Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Today's meeting with Dr. Dave

We had our first appointment with Dr. Dave in a few months. A lot of summer travel had intruded.

In truth, we were feeling somewhat downcast coming into the meeting. Secondo has become REALLY stubborn lately and it has had Keen and I at the ends of our respective ropes. Kindergarten seemed to be going well, but it's a bit of a black box. The boys get on the bus at 7 a.m. and we pick them up from aftercare sometime after 5. So, we've had none of the direct interaction to which we were accustomed during preschool. Some issues that we thought were resolved had cropped back up. I'd also solo'd for several weeks with the guys which wiped me out.

Dr. Dave spent over half the meeting talk with the guys. I think it's the first time that his interactions with them have taken center stage. I'm amazed that he got Primo to name most of his classmates. I've been so short on time, I tend to give up. Turns out he knew his entire class. Next up was Secondo. He was pretty stubborn about answering questions

So, then we had a chance to chat a bit. There are still some mild delays. (Mild? Woo hoo!!!) Primo tends to perseverate, Secondo still has some echolalia. Secondo is really, sorry, REALLY stubborn, but that's a personality trait rather than a symptom. So, it seems that for the most part we have a couple of guys who are mostly on track. I bought some nice wine to celebrate.

That's not to say they're typical. By no means. But, hey, it's been a month of kindergarten and I've yet to be called to the principal's office.



Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Into the Mystery

[So much for blogging more frequently. I got sick, my better half went out of town for a three week assignment, and well, so much for blogging more frequently. This covers some old ground, but perhaps some new as well. It's a decent perspective on 3 1/2 years parenting AA kids.]

Case closed
I was certain in my youth
God knows
Had my scientfiic proof
And in my mind
I thought I saw the truth
I never looked beyond my lenses
Never saw that it was you

I mentioned that I am a father of children with autism in my introductory post. I thought I might write a little about that. Both of my sons have a diagnosis of Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified. PDD NOS is a bit of a mouthful, so I like the new term—atypical autism. AA is a lot easier to say, even if it does give rise to some amusing images.  Having twins meant that one saved the other who then returned the favor. We’ve used Primo and Secondo, characters from the movie Big Night, as their pseudonyms, so I’ll keep to that.

I’m a let them get dirty, don’t sweat it if your child doesn’t hit the milestone from What to Expect kinduva guy. Kids seemed to thrive pre-Dr. Spock, so let them grow at their own pace. Still, at some point you realize on a deep level that something’s not quite right. We brought up our concerns at their 2 year check-up and got some reassurance. To my everlasting shame, I held back on evaluation. Most of the time, it’s not a big deal. That isn’t the case for my sons.

It was in their second year of life when our concerns grew serious. I’m tempted to say it’s like a stomach ache that doesn’t go away. That happened to the husband of a friend of mine. His stomach troubles turned out to be pancreatic cancer. He didn’t make it. Our children are seen at an excellent pediatric practice. There’s a developmental specialist every other Friday. Once those concerns wouldn’t go away, we made an appointment with her. Incidentally, there’s no coverage for that initial screening. $100 is no big deal for us, but it’s gotta be hard for parents who are just getting by. We quickly got the word that he’s delayed and possibly autistic. I can’t say as it was a shock at that moment.

Out of the Question
Can’t catch the wind inside my fist
No, it’s Out of the Question.
Try to trap you and I know I missed
Out of the Question
You’re closer than the air I breathe
but Out of the Question
and Into the Mystery

I do not know if getting a diagnosis four or five months earlier would have made a difference. Here’s two things that a parent of a developmentally delayed child learns quickly. Every second counts. It is important to get therapy yesterday. Hell, do it in six months ago! Here’s the other thing that you’ll learn. You’ll be waiting months for an appointment. Following that initial appointment, we had a few words of advice, whatever books we could find. We were on our own for a few months, but I think they made a difference. The big point was to engage Secondo. Get him out of his world and into ours.

I wound up inventing a game they still love, though it’s harder on my back now. Hug, beso (kiss), blast-off. The idea being that Primo or Secondo runs from the kitchen to me sitting on the sofa. I give him a big hug, then a kiss, then toss him onto the sofa. It’s a lot easier with a 2 year old than a kindergartener! That summer was pretty much a matter of teaching what should come naturally. It felt great to finally be doing something.

We then got in line. We were told to contact Dr. Jean Thomas, who was head of psychiatry at Childrens National Hosptial. Trust me folks, if you’re told by a professional that this is the specialist you should see, you get in line. It doesn’t hurt that Dr. Thomas works at a premier hospital for pediatric care. At one point, I’d actually given up on getting through with them. The gates may not be barred, my friends, but they’re sticky. Fortunately, Dr. Thomas left a message with us and we got through to Intake.  One also leans the magic words to get past the gatekeepers.

