Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Christmas With Friends

I began a cloudy morning with chores at my apartment to prepare for my friend Amanda's annual Christmas visit. I stripped the sheets off the bed, then put on my warmer flannel sheets and re-made the bed. I picked up around the apartment. I pulled out the things for the Christmas tree - Amanda was going to help me with it later.

Ran A Flinstone Christmas Carol as I worked. Prehistoric times may seem like an odd setting for Charles Dickens' famous short novel, but this one actually works pretty well. Fred and most of Bedrock are appearing in stage version of A Christmas Carol. Fred's gotten carried away with his role as Scrooge, to the point where he forgets Pebbles at daycare, has to rush to buy gifts, and is driving Wilma the stage manager crazy. When he finally lets his ego deflate a little after an incident in a closed department store, he realizes the true message of charity behind the story.

I headed out shortly after the end of the Flinstones. It was surprisingly warm for this time of year, in the mid to upper 50s. I barely needed my green winter coat. We were supposed to meet around 10:15. I hurried out at quarter of 10 and walked as fast as I could to the White Horse Pike. Ironically, Amanda didn't show up until about 10:30.

Amanda drove us to Collingswood (she does have a car), parking in the same lot that houses the Farm Market from May to November. We strolled up and down Haddon Avenue until Tortilla Press opened. Lauren's not my only friend who loves this place. Amanda's a big fan, too. We both had their home-made tortilla chips and farm-market-fresh salsa and wraps. I had Chicken-Avocado. Amanda went a little spicier with Chicken Chipolte. We had iced tea (mine unsweetened, Amanda's raspberry) and sweet potato fries. Our wraps were so big, we loaded the other halves into separate containers and took them home with us.

We strolled down Haddon Avenue again, this time heading for GrooveGround. Amanda wanted coffee; she ended up with the Peppermint Mocha I bought during the Parade the other day. I tried their coconut hot chocolate, which was delicious, including the real coconut shreds. The last time Amanda visited, we had ice cream. This time, we hit DiBartolo's Bakery and treated ourselves to cookies. Amanda bought a small container of sugar cookies. I went with a small container of coconut macaroons.

When we got home, we opened presents. Oddly enough, we both sort of bought each other the same gifts. My bag was filled with fun, small things like fancy hand soap and lotions from Bath & Body Works (Amanda works at the one in the Cumberland Mall), cute lamb sleep socks, and the same Christmas-themed tin of Swiss Miss cocoa I bought for her and Lauren. I gave her a purse I crocheted, a stuffed Christmas-themed Hello Kitty, the cocoa tin, and a few little Hello Kitty items I picked up from the House of Fun (our local supplier of Sanrio products).

We spent the next hour and a half decorating my tree. My tree usually takes anywhere from two to four hours for me to decorate on my own! Having Amanda there was a big help. She held the lights and garland while I wound them on, and was able to tell me when one part looked weird or wasn't filled in enough. She sometimes found good spots for my many ornaments that I missed! And of course, she got to put on the "Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys" Hallmark ornament she gave me years ago. We discussed our families and our problems with work (Amanda is also a substitute teacher for Vineland's school district), and I related the stories of how I acquired so many ornaments and where they came from. (The majority of them were presents from Mom from Winterwood or various gift shops, thrift shop and yard sale finds, or after-Christmas sale treats.)

We finished the tree so quickly, I pulled out the bears, too. Every year, I dress some of my stuffed animals and container of others bought for Christmas in old baby clothes, cast-aside scarves and hats, Christmas costumes, and ribbons with bells on them. This dated from the mid-80s, when Mom used to dress our stuffed animals for the holidays and set them on her hope chest as an interactive display. We'd play with the bears there throughout the season, even giving them party hats and tiaras for New Year's. By the time I'd moved to Wildwood, my Mom was tired of putting them out every year. Not to mention, my brother was too old for the display and my oldest nephew was still too little. I inherited the remaining Christmas toys and their things by default. Not having a hope chest, I put them under the Christmas tree instead to fill in that space. Amanda did a great job helping me to organize and get the clothes on them.

We went for a short walk in the park next door after we finished with the bears. The sun had long been out by then, making it even warmer. There was now a heavy, wide black paved path around the perimeter of the park. While it does make the often-messy park easier to walk in, it also spoils its natural beauty. I always liked how rugged and natural the park looked. Not to mention, it doesn't look right at all. They might have been better off with a dirt path, or at least something less big and black that fits in with the natural surroundings and the garden better.

Amanda left around 3PM to avoid the traffic on the White Horse Pike. I rounded up my large load of laundry and headed straight for the laundromat. It was nearly 4 by the time I made it there, and very busy. I spent the time reading The Autobiography of Santa Claus and ignoring Dr. Phil and the families hanging around.

It was nearly dark by the time I got out of there. I'm actually glad I went so late. It was so warm today, many Oaklyn residents had put up their lights, or were in the process of putting them up as I walked home. Though the people across the street who used to have that huge, wrap-the-lights-around-the-house display seem to be gone, there were still lots of other elaborate light shows, from trees wrapped in lights to three-story-houses with lights on each story that made them look like gingerbread houses.

When I got home, I put the laundry away while listening to one of my Happy Holidays cassettes from the mid-90s, then put on Happy Holidays With Bing and Frank while I worked on a dinner of lightly breaded chicken fillets with sauteed mushrooms and spinach and Cranberry Flummery. This early 60s color special proved to be a huge disappointment. It was really just the two of them singing famous Christmas songs to each other (including "White Christmas" and "Mistletoe and Holly") in Frank's very swinging 60s apartment, with an interlude with a group of Victorian carol singers who suddenly pop up out of nowhere. Though the DVD listed a 90 minute running time, they must have included the extras. The special barely runs a half-hour. Unless you're a huge fan of these two, this is completely skippable. You're better off listening to their many Christmas recordings.

The 1986 Babes In Toyland is only slightly less strange. Lisa Piper (Drew Barrymore) is a very mature little miss, a proud resident of Cincinnati, who insists she's a grown-up when she's only about 11. A an accident on a sled leads her to Toyland, where she narrowly stops the wedding of pretty Mary Quite Contrary to evil Barnaby. Mary already has a suitor in Jack Be Nimble (Keanu Reeves), but Jack is under Barnaby's thumb and will only inherit his fortune when he turns 21 and marries. Lisa does her best to aid the lovers and help the Toymaster save Toyland from Barnaby's schemes.

Ok, I'll admit that I like this. Barrymore's not bad as the girl who refuses to be treated as a child, and Richard Mulligan and Eileen Brennan have fun chewing the scenery as Barnaby and Mrs. Hubbard, who carries a list to remember everything she says or does. It's a little cheap and very campy, the new music is dreadful, and the one person who can actually sing (Brennan) doesn't. Not on DVD at press time, though it was on video and turns up on cable from time to time. Worth a peek if you like Barrymore or campy musicals like I do.

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