Celebrating Chinese New Year

With Haddon joining our family, we knew the importance of incorporating his Chinese culture into our family. We do this in a lot of little ways—with the foods we cook, the books we read, the news we pay attention to, the songs we listen to and the places we go, to name a few.

Of course, we started celebrating Chinese New Year.

Last year, we put up a few banners we had purchased in China and ordered takeout from our favorite Chinese restaurant in Milwaukee.

This year we upped our game a little bit. I read up a bit more on the traditions and their meaning (a lot of polytheistic folk religion) and we planned things out a little better. I know our celebration is but a shadow of how Chinese families celebrate, but we are an American family with mixed cultural heritage, including Chinese, and so this is our American Chinese New Year.

On the front door I hung our large Chinese knot. We hung the festive banners we brought back from China in the kitchen.

This past weekend, we hosted a little Chinese New Year play date with two other families with children adopted from China. One of the moms is from Hong Kong, so she led us in making about 150 dumplings. I lost track of how many dumplings Haddon ate, but it was a lot, and he hasn’t stopped asking about them since. Good thing I have a bunch in the freezer and now feel confident that I could make them again on my own.

For the play date, I printed out some Chinese New Year coloring pages for the kids. They kept my kids entertained in the ensuing days as well. I also let them practice using chop sticks by seeing if they could transfer almonds, M&Ms and popcorn kernels from one bowl to another.

I displayed our collection of Chinese books (some from the library) by the fireplace for the kids to peruse. “Emma’s American Chinese New Year” is a particularly good one for us since it’s about a little girl adopted from China (although the slant rhyming in it drives me crazy).

The kids made red paper lanterns and I hung those in our kitchen.

On Chinese New Year’s Eve (the night most families celebrate), we picked up Chinese food and had my sister and her family over for dinner. The kids wore traditional qipao outfits we had purchased in a variety of sizes when we were in China. Basically it was just a regular rousing dinner with family, with kids screaming and running in every direction.

Before bed, I gave the kids lucky money in red envelopes—$2 each. Even numbers except the number four are good luck, and the price of a candy bar is supposed to be an appropriate amount. I wouldn’t pay $2 for a candy bar, but wanted to keep it even (also, really each adult is supposed to individually give each kid lucky money).

Two things I forgot about but had wanted to do—give the kids Mandarin oranges and do sparklers or party poppers. There’s always next year.

This weekend we’re planning on checking out a community Chinese New Year event at our local high school.

And that’s that! It’s been a fun week so far celebrating Chinese traditions and ringing in the Year of the Pig.

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Packing for China

We leave for China today!

Packing for this trip has seemed overly complicated. We will be gone for 18 days and so want to pack light, but we also want to make sure we have everything we need that will be harder to find there—like medicine, for instance.

Then there are complications like, well, all the paperwork we need to bring, the gifts for officials (small, practical items as a token of appreciation—this is important in Chinese culture) oh and clothes and items our son Haddon will need.

We don’t really know Haddon’s size. We have measurements, but they seem a bit unreliable. But toddler sizes are forgiving, so 3T clothes with a few 2Ts will do. We have his shoe size, but again, there is some question there, so I’m bringing two pairs of Crocs in two different sizes (they are forgiving shoes anyway). Thankfully I have a whole bin of cute shoes that Corban wore when he was younger so I just picked through it and didn’t have to buy any. I did end up buying some new shirts for Haddon because I just couldn’t resist.


I’m also bringing a few of our favorite books to read to him (unfortunately some are board books, so heavy and bulky), stickers, balloons, a couple small balls, race cars and stuffed animal for him.

The gifts are something we were told not to stress about. We decided to buy Wisconsin ginseng tea (Wisconsin ginseng is high quality and prized in China) to put in small red gift bags for officials. My friend we are staying with in Beijing will get tea and whole ginseng, and Haddon’s foster parents will get whole ginseng. I also made a locket with Haddon’s picture in it to give to his foster mom. Made one for myself too!


As far as my clothes go, I’m pretty happy with how much and what I packed (at least from my room pre-trip, ha). The weather will be warm (on some days HOT) so no need for bulky items or jackets.

I’m bringing three pairs of shoes: tennis shoes, Teva sandals and nude ballet flats. Three dresses, including one that is quick dry fabric so I can hand wash it easily. Two pairs of pants: leggings and quick-dry joggers for our four flights (there, back and two in country). Two pairs of shorts: running shorts if I decide to work out at hotels and quick-dry shorts I can wash easily.

The rest of my clothes are tank tops and a couple T-shirts,  light sweaters and workout tops. I did splurge and pack light sweatpants and a light zip-up for lounging in the hotel room, because I know after a long day I’ll want those comforts.


