Celebrating Asian Heritage at School

2014 Display

2014 Display

2015 Display

2015 Display

My child’s school has only about 7% Asians.  Unlike Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, our school does not have enough families to make a core and have an evening program celebrating Asian Heritage.  But I still want to celebrate Asian heritage at his school.  You can read about how I became Asian Culture Chair at my son’s school here.

The first year, my son’s kindergarten teacher volunteered to get a group together to plan events for Asian Pacific Heritage Month.  I wrote about that here. She left teaching for a year or so and the next year no one volunteered to step up and organize something.  So without school help, our celebration was smaller.

In 2014, the librarian still displayed Asian books in the library and put up posters of Asian Americans around the school.  I created a display in the atrium of the school and used the money I got as chair of the Asian Culture Committee to contribute to an Asian performer for the Cultural Arts and Assemblies Committee. And one of the teachers wrote announcements to highlight prominent Asian Americans.  These announcements were read during the morning announcements throughout the month.

2014 Display

2014 Display

Last year, we had Robert Kikuchi-Yngojo perform Asia Fantasia for our school.  He did an excellent job and he was well received.   For my display, I didn’t plan that well in advance. I displayed two Vietnamese outfits (ao dai) and a Chinese boy outfit.  I displayed some lucky money envelopes and a Chinese fan along with a small picture done by a Chinese artist.  And a couple of small lanterns.

This year, again, the librarian put out the Asian books, and posters.  On one of the afternoons they are going to have a “Drop everything and read” and read Asian themed books for half and hour.   And they are going to do the announcements to highlight famous Asian Americans again.

2015 Display

2015 Display

I spent a little more time planning my Asian Heritage display.  I posted on our school list serve if people have some Asian items that I could display vertically that were neither valuable or sentimental.  No one volunteered items.  But one of the parents on the International Night Committee is married to a Malaysian, so I asked and received the use of a Malaysian outfit and then she emailed some pictures I could print out.

Rather than do the same thing I did has year, I surveyed my display area and decided to have three themes this year.

Theme one was “Rice”.  I had an empty 20 lb. bag of rice. Rice is a common food in Asian countries and is a big export item.  I googled pictures of rice being grown and rice dishes from various countries.  I printed them out in color on a color printer (Staples) and put them up. I also added a conical hat, used by workers in the rice fields in Vietnam. I also printed out explanations of the pictures and a little about rice production in Asia.

Theme two was “Malaysia”.  I created a “Malaysia” sign, because we didn’t have one from previous years.  The mom who let me the outfit, sent me some information about it and some pictures of Malaysia from here iPhone.  I was going to use the pictures and print them out, but the resolution was too low to print 8″x10″.  So I googled the place names and found some pictures on google with higher resolution and printed a couple of them out along with a map.  I captioned the photos, explained a little about the outfit and showed where Malaysia is on the map.

Theme three was Chinese Lion Dance.  I have a child size Chinese Lion Dance costume.  I printed out a photo of people doing a lion dance along with a laughing Buddha.  I included a little bit of information about the Chinese Lion Dance.  And then when I looked at the display, I added a fan to the top, since the laughing Buddha usually teases the Lion Dancers with a fan.

Around the display, are the names of Asian countries where students are from.  I advertised that the display was in the school Atrium to our school list serve and. The display was finished just in time for grandparents’ and special friends’ day, and was at least appreciated by the older crowd.  I also let my child’s teacher know it was there and hoped that she could lead the class by it sometime during May.

I gave my money as Asian Culture Chair again to have an Asian themed performance.  I don’t know if the actors are actually Asian, but the theme is Asian.  The Smithsonian Associates Discovery Theater on Tour is performing “Tigers, Dragons, and other Wise Tales“.  At the time I booked the program, the actors had not even been hired.  Our school will see the program later this month.

There may only be six years that our school celebrates Asian Pacific Heritage Month, but we will be celebrating this while my child is a student here.

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Making a Chinese Dragon for the Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance in the Classroom

Dragon Dance in the Classroom

There are two kinds of dances you find at Lunar New Year.  The first is the Lion Dance, which is two people and a head that looks nothing like a lion. You can see a quick video of a lion dance here.

Dragon Dance

Dragon Dance

The second dance is the dragon dance which is much less common, in my experience, than the lion dance.  The dragon dance is done with many people holding poles that hold up the dragon.  There may be 5 – 21 people dancing the dragon dance.  And the dragon chases the sun, which is held by the smiling Buddha.  I have seen this dance at the Chinatown Parade and also at a performance at Fair Oaks Mall during their two week celebration of Chinese New Year.  But it takes a lot of people, and a lot of practice and coordination to do the dance.  Not to mention the costume is very expensive.

It is this dragon dance costume which I made for my son’s second grade class.  I wanted something simple to make; I did not make a complicated costume to be held up with poles.  I followed the instructions from Chinese New Year for Kids, by Cindy Roberts.  It is this dragon that I made.  There is a great YouTube video of a much more complicated dragon.  I did not make that one.  It looks great, but she has several teenagers helping create this costume.

The dragon dance costume I made is the costume made out of two cardboard boxes, one a regular cardboard moving box and a shoe box.  The author used plastic table cloths for the back of the dragon.  The chapter on making a dragon dance costume includes an illustration of the costume, and after reading it, I was still not sure the author ever made the costume, since there were so few details.  But then I found the Adopt Vietnam website where there are actually photos of the dragon she made.

