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!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Landmark Memories, Landmark Changes

Special note: The photos in this post are not mine; they have been culled from a series of online searches. Although none of the photos carried copyright notices, if you are the creator of any of these images and want them removed, please contact me and I will comply.

Back in December of 2014, I wrote a post titled "Memories..."about how I'd accidentally rediscovered the receipt from the dinner at which AJ let me & Cousin E in on the little secret of her adoption plans.

I mentioned that dinner was in a Cheesecake Factory restaurant. That particular branch of the chain was in White Flint Mall, which was for a time the poshest, most advanced shopping venue in the area.

White Flint didn't have hallways; it had "neighborhoods" -- the most notable being one designed to resemble a seaside Mediterranean street, and another designed to look like a street in old Georgetown (very accurately depicted, complete with architectural features rescued from demolished buildings in that DC neighborhood). Even the "regular" shopping areas were posher and "classier" than other malls, and it had one of the first multiplex movie theaters in the area and the first dedicated food court that I can remember (the "Eatery") in any regional mall.

There was a two-story Borders bookstore (complete with its own coffee shop) where you could read or sample the huge stock of CDs for hours, a small theater for live performances, restaurants set up like outdoor cafes, a high-end art gallery, and some of the coolest shops you could hope to find (especially the one that was stocked exclusively with blacklight-activated merchandise).

Locals used to take out-of-town visitors there just to show it off (or take their dates there as an affordable alternative to clubbing in Georgetown) and have a bite to eat, maybe blow a few bucks in the arcade at Dave & Buster's, catch a flick, or just window shop while occasionally gasping at the price tags.  I think I even made a comment during that one particular meal that it would be a cool place to bring "the baby" after she'd come home.

Main entrance, ca. 2012: P.F. Chang's, Bertucci's, Dave & Buster's, and the Cheesecake Factory

Time was not kind to White Flint Mall; several other area malls successfully went equally upscale without chasing away most of their earlier clientele, a renovation of the eatery did not go over well (and seemed badly thought out), and after just a few years the parking garage had to be closed & reopened one section at a time while the beams & columns could be reinforced after the structure was found to be failing. (Dude, talk about parking problems...!)

The local economy went up and down, and with each "down" one or two of the specialty shops would close, and sometimes one of the larger high-end stores as well. Soon there were gaps inside where shops closed but no new tenants took their place, the bookstore went away, the theater went away, people got tired of the TV-size screens and thin walls of the multiplex... and with each "blip" in the economy, more shoppers stayed away. (You can read a detailed history on Wikipedia by clicking here.)

Well, it turns out that the Pipsqueak isn't going to get to sit down to a meal in the spot that marked the beginning of our adoption odyssey for me.  Reduced to just a shadow of its former self, White Flint closed late in 2015 and by the end of January 2016 the entire structure was torn down (except for the Lord & Taylor store that was busy suing the developer for breach of contract, a case since decided in L&T's favor).
Main entrance, ca. October 2015
Supposedly, over the next few years that large, rubble-strewn wasteland at the southern end of Rockville's "Golden Mile" will be replaced with a "town center" development complete with business and residential areas and (somewhat ironically) thousands of square feet of retail space.

White Flint Mall had become a white elephant, a victim of cut-rate engineering and lack of planning for downturns in the economy.  And now it's gone...

...but that mid-size round table about three-quarters of the way toward the back of the Cheesecake Factory, near the windows that looked out onto one of the busier hallways inside the mall itself with the people walking past oblivious to my sister's life-changing statement, remains as solid and real in my mind today as it was more than a decade ago, when White Flint Mall was still in its prime.

Besides, "the baby" now prefers CalTort or Mickey D's... <grin>

Friday, August 4, 2017

Catching Up: Early April

NOTE 1: In the interest of honesty, I have to admit that this blog entry isn't about the Pipsqsueak per se but is really just a chance for me to post a few pretty pictures I wanted to share.

