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.

Monday, November 19, 2012

TEN months

Wow, I have fallen behind on my regular posts because I have been diligent about getting my thirty days of thankful posts up each day. I never thought that posting each day would be so stressful ( I kid, I kid).

sit still? haha. yeah right, mama.

But something worth blogging happened this past week.

Sal turned TEN months old.

If there has been any one month that I've seen the most dramatic change in both growth and development, it's been these last four weeks. Four weeks ago, we returned from our trip to the states with a little 18 pounder who was just learning how to stand holding onto somthing for dear life. He could pull to a stand, freeze, and trust-fall with no one to catch him. And now, I sit on the sofa, marvelling as my 20 pound son re-arranges furniture ( namely, kitchen chairs) around the house. Slick tile and hardwood floors make for awesome chair sliding. Who needs a walker when you've got chairs?

Movin' chairs
Not this guy.

He pulls himself up, and maneuvers with ease. He can bend over and pick something up with one hand. He has a better awareness of his surroundings, and falls much less than he did just last week.

It's amazing. It really is.

He also got his first haircut, by yours truly, and although I was afraid I'd hack it, it didn't turn out half bad. We also started brushing his teeth since he now has eight teeth, with two more on the way. This kid seems to get his teeth in fours. Cah-razy.

Along with the cutting of teeth, we've also been victims of sleep disturbances over the past few weeks. At first I blamed jetlag, then I blamed teeth, and now, well---I'm not sure what it is. He is waking without fail,every night at 10:00p and sometimes again around 2:00a. We let him cry it out, and he goes  back to sleep 75% of the time, the other 25% it escalates, so we get up and change his diaper, feed him and put him back to bed.

He had a visit with our pediatrician here this past week, and he has grown 5 cm (1.5 inches) and gained just under 1 kilo ( 2 lbs) in 5 weeks time. Perhaps all this growing is contributing to the nightly wake up? Who knows, but that's a whole heck of a lot of growing to do in such a short period of time. It's been his biggest spurt yet.

Sal is an eater. His favorite foods this month have been spaghetti with dad's sauce, blueberries, fresh pumpkin and mama's homemade goldfish crackers. He'll try anything once. Sometimes even twice. The only food he continues to refuse are peas. I find it funny, because he will eat things like capsicum and kidney beans, but not sweet peas. He has also decided that breastfeeding-is-so-last-month and has weened himself off on his own accord. I finally gave up trying to force the issue, and grumble, grumble my way into the kitchen to scoop out the formula. It was a good run while it lasted. To be honest, I never thought I would last as long as I have and am totally okay with being done.

The toy of the month.

As far as playtime, this month has been so fun. It's so rewarding to watch him grow up into this little man. We spend a lot of time with other children, generally a year older than his age, and he does his best to keep up with them. He's quite observant and there are times it looks as if he wants to say, "Hey guys, throw the ball to me!". I want to tell him, "It's just a matter of time, bubba..You'll be off running with the boys, having the time of your life." He has a fondness for anything with wheels, so I treated him to a few little construction trucks that he has spent hours rolling around on the floor, sofa, and his dad.

We love you Salvatore!

Grateful: Day 19: 35 Years of Life

I turned 35 today.

Just a drop in the bucket, right?

At 35, I feel like I finally know who I am, and what I'm doing, and it's nice to have let go of all the insecurities that I carried through my early twenties and the feeling of needing to keep up with the Joneses that happens to so many Americans. At least for me, that's how it's been. Maybe that's just a California thing, but I'd venture to say it's pretty common across the board.

At 35, I'm happy with where I am.

I appreciate the little things now that I've got some years under my belt.

Instead of flaunting some fancy designer jeans, a designer bag covered in logos or a new something-or-other for my birthday, I'm thankful each and every day to have a husband  that I can't wait to see walk through the door every night at dinner time. I know that he has a choice, and the fact that he chooses me each and every day is probably the best gift ever. I'm thankful that we finally have a living, breathing, healthy young man to call our own.

