The Hot Pot Blog


April 30, 2012

And We Return You Now to Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

And now 2 tanks of gas, 12 hours of driving, and one weekend later, we are back.  After a brief scramble this morning “where are the keys?  Who will take our one working cell phone?  Why do we have a bag of coffee and no coffee filters?” Chris left this morning for his first day of training.

In a quick change of plans, Chris’ mom came down to D.C. with us to see a few eye doctors instead of returning to China last night.  We went to see them this morning and they say things are looking pretty good but that she can’t leave us until at least next Monday.  I won’t lie, we are a little thrilled to get to keep her here with us for a whole extra week, no one more than the little man who spent hours today on the floor playing with his Nai Nai.

It was a long, emotional weekend for Chris’ family but, if I can say so without sounding horrible, it was good in that way any occasion that celebrates a loved family member and brings everyone together can be.  Paupau left behind a big, beautiful family full of amazing people who will miss her dearly.

The ceremony was lovely (though I admit I missed most of it Will-wrangling) there was a traditional Cantonese lunch followed by a late night barbeque out at a cousin’s gorgeous new house.  Little kids toddled around in footie pajamas, having too much fun to sleep, big cousins caught up on each others lives.  We tossed wiffle balls around the yard, ate hamburgers, hot dogs, and fluffy pink Chinese bakery cake, and watched Will light up (and then promptly burst into overtired tears) we passed him around from ahyee to ahyee.

After dim sum on Sunday we piled into the car for the long ride home.  We left Flushing at 4pm, got home around 11pm.  Will hates his car seat under normal circumstances, but after 7 hours in the car last Sunday, 3 hours Thursday, 5 hours Friday, 4 different beds in as many days, traffic, and with a bad head cold that ruled out nursing or sucking his pacifier, lets just say that it was a long, long drive.  It was so worth it though, and I’m glad we could be there to be with Chris’ mom and the rest of the family.

I’m still feeling a little behind the 8 ball what with eye doctors and getting settled and remembering to carry keys and credit cards, follow pedestrian crosswalk signs and the thrill of keeping my own house clean again.  It is so nice to be back though, it really is.  After running around and doing chores until the late afternoon, we spent this evening watching Will revel in the freedom to crawl and cruise for 3 hours straight-without once having to pick him up to take him somewhere.  It was such a treat.

Getting photos on this blog without my desktop computer is a bit tricky, involving a few ipad apps, flickr and some additional steps but hopefully I’ll get some photos up tomorrow along with a few of the other posts I’ve been drafting in my head for the past few weeks.

So how are things with you?

 

 

April 26, 2012

In Charlottesville

The thunk as he hit the ground was sickening. In the space of less than two seconds I manage to fly across the room, drop an F-bomb in front of my father-in-law, apologize for my sailor mouth, scoop Will up in my arms, and feel like the foulest most horrible mother on the face of the planet.

Yes, on our first morning in Charlottesville, Will took his biggest knock to noggin yet. He was fine. He stopped crying in minutes and started playing and smiling in just a few more. But Chris and I were decidedly not fine as we watched the goose egg on his forehead swell up and turn purple.

The staff at the emergency room hid bemused smiles at our panic as they watched Will happily attempt to take apart their emergency room with his bare hands and flirtatious grins. We knew he would be ok before we even got to the hospital, but it was good to hear it from the doctor as well.

Will recovered from his bump with an appetite-for Southern Food it seems. Our son who used to sit docily through our dinners out now whines and grabs and pouts when we don’t share cornmeal battered soft shell crab with him.

Two nights ago, as I opened my mouth to eat a piece of pulled pork, Will let out a cry, snatched the meat out of my hands, and stuck it in his mouth. Then he wanted more, pork juice running down his chin. Last night he demolished a quarter of a buttermilk biscuit. Don’t ask me what we are doing with foods. It’s not a baby food diet, it’s not baby-led weaning, it’s just kind of a “give him everything that he can gum without choking as long as its not a French fry” diet. Apparently Will likes shrimp, he likes bread, he is not so keen on typical jarred baby food nor pistachio gelato, but he likes expensive pouches of organic baby food and he likes Greek yogurt and strawberries a whole lot. Pediatrician said not to worry about allergies or delay introducing certain foods, so we aren’t and it’s been nice.

