Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas 2008

This year has been really busy and expensive for us. The closer it gets to our wedding date, the more crazy everything feels. It was my first year back in college as well, while working full time, and it's gotten so hectic that Terinati and I actually miss each other, even with living together. But, at the same time, it's been a GREAT year, and I have a lot to be thankful for, and consequently we wanted to give more.

I'm thankful for my friends, which I feel like I've come to understand more this year. It's difficult to understand people, and a lot of the time I think most people allow intrapersonal conflict to ruin otherwise good relationships (you know, the "what ifs" in our heads and the attempts to reason why a person is the way they are without actually talking to them about it), so I don't take my friends opening up to me or spending more time with me for granted. Especially since we're not the only busy ones! So, yay! Friends! Family! Cats are healthy! Life is pretty good. :)

I like creating for others with my hands something that they can enjoy. I'm not great at a whole lot, but over the past few years I've gotten pretty good at baking. :) YAY! I'm even so confident in my own ability now that I have parts of recipes memorized and am getting excited about trying to create my own new things or rediscover lost recipes by combining other items together. This is what I baked this year to send out to my family, friends, and co-workers:

5 days straight baking, between work and school assignments . . .
14 sour cream coffee cake loaves with hazelnuts, cinnamon, and brown sugar in the center.

And approximately 5 - 6 dozen each of snickerdoodles, chocolate chip cookies, and white chocolate-chunk and macadamia nut cookies.

And then later, I baked more. I LOVED IT! It feels good to work that hard for people you care about, imagining their smiling faces, and smelling like cookies isn't a bad thing either. ;) I'm convinced, baked goods could save the world. I will have to learn more vegan recipes, though. But, it was amazing how happy it made so many people. It made days that would have been otherwise busy and grueling considerably brighter for some. If I had the proper equipment, I might just consider dropping everything and going into business baking, I loved the feeling so much, but that's REALLY not practical right now, and especially not out here. Still, it was so totally worth it. YAY!

But, I couldn't have done it alone. Terinati was a HUGE help. If it weren't for him, it might've been a bit more stressful for me. He ran and picked up extra goods (we ran out of flour again this week) whenever I needed them, dropping whatever he was doing, and he gave me his hands since I didn't have enough of my own and worked as my extended me for the hardest parts. He also let me blast my music so that I could sing as I bake (it's a must; that's how I do it. I'm convinced it makes the cookies happier), even though I'm sure it was probably annoying him and breaking the LOTRO mood. Thank you, Sweetie!

I guess I never thought about how creative I like to be around the holidays before, but I've come to consider it a normal, yearly event for me to create some kind of present-creature, too. This year had only one feature creature, even though I made a couple. I didn't do this all of my life, though. With the burst of the Information Age, there came a lot of items that are really obvious when gifted. CDs, console games, etc. You look at it, and you know at least what type of item that is. I, however, prefer to be surprised. My parents always found really cool ways to surprise me, but I'm not good at gift-wrapping, and there's only so many places you can hide gifts in a one-bedroom apartment (though, I think I'm pretty good at hiding them... mwa ha ha!). So, I had to come up with my own way. I guess it's not a surprise that it came out silly and (hopefully) cute. :) So, here is what I came up with this year!

This is one of Terinati's gifts. I take surprising him very seriously, because he's very intelligent, hard to fool, and has this annoying habit of inspecting gifts too closely. So, this year I dug out EVERY single holiday/birthday item we had, and I found this red balloon. I had a brilliant idea to cut off the top, fill it full of fluff and the gift, and reattach the top and put a ribbon on it. There is a weight in the bottom (though, I still didn't master getting it to stand up by itself, so it does have to lean on something else), but it came out great because it looks like a giant ornament! YEAH! I'm pretty proud of it, though it does need some work. A regularly-priced wrapping job that didn't take too much time, but came out well. You can click on the image to see a bigger version of it. :) Hopefully, Terinati has no clue what it is. :o

This is another one for Terinati. I bet you can't even tell what it's hiding. That's the idea. ;) Don't you hate nested gifts... ;) Actually, this one is good because the two, individually wrapped gifts inside it are related.