NOTE 2: I found an IKEA commercial online that depicts (with some accuracy) the moment when adoptive mother and child meet, with some very low-key selling at the end. I know not all adoptions work like the one shown -- but some do actually work that way, and it's a sweet moment for all my readers involved with (or just curious about) adoption. You can see the commercial here.

March departed and April entered with some "interesting" weather that once again left our neighborhoods with leaves & small branches spread everywhere, large branches (and a few full trees) on the ground, and enough standing water to float a small destroyer as overwhelmed storm drains became blocked.  Luckily all the family homesteads made it through the mess with little more than post-storm yard cleanups (and a little kitty litter on the floor in my basement) required... but it again drove home the fact that the months of the calendar don't give a hoot about "In like a lion, out like a lamb" poetry.

One effect of the weather was that it seemed to scare a lot of trees into bloom, since until then we'd only had a scattering of color.  I fired off at least a couple of dozen photos of the trees around my house, only to discover I'd been working with a dirty lens; a little careful cropping still left me with several nice shots, a few of which I include below just because I like them.

We had already been invited to spend Easter with some very close friends from the MIT group (our Easter celebrations are roughly 117% secular) but we took advantage of everyone having a little extra time off to spend a day with my uncle & aunt in Virginia.  There's a pretty (man-made) lake a couple of blocks away from their house, easily reached by walking and with a wide swathe of wooded parkland around it, so (as usual) the Pipsqueak wanted to take a postprandial walk in that direction.[1]

We had begun our "early" dinner later than planned, and engaged in all the usual storytelling and joking and discussion that stretches it out far more than the time needed to just eat, so it was already beginning to get dark and Miri had some convincing to do in order to get her walk.  Expert negotiator that she is, we agreed to a (slightly) shortened version of our usual walk and set off for the lake.

Miri engaged Mommy, Cousin E & her SO and yours truly in the usual banter about why this, what's that, why that, what's this, we need to look for treasure, and can you use that stick Uncle Brian? that's a big part of all such walks.  Unlike similar walks when she was just a toddler, these were interspersed with (short) breaks during which Miri kept herself occupied so the grownups could all talk among themselves.  Cousin E's SO is an excellent photographer (and has begun doing that work professionally, I'll link him here when he's ready) so he and I were discussing some projects he's got in the pipeline until the sight of the rising moon on the lake turned our conversation to capturing images like the one in front of us.

I decided I was being dumb by not trying to do what I was talking about -- I'm still trying to learn how to use some of the specialty functions on my camera! -- and took six or seven shots from the sidewalk.  I didn't have a tripod and was truly experimenting with different settings, but a couple of the photos turned out a lot nicer than I'd expected:

 It was getting dark enough to make walking on uneven sections of sidewalk difficult, so we called it a night and headed back to the house, and then everyone left for their respective homes a short time later.

It may not have been a "special event" day, but we all went to bed content with having spent some quality family time together -- and the Pipsqueak primed for the upcoming Easter egg hunt with her BFFs.

[1] You've seen previous photos of this lake on the blog and are likely to see more in the future; it's something of a family tradition for Miri to take Mommy, Cousin E, and Uncle Brian on a walk there when we visit.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

"I can reach that shelf now, Uncle Brian!"

With our crazy summer schedules simply refusing to allow anyone in the immediate family to ever feel bored, we've become pretty good at bundling activities so that no gasoline or precious minutes are wasted.  Take this Wednesday, f'rinstance:  Miri's dance camp ended mid-afternoon.  Dad had prescriptions to fill.  Mom had prescriptions to fill.  I had run out key foods.  Mom & Dad were running out of key foods.  Mom and I had several important phone calls to make (independent of each other).  The result?  Lots of phone time early in the day, then I swung by the folks' house in my car and we did the supermarket-to–studio-to-supermarket loop all together.

