DECK THE HOLIDAY'S: January 2014

Friday, January 31, 2014


 DIY Silhouettes

When I was in third grade, I sat for a paper cutting artist who made my silhouette.  My mom still has it.  Sadly, paper cutting artists are no longer widely available around here, but the idea of a silhouette of my children prompted me to find a way to recreate the look.  This tutorial will show you one way to achieve the classic art without the paper cutting skills.

What you need:
A digital camera
Heavy card stock and printer
X-acto knife and healing mat or something to protect your cutting surface
Black acrylic craft paint (I used Americana)
Spray adhesive or glue stick (not liquid glue)
Background paper in color or pattern of choice and a frame

What to do:
If you have a bit of patience, the reward is worth it.  This project can be done in an afternoon (other than the overnight paint drying) with minimal supplies needed.  I bought everything at my local hobby supply store.

Take profile photos of your children in a well lit area with a light or white background.  Crop as needed to get as close to an 8 x 10" printing as you can.  Print using the "heavy card stock" paper selection on your printer.  Using your X-acto knife, cut around the silhouette.  As you can see with Ro's profile already cut out on the right (below), I tried to accent his cute spikes on the front of his hair.

Slowly and lightly paint your silhouettes with the acrylic paint.  If you do not want classic black, have fun picking a color that matches your own decorations.  Let paint dry overnight.  (Note:  If you accidentally used too much paint and your silhouettes curl, you can press under books with wax paper when dry.)

Mount silhouettes using spray adhesive or a glue stick. I tried both and preferred the ease of the glue stick. Liquid glue is a bit too messy for this task and can cause ripples in the finished product.  

Once your silhouettes are dry, place in frames and you're ready to hang.  I dated the silhouettes on the backs of the frames so I would remember Em and Ro's ages of when these were made.

Other options:  I've seen people make smaller silhouettes and mount them in a double frame as a gift to grandparents.  You can also do them in multiple colors and layer them together for a new twist.


   Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the new year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the new year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade. The Chinese calendar is based on a combination of lunar and solar movements. The lunar cycle is about 29.5 days. In order to "catch up" with the solar calendar the Chinese insert an extra month once every few years (seven years out of a 19-yearcycle). This is the same as adding an extra day on leap year. This is why, according to the solar calendar, the Chinese New Year falls on a different date each year. New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are celebrated as a family affair, a time of reunion and thanksgiving. The celebration was traditionally highlighted with a religious ceremony given in honor of Heaven and Earth, the gods of the household and the family ancestors. The sacrifice to the ancestors, the most vital of all the rituals, united the living members with those who had passed away. Departed relatives are remembered with great respect because they were responsible for laying the foundations for the fortune and glory of the family.
  Chinese New Year 2014 marks the year of the Horse and takes place on Friday, January 31.

The History of Chinese New Year

   The Chinese New Year has a great history. In our past, people lived in an agricultural society and worked all year long. They only took a break after the harvest and before the planting of seeds. This happens to coincide with the beginning of the lunar New Year.
   The Chinese New Year is very similar to the Western one, rich in traditions, folklores and rituals. It has been said that it is a combination of the Western Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. This is hardly an exaggeration!
   The origin of the Chinese New Year itself is centuries old - in fact, too old to actually be traced. It is popularly recognized as the Spring Festival and celebrations last 15 days.
   Preparations tend to begin a month before the date of the Chinese New Year (similar to a Western Christmas). During this time people start buying presents, decoration materials, food and clothing. A huge clean-up gets underway days before the New Year, when Chinese houses are cleaned from top to bottom. This ritual is supposed to sweep away all traces of bad luck. Doors and windowpanes are often given a new coat of paint, usually red, then decorated with paper cuts and couplets with themes such as happiness, wealth and longevity printed on them.
   The eve of the New Year is perhaps the most exciting part of the holiday, due to the anticipation. Here, traditions and rituals are very carefully observed in everything from food to clothing. Dinner is usually a feast of seafood and dumplings, signifying different good wishes. Delicacies include prawns, for liveliness and happiness, dried oysters ( ho xi), for all things good, fish dishes or Yau-Yu to bring good luck and prosperity, Fai-chai (Angel Hair), an edible hair-like seaweed to bring prosperity, and dumplings boiled in water (Jiaozi) signifying a long-lasting good wish for a family. It is customary to wear something red as this colour is meant to ward off evil spirits. But black and white are frowned upon, as these are associated with mourning. After dinner, families sit up for the night playing cards, board games or watching televisionprogrammes dedicated to the occasion. At midnight, fireworks light up the sky.
   On the day itself, an ancient custom called Hong Bao, meaning Red Packet, takes place. This involves married couples giving children and unmarried adults money in red envelopes. Then the family begins to say greetings from door to door, first to their relatives and then to their neighbours. Like the Western saying "let bygones be bygones," at Chinese New Year, grudges are very easily cast aside.

