Monday, March 31, 2014


The other night, I took a picture of my kids.

They weren't in coordinated outfits, or made to fact, Sal was sporting his obnoxiously Mickey pjs that auntie steph sent and steamrolling his sister just seconds before this sweet shot was taken.


Each time I look at this picture, I think back to the time in my life when it was filled with uncertainty. My days, hours and minutes consumed with the thoughts of parenthood--more specifically--wondering if we would ever be parents? If so, then when?

I think back to the many tears shed. The juggling of full time employment and fertility doctor visits. The stockpile of dollar tree pregnancy tests purchased each month in hopes that maybe, just maybe I had tested too soon. The pit in my stomach each time a friend posted pictures of their newborn babies on facebook, or announced a pregnancy. I think back to avoiding baby showers and mom friends because I couldn't handle conversations about child rearing. 

I was consumed by the thoughts and desire to be a mother. I was nursing a broken heart from the loss of Denise. I was questioning if she was all we would know of parenthood.

I doubt I'll ever forget the road that we've travelled to get to this point. It's made us the people that we are today. I want my children to know how wanted they are and always have been. They represent a love that I wasn't sure I'd ever experience, and one that I will never take for granted.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Day trip: Wuxi wetlands

Last weekend we took a day trip to an area called Wuxi wetland preserve on the outskirts of lake Taihu.  It was the perfect weather for an afternoon out, with blue skies making an appearance for the first time in months. 

We walked the pathways and looked for wildlife, but didn't see much more than a few fish bubbles and baby ducks. We did find bugs though. Sal was introduced to his first millipedes and sow bugs (aka Rollie pollies). He loved them.

                                 [ stopping to play with a millipede]

It's crazy how city life has affected my children's experiences with the outdoors. My son is two years old and just now learning the awesomeness of catching bugs. The fact that we have to hop in a car and search for open, uncrowded nature parks is another change from our experience in the states. I can't wait to take him on our family's annual Yosemite trip with all his cousins. I hope he develops a love for the outdoors and finds that nature is the world's best playground. 

                                                             [ Sal & me]

On our way out from the preserve, we drove around the point and saw some authentic Chinese village living. It's humbling to see how others live, compared to what we have (and think we need to have). It's also beautiful at the same time. These quaint, quiet villages largely untouched over time. 


    All in all, it was nice to get out of dodge for a day, even if we were still technically in Wuxi.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Nonno has arrived

Excuse my lack of posting over the next week or so....

We are busy showing nonno around our 'hood.

Noodle date

By special request from my boy. 

Muslim noodle for lunch. 

He uses chopsticks better at two than I did at thirty five. My skills have definitely improved living here but I'm impressed with how second nature chopstick use is for Sal. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday fun-day

NZ is working this weekend, so the kids and I took up an invite from our neighbor, and good friend, Barbara to go shopping. Normally we would take our driver, but he is already booked, so my options were limited as to how we would get from point A to B with two kids and no car seats. 

We could either walk....

..or take the bus...

We chose the bus. I've walked it before, but it's like 6 miles each way, and takes a while. Plus, at some point, I'd have to stop to nurse my baybee in the middle of the street (which is totally acceptable here) and draw a crowd. I can not stop when I am out with my kids. If I do, I literally have Chinese people with their cameras out snapping pictures & video or hovering over them making silly faces and clicking noises. I'm pretty sure Sal just thinks that everyone does this all over the world, but I can assure him, this is most definitely NOT normal. How do you teach stranger danger to a kid who has grown up with people all up in his business? 

Anyways, back to the bus...

Barbara is more adventurous than I have been, and has ridden the bus before. She made note of which bus numbers go where, along with the number of stops to a particular destination. We decided to give it a go with two kids and my umbrella stroller in tow. 

Sal had a blast. He smiled ear to ear and didn't fuss at all. He was particularly excited about the no smoking sign and no doggies sign he saw above his head. He also proudly paid our fare with his "mun-nee" when we boarded the bus. It cost 2 yuan per adult, which is approximately 32 cents. Kids ride free. 

