Monday, December 31, 2012


         What is Christmas to you? I know that for many Americans it’s a great occasion to get together with their families and close friends to celebrate. I’m not sure that everyone knows what exactly they celebrate, but the main goal is to spend time with their folks, to share great food and show appreciation to each other through presents.   My family used to celebrate this holiday every year as well. I consider myself lucky   because it’s was not so common to celebrate Christmas in Belarus. The main part of population is Orthodox and has the Christmas holiday on a different date, about two weeks after the 25th of December.

          My grandma was a devoted Catholic; she had Polish roots and had her own Christmas celebration tradition. Our family and my aunts’ families always got together at grandma’s house on the Christmas Eve. Like for any other holiday, the preparations usually started in the morning. J My grandma cooked the main dishes and everybody brought some food too. The greatest thing about those dishes was that they were unique; we ate most of them only on Christmas Eve and that made Christmas so special too. Some of the dishes I didn’t really like in the beginning and ate just because I had to follow the tradition. My taste changed with time and when I became older I started to like most of those dishes. They were special, no meat or oily food, only fish was allowed. I loved “dessert” the most. It was a big portion of dry bagels( Russian stile, sushky), which were put in a mixture of water and ground poppy seeds and sugar by my grandmother in the morning. By dinner time dry bagels would be soft and soggy. I remember waiting for this dessert during the whole dinner. All  women in my family know the recipe but nobody can reproduce the original taste of that dish after my grandma passed away.  In the evening we started our Christmas dinner with a pray which my grandma said out loud. After that we ate and talked. When dinner was over, we finished with a prayed again.

          Another interesting tradition was pulling straws. When my grandma was setting the table, she put some hay under the tablecloth. That symbolized the stable where Jesus Christ was born. In the end of the celebration each of us drew one straw with our eyes closed.  The length of the straw showed the duration of our lives. If it appeared too short, we had two more chances to make sure it was the “right” size. I loved doing that and never got upset even if my straws were too short.

         After my grandmother’s death we continued the tradition, but it never was the same, something was missing. I think it was grandma’s spirit that made it so special in the first place.

           I didn’t celebrate Christmas in New York until last year. I guess I didn’t do it because I had no family here except my husband, and just a few friends. But last year was different. I met some really nice people who became my friends. So I decided to invite them over to our place and celebrate Christmas together. This was one of the best decisions I made last year  J. I’m happy we did it. This wasn’t the Christmas from my childhood, but we really enjoyed each other’s company, and it was great. Would like to make it a tradition.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Year traditions around the world

    New Year is one of the most favorite holidays for many people around the globe. But it turns out that  the ways to celebrate it vary from country to country. Many of them may seem very unusual and unfamiliar, but still there is one common trait that links together different nations and cultures. It is the expectation of a miracle which the coming New Year might bring.

     So what are some of the ways to celebrate New Year? I'll present to you some of them.

1. New Year traditions in Argentina.  

       A dream of every office worker may be to celebrate a New Year in Argentina. In the middle of the day streets get covered with layers of shredded paper. It is a local tradition to dispose of unneeded documents and magazines, newspapers and other paper. Also it is a great way to relieve stress. New Year's Eve people celebrate with the family and close friends with champagne opening at 12 am. Young people usually continue the night in various clubs.

2. New Year tradition of Spain.  

       On the eve of New Year at midnight there is a tradition in Spain - quickly eat 12 grapes, each grape for each blow of the chimes. 12 grapes symbolize 12 mounts and lots of luck in them. Local people gather in the squares of Barcelona and Madrid to eat grapes and drink Cava.

3. New Year traditions in Russia.

       The main New Year tradition is decorating the Christmas tree with toys and garlands. Another important New Year attribute is champagne - sparkling wine adorns almost all the New Year's table that night. You supposed to drink champagne with the first chimes. This custom is observed in different families in different ways: some just make a wish to themselves and drink sparkling wine, another observant go all the way: they write a wish on a piece of paper, burn it, put ash into the glass with champagne and drink this cocktail within 12 blows of chimes. And of course a New Year wishes come true, but it's believed that you can't talk about them to anyone.

       Another must-have holiday tradition is tangerines. Its roots goes back to Soviet Union time when tangerine appears on sale closer to New Year.

