I do not typically take all my kids grocery shopping with me.  I am so much faster by myself or with just a couple of them. Last week we celebrated Chinese New Year. I knew the kids would love roaming the aisles of the asian/international grocery store, so we loaded up and headed there together.

We got several double glances…I can’t imagine why.

2.15dumplings-09This next photo is for those of you that have little ones and you load 17 shopping bags on your two arms and carry a baby at the same time. One day…you won’t carry the bags or the baby. One day, you might have lots of willing helpers. And IT. IS. AWESOME.2.15dumplings-10

My friend Bopha’s mom let a few of us come watch her cook dumplings and steam buns last week. I jotted down a bunch of notes and was determined to make all the dumplings for our family feast. Typically, I cater most of our New Year’s meal because…well, I want it to taste good and I’ve yet to master the art of Chinese cuisine….until this year. I am thinking I might have a little bit of Chinese in me – the dumplings and steam buns were awesome. However, the mere fact I am calling them dumplings and steam buns instead of their actual names proves that I am in fact not Chinese.

Regardless, I do have lots of friends that know how to celebrate Chinese New Years and know how to cook authentic dishes…so I will learn a little more each year and have fun in the process.

I wasn’t sure if the kids would be able to ‘pleat’ the dumplings, but they did a better job than me. My mom came over to help us too, so that doubled our working speed!2.15dumplings-012.15dumplings-022.15dumplings-03My youngest daughter just wanted to tear all the dough circles. She did an awesome job at it.2.15dumplings-042.15dumplings-05A traditional part of Chinese New Year festivities is the Lion Dance. My mom started our own family take on the tradition three years ago. Each year she makes a costume with the kids that goes with the animal of the year (Year of the Snake, Year of the Monkey, etc.). This year was Year of the Sheep (or Goat or Ram, depending on who you ask). During our dinner the kids danced around in it, similar to the traditional Lion Dance. It is our Okie Chinese New Year – I basically love this night each year.2.15dumplings-07In 2012, on the morning of the day I would meet my youngest daughter I ate a steam bun for breakfast. “Attempted to eat” would be more like it. To this day,  I can’t see or eat a steam bun without thinking of that day. Every little detail of that day is etched in my memory in a profound and unusual day. I’ve always liked steam buns, but after that day – I relish each bite. I followed Bopha’s mom’s directions for making them. The outsides still need lots of work, but they taste so good. I still can’t believe I made them. The smile below is one of surprise and shock that I actually made them and they tasted good!

Later that night our home was full of laughter and familiar voices. Holidays have always been a big deal for my extended family. I love that life of my youngest daughter ushered in a new holiday that brings us all together in MY home. My mom and aunt get Thanksgiving and Christmas in their homes. I get Chinese New Year!2.15dumplings-11

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  • Southern Gal - That’s so special. Happy Chinese New Year!

  • Tanya - This entire post made me smile! What fantastic memories for everyone! Happy Chinese New Year!

  • Caroline - Being a chinese myself, it really warmed my heart as I read your chinese new year post every year, since when you celebrated it for the first time after you had your little girl.
    I was looking forward to your post on it and the “lion dance” that your mom will make with your kids.
    Maybe next year, you can try to make the sweet potato steam cake, which is better known as the “Prosperity Cake”. Let me know if you want the recipe!

    Another 11 days of celebration before it ends on the 15th day of the first month of the year. During then, you might want to make glutinous rice balls for your children . it symbolises family togetherness and is eaten on the 15th day of the new year, which is when we have the first full moon of the year.

    Happy Chinese New Year to you and your family! :)

  • Carrie - Loved this post!! Always so thankful when you share little tidbits of your family and your traditions with us. Also, can I just say how beautiful your mom looks!! She just has a look of peace and joy on her as she works with your kids. So wonderful.

  • Heather - Love this! Especially, “One day…you won’t carry the bags or the baby. One day, you might have lots of willing helpers. And IT. IS. AWESOME.” TRUTH!

  • Courtney - I just love love love how you celebrate this holiday with your family. And I can’t get over the picture of you and your youngest at the end of this post! Beautiful!

  • Elizabeth Nelson - I love that your family celebrates Lunar New Year! In case you or your kids were interested, the red and gold sign in your first picture says “Happy New Year” in Vietnamese.

    Best wishes for a wonderful and prosperous year!

  • Laura in Sacto - Awesome dumpling making! I could eat dumplings and tacos everyday. My two favorite foods in the world. Happy Chinese New Year to little one and family!

  • Trilby - What a wonderful celebration! I love steam buns more than anything. Would you care to share your recipe, or at least point me to a link for a good one? We’ve got other Chinese and miscellaneous Asian recipes down pat – I think it’s time to try a new one!

