Monday, July 10, 2017

China Camp 2017

We spent last week in Tulsa at our adoption agency's culture camp. We first went when Katherine was 4 and decided then that we would return to China Camp every year. Ten years later it is still very much a part of our summer routine!

Katherine has aged out of the regular camp, so she moved up to being a Teen Counselor. She always admired the bigger girls who volunteered in her classes and was excited to be one of them now.
She helped with the 1st graders. After the first day I asked how it had gone. Katherine answered, "Some of those kids are really annoying!" Welcome to the realities of teaching! There were other kids that she enjoyed, though, and she was quite pleased when one little girl brought her a gift on the last day.

Rachel was in the Sheep group, all kids who had finished 3rd grade. She doesn't have "orphanage sisters" in her class, like Katherine did, but she has made friends that she looks forward to seeing every year.
Rae's favorite camp activity was cooking and her least favorites were language and kung fu. Katherine agreed.

One of my favorite parts of China Camp is Picture Day. I never tire of seeing all those beautiful faces or of the Where's Waldo-like search for my own girls.

Fewer and fewer children are adopted from China each year, so this group is rapidly growing smaller. That makes me sad for many different reasons.

Camp always opens with drums and a lion dance.
And it ends with performances from each class. Katherine helped herd her 1st graders on stage...
...and then she sat back to enjoy their kung fu moves.

Rachel's class was part of a fan dance.

During their performance the teachers stood in front of the group to lead, so taking pictures was challenging. I promise the dance was lovely!
Closing Ceremonies ends with more drums and another lion dance, this one performed by the 6th graders. I get teary eyed every year watching it.

I am so grateful that my girls have had the opportunity to be a part of China Camp. It is such a wonderful affirmation of their birth culture, great support for our family, and a yearly reminder that my girls are not alone it their life stories. China Camp is just cool!

Monday, July 3, 2017

50th Family Trip: Eating Our Way Through the South

We knew that traveling through a large swath of the South would mean lots of opportunities for some good eating. We were not disappointed!

On our first day out, we stayed in Forrest City, Arkansas and had dinner at this place.
 The punctuation choices in the sign were perplexing, but the all-you-can-eat soul food buffet was good.
 We ate at Central BBQ in Memphis. It was different than the Kansas style sauce we are used to, spicier and with a vinegary kick, but tasty.
 In Selma we stumbled across a little place called The Back Porch Bistro, which served sandwiches and Southern sides.
 I ordered fried green tomatoes, which I had never tasted. They were delicious!
 We were the only people in the restaurant, so the owners came out to chat with us. The two women asked about our trip and recommended a restaurant in Orange Beach. They were discussing places we might explore and then changed their minds when they remembered it was June. One woman, in her soft drawl, said "I went there in mosquito season once and the mosquitoes were so bad they just picked me up and carried me into the next county." We laughed at that all week!
 Our first night in Orange Beach we ate sandwiches and burgers at a restaurant that was literally on the beach!
The ladies in Selma had recommended a small restaurant chain called Shrimp Basket. We tried it out and found it to be excellent! 

There was a wide assortment of fish and shrimp dishes. Meals came with homemade hushpuppies and "shrimp slaw", a tasty slaw with tiny shrimp mixed in it. I introduced Katherine to the wonders of cheese grits - she's now a fan.
 My dad had etouffee and gave it a thumb's up.
 We waddled out of Shrimp Basket, stuffed full of seafood and sides. But the next day when lunch time arrived, we made a unanimous decision to go back to Shrimp Basket to try some more. I had shrimp tacos (and more cheese grits).
 And we feasted on coconut shrimp. We will be talking about Shrimp Basket for years to come!
 Our vans got separated on the drive to New Orleans. Our car was needing lunch and picked this restaurant, mostly because it had a giant crawfish in front.
 Katherine was delighted to find jambalaya as a side dish choice.
 Our first night in New Orleans was walked to St. Charles street and had dinner in a narrow little pizza place called Slice. They sold pizza by the slice and had some wildly unusual offerings. I picked two of the weirdest, just because. The first had Muffaletta toppings - ham, pepperoni, prosciutto, provolone, and olive spread. It was rich and salty and the closest I came to having an actual Muffaletta in New Orleans. The second slice had ham, arugula, provolone, pepper jelly, and diced tomato. It had never occurred to me to put either greens or pepper jelly on pizza, but it was fabulous!
 Bread pudding with bourbon sauce. Best eaten warm, while listening to live jazz. Katherine and I seriously considered licking the plate when we were done.
 Red beans and rice with sausage, at the aquarium, of all places. This comfort food was a great meal for a rainy day.
 Our last night in New Orleans we walked to a place called Voodoo BBQ. Rachel had shrimp - "Not as good as Shrimp Basket". Steve had a po'boy. Katherine had gumbo. I had smoked chicken, corn pudding, sweet potato souffle, and the best corn bread I've ever eaten.
We loved our food journey through the South. We didn't eat anything fancy, and probably not much that was healthy, but it sure was good! When people ask Katherine what her favorite part of our big trip was, she doesn't hesitate to say, "The food!" It was a tasty trip!

50th Family Trip: Lovely New Orleans

I knew very little about New Orleans before we visited and had never understood it's appeal. My mental images of the place were drunken revelry during Mardi Gras, the horror of Hurricane Katrina aftermath, and the bizarre statistics of being a city built below the level of the water surrounding it. Why would people wax poetic about any of that? And then I visited.

It didn't take long for New Orleans to work her charm on me. All those gorgeous buildings, painted in pastel colors and decorated with balconies and shutters and gingerbread trim softened me. The streetcars had me smitten. And by the time I stood on Canal Street and looked out at the palm trees and trolley tracks and the joyful life of the city, I was in love.
New Orleans is a magical place, even in the rain.

I spent part of an afternoon wandering around the Garden District, exploring the residential neighborhoods around our condo. Even there, in an area where tourists rarely ventured, it was lovely.

I took pictures of the First Emmanuel Baptist Church, across the street from my bedroom window.

My sister joined me and we strolled down St. Charles street, admiring the giant houses and the live oaks covered in ferns and stopping to sample pralines.

As we packed up and prepared to set out for the long drive back to Kansas, I kept thinking "But I'm not ready to leave!" There was so much I had not yet seen in New Orleans. I hadn't seen the universities or ridden the whole routes of the streetcars. I hadn't seen Bourbon Street at night or been in any of the downtown buildings. I hadn't visited the Insectarium or the zoo or ridden on one of the double deck tour buses. I hadn't talked to any New Orleans natives to see what how they viewed their city And the food! I hadn't had a Muffaletta or a beneit and I'd barely scratched the surface of Cajun food. Clearly, I had fallen under New Orleans's spell. Our time there, and our family vacation, were over. But someday I'm coming back...

I love birthdays!

the ladybug cake

The Ladybug Sisters


Jie Jie and Mei Mei

Park Pictures

Park Pictures
Peeking through the windows

Park Pictures

Park Pictures
Katherine and her toothless smile

Park Pictures

Park Pictures
The little one leads the way