Tag Archives: how-to

Origami for Chinese New Year

For most of my life, my origami repertoire has been quite limited. I only know the flapping bird, which my brother taught me when I was really little, and other very basic stuff from  my 5th grade art class — paper cup (very useful, I swear), crane, and a few others. But ever since a friend of mine got me a pack of beautiful origami papers for Christmas, I’ve been expanding my knowledge quite a bit.

Since Chinese New Year’s coming up on February 10th, I thought I’d learn to make some cute little things to mark the occasion. They’d make awesome decorations and if they bring good luck, well that’s a great bonus!

So I did a little research online and found some lovely prospects. I am listing them below in order of difficulty and complexity.

Gold Yuanbao

Yuanbao are what the Chinese call the boat-shaped gold ingots. Having likenesses of these precious bits are said to bring good luck, as they supposedly attract the real things. I found some instructions on how to make paper versions of these, and they are insanely easy!

Here are the products of my efforts. I used matte gold giftwrapping paper left over from the holidays, which I cut into squares.

Lotus flower

The Lian Hua, or lotus flower, represents of purity and wholesomeness, peace and harmony. Feng shui experts say that it clears away negative chi and generates positive chi and helps achieve enlightenment.

Some say it even attracts love and good marriage, which makes it a great good luck charm for Valentine’s Day. They’re pretty easy to make too, no complicated folds. The last bit is a bit tricky, but nothing that a patience and a gentle touch can’t manage. Here are the instructions.

The Omega Star

This awesome star is by John Montroll. It looks like a nightmare to make, but after bungling dismally on my first try, it got a whole lot easier. I love how sophisticated it looks, and it’s just made from a single piece of paper. Small versions of this would make great hanging ornaments and charms, and I can picture this as a lantern, when done on a large scale.

There’s a modular version of this, composed of pretty easy-to-make components, but takes some practice to put together.

Here’s a great video how-to from Origami Nut, and the page also has a link to a diagram, for those who find it easier to look at one picture rather than sit through a 10-minute video.

The Snake

This year is the Year of the Water Snake. This origami snake by Jo Nakashima is modular and is composed of several identical components that are joined together in the end, and the ends modified to make the head and tail. I thought this would be easy to make, only to discover later on that it’s not really for the faint of heart, nor for somebody who only has 2 hands with only 5 fingers each. But it felt so rewarding when I finally assembled it. And it looks adorable — probably because of the pastel blue and green paper. But still, even a person with ophidiophobia (fear of snakes) wouldn’t find anything scary in this cutiepie.

Ready for this challenge? Here’s a video on how to make it.

All images by Nathalie Mariano.

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Liquid Ambition

beautiful design in the frothed milk of a latte

Liquid Ambition:  The best description of coffee I’ve ever heard.  My kid doesn’t really truly sleep through the night; and we parents go to bed waaay too late; plus I’ve got a lot going on in a day.  So it’s no wonder that when I awaken I am a groggy, zombie-like shell of a person.  But put a cup of coffee in me and boom: breakfast is made and emails are answered, the morning meetings are underway, the kid and I are dressed!  It’s the closet thing to magic elixir that I know.

Here are the basics to brewing your best cup of joe (there will be no mention here of those weird pod machines I warn now):

The Roast

Coffee Roast Colour ChartImage via Gourmet Coffee Zone

Roasting is the process of turning green coffee beans into those brown beans you bring home.  The darker the bean roast, the higher the roasting temperature; darker roasts also translate to an oilier, less acidic tasting bean and an ever so slight decrease in caffeine.  The darker the colour, the more full-bodied and intense the flavour.  Dark roasts are my preferred roasts and are especially good for espresso.

