CNY 2020: The Year of the Rat

January 24, 2020 1 Comments

I am very excited about Chinese New Year this year because I am a Rat! My high school’s mascot was the River Rat so I wholly embrace my Chinese zodiac animal. The Great Race account of the Chinese zodiac tells the story of a race across a river. As legend goes, the crafty Rat hopped on the back of the Ox and sang to him as they crossed the river but when they neared the other side, Rat jumped off ahead of Ox winning the race and was named the first animal of the Chinese Zodiac.

So as we begin a new decade in 2020, we also begin a new cycle of the Chinese zodiac.

Celebrating Chinese New Year can seem daunting, but it can also be a lot of fun – and is a great way to bring some Chinese culture and new family traditions into your home. Our celebrations may be a bit like Chinese food found in America: not quite what you find in China, but it’s what we have. And as my mom always says, “Done is better than perfect.”

We completed our first adoption from China in the summer of 2013. We celebrated our first Chinese New Year in 2014, the year of the horse. Since we had only been home six months, I am not sure how we pulled it off but we did have help. We were blessed to meet friends while in China who have become some of our best friends in life. We actually met in Beijing, on the front end portion of the trip and then spent the entire time together in Guangzhou since both of our boys are from Guangdong. Our friends live about 4 and ½ hours away but we wanted to keep up the friendship and celebrating Chinese New Year together became a tradition. Our friends come for the weekend once a year sometime around Chinese New Year depending on our schedules so we don’t always celebrate on the actual day.

One great place to get started is at your local library. Sometime after January 1st I stop by our local library and check out every book on Chinese New Year; sometimes I even request other books from libraries in our network. These books are full of information and great ideas. Some are just fun stories about Chinese New Year for elementary age children. They also can be displayed as decorations on a mantel.

One website I have found to be very helpful is called Chinese American Family. I love this site and their page on how to Celebrate Chinese New Year is full of information especially if this is your first rodeo. This site contains a lot of information including; history and folklore, activities, decorating ideas, information about red envelopes, recipes, crafts and buying guides.

I have to admit that I don’t have a Pinterest account so my friend is in charge of the decorations. I keep all of the decorations from year to year in a bin that I pull out each year when they come; we add a few new decorations each year. Since we host, I am in charge of the menu. Division of labor has helped us pull off this family celebration each year.

If you don’t have another adoptive family to celebrate with you can ask any family to join you as this is a great excuse to get together with friends and family in January or February (depending on the year) that doesn’t include football as the main theme.

Decorations can be ornate or simple. One year we left up the Christmas tree after Christmas. We took off all of the Christmas decorations, left the lights on and added homemade Chinese New Year decorations. We made little pandas, plum blossoms, and fortune cookie decorations all out of old scrapbook paper. This was the “most ornate” year. Other years we have simply used red streamers, paper plates, napkins, plastic wear, and decorations all from a dollar store. Red, corresponding with fire, symbolizes good fortune and joy. Red is found all over the place during Chinese New Year.

A big bowl of mandarin oranges is a perfect centerpiece for your table not to mention delicious and nutritious. Mandarin oranges symbolize luck in the New Year. In China the word for a mandarin sounds similar to the word for gold and so having a big bowl of them in your home at New Year is sure to bring riches into your life or at the very least your daily requirement of vitamin C.

Our kids look forward to the red envelopes each year. Each child gets one at our celebration. There is a lot of etiquette surrounding the giving and receiving of these iconic envelopes filled with money at Chinese New Year. Some of the basics are that they are usually filled with new bills and not coins and in even numbers (except for the number 4 which is unlucky and sounds like the word for death). You can find these envelopes online and the amount you put in them doesn’t really matter, what matters most is the generosity of the giver and the thankful heart of the receiver. Please, thank you and hugs all around!

Chinese New Year includes traditional foods. The ones that are most common, and we find most commonly enjoyed, are dumplings, spring rolls, noodles and any golden, round citrus fruits (mentioned above). Some years we have made what I call American moon cakes using our moon cake mold and a shortbread recipe I found here on NHBO.

