Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Moving Finger Writes

I started a sunny, cold last day of 2014 with Christmas and New Year's stories from Christmas With Anne, the collection of L.M Montgomery short stories I found at a yard sale a few months ago. I also read another chapter of The Storybook of Legends.

Spent most of the morning making Crock Pot Ham and Potatoes. I got the recipe from Julie's Cooking Studio, one of the later American Girl cookbooks. You layer cooked ham, potatoes (sweet in my case - I didn't have regular), and onion with shredded cheddar cheese and cream of celery soup (I only had cream of mushroom, but that worked, too) in a crock pot and let it cook for 6 hours or so. It smelled divine when I got it all cooking!

Ran San Francisco while I worked on dinner. Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald) has come to the City By the Bay in 1906 to pursue an opera career. She ends up with a job at Blackie Norton's (Clark Gable) Barbary Coast club. Father Mullin (Spencer Tracy), Blackie's long-time friend, keeps an eye on Mary as she becomes the toast of Blackie's club the Paradise. Meanwhile, Blackie tries to go into politics and create stricter fire codes in the Barbary. Mary's genuine talent catches the eye of Jack Burley (Jack Holt), who wants her to work for his opera house the Tivoli. He opposes Blackie's attempt to take over the Barbary Coast and arrests his performers right before a big contest between nightclubs. Mary wins the contest, but Blackie won't take money from her. As he leaves....the Earth literally moves, and Blackie learns a tough lesson in what really matters when he searches a fallen city for his Mary.

This is one of the earliest disaster movies, the grandfather of everything from In Old Chicago to Titanic. It's corny and melodramatic, but darned if it doesn't still work. Everyone's performances are great, especially the Oscar-nominated Tracy as the pugnacious priest. The special effects during the actual earthquake in the final 20 minutes continue to amaze, especially when the Earth actually opens. If you love the cast, romantic drama, or disaster films, this one is pretty easy to find for a good price on DVD and actually comes with quite a few extras, including a documentary on Gable.

Threw on a couple of party and New Year's-themed cartoons while I had a quick lunch and got ready for work. A dose of spinach turns Olive's grandma into a perfect dance partner for Popeye on New Year's Eve in "Let's Celebrake." Olive and Popeye turn the tables on Bluto when he tries to sabotage their nightclub act in "Morning, Noon, and Nightclub." "The Whoopee Party" is one heck of a shindig. Mickey Mouse's big party gets so crazy, even the furniture dances along! "Mr. Duck Steps Out" and wants to take Daisy on a date, but Huey, Dewey, and Louie keep interfering.

Work was actually quiet when I came in. It started picking up around 2:30, when people came to shop for their birthday and New Year's parties, and was only clearing out when I was leaving at 6 PM. My first computer suddenly started running slow around 4, and I had to move to another one. Otherwise, there were no major problems. In fact, I got a $5 dollar gift card for getting 5 outstanding reviews from customers on surveys (even when they gave less than great marks to the store in general).

As I was writing home, I saw the first fireworks of New Year's Eve over the Black Horse Pike. I don't know if someone in Mt. Ephram was setting them off, or if they were Philly fireworks, but they looked beautiful, really professional. It felt really festive as I rode down the Pike in the very chilly night air.

When I got home, I changed into regular clothes, then defrosted green beans and almonds to go with my tasty Crock Pot Ham and Potatoes. Put on the Max & Ruby New Year's episode while I ate. "Ruby's Gingerbread House" won't stay up, even with copious applications of frosting glue. Max just wants the girls to consider the merits of his gummy worms. Ruby's feeling a little down after the holidays are over in "Max's Christmas Passed." Max comes up with a way to cheer up his sister. Grandma holds a party for her and her grandchildren in "Max's New Year." While Grandma and Ruby try on party hats and play games, Max keeps wanting to sneak the clock-shaped cookies Grandma made.

Switched to Holiday Inn as I cleaned up from dinner. This 1942 musical is best known today for introducing the standards "White Christmas" and "Happy Holidays." Bing Crosby plays a performer who buys a farm and turns it into an inn that's only open on holidays. Marjorie Reynolds is the dancer who only wants a chance to perform. Fred Astaire is Crosby's former partner, who was just dumped by their other partner (Virginia Dale). When Astaire sees Reynolds, he falls for her too, and the two find themselves chasing the same woman all over again through most of the holidays on the calender.

Though the numbers aren't quite as spectacular as White Christmas, I actually like this a bit more. The romantic plots seem a tad bit more realistic, and there's some surprising commentary on the grind of show business and having to work extra on holidays. (Beware of the non-PC "Abraham" Lincoln's Birthday number; there's a reason this was a quick instrumental dance duet in White Christmas.) Recommended for fans of either leading man, Irving Berlin, or small-scale musicals.

I moved on to New Year's cartoons as I went online to chat with Lauren. Rudolph's Shiny New Year brings back everyone's favorite red-nosed reindeer, this time to rescue the runaway Baby New Year. Charlie Brown isn't having a much better New Year in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown. While the other kids are preparing for Peppermint Patty's big party, Charlie Brown is stuck reading War and Peace for a book report. Laverne and Shirley's "New Year's Eve - 1960" isn't fun, either. Laverne's dumped by her date shortly before the ball drops, while Shirley gets a cold and can't kiss her date Carmine. Meanwhile, Lenny and Squiggy are prepared to drop Squiggy in place of the ball at midnight.

I'm now running Broadway cast albums. Currently, it's Goldilocks, the 50s vehicle for Don Ameche and the late Elaine Stritch. Stritch plays a Broadway star in the 1910s who is convinced by Ameche to appear in his major silent picture...if he can afford to finish it!

And I wish each and every one of my readers a safe, happy, and fun New Year! Have a great time in 2015!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Laundry Day

Started off the morning with some Backyardigans. Newsboy Tyrone thinks he has to "Escape From Fairy Tale Village" when Big Bad Wolf Austin, Witch Uniqua, and Giant Pablo insist on having him for dinner...over for dinner, that is. Austin tries to each eager Uniqua and nervous Pablo how to have "pirate-itude" at "Pirate Camp." Austin accidentally ends up in the shoe of the infamous "Red Boots" the ghost pirate (Tasha), who tickles you until you turn into a ghost! Uniqua and Pablo go after her, and show off what they've learned in the process.

I mainly wanted to get the laundry done today. Maybe I should have just done it yesterday before I went to Philly. They were busy with a couple of families today. I ended up with one of the expensive washers. The families had some cute kids, though. The little girl in the Minnie shirt was fascinated by the cover of The Storybook of Legends. She must have thought the princesses were pretty.

Ran the rest of the Backyardigans DVD when I got home as I put my laundry away and made a quick spinach-mushroom omelet for lunch. Tasha wants to make "Front Page News" and get her photos on the cover of Bigopolis' newspaper. She thinks she'll get her chance when a robot goes on a rampage. Trouble is, she's also the town's newest superhero, Super Snap...and she's too busy helping Captain Bubble (Tyrone) and Bug Girl (Uniqua) to take pictures! Pablo is "Le Master of Disguise." Inspector Austin follows his trail to the Orient Express, but mistakes Cowboy Tyrone, Circus Performer Tasha, and Conductor Uniqua for the tricky penguin.

Work was quiet when I came in, but picked up around 3:30 and stayed steady the rest of the night. It was still so busy, the manager had to send someone in for me when I got off. Otherwise, there were no major problems besides the usual beginning-of-the-month people who don't help bag.

I made my last quick grocery trip of the year after work. I needed sparkling grape juice, cream, and an orange for the Whipped Syllabub I'll be making for New Year's Eve tomorrow. I found the orange and juice, but the cartons of heavy cream were too much for just a few drinks. They're clearing out the eggnog - I thought I'd try that instead.

Monday, December 29, 2014

It's Christmastime In the City

I slept in a bit today. I didn't get moving until past 11:30. I wanted to revive my post-Christmas shopping trip. I did it once with Jessa at the Cherry Hill Mall, but I usually prefer to go into Philly. I enjoy the walk, the big Macy's, and the general festive holiday atmosphere. I wasn't the only one who decided to spend the day in the city, either. There were quite a few people, mostly college students or families with kids, taking the train into Philly with me.

Got off at 8th and Market. I briefly checked out Century 21, which took over part of the old Strawbridge and Clothier building. They looked like the same thing as Macy's - a high-end department store. Beautiful and elegantly spare, but nothing I needed (or my wallet could afford). I headed into the Gallery Mall.

Books-A-Million did have the third and fourth Ever After High books, one of the things I really wanted for Christmas, but not the first or the second. FYE was papered over with red and yellow 50-75% off signs. Sounds like they're giving up the ghost. I'm surprised they lasted as long as they did, especially with the larger Broad Street FYE within walking distance. I've gotten a few good things there over the years, but not as much as at Broad Street. I didn't see anything I wanted and went back out. I was hoping the Toys R Us Express would be open. Nope, it was shuttered. They must have closed after Christmas.

The sidewalks grew more and more crowded as I made my way down to Reading Terminal Market for lunch. What a mess! I'd never seen it so busy. I barely managed to inch my way through the teeming masses looking for a late lunch. I finally found my way to Tootsie's Salad Express in the very back of the Market building. They were basically a miniature version of Old Country Buffet, with a hot foods bar on one side and a salad bar on the other. I've stuffed myself so much over the last week or so that I wasn't really hungry. I just opted for a roll and a small salad. The college girl at the counter was very sweet. She said I looked familiar. Turned out she'd once lived in Audubon and had shopped at the Acme regularly.

Though she recommended some tables in the center dining area, I opted to take my salad and roll outside. It was chilly and windy, but sunny, and really not anything out of the ordinary for late December in Philadelphia. I enjoyed my meal at the sculpture park next to the Marriott hotel, across from Reading Terminal Market, while watching people eat their own lunches or play with their children.

My next stop was the big Macy's a few blocks down. They were even busier than Reading Terminal Market! I took the elevators up to the third floor. Though I'd like to buy some nice clothes eventually, for now, I used the gift card from Lauren to buy two new pairs of winter pajamas. One is a simple mint-green nightshirt with a white snowflake print. The other is a soft flannel berry plaid nightshirt. The green pajamas were about $18; the plaid nightshirt was on a really good sale for $10.50 (it was originally $42!). The 25 dollar gift card from Lauren covered all but five dollars.

I was originally going to watch the Macy's Light Show upstairs. By the time I paid for my pajamas, the crowds around the railings were three and four deep! I dashed to the elevators instead. The crowds were still heavy in the main room, but I at least could see over people's heads. The atmosphere in the room was electric. Even the teenage boy on my right oohed and ahhed under his breath as fairies danced, Santa rode across the top of the lights in his train, clocks tick-tocked, and teddy bears heralded the magical display. I could hear the kids' delight even around the noise of the customers.

