Monday, December 27, 2010

Marlboro Storm Photos

Had to break out the camera after today's storm.

My street Warren Ave at dusk:

Lake Williams at sunset

Northboro Road

Dowtown Marlboro

Friday, December 24, 2010

Top 20 Christmas Songs

These are my favorite Christmas songs on the merriest of holidays.

20) You're A Mean One Mr. Grich- Thurl Ravenscroft
19) 12 Days of Christmas- Straight No Chaser
18) Jingle Bell Rock- Bobby Helms
17) Sleigh Ride- Leroy Anderson
16) Last Christmas- George Michael
15) Sarajevo/Christmas Eve- Trans Siberian Orchestra
14) Rockin Around the Christmas Tree- Brenda Lee
13) Holly Jolly Christmas-Burl Ives
12) Baby It's Cold Outside- James Taylor, Natalie Cole
11) That's What Christmas Means To Me-Stevie Wonder
10) 12 Pains of Christmas- Bob Rivers and Comedy Corp.
9) Blue Christmas- Elvis Presley
8) Most Wonderful Time of the Year-Andy Williams
7) Dominick the Donkey- Lou Monte
6) All I Want for Christmas- Lisa Layne, Vince Vance and the Valliants NOT Mariah Carey
5) White Christmas- The Drifters (Great version)
4) Mistletoe and Holly- Frank Sinatra
3) River- James Taylor
2) Christmas Song- Nat King Cole
1) Believe- Josh Groban

Merry Christmas everybody!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Ride Up Route 103 in Vermont

My wife gets nervous when she travels with me for two reasons. First, she's a nervous person to begin with. Second, I tend to take in a lot of scenery while I am driving along back roads and two-lane highways in the country. This was the case as we drove up Route 103 in Vermont. It's probably not the best idea to gawk at barns, rushing rivers, and covered bridges while you're driving, but you can miss a lot if you don't slow down, or pull over and stop, and take in what's around you. Route 103 isn't recognized as much as some of Vermont's other scenic byways, but with four covered bridges, The Vermont Country Store, and the small towns of Chester, Rockingham, Cavendish, and Ludlow along the route, there's a lot to see and do. I always seem to to come across a number of outrageous places, adventures, or people during my travels, and this trip was no exception.

Holly and I took advantage of a great deal through the Living Social website in which we received two nights stay at the Castle Hill Resort near Ludlow, two $25 vouchers towards a massage, and a $25 voucher towards dinner at their high-end restaurant.  The hotel is on Route 103, and I thought I would see what the small towns along this route had to offer. First up was the Vermont Country Store just outside of Bellows Falls. The store prides themselves on providing hard-to-find items in addition to local specialities. I have to say they deliver on that promise, even if there products are little steep in price. You can find anything from Fartless 16-bean soup to fine chocolates, or a sock monkey in a box to go with your bottle of Anti-Monkey Butt Powder. You get the idea. The selection of cheeses, candies, and syrups is extensive, if overpriced, but definitely worth checking out. There is also a covered bridge next to the parking lot that adds a little local flavor to this Green Mountain state original. I have always been amazed that these bridges still exist. Most of them are primitive, yet beautiful structures, that have withstood floods, storms, and other punishment Mother Nature can dish out. They remind you of a less complicated era, and serve as a perfect backdrop for photos of fall foliage, rolling rivers, or winter wonderlands.

The Worrall Covered Bridge is the first bridge you can see about one mile from the Vermont Country Store on Williams Road off of 103. Cross a railroad bridge and follow the dirt road past an old rustic auto repair shop and the bridge crosses the Williams River next to a railroad bridge. An open corn field surrounds Williams Road and the bridge, and the railroad bridge dominates the landscape about 100 yards downstream. My wife looked at me with bewilderment as she watched me stumble on the railroad bridge with uneven tracks and railroad ties and the rushing river below to get a better picture of the Worrall Covered Bridge. Such is the life being married to a curious and adventurous travel writer, and recreational photographer.  On a side note, this bridge was just recently refurbished in 2009, and the Vermont Department of Transportation does a fantastic job preserving these architectural treasures that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but handle a large amount of traffic as well.

About a half mile upstream is the Bartonsville Bridge on Lower Bartonsville Road. At 159 feet, this is one of the longer covered bridges in the area, and was restored with major repairs in 1983. Photographing this bridge wasn't easy as steady traffic used the bridge, and the Green Mountain Railroad was passing in front of the bridge as well. There are a total of four covered bridges in the town of Rockingham, with Route 103 providing direct access to three of them.

Next up on Route 103 is the town of Chester, famous for its small historic village of houses made of local granite. Four of the houses are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A nineteenth century railroad station also gives visitors the ability to visualize a simpler time. After passing a number of local stores and churches, Route 103 leaves Chester, and takes travelers past some weathered barns with old business signs probably seen at filling stations in the fifties. The mountains and the Williams River provide a peaceful scenic vista as you enter the town of Cavendish and the village of Proctorsville. This is where I found some VERY unusual landmarks of Vermont's rural culture. Here are just a few examples.

