Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's On the Rocks

The day began well. It was sunny, bright, and warm-out-of-the-ordinary for December, in the mid-50s. I had written in my journal and was just finished dressing when I got the dreaded call. Yes, it was the Acme. Could I come in as soon as possible? It was really busy. I told them 1PM. I had to get to the bank, if nothing else.

I did get to the bank, around quarter after 11. It wasn't busy when I was there, but the teller said it had been busy earlier. Simply Soups wasn't busy when I went there, either. I had a quick, small bowl of New England Clam Chowder, quarter of a Coke can, and a breadstick and a half.

I felt a little better when I rode down to Market Street and had a chat with Bob at Abbie Road. He not only slashed prices on a lot of CDs, but he had a pile of records for sale, too. My record finds were:

Olivia Newton-John - Have You Never Been Mellow

Pat Benetar - Tropico and Crimes of Passion

Belinda Carlisle - Heaven On Earth (replacing a cassette copy)

Linda Rondstat - Simple Dreams

Phil Collins - Face Value and But Seriously

The original Broadway cast album for the musical Zorba (never removed from its original plastic)

The CDs were mostly cast albums. I picked up the original casts for Company, Joseph and His Technicolor Dream Coat, and Grand Hotel: The Musical (another cassette replacement), the soundtrack for Til the Clouds Roll By, and Neil Diamond - His 12 Greatest Hits, Vol. II.

Work was a pain in the rear end all day. Yes, we were very busy. There was also a call-out. One of the older women had been sick all week. If people weren't doing their beginning-of-the-month shopping, they were buying vegetable trays and piles of chip bags for parties tonight. At one point, one very noisy man made a fuss because his check wouldn't go through. It hadn't helped that the woman in front of him got upset because he was taking the Lord's name in vain! The man was so obnoxious, even his teenage daughter said he was embarrassing her. I was frustrated, but everyone in the line after him was super-nice and complimented me on how well I handled him.

I went straight home after I finally got out of work. There was a really big package waiting for me when I arrived. My new DVD shelf unit had come! I put my things upstairs, then dragged the heavy box upstairs.

It ended up taking the better part of the night to put the shelf together. The directions weren't the greatest. I couldn't fit the sides to the bottom and top at first. Things went far faster when I finally got the sides standing upright.

It didn't help that I was trying to alternate putting up the unit with making a big New Year's Eve dinner. I eventually had ham with a sauce made from water, drippings, and fruit, steamed green beans, Strawberry Flummery, and sweet potatoes and apples. I ran Rudolph's Shiny New Year, Happy New Year, Charlie Brown, and two Bowery Boys movies while I worked and cooked. And of course, it turns out that the shelves still aren't enough to hold all of my DVDs.

Things weren't even pleasant when I got online. I had another nasty comment from that awful "jmsairforce," whom I assume is also the commenter who used to sign himself as "James" and claimed he was a psychiatrist. Now he's calling me a "creepy freak," just because I enjoy my dolls. You know why I enjoy those dolls? They don't insult me, call me names, or behave like an obnoxious boor. He says I'm a "headcase" and that I'm completely insane! I wish whomever this is would just crawl back under the rock he came from. I never did anything to him. I never called him names or hurt him in any way. He should do likewise and leave me alone.

I  hope all of you have a far better end of 2011 than I did.

Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year, New Arrivals

Slept in again this morning and watched more Sean the Sheep. I finally started out to the Oaklyn Library around 11:30. There was actually quite a bit to do there. The DVDs, for grown-ups and kids, badly needed to be reorganized. There were DVDs piled on top each other...and there was plenty of room for people to put them away. I also sheved Christmas picture books that were on display in the children's section (leaving out a few books related more to winter and snow).

When I got home, there was a package waiting for me. Yay, the first of four online orders I made with Christmas money had arrived! Molly and Samantha got new dresses from American Girl. AG put out new spring outfits for the historical dolls late last winter. I picked up Molly's Polka-Dot Outfit and Rebecca's Lace Dress - I thought the latter would be more fitting for stylish Samantha than her pink-and-white-striped birthday pinafore dress. Both are quite lovely, fit the girls well, and even come with cute shoes! (Jessa will probably share the Polka-Dot Outfit. I'm glad that one comes in two pieces. It'll work with other shirts, skirts, and pants I have for Molly and Jessa.)

I had leftover Chicken Vegetable Soup for lunch while watching more Sean the Sheep. My favorite of the second batch of shorts was the one that had Sean, Timmy the Lamb, his mother, and another sheep adrift in a hot air balloon that belonged to their master's girlfriend. Bitzer the dog is hot on their trail and determined to make sure that balloon and sheep make it home in one piece!

Work was busier than yesterday, but still not too bad. It was quiet enough when I finished to get off (on time) without a relief. Good thing, because I did have some grocery shopping to do. In addition to needing to restock vegetables, I wanted to get a ham for my New Year's Eve dinner. The Acme is having big sales on many kinds of pork. I found a nice little half of a spiral-sliced ham for $5.30. I also picked up brown sugar (I was out), French vanilla mousse mix, a can of low-fat, low-sodium chicken broth to replace what I used for my Leftovers Soup, and sparkling apple-cranberry juice and whipped heavy cream to make Whipped Syllabub tomorrow night.

I have a pretty good schedule next week, too, one that's far more normal than this week's. Nope, I don't have New Year's Day off, but I don't work early like I did last year, either. I'll at least be able to go out for a nice brunch. I do have a few late days later in the week, but it could be worse. It should, at the very least, be busier next week than it was this week, thanks to the beginning of the month.

There was another box waiting for me when I pulled in. My Disney Store dolls had arrived! Normally, I'm not really interested in collecting Disney dolls beyond the occasional stuffed animal, but the new Animator's Collection Toddler dolls were too cute for words. I picked up Cinderella and Tiana. Tiana has the sweetest little smile; Cindy reminds me of the Shirley Temple dolls my mother had when she was little. Other than it took me 20 minutes to get them out of their boxes, thanks to all the twist-ties wound around them and Cindy's hair-net, I adore them. Cinderella has the prettiest, most brushable golden curls! Haven't done much with Tiana yet - I'll take another look at her tomorrow.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year's Balance

Started a sunny, very cold day with my last yoga class of the year. Karin honored one of the few holidays that most people celebrate by working on squats and inversions. I'm getting better at squats, but it's still hard to pick up my heavy body. I'm actually glad I got in late. The class was so full, I took the spot by the door, next to the CD player...which means I was the only person in the 20-some-person class who had plenty of room to do squats and inversions!

Went straight to the Collingswood Library after class ended. There was far less going on over there. I shelved a few DVD titles, but there were no books to put away upstairs. I looked up some books on musicals, then just headed out around noon.

When I got in, I pulled out some of the leftovers in my refrigerator, including the ground chicken and several vegetables that were going soft, tossed them into a can of low-sodium, low-fat chicken broth, and made Ground Chicken Vegetable Soup. Ran Sean the Sheep while enjoying a nice, warm, filling lunch. My favorite in the first batch that I hadn't seen was the one where Bitzer and his master borrow a line-drawing machine from a man making lines in the road to make a line for their soccer game. Things really get out of hand when first Sean, then Timmy get their hooves on it...and make lines everywhere!

Work was pretty much the same as yesterday - busy during rush hour, quiet for the rest of the night. It was so quiet, I scrubbed shelves on aisle 1 for an hour when I came in and spent the hour before I left putting away candy and helping two managers try to figure out why a sale wasn't working right.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Slept in this morning, then ran Barbie: A Perfect Christmas during breakfast. Young teen Skipper, pre-teen Stacie, and 6-ish Chelsea join Barbie in this modern-set musical tale that seems to be intended as a follow-up to the two Fairy Secret stories. Barbie and her sisters are taking a plane to New York to visit Aunt Millie (of Fashion Fairytale) when it's grounded in Minnesota by a snowstorm. The quartet are disappointed when their flight is canceled and they find themselves stranded at the Tannebaum Inn. The Inn, however, is very much into the holidays, and soon the girls decide to improve their holidays by setting up a concert for a local band, with dogs from a local animal shelter as the opening act. But when Skipper refuses help from anyone and Stacie gets angry at Chesea because she's being a copycat, will the girls ever learn to work together...and find their own "Perfect Christmases?"

Universal's on a roll with their Barbie specials this year. This one was another winner, and just as much fun as the more fantasy-oriented Princess Charm School. In fact, I believe this is the first Barbie special since The Barbie Diaries to not feature any kind of typical "magic" whatsoever. No princesses, fairies, witches, wizards, or even typical villains here. Any "magic" is off-screen and assumed. This is just a very sweet story of four sisters who learn that Christmas isn't just a time of year. It's a feeling...and one that's best shared with those you love.

And I adored the hilarious scene when the four girls break into an impromptu snowball fight on their way back to the Inn. It was so realistically done, it brought back many memories of similar romps in the snow with my sisters and brother.

I also ran the end of Strawberry Shortcake. The episodes that make up Bright Lights, Big Dreams made for a rather interesting companion to last night's Xanadu, as they also involve finding inspiration and following your heart. In the first, Strawberry deals with a pair of very obnoxious bug house guests. It's her friends who finally teach the two that being a guest doesn't give you the right to be rude. The second switched the focus to Orange Blossom, as she and the other girls try to break a record and win a vacation for a Berrykin who is overworked. Though their initial attempts are failures, it's Orange Blossom who helps them learn that brainstorming ideas with friends can provide some great inspiration. The last story had Plum Pudding desperate to win a local dance contest. When she pushes the other girls too hard and finds herself having to deal with the silly Berrykins and their made-up dances, she learns a lesson in listening to others and putting fun before competition.

I shouldn't have put off doing the laundry. The laundromat was the busiest I've ever seen it when I finally made it there around quarter after noon! I was lucky to get a washer and a dryer. I almost didn't get a washer. When I got in, I quickly put everything away, had a lunch of leftovers, and hurried out the door.

