Friday, December 24, 2010

2010 in Pictures

As the year is coming to a close, I decided to put together a little video/slideshow with the most memorable moments of 2010. This is my first attempt at creating something like this, so I know it’s rough around the edges.

Hope you all had a terrific 2010 and wish you an even better 2011!

Happy Holidays from the Swiders!

The Swider Family 2010 in Pictures

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Little Girl Gourmets

Our friends Carrie and Jason Show are having their third baby today. While they are at the hospital, we are watching their darling girls, Maia and Mackenna. Her cuteness (Nia) has been waiting for a sleepover opportunity for quite a while now, so she was ecstatic. While we were waiting on news from the hospital, we decided to make a mini cake. I got Nia a Girl Gourmet Cake Bakery set for her birthday and she had been itching to try it out. Tonight was the night!


I had a little dilemma. The set was intended for 8+ year olds and the girls are only 3, 5 and 7. Of course, all three girls are way advanced but I had to make a few adjustments in terms of parental involvement and supervision as well the complexity of the design, without robbing the little gourmets of their fun. The set uses actual cake mix that the kids “bake” in the microwave and then decorate with fondant and frosting. Our design was a little simpler than those on the package but everyone enjoyed making the cake and especially eating it. The cake you end up with is really tiny - we are talking a couple of bites for each girl but it was their cake and to them that was a huge deal!

Here’s what it looked like:


If you think cake making is easy, think again. Look closer at our littlest baker, Maia, who was so drained by the experience that she fell asleep a couple of times during the process. Once on the couch during the 30 seconds it took for the cake to bake in the microwave and a second time on the floor while I was prepping the fondant. She did perk up again in the end though and participated actively in decorating the cake with icing and the best part, eating it – YUM!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

First Snow

We got snow in Northern Virginia today and Her Cuteness is in heaven. This is only the second time our Florida born child has EVER seen snow. We were in Chicago for Christmas last year and it snowed but it was  just a little more than a dusting.  Then last January we watched the news reports about the big snow storm here in D.C. a.k.a. “snowmageddon” and she so wanted to be here to play in the snow. As soon as we moved to the D. C. area, Nia asked me to promise her that we’ll have enough snow this winter to make a snowman, a snow fort and  snow angels.

And today her wish came true! The snow beautiful and powdery and the kids had a blast playing in it.

If we are lucky, we may get a white Christmas – how awesome would that be!


Monday, December 13, 2010

My 2010 According to Facebook

There’s this Facebook app called My Year in Status that creates a collage of your most interesting status updates. Mine is below. It should have started with “My awesome husband got a job with the Foreign Service/State Department.” For some reason it didn’t but other than that it does a decent job of summarizing my 2010. 

To create your own, just type My Year in Status into the search window of Facebook. You can customize the colors and pick which statuses you want included (there is limit). Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Christmas Tree is Up

IMG_9032Well, it’s actually been up for a week now but I am just now getting around to posting about it.

There’s something almost magical about putting up the tree each year and decorating it – it just really lifts my spirits and makes the holiday season real.

I love our tree. We got it a couple of years ago from a Thanksgiving sale, where you have to get up and be at the store at zero o’clock in order to get the deal. This is the only time I remember ever doing that but it was worth it to us. We had been talking about getting a normal-size tree for years but we were forever renovating our older home and had literally nowhere to put it, so when we were finally able to get a bigger tree, we were truly overjoyed.

And yes, our tree is fake but we happen to be the kind of people that feel fake trees are better for the environment than killing a tree each year and discarding it after the holidays are over. I know that Christmas trees are grown specifically to grace people’s homes around the holidays but I always feel so sad seeing all the dead Christmas trees after the holidays. I also know that fake trees are made mostly of plastics/fossil fuels, which is not very green but they are very reusable and to us that’s the lesser of the two evils. Ours is an LED tree, so at least it’s energy efficient.

We are also finding out that a fake Christmas tree makes sense for those in the Foreign Service because if you are posted to a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, you may be unable to find a Christmas tree (real or fake). It may not seem important but when you are far away from home in a different culture, something like a Christmas tree can really brighten the holiday season, especially if you have kids. Our tree will allow us to bring Christmas with us to New Delhi and wherever we end up after that and we are glad about that.

So, our tree is up and we are enjoying it and the magic of the Holiday Season. Here’s hoping you have a magical Holiday Season too!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Most Fun Baby Shower Ever!

My sweet husband and his A-100 buddies Jason and Charlie put together a baby shower for Carrie, Sharon and I today. Our boys had never been to a baby shower but I have to say that this was the most fun baby shower I have ever been to. Boys apparently go about it differently. We had it in the party area of Carrie and Jason’s apartment building and had plenty of space, including a movie room, where the kids got to watch a movie, while we played games next door. The boys had decorated the place with a lot of pink and blue balloons (Carrie and Sharon are expecting girls on Jan. 1 and 5 respectively and I am expecting a boy on March 15). The food was delicious salads and pizza from the Mad Fox, Falls Church. But the best part was the games. I didn’t think our boys would want to do games and if they did, I would have thought they’d do things like drinking beer from baby bottles but I was pleasantly surprised.

