine. If any of the readers are genuinely interested in enjoying a box of Chocolate Mix Skittles, please drop Amie and I a note. We'll place an order with her parents and do our best to accomodate the first 20 responses. Needless to say, "quantities may be limited depending upon availability".

I'm heading down the next aisle and now spy Ice Hot Tamales and foot-long Twizzlers...

-- hnb

Saturday, October 25, 2008

All In Due Time & Place

On our last full day in Maine, Amie's father arrived in his pick-up truck for a drive to the Crossroads Diner in Mattawamkeag (pop. 825). In most restaurants in most towns, there is that firm cut-off between breakfast and lunch. We've all at one time or another wanted to order that McDonald's or Burger King breakfast sandwich only to arrive a minute or two too late. You were out-of-luck and having lunch. We arrived to the diner at around 11:30 about half-an-hour after they had shut the grill down for breakfast. After hearing of my love for breakfast food, the cook/owner kindly re-opened the grill for my order of blueberry pancakes, home fries, and sausage. As I have gotten older, I am ever more grateful for these kind gestures. I sat back into the booth's cushions, drank my coffee, and immersed into the rhythm of the moment. Enjoying the local chatter of the restaurant -- the weather of the next few days, the accident on the Lee Road, the recent fire in Springfield, and the banter of conversation between Amie and her father. One of Amie's fondest childhood memories are the morning truck rides with her father to the local diner for breakfast and time amongst all those adults before heading to school. It was moment to neither rush or slow down. I was enjoying my warm, slightly sweet coffee and having one of the best breakfasts ever -- maybe made even more delicious by the goodness of the cook/owner.

We next visited Lee Academy where Amie graduated as Valedictorian of her class. This is a fact that Amie would never reveal because of her modesty, but it is a fact that conveys her perseverance, work ethic, and intelligence. Lee Academy is private school gem in central Maine. Amie received numerous warm hugs from teachers, coaches, and administrators as we toured the campus. Little did I know back in 1995 when I visited Lee Academy's campus for the first time as an Admissions Officer for Colby College that the spritely 17 year-old in blue jean overalls would become my wife 12 years later. Our paths would not cross again until much, much later. As Amie was arriving to Colby, I was leaving to pursue my MBA at Carnegie Mellon. I would not hear or see Amie until the autumn of 2005 in New York City. My travels had already taken me thousands of miles -- to Europe & Asia, through graduate school, and into my 30's -- only for my path to lead back to Amie.

-- hnb

When did I get this old?

Even though I turned 30 this year, I sometimes feel like I'm still a kid. Who am I trying to fool, I feel like a little kid all the time. Prime example: I still go on an annual vacation with my parents to Disney World and Love It. However over the last three weeks, there were two occasions when I was made completely aware of the passing of time.

Hanging with Poppy in her office

The first time I felt my age was during our stop at Hung & I's alma mater, Colby College. While on campus, I visited with a young woman currently working in the alumni relations office. A young woman whom I babysat when I was in college! I met Palmer back when I was a college freshman, and she was only ten years old. Her mother also graduated from Colby, so when she needed babysitters, she thought of Colby students. During my four years on Mayflower Hill, I babysat for Palmer and her two sisters a couple afternoons a week. Those afternoons were such bright spots in my week--helping Palmer, Kate, and Alex with their homework was the perfect study break for a stressed college student. As I sat in Palmer's office, I couldn't stop remembering the sparkling little girl that we used to call Poppy and was overjoyed to see the beautiful and smart young woman that she has become.

Liam Douglas Turns 1

I also recently attended the 1st birthday party of a special baby named Liam. Liam is the son of my little brother's best friend. The birthday boy was celebrating his birthday by eating his chocolate cake while his father assembled all the presents that he received. As I watched the proud dad, I couldn't stop my mind from flashing back to when my little brother (Jason) and his best friend (Opie) spent their summers building forts and generally running amuck. When Liam smiles his toothy grin, I know where he gets that happy demeanor because I was able to watch his dad grow up. My heart melted when I saw little Liam look up at his dad with love.

