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, May 20, 2016

One More Quickie (I'm Busy!)

I promise I'll get back to the real purpose of this blog shortly... Just wanted to share a couple of things...

Last weekend, AJ had Weekend Manager duty so Mom & Dad had the Pipsqueak. I spent a few hours at the house to give them a break, and when I got the usual, "Can we watch videos on your computer now, Uncle Brian?" the sight of an all-too-rare pretty day outside had me respond, "Why don't we go for a walk instead?"  As expected, the answer was an immediate "YES!" and it wasn't long before the two of us were heading out the door.  Miri took my hand almost as soon as we got to the sidewalk and literally didn't let go until we had gone aaaaallllll the way down to one end of the sidewalk and then came all the way back down past the house to the playground at the elementary school. (Happily, there were no more calapitters on the sidewalk.)

On the playground, the Pipsqueak immediately started running races with her uncle, who was at a severe disadvantage because 1) she usually told me the race was starting just after she started running, 2) she usually told me where we were racing to just after she started running, and 3) she's a lot smaller than I am and the playground equipment is definitely not made for big ol' fat rear ends like mine because she went squirting through all the openings while I got stuck at least twice. (Dude, don't forget that she's in better shape, too!)

After the playground, we continued our walk to the nature trail at the opposite end of the community, and were soon alternating between "lookitthats" and an ongoing discussion of what "there" meant, as in, "We're going to turn around and head back to the house as soon as we get there."  I finally told Miri that we really needed to head back to the house because we had been gone a very long time and Grandma would be worrying about us -- to which she immediately replied, "That's her job!"

As if on queue, Mom called to find out where we were and that was enough to convince the Pipsqueak we really did need to head back. She rode part of the way on my shoulders, getting big smiles from any of the older path-walkers we passed, but I have to admit I was forced to put her back down only halfway back to the house because my back just couldn't take the strain. She didn't mind too much, though -- we both had a great time, and Mommy got to the house just a few minutes after we did so all was good in the Pipsqueak's world.

Aside from that, I've been trying to help Mom & Dad out with some of their projects while moving some of my own forward. One thing I've been working on lately is converting an increasingly complex Word document with family information into a real family tree using MacFamilyTree 8 and a couple of online genealogy sites. It's turning out to be a much bigger project than I expected, but cousins far and wide are providing lots of extra information so it's also turning into a very nice online mini-reunion as well. One unexpected discovery was a totally different family's tree on Ancestry.Com that includes my maternal grandfather -- it turns out he had two uncles and an aunt that Mom & Uncle M never knew about!  One cool feature of the MacFamilyTree software is a 3D virtual globe with "pins" showing where people in the family tree were born... I've only got about half the data entered and have already had to resort to a polar view to see all the pins:

It looks like the Pipsqueak's family is a lot bigger and more diverse than we realized!  (She's one of the two pins on the lower right).

The only other thing of note that's been happening is that the rain has finally let up long enough for me to get my yard prepped for re-seeding. (Sidewalk repairs 2 years ago totally destroyed my front yard and it's looked like crap ever since, resulting in a bunch of nastygrams from my HOA.) My front yard may not look like much yet...

...but my Rhododendrons are doing great!

So, on that decorative note, I'm going back to filing papers and doing laundry and bidding on freelance work and applying for jobs (hello again, IKEA!), and tracking down lost tax forms and bundling up magazines for recycling and and and...

See y'all soon (with a real update, I promise)!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Just A Quickie... and A New Pipsqueakism!

I've started trying to do freelancing work, and for the past few days I've been a little too burned out on the keyboard to post... which is kind of weird, since this blog actually (usually) helps de-stress me but it's just been a rough week time-wise. (There's other stuff going on that I'm just not writing about... gotta keep some things private!)

Anyway, most of the local family got together on Mother's Day to celebrate the various practitioners of that ancient craft that we have among us and to celebrate Aunt D's birthday, which unfortunately she frequently ends up sharing with the holiday.  Still, it was pleasant, and Mom got a lovely filigree heart necklace that Miri had picked out on a shopping trip with AJ a few days earlier. (I got lucky -- both niece and sister wanted it to be "from all of us" so I was off the hook for gift shopping.)

