Saturday, December 29, 2012


I've mentioned a time or two that Sal has an affection for all things car related, and has even started making car sounds.

We love it.

(Note: turn the volume up)

It's really neat to watch him develop an imagnation--or at least we would like to think that's what's happening, as he spends up to an hour racing them back and forth, and up and down the sofa.

What's with the white stuff?

One of my questions was answered yesterday.
I had been wondering if it ever snows here.
The answer is yes.

Is it springtime yet?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas 2012

Christmas for our family was very different than normal this year. Moving away from our families for these few years-we knew we'd miss out on celebrating with family as we usually do-but what I wasn't prepared for was the utter lack of Christmas spirit in the air.

China does not really celebrate Christmas. At least not like we do in America.

The malls aren't packed. Nobody drives around with antlers or red noses on their vehicles, and if our calendar didn't show that it was December 25th, we really would've just worked right on through Christmas day.

NZ did end up having Christmas day off, so we kicked off our Christmas Eve with dinner out at our favorite jiaozi place. We joked about having Peking duck, like the family in "A Christmas Story", but that would have required a drive clear across town, and frankly, we were too lazy to call our driver, load the boy up and head out, so we stayed close to home and filled ourselves silly on jiaozi.

Christmas morning will go down in history as one of the most chaotic, random Christmases ev-er.

Since China doesn't celebrate Christmas, it was business as usual for most folks. This means that at 8:15a, we had NZ's assistant over at our house to greet a heating and AC repairman that we had requested come to clean our ducts. Little did I realize it would be on Christmas morning. Lest I forget, we also had the concrete man pouring new concrete in our shower stall at the same time. Plenty of folks  filling our home-none of them family. Not exactly how we had planned it, but hey--it's China.

Santa really goes down the chimney like this? No way, dad.
After the hustle and bustle of our morning was over, we joined our friends from Catalonia at their place for a nice Christmas lunch & afternoon cocktails. This was by far the highlight of our day. Sharing stories & laughter with people who have become like family in this far away land. As the day turned to evening, we  took the party back to our house with a brief intermission for Sal to open his presents before bedtime.

Santa brought him some wooden blocks and stacking cups. Friends and family also showered him with gifts. He got his first "mobile phone". It speaks in both Chinese and English, and his mama might even learn her numbers, how to say cat and dog, and "let's play" in Mandarin after playing with that toy for a few weeks.

Stockings from Stephanie
We received a few packages from the States and inside one of them were three stockings stuffed full of goodies for us. We had a lot of fun opening them and discovering some highly sought after goodies in them! Swedish fish, taco seasoning, gum and yogurt melts..SCORE!

Once gifts were opened and the boy was put in bed, our friends came to our house, where we ordered Pizza and watched "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". It might not have been a typical Christmas day for us--but it's alright--cause we had each other...and we have Sal in our lives now, which is the best gift I have ever received.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Come to mama

And with the simple phrase, "come to mama", my son took his first two steps and fell into my arms on Christmas Eve, eve.

My favorite part?

NZ was right there by my side.

As far as milestones go, we've been pretty dang lucky.

Dad got his first laugh, but I was there to hear it.

We have both been present as Sal has mastered crawling, saying "dada" and standing for the first time...and now, both being there for his first "steps" has been more than I could dream of. Dads tend to get left out of these things a, for NZ to witness them all so far has been quite special.


It could be that I have a Dad's boy, who will wait for dad to be home before he surprises us with a new found skill.

Who knows?

All I can say is that having his first steps on the eve of Christmas Eve is a milestone I won't forget anytime soon.

Impeccable timing, son.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Out with a bang

Our friends, the Royals went out with a bang .
The farewell crew

Last Saturday, a bunch of us gathered together with enough fireworks to make our Chinese neighbors jealous, and set them off as a farewell for our friends, Donna and Kyle.

As I have noted before, fireworks are an every day occurance here. In fact, just about 5 minutes ago, my sky lit up like the 4th of July--and it's 9:00p on a Thursday here. No reason, whatsoever. No national holiday--just an average Thursday evening in Wuxi.