When Hung and I complete this year's travel, we hope to start our family. This house needs a new kid!
-- amb

Friday, October 24, 2008

The First 1000 Clicks To Rumbling Stumbling

At Appleton Farms in Ipswich, MA

Amie and I  have been on the road for only 3 weeks and have been blessed with so many of our family and friends keeping in touch with us via phone, email, and the blog. At sometime on Thursday, October 23 we received or 1000th visitor onto the website! Amie and I find life on the road to be challenging, wonderous, humorous, and exhausting. Sometimes at the end of the day, we just want to lay our heads to rest, but we so much appreciate everyone's encouragement and support. Though there is a general plan as to our schedule for each day, we've found that so many of our most enriching experiences have been of the serendipitous variety such as our discovery of the Chocolate Skittles, Ipswich Farms, and our lunch at White Castle! They're the topic of the next several blog entries.

We're headed to Europe for the month of November and have yet to plan our full itinerary. If you have any recommendations of favorite historical sites, natural wonders, and of course, tasty restaurants, please let us know. We land in Frankfurt, Germany in early November!

Thank you so much,

-- hnb

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sigh Of Relief For Local "Dog Man"

(Courtesy of the Bangor Daily News)

During a recent morning, the citizenry of Lee, Maine awoke to the Bangor Daily News headline that one of their resident eccentrics, the "Dog Man", was feared to have perished from a fire at his cabin the previous night. Since arriving to the local area approximately 15 years ago, the "Dog Man" had become somewhat of a local legend. He was aptly named because he always owned and oftentimes had numerous dogs in tow. According to neighbors, he owned as many as 8 dogs, but a few had recently died. How he kept them fed is certainly a mystery as he never had been known to have had any consistent work since his arrival to Penobscot County. However, he certainly managed to keep his dogs fit as he was known to have long, winding walks with several at time as he hitchhiked from Springfield to Lee. The nature of a small town in Maine or any friendly small town in America is that everyone knows most everyone. The folks at the local diner, walking about town, or "hitchhiking" along the county road are familar faces. Hitchhikers on these stretches between the small Maine towns are not the mysterious, menacing stranger who will assuredly do you harm if you were to foolishly offer a ride as portrayed in the cinema, but rather a recognized fellow inhabitant of one of the small towns that dot along your state's highways. It is not entirely unusual for local drivers to offer rides to individuals along the road. However, Dog Man would actually hitchhike the Lee Road with up to 3 or 4 dogs! If I was a betting man, I'd have to give greater odds for each incremental dog that he brought with him. The correlation undoubtedly has got to be negative -- the greater the number of dogs, the lower the probability of receiving a ride. In my humble opinion, hitchhiking for a single available space from a well-intentioned driver is already a lot to ask, but to have someone pull over to the roadside to offer you a seat AND your dogs is a bit much for any driver to fathom. I'm guessing the offered rides over the years have been limited.

Each early morning before the workday begins, the locals gather at Raymonds, the center-of-town diner, to have their wake-up coffee and daily news. This particular day was an understandably mournful occasion upon hearing of the Dog Man's demise. This sudden and suprising revelation compelled those men gathered at Raymonds to reminisce of their shared and unique individual experiences with Dog Man.

"Dog Man's" real name is Grafton Burke. He was so well known as the "Dog Man" that many in the community were hard-pressed to even recall his real name. In fact, the Bangor Daily News initial article of the fire at Grafton's cabin in Springfield only refers to the "Dog Guy". Bill Van Houten, a neighbor who lived a half-mile down the road and who was the first to discover the fire, affectionately refers to him as "Dog Guy". Though the Bangor Daily News reports that "his name is being withheld", I am of the mindset entirely that neither Mr. Van Houten nor the folks at the newspaper knew Dog Man's real name! Most of us would express our concern for a fellow neighbor by using their name and not their nickname. "I hope John or Tom or David survived the fire" -- not -- "I hope 'Big Guy', 'Shaggy', or 'Dog Guy' survived the fire." Neither his neighbors nor the Bangor Daily News knew of any of other name for him at the initial reporting time.

