Author Topic: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?  (Read 4000 times)

gbbi_977

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Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« on: September 25, 2016, 06:42:05 AM »
Hi all,

Maybe this should have gone in 'off topic' but I see we are allowed to ask "life questions" here! So here I go...I worked myself up into a total state about this last night, almost full-on panic attack, and I need some perspective.

I am going to Beijing for 12 days in May next year as part of my job (college prof taking a study tour). I have also been granted a postdoctoral research fellowship which requires me staying on in China for (ideally) another 4-5 weeks on top of those 12 days.

I speak Chinese (rusty though) and have lived in/traveled to China fairly often, although not in about five years. DH works for a large US company. DD is going to be 10 months old in May [currently 2 months - her relative newborn-ness may be contributing to the emotional fragility I feel about all this].

PLAN 1: When I got the grant, I thought I would have DD with me in Beijing for the first 12 days with students; then have DH come for 2 weeks (using annual leave) to look after her while I research, then have him take her home for my last 2 weeks so we each only have to be separated from her/each other for 2 weeks.

PLAN 2: DH found out his company has an office in Beijing, and as we both absolutely loathe being apart from each other, and neither wants to be apart from DD, he asked his boss if he could "hot desk" (i.e. work from Beijing) for awhile. We were thinking we'd both go for the full 6-7 weeks, with DD, and maybe hire a local ayi (nanny) to help with baby.

PLAN 3: DH's boss said "what if I could get you an international assignment - would you be interested?" No certainty on that, but we have to decide if we are interested, and how long we'd be willing to go for - at first I was thinking "Cool, I can relearn Chinese properly, plus financial perks from company (they'd pay for housing + daily stipend) - let's say we're willing to go for 3-4 months."

And then the fear/anxiety (yeah I may have an issue I need help with, this happens to me sometimes) kicked in:

- air pollution in Beijing is atrocious - apparently worse than smoking 1-2 cigarettes a day. Didn't care when it was myself, but a 10 m.o. whose organs are still developing? Google "babies" and "Beijing smog" and you'll see why I am anxious. Can a 10 m.o. even be made to wear a face mask?

- traffic in Beijing is dangerous - again, jumping in a cab with no seat belts was an adventure for me as a solo traveller in my 20s. With a 10 m.o. and no way to secure a car seat? Not so much adventurous as irresponsible. Alternative options: get public transport everywhere and have her in a baby carrier (cue worrying about being crushed in the Beijing subway, potential for airborne illness etc, massive crowds; buses crash as easily as taxis surely) or hire a private car that does have a seatbelt (very expensive but do-able if DH is on an expat assignment).

Those are my main two concerns. Last night I told DH I should just decline the postdoc grant, which would be a terrible idea for my career (it's prestigious and I don't have another job to replace the lost income, I'm an adjunct at the college) but I'm worried about exposing such a little baby to those risks, and feel sick at the thought of leaving her behind (she'd be fine, DH's parents could come and stay at our house to look after her...I just know I'll be miserable without her, and I'd also prefer she could still be breastfeeding at that age).

Any advice? I'm going to send emails to the expats I know in BJ who have kids, and talk to my colleague who led the study tour last year about how often they take taxis etc.

pbkmaine

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2016, 06:47:44 AM »
Send lhamo a PM. She lived in Beijing for years.

MayDay

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2016, 07:12:41 AM »
Well, I don't have the "I can't be separated from my H" feelings.  So there is that.

I'd either have him come for 2 weeks with baby (probably NOT the two weeks that students are there- I assume that will; be pretty busy).  Or I'd have him come for the full 6ish weeks or a bit longer assignment.

I would not want to be separated from a 10 month old for a month, and I wouldn't worry about smog for that short of a time period.  I wouldn't move there for a couple years, though.  In my non-medical opinion, though, a couple months is not going to hurt a baby as long as she doesn't have asthma or something going in. 


Zamboni

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2016, 07:25:27 AM »
Take her with you, but make sure you have someone to help care for her during the times you are working. I wouldn't worry about the smog for a couple of months, although maybe there is some sort of indoor air purifier you could buy? No idea if these things even work.

All of the options for having your husband there seem viable. If you can swing options 2 or 3, then his work should pay for the transportation that has car seats properly secured. Try to minimize commuting by staying as close as possible to your work.

waltworks

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2016, 07:48:11 AM »
I'd leave her home, but I'm super paranoid about air pollution and young kids (having a biochemist wife will do that, apparently) and put her interests ahead of your own.