Cville is as lovely as I remembered. The skies are so beautiful and blue and the neighborhoods are hilly and beautiful to run through.

Added later…

I thought we would be spending this weekend settling into our place in DC but, sadly, Chris’ grandmother just passed away last night. Instead of unpacking and buying groceries, we are heading up to New York for the weekend. It’s certainly not been the home leave we expected, but it will be good to see Chris’ family even though the circumstances are far less than ideal.

Sorry for more random iphone typing. More later when we finally settle down, whenever that is.

April 22, 2012

On the road

It’s late. We’re driving, en route to Charlottesville to visit Chris’ dad. My parents drove us the 3.5 hours to Chicago this morning, we flew 90 minutes to Dulles airport, and then loaded six gigantic bags into our rental car in the middle of a torrential downpour around 9pm. Changed a diaper in the back seat, sung approximately 567 more rounds of “you are my sunshine” to put Will to sleep in his carseat, and headed down highway 29.

We keep passing county road numbers that I remember from our hiking days. We passed the Faquier County sign and I leaned into the front seat to tell Chris “fauq your county too!” the way we always used too. Childish, yes but funny still even with six bags full of too much stuff, a baby in the back, and miles to go before we sleep.

Somewhere a few miles back “our song” came up on shuffle. When we first started dating, “Life Less Ordinary” by Carbon Leaf became our song because it was a rare non-top 40 alternative song us hopelessly-uncool-with-music people both knew. Now it seems so fitting, almost prophetic.

live a life less ordinary, live a life extraordinary with me.

My hometown no longer feels like home, I spent nine days feeling like a stranger in a strange place every time I stepped out my parents’ front door. It was a nice visit, but that’s what it felt like- a visit, not a homecoming.

The homecoming is on this road we are driving now, listening to the same bad music we did before we left for China, laughing at the same signs, pointing out the same sites as if we haven’t made the exact same observations dozens of times before.

It’s Sunday night, half the flight to D.C. seemed to be made up of girls my age or a little younger, all with a weekend bag, an oversized purse and cute flats on their feet. I remember when I used to be one of them, taking the Sunday night flight back to D.C. after a quick visit home.

Tonight though I waited for our bags, with the most amazing husband in the world and a baby boy so wonderful he makes my heart explode. It felt really good.

I was afraid it wouldn’t, that I’d feel nostalgic and maybe even a tinsy bit regretful watching all the girls I used to be deplane and catch a super shuttle to the life I used to lead as a poor, carefree twenty something in D.C.

I didn’t though. I felt happy, content with my life. Even as our six immigrant bags spilled all over the exit ramp, even as the rain soaked everything and we made dinner out of a fruit cup from Starbucks because everywhere serving real dinner on the road closes before 9pm. My life is extraordinary. it’s weird and sometimes a little crazy, but mostly it’s wonderful and Chris and Will make it so.

Sorry for the rambles, more later from Charlottesville and/or D.C.

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April 18, 2012

Baby Bath time

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Babies in bathtubs are cute right?  Before Will was born, there were few things I looked forward to as much as the bath toys and the splashing and the sweet downy smell of a clean baby wrapped up in a towel all warm and snuggly.

And then we had Will, and I came to the realization that bathing a newborn isn’t fun, not at all.  It’s a tricky endeavor for a new mom, one that always left me such a sweaty, nervous mess.  I mean, babies are slippery little creatures to begin with, combining them with a body of water and soap bubbles just seems like an unnecessarily bad idea.  You need one hand to support their wobbly little head, you need another hand to make sure their wee little bum doesn’t slide down the seat, dunking them up to their eyebrows.  You need a third hand to make sure you keep the water out of their eyes and ears, and you need a fourth hand to actually wash all of their wee little bits.  And heaven forbid you have a poop explosion in the middle of the bath–at that point you actually need the assistance of a whole other person–and possibly a hazmat team as well.

What I’m trying to say is that I really don’t like bathing a newborn baby.  Will got a lot of sponge baths until he was old enough to sit up.

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Around the time we got back from Thailand though, something changed.  Will started really enjoying the water and started sitting well enough that, as long as one of us was in the tub with him, we could give him a bath in the big person bathtub.  Chris and I would switch off nights taking a bath with him while the other person hung out in the bathroom to chat and grab towels, etc.  It was a fun ritual.

