Monday, December 23, 2013

Recycled Holiday Place Mats

I take pride in, and truly enjoy being frugal.  I don't claim to be such all the time, but when I see a good opportunity, I do give it a shot.  

Take the holidays for instance.  I love, LOVE to decorate but I also know how expensive it can get. Through the years, we've bought a few items here and there, but I've been very fortunate to have received a lot of cute and timeless decorations from my mother-in-law.  

Putting up the decorations around the house were easy.  But when it came to dressing up our formal dining table to make it ready for company, I realized I didn't have holiday-themed table cloths!  Yikes!  

What I knew I had somewhere in my attic was a 'Christmasy' vinyl tablecloth from about two years ago. However, when I spread it out to inspect it, I found it was no longer worthy of any public appearances.  It had spots or streaks where the colors had worn off.  Basically those were the edges where it got folded or draped along the table sides.  

See for yourselves....

See that ugly white line to the right of the center pattern?

Here's a horizontal version....

I didn't want to give up and definitely felt there was something to be salvaged here.  So instead of opting for a full table cloth, I thought why not make place mats instead?!

So I spread out the entire tablecloth on to my floor, grabbed a pair of sharp scissors, a pen for marking, and an existing place mat which I used as a pattern.  I needed that to be precise with the size.

I was very lucky because I dealt with a checkered pattern.  This meant there were a lot of straight lines which made it easier for me to make the design pretty standard for each place mat.  But I'm sure the same concept is applicable to any design you might have with you.  I was also lucky that I had more than enough 'undamaged' areas to make six mats.  (I only needed six but let me assure you, I had a lot of left-over tablecloth in the attic for future trimming).

I was planning on busting out my hot glue gun and thick red ribbon so I could make the edges look more finished but I got lazy.  You can of course do that if you had more time and energy!  Hopefully by next December, I would have already finished that project!  But for now, I think they're good enough.  They don't look too bad, do they?  

And because they're vinyl, they're very easy to clean too!  No additional money spent and easy to clean...What more can I ask for, right?!?!  

I hope you are all enjoying the Holidays and other than my leaving you with the above money-saving idea as my gift, I also want to leave you with my Christmas greetings!

I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and may you truly celebrate Love!!!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Waiting For The Real Thing

This is my favorite time of the year, as is true for most people I suppose.  The week before Christmas (and just a few more days now, actually) is the best, and the buildup just feels amazing to me!  There's a rush and excitement about it that is unparalleled and it's this anticipation that I look forward to the entire year!

I wish I could say that everything is perfect at this point but it's not. Two days ago, the retail giant, Target, announced their security breach where 40 million card accounts may have been compromised.  As if consumers are not anxious and exhausted enough at this point after all the shopping going on, thieves have decided to be the ultimate Grinch and steal a piece of our peace of mind and sense of joy.

But we all know we have to fight this.  Yes it sucks.  Yes we have to practice more vigilance.  And yes it may cause a bit more sleepless nights.  But as cliche as it sounds, we have to force ourselves to focus on the fact that this season---Christmas, to those who celebrate it, like our family does --- should be about focusing on what truly fills us and makes our spirits joyful.  

Now that I'm a parent and have a child who now truly knows how to look forward to this holiday, I find that my excitement stems from my desire to make it as special for him as best I could.  It doesn't revolve so much anymore on my wondering about what gifts I will get but what I could give to my son to surprise him. 

It's about thinking of creative ways to make his sense of wonder last a bit longer.  

For instance this year, I heard that other than Santa sending him his annual video message, he will also be writing him a poem!  

It's focusing on keeping our simple family tradition of making him baked french toast for Christmas morning and the best hot cocoa I can concoct.

It's about doing my best to capture his expression, and hope it be etched in my memory forever, when he breaks a link from the Christmas Countdown Chain he made in school.  The way he looks up and counts the remaining links every night is priceless!

Hung just outside his bedroom door,
Noah breaks a link each night before I tuck him in.

It's having our treasured family movie hours watching our own bunch of Christmas classics:  The Polar Express, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and HBO's 'Twas the Night.  Frankly, December won't be the same for us if we didn't watch these films.  Maybe when he gets a little older, we can add Home Alone, Love Actually, While You Were Sleeping, and Bridget Jones' Diary.  For now, the last four films are just for Mommy when she wants to veg out.  

