Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chinese Rice -- Easy Recipe #2

I'm all for convenience foods and quick and easy. But in the world of Chinese kiddos and rice ...all rice is NOT created the same! Here's a good guideline to follow when selecting rice. If the package has the word "minute" or "quick" in the title it's probably not the rice your kiddo would prefer. (I'm not saying he/she won't eat other rice, but you'll probably get big smiles from the rice above).

Here's the rice Sarah loves. It's called Calrose Rice. She also loves "sticky rice" which is what you find in sushi, but sticky rice will not work for reheating or stir-fry so we tend to *stick* with non-sticky varieties. She's also enjoyed jasmine rice before which reheats very well.

This awesome recipe only has two ingredients -- 2!!! On the back of whatever brand you buy will be the rice to water ratio. For this rice, the ratio is 1-1/2 cups rice and 2 cups water. While we do have a rice cooker, we don't use it much and 99% of the time I make the rice in a large non-stick pot instead of pulling the rice cooker out. A bigger pan works better because of the bubbles. And here's how to make it ...

1. In large non-stick pot (with lid), combine uncooked rice and water. Cover. Bring to boil over high heat, just until boiling is starting (not a big rolling boil).

2. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook 20 minutes or until water is absorbed. Eat and Enjoy!

Please note -- DO NOT STIR rice during cooking. The only thing you may have to do is to lift the lid once or twice to let the bubbles go down. But don't stir it at all! Seriously, don't stir.

When it's done it looks like this ...

We make BIG batches of rice. Sarah loves to eat it right out of the pan, just plain. Then we refrigerate the rest to use for fried rice. For fried rice, I just dice a little spicy sausage link and cook it over medium-high in a non-stick skillet for a few minutes. Push the sausage aside in the pan and break one or two eggs into the skillet. With spatula, stir the eggs around breaking the yolks and allow to cook, stirring just every so often like you would for scrambled eggs. When eggs are cooked, push those aside. Add a bit of oil to the middle of the pan and then add rice; toss everything together and cook until hot. If desired, add a bit of soy sauce at end.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Chinese New Year Stamps

Just a quick entry today .... the US Postal Service has Chinese New Year stamps available right now and they are gorgeous!!! I stocked up on several sheets to use throughout the year.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Q&A -- Chinese Language (Written and Spoken)

Thought I'd do a few "Q&A" entries about questions that several families have asked us. This first one is about Chinese language, both written and spoken.

Written Chinese --

Written Chinese characters comes in two main forms -- traditional and simplified. Traditional Chinese is the "original" Chinese character language. Traditional Chinese is mainly used in Taiwan (Republic of China), Hong Kong and Macau. Simplified Chinese was created by decreasing the number of strokes and simplifying the forms of a sizable proportion of traditional Chinese characters. Simplified Chinese is mainly used in the People's Republic of China (Mainland China) and Singapore. Therefore, most of your kiddos will be used to simplified Chinese characters.

Pinyin is a written phonetic representation of simplified Chinese using the English alphabet. For example, the simplified Chinese character for "love" is Simplified Chinese character for love. The pinyin for "love" is "ai". In public schools in China the kiddos learn the Chinese characters as well as the pinyin for each character. The one slight drawback of pinyin is that there may be several different meanings for each pinyin grouping so just having the pinyin may not tell you the exact meaning of the intended character. For example, in paperwork you'll probably be given your child's Chinese name in pinyin and then you'll wonder what the meaning of the name is. In order to get the true meaning, you'll need the character representation to assure accuracy in translating.

Why is pinyin important? Well, because pinyin is how your kiddo can use electronic translators and computer keyboards. The electronic translators that many parents purchase in China are used by typing in the pinyin and then using the results to select the correct character. Once the correct character is selected then the translator can display the English equivalent. So if your kiddo does not know pinyin, then he/she will not be able to use an electronic translator. Also, once you are home you can use a program on your computer that will allow your kiddo to type in pinyin and the then a box will pop up with all the possible Chinese characters with the pinyin. Then the user just picks the desired character.

