Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Have a Shiny New Year

Began the last day of 2013 with two quick cartoons as I prepared for a relatively early work day. In Kung Fu Panda Holiday, Po has been given the honor of hosting the big Winter Feast at the Dragon Palace. However, to do so, he'll have to miss his father's family get-together at his restaurant. Po knows nothing about fancy dinners and is run ragged trying to get everything together and fend off a bunny chef who thinks he has to defend his honor...until he remembers the meaning of teamwork and being with the ones you love.

Ruby is also having party problems in "Ruby's Surprise Party." She wants to hold a big surprise bash for her best friend Louise, but Max keeps making her jump out of her hiding spot too early. All he wants is that chocolate-raspberry cake Grandma baked!

Work was a mess all day long. First of all, I took out a full trash yesterday...and found it on the ground this morning. The feral cats must have gotten into it. I had to pick that up and was almost late. Second, it's the beginning of the month. Third, people were preparing for New Year's parties and large dinners. Fourth, all the news stations are blaring snow reports, even though we're supposed to get less than an inch, and the real problem will be literally freezing temperatures. I spent most of the afternoon stressed and frustrated. I was glad to grab cheese on a good sale, along with aluminum foil and sparkling apple-cranberry cider and heavy whipped cream for tonight, and hurry home.

When I got in, I changed into regular clothes, then made my own New Year's Eve dinner. Sliced sweet potatoes and put them in with the ham, along with the leftover sliced apples from Rose's party last week. Defrosted green beans and almonds and made "French Salad" (lettuce with home-made dressing). It came out delicious, perfect and moist and just sweet enough.

Ran cartoons all evening as I baked and cooked. Everyone's favorite red-nosed reindeer finds himself chasing the unhappy baby New Year who has fled because of his big ears in the odd Rankin-Bass tale Rudolph's Shiny New Year. Chuck's not happy with how he has to spend his New Year either in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown. He has to write a book report on War and Peace, even as Peppermint Patty begs him to take her to her big New Year's Eve shindig.

Moved to shorts as I did the dishes. It takes a little spinach to give Olive's grandma enough vitality to join Popeye in a New Year's Eve dance contest in "Let's Celebrake." Popeye and Olive try to get Bluto to stop sabotaging their nightclub routine in "Morning, Noon, and Nightclub." Jerry is a "Mouse In Manhattan" when he flees the country and Tom for the bright lights of New York City. Mickey Mouse proves to be one heck of a party animal when his wild get-together even gets the furniture dancing in "The Whoopee Party."

Did two Good Eats episodes on snack food as I used Alton Brown's method for popping popcorn - a simple metal mixing bowl with oil on the bottom and foil on the top. I ran "Pop Art" and "Pretzel Logic" as I made my New Year's snack. Though I did burn the bottom of the bowl a little (as I feared), the popcorn came out surprisingly edible.

I also got the first items of my Amazon.com orders today. I really needed a new cordless phone. My old Panasonic is from when I first moved in. It was a bit clunky, and the screen had died. (The reviews on Amazon mentioned that's a problem with this particular model after six years or so. I've had it for seven.) I have another Panasonic, this one more streamlined, with larger buttons and a light-up face. I also got the most adorable WebKinz Lil' Kinz Lamb - I named her Sharri, after puppeteer Sharri Lewis, whose most famous creation was Lambchop.

I'm off to make whipped syllabub and wait for the cacophony that is the fireworks over the river. I hope all of my regular readers have a wonderful New Year's and a safe and happy 2014!

Monday, December 30, 2013

That's Laundry

I got up early so I could get the laundry done today. I won't have the time to do it until Thursday, and that's really too late. I needed clean work clothes. Thankfully, the laundromat was busy, but not as crazy as last week when I arrived, and the weather was cloudy and damp but not rainy. Helped that I had a small load, too. I was in and out in less than an hour.

I had just enough time to get home, put everything away, change into my work clothes, throw muffins and an apple into my lunch bag, and hurry to work. Work was on-and-off steady all day, sometimes pretty busy. We had plenty of help, and there were no major problems. I was able to hurry home at 5PM; thankfully, it had slowed down enough by then for me to leave without a relief.

When I got in, I made baked Italian-breaded chicken fillets and honey glazed carrots for dinner while finishing the first That's Entertainment. I generally tend to put on this or the third Entertainment documentary on the MGM musicals of the 30s, 40s, and 50s as background music when I'm busy or don't feel like watching anything else. Yeah, I know almost all of these films can be found in full now either on DVD or in the Warner Archive, but it's still fun to see them strung together, with a huge raft of hosts (almost all now passed on) gushing about how great it was to work there. Great fun for fans of musicals, not a bad rental for casual fans who want a general overview of MGM musicals in particular or Hollywood musicals of the "Golden Era" in general.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's Eagles Time

And...woohooooo! The Eagles just squeaked past the Cowboys 24-22 to make it into the playoffs! They'll play the Saints here in Philly next week and knocked the Cowboys out of contention. : D


Come Together

Started a gloomy, rainy morning with the last Brunch With the Beatles of 2013. In addition to George's "Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New," they always finish the year with "A Decade of #1 Hits." Among the Beatles songs heard that made it to the top in the US were "She Loves You," "We Can Work It Out," "A Hard Day's Night," "Yesterday," "Penny Lane," "Something," "Come Together," "Let It Be," and "The Long and Winding Road."

Called Mom around 11:30. She was in a good mood, having spent a fun evening with her grandsons. 5-year-old Collyn rarely sleeps over, but he seemed to have fun. She was going to spend a rainy day at home, baking. She was very happy to have spent Christmas Day with us and had nothing but praise for my home and Rose's and how well everything went.

It was still pouring, even after I called Mom. There was no way around it. I had to call for a ride to work. I tried for Rose, but she wasn't in. I then went for Jodie. She was going into Philadelphia with her sons, but said Jessa could give me a ride. I spent the remaining 40 minutes or so listening to my soft rock CD set and reading.

Work was mildly steady, surprising for a Sunday with a huge Eagles-Cowboys game. The rain and the game being moved to 8:30 likely kept a lot of people at home. It was so quiet and we had so much help, I spent the last hour shelving candy. There were no major problems, and I got out with no fuss. It was wet but no longer raining when I got out; Jessa still drove me home.

I listened to the rest of the soft rock CD as I made a mushroom and cheese omelet for dinner, then switched to Barbara Cook's The Disney Album as I climbed into a short but much-needed bath. I read a couple of American Girl book set in the week between Christmas and New Year's, or on or directly after New Year's. Happy New Year, Julie! has the groovy 70s girl frustrated with her divorced parents not being together during Christmas and her teenage sister's anger with her father. Her best friend Ivy invites her to her family's Chinese New Year's celebration. Julie hopes her family will be able to get along...and learns about good fortune and new beginnings.

Civil War-era girl Addy also faces family separation in Changes for Addy. She and her family are still trying to find their aunt, uncle, and baby sister, who fled the plantation where they were slaves after the war ended. Addy now lacks the support of her best friend Sarah as well. Sarah has had to leave school and work to help her family. When her family does make it to Philadelphia, it isn't quite the happy reunion that she'd hoped for. Reading the Emaciation Proclamation on New Year's Eve at her local church gives her courage and reminds her that even though some of them are only there in spirit, she and her family are still free.

Ruthie Smithens loves fairy tales, fantasy, and princesses...things that are all in short supply in Great Depression-era Cincinnati. When her best friend Kit's family faces foreclosure if they don't get money fast, Ruthie proves that she can be Really, Truly Ruthie and provide a happy ending by going to Kit's Aunt Millie in the Appalachians and getting the money herself.

After I got out of the bath, I went right online to watch the Eagles-Cowboys game. Right now, the score is 17-13 in the beginning of the second half, but the teams are pretty evenly-matched, and it really could be anyone's game. I really hope the Eagles win. If they win, they'll go onto the playoffs and play the Saints next week.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sooner Or Later, She Always Gets Her Man

Started a sunny, breezy day with the last American Top 40 re-run of the year. Today's special episode covered the first half of the top 100 songs of 1981. Favorites from that year included "Hey Nineteen" by Steely Dan, "America" and "Hello Again" by Neil Diamond from the soundtrack of his remake of The Jazz Singer, "Hungry Heart" by Bruce Springsteen, "Sweetheart" by Frankie and the Knockouts, "How 'Bout Us?" by Champaign, "For Your Eyes Only" from the James Bond movie of that title by Sheena Easton, "It's My Turn" and "I'm Comin' Out" by Diana Ross, "Hearts" by Marty Balin, "Boy From New York City" by the Manhattan Transfer, and "You Make My Dreams Come True" and the remake of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" by Hall & Oates.

I only had one errand to run today, but it was an important one. I had to ride to the PNC branch in Collingswood to deposit the money Dad gave me Christmas Day. Between that and two excellent paychecks coming next week and the week after, I should have more than enough money to pay my Comcast bill and get the rent in at a decent time...and even if my hours go down in January (which they usually do), I should have tax return money coming in late January-early February. Not to mention, February is the single busiest month of the year at the Acme, thanks to everything from bad weather to lots of events and holidays packed into a short month.

It wasn't busy and I was able to deposit the money quickly, but I did have to ride to and from there. That's why I switched to direct deposit after the PNC in Oaklyn shut down. It would just be too much to run there every week to put money in the bank. I hurried around after I got in, preparing for work and eating a fast lunch. I had just enough time for a Backyardigans episode. "International Super Spy" wasn't their first spy spoof. "Secret Mission" from the first season goes the sneakier Mission: Impossible route. Uniqua, Pablo, and Tyrone infiltrate a museum to find out where a tiny piece belongs and how to get it back to its owner without setting off various alarms.

Work was on-and-off busy all day. There were a few annoying beginning-of-the-month customers (including a few who forgot money and held up lines), but otherwise, there were no major problems besides a lack of help. It did slow down enough by 5 PM for me to leave without a relief.