My heart
Brings me to my knees
There’s God
Forest before the trees
Move me
Like the wind will stir the leaves
I give way to the Mystery
Like the Branches in the breeze

The initial evaluation was an interesting experience. You have two terrified parents and a clueless toddler. The team consisted of Dr. Thomas, a colleague, and what I presume were a couple of interns. One problem was that we had to sit in the waiting room for a better part of an hour. Secondo wasn’t at his best by then, which may not have been a bad thing. At the end of it all, we got the news that he had autism and to make a follow-up appointment. My wife broke down upon getting the news. Not that she was crushed by the news, but it was almost a relief to finally have it verified. The hospital isn’t that far from where she used to work frequently, so I dropped her and Secondo off on my way back to work. I’m not sure how I felt that day. I knew it would be a long journey, just didn’t know the path.

We had a follow-up appointment a couple of weeks later. Dr. Thomas introduced us to Dr. Bhavin Dave (he’s Indian). Dr. Dave had interned at Kennedy Krieger (another fine institution in this area) and was about to take up the position of head of Pediatric Psychiatry. Here’s a tough choice. You’re directed to this one person. Mind you, we knew relatively little about the developmental specialist. Still, when you’re clueless and told this is THE PERSON, it’s a tough decision. t was a difficult choice at the time, but we figured it’d be good to get in on the ground floor. We were one of his first patients. He’s become a valued family friend. Early on, I think it was more about keeping my wife and I in the game than counseling Secondo.

And I’m Out of the Question
Can’t catch the wind inside my fist
No, it’s Out of the Question.
Try to trap you and I know I missed
Out of the Question.
You’re closer than the air I breathe
but Out of the Question.
and Into the Mystery

In parallel with this track, I learned a lot about the Americans with Disabilities Act. I’m not necessarily a small government guy (big shock there), but I have always been deeply skeptical of a federal role in education. Some of this comes from having a mother in the primary system—she’s a semi retired speech therapist. It seemed like massive amounts of paperwork for modest amounts of funding. Education has always seemed like a local responsibility to me.

Well, my sons would not be thriving in kindergarten were it not for federal interference in education. To be exact, something called Child Find. It’s a system designed to detect developmentally delayed children and get them services so that they can thrive. My wife and I are pretty well prepared for educating kids. I have a BA in Physics and Mathematics and a PhD in Condensed Matter Physics . My wife actually trained for elementary education before finding her calling as an interpreter. [Bachelor’s at Redmond in Education and a Masters in Translation and Interpretation from the Monterey Institute for International Studies). I’m not throwing the degrees out there to brag. Rather to note that we’re two highly educated parents who are well prepared for the task of getting our children ready. And we didn’t have a fucking clue what we were getting into.

I think we could have cobbled together something, but it wouldn’t have been close to what the “system” did for them. I’m overwhelmed by the care given to my sons. And yeah, it’s because of that interfering federal government. We probably could have worked out something. We both make good money and probably afford specialized schooling. Providing we had a clue what to get. My best friend at work has a son on the spectrum. They didn’t realize his needs until he was hitting kindergarten and dealt with a serious quack. Then I think about parents of delayed kids who couldn’t afford expensive services and specialized education. There was a story in the Post a few years about a woman whose son was “cured” of autism. They went through enormous stress and bankruptcy. How the hell could a family of limited means thread this gauntlet?

OK. End of political sermon. This is one case where I came in general agreement with small government conservatives. Then I saw what effective government could do. It opened my eyes.

Truth is there for finding
But the logic that’s involved.
It’s a mystery unwinding
Not a problem to be solved

I have twin sons. To my thinking, they saved each other. We picked up on Secondo’s delays a lot faster because of direct comparison with Primo. At the point when Primo’s language took off, Secondo seemed to plateau. We pushed for an evaluation earlier than I think we would have had it not been for the comparison. Primo helped to save Secondo. Secondo later returned the favor.

Coming into their second year of life, we had a family friend caring for them in our home. We got Secondo into a pre-K program for developmentally delayed children. It seemed unfair for Primo to stay at home on his own, so we enrolled him in the neighborhood preschool. I think it was two or three days a week, several days a week.

Now, Primo is brilliant. I know it’s natural for a dad to brag, but I don’t know of many kindergarteners that understand exponents. [I’m not kidding. He wrote 6 squared and I assumed that he’d seen it somewhere. He informed me that it meant 6 times 6. OMG.] He was an early reader and has been obsessed with symbols from an early age. We assumed that we had a very bright boy, clueless to the fact that wasn’t all that was going on.

In the first week at the neighborhood preschool, the teacher had concerns. Primo was the old child in his class and was totally freaked out. He’d obsess on the calendar. He wouldn’t join in circle time. He eventually got to the point where he would be willing to sit on a little chair outside the circle. By now we were “pros” at the system and so called Child Find. The plan was that he would continue at the neighborhood preschool and go to the special needs program on other days of the week.

I got a call in August two years ago. They asked why we were going with the morning program. It was mainly to try and match the schedules of the special needs program and the regular preschool I was told that Secondo could continue with his previous teacher (yay!) and asked if we’d be interested in enrolling Primo in a new class that would be half developmentally delayed children and half “peer models”. Yay!!!!!

