Sunday, November 16, 2014

Spiritual Lessons from the Amazing Race

I love the Amazing Race. Every season is different and exciting and I always have my favorite teams. This season I’m a bit behind watching online, but so far my favorite team is Adam & Bethany. They are so sweet to each other and tackle each task head on. 

In episode 3, the teams had to herd sheep while in Scotland. It seemed an impossible task with many teams running at their sheep and causing them to scatter in all directions (see video). As I was watching the sheep, I kept thinking how as sheep we all have gone astray. We hop and leap and jump and scatter. We fear what we do not know and run. Quick to react, we get off course. Eventually, one of the teams figured it out, they calmly walked alongside their sheep, quietly guiding them up through the gates and into the pen. 

Now, I don’t usually get much out of the Amazing Race besides being entertained, however, as I watched each team attempt the task I kept thinking about my perfect Shepherd, Jesus. Jesus doesn’t run at us, trying to scare us into submission. He doesn’t yell and wave his arms. He quietly guides. He walks beside us, knowing that we are prone to run and leap when frightened. Jesus is the perfect Shepherd because He knows His sheep (and His sheep know His voice). It’s when we take our eyes off Christ and we try to make someone (or something) else our shepherd that we run around, leaping and misdirected. We scatter. We go astray. But when we fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, we can run the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1-2). The most amazing race! And the prize? Much better than a trip around the world or a million dollars. The prize is a Spirit filled life. A life of abundance with Christ, one in which we are co-heirs with Him as He quietly guides us to victory. 

Now that’s the race I want to run! 

Do you have a favorite reality TV show? Or any spiritual lessons you’ve learned from an unlikely source lately? Share in the comments! 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Favorite Fall Recipes

I love fall cooking and baking. I think it’s because after a long, hot summer I’m ready to get back in the kitchen and am feeling inspired. Fall here in Nanjing isn’t much of a fall - it pretty much goes straight from summer to winter. One October day it’s hot and you are sweating, then all of sudden, the next day you need to wear socks indoors and you have turned on your heat. 

I have lots of favorite fall recipes. Steven loves pumpkin. I mean, he really, really loves pumpkin. Like, when he was growing up he used to eat a whole pumpkin pie for dinner. So, I make a lot of meals out of pumpkin and I get my bake on. Plus, fall means the holidays are coming and lots of these recipes speak family and comfort to me. 

Without further rambling, in no particular order, my favorite fall recipes. Enjoy! And if you have a favorite to add, please share in the comments. I love getting new recipes from friends!

This is usually the first recipe that heralds in all the pumpkin baking. Steven goes crazy for these cookies. I got my recipe from a friend at work (see, love new recipes from friends!), but the link is to a very similar version. I’ve played around with the spices and usually add a pinch of nutmeg and ground cloves as well. Also, my recipe calls for butter, not oil. You could probably substitute applesauce as well. 

From one of my favorite bloggers, this pasta recipe is so easy to make and easy to tweak to your tastes! I usually add chicken stock to thin the sauce depending on the noodle I decide to use and sometimes I even throw in some whipping cream at the end to make it a little more smooth and rich (not like it needs it, but I love whipping cream!). Don’t skimp on the sage leaves, they add a great depth to this dish. 

This is by far my favorite fall soup. It’s amazing. It is Martha and she does know how to do a good soup! I’ve substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin with the same amazing results. The shiitake mushrooms add a little kick and the color of this soup is gorgeous. Steven likes it a little chunky so I usually puree it in two batches, first batch includes all the veggies and half the pumpkin pureed until totally smooth.  The second batch is the rest of the pumpkin pureed a little thicker to leave some chunks. It’s so delicious. Pair it with a toasted baguette and you are in pumpkin-fall heaven!

Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Seeds (no photo, sorry!)
Another Martha recipe. I love this take on your traditional roasted seeds. Large pumpkins don’t exist in China like they do in the States, so I actually buy pumpkin seeds in bulk already dried. I know, kind of like cheating. But hey, it works! 

Have you heard of Iowa Girl Eats? A great food blog! And she recently started going gluten free, so if you are needing some GF inspiration she’s got you covered. This Fresh Apple Cake is one of my all time favs (before she started her GF diet). It’s so scrumptious. This cake is also not too sweet, so all my Chinese friends love it. It’s a great cake to bring to a potluck!

I have no idea how I found this recipe, probably Pinterest. It’s ridiculous. As in, ridiculously good. Steven requests it every fall. I can only make it once a year because I feel so guilty when I eat it. And cream cheese is expensive in China! But these bars are totally worth it (both on the budget and the waistline). 

A new favorite soup recipe, I recently found this and love it! I got a slow cooker this summer and since summer is not the time for cooking (at least for me - I dread being in the kitchen in summer) I finally got it out. This stew is excellent. We served it over brown rice, but you could use any grain if you wanted - or serve it as is! Goes great with fresh bread. Yum!

A Taste of Home oldie-but-goodie. I’ve been making this for years. A great, flavorful comfort soup that will warm you up from the inside-out on those crisp and cool fall nights! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

18 hours - Atalie’s Birth Story

Atalie, just moments after birth
She made it! She’s here! And now she’s already two six weeks old.How did that happen? As one day blends and blurs into another, I haven’t had the time I thought I would to blog about her birth story. This probably will be written over several days weeks, bits and pieces coming together as I sneak away to the office. In one of the books Steven is reading about babies, the author says everything they do is a reflex, they’re not making choices, but rather reacting to the new world they have found themselves in. Well, I think one reflex they fail to mention is the one where the baby wakes up and cries whenever mom eats or tries to write a blog post. Just sayin’. I can get a shower in, but write a blog post? Out of the question…

We ended up spending a total of 16 days in Shanghai from the time we had our 40th week appointment to when we caught a train back to Nanjing with our daughter in tow. Neither one of us expected to stay so long in Shanghai.  It was like a non-vacation, vacation. Thankfully, we were able to stay with friends and avoid living in a hotel during that time, it made the long stay much more bearable.

In my last post before she arrived, I shared that we were surpassing the 41 week mark and if I didn’t go into labor on my own I would be induced on Monday, August 25th.  At first, the induction was planned for Friday, but my doctor came back into town on Thursday and asked if I wanted her involved (she had been on vacation since the 4th and I had been seeing another doctor). I readily said, “yes!” and together we decided to push the induction back to Monday.  I really didn’t want to have a baby that came twelve days late, but since I had been praying for God’s timing, I really believe part of the reason Atalie came late was so my doctor could be there.

Sunday morning I started not feeling well and later that afternoon contractions started. However, they stopped by 8pm, which, though frustrating, was a blessing because I was able to go to bed. At 2:30am I woke up with contractions and lay there for an hour timing them. Steven then woke up around 3:30am and I told him we should probably start getting ready to go the hospital.  At that point my contractions were about 5 minutes apart. I was supposed to be induced at 7:00, but it was looking like I wouldn’t need that induction!