Most new expats learn about fireworks within their first 24 hours in China.

Usually at some inappropriate 5:00am on a Monday.

Mr. Royal is ready to set this place on fi-yah!
View from above. Front row seats on our balcony.

What better way to send a bunch of expats home, than ending it the way they arrived.

NZ Taiwan Trip

A few pictures from NZ's recent trip to Taiwan.

The tallest building in Taipei.

And.....Sushi that makes his wife envious...

Taiwan got a positive review from my ol man--and is on the list of weekend getaways before our time in Asia ends.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

ELEVEN months

I can not believe that Sal is only a month away from his first birthday. Part of me wants him to stay a baby forever, and the other part of me can't wait to watch him develop into a little man with opinions & likes all his own.

Showing his personality..
Mama, I want to be outside with you!!! Why you lock me in here?

He has started showing little signs of his individuality this past month. He has never been a pacifier kid, or very attached to anything for more than a day or two at a time. However, we are seeing signs of favorite toys--he digs in his toy basket for them and plays with them above and beyond all others.

His favorite toy?


We also think that one of his words might actually be "truck".

Or, it could be "fuuuu--fillintheblank"...

Vroooooom goes the fuhk tuhk.
..we're going with "truck" since he is head-over-heels for anything with four wheels these days. He drives his trucks across the floors, over the coffee table, and our sofa making  little spitting raspberry vroooom noises.  

He has a best big buddy here that he tries his darnedest to keep up with. Both boys share a love of trucks and other four-wheeled-vehicles, and I love watching them interact with one another.
Sal has also taken a liking to a particular blanket that his auntie Charlee made for him. It's got minky dots on one side, and plaid on the other ( I take his monthly pictures on it/with it). I started hanging it on the side of his crib when December 1st rolled around because I thought it made his room more Christmasy to have a white cuddly blanket hanging on his crib to go with his red and white sheets. Well, he pulled it down one day during nap, and now it lives IN his crib. He grabs it as soon as we lay him down, and cuddles with it.

"the" blanket.

So darn cute and innocent.

Bedtimes have improved since last month. The 10:00p waking still occurs from time to time, but he seems to put himself back to sleep MOST of the time--It's about time. NZ and I have actually gotten to sleep through the night on a regular basis. I had almost forgotten what it was like to have a good night's sleep.  
Mama, please tell them how much I enjoy smearing myself with eating beans.

Our little man still loves goldfish  crackers, apple slices, green beans and meatballs. He prefers to feed himself, so I've been trying to make everything "finger friendly" that I can. He's got great dexterity, and has outsmarted our attempts of placing vegetables under a goldfish in hopes that he will swoop in for a handful. He is able to perform surgery to get his goldfish free.

Our ayi brought us a load of fruit last week, which included some fruits I wouldn't typically buy, and he liked them both. One of them is a dragon fruit, white fleshy inside with little black seeds...he loves them, but I'm gonna have to remember them as a great natural remedy if he ever gets constipated. We'll have to limit the amount of dragon fruit consumption from here on out after a couple near blow-outs.

A & Sal. Notice a trend here?
 Lots of stroller rides together.
The colder weather has limited our outings to Starbucks, indoor malls and friend's homes. We usually walk to the vegetable market once or twice a week, and on a quick errand or two on our own. Sal's great grandma gifted him a "footmuff" for our Quinny stroller, and he LOVES riding all cocooned up in it.

Mama,  I move this chair to your bedroom, okay?

He has thought about taking unassisted steps, but has yet to do so. He's a speed demon around the house pushing furniture to-and-fro, and his furniture pushing has evolved from dining room chairs to our sofa. He does balance checks every now and then--so someday soon, I'll be posting videos of my son walking like he's the only kid ever to walk in history.

