Thursday, May 23, 2013


Monday night, the boys, Clem and I left Elise with three photographers on the sidewalk in front of a colossal mansion in a leafy DC neighborhood tucked equidistant from Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, and Logan Circle.

Tomorrow morning we will start out early to fetch her. I am anxious to hear her stories of what transpired in between as I am sure she is equally anxious to hear of our own adventures, as mundane as they may be.

I knew after three days of playing inside or at our apartment complex's playground all needed some new scenery, so earlier this evening, I took everyone to Gravelly Point Park, perched at the foot of the Reagan airport runways.

On the way there, as we drove east on 66, I saw people hanging American flags from the pedestrian overpasses and, as I noticed that we were sharing the freeway with an unusually high amount of Harley Davidsons, I reminded the boys that this weekend--Memorial Day weekend--Rolling Thunder would be coming through. Every Memorial Day, squadrons of Harleys parade into the city. I was reminded of the last time we were in DC--in 2010 in Ballston--when we could lie in bed and listen to the motorcycles rumble by below us like passing thunderheads.

As I told the boys about it, I choked up. It seems that any recollection that evokes Ballston brings back a wave of emotion. I continue to underestimate how emotionally turbulent that time of our lives was, a time charged with emotions.

We passed by Arlington National Cemetery and American flags had been planted at the base of every tombstone.

Wouldn't you know it, as soon as we pulled into the park's parking lot it started to rain. This, just after Elise and I had talked on the phone and both had commented that, despite forecasts of a 90% chance of rain this afternoon, we had yet to see a drop. I put the tailgate up on the minivan, and all sought shelter beneath, only to discover that the back of our car was faced into the wind, and our make-shift shelter wasn't doing us any good. So, I closed the tailgate on Sam and Peter, put Clementine into my lap, and pulled the car out of one space and into another, facing the other way. I think it was Clementine's first time behind a steering wheel. It was definitely the highlight of her afternoon.

Ironically, just as I had completed this maneuver, the sun came out. We spotted a rainbow over the Potomac, then all piled out of the trunk to get a better look at the landing planes that weaved back and forth like drunken sailors in the sky before settling on a heading and making a beeline for the runway.

The jet engines of the first plane that took off threw up swirling mists of water. Pete cackled in the same way he does when he hears a Lightning McQueen song, and I knew I had achieved what I had set out to do by getting out of the house.

We met what I guess you would call a plane-watcher. He kindly gave the boys vintage airplane postcards in 4 1/8 inch x 9 1/2 inch plain white envelopes sealed closed with a piece of transparent scotch tape. He wore shorts that only reached mid-thigh but compensated with white tube socks that reached mid-calf, and spotless albino-white Reeboks. He sported a three-ring spiral notebook with a diagram of the DCA runways and departure and arrival charts in one hand and a Radio Shack handheld radio tuned to the DCA control tower frequency in the other. He had a digital camera with a telephoto lens dangling phallic-like around his neck.

He could tell us where every plane that took off was headed. He identified the Boston and LaGuardia shuttles. United ert Denver, Alaska Airlines ert Portland, and American ert Chicago. He could tell us when there were planes over the Potomac coming in to land before we could even see them. He could tell us when a propeller plane from Charleston, West Virginia was going to land on the other runway, and when a Coast Guard plane was coming in for a landing. He could tell us how loud each plane was going to be upon take-off before it even taxied onto the runway (the American planes were always the loudest, and Sam told me he could hear them in his heartbeat). He knew which planes had been waiting to take-off the longest, and he held his radio out for Sam and Peter to hear the tower declare, "Flight xxxx Your Clear for Take-Off!" He seemed to get as big a thrill upon hearing those words as either Sam or Pete did.

I was dying to know his story. He asked us if we would be coming back, clearly yearning for company. He told us he was out here three to four times a week. Had he at one time dreams of becoming a commercial pilot, but for reasons unknown failed to reach his goal? It is easy for me to get into the heads of others, and as I would go home to a maelstrom of activity...dinners to finish, bottles to drink, bathes to give, babies to put to bed, dishes to wash, stories to read....where would he go?

