Raising kids as expats — the “new” normal

My husband and I worry about the effect of the expat lifestyle on our kids.  Will they grow up rich with experiences, polyglot, and appreciative of all that they have?  Or will they grow up spoiled and entitled, used to having the world at their feet?  We hope the former, and fear the latter. A recent blog post from another mother who’s dragging her family around the world made me think about the “new” normal for our kids, which is nothing like the normal I grew up with.

I wonder if my kids will ever regret not being able to range over the countryside like my brother and I did (not that we ranged terribly far, but we at least had the illusion of freedom).  Bertrand wonders whether they’ll miss being surrounded by an enormous family and the sense of belong that comes from a structured family hierarchy.  I wonder if my kids will regret not.  I wonder if my kids’ educational experiences will suffer because they won’t grow up in just one school system, where all of the teachers know their mom and their siblings and everything about their family for the last decade.  Bertrand worries about how the kids will make lifelong friends if they move every few years.

And then when we’re done worrying, we think about the fact that our kids can say thank you in more languages than we can, and our three year old is figuring out the cues here in Jerusalem about whom to thank in which language.  Our kids love fou-fou, and hummus, and pita, and cassava.  They’re figuring out the difference between West African piment and Jerusalemite harissa and their parents’ Tabasco sauce, and which heat they like and they don’t like.  They’re friendly and respectful and so wonderfully confident that the world welcomes them.

Could I ever take that away from them for twelve stable years in the States?


Not ever.

But there are some things that we do as they grow (we have a preschooler and a toddler now!) to keep their lives more normal:

Insist that the girls say please and thank you, whether buying dried fruit in the market, ordering hummus at a restaurant, or getting yogurt out of the fridge.

Make the girls clean up after themselves.  Yep, you guessed it, at the market, in restaurants, and at home.  The world is indeed at their feet, but that doesn’t mean their food needs to be.  It’s a slow slow process, but the girls are starting to understand that the “circle of shame” after a meal, as friends of ours from another post called it, is actually, well, shameful.

New toys are a special occasion.  We buy the kids food treats all the time (and we are blessed with kids who think strawberries are the BEST CANDY EVER).  We take them out to dinner.  We explore Jerusalem and it’s wonderful.  But we don’t buy them stuff.  They have plenty of toys and plenty of clothes and frankly, we are happy for them to learn to entertain themselves without the mountains of plastic.

Emphasize that “normal” is wherever we are.  In Freetown, rice pilaf with chicken was normal.  Here in Jerusalem, hummus and olives are normal.  In Cotonou, bright colorful pagnes are normal.  And back in the States, jeans and a t-shirt?  Perfectly normal.  We want our kids to realize that normal is essentially meaningless.  Each wonderful place we live will have it’s own normal, and we want the girls to understand that as well.

Encourage drawing and art and creativity.  My preschooler loves scrapbooking (well, cutting triangles out of pretty paper and pasting them onto more pretty paper).  My toddler loves scribbling.  And pretends to write words (I know!  humblebrag!  already!  ahhhhh!).

Read every day.  I hope to foster in my kids the same love of reading that I have.  As a child, books exposed me to a wide variety of ideas and ways of life that I never would have seen if I didn’t spent every spare moment with my nose buried in a book.

Be each other’s best friends.  We made the decision early on that we wanted to have two children because we wanted them to have each other as we move around the world.  We are following a very Beninese school of parenting when it comes to our daughters’ relationship with each other.  They’re responsible for one another, both for the good and the bad.  The elder must take care of the younger and must serve as a good example, and the younger is obliged to follow her sister’s lead.

Any other great ideas for maintaining normality and stability as we drag our daughters around the world?

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Ein Karem – a Tiny Oasis in West Jerusalem

View from the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Jerusalem

Saturday afternoon, we’d finished puttering around the house, and didn’t really want to waste a beautiful afternoon indoors.  It was also late enough that we knew the kids wouldn’t last long, and we didn’t want to commit to a long expensive excursion if a breakdown were eminent.  With small children, it’s easy to get caught up in MUST! BRING! EVERYTHING! because you never know what your kids are going to need if you’re out for a long day of sightseeing. We’ve been making an effort to be more minimalist not only in the accouterments we drag along for the girls, but also in our actual excursions.

Ein Karem is technically part of West Jerusalem, but it feels like a tiny artist’s village tucked snugly among green hills. It is, supposedly, the town where John the Baptist was born.  It’s a 15 minute drive from our house, full of cute cafes and brasseries, and most importantly, parking (if you can find it) and most of the attractions are free.

