Monday, December 31, 2007

Have A Happy New Year!

The last day of 2007 did not begin well for me. I twice tried to call my mom and stepdad to thank them for the presents, but the first time (early in the morning, around 8AM) Mom and Keefe were gone and Dad sounded like he'd just gotten up, and the second time, no one was home.

When I went downstairs, I found two big orange "paid" stickers stuck on my bike, one on a reflector I need at night. I knew the teenage boys who work at the Acme probably did it; not to be mean, but because they're bored and don't have the sense to find something else besides stickers to keep themselves occupied for their 15 minute break. (Most of them don't have two brain cells to rub together.) I was almost late for work because I had to scrape those stupid stickers off. I really kids would learn to keep their hands off other people's property.

Work was far busier than Christmas Eve was last week, with long lines all day. I guess a lot of people around here have New Year's Eve parties.

Must be nice to have somewhere to go. I was supposed to have spent tonight chatting with Lauren, but it turns out she was up for hours and hours shoveling snow in her big backyard with her father. Western Massachusetts received up to six inches or more of snow, with more coming. She simply wasn't up to talking and cut out after an hour to fall asleep over wrestling. So, for the second year in a row, I spent New Year's Eve with my computer, radio, and 30 stuffed animals, eating pizza.

What's my resolution for this year?

To spend next New Year's Eve with real, live, honest-to-god people. Not stuffed people. Not people on the Internet or the radio. REAL PEOPLE.

Here's hoping all of you have a safe and happy 2008 surrounded by everyone you love!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas All Over Again

My sister Rose came by this morning for a chat and to bring me my presents from my mom, stepdad, brother, younger sister, and her son from Cape May County. The folks gave me gift cards to Lane Bryant (plus-sized good clothes) and FYE, a retro Coke ads calender (I get that every year - I love retro ads), money, and two gorgeous ornaments from Winterwood, the Christmas store on Route 9 in Rio Grande. My brother Keefe gave me the new Eagles CD, Long Road Out of Eden, which I saw when I was shopping in Philly on Thursday but didn't buy. My sister Anny gave me a checkerboard cake pan set. (Checkerboard cakes are huge cakes that look like checkerboards when layered properly.)

(Notes on Winterwood: Winterwood a wonderful, cramped old farm house - the oldest remaining in Cape May County - filled from floor to ceiling with Christmas ornaments, CDs, collectible houses and figures, lights, and other holiday paraphernalia. It's the best Christmas store in the entire world. I've never seen another Christmas-themed store anywhere near as cool as Winterwood. Mom and her sister Aunt Terri used to go shopping there every Black Friday, and Mom and I would go a few weeks later to finish up ornament shopping. There's a smaller but almost as nifty store in Wildwood across from the boardwalk. I recently discovered there's one on the Washington Street Mall in Cape May as well, in what used to be a gift shop, and before that, a bank. Here's their site:

Not much else went on today. I listened to the Eagles CD and the Hairspray soundtrack and to the WOGL Beatles show. (The Beatles #1 hits, as a group and solo, was the theme of the last Beatles show of the year.) Work was steady but not too busy, a bit of a surprise to everyone...including the managers. For once, we had more than enough help, but there really weren't any problems.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mind Their Ps and Qs

Another relatively quiet morning. Made a quick trip to Dad and Uncle Ken's house to grab my purse (I forgot it there when I did laundry yesterday). I ran to WaWa's afterwards and grabbed turkey lunch meat and a chai tea latte that wasn't bad. (I think Doria's Deli around the corner is closed for the holiday week.) Messed around on my computer when I got in.

Work, on the other hand, was annoying. People are so rude! My very first customers of the day were an obnoxious elderly pair. The man kept growling about the prices and would shove items at me, asking me what this or that came up and squawking when nothing came up the way he wanted it to, and the woman kept whining at him. Well, if he'd read the signs right, he would have bought what was on sale.

Things didn't get much better as the evening continued. There were more grouchy or obnoxious people than usual for the end of the month, culminating in a screaming match between two customers, with one shrieking nasty language in a public place with children and teenagers in earshot. You'd think she was driving on a New Jersey highway during rush hour, the way she was carrying on! I don't know exactly what happened. I had the woman in my line and she was fine, if a little fussy, then. I'm assuming it's just the pressure of the holidays getting to everyone.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Heading Towards The New Year

Not a terribly exciting day. Picked up my paycheck and did my weekly grocery shopping in the morning. Also picked up another Hello Kitty DVD at the Acme, this one devoted to spoofs of adventure-oriented stories. "Peter Penguin" (a take on "Peter Pan") and "Tar-Sam Of the Jungle" were the most fun this time around, but most kids probably won't get "Crocodile Penguin" unless they have parents who are fans of 80s movies or 80s wrestling (as the episode makes fun of both).

I also picked up this year's kids' calender. I bought a Strawberry Shortcake calender last year when I thought I wouldn't get the retro-oriented calenders I usually receive for Christmas. I did get a calender (retro Coke ads), so Strawberry went in my room across from my bed instead. I'm glad she did. I always felt better seeing her cheery face every morning. I liked it so much, I decided to get another kid-oriented calender for my room for 2008. I couldn't find Strawberry, so I went with the Disney Pooh and his pals.

This evening, after dinner, I experimented with my first Coconut Macaroons. I had more than half a bag of coconut left from the Cherry Coconut Bars I made for Christmas, so I thought I'd make more cookies. There was a recipe on the Baker's Coconut Bag that looked good (and not too fattening, as they required egg whites and are fairly low on sugar, not to mention I'm still using the half white/half Splenda mix). They came out slightly gooey but generally pretty well.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Silver Bells

Thankfully, the rain stopped early enough that I made it to Collingswood without getting wet. I browsed in the thrift shop for a little while, then took a look at the WebKinz at the Collingswood Variety Store, a dollar store/party store across from the thrift shop on Haddon Avenue. I bought a raccoon to go with the stuffed animal display on my baker's rack that represents the animals who live around me. I opted to name him after a bandit instead of just calling him "Bandit" or "Rascal"; his name is Sundance, as in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

(However, a warning to WebKinz fans. As disappointing as it may be for people who received WebKinz for Kwanzaa and Christmas gifts they haven't registered yet, don't try to get on tonight. Their main page is "temporarily unavailable," and I read may be down until 2AM.)

My chat with Scott was early this year. I told him about Christmas and being busy and the change in plans with going down south, and we discussed my goals for the year.

I am going to continue Weight Watchers. I've lost 42 pounds now, and I feel great.

I'd like to join a writing group, but it's a matter of finding one in this area I can get to that's at a good time. Most of these groups and clubs always seem to be when I work. Not to mention I really rather afraid of groups, and of meeting new people. I never know what to say when I'm around people.

I want to publish my work, if I can find a place to do so, get all the formatting done, and find the courage to send anything anywhere.

I have to e-mail Rowan about their children's library programs, and maybe Creative Writing too. I want to know if it's worth it to spend the money. I'm not going to waste money on more education I can't use because the job market is too competitive or full. I spent four years at Stockton that got me nowhere.

I'd like to do more volunteering. I want to teach children to enjoy reading and become involved in programs that discourage bullying, especially for girls. No child should have to go through what I did in the 80s and early 90s.

After counseling, I went into Philadelphia for my big shopping trip. I stopped at my favorite pizzeria a few blocks from the Locust Street/12th Street PATCO stop, Mama Angelina's, for a huge mushroom cheese steak. They make such good stuff! That cheese steak was sooo nice and hot, which I appreciated on a day that was still chilly, damp, and cloudy.

After that, I walked all over town, from Chestnut down to The Gallery Mall on Market Street. I picked up Laverne and Shirley: The Complete First Season on sale at the FYE on Broad Street, along with It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown and Hello Kitty Becomes A Princess. The last named is five princess-oriented episodes of the cute and very funny 1987-1988 CBS Saturday morning series Hello Kitty's Furrie Tale Theater. Other than a few rather dated 80s references (Pee Wee Herman is mentioned in the "Sleeping Kitty" episode, and a few cartoons are parodies of very 80s movies like E.T and Crocodile Dundee), the fractured fairy tales and movie spoofs are still a lot of fun. "Cinderkitty" was my favorite; how many times will you hear Cinderella say she'd rather be a wide receiver than running around in a ball gown (or as a cheerleader)?

I finally found what I really wanted at the Suncoast Video in the Gallery Mall. I've been dying to get The Chronological Donald, Vol 3 Walt Disney Treasures set ever since it was announced back in March, but I couldn't find it ANYWHERE, and I didn't get it for Christmas. I didn't see it in Philly, either, until I found it at Suncoast. Suncoast is kind of like the geek's FYE, concentrating entirely on DVDs and movie-related merchandise. The one in the Hamilton Mall was always good to me. (I bought three of my MacDonald/Eddy videos from the Suncoast Video at the Hamilton Mall. That was the only place I could find them!) The Borders Express next-door was useful, too. I bought a cute striped journal (I'm half-way through my offline journal; I go through them rather quickly) and another British baking book, this one devoted mostly to popular cookies.

