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!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Catching Up -- At Long Last! -- On the End of 2014

Okay, here it is at long last -- the post that catches me up to all the stuff from last year that I wanted to post about. So lemme get some road under this show...

December started out with the Pipsqueak getting an eye exam and my house getting a new roof. While totally unrelated to each other, both are landmark events because they have potentially scary outcomes but both turned out very well... although AJ will have paid for the eye checkup literally years before I've finished paying for the roof!

Recalling part of the tease at the end of my last post, we really got the events of the month going with a couple of eels on roller skates... accompanied by a mermaid on roller skates and a 6-foot-tall guy dressed like a crazy seagull. In short, we went to the Olney Theater to see the following:

Some family friends had presented us with the amazing gift of a couple of free tickets for the show (accompanied by their rave reviews for the production), so we were able to get all five of us to the show a lot more affordably than would've or could've been possible otherwise. We weren't entirely sure how Miri would do with a live-action version of her almost-favorite animated Disney character (Ariel was #1 until Olaf came along), but she loved the show and had a great time. Truth be told, we all had a great time -- Olney put on a really good production.

Many of the key members of the cast were available, still in full costume, for autographs after the show, so AJ & Miri got on line while we crowd-watched and stood by with iPhones ready. Miri got a nice hug from Ariel, but somehow seemed more in awe of Grimsby... until she encountered Ursula. We had been worried that the Pipsqueak would be afraid of the slightly monstrous sea witch, but performer Donna Migliaccio (who darn well near stole the show) was so friendly and funny and welcoming, she actually went back for a second big hug.

As we were getting ready to leave, a couple of Ariel's sisters (now out of costume) also stopped for a quick "hi" and hug with the Pipsqueak and we discovered they were real sisters, and their father was standing nearby beaming at his two very talented daughters. All in all a very successful and fun day for everyone involved.

The next weekend was a bummer for me, because while everyone else went to the Sugar Plum Extravaganza, I went to work as Manager on Duty for the day.  Bleagh.  (Dude, you're being understated again.)  The SPE, which we discovered last year thanks to some good friends, is kind of like the Cliff's Notes version of The Nutcracker -- all the main characters & scenes are there, but the entire performance is edited to keep it (mostly) within the attention span of younger kids. That's not to say it's amateurish in any way -- quite the opposite, I remember some truly amazing dancers of varying ages last year, and have been told this year's performance was just as good. The long session after the show where all the kids in the audience are invited into the performance space to "perform" along with all the professional dancers (still in full costume) makes it all the more special, and I'm hoping to poach a few photos from the various cameras & iPhones that went along for the ride.

We had a family milestone on the 18th: Miri's first real school recital!  Luckily it was during the day, so I was able to  race over to the school like a madman  attend the performance of the combined kindergarten classes singing a variety of songs accompanied by their very talented music teacher. The kids were lined up on the steps leading to a small stage in the school's cafeteria/activity room, and as much fun as we had it was hard not to notice that Miri was sitting in the front row... in a short dress... with her knees as far apart as comfort would allow. Oh, well -- as AJ laughingly said, it's one more thing she's got a couple of years to work on. (Dude, the kid's just five, give her a break!)

After the performance, the families were invited to stay a little longer for some special activities. I had a chance to meet the Pipsqueak's teacher (last of the family to do so) and thank her personally for helping nurture and encourage my niece's love of learning and desire to know more about everything, and Ms. F's response was to thank me for helping do the same -- and to tell me that Miri really does have an innate love of learning and is a joy for her to work with. (Yes, I'm kvelling again.)

When I found the rest of the family in the very full but not-quite-chaotic room, I thought the kids were sitting down to a post-performance snack because at each seat there was a tray with a small orange juice box and what looked like a nice assortment of graham crackers, pretzels and candies... and maybe pudding...?  Turns out the juice boxes were empty, the pudding was actually white cake frosting, and none of it was for eating; the kids were going to make little houses!  The frosting was the mortar used to attach the graham cracker "walls" and "roof" to the juice boxes, and everything else was there for decorating (again using the frosting to hold everything together). All in all it was a fun, creative, and only mildly messy form of arts & crafts that everyone attending had a good time with... although by the time all was said and done, a few of the kids (and even a few of the parents) had almost as much frosting on them as on their construction projects!

I had to scramble to get back home, change, and get to work because we had our annual Christmas party for the residents & their families that night, but I have to admit I wished I had thought to take the evening off (like AJ did, smart girl that she is).  To be honest, I enjoy the party -- although this year Santa & Mrs. Claus couldn't attend the way they usually do -- and it's nice to see how much extra extra work the Dietary staff puts in to make sure everything looks at least as good as it tastes. (I'm making a point of, well, pointing this out because I think it's important for everyone to understand that nursing homes are not necessarily the dank, dark dungeons where Grandma goes to die that so many people seem to believe they are. Yes, there are some pretty scary facilities out there, but that ain't the norm any more, folks. At least not where the Pipsqueak's family is involved.)

The next evening was pretty cool -- literally, because we met up with a bunch of our adoption friends to see the annual ice sculpture show at the Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor. The theme this year (it changes each time) was "Frosty the Snowman" (based on the 1969 Rankin-Bass TV cartoon special). We had been told to come dressed as if we were dealing with a super-cold winter night, and then lined up for warm parkas to put on over our winter gear -- and since those parkas were actually cold to the touch well after they'd been used by visitors earlier in the day, we were all a little bit apprehensive about what we were facing inside the giant refrigerated tent that housed the ice sculptures.