4. New Year traditions in Peru.

    For young Peruvian New Year's Eve is a very dangerous time. All because the unusual New Year tradition of this country. Girls at night are taking up the willow twigs and walk around the neighborhoods of the city. And her fiancé might be the young man who will be asked to take the twig.   

    Sometimes you can see a strange pair - the girl with a stick and a guy with a suitcase. Since, according to another Peruvian tradition, the one who will walk his neighborhood with a suitcase will go to travel in the coming year.

 5. New Year tradition in Greece. 

      In addition to gifts the guests bring stone - the more the better. To us it may seems strange, but in Greece it mean that the heavier the stone - the more money you will have in a coming year.

        According to another Greek tradition, the oldest member of the family should break a pomegranate on his yard. If pomegranate seeds scattered around the yard, the family expect a happy life in coming year.

6. New Year tradition in Japan.

        Greeting the New Year in Japan starts with 108 bells ring. Bells represent one of the six human vices: frivolity, stupidity, greed, anger, jealousy and indecision. But why 108, not 6? Because Japanese believe that every human defect has 18 shades, so ring the bells 108 times..

       To decorate their homes residents of Rising Sun include a specific decoration - "kadomatsu" meaning "pine tree at the entrance". They make it from bamboo, pine and rise straw. Children traditionally receive gifts.


7. New Year tradition in Denmark.  

      There is a tradition in Denmark for the New Year to get up on a chair and jump from him. It is symbol of "jumping" into january of the coming year, driving away evil spirit and bringing a good luck.

       At the same time the Danes follow another New Year's tradition - throwing to the doors of friends and neighbors broken dishes.. And no one is pissed off but quite happy:) Whoever got the most broken dishes near his door will be the most successful in the coming year.. Also it's mean that you have a lot of friends:))

8. New Year traditions in Poland.  

     Baking bread - one of the most important New Year traditions in Poland. Donuts that in Poland called - "Paczki" a good sign for New Year. Donuts bring prosperity.

        In Poland believe that if you will wake up early on the first morning of the New Year - all the year you will be up early. If you woke up and touch the floor with your right foot - is for happiness.

9. New Year traditions in Puerto Rico. 

      In this warm country in the New Year people throw a bucket of water. Thus Puerto Ricans get rid of all the bad and are preparing for the arrival of the best.

       Also good luck for the New Year will bring scattered around and in the house sugar.

       You can always find more information about this subject since it is so many countries and they all have their customs and traditions.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Is it Better to Walk or Run in the Rain?

   Have you ever asked yourself this question? I'm sure you have... Especially when you leave an umbrella at home on the door handle, you want to know what to do. I found an answer to this question in this great video on Minutephysics
Besides this one, they have a lot of simple explanation to some tough questions :) As they say, "If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough".
  Hope you will enjoy:)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Before the holiday feasts.

          Do you usually notice how much you eat? Can you stop when you feel that you've had enough? Sometimes I eat too fast or get destructed by something like a movie, Internet or a conversation that I do not pay attention to the amount of food on my plate. This is the problem I am trying to solve for myself. I have found some information on the topic and want to share it with you. Hopefully it can be helpful. 

         The concept of “right amount” comes from the Buddhist teaching of the Eightfold Path to enlightment. Each part of the path is described with the adjective “right”: right view, right mindfulness, right effort, and so on. In the Buddhist teaching “right” means appropriate, beneficial, leading to happiness and freedom.

     What then is “right amount”?     

     We need to eat just enough to remain healthy, just enough to feel satisfied, just enough to meditate without becoming sleepy, just enough to not be swayed by greediness.    

     “Just enough” is not fixed amount. It changes according to circumstances. We have to be aware of changing conditions, how hungry we are, how much we’ve been exercising, and how cold it is. But a young active man who is still growing needs portions twice as large as a middle-aged person.     

     The beloved Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah gave these guidelines about right amount: “When you think that after another five mouthfuls you’ll be full, then stop and drink some water and you will have eaten just the right amount. If you sit or walk afterward you won’t feel heavy… But that’s not the way we usually do it.   When we feel full we take another five mouthfuls. That’s what the mind tells us. It doesn’t know how to teach itself… Someone who lacks a genuine wish to train their mind will be unable to do it. Keep watching your mind.”    

