The Hot Pot Blog

December 17, 2010

Reverb 10 11-15 (Getting There!)

December 11 – 11 Things What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life? (Author: Sam Davidson)

I’m not sure if this question refers to material things or less tangible thing but since living in China has surprisingly led me to cut back on most shopping, I’m going to have to go less tangible on this one.  Do you want to give up your clothes/shoes/random Target finds/household purchases?  Move to China!  I’m serious, I get excited to shop for toothbrushes these days because that’s about the most exciting thing I buy.

1. Waiting for direction instead of forging my own path

2. Procrastination.

3. Couch Inertia-the phenomenon of starting out the day on the couch because the air is smoggy and then spending the rest of the day there canceling any plans to go out because, well the air is still smoggy, and the couch is warm and comfortable.  Sure its nice once in awhile but this can not become our winter coping strategy-no matter how armageddon-like it looks outside.

4. Reading 4 or 5 different newspapers in their entirety every day or two instead of doing something productive–except I can’t give up The Atlantic, don’t make me!  I need their giant in-depth investigative pieces on topics I’ve never thought about before.

5. Feeling guilty about walking by household chores that I’m ignoring instead of taking 5 or 10 minutes to tackle one of them

6. Thinking about the rest of our tour here as an endurance test rather than an opportunity to keep learning

7. Holding my breath during the morning commute for fear of all of the scooters racing out in front of us into oncoming traffic, breathing is better

8. Saying I’ll work out “tomorrow” (exempting some present limitations though)

9. Leaving my headphones at home all the time-or lending them to Chris and mysteriously never seeing them again 🙂

10. Getting up at 7am on weekends.  Now really, why?  The ability to sleep in is a privilege!  I need to take advantage of it while we still can!

11. Inwardly groaning about pollution and no sunshine, thinking about it won’t change anything, better to just pretend this is normal-the way I did when we first got here.

December 12 – Body Integration This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present? (Author: Patrick Reynolds)

This feeling comes most naturally while I’m running.  Running is like a form of meditation for me-and it comes more easily to me than sitting quietly with my eyes closed.  I haven’t run much this year but I do remember one run on a treadmill in early fall.  It was after work and I wasn’t expecting a good run but after a five minute warm up I felt good, really good.  I had some really early Shakira playing and not a single thought in my head except how good I felt.  It was one of those days that, no matter how much higher I pushed the speed dial, I still felt good, relaxed, loose, breathing heavily but easily.  One of those runs you live for, that you keep running for.

December 13 – Action When it comes to aspirations, it’s not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step? (Author: Scott Belsky)

Next steps: Bidding/finding out where we are headed next in February or March and then, with that information in mind, either applying for Master’s program, reaching out to my network in that country, or getting serious about breaking into the free-lancing writing thing.

December 14 – Appreciate What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it? (Author: Victoria Klein)

At the risk of sounding really predictable, what I appreciate most this year is my hubs, Chris, my best friend and partner in crime.  I’m grateful everyday for the fact that I’m married to a man who I fall asleep with smiling every night.  Who I can’t stop hugging, and if I’m going to be totally honest, whose cute butt I can’t stop grabbing.  A partner who is patient and mature and creative enough to weather any storm and keep us both smiling and laughing through it.

Today as we got into the Beast to go to work, I realized that it’s literally been years since I’ve had to close the door after I get into the car in the morning.

When we first started dating I protested Chris’ chivalry, the fact that, every single time, I got in the car he would open the door for me, make sure my coat was tucked in, and close the door for me before walking around to the driver’s seat.  It might sound hopelessly silly or anti-feminist but now its just one more reminder everyday of how good I’ve got it and how loved I should feel, everyday.

December 15 – 5 Minutes Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010. (Author: Patti Digh)

-Hiking the back side of Qing Cheng Shan in the sunshine on Labor Day

-Taking Chris wayyyy “up North” to meet my 90 year old grandpa for the first time, hiking around my grandfather’s land and my mom’s old stomping grounds with Chris, my parents, sis, and aunt and uncle.

