Monday, January 28, 2013

Update: a visit to the hospital

So, it happened.

We sucked it up and went to a local hospital with the assistance of NZ's assistant.

She arranged for us to see a pediatrician, "very professional", who was "fluent" in English at the VIP section of Wuxi People's Hospital. VIP is a service aimed to bring more expats into the local hospitals. Basically, we paid more to be able to access a physician with a set appointment time, and a clean room instead of waiting in the lobby with the masses. Had we just gone with everyone else, our registration fee would have been 10rmb ($1.50 usd). Registration for VIP was 15 times that fee.

It was worth it.

So here's how it went down. It wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected.

Foreign? Yes.

The stuff nightmares are made of? Not at all.

We entered the hospital's VIP floor and were greeted by a receptionist. We were the only patients there. She had us fill out a booklet with Sal's name and date of birth, as well as our address (NZ's assistant helped by writing in characters for all but Sal's name). We were then given a plastic card, much like a credit card and told that it holds Sal's electronic medical record. I was told to keep it safe and bring it to every appointment so that they can access his records. I was also given the booklet and told to pay the registration fee. After we did that, we had to sit and wait. For the first few minutes it was just the four of us. But then a janitor came and sat near us in the waiting room. He starts to tell NZ's assistant that its time for us to go see the pediatrician.

We follow her to an exam room, which I have to admit, was much cleaner than I had expected. They even had disposable paper over the exam table. Can't say the same for the expat clinic we usually patronize.

Here's where I got a little bummed. I fully expected a fluent English speaking physician. Instead, we got a handful of elementary English words, and were forced to rely on NZ's assistant for translation. The problem here, although I appreciate the translation, is that I like to hear the words from the Doctor myself. Sal was then examined, and his breathing assessed. The pediatrician asked for his booklet and card so I handed it over and she scribbled away.

NZ and I kept asking, " What is wrong with him?"  And we got, "Your baby is sick."

"Ah, yeah-we know. What's wrong with him?"

"She say he need breathing treatment."

"But what's the diagnosis?!" I wish my writing could convey my blood boiling, because it definitely was !

"They give him medicine for cough."

"But what's the diagnosis?"

Finally, "Your baby have infection and need medicine to help breathe."

So yeah, as my husband had suspected, Sal had a little lung infection going on.

In a country like this, lung infections can kill people. I mean, they can kill people anywhere, but there are diseases here that we don't deal with in the states. With all the people getting up in his grill on a day to day basis, it gets scary as a mom to think that I so sweetly gestured for people to stop touching his face instead of slapping their hands away. I immediately felt guilty for him being sick. I try to be nice to the curious kids and people, and HATE that they touch him, but I also try to be nice about telling them to let go of his hands and to stop touching his face. From here on out, my mama bear instinct will be going and they may or may not get a quick slap to the hand as a "get your mitts off my kid".

Anyways, that janitor I was telling you about? He met us outside the exam room. He took the booklet and the card to the registration desk and again, we were asked for money. 124.30 rmb later, we were told to follow him to the main hospital. We walked down a dark corridor, through some doors, and then hopped in an elevator. On the main floor of the hospital, the janitor pointed to a board that had "Salvatore" written in neon lights. He walked up to the teller window that was under that board, and received our meds. We then followed him up an escalator to a room full of people. We got in line as he pushed his way to the desk. He turned around with an oxygen mask for our son and handed a nurse the bag of medicines he had picked up at the counter downstairs.

He then motioned for us to follow him to the room adjacent.

Whoa. Just whoa.

This was a communal breathing treatment room. There were stations set up for the treatments, with benches facing each machine. We were to select an open bench and sit there as they hooked Sals mask and medicine into the machine. Thankfully NZ's assistant found one in the rear corner away from the curious neighbors. We were quite the spectacle being the only white people in a Chinese hospital. We got hooked up and wrestled a bag of angry snakes (Sal was one unhappy boy) until the treatment was complete.

As we finished treating him, the nurse came back and gave us his mask. We were advised to take it home and sterilize it and bring it back Thursday for another treatment. Yes, that's right, WE are responsible for sterilizing equipment. I'm not sure that would be P.C. in the states.