What would he do with all those pictures of airplanes he took? For the same reason I don't understand why people take pictures of animals at the zoo (I figure, National Geographic is going to take a much better picture of a herd of springbok than I ever could), I couldn't understand why someone would need so many pictures of airplanes.

After an hour and much resistance, we started home.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Progress Report

Today was Sam's last day of school.

He came home with a giant manila envelope full of all his drawings and assignments. Tucked inside was also his Four Year Old Program Progress Report for the 2012-13 School Year.

He was evaluated in many scholastic areas on a scale that ranged from I -- In Progress to P -- Proficient. I am proud to say Sam is proficient in such tasks as demonstrating an understanding of chapel lessons, demonstrating lengthening attention span, and expressing beginning geographic thinking (no surprise here! the kid is going on his third continent and has a geography professor for a grandfather). Sam is still working on retelling Bible stories with understanding (as am I) and identifying the four seasons and his characteristics (in his defense, he has lived most of his life in a two season world--rainy and dry).

I got a kick out of the teacher comments. I doubt I would recant them here if they said Sam took peculiar pleasure in beheading dolls or ate sand:

"Sam joined our class at the end of February and quickly adjusted to our classroom routines. He is a very friendly, social little guy and quickly assimilated into our class and began forming friendships not only with his classmates, but with some of the boys in the class with which we share our playground time. Sam is very verbal, has a strong vocabulary, and loves to share his ideas during group discussions. He seems to have a strong interest in science and nature, and has enjoyed our units on birds, plants and insects, often sharing his own observations and background knowledge. Sam has phonological awareness; he recognizes most letters, identifies many letter sounds, and is beginning to identify and generate rhymes. Although he is still working on number recognition beyond 12, he has a good grasp of early math skills such as sorting, patterning, ordering and mathematical reasoning. Sam is a good listener, follows directions, and always gives his best effort on his projects. He is an enthusiastic participant in Music class and in Prayer and Praise and enjoys dramatic play with his friends. Sam has been a wonderful addition to our class!"

All I can say is I'm glad he has phonological awareness. Here's to hoping he has enough for the rest of his family.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cloak of Naivete

Today our class was briefed by a Congressional staffer from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sometimes I feel as though Washington, D.C. is a place locked in a synchronous orbit, eternally showing only one side of itself to the sun so that there is a half of it captured in continual sunlight and a half of it plunged into a dark and cold never-ending night.

Washington can be both this fairy-tale place where adults play kickball and croquet in front of the White House, where complex, hoppy, citrusy IPAs flow from taps like rivers, and food trucks from every gastronomic niche imaginable line up to feed kabobs, kimchi tacos and pho to the hungry masses and also a brooding place of dark trench coats, partisan political mudslinging, crowded buses and subways, and disgruntled cashiers at Starbucks, Anthropologie, Lululemon, and nearly every other service establishment in the District.  These two worlds incomprehensibly exist side by side--the light and dark side of the same moon--and I find myself passing back and forth between them constantly.

Washington feels every season deeply, with hubris, each expressing itself in its own way, in its own language. Just when we thought winter was done with us, it belched a bellyful of thick, wet, coagulating snow on us, and now spring is acting equally emo, like an emotion-driven shoe-gazer, hands thrust deep into its pockets, pining. Kites can fly in front of the Washington Monument. Pink flower petals magically fall from trees like pink snow. The Nats host the O's in an extended home stretch. And yet, a congressional staffer can descend upon my office like Nosferatu, presiding over a cloud of dank gloom, and describe in excruciating detail all that is wrong with the relationship between the administrative and congressional branches of the federal government as though lecturing a high school social studies class.

A place that can support at least two establishments dedicated solely to the craftsmanship of donuts and fried chicken is also the home to the deepest divisions plaguing the American spirit.

I am having a love-hate relationship with DC.

