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, April 29, 2016

Oh What Fun It Is...

As annoyed as all the grownups might have been about all that white stuff left behind by Snowmageddon II, the Pipsqueak thought it was all pretty cool -- especially since Grandma and Grandpa had bought her a new sled[1].

As the weather improved and schools stayed closed, I got a lot of questions about if I thought all this snow was good for sledding that eventually culminated in, "Are you going to take me sledding, Uncle Brian?"

So... on Wednesday I headed over to Mom & Dad's and was greeted by a small but exceedingly well-bundled and excited little girl at the door. After a token attempt at clearing the snowplow-created wall across the bottom of the driveway, I started launching Miri off a big pile of snow at the top of the driveway and across the front yard. She had a great time the first few slides, but after repeatedly bouncing completely out of the sled began complaining it was too bumpy. I tried smoothing out the sled run but then we were endangering Mom/s little lilac bush (one of two that resolutely refuse to bloom).

The hill on the side of the house is a lot steeper than the slope in the front yard, but being covered in virgin snow it struck me as a better choice of venue. Okay, so the sidewalk was clear of snow... and the hill would aim my niece directly at the street... and she was worried about going down too fast... C'mon, what's life without a few challenges?

Harking back to my own childhood sledding on that same hill, I chose a good part of the slope without any trees or bushes and built a bridge of snow across the sidewalk. Once that was done, I took a few extra minutes to build a wall (with a ditch in front of it) to make sure the Pipsqueak stayed out of the street no matter how fast the sled was moving. The first couple of runs were a little scary but it wasn't long before she was having an absolute blast, often doing a running commentary of the imaginary race she was running with (apparently) several dozen other sleds, horses, and whathaveyous. The only problem was that she decided it was "too much work" to pull her super-lightweight plastic sled all the way back up to the top of the hill so I soon found myself trudging up & down the hill alongside her.

All those ups & downs continued long after the sun sank low enough to keep the entire hill in shadow, but every time I mentioned that I could no longer feel my nose, ears, or feet the Pipsqueak always managed to bargain for "one more" time. Eventually I managed to convince her that Uncle Brian was becoming Uncle Popsicle so Miri agreed to do just one more run for real... and immediately lost one of her boots in the deepest snowdrift she could find.

She did a good job, because it took me a couple of minutes to pull the boot loose from the snow and put it back on her foot. Correction: TRY to put it back on her foot. She rolled back & forth laughing, shrieking loudly every time her stockinged foot touched the snow and generally wiggling around so much that I finally had to threaten to sit on her to hold her still enough to get foot back into boot. (Somehow each complaint about how cold & wet the snow was morphed into still more gales of laughter... which, to be perfectly honest, I didn't mind in the least.)

Both feet once again warm and (almost) dry, the Pipsqueak bargained for just a few more sled runs, and I surprised myself by actually convincing her to do them in the still-sunny front yard.  I cleared my snow bridge off the sidewalk (gotta teach those citizenship lessons!), then smoothed out more of the big bumps in the front yard and spent the next 20-something minutes seeing how far Miri could slide before either coming to a stop and/or falling off the sled. Even she had to eventually admit it was getting too cold to really be fun but I had to promise we'd do it all again the next day before heading home.

Thursday was another bright & sunny day and Mom's call for "uncle duty" came early, so I pulled my jeans out of the dryer and headed back over for more sledding. The sun was strong and there wasn't any real wind chill to deal with, so Dad joined us outside.  Based on many years of experience, Mom lectured him on NOT trying to shovel any snow while he was outside, so of course the Pipsqueak appointed herself his chaperone. Any time she saw her Grandpa bend over, pick at the snow, or show signs of trying to actually use a shovel, she would immediately stop what she was doing and give him a sound talking-to. (She was also worried that he might accidentally break "her" snow shovel, a half-size plastic shovel originally bought to keep in the car for emergencies.) Since Dad is insistent that he's OK doing all the stuff he's not really supposed to do any more, the photo on the right is just one of a series I took of him being lectured by his granddaughter.  ("Dad! DAD! You're not supposed to do that! You should listen to Grandma!")  It got to the point where I had to remind Miri that Grandpa actually was allowed to walk around in the snow...!