We decided to give Ein Karem a try, knowing that we could be home in 20 minutes if the kids turned into disasters.  Happily, they had as much fun as we did!  Once we found parking, an adventure in and of itself, we climbed a hill to see the Church of the Visitation.  It was well worth the hike.

When you enter into the church grounds, your’e greeted by beautiful tile mosaics of prayers in languages from all over the world (Nigeria included).

Prayers in a variety of languages from all over the world, Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem

The kind monk who greeted us didn’t speak much English (and we, of course, don’t speak much Hebrew), but he was very patient and gentle with the kids, both of whom wanted to take advantage of the large flat spaces to run around, instead of sedately and respectfully enjoying the church.  He was very understanding of their enthusiasm, and we were eventually able to convince the girls to hush.  Once they were quiet and calmed, we took a peek at some of the church’s beautiful interior spaces.

Holy well, Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem

After exploring the area near the entrance, we climbed more stairs to visit the church itself.

Inside the grounds of the Church of the Visition, Ein Karem, Jerusalem

The Church of the Visitation is known for it’s beautiful tile mosaics, and it absolutely did not disappoint.

Mosaic tiles in the Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem


Mosaic tiles in the Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem

Mosaic tiles in the Church of the Visitation, Ein Karem, Jerusalem

After visiting the Church of the Visitation, we traipsed back down the hill to the village of Ein Karem itself. It was packed with Israelis and tourists. all sitting at outdoor cafes and enjoying the beautiful weather. We’d hoped to visit the Church of John the Baptist, but by the time we’d stopped to get ice cream and climbed the hill to the church, it was closed to visitors.

Bertrand and Grace eating ice cream in Ein Karem

The ice cream was delicious, though.

We’re going to try and go back in a few weekends to see the sights we weren’t able to visit this time. It’s a rare neighborhood in West Jerusalem that’s actually open and hopping on a Saturday afternoon, and kids and adults alike in our family could use a few more relaxing afternoons playing tourist in a non-stressful “OMG MUST! SEE! EVERYTHING!” way.aracer


Kousa Mahshi (Palestinian stuffed zucchini)


The longer we’re in Jerusalem, more in love I fall with the incredibly varied cuisine here. And like many international cuisines, no matter where the source, traditional recipes are long and labor intensive. I’m making an effort to learn one recipe a week, integrating it into my weekly paleo cook-up.

Sometimes, as with a recent experiment with maqluba, I simply say to hell with paleo! Rice doesn’t destroy my guy like wheat products seem to, so I made the traditional recipe as proscribed.  Most weekends, though, I weigh how good I feel when I’m eating strictly paleo against trying a new recipe, and frankly, feeling good wins. This week, I decided to modify traditional stuffed zucchini in hopes of creating a paleo-friendly version.


So delicious.

I read dozens of recipes while trying to figure out this one, but this one was particularly useful (I am not the first blogger who needs paleo middle eastern foods!). I modified the recipe for a larger batch and much more robust flavor.

Recipe for Paleo Stuffed Zucchini

Prep time: 15
Cook time: 60
Serves: 6


  • Six to eight large zucchinis (cut in half and cored) or a dozen small zucchinis, also cored
  • 1 kg ground beef
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2T olive oil
  • 1T all spice
  • 1/2T cinnamon
  • 2t salt (divided)
  • 2 diced tomatoes
  • 3 whole tomatoes (or two cans diced tomatoes)
  • 3T tomato paste
  • 1c fresh chopped parsley
  • 1c fresh chopped mint
  • 1T garlic powder
  • 2c chicken broth

Directions for the filling

  1. Core your zucchinis. I used large zucchinis chopped in half, and a regular vegetable peeler. I’ve already ordered a regular corer from Amazon.
  2. Heat 2T olive oil in a pan, then saute diced onions until slightly soft.
  3. Add the ground beef, all spice, cinnamon, and 1t salt, then cook until beef is well browned and remaining liquid has evaporated.
  4. Remove beef mix from heat, mix in a separate bowl with two diced tomatoes and chopped parsley, and allow to cool.
  5. To make the sauce, puree tomatoes, then heat in a sauce pan with tomato paste, mint, garlic powder, chicken broth, and 1t salt. Cook for at least 30 minutes.
  6. While the sauce is cooking, stuff your zucchinis! Smash as much of the beef mixture as you can into the zucchinis, then lay them sideways in a foil lined roasting pan. Add any extra beef to the cooking sauce.
  7. Pour the sauce over the zucchinis in your roasting pan, being sure to distribute evenly.
  8. Cook for 45 minutes at 400 degrees, turning zucchinis halfway through.