There is an expression "pictures say a thousand words." That would apply to these photos and the village of Proctorsville. Our hotel the Castle Hill Resort is on the outskirts of this village, so I had to take a trip into town to find what local recreational opportunities were available to us. Singletons General Store attracted me right away as soon as I saw that they sell guns, ammo, and whiskey. Adding to the ambiance was a dead deer carcass on a scale in the parking lot. You can see it in the photo of the store's parking lot. I have some ultra-conservative family members in Maryland, so I thought I would check and see if they had any whiskey, guns, and ammo gift baskets in the seasonal section of the store. I came up empty on that quest. It actually looked like they made some pretty tasty sandwiches inside, although I chose not to partake as I am not a fan of venison.  I particularly like the colorful shotgun shells posing as Christmas lights on the gift display case. Nothing says "Peace on Earth" and holiday cheer like colorful shotgun shells.

After leaving Singleton's, we took a short ride down Depot Street in Proctorsville where we crossed the Black River and passed a house with a giant spider made of hay that you see above. I'm not sure whether  that family's calendar is stuck on Halloween, but it must have taken a long time to make. Up the street on the left was the Vermont Apple Pie and Cheesecake Company.  Tucked in behind a couple of small residences on a gravel drive, this place serves the great breakfast you would expect in a typical country kitchen. Upon entering this establishment, we felt like we were dropping in on a family meal at a random house. You could actually hear someone lighting the gas burner on the stove from the dining area. The kitchen is adjacent to the dining room with shelves containing blenders, flour canisters, and scales, and the living room featured an old fashioned upright piano and pictures of family weddings, christenings, and vacations. The owner came to take our order clad in an apron, jeans, and a collared shirt with the collar stuck straight up in the air like in the movie Pretty In Pink. The meal started with the owner delivering a small dish of apples covered in freshly ground cinnamon. I have to say this was a nice touch before we ordered our Belgian waffles and blueberry pancakes. Holly ordered the whipped cream for the pancakes on the side, and as the owner brought the order into the kitchen, we heard someone ask"What do they mean by whipped cream on the SIDE?" We aren't their typical customers I guess. Anyway, the food was delicious and the owner was constantly in motion attending to his guests. Next time I go I'll order one of their pies. You can smell the freshly baked pies and goods as you enter the residence. Finally, I had to check out the business called Six Loose Ladies as we left Proctorsville. It is actually a yarn shop and fiber arts gallery that focuses on crafting everything from sweaters, socks, and shawls to quilted postcards, rugs, and handbags. I have to say I got a kick out of the highway sign directing drivers to Six Loose Ladies.

Ludlow is the next and last stop we made on Route 103. Ludlow is sophisticated enough to attract large numbers tourists and skiers with Okemo Mountain, yet it still maintains its small town charm with older mill buildings lining the Black River, and lots of art galleries, antique shops, bookstores, restaurants on Main Street. Sam's Steakhouse and DJ's were our favorite places to grab dinner. If you want to splurge, try the surf and turf option at Sam's Steaks with a dry aged sirloin topped with a fennel peppercorn crust and gorgonzola butter. Pair it with a crab cake and you have meal you'll remember for a long time. DJ's is a favorite local hangout with a good beer selection and a menu that's extensive if not inventive. The spicy meatball appetizer is fantastic. Ludlow offers snowmobiling and cross country skiing in addition to over 100 trails for downhill skiers and snowboarders in the winter. Spring, summer, and fall offer hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, and sightseeing in the middle of the scenic Green Mountains. Buttermilk Falls showcases three 15 foot cascading falls into a wide pool and swimming hole. It's a great place to spend a hot humid day in the summer. Our journey ended in Ludlow, but Route 103 moves further north to the towns of Mt. Holly, Wallingford and Clarendon on the way to Rutland. I'm sure there are more surprises to encounter on this underrated scenic road, but that will have to wait for another weekend or a longer vacation. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Memories of the Marathon in the Greatest City in the World

It's hard to believe it has been six years since I ran 26.2 miles through the streets of the greatest city in the world. Flipping through the channels last Sunday, I found national coverage of the New York City Marathon after I could no longer stand watching the Patriots get a first class beatdown from the Browns.

So many memories popped into my head as I watched the runners navigate the streets of the city's five boroughs. I found this picture rooting through my emails last Sunday. It was taken about a half mile from the starting gate on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, what was once the longest suspension bridge in the world. By that point, my nerves had subsided somewhat, and my focus was to do whatever it took to reach the finish line, and the embrace of my girlfriend and friends. The bus ride to the start in Staten Island was difficult to say the least. We sat in traffic as construction blocked one of the lanes along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Every moment that went by, my stomach continued to churn as I looked from a high point on the expressway down to where I would be running. Most of the course was visible from this point, and as I looked toward the bridges I would be climbing through morning haze, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. To add the tension, I was sitting next to some former coworkers and the CEO of a company that had just laid me off a year earlier. The start couldn't come soon enough.

