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!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Starting the New Year Icily, Part 2

One advantage of the special overnight package we had all bought was unlimited access to the ICE! exhibit, which thankfully also let us skip past most of the people waiting to get in and use the special VIP entrance. We still had to wait in line, but our line only ran the length of the entry hall... while the general admission line ran out the door and well down the corridor toward the atrium. There was the usual set of oopses and dontwannas and toobigs as the adults tried to get the kids to fully bundle up while trying to get into their own big blue parkas, but we eventually herded all the cats together to pose for the official portrait and headed out the door to the huge refrigerated tent that housed the actual exhibit.

There was a bit of a crush once inside the tent, but the crowd was mostly well-behaved and we moved steadily toward the ice "building" that marked the beginning of the ICE! exhibit. This gave us time to finish adjusting finicky snaps & closures on assorted jackets, find missing gloves and hats, find missing kids (and parents), and so on. This would be the first time I tried using my current camera with gloves on, so I practiced a bit and quickly realized I was going to have to be careful -- I had to delete two short videos of the floor and several extreme close-ups of my hand or pictures of the ceiling before I got the hang of it.

Waddling like a bunch of giant blue penguins, we headed past the entry sign (made entirely of ice, of course!) announcing the show's theme and made our way to the first scene. Just like last time, I was impressed by how well the ice sculptors had translated the characters from an animated television show into bigger-than-life 3D sculptures. The landscapes and characters were all instantly recognizable and the level of detail was amazing (for example, the individual "envelopes" and "sheets of paper" in the back of the Mailman's funny vehicle).

I tried to crop out the obvious commercial for the exhibit sponsor on the bottom...
Does anyone else think the Mailman looks like a young Fred Astaire?
There was a scrim in front of Old Man Winter, giving the sense of freezing wintery
blasts of wind (augmented by the very real near-zero temperature in the display).
Waitaminit... if Kris Kringle becomes Santa Claus, then who are the
characters who raise him after he leaves the orphanage?
Just a couple of extra members of the crowd...
This is part of the massive (life-size) town square, complete with statue in the center.
It was all made of clear ice backlit in blue, giving the place an ethereal feel.
You can't see it in the photo, but a cooling vent was located directly above this vignette. That
veil was literally waving in the wind, and no one stood here more than a few moments!
All was going swimmingly (assuming you were a penguin) until we got to the huge room about 2/3 of the way through the exhibit that houses a set of two-story high slides running down either side. It's crowded and dark, with just a few spotlights here & there and colored lights inside the slides and walls themselves. Miri and S quickly headed up the left-hand stairs and I maneuvered through the crowd to where I could get shots of them coming down the slide and settled in to wait.

And I waited.

And I waited some more.

And then I waited some more. Everyone was in a good mood and total strangers were happily joking with each other about the antics of scared kids and adults coming down the slides or sharing photo tips, but I eventually realized that I had been waiting more than ten minutes and the people sliding down in front of me had entered the room well after us... and the girls were still nowhere to be seen. I'll reiterate: two young girls, ages six and eight, had disappeared in a very large and very dark room filled to the brim with identically-dressed people.

Yes, I was worried... like very.

It was only after another ten face-numbing and increasingly scary minutes of AJ and I frantically looking round the room and making hand signals to each other that one of the other moms in our group found me and explained everyone had become concerned when we didn't follow them out the other side of the room and had come back to see what was wrong. While looking for AJ, she had accidentally bumped into the girls -- just finishing their 3rd run down the slides on the opposite side of the room. The girls apologized for scaring us and explained that as soon as they had gotten to the top of the stairs, the hotel staffer stationed on the platform insisted his side was too crowded and sent them across the bridge to the other side while funneling literally everyone who came up before & after them directly down the slides where we expected to see the girls.

I think we were all feeling quite a bit warmer (as in hot under the collar!) as we made our way through the ice tunnel that led out of the slide room and I began composing a complaint letter in my mind while trying to admire the rest of the exhibit. (As you'll see, that letter kept getting longer.) The last ice vignettes from the TV brought the story to its happy end, and then we passed through the gallery that showed how the exhibit was put together before reaching its end.

The final vignette in the story, thankfully without any annoying
commercials following immediately afterwards. :-)
We were all excited to see this Chinese dragon in the gallery near the exit.
This young woman (presumably from Harbin) was putting the finishing touches
on a beautifully detailed wolf head as we passed by.
This nine-foot-tall(!) angel watched over the exit.
Just like last time, the air outside the tent felt comparatively warm... but unlike last time it was far too cold to feel "hot" (although "muggy" still applied for the first couple of minutes). We were greeted by a very pretty sunset -- my photo doesn't do it justice, I'm still learning how to use some of the camera's special settings -- and then headed back into the hotel proper.