-Laughing and eating too much sushi and drinking too much sake with Chris and all of our friends to celebrate my birthday

-Driving down to Charlottesville from D.C. one last time before China to see Chris dad (I love that drive)

-Our hike at the Battle of Bull Run park, our last hike before we moved

-My last long walk home from the office before we moved, it was unseasonably warm, 65 degrees, sunny and perfect as I walked the 5 miles home down rock-creek parkway after my surprise going away party.  I stopped every few minutes it seemed to take photos of the budding flowers on my phone

-Walking on the beach in Malaysia next to Chris, making crazy plans and digging our toes into the sand

-First dim sum at Shangri-La in Chengdu with Chris

-Our last sushi date at the place where all the Japanese diplomats go in DC

-Hanging out in Dupont Circle on Easter Sunday with my best friend Lennon, sipping on juice and talking about life for hours on a sunny afternoon

-Frozen yogurt with my family before leaving for China

-Bad Chinese food with our close friends a few nights before we left for China

-Cherry blossoms in the DC spring time

-The one or two truly clear beautiful days in Chengdu before the fall

-Riding the upper deck of the tram and walking around Hong Kong Thanksgiving weekend with Chris and his mom

Reverb 10 Catch-Up 6-10 Woo hoo!

Here we go: 6-10 🙂

December 6 – Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? (Author: Gretchen Rubin)

The last thing I made was a holiday card, using watercolors and a pen.  Before making the card, I hadn’t drawn a thing in years.  I’ve always assumed that because I am more “brainy,” I am therefore less “artistic” and less capable of drawing or painting something satisfactory. Turns out that, it’s true, I’ll never be the world’s next…(insert: whoever else is famous right now in the art world).  But you know what?  I can still draw and paint this that I like and that make me happy.  And I guess that’s sort of the name of the game when you aren’t going to get rich and famous anyway.

For next year’s “make,”  If I ever buy a sewing machine, I’d love to take a bunch of Chris’ oldest, softest work shirts and turn them into a little quilt.  I’ve been saving them for nearly 3 years now for just that purpose.

December 7 – Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? (Author: Cali Harris)

I’ve discovered a couple of new communities this year.  The online foreign service spouse community is deep and wide and inspiring.  In addition, here in Chengdu, we’ve found a little community of people somewhat similar to us who enjoy throwing ambitious dinner parties, pushing the boundaries of what we thought possible for homemade food, etc.  Schedules and different interests and committments on the weekends sometimes keep us from hanging out too often, but if we want a good meal with great conversation and good  people, we still always know how to call.

December 8 – Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful. (Author: Karen Walrond)

I’m not exactly sure what makes me different. Here are my best guesses:

My best friends know that if they throw a big party or a big event with a lot of people I don’t know, I probably won’t come, no matter how much I love them.  But if they need help moving across town, or just need someone to come over in the middle of the night for a hug and some ice cream, they know I’m their girl.  I rarely accompany my best friends out to the bars for crazy “woah what happened?” nights but I’ll never stand them up for a coffee date the next day to hear all about it either.

I crave a ying and yang balance of analytical and number-crunching tasks and more creative work.  I love spreadsheets but only if I’m also writing or editing phtos or designing some sort of presentation piece on the side.  If I’m writing a lot, you can bet I’m also procrastinating by playing with a spreadsheet-or cleaning.  Our house is never cleaner than when I have something to write and another 3 days to finish it.

Children’s development and education fascinates me.  I can read studies about that stuff like it’s chick-lit on a sunny day at the beach.  Yet I’ve never considered becoming a teacher until the last year.

I want to open my own cafe/tapas/bakery place one day.  Preferably on Mount Pleasant Road in DC.  I want to have a bagged-lunch service that my customers can sign up for-complete with  fun notes tucked in and cookie-cutter-shaped sandwiches if they want.

I don’t follow any organized religion, but I do believe there is something bigger than us, balancing out the universe.  I believe in gratitude and treating everyone with respect and kindness.  I believe in free will and a little bit of fate at the same time.  I I believe the darkest hour is always just before dawn.  Something always happens to help give you a lift out of your darkest moments.

December 9 – Party Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans. (Author: Shauna Reid)

The party that rocked my socks off was not much of a party, in fact, it was just brunch.  A few weeks before Chris and I left DC.  We made some scones and biscuits and picked up a few things from the corner bakery and invited our nearest and dearest DC friends over for the morning.

It was an unseasonly warm day and we took the party out onto the top balcony.  With no furniture left in the house, we laid out on camping pads and played board games until the early afternoon, picking at the leftover scones and cheese as we went.