As I got off the bus in Staten Island, the sun was out, the temperature was already at 60 degrees, and the energy from the 35,000 runners was contagious. I was able to calm myself through some deep breaths, stretching, and encouragement from my former coworkers and fellow runners. As the gun sounded, I watched the thousands of runners in front of me head towards the bridge as if they were chasing a pickpocket, not an uncommon occurrence in New York.  I was amazed at how organized the chaos was, however. Not once did anybody step on me or knock me over like they do in Times Square or Grand Central. The scene of the bridge filling up with runners is a sight that no other city can match.

As I crossed the bridge into Brooklyn, my muscles were warm and I was planning my strategy of how to  pace myself and reserve energy for the steep climbs over the Queensboro Bridge, Willis Avenue Bridge, and the hill up Fifth Avenue in Harlem. Running up Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, I approached Sunset Park where an entire block of fans were blasting the Beastie Boys song "No Sleep Till Brooklyn." I had to contain myself from all the adrenaline I felt from the song and fan support. I still had over 20 miles left! What a great moment though. It helped push me through the rest of Brooklyn and Queens until I arrived at the Queensboro into Manhattan. One regret I do have is not taking in more of my surroundings like the neighborhoods in Brooklyn, the Manhattan skyline from the Pulaski Bridge at the halfway point, and even the foliage in Central Park. The finish line was all that mattered.

At the entrance of the bridge into Manhattan, I inhaled 2 packets of goo for a little energy as I prepared for the climb. Then memorable moment number two took place. Many times New Yorkers think nothing of public urination, but this time was different. A runner dressed in a full Scooby Doo costume ran past me to a wall, slightly hidden, and urinated. This man not only found a way to urinate without fully taking off his costume, but he ran the full 26.2 miles with 20 extra pounds on his body. Seems like a lot of extra effort in an already grueling day with temperatures topping 70 degrees. One of the funniest things I have ever seen.

I had to stop and walk after crossing the bridge into Manhattan as the cramps were starting to kick in. The fans are the loudest on First Avenue, but the sun, muscle cramps, and blisters were taking their toll. As I ran up the sun-drenched pavement of First Avenue, I was looking for my next source of motivation. After I downed a Tylenol 8 hour pill, I crossed the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx where my cell phone rang a couple of times with well wishes from friends. There is only one mile of the marathon run through the Bronx, but that's where I heard someone yell, "Coach Matt, Coach Matt." One of the students I coached at an afterschool track program in the Bronx a year earlier had found me, and handed me some water. That was the motivation I needed as the last 6.2 miles took every ounce of energy, endurance, pain tolerance, and perseverance I had left. These are the moments that matter most at times like these. There was more walking up the hills of 5th Avenue, but I knew Tavern on The Green was near. I was ready to conquer the 26.2 mile monster. The last 10K took over an hour and a half, but I crossed the finish line just under 5 hours with my arms raised in the air and my girlfriend waiting for me with open arms. I did it.

I celebrated that night hard with my girlfriend, my cousin, and my two close friends, and we still talk about that day often. That was the day I decided that I had found my future wife.  After all the support, eliminating my doubts, and watching her climb a fence in front of the NYPD to greet me at the finish line, I knew Holly was for me even though I didn't propose for another two years. She didn't run or train for a single mile with me, but I couldn't have finished without her. I should also mention my friends Jay and Kerry who drove to NYC with us to watch the race, and encouraged me throughout my training.

My final memory was an ovation I received as I entered a small Mexican restaurant near Central Park. I couldn't believe it. These are things I remember most over the difficult days of training and doing long runs by myself. It's an experience unlike any other I've had in my life, and something that only New York could provide. Boston forces runners to qualify with difficult times, and even then, that's not a guarantee to get in. I highly recommend the NYC Marathon. There is no better way to see New York, if you're up to it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Farm to Table Tailgate

For the 13 years I had Patriots season tickets, one of the things I enjoyed most was the pre-game tailgate. Sure I liked the fact that the Pats didn't lose a single home playoff game in those 13 years. But getting together with friends in 2-door cars stuffed with everything from beer and burgers, to flagpoles and firepits, with the smell of grilled food engulfing the ride down Route 1 in Foxborough is unmistakable.  Today, I have found a way to make the experience even better.

Recently I have been buying food from the local farmers market near my office in Dedham. Little did I know how much more fresh, colorful, and flavorful local foods can be. This market sells all local produce, meats, cheeses, baked goods, and even pastas and sauces. I first thought of trying this food at a tailgate after years of eating frozen hockey puck burgers that sit at the bottom of a grocer's freezer for weeks and months, and are often saturated with preservatives and even growth hormones. As the Patriots prepared to take on the Vikings, I prepared our tailgate with local ingredients including bay shrimp right from the pier, the juiciest local tomatoes, fresh mozzarella from Foxboro Cheese Company(it doesn't get more local than that at Gillette Stadium), grass-fed beef, and italian sausages topped with yellow onions, red bell peppers, and fresh garlic. I also shouldn't forget the fantastic salsa from Lemon Thyme Farm in Whitman; fresh and flavorful with the right amount of heat. One recipe my wonderful wife helped me with was our feature dish on this Halloween afternoon. Here's how to make Italian sausages with peppers and onions marinated in beer.