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Of course we have no pictures because a) the lighting in our Chengdu bathroom precluding decent photos and b) you really don’t want to see pictures of Chris and I in our swimsuits on this blog.

Here in Wisconsin though, my parents have an infant tub and a nicely-lit bathroom so, at last, cute baby bath pictures!

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April 17, 2012

Random Thoughts of a Jet-lagged Mind

Will with ayi

Will with our ayi before we left Chengdu, I’m glad we have this picture to show Will someday.  Even though she never had to watch Will for more than about 15 minutes at a time, she loved playing with him and he with her.  We were so lucky to know her while we were in Chengdu.

I hate jet-lag.  It’s not so much the sleepiness during the day and the lying awake at night–I’m way too chronically sleep-deprived to lie awake at night no matter what the circumstances–its the constant fuzzy, moving in a bubble under water feeling that really gets to me.  I haven’t been seriously drunk more than a handful of times in my life; but to me, jet lag feels like being really, really drunk and really really hungover at the same time.  I can’t find the right words to express my thoughts, I can’t focus, I can’t remember things.  Yuck.  Every time we’ve made the trip back and forth to China, and especially now that we have Will, I always have to squelch the urge to give up on travel forever and beg Chris to become a boring tax accountant-type  based in Virginia who grumbles over a once-a-year 3 hour plane ride to Disney World.

Jet lag aside though, Will has been amazing, seriously, we’ve been so lucky so far with our laid-back little traveler.  Our journey from Chengdu to Green Bay, Wisconsin was long, really, really long.  We took a 2.5 hour flight to Shanghai, followed by a 4 hour layover, followed by a 13.5 hour fight to Chicago (including 3+ hours of straight turbulence during the dinner service) followed by a 3.5 hour drive to my parents houes from Chicago.  All told, we travled for over 26 hours straight and, save for a little crying in the car, Will slept and played quietly the entire trip.   He spent most of the 13.5 hour flight from Shanghai in my arms but whatever, I’ll take no sleep and numb fingers over a screaming baby on a plane any day.  (Although that first night in Green Bay, when Will stayed awake until 2am crying with gas pains before waking up for good at 4:30am…oooh that was a little rough).

I knew that watching my parents with Will would be sweet and rewarding, but I forgot to consider what it might be like to introduce Will to my parents’ curmudgeonly old, notoriously anti-social fat tabby cat.  Hands down, one of the greatest justifications for having children yet–funny baby-animal interactions.  Surprisingly, the cat has been quite tolerant of Will “petting” him on the nose and trying to grab his tail; but its hilarious to watch the cat sort of tense up and freeze warily when he sees Will padding over to him as fast as he can crawl, drool dripping from his enthusiastic smile, pudgy hands outstretched to grab onto as much fur as possible before the cat leaps over him and bolts across the room to go hide under a bed.  Its the stuff America’s Funniest Home Videos makes a mint off of.

We took Will to the pediatrician yesterday for an early 9 month well check.  The Doc confirmed what we already knew, we’ve got a long and lean baby ninja on our hands.  He’s holding on to the 67% for length but he’s still only in the 10% for weight.  Whenever I’m carrying him and thinking about how heavy he feels, I remind myself that 90% of all the other mothers out there are carrying heavy babies than I am.   I won’t lie, it helps.

My mom left an entire apple pie sitting on the counter yesterday.  Her apple pies are legendary, made with what could be called heirloom-ish apples from my Grandfather’s land up north.  There is no resisting the cinnamon siren song of that pie.  The woman doesn’t fight fair.  I don’t mind gaining a few pounds here in America but not from one pie-and not all in one day.

I played with a big, fancy camera at the store yesterday. The 7D.  Pretty.  Tempting.

Target.  Holy cow Target.  I forgot how nice it is to be able to walk into a store and buy things.  Its so cheap!  It’s so easy!  It stops being so cheap when its so easy!!

I love blue skies.  I will never, ever, ever, take blue skies for granted ever again.
Will with family

I don’t have many pictures of Will and I, but my Dad grabbed my camera while we were playing in the backyard this past weekend and took this shot.  Its not the most flattering picture, but I like it because Will is standing up and the sun is shining.

Will is having a hard time adjusting to complete strangers ignoring him on the street.  He keeps looking hopefully at everyone and then seems kind of confused when no one comes over to coo at him.  Thank goodness for grandparents, I think they are cushioning the blow a little for him.