We chose a good part of the hill and I rebuilt the snow bridge across the sidewalk (along with a new wall & moat to stop the sled from reaching the street). Each of the first few runs helped locate new bumps or holes that had a combined effect of bouncing my niece all the way out of her sled and/or steering the darn thing away from the bridge across the sidewalk. I made the bridge wider & deeper, shaped part of the run down the hill to keep the sled heading in the right direction, and built a launch platform at the top to make sure the sled stayed put until both Miri & I were ready for it to head down the hill. For at least an hour I was treated to the sight of my niece scooting downhill (usually faking "I fell out!" at the bottom), then trudging down the hill myself to bring up the sled while she negotiated the uncertain footing, then reassuring her the sled wasn't going anywhere while she gingerly balanced on the slope while trying to step in without actually paying attention to where she was looking or putting her feet. (Dude, she's six, whaddaya expect?)

I was eventually able to convince the Pipsqueak that she was capable of navigating her way uphill and dragging the sled behind her at the same time, so I spent the second hour having to only trudge halfway down & up the hill... except for the few times she accidentally let go of the rope attached to the sled... or let go of the rope attached to the sled on purpose... or slipped and slid most of the way back down the hill on her belly laughing too hard to stop before she reached the bottom.

In short, we both had a blast.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and after a while even my nuclear-powered niece's batteries began running down in the cold. (I had long before lost all feeling in several extremities but she was having such a good time, I didn't want to stop her. She's only going to be a six year old experiencing her first-ever good sledding weather for the first time once in her life, and I felt privileged to be part of it.) Once again, the hill became completely shaded as the sun sank toward the horizon and Miri wasn't entirely unhappy when I cleared off the sidewalk (again) and we headed 'round the house to the front yard.

Before going back inside for dinner, I realized we had forgotten a very important task: we had to build a snowman!  I only got partway through the first few bars of the song from "Frozen" when Miri suddenly had the same idea, and we began gathering large chunks of half-frozen snow left by the snowplows and crunching them together near the center of the yard. With a few extra handfuls of snow as mortar to hold the chunks together, we quickly built a... um, snow shape. I kept trying to recreate the usual big-medium-small ball shape of a traditional snowman but Miri was having so much fun sticking odd-shaped pieces of snow to the figure that I never quite succeeded. Even after Dad joined in a little, the Pipsqueak was moving so fast that we never really managed to make the figure I had in mind... but somehow none of us minded. :-)

It took a few minutes to get all the snow shovels put away properly, and then we all took some time to admire the sunset. As the sky began to fade, Mom called us inside for warm drinks and soon AJ joined us for dinner and the many stories her daughter had to tell about her adventures in the snow that day. I'm not sure which of the two of us was more disappointed when I had to tell Miri it was unlikely we'd be able to go sledding again the next day because the weather was changing -- but I reassured her there would be many more chances in the future.

Later that night as I dropped off to sleep, I couldn't help but think that it had been a wonderful day well-spent.

[1] The pipsqueak has a big, multicolored plastic thing they call a "sled" these days. Somewhere in our folks' garage is my "Snow Hawk," a steel frame with wood slats and a big handle on the front to twist the frame for steering. It's a little beaten up (Who put that tree in my way?!?) but THAT is a "sled" (I'm old school) and I'm looking forward to when Miri's big enough to use it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Snowmageddon: The Sequel

Okay, this post's not really about the Pipsqueak -- but it covers a pretty major event from late this past January.

The winter before AJ got The Call has gone down in history as "Snowmageddon" -- I lived at work for three days, then struggled home (a 30-minute trip that took almost two hours) and then shoveled snow for nearly six hours just to clear a spot to park my car and make a path to my front door.