I went straight home after work. Made salmon in lemon-wine sauce with sauteed mushrooms and broccoli and sliced strawberries from Rose's Christmas party for dinner. Put on Dick Tracy as I ate. This 1990 adaptation of the popular comic strip takes us into the primary-colored world of the rough-and-ready cop of the title (Warren Beatty). Tracy's ready to shake down Big Boy Caprice (Al Pacino), but Big Boy keeps evading his grasp. He wants Caprice's moll Breathless Mahoney (Madonna) to testify against him, but she likes her life - and Tracy - a bit too much. Meanwhile, Caprice is trying to get Tracy out of the way, and Tracy is trying to deal with the orphan kid he found who keeps following him around and his girlfriend Tess Trueheart (Glenn Headley) who just wants him to settle down. It all comes to an explosive conclusion on New Year's Eve, when both men confront a third party who seems to be determined to bring down their lives and careers.

Listening to Madonna's Breathless CD this morning before I went to Collingswood inspired me to put on this movie. I've always gotten a kick out of it. Mom took Rose and me to see this when it came out in the summer of 1990, and we played "Dick Tracy" with our buddies for the rest of vacation. For all the fun the cast is having with the script (especially Pacino and Madonna), the best part of this movie by far is the eye candy. It won deserved Oscars for the amazing makeup and sets that recreated Tracy's vibrant comic-strip world. Worth checking out for fans of comic-book movies, the cast, Stephan Sondheim (his original song "Sooner or Later" won another Oscar), or the original Tracy comics or serials.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Happy New Year's Blues

Started out an early morning with some more Sailor Moon. We move to the end of the first season as the Soldiers, now on the warpath against evil Queen Beryl, find themselves on the Moon. Amid the ruins of a devastated monarchy, they find the spirit of Queen Serenity, the last ruler of the former Moon Kingdom and Sailor Moon's late mother. Serenity explains that thousands of years ago, the five girls were warriors and princesses in their own planets, and Serena's boyfriend Darien was a prince of Earth who was suspected to be a spy. While Serena carried on a forbidden love affair, the Moon Kingdom was attacked and destroyed by Beryl's minions. Queen Serenity used the last of her strength to send the Soldiers, cats, and Darien to a more peaceful future on Earth.

I wish I could have stayed with the Soldiers. Today was my early work day. It was quiet when I got in at 9, but by the time 3 PM rolled around, the crowds were much heavier. It's almost the beginning of the month, too, which meant we had some fun people to deal with, including the type who won't bag. There was also a college student leaving at the same time as me; they sent the incoming college student in for him and had to call another from the floor so I could get out on time.

I went to Rue 21 after I finally squeezed out of the Acme. I saw a small backpack in a nifty red southwestern print that would be perfect to replace my old blue backpack that I use for grocery runs and short trips. The place was a disaster area, possibly due to the 50% off all merchandise sale that was going on, and the line was very long. I didn't see the backpack on the wall of purses, and I couldn't find anyone to ask. (And I will add that, other than the silly ripped jeans, I actually liked some of Rue 21's clothes. Fashion seems to be improving these days. They had some skirts I liked in a cute floral print, but I couldn't find plus sizes. Some of the southwestern-themed jewelry and blouses weren't bad, either.)

Returned to work after about a half-hour to do my grocery shopping. I didn't have nearly as much as last week. Had to restock my sugar, butter, honey, cocoa, milk, and eggs after last week's baking. Bought a nice little sliced ham for my New Year's dinner. I was out of toilet paper and almost out of toothpaste. Rose's huge bag of fruit from her party did save me from having to buy a lot of produce; I just picked up bananas and grapefruit. Also grabbed my second calender, this one for the wall in the hallway between the entertainment area and the bathroom. I liked the simple, bold "Inspire" calender from this year so much, I got another one for next year.

This week's schedule was more annoying. On one hand, once again, I have no really late hours - the latest I work is until 8 on Thursday. On the other hand, once again, the Thursday shift is 7 hours, and I don't have another day off until next Friday! I don't know why it would have killed them to at least give me Monday off. I don't mind working New Year's Eve and New Year's Day (they're not my favorite holidays), but that means I don't have a day off for 10 days! I hate it when I have to work that long. I end up insanely stressed. Not to mention, working in the mornings means I won't have the time to get a lot of things done. Once again, everyone went on vacation and they're short-handed. They really, really need to be stricter about when people can go on vacation, so ten people don't end up doing all the work.

I was so frustrated and disappointed when I got home, I put on Help! as I baked a Red Velvet Cake to make myself feel better. The Beatles' second movie moves them into color and something resembling a plot. The fab quartet inadvertently become involved with an Indian cult when the cult's most recent victim sends Ringo a ring that indicates that the wearer is to be killed. Poor Ringo can't get the ring off his finger, no matter how hard he and the others try. When the cult attacks, they first go to an Indian restaurant, then to mad scientists who end up wanting the ring for themselves, then to Scotland Yard. Between weird jokes, we get some of the Beatles' best songs, including "Ticket To Ride," "Eight Days a Week," the title song, and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away."

Of the two Beatles movies I've seen, I mildly prefer this one to the less surreal Hard Day's Night. This feels more like a feature-length Monty Python skit or the kind of movie the Monkees should have made instead of the rather bitter Head. The cast of British character comedians are having a great time with the material, including Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear as the goofy but determined "mad" scientists. In fact, the only people who aren't terribly happy are the Beatles themselves. None of them were thrilled with the weird plot, ridiculous Indian stereotypes, or the fact that they were right and they do sometimes seem like extras in their own film.

Despite the Beatles' own misgivings, I still highly recommend this one, especially for Beatles fanatics or fans of the early James Bond films (there's a lot of spy spoofs here), British comedy, or the swinging 60s.

Switched to The Backyardigans as I made leftovers and sauteed broccoli and mushrooms for dinner. The Beatles aren't the only ones who got involved with some really strange international intrigue. In the second season double-length spy spoof "International Super Spy," Pablo is a James-Bond-esque secret agent who likes his apple juice shaken, not stirred, and has a car with an array of gadgets for every occasion. He's sent on an assignment by Miss T (Tasha) to retrieve three special containers. The Lady In Pink (Uniqua) and her hench-moose Tyrone follow his every move, hoping to snare the containers for their own diabolical purposes.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

'Twas the Day After Christmas

Started a semi-cloudy morning with two of the Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins I made yesterday and A Hard Day's Night. The book I got from Linda and James yesterday has inspired me to pull out my two Beatles movies and a bunch of CDs and records. Hard Day's Night was the first movie the Beatles did, and is more-or-less a fictional documentary of life for the Fab Four during the height of Beatlemania. As the quartet run from girls and are shuffled from train to room to car to TV studio, they try to keep an eye on Paul's mischievous grandfather, a "keen mixer." Grandpa is the one who finally prods Ringo, who is tired of being teased by the others, into running off right before the big show.

I'm probably one of the few fans who prefer Help!, which is in color and has a better cast and plot, but this is fun, too. If nothing else, it gives those of us who weren't around in the 60s something of an idea of just how huge the Beatles really were in 1964. There's some great lines, too. George gets my favorite: "What do you call that haircut you're wearing?" "Arthur." A must-see for fans of classic rock, the Beatles, or the swinging 60s.

Threw on a first season Sailor Moon episode as I got ready for work. Serena and Raye compete in the Miss Moon Princess skiing event in the first season show "Ski Bunny Blues," but they hit a lot more than a rough course when it all turns out to be a Negaverse plot.

Work was surprisingly quiet all day long. The head manager was worried that we'd be busy, but it's the day after Christmas. Everyone's at the malls, returning unwanted gifts or using gift cards. I was worried that we'd be short on help. We weren't. We had so much help, I spent half the day shelving candy or doing returns. I was in and out with no problems whatsoever, with equipment or customers.

I wasn't up to any kind of cooking after a 7-hour shift, even just throwing together leftovers. I went out to Tu Se Bella's behind the Acme for a slice of cheese pizza, a slice of broccoli and tomato, and a bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper. I got lucky. A crowd just left the tables in the front as I was getting my dinner. I ate in peace and quiet.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

And So This Is Christmas

It was sunny and clear but more seasonably chilly as I awoke this morning. I read a few stories from Tales Told Under the Christmas Tree first. Along with more famous stories, like "Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus," my favorite segment was "December." A father takes his children and their surprised old-maid cousin to the seashore for Christmas. They stay at a beach-side house, decorate a tree with sea shells, and explore the shore line. It reminded me of the lovely, windy winter walks I used to take on the beach as an older child and when I lived in Wildwood.

After I finished my journal, I opened my presents. Linda and James Young always give me a couple of presents to open on Christmas morning. This year's "stocking stuffer" was a really cool book on the Beatles with a lovely padded silver cover.  The large, flat gift was a sweet daybook; Linda suggested I could use it to write down happy things that had happened to me day by day. That bumpy package that was so intriguing was a much-needed container for yarn. It'll probably end up holding all of my current crocheting projects and get them out of that basket I keep tipping over.

Ran A Christmas Story as I made Banana-Chocolate Chip-Coconut Muffins for breakfast. It's become a tradition for me to run this one sometime during Christmas Day (in the morning the last few years). It's December 1940, and all normal midwestern kid Ralphie Parker wants is a Red Ryder BB Gun. He does everything he can to secure this big present, from writing an essay on it for his none-too-amused teacher to telling Santa Claus. In the end, it comes from the least-likely source. Meanwhile, his father battles with local dogs and the family furnace, Ralphie does his best to out-run bullies, and his mother tries to figure out what to make of it all.

I headed to Rose's around 11:15 for her Christmas Day brunch. This year, they were holding it at their new home a couple of blocks from me on Kendall. I figured I'd get there quicker and simpler if I just walked, especially since I had no idea what I was doing later. I arrived at the same time Craig's brother Keith, his girlfriend Jamie, and their sweet old golden retriever Grace did.

I offered to help Rose in the kitchen. She was doing her best to set up the wassail punch and the vegetable and fruit trays and frost cookies at the same time. I frosted the butter cookies while 3-year-old Khai put the sprinkles on (after dumping more than a little in his mouth). Rose's kitchen sinks looked like a bomb exploded in them; they were wall-to-wall dishes and cups. I did the dishes for a grateful Rose while she greeted Craig's mother and stepfather and Jamie's stepmother and father.

The party went very well. Khai loved his presents from everyone. The biggest hits were the remote control fish from Craig's parents (a blow-up clown fish with a swishing tail that could be moved around by remote control) and the markers Mom gave him that could draw on windows. Everyone ended up creating their own Christmas scenes (or scribbles, in Khai's case) on Rose's many living room and front porch windows.

