Monday, July 31, 2017

It's the Natural Thing To Do

Started off a sunny but dry morning with breakfast and more Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. "Return of the Fly" brings back Baxter Stockman, who's out for revenge against the Turtles for leading to his transformation into a giant insect. The Turtles are more worried about dealing with Shredder's latest plans to steal water from an underground reservoir.

Concentrated on writing for the rest of the morning. Leia and Hank get a chance to talk after they shake off the Imperial Gang. Leia comments that they got off too easily. Hank doesn't think it's so easy and dismisses Leia's suggestion that they're being followed. She's worried about the tapes she turned over to Arturro. He doesn't care - he's still determined to pay his boss and leave. Leia storms off to talk to her uncle. Luke tries to play matchmaker and encourage Hank to see his sister in a different light.

As it turns out, Leia was right. Vader and the Imperial Gang, along with Tarkin, are hiding in reeds in a large speed boat, intending to follow the Falcon. Bobby Fett, a bounty hunter who has been hired to bring Hank Solo to local mob boss Jasper Hutt, is with them.

Did an episode of Garfield & Friends as I ate a quick lunch and got ready for work. Garfield kicks off by telling "The Legend of the Lake." A cave-cat is determined to get across a big lake and get to an island of lasagna trees, but he he didn't realize just how big the Odie puppies who lived on the island were. "Double Oh Orson" spoofs the James Bond series. Orson imagines himself as a spy who is trying to rescue a his fellow agent Bo from Pinfeather (Roy the Rooster). The fat cat gets into a "Health Feud" with the host of a local aerobics show when Jon starts taking all his advice, including only eating healthy food. Switching around his cue cards puts the dumb jock in his place.

Had time for one more quick US Acres short as I headed out. Orson's brothers are literal "Show Stoppers" when they come to the barnyard amateur hour and expect to have a good time. Their brother's bad jokes don't amuse them...but Wade insisting that he can bravely save his friend might do the trick.

Work wasn't really much of a problem. Though I did the outdoor trash and the baskets early on and bagged a little, I was mostly doing carts. It was a nice day for it. It was hot and sunny, in the upper 80's, but still not humid. I guess everyone decided to take advantage of the weather and head for the shore. The southbound traffic from about 4 to 5:30 was terrible.

When I got in, I had leftovers for dinner and caramel apple pie ice cream for dessert while watching Double or Nothing. We stay in 1937, but move back to the States to find Bing as "Lefty" Boylan, an out-of-work singer who brings a wallet back to an eccentric millionaire. It turns out his lawyer left three more wallets around, found by three other honest people. The man, who believed in the good of all people, left a million dollars to each of the finders of the wallets in his will. If they can double the million within 30 days by honest means, they all get to keep his entire estate. His family's incensed that they were left out and tries to foil the others' plans...except for their sweet daughter (Mary Carlisle), who falls for Lefty.

Interesting story that degenerates into a pile of unrelated specialty numbers towards the end, after Lefty gets his nightclub up and running. A decent score helps, including the hits "The Moon Got In Your Eyes" and "It's the Natural Thing To Do."

I squeezed in my shower between musical numbers. Did Jurassic Park III as I went online. Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) is back, this time taking a pair of rich American tourists (Tea Leoni and William H. Macy) on an aerial tour of the former Jurassic Park islands...or so he thinks. It turns out that the Kirbys are actually searching for their lost son Eric (Trevor Morgan), who was last seen in the vicinity of the islands. Grant doesn't want to go anywhere near the islands; three major deaths and two near ones bear this out. Even when they do find Eric, the Kirbys, Grant, and his assistant Billy (Alessandro Nivola) discover that there are dinosaurs out there even bigger and more fearsome than a Tyrannosaurus Rex...

To my surprise, this wasn't bad. While still not as good as the first movie, I didn't think it was horrible, either. It's actually a bit darker than the second movie, with a dinosaur fight that ends with no less than a T-Rex dead and several other gristly onscreen deaths. The kid is actually more useful than several of the adults this time, since he'd lived among the dinosaurs for a while. Neil's fine reprising his original role, and Nivola's not bad as his eager assistant with a bunch of big ideas that get him into trouble.

I wish the script and the rest of the actors had been at their level. Leoni does nothing but scream, and she and Macy aren't believable as a couple at all. The script feels arbitrary, a series of encounters between dinosaur attacks. While many of the dinosaur puppets and robotic creatures do work and look fairly realistic, some of the CGI is pretty bad.

If you're a fan of this series, this is a decent way to spend a half-hour. Everyone else is better off checking out the original and skipping the 90's and early 2000's sequels.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Perfect Summer Day

I awoke to as perfect of a summer's day as one could wish for in late July. I celebrated the lovely weather with Blueberry-Chocolate Chip Pancakes and, in honor of my current story, Christopher Cross' self-titled debut album. Although it debuted in 1979, four years before The Summer Strikes Back is set, the songs "Sailing" and "Ride Like the Wind" are about right for the mood I'm going for. (Just wish the pancakes came out better. I burned them a little.)

Worked on writing for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. Luke angrily attacks Vader for hurting Ben. Vader retaliates by showing the boy how his uncle had left his face scarred and blistered after a similar fight. Luke doesn't have the time to question him further before Hank gets everyone on the Falcon.

Hank tries to dodge the speed boats Empire Industries has sent after them, but they keep up the pace. He finally uses a makeshift gun and assigns Luke to a harpoon-shooting gun.

Broke for a quick lunch at 1. Listened to Foreigner's 4 as I ate yogurt, almond butter graham cups, and cherries. Influential songs here include "Juke Box Hero," "Night Life," and "Waiting for a Girl Like You."

Work was very busy when I arrived, with long lines...and not just from crowds. The lights in the store blinked on and off two minutes after I arrived. Every time the lights blinked, some of the registers died. I heard there were problems with street lights going out somewhere in Audubon, then someone said something about a transistor dying. I was very briefly in a register before that went down. I was glad to spend the rest of the day gathering carts and doing returns.

It was so nice, I took the long way home, down Nicholson Road. The crowds had vanished by 6, and I couldn't blame them. It was too lovely a day to be hanging around in grocery stores! It was probably in the upper 70's-lower 80's, warm but not too hot, and thankfully after the last week, not humid at all. Goldenrod and Queen Anne's Lace waved in the breeze as I passed on the hill going to Atlantic. Everyone must have hit the Shore or the local parks when the weather cleared. There was no traffic anywhere, not even on Nicholson or around Wal Mart.

When I got home, I had leftovers for dinner, then played the first Lego Star Wars: Clone Wars I've done in a while. Ran through "Rookies" and "Defenders of the Peace." Not only did they not prove difficult in Free Play, they may have been too easy. I finished the rounds so quickly, I didn't really have the chance to explore as much as I would have liked. I did find a room in "Rookies" that could only be opened with Force power and gave you a minikit piece after you used the Force to throw objects at a worm-like monster. Next time, I'll either see if I can return to these and explore further, or try to finish "Destroy the Malevolence."