I had a very long but generally enjoyable walk this afternoon. I even took a shortcut through City Hall to get to the Market Street Shopping District. I love seeing the city all dolled up for the holidays, from wreaths on stores to colorful displays in windows to the huge tree in front of City Hall. I also passed a couple of nifty statues, including Gene Kelly and his umbrella in front of the Prince Street Theater and a giant clothespin across from City Hall.

I'm going to do Weight Watchers very quick and get offline. I'm tired as heck; I spent most of the day on my feet! Thank goodness I'm off tomorrow, too.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day

Spent a fairly quiet day today. I ran a few errands this morning. Dropped by Uncle Ken's to pick up the Christmas gifts I left there yesterday, then went to the bank to deposit part of Christmas money. I'll use the rest to go shopping in Center City Philadelphia tomorrow after counseling.

It was cloudy and damp but otherwise not bad when I rode to work at noon. Work was on-and-off steady, with no real problems other than that lack of help again, especially with baggers. It was raining when I got out at 8PM. I rode home since the rain wasn't heavy.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Merry Christmas, everybody! Thank goodness my Christmas Day went far better than it did last year. Mom called me just ten minutes after I woke up and wrote in my offline journal. She wished me a happy Christmas and told me Rose would deliver presents from the North Cape May side of the family as soon as she could. She said things got crazy last night but didn't elaborate, and I didn't ask. I'll ask Rose when I see her.

After Mom got off, I opened the present from Linda I had under the tree. Yes, she gave me another WebKinz, a handsome Clydesdale, and two WebKinz charms. He needed a Christmas name that wasn't too cutesy, Nicholas, our brave, strong-willed Clydesdale horse! No wonder Linda loves her Emily. I liked Nicholas so much, I brought him to Uncle Ken's house to show the family, and later to his daughter Samantha's to introduce him to her kids. Nicky will be Shadow's roommate in the Victorian Bed and Breakfast.

Uncle Ken, his girlfriend Dolores, and my stepsister Jessa were already downstairs when I arrived at quarter of 10. From the looks of the sea of wrapping paper and boxes, Jessa had already opened most of her presents. Her biggest present was a Wii (Nintendo's newest game system) and a couple of the more popular games. She was working on making Miis (little avatar-like people) when I came in.

Mark, Vanessa, and Brittany showed up about twenty minutes after I did. They gave me a bag filled with bath and body lotions and sprays. Jessa gave me the two-disc soundtrack to 2007 Hairspray and loved the socks I gave her, and Uncle Ken loved the Rachel Ray cookbook I found for him. I got money from Dad and Uncle Ken.

Jodie showed about a half-hour later. Poor woman said her teenage boys had accidentally locked her on the porch after the party last night, and she ended up sleeping there. She gave me Shrek the Third. I got some great photos of Jessa and Brittany playing Wii Sports. (I may have gotten some of Jodie and Vanessa trying their luck later, too.)

After Uncle Ken made us omlets and home fries for breakfast, Bruce, Jodie, Jessa, and I went to Samantha and David's house. (Mark, Vanessa, and Brittany went to visit friends.) Bruce and Jodie only stuck around for a little while, long enough to greet Samantha's mother (and Uncle Ken's ex-wife) Jane. (Now you know why Dolores and Uncle Ken came later.) Jane gave Jessa and I pretty scarves made of that nobby black and multi-colored fabric. Samantha and David gave me a plastic bell-shaped container of Ferrero Rocher hazelnut chocolates. They loved the big container of cookies I gave them, and the kids loved the mint-condition classic Golden Books I found at the thrift shop. (Dolores and Mark, Vanessa, and Brittany also received cookies from me. I made sure the latter one had no Oatmeal Chocolate Chips. Vanessa is allergic to chocolate.)

Bruce and Jodie had to go to a party an aunt of Jodie's was holding. Neither were very enthusiastic about it, and Jessa and I weren't eager to go, either, since we don't know Jodie's relatives that well. We finally opted to stay with Samantha and her family and play the new Star Wars Lego Wii game with her boys Matt (age 8) and Ethan (10) and their baby sister Faith (2) for the rest of the afternoon.

(I might end up getting a Wii just to get that Star Wars game. I never thought I'd say this about a Star Wars game, but it's soooooo funny! The expressions on the Legos, even the ones that are supposed to be scary like Darth Maul and the Emperor, are kind of cute. ;) )

Uncle Ken and Dolores arrived around 4. Samantha, David, and the kids opened their presents from them, then we all sat down for a delicious dinner. Samantha made candied sweet potatoes, creamed onions, peas, roasted red potatoes with rosemary, rolls, and a divine roast beef. Uncle Ken provided a delicious apple pie for dessert. After the pie, Matt, Ethan, Jess, and I played Mario Party 8 for a little while until it was time for Uncle Ken, Jess, Dolores, and I to go.

I'm so grateful for my family and friends, every last one of them. I still wish I could see them all in one place, or at least have more people visit mine, but I did end up having a wonderful holiday. Thanks again, everyone! :)

Monday, December 24, 2007

One More Sleep 'Till Christmas

As it turned out, I wasn't able to go to Cape May County after all. Rose wanted to leave as early as she could so she could come back by nightfall and still have time to spend with the family. It takes an hour and a half to get to North Cape May from Oaklyn, longer if you factor in holiday traffic, and 3:45 just would not have left us enough "family time."

I was still a little depressed at work. It wasn't as busy as I figured it would be (the lines weren't half-way across the store), but it was busy enough that work went fast. Karen Beth, the co-worker who got my Pollyanna gift, loved the cute Christmas potholder, sugar cookie mix, and snowflake-shaped cookie cutter I gave her. The delighted look on her face when she unwrapped it lifted my spirits a bit.

My spirits continued to lift as I headed home. I changed into something that wasn't a royal-blue polo Acme shirt and khakis, dropped off my landlady and neighbors' Christmas gifts (Miss Ellie is getting cupcakes; my neighbors got cranberry bread), and headed over to my dad's girlfriend's house for her big Christmas Eve party.

I had a better time at the party this year than last year, maybe because I knew everyone a little better. In addition to Jodie's teenage sons and their friends and various cousins, grandparents, and siblings, we also had Dad, Uncle Ken, Uncle Ken's girlfriend Dolores, his grown son Mark, Mark's girlfriend Vanessa, my stepsister Jessa, and Jessa's best friend and Vanessa's daughter Brittany, and Jodie's next-door neighbor (and mother of my friend Erica) Helen.

There was tons of food. I had chocolate chip cookies, mini soft pretzels, meatballs, celery, broccoli, dip, cheese, pepperoni, ham, sugar cookies, and enough ginger ale that I'm surprised I haven't floated away yet. I chatted with everyone, giggled with Jessa and Brittany, and complimented Jodie on her spread.

For anyone who will be too busy to be online tomorrow or unable to get to the Internet, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays! :D

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Stories

I got a hold of Mom this evening after missing her this morning. Turns out it was a lot of miscommunication. Rose thought I was working until 6PM on Christmas Eve. Mom said she's willing to hold the dinner until 6, but not 7 or 8. She's tired and (rightly) afraid of what my sister Anny's 3-year-old son Skylar will do if he gets too tired and/or excited. I have to get a hold of Rose and see what she says; we'll probably work something out.

Other than that, it was a fairly quiet day. Spent the morning watching A Christmas Story. Boy, does that bring back a lot of memories. That's one of my family's favorite holiday films. It showed up a LOT on cable in the 80s and early 90s, and we never missed it.

- My stepfather's religion is "Ford." (He also follows "Kowasaki.") My mother's is "Grand Am."

- On one hand, I envied Ralphie's gorgeous white Midwestern holidays. We were lucky to get rain on Christmas Day in Cape May. On the other hand, it was nice to not have to spend the winter waddling to school.

- My stepfather claims to have actually stuck his tongue to a frozen metal pole (a railroad track in his case) and have gotten it off by moistening the area around his tongue. Of course, my stepfather is also well-known for his tall tales...

- I was besieged by Scut Farkases of both genders at Ralphie's age. I never fought (I don't think my mom would have handled it nearly as well as Mrs. Parker did), but I did do an awful lot of yelling.

- I actually picked up a fair amount of blue language from both parents. Mom's "tapestry of obscenity" is probably blanketing half the Atlantic Ocean by now.

- My siblings and I were generally careful about cursing around our parents. Ralphie should actually consider the soap thing to not be that bad. Dropping the "f bomb" around our folks probably would have gotten us spanked, or at best grounded with revoked TV/video game privileges for a month. (My folks grew up with parents who spanked them; they're not bad people, that's just how they were raised.)

- Before Mom finally got fed up with the needle mess in 1997 and bought a fake tree, Christmas tree-buying in my family was something of an adventure. On an afternoon after school in mid-December, the five of us (six after Keefe was born) would bundle up and jump in the car to look at various local lots. Well, Mom and Dad would look at lots and haggle over prices and argue over whether this tree would lose it's needles or that tree was the right size for the living room. My siblings and I would just play tag and hide-and-seek amid the branches. Between lots, we'd stop at a local restaurant and have dinner. (Wendy's in Rio Grande was a favorite when they had that cool salad/pasta/taco bar.)

- There's a space under the sink in the house at Maryland Avenue in Cape May where Rose and Anny would hide when they were upset.

- Mom probably would have taken one look at that leg lamp and said "NO." Or at the very least banished it to the den or a less-used room.