As it turned out, I didn't really need to rush. We were on-and-off steady during the 4-6 rush hour and pin-drop quiet for most of the rest of the night. I spent an hour after break doing returns, and another half-hour doing candy. No wonder they gave me four days off in a row, if it's been like this all weekend.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Suspended In Time

I had a very quiet day. I slept in, then headed out for an errands run after breakfast. It was cloudy in the morning, but the rain held off. I made a fast stop at the bank to deposit Christmas money, then rode down through Newton River Park. It was surprisingly busy for a damp and gloomy day, with lots of dog walkers, joggers, and parents getting their kids out before the weather got bad.

The Library was busy, but there wasn't much to do. I shelved a small stack of DVDs and some children's books, but there were other volunteers there as well. I did take out three cartoon DVDs, the new specials for the 2009 Strawberry Shortcake and the Barbie As series and the second season of Sean the Sheep.

Made quick stops at Super Fresh for cooking spray; also got Stash's White Christmas White Tea. Went a few doors down to Dollar Tree for sponges, toothbrushes, and a shower curtain. By the time I stopped at Nick and Joe's for lunch, the on-and-off rain had turned into a shower. I enjoyed a cozy meal of grilled cheese and tomato with a cup of Italian Wedding soup, but I couldn't avoid the weather. I just rode home in the rain.

Spent the rest of the evening at my place, avoiding the at-times heavy rain. I worked on updating several inventories for a while, then ran Xanadu while making Chicken With Mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, and an Escarole Citrus Salad for dinner. Xanadu is the strange story of a young artist (Michael Beck) who is inspired by an attractive blond (Olivia Newton-John) to follow his dream and open a roller-skating disco palace in the dilapidated Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. He even persuades former clarinetist Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly), now the owner of a construction and restoration company, to help him out. Kira, however, is not what she seems...

TV Tropes is right in calling this "the nexus of 70s cheese and 80s cheese." It's kind of obvious they had plenty of music when they began filming, but no script at all. They were literally making the script up as they go along, and it shows. Nothing makes sense, the editing is all over the place, Beck is hardly right for this sort of romantic lunacy, the special effects look like refugees from Tron, and the animated sequence a little more than half-way through (by Don Bluth on his first solo assignment) doesn't have anything to do with the film and stops it cold.

For all the craziness and bizarre costumes and just plain 80s-ness of the whole thing...I really liked it. I liked the energy. I liked the style. I liked the charming number between Kelly and Newton-John, "Whenever You're Away From Me." I still love the soundtrack. I thought the film had a kernel of a good idea, showing the collision of 40s and 80s musical styles and how much life and musicals had changed in the ensuing years. It just tried to pile on way too much of everything. And a real script might have helped, too.

I thought it was very cute, but I really can't recommend it unless you're like me and have built an immunity to camp. This is the definition of "not for everyone." If you're interested but don't want to handle the cheese, try the 2007 Broadway Cast Album. Apparently, the Broadway version became a surprise hit in the smallest auditorium on the Great White Way by playing this for the delightfully kischy hoot it is.

Monday, December 26, 2011

It's a Magical World

I slept in this morning and spent most of it at home. Met Jessa around 11:30-noon to head out to the Cherry Hill Mall for some serious shopping. Though there was no traffic going to Cherry Hill, the mall parking lot was filled to capacity. Thank goodness Jessa bought a much smaller car during the summer and was able to find a parking spot fairly quickly.

You also won't be surprised to hear that the mall was a mob scene today...but I don't regret the trip one bit. The sales were seriously worth it. We parked by Macy's and walked through there first, but most of their merchandise is a bit high-end for my taste. We finally ended up just walking out into the main mall.

The first sight that met our eyes when we got onto the main floor was not encouraging. The small FYE had closing signs posted. Unlike the Audubon FYE, they're not shutting down entirely, just changing malls - seems they're moving to Moorestown. Their loss was my gain. For the second holiday season in a row, a shuttering FYE meant big savings for me. Between the closing sales and my Membership Card, I picked up the TCM Classics Collection Busby Berkley set and the new Tom and Jerry Platinum Collection set for about $14.50 each, the campy 1980 musical Xanadu for $5, Fred Astaire's last major musical Finian's Rainbow for $10.50, and a used copy of Robin Hood: Men In Tights for just $3.14. It came to $51.98 all together...and thanks to the $50 gift card I had, I ended up paying two dollars for the whole lot.

I did even better at JCPenney. They were having HUGE sales all over the place. I had to stand in a long line at the women's department, but it was worth it. I picked up a new pair of loafers (the salesman gave me an extra 10% discount because they were a display pair), a lovely Liz Claibourne blouse in shades of red gradually fading to purple, a periwinkle blue v-neck short-sleeved t-shirt, a pair of light khaki corduroy pants for work, and two fat pillows to replace the very flat ones I'd slept on since childhood. Once again, with the help of major sales and a $50 gift card, I paid eight dollars for everything.

The only place I paid real money today was Lane Bryant. I bought a button-down white shirt there. At $30, it was the most expensive single item I picked up today, but I really need new button-down shirts. The one I bought in the fall doesn't fit. A quick stop at the Disney Store yielded no finds. Alas, all of the Animator's Collection dolls I wanted were gone. They only had Mulan, Aurora, and Snow White left, and just a bare few of Mulan and Snow White. I ended up ordering Tiana and Cinderella from the Disney Store tonight. We also stopped briefly at Journeys so Jessa could trade in some shoes that didn't fit.

If it was crowded when we arrived, by the time we left Lane Bryant, we could barely move around downstairs. It was literally elbow-to-elbow! There was more room in the more open area near Nordstrom's, but we'd really had enough of mall crowds. We decided to head out and eat elsewhere.

After we finally got out of the very busy parking lot, Jessa had a brilliant idea. She took us to Panera Bread, which is in front of the sprawling "town center" mall that's the home of Wegman's, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, and the Christmas Tree Shop, among others. I'm so glad she suggested it. Panera Bread reminds me a lot of Saladworks - a really high-end fast food place. However, the prices are slightly better, and the emphasis is on healthy baked goods (though they do have salads, too). My roll, half of a Sierra Turkey Club Sandwich, and half of a Apple Pecan Salad were absolutely delicious. (Though that supposed "half" salad was so big, I couldn't finish it.) Jessa had the Sierra Turkey sandwich and a cup of soup she seemed to enjoy.

After we left there, we drove across the parking lot and made our way to Barnes and Noble. Though they were busy, the Cherry Hill Barnes and Noble is gigantic, and there was far more room to stretch and wander. I was surprised to see a large section devoted to toys - in a book store? They didn't have DVDs, either, which was disappointing. That didn't stop me from finding things I wanted, though. Made some good Bargain Priced finds - the final Calvin and Hobbes comic book It's a Magical World for $8, the newest Carol Higgins Clark novel Mobbed in hardback for $6, and a new journal with a pretty blue butterfly watercolor on the cover for $5. And since Barnes and Noble carries min American Girl dolls to go with the boxed book sets, I bought a Mini Cecile to go with my Mini Marie-Grace. (I love her soft little curls. I wish my curls were that soft.)

It was getting late. Jessa called Dad to let him know where we were, and we went back to my place. Jessa helped me put my new pillows in the pillowcases, and I showed her pictures of the dolls. We chatted for a while, until Jessa decided she'd had a long day and wanted a nap.

Spent the rest of the night eating leftovers out of the fridge for dinner and watching Island at the Top of the World. This strange variation on Journey to the Center of the Earth has a well-bred Englishman searching for his son, who has vanished looking for the mythical title island, with the help of an archeologist who specializes in Norse history, an Eskimo guide, and the French captain of the airship the Hyperion and his poodle. Some nice special effects, especially the Hyperion and once they reach the island.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Day With the Family

Christmas Day dawned sunny and chilly but not too cold in Southern New Jersey. I wrote in my journal first before I made my way to the tree, where presents from my friends Linda & James Young awaited me. They usually give me books, and this year was no exception. I received the second book in the Nick of Time series, The Time Pirate, one of the Dear America series of stories about young girls in different time periods, this one focused on World War II, The Fences Between Us, and a Collier's Junior Classics book of short stories set around various holidays. They also gave me three DVDs. I don't have the Disney live-action movie The Island at the Top of the World or the first season of Night Court (I have the second, but not the first), but I do already have the Warner official copy of 'Till the Clouds Roll By. That last one will probably go to a library. My "stocking stuffer" was a mini version of Marie Grace, one of the two new American Girl historical characters who came out last summer. She traveled with me all day.

Normally on a Sunday, I would have gone into making pancakes and listening to the Beatles show right after finishing with my presents, but today I had a treat. Dad and his girlfriend Jodie had invited me, Rose, and her boys over for a breakfast of something Jodie called "French Toast Casserole." I went over earlier than planned, around 9AM. I had just enough time to round up my remaining gifts and watch Garfield's Christmas Special before Rose and her family drove us over to Dad's.

Jodie's "French Toast Casserole" was apparently something she'd gotten off of Paula Deen's show, and was more-or-less a bread pudding made with eggs and challah bread, with a crusty butter and sugar topping. It was delicious, especially with syrup. Dad, Jodie, my stepsister Jessa, Uncle Ken, and his girlfriend Dolores all had gifts for everyone. Khai loved his new chunky wooden puzzle and train set from Pop Pop Bruce and Grandma Jodie; he loved his big dump truck and plastic drill from Great-Uncle Ken and Dolores even more. Dad ran the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story on TBS in the background all morning. Uncle Ken had Indiana Jones movies on.

I gave Jodie her pudding pie; she said she'd save it for her get-together with her aunt and her family later. I gave Dad cupcakes. Uncle Ken is a big fan of Rachel Ray and enjoyed his cookbook. Jessa got socks in funky patterns. I always give her weird socks. She loves them. She gave me a really cook retro Star Wars tin lunchbox...but instead of containing a Thermos, it came with cookie cutters in the shape of a TIE Fighter (bad-guy ship) and the Millenium Falcon (Han Solo's ship).

While Khai played happily with his new train set and his parents and grandparents cooed over how cute and well-behaved he was, I had a nice chat with Jessa. It turns out that she's off of her job as a cashier at a local car dealership tomorrow, too. We decided to get together tomorrow around noon for some serious shopping at the Cherry Hill Mall and the near-by Barnes and Noble.