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Cold Summer

Awoke to a cloudy, damp morning. (It did finally rain last night, shortly after I got offline, actually.) Brightened up the gloomy day with breakfast and an Egyptian-themed Three Stooges short. They're "Mummies' Dummies" when they're caught selling a lemon of a used chariot to the Pharaoh's head guard. The Pharaoh is too busy dealing with a bad toothache to care. When Shemp removes the tooth, the Pharaoh is so grateful, he makes them his advisers.They prove their worth when they discover a foul plot by his vizier to skim tax money off the royal treasury.

Brrr! I was surprised to step out into a chilly wind. It was 65 when I went to work, and just barely got over 70 this afternoon.  Maybe that's why it was much busier today than yesterday, especially later on. Even with the lines, I mostly cleaned the bathrooms (which didn't really need it), two more registers (which did), and bagged. Very briefly gathered carts around 11:30, but there were at least two other baggers around (including the head bagger) to do that.

Went straight home after I finished. Charlie had reminded me last night that I needed to defrost the freezer again. It wasn't that bad, but I didn't feel like listening to him fuss. I loaded everything in the freezer into my Styrofoam cooler, unplugged the refrigerator, and had a snack.

Ran a Garfield special as I worked. Garfield's Feline Fantasies is a series of skits revolving around the fat cat's wild imagination. From a parody of Jaws with a very scary goldfish to a take on Airport, Garfield figures he and Odie can make it through anything he can invent, as long as Jon is there to catch them. But the James Bond/Indiana Jones story he concocts that has them chasing after the Banana of Bombay may be too much for even Garfield's bizarre mind...

Spent most of the rest of the afternoon writing. Leia and Luke hide in the trees after Hank and Charlie lead the Empire Industries employees down the other path. They literally swing onto Hank's ship the Millennium Falcon while the others come dashing back. Ben's not as lucky. He and Vader find themselves having a fistfight on the beach, one that ends with Ben beaten to a pulp. Luke attacks Vader, but Leia and Hank manage to pull them both aboard before worse damage is done.

(This being a comedy, most characters are going to survive until the end, except for Palpatine and maybe Yoda.)

Briefly checked on the defrosting freezer around 6:30. It's a good thing I left the cooler in front of the fridge, because the freezer was dripping. I mopped up most of the water with one of my old striped towels (which is still hanging outside to dry). It's not quite as defrosted as last time, but the ice around the door is gone, which is probably what Charlie wanted to begin with.

Went back to writing, then broke for good shortly after 6. Had a lovely dinner of baked breaded flounder, corn on the cob, and a green salad with tomato wedges while watching Waikiki Wedding. We go back a few years to 1937. This time, Bing is Tony, a publicity agent for a pineapple company in Hawaii who would rather be singing among the natives than doing his job. His boss (George Barbier) would rather he did his job. They're having trouble with Georgia (Shirley Ross), who won their "Pineapple Girl" beauty contest. She and her friend Myrtle (Martha Raye) got three weeks in Hawaii and the chance to record their experiences for the paper, but they're not having a good time. Simply put, there's been too much publicity and not enough romance. Tony and his laid-back, pig-loving buddy Shad (Bob Burns) have to figure out how to show the ladies the charms of the islands enough to not leave...but they find themselves falling for them in the process.

Very cute. The score and the fairly realistic Hawaiian atmosphere are the selling points here. The score spun off two standards, "Blue Hawaii" (better known from its use in the Elvis Presley movie of the same name) and the Oscar-winning "Sweet Lelani." I like that the natives are portrayed relatively well for the era, especially in the opening wedding sequence and the huge hula number on the island.

Highly recommended if you're a fan of the cast, the music, or feel like going tropical.

Finished out the night with Bedknobs and Broomsticks as I ate black cherry ice cream and went online. Set in the English countryside during World War II, Miss Eglantine Price (Angela Landsbury) finds herself temporarily adopting a trio of orphaned Blitz evacuees who have no place to go. She'd really rather get on with studying witchcraft via a correspondence school. The kids catch her falling off her broom and make a pact. They won't tell if she'll give them something valuable. This turns out to be a spell that allows you to travel anywhere, which she casts on the knob of her bed. It proves to be more valuable than first surmised after the school closes. They travel first to London to find the school's headmaster, the con artist Professor Brown (David Tomlinson), and then to the Island of Naboombu, an animated land where anthropomorphic animals hold dance contests and play wild games of soccer. Miss Price is hoping to find a spell that'll remove the Nazis from England for good. Everyone gets a chance to test their mettle when the Nazis do invade, and Miss Price and her charges prove just how powerful the magic of positive thinking can be.

I've always liked this one, in some ways more than the somewhat similar Mary Poppins. The score is just as good, including another Oscar-nominated ballad, "The Age of Not Believing." I also have a soft spot for "Beautiful Briny Sea," which Professor Brown and Miss Price perform when they accidentally land in Naboombu's lagoon. Landsbury and Tomlinson work well together, and Landsbury has a lot of fun as the sensible apprentice witch. The kids are a riot, especially little Paul (Roy Snart). The special effects, which won an Oscar in 1972, still hold up surprisingly well, particularly in the amazing finale that involved every bit of armor Disney could rent at the time literally kicking Nazi tail.

Unfortunately, this is another movie that suffers from the "every musical needs to be an epic" problem of the 60's and early 70's, especially in the reconstructed 30th anniversary version I have. While I'm glad some of the songs were put back in (the Professor's "With a Flair" does a terrific job introducing his character), others are mainly padding. "Portobello Road," fun though it is, goes on for far too long, and neither it nor the entire Naboombu sequence have much to do with the plot.

For all the problems this movie has, I still recommend it for the cast, wonderful music, and imaginative plot. I believe there's a somewhat shorter version available on DVD as well; if the longer one is a bit much for you, you may want to look for that (it's called the "Enchanted Musical Edition").

Friday, July 28, 2017

Who'll Start the Rain?

Began another cloudy morning with breakfast and a couple of episodes of The Backyardigans. Did "The Key to the Nile" from the first season in honor of the book I'm currently reading, The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters. Princess CleoTasha expects her pages Austin, Tyrone, and Pablo to fetch and carry for her without a word of thanks. She learns a lesson in manners when the Nile dries up, and she and the boys have to gather three gifts for the Sphinx (Uniqua) to fill it again.

Moved onto "Pirate Treasure," the series pilot, while I prepared my grocery list and got organized. Uniqua, Austin, Pablo, and Tyrone are two sets of pirates, each with one half of a treasure map. At first, Pablo and Tyrone capture the other two and try to force them overboard. When they run aground, they realize they both have halves of the same map, and decide they're better off splitting the treasure.

It was a little warmer, much sunnier, and murderously humid as I headed to the Acme to pick up my schedule and do this week's grocery shopping. My schedule for next week is the simplest I've ever had. I work 2-6 all week, Tuesday and Friday off again. Fine by me. I'll get some writing and cleaning in and actually make it to the Collingswood Farm Market next Saturday. Had a neon-iced cupcake in the back employees room, evidently remnants of a birthday cake for one of the oldest employees at the store.