- Our family had TWO picky eaters, Rose and Anny. One night, Mom got so fed up with Anny not wanting to eat, she let her do the "How does the little piggy eat?" thing Mrs. Parker did with Randy...right down to Anny's face ending up in the plate. I don't know why Mr. Parker and Ralphie were disgusted. Rose and I were literally falling off our chairs laughing. ;)

- Mom usually made our teacher gifts, often a home-made ornament. They always appreciated it. Some of them later reported they had those ornaments decades after we were no longer in grade school. :)

- Our Christmas mornings were more organized than the Parkers'. Mom would pile each person's presents in a different place (usually the same place every year). Everyone would sit next to or near their gifts and unwrap them in turn, youngest child to oldest child. After all the kids opened their presents, Mom and Dad would open theirs.

- Mutant Reviews is right. You will never again, in this PC day and age, enjoy the beauty that is the Choir of Chinese Waiters.

- Though my family did venture out to dinner several Christmas nights (including for three years running in the early 2000s when Anny's then-boyfriend was a chef at the fancy restaurant on the top of the Marquise De Lafayette Hotel in Cape May), the closest we got to Chinese Turkey was gourmet Vietnamese spring rolls. (On the other hand, those spring rolls ROCKED. I could go for two of those right now...)

Work was steady, surprisingly not QUITE as busy as I thought it would be. (I figured the lines would be going half-way across the store.) It was no busier than on any other normal Sunday. Thanks to an awesome Eagles game (I didn't see it, but they did beat the New Orleans Saints) and nasty, stormy weather, many people probably opted for home or the malls. It should be far busier tomorrow.

The store also did it's gift exchange today. I got a lovely tan sweater that fits quite nicely and a really cute red and tan striped scarf from Denise, a fellow cashier. (The sweater will come in handy. I donated several sweaters to the thrift shop in October that were too big or didn't look right on me.)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I Won't Be Home For Christmas

I received some very disappointing news this morning while finishing my holiday baking (pumpkin muffins, cinnamon swirl bread, and for my landlady, cupcakes she can freeze for whenever she wants them). Rose called and asked me when I was working on Christmas Eve. I told her I hadn't had the chance to get my schedule and wasn't sure. She explained that Mom called and wanted us to leave early in the afternoon for North Cape May. I tried to point out that I would probably work until at least three or four, or even until our 6PM closing, but she said Mom was worried about everyone at her house being sick and the lack of Christmas decor and presents because of their move. I did call her right before work and told her I was working until 3:45, but it was still no dice; Mom wanted us there by 4PM for dinner. So, I'll be here Christmas Eve again.

This isn't the first time Dad's insisted on moving his family to a new home at one of the worst possible times of the year. We moved from Maryland Avenue in northern Cape May (a few blocks down from the Grand Hotel) to Park Boulevard in West Cape May, half-way across town, on New Year's Day 1990. That was an even bigger pain than this was; the girls and I were all pretty young then (I was about 11) and still expected toys and treats and things.

(One good thing did come out of that Christmas. We kept the two-foot fake tree Mom bought to appease our need for Christmas cheer for over a decade, putting it up in her room in West Cape May and the den in North Cape May and decorating it with her classic 50s pine cone-shaped ornaments.)

I don't care about trees and presents. I have those here. I just wanted to SEE them, talk to them, give them their gifts in person. I wanted to make them happy. I haven't seen the Cape May side of the family since July. I was really, really looking forward to this. I know this is babyish, but it just isn't fair. Besides, this may be the last time I see the house I spent my teen and college years in.

Work was long and a pain in the rear. Many people were obnoxious and grouchy (I guess they just got out of the malls). Though I enjoyed the store's Employee Christmas Party, I wish I had someone to talk to at work who was my age, single, and on their own. I feel like the only 28-year-old single woman who lives by herself in the entire Delaware Valley. The very few people around here who are my age are married or living with their parents or roommates or significant others.

I guess I'll just go for a walk Christmas Eve afternoon after work. I'll deliver the bread and cupcakes to my neighbors and landlady and look at Christmas lights, then go to my biological father's girlfriend's big Christmas Eve party. It was ok last year, but I always feel left out of those big affairs; I don't drink and don't handle crowds well. I'll go with Dad, Jodie, and my stepsister Jessa to Jodie's aunt's house for Christmas Day.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Wet Christmas

Today was damp, chilly, and on-and-off rainy, but I still managed to run all the errands I needed to do. I went to the Acme first to get my paycheck and do what should be my last big grocery run before Christmas. There was a small display of WebKinz in front of Self-Checkout. Apparently, they just got their first shipment this morning. I got a much better paycheck than I expected (turned out one of the days was counted as a personal day), so I treated myself to a new WebKinz.

Meet Shadow, the sleek and tough Charcoal Cat! Charcoal cats are new, and the Acme was actually the first time I saw them. Surprisingly for their small display, they had a nice selection of WebKinz. I was very close to getting a Beagle, and the Huskies were nice, too. I have lots of stuffed dogs, though, and only four stuffed cats (and three are lions). The virtual Shadow will share my newest theme room, the Victorian Bed and Breakfast, with probably a horse WebKinz. (The room that came with her will be made into a coffee house, the Treehouse Cafe.) The non-virtual Shadow will sleep on my bed with Erica, the gray 80s Pound "Purrie" I got at the thrift shop last year.

After I lugged my grocery bags home (I needed a lot today), I put them away, had a quick lunch, and went right back out. I made a very quick stop at the post office to drop off two bills and a Christmas card. Ironically, the post office was dead, with both men on duty and no line. I was in and out in a jiffy. (I guess I hit them at a bad time last week.)

The bank was quite festive when I went in. Apparently, it was their Customer Appreciation Day, and they had lots of food out, including fruit, pretzels, chips, apple cider, little pastries, sandwiches, and Italian sausage strudel. I opted for one very small bit of gooey brownie, fruit, and two small slices of strudel. (And yes, I did deposit my paycheck. The bank was festive, but it was dead as well. Lauren said the bank where she works was busy today; maybe the weather scared people off here.)

I made another quick stop at 7-11 in the hope that their Cranberry Splash Slurpee machine was working again, but no luck. This time, NONE of the machines looked like they were working, or even full. I decided on a hot drink instead. Tried the fat-free French Vanilla Cappuccino; got instant mix. Tried the Mint Hot Chocolate; got hot water. I finally ended up with plain hot chocolate and told the man at the counter to that two of the hot drinks needed to be refilled.

I spent the rest of the afternoon working on the last cookie batch and watching White Christmas and a couple of Christmas-oriented TV show episodes. Merry Christmas Molasses Roll-Outs are another recipe from The Betty Crocker Cooky Book I make every year, despite the difficulty in making them. I'm not the world's biggest sugar cookie fan anyway, and I thought a cut-out spice cookie would be different. I made the batter before I went to the Acme and it was perfect by the time I pulled it out. Unlike last year, when I made a huge mess, things went much better (and cleaner) this year. I remember to put the cheesecloth and flour under the dough, and that made a huge difference. (I also remembered not to put anything on the stove besides the pan. It has to be on for a while, and it gets HOT! Last year, I melted part of my plastic cutting board when I leaned it against the vent!)

I have cookie cutters in many different shapes. Some came from the Acme. The smallest ones came with the American Girls tin Aunt Terri gave me for Christmas three years ago. The oldest are these beautiful copper cutters Mom's had for years that she gave to me. There are angels and hearts, small and large stars, trees and bears, gingerbread people and bells, moons and circle "ornaments"...and even lions! I did burn parts of at least two batches. It's hard to keep an eye on these cookies. They're so dark, they brown much faster than the book indicates.

I ran White Christmas first. White Christmas is a sweet backstage holiday soufflé featuring Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby as a couple of old army buddies who become show business sensations, and head up to Vermont to use their connections to help their old general. Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen are a sweet, talented sister act with their eyes on the guys.

Though it drags in the middle and the romantic comedy contrivances get dull (the whole thing with Clooney and Crosby's characters is silly even for this movie), the numbers are the reason to check this one out. It's hard to top the opening, with Bing's touching rendition of the title song to the accompaniment of a music box with war-torn France as a background, which is almost breathtaking in it's simplicity. Other favorites include "Sisters" (from both genders), the "Mandy/Minstrel Man" ensemble number (with it's bizarre-colored sets and costumes), and the lovely "Counting Your Blessings."

(A personal memory on "Sisters." Mom bought her video copy about two weeks before Christmas 1994. After she, Anny, Dad, Keefe, and I watched it together, we went out to buy a Christmas tree. Our first stop was a small nursery down the street from our then-home in West Cape May. While my folks argued over trees and watched baby Keefe, Anny and I gathered some evergreen branches, pulled them into fan shapes, and recreated the girls' "Sisters" least as well as we could without falling over laughing. That was the point I began to realize Anny isn't a bad kid when she's not being obstinate. ;) )

Moonlighting did two Christmas episodes during it's five-season run. I went with the second, "It's A Wonderful Job," from the third season. As you can guess from the title, it's a take on It's A Wonderful Life, but with a bit of a twist. Instead of seeing what it would be like if she were never born, a frazzled Maddie Hayes is shown what it would have been like if she'd sold the Blue Moon Detective Agency as she'd originally planned.

