Thai Adoption Newsletter Vol. 4, Number 4

November 2002


Well, the September newsletter turned into a November newsletter... so you can see what kind of summer/fall we've had here in the Higginbotham household.


Due to the length of time transpiring between newsletters, there's a ton of Community Notes this month - lots of new members and new arrivals in particular. I hope you'll find it heartwarming to read about so many families and children joining our community! Don't miss the "requests/inquiries" section for some important notes from your fellow adoptive families. Also, I know you'll enjoy a great article on travel with siblings from a-mom Gwen Shuster-Haynes, info about the upcoming Thai Family Reunion, shopping tips, recipes, and more!


Your feedback and ideas are always welcome at


Julie Higginbotham








By Gwen Shuster-Haynes (d-base member and mom to one bio and three adopted children)


We did not take our 8-year-old daughter to Nepal when we adopted her brother Bobby. Nepal's adoptions, at that time, did not run on any set timetable, and our initial referral for Bobby began with "First you fly from Kathmandu to Jomoson where you rent ponies..." But I always wondered if they might have "clicked" as siblings faster if Alexis had not felt left out when we flew halfway around the globe to bring her brother home.


When we sent our dossier to Bangkok we had three children: Alexis (12), Bobby (5), and Sarah (3), and I wanted more than anything to take them to Bangkok for the beginning of their new brother Andy's adoption. I had different reasons for taking each child. Alexis is a birth child who often commented that adopted kids are the luckiest kids in the world. I wanted her to see the bittersweet aspects of an adopted child's world. I wanted Bobby to see another Asian country before he returned to Nepal. I thought he could appreciate the beauty of Thailand and the diversity of its people before witnessing the greater contrast between rich and poor in Nepal. Sarah (adopted domestically) craves a birthmother who has disappeared from our lives. I wanted her to realize that not all adopted children meet their birthmothers.


Should you take your kids?  As a parent it's dangerous to have so many expectations, but the reasons listed above were a driving motivator for me as I contemplated financing a trip with five going to Thailand and six coming home. Before you plan the trip as a family, consider your own motivations, as well as the age of your children and their innate temperaments. Some children travel well-it's one of the few common characteristics of my four-others don't like a cross-town drive. Even with a wonderful kid's backpack filled with diversions, traffic in Bangkok moves at a glacial pace. You will spend hours in traffic; can your kids handle it?


Think about your children's personalities. Will envy be a big deal for the child(ren) being dethroned? Would you rather face that battle on home turf? Not all siblings fall in love with each other at first sight. No matter how much you say "mom's heart grows bigger so she can love everyone," the reality is that mom doesn't sprout an extra set of arms for hugs or have her lap automatically increase enough to nestle everyone.


Would you like extra bonding time with your Thai child, without the responsibility of caring for other child(ren) at the same time? With both of my Asian sons, I've had to stay behind in their home countries to finish paperwork while the rest of the family returned to the U.S. Each time I've experienced a few bouts of loneliness, but as their mother I would not trade that one-on-one time for anything in the world. I look on each of those unplanned beginnings as gifts from God. I was in a far away country with no dinners to cook, soccer team practices, violin lessons, church committees, etc. Andy did not pick me as his favorite parent when we met. He bonded with both Mark and Alexis first, but then he had a week with just Mom. By not taking your other children you gain this experience. Taking everyone along automatically involves a tradeoff, and only you can determine how the equation will work best for your family. In our case we determined that the family trip was the way to go, but this doesn't mean it will be the correct solution for every family.


Tips for choosing companions  Our dossier for a special needs son sat in Bangkok for over two years before we were matched. Mark and I knew we would need help on the trip. During the long wait, we placed a glass jar in the kitchen and began saving our change for a plane ticket for poppa, because my mother would only consider coming along if my dad were with her. Unfortunately health concerns ultimately prevented my parents from traveling with us, but we asked Kara, a high school senior and our children's favorite babysitter, if she would come along to help with Alexis, Bobby, and Sarah while we worked to incorporate Andy into our family.