Here's a recording of the Macy's Light Show from about three years ago on YouTube.

I ducked out of the stuffy room as soon as I could and over to City Hall. My next stop was the big FYE on Broad Street. There were a few things I wanted, though not as much as last year. The Broad Street FYE had been totally reorganized since my last visit. DVDs were now on the first floor. Anything related to music, including musicals, were moved upstairs. (Video games stayed where they were in one small section of the second floor.)

I really hit the jackpot with music. Moving the music-related media upstairs allowed FYE to greatly expand their record collection. They had a huge selection of used Broadway cast albums. I would have bought the contents of all three shelves if I had a way to bring them home. I saw albums for lesser-known or flop shows I never believed I'd ever have a chance to hear, besides digging around for occasionally pricey and often out-of-print or made-to-order CDs.

I made a rather nice haul there. The movies I picked up were the Back to the Future trilogy in the original DVD set (I've been meaning to get that for a while), the 1936 MGM disaster drama San Francisco with Jeanette MacDonald and Clark Gable, and last summer's version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The records were buy 2, get one for a dollar - everything else was buy 1, get one for a dollar. Which is why I grabbed six original cast albums and soundtracks - Tovarich (with Vivian Leigh), Bloomer Girl (with Celeste Holm), Anne of Green Gables, Two By Two (with Danny Kaye), Goldilocks (with the late Elaine Stritch), and the double soundtrack for the MGM musicals Words and Music and Good News. I also found one of those K-Tel pop collections marked down to a dollar.

(Incidentally, the other dollar items were San Francisco, Two By Two, and the Words and Music/Good News soundtrack. The Turtles were a splurge at $14, but I really did want to see that. I couldn't find the other recent action hit I'm dying to see, Guardians of the Galaxy. I may have to get that one online.)

It was 3:30 when I made my way down Walnut Street, past shoppers looking for big after-holidays sales. I took a few wrong turns, but I finally made it to Rittenhouse Square ten minutes later. I saw quite a few people chatting or playing with their dogs or kids in the park, silhouetted by the hazy gold late afternoon sunshine.

Barnes and Noble was busy too, but I was really just there for the Ever After High books. They only had the first two, The Storybook of Legends and The Unfairest of All, and the fourth book, a collection of short stories featuring the various students. I just bought the first two. I'll pick up the other two either online or at another Barnes and Noble next month or with tax return money in February.

I saw a coffee shop called Peet's Coffee and Tea as I was walking to Barnes and Noble. I stopped there to get off my knees and get a drink on my way home. They were so busy, I literally got the last seat at the counter! They were pretty much the same thing as Starbucks with a different label and more modern-style furniture. I wasn't impressed. My Iced Chai Latte was watery and the lemon iced pound cake was dry as a bone. I was mainly there to sit down and use the bathroom.

Took a surprisingly quiet 4:30 train home. I guess everyone got out early. As the train rumbled over the Ben Franklin Bridge, I was able to take in one of the loveliest sunsets I'd ever seen. Brilliant shades of crimson melded with deep purple in the soft blue sky over the traffic-laden highways and Schuylkill River. It was worth the trip to Philly just to be able to get a good glimpse of that marvelous sunset.

Rose called about a half-hour after I made it home. Though she did take Khai to visit his other set of grandparents and Craig's biological father on and the day after Christmas, she mostly spent the rest of the week sick. She says she only just got over the bronchitis yesterday. She also mentioned that she planned on taking Khai and me down to Cape May County to see that side of the family in late January, after Anny has her baby. She pointed out to me that everyone had to work. We're adults. Adults have to work over holidays sometimes. It's not practical to want to spend Christmas the same way all the time. I have to make new traditions.

On one hand, she's right that I need to not only find other things to do on Christmas, but figure out how to get to them. I'd love to go to the movies, but it would require a bus ride, and most soup kitchens are in Camden - not a good place to go alone, even on a holiday. I really need to work on making my own traditions for major holidays, with or without other people around.

On the other hand...she's missing the point. Unlike Rose, who has a son, a boyfriend, two dogs, and a cat, and can drive and see the rest of the family whenever she can spare the time, I don't have a family or a quick way to see the rest of ours. Christmas is one of the few times I can see most of my family in one place. I really look forward to it. Christmas is very important to me. It hurt me that other people couldn't try to make the effort to get together.

I cheered myself up with leftovers for dinner and Ship Ahoy, another Red Skelton musical I got from Lauren's Christmas box. This time, Eleanor Powell is the girl Skelton's infatuated with. She's a dancer with a troupe that includes Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (and Frank Sinatra) on a boat bound for Puerto Rico. Virginia O'Brian is her best friend; Bert Lahr is Red's. Red is a pulp fiction novelist on the boat for his health. He falls for Eleanor hard, but in a plot pulled from one of his own stories, she turns out to be a spy who is being used to carry an important machine to enemy hands. Things really get crazy when they all land in San Juan and both sides end up pursuing the lovers and that magnetic marvel.

This is somewhat similar to Bathing Beauty, but I ended up enjoying it a lot more. The plot is just as silly, but it's more fun and offers Skelton and Lahr some great comic opportunities. Energetic Powell and dour O'Brian both work a lot better with Skelton than Esther Williams. Powell was coming close to the end of her time as a major MGM star (she would retire about three years after this movie was released), but she does get some decent numbers, including one where she taps out a warning in Morse Code. If you're a fan of the stars, Sinatra, or big band music, this is definitely worth looking for at the Warner Archives. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Last Game of the Season

Started out the day with two soundtracks I bought this year. One, The Roaring 20s, was an LP I found at a yard sale a few months ago. Dorothy Provine sings medleys of hit songs from the 1920s, taken from the 60s TV cop show of the same name. I picked up Frozen as a Christmas present to myself in early January. Though "Let It Go" is my favorite number from this and is by far the best-known song, there's some other lovely tunes as well. "Love Is An Open Door" is fun if you don't know what comes later (or what Hans is really after), and there's the heartbreaking "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" and Olaf the Snowman's tour-de-force "In Summer."

It rained while I made delicious Coconut Pecan Pancakes for breakfast. By the time I was heading out to work, the rain was long gone. Even so, it was still dead this morning. A lot of people were buying food for birthday or late holiday parties, and the Eagles-Giants game (last game of the season for both teams) was at 1. It started picking up right before the game and remained steady for the rest of the evening. My relief was right on time, and there were no major problems getting out.

It was still cloudy, damp, and cool but not cold for this time of year when I headed home. I changed into regular pants, picked up Rose and Khai's Christmas gifts, and went to Dad's. Jodie came through my line at work and invited me to watch the game with them. As it turned out, Mark and I were the only ones who came. Everyone else was either sick or still busy with holiday plans. (Vanessa was getting her hair done, which is evidently an all-day task that requires extensions and straightening.)

There was plenty to eat! Jodie bought fried chicken, cole slaw, and potato salad when she was at the Acme. There was a Caesar Salad, Hawaiian rolls and butter, and lots of goodies leftover from Christmas Eve - cookies, coconut cream pie, red velvet cupcakes. and candy. I enjoyed two pieces of chicken, salad, pie, two rolls, and chocolate chip, eggnog, and sugar cookies with characters printed on them.

(Incidentally, as it turns out, I'm not the only one who spent Christmas night alone. Jodie said Dad decided he didn't feel well and stayed home. She was the only one who went to her family's Christmas dinner.)

The Eagles were almost as good as the food. They did falter in the second half, allowing the Giants to catch up to the point where Dad kept saying every five minutes that they were sure to lose. They didn't. They finally won 34-26, ending an up-and-down season on a high note. (Despite all of Dad's fussing that they wouldn't get a good draft slot if they won. I don't care about their draft pick. That's the off-season. I care about now.)  I got so fed up with all of Dad's complaining, I left the moment the game ended, with Mark right behind.

I spent the rest of the night resting online and trying some of the AG outfits Lauren sent on the dolls. Samantha's Frilly Frock is one of the new outfits added when she was re-released in August. It's very tight on my older doll, but it looks so cute on her, with its ruffle-and-lace tiered skirt, big lace collar, and historically accurate pink strap boots. Whitney got to try on the modern Sweet Spring Dress, as well as Julie's new purple coat. (The hat wouldn't fit over her curls.) The coat is supposed to be for Jessa, but she may be sharing it with Whitney until I can find something for her.

I ran more records as I changed the dolls. This time, I went with two cast albums of musical comedy-dramas of the 50s and 60s. New Girl In Town is a Gwen Verdon vehicle and a musical version of Anna Christie. Verdon plays Anna, a prostitute who falls in love with a sailor who doesn't know what her profession is. Thelma Ritter is Marthy, her father's girlfriend.

She Loves Me is also based after a famous play, Parfumerie, better known in its first film version as The Shop Around the Corner. Daniel Massey and Barbara Cook are the battling shop clerks who don't know they're really secret pen pals who have been writing love letters to each other. Jack Cassidy is another clerk who is chasing the boss' wife. This is rather notorious in New York for having a lovely score that never seems go over with audiences. The original 1963 mounting was a minor hit; a revival was a flop. Maybe it's because it's practically sung-through, with some very difficult and delicate songs. Too bad, because they're right that there's some nice music here, especially Cook's "Ice Cream."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Fun With Fairy Tales

I slept in this morning. Started late with a couple of Popeye cartoons that spoof fairy tales and fantasy. "Ancient Fistory" is the Famous Studios Popeye's version of Cinderella. All Popeye wants to do is go to Queen Olive's ball...and thanks to his Fairy God-Pappy, he gets his chance. "Greek Mirthology" has Popeye telling his nephews how Hercules started eating spinach to make him strong in order to get them to eat their greens. Olive writes her own version of "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp," with Popeye as Aladdin and her as his princess.

Went for a short errand run after breakfast. It was too nice of a day to stay inside for very long! Today was sunny and unusually warm for late December, probably into the lower-mid 50s. I started at the Oaklyn Library. Except for me and the librarians, it was pin-drop quiet. I talked about Christmas and American Girl dolls with the librarian (her nieces have several dolls of their own) as did what little DVD and kids' section organizing there was to do.

Headed up to the Family Dollar on the White Horse Pike next. I wanted to find a long, flat plastic container for my wrapping paper and gift boxes. Nope. Their plastic containers were all tall and square or rectangular. Went across the street to Duncan Donuts and treated myself to a Vanilla Bean Coolatta.

