The Hot Pot Blog

September 28, 2012

Humayun’s Tomb & Other Assorted Adventures

Humayun's Tomb_MG_1037September 25, 2012

Between the monkeys and the dengue-carrying mosquitoes and the darn crow that tried to steal my coffee at the playground yesterday morning, I’m feeling a little over wildlife at the moment.  So let’s talk tombs again, shall we?

We’ve discussed the fact that stores in India do not open until 10, 11 or even 11:30am, yes?  And that, if Will does not go down for a nap by noon he will likely skip napping for the entire day and turn into a puddle of toddler angst by 4pm?  And that traffic in Delhi gets pretty horrid around 4pm?  And we don’t yet have a car so we’re usually in an (un-air-conditioned) taxi when we are out and about?

That’s not to say we don’t get out and about around this city though, far from it.  Stores might not open until after 11, but all of the most lovely historical sites open at dawn and a Diplomatic ID card gets you into most of them for the bargain Indian price of 10 rupees.

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This week we went to Humayun’s Tomb where the gate guard surprised me by asking for my ID instead of charging me the foreigner price.  Then again, this is a town full of diplomats and I suppose there must be more than one of us here stir-crazy enough at 9am to drag our toddlers out sight-seeing around town.

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Unlike at Safdarjung a few weeks ago, we weren’t the only tourists around this time.  A group of two dozen Indian men on holiday entered the complex just after I did, as well as several dozen other foreign tourists before we left.

After spending all of my time in India previously as a young, single female, I feel much less harassed these days than I used to.  Perhaps something about the child strapped to my chest screams “off limits!” in a way my baggy kurtas and defensive postures never did.

So maybe that’s why I mind less now when certain Indian men do the sorts of things that some men are, at times, so infamous for.  And yes, I do mean just some men.  I’m fortunate enough to know a great many really fantastic, inspiring and also kind and respectful Indian men from my days in the non-profit world and now from the Embassy community.

When it comes to the less-than-respectful men I meet out in the world though, at this point, as long as I’m not touched, I ignore it.  It’s not exactly fun having men taking pictures and coolly inspecting Will and I as if we exist solely for their personal entertainment, but really what is there to do except walk away?

I had to laugh though when one of the men at Humayun’s Tomb approached and suggestively asked me if “I was lonely.”  Hee hee! Did he not see the rambunctious little person attempting to throw himself out of my arms and into the foul-looking reflecting pool?

I am many things these days, but lonely is certainly not one of them. (I’m serious, Mom!)  It’s very hard to be lonely when I’m with Will who loves being outside as well as waving “hello” to every single person who crosses our path.  At this point, I’m fairly sure Will and I know not only half of the Embassy staff, but also everyone who has ever walked past our house to pick up their child at school, anyone who drives any kind of motor vehicle anywhere within a quarter mile radius of our front door, and every single gate guard at every single gate.  We’re kind of like the inverse of popular.  Everyone knows us, but that’s only because they really have no other option.  🙂

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Anyways, Humayun’s Tomb.  The awe-striking sandstone complex dates to the mid 16th century and stands near the Old Fort and the foundations of one of the great ancient cities of Delhi, Indraprasta.  Huge restoration efforts are underway to return the tomb complex to it’s former glory, but it’s still an impressive place to visit in spite of all of the scaffolding.

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If you love history and architecture, New Delhi is quite possibly one of the most fantastic places you could possibly live.  Thank goodness for Will and his antics or else you, my poor readers, would find yourselves reading far more about Indian history than you probably ever really wanted to know.

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Humayun’s Tomb is far larger, grander and more visited than Safdarjung’s tomb and we didn’t get to fully explore either the extensive main building or the gardens surrounding the Tomb.  Instead, for our first visit, I limited myself to wandering through the main building while running after Will and saying things like “Will, please stop slapping those ancient marble tombs!” I think we’ll have to go back many more times before we’re able to truly soak up all of this UNESCO World Heritage Site’s rich history.

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Briefly, the most amazing thing to me about the place was all of the complicated lattice work on the upper level of the mausoleum.  There were at least 9 rooms, all with at least 5 or 6 smaller alcoves with ornate lattice work offering a dreamy perforated view of the outer deck.  The inner rooms were breezy and cool–at least 15 degrees cooler than outside in the full sun.  The passive air-conditioning features of ancient architecture never cease to amaze me.