Finally sitting still for a picture

Happy ELEVEN months Salvatore!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Lunch with the ladies

This afternoon, a few friends and I headed out to do a bit of shopping and lunch together before we all part ways for the Christmas holiday. We made a pit stop at Starbucks (mmmm, peppermint hot chocolate) and then hit H&M to clean out their sale racks. It should serve no surprise, that this California girl is hurtin' for an appropriate winter wardrobe. Not that H&M really has heavy duty winter clothes, but they do have some nice thick sweaters to wear with leggings and boots. Someday I will give in to the land of thermal underwear and puffer jackets, but I won't go down without a fight.
The boys balancing our H&M bags on their strollers

After H&M we headed through downtown towards an Italian restaraunt that my girlfriend had been raving about. To my knowledge there are two Italian places to eat in Wuxi...and I've eaten at one, and was about as impressed with their pasta sauces as McKayla Maroney was about her olympic silver on vault. When  you've got an Italian husband who makes the bomdiggity aribatta and marinara sauces, it makes it difficult to win me over with restaraunt made sauces. Just sayin'. 

And here's when another, this ain't America realization sets in...

We get to an intersection flanked by shops and a Chinese restaurant. My girlfriend exclaims, "Here it is." and goes on to explain that we will have to carry our strollers up three flights of stairs. I'm thinking to myself, Italian restaurant? All I see is a Chinese one. And then, she opens the doors, and we proceed to walk through the Chinese restaurant, to a flight of stairs. We climb the stairs (thank you to our friends who helped carry the boys up for us), and at the top, we are greeted by a waitress wearing a Santa's helper costume and the colors of the Italian flag are all over the place.

Welcome to Trattoria Ferrara, says the assistant manager (in fantastic English).

Really? An Italian restaurant at the top of Chinese restaraunt stairs?



Fantastic service, selection and the best company.
The boys & Barb check out the view from Trattoria Ferrara

I will definitely go back again. Although its odd to not have its own signage and storefront, it is the definition of a hidden gem. These types of finds are one of the things I love about China. You never know what you're going to find!

Best lunch I've had in a while.

Now, its time to go burn those calories off.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wanted: Good News

I have to admit, I have started three or four posts over the course of the week, and erased every single draft.

I am simply at a loss for words.

They say bad things happen in threes-well--I can prove that superstition wrong, because over the course of the past week, there's been a mall shooting in Portland (I used to shop at that mall, once upon a time),   A mass shooting of schoolchildren and teachers in Conneticut, a mass stabbing of children in Beijing on the very same day, and just when it my heart strings couldn't be pulled anymore, news of 7 year-old Santa Barbara native Daisy Merrick's continuing battle with cancer. Her grandfather, Al Merrick is a famous surfboard shaper, and her father, Britt founded Reality church which has spread in popularity across America.

Children shouldn't know pain like these children who have witnessed the brutal killings, or pain like Daisy with her cancer treatments. They should have their innocence. They should be protected.

I'm ready for some good news right about now.

A miracle, perhaps?

To read more about Daisy Love go to

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

California Kid

I finally found paints!

And canvases!

And brushes!

Here's a peek at my first project for Sal's room.

Those of you familar with state flags might recognize this as the California Republic flag.

California kid

I found it fitting for a "name plate" for Sal's wall, so I replaced California Republic with his name, and voila.

I'm just so darn excited to have found something that lets me be creative again.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Football Night

Being 16 hours ahead of California, we miss most of SNF ( it's more like MMF here). The Steeler game inevitably comes on at 8 am, just as NZ is getting his shoes on to leave for work.
I think this makes Monday's even harder to leave (=
Thankfully, Australia Sports Network replays MOST NFL games during the week, so although we don't get to watch live football, we do get to catch the game at some point.
My favorite are the six o'clock replays.

