Category Archives: Daily Grind

Happy Easter from Jerusalem



The photo above is of Jasmine skipping down the narrow passage ways of the Old City on our way to mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as the sun rose above Jerusalem this morning.

Easter is my favorite religious holiday.  I find it beautiful that Christians all over the world are today celebrating second chances.  Jerusalem is often heartbreaking, and Easter reminds me that there is hope.  And what are we, teeming masses of unwashed humanity that we are, without hope that tomorrow can be better?

Happy Passover!  Happy (Orthodox) Palm Sunday!  Happy Easter!


On nourishing what I love, and consuming less of what I don’t

NOURISHThis year, I chose “nourish” as my One Little Word. Like last year’s word, “breathe,” it feels a little bit out of character for me. I’m an excellent planner and project manager. I’m hyper-organized. I’m on top of everything. I am not a particularly warm and fuzzy person. You can tell when I’m starting to fall apart when I lose details, as when we were preparing to leave the States for this your in late November.

I’m very outcome focused. It’s not hard for me to tackle a big project and break it down into small achievable steps. SMART goals? Not a problem. I do, however, tend to get lost in the planning and the achieving and the getting things done aspect of Being Theresa Carpenter Sondjo. I’m very proud of how good I am at my job, but I’m less proud of the sacrifices my family and my soul have to make in order to sustain my type-A personality, not just in the Foreign Service, but at home at before I joined State as well.

I can be a difficult person to live with.

So “nourish.”

Part of that, is nourishing the relationships that I love. Part of that is nourishing my body (developing a consistent workout habit was the best thing I did for myself in 2014). Part of that is nourishing the hobbies that I love: writing, paper crafts, cooking, running (!!).

You know what doesn’t nourish anything at all? Hanging out in the living room, iPhone in hand, browsing Facebook. Endless, mindless consumption, particularly in terms of my paper crafting hobby, but also in our home. Stuff. Neverending piles of junk we ship around the world because we can’t bear to admit that we have purchased paid for accumulated consumer goods that we don’t need.

I found this article by Caylee Grey (expat and fellow lover of paper) to be excellent food for thought as I reflect on how I can best nourish my relationships in the coming year. She lists 70 days to produce more than we consume. Some of the highlights for me:

Throw away fears of making embarrassing things. Make them anyway. My theory, that I keep repeating, is that we have a certain number of things that we make that will be rubbish. Best to get them over and done with as soon as possible so that you can move onto the great things.

I dislike intensely being not-good at anything.  I don’t like being bad at CrossFit.  I don’t like creating stuff that I’m not proud of. I don’t even like scrapping mediocre photos, even when they tell a great story.  If it doesn’t look good, I don’t want to waste hours on the process of creation. That’s pretty dumb. I need to focus more on the process, and less on the final product.

You don’t not have supplies. If you have a pen and paper you have supplies. If I can have supplies in a third world African country, you can have supplies.

So true! If I could create in Freetown, there’s no excuse for me not to do so in Jerusalem. It’s very easy for me to use shopping for creative supplies or blog themes or kitchen goods as a substitute for actually sitting down and creating. Especially in a developed city like Jerusalem, I need to glue my ass to a chair and just MAKE STUFF.

Record your creative time and hone it. Just like you would if you were embarking on a new exercising program, keep track in a notebook, or with Lift.

This is a new idea to me, and I think one that will be very useful. How much time am I spending doing the things I love, vs. how much time am I wasting futzing about online?

Go read the whole list. It’s really good.

I’m not explicitly focusing on minimalism this year, but I’m interested to hear how other folks are limiting their consumption and focusing on the things that are important to them this year. How are you doing it? Do you have any suggestions?продвижение сайта раскрутка результат

Yep.  We sure do live in Jerusalem.

5 Things I’m Loving about Jerusalem after 2 weeks

Yep.  We sure do live in Jerusalem.
Yep. We sure do live in Jerusalem.

GSO and Facilities actually solve problems. Seriously. I wish I’d been able to get landlords to respond as quickly in Freetown as GSO seems to be able to here. And Motorpool! Always on time! OK, mostly on time. Great great great customer service. It may be helped by the fact that my husband keeps offering them beer when they come to fix things. If anyone from GSO or FAC is reading this: FREE BEER FOR FIXING OUR HOUSE. If you don’t partake in beer, we also offer cake and cookies. No, I didn’t bake them myself. Don’t be silly.

