Saturday, December 31, 2016

The New Year's Strikes Back

Began the last day of 2016 with very early work. Pretty much the same deal as yesterday - quiet when I came in, busy when I left. I rounded up carts when I first arrived. A second bagger took that over later, leaving me free to do indoor chores - clean the bathrooms, gather baskets, bag for people.

When I got home, I ran some Max & Ruby while eating the last of the leftover Tex-Mex Black Bean Dip for lunch. "Ruby's Gingerbread House" will be beautiful, if she and Louise can ever get it to stand. Max just wants them to consider his gummy worms. "Max's Christmas Passed" has Ruby taking down the Christmas decorations. Max finds a way to use the decorations to relieve her Christmas blues. It's "Max's New Year." Grandma and Ruby are celebrating with games, fizzy drinks, and party hats. Max just wants to eat the clock-shaped cookies Grandma baked.

Worked on my story for several hours. As the bear begins to create stories with this odd assortment of animals and birds, she finds one animal especially fascinating. A handsome falcon shares her wit and gift for storytelling, but he keeps apart from the others. Though he loves to tell stories, right now, he mostly builds nests for other birds and for his own family. One day, he saves the bear from hunters. She's not grateful at first, until the Falcon shows her kindness. The two become very close, the best of friends, but he has a mate and fledglings, and besides, he's not a bear. She knows she can't keep him.

Got up around quarter after 4 for a walk. I was originally going to go to Common Grounds or WaWa for a treat, but I had enough food at home. I just strolled down to the concrete boat landing on the end of Goff Avenue. It wasn't the nicest day by that point, very windy and mostly cloudy, but I generally enjoyed my walk.

When I got home, I figured I'd have an early dinner, since my lunch was relatively early. I finally came up with Country Boneless Pork Ribs with pineapple-apricot sauce, spinach salad with home-made honey mustard dressing, and the Red Lobster cheese biscuits that Lauren gave me back at the beginning of the month.

Ran a bunch of New Year's specials and shorts as I worked and ate. Rudolph's Shiny New Year has the famous red-nosed critter saving the Baby New Year when he runs away, due to people laughing at his very large ears. Rudolph shows the little fellow that his ears are nothing to be ashamed of.

Charlie Brown's having an even more difficult New Year's Eve in Happy New Year, Charlie Brown! He's supposed to be doing a book report on War and Peace. Peppermint Patty invites him to her New Year's party...and he invites the Little Red Haired Girl. Sally wants to be asked to the party by her Sweet Baboo Linus, Peppermint Patty is convinced Charlie Brown will ask her, and Lucy is waiting not-so-patiently for Schroder to ask her. When the party does roll around, Chuck brings the book with him...and spends his New Year's Eve snoring over it.

Did a few shorts while cleaning up from dinner. Mickey Mouse is the original party animal in the 1932 black and white short "The Whoopee Party." His shindig gets so crazy, even the furniture dances along! Bluto tries to sabotage Popeye and Olive Oyl's act in "Morning, Noon, and Nightclub." Popeye finds a way to turn the tables on him. Popeye's saying "Let's Celebrake" when he, Olive, and Bluto go out on the town for New Year's Eve. Popeye gallantly invites Olive's grandma along. Spinach gives her enough energy to keep her and Popeye dancing.

Switched to Holiday Inn while trying my new popcorn maker and munching on the tasty results. Bing Crosby plays a singer who opens an inn that's only open on holidays. Marjorie Reynolds is the girl he hires as his main act, then becomes smitten with. On New Year's Eve, his former partner (Fred Astaire), who was just abandoned by his girlfriend (Virginia Dale), shows up at the inn looking for someone new to dance with. He thinks Reynolds is perfect, and the two men find themselves in a love triangle all over again.

I actually kind of like this one better than White Christmas. For one thing, the romantic complications don't seem quite as forced. For another, it has a surprising dark side. It's fairly realistic about the grind of show business and what many performers, even now, have to give up to be able to do what they do. For the most part, the small numbers are quite charming (with the exception of a blackface routine to "Abraham" that likely won't go over well with many people today). If you're a fan of Astaire or Crosby, or want to know where the song "White Christmas" really came from, this is well worth your time.

Ended 2016 the way I began it, with Star Wars. In A New Hope, desert farmer Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) wants a life of adventure, far from his dull chores. He gets more than he bargained for when he intercepts two droids with a message from the kidnapped Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) for Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness), a former Jedi Knight. The duo eventually set out to rescue her from the evil Darth Vader, with the help of roguish smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his hairy buddy Chewbacca (Peter Mahew).

The Empire Strikes Back in a big way in the second film, destroying the new Rebel base on Hoth and sending everyone fleeing. Han and Leia take his ship the Millennium Falcon to Bespin, home of Han's buddy Lando Calarissian (Billy Dee Williams), and fall deeply in love along the way. Meanwhile, Luke goes to the swampy planet of Dagobah to learn the ways of the Jedi Knights from Yoda, ancient master of Jedi wisdom and scrambled syntax. Vader is determined to get his hands on Luke no matter what and use Han and Leia as bait to trap him. Their blossoming relationship and Luke's training are threatened when Luke falls into the trap...and Vader lets loose with a bombshell that shatters everything Luke believed about his parentage.

Yes, I still love these movies. The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite movie of all time, and has been since it started turning up on cable in the mid-80's. If you love fantasy, space opera, swashbucklers, or just good storytelling, these are still highly recommended, in whatever version you prefer.

As Han and Leia landed on Bespin and greeted Lando, sirens started going off all around me. I hurried over to my front door, and got a perfect glimpse of beautiful red and green fireworks being set off across the creek from me. It couldn't have been a better beginning.

Here's hoping that you have a safe and happy 2017, no matter which galaxy you celebrate it in.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Til There Was You

Today was my second of three early work shifts in a row. Pretty much same deal as yesterday - quiet when I arrived, steady to busy when I finished. I spent the first half of my shift cleaning the wooden panels around the main offices and by the sign-in area after rounding up carts. I did do carts right after break, but there were eventually two baggers out there. I bagged for the remaining half-hour.

My schedule next week is ok, not spectacular, but mildly better than what I have been getting. Extra New Year's money should help. I'm once again off on New Year's, but I work the day after. I also have Tuesday and Wednesday off again, Tuesday for counseling. I may make an attempt at the Mummers' Parade this year if I can kick myself out of bed early enough.

Hit Muscle Man Grill in the mall behind the Acme for a quick lunch. Everyone must have opted for pizza at Tu Se Bella's next-door. Despite it being 1 PM, it was dead. I watched the not-bad Parent Trap remake while eating a grilled chicken "European" spinach and red pepper wrap with excellent vinegar-and-oil-based pasta salad.

I had a lot of grocery shopping to do, both for New Year's Eve tomorrow and for general restocking. I don't eat a lot of pork because it tends to give me indigestion, but I figured a little pork for New Year's luck wouldn't hurt. The country-style boneless ribs was the cheapest cut they had. I also bought eggnog and sparkling coconut drink for Whipped Syllabub. Grabbed an onion roll for dinner tonight. Restocked grapefruit, cranberries, bananas, sugar, canola oil, chocolate chips, skim milk, diced tomatoes, black beans, and brown sugar. Found another ground chicken package with a manager's coupon and a pack of Christmas metallic baking cups on the clearance tables.

There were boxes waiting for me on Charlie's porch when I got in. The rest of my online Target order had arrived! I finally replaced my popcorn maker after the old one died three years ago. This one is much smaller than the fancy machine I found at a thrift shop, but I really don't need a ton of popcorn at one time anyway. Got a cute pink and white Our Generation overalls outfit for Whitney. The Music Man is one of the last major movie musicals I didn't have. I tried taping it once in college, but it's so darn long that the tape cut off, and I missed the entire second half.

Thought a random Dr. Seuss short would improve my mood when I got in. I ran Dr. Seuss On the Loose while putting everything away and getting organized. Another anthology, this one is three short Seuss tales, two taken from the original book. "The Sneeches" are yellow creatures who live on the beaches. Sneeches with green stars on their bellies mock those who don't have them, until a con-man monkey teaches them a lesson in equality. "The Zax" are too stubborn to move aside for one another, even as the world around them goes on. Sam I Am keeps trying to shove his favorite dish, "Green Eggs and Ham," at one poor fellow. They go on a merry chase until he finally gives in.

Worked on something very different for the next few hours. I've been trying to figure out how to honor Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and deal with my feelings about their sudden passings. I considered a story about Leia dying in my Resistance Kids universe, and even wrote story notes, but I finally vetoed the idea. I'd really rather keep that series lighthearted. This is just too raw, too...real.

I ultimately came up with my first fable, about a bear who thinks she has nothing to offer...until she discovers she can tell stories, and pass them on to others. She also looks to the sky and the stars...and to one handsome falcon whom she can never have, but never forgets.

This is just intended to be therapy more than anything else. I should have it out within the next few days.

Finally broke for dinner around 6. Had a sausage sandwich and steamed green beans for dinner. Ran The Music Man as I ate. Professor Harold Hill (Robert Preston) arrives in River City, Iowa, in 1912, claiming he wants to start a boys' band. He's really a con-man and a fake who intends to bilk the stubborn townspeople out of their least until he falls for the sensible librarian, Marion (Shirley Jones) and comes to realize how much his fictional band has done for the people of the town.

This is an old favorite of mine, mostly imported directly from Broadway. My only major complaint is the length. This is another 60's musical that runs over two hours and feels it. At least there's some great performances along the way. Along with Jones and Preston (reprising his Tony-award-winning performance as Hill), we have Hermione Gingold as the mayor's conservative wife and Buddy Hackett as Hill's best buddy. A lot of fun, with some really great music. (The lovely "'Til There Was You' was the only song from a musical covered by the Beatles.)

Finished out the night with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. The Turtles are still in the sewers, and feeling more than a little upset that Vernon got all the credit for them putting Shredder in jail. They'll have a chance to redeem themselves when Shredder busts out and joins a giant pink alien brain named Krang to open a portal to another dimension, bringing over Krang's huge spaceship, the Technidrome. Shredder gets help from nutty scientist Baxter Stockman to turn two idiot mooks, Be Bop and Rocksteady, into mutants. Meanwhile, Casey Jones, a wanna-be detective and sports lover, has a close encounter with the Turtles and their friend April O'Neal when the Turtles hear about a can of mutagen at police headquarters. While April and Casey try to steal the slime back, the Turtles have to learn how to work as a team despite its differences.

