Tag Archives: New Year

The Dragon Year

Image courtesy Reuters

2012 is underway, and in a couple of weeks it will be the Lunar new year. For some cultures that follow the Chinese Zodiac, or their own version of it, this year is an auspicious one because it belongs to one of the most highly regarded signs — the dragon.

The Chinese zodiac is regarded by other Asian cultures apart from the Chinese, most of which have strong influences and ties to China. Countries such as Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines all celebrate their own versions of the lunar new year.

Japanese new year’s cards. Image from the Japan Post.

Lunar new year is always a colorful celebration wherever you go, and is traditionally celebrated with several festivities that last about a week or so. In many Asian countries, it is almost as significant as the Gregorian new year, with the first day or first few days granted as  public holidays. Festivities during Lunar new year include festivals and street markets, exchanging red envelopes filled with money (for prosperity), and eating the traditional rice cake. Apart from the usual colorful events that take place, one thing I also enjoy is the lovely visual feast that embodies the culture and traditions of the holiday.

Chinese new year cakes for sale in the Philippines. Image from Maynila Daily Photo.

In the chinese zodiac, the dragon is considered to be one of the most powerful signs, perhaps because of its mythical nature. Many also believe that this year, 2012 is particularly lucky because besides it being the dragon’s year it is also a leap year! It only follows then that there have already been preparations around the world for grand celebrations of this year.

Although this paper sculpture was made last year for the celebration of the year of the Rabbit, i thought it was a fresh, contemporary take on the idea of chinese paper-cut dragons. Definitely a craft project to keep in mind for future new years!

Image from Modern Woman

In Singapore, the chef of the Fairmont Hotel’s Szechuan court prepared a “Golden Dragon” dish in celebration of the dragon year – composed of swordfish, abalone, lobster, and salmon, drizzled with a special sauce and sprinkled with gold dust. Definitely a  prosperous dish for a hopefully prosperous new year!

Image from superadrianme

Perhaps unsuprisingly the most impressive preparations for the dragon year are taking place in Beijing. On the 9th of January, workers tested a dragon made of 3, 000 lanterns in Yongdingmen Square Park to make sure the impressive installation lights up for the celebrations that will start on February 23.

Image from Hungeree.

To me, dragons have somehow always had an impressive aura to them, and are the perfect symbol for prosperity and positive energy. Hopefully 2012 will have plenty of favorable events for everyone! Happy New Year!

Taking Stock in 2012

Did you make New Year’s resolutions last week? How are they working out so far? Not to put a damper on your plans but statistics say that nearly half of all North Americans make a list each year, while fewer than 10 percent are successful in completing their goals.

(Photo: msnbc.com)

I definitely fall into both of those categories and yet, year after year, I sit down after the holidays and dutifully jot down my standard list of vows: lose weight, exercise more, spend less money, etc. This year was the final straw; in packing for my move last week I found my 2003 list and it was an exact match to the resolutions that I had planned for 2012, right down to the order they were listed on the page. Had I really made NO personal progress in a decade? I felt like an even bigger failure than I do every February when the enthusiasm for self-improvement starts to wear off and I revert to my former bad habits.

(Photo: A Field Journal)

But then I realized that the inherent problem with resolutions is that they focus on the seemingly negative aspects of ourselves that we feel compelled to change. About the same time I came to this conclusion, I read Happy 12 Things Happy People Do Differently by Jacob Sokol on Marc and Angel Hack Life.

(Photo: Mixed Tapes and Cupcakes)

The major difference between this list and typical resolutions is that instead of focusing on perceived personal flaws, Sokol concentrates on our interactions with others, including expressing gratitude, practicing acts of kindness, and nurturing social relationships. Moreover, Sokol’s inclusions that focus on the self provide a positive spin. Doesn’t “take care of your body” sound more nurturing than “lose weight”?