Out of the Question
The wind inside my fist
No, it’s out of the Question.
Try to trap you and I know I missed
Out of the Question.
You’re closer than the air I breathe
But out of the Question.
And Into the Mystery

Since then, Primo spent 2 years in Bridget Mancke’s class and Secondo joined him the following year. It is overwhelming to me how far they have come. It is not easy raising kids with autism. I want to post about that at a later date. I figured that the story of getting into the system was enough for one.

My kids are in kindergarten now and I think it’s going OK. We’ve had some relapses related to potty training, but I think we’ve got it under control. Other matters are really tough right now. Still, they’re in regular classes and thriving. I’ll take it for now and tell you about day to day at a later date.

Oh yeah, you might be wondering why I keep lapsing into verse. The lyrics are from a song by David Wilcox, Into the Mystery. I was introduced to David Wilcox by my wife almost ten years ago. We’ve seen him perform three or four times. I was searching for the right metaphor and then I realized that David had it right ten years ago. I’m almost 6 years Into the Mystery. It’s a rewarding journey, but oh can it be tought.


Sunday, August 21, 2011


I'm beginning to learn what it means to have a good blog. It's pretty much the same thing as being a good writer. A friend of mine has a great blog (snickolett). Mind you, losing your husband to pancreatic cancer while conceiving and raising twins is great material. I don't begrudge her that and wish she'd had a long, well-deserved life with her husband.

I haven't added an entry in few months for a variety of reasons. I didn't have the time to talk about my sons' transition to kindergarten. Their IEP meetings at the new school were revealing. Overall, it was a good experience. In the case of Secondo, the meeting seemed pretty straightforward. We got a formal diagnosis of autism (seems that the fact that he's being counseled by the director of the children's psychiatric program at Childrens National Medical Center doesn't count). The speech therapist at their outgoing school proved to be a surprisingly strong advocate.

Primo was trickier. He's brilliant. Sorry folks, sometimes a daddy's got to brag. I taught myself multiplication at the tail end of second grade (it was in a part of the book after what we were supposed to be doing). Primo has picked it up at the age of 5.The thing is that his intelligence allows him to mask his needs. The speech therapist picked up on this, which is amazing given that she's never met him. Primo is engaging in some higher levels of social speech without having picked up the foundations. So, his speech is "weird". She gave us a clue as to why, more than anything I've received before.

Overall, we're delighted. The general ed teachers who attended the meetings were, to be charitable, unimpressive. I'll chalk it up to the fact that a general ed teacher has to attend the meeting and so it's one of those meetings you have to be at, but have to sit there nodding and pretending to be interested. Let's see how they do with my guys.

Back to the start of the post. A blog should be honest. Brutally so if necessary, but never with cruelty. I've held back for a variety of reasons and so this blog hasn't been what it could be. I've been working on a research paper that means everything to me. I put my heart and soul into it (yes, this happens even when you're writing about transient terahertz spectroscopy). If this blog is to mean something, I need to put the same effort and honesty into it. So, I'll be writing more often and self-editing less.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pura Vida

Literally, it means "pure life" in Spanish. It's a catch all phrase in Costa Rica that has all the versatility of "cheers" in the UK and Ireland and "aloha" in Hawaii. Hi, thanks, good on 'ya (having never been to Australia, I'll have to trust Pixar on that one).

Ever since I was lucky enough to have a Tica come into my life, I was lucky enough to be exposed to Costa Rica many times. I wanted to express that in some way, which in Virginia means getting personalized license plates. We evidently lead the nation in the percentage of drivers who can't really get into driving a car labeled X37 2LZ5. For our "new" car, a 2005 RAV4 I bought from my parents, I couldn't resist getting a personalized license plate. One can get up to 7 characters, 6 on some plates. Any variation eliminating one letter sounded odd. Purivia must be a new bottled water. Pravida a Russian newsletter. Puravda the car used to deliver the newsletter. Or maybe the other way around.

Then it hit me. PURA VA. We lives in Virginia, so it's shorthand for Pure Virginia. Anyone who knows Ticos should get the reference. I like the way it works as my two gemelos are Virginians by birth, but I hope will carry a lot of their Tico ancestry with them.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Sic Transit Gloria

It took me awhile to warm to living in Washington, DC. A good deal of that was simply that I'd moved him from a place that fit me like a glove. Boston had everything I loved about living in England, but was back home in the U.S. It didn't hurt to have my first really good paying job of my life and be falling in love with my future wife. It is a great city for dating.

The Metro, for all its next century feel, doesn't have the scope and integration of the T. DC tended to do high end restaurants and inexpensive eateries well. The midrange less so. Bit by bit, I got to know the place. I've got my favorite restaurants. The schools have been incredible for my kids. We're in a good neighborhood.

There is one thing I don't like about DC that will probably never change. That is to say, change. Things just don't seem to last here. We live in a neighborhood of townhouses. There are eight on our block. We purchased ours six years ago. A couple we'd gotten to know was reassigned to Austria (he worked for State, I think. Maybe the military.) The buyer was a staffer for a senator of some recent repute and we've gotten to know and like her. The couple next door had a baby. Then, she got laid off and as he can work remotely, they moved back to Pennsylvania. Then the two units next to use went up on the market and sold within weeks. The new neighbors seem nice, so we look forward to getting to know them. It is remarkable to me that in six short years, we are now the senior owners on our block.