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I obsessed a little over the light coming through the lattice work.  I’ve only got about 3 dozen shots like this on my computer now…

Interestingly enough, on our way home, I asked our taxi driver where his favorite place in Delhi.  He said Humayun’s Tomb and then, Rajpath.  Maybe he was just saying that since we had just been there, but I wouldn’t doubt him, it was a stunning place to visit.  I was floating on a “amazing history” high all the way back to the Embassy.

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September 25, 2012

A Monkey Tale

Eggs at the market.  This market is the reason we cross into monkey territory several times a week.  

As you may or may not know, New Delhi has something of a monkey problem.  The neighborhood where my sister-in-law lives, across the street from the Embassy, is particularly infested.  It’s sometimes impossible to put more than 15 feet between ourselves and a pack of monkeys.

They look so cute from a distance, the babies are adorable, the Mama monkeys seem so disarmingly motherly, occasionally swatting a naughty youngster or gently cuddling a tiny baby.

They aren’t so cute though when they are ransacking your patio, stealing your wallet, or attacking your person.  They have no qualms about harassing, biting seriously injuring people who won’t give them what they want.  Monkeys even killed a New Delhi mayor when a pack of them chased him off his balcony a few years ago.  In addition to food, they like shiny things, like phones and jewelry.  They are smart and also a little bit vindictive.

Last month, a teacher at the Embassy school tried squirting water at a monkey that landed on his own balcony.  The monkey fled as desired, but returned a few hours later with the rest of his clan.   Monkeys pounded on the windows, shredded his plants, smashed pots, trashed furniture and even tossed some of it over the railing and onto the ground several stories below.

My mother-in-law was on her way to buy flowers last week when a male monkey happened to be in the area and came running at her, teeth barred and gnashing.  He was scared off at the last minute only by the flower-wallah who came running and waving a big stick.  My mother-in-law said afterwards that she didn’t know she could scream like she did at that moment.


Today it was just me and Will on our way home from the market in Malcha Marg.  As I turned down the street towards the Embassy, I felt that hair-rising-on-the-back-of-my-neck, sinking feeling that I’d somehow just made a mistake.  Then I saw what it was.

6 men and a monkey.  A big monkey, at least 70 or 80 pounds, perched on a fence.  He was angry and hissing and clawing madly at the air in front of him, held back from what would seem to be a bloody rampage by a gang of men and boys clinging desperately to the monkey’s tail on the opposite side of the fence from Will and I.

The men, the monkey and I all saw each other at the exact same instant.  The monkey howled and snarled at me, the men’s faces went ashen with panic and they started shouting and pulling at the monkey’s tail now in renewed desperation.  My hunch is that the big monkey was actually brought in by a monkey-wallah (a man hired to have his big monkey pee all over the little monkey territory and scare them away) who suddenly went rogue.

Whatever the monkey’s reason for being there and being so viciously angry, we were too close to stop moving or turn around.  The monkey had already seen us and if we changed course, who knew which direction he would lurch in and whether the men would be able to keep their grip.  I wrapped my arms around as much of Will’s body as I could cover, put my head down, and then made a break for it, run-walking as fast as I could, past the monkey and down the block.  I could almost feel the sighs of relief from the 6 monkey-wrangling men behind my back as they watched us make it safely to the traffic light on the corner.

It all happened too fast to be afraid, though I suppose we would have been dangerously screwed had those men lost their grip on the monkey’s tail.  The real problem is that my sister-in-law has to walk down that same street at least twice a day on her way to work and back.  Talk about terrifying.

In other, far less scary news, a la Instagram:

Will likes leeks.  Raw leeks are preferred (ditto for raw garlic, onion and lemon?) but he’ll settle for leeks lightly sauteed in butter.  He’s also figured out how to pose for pictures.


The leeks were for this dish:

Homemade mapo doufu.  It’s surprisingly easy and incredibly satisfying to make at home, though I’d never had any reason to try making it myself until now.


We have our kitchen chalkboard back and our artwork up on the walls.  A photo tour of the house is coming up soon…


September 24, 2012

The Weekend (at Connaught Place and Lodi Garden)

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Delhi-wallis, I’m still desperately trying to figure out the appeal of Connaught, please help me.

As far as I can tell, there are many wonderful restaurants, a few great stores and some of the most luxurious hotels and a couple important markets located in the general vicinity.  So far so good.

