Tuesday, May 15, 2012


There can be a big difference between different types of Christmas trees. Some are not available in some areas and so where you live may be a factor in determining the types that you get to choose from. For example Noble or Douglas firs are most popular in the Pacific Northwest whereas in North Carolina and Fraser Fir are more common. However if you order by mail order then you can pretty much choose whatever you like.

Colorado Blue Spruce

This is one of the most popular trees among people who want living Christmas trees. The color can be blue but is more likely to be silver or gray. It grows in a conical shape naturally and so there is little need for pruning it. It tends to grow in Southern Canada and Northern USA but it can usually be found in most nurseries or retail tree lots.









Noble Fir

The Noble Fir has strong branches and stays fresh for a long time. The needles can look silvery although they are blue/green in color. It can be used to make wreaths and other decorations because the branches are so strong.


Douglas Fir

This is one of the most popular Christmas tree in the USA. It tends to be grown in the Pacific Northwest and is shipped all over the country and even to Asia. It has a pyramid shape and smells sweet.






Norway Spruce

This is a conical shaped tree which tends to drop needles easily so needs to be keep very well watered. It is dark green in color.







Virginia Pine

This tree has short soft needles and stout woody branches and is conical in shape. It is good for holding ornaments but the dark green needles can turn yellow in late fall which means it needs a tree colorant to keep it green. It is popular though and was originally the main tree for offer in the south east USA.


Eastern White Pine

This tree has a really nice cone shape and soft needles. It is blue or silvery green in color but the branches are not that strong so heavy ornaments do not work that well. The tree can turn yellow if it is old and so tree colorants may need to be used. It does not have much of a smell and therefore is less likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Arizona Cypress

   This tree is commonly found along the east coast of south and south west areas of USA. It tends to be in cut-your-own places and has a lovely smell. It is tall and thin and and is pale green or gray green.






Scotch Pine

The color can vary quite a bit from bright green to dark green and even sometimes a blue green color. The branches are strong so great for hanging heavy decorations and the needles do not drop very much. It stays fresh for a long time. It also has a nice conical shape.

Eastern Red Cedar

   This tree can dry out quickly which is why it tends to be sold at cut-your-own farms. It has a pretty cone shape and the colour varies from dark green to purple.

Fraser Fir

This is a strong tree which can hold heavy decorations and it grown in North Carolina. Its strength means that the branches are often used to make wreaths and other decorations. It keeps its needles well and they are dark green or even blueish on the top and silvery underneath. It has a nice smell and it is for this reason as well as the nice color which makes it one of the most popular trees.

Leyland Cypress

This tree is not fragrant and is often used as an ornamental landscape plant in England and South East USA. However, it has recently become more popular as a Christmas tree in this area of the USA. It is dark-green to gray in color and is a cone shape.

Balsam Fir

This tree is a pyramid shape and dark green. The needles tend to stay on the tree for a very long time and it has a nice smell. It is very popular in Canada as well as North USA.