Academics and children is really hard. My wife will never return to an academic position at this point - the lack of money/respect make it a total dead end when there are kids that you'd like to spend time with as they grow up.

-W

Bicycle_B

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2016, 11:52:11 AM »
Not an expert, just someone not you, and a former traveler to China. Thumbs up for asking these questions.

Guessing that ayi and hot desk are the best options.  Re international assignment for husband, would he get stuck there while you need to return?  Caution on that was what made me vote for hot desk.  Will defer to wiser heads (+1 for lhamo).

Don't give up that grant, push forward on your career.  Baby will be ok if you spend months there rather than years. Even years are not the end of the world, just a risk factor in a world where all life involves a risk element. Plus, all time in China, especially with an ayi, lets her brain absorb those Chinese tones: it's a benefit!  So let her have a mom who lives her dreams and accomplishes things.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2016, 11:58:14 AM by Bicycle_B »

chesebert

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2016, 12:19:34 PM »
Didn't read the OP, but I will offer up my experience living in China.

Do not bring your baby to Beijing, Shanghai or any other major city for any prolonged period. You will need to purchase high-end air purifier for every room of your house (e.g., IQ air is like over RMB10k each and will cost you thousands RMBs in annual filter replacements). You will need to buy and wear mask year around (almost everyday when I was in Shanghai). Children's mask do not fit babies well and your baby will invariably breath in contaminated air. DD hated wearing mask and she was quite a bit older when we were in Shanghai. Try wearing mask when it's 100F+ outside and you will literally faint. Breathing Beijing/Shanghai air is akin to smoking constantly when you a outside. I was in Shanghai when the PM2.5 level went over 600!!! I thought it looked like a nuclear attack that you see only on TV. It was unreal. DD was so happy when we moved back to the States - no more masks!!!

If that is not enough deterrent from moving to China, I can tell you that locally grown vegetables and meats are about as unsafe as it get. Farmers often do not even eat the same vegetables/meats that they sell. This is because these are usually grown on contaminated soil using contaminated water. I recall I read somewhere that almost 90% of all water sources in China are contaminated. I can also recall countless food-related news when I was in China (e.g., contaminated milk, hundreds of dead pigs found in drinking water source, people selling rat meats as other meats, contaminated bottle water..etc.).

Finally, you will need a driver to even get around in Beijing. I was once stuck in an 1hr traffic to go about 100 meters (getting off some ring road). This was in addition to mega traffic jam I encountered every single time I visited Beijing.

My overall sense is not worth it unless you really need the money and can take the risk with respect to you and your family's health. I literally felt like I moved to paradise when I got back to the States.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2016, 12:22:54 PM by chesebert »

Dee18

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #7 on: September 25, 2016, 12:23:49 PM »
Another option to consider: taking a babysitter with you.  My teen daughter went as a short term nanny with an academic attending a conference (in US, not abroad)  You could have this "nanny" for a month, then have your husband over the last two weeks.  Advantages: you could select nanny ahead and have child get to know her; if air quality is bad (or babe gets sick)  nanny and child could stay at hotel while you carry out your duties; you can give your students or other duties your full attention some of the time.   You don't mention what other faculty might be on the trip with you.  Is there someone else to handle the students if you do have an emergency?
 I am an academic who taught in China for 5 months, accompanied by my then 10 year old.  We were in a coastal city with reasonably good air (and seat belts available in the cabs, although we mostly rode buses). We had two trips to Beijing.  For one the air was fine; for the other there was an alert of the highest level of pollution ever recorded (although that has since been surpassed).  We felt ill after just a couple days and left.  Another factor to consider: every child is different, but mine was extremely active at 10 months.  She started walking then and hated being confined in any way.

lhamo

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #8 on: September 25, 2016, 01:47:55 PM »
We moved to Chengdu when my son was 10 months old.  I returned to the US to have my daughter (not comfortable with the medical facilities in Chengdu, esp since I wanted to try for a VBAC -- which didn't work out), and took her back when she was 2 months old.  We moved to Beijing when they were 6 and 2 and they lived there until recently.  In Chengdu, we ate food from local markets (organic options were not widely available) and DS even drank one of the formulas that was later implicated in the melamine scandal.  DS suffered from some issues with chronic tonsil/respiratory/ear infections when he was younger, but surprisingly those seemed to clear up significantly once we moved to Beijing.  IN Beijing I initially attempted to buy more organic food, we bought air filters for the house, etc.  But in the end we switched back to more local food options (including meat and vegetables purchased at the local wet market) and hardly ever used the air filters.  We took taxis all the time and almost never wore seatbelts.  So far at ages 15 and 11, my kids show no adverse health effects.

