Daily Grind

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.

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.