Author Archives: theresac

On taking Grace to the ER … again

An awesome thing about being back in the States is excellent doctors with excellent medical facilities. A less awesome thing about being back in the States is that our (AMAZING) GP is up in MD near my parents’ place, and we’re down here in NoVa with no car.

We’ve been taking the kids to the Crystal City Xpress Urgent Care for minor aches and pains and illnesses. They’re pretty much awful (think about the worst attitude a doctor ever gave you in West Africa, now give it an American accent and a clean waiting room). UGH.

Grace has had terrible digestive problems for the past week or so, and Xpress finally just threw up their hands and told Bertrand to take her to the hospital to “get some labs done.” They wouldn’t give him orders, and in fact, wouldn’t even look at her. They just told him to take her to Virginia Hospital Center, and find a doctor there.

So that’s what we did.

We ended up in the ER because where else do you go at a hospital if you’re not there to see a specific doctor? Everyone there was very understanding about the situation, including the fact that we felt damn foolish for being there. And everyone was like, “Hey! Get a damn local pediatrician.” Which we were going to do this week anyway, and we are now … doing this week anyway.


Bertrand and I are exhausted because hospitals are stressful, even when you know that your kid’s OK.

Grace is fine.

Arabic is Arabic (or, why I have purple bags under my eyes)

Arabic Training, aka, Theresa has 26(ish) weeks left to achieve basic proficiency in Arabic, and is staying home today to take care of a sick baby and AARRGGHHH!!!

Like many things that the State Department does, the language program at FSI is both awesome and horrific at the same time. Awesome, because really, who can complain about being paid to learn a language for nine months? Horrific, because bureaucracies gonna bureaucrat, and FSI is just like any other State bureaucracy (or possibly worse, considering how transient their constituants are).

When I arrived at FSI to start training, I was herded into an auditorium with all of the other eager FSOs beginning language on 2/24. We were told that studying for three hours a day outside of class would, at best, make us average, and that excelling at our chosen languages would take much much more time than that. Bertrand and I turned to each other and laughed and laughed (discreetly, of course). We do live with Jasmine, after all.

The Arabic department, and a few others, have recognized that throwing adult learners into full-blown absorb-as-much-as-you-can-as-fast-as-you-can language training straight out of the gate is a bad idea. Hard to start conjugating verbs when you can’t even read the alphabet.

New Arabic speakers (those of us who know nothing at all) start out with training wheels in an four week course called “Phase One.” We learned the alphabet. We learned basic greetings. We learned some simple vocabulary. We watched a video in 15 parts about the lovelorn Sindibad and his adventures across the Arabic speaking world. And by the end, we could introduce ourselves, introduce our classmates, and ask about each other’s families.

After graduating from Phase One, our class of seven split in two, and we entered the regular language training program. We have five hours of contact time per day, plus one hour of lab time a day. And it’s brutal. But awesome. I really enjoy class time when I’m having an OK day (and not embarrassing myself, as I did with on Wednesday when I couldn’t remember ANY vocabulary from the previous day).

Bertrand and I discovered very quickly that it’s pretty much impossible to study at the house with Jasmine around. I get up bright and early (crazy early … like before 5:00 early) to catch 30 minutes before everyone else gets up. We catch a 7:00 am shuttle every day so that we can study for two hours before class starts. And after class ends, we get another hour of studying before catching the 5:40 shuttle home. I cook, Bertrand cleans, and I crash as soon as Jasmine does. It’s not ideal, but we’re both managing to keep up (barely).

All this to say, there are a lot worse things we could be during during ten months in DC, but it looks like weeknight outings are going to be few and far between for the foreseeable future.

On making baby food

After my last post, I got a few questions (and a few snarky emails) about making my own baby food. Here’s the thing. This works for me. I spend all day Sunday cooking *anyway* (thanks, paleo!). So it’s no big deal for me to steam more vegetables, then puree them before making some paleo mayo. It might be a real hassle for someone else, and that’s OK. My making Grace’s baby food isn’t a criticism of those who don’t.


Why do I make my own baby food?

In Freetown, the supply of baby food available to purchase locally was not reliable. Jars were often expired, their provenance was often unclear, and there weren’t any hippy organic brands without sugar and additives.