We were also given a Baggie with Sals booklet and card, as well as two medications...instructions in mandarin. Again, we had to rely on the assistant to translate dosing instructions and tell us what the medications were. Thankfully, one of the medicines said Pfizer Zithromax in English, and it was at that point we realized the doctor had prescribed our son an antibiotic for the first time. There was no conversation about that when we were in consultation. Anyways, we went with it and I knew I could email one of my friends who is a pharmacist about the indications for such an antibiotic, which is exactly what I did when we got home. The other med was for "cough", essentially a cough syrup bronchodilator. Again, I had to do research once we got home to make sure we weren't going to kill our son with the translated dosing.

I realize I probably sound like a whining brat, and that we "signed up for this", which is absolutely true. We did. But what I didn't think about, are things like this- you know, things like my lack of mandarin potentially putting my son in harms way. We are left to trust other people here like we've never had to trust before. I question everything these days because often times the source of our information is provided via translation. This can be very scary at times, and make me feel helpless. In America, its common to question things in order to get an accurate definition/description. We had to push to get an official "diagnosis" because hearing "your baby is sick" was simply not good enough.

But this in China.

It's not terrible, its just different.

So glad our experience was not awful. Would I have preferred to see the expat pediatrician in the expat facility?


But did we learn something more about what's available to us in our very own backyard? Did we take a step towards acclimating to our new home?

We certainly did.

Here's to hoping the breathing treatments and antibiotics work!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Growing pains

I'm going to come right on out and say it.

I'm going through some growing pains here in China. I think the real term for it, according to the stages of culture shock is "adjustment", but my oh my has this past week given me a lesson in patience.

Me, myself, I'm doing fine. As an adult, I can handle wrenches thrown in the works. But as a mother trying to provide the best for her son, I am finding that the "best" here is subpar to my expectations. Especially in terms of health care availability and quality (and we have the best expat coverage for a western run clinic).

It all started last week when I had made an appointment for my son to have an immunization and bloodtest to check for lead. I received an email the night prior from our sweet Belgian GP (gen practitioner) apologizing "that due to a new government database in Shanghai", she "is not able to bring immunizations to the Wuxi satellite clinic at this time." This means that for immunizations, we must now take a four hour round trip drive to the main expat hospital Shanghai. It will now take all day to go see the Doctor as opposed to one hour here in Wuxi.

The part that floors me is that we don't live in some off the beaten path village. We live in one of the wealthier Chinese cities!

Okay, so immunizations aside, and trying to cope with the idea of trekking to Shanghai just for shots, Sal also had to have a blood draw. I took him to our local expat clinic and there were three Chinese nurses holding him down, tying tourniquets on both arms. They couldn't find a vein in his little arms, so I kept suggesting they draw from his foot. Well, my good sport of a little boy (he doesn't even cry during shots), freaked the fuck out and screamed his heart out after about ten minutes of them tightening tourniquets, tapping his arms and holding him down. Finally, I ripped his sock off, pointed at his foot and said, "Please. Try his foot." Sure enough, he had a nice ripe vein there ready for sticking. 30 seconds later, it was all done with. I felt helpless for my son. I couldn't help but compare the level of knowledge to that of a phlebotomist in the states. Maybe my panties are in a bunch because I saw my son truly terrified for the first time in his life...but I've had my share of blood draws as an adult, and have never seen such a circus act.

Anyways, fast forward to today.

Sal has had a virus and has a wheezy cough. He was checked last week by our GP here in Wuxi, who said she couldn't hear anything. Both NZ and I would like a second opinion now that its been a week and he sounds worse. So, I decided we would kill two birds with one stone and take a trip to Shanghai to see a pediatrician at the Shanghai clinic since our GP is on holiday. I called to make an appointment today, for tomorrow ( so my driver can be given notice), and was told that if my son was sick, I would need to call back at 5p to make an appointment to see a pediatrician tomorrow.?!?! I explained our situation, and that I live in Wuxi, a 2 hour drive-and the fact that I require the services of a driver of hitch I would need to arrange with more notice. The receptionist puts me on hold. She comes back on the line and says, " I am sorry, but your son can not see a pediatrician tomorrow because he would be a new patient and we don't have the time."

