Sunday, December 21, 2014

Once Upon a Wintertime

I'm glad it was a beautiful, sunny first day of winter when I got up this morning. It's supposed to rain for the next three days, including Christmas Eve! I had one last banana that was getting really, really squishy and coconut leftover from the Cherry-Coconut Bars. Tossed in a few of the smaller pieces of glazed pecans and made Tropical Banana Pancakes. Ooooh, they were so good! I wish I'd been able to finish them, but I was still a little full from yesterday.

Listened to Christmas music as I ate. The first Disney's Christmas Collection is much shorter than the follow-up. I still have it for the song "From All of Us to All of You" (from Jiminy Cricket's Christmas) and Jiminy's sweet recitation of "The Night Before Christmas." The rest of the CD is mainly selections from an older Disney holiday album mixed with two songs by the Disney characters, "Oh Christmas Tree" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." (What's with that weird medley of carols that finishes the CD? It sounds like it was sung by Chip and Dale going to a funeral.)

My favorite of The Great Songs of Christmas albums I have is the one that was released in 1965. Anna Maria Albergetti sings a lovely "Caroling, Caroling." Diahann Carrol gets two beautiful older hymns, "Lo, How a Rose 'Er Blooming" and "Some Children See Him." Maurice Chevalier, then in the tail end of his late 50s-early 60s comeback, does a really cute "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" and a gentle "Silent Night," the latter performed partly in his native French. The album concludes with a really fun number from Sammy Davis Jr, "It's Christmastime All Over the World."

I have Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song on cassette. The title song is by far the most famous number here, but there's some other nice pieces. I'm especially fond of the touching "A Cradle In Bethlehem." He even does a bit of "Oh Tannenbaum" ("Oh Christmas Tree") in its original German.

Work was on-and-off busy all day, not surprising for a Sunday. Sundays tend to be busy even when there's no holidays or football going on. Things did get a bit hectic later, when everyone started to come out of church and the malls and think about their Christmas and Hanukkah dinners. Thankfully, everything went pretty well. There were even leftover ham, pretzels, tortilla chips, and deviled eggs in the back room. My relief was one of the college boys, and he was right on time.

When I got home, I changed into regular clothes, then put on more Christmas music and spoken word collections as I made Pumpkin Bread. I have an episode of the Jimmy Stewart radio show The Six Shooter that adapts A Christmas Carol on a large set of various old-time radio shows. Stewart's Britt Ponset tells a runaway boy the story of old Eben Scrooge. This nasty western miser owned lots of ranches, but was too mean and stingy to build a real ranch house, or let his foreman Bob have one, either. He stubbornly refused to go to his nephew Fred's livery stable for a Christmas party. Four ghosts and Bob's small, fragile son work their way into Eben's heart and change his mind about the holidays...and the little boy and his aunt's minds, too.

It's Christmas Time was another cassette find from the Laserlight displays at Staples in the early-mid 90s. Although Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole are prominent on the cover, Cole only has two numbers, "The Christmas Song" and a rollicking "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." The rest of the album is made up of selections from Bing and Frank's various radio appearances. I think Bing's are mainly taken from The Kraft Music Hall, a radio variety show he hosted in the 40s.

My favorite song by far is the opening "Silent Night." I used to run this cassette right before I went to bed on Christmas Eve, so Bing's words were the last thing I heard before I went to sleep. "Hear that? The bells of Christmas 1945 ring out clear and free around the world and you. Their message comes from the hearts of 72 million grateful Americans. They wish you peace on Earth, good will towards men, and Merry Christmas to all of you." The other famous song is the finale, "Jingle Bells." I believe the "oh we have a lot of fun" was used in Target's holiday commercials for many years.

Incidentally, the Pumpkin Bread concludes my baking from scratch. The Red Velvet Cupcakes I'm going to make tomorrow come from a mix. The Pumpkin Pudding Pie I'll make Tuesday morning requires no baking. It's the same recipe I used for Mom's day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast, and it came out just as perfectly.

