You had a Baby, not a Lobotomy

I say this fairly often. Officially “trademarking” the phrase for my future baby book! or something…

Before Baby was here, M and I talked a little about our expectations for our lives after Baby arrived. We both agreed we planned to continue being socially active. Why would we suddenly turn into hermits?

We had a baby, not a lobotomy. Who we are, and what we enjoy, is still fundamentally the same. We like seeing our friends. We like trying new foods and going out for a drink.

So…we still do it. We bring the little one along with us. It was super easy when she was still teeny-tiny. She’d sleep through anything in her car seat. Now that she’s older and more active, it’s definitely more work to keep her happy and safe. But it’s worth it.

Our friends are one of our happy-makers. For me, seeing them, catching up on the happenings, and laughing with our friends recharges my batteries. As a stay-at-home Mom, I also enjoy the experience of speaking real words and sentences to someone who will not respond with “pbbbblth” or “bahmnmamnanana”.

It’s the little things like coherence.

M and I also went to two craft breweries on Saturday. We would have also gone to a winery, but 95 was completely shut down for hours, so we postponed. We went to Rusty Beaver, in Ladysmith, and Center of the Universe near Ashland. M is the beer fan, so he did his tastings while munchkin ate puffs, waved at strangers, and clapped to herself. At COTU, we met up with an old friend I have not seen in 20 years. Munchkin proudly grabbed Friend’s beer glass and dumped it all over Friend. She’s generous and giving in that way….

The trick to going out with babies is to know your child and your own limits. If Lil Miss starts acting up and I suspect a meltdown, I take her for a walk around the room or to a quieter spot and tell M to get the check. We try to leave before she loses it. She usually only loses it if she wants to nurse but is too distracted, or has been fighting naps all day.

M and I also know what we’re comfortable with her doing in public. Chewing on a straw or occasionally squawking? Sure. Screaming, throwing food? No.

We also make sure we communicate ahead of the outing. Who’s driving? How are we going to juggle the meal? I remind him sometimes – if you get X, you need to wash your hands as soon as you’re done eating so you can hold her while I eat. If you get Y, we need to alternate back and forth so we can both eat while the food’s hot.

I’m always befuddled by people who say “Oh, forget having a social life! You’ll never go out again! 18 years before you can have fun!” Really? Why is anyone locking themselves up and becoming a hermit? To each his own, of course. There is no benefit in judging others, but I freely admit I do not understand the logic.

Anyhoo….If you enjoy being social and going out before baby, you can continue to do so afterwards. You just make adjustments. More Happy Hour, less (or no) late nights. More casual locations, less formal restaurants. More 1-2 hour outings, less 4 hour events. Less fabulous sparkly clutches, more big roomy bags capable of holding toys, puffs, and diapers!

It’s a baby, not a lobotomy. You can be Mom and still be You.

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Click-free, or at least click-less

Today’s Washington Post featured a nice editorial by Peter Mandel . Mr. Mandel makes the valid point that, as an increasingly mobile-technology-oriented world, we have lost our innate sense of wonder to an impulse to snap.

As any frequent traveler has probably noticed, trips, sightseeing tours, and scenery are now often bespeckled with the reflection of smartphones and tablets held up by tourists intent on capturing everything they “see”. But if you are focused on getting the right picture, how can you focus on, well, being unfocused? Part of the joy of traveling and exploring is being free and lost in the moment, viewing sights with an in-the-moment awe and appreciation.

When we travel, I try to stay in the moment and appreciate when we are seeing or doing. I do, of course, take photos – but I take them with my camera. Using a camera (not a fancy one, just a run of the mill digital) means picture-taking is more of a conscious effort, an intentional interruption of the moment, with the idea of preserving a memory.

I do, however, confess to one of Mandel’s sins: I take pictures of food and/or drinks occasionally. I’m going to excuse that behavior, though, with the idea that …”it’s for the bloooogggggg”.

Walkers

I like watching people walk.

My hilltop front yard offers a nice vantage point to watch the walkers. Right now, an older couple is coming downhill. The man carries the same long stick he carries every walk, the woman wears the same blue-grey headband she wears every walk.

There’s a teenager up the street who walks three dogs. Her timing is always terrible: her three dogs come trotting down, and my two dogs run off the upper yard, blazing to the valley in a fit of hoooowling and squeaky angry barks. Then she awkwardly, embarrassedly, corrals her dogs while I clap my hands and shout ignored commands at my dogs. Eventually, my dogs decide to behave, sprinting towards me as though they can outrun their naughtiness.

