2021 Year in Review

It’s been a good year in spite of the existential crisis. We all grew more comfortable in Almaty, had some cool travel experiences, and even welcomed my parents here for a month. And though writing this sometimes feels a burden (hate writing; love having written!), it’s also an excuse to read through the blog (which launched nearly 15 years ago!). For example, ten years ago I was joking about a “viral trifecta.” I should choose my jokes more wisely…

On my end, work continues to be interesting and rewarding. This is both because it remains meaningful (connecting the United States and Kazakhstan through media, culture, and education), and because I have a fun office that embraces the mantra of “work hard, play hard” (showing equal passion in advocating for our programs, engaging in banter on our various online chats, and grabbing the mic at karaoke nights). I’m otherwise getting regular exercise, including through an intermittent running group (h/t Hugo’s DF group), at home workouts (five minute core- I hate you), and snowboarding. And I’ve started singing/guitar again as we may be launching a Consulate band soon.

Kirstin continues to teach at the American International School, and took on additional duties as the cross-country coach this year (with the boys as semi-willing participants). She remains a strong and enthusiastic skier and otherwise running, hiking, and yoga-ing. Kirstin loves her ipad, using the smartpen feature to guide students through chemistry problems, and reading voraciously on it during her free time. And Kirstin had a fun summer adventure, participating in a week-long science training sleepaway course during a COVID lull, which she noted was a welcome return to normalcy.

Ruben (14, 6’3″) is now taller than me. I stopped growing around this age but who knows with our big boy. Ruben remains sports-obsessed, peppering us with updates and stats, mostly about football but more broadly as well (he’s truly a sports omnivore). His power position involves multitasking in his room, playing Madden while listening to his favorite sports bloggers and podcasters. Ruben is also reading more, grabbing random favorites from our bookshelf and poring through them (his favorite, not surprisingly: The Power of Geography). Ruben otherwise remains a chatterbox and increasingly opts for adult company. Although it’s a bit awkward sometimes when the grownups would prefer unfiltered discussions, I’m tickled he (like me) derives pleasure from being a social butterfly. And his skiing has improved markedly as he and his brother now routinely leave dad behind as they bomb down the mountain.

Ruben says: After another challenging year with the COVID-19 pandemic comes to an end, I look back on the many things both good and bad that have happened this year. While the move was initially challenging we have slowly settled in. Games remain challenging to watch live with the time differences. The Washington Football Team as I am writing this is once again having a subpar season but there is still a small glimmer of hope for the future with many younger players on the team and developing.

Rohan (12, 5’5″) has fully embraced his lego obsession. He builds complex sets in one sitting with a focus and tenacity that seems alien to me. It also lies in stark contrast to the disorder that otherwise dominates his room and life (I’ve nicknamed him “entropy”). Rohan has a snarky sense of humor and applies it with his middle school science teacher (mom), much to her chagrin. Rohan spends much of his free time convulsing with laughter as he watches YouTubers or other wacky online adventures. He’s continued learning the euphonium and playing chess. And embracing retro-humor, he finished one creative writing assignment with the line, “stay tuned next week for Guy Who Fixes Everyones Problems Man 2, electric boogaloo!”

Rohan says: 2021 was an ok year, I got some big lego sets for Christmas that i really liked, like the roller coaster and the Medieval blacksmith, I sometimes talk with my friends in the united states and I play with some of my friends here on a Minecraft server one of them set up. I liked the trip to Uzbekistan and the trip to Dubai, which I liked because of the big waterpark we got to go to. I also liked camp.

Book Recommendations (my middle-aged and technology-addled brain means I read books less and less, but still making the effort even as smart-devices call out to me like Sirens).

Work: One of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Basically a long history of work, spelling out, comprehensively, why we work too much now. The fixes aren’t easy (and potentially made harder by increased automation). It’s on us, at the macro level, to question honestly if the global economy has to be this way. And at the micro level, I’m motivated to say no to more things, add nothing without subtracting, and try to truly practice work-life balance.

The Data Detective: The rise of disinformation makes people dismissive of all statistics and science. This is a good book on how to use some rules of thumb rather than believing everything (bad) or believing nothing (arguably worse). Favorite lesson: before I react to anything in the news or social media, I think about whether it will end up on the front page of the “newspaper of the year.” Almost always, the answer is no. And so I scale down my reaction accordingly.

Think Again: Although sticking to things is often admirable, this book reminds us that there’s sometimes great value in reevaluating and changing course. As someone with strong completion bias, this was a welcome reminder that finishing isn’t always the right goal.

Podcast Recommendations

What Up Holmes? (Radiolab): As we struggle with disinformation and freedom of speech, it was interesting to learn how the current U.S. version (almost everything is protected) is a fairly recent change.

Abandoned Ships (99PI): The problem of cargo ships getting stuck, or workers getting stuck on cargo ships, is more common than I realized and legally really complex. In general 99PI is the podcast I find most consistently engaging.

The Dog Will See You Now (Revisionist History): For those tired of covid swabs up the nose, dogs seem a more reliable and less invasive option. (honorable mention from this podcast- a revision of the Little Mermaid movie ending- fantastic).

Surrender- Cheap Trick (Song Exploder): This podcast interviews musicians to learn how they put together a song, playing the full song at the end. For a song I knew well like this one, it was great to learn the ideas behind it. This podcast in general does a wonderful job of revealing the creative process.



One of Rohan’s lego monstrosities (a 4000+ piece working rollercoaster).
Muddled through a mix of Russian and English talking about press freedom and other State Department programs.