I made a quick Spinach Pancake (spinach, mushroom, cheese, and eggs) for dinner while listening to that Merry Christmas Supremes album I bought from Grooveground in Collingswood during the Christmas Parade. I'm guessing this Motown release is from the mid-60s, from their enormous hair-dos on the back cover. "The Children's Christmas Song," with its sweet and simple "ding dong ding dong" refrain, is probably the best known song. I liked the gritty "Son of Mary" even more. "My Christmas Tree," a tale of Christmas heartbreak, wasn't nearly as much fun.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cartoon Holidays

It was cloudy and chilly when I got up this morning (after beginning my annual chapter-a-day reading of A Christmas Carol). I started with the remaining cartoons I dubbed off the vintage Walt Disney Christmas video. Mickey and the gang go "On Ice" years before Disney started their skating shows. While Mickey shows off for Minnie, Goofy attempts ice fishing and Donald teases Pluto by getting him on skates. "Donald's Snow Fight" gets even wilder when Donald knocks down Huey, Dewey, and Louie's snowman. The boys get revenge with an epic snowball fight. "Pluto's Christmas Tree" holds two unannounced visitors - Chip and Dale! Pluto tries to chase them out of the tree, but unlike Donald, Mickey doesn't mind them being there.

Moved to Popeye winter and holiday-related shorts as I prepared the package with Anny and her sons' presents and cookies. "Seasons Greetinks" is the Fleichers' Christmas offering. Popeye takes Olive skating on Christmas Day, but Bluto's interference leaves Olive on thin ice. "I Ski-Love Ski-You Ski" moves off the ice and onto the slopes. This time, Olive chooses Popeye for a skiing and mountain climbing trip. Bluto does everything he can to sabotage their winter fun.

My only errand planned for this morning was another run to the Oaklyn Post Office. This time, the long line was almost literally out the door, but it couldn't be helped. I wanted to get the packages going to Cape May County out today. I did have to use one of their boxes for Mom and Dad's cookies and get that ready. Other than that, everything went quickly. The line moved pretty fast (only two people were sending packages - most others were inquiring after their packages or buying stamps). A second line opened right as I was finally leaving.

After I got back to my apartment, I switched to the Tiny Toons as I prepared for work. "It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special" spoofs It's a Wonderful Life, right down to a faux black-and-white "clip" of the movie used about half-way through. Buster, upset after the Toons' Christmas show goes wrong and he's fired, thinks he doesn't matter to his friends. A very tall rabbit named Harvey with a familiar sounding voice shows him what Acme Acres would be like if he never existed.

Finished out the morning with a few more shorts. "Chip and Dale" officially named the two chipmunks who frequently annoyed Donald and Pluto. Here, they fight with Donald over the log he wants to use for his fireplace - it was once their home. "Toy Tinkers" was nominated for an Oscar in 1949. The chipmunks try to steal Donald's nuts from his house at Christmas, but he's ready to fight for them. "Gift Wrapped" is a holiday-themed vehicle for Tweety and Sylvester. The black and white kitty thinks Tweety is his Christmas present. Granny spends her holidays trying to keep Tweety out of Sylvester's mouth and Sylvester out of the mouth of a bulldog.

I left for work early in order to be able to enjoy the Acme's Christmas employee luncheon. It's more-or-less the same thing as the Thanksgiving luncheon, only with Christmas garlands on the tables, red-and-green tablecloths, and Christmas wrappers on the candy. Once again, there was tons and tons of food. In addition to the ham, corn, and meatballs that appeared at Thanksgiving, I saw coleslaw, pasta salad, deviled eggs, baked ziti, tortellini in spinach and olive oil, a delicious spaghetti casserole with cheese and sausage, roast beef, and baked beans and hot dogs. Desserts included a cheesecake variety tray, a tray of eclairs, pumpkin bread, a plain cheesecake, buttery thumbprint cookies with jam in the middles, peanut butter cup cookies, brownies, and my cookies. I had the spaghetti casserole, a roast beef sandwich with provolone cheese, corn, and deviled eggs before work. Tried the tortellini, bread, thumbprint cookies, and a thin slice of chocolate cheesecake during my break.

