Monday, November 30, 2015

Christmas With Friends

I was awaken by the usual cursing and banging at 7:30, but I tried to sleep for a half-hour more. When I did finally get up and finished my journal and reading a few chapters of The Autobiography of Santa Claus, I went right into a fast breakfast of a slice of cranberry bread, a cup of organic black tea, and half of a grapefruit.

Started The Stingiest Man In Town as I finished eating and made the bed. This Rankin-Bass special from the late 70's was their adaptation of a popular musical version of A Christmas Carol from the 50's. Walter Matthau is Scrooge, Tom Bosley is the narrator B.A.H Humbug, Robert Morse is Scrooge in his younger years, and Dennis Day makes his last TV appearance as a particularly ebullient Nephew Fred. I love the music - my favorite numbers are Nephew Fred's opening song "An Old-Fashioned Christmas" and Martha Cratchit's song to her brother Tim, "Yes There Is a Santa Claus."

Stayed with Rankin-Bass as I finished the bed and got organized to head out, but moved out of Christmas and into winter. Frosty's Winter Wonderland is another unusual 70's-era tale. Frosty gets lonely when the kids are inside, so they build him a snow wife they dub Crystal. While they try to figure out how to make her "all livin'," a jealous Jack Frost vows to get rid of both snow people for good!

I hurried out at quarter after 10. I was supposed to meet Amanda at the parking lot for the former PNC Bank on the White Horse Pike. She got a late start from Vineland, about 45 minutes from Camden County, and didn't arrive until 10:50.

We drove to Collingswood and had an early lunch at Tortilla Press. It had just opened. We were their first customers. We enjoyed a view of Collings and Haddon Avenues while we scarfed down hand-made corn chips and tomato salsa. Amanda had their award-winning Peanut Pork Barbecue Sandwich and their raspberry iced tea. I had two soft chicken tacos with rice and mashed pinto beans and snitched a couple of her sweet potato fries. My tacos were tasty, with perfectly-seasoned chicken slices. The beans weren't bad, but the Spanish rice was kind of bland. Amanda must have liked her pork sandwich. For once, she ate the whole thing.

Went to GrooveGround a few blocks away next. We were too full for food, but we did get hot drinks to warm us up on a cold, clammy day. She got their Peppermint Mocha Coffee. I went with plain old hot chocolate. It was quiet there, too, except for two other women who were talking. We spent almost an hour there, admiring their records and unique holiday ornaments, sinking into the soft, thick seats, and chattering away.

I'm not the only one having financial problems. Amanda lost her third job and her health insurance when the Bob Evans she worked at in Millville shut down. She's now paying for her own health insurance on top of preparing to take online courses to become a veterinary technician in the winter. She still has a job at the Bath and Body Works in her local mall and is a substitute teacher for Vineland's school district, but neither job gives her enough hours to get by. She desperately wants to move out of her parents' house, but she doesn't have the money. I told her about my own financial problems, the cut hours at work, the trouble with the managers, and that I'm writing again.

It was past 1:30 when we finally decided it was time to get back to my place. When we did get in, Amanda re-heated her coffee, and we exchanged gifts. I gave her a stuffed Hello Kitty Beanie Baby (she's a huge Hello Kitty fan), a Snoopy doghouse ornament (she's also into the Peanuts), the Hello Kitty rubber bracelet thing I got from the Library's volunteer bag a few months ago, and two notebooks for her to use for class. She gave me body mist spray and a little bottle of hand lotion from Bath and Body Works, a cute little stuffed penguin named Waddles, three packets of seasonal hot chocolate mixes (two Starbucks, one Swiss Miss), one of those long hollow plastic canes filled with chocolate candies, and a gingerbread fortune cookie. (I have no idea where she found that one.)

I put on A Disney Channel Christmas while we delighted over our gifts. This blending of two Wonderful World of Disney holiday specials from the 50's and the late 70's ran on the Disney Channel throughout my childhood. In addition to familiar short like "Pluto's Christmas Tree," "The Art of Skiing," "Donald's Snow Fight," and a segment of Mickey's Christmas Carol, we gets parts of Disney animated movies that relate to parties, winter, or gift-giving, and a rare treat - the sweet black-and-white Mickey tale "Mickey's Good Deed" in full.

We spent the next couple of hours decorating the tree. The lights took longer than they should have. I discovered, to my embarrassment, that I couldn't plug the second string of lights in if I wanted them to plug into the first. Oh well. I'll just use the one string. I'll either put the red and green string up on a window later or donate it somewhere.

The rest of the tree went much better. We oohed and ahhed over the piles and piles of ornaments I've managed to collect from here, there, and everywhere. There's the delicate glass baubles Mom gave me from Winterwood in Cape May Courthouse and from fancy gift shops in Cape May. There's the big, often heavy character-based plastic or resin ornaments I got from friends or found at thrift shops or after-Christmas half-price sales. I put up the translucent and frosted glittery plastic icicles and the clothespin "toy soliders" Mom made years ago. Amanda hung the beaded ornaments my cousin made about five or six years ago. There were colored glass balls from Big Lots, antique-style balls from a yard sale, and beautiful hand-sewn felt ornaments made by my own mother. Amanda and I split the glass Disney character ornaments. She did Mickey, Daisy, and Pluto. I did Goofy, Minnie, and Donald.

We finished around 3:30, just in time for her to head out. She wanted to avoid the evening traffic and get home before dark. After she left, I cleaned up a bit and put the container with the tree things away, then headed to the laundromat. It was just getting dark when I arrived. They were dead as a doornail. Good thing, too. I had a huge load to do, including towels and dust cloths. I wrote notes for Babes In WENNland and listened to Action News on Channel 6.

When I got in, I had the last of the leftover chicken-tomato soup for dinner while finishing out the holiday documentaries I started while Amanda was still here. Linda Young sent me this disc of specials on various aspects of the history of Christmas, from England to television. Christmas Past discusses the holiday history and customs of merry old England. The History Channel's Christmas Unwrapped goes further into the history of Christmas, revealing how many American customs, like Santa, trees, and mistletoe, came into being. It also goes into Christmas in modern times and how people feel about it now. TV Guide Looks at Christmas details nearly 50 years of beloved boob tube holiday memories, from Howdy Doody's Christmas to constant showings of It's a Wonderful Life to Pee Wee's Christmas Special to Christmas cartoons and sitcom episodes.

Worked a bit on my story after a shower, since Lauren was going to be arriving late. Alan and Lisa continue to monitor the comings and goings of the staff in the green room. They meet Maple and British visitor Gil Martin. Maple's still trying to flirt with Gil, to his amusement. Hilary and Jeff come in to tell Maple she'll be on shortly. Alan still wants to know if they're in his favorite show, "Amazon Andy." Yes, they are, but they're the sidekick and Andy's girlfriend. Hilary preens when Lisa recognizes her from the soap operas her mother loves.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Garlands of Holiday Memories

It was nice to be able to sleep in for the first time on a Sunday in weeks. When I did get going, I made Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pancakes. Yummy. The last of the peanut butter and baking cocoa with a little brown sugar in my regular mix. I burned a bit of the second one; they were so dark from the cocoa, it was hard to tell when they were cooked.

As soon as I finished breakfast, I headed for the back room. I had to sort through the piles of donations I have before I could even get to the Christmas boxes. I have a bag to go to Studio LuLoo for their kids and to help them with their organization, a bag of books and videos to go to the Oaklyn Library, a bag of records to go to the Haddon Township Library, and a bag of donations that'll go to the Logan Presbyterian Church Thrift Shop eventually when I remember and have the time to get there. I tidied up around the dolls' things and put Carrie and Dulcie the Cabbage Patch dolls in their Christmas dresses. (Dulcie, the more girlish red-head, wears a fancy Build-a-Bear gold and white outfit. Tomboyish Carrie with the short blond "curls" gets a soft vintage flannel Christmas nightgown.)

After all that was organized, I could finally put up the things in the Santa Bag. The big red felt Santa Bag with the white yarn tie was originally the wrapping for my heavy winter coat. It was so big, I decided it could be put to other uses as well. It now holds all the Christmas items that I either put out first (the placemats, coasters, table runner, garlands, mistletoe, wreath) or just don't fit anywhere else (the nativity, the needlepoint poinsettia magnet, the box with the New Year's party supplies, the big bow that goes on the door of my bedroom).

It took me a while to figure out where to put some things. I wanted to find another place for the nativity besides the coffee table in the music area...but it's so big, there really isn't any other place it fits. After struggling to find room for the big gold tinsel garland that used to be on the CD rack, I came to the conclusion I really didn't have a place for it anymore. Twisting it around the CD rack was too much of a pain. I ditched the gold garland and the twist-tie poinsettias (I've had them since college), but kept the smaller white and gold garland. It's draped over one of the DVD shelves right now - I'll find a better place for it later. The mistletoe went above the front door; the linens went on the table and scattered around the room for hot drinks.

Did the garlands next. They take a while to get right. There are five fake greenery garlands. The largest, which goes around the two windows across from the living room table, used to be the garland Mom used for the upstairs banister in the house at North Cape May. The smaller one with the velvet book hanging off the center that goes over the two windows in my bedroom was used in my bedroom (later Mom's office) in the North Cape May house. The remaining three for the kitchen window and the windows that overlook the park and the pathway to my side of the house are all the same and were originally used for doorways. I mostly twist-tie them to unused curtain rods nowadays. I tack them where I have to, but the wood used for the walls in this apartment is so hard, it kills my fingers.

Finished the decorating just in time to have leftover soup for lunch, prepare my rent, and get ready for work. My True Value Hardware Christmas Collection cassettes and CDs accompanied me while I decorated and ate. There was a True Value Hardware just off Cape May's downtown for many years. Mom bought one of the collections there in 1988. It probably wasn't a surprise that I eventually would as well.

Volume 28 was one of the first cassettes I ever bought for myself with my own money, and my first Christmas album. I loved it so much, I bought every Christmas collection they sold after that. Even after we moved off Cape Island and I went to college, I continued to buy my annual True Value Hardware Christmas collection when I was home for the holidays. It was a tradition. To my disappointment, in 2001, the Cape May True Value became an Ace Hardware (which they remain to this day), which brought an abrupt end to my collecting. I still have all of the collections from 28 through 35, along with 39, which I found at a yard sale in Audubon a few years ago. (Not terribly surprising, since there is a small True Value Hardware store there.)

Work was, once again, on-and-off steady. It got a little busy later in the day, which was a problem. We really didn't have enough people to handle even mild crowds. Thankfully, by the time I was done, it was quieting down. I didn't have a relief. I was able to leave quickly with no problems.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Collingswood Christmas Parade

It was cloudy and humid when I awoke this morning. Stayed in a festive mood with the rarely-seen Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus. This 1975 animated special was made by the same team that did the Peanuts specials, and it shows, from the Peanuts-like animation to the familiar voice actors. This is the first of two animated versions of the story of Virginia O'Hanlon, a little girl in 1880's New York who wrote to the then-popular newspaper the New York Sun to ask about the existence of Santa...and the touching answer by its editorial page editor, Francis Church.