By 5:00am, after finishing up packing and showering, my contractions were getting stronger and closer together, about 3 minutes apart. I was also experiencing shaking and could no longer walk through a contraction. We called our doula to have her meet us at the hospital and caught a cab (which, fortunately, there were several parked right outside the apartment complex where we were staying).  

We arrived at the hospital at 6:00am and we were shown upstairs to the 7th floor to labor and delivery. They put me in a wheelchair, I think mainly because they didn’t want to wait for me to waddle in between contractions. Louise, our doula, showed up shortly after.  At this point I was thinking I must be pretty far into labor, maybe even active labor. However, a cervical exam totally burst my bubble and the doctor on call informed me that I was only 1 cm dilated.

Using the birthing tub to relieve pain and relax  (on a side note, this photo of me
with Louise will be featured in an article for a Shanghai-based family magazine
about Shanghai Doulas and their business providing doula services. Cool, right?)
Since we were planning a water birth, they got the tub ready and I climbed in. It was instant relief. They made me get out at 9:30am for a period of fetal monitoring (which showed the baby was doing great), and I got back in 30 minutes later. Also worth noting, shortly after arriving at the hospital, I started vomiting about every 20 minutes or anytime I had something to eat or drink. Talk about exhausting! That part was terrible (and really gross). Labor is bad enough without emptying the contents of your stomach three times an hour.

Around 11:00am the contractions started to really pick up in intensity. I remember looking at the clock a lot between 11:00 and 1:00pm, knowing that around 1:00 they would do another cervical exam. It was the worst pain I’ve ever had. And now the contractions were 2 minutes apart and lasting over a minute, which meant I had zero time to rest. The water helped, but it was still excruciating and it took several times of repositioning myself to get somewhat comfortable. Louise and Steven took turns applying counter pressure to my lower back during contractions (and somehow they both ordered food and ate during this time, too – I don’t really remember much of that). I tried to eat lunch, but ended up throwing it all up ten minutes later. I was vomiting so much, that after awhile Louise and Steven started commenting on how awesome my projectile vomiting was becoming. At some point around noon, my doctor came in and talked to me about how everything was going. It wasn’t much of a “conversation” as every two minutes I had pain ripping up my back and wasn’t really able to talk much; she was obviously used to it as it didn’t faze her in the least.
After the epidural, all smiles!

Around 1:00pm I got out of the water for another cervical exam. In my head, I told myself that if I was making progress, maybe around 5-6cm, I could keep going without an epidural. But if I was less than 4cm I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it. Between the continuous vomiting and huge contractions every 2 minutes my energy was next to nothing and I was exhausted. I could barely walk from the tub to the bed. The doctor checked…I was still at 1cm, but dilating to 2cm during a contraction. Um, are you freaking kidding me? What has my body been doing for the past seven hours?!? My cervix was also swollen, which was probably what was making it hard to dilate. The doctor asked if I had been pushing (I hadn’t) as that can cause swelling. (Later, after Atalie showed up, we noticed a large contusion on the backside of her head and a dent on her left temple. Louise conjectured that Atalie was wedged in my pelvis and that it was probably the back of her head pushing on my cervix.)

Cue instant crying. That was it. There was no way I would be able to keep going at this rate. I didn’t hesitate in asking for the epidural, I was a hot mess of tears and sweat, shaking uncontrollably with makeup smearing down my face. I couldn’t even think straight; I needed some relief.

I don’t really remember much between the exam and when I got the epidural. I was lying on the bed, in the worst pain ever and there was a flurry of people in and out of the room. I do remember actually getting the epidural because it was one of the most awkward experiences I’ve had in a hospital (please lie on your side, in the fetal position and don’t move even though you are having a monster contraction). I got the epidural at 2:00pm and by 2:15 was already feeling relieved of the pain.  I was also at 2.5cm! Making progress. They gave me a “walking epidural” which meant I could still feel the contractions, but they were much less intense (more like pressure instead of pain). I could also walk, with assistance, which meant I could get up and go the bathroom and walk around the room when needed.

At 4:20pm, after getting up and using the bathroom, I was walking back to the bed when my water broke. Now that’s a weird feeling! I actually thought I had peed again as it trickled down my leg. The doctor on call was brought in to check my progress. I was now at 6cm! However, the rest of my water ruptured during the exam and it was a very dark green (which meant that Atalie had pooped meconium in the womb). All of sudden there were all these people in my room, an anesthesiologist, another doctor and three nurses. The doctor on call mentioned “C-section” to one of the nurses, another nurse stared at the meconium stained bed with her mouth gaping open and the anesthesiologist checked my epidural and informed me that, “your epidural still looks good. That’s a good thing since you will probably need a C-section.” Um…excuse me? Hasn’t the baby been fine all day? She had shown no signs of distress and she is 12 days late (it’s not uncommon for babies that late to poop before they are born, not out of distress, but because they are starting to function as they would outside the womb).

Louise was so supportive and encouraging! I would recommend hiring a doula,
she made the whole experience more  positive.
My doctor came a few minutes later to check on me. I asked her what my chances were of having a C-section and with a look of bewilderment she replied me, “Why are you asking that?” To which Louise informed her of the bedside manner and offhand comments made by the medical staff after my water broke. Let’s just say my doctor wasn’t very happy about their response (neither was Steven, he was upset at how they all reacted). She saw no reason to consider a C-section and to continue monitoring as usual with the intent of a vaginal delivery. I knew I loved my doctor, and the way she handled that situation made me over the moon for her. Seriously, she is a fantastic doctor and has amazing bedside manner. The next day we actually learned that Redleaf is using that whole situation as an opportunity to train their nurses and new doctors on appropriate responses and bedside manner in similar situations.

By 5:30pm (an hour later), my contractions started to feel different and Louise went and got the doctor on call – I was now at 9cm! By 6:30pm, I was still at 9cm and the baby had started descending and was at +1 station. My doctor returned, saying she wanted to go home for an hour or so to see her kids and then she’ll be back. She told me to rest because when she returned I was finally going to push. I slept until 8:30pm, and after waking up, I was fully dilated and the baby was at +2 station! Before pushing my doctor took me off the epidural (so I could self direct my pushing, meaning I decided when to push instead of being coached).

So tiny and so perfect
Pushing was the most empowering thing I have ever done. I’m sure those of you who have delivered babies can agree with me – it was amazing. Hard & exhausting for sure, but so amazing. I used the squat bar for a bit, but my legs were too tired to hold me up, so eventually I ended up semi-seated with support from both Steven & Louise. I pushed for just over an hour. Louise helped count me through contractions while I pushed. Being able to self direct my pushing helped me focus and feel in control, I really appreciated being able to choose when to push instead of being told. At Redleaf, they have midwives deliver the baby, so my doctor sat nearby overseeing both the midwife and me. She engaged with me and paid a lot of attention to me, helping me achieve the best outcome. The room was very calm and the attending staff were quiet (probably a little apprehensive after the earful they received earlier after my water broke). Later that week, Dr. Huebner told me it was her best delivery that week (out of five total) and was “beautifully done”. I think a lot of it had to do with having Louise there to help us. I felt calm and focused because I knew Louise would tell me what to do and Steven could be himself and fulfill the role of loving husband instead of coach.