In closing, like many I loved Ted Lasso. It struck a particular chord as I find myself, especially given the current political polarization, too quick to judge when others don’t see the world as I do or don’t do things the way I’d prefer. No matter how sure I am about certain views, I’m equally sure I’m wrong about some of them…I just don’t know which ones. So I try to remember to be curious, not judgmental. It seems as good a model as any to follow in these uncertain times.

Be well everybody and hope for a healthy and happy 2022.

Anand, Kirstin, Ruben, and Rohan

2020 Year in Review

Like for everyone, 2020 has been a rollercoaster for us. But we’ve landed on our feet (except when I fall snowboarding). We hope all of you are finding health and happiness in your respective corners of the world.

The pandemic meant all four of us switched to online classes in March, which quickly turned our cozy townhouse into claustrophobic future crime scene. But we managed to survive and pass our respective courses thanks to patient and flexible teachers. I’m especially proud of the boys. However irritating they have been at times, they’ve stayed generally positive and productive through an incredibly tumultuous year, which included starting a new school year online in a new country, never having met their teachers or classmates before. I suspect they felt algebra and expository writing online were the equivalent of sharks with laser beams

A side note on online learning: my old university gathered memoirs this year of our overseas teaching adventures. My third vignette here reflects on what we learned about online education with the military back in the early 2000’s and how it might be relevant today. 

We moved to Almaty, Kazakhstan in August. Almaty is a strikingly beautiful city, framed by postcard-like mountains which allow for regular skiing and snowboarding excursions. The work is interesting, and there are plenty of nice restaurants and walking areas. Although the winter air pollution is a real challenge, Kazakhstan is indeed, very nice (and decidedly not in the Borat way- check out this tourism promo video and see for yourself). 

Kirstin is teaching high school chemistry and middle school science at the international school here. She continued running with her group in Virginia before we left and now takes advantage of our nearby gym. She uses her Russian periodically, often to the amusement of the gas station attendants and shopkeepers. And in spite of the pandemic we’ve managed to socialize a bit with some of the school community. It’s a fun and supportive cohort of teachers and families. They have helped immensely with our transition.

Also worth noting: there are two eighth grade science teachers, which means we avoid familial explosions by separating mother and teenage son. Safety first!

Ruben, approaching 14, has surpassed the six foot threshold. Of note, he won his middle school geography bee in January, and then qualified for the Virginia state final. Alas, COVID robbed him of a chance at the national finals, as well as the opportunity to discuss obscure geographic minutia with a willing audience. As an extreme extrovert, Ruben was understandably bummed he didn’t get a proper goodbye with his Falls Church buddies though they remain in touch via fantasy football. Otherwise he continues to create cohesive sporting narratives of his Madden NFL games with impeccable color commentator cadence. Of note, Ruben created one NFL quiz on sporcle and a youtuber picked it up and recorded himself trying it, with 40,000 people to date having watching it. I would mock these viewers, but reflecting on my decidedly low-brow YouTube viewing list of running and chess videos, I should not cast stones.

Ruben says: 2020 has been a difficult year for all of us understandably with a global pandemic. There have been many challenges but I and hopefully you as well have been able to overcome them. For me many of my favorite events have been canceled this year and moving can be difficult. At this point in the year I have shifted my focus to football as at the time I’m writing this Washington needs a win to finish 1st place in the NFC east.

Rohan remains our little guy even though he’s the tallest in his class and increasingly clever. He acquits himself well watching Jeopardy and playing Scrabble. He remains an introvert, so online schooling somewhat suited him, and he gladly spends his freetime reading, playing on his switch, or watching minecraft youtubers. He also joined his parents doing various crossfit-type videos during the quarantine. He doesn’t like competitive sports, but seems to take to individual challenges. He and his brother are both picking up skiing nicely. And finally, Rohan chose to learn the euphonium this year (like a big trombone), which made sense to him until we returned to in person classes. But it’s too late to switch to the flute…

Rohan says: if there is some all powerful person thats rules above the earth, he was probably having the time of his life with 2020. and i’m glad its finally over. (2021 ominously chuckles in the distance) i got a lot of switch games and we moved the kazakhstan this year i also had to suffer through 10 long months of covid and social distancing. but there were some good stuff that happened this year, like a lot of my favorite video games getting big updates and lots of good books and video games that i read. so overall 2020 was a kinda bad year with the corona virus and i hope this dosen’t happen again. (more ominous chuckling from 2021)

Book and Podcast Recommendations: Lots of interesting content this year in spite of (or perhaps because of) the pandemic.
Range: David Epstein (The Sports Gene) wrote how general experience early ultimately results in better performance later, not only in sports, but across a range of disciplines. There are more examples of success like Roger Federer (who played many sports before settling into tennis in his teens) than Tiger Woods (who famously specialized early). Particularly interesting as parents struggle with travel teams/intense schedules, etc. The evidence suggests specializing early is not necessarily the best path to success, and not likely the happiest for the kid anyway.
The Powerball Revolution: Revisionist History (Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast) covered how elections are not a good method to select leaders (i.e., the skills we evaluate in campaigns, like public speaking, don’t correlate with the skills needed to govern). He profiles an alternate model- why not do it via lottery? Although it’s not realistic, he makes his usual compelling case. 
Goodnight Nobody: 99% Invisible described the history of children’s books, the woman who nearly single-handedly created the children’s section of public libraries, and why Goodnight Moon was not available at libraries for a long time.
The Unfair Coach: Against the Rules (Michael Lewis’s podcast) spent this season covering how coaching has changed across sports and life. This episode covered the increased use of coaching in college admissions, and how that’s further unbalanced the process.
Wubi Effect: Radiolab profiled the scientist who solved how to type 70000 Chinese characters using a standard sized keyboard (and eventually led to predictive text on phones).
Freedom House Ambulance Service: EMT and Ambulances didn’t exist until the 1960s and 70s. It’s a fascinating history, and quite relevant for those interested in how police responsibilities have changed over time).
Ready Player 2: (We got it yesterday and Rohan read it in a night). Rohan says: I liked it as much as the first book. 
What If: Rohan: did you ever want to know what would happen if a baseball was thrown at 90% the speed of light? Now you can. If you ever want to know extremely difficult and complicated ways to destroy the world, now you can. Check out the author’s other books, as they are also good.

