chinese new year

I realize that Chinese New Year happened a few months back, but it’s still alive and well here in our house.

Let me explain.

Back in December, Flynn somehow stumbled upon a video of a Chinese New Year parade in his YouTube perusing. (Yes, our toddler peruses YouTube. Don’t judge.) Seeing as how the parade featured a giant colorful dragon, it should come as no surprise that this immediately became the coolest thing our two year old boy’s little eyes had ever seen.

And then he (and we) realized that YouTube is filled with these Chinese New Year videos. He could click from one to another and watch mesmerized for pretty much forever — or at least until his parents started to feel a little negligent and made him go read a book instead.

Fast forward a few months to February, and, what do you know, the actual Chinese New Year was upon us. We live in a pretty culturally diverse neighborhood and so there happened to be a Chinese New Year festival at the middle school a few minutes away. Of course we went. We only stayed for about 10 minutes or so, but our little guy is still raving about the event now, two months later.

And of course he’s still watching his dragon dance YouTube videos too. He’s watching one at this very moment, in fact. It’s odd, yes, but we can’t really complain. They’re a huge improvement over his previous favorite videos of people unwrapping Kinder Egg Surprises. Yes, you read that right.

(Brief aside: These egg surprise videos have millions of views. Don’t believe me? See for yourself: this one has 55 million views! It’s just someone unwrapping a candy egg with a toy inside. That’s it. And 55 million views! And there are hundreds if not thousands of videos like it! If you understand this phenomena, please enlighten me.)

Just as a reminder, we’ve never been posted to China. He doesn’t have any friends who have been posted to China. He doesn’t know any TV shows set in China. The fascination with Chinese New Year came out of the blue, but we like to think it’s a sign of a sort of curiosity that will serve him well in the crazy international lifestyle that awaits him.

Maybe that’s a stretch.

At least it’s keeping us from having to watch any egg surprise videos for a while.

Gratuitous family photo.
Gratuitous family photo. Nope, the almost eight month old baby still doesn’t have any hair.
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how’s that spanish?

Want to see a video of an English language learner whose level of English is equivalent to my current level of Spanish? Click here.

Not exactly bilingual, eh? But still not too shabby considering I could only say “hola” a few months ago.

(If you’re curious to learn more about the U.S. government’s language evaluation system, click here or here. I’m currently a 2; I need to get to a 3.)

NYT’s columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote recently that he uses a simple one-word test to determine whether someone is truly proficient in a foreign language: he asks, “how do you say ‘doorknob’?”

Uh… not a clue.

Fortunately, I have a few more months of full-time language instruction left ahead of me.


Posted in FS Life, Life in DC, Spanish | 4 Comments

first words in the soon-to-be second tongue

When we first switched Flynn’s beloved Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to Spanish, he got pretty upset and insisted we make Mickey stop talking silly. But lately he’s totally behind the idea of learning Spanish. He loves telling everyone both “hola” and “adios amigo,” and after some hiccups, he can now also explain, “Me llamo Flynn.” (It took a while for him to understand why “me llamo me” doesn’t work. “But I am me,” he would argue.)

This evening, Mickey taught Flynn to say “gracias” and “de nada,” which inspired him to ask me for a whole bunch of other translations. In case you’re curious, here are the words a toddler boy desperately needs to know in his soon-to-be second tongue, according to said toddler boy:

  • Dog
  • Dinosaur
  • Bucket
  • Spider
  • Pigeon
  • Mickey
  • Pig
  • Pants
  • Digger
  • Tiger
  • Dog (guess it didn’t sink in the first time)
  • Elephant
  • Baby bottle
  • Giraffe
  • Light
  • Mirror
  • Bear
  • I will get you

So there you have it. He’s pretty much bilingual now, wouldn’t you say?

Posted in FS Life, Personal, Toddler | 3 Comments

first tour in washington

Now that Alex has settled in to Spanish training, she reminded me that I may never have mentioned what it is that I’ve been doing for the past year. Well, way back when I was in A-100, we made the (correct) decision that it would be better for our tandem chances if I bid on jobs here in DC. Lucky for us, I received one of the DC jobs on our bid list on flag day.

