The Hot Pot Blog


March 31, 2012

Love this Kid…

8 month old crawling

Its official, 8 months is the coolest age yet.

A few days ago, Will learned how to crawl.  Today, he figured out how to open up a cabinet and pull out everything inside.  The trash bin in the kitchen is a new, endless source of fascination.

Granted, this is a rather inconvenient time to have to baby-proof an apartment, what with us vacating in less than 2 weeks, but even so.  It’s amazing how quickly Will went from being a rather cute but mostly passive creature, to a curious little exploring machine, scooting around on chubby little legs with a big drooly grin on his face.  Lately he’s taken to crawling into my lap mid-play.  He puts his hands on my legs and then waits for me to scoop him up for a hug and a few kisses on the top of his downy little head.  After a few seconds he wriggles out of my lap, cuddle quota fulfilled and ready to play again.  He may be content with just a few hugs and snuggles at a time, but I can’t get enough.  Of his cuddles, of that serious look on his face when he’s concentrating so hard on his toys, on the look of sheer joy as he scoots across the room, so thrilled with himself and his new found powers.

He’s becoming such a social creature.  When we laugh, he laughs.  When we’re smiling, he smiles.  He gets bashful, he gets excited.  Under no circumstances does he want to sleep when Mamma and Daddy have friends over for dinner and there are new and interesting people around to hang out with.

I know the older Will gets the more complicated parenting him becomes, but I can’t help but feel like its also getting a lot more fun.  We’re so lucky to have him.

March 28, 2012

A Letter to 8 Month Old Will

8 month old baby

Dear Will,

The sun is shining here in Chengdu as I draft this letter to you and it is so fitting–this has been such a sunny, happy month with you.  Not to say that any past months were any less happy, but this month it just feels like we got to know you so much better.  We’ve listened to so much laughing and received so many smiles.   It’s honestly been pure joy to get to hang out with you all day.

Last month I wrote that we seemed to be enjoying a short calm before a storm of new developments.  Whether my forecast was Mama’s intuition or sheer dumb luck, it turned out to be true.  We celebrated so many fun “firsts” this month, so many that this letter feels a lot more boastful than any previous letters, but I can’t help it.  I read somewhere that the last few months of a baby’s first year are often accompanied by a sudden uptick in learning and development and that seems to be a pretty accurate description of the past few weeks.  It feels like every day you master a new trick and we love watching your face light up with understanding when you learn something new.

In Guangzhou you mastered getting up into a sitting position from your tummy and visa versa.  It seemed like crawling was imminent but it took a few more weeks, a visit from Nai Nai, some strategically placed plastic bags and the irresistible allure of the iPad to get you to take your first wobbly steps on hands and knees last weekend.  You still like to stop and pull back into a sitting position for a rest after every few steps, but its so fun to see you actually able to move in the direction you want to go.  Your first steps reminded me a little of a baby turtle wobbling and flopping towards the sea, but everyday you get a little faster and stronger.  It won’t be long before we are racing to catch up to you.  Already, taking this month’s photos proved to be challenging in a way I wasn’t ready for–you kept crawling out of the frame to reach for my camera strap!

Learning to crawl was such a long and involved process around here, so it came as a total surprise this month when you began pulling up to a stand within days of figuring out crawling.  Now you love standing up next to the coffee table and holding on with one hand for balance while using the other to grab at whatever forbidden items Daddy and I have tried to hide from you on top.  You are still a little too short to pull up on most things, but with a tiny boost from us or your crib rails, you pop up to a sturdy stand so easily now-always with a giant smile on your face.  You still get adorably tangled up when you try to take steps, but you seem bound and determined to try anyway.

Opening and closing your board books is a great source of entertainment these days and you like to grab my hands and clap them together to hear the sound they make.  I’ve been trying to teach you how to clap your hands for months, but apparently clapping my hands for me is much more fun.  You’ve reached that stage where you’ve begun to enjoy methodically taking toys out of your toy box one at a time and examining each one briefly before pulling the next item out for inspection.  It’s funny to watch you working through your pile of toys with such a serious look of concentration on your face; next we’ll have to teach you how to put them all back in at the end of the day!

In the food department, I’ve nearly given up on getting you to like my homemade baby food as its clear you vastly prefer either the perfectly-smooth store-bought purees or “real food” to the purees of carrots and lentils and peas that I’ve made for you.  That’s alright Will, you’ll eat my food eventually right?  Until then, we know you love all things fruit-including prunes and pears and mangoes and apples.  You tried a banana, orange, pineapple and flax seed smoothie at baby group and loved it.  You’ll eat veggies when paired with fruits and you seem surprisingly fond of the Greek yogurt I found in Guangzhou for you.  Slices of avocados, cucumbers, cooked squash and crusts of wheat bread are also hit and you’ve begun reaching for all of our food with increasing interest and accuracy.  Some days you still want nothing but nursing but those days are becoming less and less frequent.

We’re still waiting for some serious babbling but, in the meantime, you seem much more intent on communicating what you want and don’t want through grunts and whines and a variety of coos.  You love bath time and you don’t like when we take toys away from you.  You’ve also gotten quite set in your routines, for better or for worse.  If I try to nurse you at night before your bath, you’ll have none of it, no matter how hungry you are.  Nursing comes only after bath-time in your world.

You’re still waking up many, many more times a night than I’ll admit to the general public but you are going down more easily most evenings and occasionally you’ll even sleep in until 7 or 7:30am.  On the other hand, your naps are getting shorter and shorter.  Instead of sleeping you prefer to play, play, play!  I’m afraid you will give up your morning nap far sooner than I’d like you to!

This month we saw the beginning of some stranger anxiety.  You used to give your smiles so freely to everyone on the street, but these days you need a little more time to get used to people.  When waitresses try to pick you up at restaurants, your face crumples up and you bawl until you are back in my arms, at which point you immediately turn around to give your fans a watery little smile through your tears.  Sometimes when we have crowds of people around us baby-talking to you, you bury your head in my chest and just look out with one eye at everyone.  It melts my heart into a big pile of good right there in the middle of the market.

Speaking of the market, this is the last monthly letter I’ll write you from Chengdu.  Next month we will be in Washington D.C. for your 9 month “birthday.”  Hard to believe that in just a few weeks we’ll be taking you back across the world to see your grandparents in Wisconsin and Virginia.  They all can’t wait to see you.  I just hope leaving your home here won’t be too hard on you.  You’ll spend so much of your childhood on planes and moving across the world little one, but I hope you know that as long as you have Mama and Daddy with you, you are always home.  You are our sweet little man and we aren’t going anywhere without you.

All of our love,

Mama

8 month old boy smile

8 month old baby crawling

March 26, 2012

A Few Things…

baby and daddy laughing

1. What with all of the “omg we are leaving China in less than 3 weeks and we have not started getting ready!” going on around here, I foresee quite a few more of these stream-of-consciousness posts and lots more typos before we head back to America for a few months and then onwards to New Delhi.