When I got home, I had Chinese leftovers and Cranberry Flummery while watching more shorts. Mickey Mouse did two fairy tale-themed cartoons. The first, "Ye Olden Days," was a black-and-white short. Mickey is a poor minstrel, Minnie is the princess he falls for, Clarabelle is her lady-in-waiting, and Goofy is Minnie's clumsy prince intended. When the two mice are caught trying to sneak away, Mickey has to fight Goofy for Minnie's hand in marriage!

"Senorella and the Glass Hurache" is an unusual later-day Warner Bros short. While it's set in modern Mexico, all of the characters are human - no Speedy Gonzoles in sight. This is a Latin-themed retelling of the Cinderella story - the prince is a bullfighter, his father owns a ranch, Cinderella's coach is driven by former bugs instead of mice, and she loses a slip-on sandal instead of the usual high heel. It's fairly stereotypical - especially the narration - but pretty cute nevertheless.

As with the Oaklyn Library, work was dead almost the entire night. It did pick up a little during rush hour, but otherwise, I and the other college kids who worked tonight stood around a lot. (When we weren't doing all the returns that had accumulated over the Christmas holidays.) Needless to say, I got off with no relief and no need for one, and there were no really major problems.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Very Red Holiday Season

Started off a sunny, lovely morning with an early work shift. Actually, we were pretty much quiet for most of the morning. It did get on-and-off steady later in the afternoon, but by that time, I was almost done. Most people were probably either at the malls or resting from yesterday. It won't pick up until next week, when people get ready for New Year's parties and get their beginning-of-the-month money. I was out as soon as the college boy who was my relief arrived.

As soon as I finished, I went in the back to get my schedule. Thank heavens, I don't work anywhere near the ridiculous hours I worked last New Year's week. In fact, my schedule is perfectly normal for late fall-early winter. I once again have Monday off...and much to my surprise, New Year's Day. I haven't had New Year's Day off in at least three or four years. I'm so glad. I'll make up for my disappointing Christmas with a nice week after, including my traditional New Year's Day breakfast out and seeing the Mummers' Parade live.

I didn't have a lot of grocery shopping to do today, but I did have some expensive things I needed. The small hams weren't on a huge sale, but I wanted one for my New Year's Eve dinner. I think I'll make that tasty Crock Pot Ham and Potatoes recipe in Julie's Cooking Studio. Bought orange juice to make Cranberry Muffins tonight. Just ran out of shampoo yesterday - the Acme finally had Herbal Essences' curl formula back in. Had a lot of restocking to do as well - sugar, whole wheat flour, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, apples, onions, grapefruit, spinach, bananas, molasses, and eggs. Decided I'd try the Sugar Cookie Toast Crunch Matt mentioned at Dinosaur Dracula. I don't normally eat super-sweet cereals, but hey, it's only once a year. Also grabbed some more of those bags of glazed pecans and cinnamon mixed nuts that are just so divine before they disappear on clearance.

When I got home, I took my time putting everything away. I started making those Cranberry Muffins while watching Bathing Beauty. The beauty in question is swimming teacher Esther Williams. Horrified when she's lead to believe that her songwriter fiancee (Red Skelton) is married to another, she returns to the girl's school where she works. He's so crazy about her, he joins the school just to be near her. While she fends off his advances, his beleaguered best friend and producer (Basil Rathbone) tries to get the songs for his latest water pageant out of him.

This was Esther Williams' first starring role, and I'm afraid it shows. The only water ballets are a short one during her introduction and the spectacular finale. This is really more for fans of Skelton (who has some funny material, including one segment where he mimes a woman putting on her makeup) or the big band era (Harry James and Xavier Cugat's orchestras have specialty numbers).

Moved to A Southern Yankee while heating up the leftover Chinese food for dinner. We jump back to St. Louis during the Civil War. Skelton plays Aubrey, a clumsy, none-too-bright bell boy who really wants to be a spy. When he accidentally captures a notorious Confederate spy called The Gray Spider, a beautiful female spy named Sally Ann (Arlene Dahl) thinks Aubrey is the Spider. Aubrey falls for Sally Ann and plays along, until the Union asks him to do some spying for real. Now he has to dodge the lines of both sides and keep the Confederates - and Sally Ann - from finding out who he really is and what he's doing.

Buster Keaton worked on this really cute comedy. His input helped - there's some great gags here, including Red wearing a two-sided uniform to try to get himself past both the Union and Confederate lines and him hiding in a doghouse from Confederate soldiers towards the end. Skelton's fans and classic comedy lovers will get a kick out of this one - look for it at the Warner Archives.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Different Christmas

Thankfully after the messy weather yesterday, I woke to a beautiful and sunny, if windy, morning. After reading a couple of holiday-themed short stories, I made my way out to the living room. My large present was from my friends Linda & James Young in Atlanta. They gave me another book on the Beatles, this one an intriguing coffee-table book called The Beatles In America. My stocking stuffer was from my next-door neighbors Willa and Richard McHugh. It was a lovely, heavy porcelain ornament that said "Jingle Bells" over a reindeer and had a glazed, rustic look to it. It's too heavy for the tree, but I'll find somewhere to hang it.

Mom called a few minutes after I finished opening gifts. She was just getting ready for work. I wish she hadn't worked. I wish she and Dad could have come up here, like they did last year. Mom always loved Christmas.

I barely had the time for changing and grabbing my presents for the family before I headed out. It was just Dad and Jodie when I got to their house. Jodie's sons T.J and Jesse and their friends and girlfriends didn't arrive until later. Mark dropped by, but he said Vanessa was busy helping a friend with dinner. A neighbor and his adorable son dropped by, too. We had that French toast casserole Jodie is so fond of making, sausages, fruit, orange juice, tea, and pumpkin, coconut, and my Pumpkin Pudding Pie leftover from the party last night. (Jodie also made herself scrambled eggs.)

I did get some nice gifts. Dad gave me 100 dollars. I'll keep half for next week and put the rest in the bank. He and Jodie also gave me 9 inch and 12 inch Paula Deen pans. I badly needed new open frying pans. My larger ones date from Wildwood and are really done for. Rose and Craig gave me something else I badly needed - cookie sheets! Mine have been used constantly since I was in college. They're in even worse shape than the pans. (I also got a cake pan from Dad and Jodie, but it's the same one I bought in October. I'll donate it somewhere.)

I watched Christmas Story with Dad while everyone else chatted. It's Christmas 1940, and all Ralphie Parker wants is a Red Ryder BB Gun. Trouble is, his mom doesn't think it's a good idea, and his dad is too distracted by faulty heaters and the neighbors' dogs to notice. Ralphie just hopes he can live through childhood pitfalls like dodging bullies, standing in line for Santa, and having his mouth washed long enough to make it to Christmas Day!

Dad and Jodie did invite me to Jodie's family's house for Christmas dinner, but the last time I went, I got bored and went home early. I thought I'd be better off at home or finding something else to do. I like Jodie's family, but they're all older or younger than I am, and I don't really feel comfortable among them. Jessa never appeared all morning.

Went home around noon. I was hoping to find a mall or a store open. No luck. Nothing was open. There seemed to be nothing to do. I put on The House Without a Christmas Tree while I tried to figure out what to do next. Like Ralphie, Addie (Lisa Lucas)  is a kid in the midwest in the 40s who desperately wants a special gift for Christmas. Addie's desire is far less violent than a gun - she wants a Christmas tree. Her small family has never had one. Her grandmother (Mildred Natwick) and best friend Carla Mae (Alexia Kenin) try to help, but her father (Jason Robards) refuses. Christmas trees and his daughter remind him too much of the wife who died years before. It's Addie who finally shows her father the real meaning of charity and of giving.

(Incidentally, the second Addie story, The Thanksgiving Treasure, was finally put on DVD this year as a double bill with House Without a Christmas Tree. At press time, the subsequent Easter and Valentine's Day stories have yet to be released.)

Switched to one last animated special as I got organized. The Year Without a Santa Claus is my favorite Rankin Bass Christmas tale. Santa doesn't feel his best and wants to take a vacation during the Christmas season. Mrs. Claus panics and sends some elves to find some Christmas spirit and convince him otherwise. What no one planned on was ending up in the warm Deep South...or ending up getting involved with the feuding Heat and Snow Misers, who refuse to compromise for anyone, including each other!

The sun was just starting to set as I headed out in search of dinner. It was a beautiful night for a ride. There were clouds briefly while I was at Dad's, but by the time I was riding around, they were long gone. Good thing, too. I had a long ride ahead of me. Nothing was open. Applebee's was closed. The Legacy Diner was closed. The TreeHouse Cafe was closed. Aunt Berta's was closed. I was hoping some restaurant somewhere would be open so people like me who don't have anywhere else to go would have a nice dinner. I went out to dinner on Christmas night with the Cape May side of the family for four years running, from 2000 to 2004.

I ended up at Bamboo, the little Chinese place in the Westmont Plaza. They were the only store open in the whole mall. Chinese turkey (aka Peking duck) was too big for just me. I opted for shrimp and vegetables, boiled dumplings with vegetables, an egg roll, egg drop soup, and a bottle of water. I was the only person there. I saw two old women come in for orders, but they didn't stay. I ended up taking everything but the soup home. I'll have plenty of leftovers for the weekend!

Since it remained a nice (and less windy) night, I rode around a little and looked at lights in Haddon Township. I especially loved the inflatable that looked like a Snoopy Sno-Cone Maker, with Charlie Brown and Snoopy on either side. I also treated myself to a Cake Batter Milkshake at WaWa (which is always open no matter what).

When I got home, I went right in the bath. Ahhh. That felt nice, and it gave me a chance to think. While I appreciate the gifts and money from everyone, what I really wanted was for my whole family to be in one place at Christmas, like they were last year. I can understand Rose being sick and wanting to rest, but couldn't Mom have taken even one day off? Just one? And Jessa and Joe go to the movies every other day. I'm dying to see Into the Woods too, but couldn't they have spent even a little time with Dad and Jodie this morning?

I'm very, very disappointed. I probably should have gone with Dad and Jodie to that dinner. I really wish I could figure out a way to bring my family together again, or at least to see them more often. Or find a group I could hang out with and fit in with, so I wouldn't feel like a fifth wheel wherever I go. Or find a place where I could go on a holiday and be with people who are single or just on their own, like me.

