Monday, December 21, 2009

The Holiday Season

I can't believe Christmas is right around the corner!  I finally have all my shopping done, the house cleaned (well, the living room, kitchen, bathrooms and my room.  I don't stress about my teens' rooms. If they want it clean, they'll clean it ...) and our Christmas tree purchased and decorated.  But I can't relax yet.  I still have presents to wrap and desserts to make.  I'm just glad I won't have to go to the mall again.  The traffic!!!  I feel for anyone who has to brave that headache!

Every year, amidst all the rush and stress of the holidays, I think about how different my Christmas was when I lived in the Philippines.  My parents never seemed to stress during this period.  I remember my first Christmas there after my father retired from the US Navy (I was twelve).  We didn't have a Christmas tree.  We had these instead ...
These are called parols or Christmas Star lanternsThey represent the Star of Bethlehem and were once used to light the way to church for the Misa de Gallo, the early morning Christmas Eve mass.  To see vendors selling parols is usually the first sign of the coming holiday season ... aren't they lovely?

So, no Christmas tree. Then I was thrown for loop when my parents said there were no presents to open on Christmas morning (yikes!).   What I did instead was visit my grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles. I greeted them with a Merry Christmas and kissed their hands.  This is a traditional Filipino way to show respect for your elders ...

... I would say "mano, po", press my forehead to their hand, especially my grandparents, as a way of normal greeting.  And on Chritmas day, instead of wrapped gifts, I received CASH.  Cool, huh?

Another tradition I remember well is called Simbang Gabi. This is when Filipinos go to mass at dawn beginning on December 16.  It lasts for nine days and ends on Christmas Eve when the mass is celebrated to welcome the baby Jesus.  I remember hearing the church bells ring, watching people walking to church in the darkness of the predawn hours.

It was really hard to wake up so early in the morning to go to church so I don't remember ever completing the whole nine days.  But when I did go, I always bought these special rice cakes from food stands outside the church.

This is called puto bungbong.  It's made from a purple glutinous rice that is ground and steamed in bamboo tubes.  As you can see in the picture, it is served with a generous amount of sugar and fresh grated coconut. YUM! 

This is a bibingka special.  You could buy this delightful little cake freshly baked in clay pots over a charcoal fire (sorta like dutch ovens) right at the stands!  They are baked in banana leaves, which by the way, make food very fragrant.  These are like pancakes in a way with cheese and a slice of salted egg baked right in (trust me, the egg is the BEST part!). 

My childhood Christmases in the Philippines were tree-less and Santa-less but I learned a whole lot about how wonderful it was to visit with family, share good meals, take part in traditions my parents followed which was centered on the very reason why we celebrate this holiday.  The birth of Jesus.  It is my dearest wish that someday, my children will experience that kind of Christmas and the richness of their heritage as Filipinos.

Don't get me wrong, I love our American traditions as well.  I especially love the opportunities this season gives us to reach out to those in need.  I work at the City of Hope and every year, our department adopts a family who has a loved one suffering from cancer.  The families in the program are usually in financial hardship (especially if the patient is a parent and cannot work) which means they'll probably have a rather bleak Christmas.  When we adopt a family, everyone in our department will contribute a gift or some money so that the adopted family can celebrate with ease and happiness.  Doing things like this always makes me feel great and sets the stage for giving and helping others throughout the year ... well, I guess it's time to get back to my holiday tasks ...

I wish all my friends and family a happy and joyous holiday.  I hope this season finds you in the company of those you love ...  Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Going Crazy for Hats!

I've been on a knitting craze lately, making small things out of the odds and ends of my stash of yarn.  Believe me, I have quite a stash.  I have a variety of leftover yarn from projects past that are begging to be used for SOMETHING.  Something useful, something cute.  A couple of years ago, I bought myself this book for my birthday ....
I've made a few things from this book, most recently, a pair of fingerless gloves for my friend Edith Cohn, to keep her hands warm as she writes (miss you, Edith!).  Sadly, I didn't take a picture of the gloves because I was so in a hurry to get them done ....  But I did take pictures of all the HATS I've made recently!  No, these patterns are not from the book above though my current hat project is (for my dear hubby).

Babies inspire me to knit and when my nephew was born, my knitting needles began to fly!  I found a really easy and cute pattern for an Ear Flap Knitted Cap online, modified it a bit and knitted the hat up in a couple of days.  This is Luca, modelling it, though it's still a little big, it will fit just right by January.  It'll keep that precious head and ears nice and warm when his mother takes him on her daily walks around their neighborhood.

This is a pair I made for a friend at work, for his brand new baby girl, Emily.  It became a pair because I actually didn't like the way the first hat turned out (the one on the right came out curly weird along the edges) so I tried again and liked the second one better (the one on the left is made the same way I made my nephew's hat).  I ended up "blocking" the hat on the right (basically spraying the hat with water and pinning it down until dry) and giving the hat to my friend anyway.

Both pieces were fun to do because of the color work involved (the right one has fair isle knitting).  The yarn for all three hats was a pleasure to work with.  It was an ultra soft blend of Merino wool and cashmere .... just right for baby ...  :)

Here is my daughter modeling her reversible double knit hat.  The pattern can be found here.  My daughter didn't want the stripe to be very big so I continued in black.  It turned out kinda cute, huh? :)

That's it for knitted projects!

On writing, I've finally found some focus for my work-in-progress and completed two new chapters!  I'm currently recovering from surgery I had last Friday so I'm hoping to catch some writing time while I heal.  Gotta keep the creative flow going. :)


Friday, December 4, 2009

Itty Bitty Book Review

WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead is a book about the wonderful, confusing, and heartbreaking complexities of childhood friendships.

This is the story of eleven-year-old Miranda.  It begins with her struggles to understand the reason why her best friend Sal doesn't want to be around her anymore.  It is during this time that she receives mysterious notes that give her clues about future events.  It ties in really nicely to Miranda's love of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle In Time, which she reads again and again (Love this! It reminds me of how many times I've read Pride and Prejudice!).  Miranda gains a few more friends throughout the story and learns a lot about what it means to give or withhold kindness. I loved the setting of New York in 1979 because it reminded me of the time when I was eleven. I lived in Philadelphia back then and had to walk to and from school, passing someone very much like the Laughing Man and groups of boys who like nothing better that to tease girls.  The ending was heartwarming but tragic.  It will leave you reeling, and the heart of this story will stay with you long after you've finished reading the book.

What am I reading now?  HUSH HUSH by Becca Fitzgerald.