Monday, July 24, 2017

Guardians and Secret Agents

Started a sunny morning with Blueberry Pancakes and more Sailor Moon S. "Protect the Pure Heart: The Three-Way Battle" starts off with a bang as a monster steals the pure heart of Unazuki, the younger sister of Mamoru's best friend Motoki. She wants her first kiss to be magical...but without her pure heart, she's trying to kiss everyone in sight! When the girls go after the monster, they discover that Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune are also after pure heart crystals...and unlike the other Guardians, they're willing to let the heart's original owner die if it has the powers they need.

Had relatively early work this morning. Despite the carts needing to be done, the manager insisted I do the bathrooms first. I don't know why. The bathrooms weren't messy. Then he wanted me to clean registers, despite it being relatively busy and the carts still needing to be gathered. I wish that man would learn to get his priorities straight. The carts are necessary to people's shopping experience and should come first. The bathrooms and cleaning can be done when there's less going on.

I was still worn out. It wasn't just the traveling this time. I've had a horrible sinus headache and a running nose since I came back. I went straight home and into bed for a nap.

This time, I managed an hour and a half before I finally got up for good. Got a little bit of writing for the next few hours. Hank isn't happy that old Ben wants to cover his boat with fishing net, but he thinks it'll allow them to blend into the foliage long enough to sneak onto the island.

Finished out the Sailor Moon disc as I made scrambled eggs with broccoli, cheese, and mushrooms for dinner, with blueberry shortcake for dessert. "Let Moon Help With Your Love Problems" insists Usagi when she enters her best friend Naru and Naru's nerdy boyfriend Umino in a contest for couples. Haruka and Micheru have entered, too, even though Haruka thinks the whole thing is silly. No one is laughing when the heart statue that's the symbol of the contest comes to life and attacks Umino...and Sailor Uranus and Neptune try taking the pure heart again.

The last episode on the disc was "Coldhearted Uranus: Makoto In Danger." Makoto gets some bisexual stirrings when she develops a girl crush on Haruka. The older girl encourages it, hoping to learn more about her pure heart crystal. Makoto is targeted by a monster, but the creature doesn't get away with her heart...at first. When the monster attacks again, it's her friends to the rescue, but Sailor Uranus and Neptune aren't acting so friendly.

Finished the night chatting with Lauren online while watching For Your Eyes Only. James Bond (Sir Roger Moore) is assigned to find out what happened to a sunken ship that held a special computer used to control British submarines. The archaeologist who was to have gone after the computer was murdered, along with his wife, by a Cuban hitman. Bond witness the hitman in turn be killed by the archaeologist's daughter Melina (Carole Bouquet) who wants revenge on her parents' killers. Bond knows where that can lead...especially when a wealthy but shady Italian who admires the English (Julian Glover), his youthful ice-skating prodigy (Lynn-Holly Johnson), and a Greek smuggler (Topol) get involved.

This was meant to be a return to form after the over-the-top sci-fi lunacy that was Moonraker...and for the most part, it works very well. Bouquet in particular is effective as one of the more interesting and proactive Bond girls. There's some nifty chase scenes as well, including one across the Spanish countryside in a tiny Citroen car and one of the best ski chases in the entire series.

Those who like their Bonds on the darker side may enjoy one of Moore's less wacky outings. Definitely one of my favorites of Moore's tenure (along with The Spy Who Loved Me and Octopussy).

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sleepy Time Gal

My first day back at work in over a week was tiring. It wasn't really hot when I dashed off to the Acme, but it was killer, cut-the-air-with-a-knife humid. I spent the first hour and a half of my shift doing carts. They were empty when I arrived. We were busy, even early in the morning, and would remain busy all day. A college boy took over the carts around 10:30, allowing me to work on returns and bagging for the rest of the morning.

I was dead tired when I got off, but I couldn't go home just yet. First of all, I needed to get my schedule for the rest of the week. It's pretty much par for the course for this time of year, mid-morning or mid-afternoon, with Tuesday and Friday off again. While continuing with the extra hours might have been nice, it likely won't happen. It's rare that it's this busy during the summer.

