on day trips with little ones

Unfortunately I can’t tell you much about these prehistoric circular pyramids, because I stepped out in the hall with a whiney one-year-old during the introductory museum video. And I spent the rest of the museum visit arguing with a whiney three-year-old about my decision to deny him a granola bar until we got outside.

He was wearing a much cuter outfit earlier in the day. Don't even ask what happened in the car.
Outside, post granola bar, he was a bit less whiney.

Side note: Flynn was wearing a much cuter outfit earlier in the day. Don’t even ask what happened in the car.

Anyway, we were talking about the circle pyramids. Guachimontones, they’re called. They were only discovered like 10 years ago. I guess they used to be part of some city like this.

Murals, murals, everywhere.
Murals, murals, everywhere. It’s Mexico, after all.

Or so the story goes. Word on the street is that the whole thing is a giant scam orchestrated by the state of Jalisco, which was jealous of other parts of Mexico and their impressive (and tourist attracting) archeological sites.

Baby celeb.
Baby celeb.

Not pictured: the dozens of middle school girls on some sort of organized trip who were much less interested in the pyramids than in getting a photo with the blonde gringo baby. I let them. Why not?

Smiles from all!
Smiles from all!

Afterwards we visited a lovely lakeside seafood restaurant where Flynn insisted on ordering a hot dog, and then proceeded to eat not more than one small bite of said hot dog. Jonah insisted on eating everything he was not allowed to eat, and on banging a spoon on the table much of the meal. Meanwhile, I think our child-free travel companions made the important life decision to hold off on the whole kid thing for a while. Can’t blame ‘em.

Obviously, our kids are awesome. But traveling with little kids just isn’t awesome. Still, we’re trying to force ourselves to do as much of it as possible anyway, because let’s be honest: being at home with little ones isn’t easy either. And we only have two years here to see and do the seemingly endless list of things we want to.

We hope to go on a day trip most weekends, and we’re in the midst of planning our first long weekend away too. But for that one, I’m making sure to find a hotel with babysitting service. Obviously.

Posted in Baby, FS Life, Mexico, Personal, Toddler | 5 Comments

ajijic, where expats abound

Can you spot the grump?
Can you spot the grump?

We decided to take a day trip on our first weekend with wheels. Our criteria: somewhere interesting, but also easy to get to. Many people recommended the quaint towns on the shores of Lake Chapala, an area about an hour’s drive from Guadalajara which is home to thousands of American retirees. We ended up in the town of Ajijic. Despite period foul moods by  certain three and one year olds (see above), it was a lovely little day. We’d definitely trek back (though we might get a babysitter before doing so).

Taking a stroll.
Taking a stroll.
Spotting stuff.
Spotting stuff.

Ajijic looks like you how you imagine Mexico to. Narrow cobblestone streets are lined with colorful buildings and eclectic shops. They were just starting to open for the day when we were packing up to go around 1 p.m.





Details everywhere.
Details everywhere.


Laughs with Dad.
Laughs with Dad.


Picture perfect.
Picture perfect.

Of course we picked up some snacks for the road.

Ready to eat.
Ready to eat.


Churros, mmm.
Churros, mmm.

Andy read somewhere online that a couple can retire comfortably but not extravagantly in the Lake Chapala area for about $1,300/mo. I wonder how much it would cost to retire extravagantly. In 30 years or so I might just be interested.

Posted in Mexico, Travel | 3 Comments


The worst time in every Foreign Service tour is that stretch before your cars arrive. Luckily, those days are over for us. Exactly a month after we got to post, our cars finally got here too. No more taxis! No more bumming rides from people! No more takeout every night because grocery store runs are too tough! No more moping at home unable to do the things we want to! One of our cars arrived with a dead battery, but no matter. We’ll deal with that later, and for now, one functional car is plenty.

Andy: “We’re going on a day trip tomorrow. Do you know what a day trip is?”
Flynn: “Yes, it’s when you drive like a race car and go somewhere new.”
Andy: “Well, we’re going somewhere new, but actually we’re going to be driving with an abundance of caution.”

