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

renovations

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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fall

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

faces of the first weeks

These "hand" things are a little awkward, no?
I said, do NOT swaddle me! Was I not clear?
I can never go back to that warm squishy bubble I used to call home? Not gonna lie. That makes me sad.
I'm onto you, dog. Keep that nose away from this diaper.
That's the world out there? It seems a little... big.
What about "NO MORE CARSEAT" don't you understand?
A little help please?
Kiss kiss.
I'm confused. I really don't get any of that pizza?
Do not disturb.
All I have on today's agenda is food and naps? Can't complain about that!
Give me a toy, stat. I dare you to say no to this dimple.
Posted in Baby | 2 Comments

the rush

Two weeks ago, just after Jonah was born and we were sitting in the hospital exhausted and a little surprised (he arrived early, and so fast!), I was filling out the form to get Jonah’s birth certificate when I turned to Alex and said, “You know, when Flynn was born, I brought all of the information to expedite his birth certificate with me to the hospital.” We needed to get the birth certificate as quickly as possible so we could get his diplomatic passport and then his visa, all so we could move to Africa ten weeks later.

Whenever you hear about the challenges of the foreign service lifestyle, being far away from home, not having roots, and lots of uncertainty usually come up. But that moment in the hospital reminded me of what, to me, might be one of the most daunting parts of being in the foreign service of all – the rush. When you’re moving all around the world, when your stuff is moving all around the world (but not necessarily on the same schedule as you), and when the places you live might not be suitable for certain life events (like the birth of a child), it’s easy to find yourself rushing through things that under normal circumstances you might take more time planning.

It starts in A-100. In every class there are a handful of newly minted foreign services officers who have also just tied the knot, like Alex and I did just before she started A-100. There are more that get engaged and married before going off to their first posts. Husbands and wives go on travel orders. Fiances do not.

It continued for us when Flynn was born. While we were waiting for his passport, visa, and medical clearance, we took a whirlwind trip to the midwest to see our families. Visits that might otherwise have been spaced out over months were jammed into five exhausting weeks of moving from one house to another, sleeping in different bedrooms every week. Then, in February, when I was assigned to Washington for my first tour and we knew we would be here for a while, we needed to buy a house. Of course, we only had about six weeks to look. As two people who could spend ten minutes deciding what bag of chips to buy, and who would undoubtedly rethink our decision on the way home, this was maddening. We also needed a car, and a couch, and to add a second bathroom to the house we just bought, and maybe finish the basement too. All of these things that we would have loved to take our time doing (or drag our feet on, depending on how you look at it), were done quickly without our usual obsessive compulsive research and careful deliberation.

Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. It forces us to make decisions and move on. To be honest, I think we would have ended up in this house even if we were looking for six months instead of six weeks. The same goes for our car and couch. As for the bathroom, I can’t help but remember how it took Alex the better part of a month to settle on bath towels she liked. I shudder to think how long she could have spent designing a whole bathroom had we had the luxury of time.

But now that the we bought a house and car, had a new baby, and are really close to finishing that second bathroom (or so we’re told…), it’s nice to be able to breathe. We have at least a year before we leave for Mexico. Having this time to simply be in the US after the baby was born was one of the main reasons I bid on Washington for my first tour. Sure, eventually we’ll need to get a passport for Jonah and apply for visas, but that’s a long way off. We have time. No need to expedite his birth certificate.

Posted in Life in DC | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

summer of fun

After two years of living somewhere with no public parks and playgrounds, and only several play places which were of questionable cleanliness and whose safety standards left a lot to be desired, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a summer full of free and cheap activities with my toddler.

Libraries!

Puppet shows!

Lego days!

Reading to dogs!

Story time!

Playgrounds!

Spraygrounds!

Swimming pools!

Indoor play places!

Movies!

Even grocery store trips are fun!

For other interested parties, here are some good resources for finding free and cheap toddler activities in and around Falls Church/Arlington/Fairfax County.

Playgrounds: The Meanest Mommy is a great blog with a quite extensive list of playground reviews in and around Arlington. Find out whether it’s shaded, whether it’s geared towards older or younger kids, whether there’s parking, and whether it’s generally worth a trip before heading out. Tip: Clemyjontri in McLean is a playground on steroids and definitely worth seeing, but note there’s little shade and it gets hot and very crowded so it’s best to go early and/or on an overcast day.

Red Tricycle: A great site newly launched in D.C. that already has lots of kid activity ideas, and will surely only get better with time. There are lists of things you can do whenever (the best places in the area to paddleboat, for instance) and also announcements about special events (county fairs, etc.).

Meetup.com: Join a moms group or a playgroup. Or, if you’re not the group joining type, just skim the meet-up listings and steal their good ideas about places to go.

Public pools: Most pools in the area are for members only, and memberships are quite hard to come by especially for those of us here temporarily, but there are a few public options. We especially enjoyed Ocean Dunes which is relatively cheap and very convenient (in Arlington) but are also looking forward to traveling a little further out (Reston) to explore Water Mine and its magical looking lazy river.

Spraygrounds: Sometime between when I was a kid and now “spray grounds” or “splash parks” or “spray parks” have apparently become all the rage. I guess this keeps kids out of public fountains, which is how I remember cooling down as a kid. See the link for a list of most spray grounds in NOVA. Tip: Our Special Harbor is the biggest and best free option, like the Clemyjontri of spraygrounds.

Library story hours: Our closest public library has story hours but you have to register in advance and oftentimes it’s wait list only. However, Mary Riley Styles library in Falls Church has summer story times every Tuesday and Thursday morning with no registration required. An easy craft follows story time. In addition to books, the library also has lots of puzzles and games for kids to enjoy.

