Friday, December 24, 2010

A tale of two iPads and one chocolate orange

The Grinch visited the Blade’s household this week. Or rather, Mrs. Blade visited the Grinch. Keen was working at the DC jail earlier this week. It’s not a fun place to go. Right where Massachusetts Avenue rams into the Anacostia River. It was also an unpleasant job. CJA work, otherwise known as public defenders. Always out of hours and slow in paying. Keen spent the better part of a year working on one job for this attorney and still hasn’t gotten paid. Judges love to put conditions like no invoicing until a case is finished and then they take their own sweet time finishing the paperwork. I’m sure they’re grand folks and sweethearts at home, but from the perspective of a contractor’s spouse, it seems like we’re at the mercy of someone who thinks he’s a minor diety.

So, Keen dutifily trudged to the jail and waited for the attorney to arrive. She put her stuff in a “lock”er and spent an hour and a half with the attorney and her client. I should note that the “lock”er had a “key”. She then returned to the “lock”er and spent quite some time swearing in front of several attorneys. The iPad was gone. Gee, you think the staff at the DC jail can be trusted? My guess is that someone else had a “key” to the “lock”er.

No need to go over the ensuing details. Some tears were shed. Two outstandings bottles of wine were opened to salute the lost bauble. One advantage of being a freelancer is that one can take work one normally wouldn’t. So, a replacement fund will build up, hopefully in time for next spring’s release of the iPad 2. Meanwhile, we’re picking up a refurb iPad that will eventually be resold. The iPad more than paid for itself in work opportunities that Keen picked up by being online.

One more thing. If you have ever heard anything unpleasant about AT&T, don’t believe it. Believe that they’re much much worse than that. The first thing I did was to cancel the credit card linked to the iPad. The second thing was to call AT&T and cancel the 3G account. They make it impossible to cancel the service unless you want to do it from the iPad. The iPad was freakin’ stolen! First time after getting through, Keen was transferred to Apple (who couldn’t do anything about it). The next time, she was told that because this isn’t a contract, it couldn’t be cancelled and we’d have to wait until a renewal attempt was made.

The second iPad in this tale appeared this morning. We dropped off the boys at preschool and had a rare morning date up at Northside Social, a new place in Arlington. We settled down with our coffees and breakfast (Nutella donut for Keen; the best sausage and egg sandwich I’ve ever had for me). After a bit, I noticed that someone had left his iPad and a pair of gloves up at the counter near us. Its owner returned after 10 – 15 minutes. Really. We’d debated for a bit and I decided to go up and let him know that he should probably keep a better eye on it as our iPad had just been stolen.

He blew me off in a nice way. He said he’d kept his eyes on it. Right. I went up to check to make sure it was an iPad and not simply a nice pad of paper. He never noticed. After my warning, he left for a couple of mintues (with the iPad open) and I noticed him chatting to someone. He left again to pick up something. Sigh… His iPad probably wouldn’t be stolen. Would you like to risk $800 on probably?

And finally we come to the orange. One of Keen’s treats this time of year is to pick up a Terry’s chocolate orange. A few wedges in coffee makes a nice orange mocha. We’d picked up one a week or two ago and I left it out with some other groceries. Bad idea. There is a very savvy squirrel in my neighborhood (and one with a sweet tooth I”ll wager). By the time I came out, the chocolate orange was gone. Well played, señor ardilla.

It’s not a big deal, right? I was over at Trader Joes doing some final shopping and Keen reminded me to pick up a replacement orange. Sold out. Doh! I have been forgiven for carelessly losing the chocolate orange

So, we will spend our Christmas sans iPad and sans chocolate mochas. But with a lot of warmth and many tamales.