People are really friendly (to me). I’m not going to get into the awful racism that my husband has already experienced (that’s a long and angry post for another day), but I’ve generally find people to be very friendly. Very forthright and direct, which after a decade in West Africa, is both strange and familiar at the same time.

Taxi drivers are awesome. I know, taxi drivers everywhere are great to talk to. Here, especially so. Everyone, and I do mean everyone has a story here. This is a city that has seen a great deal of conflict and sorrow. It touches everyone, no matter your origin, religion, or nationality. Life is very hard here, if you’re poor, again, no matter who you are or where you come from. All the Hebrew I know, I learned from taxi drivers. And the Arab taxi drivers have been very helpful in getting me up to speed in Palestinian (as opposed to Modern Standard Arabic, which is what I learned at FSI).

Work is good. Really good. I don’t write about work a lot here, but I’ll briefly say that the working environment in the consular section is adult and professional, and that I actually like my hours at the window interviewing visa applicants. As predicted, I’m really enjoying consular work so far.

People are great about kids. Kids are EVERYWHERE. EVERYWHERE. I love it so much. It helps that my kids are so outgoing, of course,

And one thing that is not awesome: the hill that I live on has a 7% grade and I have been avoiding going out and running because I’m just not excited about facing the hills of Jerusalem. I am a big baby. I know. TOMORROW, I promise.продвижение


Christmas with the Sondjos

Christmas was pretty great, here in Jerusalem.  The Consulate hosted a Christmas party for the kids, and I was able to take a few hours of leave to go see my kids make a mess while making cookies and meet Santa Claus.
Jasmine telling Santa what she wants for Christmas
Jasmine telling Santa what she wants for Christmas (“I want …. PINK!”)

Amazingly enough, we didn’t get any great pictures of the two girls in their matching dresses.   The girls had a great time, though, especially afterwards, when we took them outside to play in the Consulate courtyard with other kids from the Mission.

Grace is learning to walk down steps.
Grace is learning to walk down steps.

Christmas itself was a quiet affair.  Bertrand went to Bethleham for the midnight mass, while I stayed home to stuff the stockings and wrap presents.

Bertrand in Bethlehem.
Bertrand in Bethlehem.

I’m sure many other Foreign Service families have faced the problem of where to hang stockings before our household effects arrive with our hooks and our drill and necessary Christmas hardware.  I bought these tiny stockings at Target to stuff into our suitcases, and we hung them on our Drexel China cabinet.

Stockings hung on our Drexel with care.

Christmas morning was again, quiet.  I woke up early to start on planning for 2015,  and let Bertrand and the kids sleep in.  When everyone finally woke up, we opened presents, then let the kids dig into the chocolate in their stockings.


Christmas morning sugar rush.
Christmas morning sugar rush.
 One of the things that living abroad for so long has taught me is that making Christmas about the decorations and the music and the stuff is a sure path to disappointment.  We celebrated only with the decorations I could fit into our suitcases, and I wrapped presents with a local newspaper. The kids didn’t care.  And we didn’t care.  We had a wonderful day celebrating what it means to be family.
Happy holidays, everyone!


Wrapping up 2014, and planning 2015


I have spent the last couple of weeks looking for a good year-long online class to keep me focused on my priorities for 2015. In 2014, I participated in Ali Edward’s One Little Word, and chose “breathe,” instead of making new year’s resolutions and setting goals in January. I focused on stopping to ask myself, “Is this really what I want to be doing?” in a given moment, and I worked very hard to stop worrying about the five-year plan.

It was actually frightening for this neurotic type-A planner to sit back and say, “I am not going to make a plan.” “I am not going to make detailed packing lists for EVERY SINGLE TRIP.” (I cheated on this one. The templates were already drafted from traveling in 2012 and 2013.) “I am not going to make fitness goals.” “I need to stop wishing I could lose some weight.”