Rose, Craig, and Khai left for Craig's mom's house around noon. Dad, Jodie, and I headed for my cousins Samantha and David's home in Chews Landing soon afterwards. Everyone was in high spirits when we arrived. Six-year-old Faith was thrilled to have gotten her first Barbie doll and accessories. In fact, she got the Barbie doll and playset for that Princess Charm School special I rented a few weeks ago. She also raved about her new Barbie-themed scooter ("Now I don't have to borrow Matt's anymore!"), the Disney Princess tent her brothers gave her, and a remote control My Little Pony airplane.

Oh, and she loved the vintage My Little Ponies I gave her. Ethan and Matt seemed to like the toss game I gave them, too. Samantha and David gave me a tin of cookies, like always. Sam makes great cookies. I liked the molasses cookies David's father made, too. Ethan and Matt were especially thrilled with their new Kirby Wii game. Dad somehow got Ethan and Matt's Game Stop gift cards and cards with money mixed up with each other and with another gift card, but I think he did get things settled.

We ran into Samntha's mother (and Uncle Ken's ex-wife) Jayne and her husband Mario on the way out. They live in Florida now and don't visit as often. I'm glad they'll at least get the card I left for them.

We relaxed at Uncle Ken's for a little while after getting back from Sam and David's. I read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and chatted with Jessa. Jess had gone up to Sam and David's on her own, but she doesn't know Jodie's family well and really had no desire to join us for dinner.

Maybe she was the smart one. Jodie's family is very sweet, but I don't know them well, either. I had no idea what to say to any of them. It was mostly teenagers and college students, including Jodie's sons Jesse and T.J, and middle-aged and elderly people like Dad and Jodie. I did tell Jodie and her Aunt Colleen that I still want to start my own business...but I want to take some non-credit business courses before I do anything major.

I did eat dinner with them. I had turkey, macaroni salad, three stuffed shells, garden salad, green bean casserole (apparently a request of one of Colleen's sons), and a roll downstairs in their huge den. It's so big, it includes full-sized exercise equipment, a bar, a 40-inch TV, a fireplace, and shelves and shelves of old books and toys. NBA games were running all during dinner. (The Miami Heat beat the Mavericks; the Lakers-Bulls game was just starting as dinner finished.)

Though I appreciated dinner, I was really getting bored. Jodie must have realized that. She asked her son Jesse and his girlfriend to take me home right after dinner ended. She and Dad were going to move onto her dad's later. They did just that, and I spent the rest of a quiet evening watching The House Without a Christmas Tree (another, less goofy story about a kid in the 40s who wants something special for Christmas) and A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Here's hoping you had a lovely Christmas Day, with all of your own family!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Almost Christmas

Started a clear, sunny, and thankfully cold Christmas Eve with a stroll to the bank to deposit my paycheck. It felt nice to be out and about on such a lovely day. It wasn't even that windy. The bank was a little busy when I got in, but it wasn't as bad as I figured they would be; the line was short, and I was in and out. (I figured it would be much worse, since Monday is counted as a government holiday and the banks won't be open.)

When I got in, I organized the presents for the Cape May County side of the family and watched The Bishop's Wife. One of four popular holiday movies released in 1946-1947, Bishop's Wife is the sweet tale of Dudley, an angel (Cary Grant) sent to earth to help a frazzled man-of-the-cloth (David Niven) figure out what's really important in life - the love of his daughter and his beautiful wife Julia (Loretta Young). I enjoy this one, and may look around for the remake with an equally debonair Denzel Washington as well, The Preacher's Wife.

Poor Rose finally picked me up around quarter after 11. She'd spent the morning rushing around, trying to buy last-minute gifts and food for both the get-together at Mom's and the dinner she, her boyfriend Craig, and their son Khai are attending at Craig's mother's house in Camden tomorrow. It took us ten minutes to find a parking spot on Haddon Avenue in Collingswood so Rose could pick up a cheese basket for Dad and Jodie.

After a brief stop at Rose and Craig's apartment, we were finally off to Erma around noon. As at Thanksgiving, there were no problems on the way there. The weather was beautiful, the traffic was minimal, and Khai got a nice little nap in.

We made another brief stop at Winterwood, the Christmas shop on Route 9 in Rio Grande. I'm glad we did stop there. Rose got to finish her Christmas shopping, and the rest of us got to browse in the coolest Christmas store anywhere. Not many Christmas stores can claim to be housed in the oldest farmhouse in the area. It's so old, it has its own ghost. Every bit of the house that's open to the public is jam-packed with Christmas decorations of all shapes and sizes, from glass baubles to goofy ornaments depicting Santa on vacation or driving weird vehicles, from Victorian fans and old-fashioned St. Nicks to familiar characters. I admired the various Christmas houses. Craig showed Khai the cute candles in the shape of characters from the Pixar movie Cars. A whole room was devoted to ornaments and gift items made from seashells and beach-themed ornaments (naturally, being so close to several Jersey Shore resort towns).

We finally arrived at Mom and Dad's sometime around 2. Turns out Mom also got a late start, so we showed up at the right time after all. Anny, her sons Skylar and Collyn, and Collyn's dad Mike were playing with Hot Wheels cars in the living room. Mom was putting the finishing touches on our buffet meal. We had ham, a vegetable platter with two kinds of dips (ranch and spinach), a meat and cheese tray (I loved the Garlic Monterrey Jack cheese), whole-wheat and white rolls from Shop Rite in Rio Grande, a salad with fresh green and red lettuce and onions, and gigantic shrimp with home-made cocktail sauce.

After we all finished eating, we let the little boys open presents first. When they were largely done, the rest of us did ours. Sky loved his book on space from me. He sat in Dad's big chair and read it for a good half-hour. Collyn was especially fond of the skateboard/scooter he got from his grandparents. Khai's favorite present by far was a Percy the Little Green Engine toy from Thomas the Tank Engine that his grandparents gave him. He kept pushing the button to make Percy talk and his face light up for the rest of the evening.

Us adults got some pretty nice stuff, too. Anny spent the rest of the evening paging through the coffee-table book The Art of Tim Burton that Mom gave her. (She can be a bit goth-y at times and adores his movies.) Mom was thrilled with the poetry books she got from Rose and me. She says she's been reading poetry at night, before she goes to bed. Keefe's favorites were the goofy fuzzy hats Anny gave him, especially the ones with the curved antlers. Dad gave me a big hug for his new Special Edition DVD copy of the 1983 Al Pacino Scarface.

I did pretty darn well myself. Mom and Dad gave me a soft red and green plaid robe from the Vermont Country Store and a bright red nightshirt from Land's End. Mom gave me the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song on DVD. I've seen that one, but not since I was a kid, when it would run occasionally on AMC. Keefe gave me Captain America: The First Avenger, which I've wanted to see since it came out last summer. The director who made that also did the wonderful The Rocketeer, which I really enjoyed. Rose and her boys gave me a Hungry Girl cookbook. (I hope it's better than the one I took out of the library earlier in the year.) Anny and her boys gave me a Pilsbury Cookie cookbook (hey, I have a Betty Crocker cookie book - might as well be democratic) and an awesome Fozzie Bear stuffed toy that I just love. (Anny said she was dying to see the expression on my face when I opened that. She knows I love bears, and that Foz has always been my favorite Muppet, along with Miss Piggy.) Keefe's girlfriend Vicki gave me a soft fuzzy maroon blanket. Mike and Collyn gave everybody tree-shaped containers of Ferrero Rocher chocolate-and-nut candies. Mom's sister Aunt Terri gave us older girls more of that soap her friend in Virginia makes, along with tubes of all-natural lip gloss.

Later, Mom gave me a pair of Ugg-style fur-lined suede boots she had only worn once or twice. She said that the sheepskin used for the lining made her legs itch. I have no such problems. They were wonderfully soft and comfortable. I changed into them and wore them for the rest of the evening (and will probably wear them tomorrow).

Mom and Keefe set out dessert while Mike took the older boys outside to play, Anny read The Art of Tim Burton, Khai played with Percy, and the rest of us watched the Giants-Jets game. (They won 29-14, which, alas, ends the Eagles' playoff hopes.) Dessert started around the same time Fox switched to the Eagles-Cowboys showdown. Mom had her own famous peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies. (Khai actually sneaked up to the peanut butter cookies and snitched one when everyone was paying attention to the TV!) A neighbor had dropped off a divine carrot cake. Rose brought a rich chocolate mousse bombe (a frequent request of Keefe's) and a fruit tart. There was the big Currier and Ives tin of cookies I gave Mom and Dad, too.

We finally left around quarter after 5. Khai needed to get to bed, and Rose and Craig still had to prepare for tomorrow's festivities. Other than hitting some mild traffic around the Deptford Mall (which is hardly a surprise on Christmas Eve), there was once again no trouble. Once Khai got tired of making Percy light up, he passed out for the rest of the ride home.

When I got in, I put everything away and ran A Disney Channel Christmas while taking a look at that Pilsbury cookie cookbook, then went online. Oh, and the Eagles did wallop the Cowboys, 20-7, which makes me happy no matter what they do in the post-season.

And speaking of Disney Channel Christmas, I think Jiminy Cricket says it all in the finale. From all of us to all of you, Merry Christmas and a very happy holiday season!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Welcome to the Holidays

Began a busy day with White Christmas and baking. No, this was for me. I used up bits and pieces from other baking and made Cranberry-Coconut-Chocolate Chip Muffins. I never did get to try them. Soon after I pulled them out of the oven, I had to hurry off to work for my 7 hour day.

Boy, was it busy! I guess everyone finally came out of the malls and left work early. Most kids got off early today, too, if they didn't get off yesterday. If people weren't picking up small things they'd forgotten, they were grabbing fruit, vegetables, and meat that couldn't be purchased too far ahead, or more gift cards. The lines were down the aisles for a lot of the afternoon! At one point I was asked to stay late. I did end up staying an extra 15 minutes when they couldn't find a relief for me.

