Thursday, December 31, 2009

Almost There

Whew! What a long day! I awoke to snow...but unlike a week and a half ago, it wasn't coming down heavily, though it was sticking. I decided to give it a little time, which means I did skip Yogawood. As it turned out, I got plenty of exercise today anyway.

The snow was gone by around 9:30-quarter of 10, but Manor Avenue was too much of a slushy mess to ride the bike. I set out for Collingswood on foot. Stopped briefly at Dad's to see if Jessa wanted to join me, but she had work, so I headed out alone.

As it turned out, the snow was not a problem. We only got about 2 or 3 inches, nothing close to what we got before. All major roads and rails were perfectly clear. Some sidewalks were a little slippery, but navigable. Erica, my friend who runs the thrift shop in Collingswood, had called me twice to thank me for the cookies I gave her and her mother, so I made that my first stop. I wished her a happy New Year, and she told me how much she loved the cookies, especially the Cherry-Coconut Bars. (And to think, I almost didn't make those after they came out so badly last year...)

After leaving Erica, I headed a couple of blocks down to the Collingswood Library. It was not only open, but the manager was eager for volunteers. Apparently, they hadn't had much help all week and he desperately needed the DVDs to be organized. No problem. I spent a pleasant hour returning and organizing DVDs and helping families find what they wanted.

Headed for the PATCO next. I figured everything would be running slow, due to the weather and the holiday, but the opposite proved to be true. The train going to and coming from Haddonfield showed up early, the bus to the Deptford Mall was over five minutes early, and the one going back to Haddonfield was right on time. The train was so early, I went for a short walk after arriving in Haddonfield, stopping at the bank around the corner from the PATCO/Bus Station to make change for the bus trip.

The Deptford Mall was packed when I arrived. While not quite as elbow-to-elbow as the weeks before Christmas, there were still a lot of people looking for end-of-the-season sales and lots of lines. It was kind of fun, though. There were these big, soft moving animals for rides, and a cute little train tooting around the lower level.

I did really, really well with shopping. For clothes, I bought a corduroy skirt from Layne Bryant for $17.50, a desperately-needed pair of winter boots for $24.99 and a pair of long work-out pants for $8.99 from JC Penney, and a pair of khaki pants for work from Sears for $19.99. The only clothes I had a hard time finding were tops and sweaters. While prints on shirts now seem to be a bit smaller and fewer have gathers, there's still an awful lot of chunky knits, flowy gypsy blouses, and waiter ruffles. A lot of flimsy material, too. They'd never last me one winter, much less many of them! I wear my clothes until they wear out...and then, I fix them until I need to cut them into dust cloths. I'll look online for shirts and sweaters.

I can never resist the call of a store that has toys. I spent a bit of time in the Disney Store after Sears. Was looking for The Princess and the Frog soundtrack, but I ended up with a very cute Beanie Marie the Kitten from The Aristocats, dressed for winter in Paris. She'll be an all-winter decoration - she's really not that Christmas-y.

I stopped for lunch at a booth in the Deptford Mall Food Court that sold gourmet sandwiches - had a delicious panini with chicken, marinara sauce, and fresh mozzarella, along with a Diet Dr. Pepper and something called "Pop Chips" - potato chips that were popped instead of fried or baked. They weren't bad, nice and crispy and not too greasy.

Also wanted to use the Borders and Barnes and Noble gift cards I got from my best friend Lauren and my brother Keefe. From Borders, I grabbed two American Girls books (Meet Kit and Changes for Rebecca), the newest Diane Mott Davidson novel in paperback, Sweet Revenge, and a journal. I went with DVDs from Barnes and Noble - the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (which was half-price), the soundtrack from The Princess and the Frog that I couldn't find at the Disney Store (I'm sooo dying to see that), and the original Broadway cast album for the 1991 hit musical Crazy For You. The latter is a favorite of mine. I had the cassette in the 90s, but it broke when I was living in Wildwood, and I've never been able to afford to replace it. Most Broadway cast albums are expensive, between $13 and $30.

Barnes and Noble and Old Navy are in a mall across the street from the main Deptford Mall. I had to hike across the huge parking lot, and then across another huge parking lot belonging to an older mall that's mostly abandoned and creepy except for the AMC Movie Theater. (I also noticed a sign for Halloween Adventure - maybe this is where they went this year instead of Westmont?) I was dead tired and sore by the time I came out of Old Navy empty-handed. I didn't have the time to sit, though. I had to hurry back across the two parking lots and the mall until I got to the upper floor and caught the bus to the PATCO, then took the short train ride to Collingswood.

I made a few stops during the walk home. Yeah, I probably should have called for a ride...but who would have picked me up on New Year's Eve? Most everyone I know is either getting ready to party, already partying, or still at work. The first one was WaWa for a chilled cappuccino and cookies. I was hot from hiking around a warm mall all day in a sweater and huge black winter coat! I also stopped at CVS on the way home to grab something I'd forgotten - a kid calender for my room. Ended up with a cheap, cute cats calender and a half-off 50s Snoopy plush. He holds a candy cane in his paws and is just too darling for words. No wonder Charlie Brown had to adopt him.

It's a good thing I got in when I did. Less than an hour after I finally got home and was eating leftover chicken and escarole with mushrooms for dinner, it finally started raining for the first time since some brief rain this morning...and unlike this morning, it was a nice, steady shower.

Here's hoping that you have a wonderful New Year's..and a much drier one than mine! (And spend it sitting down - my legs are KILLING me!)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

He Blinded Me With Science

Spent the morning watching Good Eats episodes and baking Betty Crocker Gingerbread Mix cookies. If you can find that Gingerbread Mix in the next week or so, grab a pack or two by all means. It's the only Betty Crocker Cookie Mix I like, and you can only find it between late November and early January as a "Special Edition." It's spicy and filled with yummy molasses flavor. They also put out a second special edition cookie mix this year, Pumpkin Spice, but I thought it was dry and didn't have enough pumpkin flavor.

Lauren's the big fan of Alton Brown in general. Me, I just appreciate his great tips. Some of them I already knew (like how to make your own brown sugar), but there were just as many I didn't (like the care and handling of greens). I also appreciate learning about the science and social studies that go into what we eat...and that many previously feared vegetables are delicious if handled right, such as greens and Brussels sprouts, both of which I've fallen in love with recently.

Rose did finally show up with the Prevention cookbook she borrowed from me ages ago and kept forgetting to return. She wanted to borrow my bread cookbook. (She'd better remember to return THAT, or I'm going to be mad. I love that thing. I get a lot of bread recipes out of it.) We chatted about my job troubles (and not complaining about them to a fed-up Dad) for so long, I was almost late to work! Rose drove me there, and I walked home.

I actually didn't mind the walk at all. It was quite pleasant. Work was steady-to-busy, with no major problems and tons of help. All the college and high school kids are off now, and many of them probably don't have a lot else to do BUT work. It was crisp and chilly going home, but not quite as cold as last night. It's supposed to rain and snow tomorrow - the sky is that whitish snow color again. I'm hoping that it doesn't do either so heavily that I can't do what I need to do.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Blowing In the New Year

My original plan for today was to do yoga class, then run to the Collingswood Library and the Haddon Township Library and get all my volunteering for the week done in one fell swoop. The howling wind I awoke to around 7:30 this morning told me that just wasn't going to be a good idea. I passed out for another hour or so, then decided I'd at least try to get the Haddon Township run in, since I had to skip it last week.

I discovered when I headed outside after Applesauce Muffins for breakfast, bundled to the nines and feeling like Randy in A Christmas Story, that it was incredibly cold. Probably well below freezing. The creek was already starting to turn into one big icicle again. Wind or no wind, cold or no cold, I had errands to run. I dodged icy patches along Cuthbert and headed for the Haddon Township Library.

Ironically, I ended up not really doing much. There wasn't a huge stack of DVDs or books to put away today. I guess everyone's still away for the Christmas holidays. I returned what DVDs were there and shelved children's books, then browsed for a while. Eventually took out a Garfield comic book, the first Rebecca American Girl book, and the two Vesper Holly books that the library had, The Illyrian Adventure and The El Dorado Adventure.

The Vesper Holly books are some of my all-time favorite children's novels, written by Lloyd Alexander, the author of the Prydain series. Vesper Holly is basically an American, teenage version of Amelia Peabody - a smart, strong-willed young woman making her way in the archeological world of the 1870s. Her guardians are the befuddled-but-intelligent Professor Brinton (she calls him "Brinnie") and his sensible wife Mary. Unlike Amelia, her stories take place in thinly fictionalized versions of real countries...except for The Philadelphia Adventure, which is set around the very real 1876 Philadelphia Exposition and, along with The Illyrian Adventure, is probably my favorite of the bunch. (I recently discovered there was another one released in 2007 I haven't seen anywhere, The Xanadu Adventure. I may have to order that online if I can't find it around here.)

As I was checking out my books, Pat, the librarian in charge of the volunteers, gave me a little "thanks for helping" gift, a cute calculator that comes with a tiny pen and pad of paper. It'll be great for my new big knit purse! She also hit me with a surprise - she's retiring at the end of this week. I'm going to really miss her. She's been such a big help to me. I hope the new librarian in charge of volunteers is just as nice!

Rode over to the Westmont Plaza next. I quickly stopped at the Dollar Tree for sponges, then went a few doors down to the bagel shop. Had a huge bowl of delicious chicken chili and a toasted cranberry-whole wheat bagel with butter that really hit the spot on such a cold day. Read Meet Rebecca and listened to what appeared to be a group of nurses (they wore colorful scrubs) chatting about their favorite TV shows.

I had debated running some other chores, but it was just too darn cold. I rode home against the wind instead. Took me forever, thanks to the wind. I just couldn't push against it. I did see a train go over the bridge next to the Oaklyn Manor Bar on the way home. I was surprised it was so short, only a few cars. I've never seen a train that short around here before.

Spent the rest of the afternoon and evening baking and watching Good Eats episodes and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The DVDs were fun. (I wasn't as impressed with the restoration on Snow White as I was with the 2000 edition, but the sound did seem clearer.) The baking...not so much. I attempted to make bagels, but the batter was too sticky, and the bagels spread too much and wouldn't bake properly - two of the largest came out mushy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Last Laundry of the Year

Yes, I did my last laundry run of the year today. I started it earlier than usual, since I worked at 2 today instead of 3:30. I ran some other errands in the Oaklyn area while the laundry was in the dryer. I went to CVS and bought Entertainment Weekly's Best of the Year edition, which I've done every year since high school. I finally made it to the bank and deposited last week's paycheck and all that Christmas money. I organized books and DVDs at the Oaklyn Library.