It's change, but seems natural and we get to know interesting people. Then there's change that sucks. My favorite hangout is a place in Alexandria called Food Matters. The owners had worked at various DC restaurants and set up their own place in Cameron Station. I always liked the place and frequently drop by for a glass of wine after work. The food is good and they emphasize local, fresh ingredients. We haven't had dinner there that often, but I always looked forward to becoming a regular once the boys got a little older and we could settle down. I just found out it's closing. I think it's a case of the right concept, but a difficult location.

Committing to a place in DC almost seems like committing to a new TV show. It might disappear in a few seasons with a whole bunch of unresolved plot lines. Ah well. I'll be on the hunt again.

My best to the staff of Food Matters on a great few years. You mattered.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

Social Time

I had a little solo time with Secondo lsat Sunday. He'd slept in late--really late--and we thought that might indicate getting sick. So, Keen and Primo went off to church and I stayed at home with Secondo. As it turns out, he was right as rain. Just decided to sleep in three hours later than usual. Sheesh.

I had brief notions of catching up as he woke up about ten minutes before services were due to start. This was a pure fantasy as it took him a little while to get going. I eventually decided to take him out on a walk. We wandered by a play area behind our local church and I thought to take him over. There was another little boy there.

Secondo and "Alex" proceded to play undirected for about half an hour. They built a web of sticks to help out a spider that Alex spotted. The amazing aspect of this to me is that this was way beyond anything in Secondo's IEP. I think it calls for two or three exchanges, facilitated by a prompt. Half an hour of unfacilitated play seems like graduate studies to me.

Way to go Secondo!


Korea/Kansas fusion

I picked up a round eye roast the other day. I planned to grind it and make a Bolognese sauce. I typically use a chuck roast, but was feeling cheap. Since it cooks for four hours or more, I figured it wouldn't make that much of a difference. I don't have any Italian blood in me, so there's no great grandmother spinning in her grave. Heck, my Scandinavian and Irish forebears might be nodding in approval. As it happens, I had some frozen ground chuck in the freezer and decided to use that instead.

A mild PSA. If you have a food processor, don't buy ground meat at the grocery store. Take some chuck and cut it into chunks. Trim off the bigger chunks of fat (see, it's healthier already!) and process a few times. It works great! We have a stand mixer with a grinder attachment, so I use that instead. It's better, cheaper, and you know what meat you're getting. Also, ever notice those news stories about e Coli contamination? If it's related to meat, it seems like 90% of the stories involve ground meat. Save yourself some worry and grind it yourself.

So, here I am with a roast that needs cooking. Pot roast calls as round eye is a relatively cheap cut that benefits from braising. Still, I wanted to try something a little different. I've gotten into making bulgogi--a Korean dish that literally means fire meat. It calls for slicing meat thinly (flap or flank are great for this), marinating for a few hours, and quickly cooking. We love the flavors and it's a flexible dish. The thought occurred to me that shifting the marinade a bit would make a great pot roast.

I used a kitchen sink worth of various Asian liquids we keep around. Soy and sesame oil are traditional for bulgogi. Also sugar. I like fish sauce and rice wine vinegar, so tossed those in. The mirin adds some sweetness that you need for bulgogi. As this was going to be a pot roast, I used a cup of red wine (Conco & Toro's Frontera brand of cab/merlot blend) and a can of beef stock. OK. Here we go.


2 - 3 lb. roast. I'm a big fan of chuck, but there's lots of options
1 lg. onion, coarsely chopped
[add whatever else you like for pot roast]

Marinade - liquid

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup mirin (or more vinegar and kick up the sugar)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1 cup dry red wine
1 can beef stock

Marinade - spices and herbs

1/4 cup brown sugar
1 - 2 tablespoons hot sauce (I'd go for Sriracha or a similar chili sauce)
Stalks from one bunch of cilantro, chopped
One bunch of scallions, chopped
1 - 2 tablespoons of chopped ginger (I used ginger paste you can get in Indian grocery stores)
1 - 2 tablespoons chopped/mashed garlic
Fresh ground pepper as you like.
NO SALT. With soy and fish sauce, this dish has all the sodium it needs.

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade and plot the roast in. Let it sit for at least an hour in the refrigerator or as long as you'd like. It won't pick up as much salt as for thinly sliced meat, so an overnight marinade is fine. When you're ready to cook, take the beef out of the marinade and cover with sesame oil. It helps to tie it with twine (and I'm a big fan of hemp twine).

OK. Now for some fun. Heat your oven to 300 degrees or so. Meanwhile, put a heavy bottomed pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Add sufficient sesame oil to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is beginning to smoke, add the roast to the pan. Brown on all sides. You're developing flavor here! Take the roast out of the pan when it is browned on all sides and place it on a cutting board. Add the onions and other veg. to the pan and brown. Return the roast to the pan and add the marinade. Bring to a moderate boil, cover, and put into the oven.

