Monday, September 30, 2019

City Island, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

We visited City Island in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The island sits in the middle of the Susquehanna River. It features plenty of leisure activities to satisfy most outdoor tastes.

We tried to find some geocaches on the south side of the island, only to score a bunch of "did not finds". We had some nice views of bridges and did throw stones into the river, so the time wasn't totally frustrating.

A cool bridge

Two bridges

 The island has the stadium for the Harrisburg Senators, a AA-team for the Washington Nationals.

Entrance to FNB Field

The island has another field for any number of games--soccer, football, etc.

We walked north from the stadium and saw a mini-golf course where we spent most of our time.

Another bridge!

The course logo

 Even though it says it is water golf, the course is dry, with the typical streams and fountains running through the course. The course has beautiful views of the river.

Power putter


Some good advice

What to do?!?

Need to hook around the other ball

Hole Eighteen had a special offer--a hole in one wins a free admission to the Turkey Hill Ice Cream Experience. The set-up only allows one shot. We tried our best but did not win. All our balls wound up in the water.

Checking the course

Almost made it!

The north side also features a playground for the kids.

On the relaxing swing

A future in engineering

Pondering his next destination

The island has an miniature train that runs around the edges of the island. We came too early to ride but we did see the station.

Train station

The island has a steam boat that gives 45-minute tours. Again, we came too early to ride but we did see the boat.

Pride of the Susquehanna

Friday, September 27, 2019

Book Review: Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 1 by B. M. Bendis et al.

Ultimate Spider-Man Volume 1: Power and Responsibility written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Mark Bagley

In this modernized retelling of Spider-Man's origin story, not much is changed. The story arc is the same: Peter is bitten by the spider, gets strange powers, tries to cash in on them, and fails to stop a petty crime. His uncle is killed by the criminal and Peter decides to become a hero. He's still a high school student with all the problems that come with being a nerd in high school. Mary Jane Watson hangs out with him a lot and has a crush on him, though Peter is a bit clueless.

The big difference here is Norman Osborn. Head of a scientific corporation named after himself, Norman does all kinds of cutting edge research in technology and biology. His experimental spider is the one that bit Peter during a class trip, though one of the other classmates kills the spider. At first, Osborn is worried about being sued. When Peter recovers and has some changes, Osborn is more interested in getting a hold of Peter for experimentation which doesn't work out. Doctor Otto Octavius works at the company and helps build a new machine to recreate the spider's enhancement. Osborn want to experiment on another human test subject and skip the spider step of the process. Osborn uses his own DNA for enhancement. As the process starts, a horrible explosion happens. Osborn winds up as the Green Goblin, a green-faced muscle man who is mistaken by students as the Hulk when the Goblin goes after Peter at school.

Another notable difference is Peter. He's a lot more bratty than in previous versions of the origin. He's picked on at school but uses his abilities to become a star athlete, which causes more trouble than he wants. I suppose the idea is to make him more like an average teenager with typical overreactions, though I found the depiction jarring and less sympathetic.

The book goes for a weird balance of being more over the top and more grounded. For me, neither effort was as successful as it could have been. Still, Spider-Man's origin story is great (probably the greatest comic hero origin) and the book really doesn't go wrong, it just doesn't do anything particularly new or fascinating. Osborn is interesting at first but after the transformation he's nothing more than a brute.

Recommended because it's Spider-Man.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Movie Review: Us (2019)

Us (2019) written and directed by Jordan Peele

An upper-middle class family heads out for summer vacation to their house on the lake. Dad (Winston Duke) is excited because he finally owns a boat for his dock on the water. The kids are worried about getting cut off from their wifi. Mom (Lupita Nyong'o) is a little less than comfortable, especially when they go back to Santa Monica where she was once separated from her parents as a child. In the flashback to 1986, her parents are celebrating her birthday and she happens to wander off into a seemingly abandoned fun house. In the hall of mirrors, she runs into another girl exactly like her. In the present, her son wanders off, setting off a mild panic. He's recovered quickly but that night a mysterious family of four shows up in their driveway. The driveway family invades the house and it becomes clear they are doubles of the family. Home invasion horror ensues.