Fast-forward to the beginning of this year and in a matter of days "a chance of snow" became "WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE! AAAIIIEEE!" and the shelves of local supermarkets became barren wastelands devoid of water, toilet paper, canned soup...

Snowmageddon Two was coming!

My joy at the realization that no longer working at the nursing home meant I didn't have to stay there was cut short by AJ texting me to ask if I could take care of Miri or stay with her at Mom & Dad's 2-3 days because Corporate decided anyone even vaguely managerial was required to stay at work for the duration of the storm "just in case." I let her know how I felt about that, discovering in the process that one can indeed rant loudly in text messages. (Her reply was, "Thank you for your interesting answer!")  Luckily, her boss (my ex-boss) agreed and told her to just stay home.

Family crisis averted, on Friday AJ & I ran some last-minute errands, leaving our folks' house just as the first few flakes of white stuff began floating down. After putting away my groceries & staring out the window a while I had a brainstorm and set up my camera tripod by the front window with plans to take a photo every 30 minutes. (Sleep? What is this "sleep" you speak of? I know it not!) I did end up with a rough sequence of over 80 images but unfortunately every time I took the camera off to take other photos I ended up moving the tripod a little so the photos don't quite line up as planned. I'm going to include just a few of the images below to track the storm's progress...

Friday, 22 January 2016 14:34hrs
Just flurries so far...
Friday, 22 January 2016 16:34hrs
It's been snowing 2 hours and this is all we have?!?

Friday, 22 January 2016 19:19hrs
Okay, the wind is picking up a little bit...
Saturday, 23 January 2016 00:59hrs
Still doesn't look like a blizzard, but piling up...
Saturday, 23 January 2016 01:37hrs
Whoa, NOW it looks like a blizzard!
Saturday, 23 January 2016 13:53hrs
Hey, where'd my neighbor's car go? Where's the sun?
Saturday continued without any sign of the weather clearing, and mid-afternoon the wind began to really pick up. At some point it finally occurred to me to look out the kitchen window in back and I saw something like this:

That sucker's about 4 feet high... 
I immediately got ready to do some emergency shoveling out back, then got another unpleasant surprise when I opened the drapes to go out the back door:

After getting over my shock, I put the chair
there for height/depth reference. Yikes!
I figured the snow was all light & fluffy so I'd save myself a lot of work by using my leaf blower to clear the snow from the door, maybe even to create a path to the heat pump and clear it as well.

I'll pause for a moment to let you contemplate the brilliance of my idea to clear snow in the middle of a blizzard with winds gusting above 35mph by using a leaf blower.

After picking up all the stuff that ended up on my dining room carpet I forced the sliding door & screen open and began shoveling. (Nice try, Dude!) About two hours later -- during which the heat pump began buzzing loudly and then stopped working altogether until I cleared most of its air intakes -- I creaked & groaned my way back inside to thaw out. Before changing into dry clothes, I thought that maybe I should try to clear a path to my car out front, so I forced the door open through the snowdrift the wind had created on my front porch and took a look at what was going on out there.


Needless to say, I did no more shoveling that day, opting instead to change into dry clothes, put my winter coat in the dryer, and absorb a mug of hot chocolate. As the day progressed, I realized that this really was a winter storm "for real" and even without the insane volumes of snow we'd gotten back in 2010, digging out would not be fun. In fact, even though the forecasts called for slow clearing, things just kept getting worse as the day progressed:

The snowfall slowly began to taper off in the evening and I was happily shocked to see the first snowplows before I went to bed.

Saturday, 23 January 2016 19:27hrs
Finally just flurries but the damage is done.
Sunday, 24 January 2016 01:14hrs
Looking out from upstairs - the snowplow's been thru twice!
I was awakened late Sunday morning by the sound of snow shovels in action, so after a quick brunch I grabbed my shovel. First I went out back and re-cleared the heat pump...