Have a couple of beers or some wine. That's as far as I've gotten. The roast is in the oven right now. I did taste the marinade and it's spectacular. Pot roast with an Asian twist. This one will be a keeper.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Wings to Die For

A short one, but worth it. Try the rooster wings at Eat Bar in Arlington, VA. The name is a reference to Sriracha sauce, which has a rooster printed on the bottle. The sauce is good, but even better is that the wings are perfectly done.

I ran across the sauce by accident before hearing it was the chefs' sauce de rigeur. I popped by a place to pike up a few Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwiches) and saw a bottle of hot sauce. I figured it'd be good and later foud out about Sriracha. I actually bought the chili-garlic sauce from the same company. I prefer it to Sriracha. It's a bit chunkier, but has that same chili goodness.

Anyway. Hit Eat Bar for Happy Hour. Great wines at half price and great beers at reduced price.

Better get back to work.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Cross-continental Easter Dinner

I didn't have any particular plans for Easter Sunday dinner. We had a big wine tasting meal planned for friends with the idea that people would bring appetizers to pair with particular wines. Complicating matters was that Keen was sick and had a monster transcription to work on, Secondo was an exceedingly cranky convalescent from recent surgery (adnoids & tonsils), and I was a bit stretched. It brought home to me how much Keen does when I decide to throw a party.

Everything worked out in that a dozen or so adults and half a dozen kids had a good time. My idea of paired wines and foods was totally trashed, but that's OK. The worst moment might have been when a cigarette butt was found in one of the bottles of red. I'd opened them up early and left them on the porch to cool. One of the guests is a smoker and didn't realize that these weren't ashtrays. [Sheesh, dude, even it it wasn't a FULL bottle of wine, maybe I recycle?] Ah, well. I wanted to dump the bottle and substitute something, though was shouted down. I decided to skip the red course as I wasn't going to have a glass of Vin Roja de Cigare. Fortunately, I'd opened and chilled a bottle of an amazingly good American sparkler from New Mexico (Gruet--try it!) and so sipped on that instead. 

While shopping on Friday, I ran into a friend at the grocery store. He was planning on buying some lamb to have with his girlfriend. I wandered over to the meat section with him and spied a gorgeous bone-in lamb sirloin. I adore lamb for its flavor, but haven't made it recently due to its high fat content. Oh what the heck. I took it out today ambivalently. Is that a word? Guess so, as the spell checker didn’t put squiggly lines under it.

After a bit of chatting, we decided on braising. I cut off all the surface fat, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and put it in the ‘fridge. Awhile later, I seared it on all sides and tossed it into a warm oven along with a big can of tomatoes, a can of chicken stock, the same can filled with a decent inexpensive red wine, some vegetables and herbs.

But what to pair with it? I’d roasted some potatoes for the wine event the day before and abandoned the dish I was going to make. Aloo tikki is great Indian street food. A friend of mine introduced me to it. The basis is grated or mashed potatoes, mixed with onion, cilantro, and some spices. Form this into cakes, pan fry, and serve with chutney and chaat.

Thinking about it, it sounded like a great starch side. I omitted the chile peppers from the mix and used it as a base. Take one tikki, top with braised lamb, and add a couple of ladles of broth from the braised lamb. Delicioso!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Play Time in Northern Virginia

The topic of a children’s play area in my development came up last autumn. Although Fairlington Towne lacks a dedicated play area, there are many options nearby. I thought it might be a timely to mention a few of them that I’d discovered in the five years since my twins came on the scene.

Starting from the closest available place, there is a play area behind the Fairlington Presbyterian Church where Van Dorn ends at King Street. Although small, our guys spent many hours playing there. We also met a few parents from the nearby apartments, one of whom became our future sitter. One advantage is that it’s entirely fenced in, a useful feature when you’re watching more than one at a time.

Fort Ward recently refurbished the children’s play area. You see a good cross-section of the local community there. The only down side to this play area is that it’s at the bottom of a fairly steep hill. I’ve managed it with a double stroller, though prefer to leave the wheels at the top of the hill. This play area is shaded, a bonus for the dog days of summer.

The main play area in Fairlington is located on the grounds of the recreation center between Stafford and Utah. This recently underwent a complete refurbishment. There is a small stage that my kids loved to play on as well as a soccer field. We’ve also visited a smaller play area on the other side of I-395 near Abingdon Elementary School.

Despite being a resident of Alexandria, I haven’t spent as much time in the play areas of our fair city’s parks. The play area near Mount Vernon School in Del Rey is well worth a visit. It’s within a block of a variety of shops and restaurants. Cameron Station has a couple of children’s play areas—the better of these in my opinion is located at Armistead Boothe Park near Samuel Tucker Elementary School. Our favorite Alexandria play area is located within Marina Park off Union Street. It has a nice fenced in play area that takes full advantage of the hill on which it lies. You also have a great view of the new Wilson Bridge.

