Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year to all.  I hope the year 2011 is even better than 2010.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

White Elephants and Green Umbrellas

As I mentioned in the previous post, we had a white elephant gift exchange for teens and adults during the Christmas Day party at my place.  The theme for this year's gift exchange was green and/or letter "T".  The gift had to be between $15 and $25.  The theme was randomly selected the week before Christmas.  So we had about a week to pick the gift.  I had two ideas -- a green Seattle Sounders soccer shirt or a green, hand-blown Christmas ornament I had seen at a Made in Washington store.  Either of those would be my emergency pick if I were not able to come up with better ideas.  A friend also offered a green frog jewelry holder for me to use for the gift exchange.

Also new to this year's gift exchange were prizes offered to the most creative/popular gift selections as voted on by all the participants after the completion of the gift exchange.  The prizes were provided to get more people to participate and be more creative in their selection for a gift.  I took myself out of the running for the prizes since I was the one providing them.  My selection got a few mentions during the voting.  There were plenty of nice gifts.  As always, there are always a few gag gifts which adds to the hilarity of the gift exchange.

My gift selection for the white elephant gift exchange:  Two 5" x 7" sized photos, shown below, each placed on a green bordered frame.  I thought it was creative and met the required theme -- green umbrellas, my green vest, green picture frames, and the group photo taken by a tourist (random Japanese visitor that I had asked at the shopping center).  The two frames were only $2 found in an "as is" bin in Ikea more than six year ago and the photos were only 99 cents each.  I had planned to add $15 in cash to meet the price threshold.  In my haste, I forgot to include the cash when I was wrapping the gift.

How did I come up with the idea?  It was all unplanned.  It was a rainy day.  I was with three nieces and a nephew Christmas shopping at the University Village shopping center in Seattle.  I called one of my nieces to bring the car keys with her at the parking lot so that I could drop off a shopping bag in the parked car.  I picked up a large (golf player size) bright yellow umbrella, which is provided for shoppers in front of all the stores at the shopping center.  Because it was such a big umbrella, I had to dodge tree branches and other umbrellas on our walk back to the mall.  My niece suggested that we use the smaller green umbrellas instead.  These were also for customer use.  My niece had a bright idea of taking a picture of me with two umbrellas wearing a green vest and use the photo for the white elephant gift exchange.  As not to be thought of as a narcissistic, I suggested that we take a group photo instead.  When we found my two other nieces, I asked a tourist passerby to take a picture of the four of us holding the green umbrella.  My other two nieces had no clue that the photo was to be used for the gift exchange.

Unbeknownst to the others who were shopping with me except for the niece who came up with the idea, I ordered an enlarged print of the two photos at a quick service printing shop in the mall.  The two photos are shown below.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas Day Party

Just finished up another successful Christmas day family party.  We had a good turnout  -- probably about 70 people.  Not present were my father, a sister and her husband, and a nephew's wife.  Everyone else in the extended family were able to make it at some point during the party.  We also had a few family friends.  It was unorganized potluck -- my sister baked a turkey; I prepared vegetable munchies; and I bought dessert from a Filipino bakery.  The rest were whatever else that people brought in.  As always, people brought in tons of food (main dishes, side dishes, desserts, and snacks).  All had plenty to eat and savor.  There were lots of leftovers.

As it should be, it is a holiday for kids.  They all had a great time.  We have had to tone down the gift giving and exchanging part of Christmas for the kids; the past couple of years, we have suggested stocking stuffers instead.  This did not dampen the anticipation and excitement from the kids during the opening of their stocking stuffers and other gifts.  The kids all had a marvelous time and were satisfied with their Christmas loot.  In past Christmas parties, the host house would always be crammed full of all the presents brought in for all the kids.  All the kids would be given black Hefty garbage bags to collect all their opened gifts.  There would be the same amount of garbage bags full of wrapping paper and gift boxes.
As for the teens and adults, we had a white elephant gift exchange which is becoming a holiday party tradition.  The rules and requirements are ever-changing We have included the teens this year.  The week before Christmas, at a brother's birthday party I hosted, we randomly drew the theme (a color and a letter from the alphabet) for this year's gift exchange -- the color green and the letter "T".  So the white elephant gift had to be green and/or starts with the letter T.  Also, the price range for the gift had to be between $15 to $25.  To get a lot of people involved, as well as to get them excited and be creative about the gift selections, I included prizes for the most creative/popular gifts as voted by all the participants at the end of the gift exchange.