Grocery shopping with the Pipsqueak is a rare treat for me and it was funny to see her helping Grandma, then say, "I'm going with Uncle Brian now" and spend some time with me, then say, "I'm going to Grandma now" and spend some time with her... back and forth every few minutes.  She insisted on helping, bagging produce and pulling things off shelves much higher than I thought she'd be able to reach, and we had fun just being silly with each other. There were a couple of times I had to remind the Pipsqueak that I can no longer pick her up and push a cart at the same time ("Oh, yeah, I forgot!") and we had to spend a few minutes standing next to the hot rotisserie chicken shelf when the refrigerated dairy aisle left her chilled, but it we really did have a lot of fun.

Trying to stay as far away from the refrigerated aisle as possible...
"Hey, look, it's got pink on it!" (Grandma's waiting to buy monster cheese.)
The deli lady just gave the Pipsqueak a free slice of monster cheese!
"I can TOO reach that shelf! And are you taking a picture of me?"
On a normal weekday afternoon, I'll pick Miri up from dance camp with at a cheese stick & small bottle of her favorite flavored drink mix, both of which are inhaled to the tune of woeful complaints about starving to death. Within minutes we'll be at Grandma & Grandpa's, where pasta or scrambled eggs or fish sticks are promptly prepared for the starving granddaughter.  Since we were stopping at the supermarket this time, I brought along an additional granola bar and a larger bottle of the drink to keep that rumbly little tummy full -- but as the shopping trip stretched longer, Happy Pipsqueak was replaced by decidedly less fun Hangry Pipsqueak.

"I am tired and I am hungry and that is a bad combination! I want to go home!" (Actual verbatim quote.)
The Pipsqueak's mood improved considerably when, on the way to the checkout lanes, we came across a display of brightly colored, inexpensive nail polish.

"Ooh, what about THIS one? Or THIS one? Or THIS one? Or THIS one? Or..."
Eventually, Miri heeded her Grandma's desperate request to please just pick one already! and we began the chore of checking out two full carts of groceries while bagging them in a way that kept my purchases separate from Mom & Dad's to expedite unloading later. We then spent over 20 minutes on the usual 10-minute trip home, thanks to a Verizon crew closing one lane of a busy two-lane road during rush hour with no lane shift signs, no road work signs, no warning signs, and with a big flashing yellow arrow that was actually just a big black rectangle because none of the crew bothered to actually turn the frakking thing on... (Dude! Calm down! Watch your language!)

Anyway, as I was saying... I calmed down, got us home, got most of Mom & Dad's groceries put away, and was about to leave when the Pipsqueak asked, "What about all my stuff?"  Sure enough, her dance bag & lunchbox were still in the back of the car under my groceries. We got that straightened out, I thanked her for saving her uncle a late-night drive out to her house with the missing items, and I finally headed home.

Despite the occasional hangry grumble, the Pipsqueak was fun to shop with... hopefully I'll get to do it again soon!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Catching Up: Remember the 1980s?

March came to a close with the Pipsqueak's school's annual Talent Show.  Unlike all the talent shows I participated in back in the renaissance my public school days, her school always has a theme tying all the acts together.  I honestly don't remember last year's theme, at least in part (I believe) due to my subconscious attempt to forget that the show lasted well over three hours, some of which were very long hours.

I'm pretty sure the folks who organize & run the show each year got an earful because this year's show was quick, crisply done, and slightly less than two hours long even though there were almost as many acts taking the stage. The theme? THE '80S.

Ah, yes... Big hair, neon spandex and shoulder pads.  Garbage Pail Kids and Cabbage Patch Kids.  Super Mario Brothers and Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and "Where In the World is Carmen San Diego?"  Alf and E.T. and the original Transformers.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The Challenger and Baby Jessica.  He-Man and She-Ra and the Cosby Show.  Duran Duran and Paula Abdul and Michael Jackson and Madonna and George Micahel and U2 and Tiffany and Debbie Gibson and Flock of Seagulls and Cyndi Lauper and... (Dude, you're rambling...)

Ahem, yes, where was I... Oh, yeah, the 1980s -- a period of history filled with things that are now one of the following: absotively posilutely alien to the Pipsqueak's generation; totally "rebooted" into nearly unrecognizable form; an object of derision and/or hatred; or the iTunes content on my Mac that makes my niece shake her head and say, "Weird" before walking away.  (I'm not making that up; she really does that... and she really means it!)