Join Us for the Awesome Ladies Project this Friday!

Are you awesome?  Could you be considered a lady by any crazy stretch of the definition?  Do you love crafting and struggle to set aside time to work on projects that make YOU feel GREAT?

Join The Awesome Ladies Project and pledge two hours a month to creating a project that makes you feel like an awesome lady.

Creating Makes You Feel Awesome

I, along with the other ladies on the Awesome Lady Creative Team, pledge my hours publicly on the last Friday night of each month (that’s tomorrow!), and I’d love for you to join us! In addition to posting pictures on Instagram using the hashtag #AwesomeLadiesProject, rukristin has set up a (free! of course! because awesome!) workshop to share inspiration and creative project.

In addition to all of that …


This month there are TWO awesome ladies chats (registration required to access link)!  I’ll be hanging out in our chatroom starting at 7:00 PM GMT, and Kristin will be leading a chat later in the day beginning at 10:00 PM EST.

Holler in the comments if you have any questions, and I can’t wait to get creative with you all!

Disclaimer: as a part of the rukristin Creative Team, I receive a small amount of free scrapbooking product to help create the some of the awesome projects you’ll see as inspiration in the workshop tomorrow.aracer.mobi

Primal Broccoli and Pomegranate Mason Jar Salad

Mason Jar Broccoli and Pomegranate Salad

Primal Broccoli and Pomegranate Mason Jar SaladI am working on taking my lunch to work every day, but I needed an easy way to make an entire week’s worth of lunches in advance. I actually do a great job of cooking a week’s worth of food at once on Sundays, but never seem to find time in the mornings to pack my lunches. Enter the mason jar (side) salad. It’s a great way to take advantage of all of the amazing fresh produce that Jerusalem offers, without having to get up early to make myself a salad every morning for work.

I combine this salad with a more substantial entree (like paleo Shepherd’s pie, or meat balls, or whatever), and it keeps me full all day, including up and through my evening lifting sessions.

Mason Jar Broccoli and Pomegranate Salad Recipe

Serves 5 (or one person 5 times).


  • 2/3 cup mayo (I use homemade paleo mayo, but store-bought will also work)
  • 1/4 cup basalmic vinegar
  • 2 heads broccoli (chopped into florets)
  • Seeds of one pomegranate (check out this YouTube video for helpful instructions on seeding)_
  • 1/4 cup red onion (sliced)’
  • 1.5 lbs cubed leftover chicken
  • 1 cup goat cheese (feta, bulgarian, whatever, cubed; skip this if you’re strict paleo)
  • 5 mason jars


  1. Blanche the broccoli florets (bring a large pot of well salted water to a rolling boil, dump in the broccoli for one minute until the florets turn bright green, then drain immediately), and allow to cool.
  2. Mix the mayo and balsamic vinegar.
  3. Layer into each mason jar: 2T basaltic dressing, handful of broccoli, red onions, chicken, pomegranate, cheese cubes.

Everything is made from scratch. All of the ingredients are primal and paleo friendly. And I can make five salads at a time to store in the fridge.

It’s true that the mason jar is pretty hipster, but I’ll take an ounce of hipster over the ridiculous cost of buying my lunch every day at the consulate.topod

How to become a runner.

Diary of a Fat CrossFitter – How to become a runner

How to become a runner.How to become a runner: put on your shoes, go outside, and start running.

How to become a CrossFitter: put on your shoes, go to a box, and start CrossFitting.

How to become a lifter: put on your shoes, to to the gym, and start lifting.

Yes yes yes yes yes, research boxes and find one you like. Yes yes yes, look at form videos on YouTube and learn how to lift correctly. Yes yes yes yes, invest in decent running shoes and try C25K.

But don’t let analysis paralysis stop you from going out and MOVING if that’s what you want to do.

Don’t start Monday.

Start tomorrow.

Start now.раскрутка

Stone steps at an outdoor amphitheater near kibbutz Be’eri

Darom Adom Southern Anemone festival in southern Israel – Watching the Desert Bloom

Matan running through the fields at Darom Adom

Friends of ours invited us to join them on a trip to the Negev to see Israeli’s national flower, the anemone bloom.  The flowers bloom only for a few short weeks after the rainy season, before disappearing until the next year.  After over a month cooped up in Jerusalem, we were happy to get out of the city (and so were the kids).

We took the long road to get to Shokeda, the region in the nortnern Negev where the flowers grow.  After a few mishaps, we finally found a place to park and let the kids run wild.

