Saturday, December 07, 2013

Christmas In the City of Brotherly Love

I slept in a little more than usual and only got to hear the last half-hour of this week's American Top 40 re-run. We were in early December 1980, as R&B, ballads, country stars, and disco enlivened the first holiday season of the 80s. Hits that week included "Master Blaster" by Stevie Wonder, "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen, "More Than I Can Say" by Leo Sayer, and "Woman In Love" by Barbara Streisand. The number #1 was one of the biggest hits of country legend Kenny Rogers, the ballad "Lady."

I finally headed out to the PATCO Station in Collingswood around quarter after 10. I rode around Collingswood for about 10 minutes, just enjoying a chilly, sunny late fall day, before locking my bike and buying my ticket. There were two large, noisy crowds of older people and college students dressed for the holidays in loud sweaters, silly Santa hats, and ridiculous ornament jewelry waiting with me, too. They were so loud and obnoxious on the way to Philly, I wonder if they all hit the eggnog a little early.

This year, I chose to forgo the congestion on Market Street and start on 16th Street, heading down to Rittenhouse Square. Much to my surprise, there was a line of white tents and booths set up on the sidewalks on the side of the Square across from Barnes & Noble. I decided to check out this event instead of going to the bookstore first.

It turned out to be a farm market, smaller but just as nifty as the one at Collingswood. In fact, I recognized some of the booths as Collingswood regulars, including the mushroom sellers, the hand-made soap sellers, and two bakery booths. I bought a Pumpkin Roll from one of the bakeries. It was a slice of very moist roll pumpkin spice cake with a thick cream cheese filling. Ooh, it was so yummy! I must have looked like I enjoyed it, because a father with two kids asked me where I got it - I pointed them back to the farm market.

I finally made it to Barnes & Noble after finishing my treat. I went right to the third floor after a brief peek at this week's Entertainment Weekly's top 10 movies of the year list. I took a look at the area in the back where the film and music books were, and was a bit disappointed when I realized that the meeting area had been cleared, there were shelves where the chairs were, and there were far fewer shelves of media-related books than there used to be.

Had far more luck in the extensive children's section. I listened to a mother read a Christmas story to her daughter as I browsed. I discovered my 7-year-old cousin Faith's gift first. She and her mother Samantha enjoyed the American Girl historical books I gave them last year so much, I decided to get her another one new. American Girl does a "Girl of the Year," a doll with a special collection that can only be bought for one year. This year's girl is Saige Copeland, who lives in New Mexico. Her themes are horseback riding and the importance of the arts in schools and in our lives...something I thought horse-loving Faith and Samantha would appreciate.

Skylar's present was harder to find. It wasn't overwhelming busy, but there were quite a few parents in the kids' section. I had to gingerly step around a mother looking for a Spanish-English dictionary for her child while checking the science and reference books. I finally came up with a small but thick book of science experiments for kids. Skylar loved doing science experiments all summer with Mom.

It was past 12:30 when I left Barnes & Noble. Time for lunch. I wanted something filling, but simple. I remembered the food court in the lower level of the Bellevue, the deluxe hotel/mall on Broad Street. Much to my surprise, despite it being the lunch hour, the food court wasn't busy, and many of the restaurants were closed. I opted for one of the few open, Bain's Deli. Had a delicious, mile-high roast beef sandwich on marble rye bread, with lettuce, tomato, mayo, and a huge spear pickle.

My next stop was the big FYE on Broad Street, a couple of blocks from the Bellevue. Surprisingly, they also weren't that busy. It also helps that they have more space than most of the stores in the area, with wide aisles and plenty of display room. I quickly found the movie Rose requested for her and her family's Christmas party host gift. It was more difficult to find something appropriate for my best friend Lauren. She can and does buy herself most movies and video games she's interested in as soon as possible. In fact, the item I ended up getting her wasn't a movie or a game, but I think she'll still get a kick out of it. I had a small embarrassing moment when the item I was getting for Lauren didn't seem to have a label and I had to go back for another one. Otherwise, the lines weren't long, and I had no problems getting out.

I opted to go around City Hall and enter Macy's through the Juniper Street doors. That was a mistake. The place was an absolute lunatic asylum. It was a sea of people, people, and more people. The lines were ridiculously long everywhere, and people were grouchy and rude. I was hoping it would have been less busy by quarter of 3. Nope. To make matters worse, for some reason, they're having the Light Show every two hours, instead of every hour. I don't know if it's for traffic control or what, but no one was happy, including me. Because the light show wasn't for over an hour, the line for the Dickens Village was half-way down the kids' section on the third floor. Even the line at the tiny Starbucks was annoyingly long. I ultimately left without anything, even a cup of hot chocolate. I'll see the Light Show the week after Christmas and just do the Dickens Village next year.

I did better on my stroll down 13th Street. I noticed small door that said "Verde," and the lovely jewelry and knit scarves and hats they had on display. When I came in, I discovered a long, narrow old store filled with tables and shelves of knit hats, scarves, and gloves, funky socks, cool accessories, and Philly-related gifts. They even had a selection of elaborate chocolates behind a counter. It looked and felt more like a gift shop in Cape May than in Center City Philadelphia. I fell in love with it right away. Even the heavy crowd seemed to be more cheerful than the one at Macy's. I found a nifty item for my stepsister Jessa, who loves unique socks and accessories. I'll have to go back there after the holidays, when it's less crowded.

I was hot after being in overheated stores all day. I made a quick stop at the frozen yogurt store Sweet Endings for a cup of eggnog yogurt sprinkled with white chocolate chips, crushed graham crackers, and my first-ever pomegranate seeds. I liked the sweet-tart seeds better than the too-tart yogurt, which didn't really taste much like eggnog. I took my frozen yogurt on the road, eating it on the way to the 13th Street PATCO station. Thankfully, the 3:30 train was practically empty and quiet. When I got in, I made short stops at WaWa (for a French Vanilla chilled coffee) and CVS (they were out of the Dawn Dish Liquid on sale) before heading home.

Spent the rest of the evening watching Shrek: The Musical, crocheting, and eating baked salmon and broccoli for dinner. This was the Broadway stage version of the blockbuster movie that debuted in 2010. It wasn't a huge hit, but apparently did well enough...which is a shame, because I may have liked it better than the movie. As in the film, the title character is a grouchy but good-hearted ogre (Brian D'Arcy) who travels to the kingdom of Lord Faarquad (Christopher Sieber) to get him to remove the enchanted animals and fairies he's exiled from his swamp. Faarquad agrees...but only if he rescues the lovely Fiona (Sutton Foster) from a tower and a dragon. Along the way, he reluctantly befriends a motor-mouth Donkey (Daniel Breaker) who both helps and hinders his quest...and the trio and Fiona discover that one ogre's "freak" is another's handsome knight and beautiful princess.

I saw the first Shrek film in the theater and liked the second well enough, but wasn't crazy about the third and didn't bother with the fourth or the subsequent holiday specials. This was a surprisingly enjoyable romp with some really wonderful songs. My favorites were "Let Your Freak Flag Fly" for the enchanted characters, Fiona's trio with her younger selves "I Know It's Today," and the hilarious competition duet for Shrek and Fiona, "I Got You Beat." Well worth checking out for fans of the movies or of stage musicals.

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