Headed to Collingswood for their annual Christmas parade around 9:30. I left a little earlier than last year so I could hit Rite Aid for a Sparkling Ice Peach Iced Tea and a present for Amanda. I figured it would be a lot quieter there than at WaWa, and it was. There was only one other person in line.

They were all out waiting for the parade. The Collingswood Christmas Parade is the largest in the western Camden County area. People come from miles around to see it. I bought my usual pretzel from Collingswood High School's wrestling team and went down to the corner of Haddon and Collings Avenues to watch the show.

There were sights typical of the Philadelphia area - mummers in spangled and feathered costumes, Miss Camden and Miss New Jersey, the high-stepping Camden High School in purple, gold, and cream and Willingboro in red, white, and blue. There were two stilt walkers. One was an elf; one was a toy soldier who did an impressive juggling routine to the tune of "Dominic, the Italian Christmas Donkey," which was blasting from the Coffee House group behind him. Ovations, the dance school two doors down from Studio LuLoo on West Clinton, did a routine to "Run Run Rudolph," with the girls in reindeer tails and felt antlers. One elementary school had a winter theme, with a paper mache mug of hot chocolate that actually looked like it was steaming. Another school traded the usual float for kids and teachers riding decorated bikes and scooters. The Philly Phanatic pretended to conduct the lounge performers playing "White Christmas" on the float in front of him. A third elementary school had a Star Wars theme. Kids and teachers were dressed as various characters from the six films, including a teacher Chewbacca, several kid Vaders, one little boy Boba Fett, and at least three cute mini-Princess Leias. There was a motorcycle group that rode around in circles and at least four antique car groups.

I left as another antique car group followed the Star Wars school. As much as I wanted to stay for the whole parade, I had to work at 12:30. I dodged traffic on the back roads that were now being used by regular Collings Avenue drivers and headed back to my place.

Had a quick soup lunch while getting ready for work. Ran How the Grinch Stole Christmas as I ate. The most famous of all Dr. Seuss specials tells the story of the nasty, grouchy green critter of the title, who lives up on Mount Crumpet and hates all the noise his neighbors the Whos make on Christmas Day. He tries to steal their holiday goodies to quiet them down, but learns a lesson in the real spirit of the season when the Whos continue their festivities anyway.

Work was on-and-off steady, with a lot of down time between customers. It's two days after the biggest food day of the year, not to mention close to the beginning of the month. The last place most people want to be at the moment is a grocery store! There were no major problems, and it was quiet enough by 5:30 for me to shut down with no relief.

I went to Muscle Maker Grill for dinner. They're a fast-food place a few doors down from Tu Se Bella's Pizza that specializes in healthy versions of typical restauraunt food. I went with the Mona Lisa Wrap - grilled chicken, green lettuce, tomatoes, their special sauce. Not bad. Warm and flavorful. Little pricy, though. With a Diet Dr. Pepper, it cost me nearly 10 bucks. No wonder they were quiet at dinnertime.

Finished the night at home. finally dusting my bedroom. My bedroom always takes forever to really dust thoroughly. I have all my collectible dolls and toys and stuffed animals in the bedroom, not to mention my fiction books and comic books. Didn't help my nose, either. I've been sneezing and sniffling ever since I started. It took me over two hours, but I did finally get it all done. Tomorrow, I'll put up the first Christmas decorations

Friday, November 27, 2015

Welcome to the Holiday Season

Though the chatter downstairs awoke me around 7 AM, I finished the Maisie Dobbs book Leaving Everything Most Loved and wrote in my journal rather than deal with Dad and Rose continuing their fussing about politics from last night. People were in better moods when I finally made it to the dining room/kitchen. Mom had put out slices of my pumpkin and cranberry bread. Dad in particular was effusive about my cranberry bread; he said he must have eaten seven half-slices!

Anny's crew arrived around 8:30-9 AM. Khai got bored with watching Paw Patrol and joined Collyn and Skylar back outside on the scooters. I can't say I blame them. It was even nicer today than it was yesterday, in the lower-mid 60's and as sunny as can be. No wonder we could barely drag Khai off the scooter when it was time to head home. I went inside to hug everyone goodbye (including little Lilah, who was enamored by Mickey Mouse Clubhouse) before we hit the road.

We finally left at 9:50. This time, we went straight through, no stops at WaWa or anywhere else. Khai wasn't much fun to travel with. He kept drinking sticky Arizona iced tea and spilling it on himself, then complained about it being wet and ended up stripping off his shirt. His dad starting in on Bigfoot again got him and Rose fussing at each other about Internet hoax videos and what's real versus what isn't. (Despite agreeing with Rose yesterday, with most things, I keep an open mind. We don't really know what's out there. There are some pretty strange critters in this world, including ones we haven't discovered yet.) Thankfully, by the time we were driving down the ramp off the highway, Khai had settled down and was trying to nap.

The traffic was so sparse, even around the malls, that it was only quarter after 11 when I got in. As soon as I unloaded my backpack, I went right into taking down the fall and Thanksgiving decorations. I'm hoping to start putting up the Christmas decorations by the end of the weekend. Ran Very Merry Christmas Songs as background while I worked, and later while eating tuna-tomato salad for lunch.

But that beautiful day beckoned. It was too nice to be inside all day. I opted to run a few chores, starting with returning Cranberry Thanksgiving to the Oaklyn Library. They were surprisingly busy for a nice day the day after a major holiday, with several people on the computer or volunteering. I organized the DVDs (the kids' titles were really bad) and looked at the kids' books.

Headed to the Acme next for this week's grocery shopping and schedule. I didn't really need that much. Mainly restocked things I used up this week and last week - white cooking wine (which was on sale and came with a coupon), cooking spray, pumpkin, grapefruit, skim milk, cranberries, powdered sugar, canned chicken. Bought more lights (red and green) after the string I bought last year proved to not be enough for the tree.

My schedule for this week isn't too bad. Monday and Wednesday off, Monday for Amanda's visit. On one hand, there are a few mildly early days, but nothing later than 7, and a much-needed late Sunday. On the other hand...the hours still aren't increasing. While we are between holidays (and the Eagles played Thursday), we're also coming up on the beginning of the month. We're going to need the help, especially if the rain we may be getting tomorrow afternoon really does bring those cooler temperatures.

Finished out a couple of episodes of The Backyardigans while putting everything away and getting organized. "The Action Elves Save Christmas Eve" give us Pablo, Tasha, and Uniqua as superheroic elves with special tiny hammers that can make anything. Their mission - get Santa's sack back from the Abominable Brothers (Tyrone and Austin) before Santa goes on his big ride. "Pablor and the Acorns" has Pablo as an evil galactic overlord who learns a lesson in friendship and helping others from a trio of Boy/Girl Scout-type "Acorns" (Austin, Tyrone, and Tasha) when he arrives on Earth to search for the Crystal of Power! The kids head further into space for "The Big Dipper Diner." Confusion is on the menu and Pablo and Uniqua's intergalactic greasy spoon when cops Tasha and Tyrone mistake their sweetest customer for the galaxy's nastiest criminal.

Switched to Christmas records by Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and Perry Como as I dusted the living area. I only really dust under everything two times a year, in June before Lauren visits and in December before Christmas. I have so many records and books and whatnot, they take forever to move around. (And that's when I'm not reading them.) It took so long, I decided to do my bedroom tomorrow night or Sunday.

Moved to working on Babes In WENNLand next. Pruitt and Scott show up, arguing over Pruitt's declaration that there will be no Christmas at the station. The kids cry foul, and Scott, Betty, and Gertie aren't much happier. Pruitt is condescending to the kids and obnoxious to Scott, asking him just how he got his job with his lack of credentials. Gertie takes the kids to the Green Room before Scott can use language they probably don't need to be hearing at their ages.

(And actually, one of the questions I've always had about this show is just how Pruitt found out so much about Scott and the "memorial" when he was in Boston for the rest of the second season. Maybe he hired outside help to ferret out just what Scott was up to? He couldn't have been happy about Scott's part in humiliating him during the Christmas episode.)

Threw together most of the leftovers in my fridge to make Chicken-Tomato-Broccoli Soup for dinner while watching Sailor Moon: Hearts In Ice. Usagi's cat Luna is rescued by a handsome, though frail, scientist with whom she falls deeply in love. As she tries to find the cure for his affliction, the Sailor Guardians battle a group of snow creatures who have come to Earth to freeze the planet.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Plenty to Be Thankful For

It was another beautiful, sunny day when I got up this morning. Started off the day with some Thanksgiving and Christmas short stories and poems. In addition to the material from the Collier's Book of Holidays, I found two more stories and book excerpts. Pilgrim's Party is a short story from the early 60's Disney anthology Storybookland. Mickey takes the Disney characters on a road trip to New England, and then to Massachusetts, where they decide to celebrate the holiday at the recreated pilgrim's settlement at Plymouth. It's all fun and food, until Pluto steals the turkey! In the last two chapters of Kit Learns a Lesson, Kit Kitteredge isn't feeling very grateful for the boarders her parents have taken in to make ends meet during the Great Depression. She feels like a maid and is sure her dad will find work soon. It takes a surprising encounter at a soup kitchen to show her how important it is to be thankful for those around us.

Rose called while I was getting dressed. Mind if we switched to being picked up between 10 and 10:30? They had to drop Toby, their larger dog, off at Dad and Jodie's. That was fine. It would give me a chance to have breakfast and get organized.

I ate the last of the Carrot-Pineapple Muffins and a half a grapefruit, then finished packing while watching Thanksgiving specials. It's A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving when Peppermint Patty invites herself, Marcie, and Franklin over to Chuck's house for dinner. Trouble is, he's eating at his grandma's house. She doesn't appreciate the meal of toast, jelly beans, ice cream, and popcorn, until Marcie and Linus remind their friends that Thanksgiving is about a lot more than food.

The Mayflower Voyagers reminds us just what this holiday is about. In this episode of the miniseries This Is America, Charlie Brown, the Peanuts play pilgrim kids who come over to the New World with their parents to start over. The voyage to what we now know as New England is fraught with peril, including storms and crowded and miserable conditions. Things aren't much better at Plymouth, where starvation and disease plague the settlement. It isn't until the natives Squanto and Massasoit teach the settlers how to plant corn and hunt and fish that their lives begin to improve. They're so thankful for their bountiful harvest, they invite the Natives for a feast of Thanksgiving.

Garfield isn't feeling all that thankful in Garfield's Thanksgiving. Jon just invited Liz the Veterinarian over for Thanksgiving dinner...right after she's put him on a diet! It doesn't help that Jon can't cook a turkey to save his life. Good thing Grandma from the Christmas special knows how to make things right.