Sal tipping one back. No idea where he learned how
to drink with such enthusiasm.
I pull Sal's high chair into the living room, order pizza, grab a couple of beers and we all kick back and watch the Steelers game.
It's a small taste of home that I am so glad to have.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Christmas Card 2012

This was my first year ever that I can remember not making my own cards. My sister and I usually get together during one of the first weekends in November, scrapbooking and stamp supplies in hand, and spend the day making cards. Unfortunately, the lack of supplies ( & my sister) here made it impossible for me to continue my tradition.
I did however, get some of my creative juices flowing by setting up a DIY photo backdrop (shout out to pinterest) out of balloons that I bargained for at "stuff mart". I taped them to the wall behind the boy. I borrowed a Santa hat from Mrs. Barcelona, baked a couple cookies and got down to the business of taking pictures...
..or so I thought....
See all the balloons on the floor? The two second tornado hit.
...before I could grab him, down came the balloons. I got a couple of shots before the boy went ape$hit on those things. He LOVES balloons. More specifically, he loves to see how tight he can squeeze them with his dagger like fingernails until they pop.

So, I had to act fast. I blew up a few more balloons and taped them back up while holding back a determined young man. I grabbed the plate of cookies, purposefully placed them at least four feet in front of where I planned to seat Sal ( to buy myself time to run and get my camera ready), then plopped him on his bottom and snapped away.

look how fast I can get to the cookies, mama!
hmm, Santa doesn't need TWO cookies. Maybe I can have one?

He wasn't so sure about the cookie at first. He is an observer. Always watching, always judging curious. Eventually, his curiosity partnered with my slow reaction time meant that he got his first taste of cookie.
Hey mama!!!!!Look!!!!! balloons on the floor.
You better go fix dem while I eat dis cookie.

I rained on his parade by taking it away, but his spirits quickly rose when I started pulling the balloons off the wall for him to chase around.
How bout a truce, baby?

oh yes, balloons are much better than cookies.

After a few hours choosing a layout on, we had ourselves our 2012 Christmas card.

Warm wishes from our family to yours

Merry Christmas from the other side of the World. We love and miss our family and friends, and hope that you all have a wonderful holiday filled with good food, laughter and love!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Yowza, Jiaozi!

A chilly Saturday walk to jiaozi
I may have proclaimed our love for mentioned that we have become big fans of jiaozi over here.
Little bitty dumplings made of minced meat ( pork?) and vegetables.
mama, Can I use these chopsticks to poke my eye out?
Today we ordered three plates of jiaozi to share. I think that Sal may have out-eaten his dad! The kid demolished the insides of at least one plate alone as the audience gasped at the fact that we white people let the baby show off his stellar self feeding skills. See the lady behind us? This was a rare moment when she wasn't turned around with eyes glued to our table. I had just reprimanded her for touching Sal while he was drinking.
He mows.
Puts a hurt on those things.

A full bellied happy boy

It's the cutest thing, ever. Ev-er.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas Tree

Looks like the Dollar Tree threw up on our table

Here in China, our Christmas tree, purchased off a chinese site which is a cross between amazon and eBay, came with lights, a fake tree which stands about 4 feet tall, and a HUGE bag of decorations that look like someone had a shopping Bonanza at the dollar tree.

It's not what we would have at home, by any means, but it is our tree this year, and Sal seems to dig it.

Thank goodness kids are so easy to please.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Little Hands Wreath

Little Hands make perfect Christmas wreaths.
All I had to do was get Sal to hold still long enough to do a rough tracing of his hand to be used as a pattern. I cut out 9 little hands, overlapped them and glued them together ( which failed). My glue wasn't strong enough to hold them together, so I ended up stapling them, but if I were in the States I would have just used my glue gun or Aleene's craft glue. I had a left over bow from our Christmas Tree explosion that I topped the wreath with  and hung it from a 3M command hook which seems to be our ONLY option for hanging things here.
An easy, cheap way to commemorate baby's first Christmas.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Grateful: Day 30: Fitness center

Once upon a time...

I was impeccably fit.

And let there be no excuses, other than life got in the way, and laziness got the best of me.

So, today, I am thankful that NZ and I are back on track. We finally secured gym memberships and have put them to use. We're working on a schedule that allows for us to both be able to go at least 3-4 times a week without compromising our time together as a family. When we were young and dumb it didn't matter as much if we ate dinner together or not. Now with a son, we make family dinner a priority.

But, just as eating together is important to us, so is setting a good example for our son in terms of living a fit, healthy lifestyle.