Photos and Videos:

The boys have really taken to skiing.

And proof that the Russian department can produce comprehensible speakers. This was about as nervous as I’ve been in forever as it was livestreamed, but I managed not to break down and start repeating Я американски дипломать (I’m an American Diplomat) so I’ll call it a win.

Final Thoughts:

I have many thoughts on the state of things in the United States. But this is a holiday card and I don’t want to bog it down with weighty things, particularly this year. But among the silver linings of the pandemic, we’ve been able to connect more regularly with friends and family near and far. In spite of zoom fatigue, we feel decidedly more connected with many people, and hope that continues post-pandemic.

For candor and posterity’s sake, I’ll note K and I both tested positive for COVID in April. Thankfully we both made it through ok, but definitely scary knowing how devastating the virus has been. Here’s hoping for swift and comprehensive vaccine delivery in 2021. And it’s otherwise a good reminder that life is unpredictable. Try to enjoy the moments, control what we can control, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

As I daydream about next year, I’m reminded of Andy and Red’s embrace at the end of Shawshank Redemption. Here’s hoping we can share many such moments together in 2021. Best wishes, Anand, Kirstin, Ruben, and Rohan.

2019 Year in Review

Время летит (time flies). Kirstin and I are in full-time Russian language training as we prepare for our move to Almaty, Kazakhstan in summer 2020. We have studied many languages, but this has been the most difficult. Part of it is due to our being older, but all of the students are regularly humbled (islands of competence surrounded by oceans of ignorance!). Thankfully, the program is really well-run, with excellent materials and instructors. I’m consistently impressed by our instructors’ ability to remain stoic as we butcher their language, one misguided syllable at a time.

On my end, I finished up on the Bangladesh desk,  which remained really challenging and educational. As far as the foreign service in the news recently, I’ll note I’ve worked with several superstars, both exceedingly competent and genuinely interested in strengthening U.S. foreign policy. I personally remain committed to this career because Americans still have more similarities than differences, and we still have much to gain in finding such similarities with other countries. The big hurdle remains how to discuss legitimate concerns about limited resources without devolving into tribalism, both domestically and abroad. And how to really develop the critical thinking skills necessary to wade through the increasing nonsense saturating the internet (this post notwithstanding). In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away. It’s admittedly hard sometimes, but as Jimmy Dugan said, it’s supposed to be.

Otherwise, I’ve gotten in really good shape this year, owing to regular running, marginally better diet, and a high-intensity interval class. I acquitted myself well in a one mile, 5k, and indoor triathlon

Kirstin is continuing to tutor high school science students in addition to Russian class, and applying to teaching jobs in Almaty. She’s still running and racing regularly with her local running club as well, a really nice and supportive group of overachieving moms. Needing an extra player, K joined Ruben’s fantasy football league and proceeded to win the championship (Ruben and I have been grumbling ever since). Otherwise she also spends most of her free time working on Russian.

Ruben is 5’8” and turning 13 soon. I want to apologize for how contrarian I must have been during adolescence. I see it very differently now as Ruben hones his critical thinking skills at mom and dad’s expense! Otherwise, Ruben has continued with soccer, basketball, and guitar, with a bonus of dad coaching his soccer team this year. He plays fantasy football and madden frequently (he bought an Xbox with money he earned), and presents football hot takes to me with the cadence of sports show talking heads. Finally, he’s qualified again for the school finals in the Geography Bee as he continues to be encyclopedic with such things. If only he was the same in remembering to pack up water bottles and other possessions :-).

Ruben says: So another new year has come to an end. There were ups and downs as always. I got a new Xbox and have enjoyed many things such as madden but there were also many downs. Some of them I don’t want to say while others if I say them my occasionally strict (especially with my arguing) but still nice parents will cut it out. There have been many great moments but the rest of i’ve learned you have to deal with it. And that wraps up another year and time flies.

Rohan is five feet tall and 10 years old. He has a couple of very close buddies with whom he walks to school, and spends frequent afternoons/weekends goofing off in the park or playing Nintendo games. He continued with piano and karate, and still loves reading, with a particular love of classic cartoon strips (Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and Peanuts). He’s also developed a keen interest in chess. Thankfully there are regular local classes and games so K and I don’t have to embarrass ourselves much. Adjusting to our move here a few years ago was hard for Rohan, so I’m heartened to see him truly thriving (and rationalizing the next move will be easier for him).

Rohan says: I really liked the Galapagos trip and I got a lot of Nintendo switch games and chess is really fun.

Shake-man (our pet bearded dragon) remains comically docile and a regular source of joy for the family. He’s our own baby Yoda, telepathically getting us to do his bidding.

Our big trip this year was to the Galapagos Islands (pictures below). Highly recommended, particularly for kids and/or animal lovers. Besides the incredible diversity of flora and fauna, because of the protected status of the islands, nothing is afraid of you. Thus, you get to see everything (birds, tortoises, fish, turtles, sea lions, and sharks!) up close and very personal on land and in the water. Truly amazing.

We also did a nice drive through the northeast this summer, catching up with lots of friends and family, and climbing Mt. Washington (a nine hour epic trek, but well worth it for the challenge, views, and bonding). 

