Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Still Here

By Ruth
All the other teachers have returned to China.  Our teammates are back in Weinan, our students are starting back to classes, and it's already almost September!  It's a bit strange to know I'll still be in America for another two months!  We're not used to being around when the summer is ending.  I know it doesn't officially end yet, but I am seeing the first signs that fall is approaching.  School buses are back in route.  The weather has actually been almost cool (meaning not unbearably hot) these past days.  And I have seen two flocks of Canadian geese.  Neither of them were in a hurry to get anywhere.  One flock was leisurely strolling single-file across a parking lot.  So I haven't yet heard the pleasant honking sounds as they fly overhead, something I have really missed in past years, but all of this is a sign of things to come.  By the end of October, when I finally do return to China, fall really will be here!  If I'm awake enough to notice.

I have gotten several sweet/funny emails from students expressing their excitement about the coming baby and wondering when we'll be coming back.  I told one student about how we had received so many baby gifts, and she responded with, "I'm so excited that your baby has become wealthy!"  I can't email students too often though, because they continually remind me that using the computer is bad when you are pregnant.  I don't want to worry them needlessly.

In other news...yeah, there really isn't any other news.  But we'll keep you posted...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Summer of the Flood

By Kevin

All summer long, flooding has ravaged the world. Within the last couple weeks alone, thousands have died and millions people have been displaced in places like Pakistan, central China (including Sichuan, Gansu and Weinan) and northeast China and North Korea (along the Yalu River very close to Tonghua, where I used to live). Floodings apparently followed us home this summer.

As troubling as those floods are, this story isn't about the kind of real life-threatening floods that kill people and ruin lives. This is about the kind of floods that comes from pipes. More of an inconvenience than anything.

Four times in the last few months, we've had to deal with our own floods. Call it the Summer of the Flood.

Flood #1:

It all started in China. As you may remember, Ruth posted about me waking up in the middle of the night wet because water was dripping from the ceiling onto my bed. We were afraid there was a huge water leak, but we discovered that it was due to a leaky hose on Christina's washing machine, which had been pouring water into her laundry porch, then seeping into the floorboards right above our ceiling and percolating down through cracks in our ceiling. Thankfully it was an easy fix and as soon as she replaced the hose, the dripping went away.

Apparently the water troubles followed us home this summer: three times in the last three weeks, we've spent hours trying to get water out of the basement here in Georiga.

Flood #2:

First, the washing machine flooded. Anna had gone down to move her laundry into the dryer and came rushing back upstairs shouting, "the basement is flooded!" The water was a couple inches deep in places, and covered about one-third of the basement floor, but we were able to get it all out with a few hours of sweeping, squeegeeing and Shop-Vacking the soapy floors. When Ruth's Dad got home from work, he figured out what had happened: Apparently a mouse had chewed its way through a plastic hose, making the washing machine unable to shut itself off. He fixed the hose, so we figured that the problem would go away. It didn't.

Flood #3:

A few days later, the washer flooded again. Apparently mice like to eat plastic hoses. I recalled my Honda Civic, which I just sold last month right as we were leaving California (thank you Craigslist). While we were away in China, mice had eaten through the plastic windshield wiper fluid container, prompting my Dad to leave rat poison in a tray under the hood, next to the replacement. This Georgia mouse ate through his second hose in less than a week.

Thankfully, we'd honed the cleanup process a bit, and since most of the boxes in the garage were still displaced from the previous flood, we got the majority of the water out within an hour or so. Washing machine hoses have been replaced with something more indestructible, but a washing machine watch has come into effect any time a load of laundry needs to be done. An exterminator came and trapped the culprits. Ruth's parents decided now's the time to buy a new washing machine. Ruth's mother and sister even went and rescued a cat from a couple on Craigslist looking for a good home for their pet (the local animal shelter apparently only had two waiting for homes, so they branched out) hoping to keep the mice away. If only she'd leave the friendly confines of the carpeted upstairs climb downstairs onto the slippery hardwood floors once in a while, she might drive away the mice. Then again, she might see a mouse and get so frightened that she'd dart right back upstairs. She's still a bit jumpy.

Flood #4:

The fourth incident came last night. It was late and I couldn't sleep. So, after an hour of tossing and turning, somewhere around 1 a.m., I decided to go into the other room to read a bit. The refrigerator was making some strange sounds, but I figured that it was just the ice maker, since it sometimes emits some strange groans and Ruth's Dad had just fixed a problem with it last week.