After Garfield ended, I listened to my lovely LP of mountain folk songs and old American songs while fixing one of my pairs of work pants. I just got them not long ago - I don't have the money to replace them. The very bottom of the seat split at the seam. I'd just finished sewing it as best I could (I'm terrible at sewing, but I can figure out enough to fix a seam) when Rose called, saying she'd be there in two minutes. I took my things and went downstairs...then came back upstairs briefly. Mom said to bring a pillow, and I forgot.

I went up with my 5-year-old nephew Khai, my sister Rose, her boyfriend Craig, and their mini-pincher Kelsey. Rose and Khai got up at 5 AM today to make her apple pie, and Khai was a very tired boy. He rested for most of the trip. We did make a stop at WaWa for drinks. I got Cherry Limeaide Sparkling Ice and a soft pretzel. Khai got Cheetos. Rose bought Monster Energy drinks for her and Craig. We admired the view of the lovely South Jersey countryside, including a horse farm. (Craig kept telling Khai to watch out for Bigfoot, despite Rose and I admonishing them that there's no such creature.)

We got in around quarter after 12. Everyone else was already there, including Mom and Dad, my sister Anny, her boyfriend Jay, her sons Collyn (7 next month) and Skylar (11) and their baby girl Lilah (10 months) and my brother Keefe and his new girlfriend Carmen. I spent most of the next few hours that I wasn't scarfing the vegetable and ranch dip tray and home-made cheese ball and crackers watching over the boys. They rode a bike and a scooter for a while, speeding up and down the dead-end street Mom and Dad live on, riding around houses where no one lived. When they got bored with that, I took them in the back to toss around a Nerf football, then a Frisbee. (And kept trying to get Skylar off the porch. I was afraid someone would break a window or Mom's beloved wind chimes.)

We went inside for a while to rest, eat appetizers, and watch TV. The Eagles-Lions game wasn't going very well. They did play a little better later, but they were mostly terrible. (The Eagles ultimately lost 45-14.) We had more fun with strange cartoons like Gravity Falls (Dipper is put on trial for arguing that reality is better than fantasy), Teen Titans Go! (video game spoof), and Phineas and Ferb (first Doofensmirtz helps Perry the Playpus' secret agent organization take down a tiny little scientist bent on destroying them, then Candace puts herself on a Groundhog Day loop when her last day of summer vacation keeps going badly and she can't bust her brothers).

We ran into some problems when we went back outside. Khai and Collyn both wanted to ride the scooter, but Khai's an only child who isn't really used to sharing his toys. They both got into a rather noisy argument on a neighbor's driveway across the street. Dad finally settled it by borrowing two older scooters from his next-door neighbor John. I also got a chance to chat with John and with another neighbor of my parents' a few doors down.

The boys and I were watching cartoons again when dinner was finally ready. Mom spent the afternoon fussing that the turkey was too small and greasy and bent out of shape. I usually eat the dark meat anyway and I don't like gravy, so yeah, it was a little dry, but not that bad. In addition to the poor turkey, there was mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows on top, potato rolls with butter, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, glazed carrots, pearl onions in white sauce, and home-made stuffing. I had a little of everything but the mashed potatoes. I'm not a big fan of white potatoes.

We all sort of broke up after dinner. Craig took Khai on a brief trip to the Canyon Club condos on the Wildwood Crest side of the Cape May Bridge to see his parents and brother. Rose and Anny were crazy enough to elbow their way through early Black Friday shoppers and pick up two things for their kids at Walmart. Carmen talked to relatives on her phone on the porch. Dad and Keefe stayed attached to the Cowboys-Panthers game. (The Panthers not only won 33-14, they knocked out Tony Romo again, too.)

I had an intimate conversation with Skylar. We walked up and down Willow Drive. When we got back to Mom and Dad's house, Skylar sat on the bed of Dad's white truck, and we watched the stars come out. He's such a smart kid. We talked about our siblings, our parents, our families, cartoons, and the things we both like.

Mom was starting to pull out the desserts when we came in. Skylar immediately swarmed towards Mom's chocolate cake. I went for the pumpkin pie and Reddi-Whip topping. I love pumpkin pie. It isn't Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. I had a couple of chocolate chip bars and a small slice of chocolate cake, but I just couldn't fit in Rose's apple pie. I'll have that tomorrow.

Played with little miss Lilah after dinner. She's absolutely adorable. I brought my stuffed turkey Plymouth downstairs to show her. She was absolutely fascinated by him. She sat in Jay's lap and kept patting and pulling at Plymouth, probably wondering what this strange, colorful thing was. She has big, round blue eyes like her mom's when she was tiny and fluffy, wavy brown hair. She's still learning to walk on her own, though her mom says she doesn't have a lot of confidence. She'll walk a few steps, then fall down. Jay and Anny's mostly been holding her hands.

Skylar, Khai, and I finished the night with our desserts and more cartoons. Even as we watched the very odd Wander Over Yonder (a strange little creature wants to make friends with everyone it meets - even an evil galactic overlord), Khai was falling asleep over his vanilla ice cream. Rose got him into his new Batman pajamas. He finally passed out on the couch in the living room, shortly before Anny took her crew home.

I'm taking a respite of my own while the remaining family members continue to eat and chat downstairs. I hope all of you had a beautiful Thanksgiving with your own families (including the Canadians, who had their turkey last month). Everyone else, I hope you enjoyed the last days of fall.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cleaning Day at the Riverside Rest

Awoke to the phone ringing. It was Mom, who wanted to know if I was bringing bread. Sounds like we're going to have another head for dinner - my brother Keefe is bringing his new girlfriend from Norfolk. You bet I am. I'd be making the pumpkin bread as soon as I ate. Called Rose right after that to confirm when we're leaving tomorrow. Sounds like it'll be between 10 and 10:30 at press time.

Moved into breakfast and a Three Stooges short after I got dressed. The Stooges are sent "Back to the Woods" when they're sent to England to protect the pilgrims from the Indians. They're immediately enamored by three pilgrim lasses, but their father the Governor would rather they get out and do their jobs. The Indians prove to be a lot harder to track than they thought! Larry almost loses his curly scalp, but Moe and Curly come to his rescue.

Ran Planes, Trains, and Automobiles while making Pumpkin Bread, then while vacuuming. Ad executive Neal Page (Steve Martin) is not having the best Thanksgiving. Thanks to bad weather in the Midwest, his own increasingly mounting temper, and just plain bad luck, he keeps getting bounced from vehicle to vehicle as he tries to get home for the holidays. Worse yet, he keeps ending up with Del Griffith (John Candy), a shower curtain ring salesman who's the nicest guy you'll ever meet, but is also a chatty mass of bad habits. The two men finally call something like a truce as they journey across the frozen landscape. When he realizes why Del is really on the road, Neal learns a lesson in being thankful for having a home and family to travel to.

Though the premise is now a little dated (a lot of Neal's travel troubles would be solved with an app or a cell phone call today) and the sentimentality at the end feels slightly forced, this does remain a must for fans of Candy, Martin, or director John Hughes - it's some of their finest work.

Switched to Perfect Strangers while finishing the vacuuming and pulling the bread out of the oven. The seventh season episode "Wild Turkey" has Balki, Larry, Jennifer, and Mary Anne celebrating their first Thanksgiving in their new, larger home. Larry gets the idea to bring home a flock of live turkeys to sell for last-minute shoppers. Larry's idea becomes (pardon the pun) a real turkey when Jennifer thinks one may have swallowed her ring. The guys go to the house of a family who bought a bird to get it back.

The vacuuming was a little more thorough than usual and took a bit more time. I vacuumed under and behind all the nooks and crannies and around all the furniture that I normally ignore. It had to be done. Not only do I have my friend Amanda visiting next week, but I'll be putting up the Christmas decorations. I washed the windows, too.

Did an episode of Good Eats while sticking broccoli and a leftover chicken breast in the oven for lunch. Oranges are another fruit frequently consumed during the Thanksgiving and especially the Christmas season. "Orange Aid" shows what to do with those oranges kids get in their stockings. While the orange sherbet and the Orange Julius variation both sound delicious, the one I may try someday is my own orange marmalade. I love marmalade, but it's often expensive in the store.

Work was pretty much the same as yesterday - steady when I came in, crazy for the rest of the night. This is hardly surprisingly the day before the biggest food holiday of the year. Thankfully, there were only a handful of cranky customers. Most people seemed to be in pretty decent moods. Other than my break was almost and hour late, there were no major problems, and my relief was right on time.

Had a quick dinner of leftover chicken-vegetable soup while watching one more episode of Good Eats. Alton Brown's feeling a little nutty as he explores the culinary properties of pistachios, cashews, and macadamia nuts in "Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut." While I love macadamias, they're crazy-expensive in the store. I'll stick to white chocolate-macadamia nut cookies. I'm not a big fan of pistachios...but I do like cashews. The cashew butter and cashew sauce recipes might be worth trying when nuts are on sale.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Holiday Preparations

The weather remained beautiful when I got up this morning. It was sunny and breezy, with a sky so blue it hurt your eyes. It remains cold, in the upper 40's, but that's really what it's supposed to be at this time of year in southern New Jersey.

I had a quick breakfast, then made Cranberry Bread. Since my Cranberry-Orange Bread got a bit charred, I bought a mix last night at work and added real cranberries with the dried ones. It still didn't cook as well as I would have liked, but it looked better than the other one. I'll keep the other one for me.

Ran Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving while I baked. This direct-to-home-media "feature" is an anthology of two episodes of The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and the Thanksgiving special. The Thanksgiving special is the reason I have it. Pooh and the others are ready to celebrate Thanksgiving with a spread of haycorns, honey, and chocolate ice cream. No way, says Rabbit. That's not how Thanksgiving tradition works. He sends Pooh and Piglet after the turkey (neglecting to tell them what a turkey looks like) and Eeyore and Tigger after cranberries. With Pooh and Piglet conjuring up images of a monster bird and Gopher making pumpkin pie with attitude, this is one dinner that isn't going to go as Rabbit planned. When his party is ruined, it's Pooh who reminds everyone that it's not what we eat for Thanksgiving that counts. It's whom we eat it with.

Went right into cleaning as soon as the Cranberry Bread was in the oven. I always do a thorough house cleaning before I start putting up Christmas decorations. Not to mention, I do have my friend Amanda visiting next week. Got the bathroom and the kitchen done today. The bathroom was especially grungy. I washed down more than I usually do in both rooms. The kitchen cabinets needed to be dusted badly. I'll be using the kitchen in particular a lot in the coming weeks. One of my favorite things about the holiday season is the baking.

Watched Muppet Family Christmas as I cleaned (and tried to drown out the cursing and 80's music blasting downstairs). Fozzie, Kermit, and the other Muppet Show crew surprise Fozzie's mom on her farm on Christmas Eve. She's really surprised - she was planning on going away and rented her home to Doc and Sprocket of Fraggle Rock! The arrival of the Sesame Street characters and a turkey whom the Swedish Chef intends to roast for dinner brings even more chaos. Meanwhile, Miss Piggy has last-minute work and shopping to do and is stranded in a snowstorm. Kermit and Robin visit the Fraggles to cheer up while they wait for her. This is a fun special that, thanks to the three groups of Muppets being owned by different companies, is hard to find intact today. Try YouTube or other online video sharing sites.