Dad, Jodie, Uncle Ken, and Dolores were in and out all day, shopping and running their own errands. That was fine. I really just wanted to get everything done. I headed home after my small load was finished, picking my way through the brush between the railroad tracks and the VFW parking lot.

After I got in, I had grilled turkey and cheese for lunch and did some things around the apartment. I put away the laundry. I updated my finances. I took out the paper recycling, including all those boxes leftover from people sending me presents that I've had sitting around my back room for years, in some cases. I ran a couple of Good Eats episodes on snacks, including one of my favorites on home-made pretzels. (I could have told Alton that the Philly area consumes more pretzels than the rest of the US put together. In Philly, you can find big, soft pretzels on any street corner or booth.)

Headed to work after putting out the recycling. It was windy and chilly, but sunny, and the ride wasn't too bad. Work was busy and annoying early on, with several cranky customers, but it died very fast after the 4-6 rush hour ended. I spent the last hour returning loose items.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Share the Joy of Christmas

Started off a sunny, windy day with Lemon-Coconut Pancakes, the end of The Great Race, and a call to my mother for our weekly chat. She was busy but mostly fine. She, Dad, and Keefe ended up having a very quiet Christmas Day. They slept late, opened the few presents they hadn't opened the night before, and hung around. Mom didn't have work today, but she said she did have some errands to run. Unlike me, she happily agreed to work New Year's Eve and Day, since she didn't have any other plans.

Work was, rather shockingly for a football Sunday, on-and-off quiet. We had a few spurts, but it was nothing like it usually is on a Sunday. I'm assuming everyone is still sleeping off Christmas. There were no major problems, lots of help, and my relief was early.

I went straight home after work. I slathered the marble cake I made with Acme chocolate fudge icing, grabbed my presents for Karen, Jim, and their kids, and headed over to Uncle Ken's.

Yes, everyone was there, Uncle Ken and Dolores, Dad and Jodie, Jess, all the cousins and their families, Dolores' children and grandchildren, and a few random neighborhood friends. I was able to give Karen and Jim their cookies, Taylere her pen, and CJ his Peter Pan Golden Book. There was tons of food, too. Sam and David brought a huge loaf of bread Sam made in her bread machine and a bowl of salsa dip. Jodie brought chicken tortellini soup and a chocolate ganache cake. Uncle Ken made bean and bacon soup.

I had a marvelous time, playing with the kids and watching the game. Faith was very frisky tonight. We pretended to be snakes, horses, and frogs, among other things! At one point, I was a sleigh driver and Faith was my horse, and we went up and down the stairs in the den, belting Sleigh Ride at the top of our voices.

After Sam and her family left, I played with Blake and Mercedes. Mercedes wanted to show me her WebKinz, and I showed them my new Zumbuddy. He's just so cute. You buy him different toys and food, and he'll do little tricks. If you make him happy enough, he'll give you Zum Marbles. When you have enough marbles, you can buy furniture for his room. It's a shame the Zumbuddies are hard to find and expensive, because they are just so gosh-darn adorable. (Lauren said she got mine online. The only physical place I've ever seen them is the big FYE on Broad Street in Philly.)

Oh, and the Eagles started well, but played a rather poor second half. David Aikers' last minute field goal was just enough to lift them over the Denver Broncos, 30-27. And while Mark's probably thrilled, as the Packers killed the Seattle Seahawks 48-10, I doubt my stepfather is. The Giants' 41-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers officially ends their run for the playoffs and marks the first time in two years they haven't made it to post-season. (It's especially embarrassing as the last game played in their long-time home the Meadowlands.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Rainy Day Excursion

Today was my early work day. It was pouring when I woke up this morning, but the snow melted enough to allow me to ride to work and get wet. I didn't even bother trying to call anybody. It's the day after Christmas, and dreary weather, to boot. I figured anyone with any sense (or who didn't have work) would be sleeping in.

Work wasn't too busy this morning. I spent a lot of the first half of my shift doing returned. It picked up after 1, to the point where the manager tried to get me to stay later. I had a headache and things I wanted to do. As it turned out, I ended up staying a little late anyway when my relief never appeared at all. Otherwise, there were no major problems.

I rode over to the FYE behind the Acme to use the gift card Lauren got me. I bought the final season of Get Smart (it's supposedly not great, but I wanted to finish the set) and the epic 1965 comedy The Great Race. (Lauren and I plan on writing a similar early 20th-century-set racing action-comedy next month.) Since they were $9.99 with any DVD or CD purchase, I also bought a Peppermint Puppy WebKinz, my third Christmas-related Webbie after Clarence and Mary the Reindeer. (I wasn't crazy about last year's Christmas WebKinz the snowman.)

Went back to the Acme next and did the last major grocery trip of the year. Got my hours, too. They're almost exactly the same as last week, though thankfully nothing later than 8 or earlier than noon this time. Same days off, too, Tuesday, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day.

I went home with a bike filled with yogurt, eggs, milk, grapefruit, oranges, bananas, Brussels sprouts, two packs of salmon fillets, peanut butter, and a 9-volt battery for my fire alarm. It was raining even more heavily, but more snow was gone, too. I still got wet, but I had a somewhat easier ride home.

My original plan was to run to the bank after I came home and put my groceries away, but I'd had enough of being wet. I just hung around, made broccoli, pasta, and the last of the leftover meatloaf for dinner, and watched The Great Race and Good Eats episodes instead.

Oh, and meet Starlight the Peppermint Puppy! Named for the famous round peppermints, Starlight is going to move in with Billy the Mountain Goat.

Friday, December 25, 2009

I Wish You A Merry Christmas

The skies were gray and damp at 7AM, when I crept to my Christmas tree. I'd set the remaining presents from Linda and James (and their dog Willow and bird Schuyler) under the tree before I went to bed last night. I guess Linda and James really loved those cookies I gave them last month, because both presents were food related. Linda and James gave me two cookbooks. One highlights dinner recipes; the other features 100 different cookies made from a basic cookie dough mix. The animals gave me my "stocking stuffer," a recipe box with blank cards to write new creations down in.

I made scrambled eggs with leeks, mushrooms, and sharp cheddar cheese in my new pan and watched A Christmas Story after getting dressed. Called Dad after I ate. We were going over to my cousin Samantha's house around 10. I headed over there at 10 of with my bag of presents for the family in Camden County.

Dad, Jodie, and Jessa were all home when I arrived. Dolores and Uncle Ken were with Dolores' family, but they'd left me a great present - a WebKinz Mountain Goat! On Jodie's suggestion, I named him Billy. Dad, Jodie, and Uncle Ken all gave me money. (I loved Dad's cute Mickey Mouse card.) Jessa gave me a huge container of 100 plastic cookie cutters.

We had a nice ride out to Sam and her family's home. Dad took Route 55 instead of the Black Horse Pike like he usually does in order to avoid traffic. (Interestingly, I never saw any traffic anywhere, not yesterday on the way to Cape May County or today.) Sam and David were having breakfast with Sam's mother Jane (Uncle Ken's ex-wife) and her husband Mario when we arrived. Their sons Ethan and Matt were playing with their new Nerf guns. Little Faith was entranced by her new Leapfrog video game. Sam and David gave Jessa a bead set and me a tin of cookies, as they did last year. (The cookies are much-appreciated. The only ones I have left are slices of gingerbread from the Betty Crocker mix I threw together last week.) Aunt Jane gave us both pajamas. Faith loved her books, and the boys loved their balls.

We actually weren't there for very long. Sam and David had been up early with their kids, and they were really worn out! We arrived around quarter of 11 and left a little over an hour later. After we got back, Jessa wrapped a present quickly, and we went over to another grown cousin who lives down the street from me, Mark, his girlfriend Vanessa, and her teenage daughter Brittany who is Jessa's best friend.

Brit, Jess, and I played Game Cube Mario Kart and Mario Party while we waited for dinner. Vanessa and Mark gave me a huge metal rack of various bath lotions and oils, a container of fudge, and an adorable fuzzy boot filled with candy and Hickory Farms-type meat and cheese spread. (Incidentally, the computer Yoshi ended up beating Jessa's Toad, my Princess, and Britt's Luigi by a long shot in Mario Party.)

Dinner early and delicious. Vanessa made ham, roasted asparagus, mashed potatoes and cheese, and sausage stuffing. Everyone had seconds on the latter two. For dessert, there was pumpkin pie with Cool Whip (mine and Vanessa's choice) and Redi-Whip (Mark's favorite).

Drowsy and full, the girls and I went upstairs to the den after dinner to watch one of Brittany's favorite movies, Help!. The girls didn't last very long. I don't think the Beatles even made the Alps before they passed out. I decided to let them rest after the movie was over; Vanessa drove me home.

It had sprinkling on-and-off since we left Sam's house, a fine misty rain that did nothing but make things mildly damp. It was still chilly, but nothing resembling the below-freezing temperatures earlier in the week. By the time I was eating cereal for dinner and watching two Good Eats episodes on fruits often consumed during the Christmas holidays, cranberries and oranges, the mist had finally picked up to a shower and much of the snow was vanishing quickly.

Even if the snow's gone by tomorrow, at least it was still there...and I can still say for the first time in my life, I had real snow for Christmas.

Oh, and meet Billy the Mountain Goat! I made a nice Christmas room for him and whatever WebKinz I get next to share after I got in from Vanessa and Mark's.

No matter what the weather (including those people trapped in the storms in the Midwest), I hope you enjoyed your Christmas Day and your holiday season!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays

Despite getting up early this morning, I actually didn't do a whole lot. There wasn't a whole lot left to do. I finished the baking on Tuesday and the wrapping and the last of the presents yesterday morning. Spent the morning watching Bugs Bunny's Christmas Tales, the bizarre French Christmas fantasy Here Comes Santa Claus, and the classic It's a Wonderful Life. I also browsed through the Good Eats - The Early Years book Lauren gave me yesterday.