An hour later, when I figured I was finally tired enough to get some sleep, I made my way through the kitchen and found myself sloshing through water. I rushed and turned on the light. Water was seeping out from under the fridge. A huge puddle had formed in front of it. I didn't want to wake everyone else, so I grabbed some towels and sopped up the mess so the hardwood floors wouldn't be ruined. Then I realized that water was still coming out. I rushed down to the basement, looking for a shutoff valve to turn off the water (keep in mind, this is Ruth's parent's home, so I don't know where these valves are).

Flipping on the light and turning the corner, I couldn't believe my eyes.

The floor was flooded. Again. I stared in dismay. Water was seeping through the ceiling. At least this time the washing machine wasn't the culprit.

I woke up Ruth and she awakened her parents. We repeated the same process as with the washing machine in hopes of saving the basement from mold damage. Thankfully, the water was only an inch deep and limited thus far to about a quarter of the basement, but it was the same part as had flooded before. We realized that water was seeping into the fuse box, so we turned off the power to that section of the basement so we wouldn't get electrocuted. Ruth's father sopped out the water and covered it. We set to work on moving work benches, covering tools and squeegeeing the water out. Candy kept saying, "You're never going to want to come home again."

By 3:30 a.m., we had turned on the dehumidifier (something I never would have dreamed of, coming from dry Southern California, where we use swamp coolers to ADD humidity to the air), dried up the rest of the water under the fridge, and gone back to bed.

For the first time I can remember, it was a blessing that I couldn't sleep. I can't imagine how flooded the basement would have been in the morning otherwise, considering this was probably less than an hour's worth of flooding. But now we can't help but wonder, when will it happen again? What other appliance will fall apart and flood the basement? It's gotten to the point where, when Ruth's Mom calls home, she starts by asking, "Has anything else gone wrong?"

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Waiting for Baby

by Ruth
I've heard that women often experience a burst of "nesting" energy shortly before going into labor when they suddenly feel motivated to get everything organized.  Clearly I am not about to go into labor.

It's a shame that pregnancy is such a non-productive time because right now I have more free time than I probably will in the next 20 years.  I still have another five weeks until baby is due, and basically I'm just hanging around waiting.  I'm not exactly complaining about having nothing to do.  If there is ever a time in my life when I am content to sit around doing nothing all day, this is probably it.  And I have things I could do.  I have some nice little to-do lists made up. Sometimes I contemplate actually doing something from the list.  And then I take a nap.

So what have we been doing in these past weeks of waiting?

Well, I have just entered the weekly doctor visit phase, and boy I'm glad to not be traveling 12 hrs to get there!  Actually, my "doctor" is a midwife, and I just love her!  Many people are confused because they think midwife=home birth, but this is not necessarily the case.
Statistical interlude: The percentage of home births in the US has remained at less than 1% while the percentage of midwife attended births had increased  (statistics vary on this, maybe somewhere around 4-8% of US births are midwife attended).  Interestingly, according to WHO, about 75% of European births are attended by midwives.  All countries with lower "perinatal" mortality rates than the US, I might add.

In my case, I have a certified-nurse midwife who works in a hospital.  I can't say I honestly did a bunch of research and after thoughtful deliberation I decided this was the best choice.  I did what I have done for most of my pregnancy and childbirth related decisions: I copied my cousin. :)  She just had a baby last year and highly recommended this midwife and hospital.  And since I wasn't getting here until 3/4 of the way through my pregnancy, having a good recommendation seemed like the way to go.

But now that I have met with this midwife several times, I am so glad I "happened" upon this choice.  I saw 5 different doctors in Thailand, China, and California over the course of the pregnancy, none of whom were bad, but when I finally met with my midwife here I thought, "She's amazing!"  Here are the reasons why I love her:
1. She actually spends time with you instead of rushing in and rushing out.
2. She takes time to answer questions and explains things.
3. She doesn't make me feel dumb or annoying for any of the questions I ask.
4. She seems to be flexible instead of "there is only one right way, and it's my way."  She encourages natural childbirth but isn't one of those people who think you're less of a woman if you opt for drugs.
5. She seems to think it's perfectly normal that we live in and are returning to China.  Which I realize is not a defining reason for choosing a doctor or anything, but it's still pretty cool.

In general, midwives take the approach that most childbirth is a natural process, not a medical problem that needs to be solved.  It's great that we have all the medical interventions when they are needed, but let's not use them just because they are there and we feel like we have to do something.  Also, midwives are apparently around to offer support during a lot of the labor and delivery instead of just popping in at the last minute.

So, there is my plug for midwives.  Or at least, for my midwife.