Amazingly, my family survived the year (so far). We moved (twice!). We traveled. Somehow, my husband and I got food on the table every night. And, the biggest surprise for me, I am considerably healthier now than I was at the beginning of the year. Not setting goals allowed me to focus on the process. I could just say, “I want to go to the gym because I like going to the gym,” instead of lamenting, “I’ve been going to the gym four times a week for two months and I haven’t lost a pound!” I could say, “We are donating money to {whatever} because it’s the right thing to do,” instead of focusing on how it would affect our long term goals. I could say, “I’m OK with just sitting on the couch and cuddling with my two-year-old while watching TV because family time is more important than, say, hitting my weekly blogging goals.”

2014 shepherded in a lot of big changes for me, and I like them a lot.

Now that I’m a little bit less goal focused, it’s time to sit down and reorient myself. What are the most important things in my life? How am I nourishing the people and habits and talents that I love? What’s the best tool for me to use to make sure that I’m focusing on all of these things throughout the year, and not wasting time on projects and activities that don’t bring joy to my life?

Tools for planning and self-reflection in 2015

I’m going to continue my weekly reviews. I use a combination of Getting Things Done, Bullet Journaling, and my own processes to plan and reflect each week. Every Sunday evening, I sit down and catch up on our family bookkeeping, update my todo lists, send emails and make phone calls, and write out any memories I’m going to want to scrapbook later. It’s been a very effective way to 1) get an hour or two to myself each week and 2) grind through necessary paperwork in a consistent and systematic way.

I’m using the wish list and mind mapping tools in the Passion Planner. The planner itself doesn’t suit my workflow; however, I like the beginning-of-the-year planning process. I also like the idea of determining areas of focus at the beginning of each month, week, and day. I’m going to incorporate this prioritization into my weekly reviews.

I’m going to participate in One Little Word again this year; however, I’m over the scrapbooking part of the class. I’ll just journal in the notebook I carry everywhere with me (planner, bullet journal, weekly review, and TODO list all in one). This class was incredibly helpful last year in terms of creating opportunities for regular and active reflection on the type of person I want to be. I will be using the class similarly this year, although I haven’t yet settled on my word.

I’m going to join the Simple Scrapper community for a couple of months, particularly for the Start Fresh class. I’m suffering from “too much to do” paralysis in my crafting, and need to sit down and focus for a bit. I also need to simply my weekly layouts, and I haven’t come upon the best (and prettiest) way to do that yet. Membership in Simple Scrapper comes with a great exercise for working on crafting priorities, and I’m going to use that to figure out what’s most important to me scrapbooking wise.

When am I going to sit down and do the preparatory work for all of this?

December 26 is a Federal holiday. We are not celebrating much for Christmas this year (we don’t usually anyway), and all I’ve asked for is the morning of 12/26 to take my laptop and my planner and my preprinted thought exercises to a cafe in the Old City so that I can spend the morning figuring out 2015.

And that, my friends and loyal readers, will be that.

I don’t make any money from this blog.  There are no ads and no affiliate links.  I have not been paid to review any of the products listed above.  I like these planning and reflection tools, and I’m comfortable recommending them to my blog readers to help find a bit more happiness in 2015.как раскрутить сайт бесплатно самому

10 things that Theresa did this week instead of blogging

PACKED THE FUCK OUT. One of the awesome things about having a job that requires me to move around the world, is that the job will actually move me around the world. The movers came, boxed up everything, and took it away.  See you in Jerusalem, worldly goods!

COMFORTED A TODDLER. Jasmine is freaked the fuck out about the disappearance of all her stuff. We’re trying to make it easier on her, but she misses her indoor playground (I DO NOT MISS HAVING A SLIDE IN MY LIVING ROOM).

WAS INATTENTIVE AND MY WALLET WAS STOLEN. It was the least awesome thing ever. Also, terrible timing. However, the credit card companies were superbly helpful in getting the fraudulent charges removed. Now I just have to get a new drivers’ license. Maryland requires you to know your drivers’ license number to order a new license online. IT WAS STOLEN I DID NOT MEMORIZE THE NUMBER.

FINISHED A WORKOUT FIRST. On Monday, I finished a CrossFit workout before anyone else. All that talk about “this isn’t about ego” went out the window for about 30 seconds, and then I remembered that I still can’t do a push-up. Fuck.


WRANGLED WITH L. To be fair, I brought it upon myself. I asked State’s legal department (“L”) about the rules around FSO blogs with affiliate links, sponsored posts, and reviews. L was, of course, very helpful and very clear in their answers. Briefly, in order to earn revenues from the blog, I need to treat it like a business, with all the rules that FSOs have to follow in regards to owning businesses. Fuck that, says the junior officer who doesn’t have tenure yet.