In other words, we were like millions of parents raising their kids in large cities in China.  Are there risks? Certainly.  But I personally think reactions like cheseberts are a bit over the top.  Especially if you are only considering a short-term stay.  If your DH can get a short-term assignment that allows you not to have to scrimp on housing/amenities and extra help, I see no reason why you shouldn't pursue this opportunity as a family.  But you will want to do so sensibly -- here are some suggestions based on my experience:

1)  Have adequate help.  During the study tour, I would strongly recommend you have   someone full time.  You need to be sure you are able to give your students your full attention.  I would also recommend continuing with full time help during your research.  the grant is a rare/precious opportunity and as an adjunct you REALLY need to show you can be productive

Some options for lining up care include:

a)  Taking along a student.  One of my former grantees did this for a faculty member.  She basically got to tag along on the study tour for free -- she didn't get credit for it as she was not a paying student, but got all the lectures, etc. 

b)  Asking around your expat friends to see if any of them will be on vacation during your study tour -- people often will line up the extra work for their ayis so that they don't lose them during their extended break (the ayis get paid by both parties, so they love the arrangement, too).   Also, many ayis are often looking for jobs on behalf of newly arrived friends/family, so getting the word out can be a good way to locate someone.  I wouldn't recommend leaving the baby with someone inexperienced right off the bat, but assuming the ayi and the baby will be close by and you can keep an eye on them and offer guidance about your expectations during the day, it should be workable.

c)  Working through an agency.  Harder than it sounds.  But again, check with your expat friends to see if they have used an agency with good results. 
 
2)  If you are still breastfeeding at that point, have a pump as a backup because you may find yourself in situations where you can't conveniently feed the baby.  Be prepared to "pump and dump" if necessary -- you might be able to pump, but finding a place to safely freeze or refrigerate the milk can be an issue.  You MIGHT want to consider weaning, or at least switching to partial formula use before the trip.  Jet lag and the different environment can affect both you and the baby in unexpected ways -- you don't want to be trying to deal with low supply or a hunger strike while you are responsible for managing a whole study tour.  FWIW, I weaned my son at 10 months (had to go on an extended field trip for work in remote areas and pump and dump wasn't going to work -- no access to running water to clean the pump in some places, etc and didn't want to risk an infection) and my daughter at 12 months (after she BIT me!  Even drew blood....) and as far as I can tell they suffered no adverse effects. 

3)  I would do whatever you could to ensure your DH gets that temp assignment -- it will make life SOOO much easier for all of you if he is there and being supported.  If that does work out, make sure whatever housing they get you has air filters.  If you end up needing to find your own, you can get cheap but effective air filters that have been shown to work just as well as the expensive ones at http://smartairfilters.com/en/
(Disclosure:  this company was cofounded by one of my former grantees...)

In terms of location, aim to get a place as close as possible to wherever you will be spending the most time during your research.  Especially if you are doing archival research.  The archives mostly close mid-day, so being able to pop home to see the baby will be great.  If that means your DH has a horrible commute, well, tough!  It is easier for him to schlep across town by car/taxi or public transit than it is for you and an ayi to be out all day with a baby.

4)   Food safety -- for short term, you should be fine.  Avoid really low-end restaurants as they are often the place where many of the worst food scandals erupt.  Vary your diet and don't always purchase from the same vendors, just in case.  Most mainstream brands of bottled water are safe as long as you are buying from established markets (don't buy water from little xiaomaibu unless you have to -- lots of counterfeit stuff in those places)

5)  Transportation -- use dididache and confirm before the driver picks you up that you will be using a car seat and that their back seat seatbelts are accessible.    You might luck out and find a friend with a car/driver who will be away all or part of the time you will be there -- if you can sublet their vehicle for a reasonable price, it might be worth it (note that this probably won't be affordable unless your DH gets a full time temp assignment with all the bells and whistles).

I hope this feedback is helpful. 