2. I’m slowly, slowly getting my new site up and going and I’ll do a big debut with a bunch of Chengdu pictures soon.  For now though, a Will & Chris photo from a few weeks ago!  It’s been sort of nerve-wracking trying to design this new site knowing I basically have the deadline of pack-out to get all of the photos edited and everything the way I want it.  I’m not particularly proud of the photos, I see so many flaws!  The site looks nothing like the super clean, aesthetically-pleasing wonder I wish it was, but I’m no web designer so I suppose it will take some time to work out the bugs.  The writing?  Well, I’ve worked hard on it but its hard to ever call it all finished.  I’m trying really hard not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good so hopefully I’ll share the address soon.  Until then, work work work!

3. We’ve had insanely beautiful clear skies and clean air the last few days.  No idea which big important person was in town but I do know exactly how many people were outside enjoying the gorgeous weather: everybody, every single person in Chengdu.

4. The other day I saw a truly ancient couple shuffling slowly down the street, pushing a wheelchair.  As I got closer I realized they were arguing with each other about who needed to ride in it more.  Neither wanted to give in and admit they could really use a rest and so they both just kept limping along, pushing the empty wheelchair.  I’m going to have to write book someday and put that scene in it.

5. On the same day I saw the old couple with the wheelchair, I also saw an all-out brawl at a gas station.  A young man in a trendy blazer seemed to have hit a young woman’s car and caused a bit of a smokey mess.  She tearfully thrust a cellphone in his face over and over and he kept shoving her out of his way, not making eye contact.  When he tried to leave the gas station premises, all 8-10 gas station attendants jumped on him as a crowd of about 150 people watched.  Men, women everyone was on the ground pushing and shoving and shouting.  Interesting.  In China people do have car insurance but it doesn’t work the way it does in the U.S.   Instead of filing claims and then receiving payment, you pay off the victim first and receive a reimbursement later.  Of course, who really wants to pay out of pocket and wait for a reimbursement?  No one does.  Hence all of the drama and brawling over every single little fender bender.

6. We made about 100 spinach and pork dumplings this weekend, hopefully enough to get us through a few meals after all of our stuff is packed up and we don’t feel like cooking anymore.  Today’s project is boiling and baking 2 dozen cinnamon-raisin bagels for a “coffee social” and for Chris and I to live off of after I pack up my bread pan next week.  Next week!  Already!

7. Chris’ mom came to visit this past weekend.  It’s always so great to have her around, I really do have the best mother-in-law in the world.  Not only is she a great person and really great in the mother-in-law department, but she’s also just a pleasure to hang out with, much like my own mom who I can’t wait to see in a few weeks.

8. I’m doing a big post of Will for his 8 month “birthday” on Wednesday so I won’t write much about him today but it’s crazy to think how much things have changed since he was a little baby.  There was a time when he woke up within 5 minutes of me waking up, no matter what time I tried to sneak out of bed.  For months on end, I spent every single night form 6pm until 10:30 or 11pm bouncing him around our bedroom, unable to sit down or do anything but shush and bounce.  He wouldn’t let Chris hold him, he wouldn’t sleep in his crib for naps.  I literally had about 15 minutes a day to myself to cram in a shower, a little bit of two-handed typing and some tidying up around the house.

Most days now though  I can actually get up an hour before he does to have some quiet time before I go on Mama duty for the day.  He’s still up in the night more times than I’d like to publicly admit, and it takes about 4 or 5 tries to get him down in the evening but even so, its so much better than it was.  It’s true, no stage lasts forever and it really does get easier.  These days, instead of racing out of his room when he falls asleep to get my 15 minutes of productive time, I find myself softly kissing his soft, chubby cheeks and holding him a few extra minutes.  He’s growing up so fast, I won’t get these sweet sleeping baby kisses forever.

Wil just woke up and I have those bagels to boil, and a sleepy baby to snuggle with before he gets to excited to get moving for the day.  Happy Spring!

March 24, 2012

Foreign Service Family Photo Albums from Bangladesh in 1977 (or how my hubs was a cute baby)

A few months ago, Chris’ mom brought us 3 huge, faded photo albums full of pictures from when Chris was a toddler growing up in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  She asked us to scan them all for her and now, with only about a week and a half left with our scanner, I’ve finally stopped procrastinating and spent nearly every spare minute of the last week scanning all of the pictures in the albums-over 500 photographs in total.

It’s been slow-going at times, but it’s been so, so worth.  It’s so much fun to get a glimpse of what the foreign service life was like in the 1970’s, what Dhaka was like in the 1970’s and of course how stinking cute my husband was as a toddler.

I always assume that Will basically looks nothing like Chris or I, but that’s not really true.  Looking at all of Chris’ baby pictures I’ve realized that, while they may not have all of the same features, Will and Chris share so many of the same postures and smiles and facial expressions.  It’s so sweet to see the resemblance.

It’s also fun to see the photos of birthday parties and Fourth of July picnics and make-shift Thanksgiving celebrations with friends instead of family-typical foreign service stuff, but in a time before the conveniences of Amazon and Skype and the internet.  I’ve been told stories of getting ten minutes per week to call home on a long-distance line at the commissary, telegrams delivered to let one know all of their belongings were accidentally sold off with a storage warehouse, and a time when it took 3 full days to reach Bangladesh because none of the jets of the time could carry enough fuel to make that long of a trip from Europe.  Chris’ mother had to boil his toys every morning in order to keep them clean.  Water purifiers and distillers were still unheard-of luxuries, there were no “import stores” to be found anywhere.  Being the “duty officer” entailed not simply carrying a cell phone and a binder for a few days, it meant sleeping every night of your duty on a tiny cot next to a telephone in a closet at the Embassy.  Life for us in the foreign service these days seems so easy in comparison!

Chris’ parents loved their time in Bangladesh and met life-long friends there.  It’s fun to look at the photos and realize that I know some of these people in real life now, 30-some years later!

I don’t really have any other posts lined up right now, what with all of the scanning and the impending-move-nonsense going on, so I thought instead I’d share a few of the photos I’ve come across:

March 22, 2012

Travelers vs Expats and thoughts on Leaving Chengdu

sunshine Chinese street scene

We leave Chengdu in less than 3 weeks!  3 weeks!!  It seems unreal!  I’ve been so looking forward to seeing my parents and our time in D.C. that I’ve sort of forgotten that we aren’t just going back for another rest break, we are actually almost done with our tour in Chengdu.  I’m rapid-fire trying to process that fact, that we are leaving behind not just all of the things we don’t like so much about this place, but all of the things that we really love about Chengdu as well.  It’s so true what they say, two years goes by really, really fast.

