Parols, Noche Buena & Maligayang Pasko!

Pasko

This is an old picture of me playing Mary in a Christmas pageant in the Philippines.  You see the hanging lanterns over my head? Those are called parols. They’re a beautiful part of the Filipino Christmas tradition.

As a child I was enthralled with Christmas.  Every country had their tradition.  As I look back on my favorite Christmas moments, though…so many of them were tied with traditions I enjoyed in the PI. Although I’d participated in Christmast pageants most of my life, it was this one that I look back on with the most fondness.  I think it was that I liked the outfit…and ego liked that I finally had a lead role…Haha!

Where I’ve struggled with that Christmas feeling in Florida…thinking maybe snow on Christmas morning would fix it…I’d think back to my time in the Philippines and realize it isn’t the weather.  It’s the people. I have an odd confession I’m going to make. Though I’ve celebrated Christmas my whole life…I hadn’t really heard about Santa until I was about 10. I learned about the baby Jesus and blessings and giving gifts of love during the holiday. Santa came when I moved to the states and went to public school.

I like that tradition, too, but I can’t help but think to so many of you who post stories about when your child realized there wasn’t a Santa or other things…and I’m kind of grateful that I never went through that kind of disillusionment. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not saying my mom’s way is right…and quite frankly, with all the commercialism of Santa everywhere…in malls, in school, etc…it’d be tough to go as long as I did without knowledge of the wonder and magic of Santa.

But back to the Philippines.  The magic of Christmas comes to the Philippines through a lot of Spanish based traditions. Most Spanish/Hispanic cultures are familiar with “Noche Buena”. The part of the Philippines I grew up in treated it almost like a neighborhood block party…gates and doors were thrown open and everyone was invited.  Food abounded and you just went from house to house eating. Seriously! It was a time for family and friends to celebrate. In fact, most of our church would also show up at our house, so it was always full. We kids would also wander to the neighbors houses…it was a wonderful time with awesome foods.

My first time going out and Christmas Carrolling was also in the Philippines. My mom belonged to a singing group through the church and they’d go house to house to sing…and the proceeds would go toward sponsoring their trips to tour around the country singing at other churches. We kids were included in that, too! In fact, we sang Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, complete with all the little childlike embellishments that go with the song. A few kids between the ages of 4-10…I’m sure it was adorable. Now, looking back I wonder how we didn’t question who Santa was when singing it…LOL! (Then again, we were too busy getting a kick out of yelling “like a light bulb”.)

People in the Philippines really just loved on each other and supported each other. Christmas was all about giving there…maybe that’s what I enjoyed so much. It was focused on friendships, sharing and giving. To this day my favorite thing to do is to try to find gifts that will touch the heart…not so much about the spending. I will always look back on my time there with warmth and love.  And I’ll remember the beauty of Parols and Christmas Trees and Holiday Pageants with a smile.

Have you ever spent Christmas in other countries? Do any of your holiday traditions stem from other cultures? What do you love about this time of year?

And now I leave you with my favorite Filipino Christmas Carol…I still remember learning to sing it!

Sharing Dreams, Playing Together

When we got engaged, I became like most women.  I started looking at bridal magazines.  I bought a bridal book/organizer. I tuned in to those wedding related shows you can now find on tv.  What shows? My Fair Wedding, Say Yes To The Dress, Platinum Weddings and Amazing Wedding Cakes. This meant I started tuning in to channels I’d never watched before.  I drove hubby crazy.

Then one day I found Cake Boss. This show wasn’t strictly about wedding cakes.  It was about all sorts of cakes and an Italian family who owned a bakery. The star is a guy named Buddy. Why am I telling you all this? Because while I was watching an episode, my guy happened to pop his head into the room.  He became just as enthralled as I was. How could he not, when Buddy’s catch phrase is “I’m Buddy, and I’m the boss!”…which allows any guy to change the name and claim the role…LOL! Coming from an Italian family, he could relate…and the cakes were cool! It became a regular part of our dvr list. We watched it together.

