Parrot at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo

Sondjos at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo

Flamingos at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo  One of the best kids’ activities in Jerusalem is the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, and I was tired of my coworkers’ surprise when I told them, “No, we haven’t been to the zoo yet.”

Parrot at the Jerusalem Biblical ZooSo on Sunday morning, we got up, picked up the house, packed a lunch, and dragged the kids to Jerusalem’s zoo. It was lovely. The work week in Jerusalem for everyone but Consulate folks is Sunday – Thursday, so the zoo was deserted, except for the one other Consulate family we happily ran into.  That family has several young girls, one of whom Jasmine’s age.  Guess who were thrilled to make new friends?

My husband at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
Handsome man, interesting choice of accessories. I kid, I kid. I love the baby blanket as towel look. ;)

 

In addition to regular entry, the zoo offers a membership. We did the math while we were waiting in line, and we only have to go three more times this year to cover the cost. That’s a no brainer, and voilà, the Sondjos are the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo’s newest members.

Lion at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo

Once we arrived (pushing a stroller one mile up and down a mountain is a pretty exhausting walk), we let the kids out of the stroller so that they could run around and work off some excess energy.

Jasmine ROARING like a bear at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
ROAR

The kids loved all of the animals, but the birds were the most fascinating. Grace started squawking back at them when they squawked at her. It was hilarious.

Grace squawking at the birds at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo
Grace squawking at the birds

The zoo has tons of objects for kids to climb on and take pictures. Jasmine loves that sort of thing, and because Jasmine loves climbing on the statues, Grace loves climbing on the Statues.

Jasmine and Grace at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo

The zoo has a few other neat features, including an Aviary where kids can buy food and feed colorful tropical birds. Grace didn’t quite know what to do with herself, but Jasmine was enchanted.

Jasmine feeding the birds at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo

And of course, there’s a playground.

Jasmine going down the slide at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo

Since we bought a year-long membership, we didn’t feel at all obligated to see everything in one day. We waited until Jasmine was a little hungry, so we could promise her a snack while she waved good-bye to her new friends. Then a quick pretzel on the way out, and we walked home.

The walk home was much much harder than the walk there. We were so tired, but I was so relieved to discover how close the zoo actually is.  I see a lot of quick visits in our future.

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Diary of a Fat CrossFitter – Starting Starting Strength

Photo of a Fat CrossFitter getting her lift on
Obligatory gym selfie.

I can’t believe I got up early on a Saturday to go lift.

Fucking crazy.

Does anyone remember when I was astounded that I had become the type of person to get up early and run outside?  Well, until my “winter” running gear (warm pants and a rain jacket because I actually only own a trench coat, which is useless for running) arrive next week, I am not that type of person in Jerusalem.  However, instead of losing the habit, I’m getting up and going to the gym at the consular section.

Also, I did not expect to missing lifting AT ALL.

But I do, and my new CrossFit box is not satisfying that itch as well as I’d like.  Plus, I really like the way I feel when I’m thinking about what I’m eating, as opposed to how much I’m eating.  I’m not in a mental place where I can do that when I’m not lifting heavy (i.e. MUST FUEL GAINZ), so I decided to start a strength program.  My research (aka “analysis paralysis”) indicates that it doesn’t matter what program I pick, so much as just putting in the work to do it consistently.  Starting Strength is a linear progression designed for beginners, doesn’t require any equipment I don’t have access to, and, most importantly, doesn’t require huge amounts of thought on my part.

Anyway.  Ran a mile (OMG YOU GUYZ I CAN RUN A MILE WITHOUT STOPPING).  (re)Started Starting Strength.  Benched in the squat rack.  Deadlifted in the squat rack.  Sorry not sorry, no space to do it elsewhere.