Work was the reverse of how it's been for the past week - crazy when I came in, steady-to-quiet when I left. The big Eagles-Washington game was at 4:30, and many people may have gotten off of work early. As soon as the game started, our customers stopped. It was just steady by the time one of the college boys came in for me at 6. I grabbed a roll of ribbon for wrapping paper (I'm almost out of mine) and headed out.

When I got in, I put on The Monkees. Their sole holiday episode debuted during the mid-second season, when the show was just starting to get stranger. This one was actually pretty normal in comparison to the rest of the season. "The Christmas Show" finds the groovy quartet looking after a snobbish young boy (Butch Patrick of The Munsters) when he doesn't want to join his wealthy aunt on her cruise. They try to show the child the Christmas spirit, but their efforts fail...until Mike Nesmith figures out what the kid really wants.

Oh, and darn it. Despite coming back in the second half, the Eagles just barely lost to the Redskins, 27-24. Now they really need to make a huge push if they want to make the playoffs.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas

Started a cloudy morning with breakfast and Arthur's Perfect Christmas. Aardvark kid Arthur Read is looking forward to the perfect holiday, filled with beautiful trees, lots of presents, snow on the ground, and a huge turkey dinner. His little sister D.W just wants the latest toy, despite the commercial driving her brother nuts. Muffy, the richest girl in school, doesn't understand why her best friend Francine can't come to her Christmas party. When Muffy asks her why she wasn't there, Francine explains how important Hanukkah is to her. Inspired by the Brain telling him how Kwanzaa was created, Buster tries to get his mother to relax and enjoy their own kind of holiday.

Work was busy off and on all day. While it still wasn't as bad as it probably will be next week, the lines were generally a bit longer than they have been. Thankfully, it slowed down enough by 4 PM that I was able to shut down without a relief.

Which was a good thing. I had a LOT of grocery shopping to do! I had tons of items I needed to restock after last week - cake mix (yellow and chocolate, plus red velvet for cupcakes), cheese, those dollar single packs of fish, cinnamon red-hots for cookie-decorating, fabric softener sheets, ground chicken, white and powdered sugar, tea (went with Bigalow's Constant Comment - I couldn't find the Christmas tea displays), more Acme generic Italian Wedding Soup, grapefruit, apples, and mushrooms. Bags of cut produce were a dollar - went with the vegetable stir fry mix. The Cascade sparkling waters were 88 cents - grabbed the Coconut. They had the limited edition holiday bags of Emerald nuts, too. A lot of my customers had raved about the Glazed Pecans, so I thought I'd give them a shot.

My schedule for Christmas week is far better and less hectic than it was last year. While I do work 7 hours Christmas Eve and very early the day after Christmas, that's really to be expected, given the holiday. Otherwise, my hours are pretty normal for this time of year, with Monday and Christmas Day off. I'll actually have the chance to get some library volunteering in along with all the usual errands.

When I got home, I changed into regular clothes, then put everything away. Started It's A Wonderful Life while making Cherry Coconut Bars (and to drown out the men working on the heater downstairs). George Bailey (James Stewart) thinks he's never done anything with his life, despite his loan business having created dozens of homes for the people of his town and having a loving wife (Donna Reed) and children. The nasty financier who owns most of the town (Lionel Barrymore) is accusing him of having stolen money from the loan company, even though it was really just lost. He's ready to end it all when a kindly old man (Henry Travers) stops him from jumping off a bridge. Turns out the old man is an angel who hasn't gotten his wings yet. When George makes a chance remark that he wishes he'd never been born, Clarence makes it literal. George finally discovers what a wonderful life he really has, and how important his family and the people of the town are to him.

I find this to be one of the most touching films ever made, but it's not everyone's cup of Christmas tea. If you don't agree with Capra's pro-small-town sentiments, you probably won't get much out of this. The slightly sugary finale is offset by the last half-hour, which is so dark and moody, I was 12 before I'd watch it straight through. Even so, this is still highly recommended for those who grew up with its constant showings on television or families with older kids who are ready to discuss some of the concepts brought up in the film.