(Photo: Pinterest)

Sokol’s actions can be accomplished every day and in a myriad of ways. But when trying to think how I could combine them, I decided that this year cooking will be the main medium in which I reconnect with loved ones and let them know that I care. After all, is there a better way to spend some quality time than around the dinner table with good food and good friends?

(Photo: The Kitchn)

In order to do this, I am planning to have regular, informal weekend suppers that will allow me to catch up with my friends and thank them for all they have done for me by serving them comforting meals. This will also allow me to indulge my passion for cooking, something I often abandon when living alone, and experiment with new healthy recipes.

(Photo: Vegan Yum Yum)

To express my gratitude to our readers, I’m giving you my recipe for vegetable stock. It’s an inexpensive, low fat flavour-booster that can be made with little effort when you have a quiet afternoon and some leftover vegetables. If you keep a batch in the freezer you will always have a quick, savory base for soups, stews, and other dishes without the additives and sodium that commercial stocks contain. I hope that you will be able to use it to nurture yourself and your loved ones throughout the year.

Vegetable Stock (makes 10-12 cups), adapted from Vegan Yum Yum

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

5 carrots, cleaned but unpeeled, chopped

1 bunch of celery, chopped

1 cup of mushrooms, chopped

Any other chopped vegetables or vegetable peels (get creative: root vegetables, peppers, zucchini, greens, etc.)- save them up in a container in the fridge as you prepare vegetables for other dishes

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tbsp. tomato paste (or you can add a chopped tomato)

1 bunch of flat-leaf parsley (you can also add a small handful of herbs if you like; rosemary, thyme, and chives work well)

2 bay leaves

6 whole black peppercorns

4 whole cloves

¼ cup low sodium tamari (you can substitute soy sauce but it lacks the rich flavor of tamari; if you do, reduce to 1/8 cup and add more to taste)

16 cups (2 liters or 1 gallon) of water


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot.
  2. Add the chopped vegetables and peels, except for the garlic. Stir over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Add garlic in the last few minutes to prevent burning.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for about an hour and a half.
  5. Strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth.
  6. Stock can be kept in the refrigerator for a week or poured into ice cube trays and frozen.

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In Defense of the Old

Vintage New Year postcard. Via Kudzu Jungle.

It’s the new year, and a lot of us are making resolutions, cleaning out closets, and letting go of a lot of junk. “Out with old, in with the new,” so they say. It’s the time when we all want fresh starts, clean slates, and all things new. But before we haul those old books and clothes out, let’s take a deep breath and pause for a moment.

Not everything that’s old is old-fashioned. Not everything that dates back a few years is dated. Not everything of the past is passe. We all need to look back on our experiences — we need our memories.

Besides, there are a lot things that with the years become more beautiful, more valuable, more fabulous. Aside from the usual things that people say get better with age — friendships, certain wines, certain cheeses, certain people… I thought I’d mention 3 old things that get just to good to let go of.

Old Trees

Image from Garden Pictures

Don’t axe that tree in the garden! The older trees get, the stronger, statelier and more graceful they are. Their trunks get chunkier, their branches reach higher and farther, and if they are fruit-bearing trees, they yield better fruits. Birds and other living things, including humans, like them better too.

Old Jeans

Image from Wendy's Lookbook

Also from Wendy's Lookbook

So a pair of jeans is no longer the same deep color as when you first wore it. And maybe it’s worn, and frayed, and faded in patches. It doesn’t mean goodbye — at least, not just yet. There’s a certain comfort and style in old jeans that make them favorite closet staples.

Image from Style Tips 101

Oh, would that we could all age as gracefully as denim… Maybe it’s all about a wabisabi vibe, or maybe it’s just that old jeans fit better, having known its owner’s hiney longer. They fade like they were meant to fade. And somehow they fray where frays and fringes look flatteringly best.

Old Songs

Sometimes we get too engrossed in the latest albums, the newest artists, the current number 1 song. Hype is how recording companies make their profit, after all. I personally like to give songs a bit of time before I give them room to embed in my head.