Because we had three mommies-to-be, we had three teams. Each mommy-to-be was a captain of a team and competed against the other two teams. In the first game, we were handed a large Ziploc bag full of diapers and each of us had to guess how many diapers were in it. The second game involved five different types of candy bars, each melted in a diaper. Each team had to correctly identify what type of candy bar was in each diaper using smell, sight and taste.  In the third game the mommies-to-be had their feet diapered and then covered in chocolate syrup – messy! Then one member of each team had to clean up the mess with wipes and change the diapers. They had to do that wearing a blindfold, while another team member provided the blindfolded person with the necessary wipes and directions.


The fourth game we played was pin the baby on the mommy’s belly. In the fifth game we had to design the strongest diaper for each mom-to-be in 5 minutes using legal office paper and tape. The strength of each diaper was then tested by filling them with candy bars. In the sixth game we had to pass a pacifier from one team member to the other and back using candy canes in our mouths (no hands). In the seventh and last game each of us had to feed another team member a jar of baby food using their weaker hand in the least amount of time. We got a little messy in this one too (see video below). 


Messy Baby Shower Game

Each game was scored and the scores tallied. My team ended up second. Well, technically since the other two teams tied for first, we were really last but we didn’t care because we all had a blast and that’s all that matters. It was awesome to get together with good friends, celebrate our babies, eat great food and play silly games.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Train Trip to Chicago

We spent Thanksgiving in Chicago this year. We are no fans of holiday travel because it tends to be unpleasant but we realized that this may be our last chance to visit Paul’s parents before we go to India, so our decision was made. We are not going to India until May of 2012, I know, but pretty soon, I will be too, ahem, huge pregnant, to travel, then the baby will come and be too young to travel and by the time the baby’s old enough to travel, Paul will be in training again, which means he can’t take any vacation and it may not happen.

To mix things up a bit, we decided to take the train. We had never done it but thought it would be interesting and it was. It was also less expensive. But it was long. It took 17 hours each way. Most of it was during the night but still, 17 hours is a long time. It had its plusses though - we didn’t have to endure huge lines, scanners, pat downs or any of the other unpleasantness you generally encounter when flying these days. We had roomy seats that reclined and had leg rests, so we could sleep overnight. It wasn’t like sleeping in your bed but it was way better than trying to sleep on an airplane. We got to get up and walk around, when we needed to stretch and could go to the observation car or the dining car, when we got bored at our seats. The train was a double-decker and our seats were on top both ways, which was fun too. So all in all, the train part wasn’t bad. Nia even made some friends and managed to lose another tooth right before we got on the train coming back. She was a little nervous that the Tooth Fairy may not be able to find us because the train was moving all night but amazing little creature that she is, the Tooth Fairy came through with flying colors and left Nia a buck in her train pillow case! How about that?!!!


Once we made it to Chicago, we spent time with Paul’s folks but also visited the Art Institute. We had wanted to go see it forever but it somehow ended up slipping off our plans every time we were in Chicago. This time, we set aside a day for it and just went. Unlike most museums in DC, the Chicago Art Institute is not free but it’s full of amazing art and it was a pure delight. Paul and I would have liked to stay longer but it’s big and you really can’t see everything in one day, especially with a 7-year old, so we were happy with the several hours we got.

The museum’s collection is really incredible and here’s a collage of my faves. No flash photography is allowed, of course, so my pictures aren’t great but this gives you an idea of how awesome it is, if you’ve never been there…2010-11-28

On to Thanksgiving Dinner. It was a relatively small affair this year – just Paul’s parents, Paul’s brother Chris and his family and us. Breaking with tradition, we did not cook the Thanksgiving feast this year. We were staying at Paul’s sister’s house (she was out of town for Thanksgiving with her family) and we didn’t want to go crazy in someone else’s house, so we ordered a turkey and ham dinner at a grocery store. The dinner was delicious but what we didn’t realize was that it was cold, so we had to (re)heat everything and that delayed things a bit. Everything was very tasty and we still managed to eat until we were blue in the face and enjoy each other’s company.  So overall, it was another wonderful family Thanksgiving and we were grateful for all the blessings, large and small, we are lucky to have.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nia is 7!

On November 19, Her Cuteness turned 7.

I am still in denial that it’s been 7 years since she was born and she has somehow transformed from this…

into this…


but that’s my problem, right?

Anyway, we marked the occasion with a little cupcake shindig at her school on the day itself, a larger party for friends and family at the Falls Church Community Center the next day, complete with bouncing around in the gym and crafts, and again a couple of days later in Chicago with Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Sue and Uncle John.

2010-11-19 Needless to day, she had a blast and got a ton of cool  gifts!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beautiful Fall Weekend

After living in Florida for almost eight years, we were ready to experience the seasons changing again.

