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!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Lest We Forget...

This post may strike a few folks as a "downer" but please rest assured it's not meant to be one -- I'm just trying to share something I feel is important. (We're all OK, and I've got more Pipsqueak stuff that I'll post soon.)

Tonight I had one of those experiences that makes me glad I work in a nursing home while simultaneously making me wonder how much longer I'll be able to work in a nursing home.

We have one prototypical "little old lady" who spends more time watching movies than I knew there were hours of movies made. Not just any movies, mind you; she's got the channel number for Turner Classic Movies on our system memorized.  Miz H will grudgingly watch a more recent film if it's particularly well-acted, or has enough buzz to attract her attention... but she's the kind of cinephile for whom TCM and similar channels were made.  She'll go to her room for her meds or to take care of personal business, and will go to bed for a few hours here & there during the evening, but the majority of her time is spent in front of the big-screen TVs in either the dining room or TV room... sometimes literally all night long if the playbill is particularly good.  Back in February I found her watching a movie filmed in (early) Technicolor and we joked about how she wasn't supposed to watch because it wasn't in black & white.

This evening, Miz H was in her usual spot in the otherwise empty main dining room, happily sharing her evening with a monochrome Bing Crosby and company. Making my rounds, I passed through the room just after the movie had ended and TCM began a quick retrospective of all the "movie people" (thespians, singers, directors, writers, cinematographers, etc.) who we lost this year and I stayed to watch.

As I stood unseen a few feet behind Miz H's wheelchair, I quietly marveled to myself at how many talented idividuals we lost this year, many of them best known for the period of movies that she seems to prefer. One after another, quick clips of famous and not-so-famous faces flashed onscreen in the order in which they passed, presented in TCM's usual artfully constructed manner. And then, maybe halfway through the presentation, Miz H did something I've never seen her do before.

She turned her wheelchair away from the screen.

Miz H didn't leave the room; she just sat where she was, facing the doorway, seemingly looking across the hallway.  I watched the rest of the segment, and when it was over moved around to where I was sure Miz H could see me before I approached (her hearing's not so good anymore, so it's easy to accidentally sneak up & scare her).  As I came up next to her wheelchair, she looked up at me and I could see the tears in her eyes, and I suddenly I knew why she turned away.

Those were her friends up on that screen. They weren't just famous people working in the entertainment field -- they were in a sense her family, perhaps the cousin once removed who lives in another city, the niece or nephew who's too busy establishing their life to visit often, the sibling who lives too far away to see over the holidays. They were the people she had grown up with, spent her time with, and who were now almost all she had left of all the years she's lived.  And now they're gone.

Their images and voices remain, sometimes showing them a little wrinkled, sometimes in the glorious bloom of youth... but now she knows for sure there will never again be a new movie for her to see them in, a new piece of their work for her to pass her time with (and perhaps also a question of how many more movies she will be here to see, herself).

I rested my hand on Miz H's shoulder and said, "They were quite a group... are quite  a group, aren't they?" and she just gave me a half smile and shook her head, then said "Thank you" and turned back to the (now safe to watch) screen as I quietly left the room.

It is a lesson I keep running into face-first (or perhaps stepping on while tip-toeing through a minefield), here at work.  No one knows how many movies we'll be around to make (or see), but the one unassailable truth is that there will come a time when our favorite stars -- on film or in everyday real life -- will no longer be here to make more.

So... in the sometimes crazed minutes of this extended holiday season, while dealing with shopping lists bigger than bank accounts, more cars per square inch than asphalt, more people packed into stores than merchandise, concerns about whether or not Aunt Tillie will actually like a fuschia sweater embroidered with puce stars and fuschia reindeer...

...take a deep breath and hug anyone (everyone!) near you about whom you care. (You can't know when you might not get another chance). Take a moment to make sure you've memorized a favorite mannerism, quote, or whatever je ne sais quoi that makes them, them. Most importantly, be sure to sprinkle plenty of extra I love yous in among all the happys and merrys. That's really the one gift that's as good for the giver as the givee, and arguably the only one that no one can ever possibly have too many of.