Feliz navidad.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

De Nial

There is a saying that I like. If you have met one child with autism, you have met one child with autism. Rim shot. The point being that knowing one child with autism doesn’t tell you anything about the strengths as well as the weaknesses of other children with autism. That’s particulary true with my two guys. They’re twins, nearly five years old. We were worried about Secondo, pretty much from when he was two years old. Asked about him at the two year check-up, decided to pay for an evaluation and moved forward through several years of evaluations and special ed. He’s done great with his classes and is now in full time preschool and doing well.

His twin brother Primo was another matter. We had a sitter/nanny (long story there) for the boys during the time when we were having Secondo diagnosed and learning the joys of IEPs and such. Since Secondo was going to preschool, we thought that it would be unfair to have Primo at home without a playmate. Notwithstanding that they pretty much ignored each other at this point. So, we enrolled Primo in the neighborhood preschool. To put it bluntly, he was freaked out. He was the oldest child in his class and totally unable to handle it.

That was diffciult for us. Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. It didn’t help that Primo’s teacher wasn’t exactly the warm and fuzzy type. My first reaction was that this is new for him and so give him a break. Yeah, I was blissfully kayaking down de Nial. We were reasonably proactive and had an evaluation thorugh Child Find. Primo was eventually ruled eligible for services and wound up in a great program the next year. A mixed class of 6 developmentally delayed kids and 6 neurotypicals. It’s good news all around. The DD kids get to spend lots of time with peer models and the NTs are in a program with a low teacher/pupil ratio.

I’ll be frank that we were NOT ready for a second diagnosis of autism. Learning the Secondo has autism was tough. We weren’t surprised by the time that the formal diagnosis came. Still, it felt like God had just dumped a ton of lead bricks on top of the shoulder of a little boy whom I loved. A second time would have been taking the piss.

Well… I guess the piss was taken. We finally moved forward with a diagnosis for Primo. This might seem terribly lazy given that we had known he had delays for more than a year. Truth is that Primo was getting the same services as Secondo—he was in a great program for special needs kids and Secondo’s psychiatrist acted as a family therapist anyway. So, it didn’t seem like it would make much of a difference and we were happy not to deal with another diagnosis.

Ultimately, we chose to go forward as knowing more about our little guy couldn’t be a bad thing and knowledge is power. Particularly when it comes to school districts with budgets. Hate to say it, but I’m going to do what I have to do for my son. Tough in this environment.

Secondo’s evaluation was very different from Primo’s. This one was more like 20 questions. Secondo’s psychiatrist had gotten to know Primo, so it was pretty easy. We weren’t surprised at the preliminary diagnosis and it’ll be good overall. Instead of meeting once a month, we’ll plan on three meetings every two months (once for each separately and one joint meeting).

The funny thing is that Primo’s diagnosis should have been easy for me. A good friend of mine has a kid on the spectrum who is about 5 years older than my kids. His son J is a lot like Primo. Both very early readers. Both intensely bright. In certain ways.

Now I know that I have two sons with autism. It’s not an easy thing to handle. I also realize just how different they are. They have a lot of strengths and, well, some weaknesses. I would be lying if I said I didn’t worry, but then what parent doesn’t? They’ll do well.

At least I hope they will.

I pray they will.

They light up my life.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Helicopters and parents

Stories about helicopter parents are a dime a dozen. I recently read a column by Petula Dvorak, who writes for the Metro section of the Washington Post. She wrote about helicopter parents and the absence of childhood. Although I like her, it was boilerplate stuff. I’m a let kids be kids kind of parent. They need time to relax. Be kids. Watch too much TV and eat too many sweets. I spent many hours watching Gilligan’s Island and professional wrestling (National Wrestling Association, not that soap opera WWF). Didn’t seem to stop me from doing well in school and even getting a PhD in physics. Not bragging, just thinking that having laissez faire parents didn’t hurt me.

Then it turned out that my kids have special needs. One with autism and the second to be determined on Thursday. He might be on the spectrum, might not. There’s the rub. My natural inclinations are to let kids have some time to be kids. And for me to read the paper and have a cup of coffee. But wait. I have SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS. They’re developmentally delayed, so every moment is a chance to work with them.