Yes, Mom and Dad-Bill did finally arrive, around quarter after 1. Despite Mom's misgivings, all of the grandparents seemed to get along just fine. Dad-Bill had new people to tell his many fishing stories to, and he and Dad-Bruce swapped old sailor stories. Both sets of parents are in the midst of expensive remodeling and don't have much money, so I didn't get a lot of presents. Mom gave me the home-made cookies she brought up on Sunday, along with an Amazon.com gift card. Dad-Bruce gave me $200.

Poor Khai finally started to drop off around 4:30, after running around, playing with his new voice-activated dinosaur robot, and watching Dreamworks animated movies on FX all day. (I caught bits and pieces of How to Train Your Dragon, Madagascar 2: Escape From Africa, and Shrek Forever After.)  Dad-Bill, Mom, and I were among the last people to leave. They drove me home. I finally got to show them, if just briefly, my apartment. They admired the view, the woodwork, and how I'd organized everything.

Jodie and Dad-Bruce invited me to Jodie's family's big Christmas dinner. To be honest, between the Acme's party last Saturday, Dad's party last night, and Rose's party, I was stuffed to the gills and just not up to it. I opted to spend the rest of the night on my own instead. I went for a brief but lovely walk down to Goff Avenue to watch the sun set rosily behind chenille clouds. I took a nice, long bath while looking over my new Beatles book. I chatted with Lauren and listened to some of my Beatles LPs and CDs.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas doing things that were equally enjoyable and relaxing. : )

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Is Waiting

Though the warm weather over the past couple of days helped to get some things done, I was equally grateful when I awoke to chilly winds and sunny skies this morning. It felt a lot more like Christmas Eve. I finished out my annual reading of A Christmas Carol, then had shredded wheat and grapefruit for breakfast.

Made a pumpkin mousse pie for Jodie (the last thing I have to make for anyone for Christmas) while running Remember WENN's second-season holiday episode "Christmas In the Airwaves." The staff and cast of WENN is looking forward to a merry Christmas in 1940...until the arrival of the station's owner, a depressed singer who lost her husband the year before, and her obnoxious financier, puts a crimp in their plans. Now they all have to find a way to make sure their Christmas Eve variety show stays on schedule and show their boss that Christmas is a wonderful time to begin to heal.

(And for those of you who are fans of this show, here's the long-lost holiday page for my WENN site. Be warned, though, I haven't updated the fanfiction links in years; many of these may no longer work.

WENN Holiday Page )

I made crocheted star ornaments and watched some more animated and kids' specials and shorts before work. A Charlie Brown Christmas shows what happens when everyone's favorite "round-headed kid" looks for the Christmas spirit, and finds it in a tiny tree and the touching speech from his best friend. It's Christmas Eve On Sesame Street, but Big Bird's worried that Santa might not fit down those skinny New York chimneys. While he and one of the kids try to figure out how Santa will be able to deliver presents, Ernie and Bert sell some very special items to buy gifts, and Cookie Monster attempts to write to Santa..with limited success.

I also took a few more photos of my dolls tonight, so Jessa (modern Asian American Girl doll) could show off the beautiful blue holiday dress Lauren found at a yard sale in the area.

Christmas Eve at the Riverside Rest

As you can probably guess, work was very busy all day. Despite that, most people were in very good moods as they completed their Christmas shopping. They had food in the back room, too, three huge cookies with icing and an apple cake. In fact, our biggest problem had nothing to do with customers. The debit card system kept going down on and off. We'd have people signing debit cards or having to pay in 100 dollar increments. The computers were running slow, too. I was shut down 20 minutes early so mine could be rebooted and hopefully gotten up to speed.

There was an orange plastic bag (the kind used for newspapers on the front stoop) tied to my front door knob when I got home. It was a gift from my next-door neighbors. I got a lovely, rustic clay candleholder and a bag of what looks (and tastes) like home-made peppermint bark.

I ran a few more specials and shorts as I changed and prepared for Dad's party. The Looney Tunes short "Gift Wrapped" has Sylvester thinking Tweety is an edible present for him. He's really a present for Granny, who spends her Christmas trying to keep Sylvester from chasing Tweety and out of the mouth of Spike the Dog. Charlie Brown and the gang have more holiday fun in It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, as Chuck sells wreaths to buy a gift for the Little Red Haired Girl, Peppermint Patty and Marcie appear in their local pageant, and Sally discovers that learning lines is a lot harder than it seems.

I headed back out just as twilight was ending. It was windy and cold, but I didn't mind the walk. I just enjoyed being out and about and pushing a cart filled with gifts on Christmas Eve. I strolled around the neighborhood between the train tracks and the White Horse Pike, looking at lights. There were some really nice ones, from cute penguin blow-ups to flashing icicles. At one point, when I was passing the now-empty former Taco Bell, it even started to snow briefly. I sang Christmas songs as I walked; one man praised my Christmas spirit as I went by his apartment building.

I finally got to Dad's around quarter of 6. His house was already filled with people, and more arrived after I did, including Mark, Vanessa, and Brittany. I gave Mark and Vanessa, Jessa, Dad, and Jodie my gifts for them tonight - I'm afraid they might get lost at Rose's tomorrow. My sister Rose and her son Khai were there, too. Khai was happy as can be, chasing some of our neighbors' kids around the den, running into them and squealing and laughing and getting out energy. I ate tons of food, including turkey, pasta salad, lasagna, a pepper salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and several kinds of cookies.

Khai was worn out even before ABC started showing How the Grinch Stole Christmas. They left just as it began; I went home after it ended, stopping briefly around a corner to drop off one more present at my friend Erica's house.

If you're not going to be online tomorrow, here's hoping you have a really wonderful Christmas! Enjoy the holiday season, everyone!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Little December Showers

Started off a very wet morning with a couple of animated specials. The Bear family is looking forward to a grand holiday in The Bernstein Bears' Christmas Tree. Papa wants to take the cubs to chop down a tree in the wilderness. Not only do the trees they choose house animals, but a snowstorm in the mountains makes their search even more difficult. When they come down to the valley, they're dismayed to discover that the local tree lot has sold out...but the animals whose homes they spared have a surprise waiting for them when they get back home.

Bugs Bunny's Christmas Tales is an animated anthology of three original Looney Tunes holiday tales. The first story is a very condensed version of A Christmas Carol, with Yosemite Sam as Scrooge, Bugs as Nephew Fred, Porky as Bob Cratchit, and Tweety as Tiny Tim. The second gives us some snow-in-the-desert antics with Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner as the "Supah Genius" tries to catch his Christmas dinner. Bugs returns for the third with his little nephew Clyde in tow, as the two await Santa. Neither of them are expecting Santa to be a Tasmanian Devil dressed in Santa's red suit and hoping to eat the two rabbits out of house, home, and presents.

A Walt Disney Christmas is a collection of popular Disney winter and Christmas themed theatrical shorts. Santa prepares for the big day and delivers toys in the Silly Symphonies "The Night Before Christmas" and "Santa's Workshop." Donald and his nephews start a snow war that gets out of hand in "Donald's Snow Fight." Two Victorian lovers have an adventure while skating in "Once Upon a Wintertime." Mickey finds himself and Pluto dealing with two unannounced house guests who wreck havoc on their holiday in "Pluto's Christmas Tree."

I called Mom during the cartoons. She was finishing up the last of her own baking. She made seven kinds of cookies this year, and like me, will be giving them away. Her favorite seems to be a shortbread recipe she got out of her old Betty Crocker cookbook that's so melt-in-your-mouth, she can only eat one a day...or she'll eat them all in one sitting. We discussed the football games yesterday (Mom is also a fan of the Redskins - they just barely lost to the Cowboys by one point, 24-23), the shopping she still has to do (Dad is very hard to shop for, which is why I usually just give him and Mom cookies), and the gifts I've received from my friends. She and Dad are absolutely coming up for Rose's Christmas Day brunch; Anny may join us, too.

It was still raining when I got off the phone with Mom. I still walked to the laundromat. There wasn't anything I could do about it. I don't have time to do the laundry any day but today. Despite the weather, the laundromat was really busy. I just barely got a washer, and it was one of the more expensive ones. I had an easier time getting a drier. There were people here, there, and everywhere. I guess I wasn't the only one who couldn't do their laundry any day but today. Thankfully, I didn't have a big load this time, and I picked a drier that worked. I was in and out in less than an hour.

When I got home, I put the laundry away as quickly as I could. Three shirts and one pair of socks had gotten damp walking home in the rain, but it could have been worse. At least I didn't have to hang up my whole load this time.

Ran The Bishop's Wife as I had leftovers for lunch, and later as I made Pumpkin Bread, the very last thing I have to bake. As with the Cranberry-Orange Bread, it's for Rose's Christmas Day brunch party. It came out beautifully, perfectly moist, and the apartment smelled great.

The wife in question in The Bishop's Wife is Julia (Loretta Young), who feels neglected while her husband (David Niven) tries to convince a rich older woman (Gladys Cooper) to fund a huge new cathedral that'll replace the rundown old parish. The bishop doesn't know what to think when an angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) appears in response to his prayers for guidance. Dudley proceeds to charm Julia, their daughter Debbie, their housemaid (Elsa Lancaster), their friend the Professor (Monty Wooley), and just about everyone around them. When the Bishop worries that Dudley may be trying to take Julia away, he finally begins to understand how much his gentle wife and child mean to him.

A lovely story with a fine cast. Both men do well as the frustrated bishop and suave angel, and Young is simply luminous as Julia. I haven't seen the remake The Preacher's Wife, but that also has a good cast, with Denzel Washington as Dudley, Don Cheadle as the bishop, and Whitney Houston as Julia. The original is gentle family fare or for nostalgic adults looking for something cozy to watch on Christmas Eve.

Did a few more cartoons as I got ready for work. Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey tells the tale of a little donkey with very long ears who is made fun of by everyone in the barnyard...until he's chosen by Joseph and Mary to take them on that fateful ride to Bethlehem. "Toy Tinkers" is a classic (and rather violent for Disney) Donald-Chip and Dale battle. Here, they're having a holiday war over Donald's bowls of nuts and candy.