So here's wishing you all, in no particular order (and in some cases somewhat belated), a good and/or happy and/or merry Deepavali/Diwali, Islamic New Year, Vikram New Year, Ashurah, Hanukkah, Sinterklaas, Bodhi Day, Winter Solstice/Yule, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Childermas... and a happy, healthy new year shared with those near & dear to you. (Pass it on!)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

December Catch-Up (with Photos)

Aah, gotta love them folks over at Compos... er, Comcast. I actually did manage to stream about 90 minutes of video last night in between the service outages, but I still have to wonder what I'm paying for. (Dude, you should prob'ly also be wondering why they sent you a letter saying they were adding $18 to your monthly bill from now on for two services you don't have, don't need, didn't ask for, and don't have the equipment to handle...!)

But enough grousing. I'm hoping to stay connected long enough and sufficiently glitch-free to catch up on some of the posts I've been missing lately. So here goes...

Back in mid-November, the Pipsqueak attended BFF S's birthday party. Getting there was a longish drive, so she (unlike her equally needy uncle) took a refreshing nap along the way. Once at the party, even after a spirited mask-making session, it took her a little while to open up and get past a sudden onset of shyness. Case in point: guess which one child in the photo below is sitting in someone's lap instead of playing with the other kids...?

All the noise & fun of a party soon got Miri back to normal, right on up to her complaining to AJ that the birthday girl wasn't letting her open the presents! (After a bit of a conference with Mommy, Miri did agree to merely kibitzing, which she proceeded to do with gusto.) It wasn't too much later, as the number of kids zooming around underfoot began to diminish, that the usual dress-up session began, and soon my little butterfly/fairy niece was happily following a taller bumblebee around the house, accompanied by a couple of princesses (off-camera). Meanwhile, all the older folks talked and kibitzed and reminisced, and I had a pleasant time sharing Gotcha Day stories with a couple of old friends. All in all, a successful party for the kidlings and a very pleasant evening for all!

Of course, the big deal after that was the family get-together for Thanksgiving. The Florida crew came up for the holiday, and we even got to meet a new boyfriend (who, contrary to popular opinion, neither ran screaming out the door nor called in those nice men in white jackets <g>).

As usual, Cousins A and M got along famously (he even willingly shared his iPad), and Cousin S -- whose 2nd birthday we also celebrated that evening -- proved to be a good buddy for the Pipsqueak both in quiet play and in a raucous, house-spanning game of Hide And seek.

Even Doggie got in on the act, hoping to share Miri's little chocolate turkey... (He didn't get to eat any, but I think he's still wearing a smudge or three.)

And, since this was also a Hanukkah celebration, there was much rending and tearing of gift wrap before everything calmed back down & the kids all returned to their technology-oriented pastimes as us oldsters all sat & caught our breath.

As November waned and December waxed, it began to look like Old Man Winter was seriously considering a return to the area until, sure enough, he put in an appearance "for real" on the evening of the 9th. Starting that night, and continuing right on up to this weekend, we've had a series of alerts that seem to alternate between, "Snowmageddon is returning! Head for the tropics! AAAAH!" and "We'll have just a light dusting of white stuff on the grass, and even that will melt before the cloud cover breaks." In either case (and all the more realistic cases in between), I found the play of light on fresh snow worth a few bytes on my camera's SD card...

So now I'm finally up to this weekend... which was a bit of a milestone, since we took Miri to see her first Nutcracker ballet.  Friends of ours turned us on to a kid-friendly "Sugarplum Extavaganza" put on each year by the American Dance Institute in Rockville, and it definitely did not disappoint. It started with all the kids being given gingerbread man-shaped name tags upon entry, with large (supervised) tables & supplies to decorate & personalize them, along with a crafts-type table where sparkly pipe cleaners, beads, etc. could be turned into all manner of crowns, bracelets & tiaras. (Not to mention a very nice spread of cookies, brownies, etc. free for all attendees.) Everyone then moved into one of the performance spaces for a very well-danced version of The Nutcracker that was abbreviated enough to hold the attention of an auditorium's worth of rug rats while still telling the entire story. The best part came after the curtain calls, when all the children were invited onto the stage to help put on their own ballet with the help of the (still fully costumed) corps de danse.