I got bored around noon and decided to go for a walk. Since I figured I wasn't going to get in until late, I also gave Miss Ellie her cupcakes (she loved them) and dropped my neighbors' bread and card on their front door.

I went around the park again, following almost exactly the same path I did yesterday. Remembered my camera this time. It's supposed to rain tomorrow, and I wanted to get some photographic evidence of this storm before it's all gone. I got some great shots of the view of the frozen river from the park, the apartment building on the border of Collingswood and Oaklyn across from the railroad tracks, Manor Avenue itself, the tracks under a layer of snow, and the gigantic, implement-sharp icicles hanging off mine and my neighbors' roofs.

Had lunch after that and listened to my Perry Como and Barbara Streisand Christmas LPs and got impatient waiting for Rose and Craig. They finally showed up at quarter after 2. Thank goodness there was no traffic going to or from Cape May County and the sky and the roads were crystal-clear. Cape May County did get some snow, but not quite as much as we did, and it looked lovely against the lemony late afternoon sun.

We made a quick stop at Winterwood on Route 9 in Rio Grande. Rose and Craig wanted to pick up some Christmas ornaments for the Camden County side of the family. Winterwood is the wonderful Christmas shop in a former farmhouse, the oldest in Cape May County. The place is so old, it has it's own ghost. Rose and Craig chose ornaments from the stuffed-full racks and shelves that lined the old wood walls. Having finished my shopping already, I just browsed. I almost regret being done. I saw a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ornament Lauren would have loved, and a Hello Kitty popping out of a present that reminded me of Amanda.

We finally made it to Mom and Dad's house around quarter after 4. Mom was the only one there when we arrived, but Anny, Dad, Keefe, and Anny's sons Skylar and Collyn got home soon after. Everyone was fine. Keefe's getting so tall and strong! Like I told him, I'm not used to looking UP at him.

I played with Skylar and his cute little Santa and Reindeer tic-tac-toe set while Mom set up dinner and chatted with Anny, Rose, and Craig and Return of the Jedi ran on Spike TV. We all sat down to dinner around 6ish. Daddy grilled lobster tails and some absolutely marvelous fish cakes one of the men who work on the fishing boat he's a captain of gave him. Mom roasted pork tenderloin and made maple-glazed carrots, potato rolls, and a green salad. We all stuffed ourselves absolutely silly.

I went upstairs with Skylar and Keefe to Keefe's "Man Cave" (aka his bedroom) while everyone else had coffee and gossiped in the kitchen. (I'm not terribly fond of coffee or gossip.) Skylar wanted to build something with Keefe's K-Nex. I laughed as the two haggled over choosing a K-Nex vehicle that Keefe could elaborate on. Keefe has always loved his K-Nex. He's had them since he was Skylar's age. Building is his true passion. He says he wants to be a Naval Architect when he gets out of school, and I think he could do it. He's certainly smart enough.

Skylar was thrilled when Daddy came upstairs and finally announced we could open gifts. He and his little brother Collyn opened theirs first. Collyn received a cute little puppy that lights up and says phrases when you push certain parts of his body. All of Skylar's other presents paled beside his big present from his grandparents - the Batcave, complete with lots of little elevators and levers and Batman and Robin figures. He absolutely adored that set and spent the rest of the evening playing with it.

Considering that both Mom and Anny complained about not having enough time to shop, I made a pretty damn good haul myself. Anny and her boys gave me a huge navy and white knit purse from Aeropostale and a nifty retro-party cookbook. Keefe gave me a $25 gift card to Borders. Rose and Craig gave me a gorgeous reprint of The Norman Rockwell Christmas Book, complete with 8 pictures to frame. (I have the original print, but I got it from a yard sale and it's in lousy shape.) Dad gave me comfy sleeper socks and a new eco-friendly Cuisinart 8-inch pan. Mom gave me two ornaments (a director's clapper and a pair of bright red and green "flip flops"), the Disney Snow White DVD/Blu Ray set, doll shoes and teddy bear sweaters for my toy collection, small journals, and a pair of fleece-lined flip-flop style slippers from LL Bean.

Collyn's father Mike arrived to take him home shortly after the presents were opened. We stayed a little bit longer, chatting with Mom, Dad, and Keefe and watching the all-day White Christmas marathon on AMC before finally heading out around quarter of 9.

It was after 10 when we finally got back into Oaklyn (having made a quick stop at a WaWa gas station to fill up Craig's van). We tried to stop at Jodie's and say "hi" to everyone at the party, but the only people left were Jodie's college-age sons, a few of their friends, and my friend Erica's mother Miss Helen. They just drove me home instead.

For those of you who will be too busy to get online tomorrow, I wish you the merriest of Christmases!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It Feels Like Christmas

Spent most of the morning making a Pumpkin Mousse Pie for my last Christmas present and wrapping the remaining food gifts. I wanted to make a Pumpkin Pudding Pie, but alas, Jello stopped making that wonderful holiday pumpkin pudding mix. I substituted French Vanilla Mousse mix with canned pumpkin. It came out pretty well, if not quite like Jello's pudding. Ran Ernest Saves Christmas and The Muppets' Christmas Carol as I covered and labeled the muffins, bread, and cupcakes.

This officially finishes all my presents. I have nothing left to make, bake, buy, or wrap. I'll deliver the presents for my landlady and my neighbors before Rose picks me up for the trip to Cape May County tomorrow.

I got bored with sitting around after I finished the pie, so I went for a quick walk around the park before work. Veteran's Park next door to my apartment is GORGEOUS. The sky was a brilliant robin's egg-blue. The water was frozen solid; the thick snow glistened over the hills and bushes. I hiked down to the tree by the creek, then back around past the VFW and up to the train tracks. Admired some spectacular views both ways. The houses look like they're covered in icing and candy lights; the water is a gigantic green Popsicle. I really regret forgetting my camera. Maybe I'll see if I can take some pictures tomorrow before Rose arrives.

Work was slightly busier than Monday, but other than some mildly annoying customers, not a problem. We have plenty of help, now that all the college students and high schoolers are out for Christmas Break. My relief was early. Uncle Ken and Dolores dropped me off; Dad and Jodie picked me up.

A heavy package from my best friend Lauren was there when I arrived. I huffed upstairs (glad to see that someone had salted my steps and porch) and inside with the box. I waited until I'd eaten, watched Sailor Moon S: Hearts In Ice, and had gotten on IM with Lauren before opening everything.

Lauren spoils me like crazy. She bought me a Zumbuddy (a cute little winged critter that is a "buddy" for your WebKinz; mine is a red Zippy Zum), an Opossum WebKinz (they're only available at Cracker Barrel, and there's no Cracker Barrels nearby), three sets of Good Eats episodes, various Alton Brown clips, and Alton Brown's newest book, Good Eats - The Early Years, signed by the man himself! Lauren had ordered it from a book-signing in Florida. Oh yes, and gift cards for The Vermont Country Store, FYE, and Barnes and Noble. Lauren is the best best friend anyone ever had!

Oh yes, and meet Polly the Opossum and Zed the Zippy Zum! Zed has his own place in the Zumwhere section. I have no idea where Polly will live; maybe I'll make her a small Christmas room.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kids and Christmas and Backyardigans

Began a lovely, sunny day with a walk down to Doria's Deli to deliver cookies. The snow was melting in the relative warmth, but it wasn't melting very fast. While cleared roads are generally fine in the day, many back roads (including Manor) remain a slushy mess. Sidewalks that haven't been shoveled are pains, too. I dodged ice and followed footprints through still-high snowdrifts as I headed for West Clinton Avenue.

I was hoping the Dorias would be able to open the deli, since they live fairly far away. Thankfully, yes, it was open. I ordered a half a pound of turkey and gave Mr. and Mrs. Doria their cookies to thank them for the help and advice they've given me this year. Mr. Doria said he's been friends with Uncle Ken for 25 years, and he was glad to help a family member.

My next stop was the Oaklyn Library again. I tried going there yesterday, but they were closed. Not this time! The library was open and warm. I dropped my card games in the Toys For Tots box. Like the box in the bank, it was overflowing. In fact, an older woman dropped off huge bags filled with toys minutes after I arrived.

I got about half-way through the kids' books before the group of day care kids and their teacher arrived for their weekly story time. I listened to the teacher read them How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I Spy Christmas (which proved to be very popular - the teacher had a little raffle to decide who would take it out), and a story about what snowmen do on Christmas Eve (alas, I can't recall the title of that last one).

After the stories were done, the kids did a Christmas coloring page while their teacher chatted with the librarian and I organized the DVDs and videos. Unlike the Haddon Township and Collingswood Libraries, the Oaklyn Library still has a fairly large video collection. I found some interesting items to take out. The Disney Sing-Along video Very Merry Christmas Songs was a family favorite for years. It was a tradition to watch it right after coming home from school on the last day before Christmas Break. And though it has nothing to do with the holidays, I really wanted to see the newest Backyardigans DVD, Robot Rampage.

I finished up the DVDs while the kids chose their books. After they finished, they gave the librarians and me a little treat. They all sang "Jingle Bells" and performed the song in Sign Language, the way their teacher had taught them. They did very well and were really adorable.

I headed out when the kids did. Their teacher herded them back towards West Clinton, but I went in the other direction down Newton Avenue. Since it was sunny and not too cold, I went for a nice little walk over the train tracks and across Manor to Kendall Avenue. I thought of going to WaWa, but I didn't really need anything there and had plenty of snacks and warm drinks at home.

Ran Robot Rampage while making Grilled Turkey and Cheese, hot chocolate, and fresh broccoli spears for lunch. The first, full-length story was an unusual sci-fi tale and a rare episode to star Austin. The gentle purple kangaroo is a robot repair man in futuristic Mega City, where robots apparently never break...until the evil Professor (Pablo) sends bugs that look like screws to make all the robots do his bidding! Now the robots that belong to Uniqua, Tyrone, and Tasha have all gone haywire, and it's up to Austin and his robot Roscoe to stop them! The Queen-like late-disco music here was especially fun.

The other two stories were even better. Tyrone, Uniqua, and Pablo spoof Gozilla-style monster movies in Attack of the 50 Foot Wormen. Uniqua and Pablo are scientists at a university who accidentally give a wormen (a worm-like creature) a growth formula. Ever-excitable Pablo finds himself trying to reign in his usual tendency to panic while he creates a counter-formula and Uniqua and Groundskeeper Tyrone try to catch the continually growing critter!