The movie starts with an interesting premise and nurses it along for a while. Then a bigger picture is introduced and more of what's going on and what happened before (i.e., in 1986) is explained. Unfortunately, the more that gets explained, the more ridiculous and implausible the movie appears. That might be okay if the film makers had a bigger metaphor or interesting commentary to make. The obvious political interpretation is hamfisted and counterproductive. Peele's interpretation (which he talks about on the DVD special features) is more social in nature but also unconvincing given the movie he made. He also says he wanted to make a movie about dopplelgangers in the tradition of movies like The Parent Trap and Vertigo. Taken on just that level, this is an okay film.

The worst thing about the movie is that it clearly intends to be about ideas and gives the viewers plenty of time to think about them. I did have fun trying to figure out what's going on. But then the explanations came, explanations that were surprising in a bad way, and they got less coherent and less convincing as the movie continued.

Not recommended. It's hard to believe this is the same director that made the fantastic Get Out.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Book Review: English Fairy Tales and Legends by Rosalind Kerven

English Fairy Tales and Legends by Rosalind Kerven

This book has new tellings of several famous and less-than-famous stories from Great Britain's folklore history. Rosalind Kerven uses many primary sources to concoct her own versions of the tales. Each tale has three or four pages of notes that discuss the source materials and alternate versions of the stories both in England and in other countries and cultures. The stories are fun and the scholarship is interesting, making a winning combination. Here's a story by story review:

1. King Arthur and the Hideous Hag--King Arthur goes to fight an ogre who is kidnapping local women. The ogre curses Arthur with debilitating weakness and gives him a way to lift the curse: solve this riddle by next year: What does every women long for? The court has lots of answers but nothing definitive. The Round Table knights head out in search of an answer. They each run into the hideous hag, who promises the answer only if the knight will marry her. The fairy-tale resolution is very satisfying. The notes talk a bit about Arthur and the mythology around him.

2. Tom Tit Tot--A poor girl finds favor with the king. Her mom brags that the daughter can spin five skeins of the finest linen yarn in a day, which seals the deal for the king. He promises to let her have eleven months of luxury as long as the twelfth month sees her spinning five skeins a day. The girl is a bit lazy and unintelligent and goes for the deal. Once the time rolls around, the king takes her to an isolated tower where she's locked in. If she doesn't produce, she'll be executed. A little imp comes and promises to do the work for her. She'll have to be his at the end of the month if she can't guess his name by then. So this is basically the Rumpelstiltskin story with some variations. It still works well and the comments at the end are very interesting.

3. The Dead Moon--A local bog full of nasty creatures is swallowing up anyone who wanders in. The moon comes in female form to explore the cursed area. A local man explores the bog at the same time and the moon sacrifices herself to save him. She is trapped in a pit in the bog. With no moon in the sky, the bog ghouls get more ambitious and start wandering into town. Nine local men band together to free the moon in a high-risk exploration of the bog. The story is written in a Lovecraftian style, though the author doesn't quite get it right. I still enjoyed the story.

4. Jack the Giant-Killer--One of the many Jack stories (the most famous being Jack and the Bean Stalk), this tale has Jack craftily killing several giants who are plaguing the land. The story is a lot of fun. The rich history of Jack stories documented in the notes makes me want to find a book that has more about Jack.

5. Dragon Castle--A lonely widower king marries a beautiful woman who turns out to be, if not a witch, at least very witchy. She abuses her step-daughter who is at least as beautiful as she is. At a party where all the guests are swearing fealty to the royal couple, one visiting knight swears fealty only to the king and then proclaims the princess as the most beautiful woman. The queen loses it and curses both the step-daughter, who turns into a dragon, and the knight, who is driven off to Norway. The king won't let the other knights kill the dragon so the queen says she'll let the dragon (who is causing lots of trouble for everyone) live at the castle for a year and a day, planning to kill her at the end. The castaway knight hears about it and consults an old wise woman on how to get back and save the princess. With the proper knowledge, he returns and saves the day. The story is very charming, with a lot of familiar fairy tale elements blended with enough new twists and ideas to make a great story.

