Monday, December 01, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree!

Started a sort-of-sunny but very mild morning with holiday themed episodes of Max & Ruby. "Ruby's Gingerbread House" isn't coming along well. Ruby and Louise just can't seem to make the icing sticky enough. Max thinks it needs his gummy worms. "Max's Christmas Passed" is one of the sweetest episodes of the entire series. Ruby's feeling a little blue as she takes down the Christmas decorations. Max figures out a way to use the discarded decorations to cheer up his big sister. In "Max's New Year," the two bunnies are allowed to stay up until midnight to enjoy a party with Grandma. Ruby and Grandma enjoy dances and finding just the right party hat. Max would rather eat those clock-shaped cookies Grandma made. "Max Says Goodbye" when he and Ruby are supposed to be going to Louise's house for a playdate. Grandma comes over with a better idea for a playdate for Max.

I got ready for my friend Amanda's yearly visit as the cartoons ran. I made the bed. I tidied up around the apartment. I put up the tree itself. Amanda would help me decorate the tree later, but I thought it would save time to have the tree up when she arrived.

I got out late and rushed to down the street to the parking lot of the former PNC Bank. As it turned out, Amanda was late, too. We were supposed to meet at 10:15. I got in at 10:20, and she hit traffic coming in and didn't arrive until quarter of 11.

We went straight to Collingswood for lunch. Amanda loves Tortilla Press, Collingswood's gourmet Mexican restaurant. We were so early, we thought the place was closed. Nope, the door was stuck. They'd just opened. We got a prime spot right next to the window that looked out onto the corner of Collings and Haddon Avenues. Amanda had an enormous Pork BBQ Sandwich. I had a Chicken, Brie, and Mango Quesadilla with fresh mango salsa. We both had home-made chips and sweet potato fries. I had unsweetened iced tea. Amanda had a Coke. Our lunches were absolutely delicious, as always. My quesadilla was just sweet and spicy enough, and the brie added the right tangy note. It was the perfect size to eat in one sitting. Amanda didn't get that lucky. She ended up taking home most of her sandwich. I gave her my fries, too - the quesadilla turned out to be enough for me.

We talked about our lives as we ate. I told Amanda about the planned changes to my apartment, my crazy up and down work hours over the past month, Anny's pregnancy, Mom's job at the Ferry, and my hope to take writing classes this winter. She told me that she started volunteering at her local animal shelter. She loved it so much, she now wants to become a veterinarian technician, despite the classes being expensive. She's always adored her cats. (That's why I get her Hello Kity stuff.) She's tired of working three jobs, as a waitress at a Bob Evans, a sales clerk at the Bath and Body Works in the Cumberland Mall, and a substitute teacher in Vineland.

When we finished lunch, we made a quick trip to GrooveGround. We were both too full for ice cream or baked goodies, but we did get drinks. Amanda got a Peppermint Mocha Latte. I decided it was too warm for hot beverages and went with the Pomegranate Chiller sparkling juice. It was very tasty, with lots of mint and just the right amount of pomegranate juice.

We went straight back to my apartment after that and, after I showed her the new furniture and some of my new dolls and we opened our gifts (I gave her Hello Kitty items; she gave me polar bear-themed sleep socks and "Twisted Peppermint" bath items from Bath and Body Works), we started the tree. My tree is artificial. Though I no longer have an ancient heater to worry about, as I did in Wildwood, I'm not terribly eager to either pay for or drag a real tree up the steep steps to my apartment. Besides, I like my tree. Mom bought it (and my wreath) for me as an early Christmas present the year I moved out on my own. It's the perfect size, about 6 feet. I don't even need a step stool to put the star on top.

We had a small problem with the lights. I bought the lights new last year. I'd had my old ones since college, and I was afraid they'd become a fire hazard. Trouble is, I should have bought a longer string. It took us at least 10 minutes or so just to figure out how to get the lights around the tree and be able to get them to reach the plug behind the crates with the records in them. I'll see if I can get another strand on the after-Christmas sales.