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But the gauntlet of touts assuring me that “M’am, I am not asking for money, but let me tell you, the “real” markets are that way,” and the eternal construction and the lack of cabs when I need one and the ear-splitting drone of machines cutting slabs of marble in between?  Really, I’m beginning to think that Connaught is best approached with a surgical strike mentality: get in, go for what you came for, and get out…preferably with a car and driver.  I’ve walked around a good chunk of Connaught 3 or 4 times now but it’s never been an especially pleasant experience.

In contrast, Lodi Garden IS the very definition of a pleasant experience.

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Sunday morning, after Chris made us french toast for breakfast and before Will could even think of going down for a nap, we headed over to Lodi Garden early enough to beat heat and the crowds.

It was beautiful, quiet, lovely.  And only 10 minutes from our house.  We watched as a European playgroup picnicked and played badminton near the lake, young Indian families helped their children ride bikes along the winding trails, joggers passed us, old men were doing yoga on the expansive lawns, couples snuggled in the windowsills of ancient ruins.  I foresee many a future family outing to the Garden over the next two years.

Why don’t our parks in America have astonishingly-formidable-looking 600 year old mosques and tombs and pavilions dotting their landscapes?  And beautiful parakeets and peacocks flitting about?  I’m very jealous.

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Excluding the very eerily quiet Friday afternoon in which the entire Embassy shut down in case of riots, and a very sad goodbye to Chris’ mom very early on Saturday morning, the rest of the weekend was as close to relaxing as we’ve had in weeks.

We spent a few hours in the pool to beat the heat, had Chris’ family over for dinner, ran some errands, took many, many long walks visit Will’s favorite new friends: the fork lift, the cherry-picker, and the 3-wheeler, all of which park–depending on how you look at it–either very conveniently or very inconveniently close to our house.

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How was your weekend?  Are things safe and sound around you?  Are you enjoying fall weather?  Will you do me a favor and go wear some wool sweaters and go apple picking for me?  American Fall, it’s always the thing I miss most living overseas!

A few more photos from the weekend:

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September 20, 2012

Our Seedlings

My very annoying mantra since we’ve arrived has been “I have too much to do.” I hate that I’ve been saying that to my husband on a nightly basis when he asks me to just sit down, stop moving for a few minutes and watch some television with him, but it’s true.

It’s not just the moving-across-the-world thing or the putting-away-all-of-our-earthly-possessions-in-under-48-hours thing.  It’s also the I-have-a-whirling-tornado-of-a-toddler-who-can-disable-padlocks-and-rearrange-the-dining-room-furniture-faster-than-I-can-wash-the-dishes phenomenon that everyone warned me about but that I couldn’t actually grasp the gravity of until it happened to us.

He’s not even 14 months old yet and he’s got me running faster than my high school cross country coach who was famous for such sayings as “if you are going to puke, puke on the grass” and “it’s ok to run so hard that you pee your pants.”

Now that I think about it, both of those sayings are now actually incredibly applicable to my daily life again.

In any case, what I meant to say is that the hours between 5 and 7am and 9-11pm have become more precious than gold to me right now, but slowly I’m crossing off the list of things I have to do and looking forward to getting to do more of what I actually want to be doing with our time here in India.

The walls are painted, there are no more boxes left to unpack. We finally have a part-time housekeeper to help me fight the never-ending war against dirt and bugs here. We even have the beginning of a vegetable garden growing under our car park.

Every afternoon now, Will and I go outside to wave at all of the kids on their way home from school and to marvel at their bicycles and scooters. (Will has a real thing for wheels lately–and waving).

We also take a few minutes to check out our seedlings in their planters and see what is coming up.  Neighbors pass by and ask what we are growing.  We exchange “hello’s” with parents carrying backpacks and chasing scooters.  I show Will the new green buds in the planters and he looks briefly in wonder before he begins whining campaigning for me to let him play with the padlock on our storage shed and throw things.

Something about those tiny green shoots is so reassuring to me. All they need is a little bit of time to grow where they are planted and looking at them reminds me that the same might be true for us as well.

Monday marked the end of our first month in Delhi. I hope the next 23 months do not pass nearly as quickly or in remotely the same way as the first. That was a hell of a lot of laundry. A lot of walking through “the club” feeling like the new kid at school. Way too much running around like a chicken with no head and a crazy-long to-do list.