My favorite of the three stories also involved Uniqua and Pablo on a merry chase, in this case, after the runaway train carrying Tsar Tyrone to the Winter Palace. I'm a fan of ragtime, and it accompanied a hilarious story that was not unlike a similar Pablo-Uniqua-Tyrone tale from an earlier season, Catch That Butterfly!.

Spent the rest of the afternoon finishing my Christmas baking and watching holiday movies. I made Pumpkin Bread and Pumpkin Muffins. I'll make a Pumpkin Mousse Pie tomorrow, but that doesn't require baking. I watched Christmas In Connecticut while I baked and the 1951 A Christmas Carol during dinner.

Connecticut is a charming 1945 comedy about a New York career girl (Barbara Stanwyk) who writes a very popular Martha Stewart-like magazine column about her husband and baby and their farm in Connecticut and her elaborate recipes. Trouble is, she's not really married, wouldn't know how to mother a plant, has never been on a farm in her life, and can't boil water. She gets all her wonderful recipes and tips from her uncle who runs a restaurant. Her Christmas is turned upside-down when her boss not only invites a family-less solider to her non-existent farm for the holidays, but invites himself as well!

Like Holiday Inn, this is a fun piece of Christmas fluff that still has bite today. Sure, most Elizabeth Lanes are now encouraged to be in the kitchen and behind the typewriter...but people still expect Martha Stewart perfection in their holidays and their media figures. People still hope for those Christmas In Connecticuts, even when their lives are far from bucolic.

Monday, December 21, 2009

In the Aftermath of the Storm

Though it was sunny and somewhat warmer today and some of the snow did melt, we're still fairly buried. There are huge piles of snow and ice along the roads that were cleared, blocking cars and driveways. Other streets haven't been cleared at all, including Manor. All schools in Philadelphia were closed. Some were closed here as well, but most of the local schools settled for delayed openings. (Half of them are neighborhood schools where many kids walk or get rides from their parents.)

Rose called as I was getting the laundry together. She and Craig were on their way to the Cherry Hill Mall (they are brave people), but she wanted to tell me that we're probably going down to Cape May County around 1PM on Christmas Eve.

I was able to get my laundry done and hit the bank. The bank was fairly busy, but not too bad. The teller and I swapped snow stories; her daughter's car and much of her street had been blocked by huge walls of snow pushed by snow plows. She complained that the fire marshal now can't get through...or anyone else, for that matter.

My errands hit a snag after I left the bank, dodging puddles of slush, patches of ice, and un-shoveled sidewalks. I had originally planned on doing my Oaklyn Library volunteering today and dropping off the card games in their Toys For Tots box, but they were locked and dark when I arrived. I guess the librarian couldn't get out, either. Oh, well. I'll just do it tomorrow after I deliver some cookies.

Headed back to Uncle Ken's after that. Dad had brought Jessa home, and the two of them had gone looking for a Christmas tree. They dragged a huge, fat tree in shortly after I arrived. Turns out it was too big, hitting the ceiling and further. Dad said he had forgotten to bring measuring tape. I left him trimming the tree to manageable length. Last I saw of it, it looked a little bald on top, but otherwise fine.

I did some small things around the apartment after I got in. I put away the laundry. I had leftover meatloaf and grapefruit for lunch. I did my bills. I organized all the containers of cookies and gifts, putting the ones going to Cape May County on Thursday in a bag and leaving everything else on the dining area table.

Uncle Ken drove me to work, and Dad drove me home. I was not going to attempt walking again after yesterday evening, and both of my bikes are buried under snow...not to mention, the roads are still not up to bike riding. Work was on-and-off steady for most of the night, with plenty of help and no major problems.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Walking In the Air

I awoke to the sounds of dueling snow blowers and snow crunching under shovels. My neighbors had shoveled my porch and steps. When I went to see their handiwork, I peered into a dazzling world of white crystal mountains. Turns out the Philadelphia area received almost 24 inches of snow, a foot and a half! I haven't seen that much snow anywhere since my second winter in Wildwood in 2003, when a January storm dumped 22 inches on the Jersey Shore and more in the Philly area.

I made Apples and Cinnamon Pancakes for breakfast, then called Mom as the WOGL Brunch With the Beatles' big Christmas show ran. Mom seemed to be in a really good mood, despite all the shopping she had to do. She's works full-time as a cashier at Michael's in Rio Grande and apparently hasn't had the time to do much of anything, including shop. She said the Jersey Shore area got some snow, but also some sleet that added a layer of ice as well. She mentioned she was going to use her day off to do some shopping in Cape May and was thrilled when I told her the Eagles-49ers game had been bumped to 4:15, thanks to the weather. She could now fit in her errands without rushing.

She also mentioned that, unlike the Acme, Michael's closed early yesterday evening when the weather got bad. She drove home at 25 miles an hour and found herself happily appreciating all the gorgeous light displays on Route 45.

I managed to catch a ride to work with my neighbors, who had to run some errands in Audubon anyway. Work was busier than yesterday, especially as the day went on and more roads were cleared, but thankfully not nearly as bad as Friday.

Once again, I walked home...and this time, it may have been a mistake. The snow drifts on the Black Horse Pike had been somewhat manageable last night, but this time, they were past my knees. I could barely move. I cursed and pushed and shoved myself on the thickly covered sidewalk past the Nicholson Road-Black Horse Pike turnoff, then got on the street and stayed there. I lost my favorite hat and soaked my boots clean through on that slog. The streets weren't much better. Kendall Boulevard was nothing but slush, and Manor Avenue was nothing but ice.

Needless to say, as nice as my walks were yesterday, I don't think I'll be able to repeat them. I am going to need rides tomorrow and on Wednesday.

When I got in, I grabbed my birthday present for my 4-year-old cousin Faith and hiked over to Uncle Ken and Dad's house. As it turned out, the path between the train tracks and Hillcrest Avenue were snow-covered, but more navigable than the sidewalks...and actually more than they normally are. The snow covered the thorny branches, thick vines, and the remains of the brush that was cut down a few weeks ago.

There was a full house for the Eagles-49ers game when I got in. In addition to Dad, Jodie, Uncle Ken, and Uncle Ken's girlfriend Dolores, we had Uncle Ken's daughter Samantha, her husband David, their children Faith, Ethan (12) and Matt (10), Dolores' grandkids Mercedes (8) and Blake (6), and a couple of random friends of Uncle Ken's. Uncle Ken made us hot ham and cheese sandwiches during half-time. I gave Faith two My Little Ponies that I found at a yard sale last summer. They're 2007 recreations of the original 1983 Ponies that were in mint condition. I don't really collect Ponies, but Samantha told me Faith loves them. She absolutely adored them. She actually got me to play with her and the Ponies for a little while.

The other four kids were funny, too. When the others finally got in from sledding down the hill alongside Uncle Ken's house, they ended up having a pillow fight in the den. They were absolutely hysterical, especially since poor Matt had to wrap a blanket around him, as his snow-covered pants were in the dryer. They really teased him about that.

After they'd all had enough of the pillows, the boys went outside on the porch and broke off icicles to eat. There were some really big ones on the roof of the porch. Blake ate one that was at least as long as his arm! When the other kids went over to the kitchen for dessert, Blake and I had a nice chat about the snow and what he got for Christmas. His family exchanges gifts at a big party the Saturday before Christmas. I forget everything he told me, but I know I heard a basketball in there.

(Uncle Ken got the best present of all, though, besides snow. I forget how she said she did it, but Dolores managed to buy him two real seats from the on-the-verge-of-demolition Spectrum Stadium. I think he said they were his season ticket seats for years.)

Oh, and the Eagles kicked the 49ers rear ends, 27-13 in a great game...and kicked their way into the playoffs as well.

While the roads in Oaklyn were mostly plowed, according to customers at work and several family members, the other localities haven't been quite as on the ball. Apparently, Cuthbert Road in Westmont and Haddon Avenue in Collingswood are still spotty in places. (Cuthbert Road was like that after that fairly big snow storm in March, too.) I was going to try to do all of my usual library volunteering and make it to Yogawood this week, but I think I'll just cut it down to the Oaklyn Library and the bank tomorrow. The weather is supposed to stay cold for a while, which means the snow and ice aren't going anywhere and the roads likely won't get much clearer.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Best Christmas Present Ever

The first thing I did when I opened my eyes this morning was go to the window near my bed and look outside. Yep, there it was. It had snowed overnight...and it was no little 2-to-4 inch dusting, either. My porch was already half-covered at 7AM. I tried to go back to sleep, but I knew darn well that wasn't going to happen. I was just too excited. I wrote in my journal and watched the whiteness fall with my American Girls dolls Molly and Samantha instead.

Since I got up so early, I had plenty of time after I finally dragged myself out of bed to make Applesauce Muffins and watch snow-related holiday specials. The Applesauce Muffins come from the muffin cookbook my friend Jen Payne in Washington State gave me for Christmas earlier this month. They're pretty simple and very low-fat, made from whole-wheat flour, baking powder, soda, spices, applesauce, canola oil, and a scant 4 tablespoons of brown sugar. (The recipe also called for raisins, but I didn't have any.) They came out moist, spicy, and delicious, a perfect breakfast on a snowy day.

Manor Avenue still hadn't really been plowed by quarter of 10...and it wouldn't have mattered if it had. The snow was coming down so fast, any plowing would have been futile. I didn't want to drag anyone else out in this weather, and I obviously couldn't ride my bike. I just decided to walk to work.

It was the best walk I ever had, going to and from work. It was so magical. Children were out sledding and throwing snowballs on their frosty lawns. Parents ran their noisy snowplows or shoveled their sidewalks. Cars did pass by, but their sounds were oddly muffled in the falling snow.

I was about fifteen minutes late for work, not too bad, considering the weather. At least I got there at all. Not surprisingly, there were quite a few call-outs. We still had enough people there to handle the mostly steady stream of customers buying rock salt, snow shovels, and items for their Christmas baking and the few parties that hadn't been canceled due to the weather.

The Acme had it's Christmas party today, too. Enough peopled showed up that we had plenty to eat - hot roast beef sandwiches, three different kinds of macaroni dishes, Marlene's heavenly baked ziti, my cookies, cupcakes and brownies from the bakery, two kinds of pasta salad. I happily stuffed myself during my break.