I humbly draw your attention to the 7' snow
wall I created to block the wind...
...and then I tramped snow through the house and started working out front.

The average depth on my front steps.
It took about 90 minutes to get this far!
I spent a total of 6-½ hours shoveling snow that day, first clearing off part of the porch, then the steps down to the sidewalk, then the sidewalk, and then digging a path to the communal mailbox. I managed to also clear a narrow path down the side of my car but gave up when I saw what was in front of it.  Here's an overhead view of what I achieved (it looks a little strange because it was taken at night and I used Photoshop to brighten the image):

The next day I spent an additional four hours digging the car out, a task made all the more difficult by the fact that the only way to get rid of the snow (thanks to that frozen mountain you see towering over the Rav) was to carry each shovelful across the street and toss it onto the hillside there, all the while dodging a steadily-growing number of moving cars & SUVs driven (badly!) by neighbors whose cabin fever had gotten the best of them.

I eventually made it back to my folks' house to help clear the bottom of their driveway. (Cleared nicely by some of their neighbors the previous day only to be re-buried by a county snowplow a little while later.) Looking back the next weekend, I realized that I had shoveled snow for anywhere from 30 minutes to 6-½ hours every day for five days in a row...

...but we'd survived Snowmageddon II!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Staying Occupied During In-Between Time

After the crazy-active opening of the new year, we returned to our just plain crazy routine as 2016 settled in around our shoulders. One of the things that had marked December was a series of medical adventures ranging from minor and annoying to not so minor and frakking scary, so we were all hoping for a calmer January. (I was also hoping that maybe, just maybe, things would calm down enough for me to be able to really dedicate myself to finding a job, since mine was eliminated at the end of November.)

I was still picking up the Pipsqueak from after-school care and taking her to dance a lot more often than in the past, and there seemed to be a swarm of birthdays and birthday parties, so I got to spend (continue spending) more time with Miri than had been "normal" before. The two of us settled into a routine...

1) Uncle Brian arrives at KidsCo to be greeted with an in-depth analysis of what he would be doing with his niece for the rest of the evening.

2) If it's Monday, it's especially early and Uncle Brian puts some extra effort into getting his niece signed out, into the car, and down the road to ballet. If it's Tuesday it's not Belgium and it's not quite so early so Uncle Brian puts a little effort into getting his niece signed out, into the car, and down the road to hip-hop. Either of these includes either handing over cheese sticks and/or granola bars to silence the cries of, "I'm starving!" or explaining why he has neither cheese sticks nor granola bars in his pockets.

3) It it's neither Monday nor Tuesday, Uncle Brian spends the time walking to the car explaining why he was taking his niece home instead of, well, pretty much anywhere else.

4) Upon arrival home, Uncle Brian prepares his niece's de riguer mac & cheese -- being sure to carefully mix in a small ice cube until it's fully melted so that the dish is exactly the correct temperature. This is usually followed by plaintive cries of, "I'm still hungry!" and some variation of the old Twenty Questions game in an attempt to figure out what else his niece wants to eat. (There was that one time Miri chose fish sticks and then actually started crying because Mommy knew how to make them but Uncle Brian could not possibly know the right way, never mind the instructions on the container nor all the platefuls of fish sticks he'd prepared for himself over the years -- but once the first plateful turned out OK, they became a regular menu choice.)

5) Any remaining time before Mommy gets home (often 2-½ or 3 hours) is spent by Uncle Brian  trying to keep his niece occupied without watching "Disney's Descendants" AGAIN (and again and again and...)

One day I came up with a brainstorm that Miri really loved but I'm not quiet sure my sister appreciated quite as much: I introduced my niece to the art of building a fort in the house. Not Legos or Lincoln Logs or any such thing -- the old-fashioned kind that one usually sees only in TV commercials and nostalgia books these days, made with cushions and pillows and chairs and blankets and whatever else isn't nailed down or too heavy to move.

