My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅) -- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"It's Dutch Wonderful!"

We did something different this past weekend.

We took a family trip. Not a "someone's got a conference to go to and they need a babysitter" trip, not a "well, as long as I'm going, why don't you come along" trip, not a "we'll head out as early as we can so we can get home in time for AJ to wake up for work the next morning" trip. This was a real trip, crossing state lines, staying in a hotel, and going purely for the sake of going. And it was fun.  (Dude, don't forget to add "exhausting" to that description, 'K?)

A couple of years ago, AJ and some of the other mommies in our group of China adoption friends had begun talking about taking the kidlings to Dutch Wonderland. If you don't know the place, it's a theme park near Lancaster, PA (smack-dab in the middle of Pennsylvania Dutch country, thus the name) that's geared toward families with young children. It lacks the polish and glitz of a Disney park, but there are plenty of rides for the younger members of the family, live shows complete with lots of audience participation, and even a real princess, knight, and (purple) dragon wandering around. (They must be doing something right, because they marked the 50th anniversary of their opening this May.)

The trip never came about, but after talking about it so much AJ decided she WAS going to take her daughter to Dutch Wonderland, and that was that. It took some doing, but after many attempts at scheduling a couple of days away all the planets aligned and the entire family set off for what Dad sometimes refers to as Pennsyltucky.

We hit the road a couple of hours later than planned on Sunday (no surprise there!), and made it most of the way to our destination before inevitably getting lost. (That's with a dedicated GPS unit, four iPhones with GPS capability, and two alternate Google Maps routes printed out in full color complete with mini-maps for each step along the route. But I digress...)  Eventually we found our way to the hotel early enough for a couple of hours at the park.

The Pipsqueak had a grand old time at the park that night. In fact, she was so happy with the rides (and the super-exciting bonus of actually staying in a hotel overnight for two whole nights! Wow! Yay!) that it rubbed off on all us grownups to the point where we didn't mind it too much that dinner was overpriced fast food at the Nathan's stand inside the park, supplemented by crackers & water in the hotel later. The Pipsqueak had an especially good time on the Whip and Sky Fighters rides, and we roughed out a plan for the next day.

Back at the hotel, we had adjoining rooms, and I shared a room with AJ and Miri for the first time since China. (The difference those three years made was absolutely mind-blowing... my niece is most definitely growing up!) The Pipsqueak quickly discovered the beds were good for bouncing on so we filled the gap between the beds with all the extra pillows. This lead to a bit of a discussion over why Miri had to sleep in the bed with Mommy and not nestled into the pillows on the floor... but even as we were pointing out that the pillows were there just in case she rolled out of bed, the Pipsqueak slipped over the edge and thunked down onto the floor. No harm done, but we quickly added several pillows to the pile.

We spent essentially all of Monday in the park, and despite a few (blissfully short) episodes of "but I want to!" or "I don't want to!" it was all good. Oh, sure, we all got thoroughly soaked on the log flume (which Miri rather correctly referred to as the "log sploosh"), and I still have a sore spot where my knee kept getting slammed into the side of the "family" roller coaster, andthe sky lift across the park was more nerve-wracking than relaxing for me... but the bottom line is that we all had an absolute blast.

At one point early in the afternoon, while pausing to watch the roving brass band perform, we all noticed two little Asian girls with decidedly non-Asian mommies... they both noticed AJ & Miri at the same time and the conversation quickly turned to, "where was she born?" and "when did you travel?" Turns out both women were single mommies from Long Island here on a just for fun trip; one girl was born in northern China and the other was a Guangdong girl, right "next door" to the Pipsqueak's birthplace of Guangxi.

Somehow our hotel rooms never look as neat after we move in...