I didn’t think much of it until after our wedding. I guess hubby had been so interested that he’d started going online and looking up cake decorating. He found out that Michaels, the craft store, taught cake decorating classes for a reasonable price! It was usually a 4-5 week course for a couple hours a week.  He asked me if I’d like to sign up for classes together. I thought it was kind of romantic! I mean, seriously…  It was a guaranteed date night…and fun!  So we signed up.  As it turned out, he had talent!  Check out his cakes from our first set of cake decorating classes.

This was his first cake.  They call it the rainbow cake.  You learn how to make buttercream icing, to color your icing, and to use your basic cake tips…specifically, the star tip.

Next is the “clown cake” where you learn how to create 3d characters with buttercream icing…and how to do shell designs.

Graduation cake was the where we made the “Wilton Rose”.  Wilton is the name of the company who teaches the cake classes held at Michaels.  This was the only class where hubby was a little frustrated.  It turned out that THIS was the one part I did better than him.  I had a better hand/eye for the roses…. The above is his cake.  The below is mine.  Feel free to weigh in if you like…;-)

After graduating from Wilton’s first class, we found out they had a “Wilton Cakes 2” class.  This was where you learned how to make more complicated cakes and to make “Royal” icing & gumpaste flowers.  This is the stuff they use to make the harder edible flowers, etc for those cakes that you see at the grocery store.  For these cakes I worked more as his assistant instead of making my own cakes.  At this point there was no question who was more talented with the decorating.  Him.

For this one, most of the classes were spent creating all the flowers and decor you see on this cake.  The actual basketweave cake was done on the last day of class…along with placement of everything we made. Everything on this cake was edible.

Wilton 3 & 4 brought us to fondant, gumpaste and tiered cakes.  Let me show you what he created…

I thought this cake was awesome…and he did a pretty great job with the draping around the cake. In case you didn’t know…it’s not an easy thing to do.

Check out this fondant Christmas present cake.  He even quilted it around the edges and added candied pearls for effect.  🙂

Between all these cakes, we also took a one day only “castle cake class”. It happened to fall around Halloween…so we did a Haunted Castle Cake…complete with cobblestone walk up made of snickers bars, dirt along the sides with worms crawling out…

That one was fun… By the way, the turrets?  Made with Ice cream cones.  🙂 We had so much fun doing these classes together. What kinds of things outside of the home do you enjoy doing with your significant other?  Do you have any shared hobbies?  Do you feel that it’s strengthened your relationship?

Anyway, those classes were years ago…but somehow word got out with our family about his talent.  So, when our nephew, his godson, was getting ready to turn three, Uncle got a call.  We were going to be heading back home to Chicago for a visit and to help celebrate his birthday…(he shares it with hubby’s sister, then a couple weeks later is hubby and mother-in-law’s birthday). Apparently, our adorable nephew was having a themed birthday…and he loved Thomas The Train.  He wanted his uncle to make his birthday cake.  Hubby was nervous because he didn’t want to wreck a 3 year old’s birthday, but I could’ve told him he had nothing to worry about.  Here’s nephew admiring Uncle’s finished product…

He was enthralled!  There is no question who the favorite uncle is.  LOL!  By the way, if you have young children who are Thomas fans, this one isn’t very hard or very expensive if you’ve ever done anything cake related.

Since then, hubby’s gotten into all sorts of things…he’s made his own barbecue sauces from scratch, he’s made a cherry chipotle marinade for chicken…and lately he’s been experimenting with a pressure cooker.  But I still think he makes kickass desserts.  Take a look at some of these!

Chocolate pecan pie…Yum! It’s a new family favorite, requested on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving.

 

Pumpkin swirl cheesecake…with Ghiardelli chocolate.

His first couple cupcake attempts…chocolate mint on the left, peach on the right (and they’re filled…one with chocolate ganache, the other with peach cream)

And last, but certainly not least…these three.  The back right is key lime, the front is chocolate peanut butter, the third is chocolate malt ball…and yes, they’re all filled.

So, what started out as a fun little wedding interest turned into a passion for him.  Thank goodness he doesn’t only do sweets or I’d be a house…LOL!  The reality is, though, by indulging me in my wedding show watching, he found a passion for himself.  And I help…  Just call me his sous chef. At least when I’m holed up writing in my “cave” (really it’s an office), I know I won’t starve…  He’ll make sure of it.  How does your significant other take care of you?

One day, I’ll be able to repay him for enabling me to pursue my dreams by being able to support him while he chases his…maybe all the way to culinary school.