Sorry I don’t have time to write more, but we have places to go.

photo (1)

Posted in FS Life, Mexico | Leave a comment

the restaurant of the future

During one of our London medevacs a few years back, Andy and I dragged an over-tired 1.5 year old Flynn all over town searching for some kid-friendly restaurant, any kid-friendly restaurant, which  we never were able to find. (If memory serves we wound up in a Pizza Hut or somewhere similarly disappointing.) At the time we wondered: Why aren’t there restaurants with built-in childcare? Not fast food joints, but real restaurants with a room you can send children off to while you enjoy your meal in peace. We’d pay a hefty premium for that sort of thing. We certainly can’t be the only ones.

Since then, every time we watched Shark Tank, we envisioned pitching them our genius idea. But we also have jobs and kids and stuff, and hence no time or energy to educate ourselves about business start-ups.

As it turns out, our brilliant idea already exists. It’s alive and well here in Mexico! It seems like every new restaurant we try has a play area for children, some as impressive as what you’d find in a preschool, and many monitored by professional nannies (rooms without childcare  are visible from the dining room). One night we went to get take-out from a hole in the wall sort of place, and even they had a patch of grass and full-sized sunken trampoline to keep kids busy.

Image 3Real restaurants with play areas and childcare — I’m telling you, folks, it’s the wave of the future. Expect these to be everywhere in the United States in the coming years. You heard it from me here first. And expect me to bemoan the millions I could have made if only I’d jumped the diplomatic ship and been the one to develop them. We have no plan for that in the immediate future, but hmm, if we get a really crummy next post, you just never know what may happen…

Posted in Baby, food, FS Life, Mexico, Toddler | 2 Comments

mexican real estate

The architecture around here is interesting. Aside from the colonial old town, the nicer parts of Guadalajara are extremely modern. I love to stroll around and admire houses like these.

Image Image 1 Image 2

Curiosity quickly got the better of me, and I couldn’t help but to stalk local real estate sites. It turns out these homes cost significantly less than our 1,400 square foot, un-renovated and un-spectactular Cape Cod in the DC suburbs.

I guess this is why people retire to Mexico.


Posted in House, Mexico | Leave a comment

one of those days

You know those days when you can hardly believe how cool your life is? When you’re so appreciative of this opportunity to live in crazy parts of the world that other people only get to read about or maybe visit briefly on vacation?

And you know those days when you wonder what in the world you’ve gotten yourself into? When something that would be so simple back home is unbelievably frustrating because of cultural or language or whatever other differences?

I had both of those experiences today.

It was Friday on the eve of Labor Day weekend. As all my colleagues were describing their exciting upcoming trips, I was feeling sorry for myself to be somewhat trapped by the fact that my car hadn’t arrived. There are taxis, yes, but we have kids and carseats to consider, so there’s only so much taxing we can do. But then I had a thought! We live in civilization. There are car rental companies here — American ones, even. Why not rent some wheels for the weekend? So I logged onto Orbitz and proceeded to rent a car at the local Budget. How awesome that I was living somewhere I could use these American conveniences! (As you might imagine, such luxuries didn’t exist in Benin.) How amazing it was going to be to finally get to do some exploring!

But alas, that wasn’t to be.

First problem: the address and phone number on the local Budget website were wrong, so it took us an hour of walking and finally 15 minutes in a taxi to get there. But we did stumble upon some cool sights along the way, like:


Still, overall this adventure wasn’t off to a great start, but all’s well that ends well? Visions of driving my family to fun places all weekend keep me going. Unfortunately once we arrived at the Budget shop, things went further downhill. We were told there was no car for us.

“But we have a reservation!” we explained, waiving our confirmation sheet. But this wasn’t America. It didn’t matter. There was no car and no apologies. Maybe reservations aren’t as firm here? Maybe everyone knows online registration systems aren’t to be trusted? But the phone number on the website didn’t even work, so we couldn’t have called to reserve a car if we’d wanted to. What were we supposed to have done? We didn’t know. All we knew was that there was no car for us. So home we went in the taxi.

The only thing that elicited a brief smile on the long and mostly sulky ride home was hearing Andy trying to answer our chatty driver’s many questions about American male hairstyles — not exactly his area of expertise.

But back to the point… How should we salvage this weekend? Any creative ideas?

