Daily Grind

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.

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 it.

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!

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.

In which the Sondjos go to the Cherry Blossom Festival


A few weeks ago, we took advantage of the then newly spring weather to check out the Cherry Blossom Festival downtown. It was sunny, hot, and crowded—in other words, a typical weekend in downtown DC. I always forget that DC is a real tourist city, in a similar vein as any other large capital city. Millions of people come here every year to gawk and spend money, just as we have in other parts of the world. So it was a shock to me to get down to the tidal basin and find it absolutely packed, even at 9:00 am.


Her royal cuteness.  “Mom!  Take a picture!”  Jasmine is growing up SO FAST.


The cherry blossoms were beautiful, but honestly?  My favorite moment was probably sitting down on the grass and nursing Grace in the shade while watching the crowds mill by.


After nursing, we weren’t ready to leave the shade, so Bertrand got Jasmine and Grace to pose for several pictures.  Jasmine’s kind of a ham (if you hadn’t noticed), and she knows that I love taking pictures of her kissing her sister.  She insisted on giving Grace several wet smackeroos for the camera.

Jasmine insisted on using a map too.  Nevermind that she can’t read words, let alone read a map.  She had one, she pointed to spots on it, and she told us where she wanted to go. IMG_0909

After the cherry blossoms, we took a quick detour into the Natural History Museum on our way home.  The dinosaur exhibit is closing for the next few years, and I wanted Jasmine to check out the fossils before we left.





She was, of course, enchanted.  Dinosaurs are the best!

Easter with the Carpenters and Sondjos

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Best thing about having two girls? Matching dresses!

We spent Easter with my brother’s family and my parents up in Maryland. Bertrand and I rented a car, drove up, and spent a lovely day eating delicious foods, watching the kids hunt for Easter eggs, and celebrating my dad’s birthday. No dinosaur comments allowed.

Ms. Diva collecting Easter eggs

My mom, bless her heart, made Easter baskets for the kids. I love the piggy bank, then gave her hell about the sparkly lip gloss, boa, and diva sunglasses. Jasmine is the girlyest of girly girls. I don’t know where she gets it from, but damn. I love it, because there isn’t a lot more fun than buying sparkly clothes for a two-year-old, but I’m also fully cognizant of the societal factors and pressures that contribute to a two-year-old discovering her inner fashion diva. Sigh. This angry feminist has to keep reminding herself that trivializing and demonizing the feminine isn’t feminism, it’s snobbery.

It’s true. Grass is delicious.

Grace also got in on the fun by eating grass and gnawing on plastic Easter eggs. Yum.

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.