Book Recommendations:

The Molecule of More: We’ve learned a lot in the last few decades about dopamine, a neurotransmitter that both makes us crave what we don’t have and then feel unsatisfied when we get it. I’ve always been a “what’s next”-minded person, so I particularly enjoyed this read.

The Back Channel: Bill Burns is one of the legends of the foreign service, and his memoir is an interesting and inspiring read covering foreign policy challenges of the last three decades.

The Age of Walls: The US-Mexico wall discussion and Brexit are just the latest examples in a long history of wall-building (real and metaphorical) worldwide. This book covers how a third of the world already has walls, and how historically countries have oscillated between building them and tearing them down.

The World in a Grain: We use sand for everything (buildings, roads, computers, glasses, etc.), and the world is running out of it. Seriously (you can’t use desert sand for most of these things). I enjoyed exploring this topic at a granular level… 


BitFlip: Radiolab explored how cosmic rays can mess with computers, including affecting elections.

From Bombay with Love: From 99% Invisible, Indian movies were super-popular in the former Soviet Union, as Soviet films were dreary and Western films were largely banned.

The Neutral: Michael Lewis started a podcast on the changing role of the referee in sports and life.

The Standard Case: Malcolm Gladwell applies Jesuit reasoning to PED use in baseball and how we judge right and wrong in our gray world.

Videos and Photos:

Our Russian department threw a very impressive Christmas party, requiring students to produce something using the language. I got to scratch my creativity itch with this.

Many very cool animals and plants on the Galapagos.


We stopped in Panama as well. Besides seeing the canal, we saw monkeys and other cool creatures.



Almaty has good hiking/skiing 30 minutes from city center. Let us know how things are with you and yours, and we’ll be open for visitors beginning fall 2020.


2018 Year in Review

Another fun and interesting year in the books. I’m currently “desk officer” for Bangladesh, which means I spend my days trying to learn as much as possible about the country and our relations. The work has been humbling both in the complexity of issues and that much of it is things I haven’t worked on previously (e.g., labor, counterterrorism, refugees), But ultimately I’m learning a ton and feel like I’m doing meaningful work. The refugee situation in particular, with one million Rohingya from Burma in Bangladesh, and no easy fix, is heartbreaking. But thankfully I have colleagues with State and the international community who work tirelessly on these issues in spite of the long odds.

My career path (foreign service) means I hop around and get to use the “I’m still learning” excuse basically until it’s time to move. As with local staff at our embassies overseas, civil servants in DC often spend years in one area developing expertise, and many that I work with have more passion about their issue than I do about all but sports and pizza. It’s a really crucial part of how we manage foreign policy issues. As the shutdown drags on, I appreciate being surrounded by a bunch of do-gooders who try to keep small problems from turning into big ones.

Kirstin volunteers at the Natural History Museum as an “Insect Ambassador”, tutors middle and high school students in the area, and otherwise does the soccer mom thing with the boys’ many activities. She participates semi-regularly in a book club with some old Chennai friends. And her running crew is quite active with weekly adventures, even convincing her to run a Ragnar, a ~150 mile relay race run by 12 person teams. Her team not only won the women’s masters division; they beat all the mixed and men’s masters teams as well!

Ruben is 5’6″ and started middle school this year. He’s learning to navigate the different schedules and classrooms. His extroversion and exuberance remain infectious in social circles, though he’s definitely getting more “tweeny” with his parents. Ruben has continued with guitar, basketball, and soccer, and otherwise remains trivia-obsessed, particularly NFL minutia. And he has some impressive creative bursts; here’s a novella he wrote this summer: Pandamonia, Crashachusetts. Finally, the map-obsession has paid off: Ruben won (tied for first) the 6th grade geography bee at his school, and competes in the middle school-wide bee next month (against the 7th and 8th grade winners).

Ruben says: This year has been a very exciting and great year with many amazing things happening. I have started middle school and have had a lot of fun. I have also done many things like seeing my cousins in Syracuse, New York and getting far in the geography bee. I have also faced some challenges like many of my friends moving away this summer and starting middle school and this year my sports teams haven’t done well.

Rohan has a couple of close buddies with whom he walks to and from school daily, and otherwise interacts in both high-tech (video games) or low-tech (collecting sticks for swordplay) fashion. Rohan decided he wanted a Nintendo Switch, and to his credit, did various household tasks for several months in order to earn the money to buy it. It’s a good example of his doggedness when motivated to do something. He’s equally stubborn when motivated not to do something, but we’re working on that. He continues to read voraciously and is progressing nicely in piano. On that front, he’s able to peck out tunes by ear based on having heard dad’s playlist (recent examples; “Bring on the Dancing Horses” and “In Between Days”).

Rohan says: this year I got a Nintendo switch, a yellow belt in karate and a jacket that said the name of my favorite youtuber.

And we have a new addition to the family– a bearded dragon. We inherited “Shake-Man” or “Shakey” (officially Shakespeare) from a departing family over the summer. Having done no research, we were initially petrified by the 1.5 foot spiky lizard. But it turns out, bearded dragons are comically docile and surprisingly entertaining. He hangs out on the couch, runs around occasionally, but mostly sits in his terrarium under a heat lamp doing nothing. In other words, he’s living the dream. The boys adore him and I admittedly find him calming amid the DC political storm. Speaking of which, best conversation about him:

A: Shake-Man is so zen. Folks in DC should learn to be more like him.
B: That’s easy for him. He’s cold-blooded.
C: I’d argue so is most of DC…

Recommendation section includes some from the boys this year:


  • The Age of Walls: Covers walls within and between nations, past and present, but with a balanced assessment of why they continue to be popular amid the current refugee and immigration challenges. Most importantly, it’s a chapter on each country/region, so if you’re burnt out on U.S. wall discussions, you can skip to your region(s) of interest.
  • Lamarck’s Revenge: Lamarck (the giraffe’s neck gets longer by stretching scientist) wasn’t entirely wrong, and epigenetic changes can potentially explain punctuated equilibrium (the rapid changes that seem to pepper the fossil record). That’s way too simple a synopsis, and I can’t emphasize enough– the science is, ahem, evolving, as it should be. But an interesting concept. Even more interesting as a concept was A Crack in Creation, on CRISPR gene editing technology (though admittedly I didn’t make it through that one, but podcasted interviews on it instead).
  • Tiger Woods: Fascinating deep dive into his roller coaster life. Ends up that much more interesting given he’s competitive again.
  • Relic Master: Rohan’s recommendation. Fantasy for teens and adults.
  • The Walk On: Ruben’s recommendation. “A great sports/football novel for teens.”


  • 99PI on Looms, Computers, Kids Clothes: 99PI podcasts are often random but almost always entertaining. Found this episode particularly interesting (especially the rules on what can and can’t be included in kids clothes).
  • More Perfect: For season 3 they made an album with songs about each of the 27 amendments, with episodes giving backstories and explanations. Really entertaining and informative.
  • Analysis, Parapraxis, Elvis: Revisionist History on why Elvis would always botch the spoken word bridge in “Are you Lonesome Tonight.”
  • Open Office and Teleworking: Freakonomics tackles the history of open office plans, cubicles, and teleworking.
  • Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me: Why I’m seen giggling on the metro once a week.
  • Wow in the World: Excellent for kids on road trips– science lessons with cartoonish hosts.







Ruben’s first guitar performance:

Rohan’s piano concert:



And inspired by Ruben, dad started practicing guitar in earnest to try to learn to sing and play at the same time. Enjoy my visible stress as I try to stay in sync:


As is our wont in this intrepid life, we already know our next move– Almaty, Kazakhstan in summer 2020. Start planning your DC visit before we depart and/or your visit to Central Asia. Here’s a promo video to pique your interest.

Best wishes for 2019! Anand, Kirstin, Ruben, and Rohan

2017 Year in Review

Winding down another eventful year, our first properly living back in the U.S. in some time (1999 for Kirstin!). There’s no denying 2017 had challenges, but we’ve had plenty of adventures and good times, and enter the new year sanguine about the opportunities in the coming year.

The boys left an idyllic situation in Mexico: accepted and beloved at their school; a wonderful nanny and circle of friends; and regular outings in and around Mexico on a weekly basis. They are hitting their groove now at their new school, but it’s taken time. After four years I frankly forgot how much we’re asking of them with each move, this devil’s bargain of rationalizing it’ll all be worth it in the long run.

My transition has been candidly tough as well. After feeling a bit like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day by the end in Mexico, I spent my first months in DC feeling uneasy. Totally expected given a new job and new city, but for a hyper-type A like myself, no bueno. But much like the Monty Python peasant, I got better.

Amid all this, Kirstin has managed to be our rock, quietly enduring a rotating series of tantrums from her three boys while plugging away steadily at the transition.

With my usual wordy prologue out of the way, now to the updates. I currently work on “the Line,” which has the reputation of attracting folks who are smart, clever, and able to have fun with things. That’s very much been my experience. It’s also nirvana for grammar nerds; I’m decidedly average in catching errors among this group.

Of course I continue to have concerns. But I took this job to 1) read and get smarter on policy issues, 2) learn the bureaucracy that is “main state”, 3) travel, ideally to some places I’d otherwise never go, and 4) have an opportunity to influence, in whatever small way, our approach to foreign policy. And the job has thus far delivered in spades, even if the ratio isn’t what I’d envisioned. I’m writing part of this from Ottawa (after London, Kabul, and Khartoum trips). Whatever gripes I have, I try to remember how lucky I am to be in this position in the first place.

I want to give a special shout out to the back porch, our cubicled alcove of misfits with whom I’ve spent many hours giggling. They put up well with my usual stream of puns and non sequitors.

Kirstin, as noted, has generously focused on getting the family adjusted since we moved, a decided drop in stature from head of Chemistry at an elite international school. As she starts the new year though, she’ll be working as a volunteer “Insect Ambassador” at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, giving mini-lessons on the various creepies and crawlies. If you ever wondered who shows off the tarantulas and butterflies there, it’s overqualified souls whose life circumstances mean they have the time and inclination to educate capital visitors pro bono.

Ruben is almost 5’4″ and not quite 11 yet, and Kirstin and he can now share shoes. He is benefitting greatly from the well-structured youth sports programs in Falls Church: demonstrably more comfortable in soccer and basketball, and I can see a couple of years of this is going to do wonders for his coordination and confidence. He remains a map fanatic, and overjoyed to share whatever random sports or geography trivia he stumbles across. And, true to his word, Ruben has started guitar, after three years of piano, and sticking to it with his usual tenacity.

Ruben says: Moving was hard but exciting.I made many new friends. My close friend moved away. I am [well had in the future] having fun in Charleston South Carolina.

Rohan is crushing it academically and nevertheless struggling socially. It’s sad how we can reflect on childhood insecurities, laugh at how trivial they were, and yet do nothing to assuage the fears of the next generation. That said, he’s slowly making friends and getting comfortable at school. He’s continued in piano and willing to start martial arts in the new year to scratch his “constantly moving/abhors competitive sports” itch. He continues to read during any (minecraft) free moment, and to enjoy cooking, though primarily if meat or desserts are involved.

Rohan says: I LOVED this christmas. I opened one present on christmas eve and it was AWESOME.