2-3 Pounds of local Italian Sausages
1 tablespoon of butter
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1-2 Large yellow onions
3 Red Bell Peppers
2 Cloves of fresh garlic
4 oz. of Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale or Sam Adams Octoberfest beer
2 Tablespoons of red pepper
2 Tablespoons of Natures Seasoning
6 submarine rolls

Prepare ingredients before the tailgate by chopping the vegetables(onions, peppers garlic) into bite sized pieces. Sautee the garlic in a large pan with the butter and olive oil for 3-4 minutes. Add the peppers, onions, red pepper, Natures Seasoning, and seasonal beer. Simmer for 7-10 minutes. Bring the ingredients in a pan or a container that can be heated on the grill to the tailgate.

At the stadium, grill the sausages on a charcoal grill for roughly 3-4 minutes on each side. Place the sausages into torpedo rolls, and add the onion and pepper mixture to the top. Enjoy!

There are so many reasons to enjoy local food for your Sunday tailgate or your regular meals. It's healthier for you and the environment and better for the local economy. But most of all, it just tastes better. Support your local team and businesses at your next tailgate, and see for yourself.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tribute To A Baseball Icon

He may not be known across America, but he's certainly well known in New England, especially Rhode Island. Pawtucket Red Sox owner Ben Mondor died three weeks ago at the age of 85. I met Ben three years ago as I was writing an article on the PawSox for Rhode Island Home Living and Design magazine. Ben and President Mike Tamburro gave me close to four hours of their time, telling me the history of the franchise, the players, and the monumental obstacles they faced building a successful baseball franchise in a decrepit stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He didn't have much to work with, and only drew about 50,000 fans that first year in 1977 to McCoy Stadium.  He built the brand by providing a great product for a reasonable price, and building and repairing relationships within the community, and investing in not only in a substandard stadium, but an unknown city as well. He didn't offer the dog and pony acts and phony giveaways that the previous ownership didn't deliver on. He just provided a great night out for fans, and made Pawtucket Rhode Island synonimous with baseball. Today the Pawsox draw nearly 700,000 fans to McCoy every year. It's not easy to compete with many of the International League franchises as cities like Charlotte, Columbus, and Indianapolis have bigger populations than Boston, much less Pawtucket. McCoy is as nice a facility as you'll see in the minor leagues, a Pawsox game as an experience second to none, and Ben Mondor made it happen.

There are so many things I admire about Ben and the way he built the franchise. He was often seen greeting fans at the entrance of the stadium, thanking them for coming. He treated his employees well. Dan Hoard, the voice of the Pawsox, mentioned that Ben would send flowers to the wives of employees who were on the road often. He would also reach into his pocket during road trips to make sure players ate at the best restaurants while traveling. He focused exclusively on building the Pawsox, and not any other ridiculous interests like an English soccer team or a NASCAR team, like a certain franchise about 45 miles north. Most of all, I really appreciate the time he spent with me, and the stories he told. I won't get into them in this blog as they sound much funnier when told face to face. That's what Ben did better than anybody else. He built relationships by meeting people in person, and the business by catering to his customers; and was loved and respected for it. He never took himself too seriously either. He wouldn't even put his bio in the media guide. "What the hell do people want to read about me for?" he said to me. I'd have to say that is the one thing I disagree with him on. I was fascinated to learn about him.

So for those of you who are tired of being gouged by John Henry and his sabremetrics nerd herd, remember there are a few business owners who care about their employees and customers. Not every owner or executive takes a huge bonus while denying their employees a cost of living increase. Not every owner fires employees for having a bad hair day, or makes them take the fall for poor management at the top. Hopefully more businesses follow the example of Ben Mondor and the Pawsox, and I hope in my career search that I can find that company. When I do I'll let you know.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vacation Part 2

One of the best things about summer is that baseball is in season, and with so many options available to us here in New England, it makes it easier to distract your self from a difficult 2010 Red Sox season. This summer while the Red Sox were sitting in third place, and Theo Epstein was sitting on his hands at the trade deadline, I went to see the Lowell Spinners. The Spinners did not have a good year on the field, but they certainly know how to entertain an audience. For starters, Lelacheur Park is a fantastic facility on the banks of the Merrimack River near the Aiken Street Bridge.

I happened to attend a game where the Spinners were celebrating the 50th anniversary of bubble wrap. Let's face it, we're all fascinated by bubble wrap, and the Spinners took advantage this entertaining plastic by handing out sheets to every fan in attendance for the purpose of breaking a record. The Spinners wanted to break the record for the most people popping bubble wrap at the same time. Pretty interesting and original promotion I must admit. They had bubble wrap rolling competitions to see what fans could roll themselves in bubble wrap the fastest. There were also bubble wrap dance floors on the field between innings, and bubble wrap trivia contests.

