The Hot Pot Blog

July 19, 2012

Around Here

Martha Stewart I am not…

It’s about to be another one of those crazy/wonderful two weeks in which blogging will probably languish down somewhere near the bottom of my to-do list.

Family is coming into town, friends are coming into town.

Will’s first birthday is coming up.

I’m pulling an absurd amount of dried strawberry pulp out of the carpeting in our (rental!) apartment and cleaning up dust bunnies.

Chris’ sister is leaving for Delhi on Sunday.

We need to eat a lot of Vietnamese/Chinese/crabs before Sunday.

Stupid Pinterest inspired me to take up sewing.  I measure six times, cut once, pin my totally-not-even-close-to-straight-edged pieces together, mess up the directions three times, curse like a sailor and end up with rhombus-shaped cosmetic bags that, on Pinterest, look suspiciously, perfectly square.  It’s fun!

Oh and it seems like we’re in the process of buying everything ever sold at Target or on the internet.  Because who doesn’t do that one month before they leave the country?

This week I’m doing some non-blog writing.  Next week I’m doing an “All Things Baby” mini, mini-series.  It’s mini in that it’s only one week long and also in that the posts themselves will probably be pretty mini.  I’ve got all sorts of drafts that I’ve written over the last year, about Will, about babies, about baby gear, and I thought I’d take the best of the short ones and post them all in the week leading up to Will’s birthday.

Never fear though for those of you who would rather not read about babies.  After Will’s birthday we’ve only got 2.5 weeks until we leave (finally!) for New Delhi…

What are you up to this week?  Do you sew?  What’s the secret to cutting right angles and straight lines?

July 17, 2012

The Weekend

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We made a pilgrimage last weekend to Altoona, PA to introduce Will to his 94-year-old Great Grandpa.

He looks great, he is great. If I’m like him, walking around unassisted and still religiously following current events when I’m 94; or like Will’s other great grandfather, still chopping firewood and mowing the back 40 at 93-years-old, then I’ll count myself lucky.  Will has some amazing great-grandfathers and some lovely great-aunties as well.

On our drive home, on winding, misty roads around and through the Allegheny mountains, Chris and I looked out onto the valleys below and wondered what it must have been like for the first settlers to climb over the hilltops and stare into an untouched landscape, deciding where to call “home.”

I sometimes think it’s hard to move overseas and yet, it’s actually pretty cushy process, even compared to 20 years ago. We have Skype, Amazon, and the ability to return home, usually in less than 36 hours. We have, if not good, then emergency access to good medical care.

I can’t imagine what it would be like say good-bye to friends and family, pack up a wagon and simply head West, with no idea of exactly where to go and what might happen. With no medical care or maps or even a postal system to ever let people back home know you’re alright, and where they might be able to find you.

And then, what do you do if your family constitutes the only population within 15 or 50 square miles? How do you not go a little stir-crazy with no one else to talk to besides the people you’re related to by blood?

I think I’ve just outed myself here as something of a city mouse. Thank goodness we’re not traveling to India in a covered wagon.

A few more pictures from the weekend:

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North Side Social is the new-ish old Murky Coffee.  I think technically they opened before we left for Chengdu, but this was our first time back to the old, lofty, post-industrial space.  It looks exactly like it did before–Counter Culture coffee for sale, concrete floors, lots of laptops, lots of kids, a relaxed mix of hipsters and yuppies and-what would you call a hipster-yuppie?  A hippie?  Wait, no, that’s not right.  Well, in any case, the coffee is still wonderful, the breakfast sandwiches are to die for and the lattes still come with beautiful hearts and pine trees swirling in the cafe-colored foam.

The scones also happen to be completely un-scone-like in that they are delicious, towering, delicate craggy mounds combining apricots, pistachios, sparkling sugar and butter-loads and loads of butter.  I don’t usually praise a pastry-case scone, but these ones were fantastic.


Friday night we stopped at the Crystal City Kebab place for dinner. I’ve just realized that is not actually the name of the restaurant but you probably know which one I’m talking about–the one that isn’t Ravi Kebab.

To our left was a couple from somewhere around Calcutta, speaking in a mix of Hindi and Bengali.  Before we left, a group of families in burkas and head scarves sat down behind us, oohing and ahhing over adorable new babies. A gaggle of college-age girls from somewhere in West Africa were sharing a plate of kebabs by the window. A women in platform heels and a skimpy tank top was in line ordering dinner before her shift at the strip club next door.