6. Robin Hood and the Golden Arrow--A local lord has a lot of financial bad luck and a son who is a ne'r-do-well. The impoverished lord goes through Sherwood Forest where he is captured by Robin Hood. Robin sees the plight of the man and loans him some money to save his son. The lord promises to pay back in a year. The year passes and the lord's fortunes recover, so he goes to pay Robin. Robin politely refuses. Not long after, Robin comes to the lord's castle, fleeing from the Sheriff of Nottingham. They just had the archery tournament where Robin won the golden arrow. The lord offers sanctuary, repaying his debt to Robin. The story is interesting since Robin is a secondary character to the lord.

7. The Weardale Fairies--A daughter wandering in the woods comes upon the fairies frolicking in their hiding spot. She watches for a bit and then races home, hoping they haven't spotted her spying on them. They did and come to kidnap her. Her father goes to a wise old woman to get advice on how to get her daughter back. She tells him what to give the fairies to free his daughter. The only problem is she gives them as three riddles to solve, like "a chicken with no bones." The story follows the typical path and is fun. Tricksey fairies are popular in English folklore, as the notes detail.

8. The Devil's Bargain--Three boys summon the Devil to their village and the village schoolmaster has to come up with an impossible task for the Devil to do. Again, this story seems very familiar but it does have some nice twists and changes. The notes talk about how the Devil often shows up in stories but almost always is defeated by human ingenuity.

9. The Princess and the Fool--A beautiful and intelligent princess is holding out for a suitor who can keep her entertained. Three brothers come to try their luck. The youngest is a fool who collects all sort of things in his oversized coat's pockets. He's able to entertain her and overcome her father's objections. The notes call this a "nonsense tale" where impossible or ridiculous situations arise and are resolved in silly ways. Such stories are fun, but in my opinion best taken in moderation.

10. The Seventh Swan--A young, disreputable man ignores the local taboo against killing swans when the area undergoes a poor harvest, and thus wide-spread hunger. He wings one bird, which survives, and takes it back to his one-room shack. Once there, he no longer has the heart to kill and eat it. The swan transforms into a beautiful young maiden with a wounded arm. He tries to force her to serve him. She refuses. Eventually, her arm is healed and she flees. He chases her but the other six swans come to her rescue and kill the man. Transformation tales are fairly common in folklore and this is a typical example.

11. The Knight of York--A poor family has yet another child. The daughter is fretted over; a passing knight reads from his Book of Fate about her future. He tells the parents that she is fated to have a spectacular life in the nobility, so he convinces them to let him adopt her. Really, what he read was that his son would marry this peasant girl, which he is dead set again. He tries to drown her in a river but through a fantastic circumstance, she is saved. She grows up and through more unusual coincidences becomes the daughter-in-law of the knight, who eventually accepts her. The story follows a common rags-to-riches story like the famous Cinderella. The notes describe many variations on the tale and point out that such tales exist in more or less every culture.

12. The Wicked Witch--An older girl goes out to find a job but no one except a wicked witch is hiring. Luckily, the girl did acts of kindness for three bewitched objects (a cow, a tree, and a loaf of bread; how's that for random?). When the girl discovers and sneaks off with the witch's gold, the objects repay her kindness by helping her escape. The tale is fairly typical folk tale plotting. The notes talk a bit about witches, especially those found in England.

13. The Asrai--A young man walks to work and sees a woman in a lake just before dawn. She beckons to him and he realizes she is both beautiful and half-fish. She almost leads him to his doom but he snaps out of it before he's lured to the deepest part of the lake. At work, no one believes his story except an old gaffer. The man goes back with a row boat and fishing net. He captures her but on the way back to shore she escapes. The story is a bit flat; the most interesting thing is the water fairy who looks like a mermaid. England has some mermaid stories, even inland mermaid stories. Most stories are about how they are dangerous or harbingers of bad events. The notes were more interesting than the story!

