Wednesday, December 05, 2018

White Christmas With Friends

It was just cloudy and chilly when I woke up this morning. As soon as I finished breakfast, I started putting up the tree. Amanda and I would do the ornaments later, but I wanted to get the lights and garland on before she came. I also vacuumed under the tree (fake trees shed almost as much as the real ones do), made the bed, and signed Amanda's Christmas card.

Ran two documentaries on holiday history as I did the decorating and my chores. Christmas Past talks about Christmas in England over the years, and even features interviews with a Scottish man who had just started celebrating Christmas, an earl, a female Father Christmas, and a woman who got her first really nice Christmas when she was evacuated to the country during World War II. Christmas Unwrapped goes into more detail about American holiday customs and how they came about, including Santa, Rudolph, and mistletoe.

To my surprise, it was snowing when I stepped out of the apartment. It wasn't heavy snow, just small flakes that looked pretty coming down. I felt quite festive as I strolled across Manor to West Clinton, and then to the parking lot for the closed PNC Bank on the White Horse Pike. I hadn't realized that the pre-school at St. Mark's Church across the street let out at 11. They were so busy by the time Amanda finally arrived at quarter after 11, she ended up picking me up next to the church instead.

We finally ended up at the Pop Shop in Collingswood for lunch. It was only 11:30 by then, and between the early hour and the weather, it was the quietest I'd ever seen them. There may have been one or two other couples seated at booths. We both opted for hot tea and breakfast. (The Pop Shop serves breakfast all day.) Amanda had vegetable Eggs Benedict on a big, fluffy biscuit. I had a Bananas Foster Waffle - bananas sauteed in brown sugar and walnuts on a waffle. The bananas were a little goopy, but it was better than the last time I ordered this on New Year's Day in 2015. For once, we both ate everything that was on our plates and didn't need to take anything home.

The snow was starting to come down harder as we left. It wasn't sticking to the roads, but it was making visibility a pain. We opted to skip any shopping and just move along. After getting lost briefly in West Collingswood, we finally stopped at Common Grounds around the corner from me in Oaklyn for hot drinks. She loves coffee and got a mocha latte. I settled for hot chocolate. We chatted and watched the snow fall at one of the tables by the big picture window. (I was glad to notice someone shoveled the steps going up to my porch when we arrived home. It never stuck to the streets here, but it did stick to the grass. I think we got maybe an inch or two.)

As soon as we got in and I showed Amanda what was new at my place, we exchanged gifts. Amanda works part-time at a Bath and Body Works in the Cumberland Mall, so a lot of her gifts usually come from there. She gave me two bottles of lotion (one small for work, one medium-sized and Christmas-themed for home), a bottle of soap, and hand sanitizer, along with sleep socks, a candy cane-shaped tube of Hershey's candies, and a totally adorable plush polar bear ornament.

The rest of the afternoon was spent decorating the tree. I have so many ornaments! They've came from all over. Mom made folk-art-style felt ornaments and a Christmas-themed Holly Hobbie for me when I was in high school. She gave me several fancier glass ornaments from the gift shops in Cape May County later, including the white heart with the Victorian-style flowers, the strawberry covered in glitter, the beautiful magenta ball with rings and the white ribbon on the cap, the gingerbread man face wearing a chef's hat, and the Disney gang - Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy. My cousin Samantha made beaded ornaments about a decade ago. Mom also made the clothespin soldiers - they're refugees from her tree. Force Awakens Han Solo is from a Hallmark that was closing; Chewbacca comes from Target. My friend Linda Young gave me Scooby and Shaggy on a sled. Yogi with a picnic basket full of candy canes, Cinderella with her mice friends giving a gift, and the angel Winnie the Pooh are from yard sales or after-Christmas half-price sales. The vintage wooden and porcelain figures are all yard sale finds.

Did TV Guide Looks at Christmas when we got in. This one discusses the history of Christmas on television, from popular holiday specials to beloved movies to favorite sitcom episodes. I especially liked hearing about the variety shows that used to turn up during the holidays. These big specials filled with songs and skits were common until the mid-70's, after which time they'd begun to die out. The only major variety holiday variety special during my childhood was Pee Wee's. I have the soundtrack to the Judy Garland special, but I never heard of Perry Como's European travels until I saw this. I may have to see if any of them are on YouTube.

The work went so quickly, we finished by 3. Amanda wasn't leaving until 3:30, so that was just enough time to pull out the Christmas stuffed animals and cloth items and put them under the tree. In 1987, Dad bought Mom a big white teddy bear from K-Mart. She named him Chester sat him on her hope chest. She eventually borrowed a bunch of our bears, dressed them in old winter clothes, and set them with Chester on the hope chest to be displayed throughout the holiday season. We'd get to change their clothes, and even give them party hats on New Year's Eve. By the turn of the 21st century, Mom had gotten tired of setting it up and turned the remaining Christmas bears and their clothes over to me.

Along with the bears, I hung my stockings. I have two, both with a snowman on the front. Aunt Terri made my original stocking when I was very little in the early 80's. It's a big red felt stocking with gold trim and a snowman and snow scene on the front, trimmed liberally with sequins. Mom made me a new, less glittery one in the early 90's. This one is also a snowman, but he's on a blue snow-print background instead of a red one, and he has the most cheerful face.

Amanda did indeed leave at 3:30. By that point, the snow was long-gone, replaced by a glorious bright orange and lavender sunset. I enjoyed the show while doing some writing. Scrooge is genuinely scared when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come - a phantom with a wrinkled gray hand, hidden under a black shroud with gold lining - appears in his parlor. The Spirit takes him ahead in time...and they see that all of Scrooge's things are gone, even the curtains around his bed. He refuses to look at the lump under the remaining sheets, not wanting to know who was laying there.

Broke for dinner at 6. Made turkey meatballs, roasted broccoli rabe, and pasta while watching Rick Steves' European Christmas. It's a very merry holiday season all across the continent that inspired some of our most cherished holiday traditions. Kids help their parents make mince pies and sing in a local choir in England. Parisians skate on the top of the Effel Tower, while country folks in Burgundy prepare a massive feast of pastry-wrapped roast beef and fois grae. Adorable little Santa Lucias sing for the elderly in Norway. Italians await the Pope's mass and watch old men toss a flat fruitcake in a curling-like game, while the citizens of Tuscany prepare for a living nativity. Austrians decorate the tree away from the children, while the Swiss make a big family activity of bringing it home from the mountains.

Finished the night with Pulp Fiction. This unique non-linear crime film from directer Quentin Tarantino follows three different storylines, all arranged out of order. Hit men Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) are supposed to be picking up a briefcase for their boss Wallace (Ving Rhames), but get caught up double-crosses and hot dances with the boss' wife Mia (Uma Thurman). Meanwhile, boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) has been bribed to lose a bout, but he not only wins, he kills his opponent. He manages to evade Vincent and even helps Wallace out. There's also two low-level thieves (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) who hold up a local diner to deal with.

Widely considered to be Tarantino's masterpiece, I can certainly say there's nothing else like it. Killer soundtrack, awesome performances that revived several careers (including those of Willis and Travolta), and a masterful script make up for the story being frequently confusing and extremely violent. Adults who love the cast or Tarantino's other work will find much to enjoy here.

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