Aside from the bubble wrap the Spinners offered the ever popular t-shirt launch by driving around the field in a replica Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine van. For a game that can cost less than $10, it's worth it just to see the ballpark and the originality of their promotions. The level of play can be sloppy, but you may be looking at the next Red Sox Hall of Famer.  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Part 1

I remember during my days in elementary school, teachers would ask me to recount what I did for my summer vacation.  I didn't like it all that much back then, but now that I write for a living, I thought I would recount the many good memories I had this summer. This summer offered me a lot of different experiences including a trip to Florida during the week of July 4. It's not the first destination for most folks in the summer, but the group I went with and the experiences we encounter always make things interesting. During that week, we saw an egret nearly hit a motorcyclist, torrential downpours that lasted longer than eight hours, a burglary of our timeshare saleman's BMW, and a variety of characters on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale and South Beach performing any number of activities in and out of the water. Oddly enough, it was cooler in South Florida than it was in Boston. Who would have thought we were the ones that were in the more comfortable climate?

Florida has as much natural beauty as any state in the country. Where else would you find a place like the Everglades? It's mysterious body of water in the middle of the state with no particular designation. It doesn't appear to be a lake, river, creek, or anything else I can put my finger on. What it does have is shallow depths with lush vegetation rising above the surface of the water, and an abundance of birds and wildlife that you can't see anywhere in the Northeast. Riding an airboat was unlike anything I had experienced, navigating through shallow water depths and endless an supply of sawgrass. As much I fear animals that can literally bite my head off, I wanted to see an alligator during my time in Florida. I got my wish and even greeted one who came right up to the edge of our boat. Little did I know these animals are fast and can jump about seven feet in the air in addition to having huge bodies, mouths, and teeth. I have attached some pictures that offer an idea of how mean these animals can look.

We stayed at a timeshare owned by the family of our friend Jason Mcinerney. It was a beautiful place in Weston, Florida; a town like many in Florida with one condo complex on top of another, a golf course on every block, and shopping malls that close before the weeknight prime TV shows begin. By the way, is there anything worse in life than enduring a sales pitch from these timeshare sales people? For more than four hours we sat through a god awful meal of Mrs. Pauls Fish sticks and Publix Brand Mac and Cheese, a look inside a condo that hadn't been updated since the release of Saturday Night Fever, and a sales pitch from three people who acted like we were the ones who were funding their next meal. Did I also mention that someone broke into our salesman's car after he told us there hadn't been a crime there in ten years? What a day. We got our free ticket to the airboats though.

It was a great week all in all, but I should also mention our friend Ben endured a family tragedy with the death of his father. Ben's life was changed forever in that moment, but he handled this monumentally difficult situation with the same grace that he handles everything else. I am lucky to have people like Ben Saraydarian in my life, and was moved by how well he handled a difficult situation. Thanks to Kerry and Jason Mcinerney(proud new parents) for inviting Holly and me and for keeping things interesting. Thanks to Josh Fulmer too for making me laugh. Enjoy the photos everyone.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The People's Team

I remember many things on my frequent travels down Interstate 84 to see my favorite hockey team in Hartford. Some of the memories include:

  • Listening to "Brass Bonanza"
  • Buying 4 tickets, 4 hot dogs, 4 sodas and a Whalers hat for the bargain price of $100
  • Paying $5 to park
  • Hearing the goal horn that the Hurricanes still use today 
  • Entering a mall to see an NHL hockey game 
  • Being the only Whaler fan in my suburban Boston neighborhood
  • Seeing players stop by the brewery across from the Civic Center after the game for a beer, where they would chat with fans.      
Mostly I remember seeing the players—on the ice and off. Kevin Dineen, Geoff Sanderson, Pat Verbeek, Ron Francis, Dave Babych, Mike Liut, Joel Quenneville. The Whalers were accessible to their fans and their community—something not seen too often in Boston or anywhere else for that matter. It was a special relationship that ended 13 years ago, and many fans, including yours truly, have never had that void filled. I have visited Brooklyn, New York many times and have spoken with locals regarding the departure of their beloved Dodgers. Many will disagree, but I think the pain many Whalers fans feel is comparable. 

I have received a lot of grief from Bruins fans in the past and present , and heard many nicknames given to the Whale including: "The Hartford Failures"and "Fudgy the Whalers" just to name a few. Of course the Bruins haven't made it past the second round of the playoffs for 18 years—just as the Whalers failed to do in their 18 years in the NHL. 

I chose to cut ties with the franchise after they moved to the "hockey hotbed" of Raleigh, North Carolina. For the last 13 years I have rooted primarily for the New York Rangers because I lived in NYC for two years, and because of my dislike for Bruins ownership that still exists today.  Neither the Rangers, nor the Bruins have reached the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 1997. The Hurrricanes have been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice, the semifinals three times, and a Stanley Cup Championship on their resume since moving south. I can't help but think about how many Whaler fans would have sprouted from Western Mass and all over New England with that type of success. After all, I felt like the 2006 Championship team really belonged to Hartford.

The Whalers have a rich history throughout the region and not just Hartford. They were known as the New England Whalers when the franchise was created in 1972 and played at the old Boston Garden in the old World Hockey Association(WHA).  Paul Hurley of Melrose, Larry Pleau of Lynn, and John Cuniff of South Boston all played on that first Whalers team in addition to playing on the 1968 US Olympic Team in Grenoble, France.