Work, surprisingly, was only really crazy during rush hour. Otherwise, it was the same as yesterday, steady but not overwhelming. My relief was on time, and I was in and out with no problems. Even the weather cooperated. Both times, it was showering lightly when I left, but by the time I got where I was going, the rain had stopped.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Wonderful Christmastime

Began a rainy and ridiculously warm morning with this year's Brunch With the Beatles Christmas show. While the Beatles didn't do any Christmas music when they were together, they all did at least one holiday song solo, and Ringo put out a whole Christmas album in the 90s. They always kick the Christmas episode off with John's "Happy Xmas (The War Is Over)." We also heard Paul's "Wonderful Christmastime," George's "Ring Out the Old, Ring In the New" and Ringo's "The Christmas Dance" and "I Wanna Be Santa Claus." In addition to the Beatles' material, there were regular songs that came out during the holiday season, like "Something" and "I Feel Fine," and songs from an album by a studio group who calls themselves "The Fab Four" that re-recorded Beatles songs as Christmas tunes.

I made Banana Pancakes topped with Peppermint Whipped Cream Icing for a tasty breakfast. Tried calling Mom, but she had to run errands; I'll get her tomorrow. Called Rose instead to confirm when her brunch party is on Christmas Day. It starts at noon; I told her I'd come in about an hour earlier to help her set up the food and keep an eye on Khai.

Since the Eagles game had been moved to 8:30, I spent the rest of the afternoon listening to Christmas music and old-time radio. I have an episode of the James Stewart radio western The Six Shooter that revolves around Stewart telling an unhappy boy a western version of A Christmas Carol. The Scrooge here is a grouchy old landowner, his nephew runs a livery stable, Bob Cratchet is a cowboy, and Belle is a schoolmarm.

Did two more radio shows, along with music from The Glenn Miller Orchestra and Bing Crosby. Lauren sent me a huge stack of Red Skelton radio shows. A couple of Christmas episodes were on the top. I ran one from 1950. Junior appears in a pageant as a Christmas tree, which also features regular Red characters Deadeye (who cuts down the tree) and Clem (who sells it). The tree doesn't think he's doing anything meaningful, but Santa tells him otherwise when he reminds the "tree" what Eastern Bloc countries were going through during the Cold War.

Santa Bear's First Christmas is a really sweet kid cassette I found at a yard sale years ago. Kelly McGinnis narrates the story of a little lost polar bear who befriends a young girl and her grandfather. When the grandfather gets sick, the bear takes it on himself to gather firewood. He thinks he'll never get enough wood on his own...until he encounters a certain jolly old man in red who gives him a very special wish.

I baked Cranberry Orange Bread while I listened. This is the same Better Homes and Gardens recipe I used for Richard and his family's loaf. It came out just as well. The apartment smelled quite nice when I finally hurried out the door for work.

Work was on-and-off busy, helped by the later game and the iffy weather. There were big orders, but not a lot of them. It never got really overwhelming, and to be honest, I expected much worse. There were a few annoying customers, but the most annoying I heard thankfully was in the line behind mine. An older woman was shocked that her order came up to over 200 and refused to pay for it. She went back and forth for 10 minutes before finally leaving her entire order behind. You know, if you read the signs, you know how much the things you put in your cart are. If you're confused, ask questions.

Thankfully, it was quiet by the time I finished. I was able to get in and out with few problems. I didn't even need to eat the sandwich I packed. I enjoyed leftovers in the back room.

Oh, and no wonder the Acme cleared out so fast later. Right now, the Eagles are running right over the Chicago Bears, 33-11, at the beginning of the 4th quarter.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mele Kelekimaka

I couldn't believe how warm it was when I got up this morning, especially for the first day of winter. It was probably in the 60s by 9AM! I was fine in a t-shirt and light pants, even as I made breakfast and listened to the American Top 40. This week's episode was a holiday special covering popular Christmas songs from the 40s onwards. Among the songs we heard were Gene Autry's version of "Here Comes Santa Claus," Johnny Mathis' "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," the Ronettes' really swinging version of "Sleigh Ride," and Nat King Cole's cozy "The Christmas Song."

I spent the next hour and a half or so working on the icing for the Swirled Peppermint Cupcakes for Dad-Bruce and my landlord and his wife Andrew and Linda. I made "Daisy's Vanilla Cream Icing" from The Mickey Mouse Cookbook again this year, replacing the vanilla extract with peppermint extract and topping the cupcakes with crushed candy canes.

Ran a couple of holiday episodes of favorite animated and comedy shows and characters as I worked. The Monkees spread holiday cheer in their own way in their only holiday episode, "The Christmas Show" from the second season. Thinking they're going to be playing a Christmas gig, they find themselves babysitting an obnoxious rich boy for the holidays instead. The kid is unamused by their attempts to give him the Christmas spirit...until Mike Nesmith figures out what it is that he really wants.

"It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas," as you can guess, spoofs It's a Wonderful Life, right down to a familiar-sounding rabbit guardian angel named Harvey showing Buster what his life would be like if he was never on the show. They even have a black-and-white "clip" from the film. I wish I could have seen this when it came out in 1993, but we didn't have cable by that point. It's the last episode on the Tiny Toon Adventures Volume 4 DVD set; definitely worth a look if you're a fan of the show or of Wonderful Life.

The Pink Panther has less luck trying to earn money for a holiday meal in A Pink Christmas. He does everything from playing Santa to catching a robber, but never gets any money or food for his efforts...until he befriends a puppy and learns that kindness is its own reward.

The Backyardigans are also on the trail of Christmas thieves in "The Action Elves Save Christmas Eve," from their fourth and (to date) final season. Uniqua, Tasha, and Pablo are called by Santa Claus (voice of Conan O'Brian) to retrieve his magic sack from the goofy Abominable Brothers (Tyrone and Austin). The two didn't even know they took Santa's sack - they thought it was just something they could use to carry snowballs.

I went for a quick errand run after finishing the cupcakes. First off was a few present deliveries. My next-door neighbor Richard didn't appear to be home. I just left the bag with the card and Cranberry Bread for him and his family on their front door. My landlord Andrew was home, and I was able to give him the cupcakes for him and his wife Linda in person.

Rode over to Family Dollar next for a few things I forgot at the Acme yesterday. I'm out of soap, and Family Dollar had a huge bag of cough drops for two dollars. They were also having a buy one Christmas item, get the second half-off sale; I bought bags for Dad's cupcakes and Jodie's pudding pie. (Dad's bag ended up being fifty cents!)

Speaking of Dad and Jodie, I made a short stop at Dad's house on my way back. Jodie was working on the computer. Dad's still on a cruise ship job in Florida (he's a freelance cruise ship captain), but Jodie says he'll be home in time for their party on Christmas Eve.

When I got home, I swept the porch (which needed it badly - this is the first time I've seen most of the porch in weeks), then ran A Disney Channel Christmas while working on the Christmas coasters I'm crocheting for my apartment. They're going to replace the coasters I made as a child, which are by now dirty and gunky. I dubbed Disney Channel Christmas about two years ago, when Mom gave me the tapes we made in the late 80s. This is a combination of Disney's two earlier TV specials, Jiminy Cricket's Christmas and A Disney Christmas Gift, with some additional segments. (There's a sequence from Mickey's Christmas Carol that says it's "now in theaters," which dates this special's debut to about 1983.)  I always get a lump in my throat when Jiminy sings "When You Wish Upon a Star" at the end, surrounded by most of the Disney gang in the 60s.

I went to work an hour early, so I could enjoy the Acme's Christmas luncheon and bring my two boxes of cookies without having to rush. It's pretty much the same deal as the Thanksgiving Luncheon, only with red-and-green tablecloths and holiday-themed wrappers on the candy. As I did at Thanksgiving, I stuffed myself silly. I enjoyed the noodle casserole again (this time with the addition of shrimp), slices of Mexican-spiced cheese and turkey melts, Hershey's Special Dark mini-bars, a tasty black bean and corn salad, and a slice of Pineapple Cake for lunch. What little dinner I could fit in during my break included tortellini-spinach salad, turkey and gravy, and a half a slab of pumpkin bread.

Surprisingly, work wasn't that busy. It was steady early on, and some of the people who worked the early shift said the morning had been crazy. It began to die out even by the 4PM rush hour. By the time I left, it was quiet. There were no problems whatsoever coming or going.

Since it was still pretty warm when I left, I took a short ride to look at lights as I headed home. This time, I cruised around the neighborhood between the ramp onto the Black Horse Pike and the Oaklyn School. While most of the displays up there are smaller and not quite as elaborate as the ones on the other side of the School, many of them can do something the side down by the School can't - decorate their back porches and patios so that the lights reflect on the river.

Friday, December 20, 2013

It's a Wonderful Cookie

I began today with making Cranberry-Orange Bread for my neighbors while watching more holiday specials. Kung Fu Panda Holiday takes us back to China and the world of Po the Panda, the Dragon Warrior who taught the martial arts masters the meaning of heart. Now, he's been assigned to host the palace's big, elegant Winter Feast for the finest masters in the country. Po's excited at first, until he realizes that there's no fancy decorations or dancing allowed at the palace, and he won't be able to spend the Feast with his stork father. Though he tries hard be what everyone expects, he finally learns that feasts are more fun when you share the work and the rewards with those you love.

Moved to New York City for Night Court's first holiday-themed episode. "Santa Goes Downtown" is another variation on the "Is there a Santa?" question. Here, the Santa is an old derelict in a Santa suit who keeps insisting he's the big guy on the sleigh. Two runaways are brought into the court house and tries everyone's patience by not telling them their real names. It takes the man's knowledge of their names and their lives and Harry showing the boy (Michael J. Fox, just prior to Family Ties) that he cares to get the kids to feel a little less antagonistic towards their lives.

Switched to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation as I finished the bread and slid it in the oven. In the only Vacation film set entirely at the Grizwaulds' home, Clark is gearing up for a "fun old-fashioned family Christmas." Overzealous Clark proceeds to cover his house with lights, dig a gigantic tree out of the ground, and invite both sets of grandparents, despite the fact that they don't get along. Things get even wilder when his hillbilly cousin Eddie and his family turn up about half-way through and create even more chaos. When Christmas Eve becomes a series of disasters one after another, Clark finally snaps...before he realizes that there's a lot more to the holidays than trees, turkeys, and annoying cousins.

Along with A Christmas Story, this is probably the most famous Christmas comedy of the last 30 years. There's some scatological humor and language, but otherwise nothing that horrible; great for teens who are now on their own Christmas vacations and adults who have their own problems with lights, trees, and family get-togethers.