The staffer, a 10-year veteran on the Hill, attempted to debunk stereotypical acrimony between two branches of the federal government. Though he, in my opinion, was largely unsuccessful, he could have come and talked about Angelina Jolie. That is to say, it wasn't him, per se. It could have been anyone at any time talking about the IRS, the AP, or Benghazi. I don't form opinions on these things. They are too complicated, and there are smarter people than I to figure them out.

But there is a disconnect between the work I do as it is portrayed in the media and, say for instance, my Tamil class.

When we first returned from Brazil, people would ask me what I did. And when I told them, they would follow-up by asking, "But what do you do?" It is hard for some people, I believe, to wrap their heads around exactly what it is I do on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, it is even more difficult, I believe, for them to understand why I think it might be important to do and worth the sacrifices I have asked Elise and my children to make so that I can do it.

It took me a very long time to put this into words or, that is to say, what I do and why I do it.

I won't address that here. That would take this blog to places I don't want to take it, but I will admit I am naive. I don my cloak of naivete proudly. I am an idealist. Like Tony Stark climbs into an iron suit and fires repulsor blasts from his palms, I climb into my armored suit of idealism. I like that about myself and I want to keep it that way. I don't want to be like a congressional staffer. I don't want to ever become negative or bitter or disillusioned. I never forget that this opportunity I have been given is a gift and I never want to think that I can't make a difference, that what I do is insignificant or unimportant, or that I can't make the world a better place. I feel most of the people I work with feel the same way.

I'd like to think if it wasn't for me the Brazilian marine turtles might be a little worse off today than they might be otherwise.

I like the side of DC that faces the light better.

Words with Pete: 3.5 Years

Soaking wet  = "Snowking wet"

Teapot  = "Teapop"

Lemonade = "Yummylade"

Minivan = "Bus-car"

Peanut Butter = "Peter Butter"

Unicorn = "Noodlecorn"

Eyeballs = "Eye-bulbs"

Chapstick = "Stopstick"

Barbecue  = "Barbie-cube"

Corn on the cob = "Corn on the pod"

As you can see we don't have any laughs around here at all.  Peter, never to be lost as the middle child, is forever keeping us on our toes. He takes on the world with the same intensity with which he entered it. He is sweeter than sugar and more sour than a lemon. He can be his own perfect "yummylade" if mixed in equal parts. His childhood and our job as parents: to help him perfect the recipe. He is absolutely hilarious and absolutely fearless. He is kind and loving but will never be the child that is pushed around despite his tiny stature. He is light as a bird and fast as a squirrel. He always knows just what he wants and says just what he means. He sees the world in the most incredible way and my glimpses into his mind through his incredible vocabulary and imagination is magical. He does not miss a moment...unless I am asking him to do something. I can read him a book, just one time, and he can recite the entire book back to me word.for.word. He pushes me to the brink of insanity and then drags me back with his giant sweet eyes and a single unexpected hug. He is often the mirror held up to my face at the most unexpected times and when I think I can't quite figure him out I see myself and understand why he has been trusted to my care. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Blankie Boogies

Elise may be able to better describe what it going on with Peter's blanket, but I feel a need to share my latest findings.

I've been noticing these tiny fuzz balls littered about our apartment. I had no idea what they were. They were scattered in approximately the same pattern and in approximately the same number and size as tiny cloth rabbit droppings. I found a pile next to Pete's bed, as though that's where the cloth bunnies lair remained hidden.

Pete has two blankets. They are identical in nearly every respect. One is his old everyday blanket that he sleeps with at night. The other is his back-up blanket (should he ever lose his primary blanket). It also serves as his pillow blanket. We lay it over his pillow at night, and it served as the one constant when he lay his head down at night as he moved from bed to bed during our many moves after leaving Brazil.

The pillow blanket is nearly pristine. The other....well....let's just say it has seen better days. Now, it is nearly in ribbons, and when I saw Peter tearing thin strands from it and wading them up into little balls, I finally understood what the little white mothball-looking things littering the carpet of our apartment.