The snow continued to fall all day. It wasn't really too bad when I walked to work, but by the time my break had ended, it was nearing blizzard conditions. The store began to clear out. The cashiers who did arrive swapped (mostly) true stories about how we managed to get here. I saw one set of customers with skis in their cart while I was doing returns; they'd skied to the store!

My walk home from work was even more stunning than the walk there. Sure, the snow was coming down harder, and the snow drifts on the Black Horse Pike were half-way to my knees. It was still exhilarating to be walking in snow half-way to my knees in December. Some of the houses hadn't turned on their lights, but the ones who did looked absolutely amazing against the white and blackness of the snow and bare trees. It was like walking through a Christmas card. I walked on the street once I got to Kendall. This had its own problems. The street was packed snow and slippery, especially at Manor Avenue. I slipped and fell once, but I was mere feet from my house, and thankfully I didn't hurt anything.

And the surprises weren't over, even after I got home. There was a package between my front storm door and the regular door when I finally got up the snow-covered stairs and onto what I could see of my porch. It was from my friend Amanda in Vineland. After I'd stripped off my soaked socks and snow-crusted pants and black winter coat and changed into dry clothes, I opened the package to reveal three smaller gifts. Amanda gave me fancy hot chocolate, a cute book of Peanuts Christmas sayings, Christmas Is Together-Time, and a completely adorable Beanie Baby gingerbread girl named Gretel. (Amanda must be on a Peanuts kick - her card was Peanuts-related, too.)

I watched Christmas Eve On Sesame Street and the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer while working on cupcakes for Christmas presents. Dad called after I'd slid the first batch of cupcakes in the oven. He's fine; he just got home from his cruise ship job yesterday. He and his girlfriend Jodie celebrated his arrival by walking to CVS in the snow this morning and thoroughly enjoying it, then spending the rest of the day decorating the house. They'd wanted to buy a Christmas tree, but the trees at the lot near-by were covered.

Forget the Red Ryder BB Gun. Today was the best Christmas gift I've ever received, or could ever receive. I've wanted it to really snow at Christmas since I was a child. After all, my favorite "holiday" song has always been Winter Wonderland. I've always thought we were too far down south, or too close to the water...but sometimes, Mother Nature works in funny ways. Ways that you never expected. And sometimes, the most wonderful presents are the ones that could never be wrapped and put under the tree.

"And if that isn't a true blue miracle, I don't know what one is..."
"True Blue Miracle," Christmas Eve On Sesame Street

Friday, December 18, 2009

Let It Snow?

I began the day by oversleeping, though I did get up with enough time to start the Cherry-Coconut Bars. They're the last of the five cookies I make, another recipe from The Betty Crocker Cooky Book. They're pretty easy to make, too. Just think "lemon bars" and substitute cherries and coconut for lemon juice. (The recipe also calls for chopped nuts, but a lot of people don't like or can't eat nuts, so I never add them to mine.) They came out very well, much better than last year's. The recipe says to use an ungreased pan, but last year, that just resulted in crumbling bars that stuck to the pan. I used cooking spray on the pan, and they came out just fine. Anything that sticky can't go without some kind of grease.

I was just sliding the Cherry-Coconut Bars in the oven when I got my second phone call of the morning. I'd already gotten one from Mom saying she sent off Lauren's package. Yup, it was the Acme. Could I come in two minutes ago? No. I had cookies in the oven. I came in around 1PM, after I got the cookies out, had lunch, and did some really quick chores.

Unlike Wednesday, I understood why they called me in early the moment I walked in the door. We were MOBBED all day long. Big-time mobbed. Lines-going-half-way-across-the-store mobbed.

First of all, today is a Friday. Many people get paid and do their shopping today under any circumstances (including me). Second, today is exactly a week before Christmas Day. A lot of people were starting their Christmas baking today or are planning to this weekend, or were getting ready for next week's Christmas dinner and company. Third, they're predicting anything from 2 to 8 inches of snow for here over the weekend. Fourth, we had call-outs.

Thank goodness all my customers were in good moods, there were no problems other than the lack of help, and a manger came in for my relief. I had a lot of my own grocery shopping to do. In addition to the usual stuff like yogurt, milk, apples, grapefruit, tea, fish fillets, and cereal, I needed to restock vanilla (a buy-one-get-one sale), parchment paper, eggs and brown sugar after this week's cookie baking marathon. I also bought a couple of card games to put in the Toys For Tots box at the Oaklyn Library.

I have no doubt we're likely going to get snow. The sky as I rode home from work had that pearly-white sheen that says snow. We'll have to see just how much we actually end up with.

Oh, and I actually did manage to get Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off this year, which hopefully means I'll be able to go down south and visit the family in Cape May County. I also have Tuesday off next week. The downside to this is I only have 20 hours, but we get paid for Christmas whether we work or not, so it's probably more like 24. That's fine. I'll take one week of bad hours if I can visit the other side of the family on Christmas Eve.
New Monkees Story Posted!

Just posted this month's Monkees role play story at our site, a series of short stories about the holidays, "More California Christmas Stories!"

Our Monkees Role-Play Site

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Takes Two to Balance

Started off a very cold and windy but sunny morning with this week's yoga class. There were 11 people, counting me and the teacher Karin, a fairly large number for the Thursday class and the time of year. Since it was so cold, we concentrated on standing poses, back bends, and "heart warmers" that would get our blood pumping.

At one point, we partnered off with the person next to us while they kept us steady as we tried to bend over and touch the wall behind us. I was just barely able to touch the wall, but I could go no further. My partner was more impressive. She could go most of the way down the wall, and that with mild scoliosis!

I made a quick run to the thrift shop after class to say "hi" to my friend Erica and drop off a small bag of donations. Went a few blocks down the street next to the Collingswood Library for this week's volunteer session there. The upstairs librarian wanted to make room for new non-fiction books, so she had me shift books up two shelves. I got most of the shelves done, despite not being able to resist taking a look at some of them. I was working on the 790s and 80s, which is the games, sports, and entertainment books, some of my favorite topics. It was hard not to peek.

Had no other traveling plans for the rest of the day and it was still awfully cold, so I headed home after I was done in the library. I swept the sticker balls off the porch, then had a peanut butter and apple butter sandwich for lunch.

Spent the rest of the evening watching The House Without a Christmas Tree and The Bishop's Wife and working on the Molasses Roll-Outs, also known in The Betty Crocker Cooky Book as Merry Christmas Molasses Cookies. Like sugar cookies, they're rolled and then cut into shapes. Unlike sugar cookies, they're darker, less sweet, and mildly spicy, like gingerbread. They're something different for my cookie gifts, and everyone does sugar cookies. Some of the bottoms got a little burnt after I ran out of parchment paper, but they otherwise came out fine.

I was just starting the Molasses Roll-Outs when I got a rare week-day call from my brother and mother. Mom had just received a package in the mail...from me! I hadn't sent her anything! Turns out I hadn't gotten one old label off the box I'd used to send Lauren's package to Massachusetts, and the post office got confused. Mom said she'd send it tomorrow, and Lauren actually thought it was funny, but I was and still am embarrassed. I really wanted Lauren to get her gifts as soon as possible, and I feel so stupid when I do things like that. Everyone says I'm so smart, and a smart person would know to check the labels correctly.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Run Run Rudolph

I was almost done with my offline journal entry this morning (I write in my offline journal first thing every morning) when the phone rang. Not surprisingly, it was the Acme. Could I come in at noon? There were call-outs. No. I really, really wanted to get the biscotti done this morning. I told them 1PM, and it ended up being more like 1:15.

Thankfully, I did manage to do the biscotti. This is the other recipe I get out of The Italian Farmhouse Cookbook. It's pretty simple, actually, just flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter. (I also add vanilla; the original recipe calls for "vanilla sugar," but vanilla beans aren't cheap.)

Unlike the biscotti that are sold in grocery stores and coffee shops, I roll mine into wreath and candy-cane shapes and sprinkle them with colored sugar, like sugar cookies. One broke, but otherwise, they came out surprisingly well despite the rush.

Work was a pain in the rear. It wasn't too bad when I finally got in, but by the usual 4-6 rush hour, we had long lines and no help. People were cranky, too. One man threw a fit because there was no one to bag his groceries and I had to do it. He was a big, strapping man who looked like he was perfectly capable of not only bagging his groceries, but the next three orders. My last customer threw a fit over the blasted WIC Checks and the baby food. The New Jersey government has to start emphasizing what baby food can and can't be purchased on the shelves themselves, like they've started to put stickers on some of the WIC breads.

And, to top it all off, I got an allergy attack this afternoon and spent half the day sneezing on everybody. I don't know where it came from; the weather's colder but sunny.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Getting Ready for Christmas Day

Started off today with a run to Westmont for errands and this week's volunteering session at the Haddon Township Library. I went to Super Fresh first, since I would be going home via Newton River Park down the street. Picked up leeks and onions, both of which I forgot at the Acme. Also grabbed the good organic store brand peanut butter on sale. I've started using the good natural (non-mix type) and organic peanut butters in the last year because they taste so much better. I did have a jar of peanut butter in the pantry shelf, but I planned on doing peanut butter cookies when I got home and figured I'd use half the jar.

The Haddon Township Library was my next stop. They were finishing the kids' storybook hour when I came in, and there were plenty of kids' DVDs and books to return. I didn't take anything out myself. I don't know if I'll be able to get to the Haddon Township Library next week.

Headed for Dollar General after I left the library. Dollar General is the tiny dollar store next to the Westmont Acme. I browsed their Christmas decorations, but ultimately, I just ended up with what I came for, a shower curtain and cards for my mom and stepdad's anniversary (which is tomorrow) and my nephew Collyn's 1st birthday (which was last week - I really need to get his mother's new address in the Villas).

The day had started out cloudy, but by the time I was winding my way down the paths in Newton River Park, the sun had come out and it was in the lower 50s, warm for this time of year. In fact, I was wearing my big black winter coat and was really too warm!

My neighbor next-door who often helps me with my bike had something for me when I got in. My best friend Lauren sent me an "Edible Arrangement" of fruit and an adorable cinnamon-colored teddy bear as a Christmas present, and it was due to arrive today. This was the arrangement she sent me; other than it came in a blue mug instead of a green one, that's exactly what mine looked like. I actually liked the blue cup better, anyway. It looked very striking against the jewel-toned strawberries, pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew, and grapes. The "leaves" were kale greens, which I ate with my tuna salad for lunch.