If you're a fan of the original cartoons, you might get a kick out of this. There's a lot of references to the 80's version of the show, from Vernon being more of a coward this time to Be Bop and Rocksteady as the muscle-bound mutant comic relief. It's kind of too goofy at times, and a bit hard to follow, which may be why this was a flop last summer. If you're a fan of the original Turtles or the last movie, it's worth at least a look.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Sometimes You Need the Rain

It was pouring when I awoke this morning. I didn't mind. It suited my mood. I rode to work in the rain this time. I have no idea who's around this week.

Work was a pain in the rear. On one hand, it was so quiet, especially early in the day, there was barely a need to gather carts. By the time the carts did need to be rounded up, they had another bagger to do it. I ended up doing everything else. I gathered baskets and what little trash there was. I filled spray cleaner bottles with cleaning fluid for the registers. I did returns. The shelves are really empty. I had to chase a lot of items for people who were occasionally obnoxious about it.

I wish people would show me how to do things before they shove them in my face. I had no idea paper trash had to be loaded into boxes before it's put into the baler. (And the back room manager who told me was really rude about it, too.) And that new manager shoved a full stock cart of boxes in my face and said "recycle these." Great, but the boxes were HUGE. I had no idea how to get them all in. One was coated with broken cookie icing bags and dried, lumpy icing. I had to toss that. I had to ask someone from the bakery how to work the baler. When the manager tried to push another one at me later, while I was obviously doing something else. I told him 'no' this time.

Went straight home after work. Thankfully, the rain was gone by this time, down to clouds and damp chill. I got home perfectly dry.

Had lunch while watching more winter-themed Backyardigans. Pablo is "The Yeti" who hikes across the frozen north, dropping raisins and yelling odd sounds. Uniqua thinks he's a real Yeti and keeps taking pictures of the "evidence." Tasha thinks she's crazy. Tyrone wishes they'd stop arguing and just keep following that strange sound.

Worked on writing for a while after lunch. Re-wrote the beginning to give Han more of a backstory. He's an indentured servant to Jabba and his men. His father had gone so heavily into debt before his death, his wife and son were forced to become servants to the ugly old troll just to pay them off. Even after his mother's death, Han's still trying to pay off the last of them and finally get free of Jabba's clutches. His only real friends are Chewbacca, the faithful old mutt he rescued from an abusive miller, and Falcon, his ancient but speedy horse.

(And not only was the rain gone for good by this point, but there was a rather nice deep-red sunset tonight.)

Broke around 6 for dinner and to make Chocolate Peppermint Cookies. Ran History of the World Part I as I worked. After the last few days...heck, the last few weeks...I figured I desperately needed a laugh or six. This is a Mel Brooks anthology of historical spoofs. Some segments work better than others; my favorites are the Spanish Inquisition musical number and the two longer segments, the Roman Empire (Madeline Khan is a riot as the Empress Nympho) and the French Revolution. (Look for Harvey Korman playing evil again as Count De Money...De Morney.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Of Dolls, Libraries, and Sisterhood

I was still feeling a little down when I awoke. I ran snack-focused episodes of Good Eats during breakfast to improve my mood. Since one of the things I bought with Mom's Target e-card was a popcorn maker, I began with "Pop Art." Alton shows you how to make the perfect bowl of popcorn, and what to do with any leftovers afterwards. Lauren and I actually tried the baked and pan-fried versions of the pocket pies in "A Pie In Every Pocket." I made strawberry pies; Lauren's were pepperoni. They were damn tasty. "Pretzel Logic" shows how to make soft pretzels, hard pretzels, and mustard from scratch.

First thing on the queue today was getting the laundry done. I had once again put it off. Thankfully, by the time I arrived around 11:30, there were only a few people around. I had a ton of clothes to do. The load took a little longer than usual. I worked on story notes and ignored the news and soap operas.

When I got home, I put everything away, then went back out. I had a few things I wanted to do before I went out with Jessa and Joe later. The Oaklyn Library was surprisingly busy for them when I arrived. There were at least two families with energetic kids playing in the children's area. The Weather Channel on the TV in the main room blared warnings about a rain and snow mix for tomorrow. I organized DVDs, mainly in the kids' area, and looked at the kid's books as well as I could with the little guys bouncing around. It was getting late, though, and I wanted to move on.

I hadn't been to the House of Fun, a collectibles shop on the White Horse Pike, in ages. I couldn't afford it before, but I really need the distraction right now. Other than they'd added a second rack of cult DVDs and Blu-Rays, they were the same merry jumble of action figures, Funko Pops, pop culture t-shirts, comic books and books on comics, dusty video games, and toys of every age and description as ever.

I had one of the larger Han Solo dolls released by Kenner in the late 90's as a teen, but I'd since gotten rid of him. I'd thought of getting him back for a while now. I not only found the exact doll I had in a loose dolls pile, but I found a Leia with actual rooted buns (as opposed to the molded hair on the 90's Kenner dolls). Her senator's robes and his white shirt were stained and dirty, and he was missing his gun. Otherwise, they were both in perfect shape. Leia cost more than Han. I think she may be an older doll, and she was certainly nicer than him, with a very realistic face and dress.

Headed home next for a quick lunch. Did The Backyardigans first season episode "The Snow Fort" in honor of the weather. Mounties Tyrone and Pablo are guarding the world's biggest snowball in their fort in Canada. They think someone's after their treasure. It's really just ski patrollers Uniqua and Tasha looking for someone to rescue.

Did a little bit of writing next. The next story will be the third and final fairy tale I'm doing for now, Cinder-Han. Here, Han is an indentured servant to a wicked troll named Jabba the Hutt and his band of cutthroats and robbers. The house where he works was once beautiful, but Jabba and his rogues let it fall to pieces. Han's hoping to make enough money running errands for Jabba's illegitimate businesses to buy his freedom eventually.

Jessa picked me up at 4. Our first stop, after dodging heavy rush-hour traffic on the highway, was the Deptford Mall. They were the busiest I'd ever seen them! They were pretty recently remodeled. It looks really nice in there now. The Disney Store had also gotten a major remodeling. It wasn't much bigger, but at least it was a little nicer. Neither of us bought anything there. We mainly browsed.

Directly across from The Disney Store was a little novelty store called Box Lunch. In addition to quirkier Disney items than what was sold across the way, the store carried many pop culture items, toys, and games, but felt sparer and more elegant than Hot Topic or Spencer's. Jessa found puffy panda stickers. I bought an adult Star Wars comic book with pictures taken directly from the Star Wars Marvel comics (including some great ones of Han and Leia).

Their Hallmark was closing. This worked to my advantage. While Jessa didn't get anything, I found the Force Awakens Older Han Solo ornament on sale for half-price. I also had luck at Boscov's, where I finally picked up a pair of work pants that fit.

We met Joe for dinner at Red Robin's. They're basically Ruby Tuesday's with the fancy dark booths replaced by bright red decor and goofy pop culture signs. The food was amazing, though. Joe ordered a literal tower of huge, crispy onion rings. Evidently, they have endless fries, too. I had the Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich, a mess of grilled chicken, Swiss cheese, grilled pineapple rings, teriyaki sauce, lettuce, tomato, and onion. Oh wow. It was good stuff, even if the pineapple rings did keep falling off the burger.

Joe had things to do at home and wasn't really in the mood for shopping. After briefly returning to Boscov's to look for a black cardigan sweater for Jessa, we drove down the street to the massive Deptford Target. Jess never did find her black sweater, but I grabbed more butter pecan cake mix, a Pillsbury Peppermint Chocolate cookie mix on clearance, and a half-price Chewbacca ornament to go with my new Han Solo.

And...I came home and discovered online that Debbie Reynolds, Carrie Fisher's mom and a wonderful actress in her own right, passed away earlier today from a stroke. Good grief. I guess she really, really wanted to be with her daughter. She'll be missed just as much. I love musicals as much as I love Star Wars.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

The Lost Princess

It was raining at a pretty good clip when I got up this morning. I brightened the day with some more Chuck Jones Jungle Book tales. Mowgli's Brothers takes us into the jungle, as the title character struggles with being a lone "man cub" among wolves. At first, the animals ignore the warnings of tiger Sher Khan and let the wolves raise him...but eventually, they decide he's too much trouble. It takes Baloo the Bear and Bagheera the Panther and a little thing known as "the red flower" (aka fire) to make the others hear Mowgli's feelings on the subject.

After breakfast, I pretty much spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon writing. Han tells Leia that the key to all of the locks in the house, including Luke's cell, are kept in the treasure room at the end of the second floor hall. The key also unlocks the silver box Leia saw earlier. The box is filled with rings. She's to bring the plain one to his friend the falcon after she frees Luke. She can't yell or speak or make any noise while she does this.

Palpatine's waiting for them in the kitchen. He drops logs on the old man's foot in order to distract him and let Leia and Chewbacca the dog get away. The duo have to fight their way through the red-clad demons that work for the evil warlock. When they manage to make it upstairs, they do find the key...but the ring isn't in the box.

The old warlock calls Leia down to check on the oven and make sure it's hot. Leia shakes her head, indicating that she doesn't know how. Palpatine crawls into the oven to show her...and the second he does, she locks him in. There's a huge explosion that knocks her and Chewie to the ground. When it subsides, the oven is gone, leaving only a warlock-shaped gingerbread man.

Leia frees Luke from the carriage house and the falcon from the cage Palpatine locked him in. The bird has the plain gold ring in its beak. The moment Leia slides the ring on its wing...the wing turns into a human finger. Han stands behind her, beaming. He now wears the clothes Palpatine wore when the two arrived...but they fit him perfectly.

When he transforms, so does everyone else. The trees turn into servants, including one fellow named Wedge Antilles who has his eye on Luke. The gingerbread people turn into travelers lured into traps by Palpatine's magic. The gingerbread house becomes a real manor house. Chewbacca turns into an especially hairy and very tall man, Han's bodyguard and best friend Charles.

Han explains that he's the missing merchant their aunt and uncle had mentioned. Palpatine wanted his help in stealing money from wealthy travelers and cooking their innocent young. Han wanted nothing to do with it. Angry, Palpatine took his money and his home, casting an evil spell over him. By day, Han was his silent puppet, doing everything he was told to do. At night, he could regain control of his mind, but only in the form of a falcon. His headaches came from him fighting the warlock's power.