Our little seedlings though remind me that tomorrow is always another day.  Every day we get a little better at our lives here–figuring out what works for us, what doesn’t, what we need to do differently than we did in the places we’ve lived before.

Our artwork is hung on the wall now, I’m boycotting our washing machine until we all run out of clean underwear.  We need some time now to focus on the really important things–like inviting people over to brunch and running around town seeing the sights and taking pictures.  Looking for work and maybe actually keeping up with this here ol’ blog again.

And maybe, just maybe, sitting on the couch for a few minutes to do nothing but relax for a few minutes with the husband and maybe watch a little bit of “A Minute to Win It,” a strangely captivating Indian game show which I should really get back to now.

So how are you all doing?  What’s new?

September 18, 2012

What a week

A few sweet little girls I met down in Madurai back in 2007.

What a week.

I haven’t had much time to spend at the computer this last week and perhaps that was for the best.

Instead of obsessively hitting refresh on the BBC homepage (because they upload news from our side of the world faster than the New York Times), instead of trying to keep up on the wave of protests and tear gas and plumes of black smoke and looting and destruction and violence consuming Embassies and Consulates and even school, (as if kids have anything to do with the messes adults make of religion and politics) instead of thinking about the sad madness of it all, I threw myself into unpacking and organizing 4,500 pounds of our belongings in under 48 hours.

When given the option of burying my feelings in manual labor and mind-numbing exhaustion, I’ll always take it.  My husband, he looks at the high walls that surround our Embassy compound and worries about ladders.  I choose instead to go for long 6am morning runs on 3 hours of sleep and obsess over how many loads of laundry I have left to do in order to remove all of the thousands of spilled silica beads from all of our clothes.  It’s easier.

But I can’t stop thinking completely and sometimes as I’m folding all of the damn, endless mounds of laundry, I can’t help but come back to one thought.

There is no excuse for violence, murder, hatred or setting schools on fire.  Hateful videos are no excuse, religion is no excuse, politics is no excuse.  Unemployment, dashed dreams, machismo is no excuse.

And yet, I think I can understand, on some level, why there are people in the world who murder and riot and loot and set schools on fire.

It isn’t about America, it isn’t even about Islam.  Those mobs who stole every last tennis shoe out of the Embassy school in Tunis?  I highly doubt they were thinking about the Prophet as they calculated how much money they could make off of all of the stolen goods from the school.

Instead, they were likely thinking about their families, about the fact that they might be able to walk in the door proudly that night, having brought home some extra cash.  They might have been thinking how cool it would be to actually own an iPad. They might have been thinking that it wasn’t fair that some kids get to attend elementary schools that look more like college campuses while their own children’s teachers may or may not show up to work on any given day.

There is a big difference between exercising free speech with a sign and a slogan and setting fire to a building.  The people who have been most violently storming Embassies and Consulates aren’t likely all that religious, most likely they are unemployed or marginally employed young men, powerless to improve their lot in life, angry that they have so little while others have so much.

So when I see the horrible news stories coming out of the Middle East, when I hear about the protests planned for New Delhi on Thursday, I don’t picture angry people, I picture hungry people.  People hungry for food or for work or for just the simple acknowledgement that their life matters.

Here in New Delhi even the people who have places to live and food to eat are hungry to get through even just one day without seeing something or experiencing something as sad or as tragic as the bands of skinny, homeless children roaming the streets, naked save for a few ratty t-shirts between them, or their family members dying in the halls of an overcrowded hospital because they couldn’t afford to bribe the doctor into caring for them.

Beyond the lush green lawns and the high walls of our compound here, life for too many people is still nasty, brutish and dismayingly short.

Rabid dogs kill children.  People inhale the dirtiest, most foul of fumes and drink dangerously dirty water.  Women are attacked for just trying to relieve themselves in the privacy of pre-dawn morning because they can’t afford to visit a public toilet.

While I sit in an air-conditioned room, typing away on my big computer and feeling sorry for myself because I still have 16 loads of laundry left to do, there are rickshaw pullers living across the city who are just hoping and praying to make it to their fortieth birthday.

Empathy is a skill most easily practiced when are own lives are not full of anxiety and stress.  We’re generally kinder people when we have full bellies and satisfying, or at least tiring work to distract us all day long from the things in our lives that we wish were different.  It’s hard to work up the energy to care about an insult from one person, half a world away, when one is truly happy and contented with one’s life.