We got off at the mall we had intended to go to, but learned that our beloved H&M was closed and had moved to a new location--down the road. We set out on foot this time, off roading the umbrella stroller, but ultimately finding our way. 

We did a little retail therapy in H&M (but came out empty handed!) and stopped at Starbucks so I could get a water and nurse Carla before catching the bus home. Sal got treated to a chocolate muffin (hello sugar high!) and was the best bus rider on our way home, hanging on tight to the overhead handles.

The rest of the afternoon he kept reminding me that he "ride da bus" today. To say it was the highlight of his day is an understatement.

I live for this boy's smiles and laughter. 

Friday, March 14, 2014


This just happened.

Naptime will never be the same.

Bring on the toddler bed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Carla is two months old

I can't believe this lil bit has been with us for two months already. This past month has seen us settling into our new normal, and the acceptance by her big brother who has finally realized she isn't going anywhere anytime soon. He is still heavy handed and takes the occasional cheap shot at her, but overall, he shows her lots of love. Like opened mouth kisses, love. 

A nasty cold hit Carla when she was 6 weeks old, but she was able to kick it thanks to all the antibodies she's getting from me. As much as I am ambivalent about breastfeeding ( let's be honest, it can be painful and suck big time), I do credit it for her fighting off her cold so well. 

She's been on a few outings--to the produce market, grocery store and Starbucks. I keep her covered in my ergo and nobody knows she's there because so many people here wear backpacks on their chests ( to avoid pickpockets). I'm a bit nervous for summer to hit, and have her uncovered for the masses to marvel at her big white girl eyes, but i dealt with it with Sal ( and still do), so I can do it again.  Hard to believe that this summer she will be the age Sal was when we arrived. 

My favorite milestone this month has been seeing her smile more. She loves when I ask her " what's up?" And answer myself with " chicken butt". I know, I mature am I? She also likes when Sal reads/dumps books on her. She knows all about the sound a street sweeper makes now, thanks to his story time with her. 

I'm also loving that she is sleeping in her own her own room! Never again will I let myself keep my babies in my room. It was so hard to make the decision to transition her. I kept telling NZ..not tonight, maybe tomorrow night...and before I knew it she had been in our room for nearly two months. There's no problem with that, except for the fact that I had sworn up and down she'd be in her crib from night one like we did with Sal. In my defense, our walls are concrete and our monitor has zero reception through them. I made the decision to finally transition her once we had a sleep pattern established. She's been going down for the night around 9:00 and waking to feed between 3:30 and 4:00. My internal alarm goes off around 3:30 now so I don't need to depend on a monitor so much to hear her cries. 

She eats like it's going out of style ALL day long and likes to snack. She's now growing into 3 month clothes and bidding farewell to her newborn sleepers. I've started her in the same cloth diapers we used for Sal and so far they're working well for us. Now that our ayi has left us, I'm cursing at the amount of laundry, but also know that we are saving money and landfill space by using cloth at home.

She had her two month checkup this week and weighed 10lb11oz and was 55.5cm tall. The very next day we took a trip to Shanghai and got to visit Dr. Shen, the OB who saw me through my pregnancy ( except for delivery). I can't say enough thank you's to her for her care. 

I'm looking forward to what month three has in store. She gets to meet her grandpa Dennis for the first time & celebrate her first St. pattys day! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

For like ev-er: nursery reveal

I've finally gotten around to taking pictures of Carla's nursery. Up until this week it has sat empty (aside from diaper changes) since she came home.  We, *ahem*, I finally pulled the trigger. NZ was ready from night one, I'm sure. However, it took some time before I was comfortable having her across our flat. We have a good quality audio monitor, but due to our concrete walls, reception from her room to ours is crap. Now that she usually sleeps in a seven hour stretch, waking at 3:30-4:00 each morning, I feel more confident in waking to feed her without use of a monitor at all.

So here it is..a pink explosion that would make Elle Woods and the 818 proud. 