I didn't blur this photo on purpose; I forgot I'd turned off the camera's
flash and was balancing on tiptoe with the camera up over my head...!
On the way out there was time for some photos with the dancers, especially the three leads -- where Miri promptly sat down on Clara's lap with a big smile! -- and then we headed out to a very pleasant late lunch (Chinese, of course!) with a couple of the other families. Since AJ did the driving, I got to lean back & semi-doze on the way home, and got a happy surprise when, after taking care of some odds & ends around the house, the Internet returned to my abode...

...and here I am now, and I'm finally all caught up, and now it's time for bed! G'night, all...

Monday, December 9, 2013

Requiem for a Tree

Okay, I know a tree isn't exactly a member of the family... but trees are such wonderful metaphors for so many aspects of life -- and the episode I'm posting about is so odd -- that I just had to write this. Besides, it sorta matches my mood. (No, nobody's died. We've had some frakkin' scary episodes the past couple of months, but we're all still here.)

When I moved into my house, there was minimal landscaping that included a nice (albeit smallish) tree growing in the little "outcropping" in front of my house that divided the parking area & hosted the block's communal mailbox.  Over the years, the tree grew, and proceeded to do a fine job of decorating the view out the front windows of my house as well as serving many other useful purposes.

Each spring, Tree added a crown of bright, colorful flowers to the neighborhood.

Over the years, Tree provided shelter to several generations of robins, whose nest was located in the highest split of the main trunk, and whose (hatched) eggshells I learned to look for on the ground once I heard the chicks calling for food.

Tree served as both yardstick and support for the occasional mountain of snow I had to build.

And as the years passed, Tree provided innumerable photo ops regardless of season or time of day.

All along, as the branches spread and canopy grew thicker, Tree provided me an increasingly effective umbrella when I got in & out of my car. Of course, nothing in life is all good (or all bad). As Tree grew, I became resigned to having its pollen turn my car yellow each spring (sometimes for weeks), and from late summer until after the first frost having my car covered in a combination of overripe, squishy berries and (seemingly tons of) poop from the birds that ate the berries.

A couple of winters ago, Tree gave me my first real reason for concern, when I awoke after a particularly wet & heavy snowfall:

All I could think of (as I used my old-fashioned hand saw to clear the sidewalk as required, despite it being my first day out of bed after being sick for a week) was, "what would have happened if this had been the side of the tree over my parking spot?!"  Luckily, life with Tree quickly returned to normal (minus the robins), and I re-resigned myself to either cleaning my vehicle more often or parking farther down the block in my other assigned spot. Meanwhile, Tree kept growing, and made it through both the now-infamous "Derecho" storm and an EF0 tornado unscathed. There were even fresh (hatched) robins' eggs at its base late this spring.

Fast-forward to November 15th of this year. I'd had a particularly difficult night and gotten home very late, then gone to sleep even later... only to be awakened at 7:20am by repeated ringing of my doorbell and knocking on my front door. Bleary-eyed and wearing only sweatpants, I stumbled downstairs and opened the door to find a man wearing a safety vest and hard hat who asked me to please move my car because "We're here to take down the tree."

We apologized to each other -- me for my loud, impolite "YOU'RE WHAT!?!?" and him for waking me -- and after reassuring me that "they'll put in a new tree soon," the guy set off to alert my next-door neighbor that his Mercedes was also in the line of fire. No advance warning, no announcement... the HOA had made a decision and that was that.

The combination of chainsaws, industrial-size wood chipper, and shouted communications between the two workmen was too loud for me to go back to bed so I watched from an upstairs window as, one bough at a time, Tree was converted into a Frankenstein-like imitation of a maypole, pulled down, and sliced into chunks that were noisily digested by the chipper parked across the street.

When all was said and done, the front of my house looked... well, lonely.

I was just beginning to wonder how long I would have to wait when, around 8:00am on November 19th I was awakened by a lot of banging & shouting out in front of my house. No "Can you please move your car, sir?" or "Hi, we're going to be doing some work directly in front of your house," or any other such warning. (My HOA is, if anything, consistent.) Looking out my front window I saw a large-ish truck with an even larger trailer carrying a work crew, some landscaping equipment, and... is that a tree...?