The Acme was actually pretty dead as I did my shopping. Everyone must have been scared off by the rain we were supposed to have had all day. Found 99 cent bags of Acme M&M bakery cookies on the bakery markdown shelves. Restocked peaches, blueberries, cherries, cake mix, chocolate chips, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, yogurt, AA batteries (the Acme's were cheaper than Family Dollar's, $3.99 for an 8-pack), Wheat Chex (which were on a rare sale), cooking spray, and skim milk. Had online coupons for two cans of Dole mandarin oranges, a box of Nature Valley "Granola Cups," granola rounds filled with nut butter (I went with almond), and a bag of Snyder's Pretzels.

Ran more Backyardigans as I put everything away. One of my favorite episodes of the series is "Sinbad Sails Alone" from the second season. Tyrone is the legendary sailor, who is determined to find the end of the rainbow all by himself. His best buddy Pablo wants to help, but isn't as experienced a sailor. His mishaps cause them to stop at the islands of Siren Uniqua and Medusa Tasha, who want them to play games with them to get the water and food they need. The catchy mambo music in this episode is especially infectious.

It remained sunny and hazy as I made my way back out, this time across Newton Lake Park. For a killer humid day that wasn't supposed to be as nice as it got, they were fairly busy. I dodged other bikers, dog walkers, a family sunning by a bench, and a gaggle of Canadian geese looking for a late lunch by the Cuthbert Road entrance. (I also noticed a tree that had been cut down by the stone pavilion. Cut, or fallen down and then cut - the exposed insides were moldy and rotten.)

The Haddon Township Library was also busy, likely with families and older people avoiding the heat and humidity. There wasn't a whole lot to do. They didn't want anyone to shelve DVDs, and only one audio book needed to be put away. I mainly went through the DVDs, making sure they were organized and pulling TV sets that needed to go on the spinning racks.

Took out quite a few items today. Figured I'd finish off my Star Trek run with Star Trek: Generations and would continue the Jurassic Park series with Jurassic Park III. Found another Charlie Chan movie, Charlie Chan In London. The next DC Superhero Girls book, Kantana at Superhero High, just came in. (It sounds like the next one will revolve around Harley Quinn.) Also took out The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre, the latest fantasy tale by Gail Carson Levine, Blackberry Pie Murder, the next Hannah Swenson mystery I hadn't read, and Big Magic, on getting past your fear to reach your creative impulses.

Dark clouds were starting to gather again as I headed home down Cuthbert Road and across the White Horse Pike, but they still refused to burst. Since I was still relatively dry, I decided to check out the second Oaklyn Final Friday Festival of the summer. It was too early for it to be really crazy yet. Studio LuLoo was still setting up its offerings, including hanging their colorful t-shirts between tent poles. Most of the food truck offerings were still too expensive for my budget. I settled on a 2 dollar soft pretzel. Picked up two green peppers and a tomato from the lone farm booth to make up for not being able to get to the Collingswood Farm Market tomorrow.

When I got home, I settled in for a little bit of writing. No one's thrilled when they land in the stinky dumpster...and things just get worse when the Empire Industries guards start shooting at them. They climb out after the guards head off and split up, Hank and Charlie chasing after several Imperial Gang members.

Finished the night with leftovers while watching The World Is Not Enough. When a billionaire (David Calder) is killed by a bomb-ridden suitcase delivered by Bond (Pierce Bronsonan), he goes after the killer in a wild high-speed boat chase, then goes into action to find out who did it. The trail leads him to King's daughter Elektra (Sophie Marceau), who is finishing an oil pipeline in Azerbaijan. He's supposed to protect King from Renard (Robert Carlyle), who had once kidnapped her. A failed assassination attempt left him with a bullet in his brain that makes him impervious to pain. Thanks to his old friend Zukovsky (Robbie Coultrane), Bond learns that Elektra's chief of staff is in league with Renard. When he tries to replace him, he encounters tough-minded but delicate-looking scientist Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) who blows his cover, but ends up aiding him when it turns out that Elektra isn't as innocent as she seems...

This is one of two Bond movies I got to see in theaters. (GoldenEye is the other.) My then-boyfriend Max and I caught it on its release in November 1999. I do remember that neither of us were especially impressed and made jokes about it throughout its running time. (In fact, when the "James Bond Will Return" title appeared in the credits, Max quipped "Is that a threat?")

It's holds up a little bit better than I thought it would. I have no idea why they felt the need to throw in Christmas Jones. I don't actually mind her being a scientist. I do mind her being one of the more useless Bond girls, pretty much just there to snog with James in the end. Elektra King and even M are far more interesting. I really wish we'd spent more time with them and the intriguing Renard and less with wacky set pieces like the opening boat chase. If nothing else, this is notable as the last movie for the long-time actor who played Q, Desmond Llewelyn. He died in a car accident shortly before its release.

Not my favorite of Bronsonan's run, but not the worst, either. Check it out if you're a fan of the 90's and 2000's Bonds, but do see GoldenEye to have some idea of this version of the characters before you come here.

(Oh, and by the way, it still hasn't rained at press time.)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Turtle and Bond Power

I started off another cloudy, cool day with breakfast and an episode of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon from the late 80's. Baxter Stockman joins the ranks of mutants in "Enter: The Fly" when, instead of frying him, Krang accidentally merges his body with a fly. Shredder somehow convinces him that the Turtles were the cause, not his boss.

As I did yesterday, I worked on my story throughout the morning and into the early afternoon. Leia is locked in a closet by Vader after Tarkin threatens the Cottages. She bangs on the door with a broom until Luke finds her...and then accidentally wallops him with it. He, Hank, and Charlie are all dressed as Imperial Gang members. They're attacked by not only the gang members, but the Empire Industries workers. Leia manages to take out a few with her broom long enough to jump out a window and into a dumpster. Not having many other options, the boys follow.

I got so into my writing, it was late when I broke for lunch. Did another Turtles episode, since I was in a hurry and the disc was already there. "New York's Shiniest" is a robot cop created to take some stress off the human police officers. April breaks into the lab where he's being developed to get a scoop, but ends up with him following her. Shredder is able to get his blueprints and create an army of robot cop clones to do his bidding. The Turtles have to figure out a way to avoid the clones and keep an eye on April and her new silver buddy.

Work was actually pretty quiet. I did a very small cart of returns, bagged, and gathered carts, baskets, and trash. There wasn't even really much of that to do. I was in and out. Grabbed two more containers of Talenti Gelato while they're still on sale (our sales end Thursdays), Black Cherry and Caramel Apple Pie.

Made Pasta With Broccoli to go with my leftover turkey hot dogs for dinner. Switched to the second season of Moonlighting while I ate. "The Lady In the Iron Mask" is a veiled woman who comes to Maddie and David asking them to find the man who disfigured her...because she wants to marry him. Turns out, the guy is an ex-con who found God and isn't so eager to marry her, especially since she has a husband. Even as Maddie debates whether it's right to take this woman's money, the man they visited is killed. After getting into an argument over how to solve the case, they each decide to go their own way and solve it themselves...which involves drag, breaking and entering, and lots of veils.