There was a big deal made of a book a year or two ago about a woman whose son is “cured” of autism. His diagnosis went from autism to PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder we don’t have a clue about what it exactly means) to neurotypical. The family went through financial hell including a bankruptcy. Of course, why wouldn’t any parent do that for their child?

Not me, evidently. I want my kids to be kids. Secondo loves vehicles of all kinds. Cars, buses, trains, planes. We live in a great location for this as all are frequently seen. Oh, and firetrucks! How could I forget firetrucks? There are times when they come home after a day at school and just want to zone. So, Secondo is lying on the floor playing with a bus or plane. It might verge on stimming, but the kid needs a break. Primo wants a piece of paper and is writing. Sure, it’s a little obsessive, but helps him to organize his day. Kids with developmental delays need down time too. Perhaps more than other kids.

And, hey, I get a chance to make dinner. Or read the paper. I might even have a glass of wine. We get plenty of interaction in our lives together, so a little down time is good. Let kids be kids. Let adults be adults. And let the helicopters fly overhead.


Monday, October 4, 2010

A Cornhusker in King Arthur's Kitchen

I grew to love three things from my time in England. Trains, pubs, and curries. There is no better way to travel than on a train. You arrive, oh, 15 minutes early and watch the countryside go by. I’ve been lucky enough to travel on high speed trains in England (channel tunnel), France (TGF), Finland (Pendolino—it’s Italian), and Japan (the Shinkansen). I’ve never been on one of the Maglev trains, but hope to do so. Pubs are an entirely separate post, but that’s where I really got to know people and make friends.

Oh, but curry. How I love thee. It’s rich, spicy, and utterly satisfying. If I indulged myself, I’d get to looking like Peter Griffin. Rogan Josh (lamb curry). Jalfrezi (spicy). Vindaloo (really spicy). Lamb Pasanda (cream, sweet and mild). Chicken tikka (Indian BBQ). Balti (a traditiional Indian cuisine invented in Birmingham, England). Papadoms. Pilau rice. Naan. Yummy yummy yummy yummy yummy.

After I bought my place in Sheffield, my commute involved walking up to the main drag (Eccelsall Road) and catching a bus to the Univesity. In the evening, the bus would let me off across the street from the Banner Cross Hotel (a pub). Next door was a very good Indian takeaway. I’d put in my order (chicken jalfrezi or lamb passanda were my favorites) and pop by the pub for a pint or two. I’d head home with my curry and polish it off with a Kingfisher or some red wine. I didn’t get much work done in the evenings back then.

When I moved back to the US about ten years ago, I figured my curry days were done. I was wrong as it happens. There are a number of excellent Indian restaurants in Boston. Kashmir on Newbury Street and Divas up in Somerville are two of my favorites. Figuring that I’d need to learn to cook a curry, I picked up a sensational cook book (Art of Indian Cuisine by Rocky Mohan). I’ve rarely had a recipe go wrong from this book. If you ask someone who knows about Indian cooking for advice, you’ll probably get steered to Madhur Jaffrey. This one is my reference. The recipes simply work. I do adjust things a bit. Virtually every recipe calls for a half cup of ghee (clarified butter). I tend to cut the amount of fat in half and cut the butter 50/50 with canola oil.

I started cooking Indian at home around the time Keen and I started dating. She was out of town about half the time, so I’d experiment and cook. Going over individual recipes is tiresome, but there’s one I remember. Keen loves Saag Paneer. Me? I’d never been into cooked spinach so it didn’t motivate me that much. When she mentioned that, I dove into the cookbook. Now, saag effectively means greens. Spinach (which is palak), methi (fenugreek) leaves, cilantro all qualify. The closest recipe was one which involved making a paste from ground spinach and methi leaves. My first effort involved doubling the spinach and leaving the recipe untouched. It was decent, but very rich and very spicy. That’s when I started cutting the oil by half and I also cut the chili pepper. At some point, I shifted from using methi leaves to simply a bunch of cilantro. The recipe calls for dried cilantro leaves anyway and it’s easy to make a double batch with a pound of chopped spinach and a large bunch of cilantro.