Time to go get dressed and get ready to take Will for some pancakes!

April 14, 2012

In the backyard

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We’re here, we’ve made it. It was a long trip but not so bad, just very tiring.

Jet lag still has us by the eyelids, keeping everyone up all night and fighting sleep all day. Luckily though we have some beautiful weather to entice us to stay outside and awake. Unseasonably warm temperatures and sunny bright blue skies are the perfect antidote to the urge to nap away the afternoon.

More later but for now, a few pictures from Will’s first time playing on a green, grassy lawn.

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20120414-203837.jpg excuse some of the weird formatting and random coding, I’m attempting blogging on an iPad and, obviously, not too proficient yet. Photos are all edited either a little or a lot in the case of the vintage-y family shots with snapseed. It’s a great little app in case you need a good iPad pitot editor. It’s a little slow, but about as functional as anything I can imagine paying four bucks for.

April 11, 2012

So Long Chengdu, Zaijian

Men playing cards on street

And so here we are, ready to finally say good-bye to Chengdu and “see you later” to all of the wonderful people we’ve met here.

I don’t have anything profound or poignant to say, I wish I did.

This morning I left Will sleeping under the watchful eye of our capable ayi to walk down to the local fresh market one more time.

It’s strange now to make the journey by myself, unencumbered by a diaper bag and a baby who always entertains himself on these trips by trying to eat my camera and find creative new ways to get germs into his mouth.

Without my mini-celebrity strapped to my chest, I felt invisible–in a good way, like I was somehow a part of the sidewalk scene instead of a foreign observer of it.  I moved quickly through the crowds, leaped over a puddle of what I now know to be baby pee, swerved around the crowd in front of the doufu maker’s shop, and avoided whips of the long cilantro stalks that stick out out above the sea of shopping bags.

I stopped and bought xiang la bing and cong you bing from my favorite stall.  I thought about telling the husband-wife bing team that we will be leaving Chengdu tomorrow, but then thought better of it.  I took a few pictures that I’d been too chicken to take all of these months here and then I walked out into the mid-morning haze, taking a long route back through the neighborhoods of Yulin.

Xiang la bing chengdu snack food

As I’ve written before, I didn’t do enough here.  I didn’t take enough pictures or talk to as many people as I should have.  I never learned the language properly and I didn’t do enough exploring.  Perhaps its these regrets that keep me from feeling like this is truly goodbye.  I can’t help but feel like I’ll be back again, maybe not to Chengdu, but to China.

We went to lunch at a nearby mall today, one that didn’t exist when we first arrived.  On our way we drove by at least 15 of the ubiquitous cheap lunch stands that often feed us and the masses here in Chengdu.  Plastic stools and mini card tables spilled out of the restaurants and onto the streets as patrons hunched over big white, chipped bowls, furiously slurping their noodles with the sort of subconscious concentration needed to eat a private meal whilst constantly brushing elbows with the two dozen other people also eating lunch, also attempting to ignore each other long enough chill out over some post-noodle pickles and a quick game of knock-off Angry Birds.

Whenever I see these scenes played out in the alleyways of this city I always wonder whether these places will still exist on our next trip to China.  I kind of think they will always exist in Chengdu.  I hope so.

I feel like there should be more to say but I can’t quite wrap my head around it all yet, so I think I’ll just stop here for now.  This isn’t the end of the China stories, but its getting late and we’ve got an long day of traveling ahead of us tomorrow.

More come next week from Wisconsin including photos with grandparents and tales of traveling for 24 hours straight with an 8 month old.  Until then, Bon Voyage and Chengdu zaijian. Thanks for reading.

April 9, 2012

Mr. Wobbles, the Baby Ninja & Street Pancakes

Will trying to stand up

We’re still in Chengdu, winding down, trying to stretch our limited supplies of laundry detergent, soap and oatmeal until Thursday morning when we head to the airport.  Until then, a few photos of Will?  A few more photos of food? Sound good?

We’ve taken to calling our son Mr. Wobbles, the Baby Ninja.  He’s pulling up on everything in sight (albeit, quite wobbily-hence the moniker).  Additionally, since he learned how to crawl, he’s become scarily proficient at finding all sorts of “off-limits” items to play with and put in his mouth.  Things like our laptop charging cord and my house slippers.  He’s quite stealthy and ninja-like in his quests, although I can’t imagine many ninjas would find a bottle of diaper wash as exciting as Will does.