Luckily I had no plans to go anywhere, because the truck blocked my parking spot for a couple of hours while the crew noisily dug (and scraped, hacked, and even chopped with an old-fashioned axe!) until they had the old tree's stump removed and had a large enough hole for the new tree.

I have to admit that I was not terribly impressed. The tree was (is) spindly, and is actually a little smaller than the original tree had been when I first moved into my house. It had exactly four leaves, and every single one had dropped off by the time the crew left. The hole and the root ball were smaller than they should have been... I can go on, but the bottom line is there's a new, immature, possibly endangered and very, very bare new tree out in front of my house...

...and I'm really sorry my old friend, adversary and photo subject is gone. Goodbye, Tree... May your seedlings continue to sprout in unplanned spots, and may your mulch nourish many a yard and park.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


Whoa -- it's DECEMBER already!?!?  I'm still trying to catch my breath from November, write an entry about some of what was going on, write an entry about Thanksgiving (okay, okay, "Thanksgivukkah"!), write an entry about... well, several entries in the blog to go with about 2 gigabytes of new photos and a whole bunch more.

I apologize to all the regular readers of this blog, and throw myself upon the mercy of the jury.

There WILL be new posts VERY soon. (Really, there will! I promise!) 'Til then, a quickie or three...

The Pipsqueak's big gift this year was a LeapPad2; Mom & Dad got a really good deal on one at Costco, so of course we had to make up for that by spending lots of money on a first round of games, etc. (Dude, maybe you should just tell 'em that your credit card hurts...?)  Anyway, with three screens of new educational games to check out, Miri quickly chose one... then switched to a different one after about a minute... then to another... then to another... on and on and on until she had checked out almost half of all the apps in about 15 minutes. Just then AJ came back (she'd taken advantage of Uncle Brian keeping her little whirling dervish occupied and tossed a load of laundry into the washer), took one look at my face, and tentatively asked how things were going. The response was a cheerful, "I learning everything, Mommy!

Not too much later, as I was getting ready to leave, the Pipsqueak discovered the LeapPad's pre-loaded songs (vaguely reminiscent of "Schoolhouse Rock," if I haven't aged myself too much with that reference). She glommed onto a song about punctuation ("Punc - punc- punctuation! Have you ever gotten hung up on a question mark? Punc - punc - punctation...") and began one of her trademark freestyle dances. For more than 15 minutes, the only pauses were the few seconds it took her to run back to the tablet & restart the song when it reached its end, again and again and again. When AJ pointed out that it was getting very late, Miri replied (without slowing down the least tiny little bit), "But Mommy, I dancing! Dancing is good exercise! It makes me get big!"

And, in the "how strong a relationship do you have with your niece" department... Last weekend I got the usual, "Can you bring your computer? I want to watch something on your computer!" so of course I dragged the laptop to Mom & Dad's on Saturday. After finding the same doggone Ariel video again (Disney seems to have done a really good job of scrubbing the 'net of unauthorized copies of anything), we stumbled into a YouTube page that listed Barbie videos. Miri really wanted to see one, and I know that a couple of her friends are really into Barbies, so I thought, what the heck and clicked the link.

Somewhere along the line, I realized we had watched several scenes from "Barbie and the Rock Star," several scenes from another movie where Barbie's a winged fairy, and then... well, and then we stumbled onto the "Barbie Dreamhouse" series and watched it. All. Four. Seasons.  And then, since AJ had to work on Sunday, we ended up watching all four seasons of the show again (some episodes several times) a second day in a row, until even the Pipsqueak decided it would be A Good Idea to do something else for a while.

So here I am, a fifty-something guy with his own man cave of a house, humming the Barbie Dreamhouse theme song and quietly chuckling to himself over some of the "old folks" gags in the show (e.g., when the old "Midge" doll visits, she's in black & white and the episode has an old-style laugh track that only one of the characters seems to be aware of)... knowing that the next time my niece and my laptop are in close proximity to each other I'll be asked to watch at least one full season of the show all over again... and knowing that if Miri asks, I'll gladly do it.

...and if that ain't love, I don't know what is. :-)  See y'all soon...!