Call me simple, but isn't love the best gift of all?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Grateful: Day 18: Surprise Guest Post

Hi, I’m Brie’s sister, Stephanie, and I am here to do a surprise guest post so I can tell you how grateful I am to have her in my life but first of all please join me in wishing her a…
(Her Birthday is 11/19 but since she is living in China, it's 11/19 there now.. so I'm posting this on day 18)

Brie is not only my sister but she is also my best friend and for that I am grateful.   Even though we were born 6 years part, we always played together and she will probably tell you that I was her 2nd mother during our younger years (sorry Sis). She moved away for college and I missed her so much during that time so I was so happy when I heard that she and NZ were moving back to SoCal. Having her live a quick car trip away so I could call her to meet me for a day of shopping, crafting or reality TV has made me one happy sister!   Over the last 20 years we have found each other invaluable and we always find comfort in each other… she is always there for me, we lean on each other when we need support, we laugh together, cry together and most importantly we never judge.  I look forward to many years ahead with my sister by my side.

Last year when they (BZ & NZ) announced that they would be moving to China, I knew it was an opportunity of a lifetime for them and I was happy that they had this chance but I was also so afraid of having her so far away… Afraid that we would lose touch with one another and sad that I would miss watching my nephew grow up.  Once he was born, I drove down to their house 1-2 times a week (including a mini vacation with them while NZ was out of the country on business) to spend as much time with them before they left.  I am so grateful I had that time with them before they moved.  Now 6 months later I know that “losing touch” with my sister was just another one of my crazy insecurities.  I am so grateful for the internet that keeps us connected even though we are currently living 6,000+ miles apart. We communicate daily via Skype, texting & email. Wuxi is 16 hours ahead of California so I often wake up in the morning to find emails from her with links to cute clothes for Sal,  Pins on Pinterest to plan Sal’s 1st Birthday (how did that happen, wasn’t he just born?), which makes me feel like I’m right there planning it with her and not missing a thing. 

It's not a secret how important she is to me…anyone that knows me, knows that I would do anything for her, at any time… this includes getting on a plane for 14 hours flying up the west coast, over Russia (the Bearing Sea yikes!), Japan and finally landing in Shanghi. In 157 days I will be on my first international flight headed to China to spend two weeks with the Z’s.  I can’t wait to see where they are living and come back home appreciating everything we have in the good ole USA.  I am grateful to family that made it possible for this girl to fly to China in style (you know who you are).

I will always be grateful for my beautiful sister

HAPPY BIRTHDAY Sis! ! May all your wishes and dreams come true! 

XoXo Steph

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Grateful: Day 17: 5k Monday group

One of my favorite things living here is the friendships I have made.
Every Monday, a group of ladies make a round trip walk to Starbucks and the vegetable market together. This is Sal's and my Monday activity, as we leave around 9:30a and return around 11:45a..just in time for lunch and a nap ( if he doesn't fall asleep in his stroller on the way home first).
Instead of calling it what it is--a walk to Starbucks so some of my friends can feed their fix so that we can enjoy a nice warm beverage with friends--it's been dubbed "5k Monday" because that is roughly the round trip distance from our complex to Starbucks and back.
We get a lot of walking in around these parts.
A lot.
Like, every day.
Walking home from the vegetable markt on a sunny morning

I can't think of a better way to spend our Monday mornings..Exercise, Starbucks and getting vegetables and fruit for the week with friends. 5k Monday ladies, I am so thankful for you all!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Grateful: Day 16: Stephanie

Thinking back now,  I have a hard time comprehending how my sister and I had a love/hate relationship growing up. Being six years apart meant that at the age when when she started having friends over, she also had an annoying and persistent little sister banging at her door to be let in..or worse yet, doing things to embarrass her ( I recall pantsing and murfs being attempted). I was a brat. I admit it.

Circa 1979
Even back then, my sister had a soft spot for her little sis. She would yell and scream at me like the best of them, but I usually ended up getting my way. My sister likes to make people happy-even her annoying little sister. 

And now, a few decades later, I can see that even at the worst of times of sibling rivalry, she was then , the same person that she is now. She's a protector, a peace keeper and a hell of a great big sister.

It wasn't until I was a freshman in college and she was in her twenties that we really saw each other eye to eye. You know how they say out of something bad, comes something good? Well, that's what happened to us when my parents divorced. My sister and I became inseparable after their split.

She's been by my side through thick and thin ever since that day.

I love her for that.

See what we do to him?
And now with the arrival of Sal into our family, she's even more a part of my life. During the month of March, she spent over $400 on gasoline coming to and from my house...sometimes even twice a week to visit us before I took her nephew half way across the world.