Mr Grafton Burke had become a part of Lee's community. His presence was fabric as to what defines a community like Lee -- not only for his oddities and quirky behavior with his wide range of accompanying dogs -- but also his presence was a direct reflection of the Lee community. The people of Lee accepted Grafton for who he was. People tried to help him along in their own way -- when they were able. For the most part, the residents of Lee left him alone. No one tried to change Dog Man's ways or impose a morality on him. They kindly let him be.

The mood had become somber in Raymond's as the hour struck to remind the Lee men of the day's responsibilities. As they headed toward the exit and approached their waiting trucks, they were stunned as if hit by a bolt of lightning. They just could not believe their eyes. Dog Man was outside Raymond's in the flesh having an animated conversation at the the public telephone! All the men rushed toward Grafton to inquire as to his health. Not any worse off than usual, he was just upset that he had read about his demise in the newspaper! No one had confirmed his new, permanent condition with him and that was particularly troubling! (I actually follow and appreciate his logic). Tragically, none of Grafton's 6 current dogs survived the fire. There was not going to be any hero's celebration or parade with the awarding of the town's key, but everyone was genuinely warmed to see Grafton still alive and with us. I'm hoping that Mr. Burke got offered plenty of rides that day; and that he and all his dogs -- past and future -- get to where they are going.


I want to give special thanks to Stephen Mallett for providing many of the details & background for this story. I also want to apologize ahead of time if I had inadvertently misrepresented any individuals or facts in this entry. My heart is particularly fond of Penobscot County and its people. Please do not consider this specific posting as any form of journalism as some of the events have been related second- or even third hand.

Also many of the factual details are sourced from the following two Bangor Daily News articles:

Fate of ‘The Dog Guy’ in Springfield uncertain

‘Dog Man’ safe after fire destroys cabin:

Lobster Feast

In light of the current lobster crisis in Maine, Hung and I felt it was our duty to support my home state. We stopped at a local Brunswick lobstershack and Foster's Clambake in York to fill up our Coleman Cooler with enough fresh, delectable Maine lobsters for a feast. Hung had the idea of eating one giant lobster of the 5 lb variety instead of having multiple 1.0+ lb lobsters. Either the season had past or neither of our sellers had the giant crustaceans Hung craved.

I was so excited to arrive at Alexis and Craig's home in Newton, MA. Alexis and I have been friends since our senior year of college--hard to believe but it has been 9 years. After we graduated from Colby, we shared an apartment (with Amanda too!) in New York. I loved growing up and sharing my twenties with them. Unfortunately, the last year has been busy for both of us and I haven't seen Alexis since her wedding over a year ago.

The Friday night Boston traffic was heavy but we slowly made our way south and arrived a little after 7 pm. Upon arrival, we quickly unloaded the essentials and took a tour. Alexis and Craig moved into their new house at the beginning of the summer, I was so impressed with how settled and well decorated their house was. Hung and I have lived in our condo for over two years and we are still trying to figure out paint colors! To Hung's delight and envy, their home was equipped with a wood-burning fireplace!