I did have some grocery shopping to do. The Acme's having a 40% off Purdue and its brand chicken sale this week. I was able to buy two packs of chicken breasts for the first time in months. Grabbed breaded flounder for dinner. Restocked pancake mix, yogurt, peanut butter, skim milk, broccoli, blueberries (buy 1, get 1), and peaches. I had such a hard time deciding between Talenti on a great sale and a free online coupon for the new low-fat Enlightened Ice Cream, I bought them both. (The Talenti was coconut gelato; the Enlightened was Mint Chocolate Chip.) Plucked a container of mini corn muffins and a package of dessert sponge cake shells off the bakery sale rack.

When I finally got home, I was so tired, I just put everything away, ate a really quick lunch, and went straight to bed. Unfortunately, I was only able to nap for about an hour before a knock on the door jolted me out of my slumber. It was Charlie, who had come to install a stopper on my new door. (Which apparently is so tall, it's banging into those newly whitewashed rafters, cracking them.) I also got him to light the pilot in my oven. He says his men did the burners, but they must have forgotten to go inside.

I gave up on sleep after that. Ended up putting away the remaining books from the living area. Not all of them made it back there. Any Star Wars non-fiction wound up on the Star Wars shelves in my bedroom. Also cleared out one remaining Ever After High doll box and the boxes for the Disney Animator's Collection dolls. They're cute, but they take up room. From now on, I'll only keep the boxes if the toy in question is a genuine collectible.

Went over some of my half-finished Star Wars fanfiction next. Finally decided I'm going to try to complete the 80's action/comedy novel, now titled The Summer Strikes Back. In a riff on 80's summer comedies, Luke and Leia are twins who're visiting their Uncle Ben and his Cottages by the Sea in Ocean View, a fictional Jersey Shore town, during the summer of 1983. Luke wants to focus on becoming a great surfer, like the legendary group the Jedi Knights. Leia is more concerned about the evil corporation, Empire Industries, that's trying to buy the Cottages and half the buildings on the island and tear them down to build a massive resort-mall complex. They find themselves involved with the ragtag group who live at the Cottages and are trying to save their homes, including shady commercial fisherman Hank Solokowski and his northern Brit buddy Charlie Bachman.

The first part from last year is now up at Archive of Our Own. The rest will be coming within the next few weeks!

The Summer Strikes Back at Archive of Our Own

Finished the night with a tasty dinner and the soundtracks for The Pirate Movie and Flashdance as story inspiration. Pan-fried the breaded flounder; added a green salad with oil and vinegar and vegetable spiral pasta tossed with butter, garlic, herbs and Parmesan cheese. Dessert was blueberries in a dessert shell, topped with coconut gelato. Yum! A simple, relaxing meal for a nice, quiet day.

It showered briefly while I was at work, but it didn't really start raining until I was making dinner. We had some pretty noisy storms at one point. It seems pretty quiet now, but the National Weather Service still has a flash flood watch in effect until 6 tomorrow morning. We'll see what happenes.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Goodbye to You

After I finally got everything packed, Lauren, her parents, and I headed out around 10 for the Albany-Rensslauer Train Station. We dodged still more road work, including on the parking lot, as we drove through endless small farming communities and suburbs. It was cloudy and slightly humid, but nothing really terrible. I picked up a quick turkey-whole wheat sandwich for lunch before getting into line.

The Albany train was right on time...the only time I could say that the entire day. I ate my sandwich about 20 minutes or so after I boarded. At least none of the trains today were busy, including the one going to Albany. I was able to enjoy my lunch, color a picture of Han Solo and a strange cat-like creature that apparently got the drop on him in my Star Wars Marvel coloring book, and admire the stunning views of blue lakes and bobbing yachts.

The trouble started when we neared Penn Station. It took us 20 minutes just to pull up to a platform, thanks to congestion and track work. When I did finally make it to the main concourse, it turns out the train to Philly was 20 minutes late anyway. The 20 minutes gradually extended into 45 minutes. Good thing I had a long time between trains in Philly. I ate the remaining snacks I had on hand and watched the monitors.

Other than some rain as we neared Philadelphia, the train to Philly was even quieter than the one to Albany. I mostly listened to music and looked over the Starlog magazine. The view of graffiti, suburbs, and junk yards wasn't nearly as inspiring.