Arlington has too many children’s parks to list. I’ll list a few of my favorites. Lacey Woods Park off the intersection of Washington & N. George Mason has a play area with an enclosed slide, handy if you don’t want to worry about a fall. True to its name, there are several paths through the woods. There’s a larger park nearby on Harrison, just north of Lee Highway. Catch it in early summer and there’s mulberries aplenty!

As long as I’m mentioning summer time, I have to note the spray parks in Arlington. They’ve been a wonderful resource when dealing with stir crazy kids in July and August. My favorite of these is located within Lyon Village Park. It’s fenced, there’s plenty of room to run, and the spray area is well done. It’s also walking distance from the Italian Store for subs. Another great little park with a spray area is located off of Lincoln, just south of I-66.

The big dog in the area is Clemyjontri Park in McClean. I can’t praise this place highly enough. It was built on donated land with the mission of providing play for children of all abilities. The park is fully handicapped accessible and has a number of elements for kids with mobility impairments. The variety of structures must be seen to be believed.  It also features a carousel that operates spring through fall. There is parking right there and a satellite lot that is a 5 – 10 minute walk.

If you like farmers markets, consider Cherry Hill Park in Falls Church on Saturday mornings. Finding parking can be difficult, but the park is large and there’s plenty of shopping to do. The park at Mount Vernon School is also a block away from a Saturday farmers market. The play area near Henry Elementary School on Walter Reed is a couple of blocks away from the Columbia Pike market on Sundays.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few of my favorite places to take the kids, even though they don’t have a play area per se. The Carillon in Arlington is a great area for the kids to run around and the view of the National Mall is spectacular. I have spent many hours on Roosevelt Island with my twins. The paths make it easy to keep track of them. The central monument is also a good area to run around. No bicycles are allowed on the island, removing one potential hazard.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A neat little scam

I walked to my car yesterday morning only to discover a ticket on it. We'd rushed back home Friday afternoon and I parked a little past the line on the frontage road close to home. It was a bit upsetting to get a $50 ticket for a couple feet. Still, my front bumper had edged out past the "No Parking From Here to Corner" sign and so I'd been duly nailed. What a stupid mistake!

I left the ticket in my car and headed off to get a baguette to have with the Fu'ul I'd made for breakfast. Yes, still obsessed with that dish. This morning, I was doing the same exact errand (it's been a fu'ulish weekend; I'll be here alllll night folks) and picked up the ticket. Then I looked at it. Really looked at it. The address seemed odd. Then I noticed it was a District of Columbia ticket. Hmm. I didn't think they ticketed in Alexandria! Although I do have Virginia plates, my car is a 2 door Ford, not a 4 door Honda. Naturally, the plates didn't match. Funny thing is that I did take note of the time of the ticket the day before, but missed the rest of it.

I'll give full credit to someone. They picked up a ticket Saturday night in the District. Noticing that my car was parked a little over the line, they put it on my windshield in hopes that I'd pay for their ticket. Well played!

They apparently think I'm stupid though. Is anyone going to mail a ticket for Virginia parking to the District?


Friday, April 15, 2011

Where to go for ethnic ingredients in Alexandria, Virginia

My previous post was on fu'ul, a standard dish across north Africa and a favorite of ours at Café Aurora. We had a little extra time today and I wanted to find the beans. I'd driven by a place near Aurora a number of times, but never stopped it. What a mistake! This place has an incredible selection of ethnic foods. I found a dozen varieties of canned ful, not to mention the dried beans. I also found…

Pomegranate syrup

Really good tahini

My favorite brand of Basmati rice (Tilda)

Chopped methi leaves (needed for the variation of Saag Paneer that I make; I'd never seen them before)

So much other stuff that I could have spent hours in there. The place is on Edsall Road, between Pickett and Van Dorn. It's a keeper.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

A fool for fu'ul

I’ve tried a few new dishes recently and can’t resist sharing a favorite with the world. WETA recently did a series on places that serve breakfast around Washington. One of the most interesting is Aurora Café, whose owners are Eritrean. It happens to be fairly close to my sons’ preschool and so we’ve been able to go there for a few breakfast dates. It won’t be a surprise to learn that the coffee is fantastic. I’ve had a few interesting dishes—kilcha fit fit (kinda like having spicy stuffing for breakfast) and eggs silsi (an Eritrean scramble) are two dishes I’ve had an enjoyed. Keen orders fu’ul every time she goes there and I happily polish off anything that’s left. We went there yesterday morning and ordered our usual. I was a bit disappointed to have no leftover fu'ul.

It’s a mushy bean stew served with a bit of yogurt and bread on the side to sop it up. Hunting around, I’ve found various recipes for ful, an Egyptian dish that appears to be related. I'm sure variations are available all across northern Africa. Fu'ul is a type of small fava bean. I tried an early version using edamame and lentils. Not bad, but not the real thing. Then I discovered an ethnic supermarket nearby that has the real beans--both canned and dry. Jackpot! My second batch rocks. If you can't find canned fava beans (the little ones), try using small white beans.