As such, I’ve had some thoughts and I’m wondering if you can indulge the following random draft of some of them:

I don’t think anyone has ever heard me brag that I really “know” Chengdu, that I’ve explored every back alley in this city, or sucked the mala-spiked marrow out of life here.  That’s because I know I haven’t.

Sure I’ve seen the sights, I’ve eaten my fair share of street food, I’ve had conversations with the ladies at the market and I’ve wandered down many a side street in search of the “real Chengdu.”

Lately though, I’ve begun to realize just how shallow my knowledge and understanding of this place is.  So much of what I knew about Chengdu isn’t really an accurate reflection of the real place, its a reflection of how I feel about living here.  Knowing how to navigate a chaotic grocery store, tell a cab driver how to get to a restaurant, or block out the sight and sound of a man hacking up half a lung onto a spot 6 inches from my boots is not the same as knowing the heart and soul of a city.  In fact, it might be the opposite.

I worked so hard to learn how to survive in Chengdu that I never really learned how to live here.

I used to think that, to really know a place, you had to settle down and call it home for awhile, not just travel through for a days or weeks.  Now I’m not so sure.  Calling a place home means not just unpacking boxes, but also unpacking a lot of emotional and mental baggage.

When we travel, we keep our eyes wide open, trying to drink in as much of the culture and the life around us before our time is up and we have to go home.  When home is the exotic location, something changes.  Instead of savoring every moment, we tend to merely endure them as long as necessary.  Even in places we really like, it’s easy to accidentally while away the time, making comparisons and judgements rather than trying to delve as deeply as possible into the newness, the foreignness of the experience.  And that makes sense.  It’s difficult to maintain a traveler’s sense of adventure in the face of real life obligations, challenges, and responsibilities.

When you’re travelling, things like smokey, beat-up taxis and the time you almost got mowed down by a scooter on a sidewalk are funny anecdotes to tell friends and family after you’ve returned home safely no worse for wear.  When home is the place with the smoke-filled taxis and the swarming herds of electric scooters though, those things stop being amusing and start just being an everyday nuisance.

When you live in a place, you aren’t always trying to pack in as much adventure and exploration into every waking minute as possible.  You don’t have time.  You may live on the other side of the world from your friends and family, but you still have errands to run, bills to pay, and housing maintenance to take care of; and often doing those things overseas takes at least three times as long as they would back in the U.S.

Too many times the mundane but real need to make sure there is food in the house and that there are clean plates to eat it on crowds out the possibility of exploring that one market or that one temple you haven’t seen yet.  The paradox of living in a place for long enough to see everything is that you rarely end up doing so.  Why do it today when there is always tomorrow or next month or next year?

It’s not that we spent every weekend at home here, washing dishes and streaming American television through our VPN.  Far from it.  We’ve done quite a bit of exploring here, but as much as we’ve seen, there is so much more we never got to.  As much as I’d like to think I know the people of this city through my interactions with them, I’ve come to realize how little I understand about who they are, what they think, why they do what they do.

If I sound a little nostalgic, it is because I am.  I was talking with a friend the other day about my sudden insane urges to document everything I see with my camera and my keyboard, from the afternoon mahjong games, to the university students with the dramatic hipster glasses-sans lenses, to the posture of the street cleaners in their neon orange uniforms.

“Do it, ” he told me.  “Take pictures of everything.  None of it will be the same by the time you come back.”

He’s right.  This city that I hardly know is changing so fast that even I notice the differences; not just in the restaurants that come and go and the glittering new shopping malls on every corner, but in the people too.

And I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to know them better while I had the time.  I’m sad I didn’t try harder to find out what the young people here truly care about and what the old people think of the blistering speed of change and the gobs of wealth being flaunted all around them.  China is a hard place to get to know people for many, many reasons, especially as the wife of a “diplomat.”  I don’t beat myself up for not having a huge circle of Chinese friends, but I do wish I had tried harder in spite of the odds.

I tell myself that I’ve learned something here, that New Delhi will be different-and yet I know that it might not be.  I love India but I’m not kidding myself.  To love India is also to hate India on a regular, everyday sort of basis.  Just like here, there will be the temptation to relax in the comfort of my home when the weather is too hot or my toddler is too cranky or I can’t stand the thought of bargaining with one more auto-rickshaw-wallah or seeing one more impoverished child begging outside my car window.

I’ll make the mistake of confusing my umpteenth trip to the market with a cultural experience rather than branching out to try something new.  I’ll get frustrated with the prying eyes of some Indian men and the difficulty of meeting young Indian women my age with whom I have things in common.  I’ll use my setbacks as an excuse to not make the effort to engage other men and women with who I might find a real connection.

And if I do, it will be my loss, just as it has been here in Chengdu.  To be leaving a place just as one realizes how little they know of it is bittersweet.  My only hope is that the affection I already feel for India will give me that leg up of understanding that I never quite found here in Chengdu.

Maybe I’ll remember next time how short of a time two years really is, and manage to keep my eyes open most days, like a traveler soaking up the best the place has to offer instead of rushing through the moments to get home in time for dinner.

Chinese street food preparation

March 21, 2012

A Minimalist’s Baby Gear Review

baby with hug book

I’ve been composing this post in my head since Will was about 3 weeks old and I’ve realized something in the meantime: we are really not big consumers of baby gear.

Don’t get me wrong, Will has plenty of toys and blankets.  He has so many onesies from generous friends and grandparents that we can’t fit them all in his drawers. It’s just that there are truly a mind-boggling number of baby products on the market…and we don’t have many of them.

It’s not necessarily that we tried to keep our baby gear to the absolute minimum, that’s just sort of how it worked out for us living overseas, far away from the ability to make impulse purchases at Target or score a great deal on something off of Craigslist.  Everything we buy has to be shipped in and it can take up to a month for things to reach us.  Knowing that our kid might out-grow the need for whatever we order before it can actually get to us has a way regulating one’s spending.

So, Will has a swing that we brought back from the States, but we’ve used it maybe a dozen times, he’s never once fallen asleep in it.  He has two sleep sacks that we end up washing constantly instead of just buying an extra one.  It took us 5 months to realize that maybe, just maybe, a pacifier leash would be helpful when are out and about in the world (Spoiler alert: it is!).

Will doesn’t have a playpen or a exer-saucer or any other entertaining baby containment devices besides a booster chair that also doubles as our “high chair.” I thought about getting Will a co-sleeper before he was born but decided instead to just shove his crib up against my side of the bed (Another spoiler alert: perhaps the co-sleeper would have been a wise investment).  We stopped using an infant bathtub when Will was about 6 weeks old.  He’s been taking baths in the big tub with one of us in the tub with him since he was 5 months old, before that we gave him sponge baths on his changing pad.

In short, if you are looking for a comprehensive list of everything you need for your newborn baby, this post will probably not be very helpful.