We utilized some existing furniture, and bought a sundvik crib and coordinating dresser at IKEA. The dresser is the perfect height for diaper changes, with just enough space on top for a changing pad & wipes. The drawers are nice and deep for storage.

 I was able to maximize storage by using zippered boxes from IKEA to organize diapers, toiletries and clothing. The long narrow ones are perfect for onesies and cloth diaper soakers, while the large square ones easily fit folded sleepers and two rows of disposables. 

I attached two little dog booty hooks to the side of the dresser using 3M tape which are the perfect height for her to hang her coat or hat when the time comes for her to become independent.

On the walls, I made a collage of prints that fit my color scheme above the changing table and finished it off with her framed birth announcement from tinyprints. Frames used were from IKEA. Channelling my crafty side, I painted a couple canvases with two of my favorite Valley Girl-esque quotes. I fell in love with the "for like ever" print way back when pregnant with my first girl, but having it shipped here would be a lesson in futility, so I made my own to go above her crib. 


Above the futon, I painted " love you more" in gold on an aqua background, and weathered it with sandpaper. The angle and lighting of this photo doesn't do it justice--it's cuter in person. The pillows are covered in an extra receiving blanket and Victoria's Secret "one size fits all" wrap dress that no longer fits (explain how that works?!). I followed a pinterest pin on no sew pillow covering and these were a snap! The pillows that were on the futon were even more chinese (& hideous) than the futon itself.


The flat came furnished with the fugly futon and a bookshelf. I've used the bookshelf to store burp cloths, bibs, blankets, and her shoe & bow collection. One of my college besties sent us a bow board full of texas sized bows, and my sister has been buying headbands off etsy to fill our bow apothecary jar. Carla better grow some hair so I can put them to use--no pressure, my bald little baby. 


Since we are short on space and this room was our office B.C. (Before Carla), I purchased white magazine and storage boxes from IKEA to disguise our paperwork, office supplies, and extra stroller parts to keep mischievous little hands out. 


Here's my favorite part...the linens!

My super-awesome-couldn't-ask-for-a-better-best-friend, sister made fitted sheets for the crib using a tutorial over at the Dana-made-it blog (see link at end of post). I purchased fabrics within the general color scheme and she whipped them up and sent them our way.
 I like to change out the linens to change the look of the room. My favorite sheet is the chevronish herringbone print, but I also have a dainty gray & pink floral sheet and festive turquoise, coral and yellow one waiting for their time to shine. I don't use crib bumpers because they freak me out, so changing crib sheets is really easy because there's no disassembly of a crib bumper to contend with each time the sheets need changing. 

Well, that's Carla's "crib"...hope you liked it...but I must say, my favorite part of her room is walking in to find this little girl waiting for me...

Like the crib sheets? Want to make your own? It's easy..follow Dana's instructions here:

Like the burp cloths? Visit my uber-talented sister-in-law's etsy shop, Coral Tree, here:

Like the birth announcement? Here it is on tiny prints:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Real-time footage: Sunday afternoon

Here's real time footage from Grand Zentil Station.

Current time: 14:30 CST

Two wide eyed children with perfectly timed poop ( why always at naptime? Whhhhhhy?!) in their pants & one napping husband.

Happy Sunday from our house to yours.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The day we lost our ayi

21 months.

That's how long our ayi lasted.

If you ask my friends, it was about 18 months too long.

But, my personality ( totally non confrontational and non assertive) does not mix well with the culture of the Chinese Ayis. 

I had been warned when we hired our ayi that I must treat her as an employee. Keep it strictly business. Make her stay the complete time she's being paid for. Do not let her work quality slide. Supervise her work. Make her do tasks over if completed below standards. Make sure she doesn't use the toilet rag to clean the counters (or anything else). More than anything, DO not get attached. 

Guess what? 

I'm guilty of all of the above except for the toilet rag. I color coded towels so I could supervise from afar, easier. Blue for glass, red for counter surfaces, yellow for toilets (color of pee makes it easy to remember!). Only one time of witnessing, did it take for me to believe my friends about Ayis using just ONE rag to clean an entire house. I freaked out and that's when the color coded towels got put into play. No problems since.