I know one adoptive family who gets take-out for Chinese New Year. I love this simple tradition. This is a splurge and a treat and makes for a great family tradition with a lot less fuss in the kitchen. I have to admit that this year I bought frozen dumplings and frozen spring rolls. In the past we have made our own dumplings assembly line style using store bought won ton wrappers. I want to spend less time in the kitchen this year and more time drinking coffee with our friends. The kids are growing up and have increased in number and size and somehow I have gotten older too and spending the day in the kitchen is not as alluring as it once was.

The point is that if you love being in the kitchen and that is life-giving, there are many great recipes online. If spending the day preparing a feast is not life-giving, there are so many great options out there. You don’t even need to go to a traditional Chinese market to find great dumplings and spring rolls, although a trip to one could be a great part of your tradition. I have found some great frozen options at grocery stores and warehouse stores.

One additional food item we enjoy is the “tray of togetherness”.

Traditionally this is a sectional serving platter with eight compartments (eight rhymes with the word for good luck) filled with bite sized treats such as candy, dried fruit and nuts. Each treat has a symbolic meaning and you offer these treats to guests wishing them sweet life in the coming year. It is similar to serving hors d’oeuvres. I improvise and use an old Rubbermaid tray that only has seven compartments. I use whatever small treats I have on hand or remember to pick up and we have made up our own meanings for the foods.

Red and black watermelon seeds, candied lotus root and seeds and dried sweet potatoes are not staples in my cupboard, so in the past we have used things like peanuts, cranberries, mini marshmallows, pumpkin seeds, Cheerios, M&Ms and oyster crackers. My daughter came up with meanings for each. For Cheerios she came up with the circle symbolizing eternal life in God. Even the number seven for the number of compartments in our family tray symbolizes perfection and completeness.

Over the years we have included crafts from downloading coloring pages of the zodiac animals to making paper lanterns. We have also made up some of our own games like Chinese New Year Charades and Chinese New Year Pictionary depending on the ages and stages of our children.

If you are lucky enough to have a Chinese New Year parade with fireworks and a dragon and lion dance nearby then by all means go! Here in the Midwest Chinese New Year comes at a time when the days are often cold and gray. It is a great time to make your home look festive again as it always seems to look a bit barren once the Christmas decorations have come down. It is a great time to gather with family and friends between Christmas and Easter.

Celebrating Chinese New Year is also a great way to celebrate your child’s Chinese cultural heritage. We have five kids, two of them are treasures from China, and they all love celebrating Chinese New Year. As adoptive families we are already considered “nontraditional” – our Chinese New Year traditions may not be authentically or traditionally Chinese but they are ours and they create family togetherness. They may not be Pinterest perfect but they are filled with family, friends, delicious food and well wishes for the New Year.

I hope this will encourage you to make some Chinese New Year traditions of your own.

Happy New Year! Shǔ nián xíng dà yùn!

guest post by Tanya

Lessons from Rudolph

December 23, 2019 1 Comments

Being a family of faith, we try to find most of the stories we tell and lessons we teach to our children this time of year from the Bible where the Christmas story is found. But we do own and enjoy a copy of the Limited Keepsake Edition of the Original Christmas Classics, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

And this is where my story begins…

On our first trip to China in 2013, we spent nearly two weeks at the Garden Hotel in Guangzhou, as our son is from a city in Guangdong. The medical appointment took place on a quiet week day (before all of the other families arrived from the various provinces) instead of an insane Saturday (which we will get to). We and the other family traveling with us may have been the only ones there.

But the lobby of the Garden Hotel where we were staying was a perpetual hive of activity filled with new families bustling about. At one point my husband commented that the lobby of the Garden Hotel reminded him of the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. I had actually been thinking the very same thing.


Fast forward nearly five years and we find ourselves at the medical which took place after arrival in Guangzhou from the various provinces on an insane Saturday. The entire crowd from the Garden Hotel lobby was gathered as all of the families that had arrived from the provinces hustled through the medical stations.

At one point I looked up and the other mom we were traveling with, overcome with emotion, said, “This is the Island of Misfit toys from Rudolph.” And at that moment I knew this wasn’t just some crazy connection my husband and I had conjured up.

In the movie, the welcome on the Island meant you were also a misfit.