This gift was for our friend Adam. We saw this math clock on ThinkGeek, and Adam works at his college doing math stuff and loves math, so as soon as we saw it we were like, "OMG! We must get it for him!" But, a box was too boring so I turned it into a mimic. It kind of honors the first holiday creature I made, which was a nested mimic (Guitar Hero for Terinati a couple years back).

This year, I made the featured present-creature for my dear friend, Kyriel. She moved out here this year, lived with us, and Terinati and I really do think of her as family. Since her boyfriend is off traveling with his family for the holidays, I wanted to make the time she spent with us in lieu of him even more special. Plus, her gifts were difficult to disguise. I came up with the idea of a gryphon-sled.

On the base is white wrapping paper with snowy flowers on it. I used slits in the base and plastic knives (cut so that the small tips attached to the front of the cardboard gryphon and the longer part to the back; you can see the relative size as compared to my 12-pound friend there, Stardust).

The gryphon itself was the longest part, taking a series of days. First, I printed out a picture I had of a gryphon, then cut it out, used the outline to draw on pieces of cardboard, cut them out, and the pieced together different wrapping paper with glue to form the pretty outside. I wish the inside was prettier and now, having more experience, would have done some things differently. Still, I hope she likes it and keeps it around as a holiday decoration thingy for years to come. :) But, if she doesn't, hopefully she'll at least enjoy it this year! The pictures really don't do it justice; much cooler in person.

Kyriel has been the best friend a girl could ask for. I appreciate her honesty and that we can accept our differences without even flinching. I mean, sometimes we have to take pause because we're both so crazy in different ways, but in the end I feel really comfortable just being myself with her, and I think that's a rare and special gift. I hope she feels the same with us! And, it's so awesome to see her so happy with Miguel. =^--^= Even though I know she's sad he won't be around this holiday, I think the fact that they miss each other so much is so sweet and precious that it's something to be treasured anyhow. :) You two are so cute together!! Kawaii!!

And finally, here's how we celebrated! Terinati had to work on the actual holiday, so we opened some of our gifts early, and then we opened the rest with Kyriel when she came over on Christmas!

I almost didn't do the video this year, but then I was looking through all the pictures (they don't capture all of the love shared with us this year, but give a general idea at least of how lucky and thankful we all are), and I figured, "Alright. Let's try it once more!" I'm really proud of this video. It's the best (I think) I've made so far. Unfortunately, that meant it was 10 mgs larger than the rest of my other videos, so hopefully it'll stream alright. :} I can't guarantee it'll be fun to watch for everyone, but I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

December Princess Challenge

So, the Princess Portal gave their December Princess Challenge, and I was pretty excited to participate. The challenge was to give, either by charity or donation, to make the world a better place. For the most part, I feel guilty from time to time that I haven't volunteered for charity. It's not because I think that everyone does it, but because contributing to the world is important to me. I do my best in my own way, but sometimes I think my introversion holds me back from having real world experiences. Don't get me wrong; there's a lot a person can do hidden behind their computer screen. But, for me at least, this is about self-growth.

This meant two things for me. Since Terinati started handling the budget, I'm not really sure how much money we donate anymore, so I wanted to find out just how much we do contribute. Then, I wanted to do some kind of charity work that challenged my introverted nature!

Once I kept my eyes open for it, it seemed like there were opportunities all over the place. After a while, I started wondering if I could find someplace to donate to each day of December, and I did get a little nutty and ended up working on this blog all month:

12/01/08 - $1 donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital when making a purchase at CVS. I also posted on our Kitty Island forum to try and get our friends involved in the Princess Challenge.

12/02/08 - Terinati revealed to me that our donations to the Defenders of Wildlife are actually $10 a month (I thought we only donated once in a while), and $25 a year to Leadership Initiatives, a group formerly called X-Core that Terinati worked with in Nigeria for several months to help promising students to accomplish more. I was so proud of him for doing all that he did there with the others.

And, even though our budget was tight this month, we donated $1 to the Princess Portal as well (wish it could have been more!). While Princess Skye's website isn't a charity, per se, I think she definitely inspires good in people, and I want to support that. If it wasn't for her, this blog wouldn't even be here.