As soon as I got into Philly, I texted Dad and Lauren, then had dinner. Grabbed a quick egg sandwich, called "The Good Egg," and a red velvet-white chocolate chip cookie at Au Bon Pan. Had enough time to hit the bathroom before heading down to the tracks to catch the train to Cherry Hill...which was 10 minutes late. I once again texted Dad and explained the situation, then texted Lauren and told her I was almost home.

Dad was there when the train did arrive in Cherry Hill. It was warm, humid, and very wet. That rain I saw on the train to Philly seems to have been a full-blown thunderstorm here, with lightning and high winds that apparently left a mess in Dad's pool.

I didn't get home until after 8. In good news, Charlie did finish the roof, covering the exposed beams with what I assume to be white plaster. While he didn't leave as much of a mess as he did last time, there were still things that were where they shouldn't have been. He also turned off the fans, which meant the apartment was boiling hot when I arrived. I figured he'd, you know, need them.

Finally got to the first few episodes of Sailor Moon S as I got online. The third season opens with a monster attacking Rei as she wishes for peace. Usagi had been hoping they were all gone, but nope, the Sailor Guardians are back in action! New, more powerful monsters means a new scepter for Sailor Moon, new powers...and two new Sailor Guardians. Sailor Neptune and Uranus are determined to take out the monsters on their own, without any help from the other girls. And what do tomboyish Haruka and girlish, musically-gifted Micheru have to do with it all?

(Oh, and Lauren's fine. She went out to an area diner with her parents after they left Albany. She apparently spent the rest of the afternoon playing video games. They spent it napping. I had a great time, even better than last year. We always have fun when we get together.

And today marks the end of my vacation. I'm a little annoyed that I'm working at 9 AM tomorrow. They couldn't have eased me in and let me work a little later?)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Just What I Needed

We were on the road today by quarter of 10 (after eating our Cheerios and blueberries for breakfast). Once again, we headed towards Albany. Our destinations this time were two of the largest malls in upstate New York. It was another gorgeous day for a drive, much warmer but still sunny and dry. We went through a different part of the country, dodging the road work that seems to spread like mushrooms.

Our first stop of the day was the massive Crossgates Mall. It's so big, it has its own exit off the highway that goes right to it. While it's not as attractive as Holyoke, it does have a really great selection of stores, probably one of the few malls that cater to both upscale tastes and emptier wallets.

We started at JC Penney's.  I wanted to find a new pair of walking sandals. My old ones that I bought at Sears last year are getting worn. Though they had some great sales, I didn't see anything I liked. Lauren didn't, either. We headed into the mall proper.

Our original plan was to hit up their Jay Street Video Games first. This proved to be a tad difficult. According to two big orange signs under the bars, the store had been seized by the State of New York for non-payment of taxes! We had far more luck at a CEX - Electronics Exchange - around the corner. They sold used DVDs, video games, and small electronics items for super cheap. Lauren bought wrestling sets featuring her favorite classic wrestler "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. I picked up copies of two musicals from the 1970's, Scrooge for a dollar and New York, New York for $2. Their GameStop was huge, but alas, it yielded no finds.

Next up was Macy's. Theirs is absolutely huge, two wide stories. I peeked at the shoes and plus-sized blouses, but I didn't see anything for a decent price in the former, and they had nothing in my size on sale in the latter. Lauren grabbed a few more blouses for work.

Our next stops were more fun. We browsed through a Build-a-Bear store that was three times the size of the one at Cherry Hill, but didn't see anything we wanted. The Disney Store was even better. Lauren picked up a Grumpy-themed t-shirt for her dad and an Eeyore shirt for her mom. I was delighted to find beautiful Rey and Jyn dolls (they were listed as "action figures," but they were really closer to fashion doll size) on sale for $7.99 each! They even came with accessories and extra hands that could hold them. I was going to wait for the Forces of Destiny dolls next month, but that was far too good of a sale to pass up on. I'll get the Forces Ahsoka and Padme instead.

We also did well at their enormous FYE. I found the third season of Happy Days on sale for $9.99. Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley are the only live-action TV shows I'm trying to find DVD sets for right now. Lauren picked up a wrestling magazine.