Here in DC, there are a wealth of baby food options available! Hurray! But after making all of Jasmine’s food in Freetown (often from frozen vegetables), making all of Grace’s here in the States doesn’t seem nearly as scary.

  1. It’s less expensive. Seriously. 5 lbs of sweet potatoes vs. 20 jars of sweet potatoes? A bag of collard greens vs. 10 jars of spinach? I made 2 months worth of vegetables for less than $15.
  2. No sugar. No salt. No additives of any kind. I can get my control freak on and make sure that nothing’s going into Grace’s mouth that I don’t want to. Hahaha. Except when Jasmine tries to feed her Cheerios. *sigh*
  3. Less waste. No jars, no pouches, no nothing that has to be tossed, aside from the occasional ziplock bag that’s too grody to be reused again (yes, I wash and reuse my ziplocks).

It’s a relatively simple process. Buy food, steam or boil food, puree food, freeze into ice cube trays, move into ziplocks when completely frozen.

My baby likes it. My husband likes it. I like it. And that’s really all that matters.

Grace is eating solids!

Grace eating sweet potatoes

Grace loves sweet potatoes! Forgive the blurry photo. I am iPhone only these days!

The bad news is that I spent the weekend eating wheat products in hopes of increasing my milk supply. The good news is that I am now super clear on what types of food utterly destroy me when eaten in any sort of quantity.

My supply did increase, but at the expense of my body. And it STILL wasn’t enough! ARGH! All this misery, and Grace still needed bottles of formula this weekend. We introduced her to solids this week, and I think the answer is MOAR FUD PLEEZ. Sure, I could spend another week eating bread and oatmeal and other grains, and being absolutely miserable, or …

I could get out the immersion blender and get to work:

Several ice cube trays of baby food in the Sondjo freezer

Half of the baby food I made today

Sweet potatoes. Butternut squash. Pears. Collard greens. Carrots. Plantains. Bananas. And one tray of oatmeal, to mix in as her appetite continues to grow. Yeah, she’s gonna eat better than I do. :-P One of the best things about being back in the States is how damn easy it is to find an enormous variety of fruits and vegetables. And also, being able to mix in water from the tap to get the consistency of my purees right. SO MUCH EASIER. I love America!

In any case, if the apocalypse comes tomorrow, I have enough frozen purees to last us awhile. And if it doesn’t, then I still won’t need to do this again for several weeks. Hellsyeah.

On giving something up for Lent

For Lent, I am giving up negativity.

I like my job. I like my apartment. I like my colleagues and their families. I love my own family. I’m happy with my progress both improving my health and remembering to just breathe. So why do I complain all the time? Why do I qualify my positive statements with caveats and warnings? Why don’t I always talk about the best in people?

It’s too easy to just bitch these days, instead of focusing on all of the awesome in my life. And I’m a little tired of it.

For the next forty days, just call me Pollyanna.

Actually, don’t.

On language training and parenting

Our first week of language training has been hard. Really hard. I get up bright and early to shower and dress. Then I wake up Bertrand. While he’s enjoying his morning ablutions, I make my lunch, get all of the kids’ stuff out, and study for half an hour. Once we’re both up and running, I wake up the kids, and we begin the hour long process of feeding them and getting them ready for school.

Then we spend all day at FSI, studying, going to class, going to lab, studying while we eat, going to class, and studying some more. And I run to the daycare to nurse at lunch, and pump during breaks. After class, we study for a short while, then pick up the kids to head home.

At home, Bertrand and I switch off on the kids while I make dinner, he picks up the house, and we both get the kids ready for bed. Once I get Jasmine to sleep, I’m usually ready to crash myself.  The good news is that Grace is sleeping through the night. The bad news is that Jasmine usually doesn’t.

Needless to say, we are both at the end of our rope, and we’re not even done the first week yet. My fervent hope is that once we’re done with the three week introductory class, we’ll be onto the regular block language schedule, and will be able to fit quite a bit more study time into our days. Or at least, some alone time. Language class isn’t going to get any easier, but I HOPE that we’ll be able to figure out a better routine as time goes on.

So it goes.

It’s great to be settled in an apartment where we’ll be for the next nine months. It’s great to have Costco next door. It’s great to have friends in the building. And it’s SO GREAT to be able to order groceries online.