At 10:10pm, after one final push, Atalie Joyce entered our world. They placed that tiny person on my chest and she was perfect. Because of the meconium in the fluid, she only stayed with me until Steven cut the cord and then she was whisked off to have her stomach pumped. Poor baby. After that experience she didn’t want to nurse for several hours. And she didn’t even open her eyes until much later on. I think she was just as exhausted as I was!

We wanted delayed cord cutting, and it took about 10 minutes for the cord to stop pulsating. Steven, of course, was super interested in the cord and was amazed as he watched it go from Atalie’s life source full of blood to a lifeless white cord. After he cut the cord, my placenta didn’t detach as is usual and I started bleeding a lot. I actually don’t really remember this part very well because my eyes were on Atalie, but I kept looking at Steven who had a very concerned look on his face. My doctor, who is usually calm and collected, started yelling at some of the staff (I guess they were just standing around not doing anything to help stop the bleeding). Finally, I got a shot of Pitocin, which started contractions to deliver the placenta and stop the bleeding. We found out later that I lost almost a liter of blood – kind of scary. No wonder Steven was worried – he watched all that blood pool on the table.

Our first family picture
Eventually, the staff trickled out of the room. We said goodnight to Dr. Huebner, who commented on how pleasurable it was to attend a birth where the husband was engaged and interested in what was happening. That’s Steven for you! For the next few hours, I enjoyed skin to skin as Steven and I marveled together at our new daughter. Louise accompanied us downstairs and waited until we settled in a bit before she said goodnight and returned home. And then it was just us with our new baby (and the night nurse, but I wasn’t very keen on her so let’s keep her out of this). The first night was a little rough, but we found a new rhythm in the hospital over the next several days. My recovery was slow at first; at least I thought it was. I felt so incredibly weak (taking a shower wore me out). After learning how much blood I had lost, I realized that my physical exhaustion was due not only to the fact I just had a baby but also because of the blood loss. Fortunately, I didn’t tear during pushing (yay!) so at least I also didn’t have to recover from stiches.

Even though I didn’t get my dream water birth, it was a very positive experience. I am so thankful that Atalie came late so my doctor could be there – she made a huge difference! Redleaf is a great hospital and beautiful facility, I am thankful that there exists a hospital in Shanghai such as Redleaf. 

And she’s here. She’s perfect. That’s all that matters.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The things people say..

Awhile back I shared some of the cultural differences that Chinese have regarding pregnancy. The differences don’t stop there! After the baby is born there is a whole other set of rules to abide by for both the mom and the baby. In lieu of writing out a list, I will instead share with you all some of the advice, criticisms, warnings, whatever you want to call them, that people have been sharing with us. 

Baby leggings are not only cute, but also keep all the Chinese grandmas
from telling me my baby is cold. Win-win!
1) “Your baby is cold.” We have also heard, “Why is the baby not wearing clothes?” or “Is she cold?” Chinese don’t allow newborns to have any skin showing - at all! Even in August when it’s 90+ degrees and humid and your baby is sweating, they will still ask if the baby is cold because her legs aren’t covered. And Atalie? She is never cold. That girl is a furnace (just ask my mom). Our friend who came and did newborn portraits for us is trying to expand her photography business in China but is having difficulties because of this rule. Newborn portraits are a lot cuter if the baby is naked (or almost naked). She was telling me that she has to appeal to the grandparents because they are the ones who make all the decisions regarding the baby (another cultural difference - what grandma says goes), but hasn’t been very successful so far because no good Chinese grandparent would allow their grand baby to be undressed for that long of a period of time.

2) “You should take off your wedding ring, it can hurt the baby.” I’m not really sure if this is just a nurse being overprotective or if it really is a cultural thing. Either way, I was told this at the hospital. And no, I did not take off my wedding ring. 

3) “Your baby is hungry.” We were told this by the nurses every time Atalie cried at the hospital. Even if I had just fed her. And new-newborns aren’t starving, although nurses in China would have you think otherwise. In fact, right after Atalie was born she didn’t want to nurse (she had to have her stomach pumped, I’ll explain more when I post her birth story), however, the nurse on night duty insisted that Atalie nurse. It got to the point of Atalie screaming for an hour. Why couldn’t she just let her sleep? In China, it is also widely believed that colostrum is not good enough for the baby. Many hospitals supplement with formula until the mom’s milk comes in (if the mom breast feeds at all) and, I would guess, the majority of Chinese women don’t breast feed. If you don’t want them to give your baby formula, you have to be forceful in communicating that you will breast feed only. 

This past weekend at the park we drew a crowd,
along with a lot of questions, advice, etc.
(Atalie is in the yellow stroller)
4) “Don’t put your foot so close to the baby, she can smell your feet.” This was told to Steven by one of the nurses at the hospital. This is just funny. It’s his baby! I think Steven can put his feet wherever he wants near his baby…well, as long as I say it’s ok. ;-) And, for the record, Steven doesn’t have smelly feet. 

5) “What does she have in her mouth?” Chinese don’t use pacifiers. I’m not sure why not because some babies love them! It took Atalie awhile, but now she goes to sleep much faster when she has her pacifier. I’ve also been told by several random Chinese that the pacifier will “ruin her mouth.” I’m not sure where they heard that or why they think that. I just reply by saying that my doctor says it’s ok. 

6) “She must be one month old.” Or two months, four months…Chinese love to guess the age of your baby. And there’s a rule - neither the mom nor baby are supposed to leave the house for the first month. So, of course, when they say she is one month old I agree (to avoid getting yelled at). And when they ask her age I say one month (even though she won’t be one month old for another week). I’m glad Atalie is a long baby because she looks older than she is.

7) “There is no point in breast feeding your baby past six months. You should stop at six months.” This advice was given to me by a woman who I know, but not well enough for me to feel that she could make this comment. The cultural difference here is that other people feel it is their responsibility to give a new mother advice about everything - even if they don’t know what they are talking about. I’m not saying this person doesn’t know anything about breast feeding, she does have two grown children, but this is just one of the many pieces of advice she kept giving me when she came to visit. And she provided no reason for why you would stop breast feeding at six months. Sometimes I think Chinese make up advice to give you so they have something to tell you since giving advice is appropriate and expected. 