The best part about bringing lobsters to the Greiner's--they are awesome cooks! Craig quickly took over the care of the lobsters. Within minutes the table was filled with perfectly steamed lobsters, mixed greens tossed with vinaigrette, and red skinned-parsley potatoes. To finish off our perfect meal, Alexis served up a delicious apple pie.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Meditations Of The Fireplace

At the heart of Amie’s grandfather’s cabin is such a beautiful and well-constructed fireplace. Its sturdy, weathered stones impress a steady, resilience to the seemingly ever-present Maine chill.  Even the brief, wonderous Maine summer nights will bring a crisp cool air. As is natural to all things of true quality, this fireplace has withstood the test of time having warmed generations of the Mallett family. Grandmother Rosemary before she passed of cancer loved entertaining at the cabin watching her children and grandchildren descend from the cabin steps, breaking into a run down the dock, and diving into refreshing waters -- only to return to the fireplace and warm themselves. Amie and her parents lived at the cabin when she was 7 years old. She remembers trekking outside the cabin to fetch wood during cold, wintry nights as her mother tended to her infant brother, Jason. She understood the importance of keeping the fireplace alight. 

I have become quite charmed with this fireplace having taken such simple pleasure in tending its fires since our arrival. I have sat cozy in the glow of the fire reading my National Geographic Adventure travel magazine and having fallen asleep before I am able to finish even an article or two. I love to position the rocking chair at such a precise distance that I can dangle my socked feet at that just-right toastiness. Our natural gas fireplace at home just does not emanate the same comforting heat as this wood-burning, hearth fireplace. I actually have to venture to the outdoor woodpile every few hours, but I smile knowing that I'll soon be back in the protective warmth of the fireplace. I am happy in simply sitting in front of the fire.

I have come to appreciate the fireplace for its varying simplifying lessons to life. As the only source of heat in the cabin, you have to always attend to it and nurture it. The fires have to keep burning to sustain the warmth. However, if you put an excess of wood, then its fires will blaze too hot, but if you leave it unattended, then its warmth will fade away. You can't get too preoccupied with too many other activities; you gotta stay focused on sustaining the fire... is very late into the evening and Amie is in a deep sleep in the next room...all the lights are off, and only the fire crackles and my deepest meditation and prayers...

...hmm...I need to tend to Amie, our family, friends, and life's work like I tend to this fire...


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mt. Katahdin

Last Wednesday, my mom and I drove to Baxter State Park to take photos.  Baxter Park is home to Mt. Katahdin, Maine's highest peak and the end of the Appalachian Trail.  My mom is an aspiring photographer and her idea of the perfect day is behind a camera.  We left my parent's house before sunrise and spent the next ten hours chasing the perfect shot.  Below are a few of my photos from our day.  

We started out so early--the morning fog was still lifting off the lakes

The photographer at work

Little Niagara Falls

Sandy Stream Pond--Earlier that day people had seen three moose, 
 we missed the moose so here is a piece of drift wood.

Leaving Maine With Happy Memories and Tasty Souvenirs

On Friday morning we said goodbye to my grandfather's cabin on Silver Lake and repacked the minivan.  After configuring our bags and boxes like we were playing an advanced game of tetris, we drove over to my parents house for one last set of hugs.
 When I saw little pools of water in my dad's eyes, I wanted to jump from the car and stay. Saying goodbye is never easy for me and this time seemed extra hard because I know that I won't see my parents again until March. This year marks my first Christmas away from my family.  Hung and I have agreed to alternate Christmas holidays between our two families and this year we will be in Houston with the Bui Family.  I love the Bui's dearly but I will miss my family and the Christmas traditions I grew up with.  

Three hours into our trip, we pulled off in Brunswick to have lunch with my cousin Rebecca
 and her husband Josh.  Last February, Josh returned from his third tour in the middle east.  After four years of marriage, Josh and Becca are finally able to settle into a house, buy furniture and enjoy all the simple day-to-day joys of being a married couple.  We had a great time catching up and started brainstorming on ways to see each other again soon.

While in Brunswick we drove over to the coast and picked up several lobsters for dinner at Alexis and Craig's house.  During the last month, lobster prices in Maine have dropped to the very low price of $4 per pound.   The price drop in Maine lobsters in tied to the current financial crisis.  Below is an explanation from the Bangor Daily News:

"The crisis in Maine is tied directly to the collapse of Icelandic banks which were key lenders to processors in Canada, according to Dane Somers, executive director of the Maine Lobster Promotion Council. Without ready credit from those banks, Canadian processors don’t have the cash to purchase lobster from Maine, Somers said. The credit crunch hit Canada early in October, Maine’s peak season for lobster production and value, according to the Maine Lobstermen’s Association.
October is the time when fishermen make the bulk of the money they need to see them through the winter months. 

