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 | 4 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 , , | 6 Comments


Oh yeah, we forgot to tell you: we added a bathroom to our house.

In a perfect world we would have bought a house that already had everything we needed and wanted, but as you may recall the market was crazy competitive and our time frame was short, so we ended up making a few compromises.

Two bathrooms was a must for Andy all along. Me? I was flexible. I’d grown up in a house with just one bathroom. In fact, we only had a bathtub — no shower, even. And that was just fine. But I failed to factor in that I also grew up in a family of three, whereas we were soon to be a family of five. And I also failed to factor in how spoiled I’d gotten by the five bathrooms in our house in Benin. “Okay, you’re right,” I admitted to Andy quickly after moving in, and so we began seeking out contractors.

We started construction a few weeks before my due date with assurances that the project would be done well before the baby arrived. Guess what: there were delays. And then Jonah came early. So there we were, caring for our tiny new addition with a whirlwind of workers coming and going every which way. With sawdust hanging constantly in the air. With loud tools disturbing sleep that was already lacking. Let’s just say, it was not the happiest few weeks of my life.

But, we got through it. And we have a nice little master bath to show for it. I don’t have to go downstairs in the middle of the night to use the bathroom after nursing! I can wash pump parts right there in our room! And Andy doesn’t have to share a shower with his mother-in-law. Ah, civilization.

One of these days we plan to renovate the kitchen and finish the basement, but seeing as how we’ll only be living here for another 10 months or so, those projects will probably wait. Sorry, potential renters.

Speaking of potential renters… anyone looking for a quaint 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom Cape Cod in Falls Church come August or September 2014? You know where to find us.

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Our departure for Guadalajara has been pushed up from October 2014 to August 2014. This is mostly a good thing. The original date would have created a long gap that we would have had to fill with temporary assignments and, well, thumb twiddling. This way, we’ll go straight from Spanish training to post.

Like I said, it’s a good thing, but… I can’t help but be a little sad that we’ll miss another American fall. Apple picking and crisp weather and Halloween costumes and pumpkin flavored everything. Which means we plan to take full advantage of fall this year.

So tell me… what are you favorite autumn activities, especially in the DC area?

Posted in Welcome | 3 Comments