"Yes," Dad said over the phone to Uncle Leo, "happy Year of the Dog!"
"What does it mean when it's the Year of the Dog?" I asked. Our kitchen was full of rich, heavy smells because Mom and Lissy were cooking the special Chinese New Year dinner. I was teaching Ki-Ki how to draw a dog for our decorations. "I know every Chinese New Year is a different animal, but is something special supposed to happen because it's the Year of the Dog?"
"Yes," Lissy told me, nodding her head so hard that her black hair swung back and forth. Lissy always thought she knew everything. "You know how they say a dog is a man's best friend? Well, in the Year of the Dog you find your best friends."
"That's true," Mom said, her hands mixing speckled brown meat, "because dogs are faithful. They say the Year of the Dog is the year for friends and family. But there's more to it than that. The Year of the Dog is also for thinking. Since dogs are also honest and sincere, it's a good year to find yourself."
"Find myself?" Ki-Ki said. "Why? I'm not lost."
We all laughed and Mom tried to explain.
"No," she said, "finding yourself means deciding what your values are, what you want to do-that kind of thing."
"Like deciding what you want to be when you grow up?" I asked.
"Yes." Mom nodded her head.
"Well," Lissy said, "I've decided I'm definitely NOT going to be a chef, because I'm tired of cooking. We still have to make the shrimp, the pork, and the vegetables. We're never going to eat!" "We will, we will," Mom said, and she looked at the clock. "Pacy, stop drawing and go fill the New Year tray." I went to the cabinet and took out the New Year tray. We had polished it so much that I could see myself shining in the red and black wood. I also took out a bag of the special Chinese New Year candy. It's very important that the New Year tray is filled with candy. If it's full of sweet things, it means your year will be full of sweet things.
Ki-Ki hung up our drawings and then came over to help me, though she didn't really help much. All she did was eat the candy. She loved New Year's candy. I don't know why. It isn't real candy like chocolate or lollipops. New Year's candy is sticky taffy melon candy, the color of the moon. Ki-Ki kept eating the candy, so I couldn't fill the whole tray. I looked in the cupboard for more, but there wasn't any more. But there were rainbow- colored M&M's. I loved M&M's. That's real candy. So I fitted the rest of the tray with that.
When Lissy saw the tray, her mouth made a big 0. "You can't fill the tray with M&M's," she told me. "It's a Chinese tray; only Chinese candy is supposed to go in it."
"But there's not enough Chinese candy to fill it," I told her.
We both looked at the tray. We couldn't decide if it was better to have the tray be half empty with only Chinese candy or full with Chinese and American candy.
Mom was frying food, so we took the tray to Dad. He scooped up a big handful of Chinese candy and M&M's and ate it.
"This way is good," he said. "We should have both Chinese and American candy for the new year. It's just like us-Chinese-American. I think it's going to be a very sweet year!"
Excerpted from The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin Copyright © 2006 by Grace Lin. Excerpted by permission.
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