I understand. I worked for a Doctor myself.

I get it.

Me: "Okay, then how about Wednesday, Thursday or Friday?"

Receptionist: " you would need to call back at 5p each day before to see if the pediatrician has time the next day."

Me: "if he requires 40 minutes for a new patient, wouldn't he be more likely to have forty minutes on Friday available now, then if I were to call on Thursday at 5p?"

Receptionist: "Yes, ma'am, but I can not make your son a sick appointment for Friday. You would need to call the day before you want your son seen. It is our policy."

I get it that they have a policy, but what I don't get, is how I will be able to have my son's cough assessed by a pediatrician?

The receptionist continues that if I want my son seen, she can make an appointment for any day this week to see a GP. So, yes, he can be seen, but not by a pediatrician. Although we are happy with our GP here in Wuxi, we would really like to have Sal see a pediatrician for this cough. I miss our ped visits back home, where the staff was nice, the physicians gave us lists of what to expect, and were on call for our questions. We never had to wait a day to see them if Sal was sick, and for me, as a parent, having access to quality, thorough medical care is of the upmost importance.

I won't lie. I had a little breakdown after my phone call which ended with no appointment being made. It pains me to have to jump through so many hoops to try and just make a simple pediatrician appointment.

But, I do realize that in time, this sort of stuff will bug me less, and just become our normal. It is what it is. We do have other options. I can take Sal to the local women's and children's Chinese hospital with the assistance of Nick's Chinese assistant. She takes her baby there, and would assist us with translation. My issue with the local hospitals is the lack-of-sanitary-ness and traditional Chinese medicine vs. western medicine methodologies. Just last Saturday, on one of our walks, NZ and I passed by a puddle of blood in the local hospital parking lot. I couldn't even tell you the last time I saw a puddle of blood anywhere, let alone a hospital parking lot. It's probably still there today. But, if his cough gets worse, we may find ourselves checking in to the VIP floor of the children's hospital just to see a pediatrician.

To end this post, let me just tell my fellow American readers, we've got it good back home. Don't take it for granted.

A'walking we will go

On Saturday morning, Sal's fever finally broke and he was acting more like himself again. The weather was "nice" (read: not freezing and decent pollution levels) enough to get out for a walk. Our family has become quite good at walking. Maybe when we return to the states we'll try out for Olympic speed walking. We're definitely logging the miles here.

It's difficult to explain our life here, and just---how shall I say---"prison like" it can feel when we have limited access to a car. Yes, we have a driver, but as a rule, we don't hire him for the weekends. We're on our own for transportation. As a family unit, if we want to get out together, it has to be on foot due to our car seat situation for the boy. Even if we were to find a taxi with working safety belts, we would then be left to our own devices with a 21 lb. car seat to lug around once we reach our destination. Not exactly our idea of convenient or fun. Oh how I miss the days of the car seat carrier and snap in stroller frame.

Anyways, since walking is pretty much our only option aside from using our driver in his off hours, we have really gotten to explore our neighborhood. If we head out to the main road in front of our complex and hang a left, we can walk all the way to Starbucks, passing Xindi plaza which is full of wonderful Asian restaurants (our favorite jiaozi place happens to be there). During the nicer weather, Sal and I usually do this walk with the ladies and call it 5k Monday, which is really code for working-off-the-Starbucks-we're-about-to-throw-down.

If we head out the rear gate (which is closest to our building), we walk past a construction site of new apartments being built, a canal and a bunch of auto repair shops. If we go far enough , we end up at Shin City which houses a Tesco supermarket, Taste bistro (Australian owned), and the indoor playground that Sal and I often play at. On the walk towards Shin city, we pass more new apartments, a pirate ship themed outdoor park and an alley way to another produce market.

This past Saturday, we headed out the main gates and to the right. There is a new plaza that was erected in record time (4 months) full of stores aimed at westerners. It's about 2.5 kilometers from our place, so we thought it would be great to get out of our germ infested apartment for a while. I had been to the plaza with the ladies, but NZ had not. I was excited to show him around. We window shopped a lot, tried on some shoes, and bought a jacket. I am now officially well suited for the Chinese winter in a new Nike puffer jacket. It's so warm!