She's a proud auntie, with so much love for our son. And I know without doubt, when we return from the states, that I will be inundated with "can I go to auntie stephs?" from Sal because she will spoil the crap out of him....and he will quickly learn that auntie Steph makes the best cookies and cupcakes  in Santa Barbara.
Behind ( literally) the scenes for one of our "photo shoots" of the boy
We share a love of family (obviously), crafting and baking. Our latest venture has been doing photo shoots inspired by Pinterest. Some of them work, others do not, but we had a lot of fun trying. Many laughs, lots of tears (from Sal, not us) and so many great pictures that capture the moment. 

Photoshoot fail. Wagons and babies don't mix. At least not this particular day.

Nuzzling his auntie. The baby whisperer.

Sissy, I am grateful for you not only today, but every day of my life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Grateful: Day 15: Parents

With the events that have transpired this past week (Read here) and the loss of my grandfather last month, I am reminded just how lucky I am to have two parents & two step-parents who are very much a part of my life. 

My mah is always the first one I call. She has always been a quiet, but firm supporter behind any decision  that I have made in my life-even when I'm pretty sure she's thought to herself, "what the heck is my daughter thinking? She wants to whaaaat?" She's always let me figure things out for myself, and I appreciate the freedom she has allowed me to do so. And when things haven't gone as planned, or when I just need my mah..I know that I can call her and she will be there.

Mah & Bob

As an adult, I look back on my childhood  of which was spent with my dad working out of town all week, only coming home on weekends--and can appreciate and understand that sacrifice that he made much more than I could as a kid. It  couldn't have been easy for him. But he did it, because he loved us. He did it so he could provide for us. He did it, because that's just what dads do. From watching him, I have learned what hard work and sacrifice is all about. 

Because of my parents, I had a wonderful childhood. Both were involved with my #1 passion, gymnastics. I think in my entire career, from ages 10-20, they maybe missed two meets, tops. No matter where my dad had been working the week prior,  he would hop in his truck at quitting time so he could join my mom in the bleachers at my Saturday morning meets. 

That's love. 

I am thankful that throughout my childhood and teens, my parents were married. They divorced shortly after I left for college, and have since added step parents into my life, who have sweetly adapted to inheriting two adult children into their lives. 

Pop & Mary

Thank you mom & pop for always being there for me. Love you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Grateful: Day 14: My sunshine

How did I make it to day 14 before I mentioned how thankful I am for my husband?! Well, I just couldn't think of the right words to convey how much he means to me up until now, so forgive me for the delay. 
Do we like rodeo? Why, yes we do.
My husband is the most important person in my little world. He's the logic to my emotions, he's the left brain to my right brain, he's the milk to my cookies. I am grateful for the sacrifices he makes so that his family can have what we need. I am grateful for our shared values, his desire to maintain traditions, and the importance he places on family first.  This man is the definition of hard work, and an example of what it means to be a stand up man.

I can only hope that our son watches his dad lead by example, and grows up to be just like him.

I'm also grateful for the good times we've had over the years, and all the ones to come. I'm grateful that my sunshine lets me call him "sunshine", and really be myself--bad habits and all. I love our inside jokes, our ability to make each other laugh, and the fact that he watches Jersey Shore with me.
(Did I just sell him out?)

Perhaps what I am most grateful for these days, is the fact that my sunshine gets to be a father to his son. Watching those two together, and seeing him show Sal how to do things like slurp spaghetti noodles, or get down to a LMFAO song just makes me love him even more.

Grateful: Day 13: Born on the 13th

Lucky 13
Everyday Today I am grateful for the luckiest Friday the 13th, ever. I've never been really superstitious, but I know many people are..from skipping 13th floors on buildings, to not scheduling procedures ( I had a few patients who refused to let me schedule their surgery on Friday the 13th--I was like, reaaaaally?) to just plain thinking bad things happen when the number13 is involved.

Speaking for myself, Friday the 13th's have always been good. I can recall first feeling this way as my childhood idol, Kim Zmeskal, took home the all around gold from the 1991 World Championships, on you guessed it, Friday the 13th..and I was there. In person. And it was...wait for it...
1991 World AA Champion, Kim Zmeskal
Friday, September 13, 1991


So, ever since then, I look forward to Friday the 13th, and pretty much anything to do with the number 13. I guess you could say it's my lucky number.