So, today, I am thankful that we have access to a gym within our complex, and the means necessary to put physical fitness back in our day to day lives.

Grateful: Day 29: Hand-me-downs

Even though Sal's aunties take good care to make sure he never has to wear a pair of split pants, and always has a fresh burp cloth, I am extremely thankful for the kindness of both my sister-in-law and a fellow expat family for their hand-me-down and loaned clothing. We borrowed a bunch of clothes from my nephews while back in the states, which got us through the first 6 months with ease. When we moved here, I had a stockpile of "new" clothes from my sister, and shortly thereafter, Sal inherited a little boy's wardrobe of 9-12 month clothing from an American family also living here.

It makes me feel good to get more use out of something. Especially living here, where many people survive with very little. I admit, seeing people here, and the conditions that some of them live in, makes me feel guilty for living so well. So, if I can squeeze out some more wear from clothes, and save money, why not?

If Sal could speak, I am sure he would say that he could care less about whether his socks matched his onesie, or that he had on brand new kicks. He'd be more excited to tell you about his hand-me-down practically new cars and push toy. We're so very thankful for the kindness of others, and hope we can share these toys and clothes with someone else down the road.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


This morning when I woke up, it hit me.

We obviously won't be home for Christmas, and I'm a bit sad about it.

Sheesh, December hasn't even hit yet, and I've got a case of the humbugs.

This is the first year since NZ and I have been dating, actually, that we haven't been with our families for Christmas..that's a long time. We were lucky back home. We had both families within an hour drive (except my dad who lives in BFE-but he knows this, and makes the drive south to join us), and would spend Christmas Eve with my side of the family, and Christmas Day with the Zentil side.

This is the first year we have a baby to show the holiday spirit. I've looked forward to this milestone for many years-and now it's here-and happening to us...and we're not in our element to show him what the American holiday season entails. It makes me sad. One of the things I want to make sure of while we're overseas, is that he isn't denied any American childhood rites of passage, just because we're here and not there.

So, "operation Christmas" is under way in our apartment. China may not celebrate Christmas as we Americans do,  but we will try our darnedest to make sure Sal gets a proper first Christmas. He may not be joining his grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins for a huge Christmas feast (mmm, I can almost taste the Dego burgers from last Christmas), but he will have his mom, dad and good old Beav to watch his eyes light up when he sees the Christmas lights flickering and stockings hanging. Pandora's Christmas station will start playing 24/7 to try and get mama into the spirit when she feels anything but.

It's hard to be away from loved ones during the Holidays, but for now, this is our home, and we will embrace the experience for what it is.

Grateful: Day 28: Grandparents

Today I am thankful for my grandparents.

                                 Sal gives grandpa Jimmie a laugh on the lazy Susan.

My relationship with them is not typical. I grew up across the street from my mom's parents, and my dad's parents lived across the canyon, less than one mile away. I thought it was normal to see them on a regular basis. This was, of course, until I found out that my friends had to get on airplanes to go to Minnesota to see their grandparents.

my grandmas, me & my mah
December 2011

I've learned a lot from them all. My granny pat taught me how to shop, while grandma Dottie  has quite possibly the BEST buttermilk pancakes and aebelskivers in the West. And guess what. She shared her recipe. Isn't that special?  My grandpa Bud was a patient man who spent time perfecting my backhand on the tennis court. He called me toots, and looked out for the ladies in his life. My grandpa Jimmie taught us lawn darts, how to feed blue jays and introduced us to Italian donuts (certs!) and a love of the Santa Barbara breakwater.

Both of my grandfathers have passed away, grandpa Bud in 2007 and grandpa Jimmie just this past October. I am grateful that they have all lived through a good portion of my adult life, and that I still have both my grandmas to call on. I realize that the family dynamic I grew up with, having grandparents at my disposal, is quite uncommon, and for those years we've had together, I am so very thankful.

The "Bud" smirk.