While I was on my way out, I ran into one of our GSOs* and mentioned that it’d be great to have a women’s bar to accommodate those with tiny hands like myself.  He said sure**.  Then I went home and ordered some 5 and 2.5 lbs weights off of Amazon so that I can add weight to my bench and OHP in increments of less than 20 (the smallest plates available at the office gym are 10 lbs).  No way on this God’s green earth am I waiting for procurement and GSO to order weights, send them to the Despatch in NJ, ship them by sea, and then and ONLY then be able to use smaller weights when I lift.  It’s a small investment for some hopefully large gains gainz.

I’m feeling pretty good about my progress, and I’m pleased at the positive steps I’m taking to nourish myself, nutritionally, physically, and psychologically by lifting.  It’s been a good start to 2015.

* GSO = General Services Officer, in charge of procurement (for those not familiar w/ State Dept acronyms)

** Anytime anyone’s like, “So, Jerusalem-violence-tension, meh?”  I’m like, “OMG ICASS customer service is SO GREAT I could stay here FOREVAAAAAAARRRRR.”

Conversations with my three-year-old, Sondjo edition

Jasmine: I want a surprise!

Me: You can only have a surprise if you behave yourself!

Jasmine: I want to behave myself!

Me: Good.  Behave yourself, and you can have a surprise.

Jasmine: I’m behaving myself!

Me: Yes, you have to behave yourself for more than 30 seconds.

Jasmine:  I’m behaving myself RIGHT NOW!!!

Me: Are you screaming?

Jasmine: I AM BEHAVING MYSELF!!!!!!

Me: That’s not behaving yourself, Jasmine.

Jasmine:  I!  AM!  BEHAVING!  MYSELF!  WWWAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!

*sigh*

NOURISH

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?

Jasmine holding her first hand made card.

On being a working mother

Jasmine holding her first hand made card.
Jasmine holding her first hand made card.  She picked out the paper and the embellishments and the letters, helped cut, then glued everything on herself.  She was SO PROUD of herself.  I was pretty proud of her too.

The good news is that my work hours are far more reasonable than during my last tour, and that both kids are capable of entertaining themselves for a few minutes at a time now. I’m not spending hours at FSI studying Arabic after class because I can’t get any studying done at the house. Even while going to CrossFit a few evenings a week, I’m getting in more time with my kids here in Jerusalem than I have since Jasmine was born.

The bad news is that as they get older, they’re increasingly and visibly hurt by the fact that I leave for work every day. Sure, toddlers are naturally manipulative assholes, but it still breaks my heart when my three-year-old clutches my trousers and begs me, “Maman, please don’t go! You don’t have to! You can stay home and play with me today instead!” And when my one-year-old breaks out into tears while she’s in my husband’s arms, as I quietly disarm the alarm before walking out the door? Ouch.

I don’t get to hear Grace trying out new words for the first time. I don’t get to calm her tears when she falls. I don’t get to ask Jasmine’s teachers how she’s doing, and make sure that they know that when she says she needs to pee, she really really really needs to pee. Increasingly. both kids are going to their father when they need things, anything at all.  I am often the second best solution.  When Dad’s busy, they come to me.

Guilt’s a terrible word laden with all sorts of baggage when we talk about working moms, and it’s not terribly accurate to describe my feelings on being a working mother as “guilty.”  I suppose I’d call the sentiment wistfulness. Certainly, envy. In the long term, I know I’m doing the right thing. The smart thing. The best thing for my family and the best thing for me.  And blah blah blah privileged enough to have one spouse stay at home blah blah blah can afford good private preschools blah blah foreign service lifestyle blah blah blah.  Yeah, I know.  Believe me.  I know.

That knowledge doesn’t make heading out in the mornings any easier, though.

Buying an oil painting in the shouk (market) in Jerusalem

Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem with Kids

We finally had a spare moment to be tourists in Jerusalem, and we took advantage of the free afternoon by visiting the Mahene Yehuda market in downtown Jerusalem. We spent the afternoon shepherding our kids (the only kids at the market who weren’t in  strollers) between vendors and trying to keep other shoppers from tripping over them.

View of Shouk Mahene Yehuda in Jerusalem
Inside the market

 

I’d been trying to figure out where Jerusalemites do their grocery shopping—certainly the grocery store by our house is outrageously expensive, and I was delighted to find that the market prices were more than reasonable compared to what we’d been purchasing. The whole market was a sensory overload for me and the kids, but a wonderful one!