Right after flag day, there were a few days of uncertainty during which nobody quite knew which DC job I would have. Maybe the one I was assigned. Maybe a different one in the same office. I was told that someone would let me know when I showed up for work my first day.

I ended up being assigned to a position called a Post Management Officer. It’s both in DC and in my selected cone (management), so I feel pretty fortunate. I’m basically the liaison between all the posts in my portfolio and all the various offices and bureaus in DC. I’ve learned a lot about taxes, real estate, assignments, and a lot of other things I previously knew little about. I even got to head out to Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan for a couple of weeks.

Working in DC as a first-tour officer can be challenging, especially when your job is usually filled by a 3rd or 4th tour officer. I heard the phrase “drinking from a fire hose” more times than I care to remember. But in the end, I think it’s been a very good experience (and hopefully my office would agree).

Speaking of the end…

It won’t be long now before I’m off to Spanish too. I’ll start on February 24.

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Today was a snow day. A legit one. Not one like that entire cold but mostly snowless week during which I paid for preschool and yet Flynn didn’t get to attend a single day. We have about a foot of snow here in the greater DC area, and it’s still falling. Schools are closed. The federal government is closed. Mail never came. Streets still haven’t been plowed. Our neighbors are all out shoveling. Their kids are all out building snowmen. Soon we’ll all be drinking hot chocolate. Good old American fun. We’ll take it.



Snowed in.
Snowed in.



Posted in FS Life, Life in DC, Welcome | 1 Comment

languages that are not english

Did I mention I’m back at work? Yep, I’ve been at the Foreign Service Institute learning Spanish for these past five weeks. Nineteen more to go until I’m a professionally proficient Spanish speaker, though I have my doubts about that timeline.

Everyone assured me that my French would make learning Spanish a breeze. I’m not so sure. The linguistic corner of my brain seems to be divided into two sections: 1) English, and 2) Languages That are Not English. There’s just no controlling what comes out when I open my mouth in class. Sometimes it’s Spanish. Just as often it’s French. Pretty frequently it’s a French word bastardized with a Spanish accent — or more accurately, what sounds like a Spanish accent to my ear that is definitely not yet accustomed to a Spanish accent.

We’re both in a little over our heads.

So, yeah, language learning could be going better.

But at least the FSI cafeteria now has sushi.

Posted in Welcome | 2 Comments

on languages lost

Flynn understood French before he understood English. By the time we left Cotonou, when he was just over two, he was speaking about equal amounts in each language. But fast forward six months, and now he’s speaking paragraphs in English, yet when we try to read him bedtime stories in French he tells us to “stop talking silly.”

Bedtime books, iPad edition.


Sometimes we wish the timing were different, that we had been in Benin when he was one to three rather than zero to two. Or that we were going to a Francophone post next so he could maintain and build upon his skills. Or that it had been practical to bring his wonderful Francophone nanny back to the U.S. with us.

But alas, a Francophone Flynn was just not to be. At least not now.

I’m still convinced that he would pick up French fairly easily if he were to study it later in life. And that his early exposure to multiple languages stretched his brain in such a way that he will more easily learn any second language in the future.

For now, though, French has left at least one undeniable impact on Flynn’s linguistic skills. He seems to have retained the French “liaison,” which links the ends of certain words to the beginnings of the next words. For instance, he doesn’t say, “it all,” but instead, “i-t’all.”

It’s just a small thing, but it’s a fun reminder every day of where we’ve been.

I can’t wait to see how small things from all the different places we will serve throughout his childhood combine to influence the little person he will become.

Posted in Benin, French | 1 Comment

baby’s first trip abroad


It was a brief one — just a cruise ship stop in the Bahamas, with no passport stamp as evidence, even. And he slept through it too. Yet it still felt like an important moment in the life a baby who will come to know many, many other countries in the course of his childhood years.