Oh, and the Cherry Coconut Bars are the last of the five batches of cookies I make for Christmas. They're really just Lemon Bars with a very sweet cherry-coconut filling, but I love them. They're too sweet to eat all the time, but for Christmas, they're delicious. A lot of other people like them, too. They're my second-most-requested cookie after the Merry Christmas Molasses Cookies. They came out perfectly this year, just moist and crumbly enough. (I always put cooking spray on the bottom of the pan, even though the recipe says not to. The one year I did that, I couldn't get the bars off the pan and ended up with very sweet crumbs.)

Finished out the night with tilapia in lemon wine sauce with stir-fry veggies and a couple of holiday-themed Disney shorts. "Once Upon a Wintertime" depicts the adventures of a pair of Victorian lovers whose skating trip doesn't go as smoothly as planned. "Santa's Workshop" shows what Santa and the elves do before Santa leaves for his big Christmas Eve ride. "The Night Before Christmas" is what Santa does at the last house on his stop.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Star In the East

I spent an off-and-on sunny morning where I've been for most of the week - in the kitchen, this time making Cranberry Bread for my next-door neighbors. Ran Christmas In Connecticut as I worked. Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of the most popular magazine columnists in America, a model housewife and mother whose menus and advice are beloved by her readers. In reality, she's a city girl who can't boil water and gets the tantalizing recipes from her older friend Felix (S.K Sakall). When her boss (Sydney Greenstreet) invites himself and a handsome soldier (Dennis Morgan) to her non-existent farm for Christmas, she panics...until she remembers that the boring architect who has been constantly proposing to her has a farm. She accepts his proposal, then wishes she hadn't when she meets the good-natured, fun-loving soldier. It's a long and crazy holiday, but in the end, Elizabeth does finally learn that honesty really is the best policy, especially where love is concerned.

A cute romantic screwball comedy with a great cast. I especially like Sakall and Greenstreet as the two very different bosses. Recommended for fans of romantic comedy, the cast, or those looking for lighter holiday fare.

The Christmas In Connecticut DVD I have comes with the Oscar-winning 1941 short A Star In the East. J. Carrol Naish plays an embittered Italian motel owner who believes that people are only out for their own gain. A kindly wayfarer tries to persuade him otherwise, but all Nick sees at first are the obnoxious, demanding people who are renting rooms in his motel. At least until a young Hispanic couple shows up, looking for a room. It turns out the woman is pregnant...and the reactions of Nick's customers reminds everyone that goodwill is more abundant than you might think.

Switched to the Rankin-Bass special The First Christmas Snow as I made Dark Chocolate Cranberry Muffins to take to work for dinner. Lucas is an orphan shepherd who is blinded in a lightning storm. He stays with the kindly nuns and priest of a local church while they try to figure out what to do with them. He's especially fond of Sister Theresa (Angela Landsbury), who tells him about this wondrous thing called snow.

Did the other Christmas episode of Perfect Strangers as I ate leftovers for lunch and got ready for work. The fourth season episode "Gift of the Mypiot" has Balki and Larry staying in Chicago for the holidays this time. They're both excited about their big party on Christmas Eve, at least until Balki invites his obnoxious boss Mr. Gorpley to join the festivities. Gorpley is a jerk to everyone and doesn't make himself very welcome. It turns out he never had a real Christmas, but Balki knows how to make his holiday a little merrier.

Work was pretty much the same as it has been for the past week - busy during rush hour, steady-to-quiet otherwise. Other than a few mildly cranky customers, there were no major problems, and I was in and out.

My friends Linda and James Young from Atlanta, Georgia sent me a package. It was on my front steps before I left for work, but I didn't have a chance to open it until after I'd gotten home. There were three wrapped gifts. One was to be opened Christmas Eve, one Christmas Day, and one now. The "now" package held a sweet yellow wooden star with glitter and my name on it that Linda made herself, a beautiful bookmark with beads, shell, typewriter, and "Believe" charms on the end, and a book of inspirational Christmas short stories called The Spirit of Christmas. Good idea - I was going to read Christmas short stories next week after I finish my traditional chapter-a-day reading of A Christmas Carol. Thank you, Linda and James!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Festival of Lights

First of all, I hope everyone who celebrates it enjoys their week of Hanukkah - today was the first full day. (The last day is Christmas Eve.)