Awww! She’s so cute. But even with that bow we
will be questioned on if she is a boy or girl.
8) “Boy or girl?” Even when there is a flower or bow in her hair. I’m not kidding. On Sunday, we took her to church for the first time. I had three different people ask me if she was a boy or girl and she had a flower covered headband in her hair and was wearing a dress. This is just something I need to get used to answering. Chinese dress boys and girls in the same clothes when they are infants. That changes as they get older, but when they are babies there is not much gender difference in clothing, if any. 

These are just a few of the differences I have experienced so far with having a newborn baby in China. It’s hard at times to accept the differences and be polite instead of wanting to correct their misunderstanding or brush them off for unwanted advice, but I’m trying. 

Recently, I was reading in the Psalms after a late night feeding and found a passage that really spoke to my heart about the goodness of God as our Provider: 

Psalm 36:7-9
How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.

In the midst of being overwhelmed by motherhood, exhaustion and navigating a culture that sometimes rubs the wrong way on my values, these verses are a reminder to take refuge in God and allow Him to sustain me with feast and drink. To submit myself to be washed in His fountain of life - to see His light. This is my prayer for the coming months as I continue to transition to motherhood (a hard enough task) in a culture that is not my own. May God show me His light so I may find His abundance and delights in the everyday. Even if I don’t like it.

Just one more. Because she really is the sweetest.
(This is her first Starbucks experience)

Saturday, September 13, 2014

She’s Here!

Less than a day old. Look at that face!!
She finally made it! Atalie Joyce Wallace was born on Monday, August 25th at 10:10pm. And no, I did NOT have to be induced. I woke up early Monday morning with contractions. Praise the Lord! I’ll save the rest of the story for a special “birth story” post, but we’ll just say it was a long day and worth every second. 

With Dr. Huebner, who oversaw the delivery
(a midwife actually delivered Atalie)
We spent the first three days in the hospital. It was a blissful state of day running into night and hanging out getting to know our new little one. Besides the nurses asking multiple times a day if she had pooped yet, there was little to get frustrated about. Although the nurses did have some great things to say. I need to do a post on all the different “advice” we were given while in the hospital, some of it was pretty funny. Our room was like a hotel room with a huge walk in shower and kitchenette. All the lights and thermostat were controlled on an iPad (it sounds cool until you are in a state of exhaustion trying to turn on the light by the bed in the middle of the night). The food was amazing, I’m not kidding. Steak, chicken, fish, pizza - it was all delicious. And the desserts, oh man, superb. I’d heard that Redleaf had good food, but it exceeded my expectations. Steven ordered most of his meals from a delivery service because though my meals were free, it was expensive for him to add on a meal.

Our hospital room. Yes, I know, it’s fancy. (And that’s Louise, our doula)
The wing of the hospital we stayed in. Would you guess this is a hospital?
We got back to Nanjing on Friday after spending a few hours at the US Consulate that morning to get Atalie’s passport and citizenship all sorted out. I was so nervous how Friday would go, but everything was super smooth (besides being at the Consulate’s Office forever), and Atalie slept basically the whole day making it super easy. She wouldn’t even wake up to eat, I had to “zombie feed” her as I like to call it. She’s talented, what can I say! One high speed train later and we were in a cab headed to our home. 

Atalie’s first Burger King experience, she slept through the whole thing
Since being home, the weeks have flown by. How has it already been two weeks since we got back? My full time job right now is producing milk and making sure Atalie eats and sleeps. The first week was a little hard adjusting to life with a newborn, but everyday got better. She actually cried more in the hospital than she did her first week at home. All I wanted to do all day was stare at her. It’s still hard to believe that she is ours. We made her, I grew her, birthed her and the hospital let us take her home. Madness. Beautiful madness. 

After that first week home, our sweet little newborn started to have fussy spells. Over the past week and a half, there have been a few really hard days. Overall, she does great and usually gets into her groove eating and sleeping. I can’t say she is more or less fussy than other babies - in fact, based on what I’ve been reading she’s pretty textbook, normal newborn fussiness. It seems about every other day or so she has a prolonged spell of fussiness. Tuesday this week was pretty bad, I had at least five meltdowns. Fortunately, when the worst is over she’ll take a really long nap and twice now I’ve been lucky enough to have her do that at night. Last night, she was fussy and catnapped from 6:00pm until midnight. But when we finally got her to sleep at midnight she slept 5 1/2 hours!!! I actually woke her up because I really needed her to eat (if you know what I mean). 

Our friend, Nikko, came over and took newborn pictures for us
And breastfeeding is improving. We definitely still have our challenges, but she is getting better at latching and I’m getting more patient. We weighed her ourselves at two weeks old (we haven’t been able to make it back for a check up for her yet) and she already put on over a pound! Pretty impressive. So, I think it’s safe to say that breastfeeding is going quite well. By the way, you should see Steven’s design for weighing the baby at home…I’ll give you a hint, it involves a duffle bag, large tupperware lid and a luggage scale. 

Gotta get snuggles with both the baby & Sam

How I spent most of the first week at home (notice Sam also got some cuddle time)

My mom gets here tonight and I’m ready for the daytime reinforcements. Steven has started going back to work this past week and it’s just easier when there is someone else at home. I’ve also learned to switch my mentality from “I should get something done today” to “if I don’t get anything done but hold and feed my baby, that’s ok”. It’s made the days I don’t get anything done easier to swallow, although I haven’t really had much to get done (besides laundry). Friends have been bringing us meals, our fridge and freezer are full and Steven has been awesome at keeping up with dishes. 

Our first family selfie, taken just after arriving home
Life is different with Atalie here, and I love it. It’s hard for me to imagine life without her, even on the hard days. The sweet moments we do have are pure bliss and help to make the hard days bearable. I love getting to know her, loving her, rocking her and falling asleep with her in my arms (sometimes unintentionally).  

One of those blissful moments

Steven getting work done and snuggling with Atalie, a true multi-tasker

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Still waiting...

A few weeks ago (38 weeks pregnant), Steven took some photos of the belly
Yes, I am still pregnant. 41 weeks pregnant as of yesterday to be exact. I didn’t really think that I would make it to 41 weeks - but who does? Or wants to? I was so convinced that she would come early; instead she is perfectly content to remain where she is (I keep telling myself that I just have a really awesome & cozy uterus). 

We came to Shanghai a week ago for our 40 week appointment and decided to stay. I’m glad we decided to stay, even if it means we’ve been living out of a suitcase in someone else’s home for the past week. To be honest, I feel like time has gone by a bit quicker here in Shanghai than it was back home in Nanjing. I have no idea why - maybe because I don’t keep walking into the nursery looking for something to do or to prepare for her arrival. 

So we wait. I’m still not totally convinced that this pregnancy will ever end. I feel like I will be pregnant forever! However, everyone else keeps telling me it doesn’t work like that and eventually she will make her appearance. The plan at this point is to wait until Monday and then start the “eviction” process via an induction. I really don’t want to be induced, but by Monday I’ll be 12 days overdue and they won’t let me go past 42 weeks…so, not a lot of options left. We are praying that she will decide to come join us before then. 