On the other hand, Chris and I did a lot of research on the products we did buy and, for the most part, we are thrilled with them.  And when we are thrilled with something, we tend to get downright evangelical about it.

I’m only writing here about things we’ve really liked rather than everything we’ve ever used, so what follows is the most random list of baby gear you’ll ever find.  We love all of it and we’d totally buy all of this stuff again if we had to.

Carrying and Transporting Baby Stuff:

1. Britax Marathon Car seat.

photo source

We only drive about once a week here in Chengdu, and so we reasoned that we probably wouldn’t get a lot of use out of an infant car seat.  Instead, we decided to spend our money on a really high-quality car seat that could take Will from birth to 75 pounds, or his 14th birthday, or whatever the recommendations are these days.  According to the new seat/weight recommendations, I could theoretically have been nearly 8 years old and still sitting in a rear-facing car seat when I was a kid.  That just seems a bit unrealistic but what do I know?

Anyways.  We love our Britax.  It’s a beast and a half of a seat, but it is super easy to install, easy to adjust, and Will seems really comfortable in it.  To adjust the height of the straps, all you have to do is pull on a lever at the top, there’s a similarly easy maneuver to adjust the clasp at the bottom.  The cover is very plush and machine-washable.  It’s also really solid, it just feels safe.  And it will last Will until he’s 80 pounds or old enough to see a PG-13 movie in the theaters, whichever comes first.

Whenever we have a second kid, I think we will probably get an infant car seat, since Will will likely still be in the Britax at that time, and an infant seat is nice to have for taking cabs or cars without seat-belts (aka, every single car in China that isn’t ours).

There are only 2 downsides to the Britax:

a) its huge so it won’t fit in a standard airplane seat (there is some debate as to whether it will fit on some of the bigger jets, it might)

b) its huge and convertible, so if your baby is really bitty at first, you’ll need some sort of insert to keep them secure for the first few months which brings us to…

2. The Snuzzler!

photo source

Perhaps because my husband and his sister were both big babies, I expected to give birth to a giant 10 pound baby and bought much of our baby gear accordingly.  Why get a baby bjorn or a co-sleeper or an infant car seat when our kid will obviously be so huge he will outgrow them all within the first 2 months?

As it turns out, Will was, and still is, a tiny kid.  He popped out at a whopping 6 pounds, 5 oz and he’s just hit 16 pounds, 7 and a half months later.  Don’t let those absurdly chubby cheeks in the pictures fool you, he’s kind of wee.  The upshot of having a tiny baby when we planned on having a big one is that our car seat and stroller were not really safe for him during those first few months without some extra padding.

Chris googled our car seat and stroller and was bombarded with search results urging us to buy something called, absurdly enough, “The Snuzzler.”  The Snuzzler is remarkably exactly what it sounds like: a baby-shaped cushion of padding and fluffy fleece meant to secure a baby’s head and provide extra bulk behind their back, arms, and legs.  It will set you back 20 bucks and, while I have my doubts as to exactly what it would do in case of an accident, there is no doubt it kept Will much more securely restrained in his car seat and stroller when he was really tiny.

We used ours in our car seat until Will was about 3 months old.  We used it in our stroller with Will back in the States, back when we used his stroller regularly.

tiny baby in snuzzler

Will at about 1 week old…look how tiny!!!

3. CityMini Stroller-an endorsement-sort of…

photo source

This is a great stroller if you are the sort of person who is often pulling a stroller in and out of a car.  Even when Will was just 3 weeks old, I could haul this stroller in and out of the trunk one-handed with Will in my other arm.  The one-handed set up and take down is the best feature.  The price isn’t too bad either.  It’s not cheap, but this stroller won’t cost you what a designer stroller will.

On the downside, the brake broke on our trip to China and there is no replacement part…Baby Jogger tells you to just buy a brand new stroller.  Yea, not happening.  Luckily, we don’t use our stroller much here and even luckier, a friend gave us their old jogging stroller so we won’t be totally brake-less or stroller-less in D.C. this summer.

Honestly though, living overseas, I don’t forsee us using our stroller a ton. In fact, at this point, I think an inexpensive, little umbrella stroller will probably serve us better in the future than our City Mini so I’m just so glad we didn’t spring for anything fancier!

4. Ergo Sport

photo source

I love me some Ergo.  Granted, we couldn’t use our Ergo until Will was nearly 6 months old (see the bit about having a tiny baby when you’ve planned on a big one) but now that he’s big enough for it, we love it.  I can put it on all by myself and its comfortable to wear all day.  The “sport” version definitely seems a lot cooler for Will than the original, which is nice since we are headed into a DC summer and a New Delhi August right after that.

The only downside to the Ergo is that it can be sort of a pain to carry bags while wearing it since the straps are so bulky.  Since I don’t drive here, I definitely get a work out going grocery shopping with Will in the Ergo.  Between him and a few heavy bags of groceries perched precariously over my shoulders, I’m usually huffing and puffing a little by the time I get home.  At least for me though, I’ll take the workout over the hassle of getting a stroller up and down stairs, over bumps and through the throngs of grandmotherly-types.

I should also warn anyone buying an Ergo: you don’t know it yet, but you are entering a sort of international-travelling, baby-wearing tribe.  I swear I’ve had like 7 people spontaneously shout “Ergo!” at me while passing through airports like O’Hare and Beijing.  I don’t know why, it’s a thing?

5. Moby Wrap

photo source

There was a time when I thought paying $40 for a giant piece of fabric was ridiculous.  That thought process lasted until Will was about 3 days old and I sent Chris to Target to spend $150 in 15 minutes on all of the stuff we said “wasn’t really necessary.”

There are cons to the Moby: its nearly impossible to put it on without parts of it dragging on the ground and that’s really, really not good here in the less-than-pristine-conditions we have here in Chengdu.  I always put it on at home, never when we are out.  It can also get hot for baby and its sometimes hard to adjust it for maximum baby comfort.

On the plus side though, when it works, it works.  It keeps Will warm and tucked in close to me.  As an added bonus, ours is black and so, if I wear a black t-shirt underneath, it looks like it could be part of my outfit as a sort of lumpy but elegant wrap, perhaps?  At least that’s what I tell myself.

We don’t use our Moby anymore now that Will fits in the Ergo but I’m still glad we bought it and we’ll definitely use it with the next baby.

Diapering…

1. Bum Genius Diapers

Yup, we still cloth diaper and we still love our Bum Genius dipes.  They have held up remarkably well considering the abuse they take both from Will and the washing machine.  Don’t tell Cotton Babies, but I use a little bleach on them in nearly every cycle and then rinse them 2 or 3 times.  I also put them in the dryer more often than not.  They seem no worse for wear.

We bought diapers with snaps versus velcro because the interwebs said they lasted longer and that kids had a harder time taking them off.  So true.  Snaps were a good call.  They also seem a little more comfortable for Will, the band of velcro on one of his diapers just seems to cut into his tummy a lot.