Finished out the night with Never Say Never Again. This is the 1983 remake of Thunderball, with Sean Connery playing James Bond for one last time on the big screen. This time, Bond is on holiday when he's called to investigate the disappearance of two nuclear warheads. His search takes him from a health spa in London to the Bahamas, where he first encounters industrialist Maxmillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandaur) and his current flame Domino (Kim Basinger). After winning a dance with Domino in a video game, he reveals that Largo's henchwoman Fatima Blush (Barbara Carrera) used and then killed her beloved brother. They both end up in North Africa, where Largo has hidden the bombs. Now it's up to James, Domino, and his CIA buddy Felix Leiterer (Bernie Casey) to track down Largo and his explosive cargo.

First off, I'll admit that the original Thunderball was never my favorite Connery Bond movie. Some of that film's problems (length, slow pacing) are repeated here, and Basinger is a stiff Bond girl. On the other hand, the wonderfully nasty Brandaur is a vast improvement on the broader Adolfo Celi from 1965, and Carrera is obviously having a ball as Fatima Blush. Also look for Rowan Atikinson in a small role as the British Foreign Office representative in the Bahamas and Max von Sydow as Blofeld.

If you're a hard-core fan of Sean Connery's run or must see every Bond film, then you might get a kick out of this. For everyone else, it's completely skip-able.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Accentuate the Positive

Began a cloudy morning with breakfast and more Sailor Moon S. Chibi-Usa from the second season returns in "The Arrival of a Tiny Pretty Guardian." She ends up helping Rei and Usagi rescue the pure heart of a drummer Rei hired to play at a local festival. We also have a new witch, Eudial. Her driving skills may leave something to be desired, but she's a heck of a shot with her pure heart-removing gun.

Spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon writing. Leia is brought to Peter Tarkin, Empire Industries' lawyer, who is acting on its behalf. Vader, the ruthless head of the Imperial Gang, is with him. Tarkin threatens to send the Imperial Gang to do more damage to the Cottages and her uncle if she doesn't tell him where the plans for the mall and resort are. She lies and says they're in a small town on the mainland. To her horror, Tarkin sends the Gang anyway, saying the mainland is too far away to make an effective demonstration of their powers.

Did more Sailor Moon S as I ate a quick lunch and got ready for work. The youngest Sailor Guardian is in the spotlight in "Making New Friends: Chibi-Moon's Adventure." She explains to the others that her mother sent her to the future to be trained as a Guardian, as well as to make some friends her own age. The girl thinks she's found a chum in a young tea ceremony master, until Eudial and her decidedly unfriendly monster appear.

Makoto is having her own problems in "I Want Power: Mako Lost In Doubt." After an especially upsetting defeat, she travels to a mountain temple to learn from a handsome, monk-like trainer. The other girls, who are more interested in a vacation in the mountains, follow. Turns out there's more to the trip than long runs and sunning by the pool when a monster attacks, and Makoto discovers just how important her friends' support is.

Work was, once again, a pain. I had to go back and re-do the monitors and tops of the counters on the registers I cleaned yesterday because I missed spots. I'd barely gotten half-way through my next register when the fussy manager wanted me to do carts. I don't know why he wanted me to do carts. The teenage boy outside was doing just fine. I thankfully was able to finish cleaning all but the three registers being used after break.

Changed and had leftovers when I got home. Finished out the first Sailor Moon S set as I made Blueberry Crumble Bars from The Cake Doctor cake mix cookbook. We learn more about Haruka and Micheru's relationship in "The Bond of Destiny: Uranus' Distant Past" when Eudial's latest creation attacks an old track team buddy of Haruka's. She'd once been on the track team herself, desperate to outrun the visions she sees and the changes she's not sure she wants. When she's attacked by a monster and Micheru is hurt defending her, she finally decided to stop running and accept this as part of her life.

"Art Is an Explosion of Love: Chibi-Usa's First Love" has her trying to impress a boy in her art class she has a crush on. It turns into a triangle when she learns that the boy has a crush of his own on their teacher, Micheru. Meanwhile, Usagi, who is trying to apologize to her daughter for eating a pie she'd baked earlier, is more than happy to nudge their romance along. It's Chibi-Usa who finally proves herself worthy to the boy when an art-based monster appears.

The last episode on the set and the disc was a favorite of mine. The Guardians are invited to a ball held by an older British friend of Mamoru's where "Usagi Dances the Waltz." Poor Usagi is so nervous, she drinks way too much wine and gets drunk in front of everyone. That turns out to be far from their only problem when a party-crashing Eudial shows up with a tone-deaf monster whose musical notes crack floors.

Finished the night with Here Comes the Waves, one of the movies in the Bing Crosby set I bought from the used DVD seller. I thought it would nicely compliment last night's Anchors Aweigh. Betty Hutton plays twins Susie and Rosemary Allison, singers who join the WAVES, the Women's Navy Reserves. Susie is blond, boisterous, and a bit of a goof. Rosemary is brunette and more sensible; even Susie says she does all the thinking for the act. Susie's not thrilled about enlisting, especially since she won't get to see her favorite singer Johnny Cabot (Crosby). She's happier when she learns that his friend Windy (Sonny Tufts) has gotten him into the Navy. Johnny wants to be assigned to the boat where his father once served, but Susie wants to keep him around and sends a note suggesting he appear in a show to help WAVES recruitment instead. Johnny thinks Windy sent the note; Rosemary thinks he's shirking his duty. There's a lot of twin-mixing amid some wonderful Johnny Mercer-Harold Arlen music.

For the most part, this was really cute. Hutton had fun doing double duty, while Crosby seemed to enjoy spoofing his crooner image. Too bad the Oscar-nominated "Accentuate the Positive" was introduced by a stereotype-laden blackface number that's hard to watch today. Otherwise, if you're a fan of Crosby, Hutton, or Mercer and Arlen, this is worth catching for the music alone.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Of Singing Sailors and Sailor Guardians

Slept in this morning, which I very much needed. It was past 10:30 when I got to breakfast and the next Sailor Moon disc. "Labyrinth of Water: Ami the Targeted" has the Guardians' resident genius wondering if there's something else in her life besides studying to become a doctor. She hits the pool to soothe her rattled nerves and encounters fellow water-lover Micheru. The older girl scolds her after she holds back on a swimming competition between them. Usagi trying to push Ami into studying doesn't help. It takes team work from Sailor Moon, Tuxedo Mask, and the cats to get rid of the fishy monster that attacks Ami after a second go-around with Micheru.

Started the next one as I got organized to head out. The new and original Guardians finally start working together in "To Save Our Friends: Moon and Uranus Join Forces." Kaorinite uses a motor cross racer with big dreams to lure Uranus and Neptune into a trap. She captures Neptune...but Sailor Moon, who was riding home with Haruka on her motorcycle, shows up too. Moon and Uranus learn a lot more than they ever thought about each other when the tire-themed monster shackles them together.