In the meantime Steven is continuing to work remotely, and I’m catching up on my reading and taking lots of naps. We’ve been trying to get out everyday, enjoying the abundance of amazing Western food that Shanghai has to offer. However, the constant rain has been making it difficult to go very far. The good thing about the rain is that it has made the weather considerably cooler. This is the coolest summer in China I have ever experienced. Yesterday, the high temperature was 72F. What?! Is this even Shanghai? And why did I only pack shorts and tank tops (oh yeah, because normally it’s in the 90’s with the humidity making it feel like it’s in the 110’s)? Today it has finally stopped raining and we ventured out to see a movie which we didn’t end up seeing because they changed the showtimes. Now we are sitting at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf enjoying their free wi-fi and blended ice drinks (have you tried their blended ice? So much better than a Starbucks Frappuccino!). 

Please come, little girl. We are really excited to meet you (and I am ready to feel comfortable again)! I know you must feel very cozy where you are, but it can’t be that comfortable - I mean, you don’t have any room left! And my ribs are not a footstool nor my bladder a pillow, thank you very much. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bad China Day

Overall, in the past year I have had fewer and fewer “bad China days”.  These types of days are defined by feeling overwhelmed, defeated, irritated or even angry at China and living here.  It is usually a result of reality not meeting expectation.  I actually really enjoy our lives here (even when it is hard sometimes).  At first, having a “bad China day” could result from numerous new experiences I would have.  The longer I live here, the more I anticipate situations and know what to expect thus having less and less “bad China days”.  However, last Friday was an exception.

The swimming pool in our complex opened July 1st.  China has this weird thing about swimming pools, they religiously open only from July 1st to August 31st.  Even if the weather is hot in June, they won’t open the pool.  And September here is quite warm and they close it every year on August 31st.  Anyways, strange but true!  So the pool opened and I went and bought a pass to be able to use it. Also strange, the family pass is for two adults and one child - it caught me off guard since most family passes in the States are for 2 adults and 2 or 3 children.  The pool is “open” from 2:00pm - 9:30pm, however, there is a sign posted by the pool that swimming when it is not “open” is considered at your own risk and the management will not be held liable for any injuries or accidents that occur. Fair enough, right?  The sign doesn’t say “you can only swim when it is open”.  We also know several others who have swam when the pool wasn’t open.  

This isn’t our pool, but one in a neighboring complex.
It’s a little nicer than ours (and has a real fence surrounding it).
So, the first Friday the pool was open I wanted to go swimming in the morning.  I figured it would be better to swim in the morning when there are less people and it shouldn’t be a problem based on information I had from 1) the sign posted and 2) other people’s experiences.  Steven, myself and a friend went at around 8:30am and had the pool all to ourselves.  Just before 9:00, several kids and their parents showed up at the pool.  The kids all had on water wings and were “playing” in the shallow end.  At 9:00, one of the managers showed up and told us (just us adults, not the kids) that we had to leave.  I tried to argue that the sign didn’t say we couldn’t swim but my Chinese isn’t that good.  He kept repeating the pool didn’t open until 2:00pm.  When I motioned to the kids and said why can they swim, he said they were “learning” (at this time there was no other adult in the pool with them).  Well, it didn’t really look like they were “learning” it appeared they were “playing”.  I felt super frustrated at my ability to not communicate.  Steven got upset and left.  My friend and I stayed for a few more minutes (mostly because I was convinced that we weren’t breaking any posted rules).  Well, about five minutes later a swim instructor showed up to teach the kids.  So, yes, they were learning!  Totally understandable that they wouldn’t want others in the pool during swim lessons, however, the manager never stated any phrases that would lead us to believe they were having lessons (like class, teacher, student, etc).  So, we left. 

I was so mad.  I wasn’t mad that there were swim lessons and we couldn’t swim, I was frustrated at China.  I was mad that the sign said one thing and the manager another.  I was mad that he couldn’t just tell us there were swim lessons but instead insisted we could only swim during “open” hours.  I was just really mad.  And it ruined my entire morning.  I hate that.  Later that morning, I finally calmed down long enough to reason through what happened, confess my anger and frustration and move on from the incident. 

All that to say, it was a “bad China day”.  Since then however, we have been able to go swimming in the mornings, we just go earlier - at 7:00am.  And we’re not the only ones there!  Usually we have three to five other companions also taking advantage of the empty pool to swim laps.  There are these two older women who are super sweet and get excited when we show up.  And there’s a group of tai chi ladies who do their morning exercises poolside.  I’m thankful we found a time that works, and I feel more comfortable swimming when other Chinese are there, it makes me feel confident that we aren’t breaking rules (although we still might be, rule breaking is common in China, but we aren’t breaking any posted rules).  I have yet to go in the afternoon, not because I don’t want to, I have just been busy in the afternoons.  And it’s been raining like crazy, which makes the pool water cold (they don’t heat it at all, not even with thermal covers) and makes it harder to get up the nerve to go swim!  

I’m thankful we have a pool in our complex.  It’s a nice way to “beat the heat” and I love being able to do some form exercise while in my third trimester.  Starting out on a bad foot wasn’t the best way to make me feel welcome using the pool (that I pay to use), but my frustration is over and now I can actually enjoy it. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Cultural Differences about Pregnancy in China

One of the things that is most interesting about being pregnant in another country is learning how that culture approaches pregnancy, birth and babies. Are there dietary restrictions that are different? What are pregnant women allowed to do for exercise? I have learned a lot about Chinese culture from being pregnant! And I’m sure I will learn more as we raise our daughter here. For now, here are some of the biggest differences I have noticed about how Chinese view pregnancy. 

1) Pregnant women do not drink or eat cold things. This includes some fruit (like bananas, in China bananas are considered “cold"), ice, ice cream, and room temperature or cold beverages (pregnant women are supposed to drink only hot beverages). My Ayi has never said anything to me about this, even when she sees me pour refrigerated water into my glass, however, I have had several friends say things or comment on what I’m drinking. Especially when I ask for extra ice. 

2) When you are pregnant, swimming is absolutely not allowed. Water is considered cold, so going along with the first point, submersing your body in something considered cold is not good. I will be breaking this rule a lot this summer once the pool opens in our complex. :-) Whenever I tell my Chinese friends that in America swimming is considered excellent exercise for pregnant women they are very surprised. Also, after you have a baby, you are not supposed to wash your hair or shower for 30 days - sponge baths only! Something about wet hair and cold…after I have the baby, I’m sure I will have more insights to share about the cultural difference regarding birth and newborns.

3) There is some sort of rule about pregnant women and electronics. I don’t actually know what is or is not considered ok by the Chinese, but I had a Chinese friend comment last week that since I was pregnant she called Steven because she knew I wouldn’t be using my cellphone. Uh, ok. I have also heard from friends that while they were pregnant their Chinese friend or Ayi would freak out whenever they used a laptop. One friend said her Ayi would try and take her laptop away. Too funny. 