Side note: I really wish my grandpa Bud were alive to see Sal. Sal has started making a few facial expressions that bare a striking resemblance to those of grandpa.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Grateful: Day 27: Weekends

One thing that's been quite a change for us since moving overseas, is having weekends that are WIDE open for doing a whole lotta nothin together. Back home, owning a house--NZ always had a honey-do list to keep the house maintained, and I had my list too. We both had our hobbies that ate up a morning or afternoon, and then by the time our household duties were done, it was Sunday night again.

Towards the end of our time in the States, we were traveling, working on the house or having garage sales every weekend for the three months leading up to the move. Add to that the fact that NZ sometimes had to travel for work, meaning many Sundays were spent saying goodbye, rather than watching a Dodger game on the tube together.

So, one thing that I am grateful for here, is the fact that for the first time in years, we have from quitting time Friday until the Monday morning alarm goes off to do whatever we please. No sprinklers to fix, no lawns to mow, no obligations whatsoever.

We are starting to get a little stir crazy by Sunday afternoon, but we just joined a gym and are excited to be lacing up our sneakers again and throwing around the weights.

I'm sure in time, we will fill our weekends here with activities, but for now, its been nice to be able to  take our weekends slow.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Grateful: Day 26: Water Delivery

Yup. Our "sparkletts" is delivered by moped
NZ and I have done our are trying our best to adapt to living less American, and more Chinese the best we can. I shop the local market for everything from bok choy & carrots, to seedless grapes, eggs and live chickens now. We're learning what Chinese flour etc looks like, so that we can stop spending $7 a bag on Gold Medal imported flour. We're learning, and we're trying. Trying being the key word.

It's difficult coming from a country in which everything has to pass a zillion inspections, meat has to be USDA certified, and the level of sanitation is eons beyond where we currently live. It's hard to trust that anything is "clean". When a native Chinese person is telling you that you need to rinse your dish with hot tea before dishing out dumplings at the local jiaozi joint, you know that shht's not sano.

We rinse our produce and eggs with a vinegar and water mix as soon as we get them home. We use bottled water for EVERYTHING.

I don't know what I would do without our Nestle water...or the delivery guys who deliver it with a simple call to let them know we're out. Beats heading to the store every day--at the rate we drink water, I'd be lugging a half dozen cases a week. Whether it's legit or not, who knows. They have a safety seal on each jug--and neither of us have gotten sick, so we'll go with the idea that it is totally legit.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Grateful: Day 25: Healthcare

Every Monday morning, I pass by one of the local hospitals on my 5K run walk to Starbucks with the ladies. We pass by, and I'm still astonished at the sheer magnitude of people who are waiting in a line ( or sitting in the back of parked vans out in the lot) to be seen. I have no idea how long these people wait, or what ails them, but for me, it equates to too many people, not enough physicians...and socialized medicine. No one who is waiting seems bothered by the fact that they will be parked in a line most of the day--because this is all they know of healthcare.

Hard to see, but behind me stand about 100  people waiting in line
Speaking for myself, I appreciate private healthcare, where I might pay a bit more, but am assured care by a physician who has access and ability to further testing and medical intervention at the drop of a hat. So, today, I am extra thankful for our international healthcare coverage here in China, which allows us to bypass the socialized system and access quick and thorough care through a private facility if the need arises. Granted, the hospital tied to our insurance is a 2 hour drive away in Shanghai, but for most things, the local satellite clinic is sufficient for taking care of our needs during the weekdays.

I hope to never experience the inside of a local hospital Emergency Room.

( Did you hear that Sal?)

Grateful: Day 24: Stroller(s)

Remember how, before we moved...I was all about living minimally while in China?

Yeah, well, having a kid, somehow makes living as minimally as we would have liked impossible.

For the most part, we're succeeding at keeping the excess and non-necessities down. Clothing (for NZ and myself), kitchen supplies and linens ( I'm a recovering linen addict, remember?) are all things we have been successful in keeping pared down...but when it comes to Sal and his "gear", we have done our best, but sadly, China has made it impossible to allow us to survive with just one stroller.

So, we Zentils now own two.