Posted in FS Life, Mexico, Personal | 3 Comments

tacos, tacos everywhere

One of my goals for this tour was to develop a more sophisticated understanding of Mexican food than the tacos and fajitas with which I’m familiar. I’m realizing  this may prove more difficult than I expected. In our two weeks in town we’ve tagged along with colleagues each day for lunch. They’ve yet to take us to anywhere other than a taco joint. Sometimes it’s simple street tacos that are cooked on portable grills and that we eat standing or at folding tables. Sometimes it’s seafood tacos stuffed with octopus, shrimp, tuna, and more that we enjoy along with tropical drinks. Other times it’s fancy tacos filled with more expensive and interesting meats. But it’s always tacos. Not that we can really complain. We could probably eat tacos every day for two years and still not grow tired of them.

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Posted in Welcome | 2 Comments

greetings from guadalajara

We’ve arrived! Our house is a lot better than we expected. We have more bathrooms than people (six!) and plenty of living space. Everything is new and modern. The government issued furniture is way less hideous than it was at our first post, so that’s a small but important quality of life victory. We’ll post some photos once we get everything set up.

Although we weren’t thrilled at first about being in a gated community, we’re loving the community center with a pool and playground that the boys visit daily. We’re not in the heart of the city, but we’re definitely not as far out as I feared. We’ve been pleasantly surprised that we’re actually walking distance from quite a bit including a preschool that Flynn will be starting at next week, a taxi stand, bakeries, ice cream shops, coffee shops, salons, play places, and loads of restaurants including one with a kids area and an on call nanny.


Work is totally overwhelming as is the Foreign Service way, but we’re confident that in a few months we’ll find our groove. The people seem great, the hours are reasonable, and we’ve been eating delicious tacos most days for lunch, so no complaints there.

We managed to set up cell service but still don’t have internet at home. Our stuff isn’t here yet. Most significantly, our cars aren’t here yet. So we’re at the mercy of kind strangers and taxi drivers, which leaves us pretty stranded most of the time since we travel as a pack of five with two car seats. This is the worst time of every Foreign Service tour, when you need to do and get stuff but don’t really know how, when you want to explore and learn more about your new home but can’t do much of that yet. Even the most upbeat of diplomats find themselves feeling a bit down during this stretch. And yet despite all that, we’re actually doing okay, which makes us think that when we get settled we’re really going to love it here.

Posted in FS Life, House, Spanish | Leave a comment

our year stateside

Dear Flynn and Jonah,

This was a big year for you boys, this year that we spent living in Falls Church, Virginia. Jonah, it was of course your first. Flynn, this was the year when you not only got a little brother, but also changed from a babbling toddler into a little person with a distinct personality. Just like I did when we left Benin, I’ve decided to put down for posterity some things I’d like you to know about this phase of your lives.

Flynn, you were just over two when you, me, and Abbey the dog flew by ourselves all the way from Cotonou to Paris and on to Washington, D.C. You were as good as any two-year-old boy could be expected to be on an airplane, until landing when you told me you felt a little funny. The next thing I knew, I was covered in throw up. You felt much better by the time you reunited with your dad in the arrivals hall. Although you’d seen him a few times in London, it had been almost six months since he’d been living with us. You gave him the biggest hug you maybe ever had. He got a bit more than he’d bargained for, though: despite being in a diaper, you somehow managed to pee all over him. I don’t envy the taxi driver who hauled us all home. I think we tipped him extra.

You were confused when we first arrived at the house we’d just bought, Flynn. As we strolled through the empty place, you kept asking somberly to go home. This made your dad and me so sad. But standing in your new bedroom we could see out to the backyard, which was filled with large, colorful, plastic toys that Grandma Jeanne had been collecting for you from garage sales. “All that for Flynn?” you asked with a hopeful tone in your voice. When you learned that it was, you seemed to decide that this new house might be alright after all. It turned out to be a wonderful home indeed. We decorated your bedroom with trains and airplanes, and we met lots of little friends for you out on walks around the neighborhood. Shortly after our arrival there was a neighborhood block party which you decided was being thrown in your honor; we didn’t correct you. For the rest of the year, every time we walked by the site of that party, you would ask, “Do you remember my party?” As luck would have it, this year’s version was held on our last week in town. You thought it was all for you, too.