Our first fort was a sorry affair, some towels and a blanket and a couple of cushions, most of which collapsed long before Mommy could see her daughter's efforts. The second time, however, I vaguely remember my inner child sadly shaking his head, then standing up, resolutely pushing me aside and striding purposefully onto the construction site. By the time we heard the garage door opening, I had even enlisted a hula hoop, some clothespins & bag clips, and several extra pillows in the construction of what Miri thought was the absolute best sofa fort she had ever seen in her life.

There's actually a kid in there somewhere...
When AJ came in she took one look at our handiwork and started laughing, then played along while Miri "hid" (obviously wiggling around and giggling loudly) from her inside the fort. I apologized for the two bag clips that I'd broken and for rearranging every pillow or cushion that I could get my hands on, but AJ is used to her brother's periodic bouts of child-like insanity and was actually impressed when she got a closer look at the weird construct on her living room sofa.

Miri and I built a few more forts in the following weeks but this was definitely our best. She lost interest over the following weeks but still talks happily about how much fun it was to build them and then hide from Mommy when she got home.

And me? I had a a blast -- and am especially glad I got to introduce the Pipsqueak to something that was such an integral part of my own childhood and share the joy with her.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Just a Really Quick Pipsqeakism

 I picked up the Pipsqueak from after-school care on Friday, and she came up with something I just had to share with y'all.

She was (as usual)  talking nonstop a mile a minute with a new subject of "conversation" every two or three minutes when out of the blue she asked if she'd be able to swim in my pool this summer. I said that I would have to find out how to get her a guest pass but that I didn't see any reason she wouldn't be able to swim once or twice. That led to the following statement:

"Good, but I can't go in too deep. I can kind of do four feet but I'm really only useful in three feet."

(Yes, I apologized for busting out a big belly laugh.) 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Starting the New Year Icily, Part 4 (and End)

Yay! I've finally reached the last post about the first 48 hours of January! I'm catching up!  (As far as I'm concerned, a victory is a victory, no matter how small.)

Having used almost all the meal allowance included in our overnight packages, we all agreed to go out for breakfast in the morning rather than spend our cash at the Gaylord's (admittedly very nice) breakfast buffet. After some negotiation with the group's youngest generation, a time was chosen so AJ & I had figured out how to set the alarm on the clock radio between our beds before going to sleep.

The clock radio did an admirable job of rousing the three of us at the appointed time, followed shortly afterwards by the "just in case" loud klaxon alarm on my iPhone (which Miri hates, so it's extra-effective). I made sure we'd all stay awake by opening the curtains, thus letting in the brilliant sunlight of a beautiful winter morning along with the almost-forgotten lovely view of the HVAC system's evaporators. After the usual morning confusion -- including the usual "discussion" between mother and daughter concerning the right outfit to wear -- we met up with the rest of our group near the elevators. We waited long enough for me to ascertain that I had been the only member of the group lucky enough to sleep astride his own personal mountain range, and then waited some more, and eventually trooped down the hall to a different bank of elevators that finally got us downstairs to street level.

There were a couple of fits & starts but we settled on the Harbor Cafe just a few blocks away. On our way there, we all commented on how many single gloves (and the occasional knit hat) we found laying on the ground, on cafe tables, atop garbage pails, etc. -- I'm pretty sure that if we'd picked them all up & cleaned them off, there would have been enough to keep a small secondhand store going through the end of the winter. (Dude, didn't anyone wonder why only half their fingers were cold?)

As we walked into Harbor Cafe, I realized that it was where the family had stopped on our first visit to National Harbor a few years ago, the difference being that back then we'd taken refuge from the heat in the shady breezeway while this morning nobody, but nobody, wanted to be outside in the breeze unless they were wearing a spacesuit. The cafe staff were amazingly accommodating, not missing a beat when minds (and orders) were suddenly changed, kidlings took forever and a half to make a simple decision, or flustered parents couldn't remember their own orders. There wasn't anything pretentious or gourmet about our breakfasts, but they wuz good and the atmosphere was good and it don't get much better than that.