It was sunny and fairly warm for this time of year when I got up this morning. I did a few cartoons while eating breakfast and getting organized for running errands. Rudolph's Shiny New Year is another oddity from Rankin-Bass that's grown on me in the last few years. The world's most famous reindeer has to use his glowing red nose to find the missing baby new year Happy, who ran off because people laughed at his huge ears. If he can't find Happy before midnight on December 31st, time will stop forever! 

The Backyardigans also have an action-packed holiday in "The Action Elves Save Christmas Eve" from the fourth and final (to date) season. The title elves (Pablo, Tasha, an Uniqua) have to rescue Santa's sack from the goofy Abominable Brothers (Tyrone and Austin), who took it to hold snowballs.

I headed out into a day that was windy and probably in the 50s. Needless to say, there were quite a few people out and about in Newton Lake Park, even at quarter after 10 in the morning. The lake sparkled and bobbed as I dodged around dog walkers, joggers, and parents pushing their children in strollers.

Haddon Township Library wasn't busy, but they had plenty of help. Too much. There was already another volunteer there when I arrived. She complained that she'd just organized the kids' DVDs. I did it the way the librarian told me to a few weeks ago...and 10 minutes after I'd finished, she just rearranged everything anyway! This would be less of a problem if they would just clear out some older titles. They do NOT need those 3-episode Scooby Doo collections, or every Sesame Street set on the market. The S and T adult titles are overloaded, too. I finally got fed up after a half-hour and left as quickly as I could.

(I didn't take anything out today. I have no idea what my schedule is going to be like next week, but if it's anything like last year's Christmas and New Year's week schedules, I won't have the time to watch or return anything for a while.)

I went to Tuesday Morning to look at their Christmas section and cheer myself up a bit. I found the most adorable WebKinz Porcupine hiding among the stuffed animal piles in the kids' section. I considered buying some of their pretty Christmas gift bags, but decided I could get better prices for similar items at Dollar Tree and the Acme.

My next couple of stops were quick shopping trips. I realized yesterday that I didn't have enough shortening left for the Merry Christmas Molasses Cookies I wanted to make that afternoon. They were having a really good sale on cooking spray too, for $1.79. I also saw those divine Nestle's Dark Chocolate and Mint Chips on sale for $1.88. I haven't seen those at the Acme at all yet, and I really do love them.

Hit the Dollar Tree a few doors down after Thriftway. That may have been a mistake. The line was half-way across the store. That the cashier for the only open register was surly and rude didn't help matters. She held up the line ten minutes giving a poor young woman pushing a huge stroller a hard time about her bill being counterfeit. Ok, so it was counterfeit. That happens. She could have been a little nicer. Thankfully, by the time I made it up front, a second line had been opened by a young woman who was far more amiable. All I wanted were sponges and a Christmas gift bag for my neighbors' bread I'll be making tomorrow.

I had lunch at the Friendly's next-door to the Westmont Bagel Shop. Surprisingly for 1 PM, they were pin-drop quiet when I came in. There were only two other older women waiting for sandwiches. It did start picking up as I finished my All-American Chicken Sandwich with red onions, pickles, and honey mustard on the side. I didn't have ice cream this time. I'm in the midst of making cookies. The last thing I need is more sugar! I was disappointed that they didn't get into decorating this year. It was limited to red and gold balls hanging off the light fixtures. No wrapping paper on the pictures, no garlands or wreaths.

My last trip was to Rite Aid. I forgot orange juice for my neighbors' Cranberry Bread at Thriftway. Since their eggs were $2.79, I got those, too. It was even quieter there than in Thriftway. There was no line whatsoever. I may have been the only customer in the whole store.

Headed straight home after that. Ran the Christmas episode of Silver Spoons as I put things away and got my baking items organized. This early 80s sitcom did two Christmas themed-shows - I went with the one from the first season. Ricky is excited to spend his first Christmas with his father, surrounded by presents, treats, and loved ones. He learns a lesson in giving when a little boy (Joey Lawrence) steals food from their house...and Ricky gets quite a surprise when he follows the kid.