We walked past this oil painting stall several times, and we finally decided to stop so that Bertrand could browse.  While he was looking at paintings, Jasmine charmed the vendor, and then was charmed herself.  After he took out some kid sized paintings for her to look at, we were charmed too.  We didn’t see anything we had to buy right then and there, but Jasmine was so fascinated by the artwork, we decided to let her pick one out for her room.  She knew exactly what she wanted, and picked out the painting below.  For $13, it was s steal.

Buying an oil painting in the shouk (market) in JerusalemBefore and after painting purchasing, we loaded up on vegetables.

And olives.

Olive vendor in Shouk Mahene Yehuda (market) Jerusalem

 

I bought a lot of olives. My favorite flavor right now is a little sour and a lot spicy (they’re hidden behind the scale).  I asked this vendor if I could photograph his stand, and he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to be in the photo or not.  Finally, he decided to stand stoically behind his wares.

After wandering around for an hour or so, we were all hungry, and the kids were getting tired.  Bertrand spied a schawarma stand, and we quickly bundled the kids into a corner table.  I wish I’d thought to take a picture of their sign, even though I don’t read Hebrew.  The food was fantastic, and the wait staff were truly kind to our children.

Grace digging into some fresh pita
Grace wouldn’t stand for just part of a pita.

One thing I really appreciate about living in Jerusalem is how child-friendly most activities are.  Jerusalemites have a lot of children, and they’re integrated into everyday life here in a way that I, and the kids, are really enjoying.

Fat Crossfitter - too tired to shower, can't to to bed sweaty

Diary of a Fat CrossFitter – CrossFitting in Jerusalem

Fat Crossfitter - too tired to shower, can't to to bed sweatyI went to CrossFit Jerusalem for the first time earlier this week. After a month off, I’d forgot how wonderfully exhausting lifting + a WOD can be. Folks were very welcoming, although the athletes and coaches totally made fun of me for being so American about introducing myself to everyone.

Habits die hard.

It was a relatively deceptively simple workout. Warm up. Back squats 5×5. Then a metcon that focused on the core: box jumps, L-sits (or N-sits, in my case), back extensions (which I did on the ground because who the fuck has time to get on and off the damn machine when you’re doing 20 second tabatas?), and ab mat sit-ups.

It was wildly different from the workouts I’d been doing in Virginia, and I liked it a lot. It’ll be wonderful to get home at 1830 after a workout instead of 2100. Instruction is in English and Hebrew.  The location is also excellent.

And since I’ve already bitched about the hills of Jerusalem, I can say that I definitely prefer CrossFit Jerusalem to the hills (although I prefer hills to burpees, so I guess I’ll have to wait and see how often burpees are programmed).

Diary of a Fat CrossFitter – I live on a hill and it is THE WORST

I was planning on going for my first Jerusalem run n Saturday morning to take advantage of the quiet Shabbat morning when just about no one is out and about. My toddler, however, had a terrible terrible night on Friday.  It was so bad, in fact, that when I finally just crawled into her bed with her at 3 in the morning, I turned off my alarm and put it off for another day.

If you think that I was procrastinating about that run and was happy to use my daughter as an excuse, well, my loyal readers, you are correct. Jerusalem is full of hills. Hills with grades of 7-9%. Steep hills. And I am still a fat crossfitter and novice runner who’s used to shuffling along in delightfully flat Crystal City, VA.

Today, I got up and faced The Hills. They were about as awful as I expected.  In fact, the run was so difficult that instead of the 3 mile loop I’d planned, I cut the run short and ran a much shorter 1.5 mile loop instead.

Stairs in Jerusalem
I should probably try running up the many stairs in my neighborhood … Nah.

Despite the hills, running is still better than burpees.  And with the hills and stairs I’ve got in my neighborhood, I’ll have glutes of steel by the time I head out to my next post in two years.

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.