When I finally made it out to dinner, I ate at Bassett's Memphis BBQ in Audubon Crossings Shopping Center behind the Acme. The parking lot was filled to capacity, but Bassett's wasn't too bad. The girl I ordered dinner from said it had been busy earlier at lunch, when people were still doing a lot of shopping. I had a delicious meal of Grilled Chicken Sandwich with onions, tomato, and lettuce, wavy fries, a diet Stewarts (glass bottle) root beer, and such a large container of cole slaw, I ended up taking more than half of it home. I really enjoyed my meal, with NCIS blaring in the background and people passing to and fro in the windows in the front of the restaurant.

By the time I went back to the Acme to do my own grocery shopping, it was still a little busy, but nothing like it was earlier. I was able to get in the express line without a fuss and get my regular Friday errands done. I needed to restock fruit and vegetables, like apples and grapefruit. Grabbed chicken cutlets on sale; replaced the ground chicken I used for tacos last week. Also needed to replace the pumpkin I used for the pudding pie and the white cake mix that became the Candy Cane Cupcakes, and to restock honey, almonds, and Wheat Chex. (The latter two are still on sale.)

My schedule was quite a surprise! I did ask for tomorrow off, and I figured I'd get Sunday...but not Monday and Tuesday, too! As of right now, I don't work again until Wednesday! I'll be working 7 1/2 hours that day, but hey, a four-day weekend is a four-day weekend. Now that's a Christmas present. It does mean my paycheck after next week's won't be great, but we get paid for holidays whether we work them or not, and that should help.

There was another Christmas surprise sitting on Miss Ellie's patio when I arrived home. Linda and James Young's box had finally arrived. I took it upstairs with everything else and opened it right away. I put everything aside but the small glittery red bundle. I grabbed that too hard and it fell open, revealing a lovely silver necklace with a key that has the word "believe" etched on it. Oh well, early present. Thank you, Linda and James! I'll wear it to Cape May County tomorrow. I finished White Christmas, enjoying the delightful numbers and rolling my eyes at the silly romantic-comedy contrivances in the middle, then put the remaining presents in the back and headed for a much-needed shower.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Balance and the Holidays

It was gorgeous and sunny when I headed out this morning to yoga class, but still much too warm, probably in the upper 50s-lower 60s. We had a substitute today. Tulsa was sweet and enthusiastic, but like Eric, she also went pretty quick and I had a hard time keeping up with her. On the other hand, she mostly concentrated on Warrior poses and stretching, which I can generally do just fine.

Went right to the Collingswood Library after class ended. There wasn't really much to do there. I shelved a few DVDs, but it seemed as if the shelves had been organized recently. I organized the American Girl books upstairs, then did a few more DVDs and headed out.

I had plenty of other plans for today, anyway. I stopped at the CVS on the border of Oaklyn and Collingswood on the way home. I needed get one last gift card. Also picked up dish washing liquid and found a bag of Christmas mini York Peppermint Patties on sale. (They're still pretty expensive at the Acme. I'll have to wait until after Christmas to pick them up there.)

When I got in, I put on National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and worked on the very last thing I needed to make for Christmas, a pumpkin pudding pie. Christmas Vacation is the third in a series of four movies about Clark Griswold and his peculiar family, and the only one to be set entirely at the Griswold's home. Clark is determined to have the "perfect" Christmas, with family gathered together over a huge tree to exchange presents and read favorite stories. As usual, what Clark imagines and reality are two entire different things. It'll take four bickering grandparents, the unexpected arrival of his non-too-bright hillbilly relatives, the destruction of the Christmas tree he brought home from the wilderness, and a SWAT team breaking in on Christmas Eve to teach him that the holidays may not be perfect, but that doesn't mean they can't be fun.

I went for a short walk after lunch. I wanted to give out the gifts I usually give to people in the neighborhood while I had time. I left Candy Cane Cupcakes for my landlady Miss Ellie on her front stoop and Cranberry Bread for my next-door neighbors at their front door. I gave the Dorias' their cupcakes at their store. Chatted with them a while about my hope to take classes in order to upgrade my web site skills and start my own business, then headed home.

It was still warm and sunny when I left, but there were dark clouds on the horizon. They didn't burst until well into my shift, though. Not that it made much difference. It was very busy all night, right up until a half-hour before I left at 9:30! I guess everyone's finally left the malls and are now preparing for Christmas and Hanukkah dinner. They were also finishing their shopping. More than half of many of the huge orders were buying as much as five hundred dollars worth of gift cards!

It was quiet enough when I left that I could go without a relief. It was showering, but I wasn't dragging out anyone on a rainy night three days before Christmas. I rode home and got damp.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Warm Christmas

I spent the morning indoors, avoiding the gloomy and too-warm weather. Made Minty Buttercream Frosting for the Candy Cane Cupcakes, and then simple baguettes for me, since I was out of bread. Ran The Muppets' Christmas Carol, which was one of the movies that came in the box from Lauren, and a couple of holiday TV show episodes.

Moonlighting did two holiday episodes. I prefer the more festive "'Twas the Episode Before Christmas" from the second season. When receptionist Agnes DiPesto finds a baby abandoned in her laundry a few days before Christmas, her bosses Maddie Hayes and David Addison search for the mother...and then tries to hide mother, child, and Agnes when it turns out the mother witnessed her husband's murder.

There were also two Perfect Strangers Christmas stories; this time, I went with the second one from the fourth season, "The Gift of the Mypiot." Larry doesn't want to invite Mr. Gorpley, Balki's obnoxious boss, to their Christmas Eve party, but Balki does it anyway. Turns out Mr. Gorpley has a reason for being nasty on Christmas, but it's Balki who shows him the true spirit of the holiday.

In the second season Laverne & Shirley episode "Oh Hear the Angel Voices," Carmine convinces the girls, their guy friends Lenny and Squiggy, their landlady Mrs. Babish, and Laverne's dad to help him with his annual Christmas show at a local hospital. What Carmine didn't mention is that the show is being put on at a mental hospital. Shirley's frightened of the patients, having heard a few too many family stories about mental institutions, but Laverne's more interested in flirting with them. Howard Hesseman of WKRP In Cincinatti and Head of the Class fame is the head doctor.

I had a quick lunch of leftovers during the shows, then went for a short walk while the bread rose. It was ridiculously warm and humid for December. I was way too hot in my heavy black coat. All of the wonderful outdoor decorations, from huge wreaths to cute inflatables to elegant swags of greenery, made up for the weather somewhat.

I had a little extra time after the bread finally came out of the oven, so I left early. I forgot to finalize a home-made DVD I sent to Lauren last summer. She sent it back to me in the Christmas box that came yesterday, and I finalized it last night. I was going to send it back to her next week, but since I did have some extra time today, I figured, why not? The Audubon Post Office did have a long line when I arrived. Unlike Oaklyn, though, the line moved quickly, and the young woman at the counter was eventually joined by a older man, which made a world of difference.

I just made it in time for work. Work was on-and-off busy all night. I worked on shelving candy between shifts. Two cashiers were late coming back from break, and I just barely got off of work in time. Thankfully, it was still warm and humid when I got off, but the showers we had earlier when I was at the post office were gone, though it remained windy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Believe In the Magic of Christmas

I had a lot to do today on this, my only other day off besides Christmas Eve. I began with a fairly early run to the laundromat. It was very quiet when I came in around quarter after 10, just me, an older woman, and Let's Make a Deal. It got much busier later on, but by that time, my clothes were already in the dryer.

When I arrived home, I put everything away and headed right back out again. I wanted to get to the Haddon Township Library to return the DVDs and donate videos. I rode through Newton River Park. It was a gloomy, chilly day. It showered lightly on-and-off all day long, not enough to keep me at home...but enough to at least make me damp. There were only a few people in the park, strolling along with umbrellas, but the ducks and Canadian geese were very happy.

Stopped at Wendy's for lunch. I tried their Baja salad this time, with a potato with chives and a little bit of butter spread and a small cup of chilli. The salad came with a spicy Jalapeno dressing, seasoned tortilla strips, and sour cream...all of which I left off. I don't do spicy. Alas, without the condiments, the salad was pretty much just cheese, lettuce, a dollop of guacamole, and tomato bits. The nice, warm chilli and the filling potato were much better. I felt so cozy, enjoying a warm lunch in the prettily-decorated building. Despite it being about 1PM, it wasn't terribly busy. I think the McDonald's next door gets a lot of the families, thanks to their indoor playground. Most of Wendy's customers seem to be elderly people, executives on their way to work, and high schoolers looking for a better-tasting meal than the one in their cafeteria. Shame, because I like their food and prices much better than McDonald's.

Pushed my bike up the hill to the Haddon Township Library after lunch. They were very busy, but they also had quite a bit of help. I did shelve and organize the children's DVDs, easy readers, and some picture books. I didn't take any DVDs or books out myself this week. I have plenty of Christmas movies to watch, and probably will be getting more this weekend. I did find a really cute paperback novelization of Mickey's Christmas Carol in the book sale section, though.

Went straight home after leaving the library. I took the shorter route down Cuthbert Road. Cuthbert is one of the busiest streets in the whole county, and it takes me a while to cross. When I did finally arrive, there was a large box from my best friend Lauren Miller waiting for me. I carried it upstairs and put it aside until I went online.

Spent the rest of the rainy afternoon and evening baking bread and cupcakes and watching Christmas movies. Two of my favorite holiday comedies involve the existence of Santa and the importance of faith and kindness. The original Miracle on 34th Street from 1947 concerns a young female executive (Maureen O'Hara) who is dismayed when the Santa she just hired for Macy's insists that he's the real deal. She doesn't believe in fantasies like Santa and reindeer, and doesn't want her daughter (Natalie Wood in her child-star days) believing in them, either. When Santa defends a young man who enjoys giving out gifts from the troubled store psychologist, he accuses the old man of being violent. A kind-hearted lawyer (John Payne) takes it on himself to prove to a skeptical New York court that Santa Claus is alive and well in the hearts of children...and jaded Manhattanites...everywhere.

Ernest Saves Christmas is a somewhat less-conventional variation on the same theme. Good-natured but dim-witted Ernest P. Worrell (Jim Varney) finds himself helping Santa Claus seek his replacement on Christmas Eve. If they can't convince the man Santa has selected to take the job, the magic of Christmas will fade away forever! Meanwhile, Ernest has his hands full dealing with a tough-minded young teen runaway who cares about no one but herself, not to mention driving Santa's sleigh!