You’d think in a house empty of every single item save for a few clothes, diapers and some furniture, it would be easier to keep Will out of trouble.  Instead, its the opposite.  With most of his toys packed up (or hidden so that they regain their novelty for the 13.5 hour journey from Shanghai to Chicago) we are passing the days playing with a broken salad spinner, water in the bathroom sink, and wet dish rags.  Its amazing how many ways we can find to entertain this child without toys, though it does require a bit of quick thinking.  When Mama’s not fast enough with the ideas, we’ve only got so many seconds before those electrical cords and the door hinges become irresistibly enticing again.

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Can I just say it again?  8 months is such a fun age.   All of the scrambling to keep Will away from electrical outlets (yes we will baby-proof in America and India) is so, so worth it for the fun I have playing with Will now and watching him explore the world.

And while I miss the days of 2+ hour naps, I’ll gladly take Will’s shorter naps now in exchange for the ability to put him down in his crib at 7:30pm, knowing that I won’t have to spend the next 4 hours pacing our bedroom trying to get him to stop screaming.  Not to say that he sleeps through the night–oh no far from it–but its getting better and better, easier and easier.

After worrying about my skinny baby the first few months of his life, I’m completely addicted to the rolls of baby fat on his thighs.  I love the way both his lower lip and his rotund little belly stick out while he’s concentrating on something.  Watching him scoot around, I imagine I can already see his legs turning long and lean on me, so I’m enjoying the days of pudgy hands and feet and multiple chins while I can.

In other news, Chris and I went on a lunch date today-without Will.  You’d think that since we employ a wonderful housekeeper whom we love and trust completely that we would have tried this before, but nope. This was the first time we left Will with someone other than family for more than 15 minutes (guess who was totally fine and had a great time sans Mamma and Daddy?)

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To mark the occasion we went for some of my favorite hand-cut noodles, though with food prices going up, they now cost about $1.20 a bowl instead of 80 cents.  Big spenders we are.

I’m quite proud of my skills eating steaming bowls of noodles over Will’s head in three countries now, but it was a real treat to do it without all of the contortions and hand acrobatics I usually employ to keep all of the red oil out of Will’s hair.

On our way home we picked up a few pancakes from the ever-popular guy on North Yulin street.  I’m addicted to the thick savory pancake filled with a gritty savory-sweet mix of raw sugar and roasted sesame seeds.

Street pancake

We’ve lived here for two years now, I’m not bad at interpreting simple conversations in the Sichuanese dialect, but I still can’t understand a word the pancake vendor says.  I can’t even understand his word for the number two unless he’s holding up his fingers.  If his pancakes weren’t so good I don’t think I would continue to put myself through the linguistic embarrassment of trying to order each time, but they are fantastic.  It’s just that I’m also half convinced the guy is not actually speaking to me in Chinese.

Anyways, how are you all doing?  Any big moves, pack-outs, plans?  How was Easter, Passover, your weekend?

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April 7, 2012

I’ll Miss This…

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We woke up Saturday morning to overcast skies, raindrops on the balcony, and a house so empty we hear the echoes of every footfall.

It’s a fitting last weekend here, a little gloomy, a little cold, a little typical Chengdu.

Saturday we skipped an Easter egg hunt and potluck on account of Chris having the flu. Instead we laid low and watched Will scamper around the empty house, chasing toy cars and enjoying the wide open space.

For dinner, we took a short stroll over to Yang Yang’s. It’s a neighborhood joint, but one of the best in town, beloved by both locals and foreigners alike. A New York Times writer came and ate at Yang Yang’s a few years ago, though I think he may have been trying to pad his reimbursements a little when it came to the bill. We’ve never paid more than about eight dollars a person no matter how many heaping plates of food we order.

Sichuanese dinner

Yang Yang’s is amazing, if not sometimes a bit inconsistent, pretty typical for a Chengdu restaurant. On this night though, the kitchen gave a command performance; as if trying to send us off with the perfect farewell dinner (little do they know, we plan on at least a few more take-out orders before we leave).