All About All Hallows

Halloween used to be one of my favorite times as a child.  I loved going to haunted houses.  I loved Halloween parties.  I loved Trick-Or-Treating.  I loved the quick adrenaline rush of getting scared.  Some things never changed.  Tonight I’ll be going to Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando.

Exciting, right?  But only if you love being scared…which, oddly enough, I do!  Now I’m not much for horror movies, but I love haunted houses.  In fact, we decorate for Halloween most years.  Here are a few pictures of what you find around my house.

This lovely lady hides under my SUV and has a motion sensor.  When someone walks past, the sensor is triggered and she starts crawling out at you.

Here is one of our zombies coming up from the ground…

This beheaded vampire stands at the front of our overhang near the front door, a warning to all…BEWARE, all who enter!

Who better to meet you at the front door?  And he has a motion sensor, too…he swings that chainsaw!

Yeah…Halloween is fun. I have been known to still don a costume, even now.  (I don’t like the scary ones for myself…Mostly I’d be Pocahontas or a Hawaiian girl or I’ve even been known to dress up as a China Doll)  Hubby likes to get scary.  I remember one Halloween he did his makeup a little too well.  We showed up to the hospital we worked at, through the ER and they thought he’d been in a horrific accident.  They were running to get a gurney for him when he busted up laughing and told them it was all makeup.  That was my Pocahontas year.  Dang, I wish I had pictures from that time.  It was awesome.

Oddly enough, with my love of all things Halloween, there is one thing that is still on my wish list of things never done.  I haven’t gone to a Halloween costume ball.  I’d love to do something like that.  Doesn’t that sound like amazing fun?  (not to mention the naughty trouble that could ensue…masked man…sigh…LOL!)  What about you?  What things would you love to do?  What things haven’t you done?

Me, being me…well, I just felt the need to also share my favorite Halloween songs…Feel free to share yours, too!

The first scary movie I ever saw was The Exorcist.  Hated it.  Movies that mess in religion tend to creep me out.  Personally, if I want to watch something scary, I’d rather watch Supernatural or Vampire Diaries or Teen Wolf.

So what gets you in the Halloween mood?

Renewal

courtesy of night_h4wk on photobucket

Shocks of power
Flow out
Reaching towards the sky
Sailing streaks of white
Through the inky black.
Seconds pass
One – two – three.
Rumbling energy
Shakes loose
God’s wrath released
In a cacophony of vibrating
noise.
Face upturned,
Embrace the darkness
As angels tears pour out
From the heavens
To wash away
The heartache,
The pain.
Darkness recedes,
Fading into light.
Bringing forth
an arching curve
Of purples and blues
Greens and pinks
Highlighted in yellow.
A promise
Of beauty to come.
Hope.

Storms have always fascinated me.  The before, during and after.  There’s a beauty in the way it begins, even as it’s devastating and scary.  The way the lightening flicks across the sky in some random pattern only familiar to whichever higher power you believe in.  Then the thunder starts…rumbling, echoing through houses, shaking glass with it’s power.  But then the rain starts and washes away, quite literally, the dirt that life has managed to kick up.

And then there’s the rainbow.  Fascinating, prismic beauty.  You know…a friend of mine told me that her mother (who has long since passed away) always told her that a rainbow was a sign that she should follow whatever was pressing on her heart at the time.  If you’re a religeous person, or you know the story of Noah and the arc, you know that the rainbow was a promise to him from God.  Whichever way you believe, I’ve always found the rainbow to be a promise of renewal.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my little poem.  Please feel free to share your interpretations of storms, rainbows…or even what my poem made you think of.  I enjoy interplay, so don’t be shy…  I promise, I won’t bite…well, unless you ask nicely.  LOL!

Tears

Wet crystal

glistens

a liquid trail

on creamy skin.

Tight fist

surrounds

aching, pulsing,

beating

heart.

Bleeding

love and grief

in tangible form.

One more drop

and another

and more.

Maybe

one day

to heal.

Tonight I’m grieving…just a little bit.  I hate cancer.  I really do.  Especially when it comes flying out of nowhere like some mysterious stranger come to take the people I love away with barely a warning.  I know.  I’m not telling anyone anything new.  I’m not alone in feeling the way I do.