Equipment needed:

  • 1 medium size moving box
  • shoe box
  • wrapping paper, red, gold, yellow, other
  • clear plastic packing tape
  • scotch tape
  • paper towel holders (I used 4)
  • plastic cups (red, yellow, white)
  • cellophane paper  (optional)
  • speedy sewing awl (optional)
  • glue gun  or household glue
  • poster board
  • polyester pillow filling
  • poster board
  • fusible interfacing (optional) or copier paper
  • 2-3 plastic table cloths  – I used 5 yards of cheap cotton woven fabric + 2.5 yards of felt.
  • acrylic paint (white, black, gold)

Medium box, covered with wrapping paper.


Athletic shoe box, covered with wrapping paper.

The author suggests covering both boxes with red wrapping paper and wrapping it like a present.  Well I did that, but I cut the pieces of wrapping paper up so there were a lot of places where my wrapping paper is taped onto the box.  The reason I used so many smaller pieces of wrapping paper vs, wrapping like a package, was so that the wrapping paper would be attached better and in many places.  Then you can see I cut holes in both boxes.  The child carrying the dragon head will be able to see out of the open mouth.

I tried to use a glue gun to attach the shoe box to the larger box, but that did not hold.  I suppose you could just tape it a lot.  I wasn’t sure exactly how well that was going to hold given there was a lot of wrapping paper on top of the box.  I would have had to cut away the wrapping paper, taped it directly to the box and then put wrapping paper back on the main box.


Part of the sewing of the mouth onto the head


Sewing Awl

Instead I decided to sew the shoe box onto the main box.  I have a Speedy Stitcher Sewing Awl, which I had used a lifetime ago to repair some camping equipment. I couldn’t remember how to use it, but thanks to YouTube for the How-to video, I was able to learn.

dragon-head-1-webIt worked well.  I sewed the shoebox onto the main box.  And this is how my dragon stayed for a long time while I tried to find a couple of yellow Solo cups without having to buy 100 cups and spending $8.   I never did find fewer yellow cups and finally found some white paper cups and painted them with gold paint.

Before adding the cups, I added the spike on the top of the head with poster board and covered it with gold wrapping paper.  I used some wrapping paper I already had to add some stripes around the head. I covered paper towel rolls with the same wrapping paper.  I actually used two paper towel holders per horn. I cut one and put one inside the other.  I added some red  cellophane paper to the top of the horns because I had the paper.

almost-done-webOn the nose, I had to cut the gold painted cups to very short because there was not enough room below the eyes.  I taped the cups, horns and spike on with packing tape.  This picture is before I put the beard and mustache on.  I used red Solo cups and painted the eyes with acrylic paint.

I used old polyester filling.  It was not in a roll. I suppose if you had the filling from a roll, it would work better.  I think I was supposed to glue the polyester batting onto copier paper.  I had a piece of fusible interfacing and ironed the polyester onto the interfacing for the eyebrows, mustache, and beard.

For the body.  The article suggests two plastic table clothes taped together and fortified with more packing tape.  I bought my yellow plastic table cloths at a dollar store.  Those table cloths were so thin, I decided not to use them.  I had a third plastic table cloth that I bought at a party store (red).  It turns out that the party store plastic table cloth was much thicker than the dollar store table cloth.

Alas, I decided to find some cheap material.  I found some yellow woven material at Joann’s Fabric which was cheap and using my 50% off coupon, got the fabric for $2.00/ yard.  I bought red felt (also on sale).  I bought 5 yards of yellow fabric and 2.5 yards of red felt.   It wasn’t clear how the tail was supposed to look, so I improvised.  I had bought this product called “Dritz Quick Turn” and wanted to use it.  So I made three long tubes (because that is what this product does) and braided them together for the tail.

The Body

dragon-body-webAs I said before, I had 5 yards of cheap yellow woven fabric.  After making it, I though 5 yards might have been too long, until I got to class and the kids barely all got into the 4.5 yards of dragon body.  I cut off about half a yard of the yellow fabric and put it aside.  I had 2.5 yards of red felt.  I cut four pieces of felt which were 10″ wide and 2.5 yards long.  Then I sewed the felt together so I ended up with two long red pieces of felt, 10″ wide x 5 yards long.  The yellow woven material is 44-45″ wide.  I sewed the pieces of red felt to the yellow fabric along the selvage of the yellow fabric, so it was as easy as could be. This added both length to the dragon (on the sides) and the heavier felt material made the dragon sides drape better.

Using a newspaper for a template, I made an isosceles triangle out of the extra yellow woven fabric.  I had some extra red felt and cut some more 10″ pieces.  I sewed the red felt on to the bottom of my triangle of yellow fabric.  And then I sewed the triangle on to the body of the dragon to make the rear end.   After that, I sewed the sides to the back and then I sewed the tail onto the rear end of the dragon.

dragon-velcro-webThen I just had to figure out how to attach it.  In Cindy Robert’s explanation, she used packing tape (and a lot of it) to secure the plastic table cloth body to the head.  I chose to go back to Joann’s Fabric store.  And I got a yard of 1″ thick Velcro ® that had glue on one side.  After removing the wrapping paper from the flap, I glued two strips of Velcro onto the flap.  I then sewed two strips of Velcro on the other side of the dragon body.

The last thing I did was iron the fusible interfacing to the polyester fill and cut out 2 eyebrows, 2 pieces of mustache and a beard.  Then I used a hot glue gun to attach them to the dragon face.

dragon-all-webWith the Velcro on the box and on the body of the dragon, I could easily separate them and put them together.