But when one’s own right to survival is so precarious, it’s hard to feel respect towards anyone else’s.  When a person has nothing, it’s easier to justify stealing, burning and looting from those of us who have so much.  When one’s own future is so bleak that joining a mob or even a suicide mission seems like a reasonable idea, it’s unlikely such a person will have the wherewithal to imagine that anyone else deserves to live a better life than the one they have.

And when you’ve suffered enough and witnessed enough suffering, it’s probably difficult to imagine what a peaceful life could be like or why anyone would deserve to have one.

I don’t know much about Tunisia or Libya or any of the other 20-odd countries in which American Embassies and Consulates are under some level of threat.  I don’t know the Gini coefficient or the unemployment rates or how many people in those places go hungry each night or how many people are suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome from shells dropping on their neighborhoods.

But I do know that those things matter.  That well-fed, well-educated people are generally happier, more peaceful people. And it matters that we know it matters and that we do something about it.

Because America isn’t just the home of hateful, horrible bigoted nut-jobs posting weird amateur videos to the internet.  It’s also the home of people who are grateful for what they have and who want for others to enjoy the same peace and access to education and healthcare and opportunity that so many of us enjoy.  This week reminds me of how much hard work there is left to do though to prove it.

September 11, 2012

Catching Up

One side effect of running around as much as we have been lately is that I get forgetful.  As in I forget my camera’s memory card and my spare, “just-in-case-I-forget-my-memory-card,” memory card.  So I’m introducing a new category for this blog: India Instagram(ed).  Photos in this post are from the New Delhi Craft Museum.

The most wonderful thing about my mother-in-law being here is that she is a blast to be with.  She also cooks up a storm, snuggles with Will, figures out the best way to rearrange our living room and keeps me out and about nearly every day checking out this market or that park.

The only thing she doesn’t do is sit still.  Which is why, when she is here, we don’t either.

Instead we visit markets, emporiums, craft museums, restaurants.  When we are home (not so often) we cook, we move furniture around the room, we take walks, we attempt to keep Will from eating the tree branches in our tiny backyard.

But we don’t really sit.  It all makes for amazing blog fodder but it’s also true that the more I have to blog about, the less time I usually have to actually sit down and write it all down.

Throw in a 3-room paint job, rooms in constant need of scrubbing and sweeping, new babies to shop for, play-dates, an 8.5 mile run around Delhi at 6am (my first long run in 3 years!), new Mamas to bake for, a special ahyee’s birthday and a little man who can not, will not, stay away from the myriad of dehumidifiers, air purifiers and voltage converters littering the floors of this house, car shopping and the “maybe today or tomorrow” nature of our HHE arrival and, well, we’re busy.

In a few weeks, things will settle down again.  I’ll be able to get serious about looking for work, I’ll edit photos again.  Our HHE will have arrived and I’ll have our things put away,  (I can’t sleep when I know there are unopened boxes in our house). We might even have all of our artwork up on the walls already.  We’ll have a housekeeper.  We’ll have a garden.  We’ll have gone out with some new friends.  We’ll have dug a solid foundation for the next two years of our lives here.

But for now, we’re brewing extra pots of coffee, crossing our fingers every time we take Will out around town, and trying to cram in as much settling down and living it up as we can before we collapse into bed every night.

And on a less-than-happy note, today is September 11th, the 11th anniversary of that horrible day.  I’ve never written much about the impact that day had on our family except here in this post.  11 years is a long time, but not for those who lost family and friends in 9/11.  We’re stretching our arms as far as we can from India today, wishing we could hug and hold them close.

September 7, 2012

“Hiking” at Hauz Khas

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It’s been a bit of a nutty week around here.   Probably much like yours has been.

I haven’t sat down alone for more than a few minutes in what feels like days but whenever I do, all of the thoughts on life, on India, on parenting currently percolating in my brain suddenly leap to the forefront, demanding attention and a few precious minutes alone with our laptop.

I’m still eagerly awaiting the opportunity to string together more than 10 minutes of alone time in a row to get some real writing done (this is not, sadly, much of a hyperbole) but until then I thought I’d finally share our Labor Day “hike” photos at Hauz Khas.

I think perhaps I read Roxaboxen too many times as a child or maybe I imagined that Hauz Khas would be a little like Hampi, a place I loved exploring my first time in India.

In any case, I chose to ignore all of the raise eyebrows and quizzical looks when I said we were going “hiking” at Hauz Khas and so, last Monday morning we piled into a cab, told the driver we wanted to go to “Hauz Khas” and away we went.