I won’t go through everything I love about our cloth-diapering gear because not much has changed since I wrote my epic novel all about it way back when Will was just 8 weeks old.  Instead, I’ll just highlight a few new things we like that might be useful whether you use cloth or disposable diapers.

2. Planet Wise Wet Bag

photo source

Ostensibly, we bought this bag to use when we are out and about with Will changing cloth diapers.  Instead, we find ourselves using it not just for dirty cloth diapers but also for dirty clothes, dirty disposable diapers when we can’t find a trash can, and even wet swimsuits–though obviously we don’t combine swimsuits and diapers.  That would be kind of gross.  When we are traveling and using disposables, we always bring this bag for dirty laundry, its handy like that.

The point is, you don’t even know you need a bag like this until you have one, then suddenly the possibilities are endless.  I’m considering buying a few more for camping and the beach.

3. Wool Covers from Etsy

Old photo from back when Will’s wool cover was wayy too big for him.

You want to know what my absolute least favorite part of parenting is?

It’s waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of Will doing his tell-tale “leaky diaper” whine.  There is nothing I like less than stripping sheets, changing clothes, and cursing the fact that we own only 2 sleep sacks and now they are both dirty.

For the first two weeks we were in Chengdu with Will, before I figured out how to wash our cloth diapers properly in our absurdly hard water, this was the story of my life.  Then I figured out how to get our cloth diapers to stop leaking and life was wonderful again.  Its a lot easier to wake up 6 times a night when neither you nor your kid is drenched in pee.

But then Will got bigger and started peeing more.  He also started sleeping on his side.  Disposables are no match for a heavy-wetter who sleeps on his side, we’ve tried.  Cloth diapers do work better, but when he’s on his side, they might still leak a little after 6+ hours.  We needed something that would keep little leaks around the edge of his diaper from soaking his clothes and sheets and waking him up.

Enter the wool cover.  Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in liquid and its naturally antimicrobial so it doesn’t have to be washed every time its used.  There are lots of people on Etsy selling wool covers made out of old sweaters and they have changed everything for us.

Before, little leaks always turned into a big leaks which always turned 3am sheet-changing debacles.  Now, we put Will in an extra-stuffed diaper and put either a pair of wool shorts or wool pants on top.  We put a long sleeve onesie (a few sizes too big) over the top of the wool cover and 99% of the time, Will wakes up in the morning perfectly dry and comfortable, no matter how heavy his diaper is.

Wool covers need to be “lanolized” in order to work most efficiently, but that’s just a fancy way of saying “fill your sink with warm water, squeeze in some leftover lanolin from your early breastfeeding days, add the wool cover and let soak for 30 minutes.”  Once you wring it out and dry it (I dry ours in the dryer on very low heat to save time) you’ve got a nearly waterproof diaper cover that’s all natural and upcycled.

If you are having leakage issues and you’ve already tried every disposable and cloth diaper on the market, try putting a wool cover over the top of whatever works best for you, it might change your life.

4. Cooshee Changing Pad

I said I loved it before and I’ll say it again: totally worth the extra money.  Baby boys really do pee everywhere and at the most inopportune times.  It’s nice to have a changing pad that doesn’t absorb pee and wipes clean, especially since we are sometimes cleaning up bathroom messes on the changing pad multiple times a day.

It’s also really, really great for “sponge baths.”  When Will was really little we’d take his changing pad into the bathroom, run the shower to get things nice and warm and then fill his changing pad with just an inch or so of water to wash him down.  Until he was able to sit up well, this was a much more relaxing way to bathe him for both him and us.

Now there are a lot of people who say they never use their changing pad, they always change their kid on the floor on a blanket wherever they happen to be playing.  If you live in a suburban-style house with stairs and more room, I could easily see how this would be true and I probably wouldn’t recommend buying this thing unless you just happen to have extra money to burn.  For us though, living in fairly compact apartments overseas, we’re never more than a few steps from Will’s room and his changing pad so it make sense to centralize everything.  To each his own though on this one, probably.

Random Other Stuff:

1. Lionheart Bebe Pod Plus Chair

photo source

Before Will was born, I was on a mission to find as many multi-tasking and/or long-lasting baby items as possible.  This chair really fits the bill.  Will started practicing sitting up in it around 3 months and, once he got good at it, I started attaching it to a chair in our kitchen so he could hang out with me while I cooked dinner.

We also use this as his “high chair,” either by strapping it to a chair or simply setting it on the table (we are always within arms reach).  For now, it works really, really well.

At some point we will have to get a real high-chair or transition to a big-kid booster seat.  This chair isn’t meant to fit a kid much bigger than 12 months old, even a kid as tiny as Will.  Its not as snug a fit as the Bumbo chair so there is not quite as much support in it for really early sitters.  This wasn’t a big deal for us but if you’re looking for something to get your kid sitting up as early as possible, the Bumbo might be a better choice.  On the downside, Will is already almost too big for a Bumbo and he’s still got plenty of room in his Bebe Pod.

2. BabyLegs legwarmers

baby legwarmers

A wonderful friend sent us a few pairs of these after WIll was born and, I’ll admit, I was skeptical.  Does a baby really need leg warmers?  Really?

Yes they do, especially if you are wearing your baby instead of using a stroller.  We buy them for every new baby we know now.

As promised, they make diaper changes a cinch and they are great for keeping little legs warm around the house when its not quite cold enough to require pants but not warm enough for just a onesie either.

But the real reason we have so many pairs now is that they are practically a necessity when we carry Will around in his Ergo.

Baby carriers always make baby pants ride up, exposing their bare legs to the elements and to Sichuanese grandmothers, horrified to see bare skin after the 1st of October.  It’s not always cold enough here to warrant a full snowsuit for Will so we use these a lot to make sure there are no gaps between his pants and his booties when we are out and about.  Since Will is in his Ergo nearly everyday, we use these A LOT.

They are also great for layering.  I’ve absorbed a certain level of Sichuanese paranoia about cooler temperatures so I sometimes use these to add an extra layer of warmth under Will’s pants and “bear suits” when we go out on especially cold days.

You don’t necessarily need to purchase the BabyLegs brand.  Etsy is full of shops selling really cute baby leg warmers.  We’ve since purchased quite a few pairs that way.

4. Munchkin Pacifier Wipes and Johnson & Johnson Face & Hand Antibacterial Wipes

photo source

Travelling internationally these items are both a must for us; and yes, we carry both.  Pacifier Wipes are great for anything Will is going to gum on and we use antibacterial wipes for his hands and face after lots of people touch him.  We also use them for toys that get dropped on the ground briefly when there is not soap and water around.  I never thought I’d be one to use products like this (the waste, the antibacterial-super-bug thing) but they make traveling so much less stressful.