Spoken Chinese --

For spoken Chinese, my understanding is that there are actually 7 main dialects: Mandarin (850 million speakers), Wu (90 million speakers), Yue (includes Cantonese)(80 million speakers), Min (50 million speakers), Xiang (35 million speakers), Hakka (35 million speakers) and Gan (20 million speakers). There are also many, many, many, many local dialects. The two dialects we hear most about are Mandarin and Cantonese. Mandarin is the official language of the People's Republic of China and spoken primarily in Northern and Southwestern China. Cantonese is spoken in and around the city of Guangzhou (formerly known as Canton), in most of Guangdong province, eastern Guangxi province, Hong Kong and Macau. While the spoken words in these dialects sound different, the words are written exactly the same!

Also, I'm told that in schools now most kids learn Mandarin as well as their local dialects, so if your child has been out to public school then there is a good chance he/she knows Mandarin even if he/she is from a location where another dialect is spoken. However, if your child has been in orphanage school solely then he/she may only know his/her local dialect.

Why does this matter to adoptive parents? First, if you are wanting to learn some Chinese before you travel to meet your kiddo you'll want to be learning the same dialect your child speaks. A few parents have commented they tried to learn a bit of Mandarin only to find out their child only spoke Cantonese. Second, if you are arranging a tutor or translator for when you return home, make sure that person can communicate in your son's or daughter's dialect.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Noodles & Eggs -- Easy Recipe #1

We've had lots of requests regarding easy to make foods that older kiddos will like. The first one comes straight from Miss Sarah --

Noodles & Eggs

2 cups water
1 package brick style ramen noodles with seasoning packet (any flavor)
2 eggs
3 Tablespoons frozen peas and carrots

Bring water just to a boil in medium saucepan; reduce heat to low. Add noodle brick. Gently break eggs (one at a time) into the water along side the noodle brick. DO NOT STIR. Allow eggs to cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Gently turn eggs over. Gently break apart the noodle brick with a fork and add frozen veggies. Continue to cook until eggs are cooked through, noodles are soft and veggies are warm. Serve in bowl with chopsticks.

Simple -- yet satisfying. This is one of Sarah's fav meals and it's good for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Older Child Adoption -- Part 2 (Reprint from 4/6/09)

We've been chatting with a few families who recently arrived home with older adopted kiddos. It's strange in a way to kind of be taken back in a time machine! Many of the concerns and fears these families are facing are the same ones we had. We worried if we were doing things that would scar Sarah for life! Was she scared of us? Was she scared of the house? Was she hungry? Was she worried she'd never find food she liked? Was she lonely not being able to communicate well? Was she having bad dreams? And these are just a few of the thousand thoughts racing through our minds?

So a bit about some things we've experienced and/or heard from other families. These are things related to the first few weeks together when everyone is trying to get his/her footing. As you settle in, many of these things will just become a memory or will transition into more long-range ideas. At first, our suggestion is to just focus on some basics ... the rest will follow in time.

1. Light & Sound. At the orphanage lights are on 24/7. Even at night the rooms are not completely dark because the aunties need to be able to move around. So a dark bedroom, hallway and bathroom may be very scary. Night lights seem to work great but if that's not enough perhaps leaving a closet light on or adding a small table lamp would do the trick. Also, orphanages are not quiet places, even at night. Usually there are many kids in one room plus any noise from other rooms or people walking in the hallways. Several kids have enjoyed having a small cd player in their rooms to "cut the quiet" down so they can fall asleep.

2. Soft beds and Sheets. Along with scary dark and quiet rooms, American beds and sheets are probably going to be strange to your kiddo. As many of you know from your hotel experiences in China, beds in China are HARD and those are beds with thicker mattresses. At many orphanage the beds have very thin mattresses or no mattresses at all. Sarah had a hard time with how soft her bed was which is really funny now because she complains when we go to a hotel about "how hard" the hotel beds are and how much she misses her nice soft bed! Also, in China, there are blankets but not sheet sets so you'll probably have to explain that the kiddo is to sleep between the sheets and not simply on top of them.