After getting a good dose of mall walking, we headed towards home and stopped at our favorite Muslim noodle room. It's across from the orphanage that sits right next door to our apartment complex. We probably get Muslim noodles 2-3 times a month, usually on Saturdays. There are four little girls who basically live at the restaurant while their parents work. They always run up to our spaceship looking stroller and want to use it, touch it, feel it. They talk to Sal, play pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo, and giggle amongst themselves at the little white boy. On Saturday, one of them was playing with a tattered yellow balloon. It was filthy.

Let me reiterate. F-I-L-T-H-Y.

Like, let-me-find-my-sanitizer-pronto filthy.

But she knew no different. It made me tear up a little to think of these four little girls, and their life as compared to our son's. Here this little girl was just pleased as punch with her dirty balloon, and one block away in a high rise apartment, this little American boy named Sal has toys and clothes to spare. It made me want to share some of our extras with them. I've got to ask around a bit before I do, as I don't want to offend anyone, or make some cultural faux-paux.

One thing I do know, is that those four little girls have melted my heart.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


Today is a sick-stay home-in-pj's-kind of day.

Poor boy has another viral infection.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Our Wednesday

A common question back home is "What's a typical day like in China?"

This varies, according to your career, obviously.

My answer is vastly different than the answer you'd get from my ol man. In fact, although we are here together, our experiences are quite different. Where he deals with the day to day business and problem solving, I deal with a one year old with energy abounding.

Here's a typical day in my world....

7:00  Wake up and make breakfast with a hungry child pulling on my pj pants.

7:30  Feed my boys. Feed myself.

8:00  NZ's driver arrives, and he leaves for the office. Sal plays in the living room until naptime.

8:30  naaaaaaptime! This is where I have a chance to do my 30 Day Shred video in the living room with no one around to laugh at me getting an ass whooping by Jillian Michaels. After that's over, I shower, throw a load of laundry in and get dressed for the day. I admit, if we have no where to go, I wear sweats. Sometimes I go dressy sweats (with makeup) and others I go casual ( without makeup). Depends on the mood. Today Sal decided he did not need a morning nap, so he played quietly in his crib while I got my workout in.

9:30-10:00 Sal wakes up, has a diaper change, and we put on his clothes for the day. He gets a snack, and we either play at home ( while I skype my sister) or head out for an activity. Today we walked a half mile to the tailor and fruit stand.

Getting my jeans hemmed

Fruit stands

While we waited for the tailor to hem my jeans for 5 RMB (75 cents), we cruised over to our favorite fruit lady and bought some fruit. We went back inside the market and the tailor had finished my pants, so we paid her and made our way home.

Sal scored a FREE banana with his charm
12:00 Diaper change & playtime while I make lunch. Today NZ was home for lunch between two meetings on this side of town ( his office is a good 30 minutes away). We ate lunch at the table before naptime came around again.

12:45-14:45 Naptime. Oh how I {heart} naptime blog/facebook/Netflix/"me" time. It took 12 months for us to get to this point where naps are somewhat like clockwork, but boy oh boy was the consistency worth it.

15:00 Our ayi arrives. Snack time for Sal (& me). Sometimes we stick around the house, and other times we head over to Mrs. Georgia's apartment ( she has a basement playroom) to play or if the weather is nice enough, we take a walk around the greenbelt behind our apartment. 2 laps is a mile.

The greenbelt view from our apartment
17:00 If we're out and about we usually head home around this time to get dinner started.

18:00 NZ gets home from work.

18:15 Dinner time.

18:30 Either NZ or I will try to head to the gym while the other one cleans up the dinnertime disaster mess, handles bath, bottle and bedtime for the boy. This happens about 2-3 times a week.

19:00 Bedtime for Sal.

NZ and I usually spend the rest of the night on the couch watching TV, playing XBOX and browsing the internet on my iPad til bedtime.

Exciting life, eh?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

{Eat yo' veggies} muffins

Although our son has a healthy appetite and will try anything once, I am always trying to find ways to get his veggies in. There's only so many goldfish I'm willing to let him jam in his face. If only goldfish crackers were made with veggies. Sigh.

