Friday, December 31, 2010

All I wanted for Christmas

When my sister and I were little, we badly wanted a Christmas tree.  But we lived in a part of the world where it was impossible for snow and the only kind of tree you could get was the plastic variety that came in a box.  It never occurred to us to pester our parents because of the way we were brought up, so we set out to raise money to buy a tree ourselves.

We poured our energy into building a Christmas Tree Fund, making sure we had plenty of time to earn what seemed like a monumental sum of money.  We did extra chores, (though it was a foreign concept to our parents to have to pay us), and we sold tickets to a musical we produced with an entire cast of toys.

The musical never took off, since my sister and I were the only mobile, talking members of the cast and we were terribly short-handed.  I forget what happened, but I think my parents finally took pity on us and got us a tree.

It didn't matter that it was a bright green, spindly thing and that we didn't have the best ornaments.  To us, it represented choirs of angels, dancing snowflakes, gingerbread houses, stockings by the fireplace, mistletoe and lots of merriment.  We never got the first five things on that list but we did have some good times.

Over time, we grew up and went on to prefer hanging out with friends over Christmas.  I got old enough to look forward to being entertained with fabulous parties, delectable food and great wine.  None of that homespun stuff for me now -  it was all glitter, sparkles and wearing black.

More time passed, I got married and had children of my own.  All of a sudden, I felt that I needed to care about "doing Christmas" right for my kids.  Well, it goes without saying that if only I knew how it was supposed to be done, I could reproduce all the necessary accoutrement to accompany  the absolute best Christmas so that my children would have these unassailable memories of happy childhood holidays to sustain them through all of life's unhappier times.

The first years of my married life, we got a real tree, lit it up, made Christmas dinner, wrapped presents, and hung stockings.  After my first child was born, we got a tree but left it bare.  I bought and wrapped presents but didn't put up the stockings. Christmas morning was a flurry of trying to photograph my daughter opening presents but all she really wanted to do was to play with the giftwrap, and all I really wanted to do was to sit back and soak in the scene.  However, there was special outfits to be worn and pictures with this person or other to be taken to "commemorate" the event.  When I balked, I was told that it was "for the sake of the children".

This Christmas, we have two kids and no tree.  No ornaments, no stockings, no special outfits and only the minimum of gifts.  In many ways, I wish I could go back to capture all the promise of Christmas from when I was a child, cradle it in my arms and give it to my children.  But I realize now that the magic is not found in the tree, the lights, the stockings, the cookies, the feasting, the lot of presents etc.  Because in truth, I didn't get most of those things.  It was the promise that mattered, not the stuff.

I believe that the point of all the work going into "doing Christmas" right would have been to be able to say to your child someday, "See, this is what your first (second, third) Christmas was like when you were little and here is proof  that I love you."  But if its love we're after, then we truly don't need all this stuff, especially when they are too young to care about it.

I hope my children know that I love them and that one day, they'll be old enough to maybe want the gingerbread house, the stockings and the tree.  I know that if they were to ever stage a musical of toys, I will sit through every take and every scene.  I will make sure that they know that they are cherished beyond measure, and that while they may not be able to earn their way into what they want so dearly, they may still get it, while its within my power to give.

And when they get it, they will also learn what it's like to hold on to the promise of something yet to be fulfilled, while reality falls short.

Friday, June 4, 2010

More magnets - the solution to an increasing number of cute baby pictures on your fridge door.

I am convinced that you can never have enough magnets for your refrigerator door.  Especially if you belong to the demographic set of thirty-something year olds who are new parents of babies/toddlers that I do.  My friends send me the latest and cutest pics of their little ones, and I keep them up long after the original occasion is over.

Seeing these photos helps remind me that I am not the only one going through this rough and tumble phase of raising young kids, barely holding on to the edge of sanity.  And of course, the Poison Control phone number is a handy one to keep up there as well.

Hence,  my solution is to acquire more magnets - not just the office supplies store variety, mind you.  If you are going to have to look at it many times a day (think how many times you open and close your fridge door), it'd better be something worth looking at.  I'm tired of staring at that grimy bit of post-it note, stained with sauce, held up by a chipped plastic disc.

Here is my first attempt in making my own special magnets.  Looking at them makes me feel just a little bit happier throughout the day - especially since they spell out the reasons why I should still get myself out of bed in the morning and live each day the best I can.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Personalized Red Egg and Ginger Party Favors

My baby boy turned one month old in May, and as customary for the Chinese side of the family, we made hard-boiled eggs and dyed them red to celebrate.  Well, except that my husband doesn't eat eggs and my two year old doesn't eat much, so we couldn't get away with making too many.

So I came up with the idea of making little yarn eggs that make great giveaways and don't need refrigeration.  Put a pair of them in these little wood boxes, dress them up with personalized tags with your baby's initials and date of birth, and they are ready for your party!

I used shipping labels from the office supplies store and created tags with a set of vintage stamps I found at a garage sale.  Brown ink makes for a beautifully aged, and "not too precious" look.

This wood boxes were found in the unfinished wood crafts section of Michael's.  Stuff the boxes with some straw and they make a great home for your little eggs.

Glue a ribbon band around the box, and finish off with your favorite knot.  I stamped these light-blue Martha Stewart tags to label the boxes, but you can use stickers or any other tags you like.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Baby Haikus

My baby boy is 3 weeks old today.  Those late night nursing sessions over the past few weeks prompted me to write these haikus. (5, 7, 5 syllables)

Mama Haiku  - April 20, 2010
Night is day and day is night.
Why is sleep so elusive?
Baby eats again.