14. The Forbidden Forest--A peasant girl refuses the advances of the king, so he closes the kingdom's borders and dictates that he can have any woman he wants and will behead her when he grows tired of that lady. The girl is sent to her grandmother's house to hide because the home is remote with the titular forest nearby. The girl goes on an errand to the local village. She spots the king and his retinue approaching. She flees into the forest, an act of desperation since granny warned her about the magical trees, which are governed by a mighty oak in the middle. As she flees through the forest, she comes upon the oak. She curtseys and the path continues through to the other side of the forest. The king and his retainers pursue her. When they come to the oak, the king spits contemptuously. As he rides past, a large branch falls and breaks his neck. His followers move to help him but are nabbed by the other trees. This is more of a spooky campfire tale that I may use on our next Cub Scout campout.

15. The King of England's Three Sons--The king is sick and sends his sons to find some magical golden apples. Each son is, in turn, guided by progressively weirder (and uglier) old men until the son is directed to an enchanted castle with many guardians and one sleeping princess to pass before coming to the garden with the golden apples. The two elder sons fail to pass all the tests on the way; the youngest returns with the apples. They are supposed to meet at a crossroads before returning to the castle. The youngest arrives first and falls asleep. The other brothers come upon him and divide his apples and substitute rotten crab apples. The king demands he be executed. Meanwhile, back at the castle, the princess wakes up and discovers that the youngest son swapped garters with her. She recognizes the royal crest and goes to England to find her love. The execution is interrupted and the young couple marry happily. The story is fun if a bit full of nonsense. The notes talk about various quest stories, including some detail about Arthur's Holy Grail quest.

Overall, this is a great collection of fairy tales.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Hershey Park Rollercoasters 2019

Here's all the roller coasters we rode in Hershey Park (see the other stuff we did in the last post). They are listed in the order we rode them, we'll tell our favorites at the end.

We started with the Comet, a classic wooden roller coaster that is probably the closest to the entrance. It had the classic thrills with none of the modern flipping, rotating, inverting, or mega-harnessing. Just a car and a lap bar, thank you. We liked it as a good start to future adventures.

Comet sign

Skyrush on left, Comet on right

Right by the Comet is Skyrush, a modern steel roller coaster that achieves speeds of 75 miles per hour. It has the standard should/neck harness that keeps you from rattling around too much. It was a lot of fun if a bit terrifying. Thankfully the ascent of the first hill was very quick.

Next we rode the sooperdooperLooper. This older steel roller coaster didn't look too intimidating so I left my glasses on, a sure sign of disrespect to the awesomeness of a coaster. During the ride, it did do one loop so I took my glasses off quickly. You earned my respect, sooperdooperLooper! Though I still think you need a capital letter in a different spot. And maybe some spaces.

The train for sooperdooperLooper


The next ride was the Great Bear, a roller coaster that tops out at 58 miles per hour. We got a good view of the area. The seat and harness were comfy. The floor was non-existent. Our feet dangled as we were tossed around at high speed.

Not sure that's what Ursa Major looks like

A river flanked by roller coasters

We had taken advantage of the "go the evening before" option with out tickets, so Great Bear was our last ride of the night.

The next morning, my daughter wanted to ride the Skyrush. We went to get in line and then they said the rain meant they had to shut down the ride. I guess going 75 miles an hour without a windshield might not be as fun as it sounds. So we rode Great Bear. After half an hour, the rain relented and we rode Skyrush.

Strapping in for Skyrush

Farewell to Skyrush

We rode one kiddie coaster with our preschooler (who's in school now), the Cocoa Cruiser. It was surprisingly fast and enjoyable for a short ride. 

Cocoa Cruiser

Ready to ride

 Our next coaster was Fahrenheit, another 75+ mile per hour ride. It also was very short and had a very long line, so it didn't pay off like we wanted it to.



 We went to the back of the park and rode some of the older wooden coasters. Our first ride was The Wildcat, a fun and long ride. No loops or inversions but easily a minute and a half longer than other rides we took. Also, the line to get on was short.