It was past 1:30 at this point, and we both wanted lunch. We ran into our second reality check of the day here. The Ted's Fish Fry we ate at last year was empty and closed. A sign on their door said they closed on July 14th. Rats! We rode over to the Colonie Center, the other mall we wanted to visit, and ate at their Moe's Southwest Grill instead. Lauren had the "stack" - a crunch burrito "stacked" in a soft shell. I went simpler with a chicken quesadilla.

The Colonie Center is almost as big as Crossgates Mall. It's also far older (50 years old last year), and thanks to a recent renovation, one of the prettiest malls I've ever seen. Unlike Crossgates, which feels as sterile as the Cherry Hill Mall, Colonie has elegant wrought-iron railings, soft chairs surrounding vast fireplaces, and a beautiful art-deco-inspired exterior.

We absolutely had to visit the FYE here. Despite it being almost as big as the one at Crossgates, it had closing notices posted. (Sears did, too.) Everything was on sale for 40 or 50% off! It took me forever to choose something from the piles of CDs, toys, t-shirts, and DVDs laying around. I ultimately went with two of the last James Bond movies I didn't have, the Roger Moore movie For Your Eyes Only and the most recent Daniel Craig vehicle, Spectre. (Spectre was $5.99 - I knew that one would be cheaper if I waited. Eyes was $2.99.)

We browsed through their Jay Street Video Store (which was open), a much smaller GameStop, and Barnes & Noble, but found nothing of interest. I finally picked up a pair of comfortable white huarache sandals at Boscov's, along with hair bands for 99 cents each! Lauren grabbed some more blouses and a small 2-in-1 game board for her and her parents to play together. She found more work shirts at Christopher & Banks. I just leaned on those wrought-iron railings and kept an eye on her game board.

Lauren got two shirts at Macy's that she couldn't find in her size at Crossgates. I stuck by her this time. I hadn't found anything at the other one, and I really didn't feel like more wandering and getting lost.

We finally rolled out at around 6:30. We drove down Wolf Road, which is heavily populated with restaurants and shopping centers. As Lauren put it, "if you can't find it at Wolf Road, it doesn't exist." We saw another Ted's and what Lauren was looking for, Reed's Seafood. It's apparently a favorite of her parents, and she wanted to make sure it was still there.

It was past 8:30 when we finally pulled into the garage, and closer to 9 when we were showing Mr. and Mrs. Miller our finds and trying to get Rey and Jyn out of their heavily-twist-tied boxes. We had a quick dinner of defrosted frozen pizza before I took a shower and we went online.

I'm going home tomorrow, once again around noon. Lauren and her parents are going to drive me there. I texted Jodie when we were in Albany. I only got a "wonderful" from her, so I'm going to assume they'll be at Cherry Hill to pick me up tomorrow.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Nothin' But a Good Time

We got a slightly earlier start out around 9 this morning. Mr. and Mrs. Miller had a doctor's appointment and were awake to see us off this time. We had our Cheerios (mine with blueberries), gathered our purses and water bottles, and headed off for Lake George.

I love the ride through northern Massachusetts and upstate New York! It's like a painting of the country, with wildflower-dotted fields, weathered barns, cozy villages, and historic farmhouses. It was cloudy off and on as we made it onto the highway, going over a bridge with a fabulous view of downtown Albany. We encountered no traffic on the road and had no problems getting to Lake George.

We pulled into Six Flags Great Escape around 11. As she did last year, Lauren bought our tickets and parking vouchers in advance. She parked us in the Three Musketeers lot (all the parking lots at Great Escape are named after Mars candies), which at that point, wasn't even half-full. I made sure to leave the jewelry at home this time so there would be fewer things to take off and put through the metal detectors going into the park.

Great Escape is an expansion of an older park, Storytown USA. (Linda Young, who used to go on vacation to Lake George with her parents in the 60's, has mentioned attending the park in its early years.) The park's original attractions were miniature houses for kids to roam around in, with kid-sized furniture and entrances representing a wild west town and the homes of famous fairy tale characters. Lauren, who is a little over five feet, had an easier time getting in the houses to take pictures than I did. (I'm 5'4.) We waved to Cinderella in a sparkly turquoise gown by the bright yellow boot-shaped home of The Old Woman Who Lived In a Shoe. She spun and twirled, flaring out her fancy skirt, to the delight of little girls passing by.