A friend of mine here has a picky eater, and she concocted some pumpkin muffins into toddler muffins packed with veggies that her son will actually eat. I decided I would try my hand at it too.

Here's what I came up with:

Eat yo' veggies muffins
 (adapted from Runner's World magazine)

2 1/2 cups  flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup applesauce ( replaced oil and butter and added sweetness)
1/2 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup pureed or mashed cooked sweet potato
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk ( made by adding 1/2 TBSP lemon juice to lowfat milk and letting it sit 10 minutes)

Heat oven to 375&deg F. Grease 12 muffin cups or add paper liners.

Combine flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt.

In a bowl, whisk applesauce, sweet potato, egg, and buttermilk. Fold wet mixture into the dry; stir until just combined.

Fill muffin cups three-quarters full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

And as expected, Sal annihilated them. I will say, as an adult, these are not very tasty ( no sugar in a muffin? Puh-lease!) but for a toddler that doesn't know any different, these were the best muffins ever and earned me a gold star in his book.

If you try them, let me know how your kids like them. Feedback is always appreciated.

At one year...

At one year, Sal....

-weighs 10.4 kilos (just shy of 23 lbs) and is 78.5cm tall.

- takes 5-6 staggering steps on his own.

-is a chatter box. He  says "dada", "ma'am aaa" (he only says my name when he is upset), " bah" for ball, "tuh" for truck, "ftbftbftb" for vroom, and lots of slithering "s" sounds.

-sleeps from 7:00p to 7:00a

- takes two naps. First one at 8:15 after dad leaves for work, and another after lunch, around 1:00. Naps usually last 1-2 hours, or until our ayi arrives. I swear he has a 6th sense for her arrival.

- busts some serious dance moves.  "Whistle" by FloRida is still his favorite, although he made his mama proud breaking it down to Nelly's " Where The Party At" which took me back in time to Friday nights at the Grad.

-claps his hands together.

-nods his head "yes". We call it the "head bop". It's super cute.

- can climb up onto the couch, and back down. Over and over and over again.

- loves "Go Dog, Go!" and " The Little Blue Truck". He will sit and turn the pages by himself.

- wears 12 month clothing and a size 5 shoe.

- loves filet mignon. Pricey taste, that kid of ours. Thankfully, he also loves IKEA Swedish meatballs which are easier on the pocket book. His favorite veggie is green beans. Haaaaates peas. Haaates them. But loves all fruit, grilled cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs and yogurt. Loves jiaozi, refried beans and frozen blueberries. He's a pretty good eater.

- his favorite place to hide is in our closet. Preferably in dad's pile of shoes.

- favorite toys and pastimes--- pulling toilet paper off the rolls, finding every cord and light socket in the house, rolling suitcases across the pantry, and sucking on stroller wheels. I wish I was kidding, but I'm not. I spend 75% of my waking hours trying to police the above formentioned "toys" and re-direct to something more appropriate. His favorite appropriate toys include stacking cups, cardboard books, demolishing wooden block towers, rolling a ball back and forth with mama or dad, pushing cars around the house and most recently, climbing on the couch and playing peek-a-boo under a blanket.

-speaking of blankets, Sal has a favorite. He sleeps with it every night, grasping it tightly.

- loves being around other kids. He has a buddy here that we do things with on an almost daily basis, and he loves to follow his big buddy around and tries to imitate him. I love watching him interact with other kids and learn from them. It's quite a special little relationship these two boys have built. They even have their own screeching language with one another.

I could go on and on about all the little things he does that just continue to amaze us, but the list above is the Cliffs notes version of just how wonderful it has been to watch him come into his own. I've felt a mix of emotions about him turning one this past week. For so long I waited for a child...and now it's hard for me to believe he has already been in our arms a year.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


We're staying inside today.

And to think...I used to think Los Angeles  had a smog problem...

We are now owners of those silly looking medical masks.

 Even Sal.

I sure hope that we get back down into better air quality soon.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Parrrrrrty's heeyah

I've been sitting on the computer this evening, editing pictures from yesterday, and I can not believe our son just turned one.
I am ONE.