On average annually, between 45 percent and 50 percent of Maine lobster is sent to processors in Canada. At this time of year, however, 70 percent of the catch usually goes to Canada, but processors there are not buying.

According to the MLA, there are a number of reasons for that. The international credit problem is one. There also are reports that some processors already have inventory on hand and that others are operating at less than full capacity so they don’t create more supply than they can sell.  The MLA also reported that some large restaurant chains, such as Red Lobster and Outback, have seen losses as fewer people eat out regularly. Demand also has softened on cruise ships and at casinos due to the poor economic conditions." 

Please help Maine lobster fishermen:  Eat More Lobster.  

Back on the highway, Hung and I started talking about our feast.  We decided we wanted to bring a lot of lobsters to Craig and Alexis and we better stop for more.  

A quick call to my brother's girlfriend Katie in York, ME and we had the address

for another lobster pound.  In York, we purchased a couple more lobsters and stopped at Katie's to say a quick hello.  The day was even brighter after a receiving a hug from The Coop.

Back on the highway, less than two hours to Craig and Alexis' new house.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Close Call At The Border

I was nearly arrested at the United States-Canada border near Vanceboro, Maine today. All good plans can go awry. Prior to leaving Charlotte, I diligently made multiple to-do and packing lists. Knowing that our first leg of this around-the-world journey would approximate 4 weeks, I was extremely thorough in populating my lists and checking it twice. We packed laptops, raincoats, books, laundry detergent, a tent, and even got a prescription of ciprofloxacin just in case we encountered some really disturbing food. In our Chrysler Town & Country minivan, we were a house on wheels. We could live in basic comfort and be prepared for any obstacle or malady. Halfway to Maine, the "I could kick-myself-in-the butocks" thought dawned upon me that I had forgotten our passports! I had loaded the mini-van with so many items that we would probable never use but had forgotten the most critical travel document. We could go anywhere EXCEPT ACROSS THE BORDER!! I was struck with the dunderhead irony of undertaking a trip free of time and space constraints, but only within the United States!

Prior to 2008, you could enter Canada and return to the U.S. with just your driver’s license. Currently you are required to present a combinaton of your driver’s license and birth certificate or naturalization papers. My birth certificate is somewhere in Vietnam , and my naturalization papers are in Houston with my parents. Amie and I had originally planned to enter Canada and head down to Niagara Falls from the Canadian side, but we’ll now have to alter our route to remain within the confines of the U.S. After “cranberrying” (see blog below) in Vanceboro, ME, Amie's father showed us how close were to the Canadian border. Upon arriving to the border control station, we stumbled out of the pick-up truck with cameras in hand ready to click away. I had gone as far as I could legally go without my passport. Now, the fact that I was not able to pass into Canada made me want to take a vast array of pictures. Before I could even snap a single photo, the border patrol officer burst out of the security area roaring at us, but in particular me as I in no way look like a natural born citizen of the United States, “Do not take any pictures! Stop taking pictures! This is a U.S. security sensitive site! Let me see those cameras!” Though we were on U.S. soil, we had bumbled in exceeding the legality of the moment as it is forbidden to take pictures of sensitive US security installations such as border control stations! My gosh! This was the worst case scenario for me to be apprehended at the border station without my passport. I had not even crossed over into Canada! I don't think I would perform well under a stress-induced interrogation. I did not know to run or raise my hands in surrender! Amazingly, my first thought was not concern for my own freedom but rather for the protection of my Apple iPhone. My iPhone has all my music, photos, emails, games, and loads of other essential neat stuff. There was no way this guy was going to confiscate my iPhone! I’ll never get it back! I almost ran off into the Maine woods and would have been like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive. I most certainly would never have survived nearly as long as Dr. Richard Kimble as this Asian is not at all partial to the Maine chill, and Asians in general do not camouflage well in the Maine woods. I'd either freeze to death, get shot by a hunter who has mistaken me for a clumsy moose, or be attacked by a black bear!