The staff of radio station WENN also had holiday boss problems on Remember WENN's only Christmas episode, Christmas In The Airwaves from the second season. The staff is happily gearing up for Christmas 1940, until a visit from their nasty accountant, Mr. Scr...uh, Pruitt and the station's owner Gloria Redmond turns the holidays upside-down. Mrs. Redmond lost her husband the Christmas before and is still grieving him, to the point where any reference to the holidays pains her and she has been in seclusion. Pruitt, on the other hand, only cares about shutting the station down. The staff finally bands together to get around Pruitt and his restrictions...and show Mrs. Redmond the healing power of the holidays.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Let Me Bake and I'm Happy

Continued my Christmas baking this morning with the Cherry Coconut Bars. About five or so years ago, my Aunt Terri gave me a gorgeous reprint of the original 1960 Betty Crocker Cooky Book for Christmas. I instantly loved that cookbook and spent all Christmas Day paging through it. I use a couple of recipes from that book for Christmas (including the Peanut Butter Cookies), but this one is my favorite.

I love coconut cookies. I experimented with different coconut cookies for Christmas for several years until I found a recipe in the Cooky Book that really went over well. Basically, it's Lemon Bars with a coconut-maraschino cherry filling instead of lemon-flavored filling. It's sweet and tasty, crunchy on bottom and slightly gooey on top. They vanished so quickly the first year I made them, I've made them every year since.

Work was quiet today, no major problems. It got busy around 4PM during the usual rush hour, but other than that, we were fairly dead.

After work, I bought my little brother's birthday present (turns out he already had the DVD I originally bought him, so I got him something that Mom confirmed he didn't have), then went over to FYE to look at their Christmas DVDs. The Emmet Otter "Collector's Edition" DVD was on sale, so I got that to replace the video I bought from Blockbuster two years ago. FYE has a promotion where you can get a copy of Miracle On 34th Street or White Christmas for $4.99 with any purchase. I opted for White Christmas, which I didn't have. I also picked up a pack of WebKinz Trading Cards. (Considered several WebKinz, but I'm going to wait and see what I get for Christmas before I get more.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Run Run Rudolph

I was asked to come to work early today, around 12:30PM, and work for seven hours. That's fine. I need to make up the hours lost that dead week after Thanksgiving, and the morning and early afternoon shifts have lost several cashiers lately - two women are out on disabilities with a broken foot and a bad back (and the one with the back may not be able to return), and one woman apparently came in, felt sick, and ended up leaving very early. Work was steady-to-dead, to real problems other than that lack of help. As two other co-workers pointed out during my break, it probably won't be really busy until Sunday and Monday, when people leave the malls and start buying their Christmas dinners and all the little things they forgot the week before.

This did mean I had to rush the things I planned for today a bit. I did my biscotti this morning. I found the recipe in the Italian Farmhouse Cookbook, by Susan Hermann Loomis. To be honest, many of the recipes in this book are a little complicated for me or require items I can't easily find, but I've made the simple biscotti recipe for Christmas since about 2003. Instead of making them into the hard rusks most people dunk into hot drinks, I roll them into candy cane and wreath/ornament shapes and sprinkle them with colored sugar and hot cinnamon candies. They're wonderfully crunchy with a hint of sweetness...and they still taste great dunked in tea.

I also made a very fast trip to the Oaklyn Library on my bike to return Annabelle's Wish (it's due tomorrow, but I won't have the time to return it then) and drop off the Silly Putty I bought at Target on my Christmas shopping trip with Amanda in the library's Toys For Tots box.

Amanda and I started doing Toys For Tots the year after we started doing our shopping trip. Amanda has no very young relatives, and she wanted to buy why not do it for a less-fortunate child? I loved the idea, and I've tried to do it whenever I can find a box every year since.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

It Feels Like Christmas

It's just a week before Christmas Day, and cookie baking is in full swing. I did the peanut butter cookies this morning, using peanut spread instead of full-fat peanut butter, and you can't tell the difference at all. They came out beautiful and quite tasty.

I ran The Muppets Christmas Carol as I did the peanut butter cookies. Christmas Carol was the first Muppet film made after the death of Jim Henson, but the tumult hardly shows - it's one of the very best Muppet films, a fine and funny version of one of literature's most famous holiday tales. I'm going to say Gonzo as "a blue furry Charles Dickens who talks to a rat" and Rizzo are my favorites here, but everyone's good, including Michael Caine as Scrooge.

Work was a bit of a pain today. It got busier as people got out of work, but two late-shift baggers called out and we were, once again, short on help. I went out with two of the teenage cashiers in the last twenty minutes of my shift and helped them with carts. They fussed so much about the cold! It's cold, but it's not freezing, probably about 35 tonight, normal for this time of year. You'd think it was 30 bellow, the way they carried on.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christmas Fantasia

I did my laundry today instead of trying to fit it in tomorrow before work. I've seen the full-length Dora the Explorer episode that ran today before, but it's a cute one. Dora must become a "true princess" in order to break the spell a mean witch (guest star voice Chita Rivera) cast over her monkey buddy Boots. Some folks online had reservations about the giant-and-the-puppy game, but other than that, Dora's second hour special and her second excursion in to fairy tales is a great deal of fun. I'm particularly fond of that catchy "Calliente" song that turns the winter into spring, and of helping Dora, Isa, Benny, and Tico catch the Explorer Stars!

Steve and Blue introduced the concept of maps on Blue's Clues today while Blue maps Steve's way to the place she wants to go for their afternoon outing. This was one of the tougher clues - I didn't get it until the third one.

I also began my holiday baking today. I make five kinds of cookies:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip
Italian Biscotti
Cherry Coconut Bars
Peanut Butter
Merry Christmas Molasses Roll-Outs

And three kinds of breads:

Cranberry Bread
Pumpkin Oat Bread
Cinnamon Strusal Bread

Today, we did the Oatmeal Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Bread. The Oatmeal came out fine, if a bit sticky. I'm experimenting with using less butter and shortening (and lighter butter when I can), and with using part sugar/part sugar substitute (the Acme had a bag on clearance for $4.40, cheap for sugar/Splenda blends). I'm not the only one trying to lose weight, and I know several people who are diabetic. Unfortuantly, I forgot to chop the cranberries for the bread. The batter ran over, but thankfully, it didn't make too much of a mess.

I enjoyed the original Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer this morning during a wheat pancake breakfast. I actually didn't see this until a few years ago, when I broke down and bought the video in my last year of college. It's a little dated ("We have to get the women back to Christmas Town"), but cute and touching, with great characters and songs so good, three of them are now holiday standards. My favorite character is Yukon Cornelius. In a place where even reindeer are obsessed with conformity, Yukon is truly one of a kind. (Not to mention he and Hermie get some of the best lines. "Didn't I tell you about Bumbles? Bumbles bounce!" "I got me a peppermint mine!" "Fog's as thick as peanut butter." "You mean pea soup." "You eat what you eat, and I eat what I eat!")

Speaking of one-of-a-kind, I ran two true Christmas programming oddities while working on the cookies and bread. Here Comes Santa Claus is a French musical fantasy from 1986. A little boy named Simon is so determined that Santa Claus should bring him his missing parents back from Africa for Christmas, he and his friend Melody visit Santa himself in Lapland, taking a plane there after separating themselves from their class on a visit to an airport. In Lapland, they encounter a beautiful fairy who helps Santa Claus with his work, the usual elves...and an evil ogre who eats children, dogs, and fairies! While the kids try to escape the clutches of the ogre, Santa and Mary Ellen the fairy rescue Simon's parents from an all-too-realistic Senegal.

First of all, this is dubbed into English. While the lip syncing is often off and the dubbing is obvious, the dialog itself is pretty good (except for some stiff pep talk towards the end). The music is 80s synthesizer pop; catchy and pretty if you like 80s music. I enjoyed Mary Ellen's ballad "Land Of the Midnight Sun" when she's out looking for the kids, and the kids' teacher's (the same actress who plays Mary Ellen)
number "'Cause There's a Father Christmas."

Second, this gets weird. How often do you see Santa Claus in a very real Africa, being chased by crocodiles and arrested by African military groups? According to the end credits and the Internet Movie Database, this was actually filmed on location in Finland and Senegal, an odd choice for a musical fantasy. Those are real African natives working the salt mines and helping Santa and Mary Ellen.

For all the authenticity, this is also a fantasy. Mary Ellen and Santa have a cute episode with a family of monkeys that has nothing to do with anything. The kids somehow manage to get the stewardesses on the plane to believe they belong there with no questions, and their teacher never notices they're gone. The ogre's alter-ego, the nasty school janitor, locks children who break his windows in a broom closet, and actually throws something at Simon at one point. There's also the whole idea of a fairy helping Santa in the first place, instead of the American Mrs. Claus. Even with the plot holes, the movie has real charm, the kids are good, and the sight of Mary Ellen and Santa bickering in Africa is just classic.

One thing I do like about Here Comes Santa Claus is learning about modern French Santa traditions. Kids leave their letters to Santa with their teachers. They leave their shoes out instead of stockings. The kids and the teacher gather in the community church to sing a carol on Christmas Eve. When the kids and Santa deliver presents, they aren't wrapped; Santa covers them with tinsel garland instead.