   Tributes are made to ancestors by burning incense and the symbolic offering of foods. As firecrackers burst in the air, evil spirits are scared away by the sound of the explosions.
   The end of the New Year is marked by the Festival of Lanterns, which is a celebration with singing, dancing and lantern shows.
   At the Festival, all traditions are honored. The predominant colors are red and gold. "Good Wish" banners are hung from the ceilings and walls. The "God of Fortune" is there to give Hong Baos. Lion dancers perform on stage continuously. Visitors take home plants and flowers symbolizing good luck. An array of New Years specialty food is available in the Food Market. Visitors purchase new clothing, shoes and pottery at the Market Fair. Bargaining for the best deal is commonplace!

Traditions of Chinese New Year

   Even though the climax of the Chinese New Year, Nian, lasts only two or three days including the New Year's Eve, the New Year season extends from the mid-twelfth month of the previous year to the middle of the first month of the new year. A month from the New Year, it is a good time for business. People will pour out their money to buy presents, decoration material, food and clothing. Transportation department, railroad in particular, is nervously waiting for the onslaught of swarms of travelers who take their days off around the New Year to rush back home for a family renunion from all parts of the country.
   Days before the New Year, every family is busy giving its house a thorough cleaning, hoping to sweep away all the ill-fortune there may have been in the family to make way for the wishful in-coming good luck. People also give their doors and window-panes a new paint, usually in red color. They decorate the doors and windows with paper-cuts and couplets with the very popular theme of "happiness", "wealth", "logevity" and "satisfactory marriage with more children". Paintings of the same theme are put up in the house on top of the newly mounted wall paper. In the old days, various kinds of food are tributed at the alta of ancestors.

   The Eve of the New Year is very carefully observed. Supper is a feast, with all members coming together. One of the most popular course is jiaozi, dumplings boiled in water. "Jiaozi" in Chinese literally mean "sleep together and have sons", a long-lost good wish for a family. After dinner, it is time for the whole family to sit up for the night while having fun playing cards or board games or watching TV programs dedicated to the ocassion. Every light is supposed to be kept on the whole night. At midnight, the whole sky will be lit up by fireworks and firecrackers make everywhere seem like a war zone. People's excitement reach its zenith.
   Very early the next morning, children greet their parents and receive their presents in terms of cash wrapped up in red paper packages from them. Then, the family start out to say greetings from door to door, first their relatives and then their neighbors. It is a great time for reconciliation. Old grudges are very easily cast away during the greetings. The air is permeated with warmth and friendliness. During and several days following the New Year's day, people are visiting each other, with a great deal of exchange of gifs. The New Year atmosphere is brought to an anti-climax fifteen days away where the Festival of Lanterns sets in. It is an occasion of lantern shows and folk dances everywhere. One typical food is the Tang Yuan, another kind of dumplings made of sweet rice rolled into balls and stuffed with either sweet or spicy fillings.
   The Lantern Festival marks the end of the New Year season and afterwards life becomes daily routines once again. This description is based upon the recollection of my own experience. Customs of observing the New Year vary from place to place, considering that China is a big country not only geographically, but also demographically and ethnically. Yet, the spirit underlying the diverse celebrations of the Chinese New Year is the same: a sincere wish of peace and happiness for the family members and friends.


    The Festival International du Cirque de Monte-Carlo (International Circus Festival de Monte-Carlo) was created in 1974 by Prince Rainier III of Monaco to promote circus arts....for which he had a lifelong passion.  The first festival was held from December 26th to the 30th, 1974 under the big top of the French circus Bouglione, installed on what was then the Esplande de Fontvielle.  In the forward he wrote for the program, Prince Rainiers said, "This International Circus Festival was created thinking of the circus community, of this family of underestimated people, so that you, attentive spectators of their efforts and of their work, could know them better, and celebrate them better".  It was the first true circus festival ever presented in the Western world.