Since Alexis's arrival we have taken different teenagers along as helpers on five different trips. I cannot stress enough how much more enjoyable our Thai trip was with Kara along. We also hired Kwan and Miss Oh (two adoption guides recommended by families from the thailandadopt listserv), and we had a good friend who lived in Bangkok. It took this entire quartet of helpers to make everything happen.


When you start thinking about a helper in Thailand, don't accept the first person that volunteers. Consider what you are offering and what you expect before you make your choice. Do you want someone to play with the existing sibs while you get to meet your new child? Are you thinking in terms of an extra set of hands while everyone is out as a group? Do you want someone who can take kids to the pool while you finish up paperwork?


We had many adults volunteer to travel with us, but we like seeing the world through the eyes of a teenager. Who else notices what color of laces are in tennis shoes? Each teen has had wonderful strengths. (My college athlete niece schlepped  suitcases like they were marshmallows and led endless rounds of singing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.") For teens, we offer the plane trip, lodging, and meals along with all the sightseeing they can handle. We are specific about what we expect.


Our chat with Kara and her parents went like this: "We don't know completely what to expect. But Kara's main job will be to help the oldest three kids feel comfortable and special while we get to know Andy. This means little things like being in charge of the 'kid's backpack' which we'll help you stock with games, toys, or surprises. Each day you'll need to make sure there are snacks and juice boxes or water bottles." That makes Kara sound like a packhorse! And in some ways she was. She enjoyed using the 7-11 type store in the Centre Point apartment building to find snacks.


We also made it clear before Kara came along that we would want her to sometimes watch the children on her own while Mark and I got away for a quiet dinner together, and that each person would be able to pick out one or two preferred tourist sites or activities that we would all visit together.


Your helper will also have questions about sleeping arrangements. Before you go, think about how much privacy you and your helper will need. The Centre Point Apartments gave us plenty of space; when we took side trips to Hua Hin, we used two connecting rooms. Kara shared a bedroom with Alexis, and as they grew more comfortable with our Bangkok location, we were able to give them the freedom to visit the Central Department store four or five blocks down the street to pick up groceries and indulge in window-shopping.


Finally, if you're bringing more than one existing child, make sure your helper doesn't play favorites. That had always been Kara's greatest strength. Alexis and Kara bought Japanese magazines in the Tokyo airport and had a blast looking at the fashions. Kara played Power Rangers and a hundred variations of fantasy games with Bobby, and did Sarah's hair in pigtails and ponytails to keep her thick mop off her shoulders. The converse of this statement is, don't bring someone who will spend too much time going ga-ga over your new addition. If they do, pull them aside and say, "I'm so thrilled that you are as enchanted with xxxx as we are, but for the time in Thailand what I really need is xxxxxx."


What to pack with kids  Use your waiting time for a referral/approval to think about packing lists and activities. Doodle separate lists of what to bring, categorized by "plane time," "office time," etc. The biggest hit on our plane rides were pads of black paper and gel pens.


Thailand is a kid-friendly place and the weather is temperate, so you won't need to lug much warm clothing. If you travel in winter from a cold climate, see if someone will take your coats from you at your departure airport and return them when you come home. We left Denver during a below-freezing night. Kara's parents insisted that they "store" our coats, gloves, etc. You can't believe how wonderful it was to not have to deal with those extras while in Bangkok.


Pack one sweatshirt or sweater for each child for the plane (and know that your child probably won't need it). If you're taking girls, explain why bare shoulders and short shorts are inappropriate. Sarah wore dresses every day, but she's the youngest in a long line of girl cousins and I was able to pack all summer dresses that covered her shoulders. The teens wore solid-colored T-shirts. (On the beach they eagerly showed off their shoulders!) I dressed the boys in shorts and polo/T shirt tops. Everyone brought one "church" outfit for the DPW interview.


To make packing and dressing easy, pack an entire "kid outfit" in a gallon food bag. With the top, shorts, underwear and socks in a gallon food bag, you can squeeze all of the air out of it and gain extra packing space while allowing the kids to dress themselves. This technique also makes packing and unpacking a snap. If your itinerary includes overnights, see if you can use backpacks for those and store your suitcases at your main hotel or apartment.