Elise has dubbed them blanket boogies, and I expect to see a lot more of them before Peter completely tears his blanket to shreds.

Good thing he has a back-up.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Girl

In honor of Mother's Day Sunday and in dedication to the woman in my life, I share the following words and music with you.

The first time I heard this song, I was riding my shuttle bus back from work to our corporate housing apartment. A small lump caught in my throat thinking of the woman I love and adored and who loved and adored me enough in return to live in such dismal quarters with me. For this alone, I will never have the words to thank or the means to compensate her for making this sacrifice.

This song comes closer to being able to accomplish this task than I ever could....

I wish I could do better by you,
'cause that's what you deserve
You sacrifice so much of your life
In order for this to work.

While I'm off chasing my own dreams
Sailing around the world
Please know that I'm yours to keep
My beautiful girl

When you cry a piece of my heart dies
Knowing that I may have been the cause
If you were to leave
Fulfill someone else's dreams
I think I might totally be lost
You don't ask for no diamond rings no delicate string of pearls
That's why I wrote this song to sing 
My beautiful girl

"The Girl" by City and Colour

In this forum, we tend to dwell on the romance and adventure in our lives. That's in both our bones. We're both romantics and adventurers at heart. That's not to say it is always easy, beautiful or thrilling. It is often painstakingly difficult to move yourself, your lives, your small children, all your worldy possession and your respective careers back and forth across the globe. But I believe at this point, neither Elise nor I would have it any other way. We'll see what the future holds, but for now, together we chase our dreams, knowing that it won't always be easy and that someday it may be very hard. I hope to push those days as far into the future as possible.

I derive great comfort in knowing that no matter what happens between now and 2072, in the end I will look up into her face, her beautiful brown eyes, and be held in her arms. I will tell her not to cry, as I try myself not to cry, and thank her for the beautiful life she gave me.

Happy Mother's Day, hewie.

Forty One Years of Paul: A recap

Because it often takes all day to do one small task with my three small assistants, Pete and I hit off the cake making at 7 o'clock Monday morning. Paul has a standing request for carrot cake and I aim to deliver birthday cake wishes and caviar manicotti dreams. Foosa and I may have perfected the recipe this year by substituting coconut oil for vegetable oil for the perfect storm of flavors. Check it:

Paul's Birthday Carrot Cake
(adapted from here)


2 cups all-purpose flour (we used unbleached)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs
2 cups organic sugar
1 pound organic carrots finely grated


2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
Two 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups confectioners sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Grease two 9-inch cake pans with coconut oil.

2. In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk and vanilla. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar at high speed until pale, 5 minutes. Beat in the liquid ingredients. Beat in the dry ingredients just until mointened. Stir in the carrots. Divide the batter between the pans and bake the cakes for 55 minutes to 1 hour, until springy and golden. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then unmold the cakes and let cool completely.

3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and cream cheese at high speed until light, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla, then the confectioners' sugar; beat at low speed until incorporated. Increase the speed to high and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.

4. Invert on e cake layer onto a plate. Spread with a slightly rounded cup of the frosting. Top with the second cake layer, right side up. Spread the top and sides with the remaining frosting and refrigerate the cake until chilled, about 1 hour. Slice and serve.

Upon completing our cake (in record time,), we dropped Sam at school and slipped over to the mall for a little shopping, which is completely the opposite of "shopping" in the traditional "go to the mall, wander around, have a coffee, touch all fabrics, try things on and purchase things I love," sense of the word. Shopping with Peter and Clementine is like an episode of my old favorite game show Supermarket Sweep. I sub the shopping cart for a stroller, I hit the door of Nordstrom already at a 7:15 pace, I grab the items I have premeditated and/or seen on  previous trip and I'm back at the car in 16 minutes flat. Before anyone has started crying, wanting to go into the toy store or get out of the stroller and walk. BAM. New hoodie for Paul. Happy Birthday.