We had far fewer problems after that. The garlands went on easily, all three of them. I have tons and tons of ornaments - basic glass balls from discount stores like Big Lots, beautiful hand-blown glass ornaments from Winterwood in Cape May County, Hallmark ornaments given to me by friends, ornaments my mom made, plastic icicles covered in glitter or translucent like real ice, wooden clothespin soldiers, and beaded ornaments a cousin made several years ago. Amanda and I are both very picky about where we put the ornaments. Can't leave holes or have two of the same ornaments next to each other!

(We also discussed our dislike of tinsel. I prefer garlands. Tinsel, at least in its modern Mylar incarnation, clumps badly and makes a mess. I think Mom used them early in my childhood, but she switched to garlands some time in the mid-80s and hasn't used it since. Plus, as Amanda reminded me, they tend to get nibbled on by curious kitties.)

We timed it perfectly. We finished the tree right at 2:30, just in time for Amanda to head out. She thought she might get called into work. (She e-mailed me later and said she wasn't, but she worked Thanksgiving and Black Friday and appreciated the time off.) We rounded up her leftovers and gifts and headed to her car across the street. I waved to her from the driveway as she left.

I hit the bathroom and put away the tree items, then slipped back into my Cape May sweatshirt, grabbed my full laundry bag, and hit the laundromat. The sun looked like it was trying to come out when Amanda was here, but it had clouded over again even before she left. By the time my huge load was in the washer, it had gotten much darker. The laundromat wasn't busy at all. Good thing, since I had a ton to do, including last month's towels and the ones I used to cover the seat of the old computer chair. I found out why the laundromat was so quiet when I headed out and it was showering. I rode home as quickly as I could.

When I got in, I put away the laundry, then pulled out the Christmas bears. Mom used to dress up some of our stuffed animals and a few she had just for the holidays in old hats and scarves and baby clothes and put them on her hope chest. It was an interactive display. We'd play with the bears throughout the Christmas season, and would even swap the winter hats with tiaras for New Year's. Mom gave them to me after I moved out. She'd gotten tired of putting them out, and my brother was too old for them. I don't have a hope chest, so I put mine under the tree. I have quite a few of my own stuffed animals and bears to add, including the WebKinz Peppermint Puppy and Reindeer (who wears a Santa Claus outfit), two Snoopys (one in a baker's outfit), a Charlie Brown, and all three of the 1986 Christmas Muppet Babies (I found them mint in their bags at a thrift shop about five years or so ago). My American Girl bear Abigail Griddle (aka Miss AG) got to wear a beautiful Build-a-Bear angel outfit I found at a yard sale last spring.

Ran documentaries on Christmas history as I finished the bears and made turkey tenderloin and sauteed spinach and mushrooms for dinner. Christmas Past is a British special on how the holidays changed in England from pagan times to the 1950s. I love the stories told by various older Britishers, including the woman who had her first really nice Christmas when she was evacuated from London as a child during World War II, the female Santa Claus, and the Scots who showed off their neat kissing ball.

The History Channel special Christmas Unwrapped covers the history of the holiday in general and how many American customs came to be. I especially enjoy the discussions of the very early history of the holiday, and how the Puritains tried to ban it...and just sent its traditions underground, turning Christmas into more of a private than a noisy public holiday. (Although a few vestiges of those earlier carnival Christmases do remain today, including caroling, mistletoe, and parades.)

TV Guide Looks at Christmas, as you can guess, covers how Christmas has been presented on television over the years. While already I knew most of what was discussed here, I did enjoy learning more about variety specials. I was born just as variety and sketch-based programming was dying off on prime-time on the networks. Pee Wee's Christmas Special was pretty much the only major variety show done during my childhood (and for more than a quarter-century after that). While I had heard of the Bing Crosby shows and have had the CD soundtrack of Judy Garland's special for years, Perry Como's holiday adventures in Austria and other exotic foreign lands were entirely new to me.

And...I can't get the heat to work again. I keep trying to get it to turn on, and it the heaters won't get warm. They broke down last year, but I thought my then-landlord Andrew got PS&G to fix it. I'll  have to call my neighbors tomorrow and see what they say.

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