I quickly put up the new shower curtain after lunch, then spent the rest of the day working on baking projects. Did the Peanut Butter Cookies first. The first batch was a bit crumbly, but I added a tablespoon of water, and the rest were fine.

Started breadsticks for relatives while the cookies were chilling in the refrigerator. I wanted to do at least one yeast bread recipe, but after my Stollen didn't come out very well last year, I wanted to make something much less elaborate. I used a recipe for Olive Oil Rolls from The Italian Farmhouse Cookbook, and added some whole wheat flour to that. They came out nice and soft, but blander than I would have liked...which may not be a bad thing with said relative's delicate condition.

I edited this month's role play, which we finished yesterday, during and after the breadsticks were in the oven. I didn't get to making my dinner of salmon, broccoli, and leftover sweet potatoes until quarter after 7, and it was quarter after 8 before I made it in the shower. All of which means I'm now dead tired again.

Ran Christmas movies and specials while working on various baked goods. The only one I haven't mentioned here before is Mrs. Santa Claus, a 1996 TV movie vehicle for Angela Landsbury. Landsbury is the title character, who, feeling unappreciated by her more famous hubby, takes the sleigh to check out a new route on night a week before Christmas Eve. She finds herself having to make an emergency landing in New York City in 1910, and ends up helping a young Jewish suffragette get her point across to the women in her neighborhood, befriends an Irish child whose mother is still back in the Old World, incites a strike in a nasty toy sweat shop that uses child labor, and brings together several couples.

While generally a nice vehicle for Landsbury, the movie tries to cover waaaayyyy too many bases...and they're all cliches of the highest sort. Not to mention, the weightier themes of child labor and woman's rights issues tend to bog down what's really supposed to be a light holiday tale. The music by Jerry Herman (of Hello Dolly and Mame fame) is not some of his best, either.

On the other hand, Landsbury does some lovely numbers with the children and has great chemistry with Charles Durning (who plays Santa Claus) and the Irish girl. The cheer-up ditty with the Irish kid behind the vaudeville theater had little to do with the movie, but was a lot of fun to watch.

It's also interesting - and true to 1910 New York - to see other faiths represented so well in a Christmas movie. Several of the major characters were Jewish, including the suffragette. She makes jokes about a Jewish girl making Christmas speeches towards the end of the movie.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Going Postal

Once again, today was errands and laundry day. I picked my way through the tangled brush between the parking lot for the VFW across from the house and the train tracks, trying to avoid the muddy path I usually took. Uncle Ken and Dolores were wrapping gifts when I arrived at his house. (No, I didn't see if there was anything for me.)

My first stop was Oaklyn's tiny post office to deliver packages to my best friend Lauren and Linda and James Young, friends of mine who live in Atlanta. Going there at 12:30 may have been a mistake. The line was already winding around the one-room building, and people were turning away. Though admittedly most folks seemed to be asking for stamps or money orders, there were others with huge piles of packages. One man had so many boxes, he had them loaded onto a cart!

Made a quick trip to the Oaklyn Library after I finally got out of the post office for this week's volunteering session there. I just organized the children's books again. The librarians there said they really appreciated my sticking with the kids' picture books. I stick with them because they're in a very visible spot, right when you come in, and they always seem to need to be done.

I wasn't at the Oaklyn Library for very long. I didn't have the time. It was 2PM before I got home with my laundry, and I had to work at 3:30. I'm so glad it was a nice day today, sunny, windless, and in the 50s. It made all the rushing around a lot more bearable.

I got to work right on time. As it turned out, it was steady initially, but nowhere close to as busy as it was over the weekend. I spent most of the second half of my shift doing returns.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

First and Eagles

Oh, and the Eagles and Giants play the late game tonight, and are playing as I write this. At press time, the Eagles are winning, 14-3. Let's hope they keep this up; if they win this game, they'll be the sole team on top of the NFC East after Dallas lost this afternoon.
The Christmas Baking Begins

It was raining when I woke up this morning. Not a good sign at all. It kept raining as I made Banana-Dark Chocolate Chip Pancakes for breakfast and listened to Christmas music. I slept late and didn't really have the time to call anyone, and I didn't want to drag anyone out in the weather, anyway. I just rode to work and got wet.

Work continues to be a madhouse. Probably due to the weather, people weren't in great moods, either. I don't know why it's this busy now; I guess it's due to the big 4-day sale Acme's having this weekend. Many people are starting their baking, too, including me. I saw orders filled with bags of flour, chocolate chips, and brown, white, and powdered sugar, canisters of baking powder, boxes of baking soda and cocoa powder, and packages of pre-made cookie dough. It was so busy, I stayed an extra half-hour. There were call-outs, and we were just short on help.

After I finally finished, I grabbed some more containers for cookies and a dollar bin notepad (mine finished months ago) and headed home in the rain. When I got in, I got the tins and containers together and started making cookies.

I always make five different kinds of cookies to give to various family members and neighbors as gifts. I wanted to start them now and have them ready by next Saturday for the Acme's Christmas party. The cookies I make are:

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip
Peanut Butter
Molasses Roll-Outs
Cherry-Coconut Bars

Did the Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies today. I used that wonderful Prevention Magazine recipe again. Other than mildly darkening the last batch, they came out just fine.

Watched National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation while finishing the cookies and eating a quick dinner of Lamb with Marsala Sauce and leftover Spiced Beets and Mashed Sweet Potatoes. Christmas Vacation is celebrating its 20th anniversary of holiday lunacy revolving around the slightly exaggerated tale of the Christmas of the Grizwauld family and the father of the clan, Clark. Clark just wants everything to be "perfect"...from the 20,000 lights on his house to the enormous tree he pulled down himself to the family around him. As usual, reality intrudes into his idea of perfection - his Yuppie neighbors think he's nuts, the two sets of grandparents do nothing but bicker, his huge tree barely fits in the house, his much-needed Christmas bonus is late, and his unwanted hillbilly relatives show up unexpectedly.

If nothing else, this movie always made me appreciate how comparatively quiet my family's Christmases were. We always celebrated Christmas with just the five (and after Keefe was born, six) of us, and that was more than enough. Sometimes we'd have neighbors and friends drop by on Christmas Eve, and more rarely, relatives might pass through in the week between Christmas and New Year's. Most of the time, however, it was just us Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and we all liked it that way.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas Is Family

The front-end managers at the Acme called me in early for the second day in a row. In fact, the first thing I heard this morning after I opened my eyes was the phone ringing next to my bed. (I'd put it somewhere else, but the only land phone line in the entire apartment is in my bedroom.) They wanted me to come in right away, but it was 7:30, and I was working at 9:30. This time, I just went in when I was originally supposed to. I didn't feel like rushing around early.

On the other hand, I understood why the called me. Even when I went in at 9:30, it was really busy, and remained that way all day. The lines were only just starting to clear out when I finished around 2:30. Thank goodness my relief was a little early. I went to bed late last night and had been jolted up early this morning and was dead tired. I bought things I'll need for cookies later in the week - sugar, maraschino cherries, and coconut - and headed home.

When I got in, I put everything away, changed into a red turtleneck shirt, grabbed my purse, and went right back out again. I needed to go to the bank to deposit my paycheck. I didn't have much left in my checking account, certainly not enough to pay my bills this week.

The day was still freezing cold, but it was sunny and clear and far less windy than yesterday. It was such a nice day, I went for a walk to WaWa after leaving the bank. As I strolled down the White Horse Pike, I saw a quartet of teenage girls in Santa Claus hats laughing and skipping along and people on bikes, carrying packages and heading home for their weekend supper. Stopped at WaWa and bought Candy Cane Hot Chocolate, then headed home, passing families working on their outdoor Christmas decorations on the way.

I called Mom when I got home, the first time I have in weeks. Got Dad at first, but he had a bad cold and didn't really sound up to talking. Mom was tired but generally better. She'd had a long week; in addition to crowds at Michael's that matched the ones at the Acme here, my brother is involved in his school band and a local string band and was in two parades and a concert this week. Mom was apparently so busy, she hasn't really gotten much done with Christmas yet. I imagine she'll be fine by the time we actually get to Christmas; she always is.

After I got off with Mom, I made Tomato-topped Meatloaf and Honey-Glazed Carrots from the January issue of Prevention Magazine and listened to some of my kids-oriented Christmas CDs and cassettes. A lot of people are probably familiar with the famous John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together album, but my Looney Tunes Christmas cassette is less well-known. It's a recent album - I bought it from the Wildwood CVS around 2003 - so the Toons aren't voiced by the same people as in the classic cartoons. Some of the material's still funny, though. I especially like the opening "We Wish You A Merry Christmas (And a Looney New Year!)," Daffy's "All I Want For Christmas (Is More, More, More)" and "The Halle-Looney Chorus."

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Jack Frost Nipping At Your Nose..."

Brr, was it cold today! I don't think it made it out of the lower 30s. It was really windy, too. Good thing it was also sunny all day.

The Acme called me in early. I eventually arrived at 11:30. My only plans were working on the Christmas cards. Turns out I was right and I didn't have enough of them anyway. I'll send the cards and packages on Monday. (Not to mention, it makes more sense to work 11:30 to 5:30 than 12 to 5:30 anyway.)

I can understand why they did it. I don't know if it was because today is the first day of Hanukkah or we're just having really good sales, but we were mobbed all day long. Customers were crabby, too. We also got a bunch of those guys who buy tons and tons of the sale items to sell to chop shops in Camden, too. Thank goodness we were able to fob them off by pointing out that they can only buy so many of most of the 4-day sales.

Ran over to Chick Fil' A after work. They were busy, too. Chick Fil' A is popular with families, thanks to frequent sales and being the only one of the four fast-food chains in the Audubon Crossings Shopping Center with a playground. There was what looked like a cheerleading squad having a fund-raiser when I was there. The line wasn't too bad, though, so I was able to buy my Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich and carrot-raisin salad and eat quickly.

Stopped at the Acme for grocery shopping after that. I needed a lot this week; I'm finally running out of the last of the farm market vegetables, and I needed grapefruit, granola bars, yogurt, and butter, too. Also needed Christmas cards and more ornament hooks; I have so many ornaments now, the hooks I bought when I first moved out aren't enough.