Metaphorically, if you were welcomed you were joining a group who was disabled or incapacitated in some way. On the island there was a Charlie in the Box, a spotted elephant, a train with square wheels on the caboose, a water pistol that squirts jelly, a bird that swims, and a cowboy who rides an ostrich. And then there is the “Dolly for Sue” – who seems perfectly normal -but the producer of the movie, Arthur Rankin, revealed in an NPR interview in 2007 that Dolly considers herself a misfit due to her low self-esteem and psychological problems. She is a doll who feels that she is unlovable; I would say that she suffers from a broken heart.

In the lobby of the Garden or at the medical on an insane Saturday the “misfits” are not toys but children. Children.

Children, not seeking refuge or community on an island, but children, many with broken pieces and all like Dolly, broken hearted, finding family. Family, in the arms of loving mamas and babas who had flown not on a sleigh but on a 747 from places that seem as far away as the North Pole.

Rudolph and Hermey, misfits themselves, end up on this island. As a mom to two boys with limb differences, I would say that Rudolph was born with a “nose difference”. Hermey is an elf who can’t make toys but aspires to be a dentist and this difference makes him feel rejected by the community he is born into.

Rudolph also feels different and rejected. As the song goes, “All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names, they never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games. But then one foggy Christmas Eve Santa came to say…” In a moment everything changes for Rudolph. And in a moment, in a civil affairs office, everything changes for a child.

The title “orphan” is replaced with the title “beloved son or daughter”. Names are changed. Families are born. The process of healing broken hearts begins.

And about those special needs. In the story of Rudolph his “special need” – his nose difference – actually turns out to be more of a special power. A nose so bright that it can guide Santa’s sleigh around the world in a night through fog as thick as pea soup sounds like a special power to me.

This makes me wonder, could the special needs our children have been labeled with on medical forms really be special powers in disguise? When my son with a lucky fin (limb difference) brings the ball up the court, he lights up the gym. When my son with two lucky fins zipped his coat for the first time, the entire kindergarten classroom lit up and erupted in cheers.

What about your kids? Have their lives grown compassion in others? Have their lives given others joy? Have they grown patience in you? That sounds to me like something even more than a special power…

that is the miraculous.

So when you snuggle in with your little treasures to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer this year likely your child won’t make these connections, but I hope you will. I hope you smile when Rudolph takes flight. As the song goes, “Then how the reindeer loved him”…. love really is what changes everything.

I hope that you are seeing glimpses of the miraculous in how broken hearts are healing in your homes. I hope that in the midst of the challenges you have moments when special needs can be seen as special powers that may not “go down in history” as the song goes but become a part of your family’s… your children’s stories.

Merry Christmas.

guest post by Tanya Strong, wife to Luman, mom to Selah 15, Boaz 13, Simeon 9, Shadrach 7, Meshach 6 & Abednego with special powers yet unknown

Dental Health & Down Syndrome: How Parents Can Help Their Children Have a Healthy Mouth

October 25, 2019 0 Comments

Dental health is important to one’s overall well being. Most of us do what we can each day to prevent oral issues by visiting our dentist and having a dental routine at home. However, for children with Down syndrome, they may be at a higher risk for dental issues.

While this can be challenging, there are ways to work to prevent oral problems. I have been practicing dentistry for more than 17 years, and have experience working with children who have Down syndrome. This article will discuss some common dental issues in children with Down syndrome may suffer from and how parents can be prepared to deal with and prevent them.

Dental Issues

There are a number of dental issues that parents who have children with Down syndrome should be aware of and prepared to deal with. Here are the most common:

Periodontal disease

This is a disease that affects the gums and can cause one’s oral health to deteriorate rather quickly. It’s most often caused by poor oral hygiene, bruxism, and underlying issues with the immune system. This can lead to loss of adult teeth if left untreated. Luckily, parents can work with their children on preventing this disease.


This condition is seen in a lot of individuals with Down syndrome as a result of delayed eruption of permanent teeth. This leads to an open bite, poor positioning of teeth, and an increased risk of periodontal disease and tooth decay. While this can’t be prevented, there are plenty of options to help combat the condition.