30 weeks pregnant in Hong Kong. I broke a lot of Chinese rules on this trip
including flying and asking for ice at every place we ate.
4) Pregnant women are to do as little as possible. This includes cooking, working, shopping, etc. I get stared at a lot out in public, more so now that I’m pregnant. People almost gawk when they see me on my e-bike or shopping for groceries. I’ve had friends ask if Steven is doing all the cooking. And recently I’ve been working with a local orphanage to organize volunteers (probably more on that in a later post), however, because I’m pregnant the volunteer coordinator came up with at least 3 reasons why I shouldn’t volunteer because I’m pregnant (I’ll be too tired, the babies will kick my stomach and I might get sick - the only one being a true risk is getting sick). I feel bad for Chinese women who are confined to their homes, unless, of course, they want to be. But constantly being told what you can and cannot do must be annoying! Other random things pregnant women are not allowed to do: fly (at any point in pregnancy), and be in a room with an air conditioner (cold air - we’ve covered this, yeah?).

5) You must eat more food. I think this is also widely misunderstood in the States, but pregnant women do not actually need to eat “for two people”. Of course, being pregnant means eating nutritiously, taking prenatal vitamins and in the third trimester, yes, eating a bit more; but no, I do not need to eat double the amount of food I used to. One of my Chinese friends was surprised at how my face was not fat. He said his sister gained a lot of weight in her face and that she needed to eat so much food while pregnant. Every women is different, some gain a lot of weight, some gain a little - but I think the Chinese women on average tend to gain a lot of weight everywhere. It’s a combination of point #4 above (not being allowed to do anything) and having their mother or mother-in-law constantly cooking for them and making them eat. Although who wouldn’t want a personal chef while you are pregnant, am I right? 

6) Sex. I debated including this on here, but it is a cultural difference. Chinese think you cannot have sex while you are pregnant. That is all I am going to say about that. 

There you have it! Those are some of the biggest cultural differences I have noticed in China while being pregnant. I’m sure there are more, but these ones come up the most. It’s so interesting learning about cultural differences through the experience of pregnancy. There are also a lot of differences in how Chinese view birth and caring for newborns, but I’ll save that for later. 

Oh, look, my glass is out of ice. Better go refill it...

Monday, June 30, 2014

Finding House Help: A Success Story

In the past here on the blog, I’ve shared some frustrations and challenges with hiring house help, or as we say in China, an Ayi (pronounced, i-e). I had an Ayi last year for about nine months or so, but eventually had to let her go due to a lack of ability to communicate. She didn’t speak Mandarin Chinese, but rather a local dialect that neither I nor many of my Chinese friends could understand. She was also a little stubborn to learn to do new things. There are many differences among all cultures in how we approach keeping our homes clean, and she was not very willing to learn how I would like her to clean. 

After she left, I went several months without an Ayi, which made me really appreciate having an Ayi. Living in China is full of challenges and cultural stress, and having someone come help clean a few times a week is a huge blessing and something I need to maintain sanity. It feels so petty saying that I need an Ayi to maintain sanity, but you will have to trust me on this. I could write a whole blog post about how quickly my home here in China gets dirty. I will spare you (you are welcome). 

In January, I started getting serious about finding an Ayi. My strategy was to find someone who previously worked for foreigners. I had multiple reasons for this. One, they would be used to someone showing them how to clean a different way (most Chinese who hire an Ayi don’t tell them how to do their job, but all Westerners take time to “teach” their Ayi how they would like them to clean). Two, she would probably speak Mandarin, not just a dialect, and would hopefully have practice speaking Mandarin to a foreigner in a way foreigners could understand. And three, an Ayi who previously worked for foreigners would understand that we have cultural differences and would hopefully work with me to bridge the gap in these differences instead of getting upset or moody (like my old Ayi). 

My only hesitation in hiring an Ayi that previously worked for foreigners is that they usually expect higher pay. Many foreigners in China are here with a large company (Ford, Siemens, etc) and their companies pay for a full time Ayi for the family. Usually, these Ayis are paid $1-2/hour higher than Ayis who work for Chinese families. However, I was willing to pay that extra $1/hour to get someone who could meet the above criteria. I prayed about it, searched online, talked to friends and finally, I hit the jackpot. In March, I found a post on Facebook from an American who was leaving and wanted to help her Ayi find new work. She came highly recommended and met the criteria I had in my mind for the “perfect” Ayi. I had my Chinese friend call the Ayi and set up an interview. 

The interview went so well. I understood her Mandarin, she spoke a little English and she was willing to work 4 hours a day twice a week (originally she had asked for 5 hours a day, but I didn’t need more than 4). She was very nice and even during the interview I could tell she was a fast learner. She couldn’t start for a few weeks yet, but told me if I could find other foreigners nearby where I lived that she would prefer this area of the city better. At the time she was working for two families, one was leaving in two weeks, the other during the summer. She would need to find new work, but would prefer to not travel as far as she was to work for those other families (almost an hour each way). 

Fast forward three months to today. I am so grateful for her! She is amazing. Paying that extra $4/day for her is worth it. Not only does she do an excellent job cleaning (which, by the way, she always asks how she can do better - love it!), but it is great language practice for both of us. Many times she’ll stay an extra 30 minutes just to talk about life, culture, whatever we want. It’s been great. My only complaint, and it’s not even really a complaint, is that she really wants to learn to cook Western food. However, I don’t need someone to cook for us. So, anytime I start baking or cooking while she is here, she will stop cleaning and come into the kitchen to watch me. I’ve learned to wait until she leaves or until she’s done with her tasks for the day before starting anything in the kitchen. I don’t mind her watching me cook or even teaching her how, but I hire her to clean and I would really like her to do that! 

I feel so thankful to have a good Ayi. Especially with the baby coming in August. It will be great to have the extra help with laundry. And, eventually, I would love to increase her time to an additional day a week so she could help watch the baby (so I can get out!), but that probably won’t be until next Spring. Two of my friends have also hired her and she seems to be getting enough hours to be satisfied. Yay! 

Hopefully, there will be no more Ayi searching for a long time. :-)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


So, I have like a million thoughts roaming around my brain. Honestly, I could probably write several blog posts right now about all the things running around in my head. But I won’t because I don’t really have time to write more than one blog post and because I’m not sure you will want to hear all that babble. 