We had a couple other birthday celebrants join us for a small lunchtime party on Saturday. NZ had a birthday last Wednesday, our friend Pere had a birthday on Thursday, and Anna shares Sal's January 13th birthdate, so we had them over to join us for spaghetti arribata, sushi, cookies and cake in celebration of all their years of life.

Cookies from sweet creations by Stephanie
Sal & Neil (newest baby on the block)
            Sal ate cake, opened gifts and played with his new toys before a nice long nap.

yes,  that's most definitely a boog hanging from the nose.
(He's had a cold all week and finally gifted it to me today)
Dad had to help with the blowing out of the candle.
Sal was obviously mesmerized by the mamarazi.
As the day turned to night, we met up with more friends from our apartment complex to light off fireworks to celebrate Sal turning ONE!
This one's for you, kid.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Smash it, baby!

So, I gave in..

Our kid got to smash a cake on his first birthday.

Anyone who follows me on Pinterest could have probably guessed that, since I have been pinning photo op ideas for the sweet moment when my baby attacks his cake and gets his first taste of sugar. And makes a mess. Which I have to clean up. (Explain to me why this is such a good idea, again? Oh yes--the pictures.) 

Baking cakes used to be one of my favorite things to do-you know, when I had an oven and all.

Nowadays, notsomuch.

In fact, I have more baking failures in our little countertop toaster oven than I have successes. Can we say charred edges and runny batter banana breads?

Add to that the difficulty of finding good cake mix (yes, I'm a from-the-box kinda girl) without spending over $7 USD , and you've got incentive to make your cake a success on the first go round. Otherwise, cake baking will put you in the poor house.

Thankfully, one of my former gymnastics teammates (we're talking 20 years) contacted me recently and asked if I lived near Suzhou. I was super excited that she was heading out to a city just one hour from here, and couldn't wait to reconnect with her. I requested she bring a of of. Funfetti cakemix from the US. Nothing else. Just funfetti.

We love funfetti.

She and I never connected due to visa issues, but one day, a box arrived via China Post.

Inside, not one, but TWO boxes of funfetti.

(Thank you Rosie!)

So, this whole cake making thing has now turned into an International effort. She's not the only one who sent me items necessary for a successful smash cake....My sister (surprise surprise), sent me nonpareils and a "1" candle to make Sal's first birthday cake a memorable one look good in pictures.

So, without much further explanation....

Here it is...

Sal's first cake experience.


Thursday, January 10, 2013


My ol man and I have been groveling  over the cold miserable weather here. He summed it up best with, "back where I come from, we have one season--We call it beautiful."

Love it!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Working weekends

As I sit here on a gloomy Saturday afternoon, I look at my clock , and it reads 13:31. My son is napping in his crib, I'm watching "Departures" on tv and my cat is snuggled up next to me. This would constitute a wonderfully perfect lazy Saturday for our family.....if only NZ was here.

Where could he be on a Saturday afternoon?

One word.


Yep, my husband along with most of China are working through the weekend to make up for the government approved holiday we just celebrated. Two days off to celebrate New Years, equals working the following Saturday and Sunday.

The american in me wants to yell "What sort of holiday is that?!" And mutter profanities that would put a sailor to shame.

This has definitely been a learning experience for us, and I'm pretty sure those who are not accustomed to this sort of arrangement think it sucks a$$ and would just assume work during the holidays to have their weekends freed up. 

Instead, my friends and myself are husbandless for the next nine days straight. 

I realize that I've got it easy, it's my ol man that should be complaining, but, then again....should we really complain?

Afterall, we signed up for this, and if this is how China does it, then this is our new "normal". 

So be it.

As a foreigner, I find myself doing a lot of comparison between my homeland and here. This isn't necessarily good, and I have to step back and see this whole experience for what it is. We live HERE now. This is our current HOME. How can I fully accept China as home if I am constantly comparing it to America. 

Because clearly, this ain't America.

The sooner I accept this and adapt to the Chinese way, the more positive our experience as a family will be here. Perhaps I should have made a resolution this would go something like, "just let go and enjoy the (wild) ride".