After we waved to Scooby Doo, who was greeting kids between storybook houses, we found ourselves back in the Carousel Plaza. I love merry-go-rounds. They're so elegant and romantic. They remind me of my childhood, when they were often the first thing we'd ride after we got to the Wildwood boardwalk parks. I ended up riding the Grand Carousel solo. Lauren says the around and around makes her stomach queasy. I had no such problems as I managed to scramble onto a pretty white mare with an orange saddle painted with daisies. Some of the ride-on animals were really unique and detailed. I saw a lion, a rabbit, a cat, a camel, and even a dragon!

We strolled over the "wooden" bridge and into the 50's-themed Hot Rod USA. We were going to check out Thunder Alley, their car ride, but the line was ridiculous. We ended up waiting for the Swan Boats instead. They also had a fairly long line, but we were able to get on after 10 minutes because the large family in front of us wanted to stay together. We were greeted by a cheerful brunette Alice at the Alice In Wonderland Walk-Through and giggled at the real Canadian geese and ducks looking for a snack under the reeds of the River Dee. (The driver claimed there were baby marmots by the Jungle Rope Walk-Through. If there were, we didn't see them.)

Stopped for a quick lunch at the pizza booth across from the train station. We both got slices of pepperoni and small Cherry Cokes. As the train started its course around the park, the two of us settled down with our lunch and watched it leave.

Since we were there, we thought we'd hop on the train on its return to Hot Rod USA. The Storytown Train runs a similar route to the Swan Boats, going through a tunnel by Thunder Alley and around the river, past Humpty Dumpty, Popo the Purple Cow (who looks more like a friendly dragon), and Hickory Dickory Dock. Unlike the boats, it takes you through the spooky woods, giving you a glimpse of "abandoned" Ghost Town vehicles and Jungle Rope Bridge elephants and hippos.

Lauren's favorite ride at Great Escape is the Raging Rapids in the Alpine-themed Fest Area. She's not the only one who enjoys it. It's one of the most popular rides at the park...with one of the longest lines. By this point, the sun was in and out, making it the perfect time to get wet. The first time around, we shared our vehicle with three enthusiastic and funny teen sisters. They enjoyed the ride as much as we did! The poor youngest girl got soaked the worst, to her noisy dismay. On the second time around, we ended up between families who wanted to stay together and got a vehicle to ourselves. They added a few more bumps and waterfalls to the last lap, including a sprayer. Both times, we ended up pleasantly damp, but not soaked.

Normally, we love playing the boardwalk-style games around the corner from the Rapids, but they've gotten awfully expensive over the years. We did find an air hockey game outside and played a rematch; Lauren won again, 5-3. The crane games were a tad less pricey. I didn't win anything, but Lauren, after many tries, got a cute stuffed emoji star with heart eyes.

Since it's on the way back from the Fest Area, our next stop (after a break to use the bathroom and buy soda) was the Alice In Wonderland Walk-Through. Alice herself was gone by then, but I did get some shots of the massive fiberglass Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar on his mushroom, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and the Queen of Hearts and her court.

The line for Thunder Alley wasn't quite as daunting later in the afternoon as it had been around lunchtime. You ride 50's-style coupes with different paint jobs around a small track decorated with towering Technicolor tulips and billboards representing Storytown USA when it opened. The actual buildings from the 50's across the street added greatly to the atmosphere, including the red and blue neon sign with the giant chicken in the middle.

By this point, we were tired and dry, and the clouds were getting darker by the minute. It was time to buy souvenirs and head home. We explored a few stores at the International Village, but finally opted to buy stuffed animals from the gift shop that doubles as the park exit. She picked up a two-foot, electric blue bear with Six Flags' logo embroidered on his paw. I couldn't fit a stuffed animal that size in my luggage! I settled for a small stuffed tiger who bore something of a resemblance to Hobbes from the Calvin & Hobbes comics.