  • Beccy - I laughed at your comment about sheep/goat/ram. We went to a fantastic celebration put on by the cultural center here, and the director did some research on the animal of the year. He said that when they chose the 12 animals rams and sheep had not been introduced to China yet, so technically it would be the year of the goat, but they use the one word for all 3. Also, our son’s Chinese name is a different word, spelled the same in pinyin, so when they sang a song in honor of the new year he thought they were singing about him. It was very funny. Thanks for sharing your celebration. It is inspiring to add a little more to our celebrations each year.

  • AshleyAnn - Trilby – I don’t have a ‘recipe’…I just jotted notes and took pictures of Bopha’s mom. I’ll see if she minds me sharing some of the things I watched her do!

  • AshleyAnn - Caroline – I would love the recipe!

  • Tracy - Hand making Chinese dumplings is what Chinese friends do at their gatherings. It is one of my fondest memories in China! So much fun and yummy.

  • Shelby - I love this. I love that you do this for your youngest every year. I can’t wait for the day when she realizes that you did this all for her and that it is more than just a tradition, and that her life is a true reason to celebrate. I magine that our Creator looks down at all the things he has made and loved in the world and says, with complete delight and satisfaction, “I did this all for you, my beloved child. “

  • Caroline - Your beautiful family gives me such hope. I’m deep in the jungles of our third pregnancy while taking care of our 1 and 3 year old boys. It is so encouraging to know that someday I will be able to do projects with my kids without someone wreaking havoc on the whole process. I miss being creative so very much.

  • Katie - I LOVE reading your blog… and the encouragement of “you won’t always be carrying 17 bags of groceries and a kid”… yeah, I needed to hear that. Currently have an 11 month old and am 6 1/2 months pregnant with #2… I’ve sent Hubs to the grocery store for the past month. :-P

    Keep on celebrating Little One’s heritage… it’s so neat to see your family do, and it will give her SO many special memories!

  • Jillian - I am an ESL teacher in South Philly so Lunar New Year is very important with our gigantic Asian population. One of my Cambodian students gave me a red envelope with a $2 bill in it. His mother sent it for me and said that I should keep it in my wallet because it will bring me fortune. I was so touched. Normally I give out red envelopes (with no homework passes) and this was the first one in 4 years that I received.

  • Debbie C - Happy Chinese New Year! I love how all the kids (and grandma) made dumplings together, I need to teach my daughter soon! I can’t wait for the day when the kids help mama carry bags (and bathe themselves, etc…). Although these days I just load up the stroller (sometimes I hold the kid so I can pile all the bags in the stroller!). :D

  • Angie Webb - So sweet. And when did your oldest get SO tall…. wow!

  • Shelby - I’m sure others have asked, but is this recipe something that your friend’s wonderful mother might be willing to share (maybe along with her story of learning to make steam buns?) I love the idea of sharing such a snippet of history and culture!

  • Lisa - Oh, I just love the lion dance idea! The kids at our party improvised…five of them under my oldest daughter’s comforter! Steamed buns are sentimental for me too! I remember wrapping two in a napkin at breakfast right before we got my son and tucking them in the hotel fridge so he’d have something there for lunch that was familiar. The day of our medical visit he carried one around in each fist for hours!

  • Kate @ Songs Kate Sang - Happy Chinese New Year!! So happy for you that the food turned out well! That is such an awesome accomplishment, isn’t it?!

  • Jen Ference - XinNian Kuaile! I just had to break my silence and say what a great post this is..but all I have seen so far has been so wonderful. I very recently found your blog, and have yet to hunker down and digest it, or leave a comment for that matter, but what a treasure trove. We moved to Beijing last October, and are experiencing Chinese New Year in a major way, but I would’ve never thought of making a sheep like your mom did! So awesome. And your jiaozi are GORGEOUS. What talented chefs! I made some dumplings as well, homemade dough and all, but I am far from mastering the pleating…! What a precious family you have, and I just love the way you share your thoughts and your day to day, but your photog skills are amazing. Really, what a treat to find you! x

I like animals, but I wouldn’t say I am especially drawn to them.

I was given the gift of mothering a young man that lives and breathes all things nature and animal.

He dreams about common animals and exotic ones.

He knows a million random facts about animals and insects I’d never heard of until he introduced me to them.

His presence in our family has resulted in a flock of chickens, fish, a cat and a dog.

All my kids cherish the pets in our home, but my 8 year old – there is just something different. His unique skills and passions are most evident when nature and animals come into the picture.