Plan to pack light and do laundry. Our Centre Point apartment kitchen had an appliance that could wash and dry a small load of clothes. We kept the machine fairly busy with kids' clothes. I took over some laundry supplies, but bought more in the 7-11 off the lobby. I also used the apartments' laundry/pressing service for good grownup clothing.


Pack some comfort foods and basic medicines. We always bring peanut butter, etc., for our oldest who is a picky eater. Since we'd be gone over Christmas I also bubble-wrapped some candy canes etc. You can easily buy prescription drugs and supplies in Bangkok, but it is often easier to bring the basics from home. Purchasing diaper rash ointment took quite awhile. Oh, how I'd wished I'd just bought some here in Denver!


Finally, give some thought to how you will carry donations. Airlines have changed their baggage rules so that some large suitcases that were once free now incur an extra fee. Call your carrier and know how much space you have to work with. We took two bags per individual, BUT most of them were filled with sandals, shoes, sheets, toothbrushes, etc. for the orphanage. On the way home we nested the empty bags inside the largest case. Many of the bags we took for free in 2001 would now require an extra fee of $80 per segment traveled! Don't be afraid to ask people if you can borrow suitcases. And try and find out what your orphanage needs most. I was amazed at the outpouring that occurred at our church, a former preschool, and current school in those short weeks we had to get ready once our approval finally came.


Physical and mental preparation  Allow time before you leave for vaccinations. All of our kids were good sports about this, although Sarah's flu shot did not protect her from the strain of flu she caught in Bangkok.


In addition, take the time to read Thai stories, learn about Bangkok (or wherever you are going), peruse a city map, attempt to give your children a perspective to compare it to where they live (weather, political system, geography, etc.).


When preparing to travel, we always have our children prioritize their top three "must see" spots. This practice creates kids who love to travel, even if circumstances prevent you from seeing everything but the No. 1 pick for each child. Although we traveled to Hua Hin twice, most of our planned side trips within Thailand did not happen. Our children did not mind. For them Bangkok was an exotic and wondrous place. From our day trip to Ayutthya I am certain they will enjoy future trips to other regions in Thailand.


Transportation tips  If your existing children attend a preschool or school that has an annual auction, scan the items for airport transportation. We'd bid on and won a limo trip to the airport more than a year before we traveled. This meant we had a way to transport all of those suitcases and I didn't have to worry about the costs of long-term parking or worry if the taxi would arrive when I wanted.


Once you're in-country, think about the easiest mode of transportation with multiple children, not the cheapest.  If Mark and I had traveled alone we would have used more local transportation. With four children in tow, we began with a van (Kwan and Miss Oh's driver and van cost less than our apartment's). By the end of the trip we had spent a lot of time on Bangkok's SkyTrain mass-transit system.


Expect the unexpected  Realize that the "dream trip" may not be possible even with extra help. Our trip was not a typical "in and out with your child in one week." Due to confusion with paperwork, we were in Thailand as a family for more than 15 days, and I was there an extra week finishing up Andy's paperwork.


Illness can also foul up your carefully laid plans. Andy was sick with an ear infection when we first got him. Our first night together (after a week of orphanage visits) went better than we hoped, but sometime before dawn Sarah came into our room and began throwing up. Suddenly two of our four kids were sick. By the end of that day, I was in a taxi taking Sarah to Bumrungrad Hospital, where she and I spent the next three days while she battled the flu. Mark mastered the intricacies of the outpatient pediatric area with Andy's raging ear infection. I marveled at room service menus for non-patients and enjoyed slipping downstairs for tea at Starbucks when Sarah was asleep. Santa Claus, along with Thai elves, visited us on Christmas Day. When the unexpected occurs, "divide and conquer" is an easier strategy to implement with an extra set of hands -another reason to take a helper on your trip.