To further add to the surreal nature of the events, Amie’s father headed straight toward the fence separating us and the officer and proceeded to introduce himself matter-of-factly and even extended his fingers through the fence in offer of handshake, “I’m Stephen Mallett” as if he was as recognizable as the President of the United States or the Mayor of all of Maine! To my beleaguered common sense, Officer Thomas introduces himself to my father-in-law. “Of course I know who you are, you delivered the lumber for my garage”. This seemingly simple business transaction was sufficient to regard 2 life-long Mainers as soul brothers. The tension in the air immediately dissipated. The officer became friendly toward us and gestured to the areas in which we could take photos. Although I was still unable to get into Canada, I was "pleased as punch" about having some new photos, retaining my iPhone, and not having to become a fugitive. My first act upon returning to Charlotte will be packing our passports directly into my backpack.

The photos subsequently submitted are legal, safe, and in no way jeopardizes the security of our nation's border.

A Relieved Hung & Amie At The US-Canada Border Control Station
(Please Note Canadian Flag In Distant Background Behind Amie's Head)

"Maine...The Way Life Should Be"


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Although I grew up in Maine, I had never been on a cranberry picking trip. My parents have been going for years and I've been enjoying homemade cranberry sauce at every holiday for as long as I can remember. So when my parents suggested going on a berry gathering trip, I jumped at the chance.

A couple days ago, my dad started scheming on his wet vac strategy. Whenever he started talking about his plan, I shook my head and chalked it up as another of my dad's crazy ideas--Little did I know that he was the one who would have the last laugh!

We arrived at the bog and there was more water than I expected. Like Hung, I didn't know what to expect and I wore my sneakers (I guess we really were "rookies"). What was I thinking? I've seen the ocean spray cranberry commercials on t.v. with the two guys standing knee deep in water! So my feet ended up a little soggy but it didn't temper my berry hunting enthusiasm. I managed to fill half of my container but the story of the day was truly the Wet-Vac. I know it sounds crazy but it worked! My father collected A LOT more than any of us and the berries looked amazing.

Hung and My Dad unloading the Honda Generator--The Wet Vac needs power!

Hung tries out the Wet Vac. Notice his blaze orange hat--It is moose season in Maine and we needed to stay safe.

Our Family Recipe for Rustic Cranberry Sauce

1 Quart Fresh Cranberry
1/2 Quart Sugar (less if you desire but remember cranberries are very tart!)
1/2 Quart Water (add more if needed)

Wash and pick over cranberries. In a saucepan bring to a boil water and sugar, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add cranberries, return to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 10 minutes or until cranberries burst. If the cranberries don't burst, break with a wooden spoon. This will allow the sugar to enter.

Remove from heat. Cool completely at room temperature and then chill in refrigerator. Cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools.

In the fall, my grandfather makes this recipe in large quantities. After it cools, he freezes it in small containers. Throughout the winter, families members are constantly stopping in at his house and grabbing a container from his deep freeze.


"Cranberrying" & the Wet-Vac

This morning Amie and I awoke to go cranberry-picking with her parents. I have picked strawberries, blueberries, and various other berries from nature so I thought that this would be such a pleasant manner to spend a beautiful Maine day. Unbeknownst and undisclosed to me is that cranberries grow in very wet, bog-like conditions.

From Wikipedia: Cranberries are a group of evergreen dwarf shrubs or trailing vines in the genus Vaccinium subgenus Oxycoccos, or in some treatments, in the distinct genus Oxycoccos. They are found in ACIDIC BOGS...