We dropped off our parkas at the appropriate kiosk and then visited the (chaotic and noisy) area where the official portraits were available for purchase in various forms. We had posed in front of a big green curtain but the digital photo did an excellent job of showing is all in front of the exhibit entrance, magically devoid of the hundreds of other visitors we had actually shared the space with. A few negotiations later one family had purchased the package that included a downloadable digital file we could all have and we headed on our way.

Not too far down the hall we came across a temporary snack bar next to a full-size carousel. Still lacking feeling in our fingers, noses, ears, etc., and seeing the Pipsqueak bounce up and down in excitement, I sprang for a pair of small cups of very sweet & yummy hot chocolate ($3 each, ouch!) while AJ bought a ticket so Miri could take a quick spin 'round and 'round on the nicely decorated horses. The whole group goofed around for a while and then we all headed back to our rooms to prepare for dinner.

Back in our room, the three of us finally had a few moments to catch our collective breath and try to figure out which bag held what. (There was no question about who would sleep in which bed; I simply assumed -- correctly -- that I would be closest to the AC unit where my mammalian biology could block some of the airflow that always left my sister's more reptilian biology feeling uncomfortably cold.) AJ had brought a bunch of holiday gifts for the assorted kidlings and took the chance, with some "help" from her daughter, to figure out what was for who and where it might be hiding. We also discovered that the platforms supporting the bed were low & dark enough to be just outside one's normal field of vision while protruding just enough on the corners to ensure many large, painful bruises on one's shins. This problem applied mainly to AJ, since somehow she never remembered to steer wide while going around the corners of her bed... which, of course, her brother found highly amusing. (Dude, isn't that what big brothers are for?)

The Pipsqueak decided to check out our location on the room's safety map. She carefully figured out where our room was in relation to the other families' rooms, then figured out where the emergency exits were... and then realized I was taking her picture.

Dinner was nice and was followed by the Gaylord's spectacular sound & light Christmas show... but that, dear reader, is for my next post!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

We're Hurting with Them

We lived just outside Brussels in the early 1980s.

We flew in & out of Zaventem airport, and drove past it often.

I had several friends who lived in the Schaarbeek/Schaerbeek neighborhood.

We used or passed through the Maalbeek/Maelbeek and Schuman stations many times.

Watching the BBC reports, I think I recognize the street where the follow-up raids took place; if I'm right, it's just one block over from where one of my best friends lived.

We're hurting with you, Brussels.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Starting the New Year Icily, Part 1

As 2015 drew to a close, the Pipsqueak did something she hasn't done before: while enjoying all the pretty Christmas light shows & decorations, she periodically wondered aloud why so little attention seemed to be getting paid to Hanukkah. This led to some really interesting discussions (and a couple of book purchases on Amazon), but it showed us that Miri really is analyzing and thinking about a lot of things we hadn't realized she was paying a lot of attention to. The best thing about it was the chance to have a whole bunch of "teaching moments" all the differences and similarities between the various religions followed by Miri's family and friends. (For those of you who don't know our family, the Pipsqueak's circle of cousins covers a wide range of religions, ethnicities, and nationalities -- so this really is all Good Stuff.)

Most of this stuff is animated...!
Meanwhile, we all enjoyed driving past the more nicely-decorated (or simply more decorated) houses in the area, including one a couple of blocks up the street from Mom & Dad that we're pretty sure gets an annual thank you card from PEPCO after the holidays, possibly also the region's "Most Crowded Front Yard" award. Every now and then we'd come across a big electric Hanukkiah and/or inflatable Hanukkah-related figures, invariably accompanied by a little voice piping up, "Take a picture of me with it, Uncle Brian!"

Finally, there was one last round of homework assignments to be completed and the holidays began "for real" with school going on hiatus into January.  Over the past couple of years, the holiday season has included a visit to the "ICE!" exhibit hosted by the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, but this year we were going to do it a little differently -- a whole bunch of the MIT[1] families would be staying overnight, letting the kids have nearly two whole days of hotel adventuring. We had tried to keep it something of a surprise but the Pipsqueak (as usual) figured things out a lot earlier than any of her grownups had hoped for (somehow not dimming her enthusiasm in the least).

Mom & Dad decided that an overnight stay wasn't in the cards for them, but that Uncle Brian had darn well better be there, so bright & early on January 1st I drove up to AJ & Miri's and they piled into my Rav with a couple of suitcases. Yes, two suitcases for an overnight -- the Pipsqueak was (again as usual) adamant that she have her own, and we've learned that arguing with a force of nature is best reserved for really important arguments. (And yes, it really was fairly bright & early; the previous night was one of the quietest, most low-key New Year's Eves I've ever had.)