   Chocolate is one of the few foods known to man about which people are actually passionate. We're talking about a wild, burning compassion; one that continues to grow with each delicious bite. For some of us, chocolate s considered to be a necessity of life.
Eating chocolate feels good. Some physicians claim that chocolate has something to do with the hormonal imbalance that happens within the body from time to time.    Psychiatrists go so far as to say that chocolate could be a substitute for sex ( especially after you've been married for a while!), particularly when sex isn't available or just not very good (like I said before, after you've been married for a while!!!). There are lots of theories as to why we want or need chocolate, none of which are proven but all of which are interesting to explore. Particularly, if that exploration involved more chocolate.
    Most people believe that the Aztec Indians should be credited for the invention of chocolate. They certainly held the cocoa bean in high esteem, even using it as currency. It is said that the Emperor Montezuma sent cocoa along with gold and silver to meet the ship of explorer Hernando Cortez, although it is uncertain whether he meant the gesture as a "bribe" or a "gift" from one conqueror to another.
    History indicates that the Aztecs also used their prized cocoa beans to prepare a drink. The recipe was heavily guarded and basically reserved for those of royal descent. They believed that the drink improved energy and imparted wisdom. Montezuma reportedly drank as much as 50 cups each day because he thought it improved his sexual prowess.
Although the Spaniards did not care for the Aztec drink--citing that it was too bitter for their taste--they still took it back to Spain where it eventually underwent several changes. This first change involved adding cane sugar to the chocolate in order to sweeten it and take away the bitter taste. Other changes involved the mixing in of other spices like vanilla. Finally, someone decided to try heating the drink to see what effect that might have on its taste. This proved to be the first truly successful version of what eventually became known as hot chocolate; European style, not the watered down version Americans drink.
    Hot chocolate became popular among the Spanish aristocracy who opted to treat it much as the Aztecs did, reserving it for those with power and prestige. However, as its popularity grew, Spain eventually decided to plant cocoa beans. This gave way to a profitable business for the country.
    The Spanish managed to keep the art of the cocoa industry a secret from the remainder of Europe for nearly 100 years. However, a Spanish princess who married into French royalty is believed to be responsible for literally "spilling the beans" about the delicious new drink. Following the pattern set by the Aztecs and mirrored by the Spaniards, the drink was, at first, primarily reserved for those inside the royal court. Of course, being the culinary trendsetters that they were, the French eventually ended up popularizing the drink. The popularity of chocolate spread across the channel to Great Britain and eventually made its way to the Americas.
    The invention and perfection of the steam engine, which mechanized the cocoa grinding process, made it possible to move chocolate into mass production. This helped lower the price of the delicacy, making it affordable for a much larger cross section of people. A few years later, the invention of the cocoa press further improved the quality of chocolate by making it possible to squeeze out part of the actual cocoa butter. This offered the food a smoother consistency and a greatly improved flavor.
    Actual eating chocolate was not available in that form until 1847. An English company introduced this texture that was far removed from the former grainy, gritty chocolate of old. This new food was still somewhat expensive to make. So, for many years, the delicacy remained something that the poor didn't have the opportunity to experience.
It was a Swiss manufacturer named Daniel Peter who, in the late 1800's invented a method of adding milk to the chocolate to further refine its taste and smoothness. America embraced the chocolate phenomenon and is actually responsible for opening the very first chocolate factory.
    American manufactures over 7 billion pounds of chocolate each year and consumes almost 100 pounds of the confection per second. However, it is the Swiss that consume the highest amount of this confection at 22 pounds per person per year.
    Chocolate is used to commemorate holidays like Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter and special events like birthdays and anniversaries. People use chocolate as a snack between meals. They use it to get started in the morning (I've been known to eat a snickers bar on some mornings on my way to work) and to get ready for bed at night (don't forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed though!). Even the U.S. government uses chocolate as a way to feed the human spirit when soldiers are away from home. Today, the U.S. Army D-rations included three 4-ounce chocolate bars.
Although once believed to be responsible for all of the ills of life like acne, obesity, and heart disease, scientists now disagree, albeit in varying degrees, regarding the actual negative effects of chocolate. Clinical studies have exonerated chocolate as a cause for or a factor in acne. Also, contrary to belief, most overweight people report that they do not eat excessive amounts of chocolate. In fact, recent reports indicate that the sugar intake of these individuals tends to be below average. Even today's dentists tend to believe that chocolate--eaten in reasonable quantities--can be less likely to cause tooth decay than other forms of candy or sweets.
    What recent scientific studies do tend to agree on, however, is that dark chocolate is much healthier for routine consumption than is milk chocolate. Caution, however, everything is better in moderation. Well except for those of us who are hooked on chocolate!!

Some Chocolate Facts:
  • The microwave oven was invented after a researcher walked by a radar tube and a chocolate bar melted in his pocket.

  • In October 1973, Swedish sweet maker Roland Ohisson of Falkenberg was buried in a coffin made of nothing but chocolate. (If he was still alive he probably could of eaten his way out).

  • The triangular shape that Toblerone chocolates are packaged in, is protected by law.

  • Chocolate was used as medicine during the 18th century because it was believed that it could cure a stomach ache.

  • The first chocolate bar was made in 1847 by Fry's chocolate factory located in Bristol, England. They were the ones to mold the first chocolate bar that was suitable to be distributed to the public.

  • Consuming chocolate was once considered a sin during the 16th and 17th century. During that time it was provided in the form of a drink and since drinking wine during lent was a sin, so was drinking chocolate.

  • There are some types of chocolates that are actually good for the arteries and heart.

  • Chocolate comes in milk, white, semi-sweet, dark, bitter, bittersweet, and unsweetened form.


   Cheung Chau Bun Festival or Cheung Chau Da Jiu Festival is a traditional Chinese festival on the island of Cheung Chau in Hong Kong. Being held annually, and with therefore the most public exposure, it is by far the most famous of such Da Jiu festivals, with Jiu being a Taoist sacrificial ceremony. Such events are held by mostly rural communities in Hong Kong, either annually or at a set interval of years ranging all the way up to once every 60 years ( the same year in the Chinese astrological calendar). Other places that may share the folk custom include Taiwan, Sichuan, Fujian and Guangdong.
   Cheung Chau's Bun Festival, which draws tens of thousands of local and overseas tourists every year, is staged to mark the Eighth day of the Fourth Moon, in the Chinese calendar (this is usually in early May). It coincides with the local celebration of Buddha's Birthday.

    The Cheung Chau Bun Festival began as a fun and exciting ritual for fishing communities to pray for safety from pirates. Today this religious origin has largely been forgotten, and the festival has mainly become a showcase of traditional Chinese culture
HistoryOne story of the origin of the festival is that in the 18th Century the island of Cheung Chau was devastated by a plague and infiltrated by pirates until local fishermen brought an image of the god Pak Tai to the island. Paraded through the village lanes, the deity drove away evil spirits. Villagers also disguised themselves as different deities and walked around the island to drive away the evil spirits.