If there is one thing I always miss about D.C. it’s living in a place that is home to so many different people from so many different places. The world feels a lot more manageable, a lot smaller and warm-fuzzy feeling when you’ve got a minimum of 4 languages and 6 countries represented in just one tiny 40 foot X 40 foot kebab shop.

A few more photos from the weekend:






How was your weekend? What did you do?

July 13, 2012

Rosslyn: America’s Real Premier Tourist Destination

Rosslyn VA

Ok fine, so it’s actually just where all of the tourists book all of their hotel rooms.

I’m feeling a tad bit jealous of all of the stunning travel photography and vibrant portraits of everyday life in exotic places that I’ve been seeing in the blogosphere lately.  It’s enough to make living in America feel downright boring.

I wish we were in India already, but we’re not.  A fact made very evident by the giant pile of shirts I ironed last night and the fact that no one, besides me, has dusted my furniture in months.

So, to pass the time, I thought I’d share my own little travelogue of sorts from our current home away from home away from home: Rosslyn.

Rosslyn VA

Yes, Rosslyn.  That little 1970’s hodgepodge of weirdly Art Deco-y skyscrapers that sits on the other side of Key Bridge from Georgetown.  That little corner of Arlington County where you can find a dry cleaners, a mediocre deli and a Starbucks every 50 feet but, much to my dismay, not one darn ice cream shop.

But you know what?  Who cares?  We might not have the great shopping of ritzy Georgetown or the great restaurant scene of yuppie Clarendon.  We don’t have two cupcake bakeries within 3 blocks of one another and sure this place turns into a ghost town come Friday at 5pm; but Rosslyn is totally worth a stop on any Washington D.C. itinerary.

There are some renowned travel writing traditions that will try to tell you what to do with 36 hours such fabulous destinations as Paris, Istanbul, or Madison, Wisconsin.  Very similarly, I give you…

36 Minutes in Rosslyn (A scintillating travelogue about the biggest neighborhood that no one actually lives in)

00:00-03:00: Going Up

Rosslyn Escalator

D.C. Metro folklore tells us that the Rosslyn Metro Escalator is the 2nd longest in the entire world.  Folks, this is just plain not true.  Sadly, the escalator is not even long enough to rate a Wikipedia entry.  It’s just your average, everyday, really, really long “omg are we really still riding this thing, I think I’m coming down with vertigo” escalator.  The ride from platform to mezzanine will take you nearly 3 minutes or 1/12 of your entire 36 minute tour of Rosslyn.  Ponder that thought as you ride up to street level.  Or you could just do what everyone else does and check your iPhone.

05:00-15:00 Dim Sum (Or China-lite)

CVS China Garden

China Garden Dim Sum isn’t good, but it’s not bad and it’s kind of the only Dim Sum that exists between Rocklville, Maryland and 7 Corners in Virginia.  Are you considering a move to China?  Hang out in the CVS below the restaurant for a bit of cultural immersion.  It’s where all of the Chinese tour buses stop to let everyone out for snacks and a little bit of American drugstore retail therapy.  I always get a little nostalgic as I listen to the grandmothers discuss which pairs of flip-flops to buy.

16:00-17:30 Why Visit the National Mall When you Can See it From Rosslyn?

View of Monuments from Freedom Park

In all honesty, Freedom Park is really cool.  It’s a sky-line-style park that connects several of the nicest and ugliest skyscrapers in Rosslyn.  There’s some neat art up there, it’s a great spot for a lunch-hour picnic, it has a nice view of the National Mall, and someone put some serious effort into the gardening with beautiful plants from all across America.  Hey, why visit the Mall or the Botanical Gardens when you can beat the crowds in Rosslyn?

Freedom Spectrum Art at Freedom Park

18:00  Where to Find Every Single Office Worker Bee in Rosslyn at 3pm on a Monday

Rosslyn VA

Are you thirsty?  In need of a coffee break?  Rosslyn boasts a Starbucks density that rivals New York City.  My personal favorite is the store with the patio stuck between Oak Street and Clarendon Blvd.  It’s not even on a real city block, it’s just this tiny little caffeinated oasis surrounded on all sides by traffic.  The truly amazing thing though is how they managed to invent the internet next door without any help from Starbucks at all…

Rosslyn VA

21:00 You’re Reading this Post Because of Rosslyn

Not just because things are slow enough around here for me to justify spending several hours writing a tour guide for Rosslyn, but also because Rosslyn invented the internet.    Ok, technically some techy government/military people invented the internet.  But in Rosslyn.  Across from the Starbucks.  But before there was Starbucks.  Can you believe the internet is that old?