If the Hartford Whalers ever come back to the NHL, my wife thinks the fans should own the team. We won't call them "The People's Team" obviously, but she thinks the people should own the team and hire the right people to make the decisions, and not a liar like current Hurricanes and former Whalers owner Peter Karmanos. She has a good idea. What she doesn't know however, is that in many ways the Whalers already are the "People's Team".  That was never more evident than this past Saturday as former Whalers owner and film producer Howard Baldwin organized a Whalers Fan Fest at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. I made the two hour drive to meet the Whalers greatest players, executives, and fans.  Almost 5,000 people in all gathered to spike interest in bringing NHL hockey back to the insurance city.

The wait was more than 3 hours for autographs to meet players, but almost every one of them stuck around to sign posters and memorabilia for loyal fans. Many whaler greats made the trip: Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen, Dave Babych, Chuck Kaiton, Joel Quenneville—even Mr. Hockey Gordie Howe was there. He would only sign his book for a fee, of which half went to local charities, but it was small price to pay to see one of hockey's three greatest players. I left around 5:30 and Chuck Kaiton, the Babych brothers, and other players were still there after 6 plus hours of signing autographs. Players were supposed to finish signing around 2:30 in the afternoon. There was no complaining from players or fans, just appreciation and gratitude for loyalty of a fallen, but not forgotten franchise. It was worth every minute of the 2 hour drive through traffic to Rentschler Field in East Hartford. In all truthfulness I would have a few more distractions while I waited in line like highlights from old games, food and drink vendors making rounds, maybe even some interactive games or contests. But all in all it was great day meeting my favorite Hartford Hockey Heroes. Howard Baldwin,  the Whalers first owner, looks to bring the franchise back by first taking over operations of the AHL Wolfpack and renaming them the Connecticut Whalers. He is also throwing a huge celebration in February similar to the Winter Classic, with Alumni games pitting former Whalers against Bruins legends among other activities. He'll be Hockey Hero #1 if he can get the NHL back to the Insurance city.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Boston Marathon

First off, I would like to congratulate all the finishers of the Boston Marathon this past Monday. Actually, I would like to congratulate every finisher of every marathon. No matter what marathon you run, running 26.2 miles is the ultimate test of mental and physical strength and perserverance. Special congrats to Eric Engdahl and Josh Staunton who ran for Sheila Engdahl, Eric's mom who passed away from Lou Gehrig's Disease last year. Great job guys.

There are a lot of great charities who benefit from dedicated runners and fundraisers like Eric and Josh. Charitable runs are one of the aspects that make the Boston Marathon and all marathons truly worthwhile events. The problem I have always had with the Boston Marathon is that the Boston Athletic Association, the organizer of the event, goes out of its way to exclude deserving people looking to enter what many regard as the most prestigious marathon. Running is an inclusive sport and an inclusive community, and many of the elitists who organize this event do not acknowledge this fact. Boston is the ONLY marathon in the world that requires a qualifying time. For my age group, I have to run another marathon in a time of 3 hours and 15 minutes or less in order to qualify for Boston. In other words, that is a 7 Minute and 26 second mile for the whole race. Not the easiest accomplishment for us mere mortals. The other option is to raise money for a charity and get a guaranteed number/entry that way. As noble as this idea is, runners are required to raise at least $3,000, and maybe even more depending the charity. If the money is not collected, it comes out of the runner's pocket/credit card. With a difficult economy, this can be an overwhelming task in addition to training for the race itself.

Most races like the New York and Chicago Marathons use a lottery system instead of a ridiculous qualifying time. This gives everybody a chance to tackle the 26.2 mile monster. New York even has guaranteed entry for those who run 9 races for the New York Road Runners Club in a calendar year. The BAA should wake up and scrap their eliteist, exclusive policies. The Boston Marathon can accomodate the numbers, they just choose not to. Allowing runners of all abilities would not affect the elite runners like many have claimed. Other marathons have the same elite runners, and their times are not affected by recreational runners. This is not the Olympics or the NFL combine; a qualifying time should not be necessary. Someday I hope to run Boston, and I will do the charity route. I just hope I have a lot of generous friends and family.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Better Baseball Bargains: Outside Boston

Once again the Red Sox have regained the top spot in the Fan Cost Index released by It now costs $335.00 for 2 adult average price tickets, 2 children average priced tickets, 4 small soft drinks, 2 small beers, 4 hot dogs, 2 programs, 2 adult sized caps, and parking. This amounts to $5.00 more than the Cubs, and $18.00 more than the Yankees who are fresh off a World Championship and a sparkling new stadium. The Red Sox are also the only Major League team that does not offer a single promotional giveaway item to fans during the seasons. The Cubs actually beat out the Red Sox by a quarter for the highest average ticket price at $52.56. For those of you are traveling this summer, and can't afford to take out a second mortgage on your home to see an MLB game live at Fenway, here are some options you might want to take in. The Red Sox also travel to many of these ballparks.