I think we were able to squeeze 16 kids under the costume.   We used it for my class presentation and then we used it at home when we celebrated Lunar New Year with friends.

If I were to do this again, I might forget the wrapping paper and glue the cups and paper towel rolls on with a glue gun.  And then papier mâché over the whole head to keep the cups on.  And then paint the whole thing.  But then again, the last time I did papier mâché, it took a long time and was pretty messy.   So maybe this is the best and easiest way to make a dragon head.

I’m hoping to use it in years to come when we get together for Lunar New Year with our adoption friends, at school and at home.

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Lunar New Year: Which Event to Take the Family To?

IMG_1061So you see my list of Lunar New Year Events for 2015, but which one is the one for your family? (Updated 2/7/2015)

Here are some suggestions for where to go to celebrate Lunar New Year, which is known as both Chinese New Year and Tet (Vietnam).  Chinese New Year and Tet are the same thing.  So you will see events called “Chinese New Year” and others called “Tet Celebration”.  They are different communities celebrating the same holiday.

If your kids are young or you have never been to a Lunar New Year/ Chinese New Year event and you want to dip your toes in…, I suggest going to one of the library events or one at Port Discovery. (UPDATE) Sadly not all library events are created equal.  I have been to many of the Montgomery County Library events over the years.  The best ones are the ones that say that a Chinese School or Youth Group will be performing.  The ones put on at the library with just librarians just are not the same and do not include a real performance.  I went to one a couple years ago where the librarian didn’t even know much about Lunar New Year.  The one I saw recently was OK.  It said it was for all ages, but in reality it was like a pre-school program.   So if you are only going to go to one performance, skip the ones which do not include students from a Chinese Club or School. I have now highlighted the MC Public Library performances which have clubs or schools performing, so you can easily note them.

If your children are just a little bit older, then taking in the performances at one of the malls, Lakeforest or Fair Oaks is a place to see wonderful performances, but there is not a lot of audience participation and it can get pretty crowded.

I have not been to the Smithsonian celebrations, one at the Freer and Sackler galleries and one at the Museum of American Art.  I suspect they are both very family friendly for all ages.  If I were choosing between them, I might go to the American Art Celebration, only because I have heard good things about that one and because the Freer and Sackler Galleries have Asian art, they may depend on too much looking at art in the galleries for young children.

(1) There is a parade in Chinatown (2/22/15).  We went there twice, the second time I timed it (Year of the Dragon) and the parade lasted 18 minutes.   You want to get near the beginning of the parade route and further away from the Metro stop because most people stay near the Metro stop and it can get very crowded there. It is a small parade, but authentic for a very small Chinatown. I understand they have fireworks about 2-3 hours after the parade, but I have never stayed for the fireworks and I don’t know where they are.

(2) Tet Celebration at Eden Center (2/21 -22/15).  Eden Center is in Falls Church, VA and is Little Saigon.  This is crowded.  They celebrate with Lion Dances and speeches (in Vietnamese). They celebrate inside the mall and in the parking lot.  Parking is hard to come by, and you might have to park in the neighborhood.  The Lion Dancing that happens outside is accompanied by fireworks (the loud kind that just smoke and make noise — not shot into the sky).   The best way to celebrate at Eden center is to meet friends there and go to a restaurant in the mall and eat lunch/ snack or whatever and then come outside and see the Lion Dances outside with the noise and smoke.  This is almost all Vietnamese people at this festival.

That leaves (1) The Chinese New Year Celebration at Luther Jackson School (2/14/15).  I have not been to this yet, but plan to go. I have heard it is well done, the performances are in an auditorium.  I have heard the food is not so good.  So go for the performances and vendors and go someplace else for food.  This is well organized and advertised and put on by the Chinese Community. (2)  There are three Tet Festivals, one in Maryland at Northwood HS and two in Virginia and J.E.B. Stuart HS.  These are all about as authentic as you can get.  It will be mostly in Vietnamese.  There are vendors and performances and it is all pretty crowded and loud.  From the ones I have been to, there was no special place for the performances and it was hard to see.  As for the food, it is very Vietnamese, and not so much necessarily the Vietnamese food that Americans like.  If you want the authentic Tet experience, then go for one of these events.  But it is not the place I would choose to introduce my young children to Lunar New Year.  We’ve been to them lots, but my child is from Vietnam, so we expose him to it and we meet friends from our adoption group here usually.  Plus it is the place to get a new ao dai or some other Vietnamese stuff.

That leaves just the Walters Art Gallery celebration, which I have also not been to, but I would probably equate with the Smithsonian celebrations.

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Making Chinese New Year Firecraker Decorations

firecracker-webI really wanted some of the fake firecrackers that are hung up at Lunar New Year.   And I’ve seen them in Vietnamese shops and at festivals.  The big ones look like they are made out of toilet paper rolls, but cost $60.  Although they do have lights and sounds.  And the little ones cost about $20 and are still made out of cardboard.  I guess if I were in Vietnam, I could get them for a song, but here I have to pay a top price. So since I didn’t want the small ones and I was not going to pay $60, last year I decided to save some toilet paper rolls with the idea that I might make my own.  I saved 21 toilet paper rolls, but I ended up making two separate firecracker strands with 10 and 11 rolls.  Except for buying an upholstery needle for the project, I used only stuff I already had on hand.  So the cost of the project was $3.00. toiletpaper-webThings you need:

  • toilet paper rolls
  • poster board
  • red acrylic paint
  • Elmer’s glue
  • scissors
  • wrapping paper (red and gold)
  • Scotch tape
  • plastic beads
  • string, ribbon, or Rexlace  (preferably red, but I used blue, since that is what I had) – I wanted to say that Rexlace is a brand of plastic craft string, that I called “gimp” growing up.
  • skewer or upholstery needle
  1. paintedI cut out circles on the poster board, a little bigger then the diameter of the toilet paper roll. I cut two per roll.
  2. I stabbed a hole in the middle of each circle then glued them on the top and bottom of the toilet paper rolls.  This took awhile as I could only do one side at a time and I actually went back and added extra glue to make sure they would stay on. I used Elmer’s glue, but one could easily do it with a hot glue gun.
  3. After the circles were all glued on top and bottom, I trimmed the poster board closer to the toilet roll.
  4. skewer-webUsing red acrylic paint, I painted the tops and bottoms of the firecracker, including a little onto the roll.  It took at least 2-3 coats of paint to get good coverage in red.
  5. I cut 4.5 inch pieces of paper in the red wrapping paper and half inch strips of gold wrapping paper.  I started cutting the wrapping paper by hand only to quickly change to a paper cutter.  I recommend a paper cutter if you have the use of one.
  6. I used tape to attach first the red wrapping paper to the roll, and then a half inch strip of gold wrapping paper to the top and bottom of the roll.
  7. I used a skewer with my Rexlace taped on it to poke the lace through the firecracker, but it was no fun, so I ended up buying a set of upholstery needles and using that.  The upholstery needle was much more fun and easy to use.
  8. I put a plastic bead or donut on the end of the firecraker.
  9. I tried a couple different ways to hang these but I ended up liking them with 10 or 11 rolls per firecracker string positioned in a spiral.  I used tape to hang them in a spiral around another piece of Rexlace.

You could always make them without a top and bottom and just hang them from holes or tape on the toilet paper roll, but I wanted to make mine look as much like those ones I didn’t want to buy. The most fun, was painting the tops and bottoms, least fun was using the skewer.  But using the 8″ upholstery needle was actually lots of fun and I may find a reason to use it again.

Make your own fake Chinese Firecrackers for Lunar New Year

Make your own fake Chinese Firecrackers for Lunar New Year

This is the final product, two fake firecracker  strings for celebrating Lunar New Year.  I plan on using them in conjunction with plastic bubble wrap to make some noise.

UPDATE: The Rexlace and Scotch tape was not a good combination.  After about a week, the fire crackers started to fall off and after 3 weeks, they are all individual fire crackers.  I am now restringing them with red ribbon and tying them on a ribbon which is knotted to prevent the fire crackers from falling all the way down to the bottom.  Luckily I have that upholstery needle that is making it much easier.

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Books for Lunar New Year – Second Grade Considerations

allbooks-web-700 I have been doing Lunar New Year presentations in my child’s class since he was a two year old in preschool.  From ages 2 – 6, I have always read the same two books, “Bringing in the New Year“, by Grace Lin and “Lanterns and Firecrakers: A Chinese New Year Story“, by Jonny Zucker and Jan Barger Cohen.

But for second grade, I am going to change the books.  So I have five books under consideration.  This blog reviews the five books which made my final cut.

  1. Celebrating Chinese New Year: Nick’s New Year” by Rosa Drew and Heather Phillips and illustrated by Cheryl Kirk Noll.
  2. Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap Book“, by Joan Holub, and illustrated by Benrei Huang. This book is out-of-print, but easily available from sellers on Amazon.
  3. Chelsea’s Chinese New Year“, by Lisa Bullard and illustrated by Katie Saunders.
  4. Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year“, by Kate Waters and Madeline Slovenz-Low, photographs by Martha Cooper.
  5. Emma’s American Chinese New Year“, by Amy Meadows and illustrated by Soon Kwong Teo

Here is what I am looking for in books to read to class. First I want one that is clearly written and explains different traditions of Lunar New Year. The problem is we are a White family celebrating Chinese/ Vietnamese traditions and we pick and choose which traditions we actually celebrate. So ones that talk about traditions which I’m not that keen on, get downgraded in terms of whether I like to read them for class or not. It is not that these traditions don’t exist, just I don’t want to read them in the book and have to explain to the class about why we don’t celebrate them. Topics about praying to ancestors and the Kitchen God and most superstitions I like to avoid. Obviously I can’t avoid all superstitions, since many of the things that are done to prepare for Lunar New Year are based on superstitions, but I like to spin it that they are traditions.

And secondly I like the illustrations to be clear and show the traditions that I will be explaining or are being talked about in the text of the book.

I guess my Lunar New Year presentations are not as authentic as they might be. But since I create them, I can slant them the way I like and feel most comfortable with.

Here is my mini-review of each book with an eye for using in class.

“Celebrating Chinese New Year: Nick’s New Year”

celebrating_nick_webThis book is only 16 pages long. It has well drawn illustrations. The text is simple and focuses on the Lunar New Year traditions which I want to emphasize, so I’m giving it 5 stars and this will probably be one of the books I read to his second grade class. Since there are not many words, I will have to add a few of my own to each page to further explain what is going on in the pictures. For example, page 2 says “My friend Nick celebrates Chinese New Year. He is a Chinese American.”. I will have already explained that we also call it Lunar New Year and Tet in Vietnam and that it is celebrated by many people around the world. The picture on that page shows a plant with branches of cherry blossoms in it. I will further explain that tradition. On the following page, there is a picture of a stack of oranges and a tray of dried fruit. Although neither of these are mentioned in the text, the illustrations help document some of the traditions of Lunar New Year which I will explain while I read the book.