Last January, I went in on to my OB as my due date was looming. I had two weeks to go. I was nervous as could be. I swore Sal hadn't been as active, and I was having nightly nightmares that he would meet the same demise as our babies that came before him. I was certain that something would go wrong. Because, we were unlucky when it came to babies.

My OB offered to consider an induction. He was an estimated 7 lbs, and I was starting to show signs of labor, so she spoke to her colleagues and due to my history of recurrent loss, my previous uterine surgery and his size, they agreed to schedule an induction.


Friday, the 13th.

And I just knew that this was meant to be. Things HAD to turn out well.

And did they ever.

I am so very thankful for this little boy. Even on the rough days. Even on the days he  pushes all the chairs around the house and re-programs the chinese only remotes TV. Even on the days he spits up all over my favorite shirt. Even on the just-wants-to-be-held-all-day-and-mama-why-aren't-you-stronger-so-you-can-hold-me-all-day, days.

Hard to believe he was ever this small
We waited what seemed an eternity for his arrival into our lives. Four years of trying, waiting, hoping, losing, and trying again. He is the light of our lives, and I am ever so thankful for this gift I was given just 10 short months ago.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Grateful: Day 12: Western Facilities

Today I am grateful for western "facilities", as in, western toilets.

Before you go scratching your head, asking yourself, Western? toilet? Aren't all toilets the same?

Let me take a minute to show you.. the Chinese "Squatty Potty".

image from
I couldn't bare to show you how dirty they really are. This one must be brand spankin new.
Yep. This is what I run into when needing to use the facilities while out and about. Some of the western restaurants have "normal" thrones, and believe me, all of us expat women know which places those are, but the majority of what one might end up using, are these squatty potties.

Oh, and bring your own packet of kleenex unless you like to drip dry. Most restrooms don't have toilet paper. And hand sanitizer. If they don't carry toilet paper, you can bet your dollar that hand sanitizer and soap are usually a missing element to the bathroom experience as well.

Maybe this explains why so many Chinese just pee outside in the open? At least they have the audience fresh air going for them.

Thankfully our apartment is outfitted with western toilets, for which, I am ever so grateful. Three years would be an aweful long time to "hold it", don't ya think?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Grateful: Day 11: Care Packages

I love my sister ( more on that soon). She has made our home away from home even more home-y by sending us stuff from HOME. Are you lost yet?

I'm talking care packages, people.

We received one this week.

It was awesome.

Sometimes they contain items I have asked her to pick up for me ( Knox gelatin, ranch seasoning packets, etc) and other times they have our "favorites" tucked under a pile of clothes for Sal. Swedish Fish for NZ, and Candy Corn for me. Now that Sal likes "real food", he scored with some puffs and yogurt melts in the most recent package.

I am ever so grateful for the care packages.

A taste of home away from home.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Grateful: Day 10: Innocence

Well, I had pre-written my Day 10 post as a "thankful for internet access", which I am super grateful for..but I had to re-write this post and blog about something else that I am grateful for today. With my internet access, and access to FB, I am able to stay in touch with those back home.

My favorite thing about FB, is keeping in touch with my old gymnastics crew--both from club days ( Girls Inc & UCSB Spirals, holla!) and university days ( Go AGS!). Those girls were my sisters for many many years, and many of us continue to be close to this day. We lived, ate and breathed gymnastics. We were in the same boat. Long hours of practice--  up to 30 hours a week during summer-- and make social sacrifices. I did not attend a single high school dance or fotball game, but as I said before, I didn't and still don't feel cheated out of my teen years. I was with my friends. We had each other & still do.

So, imagine the shock when an old club teammate sent out an email with confirmation that our coach had been arrested on 30 counts of child pornography charges this past week. I'm not sure I want to go into detail and ruin anyone's day--but yeah--THIRTY counts and maybe even more than 70 victims over a course of two decades.

I've spent the last 24 hours processing this information--news--whatever you want to call it. I've been in touch with many of the girls I grew up with. Word is spreading like wildfire, but that is what has to happen, right? Just in case there were any girls or boys in my era who were subjects of this terrible terrible occurance.

I am grateful, beyond grateful, actually, that I was never made uncomfortable by my coach. I looked up to him, and still will say with 100% certainty that he was one of the best technical coaches out there. Any good gymnast knows, you ain't nothing without good technique and basics. My brain is ping ponging between my good memories of him as my coach, the image of his mugshot, and the allegations of misconduct. I can't help but replay different situations and wonder why and if what he is being accused of now, was happening then?