I see a girl walking home most afternoons. She dresses all in black, even in the hottest summer afternoons, and trudges monotonously. She wears a fast food uniform, and has never smiled or waved.

The woman around the corner (a curve, really) walks her black dog every evening. There used to be two black dogs with greyed faces, calmly and patiently following familiar paces. Now there is only one black dog with a grey face. Soon, there will be none, and I wonder if she will walk alone or find a new companion.

I have my companions. Two dogs and a husband. One is perpetually smelly, one perpetually tinkles in public, and one hates the heat. We don’t walk often, or regularly, but when we do, it is a pleasant suburban chaos. We dance back and forth, untangling leashes and switching sides to match the dogs. We stop and wait for life, scoop it into plastic bags, and march onwards.

It’s all we should do, really. March onwards. Keep walking.

Oh my Yum…

I skipped lunch today and purposely drove home after work starving, tummy-growling hungry. Why? Because I knew my dinner of left-overs was going to be amazing.

Last night, M & I went to Peter Chang‘s, a restaurant that opened in Fredericksburg a couple of weeks ago.  First, I’d like to roll my eyes at M’s failure to communicate: I was fully expecting another Chinese buffet or Hibachi: Fredericksburg clearly needs more of those.

Our server’s name was Susie, and she was great. She was attentive, pleasant, and gave us some background on the dishes (served in clay pots the same way they are served in the markets in China).  She also mentioned, unfortunately, that most people are asking for the General Tso’s chicken. This is NOT a Gen. Tso’s kind of place. If that’s what you want….head to Fortune’s or order some takeout.

The restaurant is wide and open, and had a steady flow of diners. The me

nu is pretty substantial, broken down by appetizers, soups, types of meat, noodles & rice.   And….it has puffed pancakes.

Puffed Pancakes!The size of his head!

 

A puffed pancake is kind of like Roti on crack. It’s basically thin layers of dough pressed together, then dropped into super-high heat, and the end result is a hollow, magical balloon of deliciousness. You pop it, tear it into pieces, and dip it into a nice yellow curry sauce (not spicy). The dish comes with two puffs, and probably should be split between 3-4 people. M & I managed to kill ours, of course.

This puff was the perfect way to start off: it reminded me of traipsing around Malaysia on a hot muggy night with M’s Grannie yelling directions in Hokkien to find the best late-night Roti spot. It’s a fun, happy, inclusive type of food.

M ordered a cilantro-fish springroll. Another dish meant to share (seeing a theme?), these were thing, cigar-shaped eggrolls stuffed with cilantro and seafood. M enjoyed them, but they could use a sauce for dipping/moisture. Cilantro-fish Egg Roll

For our entrees, we knew the dishes are meant to be shared, but we both wanted different things. M got a clay pot of mixed seafood in spicy black

Seafood

bean sauce. It was one Pepper on the menu and was a pleasingly tingly spice level. The seafood included shrimp, squid, fish, and scallops, as well as garlic cloves, mushrooms, and red peppers. A warm, soupy family.

 

I got a two-Pepper dish – Chicken with Onion and Chili served in a strainer-type basket over a flame. You stir every 2 minutes until the flame goes out, keeping it hot and making it fun! This dish had a nice burn that sticks to your lips, but is slightly addictive. That “but it hurts so good!” kind of deal. Spicy Chicken

We both had fried rice for our sides – well made, a nice blend of soy, veggies, and well-cooked rice. And Diet Pepsis. We were being boring on the drinks.

Friends, be warned: I am going to demand this place for my birthday dinner in October.

Niagara Falls!

For Memorial Day weekend, we went to Niagara Falls in Canada! (I know, who goes to Canada for a US holiday?)

Our dear friends the B’s invited us up a while ago – we stayed at the Marriot Gateway on the Falls, and had Falls-side rooms. The views were gorgeous, the rooms were spacious, and we enjoyed the hotel itself.

A couple of caveats, though, for other travelers: definitely stay on the Canada side. From the US side, you can’t see the fronts of the falls, just the sides/backs. You can do the Maid of the Mist boat tours from either sides, but there’s something to be said for looking at the faces of the Falls throughout the day. The area is also pricey – our hotel bar had 3 taxes after the actual total – a Provincial, a Federal, and then some hybrid provincial/federal due to them being a hotel with a restaurant on premises. Crazy!