In a small, storage-less apartment. On the 25th floor.

One for running/walking, and one for grocery and mall shopping.

I am grateful for both of my strollers today. They allow me the freedom to explore our surroundings.

NZ & Sal "off roading" on a walk

I love our Quinny Buzz because it has got tires paired with a high cross bar, allowing for a good stride while walking. The tires and suspension allow for us to take it many places where the streets have potholes, or there are staircases we must climb. Handicapped access ramps are not mandatory here, so we do a lot of stair climbing. There's also a comfy memory foam seat for Sal that reclines and can be turned to face me, or to face the street. With the colder weather setting in, we use a Quinny bunting bag that Sal's great grandma got him for Christmas. It's nice and cozy and he seems quite content even when I'm freezing my booty off.

snug as a bug in his bunting bag

Our Quinny is my most-of-the-time stroller that I take whenever we head out on foot. The extra special thing about this stroller was the cost. I picked up this lime green beast on Craigslist for 10% of its original cost. SCORE!

 I have to admit I ran into some problems when I was somewhere alone with the larger stroller. Here in China, most shopping areas are blocked off by cement or metal barricades. These have been erected to keep the electric bikes out of the stores. But the problem is, they also keep mothers pushing jogging strollers out as well.

on the count of three. yi. er. san
( We've got it down)

Barricades in our own apartment complex

Unless I have a friend with me to help lift his stroller over the barricades, I am unable to get to where I need to go. So, after much deliberation, I walked to our local baby store and bought the cheapest, ugliest umbrella stroller they had. It's narrow footprint, and light weight allow for me to get in between the barricades when out shopping alone. I tend to use this one when traveling by car as well, because I can balance our carseat and diaper bag on it while we take the elevator down to my driver.

the "Happy Dino" stroller loaded with our gear to head downstairs to
meet our driver

This girl can do it all!

So, yeah-I'm thankful today for having two strollers which allow me access to the places we go.

Grateful: Day 23: The Office

It might sound stupid, but we are so thankful for this show. When we were in the states, we watched this show on Thursday nights for the past few years. We even went back and purchased the first few seasons that we missed, and watched those.

Well, we brought those, along with some newer seasons back with us on our last trip, and have been watching them again--and I have to tell you, it feels like home. We get so into the show, that it's like we "know" them. It's been a wonderful taste of home, since television here is lacking.

A good laugh is good for both of us at the end of a long day.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Grateful: Day 22: WIC Play Group

Oh how I love play group.

Ladies, let me show you how it's done.

The last Wednesday of each month is a WIC play date at Mrs. Georgia's apartment. She lives in the same complex as we do, and has a wonderful first floor apartment, complete with a large basement perfect for entertaining.  We are so grateful for her generosity and for organizing play group.

The WIC play group usually brings out a dozen or so children and their moms from all over the World.  Sal gets to play with children from India, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Germany, the UK and America while I spend a lovely morning with adult conversation, my diet coke (thank you Heather!) and plenty of activity to get a good nap out of Sal when we go home.

It's been really fun for me to be a part of this group, because I get to converse with other moms--all in the same boat as us. Living far from family, while our husbands are here for business. It's  fun to see the differences in parenting styles from country to country, and learn more about our friends from other places.

With all the expat babies being born around here, this group is sure to grow in the next few months. I can't wait!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Grateful: Day 21: Fishbowl Living

I keep blogging about the unrelenting stares, and our panda status over here.

Most days I can brush it off, or even laugh at it, but some days, I don't leave the complex just because I am not in the mood to have the attention. It's like, I just want to go to my corner market and buy some bananas without the finger pointing and paparazzi ninjas.

Leave us alone.

Thankfully those days are few and far between. Otherwise, I would totally fail at living here.

On the flip side, I am also thankful for our "fishbowl" living experience here.

It's made me more patient (for the most part), more self assured  in my abilities as a mother (try convincing the Chinese grandmas that your child does not need a hat on, over and over), and more outgoing and adventurous.