As far as the rest of the no-no's, I am guilty.  I let her work two hours and paid her for three. I remopped floors when she had used too much water and not enough ( or none at all) cleaning solution. I did my own laundry, but left it for her to fold. She'd show up late and leave early--and I'd let it slide until I had a bad day, and I'd get all ballsy and try to enforce that she must arrive at 3:00, no later. She'd appease my request for a few weeks, then start coming late and leaving earlier. Her work became sloppy, but she loved my son. He loved her. They'd chitchat together through out the house as he followed her like a puppy dog. He'd ask her for something to eat, and she'd get it. When we would start getting ready to go out, she always made sure Sal had a hat and jacket. She was a part of my kid's daily life- and as much as I was irked about her punctuality and sometimes sloppy work, I couldn't bare to fire her.

Afterall, it was my fault for not being a good manager. 

But, last week, a friend of mine texted me to ask what compensation I paid my ayi, and for how many hours. I texted back my answer, and my friend then shared with me that she had hired my ayi. She then asked what hours she worked for me, adding that she was having her come from 4:30-7:30.

Hold the eff up. She was being paid by me to work 3-6. In my mind, I have been paying her to be available for MY family for those three hours whether I use her or not. In her mind, when the work is complet, she is free to leave. Since the pattern in my household is being finished by 5:00, she accepted another job that overlapped times. This pissed me off. I am essentially paying her for two hours she never intends to work for me. 

I had my husband's assistant phone her to relay my disappointment in finding out she was double booking and to remind her that we were paying her for three hours, holidays and sick days. She was to make herself available for my family M-F from 3-6, end of story. It was during this call, my ayi requested a small raise and wanted to change her hours to 2:00-4:00p.

 But uhm, no. I just caught you double dipping and you're asking for more? 

No way. Just no.

My answer was no raise, and I said she needed to work 3-5 and occasionally until 6:00 for the rate we've been (over)paying her all along. 

The very next day she knocked on my door with tears in her eyes and key in hand. She picked up Sal and started bawling as I got her last pay together. I handed her the money, and away she went.

Just like that, she quit.

It's for the best, but it still saddens me that she's gone.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Toddler tales: the alphabet book

A change of plans had us reading P.D. Eastman's "Alphabet Book" rather than one of my all time favorites, "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" because, unbeknownst to me--we don't own it. I could've sworn it was in Sal's library, but no such luck. 

Note to self: order Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. 

Anyways, with a sick baby (Carla has a bad cold) and a trip to the Doctor this morning, I was too tired for an art project, so I opted for a quick read and a corresponding lunch of alphabet Mac and cheese. Not the most nutritious lunch, but he likes it and I already had the pasta. 

He had fun picking out letters and asking "what dis one?". I'd tell him and he would repeat. His favorite letter is still "o", but "s" is close behind. 

We read the book a second time after lunch as he wound down for nap. 

If any other moms are interested in sharing early literacy ideas/projects/plans to go along with popular children's books, shoot me an email. I'd love to collaborate!


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Toddler tales: the very hungry caterpillar

With all this time cooped up inside, I've started reading more to Sal. We've always read daily, but now that I'm trying to assemble some sort of order after the chaos of bringing a new baby home, I have set aside time each day to read a book to Sal and include an activity related to the book. 

Today we read, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle. I love Eric Carle books. They were my favorite books as a teacher because there are so many lessons that can be created from the stories. 

Today I got my usually unenthusiastic artist (he is not a fan of coloring or painting) to play with a stamp pad to create colorful butterflies just like the one at the end of the story by  stomping on the stamp pad and pressing his feet on the paper. I later added the body and antennae. 

He love it and insisted we make more...we made so many we wore the stamp pad out!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Buyer beware

When we arrived to China 21 months ago, we were excited about our new "home", its surrounds and adapting to a new culture.

21 months later, I'm anything but.

Here's why.

China lacks honesty.