I remember wearing a drapy top with giant orange and white flowers (same shirt I wore to get married at the courthouse in). It kept falling off my shoulders and I would feel that delicious sensation of golden sunshine casting a warm glow on my pale winter skin.  Everyone kept shedding layers of turtlenecks and sweaters and heavy boots as the sun rose higher in the fantastically unseasonable weather.

It wasn’t meant to be our final hurray.  It wasn’t even anything that special.  But schedules being what they are, the craziness of the moving to China, that morning ended up being our last really lovely gatherg with our friends.  Just a beautiful, relaxing, peaceful morning with good food and good friends popping in and out over the course of the day.

December 10 – Wisdom Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out? (Author: Susannah Conway)

The wisest decison I made this year…hmmm.  It honestly doesn’t feel like I made many wise decisions!!  Looking back, I can only think of every decision I would have made differently!!  Most of those decisions I made poorly because I didn’t know any better.

As much as they try to prepare you for life in the Foreign Service, there really is a limit to how much you can understand before you are living it.  That being said, we’ve learned a lot from a lot of our decisions, both good and bad.

We’ve learned that, when the post report says its hard to find jobs on the local economy, it probably is true.  Waltzing in on a hope and a prayer doesn’t work.  Next time I’ll know to do better research during bidding and to tap my network and build new relationships long before we leave for our next post.

We’ve learned that while we love the great outdoors, we prefer being able to come home to a bustling big city full of diversity in people, food, cultures, etc.  We love seafood and sunshine too much to ever live this far inland again, if we can help it. We’ve learned that we really care about air quality and food safety much more than we thought.

We know we probably won’t be in places as cosmopolitan and close to the seaboard as our beloved D.C., too often, but being able to articulate what we value and what we ideally want to avoid helps us set our priorities in a way we weren’t able to before.

Maybe there is something wise in that, learning from experiences to make better decisions for the future.

December 13, 2010

Reverb 10 Catching Up 1-5

I’m late to this ballgame.  In fact, I’m feeling a little behind on everything lately.

No messing around here. This is a fact.  There’s a box of Christmas decorations and baking ingredients sitting, waiting, staring sadly at me every time I walk through our front door.

Who knew a USPS box could ever look so forlorn and neglected.

There are Christmas presents to be purchased, and better yet, mailed!

There are mountains of laundry and magazines.  There are tape measures and hair-ties and napkins-filled piles of “how did that get there!’ all over our den.

I swear there is a good reason for all of this.  But that’s not enough to make me feel good about it.

Which is why now I’ve tugged myself into an upright position to work on this Reverb project.

Because its tangible.  Because I’ve been writing near nothing lately.  Because if I don’t do something productive soon, I might lose my mind…or my will.  Not sure which will be the first to go… Just kidding.  🙂  I’m not counting on losing either…unless we are talking about the will to resist pretzel M&Ms, and really why bother?  Resistance is futile!


I’m going five at a time until I catch up or finish-whichever comes first.  So here goes:

Prompt #1: December 1 – One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? (Author: Gwen Bell)

2010 in a word: Adapt.  Holy hell.  I moved to China and what do you know?  My world turned over and morphed into something almost unrecognizable overnight.  I quit my job and adapted to (a surprisingly pleasant) 5 months of unemployment.  I learned a whole new language and adapted to a whole new city in a whole new country.  There were days that I spoke nothing but Mandarin from 8-5 because it was literally my only option.  I’ve adapted to moving around in a country that I don’t always understand, nor even particularly like everyday.

I adapted to a level of interdependence with my husband that I never experienced before.  I adapted to a social scene that sometimes feels so vintage 1950, completely different from my crunchy, non-profit and slightly-hipster scene in D.C.

I’ve adapted to living in a place where I never take for granted a blue sky, a slice of sunshine, or a day clear enough for me to take a deep belly breath.

Adapt isn’t necessarily the same thing as accept.  There is hardly a morning that goes by that I don’t long for a nice long run through the National Zoo, but I’ve adapted.

The world for 2011?  Hopefully it’s completion.  I want to start projects AND finish them.  I want to write a novel that has an ending. I want to actually act upon all of the ideas for parties and posts and projects and jobs in my head and have them come to fruition.

Prompt #2 December 2 – Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? (Author: Leo Babauta)

Right now it’s two things: the overwhelming urge to sleep and fear.  Sleep, I can’t do anything about right now.  The second one I can.