The Wildcat entrance

The tracks

The park has a ride called The Wild Mouse, which was also rained out while we were there. So we went to Lightening Express, a double coaster. Two tracks race each other more or less side by side. We tried the Thunder track first; the Lightening train won. We immediately rerode the ride and tried the Lightening track. We won! Though we were nervous that we wouldn't win since Thunder started winning as we waited in line.

Rider about to ride

Some of the tracks

In the neighborhood is the Trailblazer, a smaller but fun coaster. The line was deceptive, with most of it hiding up the stairs. The park's app had a "ten minute wait" prediction that was off by an additional ten minutes. We liked it even though the wait was a little too long.

Trailblazer sign

The Storm Runner was on and off throughout the day thanks to the on and off rain. As we left the Trailblazer, the Storm Runner opened up. We liked the ride for its quick line but the reason the line went fast is because the ride takes fewer than 30 seconds.

Outside the Storm Runner

Waiting in line inside for the Storm Runner

The Sidewinder was closed all day, there must have been some problem with it beyond the rain. It looked pretty cool.


The other roller coasters we missed were the Wild Mouse (closed by rain when we were in the neighborhood; we never made it back) and Laff Trak (an indoor track that always had a wait over sixty minutes; we didn't want to spend that much time in line for one ride).

Here's our favorites:
  1. Wildcat
  2. Lightening Racer
  3. Skyrush
  4. Comet
  5. Great Bear
  6. Trailblazer
  7. superdooperLooper
  8. Storm Runner
  9. Fahrenheit

We plan to come back next year to ride the roller coaster opening Summer 2020--the Candymonium! What a great name, right?

The future of roller coasters

Monday, September 23, 2019

Hershey Park 2019

We took one last summer vacation to Hershey Park. We went just after school started in Pennsylvania, so the crowds were minimal.

The park offers admission for the last three hours on the night before your ticket. We pre-purchased tickets and took advantage of the extra hours. We came at 5:30 and stayed till 8.

We walked right past Hershey's Chocolate World, which we saw last year during a winter vacation.

Sorry, Chocolate World

The path into the park was long and winding, a surprise to us. They are building a new area at the front so we had to walk the long way around. We finally made it into the rides.


Statue of Milton Hershey

The kids rode the Misfit Bug, a fun ride for littler kids. I was too tall to ride!

Misfit Bug ride

Roller coaster rides were a big part of our preview. They will get their own blog post next.

We bought some food to give to the geese. We had leftovers and used them the next day.

Tossing food off a bridge!

Happy customers

Coming for the food

One ride that caught our eye was the Claw. It seemed tame at first...until it started swinging side to side and spinning at the same time. My oldest son complained on the ride that he wasn't getting top height with each swing. That was true for the first three-quarters of the ride, but then the spin and the swing got into a favorable synchronization and he was happy.

The Claw, resting

The Claw, swinging

The park has four tower rides. One is the Kissing Tower, which is a leisurely ride up to a high height inside an enclosed viewing room. The other three towers also take riders to high heights but then drop them quickly several times for a thrill. Oh, and no safe, enclosed room, just seats with shoulder harnesses! We rode the tallest one and were satisfied.

The three thrilling towers

My youngest enjoyed a kiddie merry-go-round and the larger carousel too.

Riding a pony

Riding a horse with Mom

Looking serious

He rode a lot of rides aimed at younger patrons while I took the older kids on the coasters.

Ready for take off!

Hazardous water ride on a cool and rainy day

Riding with big sister

On a helicopter

Still not looking the right way!

I was surprised by the variety of chain restaurants inside the park. Usually there's one chain that has an exclusive contract, but here there were quite a few.


Moe's Southwest Grill!


The youngest was happy to get Chick-fil-A for lunch while in the park. The menu was slightly scaled back--they had chicken nuggets but no chicken tenders! It was delicious anyway.

On our way out, we took pictures with some of the candy characters by the entrance.

Jolly Rancher dude

Two more dudes

Twizzler guy

Great American Chocolate Bar

Hungry for a bit

The next post will have our roller coaster review for Hershey Park!