I’m thinking about Mother’s Day and after reading this blog post and the follow up posts and comments, my heart felt so confused. Not in a bad way. Rather, in an uncomfortable way that was pushing me out of my “box” and into new territory. I resonated with that blog post so much. How can we honor mothers yet not exclude other women? (I’m not wanting to start a dialogue on here, just asking the question that is in my head) And then, on Mother’s Day, in a country that doesn’t celebrate it, our church did. And they asked all mothers to come to the front. Not just stand up, to come up to the front. My heart sank. I sat there (yes, I sat, I know I’m pregnant but I did not go up) thinking “Is anyone hurt by this? Why does this bother me so much? How can something meant to honor such an important person feel wrong?” So yeah, it was weird. My heart was heavy the rest of the day. And then, after church I ate lunch with a Chinese gal who shared with me that she had to “get rid of” her second pregnancy because of the one child policy. She already has a daughter. When her daughter was two, she got pregnant again. In her own words, “I had no choice, I had to get rid of it. It was so hard to do because to me that was my baby, it was life. It hurt me. Now I try really hard to not get pregnant because I don’t want to have to do that again.” My heart broke again listening to her struggle. She didn’t share with me so I could pity her, she was factual in her retelling yet also graceful. I’m not even sure why she told me, I guess because she was asking about my pregnancy and we were sharing stories. Let’s just say Mother’s Day touched my heart in a way it hasn’t been touched before (maybe because God is shaping it into a mother’s heart?). 

The nursery is currently in an uproar. Ok, it’s not that bad - but it’s not even close to ready. We have one wardrobe full of all things baby and it’s somewhat organized. I had to get it organized because my friend graciously threw a baby shower for me & Peanut a few weeks ago and I needed to make sure I had space to put all the wonderful gifts we got. I’m ready to start getting that nursery ready! I have also been really wanting a rocking chair or glider for the nursery and thought I wouldn’t be able to find a comfortable one without breaking the bank, however, last weekend I was hired to photograph a maternity session for a couple expecting their first later this month and they had a glider in their nursery! I was so excited about it. And they got it on Taobao!! Why didn’t I think of that? Man, Taobao really does have everything (as my husband always says). 

Pregnancy is still going well. I don’t have a new belly photo for you…hmmm…I should do that today. Baby girl is super active and rolls and tumbles all the time. She also gets the hiccups almost every day. It’s cute. I’m liking this stage of pregnancy much more than the first trimester. 

I think that’s enough rambling for today. I’ll try and post some pictures of the baby bump later this week. And I have a few other posts I’ve been wanting to get up. Hmmm…get the nursery ready or blog? That is the question. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The big 2-0 week ultrasound

**In all honesty, this post was written on Friday and is being posted today, Tuesday. I’ve been having internet problems and haven’t been able to access Blogger. Sorry for the delay!**

Today I'm blogging from Maan Coffee, the coolest new coffee shop in Nanjing. Seriously. It's so fun. And I'm blogging on my iPad, which always is a challenge but totally doable. It's raining, Frank Sinatra is playing in the background and baby is kicking and rolling around like a champ (I think it was that waffle with strawberries I shared with Steven). Good day? I would say so. Except for the massive influx of allergy inducing pollen flying through the air lately. 

April has flown by & we have been so busy...I've been wanting to blog about our 20 week appointment and ultrasound but really haven't found the time lately. Well, today, 4 weeks later, is as good a day as any! 

First things first, it's a GIRL!! My intuition proved correct. I had a sense she would be a girl, but was afraid to expect a girl. We already had a girl name picked out, so I'm happy to say that name picking is over. One more thing to check off the list. 

Baby Girl’s profile
Also checked off the list is finding the doctor and hospital we want to deliver at. I was really struggling with where to have this little one. I knew I wanted to go to Shanghai to an international hospital, but didn't feel excited about our options at United (one of the larger hospitals). I have many friends who have delivered there in the past and had good experiences, but I didn't really have peace about it. Plus, the doctor I was seeing was American but had been on maternity leave in the States. I had this sneaky suspicion that she wasn't going to return...well, I was right. We had our 20 week scheduled for United on a Saturday but ended up with a conflict. I called to reschedule and found out two things, 1) my doctor had resigned and would be staying in America and 2) they couldn't reschedule my appointment and so I would, in their words, "have to keep it." So....we changed hospitals. I was nervous, but felt we needed to try something else. We are hiring a doula to help us navigate the crazy of having a baby in China, and she recommended a brand new hospital called Redleaf. She also gave me the name of a doctor on staff there she felt was really supportive of her patients. I called & they had an opening! 

So, we went to Redleaf. And it was amazing. I will sum up the experience by saying the hospital staff, doctor and whole process exceeded our expectations. Here's why...

1) Personilzed care. From the moment we walked in the door to when we left the staff took extra care to make us feel comfortable and taken care of. They each made an effort to know my name and never once did they "call" for me to come to reception, go back for my appointment, etc. Instead, the nurse or receptionist would find us where we were sitting and, by name, ask me to fill out a form or to follow her back to see the doctor. I was a person, not just another patient to see.

2) Our doctor is amazing. She's German and has been practicing in China for awhile. She was so kind and took almost an hour with us answering questions, getting to know us and talking about what kind of birth we wanted. When we went in to the ultrasound, baby was hiding, our doctor quickly came to our aid to ask the tech what she needed me to do so we could have the ultrasound. She understood we came to Shanghai specifically for this ultrasound and was not willing to let us be disappointed. We ended up being able to come back after lunch. Also, the doctors at Redleaf are on a rotation for delivery, however, our doctor has opted out wanting to be able to deliver all her patients' babies. She really impressed us. And I felt totally at ease with her. 

Easter Sunday - 24 weeks!
3) The ultrasound was amazing. They had a 40" TV mounted on the wall for us to watch as the tech measured and took pictures. It was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had. Being able to watch our baby on the screen and feel her move at the same time was amazing. Wow. Steven said it was one of the highlights of his life. Awww.... They also gave us a DVD with all 95+ photos they took of her! At no extra cost. 

By the time we left the appointment, I knew we found "the one". And it wasn't their state-of-the-art equipment, fancy new building or meticulously maintained grounds that made us choose Redleaf. It was their personal approach to healthcare. I'm so thankful to have an option in China like Redleaf. 

Meeting with doctor and seeing our little one on the ultrasound made it all more real for me. A little nervous, but mostly excited to meet our daughter in August. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Pregnancy Milestones

I’m terrible at keeping records or tracking progress, especially with this pregnancy. We’ve only taken three “belly photos” at 14, 17, 19 & 20 weeks. Oops. That’s ok. I’m not really that person who documents everything anyways. There are, however, a few “milestones” I would like to keep track of. When trying to think of a way to track them, I thought “why not use the blog?” Yeah, why not? So, there you have it. Instead of having information scattered between apps on my phone that I’ll never look at - let’s put it all in one place! 

Milestones so far…
1) “Morning sickness” is over. Thank the Lord! It wasn’t until after week 16 that I was able to eat most foods again (and some still make me sick), but for the most part I would say I’m almost back to my normal self. I definitely don’t eat as much as I did pre-pregnancy, but I eat enough to stay full and snack more often…so I probably do eat just as much (just not during meals). Sometimes at nighttime I still feel nauseous if I eat a big dinner, but I haven’t “tossed my cookies” in several weeks and I would say that’s a very good sign! Also, taxis and buses (my main modes of transportation) have an instant effect on me - as soon as I step on the bus or enter a taxi I feel nauseous. Bummer. 