I also ended up making myself a pack of Annie Chun's Pad Thai Noodle Bowl since our supply of Thanksgiving turkey ran out, and while I was waiting for it to cook and looking at the packing, I noticed that they had a link listed for donating to buy children a meal. I decided to investigate it... 93 cents of every $1 goes toward the children... Had to check my budget after purchasing baking supplies for the Kitty Island Holiday Workshop (my kitchen ;) ).

12/03/08 - As a holiday gift for my friend and lover of sharks, I adopted a shark on her behalf through Oceana. A secret amount toward her beloved sea creatures in her name, and she receives a certificate and a cute shark-shaped cookie cutter. I can't wait to see her face! :) Meanwhile, on Kitty Island we were organizing an official charity outing with Princess Sue. More on that later.

12/04/08 - So, Desert Bus came to my attention because I was following Felicia Day's Twitter and she mentioned it (and Terinati reads Penny Arcade's comic regularly, and they are the creators of the Child's Play charity to which all donations related to the Desert Bus go). It's a pretty fun concept (well, possibly not if you're the person playing the game from what I've heard about it), but since the length of time the charity goes on depends on donations, I decided I'd put in my $1 quick before the time ran out. I don't know how much these $1 here and there help, but it's what we can afford on a budget so I still feel really good about it! Yay! :)

12/05/08 - So, I finally got back to the Annie Chun's donation for the Pad Thai bowl today and donated my $5. :) (They didn't allow anything lower than that, but meh!)

12/06/08 - Looking more at Child's Play, I noticed that they have t-shirts available and 100% of the proceeds go toward their cause. I know we need to save money, and I really don't need more shirts, but . . . I guess I'm really into the giving spirit now, and it would be nice to have some kind of souvenir to remind myself of the many discoveries I'm making with being proactive about this. After checking with Terinati, he said yes! (and, btw, these t-shirts are AWESOME; they were made sturdy and thick, and it is now one of my favorite shirts to wear)

12/07/08 - Princess Sue, who I met through Princess Kyriel, was running a charity with Teens Opposing Poverty (TOPs), and she offered that we could come join her! On December 7th, I went down to her castle with Terinati and went through some training. It wasn't mandatory, but I thought, "Hey, can't hurt." The training was actually pretty exciting and included good advice, like not sitting at the base of trees (=^><^=), and I uploaded the information I had to the Kitty Island forum to share with my friends. I brought a prettier variation of the petticoat tails to share as a contribution to the event.

One with butterflies...

And, one with hearts and flowers. Feel my magical girl power!

12/11/08- Princess RainShine participated in the challenge over the forum (yay! Everything is better when it's shared!). She lives far away from me, but she and her hubby donated 28 cans of food to a food drive, and also donates to the Salvation Army.

Meanwhile, Terinati donated $15 to help replace the Luke Hoffman's memorial statue that was stolen from his grave. And, what the heck? Who would STEAL that? * shames them *

The donations continued throughout the month, but I got busy and couldn't keep track of them all! It made me realize that I have nothing to feel guilty about. I even have done projects on my own when I was little, but I guess I never thought much of it because it was just tiny me! * eyeroll * One thing I've learned from this: don't underestimate your self-worth or the power of your contribution.

Continuing on!

12/29/08 - I baked 6 sour cream coffee cakes (without the usual filling of nuts, because they're hard and some people are allergic) to bring to the TOPs event. I had wanted to go out shopping for underwear for the homeless folks, but time ran out and to be fair, there are a lot of personal missions I haven't gotten to either that I really should get to, so it's not like I just dropped the ball on them. :} I also gathered together my collection of mispurchased shampoos and soaps (you know, the ones that are just off-colored enough from the other ones that you swear you read the right label but get home and are like, "Crap! That's not that one I meant to get!") and a scarf and mittens that I only wore once for a picture a few years ago and hoped that I would do a good job.

12/30/08 - Princess Challenge day! :D One of the folks I went with admitted to me that they were scared to go because we didn't know what types of people we would be helping. Honestly, I had that concern at first, too. But, I don't want to avoid experiences because I'm scared. Take necessary precautions, absolutely! But, what's the point of living in a body that's destined to die anyway if I'm going to shelter myself from everything? I think being scared is a reasonable reaction. I just want to become one of the people in the world who doesn't let fear stop them. It's not easy, but for me this was a step in the right direction.