The great thing about having a good resource for Indian recipes is you gradually pick up the philosophy of the cooking. If I want to try something different, I can head to the internets and figure out what might work and what won’t. I had a lot of fun devising a recipe for Malai Kofta, which are similar to vegetarian meatballs. You form them from cashews, raisins (I used dried cranberries as I dislike raisins), rice and soft cheese and cook them in sauce. My first efforts were tasty, but tended to break apart. The breakthrough came when I had some leftover sushi rice. That added the needed “glue” to keep the koftas together.

I’ve had a couple of fun events in the last year. We’ve hosted several wine tasting dinners. The most recent one was focused on Indian food. I was a bit intimidated as I invited over a colleague who, like me, is an amateur cook and, unlike me, Indian. Talk about intimidated! The dinner went off well and they even liked my garlic curry. It’s yummalicious. Saute whole cloves of garlic, roughly hopped onion and chiles. Add a bit of spice—turmeric and chili powder—and then a can of coconut milk. Let it cook for a good long while. Garlic heaven!

Last night was my first crack as an instructor The meal was fun, though I spent more time chatting with my “sous chef” than instructing. We made makhni murgh (butter chicken), saag paneer, the garlic curry, and pilau rice. Much fun was had by all and perhaps a bit too much wine was consumed. And now, to the bat kitchen!

Malai Kofta

For the Koftas

½ cup of ricotta or drained cottage cheese

1.5 – 2 cups of cooked rice (sticky rice is great for this)

2 tablespoons cashew nuts, crushed

1-2 teaspoons of dried cranberries, chopped

1-2 teaspoons of dried coconut

dash of salt

Combine rice with cottage cheese, coconut, dried cranberries, a little salt and 2 tablespoons of cashew nuts, broken or lightly chopped. Use your hands to form the kofta mix into 1” diameter balls. Roll in flour and put in refrigerator.

For the sauce

3 cloves, 2 cardamoms, a piece of cinnamon bark

1 teaspoon of whole coriander seeds

1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns

1 small onion or 1/2 large onion

14 oz can of crushed tomatoes

2 cups of yogurt

1 cup of water (I think one could adjust the balance with whole milk and less yogurt)

1/4 cup of cashew nuts, crushed

2 teaspoon each of ginger-garlic paste

1/4 teaspoon of chili powder

Dry roast the whole spices and crush them. Add the chopped garlic, ginger and cashews and pound to a paste. Chop the onion finely and fry in oil for a few minutes before adding the spice paste. After another few minutes of frying, add the tomatoes then a few minutes later, the yoghurt, water, and chili powder. Bring to a simmer.

Heat a little oil in a large pan and brown the kofta. Add to the sauce. Use a spoon to pour some of the sauce over the koftas then turn the heat down very low and cover the pan. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Two schools and a bed

This is an overdue post, so I’ll just get into it. We returned to the US from Costa Rica at the beginning of September. It was a week of many changes. Primo and Secondo would be starting school this year in the same class with the fabulous Ms. Bridgett. She was Primo’s teacher last year with Secondo staying with the Spectacular Ms. Caitlynn. Caitlynn is starting with a fresh class of students and Secondo moved to Bridgett’s class. Although this is a big deal, it seemed like a modest shift.