Did two movies on the existence of Santa Claus as I made the Merry Christmas Molasses Roll-Outs. Ernest Saves Christmas takes us to Orlando, Florida. While Santa hopes to persuade a former children's show host to take over his duties, Ernest has his hands full dealing with a selfish runaway and the host's sleazy agent. Ernest and Santa both have to prove that Santa is real...and that there's nothing wrong with caring about others, even if your methods of helping are a bit unorthodox.

Miracle On 34th Street moves us from warm Orlando to chilly New York City. Here, the Santa in question (Edmund Gwenn) is hired by Macy's manager Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), who was impressed with his work in the Thanksgiving parade. Walker becomes more concerned when he keeps insisting that he actually is Santa, including to her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood). Susan's been taught by her divorced mother not to believe in impractical things like make-believe or fantasy. Santa - and the handsome lawyer who lives next-door (John Payne) - want to prove otherwise. When Santa goes on trial for lunacy, the lawyer sees a way of showing that Christmas spirit does exist everywhere, even in the hearts of jaded New Yorkers.

The Merry Christmas Molasses Cookies are probably my favorite of the five cookies I do for gifts to make, and they may be the most popular. They (and the Cherry-Coconut Bars) are usually the most-requested. I got this recipe from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book years ago. The original recipe calls for honey and lemon flavoring, but I like the spicier version with ginger and molasses. They're cut-out cookies, though, which means they're very time-consuming. They also require shortening and are rather rich, which is why I only make them once a year.

I had the rest of the leftover soup for dinner, then headed out for my annual stroll around the neighborhood to look at lights. It was a beautiful night for it. I love how festive my neighbors get. I hiked down Manor, then into the neighborhood behind Kendall and the school, near where that little playground Lauren and I found last summer is. There's always lots of good displays down there.

I saw beautiful blue icicle lights that made roofs look like they were covered in real ice. One house had the columns that flanked the front door wrapped in strings of lights that looked like a winding rainbow. Another house was done from roof to lawn in red and gold. My neighbors across the street have circles of red and a small but elegant Nativity on their front lawn. (No lights wrapped on the house though, thank goodness.) Even Rose and Craig had green garlands with candy-like large bulb lights around their door and windows and a big, beautiful tree in their covered porch window.

My favorite inflatable this year was an adorable Santa who popped out of a snow-covered tree. I also saw a Peanuts "Christmas Pageant" that was really cute. A house down the street from me has a whole platoon of lit tinsel-and-wire statues, including polar bears and penguins in an igloo.

When I got home, I called Mom. I'd called her earlier, but hadn't gotten her. She was decorating the tree when I called. She's had a lot of hours at the Ferry and is very behind in just about everything. As of this second, she's working Christmas night and Christmas Eve and won't be making it anywhere but the Ferry for the holidays.

Finished up Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas as I talked to Mom. This "mid-quel" to Disney's beloved Beauty and the Beast is set while Belle was living with the Beast in the castle with all the servant objects. Belle wants to bring a little Christmas cheer to the castle by setting up a party. The Beast is totally against it. Christmas just reminds him of how he was transformed into a beast in the first place. Also against it is an obnoxious organ named Forte (Tim Curry) who wants the Beast to keep listening to his depressing melodies forever, and his piccolo sidekick Fife (Paul Rubens). Belle has to get around the objections of the Beast and the castle's bitter interior decorator Angelique (Bernadette Peters) and show them that Christmas is a time of hope for all creatures, even beasts and ornaments.

Unlike most of Disney's direct-to-home-media sequels, this one was obviously done with some care. There's a couple of lovely songs, including "Stories" and "As Long As There's Christmas," and a few nice animated sequence. And Curry's Forte is actually a more interesting and menacing villain than Gaston in the original, even if the massive organ is very obvious and badly-done computer animation. If you have a little girl looking for something different for Christmas or a Beauty and the Beast fan, this one is worth tracking down (it's been on DVD twice, but I believe both copies are out of print at the moment).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In the Kitchen

It was still sunny out when I awoke this morning. I finished The Great Santa Search, then had breakfast while watching Christmas Eve On Sesame Street. Sesame Street's first holiday special came out in 1978, and while a lot of the cast has changed over the years, this one remains charming. Big Bird is worried that Santa won't be able to deliver presents when Oscar reminds him how skinny many chimneys tend to be in New York. Bert and Ernie sell the things that mean most of them to buy presents for each other...but Mr. Hooper has surprises for them, too. Cookie Monster just wants to somehow get his list to Santa, without eating the writing utensils first.