...and what a wild ride it will be...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What we did on Christmas Vacation

Well, not exactly Christmas vacation, but PRC observes the New Year as a holiday, and includes a few extra days surrounding January 1st as off days. This means that NZ actually had a few days to relax and hang out with us. Nevermind the fact that when China has a few days off, they then work through the following weekend to make up for days off---so yes, NZ will be working 9 days straight this next week.

But, it's been great to have him home for a stretch of time. We've really enjoyed some lazy mornings playing video games, and cooking while Sal naps--then heading out for a walk or errands afterwards.

Here are some pictures of what we did on our Christmas vacation.

Sal got another haircut

Our sous chef hard at work

We walked by a city garden

NZ made meatuh-balls

We had our first snow watched TV in sweatpants
We saw a scooter driving down the escalator
And got lots of hugs from dad
A nice way to send 2012 out, and welcome in a New Year.

2012 in a nutshell

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before? Brought home a living child. Moved to a new country, sight unseen.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? I didn't have any resolutions last year--I usually don't make any.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes. Tons of babies in 2012. Mostly boys.

4. Did anyone close to you die? We were with my grandfather as he passed away after 91 damn good years.

5. What countries did you visit? Does it count as visiting if you moved there?

6. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012? My fitness level back. To feel better in my clothes.

7. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? January 13th (birth of our son), June 4th ( we boarded a plane to China with a one way ticket) and October 8th (grandfather passed away).

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Adjusting to a new culture, city, language with a 5 month old.

9. What was your biggest failure? Not learning Chinese

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? Been pretty darn healthy.

11. What was the best thing you bought? Sheesh, we minimized to move over here, so we really haven't purchased anything substantial..which is a really really good feeling.

12. Where did most of your money go? Apparently you have to pay the hospital and Doctor's to have a child. Then the child needs to eat (formula) and be kept safe ( carseat). Considering those are our biggest expenses in the last year, we're doing alright.

13. What did you get really excited about? Our trip back home to the USA (October).

14. What song will always remind you of 2012? So that she isn't embarassed, I have to agree with Amy that "Call me Maybe"sticks out, as does Sal's favorite jam, " Whistle" by FloRida. My favorite song of 2012, however, was Lee Brice's " Woman Like You".

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:? – happier or sadder? Happier! – thinner or fatter? Thinner ( but still working to get fit and lose the last 10) – richer or poorer? Saving.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of? Exercise.

17. What do you wish you’d done less of? Wish I would have consumed less sugar on a daily basis. My sweet tooth resurfaced after Sal was born.

18. How did you spend Christmas? With my boys and our expat friends( & newborn son) from Catalonia, Spain. We had lunch, opened gifts, and ended the night with a movie and pizza.

19. What was your favorite TV program? "Mad Men", " Big Bang Theory", "Jersey Shore", "Raising Hope"...clearly we don't get enough TV watching done.

20. What were your favorite books of the year? I read one book and it didn't help me at all. " Baby Whisperer" my a$$. Sal's favorite book however seems to be " Little Blue Truck"

21. What was your favorite music this year? Country. Jason Aldean. Lee Brice. Gary Allan. The Band Perry.

22. What were your favorite films of the year? I don't know if  they came out this year, but I watched them in 2012. "Lincoln Lawyer" and " Gran Torino".

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? 35. Celebrated with friends over Starbucks hot cocoa, and then enjoyed a homemade cake baked by NZ.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? I can't think of anything more satisfying than my current situation. Husband that I adore, son that I love. One old cat, and great friends in a new city. Pretty darn satisfied.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012? Bwahahaha. Fashion? What's that?

26. What kept you sane? Friends & Family. Diet Coke.

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012. So many things learned this year. Perhaps the biggest life lesson this year has come as a result of NZ and I leaving the comfort of California to live in a country which is so polar opposite of everything we knew ( and loved). Going from being able to articulate our needs to resorting to playing charades to provide a basic explanation of what I need from someone. Going from being able to hop into my car and go to the market for just about anything, to assessing the weather and deciding if it's safe enough to take my son out in it in hopes that the market still has cheese this week. All in all, this move over here has provided some really valuable experience, and has opened my family's eyes as to just how good we had it back home. Life here is good--just different..and a definite adjustment. I'm sure as 2013 rolls on through, we will add many more life lessons learned here.