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.

Diary of a Fat CrossFitter – CrossFit is secretly Drum Corps


Thought I was gonna puke halfway through last night’s workout. Bless his heart, the coach was like, “You should do a shorter run for this last round.” So I did, and I didn’t puke, and all was well with the world.

Crossfit seems to be about destroying yourself physically, workout after workout after workout.  Short term misery for long term gains. You work your ass off during the skills and strength training part of the class, then you dump everything you’ve got left into the metcon, until you’re utterly incapable of giving anything more, and lying on the floor after the workout of your life.

That moment when you’re finished. And you don’t have to take one more step. And you know you’ve given it everything you can. And you know that somehow, you still have to find the energy walk off the fieldwalk home.  And it’s the best feeling ever.

Also, it’s insanely expensive, has a rabidly obsessive community, instills in its followers sense of moral superiority over the rest of the world, and encourages a cult-like social scene.

Yup. CrossFit feels a lot like drum corps, sometimes.

Crystal City Farmer’s Market

Image courtesy of Crystal City

One of the best things about living in Crystal City is the amazing farmer’s market.  Sure, it’s for rich yuppies who have more many than sense, but I live in NoVa, so that’s basically everything here.

Every Tuesday, from 3:30 to 7:30, about two dozen vendors line a shady sidewalk to hawk their wares.  There are lots of organic vegetables, but also artisanal cheeses, breads, and yes, delicious pickles.

Even … bacon.

Yes, we belong to a CSA, and yes, we have a Costco literally down the block, but it’s really nice to be able to pick up a few extra vegetables on a Tuesday evening without having to trek all the way to the grocery store.

Diary of a Fat CrossFitter: First time Fran

crossfit_not_drunk_squatsI <3 squats.  And lifting. But not benchmark WODs. No, indeed.  Helen, and Fran, and the rest could take a flying leap off a cliff, and I wouldn’t be upset to read about it in the paper the next day.

Monday night, I was the only person in my class. My box holds several novice classes on Mondays, and since I 1) care about seeing my kids on week nights and 2) don’t care about the World Cup (sacrilege, I know), I attend the 7:30 class. Since everyone else in the world watches the World Cup, I found myself alone w/ a coach.

When you’re by yourself, and your coach is hollering at you during all of Fran, albeit a heavily scaled Fran, and then, instead of letting you stop at the time cap as expected, he tells you to go ahead and fucking finish, well, fuck.  Walking home was difficult.

Needless to say, I am getting my money’s worth out of my membership.

FS Blog Rejuvenation FINAL Round Up

Sunset in Crystal City, Arlington, VA

The last few weeks have been busy for everyone!  Here are the final posts for the FS Spring Rejuvenation!

I’ve really been enjoying JDC’s posts about life in Lagos.  All FS families think that the drivers at their post are the worst in the world.  In JDC’s case, she’s right.

Kitchen Cables shares her experiences of a Balkan market.

Connie picked up chili peppers at the grocery store, and shared a delicious looking recipe for Chili Relleno Casserole.

Kate describes a trip to CASEA, an open air farmer’s market in Brasilia.

And finally, a round up of Moscow grocery stores from Crafty Foreign Service.

Bonus Prompts!

While writing the prompts over the last six weeks, I ended up with a long list of ideas that I wasn’t able to squeeze into six weeks of prompts.  Fellow FS bloggers, here are several more ideas for posts:

Find someone new and local to hang up in your home. What do you display on the walls of your home — photos, posters, artwork, nothing? How do you choose what to dislay? What mood are you trying to create?
Tell us about something you know you should do . . . but don’t.
When was the first time you really felt like a grown up (if ever)?
Have you ever gone to a new place or tried a new experience at Post and thought to yourself, “I’m never doing that again!” Tell us about it.
What does patriotism mean to you?
What are you thankful for today?
Share 5 items on your bucket list
What is the one piece of advice your parents gave you that still sticks with you today?
What do you do to nourish your soul when you feel emotionally depleted?
What you’re loving on Pinterest right now?
Why did you start blogging?
What was the last book you read?
What’s a book you could read again and again and again?
The worst thing that ever happened to you in the FS, and what you learned from it
5 top things and 5 bottom things about your most recent (or current) post (shamelessly stolen from whomever organized this the last time)
5 rules for surviving your first pack out
5 Questions you should ask your sponsor before you arrive at Post
5 things you think new arrivals should know about your Post before they get off the plane
5 ways to be a great ___________ at Post (sponsor, employee, friend, event organizer, social butterfly, WHATEVER)
A day in the life at Post

FS Blog Spring Rejuvenation – FINAL PROMPTS

It’s the last week of our Foreign Service Blog Rejuvenation!  This week’s prompts are about what inspires us.

Prompt 1: Do you have a favorite quote that you return to again and again? What is it, and why does it move or inspire you?

Prompt 2: Find three other FS blogs that inspire you. Link up your favorite posts (don’t have to be the most recent).

Prompt 3: Take a photo of something unique to your post that inspires you.

Tomorrow’s round up will be for weeks four and five, and the final round up will go up next Tuesday, 6/24.

{Diary of a Fat CrossFitter} On Kindness and Self-Love

how_do_you_know_crossfitOne of the things I like very much about the CrossFit coaches at my gym box is that they are very kind. Wait—I don’t mean kind.  I mean that the coaches effectively explain the purpose of workouts and how I can achieve that purpose.  I mean that they communicate clearly that there is no shame in scaling movements.  I mean that that they don’t embarrass me or anyone else about our lack of fitness.  Is that kindness?