It sprinkled a bit as we made our way back to the car. Thankfully, the rain was long gone by the time we hit the highway. We had other problems. Traffic on 1-87 was backed up for miles, thanks to an accident. This part of the trip should have taken less than an hour. It was over an hour and a half later before the traffic finally broke up and we were back in business, as Lauren put it.

(I'm so glad she's good at dealing with traffic. The last time I was in a car that was stuck in traffic that badly was when Rose graduated American University in Washington DC in 2002. Mom drove Anny, Keefe, and me to her sister Terri's house in the DC suburbs in Virginia for the ceremony. The traffic around DC was a nightmare, even heavier than what we got stuck in today. Mom freaked out, screaming and crying. Anny cranked up the hard rock and flirted with truckers out the window. I think she was 16 or so at the time. I still don't know how 6-year-old Keefe slept through the entire incident. I was very close to jumping out a window and walking to Aunt Terri's, traffic be damned.)

It was almost 8 before we finally made it into the garage. We showed Mr. and Mrs. Miller our stuffed animals and heard about their day, gave them the mail, and ate turkey bacon sandwiches for a quick dinner. After Lauren looked up an old friend on Facebook, we played a couple of rounds of Yoshi's Woolly World. Finished up World 4 with a crazy ride on curtains, trying to direct arrow balls to treasures (and around Skyguys), and dodging a giant Audrey II-like piranha plant.

Tomorrow's my last full day here. At press time, we're planning on returning to Albany to browse through two major malls in he area.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Small Town Girls

I was up at quarter of 8 this morning. Lauren didn't start stirring until around 9:30. I read Crocodile on the Sandbank and wrote in my journal for a while, then got dressed and had cereal and the last peach for breakfast. I was messing around with my cell phone when Lauren came upstairs and said she was ready to go.

Our first stop of the day (after Lauren made a quick run to an ATM machine) was Steve Valenti's Clothes for Men in downtown Pittsfield. Turns out Mr. Valenti himself is a long-time friend of Lauren's dad. He met his wife when she moved from the bank Mr. Miller managed in North Adams to one in Pittsfield. Lauren chose two nice lightweight robes for him, one in mahogany, one in navy, both with white piping. She also found a pale blue plaid nightshirt.

We strolled down North Street, first checking out a "general store" that had apparently just opened. It held toys, some books, sodas, coffee, and other basic sundries. Lauren wanted to take a look at a small consignment store down the street and around the corner. They were a bit like Frugili Consignment in Collingswood, a narrow store selling mostly used women's clothes. Though Lauren says she likes them and has gotten things there before, neither of us bought anything there today.

We next drove down to Lanesborough to check out the Berkshire Mall. They have a farm market every Wednesday and Saturday morning in the summer. We were mainly there so I could get some fruit for breakfast. Though they had piles of early summer produce like Swiss chard and green beans, the only fruit they had were containers of blueberries. I grabbed a pint. I'll eat them in my cereal and give Lauren and her mom anything that's left on Saturday.

The Berkshire Mall's JC Penney is closing, their second anchor to shut down in less than a year after Macy's. Lauren says they're a week from permanent closure. Many departments have already been removed or re-organized, but we were able to find the women's clothing. My friend had more luck than I did. They were mostly getting rid of winter clothes, thick skirts, heavy sweaters, and corduroy slacks. I do need a winter skirt, but winter clothes are really too heavy for me to carry home. She found a set of orange hand towels to use in the bathrooms upstairs.

It was about noon by this point. The Berkshire Mall's food court is small, with just a pizza parlor, a Chinese booth, and one that sells Mexican and burgers. Kept things simple and opted for pizza. I had mushroom and cheese; she had mushroom. It was the right choice. The slices were excellent, salty and greasy with a perfectly soft crust.

A small arcade is nestled on the end of the food court, near the Regal Cinema movie theater. They have a decent selection for the space, including an air hockey machine. Lauren and I played two games, one right after we came in, the other before we left. Lauren won both, but it wasn't for lack of trying in the second! The score on the first game was 7-2. The other game was much closer, 2-1. We laughed and slapped at the puck and had a great time. We also played their ice-themed skee ball machines (I've never seen white plastic balls before). I took a whack at Galaga on the double Ms. Pac Man/Galaga console while Lauren shot basketballs. Between the two of us, we won enough points to pick a slap bracelet (Lauren), a string bracelet (me), and a cherry-limeade Tootsie Roll (I ate that).