1986 was not a good year for holiday musical fantasy. NBC's big Christmas production for that year was Babes In Toyland, featuring the music of Anthony Newley and an 11-year-old Drew Barrymore as a rather adult young lady who finds herself traveling to the title fantasy land to help Jack Be Nimble wed Mary Quite Contrary and defeat the evil Barnaby.

While not QUITE as horrible as most people have made it out to be, it's not even near the level of cute bizarreness that Here Comes Santa Claus achieves. There are three big problems here. A) I don't know what got into Newley, but his music for this is just awful. B) Despite some colorful sets and costumes, the special effects are sub-par even for TV and definitely compromise the fantasy effect. C) The only cast member who can actually sing, Eileen Brennan, doesn't.

Brennan and Richard Mulligan do have some nice moments as dithery Old Mother Hubbard and nasty Barnaby, and Drew Barrymore does as well as she can under the circumstances. There are some nice touches and gags; Mother Hubbard carries a list around to remember every single thing she says or does, Barnaby lives in a bowling ball, and everyone drives around in cute little multi-color cars like something out of an amusement park. For the most part, though, the cast is as stiff as much of the script. Lord only knows what Keanu Reeves is doing here - he looks like he'd be happier in The Matrix, or at least Bill and Ted.

Really, I don't recommend either of these unless you're 80s fans or into cheesy movies or fans of Barrymore, Brennan, or Reeves. Neither are available on DVD, though the videos should be on and eBay. (I got Here Comes Santa Claus from the North Cape May Acme in 2005; Babes In Toyland came from a mom and pop video store in Collingswood that was going out of business last year.)

I'd heard of the special Annabelle's Wish when I was in college, but I never had the chance to see it until tonight. It covers one of my favorite Christmas myths - that farm animals are given the ability to speak on midnight at Christmas Eve. Annabelle is a sweet calf born on Christmas Eve who is given to Billy, a mute boy who lives with his grandfather. Grandfather and grandson live with the horrifying death of Billy's parents in tragic barn fire that also cost Billy his voice. Neither are having an easy time of it. Grandfather is being hounded by a snooty aunt who thinks Billy could regain his voice under her care in the city; Billy is tormented by two bullies and their father, who's suffered a holiday tragedy of his own.

After meeting Santa, Annabelle has only one wish. She wants to fly with Santa and his reindeer. She wants to so badly, she ties branches around her head for "horns," and dreams of flying in a lovely sequence. She is given to Billy, and the two become fast friends. But the bullies and snotty aunt continue to plague them...until Annabelle makes the ultimate sacrifice on Christmas Eve to give Billy his one wish.

A gentle, moving tale of simple people dealing with trauma during the holidays, of friendship, and of sacrifice. Country fans will be most interested; Randy Travis narrates and sings at least one song, and there's a few other famous country stars on the soundtrack as well.

Here's more at the Internet Movie Database about these productions.

Here Comes Santa Claus
Babes In Toyland (1986)
Annabelle's Wish

Oh, and I started a small office/storage room in WebKinz World. I want a place to put the Christmas stuff after the holidays and clear out my dock.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

True Green Miracle

Spent the morning talking to my mom on the phone and listening to the Beatles show. (WOGL covered "The Beatles in 1966" today.) Every Sunday I've called my mom and stepdad, I've gotten my stepdad, because Mom and my brother Keefe would be working on their new house. Today is their 24th anniversary, but it's unlikely they'll be doing much, since they're moving next month. It's not that I mind talking to my stepdad Bill, who is a nice guy, but I hadn't heard from Mom in a while and was wondering about a few things.

Mom was really happy. Her car was fixed, and except for one weird noise, seems to be fine. My brother's great! He's busy with band at school (he plays drums in Lower Cape May Regional's marching and concert bands), with helping his parents with their new house, with his girlfriend, and with his many friends (whom he's apparently recruited to help Mom - she says he's actually getting good at working with window fixtures). My stepfather's driving her nuts, but that's nothing unusual. Mom's health-crazy, and he spends most of his days when he's not at his stressful commercial fishing job laying on the couch, eating huge bowls of ice cream and watching endless Law and Order reruns.

My sister Anny's had more trouble. Her diet's as bad as her father's. She either won't eat at all, or eats nothing but fast food...and it finally caught up with her. She got so sick, she needed a potassium injection. Her son Skylar, unfortunately, tends to take after his mommy and pop pop too much. He's a cute kid when he wants to be, but as I discovered last summer at his birthday party, he's also bratty, spoiled, noisy, and aggressive. He'll hit and kick when he doesn't get his own way, and when he's punished, he ignores it.

I hate to be an "I told you so," but...Anny was almost as bad as a kid. I had to bear the brunt of it whenever I babysat her. She made fun of me, kicked me, bit me (once right in the middle of the stomach!), and never listened to a word I said. We got along much better as she got older, but when she was little, she was a literal and figurative pain in the rear.

Work was steady today, not nearly as busy as it usually is on a Sunday before a major Eagles game. I'm assuming everyone thought we'd get snow and did their shopping yesterday. We didn't get snow, not here, anyway. Lauren got at least ten inches or more. She and her dad had trouble shoveling themselves out, which means no role play again today. We should be able to finish it by Tuesday, and it'll be up by the end of this week, certainly before Christmas.

Speaking of the Eagles game, THAT rocked. The Eagles' "Big Green Wall" defense held off the playoff-bound Cowboys, 10-6. You should have heard all the screaming my uncle, my older cousin Mark, and all their friends did in the den! The Eagles were supposed to be the underdogs, and they ended up having their best game in weeks. (And knocked at least four, maybe five Cowboys out of the game. As I joked during the third quarter, when the Eagles want to win, they don't take prisoners!)

Mark was right; it WAS a crazy football week. In addition to the Eagles' victory, the luckless Miami Dolphins got their first win of the season over the Baltimore Ravens, and Brett Farve of the Green Bay Packers set a record in most passing yards - during a blizzard. (Which made Mark happy - they're his second-favorite team.) Oh, and at press time, the Washington Redskins were beating the New York Giants 16-3, which ought to make Mom even happier - they're HER second favorite team after the Eagles!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

We'll Have the Brightest Christmas

Began the morning with Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. I'm not the biggest fan of the nearsighted 50s cartoon character, but so many people raved about how good this special was that I broke down and bought it for myself about three or four years ago. They were right - this is one of the best animated adaptations of A Christmas Carol, up there with the Disney version. The name voice cast includes, in addition to Jim Backus as Magoo himself, June Foray, Morey Amsterdam, and as Bob Cratchet, then-Broadway favorite Jack Cassidy, and other than flip-flopping the Past and Present sequences and dropping the Nephew Fred subplot, the story stays fairly close to the original book.

The music, by real-life Broadway veterans Jules Styne and Bob Merrill (just prior to Funny Girl) is the real selling point. The opening "Back On Broadway" is fun, "We'll Have the Brightest Christmas" is a rousing number for the Cratchit family, and I always get teary at "All Alone In The World" (I can relate sometimes). My favorite song is the touching, bittersweet "Winter Was Warm," the ballad for Scrooge's former fiancee Belle that also plays over the closing credits.

Work was steady-to-busy, no problems other than frazzled managers. Between Christmas coming and the possibility of winter weather this evening (though I think it's only raining now), people were buying huge orders and even with half the registers open, the lines were still long.

I rested and had a Weight Watchers Smart Ones Meal while watching a long-time favorite of mine, Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas. Emmett and his mother, living in a rural community and facing a bare Christmas, take a chance on a local talent contest in order to be able to raise money for presents. Emmett joins a couple of his buddies in a jug band; Mrs. Otter performs a folk ballad solo. The winner of the contest ends up being a surprise...but there's an even better one waiting for the Otters and the other Jug Band members afterwards!

What I love about Emmett Otter is how simple it is. It's a Muppet special, but the animals are all fairly realistic-looking, unlike most of the Muppet Show and Sesame Street Muppets. The landscape is mostly bleak, in earth tones and gray and white with an occasional splash of color, rather than the Technicolor rainbow used in so many holiday specials. The songs are among my very favorites from any holiday special, and while they don't technically speak of Christmas, they certainly have the right feeling. (My personal favorites are the catchy "Barbecue" and the gorgeous ballad "When The River Meets The Sea.")

Emmett Otter was made for HBO, and run for many years on that cable channel. (It may still run on HBO; I don't know, I haven't had HBO in years.) That's how we first saw it. My mom and stepdad probably still have the version we taped off of HBO in 1988. The video copy I have now has a few extended scenes (including some extended musical numbers and more of the talent show), and a few missing scenes, including all of Kermit the Frog's narration and his final scene at the Riverside Rest.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sending Christmas Cheer

Did my errands today; ran to the Acme to get my paycheck and do some Christmas shopping, then to Wal Mart to get a new bra (I ended up getting one that was exactly the same as the old one - it was the only brown one). I had a quick slice of pizza at Tu Se Bella near FYE for lunch.