Equipped only in my Adidas running shoes, I immediately sank to my ankles in water before reaching my first cranberry shrub. Despite the soggy feet, I had a very pleasurable time picking the cranberries. I was able to pick 4 to 5 berries at a time before placing them in my plastic bucket pail. I would rate myself a slightly below average cranberry picker. Amie and her mother were much more efficient in that they seem to place themselves very strategically amongst densely populated cranberry bushes and were so much more rapid in their collecting. I meandered primarily amongst the low-hanging cranberries and had a tendency to look off into the beautiful scenery. If I had known of my near-arrest later that day, I would have stopped and relished the cranberry-picking that much more. Amie's father, however, is in a cranberry-collecting league of his own. Some months ago, he had the idea of collecting cranberries with a Wet-Vacuum. Upon arriving at the cranberry bog, Lucie (Amie’s mother) and Amie fanned out while her father unloaded the Honda portable generator and the Sears-Craftsman Wet-Vac! He places the generator amongst surrounding cranberry shrubs, attaches the Wet-Vac, and away he goes. He is like the zambonie at hockey intermission -- covering all the ground. The Wet-Vac inhales not only cranberries but grass, leaves, twigs,water, and anything else that dares interfere with the cranberries. I would not have been surprised if Stephen had managed to suck in an occasional toad or two! By the end of the day, Stephen had collected approximately five times more cranberries than the rest of us combined! A seemingly preposterous idea at first blush but rather brilliant from a productivity perspective; Stephen Mallett is the Da Vinci of cranberry-collecting.

Cranberry Bog Near Vanceboro, Maine

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Autumn In Maine

Amie and I have been in her hometown of Lee, Maine since last Friday. We are staying at her grandfather’s cabin and are greeted each day with the serene, graceful waters of Silver Lake. Though in this day and age we are never too far from television, internet, and these wild & crazy markets, those happenings reside appropriately distant. Yeserday, Amie’s father guided us to the top of Almanac Mountain where we greeted with the glory of the autumnal season. Across all of the landscape were the brightest yellows, appealing oranges, and fiery reds covering the leaves as they reached toward the furthest horizon. We had been on this journey for two weeks, had driven a thousand plus miles, and had crested Almanac Mountain to witness the rapidly turning foliage of Maine’s autumn – we were where we should be.


Amie's Sunset On Bottle Lake

Life On Bottle Lake, ME

Our Chrysler Town & Country Next To The Cabin

Amie & Her Cousin Svea on Mt. Jefferson

On Monday afternoon, Hung and I climbed the mountain in my hometown. In the winter Mt. Jefferson is a ski mountain. This is where my dad taught me how to ski, back when I was only four years old. The top of the mountain offers great views of the village of Lee.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Jason is the MAN; Amie Is TRICKY!

I was excited to visit Amie's little brother, Jason, in Nyack, NY. Though he has only recently began his first job after college and lives in an approximately 600 square foot studio, Jason rolled out his very best red carpet for us. He insisted that we take his bed while he inflated the air mattress for himself. His studio was clean, well-organized, and he even had coffee and tea ready to brew. Jason is just beginning his career and making his way toward financial independence. He has what I had at 22 years of age -- not much. Jason offered everything that he could. I have faith that Jason's generosity and kindness will guide him successfully through life. 

During the first evening, we realized that Jason had only a single pillow. As we had already comandeered his bed, we were entirely reluctant to take his pillow also! Another reason I was excited to visit Jason was that this was the first opportunity on this rumbling stumbling road trip that Amie and I could break out our super lightweight, 10 degree-rated REI sleeping bags that we had gotten as wedding presents. Exhausted from the full day's drive, cozy in my sleeping bag, and without pillow I quickly drifted toward sleep. About an hour into my wonderful slumber, Amie awakens me with an ingenious idea. "Let's roll up one of the sleeping bags to use as a pillow, and we'll sleep nice and toasty in the other sleeping bag"! Being mostly groggy from having been stirred from my peaceful rest, I unwittingly agreed and made the necessary accommodations. At 3:30 AM in the morning, I woke up in the dark shivering to neither pillow nor sleeping bag! Amie had rolled to the other side of the bed with pillow and sleeping bag! I was freezing and tried to readjust, but Amie had cocooned herself into both sleeping bags! In vain, I tried to reclaim any of the covers and got just enough not to freeze to death while being able to fall asleep. The first thing next morning, we went shopping for two pillows as housewarming gifts for Jason.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Lobster Roll