Then home. My boys are bunkies! We had talked about getting bunk beds for the guys and finally pulled the trigger. Our initial thought (Ikea) didn’t last long. Don’t get me wrong, Ikea has a lot of great stuff and I sleep on a wonderful Ikea bed every night. Their bunk bed options are, however, cheap crap. Craigslist to the rescue. The great thing about this set was that it had stairs—a good thing when the bunkies are little boys. Ikea needn’t feel dissed. We spent as much on bedding as we did on the frames. Secondo called it “la cama mas bonita en el mundo” (the most beautiful bed in the world). Primo was doing his happy dance. They’ve shifted to the new bed happily. Of course, they’re sleeping together in the top bunk. As a bonus, I often crash in the bottom bunk.

An aside here. You can fit a queen futon sofa/sleeper in a Ford Focus hatchback. Just mind your elbows.

Now the biggie. The boys have started full time preschool. Stitching together home child care had become increasingly difficult. They also need time amongst neurotypical peers. So, it felt like it was time. We made the decision last spring to move the boys to an all day preschool. After some hunting, including barely missing out on a placement in a highly recommend preschool close to us, we found a great place—Creative Playschool. The early meetings were promising and they are used to handling twins (yay!) and kids with special needs (double yay!) Primo and Secondo are split up into separate classrooms with Primo being with the younger kids and Secondo with the older ones. Even though Secondo is the one with autism, he’s quite social. The boys were quite excited on the first day and took right to it. Who knew it would be that easy?

We’ve had some mild bumps, but it’s got surprisingly well. The boys love preschool and their new bed. Life is good.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

There and back again. A bloggit's journey.

Amongst my blessings, I married a Tica. My wife grew up (mostly) in Costa Rica and most of her family lives down there. I first visited Costa Rica when we were dating for the marriage of my brother-in-law. Our first introduction illustrated why correct translation is not necessarily accurate. He’s quite fluent in English (was born in California) and said “Hi, it’s your brother in law!” My wife and I had been dating for almost a year and though we were a couple, no questions had been popped. The problem is that the translation of brotther in law is cuñado. However, the meaning of cuñado is less specific and pretty much means the brother (or sister, cuñada) of your girlfriend, fiancé or wife. One advantage of Spanish is that there’s an accurate word for the spouse of our cuñado—concuño.

My trip to Costa Rica in February 2002 was the first of many. The next one occurred a year later for our wedding, then a Christmas trip later that year, and multiple ones since our twin sons were born in 2005. We’ve recently setttled into an August pattern. I attend a conference in San Diego the first week of August every year. My wife got offered a job that would overlap this conference and, sadly, three year olds can’t be trusted to run the household on their own. Our solution was that I would fly down to Costa Rica, with kids, strand them there with their abuelita, and then fly to my conference. Meanwhile, Keen (back at the hideout), would finish her assignment and fly down to Costa Rica for the month of August. Work tends to be slow then and so it was a good chance for a break. Meanwhile I (back at the hideout) took care of various chores around the house that are difficult to do when you’re busy taking care of young kids. It worked out so well the first time that we’ve decided to make it an annual event.

This year, we bought the tickets early to get good fares. Then she got offered a really nice job in the Dominican Republic that overlapped the leaving date. So, we wound up paying almost as much to change three tickets ($750) as they cost in the first place ($1050). I wasn’t planning to go down, but then a piece of crusty bread took out a chunk of one of my teeth and I decided to do a dental vacation. It was the most expensive “free” sample I’ve ever had ($350 for a flight and $350 for an inlay and cleaning).

My trip down to Costa Rica was uneventful, except for nearly getting arrested. I exaggerate. A little. My suegra loves 15 bean soup, which you can’t find down there. On my way through customs, I learned something. Beans are classified as seeds. If you can grow it, you can’t bring it. Oops. I received a nice receipt for my four pounds of 15 bean soup. I’m probably on some kind of watch list now, so will be extra good in the future. Not to mention checking the list of everything I’m asked to bring in the future.They must have thought I was some kind of crazy yankee given that I was taking beans to Costa Rica. It would be like bringing oranges to Florida.