2.15zones-01About four years ago, Chris came home and shared with me something one of his mentors shared with him. It was the concept that when our skills and passions intersect with opportunities we find our ‘sweet spot’. Chris and I have talked about that concept a lot in recent years as we make decisions regarding work, dreams, and future plans. In the past, we’ve talked about it related to us as adults. Although, I think in many ways it has been an underlying theme of how we approach parenting.

Lately, it has been on my mind more.

How can I help my kids discover their skills? How can I help them recognize their passions? How can I find opportunities for them where they experience what it feels like when those skills and passions intersect?

I know a lot of adults that don’t know what they are good at or what they are passionate about in life. For most of us, it takes an outside influence (a parent, a friend, a mentor) to help us discover those things or point out what they see in us. I know that thankfully parenting doesn’t end when my kids are no longer under my roof. However, I also know the quantity of time I have with them will most likely be greatest during the first two decades of their lives. It is an exciting adventure to get to watch them and help them discover those unique skills and passions early in life. It is even more exciting to me to think about exploring ways and opportunities for them to experience it all intersecting.

2.15zones-03It will look totally different for each kid, which makes it both incredibly challenging and fun.

For my 8 year old – he is an animal whisperer. Right now his skills and passions intersect when he is given the opportunity to own a pet. It seems ordinary and simple today, but cuddling on the couch with his dog is only the beginning. Skills. Passions. Opportunities. Walking alongside my kids as they discover their ‘sweet spots’ is walking the good life. Parenting is my favorite adventure.2.15zones-02

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  • Tracy R. - Oh my! This post hit a homerun for me! We have 3 girls who are all SO very different. My husband and I have discussed how different they are, analyzed their personalities and their passions, strengths and weaknesses yet this intersection you described hits the nail on the head, giving me that “ahhh haaaa” moment. Thank you kindly!

  • Romy - And what a skill he was!! I am now 34 and I can only find my balance and happiness when surrounded by animals. It has been like that all of my life, and I have dedicated my career and my life to protect them. It makes me terribly sad to see them suffer, and this is the bittersweet part of being a grown up that takes care of animals. You should go with him alone on a Safari trip to Africa! Dreams, dreams…

  • Mrs.T - Beautiful post! I remember feeling this way about my own kids (now all grown, and parents themselves) — just wanting to help them find their gifts and strengths and the joy in using them to the glory of God.

    You and Chris are such amazing parents. Thanks for sharing slices of your life with all of us.

  • Sam - This comment is only partially related to your post…hope you don’t mind! :)

    Just wondering if you have ever heard of the book ‘My Family and Other Animals’ by Gerald Durrell? I would definitely check it out! It might be a good ‘read-out-loud’ book (though some parts may have to be skipped)…I have a feeling your 8 year old would enjoy it :)

    Sam xo

  • brittony - yes. incredible how different kids can be when raised by the same people. so great to nurture and pull out the best in each of them and try not to compare their strengths and weaknesses! love how naturally that comes for you and your family.

  • Rachelle - Loved this post Ashley! Have you heard of clicker training for animals? It’s a positive reinforcement training method that you can use to teach a dog new tricks and commands. Youtube has a ton of videos on this. I had so much fun doing this with my dog….I think your 8 year old would love it!

  • Jeanne - A lovely, lovely post and spot on. Thank you for highlighting this for me, truly,thank you.

  • Nanette - I love this! My oldest (11) has the same love for animals and wants to study to become a zoologist. What I think is amazing is that my grandfather had this same passion for animals. Although the 2 of them could not spend much time being physically together, they would email back and forth about different animal facts and species. I really think it is in his genetic make up! I think helping children find their passions is the greatest gift a parent can give them.

  • Cindy - very well said! you have such a powerful way with words (and photos) thanks for sharing a wonderful message!

  • Nicole - Sounds like parenting is your sweet spot.

  • Emily - Not that I want to add this to your plate, but if you wrote a parenting book (much better: a parenting MEMOIR) I’d buy it. I’d buy multiple copies, in fact, and press them on my friends :-) Posts like this are exactly the reason I read your blog every day. Thank you for sharing.

  • Angela - That last like….”parenting is my favorite adventure”. Wow. I sure do love that. So good and true. My parents were amazing, but they never called out the gifts and passions they see in me. Now at 30 years old, it’s really hard to figure out what I’m good at and what direction I should go in. Often I just wish I had someone who could sit down and tell me what to do with myself…. I have 3 kids of my own. At least I can call out the gifts I see in them!

  • babs - hoped y’all watched the westminister dog show . I thought of you when a female beagle won best in show. If you missed it,plenty of pictures and stories on web.