Oh, and I received a lovely gift in the mail from my friend Jen in Washington State. She sent me a muffin cookbook that she apparently bought in St. Louis this summer. I didn't really have the time to take a good look at it tonight, but I may try something from it tomorrow.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Do-It-Yourself Balance

The day did not begin well. It took me longer than I thought it would to get moving this morning, which meant I was later than I wanted heading to Yogawood. I wound up being even later when I realized half-way to Collingswood that the front tire on the bike was going flat. I had to walk it the rest of the way and just barely made the class.

It's a good thing there were only ten people in the class today, including me, the teacher Karin, and a member of the teaching class who was taking notes. We did a lot of work on the back and upper body today, including a lot of stretches, standing poses like Warrior, and head stands. I did manage to get up the wall momentarily when we did the feet-up-the-wall pose, but I still can't bring myself to get on my shoulders.

There's a hardware store in Collingswood, across from Friends In Deed Thrift shop and a block from Yogawood. I headed there after class. Bought a real wrench, so I could fix the busted tire myself when I got home. I'm tired of waiting for neighbors to be around to help me. I had a new inner tube at home, but I've looked for ages for the right wrench. They tend to come in packs in Wal-Mart or are too expensive. Ok, this one cost $9, but I needed it.

Went across the street to the Thrift Shop next. I said "hi" to my friend Erica, who was busy setting containers and crates of Christmas items outside. Among those were a container filled with holiday-themed tins and trays for less than a dollar. I bought a tray for the cookies I plan to give to the family in Cape May County and tins for some of the other families I'm giving cookies to.

Went a block down to the Collingswood Library after leaving the Thrift Shop. This was the first time I'd really been able to devote some time to them. I organized the art book section, put away DVDs and filed them in the right drawer (they keep the actual DVDs behind the circulation desk, so they don't disappear), and shelved new release books.

My walk home was not a pleasant one. The sun kept disappearing behind clouds, and it was much colder and three times as winder as when I went out that morning. I cursed and muttered to myself the whole way home.

I just kept cursing when it took me over an hour to fix the bike tire. The nuts on the wheel were so tight, I couldn't pull them. When I did finally get them loose, I couldn't get the tire OFF the bike...and then I couldn't get it back ON. When all's said and done, I did get the tire back on the wheel, the wheel back on the bike, and filled the front tire with air. I hope it's still all right tomorrow. (The back wheel's been fine ever since it was fixed last summer. It's not even flat.)

Spent the rest of the afternoon inside, making a batch of cookies for my friends Linda and James. They requested cookies for Christmas after they loved the Red Velvet Cookies I brought them to thank them for that trip to Independence Hall and Penn's Landing. The recipe came out of Prevention Magazine; I hope they like it.

Between forgetting to pull out ground turkey and sampling a few too many cookies, I ended up having Tuna Salad and Sauteed Spiced Beets for dinner. The beets are my last farm-market veggies until May, and they're quite tasty. Watched Christmas movies and specials all afternoon; ran Miracle on 34th Street while doing the cookies and Christmas Eve On Sesame Street and Muppet Family Christmas during dinner.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Christmas Wrapping

Bang! Thump!

I shot out of my bed around 8AM. A huge storm had began late the night before, and it was still going on in the early morning. I was awoken by the sound of a huge thump of some kind. I peered out of my windows, but I didn't see anything wrong around the apartment or my neighbors' house or in the park. I still don't know what it is that woke me up so suddenly.

I was up late last night, so I tried to go back to sleep, which worked until about 9:30. I ready for a little while after that and wrote in my journal, then got dressed and made breakfast. I was eating Multi-Grain Chex with bananas when I heard the sounds of footsteps on my front porch and something heavy being dropped in front of my door.

Two somethings, as it turned out. When I opened the front door, I found a pair of packages. One was from Linda and James Young, the other from my best friend, Lauren Miller. I pulled both inside and just barely managed to finish breakfast before tearing into them.

I did Linda and James' first. There were several packages that said "Do Not Open Until Xmas," including one from their budgie Skuylar and their dog Willow. Those went in the back room until Christmas Day. One was supposed to have been a St. Nicholas Day gift (St. Nicholas Day was the 6th) and was to be opened right away. It was a cute little book of Christmas ideas and essays called Christmas Joy: A Keepsake Book From the Heart of the Home, by Susan Branch. I haven't had the time to really go through it yet, but I like the colorful, folk-ish illustrations and the lovely ideas.

Lauren's was bigger. Turns out she'd sent me something I've debated getting for a while - a food processor. It's tedious to chop many things like cranberries and nuts, but I never found one that could fit in my tiny, overstuffed kitchen. She found one by Cuisinart small enough to fit on my counter between the blender and the spice rack.

Once again, I didn't have the time to try it, because I was too busy doing what I'd planned on doing today...wrap all the Christmas presents I've bought over the past few weeks, including yesterday's. It took me the rest of the afternoon. I had the books for the little kids, the boys' things, my uncle's cookbook, the things for Jessa, and several items for Lauren and one of my other best friends, Amanda. I couldn't find the gift boxes and spent 20 minutes looking for them before I finally used boxes I've had laying around for months in the back room.

Wrapping the Christmas presents was always a big deal in my very artistic family. When Rose, Anny, and I were little, Mom and Dad did it alone, a daunting challenge with lots of big toys like dollhouses and keyboards to wrap! By the time we were around 9 or 10, Mom and Dad started asking Rose and me to help out. We were more than happy to alleviate some of the burden and help surprise our sister and each other, not to mention see what our sisters were getting and what paper Mom would be using for them before they did.

Over the years, my family developed a Christmas Eve system. Two people would wrap the presents of the other, while a third would watch Anny (and later, when Anny got old enough to help, Keefe) and a fourth would greet guests and finish anything that needed to be done downstairs. For instance, Rose, Mom, and I would wrap Anny's presents while she watched Keefe and Dad acted as greeter, then I would switch with Anny and they'd wrap my presents, and so on. After the kids' presents were wrapped, Mom would help all of us wrap Dad's gifts, and Dad would help us wrap Mom's.

Most everyone in our family were and are good with wrapping paper and bows...but Anny was downright amazing. She always showered packages with full compliments of ribbons and bows, often bows made with wired fabric ribbon or raffia. She can still do wonderfully creative things with packages, gift boxes, and baskets. She made a gorgeous basket of crochet items for Rose for her birthday in April.

It took me much longer to wrap presents than I thought it would, and I was almost late for work. Good thing work was on-and-off steady and downright quiet by the time I left at 7:30.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Christmas In Philadelphia

Started a sunny, 50-degree day with a run to the Haddon Township Library for this week's volunteering session there. I just put DVDs and kids' books away. The kids' books took longer than usual. They just enlarged and completely rearranged the kids' section, so I had to figure out where everything goes again.

I rode straight over to the Collingswood PATCO after leaving the library around 12:30 and hopped a train to 8th and Market Street. I loved my December trips into Center City Philadelphia last year and decided to repeat them.

The Gallery Mall was my first stop. I was dismayed to discover the little Suncoast Video store I'd just bought Plains, Trains, and Automobiles on DVD from last month is shutting down after the holidays. I hope this doesn't mean FYE is shuttering all the remaining Suncoast stores; I'll miss this one, and I'd miss the big one at the Hamilton Mall even more. I have a lot of history with Suncoast. I bought some of the first videos I got with my own money from them in high school, not to mention almost all of my MacDonald/Eddy movies but Maytime and The Girl of the Golden West. When I entered college, I often bought videos there cheap that I couldn't find anywhere else, including Summer Magic, Annie Get Your Gun, The Black Cauldron, and That's Entertainment Part III.

I browsed in Suncoast and the FYE in the mall for a little while (which, BTW, most definitely is not shutting down), but decided there wasn't anything I wanted and headed out to 10th and Market Street. I hiked a few blocks down to Reading Terminal Market for lunch. It was about 1:30 by then, and the Market was still really crowded (if not quite as bad as the height of lunch time). I bought a chicken salad wrap from the Down Home Diner and a snickerdoodle from the cookie shop.

Hit Macy's next. I was there just in time to catch the 2PM showing of Macy's Light Show. I saw it last year, and I loved it. Julie Andrews narrates this holiday spectacular in which strings of lights that recreate favorite holiday characters move and dance in time to music and the huge organ housed in the building. The kids and their parents around me were eating it up, and I had a great time. It's not the fanciest effects around, but it still looks awesome with that huge ceiling. I especially love the adorable teddy bear guards and their horns that begin the festivities.

Here's a video of the show on YouTube.

I also decided to try something else this year that I didn't check out last year. I took two escalators to the third floor and made my way through the surprising crowds (on a Tuesday?) to the Holiday Lane Christmas section and the Dickens Village. All of Macy's Christmas items were 50% off, so I bought two adorable gingerbread people who were $2.25 each.

The Dickens' Village is an elaborate walk-through recreation of A Christmas Carol. You get in line and first go past a tree and drawings of Victorian Londan...if you can get past the parents trying to take pictures of their offspring in front of the picture-perfect tree.

You see Charles Dickens next, an Audio-Animatronic-style moving figurine, narrating his classic novella with the very words from the beginning of the book. After you leave Mr. Dickens, you move through recreations of the book done with the same moving figurines and detailed building fronts. While not quite on a level with a Disney theme park, it's still enjoyable to look at and nicely done. The guys in front of me loved the glow-in-the-dark effects with the Ghost of Christmas Future.

I did some actual Christmas shopping after I left the Dickens Village. Headed to the kids' section to find something for my nephew Collyn, who will be turning 1 on Thursday. I wish I'd seen the kids' section last year. It's awesome. Kids' clothes are so cute, especially the girls' stuff. I ended up buying Collyn some bibs; babies always need bibs. I hope they aren't too small for him.

My next stop were my two favorite stores on the Avenue of the Arts section of Broad Street, the huge FYE and Borders across from each other and a block from City Hall. Hit FYE briefly to look at some of the WebKinz items, but I didn't see anything I wanted (and I'll probably be getting WebKinz for Christmas anyway), so I went across the street to Borders. Did much better there; bought a My Little Pony book and a Princess and the Frog Golden Book for my 4-year-old cousin Faith, Transformers and Berenstein Bears books for my 5-year-old nephew Skylar, and a book of party appetizer recipes for Uncle Ken. Stopped at the coffee shop of the second floor for a gingerbread latte...and just to take a load off my tired feet.