Each page has something to explain some tradition with  lots of detailed drawing so the reader can elaborate.

“Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap Book”

dragon_dance_webThis is another 16 page book. It says on the back that it is for ages 2-6. There are flaps to lift, which provide a little entertainment. The illustrations are gorgeous. The text rhymes. It is simple text, but there is plenty of room to elaborate. This book includes illustrations of both Lion and Dragon dances. It talks more about the food that is served. This book builds on what students will have learned in the first book I think I will read.

There is the concern that this book is pretty small.  My son is in a small class, so I think it will work, but if there were 28 students instead of the 18 there are, I might consider a different book.

“Chelsea’s Chinese New Year”

chelsea-combined-webThis is a more substantial book than either of the first two. It is 24 pages. This book does a really good job of explaining Chinese New Year, so as an overall book for describing Lunar New Year, this is a very good one. The problem is it talks about things we don’t do for our tradition, like staying up to midnight and eating a big feast at midnight. There are sidebars which go into more traditions, than I want to include in my presentation, like the monster named Nian. This might be a good book to read alone for Lunar New Year or maybe for third graders.  Overall this is an excellent book for children to learn about Chinese New Year, but it is not how we celebrate it, so I will leave it for another year.

The illustrations in this book are well done, but not my taste. It is sort of South Park meets Hello Kitty.  There is not the beautiful detail of illustrations like I found in the previous book.

“Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year”

lion_dance-webThis was my first thought of what to read when I decided to move on from reading the books I read from age 2 to age 6.  Unlike the other three books which are a general overview of Lunar New Year, this book tells the story of Ernie and his first time doing the Lion Dance in public to celebrate Chinese New Year. It is a nice story of a boy honoring his family tradition. Some of the traditions of Chinese New Year are included, but mainly the book focuses on getting ready for Chinese New Year and performing the Lion Dance.

Unlike the other books, this is the true story of the Wan family. There are no illustrations, but there are many photographs, which include both Chinese New Year traditions and pictures of the Lion Dance.

“Emma’s American Chinese New Year”

emma_webThis book is probably the closest to home as it is about Emma, a little girl adopted from China and how her family celebrates Chinese New Year.  And if I had a girl, I might pick this one just because it gives a more accurate story of what is it like for an interracial family to celebrate Lunar New Year.

And like another White family trying to negotiate celebrating holidays that we barely understand, this one makes a mistake on the third page when it talks about baking moon cakes as part of the Chinese New Year tradition.  Well moon cakes are baked for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, which is in September, so the author is getting a little confused to begin with.

The text rhymes (sort of) and the illustrations are well done if not a little too Hello Kitty for me.  The text is pretty substantial, I’m not exactly sure why I’m just not so fond of the book which is more like our family and celebration than other books.  I guess the combination of the sort of rhyming text with the illustrations which are just a little to cutesy for me, just don’t do it for the type of story I want to tell.

But this is a good book for telling about Lunar New Years traditions, especially with a twist of being told from a family with an adopted Chinese child.

I ordered even more books to find a new book to read, but the others were just not in the running.   I think any of these books (or combination of) would be a good book to read for a Lunar New Year presentation for a second grade class.

I still have not written my second grade Lunar New Year presentation, but at the moment I plan on reading “Celebrating Chinese New Year: Nick’s New Year” first, followed by “Dragon Dance: A Chinese Lift-the-Flap Book”.   Between the two books, it hits on all the traditions I want to include and excludes traditions I don’t want to include.


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Biking the Monuments with My Child


View from Arlington National Cemetery across Memorial Bridge to the Lincoln Memorial

OK, this is not about adoption and not about Asian culture.  The only tiny connection I can make is that there were a lot of international tourists (many Asian) on the National Mall the day we did this tour.  But I am writing it to encourage other families to bike the mall. It is so much easier to bike it than to walk between all the places.

I wanted to take my child (now 7) to see some of the monuments on the western part of the National Mall.  He has been asking to see the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  But I was sure he would enjoy a couple of memorials which are close by.

I tried to figure out how we were going to do it without making it a really tiring day.  A couple ideas included taking a hop on, hop off bus tour,  a pedicab around the mall or just taking taxis from place to place.  But the bus tours are $70 – $118 for an adult and a child.  An hour pedicab ride for two costs $72.   And on top of this there is the cost to take the Metro to some destination to catch the bus, pedicab or taxi plus the cost to park in a garage at the Metro station.

IMG_4921I came up with the idea that we would bike the monuments.  I don’t know why I never thought of it or why no one mentioned it.  First off, my child did not take his bike to bike the monuments.  I took my bike and attached a trail-a-bike, also known as a tag-along bike.  This is a half bike that attaches to the seat post of an adult bike.  The child can pedal (or not).  My child, Danny, really likes to go on the trail-a-bike.  I would not take a 7 year old on his own bike to do this tour, but it is probably doable for 11 or 12 year olds who are good at biking.

Here are some things you need to know:

  • Biking IS allowed on the National Mall sidewalks and walkways.
  • Biking is NOT allowed IN the memorials, which means you need to park your bike or walk your bike through the memorials (FDR, MLK).
  • You can bike across Memorial Bridge on the sidewalk (either side).
  • I biked the whole route by biking on walkways and crossing streets.
  • I never biked on a street (that I was not crossing).

