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Vacation Part 2: Cape Cod

The main plan for this vacation was to spend a week on Cape Cod. My parents have been vacationing there every year (well, as far as I know they haven’t missed a year) since I was a kid. Even after they divorced they continued to go, each one going down to the cottage on consecutive weeks, with my sister Katy and me going down for two weeks. We moved among different cottages in Orleans over the years before eventually settling on a duplex near Skaket Beach.

Katy suggested last year that we all go down with my Dad this year, so we were able to rent both sides of the duplex. Dad and I drove down last Saturday, and Katy joined us, with her boyfriend Andrew, and her son I and his daughter A. I haven’t done more than a day trip down to the Cape in over 20 years, so I was looking forward to this.

Cottage Sign

We had gorgeous weather for most of the week – a little humid at the start, and a little cloudy at the end, but considering it could easily have been drivingly hot and humid all week, or raining, I’m not complaining!

We settled into a pattern of Dad going to get us pastries for breakfast in the morning, and we’d each brew coffee on our sides of the cottage. It was relaxing. Katy and Andrew went out for runs or walks in the morning, and sometimes I’d amble down to the beach to look around. We spent some time down on the beach during the week, but we also spent a lot of time going out and doing stuff.

We took a trip down to Chatham, where we stayed for a few years when I was quite young. It’s got a cute downtown with a nifty candy shop, among other stores. On the way back we swung by the beach, which has changed a lot over the last few decades, as storms have washed away the natural breakwater and radically changed the shape of the sands. Once upon a time you could walk in the shallows and pick up starfish, but I don’t think they come in that far anymore. I bet that over the next few decades that erosion will even threaten Chatham Light which stands a few dozen yards from the bluffs over the beach. We’ll see.

Chatham Beach

None of us were terribly familiar with restaurants to go to on the Cape, so by Wednesday we were turning to Yelp to find some places to eat. We found several good ones, such as the Orleans Public House (which we went to three times), and the Rock Harbor Grill.

On Tuesday, everyone else went off on a horseback ride, so Dad and I drove down to Woods Hole to see the Oceanographic Institution (WHOI, pronounced “hooey”). Unfortunately, it took longer to get there than I’d expected, and it turns out the WHOI buildings close down at 4, so we didn’t get to see a lot. But it’s pretty down there. We’ll have to go back earlier in the day someday.

On Wednesday we went to the Edward Gorey House, where we tried another new restaurant, the Optimist Cafe, which was maybe the most popular among us. The Gorey House was quite cool, with lots of samples of his cartoons and original works. The house is the house he lived in, which is also pretty neat. And there’s a scavenger hunt based on the Gashleycrumb Tinies. Well worth the visit. I wish I’d bought one of their tote bags.

Edward Gorey House front door

On Thursday, Debbi came down with her sister Dianne and two of her kids, R and J. The girls, R and A, are about the same age, and the boys, J and I, are also about the same age. After a bit of ice-breaking, they all got along great. We got pizza for lunch, and then went down to the beach for a couple of hours. It was nearly low tide, so the boys dug in the sand for a while, and the girls pulled the floats out to the water and paddled around until it was time to go. Everyone seemed to have a great time!

Andrew and A left Friday morning, and the rest of us made a trip to shop in Wellfleet. We had lunch at the simply-named Bookstore & Restaurant; I’d been going to the bookstore for decades, and always assumed the restaurant was just a basic diner, but it’s actually a quite good restaurant. The bookstore, sadly, is a shadow of its former self; I found a number of neat things there in the past (they once had a fine set of silver age comics, for example), but now it seems to be a barely-organized collection of random stuff. Too bad. Anyway, we also walked over Uncle Tim’s Bridge, which is quite scenic. Well, on the way back I and I (heh) ran down the hill and across the bridge as fast as we could go. I can outrun him, but he’s not far from being able to outrun me. Then we waited for Dad and Katy to catch up.

Saturday it was time to head out, so we packed up and cleaned the cottages and drove home. Dad and I stopped at the Optimist Cafe for brunch, and bludgeoned out way across the Cape through nasty traffic. I visited Mom for the afternoon and then went back to have dinner with Dad and do laundry. Tomorrow Debbi and I fly home.

It was a nice, relaxing trip. Kind of nice to be off the Internet for a week except for my iPhone. I don’t know when I’ll make it down there again, but hopefully before another 20 years go by.

Sitting on Skaket Beach

John Scalzi: Redshirts

Redshirts is just about the perfect vacation book: It’s a page-turner, it’s funny, and it’s thought-provoking.

It takes place in a Star Trek-like universe, in which crew members of the starship Intrepid find that they are at great risk of being killed whenever they go on a mission with one of five key officers. So much so that most of the crew tries to look busy whenever they can’t avoid the officers outright. Our hero Andrew Dahl and his friends – all recent recruits to the Intrepid – try to unravel what’s going on, and find that not only is there a high fatality rate, but that the officers’ adventures are filled with near-impossible levels of coincidence, as well as events which seem flat-out impossible violations of the laws of physics. Eventually they convince themselves of what must be happening, and hatch a plan to try to fix things and save their own lives in the process.