3. Food. Ramen noodles, ramen noodles, ramen noodles. We were buying these by the case when we first returned home. Now, Sarah will ask for some maybe once every few weeks. Also, try hard boiled eggs, plain white Chinese rice (NOT minute rice), flour tortillas with scrambled eggs and meat inside, original red can Pringles (don't know why, but many families have reported kids loving these!), hard bread sticks (again Pringles makes one Sarah loves), popcorn and crackers. We were so worried that we weren't providing her with nutritional meals but really at the start it's just about getting the kiddos to eat SOMETHING. And many kids won't do well with dairy foods and haven't had much in the way of milk or cheese.

4. Bonding. Overall, I give my husband all the credit in the world when it comes to bonding during those first few weeks. His idea was to just be silly! And it worked. It made Sarah more at ease and a happy kid. It's the best suggestion I have to offer! Other suggestions include badminton (and you don't even need a net -- just hit back and forth), drawing on the sidewalk with chalk, blowing bubbles, taking walks or pretty much any outside game.

5. Hugs. Lots of people are wanting meet your new kiddo! They want to welcome him/her with big hugs! Except that in China hugging is an odd behaviour that most people don't do! To most Chinese, hugging is just down-right weird! I'll never forget when we went to meet with a few of Sarah's friends and the minute the kids saw each other they raced to one another, stood about 1/2 an inch from each other's face and jumped up and down -- all without hugging or touching each other in any way! So don't be surprised is there is squirming when hugs are given and if your kiddo doesn't want to give hugs in return.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Older Child Adoption -- Part 1

In the past week we've had 7 families contact us regarding older child adoption. Some are getting ready to head to China to bring their newly adopted son/daughter home and others are considering adopting an older child. We are so happy to hear from these families!

We're being asked lots of questions and are more than happy to try and offer thoughts as long as everyone remembers that we are not experts on ANYTHING and are simply offering suggestions or relaying information we've encountered or heard about.

Thought I'd start by reposting a few entries from a year or so ago and then I'll try to do some new posts as well. We've been fortunate to meet many families who have come home with their older adopted child/children and have learned many things that perhaps we can share.

Here is the first repost:

One family who contacted us commented that they know others who read our blog and were wanting to ask us questions but who "didn't want to bother us" by doing so. Please don't feel it's a bother to ask questions as I remember back to how much information we craved and how few places were available to find answers. We'll help with what we can as long as people understand that we are not and do not claim to be experts at ANYTHING!!! LOL.

You can always reach us by using the "email us" link on the right hand side of the blog.

So, I thought maybe I'd just list a few of the questions we've been asked and post some answers. I'll do a few today and try to do some more over the next few days. These are in no particular order.

1. On your blog your life seems like "roses and cotton candy" all the time! Is your life really that GREAT?

Yes and no! The purpose of our blog is to "burst with joy" about our daughter! As most of our family is in another state, we use the blog as a way to update family and friends on some of the more interesting and fun things going on in our lives. In a small way, we also hope that by giving a glimpse into the life of a family with an older adopted child that maybe others will find that adopting an older child might be a great fit for their family as well.

One thing we are trying to do as parents is to emphasize that life has it's ups and downs -- and always will. But we (all three of us!) are working on ways to minimize the impact stresses have on our lives in order to have more "flower and candy" days. Do we have days that we struggle with life, cry our eyes out, stress-out, flip-out, wig-out and generally freak-out? You betcha, baby! But, I'm not going to put that stuff on the blog. It's private and it's stuff every family goes through.