The other special ingredient is Berbere, a spice blend unique to Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisine. I'm sure anyone from Ethiopia or Eritrea would protest, but garam masala is a reasonable substitute. The addition of paprika appears to be the primary difference. I hunted around a bit and I think this is the closest to what we've had at Aurora. Full credit to Jessica Balsam's blog. Serve with a crusty baguette.

I'm still looking for a silsi recipe.

Ethiopian Ful Medames
Serves 4

  • 1/4 cup olive oil + more for garnish
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup minced white onion
  • 1 teaspoon berbere (or 3/4 t. garam masala & 1/4 t. paprika)
  • 6 cups cooked ful (or two cans)
  • salt to taste
  1. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, and fry the garlic and onion for 2 minutes. Add the berbere and cook for 1 more minute. Add the ful and 1 cup of water and bring to a simmer.
  2. Remove from the heat, mash the ful, adding water if needed to reach the texture of refried beans. Salt to taste. Return to the heat briefly.
  3. To serve, divide the mashed beans between four shallow bowls and garnish as you like. Green onions, crumbled cheese (feta), minced jalapeño or tomato, plain yogurt (with a little berbere), and hard boiled egg are all good garnishes. Serve with a baguette.

Berbere Spice Blend


2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon fenugreek seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
8 cloves
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
20 crumbled dried red peppers
1/2 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
3 tablespoons sweet or hot paprika
1 teaspoon salt

Put all the ingredients up to the salt in a frying pan and heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. add the salt and grind the spices in a spice grinder.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bubble Boys

This year was one big roll of the dice. Our twin sons have been thriving in a special needs program. Secondo in his second year of Miss Caitlyn’s class and Primo in his first year of Ms. Bridget’s class. Secondo was due to move into Primo’s class.

Child care had been a sore spot for us. We started with a friend of the family who took care of the boys at our home. We made it work for a year and half, but there were always stresses. We had a second sitter who did a good job and the boys enjoyed their time with her daughter, Favie. Still, it wasn’t always easy and cobbling together morning care before they went to school was always a challenge. They also needed more interaction with peers and it clearly was time to talk about preschool.

Unfortunately, April is really too late to make the move. Given that some folks have their preschoolers’ applications to Harvard ready, I should have known this was the case. There was a highly recommended preschool close to us (and my neighborhood pub I shamefully admit). We just missed the cut there. A pair of twins had cancelled the week before we applied, but one of the spots was taken.

We happened upon a program at Creative Playschool. The school is located at a Methodist church a mile from home and very close to the hospital where they were born. It seemed a good fit and works well for our commutes. I am happy to say that they have thrived. It’s a good omen for kindergarten, which is coming up this fall.

Peer interactions have been interesting to watch. P&S are one of three sets of twins in their class—the other two pairs are identical. One pair of girls, the other boys. My kids are on the sweeter side. Perhaps it’s a side benefit of autism. R. and W., on the other hand, are all boy. Two Fridays in a row, I had to sign forms after R or W scratched Primo. One day, Primo had a welt on his face and he said the R. had “licked” him. I suspect that was after getting a good chomp in! I sympathize with the father. He’s a nice guy and I’m sure doing his best. I suspect that school at this age is all about civilizing and socializing kids. Mine need socialization; his need civilization.

Lots of good stuff too. I dropped off the kids one day this week. While I was signing them in, I noticed that Secondo was the recipient of a group hug from the girls. One of the other boys hadn’t quite figured what was going on, but decided to hug Secondo on general principles. Both of them looked confused. There was a new boy in class the next day who was a bit shy and not sure what to do. Primo went up and introduced himself. This from the kid who was freaked out by being in a class 18 month ago.

There will be many hard days to come, but I think I’ll enjoy it for now. The special needs program was this marvelous bubble and we were afraid what would happen once it popped. Well, they’re in a bigger bubble at the moment, but it’s a friendly one. I’ve read enough to know that P&S have a difficult road ahead of them. At least it’s paved for now.

Oh! Did I mention that Secondo completed potty training? He finally got the idea of rewards. I’ll be happy to buy many bags of M&Ms to keep them happy.


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ode to a Chick

It started innocently enough, as affairs often do. A blog post here. An email there. Then it descended into a full throated affair. But I should begin at the beguin.

I was an avid reader of a Kim O’Donnell, a former writer for the Washington Post. She had one of the earlist food chats, What’s Cooking, and wrote a terrific blog, A Mighty Appetite. She’s done wonderful work for tasty vegetarian cooking and I try to follow Meatless Mondays and have done a couple of Eating Down the Fridge weeks. The Post killed her chat and she eventually relocated her blog to TrueSlant (since purchased by Forbes).

One of her blog posts caught my eye: Superfly Fries. Panisse are akin to French fries made from flour from dried garbanzo beans. I buy mine at Indian groceries where it’s known as Besan. You bring chicken stock up to a simmer, stir in the flour, and cook until it thickens. Then pour out the batter in a pan and refrigerate. Cut into segments like home fries and deep fry. Serve with a bit of mayo.

I then proceeded to buy too much of the flour and didn’t want it to go to waste. Turns out that a 50/50 blend of wheat flour and besan is great in many recipes. I’ve done some homemade pasta and it’s wonderful. Nice and nutty. Also makes great pancakes. This stuff was definitely in the rotation.