     “Normal” portion sizes have grown dramatically over just one generation. This increase has occurred wherever food is found, in the portions sold in grocery stores, served in restaurants, estimated in cookbooks, and dished onto plates at home.     When we use bigger plates, bowls, and serving utensils, we serve ourselves more and eat more.   

      Asian and European visitors tell us the huge portions in American restaurants shock them. Rather than eat too much food, or waste too much food, they may split a meal with second person.    

      Research shows that up to the age of five, children have a wellfunctioning “appestat.” Even if they are served extra large portions of macaroni and cheese, they eat until they are no longer hungry and then stop. After the age of five children begin to rely on the amount on the plate to tell them how much to eat. But by the time they enter kindergarten the greed of eye, nose, and mouth hunger begin to override the wisdom of stomach and cellular hunger.     

     Many adults have ignored the signals from their appestat for so long they have no sense of when to stop eating. They rely on social and visual clues and generally stop eating only when other people at the table have finished eating and the food is gone. Or they rely on painful signals from on overstretched stomach.    

     Zen masters recommend eating until you are two-thirds full. The Okinawans, the longest-lived people in the world, call this practice “hara no hachi bu”, which means “stomach eight parts full.” It means never to eat to capacity, to leave a little room in your stomach. A Japanese proverb says that eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two parts sustain the doctor.    

    Taking in the right amount:

1.     Before we eat, stop to look at the food you will be eating and assess how much you would need to take to be just two-thirds full. As you take a smaller portion and eat it mindfully, reflect, “I am eating this portion for the good health of my body and mind.”

2.     Take at least twenty minutes to eat. When you feel two-thirds full, drink some liquid.

3.     Now think are you satisfied or not? If one part of you wants more to eat, why does it want it?

4.     If you take second helpings, reflect, “I am talking this second portion to benefit… something.” See if and how the mind fills in the blank. 

(based on "Mindful eating" by Joan Chozen Bays, MD)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Our first exhibition :)

We had our first exhibition in photo-class. It was pretty small and only for us students and our friends. But it was great anyway. As Nadya said, we did something serious and did it well. So, we enjoyed and shared our feelings with friends.

Our friends Tako and Midori came to see. 

Nadya's work.

Iryna's work.

Our friend Makoto and his work.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Ratatouille ;)

It's an easy cooked, light and delicious dish, which my friend Makiko showed me.
You can choose any kind of vegetables and any quantity of them, depending on your taste and a size of a baking dish.  

You may need more or less time, check the color time to time.
After 30 minutes in an oven:


Monday, December 17, 2012

It is time...

One week till Christmas!
We are not completely ready yet, but we are trying to be prepared in time. 
Soooo, here we have some evidence of that. 
First Christmas presents' wrapping. 

More Christmas cards have been created. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

How to prepare presents...

   Every holiday season we need to prepare some gifts for our family and friends. It is a tradition and a way to show our appreciation and love. Sometimes it’s easy but sometimes it is not. If we think about it more deeply, we will understand why it is so.
   When we know a person very well, it’s easier for us to make a present. We know what he or she likes, what they do and how they spend their time. When we are really interested in people, we can find a way to ask about their preferences and favorite things without making it obvious that we are trying to get some ideas for gifts. We may receive hints from any conversations when people talk about things they love. We just need to be more attentive during the talk, which might as well become a habit of a person who is interested in others.
   It’s easy when folks have hobbies, we can prepare gifts according to them. But sometimes it is too obvious and a person with a certain hobby might receive similar presents from many different people.
   I had a good teacher when I was younger. My friend Luсy moved to the US and sent me gifts on every holiday. These presents always were exactly what I needed. I loved all of them and one day I just asked her how she does it. Her answer was pretty simple. She said that she didn’t buy gifts for me right before the holiday. Lucy thought about me for the whole year and if she saw something that reminded her of me, she bought it. Sometimes it took her a whole year  to collect gifts for me which she sent later at the right time.
   So, I learned this lesson from Luсy and it makes me think about my family and friends every single day. I am learning what they like and how they live and I just collect some stuff throughout a year. It makes gifts more meaningful. Through my gifts I want to show people that I think about them and want to make their life more colorful.
   Of course it’s not perfect all the time, my assumptions may be wrong sometimes, but at least one thing might be perfect for a person J.
   I suggest that you just try to do the same next year and I am sure you and the one who gets the present will feel the difference.