Other Tooth Anomalies

There are other dental abnormalities that your child may experience which can affect the form, function, or position of the mouth. As mentioned, delayed tooth eruption is one of them as well as missing teeth or irregular tooth formation. If your child is showing signs of any of these, visit your dentist to discuss the best way for your child to have a healthy mouth.

Dental issues can be confusing and challenging. Luckily, there are ways to prevent them and work through them and parents should use their child’s pediatric dentist as a source of information and support.

Going to the Dentist

To help work through some dental issues that children with Down syndrome may face, parents should take them to the dentist. Dental visits are the best way for your child to receive an examination of their dental health to uncover any issues. Plus, you and your child’s dentist can discuss any necessary care and treatment plans.

It’s also best to begin taking your child to the dentist at an early age to help them have the healthiest mouth possible. Not only is this a good idea for combatting oral issues, but it will also help your child be more comfortable at the dentist as they get older.

Dental Care at Home

Parents should also help their children develop an effective oral care routine at home. A good routine includes brushing twice a day, flossing once a day, and regularly rinsing with an oral rinse. Certain behavioral issues or sensitivities may make implementing a routine more difficult, however, there are ways to work through this.

Start by making a child’s dental routine fun. You can do this by turning brushing and flossing time into a dance party and play music or set small incentives to help them get through their routine.

Diet can also play a big role in a child’s dental health. Try to limit the amount of sugar that your child eats as it can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Find your child’s favorite fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and whole grains as these are rich in vitamins and nutrients that are essential to healthy teeth and gums.

Dental issues can happen to anybody, but children with Down syndrome are at a greater risks or some oral complications. Parents can help them by knowing some of the common issues, taking their child to the dentist, and practice proper oral care at home. Everyone deserves to have a healthy mouth, as it’s essential to one’s overall well-being. While oral problems can be challenging, never give up on finding ways to provide the best dental care for your child.

Down Syndrome and Dental Care
Questions to Ask Your Dentist Before an Appointment

– guest post by Dr. Greg Grillo: Facebook || Dentably 

What’s in a Name

October 2, 2019 0 Comments

Every adoptive parent dreams of how they will “meet” their new child… Will they see him or her on an advocacy post and be flooded with warm fuzzies? Will they get “the call” or open an email to an endearing face that will change their family forever? I had been dreaming about this moment for …Read More

We Are Their World

September 30, 2019 0 Comments

We are their world and they are ours….. A few months back I wrote about the first time I rocked my son to sleep. He was four and had never let me rock him in the two years we had been home with him. It was a little thing for most moms, but a huge …Read More

With Open Doors and Open Arms

September 2, 2019 6 Comments

Our son Falcon’s adoption story began three years before he was born. We were in China adopting our first child, a baby girl, through the NSN program. Touring her orphanage, I remember cresting the top of the four flights of stairs, excited to hear the sound of little voices. We asked our guide if we …Read More

For Kids, By Kids

August 28, 2019 0 Comments

“Mom, can we please do a lemonade stand today?” begged the kids. They had been wanting to do one for a long time, so I reluctantly agreed to do a stand that hot day in May 2015. We got a poster board, some lemonade, a table, and headed down to a park in our neighborhood. …Read More

Letting God Write Our Story

August 23, 2019 6 Comments

Life is full of things we thought we could never handle… until we have to. As we considered growing our family via adoption, one thing we thought we “couldn’t handle” was a child with limited mobility. We already had three very active children. We love to hike, bike, go to the beach or spend a …Read More

Treasuring the Gift of Communication

August 19, 2019 0 Comments

My husband and I love talking about adoption. Among our greatest joys is sharing our journey with others and communicating that God uses the most ordinary of people (like us!) to participate in something extraordinary. I always feel a deep need to impress upon those who are considering the call to adopt that every family’s …Read More

Ethan: Adopting a Son with Cleft Lip and Palate

August 14, 2019 2 Comments

Early in our marriage, my husband showed interest in the idea of adopting. “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to give a family to a child who doesn’t have one?” he said one day. I remember thinking, “I don’t know if adoption is for me. I don’t know if I could do that.” Throughout …Read More

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