It is not.

It’s basic human decency and professionalism.  It’s what I should expect from each and every other person I interact with during the day. But it’s so fucking rare, especially at a gym, that it feels like overwhelming kindness. So much so, that it’s occasionally grating. “YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE EXTRA NICE TO ME BECAUSE I’M FAT!!!” I want to scream. They’re not, of course. They’re paying the same attention to me as any other client with some special needs, as they do the injured, the fit, and anyone else who needs modifications for whatever reason to the prescribed Rx’d workouts.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the intersections of feminism, fat acceptance, the health at any size movement, and my own frustrations and insecurities.  These aren’t new thoughts, but I find it telling that I am so much fucking less tolerant of fat shaming bullshit now that I’m exercising regularly.  I shouldn’t have ever tolerated that bullshit, and I have to be constantly vigilant that my self-encouragement doesn’t take the form of fat shaming my former self (or anyone else!).  It’s a weird but interesting place to be in.

So. I am being kinder to myself, and other people are being regular decent human beings, and all is right with the world.

Also, I fucking love squats.

My Writing Process, Such That it Is

Naval-gazing indeed. When Roaen tagged me to participating in a Writing Process blog hop, I couldn’t help but laugh. The only thing I love more than talking about myself is getting to do it on my blog. We bloggers are a narcissic bunch sometimes, but I have really enjoyed clicking backward through the hop and seeing how other busy bloggers manage their work lives, families, and blogs.

What am I working on?

When Roaen sent me this, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about this question. What am I working on? I don’t write professionally, and I don’t have a goal of turning this blog into a revenue source. It’s a side project—a way for me to write, but also for me to stay in touch with many of the other wonderful folks in the Foreign Service community. I’ve been paid to write in the past, and that was lovely, but these days, it’s remarkably freeing to be able to write because I love it, instead of writing for a paycheck.

My only current writing project is this blog. After a years long hiatus (or effective hiatus, when I only posted once a month or so), finding my voice has become a struggle. What do I want from this blog? Who is my audience? And how can I balance writing about the things I care passionately about with the State Departments written and unwritten rules about blogging?

How does my work differ from others?

Oh, meandering me. At various points, I have blogged about studying abroad, the Peace Corps, running a business in Benin, technology in Africa, women’s issues, food, paper crafts, losing weight, life in Freetown, and finally, life at FSI here in DC. Like many in the FS community (officers and spouses and MOHs alike), I have lived a varied and interesting life, and have continued to write as I have done so.

Today, I write about many subjects well covered elsewhere: cooking, CrossFit, paper crafts, life at FSI, parenting, and travelogues. I am lucky in that my job ties all of those disparate subjects together. How can I find community and passionate work wherever I go? How do we Sondjos make our home happy, no matter where in the world it may be?

I love sharing the normalcy of our lives, and I love sharing our grand adventures.

Why do I write what I do?

I write because I love to write. It’s a creative outlet. I love to share. I love telling stories. And even when I am SO MAD because it looks like State is broken AGAIN, I love my job as an FSO. I want people to love everything I love as much as I do. And even if they don’t love it, I want to share my joy and my exuberance, and yes, even my frustrations with the rest of the world.

How does my writing process work?

I draft all blog posts in Evernote so that I have access to them on all of my devices, wherever I am. If I’m not online, I take notes and outline posts in a moleskin, but everything makes it to Evernote eventually. I am slowly starting a schedule (Foreign Service Fridays, CrossFit Mondays, Community Tuesdays), punctuated by regular posts about home and family. Drafts may sit around for months before I finish them, but once I have an acceptably finished post, I ask myself one more time whether it’s a good idea to publish the post as-is.  If so, I copy it into WordPress, add any photos, and schedule it.

The vast majority of my posts are scheduled in advance. I write them when I have time to do so, schedule them, and forget about them. I’m finding that as I write more, the habits I developed when I was blogging professionally are also serving me well as an amateur. The fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants thing was fun for a long time, but I fully expect that future employers (and future managers of positions on which I’m bidding) will read this blog, and I believe a minimum of professionalism will serve me well.

On a  technical note, I use a this editorial calendar plugin to help me visualize my editorial calendar each month.


Bridget is a fellow Foreign Service Officer, a mother, and an all around great person. I’ve enjoyed reading her posts from the DR, and can’t wait to read about her life as an American diplomat in China!

The lovely Ashley is a (newly again) mother of five.  I don’t know where she finds the time to write, but she is hilarious.  And now that I’ve met her, I hear all of her blog posts in her actual voice, and it’s even better.  I have loved reading about her family’s adventures around the world, and now in DC for long term training.

FS Blog Rejuvenation Prompts, Week #5 – Communication

We’ into the home stretch!  Just one more week of prompts for our Spring Rejuvenation.  This week, we’re talking about how we communicate, both at Post and with our families back home.

Week 5 – Communication
Prompt 1: Tell us how you keep in touch with friends and family back home. (prompt courtesy of Eve Josar).

Prompt 2: Visit your favorite market(s) at Post and tell us about them. Tell us about your favorite market ladies (or gentlemen), your struggles to communicate in the local language, and most of all, why you keep going back. (also courtesy of Eve Josar).

Prompt 3: What is something you love that defines your world but is often overlooked? Take a photo and share it with us.

BONUS PROMPT:  What are five things new arrivals should know about your post before you arrive?