At any rate, I hope all of you who celebrate it had a wonderful Christmas, with or without the people you love.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Somewhere In My Memory

My Christmas Eve began with a downpour. I was glad I'd called Dad last night and asked for a ride to work. I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas as I ate breakfast. Chuck is frustrated with all of the grab, grab around him. Sally just wants money. Lucy wants real estate and Schroeder, in approximately that order. Snoopy wants to win a local light display contest. Chuck joins his church pageant to try to get some holiday feeling, but the kids are more interested in dancing than pageants. The tiny tree he buys isn't appreciated...until Linus reminds everyone what the real meaning of the holiday is.

Moved on to How the Grinch Stole Christmas as I got ready for work. The Grinch is the grouchy green fellow who lives on Mount Crumpet. He doesn't like the noisy Christmas festivities of the Whos, who live in the valley below, so he decides to steal their goodies. It takes their annual Christmas sing-a-long - and the realization that Christmas means a lot more than toys, trees, and roast beast - for him to change his mind and return their goodies.

Squeaked a Christmas short before I had to go to work. Tom and Jerry's third starring short was a Christmas story, "The Night Before Christmas." It was also their first Oscar-nominated short. Tom isn't crazy about Jerry stirring in his home on Christmas Eve. He tries to chase him out, but when he actually succeeds, he remembers that the words "Peace on Earth, goodwill towards men" apply to cats and mice, too.

It was still raining, though not as hard, when Jodie took me to work. (She said she had to run to Wal Mart anyway.) Work was crazy when I came in, with very long lines, but it gradually cleared out as the day progressed. It was steady by noon, and pretty much stayed on-and-off steady the rest of the afternoon. Most people were in good moods, and thank heavens the computers ran far faster this year than they did last Christmas Eve. There were no gift card problems, either. The deli and bakery had trays of fruit and cookies and another crock pot of cocktail wieners in the back room later in the day.

By the time Dad picked me up, the rain had vanished all together, though the clouds remained. He dropped me off at my place so I could get organized and grab the presents to give to people at  his party tonight. Ran another short as I changed. "Mickey's Good Deed" is one of my favorite black-and-white Disney cartoons. Poor Mickey and Pluto are literally playing for their supper one cold Christmas Eve. Mickey gives up his most cherished possession to help a mother buy presents for her children...but he gets an even happier surprise later that night!

Speaking of surprises, there were a couple of them on my doorstep. One actually was hanging on my apartment door. Richard, Willa, and their family gave me a plate of cookies, peppermint bark, and a candy cane, along with a small bag that I put in my stocking to open tomorrow for a "stocking stuffer."

I have no idea where the basket of goodies that was on the stoop of the front apartment (or what's left of it) belongs. It has no label. It's huge, a big red bin filled with boxes of cookies, bags of Reece's Mini Peanut Butter Cups, and a big bag of piselles.

There was,  however, nothing for me from Mom or anyone on the Cape May side of the family. I was hoping she'd at least send a card. She usually does. I guess they're a little late. Mom's working at the Ferry for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's. She really, really needs the money, and she doesn't have any kids at home anymore.

Dad's party wasn't quite as big as last year. Once again, a lot of people may have been scared off by the weather, despite the fact that it wasn't raining by quarter of 6. Jodie, Rose, Craig, and Khai were there, along with some neighbors whose children are friends of Khai's, Erica and her mother Miss Helen, Jodie's sons Jesse and T.J, Jesse's girlfriend Dana, and a couple of their friends. I was disappointed when Rose told me she, Craig, and Khai weren't coming to Dad and Jodie's brunch tomorrow. Rose has bronchitis - she was barely up and moving around for Christmas Eve. I wish she could have told me that sooner. I would have brought hers and Khai's gifts tonight.

At least the food was really good. There was turkey, ham, lasagna, Vanessa's macaroni and cheese, macaroni salad, sauteed asparagus with bacon, rolls and butter, and Rose's cookie plate. She made cherry sugar cookies with white chocolate middles, chocolate butter cookies with candy cane Hershey's Kiss middles (good idea - those things are so good, they deserve to be in a cookie), and plain small sugar cookies. Someone had a plate of those new filled chocolate chip and brownie cookies Pillsbury just started selling.

I was able to talk to a few people. I gave Mark and Vanessa their cookies. I greeted all of Jodie's relatives. Erica and Miss Helen thanked me profusely for the cookies. Erica and I traded retail stories (she works for TJMaxx in Cherry Hill now). The little kids requested The Empire Strikes Back in the den, while the adults watched Home Alone and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation on ABC Family in the living room. I had a long and involved chat with Khai's 7-year-old gal friend about pets, dolphins with prosthetic tails, and what she wanted for Christmas (stuffed 101 Dalmatians and Disney princess toys).

I left around 7:30. Rose and her family had left nearly an hour before. I caught Jessa and Joe just as they were coming in. Jessa said she wasn't sure if she was going to be at Dad's brunch tomorrow. I did what I could to talk her into it. I didn't want to be the only young adult there. She and Joe could catch a later movie.

They did give me a Christmas present, an adorably plump stuffed Pluto. He was more like a Pluto pillow than a stuffed animal. These kind of toys are called "tsum tsums," They're from Japan, and they're apparently very popular. At least I know I'll have a comfy sleep tonight! ; )

But I still felt glum walking home. I hadn't gotten a card - or anything - from anyone on the Cape May side of the family. I know Mom said they were busy and didn't have much money or time, but still. What I want for Christmas is for both sides of the family to be together in one place, like they were last year. I feel so left out sometimes. I felt out of place at that party tonight. There was the mystery of that basket, too. It was too big to belong to me. It just couldn't.

Since it still wasn't raining, I decided to walk around Dad's neighborhood and look at lights. There were some pretty amazing displays. My favorite was the house next-door to the former Taco Bell that decorated the entire property in lights, from colored spotlights leading to the house to rows of large multi-colored lights on the fences in the back yard.

When I got home, I ran a couple of specials to cheer me up as I went online. 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and a clock maker and the mouse who lives in his house are very much stirring. The mouse's brainy son insulted Santa by sending him a letter claiming he's a fraud, then accidentally ruined the clock tower the clock maker built to bring Santa to the town. The mouse does what he can to set things right, just in time for the famous poem to come true.

A Disney Channel Christmas has been a part of my holidays since my family recorded it in the late 80s. This is a combination of two earlier Disney Christmas specials, Jiminy Cricket's Christmas and A Disney Christmas Gift, with additional material. "Mickey's Good Deed" is included in full, along with "Pluto's Christmas Tree," "Once Upon a Wintertime," and most of "Donald's Snow Fight," "The Clock Watcher," the Goofy short "The Art of Skiing," and the two Santa Silly Symphonies, "Santa's Workshop" and "The Night Before Christmas." The two theme songs, "From All of Us to All of You" and "On Christmas Morning," were carried over from the original specials.

I've switched over to music. Did Christmas With Andy Williams and the Williams Brothers and just finished the orchestra-and-vocals album New England Sleigh Ride. I'll move to either Barbara Streisand, the Beach Boys, or one of the album collections next.

I think Jiminy Cricket said it best. From all of us to all of you, Merry Christmas, and the very happiest of holiday seasons!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Making It Christmas

I spent a dreary, misty morning watching Christmas programs and movies. The Bishop's Wife is the lovely Julia (Loretta Young) who is feeling neglected by her husband (David Niven). He's desperate to get a new cathedral built. When he prays for guidance, he gets Dudley (Cary Grant), an impossibly handsome and suave angel. Dudley seems to charm everyone around him, including Julia, the maid Nora (Elsa Lanchester), and an old family friend, the Professor (Monty Wooley). The bishop is less than impressed, especially after Dudley constantly takes his place on outings with Julia. What Dudley's really trying to do is teach the bishop a lesson - no cathedral is as important as helping his congregation or spending time with those he loves.

The last of the three popular post-war Christmas movies is a lovely, sentimental favorite. Grant makes an especially charming angel.

I made the Vanilla Cream Icing and frosted the cupcakes and the Pumpkin Pudding Pie for Dad's party tomorrow night while the movie was on. Loaded the cupcakes into square containers I bought from Dollar Tree earlier in the month that were originally intended for cookies, put the pie in the refrigerator to chill, and that was that. I'm now officially done with all of my Christmas preparations. The only thing I have left to do is deliver the food, cards, and gifts to the Camden County side of the family. I'll be doing that tomorrow night and Thursday morning.

Moved onto TV episodes and specials as I did some things online and had leftovers for lunch. Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas was one of the very first holiday specials to debut on HBO in the late 70s. My family's copy was taped about a decade later. Emmett Otter and his mother Alice are facing a bare Christmas, until they decide to enter the local talent contest. Emmett joins the title jug band; Mrs. Otter performs a folk ballad solo. The ultimate winner of the contest is a surprise...and what happens to Ma and Emmett when they sing together is even more so.

The late 90's cable comedy-drama Remember WENN's only Christmas episode debuted during their second season. It's "Christmas In the Airwaves," and it looks like the holiday season of 1940 will be one of merriment and cheer for the staff of radio station WENN. At least until the station's owner and her miserly financier arrive. She's grieving for the loss of her husband; he only cares about selling off the station. When the word comes down to the staff that there's to be no Christmas on the station, they find a way for the show to go on, and to prove to their owner that her life can go on, too.

It was still misting when I left for work, but not so heavily that I couldn't ride my bike. Work was busy when I came in and busy when I left, but on-and-off steady throughout most of the day. There was a crock pot of warm mini hot dogs in the back room for lunch. It was still so busy when we finished, I was almost late getting out. Otherwise, there were no major problems and the day went fairly quickly.

When I got home (slightly damp from the ongoing mist), I ran A Garfield Christmas Special as I settled in for the night. Garfield's not looking forward to spending the holidays with Jon's family, but he does bond with tough-minded Grandma. While Jon and his brother Doc Boy beg to open presents and read stories about Binky the Clown, Garfield makes a late-night find in the barn that may make Grandma's Christmas morning a little merrier.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Run Run Rudolph

It was still sunny when I got up this morning. I ran Moonlighting while eating breakfast. They did two Christmas episodes. I prefer the more upbeat "'Twas the Episode Before Christmas" from the second season. Maddie and David's receptionist Agnes finds a baby in her apartment. While Maddie and David look for the mother, they argue over the idea of parenthood and David using company phones for his "Santa Hotline."

The first thing on my long to-do list for today was a trip to the laundromat. Thankfully, unlike my pre-Christmas laundromat run last year, they were quiet as can be. There were only two people unloading dryers when I arrived, and one college student loading a dryer when I left. I spent the hour listening to The Price Is Right and reading Christmas stories.