Miracle is pretty much required Christmas viewing. Edmund Gwen won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as Santa. If you've ever wanted to check out Varney's long-running series of Ernest vehicles, Ernest Saves Christmas is one of the better ones and not a bad place to start. Ernest driving Santa's sleigh is hilarious. Miracle is easily available in several DVD versions. Ernest is out of print, but used DVD stores and some online stores like Amazon may still have it.

I had tacos and green beans for dinner, took a quick shower, and then went online. When Lauren came on, I opened my gifts from  her. Most of what she gave me were DVDs to replace the videos I wasn't able to dub (including Ernest Saves Christmas). I also got a Beatles tote bag, my first iPod Nano (to replace the portable MP3 player that died last year - Lauren is an Apple Computers devotee), the American Girl Samantha Mystery The Stolen Sapphire, and the adorable WebKinz Arctic Polar Bear. His name will be Whitey - another BoweryKinz. She also gave me gift cards from eBay, FYE (on a huge card in the shape of a credit card), Barnes & Noble, Macy's, and JCPenney's. Lauren is the best best friend anyone ever had. I can't believe she bought me all that. She's truly wonderful. :)

Oh, and the Cranberry-Orange Bread and Candy Cane Cupcakes both came out splendidly. The cupcakes will be split between several people. The bread will go to my neighbors.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Enchanted Holidays

I spent the morning baking bread for my sister Anny and her sons and watching Christmas movies and cartoons. Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas is one of the few worthwhile direct-to-home-video Disney animated films that didn't come from the Pooh or Tinkerbell series. Instead of a genuine sequel (even Disney figured out that probably wouldn't be very interesting), they did a "midquel" set during the time Belle was staying at the Beast's castle. The Beast has forbidden celebrating Christmas, but Belle thinks it'll help cheer up the Enchanted Objects, and maybe even make their master smile. One of the Enchanted Objects, however, would prefer his master stay a Beast, so he can retain his importance in the castle, and would do anything to stop their Christmas cheer...including turning the Beast against Belle and the others.

While not quite in the class of the original movie, this is a fun and touching tale in its own right, with some rather nice music. Listen for Bernadette Peters as the castle's interior decorator (an angel ornament) and Tim Curry as the nasty organ and castle songwriter who wants to keep the Beast listening to his depressing concertos forever.

Since I had some spare time while the bread baked, and then while it cooled, I set up a few more doll photos in the apartment. One had Samantha holding up mistletoe for a romantic Serena and Darrien. Another had Lita surrounded by "The Riverside Rest Cookie-Baking Committee" - Molly and several WebKinz and Care Bears - while checking out the recipes in my Betty Crocker Cooky Book.

Went out for this week's Oaklyn Library run when the bread was finally out and ready to go. It was a lovely morning, sunny and windy, but once again, not too cold. The Oaklyn Library was quiet except for the librarian and one woman and her toddler daughter, who read picture books. I just organized DVDs and most of the children's section.

Decided to try Dad and Uncle Ken's house again, since I was in the area. This time, he and Jodie were home. I ate hot dogs and baked beans with them and sampled my stepsister Jessa's delicious cookies. Dad said we're going to do exactly what we did last year on Christmas Day - meet around 11AM-noon and head first to our cousins Sam and David's house, then to Jodie's aunt's house for dinner. Fine by me. I had a good time last year.

I had enough time when I got home to run movies and some Disney holiday and winter-themed short subjects. Donald only did one theatrical Christmas short, the violent but funny Toy Tinkers with Chip and Dale. The two mischievous chipmunks were also involved in a pair of cartoons from the late 40s and early 50s that pitted them against Donald and the weather - their starring debut Chip and Dale, and Corn Chips, where the trio do battle over a bowl of popcorn.

Work was on-and-off busy until around 6, after which it died very quickly. There was enough food left in the back room that I had dinner on the store again. It was so quiet at the end of the night, I was able to leave without a relief.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gingerbread Christmas

I spent a wonderful hour this morning reading How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas while snuggled in bed. When I did finally poke my nose outside to check the weather, I got a blast of cold air! It couldn't have been any warmer than the mid-upper 30s. It finally felt like Christmas.

To that end, Brunch With the Beatles ran its annual Christmas episode this morning.  Though the Beatles didn't do any Christmas songs as a group, they all did holiday music solo. Ringo did a whole album, I Want to Be Santa Claus, in 1999. Other solo songs we heard included John's "Happy Xmas, the War Is Over" and George's "Ring Out the Old." They also played Christmas music done to the tune of Beatles songs by a tribute band and regular Beatles songs that were released during the Christmas season, such as "I Feel Fine" and "Something.

I made French Toast with the last of the whole wheat bread and a half of a grapefruit for breakfast, then called Mom. Mom was happy, if very busy. She was in the midst of working on cookies when I called her and couldn't talk long. My sister Rose, her boyfriend Craig, their son Khai, and I are going to go down to her house on Christmas Eve around 11AM. We'll have a very early buffet-style dinner and let the kids open their presents and let off steam. After we eat, the adults will open their presents.

After I talked to Mom, I made gingerbread people for my nephew Collyn and his father Mike and my brother Keefe's girlfriend Vicki. I have a way to kinda cheat on them. I found a set of two non-stick pans with gingerbread people molds on them at the thrift shop in Collingswood years ago. I used the delicious Betty Crocker Gingerbread Cookie Mix that's only available at this time of year. It's hard to find...and it's too good not to share. I burned the second batch and ended up keeping most of them, but the molds are pretty big, and four each ended up being more than enough to fill each container.

I spent a pleasant hour after the cookies were done reading more of How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas. I'm just about done with it. I should be moving on to The Great Santa Search tomorrow. It was really nice. I almost never have a quiet hour to myself during the day to just read. That in and of itself was a lovely Christmas treat.

I did have to go to work eventually, though. Work was pretty much the same as yesterday - lines-down-the-aisle busy when I came in, so quiet when I left, I was able to go on time even though my relief was the college-age boy who is always late coming from his other job.

When I got in, I made steaks, green beans and almonds, and fried mushrooms and onions for dinner and listened to the CD I have of radio version of A Christmas Carol with Orson Welles as Scrooge. I listen to it at least once every year. I also talked to Rose and confirmed our Christmas Eve plans.

Oh, and there was another reason it was busy today besides the upcoming holidays. The Eagles were playing a major game with the Jets at home. They came through like lightning and walloped the Jets 45-19.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Joy of Giving

Started my morning fairly early. The Logan Presbyterian Church in Audubon was having its thrift shop this week. I had more things to donate, including stuffed animals I weeded out of my Care Bears collection. This time, there were no mishaps on the way to Audubon, helped by my basket not being quite as jammed-full as last time. It was cold - really cold for the first time this year - but sunny and breezy, and my ride ended up being rather pleasant.

The thrift shop was busy when I arrived, but not quite as jam-packed as last time. Of course, I showed up a bit earlier, too, around quarter after 10. I left my things at the table where the volunteers sat and browsed around. I found a Normal Rockwell calender for 2012 that was donated by a local veteran's group, a cute blue teddy bear ornament for ten cents, and three records - Barbara Streisand's Broadway Album (replacing an aging cassette copy) and two 2-disc sets of Mummers music for New Year's.

I was thrilled when one of the volunteers told me as I was bringing my things to the table that the two porcelain dolls I donated earlier in the month had sold almost as soon as they put them out that morning. I hope a doll collector or some nice older woman will be able to take better care of them than I could.

After I left the thrift shop, I rode down the White Horse Pike and back into Oaklyn. I needed to deposit my big paycheck from yesterday in the bank. I didn't get there until after 11. There was a fairly long line, and some fairly annoying people, too. Thank goodness everything went fine when I finally made it up to the counter.

I found a heavily-taped package in the mailbox when I arrived home. My friend Rodney Walker apparently had two of the two-disc set of all four of the Beatles' Ed Sullivan shows and sent me one of the extra copies. That was so sweet of him! The only Beatles DVDs I have are the Help! and Hard Day's Night sets. 

Spent the rest of the afternoon making the Cherry Coconut Bars, doing things around the apartment, and watching Christmas In Connecticut. The Cherry Coconut Bars are the last of the five cookies I make every year. They're made like Lemon Squares, but with a cherry-coconut filling instead of a lemon filling. They didn't turn out as well as last year's. I overbaked the bottom cookie layer, and I let it sit too long after baking and some of them got stuck to the sides and wouldn't budge. I did get enough to give some to everyone I needed to.

The only extra on the Christmas In Connecticut DVD is a really good one, the Oscar-winning short subject A Star In the East. Master of accents J. Carrol Naish plays Tony, the frustrated owner of a hotel in the desert where everyone seems to have a complaint or a grudge...except the stranger who turns up in his cafe and starts talking about the brotherhood of man. When a young couple named Jose and Maria need shelter, Tony learns a lesson in the good of all people when the hotel's residents and three kindly cowboys band together to help them. Touching and gentle tale of kindness towards others; Naish is wonderful as the innkeeper who learns to believe in miracles.

I left for work early this afternoon. The Acme was having its big Holiday Luncheon, and I didn't want to miss out. I needed buttermilk and stamps, too. (I have two more cards left to mail.) I stuffed myself silly on more home-made cookies (my friend Jade and her mother make wonderful coconut macaroons and cranberry cookies), sausage and peppers, red velvet cake, pumpkin bread, green bean casserole, and home-made peppermint bark. There wasn't quite as much as there was at Thanksgiving, but it was still more than enough that I was stuffed when I finally went into work.

There are some advantages to working late. Work was mildly steady when I came in, dead the rest of the night. There were no major problems, and I was in and out.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Busy, Busy Holidays

Started off today in the back room. I wanted to round up things to bring to the Logan Presbyterian Church Thrift Shop tomorrow. I cleared out a whole rack of bath scrubs and gels and lotion I never used, along with several Care Bears and stuffed animals and that Darth Vader cookie jar. I separated the remaining videos into three bags. Two bags went to the Oaklyn Library today; the remaining bag will go to Haddon Township on Tuesday.