The winners were Donna for her tee-time gift (the picture on the box for the item got her the most votes); Mia for her tumbler with family portraits on the outside; and CJ for the box of toilet paper and a $15 iTunes gift certificate.

We had other games and contests scheduled -- Santa hat making, gingerbread man cookie decorating, and ugly sweater competition.  After all the eating, munching, drinking, playing, socializing, gift opening, and gift exchanging, everyone was all pooped out.  The other games were canceled.  So we just hung out and socialized, ate some more, watched tv, or tuned in on their smart phones.  Most of the kids were in the basement playing with their new toys.

The following are a few pictures.  A lot more pictures are posted on my flickr account (  I took picture of most of the guests in front of the Christmas tree.  For a few others, I was not able to take it in front of the tree because it got crowded in that area.

A few group pictures before it got really crowded.

There were a few groups (couple or family) that were dressed festively -- Mng. Joey and Mng. Marina in their green tops to match the white elephant gift exchange theme; Gerry, Melody, and Alyanna in their Christmas red and black clothes; Ron, Donna, and Jayan wearing purple Lacoste polos; and Michael and Arlene wearing matching sweatery-looking shirts.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!!!

Merry Christmas to Everyone.

At Jay & Alvie's, 19 Dec:

At University Village Shopping Center, 23rd Dec:

With the Poulsbo clan, 24th Dec:

At Steve & Sonya's, 24th Dec:

More pictures to come...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas 2010 Decor

Outdoor Christmas lights were installed on the front side of the house after the first week of December.  It is fairly basic and similar to what I do every year -- along the railing top of the front deck and smaller deck on the top level; the extra lights were placed on the hedge plants in front of the deck.  The Christmas tree was put up a week later.  I had planned to put a plastic tree.  But some of the branch connections on the plastic tree my brother had given to me were chipped off.  Real trees are getting expensive and cumbersome (cleaning daily all the needles that are shed and cutting it to mulchable sizes after taking it down).  I may look for plastic trees on sale after Christmas to put up for future holiday seasons.

Anyway, the outdoor lights, the tree, and other Christmas decors are shown below:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Markets

When I lived in Germany, I had visited various Christmas markets.  They are common in all the cities and towns during the Christmas holidays.  During my recent visit of Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest, it was hard to miss the outdoor Christmas markets.  They are common this time of the year in Europe.  There was a host of them (five or six)  that we visited in Vienna, two in old town Bratislava, and one in Budapest.  We could have gone to one more on my last day in Germany prior to flight to Seattle, but I wanted some respite from these places.  There is a lot to see, buy, and eat at these Christmas markets.

The following are photos from the various Christmas markets visited in Vienna:

At the Rathausplatz.

At the Marie Theresien Platz.

 At the Belvedere Museum grounds.

At the Am Hof Christmas market, near the pedestrian zone in the city center.  This is the first Christmas market we came across on the first night in Vienna.

The Christmas markets in Bratislava:

The Christmas market in Budapest:

The best Christmas market meal:  Lunch in Bratislava.  The side dish of grilled onions and pepperoncinis was a nice addition to the sausage.

The best Christmas market snack:  Rolled bread with sugar and cinnamon cover in Budapest.  It was hot off the charcoal fire.  The sweet leavened dough is rolled out and rounded around a wooden cylinder. The dough on the cylinder is roasted over charcoal fire, caramelized with butter and sugar; it can be rolled in sugar, cinnamon, walnut, shredded coconut, or chocolate.  The serving is quite large.  I had it with a coffee on the last afternoon in Budapest, as a snack during the overnight train ride from Budapest to Wiesbaden, and for breakfast near the end of the train ride.

The best Christmas market drink:  Gluhwein or mulled wine at all the Christmas markets visited.  It is typically red wine combined with spices, served warm.  It is a traditional drink during Christmas time in German speaking countries.