Who says you need monuments to commemorate important history!  A modest sign post in the middle of a pedestrian walkway works too.

Rosslyn VA


19:00 The Only Church/Gas Station in the Entire Country (that I know of)

Church and gas station in Rosslyn

It’s not everyday you can tell someone to meet you at the church on top of the gas station or the gas station underneath the church, but you can do it in Rosslyn!  Noteable?  Obviously.  Interesting?  I’m not actually sure…

Rosslyn VA


20:00 The Most Famous Parking Garage in America

Rosslyn VA

Unbelievably enough, the world’s most famous parking garage is actually just across the street from the world’s only church-on-top-of-a-gas-station.

Why is this car park so famous?  Heard of Watergate?  Have you at least watched All the President’s Men?  This is the garage where Woodward and Bernstein used to meet with their most important Watergate source, Deep Throat.   Seriously, how cool is that?  You can just walk on in there and hang out behind parked cars pretending you’re a sneaky, undercover source.  Or not.  That would be kind of weird and could possibly get you kicked out of Rosslyn/America all together–which would be really sad.  (Fun fact: Chris and I used to park Chris’ car in the Deep Throat garage back in the day…wait that sounds wrong, doesn’t it?)

Rosslyn VA

25:00-36:00 The Best Strip Mall Ever

Pho 79 & Ray's Hell Strip Mall

Rays Hell burgers?  Pho 79?  What can I say?  I save the best for last.

I don’t know how to tell you to choose between the nation’s best hamburger and Arlington’s most renowned Pho joint, so I’m not going to.  You should probably just have both.  You can always walk up and down the Rosslyn escalator to work it all off afterwards.

Now if only there was something besides overpriced frozen yogurt around Rosslyn for dessert…

A few more Rosslyn photos:

Dancers in Rosslyn

No idea why this statue exists, but I really, really, really won’t miss it in New Delhi.

Rosslyn VA

July 11, 2012

This is what happens when Will’s Ahyee Gets an iPad

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned here that Will has a serious pho addiction.  We live down the street right now from Arlington’s most famous pho house and so we eat pho at least once a week.  Will is absurd about it.  He’s so impatient that I usually line up 3 soup spoons of broth in a row so that I can feed him from one while the other two cool down.  Heaven help us if he were to have to wait for a spoonful to cool down.

Kathleen’s picture above is a fairly accurate depiction of what Will looks like when I take a break from feeding him to gobble down a few bites of my own pho.  Minus the speech bubble. And the blue hair.  But the red eyebrows are totally a real thing.

July 9, 2012

Transition Time

Our supply of soy sauce, sesame oil, hoisin, fish sauce and vinegar to get us through the first 6 months in Delhi.  Now is not the time to tell me I can find all of these items (and cheaply) at the commissary.

I’m in a funk right now.  It’s the pre-moving-across-the-world-again funk.

Come two days before we leave for India, I’m going to be flying high with excitement.  I thrive on a high-octane mix of stress and adrenaline.  I love the thrill of actually boarding the plane to head somewhere new and different.

But for me, those weeks before we actually get to pack our bags are always a little yucky.  I’m moody, crabby, emotional, full of restless discontent–a far cry from my normal, happy state of being.  I find myself torn between looking forward to leaving and wishing we didn’t have to just yet.   I feel a bit unmoored, detached from both the place I’m in now and the place we’re going to.

All of the hard good-byes are looming on the horizon and beyond that, I don’t know entirely what comes next.  Moving across the world is a little like having a baby.  Until you have one, it’s really hard to imagine the ways your life will change or how those changes might affect you.  You can plan for anything but you can’t prepare for everything.  It’s hard to know ahead of time how having a baby–or moving overseas–will change the meals you’ll eat, the way you’ll organize your days and what you’ll do with your weekends.

No matter how many pictures of our future home we get, no matter how many questions our wonderful sponsors answer, we’re still not going to know what it will feel like to live in New Delhi this time until we actually get there.

And so, in a way, I don’t actually know how to feel in the days and weeks before we leave.

Excited for the new adventures?  Nervous for the challenges that inevitably lie ahead?  Sad for the friends and familiarity we’ll be leaving behind?  Happy to know that we’ll be able to actually settle down soon, unpack and stop living in limbo?

It’s a topsy-turvy mess of feelings.

I see photos on Facebook of friends I used to have, taking vacations at lake houses I used to visit.  I feel wistful.  Had I never left home, had I never lost touch, maybe I would be in those photos instead of packing up to move across the world again.

I take Will to the park he loves, to the grocery store where I buy him the fruit he loves.  I watch how happy he is here in America and I think “What are we doing? Why are we putting him through yet another transition?”