Returned to animation while eating soup for lunch. Since I just started reading A Christmas Carol this morning, I thought at least one version of that was in order. I went with a favorite of mine, Rankin Bass' The Stingiest Man In Town. This mid-70s 2-D animated version of a live-action TV musical from the 50s boasts some nice music and a really fine cast, including Walter Matthau as Scrooge, Dennis Day as Nephew Fred, Robert Morse as Young Scrooge, and Tom Bosley as insect narrator B.A.H Humbug.

Stayed on the same disc and went with another famous Christmas grouch as I got ready to run to the Acme. How the Grinch Stole Christmas takes us to holiday-loving Whoville, where all of the tiny citizens are preparing for the big day with noise, colorful decorations, and roast beast...except for the Grinch, who hates the noise and the fun. He enlists his reluctant dog Max, dresses as Santa, and rides into town to steal their goodies and ruin the holiday. But the Whos' resilient spirit finally proves to the Grinch that "maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."

The Acme was busy, though probably not as much as it will be this weekend. I had a big order today, and it took me nearly an hour to get it all done. In addition to restocking soup and ingredients for baked goods, like butter, cake mix, cooking spray, and flour, I needed cherries and coconut for the Cherry Coconut Bars, Cool Whip and a graham cracker crust for a pudding pie for Jodie and Dad's party on Christmas Eve, and vegetables, bananas, grapefruit, and chicken for meals this week. Good thing there were a lot of great sales this week, from buy-one-get-one on the Smart Balance 50/50 Sticks (and I had coupons) to a dollar for Cool Whip.

I'm not entirely thrilled with my schedule. While I do have Christmas Day off, that's also my only day off this week. Evidently, half the store decided to either go on vacation or emphasize their second jobs starting the day after Christmas, leaving us short-handed. I have more hours after Christmas than before it! One front end manager said the head manager was worried about it being busy after Christmas. I'm not worried about us being busy after Christmas. Most people don't start stocking up for New Year's parties until it gets a little closer to New Year's Eve. I'm more worried about us being short of help.

(On the other hand, I only have one really late shift on Sunday, and a later start on Monday will allow me to get the laundry done without rushing this time.)

Went straight home and spent the rest of the afternoon behind the stove, making the Cherry Coconut Bars and Swirled Candy Cane Cupcakes. Put on It's a Wonderful Life as I baked. George Bailey (James Stewart) has lived in the same small town all his life, running his father's loan business after his death. While he has a loving wife (Donna Reed) and children and lots of friends who live in the houses his loans have built, he feels like a failure because he never fulfilled his dreams of traveling and going to college. A kindly old angel (Henry Travers) whisks George to a bleak alternative universe where he was never born...and George finally realizes what a wonderful life he really has.

I like this ode to the importance of friendship and community, but it's not for everyone. If you don't agree with director Frank Capra's pro-small-town sentiments, you probably won't enjoy the film. (People didn't get it when it came out in 1947, either - it was a flop at the time.) Not to mention, the last 20 minutes or so are filmed like the mysteries in vogue then and are so depressing, I was 12 before I'd watch the movie straight through.

Did two religion-themed Rankin Bass specials as I made breaded chicken cutlets with sauteed sweet potatoes and asparagus for dinner. The Little Drummer Boy and The Little Drummer Boy Book II are the tales of Aaron, the orphan drummer of the title who wanders the Arabian desert with his beloved menagerie. In the original special, he learns about love when he brings his injured lamb to the Three Kings to be healed, and finds a "king among kings" who knows more about healing than even they do. Book II starts where the first one left off. Aaron travels with one of the kings to retrieve a collection of silver bells that will be used to announce the birth of baby Jesus. When Roman warriors steal the bells to pay taxes, Aaron takes his menagerie and heads into the camp to get them back. But the price of Aaron's heroism is high for him...

Went into the bath after the specials ended. Ahhh. That felt really nice. I listened to the Caberet Christmas CDs Lauren gave me a few days ago and read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. A little girl recounts how a family of hooligan kids crash their way into the local Christmas pageant...and inadvertently teaches everyone the true meaning of the nativity story in the process.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Light Up the Holidays

Started the day with an errand run, including stops at both libraries. I did the near-by Oaklyn Library first. It was about 10:30 when I got in. Other than a few people on the computers and the librarian, there wasn't a whole lot going on there. I organized the DVDs and gave the children's books a quick once-over before heading out.

It was a gorgeous day for a ride in Newton River Park. It was probably in the mid 40s, fairly normal for this time of year, and sunny and breezy as can be. The ice on the river is finally defrosting, and the snow was gone from most of the grass. Despite the nice day, I only saw a woman and her frisky dog out, along with a flock of Canadian geese poking around for an early lunch.

The Haddon Township Library was even quieter. I did my best to organize the kids' DVDs and try to get them all in, but the S shelf is still overflowing. One of the librarians said to stop removing duplicates - kids take them out. Great, but some of the duplicates are of older titles. Wouldn't it make more sense to free up some room by removing the older, probably scratched copy? And some of the kids' series really need to be thinned out. No matter how popular they are, they do not need 500 Scooby Doo or Pokemon DVDs. I had more luck with the adult titles. Cleared out a couple of foreign films, which actually fit in their slots for once.

I settled for taking out a few animated DVDs. I have plenty of holiday movies to watch this week. They just got in the newest Strawberry Shortcake DVD, Berry Bitty Mysteries. I also went with two holiday-themed shows, Max & Ruby's Christmas and Kung Fu Panda Holiday.

Went straight across the street to Friendly's for lunch after I finished at the library. It was past 1PM when I arrived. There were two grandmothers with their young daughters, but otherwise, it wasn't that busy. I watched the kids eat with their grandparents while enjoying a Turkey Club and French Fries and admired the decorations. The large nostalgic black-and-white photos of Westmont and Friendly's on the walls of the dining area were "wrapped" with shiny Christmas paper to look like presents, with tinsel garland and bows hanging on them.

I made a couple of quick stops next. Dollar Tree was busy again, and they didn't have nutmeg (which I'm almost out of) among their spices. I just left there without anything and went a couple of doors down to Thriftway instead. I wanted eggs and milk anyhow, and they have the cheapest brown eggs in the area. Their price on contact lens solution wasn't great, but I didn't feel like going anywhere else. Did better with vinegar - it's 99 cents for a bottle almost the size of the one at Dollar Tree.

Spent the rest of the afternoon and evening at home, working on the Molasses Roll-Outs and watching cartoons and movies. Started with Berry Bitty Mysteries. Suspense in all forms, as you can guess from the title, is the theme of this set. The first story has Orange Blossom scared of the monster from the story Blueberry Muffin was telling the Baby Berrykins earlier. When there's a blackout in Berry Bitty City, she lets her imagination run away with her...and eventually freaks the other girls out, too. The second story was my favorite. Blueberry Muffin gets so into the books about detective Patty Persimmon, she starts to dress like her and act like her...and neglect her friends in the process. (Considering how often I've obsessed over books and movies myself, I can understand how Blueberry got so carried away.) In the third story, Pupcake and Custard, feeling bored when Strawberry is planning a tea party, run off to find someone to play with. Strawberry's tea party becomes a search party as her friends show her that it's ok to be worried, especially when someone you love is missing or you're scared.

Switched to The House Without a Christmas Tree as I got the cookies in the oven. I read the book this morning and thought this would be a perfect time for the movie. All 10-year-old Addie Mills (Lisa Lucas) wants for Christmas is a real tree in her home. While her grandmother (Mildred Natwick) and best friend Carla Mae (Alexia Kenin) support her wish, her dad (Jason Robards) keeps saying "no." Christmas trees - and his daughter - remind him too much of the beloved wife he lost years ago.  It'll take all of Addie's determination and intelligence to remind her stubborn father that charity begins at home, and it's never too late for a heart to heal.

I love this sweet, thoughtful story of a girl, her father, and one special Christmas. This beloved TV movie from 1972 was very popular and lead to a series of Addie Mills holiday movies (alas, the subsequent stories have not yet been put out on DVD). Linda Young has a site that can tell you more about Addie and her world. Highly recommended for people looking for quieter Christmas programming, especially for girls.

It was past 5 when I finally finished the Molasses Roll-Outs. Betty Crocker calls them "Merry Christmas Cookies" in their early 60s Cooky Book. The original recipe calls for honey and lemon flavoring, but I prefer the spicier molasses variant. I'm not the only one, either - this is probably my most requested Christmas cookie. Many of my co-workers at the Acme and several of my cousins often say they look forward to them. However, while they're tasty and fun to decorate, because they're cut-out cookies, they take a while to make. That, coupled with the fact that they're made with shortening and are fairly rich, is why I don't make them more often.

I threw together leftovers and a can of chicken chunks for Chicken, Rice, and Vegetable Soup while watching Max & Ruby episodes. There's only one Christmas episode on Max & Ruby's Christmas, but it's a cute one. Max keeps asking Ruby questions about Santa. Not satisfied with her constant answer of "because," he sleeps downstairs to find out for himself what Santa really does when he comes down the chimney.

Since I spent most of the afternoon and evening standing behind a stove indoors, I decided to go for a nice, long walk after dinner to check out the neighborhood Christmas lights. Last year, I didn't have the time to look at Christmas lights until the day after New Year's, and I did it on my bike during a cold ride home from work. 

This time, I picked the right night for a stroll. It was in the mid-upper 30s, chilly but not so much that the walk was unbearable. I went down Goff Avenue and around the neighborhood near the school, then down behind Kendall Avenue and back up to where my sister lives on Kendall, then around to Manor Avenue and down Newton. While the people across the street who used to literally wrap their house with lights have either moved or decided against putting all that up this year, there were lots of other displays that were just as cool. My favorite lights were the blue and white icicles on a few houses that flashed to look like they were "melting." The cutest inflatable had Pooh and Tigger on a sleigh, trying to get a reluctant Eeyore to pull them down the hill.