Hung and I love lobster rolls. It is the food from Maine we miss most. Whenever we are here, we love sampling lobster rolls from all the local eateries. We've found tasty treasures at a every type of restaurant. From roadside stands to swanky sit down restaurants, you never know where the next amazing roll will appear. Since we don't make it back here often enough, we've even tried them all over the South. Luckily we found a restaurant in Charlotte which makes a great, Maine style, lobster roll. Every few months, we find ourselves making the 20 minute pilgrimage to the Ballantyne area of Charlotte to the Village Bistro for lobsters rolls that remind us of summer days sitting by the ocean. But now that we are back in Maine, we are taking advantage of every opportunity to indulge!

There are many different variations, but we like ours to follow a certain recipe: start with a toasted bun, add a little lettuce, and stuff with lobster meat lightly dressed in Mayo. That's it. Simply delicious.

Definition of a lobster roll from of Wikipedia:

"A lobster roll is a kind of sandwich filled with lobster meat. A traditional lobster roll contains the fresh cooked meat of a one-pound lobster, tossed with mayonnaise and served on a grilled hot dog bun or similar roll, served so that the opening is on the top rather than on the side. The filling may also contain diced celery and/or scallion, or use drawn butter instead of or in addition to the mayonnaise. The sandwich can also contain lettuce and lemon.

Lobster rolls in the U.S. are especially associated with the state of Maine, but are also commonly available at seafood restaurants in the other New England states and on Eastern Long Island in the U.S., where lobster fishing is common. They tend to be virtually unheard-of in landlocked regions (such as the Upper Midwest), where lobster is an expensive delicacy.

They are a staple summer meal throughout the Maritime provinces in Canada particularly Nova Scotia where they may also appear on hamburger buns, baguettes, or other types of bread rolls - even pita pockets. The traditional sides are potato chips and dill pickles.

Some McDonald's restaurants in New England and the Canadian Maritimes offer lobster rolls as a seasonal menu item, called the McLobster."

Could it really be the "Perfect Maine Lobster Roll"?

The service is speedy and friendly

All Gone? Already?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Our First Days in Maine

Hung and I crossed the bridge into Maine on Tuesday afternoon. For the last couple days we've been staying with the Collins family and visiting friends at Colby.

Miller Library on a beautiful fall afternoon.

Hung and Khoa shopping for Dorm supplies at Wal-Mart

A quick trip to Marden's, our favorite discount store in Maine.

No trip to Maine is complete without a stop at LL Bean. I loved the huge Bean Boot outside the store. So like a good tourist, I snapped a couple photos!

Tomorrow we head north to Lee!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Weekend Photo Update

Dinner with my brother

The past couple days have been a wonderful whirl of visits with friends and family, so we haven't had much time to write. To keep us current, I've uploaded some photos from the weekend.

  • The view from my brother's apartment in Nyack, New York.  Nyack is a beautiful town located on the shores of the Hudson River, 30 miles north of Manhattan.

  • Standing at the end of the Pier in Piermont, NY

  • On Saturday, I joined some girlfriends for a vineyard tour on the East end of Long Island.  All around gorgeous day!
  • A visit with a very happy baby Sophie.  

  • With Jason at the Palisades Shopping center.  This mall is giant!  In addition to zillions of shops it has a ferris wheel, ice skating rink, imax movie theater, bowling alley, sports club, and climbing wall.