The ultimate benefit  Did the trip change our children? You bet! Alexis returned from Thailand an amazingly compassionate teen far more aware of the world. Bobby both liked and got tired of people wondering if he was Thai. (His Nepali hill tribe origins are Tibetan Burmese.) I am certain that his desire to learn more about Nepal was kindled during that trip. Kwan never tired of Bobby's questions and willingly taught him Thai words and parts of the Thai alphabet. Kwan and Miss Oh also got us off the tourist circuit, which meant that Bobby's brown skin fit in while the rest of us experienced the life that Bobby must feel on a regular basis. Sarah came to me while we were in Bangkok and said "Andy only has a little chance to see his birthmother." She held up two fingers that were so close together they almost met. "Only this much." Then she thought for a moment. "Not everyone gets to see their birthmother, do they?" And she seemed at peace with the discovery that not all adopted children get to meet their birthmothers.


As for Andy, he gained a family...and in a stroke of brilliance, forever gained the allegiance of his big sister Alexis. When he was on my lap at the orphanage with Bobby and Sarah eagerly crowding in wanting to get to know him, he got off my lap and walked over to Alexis and took her hand. He melted her heart. They are my bookend children...separated by a dozen years yet so alike.


For us it was worth the extra work, the extra money, the occasional squabbles, and the jet lag. Jet lag is a very real phenomenon. Mark and I used to always have an argument on day three of a big trip. We've since realized that that's when we're our most vulnerable because we think we should be 100% normal. We now schedule a silly argument before we go-then when we start to snap on day three, we laugh and say, "We've already had that argument."


Gwen Shuster-Haynes is mother to Alexis (16), Bobby (9, adopted from Nepal when he was 21 months old), Sarah (7, adopted from Arizona two months before her due date) and Andrew Atthapon (4) from Thailand, who arrived home in Colorado in 2001.







Family Reunion Susana Huaman Dragosavac, coordinator of the 2003 Thai Family Reunion in Orlando, has been a very busy person lately (see "New Arrivals" for details). Nevertheless she's making steady progress with plans for the event, and advises the group that the dedicated Website at should be up and running before the end of November. She welcomes your comments at Save the dates: July 31 to Aug. 3, 2003, at the Caribe Royal resort in Lake Buena Vista.





**Krathong fun  D-base member Dana Franks sent along a couple of cool Web links for the making of krathongs (for the traditional November "full moon" holiday) with banana leaves. These are a nice supplement to the Loy Krathong holiday guide I sent out last week. Check them out at:


PS - Frozen banana leaves may be available at Asian grocery stores. Tree sections will take more creativity-Dana was planning on trying thick slices of a root vegetable like jicama.



**Thailand travel tips  Asian Rental Network

has launched a new Website: The site is geared to those who will be living in or visiting Thailand for extended periods but is full of information that will also be useful for adoption visits. The site owners specifically say they wished to create an alternative to existing Thai travel sites that focus on the sex trade.


**Precocious puberty.  D-base member Becky Wyatt has been researching the phenomenon of precocious puberty in female adoptees who have a rapid growth spurt after adoption (covered in the Nov. 2001 cyber newsletter). She recommends the Website for any families dealing with this issue. (The site is sponsored by the pharma that makes Lupron and some other hormone-arresting drugs, but still seems to have some good information.)


**Thai e-shopping  Thai Concept is a mailorder firm offering a variety of handicrafts, including artwork, fabric, adult clothing (modern, not traditional), accessories, home dŽcor items, and muay thai items. One of our d-base members has bought products from the proprietor, "Uncle Jum," on E-bay and says he offers good service and products. Teens would probably enjoy the T-shirts featuring tuk-

tuks and Thai beer logos! Visit:


**Adoption in the media Celebrate Adoption and the Inter-national Adoption Alliance have founded a new partnership to help adoption triad members find timely information about films, TV, and other entertainment programming with adoption-related themes. The site attempts to help families determine whether specific films/programs deal with adoption in an intelligent or derogatory manner. User reviews are welcomed and are being actively solicited. Visit: and click on "Media Reviews" to submit opinions. To read reviews, visit and click on "Media Reviews."


** New adoption video  "Perspectives on Adoption: International Adoptees Tell Their Stories" is a newly released video documentary. Adoptees and their families candidly discuss such issues as abandonment, growing up in a white community, adolescence, homeland visits, and coming to terms with being adopted. The video is available for $29.95 plus $4.95 for shipping/handling. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Amity Foundation in support of its "hugging grannies" program in Chinese orphanages. For information or to order a VHS video, contact producer Alisa Blum at or 503-524-3470. Please mention the Amity donation program when ordering.