Other than going to the doctor frequently, we have been attending childbirth class, another advantage of being in the States during this time.  Our childbirth instructor asked us to describe our ideal birth experience and I thought, "Um, I don't know?  I can't say I've thought too much about it.  I'm glad that the doctor and nurses will speak English..."  So far we have talked about things like the stages of labor and different labor positions to try (who knew, you don't have to just lie in bed the whole time like in the movies).  I also created a "birth plan."  I tried to picture coming into a Chinese hospital (maybe not the fancy one in Beijing, but one of your other average hospitals) and saying, "This is my birth plan."  I think they would laugh a lot and then probably cart me off for a c-section.  In the general Chinese hospital, the husband isn't even allowed to be present during labor and delivery.  And somehow I doubt they have quite the same "create your own ideal labor...it's all about you" idea.  It seems like one of those individualist kind of things.
Statistical interlude: According to a NY Times article earlier this year, the US cesarean rate has reached 32% and in China the rate is approaching 50%.  The recommended level, according to WHO, is about 15%.
 Additionally, I have been wading through the piles of baby items we have received.  Have no fear; our child will be well clothed.  I only hope she won't grow to expect this much in later life, unless we can continue to get this many cute clothes without having to buy any of them.  I contemplate how we will get it all back to China and try to imagine what our students will think, when they were already a little overwhelmed by the 5 baby things we had in Weinan.

The item I am currently most excited about is our incredibly cool "Peapod" baby tent!  This travel bed can be used for infants through about three years, weighs less than 5 lbs, and folds up into a little 14" round travel bag.  Take that, Pack n' Play!

On my to-do list for the next month:
- Pack hospital bag...you'd think you were moving to China for all the things they tell you to bring
- Figure out how this whole baby passport/visa process will work
- Read books about childbirth and babies (I have recently developed quite an interest in this subject...)
- Make a baby quilt
- Wash a bazillion baby clothes
- Take a lot of naps

And perhaps...
- Have baby

That's right...we're just over one month (though still 5 weeks) from due date - September 23rd!

Playing with my new stroller.  And a baby doll.  Because I am very grown up.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Funny Places

What we look like these days (except this is a week old, so I now look about twice as pregnant.)

by Ruth
The South is a funny place.  Everybody smiles and waves at you on the street, but they're liable to shoot you if they find you trespassing on their property.  They might yell at you first, or call in the dogs, but you can bet they've got a shotgun nearby.  I shouldn't spread these stereotypes because some of you nice Californians who have never been to Georgia are now thinking it's more dangerous than the shady parts of LA, and that's really not true.  All you have to do is talk to someone with a good Southern accent and you'll swear they are the nicest person you've ever met, all shotguns aside.  There's nothing like a good Southern accent.  Except maybe a nice fried-apple pie from the Varsity.

Anyway, we have indeed come to rest in the land of shotguns and fried-apple pies, aka Georgia.  I think it gets more humid every time I'm here, but probably I've just become one of those dry-climate wimps who can't handle a little air-oppression.  Or the 7 months pregnant could have something to do with it.  I have now officially entered the "no-fly" zone.  For most people, not being able to fly for a couple of months wouldn't seem like a big deal.  But for me, it's pretty weird.  After all, let us not forget the 68 flights in the past 5 years. It reminds me of "entering the time of confinement" back in the olden days.

We've been enjoying our summer in the States so far.  One of the best things has been all the time we've spent with friends.  Yes, even better than Taco Bell.  We both miss friends so much while we are gone.  I forget that some people have friends they see more than once a year.  Weird thought.  I love laughing and being sarcastic, seeing friends' kids who are twice as big as last time but still remember you, calling someone up and saying, "Let's hang out," and actually looking at someone while talking to them, with no web-cam delays.  I'll never get tired of that.

I always enjoy being back in America, but this summer has been different because I realized I don't really want to live here.  Which is good since I probably won't be for at least some time.  I enjoy the novelty of it all but recognize that Taco Bell wouldn't be quite so exciting if I drove past it every day.  There are still things I really like about America, things even deeper than Taco Bell.  Like friends that you actually see more than once a year.  And (especially right now) the reassurance of knowing you can easily get to a good doctor if anything goes wrong.  The overabundance of A/C (ok, we're moving back toward shallow...).  Not being the crazy foreigners that everyone stares at.  Our kids being able to grow up around their grandparents and aunts and uncles.  But lately, I can't quite picture living here.  Now that we've been away, coming back would never be quite the same.

We were visiting the other day with some friends who are about to move to China and talking about some of the things we like about it.  It really made me miss China and our students and our apartment and the little restaurants we go to every week and the smiling old ladies who sit by the school gate.  There are still things I really don't like about China, but often I can just shake my head and say, with fond amusement, "China is a funny place." 

Similar to the way I shake my head in amused camaraderie and say, "Ah, the South.  With its shotguns and apple pie.  It's weird, but there's nothing quite like it."