When I got home, I put everything away while running another TV Christmas show. The second episode of Night Court had a mild Christmas theme. "Santa Goes Downtown" when a kindly old derelict in a red suit shows up at the court and insists he's the jolly old man in red. Harry doesn't believe he's Santa, and neither do two runaways who refuse to give anyone their names. (One of the runaways is Michael J. Fox, just prior to Family Ties.) The old man finally shows Harry and the kids that there are people out there who care about them, even just an old man in a red suit.

Headed out again after the show ended. I wanted to deliver the food gifts for my current landlords Richard and Willa next-door, my former landlords Andrew and Linda down the street, and my old friend Erica and her mom Miss Helen who live a block from Dad's house. I was going to wait until Christmas Eve to do it, but the weather doesn't sound like it's going to be appropriate for a lot of running around.

I had lunch at Amato Bros, the deli and hoagie store on the White Horse Pike, next to Duncan Donuts. My "Mama's Turkey" - basically a turkey club hoagie with Russian dressing - was delicious, if a bit messy. I also enjoyed a can of Diet Pepsi and a couple of white chocolate and macadamia nut cookies. It was quarter of 1 by that point, and they were busy with people enjoying a quick lunch and picking up hoagies to eat on the go. I listened to Action News and The Chew's Ugly Sweater Contest and watched people pick up their orders.

I rode to the Haddon Township Library through Newton River Park. By the time I was there, it was cold and had clouded over, but the wind was nonexistent. The dark, mottled water of the river looked like it had tried to freeze over and failed. The grass was still a little green, probably from all the rain we've had. I only saw two other people, an old man out for a stroll and a man walking his two little dogs, but there were tons of ducks and Canadian geese around. I dodged a particularly large flock of geese as I headed for the park exit on Cuthbert.

The Library was fairly busy when I arrived, and there was quite a bit to do. Thankfully, this week, I  had no problems doing it all, other than the B and S titles don't fit in the kids' DVD sections and the R and S titles are overflowing on the adult shelves. I also put away new book releases, CDs, and audio books. And for once, I agree with the head librarian, who must have heard about the fuss last week. From now on, I try to stick to volunteering in the afternoon whenever possible. They have plenty of help in the mornings.

(I opted not to take anything out again. I don't know what my schedule next week will be like, and I have plenty of movies to watch here, including all those DVDs Lauren sent me.)

Next stop was Thriftway for what I hope will be my last grocery shopping trip before Christmas Day. I needed to pick up a shortbread crust, canned pumpkin, milk, and Cool Whip for the pudding pie. They had the smaller box of brown sugar on sale for 99 cents - I was just about out. Grabbed heavy cream for the cupcake icing I'll make tomorrow. Thriftway was surprisingly dead as a doornail. I had no problems anywhere, including in line.

I made my way around traffic on Cuthbert and the White Horse Pike, then made one more quick stop at WaWa for a Peach-Nectarine Sparkling Ice before riding home. Ran Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas while getting organized and making Red Velvet Cupcakes. This anthology of three shorts featuring the Disney characters came out in 1999, and has been a favorite of mine ever since. I'm especially fond of the first story, "Donald Duck: Stuck On Christmas." Huey, Dewey, and Louie wish it was Christmas every day, then regret it when their wish turns out to be a burden instead of a blessing. It's "A Very Goofy Christmas" when Pete tells Goofy's son Max that Santa isn't real. Goofy goes out of his way to prove otherwise. In "Mickey and Minnie's Gift of the Magi," Mickey and Minnie learn a lesson about love when they trade their most prized possessions for gifts for their sweethearts.

Oh, and the Red Velvet Cupcakes finish all Christmas baking. Dad and Jodie loved the Blue and Red Velvet Cupcakes I made for Dad's Father's Day party so much, I opted to give them both some for Christmas. I just have the cupcakes left to frost and the Pumpkin Pudding Pie to make for Dad and Jodie's Christmas Eve party, and I'll be done with my Christmas list.

Moved to National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation as I made Chicken Stir-Fry with leftover chicken breast, a very small sweet potato, and some of those bagged veggies for dinner. Like Arthur Read, Clark Griswald is looking forward to a perfect holiday, with a huge tree, a big dinner for all the family, tons of presents, and his whole clan together. As with Arthur, what Clark imagines and what actually happens is a whole other story. His in-laws don't get along at all. The yuppies next door aren't delighted by Clark wrapping his house with bright lights. His hillbilly cousins show up unexpectedly and create even more chaos. When Christmas Eve turns into one disaster after another, Clark finally snaps...until he realizes that while no one's holiday is perfect, that doesn't mean they can't be memorable.

This is an old favorite of mine (and a reminder of why my parents always insisted that any relatives who wanted to visit for the holidays come on Christmas night or the week after.) Ok, so the jokes are scatological and the yuppies are annoying and dated. I love the cast here - William Hickey and Mae Questal steal the show as obnoxious Uncle Louis and sweetly senile Aunt Bethany. (Questal, the long-time voice of Betty Boop and Olive Oyl, should have done more live-action.) Great for older kids and teens who will be going on their own vacations this week and adults who have probably gone through a lot of what Clark does in this movie.

Finished out the night with one of several holiday episodes of Happy Days. Mr. Cunningham would probably relate to Clark quite a bit in the second season episode "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas?" All he wants is a good old-fashioned Christmas Eve with his wife and children. Richie, however, figures out that Fonzie's insistence that he's going to a party is a fib and that he's really alone for the holiday. Richie and Mr. Cunningham find a way to invite Fonzie without hurting his making him feel like part of the family.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Once Upon a Wintertime

I'm glad it was a beautiful, sunny first day of winter when I got up this morning. It's supposed to rain for the next three days, including Christmas Eve! I had one last banana that was getting really, really squishy and coconut leftover from the Cherry-Coconut Bars. Tossed in a few of the smaller pieces of glazed pecans and made Tropical Banana Pancakes. Ooooh, they were so good! I wish I'd been able to finish them, but I was still a little full from yesterday.

Listened to Christmas music as I ate. The first Disney's Christmas Collection is much shorter than the follow-up. I still have it for the song "From All of Us to All of You" (from Jiminy Cricket's Christmas) and Jiminy's sweet recitation of "The Night Before Christmas." The rest of the CD is mainly selections from an older Disney holiday album mixed with two songs by the Disney characters, "Oh Christmas Tree" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." (What's with that weird medley of carols that finishes the CD? It sounds like it was sung by Chip and Dale going to a funeral.)

My favorite of The Great Songs of Christmas albums I have is the one that was released in 1965. Anna Maria Albergetti sings a lovely "Caroling, Caroling." Diahann Carrol gets two beautiful older hymns, "Lo, How a Rose 'Er Blooming" and "Some Children See Him." Maurice Chevalier, then in the tail end of his late 50s-early 60s comeback, does a really cute "Jolly Old St. Nicholas" and a gentle "Silent Night," the latter performed partly in his native French. The album concludes with a really fun number from Sammy Davis Jr, "It's Christmastime All Over the World."

I have Nat King Cole's The Christmas Song on cassette. The title song is by far the most famous number here, but there's some other nice pieces. I'm especially fond of the touching "A Cradle In Bethlehem." He even does a bit of "Oh Tannenbaum" ("Oh Christmas Tree") in its original German.

Work was on-and-off busy all day, not surprising for a Sunday. Sundays tend to be busy even when there's no holidays or football going on. Things did get a bit hectic later, when everyone started to come out of church and the malls and think about their Christmas and Hanukkah dinners. Thankfully, everything went pretty well. There were even leftover ham, pretzels, tortilla chips, and deviled eggs in the back room. My relief was one of the college boys, and he was right on time.

When I got home, I changed into regular clothes, then put on more Christmas music and spoken word collections as I made Pumpkin Bread. I have an episode of the Jimmy Stewart radio show The Six Shooter that adapts A Christmas Carol on a large set of various old-time radio shows. Stewart's Britt Ponset tells a runaway boy the story of old Eben Scrooge. This nasty western miser owned lots of ranches, but was too mean and stingy to build a real ranch house, or let his foreman Bob have one, either. He stubbornly refused to go to his nephew Fred's livery stable for a Christmas party. Four ghosts and Bob's small, fragile son work their way into Eben's heart and change his mind about the holidays...and the little boy and his aunt's minds, too.

It's Christmas Time was another cassette find from the Laserlight displays at Staples in the early-mid 90s. Although Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Nat King Cole are prominent on the cover, Cole only has two numbers, "The Christmas Song" and a rollicking "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." The rest of the album is made up of selections from Bing and Frank's various radio appearances. I think Bing's are mainly taken from The Kraft Music Hall, a radio variety show he hosted in the 40s.

My favorite song by far is the opening "Silent Night." I used to run this cassette right before I went to bed on Christmas Eve, so Bing's words were the last thing I heard before I went to sleep. "Hear that? The bells of Christmas 1945 ring out clear and free around the world and you. Their message comes from the hearts of 72 million grateful Americans. They wish you peace on Earth, good will towards men, and Merry Christmas to all of you." The other famous song is the finale, "Jingle Bells." I believe the "oh we have a lot of fun" was used in Target's holiday commercials for many years.

Incidentally, the Pumpkin Bread concludes my baking from scratch. The Red Velvet Cupcakes I'm going to make tomorrow come from a mix. The Pumpkin Pudding Pie I'll make Tuesday morning requires no baking. It's the same recipe I used for Mom's day-after-Thanksgiving breakfast, and it came out just as perfectly.

I made a quick Spinach Pancake (spinach, mushroom, cheese, and eggs) for dinner while listening to that Merry Christmas Supremes album I bought from Grooveground in Collingswood during the Christmas Parade. I'm guessing this Motown release is from the mid-60s, from their enormous hair-dos on the back cover. "The Children's Christmas Song," with its sweet and simple "ding dong ding dong" refrain, is probably the best known song. I liked the gritty "Son of Mary" even more. "My Christmas Tree," a tale of Christmas heartbreak, wasn't nearly as much fun.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cartoon Holidays

It was cloudy and chilly when I got up this morning (after beginning my annual chapter-a-day reading of A Christmas Carol). I started with the remaining cartoons I dubbed off the vintage Walt Disney Christmas video. Mickey and the gang go "On Ice" years before Disney started their skating shows. While Mickey shows off for Minnie, Goofy attempts ice fishing and Donald teases Pluto by getting him on skates. "Donald's Snow Fight" gets even wilder when Donald knocks down Huey, Dewey, and Louie's snowman. The boys get revenge with an epic snowball fight. "Pluto's Christmas Tree" holds two unannounced visitors - Chip and Dale! Pluto tries to chase them out of the tree, but unlike Donald, Mickey doesn't mind them being there.