Sichuanese dinner

We only ordered a few dishes, but they were about as perfects we’ve ever had: yue-xiang zhezi (eggplant), feng wei (a local green stir-fried in garlic and too much oil), Riben doufu (literally Japanese tofu, deep fried doufu in a yue-xiang sauce) and a plate of deep-fried peanuts.

Sichuanese dinner

The waitresses we’ve known for two years now graciously supplied us with extra chopsticks as Will attempted to drool on as many pairs as possible before flinging them unceremoniously on the floor. Each time he’d look up and give the waitresses a flirtatious smile until they’d bring another pair.  We are in for a rude awakening the first time we eat out again in America, I think.

Will in today hat at yang yang restaurant

We have three and a half days left in Chengdu.

Will in today hat at yang yang restaurant

photos of Will and I by Chris

April 5, 2012

A trip to the zoo: a D.C. love story

Chris and I after a rainstorm in Charlottesville a few weeks before our wedding.  Apparently we have zero zoo photos on this computer…

Of all the things I am looking forward to during our upcoming time in America, I am looking forward to nothing more than walking through the Smithsonian National Zoo with my husband and my baby.

Allow me to explain.  It’s kind of a long story, and a sentimental one.  Be forewarned.

From the weekend after our first date until we left D.C. two years later, Chris and I spent nearly every other sunny Saturday morning wandering through the National Zoo.  We’d get a late, luxuriously lazy pre-kid start to our morning, mosey on down to Open City for a couple of coffees and croissants, and then we’d head up Connecticut Avenue to the Zoo for some walking and people-watching.

We had our favorite exhibits.  We always stopped to see the Asian otters and always avoided the reptile house.  Once we spent 45 minutes just sitting at the Zoo entrance just watching the families and kids come streaming in.

But mostly we took these walks to talk and to dream.  We’d dream up what to have for dinner that night, where to go for our next hike.  We’d dream about hypothetical vacations and the construction of hypothetical dream homes.  After a while we started noticing the kids and the strollers and, while we kept those dreams to ourselves for a long time, we started to dream of what it might be like to one day take our own little family to the zoo.

We took many long walks through D.C. together but the zoo was always a special place.

The day before our backyard wedding, I don’t remember all of the preparations or even the rehearsal dinner.  All I remember is our walk through the zoo.  We needed to finalize the ceremony that our sisters would officiate for us the next morning so Chris suggested a zoo walk, to hash things out.  At the end of it we sat down in Rock Creek Park and Chris said the vows he’d been practicing in secret for weeks to me.  I cannot, for the life of me, remember his exact words; but I remember the iced coffees sweating in our laps, the ants crawling up our legs, and the solemn but so wonderful feeling that, as he said those vows to me, we’d suddenly just shed the last of out “two-ness.”

Our legal courthouse ceremony may have been weeks before, our wedding might have been the very next day, but it was that moment after our zoo walk that I really married my husband.

For many people, I think D.C. is more of a stopping ground than a place to call home.  It’s not a cheap city, it can be a downright pretentious place; having kids in or around the District requires all sorts of school-district considerations.  Lots of people really like it, but I don’t know how many people call it home.

For us though, Washington D.C. is home.  I’ve lived in Texas, Wisconsin, India, very briefly Colorado, and now China; but D.C. is where I feel most comfortable.  It’s where I feel the most like myself and where I like myself best.  It’s hard to explain how my heart wells up when I think about the District, the surrounding suburbs, the hiking trails just a few hours outside of town.

It’s not a perfect city, but it’s truly my city.  And it’s where I fell in love, however accidentally, with the man who makes my world go round.

One of these days I’ll share how Chris and I met and got together, it’s sort of a whirlwind, crazy-ish story.  For now, it suffices to say that, one night, after a work happy hour we stopped in at an Adams Morgan coffee house to share a piece of chocolate cake.  Five hours later Chris walked me home and I haven’t been able to get him out of my head or my heart ever since.

After just a few months of dating, Chris asked me to move in with him.  He posed the question in the middle of a long, hot uphill hike in the middle of the GW National forest, so I assumed he was delusional with heatstroke.  I didn’t believe him until, a few weeks later, he handed me a set of keys on a homemade keychain made out of some camping rope and a tarnished old Chinese coin.   That’s still the keychain I use today.  It seemed crazy, at the time, to be moving in together after only a few months of dating but it also felt so right.  And it was so right.  Its hard to describe how much joy and how little strife we found in sharing a home together.