There wasn't much else to see at the mall. The Berkshire Mall's been dying for several years, thanks to high rents and poor management that doesn't understand the area. The only stores there that remotely interested us were Jay Street Video Games and a toy shop, Toy Giant. We finally opted to return to Pittsfield for our show instead.

The Berkshire Theater Group is housed in a series of restored vintage buildings in downtown Pittsfield, including the gorgeous Colonial Theater. The auditorium, with its elaborate architecture recalling a bygone era, was the perfect setting for The Music Man. I was impressed. I thought the group did wonderfully with the delightful score. The kids in particular were adorable, and the lady who played Mrs. Shinn was an absolute riot. Her husband was pretty funny, too. Even Lauren said she enjoyed it, and unlike me, she's not really a big musical fan.

Headed further downtown after it let out for dinner at the Highland, a long-time favorite spot of Lauren and her parents. We had a little trouble trying to figure out where to park. All those road construction projects followed us to Pittsfield, including a closed parking lot. She finally ended up parking alongside a Burger King.

Dinner was worth the parking fuss. The Highland is a small hole-in-the-wall just off the main downtown. We've eaten there before, but not in a long time. According to the mirror over our booth, they've been in business since 1936, and they feel like it, with dark wood paneling, ancient vinyl booths, and pleasant old waitresses who knew Lauren on sight and even asked about her parents. She had Veal Parmesan, a huge pile of spaghetti, and a slice of Oreo Pudding Pie. I had a hot turkey sandwich, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce. I mainly ate the turkey and cranberry sauce. I'm not the biggest fan of gravy. The mashed potatoes were ok. I suspect they came from a mix, but they were at least nice and buttery. The turkey was yummy though, juicy and tender. My pie was a sweet, flaky Coconut Custard.

Unfortunately, we discovered when we came out that some idiot dumped ice cream across the front of Lauren's car, including on her windshield. She drove us to the nearest car wash to get it off. This ended up being kind of fun. A nice young fellow gave the car a good, solid scrubbing before we went through the literal ringers. The flashing lights in an arc around the brushes made the whole thing feel more like a ride at Wildwood than washing the car.

It was past 6:30 before we made it home. Lauren helped her dad try on his new sleepwear and passed on Mr. Valenti's greetings. Mrs. Miller and I snacked on blueberries. Oh boy, were they sweet! No wonder Massachusetts is a leading producer of blueberries, along with New Jersey and Michigan.

Lauren and I finished the night downstairs, playing more Yoshi's Woolly World. We went through the first half of World 4 tonight. We started in the jungle, dodging monkeys who couldn't be turned into yarn balls...and ended up dodging a massive catfish that could swallow Yoshis in one gulp! The hardest round was the Latiku maze. You not only have to make your way around the little yellow fellow who throws spike balls at you, you need to figure out how to find the end of the maze, too.

After much deliberation, due to iffy weather, we've decided we're going to visit Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George, New York tomorrow. This is one of our major, extra-long trips, and I always look forward to it.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In a Big Country

We were once again out the door by 10, this time through New York and up into the wilds of Vermont. Every year, we drive through the countryside to visit The Vermont Country Store in the village of Weston. They sell thick Vermont flannels, penny candy, old-fashioned cleaning and beauty products, beautiful, lacy sleepwear, real maple syrup, classic toys, and their own chocolates, cheeses, and baked goods made in the area.

The drive is half the fun. Vermont is absolutely gorgeous. Its moniker "The Green Mountain State" is well-earned. We passed misty mountains cloaked in vast pine forests, ancient silos and weathered barns, cows grazing in pastures, and endless fields of waving corn. There were clouds early on, but by the time we rolled into Weston, the sun was out and it was a lovely day, dry and warm.

We picked the right day to go shopping. Unlike our previous visits, the dusty gravel parking lot wasn't full. Lauren had no trouble finding a spot for her van under a shady tree not far from the back of the store.