After semi-accidentally taking over most of the available indoor real estate for at least half an hour, we all bundled back up and went trooping out the door, many thank-yous and sorrys in our wake.  I made a point of thanking/apologizing to one particularly helpful guy behind the counter and his "don't worry about it!" response & smile seemed truly genuine. (There was also one gentleman who'd sat quietly reading his newspaper the entire time we were there, obviously not enjoying the din & clamor and yet never making a single complaint -- and who was graciously amused at & accepting of my apology as I walked past. I decided he had young kids at home, too.)

Instead of heading directly back to the Gaylord, we decided to let the kids burn off some of the energy they'd picked up from breakfast and headed for the waterfront. Everyone ooh'd and aah'd at the massive Christmas tree near the marina, and (with only a couple of minor meltdowns) the kids proceeded to prove that letting them burn off excess energy was The Right Choice, cold breeze & low temps be damned. They ran in circles. They jumped on & off the stone benches. They ran in bigger circles. They dared each other to jump from progressively higher steps. They ran in even bigger circles. They yelled and laughed and sometimes the boys would gang up on a girl and then the girls would gang up on the boys (Y-chromosome carriers were definitely a minority). And then they all ran in big circles again.

Around the time they all began doing cartwheels one of the moms in our group noticed an older Asian woman standing off to one side watching the happy mayhem. The poor woman just could not seem to wrap her head around what she was seeing, first focusing on the small herd of Asian kids, then the batch of Caucasian adults they were obviously with, then the kids, then the adults, then the kids... You'd think that by now most people would be aware of something called "international adoption" but apparently this particular woman just could. not. get. over. the. difference.  It was no skin off any of our noses, but I feel sorry for anyone who can't figure out that there are more ways to build a loving family than the "beast with two backs" method (fun as it might be).

In any case, I was too distracted trying to keep tabs on our herd of fast-moving cats or just taking in the scenery to worry about such nonsense. The last time I had been at this spot, the small building directly opposite the Christmas tree was still a sales office (and some penthouses were going for well over a million dollars, much to my shock). Now I was amused to see it was a Peeps store -- something I never knew existed! -- complete with Volkswagen modified to match their merchandise. As the kids' energy ebbed (a little) we all took one last look around and then headed back to the hotel.

It was nice to see Miri and BFFs C & S giggling togther & walking hand-in-hand despite an age range of roughly three years; as much as the MIT adults have been friends for & supportive of each other, the kids all seem to have quickly slipped into similar roles for themselves. A quick "yeah" dismissed my advice for the girls to notice the interesting topiaries near the Gaylord's back door, and then we were once again indoors (and thawing nicely).

There was a kind of "end of adventure" feel to the day now; one family had to leave early, and despite our package including unlimited entry to the ICE! exhibit no one felt particularly driven to brave the already-impressive lines to get back in. After some general discussion, the decision was to let the kids ride the little narrow-gauge train that ran in a circle directly beneath the main Christmas tree, then get some lunch and head home. Having seen the train up close last year, I decided to skip the ride and take some photos, and set off on my own to find a good vantage point. I finally found a good spot by ignoring a couple of "Do Not Enter" signs and climbing over a small (temporary) fence, then stood and waited a while for the kids to work their way to the front of the line for the ride. I fiddled with some pictures of the "snow covered" trees in the indoor display and caught my sister taking a photo of me taking a photo of her taking a photo of me, and then waited some more... and then waited some more.. so OF COURSE all the kids (especially my niece) made a point of looking away, making funny faces, or simply hiding their faces every time they saw me with my camera up. Oh, well... they all had fun dodging my lens, and I have to admit it was fun for me as well.