   During the Festival, a selection of some of the best circus acts in the business are presented twice to a paying audience and a Jury of circus professionals, journalists, and specialists...presided until 2005 by the late Prince Rainier III, and since 2006, by his daughter, Princess Stephanie of Monaco.  The Jury awards Gold and Silver Clowns, and since 2002 a Bronze Clown, in the form of statuettes sculpted by Paule Male'.  Other prizes and trophies are awarded by the City of Monaco, and various
corporations, press organizations, associations, and individuals.  The Festival presents about 25 acts each yer, in two different set of performances.  The awards are presented during a closing Gala performance attended by the Prince of Monaco, and his family and guests.  Traditionally, the Prince also attends every selection performance.  The first Gold Clowns, which in time became the equivalent of an Oscar, to the circus world, were award to Alfred Court, in tribute to his exceptional career, and to Charlie Rivel.

   In 1975, the Festival was presented under the big top of the Italian circus, Nando, Liana e Rinaldo Orfei, and from 1975 to 1994, under the big top of another Italian Circus, Circo American-Togni.  Since 1995, it has been held under a large, sedentary circus structure, permanently installed in what is now the Quartier Fontvielle, in Monaco.

Under the big top tent in Monte Carlo

   In 2006, the Festival staged an extraordinary tribute to Prince Rainier III of Monaco (who had passed away the previous year), with a five hour show that gathered the greatest assemblage of Gold and Silver Medalists ever seen (some of them performing at the same time, like the amazing juggling duet formed by Kris Kremo and Anthony Gatto, or Oleg Izossimov sharing the ring with The Rodions and Wei Baohua &Wu Zheng).  It was probably the greatest circus performance ever produced.

   The International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo is now held each year in mid January.  Presided by S.A.S. Princess Stephanie of Monaco, it remains today, without a doubt, the most important circus manifestation in the world, and it has become the annual rendezvous of the international circus community and of a large international audience of circus enthusiasts.

Friday, January 24, 2014


    India is a secular nation and houses every community. Christians are a minority here and form nearly 2.3% of the population. But the fact that there are only about 25 million Christians in India, in no way lessens the observance of the festival. Moreover, the occassion is celebrated not only by Christians but by people of other religions as well.
    The tradition of Christmas observance was introduced here with the colonisation of Europeans. Though the country gained its independence in 1947, many European customs and festivals stayed on. The fact that there is the presence of a Christian community in India, helped the maintaining of these traditions in no less a way. Today, Christmas is the biggest and most-loved festival of Indian Christians. The festival is also enthusiastically celebrated by people of other religions residing here.

    Like in many other countries, Christmas is observed in India on 25th December. Everyone gears up for the festival from nearly a week before. Business stores are decked up for the occassion with every gift shop packed with Christmas treespresentsornaments and other items of decoration that are bought by millions of enthusiastic celebrants of the festival.
    For Indian Christians, especially the Catholics, the Midnight mass on Christmas Eve is a very important service and holds great religious significance. Every year, on the night of 24th December, all members in Christian families visit their local churches to attend the Midnight mass. On this night, churches in India are decorated with Poinsettia flowers and candles. The mass over, everyone relishes a mouthwatering feast of various delicacies, mostly consisting of curries. Thereupon, presents are given to one another and "Merry Christmas" is wished. India being a multicultural nation, many different languages are spoken here. In Hindi and Urdu, Happy/Merry Christmas is 'Bade Din ki Mubarak'; in Sanskrit it is 'Krismasasya shubhkaamnaa'; in Bengali 'Barodiner shubhechha janai'; and in Tamil it's 'Christhu Jayanthi Nalvaalthukal'.

    Nativity plays are staged in many schools(mainly the Christian ones) and churches on Christmas morning. The perfomances by young children depict the birth, life and actions of Jesus Christ and usually end with the singing of hymns and carols and the visit of a person dressed as Santa to distribute candies/toffees to kids. In the metros a smiling Santa Claus, entertaining children at departmental stores with toys and gifts, is not an uncommon sight. Caroling processions on streets and thoroughfares can also be seen on 24th night.
    A sizeable population of the Christian Community reside in Mumbai of the Indian state of Maharashtra and are mainly Roman Catholics. It is a delight to watch their homes during Christmas. Every Christian home creates a nativity scene, often display a manger in the front window. Giant star-shaped paper lanterns are hung between the houses so that the stars float above you as you walk down the road. There is a provision of sweets, mainly home-made, in every household to welcome visitors during the occassion. In Southern states, Christians often light small clay oil lamps and place these on the flat roofs of their homes to show that Jesus is the light of the world. In the North-western states of India, the tribal Christians of the Bhil folk take out caroling processions during the whole Christmas week and often visit neighbouring villages to tell the Christmas story to people through songs.