From corrupt government officials to lying Ayis and unsafe foods being sold at our local grocery stores and vendors, dishonesty has become something that I worry about constantly. In the states, we have checks and balances and regulations. I feel that here in China, it's each man for him/herself, regardless of how their actions affect the person next to them.

I'm tired of getting cut in front of in line ( I stand so close to the person ahead of me that if I were to get any closer they may mistake it for flirting), being laughed at when I try my hand at speaking their language ( haha měi-guó rén wǒ-tīng-bù-dǒng /"American doesn't understand") and most importantly and seriously... worrying about the safety of our family whether it be the air quality or food I buy.

I do love the sense of community among expats and the apartment complex that we live in. I love the indoor playground that sanitizes hands and checks temperatures. I love having McD's on the corner (yes, I just said that--shoot me now), and I love that we have access to a knowledgable physician (even if she's only in one day a week). 

But...the worry about the safety of my family trumps the good.

It's no news that we're going through what's being deemed as a "nuclear winter" in many parts of China this year. Wuxi is no exception. I can count the number of days in the last three months when AQI was under 50 (safe) on two hands. My kids take vitamin D supplements daily to assure the lack of sunlight doesnt retard their development. We own two air purifiers which run 24/7 and need filter replacements monthly. My newborn sleeps in our room next to one of the purifiers. She's just a lil bitty thing-her body functions are still new and I sure as hell don't want to start her off with a disadvantage. 

For the most part, the kids and I have been housebound this winter. I never knew pollution could be this bad for so long. They're reporting that the lack of sunlight is going to be responsible for killing the crops of many farmers this year. This is aweful. If the pollution has this effect on the food we eat, I can only imagine what it's doing to our bodies. 

When we first arrived, we bought local/domestic. Well, we bought local for everything but milk and baby formula. We had heard of tainted formula and milk, so we used caution. We smuggled bags of formula in suitcases from the states and purchased 1litre boxes of UHT milk. However, we did buy local/domestic eggs, meat, baking goods, produce and breads. This has changed. With the exception of shopping at the local produce market, we only buy imported goods or make our own. 

Why the change of heart?

We were the recipients of fake eggs. 

Yes, fake, man made eggs.

Don't believe me? Need a visual? 

Check this link out.

It's actually cheaper to produce man made eggs from chemicals and silicone than to raise chickens to lay eggs..and as with everything in a China, the desire for money and wealth trump safety. We had been warned to watch for fake eggs but I was quite positive that the eggs I purchased at the local market were from someone's chickens. Afterall, there were often feathers and poop on them. It never dawned on me that a vendor may mix the two to be less suspicious.

This disgusts me.

Now I am careful about everything we purchase. 

I no longer buy domestic flour, sugar or oats due to claims that traces of cadmium have been found in all three. I rather pay $11 for imported flour than risk subjecting my family to poisoning. We buy AUS grass fed beef from a Shanghai importer and have pretty much quit eating chicken since even the american brand, Tyson ( which I wouldn't buy in the USA) is processed in a facility here. Nor do we eat seafood from China. If you could see the water the fish farms are in, you'd agree. 

Toxic runoff? No thanks.

We rarely eat out. If we do, it's in Shanghai at a chain restaraunt called Element Fresh. On occasion, I'll treat myself to Muslim noodles or pizza from Papa Johns. I used to eat Muslim noodles weekly, but once I saw the video on gutter oil ( )and the resale of it, I lost my appetite. My Muslim noodle joint is not exactly the epitome of cleanliness. I can totally picture them purchasing the recycled gutter oil. Barf. We used to like jiaozi, but then we read reports of cooks soaking cardboard in a pork flavored chemical, chopping it up and mixing it in with pork (or was that fox meat?) to make the meat go further and extend their profits. 

Shocked yet?

So, yeah-to say we are excited to move back to the US next year is an understatement. As much as rules and regulations can be a pain in the ass, they exist for a reason. I love that we come from a country that, although frustrating at times, people have the right to know what is in their food, and can take action against someone/something if it's been presented falsely or proven to be detrimental to health. 

Here? No such thing. 

Buyer beware.