Squeezed in a little bit of writing after the Muppets. Gertie gets a call from the kids' mother. She's going to be late picking them up; she's stuck at the store. Gertie and Betty aren't enthusiastic about babysitting. We're not babies, Lisa insists. We can take care of ourselves. Alan wants to meet Amazon Andy. Betty tries to explain he's on the air as Scott and Rollie "The Satanic Santa" Pruitt, the station's nasty Scrooge of a financier, come in the door.

Made those crab cakes from Friday for lunch with leftover broccoli, Cranberry Flummery, and Cranberry-Orange Bread. Ran episodes of Max & Ruby as I ate. Ruby's decorating the table for "Max's Thanksgiving." Her brother is more interested in Grandma's nut stuffing. "Ruby's Roller Skates" has Ruby trying to learn to skate to Grandma's. Max just wants to find his tow truck. "Ruby's Leaf Collection" will be the best in her class...if her brother stops covering it with his leaf pile. "Fireman Max" wants to come to the rescue, but he keeps getting in his sister's way while she's trying to jump rope.

Finished out the afternoon with an episode of Remember WENN while I got ready to go to work. While "And How" from the late third season isn't a Thanksgiving episode per se, it does involve food and Native American relations. The WENN staff are going to be appearing on an episode of a popular network western, "The Strange Loner." When the star who is to be unmasked on the air turns up drunk, the male staff compete for his role. The Native man who plays the Loner's sidekick turns out to be far less sterotypical than his "he say ugh" part would indicate. Meanwhile, Eugenia the organist has discovered a new and "adventurous" food - pizza!

Though it was relatively quiet when I came in, it picked up during rush hour...and this time, stayed busy for the rest of the night. I got pretty stressed early on, especially when a WIC check family took forever. Moving to a register on the other side of the front end helped. Like the college girl who came in for me said later, it gave me room to breathe and think. A lot of people weren't in the best of moods, either. A customer said traffic on the Black Horse Pike was really bad, which may have been part of the problem. Thankfully, it was perfectly normal by the time I finished at 7. I had no trouble getting home.

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's a Wonderful Bath

In honor of the first really cold day of the season here, I started the morning with Frosty the Snowman during breakfast. The original 1969 Rankin-Bass tale takes us to a schoolyard on the day before Christmas. A group of kids find a magician's hat he's gotten rid of that suddenly brings their just-built snowman to life. While one of the kids and the magician's rabbit take Frosty to the North Pole to keep him from melting, the magician sees that the hat has real magic and decides he wants it back.

Headed right to the laundromat after I finished breakfast. They weren't really busy; I only saw a few people the whole time. Some folks may be waiting for closer to Thanksgiving to get their linens done. It's just as well. I had a big load this week, including sheets. I listened to The Price Is Right and worked on story notes while my laundry was in the drier.

When I got home, I put everything away, then did a really quick writing session. I'm putting Once Upon a Time In the Land of WENN on hold for the duration of the holiday season in favor of Christmas stories. Had just enough time to start my next "fairy tale," Babes In WENNLand. Lisa and Alan Herbert are the last two kids remaining after the "Tell It to Santa" broadcast on the second season episode "Christmas In the Airwaves." Alan is a typical rambunctious kid who can't sit still and loves WENN's action shows "The Masked Man" and "Amazon Andy." Lisa thinks he's being a baby. She's frequently in charge of her brother and many household chores while their single mother works in the toy section of a local department store. As they wait for their mother to pick them up, they observe the WENN cast and crew's comings and goings at the reception area.

Put on Mickey's Christmas Carol while having leftovers for lunch. Though Mickey is the title character here, he's actually in the more fitting role of Bob Cratchit. Uncle Scrooge gets the main role as his namesake Ebeneezer Scrooge, who learns a lesson in holiday charity and kindness from the ghosts of Christmas past (Jiminy Cricket), present (Willie the Giant), and future (Big Pete). Donald is his Nephew Fred; Goofy makes a surprisingly good Jacob Marley.

Went straight to work after Mickey ended. Work was pretty much the same as it was last week - steady when I came in, dead when I left, busy only during rush hour. The gorgeous weather probably helped. It was sunny, cold, and windy today, but really not anything that out of the ordinary for late November in southern New Jersey. I think we only got crazy last year right before Thanksgiving because there was a threat of snow mixed with rain that Wednesday. It died so fast by 7, I was able to shut down with no relief and no need for one.

Went right in the bath as soon as I got home. Ahhh. I needed that. I haven't taken one in a couple of weeks, I think. I read It's a Wonderful Christmas (a book Linda Young sent me a few years ago on how the years from 1940 to 1965 shaped our current Christmas traditions) and listened to my CD copy of the full Nutcracker score.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Holiday Time Dolls

It was cloudy and colder than it has been in weeks when I got up this morning. I was up a little late with Lauren and barely had enough time for Cornmeal Pancakes and some holiday music. I ran the Disney's Christmas Collection II cassette Lauren gave me for Christmas last year. Most of the songs are performed by the Disneyland Chorus, but I my favorite is sung by the Disney Characters - a hilarious version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." (Love Donald and Goofy tripping over each other's lines.)

Work was, not surprisingly on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, on-and-off busy for most of the evening. We'd have long lines and they'd call up stock people, and then the lines would die down, and everyone who was shopping would make it up front and we'd be busy again. Thankfully, there were no really major problems. It slowed down slightly after the Eagles game came on. My relief was on time, and I was in and out. I picked up molasses, which I forgot on Friday and will need for the pumpkin bread this week, and had a slightly stale soft pretzel from the party yesterday during break.

When I got home, I changed, then went right into dressing the American Girl dolls for the holidays. Each doll has a special holiday outfit of her own. I was delighted to discover that the red vinyl shoes with the bows from Samantha's new Spring Day Dress matches her Cranberry Christmas Dress beautifully. Josefina is as pretty as a Mexican princess in her yellow Christmas Dress and Mantilla. Molly swiped Samantha's new "meet" shoes to go with her velvet Evergreen Christmas Dress and white Springfield Collection socks. Jessa's in the Chinese New Year's outfit from the 90's modern line. This year, she got Josefina's mules, and Whitney got the Ivy's New Year's Outfit strap shoes to go with her Snowflake Ball Gown, black tights, and sparkly clip. They remind me of the embroidered Chinese-style strap shoes Rose and I had when we were very little. (Plus they fit Whitney a lot better than they do Jessa, even with Whitney's tights.) Felicity shines in her bright blue Christmas Ball Gown paired with the choker from Josefina's Heirloom Accessories.

Did a little writing after I finished the dolls. First of all, I re-wrote the ball sequence a bit. Doug's arrival puts the damper on Betty and Scott's dance of romance, just as he's about to tell her something important. He flees...but they both end up with souvenirs. She finds his necklace with the purple moon pendant that's his most precious possession. He finds her crystal shoe.

Meanwhile, Jeff has to leave for Britannica rather suddenly. Hilary tries to handcuff him to keep him from leaving, but he gets away.

I had a quick dinner of leftover chicken-vegetable soup, then went into making Cranberry Bread. I always bring two kinds of quick bread to Thanksgiving dinner. It's a tradition that goes back to college. Quick bread mixes were often the only things I had the time or the room to make that I could bring to Thanksgiving dinner. Nowadays, I make my bread from scratch, but they still get eaten the day after Thanksgiving for breakfast.

I wish the bread hadn't taken so long to bake! It was in there over an hour and a half, and it still hadn't cooked all the way through. It didn't last year, either. I hope I didn't burn it. Next year, I'll have to turn up the heat a bit. I thought it was just that I didn't give myself enough time to bake it last year.

Listened to the last of the 20's CDs I bought a few weeks ago as I worked. I didn't realize how far back some standards went. I recognized everything from "They'll Be Some Changes Made" to "Margie" to "Chicago" and "Runnin' Wild."

Wish the Eagles had run wild. They were terrible. They lost badly the the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (who aren't great, either) 45-17.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Harvest Wedding Parties

I awoke to banging and cursing downstairs at about 7:30. It was earlier than I'd planned on getting up, but maybe it was just as well. I had a LOT to do today!

Started off with breakfast and A Walt Disney Christmas. I dubbed this anthology of Disney holiday shorts off an ancient white clamshell box tape I got from the (now-defunct) Blockbuster in Wildwood. Along with the Santa Silly Symphonies and "Pluto's Christmas Tree," we have some less well-known Disney winter shorts. "On Ice" has the regular Disney gang frolicking at a skating party. While Mickey shows off for Minnie and Goofy attempts ice fishing, Donald teases Pluto. "Donald's Snow Fight" gets out of control when he accidentally runs into his nephews' snowman, which leads to an all-out frozen precipitation war! "Once Upon a Wintertime" is a sweet, romantic short from the 40's movie anthologies. Two lovers and two bunnies hit the ice, but when they have a fight, it takes some local critters and a dynamic rescue to reunite them.

Charlie was only about 20 minutes or so late today. He and the electrician showed up around 9:30, while I was making the Vanilla Spiced Cream Icing for the Cranberry-Lemon Cupcakes. They were in and out for less than a half-hour. At any rate, whatever else they did, the outlet by the park window is working again. I plugged the light back in, and it went on just fine.

After Charlie left, I headed to the last Collingswood Farm Market of the year. It was a beautiful day for it. The sun shown and the sky was blue, but it was much cooler than it has been, probably in the mid-50's. Between the nice day and people picking up produce for Thanksgiving, they were packed when I got in. I waved to a black alpaca and a brown alpaca in a pen munching on hay and watching the kids oooh over them as I made my way through the crowds. Though several booths were missing, this was offset by the return of the dairy booth. They still had plenty for me to buy. I ended up with small Gala apples, cranberries, broccoli, carrots, an onion, and much to my surprise, a tomato. I hadn't seen tomatoes in weeks, but at least two booths had big bucketfuls.

Stopped by CVS on my way back. I wanted to get a wedding card for Dad and Jodie. Alas, they didn't have much of a selection. I spent way more than I wanted. I had better luck finding Thanksgiving cards for Mom and Dad-Bill and Rose and her family. Also picked up dishwashing liquid and peanut butter on sale and gifts for my friend Amanda.

As soon as I got home, I put everything away and got the cupcakes organized while finishing out Bugs Bunny's Christmas Tales, which I started before I left. This holiday anthology features three original stories. The first is a take on A Christmas Carol, with Yosemite Sam as Scrooge and Bugs as Nephew Fred. The second takes Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner's antics out of Arizona and into snowier terrain. The third has Bugs dealing with the Tasmanian Devil in a Santa suit.

Went to Dad's first. I wanted to give him and Jodie the card and a couple of cupcakes. I wasn't sure if I would be able to swing by later. It was just them and Dad's friend Gary, who had flown in from St. Louis, at that point. I did give them my gifts and hugs and congratulations, then went to work.