When I got home, I ran Garfield's Christmas Special as I finished crocheting my second new Christmas coaster. Jon takes Garfield and Odie to his parents' farm to spend the holiday. While Jon and his brother Doc Boy await their presents and beg their father to read them Christmas stories about Binky the Clown, Garfield makes friends with tough-minded Grandma. Between getting the star on the Christmas tree and trying to get Doc Boy and Jon to stop asking when Christmas morning is, Garfield finds a special gift that may make Grandma's Christmas a little merrier.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas In New Jersey

First of all, I got Lauren's Christmas package yesterday and opened it late last night, when she got in from work. What a wonderful, thoughtful friend she is! She gave me eight American Girl books (Kirsten's birthday story, Kit's birthday and summer stories, two Kaya books, a modern book, and two general historical books), two hand-made doll outfits, the Snowflake Ball Gown (one of American Girl's limited edition winter formal outfits from 2010), the original hardback Story Land Disney anthology that my mom has at her house, a huge pile of CDs (including several original cast albums and solo albums from Barbara Cook and Johnny Mathis), a gift card to Macy's, and a lovely card with cardinals on a snowy background. Lauren's parents gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card and a really cute puppies and kitties card. Thanks again, Lauren! : )

I spent a sunny, slightly chilly morning working on the biscotti. I don't make mine into the hard rusk shapes many of you dunk into warm drinks. I roll the dough into candy cane and wreath shapes and sprinkle them with colored sugar. Wreaths get "berries" made of cinnamon candies. They're not hard to make, but they require a lot of butter (a stick and a quarter) and are fairly rich, which is why I only make them once a year.

Ran Christmas In Connecticut as I worked on the cookies. Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is post-war America's favorite food columnist. Her magazine articles detailing her cozy family and home in New England are wildly popular. Trouble is, in real life, Lane is a devoted city girl who lives in an apartment, can't boil water, and relies on her uncle (S.K Sakall) to provide recipes. Elizabeth's fibbing catches up with her when her motor-mouth boss (Sydney Greenstreet) not only insists that she give a returning soldier (Dennis Morgan) a nice home for the holidays, but ends up joining them. She turns to an obnoxious architect who conveniently has a farm and wants to marry her. He's a crashing bore, but she needs that farm...until she sees that the solider is cute and charming, and she begins to think that honesty really is the best policy.

I like this one. Stanwyck's a blast as the confused city girl; Sakall and a rare non-villainous Greenstreet are even better as the two very different bosses. Highly recommended for fans of romantic or screwball comedy or Stanwyck. (There was a TV movie remake in the mid-90s with Dylan Cannon, but I haven't seen it.)

Work was even quieter than yesterday. It was slightly busier during the noon and 4PM rush hours, but not by much. Not only is it the middle of the week and month, but many people are probably either at the malls or doing their own baking at home. Other than a couple of cranky customers early on, I had no major problems.

When I got home, I ran an episode of Wonder Woman while making a leek, Colby cheese, and mushroom omelet for dinner. Wonder Woman did two episodes set during the Christmas season; I went with the slightly more holiday-themed story from the second season, "The Deadly Toys." When a prominent scientist who just ended a huge weapons project turns out to have been replaced by a life-like android, the government does what it can to keep the remaining two members of his group safe. Meanwhile, Diana Prince tries to figure out what a creepy little old toymaker and the military strategy toys the scientists are obsessed with have to do with their disappearances.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Man With All the Toys

I awoke to a cloudy sky and a sprinkling of snow. It would snow and rain on and off for much of the day. Good thing I planned on spending the majority of this week indoors baking anyway. I did my next batch of cookies, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip, this morning while running Christmas programming. My favorite of Moonlighting's two holiday episodes is "'Twas the Episode Before Christmas" from the second season. When Agnes DiPesto finds a baby abandoned in her laundry, her bosses Maddie and David search for the mother and argue over the idea of parenthood and David's "Santa Hotline."

After the show ended, I moved to two movies on the existence of Santa. Ernest Saves Christmas takes us to Orlando, Florida, where the title character is working as a cab driver. When the real Santa shows up in his taxi and says he's in Florida to find a replacement, even Ernest is skeptical at first....until he sees Santa's magic sack. Ernest soon finds his hands full with Santa's snarky elves, a selfish teen runaway who just wants the stuff from the sack, and the obnoxious agent of the kindly children's show host that Santa hopes to replace them. It'll take a Christmas miracle - and a lot of Ernest-provided slapstick - to get them all together in time for Santa's big ride on Christmas Eve.

The original 1947 Miracle On 34th Street takes us from warm Orlando to chilly New York City. This time, the Santa in question is Kris, who works for the big Macy's in Manhattan and insists he's real. The lawyer who takes him in (John Payne) thinks he's a nice old man. His neighbor Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara) and her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) are the skeptical ones; Doris was soured on romance by a bad divorce and has taught her daughter to avoid all kinds of fantasy. When a neurotic psychologist insists Kris be put on trial for lunacy, his lawyer friend takes his case...and in doing so, proves to Susan, Doris, and all of New York that "faith is believing when common sense tells you not to."

I switched to the Peanuts while I made lunch and got ready for work. I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown brings in Linus and Lucy's little brother Re-Run, who desperately wants a puppy of his own. He keeps begging Snoopy to come out and play with him. Charlie Brown finally calls Snoopy's brother Spike from the desert to make Re-Run happy. Spike and Snoopy do their best to show Re-Run how hard it can be to take care of a pet. 

I hurried out to work shortly after I Want a Dog For Christmas ended. It started raining again shortly after I left, and apparently rained off and on for the rest of the night. That, coupled with a busy week in general, may have kept our customers at bay. We were steady for most of the night, and never really crazy, even during rush hour. People were in better moods, too. One customer from Sunday even apologized to me for being rude that night! I was in and out with no major problems.

When I got home, I ran the other special on the Deluxe I Want a Dog For Christmas Warners DVD set. Happy New Year, Charlie Brown skips ahead a couple of weeks to Christmas vacation. While Charlie Brown is saddled with having to do a book report on War and Peace, the rest of the gang is looking forward to the big New Year's party. Peppermint Patty wants him to ask her out...but of course, Chuck can think of asking no one but the Little Red Haired Girl. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Rushed Job

I shouldn't have waited until quarter of 10 to hit the laundromat. I had to work at noon. Thankfully, it was quiet when I arrived. A few managers and one or two other people were there, but they all left quickly. It was mostly just me, my small load of laundry, and various talk shows. The trouble started when I pulled the laundry out of the drier...and it was still wet. I couldn't believe it. I could have sworn I put it on "whites & colors!" Adding another minute did nothing, and I had neither the time nor the money to switch to another drier. There were no managers around to tell them what had happened, either. I had to go home with wet clothes.

This presented a problem. Most of my work clothes were in that load. I was able to throw on an older long-sleeved work shirt, but I had to throw on damp khakis. I hung the remaining clothes on chairs, my bed, my desk chair, anything that could hold them, then gulped down apple-bread pudding and rushed to work!

I was surprised that I was only slightly late, given all the hassle with the drier. We were on-and-off busy all night. People were still a little cranky, though not as bad as yesterday. Maybe it was the Eagles game. At any rate, I was in and out with no problems.

When I got home, I made salmon with carrots and mushrooms sauteed in home-made chicken stock while watching holiday themed episodes of some of my favorite TV shows. Maxwell Smart is "Our Man In Toyland" when he and 99 go undercover at a department store to find the item that CONTROL is using to smuggle top secret information out of the country. Ricky Stratton and his father Edward learn that it is better to give than receive when they help a homeless family in the first season Silver Spoons episode "The Best Christmas Ever." Balki teaches Larry something similar when he invites their cranky boss Mr. Gorpley to their Christmas party in the fourth season Perfect Strangers episode "The Gift of the Mypiot."

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holly Dazed

Started out a sunny, chilly morning with this week's Brunch With the Beatles. "The Beatles In 1966" was the theme today. Along with live songs from their final concerts as a group, we heard "Nowhere Man," "Good Day Sunshine," "In My Life," "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)," "Paperback Writer," "Rain," and "Yellow Submarine."

I called Mom as soon as I was finished with my Banana Corn Pancakes. Not only was Mom in a far better mood than when I talked to her last week, she had good news. She's finally decided that she's going to come up for Rose's party on Christmas Day, whether Dad and Anny and the boys do or not. She's not done with her shopping, as she and Dad have been concentrating on remodeling the former garage and don't have a lot of money, but she was baking cookies when we were on the phone.

After Mom got off and the show ended, I put on Christmas records and started my own baking. I always make five kinds of cookies to give to adults, families, and groups during the holidays. I started with the Peanut Butter Cookies, which are the simplest. I found this recipe for New-Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies last year on Betty Crocker.com. It starts with a yellow cake mix. Since I was broke at the time, I thought it would be a great way to save flour for the more difficult cookies. They came out so well, I decided that would be my permanent Peanut Butter Cookie recipe.

I ran Christmas music and records while I baked. Holli-Daze is a Peter Pan LP from 1974 featuring four Christmas-themed Looney Tunes stories. Mel Blanc does all of the voices (even the ones normally done by other actors, like Granny and Elmer).  "'Twas a Sight Before Christmas" has Bugs getting interviews from the Toons on their opinion of Santa when his own nephew claims he doesn't believe in the jolly old man in red anymore. "Bugs the Red-Nose Bunny" is also Santa-themed. Bugs, Porky, and Speedy Gonzoles head to the North Pole to help Santa out when they hear that Rudolph has come down with the flu. "Holli-Daze" takes Bugs and Granny to the western town of Holly, where Sheriff Yosemite Sam mistakes them for bank robbers. (This seems to be one of the few times in any Looney Tunes media Sam's played as a good guy.)

My favorite segment is "Santa Claus-strophobia." Millionaire Elmer has a big problem. He thinks he's Santa Claus. He offers his entire fortune to anyone who can cure him of this belief. Bugs overhears him and passes himself off as a psychologist and Daffy as his nurse in order to get to Elmer and his millions. After many couch-side gags (and a couple of attemps by Elmer to make passes at Nurse Daffy), Bugs finally comes up with a suggestion that makes all three of them happy.

Christmas With the Looney Tunes is from the early 2000s. I picked this cassette up from the Wildwood CVS around 2002 and have listened to it at least once a holiday season since then. While none of the voice actors here are the originals, there's some rather cute material, including "The Halle-Looney Chorus," Taz and Bugs' version of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and Daffy's "All I Want For Christmas Is More, More, More."

The Eagles game wasn't nearly that fun. Though the Minnesota Vikings don't have nearly the sterling statistics they do, the Eagles were a bundle of mistakes and penalties, including one for Nick Foles that ruined a possible touchdown. They were down 10-6 when I left for work, and would go on to lose 48-30.