If you’re familiar with the central conceit of the book, then I’ll discuss it at more length after the jump below. If you’re not, then I’m not going to spoil it here. And it’s either going to work for you, or it isn’t. It worked for me (for the most part), and the story is a fine example of characters backed into a corner and struggling as best they can to get out of their predicament. It’s also at at-times touching story for certain characters who realize what’s been happening to them (in some cases for years), and for certain other characters whose confrontation with the fantastic events causes them to reflect upon and change the course of their lives.

Scalzi is, no doubt about it, a fantastic wordsmith. His light tone doesn’t always work for me (and I can easily see it turning off some readers), and he has to thread the needle here to not lighten the tone of the often-gruesome first half of the book without making it feel inappropriate, and then switch gears to the more serious second half without it becoming maudlin. He succeeds at this quite well, and I was constantly impressed with how funny the book was, but also how clever it was.

As I said, the similarity to Star Trek is deliberate, but it’s not – as I’ve seen a few observe – fan fiction by any reasonable measure. It’s also not metatextual in that it’s not really commenting on Star Trek or similar shows. (If it’s commenting on anything, it’s poking fun at the bad writing that creeps into – if not pervades – most TV shows which have to crank out 20+ episodes per year.) It’s using the basic framework of Star Trek to tell its own story, and I think by-and-large it is respectful of the genre while still being realistic about its sillier aspects.

Unless you take your Star Trek too seriously, or can’t connect with Scalzi’s writing style, I think Redshirts is well worth a read.

Some more spoiler-laden discussion after the jump:

Read on, Macduff! »

Vacation Part 1: Errands with Mom

We headed off for our latest vacation last Tuesday night. Yes, another red-eye flight to Boston to visit our families. Which also means it was another vacation apart for us, since I go to visit my family and Debbi goes to visit hers.

The payoff for the vacation for me comes tomorrow – more on that in part 2! But this week was about doing stuff with Mom.

One thing I miss about visiting is that I no longer spend long, lazy days hanging out with Mom at her house. Since she no longer drives, I spend a chunk of my visits taking her to places she wants to go, and since I’m managing her finances I often have things I need to do with her. It can be stressful at times, and it’s definitely less relaxing than before she moved.

It was raining when we landed early Wednesday, and it kept up when Debbi and her sister dropped me off at my Dad’s house. He and I went to breakfast and then I took a nap. After lunch I drove out to get Mom.

On the way I drove past my elementary school, which is being demolished to be replaced which a modern building. It’s about 90 years old and felt out of date even when I attended, so while it’s sad to see it go, it’s also time. Then I drove past my Mom’s house, which we sold last year, and found that it had been demolished. Which is what we expected when we sold it, since like the school it was old and not really able to be modernized. I was less shocked by it than I’d expected. But it does close the book on part of my childhood.

I met Mom and told her about the school and the house. And then we headed off to run some errands. First she had some watches she needed fixed, and I had researched some jewelers we could go to. One of them was supposedly just a few blocks from her place, but it no longer existed. So instead we drove to a very nice little place the next city over, and they were able to get all of her watches’ batteries replaced the same day. Then we swung by the bank to deal with an issue with her bank account, which was pretty straightforward.

We went to dinner at Tartufo, a quite good Italian place I hadn’t been to before. Definitely worth a return trip someday. The only downside had nothing to do with the restaurant – the rain had gone away for several hours, but returned during dinner, and I’d left the umbrellas in the car, so we got drenched on the way back.

Thursday morning I got up really early to pick up Mom and her cat Maggie to take Maggie to the vet. Maggie is a middle-aged cat who needed her teeth cleaned, so we dropped her off shortly before 8 am. We met the vet and he said they’d cleaned her teeth before, which was a relief to me since it meant she’d gone through anesthesia before and would probably be fine.

The other big task for the day was to go to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to get her a new state ID. One thing I’ve been very grateful for is that Mom has not wanted to resume driving, and though I asked her repeatedly if she was okay with surrendering her driver’s license, she stuck to her willingness to do so. So that meant all we had to do was wait for 90 minutes for our turn to submit the forms. Fortunately the lady who helped us was extremely helpful and after the wait it all went very smoothly.

We had lunch and then picked up Maggie, whose cleaning had the best-case outcome, with no teeth pulled. We brought her home, the vet having warned us that she might be lethargic and have a suppressed appetite for a day or so. She promptly ate half a can of food which alleviated that worry. Since we’d driven all over creation, we instead went out to get coffee and do some walking, and ended the day having dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant.

I breathed a sigh of relief at having done all the tasks I needed to do for the week, so Friday Mom and I did some shopping that she wanted to do, and had a nice lunch along the way. We also swung by my elementary school to get a closer look, and ran into my sixth grade teacher who has been taking pictures every day during the demolition. I haven’t seen him in several years, and it was good to chat with him again.

In the evening I headed back to have dinner with Dad and do my laundry.

And tomorrow Dad and I are heading to Cape Cod for a week with my sister and her clan!