Being in a country so foreign to me, I knew I couldn't become recluse. I knew I had to get out and really make my way through the frustration of not understanding the language, not being able to read, and figuring out how things operate around here. All my life I've been a sit back and watch kinda girl.   I wouldn't try things unless I was quite certain I wouldn't fail.

Living here, and not having many options for communicating and meeting my/our needs, has made me more willing to step out of my comfort zone and TRY things. If I fail, who cares? So far, I have surprised myself with what I CAN accomplish, despite not knowing more than a handful of key phrases and no ability to read Chinese. I managed to arrange for a tailor to hem my dress and negotiate a price. ..All.By.Myself.

This is big, people.

Fishbowl living, and always having eyes on every move we make, has made me care less about what others think of me. I'm grateful for this because I have always wanted to be more confident at trying things that I could potentially fail at...and just go for it.

China has provided me the outlet to do so, and for that, I am thankful.

Grateful: Day 20: BFFS

Being as shy and quiet as I am, I am extra grateful for a good stock of longtime friends, who I affectionately, like any other woman, call my BFF's ( Best Friends Forever).

Three of my besties and I have known each other since 1995! Mathematically speaking that's  16 ,17 years a long time.

You see, Jen (Miss Jen),  Dawn ( Mac) and I all met on the first day of training at  UCDavis. With the dorms yet to open, we were shacked up with an older teammate for the week, and we quickly learned how to navigate the streets of Davis on bicycles and have had a special bond ever since.
Our sophomore year, Mac and I lived together with one of our Aggies teammates, and Miss Jen lived nearby. A room opened up in her apartment, and this is how we met Sara (ma'am).
We spent summer days at the gym and the pool, and nights rollerblading the greenbelt, hanging out with our tomato truck driving buddies, and making brownies.

Man, those were the days.

 After college, we stayed close, although we moved in different directions. A brief stint in Philly for ma'am, a  marriage for me in Oregon, while Miss Jen and Mac stayed in California. As time would have it, Ma'am and I both moved back to California with failed relationships under our belts, and we all reconnected once again, before Mac went and got her Masters on at Rice (go girl!).

We four girls have been through the ups and downs of college life, real life, and all of that stuff that happens in between. Our paths keep crossing, and even after months of not seeing one another, we can skype like nobody's business and pick right back up.

Miss Jen's Birthday ( Me, Jen & Sara)

Mac, Me & Ma'am at my baby Shower
And then I have another BFF, Liz. I met her while living in Oregon during my brief marriage to her husband's cousin. I am super grateful that she and I have remained close friends throughout the years because we are two of a kind when it comes to baking, crafting, decorating and all that good fun girly stuff. She and her family usually come visit once a year, and last year we went to the LA fabric market together. It's a seamstress's dream. We had a lot of fun. Now that her family is moving to Vegas, we are within driving distance, and I look forward to some Vegas weekend trips to see her once we return.

Sending off the Bride. Liz's wedding day.

Our last visit with Liz & co. Sailing in San Diego.
And finally, my last BFF.

Meet Swanson. Also a Jen. But I call her Swanson, or Swanny. I just always have. That's what living with boys will do to you--everyone has nicknames. My old roommates ( the boys that I met her through) called her Swanson, so it stuck.
Swanny & me. Dub-T shindig 2009

We met a few weeks after I returned from Oregon. She and I quickly became buddies with tons of inside jokes, and we rarely went out to the bars without one another. I guess we were wing-women for one another, except for we totally had my roommates looking out for us, but still...we'd like to think we were looking out for each other.
I love the way she makes me laugh, her laid back attitude, and all of the good memories I have from spending the summer together raising Cain. Like my other friends, she moved off to North Carolina and then to Pittsburgh for a few years, but eventually made it back to California.
And lucky me.
She moved within an hour of our house.
And we have been able to continue the good times together, once again.
Zentil Farewell Party 2012
 I feel so fortunate to have all of these girls who know me, and like me for me,  as do I with them.

There's no cattiness, no competition....and no drama. That's hard to find these days, which makes our friendship even more valuable to me.