Only a few months later Chris joined the foreign service and about a week later, while we waited to pick up a take-out pizza, he asked me to marry him.  I ran a half-marathon the next morning with a crazy grin on my face, staring down at my new ring every quarter of a mile to make sure I hadn’t lost it yet.

(Chris would like me to note here that he had been planing a romantic Montana mountain-top proposal when the Foreign Service called him up and told him he’d be in training for the days he was getting hiking permits for.  Oops.)

We were engaged for just a little over 3 months before our wedding.  That means that, by my calculations, we went from sharing a coffee and a piece of chocolate cake, to sharing an apartment, to sharing a last name in the space of about 16 months.

Our friends thought we were nuts, too fast, too crazy.  I thought we were nuts.  I moved to D.C. to start a career, not to find a life partner nine years my senior and to end up married and moving across the world with him two years later.  Going out with Chris the first time was the best decision I ever made, but I certainly hadn’t counted on that cup of coffee changing the course of my life forever.

I’d always thought that love was supposed to be hard work, that the harder you worked at it the truer it was.  Turns out that for Chris and I, its the easiest, most joyful thing in the world.  Real life can be hard work, making time for each other with a baby who hates sleeping can be hard work, but loving Chris never is.

It was the first relationship in which I never wondered “where it was going” and, in the meantime, as we dated, co-habitated and began our married life, we lived perhaps the most romantic, most wonderful life possible in Washington D.C.

We wandered the streets around our neighborhoods from dawn until dusk.  We stopped for ice cream, for breakfast, for dinner at the divy-est and the nicest of D.C. restaurants.  We admired architecture and visited every museum on the Mall.  We laid in the grass with friends at Dupont Circle.  We kayaked on the Potomac, we ran along the canals in Georgetown.  We watched planes fly low over Gravelly Point.  We picnicked in parks.  We picked up crabs from the wharf and ate them on the edge of the Tidal Basin after dark while the trees glowed white above us and showered us in cherry blossoms.

We bought a National Park annual pass and spent weekend after weekend in the Shenandoah mountains and George Washington National Forest.  We drove to Annapolis to see the boat show there and to Assateague Island to see the dunes and the horses.  We drove around the suburbs in search of the best sushi, the best Vietnamese food, the best Korean barbecue, and the best pancakes.

We took advantage of our (at the time) 35-and-under ages and saw Romeo & Juliet with an all-male cast and As You Like It at the Shakespeare Theater for $12 each.  We went to the Folklife Festival and the Solar Decathlon and countless street fairs.  The night Obama was elected President we wandered the streets celebrating as cab drivers honked and strangers hugged and danced together.  On Inauguration Day we stood in the shadow of the Washington Monument freezing our toes off with thousands of people whom, at that moment, felt like nothing less than family.

We tried nearly every single coffee house in the Metro area, we visited the farmers markets every weekend.  We walked for frozen yogurt or Baskin Robbins nearly every night during the summertime and once we even saw a real “blue moon” hanging in the sky above us.  We wandered through the Sculpture Garden more times than I can count and visited the Roosevelt Memorial at night because that’s just the best way to appreciate it.

In short, there is hardly a street in NW D.C. that does not hold a warm memory for us.  There is not a highway out of town that we did not once take.

Going back to D.C. for the first time in two years isn’t just a chance to see the sights, shop at Trader Joe’s again and eat fresh seafood, it’s a pilgrimage back to the place where we began.  It’s also our first chance to share with Will where he comes from and the zoo where we first dreamed up his existence.

Not this time in D.C. nor any subsequent D.C. tours will ever be like those first few carefree years we had together.  There will be bedtimes to observe, aborted attempts at eating out, eventually, we too, will have school districts to consider.  Things will be different, but they will be different in a wonderful sort of way.  Because I can’t think of a more fitting way to return to the city that gave me my husband than to return together as a little family now, baby boy in tow.

Chris can’t wait to teach Will how to eat his first Maryland blue crab.  I can’t wait for our first family picnic at the mall for the 4th of July fireworks.  In a few years we will take him to the Air and Space Museum and watch his eyes light up at all of the planes dangling from the ceiling.

But for now, while he is still so little, we will start with the most important things first.  We will stop for our coffees and we will share with him bits of our flaky croissants.

And then we’ll take his hands hold them tight as we show him around his zoo.

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