My route cost $7.75, which was the cost of parking at Arlington National Cemetery for 4 hours of parking.  Plus whatever it cost in gas to drive to that location.  I knew that Danny really only wanted to see each place for a few minutes, not get an in depth look at any one place.

Here is the list of things I brought:

  • water bottles for both of us (3-4 total), but 2 would have been fine as there were lots of working water fountains along the way in August. I can’t vouch for other times of the year.
  • first aid kit  (two days earlier while hiking on the tow path, we needed a band-aid and I didn’t have one, this time I was prepared)
  • bike tools and small pump
  • lunch and snacks in a small lunchbox
  • print out of Google maps of the area in question
  • various bike locks and keys
  • camera
  • bike helmets

That which did not attach to my bicycle or that we wore, I stuffed in my backpack.

I parked at Arlington National Cemetery parking garage.  On the Wednesday I did it, there was plenty of parking when we arrived around 10:45 am.


IMG_4899I biked out of the garage and over the Arlington Memorial Bridge.  The Lincoln Memorial is at the end of the bridge.  We stopped first to see the Lincoln Memorial.  We parked our bikes in the bike parking and walked up the stairs.  We looked at the statue for a short while before heading to the basement to see the small museum.  Danny was actually more interested in the movie playing about all the protests and marches at the memorial than the memorial itself.

We ate an early lunch on some shady benches between the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Memorial.

Our second stop was over to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. We parked our bikes and walked a short way.  I knew this was going to be the least interesting for my son.  I put it on the itinerary because he was adopted from Vietnam.  I had to explain that this was to honor the American soldiers killed in the war, not the Vietnamese soldiers killed in that war. He of course wanted to know if his side won.  I determined that his side both won and lost that war. Since he was born in Vietnam many years after the end of the war, he was born under the Communist Regime, the winners.  But because he was adopted by an American family and the South Vietnamese with help from the Americans lost that war.  He therefore is on the side of the losers too.

IMG_4914Next stop was to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. We biked on over and parked again. As I expected, he loved this memorial.  Who could not love a bunch of soldier statues hiking across the lowlands?  Danny’s paternal grandfather served in the Korean War, so there is a personal connection to that memorial.

Next stop, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.  This is the new memorial that I had not seen.  It is across Independence Ave, but there are numerous safe crossing spots.  I suppose you can park you bike outside the memorial on that side of the road, but there is no where to lock your bike to.  So we crossed West Basin Drive, SW to where there is a place to park and lock your bike.  This is next to the MLK bookstore and  a restroom.

mlkThis is the second place which Danny wanted to see.  The statue was bigger than expected, but very sunny, so he wanted to leave as soon as we got there.  Danny had read all about this memorial in a book he has.  It says the granite used to make the statue looks like one color far back and many colors up close.  I guess the problem is in the glare of bright sunlight, we could not see the many colors.

Last stop, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.  We entered it from the MLK Memorial side, which is actually the end of the memorial.  There is bike parking before you get to the memorial.  The memorial is a series of four “rooms”, which represent different periods of FDR’s presidency.  Danny loved the people standing in the bread line and the little dog next to FDR in one of the rooms.

IMG_4930Next stop after the FDR Memorial, was back to the Lincoln Memorial area where there is a refreshment booth.  We sat and had some water ice.  Add $6 for two cups of water ice to our total.  So for less than $14, Danny and I have a great day of visiting the monuments of the western National Mall.

We biked back to the Arlington National Cemetery garage via right-hand side of the bridge sidewalk.  To get to that side, I had to bike all the way around the Lincoln Memorial and make sure not to get on Rock Creek Parkway.  Fewer people walk across Memorial Bridge on the right side heading out of Washington, DC., which made the biking on that side easier.  We got back to the garage and called it a day.

If you use a credit card to pay for the parking, you can pay at the exit.  If you need to pay by cash, you need to enter the Arlington National Cemetery Visitor Center and pay there.   Although I started at the garage at Arlington National Cemetery, another place to park and start this tour would be on Theodore Roosevelt Island. There is parking there, but is only accessible from the northbound lane of the GW Parkway.    The Mount Vernon Trail goes right past the Memorial Bridge so you don’t have to bike on the road there either.

Other places we didn’t go.

We did not bike to the Jefferson Memorial.  Danny studied Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. in first grade, but never studied Jefferson, hence his lack of interest in this memorial.  But the Jefferson Memorial is easily doable on this trip.

We did not bike to the Washington Monument because I could not get tickets for the monument two weeks before we took this trip.  In fact when I was looking, it was not until after students went back to school were any tickets available.  If I could have gotten tickets, this would have been on our tour.

Danny’s favorite was the Lincoln Memorial, second favorite was the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  His least favorite was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  We had a great day and I can see doing this or a little different trip another day.


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An Adoption Family Secret

doll75-closeAdoption affects families in different ways and sometimes it is unexpected.

It is only as an adoptive parent that I am thinking about how adoption has been in my family for decades. It is not something I thought about much growing up, but something that has inserted itself here and there.

My first recollection of adoption was when I was six, my older sister told me I wasn’t born, I was adopted. As if someone who was adopted was not born. But in fact I was not adopted into the family, but born into the family. It was just her way of being mean and making me feel left out.