Work was even more of a pain. It was busy when I came in, quiet when I left. A lot of my customers were grouchy, grumpy, cranky, or just plain obnoxious. I don't know if it was the full moon, they were upset about the game, or they all just came in from the malls. It's probably just as well that we were quiet when I finished. I was ready to tear out my hair when I finally shut down without a relief.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Peaceful Day In Oaklyn

Began a cloudy, chilly day with this week's American Top 40 re-run. We jumped ahead two years to 1982. While my sister and I were waiting for the arrival of Santa Claus and spending time with our mommy, the rest of the country decorated their trees to the tune of pop, ballads, New Wave, and R&B. Hits from mid-December of that year included "Gloria" by Laura Branigan, "Shadow of the Night" by Pat Benetar, "It's Raining Again" by Supertramp, "Heartbreaker" by Dionne Warwick, "Down Under" by Men At Work, "The Girl Is Mine" by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, "Truly" by Lionel Richie, "Rock This Town" by the Stray Cats, "Sexual Healing" by Marvin Gaye, and "Steppin' Out" by Joe Jackson. That week's big hit had folks cheering through the holidays - "Hey Mickey" by former cheerleader and choreographer Toni Basil.

I spent about an hour eating breakfast and watching Arthur's Perfect Christmas before heading out to run a couple of errands. First on the list was volunteering at the Oaklyn Library. I got there about a half-hour after they opened. Between the chilly day and the early hour, the only other people there were the librarian on duty and a volunteer wiping down the tables. I organized the DVDs and the children's picture books in a little over a half-hour.

The big errand for today was getting to the post office. I wanted to get my packages for Lauren and Linda and James out, before the holiday rush got any worse. I actually got pretty lucky. I managed to find two appropriate boxes quickly, and the line in the tiny, one-room Oaklyn Post Office was long, but not outrageously so. It moved quickly, and the postal worker in charge was in a good mood. I managed to get out before the line got really crazy-long.

My final stop was CVS. I wanted eggs and milk, and CVS is closer to the post office than WaWa (and their eggs and milk are cheaper). Bought a small bottle of dish-washing liquid for 99 cents, too. Alas, they didn't have any good toothpaste sales - I'll have to check the Acme on Friday. They also had long lines, but they opened more registers even as I brought my things to the counters.

Went straight home after that. It had briefly flurried while I was at CVS. I decided I was better off at home, avoiding the weather. I'd had enough of being out in it this week. Thankfully, it waited until well into the afternoon to actually start snowing.

When I got in, I put everything away, then went right into wrapping more presents. I got Skylar and Collyn's gifts done today and one that I intended for them to share. That totally finishes any dealing with non-food gifts for me. From tomorrow through Christmas Eve, I'll be working on food gifts for adults, families, and groups.

I spent the rest of the afternoon doing small things around the apartment, starting with taking this year's Christmas doll and decoration display photos. Here's the results:

Christmas at the Riverside Rest 2013

After that, I colored craft items and worked on crocheting coasters to replace the old woven Christmas-themed ones I got from Mom that I made on one of those potholder looms as a kid. When I got bored with that, I made Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies from dark chocolate cake mix and chocolate chips, then made Apple-Bread Pudding to get rid of old bread and two apples that were getting really soft.

I ran movies and holiday specials throughout the afternoon and evening. Did The Muppet's Christmas Carol while I was wrapping the last of the gifts. This is a pretty standard version of Christmas Carol, only with the Muppets in many of the lead roles. Michael Caine is a very effective Scrooge.

Next did the 1955 Babes In Toyland broadcast with Barbara Cook, then moved to two Muppet holiday specials. Muppet Family Christmas brings most of the Muppets in existence in the mid-80s together to celebrate some Christmas cheer at Fozzie's mother's farm. Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas is a little less colorful, but no less heartfelt. The poverty-stricken title character and his mother face a bare Christmas. A local talent show may hold the answer to their problems, but in order to enter it, they have to sacrifice the things that currently provide them with income and take a chance on a new life.

Moved to Rise of the Guardians as I made baked spiced chicken legs, roasted Brussels sprouts, honey-glazed carrots, and a small baked sweet potato for dinner. This Dreamworks action movie from last year involves "the Guardians of Childhood," four magical heroes based after mythical childhood characters - Santa Claus (North), the Easter Bunny (Bunnymund), the Tooth Fairy (Toothalia), and the Sandman (Sandy). Santa wants mischievous Jack Frost to join their number. Accustomed to being a lone ranger and confused about his past, Jack isn't interested at first...until the Guardians are threatened by Pitch, the Boogeyman who encourages fear and nightmares in children. When Pitch steals Toothalia's teeth and her helpers, he sets in motion events that decrease the ability of children to believe in the Guardians...except for one little boy who teaches Jack that nothing is hopeless, if you can find one person who believes in you.

Really, really strange. I have the feeling this one might make more sense in its original form as a series of graphic novels and children's books than as a movie. Stunning animation, though, and I do like the idea of all the beloved guardians of childhood working and fighting together together. (And Santa Claus with two swords and tattoos? Very cool.) Not something I'm going to buy, but I didn't mind the rental. Your mileage may vary, depending on how much you like animation or the premise.

I ran a couple of quick Christmas specials as I cleaned up from dinner. Ironically, I got The Snowman on as the earlier snow changed into rain. This British Oscar-nominee tells the story of a little boy and the fun he has one Christmas night with his frosty friend. Max & Ruby have their own holiday fun finding a present for Grandma and decorating their Christmas tree.

Finished out the night in the bath. Lauren wasn't going to be on until later, so I had the time for a good, long soak. I read The Great Santa Search and the It's a Wonderful Christmas and Miracle On 34th Street books Linda gave me last week, and thought over everything I finished last week, and all the baking I have planned for next week.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Wrapping

I spent most of the morning wrapping my presents. I got Jessa, Ethan & Matt, Khai, Faith, and Lauren's gifts done. Ran the 1951 A Christmas Carol while I worked. This English version of the beloved story is about as traditional as a version as you can get, other than an expanded Christmas past sequence. British character actor Alistair Sim is considered to be one of the best Scrooges on record.

Since this is Friday the 13th, I thought something resembling horror was in order. Not being a fan of gruesome scares, I switched to some silly scares instead. In Ghost Chasers, the Bowery Boys tangle with a ring of phony spiritualists who are bilking desperate locals like Louie out of their money, while Sach has an otherworldly encounter with a ghost who isn't too happy with the fake mediums and their trickery, either.

Moved to some more comic spookiness as I had a quick PB&J lunch and got ready for work. "A Nutcracker Scoob" is the first of three holiday Scooby Doo episodes. In this story from the early 80s, Fred joins Daphne, Shaggy, Scooby, and Scrappy for a Christmas pageant at a local orphanage. Christmas goes sour quickly when a nasty old miser orders the orphanage closed so he can find a priceless emerald. Things really get hairy when it seems that the Ghost of Christmas Past is after the emerald, too!

Work was very busy all afternoon. We're supposed to be getting another snowstorm tomorrow, 2-4 inches and then rain at press time. We'll see what actually happens. It wasn't that cold today, probably in the mid-30s, and the streets here are covered with so much salt, I'm surprised there's any left in the Atlantic Ocean. That didn't stop people from panicking. Not to mention, many families are beginning or in the midst of their Christmas baking, and there's a lot of birthday, sports, and holiday parties this weekend. Thankfully, it finally slowed down enough for me to close with no relief at 6:30.

Good thing it did. I had a LOT of shopping to do. I bought small bags of white and whole wheat flour to refill the half-empty flour canisters. I was going to need peanut butter, cranberries, and chocolate chips for next week's baking, too. I restocked navy beans and tomato sauce after making the pasta fagioli last week. Also bought local MacIntosh apples in a bag, bananas, grapefruit, mushrooms, an onion, and a plastic container of pre-cut asparagus tips.

One of my favorite holiday limited edition items comes from tea companies. Just a few years ago, only Celestial Seasonings put out holiday-themed tea boxes. Now most major tea companies have a couple of Christmas and fall-themed flavors. I went with Bigalow's more colorful assortment last year. This year, there was a decent sale on Celestial Seasonings, so I thought I'd try their Nutcracker Sweet black vanilla tea.

When I finally made it home (going down West Clinton to avoid the ice on Goff Avenue again), I put everything away, then finished out Scooby Doo: Winter Wonderdog while eating leftovers for dinner and making a special surprise for my friends Linda and James. "A Scary Night With a Snow Beast Fright" from the mid-70s brings Velma back in as Mystery Inc investigates a dinosaur-like snow monster that has suddenly appeared in Alaska. The beast is scaring away the natives, and the Professor who called the group has vanished. Can the huge totem poles and the black snow the kids keep seeing have anything to do with the Professor's disappearance?

"Alaskan King Coward" is a goofy late-70s short. Shaggy and the two dogs are once again in Alaska, this time prospecting for gold. When they accidentally defrost another dinosaur, Shaggy and Scooby try to outrun it, while Scrappy is determined to protect their land from this scaly "claim jumper!"

The rest of Mystery Inc. returns for "That's Snow Ghost" from the original 1969 series. This time, the "Snow Beast" is an furry Abominable Snowman-like monster who can seemingly fly and is out to scare people away from a run-down ski resort. The kids' try to figure out the connection between the monster, an abandoned sawmill, and an old man from Tibet who says the monster's ghost is after him.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Finishing the Christmas Shopping

Started another freezing day with the CGI Angelina Ballerina. The title of this disc, Twirling Tales, gives absolutely no indication that this set has a spring theme. One fun story has Angelina and her friends learning the importance of rules when Angelina invites her classmates to rehearse for the Spring Talent Show in her attic. She tells them there's no rules in her theater...but when she, AJ, and Vicki can't do their act because of the noise and the mess, they realize that everyone needs some rules in their lives. Another has Angelina trying to decide with her friends what music to use for the big finale of the Spring Fling. She can't decide between jazz, hip-hop, and tango. And when Mother's Day comes around, Angelina and Polly offer to help their mom shelve cookbooks while she rests...but she can't rest if they're making noise and goofing off. Angelina teaches her little sister about the dynamics (loud and soft) of music, so they can sing softly and let their mom unwind.