After I dropped off my groceries, I headed right back out again to make a quick trip to the Oaklyn branch of the post office and PNC Bank, which are within two blocks of each other. Now I know why Linda calls it the "post awful." There was a long, none-too-happy line when I got in, and only one frazzled man to tend to them. (Apparently, there was another man working, but he was on lunch.) This is one thing on a Saturday in mid-November, but only having two people with no one to cover them on a Friday afternoon in mid-December is just stupid (and bad planning). When all was said and done, I did manage to send the two boxes I needed to send out, after fifteen minutes worth of hassle in a building barely bigger than the stamps on the envelopes.

The Bank was quieter and went much quicker, and I made it home with enough time to rake the front yard before it got dark. It was a little wet and muddy, but I really wanted to clear a path for my landlady and me before the next round of storms. I'll do the side path again next week.

I cheered myself up and added to my Christmas spirit with two classic holiday films after raking and during dinner. The Bishop's Wife was the last of the three famous holiday movies released in 1947 (the others were It's A Wonderful Life and Miracle On 34th Street) and the second to deal with angels. An urbane angel named Dudley (played by the urbane Cary Grant) is called on to help a confused bishop who wants a fancy cathedral to be built (David Niven) and get him to realize the importance of the smaller, less elaborate things in our lives...and to notice his beautiful wife, Julia (Loretta Young). All three leads are marvelous in this sweet comedy/drama, with fine support from Monty Woolley as a professor friend of the Bishop's and Elsa Lanchester as the bishop's breathless maid.

Linda is a huge fan of the 40s-set Addie Mills TV movies and sent me The House Without a Christmas Tree after I admitted how much I liked the Addie novel The Thanksgiving Treasure. Addie is a spunky, horse-crazy girl growing up in a small Nebraska town in 1946. She desperately wants a Christmas tree, but her gruff, taciturn father won't allow it, despite the encouragement of her grandmother. Addie does finally get her tree from her school...but what she does with it and her dad's reaction are both classic and hearbreaking. I like how realistic and true to the 40s this seems, despite the obvious shot-on-video 70s look. I especially got nostalgic when the kids did the Pledge of Allegiance in front of the flag. We did that every day in Cape May Elementary. I half expected the kids to follow with a rousing rendition of "You're A Grand Old Flag," just like we did.

Today's post office trip concludes my Christmas present shopping. Starting next week, I'm going to concentrate on baking, mostly gifts for family and neighbors and for the Acme's Christmas party next week.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Grand Opening!

In WebKinz news, I finally finished the Fudge Kitchen, a cross between the Candy and Diner themes, tonight after buying the last two booth seats I needed. It's based somewhat after the real Fudge Kitchen in Cape May...and my mom's memories of the Fudge Kitchen when she worked there in the 70s, when it was called Roth's Candy Shop and was had an old-fashioned soda counter in addition to selling tasty goodies.

Here's the link to the real Fudge Kitchen today.

Mary the Reindeer harvested a massive crop today. We had no less than fourteen strawberries, eight ears of corn, five pumpkins, and a watermelon! Most of it was sold back to the W-Shop.

I also finally saw some of those Alvin and the Chipmunk ads. The glasses look silly on the WebKinz, but the hoodies are cute; Mary got to wear Theodore's oversized green one today to keep her cozy while she gardened in the snow.
Rainy Christmas

No snow here! All we got was rain. Apparently, we just missed the snow. A customer said this evening that her co-workers in Trenton and North Jersey were snowed in, and my best friend Lauren was getting so much snow in her native Western Massachusetts, she apparently left the bank where she works early and had to spend her night helping her dad shovel them out. (Which means no, we didn't work on the story tonight. We're going to try again tomorrow.)

I spent the morning finishing the Christmas wrapping. Yes, it's done, and all my cards and packages are ready. Anything that needs to be sent out will be sent out tomorrow. (It's supposed to be sunny but colder.)

Work was steady when I got in, dead when I left. The only problem had nothing to do with customers. Less than a minute after I began work, the register I was using malfunctioned and reset itself, apparently for the second time that day! Needless to say, I moved to the next register and all cashiers were told to stay out of that one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

And That's What Christmas Is All About, Charlie Brown

Didn't do a whole lot today. Mostly worked on editing this month's role play, which we began last weekend. We sorta got lost in the story and had to discuss some things last night; we'll continue this evening.

I watched Voyagers this morning before work. Bogg and Jeff found themselves fleeing the Civil War and London pickpockets in "The Day The Rebs Took Lincoln." They land in 1863 to discover Lincoln was captured by Confederate spies and never made the Gettysburg Address, so the two go back in time to stop the kidnapping. On the way, a malfunctioning Omni drops them in 1823 London, where they have to steal it back from pickpockets and run into Charles Dickens on their way.

Work was annoying again. Between the wintry weather reports (they're calling for a mix, especially Sunday) and people coming out of work or Christmas shopping in the mall behind the store, it was steady-to-busy, with a lot of annoying, rude people. I wish these people would really learn to organize better, not to mention read and bag their items. They yell at their kids and stare at me and at the screen like I'd deliberately ring something up wrong, then won't even move a muscle to help bag when there's nothing wrong with them or yell at their kids to do it. The kids are no saints; they yell back, or grumble, or whine.

I picked up a few items for friends after work. It took me longer than I thought it would; I couldn't find much for birds! This does, however, conclude my Christmas shopping. If someone pops up unexpectedly, they're getting something from CVS or Family Dollar. My packages and cards will go out Friday.

I needed a shot of Christmas spirit when I got home, so I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas during a quick leftovers dinner. There's nothing like good ol' Chuck and his little tree to make you feel all Christmasy inside. I have "Charlie Brown Christmas" on DVD (along with the second Peanuts Christmas special, It's Chrstmastime Again, Charlie Brown). I can certainly relate to Chuck's quandary. I went through a lot of the same thing at his age, feeling left out of Christmas goings-on and out of place when I was invited to join, and wanting to feel that Christmas was just more than grab, grab.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rapido, Tico!

I did my Christmas cards while the laundry was running this morning. The cards and packages will be going out on Friday, except for my mom and stepdad's anniversary card, which will probably go out tomorrow. (Their anniversary is the 16th, but I'd like it to get there before they move...or figure out WHEN they're moving.)

I also enjoyed the usual cartoons while I did pilates. Dora the Explorer took Diego's role as Animal Rescuer in an unusual later episode. Dora and Boots must follow three different paths in order to save Diego's buddy Baby Jaguar from falling off a branch, help Isa the Iguana out of a pit, and make Benny the Bull's hot air balloon float before the Gooey Geyser goes (as the kids keep saying) "kersploosh" - and do it all as fast as possible! The three different paths theme was a nice change of pace from the usual here-to-there games (and minimized the role of Map and his annoying voice).

Diego also helped a baby animal out today. He helped bring Macki, the newborn Macaroni Penguin (penguins with yellow feathers on their foreheads), to her mother. Since Macki was just born, she doesn't know how to do all the things penguins do, like waddle and slide and flap her flippers, and Diego and the audience have to teach her! Macki was just way too adorable, especially when she and Diego "waddled!" No wonder penguins have been so popular lately.

The Munsters took a train ride that somehow landed them in Hollywood Indian territory. Comic stereotypical Indians mistake Herman for a god and make him feel important and admired...until they explain that they want him to marry the chief's daughter, which doesn't exactly sit well with Lily! (And by the way, Lily Munster is one HECK of an arm wrestler!)

I headed home with just enough time to finish off the Voyagers! episode I began earlier in the morning. I think "Cleo and the Babe" is my favorite by far of the episodes I've watched so far. Bogg and Jeff accidentally bring Egyptian queen Cleopatra to 1927 New York. She decides she likes it there and not only won't leave, but becomes the moll of gangster Lucky Luciano. Meanwhile, devoted Yankees fan Jeff is heartbroken when he finds out Babe Ruth quit baseball in 1922, so the two go a little further back to teach Babe how to hit homers, then return to see him hit his 60th...and save him from the wiles of Cleopatra and Lucky Luciano!

Work was a pain in the ass tonight. We were short on managers, and there were quite a few rude or just plain obnoxious customers. One woman and her child (it didn't sound like her daughter - at least, the way they were talking to each other, I hope not) did nothing but hold up the line. They had the wrong items for the WIC Checks. They lost the WIC Checks. They didn't have this, that, and the other thing, and why wasn't the kid bagging or the woman looking for that check? They were just so RUDE to each other and to me, I was ready to smack them both. I'm just glad the baby the lady held not only couldn't talk, but didn't make a peep throughout the entire mess!

Monday, December 10, 2007

One Less Lonely Person In The World

I received a phone call from my sister Rose while making whole-wheat pancakes this morning. Rose finally said she was going down to visit my folks for a few hours on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning; did I want to come? Yes, I did. I'll talk to Bruce and Ken, but if this year is anything like last year, they probably won't do anything until the afternoon, and I really can't take Boxing Day off. I don't want to go through the "losing my holiday pay" thing again like in early July. I REALLY need the money; Christmas shopping and normal expenses wiped out my meager paycheck from last week, and I have a larger-than-normal phone bill this month thanks to setting up the Internet.