Yankee Stadium Bronx, NY

The Yankees appear to have heard their fans' requests, or at least observed the empty seats in the premium sections that were going for a mere $2500. Now the Yankees offer half-priced tickets to select games for students, children under 14, and miltitary personnel. Select areas of the grandstands, bleachers, and terrace offer tickets for $5 on certain games. Senior citizens can also buy select game tickets for $5. Try finding that at Fenway. Family games and and select Tuesday night games are also offered at a discount. There's no shortage of food options at Yankee Stadium either. Carl's cheesesteaks, sushi, Boars Head deli sandwiches, Nathan's hot dogs, pulled pork and briscuit sandwiches, garlic fries, and Otis Spunkmeyer cookies are just some of the items on the Yankee Stadium menu. There's also a Hard Rock Cafe, and New York Yankees Steakhouse. Don't expect friendly service however, Yankee employees don't offer it. The stadium offers plenty of promotions and giveaways however including shirts, caps, and even a fan championship ring. I would stay away from bat day however.

Camden Yards Baltimore, MD

Camden Yards is still one of my favorite places to go. The Orioles are second rate franchise now, but the park is second to none in terms of character, amenities, and convenience. The Orioles offer Upper Reserved seats every Tuesday night for $8. Thursday nights you can get a bleacher ticket and a Boog's Barbecue sandwich for $17. These sandwiches are a must at Camden Yards, and are a ritual for me at an Orioles game along with the crab cakes. The Baltimore Brewery offers 8 different beers on draft, but it is the taste of those sweet and salty barbecue sandwiches at Boogs that keep me on Eutaw Street for half the game. Tuesday appears to be the night to clean up at Camden Yards as you can also receive a free t-shirt for every Tuesday game.

Citizens Bank Park Philadelphia, PA

The Phillies have a better team and better bargains than the Red Sox do right now. The two-time defending National League champions still try and offer bargains such as dollar dog nights. They also offer giveaways every week, including t-shirts, bobbleheads, and even scally caps. The Phillies offer $20 tickets in the upper 300 level that includes a $10 concession credit. For $30 dollars, you can watch the game from the short porch in left field by Harry the K's Broadcast Bar and Grill. This is a great option that I would recommend, as it is a great view and honors the late Phillies broadcaster who died last year. Philly fans are tough, so don't look for trouble because you will find it. The ballpark opened in 2004 and is a huge upgrade over the old Veterans Stadium. For the best cheesesteaks, skip the ballpark and head to Pat's in South Philly, or Steve's in North Philly.

Tropicana Field St. Petersburg, FL

In my visit to the Trop 3 years ago, the biggest surprise I found was FREE PARKING, as opposed to $35 regular season to $75 for playoff games at Fenway. A 2008 appearance in the World Series for the Rays has eliminated a lot of freebies, but for those cars with 4 or more passengers, there is still free parking in selected lots. The Rays also offer Family Fun Days on Sundays where outfield seats sell for $22 and baseline box seats for $31. Tickets include a hot dog, snack, and a soda. Kids can also run the bases or play in a wiffle ball tournament in left field after the game. Giveaways include Evan Longoria bobbleheads and those annoying cowbells we always hear when the Sox play the Rays. The Trop had limited food choices when I was there, but a significant upgrade in choices includes tradtional ballpark food, cuban sandwiches(a local favorite), panini sandwiches, cajun po boy sanwiches, and mahi mahi fish tacos. The Trop has a centerfield brewpub and the Majors' only cigar bar for those who like a good stogie. There are even concerts after certain games featuring Nelly, Hall and Oates, and ZZ Top. Watching baseball indoors isn't the best, but considering Tampa's weather in the summer, it's not the worst situation either.

Coors Field Denver, CO

One of my favorite ballparks anywhere, and the Red Sox go there this year! You can still buy tickets in the bleachers, or the Rockpile as it's called, for $4. The Rockies have jacked up prices specifically for the Red Sox series, but you can still find a lot of good deals available, like parking for $5. Enjoy the game and the sunset in left field with a giant Coors Light, a Rockie Dog, garlic fries, or even the signature Rocky Mountain oysters. This is how baseball should be watched in open air with a cold beer, great food, great weather, at a good value: a real Rocky Mountain High.

I also had great experiences in Toronto and Atlanta as well. Atlanta is where I had the biggest hot dog I ever ate: 1lb. There are other options for those who don't want to gorge themselves however. Toronto offers tickets vs. the Red Sox for $14. For a Canadian cuisine experience, try a smoked meat sandwich with a Labatts beer.

I realize that as long as games at Fenway sell out, the Red Sox will continue to charge what they can, and that's fair I guess. But when you spend that money poorly like they did this year, and field second rate players like Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre and Mike Cameron, the Red Sox better think of new ways of attracting fans.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Food Vacations

Last month I took my wife to a hotel run by the Vermont Culinary Institute for the weekend. The Essex Vermont Culinary Resort is a four diamond resort in Essex, VT with a full service spa, indoor pool, outdoor hot tub, tennis courts, golf course, bike path, hot air balloon rides, and the Northern Lights Rock and Ice Adventure complex. The city of Burlington is also nearby with numerous indoor and outdoor activities for all seasons.