Work was on-and-off busy. When it was off, it was dead...but then everyone would swarm up front, and we'd have long lines again. Other than some cranky customers, it could have been a lot worse, especially the weekend before Thanksgiving. I suspect one of my customers was right and most people opted to clean up yards or gardens this weekend while the weather remains nice.

Today was the Acme's annual Employee Thanksgiving Luncheon. As usual, there was tons of food in the back room when I arrived. I saw turkey, two kinds of stuffing (with and without added turkey chunks), macaroni salad, two kinds of mashed potatoes (with and without skin), macaroni and cheese, lasagna, cole slaw, soft pretzels, two antipasto trays (one with cranberry sauce), deviled eggs, and later in the evening, ham. Desserts included two cheesecakes (one plain, one with cherry topping), chocolate cake, those peanut butter cookies with the Reeces cup in the center, bread pudding, my cupcakes, and a chocolate-cinnamon coffee cake. I had the turkey, stuffing, deviled eggs, and cole slaw for a late lunch, lasagna for dinner, and coffee cake, cookies, and bread pudding for a snack.

As soon as I finished and ate the lasagna, I changed into a normal shirt and went back to Dad's. This time, the place was swinging. In addition to Gary, I saw Rose and Khai, Mary, several neighbors, Dad's long-time friends Brian and Diane from Cape May, and Joe and Jessa came in just as I was leaving. I stayed long enough to hug Dad and Jodie again, eat a very small slice of the white wedding cake someone bought from DiBartalo's Bakery in Collingswood, and ask Rose when she's picking me up on Thanksgiving. Sounds like it'll be between 9 and 10 in the morning - I'll call her later in the week for specifics. Headed straight home after finishing there.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Cranberry Friday

Began a gorgeous, sunny fall morning with breakfast, noisy cursing downstairs, and an episode of Good Eats. I thought "Cran Opening" was appropriate, since cranberries are in season and are very much a part of both Thanksgiving and Christmas cooking in the US. Alton Brown shows how the tart cranberry, a nutritional powerhouse, can become a tasty one as well, with everything from a home-made version of traditional canned cranberry sauce to Cosmopolitans made from Cranberry Granita.

I only had a little time for writing. Jeff is looking for Victor. They're supposed to check in with each other, and Jeff needs to get information on the Shadow Realm to the Rebels. Unfortunately, he finds the former prince regent in the clutches of evil Candy Witch Pavla Nemcova. She'll turn Victor to gingerbread...if Jeff doesn't do what she wants...

Did a Thanksgiving special while I ate lunch fast and got ready for work. Garfield's Thanksgiving doesn't start off well when Liz the Veterinarian puts the fat cat on a diet the day before the holiday. Worse yet, Jon invites her for dinner, then ruins the turkey! Good thing Grandma from the Christmas special knows how to set things right.

Work was on-and-off steady, not nearly as bad as I thought it would be the Friday before Thanksgiving. The fact that it was the nicest day we've had all week may have contributed. People may be holding off until later in the weekend or early next week to do their big Thanksgiving shopping. Other than some cranky people, there were no major problems, and my relief was right on time.

I had considered eating dinner at home, but I was too hungry. I went out to Arby's instead. They're only right around the corner from the Acme. I was able to walk there in less than a minute. They were surprisingly quiet for 6 PM. I had your basic Turkey Club Sandwich, Curly Fries, and Diet Dr. Pepper. I also saw another possible reason for the slow day at work, at least later on. The traffic on the Black Horse Pike going south was bumper-to-bumper. Folks may have decided they'd rather go home than risk that mess.

Went back to the Acme to do this week's grocery shopping. Took advantage of a Perdue chicken sale to pick up the cheapest chicken breasts I've seen in years. Got two of those crab cakes with a manager's coupon for a quick dinner sometime next week, too. Restocked canola oil, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, no-salt diced tomatoes, crushed pineapple, brown sugar, corn starch, and grapefruit. Found McCormick's coffee extract on the clearance shelf. I don't drink coffee, so this might come in handy. Needed heavy cream for the icing for the Cranberry-Lemon Cupcakes and orange juice for the Cranberry Bread I'll be bringing to Mom and Dad's house next week.

Because...yes, I did get the requested Thanksgiving and Black Friday off. This is one holiday they don't usually mind letting me go for. It's the day of and the day after the biggest food days of the year. The last place anyone will want to be is a grocery store! What I'm disappointed about is not getting more hours the rest of the week. I don't know what the managers are thinking. Other than a late morning day Sunday, it's all afternoon and evening work. Normal for this time of year...just not enough of it to handle pre-Thanksgiving crowds.

When I got home, I did one more quick holiday special while I put away the groceries. The Bernstein Bears' Christmas Tree is going to be one to remember, if Papa Q. Bear has anything to say about it! Papa takes the cubs up into the mountains to find the perfect specimen. Trouble is, they keep picking trees that are already occupied. It takes one family to remind Papa of the real Christmas spirit. There's an even bigger surprise for the trio when they arrive back at the Bears' tree house!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Writing on a Rainy Day

It was still just cloudy, damp, and a bit warmish for this time of year when I started breakfast this morning. Ran Mickey's Magical Christmas: Snowed In at the House of Mouse while I ate. Actually, I mainly have this "feature length" Disney direct-to-home-media movie for the hilarious Nutcracker spoof.

One of the cartoons Mickey shows Don to cheer him when they're snowed in up is a "Nutcracker" short. Minnie is Marie. Mickey is the title character, who has to fight the Mouse King (Donald!) with the dubious help of the Snow Fairy (Goofy) and Godfather Drosselmayer (Professor Ludwig Von Drake). John Cleese tries to narrate. This is an absolute riot; the goofy humor feels more like a Looney Tunes short at times than a Disney short. I especially love Goofy getting on Mickey's nerves over what he's doing in the short. It's one of the few times I've ever seen Mickey really annoyed about anything.

Since breakfast didn't take very long, I decided to get an early start out to the Oaklyn Library around 10:30. Needless to say, on a dull and gray day the week before a major holiday, they were dead as can be. There were one or two other people on the computer or reading the newspaper, one guy working on papers, and CNN's continuing reports on the Paris attacks going on in the background. I concentrated on the kids' section this week. It's been nearly a month since I've been able to give it a real going-over. Took out Cranberry Thanksgiving, a wonderful kids' book about a little girl named Maggie, her grandmother, and the two gentlemen they invite to Thanksgiving dinner. I make Grandmother's Cranberry Bread recipe to bring for Thanksgiving every year.

It was just starting to sprinkle as I headed back to West Clinton for a quick lunch. Common Grounds Coffee House really was quiet. There wasn't a soul there besides the girl in charge. I had a slice of bacon and sweet corn quiche and a bottle of water. Sat by the window and watched the few people on the street go by.

The rain was starting to pick up, even as I peeked at Studio LuLoo. I had before lunch, too. Nothing. I guess the weather scared them off. I just opted to go home early. I headed down Manor just as the rain was getting heavier.

Switched to Cricket On the Hearth as I braised chicken breasts dredged in flour for my Crock Pot Italian Chicken and Tomatoes and made Cranberry Flummery. This lesser-known Dickens holiday tale is one of Rankin-Bass' stranger early specials, and one of their earliest 2D animated stories. The insect of the title (Roddy McDowell) helps a pair of young sweethearts (Marlo Thomas and Ed Ames) when he's supposedly lost at sea and she goes blind from the shock. He and her father (Danny Thomas) have to keep her from marrying a miserly toymaker (Hans Conried) who makes Scrooge look like Minnie Mouse.

Even as the rain started coming down in buckets, I was sitting at the computer to work on my story. It's the night of the Summer Festival Ball. Betty first can't find Doug Thompson, then sees a familiar figure slinking down the hall to Jeff's office. Yes, it's Victor. He tells her he's on a mission as a double spy for Britanica and the Shadow Realm. She's worried about him. He could be killed for the second time in this war; Britanica has been talking about attacking the Shadow Realm. He kisses her, then sends her along, back to Doug Thompson.

Unfortunately, what he wasn't counting on was another guest. Miss Pavla Nemcova also saw him in the hall and followed him. Unlike Betty, her only interest is in pumping him for information. She sees his Air Talisman and realizes there's a lot he's not telling her...or the Shadow Realm.

Meanwhile, Betty has returned to the ball. After dancing with Doug and some of the other men for a few hours, she heads out to the lakeside. Scott meets her there and dances romantically with her. She wants to know why he took over the role of 'the Leader' along with being 'the King of Thieves.' He explains that, when his memorial statue for Victor fell through, he decided to honor the late Prince Regent in another way. He'd felt guilty about more-or-less stealing his life.

There's also the fact that he has no love for the Shadow Realm. Their knights murdered his father when he was an infant; the King of Darkness tried to force himself on his mother, then killed her when she wouldn't accept him. His moon pendant is all he has of theirs.

Scott kisses Betty deeply after they finish their second dance. He's about to say more, but hears Doug's voice and flees into the darkness. Doug finally leads a dazed Betty back to the ball.

I got so into writing, it was 6 before I had dinner. I had broccoli with melted cheese and whole-wheat pasta with my Braised Chicken with Italian Tomatoes. Since dinner didn't take that long, I made the Cranberry-Lemon Cupcakes for the Acme Thanksgiving Luncheon and for Dad and Jodie's wedding, too. I wish I had more lemon juice. They definitely didn't come out as lemony as I would have preferred. Otherwise, they tasted pretty decent. You just can't beat fresh cranberries.

Ran Barbie In the Nutcracker as I worked. The very first Barbie In/As movie has the famous fashion doll telling the story to her little sister Kelly to encourage her to keep improving her ballet steps. The story is pretty straightforward up through the arrival of the Mouse King (Tim Curry). Once he shrinks Clara and they get him out, they can't figure out how to get Clara back to her original size. An owl claims the only way to restore her size and the Nutcracker's human form is to find the Sugar Plum Princess. Trouble is, no one's ever heard of this magical princess, not even the Mouse King. Clara and the Nutcracker, with help from their new friends Captain Candy and Major Mint, travel around the Land of Sweets, searching for the princess and dodging the Mouse King and his transformation spells. Clara finally discovers that, when we have courage and stand up for our friends, we can all be true royalty.

I wasn't overly impressed by this when it first came out. In fact, I was so unimpressed, it was nearly a decade before I'd give the Barbie movies another chance. While the animation on this one hasn't dated well (it looks stiff and waxy, and the boxy rock monster is rather badly done), I otherwise kind of like the story, especially how Clara confronts the Mouse King in the end.

The rain didn't end until I was long online. Thankfully, it looks like it'll blow out by tomorrow and be long gone by Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Just a Whisper Away

It was still somewhat sunny when I finally got up late this morning. The men were already working downstairs when I was reading the Maisie Dobbs story A Lesson In Secrets. Charlie knocked on my door as I was starting my journal. He wanted to come up and look at that outlet in the back room in an hour. Sure. I had to eat breakfast and do some things around the apartment.