After the ride ended I discovered that I was lost -- even though we were all in the atrium, the place was big enough for me to have completely lost sight of everyone else in the group. I wandered around a little, and just as I picked up my phone to try to call AJ for her whereabouts when Miri's besties C & S popped up out of nowhere and proceeded to distract me by needing several reminders that the fountain wasn't a good place to play because they had no clean clothes to change into if they got wet. Just about the time I decided to give up on trying to convince them, another patron nearby tossed a kit hat to a young girl in front of the fountain... who missed the catch, leaving both trying to avoid falling in while retrieving the slowly-sinking hat as it gently but surely floated farther & farther out of reach. (I still don't know how they did it, but they managed to rescue the thing without anyone going swimming.) That was enough to convince the girls that maybe listening to Uncle Brian was a good idea, so we were able to join up with the remainder of our group a couple of minutes later without anyone dripping on the floor.

We all then went back upstairs to finish packing, a feat made all the slower by an almost ten-minute wait for the meshuggineh elevators, and then figured out we could check out but still get to our luggage in our rooms so we got on line (after another wait for the elevator back down) and tallied up our respective bills. Unfortunately, communication between staff & guests wasn't quite what it should have been, so it was only after officially checking out that we learned we still had $15 of our respective food allowances left unused. The desk clerk assured us we could still use it, so we returned to our "outdoor" tables at the sports place and had a good lunch... and then discovered they couldn't process the allowance because we were technically no longer guests of the hotel so their system had no way to recognize us. (Hey, it's only money, right?)

After enjoying lunch (anyway), we all headed back upstairs after another seven-minute wait alongside a lot of other people also trying to figure out why the elevators never actually stopped on the main floor and finished our packing. I did my usual "sweep" though the room and found a couple of Miri's drawings on a little notepad that I stuck in my pocket, and then it was back to the elevators. Miri and S enjoyed the view of the main building while we waited, and it was a good thing, too -- this time I clocked a full twelve minutes on my watch sans elevator before we and a few other guests all gave up and trekked halfway across the building to another bank of the mechanical beasts, these being much faster ("fast" being a very relative term). A last few goodbyes were said and everyone split up for their respective parking spots. My Rav and S's folks' pickup were side-by-side right where we had left them, so of course the girls laughingly made a whole big production out of saying goodbye that succeeded in delaying actual departure by several minutes.

There was a last-minute complication with getting my key card into the right slot of the reader to open the exit gate (mea culpa) and then the three of us found ourselves heading back home to begin the new year, tired but happy after a pleasant overnight with our friends.

And that, dear readers, is how we began 2016!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Starting the New Year Icily, Part 3

We had experienced the Gaylord's sound & light show a few times in the past, but it was always either as we were passing through the atrium (thus usually getting stuck trying to see things from behind a building or a tree or a column or any number of other opaque objects) or while sitting in an "outdoor" cafe at the opposite end of the atrium -- neither being an ideal place to get the full effect. This year we made a point of trying to position ourselves closer to the action, and we ended up a short distance off one end of the fountains by some small potted evergreens. We were a little sorry that we weren't part of the crowd standing directly in front of the fountains (in effect smack-dab in the middle of the show) but soon came to realize we were all in a much better spot.

Waiting for the elevator to the lobby (something that became a hallmark of our stay), we had a great view of the atrium and harbor areas beyond. I got my first good look at the massive Christmas "tree" hanging in midair at the back of the atrium and realized that it wasn't really a refugee from some direct-to-video science fiction movie -- it was a series of huge stars stacked sideways one on top of the other with the "tree" shape outlined by long ropes of lights that spiraled down from the top to the bottom. The sight of the huge tree with its "moving" lights spiraling downwards, the dozens of smaller real trees strung with white lights, the colored spotlights placed around the expansive glass ceiling, the multicolored fountain, and the huge ferris wheel in the harbor outside whetted everyone's appetite for the upcoming sound & light show, and by the time one of the elevators finally deemed us worthy of a trip downstairs we were all ready for the show.