ATTENDING ENDLESS MEETINGS. Actually, my consultations with Consular Affairs (CA) have been absolutely fascinating. I liked ConGen 1) because CA training is hyper-organized and organized people are MY people and 2) I am a data nerd and CA is ALL ABOUT DATA. I won’t know until I’ve been at Post for a while, but I suspect that I am going to LOVE consular work.

ONE ON ONE COACHING AT CROSSFIT. So … I’m leaving. And there’s still some stuff I want to learn.  I’m doing three hours of one-on-ones with one of the coaches at CFSA this week to learn the last couple of Olympic lifts on my DC bucket list. It’s kicking my ass.  Which is the point, I suppose.

BOUGHT SWEATPANTS. I bought the first pair of sweatpants I’ve owned in years (since college? maybe before?). Sometime in the last few weeks, my dire need to NOT BE COLD while running beat out my dislike of unflatteringly thick pants.

TRIED TO UNLOAD A LOT OF BABY GEAR. Seriously, do you know how hard it is to get rid of a carseat and unused formula? We are going to put it outside with a sign that says “free,” but if you need a carseat, some formula, or a exersaucer AND you’re in the DC area, shoot me an email.интернет продвижение реклама сайтов

Several unrelated thoughts

  1. My CrossFit gym box hods a nutritional coaching program a few times a year, and I am participating in the current round. I will not be blogging it here in detail here because t’s a pretty restrictive program (although designed to become less restrictive when you finish), and I’m still trying to figure out where the fine line between “trying to get healthy” and “orthorexic” is.  It’s a Whole30 writ large, and it’s important to me to get through the eight weeks of the program. If you’re interested in my food choices, holler at me and I’ll send you the link to the tumblr I’ll be using to record Every.  Single.  Meal.  UGH.
  2. Speaking of Jerusalem, the countdown has begun!  We’ve begun the long process of pre-departure planning, arranging pack-outs, and getting ready to leave the U.S. for two years.  I am super excited, but also super stressed.
  3. Grace is walking.  This is amazing and frightening, all at the same time.
  4. My spouse and I have decided to eschew the orgy of pre-departure purchases in favor of purchasing just about everything locally in Jerusalem.  It’s kind of freaking me out, but I’m really pleased that we’re not going to spend a fortune on consumables over the next two months.


Air & Space Museum – Out with the Sondjos and Carpenters

Family = <3.  My brother and his family drove down to DC this weekend so that we could visit museums together with the kids.  When we arrived at the Air & Space Museum, we were surprised and pleased to discover that there were a ton of special activities going on to celebrate women in flight, and to encourage girls and young women to pursue careers in aviation. Awesome.



Here we all are, building planes with and for our toddlers.


It took a short while to convince Jasmine that it would be fun to build her own plane, but once we did, we had a blast.  I did the majority of the building and piecing the plane together, but she was thrilled to be able to test it!  The plane was pink and purple and covered in glitter.  “A princess plane!” said Jasmine.  And she loved it.


I always forget how terrible the food is at the Air & Space Museum because every other museum in DC has great food.  Our choices were McDonald’s or pizza.  Ugh.  The kids were so worked up, it was hard getting enough food in them without suffering through junk food.  So it goes.  Jasmine ate all of her apples and three bites of her sandwich in return for an ice cream cone.  And then I had to get one for her cousin too.  FINE.  FINE.  Whatever it takes to keep the kids one step ahead of a breakdown while we’re out and about.


Turns out, Grace loves ice cream too.

Visiting a museum with young kids means lots of herding, lots of chasing, and not much actually getting to see the exhibits ourselves.  After we’d seen everything we thought the kids would love (planes, yes, space, yes, history of flight, no), we realized that we were completely and utterly exhausted.

Every time I go out with another family of toddlers, I’m all like, “Yeah!  This’ll be so fun!  The kids are going to love it!”  And they do!  The problem is that I’m also like, “We’re going to be able to show the kids SO MUCH STUFF!”


I gotta remember the “three things” rule that served us so well with Jasmine.  Three things in a day.  And for us, it was 1) Michael and his family visiting, 2) taking the metro, and 3) the museum.  Getting lunch at the food court was actually #4, and we should have known that we were pushing our luck.