Eventually, Leia and Luke do make it to university and restore their father Anakin's fortune. Leia marries Han and becomes his partner in his shipping business. Luke marries Wedge and joins the King's Guards. The warlock cookie is fed to the bird until not even crumbs remain.

It took me a little longer to do this one than I thought, I suspect partially due to the holidays. At least it came out much better than Luke and the Beanstalk.

Leia and the Old Warlock In the Woods at Archive of Our Own
Leia and the Old Warlock In the Woods at Fanfiction.Net
Leia and the Old Warlock In the Woods at My Writing Blog

Ironically, I posted the story at Archive of Our Own just minutes before noticing a headline on a Han/Leia/Luke-centric Tumblr blog indicating that Carrie Fisher had passed away...and my stomach dropped into my toes. I felt numb, even as tears overflowed in my eyes.

Like I said at my writing blog, I'm not good with death. I don't know what to say, even in writing. Leia was one of my favorite Star Wars characters along with Han, Lando, and Chewie. The girls and I loved how badass she was. She called the shots. We used to argue over who got to play her. (Rose usually won.) I'm almost ashamed to admit I never really tried Fisher's books, though I appreciated her as a writer and especially as a script doctor.

I had to get out of the apartment. It was 1:30 by then, too late for a run to the Oaklyn Library, but I could still do some errands, eat, and hit Haddon Township. At least the day had turned absolutely gorgeous...maybe a little too much for late December. It was sunny, windless, and in the 60's by the time I made it to the PNC Bank in Collingswood. They were quiet, and I had no trouble depositing the money Dad and Jodie gave me on Christmas Day.

Cafe Antonio, a pizzeria a block down and across the street from PNC, wasn't much busier. There was one other family eating snacks when I arrived around 2. I ordered a slice of cheese, a slice of white broccoli, ricotta, and tomato, and a Diet Pepsi. I ate the whole broccoli-tomato and half of the cheese before I gave up and headed back out.

The Haddon Township Library was even quieter. I thought there would be a lot more going on. I guess it was just too nice to be in a library. I mostly just shelved DVDs and audio books. Took out a few movies for the first time in weeks. I really needed fun stuff to take my mind off everything. Ended up with Minions, the Lego Scooby Doo movie Haunted Hollywood, and last summer's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

Made a few stops on the way home. I took a peek at Tuesday Morning to see if they had any Ever After High dolls I didn't already posses. Nope. I saw Melody Piper and Bunny Blanc, and I have both of them. Grabbed sponges at a busy Dollar Tree.

I wanted to go for a ride on the way home to clear my head, but it didn't do much good. My mind wasn't on the road. After two near-misses, I decided I was probably a menace to the road while in shock and just went home.

Baking always makes me feel better. I made the gingerbread cake from Samantha's Cooking Studio as comfort food when I got in. Yum. It always comes out well, and this time is no exception. Just what I needed.

Finished out the Chuck Jones Collection with A Cricket In Times Square as I baked gingerbread, as well as Italian sausage for my dinner. This is the original story of Chester, a cricket from Connecticut who gets stuck in a picnic basket and finds himself lost in a Times Square subway. He's taken in by a little boy named Mario and by best buddies Tucker the Mouse and Harry the Cat. The latter two are the ones who discover that Chester can play any melody after hearing it once. Chester becomes the talk of New York, especially after a music critic writes a review praising his talent...but he misses the country, especially as the fall nears.

(Note that I'm skipping Yankee Doodle Cricket. I actually caught that one when it was on YouTube a while back. I'll discuss that further when we get to the Fourth of July.)

Overall...thank you, Linda. Seeing Cricket and Rikki Tikki Tavi again brought back some wonderful memories of when they occasionally showed up on cable during my childhood. I'd never heard of Mowgli's Brothers, The White Seal, or the Cricket sequels until recently. The White Seal was probably my favorite, a simple and touching Lion King-esque story of one seal trying to find a place where his kind will never be hunted again.

I will add that there's a fair amount of violence in the Jungle Book-based shorts, and they're relatively dark, as per the original stories. The Cricket specials are a bit lighter in tone and kid-oriented, but they're still pretty realistic for Jones' work. If you have older kids who are fans of animals or classic animation (or loved the darker live-action Jungle Book that came out earlier this year), try these on them.

Put on Haunted Hollywood while enjoying a dinner of baked Italian sausages, green beans, gingerbread, and Cranberry Flummery. When Fred wins a tour of a major Hollywood studios, most of the gang's excited. Brickman Studios makes some of Shaggy and Scooby's favorite horror films. Daphne's just hoping to break into movies. As it turns out, the studio is on the verge of foreclosure. They're hoping a romantic comedy will put them back in the black, but someone posing as the ghost of their most beloved star seems to be sabotaging their efforts. Undaunted, the gang joins a tough-minded horror hostess (Cassandra Peterson) in making sure that the show goes on...and the mystery does, too.

This one ended up being quite a bit of a surprise. Unlike the Star Wars and Justice League Lego movie and animated shorts spoofs, this one...was pretty much a typical Scooby movie done in Lego form. Even Cassandra Peterson, aka Elvira, fit right in. (Considering her regular gig, I'm surprised she's never made an appearance in Scooby media before.) I thought this was absolutely hilarious. If you're a fan of Scooby or the other Lego character movies, this one is really fun.

Ended a long day on a high note with Kirby's Epic Yarn.  I had previously played this game only when Lauren visited. This was my first time doing it on my own. I did pretty well, actually. Missed a few things and only got the extra rounds on Hot Land (World 2), but not Grass Land (World 1). Othewise, I did much better than I thought I would. This game is so unique and fun. (And a lot easier than the yarn-based Yoshi game that's available for the Wii U.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Animal Adventures

It was gray, cloudy, and rather blah when I got up this morning. I brightened the day a little with some post-holiday-themed Max & Ruby. "Ruby's Snowbunny" will be the best ever - if Max can pay attention to building it, rather than sledding. "Ruby's Snowflakes" are snowflake-shaped cookies she wants to decorate to look exactly alike. Max and his toys don't make this easy! Max wants to play "Duck Duck Goose," but Ruby and her pals have to search for birds for a Bunny Scouts project.

Spent the rest of the morning and when I got in from work doing some writing. Leia has told Luke what Han related to her - Palpatine is very nearsighted. Luke sticks a chicken bone out instead of his finger. The old warlock becomes frustrated and insists he'll eat Luke anyway, fat or not. He shoves Leia out to the woodpile. Han is there, chopping wood. He's very handsome, with his coarse cotton peasant shirt half-open, but he's also moving stiffly and not looking her in the eye again. When she demands he talk to her, he grabs his head as if in pain...and when he turns back to her, his eyes are clear and bright. She's hoping he can help her make a plan to rescue Luke and escape Palpatine's clutches.

Returned to Max & Ruby during lunch. "Ruby's Gingerbread House" refuses to stand, no matter how much icing she and Louise slather between the walls. Max wants the girls to consider the merits of his gummy worms. "Max's Christmas Passed" has Ruby taking down their holiday decorations. She's feeling the post-Christmas blues, but her brother may have a way of making her feel better. Grandma and Ruby celebrate "Max's New Year" with funny hats, party games, and dancing. Max just wants Grandma's clock-shaped cookies, but he can't have them until the hands on the clock indicate midnight.

I wasn't originally supposed to work today. I switched with a bagger who wanted extra time off. I badly need the hours. I thought it would be busy, since many people have off today. Surprisingly, it was barely steady. Everyone must be waiting until next weekend, when we're closer to the next holiday and the beginning of the month. I mainly rounded up carts and baskets; brought plastic bags to registers that needed them early-on.

Went back into writing as soon as I got home. Broke for dinner around 6:30. Ate leftovers while watching two of the specials on The Chuck Jones Collection DVD. Jones did three shorts based around tales from The Jungle Books in 1975 and 1976. I saw Rikki Tikki Tavi many times on cable during my childhood, and I've always loved it. Rikki is a mongoose who is found by a British family in India. He acts as a companion to the boy, eventually rescuing him and his family from the scheming snakes Nag and Nagara.

The White Seal was even more impressive. Amazingly enough, I'd never heard of this one before I saw it on this DVD release. The title character is a rare white-furred seal living with his parents in Nova Scotia. He's determined to find a home after a walrus tells him about a sea cow who knows of an island where he and his fellow seals will never be harmed by hunters. The rest of his family thinks he's crazy, but he literally devotes his life to finding that place and leading the seals to an island where they can be safe.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas Day dawned cold, clear, and bright across South Jersey. After reading Hanukkah and Christmas stories from the Collier's Harvest of Holidays book, I crept into the living room to unwrap the presents from Linda Young. The two little "stocking stuffer" gifts were magnets. One contained three small bike-themed magnets. (Ironically, the silver-aqua color sort of resembles my new bike.) The other had an inspirational quote about not giving up, ever. There were also two magnetic pads, which I can always use (I keep one on the refrigerator door at all times for grocery lists and writing my schedule down), a new journal with a really nice cover, and Flappers and Flivvers, a gorgeous hardback collection of stories about people's memories of the 1920's.

Did two quick specials as I changed, got organized, and ate two clementines to tide me over until I got to Dad and Jodie's. How the Grinch Stole Christmas takes us to Whoville, where all the tiny citizens are preparing for a Christmas filled with trees, stockings, toys, and roast beef. The grouchy Grinch, who lives on Mount Crumpet, is tired of their noisy traditions. He dresses as Santa and descends to the valley to steal their goodies. When the Who continue their holiday sing-along with or without gifts, the Grinch learns that "Maybe Christmas doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more."

The Bernstein Bears' Christmas Tree will be the best ever, if Papa Q. Bear has anything to do with it! Like Clark Grizwauld, he's determined to get an extra special tree out in the wilderness. Every time he and the cubs choose a tree, it's the home of woodland animals who don't want to give up their residence. They finally come down the mountain without a tree, but the woodland animals whose houses they spared have a surprise for them when they get back.