Went out for a stroll around 11:30. It was cloudy and cool by that point, in the mid-70's, and very humid. The neighborhood is still fairly green for this time of year, with only a few spots of brown grass seen in uncovered lawns. Brilliantly colored geraniums, asters, lilies, late roses, phlox, and black-eyed Susans brightened gardens and window boxes.

First stop of the day was the Oaklyn Library. Despite the blah weather, they weren't busy. It was just me, the librarian, an older woman on the computer, and CNN fussing about politics the entire time I was there. I organized DVDs and looked over the board books before I got tired of hearing about what Trump did this time and left.

Went across the White Horse Pike to Family Dollar next. I was hoping to find batteries for cheap. Their Energizer packs were about the same price as Dollar General's, and they only came in 4-packs. The larger packs were more expensive. I could get larger packs for cheaper at the Acme.

WaWa is less than a block from Family Dollar. Decided to pick up a quick lunch there. Ordered a simple turkey whole wheat "shorti" hoagie and a black and white milkshake (which were on sale for $1.99). Turns out you can use your food stamps to buy all WaWa foods, including pre-made hoagies and milkshakes (you can't buy pre-made food with food stamps at Acme, but that may just include hot foods).

Headed down Manor Avenue, stopping at the wooden benches on West Clinton for lunch. They were surprisingly quiet for lunch on a summer's day. A lot of people probably went on vacation. I watched cars drive by and owners chat outside their storefronts.

The sun had emerged by the time I left the library...and with it came the heat. It had vanished again as I rounded the corner onto Manor. It even sprinkled a little.

Finished out the Sailor Moon episode I started earlier, then went back out to do the laundry. It was busy when I arrived, but by the time my clothes were in the drier, the crowds had mostly vanished. Good thing, because I had a big load, including clothes from vacation and the towels I used to soak up a wet spot on the dining area carpet. I focused on my story notes and half-listened to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and General Hospital.

Continued with Sailor Moon as I put my clothes away when I got home. Usagi is far from the only lover in Tokyo who gets unnecessarily jealous. Rei's friend Yurichuro is worried about her constant meditating in "A Man's Kindness: Yurichuro Heartbroken by Rei." He thinks she's interested in someone else...and goes absolutely ballistic when he sees Haruka giving Rei a ride home. Thinking Haruka is a man, he decides after challenging her to leave town. Determined to bring them back together, Usagi follows the duo to the trolley car stop...which turns out to be a monster after Yurichuro's pure heart.

Did some writing next. Leia awakens at the Alderaan Country Club on a private island near-by to find herself a prisoner of Peter Tarkin, a sleazy lawyer for Empire Industries. He and Vader want her to tell them where she hid the plans for their huge mall and resort...but she has no intention of telling. She wants to give the plans to her idol, Senator Martha Mothma.

Finished out the Sailor Moon disc as I made turkey hot dogs, roasted broccoli, and Blueberry-Honey Muffins for dinner. (Actually, the Usagi's bad birthday episodes are the last ones on the disc, but I just did them for my birthday in April. I may return to them later.) The normally cheerful Minako is feeling stifled by her calling as a Guardian in "I Want to Quit Being a Guardian: Minako's Dilemma." She wants to go back to playing volleyball, which she'd been good at. When a guy she used to play with that she had a crush on is targeted, she realizes just how important her job is.

Switched to Anchors Aweigh as I did the dishes and went online. Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra headline this 1945 musical extravaganza. Kelly and Sinatra are sailors on leave...but instead of New York (as in the later On the Town), they find themselves in LA. Joe (Kelly) already has a girl. Shy Clarence (Sinatra) is hoping Joe will help him find one of his own. He initially falls for Susie (Kathryn Grayson) after they bring her Navy-loving nephew Donald (Dean Stockwell) home. Joe claims Clarence knows renowned pianist and orchestra leader Jose Iturbi (himself) and can get an audition with him. Even though Clarence is now more interested in a waitress from Brooklyn he met at a cafe on Olvera Street (Pamela Britton), he still tries to help Susie get that audition. Meanwhile, Joe tells the kids of Donald's school the story of a king (Jerry the Mouse) who doesn't like to dance, and how he showed him how much fun dancing can be.

As you may have noticed, the story is barely of consequence. It's the musical numbers that are the thing in this big Technicolor MGM show. While Kelly's "Worry Song" dance with Jerry is by far the most famous routine, there's a lot of other good numbers, including Kelly's Spanish-tinged ballet towards the end and two lovely ballads for Sinatra, "What Makes the Sunset?" and "I Fall In Love Too Easily."

The dull script makes this second-tier MGM, despite it's cast and five Oscar nominations (with one win, for Original Music Score). If you're a major fan of the cast or 40's musicals or run into it on TCM, the routines are worth a look.

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 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.

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Girls of Summer

Got started around 10 after we had our Honey-Nut Cheerios (and I had a peach). Today, we headed east towards Springfield and the Holyoke Mall. It was a beautiful day, sunny, clear, and dry, if a little warmer than yesterday. Other than running into several road repair projects, the ride through Lennox and Lee and down the Masspike was no problem, with no traffic anywhere.

The Holyoke Mall is the second largest mall in New England. (Only the mall in Natick near Boston that has the American Girl store is larger.) Since we parked by the east entrance to Macy's, we started there. Ever since Lauren's nearest Macy's shut down, she's been trying to hit every store she can. I'm not nearly as enamored by them as she is. They often don't have my size, and I think a lot of their clothes are overpriced for what you get. I used the bathroom in the women's department, then went looking for her. After fifteen minutes of fruitless searching, I plopped down in a surprisingly comfortable chair that was sitting next to the entrance and waited for her. She'd been upstairs, looking at bras; she finally bought three shirts on sale for her job as a head teller in a Pittsfield bank.

Our next stop was Uno Bar and Grill for lunch. I ordered a simple "Uno Burger" with garlic mayo, tomatoes, red onions, and lettuce. Lauren had a massive turkey avocado sandwich with Brussels sprouts. Half-way through our meal, she got a text from her father...and she wasn't happy about it. Something about their smoke alarm not working or going off, and he wanted her to buy a new one while we were at the mall.

As soon as we finished eating, we hiked all the way across the mall to Target so Lauren could by the darn smoke alarm. I spent the next 20 minutes watching her hem and haw over what to buy and what her father would want. What I wanted to do was grab the first thing I could reach, say "this is good," and move along, but I'm an adult. I stood and waited. (I don't know why her parents couldn't have gone down to the nearest hardware store and gotten one. I saw a couple of True Values on our trip to the flea market yesterday and while we were driving to the mall. They're both capable of driving.)

Things went better after Lauren finally chose a smoke alarm/carbon monoxide alarm two-pack. We decided to do something fun and browsed in the toy department. She didn't see anything she wanted, but I finally found the Finn Funko Pop to go with my Rey and the last Ever After High doll I intend to buy for a while, Nina Thumbell, the nature-loving, size-shifting daughter of Thumbelina. They were both on clearance, too. Finn was about $6.30; Nina came up to $10.