It took my niece the daredevil only moments to realize the Whip was more fun
if she didn't hold on -- poor Grandma could barely watch! :-)
A real car with a real engine... and a four year old driver. Even with a track limiting the car's
mobility, AJ got off this particular ride several shades more pale than when she got on!
Gotta make sure that seat belt's on nice and tight...
Just a quick shot (from the park's train ride) of the sunset over
the Dutch Wonderland Campground next door. 
Late Monday afternoon, the Pipsqueak had the Sky Fighters ride all to herself. This nice
young lady was running the ride, and let Miri pick her own rocket to ride... twice!
Tuesday was a lot hotter (plus we were running out of time), so we took a nice ride on the nearby Strasburg Railroad. It was our first time visiting in roughly thirty years(!) so things were a little different than we remembered, but it was still a fun First Real Train Ride for the Pipsqueak. She also enjoyed the little "cranky cars" and kids' playground, although she quickly discovered the slides were much too hot to be any real fun. (We also bumped into the two adoptive moms we'd met the previous day!) We finished with a tummy-busting late lunch at the Shady Maple buffet -- reached via what had to be the most convoluted route AJ's GPS could produce -- and got home early enough for me to contemplate (but decide against) doing a load of laundry before hitting the sack.

This is the engine that pulled our train. The Strasburg RR has an great collection of steam
engines of varying sizes & ages, all either working or being restored to working order.
Miri enjoying one of the "cranky cars" -- the kid's got good upper body strength!
Just an old-timey photo of a departing Strasburg RR train heading
down the track toward Paradise...
I woke up Wednesday morning with aching feet, a sore back, tender patches on my shoulders (Miri likes to sit up there & tell everybody within earshot "I'm a giant!"), and one hand still sore from my death grip on the sky lift's safety bar... but I'm already looking forward to the promised return trip next year!

'til next time...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Which the Pipsqueak Defines Herself More Clearly...

The Pipsqueak knows who she is, and who everyone in the family is, and them's the rules.

She'll often interrupt what she's doing (especially if she's with at least some of her grownups) to happily point out that we are all a family, and that we are her family. She also likes to tell me I'm her uncle (the emphasis is Miri's) and, even though she seems to be having trouble remembering the word "niece," she likes it when I agree that I'm her uncle and that she is my niece.  (Dude, you'd better be careful what you say 'cause that seems to be the only word she's having trouble remembering...!)

Of course, being four, the Pipsqueak also has a few alternate identities (most involving the title of "Princess")... The most interesting came after her preschool class talked about birds and she saw her first picture of pink flamingos in their classic one-legged pose. That evening, in the middle of her bath, she stood up nekkid & dripping, put her elbows out like wings, tucked one leg up under her tush, and told AJ proudly, "I a mingo!"

That may be all well and good but on the other hand, if one of us identifies her in a manner other than those she has approved, the correction will be swift and forceful. For example...

Earlier this week, Miri was as usual having a wonderful time treating Grandma & Grandpa's big bed like a playground (under the nervously watchful eyes of Mommy and Grandma). After gleefully ignoring Mommy's plaintive question of whether or not she was ready to go home for the evening she began to twirl rapidly in place.  AJ made a comment to Mom about the little whirling dervish on the bed and Miri stopped, put on her Teacher Face, and with hands on hips loudly proclaimed, "I am not a dervish! I am a child!"

Nope, no identity crisis here...!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Busy (Summer)Times

The problem with being busy and tired is that I tend to not get around to posting as often as I should... so, without further ado, here's a whole bunch o'fill-in from what seemingly overnight became "last month" when I wasn't looking...

My "tired" actually started before my last post. Having replaced a few widely scattered "squares" of the sidewalks in my neighborhood last year, the HOA finally wised up and just went ahead and had entire stretches of the chewed-up concrete replaced. Thus came the sudden sprouting of signs like the one below:

Since my schedule often has me just falling asleep not too long before the cut-off time to avoid getting towed, I parked at the neighborhood pool and walked home from there for a couple of nights. It was minor inconvenience, but after looking out the front window several days in a row during what was supposed to be "work time" and seeing the scene below, I was slightly less than thrilled...

Well, someone must've gotten my mental memo because sho' nuff, I was awakened by jackhammers the morning after I took that photo and was presented with the scene below:

Not much of a big deal... until you factor in my getting home a few minutes after 3:00am and the jackhammers starting at 7:45... Ugggh.... I've been thoroughly sleep-deprived for about three weeks now, and the photo above marks the beginning of that. In any case, there's now a bright new sidewalk all the way down my street. The Pipsqueak hasn't seen it yet, but is curious to see the white cement.