Strolled to Dad and Jodie's around quarter of 10. I walked because I knew I'd have a big present to get home that wouldn't fit on the bike. It was a nice day for a walk, anyway. The weather couldn't have been more perfect. It was sunny and breezy, neither too warm nor too cold for late December. There were many kids out testing new bikes and adults wishing the best of the season to their neighbors. I wished "Merry Christmas" to all of them.

Dad, Jodie, Rose, and her family were already there when I arrived. Khai was playing Mario Kart on his new Nintendo 3DS. Everyone else was eating breakfast and watching TNT's annual 24-hour run of A Christmas Story. In addition to the cupcakes and the cookies from last night, there was French toast casserole, a sausage casserole made with cream cheese and breakfast sausage topped with pop-can biscuits, toasted English muffins, and eggs and bacon cooked into muffin tins. Rose provided a fruit tree, made from sticking strawberries, grapes, and pieces of watermelon and honeydew on toothpicks inserted in a pineapple and pear base, with a cut-out pineapple star. 

Though Joe and Jessa had to leave briefly to pick up something at Joe's place, Khai couldn't wait any longer. We opened gifts around 11. My Secret Santa was Craig. He gave me a new muffin pan (I've had the old one for at least a decade) and a really nice orange silicone spatula and ladle. Dad gave me very soft sleep socks and 200 dollars. He and Jodie gave me black rolling luggage. It's a little smaller than Dad's similar suitcase, but also a bit deeper. Khai loved his new night-vision "spy goggles" from his grandparents and wore them for the rest of the morning. Jodie got especially nice gray ankle boots from Dad. (And Jesse did love his Amazon gift card! He gave me a big hug.)

Mark and Vanessa appeared around 11:30. I lingered for a little while longer, even after Rose and her family went home. I finally just left the cupcake pan with Dad (I'll pick it up later this week), loaded everything into my new luggage, and strolled on home.

When I arrived, I got organized, then went online. I did finally work on my story a bit. As the weeks turn into months, Luke and Leia formulate a plan to keep them both from ending up being turned into gingerbread people. Leia reveals that Han told her Palpatine is blind as a bat. Luke will eat, but only show him chicken bones instead of his finger.

Leia can't figure Han out. During most of the day, he's distant, silent, and moves stiffly, as if he's being controlled by someone else. There are flashes, especially late in the day, when he breaks out of that control and shows his good-natured, cocky side. He disappears at nightfall, which is when the majestic, handsome Falcon appears. The Falcon remains with Leia and Chewie until dawn, when he vanishes again.

Broke around 3:30 for a ride to WaWa. It was too nice of a day to hang out inside. I treated myself to a Mint Chocolate Cookies and Cream Milkshake. They were surprisingly busy for Christmas Day, probably because they were also the only place open at almost 4 PM on Christmas Day.

Finished out a few cartoons when I got home. Bugs Bunny's Christmas Tales is an anthology of three original shorts - a Christmas Carol spoof with Bugs and Yosemite Sam, a typical Wile E Coyote/Road Runner romp, and a second Bugs tale with the Tasmanian Devil. A Walt Disney Christmas is a collection of Disney winter and holiday shorts, such as "Donald's Snow Fight," "Once Upon a Wintertime," and the two Santa Claus Silly Symphonies. "The Night Before Christmas" was the first Tom & Jerry cartoon to get an Oscar nomination. The two chase each other under the Christmas tree, amid toys and gifts...until Tom is thrown out, and they're reminded that the phrase "Peace on earth, goodwill toward's men" applies to cats and mice, too.

I was originally going to make a big Italian sausage dinner...but I spent a lot of the last two days eating and not doing much else. I was beyond full. I finally decided to save the sausages for later this week and make my favorite Tex-Mex Black Bean Dip for dinner instead. 

Ran The House Without a Christmas Tree as I ate. Like Ralphie Parker, Addie Mills (Lisa Lucas) wants one special gift for Christmas. What she wants, though, is hardly violent - a Christmas tree. Her family has never had one. It reminds her taciturn father (Jason Robards) too much of his late wife...and so does his strong-willed daughter. While her eccentric grandmother (Mildred Natwick) and best friend Carla Mae (Alexa Kanin) support her wish, Mr. Mills keeps saying "no" despite her pestering. Addie does win her classroom tree, but her dad gets upset when he comes home and learns that she did it behind his back. It takes her grandmother explaining about charity to get Addie to give the tree away...and finally convince Mr. Mills that charity, like healing, begins at home.

Lovely, touching tale, the first in a series of holiday-related TV films about Addie and her life in small-town Nebraska in the mid-40's. Robards, Lucas, and Natwick are all absolutely wonderful as the Mills trio. A nice, quiet movie, perfect for viewing on Christmas Eve or later on Christmas Day, especially for families with girls Addie's age. 

Finished the night with more Super Smash Bros Brawl. I went back to Solo Classic first on Very Hard. I only got through Round 11 before running out of continues! Didn't get to the Hand this time. Decided to try "Adventure Mode," which is the story mode, instead. Rather than fighting other characters, the various Nintendo characters fight strange electrical aliens from another world who have destroyed their stadium. The first world after the stadium was the cloud-themed Skyworld, featuring Pit of the Kid Icarus series. I'll do the second world the next time I play.

And I hope you had an equally fun Christmas Day and second day of Hanukkah! 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

We Need a Little Christmas

Began the day before Christmas with pouring rain. I finished A Christmas Carol, then did excerpts from two American Girl holiday stories. Josefina's Surprise takes us to New Mexico in 1824, as Josefina and her sisters prepare for their town's Navidad celebrations. Their mother's alter cloth was ruined in a flood, so their aunt suggests they fix it. They're reluctant to at first. Their mother passed away the year before, and it brings back too many memories of her. Josefina's also looking for a doll that was supposed to be passed to her. Her sister Clara doesn't think she's ready to give it up...but working on the cloth makes both girls realize that their mother isn't as far away as they think.

Samantha's Surprise moves to small-town New York in 1904. Sam's Uncle Gard is visiting with his girlfriend Cornelia. She's upset about it at first. She can't put up her decorations with the professional ones or attend a friend's party. She gradually changes her mind when she gets to know Cornelia...and discovers that she's a vivacious "modern" woman who has a lot of things in common with Sam.

Ran Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too during breakfast. When Pooh accidentally sends their letter to Santa in the wrong direction and it comes back, he tries to play Santa for the others. "The Magic Earmuffs" is an additional story from The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Piglet is having trouble skating, so Christopher Robin lends him his earmuffs, claiming they're magic. They finally give Piglet the confidence to learn to skate better...and help save his friends from a waterfall.

The Monkees are having their own problems in their only Christmas episode, from the second season. Instead of playing a gig, they find themselves saddled with a spoiled rich boy (Butch Patrick) for the holidays. They try their hardest to instill some Christmas cheer in the kid...but it's Mike Nesmith who eventually figures out what the kid really needs.

Did two quick Disney shorts while getting ready for work. "Mickey's Orphans" is a black-and-white Christmas tale from 1931, their first Oscar-winner. Minnie and Mickey take in a basket full of abandoned kittens for the holidays, but come to regret it when they tear apart their home. "Toy Tinkers" from 1949 was also Oscar-nominated. This time, it's Chip and Dale invading Donald's home in search of nuts on Christmas Eve. Donald starts a war to get them out!

It was still raining by 9:30. Jodie ended up driving me to work. She said she had to go grocery shopping anyway. The Acme was crazy when I started at 10, with very long lines despite most registers being open. I bagged for a half-hour when I came in and 10 minutes before I left, but I was mostly outside. Even with as many as three baggers working on carts, we couldn't keep up with them during the first half of my shift. By noon, though, the skies were starting to clear, and so were our customers. The end of my shift brought sunny skies and steady but not crazy crowds that were more in line with a normal Saturday afternoon.

The weather was so nice by 2, I just walked home. Besides it being sunny, I knew from driving with Jodie earlier that the roads were insane. Jodie almost got blindsided or ran into at least two or three times just in the five minutes between work and my place. I figured I was safer on the sidewalk.

Changed and relaxed at home while watching Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas. This anthology gives us three different stories about the Disney gang. "Donald Duck: Stuck on Christmas" has Huey, Dewey, and Louie wishing it were Christmas every least until the repetition starts to drive them crazy. When their attempt to "liven things up" ends with their uncle getting hurt, they finally realize just how important Donald is to them. It's "A Max and Goofy Christmas" as Goofy tries to prove to his skeptical son that Santa's real. "Mickey and Minnie's Gift of the Magi" adapts another famous short story. The two mice give up their most precious possessions to buy gifts for one another.

My Christmas Eve gift from Linda Young was something I've considered buying for a long time. The Chuck Jones Collection is a DVD featuring all of his animal-themed specials, including childhood favorites Rikki Tikki Tavi and A Cricket In Times Square. I ran another Cricket special I hadn't seen, A Very Merry Cricket. Harry the Cat and Tucker the Mouse catch a train to Connecticut to bring Chester the Cricket back to New York. It seems New Yorkers are so intent on the noise around them, they've forgotten the spirit of the season. It takes a blackout to teach them a lesson on the importance of listening and appreciating the small things.

Headed to Dad and Jodie's party after Very Merry Cricket ended. It was just them, Jodie's parents, and a couple of neighbors when I arrived. Gradually, I saw Rose, Khai, Craig, Mark, Vanessa, Brittany, Erica and her mother Miss Helen, and a bunch more neighbors. There was a ton of food. Jodie cooked turkey, ham, sausage, and meatballs. I saw macaroni salad, potato salad, and that yummy bacon Cesar salad I loved last week. Appetizers included crackers with brie, jam, or garlic hummus, a cheese-and-pepperoni tray, and a vegetable tray. I had a turkey sandwich, macaroni salad, Cesar salad, and some of the appetizers for dinner.

Rose and I brought cookies for dessert. Rose actually made tasty gingerbread and molasses cookies along with her classic cherry-white chocolate and sugar cookies. She also brought peanut-butter chocolate bars, a decadent confection that was made for years by one of our favorite hoagie shops in Cape May Courthouse, across from the Court House and the main branch of the Cape May County Library. She found a similar recipe on Pinterest...and it was just as good as the real thing.

Dad mostly had football on. I only half-paid attention to the games. I did see the poor quarterback for the Oakland Raiders, Derek Carr, get crunched and pulled out of the game. I eventually learned the guy broke his leg. Ouch! Too bad. They did really well, too, beating the Colts 33-24. This is the best the Raiders have done in ages. (In other news, the winless Cleveland Browns pulled off a Christmas miracle and just barely beat the Sand Diego Chargers, 20-17.)