So, today, I am grateful that I made it through my teen years with my innocence.

My heart goes out to those children affected in the current investigation, as well as any other victims over the years.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Grateful: Day 9: Driver

Off we go!

Perhaps the biggest adjustment to life in China has been figuring out how to get from point A to B with an infant, a SUV size stroller and a car seat....

...without cars of our own. ( Both of us had our own cars in California)

With taxi cabs making safey belts low on their priority list, trunk space tight, and no way for me to carry  a carseat through the supermarket, for instance, I am only able to travel by a private hire driver. We are lucky enough to have a regular driver, who also allows for our carseat to remain in his vehicle during the work week. Living on the 25th floor, the fewer times we have to lug that thing up and down the elevator, the better.

Today I am thankful for our driver.

He picks NZ & his assistant up every morning, and is available for Sal and I most days of the week, unless NZ needs him for work purposes. Our driver is the ticket to my sanity. He makes it possible for me to leave the 3 mile radius that I am quite comfortable walking, so that I can visit friends, run errands, and feel like I have some sort of independence still.

What's his name, you ask?

Good question.

I still don't know.

But, I certainly am grateful for his services.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Grateful: Day 8: Fresh Food Market

Today I am grateful for the local fresh food market.
Having this market within half a mile of our apartment means that it is extremely convenient to eat healthy. I usually come to the market twice a week, thanks to Sal's ability to annihilate bananas.

fresh produce at great prices
The prices for produce are unbelievably low, and unlike the USA where its more expensive to eat healthy, the fresh veggies and fruit here are actually cheaper than buying the pre-packaged stuff. Way to go China!

Our favorite find at the market so far has been bok choy. Oh how we love bok choy. Other staples include tomatoes, onions, extra long green beans, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, leeks, and broccoli. There are some vegetables I don't know the name of, and have not yet been brave enough to try.

No one would ever guess a vegetable market lives down this path

Live chickens sold out back
Although I haven't been brave enough to try some of the vegetables, or any meat from the butcher shop located within, we have purchased a chicken and had it slaughtered out back. It was the best chicken we have had here so far.

I wish that the US had more local markets like this one. I feel so lucky to have this one in my neighborhood. I am grateful for it's huge selection, as it has allowed me to make my own baby food, and feed my family well.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Grateful: Day 7: Grocery Delivery

City Shop Delivery
Shortly after we arrived in Wuxi, I learned about a Shanghai based grocery chain called City Shop. Shanghai is a 2 hour drive from our door, but the beauty of City Shop is that they deliver imported groceries all the way to Wuxi, and allow for internet orders!

This was music to my ears.

I do most of our shopping at the local METRO supermarket, or the fresh produce market, but there are some imported items that I can only find at City Shop, so it's worth making a monthly order from them. They have free delivery if I spend over 200 RMB, which is roughly $30 USD. With things like my all natural peanut butter running $9 a jar, you can see that it's quite easy to meet that minimum.

Having a baby, a full size stroller & a convertible carseat to carry downstairs every time I need to go somewhere by car is sometimes more of a hassle than it's worth. The thing about grocery stores here is that they don't carry everything all of the time. If you see imported cheese at Carrefor one day, you better buy them all, because if you wait, they will be gone, and who knows if they will every get it in again. It's possible to go to 3 grocery stores looking for butter and turn up empty handed.

Hard to believe for most Americans, I'm sure.

So, about once a month, I log onto City Shop, and spend more than I want to on imported food so I can restock our necessities. Canned green chiles for mexican dishes, cat litter, and while I'm at it, a case of diet Pepsi, since someone else will be carrying them.

I am so grateful for City Shop and their delivery services.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Grateful: Day 6: Washing machine & Dryer

The all-in-one machine
Even though the beginning of our relationship was rocky, I've come to value this little machine more than I ever thought possible. On an average day, my little washer runs at least 2 loads, if not 3 or 4. She works hard for our family. Sometimes she overheats, so I give her a break...but I'd be lost without a washing machine.

Most expats here have washing machines and dryers, so it isn't that uncommon for me to have one. But my ayi says that most Chinese of laboring class do not have washing machines. They use a basin, water, and a bar of soap. In fact, I wash her towels in my washer after she leaves because she insists on cleaning her towels in the basin with her bar of soap. I don't want to force my ways on her, but I do want her cleaning towels sanitary (: I've offered our washer to her for her use (for the towels), and she was able to charade to me that she didn't want to use our electricity. Sweet, but not necessary.