So, it sounds like I'll spend Christmas Eve in Cape May and Christmas afternoon here again. I don't mind so much this time. I'm determined not to feel lonely again. After all, I have friends - Lauren and Amanda, Linda and James, Tina and Rita and Cheri, Erica and my co-workers and the librarians at the Haddon Township Library, Miss Ellie and Miss Nancy and the neighbors, both sides of the family, not to mention Miles, Mary, Clarence, and Rosie. They know me, and they love me. Just because they're not here doesn't mean they love me any less. I still wish they were all here, that SOMEBODY could be here, but I know they care.

I'll figure something out. Maybe I'll volunteer in a soup kitchen, or find out what local restaurants are open on Christmas Day and treat myself to an extravagant dinner, or hop a bus to Deptford or Cherry Hill and go to the movies (I'm dying to see Enchanted), or go window shopping in Philadelphia.

I volunteered at the library this afternoon. I finished off the true crime section and did the college and school books. Boy, did THAT section need it. The Haddon Township Library is between two large public schools and not far from one of the bigger local Catholic schools. I often seen teens hanging out on the computers or browsing the DVDs after school. They must have all been trying to figure out what colleges to go to and how to ace the SATs.

The librarians gave me a sweet bookmark and a "volunteer" notepad. Pat called it "just a small token," but it was more perfect than they realized. The teddy bear notepad on my fridge is on it's last page, and I keep forgetting to buy a new one. Thanks, ladies!

I made quick stops at AC Moore to complete my Christmas shopping (just need to get a few gifts for friends' pets and my sister's cat - animals deserve to have Christmas, too) and to Super Fresh for granola bars and hot oat bran cereal. Super Fresh has a far better selection of low-fat, low-carb, healthy foods than the Acme...but in many cases, their prices aren't as good, which is why I prefer to only buy what IS cheaper or the Acme doesn't have. (It was the same deal with the one in North Wildwood.) I thought of grabbing a slice of pizza from Nick and Joe's for a very late lunch, but I didn't like the look of the weather, so I headed home.

I spent the rest of the day wrapping presents, doing pilates, finishing off the minestrone soup from the other night, and watching Voyagers! episodes. I started with one of Linda's favorites, "The Trial Of Phineas Bogg," which probably wasn't a great idea as it turned out be a clip show episode. It's an excellent example of one, though, one of the best I've ever seen, and introduces the nasty rogue Voyager lawyer Drake.

I did a couple of other episodes as well. My favorites were Worlds Apart (Jeff is accidentally separated from Bogg and escapes with a malfunctioning Omni to Menlo Park and Thomas Edison, who is on the verge of inventing the light bulb - hey, I always appreciate people who help a famous New Jerseyan!) and the spooky Halloween episode Agents of Satan, where the boys land in the Salem Witch Trials and help Harry Houdini make one of his famous escapes, too. Wish I'd watched the Pearl Harbor-themed Sneak Attack last week for Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day.

(MacGyver fans will find Sneak Attack to be rather interesting, as it features Dana Alcar as a Pearl Harbor base commander.)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas Wrapping

I got up fairly early and listened to the first half of the Beatles show on WOGL this morning (the album Beatles For Sale was today's theme) and headed to work for an 11:15 shift. It was busy, but not too crazy - a lot of people were probably out Christmas shopping, or, after 1PM, watching the Eagles-Giants game (Eagles lost, once again just barely).

I spent the rest of the afternoon wrapping gifts. I'm a little more than half-way done. I have tomorrow off and will probably finish up then.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Holiday Tradition

Did my annual Christmas shopping trip with my old friend from college Amanda today. It was something we started in my second year at school and her first. We used to go shopping together all the time, and we had such a good time shopping the first Christmas we did it, we've done it every year since, probably about seven years now.

For the last two years, we've opted for the Deptford Mall, about a half-hour from here and about 45 minutes from Vineland, where Amanda lives. The Deptford Mall area is a lot like the Hamilton/Consumer's Square Mall area near Stockton College. There's the main mall...and lots of shopping centers and large free-standing stores AROUND the mall, so we have plenty of choices.

Saturday was probably a bad day to go Christmas shopping. I picked today because I figured Amanda, a substitute teacher, would be off school, and it was probably the last time I'd be able to ask for a weekend before Christmas. Turns out Amanda has a second job at a Bob Evans near her house and had to beg for the day off, and the traffic and the crowds in the mall were insane. (The busses were almost a half-hour late both ways. I was late meeting Amanda at the main mall!)

We did have a mostly enjoyable day, even with the traffic. The mall was crazy when we were there, but we both did some shopping. I found an actual WebKinz store. I bought one for a present, but was a good girl and didn't buy anything for myself. I bought presents for Mom and Anny at Bath and Body Works. (I'm just glad neither of us have kids. As Ralphie put it in A Christmas Story, "The line to see Santa Claus stretched all the way to Terra Haute!")

We had lunch at Ruby Tuesday's, as we did last year. Amanda doesn't have much of an appetite and I'm still on a diet, so we both had two mini-burgers and a salad bar that filled us up just fine. We opened our Christmas presents between courses. She gave me the cutest "Misfit Toys" Rudolph and the Red Nosed Reindeer ornament and a little white polar bear stuffed teddy that jingles. I gave her a candle in a jar that smelled like spice cookies and a Beanie Baby cat for her birthday back in early October.

We browsed the mall a little more, and I stopped at the Gourmet Chef and got Uncle Ken's gift. By that point, we'd both had enough of the crowds and loony lines at the mall. We left Amanda's car at the mall's parking lot and went across the street to Barnes and Noble on foot.

Barnes and Noble is part of a newer shopping center and is a much larger store, so while it was busy, you could move around in it and the lines weren't nearly as bad. I didn't get anything but some Caramel Apple Cider. Amanda got a Peppermint Mocha Latte. She was looking for a specific ballet book (Amanda takes ballet classes, and has since college), but couldn't find it in the disorganized store.

The free-standing Best Buy down the street yielded more for both of us. I was surprised to see that it was busy, but no more or less so than any other time of the year; we must have hit it just right. I got my sister Rose and stepfather's gifts, and Amanda bought Christmas CDs.

It was getting dark at that point. Amanda left to try to get back to Vineland before the sun vanished completely, and I headed to Target. In addition to getting my "teenager" gifts (for my brother Keefe and stepsister Jessa) and finishing Anny's gift, I finally found some Peeps Cutouts, gingerbread cookie-shaped, sugar cookie-flavored Peeps. They taste sweet and a little buttery, and they're the best Peeps ever. I couldn't find them ANYWHERE last year, and I haven't seen them anywhere besides Target this year.

This finishes most of my Christmas shopping; I only have a few minor items left to pick up. I'll start my wrapping tomorrow and will do cards this week.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Christmas In WebKinz World

The holidays have finally come to KinzVille. There's snow on the ground in the garden (though it doesn't seem to be affecting the crops). I even bought the kids a snowman from the Curio Shop, who is currently being worked on by Rosie Pony.

The Christmas items have finally hit the W-Shop. I bought a "Classic Christmas Tree" (complete with "lights" that really turn on), a silver Hanukkah menorah (which also really lights up on each day), and a W snow ball (that really "shakes" when you click on it) for the Cozy Lodge Living Room. There's two silver and purple trees and a multi-colored menorah in the Fudge Kitchen. Mary now sleeps in a red-and-green nightgown, and Clarence may find a red and green robe under the tree, too. I bought the green Santa outfit for all the animals. There's even Candy Canes in the food section that the Fudge Kitchen will sell for the holidays.

Other than that, today was fairly dull. I slept in and ate late, finishing Help!. Work was steady-to-dead all day, with no major problems.

There was yet another package from Lauren when I arrived. This one contained a much-needed Zip drive, a replacement for my A-drive that died back in October. (Between the A-drive going and the internet troubles, October just was NOT a good computer month for me.) I'll set it up tomorrow, after I go Christmas shopping with my friend Amanda.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Come So Far (Got So Far To Go)

I began my day by finally opening the present Linda said to wait until St. Nicholas Day for. I realized why when I opened it by the tree. They're three books about Santa Claus by Jeff Guinn. I'm reading the first, The Autobiography of Santa Claus, about Santa himself and the legends that have sprung up around him over the years. I can barely put it down. I've known a lot of the stories about St. Nicholas/Santa, but here they all were, collected and in first-person voice...and mixed with the stories of many other "legendary" historical figures, from Attila the Hun to Amelia Earhart. Fascinating and fun. There's two more, How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas, about Nicholas' wife Layla defending Christmas after the Puritans banned it in the 1600s, and The Great Santa Search, about an outraged Nicholas participating in a reality show searching for the "real Santa."

I was going to go to the Camden County Library for volunteering this morning, but my porch was still icy when I woke up, and considering my track record with wet steps, I thought it better not to risk it. The porch was slowly melting by the time I headed to Collingswood for counseling. I noted a box on the porch for me, but didn't have enough time to get it then.

I chatted with Scott for the usual hour, mostly discussing my troubles with Christmas. As he said, I'm fine and busy for the weeks leading up to the holiday. It's the big day itself I'm having trouble with. Rose may be going skiing on Christmas Day. I was really hoping we could spend the day together, but she's starting the Rutgers Law School January 7th and wants to get her vacation before classes begin. She says she doesn't know if she's going yet or not. I wish she'd make up her mind.