The kids preferred cartoons in the living room. The Toy Story That Time Forgot seemed to be a sort-of Christmas special that had Buzz and Woody getting captured by He-Man-like dinosaur action figure while their humans play video games instead of playing with them. We also did Christmas-themed episodes of My Friends Tigger and Pooh and The Amazing Adventures of Gumball, along with a regular Teen Titans Go! show.

I left around 7. It was a lovely night, cool and breezy but not too cold (or too warm, unlike last year). I took my new bike for a test spin as I rode around Oaklyn looking at lights. Since I was in the neighborhood, I also stopped at WaWa really quickly for skim milk.

There was a surprise waiting on the steps to my porch when I got home. My gift from Miss Willa and Richard this year were two fabric-covered mason jars. One contained what looked like home-made pickles and pickled carrots. The other has spiced nuts. There was also a bag with cookies and candy, including their peppermint bark. Awesome! I've loved their peppermint bark when I got it the last few years.

Spent the rest of the evening on the couch, watching favorite holiday specials, including 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown, A Garfield Christmas Special, Muppet Family Christmas, Mickey's Christmas Carol, The Small One, and the short "Pluto's Christmas Tree." Tomorrow, after I open more gifts from Linda Young, I'll be returning to Dad and Jodie's for brunch, then resting at my house in the afternoon.

Here's hoping that all of you have a safe and happy Christmas and Hanukkah, with all the people you love!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Is Waiting

I began the day with the last of the Oatmeal Squares for breakfast, along with canned apricots. Watched Sailor Moon S: Hearts In Ice while I ate. The Sailor Guardians are on their winter break when Luna goes missing. She turns up with a new yellow ribbon and a great big crush on the scientist who took her in. The scientist discovered what he thinks is a comet, but is really a crystal belonging to an evil snow witch. She's determined to freeze the Earth and steal it's energy! While Sailor Moon and the other Guardians battle this icy menace, Luna tries to encourage the scientist to fight the witch's power.

Did the second Perfect Strangers holiday episode and a quick Christmas short while getting ready for work. "Gift of the Mypiot" skips us ahead to the fourth season. Balki and Larry are planning the perfect Christmas Eve party. Larry and most of the guests are livid when Balki invites his obnoxious boss Mr. Gorpley along. As it turns out, Gorpley never had a nice Christmas...until Balki gives him one.

Sylvester the Cat thinks Tweety is "Gift Wrapped" just for him. Actually, he's for Granny. The feisty older woman spends her Christmas Day keeping Tweety out of Sylvester's mouth and Sylvester away from Spike the Bulldog.

Work, as you can imagine two days before Christmas, was busy for most of the day, with very long lines. Thankfully, we also had plenty of baggers, for once. I spent the first half of my shift rounding up carts, and the second bagging and returning cold items and helping elderly customers to their vehicles.

I'm not happy with my schedule next week. On one hand, I did get Christmas Day off. I also got the next three days off after that, and I work very early New Year's Day. Extra Christmas money should help a little, but that still isn't enough hours. I asked a manager about it, and once again, he said "we'll see."

It had cleared out a little by the time I was grocery shopping. I was going to try to do fish for Christmas Day dinner (if I don't end up eating out), but I couldn't find any fish fillets in those new freezers, and there were no small packs of chicken on sale. I ended up buying Italian chicken sausage - how about an Italian Christmas dinner? Why not? The bags of green beans were on sale again, too. I'll make sausage with sauteed onions, pasta, Cranberry Flummery, and the Red Lobster cheese biscuit mix Amanda gave me weeks ago. Restocked eggs, cereal (the generic bran flakes were really cheap), peanut butter, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, canned chicken, oranges, cranberries, and cake mix.

When I finally got home, I put everything away, then got to making the very last thing I'm doing for Christmas. I've thrown together home-made Buttercream Icing for the cupcakes for the last few years, since the cupcakes themselves are from a mix. After the disaster with the first batch of cupcakes, I kept the icing very simple. Other than I think I put a little too much milk in, it came out very nice and sweet and tasty.

Put on Remember WENN's Christmas episode as I spun everything in the food processor. Remember WENN's only holiday episode and their only hour-long episode, "Christmas In the Airwaves," debuted in the second season. The cast and staff of WENN are looking forward to a festive holiday, both in the station and on their shows. Writer Betty Roberts is especially excited, since she's getting to go home to Indiana for the first time since she started working there. Their seasonal shows and Betty's hopes to get home for the holidays both end up in jeopardy when their owner, a singer who's still grieving for her husband (Betty Buckley), and her nasty financier (Johnathan Freeman), ban any references to Christmas, on the air and at the station. Now the cast has to figure out how to let the show go on, without the financier figuring it out, and teach their owner a little bit about moving on.

I ran downstairs to give Charlie his cupcakes towards the end of "Christmas In the Airwaves." He and Richard spent the afternoon, as far as I can tell, fiddling with the lights on both sides of the house. They did manage to fix the ones on my porch (which haven't worked right for a week at least), and even added more in the back yard. (Once again, I have no idea why, since no one can see them on the river.)

Did another TV holiday episode as I cleaned up the icing mess. The second episode of Night Court, "Santa Goes Downtown," was kind of Christmas related. An old derelict in a red suit shows up at the court and proceeds to charm everyone there by knowing their names and life stories. Harry's not as amused. He's even less delighted by a pair of runaway teenagers who refuse to give their names or tell anyone where they are, especially the boy (Michael J. Fox). It takes claims from the old man and Harry that they care about the boy to really get through to him.

I intended to work on my story after that. I'd started on Leia following Han, only to be blocked by Palpatine, when I saw online that Carrie Fisher, who plays Leia in most Star Wars media, had a massive heart attack. I couldn't concentrate after that. As of this second, the only information I can glean is that she's on a ventilator and still in emergency, but is possibly stabilizing. 

Cheered myself up with leftovers for dinner while watching Red Skelton's Christmas. I originally dubbed this series of skits from his show for Lauren, then decided I liked them, too. My favorite was the final "silent spot" that had him miming a poor guy coming in with a massive hangover on New Year's Day. Lauren likes his version of The Cop and the Anthem with Freddie the Freeloader as the hobo trying to get a warm bed in jail.

After Red Skelton ended, I played Super Smash Brothers Brawl to keep my mind off everything going on. Did it on Hard this time. I needed a few more continues (including two on the final Hand boss) and couldn't figure out the Target Smash at all this time, but other than that, I did pretty well. I guess I'm a little better at video games than I thought.

Oh, and the icing totally finishes everything I need to do to prepare for Christmas. Now I just need to deliver the rest of my gifts, starting tomorrow night at Dad and Jodie's party.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Spirit of Christmas

It was still cloudy when I began an early morning with oatmeal and something a little different. One of the shows highlighted on my 100 Greatest Radio Shows CD set is The Six Shooter, a western starring Jimmy Stewart. Stewart narrates a creative wild-west version of A Christmas Carol for a young boy who has run away from his grouchy aunt on Christmas Eve. Scrooge is a miserly cattle baron, Bob Cratchit is his head foreman, Nephew Fred runs a livery stable, Scrooge's fiancee is a schoolmarm, and the ghosts are cowboys and ranchers. The boy and his aunt both eventually learn just how important Christmas and family are.

Work was actually not that bad. One of the managers said it was busy this morning as people came in before work, or got off work early. It was steady when I arrived at 9. By the time I got off at 2, it was dead as a doornail. I spent the first half of my shift rounding up carts. Did returns for the second half after another bagger arrived and took over cart duties.

The clouds had vanished by 2 PM and the sun was shining. It was absolutely gorgeous, probably into the upper 40's-lower 50's and breezy but not too windy. Though I was boring my landlady's bike, I still couldn't resist taking the long way home. I won't be able to the next two days. I have grocery shopping after work tomorrow, and the weather is supposed to be rainy on Christmas Eve. I'm glad I did. While it was busy down around Wal Mart and on Nicholson Road, it otherwise wasn't bad. I had a very pleasant ride.

There was a package waiting for me in the mail. My friend Rodney Walker had sent me two unusual gifts. One was a Pokemon he'd apparently gotten as a freebie from a convention, a real Japanese one, from the tag. The other was a Monkees tribute band CD that sounded interesting. I'll listen to it next week, after Christmas.

When I finally got in, I had a quick lunch, then went right into baking. I wanted to try making Candy Cane Cupcakes...but I only had Pep-o-mint Lifesavers to crush, and they didn't crush well. I thought they were supposed to go in the batter...but they were supposed to top them! The pieces were too big and crunchy to give away. I decided I'd keep them for myself for this week.

Ran It's a Wonderful Life while I baked. George Bailey (James Stewart) feels like life has passed him by. He's worked in the same loan company his father owns in the same town all his life. He wanted to travel, but something always happened, mainly involving the loan company and nasty Mr. Potter, who pretty much owns the rest of the town (Lionel Barrymore). On Christmas Eve, his forgetful Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses the money he needs to keep the bank open. With the threat of bankrupsy and a being arrested for fraud and a bank inspector breathing down his shoulder, he considers jumping off a bridge, but is stopped by a strange old man (Henry Travers). The man is Clarance, an angel, who shows George what the town would have been like if he were never born. George finally realizes what a wonderful life he has...and just how important his friends and family are to him.

I love this movie. This was one of Stewart's finest performances - Reed and Travers are also excellent. There's a great cast of character actors around, too, having a lot of fun with the material. However, this is also very pro-small town and pro-small business, and not all of its values have dated well. Not to mention, most of the second half of the movie, where George discovers what his hometown would have been like without him, was filmed like the shadowy film noir then in vogue...and it's so scary, I was 12 before I'd watch this movie without skipping that part.

This isn't everyone's cup of Christmas tea, but if you can handle the sentiment and the scares in the second half, you may enjoy George's wonderful life, too.

Went into writing as soon as the cupcakes were out of the oven. Leia awakens the next day to see a horrifying old man in the place of the elderly merchant. Palpatine has revealed his true colors - he's really the warlock who killed Luke and Leia's aunt and uncle and stole their father's money. He locks Luke in the carriage house, intending to fatten him up and eat him. He orders Leia to cook in the kitchen with his nephew and his dog. Leia and his nephew both try to attack him, but he knocks them back with his powers.