But there were adopted children in my extended family and I didn’t think too much about it. My dad’s older brother married late (he was in his mid 50’s) and he married a woman with a ready-made family. I was a little confused about this when I was young, but when I was older I could understand what adoption was.  He married a woman with four children and then adopted them and they became his children.

The youngest one was the one closest to my age, I think a couple of years younger. He would not have remembered his birth father. My understanding is his mom was divorced. I wonder what a man would do to give up all rights to his children. I never asked and my cousins may not even know. But it was clear that my uncle was definitely their dad. They took his last name and they were a family. I’m glad my uncle found love and a family even if he found it a little later in life.

But out of the blue there is another adoption story in my family’s history which became known to my cousins and me over Easter weekend.  It is a story from long ago and sort of both surprising that it both never came up earlier and that it came up at all.

There was a secret in my mother’s family that goes back 80 years.  It was such a secret that the whole family must have promised never to reveal anything about it to anyone, and it almost worked.

About 15 years ago, my (now deceased) mom let slip a family secret she had kept her whole life.  My mom’s sister (Aunt S.), who had never married, had had two children out of wedlock. My mom had had a stroke. A stroke does strange things to the brain; it lets you say things that you didn’t want to say. As soon as she said it, she regretted it and would never answer our questions when we asked, so we just dropped the subject with her.

But my mom came from a pretty big family and I have quite a few cousins. So of course I called a couple of them up to tell them what I had heard and see if they knew anything.

My cousin Ann asked her mother (my mom’s sister, Aunt Sue) about the births. Aunt Sue was furious with my mom for spilling the beans. But she said “I don’t know anything about it… and besides I was only nine”. Hmm, well that was (an unintentional) confirmation. Aunt Sue also refused to ever say anything about it. So we were left wondering about two cousins (the first grandchildren) whom we never knew and wouldn’t know us.

I think back to a time when everything was different.  There was no “family planning” for girls.  If there was any family planning, it was only available to married women.  It was just 100 years ago that Margaret Sanger started campaigning for family planning to be available to women, but she was trying to help married women space out their children, not help single women avoid getting pregnant.

I have lived my whole life where there has been plenty of different birth control options and abortion has been legal during most of my life.  How different all of our lives would have been before birth control was readily available.

Back when my mom and her siblings were teens, it was a great dishonor on a family if a girl were to get pregnant out of wedlock. Even others knowing would have brought a lot of shame on the family.  I guess that is how this secret was kept for so many years. I think they might have sent Aunt S. away to a maternity home or maybe to an out of state relative to live during her pregnancy.

A couple of years ago, I read The Girls Who Went Away:The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade. Even though the book only covered the years 1950-1970’s, I thought of my Aunt S. often as I learned about the impact of giving up a child had on the women interviewed. These girls had no choices. Society didn’t give them choices and families didn’t give them choices.

I also thought of my aunt when I saw the movie Philomena. This movie came out in 2013 in the theaters, but is now available on Netflix. It is the story of an Irish birth mother trying to find the son that was taken from her at the Magdalene Laundries, housing for “unfit women” and their young children. And if you are interested in this topic, the movie Magdalene Sisters is available on Netflix and is a story about life at the Magdalene Laundries.

In fact one of these Irish maternity homes has just made the news in the last month.  The names of almost 800 children’s who died between 1925- 1961 were found.  They may be buried in a mass grave in a former home for unwed mothers. The girls/women who came to these maternity homes were considered “unfit” women.  But I wonder about the fitness of the people who ran these homes to have 796 unmarked, unrecorded burials of children.

Large families have a way of spanning different generations.  My oldest first cousin on my dad’s side is just 6 years younger than my mother-in-law.  My oldest first cousin (known) on my mom’s side is 10 years younger than my mother-in-law.  I am the second youngest of a generation on both my mom’s and dad’s sides of the family.  I grew up going to many of my cousin’s weddings as a child.  Some of my cousins I didn’t even know who they were until I was an adult because they were in high school when I was born.

Over Easter, my cousin, Jane on my mom’s side, got a call from someone who said she was the granddaughter of Aunt S. using her first and last name. She had a birth certificate with that name on it and had spent years trying to find someone related to her mother (and thus herself). The caller’s mother was born in 1940 and had died two years previously.  The birth certificate did not list a father.

We figured out that given what Aunt Sue said about her age when the first birth happened, then the first child was probably born in 1932 (and Aunt S. would have been 16). That sounded about right. We had always assumed that another child would have been born a year or two later. But 1940 was 8 years later. Aunt S. would have been 24. That was entirely possible, but not what we had expected. Then cousin Ann said her mother and Aunt S. enrolled in secretarial college the same year (1941). There was quite an age gap, but it sort of makes sense that my Aunt S. needed to turn her life around so taking the courses with her younger sister would have made sense. One would have been 18 and the other 25.

If what we have speculated is true, these births out of wedlock may have caused the trajectory of Aunt S’s life. She joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) in WWII. The WAVES were a part of the US Navy for women. Did she join because she was estranged from her family or just needed to make a new start? She was in the Navy until she retired and worked at the Pentagon when I was in high school.

Aunt S., never married. And when I was a child, in my infinite naivety, I thought that anyone who wasn’t married, was gay. So for years I thought she was a lesbian.  This says nothing about my aunt but more about when I grew up and what we talked about as children.  We didn’t see her very often. During high school, we would see her for one holiday meal a year. She kept her personal life to herself. Then she retired and moved to Florida. I got the lowdown from my cousin Ann who visited Aunt S. in Florida with her mom every year. We heard toward the end of her life she had a common law husband.