The capper came this past week. We’ve started doing the South Beach diet. Or rather, the lovely Keen is doing it full bore and I’m trying to be supportive. So, I make SB compliant meals and limit my consumption of carbs to finishing up after the boys or catching happy hour on my own. Thing is that not having any kind of bread or rice is difficult. I’ve made some nice discoveries. Tofu goes nicely into a beef stew (adds the missing satiation of mashed potatoes and picks up flavor from the sauce). Still, sometimes you want some bread.

Enter the humble garbanzo bean. Or rather, the chick pea. I did say this was an ode to a chick. It’s allowed under the diet for reasons unclear to me. Perhaps it’s the protein content. I don’t know. However, Keen found an amazing recipe for a chickpea flatbread called socca. It’s absurdly easy and sensational. Probably takes about 20 minutes to make. Put a cast iron skillet in the oven and turn it up to 450. Do a basic mix of chickpea flour, water, salt, and pepper. If you like them, add some onions and a bit of rosemary. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the skillet, swirl, and then pour in the batter. Bake for 15 minutes and then turn on the broiler for a minute or so to finish.

Unbelievable. The stuff is amazing. Here's the relevant links as I have nothing to do with this recipe.

So, I’m in love with a chick, even though it’s a pea. Fortunately, my wife is willing to allow this affair of the stomach.


Monday, January 17, 2011

The Three Most Important Things About Catching Mice? Location. Location. Location.

We dealt with a mouse infestation last year. I think they originally took refuge from all that snow in February. One mouse is cute. Even two. They’re little, quiet creatures. I actually removed one or two gently (you can fling a mouse a goodly distance by its tail). Sadly, they can’t be toiled trained and tend to leave their ever so tiny and cute mouse poo in not so cute places. They started getting bolder as well. Once they started mooning me, it was war.

Off to Home Depot. I have to say that the race to build a better mouse trap has succeeded. It’s like going to the computer aisle at Best Buy and about as confusing. You can get traps that all but put the mouse in a tiny little coffin and play Amazing Grace as it is lowered into the trash can. In the end, I went with four or five claw like contraptions along with a similar number of baited traps.

We’d spotted the mice at a few places, so the claws went there. The mice had gotten into a few spots, so those were natural locations. We used to have a bin full of various sweet things, generally candy or jelly brought back from trips to Costa Rica. I found a few empty wrappers one time and thought who would eat a candy and then leave the wrapper? What happened, of course, was the mice found the candies and would consume them, leaving a wrapper behind. As the mice apparently had a sweet tooth, I used Nutella for bait instead of peanut butter.

The early results were impressive. I think we caught a dozen mice the first week. Well, caught is a euphemism as the claw is not for those who prefer catch & release trapping. I started putting X’s on the most successful traps. Fortunately, we didn’t have enough mice for one of them to make ace. Ten kills, right?

I never saw any mice in the poison-baited traps. They were purported to trap the mouse, but ours were a bit too small. I did see a couple had some serious nibbling, so I suspect they were effective in a quiet way. There are probably some dessicated mouse carcasses back behind our cabinets. So we could finally relax.

Well, until this winter. December was brutally cold for Washington. It’s not as bad as Minnesota, where I went to college, but I also tended to wear warmer clothing there. We started to see some evidence of a renewed infestation. I spotted the first mouse this afternoon. It was nibbling on something it found on the range top (which admittedly needs cleaning). We’re better prepared this time. We bought a lot of storage containers so there’s no easily available food. We just need to keep the kitchen clean at night.

And finally to the title of tonight’s post. The mouse came up from behind the range and I’m pretty sure they use the electrical cord as a ladder. So, I moved one of the claw traps to that spot. A couple of hours later, Keen mentioned that she thought she heard it snap while she was doing her workout. Yup. Mouse #1 down. The trap triggered about five minutes and caught mouse #2. I’m curious as to if there will be another victim by morning. Sorry, mice. We’re not ready for pets.

Update from this morning: Mouse #3 down. We'll see what tomorrow morning brings.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

A tale of two more iPads

The replacement iPad arrived Thursday morning. It's pretty and shiny and I had fun tracking its progress from China to Hong Kong to Alaska to New Jersey (a surprisingly brief stop in light of weather) to Virginia. Keen restored her iPad settings and has had much fun with it.

We had a friend over for dinner Thursday night. A call came into Keen's phone, but she didn't answer it as she didn't recognize the number. Then I got a call from the same number. It was someone asking if we'd lost an iPad (yes????) and who said he'd mail it back to us. I voluntarily mentioned a reward. I'd happily pay a few hundred dollars for the return of our iPad.

I'm not sure that our old iPad will be coming back home, but it looks like a serious possibility. Regardless of the motives of the person who currently has possession of our iPad, I'm happy at the prospect of its return. Ironically, the new (refurb) iPad has some kind of a problem that causes it to reboot spontaneously when one is in the middle of listening to something. Looks like it might get returned. Odd times.