5. Ikea Baby Smocks

Will likes solid foods, but only if he’s the one wielding the spoon or cut up piece of squash or crust of bread.  As you might imagine, mealtime has become an absurdly messy affair around here, with bits of food splattered on the floor, the walls, and my shirt.  As for Will?  Sometimes it looks more like he’s trying to bathe in his food than eat it.  His spoon-wielding strategies are no match for our Baby Bjorn bibs, truly they are useless.

We ruined a lot of clothes before we picked up a few smocks from Ikea but, thankfully, I think those days are mostly behind us.  The smocks cover Will’s shirts completely and after he’s done eating, I just rinse them off and hang them up to dry, no scrubbing required.

6. Baby Yoda Hat (and all hats with ears)

Were I to ever take Will outside in Chengdu between the months of October and April without a hat on, I shudder to think at what kind of verbal beating I would be in for from the well-meaning grandmothers at the market.

So hats!  They are necessary and they are so cute!  I recommend many!

I think that’s about it!  I’m out of baby gear recommendations!  Now, if I can make this long post even longer I’ll make a quick list of:

Things I wish we would have bought but didn’t:

1. A sound machine or an iPod dock.  We have a teddy bear with a sound machine in it but the recordings only last 20 minutes, just long enough for Will to fall asleep and wake up startled when the sound stops.  The batteries also die absurdly fast, but that might just be because they are Chinese batteries.

2. A Miracle Blanket or other such swaddle device.  We love our Target-version (cheaper) Aden & Anais Swaddles, but I sometimes wonder if something with a bit more holding power would have helped us in the beginning.  Then again, Will hated having his arms swaddled no matter what we did so perhaps, in this case, hindsight is not 20-20, but simply wishful thinking.

3. An activity mat.  I don’t know why I didn’t see the point of these things when I was pregnant but oh are they worth the $50+ they cost!  One of our neighbors generously gave us their old activity mat and Will loved it, despite the fact that there were only two hanging toys left on it by the time we got it.  Sometimes I wonder how much longer he could have stayed entertained had we hung more toys on it.  Next baby is getting a brand new one with all the bells and whistles!

4. A co-sleeper.  Before Will was born, I assumed that shoving our crib up against my side of the bed would yield essentially the same convenience and closeness as an expensive co-sleeper.  I was sort of right.  It’s pretty easy to haul Will in and out of his crib without ever getting out of bed.  On the other hand, those crib rails seem to make a big difference to Will and we are working right now on getting him back in his crib all night.  Maybe a co-sleeper would have allowed Will to feel close to me without actually having to be in our bed?

5. A crib mobile.  We actually did end up buying Will a mobile but, by the time we got it when he was 4.5 months old, I think it was just too much of a novelty to be of much use helping to lull him to sleep.  Perhaps if we had started out with one at the beginning it might have proved more useful.

What are your favorite baby products?  Anything you never purchased and wish you had?

March 20, 2012

Fresh Pea “Pesto” with Parmesan, Pine nuts, & Pasta

spring pasta

I hate to admit such a prejudice, but I have been a devoted pea-hater my entire life.

As far as I knew, peas were tiny, sulfurous mushy green orbs, often served along side overcooked carrots in the cafeteria lunch line.  Yuck.

Peas were always something to be avoided at all costs, (like hard-boiled eggs) or at least they were until our son Will came along.  In my quest to find healthy, delicious things to feed Will, I learned that peas are full of lots and lots of protein.  We don’t eat a lot of meat at home, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to put more protein in our diets.

I also learned that, beyond protein, peas are full of all sorts of “good for you!” things like vitamins and minerals.  As my poor husband knows, I’m a fan of putting “but-its-good-for-you!” types of things into our meals.  I don’t make Will eat anything I wouldn’t eat myself so I realized it was time again to give ‘peas a chance’ (oh come on, you knew that one was coming).

Guess what I found out?  There is a really, really, big difference between a freshly shelled, just barely cooked spring pea and the smelly little green things I used to find on my lunch tray.

A fresh pea, cooked for 30 seconds in boiling water than blanched bright green in an ice bath is a thing of almost neon beauty.  It’s like springtime, in an edible spherical shape.  Who doesn’t want to eat that?

(Will doesn’t, apparently, but that’s not the topic of today’s post)

Last week I picked up a pound of freshly shelled peas from our local wet market for the bargain price of 7 kuai, or about $1.20 to see if Chris and I might like our peas more than Will.  I brought them home, washed them, blanched them and then panicked momentarily, now what?

Thank goodness for the 101 Cookbooks blog.  I found a recipe for simply pureeing peas with toasted pine nuts, parmesan, a little lemon juice, and a little salt and pepper.  Heidi swore it would be delicious spread on toast or eaten with a spoon.

And it was delicious, a little dense, but truly a wonderful thing to spread on tiny crackers for a big cocktail party.  Emphasis on a big party.  It quickly became clear to me though that for our party of 2, eating over a pound of pea puree on crackers was not going to be a viable option.  I needed a more main-course vehicle for my delicious, protein-packed green paste.

Did you know though that you can turn almost anything into a pasta sauce with just a little bit of olive oil and pasta water?  You can.  The starch in the pasta water acts as a sort of thickener, binding everything together.  It’s a neat trick when you’ve got a half hour to come up with dinner and only a little bit of oil, salt and pepper, cheese, and water at your disposal.

So, I boiled up some pasta and added a few tablespoons of olive oil to my pea puree.  When the pasta was finished, I drained some of the pasta water right into my puree and whisked furiously for about 30 seconds until the mixture was smooth then I dumped in my pasta, stirred and let things cool down a bit while I washed and cut up some grape tomatos.

The result?  A pasta dish that manages to be both spring-like and sticks-to-your-ribs satisfying at the same time.  Perfect for early spring.  The tomatoes add some needed acidic/sweet contrast to the smooth, rich sauce and brighten up the plate nicely as well.

Pine nuts and olive oil and parmesan of course don’t come fat-free (or at least not in any form you’d actually want to eat) but they’re fattening mostly in that “its good for you!” sort of way.  If you are looking for a pretty healthy, protein-rich vegetarian main dish, this one is a good pick.

Happy Spring!

Fresh Pea, Parmesan, Pine nut “Pesto” over Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes

I’m absolutely terrible at writing down measurements when I’m cooking new recipes so take this as more of a guide than a true recipe.

One pound of puree should make enough sauce for 4-6 main course servings of pasta, depending on how hungry you are.  The puree keeps in the fridge for at least a few days (and maybe even in the freezer but I haven’t tried that yet) so if you want to split it into two meals for two, you certainly can.