The sound & light show started right on time, and for the most part did not disappoint.  The entire atrium went dark -- accompanied by a cheer from the crowd -- and then music began blasting out from the sound system and the fountain waters began "dancing" in time and changing color. The water burbled gently in its basin, then would shoot up in columns easily two stories high, then come back down and go up & down at different levels in time with the music and constantly-changing lights within the fountain, on the main tree, in midair, and in all the smaller live trees. All this was accompanied by loud music and an increasing number of yells & screams from the crowd.

I was standing next to the two young boys in our group, and as the show began they were so excited that they were grabbing the small potted trees in front of us and pushing & pulling them in time to the  music. (They weren't trying to break anything; it was just a case of two young and excited kids being young excited kids.) I had to gently stop them a couple of times, and as the music reached the first of several crescendos and the fountain began blasting water upward in earnest, I began to admonish them for a third time when I realized they both had their hands at their sides. No one else seemed to be touching the trees, and we were indoors so the was no breeze, so why were the trees moving...? 

I got my answer a moment later as a blob of water came splashing down onto the tree in front of me from a height of nearly thirty feet, leaving droplets on my camera's lens and educating me as to why all the people standing directly in front of the fountain (right where we had wanted to be) kept screaming as the show progressed. Every time the water jets cut off and then shot up again, the rising water would collide with the falling water from the previous shot and splash outwards, soaking everything and  everyone within a 10-15 foot radius!

Happy to have some protection, and making a mental note to avoid standing in the "good" spot for future shows, I dried off my camera and continued to enjoy the show. The one minor disappointment was that this year's indoor "snowstorm" didn't really work. We could see it start to fall waaay up near the roof, but not in the volumes we'd seen in previous years and most of the flakes melted away long before getting down near the floor -- but that really was a minor thing compared to the thumping beat of the music and the moving & ever-changing lights and fountain.

 Everything peaked frenetically with the addition of dozens of moving, spinning spot- and floodlights up in the ceiling and even more changes in both the fountain and main tree, and then the show came of a sudden (and loud!) end to the cheers of the crowd. (NOTE: My video is a very large file, so I've posted some animated GIFs instead.)

Laughing at the soggy (and in some cases soaking wet) people who had been standing directly in front of the fountain during the show, our group walked to the Granite City Food & Brewery restaurant a few blocks away in the National Harbor complex for dinner. I was a little concerned about how well we'd fit with the crowd there with so many kidlings in tow, but as soon as we walked in it was obvious we weren't the only families there. Our entire group was seated at a large table in the back and spent a very pleasant evening just enjoying the food & each other's company (and some excellent beers, including my first taste of a brewed root beer -- not soda, real beer -- that definitely won't be my last).

Eventually everyone's batteries began to run down so we all headed back to the Gaylord and settled in for a good night's sleep. In our case, the preparations for bed were accompanied by the occasional loud but unhappy sound from AJ as her shins once again found the corner of her bed frame, much to the (concerned) amusement of both her daughter and older brother. Eventually I was in my old gym shorts & a ratty tee, AJ was in her nightgown, and the Pipsqueak was in her pjs and we had all the lights turned off. I climbed into my bed, got myself situated comfortably, and closed my eyes...

...and caught myself rolling out of bed. I found another comfortable position, laid back, closed my eyes -- and almost immediately began to slowly but surely roll toward the opposite side of the bed. Trying to not teach my niece any new words we didn't want her to know, I felt my way around the mattress and discovered that it was convex, with enough of a slope to give me a gravity assist in getting out of bed. (Once she'd stopped laughing, AJ double-checked and found that she & Miri had a nice flat bed.) Mentally adding another paragraph to my planned complaint letter, I carefully draped myself evenly over both sides of my personal mountain range and soon drifted off to the sound of Miri's quiet little snores.

Up next: a cold but fun morning to close out our adventure!