The crew at the Hundred Acre Woods is also enjoying an eventful holiday season in A Very Merry Pooh Year. The first half of this two-part compilation movie is the special Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too in its entirety. Pooh and Piglet try to get their friends the gifts they want when they can't get their wish list to Santa. After their well-meaning attempts to play Santa themselves backfires, Pooh is determined to get the list to Santa himself! The second half has Rabbit upset because the others barged in on his house without asking. To keep him from moving away, they become determined to make New Year's resolutions and change...but it only makes things worse. In the end, Rabbit realizes that he really does like his friends the way they are, no matter how much they can drive him crazy at times.

Started the first batch of cookies during Merry Pooh Year. I always make five kinds of cookies during the Christmas season to give as gifts and for the Acme's employee luncheon. I started with the same Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies I gave to Linda and James and Lauren. They're delicious and very easy to make.

I ran The Little Drummer Boy Book II as I cleaned up from the cookies and put them in gift boxes. Rankin Bass did the second tale of Aaron the drummer boy and his menagerie in the late 70s, and it's definitely one of their better specials from that era.  Aaron and his animals help one of the Wise Men and an elderly man save silver bells that are to be used to herald the birth of Jesus from Roman guards. The drummer boy does manage to distract the head of the guards (Zero Mostel) from melting the bells into bricks, but at the cost of his most precious possession.

I took a quick walk and errand run around 12:30. Volunteered at the Oaklyn Library first. Despite the increasing clouds, they were empty except for two men and the librarian. I organized the DVDs (a TV show had gotten mixed in with the regular adult titles) and some of the children's books, then moved on. Got a "Gobbler" turkey hoagie, skim milk, and eggnog at WaWa.

The clouds were getting heavier and heavier as I walked home. They thankfully waited until about a half-hour or so after I'd gotten in to burst. It's rained on and off for the rest of the day, though never as heavily as last Tuesday.

I'd planned on spending the rest of the day inside anyway, regardless of the weather. Did one of the holiday episodes of Perfect Strangers as I ate my Gobbler. Larry's hoping to take Balki to his family's home in Madison for Christmas. He's devastated when a blizzard strands them in Chicago. Balki does his best to remind his cousin that the real Christmas spirit has less to do with presents than with being with the ones we love.

I put on the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol while I made the peanut butter cookies. British character actor Alistair Sim is a wonderfully despicable Scrooge. This is an interesting production that adds more to Scrooge's past, including how he met Jacob Marley and left Fezziwig, and a larger role to the charwoman seen in the future segment.

I found the recipe for what's now known as Cake Mix Peanut Butter Cookies two years ago, when I was short on funds and trying to figure out ways to cut a few corners. I decided to try using a mix for one type of cookie and save flour for some of the more complicated ones. The resulting cookies were so delicious, this has been my go-to peanut butter cookie recipe ever since.

Switched to The Grand Budapest Hotel as I made the biscotti. Director Wes Anderson is known for his quirky and unusual comedies, and despite its historical setting, this one is no exception. In the 60s, a young writer (Jude Law) is told the story of the title hotel by its elderly owner (F. Murray Abraham). The owner was once a humble lobby boy named Zero (Tony Revolori) who was taken in as a protege by the Grand Budapest's beloved and persnickety head concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) at the hotel in a small fictional European country in the 1930s. Gustave enjoys romancing the Grand Budapest's wealthy and aging clientele. When one of them (Tilda Swinton) dies, she leaves him a very important that her dastardly son (Adrian Brody) doesn't want anyone to get. M. Gustave and the loyal Zero find themselves running for their lives after Gustave is accused of her murder.

I've rented other Wes Anderson films, but haven't gotten to watch them for one reason or another. I really need to stop putting them off. I really enjoyed this multi-layered tale of mystery, romance, and dapper gentlemen in days gone by. It is rated R for a reason, though. There's a lot of swearing, especially from Gustave (for a guy who prides himself on elegance, he sure does love his curse words), some violence, and a little bit of sexuality in the beginning. A fun ride for adults who can handle the swearing and enjoy Anderson's brand of oddball comedy-drama.