The Importance of Grind

coarse and fine ground coffeeImage via Coffee Tea Warehouse

  • Make sure your grind is appropriate to the type of machine you’re using.  Espresso machines require a fine grind while a French Press uses a coarse grind.
  • Grind as close to the time of brewing as you can.   And while it is an extra step in the morning, you do get that wonderful aroma of fresh ground beans permeating your home,lightening the morning,  for all your trouble.
  • Use a burr grinder rather than a blade (AKA coffee mill) if possible.  The burr grinder yields a perfect grind every time.  Each grind is uniform in size to the next which believe it or not goes a long way to getting you the perfect cup of coffee.  Burr grinders are a bigger investment.  I understand if you’re not there yet.  To grind beans well with a coffee mill, will take more time.  In a mill it’s recommended you grind beans one cup of coffee at a time (that’s about 2 tablespoons of beans to 6 ounces of water).  Grind in pulses (rather than just turning the thing on) and shake up the grinds in between pulses.  This should help give you better uniformity through your grind.  Your other option is to just use your coffee shop’s burr grinder, buying only enough for the week.

a premium burr grinderPremium Burr Grinder. Image via The Appliancist


Whether you’re using a French Press, espresso machine or percolator, make sure your equipment is well cleaned.  Residue from coffees past can really alter the taste, usually making your new cup more bitter.  Be sure too to use fresh, very cold water and don’t use distilled or softened water.  Bleck.

Most importantly though, don’t let a coffee snob tell you how it should be.  Experiment with the amount of grinds, the type of roast, and water contact time in the case of French Press, till you find your ideal cup.

Oh and here’s some barista porn art to tide you over till break time:

Studio 6

The word in a cup of coffee by the artists over at Studio 6 Coffee

Or perhaps you'd like a closer look at the map

Cappuccino made with espresso, steamed and foamed milk

Espresso Con Panna is a shot with a dollop (generous) of whipped cream on top

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White Elephant Party

I found a cute little volume in a second hand bookstore. It was published in the late 60′s and it does have that decade’s vibe. It’s entitled 12 Great Parties and it’s a really detailed how-to book on giving a different party every month of the year. It’s like something a wife from Mad Men would secretly have (secretly because I don’t think any of them want to have it publicized that they needed any help throwing a party).

So anyway one of the party ideas that caught my attention is the one for August — a white elephant party. I’ve never heard of this concept before, but a cursory search yielded several results, one of which is a Wikipedia entry, so I guess it isn’t that uncommon.

Illustration of an Indian prince on a white elephant. Image via Art Prints on Demand.

A white elephant is an expression that is used to refer to something in one’s possession doesn’t have any practical use yet is expensive to maintain, or more broadly, something that one doesn’t want but can’t get rid of. It originates from the practice of venerating albino elephants in some Asian countries by feeding them and taking care of them, and not allowing them to be used as beasts of burden.

Image via Purple Trail

So white elephant parties are those in which guests wrap up white elephants in their possession (usually something tacky or outrageous) and bring them to the gathering, where some sort of game is played to facilitate an exchange.

Image via Squidoo

The above motto is the guideline for choosing a gift for exchanging. Buying is discouraged. Don’t create any more white elephants, just use your own. For sure you’ve been gifted with items you don’t want or need, like a garden sculpture when you have no garden, or stuff you may already own too much of, like handmade soaps or towels.

Image via Pretty Clever Decor

Image via Geek Fill

Here are the exchange mechanics suggested by 12 Great Parties book.

  • Each gift is tagged with a funny rhyme to give a clue as to what it is.
  • The gifts are displayed in the middle of the room, to be scrutinized and discussed by the guests.
  • The guests are asked to sit in a circle and take turns rolling dice.
  • In the first round, if a 6 or a combination totaling 6 is rolled, the player selects a gift. If two sixes are rolled, two gifts are selected.
  • When the gifts run out, round two begins. Players who roll sixes on their turns get to steal a gift from any player. Game proceeds in this way until the allotted time is consumed, after which ownership of all the gifts become fixed.

I foresee a lot of fun squabbling and clamoring in the final minutes of the game. This is one party I’d like to throw, would’t you? Doesn’t an old adage say “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? At best you get to take home treasure, or at worst just another kind of useless junk — at least it’s a different junk from one you had.

Finally, here are a couple of white elephants that are too cute not to keep.

If you think piggy banks are passe, how about an elephant bank? Image via Holly's Plate.

Amigurumi white elephant. Image via Lue and Sue.