As soon as Palpatine leaves, the nephew tells Leia that his name is Han and his dog is Chewbacca. He can talk, but only in a whisper, and only when his "uncle" isn't around. Leia wants to ask more, but the moment the moon rises, he says he has to leave. Leia doesn't understand it - his "uncle" claims he's busy elsewhere.

Richard called just as I was finishing up my writing for the evening. While I was checking Amazon for rims, he checked Craigslist...and found a listing for a bike down the street that was less than most rims would cost. Turns out he really did find a nice one this time, a white and gray cruiser with shiny, very new tires and rims and covers over both front and back wheels. At the very least, I could tell there was no rust on it. If it gets me to where I need to go and holds what I need to carry, I'm fine. I do appreciate it - I hope he and Miss Willa liked the cranberry bread I made.

I'm glad I always try to keep two or three boxes of cake mix around. I decided I'd keep the first cupcakes for me and make a second batch of Chocolate Chip Cupcakes to give away. I did this and ate leftovers while watching It's a Wonderful Tiny Toons Christmas Special. Buster Bunny's not having a great holiday. The Toons' big variety show is going badly, thanks to a jealous Montana Max (in a wheelchair) doing his best to sabotage the proceedings. When the frustrated blue bunny wishes he'd never been on the show, a white rabbit who speaks in a familiar drawl and calls himself Harvey shows what it would have been like if he were never created.

Ended the night with the Faerie Tale Theatre version of "Hansel & Gretel," one of two stories that inspired the fanfiction I'm currently working on. Ricky Schroder is Hansel, who is lost in the woods with his sister Gretel after their selfish stepmother (Joan Collins) insists they'd be better off without them. They stumble upon a gingerbread house, but the lady who owns it turns out to be a witch (also Collins) who eats children. Gretel has to figure out how to free her brother and make sure neither end up being the witch's next meal.

Oh, and the Eagles played the Giants tonight...and finally pulled off a decent and much-needed win, 24-19.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The First Day of Winter

I woke up a lot later than I planned. It was nearly 11 before I got to breakfast! Went right into my last loaf of bread after I ate. I've given Jodie pumpkin pudding pie for her Christmas Eve party the last few years. After it was a pain to get there last year and never got eaten, I decided to bring something more portable that might disappear faster. I finally opted for the Golden Pumpkin Bread that goes over so well on the other side of the family on Black Friday morning. It's quick to make (even for quick bread), cooks fairly well, and smells divine in the oven.

(This is also the last baked holiday gift I'm making from scratch. The cupcakes I plan on doing for Dad and Charlie tomorrow will be from a mix.)

Ran National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation as I worked. Clark Griswauld (Chevy Chase) is looking forward to a big, old-fashioned family Christmas, with lots of presents, a huge tree, and all his family gathered around a fine meal. As with all of Clark's plans, what he imagines and what actually happens are two entirely different matters. The two sets of in-laws don't get along. The tree Clark (literally) digs out of the ground is bigger than his house. He has so many lights on his roof, he shuts down the neighborhood power grid. His yuppie neighbors think he's insane. And then his hillbilly cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his family show up and cause even more chaos. When Christmas Eve is one disaster after another, Clark finally snaps...until he learns that we really can't make Christmas perfect, but we can make it memorable.

Another childhood favorite that used to show up on cable a lot. If nothing else, this movie always made me at least somewhat appreciate our comparatively quiet Christmases and understand why Mom and Dad always insisted that any relatives who wanted to come around did so on Christmas Day or the week afterwards. A lot of scatological humor makes this for older kids just starting their own Christmas vacations and adults who have probably gone through most of what happens to Clark here.

Howard Cunningham has a similar dilemma in the second season Happy Days episode "Guess Who's Coming to Christmas?" He wants Christmas Eve to be reserved for a quiet, old-fashioned holiday for the immediate family...until Richie realizes Fonzie, despite his insistence otherwise, doesn't have a place to go for Christmas. Father and son have to figure out how to invite Fonzie over without hurting his pride.

Larry Appleton is having trouble just getting home for the holiday in "A Christmas Story" from the second season of Perfect Strangers. A snowstorm has stranded him and Balki in Chicago, much to his dismay. He was really looking forward to Christmas with his family in Madison. Balki cheers him up by reminding him of what the season is all about.

Finally headed out to do the laundry around 2. I just walked, pushing the laundry and detergent in my old cart. I probably should have gone earlier. It was really busy when I got in. Thankfully, I was able to get a washer and dryer pretty fast. I had a ton of laundry to do. Worked on story notes while Steve Harvey and Ellen chattered in the background.

Saw Richard as I was coming in. I was able to give him the cranberry bread for him and his family and tell him about the bike. He said he'd take a look at it.

While he looked at it, I worked on my story. The old man who takes Luke and Leia in is Palpatine, who claims to be the missing merchant. Leia's suspicious. His clothes are too big and look like they were made for someone else. There's things monogrammed "HS" all over his gingerbread home.

He leads them to a huge dining room, where guards in red armor and a handsome man with reddish-brown hair and hazel eyes sets out their meal. Leia had seen the man just moments before, and he'd been clear-eyed then. Now, his eyes are empty and clouded, and he moves stiffly, as if he's a puppet and someone else is pulling the strings. He won't speak to anyone or look them in the eye. Palpatine claims he's his nephew, a mute simpleton and a charity case he'd just taken in. Luke asks for him to eat with them, but Palpatine quickly insists he's a servant.

One of the guards finally takes Luke and Leia upstairs to the bedrooms. Leia's too tired to consider her suspicions any longer. She finally passes out on a bed made from cotton candy.

Richard called while I was working on my story. The back rim just isn't fixable. He'll let me borrow his wife's bike until I can get a new rim from or somewhere similar online.

Finally broke around 7:30 to have a fried egg and spinach wrap for a late dinner. Watched Frosty's Winter Wonderland in honor of today being the Winter Solstice. Frosty's happy to be back among his young friends, but something is missing. The kids build him a wife, so he won't be lonely while they're inside. Frosty calls her Crystal, but then has to figure out how to make her "all livin'." Meanwhile, Jack Frost is jealous of Frosty's popularity and wants to prove he's the only reason to love winter.

Ended the night with Super Smash Brothers Brawl. I didn't have a lot of time, so I thought I'd try something different and quick. I played my usual Princess Peach on solo Classic Normal mode...and to my surprise, actually did pretty well. I had a harder time with the bonus "Target Smash" rounds than with kicking the characters' rears. (Literally. One of Peach's signature moves is a very high kick the Rockettes would admire.) I only needed three continues out of 11 rounds.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Yes, There Is a Santa Claus

I got a lot done this morning after breakfast, mainly putting together the three boxes to be sent in the mail. I had to fill them with plastic from the boxes (except for Anny's), put one last container of wet-wipes in Anny's box, add the cards, and tape them all. (Which means Lauren, Mom, and Anny, you guys all have boxes coming.)

Ran A Disney Channel Christmas as I worked. This is another rare cable special from the early 80's that was basically a collection of bits and pieces of shorts and movies. My family taped it in 1988, not long after we recorded the Halloween specials. It blends two earlier Disney holiday specials, Jiminy Cricket's Christmas from the 50's and 60's and A Disney Christmas Gift from the 70's, using segments from both, plus the additional shorts "Mickey's Good Deed," "The Clock Watcher," the two Santa Silly Symphonies, and a fragment of Mickey's Christmas Carol. (It was so new when this special came out, Jiminy mentions that it's "now in theaters.") I still get a lump in my throat when Jiminy sings "When You Wish Upon a Star" in the end.

It's a good thing it was gorgeous outside today, sunny and bright. I ended up doing a lot of walking. Hit the post office first. To my surprise, they were dead at around quarter after 11. I timed it perfectly, though. As soon as I was leaving, several people were already arriving. I sent everything off with no problems whatsoever.

I was really hoping that little auto shop in Audubon would be able to help me. The wheel's rubbing so hard against the side of my bike, it gets stuck sometimes and won't move at all. They did tell me the spokes were breaking and coming off, but not what to do about it or where to go that would be closer and cheaper than the little bike shop in Haddonfield.

I was so disappointed. I don't know what I'm going to do. I stopped at the Oaklyn Library, hoping that volunteering would cheer me up. I did enjoy organizing the DVDs, but not listening to the librarian and the one old woman there blather non-stop about politics and not being able to find anything good on TV. (Ever considered renting DVDs?) I left after a half-hour.

When I got home, I ate lunch, then started the Cranberry Bread. Tried a nice, simple recipe from a reprint of the 1950 Betty Crocker Cookbook. Came out pretty well, as far as I could tell. It's not for me. It's for my next-door neighbors, to thank them for helping me out during the year.

Ran Ernest Saves Christmas as I worked. Ernest (Jim Varney) is working at a taxi driver in Orlando, Florida when he almost literally runs into an old man who claims he's Santa Claus. Santa's in town looking for his replacement, a former children's show host. Trouble is, the guy's agent is trying to encourage him to do a Christmas-themed horror movie, despite it being all wrong for him. Meanwhile, Ernest is dealing with a selfish runaway who steals Santa's sack to see if it has anything besides toys and getting the reindeer to Santa from the airport. It all ends with lots of wild slapstick as everyone learns a lesson in the Christmas spirit...even Ernest.

Long-time guilty pleasure of mine is probably my favorite Ernest movie. It used to turn up a lot on cable in the late 80's and early 90's. One of the better Ernest movies; not a bad introduction to his series.

Worked on my story for the next few hours. A warlock who shoots purple lightning from his fingertips suddenly appears in the midst of the storm. He turns Luke and Leia's aunt and uncle and all their knights and servants into burnt gingerbread. The twins flee into the woods in terror.

Later that night, after the storm passes, they meet a large, handsome falcon in the woods. The bird plays with them and almost seems to be flirting with Leia. It encourages them to follow him. They have nothing to fear in the woods. The falcon and the oddly shaped trees protect them and give them places to rest.

Even when the bird disappears after daybreak, they have no trouble finding their way. They eventually make it to a huge manor house made entirely from gingerbread, candy, cake, and icing. They had just started to eat part of the front of the house when the door opens, and an elderly voice asks them who's nibbling at his house...