And she's off!  Grace running near kibbutz Be'eri

We actually hadn’t found the anemones yet, just crowded outdoor area, where cyclists were meeting (there was a bike shop) and getting ready to ride off-road and through the fields of flowers.  Behind the market area, there were some beautiful wide open fields were kids were running around and families were picnicking.  Grace and Jasmine needed to get out and stretch their legs before continuing to search for the beautiful red flowers, so we unloaded the cars and let everyone out to explore.

Jasmine running through a grassy field at Darom Adom, the Southern Anemone Festival

Between the fields, there was a beautiful outdoor amphitheater.

Stone steps at an outdoor amphitheater near kibbutz Be’eri

Once the kids were a little tired, we returned to the market area to find food.  Seats at tables were in short supply, but we found a large wooden table in the shade, and took it over.

Ian and Bertrand eating lunch at Darom Adom, the Southern Anemone Festival

Some of us sat while eating, and some of us chose to dance on the table instead.  One-year-olds are wonderful.

Suzanne and Matan after lunch at Darom Adom, the Southern Anemone Festival

Finally, after everyone had eaten and the kids were settled, we were ready to head off, still in search of the anemones.  We eventually found a field full of them, and full of picnickers and fellow travelers like ourselves.

Matan running through the fields at Darom Adom, And she's off!  Grace running near kibbutz Be'eri


We let the kids lose again, and had a lovely time chasing them around.  There were tons of other families out, similarly chasing their kids around.  And the flowers were breathtaking.

Grace wondering through the fields at Matan running through the fields at Darom Adom, the Southern Anemone Festival

Grace also ate several flowers.  Apparently, they were delicious.интернет раскрутка

10 years of blogging, and I’m back!

The blog went down last week, and I’m still not sure why.  Some combination of a plugin + theme + something was telling WordPress to display … nothing.  No admin, no blog, no nothing.  It was awful and it’s been a frustrating week and I got up an hour earlier than normal this morning to sit down and straighten everything out.


If things are wonky over the next few weeks, it’s because I’m taking advantage of the meltdown to fix some of the cruft that’s built up over the last ten (!!!!) years of blogging.

No, there won’t be ten-year anniversary post.  I don’t generally do naval-gazing retrospectives, preferring instead to naval-gaze about the future.  However, I’m pretty pleased with myself for maintaining the blogging habit here since 2005.

If only I had the same dedication to running Jerusalem’s hills.


Diary of a Fat CrossFitter – A Week of Workouts

I’m starting to warm-up to my new box’s formatting. It’s a lot more loosely run than CFSA was, but I really enjoyed Sunday’s workout.

Partner WOD, split 50/50, broken down into sets of whatever we want

100 American KB swings
75 partner wall balls (toss the ball up to the line, and then your partner catches and tosses it for you to catch)
50 burpee pull-ups (or, in my case, burpee, then jump up to the bar from a pile of 20 kg plates because HAHAHHAHAH pull ups HILARIOUS)
25 dips

It was pretty brutal, but the woman I partnered with was an aboslute machine. I ran out of gas during the burpees, and she jumped right in to keep us going.

Monday, I did a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am lifting workout at the gym between work and a work event. I was dumb and didn’t warm up enough, didn’t stretch, and didn’t rest enough between sets. Failed my deadlifts, and that really bummed me out.

Tuesday, I (re)started c25k in hopes of getting a little bit faster and running for a little bit longer before getting bored out of my mind.

Wednesday, I had a terrible no good very bad day at work (nobody’s fault—I was just crabby pants). I really wanted to grab a drink or two after work, but instead I hit the gym and I PR’d* my squat and PR’d my OHP**. Fuck yeah, Starting Strength and linear progressions gainz.

Today, Thursday, I ran some more.

And Friday, I’ll lift some more because SRSLY GUYS, I love lifting so fucking much.

My building has a pretty sweet gym facility, and I take advantage of it several days a week after work. One of my fitness goals this year is to find community in being active. Another is to own the fact that I am active, fat or not. Part of that, for me, is being confident about working out with people I know. It’s kind of weird working out with my work colleagues (there’s a reason I don’t wear running capris to the office), but pretty awesome too. We totally give each other weird bro-grunts and half-waves when we see each other (seriously, we don’t talk at all), but it’s nice to be working out alongside people I know, instead alone in a tiny Oakwood corporate housing gym.

Anybody else doing a great job about establishing routines now that we’re a month into the New Year?

* PR’d = beat a personal record for a lift (I lifted heavier than I ever have before)
** OHP = Military Press

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

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.topod.in