After a few unexpected detours, we ended up in Hauz Khas Village.  From the outside it looks like a jumbled, rundown, ramshackle mess of 3 story buildings connected to one another thick rat nest knots of tangled wires and giant signs advertising Frankie’s Kati rolls.  Once you get off the main road though, it’s one of the hippest, artiest enclaves in New Delhi, or maybe in all of South Asia.

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But you need to know where you are going to find the actual ruins of Hauz Khas, located on the other side of the enclave.  As we wandered past art galleries and a chic baby boutique catering to all of my greatest design weaknesses (elephant mobile? kitschy auto rickshaw pillows anyone?) I began to get anxious, worried that perhaps we’d spend all of our “Will’s happy adventure” time poking our heads into dress stores instead of “hiking” or seeing the ruins we came for.

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We finally found the ruins, though not with enough time left in our happy-kid-fuel tank to really appreciate them.  There’s a lake to be walked around, a beautiful park to see and lots of interesting details in the 14th century mosque and surrounding pavilions and tombs to be absorbed.  We’ll try again another day.

Haus Khas is unlike anywhere else I’ve been to, in India or anywhere else.  There’s a store selling gorgeous “upcycled” home furnishings for goodness sake, a quarter of a mile down a winding alleyway from amazing 14th century Indian-Islamic hybrid architecture and the foundations of the fifth city of Delhi.   It may be a bit trendy but I don’t know how it could not be.  It’s a very cool place.

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The winding alleyway, tiny balconies overhead, indie bookshops, and whiff of real India and real art amidst all of the trendiness make the place instantly likable.  Gentrified and upper-class this area may be, but there’s also an unmistakable pulse of authenticity and a beautiful, rough-around-the-edges aesthetic to the enclave that makes it irresistible to expats and upwardly-mobile young Indians alike. It’s sort of as if you could plop Brooklyn down around Stonehenge–only far more interesting and a little less hipster.

I’d like to go back sometime when I’m not Will-chasing to really get into the history of the place, but it was a good first, if a bit quick, visit.

On our way out we tried to feign coolness by stopping for lunch at TLR, a popular bar/restaurant/music venue/hangout in the village.  Alas, it was not meant to be.  Chris tried a ginger drink, Will downed half a glass of pomegranate juice and we paid our bill and left.

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Three doors down at a furniture store where Will’s Nai Nai was buying drawer knobs, Will spewed the so-very-purple pomegranate contents of his stomach all over me.  I’ve never been so glad to be completely covered in baby vomit though.  It would have been rather unfortunate to instead have had to pick our family heirloom furniture pieces based on which expensive-looking cabinets and chairs our son covered in puke.

Luckily, the shopkeeper was very kind and we left with just the Anthropologie-but-10%-of-the-retail-price-drawer-knobs Nai Nai came for.

Not ten steps later, Will was asleep in my arms.  Ancient ruins and a little too much pomegranate juice will do that to a kid.

A few more pictures.

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September 4, 2012

Our Annual Labor Day “Hike”

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So Will looks a little pale here, but at least all three of us are in the photo right?

Five years ago, Chris and I hiked Tibbet Knob on Labor Day.

Honestly, it was terrible.  We’d heard that the out-and-back trail was a less-crowded version of Old Rag (that gorgeous rock-scrambling hike in the Shenandoah Mountains that’s so popular the rocks are actually slick and shiny from overuse).  We heard there would be beautiful vistas and lovely waterfalls.

All lies.  The hike started (and thus, ended) with a 1.5 mile steep descent into gnat-infested swampy trails.  There were no nice views–at least none that we saw while beating back heavy brush for two hours before calling it quits to try and beat daylight up the gargantuan hill mountain back to the car.  We ran out of water–the only time that has ever happened to us, ever–and started eating packets of powdered gatorade out of desperation.  I was fairly sure Chris was going to have a heart attack.

But, we made it out and down the road to a McDonalds where we ordered super-sized beverages and declared that Labor Day would hence forth always be celebrated with a family hike in the wilderness.

As it turns out though, Year 2 of our annual Labor Day hike was also a bit of a dud, if not an all-out failure.  We drove 3.5 hours to Assateague Island in order to hike and camp on the beach…only to watched as the last permit for the day was awarded to the couple standing next to us in the Ranger’s Office.  We saw some horses, took some pictures and then went off in search of a good diner for dinner before the long drive back to Washington D.C.   A beautiful drive though!