Oh and of course part of the fun is for my son to suffer through my fixation on Christmas music courtesy of Ray Conniff!  A cherished childhood memory is of my parents playing the vinyl album below during the holiday season, and for some odd reason that I still don't understand, I was extremely fascinated with the album cover.  Eventually though, a real favorite surfaced and it's the song 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' in all its possible versions (Johnny Mathis, The Carpenters, Ella Fitzgerald, Kenny Loggins, Kenny G., Judy Garland, the Pretenders, Dianna Krall). Yes, I'm addicted to this song and for me, this is THE ultimate Christmas song.  Noah is still not a convert since he thinks it's far too depressing.  Yes, undeniably this song is melancholic but that's what makes it so perfect for me!  Oh well....

No Christmas will ever be textbook perfect.  Maybe you don't have enough money.  Maybe you haven't perfected a dish you really wanted to serve at your family gathering.  You're not fit enough, skinny enough, pretty enough for a certain outfit.  Your house is not Pinterest worthy.  Maybe you didn't find the perfect gift you wanted to give your significant other.  Or maybe a store's security breach has caused you much financial distress.  These things are not 'nothing' but putting them in perspective should make us see that these are peripheral and shouldn't have any real power over our Christmas.  

Treasured people weaving treasured memories are all that matter.  It's the little acts of love and generosity, as well as feelings of joy brought on by how much joy we've given others, that should truly define our experience.  People don't remember outfits they wore, and sometimes not even store-bought gifts they received during past Christmases. What we remember are the people we spent them with, the stories shared, games played, dishes lovingly prepared, hands held, hugs and kisses, prayers, loving words and beaming smiles. These are the things that fill the heart to the brim.  These are the REAL things worth anticipating during this season, and always.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Yes, I'm Asian..But I'm A Scorpio Too

Two days ago, BlogHer published this article by Grace Hwang Lynch regarding the now viral (Twitter) movement #NotYourAsianSidekick.  In sum, this movement started by Suey Park, aims to start a conversation about the lack of representation of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women.  It aims to fight stereotypes given to Asians (Asian women in particular) and highlights the fact that Asian women are still often times marginalized when it comes to debates on gender equality and / or race.  White feminists sometimes don't give enough voice to Asian women's struggles, while debates on race are often times limited to the struggles of blacks in a white-dominated society. 

Reading about it reminded me of one term that annoys me to death as an immigrant.  I know it's a term not confined to Asians alone but it has everything to do with race and stereotypes.

To those who have never heard of this term before (and yes, I know there are some who haven't because I only also learned of this nine years ago), it stands for 'fresh off the boat'.  It refers to immigrants who have just entered another country (in my case the United States) and have not yet fully assimilated into that host country's culture.  

I find this term utterly derogatory.  Someone used this term on me nine years ago, and though I know this person didn't mean it maliciously, I still took offense.  To me, usage of this implies that you are viewing the other person as less than you in some way.  When people use this term to refer to someone, it's usually to make fun of the other person (the immigrant) because that person is not doing something 'right' based on social norms; perhaps not speaking 'right' because of a certain foreign accent; or 'knows less' simply because he / she has not been exposed enough to the new culture or is not yet accustomed to the 'new ways'.  Whatever it is, one can't deny that it's a term that differentiates in a negative way, in my view.  

And I. Dont. Like. It.  I almost bitch slapped that person who used that term on me before, but I was younger and nicer then.  I wanted soooo badly to say, "Excuse me, but first of all, I did not arrive on a boat.  Second, there is no need to think of me as completely naive about American culture because if you haven't noticed, we now live in the age of globalization.  Third...F*ck off."

It's never cool to make fun of anyone.  It's never cool to think of any one as less than you just because they are different, whether it's race, sex / sexual orientation, social class, religion, etc.  Most of all, I find it most uncool when people assume that it's acceptable to mistreat me, discriminate against me and spew stereotypes and other inane comments because I'm an Asian female who will most likely just keep quiet and not fight back.  I may not be abrasive, nor scandalous.  But I'm pretty sure I have pride and am smart AND educated to utter a witty comeback, or maybe plot a really creative revenge!   
I'm Asian after all, right?  