During naps I had whipped up a little pan of manicotti, salad and an old Cucina Cucina favorite from my serving years, Flat Bread with Roasted Garlic and Cambozola cheese. We sipped wine and even attempted courses, which went over surprisingly well, compared to our sometimes frenzied attempt to get food into our mouths before the crowd goes wild.

In a strange twist of events, Paul didn't even wait his usual hour after dinner for dessert and we dove right into  the singing and carrot cake eating. 

Rhumba Rain

I can completely translate the following news clip....


Lots of rain!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Weekend Review

This weekend was perfection. 

We've taken to eating dinner at an embarrassingly early hour in order to avoid the dinner hour scramble, the one where Paul desperately entertains the "bonking" children (a term we still use from Paul's triathlon days) while I frantically cook and often forget a vegetable or a main ingredient in the process.  Recently to avoid said scramble, I begin dinner while the kids nap and put dinner on the table between 4 and 5. Perhaps it is even little bit of Brazil we've kept with us.  By 5:30 or 6:00pm all bellies are full and head outside to enjoy spring evenings.

Friday night we ate dinner together as we always do, then loaded up the Phil & Teds for a walk throughout the bloom covered neighborhoods that surround Club Med Oakwood . We played at a nearby park until bath-time then headed home to catch the tail end of bingo in the common room, which has proven to be an excellent way for the boys to learn numbers and letters and for us to learn why we don't play bingo. We stink at it. We don't win the crap we don't need anyway like tiny tubes of sunscreen and gift certificates to Burger King, but leave for a consolation prize of ice cream and knowing the letters BINGO a little better.

On Saturday morning we loaded up the jogging strollers with kids, granola bars and water and took a beautiful four mile run along the commuter trails that run throughout Falls Church and ended at the farmer's market as we often do. We snacked on fresh mini-donuts and homemade rosemary bread for Sunday dinner then wandered to Starbucks before meandering home through the hidden pathways and unfolding playgrounds of our neighborhood.

We all napped.

Saturday night Paul and I went out for his early birthday celebration. We revisited one of our favorite rooftop lounges in Clarendon for a cocktail and dined at a hip little Greek tapa-style restaurant called Cava Mezze up the street.

Sunday we loaded another set of active gear that we own (and have never regretted buying for a second or allowing it to take up room in our UAB that my precious shoe collection could have inhabited) and headed up to Potomac Overlook Park for a hike. Once we arrived we learned that there is no longer an over look, which made the whole "overlook" part a little bit of a disappointment, but the hike through the lush green of spring on a quiet Sunday morning. We wandered the trails, watched birds, talked about nature and life cycles and finally retreated to District Taco for giant breakfast burritos, coffee and tacos for the kids...their new favorite dish.

We all napped again.

Tonight to cap off the perfect weekend we're celebrating 41 years of Paul....

Friday, May 3, 2013


Okay, so I didn't expect the boys to pick up much of the Tamil I was learning.

The last time I was in language training, learning Portuguese, Sam would run around the house with his hands clamped over this ears, screaming "NOOOOOOO!" when I tried to speak to him in Portuguese. This is deliciously ironic given the fact that he would go on to attend a Brazilian pre-school taught entirely in Portuguese and become practically bilingual in our short time there.

It's different with Tamil. I can't speak it nearly as well as I could speak Portuguese in the same stage in my learning. If I do speak Tamil to them, I can really only say "Hello", "Goodbye", and ask them if they like pizza.

I can also tell them to sit down in the polite form, "Oot-car-roon-gal!" (Spelled above in the Tamil script in the blog title)

Though they don't benefit from much exposure to the language, they do benefit from my learning experience, even if I only use it as an easy way to make them laugh.

For example, early on, we were learning the difference between speaking to someone in a casual manner (i.e. a close friend or child) and speaking to someone in a more formal manner (like an elder). My instructor, explained it like this, " respect." And he wagged his fingers at us. "Neengal...respect."

It might not sound funny, but evidently in India it is a big deal if you talk to someone casually who you are supposed to talk to formally.