I came up with a list of ideas in my offline journal last month in case I get stuck alone again on Christmas afternoon. Maybe I'll volunteer at a soup kitchen, or treat myself to a fancy dinner in Philly, or go for a long walk or bike ride if the weather's nice, or just hang out online.

What I really wish is all my far-away friends and family could be in one place, even for a few hours.

I stopped at the Treehouse Cafe in Collingswood for a late lunch of hot chocolate and a pizza bagel, then walked home, picking up my package on the way in. It was another one from Lauren. I'd mentioned to her during a chat that I hadn't bought myself a copy of the wonderful recent version of Hairspray that we saw last summer yet and couldn't find a copy of the recent two-disc re-release of the odd-but-fun Beatles movie Help! anywhere, so seeing them in the box was great but not really a surprise.

What WAS a surprise was what else was in the box. Lauren bought her niece a Tickle Me Extreme Elmo - an Elmo doll that literally rolls side to side with electronic laughter - last Christmas, and liked it so much, she got one for herself. This year, she sent me the Cookie Monster version. He's really cute once you get him going. Just press on his tummy, and he falls over in baritone guffaws.

I spent the rest of the evening watching Hairspray and wrapping gifts. If you're a musical fan and you haven't seen this yet, put it on your Christmas list pronto! It's an absolute blast from start to finish.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

White Hanukkah

I spent the morning raking the front lawn, which badly needed it. Miss Ellie, my landlady, has very bad knees and just had surgery a few months ago. As she mentioned later, she was tired of wading across the huge piles! It was dirty but kinda fun. I don't mind raking. I'm used to helping out with big yards. My mom and stepdad have a big yard in the house in North Cape May they're currently living in, and I used to help them, too. It was the same kind of yard, too - lots of trees and moss, not much grass.

The mailman arrived about a half-hour after I started. He bore another package for me. Lauren sent me a set of zip disks yesterday and said there was more coming, so I was looking forward to seeing what else she sent. I couldn't wait until I finished. I took a break for a minute to open the package and find...a WebKinz reindeer!

In other Mary, Clarence's twin sister. She loves to dance, so her room is mostly ballet-themed. I bought her the green-and-red layered t-shirt and striped shirt, and she sleeps in yoga pants, a red t-shirt, and moccasins. She tended to our garden today. I wonder how much longer until the tomatoes come up? They're the only things we haven't harvested yet.

And she got to feast on Goo Goo Berries! Goo Goo Berries are randomly floating through WebKinz World. Click on the huge blue pumpkin-shaped "berry," and you get berries for your pets! We're going to "sell" them in the Fudge Kitchen.

(The non-virtual Mary will be a Christmas decoration; she's keeping the Christmas bears company under the tree.)

It began to flurry as I worked on the yard. I thought nothing of it. We occasionally get flurries in December, but don't usually get any real accumulation until January or February. However, this time, it didn't stop...and it was piling on the leaves. I had to work at 1PM, so I finally quit and played with Mary. Unfortunately, by the time I finally peered out a window and remembered I had work, not only was it too late to ride my bike, the snow was coming down harder. Uncle Ken picked me up and dropped me off.

Work was steady-to-busy...but not as bad as it COULD have been, given the propensity of the local population to panic at the first sight of a snowflake. They must have done all their panicking yesterday when the first snow weather reports appeared on TV and online.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Good Mail Day

A package arrived while I was finishing breakfast this morning. It was from Linda Young again, and this time, only one present was "do not open until Christmas"; it's in the back room. Everything else was awesome - a Mini Julie American girl doll (she's sitting by the printer until I can find her another place), a video copy of the movie The House Without A Christmas Tree, more of that fun Voyagers! show, and another WebKinz, the reindeer.

I named my new friend Clarence. I love the movie It's A Wonderful Life, and I debated "Bailey" (I already have a bear named George), before settling on "Clarence." Like his siblings, Clarence has one "cool" outfit (a maroon hoody and worker boots that look exactly like mine), a t shirt, a polo shirt, and a good outfit (an argyle sweater and the same penny loafers his brother wears). I did his room in a mix of the ice (the light, the toy box) and country (the bed, the wardrobe, the bed table) themes. Clarence had the honor of picking our first strawberry crop.

I also began a new room tonight, my first "theme" room, a cross between the candy and diner themes based after The Fudge Kitchen candy shop in Cape May.

Today was Laundry Day. Blue's Clues went for the gold, as Steve and blue demonstrated various ball games, from bouncing to a full obstacle course.

The Munsters learned a lesson in jealousy when Gramps and Herman find a treasure buried in the backyard and decide they can't trust each other with it. It's Lilly and Marilyn who finally dispatch the treasure...and show the guys how silly they were acting.

Dora the Explorer went from doctor to postal employee as she and Boots delivered letters to Tico the Squirrel, Benny the Bull, Isa the Iguana...and yes, they made their second trip to Blueberry Hill to deliver a letter to Swiper the Fox. A simple and very early adventure that introduces Dora's basic buddies and sometimes-villain Swiper.

Go Diego Go!'s Alicia and Diego have fun with Ollie and Oscar, a pair of inseparable river otters, until a wave created by the ever-careless Bobo Brothers washes the otters and human siblings onto different river paths! From here on in, it turns into something of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure tale as Diego and Alicia show off their own skills and that of the otters as they try to find their ways downstream. Otters are another animal I have fond memories of from the Cape May County Zoo. The goofy otters were a prime attraction for years, and the otters' pond is probably still there today.

Uniqua, Tyrone, and Pablo played Coast Guard rescuers on The Backyardigans. Tasha, on the other hand, tries to ignore their attempts to help her as she goes fishing for "the big whopper." The ever-bossy hippo continually ends up in increasingly dangerous waters, only to be saved by Tyrone and Pablo when all she wants is a fish. It's Tasha, however, who eventually saves the boys, as all four kids learn lessons in staying safe and helping out, to the tune of funky 70s urban rock.

Work was steady-to-dead tonight, especially as the night wore on, with no problems beyond some obnoxious people. The wind was still pretty bad when I left, but by the time I got out of work, it had gentled down to a chilly breeze.

Monday, December 03, 2007

More Harvests

Oh, and in WebKinz news, Rosie got to harvest our first cabbages today. We sold some of the vegetables back to the W-Shop, gave a few away, and kept the others. Can't wait until the strawberries and tomatoes show up!
Windy City

I spent most of a windy day at work. It wasn't too cold, at least initially, but boy was the wind crazy. It was at my side most of the way going to work, thank goodness, but going home on the tree-less Black Horse Pike, against the wind, was just nuts. I thought I was going to get blown into Peter Creek when I rode over the ramp to Kendall Boulevard!

Work was steady-to-busy for most of the day. In addition to the beginning-of-the-month people, it's also the end of a big 4-day Tide detergent sale. I had a long day and there were a few problems. I switched registers three times in two hours because they had glitches and the technician had showed up to work on them, and there was trouble when the code for the artichokes that was listed on the register system wasn't the right one.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The First Rain Of Winter

We did get some winter weather today. There was actually a slight dusting of snow on the ground this morning, not enough to coat the streets (I still rode my bike), but enough that my porch and steps were a bit icy. It took me longer to get upstairs and downstairs than it did to get to and from work!

Work was busy but not as much as it normally is on a Sunday, probably thanks to the weather and a genuinely exciting Eagles game (the apparently lost, but just barely, to the Seattle Seahawks). I got in and out with little fuss other than a few obnoxious beginning-of-the-month customers. Some of the baggers weren't as lucky. One girl said she was feeling really sick, but couldn't go home because two baggers had already gone home sick. She was crying in the break room, poor dear. I really felt bad for her, and I could certainly relate to her sentiments about hating her job.

I spent the rest of the day quietly reading books about musicals, listening to the Paper Mill Playhouse Follies Cast Album, and doing yoga.

Oh, and Miles had the honor of harvesting our first farm-fresh WebKinz carrots tonight. It looks like the cabbage may come up tomorrow.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Cranberry Christmas

I ran to the bank this morning to deposit my money...then realized I didn't have enough for the rent AND counseling next week. It'll cover the rent, but there won't be much left. Oh, well, I just won't have as much money on me this week.

I stopped at 7-11 to see if they had any of the seasonal Cranberry Splash Slurpee, based after the Sierra Mist Cranberry Splash soda that's out again for the holidays. Yes, they did, so I bought half a 12 oz cup. Oooh, was that GOOOOD stuff! Tart but not too tangy, sweet but not overly so like some Slurpee flavors. It was 40 degrees out this morning, and I still loved it. I may have to have that again at least once before the end of the holiday season.

Work was busy, busy, busy! We had the help; it was just BUSY. It's the beginning of the month, and people are out spending their checks and food stamps. Adding to this is the nasty local weather reports. We MAY get snow tonight, along with freezing rain. It'll more likely rain, but even if it does snow, I doubt it'll be any real accumulation. And even if it accumulates, I really don't understand why everyone around here makes such a fuss, anyway. It's not like most people in northern Camden County are more than five minutes from a grocery or convenience store. The panic is more understandable in Cape May County, where many people really DO live far from grocery stores, but here it's just silly.

Ooh, and my WebKinz harvested their first garden-fresh fruit and vegetables today! Rosie Pony had the honor of picking our ripe, tasty pumpkins and watermelons!