We were in and out of a couple of stores next. We browsed in Build-a-Bear, Game Stop, and an action figure store, but saw nothing of interest. Sears had an even worse selection of smoke alarms than Target did. I finally found the new dub of Sailor Moon Season 3, Part 1 on DVD at FYE, which I've been trying to get for a decent price since it came out. Lauren picked up The Official WWE Book of Rules (and How to Break Them). She found a really cute pair of ankle boots for work at JCPenny's. I got a pair of tan shorts to replace the khaki pair that blew out in May and the brown ones I bought last year that look like they're starting to go.

Our last stop of the day was the Christmas Tree Shops. She was hoping to find new dishes for her parents, but all the plates were plastic. I had more luck, picking up muffin papers and granola bars.

(By the way, I really like the Holyoke Mall. Unlike the remodel at Cherry Hill that left it looking rather sterile, this mall still looks like when it was built in 1979, with wood-paneled trim on the railings and graceful, curving floor plans. And unlike a lot of malls of this vintage that haven't had a lot of remodels, it looks attractive without being dated.)

By the time we finally made it across the mall and into the car, it was past 5. We were originally going to grab something fast at the food court, but Mr. Miller mentioned in one of his texts that he and his wife were going to heat up a frozen pizza and were willing to share. We headed home instead, dodging the constant road work and keeping an eye on the dark clouds building up on the horizon.

Mr. Miller was glued to the MLB Network when we got in. We showed them our purchases, then settled down and waited to eat. Mrs. Miller made us defrosted Freschetta meat pizza and a salad with greens and tomatoes for dinner. Lauren had a Magnum chocolate-raspberry bar for dessert. I went with a mint chocolate chip Klondike bar.

(Oh, and we mainly switched between the Yankees-Twins, Orioles-Rangers, and Blue Jays-Red Sox games. The Phillies played the Marlins this evening, too. No one did well. The Phillies just lost by one point, 6-5. The Red Sox did likewise, 4-3. The Yanks couldn't even get that far against the red-hot Twins, 4-2. The Orioles were the only local winners this evening, beating the Texas Rangers 3-1.)

We finished out the night playing Yoshi's Wooly World. Got through the desert/volcano-themed World 2, then half-way through the candy and treats-themed World 3 before breaking to go online. The thunder storm that had threatened since early in the evening finally appeared around 8, making some impressive noise.

Tomorrow, we're heading north to explore the wilds of Vermont and the rustic, much-loved Vermont Country Store.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Started my first day of vacation by sleeping in. By the time Lauren got up around 10, I was dressed and ready for breakfast. Had a bowl of Honey-Nut Cheerios and a peach (Lauren's not a fan of eating in the morning) before heading out.

An antique center about fifteen minutes from Lauren, just over the New York State border, has a big flea market every Sunday. Lauren's not the only one who loves it. The gravel lot was so full, we ended up parking in the grass.

The grounds were crawling with tents selling everything from collectibles to comics, floral sundresses to used toys. Lauren comes here every week and is well-known by several of the sellers. We started off with one she spoke to as a friend, a man who mostly sold boxes and boxes of CDs and DVDs (along with some toys and die-cast cars). The DVDs were buy two, get one free. I ended up with a second set of Bing Crosby movies, the original 30th anniversary Bedknobs & Broomsticks DVD release (it has a few interesting extras that didn't make it to the re-release from a few years ago), and National Lampoon's Animal House. Lauren bought a season of Gomer Pyle she didn't have and some things for her parents.

We headed inside next. Lauren says they're not normally open on Sundays, only once a month. I'm glad they were. She didn't find anything, but I picked a copy of Starlog off the magazine racks on Star Wars' 25th anniversary. I'm not a fan of most paper publications. They just take up too much room. Couldn't resist this one, though, especially the Harrison Ford interview. (It was only a dollar, too!)

We browsed around for a little while longer after that. Lauren bought a bolt of teddy bear-print fleece from another seller she knows well. (He evidently also sells vintage postcards.) I bought a Star Wars: New Hope picture book, probably from the late 90's re-release. (It had a "shimmer" theme.)

We'd passed a few more outdoor antique sales on our way to the flea market. Since it was only noon when we left, we thought we'd give them a try. A smaller antique-oriented flea market mainly had ancient furniture, but Lauren found a Coca Cola polar bear glass. A booth in the front held no interest for me, but Lauren picked up Christmas tree-themed pins and earrings for her job as head teller at a local bank. Went across the street to a smaller sale, but it was mostly junk and yielded no finds.

Finally headed home around 1. Spent the next few hours snacking on trail mix variations and playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch. Unlike the previous versions of Mario Kart for the Wii and Wii U, this one uses the regular buttons, not the motion controls. (Lauren says it's an option, but they annoy her, too.) Made it much easier for us to race other players from around the world. Neither of us got further than 4th place, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

(I love some of the imaginative courses! Along with updated favorites from previous Mario Karts like Rainbow Road and Toad's Turnpike, you get the neon Blade Runner-esque New Bowser City, the colorful Toad's Harbor, the twisty Tick Tock Clock, and slippery Mount Wario, among others! There's also rounds based after other classic Nintendo games, like Animal Crossing and Excitebike.)

Around 4 PM, Mr. and Mrs. Miller called us upstairs. Did we want to toss bean bags on the porch? Sure, why not? The Millers have a huge back  yard and porch...which they seldom use. They all burn easily, and none of them are outdoor people. They don't even have any porch furniture.

The bean bag toss was a slightly better-made version of the typical game many kids probably still play in school. You throw ten yellow and blue bean-bags into targets marked 3, 2, or 1. If you miss, you have to toss it again. I came in last. I have terrible aim. (Though I did get better as we went on.) Lauren, who played softball in school and has great aim, won with 101 points. Mrs. Miller came in second, followed by her husband. (Mr. Miller did get the best points on an individual round, 18.)

We went back downstairs to Lauren's room while Mrs. Miller got dinner started. Lauren switched to Yoshi's Wooly World on the Wii U. Somewhat similar to Kirby's Epic Yarn, this one has Yoshi also finding himself in a textured universe made from knits and fabrics. He has to not only defeat villains, but find skeins of yarn to put his friends back together. We got half-way through Grass Island before Mrs. Miller called us to dinner.

The kitchen/living room area smelled wonderful when we came back upstairs! Mrs. Miller made ground veal patties, (boxed) scalloped potatoes, and amazing glazed carrots with cinnamon and maple syrup. Mr. Miller and I also had slices of bread and butter. We had Friendly's cherry chocolate chunk ice cream and Pepsi for dessert.

We watched episodes of Cheers from the 10th season as we ate. "Rich Man, Wood Man" has Woody the bartender returning from England with his sweet, wealthy girlfriend Kelly. Woody's trying to act rich, too, but it annoys the others. When Kelly realizes what's going on, she claims she'll try to get along without money. Lillith and Fraiser Crane deal with "Smotherly Love" when her mother visits and more-or-less forces them to repeat their wedding because she couldn't make it to the real one. "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" gives Sam one last shot at reviving his pitching career when he wins a spot on a minor-league team. Trouble is, most of the other players are younger than him and are acting silly and immature. Carla comes to tell him how proud they are of him, but he just wants to go home.