Broke for the beef macaroni I got from Jodie on Sunday for dinner on a bed of spinach. Ran the original 1947 Miracle on 34th Street as I ate. We move from sunny Orlando to chilly New York City for another story about the existence of Santa. The Santa in question is Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), a kind old gentleman who works for Macy's. He insists that he is Santa, upsetting executive Doris Walker (Maureen O'Hara). Angry over a bitter divorce, she's taught her daughter Susan (Natalie Wood) to not believe in any kind of fantasy, including Santa Claus. Kris' claims finally get him into trouble when he gets angry at the store psychologist, who has him put in a mental facility. The lawyer who lives across from Doris (John Payne) takes the matter to trial. But Kris has a few lessons of his own to dish out...and Doris, Susan, and all of New York discover just how important faith and a good imagination can be.

One of three now-beloved Christmas movies released in 1946-1947, and the only one that was a hit at the time. Gwenn won a supporting actor Oscar as Kris. I believe the original screenplay won as well. There were remakes on TV in 1955 and 1973 and on the big screen in 1994. I haven't seen any of them...but if you really want to check out this story, stick to the original. The cast and perfect cynical-sweet tone can't be beat.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Out In the Cold

It was sunny and bright when I got up this morning. I ate a quick breakfast while watching The Little Drummer Boy Book II. Greer Garson returns as narrator for this 1976 Rankin-Bass tale, their third of four specials that focus on the more spiritual side of the holiday. Aaron, the little drummer boy, has to use his talents to help an old bell maker rescue his silver bells from a group of Roman tax collectors (lead by Zero Mostel). The bells will be used to announce the birth of Jesus. Aaron and his menagerie go after the bells...but in the process, Aaron loses the thing that means the most to him.

Spent the next few hours starting my next story. It's a blending of two Grimm's Fairy Tales set in the woods, "Hansel & Gretel" and "The Old Woman In the Wood." Luke and Leia Skywalker are being sent to the city with their aunt and uncle by their poor woodcutter father Anakin. He wants them to get an education there. Aunt Breha is worried about being attacked on the road. The evil warlock who had stolen Anakin's money haunts the woods, killing anything in his path. A merchant who lived in the woods and his estate and servants were said to have vanished into thin air, possible victims of the warlock's vast powers.

Even as they talk, a storm is brewing outside...a storm that's producing purple lightning. Something with long, bony arms gets in front of the carriage and won't move. Neither of the twins have any idea who it is...but neither like the looks of the bony man in the heavy cape.

Did one of the holiday episodes of The Backyardigans really quick while having lunch and getting ready for work. "The Action Elves Save Christmas Eve" gives us Pablo, Uniqua, and Tasha as the title characters, who have to rescue Santa's (Conan O'Brian) magic sack from the Abominable Brothers (Austin and Tyrone). They don't even know it's Santa's. They just think it's something nice that can carry snowballs. Things get pretty wild when the Elves follow the Brothers, and they all get into a massive snowball fight.

I was almost at work when I heard a "ping"...and suddenly, the wheel of my bike was rubbing against the frame so badly, I couldn't ride it anymore. I ended up walking the rest of the way and almost being late again. Thankfully, that was the worst thing that happened. Work was off-and-on steady up through rush hour, when it picked up considerably. I bagged, did returns, and gathered baskets, but I was mostly rounding up carts. That was ok. It was sunny and chilly but not as bitter as the weekend, probably in the mid to upper 30's. It actually felt quite nice in the sunlight.

Had a very quick dinner at Arby's after picking up an anniversary card for Mom and Dad. (Their anniversary is December 16th. They're celebrating their 33rd or 34th anniversary. I can never remember.) I grabbed a Turkey Club Sandwich and Curly Fries with a Diet Dr. Pepper. The drive-through window was busier than the dining area. There were only a few couples there. I ate my dinner and watched the people go by in the darkness on the Black Horse Pike.

I ended up walking home. I didn't want to drag anyone out in the cold. When I did finally get in, I ran Santa Bear's First Christmas while getting organized. Like The Snowman, this sweet tale is based after a children's picture book. A little polar bear cub is separated from his family and lost somewhere in the woods. He meets and befriends a little girl named Marie and her grandfather. When the grandfather becomes deathly ill and needs firewood, the bear volunteers to get some, only to discover that no dry wood can be found. He's upset that he may not be able to help his friends...until the arrival of a certain jolly man in red reminds him that this is the season for miracles.

Cheered myself up by using that Butter Pecan cake mix to make Coconut-Butter Pecan Cake. Watched the French holiday musical Here Comes Santa Claus as I worked. If you think a bear helping Santa out is strange, get a load of this story. A little boy desperately wants his parents to come home from Africa for Christmas. He so badly wants them back, he and his best gal friend go all the way up to Lapland to ask Santa to find them. While Santa and his fairy helper Mary Ellen go to the very real Senegal to rescue the boy's parents from hostile rebels, the kids try to escape a wicked ogre who wants them for dinner. Odd Christmas fantasy is buoyed by its cinematography and attention to detail; it was filmed on location in Senegal and Lapland, using real African locals in the former.

When I went online to chat with Lauren, she told me there was another package for me. Sure enough, the Kimberly-Clark box had arrived and was waiting at Charlie's side of the house. Lauren and her parents invested in the company and get boxes filled with paper products from them every year. She asked if I wanted one, too. Free tissues and paper towels? Sure! With my allergies, I could use them. I'll give Anny the bags and containers of Scott wet wipes and coupons for diapers in her Christmas box and Rose the car wipes. Everything else, I'll be able to use.

Finished the night on the couch, eating the cake (which tasted great, despite falling apart when I pulled it out of the pan) and watching The Bishop's Wife. The bishop of the title (David Niven) is trying to get a huge cathedral built, ignoring his lovely wife Julia (Loretta Young) in the process. An impossibly handsome angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) shows up, claiming he's there to help the bishop. While Dudley proceeds to charm everyone around him and fall head-over-heels in love with Julia, the bishop begins to understand just how important his family and friends are to him.

Lovely tale of faith and romance, elevated by fine performances by all three leads and a nice cast of character actors (including Monty Woolley as a family friend) making the most of the material.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Rainy Day With the Family

It was raining hard when I got up this morning. While the rain was gone by the time I was eating Banana-Coconut Pancakes for breakfast, it remained wet and gloomy. I brightened my morning with music.

I've had Peggy Lee's Christmas Carousel on CD since the mid-90's. It was Christmas Eve around 1995-1996, and I was bored. I volunteered to help Mom run a few last-minute errands, just for something to do. We went to the liquor store first. I remember because I bought myself a 8-ounce glass bottle of Coke. Small cans of soda are far more common today, but that was the first time I'd ever seen anything like them. We ended up at the Acme. While Mom bought a few things for dinner, I browsed over a shelf of Christmas CDs. The Peggy Lee title was the only one I even remotely had any interest in. I've had it ever since. I'm especially fond of the opening "I Like a Sleigh Ride" and the title track.

I'd gotten half-way through Harry Connick Jr.'s When My Heart Finds Christmas when I happened to look at the clock and see it was 9:43. Yikes! Why did I think I had to be at work at 11? I had work at 10! I rushed as fast as I could and just made it.

Good thing I did. We were busy, and at the very least steady, through most of the day. While I did gather baskets a few times and bagged for the first hour, I was mostly outside. It could have been worse. The showers were off and on, but they were never heavy, and there was once again plenty of help. I got out at 2 with no problems and, ignoring another sudden shower, went straight to Dad's.

Rose, Khai, our older cousin Mark, and a couple of neighbors were with Dad and Jodie when I arrived. Joe and Jessa came later. There was plenty to eat! Along with cookies leftover from last week, Jodie made a huge lasagna and Caesar salad. Joe and Jessa had just come from seeing Rogue One. I talked to her about the movie and our job problems while everyone else ate and watched the game.

(And as far as I can tell, Rogue One is getting even better reviews than Force Awakens did, despite being a much darker story. I was wary of it at first, but now, I might have to check it out, especially since I did end up enjoying Force Awakens.)

Today's Eagles-Ravens game was a nail-biter! It was 27-14 by halftime, which is when I arrived. The Eagles made a touchdown with literally seconds to spare...but instead of doing the sensible thing and tying the game, they tried for a two point conversion. It didn't work, and they ended up losing by one darn point, 27-26. Mark's beloved Green Bay Packers also played a big game. Unlike the Eagles, they did just barely beat their long-time rivals the Chicago Bears 30-27.

Finally finished Luke and the Beanstalk when I got home. Vader comes barreling in, almost killing Ashoka. Luke and Leia stand up for her, at least as well as they can at their size. Ben covers for them, but vanishes when Vader steps on him. Upset, Luke calls to him, telling him his name and who he is. Vader realizes that he's his son, and Palpatine has played him for a fool.

Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, and Threepio the harp escape down the beanstalk while Vader deals with Palpatine by throwing him so hard, he lands in a mountain range and is turned into a jagged cliff. His lightning opens up the clouds, returning water to Naboo. When the group makes it to the ground, they ignore the storm and cut down the beanstalk. It does bring down Vader...but he has returned to Anakin Skywalker's original form. He dies in his children's arms.

The gold and the golden eggs that the hen lays is enough to restore Luke and Leia's farm and assure the duo that they'll never go hungry again. Han and Chewie give up stealing to remain and help them. Threepio plays beautiful music for his new masters, happy to have someone treat him well again. Ashoka takes charge of the Kingdom of the Sun Clouds and rules well.

I'm a little disappointed with how this one turned out. It took me a lot longer to do than I'd originally planned! I ended up re-writing a lot, especially once they got to the giant's castle.

I've done a lot more work for the next two stories I have planned. I've decided that each of the three fairy tales I'm going to work on will revolve around a member of the Original Trilogy trio. I just did Luke's story. Leia's will be a fusion of two Grimm's Fairy Tales, "Hansel & Gretel" and "The Old Woman In the Wood." I have a gender-reversed "Cinderella" planned for Han.