We’ll figure out the rest as we go alone.

Good-bye, Seattle

Last day in Seattle. It feels like it should have been a whirlwind trip, but getting two extra days here really made a difference in how relaxed we are. Case in point, I am at a cafe this morning, drinking a delicious latte and typing this blog post.

I have been surprised at what an amazing city Seattle is for kids. Last night, we said good-bye to Liz and Mike by visiting the Fremont Brewery. The Brewery is explicitly kid friendly, so much so that they have a box of toys on the bar floor for toddlers to get into. It was great (and nobody looked at me weird when I popped out the nipple to nurse Grace when she got a bit peckish).

Also awesome, the Pacific Science Center, which was not only full of fun exhibits for kids, but also had a space for toddlers to run around and play with toys (and for mothers to nurse!).

seattle_pscWe also visited the Woodland Park Zoo, which was great. It was a weekday morning, which meant that the few folks who were there were other parents of toddlers. Jasmine LOVES animals, but the best picture of the day was Jasmine falling asleep on the way home. Who needs a double stroller, anyway?



The Space Needle was cool, although Bertrand and Jasmine weren’t nearly as impressed as I was. Grace, of course, didn’t care. She’s happy anywhere she’s warm and surrounded by people.  It was a beautiful day, though. The snow melted completely, and we were among the first to climb the tower in the morning.

seattle_needleWe made it a really full day by visiting Matt’s in the Market, which could have been a disaster with Jasmine (they were clearly not set up for toddlers), but wasn’t. The wait staff was super friendly to her, and very understanding with our odd requests in regards to her food. Again, clot me impressed with how great Seattle is with kids. A similar restaurant in DC would have given us the side-eye (and DC is a kid friendly city!), but folks here didn’t blink an eye.

That afternoon, we went on the Great Wheel. It was a blast! Great views and what a gorgeous day. State has turned me into a logistics nerd, and I couldn’t resist the chance to snap a great shot of the container port. Man. It was great!



And no trip summary would be complete without mention of our fabulous apartment.



Living in a residential neighborhood with a kitchen and laundry machine has been amazing. The price was comparable to a decent (but not luxury) hotel, but we didn’t have to eat out every meal, and we could pack lighter. Jasmine had her own room (not that she used it), and it’s been AMAZING having a place nice enough that we could invite friends over for drinks. We will definitely use VRBO again on our next trip.

So that’s it. We fly out bright and early tomorrow morning, and I can’t wait to get home. Seattle’s been great, but it’ll be so nice to finally be in our own place in Crystal City again.



In which the Sondjos arrive in Seattle

It’s good to be home. Even better to be on the road again. We Sondjos are spending the week in Seattle saying hi to friends long lost, and beginning our quest to get to know the rest of America. Home Leave is a cash sink, and we figure that as long as we’re burning money, we might as well do it in interesting places we wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to visit.

After an adventure with rescheduled flights, we finally made it here, and we’ve been living it up, PNW-style (that means in fleeces and boots, apparently). Yesterday, we met up with a dear friend from my days in Benin, and explored Fremont.


Here’s Jasmine with the Fremont Troll, as she realizes that it’s a face, not just a rock formation.


This morning, we got up bright and early to head to Pike Place Market! Bertrand bought a pound of dates (best paleo snack EVER). They were rich and creamy and sweet and delicious.


After browsing the artisanal goods at the market, we headed down to the waterfront to eat. We were exhausted, and didn’t really feel like sitting down to fine dining with the kids, so we headed to Ivar’s Fish Bar. It was a great choice. Informal. Delicious. And lots of opportunities for Jasmine to feed birds.


Jasmine had a great time watching fish, touching fish, running around like a maniac, and generally having a very good time at the Seattle Aquarium.


Our last stop of the day was Starbucks to visit one of my postmates from Peace Corps. It’s amazing how much some things change, and others stay the same. After she woke up from her nap, Jasmine begged us for milk, and here she is, finally satisfied. That was the end of grown-up conversation, and pretty much the end of our first whole day out in Seattle.

You might be asking yourself why there aren’t any photos of Grace. Since we don’t (yet) have a double stroller, I spent the day baby wearing. Since I also wield the camera, Grace wasn’t in a lot of shots. I’ll fix that for tomorrow. ;)