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).

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