I exchanged messages with my friend out in California today about the guilt we feel living far away from our families and I felt even guiltier to realize that, not only did we miss her beautiful wedding, but we probably won’t see each other for at least another year or two.  I haven’t seen her since before we left for China.  How badly I wish we still lived close enough to one another to go out for breakfast on Saturday mornings the way we we used to.

I remember the drudgery of packing, traveling, getting over jet-lag, unpacking and I think, yet again, “why aren’t we just normal people living in Northern Virginia, satisfied with a yearly vacation to the Outer Banks?”

And yet…

I’m tired of buying things–constantly buying things here in America.  Honestly, life is a lot simpler when you don’t know what you’re missing.  It will be nice to get back overseas and back into our habit of making do or doing without.

I’m looking forward to living a few blocks away from Chris’ sister in New Delhi.  I’m looking forward to reuniting with all of our friends in India.  I can’t wait set up our home again, to start looking for work and making new friends.

I’m looking forward to all of the spirt and soul and grit I missed so much in China.  I’m looking forward to the rush and the fun of discovering new favorite haunts around the city.  I’m looking forward to sunshine and mango season.  I’m looking forward to the head bobbles and the warmth and the ability to communicate more easily with the people I meet on the street.

And I’ll admit it, I’m looking forward to having a housekeeper again!  To open-air markets.  To lassis and paneer and morning dosas.  To chai and South Indian coffee (and an aside: where can I get South Indian-style coffee in Delhi??)

And yet…

I’m dreading that horrible feeling of dislocation on that first long day in country.  That day when I don’t have a phone, the internet, or any clue where my husband is and when he’ll be coming home.

I’m dreading those awkward first few weeks trying to sort out relationships with housekeepers and neighbors, getting lost and having to ask for help and not knowing where things are and how things work.  I’m dreading those moments when I meet people I like and I wish we could just be insta-best friends instead of having to test the waters and figure out how we might fit into each other’s lives.

I remember the good old days in Chengdu where I could walk around in shorts and a tank top, if I wanted to, without anyone giving me a second glance.  Where the most annoying thing about mosquito bites was the itching and not the risk of dengue fever.

I’m remembering the poverty, the gauntlet of beggars outside the taxi windows, the annoyance of having an Indian man assume I don’t know something simply because I’m a women.  I’m remembering the eve-teasing and the smells and the dust.

I wonder what it will be like for Chris, returning to the exact place he lived as a teenager, the place he graduated from high school.  What will it be like to return now as a grown man with a family?

I wonder what it will be like for me, returning to India not as a care-free intern living off street food and 3rd-class train tickets, but instead as a diplomatic spouse with a diplo-kid and a house “in the Enclave.”

I love India, I know I’ll love our lives there eventually.  But this yucky pre-go time makes me anxious to just get over there and get started already.

We bought 5 gallons of soy sauce and sesame oil last weekend to see us through until we find a good supply in New Delhi.  We picked out new sheets to pack in our luggage for that weird first night in our new home.  We have new address labels and plans for what we are going to do differently, better in New Delhi.  Obsessing over the little details is the way we cope with the transition and the inability to really prepare for how our lives are about to change so dramatically.  Obsessing and a little bit of retail therapy.

This funky time isn’t fun, but thankfully it also goes by so quickly.  Before we know it we’ll be organizing piles for UAB and HHE, packing our bags and heading for the airport.

Until then, I’m trying to dig into the process and embrace the funkiness.  It’s a detox of sorts, a time to purge myself of all of feelings, schedules, arrangements and conveniences I’ve gotten used to and that will become so utterly irrelevant in just a few more short weeks.  To really embrace all of the newness, there are always a few things, mentally and emotionally, that we’d do better to leave behind.

I learn a lot about myself from times like this.  What those things are this time?  I’m not sure yet, but I’ll let you know when I find out.

How is your transition season going?

DIY Salad Dressing Over on Hardship Homemaker

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I’m guest-posting today with a diy salad dressing recipe over at Hardship Homemaking. Come by to check it out!

July 7, 2012

A Little Blog Staycation

Will eating ribs

Oops.  I meant to take one day off from this here old blog, instead I took about 3.  It’s been nice if a bit lazy feeling.

I have a few posts in the works, but I think I’m continuing my lazy streak until at least tomorrow but just popped by to say hi, how are you?

Above: Will tries ribs on the 4th of July. Below: an old photo of Will circa 3 weeks old, I love his face!

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July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth, Happy Anniversary!