Year 3 we had been in China for just 4.5 months when we decided to hike Hou Shan (the back side of Qing Cheng Shan) for Labor Day.

Once again, the day did not start auspiciously.  Before we could even park the car, my camera battery died.  Then we drove up and down the mountain for 2 hours trying to figure out where to park.  Then we spent another hour trying to cajole every resident we could find into telling us how to find the trail.

“Oh certainly!” they all said, “but first you must come check into my hotel…”

Eventually we found the way up the mountain…though the backyard of a tea garden and behind a construction site.  Only in China.

In the end though, all of the hassle was totally worth it.  I wrote afterwards that it was my favorite day in China at the time.  Two years later I still think it was the most beautiful, magical day we ever had there, which is saying something, when you think about it.  

Last summer we wondered whether we’d be able to keep the Labor Day tradition alive after Will was born on one of the last days in July.  We did it though.  We bundled Will up on Labor Day when he was just 5 weeks old and went for a solid one hour walk hike over hills and muddy trails at a State Park near my parents house…albeit very slowly and on trails that rarely veered more than 30 feet from a frisbee golf course.

This year, despite arriving in India just 2.5 weeks ago, despite my in-laws arriving in India 2.5 days ago, despite our lack of car and our lack of gear, I foolishly declared that there was no way we were going to break our streak.  We were going hiking, somehow, somewhere, end of story.  If we could do it with a 5 week old, we could do it with a 13 month old.

I’ll write more about our “hike” at Haus Khaz soon, but for now, let’s just say that while there was definitely walking involved and a few nominally nature-related elements, I’ll be using the term “hiking” a bit loosely to describe our 5th Annual Labor Day sojourn into the wilderness.

I was a bit disappointed coming home from our “hike” yesterday but I guess now, looking back over the years, perhaps the real tradition here isn’t the hiking.  Maybe it’s actually all of our false starts and dashed hopes and misguided attempts at “getting back to nature” that always make our Labor Day’s so memorable every year.

Still, we’ll certainly be looking for redemption next year, maybe in Shimla perhaps?

Pictures and more to come.  How was your Labor Day?

September 3, 2012

You Guys Are The Best

Camera Roll-373

Can I just say, wow? and thank you?  And that you guys are the best, most supportive, bravest, most reassuring, and most adventurous parental-figures/blog readers ever?

We’ve had a busy couple of days around here and I haven’t responded to all of the comments yet on the big Moving Overseas with a Baby post, but I’ve been reading them as they’ve been coming in and honestly I’ve felt both rejuvenated and inspired by them all.

There was so much great insight shared both in the comments here and on Facebook that I thought I’d put together some of the reoccurring themes and re-post a few quotes for us to have them all in one place.  A post of interesting and inspiring warm fuzzies, if you will, for the next time any of us are feeling a little tired, a little frazzled or just in need of a “get out and explore” boost.  Your words of wisdom have surely done it for me already.

I’ve tried to link all of the quotes to the author’s blog but please let me know if I’ve made any mistakes, accidentally missed anyone, or if you’d rather I delink!

*Living overseas with (little) kids isn’t better or worse than without kids (or big kids) it’s just different.  

“When my husband and I started the Foreign Service it was an adventure. And when we added kids it became real life…” (Seasons Worth Savoring)

“Having kids makes me move both faster and slower…kids don’t like being cooped up at home all day, so they make you get out…Now instead of museums we check out every zoo we see, parks and playgrounds, architecture and historical sights. We don’t often go inside anymore…” (Like Nomads)

“I’m sure we didn’t miss out — we’ve just seen a different set of things. It’s definitely what you make of it.” (Something Edited This Way Comes)

“We’re not living where/how we would if i was just the two of us but it is a cool experience in a completely different way. We don’t see as much but we seem to see it more in-depth because our experience includes our kids’ perspective too.” (A Bit of a Trip)

*Getting kids to feel settled and secure after a big move overseas takes patience, a little planning, and lots of love–but the difficult moments don’t last forever.

