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!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Catching Up on November of 2014...

Okay, deep breath... Just two more months left to cover in 2014... Let's get one out of the way...

November started off somewhat artistically, with AJ & I meeting a friend for the Sunday matinee performance of "Memphis" at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Maryland. I'm including this non-Pipsqueak-related item because 1) it's a darn good show that's worth seeing, and 2) Toby's is more than worth the money for anyone in the Baltimore-Washington corridor; Toby (yes, she's a real person!) attracts and hires truly talented people for her shows, many of which have won multiple national-level awards, and the food's always good. We used to have a score of dinner theaters in the area, now Toby's of Columbia is the last and is more than worth the drive.

I had a follow-up exam a few days later with the surgeon who performed my vitrectomy, and am happy (thrilled!) to say the exam went very well and the prognosis is excellent. I still have one more follow-up visit in the spring, but I can see (ironically, still better uncorrected than AJ) and that's all that matters in this case. There was some "open season" insurance shopping at work after that (I got a raise but thanks to changes in the offerings & medical insurance coverage from my employer, each paycheck is now about $20 less than before), and then finally we got back in to fun stuff on the 23rd when Miri's BFF S had her 8th birthday party.

Much like what seems to be 98% of all girls between the ages of three and eleven, S decided on a Frozen theme for her party, along with a few unique personal touches. One of her cousins (I think I got that right), a lovely young lady still in college, proved to be an absolutely rockin' cake-baker by producing (along with several dozen very yummy cupcakes) a pair of absolutely rockin' Frozen cakes featuring Anna and Elsa:
To make Anna and Elsa: Bake cone-shaped cakes, cover the dolls up to just above the highest point of the cake with plastic wrap, carefully cut vertical holes in each cake and gently push the dolls inside, then decorate with frosting. (It's nowhere near as easy as it sounds.)

There were plenty of other Frozen touches, and AJ also brought along "the girls" (the life-size cardboard Anna & Elsa figures I first mentioned in this post) that got lots of use for photo ops during the party. There were plenty of games and activities to keep the crowd of kids happy, and it was here that S added a personal touch. She's very much enamored of equine mythical creatures like Pegasus and unicorns, so instead of "pin the tail on the donkey" the kids all got to play "pin the horn on the unicorn" -- resulting in un-horned unicorns surrounded by stick-on unicorn horns scattered across an almost 15-foot stretch of wall.  Miri somehow ended up with a faux fur stole as a blindfold, but it didn't seem to help her aim any more than any of the other kids'...

In addition to being lots of fun, the party turned out to be educational; we all learned a new word:

Yep, say hello to the winged unicorn, better known (apparently) as an alacorn. (We've also found it spelled "alicorn" and Taylor Swift tweeted photos of herself dressed as a "pegacorn" for Halloween, but the snob in me prefers the more Latin-rooted ala- version.)  Needless to say, I'm becoming rather well-practiced at drawing the beasts, since Miri was immediately as smitten with them as her BFF.

In any case, the party was a lot of fun even if my niece now tells me to draw a horse and a Pegasus and a unicorn and an alacorn pretty much every time we get together...!

Oh, and before I forget... AJ & Miri were again invited to a friend's house to build gingerbread houses, with this year's result shown below. Unlike last year, it's season-themed instead of holiday-themed, thus the lack of the previously-seen odd combination of Stars of David, menorahs, and Santa Claus:

We closed out November as we usually do, with a big family get-together for Thanksgiving (and a birthday celebration for cousin S). The Floridian section of the family came up north and we all piled into my uncle & aunt's house in Virginia to make lots of noise and eat lots of food.

The next generation of cousins discover they can have fun without electronics!
There aren't many web-safe photos of the day, but a grand old time was had by all; the Pipsqueak (who's about the same size as her much younger cousin in the photo above) spent all of about five minutes doing her "I'm shy" act, and then the entire membership of the next generation pretty much picked up right where they left off last year. There were also birthday presents, and some early Hanukkah presents, so after a while the living room bore an amazing resemblance to the aftermath of a massive explosion in a tissue paper factory... but we all had fun with it.

There were a couple of nice surprises waiting for us that day as well. The first was a cloth runner stretching the entire length of the table printed with a collage of family photos from Thanksgivings (and other events) of years past. Our cousins had made it online (Cafe Press, I believe) and brought it as part of the celebration, and it was a really nice addition to the decor... and a really nice way to bring back memories of good times together.

The second surprise was something we'd never done before but which I think we'll make a regular part of Thanksgivings in the future.  Just before we all sat down to eat, our cousins passed out a couple of "leaves" cut from colored construction paper to everyone (even the kiddos) with instructions to write one thing we were especially thankful for on each leaf. Cousin L then placed a vase in the center of the table, but instead of flowers it held a couple of bare sticks with lots of little branches. We then took turns reading our "leaves" out loud and then hanging them on the sticks. By the time we were all done, we had a very full centerpiece in autumn colors and a couple of relatives in or near tears with happy emotion. (I had to do some creative cropping of the photo, sorry for the odd size.) We all sat down to eat with a happy reminder, amidst all the discussion of politics and jobs and finances and doctor visits and school problems and all the other "stuff" of everyday life, of all the really important things that gave the holiday its real meaning and that gave us all (yes, even our newly minted three-year-old) a nice warm feeling inside.

Finally, right at the very end of the month, my (only slightly crazy) sister, along with a couple of other moms, got Miri involved in a Daisy troop. For those of you not familiar with the Daisies -- a group that hitherto has included Yours Truly -- a "Daisy" is the earliest step in the Girl Scout hierarchy. Of course, with an insanely demanding full-time job, a part-time job, the occasional gig as a mentor or Supervisor for budding social workers, and her more-than-full-time employment as a single mom, AJ isn't just getting her daughter involved; she herself is a co-leader of the troop... Thus the evening before the first meeting being spent at Mom & Dad's dining room table as she & Mom (with a little double-visioned help from me and kibitzing by Dad) prepared posters of the motto and rules and pledge and all the other stuff that goes into running a troop of Scouts. So far, so good -- but please don't use the term "free time" anywhere within earshot of my sister for a while, okay...?

And with that, November of 2014 came to a close. There was plenty more that happened before the year came to an end -- eels on roller skates, toe shoes, inadvertent flashes, giant colored ice cubes, live flames, suburban ruminants, and a computer disaster, just to name a few -- but that's all for my next post in which I will at long last close out my look back at 2014. So, until then... stay happy, stay healthy, and keep those snow shovels handy...!

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