As soon as I finished the journal, I ate, then went into making the bed. I only make the bed once in a while. Who's gonna see it? I also turned the mattress and put on my blue flannel sheets. Normally, I'd wait to put the sheets on until early next month. I figured, since I was making the bed now, I might as well do the whole thing.

Ran Song of the Sea while I worked. Ben is a young boy who lives with his father and his little sister Saiorse on a remote island lighthouse just off the coast of Ireland in the 1980's. Their mother vanished when Saiorse was born. The little girl has never spoken a word, but she's the apple of her father's eye. Her brother resents her closeness with their father and blames her for their mother's disappearance. Their grandmother thinks they're growing up too wild and drags them away to the city to be brought up "properly." This is the worst possible thing anyone could have done. Saiorse is a selkie, a half-seal, half human. She has to be reunited with her seal skin at their father's lighthouse so she can sing her seal song and save the supernatural world. Ben and their sheepdog Cu do their best to get her there on a spooky Halloween night, dodging the witch Macha who thinks she's helping supernatural creatures by taking their emotions, when she really turns them to stone.

While I've never seen The Secret of the Kells, the previous movie from this studio, I was really impressed with this one. The animation was beautiful, the music was incredible, the story was touching and intense, and like Arthur Christmas last year, no character was played as a villain, even the obvious ones like Macha. There's been almost an embarrassment of wonderful animated films in the last few years, and this is one of the better entries. A deserved Oscar nominee for Animated Film earlier this year.

Charlie finally showed up about an hour and a half after he knocked on the door. He only took a few minutes to work on the outlet in the back room before he left again. The electrician is coming by again on Saturday. Oooh, bad timing. Between Dad and Jodie's wedding, the last Collingswood Farm Market of the year, and the Acme's annual Thanksgiving Luncheon, I'll be in and out all day. They'll have to find their own way to the outlet.

Headed out for today's errands around 12:30. Stopped at Dollar Tree first. I needed sponges rather badly. Thankfully, they had the thicker ones I prefer. I picked up some cookie boxes for Christmas presents and a birthday card for my brother Keefe, whose big day was today.

Next stop was the Westmont Bagel Shop for lunch. They were still pretty busy when I arrived with office workers finishing their lunch hours. I opted for a very simple meal of grilled cheese and tomatoes with fries and a bottle of water. I ate and listened to CNN's report on the Paris terrorist attacks as the other diners gradually went to work.

The Haddon Township Library wasn't nearly as busy. There wasn't much in the way to shelve. I did have some new releases to put up, and the new release section needed to be organized. The kids' stuff all fit; had less luck with the adult DVDs. The "N" titles were the ones that wouldn't go in this time. I didn't take anything out this week. I'm not sure if I'll have the time to do any volunteering next week, due to the holiday.

Stopped at Thriftway on the way home. I needed a quart of skim milk and eggs; both are cheaper at Thriftway than at Acme. Treated myself to a sparkling iced tea, too. Ran into my friend Erica's mom Miss Helen while I was there and talked to her.

The clouds, which had been gathering since before I left, were getting much heavier. I figured it was time for me to head home. I dodged the beginning of the evening rush hour traffic on the way, especially on Cuthbert Boulevard.

When I got in, I went right into continuing my story. It's the night of the glittering Summer Festival Ball, a sort of island-wide cast party for the theater shows. Elizabeth's not sure she can go. She's no great noblewoman or writer. Not to mention, she has nothing to wear. Nonsense, says Duchess Hilary. She's now a part of her court, and she'll make sure she's properly dressed. She plays fairy godmother and makes a beautiful white gown and gold tiara appear on the young woman.

Scott has similar reservations. Not only is he in exile from the Wennaria Court, but he can't even leave the shadows to dance. Don't be silly, says Duke Jeff. Scott is the real head of the country until King Justin's descendants appear. He needs to be there. Jeff gives Scott an outfit worthy of royalty, including a crown.

Finally got off around quarter after 6. Made the last of the Brussels sprouts and leftover swai fillets for dinner, then looked over cake books for holiday baking ideas while watching the 1961 Disney version of Babes In Toyland. Here, Mary (Annette Funicello) is the one who is inheriting and whom Barnaby (Ray Bolger) is after, and the "babes" in question are her siblings. Tom Piper (Tommy Sands) is her swain. After Barnaby's men fail to get rid of Tom, the group ends up in Toyland, where they meet the eccentric Toymaker (Ed Wynn) and his adorably nerdy assistant Grumio (Tommy Kirk). The kids and the lover agree to help the Toymaker prepare for Christmas...but Barnaby and his boys are on their tails...

This is by far my favorite version of Babes In Toyland. While a lot of people prefer the Laurel and Hardy version, and that one does have its virtues, this one is more colorful and charming, and just a lot more fun. Bolger in particular is having a blast playing against type as a hammy silent-era-style villain. It's on DVD and Blu-Ray (the latter in widescreen) and is fairly easy to find if you look around.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Preparing For the Holidays

Started off the morning with the 1978 American Ballet Theatre production of The Nutcracker. Mikhail Baryshnikov's version has been a favorite of mine ever since I saw it on TV back in college. This is about as traditional a version of this ballet as you'll get. Clara (Gelsey Kirkland) dreams of a world where her new nutcracker doll (Baryshnikov) comes to life and defends her and her home from the evil rat king. They go to a land of candy and sweets, where they're welcomed by everything from coffee to marzipan dancing for them.

While the ballet ran, I made my Christmas lists. No, this isn't what I want. It's what I'm giving. I made lists for shopping, baking, cards delivered in the area, cards that need to be sent in the mail (including in packages), and who gets what. I do need to start shopping for my friend Amanda soon. She'll be visiting on November 30th. Everyone else can wait until we're past Thanksgiving, or at least closer to it.

Spent the next few hours working on my story. Betty and Maple have a talk backstage before the show begins. They discuss the ball and Betty's feelings about Doug Thompson. She show is a success - Betty practically has a lock on the best romance play. On her way to the back stage door, Betty gets lost and finds herself in a dark, gloomy hall. A figure steps out of the shadows. Yes, it's Scott. Betty's surprised to see him. He wants to meet her at the lakeside during the ball. She says no. She already has an escort. He ignores this fact and continues to insist on their getting together. When Maple joins her to walk out with her, he vanishes.

I made Tomato-Vegetable-Chicken Soup for lunch and threw together Carrot-Pineapple Muffins. Finished out The Nutcracker, then did an unusual Rankin-Bass holiday special. The Leprechauns' Christmas Gold is the only cartoon I've ever seen to blend Irish mythology with Christmas legends. A young Irish sailor finds himself stranded on an island after digging up a pine tree for Christmas. That tree had been the prison for a banshee. When he digs it up, he inadvertently sets her free. It turns out she wants the gold that belongs to the leprechauns on the island before Christmas morning, or she'll turn into tears.

Headed to work after the cartoon ended. Work was more-or-less the same as it was yesterday - quiet when I came in, steady when I left, crazy during rush hour. There were no major problems, thankfully, and my relief was on time.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Autumn Lovers

Started another gorgeous, sunny day with breakfast and the 1955 TV version of Babes In Toyland. There were two live versions of this story done in the mid-50's, both of which are now on DVD. I prefer the one from '55. Dainty Barbara Cook is more realistic as a storybook heroine than the very urban Jo Sullivan and fits better with Dennis Day. The clowns are funnier, and the production feels a bit slicker than the first one. Interestingly, this is the only other time besides the 1986 TV production I've seen a Wizard-of-Oz-style wrap-around tacked on this tale, in this case a Macy's Santa reading the story to a little lost girl who is waiting for her mother to pick her up from the store.

Got to the laundromat around quarter after 11. I picked the right time. The place was dead as a doornail. It didn't get that much busier once the laundry was in the drier. I worked on notes for the next story I plan on working on, the WENN Babes In Toyland, while listening to The Price Is Right. I didn't have much in the way of laundry at any rate. I was in and out in less than an hour.

I worked on my story for about an hour after I got in and put my laundry away. Doug has been taking Betty out to the Summer Festival grounds between rehearsals. Though she likes him more as a friend than a lover, she still accepts his invitation to the Summer Festival Ball after their show. A certain shadowy figure who is watching Betty from the gardens at Bedside Manor wishes he'd been able to ask her instead...

Ran a Backyardigans episode as I got ready for work. The show did two holiday-themed episodes, the first being "The Secret of Snow" from the second season. Snow-loving Uniqua wants to know the secret of making the frozen precipitation come down. She journeys to the Land of Ice to ask Ice Lady Tasha and her bored assistant Austin if they know the secret of snow. Harried Tasha has no time for Uniqua's requests. She first sends her to the desert, then the jungle, to get her off her back. Not only does Uniqua keep returning, but she brings Cowboy Pablo and Jungle Tyrone along for the ride.

Work was...really pretty dead for most of the evening. Even rush hour didn't get as busy as it has over the past few weeks. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day in the middle of the month. We're between holidays. It's too early for most people to start shopping for Thanksgiving perishables, and most people have probably already bought their turkeys and mixes and boxed items. I doubt it'll pick up until we get closer to the weekend.

Lauren was at her self-defense class tonight and wouldn't be online until past 9. I took advantage of this to make a decent dinner of baked leftover swai fish fillets, roasted sweet potatoes with rosemary, and the last of the spinach sauteed with mushrooms in chicken stock.

Watched Lonesome while I ate. This 1928 part-talking movie is as simple of a romantic comedy as one could wish. Jim (Glenn Tryon) and Mary (Barbara Kent) are two typical working-class singles in late 20's New York. Lost amid the cogs of industry, they're both lonely amid their paired-off buddies. They meet on the beach at Coney Island and happily spend the day together, falling in love. They're separated at the roller coaster, then try to find each other again...but they finally discover they've been near-by all along and never knew it.

Awwwww. This was one of the sweetest romances I've ever seen...with or without sound. The dialogue scenes were only added later as a concession to the new sound movie craze, but they work pretty well, for the most part. I especially liked the first one, with Jim boasting to Mary about his non-existent wealth on the beach. It sounded charming and natural, just the way a first meeting between two lonely people should.

Some of the silent images are amazing. I loved the beautiful hand-tinted sequence where Jim and Mary are almost literally dancing on air. Their fun day at Coney Island almost has a documentary feel. This will probably be the closest I get to actually seeing the real Coney Island in its heyday.

If you love silent or early talkie cinema or just want to see a really good, simple romance, the pricey Criterion set (it's on DVD and Blu-Ray) is worth looking around for.