Do consider consulting someone about your anxiety issues well before you go.  China can be very triggering in many ways!  But I have anxiety issues, including horrible fear of crowds (get panic attacks), and managed to live there for 13 years, so it can be managed -- even without professional help/medication.  I just learned to recognize when I was at the early stages of a freak out and generally could get myself out of the situation.  It led to some awkward moments, but oh well.



redbird

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #9 on: September 25, 2016, 02:02:57 PM »
I'm not a parent, so take my opinion with a grain of salt, but - If it were me, I'd want to leave baby home. It's not even 2 weeks. The harm that the air pollution could possibly do to a human so young doesn't seem worth it.

"I have also been granted a postdoctoral research fellowship which requires me staying on in China for (ideally) another 4-5 weeks on top of those 12 days."

OK, I missed this part. I guess for that length of time, then it might be worth considering. I still would try to avoid it if possible.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2016, 02:04:37 PM by redbird »

purple monkey

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #10 on: September 25, 2016, 06:56:22 PM »
Take her with you, but make sure you have someone to help care for her during the times you are working. I wouldn't worry about the smog for a couple of months, although maybe there is some sort of indoor air purifier you could buy? No idea if these things even work.

All of the options for having your husband there seem viable. If you can swing options 2 or 3, then his work should pay for the transportation that has car seats properly secured. Try to minimize commuting by staying as close as possible to your work.
  +1

ltt

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #11 on: September 25, 2016, 07:56:07 PM »
Having travelled to Beijing several years ago, understand your concerns about the pollution....and water.  However, my first thought immediately went to......there is no way I would take a 10-month old (or any younger child) and have that child taken care of by a complete stranger in a foreign country for any amount of time whatsoever.  I did like the idea from a previous poster of having someone you know from the U.S. who you trust come along with you to look after your 10-month old.  If you can manage that part of it, then you would probably feel more at ease.

meandmyfamily

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #12 on: September 25, 2016, 09:03:15 PM »
I would only do it if the baby can come.  Can your inlaws come too or just Grandma?  We went to Thailand for 25 days with 3 kids ages 9,7 and 18 months and then picked up our new daughter who was 26 months.  My mom came to help.  It was so so much eaiser having a trusted Grandma to leave the kids with and help.  It was such a fun adventure that we can't wait to do it again.  We carried the little ones everywhere in Ergos and hopping in and out of tuk tuks was quite scary, strange and different.  We did hire a van a couple times that had seatbelts. 4 kids without seatbelts in Bangkok was fun and a bit different.  Everyone was so helpful in Bangkok though. They loved the kids.  Not sure how it is Beijing.  I know this isn't quite the same as your situation but I would figure out a way for it to work!  It sounds like a wonderful adventure!  I would ask others with some children what they recommend and find a trust helper/nanny to help you.  Grandma would be ideal!  Good luck!
« Last Edit: September 25, 2016, 09:05:27 PM by meandmyfamily »

expatartist

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #13 on: September 25, 2016, 10:28:13 PM »
Your career is important. This is a great opportunity. If your H can get the hot desk assignment, do it. Re. longer-term, that discussion can come later.

+1 to what Lhamo said.

Air: Pick up a Smart Air purifier for each room (they're cheap and will be fine for your short stay). Particularly want to use them at night. No need for fancy air purifiers, these have the same design http://smartairfilters.com/en/

Health: You've probably read MyHealth Beijing, but this doctor's a sensible voice on health and family in Beijing http://www.myhealthbeijing.com/

Of equal concern to me would be general lack of hygiene (soap and handwashing not common).

Food: You'll want to bring your own formula (check max allowable) if on a budget, safe foreign-made formulas are incredibly expensive.

Roads: Subways can be a drag, but may be safer than a taxi. If I had a babe, I'd consider bodywearing in lieu of a car seat. Or maybe there's a car seat that can double for bodywearing, any parents know?

I lived in Beijing for 4+ years, worked with young people in the international community, lived like a local and like an expat.

chesebert

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #14 on: September 25, 2016, 10:37:50 PM »
PM2.5 exposure above WHO safe level is no joking matter. You may feel fine now, but you never know if your morality has been adversely affected. This came from UK gov and is a summary of WHO studies.