Finished the night back downstairs with more Wooly World. We were more than half through the second desert world when Lauren started insisting that her controller was running low on batteries. Not to mention, we did want to get online. We went on our laptops to chat around 10.

One of our major concerns this week is the weather. There's minor threats of rain all week. We'll be heading east to the Holyoke Mall in order to avoid storms here and in Upstate New York.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Going Mobile

I opened my eyes around 6:30. I shut them again...and didn't open them until quarter after 8. Having gotten a later start than planned, I settled for reading a couple of short stories from the Disney Storybookland anthology, a Paddington vacation-themed short story Paddington On the Road, and two American Girl Molly short stories.

In Paddington On the Road, the Browns are on vacation in a charming French village. The big excitement is the Tour de France bicycle race passing through. Paddington wants to join the race, so he borrows an old tricycle, cleans it up, and enters with the others. His inexperience with bikes and fixing them shows when he goes downhill...and can't stop...

Molly MacEntyre had two summer-themed short stories in the 90's. Molly Takes Flight introduces her grandparents and Aunt Eleanor. Her young aunt has joined the WASPs, the female flight corps in the Air Force. Molly's upset about losing her aunt's attention, until she shows her the joys of flying.

Molly Marches On takes us to Camp Gowanigan, the setting for Molly Saves the Day. All the new campers are going on a hiking trip that ends with a special surprise. Tired of their noise and wanting to prove she's as good at blazing trails as her heroine Sacajawea, Molly and her friend Susan go off on their own. They never do get to the surprise, but they do find an equally lovely one of their own.

Put on an episode of The Backyardigans as I ate breakfast and packed my laptop and the attendant wires and mouse. Pablo is "Le Master of Disguise," a suspicious little character who can quick-change into anyone. Inspector Austin follows him onto the Orient Express. With shady passengers like Conductor Uniqua, Cowboy Tyrone, and Circus Performer Tasha on board, it's going to be tough for Austin to track down the crafty penguin.

Switched to Strawberry Shortcake In Big Apple City as I finished packing my luggage and the kitchen. Strawberry is off to the big city as one of the two finalists in a televised bake-off. The Purple Pie Man is the other, and he'll do everything he can to make sure Strawberry doesn't win. Good thing she makes a lot of new friends who help her out, including eventual series regulars Orange Blossom and Lemon Meringue.

Made a really quick run to WaWa for more money. I was glad I'd be spending most of the day on the train. While warmer than yesterday, it was also back to being sunny, hazy, and humid. I kept my ride short - went in, used the ATM, went out.

Hastily made a tuna and tomato sandwich and gathered snacks while running a few shorts. The Three Stooges become "A Pain In the Pullman" when their monkey gets loose on a train and wrecks havoc and they can't get into their upper berth. Their noise upsets a pompous singer who demands they either quiet down or be thrown off.

Mickey Mouse has a similar problem with pets on trains in "Mr. Mouse Takes a Trip." He has to sneak Pluto on-board and past Conductor Pete. Pluto, however, isn't as small as a monkey and can't be hidden as easily. The two do their best to dodge the kitty conductor and still make it to their destination.

It took me so long to get organized, I still wasn't ready when Dad arrived. Thankfully, we had no problems once we got on the road. Dad even drove me to Cherry Hill in his beautiful early 60's Mustang convertible. Despite the warmth, it did really feel nice, with the wind in my hair. A couple of people on the White Horse Pike (including a man in an orange Mustang from the later 60's) leaned out and complimented Dad on his awesome car.

Once I got to the Cherry Hill Train Platform behind Shop Rite, it was smooth sailing. The trains to Philadelphia and Albany were right on time. The one to New York was slightly late, but nothing outrageous. Only the car going to Albany was full. The other two were barely half-full. I shared my seat going to Albany with a young businessman in a gray suit who watched videos on his cell phone the entire ride. 30th Street Station wasn't too crazy. Penn Station was, but their new digital monitors did help somewhat.

I love the view going to Albany. All you see on the trips to Philly and New York are wetlands, graffiti, junk yards, and suburbs. The Albany line earns it's name "Lake Shore Limited." The tracks passed shining lakes with tiny sailboats bobbing along, lacy bridges, massive green mountains, and lots of lovely old mansions and fascinating decaying factories. It's really beautiful.

Met Lauren and her parents Mr. and Mrs. Miller at the Albany-Rensslauer Station. We had dinner at a really nice Italian place about 15 minutes from their house, Mario's Restaurant. They were so busy, we ate outside...which suited us just fine. Not only was it quieter outside, but the view of the holyhocks and roses planted in front of the porch and the classic mid-century pop piped in was far more relaxing. Even the waitresses were happier to serve us - they could hear us give them our orders!

Mrs. Miller and I ended up having big squares of lasagna. Lauren had Veal Parmesan. Mr. Miller had Veal Oliver (veal with seafood sauce). I ate Mr. Miller's broccoli - he's not a fan of broccoli. I had chocolate mousse for dessert. Mrs. Miller's choice was a chocolate-covered cherry-vanilla gelato. Her husband opted for cinnamon crunch ice cream. Lauren loves raspberries - she went with chocolate raspberry mousse cake. We all had crusty bread, beans in olive oil, and iced tea. It was expensive, but very, very tasty. Our waitress was really sweet, too. She said she'd worked there for 39 years and had lots of experience.

I'm bushed from traveling for 7 hours. It's probably just as well that our only plans for tomorrow are a trip to a flea market in Lauren's area that only happens on Sundays.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Dodging the Rain On the Road to Vacation

It was just gloomy when I awoke this morning. Had breakfast while watching Garfield In the Rough. Jon takes his pets for a week of rest and relaxation in the wilderness. Garfield would rather rest and relax somewhere that has TV. He really gets freaked out when they learn that there's a panther loose in the area...and it may be nearer than they think.

I had a ton of things to do today, starting with packing up the living room. Charlie is apparently going to start working on the inside of the roof again after I leave for vacation.  I took all the cookbooks and the popcorn maker out of the tall shelf and all of the coffee table books off the IKEA shelf. Moved the coffee table crate and some of the things on the counter in the kitchen that wouldn't fit under the sink.

Did a couple of Disney shorts as I hauled boxes and crates. Pluto has a rough time keeping a persistent rodent out of Mickey's garden in "Pluto and the Gopher." "In the Bag" takes us to Brownstone National Park, where ranger J. Audubon Woodlore is having trouble cleaning up after the last departing tourists. He gets the bears to help with promises of a good meal afterwards. When they all shove the debris into Humphrey's section, he has to figure out how to get rid of it, or no dinner!