Finished out the night with making Teen-Time Chocolate Chip Bars from The Betty Crocker Cooky Book  and watching The Nutcracker: A Fantasy On Ice. Dorothy Hamill and Robin Cousins are Clara and her beloved Nutcracker in this lovely cable special from the early 80's. I have fond memories of watching this on HBO as a small child; in fact, this was probably the first version of The Nutcracker I ever saw, well before I saw the actual ballet.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dolphins In Eaglesland

It was another beautiful, sunny, windy fall day when I awoke this morning. I made Gingerbread Pancakes (which I burned) while listening to one of my Decca operetta CD's. About a decade ago, Decca released a series of discs that featured two short operetta LP's per set. The Babes In Toyland/The Red Mill set features abbreviated versions of two of Victor Herbert's most famous shows. Babes features Kenny Baker; Wilbur Evans of By the Beautiful Sea gets to sing two of Mill's most famous songs, "Every Day Is Lady's Day With Me" and "The Sidewalks of New York (In Old New York)."

Work was actually not that bad when I came in. It didn't pick up until later. Today was the Eagles' first 1 PM game in over a month, and it was at home, to boot, against the Miami Dolphins. I was tired and frustrated and didn't always do well. One woman didn't understand about not being able to mix Pepsi and Coke brands to get the 3 twelve-packs for 12 dollars sale. Another girl gave me a hard time when I tried to explain that she bought far too much for her fruit and vegetable WIC check and would have to pay cash along with the check. She said she wouldn't shop there again, and it was all my fault, because I couldn't explain it right! I was so upset.

I was still upset when I got home. The Eagles game didn't help. They were winning through the first half. Unfortunately, they made some bad plays, or some that were just called badly, and let the Dolphins catch up by the fourth quarter. They just barely lost, 20-19.

Tried to concentrate on my writing instead. Betty takes time off after lunch to explore Port Harbor's Summer Festival. She sees food sales and crafts shows and cart sales. She stops to haggle with an old woodcarver for a beautifully-carved mushroom. A young man finally helps her get a fair price from the carver. He tells her he's Doug Thompson, a lawyer who lives in town. He offers to take her to see the sights. She agrees...but a certain thief is watching the two from the shadows. He wanted to tell Betty what he's doing and why, but he doesn't like her with Doug...

Switched to records while I made leftover swai fish and acorn squash with roasted Brussels sprouts. Here's Love is a musical version of Miracle on 34th Street that debuted on Broadway in 1963. Here, Fred the lawyer is a former Marine and a bit tougher; he and Doris have a few more scenes together than they do in other versions. There's also a dance number that has Susan imagining what kind of a father her mother would choose, and a totally irreverent chorus sequence that has the lawyer and his buddies waiting for Doris to show up and placing bets. While "Pine Cones and Holly Berries" (paired with the previously-written "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas") is probably the best known number from this today, my favorite song is the touching "My Wish." Susan and Fred become good buddies as they discuss what they want and hope from the future.

Moved to another 20's CD after I got out of my shower. This one went all the way back to 1920, when people were just starting to trade parlor ballads for jazz and dance songs. Eddie Cantor got my favorite, "You'd Be Surprised."

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Seasons of Wind

Started a beautiful, sunny, very windy morning with breakfast and Winnie the Pooh: Seasons of Giving. Fall and winter are busy seasons at the Hundred Acre Woods. Rabbit loses his calendar pages, making the others think it's Groundhog's Day. They recruit Piglet to tell them when spring is. The second segment has the gang gathering to celebrate a wonderful Thanksgiving of honey and haycorns. Rabbit insists that this isn't how Thanksgiving is and sends them all after more "traditional" holiday food. It's Pooh who finally reminds the fussy bunny that Thanksgiving is about a lot more than tradition. Rabbit is also in the spotlight in the third segment. He rescues a little girl bird he names Kessie and raises her, but has a hard time letting go when she desires to fly south for the winter.

Headed out to the Collingswood Farm Market around 10, after a quick stop at a very busy WaWa across the street to use the ATM. Today was the second-to-last farm market of the year. There's now far more craft booths than there are food booths. Even the dairy booth was gone. It's probably just as well that I didn't need much anyway. I just picked up cranberries, small Gala apples, and the smallest cauliflower I could find. (I like cauliflower, but most of the non-organic ones I see are way too big for a one-person household.)

I'd seen bright pink signs for a small craft fair on East Cedar Avenue while running to Haddonfield on Wednesday. Turns out it was at the same church where I attended the very small craft fair last December. They had more tables this time, but they also had higher prices. Most of the items were either knitted and crocheted things I could make myself, or jewelry that I couldn't afford. I did buy a brownie from the bake sale.

As soon as I got home, I put the food away, then went right into writing. Betty has thrown herself into working on re-writing the play to fit Hilary's specifics. Hilary comes upstairs to get her script and tell her it's time for lunch. Betty asks her why she treats her like nobility, even though she isn't. Guardians are highly respected, Hilary explains. Hilary herself, however, doesn't want to end up like her father and Giels Aldrych. Giels had been the previous Water Guardian, and he and her father were outspoken Rebels. Both men were killed in a suspicious carriage accident that was more likely the work of the Shadow Realm.

I had lunch while finishing out Seasons of Giving. It ended just in time for me to dodge the raging wind and head to work. Work was once again quiet when I came in and quiet when I left. It was busy during rush hour, but it actually could have been worse. Some people may be waiting for tomorrow or when we get closer to Thanksgiving. At any rate, there were no major problems, and I was in and out.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Scares and Surprises On Friday the 13th

I awoke to a beautiful, sunny fall day. I ate breakfast while finishing out Broadway. Moved to Scooby Doo in honor of Friday the 13th while making Apple-Cranberry Crisp. "A Nutcracker Scoob" is the first of three Christmas episodes this franchise has done. This one is from the early 80's show with Shaggy, Scooby, Scrappy, and Daphne. Fred joins in the fun as the gang helps an orphanage prepare for their holiday pageant. Things get scary when a miser first tries to get the kids out of the orphanage...then the pageant is attacked by a Christmas ghost!

It was gorgeous and sunny but very windy when I headed to work. Work was pretty much the same as it has been - crazy during rush hours, quiet-to-steady otherwise. There were a few WIC checks that took forever and a couple of people who wouldn't bag. Otherwise, the night passed quickly.

My schedule is pretty much the same as last week. Once again, I have Wednesday and Thursday off, and almost the same amount of hours - not enough. I don't know why they have it in their heads that they can cut hours during the holiday season. They did this last November before Thanksgiving, too...with the same results. We didn't have enough help during peak hours and ended up with cranky customers.

I didn't have much grocery shopping to do. I mainly needed meat. Good thing the Acme's having a 50% off sale on all chicken. I bought drumsticks and boneless chicken thighs, with lobster cakes for dinner. I bought Light Cool Whip on sale for my apple-cranberry crisp. Restocked canned pumpkin, brown sugar, peanut butter, cocoa, skim milk, and frozen green beans.

I'd been planning on calling Rose when I got home about Thanksgiving...and I heard from her almost as soon as I walked in the door. Tomorrow's Jodie's birthday, and they were having cupcakes for her. Did I want to join the family? Sure, why not? They'd be starting at 6:30.

That gave me the time to make lobster cakes and sauteed spinach with mushrooms in lemon sauce for dinner. Ran March of the Toy Soldiers while I ate. Laurel and Hardy headline this cute version of Babes In Toyland as Stannie Dee and Ollie Dum, two toy shop workers who live with The Old Woman In the Shoe. Evil Barnaby wants to take her daughter Little Bo Peep as his bride, but she prefers handsome young Tom Piper. Barnaby tries to use his hold on the shoe to force Bo Peep to marry him. Stan and Ollie do what they can to help the lovers, then rescue them later with help from the huge toy soldiers Stan accidentally made.

When I made it to Dad's, Rose, Khai, and several neighbors were already there. The cupcakes came from Desserts By Design, and they were every variety they had, from Cookies and Cream to Salted Caramel. They ordered pizza, too. Khai was chasing and screaming with three of the other neighborhood kids, two girls close to his age and a somewhat older boy.

And Jodie gave me a rather big surprise. She and Dad are going to get married next Saturday! Well, it'll just be a short ceremony either in the house or out by the river. They've lived together for over a decade anyway. Dad claims it's more of a business proposition - something about medical insurance. I figure they might as well just make it formal. I don't think I'll be able to go to the actual ceremony, but I'll try to drop by either before or after work with some kind of a small gift, even just food. (I wish they'd start announcing important events more than a week before they happen. Some of us need to ask for days off two weeks or more ahead of schedule.)

Oh, and it sounds like Rose and her boys and I are going to do the same thing we've done for Thanksgiving the last three years - head down to Mom and Dad-Bill's house around 10 and stay there overnight. Fine by me. I already asked for the time off. Rose said she also texted our brother Keefe, who is in the Navy and hasn't contacted anyone of late, about coming down for dinner. The last anyone heard, he was in Norfolk. This may be the last chance he has to get leave before he ships overseas.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hittin' the Ceiling

It was pouring this morning when I awoke to cursing and banging downstairs. I finished out Return of the Jedi, then had breakfast while watching The Care Bears' Nutcracker. Funshine and Grumpy go to Earth to help a little girl named Anna who is lonely and wants a friend her own age. She gets her wish in a most unusual way when a nutcracker suddenly appears in her room, followed by a rat and his minions. Anna, the Bears and Care Bear Cousins, and the Nutcracker defend the house, then travel to Toyland to rescue the Sugar Plum Fairy from the evil Vizier. Anna's little brother Michael goes after them in search of adventure. The cubs Hugs and Tugs just want to find a special ornament of their own for Care-a-Lot's Christmas tree.

Did a quick short as I got ready to head out. Raggedy Ann introduces a little blind girl to "The Enchanted Square" in a Famous Studios cartoon from the early 40's. The New York corner where the girl lives appears drab to most passer-by. Raggedy Ann helps her use her imagination to "see" it as a magical place.

The rain had thankfully stopped by the time I headed out around 12:30. I began my day with a quick run to the Oaklyn Library. They were fairly quiet, maybe because of the weather. There was just one man on the computer, and another who was working on their server. I organized DVDs until the kids arrived. I listened to their teacher read stories about autumn and leaves for a while, then decided I wouldn't get to the kids' area and left.

Studio LuLoo was open when I arrived. They were also in a state of total chaos, at least even more than usual. They're apparently in the midst of totally reorganizing the store. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with. The place has always been a bit of a disaster area. I helped shelve and organize "I Really Like NJ" t-shirts into men's, women's, and youth's on cubbyhole shelves. I also set coffee cups with "I Really Like NJ" and "Being Weird Is Cool" printed on them on another shelf.

Went next-door to Phillies Phatties for a nice, cheap lunch after leaving Studio LuLoo. I had my usual slice of cheese pizza, slice of mushroom pizza, and can of Diet Pepsi while listening to ESPN discussing the Russian track and field Olympic drug scandal. A couple of big fellows enjoyed sandwiches and chatted while I ate.

I took Newton River Park to and from the Haddon Township Library. I didn't need to do any shopping in Westmont, and I wanted to avoid the traffic on Cuthbert. Needless to say, on a chilly, windy day that was still cloudy and damp, the park was empty. The only people out enjoying the fall colors were a couple of college kids chatting in the stone pavilion and a huge flock of Canadian geese poking around for a snack.