Luke and the Beanstalk at Fanfiction.Net
Luke and the Beanstalk at Archive of Our Own
Luke and the Beanstalk at My Writing Blog

Finished the night with chicken-vegetable soup and video games. Setting Lego Star Wars aside for the moment, I thought I'd give Super Mario All Stars another try. I didn't do very well. I got to World 2 on the original Super Mario Bros and Super Mario 2...and I only got to the second world on Mario Bros because I used the warp zone in 1-2. (In fact, I was the first person in my family to figure out where the Warp Zones were back in the late-80's.)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

As Long as It's Christmas

I got up relatively early and had time for a couple of holiday specials before work. It's Christmas Eve On Sesame Street, and all up and down the neighborhood, everyone is preparing for the big day. Oscar the Grouch worries Big Bird when he asks him how Santa can get down those skinny New York chimneys. Big Bird, Snuffleupagus, Kermit, and one of the kids try to figure it out. Meanwhile, Bert and Ernie sell their favorite possessions to buy Christmas presents for their best friend, only to get a big surprise from Mr. Hooper. Cookie Monster would love to tell Santa he wants another kind of surprise (the kind that looks like cookies), but he keeps eating his writing utensils.

In honor of our first snow of the season, I ran The Snowman as I packed a couple of boxes to be sent out next week. The late David Bowie introduces the Oscar-nominated tale of a little boy who is taken on a flight over England with his frosty friend to meet Father Christmas and all the other snowpeople.

The snow had long changed to sleet and freezing rain by 9:30, and to just plain rain by an hour later, but the roads were a sloppy mess. I just opted to call for a ride from Jodie. She said she had to go to the Acme anyway...but I'd be on my own going home. She and Dad had other plans.

The Acme had its annual Christmas Luncheon today. In fact, I asked to come early so I could set up my cookies. There was plenty to eat! I saw potato salad, pasta salad, macaroni and cheese, stuffed pepper soup, meatballs, roast beef, turkey and gravy, buffalo chicken dip, sausages, deviled eggs, chips, pretzels, and shredded barbecue pork. There were tons of cookies for dessert, along with chocolate cake, cherry-topped cheesecake, and bowls of Hershey's Miniatures bars. I tried the pasta salad, mac and cheese, roast beef, deviled eggs, and a bunch of the cookies. The beef and pasta salad were pretty good, but by the time I got to the mac and cheese, it was a little dry.

Considering the weather, it's probably a good thing that I spent most of a busy afternoon bagging. For once, there was plenty of help, including all those new high school baggers. The only time I went outside was briefly when I rounded up baskets.

My schedule for next week is much better than I have been getting. It's all morning work, including tomorrow and on Christmas Eve. In fact, I'm only 10 to 2 next Saturday. That will give me plenty of time to get ready for Dad and Jodie's big Christmas Eve party. I have Tuesday and Wednesday off as well - I'll be able to get the cupcakes and the last two loaves of bread done. The only day I work late is Monday.

I needed a few things after work. I forgot my nephew Collyn's birthday and my mom and stepdad's anniversary were last week. I got Collyn Hot Wheels cars and a card. I couldn't find a card I liked for Mom and Dad. I'll get them something later in the weekend. I also got that whole wheat flour - I ran out yesterday.

It wasn't raining by the time I got out of work. I just walked home. I figured there wasn't any need to call for a ride if the weather wasn't bad. Ended up running into my next-door neighbor Richard half-way home and getting a ride from him.

Spent the next few hours working on my story. The entire group is on their way out when Palpatine arrives, awakening Vader. Ben is killed while distracting the heartless giant. An upset Luke takes his place.

Had leftover chicken vegetable soup for dinner while playing Lego Star Wars. I didn't get far. I'm not having much luck with these challenges. I just can't find those blue pieces in 10 minutes! More often than not, I'll get half of them, or all but one, and have to go back through the round, trying to find the rest and letting time run out.

Finally just got fed up and switched to Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas. In this direct-to-video feature, Belle is determined to bring the holidays to the citizens of the castle, including a bitter angel ornament (Bernadette Peters) who was once the castle decorator. A gloomy organ (Tim Curry) wants to keep the Beast listening to his depressing melodies forever and orders a piccolo (Paul Reubens) to do whatever he can to break up their romance. When an attempt at getting a tree ends in disaster, it looks like no one will be having a happy holiday...until the Beast remembers the true spirit of the season.

This is a guilty pleasure of mine. It's neither the best nor the worst of the infamous Disney sequels of the 90's and early 2000's. It does have some lovely music (including the oft-repeated "As Long as It's Christmas") and decent CGI animation for a lower-budget production.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Merry Christmas Cookies

Began the morning with breakfast, then went right into more cookie-baking. The Molasses Roll-Outs, aka Merry Christmas Molasses Cookies, are probably the most complicated of the five kinds of cookies I make. These are cut-out cookies that need to be chilled, then flattened with a rolling pin and cut into the appropriate Christmassy shapes. I like to get creative. Along with the usual things - trees, snowmen, stockings, gingerbread people, stars, angels, candy canes - I pulled out a horse, a train, a teddy bear, a fluted heart, a small heart, and a half-moon.

It takes me a while to get it all done. I used to have problems doing these quick enough. I'd end up burning them. I've made them for Christmas for over a decade now. I have a far better idea of when to look in the oven and check on them, and how fast I can get them done.

Ran Hail, Caesar! while I baked. This love letter to the tail end of the Golden Age of Hollywood follows one day in the life of Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), the "fixer" for Capitol Pictures. Namely, he keeps the peccadilloes and scandals of the studios' employees out of the gossip rags. The guy does have a very full day, keeping track of a swimming musical star who is pregnant...with no father in sight (Scarlet Johanssen), the handsome dancing star of a big navy-themed musical (Channing Tatum) who turns out to be a Communist, a singing cowboy who is hopelessly miscast in an English drawing room drama, to the annoyance of its director (Ralph Fiennes), and the drama star (George Clooney) who suddenly vanishes, right before the filming of his current Roman epic's climatic scene. When a strange group called "The Future" claims they've kidnapped the drama star and want $100,000, Mannix has to figure out a way to get it to them, without a ruthless gossip columnist (Tilda Swinton) catching wind.

I seem to have good luck with renting independent historical-based comedies in mid-December. I enjoyed this as much as I did The Grand Budapest Hotel two years ago. Like that one (which also featured Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes), we get a picture of a time gone by that might not be as elegant and glamorous as you think. The all-star cast is having a great time with the pastiche of 50's movie cliches. (Who knew Channing Tatum could tap dance like that?)

However, I will add that you'll need to have at least some knowledge of the early 50's (especially the movies and politics of that era) and the Golden Age of Hollywood to get pretty much anything that's going on. The more you know about Hollywood history and what was going on in this time period, the more you'll like this. If you love movie or mid-20th-century history as much as I do, this is a very funny ride that's worth at least a look.

Switched to the original version of Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas while finishing the cookies. In the copy my family taped around 1988, Kermit the Frog narrates the tale of Ma and Emmett Otter, two river dwellers who barely make a living taking in washing and doing odd repair jobs for neighbors. They think they've found the answer to their money problems when their town announces a big talent contest on Christmas Eve. Mrs. Otter performs a lovely ballad solo; Emmett helps organize the title jug band. The ultimate winner of the contest is a surprise...and so's how the Otters' talents are discovered afterwards.

Did a quick Laverne & Shirley holiday episode while cleaning up the kitchen. Carmine convinces the regular characters, including the girls, to perform in his big Christmas show in "Oh Hear the Angel Voices." The others are less-than-thrilled when it turns out that they're performing at a mental hospital. Shirley's heard a few too many stories about family members who ended up in them. Laverne's too busy flirting with the patients to worry much.

Headed out around 1:30 to run errands. While it remains bitter cold, the lack of wind and sunny skies made the temperatures a lot more bearable than they were yesterday. First stop was Phillies Phatties for my usual slices of mushroom and cheese pizza and can of soda (Mountain Dew Pitch Black today). I ate inside, watching a replay of yesterday's Seahawks-Rams game (Seahawks killed them, 24-3) and listening to a family eating in the next table over chatter.

Dodged traffic on Cuthbert as I made my way to the Haddon Township Library. I was mainly there to return books and DVDs. They were really dead. I did shelve some kids' DVDs and audio books and CDs, but there really wasn't much for me to do. I didn't even take out any movies. They didn't seem to have too many Christmas movies left, and I didn't see any kids' Christmas specials that interested me.

Since I was already in Westmont, I did this week's grocery shopping at the Acme there. It was too cold to ride all the way over to Audubon! I'll get my schedule tomorrow.

I actually didn't end up getting a lot. There were no good sales on chicken or fish. Grabbed yellow cake mix, coconut, and maraschino cherries for baking this week. Restocked tomato paste, milk, eggs, brown sugar, and frozen peas. Picked up bagged spinach for fresh vegetables. Clementines were on a good sale again; got those and bananas for fruit. I also finally got the gift I needed to buy for the Oaklyn side of the family's Secret Santa.

It was starting to get cloudier and much colder as I left the Acme. This was no day for lingering. I went straight home across Newton Lake Park. Needless to say, I was the only one there. The park is showing signs of winter now. The lake is half-frozen; the trees are black calligraphy on the still-green grass.

Put everything away as soon as I got in. Watched an episode of Get Smart as I got organized and put leftover Chicken Vegetable Soup on the stove. Max is "Our Man In Toyland" in the first season when he and 99 are assigned to find out how information on a top secret project keeps going out of a department store. It's not all fun and games when the duo find out what's going on...and get caught.

Did a little bit of Luke and the Beanstalk next. Vader has trapped Han and Chewie under a heavy bowl while he prepares to cook them. Luke and Leia use a knife to lift the bowl and get them out. Meanwhile, Ben is preparing to confront Vader...

Started the Cherry Coconut Bars as soon as I finished eating. These are the last cookies I make for Christmas. They're basically Lemon Bars with a cherry-coconut filling replacing the citrus. As such, they're extremely sweet...and very popular. They're probably my second most often-requested cookie after the Molasses Roll-Outs.

(And while I'm now done with the cookies, I still have two loaves of bread for family and neighbors and cupcakes to make next week.)

Ended the night with the late 70's Wonder Woman TV show. "The Deadly Toys" from the second season is one of two semi-holiday episodes the series did during its run. When a scientist who had once worked on an aborted government project is found to have been replaced by an android, Diana Prince has to figure out who is kidnapping these men and why...and how a little old toymaker and the scientists' hobby of creating miniature battle scenes tie into it.