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The Design Tree’s Guide to Flea Markets

Photo from Panjiayuan Antiques MarketPanjiayuan Antiques Market image via blood rice and noodles

My grandmother is an antiques dealer; she once owned her own shop and now she sells primarily online. From an early age she instilled in me a love of old things and a hunter’s instinct for a good deal. As a little girl I often went with her to auctions and flea markets looking for inventory for her shop. Sometimes I was even designated the haggler, because who could say no to an eight year old when she’s offering you a quarter for that mint condition, highly collectible vintage doll? To say I enjoyed these trips with my grandmother would be an understatement; I absolutely loved them.

Flea markets, both close to home and when I’m travelling, can still fill me with the same excitement today. Here are a few tips I’ve learned from my grandmother and from my own experiences that will hopefully make your next flea market trip a successful one.

Antiques Market in PanjiayuanPanjiayuan Antiques Market image via blood rice and noodles

Do Your Research Beforehand

The atmosphere in a busy flea market can be frenzied and often you don’t have much time to decide on purchases. It helps to do a little research beforehand. If you have your heart set on original art or local collector’s pieces you can research signs of authenticity, markings etc. so you’ll be able to come to a decision speedily and move on to the next booth.

Kitschy finds from a flea marketImage via Thompson Family Life

More Tourists Equals Fewer Deals

Flea markets abroad can definitely be tourist traps where you won’t find the deals and quality goods you are looking for. If you can, try to find out where the locals go in order to get the best finds. Locating a market off the beaten track will also usually lead to better deals than one in the centre of a big city.

The Junction Flea MarketJunction Flea via Love it A Lot

Only Buy What You Can’t Live Without

Faced with a box full of cheap and beautiful trinkets it can be tempting to just buy everything, but when you get home you might discover those precious purchases look a little bit more like junk than jewels when you can’t figure out where to put them. Try to evaluate each potential purchase individually: Do you love it? Have you ever seen anything like it before? What will you use it for? These are all good questions to ask yourself to ensure that you will be satisfied with your buys long after the thrill of the hunt has worn off.

Junction FleaJunction Flea via Love it A Lot

Come Prepared

If you know you’re going to be doing some serious shopping you don’t want to have to take multiple trips to the car, so bring a collapsible shopping cart or some large shopping bags to carry purchases that you pick up along the way.

Rose Bowl Flea Market

Rose Bowl Flea Market image via sfgirlbybay

The Go Early or Go Late Dilemma

First thing in the morning you are likely to get the best selection, but don’t expect to score many deals. Conversely, if you go at the end of the day the selection may be narrowed but as people are starting to pack up their booths they may be willing to cut you a deal, they’d rather sell it than carry it back home.

Flea Market in ParisParis Flea via Velvet and Linen

Haggle Respectfully

A little bit of “price negotiation” is often expected at most flea markets but depending on where you are in the world you will find that the protocol varies significantly. The best thing I can recommend is to haggle respectfully. The person selling the item you want to buy wants to make a living, and they have a good idea of what they can afford to let something go for. It never hurts to suggest a lower price or ask for a deal, just do so without being a bully.

Paris Flea MarketParis Flea image via Velvet and Linen

That’s all for today’s flea market guide. Have you been to any amazing flea markets around the world? Any one-of-a-kind finds? I’d love to hear where you’ve been and what you’ve found on your travels.

Happy Friday Everyone!

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Scrub-a-Dub: DIY Body Scrub

Spa scrub treatment

Image via Saffron Las Vegas

I love that glowing, tingling feeling I get after some me time in those havens of hedonism also known as day spas? It’s addictive bliss, I tell you. But it’s pricey bliss — which is probably what prevents me from indulging in a massage or body scrub treatment everyday.

There are actually not a lot of things that would stop me or you from getting some of that gorgeous pampering at home. Of course it’s not quite the same level of decadence as getting it in your favorite haven of hedonism, but it should tide you over until your next spa splurge. I’m all for the DIY spa experience, whether it’s creating a spa-like ambiance, learning about massage, or — as I’ll discuss today — making your own body scrubs out of pantry items.