When I walk down one of our local streets, past a hair salon and pet groomer, it's not unusual to see a woman slaving over a bucket of water, washing towels with her bar of soap and water. Then the towels are hung to dry and re-use on customers (ick, says my spoiled American self).

So yeah, it might not seem like a big deal, but having my washing machine and dryer here make me really thankful when I think of how it could be. I think of washing cloth diapers after a blowout, cleaning up baby puke, or getting blueberry stains out of a onesie ( we now do self feeding sans clothes to save the onesies from deathly stains). I'd be scrubbing all day, and up to my elbows in poop (literally!).

So, washer dryer combo, I am grateful for you.

Please keep up the hard work.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Grateful: Day 5: Wake Up Call

Our normal weekdays typically start at 6:00 a.m. to,

" Hate New York City,
 It's cold and it's damp.
And all the people dressed like monkeys
Let's leave Chicago to the Eskimos
That town's a little bit too rugged
For you and me you bad girl

Rollin' down the Imperial Highway
With a big nasty redhead at my side
Santa Ana winds blowin' hot from the north

And we as born to ride..."

We looove LA. We LOVE IT!
Yep. We wake up to Randy Newman's hit, " I love LA" every single morning.

It puts a smile on my face. Takes me right back to Chavez Ravine, right after a Dodger win. I love how songs can take you back in time. It sounds silly, but I am thankful for the memories this song elicits; my husband's sense of hometown pride; and for having such a happy song as our daily wake up call.
It beats the dreaded buzz for sure!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Grateful: Day 4: Liu

Today, being Sunday, I'm looking at floors that need a good sweep.

This is a task I dread, but thankfully, I only have to do it on the weekends, because  my ayi comes Mondays through Fridays and spoils me with clean floors every day before she leaves.

When NZ initially proposed that we hire an ayi, I thought it was absurd. I do love housework, and even love doing floors at home-but having our cat here as an indoor cat---turned out to be a game changer for me. He's black. He has lots of fur. He sheds. Everywhere. I felt like my attempts to sweep were futile when we arrived. All I was doing was pushing fur balls around the house.

Enter, Liu. Our ayi.

She's got magical floor cleaning powers.


Every single day, she sweeps, dusts and mops our floors.

And they sparkle.

Nobody would know a cat even lives here.

Liu and Sal playing with his cardboard box "car"

But I am thankful for Liu even more so for her sweet disposition, her willingness to teach me vocabulary when I point to something and ask,  and our charading back and forth and laughing at one another. I'm most touched by her love of the boy. She's an extra set of eyes, she's a get-down-on-his-level-and-play kinda woman, and the love she has for him is mutual. Sal loves Liu. She actually gets more of his sloppy open mouth kisses than I do. He can go from screaming basket case to smiling ear to ear when she rings the apartment to be let in. He adores her, and this is important to me.

We have had her working for us for 5 months now, and I can't picture life without her in it. She's really become a part of our daily life here, and I am ever so grateful for her help.

Friday, November 2, 2012

From the 25th floor

Face paint central. View from our home office.

This week we celebrated Halloween in Wuxi. A couple of the more artistic people in our complex had children lined up for face painting as a pre-trick-or-treating treat. For many of the children, this was their first experience with the way Americans celebrate Halloween. Although many countries have a similar holiday celebrating the dead, theirs focuses more on just that-celebrating the dead-not getting candy from strangers.

We got cleaned out of candy and started handing out RMB to the last groups of children that came to our door. The estimated number of kids was 40, and we had 70 pieces of candy...but some Chinese children who were not a part of our organized group saw the foreign kids getting free candy, and they hopped along for the door to door ride, holding as much candy in their bare hands as they possibly could. So, sadly, we got cleaned out, which meant no leftovers for the grown ups.

Pumpkins & Butterflies were popular choices.

Nacho chose a 'stache to complete the look

It was nice to feel the little kids excitement, and to dress my little guy up as Nacho Libre for the evening. He did not go door to door, but instead enjoyed the warmth of  our apartment, and answering the door with his mama when the kids rang.

A huge thank you to the Aittama family for organizing the list of participating apartments, and for those who joined in this silly American tradition.  It was a taste of home that I think all of us expats welcomed with open arms.