    In India, Father Christmas or Santa Claus is held to be the giver of presents to children from a horse and cart. As in the U.S., he is believed to deliver presents at the house of every kid who behaves well during the whole year. Santa Claus is known as 'Christmas Baba' in Hindi and 'Christmas Thaathaa' in Tamil.


    Camel wrestling is a sport in which two male Tulu camels wrestle in response to a female camel in heat being led before them. It is most common in the Aegean region of Turkey, but is also found in the Marmara and Mediterranean regions of that country. There are an estimated 1,200 wrestling camels in Turkey, bred specially for the competitions.

The Parade

    The day before each Championship is set aside for a parade through the town of Selcuk, with the animals dressed up in all their finery. Not all of the fighting camels will attend the parade however. In 2011 around 30 camels were on show on the Saturday, with around 100 taking part in the fighting. The most beautiful camel in 2011 was "Palavra", a camel with a particularly talented foaming mouth.

The Championships

    Held in an ancient stadium at Ephesus, 6 kilometers from the town of Selcuk, on the 3rd Sunday of January, the camel wrestling championships have drawn thousands of spectators annually. The festival usually highlights wrestling of 120- camels, but in 2001 only 96 were involved. The event puts together two bull (male) camels with a female camel on heat nearby. The camels fight it out for the female, leaning on each other to push the other down. A camel can win a wrestling match in three ways: By making the other camel retreat, scream, or fall. The owner of a camel may also throw a rope into the field to declare a forfeit if he is concerned for the safety of his animal.      Camels wrestle with other in their same weight class. Camels have different tricks, and contest organizers match camels with different skills. Some camels wrestle from the right and some from the left; some trip the other with foot tricks ("cengelci"), and some trap their opponent's head under their chest and then try to sit ("bagei"); some push their rivals to make them retreat ("tekci").The actual wrestling can be somewhat underwhelming to someone not familiar with the intricacies, although onlookers must often flee from an oncoming camel that is retreating in defeat from his opponent. In the heat of the tournament, camels spew foamy saliva in their excitement. Additionally, camels are retromingent animals, and so spectators would be advised to aware not only of flying saliva but of flying urine as well.

One of the bands entertaining the crowds

The Atmosphere and Revelry

    The event is famous for it's electric atmosphere, starting on the Saturday at the parade, and lasting long into the evening. Gypsy bands roam the center of Selcuk playing Zirna (like a cross between a clarinet and a recorder), Clarinet, and Davul (drum). The local men drink raki and dance energetically for many hours, only to wake up and head off to the main event early Sunday morning. You have to be early to get a good ringside seat, with many restaurants set up offering food and drinks to those willing to pay a little extra for the convenience. If you miss out though, you can join the thousands of spectators lining the hills which surround the ring, cooking barbecues and drinking more of the infamous raki. The gypsy bands don't miss out on all the action, and will spend the day roaming from group to group searching for tips and adding great tunes for the crowds to dance to.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


   Celebrating New Year's Eve with a loved one is great. Spending it in a beautiful locale with fireworks and spectacular activities is even better. Here is a list of the top ten places to celebrate New Year's Eve in, and the reasons why you should be here in one of these cities.

London, England
Celebrate New Year's Eve with splash of history at the London Eye, and enjoy a wonderful 10-minute public fireworks display. This year is organized by the Mayor of London and put on by the renowned pyrotechnical Christophe Berthonneau. It will be a jam-packed event making the entire downtown area busy  with crowds of people. Here you can bring in the New Year along the banks of the Thames.

Rome, Italy

The Piazza del Popolo is an historic and lovely spot for the festivities. Here you can listen to concerts and view fireworks throughout the evening. There is something magical about bringing in the new year in the twin churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto and Santa Maria dei Miracoli.

Sydney, Australia

Why not have New Year's Eve Down Under watching exciting fireworks at the Sydney Harbour? This year will have lots of bright lights filling up the sky as the city will be the place for some of the best fireworks in the world. The barges located in the harbor will shoot off amazing pyrotechnic works of art, making it a New Year's Eve to remember.

Times Square, New York, USA

Watching the Times Square New Years Eve Ball drop in New York is something many Americans view on the television each year as they celebrate New Year's Eve at home. Watching the Ball drop is one thing; being there to watch it drop in person live is something else entirely. This year, the famous Ball will be 12 feet around covered in beautiful Waterford Crystals. Over 32,000 LED lights will fully light the Times Square New Years Eve Ball making the countdown worth waiting for.