We bought umbrellas on our way to the metro to escape the downpour.  Jasmine insisted on carrying her own.  No fools in the Sondjo family–we let her do

Happy Birthday to Us!


We had a lovely birthday. Yes, that’s a royal “we,” since Bertrand and I share a birthday. It works out pretty well, since neither of us can forget. Last year, he got to pick the event (going out to dinner), and I got to pick the venue (the only sushi joint in Freetown).  This year; we both agreed we needed to do something relatively peaceful.

I started out the day with a quick run. It’s addictive. I was going to stop and take pictures of the sun rising over the Patomac, but I was in the middle of a “run” cycle of C25K, and didn’t want to cheat (not cheating my reps/ runs is kind of a “thing” for me).

Then brunch! Liberty Tavern is one of my favorite brunch joints here in Arlington. It can be hard to find an upscale place where the food is good AND the atmosphere is toddler friendly. My parents drove down (no, I didn’t get ANY pictures), and we had a lovely brunch, followed by a quiet afternoon at home.

What a great way to ring our next year together!продвижение сайта

Happy Independance Day!


What an amazing way to celebrate the Fourth. The last time I was in the States for Independence Day, I was in college. Since then, I’ve elebrated as a Peace Corps Volunteer, as an entrepreneur abroad, as a local hire at a U.S. Embassy in Cotonou, in Freetown as the GSO (logistician-in-chief), and now, back in the States as a plain-old-regular American Citizen.

Lemme tell you, it is AMAZING celebrating Independence Day and not having responsibility for the enjoyment of anyone but my family.

Bertrand with cousins Grace and Austin

We started the day by heading up to MD to have brunch with my parents and my brothers’ family. Trying to get all three families on the same page for major holidays has become a bit of a challenge. We’ve solved it by getting the Carpenters and Sondjos together for breakfast, instead of fighting over whose going to eat lunches and dinner where. Nobody else wants to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to drive to MD, so we never run into traffic, and we never have conflicting plans.


After an amazing (and unphotographed) breakfast, we went outside to let the kids exhaustthemselves. They did. OF COURSE AND THANKFULLY THEY DID.

You thought his name was, “Bertrand.” Actually, it’s “Jungle Gym.”

On the way back to Crystal City, we saw a ton of people and tents at Long Bridge Park. I thought it would just be folks spreading out blankets to watch the show, but it turns out, there was a huge community event going on!

Except that Jasmine and Grace were fast asleep in the car and neither Bertrand nor I were convinced of their capacity to not turn into disasters before the fireworks started. We made a pact. We would go and have fun, and the moment either one of us thought either one of the kids were about to break down, we’d happily leave and not worry about the fireworks.


Soccer balls and face painting and food trucks and live music, oh my!  The kids had a blast.  We have been pleasantly surprised at what an effort Arlington and Crystal City are putting into making this area less “soulless suburbia” and more “pleasant neighborhood.”



After walking the entire park (and that thing is huge), Bertrand and I were ready to find a spot in the grass.  I was exhausted.  I’ve been practicing my thruster/ wall ball form with Jasmine all day.  Turns out, you can get some real air on a toddler when you use proper form.  Turns out, a 30 lbs toddler is a lot heavier than the 15 lbs bar I was using last night.  We spread our blankets in the vicinity of a lot of families, and Jasmine had a great time running around like a maniac with other kids while we took a much needed break.  I’d heard previously that a few hundred people would be at the park to watch the fireworks, but last night, there were easily a couple of thousand.  The park was packed.

“Grace, I am going to read to you!”

Amazingly, we made it until about 8:45. Without whining or screaming, Jasmine turned to me and said, “Maman, I’m TIRED. I want to go HOME.” Who can argue with that? So we packed up, got the kids together, convinced Jasmine to walk instead of being carried, and started making our way out of the park.

While on the long bridge out, we saw fireworks in the distance. We stopped and waited for a few more minutes, but they didn’t start in DC immediately, and Jasmine was turning into cranky pants. Just as we made it out of the park, we heard an explosion in the sky. The show had begun!

I’m so glad we got to see them! Jasmine was enchanted. Lights! In the sky! Over! And over! And over!

Happy Independence Day, America.реклама продвижение сайтов