But tonight I write with an overwhelming sense of helplessness.  Unable to help my friends and family who are suffering.  Only able to offer trite words of comfort.  And prayer.  And to me, prayer is important.  That belief in a higher power is what gets me through most of the shit that life throws at us.

A couple years ago two of my girl friends were diagnosed with breast cancer.  They are both survivors.  One was fortunate enough not to lose a breast, but due to other complications, had to have a complete hysterectomy.  She hadn’t any children yet.  Now she never will.  The other one had to have a mastectomy.  Then they found something in her other breast.  She lost that one, too.  And now she has other issues and recently went through one of six surgeries she’s going to need.  But they’re tough women.  Fighters!

Then last week, a girlfriend of mine who’d just put her husband in assisted living after he didn’t fully recover from open heart surgery and was onset with dementia made a post on facebook.  She’d been having some issues.  Long story short, she posted on Facebook to please say some prayers because they’d found a tumor in her lung.  They suspected lung cancer.  When they went in to remove the tumor, they found it was resting on her aorta…not so easy now.  They were able to remove part of it, but during the procedure they noticed something on her hip.  I was in her room visiting with her when they told her that it appeared the source had been bone cancer in her hip and that it had spread across her body to her lung.  She’s a fighter, though her chances aren’t very good.  She’s going through chemo and radiation therapy simultaenously.

Forward to the last couple of days.  We got a call.  Our favorite uncle on my husband’s side had been having back pain.  Back in May he’d had a CT done and been given a clean bill of health.  This week, it’s cancer.  And it’s all over his body.  It’s been so aggressive that it doesn’t look like there is a way to fight it.  Hospice has already been mentioned and they haven’t even got the results of the biopsy to tell us what kind of cancer it is.  Scary.

So…my heart hurts.  And today I need to give reign to my feelings of heartache and sorrow and anger.  That way tomorrow I can be the loving, supportive friend and family member I need to be.

God promises he’ll never test us beyond what we can bear.  And I believe him.  But there are days that it feels awful close.

Waiting Out The Storm

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With the advent of hurricane Isaac, I’ve been thinking about the past…

I’ve lived in Florida for over a decade. Prior to that I’d lived in the Midwest and the tropics. I used to joke that I’d been through nearly every natural disaster except volcanic irruptions (thank God) and hurricanes.

Then hurricanes Charley, Francis, Ivan & Jeanne happened in 2004. Every part of Florida was affected.

I learned several things:
Make sure you have enough non-perishable foods to get you through the inevitable power outages
Fill your cars up with gas because –
1.) you may need to evac suddenly
2.) gas is virtually impossible to find if your town gets hit
3.) some jackass, immediately following the hurricane will try to jack up prices to unreal rates.
Your dishwasher and washing machine have seals protect all important docs from water damage.
You need a car charger because if you lose power, it is the only way to charge your phone.
You really WILL need bottled water.
Make sure you have a grill and a gas tank or charcoal. You may need it to cook.
If your power goes out, eat the stuff in your fridge and freezer first. It won’t last.
Know where your candles, matches and flashlights are.
Don’t forget the items needed to care for your pets.

What REALLY happens during hurricanes?
-Jim Cantore showing up in your town is the kiss of death. Run if you see him! That hurricane WILL be following.
-Some idiot WILL choose to ignore advisories and will either decide to surf the hurricane or get closer than advisable to the hurricane to take pictures. Inevitably, someone gets hurt or dies.
-You stock up on alcohol because hurricane parties are real & you need to be prepared.
-Stock up on condoms. For whatever reason, hurricanes, blizzards and power outages (which usually accompanies hurricanes and blizzards) make people horny! Nine months after any of these three events shows a spike in children’s birth.

Inclement weather that traps you in your own home can and will make you crazy. Because of this I have a few essentials to keep me occupied: a journal to write in, my cell phone for communication, music and pictures and finally, books!

Now back to the condoms and babies….I have a theory about the why’s. I think people become frightened and use sex to distract themselves. Of course the sex could also be to alleviate their boredom while cooped up in the house. Or maybe it’s simply their way to celebrate life after surviving.

Any other theories out there? Who else is waiting for this storm to hit…