I think I could have pared back even further and planned to wash more tops, but I’m guessing I won’t want to spend too much time doing that, and my tops are mostly light tanks that don’t take up much space.

The biggest weight in our suitcase and stressor to pack was all the meds we are bringing. Pain relievers, Pepto Bismol, Tums, Immodium (it’s common to get sick from the food or water so we are trying to be REALLY prepared!), child medicine, mini first aid kit, lice remover, hydrocortisone cream, vitamins, cold medicine, Sudafed, nasal spray… and more I’m sure. I put them all in a plastic shoebox that we can later use to back breakable souvenirs on the way home.


Toilet paper too! We’ve been warned about the public bathrooms there.

One other key to our packing sanity—packing cubes! They’re those green and blue zipper containers, and I’m so thankful they exist. They will help us keep everything organized (we will be staying in three different cities while there) and help crunch things down so you can fit more.


We fit everything into two large suitcases, two backpacks and a medium-size purse. We are also packing a large duffel bag in the suitcase so we can fit anything we buy while there in the suitcases and check the duffel filled with dirty clothes on the way home. Just under the 50 pound weight limit for both bags (phew!).

So why am I blogging about suitcases when we are leaving on the most exciting trip of our lives today? Nervous energy, I guess! 

I’m finishing this post up from the airport where we are munching on some Mexican (thanks, Rick Bayless) and awaiting our flight to Beijing. I will try to update throughout our trip, wifi and VPN-dependent, but for quicker and more reliable updates, subscribe to my email list I’ll be keeping in touch with hopefully: tinylettter.com/alisherwood

China, here we come!

Our family is growing! Why adoption?

In two weeks, we will legally be a family of five!

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No, I am not pregnant — and this is something we’ve been actively anticipating for much longer than nine months: adoption.

So, first, the exciting details. It’s a boy. He is 2 years, 9 months old. He lives in Harbin, China. His English name will be Haddon, after (or inspired by) the theologian C.H. (Charles Haddon) Spurgeon. Peter and I leave in just over a week to bring him home!

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I had intended on documenting the entire process from the start here, but instead found it easier to share this journey via conversations and prayer requests to friends rather than by sitting down and typing it out. At some point I do want to go back and write more about the details that led us to this point, though.

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First, I’ll tackle a question I’ve gotten (not surprisingly) a lot. What made you decide to adopt?

I think if we didn’t have biological kids or were older than we are this question might seem nosy, but for a relatively young couple with a healthy boy and girl, adoption is puzzling, or at least curiosity-inducing, to a lot of people.

I understand why and don’t begrudge anyone for asking. Most people think of adoption as something for people who can’t or don’t want to have biological kids. Adoption is a great choice for those people.

Or they think of adoption as something for very saintly people who want to give unfortunate children a better life. Adoption is the only way millions of kids worldwide have the opportunity to grow up with a family. (Though I would say saintliness is an unhealthy motivation for anything in life, including adoption.)

The reality is adoption fills a need and desire for both parents and children, and I think it’s healthiest to acknowledge both parties’ needs.

So the short answer to “what made you decide to adopt?” is because we want more kids and there are kids out there who need families.

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From the start of our relationship, Peter has talked about wanting to adopt. Before then, I had never really considered it, mainly out of ignorance. It just didn’t cross my mind, but I had no qualms about it. As we talked about it more and because Peter felt strongly about adoption, it quickly became a foregone conclusion as we thought about the future. We are fortunate to have come to know a number of adoptive families over the years and that just encouraged us even more.

So the superficial “why” I sometimes find myself reciting to people quickly when they ask why we are adopting is, “We’ve just always wanted to.”

But there’s more to it than any of that. Why do we feel called to be one of those families when it would be far easier to just have more biological children? Why would we choose to take on the expense—monetary, emotional, mental, physical—of adoption?

Our deeper motivation comes from looking at our status in relationship to God. Through Christ’s redeeming work for us, we “receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:5) We are born under the law, but through Jesus we are called sons of God, receiving the full inheritance of Christ.

In Romans 8:14-17, Paul writes:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The Creator of the universe loved lowly, little me enough to adopt me as his child. Adoption is a beautiful, mysterious picture of our relationship with our Father—not because we were born His, but because he pursued us and made us His own children.

I’m not equipped to explain it all very well in my own words, but John Piper has an excellent exposition on adoption, where he lays out eight similarities between God adopting us and us adopting children.

Number seven is especially moving to me. A snippet: “The distance between what we are, and what God is, is infinitely greater than any distance between us and a child we might adopt. God crossed the greatest cultural barrier to redeem and adopt us.”

Jesus paid the greatest price for our adoption, so any cost we bear in adopting our son is pennies in comparison. We rely on God’s grace for the strength we will need for the job (just as with parenting our biological kids) and rest in His promises.

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