** Magazine for multicultural families  I recently received a note from the founders of Culture magazine, a new venture targeted at multicultural families. They're offering a free premiere issue and asking for input. Take a look:


** Diversity-themed products  Check out for diversity-themed T-shirts, stationery, jewelry, home dŽcor, classroom materials, and more. This might be a great place to find holiday gifts for certain special people on your list.


** Language acquisition by adoptees The Dept. of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Towson Univ. in Maryland has an ongoing project focusing on language acquisition by international adoptees. Coordinator Dr. Sharon Glennen is a faculty member and adoptive parent of two children from Russia. Visit the university's Website forsome fascinating and useful information:






By popular request, I've established a recipe exchange for Thai recipes. If you're sending a recipe from a cookbook, please make sure to credit both the author and the cookbook. Personal notes about your experiences with the recipes are welcomed and requested. Please send me some recipes for next time!!!!



Stir-Fried Oyster Mushrooms with Tofu and Baby Corn (het hoy naengrong phat tao hoo leh khao phod on)


A quick and easy vegetarian entrŽe from Victor Sodsook's "True Thai." (Italic comments throughout this section are from your editor.)


3 Tbsp. vegetable oil

10 cloves garlic, mashed

12 oz. firm tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes

2 Tbsp. crushed yellow bean sauce

2 Tbsp. golden brown sugar or palm sugar

8 oz. oyster mushrooms, wiped clean but left whole (regular mushrooms can also be used)

12 ears canned baby corn (about half a 15-oz. can)

6 scallions, including green tops, angle-cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces, bulbs then cut in half lengthwise


Place all ingredients within easy reach of the cooking area. Set a wok over medium high heat. Add oil, then garlic, and stir fry briefly till golden and aromatic. Add tofu and stir-fry for 30 sec. Add bean sauce and sugar and stir-fry for 30 sec. Add mushrooms, baby corn, and scallions, and stir fry until the vegetables are cooked through, about 2 min. Transfer to a serving platter and serve with steamed jasmine rice.


Serves 4 to 6 as part of a Thai meal with 2 or 3 other dishes.




Thai-style Crab Cakes


A friend gave me this recipe she had clipped from a newspaper in 1999, with the original source as the Los Angeles Times Food Syndicate. I don't think it's strictly Thai, but the essential flavor is there. A great dish for a dinner party - you form and brown the cakes in advance and later finish them in the oven, freeing up your stovetop burners for other dishes.


1/2 pound fresh lump Maine crabmeat, picked over (I have not tried this with fake crab [surimi] and have always used good-quality refrigerated canned crabmeat from a local fish market instead. Those of you lucky folks who live in more coastal environments can probably get good fresh crabmeat, which is ideal.)

1/2 c. finely diced sweet red pepper  (you can augment this with hot Thai chilies if desired; the finished dish is mild)

1/2 c. finely chopped sweet red onion or (more authentic) shallots

1/2 c. finely chopped cilantro, including stems

1 1/4 c. Thai sweet chili sauce, divided (this is the sticky thick kind with a clear sugary base, available in Thai stores in brands like Mae Ploy and traditionally served with Thai BBQ chicken. Or see the sub-recipe below to make your own.)

1/4 tsp. salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 c. panko bread crumbs, divided (light Japanese breadcrumbs, commonly available in Asian stores. If you're stuck, you can use freshly made crumbs from toasted white bread, but the cakes will be heavier.)

Vegetable oil for sautŽing

4 red leaf or Romaine lettuce leaves for garnish


Place crabmeat in clean kitchen towel or cheesecloth and gently squeeze out any excess liquid. Place crab in mixing bowl and add red pepper, onion/shallots, cilantro, 1/4 c. of the sweet chili sauce, salt, and egg. Mix well. Add 1/2 c. of panko crumbs. If mixture still seems too moist, add up to 1/4 c. more. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 min. or longer to firm.


When ready to shape crab cakes, remove mixture from refrigerator and use 1/2 c. capacity measuring cup to portion into 8 cakes. (Can use a 1/4 c. measure for appetizer sized cakes.)  Place remaining panko crumbs on a dinner plate and coat each cake generously with crumbs.