Paris, France

   Paris brings visions of romance and wine. Bring your special someone and celebrate New Year's Eve at the Eiffel Tower. In this city, love fills the air and French Champagne flows mightily so why catch a piece of both in Paris. Watching beautiful fireworks at the historic Eiffel Tower after an intimate dinner with wine or Champagne will be a highlight for years to come for any couple.

Barcelona, Spain

Spend New Year's Eve, Noche Vieja, in Barcelona this year and bring in the new year with family and friends. Traditions and superstitions abound in Spain, and one has it if you eat twelve grapes with the twelve tolls of the Puerta del Sol clock, you will have twelve months of prosperity brought to you in the new year. Instead of drinking Champagne, in Spain Cava is the drink of choice. In any plaza you are in when celebrating New Year's Eve in Spain, you are bound to have a great time.

Seattle, Washington, USA

   The Pacific Northwest is a gem of the USA and is green and magical. But if you think celebrations are quiet, think again. This year there parties will abound all over the city. Celebrate New Year's Eve with 5,000 other people in the waterfront area in downtown Seattle. From dancing to live comedy performances, there will be something for everyone.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

   Celebrate Oudjaarsavond, or New Year's Eve, in Amsterdam. This is where you can enjoy fireworks and partying in the streets. If you like a free showing of everyone partaking in the fireworks display, this is the place as everyone will be doing the same by setting off their own fireworks.

Berlin, Germany

   The streets of Berlin come alive during New Year's Eve. Watch fireworks and celebrate the evening in the open air with about a million or so of your closest friends. New Year's Eve in Berlin, or Silvester, is one of Europe's biggest bashes with lights, dancing and entertainment with a crowning show of breathtaking fireworks.

Copacabana Beach, Rio de Jeneiro, Brazil

   Dress in your whites and celebrate New Year's Eve on the famous Copacabana Beach. One of the best fireworks displays in the world is held here. Not many places can fireworks be enjoyed on the beach which makes it that much more spectacular.
If you haven't decided yet where to go this New Year's Eve, check out one of the places above and make it one to remember.


   Every year on January 17th, the people of San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain, celebrate St. Anthony's by riding their horese, donkeys and mules through piles of burning tree branches.

    The unique tradition of leaping over and through flames dates back 500 years, but the men and women of San Bartolome de Pinares still celebrate it religiously. They gather all the branches they can find in the days leading up to the festivities, and when dusk falls on the eve of Saint Anthony's, they light the branches into a bonfire. Riders jump and run their mounts through the burning piles of the branches in the middle of the village, accompanied by sound of drums and Spanish bagpipes.

Drinking wine during the purification festival

    Jumping through the flames is said to bring the animals the protection of St. Anthony Abad, acknowledged as the patron saint of domestic animals, ever since the Middle Ages. Locals believe the fire purifies their animals and protects them against illnesses, all year long. So far as I know none of the horses we hurt during this festival.


Fueling my neon obsession but still wanting a fun fall accent, Jodi of One Simple Dream and I brainstormed this AWESOME plaster dipped leaf garland. And I love the way it turned out!
I'll be honest, plaster of paris gives me a little bit of anxiety for some reason but rest assured, this is as easy and manageable as Jodi told me it would be. Sigh.
Here's what you need:
First, you will want to cut the leaves from the garland. Make sure the stem is long enough for you to hold onto for dipping and to tie onto for the garland.
Mix the plaster of paris according to the directions on the package. (We used 1 cup of plaster to a 1/2 cup of cold water which allowed us to dip 20 leaves.) Mix well until all clumps are gone. Also, remember that plaster of paris does not come out of clothing or dish cloths! (Eek! This must have been where my anxiety was?!?)
Dip the leaf in plaster and set on wax paper. Repeat for all leaves and let dry overnight.
If you would like to dip in paint (please do! it looks so much cooler...), we recommend using quart-size cans so that you are able to dip the entire leaf if desired. Make sure the paint is stirred REALLY well. And keep in mind that the leaves are very delicate and no longer bendable.
Dip the leaf was far as you would like and again place on wax paper. Let dry at least 2 hours between colors.
Once you are finished dipping all of your favorite color combinations, I suggest allowing 24 hours for the leaves to completely dry before stringing. Then string the dry, painted leaves onto twine with a knot around the stem. You can also use as a tag for a bottle of wine - or even a gift or place setting! (Chalk paint worked great too!)
Ahhh...I love this fresh take on fall decor!