2. Was the language barrier a problem?

If I had to pick a "yes" or "no" answer to this question I'd have to pick "yes" -- but not to the point that it was an insurmountable problem. There were so many things we wanted to ask her, to make sure she was comfortable, to see if she was sleepy or hungry or scared. But with the language barrier we weren't able to do that with certainty and it weighed on us.

When we met Sarah, she knew just a handful of English words such as "water, mom, dad, number." Communication was through lots of hand gestures, facial expressions and "trial and error." It wasn't until much later that we realized how much Sarah was "reading" from our body language and interpreting from the tone of people's voices, the "look" in their eyes, etc. Because she didn't have the luxury of language she used other means to try and understand what was going on. So while your child may not "get your words" he/she is getting your meaning (whether you want him/her to or not!)

Our understanding is that the older a person is, the harder it is to acquire a new language. For Sarah, spoken English came first. Now, reading and writing are coming along -- with reading coming along faster than writing. And she's maintaining her Chinese as well so in her brain it's kind of a fight between Chinese and English!

Last year and the start of this year when I would sit with her and help with math homework, she would talk with me in English but when she was doing the math problem and more "in her own world trying to figure the math out" she would be saying the numbers in Chinese. A few months back it "clicked" over and now she says everything is in English -- even to the point of saying "of fudge!" when she drops her pencil! So I think in a way her brain is transitioning to putting Chinese in the background and English is taking up the foreground.

Also, when she talks with friends in China I hear so many English words peppering her speech now that sometimes I can tell the person on the other end of the phone has said something like, "what the heck are you saying?" because she'll get all flustered and then go back and say the phrase in Chinese.

3. What does Sarah think about US food?

Now, Sarah loves US food! She digs Lean Pockets, hot dogs, onion rings, Pringles, pizza and Easter Peeps! At the beginning, not so much!!! When we first came home, she pretty much wanted Chinese rice, meat, eggs and noodles.

For rice, she loves the Cal-rose rice. And you don't need a rice cooker to make it. Simply use a non-stick saucepan or pot, put 3 cups rice, 4 cups water and a dash of salt in. Put a lid on the pot, bring it to boil over high heat and as soon as the bubbles are showing turn the heat to medium-low and let it cook with the lid on and undisturbed for 20 minutes. That means no stirring and no peeking under the lid!!! Sarah actually likes me to cook it a bit longer sometimes as she loves there to be a thin crunchy layer on the bottom!

For noodles, it was nothing fancy. The block-style ramen noodles were very familiar to her. I did order some online to get an extra spicy version as she loves spicy food. Her favorite way to eat them was for me to boil the water, add the noodle block and then along the outside of the pan away from the noodle block I would break two eggs into the water. I wouldn't stir the noodles or anything until the eggs had firmed and then I added the seasoning packet. She stopped eating these after about a year and hasn't wanted them since.

About eggs, Kevin and I both like over-easy eggs where the center is runny. The first time I made these her eyes became huge and she absolutely wanted nothing to do with them! She wanted to make eggs and so she cracked them into the pan and cooked those eggs until they were browned on both sides! When they were done she pointed to them and smiled at me and I got the idea! Since them I've called them "crunchy eggs" and to this day she say, "Mom will you make me crunchy eggs?" But, she also likes runny middles now too! And she loves hard boiled eggs.

Also, we had several kinds of chop-sticks and Sarah always picked the cheapo bamboo kind that you can get in bulk packages at any Asian grocery store. She wanted nothing to do with the fancier ones because she just wasn't used to them. And for the older children, they may not have used a fork and knife before because in China most of the food is made in bite-sized pieces so chopsticks can be used or eaten by hand. She won't mind me telling you that we laugh now about the first few times we had pizza because she kept trying to pick it up with her chopsticks until finally she gave in and just used her hands! And now the chopsticks are packed away in a drawer because nobody uses them anymore.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Drama Queen

Just a quick note. Sarah started this past week as a hair, make-up and costume assistant for her school's drama department. They've had two meetings so far and have 5 weeks until opening night for the play. Things are going to get interesting around here!