I did go to the Oaklyn Library next to volunteer and give them my donations. There wasn't much to do. A few people passed through, and a mother and her adorable daughter arrived as I was working on the children's picture books. I left the little girl reading a Sesame Street board book. She was so sweetly intense.

Since it's down the street from the Library, I swung by Dad and Uncle Ken's next. Though Dad's car was in the driveway and the TV was on, there was no one home. The place was far from empty, though! It looked like Santa's Workshop had moved south. There were packages, tape, and wrapping paper stuffed into every nook and cranny. No, I didn't check to see if any were for me. When I couldn't find any people around, I left.

Spent the remaining hour and a half going through a pile of papers on the top of my printer. Most of it went in recycling. I finally got around to hanging up a small poster of Han Solo and Chewbacca that I've been meaning to put on the walls in my bedroom for years. The rest went in the folders and file holders under the printer.

Work was very busy when I came in. I'm guessing a lot of people took off early to get things done before the holiday. There were very long lines, and we didn't have enough help. There weren't even any call-outs. We just didn't have enough help scheduled. Thankfully, it slowed down well before the traditional 4-6 rush hour was ending and was quiet by the time I got off.

I had a lot of grocery shopping to do. I bought more of those cookie holders to use for baked goods and bags for bread. I needed to restock tea (got another Bigelow holiday flavor, Pumpkin Spice), apples, yogurt, Smart Balance spread, eggs, grapefruit, tangerines, bananas, and almonds. Bought mousse mix and more of that wonderful Betty Crocker Gingerbread Cookie Mix to use for presents.

My schedule is hectic! I did get Tuesday and Christmas Eve off, but I work 7 hours on Friday and really late hours for much of the week. At the very least, this should allow me to finish what I need to get done.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Let It Be Balanced

Started out a sunny morning with yoga class. We emphasized twisting and back bends today. I did what I could, but I still can't catch my ankles or balance as well as most people. Karin came to me after class and told me that she did appreciate that I continued to practice yoga despite my difficulties with some of the moves. I'm glad she did. They don't have any beginners' or easy half-price classes, so I do what I can with the regular ones.

Headed down the street to volunteer at the Collingswood Library and drop some book donations. Not a whole lot going on there. I mostly just shelved and organized DVDs. I left around noon and returned to the apartment.

There was a small package waiting for me in the mail box when I arrived. It was from my friend Jen Waters in the Navy. She sent me a book of beautiful paper dolls, Great Costumes from Classic Movies. I used to have a fancy paper doll set like this for Victorian gowns when I was a pre-teen, but I finally cut them out and haven't seen them in years. The costumes are organized by designer. Some of the most famous film costumes ever are here, from Walter Plunkett's famous green velvet "curtain rod" gown for Vivian Leigh in Gone With the Wind to Jean Louis' "Put the Blame On Mame" black gown for Rita Hayworth in Gilda, and yes, even Orry-Kelly's pastel Florida dress for Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot.

The rest of the afternoon passed quietly. I ran March of the Toy Soldiers, had scrambled eggs with onions and mushrooms for lunch, and watched March of the Toy Soldiers. This is the Laurel and Hardy version of Babes In Toyland from 1934. This time, Stan and Ollie are the ones who help Little Bo Peep and Tom Piper flee the evil Barnaby, with help from the toys of the title. It's one of the few old black-and-white movies I recommend seeing in its colorized version. This fantasy really does need the color, and the pastel shades on my public domain copy do it justice.

Work was a bit of a pain. It was busy during rush hour, barely steady otherwise, with several annoying customers. Thankfully, it had slowed down enough by the time I left that I got out without a relief. It had clouded over even as I rode home from Collingswood, and was actually showering lightly when I went to work. The rain was long gone when I left, though.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Once Upon a Rugrats Holiday

I had to work at noon today, so I only did a few small chores around the apartment. I vacuumed the kitchen first. It looked pretty bad after all the baking I've done over the past few days! After that, I called South Jersey Radiology and Camden County College. I've gotten two bills from South Jersey Radiology, and I wanted to know if my health insurance had gone through. Apparently it had, or will, since they said I don't have to pay it at this time.

I had less luck with CCC. I was hoping I could get grants for those non-credit online courses. Alas, the secretary says they don't give grants for online courses. I'll keep trying to get through to Stockton, but if I can't talk to them, I'll have to look into those government loans.

Ran the Rugrats holiday specials all morning. Having been on the air for over a decade, the Rugrats have done shows on every winter holiday imaginable, including two for Christmas. "Babies In Toyland" is the newest of the lot. The kids run around a huge holiday amusement park looking for Santa, whom Angelica has annoyed into quitting. Meanwhile, their parents are "snowed in" when a malfunctioning snow machine dumps a foot of snow on their rustic pioneer cabin in the middle of the park and end up learning how much fun an "old-fashioned Christmas" can be.

"The Santa Claus Experience" takes the entire crew to a more modern cabin in the woods. Angelica plays a trick on Phil and Lil but soon regrets it when she worries about getting coal in her stocking. Meanwhile, Chuckie and Tommy aren't sure about this "Santa" business and set a trap to see if the old man everyone is talking about is really such a nice guy...

My favorites were the specials that covered holidays that don't get discussed as often. The Rugrats' African-American friend Susie Carmichael has her own worries in "A Rugrats Kwanzaa." Her Aunt Tia has told them all about the wonderful holiday that involves unity and celebrating "the great ones." Trouble is, Susie feels like the only untalented person in a family where everyone has a trophy or a special talent. It takes her Aunt's scrapbook full of memories and a blackout to bring Susie's family and friends together and make Susie realize that she does have a talent after all.

I believe the oldest episode in the set is "Chanukah." Tommy is baffled by this holiday that involves lighting candles on a lamp and dreidels made of clay (that Phil and Lil want to eat). While the kids try to figure out what's going on and save Tommy's grandfather from the "Meanie of Chanukah," Angelica tries desperately to find a TV set to watch the big Cynthia Christmas special.

Thank heavens work wasn't anywhere near as busy or as frustrating as last Wednesday. It was on-and-off busy, pretty normal for the day and month. Most people are probably spending this week either in the malls or behind a stove baking, like I did yesterday. There were no really major problems, and I was in and out.

I had to make a short groceries run after work - needed to replace canola oil, eggs, and brown sugar after baking this week, and I'm almost out of dish washing liquid. When I got home, I made fish, carrots, and mushrooms sauteed in home-made chicken stock for dinner and ran Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas. The first of two direct-to-home-video Christmas anthology movies featuring the Disney gang, Once Upon a Christmas is made up of three (2D animated) shorts, two of which are based after classic holiday short stories. Of the three, the hilarious "Donald Duck: Stuck On Christmas" is my favorite. Huey, Dewey, and Louie find themselves reliving Christmas Day until they finally realize that the season is about a lot more than presents and carols and toys in this retelling of "Christmas Every Day" (with a touch of Groundhog Day). I also like "Mickey & Minnie's Gift of the Magi," in which the two mice trade their most prized possessions to get Christmas gifts, only to learn that the greatest Christmas gift they could ever have is each other.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

We Need a Little Christmas

I started a gorgeous, sunny, 40-degree morning reading The Autobiography of Santa Claus snuggled in bed. Linda gave me this and the other two books in the Santa Chronicles series for Christmas a few years ago. Autobiography is just that; Santa tells his story, from his early years as a child trying to do good for his neighbors in ancient Turkey to modern times. It's a colorful tale that involves many famous Christmas legends, and quite a well-known figures in world and US history. I actually prefer the next book, How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas. Layla Claus, also a native of ancient Turkey, is a far more compelling character than her laid-back husband. The story, about how Layla (and Arthur of Britain - yes, "King" Arthur) became involved in the Canterbury Christmas March and the English subjects' attempts to restore Christmas in the 1600s when the Puritans banned it, is also more exciting than Santa's world history tidbits.

I think I'll continue to do my laundry on Tuesdays. Once again, when I arrived there around quarter of 12, it was dead. Only two other people were there when I was. Not even the manager could be seen. Good thing, because I had a fair-sized load, including several heavy pairs of pants.

When I got home, I put away the laundry, had a quick lunch of leftovers, and went right into cookie baking. Since doing the laundry was my only plans for today, I saved this afternoon for the two recipes that take the longest to make, the Biscotti and the Merry Christmas Molasses Cut-Outs. The Biscotti is an authentic Italian recipe from my Italian Farmhouse Cookbook. The Merry Christmas Molasses cookies are a variation on a recipe in the Betty Crocker Cooky Book. The Biscotti are basically a heavy rolled butter cookie. (For extra flavor, I used almond extract, rather than vanilla, this year.) Instead of cutting them in rusk shapes, I roll them into wreaths and candy canes and sprinkle on colored sugar. The Molasses cut-outs are crispier versions of gingerbread men. I like them much better than the same old sugar cookies everyone makes. I'm not the only one. These are probably my most-requested Christmas cookie. They get cut out with cookie cutters and also sprinkled with colored sugar and cinnamon Imperials.

Ran a Bowery Boys movie and the 1974 film version of Mame while doing my baking. The Bowery Boys movie was one of the rare ones from the mid-50s centered mostly around Louie's Sweet Shop. In Spy Chasers, the Boys find themselves protecting the King and Princess of Truvania while Louie awaits a courier coming with half of a coin. If the coin fits, the King is to leave the country and help with a revolution that would put him back on the throne. Two of the King's trusted advisers are traitors who create a phony coin. The woman hypnotizes Sach to try to get him to help them, but as usual, he turns out to be less than useful. One of the better entries with the four Boys and Louie. Slip trying to "drill" the others is especially amusing.

Lucile Ball is Mame, the lovable, eccentric aunt with the heart of gold and hair color that changes at whim. Her young nephew Patrick and his nanny Agnes (Jane Connell) comes to live with Mame during the Roaring Twenties, when her home at Beekman Place in New York was a fashionable address for all of the Big Apple's Bohemians and free-thinkers. Mame introduces Patrick to her fun-loving life and her wacky friends, including the perpetually soused stage star Vera Charles (Beatrice Arthur). Mame and Patrick will always be each other's true loves, come heck, high water, the Depression, and a handsome southern millionaire (Robert Preston), but when a now-grown Patrick expresses his wish to marry into a bigoted, snooty Conneticut family that is everything his aunt isn't, how will Mame handle that her "little love" has changed?