Unlike the Oaklyn Library, the Haddon Township Library was busy. Everyone must have taken movies out during yesterday's holiday. I not only had a huge pile of kids' movies to shelve, but for the first time since the summer, I was able to get all of them in, even the Scooby Doo titles. (In fact, I had more trouble fitting in the B, C, and G titles.) Was able to shelve all of the adult DVDs but the N titles. Did the audio and music CDs as well.

I actually took two DVDs out. Haddon Township occasionally gets the fancy Criterion Collection sets. I took out the one for the 1928 part-talkie Lonesome. The second disc includes Broadway, another movie by the same director, Paul Fejos, that's heavily discussed in the book A Song In the Dark on early talkie musicals. Found the Irish animated film Song of the Sea among the kids' movies.

Of course, the sun opted to start coming out just as I dodged early rush hour traffic and headed home. I spent the rest of the evening inside writing anyway. Betty, Mackie, and the others put on their show for the Festival-goers and Hilary and Jeff. Hilary is so impressed, she offers to let them move to the stage at their palatial home Bedside long as Betty re-writes the story of a woman torn between two very different men for her to play it. Betty's not happy about the re-writing, but the others see it as a great opportunity. Hilary initially says only Betty, a Guardian, can stay at the main manor house. Betty won't go anywhere without the others.

Put on Broadway while making swai fillets with mushrooms, onion, and spinach sauteed in home-made chicken stock and Cranberry Flummery for dinner. This archetypal gangster tale apparently came from the real Broadway stage, where it was a hit play in 1926. Ambitious hoofer Roy Lane (Glenn Tryton) at the hot nightspot the Paradise Club wants to partner with the sweet Billie (Myrna Kennedy), but she's more attracted to a slick gangster (Robert Ellis). Billie accidentally sees the murder of another gangster (Leslie Fenton) but promises she won't talk when he gives her a bracelet. Suddenly, the murders are piling up, and Roy is wondering just how faithful Billie is...and how much she's really seen. Meanwhile, tough moll Pearl is planning some revenge of her own.

None of this mattered a whit to director Paul Fejos, one of the true characters of the late silent and early talkie cinema. Fejos is apparently better known today in archaeological circles. He did practice as a bacteriologist in his native Hungary for a while before coming to the United States. He wanted Broadway to break out of the static early talkie stage-bound formulas and helped devise an enormous camera crane to do just that. Unfortunately, he only employed it for the musical numbers set in an incredible Art Deco night club and for the (now lost) color finale. The opening, with a giant running amok in a detailed miniature Times Square, is nifty to look at but otherwise a pretty strange way to begin a gangster backstage musical.

Of the cast, Evelyn Brent comes off best as the tough chorus dame. Tryton tries hard as the hoofer, but Kennedy's naive everygirl is a little too goody-goody and ditzy, even for the film's designated ingenue. This is mainly only for fans of early gangster movies or musicals or truly dedicated fans of early sound cinema.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day Adventures

Charlie's cursing downstairs woke me up at 7:30. I went back to sleep for another two hours. When I got up for good, I read a few chapters of Return of the Jedi, then did a short story and two poems for Veteran's Day from the Collier's Book of Holidays. The short was The Singing Tree, by Kate Seredy. One of the poems was In Flanders Fields. There's also photo of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

I did the Donald Duck in the Army shorts as I had breakfast. From 1942 to 1944, Donald appeared in a series of cartoons that mostly had  him dealing with daily life in the barracks. Donald jumps into the army with both webbed feet in "Donald Gets Drafted." He quickly discovers that army life isn't as glamorous as the recruiting posters make it seem when Pete demands he stand at attention over an ant hill! "Sky Trooper" is a follow-up to this. Donald does make it into the a paratrooper, much to his shock! He's "The Vanishing Private" when he uses a new invisibility paint to make himself disappear before Pete can get him. "Fall Out, Fall In" has Donald marching with his troop. He's tired and he wants dinner, but first he has to set up his tent, then he has to try to sleep with all his fellow soldiers' snoring! Donald is "Commando Duck" on his first big assignment to contact the (heavily stereotyped) Japanese agents. He ends up, washing...out the enemy.

The most famous of the Donald wartime shorts, and the only one to win an Oscar, was the infamous "Der Fuehrer's Face." Donald finds himself in a surreal nightmare where he's a worker in Nazi Germany, forced to eat wooden bread and make bombs until he's exhausted. Things get really crazy when the foremen demand more and more shells, and Donald finally cracks! I do have fond memories of seeing this on the Disney Channel from time to time as a child, usually on a night show like Mouserpiece Theater where the context could be explained. (And I think they usually cut the ending with the tomato at Hitler and several of the nastier racial stereotypes. I believe I've never seen this short intact until I bought the Treasures DVD set.)

Headed out around quarter after 12 to Collinsgswood for volunteering (making a very short stop first to see if Studio LuLoo was open - they were not). It was a chilly day, though not too cold, probably in the lower 60's. The sun kept playing peek-a-boo behind thick, heavy clouds all day long. It certainly felt like fall as I cut across the development on Park Avenue, across from the park and community pool in Westmont.

I'd just about come out of the development when I heard it. A loud POP! sounded through the development. I felt the back tire go flat. What?! But Richard had just fixed it a month ago! I was so upset. It was a good thing I did leave early. My appointment wasn't until 2. I at least had time to get it fixed. Thankfully, a young lady who was about to take her truck to work on King's Highway gave me a lift to the bike shop.

Thank heavens the shop was open. It turns out Richard hadn't put the tire on properly either when he fixed the wobbly back wheel or when he originally put them on after he found the bike for me. The valve in the inner tube had been rubbing against the tire...and they both finally gave. I ended up having to replace the tire and the inner tube. (I just hope the front one is in better shape. I do have a spare inner tube, but not a spare tire.)

Had lunch at the Bistro after the bike was fixed. The lunch hour was just winding down when I got in around quarter after 1. I had their version of "the Gobbler," the Turkey DeBrie. No stuffing, but it did have real sliced turkey on toasted marble rye with cranberry sauce and melted brie. It was very tasty. It came with crunchy fries and an excellent but tiny cup of cole slaw.

It was getting late. Though I window-shopped a bit, checking out the book sale at the small storefront Haddonfield Library (their main branch is in the midst of major remodeling) and taking a look in a new book store and around The Happy Hippo Toy Store, I finally just went to counseling ten minutes early. I looked at books until Mrs. Stahl was ready.

I told Mrs. Stahl about my vacation and the fun we had and the towns we visited, my (mostly) wonderful Halloween, the slow but sure progress on my story, Charlie's continuing (and noisy) work on the house, and my lack of hours. This happened last year at work, too. They cut our hours in the weeks before Thanksgiving, then wondered why they had long lines and cranky customers during busy times. We discussed my plans for Thanksgiving and what I usually do for Christmas - baking and a little shopping. The latter is mostly for my nephews and niece (who don't need a ton of sugar), Jessa (who can make her own cookies), and Lauren and Amanda (who come from small families and don't have a lot of people giving them presents).

We also went into all the trouble I've had at work lately. I just get so scared and nervous when I make a mistake or things get crazy. That's why I do things like give customers back their money. I just panic when things go wrong or there's tons of people all demanding things at once. I don't know what to say or do, and I feel so horribly guilty for all the trouble!

She suggest that I write a short story about a young woman who is also getting scared at a job she hates and is feeling bad about it. I actually did start something like that and have other stories in mind, but either didn't write them or never finished. I'll have plenty of time to do it. I don't do counseling in December. I have too much going on during the holidays as it is. I won't see Mrs. Stahl again until early January.

Since it was getting chillier by 3 PM, I decided to forgo the water ice and get a treat at the Westmont Acme instead. The Acme's having a big sale on Domino's sugar and Nestle's chocolate chips. I was almost out of sugar and figured I might as well stock up on chocolate chips for Christmas baking while I can. I bought one of the large dollar packs of Fig Newton-style fruit bars (peach apricot) for my snack.

Cut across Newton Lake Park on the way home. They were very busy despite the chill. Kids rode home from school. Haddon Township High School's girl's track team practiced. People walked their dogs and pushed their toddlers in strollers. The park is awash in color now, all reds and yellow-greens and golds. The algae is long gone, replaced by a glassy green waterway.

When I finally got home, I went right into writing. Jeff meets Betty, Mackie, and the others at Port Harbor's big Summer Festival. They're setting up an outdoor stage in the park to perform for royalty, including Hilary and Jeff, and win enough money to continue their journey. Betty's nervous about having her brand-new play performed before royalty. The others assure her they'll be fine.

Hilary isn't so sure. She's not in any hurry to see some traveling group perform a play she's never heard of. She doesn't agree to it until Jeff tells her Betty is a Guardian and a Light Magician. While Hilary has spent the last few years trying to avoid any involvement with magic, she does want to find out more about this girl. (Especially if Jeff has any interest in her.)

I got up to stretch and have leftover Chicken-Vegetable Soup around 7. Made Ally's "Snappy" Ginger Snaps while finishing out the wartime shorts. Bugs and Daffy headlines my favorites of the Looney Tunes wartime tales. "Super Rabbit" has Bugs spoofing the World War II superhero craze when a carrot turns him into an invulnerable critter. He continuously outwits a rabbit-hating cowboy, but when push comes to shove, he turns into another kind of hero - a Marines officer. Unlike Donald, Daffy wants nothing to do with the army in "Draftee Daffy." He'll do anything to avoid that pesky "Little Man From the Draft Board." "Falling Hare" is one of the few times Bugs deals with an antagonist who gives as good as they get. He has to stop a gremlin from sabotaging planes, before they get out of that free fall!

Though laid-back Mickey Mouse didn't figure into many World War II shorts, he did do one war-oriented cartoon in 1929. "The Barnyard Battle" has him joining the army to fight a group of Hun-like cats. He may be a skinny rubber-hose mouse, but that won't stop him from giving the enemy a lickin'!

The Pink Panther was one of the few major cartoon characters to take part in the Vietnam War in "G.I Pink." He's also been swayed by recruiting posters, but he's expecting power, not glamour. Like Donald, he gets quite an eye-opener when he finds himself dodging land mines, avoiding obstacle courses, and constantly getting his commanding officer in trouble with the company mascot and the other officers.

Did two quick fantasy-oriented cartoons while cleaning up from the cookies. Little Audrey did a couple of Silly Symphony-style tales that had her wandering through a fantasy land and helping the characters who live there. "Goofy Goofy Gander" shows Audrey that Mother Goose can be a pretty hip gal when she has to save Mother Goose Land from the two gangsters in her comic book. "Tarts and Flowers" has her helping to rescue Angel Cake from the evil Devil's Food Cake and return her to her Gingerbread Boy sweetheart.

And I honor all those who served and fought for our country on this Veteran's Day, including my own dad Bruce (Vietnam), my late uncle Ken (World War II), and two who are out there now in the Navy, my brother Keefe Jackman and my friend Jen Waters.