Nevertheless, the talent show's theme this year was the 1980s, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it.

Just like last year, Miri performed with her scout troop, and they danced to the oh-so-very 1980s hit, "Hey Mickey." (Side note: Toni Basil was 40 years old when that song debuted in 1981. If you look around YouTube a bit, you'll not only find the original music video, you'll also find a quick clip of her recently showing that she can still move as well as some dancers less than half her age!)

It was my understanding that the troop mothers all decided it would be extra-cute to play off the idea of "Mickey" by having all the girls in costumes that looked a little like Minnie Mouse. It was also my understanding that not one of the girls thought it was a good idea or liked the costumes. Even so -- and even though this was their 2nd performance in as many days, they delivered a spirited routine that had the entire audience stomping and clapping and that finished to loud applause and cheers.

AJ helped with pre-show ticket pick-up, etc. I just caught Miri running back to the "green room" after her 3rd check to make sure Mommy knew she was expecting her to come back.
The stage before the show. For a group that considers 1980 ancient history, the kids did a good job decorating!
Just like last year, the opening number had the kids coming into the aisles. I had trouble finding Miri in the crowd (that might be her near the middle) in part because I was one aisle over and the kid next to me kept accidentally whacking me in the head with his inflatable "electric guitar" while dancing.
After numerous other acts -- somehow the Pipsqueak always performs after intermission -- the troop came running happily onstage and danced their little hearts out for the crowd.

Everybody in place... let's go!
Miri has always loved to spin & twirl.
Biiiiig smile...!
Keeping formation while getting low.
The Pipsqueak gets big air!
"Stomp and KICK and stomp and KICK and..."
Still going strong long after I would've collapsed into s sweaty, panting blob of Jello.
Spinning & twirling in formation!
Everyone took their bows at the end of the show, so when the music stopped the girls sprinted offstage -- with the Pipsqueak in the lead!
There were several more acts after the girls danced, and then the emcees re-boarded their time machine to return to the present day and the acts all ran onstage one at a time for their "curtain call" (sometimes accompanied by trips & loud thuds and/or silly antics).

"Come on, come on, hurry up!"
One last dancer's pose and twirl before running offstage.
When the show broke, we spent a few loudly chaotic minutes trying to move against the crowd to get back to the green room, then reversed direction and headed to the after-party in the cafeteria for cast, families and friends.  The local franchise for Rita's Italian Ice was serving up cold yumminess for the kids, so Grandpa got into line with the Pipsqueak and she closed out the evening enjoying the garishly colored (but tasty!) rewards of all her hard work.

As expected, Miri got about halfway through the cup of Italian ices before deciding she'd had enough (by that time most of the remaining kids were more interested in running around, anyway) so the rest of us shared the leftovers while reminiscing about the Italian ice stand at the local bakery on Merrick Boulevard in Laurelton half a century ago.  The crowd began to thin out and soon AJ & the Pipsqueak headed to their house (knowing they had to get up early in the morning for Sunday school) while I dropped Mom & Dad at the old homestead before heading home myself.

We all enjoyed the show, and (as usual) had a blast watching Miri dancing -- she loves to perform, and her stage smile is never fake. Even the costumes were kinda-sorta OK'd by the girls by the end of the evening, so everything worked out just fine in the end.

Next catch-up post: Doesn't every Jewish family have an Easter egg hunt?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Coming Attractions

I'm going to keep this post really short because I should've been asleep hours ago (as usual <sigh>).

Just some coming attractions:

"Catching Up" Department - I'm working on drafts for the annual talent show at Miri's school at the end of March and a damp but fun Easter egg hunt with MIT friends in early April. We closed out that month with Miri & Co. performing at both a local school's International Night and on the Rockville Town Square public stage for the MCCPTA Performing Arts Festival... all due for postings here.  (May & June events to follow, of course!)

"Current Events" Department - We made our usual pilgrimage to UMCP for the Independence Day fireworks; celebrated Dad's 87th, Miri's Gotcha Day, and Mom's 83rd; had the annual Long Island clan visit; and other milestones & events I'll post about.