The store itself wasn't terribly busy, either. We had plenty of room to walk around and admire their vast selection. There wasn't even a line for the bathroom. The majority of the crowds were concentrated in the front of the store, where the food is sold. Not a surprise, when they had samples of their most tempting treats out for one and all to enjoy. I ended up with my favorite Boston fruit slices - flat half moon-shaped fruit gel candies covered in sugar. I'm also a big fan of their tasty little Cookie Buttons. Picked up peanut butter this year.

Unfortunately, as much as I love exploring the store, even their sale items can be too expensive for my budget. Their clothes in particular are outrageous (though most of them are well-made for what you get). Not to mention, I only have so much room in my smaller suitcase. Along with the food, I picked up two tiny jars of orange and blueberry fruit spread and a really nifty vintage Crayola tin that included an 8-pack of crayons.

Met Lauren at the main register an hour and a half later. She bought a pile of clothes for her parents and had gone to put them in her car. After she finished, she went next-door to The Bryant House Restaurant to see what the wait would be like. The last time we ate there in October 2015, we waited 20 minutes in a line that was out the door. This time, there was no line. We stood for maybe two minutes while they seated a family who came in ahead of us.

The Bryant House is a historic home made over as the Vermont Country Store's eat-in restaurant. They're expensive but worth it, with sandwiches, soups, and pot pies made from the freshest local ingredients. We both had the cheddar bacon soup with half a sandwich. Lauren's half was grilled cheese with chicken and tomato. Mine was thick, delicious chicken salad with lots of chunky nuts and fruits. The cheddar bacon soup was yummy, too, made from rich local cheese and pork. She had an iced tea with her meal. I had an egg cream - chocolate syrup, seltzer, and fresh milk. I love egg creams, but they don't often turn up in South Jersey. She had a slice of Triple Berry Pie for dessert. I went with a crunchy, just-sweet-enough apple crisp.

After lunch, we strolled across the street to check out a few other stores in town. Their Christmas shop is the only one I've ever seen come close to the Winterwood Christmas stores in Cape May County. They're jammed-full of every kind of ornament you can imagine, for every taste, from colorful kids' characters to sports to animals. Lauren picked up a flocked polar bear with a holly-print ribbon and faux holly around its neck. I saw nothing I could afford or carry home.

The Weston General Store is their next-door neighbor. It's a slightly more touristy version of The Vermont Country Store, with a lot of Vermont-themed sweaters and souvenirs along with the fudge, toys, and flannels. Once again, I didn't pick up anything, but Lauren bought a bag of polished rocks, a Yankees-themed Scrabble card game, and Yankees pens.

We returned to the Vermont Country Store and wandered around for another hour. Lauren wanted to check out their upstairs sales. I tried a few samples, but otherwise didn't buy anything else. Lauren came downstairs with a pretty patterned tank top for her mom and a pair of checked pajama pants for her.

Headed home around 4 PM. This year, Lauren did remember to tell her parents that cell phone coverage in Weston is spotty at best. They did get at least one text through that requested chicken sandwiches for dinner. We were going to stop at a small combination KFC/Taco Bell on the turn-off into Berrington to pick up something to eat anyway. I just bought tacos and a large Baja Blast. Lauren grabbed Chicken Sliders for her parents, chicken quesadillas for her, and a small chocolate bundt cake for all of us to share.

We arrived around 6:30. Mr. and Mrs. Miller were getting ready for tonight's games when we came in. Lauren gave her dad a green, red, and yellow plaid flannel shirt and two nightshirts, one short-sleeved, one long, two Clark bars, and orange creamsickle fudge. Mrs. Miller got the tank top, a sheer magenta blouse, and the larger orange jelly slices. We enjoyed our dinner while discussing the games.

(Incidentally, the local teams mostly did much better tonight. The Phillies topped the Marlins at 5-4, while the Orioles blew the Rangers out of the sky 12-1. The Arizona Diamondbacks also wailed the Cincinatti Reds in a blow-out, 11-2. The Yankees snuck past the Twins 6-3. At press time, the Blue Jays and the Red Sox are 4-4 way into the 12th inning.)

We're currently chatting online, listening to an 80's rock station on Pandora. Tomorrow, we're going to explore the Pittsfield area, including seeing a community production of The Music Man.