I get to listen to lots of great podcasts on my commute and during runs. Including those with my favorite reads for posterity’s sake:

Version Control— really fun and engaging sci fi read.

99% Invisible– broadly on design, they cover a wide range of interesting stories. One highlight was Lance Wyman’s work on the Mexico City 1968 Olympics signboards.

Revisionist History– Malcolm Gladwell in spoken form. Most educational for me was on Churchill and WWII.

Standard Deviation— modern fiction, particularly resonant for parents with smart but unique kids. Not about math.

More Perfect– on notable supreme court cases, but in a decidedly palatable (radiolab) style way. Had no idea about the origins of the NRA and relatively recent shift on 2nd amendment politics.

Our travel highlight this year was Machu Pichu, which deservedly got its own post.

Some other photos and highlights:

We finished this year with a mega-family reunion in Charleston, South Carolina, with both sides of the extended family enjoying the charm and (relative) winter warmth of the South. Our best wishes to you and yours for the coming year. Anand, Kirstin, Ruben, and Rohan.


Peru–April 2017

Just returned from an amazing trip to Peru, highlighted by a five day trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu– 45 kilometers, three nights in a tent, and incredible views. Highly recommended.

Worth noting– I hate camping. I enjoy hiking, and love physical challenges, but I strongly prefer ending them with a hot shower and a bed. So when Kirstin came back from book club a few years ago and said “we should hike the inca trail with the boys when they are old enough”, my first response was like with unwanted work– ignore it and hope it goes away. But, a guiding principle of my parenting is that I want the boys to be more well-rounded than me, so in the end I was a willing, albeit reluctant and slightly grumpy participant. That I caught a cold the night before we departed didn’t help, but then again, it’s much nicer to be draining out in nature than in an office.

Ruben says: It was not to hard but not to easy.The second day was supposed to be the most challenging but it wasn’t to hard[for me at least] .Over all the inca trail was a little easier easier than I expected but still difficult.It was very fun especially with our guide.I enjoyed seeing the amazing nature and climbing to 14,000ft or 4200m.

Rohan says: I enjoyed The inca trail, although I did complain, I recommend to you.

Back to dad. I can’t say enough about the food. Expecting something warm and basic, instead every meal was multi-course and super-high quality. It’s arguably the best I’ve ever eaten. Our chef apparently has won awards, so I can’t say if it would be same for other expeditions. I foolishly strayed once from his food, trying chicha (corn drink) en route with the porters, which gave me a “Yobogoya” moment. I don’t recommend that.

There are several options for seeing Machu Pichu, including trains directly to Aguascalientes followed by a short (but windy and bumpy) bus ride. From there you can see the ruins as well as do short hikes, or sign up ahead of time for one or two day hikes. To do the full inca trail hike (normally four days, but can be five if you want the flexibility to go slowly/endure meltdowns, as we did), you need to sign up several months ahead. But you just carry day packs while you have a team to carry tents, food, etc. Quite manageable if you can handle the distance and elevation. Plan accordingly and ping us if you want more specific details.

2016 Year in Review

Lots of excitement as we close out 2016, knowing our time in Mexico is coming to an end. I’ve battled various health issues this year, beginning with a cracked tooth and ending with shoulder surgery to repair a torn tendon. It’s put me out of sports commission, including running, for several weeks. But given the amount of sports I’ve played/dumb things I’ve done, avoiding surgery till now is a huge win. Meanwhile, I spend a few hours a week with a very nice but clearly sadistic physical therapist who insists on moving my arm exactly where it doesn’t want to go.

Kirstin has served as Head of Chemistry at Greengates for the last year and a half. Unlike U.S. high schools, in British schools that’s a big deal, both in prestige and workload. She’s crushed it and clearly will be missed when we depart this summer, though she’s looking forward to a reprieve after an intense couple of years. Otherwise, K continues to run regularly and patiently herds the boys on Sunday bike rides on Reforma.

Ruben is now 5’1″ (or more, if you ask him). As an almost 10 year old, this is frankly insane. But given I hit 6’2″ by age 13ish, he’s been blessed/cursed with the same early onset height. Gigantism aside, he remains a nice, considerate, sensitive kid. He continues to love maps, and has taken an increasing interest in the NFL and trivia in general, peppering us with non sequitor questions, a tendency for which I have only myself to blame. And he’s embraced his genetic roots as a long distance runner, knocking out a couple of 5k’s this year.

Rohan is a voracious reader and is slowly learning to control his temper. He’s tall for his age as well, has taken a strong interest in cooking, and quite enjoys music. We do karaoke occasionally at home, either with my 2005 machine or connecting to YouTube for more contemporary music. Lukas Graham’s Seven Years has been his favorite, since when you’re seven (or 37), commonalities like that matter. And like a good little brother, Rohan has also started running, though I get the feeling he’d lie around indefinitely with a book if we didn’t require him to move.

We were able to do a lot of traveling as always. Highlights included California for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary (side note– 50 years! I can barely focus 50 seconds these days); catching up with family and friends near and far in Vermont; hiking in the mountains of Oaxaca; and five weddings in a three month window to close out the year.


On the band front, we had a great run before summer transfer season stole most of our group. I remained an old voice grasping at my youth but our group had real talent, and I can’t thank the gang enough for giving me one more chance to live the dream. Here’s one video (recorded with Ruben’s unsteady hand) and audio of the first set of our last show:

Audio of first set of our last show (my best moments at 9:39; 18:24; 37:36)

We’ll be returning to Washington DC next summer after four years in Mexico (visitors– you have till June to make it happen!). I’ll be working for the new Secretary of State, helping prepare briefing papers and “advancing” trips (traveling ahead to help arrange visits in cities worldwide). It will be fun, glamorous, important work, trying to determine what our policy priorities are and how to best shape messages to resonate locally.