"Adoption Issues" Department - Just when you thought it was history, the political idiocy surrounding U.S. adoptions from Russia is in the news again, along with a case of race-based adoption denial in the UK that led to a couple adopting from the USA. Of course I have a few thoughts on those subjects (and maybe a few others as well)...!

Aside from establishing a "Random Thoughts" department, that pretty much covers what I'm roughing out, prepping photos for, etc. for the blog.

See y'all soon!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Seven Years Ago...

"An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but will never break."
-- from an old Chinese story
Seven years ago, the ends of the thread connecting my sister and her daughter finally came together.

The Pipsqueak has spent the past week reminding us that Wednesday is Grandpa's birthday -- and (drum roll, please) her Gotcha Day.

She turned 8 only last month so she's really just wrapping her head around some of what that means, but she understands the whole "you grew in my heart, not beneath it" dynamic about as well as anyone just celebrating their 8th summer in this world is likely going to be able to.  After a seemingly steady increase in "When I was a baby in China..." stories (some of which were physically impossible), Miri's not spoken openly about it for a while. That fuzzy, distant past is continually being muscled aside by the realities of the here and now: worrying about passing the swimming test at summer camp so she can use the water slide (she did, with flying colors); trying to memorize all the words & dance moves for the upcoming parents' show at the camp; wondering what it'll be like to have classes up on the 2nd floor of her school in 3rd grade; trying to decide if she'll want to continue with Chinese school on Saturday mornings or join her neighborhood swim team instead (all for next summer, but she likes to plan ahead); trying to find a way to have her silly uncle schedule a play date at his house (I'm working on it!); and so on.

But for us... well, Gotcha Day is as fresh and sharp in our minds as it was almost 3/4 of a decade ago. It was a beautiful, sunny day, which I described thusly in a post back in 2011: "It was hot. Not, 'hey, the sun is strong' hot. Not, 'wow, I can get sunburned quickly here!' hot. No, it was more like, 'wow, my car just melted!' hot. I mean HOT. With humidity to match."

We all slept through the regular breakfast time and barely got anything to eat, thanks to not getting into bed until around 4:00am the previous night. All my cash was laid out on one of the beds, drying after I sweated through it while climbing the Great Wall the previous day. AJ reviewed her paperwork and re-re-checked the integrity of The Big Envelope at least four times. The entire group circumnavigated the hotel property in the blazing sun just to burn off (almost literally!) all the excess nervous energy. My email confirmed the PandaPhone folks had given up on finding me and were refunding their fee. We rode our agency-chartered minibus to another hotel, and rode upstairs to the government offices in stiflingly hot elevators so small & cramped that our little group had to split up. We spent 20 minutes trying to stay calm, planning camera angles and watching the two about-to-become-Big-Sisters in the group recklessly ride the two little hobbyhorses in the waiting room. AJ sat on the big, worn 1970s Burnt Orange sofa quietly twisting her hands this way, that way, this way again....

And then, a fast eternity later, I heard something in the hallway, stepped out the door to check, then darted back into the room yelling, "I SEE BABIES!" Several people came in, most notably two women and a man, each with a child; one walking easily with a worried expression, one walking a little less steadily with a "what's going on?" expression, and in the man's arms at the end of the procession a scrawny, nearly bald almost baby looking around silently but with obvious curiosity. The first two girls were introduced to their forever families almost simultaneously, with some obvious concern but none of the ear-splitting histrionics we'd learned to fear from YouTube videos.

And then, at exactly 3:33pm local (Nanning) time:

I think the appropriate comment at this point is, "And they lived happily ever after." Seriously, aside from the usual "stuff" life throws at us, that's an accurate statement; bonding problems were nearly nonexistent, health problems were nearly nonexistent, sleeping problems were nearly nonexistent... Sure, there were some days that were rougher than others (especially the day the Pipsqueak decided we were NOT allowed to put her down or stop moving while holding her) , and since then there have been the usual "moments" that every life includes, but that scrawny little thing in yellow print pajama top and blue print pajama bottoms is a caring, loving, intelligent, empathic, active, and curious child with an old soul who helps without being asked (most of the time), helps Mommy keep an eye on Grandma & Grandpa (especially the latter), and loves sharing together time with her family.