Unfortunately, my love  of listening in on the older generation's stories of a world gone by is not shared by my niece, so (as often happens at family gatherings when the weather's nice) the Pipsqueak decided that Mommy and Cousin E and Uncle Brian were going to take a walk with her. There's no way-cool lake near our folks' house like the one near Uncle M & Aunt D's (and I'll be posting a couple of stories about those walks in a while) but Miri's wonderful imagination and love of little critters that scamper & fly can make any walk interesting.

We had only gone a couple of hundred feet when the Pipsqueak realized there were caterpillars on the sidewalk. Singletons, pairs, even a couple of clumps of the things -- and her love of critters most definitely does not extend to multi-legged little squirmy things. Either I was told to pick them up(!) or us a stick to move them out of the way, or Mommy was told to move them, or Mommy was told PICK ME UP! in no uncertain terms so Miri didn't have to worry about stepping on any of the wee beasties. Of course, picking her up is no longer the easy thing it once was (where did that tiny, almost bald pre-toddler go?) so it took some fast talking and a bit of bargaining to get our walk past that particular stretch of sidewalk.

We eventually moved on to areas with fewer squirmy roadblocks, even going a ways down the nature path that crosses through the neighborhood all the way down at the street. I tried telling Miri about what that woodsy dead-end looked like when I was a junior high student skulking about in the woods, but of course she knew exactly what I was talking about... Oh, well, at least I tried to share my experiences with her! After many exciting squirrel sightings and a neat-looking stretch of deer tracks in the mud, I noticed a bright red carnation someone had dropped and made the mistake of picking it up in view of the Pipsqueak... so of course it had to come back to the house, and of course I had to be the one who carried it.  ("But I picked it up for you!" "No, it's Mother's Day so you have to take it back to Grandma.")

On the way back I gave Miri a treat and carried her on my shoulders for a few blocks. While definitely nowhere near as easily or comfortably done as it used to be, she loves it... and to be perfectly honest, I like doing it, especially now because I know she'll soon be too big for us to share that activity. We headed home on the opposite side of the street to avoid all the squirmy things and soon my niece was regaling the grownups with tales of our adventure.

Oh, and that new Pipsqueakism I mentioned? All those squirmy things that we had to be careful to not step on: calapitters!  (We tried to correct her but by the time the walk was over even us "grownups" were having fun with the word.)

And that, dear reader, is the big adventure from this past Mother's Day... but right now I've gotta catch some shuteye, I'll post more soon!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Happy New Year of the Monkey!

Yes, yes, I know the Lunar/Chinese New Year was back in February... I'm still catching up, bear with me!

Just as they have done for several years, Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg hosted a huge, multi-day celebration of Chinese New Year... and just like last year, the Pipsqueak's dance class from the CCACC school performed for the crowd (February 7th). Last year her class performed a ribbon dance that was later repeated at several venues over the course of the year, but this year they were learning a more complex dance from another part of China -- it actually looks & sounds vaguely Arabic so it might be from the Uighur or another Western Chinese group, but I really don't know[1].

AJ always takes Miri to the mall early for costume change, set-up, etc. and the rest of us follow later in another car. This was a good thing last year, since I was running up to the stage literally as the girls lined up to begin their performance. This year we got there a lot earlier -- only to find Cousin E and family already holding seats for us in front of the performance area near some of our friends whose daughters were also dancing. AJ periodically appeared & disappeared as backstage preparations moved forward, but we were able to enjoy the opening lion dance and several other performances before our girls came on.

The Tai Yim Kung Fu group getting ready.
Working the crowd...
A quick personnel change mid-dance
Oh, no -- I'm being eaten by the lion! (This happens to me every 2-3 years...)
AJ feeds the hungry beast.
Great luck -- Mom caught some lettuce when the lion barfed! LOL
After a number of groups (some professional) appeared, it was finally time for our girls to take the floor and show the world what they'd learned. One added surprise was that they were a little short-handed backstage, so my sister was drafted to deliver the group's intro to the crowd! (Sorry for the blurry images; they're frames from a small Quicktime video file... and I didn't want to break AJ's "no clear photos of my daughter online!" rule.)