Finally, no doubt many are wondering how I’m feeling about the election. As a government stooge I have to be measured, but here are a few thoughts:

  1. When I signed up for the foreign service, some asked what I’d do if I had to work for an administration with whom I didn’t see eye to eye. My answer, admittedly corny, was that my interest in public service was to the country and principles, not to any individual or party. And if I did see things differently, I’d rather be on the inside, in a position to present my point of view and hopefully mitigate things.
  2. I realize “we’ll be fine” may sound empty. I think it’s because we’re not saying the second part– we’ll be fine because we’re going to make it fine. And I’ll be doing my part. Elections, after all, are intramural. We’re in this together no matter how strongly we may disagree on things.
  3. For my left leaning friends, I recommend both Hillbilly Elegy and Strangers in their Own Land. Both helped me better understand a point of view quite different from my own. In our 2016 echo chamber, reading out of the box was super-useful. It didn’t particularly change my personal opinions, but it helped me reflect on others’ motivations. If we’re going to find middle ground, it needs to start with getting past the strong emotions, justified as they may be, and trying to listen honestly to why so many in our country feel the way they do. Seeing things from the other person’s point of view is step one.
  4. For my right leaning friends, I don’t have a specific book recommendation, but rather recommend you speak to someone from the other side. Try to understand why this election feels categorically different than in the past, and appreciate that the ability to separate policy from rhetoric isn’t a privilege everyone has. Just as many on the left need to better understand the systemic problems afflicting much of the rust belt, so to do many on the right need to better understand the systemic problems that remain with race and gender.
  5. And to help us all see the long view geopolitically, since nothing is ever as good or bad as it seems (except perhaps the Seahawks winning, and then losing the Super Bowl), I recommend The Next Hundred Years. In lighter fare, I recommend The Disappearing Spoon (fun backstories on the periodic table; #nerdalert).

Thanks to Martin for the closing pic, from our visit to Ixtapa/Zihuatenejo (yes, the Shawshank place).  Hope is indeed a good thing. Here’s hoping for a wonderful 2017 for everyone. Anand, Kirstin, Ruben and Rohan.


2015 Year in Review

Yet another long hiatus but we’re back. Nothing amusingly life threatening like last time; just the start of a new year and I’m for once in the mood to write.

2015 has been an excellent year for the clan. We continue to be in Mexico City, now for an additional two years as I was able to secure a second posting here. My work now is similar to what I was doing in Chennai, working on press and social media for the Embassy. I’m still enjoying the foreign service life, have a great group of co-workers, and feel like I’m doing “meaningful” work. I continue to feel exceedingly lucky that I get to do this.

Kirstin has been teaching at a British International School here (Greengates), and this year they made her head of the Chemistry department. I’m pleased that she’s getting some opportunities to advance at work, which she’s otherwise sacrificed for my career pursuits. The boys go to the school as well, and are still at the age where it’s cool to have mom at school. They’ve all adopted some Britishisms (Kirstin marks papers and invigilates; Rohan tells us to carry on), which amuses me to no end. It also gives me a chance to ask the boys if their teachers talk like this– and then do Monty Python accents– which blows their mind that dad can change accents (badly) the way my mind was blown by Hans Gruber so many years ago.

K has also had a running resurgence, knocking out two half marathons this year and finishing third in the foreign ministry 10k in April. She probably spends too much time worrying about how fast she used to be (who doesn’t?), and she has to be mindful of tendinitis and mileage, but overall she’s crushing it. Plus, we have a good group here that runs nearby trails at a national park (Desierto) on Saturday mornings, which makes for a great start to weekends. Credit to Hugo, the great motivator.

Ruben turns nine soon (!!). More than anything, he’s nice. That’s the comment we get consistently from teachers and friends, and K and I regularly wonder where that came from. He’s also lanky and awkward like K and I were (are?), but what he lacks in coordination he makes up for in enthusiasm. He gets along well with others, continues to love maps and cars, and sometimes watching/playing sports with dad. He’s also doing well at rock climbing classes with his ideal height to weight ratio of infinity…

Rohan has rounded out nicely as an almost seven year old. He’s a reading machine, enjoys playing with his big bro (about 80% of the time) and is thriving in his swimming classes. He’s lanky by most measures, except when compared to Ruben, and enjoys roughhousing with me until I pull my patented “lie on top of him and stifle all movement” as I did with my friends in my youth. Having kids has gotten even more fun in a purely selfish sense as I get to do things or have an excuse to do things I used to enjoy, under the guise of engaging the kids, including watching sports, playing video games and eating too much pizza. They are enablers.

In social news we got the proverbial band back together. Or rather, we’re at a big Embassy, and our guitarist/spirit animal rightly noted it was a shame there was no Embassy band. So a few months and several practices later, Duck and Cover has three shows under our belt. For those who don’t know, I’ve sang in garage bands periodically through the years, beginning in college, as well as countless nights of karaoke in Japan. As far as the band, it’s all covers as the name implies, and there’s some real talent in the group. For me it’s been humbling as I now understand the realities of “old guy” voice. I’ve lost my top tenor notes from youth and have to constantly pace myself so I don’t sing myself hoarse (as you can hear in the clip below). It’s also weird not being the loud one in the group (ahem, Staci) but nevertheless it’s super-cool to be doing something musical and creative again. Big props to Eric for making this all happen. And as far as the clip, it’s a classic song I last did in my college band in 1995 (Noise Complaint!). Frankly I sound far worse now, but at least I learned to do the harmonica part passably in Yeary’s absence.