I headed to WaWa to pick up the 11:08 bus to the Voorhees Town Center. I would have gotten it at Oaklyn's City Hall, but I needed to use the ATM machine, and bought a Pumpkin Spice Cappuccino while I was there. (Lots of spice, not nearly enough pumpkin flavor.) The bus was only slightly late, but it was really crowded. I took a seat up front because the back was full. Most everyone got off at the various stores or shopping centers on the Black Horse Pike. The bus was nearly empty when we finally arrived in Voorhees.

The Town Center itself wasn't that busy. I've really gotten to like the Town Center. It may not be as big or have the fancy stores that the Deptford and Cherry Hill Malls do, but between Boscov's, Macy's, and the Hallmark, it probably has all anyone needs in a mall these days. (If Boscov's hadn't dropped their electronics/entertainment section, they'd be all set.) Not to mention, since it isn't big, it's hard to get lost, especially since there's really nothing on the second floor but offices, Boscov's separate Juniors store, a men's clearance store, and the bus stop.

I started in Boscov's. THEY were busy, and no wonder. They were having some really great sales. I hit the accessories section first to finish out Jessa. After that, I went downstairs, where all the really fun stuff is. I love that Boscov's has a candy counter. I don't know why more department stores don't have one. I bought a small broken piece of eggnog fudge and a larger piece of pumpkin pie fudge from the tray with the 75% off broken bits. I explored their extensive seasonal section, filled with beautiful lit trees, gorgeous ornaments, and even Christmas Story-themed porcelain houses. (I liked the Parkers' house, Ralphie's school, and the big one for the sales building for the heaters that Mr. Parker is always doing batter with.)  Their toy section isn't as extensive as Target's, but just the fact that they have a good-sized one is something. I was able to finish out the shopping for the kids there, buying presents for my nephews Skylar and Collyn and a card game for my cousins Ethan and Matt to share.

Headed out into the mall again. I like how they decorate the Town Center. While Boscov's opted for gaudy, with cardboard hangings and huge swags of greenery amid their regular neon trim, the Town Center went elegant with simple red and gold greenery and wide ribbons. It was pretty and festive without being too overdone.

After a quick stop at a calender store, I next went to Hallmark. I managed to resist the WebKinz this time and went right to the cards. My nephew Collyn's 5th birthday was last week; Mom and Dad-Bill's 30th anniversary is next week. I also bought myself a Peanuts calender for my bedroom. I like to use a character-themed calender to brighten my bedroom and a more adult calender to keep track of dates in the hallway near the living area.

I took a peek at the Bath & Body Works near Macy's next, but their lines were atrocious, and really, most of their stuff is overpriced anyway. I ended up returning to the food court for lunch. The food court isn't big and doesn't have a lot of options. I went with Philly Steak, which, as you can probably guess, sells your basic Philly-style hoagies and cheese steaks. They also sell gyros, which are less common up here than they are at the Jersey Shore. Theirs was actually quite good, with lots of tomatoes, onions, and lettuce (though I should have asked them to go a little easier on the yogurt-dill sauce).

While I may take a look at the Town Center's outdoor area (including their street filled with fancy restaurants) sometime in the near future, a day where the high was 26 wasn't the right time to do it. I picked up the 2:14 back to Oaklyn shortly after finishing lunch. While the traffic was a little heavy on the White Horse Pike, otherwise, the bus wasn't nearly as full as the one going there, and the trip back was no problem.

I got off at the stop next to Dr. Hyder's dental office in Oaklyn, then walked a block to The House of Fun. Lauren had requested an Atari video game from them. I got the game she asked for and found something else for her there as well. My last stop was Family Dollar for a tin for cookies...which really and truly completes my Christmas shopping. Any adult who shows up unexpectedly will be getting food; kids will get small toys from the Acme or drug stores.

Spent the rest of the evening quietly at home, crocheting and watching Christmas movies and specials. Nick, Sally, The Cat, and the Fish take an extra-special trip in the Thing-a-Ma-Jigger to get Ralph the Reindeer home to Freeze-Your-Knees Snowland in The Cat In the Hat Knows a Lot About Christmas. On the way, they inadvertently learn about the migration patterns of animals in warmer climates too as the Thing-a-Ma-Jigger continually breaks down.

Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas is an anthology of holiday short stories featuring the regular Disney characters. In the first story, Donald's nephews learn why Christmas only comes once a year when they wish for Christmas to be every day. The second finds Goofy's son Max skeptical of Santa and how he can bring presents to all those kids in one night. Goofy becomes determined to show his son that Santa really does exist. Micky and Minnie star in the third story. Mickey wants to buy Minnie a chain for her watch, but he has no money. When he and Minnie trade their most treasured possessions for presents, they both discover that they mean more to each other than any gift.

Here Comes Santa Claus is a very strange French musical from 1986. In the version I dubbed off an 80s video, Simon is a sad little boy whose parents have disappeared in Africa. He and his friend Ellody travel to cold Iceland to meet Santa and ask him to bring Simon's parents home. When they arrive, not only do they find Santa, but they also meet Mary Ellen, the beautiful fairy who directs the elves. While Mary Ellen and Santa search the very real Senegal for Simon's parents, Simon and Ellody fall into the clutches of a nasty ogre who eats children for dinner and fairies for dessert.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Brrr! Started a brisk, sunny 30 degree morning with cereal and grapefruit and Charlie Brown's Christmas Tales. As in It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, we have a series of Peanuts holiday-themed skits taken directly from the comic strips. Sally features in most of my favorites, including her writing to "Samantha Claus" and her unusual method of getting a Christmas tree.

I finally headed out around quarter after 10. For all of yesterday's fussing, today was fine. The roads and most of the sidewalks were perfectly clear. Though the air was cold, the sun was warm, and it was melting anything that wasn't in the shade. The sidewalk on the Westmont Plaza side of Cuthbert and leading up to Wells Fargo was a little treacherous, but I really can't ride on the street. Cuthbert is just too busy.

My first stop this morning was the Haddon Township Library for this week's volunteering session. A librarian was already taking care of the books and had shelved a lot of DVDs. I just tried to fit in as many kids' DVDs as I could (the S titles were overflowing again) and pulled some foreign titles that needed to go in the right place. I took out the Christmas episodes for Shaun the Sheep, The Cat In the Hat Knows A Lot About That, and the new Care Bears show Welcome to Care-a-Lot, along with a new 2009 Angelina Ballerina disc and the Dreamworks animated movie Rise of the Guardians.

Headed over to Game Stop after leaving the library to find something for Lauren. There's a Game Stop in the Audubon Crossings Shopping Center too, but the one in Westmont is larger, cleaner, and has a far better selection. It took me a while, but I did finally come up with something fun. They'd just opened; there were only two other people in there, both probably college students.

It was too cold for a lot of running around, and I had to work later anyway. I went straight home. Ran the Welcome to Care-a-Lot holiday special The Great Giving Holiday while making a spinach, mushroom, and cheese pancake for lunch. As with the Strawberry Shortcake holiday "special," this is a compilation of the show's two holiday-themed episodes. The first has Beastly giving Tenderheart, who is allergic to honey, enough honey cookies to make him hiccup in and out of sight, so he can't help the Great Giving Bear (the Care Bears' version of Santa Claus) with his yearly rounds. In the second story, an Earth kid gets so into helping Harmony prepare for the Great Giving Day Pageant, he tries to make the show all about him, instead of the Bears...and both he and Harmony learn a lesson in bossiness and working as a team.

A bonus episode had a mild winter/giving theme. "Cheeri-No" hit a little close to home as Cheer Bear agrees to help all of her friends prepare their animal friends for their winter hibernation, then refuses help to get their food together. She runs herself so ragged, she has no time to harvest the food. It takes a run-in with Beastly and the insistance of the others to make Cheer understand the importance of the word "no," setting limits, and asking for help when it's needed. I can very much relate to Cheer here in one aspect - I also have trouble asking for help, even when I could probably use it.

I opened a package that arrived this afternoon from my online friends Linda and James Young while the Care Bears were on. Three packages (including one intriguing long, flat and slightly bumpy one) were marked "Don't Open Until Xmas"; they went in the back room until Christmas Day. One was unwrapped. Linda also enjoys the Dear America series. She sent me A Coal Miner's Bride: The Diary of Anetka Kaminska, about a Polish teenager who is sent to America to wed a miner in Pennsylvania in 1896. I'll do that one the day after Christmas. (And no Linda, I haven't read it. They have it at the Haddon Township Library, but I hadn't gotten around to it yet.) I also got a book on Miracle On 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Christmas, which covers how the years from 1940 to 1965 helped shape our current holidays. There was also a small Dummies book on holiday cake and candy decorating that I'll look over when I do my baking next week. Thank you, Linda and James!

Ran Shaun the Sheep as I got ready for work. The animals are enjoying their holiday in "We Wish Ewe a Merry Christmas," thanks to the farmer's gift of vegetables. When they see him alone in his sparsely decorated home, they decide to give him some yuletide cheer in return. "Snowed In" has the animals enjoying a big snowfall...including the farmer, when he can finally get out of his buried home! Poor Bitzer the Dog gets sick in "Fireside Favorite." When the farmer gives him Pidsley the Cat's bed in front of the fire, Pidsley gets jealous and tries to get the farmer to move him. Meanwhile, the sheep sabotage Pidsley's efforts so their friend can get some rest.

Work was pretty much the same as yesterday - mildly steady when I came in, quiet as a mouse when I left. Most people were in good moods, probably thanks to the lack of snow and the clear streets. It was so quiet, I left a few minutes early. I did have to dodge snow piled up against the side of the street, and went around the ice that gathers on the bottom of the hill on Goff Avenue by going the long way down to West Clinton and back around to Manor.

Lauren isn't supposed to be online until late tonight, so I relaxed and worked on crocheting while watching Christmas Eve On Sesame Street. This is the first of four (to date) Sesame Street specials that have appeared on PBS. Oscar the Grouch tells Big Bird that Santa won't be able to deliver any presents if he can't get down those skinny New York chimneys. Big Bird runs experiments and asks everyone questions all night to try to get the real answer. Meanwhile, Bert and Ernie sell their most prized possessions to buy presents for each other, only to get a special surprise from Mr. Hooper. Cookie Monster has less luck getting a message out to Santa - he keeps eating his writing utensils.