The weather was so gorgeous this past weekend that we decided to take advantage of it, go out and take pictures of the brilliant red, yellow, orange and brown leaves before they are gone. The colors are even more vibrant and stunning in person.  The pictures in the collage are from Turkey Run Park and our neighborhood in Falls Church, VA.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Learning Hindi with Rosetta Stone

(Warning: another longish post)

Let me just preface this post by saying that I don’t have to learn Hindi. I am not the Foreign Service employee and am not required to learn it. My husband is. In addition, Hindi is not spoken by everyone in India - far from it. As a matter of fact, according to my Indian neighbor, who’s from New Delhi, only 20% of the Indian population speaks Hindi. The rest speak other regional languages and English. But Hindi is the predominant language of in the northern parts of India, including in and around New Delhi, where we will be posted.

Can I live there without learning Hindi? Probably. But I want to learn it for a number of reasons, not the least of which is because I know it will make our lives in New Delhi easier.  I have wanted to take the classes at the Foreign Service Institute (the training arm of the Foreign Service) ever since we learned we are going to India. Of course, we are not going until May 2012, so the classes that I’d be eligible for (if there’s space available) start in the summer of 2011.

That’s all dandy but we are expecting a baby boy in March and I plan to breast feed him, which may make it impossible for me to take classes at FSI. So, I thought, why not start Hindi now, before the baby’s arrival. Makes sense, right? Well, yes but things are never as simple as we’d like them to be. You see, my husband has not been paneled (officially approved) for his New Delhi post yet, so when he asked his CDO if I could take Hindi classes now that question kinda landed on deaf ears. So, I decided to take things into my own hands and get chummy with Rosetta Stone before all hell breaks loose on/around March 15 (a.k.a. my due date). In case you didn’t know, Rosetta Stone is a famous online language instruction program, which was made available to both my husband and I as soon as we learned we are going to India.

I had read a couple of reviews of Rosetta Stone by other Foreign Service spouses (see here for one on learning Chinese and here for Spanish) and was feeling nervous because they didn’t exactly love it . But at this point, it’s the only tool I have available to learn Hindi, so about a month ago I started working with it spending on average about an hour a weekday (some days I spend two, three or even four hours on it but other days life just takes over and I don’t do any).

So how do I feel about Rosetta Stone Hindi after about a month of working with it?

Well, first of all, I must say that I am very thankful that the State Department provides this tool to spouses for free. If we had to buy the three levels ourselves, it would set us back about $600, so this is a nice perk. It’s also nice that it’s an online platform that I can use at my own time, which gives me a lot of flexibility.

That said, Rosetta Stone has a different approach to language instruction that may be difficult to get used to. If you’ve ever studied a language using the conventional classroom (textbook+instructor) method, you will more than likely find Rosetta Stone’s approach counterintuitive. The company itself describes its language instruction method as dynamic immersion, their words not mine. They define that as similar to the way a child learns a language – by observing what’s going on around them visually, listening to others speak and eventually imitating. I don’t entirely agree because immersion implies physically being in a country where the language is spoken and thus being forced having ample opportunities to practice and improve your language with native speakers. That’s not the case with Rosetta Stone. Plus, a child has a lot more time to learn a language. Let’s see, it took me a good 14 years to perfect Bulgarian and probably about 10 (maybe longer) to get to a equivalent level in English. I simply don’t have that kind of time with Hindi but I guess you have to start somewhere…

There are things about the way Rosetta Stone introduces simple words and concepts that I definitely like.  They use pictures and display them in a logical progression that helps you build visual associations. I am a visual person, so I like that. However, it gets complicated as more and more complex/abstract vocabulary and constructions are introduced because there are no explanations in English whatsoever(none in Bulgarian, either, duh!!!). Everything is in Hindi script and speech plus visuals (pictures). So while it’s easy to understand the words for “dog” and “green”, it was harder to grasp “wear”, for example. You end up doing a lot of guessing and you are never quite sure if you’ve guessed right because again, no explanations! (I have heard that if you buy the program yourself, you get a book with translations but we do not seem have access to that as far as I know.)

For example, there was this series of pictures showing people and cars. They were obviously trying to teach a verb related to cars but I still don’t know if that verb is drive, rent, steal, borrow, like, love or enjoy. It could be any of those, it’s just not clear. A dictionary would have helped but I didn’t have one at the time. Online dictionaries are available too but I have yet to figure out how to type in Hindi in order to use them.

There does generally seem to be a method to Rosetta Stone’s madness though because most things eventually do make sense. Not everything. I guess I am a little impatient.

Hindi is also particularly difficult for me because it uses the Devanagari script, which looks like this:

Beautiful indeed but nothing like the scripts I know (Latin and Cyrillic). Learning to read and write in Hindi is part of Rosetta Stone but it’s hard because you are introduced a couple of characters at a time and a ton of words and phrases in the meantime. At first, I wasn’t taking notes but it quickly became obvious that I simply won’t be able to remember all the words, so I finally started taking notes in this absurd mixture of English and Bulgarian because I only know a handful of Hindi (Devanagari) characters - not enough to write full words or sentences.