Mexico City, as we’ve nagged before, is a hidden gem. Our doors are open through summer 2017 for anyone interested in visiting. Wishing everyone great things in 2016. Anand, Kirstin, Ruben and Rohan

2015 family in yellowstone


Music and Rohanisms

I put the boys to bed most nights, singing to them during their bath and teethbrushing. It’s a chance for me to indoctrinate them with my favorites*, an eclectic mix of 60’s croons, 80’s alternative, a dash of showtunes and whatever else comes to mind (including, for a spell, the national anthem). The boys have really taken to it, singing along (sort of) and requesting their favorites.

*Many of my non-Indian friends have been similarly tricked, asking me to order when we go to Indian restaurants, and only later discovering, that rather than ordering a representative spread, I was simply ordering my favorites. Heh.

Ruben is old enough now to try to sing background vocals, usually rhythmlessly but with gusto. He’ll belt out “duke of earl” or “you can dance” (save the last dance for me) ad nauseum, or at least ad he’s blue in the face. Here’s one of Ruben’s favorites, an obscure late 80’s alternative song, set to an unrelated random video that checks another Ruben box: Pure by The Lightning Seeds.

Rohan is a source of regular amusement with his impressive but unpolished verbal skills. A sampling:

(Hearing Cooper barking in the courtyard)– I see Cooper!

(Doing his U.S. States map, which announces states quietly as you click on them)–Lichigan! Alagama!! Alaigee!!!

(Proud of his Thomas the train shirt)–My shirt is made of Thomas!


A book recommendation, particularly for my TamBram Indian-American cohort with Chennai roots– “Tamarind City” by Bishwanath Ghosh. He covers a lot of the history of Chennai, from all the poorly maintained British and other historical relics in the city, to the traditional Iyer and Iyengar regions of Chennai, and other interesting people and stories in the city. I’ve spent plenty of time in Chennai (prior to living here) but there are lots of backstories I simply never learned, either because no one talks about it, or I wasn’t paying attention. Anyway, Ghosh writes about it from a newcomer and outsider’s perspective, as kind of a travelogue, so it’s both engaging and informative.


I recently attended a lecture on linguistic similarities between Tamil and Japanese. I’d made this argument when studying Japanese many moons ago, so it was nice to hear there is some actual scholarship backing my claims. I learned much like koko/soko/asoko/doko, Tamil used to have that second form of “there”, meaning not near the listener, but rather “way over there”, like out of sight, just as Japanese does. They are both SOV (verb at the end) languages, the base vowel sounds (a, i, u, e, o) are the same, though Tamil has short and long, and one of the ancient Tamil verse meters is 57577, which, shortened, is haiku.

I’m sure some of these are a stretch but it’s a neat set of linkages.



Our “native” place

India is all about where you’re from. Since I have roots here, saying I’m from the U.S./America/California/SouthernCalifornia/nearDisneyland is rarely enough. Instead, I usually get “where you are basically from?” in some variant until I affirm my Indian roots. There are times when I try to emphasize my American-ness (so I don’t get the “when is the American officer coming” look), but most of the time I’m happy to acknowledge Tamil Nadu as my native place. Quite frankly it would be dumb not to use such a stellar icebreaker.

Conveniently, my parents’ native villages are located in a district I was slated to visit for work this year. Neither of my parents lived in these villages, but roots are roots, even if generations have passed. So I did a couple of days of media contact and outreach, and then had my family join me for the weekend to visit the homeland. I’m really happy K and the kids were able to see the villages, and that my parents were with us to explain everything. I continue to feel exceedingly lucky about this posting and all the perks it has afforded us.

Visiting Gangaikondan (my dad’s village) first, we stopped by the main temple. On our last visit, in 1995, the temple was basically abandoned, but a helpful local girl guided us through some of the chambers. We entered one and it was straight out of Indiana Jones (sans monkey brains), as we were greeted by hundreds of bats swooping berzerkedly through the room. As my sister and I cringed in fear, the girl looked at us incredulously–“you’re afraid of bats?”

I had hoped to leave a better impression this time. We walked into the temple, now renovated and more or less operational. It’s on a large ground, so there are temple chambers but also untended land within the perimeter. After a few minutes walking inside, Ruben announces in a panic, “I have to go poo poo. Now.” We look around helplessly, and ask the locals for options. They all point to the untended land, full of bushes and brush and who knows what else. K grimaces– in a temple? Is that even allowed? But Ruben clearly was having issues, so my mom (what a star!) marched him out to the bushes and facilitated the deed. As a cadre of villagers watched, I thought, so much for impressing the locals, unless they appreciate the seamless transition from consecrate to desecrate. Or defecate, as it were. Sigh.

On the other hand, there were still bats, and I stood bravely without flinching, so at least I have that going for me.

Our visit to the two villages and a local waterfall/getaway place was chronicled in Kardashian-like fashion by a local Tamil newspaper and WebTV interview. I’m surprised my ever-expanding head fit in the pictures.

And the video (apologies to Savitri Aunty for my Tamil): Dinamalar WebTV spot

Other, unrelated notes: on a drive recently, Ruben started asking questions about dinosaurs (where’d they go, what’s “extinct”?, etc.). Upon asking what they eat, Rohan eagerly jumped in, with the usual two-year old staccato (you can tell they have something to say, and they’re working super hard to formulate the words, but it ends up coming out with pregnant pauses after each word). “DINOSAURS…EAT…lunch. Mockery aside, Rohan is actually pretty verbal, though only fast when irritated (“I don’t like that”).

Ruben, joining the phonics fiesta, just asked us “what’s puhdahf?” Eh? And he shows us: pdf. Reminds me of Manik’s friend who thought North Carolina’s leading grocery store was K-Roger…