The girls exited to solid applause, having put on a spirited performance with only the smallest of "oopses" at any time -- all understandable, since their rehearsal schedule had been severely limited and various members of the group were missing at one time or another. This was the first time I had seen the dance in its entirety and I was struck by how complex the moves and the beat were... so a hearty "BRAVA!" to all the girls for a wonderful show!

Those costumes are kind of expensive, so there was a lot of undressing and re-dressing once the dance was complete, and the girls all came out to join the audience.  AJ and her BFFs S & C all parked themselves right in front, and we all watched a number of acts together. Several numbers were marred by serious glitches with the sound system (I could see the young guy running the sound board repeatedly reading an instruction sheet and asking people around him for help), and one was so bad that the lead singer asked the crowd for permission to start over. He received loud assent and the group proceeded to deliver an exceedingly well-done performance... with someone literally leaning over the sound guy's shoulder the entire time to ensure it all ran smoothly.

Performances or not, the kids were all soon getting restless so we all headed farther down the mall to see some of the CNY-related exhibits. There were a couple of "just plain shopping" stops along the way, so I took a few minutes to run back & watch some of the kung fu demonstrations that left me convinced there are kids out there less than 1/4 my age who could break me in half if they wanted to.

We eventually got to the storefront where the CCACC had set up an art gallery and crafts table, and I wandered around the room admiring the paintings, calligraphy and other exhibits while the kids took advantage of the crafts table to paint their own miniature parasols. I learned a few new things from an exhibit on tea (I keep forgetting that much of it is fermented!) and was happy to recognize a couple of the sites in a video presentation on different regions in Western & Southern China. A number of paper cuttings were bought and somehow we managed to keep all those paint-covered little fingers from touching any of the exhibits (or silk frocks) and were soon headed back into the mall to an Asian furniture/art/bric-a-brac store that was holding a closeout sale. Things were a little rougher there, since there was less to distract our bunch of increasingly bored youngsters; an increasingly raucous game of hide-and-seek that I was unable to stop was brought to a quick halt by a lecture from an appropriately annoyed member of the store's staff. With dinner reservations at a Chinese restaurant coming up fast on the clock, we all headed out to our cars and met up again at the restaurant.

Unfortunately, things didn't go quite as planned at the restaurant. We had hoped to be there in time for their usual afternoon dim sum offering (which is usually pretty good) but after being brusquely offered several items we didn't want from one single cart and having to order a couple of things from the regular menu, it became nearly impossible to get hold of a member of the serving staff. It didn't take too long to figure out why -- in plain view of the (increasingly annoyed) patrons of the restaurant, the staff all gathered at one end of the dining room for their own Chinese New Year celebration!  We all agreed that they were certainly allowed to celebrate all they wanted -- but should have either closed the place or at least warned the customers that service would essentially be suspended for nearly an hour while they did. (I posted my first really negative Yelp review from my iPhone.) We eventually had enough food, but none of us felt a need to stay any longer than absolutely necessary so -- after clearing up a mistake in which we were billed for food we never got -- we started rounding up the kids for our respective trips home.

While the adults were all sitting and being annoyed at the lack of service and problems with the bill, the kids had all gotten bored with all that grownup stuff and were having a grand old time nearby, pretending to be an orchestra. Chopsticks were suddenly horns, woodwinds, strings, and tympani, while one of the girls used hers, quite artistically, as a baton to lead the motley collection of instruments in all kinds of (totally imaginary) symphonic wonderment. We all took a cue from the kids and walked out the door in a good mood.

Of course, this was just the first of several CNY celebrations for the month, so you'll be reading about more soon...!

[1] Sorry, but I'm still working on finding out which region and/or ethnic minority this year's dance is from! I'll post the info when I get it.