Moved to Popeye winter and holiday-related shorts as I prepared the package with Anny and her sons' presents and cookies. "Seasons Greetinks" is the Fleichers' Christmas offering. Popeye takes Olive skating on Christmas Day, but Bluto's interference leaves Olive on thin ice. "I Ski-Love Ski-You Ski" moves off the ice and onto the slopes. This time, Olive chooses Popeye for a skiing and mountain climbing trip. Bluto does everything he can to sabotage their winter fun.

My only errand planned for this morning was another run to the Oaklyn Post Office. This time, the long line was almost literally out the door, but it couldn't be helped. I wanted to get the packages going to Cape May County out today. I did have to use one of their boxes for Mom and Dad's cookies and get that ready. Other than that, everything went quickly. The line moved pretty fast (only two people were sending packages - most others were inquiring after their packages or buying stamps). A second line opened right as I was finally leaving.

After I got back to my apartment, I switched to the Tiny Toons as I prepared for work. "It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special" spoofs It's a Wonderful Life, right down to a faux black-and-white "clip" of the movie used about half-way through. Buster, upset after the Toons' Christmas show goes wrong and he's fired, thinks he doesn't matter to his friends. A very tall rabbit named Harvey with a familiar sounding voice shows him what Acme Acres would be like if he never existed.

Finished out the morning with a few more shorts. "Chip and Dale" officially named the two chipmunks who frequently annoyed Donald and Pluto. Here, they fight with Donald over the log he wants to use for his fireplace - it was once their home. "Toy Tinkers" was nominated for an Oscar in 1949. The chipmunks try to steal Donald's nuts from his house at Christmas, but he's ready to fight for them. "Gift Wrapped" is a holiday-themed vehicle for Tweety and Sylvester. The black and white kitty thinks Tweety is his Christmas present. Granny spends her holidays trying to keep Tweety out of Sylvester's mouth and Sylvester out of the mouth of a bulldog.

I left for work early in order to be able to enjoy the Acme's Christmas employee luncheon. It's more-or-less the same thing as the Thanksgiving luncheon, only with Christmas garlands on the tables, red-and-green tablecloths, and Christmas wrappers on the candy. Once again, there was tons and tons of food. In addition to the ham, corn, and meatballs that appeared at Thanksgiving, I saw coleslaw, pasta salad, deviled eggs, baked ziti, tortellini in spinach and olive oil, a delicious spaghetti casserole with cheese and sausage, roast beef, and baked beans and hot dogs. Desserts included a cheesecake variety tray, a tray of eclairs, pumpkin bread, a plain cheesecake, buttery thumbprint cookies with jam in the middles, peanut butter cup cookies, brownies, and my cookies. I had the spaghetti casserole, a roast beef sandwich with provolone cheese, corn, and deviled eggs before work. Tried the tortellini, bread, thumbprint cookies, and a thin slice of chocolate cheesecake during my break.

Work was the reverse of how it's been for the past week - crazy when I came in, steady-to-quiet when I left. The big Eagles-Washington game was at 4:30, and many people may have gotten off of work early. As soon as the game started, our customers stopped. It was just steady by the time one of the college boys came in for me at 6. I grabbed a roll of ribbon for wrapping paper (I'm almost out of mine) and headed out.

When I got in, I put on The Monkees. Their sole holiday episode debuted during the mid-second season, when the show was just starting to get stranger. This one was actually pretty normal in comparison to the rest of the season. "The Christmas Show" finds the groovy quartet looking after a snobbish young boy (Butch Patrick of The Munsters) when he doesn't want to join his wealthy aunt on her cruise. They try to show the child the Christmas spirit, but their efforts fail...until Mike Nesmith figures out what the kid really wants.

Oh, and darn it. Despite coming back in the second half, the Eagles just barely lost to the Redskins, 27-24. Now they really need to make a huge push if they want to make the playoffs.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Spirit of Christmas

Started a cloudy morning with breakfast and Arthur's Perfect Christmas. Aardvark kid Arthur Read is looking forward to the perfect holiday, filled with beautiful trees, lots of presents, snow on the ground, and a huge turkey dinner. His little sister D.W just wants the latest toy, despite the commercial driving her brother nuts. Muffy, the richest girl in school, doesn't understand why her best friend Francine can't come to her Christmas party. When Muffy asks her why she wasn't there, Francine explains how important Hanukkah is to her. Inspired by the Brain telling him how Kwanzaa was created, Buster tries to get his mother to relax and enjoy their own kind of holiday.

Work was busy off and on all day. While it still wasn't as bad as it probably will be next week, the lines were generally a bit longer than they have been. Thankfully, it slowed down enough by 4 PM that I was able to shut down without a relief.

Which was a good thing. I had a LOT of grocery shopping to do! I had tons of items I needed to restock after last week - cake mix (yellow and chocolate, plus red velvet for cupcakes), cheese, those dollar single packs of fish, cinnamon red-hots for cookie-decorating, fabric softener sheets, ground chicken, white and powdered sugar, tea (went with Bigalow's Constant Comment - I couldn't find the Christmas tea displays), more Acme generic Italian Wedding Soup, grapefruit, apples, and mushrooms. Bags of cut produce were a dollar - went with the vegetable stir fry mix. The Cascade sparkling waters were 88 cents - grabbed the Coconut. They had the limited edition holiday bags of Emerald nuts, too. A lot of my customers had raved about the Glazed Pecans, so I thought I'd give them a shot.

My schedule for Christmas week is far better and less hectic than it was last year. While I do work 7 hours Christmas Eve and very early the day after Christmas, that's really to be expected, given the holiday. Otherwise, my hours are pretty normal for this time of year, with Monday and Christmas Day off. I'll actually have the chance to get some library volunteering in along with all the usual errands.

When I got home, I changed into regular clothes, then put everything away. Started It's A Wonderful Life while making Cherry Coconut Bars (and to drown out the men working on the heater downstairs). George Bailey (James Stewart) thinks he's never done anything with his life, despite his loan business having created dozens of homes for the people of his town and having a loving wife (Donna Reed) and children. The nasty financier who owns most of the town (Lionel Barrymore) is accusing him of having stolen money from the loan company, even though it was really just lost. He's ready to end it all when a kindly old man (Henry Travers) stops him from jumping off a bridge. Turns out the old man is an angel who hasn't gotten his wings yet. When George makes a chance remark that he wishes he'd never been born, Clarence makes it literal. George finally discovers what a wonderful life he really has, and how important his family and the people of the town are to him.

I find this to be one of the most touching films ever made, but it's not everyone's cup of Christmas tea. If you don't agree with Capra's pro-small-town sentiments, you probably won't get much out of this. The slightly sugary finale is offset by the last half-hour, which is so dark and moody, I was 12 before I'd watch it straight through. Even so, this is still highly recommended for those who grew up with its constant showings on television or families with older kids who are ready to discuss some of the concepts brought up in the film.

Oh, and the Cherry Coconut Bars are the last of the five batches of cookies I make for Christmas. They're really just Lemon Bars with a very sweet cherry-coconut filling, but I love them. They're too sweet to eat all the time, but for Christmas, they're delicious. A lot of other people like them, too. They're my second-most-requested cookie after the Merry Christmas Molasses Cookies. They came out perfectly this year, just moist and crumbly enough. (I always put cooking spray on the bottom of the pan, even though the recipe says not to. The one year I did that, I couldn't get the bars off the pan and ended up with very sweet crumbs.)

Finished out the night with tilapia in lemon wine sauce with stir-fry veggies and a couple of holiday-themed Disney shorts. "Once Upon a Wintertime" depicts the adventures of a pair of Victorian lovers whose skating trip doesn't go as smoothly as planned. "Santa's Workshop" shows what Santa and the elves do before Santa leaves for his big Christmas Eve ride. "The Night Before Christmas" is what Santa does at the last house on his stop.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Star In the East

I spent an off-and-on sunny morning where I've been for most of the week - in the kitchen, this time making Cranberry Bread for my next-door neighbors. Ran Christmas In Connecticut as I worked. Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) is one of the most popular magazine columnists in America, a model housewife and mother whose menus and advice are beloved by her readers. In reality, she's a city girl who can't boil water and gets the tantalizing recipes from her older friend Felix (S.K Sakall). When her boss (Sydney Greenstreet) invites himself and a handsome soldier (Dennis Morgan) to her non-existent farm for Christmas, she panics...until she remembers that the boring architect who has been constantly proposing to her has a farm. She accepts his proposal, then wishes she hadn't when she meets the good-natured, fun-loving soldier. It's a long and crazy holiday, but in the end, Elizabeth does finally learn that honesty really is the best policy, especially where love is concerned.

A cute romantic screwball comedy with a great cast. I especially like Sakall and Greenstreet as the two very different bosses. Recommended for fans of romantic comedy, the cast, or those looking for lighter holiday fare.

The Christmas In Connecticut DVD I have comes with the Oscar-winning 1941 short A Star In the East. J. Carrol Naish plays an embittered Italian motel owner who believes that people are only out for their own gain. A kindly wayfarer tries to persuade him otherwise, but all Nick sees at first are the obnoxious, demanding people who are renting rooms in his motel. At least until a young Hispanic couple shows up, looking for a room. It turns out the woman is pregnant...and the reactions of Nick's customers reminds everyone that goodwill is more abundant than you might think.

Switched to the Rankin-Bass special The First Christmas Snow as I made Dark Chocolate Cranberry Muffins to take to work for dinner. Lucas is an orphan shepherd who is blinded in a lightning storm. He stays with the kindly nuns and priest of a local church while they try to figure out what to do with them. He's especially fond of Sister Theresa (Angela Landsbury), who tells him about this wondrous thing called snow.

Did the other Christmas episode of Perfect Strangers as I ate leftovers for lunch and got ready for work. The fourth season episode "Gift of the Mypiot" has Balki and Larry staying in Chicago for the holidays this time. They're both excited about their big party on Christmas Eve, at least until Balki invites his obnoxious boss Mr. Gorpley to join the festivities. Gorpley is a jerk to everyone and doesn't make himself very welcome. It turns out he never had a real Christmas, but Balki knows how to make his holiday a little merrier.

Work was pretty much the same as it has been for the past week - busy during rush hour, steady-to-quiet otherwise. Other than a few mildly cranky customers, there were no major problems, and I was in and out.