Critics have been nasty about this one for years, complaining about the soft-focus photography and a seemingly miscast Lucile Ball. I think Ball's quite suited to the role, raspy voice and all, and the movie is absolutely adorable. Ball does get a lot of chances for fun, including her roller-skating across a department store and the famous Fox Hunt Ballet sequence. Robert Preston is a sweet Beauregard Burnside, too. You can understand why Ball would go for him so quickly, especially when he sings the dreamy ballad "Loving You" that Jerry Herman wrote directly for the film. My other favorite numbers are the standard "We Need a Little Christmas" (with Agnes doubling as a Christmas tree in lots of tinsel garland), the "Open a New Window" montage, and Arthur and Ball's hilarious "Bosom Buddies." (It's worth getting the DVD for "Bosom Buddies" alone.) If you're a fan of Jerry Herman, Ball, Preston, Arthur, or the overstuffed musicals of the 60s and early 70s, this is definitely worth looking into.

I spent all afternoon in front of my stove and really needed to get out for a while. After the dishes were done and the last batches of cookies were cooling on a towel on the table, I headed out for a run to WaWa and a stroll around the neighborhood to look at Christmas lights. I love the light displays in my neighborhood. It's so festive. There are houses with nothing but candles in the windows. (One house had really pretty green candles that went well with their window holly wreaths.) There were houses that just had a swag of icicle hanging lights on the roof. And then, there were the houses that went all out, with lights strung from every tree, signs saying "Merry Christmas" or "Seasons Greetings", lighted figurines (one lighted dear actually moved his head up and down), lit wreathes, and every kind of inflatable imaginable. (My favorites was the adorable teddy bear in the Santa hat who held a red and green box that says "Happy Holidays" and the Santa in the shades on the motorcycle.)

When I came home, I had my turkey and spinach Shorti hoagie and watched a vaguely Christmas-related Get Smart episode from the first season, "Our Man In Toyland." Max and 99 have to figure out how a CHAOS agent is smuggling secret information out of the country. They discover the means in the toy section of a department store, but will they survive to tell the Chief?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Time For Christmas Cookies!

Started this morning relatively early, around 8, and got out at quarter of 10. I had a lot of errands on my to do list today, starting with a trip to Oaklyn's Post Office to send off packages for my little nephew Collyn (whose 3rd birthday was last week), Linda & James Young, and my best friend Lauren. I figured it wouldn't be that busy at quarter of 10...but boy, was I wrong! There was already a line across and outside of the small building. They only had one man doing everything. The man they had borrowed from another post office had to be entered into their system by a supervisor who wasn't there. He couldn't get his scanner to work, either. And of course, the two women before me were sending huge packages all the way to Greece! I'm glad I got boxes at the post office this time, instead of using my own. It made things a lot easier. I was in and out quickly once I finally got up to the counter.

The Oaklyn Library isn't that far from Newton River Park, so I rode across there to the Haddon Township Library. It was very cold this morning, much colder than it has been. Some puddles had a thin layer of ice on them. So did parts of the river! I only saw a lone man on a walk and a flock of ducks going for a swim on the ice-less parts of the river.

Actually, there wasn't much going on at the Haddon Township Library. There was already a volunteer who was shelving DVDs. I ended up organizing the children's DVDs and putting away some picture books. I mostly took out cartoons this week. Picked up another holiday-themed Max & Ruby set (Everybunny Loves Winter), the holiday Rugrats set (Turkey and Mistletoe - in other words, the Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and two Christmas specials), a new Sean the Sheep set, this one themed around aliens and the paranormal, and the Disney Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey from two years ago.

I had quite a bit to do at the Westmont Plaza after I left the library. I was thrilled to discover Super Fresh had that Betty Crocker Gingerbread Cookie Mix I like. It's only out during the holidays, and I haven't seen it at the Acme yet this year. (The cashier said it just came in this week!) I also grabbed grits, brown sugar, and a gift card and card holder for my sister Anny.

There's a Game Stop next-door to the Bagel Shop in the Westmont Plaza. I made it my next stop. It's larger, cleaner, and has a nicer selection than the Audubon Game Stop. Ironically, when I brought the PlayStation Portable game I picked for Keefe up to the counter, the very nice cashier said they weren't that popular of a location. She said Audubon gets a lot more customers...but they have a more loyal clientele of locals.

With the Bagel Shop right next door, it made sense to go there for lunch. I had a warm, spicy pizza bagel, fries, and pickles while listening to The Chew and enjoying the relative quiet. There was one other woman there reading a book. A family with an adorable toddler daughter came in a bit later.

Went right home after lunch. I put everything away, then put on the DVDs I rented today and started the first batches of cookies. I always make these cookies to give away to family members and to bring to the Acme's Holiday Luncheon:

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

Started with the Oatmeal Chocolate Chip first. I get these from a Prevention Magazine recipe I clipped about two years ago. Everyone always appreciates them. I've never had a batch that didn't turn out well, and these were no exception. They were perfect.

I went for a walk around the neighborhood between batches. It was past 4PM by this point. The sun was starting to go down, shooting rays of crimson gold over the calm waters of the creek. The water at the end of Goff Avenue was perfectly calm, without even a ripple to disturb the glassy waters.

When I came home, I went right back into cookie baking. This time, I did the Peanut Butter (from a recipe from a British cookie and biscuit book) while running A Christmas Carol. I don't recommend this version of the beloved Charles Dickens novella at all. It's done in the same motion-capture animation as Polar Express, but for some reason, we get more of an emphasis on the ghosts being frightening than on redeeming Scrooge. There's a lot of bizarre set pieces, including one where Scrooge is shrunk and another where he blasts over the moon, that have nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas Carol and more to do with showing off technology. Some of the freakier images should have netted this a PG-13. Shame this wastes a nice cast, including Carrey as Scrooge, Colin Firth as Nephew Fred, and Bob Hoskins as Fezziwig, among others. If you want a Christmas Carol for kids, try the Muppets or Mickey (which I watched directly after this); if you want a more traditional recent version, check out the Patrick Stewart TNT movie from 2000 or even the 2004 musical I rented a few weeks ago.

Did Shaun the Sheep while making a quick dinner of leftover chicken soup with Betty Crocker gingerbread bars for dessert. Though a few of the episodes that revolved around alien visitors were on the Season One set, there were a couple that were new to me. My favorite was "Bitzer Puts His Foot In It." Bitzer the dog tries to guard his master's freshly laid cement patch...but it's not easy with Sean and his fellow sheep making mischief! Sean and Bitzer's attempts to cure Shirley the Sheep of her "Hiccups" was cute, too.

Oh, and I got my brother's presents wrapped today and put Anny's gift card in a tin. This completely finishes my holiday non-food shopping. Anyone who shows up unexpectedly will get food or a gift card.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Holiday Rush

Started this morning with Pear Pancakes and Brunch With the Beatles. The spotlight was on the album Rubber Soul today as the boys began to experiment more in the studio. Songs from this album include "Michelle," "Nowhere Man," "If I Needed Someone," "Girl," "In My Life," "Drive My Car," and "Think For Yourself." "We Can Work It Out" and "Paperback Writer" were written around this time but ultimately released as non-album singles. I tried calling Mom during the show, but I first got a busy signal, then got her while my sister Anny and her son Skylar were visiting. I'd call later.

I dawdled too long over reading this morning and didn't get out to raking the side path until a half-hour before I left. I thought Miss Ellie's nephew was going to do it, but I guess not. It's still covered in piles and piles of leaves past my ankles. I couldn't put it off any longer. The piles were so high, I didn't finish it before had to leave for work!

Work was a total pain in the rear. Everyone must have decided to put off their shopping until today. We had very long lines all afternoon and not enough help. At one point, someone spilled a bottle of juice while I was trying to deal with a woman who didn't speak English well. It was just crazy. Thank goodness a manager came in for me, because the girl who was originally my relief couldn't come in.

When I got home, I finished the raking in the dark. After that was done, I went upstairs, worked on a batch of cookies for my friends Linda and James, made salad, roasted broccoli, and cubed steak for dinner, and ran McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Robert Altman, who also did Nashville, made this classic western tale, and it's full of his special touches, from overlapping dialogue to emphasis on a group of characters. The title people are McCabe, a cowardly gambler (Warren Beatty) and Mr. Miller, a tough madam (Julie Christie), who start a bordello and saloon in a small mining town in the Pacific Northwest. When it becomes wildly successful, it attracts the attention of local landowners who want to buy it. After a drunk McCabe turns them down, they send hit men after him, leading to a final gunfight around the bordello while the local church burns.

I was surprised at how much I loved it. Actually, it makes a nice compliment to Johnny Guitar, another non-traditional western with strong female characters. This isn't the west you see in B-pics and John Wayne's earlier films. McCabe's northwest is gritty, dark, and filled with people who want to either make money or get laid. Beatty and Christie are wonderful as the gambler who just wants to make a living and the smart madam who wants to turn the bordello into something special. This isn't for people who prefer traditional good guys in white-bad guys in black stories, but if you enjoy unusual westerns, Altman's style, or Beatty or Christie, this is absolutely worth looking into.

Called Mom after I finished the cookies. She spent the day with her daughter and grandson, then watching the Eagles-Dolphins game. For once, there was plenty to cheer about - the Eagles slaughtered the Dolphins 26-10.

She had a great suggestion for a way to make the holidays easier for my sisters and brother and me next year. Instead of buying each other and Anny and Rose's sons and our parents and their significant others presents, we should have a Secret Santa. We'd set a limit as to how much we should all spend, then pick names out of a hat or something similar. I think it's a brilliant idea. None of us have much money, and two of us have kids and three of us have sweethearts to shop for, too.