Another difficulty I have is the pronunciation. Rosetta Stone does have a speech recognition component, which helps you practice pronouncing all the new words and phrases. That aspect of the program can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you do a lot of repetition of words, an integral part of learning a new language. A curse because it sometimes makes you repeat a word hundreds of times, which means that you are not getting the pronunciation right but there’s no one to tell you how exactly to fix it (by showing you where your tongue should be, for example). I sometimes practice when my husband is around and he gets a big kick of listening to me repeat ad nauseum a simple word like bread, which is the same in Hindi but the pronunciation is different. So I guess the added benefit to my learning Hindi is that it provides entertainment to the family.

It’s not all bad though. There are several things about Hindi that I am happy about:

  • it’s a phonetic language – characters are always pronounced the same ways. Yey for phonetic languages!
  • it has no upper and lower case – what a relief, though the characters are hard enough to write without having to worry about lower and upper case.
  • there are quite a few English words in Hindi, such as bread, sandwich, coffee, car, pants, shirt, skirt, dress, coat, so those are easy to remember, though I can’t pronounce them right to save my life.
  • some aspects of Hindi that have no equivalents in English do have equivalents in Bulgarian (genders and formal and informal ways of addressing people).
  • a couple of days after I started learning Hindi I told the moms at our school bus stop about it. Among them are an Indian lady from New Delhi, who speaks Hindi and a Pakistani lady from Islamabad, who speaks Urdu (a language very similar to Hindi). The two of them were very excited about my studies and immediately asked me what I had learned so far. Uuuuuh…. I blanked for a moment but then was able to say several things that they actually understood!!! I couldn’t believe it and neither could they. They were very encouraging, which was a tremendous confidence boost for me.
  • in an effort to get as “immersed” in Hindi as I possibly can without being physically in India, I am also reading books on Indian history and culture. I go to the Falls Church pubic library and come home with huge stacks of books. My latest finds were a textbook on Elementary Hindi, a couple of Hindi-English/English-Hindi dictionaries (which are terrific complements to Rosetta Stone) and several Salman Rushdie books. I am really enjoying that part, so if you have any recommendations for things that will help me master Hindi, please let me know in the comments section below. Thanks!

So while Rosetta Stone is not ideal as a stand-alone language instruction tool, it can be useful especially if you have no other options and can get your hands on some textbooks and dictionaries. The makers of Rosetta Stone actually recommend you combine it with other language tools. But if you have the opportunity to take a class with a live instructor, by all means do so because it will make a world of difference.

And there you have it, my review of Rosetta Stone Hindi.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Our Halloween

This Halloween was so much fun!

There were pumpkins galore…


… parties with friends and a ton of candy…

… though no Twix whatsoever and Mommy loves Twix – wassup with that?


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It’s a boy!

We went to the doctor today for an ultrasound and we got to see the baby. The baby wasn’t shy, so now we know it’s a boy! 

They took all kinds of measurements and so far everything looks good, which is such a relief, for the time being anyhow!

20 weeks down, 20 more to go!


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Contemplating cloning myself…

I have read several blogs today by other Foreign Service spouses, who are overwhelmed with all the things they need to take care of. For some reason, several of them really resonated with me, though we are in very different circumstances. I am talking about ladies who have three or four kids each AND are either going it alone because the husband is on a unaccompanied tour, working from home to help the family finances, or going though major, major health issues.

So my rant will sound totally lame by comparison but that’s how I feel, even though I am, for the first time ever, a stay-at-home-mom. I have one kid in first grade and another on the way. I live in Northern Virginia, not in a developing country, for the time being. My husband works in town and not on the other side of the planet. Yet, I find myself more overwhelmed by the things I need to do on a daily basis than when I was working full-time not too long ago.

I have no explanation for why that is but I am dreaming of cloning myself, you know like in the movie Multiplicity. I am just not sure how many clones I need, especially knowing that their "quality" deteriorates with each successive clone.

Let's see, I think, I'd like one clone to do the cleaning, shopping, the laundry and ironing, the cooking, the bills, the drop-offs and pick-ups. Another to be focused exclusively on the kid(s) – getting the kid(s) fed, bathed, doing homework, reading, entertaining, play dates etc. A third one to be the most dedicated wife and lover to my wonderful husband. A fourth one to spend time on social activities, such as staying in touch with friends and family and organizing get-togethers such as dinners, birthdays, baby showers, family and school reunions plus do volunteer work. And a fifth one to read, stay informed, smart, professional, learn Hindi and blog in a timely manner (as opposed to weeks after something blog-worthy happens). This one may even go back to work and make some extra cash for family vacations and such. Not sure which one I need to be the real me, the really good copy, the good copy, the so-so copy, and the last and probably not very good copy but I am not going to worry about that right now.

But five total - I think I'd be OK with five versions of me.

Is that too much to ask for?

