Seeing People, Not Differences

Nerdy Book Club

When I first started writing The Fire Horse Girl, I obsessed over getting all the details right. The book opens on Chinese New Year, and I combed through every New Year tradition I could find and jammed most of them into the first chapter (don’t worry, Cheryl Klein, editor extraordinaire, saved readers from that monstrosity). I meticulously researched clothing, mannerisms, language patterns, traditions, and other cultural nuances because people said that these differences were important.

FireHorseGirl_CV-2There’s another reason I obsessed over differences. While I was writing The Fire Horse Girl, I was also in the process of adopting our son Jack. At the time, he was a three-year old little boy who I’d only seen in six pictures his orphanage in China sent. Between filling out immigration applications, fielding questions about why adoption took so long, and daydreaming about the day we would finally bring him home, I…

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Fire Horse Girl Info and Inspiration

I could live my life on Pinterest. It caters to all my quirks in addition to my love of cork board. I created this Pinterest board to the YA Scavenger Hunt last month. I’ll post the link here in case you want to look around. It has some of my favorite websites about Angel Island and San Francisco. Continue reading “Fire Horse Girl Info and Inspiration”

Double Seventh Festival – Chinese Valentines Day

It is the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, also known as Double Seventh Day. I have often heard this day described as the Chinese Valentines Day although it seems to have its own unique traditions and celebrations. It’s also called Young Women’s Day or Daughter’s Day. Continue reading “Double Seventh Festival – Chinese Valentines Day”

Chinese New Year – Kitchen God

“That is what I always thought love would be. A kind of understanding.”

“You are very romantic for a Fire Horse,” Spring Blossom said.

“Maybe. I also like the story of the kitchen god who throws himself into the fire.”

This is a story that I tried to work into THE FIRE HORSE GIRL several time. None of my attempts were successful because it is one of those great pieces that exist outside the story an author is telling at that moment. In the final version of THE FIRE HORSE GIRL, it exists only in the one line above. Still, I think Jade Moon would have a complicated  and interesting relationship with the story. It is a good story, so she would like that. It ends with some pretty brutal justice, which would probably meet with her approval. On the other hand, she might not like that Zhang ends up as the eyes and ears of the Jade Emperor inside every household…including hers. Continue reading “Chinese New Year – Kitchen God”

Chinese New Year – Animal Race

 “It is a horrible match,” I said. “A snake and a horse. We will do nothing but fight.”

I have always loved the story of how the years got their animal names in the Chinese zodiac. There are many versions of this story, and several beautiful children’s books that tell the tale if you want to learn more.

Once upon a time, long ago…

the Jade Emperor decided to hold a race to decide how the years would be named. The twelve fastest animals would earn their places in the Chinese calendar by having years named after them.

After the announcement, the cat and rat huddled together. “We are not the fastest, so we will have to be the most clever,” the cat said, blinking his eyes at his friend the rat. “Wake me up early and we will be the first at the river. I am sure we can figure out a way to win first and second.”

The rat promised to wake the cat, but when morning came, he decided that one less competitor would better his chances of winning. He slunk away in the morning, causing the cat to miss the race. The Great Race

But the rat still had to beat the larger and faster animals. he asked the ox to carry him through the race in exchange for a song.

race_chinese_zodiacThe strong, hard-working ox agreed. The race began and the rat was thrilled to see the ox pull ahead of the other animals. The ox would arrive first and the rat would arrive second. “But why shouldn’t I be first,” thought the rat. I was clever enough to trick the cat and get a ride on the ox.” The rat decided to play one more trick. Just as the ox was ready to step across the finish line and claim the first year, the rat slipped down and scurried the last step just in front of the ox. The ox had to be content with second place.

The tiger arrived in third place. The rabbit, who had hopped across stones most of the way, had to use a log to get across the last bit of the river. But his quick feet landed him in fourth place.

The dragon arrived next. “I thought you would arrive first,” said the Jade Emperor, “since you are the only animal here who can fly.”

The dragon explained that he would have arrived first, but he stopped to help a few villagers and rabbit balancing precariously on a log who needed a breath of wind to keep him from falling in the water.

The horse galloped toward the finish line, but just as he was about to cross it, the snake snuck out from behind his hoof. The horse, startled, stumbled back. This allowed the snake to slither into seventh and left the horse in eighth place.


The goat, monkey and rooster arrive next. They had made a raft and worked together to cross the river. The Jade Emperor, impressed with their cooperation, awarded the goat eighth place, the monkey ninth place, and the rooster tenth place.

The dog arrived in eleventh place, pleased with his romp across the river. Eventually the pig arrive. He had eaten too much and fallen asleep, but he was lucky enough to arrive just in time to come in twelfth.

Chinese New Year – Food

Nushi bustled in and out of the kitchen carrying plate after plate of food. I helped until I tipped a pile of tangerines into a bowl of rice.

As the Chinese New Year celebrations continue, I thought it would be fun to look at some of the traditional foods of the holiday. Food is an important part of the celebration. Relatives are greeted with the words “Have you eaten yet.” I love all the symbolism served with the foods and dishes.

Serve tangerines for luck and oranges and pineapples for wealth and good fortune. Apples bring wisdom and peace. Pomegranates with their treasure of seeds bring many off-springs.

Walnuts bring happiness for families and peanuts bring health and long life.

Fish is served whole. The center is eaten, but the head and tail are left in tact. It symbolizes a good start and finish to the year. It also means that there will be excess in the new year. Many ingredients are kept whole during new years meals since there is not supposed to be cutting in the new year.

The number of dishes is also important. Dishes are kept in even numbers to ensure double happiness in the new year.

Here are a couple of my favorites – spring roles, a symbol of wealth because their shape resembles a gold bar, and the Tray of Togetherness. It is a tray, usually divided into compartments (usually eight since it is an auspicious number) and filled with sweets and fruits such as kumquats (prosperity), coconut (togetherness), and red melon seeds (happiness).

Chinese New Year Preparations

THE FIRE HORSE GIRL begins on the day before the new year. It is a time of preparation and looking forward – a perfect starting place for a journey. I loved researching the preparations that Nushi and Jade Moon would be busy with on this day for the first chapter.

Since tomorrow is the first day of the Chinese New Year celebration. If you haven’t started preparing yet, here are a few traditions you might embrace:

Clean – your house, yourself, and your life. Sweep the house for the beginning of the year to get rid of any of the leftover bad luck from the old year. Once the new year starts, you should not get out the brooms for a couple of weeks for fear that you might sweep away the new good luck. Once the house is clean, you can start to fill it with flowers – daffodils, hyacinths, lotus, peony. Avoid white since it is the color of funerals. You can also decorate with red ribbon and paper with good luck signs on them.

To clean up your life, you should settle debts and resolve disagreements. You want to have a fresh start in the new year.

To clean up yourself, you can get a hair cut and cut your nails. Using scissors at the beginning of the new year might cut the luck you have coming your way. You can also buy new clothes.

More Chinese New Year posts to come! I hope you enjoy!