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Looking Back on my 'Firsts'

It's been three weeks since I last blogged.  My life has been filled with tiny details, which are not in any way insignificant, although they've definitely drowned my brain.  It all started with my birthday.  Then we had to prepare for our trip to visit family in Chicago.  And before I knew it, Thanksgiving was here.  After coming back from the trip, marking the end of November, Cyber Monday (or more like cyber week, actually) crashed through my door, ate all my time and seemed to have dragged my wallet with it on its way out.

Amidst all this chaos, only two things managed to keep themselves firmly anchored in my head.  So forgive me if these two seem completely unrelated but I feel they're both highlights in their own respect making them worth sharing.

First, I had my very first surprise birthday celebration!  I really wasn't expecting it, considering that two weeks have passed since I had my birthday. For two months, the secret was hid from me and kudos to everyone in the family for orchestrating everything so well.  I knew there was going to be a family gathering because it was Thanksgiving dinner.  I didn't know that it was also to celebrate my 40th!  I later on found out that AJ thought of the whole thing back in September, and with the help of my two sisters-in-law and the rest of the gang, they were able to pull it all off.  What was most amazing was that it was AJ and Noah who chose my cake design online and I'm really surprised that Noah did not at all slip.  Should I be scared that my son seems very able at keeping secrets from me? Hmmmm......*think, think, think*.....

Here's a picture of me, mouth wide open, after I recovered from my disorientation and realized that when people screamed "SURPRISE!!", they actually meant "It's your birthday celebration, you idiot!"  Yes, I was a complete idiot for taking at least 5 seconds before figuring out the situation.

Second, our trip to Chicago was not only spent with family in the suburbs but also had to include at least a trip to the downtown area.  I love downtown Chicago.  I will always have a soft spot in my heart for it although I've always struggled to articulate exactly why.  The closest thing I can come up with is that I have such fond memories of it the way I would of an ex-lover.  Only in a very PG way.  I suppose it's because I feel like at one point in my life, I had a brief love affair with Chicago and it made such a huge impression on me.  

It was my first exposure to the US or the American life back in 2001 when I visited as a tourist. I was heartbroken, in limbo, and just badly needed some change...any change. And Chicago gave me all that.  With its freezing December air, the layers of clothing I had to wear, the way it allowed me to wear a coat for the first time in my life, how it allowed me to see parts of the city through the 'L'/'El', my solitary walks along the energy of State Street and Michigan Avenue, as well as the more quiet moments I spent on a bench by the lake near Loyola University...all that offered me the distraction I needed. At least for a while. 

Of course my personal woes did not leave me completely. Those things need way more time than just a holiday break. But I found that something about Chicago comforted me.  I guess you can think of it as an extremely short-lived, but exciting fling. It was new to me.  Everything was different.  It offered enough intrigue and beauty for me to analyze cerebrally, and it most definitely is a city with a lot of character, beautiful architecture, enough for my attention to be sustained.  Chicago also offered me the balance I needed in being able to experience a foreign city;  highly westernized thus giving me a good glimpse of what it means to be in a first world country, but at the same time, one that is not too 'cold' or unfriendly.  But more than anything else, I feel that my fling with Chicago in 2001 offered me hope.  With everything that I saw and experienced then, I truly felt a sense of possibility at a time when I felt lost and alone.  

Yes it sucked walking around this beautiful city by my lonesome, especially when it felt like everywhere I looked all I saw were couples holding hands. But at that time, this city still gave me more than a flicker of hope.  It made me feel like there was so much more to the world I can see, so many other possible paths I can choose from, and that's probably all I needed then.  My Chicago was there for me when my heart needed opening up.  It did not heal me completely. That was a task meant only for me.  But it sure did clarify things ABOUT ME that helped me choose where I wanted to be at that time, or what my heart yearns for the most.  It was a gift I will forever treasure.

So, yes.  I will always feel sentimental walking or driving around this downtown area.  When I'm in it, I feel like reconnecting once more with an old friend or lover.  When I walk its streets, I feel like it echoes back to me some of my private and treasured thoughts and dreams.  No, it's not home and I know I don't belong to it completely.  But I know it will always be there for me to remind me of of one of the most exciting years of my life, a year replete with 'firsts'.  

Treasured 'firsts' in 2001, and here I am, 40 in 2013 still experiencing new 'firsts'.  Life is good.