If that’s not possible, some supermom powers will do too…

And because I know we all need them, I’m sending super powers to all my mom friends out there but especially to Jen, who is battling breast cancer and really needs them right now! The pink cape and boots in the picture are especially for you Jen!!!

Image by Eric Kastner, but it’s actually a cake topper, which I fully intend to use for baby showers in the future.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

You bet your Assateague…

(This post is a little long – just thought I’d let you know.)

A few weeks ago we took an impromptu trip to Assateague, a barrier island on the eastern shore of Maryland, famous for its beautiful beaches and wild (feral) horses. Paul and I had been there 10 years ago, when we were young and childless but really wanted to share the beauty of the place with Nia. I wasn’t surprised when Paul called me and said that he was able to get a camp site for us, so we were going.

We wanted to go with friends but the camp site we got was the last one available that weekend, so we could really take only one other family. We went with our Foreign Service friends Jason and Carrie Show and their two little girls, Maia and Mackenna, who Nia just adores.

When Friday afternoon came, Carrie and I loaded up the girls in the cars and headed out to meet Paul and Jason at the Greenbelt metro station, in order to avoid going through downtown. Traffic on the beltway was horrendous and it took us two hours to get to Greenbelt from Falls Church. Once there, we grabbed a quick dinner and hit the road around 7 p.m. It was already dark by the time we crossed Chesapeake bay, which was just as well because that bridge just scares the puddin’ living daylights out of me.

The plan was to spend the night at a motel on the way and then go to the campground the next morning.  We got to one of the small towns about 30 miles from Assateague around 11 p.m. and decided to stay there. Only too bad for us – there was something going on in the area and the hotels were all full. Finally, we found a Best Western that had a couple of vacant rooms (and didn’t look too shady), so we took them even though they were $99 apiece.

We got in the room around midnight and Nia and I went straight to bed, while Paul went to get beer and hung out with Jason and Carrie for a little bit. As I got into the bed I had the distinct feeling that the sheets were not “fresh” and was really irked by the thought but was way too tired to do anything about it. I had to get up several times during the night to attend to my pregnant bladder and barely managed to contain my disgust at the sheets. In the morning, when I got out of the bed I found some clothing labels that were not ours between the top and the fitted sheet. That’s when I knew I wasn’t crazy. If the sheets had been changed, those labels wouldn’t have been there. I was livid. I know these are tough economic times and all kinds of businesses are trying to cut costs to stay alive but for $99, the least they could do is change the sheets. It’s just a basic sanitation/health issue. To experience that after all the reports about bed bugs in hotel beds and what not was just too much for me. My husband, on the other hand, found the situation highly amusing.

After we checked out, I (in the calmest possible voice) told the receptionist that our sheets were not “fresh.”

She was like, “What do you mean?”

I was trying really hard to stay calm, “I mean, we had to sleep in sheets that someone else had slept in before us!”

“How do you know that?” she asked.

“Well, first they didn’t feel or smell crisp and clean, like they should. And then, I found something between the sheets that wasn’t ours.”

“What did you find?” – she seemed almost conspiratorial.

“Clothing labels,” I glared, “but it really doesn’t matter because they wouldn’t have been there, had the sheets been changed.”

She just looked at me for a few seconds and then finally blurted out, “I’ll tell my manager about that.”

I was literally speechless. That’s the best she could come up with? Not even an apology! I so wanted to punch her in the face but realized it wasn’t going to do any good, so I just walked away hopping mad and defeated but I digress…

The trip got better after that. We got to the island and spent a few wonderful hours at the beach. The weather was beautiful and the girls had a blast.


By noon we were famished, so we went into the nearby town and had Chinese for lunch. Then we went back, got our camp site, put the tent up and spent a few more hours at the beach. The weather was still gorgeous but now there were pretty big waves and Paul and Nia did some body surfing. Back at the camp site, the girls decided to make sand angels and goof off around the tent.

IMG_8468 IMG_8476 IMG_8478

We got all cleaned up and started the fire, so we can make dinner.

IMG_8480 IMG_8489 IMG_8491

Then it was time for S’mores!!! Nia and I had never had S’mores, so this was a new and very exciting experience for us. Carrie showed us how to make them and they were delicious! Our fire wood must have been wet, though, because the fire was very, very smoky!

IMG_8492 IMG_8497 IMG_8495

After the S’mores, we just chilled until it was time for bed but noticed that now there was a pretty strong wind out and the ocean was getting louder. At first the sounds of the wind and the ocean seemed nice and soothing to sleep to but they got louder and louder until we had a full blown wind storm on our hands. The wind was so strong it would partially lift the tent and blow sand under the tent’s fly and into the tent. That part was not fun but the kids slept right through it all. I took a video of it in the morning when you could see what was going on.