1437BWphoto by: Stephen Voss

Happy Fourth of July everybody!

It’s been three years since Chris and I began celebrating our interdependence by getting married on America’s Independence Day.

Once upon a time Chris convinced me that the 4th of July would be the perfect day for a wedding saying, “baby, there will always be fireworks for us…and I’ll always have the day off.”  He was right.  He won’t admit it, but he usually is.

People sometimes ask me how I find time to blog and write while taking care of little Will.  It’s partially because I spend so many nights glued to my laptop screen while Chris sits on the couch next to me, patiently waiting for a break in the keyboard clicking to tell me something funny or interesting or simply that he loves me.

Happily married people don’t need to spend every free moment staring deeply into one another’s eyes, but once in awhile it’s nice to do nothing but exactly that, or at least be totally available to do exactly that–laptop firmly shut and put away.

We don’t have any big, romantic plans for the day–it is the fourth of July after all, there is a grill to attend to.  But, even so, I’m taking a big, long break from the computer today to go for some “honeymoon coffee,” cook up a bunch of food, and watch some fireworks with the man who makes my world go round.

There aren’t words enough to say how amazing it is to get to live with, parent with, and travel around the world with Chris.  Our relationship is decidedly low-key, low-maintenance, low-drama–we don’t do gifts or big gestures or momentous moments.  But Chris has a way of making the everyday interesting, a way of smoothing of the rough corners of a busy day with quiet little acts of kindness and thoughtfulness.  He fills my days with laughter and fun and so much love that I sometimes can’t believe how lucky I am to get to hang out with him everyday.

Happy Anniversary my love, I love you.

July 2, 2012

The Weekend

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A Chengdu-ren reunion!

This weekend?

A whirlwind, literally, figuratively.  Can I just say how grateful we are to still have power?  We fell asleep on Friday night to “a little heat lightning.”  We walked out of our apartment Saturday morning to find metal lamp posts broken in half on the ground and linoleum siding in the park…from the apartment complex 3 blocks away.  Wow.

Camera Roll-347A Chengdu/Bangkok reunion!

Notable Events from the weekend:

*Being able to do laundry.  Still having internet access.  Air-conditioning.

*Walking past the parking lot for the strip mall that houses both Ray’s Hell Burger and Pho 79.  Seeing that parking lot empty for possibly the first time since it was built.  No power.

*Making this yogurt-lemon-blueberry cake.  Making these oatmeal-coconut-chocolate bars.  The cake is so moist it could practically function as a home humidifier.  The bars are so lethal you won’t want to make them unless you have somewhere to take them–out of your house–and fast. (I added a little cinnamon to the mix and browned my coconut oil and butter fyi)

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*A play date with Kathleen’s best friend from high school, L, and her adorable and awesome 18-month-old, J.  L’s house has no power so we invited them over for some swimming, lunch, and air-conditioned play time.  J calls chickens “cluck clucks”  and looks like he could be Will’s older brother.  Made my heart melt faster than an ice cream cone in a Fairfax County apartment this weekend.

*Reading this great article.

*Will’s new Muay Thai Boxing Shorts (courtesy of these wonderful people)

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*Brunch with our friends from Bangkok, formerly of Chengdu. Walking across Key Bridge together.  Hanging out.  Catching up. On the other side of the world from where we met.  Meeting up with one more Chengdu friend.  Introducing all of them to  Paul’s, the thank-goodness-they-haven’t-opened-a-store-in-New-Dehli-yet-because-damn-those-almond-chocolate-croissants-! bakery in Georgetown.

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*Wishing we lived in Bangkok. Wishing our friends lived in New Delhi. Feeling happy and sad that the world is so big and yet so small at the time.

*Admiring Phil’s new hat.  It plays.

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*A reunion with some friends in town from New York.  Watching Will fall totally in love with said friends. Once upon a time we all met at work.  They went off to Prague, we went off to China.  Fast forward 4 years later and what do you know?  Those little work place crushes all turned out to be pretty serious, we’re married, they’re married! How fun!

*Will’s Ahyee Kathleen arriving in town.  Watching Kathleen and Will play.  Hanging out with the best sister-in-law ever.

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*Remembering we’re leaving for India in less than a month and a half.  Remembering that, as hot as it is here right now, it’s the same temperature in New Delhi…at 3 in the morning.

*Spending more time this weekend attempting to convince Will to nap than he ever actually spent napping.  Why hello there, Creature of Habit!  Would that be your “routine” lying in the shards of glass from the window we just tossed it through?

Do you have power at your house? What did you do this weekend?

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