Let's just say that I've now discovered a whole new meaning for the word "cold" -- the thermometer atop one huge display showed a temperature of just nine degrees Farenheit, and I had to keep sticking my camera into an internal pocket of my winter coat (under the borrowed parka) to keep both it and my fingers from freezing. In fact, the air was so cold and dry, we couldn't even see our breath -- and when we finally exited the refrigerated tent, everyone laughed at how the 40-degree weather felt hot and muggy!

The preceding isn't actually a complaint; the whole event is something we'll probably repeat in future years.  The ice sculptures are made by artists brought in from the Winter Festival in Harbin, China (we all thought that was extra-appropriate for our group), and the characters looked exactly the same as they did in the TV cartoon. I'll let my camera do a little of the talking...

The man of the hour (just the first of many times he's seen in the display).
This is just part of the entrance -- and it's ALL made of colored & carved ice, nothing else!
Miri had so much fun on the ice slides, she went back up three more times!
(Mommy had fun, too, but decided her tush was too cold to go more than once.)
Okay, I admit it -- I took this photo just because it includes
a fire that's made of ice.
Part of an exhibit showing how the figures are made. Each of
the "before" and "after" heads is roughly 10 feet high! 
One of the artists from Harbin working on a (small by comparison) sculpture of
a classic Chinese dragon, using a hand-held chisel to create individual scales.  
Part of the extensive larger-than-life-size nativity scene near the exit. Unfortunately,
my camera really couldn't capture the beauty of the light shining through the clear ice.
We all decided to extend the evening by having dinner there at National Harbor, and I was amazed at how BIG the place is. What would be a lobby/atrium in some buildings is large enough at the Gaylord that the "outdoor patio" at the restaurant we chose really was an outdoor space (albeit nicely climate-controlled). It was hard to capture the sheer volume of space enclosed by the hotel's walls and roof, but take a close look at the photo I've included. See that little "house" in the left foreground? It was a free-standing three-storey-tall building! Even more amazing is that during the holiday, the ginormous Christmas tree hanging from the roof trusses (just out of sight behind that house) becomes the centerpiece of an hourly sound & light show celebrating the Christmas holiday. Each show is a little different (and some are a little louder than perhaps absolutely necessary), but all include lots of moving lights, dancing lights, color-changing lights, lasers, and music... and they even make it snow inside the building.  Pretty darn cool, if you ask me!

NOTE:  if you're planning on seeing the ice sculptures this year, plan on getting there early. Tickets are for a specific time, and while we practically walked straight in for the 5:30 show the line to get into the showings from 6:30 onwards was loooong.

Well, even with all the Christmasing that was going on around us, we all enjoyed our family Hanukkah celebrations even if the "sound and light show" was the ancient music box in the base of our old hanukkiah (menorah) accompanying simple candle flames for eight nights. This year we also celebrated Miri becoming a "big girl" by letting her handle the real candles instead of just the electric (or battery-powered) verisons. She was a little nervous with the open flames at first (and Grandma was a lot more than just a little nervous watching her granddaughter handling live flames), but she came through like a champ and the worst thing that happened during the entire holiday was only having 2 colors of candles left for the last night.

With everyone's schedules being so different (and crowded, and sometimes downright weird), we all exchanged gifts on just one night. Miri decided she wanted to give everyone calendars, and -- with just a little bit of help from Mommy -- did a great job of selecting just the right one for each recipient. For example, she and Grandpa have always had a special "thing" about looking at the moon up in the sky when it's near full, so Dad got a calendar with a different scene featuring the moon for each month. She also recently learned that her uncle used to play the guitar (and has since "helped" me re-string my old friend so I can start practicing & playing again), so I got a calendar featuring photos of rare, unique & interesting guitars. To make her gifts even more special, the Pipsqueak made her own wrapping paper:

On the last night, Miri was extra-excited to receive (among numerous other gifts) more Frozen-themed items (when will the mania end?!?!), and can be seen here using her rapidly-expanding reading skills[1] to examine the box for the umpteenth time.

Tigger seems a tad perturbed, but Miri's perfectly comfortable like that.
We all got a bit of a Hanukkah surprise that evening when I opened Mom & Dad's front door to find that "suburban ungulate" I mentioned in my last post... three of them, in fact, less than 20 feet from the door. The one you see here calmly looked at the crowd gathering in the doorway, then continued to contentedly trim our folks' bushes, gradually moving within just a few feet of the door until the entire group ambled slowly around the side of the house in search of fresh fodder.

The remainder of 2014 sort of just floated on by, interrupted only by minor (thankfully) medical adventures and the day-after-Christmas discovery at work that Corporate had hired a contractor to swap out all the PC hard drives loaded with WinXP for new ones loaded with Win7 but not replace all the user files, data, applications, etc. from the old drives (an error they are still pushing hard to correct, thankfully).

I'd like to talk about all the wild excitement of the family New Year's Eve celebration, but in truth there wasn't much "wild" (or even very exciting) about it. We all met at a favorite Chinese restaurant for an early dinner together as mentioned in this post, then headed home... and we all acted like old fuddy-duddys and watches some of the festivities on TV before calling each other with new year wishes and then going to bed. It ain't excitin' but it's real life, and knowing that the family Adventure picked right up where it left off on the morning of January 1st without noticing a new number on the calendar provides a bit of happily reassuring constancy in our increasingly crazy world.

And that, as they say, was that. Now you (finally) know all the other stuff I wanted to tell you about from 2014 and in my next post I'll get back to talking about more current events in the Pipsqueak's life along with a few planned future posts talking about other interestin' stuff.

So, until next time -- I hope no one's had to shovel too much snow, and I'll see y'all soon!

[1] We continue to be happily amazed at how Miri's ability to read keeps growing in leaps and bounds. books she had trouble with a few months ago are now boring in their simplicity, and just this week her mid-term report has her reading at a 1st grade level with continuing advancement expected.

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