It was too windy and sandy to eat breakfast at the campground, so we decided to pack up and grab some food on the way back. The only problem was that we hadn’t seen the wild horses yet. The kids were really bummed out because we had told them that the last time we were at Assateague, the horses came right to our camp site and it was pretty neat to watch them, though these are not horses you can pet or play with because they kick and bite. We did find a big pile of fresh (as in “wasn’t there the night before”) horse poop between our cars but that really wasn’t any consolation.

So, sad that we hadn’t seen the horses, we headed for the park exit only to see not one but three horses, one of which was a foal!

IMG_8505 The kids were besides themselves with excitement and we were glad we were able to make their day.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Devil Mommy

(or bribing my kid into eating the right stuff)

Yeah, that’s me. And no, it’s not what I’m going to be for Halloween (though after this episode maybe I should).

So, yesterday, I went shopping. I had to get Nia a light jacket. When we lived in Florida, we didn’t need many jackets, so Nia had only two - a jean jacket and a parka that I got for a quarter last year at a yard sale because we were going to Chicago for Christmas. It’s not quite cold enough for the parka yet here in the D. C. area, so the jean jacket would have been perfect, if it weren’t for the fact that I sent her to school wearing it a couple of weeks ago and we never saw it again, even though I had labeled it with her name. I asked the teacher for help, checked “lost and found” several times but no luck. The jacket vanished, so I had to go get a replacement. I ended up finding two nice ones and they were both on sale, so I got both, just in case.

When Nia came home from school in the afternoon, she fell in love with one of them. It’s a cozy fleece hooded little thing with multicolored stripes. She liked it so much, she wanted to wear it the very next day.

In the meantime, I was making chicken pot pie for dinner. I put lots of vegetables in it and really wanted her to have it because she had been having constipation issues of late. Too much info, I know, but stay with me.

She wanted to eat corn dogs instead. So, I cut her a deal: if she ate chicken pot pie for dinner, she could wear the new fleece jacket to school the next day. She didn’t like that at tall and ended up throwing a mega tantrum complete with crocodile tears. I was not moved by her tears, so she said, “Why do you force me to do things I don’t want to do?”

I somehow managed to stay calm (which is usually not the case) and just said, “Because chicken pot pie is better for you than corn dogs.”

She gave me a big huffy breath and marched off into her room only to appear five minutes later with a couple of pictures she had hastily drawn to illustrate her feelings:


Exhibit 1: The creature with the sword and the horns labeled Devl (Devil) Mommy, is me (I did like how skinny I was and yes, spelling is not her forte, yet). She later explained that I had her pinned to the wall. Notice her sad face and the emphatic “No!!!!!!!!!”


Then she proceeded to show me Exhibit 2, representing how she wanted to feel. She wanted to wear her jaky (jacket) and feel happy and eat whatever she wanted.

I stood firm and she eventually relented and ate her chicken pot pie. Here she is today, wearing her new jacket and happy, just like in her drawing…


Oooohhhh, the things we Moms have to endure to get our kids to eat right...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Half-smoke, anyone? French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, ate at Ben’s Chili Bown on Tuesday. Yesterday, we checked another item off our D.C. To-Do List, Ben’s Chili Bowl. The place has been a part of the D.C. food scene since 1958. It’s another Obama favorite and that’s where he took the Sarkozis for lunch this past March, when they were visiting the capital. Bill Cosby is a fan too. As a matter of fact there’s a sign in the restaurant saying that the Obamas and Bill Crosby get to eat there for free (and no one else!)

The place is very simple – a counter, food prep area, and some tables. There are no frills at all but the staff is very friendly. As I guess is usual with popular joints in D.C., the place was packed and there was a long line. After patiently waiting our turn we ordered our food and sat down to eat it. Paul and I got chili half-smokes (a D.C. specialty, similar to a hot dog, though larger and spicier) and Nia got a turkey cheeseburger. We all shared a basket of chili fries and Nia and I had milk shakes.

The verdict: the food is very good. I wouldn’t describe the place as fantastic partly because I don’t like waiting in line and am not real big on crowds but we all liked the food. So, if you are looking for a local specialty, I definitely recommend trying it at least once.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