The drive up was great – we stopped in Buffalo, which is really convenient and on the way, to check out the birthplace of the Buffalo Wing! Anchor Bar was full of memorabilia along the walls, dating back to the 60s when the whole thing began. Their lobby is full of motorcycles and they sell T-shirts and other souvenirs.   Anchor Bar

Between the 4 of us, we shared 4 orders of wings – a double of hot, a single of spicy, a single medium, and a single mild. The hot is kind of like a “medium” at some major chains, like Buffalo Wild Wings or Home Team Grille. The sauces were pretty mild, and the “mild” was basically a fried chicken (but tasty!). We also ordered some pizza rolls (mozzarella wrapped with some thin pepperoni and fried in an egg roll…so good! M & Wings

Back to the Falls…we did a lot of walking, and while it was chilly, the temperature was great in the sunlight. We walked from our hotel down to the Falls Boulevard, which strolls along the water. The welcome center is big, but also somewhat of a tourist trap. They have several attractions, but we chose to only do the Maid of the Mist (totally recommend), the Daredevil Museum (overpriced, very very small/short), and the Behind the Falls (cool, but a long wait for a short experience).

We had a blast, but probably wouldn’t put it on our list of places to return until we have kids some day in the future. Great friends, great times!

 

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Travelin’ on a whim

Tonight, I happened to catch Project Runway. They’ve sent their remaining 5 designers to a variety of places: New York (oh, you poor, poor, loser…sarcasm), Barcelona, Paris, London, and Berlin.

I’ve been to 4 of those 5 places. Which makes me realize how odd my life has been these last several years.

You see, I had never been on a plane before 10th grade. My brother and I were deaf, and we really knew nothing about it. No information on the whys, and hows, and what ifs. So my mom always had this lingering fear that the air pressure change might somehow affect us. One day, we somehow were talking about flying, and I said something about being somewhat afraid of it. My dad’s afraid of flying, and when my mom realized I was taking that same path, she knew we had to challenge it.

So we hopped a plane from Richmond, VA to Charlottesville, NC. A short, 90 minute flight. She stared at me nervously the whole time. At one point, I asked her what she was waiting for – “Is this the point where I clap my hands to my ears and let loose a bloodcurdling scream?”  But the flight was uneventful. We landed, we flew back. We declared it a win.

So then my mom, my brother, and I began to travel. We did Bermuda and Alabama, primarily. In college, I went to the Bahamas on a horrible spring break. My brother went to London for a study abroad quarter. My mom and I did a mother-daughter cruise in Italy.

Then I met M. M’s family is all overseas. He, his sister, his mom, and his dad are the only US located members.  His parents are both internationally born; he and his sister are first generation Americans. In the time that I have dated M, I have been around the world and back every other year. In 2007, we did Cancun with friends. 2008, Paris and London with M’s orchestra. 2009, we married and went on our honeymoon in Barcelona, taking a cruise that went around the Mediterranean to stops in Italy, Greece, and Turkey. 2010, we went overseas so I could meet their family: Germany, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand. Then in 2011, we managed to stay mostly in the US. The day after Christmas, we flew out to Italy for another Orchestra tour. The trip lasted through the early weeks of 2012.

So now here we are in the first 4 months of 2013. We have been to Singapore, Indonesia, and Bavaria. Primarily for weddings. We are off to Canada in another month. And the orchestra should be announcing their 2014 destination soon.

Having been so many places, people often ask us where they should go. Italy and Germany are my top answers. Europe, in general, is amazing. They possess a different mindset entirely. Our relatives don’t prioritize fancy houses and possessions and….stuff. They live. They buy their meats and eggs and cheeses fresh from the local grocers, who get it from the local farms. They don’t have enormous refrigerators, and they have tiny freezers (if any). They eat what they love, and what they love is fresh, simply flavored foods. I usually come back from trips craving salt and hot, spicy foods: my American tongue is spoiled. They drink beers and wines for pleasure, not to excess. They dress for comfort, not show. And life just seems simpler.

I have never understood the Americans who have no inclination to leave the US. There’s an entire world out there, and it is amazing. It is profound. It forces you to look at your own life, your own thoughts, and your very being. You don’t have to make any great changes, but you should at least understand the differences between America and the rest of the world.