After I finished the packing, I figured it was time to get the grocery shopping done. I think I should have waited a bit. It had just begun showering as I walked out the door. By the time I got to the Acme, it was coming down at a pretty good clip. Oh well. At least the rain cleared out the customers. It wasn't any busier than it has been all week. I was mainly there for snacks for the train ride tomorrow and to restock sugar and skim milk.

I also tried one of the "Flavors of America" candy bars Hershey has out this summer. The Texas BBQ Payday was surprisingly tasty. Who knew hickory and caramel nougat worked so well together?

The rain had started slowing down on my way home. By the time I got in, it was gone, though the day remained cloudy and exceedingly humid. Finished off Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don't Come Back!) as I put everything away. Chuck, Linus, Marcie, Peppermint Patty, Snoopy, and Woodstock are on vacation in France (after a brief trip through England). Marcie and Peppermint Patty find themselves dealing with culture shock and vying for the attention of the cute son of their hosting family. The boys and animals have less luck with their host home. The Baron, the owner of the Chateau Mal Voisan, hates strangers and won't let them in. While Charlie Brown and Linus try to solve the mystery of the Chateau and find out who wanted them to come, Snoopy hits up a local cafe with a great selection of World War II-era tunes on the jukebox.

An unusually dark tale for the Peanuts. The mystery of the Chateau, its owners, and why they wanted Charlie Brown to come to France is far more interesting than the comic bits with Snoopy playing tennis and sobbing over "I'll Be Seeing You" or Peppermint Patty's culture shock. This is unique in several ways, not only for it's slightly spooky plot, but because this is the only movie where adults actually speak. (They weren't going to get away with letting the kids travel through Europe without adult intervention.)

If you have slightly older kids who have learned a bit about World War II or European history in school, they may find much to enjoy in this one.

I was originally going to eat lunch at my place. Charlie had called me earlier and said he was turning the gas off to do some work downstairs. Fine. To my annoyance, when I turned on the tap in the kitchen, I discovered the water wasn't running, either. He hadn't mentioned that part. I finally decided I'd be better off having my meal elsewhere.

Ended up down the street at Phillies Phatties. They were quiet for past noon. They even had a classic rock station on instead of ESPN. I had my usual slices of cheese and mushroom pizza with a can of Dew SA. Ate it inside; even with no rain, it was still too wet to sit at the wooden benches on the sidewalk. Watched families come in and out to order pizza as I enjoyed my lunch.

Next stop was the Oaklyn Library. They weren't much busier than anywhere else. I saw one older woman on the computers and a man reading along with the librarian. Organized the graphic novels in he kids' area, went over the DVDs. Found another interesting DVD on the sale racks, Anchors Aweigh with Gene Kelly, Kathryn Grayson, and Frank Sinatra (and Tom & Jerry).

Thankfully, the weather continued to hold out as I headed over to Westmont. Went to Dollar Tree first. I wanted sponges and thank-you cards for Lauren and her folks. They were busier than most everywhere else had been, but at least the line went fast.

The Haddon Township Library was also relatively busy. A sign on the DVD cart said to leave them out. Good thing there were piles of audio books and CDs to put away. I got those done and headed out. I still had one more stop I wanted to make before I rode home.

Cut across Newton Lake Park going back to Oaklyn. Despite the gloomy, killer humid day, the park was busy with bikers, fishermen, and people out for a stroll. Ducks awaited the start of the next round of rain. I was actually glad for the rain. The park is starting to look a little brown around the edges.

It held off long enough for me to make it to Dad and Jodie's house. They were watching the endless Law & Order re-runs on ION Television when I arrived. Jodie had just gotten in from work. I'd been meaning to get over there and say "hi" for over a week now. I haven't seen them since the 4th of July. Besides, I needed to pick up the pan I used for the Berry Icebox "Cake" I whipped up for the holiday. Dad gave me the tickets for the train to New England tomorrow and $100 spending money. (He also told me the cake was very popular. It vanished so quickly after I left, they had to save him the last piece.)

I'd been home ten minutes when the storm that had threatened all afternoon finally broke. The rain provided a great backdrop for the final part of my story. Not only does Langdon and his crew blow up the Death Star, but Duke Bail Organa shows up at the last minute with the Alderaan Navy.

Meanwhile, Luke's trying to get Vader off the Death Star, but Vader knows it's his time. He dies in his son's arms. Luke, Wedge, and the other members of the League just manage to get his armor on Wedge's ship the Rogue and ship off before the entire Death Star goes up in flames.

Luke is eventually crowned King of Naboo. Wedge becomes his regent. Henry moves Solo Shipping to Alderaan, where he and Leia take over as Grand Duke and Duchess. Charles is their bodyguard. Cedric and Rusty happily return to their jobs as secretary and handyman. Luke burns Vader in the woods near Nabarrie Palace; he buries him in the same tomb as Padme. Langdon buys Jenkins' Casino and makes it wildly popular with the gentry. We end in Alderaan, where Henry and Leia discuss that tumultuous summer they met...and Leia's impending arrival.

Wow. At over 104,000 words and 31 chapters, this is officially the longest story I've ever written, period. For anything. It took me six months to write, three times as long as anything else I've done. It's my first novel. I'm so proud of myself for actually finishing it!

When I get back next week, I definitely want to finish that 80's Star Wars story I started last year, and I may do a few fairy tales, both original and Star Wars universe. For now, this is a great way to end my writing time before vacation. At press time, The Adventures of the Crimson Hawk is only available at Archive of Our Own. I'll post it at my writing blog and after vacation.

The Adventures of the Crimson Hawk at Archive of Our Own

While the water was back on when I got home, the gas wasn't. This meant a cold shower and eating out of the fridge, instead of the omelet I'd planned on having for dinner. Cheered myself up with The Road to Morocco as I ate. Bing Crosby and Bob Hope are on their third Road To... adventure, this time in North Africa. Castaways after their ship explodes, they wash up on the coast of Morocco without a dime to their names. Bing sells Bob into slavery to make a quick buck. Bob's not happy...until he realizes he was bought by a lovely princess (Dorothy Lamour). But the Princess has her own reasons for wanting him...and her former fiancee (Anthony Quinn) wants both men out of the way.

My favorite of the Road to.. movies. If you want to know what this series is all about, start here. You get everything from a camel that (really) spit in Hope's eye to Bing introducing the standard "Moonlight Becomes You."

Ended the night online while watching National Lampoon's Vacation. Clark Grizwauld (Chevy Chase) is determined to take his wife Ellen (Beverly DiAngelo) and their two kids cross-country from Chicago to Wally World, a huge theme park in California. Even before their trip, absolutely nothing goes right. The car Clark wanted didn't come in, and they end up with an ugly clunker. Ellen's hillbilly cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) hits Clark up for money. A cranky aunt (Imogene Coca) hitches a ride to Phoenix. Clark keeps seeing a beautiful woman in a red corvette (Christie Brinkley) throughout the trip. Even when they finally make it to Wally World, the disasters continue to pile up on Clark's lap. He wants to have a good time no matter what, but even he can only last so long before he snaps...

Another John Hughes-penned, vacation-themed comedy. Some good gags here, including the ultimate fate of that cranky aunt.