Ingredients:

1 pound freshly shelled peas

1/2 Cup toasted pine nuts

1/2 Cup freshly grated parmesan

Juice of one lemon

salt and pepper

3-5 Tablespoons olive oil

Pasta (shells or rigatoni work well)

1/2 C to 1 and 1/2 C pasta water

2-3 Cups cherry or grape tomatoes, washed and cut in halves or quarters

1. Make fresh pea puree as per instructions on 101 Cookbooks blog (blanch 1 pound of freshly-shelled peas in hot water for approximately 1 minute and then rinse in cool water.  Drain and puree with approximately 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, 1/2 cup parmesan, juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper to taste.  The mixture will be super, super thick.  Thin it with a few tablespoons of olive oil if necessary.)

2. Put on a large pot of water for pasta.  When water reaches a boil, add a few pinches of salt and pasta (shells work well for this but rigatoni or something similar would be equally good).  Cook pasta to desired “dente-ness.”

3. While pasta is cooking, whisk pea puree in a large bowl with 3-5 tablespoons of olive oil.

4. Drain pasta, reserving a Cup or 2 of pasta water.  Set pasta aside to drain

5. Starting with 1/2 Cup, add pasta water to pea puree and olive oil mixture, whisk briskly to create an emulsion, adding more pasta water until you have a sauce that coats the back of a spoon but whisks easily.  Taste your sauce and add additional salt and pepper, if necessary.

6. Add noodles to sauce and stir to combine, allow mixture to cool briefly to room temperature so your tomatoes don’t cook on top of the hot pasta.

7. Portion on to plates, top with cut tomatoes and (optional) freshly grated parmesan.

fresh pea pasta vegetarian

March 18, 2012

An Open Letter to the People Behind MaLa with a Fork

Dear my favorite two hungry farangs,

How are you?  Is all that sunshine and are all of those white sand beaches treating you ok?  How about the fresh young coconuts?  And the pad thai?  I worry about you two.  I imagine it must be difficult keeping up with all of those amazing bowls of noodles to document and stalking elephants at night on safari.  You must be very tired.  And tan.  Remember your sunscreen, ok?

Anywho, its come to my attention that you are considering a road trip across America this summer and I’m glad to hear it.  There is nothing better than a good old fashioned cross-country road trip.  There’s the thrill of getting horribly lost down a gravelly country road on a quest to find that perfect dented Airstream-gone-diner rising like a shimmering mirage out of the desert heat.  The monotony that is Kansas, punctuated only by giant billboards meant to inform you that “Jesus loves You Unless You Get an Abortion In Which Case You Are Going to Hell.”  There is the beauty of Utah’s stark landscape and its signs warning that it’s all cattle drives and tumbleweeds until you reach the next gas station some 200 miles away.  There are giant balls of twine to see, giant Muskie fish statues, there are mountains and valleys and far too many tempting opportunities to scratch that fast food itch one develops after too many years overseas.  Think about how many times you could listen to “Life is a Highway” and “On the Road Again!”  Do it now before you are instead driving to a chorus of “Are We There Yet?” (yes, I know that is all a long, long way off, still! its worth considering!)

But I digress and I mislead.  The point of this letter is not to convince you to road trip, but rather to convince you to stop in our nation’s fair capital if and when you do.  By taking my appeal public, I leave you no option for “saving face” should you not actually come visit us in “the District,” as we used to call it before that darn apocalyptic alien movie came out a few years ago.

It’s not just that we here at Hot Pot are starved for your excellent company and addictive buckeye candies.  We are, of course, and we would love the chance to catch up and perhaps even imbibe a few adult beverages, panda claws and all.

But honestly, even if we weren’t residing in Washington D.C. this summer with a spare bedroom and our favorite blue-eyed, red-haired baby this side of the Ganges, I would still urge you to swing through America’s only city-state-like region.  Because its a lovely place to visit, with or without us.  I lay out my evidence and arguments hence forth:

1. Have you ever visited a wharf, bought a bushel of crabs and then hauled them over to the Tidal Basin to pick apart with your bare hands whilst taking in a view of the Jefferson Memorial across the water?  No?  Really?  I think you should.

2. Have you heard?  We’ve got lots of wonderful free museums in D.C. a whole Mall (capital M!) of them, to be exact.  I highly recommend the Museum of American History and the Sackler Gallery of Asian Art.  The Sackler is my all time favorite and I have a feeling it will be yours too.

3. Speaking of the Mall, lets talk Monuments.  To be honest, I don’t recommend visiting them during the day.  Too many tourists, too much humidity.  The best way to see them is at night.  We’ll take you.  There’s nothing quite so powerful as visiting the Vietnam Memorial or Abraham Lincoln all alone in the dark of night with just a few street lamps and the light of the moon reflecting on the marble.  You’ll see.

4. Are you hungry?  How does falafel sound?  What about the best and most affordable steak you’ll ever have, served with a delicious array of gut-busting sides from Rays the Steaks?  How about a presidential-like chili dog from good old Ben’s Chili Bowl?  Did you know that the D.C. area is the largest Ethiopian city outside of Adis Ababa and the largest Vietnamese city outside Vietnam?  We’ve got the injera and wat and bowls of pho to prove it.

5. Brunch.  Guys, you know us, you know how we feel about brunch.  What you might not know is that D.C. is a city full of people who love brunch as much as we do.  I won’t even lay out all of our options here, too exhausting, too exciting!

6. With all of this eating, you might want to get some exercise in right?  Wonderful!  There is nothing more inspiring than an early morning run around the Washington Monument.  There are few runs as picturesque as a jog along the centuries-old canals in Georgetown or the Potomac River.

American Flag

7.  Speaking of centuries, do you like old architecture?  Looking at renovated row houses?  D.C. is the perfect place to walk through neighborhoods and take notes for your dream house.

8. No need to worry about packing fashionable fancy clothes for D.C.!  Aside from some very fashionable K Street and hipster-types, D.C. in the summer is generally overrun with tourists in fanny-packs and young people wearing brown tights with black shoes to work.  I should know, I was once one of D.C. most unfashionable interns in the history of unfashionable interns.

9. D.C. is a photographer’s dream city, I’m looking at you here Mr. Hungry Farang with the stunning pictures from Southeast Asia!  The light, the architecture, the sights, you will not want to put your camera away for even a few minutes.

10. Did I mention that we will be there?  And that we are oh-so-charming? And proud parents of a little creature who may or may not be able to do all sorts of clever things like crawl and stand up by the time you get to D.C.?

In short, and in closing, I highly recommend that you include a detour to the District of Columbia on your road trip across America this summer.  Also, in case its relevant, we think you guys are fabulous, and beautiful, and talented.  And please forgive any snide remarks about coconuts and sunscreen.

Yours in Sichuan peppercorns and D.C. brunch dreams,

D, C & W

March 16, 2012

Kiss Him, He’s Irish…

will playing

Well, Irish, Chinese, Korean, German, and Czech with a dash of Cherokee Indian thrown into the mix for good measure.

In other words, he’s an American.