  • Shannah - This is the first time I’ve commented though I’ve been reading your blog for years. It touched me to see your little man loving on those animals. I, too, was an ardent animal lover and read everything I could get my hands on — check out books by James Herriot and Gerald Durrell when he gets older! And Doctor Dolittle now! :) — I love animals with a deep passion and was sure I’d be a wildlife vet. Until I took advanced chemistry. No way. My brain is too artsy and literary and not enough math. I did a lot of searching for vocation, and I wanted to share a quote from Frederick Buechner that spoke to me: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I’ve ended up as a special education teacher and love my job and my children so much. Anyway, something was telling me to share. :) thank you for your daily posts that bless our lives!

  • Brandi - This is exactly how I think of my job as a parent! I know I heard growing up the push to be a doctor, a lawyer, something professional, something that symbolizes success. It makes me so sad now that I didn’t listen to my own voices and follow my own passions sooner. I hope my kids will have the confidence to follow their own dreams!

  • emily - Love this. Such a great reminder that we are all wired differently for a reason!

  • Jacque - I’m just going to put a giant “DITTO” to Emily’s comment above. Thank you for sharing this nugget of wisdom.

  • Caroline - Outta curiosity, what passage did you journal that beside in your Bible? Love that and would like to do the same! :)

  • Jenny B. - Great thoughts. It’s wonderful that you can already see these things in him. I think it’s sometimes really hard to identify what my boys are good at and what their passions are. Some talents are more outwardly visible than others. My oldest is pretty good at a lot of things, but I think one of his main gifts might be his sensitivity (which can also be a weakness, or maybe not a “weakness,” but a source of frustration for him). That’s not a tangible quality, though, and it’s hard to know how to nurture it in him. So, anyway, I agree it is challenging. :)

  • Krystin Robertson - That is so precious. My sister is the same way. She has had a hamster and guinea pig for pets. Any dog that she comes in contact with just falls in love with her. It has been so sweet to watch her grow and realize that she wants to do something with animals as a career. She’s only 17, but she has a gift with them.

  • Pam - I would be very interested to see a follow-up(s) to this post as you venture further. My sons are 13 and 12 and this is something that constantly weighs heavy on my heart and in my mind. Thanks for sharing.

  • AmandaK - Love how you put this into words that I have felt! I read this post to my family last night and we all discussed what skills and passions we saw in each other. Thanks for the conversation maker.

  • AshleyAnn - Amanda – I love that you talked about this as a family. I need to do that now!

I don’t remember where I read this idea, but it has floated in the back of my mind as something I wanted to try.

Vaseline on a camera lens…well, more like on plastic wrap covering the lens. I would not recommend putting vaseline on your actual lens, it would be a MESS to clean.

It looked like something interesting and fun to try – and easy.2.15lens-1050mm lens without the plastic wrap and Vaseline ~ with the plastic wrap and Vaseline

2.15lens-01I put the Vaseline on the plastic wrap leaving the very center clean. This allowed the center of my image to be in focus and the rest had a blur similar to old film lenses.2.15lens-032.15lens-042.15lens-052.15lens-062.15lens-072.15lens-08It was challenging to capture what I wanted with such a small area of the lens free of the Vaseline. You could experiment with this a ton of ways, moving the clean area to the side, making the clean area larger or smaller, etc. Ultimately, it isn’t a way I would want to shoot regularly, but it was fun for a bit.

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  • Emily - If you made the images black and white I bet they would look even more like old film! You’re more daring than me, Vaseline on plastic wrap sounds slimy!

  • Debbie - I love the way the photos turned out. Thanks for sharing!

  • Victoria / Justice Pirate - How unique! Looks like a great idea. Nice work. They came out great!

  • Natalie Lacy Lange - I remember experimenting with homemade filters in college. An old stocking or tulle can create an interesting (and easy) vignette effect, too. The darker the material, the moodier the image. Thanks for sharing!

  • Ujjaini - What an idea! adds such a lovely soft tone


  • Erica - Fun experiment!

  • Tanya - Cool! Would scare me and my camera though! Haha ;)

  • Emily - That looks so fun!

  • Kendra {Open Spaces} - What a fun idea, my husband showed me similar thing but instead of applying vasaline to your lens you use a colored marker. It creates a really fun hue to your photos

  • Analene - Ashley, these are lovely photos! Very different from your usual. I would love to try this at least once too.

    Looking through this post I am also struck by all the different styles of photography that can be lovely – it’s largely a matter of taste as to what is pretty. That’s encouraging since I love some of the pictures I’ve been taking, but they are not the Ashley style that I appreciate and admire!

    Thanks for continuing to share your creativity in this way. You inspire me. I am so much enjoying my camera, and learning to pick it up and use it every day :-)

  • Emily - What a cool look!

  • Amanda K - The photographer who shot our wedding used a clear filter with clear nail polish around the edge. It produced a similar effect and then he could take it off and store it for next time.