“I find I have fallen into a pattern of my first job being to settle the kids and my time comes a bit later. Both are important and critical but no one can enjoy and relax until the kids are somewhat sane.” (Seasons Worth Savoring)

“The key to feeling sane in all the madness was realizing that once they are settled that I’ll feel settled enough to truly find my bearings in new country whether it’s exploring as a tourist, finding a job, or just settling in to my own routine. It’s the reality of motherhood and gives me the focus I needed to quiet my itchy wanderlust feet during those first few weeks after we landed…we just love, practice patience, and try to maintain our sense of fun and exploration in our new home. Good news is, it gets easier from here on out. (Wanderlustress)

“We’re on R&R right now…for the last 4 weeks they have had too many playdates, too many new experiences, napped in too many different beds at different times. We canceled a couple of things to give them downtime one day each week, and recognized that an hour at the playground a block away is better time for them than schlepping them to the Smithsonian or even the Playseum (that I was dying to check out!)” (Like Nomads)

“…There wasn’t any kind of major fallout, it was little grating changes…we try and make “home” as familiar as possible with lots of snuggle time and physical contact since those I think are the most constant parameters. it definitely takes a bit but they definitely do realize that change itself is the new norm after a bit 😉 hang in there!” (The New Diplomat’s Wife)

*Take your kids out exploring with the confidence that no one knows what your kids need and what they can handle like you do.

Follow your gut instincts on your parenting decisions. Don’t let other sway you too much. Everyone has their opinion on the matter…” (Our Yuppie Life)

“We too do the bug spray and the nets and the bed times at home, but we take the girls out. And we especially let local people enjoy them. No we don’t stop for every beggar or sick person in the street, but we let them be touched and held and smiled upon. We love that they interact with people and that they learn love and compassion. We explain difficult situations at the stop lights, but we fully embrace the land we live in and have grown to love. They have gone to local villages and loved every minute of it. And though a 6 hour car ride may be difficult (more for me than them), they’ve seen unbelievable places and felt genuine love. Only you know your child, and you know what’s best.” (Beyond the Cornfields)

“We left for Adana, Turkey with a 4 month old and everyone said I was crazy for being out of the house with a baby in the middle of the day (it was SUPER hot), but the alternative of never leaving my apt was worse. all have survived and thrived.” (Erica J Green)

“We are the expats taking our kid out to the Old City in Hyderabad and letting her eat spicy food in restaurants. We are also the parents respecting nap time and bed time because she really does need to go home and sleep when she’s overtired. Expat and Indian parents alike have plenty to say about our parenting techniques I think. But our daughter is happy and healthy…Cover up with bug spray and sunblock and trust your parental instincts. We’ve covered a lot of ground in our time here, in very small doses.” (Where in the World Am I?)

…The key is to listen to your kids and learn their limits and needs. Our girls love to get out on the weekends. They ask to go out to dinner or for a walk. They get stir crazy too. (Our Yuppie Life)

“It can be lonely parenting how you know you should. But you know best about your family.” (Seasons Worth Savoring)

“you will seem dangerously adventurous to many if not most ex-pats. But remember, this is a place where you are comfortable, you know your surroundings, you know what are warning signs for actual danger. You know your own child and what he can tolerate. Trust yourself.” (Like Nomads)

” [I’m a] mom who’s eager to explore china town with a baby bjorn and even feed her litte boy some fresh rice noodles out of a pot…” (Stumble Abroad)

*Living overseas, getting out, seeing things, traveling with kids all takes enormous amounts of effort, patience (and sometimes low expectations!) but it’s so, so, so worth it.

“We…get strange comments when we said we took the kids to such and such and saw this or that for an overnight trip. Some people don’t like to be out with their kids because it’s not easy. An weekend away with three kids in the third world is not vacation. But it sure makes memories!” (Our Yuppie Life)

“I know they are not going to get or remember some of what we do, especially the toddler but we’ve decided that some things are just worth it even with kids. We do try to do things that are especially targeted to kids too because we don’t want them to have no fun at all.” (Tuk y Tam)

If I could give one bit of advice … from a mom whose kids spent a majority of their young life overseas … it’s travel as much as you can, and don’t worry. My 9 year old has GREAT memories of all the places we’ve been and things we did. And is surprised as heck that her friends here in the States don’t have any of the same experiences that she does…

…And as I always so to those who question why I schlepped my kids here and yonder … “I want my kids to experience what YOUR kids are reading about in the history books”. (The Perlman Update)

 Thank you all again!  

(Photo at the top from our annual Labor Day “hike” to Haus Khaz yesterday.  More to come on that soon.)


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