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Also, our apologies for such a long period of silence. We’re finally starting to kind of sort of get our heads above water with this whole parenting two young children thing, and we hope to update you loyal blog readers, all three or four of you, very soon.

Posted in Life in DC, Personal, Travel | 2 Comments

we haven’t posted because…

Hi there.

…of this guy.

Now three months and 12 pounds of cuteness, Jonah does, believe it or not, have one major flaw: he can’t possibly conceive why anyone would need to put him down for more than a three-minute stretch. He also doesn’t believe in daytime naps. Swings, bouncers, strollers, car seats, baby carriers… we’ve tried them all. So, for the foreseeable future, our typing hands are otherwise occupied.

Posted in Baby | 5 Comments

because decorating matters

When you only live somewhere for a year or two or three at a time, it’s easy to talk yourself out of investing the time and energy it takes to make it feel like a home. But in the Foreign Service your entire life is a collection of one or two or three year stints, and if you never bother to create a home, then how will you ever feel at home? That’s no way to live a life.

This was a lesson we learned the hard way during our first tour. We’re wiser now.

Which brings me to my latest project.

As you may recall, we bought a house in the DC area. As you may also recall we’ll only be living here for about a year before heading back overseas. The first four months flew by before I knew it. Of utmost importance was introducing Flynn to all the great things America had to offer, all the while spending some quality time with him before the baby was born. Besides, our stuff was still on a boat somewhere in the Atlantic — we couldn’t even really decorate if we wanted to. And then, the baby. Need I even explain why his arrival kept me busy?

But last week when Flynn headed off to visit his grandparents in Ohio, I decided it was the moment to act. Never mind that we only had 10 months left in this house. Never mind that I wouldn’t have the time or energy to do everything I wanted. It was important, I knew from our mistakes in Benin, to do something. And so, with much help from my mom and a little help from Andy (who was otherwise occupied with the thankless task of basement organization), I devoted myself to fixing up the boys’ rooms.

First up, the toddler.

When I asked Flynn what kind of room he wanted, he requested trains, airplanes, and Mickey too. Trains or airplanes? No problem. Trains and airplanes. Tougher. I doubted I would find such a bedroom set at Pottery Barn Kids, but thankfully Etsy came through — on the trains and airplanes decor, anyway. Mickey, we had to mix in ourselves.

Mickey, hanging with Elmo, enjoying the scenic view.
Shh... don't tell Flynn these are stickers! They might end up on his leg or forehead, where all other stickers seem to go.
Firetruck? Car? Gas station sign? Sure, let's throw in all the other transportation themed gear we already have too. He's two; he won't notice.

Want to know something cool? That comforter is fitted at one end, meaning a certain toddler no longer has an excuse to demand the presence of his parents at 3 a.m. because “my piggies came out.” Why doesn’t all kids bedding come this way?

One of our favorite Benin keepsakes.
An oldie but goodie from Grandma and Grandpa.
Scored this dresser on Craigslist, my new obsession.
Awww... family.

What did he think?

Worthy of his very best fake smile! (Actually, he liked it. I couldn't capture a real smile because he was too busy running around.)

And now, the baby.

Andy thought a whale themed room for Jonah was a little too obvious. But I thought it would be cute, so tough luck to him.

Hello, yellow.
My arts and crafts project for the year.
And this too.
Over there.
Lots of nooks and crannies.
Jonah will be just barely one when we leave this house. Think he'll ever actually sleep in this room? Here's hoping...

What did Jonah think?

He liked his room too! Or maybe just his morning milk, or that Abbey finally stopped barking, or that Flynn wasn't poking him for once. We'll never know.

Our room, the living room, the dining room, and the basement are works in progress. I hope to be able to post some finished product photos soon. As for the kitchen… anyone want to gift a mere $100,000 to the cause? No takers? Okay, in that case, it might be a while before we see any real improvements there.

Posted in Toddler | Tagged , , | 5 Comments