The first challenge was parking. Finding the parking garage was easy, but getting in was another story; the Gaylord hosts one of the largest New Year's Eve galas in the area for a local radio station and several bajillion hung-over overnight partiers were all trying to exit while we were trying to enter. I remember telling AJ that I finally knew how salmon felt during spawning season as I cut tiiiiight corners through & around the stacked-up vehicles all trying to squeeze out the exit at the same time.

We had been worried about meeting up with the rest of our group (it's a big place) but AJ and I suddenly realized aloud in tandem that the vehicle directly in front of my was the family of Miri's uber-BFF S so I just followed them up a few levels of parking garage and we ended up in adjoining spaces. After getting the girls to stop having SO much fun saying hello, we began the long march to the front desk for check-in. We waited a little longer than we thought really necessary for the elevator (soon to be a recurring theme), then walked past a big chunk of the complex to the ballroom entrance, then walked down an impressive corridor to the ballroom area, then through the huge expanse of the ballroom atrium, then... you get the idea. Eventually we found a few more of our group with news that others were on their way, and after a while everyone was checked in while admiring the sumptuous decorations. (Most of them, anyway. As you'll see, the main tree looked like a prop from a bad "Star Trek" imitation on SyFy.)

Once everyone had finished settling into their rooms (ours included a glorious, up-close-and-personal view of the building's air conditioning evaporators directly outside our window) the next order of business was to get some food into a small herd of grumbling bellies. After vetoing the idea of one restaurant due to prices and gasping/laughing at the prices listed on a sample menu, we chose the sports-oriented place where we'd enjoyed dinner during our previous visit (detailed in this post from January of last year).

We put our name on the wait list and waited. And waited some more (the place was busy). Any concerns about all the kidlings becoming bored were quickly eased by their all plonking themselves happily down on the floor (right in the middle of things, of course) and engaging each other in a noisy card game, the rules of which seemed to redefine the phrase "free-form" but which were consistent in their inconsistency. After another ten minutes of crowd watching, getting the kids to move to where they wouldn't be stepped on, talking, getting the kids to move to where they weren't blocking traffic, reading the sample menu, getting the kids to move away from the bottom of the escalator, and wondering how to keep the kids from getting stepped on, we were ushered through the restaurant and into their outdoor patio. (To reiterate from my January 2015 post, the place is so big that several restaurants have "outdoor" seating areas in the fully-enclosed atrium.)

There was a little confusion as we attempted to herd all the cats into a single enclosure, but soon we were all happily sitting, kids at one table and grownups at another, running our poor waitress back & forth with forgotten/changed kids' drink orders and such. We burned through a good sized chunk of the $100 restaurant allowance that was part of our overnight package but for the next hour-plus we all just enjoyed good food & each other's company while watching the crowds go by and periodically making sure any meltdowns at the adjoining table were minor in nature. (With two sets of siblings in the mix, some additional drama was to be expected -- but the kids really were being good.)

After a while we all decided it was time to take advantage of our unlimited access to the ICE! display itself, and everyone gathered what they needed... but that's for my next post.

NEXT TIME: "Brrrrr...!"

[1] MIT = "Moms In Training," the name used by our group of adoption friends during The Wait when the title really fit. Since it was technically correct for about seven(!) years, we've just kept using that name because it's a lot shorter than "our group of adoption friends."

Monday, March 7, 2016

Two New Milestones

Hey, wow, lookit this -- two posts in just a coupla days! (What better way to avoid finishing the longer posts that would get this poor, neglected blog caught up on January and February...?)

This week, we marked two new milestones in the Pipsqueak's ongoing saga, one expected (but of unknown timing) and one her Mommy has kinda-sorta been hoping for since the first "I hep" so many years ago.

The former is that we might have just left the Era of Velcro[1] Shoes. Miri's never been big on footwear of any kind, but to date it's always been sandals or buckle shoes or Velcro sneakers. Pink velcro sneakers. Dora the Explorer Velcro sneakers. Sofia the First Velcro sneakers. Light-up Velcro sneakers. Disney's "Frozen" Velcro sneakers. Disney's "Frozen" Velcro sneakers that light up with flashing red & blue lights with each step and leave prints in the shape of Olaf.

However, it had not escaped my niece's attention that most of her friends and classmates had graduated to wearing lace-up shoes & sneakers. A quick search by Grandma & Grandpa last week led to the discovery that the Pipsqueak is actually in between exact shoe sizes. I tried boosting her morale by telling her about all the times in junior & senior high when my feet weren't quite the right size for standard sneakers but fit just fine in some of the el cheapo off-brand footwear sold out of bins at Dart Drug and the like. (Dude, d'ya think anyone else is gonna remember Dart Drug?) Sure enough, just a couple of days later, a similar off-brand purchase (pink, of course!) had my niece in her first pair of "real" lace-up sneakers. She still gets help from various other family members from time to time, but it only took her a day to learn how to tie them all by herself. (Happily, when I told her she's getting to be a big girl now, she reminded me that she isn't even seven yet so she's only on her way to becoming one.)