Apparently, Rose and Keefe are all for it. Neither of them are really crazy about shopping. Anny's the one who needs to be convinced. She not only loves shopping, but enjoys doing it for as many people as she can.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Around the Town and Home Again

Started this morning with the American Top 40's ongoing Christmas Countdown special and Christmas Eve on Sesame Street. The latter has become a favorite of mine in recent years. In this tale from 1978, Big Bird is worried when Oscar reminds him of how skinny most chimneys in New York are and how big Santa Claus is. How will Santa get down the chimneys to deliver those presents? While Big Bird ponders that question, Ernie and Bert want to give each other a special gift. They sell the things that mean the most of them to kindly store owner Mr. Hooper, but Hooper has a surprise that will make both happy. And Cookie Monster wants to tell Santa how much he wants cookies...if he can stop eating the writing utensils!

I don't know how much kids today would enjoy this. It was made well before the debut of recent Sesame Street Muppets like Elmo, Zoe, or Abby Caddaba. For adults who remember the show in the late 70s and early 80s, it's a sweet, charming special with some wonderful music, including "True Blue Miracle" and Oscar's "I Hate Christmas."

I had some errands to run in the area today. My first stop was PNC Bank to deposit my paycheck. While I was there, I saw some customers help an older woman who had fallen down in the parking lot. It looked like she'd scraped her hands and face - her face had red lines on her forehead and nose. The cops and parametics eventually arrived, but she claimed she was fine.

After I left, I next headed for the Oaklyn Library for this week's volunteering session there. Once again, it was just a quick one. I wanted to have lunch and get some other things done at the apartment.

A few days ago, I used the Vermont Country Store card Lauren sent me for an early Christmas present to order something I've been wanting for a while - a pair of two-tiered wooden shoe racks. The plastic shoe rack I bought a few years ago was pulling my shoes out of shape, and I was tired of using the tippy shelves in my closet. I removed the shelf that wasn't stable and left the heavier one that was. Instead of pushing the four shelves together, I put one set of shelves on top of the heavier one. That way, I now had five shelves instead of four. I love it! Other than the racks are unfinished and I'll probably need to watch out for splinters, they take up less room in my closet than the old shelves and look much better. Plus, I don't have to worry about them falling over now, and very real wood smells quite nice.

I made scrambled eggs with broccoli, onion, mushroom, and Cheddar cheese for lunch while running Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. This time, Lucy and Edmund Penvensie are joined by their bratty cousin Eustace as they reunite with the now-King Caspian and Reepcheep the Mouse on the titular vessel. Caspian is searching the ends of Narnia for the seven lords of Telmar who were once his father's advisors. Lucy, Edmund, and a very reluctant and unhappy Eustace join him. Instead of fighting witches or warlords, though, this time they find themselves on a quest to battle their own inner demons...and outer ones when a spell turns Eustace into a creature he didn't even know existed.

Not bad. Not as good as the first one, but a hearty improvement over the rather dull Prince Caspian. I like the emphasis on battling fears instead of traditional bad guys - it's something different in a fantasy story. Not that there aren't plenty of those, too, from trolls that hop around on one foot to a rather nasty slave market. It's a shame I don't think the reception of this one was good enough to warrant a continuation into the next book of the series, The Silver Chair. That was my favorite of the original series along with the first novel.

I worked on the budget for an hour before work. Most of what I spent last month was food or early Christmas present shopping. December is always thrown out of whack by the holidays - the "other" section will be huge.

Thankfully after the beginning of the week, work was steady to very dead for most of the night. It was so quiet, and we had so much help for once (including new cashiers who were being trained), I managed to shelve an entire cart of candy in an hour and a half. I've never done that before. I think most people are now at the malls or getting ready for parties or baking. It'll pick up more when we get closer to Christmas and Hanukkah.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Wrapping Up the Holidays

Spent the morning wrapping the remaining presents. There were only four left - Jessa's, Dad's, Collyn's, and one for Lauren. All of the presents but Lauren's went in the back room. I usually leave them under the tree, but there's too many stuffed animals under there this year. All of the presents but Lauren's went in the back room. Lauren's will be sent out on Monday with everything else I'm sending in the mail for Christmas this year.

Ran 'Twas the Night Before Christmas while having a very quick lunch of canned chicken soup. This is yet another Rankin-Bass special, this time done in regular 2D animation. The children of Junctionville are upset when Santa Claus returns their letters, and their parents are even less happy. Seems that he's offended by a letter someone wrote calling him a "fraudulent lie." Turns out the author of the letter was a brainy little mouse who thinks he's too smart to believe in magic. That little mouse gets a lesson in thinking with your heart when he helps the clockmaker who owns his home fix his Santa-calling clock on Christmas Eve.

Not the best Rankin-Bass ever did, but still really cute. There's some nice music, too, including "Give Your Heart a Try" and "Even a Miracle Needs a Hand."

I left for work early to hit the post office and send my nephew Collyn's birthday present and find a PSP game for my brother Keefe for Christmas. Alas, even at 1:30, the line at the Audubon Post Office was way too long to stand in. I had to work at 2. I had no luck at the Game Stop in the Audubon Crossings Shopping Center, either. They didn't have a very good selection of PSP games, and none looked terribly interesting. I just went straight to work after that.

Work, at the very least, went better than Wednesday. It was on-and-off busy, and there were no major problems. Good thing, too. I had a lot of shopping to do, especially since I plan on devoting a lot of next week to cookie baking. I had to restock white sugar and flour and pick up peanut butter, coconut, maraschino cherries, and chocolate chips for the cookies. There was a good sale on Pam Cooking Spray and Blue Diamond Almonds, too.

The Acme is selling bags of boxes for cookie exchanges this year. Perfect. They'll be much easier to carry around than the awkward tins and plastic containers. I bought three and will pick up more if necessary.

My schedule next week is pretty good. 8:30 is the latest I work, and this is the first time in months I've had two days off in a row, Monday and Tuesday.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Balance and a Philadelphia Christmas

It was still cloudy when I rushed out the door this morning for yoga class. I barely made it on time, but it was worth it. I needed it after all the trouble yesterday! Class went fairly well. We concentrated on inversions and working our shoulders and stomachs. Not my best moves, but I did get a nice stretch in my hamstrings.

There wasn't much to do at the Collingswood Library when I arrived after class, which was probably just as well. I had other things I wanted to get done today. I shelved a few DVDs and did a quick organizing job. I also donated records I didn't want or had accidentally bought extras of from yard sales, which I've been meaning to do for months now.

After I left the library, I rode right over to the PATCO train station. By this time, the clouds had vanished, and it was a brisk, sunny day (though not quite as cold as I thought it would be, probably in the mid to upper 40s). It was the perfect day for Christmas shopping in the city. I hopped a half-full train into Philadelphia around 11:30.

After running into huge crowds at Macy's and on Market Street during the lunch hour last year at Christmas, I learned my lesson. This time, I got off at 12th Street and started with lunch at Mama Angelina's, a basic pizza parlor about a block from the train entrance. I had a slice of cheese, a slice of vegetable, and a very small Diet Pepsi.

Mama Angelina's is a block from the Avenue of the Arts. I was at the FYE near City Hall in no time. It took me a while, but I did find the things I wanted to here. I picked up my sister Rose's present, and something Mom told me my stepdad wanted. I couldn't find anything I thought he'd like for almost an hour and a half...until I happened to look at a display in front of the upstairs DVD section and see the perfect thing.

I spent the next half-hour wandering around Philadelphia. I wanted to go to the Shops at Liberty Place, but I got lost. When I finally did find the building, the Toys R Us and book store that were there last year were gone. The only stores Liberty Place had were clothing stores. There was absolutely nothing of interest anymore, so I moved on in annoyance.

Headed down to City Hall and made a right turn onto Market Street. This time, Macy's was busy, but nothing out of the ordinary. I was able to buy my presents for Jessa with no wait in line. There was a short line for the Dickens Village, but it wasn't going half-way across the building. This year, they had people in Victorian costumes greeting guests as they passed through the lines. I thought it was a nice touch.

The "Dickens Village" is an Audio-Animatronic-style display that shows scenes and snippets from A Christmas Carol. It's really cool to see all the little details they add, like references to other Charles Dickens novels (such as the Pickwick Club or Mr. Micawber being the seller of the prize goose). Kids love the black-light room you walk through right before the end, after Scrooge has been shown his future.

Got downstairs just in time to catch most of the Macy's Light Show. I always enjoyed seeing footage of this Philadelphia holiday tradition on Channel 6 as a child. I'm so thrilled to really be able to see it in person! Everyone in the enormous main floor oohed and ahhed as sugar plum fairies danced, snowmen waved their arms, clocks ticked in time to the music, and the fabulous tree glowed with hundreds of glittering LED lights. Julie Andrews does the narration.

Here's an older version of the show sans the tree.

Left Macy's as soon as the show ended. I made my way back to Market Street, then down to the Gallery Mall. I still had to shop for most of the kids on my list, including my two older nephews. I got incredibly lucky. One of the first things I saw after entering the Gallery Mall was a huge Toys R Us Express. It's the only one I've seen so far this year. They didn't rent a store in Audubon again. Despite the crowds, I was easily able to find presents for my nephew Collyn, my younger cousin CJ, and my two pre-teen and young teen cousins Ethan and Matt.

I had one kid left on my list. I stopped at Books-a-Million to find a book on space for my nephew Skylar, who apparently loves space and space exploration. It took me a while, but I finally found a short book that was simple enough for a 7-year-old.

The Books-a-Million in the Gallery Mall is actually pretty close to the entrance to the 8th Street PATCO. It was around 4PM when I hopped on a standing-room-only train back to Collingswood. I'm surprised at how little time it took to shop this year. I don't think it was even four hours. I'll remember to start at 12th Street instead of 8th Street next year, too, especially if I take the train later in the day.

When I got in, I spent a couple of hours wrapping presents. I had a late dinner of leftovers and honey-glazed carrots while running one of my favorite Rankin-Bass specials, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and baked banana bread as it finished. A tired Santa opts to take a year off when it seems like no one cares about Christmas. His wife, two elves, and a little boy from a town in the American Deep South are determined to prove otherwise, come heck or interference from the Miser Brothers, who control heat and cold and are constantly at war with each other and anyone who seems to support one brother over the other!

I get a kick out of this one. It's a tad campy, with the Miser Brothers' numbers looking like something out of an early TV variety show, but not as bizarre as some later Rankin-Bass specials. I especially like Shirley Booth as Mrs. Claus.