I never remember seeing my grandmother and Aunt S. in the same room. It may mean something or it may have just been proximity. My cousins, who are older and have better memories, do remember our grandmother and Aunt S. together.  My grandmother’s last child was born in mid 1932. I can see how having a teenage daughter pregnant, and possibly being pregnant at the same time as her daughter might have created a very stressful time for the whole family.  Two of my cousins agree that Aunt S. would not have been estranged from her family.  Since I am younger, I didn’t know my grandparents as well, but I’m glad to hear that, as so many girls and women became estranged from their families due to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

My cousins had already thought about whether this last child of my grandmother’s was actually the child of Aunt S., but dismissed that as one of my cousins got hold of the birth certificate of the uncle born in 1932 (now deceased) and see that indeed my grandmother and grandfather were listed as parents.  My grandmother was 40 when the 8th child was born.  This is not really that unusual for the time before birth control.  My dad’s mom was 42 when my dad was born.

I found out about the children born out of wedlock before my Aunt S. died. But no one could ask such a personal question of my aunt, so our family will never really know the story. But it was not a unique story. It happened to many families. And in those days it was a secret that many took to their graves.  Mary’s mother went on to be adopted by a loving couple.  She did not know she was adopted until her twenties.  But that is how things with adoption played out many years ago.

Fifteen years ago my cousins and I speculated about whether we would ever meet these two cousins. I guess we now know the answer is no, we will never meet these two cousins. The older one would be around 80 years old and the younger one died two years ago. But is was a nice surprise for us to get to meet and correspond to the granddaughter of what we presume is the second child.

We have talked on the phone and emailed the granddaughter of the second child, Mary.  She has done a lot of research. She started before her own mother died, but she didn’t get our contact information until after her mother’s death.

In 2009 (and this was before her mother died), Mary was pretty sure she knew exactly who her mom’s birth mother was.  She wrote to her county to get the adoption records and presented lots of evidence.  But the workers there admitted that she had great evidence, but they were not able to find any adoption record, when there should have been one in the county of the adoption.

We don’t know what happened to the adoption record.  Could it be my granddad’s uncle, who was a lawyer, did the adoption, but didn’t file the paperwork?  It was not until right before Easter that some random Googling by Mary that she found a recent obituary which listed Aunt S. as a deceased relative that Mary was able to get some contact information via Google and then Facebook.  She chose my cousin Jane to contact first, because she was able to get the phone number on-line.  But she ended up talking with at least three of us around Easter.  I was happy to reconnect with my two cousins Ann and Jane over the Easter weekend and talk about everything we knew and what we speculated.

And last week, I got to meet my cousin, Mary.  She is my first cousin once removed and her mom was my first cousin.  She stopped by on her way to a local airport to pick up her daughter from an off-campus college trip.

This unknown cousin, Mary and my cousin Jane had corresponded and Jane thought she might know who our new cousins’ grandfather was.  Mary was able to contact the family of the suspected father (a friend of the family and who married someone else later).  Through a DNA test Mary found out that this suspected father was not related to her (oh well, it would have been a great story).  But from the DNA test, she found someone who was registered on Ancestry.com who was either a first cousin or a second cousin.  She was able to contact the person and it is my cousin Tom.  So from the DNA test to find out if Mary was related to the suspected father, she found out she is definitely related to our side of the family through her mother and my Aunt S.

My new cousin, Mary has been in contact with several of my cousins, through Facebook, phone calls, mail and email.  She lives very close to two of them (within 40 minutes).  I thought she would have met one of two in the last couple of months. But I was the first cousin she met.  It sort of makes a full circle to have met me first.  Her mother was adopted out of our family and I am the one in our family who adopted a child into our family.

doll73I showed Mary a present Aunt S. had given me as a child, a Japanese doll sits in a place of honor in my living room.  Aunt S. served in Japan in the 1960’s and always remembered her nieces and nephews with gifts.   Cousin Ann had some of Aunt’s S’s pins and a cigarette lighter from her days in the Navy and had sent them to Mary.   I had meant to check my attic for something from my aunt before she stopped for a visit, but I forgot.  The one thing I did remember I had were dress-up clothes that we got from Aunt S.  She had fabulous clothes to dress up in, but she also had some Navy stuff that we could dress up in.  I found her Navy cap and inside was a name tag inscribed with her (birth) grandmother’s name.  I sent it to her and will email some pictures I have of my aunt at a family gathering.  The funny thing is I had taken these clothes out of a trunk last year and washed all of them.  They still smell a little funky, and I hadn’t decided what to do with them.  I hated to throw them away, (it is a fabulous collection), but I’m not sure who would want them.  Luckily, I didn’t do anything with them and just stored them in my attic, so that Mary got a hat that her (birth) grandmother once wore.  I think this pack rat tendency comes from my mom’s side as well.

It is nice to have a new cousin.  I know my son, Danny (age 6) wants to meet cousin Mary and her husband.  Unfortunately Danny was in school, when they dropped by.  He is all about having relatives.  He has met cousin Jane once, but still asks about her and wants me to post pictures of him on Facebook so she can see them.  And he was gladdened to hear that she keeps Christmas pictures of him on her fridge.

So the secret is out, 80 years later.  And it came out in a time when being born out of wedlock is not such a shame, at least to the younger generations.  Family is family, whether you are adopted into or out of the family.  Things like this don’t happen everyday. So it made for a pretty exciting Easter.  Welcome to your new found family, cousin Mary.



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