I didn't really know what to expect when I went. In my previous experiences, I have been lunged at, had things thrown at me, screamed at, and otherwise been chased away. However, I realize that the location of those events had a great impact on them, and I'd never really tried this since I've moved here. One important thing TOPs does is find locations that are safe, and we also walked around with William, a man who really knows the streets from personal experience, and he pretty much knew who the trouble-people were and where good locations to go and help would be.

At first, I wasn't sure what to do when we arrived and met up with Princess Sue. Princess Kyriel, Prince Terinati and I had all brought items to contribute, and we went straight to work in the first park. It was pretty empty, and I was starting to worry that I wouldn't get a whole lot to do.

Not only that, but I immediately observed that homeless folks around here dress almost exactly like anyone else, so I couldn't really tell who was homeless to approach from the average person walking down the street. Talk about uncomfortable! I didn't want to walk up to someone and insult them. :p This has not been the case in other places I've lived. For one thing, the homeless were clearly homeless, usually sick, clothes in absolute tatters, filthy, etc. There was never any question who was in a bad spot. Even the street musicians who often got more donations (especially in Seattle, WA) weren't generally dressed this well. It's no wonder that people don't contribute to the homeless more here, where they can't tell many of them from anyone else on the street (that, and only one person today asked us for money out of probably 50+ people).

That brings me to a main striking point for me in this challenge. There are definitely regular homeless folks who are just like anybody else. They could be your family, a friend, an old co-worker, etc. They're just people. And then there are bad bums, the jerks who are just lazy, rude, suffering from some vice they don't even desire to quit, or fakers who pretend to be in a bad situation when they constantly have new gadgets and new fun toys like the spoiled gamer up the block. I hate bad bums. I'm not going to sugar-coat it. To the people who think you need to donate to everyone who asks, you don't. These people lie, hurt people, and worst of all, they ruin charitable contributions for those who really need it by making those who provide it defensive and unable to trust them.

This point was punctuated to me as I walked through a park with William and the others, and he stopped to point out a building. He told us how the gated doorways used to be a place where the homeless could sleep at night, and the guards would come early in the morning to clean up before workers came in. In fact, he told us, the area used to be full of charity toward the homeless and ways to help them get on their feet (some of which still exist), but most of them were gone because of a few guys who would let their vices take over their lives and trash the area, or make a mess in the public restrooms so that no one wanted them around anymore. It's the regular case of it taking only one person to ruin it for everyone.

Thankfully, though, while there isn't much for shelter or aid now, there are great things like apartments that are available to the homeless for a year with food stamps to help them get back on their feet. It was really cool to learn about all of that. It's important to not just give temporary solutions, but permanent ones. What good does it do to bring food today if they can't survive on their own tomorrow? Many of the homeless people who appreciate the aid realize this and do what they can to protect it by shunning the bad guys. I actually witnessed that firsthand today, too.

But, other than having the opportunity to hear stories directly from the homeless, William, and the TOPs folks, it was really cool to see people like this guy who are basically homeless by choice for a cause. I think that's really gutsy. You have to really believe in your cause to do that. Even if I don't agree with all of the causes that are out there, I think it's really amazing to have that kind of integrity. This is one person we met like that today (I got his permission to take these photos, of course).

Once we got into it, it was a really awesome experience. At first, only a few people were interested in my baked goods, but after we stopped in the shelter of an entrance to a station, the word "cake" spread like wildfire and we quickly ran out of the remaining loaves, so barely able to keep up that I got my right hand covered in cake. :} I learned for the next time (and, there will be a next time) that I need to pre-baggie these cakes . . . And make more of them. OMG. It all started with a guy who was laying on the ground who was looking at the hot dogs and potatoes everyone brought with disinterest, and then when he saw the bag he clearly said to Sue, "I want some of that CAKE!" heehee. :) I imagine food on the street isn't somethinig you can be really picky or choosy about, so it was cool that I had something different to offer because I made it all myself.

Terinati managed to find new homes for two bins full of clothes he no longer wore, and all of the shampoo and such that I brought also got taken. We left with nothing but our clothes, metro passes, camera, and a box of snack ziplock bags. It was really cool. So many people were passing out the cake that it wasn't really like it was from me either. It was really sharing the experience with everyone all at once. I can't wait until the next time we all head out together.