Baby Haiku  - April 21, 2010
Mama, feed me now.
Or I shall wake up this house
with my loud wailing.

Mama Haiku  - April 22, 2010
Cold wipes on bottom.
Makes for a screaming baby.
I should know better.

Baby Haiku  - April 24, 2010
Mama, it's hard work
Trying to grow every day.
Have patience with me.

Baby Haiku  - May 6, 2010
Sometimes I may cry
for reasons I don't yet know.
What else can I tell you?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Recipes for How to Throw a Monkey Party

Recipe for Deviled Eggs
  • 7 large eggs, hard boiled and peeled
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard
  • Salt and pepper, for taste
  • Paprika, for garnishing

Halve 7 eggs lengthwise. Remove yolks and place in a small bowl. Mash yolks with a fork and stir in mayonnaise, pickle relish, and mustard. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Fill egg whites evenly with yolk mixture. Garnish with paprika, pickles and pimentos. Store covered in refrigerator. 

Recipe for Honey-Mustard Sauce

  • 1 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard

  • 2 tablespoons mild hone

  • 1 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard

  • 2 tablespoons mild hone

  • 1 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard

  • 2 tablespoons mild honey

  • 1 cup mayonnaise

  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard

  • 2 tablespoons mild honey

    • 1 cup mayonnaise
    • 1/3 Dijon mustard
    • 2 tablespoon mild honey
    • (add salt after mixing ingredients - the mustard may already be salty enough)

    How to throw a Monkey-themed Birthday Party

    1. Select a good spot for a picnic.
    2. Set up blankets and low tables.  Mark spot with yellow and brown balloons.
    3. Serve food that will please both kids and adults.
    4. Set up monkey favor bags as follows:
      1. Start with one stuffed monkey per bag.  I found these at Target in the dollar section of the store.
      2. Cut a long strip of yellow felt and make a scarf for the monkey.  This adds some color and character to the little guy.
      1. Bake and wrap 2 banana muffins per bag. 
      1. Format and print out banana chocolate muffin recipe on yellow paper. Glue yellow paper onto chocolate cardstock (available at Paper Source).
      2.  On the back of the card, print out your favorite monkey illustration on the same yellow paper and glue on.
      1. Stamp "Thank You" using a brown pigment inkpad onto yellow paper.
      2. Cut out "Thank You" stamp with a circle cutter (or other shapes if you have them handy).
      3. Glue each "Thank You" circle onto a clear plastic bag.
      4. Assemble each bag with 1 stuffed monkey, 1 bag of muffins, 1 recipe card.
      5. Tie bags or create handles as preferred.

    Friday, April 2, 2010

    On old concrete floors

    Never underestimate the biological instincts of an expectant mother.  Last Saturday, despite being 36 weeks pregnant, I dragged my husband and two-year old daughter to Ikea to lug home a trunk load of new shelving. Thereafter, I closeted myself in the home office and proceeded to reorganize the entire space.  I swept, wiped, vanquished dust bunnies, sorted out all my paints, and pulled out hoards of art supplies I had kept around waiting for that inspired project - salvaged pieces of wood, metal, rolls of copper, acrylic, bolts of satin etc. including a box of orange rubber bracelets stamped with "Opening Night at the De Young Museum" which I swear I will make useful one day.

    At the end of 4 days of "almost overdoing it", I sat back to enjoy my newly set-up studio.  And it was wonderful to behold.  Books lined up, artwork hung on the walls, containers labeled, power cords neatly tucked away, clean desks and a gleaming hardwood floor.

    So why am I now missing the rough, stained concrete floor of my old studio space in the city...? That floor had permanent paint marks that defied being removed, rings of embedded beeswax, spots of hardened resin and all the markings of thoughtless spillage occurred during my numerous artistic experiments.

    Back in those days, I worked with nary a thought of cleaning up.  The floor was like a giant, silent canvas - accepting of whatever I chose to do in my various alchemical pursuits.  And the art that resulted from those days reflected that sort of kind of careless intensity.

    Now, I am cautious with my studio's hardwood floor.  I wouldn't dream of leaving spilled paint on it, scratching it, hammering it, spraying water, solvents, anything that required cleaning up before my toddler gets her little fingers and toes in the gunk.  Heck, I already use ecologically sustainable, green, non-toxic cleaning supplies on every part of my house so what makes this floor space any different?

    Safe to say, what I am probably missing is doing a certain kind of artwork.  The kind that can't be done when your surroundings are too precious to damage.  Does this mean I will be doing neat little paintings of koalas and giraffes for the years to come?

    Thursday, April 1, 2010

    From the very beginning.......

    Five years ago, I lived in a vibrant, art-loving city, in a tiny studio apartment up on a hill. I drove a beat-up car (which was broken into at least 3 times), and rented an art workspace in a neighborhood known for indie boutiques, aspiring hole-in-the-wall restaurants and a trusty collection of homeless vagrants.

    Today, I am comfortably ensconced in Suburbia with its wide sidewalks, ample parking and the usual big-box retail. I drive a compact SUV outfitted with a toddler car-seat, and work out of my home (in my pjs if I choose to). Some days, I actually miss parallel parking on a slope.
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