Benin didn’t have parks or playgrounds, so for our first two months back stateside, Flynn, you and I made up for lost time. I wasn’t working, so together we went somewhere fun every day. We got to know the best playgrounds, water parks, and splash pads. We went to library story times. We saw puppet shows. We joined play groups. I took you to your first movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. (You were mostly interested in the popcorn, though occasionally you would point at a giant pancake flying across the screen.) At the end of every day we would head up the block to “find dad” on his walk home from work. “Daddy, daddy!” you would yell, and then take off running until he scooped you up in his arms. Despite all the fun, there were some struggles. You would cry and flail your limbs for hours as I tried to get you to take your afternoon nap. Nighttime was tough too. You would wake up crying five, six, or seven times a night. Change is hard, especially when you’re too little to understand it. And more change was coming.

Grandma Jeanne moved in on her birthday, and shortly thereafter your little brother arrived too. But these were changes you welcomed, Flynn. You walked so hesitantly into the hospital room, not sure exactly what you would find there, but you were so happy and sweet when you met Jonah. You were  probably more excited to welcome Grandma to our home, though. While I looked after your brother, Grandma Jeanne took you out in the yard to play with all those toys. She let you paint and chalk and do all sorts of things your dad and I didn’t like to do.


Jonah, while Flynn was off having fun with Grandma Jeanne, you and I mostly just sat around. You were a needy little thing for a while. You came almost a full week early, before we had even gotten around to packing a hospital bag. And you came fast. I barely even made it to the hospital, and your dad had barely met me there from work, and then you were there! You were a cute little baby but looked nothing like your brother, which is funny because as time went on you changed so much that in photos now we sometimes can’t distinguish you from him. We usually figure it out based on the hair, though. At almost a year, you still have almost none. Jonah, for your first few months you wanted to be held at all moments, and the only person you’d let hold you was me. Even though we swore we’d never do it, we kept you in our bed with us  because it was the only way to get you to sleep. Gradually you gained a bit of independence, moving into your our room and accepting the presence of other people. You became quite the smiley little guy.  You’ll smile at anyone and everyone, but you save your biggest smiles and loudest laughs for Flynn.


We didn’t do any exotic travel this year, boys, but we did see many family members and friends. We drove back to Illinois for Aunt Bess and Uncle Ted’s wedding a bit before you were born, Jonah. Unfortunately we were rear-ended by a drunk driver on the Interstate somewhere in rural Maryland, and we spent two days trapped in the only motel that accepted dogs as we waited for any rental car within a 100 mile radius to become available. We ate meals from the one delivery restaurant in town and sometimes just from the motel vending machine, which was a new and exciting sight for you, Flynn. You called it “that monster that gives me candy.” Eventually we were on our way, and at the wedding you enjoyed seeing many family members, including your second cousin James who by complete accident was wearing the exact same outfit as you. We also visited your St. Louis friends for Thanksgiving, and you spent two separate weeks with Grandma Sherrie and Papa in Ohio. We were nervous you would get homesick, but they gave you enough Starbucks drinks that you were just fine. You boys traveled back to Ohio with your dad over Fourth of July, and many of your Midwestern family members and friends came out to see us.


Despite some photographs on Santa’s lap that suggest otherwise, you loved Christmas and even Santa, Flynn. But who you loved perhaps most of all this year was Mickey Mouse, which was why you were so excited to learn we’d be going to “Mickey’s house” and on “Mickey’s boat” with your cousins. You were so shy and sweet when you met Mickey in person. You told him you loved him. The glow on your face suggested you’d realized your greatest dream. Later you showed wisdom beyond your years when you asked me to stop taking photos of you with Mickey and your other character “friends,” because you just wanted to spend time with them.


After we got home from that trip I went back to work, and you started going to school. You cried the first two days I left you. It was so sad that I made Grandma Jeanne take you the third day. But you adjusted quickly and before long school was your very favorite place in the whole world. You came home with stories about a girl named Frankie, a boy named Karen, and a boy named Ali. We were sure you must be jumbling things up, but you weren’t. Your teachers said you were such a sweet little boy. You quickly learned to write all your letters and then focused on helping your friends learn too. You started in the “2 class,” as you liked to say, but were so proud when you were moved up to the 3s. “I live in the 3 class now,” you told us, and you wouldn’t believe us when we insisted you actually lived at home. You loved pajama day, and bike day, and dentist visit day. You once paced the house nervously for a full hour before show and tell day, trying to settle on the perfect thing to bring in. (Shark car it was!)