Health Effects of PM: Inhalation of particulate pollution can have adverse health impacts, and there is understood to be no safe threshold below which no adverse effects would be anticipated [1].  The biggest impact of particulate air pollution on public health is understood to be from long-term exposure to PM2.5, which increases the age-specific mortality risk, particularly from cardiovascular causes. Several plausible mechanisms for this effect on mortality have been proposed, although it is not yet clear which is the most important.  Exposure to high concentrations of PM (e.g. during short-term pollution episodes) can also exacerbate lung and heart conditions, significantly affecting quality of life, and increase deaths and hospital admissions. Children, the elderly and those with predisposed respiratory and cardiovascular disease, are known to be more susceptible to the health impacts from air pollution [2].  Potential mechanisms by which air pollution could cause cardiovascular effects are described in the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP) report “Cardiovascular Disease and Air Pollution” (2006) (PDF, 1.75MB, 215 pages).

Abstract from a more recent study relating to PM2.5 in Beijing.
Abstract. Beijing, the capital of China, is a densely populated
city with poor air quality. The impact of high pollutant
concentrations, in particular of aerosol particles, on
human health is of major concern. The present study uses
aerosol optical depth (AOD) as proxy to estimate long-term
PM2:5 and subsequently estimates the premature mortality
due to PM2:5. We use the AOD from 2001 to 2012 from
the Aerosol Robotic Network (AERONET) site in Beijing
and the ground-based PM2:5 observations from the US embassy
in Beijing from 2010 to 2011 to establish a relationship
between PM2:5 and AOD. By including the atmospheric
boundary layer height and relative humidity in the comparative
analysis, the correlation (R2) increases from 0.28 to
0.62.We evaluate 12 years of PM2:5 data for the Beijing central
area using an estimated linear relationship with AOD and
calculate the yearly premature mortality by different diseases
attributable to PM2:5. The estimated average total mortality
due to PM2:5 is about 5100 individuals per year for the period
2001–2012 in the Beijing central area, and for the period
2010–2012 the per capita mortality for all ages due to PM2:5
is around 15 per 10 000 person-years, which underscores the
urgent need for air pollution abatement.

Never know what the long-term effect will be, better be safe than sorry. Always wear your mask when out and about during days when PM2.5 level is 80 or greater (pretty much everyday of the year).
« Last Edit: September 25, 2016, 10:44:30 PM by chesebert »

Pigeon

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #15 on: September 27, 2016, 07:35:43 AM »
I've traveled to China several times, once accompanying a study group of US students.  My kids were adopted from China.

I would jump at the chance to go.  My concern wouldn't be that the child was exposed to smog for a couple of weeks.  Yes, the air quality is poor and there are some justifiable concerns about the quality of food.  But to read some of these posts, you'd think all Chinese children keel over and die before reaching the age of two.  Beijing has plenty of grocery stores that sell food products from the West, and if I were that paranoid about the food, that's what I'd do.  Traffic is terrible, but Beijing is a little better than some other cities in that the cars don't usually drive on the sidewalks quite so much.

My concern would be that I was getting paid to do a job and there's no way I would be able to that job with an infant in tow.  Groups of college kids in a foreign country, where they don't speak the language, require a high level of vigilance, even if they are legally adults, if you are supposed to be in charge of them.  If they get into trouble, it won't be well-received at your institution whether or not the students are over 18.

I would either leave the child home or pay the way for a relative to come.  I also wouldn't be comfortable finding random childcare on the fly in a foreign country.

change_seeker

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #16 on: September 27, 2016, 08:09:27 AM »
We moved to Bangalore, India for 10 months with our 3 year old son and 10 month old daughter for an expat assignment.  My wife was not working, so was able to stay at our rented apartment with the kids.  We hired a housekeeper who occasionally watched the kids.  Overall it was a positive experience, but here are some additional thoughts:

-My wife contracted amoebic dysentery, and was extremely stressed out when told that the course of treatment would force her to stop breastfeeding.  Our daughter was still almost exclusively breastfeeding at that point, so fortunately we found an alternative treatment.  Also, most (if not all) of the additional vaccines recommended for India could not be given to a 10 month old.

-Bangalore is not Beijing, but we took no precautions with air filtration and have not suffered any adverse effects (that we know of).  I biked occasionally while there, and could definitely feel the difference in the air while riding.

-When making our decision, we knew that if we turned down the opportunity, we would always wonder what it would have been like.

norabird

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #17 on: September 27, 2016, 08:24:00 AM »
This sounds like a great opportunity for you all--I have faith you can find an awesome solution!

Dicey

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Re: Beijing: Bring 10 m.o. baby or leave her behind [sob]?
« Reply #18 on: November 28, 2016, 08:15:54 AM »
First, what did you decide?

Second, it looks like your conception thread has been revived. Obviously you were successful, yay! It would be great and even encouraging to others if you would post an update there.