More on India, Hindi, and New Delhi

After stressing out about our second post for months and researching all the open positions, finally knowing that we are going to New Delhi is such a relief. Nothing is official though because Paul has yet to be paneled (approved) and we are told that takes months because it’s happening  in transfer-date order and ours is not until May of 2012. Since Paul’s second post is what they call an entry-level directed assignment, his Career Development Officer is confident that he will be paneled.
Quite a few people have asked us if New Delhi was our first choice. The answer is “No”. It was #8 on our list of 20 and here’s why. We have both always found India absolutely fascinating and wanted to go there but were not thrilled about learning Hindi. There were other languages that we were more interested in (French and Portuguese), so we bid the places where those are spoken higher. We were also concerned that Hindi is hard and will take a long time to learn. Plus, we thought it was a one-country language that would have limited utility for Paul’s (and perhaps mine) career down the road. Well, that’s because we were ignorant and/or spotty in our early post research.
We have since learned that Hindi is a Super Critical Needs Language (SCNL), which means that if Paul learns it to level 2/2, he will be eligible for SCNL bonus pay (always nice!) and he'll have to serve in India at least one more time in his career as an FSO (mid-level). I’d like to learn it too because I love languages and because knowing Hindi will give me bonus points, if/when I pass the Foreign Service Officer Test (FSOT) and the Oral Assessment (OA). As a FSO spouse, I am eligible for language training, which could be a class at FSI (if space is available) or online instruction. Rosetta Stone is also available to both of us through State, and luckily, Hindi is one of the languages it offers, so we can start learning it like NOW, although a lot of people in the FS community are not so hot on Rosetta Stone and its method of instruction.
I recently learned something else about Hindi that I didn’t know and I learned it at the school bus stop, of all places. There are two ladies living in our apartment complex that I have gotten to know because they have kids roughly the same age as Nia and we hang out at the bus stop together every day. Ayesha is from Islamabad, Pakistan and Bobby is from New Delhi, India (how cool is that – she’ll be able to help me with Hindi!). At some point, I noticed that they were talking to each other in a language that they both knew. That peaked my curiosity, so I asked them what language that was and they told me that Bobby was speaking Hindi and Ayesha – Urdu. The two languages are so similar that they understand each other perfectly, even though there are a few different words here and there (kinda like Bulgarian and Macedonian).
Who’d have thunk? Well, some of you smart people out there probably knew this but I was completely in the dark. Upon further investigation, I figured out that Hindi and Urdu are basically the same language but Urdu has more of a Persian-Arabic-Turkic influence, while Hindi, more of a Sanskrit influence, hence the word variations. They also use different scripts – an adaptation of Devanagari for Hindi and an adaptation of Persian/Arabic for Urdu. Urdu is spoken by most Afghans as well, for geographical, cultural and political reasons. In my research, I also found that Hindi is close to Nepali, which is spoken in Nepal (duh) but also in Bhutan and Myanmar (Burma). Aren’t languages amazing!!!
So, knowing Hindi would open up a lot of opportunities for us in that part of the world, though we are not really interested in serving in Afghanistan-Pakistan at this time. If we had no kids, it’d be a different story but with a 7-year-old and a baby on the way, we just can’t go there. We are not interested in unaccompanied tours there at this point either.
But back to India and New Delhi. As I said earlier, Paul and I have always been intrigued by India, its culture, natural beauty, history, food, amazing shopping, diversity and believe it will be an awesome post for us in so many ways. We can’t wait to explore the country and see the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, Mumbai, Kolkota  as well as all the amazing things in and around New Delhi. Plus, India is doing very well economically right now compared to most of the rest of the world – its GDP is growing by 8%+, according the IMF, so it’s an exciting time to be there. We hear that the American school in Delhi is excellent, so we are thrilled about that. India’s also fairly close to Thailand, China, Singapore and Nepal, which we are hoping to visit while in India.
And while we are impatient to go, the timing seems to be really good for us because we are hoping that by May 2012, our house in FL would have sold, the baby will be 1+ year old (weaned and ready for curries -ha!), and I will be good to go back to work (if I’m lucky, I may even be able to get one of those secretarial jobs at the embassy everyone keeps “raving” about.)
That said, we are well aware that it’s a hardship post (with 20% differential and 5% COLA) and there are aspects of it that will be difficult to get used to such as the extreme poverty, crazy traffic, pushy street peddlers and beggars, overcrowding, pollution, dengue fever/malaria/TB and security issues. We think that with the help of the fairly large embassy community (288 US staff and probably twice as many Indian), we’ll learn to live with those things and enjoy all the wonderful things India and the region have to offer.
I mean, look at this collage - doesn’t it make you want to go there right now?
Is it May 2012 yet!
 Map source:
Image source:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our future home: New Delhi!!!

This is just a short post to let you all know that we finally heard from Paul’s Career Development Officer and we are going to New Delhi. It’s not until May 2012 though because Paul has to finish his current assignment in D.C. and then learn Hindi, which is a hard language, so it takes quite a while to learn. I’d like to learn it too, so I will be looking into the opportunity to take some classes.

We are very excited and I have a lot more to say about that but I am volunteering at Nia’s school today, so I have to run. I will be back soon with more on our new post.

Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in New Delhi

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ode to the Metro (sort of) Plus the Metro Song

I love the Washington, D.C. Metro. It’s one of the best public transportation systems I’ve ever used. I truly missed it during our 8-year sojourn in the Tampa Bay area, where they could really use something like the Metro.

I have to say that the Metro has changed since the last time we lived here though. It’s not as clean as it used to be, the AC doesn’t seem to work as well as it used to, it’s gotten more expensive, it’s a lot more crowded (especially the orange line). I know these issues are related to the budget difficulties the Metro is facing and the fact that more people are using it, which I guess is a good thing

Anyway, I recently saw this song by GoRemy and it reminded me of my good old days riding the Metro. I know a lot of you out there use the Metro at least occasionally, so I thought I’d share it. I especially like the “It must be driven by a pirate because the board says ARR” part. If you like this song, you may like some of Remy’s other stuff – he has one about Arlington, several about Middle Eastern Food (hummus, tabbouleh, falafel) and many more. You can see them on YouTube or on his website He kinda reminds me of Borat, though perhaps not as funny or outrageous.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

First Grade at Last!

