Archive for August, 2012

Our AJ Panda Inspiration

*The following is a guest blog post by the founder of AJ Panda, Chris Deck. For more about their story of adoption, visit ajpanda.com/aboutus*

Last week I visited the Chinese Lantern Festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens and was reminded of the splendor and  beauty of Chinese Culture. It also reminded me of how long it’s been since I’ve provided an updated and shared how things are going with the inspirations of this site… AnMei and JiaLi.

Generally speaking, things couldn’t be going better. These precious little girls bring joy to our lives every single day. I know all parents think the world of their children, and I am certainly no exception… they are smart, funny, adventurous… really beautiful in every way.

They are well aware of their birth country, and we try to be open and mindful about celebrating Chinese culture within our family. I wouldn’t say we’ve reached our full potential, but we try. The girls love to get dressed up on their “fancy Chinese dresses” when we go to special events around town. We’ve explored Chinese tutors that have come to the house and local Chinese summer camps. It’s funny… the girls are quick to correct me when I make pronunciations errors with the few Chinese expressions I know. (The really funny thing is that, because of the “tones” that are so meaningful in Mandarin, I’m completely oblivious to their corrections because my ear doesn’t pick up the nuance.)

Anyway, the girls continue to inspire me and the site. They like to explore the “inventory” and look for the essential things they need for their room. They’re curious to hear about what people are buying and where they live. And they are quick to identify the things we need to improve (sorry we’re lacking suitable Chinese dresses on the site!). I haven’t put them to work yet 😉 but they’re eager and willing.

Above: AnMei and JiaLi observing the Chinese ship made completely out of recycled bottles and other materials a the Botanical Garden’s lantern festival. 

And about that Lantern Festival… it was wonderful. Although a bit crowded, the gardens were strewn with a range of impressive lantern displays that captured various themes of the rich heritage from Chinese folklore. We arrived a little before dusk and toured all the displays in their unlit state and then re-toured the park again when they were in their lit splendor. Very cool. My favorite display was the Pandas. The girls were trying to figure out which would be the “A” panda and which would be the “J” panda.

Above: JiaLi and AnMei with their matching panda counterparts. 

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Help savor the spirit of summer with a fun, new party challenge! We all know the best parties include great company, a great theme and of course lots of great food. We can help you with the theme and delicious recipes and we’re sure you’ve got the top notch company covered!

Chopstick Challenge

Are you ready for this theme? We challenge you to take on the the Chopstick Challenge. What does that mean? It means the only utensils allowed at this party are chopstick sets. Pretty awesome right?? Now you’re probably going to need some chopstick sets, maybe several depending on the size of your guest list. The idea is to serve food you can practice eating with chopsticks and have a little fun while doing so!

There are a lot of recipes that would work perfectly for a chopstick challenge so we’ve compiled a few to help you create your menu. To help celebrate the culture of China and the chopsticks traditionally used to eat Chinese cuisine, the main dishes are mostly Chinese in nature but you can make anything you think you could eat with chopsticks. Just keep your party guests and new users of chopsticks in mind when searching through recipes.

While we may think of chopsticks being used with Chinese cuisine, there are lots of American appetizers that would be perfect for a chopstick challenge. The ever popular little smokies, meatballs, spinach balls, mini crab cakes, or three cheese mini macs are sure to be a party hit. You may also want to try spinach and bri topped artichoke hearts too. Are we making you hungry yet? 🙂 As we’ve mentioned before, really any miniature food will work, just keep chopstick usability in mind as you determine what to put on your menu.
Fore more traditional Chinese cuisine, try these appetizers:
 Main Dishes

A variety of  main dishes will ensure your guests can get a lot of practice with their chopsticks. We’ve compiled this list of a few of our favorites to get you started, and would love to hear if you try anything else! We’ve chosen these recipes based on short prep time and affordability.

Oh the Veggies!You can’t forget the green, the leafy, and the good for you stuff. Green beans, fried or steamed veggies can be easily managed with chopsticks, even for those just beginning.
Chinese vegetable appetizers include:
Moo Shu Vegetables (pictured above)
– Gai Lan
Although sweets are not a big part of Chinese culture or cuisine, there are plenty that you can serve to your chopstick challenge party guests. Mini cheesecakes, tarts, cake bites, mini pies, or fruit are all perfect ideas. Essentially anything bite size works well for chopsticks. Cake or brownieswould work for easy to pick up bite sized bits. For tarts, think fruit tarts like lemon, raspberry, or blackberry. If you want to make mini pies, just make sure the crusts are sturdy enough to be picked up.

Party People
So there you have it, a Chinese chopstick themed party. To prepare for your party, consider getting Chinese chopstick sets. Party People would be great for a group new to chopsticks since they’re one piece as well as easily distinguishable for each person. Our Double Happiness chopsticks come with 10 sets of chopsticks making them ideal for a larger gathering or celebration. We would love to hear if you give it a try!

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The Tolman Twins

*The following is a guest blog post by Kristi Tolman, mother of  twin girls, Kenna and Michal adopted from China and brought home to the United States in July 2005.*

Every adoption journeys begins differently.

Ours began with a really difficult boss.