The latter milestone was a pleasant surprise on Sunday. We were waiting for Cousin E and her SO to come for dinner to help celebrate my birthday (I am not, cannot be, cannot count as high as 57. I'm still only 16, dammit! Aren't I...?) and since AJ had drawn short straw for Weekend Manager duty, Mom & Dad had Miri at their house -- which pretty much guaranteed there would be nearly zero chance to do any cleaning to prepare for said dinner so I was "invited" to come early to keep the Pipsqueak occupied while Mom scrambled to finish cleaning & cooking.

As soon as Mom unlimbered her cranky, heavy, hard-to-maneuver 900 year old upright vacuum[2] I realized there was no way I was going to let her fight with the darn thing. I told Miri that I'd paint watercolor pictures with her in a little bit but first was going to vacuum for Grandma, who then warned Miri the machine was about to start making a lot of loud noise and turned it on.

Now, ever since Miri came home, she's had a serious dislike for the loud noise made by vacuum cleaners. Old, new, upright, canister, big, small, even handhelds -- she dislikes them and usually makes herself scarce while they're running.

Well, my niece sat on the family room couch and watched me start working with the crevice tool. Then she came over and stood beside me while I worked, carefully watching how I maneuvered the hose and vacuum.

And then she insisted that she wanted to do the vacuuming.

I spent the next 15 minutes or so watching in amazement as the Pipqueak (tentatively at first) maneuvered around first one room, then another, with a machine that literally weighs as much as she does, periodically giving her pointers on how to keep the crevice tool from jamming while clicking away with my camera. Then I disconnected the hose and began running the vacuum over the floor, and she again insisted on doing it herself, so I was treated to the sight of a little girl in monkey pajamas (long story) who normally would leave the room if a vacuum so much as came out of the hall closet pushing & pulling a big ol' beast of a machine around with a big smile on her face, calling out, "This is SO COOL!" every time it sucked in a particularly big bit of paper or clump of cat hair.


Needles to say, AJ was thrilled when I told her, and has high hopes that this big turnaround in Miri's attitude toward vacuuming will help her at home. Stay tuned...!

[1] Velcro is a registered trademark of Velcro Industries B.V.  It's also much easier to type repeatedly than "hook and loop cloth tape fastener" so I figured I'd better include proper attribution here. :-)

[2] Mom's had canister vacuums, tubular vacuums, rechargeable vacuums, even one of those fancy rides-on-a-sphere vacuums, and none of them has worked nearly as well or been as easy to use as the circa 1950 Electrolux my grandparents brought down from New York forty-some years ago.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Reputation? WHAT Reputation...?

Yes, I am now at least two full months behind in posting. No, this is not a "catch up" post because I'm still writing all the posts I need to catch up with. No apologies this time, I'm just going to say that life is a little bit complicated and leave it at that. I will get y'all caught up... sometime... this year!

That said, AJ told me something today I just had to share, and it's short, so here goes...

AJ is the co-leader of the Pipsqueak's Daisy troop. (For those not familiar, Daisies become Brownies become Girl Scouts.) At this week's meeting, one of the little girls came up to her with one of those quizzical looks you know means you're gonna get A Question.

The little girl excused herself, then held up her hand with the middle finger raised and asked, "At school, someone told me this means a bad word. Does it really?"

My sister answered something like, "Yes, that's right, you should really talk to your mommy about it. That's something we don't say or show to other people."

Right on cue, the Pipsqueak shifted into Schoolmarm Mode to make sure her troop mate understood the severity of the problem. "Yes, that means the F word. I've overheard my uncle Brian say it."


(I swear I'm careful, I really am. The kid's like two-foot-nothing tall but her ears rival the power of the Areceibo radio antenna.)


So much for my reputation with the Daisy troop.

PS - In my own defense, I did not teach my niece the F word. She overheard it (apparently several times) in school and asked me about it in the car one day on the way home from school, and she's never actually uttered it aloud.  Just to keep the record straight, 'K? LOL

PPS - I know I don't have a lot of followers, but if you signed up to follow this blog with Google Friend Connect, Google has announced that service was officially discontinued a while back but now they're wiping out its last remnants in the Blogger world. Here's an excerpt from their notice: "We encourage you to tell affected readers (perhaps via a blog post), that if they use a non-Google Account to follow your blog, they need to sign up for a Google Account, and re-follow your blog. With a Google Account, they’ll get blogs added to their Reading List, making it easier for them to see the latest posts and activity of the blogs they follow. I know Picasa will also soon go the way of the Dodo and T-Rex but that'll be my problem, not yours. Again, if anyone reading this used Google Friend Connect to follow, please follow the Big G's instrux if you're interested. Thanks.