Jonah, while Flynn was off at school, you spent your days with Grandma Jeanne. Sometimes she would take you out to a playground or a Goodwill, but mostly she would chase you around the house and wonder how such a little thing could have so much energy. You sat, you crawled, you cruised. You sprouted teeth, and we have marks all over your crib to prove it. You love dropping food to Abbey.  You took some clumsy first steps while we were packing up the house, but you truly learned to walk in the hotel where we’re staying until it’s time to go. You call everyone “dada” and you sometimes say, “hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii,” or “ohhhhhhhh.” Flynn loves to pick up “Jonah brother” or “Jonah pants,” as he calls you, and you’re getting big enough now that we sometimes let him.


Flynn, one weekend you and Mom took a special train trip up to New York City, where your favorite memories are the dozens of Mickeys in Times Square, the giant pretzel you got to eat while walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, and the fact that your new friend Andrew’s dad gave you a very big band-aid. You did lots of special things with Dad too. At the beginning of the year you were obsessed with trains, or “choo choos” as you called them, so he would take you out to ride a few stops on the Metro every Saturday morning. He took you to a minor league baseball game where you were very impressed by the player’s hats, and to a high school hockey game where you were very interested in the player’s socks.

By the time your third birthday was approaching, Flynn, Mickey was old news and dinosaurs were your new favorite thing. So we rented a dino shaped bounce house for the backyard and invited some of your little friends over for a party. You made sure they all knew the dinosaur was a friendly one. It rained before the party was over, but no matter. We got to keep the bounce house for another day, and so you had lots more fun before the friendly dinosaur had to go home.

Speaking of home, boys, this house we’ve been living in is yours. This goodbye isn’t as sad as the one we said in Benin, knowing that realistically it was unlikely we’d ever return. Another family is going to be living in our Falls Church house for a while, but we’ll be back. You can have your same rooms. Many of your friends will still be in the neighborhood. Many things will remain the same, except of course for the large addition we’re already planning. You boys are far too wild for 1,400 square feet. Though we’ll be coming back, there are still some goodbyes to be said. Flynn, you were so proud to tell us that when you’re four you’ll be in Miss Judy’s class, and so sad when we reminded you that when you’re four you’ll actually be in Mexico. You love your school, and though I’m sure we’ll find another one you’ll love just as much, it’s still going to be a very sad last day.

Luckily, there are lots of great experiences waiting to be had by you both in Mexico. Off we go.




Posted in Baby, FS Life, House, Life in DC, Personal, Toddler | 2 Comments

packed up and packed out

We’re not sure how you’re supposed to prepare a three-year-old for a major move, but we’ve decided to go the route of talking about it constantly so that when it’s upon him at least he won’t be surprised. For months we’ve been explaining the steps to him — first getting ready for the movers, then the movers, then the hotel while our house is empty, then the airplane, then the new house. So with that sort of build-up I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that Flynn woke up in the middle of the night the day before our pack-out asking, “Are the movers here yet?” in excited anticipation. He proceeded to wait by the doorway until they were.

photo 3

I’m ashamed to admit that when a team of three petite female movers showed up in a very small van, I feared for the worst. Our pack-out was scheduled to take two days, and afterwards we had appointments with floor people, handymen, cleaners, the property management company. The schedule was tight, with no room to spare. How could these three women and their small truck possibly finish moving everyone out of our very full house in just two days?


It turned out the women’s job was to pack everything. That small truck was holding all the boxes they’d need to do so. A larger truck and twice as many male movers would come the following day to haul everything away.

In the end, those three petite women wrapped and packed everything in time to be out the door promptly at 5 p.m. We were sure the men would only have to work a half day. After all, everything was basically done — they just had to carry it all outside. But nope, they were there finishing up until 8 p.m.

Shame on me for having doubted the abilities of those petite female movers.

photo 4

So our stuff is gone, our house is empty, and our many, many suitcases are stacked high in hotel closets. We are officially betwixt and between.

In somewhat related news, Jonah has transitioned from taking clumsy steps that only sometimes get him across the room to a fully capable little walker. We realized that Flynn learned to walk while staying in an extended stay hotel too. I guess that’s life for third culture kids.


Posted in Baby, FS Life, House, Life in DC, Toddler, Travel | 2 Comments