My friends Linda and James Young from Atlanta, Georgia sent me a package. It was on my front steps before I left for work, but I didn't have a chance to open it until after I'd gotten home. There were three wrapped gifts. One was to be opened Christmas Eve, one Christmas Day, and one now. The "now" package held a sweet yellow wooden star with glitter and my name on it that Linda made herself, a beautiful bookmark with beads, shell, typewriter, and "Believe" charms on the end, and a book of inspirational Christmas short stories called The Spirit of Christmas. Good idea - I was going to read Christmas short stories next week after I finish my traditional chapter-a-day reading of A Christmas Carol. Thank you, Linda and James!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Festival of Lights

First of all, I hope everyone who celebrates it enjoys their week of Hanukkah - today was the first full day. (The last day is Christmas Eve.)

It was sunny and fairly warm for this time of year when I got up this morning. I did a few cartoons while eating breakfast and getting organized for running errands. Rudolph's Shiny New Year is another oddity from Rankin-Bass that's grown on me in the last few years. The world's most famous reindeer has to use his glowing red nose to find the missing baby new year Happy, who ran off because people laughed at his huge ears. If he can't find Happy before midnight on December 31st, time will stop forever! 

The Backyardigans also have an action-packed holiday in "The Action Elves Save Christmas Eve" from the fourth and final (to date) season. The title elves (Pablo, Tasha, an Uniqua) have to rescue Santa's sack from the goofy Abominable Brothers (Tyrone and Austin), who took it to hold snowballs.

I headed out into a day that was windy and probably in the 50s. Needless to say, there were quite a few people out and about in Newton Lake Park, even at quarter after 10 in the morning. The lake sparkled and bobbed as I dodged around dog walkers, joggers, and parents pushing their children in strollers.

Haddon Township Library wasn't busy, but they had plenty of help. Too much. There was already another volunteer there when I arrived. She complained that she'd just organized the kids' DVDs. I did it the way the librarian told me to a few weeks ago...and 10 minutes after I'd finished, she just rearranged everything anyway! This would be less of a problem if they would just clear out some older titles. They do NOT need those 3-episode Scooby Doo collections, or every Sesame Street set on the market. The S and T adult titles are overloaded, too. I finally got fed up after a half-hour and left as quickly as I could.

(I didn't take anything out today. I have no idea what my schedule is going to be like next week, but if it's anything like last year's Christmas and New Year's week schedules, I won't have the time to watch or return anything for a while.)

I went to Tuesday Morning to look at their Christmas section and cheer myself up a bit. I found the most adorable WebKinz Porcupine hiding among the stuffed animal piles in the kids' section. I considered buying some of their pretty Christmas gift bags, but decided I could get better prices for similar items at Dollar Tree and the Acme.

My next couple of stops were quick shopping trips. I realized yesterday that I didn't have enough shortening left for the Merry Christmas Molasses Cookies I wanted to make that afternoon. They were having a really good sale on cooking spray too, for $1.79. I also saw those divine Nestle's Dark Chocolate and Mint Chips on sale for $1.88. I haven't seen those at the Acme at all yet, and I really do love them.

Hit the Dollar Tree a few doors down after Thriftway. That may have been a mistake. The line was half-way across the store. That the cashier for the only open register was surly and rude didn't help matters. She held up the line ten minutes giving a poor young woman pushing a huge stroller a hard time about her bill being counterfeit. Ok, so it was counterfeit. That happens. She could have been a little nicer. Thankfully, by the time I made it up front, a second line had been opened by a young woman who was far more amiable. All I wanted were sponges and a Christmas gift bag for my neighbors' bread I'll be making tomorrow.

I had lunch at the Friendly's next-door to the Westmont Bagel Shop. Surprisingly for 1 PM, they were pin-drop quiet when I came in. There were only two other older women waiting for sandwiches. It did start picking up as I finished my All-American Chicken Sandwich with red onions, pickles, and honey mustard on the side. I didn't have ice cream this time. I'm in the midst of making cookies. The last thing I need is more sugar! I was disappointed that they didn't get into decorating this year. It was limited to red and gold balls hanging off the light fixtures. No wrapping paper on the pictures, no garlands or wreaths.

My last trip was to Rite Aid. I forgot orange juice for my neighbors' Cranberry Bread at Thriftway. Since their eggs were $2.79, I got those, too. It was even quieter there than in Thriftway. There was no line whatsoever. I may have been the only customer in the whole store.

Headed straight home after that. Ran the Christmas episode of Silver Spoons as I put things away and got my baking items organized. This early 80s sitcom did two Christmas themed-shows - I went with the one from the first season. Ricky is excited to spend his first Christmas with his father, surrounded by presents, treats, and loved ones. He learns a lesson in giving when a little boy (Joey Lawrence) steals food from their house...and Ricky gets quite a surprise when he follows the kid.

Did two movies on the existence of Santa Claus as I made the Merry Christmas Molasses Roll-Outs. Ernest Saves Christmas takes us to Orlando, Florida. While Santa hopes to persuade a former children's show host to take over his duties, Ernest has his hands full dealing with a selfish runaway and the host's sleazy agent. Ernest and Santa both have to prove that Santa is real...and that there's nothing wrong with caring about others, even if your methods of helping are a bit unorthodox.

Miracle On 34th Street moves us from warm Orlando to chilly New York City. Here, the Santa in question (Edmund Gwenn) is hired by Macy's manager Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara), who was impressed with his work in the Thanksgiving parade. Walker becomes more concerned when he keeps insisting that he actually is Santa, including to her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood). Susan's been taught by her divorced mother not to believe in impractical things like make-believe or fantasy. Santa - and the handsome lawyer who lives next-door (John Payne) - want to prove otherwise. When Santa goes on trial for lunacy, the lawyer sees a way of showing that Christmas spirit does exist everywhere, even in the hearts of jaded New Yorkers.

The Merry Christmas Molasses Cookies are probably my favorite of the five cookies I do for gifts to make, and they may be the most popular. They (and the Cherry-Coconut Bars) are usually the most-requested. I got this recipe from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book years ago. The original recipe calls for honey and lemon flavoring, but I like the spicier version with ginger and molasses. They're cut-out cookies, though, which means they're very time-consuming. They also require shortening and are rather rich, which is why I only make them once a year.

I had the rest of the leftover soup for dinner, then headed out for my annual stroll around the neighborhood to look at lights. It was a beautiful night for it. I love how festive my neighbors get. I hiked down Manor, then into the neighborhood behind Kendall and the school, near where that little playground Lauren and I found last summer is. There's always lots of good displays down there.

I saw beautiful blue icicle lights that made roofs look like they were covered in real ice. One house had the columns that flanked the front door wrapped in strings of lights that looked like a winding rainbow. Another house was done from roof to lawn in red and gold. My neighbors across the street have circles of red and a small but elegant Nativity on their front lawn. (No lights wrapped on the house though, thank goodness.) Even Rose and Craig had green garlands with candy-like large bulb lights around their door and windows and a big, beautiful tree in their covered porch window.

My favorite inflatable this year was an adorable Santa who popped out of a snow-covered tree. I also saw a Peanuts "Christmas Pageant" that was really cute. A house down the street from me has a whole platoon of lit tinsel-and-wire statues, including polar bears and penguins in an igloo.

When I got home, I called Mom. I'd called her earlier, but hadn't gotten her. She was decorating the tree when I called. She's had a lot of hours at the Ferry and is very behind in just about everything. As of this second, she's working Christmas night and Christmas Eve and won't be making it anywhere but the Ferry for the holidays.

Finished up Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas as I talked to Mom. This "mid-quel" to Disney's beloved Beauty and the Beast is set while Belle was living with the Beast in the castle with all the servant objects. Belle wants to bring a little Christmas cheer to the castle by setting up a party. The Beast is totally against it. Christmas just reminds him of how he was transformed into a beast in the first place. Also against it is an obnoxious organ named Forte (Tim Curry) who wants the Beast to keep listening to his depressing melodies forever, and his piccolo sidekick Fife (Paul Rubens). Belle has to get around the objections of the Beast and the castle's bitter interior decorator Angelique (Bernadette Peters) and show them that Christmas is a time of hope for all creatures, even beasts and ornaments.

Unlike most of Disney's direct-to-home-media sequels, this one was obviously done with some care. There's a couple of lovely songs, including "Stories" and "As Long As There's Christmas," and a few nice animated sequence. And Curry's Forte is actually a more interesting and menacing villain than Gaston in the original, even if the massive organ is very obvious and badly-done computer animation. If you have a little girl looking for something different for Christmas or a Beauty and the Beast fan, this one is worth tracking down (it's been on DVD twice, but I believe both copies are out of print at the moment).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In the Kitchen

It was still sunny out when I awoke this morning. I finished The Great Santa Search, then had breakfast while watching Christmas Eve On Sesame Street. Sesame Street's first holiday special came out in 1978, and while a lot of the cast has changed over the years, this one remains charming. Big Bird is worried that Santa won't be able to deliver presents when Oscar reminds him how skinny many chimneys tend to be in New York. Bert and Ernie sell the things that mean most of them to buy presents for each other...but Mr. Hooper has surprises for them, too. Cookie Monster just wants to somehow get his list to Santa, without eating the writing utensils first.

The crew at the Hundred Acre Woods is also enjoying an eventful holiday season in A Very Merry Pooh Year. The first half of this two-part compilation movie is the special Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too in its entirety. Pooh and Piglet try to get their friends the gifts they want when they can't get their wish list to Santa. After their well-meaning attempts to play Santa themselves backfires, Pooh is determined to get the list to Santa himself! The second half has Rabbit upset because the others barged in on his house without asking. To keep him from moving away, they become determined to make New Year's resolutions and change...but it only makes things worse. In the end, Rabbit realizes that he really does like his friends the way they are, no matter how much they can drive him crazy at times.

Started the first batch of cookies during Merry Pooh Year. I always make five kinds of cookies during the Christmas season to give as gifts and for the Acme's employee luncheon. I started with the same Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies I gave to Linda and James and Lauren. They're delicious and very easy to make.

I ran The Little Drummer Boy Book II as I cleaned up from the cookies and put them in gift boxes. Rankin Bass did the second tale of Aaron the drummer boy and his menagerie in the late 70s, and it's definitely one of their better specials from that era.  Aaron and his animals help one of the Wise Men and an elderly man save silver bells that are to be used to herald the birth of Jesus from Roman guards. The drummer boy does manage to distract the head of the guards (Zero Mostel) from melting the bells into bricks, but at the cost of his most precious possession.

I took a quick walk and errand run around 12:30. Volunteered at the Oaklyn Library first. Despite the increasing clouds, they were empty except for two men and the librarian. I organized the DVDs (a TV show had gotten mixed in with the regular adult titles) and some of the children's books, then moved on. Got a "Gobbler" turkey hoagie, skim milk, and eggnog at WaWa.