Today might be St. Patrick’s Day (in China, anyway) but I’m thinking a lot more about America than Ireland for some reason.

Whenever I live overseas I always feel more grateful to be an American, to be from a place where it doesn’t matter what you look like, what language you speak, what religion you practice, or don’t.  A place where it doesn’t matter where your parents come from or how much money you make.  If you live in America long enough, you become one, if not legally, then in spirit.  America truly its one of the few places in the world where, when you are in America, you can’t tell who is an American just by looking at them.  (Granted it’s easy to pick us out overseas, we walk differently-we really, really do!)

America is not perfect, far from it; but I love that, in our country, thousands of people can occupy city parks without bloodshed, that journalists can write whatever they like about political leaders and political policies without fear of retribution.

America has problems.  We have poor people, we suffer from entrenched practices of discrimination, racism, classism and sexism.  We do horrible things to our environment, we fight wars we shouldn’t, life is too hard for too many working class families.  Even so, I love that there are thousands of Americans who dedicate their lives to solving these problems, people who think they might have the solutions and then go out and make them happen.

American do-gooders don’t have to worry about government paranoia, about being shut down, sent to jail for their work, or far worse. On the contrary, they are some of the most highly regarded people in our society, though admittedly, not the most well-paid.  I love that Americans have a tradition of wanting to make things better, brighter, faster and more beautiful.  I love that wealth comes with a certain societal expectation to give at least some of it away to worthy causes.

I love that my friends are liberal, conservative, religious, agnostic, gay, straight, and come in all varieties of colors, shapes, and sizes.  I love that American children boast proudly about how many ethnicities they hail from rather than how long their ancestors have called the United States home.  I love that pizza, burritos, soft pretzels, a bowl of pho, and a greek salad are all “American” food.  I love that we don’t all look the same, talk the same or believe the same things and that we don’t have to.

And I love that my son, my little man, will grow up celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and Chinese New Year and Christmas and the 4th of July.  He’ll learn to eat with chopsticks and a fork and knife, and hopefully he will grow up unable to fathom why some countries treat woman as second class citizens, or why some nations won’t let two men marry one another if they want to.

If we’re lucky and we raise him right, he’ll inherit that uniquely American sense of self-reliance, a dash of disregard for the status quo, and the belief that he can make the world a better place if he puts his mind, heart and soul to work hard enough for it.

Because our son is lucky enough to hail from the land of the free and the home of the brave, and anything is possible where we come from.

Oh yea, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Maybe I need to get out from behind my pulpit here and go settle down now with a nice frothy pint of Guinness!

And on a less patriotic note, seriously the baby’s hair seems to be going red.  I thought it might be going brown and then bam!  I take all of these photos and the evidence in undeniable.  I sound incredulous but I kind of love it, he looks so much like his Grandma Smith must have as a baby!

March 15, 2012

Thursday Thoughts At Random

An old picture from Guangzhou, part of my oh-crap-I-needed-to-finish-editing-all-of-these-photos-by-yesterday project.

1. There way are too many things to get done before we pack up our big Mac and say goodbye until sometime in the fall when we are reunited in New Delhi.  That means 4+ months without the photo-editing software I’m just learning how to use, and less than 4 weeks to get everything done ahead of time.  I’m drafting a bunch of (hopefully) thoughtful pieces for my new blog, rewriting pieces to submit for publication elsewhere, and still writing stuff for this blog.  Unlike with China, India and the US have a bilateral work agreement which means I can finally work again in Delhi.  Knowing that these blogs are as close to a portfolio as I’ll get for some time means it all suddenly feels vitally urgent in a way it didn’t before.  I find myself bouncing between drafts, spending 5 minutes with one piece, ten minutes with another, jotting down notes in my notebook while playing with Will, adding lines here and there, but there never seems to be enough time to sit down and finish anything and be done with it.

2. Which is why I’m writing this silly, stream-of-consciousness-post.  Hitting “publish” on something, anything, is a source of fuel, it keeps me going.

3. Another kind of fuel: I made a chocolate cake yesterday, the deep, dark, rich, not-too-sweet kind of chocolate cake.  The kind that has only 5 ingredients: chocolate, butter, sugar, 5 eggs, and just a tablespoon of flour.  It’s almost elegant in its simplicity.  I like that.  On days when I’m scribbling away at the computer, dark circles under my eyes, and dried-up carrot puree all over my yoga pants, I feel like I need some elegance in my life.

4. I ate some of said elegant chocolate cake at 5:30am this morning.  After three days in a row being awake from about 3:30am onwards, I can’t think of a better way to power through the morning than a little bit of dessert for breakfast.

5. Speaking of breakfast and fuel and implied sleep deprivation, have I ever shown you my coffee mug?  Nursing Will, I try to moderate my coffee consumption.  It helps to have a smaller mug to drink it out of, that way I feel really indulgent when I have two (watered down) cups of coffee in the morning.

While we were in Bangkok we ducked into a Dunkin Donuts, of all places, to sit down for a minute and change Will’s diaper.  I happened to notice that their “for here” coffee mugs were the perfect size for my morning coffee ritual and so we asked if they would sell one to me.  129 Bhat or approximately $4.5 dollars later, I was the proud owner of this here mug:

I love it and I love that every time I drink out of it, I remember our trip to Thailand.

6. I can’t deny the truth to myself any longer: I like Taylor Swift.  Previously I dismissed her and her mainstream crossover style of pop, her heartfelt lyrics about teenage angst.  I mean sure I always cried a little when “Love Story” plays on the radio in the States, but whatever.  Everybody does, right? It didn’t mean anything.  Then I watched the music video for her new single “Safe and Sound” from the Hunger Games soundtrack yesterday.  Gah! That girl has talent!  Pop artist she may be but it’s a beautiful, haunting sort of song and I’ve listened to it at least 6 times since yesterday.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RzhAS_GnJIc]

7. I’m still working on my baby gear recommendations post and I think I’ll have to postpone it until next week, I need to take a few more pictures.  Also, turns out, we don’t actually have (or like) that much baby gear?  Who knew?

8. I own 4 pairs of jeans.  1 pair is wholly unflattering, an ill-advised clearance purchase.  The other 3 pairs are only a few more holes away from being reclassified as “chaps” and requiring a second pair of pants underneath in order to wear them in public. This is what happens when one stops buying clothes after college to save money for more grown up things like Roth IRAs and vacations and babies.  That being said, I’d like to not have to wear my corduroys in the middle of New Delhi in August.  I think its time to buy some new pants.

9. On Tuesday we hit 65 degrees and the sun shone for 4 hours straight.  It goes without saying that the babies were all still so bundled up that only their eyes and cheeks were visible. In contrast, Will and I enjoyed some time on the swings…hat-less (the horror!).

10. I don’t have a number ten, time to get back to more writing and editing and writing.

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