Our experience revolved around the food, however. Cinnamon scones, maple creme brulet, peanut butter chocolate mousse, homemade muffins, antipasto, fennel orange salad, mahi mahi with pineapple salsa, Italian benedict with pancetta chiron sauce, caramel swirl cheesecake, banana bread pudding, fresh-made omelets with Cabot cheddar cheese, and homemade belgian waffels with local Vermont maple syrup were just a sampling of choices, on the Sunday brunch menu! Maple bacon has to be one of the greatest food creations ever with a crispy texture, and a sweet and salty flavor. I also tasted the Orecchiette vegetable salad not knowing the pasta looked like a small ear until it arrived. Butler's Tavern and Restaurant is the resort's onsite establishment that features farm to table cuisine, with an emphasis on local ingredients. Dinner selections include a collection of Vermont artisan cheeses or a Vermont goat cheese souffle for the first course. I tried Porcini Dusted Beef Tenderloin with a marsala sage glace de viande (or demiglaze), chive and sour cream mash potatoes, and grilled asparagus. My wife had the sea bass with red onion jam. It was not the best meal we have ever had, as the tenderloin was slightly overcooked and the sea bass a little bland, but the service was excellent, and the beer and wine selection is as good as any fine restaurant. I would recommend the crispy Arctic Char a la plancha with wilted greens, wild rice cake. Char is like salmon with a lighter flavor that melts in your mouth. The Flat Iron steak in chimichurri butter is another entree that is definitely worth trying.

At lunch time, Butler's Tavern has buffalo wings that are among the best I've ever tasted. A perfectly crispy, tender, and spicy sweet coating made us order two plates. Next time I'm trying the Braised Duck Nachos. Try finding those in taverns around here. I had the Misty Knoll Turkey Sandwich with Vermont smoke and cure bacon. Their bacon makes everything taste good. Sugar Mountain pulled pork sliders are also excellent, and the chicken and wild rice soup is a perfect start to your meal. There is even a cashew crusted tofu steak for vegetarians. For those who love fish and chips, the tavern has the fried favorite beer battered with Long Trail ale.

To start the day I had the Essex French Toast with homemade sourdough bread, lavender butter, and powdered sugar. The best thing about breakfast in Vermont? Green Mountain Coffee. I love it. It's stronger and better tasting than Dunkin Donuts, and not as acidic as Starbucks or Seattle's Best. Make cure to cover the your french toast with the local maple syrup too.

As you can see there wasn't much more to do than eat, although we managed to get massages at the resort, and made a quick trip to Church Street in Burlington. The Magic Hat Brewery was a good find too. Basically by Sunday, we were engaged in a food coma that is only rivaled by Thanksgiving Dinner. If you're aspring chef, you can take classes at the Cook Academy. Cutting Edge Knife Skills, Party in Spain, and April in Paris are just a few of the classes offered. I do recommend the experience at the Essex, but I also recommend bringing a pair of stretchy pants.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Great Tour of Boston

There are a lot of aspects of Boston that frustrate me. I explained one of them in my last post. Today however, I'm doing a complete 180 and I will talk about things I love about Bay State's signature city: The skyline view from across the Mass Ave Bridge, the distinct neighborhoods, the history, the food in the North End, running along the Charles, a sunny day game in the bleachers at Fenway. Recently I found a tour of Boston that I also loved. It not only depicts the historical significance and sites of Boston, but shows how to capture Boston's best attractions and qualities on film.
PhotoWalks is a company created by professional photographer Saba Alhadi. PhotoWalks is the only tour of its kind in Boston that presents the city's historic landmarks, architecture, and sites through the creative eye of a camera lens. Alhadi offers tips and techniques on how to take better photos, through proper framing, lighting, and composition. She showed me how to use features on my point and shoot camera that I didn't even know about. The tour was small so Saba was able to provide an extensive history of Boston's Freedom Trail landmarks, in addition to instruction on how capture a subject from a more thoughtful and creative angle. She stressed the fact that Boston is a city of firsts and a city of oldests. Boston has the nation's first hotel, the Omni Parker House, the first public school in Boston Latin, the oldest school system in America, the oldest institution of higher learning in Harvard, the first statue of a historical figure in Ben Franklin, and the oldest subway sytem in the country. She talked about Paul Revere's famous ride and that his famous quote "The British are coming" is not accurate. He actually said "The regulars are coming" because nearly everyone in Boston at the time was British. She talked about how the jackass statue at Old City Hall was created in honor of Andrew Jackson who said, "The people should rule the country." The tour runs from the current state house, to the Park Street Church, to the Granary Burial Ground, to Fanueil Hall Marketplace, to the OldSouth Meeting House, to Paul Revere's House and the North End. What better place to end a tour at a section of Boston that has more than 80 restaurants within a single square mile. Saba also suggested some great photo opportunites at the Haymarket Farmers Market. She said many of the vendors are not thrilled with having their photograph taken, but I didn't care, it was an opportunity I couldn't miss. The best part of the tour is the fact that you don't need an expensive camera or extensive photographic knowledge, jus a desire to learn. I highly recommend it, and the photos I took during the tour are attached.