Discount movies: Angelika Film Center at the Mosaic District has “Crybaby matinees” with discounted pricing and no expectation of keeping your little ones quiet; the movies are geared towards adults so this is best for those with babies looking for a few hours of escape. For movies kids will enjoy, check out University Mall Theatres in Fairfax: every Tuesday morning there’s a $2 film geared at little ones.

Indoor play places: Sometimes it’s just too hot to be outside. In that case we’ve found ourselves hanging out in free mall play areas (Tyson’s Corner has an especially good one for toddlers) or, my personal favorite, PB & Jack, a soft play area whose $10 admission includes adult supervision of your little one while you hang out in the connected coffee shop taking advantage of the free WiFi and the relative quiet. IKEA Woodbridge also has free childcare in its play area while you shop but this is limited to potty trained kiddos so not yet an option for us.

Now 38 weeks pregnant, I’m starting to wind down with this constant flurry of activities, but luckily for Flynn his grandma has moved here from Illinois and is looking to explore all Northern Virginia has to offer too.

Posted in Toddler | 6 Comments

going to guadalajara

We’re not really preparing to go to Guadalajara just yet. In fact, I’m not even half way done with my tour in DC and our furniture isn’t even back from Benin. But such is the nature of the Foreign Service that I often find myself thinking about what Guadalajara will be like. I heard there’s a Wal-Mart and a Home Depot and a Costco. In fact, I’ve not just heard about these things, but I’ve seen them using Google Streetview. There are museums and restaurants, most of which have websites. You could buy entire books filled with things to do in the region.

It is such a contrast to when we were preparing to go to Cotonou. Two years ago we would scour the internet for any information about Cotonou we could find. We heard there was a big grocery store, but couldn’t find the website for months. We watched the same YouTube video of someone driving through Cotonou a dozen times. Alex would excitedly tell me “I found someone from Cotonou with a blog. And there are photos!” We would eat up any scraps we could.

With Guadalajara, well, it seems there’s just so much more information readily available.

None of this is to say that Guadalajara will necessarily be better than Cotonou (although high-speed internet access would beg to differ), only that it may be a very different experience. It makes me think about how cheap cialis uk much Cotonou has colored our view of the Foreign Service. This is natural since it was our first and, so far, only tour. To us, the Foreign Service means substandard medical care, foreign languages, undeveloped cities, guards outside your house at night, affordable household help, slow internet, challenging time differences, long flights, grocery stores with a limited selection that changes from day to day, and chaotic streets. We only know the small embassy in Cotonou. The one without an employee association or commissary. To us, that is normal in the Foreign Service.

When I met with friends who had served at other posts after arriving back to Washington, it was amazing the things we all took for granted from our first posts. I was shocked to hear them casually talk about roadblocks and neighborhoods getting shut down because of gang wars. And then I laughed when they complained that they had to drive over an hour into Texas to get to a hospital they would consider “good.” In turn, they were surprised when I said we had no commissary and had to ship any American goods we wanted from back home (not including glass or liquids, because we didn’t even have a DPO). And they laughed when I would complain that our first housekeeper wasn’t the best (but our second housekeeper, gardener, and nanny were top notch).

We’re anxious to see how living in Guadalajara will make us view the Foreign Service. When we’re in a place with familiar chain stores, and in a time zone that will help, not hinder, my ability to watch a lot of football on the weekends, how will we think about the Foreign Service? Will it still feel exotic? Will it still feel like we’re being deprived the comforts we’re used to in the US? Will we still look forward to every trip back home in the same way? Or will all of that have changed? Will the Foreign Service feel more like a regular job and not quite the huge lifestyle change it felt like in Benin? Maybe it will be a combination of the two. Or maybe I’m underestimating how challenging Guadalajara will be, or how much less of a hardship it will feel like than Cotonou.

No matter what it’s like, we’re looking forward to it. But in the meantime, we’re still enjoying our time in DC, anxiously awaiting the arrival of our furniture (and also a baby).

Coming soon.
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finding dad

Over the past month and a half my days with Flynn have developed a nice little routine — wake up, snuggle in my bed for a bit, breakfast, morning activity, lunch, afternoon activity, nap, and then finding Dad. One of these days I will tell you all about the wonderful free and cheap activities we’ve been discovering and enjoying throughout Northern Virginia, but for now let me just tell you about one aspect of our day: finding Dad.

Around 5:30 or 6 p.m. I get a text from Andy updating me on his progress commuting home. “Flynn,” I say, “Are you ready to go find Dad?” We clean up his toys, we put on our shoes, sometimes we leash up the dog, and then we head outside.

“I’m going to find Dad!” Flynn yells as he takes off down our street in the direction of the bus stop.

We pass the same people every day — first a pack of kids, usually riding their bikes, who want to say hello to Flynn and pet Abbey if she’s with us. Then a neighbor doing yard work. Then a fellow commuter on Andy’s bus; he smiles at us and crosses the street so as not to obstruct Flynn’s view. He knows we’re on a mission.

Off in the distance, usually a block or so away, Flynn spots Andy. And he takes off running — scooting along as fast as he can until he’s swept up in his Dad’s arms.

Found him!

“Look look look Mommy, I found Dad,” he tells me, grinning. On the walk home he tells Andy all about what we did that day.

It’s simple. It’s ordinary. It’s just life. Yet I’m confident these walks are going to be one of the things we all remember most about this summer.

Posted in Transportation | 3 Comments