We had a short getaway before I rejoined the entire family. A good friend of mine from college came down for the wedding and stayed at a place called Cafetal. It’s an inn near Atenas, west of the central valley. We drive by Cafetal every time we go to Jacó to visit my mother-in-law (suegra) and so I suggested it for a two day getaway before I made it down to Jacó.

The inn hired a local taxi driver to pick me up at the airport. The bean incident didn’t slow me down too much and so we were on the road within an hour of my flight arriving. Traffic on the freeway wasn’t too bad and I was in a good mood as we went past our exit. Uh oh. The driver had been hired by the Inn, so he clearly knew where we were going. That meant I didn’t. And neither did Keen. As it turns out, there is Mirador Cafetal, a restaurant on the way to Jacó, and El Cafetal Inn ( The two places have a common owner and are both about 10 minutes out of Atenas. Keen caught the bus from Jacó and arrived at a closed restaurant (August is out of season). Fortunately, there was a caretaker there who called her a taxi and she arrived at the Inn without further incident. Word to the wise. Never assume you know where a place is.

Cafetal is a lovely inn. It’s described as nestled on a coffee plantation. There’s plenty of coffee plants around, though I wouldn’t describe it as a plantation. Lot of butterflies and hummingbirds too. It rained through the night when we arrived, which was perfect. After a hot, dry summer in Washington, I’ll take a cool, rainy evening. Atenas is a nice place to spend a couple of days. It’s a typical town with a square anchored by a Catholic church. We ate dinner at a local place (La Trilla). The fish was good, the chicken was excellent.

Two days later, I arrived down in sunny, warm Jacó. There’s not too much to say about the trip. I was a little curmudgeonly as I had to spend fraction of my vacation working on a paper that was due in early September. The time away was good as I’m often too distracted by day to day aspects of work to actually get the important stuff done. I wound up having a little extra time on my own as everyone else went back to San José a few days earlier than I could. I had to wait over the weekend for my inlay to array. It gave me a chance to do a bit of work and catch up on movies. I’ll have a few thoughts about the TV series Parenthood if I get to it.

Well, we’re all back home. We weren’t able to fly back together due to having to change the tickets for Keen and the twins to accommodate the DR job. It seems that even if you don’t change the return flight, it still gets repriced. So, our $150 tickets in February changed to $500 tickets in July .Once I realized what happened, I was able to move the return trip to a later flight. Unfortunately, that meant I flew ahead a couple of hours. Not too bad for me, but Keen had to race across Miami airport to catch her flight.

Well, school starts next week and so does the bowling league. I’ve got a feeling I’ll be doing more work on the league than on school.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Black Bean Risotto

I've got a new toy and I'm blogging up a storm! A friend indicated an interest in catching the occasional recipe, so I thought I’d put up one of my few original contributions.

I got the idea for this post on a vacation last year in Costa Rica. Keen has a lot of family down there, so we try to visit once a year. A classic breakfast dish is Gallo Pinto, literally spotted hen. It was invented in Costa Rica. Unless you go to Nicaragua in which case you’ll be told it was invented there. Unless you go to Guatemala, in which case you’ll be told it was invented there. And so forth… It’s a good way to use up left-over rice and beans, both of which are staples in Central America.

Heat a little oil in a pan, toss in some minced veggies (onion, bell pepper, carrot) and sauté for a bit. Add the rice and mix together, adding a generous amount of Salsa Lizano. It’s a tangy sauce that gets used for everything—it’s in that same savory group as steak sauce in America, Worcestershire sauce in England, and fish sauce in Asia. Once everything is coated and flavored right, toss in black beans and cook until heated. Top with an egg (I like over easy) and you’ve got breakfast. Well, that and some strong coffee with a lot of milk.

That is not, however, the recipe of the week. I was down in Costa Rica thinking about something to cook when I get back home. Having eaten my fill of black beans, I wanted to do something new with them. I love risotto and the thought occurred to me that black beans should work in a risotto. I did a little hunting around for inspiration and found a blog by Paula Jackson that had the right idea.