Her Cuteness started First Grade today! Huge milestone for her and she was beyond excited! My Mom and I took her to school this morning. I got all choked up when we went into her room and met her teacher, Ms. Quinlan.

Best of luck, Nia!


Monday, September 6, 2010

Hell of a Burger

We went to Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington yesterday. That’s one of President Obama’s favorite burger joints and also where he took Medvedev earlier this summer (photo below courtesy of

The verdict: the burgers are big and juicy and really tasty but the place is small and crowded. It’s a hassle to find parking, the line is long and getting a table is no picnic. It’s a cash-only type of establishment but if you don’t happen to have cash on you, there’s an ATM conveniently located in the restaurant itself, which we had to use because we didn’t have enough cash.

If you  like burgers, you are going to enjoy Ray’s, so I’d say go ahead and try them, if you have a chance. Paul thinks the burgers at Five Guys are just as good but almost half the price and hassle-free. I thought Ray’s were better.

In any case, it was an interesting experience (pictures below) and we are glad we got to try them. Next, we need to try Ben’s Chilly Bowl, where the President took the Sarkozys.

The line, which often goes out the door.IMG_8357

Paul placing our order with the kitchen, where the magic happens, in the background.  IMG_8358

Her Cuteness and her burger, which, with the bun, was almost as big as her head. She likes her burgers plain – all she adds is cheese.IMG_8364

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Washington, D.C. from above

Paul and I have wanted to go up the Washington Monument since we lived here between 1999 and 2002. For most of that time the Monument was getting a facelift, so it was closed for tourists but it re-opened shortly before we moved to Florida. We, of course, waited until the day before we moved to do it, so we went down at zero o’clock and waited patiently for our tickets. Our tickets were for 10 a.m. and “whaddaya know”, about 15 minutes before our time, a huge storm rolled in and they closed the Monument, so we couldn’t go up!!! We were so bummed out and have been talking about it ever since. Finally, we got to go last Sunday.

This time, I got our tickets from the Park Service website, which was not an option the last time we tried.  I am so glad they’ve added this option because if you live far from downtown (or out of town for that matter) and have kids, going to the Monument at 7 a.m. to get your timed tickets is just a pain. You do have to pay a $1.50 fee per ticket, if you get them online but the convenience is totally worth it. If you get your tickets at the Monument the morning of, they are free but you have to be there between 7 and 8 a.m.

Our tickets were for 6 p.m. and we got downtown about an hour and a half early. We found parking very close to the Old Post Office, which at 315 feet is the second tallest structure in DC after the Washington Monument (with its 515 feet) and which we had wanted to visit for years as well, so we were able to hit both in one trip – pretty awesome.

First, the Old Post Office. It’s a beautiful old building that now houses restaurants and souvenir stores in the first two stories (there may be offices on the higher floors). There was no line for the clock tower and you don’t need tickets, so we got to go right up. You take one elevator to the 9th floor and then another from the 9th to the observation deck of the clock tower and the Bells of Congress. We loved the views from the clock tower. Here you are closer to downtown and the Capitol and get to see the Washington Monument from up high as well. You can’t really see the White House from here because other buildings are in the way but I highly recommend it because the view is different from the Washington Monument and the Old Post Office is much easier to get into.  Here are a few pictures:

Looking down from the elevator to the lobby area, where the restaurants and souvenir stores are.IMG_8324

Pennsylvania Ave. with the Capitol at the endIMG_8313

Beautiful roof gardens on the buildings along Pennsylvania Ave.IMG_8315

Two shots of the Washington Monument with the Ronald Reagan Building in the foreground – they are a little hazy because I was shooting against the sun.

IMG_8316 IMG_8317 

A picture of the picture they took of Nia while we were eating and the fake newspaper cover they made out of it that they then broadcast on big screen TVs in the hope that we would buy it. We didn’t.IMG_8325  

We grabbed a quick dinner at the Post Office and headed to the Washington Monument. We got there 5 minutes before our time and went right in. The views from here are also gorgeous but you get to to look through small and not very clean windows (not ideal for picture taking), whereas at the Post Office, two of the sides have large open air windows with steel ropes, through which I was able to shoot pictures no problem. Here are a few of the pictures from the Washington Monument (the ones in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial didn’t work out because of the bright sun):

The National Mall with The Smithsonian Castle, the other museums and the Capitol.IMG_8328

A closer shot of the Capitol from the bottom of the Monument.IMG_8342

The Tidal Basin with Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Potomac and National Airport in the background.IMG_8330

The White House from afar. IMG_8338

The White House up closer. IMG_8339

The Old Post Office from the Washington MonumentIMG_8337

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