Time, for me, is the true test of a song’s substance. It separates the music from the fluff, and only the good ones last. If I can listen to it being played and overplayed in the radio and TV, in the mall PA system, and covered by showbands, and badly sung in karaoke joints, and if it still does not make me want to puke, then it may well be on its way to being a classic.

Same goes for movies. I just saw P.T. Anderson’s Magnolia again last weekend and was once again blown away by the craftsmanship that went into weaving all its mini stories together into an awesome cohesive whole. And I fell in love again with the music of Aimee Mann.

Watch the trailer.

So before you throw anything out, you may want to rummage through that discard bin again. There might be some keepers yet in there.

Posted in Culture, Fashion | Tagged ,

A Good Cry

"Happy Tears" by Roy Lichtenstein, 1964

“If you think back, and replay your year — if it doesn’t bring you tears of joy or sadness, consider the year wasted.”

This line was spoken by the character John Cage, played by Peter MacNicol, in the finale of the first season of the television show Ally McBeal. This quote has somehow lodged itself in my head, surfacing in my consciousness every now and then, especially when birthdays and New Years draw near.

Aren’t tears just basically water and salt? I wondered how that brings value and meaning to my year, apart from the catharsis and emotional release that I get. Well, that’s about it, apparently, but that’s a huge thing in itself. We’re not talking about the tears caused by chopping an onion and or those caused by dust getting in your eyes — but those that well up during moments of intense emotions. This latter kind has more protein, as scientist William Frey discovered. He theorizes that certain toxins are released during emotional crying, supporting the idea of “cleansing tears” and bringing new meaning to the expression “a good cry”.

"Tears They Fall", digital art by lexicalpixies

Before the New Year countdowns and revelries come to a dizzying climax, I managed to grab a little quiet time to indulge in flashbacks of this year. The experiences of emotional highs and lows shake me out of day-to-day blah-ness and, out of complacency and routine. I learned a lot and grew a lot from mine this year. Paying attention to the high moments taught me which things truly make me happy, and the painful parts that were filled with loss and longing taught me to be thankful for the things that I was left with. “We can’t have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That’s the deal.” That one’s from the film Shadowlands.

Tears, I’ve had a bit for this year. They flowed freely, yes. And I am thankful for them.

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From Vices to Virtues

It’s Resolution Week at The Design Tree.

It is the time of year when we are more optimistic and eager to wage war with our favorite vices.

For those of us who have won battles with certain bad habits, looking back on our victories may provide us with some of that can-do attitude to sustain us in our struggle to become better versions of ourselves—whether these be in the fight against fat or in the skirmish with sloth.

In the olden days, warriors might have taken a piece of the defeated enemy’s scalp to show off to the villagers, but if smoking, boozing, and uncontrolled spending are the fallen foes, a different kind of trophy may be required to encapsulate our feelings of love and repulsion for them.



A hookah for display only

Just because you don’t smoke ‘em doesn’t mean you shouldn’t own these beautiful contraptions

Ah, tobacco, how I and countless others loved thee, especially in the form of cigarettes—the ol’ reliable nicotine delivery system. I’m pretty sure the creators of the artwork below channeled their old cravings to make these objects that speak loud volumes, using cigarette butts.

US flag made of cigarette butts

Smoke-free” by John Salvest

Stitched scene

It's Not The End of The World (Remember Me) by Sarah Lucas was exhibited at the MoMA.

by Tom Deininger

Cigarette Boxes by Julianne Ahn

“armchair, cigarette, lamp” by csali.deviantart.com


For those who have put their boozing days behind them, here are some great ideas for those empty bottles.


Most of us know what it’s like to have a love-hate relationship with credit cards. It can be pretty burdensome. That’s why getting out of debt is an occasion for celebration—a prudent one! So relish that new-found sense of freedom, break out in song, whip out a guitar solo using these picks cut out from credit cards.

They had you in shackles, now it’s your turn to chain these now-ineffectual plastics to your wrist.

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