Paula was making dinner from what was in the cabinet and hit upon the idea of tossing in a couple of cans of black beans and a couple of cans of coconut milk. As it happens, a popular dish on the Caribbean coast is rice-n-beans. It’s flavored with a bit coconut milk and you usually get it with chilero on the side. Vegetables and hot (habañero) childes steeped in vinegar. Paula had a great idea, but it was a little heavy. I took a basic risotto dish and adapted for black beans and used one can of coconut milk. Give the black beans a good rinse before using them so that you get a nice contrast between black and white.

It’s great on its own, but also can be accompanied with something a little tropical. I like seared shrimp with pineapple or mango.

Pura Vida!

Black Bean Risotto



4 cups chicken stock

1 cup coconut milk (2/3 of a can)

½ cup dry white wine (or more broth)


2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/3 cup finely minced onion


1 ½ cups Arborio or California short grain rice

1 ½ cups cooked black beans or 1 can, drained and rinsed


½ cup coconut milk (1/3 can)

½ bunch cilantro, washed, thick stems removed, chopped to make ¼ cup

Queso duro or fresco, crumbled for garnish


  1. Bring broth to a steady simmer in a saucepan on the stove. Add coconut milk and return to simmer.
  2. Heat the butter and oil in a heavy casserole or dutch oven over med. heat. Add the onion and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes until it softens.
  3. Add the rice to the soffrito, stir using a wooden spoon until the grains are thoroughly coated. Add the wine and stir until it is completely absorbed. Add the simmering broth, ½ cup at a time. Stir frequently until almost completely absorbed and add the next ½ cup. Add the black beans after about 10 minutes of cooking.
  4. Add coconut milk and cilantro and remove from heat. Stir completely to combine with the rice.
  5. Put the risotto on serving dishes. Sprinkle with crumbled queso. Garnish with shrimp, mango or pineapple.

Serves 4.

With Keen as my co-pilot

I drove up to Rhode Island from the DC area last weekend. I was attending a Gordon Conference in the week and planned to visit a friend who lives in Providence afterwards. So, I decided to drive up as that would make it easier on the back end. We were told that the registration office closed at 9 p.m. and if you arrive after that, you need to find accommodation elsewhere.

Mistake #1. Driving past NYC on a Sunday in the summer. I’d had pretty good luck with the New Jersey turnpike in the past, even on holiday weekends. Still, I was was driving in the afternoon. If you plan to drive north past NYC in the summer, don’t. If you still do, double what you consider to be reasonable delays.

Mistake #2. Staying up way too late the night before. As a result I woke up around 9:30 a.m. with packing still to be done and a couple of errands. The wireless router of a friend died, so I promised to loan her our airport. I also had to drop by work to pick up my poster. I got on the road a little after 11:30 a.m. No problem! It’s an 8 hour drive and I’ll probably go with the flow of traffic and sit about 5 mph above the posted speed limit. That would get me in around 7 p.m. and allow me a couple of hours for delays.

Well, problem. I didn’t have too much trouble heading out of Washington and going past Baltimore. There’s a point coming up to Philadelphia where I-95 goes towards Philly and the suggested route is the NJ Turnpike. That was locked up and looked bad. I figured that I could take I-95 towards Philadelphia and the turnpike would rejoin it. Those of you who know the route are chuckling right now, but I was happily oblivious. Traffic was light through Philadelphia and I enjoyed the view of downtown. About 20 miles north of Philadelphia, I-95 abruptly ends and one gets onto I-295 south to the turnpike. Huh??? A Florida to Maine interstate shouldn’t just end! Or jump to the left or skip to the right for that matter.

No problem. I’d picked up my wife’s GPS just in case I might need it. I checked where I was, got instructions to get to I-95 on the turnpike (which wouldn’t have changed) and skipped the worst of the traffic jam. The turnpike wasn’t at speed, but I was still making decent time and figured I’d lost no more than half an hour.