Add enough oil to coat the bottom of a medium-sized nonstick skillet and place over medium heat. When oil is very hot, but not smoking, put 2 or 3 (or more, if small) cakes at a time into the skillet. Press gently to flatten slightly. Cook until bottoms are golden brown, then turn to cook until golden brown on the other side. Drain on paper towels and continue cooking in batches until all cakes have been browned. Transfer to a baking sheet that's been lined with aluminum foil and greased generously with vegetable oil. (Best to use a baking sheet with low sides to avoid oil runoff, rather than a totally flat cookie sheet.) If not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to three hours.


When ready to serve, bake on center rack of preheated 450-degree oven until crab cakes are piping hot, about 10 min. Remove from oven and arrange on plates lined with lettuce leaves. Serve with a bowl of the remaining sweet chili sauce. (Or prepare individual plates of two cakes each, with each plate having a sauce cup holding 1/4 cup of sauce.)


Recipe makes 8 entrŽe-sized cakes (serves 4 with two cakes per entrŽe) or 16 appetizer-sized cakes.





Sweet and Spicy Dipping Sauce (nam jeem kai yang)


A quick recipe for this basic condiment, as a substitute for commercially bottled brands. From Victor Sodsook's, "True Thai." Makes about 1 1/2 cups - just about the right amount to be used with the preceding crab cake recipe.


1/2 c. distilled white vinegar

1 c. white granulated sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 Tbsp. Chinese-style chili-garlic sauce, preferably Lee Kum Kee brand


In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar and 1/2 c. of the sugar. Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat to medium and stir in the rest of the sugar. Cook for 2 min., stirring frequently as the mixture comes back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the salt. Simmer for 5 min., stirring occasionally. Stir in the chili-garlic sauce and remove from the heat. Let cool and serve at room temperature. (Covered and refrigerated, will keep for about 3 weeks before beginning to loose its oomph.)







The "Community Notes" section is designed for news bytes, inquiries, and gossip like the following:


NEW ARRIVALS If you have recently (within the past year) added a child to your family by birth or by adoption from any country, please contact me with the child's name, birth date, date of adoptive custody (if applicable), country adopted from (if applicable), and agency. We'd love to share your joy!






NEW DATABASE MEMBERS   Please welcome the following families to our group:











We're Different, We're the Same. Bobbi Jane Kates. Elmo leads the Sesame Street characters in an exploration of all the ways that people's physical features and feelings may be different, yet highlights how all people are also alike. A fine toddler/

preschooler introduction to diversity concepts. Makes a great gift for classrooms, too. ISBN: 0679832270.



Discipline Without Shouting or Spanking: Practical Solutions to the Most Common Preschool Behavior Problems (revised and expanded edition). J. Wyckoff and B.C. Unell. Database member Marg Dochoda writes: "My son had many behavioral issues upon arrival, and Discipline Without Shouting or Spanking was the most referenced took on my parenting bookshelf. Frequently, I would grab this little book for a quick read and some practical suggestions on how to deal with his latest transgression. I have given many copies over the years to new parents." ISBN: 0743228545





Thai: A Complete Course for Beginners (Teach Yourself Series), David Smyth (book and cassette tapes). Stuck in a long adoption wait, or planning an upcoming visit to Thailand? I think this is a great, inexpensive tool for learning a good deal of "tourist" Thai that can be useful in communicating with non-infant kids as well. The tapes with native speakers pronouncing key words and phrases are invaluable for getting a feel for Thai tones and vowel durations. Also contains large amounts of information for those who actually want to start reading (not just speaking) some Thai. You won't be ready to work for the State Dept. there when you're through, but you'll be very ready to buy mangoes and silk shirts from street vendors, and to tell the waiter you want food that's "not too hot, please!" The people you meet in Thailand will appreciate your efforts, even if your tones are atrocious and your grammar is fractured. ISBN: 0844238783.







Thai adoption Website:

~rghiggin/Thaiadopt/start.html (suggestions always welcome)


Thailandadopt listserv subscription info: (a friendly community for waiting families and veterans alike)