The clouds were getting heavier and heavier as I walked home. They thankfully waited until about a half-hour or so after I'd gotten in to burst. It's rained on and off for the rest of the day, though never as heavily as last Tuesday.

I'd planned on spending the rest of the day inside anyway, regardless of the weather. Did one of the holiday episodes of Perfect Strangers as I ate my Gobbler. Larry's hoping to take Balki to his family's home in Madison for Christmas. He's devastated when a blizzard strands them in Chicago. Balki does his best to remind his cousin that the real Christmas spirit has less to do with presents than with being with the ones we love.

I put on the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol while I made the peanut butter cookies. British character actor Alistair Sim is a wonderfully despicable Scrooge. This is an interesting production that adds more to Scrooge's past, including how he met Jacob Marley and left Fezziwig, and a larger role to the charwoman seen in the future segment.

I found the recipe for what's now known as Cake Mix Peanut Butter Cookies two years ago, when I was short on funds and trying to figure out ways to cut a few corners. I decided to try using a mix for one type of cookie and save flour for some of the more complicated ones. The resulting cookies were so delicious, this has been my go-to peanut butter cookie recipe ever since.

Switched to The Grand Budapest Hotel as I made the biscotti. Director Wes Anderson is known for his quirky and unusual comedies, and despite its historical setting, this one is no exception. In the 60s, a young writer (Jude Law) is told the story of the title hotel by its elderly owner (F. Murray Abraham). The owner was once a humble lobby boy named Zero (Tony Revolori) who was taken in as a protege by the Grand Budapest's beloved and persnickety head concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) at the hotel in a small fictional European country in the 1930s. Gustave enjoys romancing the Grand Budapest's wealthy and aging clientele. When one of them (Tilda Swinton) dies, she leaves him a very important that her dastardly son (Adrian Brody) doesn't want anyone to get. M. Gustave and the loyal Zero find themselves running for their lives after Gustave is accused of her murder.

I've rented other Wes Anderson films, but haven't gotten to watch them for one reason or another. I really need to stop putting them off. I really enjoyed this multi-layered tale of mystery, romance, and dapper gentlemen in days gone by. It is rated R for a reason, though. There's a lot of swearing, especially from Gustave (for a guy who prides himself on elegance, he sure does love his curse words), some violence, and a little bit of sexuality in the beginning. A fun ride for adults who can handle the swearing and enjoy Anderson's brand of oddball comedy-drama.

I'm glad I got to the biscotti tonight. It's one of two recipes I make that take a little while. I don't make this like the hard rusks many of you dunk in your coffee. This simple recipe is pretty much butter, flour, baking powder, and sugar that I roll into Christmas shapes and cover with colored sugar or cinnamon candies. The rolling takes a lot of time, though, and the butter makes it very rich, which is why I don't make this more often.

Took a short bath after the movie ended. Ahhh, that felt really good. I'd been standing in front of a stove for the better part of a day. I read Christmas stories and listened to holiday jazz music. It felt nice and cozy, with the light rain sometimes going on in the background.

Finished the night with soup and Get Smart. The first season episode "Our Man In Toyland" lands Max and 99 in a department store, trying to figure out how CONTROL is smuggling weapons information out of the country. Even after they find out how it's being done, they may not live to tell the Chief what's going on when they're caught by the head of the department store!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Gift of Books

For once, it was sunny and bright when I got up this morning. I ran cartoons as I had breakfast and did a few things online. A Pink Christmas is based after the O'Henry short story The Cop and the Anthem. Poor Pink Panther spends Christmas Eve searching New York City in the early 1900s for anyone who will give him a home-cooked meal. He tries being a department store Santa, but he's chased out. He's thrown out of a restaurant when he can't pay for a meal. He can't sneak into jail, either. He finally gets food after stopping a robbery...but discovers how good it feels to share what you have when a puppy wants some, too.

Scooby Doo's first of three Christmas specials was "A Nutcracker Scoob," from the early 80s show that featured Daphne, Shaggy, and the two dogs. Fred joins in the fun here as the kids prepare to help an orphanage's Christmas pageant. If they can't find a precious jewel before the show, a nasty old miser will close down the orphanage! The kids try to find out if he's teamed up with the Ghost of Christmas Nevermore who keeps appearing to scare them away, or if the ghost has its own agenda.

"A Scary Night With a Snow Beast Fright" brings Velma back as the gang head to Alaska to help out a friendly professor. When they get there, the professor has vanished, thanks to a huge creature known as the Snow Beast by the natives. Though the professor's assistant tries to warn them away, they're determined to get to the bottom of this cold mystery...especially after they discover oil on the ice near the native village.

We stay up in the Arctic with "Alaskan King Coward." Shaggy, Scooby, and Scrappy are prospecting for gold in Alaska. When Shaggy accidentally unleashes a huge dinosaur-like creature, he and Scooby do everything they can to escape it. Scrappy, however, think it's after their claim and wants to pummel it into the snow!

I finally got to the laundromat around quarter after 12. Good thing I got there when I did! Shortly after I arrived, it got much busier. I wasn't around for long, anyway. I had another small load. The soap operas were beginning as I jammed everything out of the dryer and into my laundry bag and rushed out.

When I got home, I threw on I Want a Dog For Christmas, Charlie Brown while putting away my clothes, eating leftovers for lunch, and getting ready for work. Lucy and Linus' little brother Re-Run badly wants a dog, but his mother keeps saying no. He constantly asks Snoopy if he wants to come outside and play with him. He even tries to buy Snoopy at one point. When Snoopy's brother Spike visits, Re-Run insists that Spike stay with them. Spike and Snoopy finally show Re-Run how taking care of a pet is a big he may not be ready for yet.

Work was pretty much the same it has been for the past week - busy during rush hour, on-and-off steady otherwise. The nice day contributed to the quiet. It was sunny and beautiful by the time I hit work at 2:30. There were some rather cranky and obnoxious customers early on. Otherwise, there were no major problems. It was so quiet by 7:30, I was able to get out quickly without a relief.

Oh, and Lauren sent me one more box in the mail. This one was of books she's been picking up at book sales in the Pittsfield area for me. Most of them are American Girl (including the last four books I needed for Molly's series), but there was also a book of Cape May ghost stories and a Beanie Baby Handbook that included, for some reason, an extensive recipe section.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Dolly Holidays

I spent most of the morning reading The Great Santa Search and didn't get to banana pancakes for breakfast until about 40 minutes before I left for work. The Great Santa Search is the last of the Santa Chronicles trilogy. This volume mainly forgoes the history for the tale of Santa joining a reality show that's supposedly going to find the real Santa...and have him become the spokesman for a line of shoddy toys. Santa's hoping to be the winner, but the nasty sponsor is backing an especially well-liked mall Santa who is only in it for the money.

Work was steady when I came in, but it picked up later in the afternoon as people began to come out of the malls and head for football and holiday parties. By the time I was just about done, the lines were down the aisles. No one ever told if if I had a relief or not. Since none ever came in, I just shut down and left.

Since I really had no other plans for today and the Eagles-Cowboys game wasn't until 8:30, I decided I'd get the photos of my dolls and Christmas displays done. I love how they look when they're finished, but they can be a pain to pose at times. Most of my AG dolls are older, and their legs are loose and don't stand very well anymore. That's why several of them are sitting or leaning on something in the later solo shots. At any rate, here's this year's Riverside Rest holiday photos:

Christmas at the Riverside Rest 2014

Listened to the Dorothy Provine album I picked up during breakfast this morning. Oh You Kid! is pretty much the same thing as The Roaring 20's soundtrack, but this time, Provine is singing the music of the 1890s through 1910s and is backed by a male combo rather than a female one. Same deal as with The Roaring 20s soundtrack - if you like Provine or the music of the early 20th Century, these are worth looking for.

Ran children's holiday albums for the rest of the afternoon while taking the photos. I liked the second Disney's Christmas Collection even better than the first. The song "Celebrate" is fun, and the Disney characters' "Twelve Days of Christmas" is hilarious.

I have two Looney Tunes Christmas collections. Holli-Daze is four Christmas-related stories on a Peter Pan LP. "Bugs the Red-Nosed Bunny" has the rabbit taking over for Rudolph when he gets the flu. The title story takes Granny and Bugs to a small western town, where Sheriff Yosemite Sam mistakes them for bandits. "Santa Claus-strophobia" has Bugs and Daffy trying to cure millionaire Elmer of his believe that he's Santa. In the last story, Bugs interviews the other Tunes about Santa in order to prove to his nephew Clyde that the jolly old man in red does exist.

I picked up my Christmas With the Looney Tunes cassette from the Wildwood CVS somewhere around 2003. Though this more recent release doesn't use any of the original voices, some of the material is still pretty cute. I'm especially fond of Daffy's "All I Want For Christmas Is More, More, More," Bugs and Taz's take on "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," and "The Halle-Looney Chorus."

Peter Pan also provides a nice, condensed half-hour Christmas Carol. This one goes the fairly unusual route by having the opening sequence with Scrooge and Bob Cratchit and Fred in the counting house as short flashbacks, heard whenever Scrooge relates what the ghosts are telling him to how he treats the people in his life.

Christmas With the Chipmunks came from a yard sale about three years ago or so. I have a soft spot in my heart for "The Chipmunks' Christmas Song (Please Christmas, Don't Be Late)." When I was in third grade, this is the song my class sang for Cape May Elementary's annual school assembly the week before Christmas break. Two kids each were chosen to solo as Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. I wasn't one of the kids chosen, but I enjoyed learning the song and can still sing the whole thing to this day.

Switched to more family-oriented programming as I made baked rosemary chicken breasts in lemon sauce and roasted Brussels sprouts for dinner. I've had the CD for The Judy Garland Christmas Album since high school. In the early 90s, the Staples in Rio Grande had a display of inexpensive Laserlight holiday CDs and cassettes every year in the front of the store. I'd always poke around in there while Mom was present shopping. That's where my Glenn Miller Orchestra Christmas cassettes came from, too.

This is actually the soundtrack to Judy's Christmas special. If you're a fan of Garland (or of Jack Jones, Mel Torme, and Garland's daughter Liza Minnelli), this is worth seeking out. There's some nice moments - Liza does "Steam Heat" and "Alice Blue Gown." Garland duets with Torme on his "Christmas Song" and bobbles the lyrics (she was feuding with him at the time). Garland and her younger children Lorna and Joey do a cute "Consider Yourself" in the opening, and Lorna talks Jack Jones into "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."

Oh, and darn it. The Eagles started poorly, but came back in the second half. Though the played better than the awful first quarter, they still couldn't get past the Cowboys 38-27.