There have been bunches of critter sightings this summer, the kind that go beyond the usual squirrels, feral cats, and bunnies. I don't know what they fuzzy guy on the left might be, but I spotted him rooting around in my backyard early one afternoon. (Sorry for the photo quality, I shot through a double-pane, gas-filled 2nd floor window at close to maximum zoom.) The shot on the right came when I was at my folks' house the next day; I had gone to close the back drapes when I noticed someone taking advantage of a shady spot in the yard.  (Also shot through double-paned glass, this time with my iPhone.)

We didn't want to spook the deer so we told Miri she had to be very quiet when she was watching it through the window... so of course we spent the next several minutes getting loudly and actively shushed even when whispering as quietly as possible.

Our Long Island cousins came down for their annual visit/joint birthday celebration (Cousin H and Dad share the same birthdate, although quite a few years apart) and we all enjoyed the time together. The Pipsqueak is especially fond of Cousin A (who is making me feel very old by getting ready to start her last year of college in a few weeks), so she especially enjoyed the interlude and kept asking me if we could go visit New York sometime soon.

Among the activities (after the Lawnguyland clan attended a Nationals game decked out in full NY Mets regalia) were time watching the Pipsqueak play in the little inflatable pool our folks keep on hand for her. Of course, it's not just any old kiddy pool; it's got a separate inflatable staircase/slide (with an inflatable cushion permanently attached to the bottom of the pool with an inflatable giraffe head that hooks up to a hose and sprays the slide to keep it slippery. (At least, it's supposed to; Miri had to periodically aim the darn thing at the slide because it really just sprays water into the pool.)  Of course, it took at least three adults and an electric air pump to get the darn thing inflated, and then AJ, Cousin A and I took turns (at times determined by the Pipsqueak) helping Miri climb the steps and slide into the pool over and over and over and over and... Okay, it may have left me with a sore lower back, but it really was fun to see how much fun the Pipsqueak was having.

After AJ decided her daughter was sufficiently waterlogged (and had herself been splashed several times... you'd think by now she'd remember to bring along a change of clothing for herself as well as for her daughter [grin]), all the cousins piled into a couple of cars and headed for the nearby park.

In addition to riding on the train, the Pipsqueak was drawn to the carousel like iron filings to a magnet. I don't have any decent photos of her two carousel rides because she decided that her uncle, and only her uncle, would be a proper companion each time. (And don't you dare mistake that for a complaint -- it was an honor I thoroughly enjoyed!)

After getting a call that more cousins were at the house, we returned to the folks' and had a big multi-birhtday dinner. It was supposed to be for all the July birthdays, but as soon as the Pipsqueak heard "birthday" and "cake" we had to expand it to include June.  Miri helped Mommy frost the cake... correction, the cakes (plural).  It was supposed to be a layer cake, but she objected so vehemently and loudly to stacking the two cakes on top of each other that we simply went with spreading the candles out over a wider area. (I'm quite sure that in the Pipsqueak's mind, two cakes is better than one cake. It's hard to argue with logic like that...)

Oh, and despite it taking three adults (with several others kibitzing) almost five minutes to get all the candles lit, Miri blew out about half of them on her own in about five seconds.  I think she was just trying to fast-forward to the "eat the cake" part of the festivities.

Things began to return to what passes for normal 'round these parts, but AJ and I had to suddenly cancel long-standing plans to take the Pipsqueak to a kiddy park in PA (and hopefully meet up with one of the families we'd traveled with in China)... and then I had to keep staying late at work to prepare for training and/or meetings that kept getting rescheduled (usually after I'd gone in early!)... and then, after getting home just after 3:30 in the morning, I was awakened at 8:15 by something hitting the side of the house and I looked out the window to find...

Apparently the HOA finally got tired of all the complaints about debris not picked up after the last big storm (complete with EF0 tornado!) leveled a lot of trees, so they hired a contractor who drove their truck & industrial-sized wood chipper up onto the grass outside my bedroom window and began grinding wood... all day... <sigh>

The bottom line is, sleep deprivation or no, we've all made it through another round of birthdays with everyone relatively intact and in decent health, and my niece continues to amaze us all with new vocabulary and new dance moves on a near-daily basis... Things is pretty good, as they say.

And on that note, I'm going to sign off and go to sleep!