Bali Spa Scrub Components. Via Alam Jimbaran.

Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. All it took was a bout of serious scrub craving, some research, and an inventory of the kitchen, and boom! — homemade scrubs! They’re all just combination of three elements:

1. A gently abrasive exfoliating element. This will provide the scrubbing action, such as salt or sugar. This is what will slough of the dead skin cells and boost circulation, which are what create that tingly afterglow. Look around the kitchen and see the possibilities in the things you find there. Test some on the back of your hand to check if it’s not too rough.

Here are some suggested ingredients:

  • Sugar. White sugar will do, but brown sugar has an awesome, subtle fragrance to boot, plus some additional nutrients.
  • Salt. This has the added benefit of being a natural antiseptic and detoxifier, so it kills germs and draws out impurities from your skin.
  • Coffee grounds. Coffee is an antioxidant and the skin can absorb some of that magic. I also hear that the caffeine does other wonders too, like increases blood flow, improve skin texture and minimize the appearance of cellulite.
  • Oatmeal. This one is very gentle and is great for sensitive skin.
  • Ground rice or beans
  • Ground nuts. This seems like such a waste – I would rather use the almonds and walnuts for actual eating. But if nuts are cheap and plentiful where you are, then go for it.

Brown sugar makes a good scrub. Image via Rent the Runway on Campus.

2. A moisturizing element. This provides nourishment for the skin and aids in keeping it soft and supple. Look for liquids or soft, creamy items.

  • Olive oil. A lot of skin care products use olive oil as their main ingredient. It has vitamin E which is a wonderful antioxidant. You don’t need to add too much, a couple of tablespoons to every cup of exfoliant will do the trick.
  • Coconut Oil. This one’s another one of those wonder oils which have tons of nourishing and healing properties.
  • Avocado. It’s a creamy, buttery fruit, and rich it all sorts of nutrients. So if you don’t feel like you’re depriving yourself by not using it in a salad or some other dish, feel free to throw it in your scrub mix.
  • Honey. This gives you very light moisturization. This is perfect if you want to avoid feeling too greasy.
  • Milk. This is said to be Cleopatra’s beauty secret — she bathed in it. Charlize Theron as Snow White’s evil stepmother did it too in this scene from Snow White and the Huntsman. The only downside to using milk is that it doesn’t keep, so any scrub you make with it will have to be good for a single use only.

3. Scent. Olfactory pleasure is a key element in the spa experience. This may be unnecessary if your scrub or moisture elements, such as the coffee or honey, already have great fragrances. It is also said that certain scents evoke certain moods — lavender, for example, relaxes you and contributes to a good night’s rest. You can use essential oils to add this element to your scrub, but I like to stick to the readily available, garden (or kitchen) variety scents.

  • Cocoa. Who doesn’t love chocolate? A teeny pinch goes a long way in releasing those feel-good endorphins into your system.
  • Citrus zests. Your skin would thank you too for the Vitamin C, phytonutrients and antioxidants.
  • Herbs. If you’ve got rosemary, lavender, or lemongrass growing in your garden, add them to your scrub.
  • Spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves — raid your spice rack! These would add a dash of the heady and exotic.

Image via Occupy Monsanto

So here’s the basic equation again:
Body scrub = gentle abrasive + moisturizer + scent.

Mix or shake together in a jar. If your using oils, you’re looking for a clumpy, semi-moist. If using any other moisturizer, then it can be more saturated. It’s not rocket science. Winging it is the way to go. It’s all about finding what feels good for you. Just combine 1 or 2 ingredients from each category, put them in a jar, and keep in the bathroom for lovely after-shower body treats. Needless to say, if you’re allergic to any of these foods, then don’t use them as scrub ingredients.

Here are some yummy scrub ideas.

Orange dreamsicle sugar scrub. Via In Between Laundry.

Lemon Sugar Body Scrub. Via The Sweetest Occasion.

Lavander and Coffee Scrub. Via Flickr user Marju Randmer.

Body scrub made with salt, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and olive oil. Via Farmers Market Online.

Spiced Chai Sugar Scrub. Via In Between Laundry.

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