In class, when someone mistakenly used the casual, familiar form "nee" instead of the formal, polite form "neengal", our instructor's eyes would go wide and he would express astonishment by exclaiming, "AH-DOH!" and wag his finger at us admonishingly, adding, "Very rude word. No respect!"

I though this hilarious, so I had to bring it home, and soon Peter was wagging his finger at me and saying, "No respect." To which I had to respond in kind, "AH-DOH! Very rude."

Even Clementine has gotten into the finger-wagging.

Unlike with Portuguese, Sam is the most eager to learn a few Tamil words. He can say hello, "Vanikkome" like a perfect Indian boy, placing his palms together reverently in front of his face and even doing a little Indian head bobble as he says it. He reminds me of the small Indian boy omnipresent in Indian Jones' movies who bursts through the large wooden doors in an Indian palace, hollering, "Dr. Jones! Dr. Jones!" as a way of warning Indiana of eminent danger.

When I leave for work in the morning, sometimes I tell everyone goodbye in Tamil, "Aprom parka-lam." Clementine will the first to respond.

Today in language lab, we used the future tense to make sentences about travel. I use these opportunities to practice phrases I may actually need like, "Can you please help me carry my nine gigantic suitcases, three car seats, and two strollers?"

My instructor was trying to decipher what I was trying to say. He pointed at his notes and asked, "This one. What mean?"

I explained that I was asking for help carrying my luggage.

"Ahh...." He told me that I was using the wrong word for porter. That the word I used was for the guy who takes the money. Evidently, there is a second guy who does the actual carrying who goes by another name. Fortunately, he is called "porter". "'Porter' is 'porter'. No problem. You say..." And he makes a waving motion with his hand, "Come...come...carry," and he asks me "You know....they come. Put suitcase on head. Carry away. No problem."

I don't mean to write this sounding as though I am perpetuating a stereotype, but we know precious little about the country we will be living in for two years, and sometimes stereotypes are all you have to go on. The lack of clarity on what actually life in India will be like is starting to seep into our subconscious and create a form of angst it is difficult to recognize. You don't always know it is there, but manifests itself as a source for irritability. You know you are stressed out, contrary to all exogenous indicators. Everything seems to be in order around you ('order' is relative when you are the parent of three children all under five year's of age) and yet, something is bothering you. That something might be India.

People we have met who have just returned from Chennai, have said it is "hard". But we have yet to ask what was hard about living there, and remind ourselves that one person's definition of "hard" may be different from someone else's definition of hard. We know India doesn't have drive-thru Burger Kings, if that's what you mean. We also know that some people found Brasilia hard.

Our one salve is that we have done this before. That is, face the unknown and not only survived, but prospered. That balm may do little to soothe the anxiety, but until we get a better idea of what awaits us...or until we get to India and see for ourselves...we will have to trust that this challenge, too, can be met.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013



  1. Extremely: "you're dreadfully thin".
  2. Very much.
terribly - awfully - frightfully - appallingly

Somehow along the way, in a slow and gradual manner like the movement of glaciers or evolution, the word "dreadfully" became a staple in the verbal language Elise and I use to communicate.

Despite it's dreadful sound, and despite the fact that it is synonymous with several other awful and frighfully appalling words, the word has no negative connotations for us.

Paul: (to Elise) "Would you like to go for a run and stop at Starbucks after?"

Elise: (in response) "Dreadfully."

Of course, Elise is meaning to say that she very much wants to go for a run and not that the thought of a run then coffee at Starbucks sounds awful or frightful.

See, there is a big difference between "dreadfully" and "that would be dreadful", and in our world, things are often done dreadfully that are never dreadful.


Searching India

Any toys that the boys have realized are missing here in Virginia, we have explained, are in India, with the rest of our stuff and is waiting for our arrival.

Today, Pete, frustrated at the injustice of it all, pulled out the India guide book that we've been thumbing through lately and said "I'm going to find Mac (the semi truck from Cars) and the rest of the race tracks! Hmph!"