I’m afraid of starting to write and not finishing it. (sensing a theme here?)  The number of unfinished novels and stuff in my trunk of elementary and middle school projects is astounding.  I’ve got 45 pages of historical novel about a girl on the Oregon Trail.  I’ve got 35 pages worth of a rather silly gymnastics, coming of age story.  There’s another 20 pages of some Viking adventure, 15 pages of a rather poor contemporary mystery, and the list goes on.

As a kid my passably good writing excused a lot of “part 2 to come…” endings for my teachers.  That and the fact that part one was always a good 15 pages over the assigned length may have had something to do with it.

As a slightly older kid, I’m no better.  In fact, I’ve come up with an even better strategy for avoiding completion: never starting in the first place.  Starting means I’d feel bad if I didn’t finish.  Finishing a story means that its time to reflect on whether my feverish efforts have culminated in a piece of truly heinous attempt at literature.  For some reason, I’m never up for that.  Hopefully 2011 will be better.

Prompt # 3 December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)

This might seem strange, but my moment isn’t from China.  It’s from India, where I spent a good 3 weeks in early 2010 getting ready for the most insanely intense work project I’ve ever taken on.

The moment is from the first morning of my trip.  I woke up around 6 in the morning after arriving at my guest house around 4am.  As I had counted on, the internet was not yet functional.  I had no way to call home, let Chris or my folks know I had gotten in ok.

Just over 2 years prior, I had gone through the same thing on my first stay in India.  I woke up early to a quiet and unfamiliar house of cool tile floors, antique looking ceiling fans and more bugs than I knew what to do with.  Unable to call home, I cried like a baby.  I had never felt so alone.

(An aside: In an attempt to distract myself from my misery on that fateful morning, I picked up the only book I had at 5am: Anna Karenina.  Wow, hands-down the worst, most depressing, homesick-coping strategy ever!!!)

This time though, I felt at home, at peace.  Like I’d already been through a ringer with India and we’d come through it to become old friends.  Lacking internet, I made my bed, straightened up my room, and headed out to the large balcony to get my bearings and do some writing.

I remember the feel of the sun rising, the dry warm breeze on the back of my neck.  The bright pink flowers in the garden to the left.  I looked over the balcony and saw a whole world waking up below.  Little boys in bright white caps playing football in the street before school.  Women in saris hanging laundry up.  I smelled the homey, heady aroma of chai being made in the kitchen behind me.  I could hear the little propane stove crackling to life and the scrapping sound of furniture being pushed back into a place by houseboys who moved it out of the way every night to sleep on the floor in the sitting room.

And I knew that everything would be ok.  That I’d be able to get on the internet soon, that me and the 9 men I was sharing the guest house with would eventually get over the awkward first days, that my colleagues would arrive in a few weeks, and that eventually I’d get to return home to my husband, my family, and my life.

Those next few weeks were trying, hellish even.  There were plenty of nights we slept 2 or 3 hours before getting up with the sun to start working again.  But that first morning, all I knew was that I was back in India and that in a strange way, I felt happy to be home.

Prompt # 4 December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)

This year, for a period of just over 3 months, I attempted to document at least one thing everyday that I noticed about living in China.  Somedays I wish I had kept going because those were the days that I think I came to know China the best, that I found the most little reasons to enjoy our time here.

Prompt #5: December 5 – Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

This year I let go of the notion that I will have an incredibly successful and ambitious career in the non-profit/humanitarian sphere.  And surprisingly, I’m ok with that.

In this foreign service life, there will be plenty of opportunities to do good (except maybe in countries like China).  Whether or not these opportunities come with a snazzy job title and an interview with NextBillion as well, frankly it doesn’t matter as much to me anymore.

What matters to me is that I treat everyone kindly and with respect, no matter who they are.  That if the opportunity to do good presents itself, that I take it.  That I act and write with the goal of making someone’s life better, in some small, tiny way.

What matters to me is that Chris and I teach our kids someday by doing.  That they learn to be stewards of the environment, kind people, and strive to build a better world because of the examples we provide and the activities we value as a family.

My work in the non-profit/humanitarian sphere is far from over.  In fact, I hope that if I have another office job after China, (likely) it’s for a humanitarian organization or school, etc.  I’m just not quite as hung up on the ego-pleasing aspects of it now.  I’m sure my ego will rear its ugly head in plenty of time for our next post, but for now, I’m at peace.

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