The last person on my list was my sister Jessa. I never know what to get a 19-year-old girl for Christmas, so I usually just buy her funky socks, which she loves. I decided to go with a variation on this after hitting the Bath and Body Works at the upscale Liberty Place Mall. I found sleeper socks in nifty colors that are supposed to soothe chapped toes; I just hope they keep her feet warm in cold dorm rooms. I also bought a collapsible tote bag that can be carried in a purse for myself to replace the one that got a hole in it last spring. It's kind of flimsy and I don't know how long it'll last, but the colors are cool.

It was about quarter of 5 by then. I hadn't wanted to be in Philly late this time and get caught in the rush-hour crush, so I just made my way to the 16th and Locust PATCO stop and, for once, took an only partially full train home.

I don't know if I'm just run down or if I've been around too many sick people at work lately, but I've had a massive headache since I've hit the PATCO. I hope it doesn't lead to anything serious. I literally cannot afford to be sick right now or at this time of year.

The weather isn't helping. The clouds had increased all day, though it thankfully didn't get any colder. It's supposed to pour late tonight and early this morning, possibly mixed with rain.

Monday, December 07, 2009


And I just heard from one of my best friends, Amanda, who lives in Vineland. Alas, it doesn't sound like we'll be able to get together for Christmas this year. She works as a substitute teacher and a waitress in a Bob Evans and is just too busy, not to mention she just had to buy a new car after her old one finally died in an accident. Like most people I know, she's also skittish about driving in the traffic around here, despite the fact that I've tried to tell everyone I know that the traffic isn't that bad if you know when and where to drive in it. I'm going to try to get her up here for New Year's instead, the first time we've done that since I moved from Wildwood.
Getting Things Done

Today was almost exactly the same as last Monday. I did the laundry in the morning, then went to the Oaklyn Library for this week's volunteering session there while the laundry was in the dryer. I organized the children's section again. The Oaklyn Library is popular with both the Oaklyn School and the day care facility on West Clinton Avenue, so the kids' books get mixed up a lot. Also returned the Christmas Gifts of Good Taste books and A Child's Christmas In Wales; I have plenty to read for the rest of the holiday season.

Grabbed my laundry after I left the library and ran home to put it away and have lunch, then ran to work. Work was busier than last Monday thanks to the end of a four-day sale, but otherwise not a problem other than we had some call-outs.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Little Colored Lights

Started out the morning with Christmas music and something a little different for breakfast. I cut the last of the Rye-Whole Wheat Bread into strips (as well as I could with the dense bread) and made Multi-Grain French Toast Sticks. Dipped them in the real maple syrup I bought yesterday and had a half a grapefruit.

I called Rose while the Brunch With the Beatles show saluted the music of John Lennon. I hadn't heard from her in a while, and I wanted to hear how her pregnancy was going and if she'd talked to Mom. She was fine mood-wise, but feeling nauseous again. Apparently, there are now certain foods, like cheese, that her stomach can't handle.

And I asked for Christmas Eve off or to work early in order to go down to Cape May County with Rose and Craig. I haven't been down there on Christmas since 2005. I doubt I'll get either, but...I'd like to try.

Work was busy for most of the day, not surprising on the day of an early Eagles game. They were playing the Falcons today, hoping for their third win in a row and to pull ahead of the Dallas Cowboys in the race for the playoffs. My relief was a little late, but not enough that I wasn't able to buy Multi-Grain Chex and run home.

The guys who had fixed the tub and the front door were there when I arrived, adding a flap to the bottom of the front door. I went inside quickly to use the bathroom and drop off my cereal, then headed right back out to Uncle Ken's. Dolores was at the Acme just as I was arriving and said they would have kielbasa and there would be people around.

Yes, there were people there, Uncle Ken's daughter Samantha and her family, Dolores' grandchildren Mercedes and Blake, and Uncle Ken's friend Al. The Eagles game was over by then; yes, they won, 34-7, thanks to some nice plays by quarterbacks Donovan McNab and Michael Vick, the latter returning to Atlanta after two years. They were running the Giants-Cowboys game as I was there. I had dinner, chatted with Dolores and Samantha, and played WebKinz on Dolores' laptop with Mercedes and Blake.

I walked home on my own around quarter of 6. It was a lovely, clear late-fall evening. The air had the tang of firewood and wood stoves and crisp winter air. It was very cold, much colder than it has been. Christmas lights stood out against the navy-blue night, bright and lovely.

There were elegant white icicle strings that hung from roofs like yellow Spanish moss. There were blue strings around trees and red around windows, ones that blinked, and ones that weren't traditional colors at all, purples and oranges and pinks. My favorites were the multi-colored strings that graced porch railings and bushes. They looked like splashes of Crayolas against the shadows of forest-green and roof shingle brown.

(Oh, and I later discovered when I went online that, although the Cowboys were winning when I left, the Giants eventually came back and won 31-24.)

Saturday, December 05, 2009

"I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas..."

My only day off this week began gray and gloomy. It was just starting to rain lightly when I headed for my first errand of the day, the PNC Bank on the White Horse Pike. I didn't linger there very long. I did not like the look of the weather at all. The clouds didn't have the right pearly whiteness for snow...but even if it didn't snow, it looked like it might come down harder.

Went straight to the Haddon Township Library next, mostly to return the Barbie In a Christmas Carol DVD and Seussical CD. I organized the children's DVDs, but there wasn't really much else to do, and it was just as well. The rain was starting to pick up, and I still had other places I needed to go.

By the way, Barbie In A Christmas Carol was a lot of fun. Barbie narrates a cute gender-reversed version of the famous Charles Dickens novella to her grumpy little sister Kelly, who is upset because she can't spend Christmas Eve the way she wants to. Here, the miser is Eden Starling, a lovely but obnoxious diva who is the star attraction of a Variety theater in the Victorian era. Nephew Fred is a magician who is trying to ask Catherine, Eden's put-upon best friend and costume designer, out on a date. Eden forbids everyone at the theater, including Catherine, from going home for the holidays. After all, they have a show to perform, and her shows are far more important than any celebrating! Catherine's devastated. Not only is her family important to her, but she has another, secret place to be on Christmas Eve - she makes costumes for a struggling orphanage's Christmas show and is especially fond of a crippled little girl named Tammy.

Yes, Eden learns her lesson in the usual way...sort of. Actually, the theatrical setting makes this seem a lot like an animated, Victorian-set, female version of the 1988 Bill Murray vehicle Scrooged. Like the protagonist, the ghosts are all women...only here, the Ghost of Christmas Future is more eerie than outright scary, and she does get to speak. Frankly, I found the hyperactive super-fan Ghost of Christmas Past to be far freakier! Catherine represents several characters from book, and her character and her future is much like Karen Allen's character in Scrooged.

The CGI is a marked improvement over Barbie In the Nutcracker. I loved many of Eden's facial expressions, especially when faced with her ghostly Aunt Marie (taking the Jacob Marley role) and the shrill Ghost of Christmas Past. In fact, if you want to show a little girl a CGI Christmas Carol, skip the Jim Carrey version in theaters (I haven't seen it, but the reviews have not been kind) and rent her this instead.

(Heck, maybe Mattel should stick with classic literature instead of overused fairy tales for their bi-yearly Barbie extravaganzas. Christmas Carol and Three Musketeers were really fun. How about a gender-reversed Prisoner of Zenda next year, guys?)

Stopped in Super Fresh on the way home. I was hoping to make stops at JoAnn's and Dollar Tree, too, but the weather was so bad, I cut it down to the one I really needed to make. Much to my surprise, Super Fresh wasn't nearly as busy as I figured it would be on a day with a forecast calling for snow. I was able to buy flour on sale (for bread later), a small lamb chop, bunched carrots (I prefer them in bunches instead of bags, and Acme doesn't sell them loose), chicken drumsticks, and maple syrup (Super Fresh has far better prices on real maple syrup than Acme).

The rain was coming down even harder as I coasted out to Cuthbert Road. I made one more quick stop at WaWa for a Roast Beef and Swiss Ciabatta Melt for lunch before riding home. It was cold, but not windy, which did help with the ride.

Not surprisingly, I spent the rest of the afternoon indoors baking and reading the Whole Christmas Catalog book I bought yesterday and the Christmas Gifts of Good Taste I took out of the Oaklyn Library. I made one of the bags of the Betty Crocker Gingerbread Mix I bought yesterday and two crusty, fragrant loaves of baguettes, the first time I've made bread in months.

In honor of the weather, I ran two Bing Crosby holiday movies while I made the baked goods. Though the 1954 hit White Christmas is probably the better-known of the two movies featuring Bing Crosby and that smash hit holiday song, I prefer the film that introduced it, Holiday Inn. Made during World War II, Inn is, by necessity, simpler and almost a little gritty-feeling, compared to the kind of too-polished White Christmas. A man who is sick of the long-time act he has with his best friend and their girl pal cuts out on Christmas Eve to run a farm...but proves to not be farmer material. The guy finally turns the farm into an inn and night club that's only open on holidays. He hires a cute girl he met on Christmas Eve...but when his former partner shows up, drunk after his former fiancee dumped him for a millionaire, they find themselves competing for a girl's affection all over again.

Yeah, it's light, but unlike White Christmas, there's some real bite under the Christmas fluff. Inn in particular is refreshingly honest about the grind of show business - working more-or-less 364 days a year, with extra shows during the busy holiday seasons, and little time to spend thinking about family and good cheer. The relationships are a bit more realistic, too. Yes, the plot contrivances towards the middle of the film are still a bit silly, but many people have probably told little white lies to the people they love, whether to protect them or just to try to keep them closer for a little while longer.

As I mixed my cookie batter, I happened to look out the window...and realize Bing and Fred weren't the only ones looking into a white world. There was real snow coming down, big fat flakes mixed with the rain, and it was sticking to my porch. The rain-snow mix fell for most of the afternoon and into the evening, and while it never stuck to the street, it made a nice backdrop for dinner. I made a good one, too - Flounder in Marsala Sauce, Roasted Brussels Sprouts (thanks for that recipe, Tina - it's divine), mashed sweet potatoes with honey, and a Banana Muffin.