    One story of the origin of the festival is that in the 18th Century the island of Cheung Chau was devastated by a plague and infiltrated by pirates until local fishermen brought an image of the god Pak Tai to the island. Paraded through the village lanes, the deity drove away evil spirits. Villagers also disguised themselves as different deities and walked around the island to drive away the evil spirits.



    A notice announces that McDonald's is selling vegetarian burgersEvery year on the 8th day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, the islanders organise a weeklong thanksgiving, the Cheung Chau Bun Festival usually in April or May. The festival lasts for seven days. On three of these days the entire island goes vegetarian; most of the island's famous seafood restaurants adhere to this tradition. The local McDonald's also takes meat off the menu and instead sells burgers made of mushrooms.

Parade of Floats / Parade-In-The-Air:

    In addition to traditional lion dances and dragon dances, children dressed as legendary and modern heroes are suspended above the crowd on the tips of swords and paper fans. They form the parade-in-the-air and are all secured within steel frames, though they appear to glide through the air. Parents consider it a great honour for their offspring to be part of the parade.
   This fascinating procession is accompanied by the bedlam of musicians loudly beating gongs and drums to scare away evil spirits. It is led by a spectacular image of Pak Tai, the God of Water and Spirit of the North, to whom the island's Temple of the Jade Vacuity is dedicated.


Here are some divinities Cheung Chau people celebrate in the festival:

Pak Tai-
    Since Cheung Chau is traditionally an island of fisherfolk, Pak Tai is its most revered divinity, since it is believed he has the power to confer smooth sailing for the fishing boats as well as providing good catches for their crews. Pious believers recognise him as "Pei Fang Chen Wu Hsuan T'ien Shang Ti" (True Soldier and Superior Divinity of the Deep Heaven of the North).

Tin Hau-
    The second of the significant deities whose images add a supplementary splatter of Oriental holiness to the pageant is the much-revered Tin Hau, Goddess of the Seas and protector of all fishermen and boat people. Celebrated for providing warnings of imminent storms and saving countless lives from wreckage, she is in many ways Pak Tai's competitor for the fondness of the fisherfolk.

Kuan Yin and Hung Hsing-
   Two more gods complete the celestial divinities taking part in the parade: Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy with her tranquil and ever compassionate smile; and Hung Hsing, the terrifying God of the South with his menacing head-dress, unkind face, bushy black beard, and stave at the ready to chastise all enemies.

Bun Snatching

    Steamed buns for the "Bun Mountain", being stamped the crimson characters of the respective district, "Northern Society" shown in a combined way) on the island.The centrepiece of the festival is at Pak Tai Temple where are the "Bun Mountains" or "Bun Towers", three giant 60-feet bamboo towers covered with buns. It is those bun-covered towers that give the festival its name. Historically, young men would race up the tower to get hold of the buns; the higher the bun, the better fortune it was supposed to bring to the holder's family; the race was known as "Bun-snatching". However, during a race in 1978 one of the towers collapsed, injuring more than 100 people. In subsequent years, three designated climbers (one climber to each tower) raced up their respective towers and having cleared the top buns proceeded to strip the towers of their buns as they descended.

    The three "Bun Mountains" are still placed in the area in front of Pak Tai Temple, and are constructed using the traditional fixation method -- bamboo scaffolding.
In 2005, a single tower climbing event in the adjacent sports ground was revived as a race -- with extra safety precautions including proper mountain-climbing tools as well as tutorials for participants (which now include women). A teamwork version of the event was added in 2006.The revised version of "Bun-snatching" as well as the traditional three "Bun Mountains" still have their buns removed from the towers at midnight of the Festival.
    In February 2007, it was further announced that the buns on the single-tower construct will henceforth be made of plastic. During the festival, Chinese operas, lion dances, and religious services also take place on the island.

Burning of Paper Effigies

    At a quarter to midnight a paper effigy of the King of the Ghosts is set ablaze, enormous incense sticks are lit and the buns are harvested and distributed to the villagers, who, pleased to be sharing in this propitious good fortune, rejoice late into the night

Return of Bun-Snatching

    The new "Bun Mountain" used for bun-snatching competitions. The bun-snatching ritual was abandoned by the government due to the 1978 collapse. Still, a large portion of Cheung Chau villagers regard this as part and parcel of their daily life, and the precious culture of Hong Kong to boot. In addition to the villagers' immense urge to resume the ritual, a local cartoon movie "My life as McDull, " recalled the forlorn ceremony, giving a tinge of nostalgia to its audience. As such, the long-awaited ritual was reintroduced on 15 May 2005. Safety measures were intensified: only 12 well-trained athletes selected from preliminary competitions were permitted to climb on one single "Bun Mountain"; instead of bamboo, the framework of the "Bun Mountains" was made up of steel.