I'm glad I got to the biscotti tonight. It's one of two recipes I make that take a little while. I don't make this like the hard rusks many of you dunk in your coffee. This simple recipe is pretty much butter, flour, baking powder, and sugar that I roll into Christmas shapes and cover with colored sugar or cinnamon candies. The rolling takes a lot of time, though, and the butter makes it very rich, which is why I don't make this more often.

Took a short bath after the movie ended. Ahhh, that felt really good. I'd been standing in front of a stove for the better part of a day. I read Christmas stories and listened to holiday jazz music. It felt nice and cozy, with the light rain sometimes going on in the background.

Finished the night with soup and Get Smart. The first season episode "Our Man In Toyland" lands Max and 99 in a department store, trying to figure out how CONTROL is smuggling weapons information out of the country. Even after they find out how it's being done, they may not live to tell the Chief what's going on when they're caught by the head of the department store!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Gift of Books

For once, it was sunny and bright when I got up this morning. I ran cartoons as I had breakfast and did a few things online. A Pink Christmas is based after the O'Henry short story The Cop and the Anthem. Poor Pink Panther spends Christmas Eve searching New York City in the early 1900s for anyone who will give him a home-cooked meal. He tries being a department store Santa, but he's chased out. He's thrown out of a restaurant when he can't pay for a meal. He can't sneak into jail, either. He finally gets food after stopping a robbery...but discovers how good it feels to share what you have when a puppy wants some, too.

Scooby Doo's first of three Christmas specials was "A Nutcracker Scoob," from the early 80s show that featured Daphne, Shaggy, and the two dogs. Fred joins in the fun here as the kids prepare to help an orphanage's Christmas pageant. If they can't find a precious jewel before the show, a nasty old miser will close down the orphanage! The kids try to find out if he's teamed up with the Ghost of Christmas Nevermore who keeps appearing to scare them away, or if the ghost has its own agenda.

"A Scary Night With a Snow Beast Fright" brings Velma back as the gang head to Alaska to help out a friendly professor. When they get there, the professor has vanished, thanks to a huge creature known as the Snow Beast by the natives. Though the professor's assistant tries to warn them away, they're determined to get to the bottom of this cold mystery...especially after they discover oil on the ice near the native village.

We stay up in the Arctic with "Alaskan King Coward." Shaggy, Scooby, and Scrappy are prospecting for gold in Alaska. When Shaggy accidentally unleashes a huge dinosaur-like creature, he and Scooby do everything they can to escape it. Scrappy, however, think it's after their claim and wants to pummel it into the snow!

I finally got to the laundromat around quarter after 12. Good thing I got there when I did! Shortly after I arrived, it got much busier. I wasn't around for long, anyway. I had another small load. The soap operas were beginning as I jammed everything out of the dryer and into my laundry bag and rushed out.

When I got home, I threw on I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown while putting away my clothes, eating leftovers for lunch, and getting ready for work. Lucy and Linus' little brother Re-Run badly wants a dog, but his mother keeps saying no. He constantly asks Snoopy if he wants to come outside and play with him. He even tries to buy Snoopy at one point. When Snoopy's brother Spike visits, Re-Run insists that Spike stay with them. Spike and Snoopy finally show Re-Run how taking care of a pet is a big he may not be ready for yet.

Work was pretty much the same it has been for the past week - busy during rush hour, on-and-off steady otherwise. The nice day contributed to the quiet. It was sunny and beautiful by the time I hit work at 2:30. There were some rather cranky and obnoxious customers early on. Otherwise, there were no major problems. It was so quiet by 7:30, I was able to get out quickly without a relief.

Oh, and Lauren sent me one more box in the mail. This one was of books she's been picking up at book sales in the Pittsfield area for me. Most of them are American Girl (including the last four books I needed for Molly's series), but there was also a book of Cape May ghost stories and a Beanie Baby Handbook that included, for some reason, an extensive recipe section.