2) Cravings. These come and go. One day I want chocolate cake, the next day I don’t - I guess that’s why they’re called cravings! My latest craving has been corn tortillas. Wow, I want them so bad. I actually found some online from a store in Shanghai which ships to Nanjing. Going to be ordering those this weekend. I’m also craving candy - which I normally never want. Swedish fish would be my first choice, but since those are not to be found anywhere I have settled for fruit snacks and some sour gummy worms I randomly found. Crisis averted. I don’t want chicken. Beef anything sounds good (so weird). Lately I’ve been wanting Indian food, we might have gone to our favorite place twice this past weekend. Totally worth it. 

3) Sleeping is getting hard to do. I really like to sleep on my stomach, but my growing belly is making that increasingly difficult. Between that and getting up twice a night to use the bathroom, I’m not sleeping as much as I would like. I’ve heard others say it is God’s way of preparing us women for a newborn…He just thinks of everything! ;-)

4) I can feel the baby move! Yes, last week on Monday, I had just taken a nap and was lying in bed checking email when I felt this weird “flutter” in my abdomen. I’m 100% positive it was the baby. Since then, I have felt the baby move throughout the day (usually when I’m sitting still or lying down). Only once did I have my hand on my belly and felt a kick from the outside as well. Being able to feel the baby move has really changed my attitude towards this pregnancy. Instead of focusing on all the ways I feel crummy, I am now filled with wonder at this life inside me. So amazing! 

5) Speaking of the belly, I can no longer wear belts. Yes, this belly is growing! Though I’m not fully in maternity clothes yet, belts are a no-go. Yesterday I had to finally bust out the rubber band trick on my skinny jeans. And for those of you “dying” to see a belly photo, I included one for you. It’s my awkward-is-she-preggo-or-fat belly. I can’t wait until I actually look pregnant with a round belly and can secure a seat on the subway or bus! One of the perks of being pregnant in China. 

6) Tingling feet. I think this is a pregnancy thing. At least I hope it is, because if not I might be losing my mind. Sometimes I get these painful itches on my toes or the bottom of my foot (like a sticker is stuck in my foot) and other times my foot feels like it is tingling, but it isn’t constant, more like a cell phone on vibrate is ringing next to it. In fact, the first time I felt my foot tingling like this I went looking for my cell phone on the floor. Yup, it was that convincing. 

So there you have it - a few big milestones! This week is half-way through (whoo-hoo) and tomorrow we have our next ultrasound which will hopefully tell us if Peanut is, as the Chinese say, a Prince or a Princess. We are also hoping to finally have some good pictures of this little one to share. 

Now, please excuse me while I get back to my Nutella and pretzels...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cultural Encounters

This week, I met a friend at Starbucks to catch up and spend some time together. I love Starbucks. It's the same everywhere! Anyways, halfway through our conversation we were interrupted by an interesting cultural encounter. After living in China for over a year, I have become somewhat accustomed to some cultural differences (not all, but some I don't really notice anymore), however, this one instance really pointed out some of the major cultural differences between the West (especially the US) and China.

A middle aged man came up to our table and interrupted us to ask if my friend (who is Chinese) could translate for him. As I glanced over my shoulder at his table, it appeared he was sitting with his son, wife and a young woman who appeared to be European or American. My friend agreed to help and I waited for a few minutes while she went over to help explain a few things. When she returned, she told me that the man and his wife were hiring the American to tutor their son in English. As a thank you, they wanted to take her out to dinner but she refused the offer saying that receiving payment for her services as a tutor was enough of a thank you. I suggested that my friend advise the American to take them up on their offer, but before my friend could return to their table, they all got up and left.

The American walked briskly to the door to leave, but then noticed that the Chinese man had approached our table and was talking to my friend again. He was asking my friend if she would like to tutor his son (so obviously it didn't work out with the American). The American quickly approached me (I thought she was upset he was asking my friend to tutor his son), this is the conversation that followed.

American Woman: "Is he asking her out too?"
Me: "I'm sorry, what? No, he's asking her to tutor his son."
AW: "Oh, good. He was totally hitting on me! He kept saying I was beautiful and then asked me out to dinner!"
Me: "Treating someone to dinner as a thank you is very customary in China, I don't think he was hitting on you."
AW: "Well, he wanted me to go to dinner with just him! He just wanted a date out of it."
Me: "Uh...are you sure? My friend told me the whole family was to take you out to dinner."
AW: "Oh...That wasn't what was communicated."

After the gentleman left, my friend cleared up the encounter with the American. The family was indeed all going to dinner, and paying a compliment by saying "you are beautiful" is considered a nice gesture in China. We talked with her for awhile, and then she thanked us and left. My friend and I had a good laugh after that.

In summary, here are some the major cultural differences I noticed that presented themselves in the situation:

1) Appropriate compliments. In China, a married man telling a young, unmarried woman that she is beautiful is not inappropriate. In America? Yes, it would be. But in China it is an attempt to be nice and make the other person feel good. It is also appropriate for women to tell men they are handsome, even if their wife is sitting right next to them. I don't think about this cultural difference very much, but it's a big one. Especially seeing how offended the American was. 

2) Building relationships. The family was hiring the American to tutor their son. It is customary for someone to treat another to a meal as a thank you and even a precursor to doing business together. In China, relationships are very important. The tutor being hired saw this as a business deal, no personal relationship needed. To Chinese, even in business you build the personal relationship. Many large business contracts are agreed upon over dinner and after some drinking. In America, the appropriateness of dining together for business varies on the situation, but is mostly done after the business transaction. In China, it is done mostly before the business transaction. Big difference. The family felt that treating the American to dinner was the proper response to her agreement to tutor their son, she obviously disagreed.

3) Giving face. I don't really understand the concept of “face” very well, but I think it applies here. "Face" is a concept we don't have in America, however it is a social norm in China. By the family inviting the tutor to dinner, they were "giving face" to her by demonstrating they thought she was important enough to treat to a meal. Her refusal actually caused them to "lose face". By refusing their offer, she was saying she didn't think them worthy enough to treat her (or something like that). Face is very important in China, and though foreigners can get away with a lot in this area, it is still good to note this is a major cultural difference. Americans especially don’t consider this in most social situations, we think if you have a proper excuse, turning someone down is ok (and even polite). To a Chinese, any refusal can be interpreted as a loss of “face”, no matter the excuse. 

This encounter reminded me again of how different a culture I live in. I'm assuming that the American tutor was a newbie to China by her reactions, however, I'm no veteran. It was a good reminder to me that I still need to be a learner of the culture and ask for clarification before jumping to conclusions when encountering strange circumstances. 

Have you encountered any "cultural differences" before? How did you handle them?