Eric and I had been married for 15 years and both had careers that we loved.   I ran a large marketing department for a high tech company and worked with smart, interesting people who I enjoyed being around.  We lived in Chicago but I commuted to Phoenix for my job two weeks of the month.  My boss was someone I had worked with at another company – someone whom I greatly respected.

And then my boss resigned.

The woman they hired to replace him was extremely challenging .  Throughout my career I had had many bosses.  Some had been wonderful and some had been difficult but none had been like this woman. Not one to give up easily, I tried being sickeningly nice to her.  I also tried being coolly professional.    But four months after she arrived, I simply couldn’t take it any more and called Eric and nearly yelled in the phone, “I’m going to quit.”

I was secretly hoping that he’d talk me off the proverbial cliff and tell me all the reasons why I should stick it out, try my best and make it work.

But he didn’t.

He simply said, “Quit.”

I immediately launched in to a long list of reasons why I couldn’t possibly quit but by the end of our conversation I’d written my letter of resignation.

One month later I was unemployed for the first time in my post-college life.

Voluntary unemployment has a sneaky way of making you stop and think about what you really want.  It was then, at that pause in our lives, that we decided what we really wanted was a family.  Our close friends and neighbors had a daughter from China, whom we adored, and it was surprising simple to decide that we wanted to adopt from China too.

We attended an informational meeting at the adoption agency our friends had used and three months after that our dossier was completed.  After our paperwork was assembled, we learned that our agency had a policy of not sending any dossiers to China until they had a minimum number of families who had completed all of their paperwork.  They thought it would be at least two months before they would be ready to send our dossier to China.

Waiting two months seemed like an eternity, so I turned to the Internet and started researching other agencies.  One agency in Texas kept coming up again and again so I called them.  They told me to FedEx them my completed dossier so they could review it and see if it met their guidelines in addition to China’s guidelines.

They called me the next night around 9:00 p.m., after staying late to go through it.  They said it looked great and they could send it with their group of dossiers going that week.

Three days later, on November 11, 2004, our dossier arrived in Beijing China.

And six months later, on May 23, 2005, we received the phone call that literally changed our lives.

Thanks to the Internet, I knew agencies had received referrals.  Eric went to work and I paced in the kitchen waiting for the phone to ring.  When I couldn’t take it any more, I called our agency.  They confirmed that they had received referrals and I should wait for a call from our social worker.

I had a neatly-typed a list of all the questions I wanted to ask her when she called.  Each question had a space after it so I could take notes.  I laid a pen on top of the paper to make sure I was ready.  I checked the Internet over and over and read one posting after another from people happily sharing their referral information.

And then the phone rang.

It was our social worker.

She was holding our referral in her hand.

She. was. holding. our. referral. in. her. hand.

She asked me one simple question that made my heart leap.

“Did you buy one crib or two?”

“One,” I answered.  Trying hard not to allow myself to believe that her question meant what I thought it did.

“Well, you better buy another crib because it’s twins . . . . and they’re beautiful!”

Almost everything after that is a blur.  My neatly-typed questions were never asked and I didn’t write down a single thing she told me. I spent the entire day in a foggy, blissful state celebrating that we were not just having a baby – we were having two.

On July 11, 2005, almost one year to the day after we attended the first meeting at our first adoption agency, two beautiful little girls, wearing identical pink flowered sundresses and too-big, hot pink sandals, toddled into a stuffy conference room in Guangzhou China and forever grabbed hold of our hearts.

Looking back now, I’d like to give my former boss a huge hug.  If it weren’t for her we might not have started the journey; a journey that lead to the two most amazing little girls I’ve ever met.

A journey that made me a mom.


Kenna and Michal are now 8 1/2 and about to start the third grade.  They both play the piano, dance, sing beautifully and swim like fish.  They are talkative and funny and are the best of friends — most of the time!  I truly can not imagine our lives without them.

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Follow the Tolman family on their blog at www.andbabiesmakefour.com

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How do you steep tea? Silly question, right? You boil water and pour it over a bag and let it steep for a few Chinese Tea Setsminutes, right? Not so fast. It depends on the type of tea you’re brewing.  It also depends if you’re using a pot from a Chinese tea set or a cup.  Sure, you can heat up water in a cup in microwave and let a tea bag steep.  That works if you’re at work.  But if you’re at home and you’re entertaining, maybe you should try a new approach to making tea.  There are two ways to make tea: GongFu and conventional method. But first, make sure you have a Chinese tea set so you can make tea to begin with.

This method is used when you’re making tea for one or a few people, not a large crowd. You’ll need tall aroma cups and tasting cups. Start by rinsing out the teapot with warm water by rocking the water back and forth and discarding the water.  Measure your tea and add to the strainer inside the teapot followed by hot water.  Cover and steep.

Traditionally, you pour the tea in tall aroma cups. Using your ring finger and thumb on the aroma cup and your index and middle finger, lift up the inverted tasting cups down on the table. Then pull the inverted aroma cup upwards. This releases air pressure allowing the tea to flow in the tasting cup. It sounds a little complicated, but it’s oh so good!

Conventional Method
The conventional method is by far easier. You still rinse the pot with warm water. You add the right amount of tea leaves, pour hot water over them, and let steep. That’s it. You are free to enjoy your tea.

The gongfu method is more aromatic. You use this method when you really want to enjoy a cup of tea.

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