Until New York City. Sinatra must have called it that toddlin’ town for its traffic. I’d driven through the area a few times before, so I had 1010 WINS on my radio even as it was staticky. 45 up and 35 down on the George Washington Bridge sounded ominous. No, those aren’t speeds. Those would be minutes. There was no way I’d make it in time if I took the George Washington Bridge. If it was 45 minutes for the bridge, there were going to be bad delays all the way through NY and into Connecticut. At which point, I’d either be sleeping in the car or searching for a cheap motel room.

No problem! You’ll note these are adding up. There’s a bridge north of the city, the Tappan Zee. I’d just head north on the promisingly named Palisades Parkway and hope for the best. Until…

Mistake #3. Not checking to see if the GPS is charged before leaving home. I got off the Turnpike, filled up in NJ, and was going to make my way up to the parkway when the GPS shut off. It would turn back on, but not stay on for long. I had a hairy moment or two as there was no way to make the turn towards the Parkway. So, I headed through the intersection in looped back. After not too much trouble, I’m northbound on the Parkway. It’s a beautiful drive and traffic wasn’t too bad on I-287 across the bridge. I make my way past White Plains, get onto the Merritt Parkway, and I’m as good as gold. I figure I’ve lost a lot of my margin, but traffic is light and I’m ON MY WAY.

I stop off at a park and ride to check directions and get the estimated time of arrival. 8:53 p.m. Gulp. As I’ve mentioned before, if I arrive after 9, there’s no room at the inn. Or anywhere else for all I know. I later found out that rooms in Newport were going for $300 plus. I check where I need to turn to get onto I-95 and set off. The GPS is pretty much gone at this point and I’m thinking it’s a fool’s errand.

But wait! Keen has made it to Costa Rica and is accessible from the Vonage phone. I call and ask for help getting to Newport. I’ve made it to I-95 by now, so I just need the turn-off. Route 138 I’m told and the arrival time is 8:45 p.m. Given that I have to drive through a town I don’t know and find a hall on a college campus, it’s a fool’s errand. Still, it’s worth making a try.

I keep my speed a bit over the limit, hoping to shave off a few precious minutes without getting stopped. I begin to wonder if I’d missed the turn-off when I see 138. The speed limit is relatively low, which makes me oddly happy. You save more time going 40 in a 35 zone than 60 in a 55 zone.

About 10 miles from Newport, I call Keen and ask her to be my navigator. It’s a little odd getting direcgtions from someone in another country, but it’s my best bet. Jog north on Rte. 1 and hope it wasn’t a mistake. Ah, there’s 138 again. Head across a bridge and see a second one. It’s a toll bridge. Oh no….. (think that little kid from Home Alone or the famous Munch painting). Wait! No line. $4 and I’m good.

I’m now on a twisty little road through town. Shockingly, I don’t make any mistakes and get to the turn-off for Belleview Avenue. It’s about 8:50 at this point. The clock is ticking. I head down the road, looking for a small road. It’s tricky as this town has some serious mansions and their driveways are bigger than the roads. The Breakers is here. I hang a left on a little road called LeRoy, get out to check and ask for advice. Just keep going, it’ll work. That is until I hit an intersection with both of the ways I want to go are one way the other way. I turn right out of desperation and hope I can loop around,. Take a left and another right. We’re both freaking a bit at this point as it’s 8:55. I don’t see the hall I’m trying to find, but mention one that I see. Evidently, my hall is next to it, but isn’t well marked.

After a bit of desperate driving back and forth, I see a sign saying GRC Office. THAT”S IT!!! It’s 8:58 p.m. I turn into the lot, jump out of the car, and ask a young woman if this is the way to the GRC office. Turns out she’s just closed the office, but has my room key. So. In a trip 8 hours 22 minutes long, I arrived with seconds to spare. Many thanks to my co-pilot.