Meet the Pipsqueak! (Waiting for fireworks on July 4th.)
A closing note... We all had dinner together Tuesday night (Mom & Dad had a new central HVAC system put in the house to replace the rapidly-dying old system, and after picking up the Pipsqueak from summer camp I stuck around to help move furniture back, re-hang pictures, etc.). As we headed back to our respective houses, I leaned into AJ's van to say goodnight to the Pipsqueak and I commented that seven years earlier, at that time in China she was just beginning her last night in an orphanage. She paused for a moment, then smiled and blew me a kiss with a big smile and said, "Happy Gotcha Day Eve, Uncle Brian!"

Happy Gotcha Day, Pipsqueak! (And happy 87th birthday, Dad!)

Saturday, July 8, 2017

A Rule Change!

As y'all probably know by now, one of the rules of this blog has been that I don't publish photos that clearly show the Pipsqueak's face.  The rule was set by my sister and -- as I told her back in China -- she's the mama so she makes the rules.  It's not Internet paranoia, either; we know a couple who had an extremely unpleasant visit from the FBI when photos of their young son in a slightly-too-small baseball uniform were found on an extremely unsavory website.


Back in late 2015, the Pipsqueak could semi-clearly be seen in a YouTube video of a Halloween flash mob dance near her home...

In 2016, she could clearly be seen in a YouTube video of a dance competition held by the company that does her after-school care...

And even though we're only halfway through 2017 she's already shown up in a 2nd YouTube video by the same company and another YouTube video from one of the dance studios where she takes classes... PLUS she and several of the girls from our MIT group were showcased performing a Chinese ethnic dance routine on one of the county's cable TV channel shows, complete (and replete) with multiple close-ups of my niece -- a show that was broadcast statewide in February, repeated county-wide in March, and that is now available in full on YouTube and the county's website.

Well, the Long Island branch of the family is here on their annual visit to celebrate a brace of shared birthdates, and early on Friday evening AJ was telling them about how "famous" her daughter is becoming online and listed all the above. I jokingly asked, "Does this mean I can finally show her face on the blog?" and AJ thought for a moment, shrugged, and said "Yes."

I asked if she meant it, and she said "yes" again!

SOOoooo...  I'd prepped a bunch of photos for my next two posts but now I'm going go to back and pull a few more, including some of the better ones that actually let viewers see what the Pipsqueak looks like these days!

It's actually been hard to find appropriate photos for many of my posts, and since 2011 I've made a point of taking at least a couple of shots in which Miri is only seen from behind, or purposely didn't delete accidentally out-of-focus or motion-blurred photos. I'm really excited to finally be able to just go ahead an post "real" pictures of the Pipsqueak from now on! As far as having any of those photos show up where we don't want them to... well, I know a few search tricks and have friends in interesting places online, and that's all I'm going to say for now (but I think we'll be OK).

Stay tuned -- my next post will be early this coming week, and you'll finally see the Pipsqueak! 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Catching Up: Elementary School Science Share plus Bonus Wildlife (2017_03_15)

Every year, the Pipsqueak's school has a "Science Share" event (pretty much the same as the old Science Fair events from my school days, but with an added emphasis on the kids teaching each other & the visitors -- all good stuff). Last year, Miri teamed up with her BFF for a project near and dear to my heart: testing the melting rates of different types of chocolate. (You can read the post about last year's Science Share by clicking here.)

This year my niece was a solo act in which she ran a test to determine if color would affect the rate at which a sugar/water mix would crystallize and how much of the color would be absorbed by the sugar. The first test didn't work, partly because different containers were used for different colors and partly because... well, let's just say things didn't go quite as planned. The re-do worked out nicely. Grandma supplied four identical small transparent glass bowls and Mommy remembered to take all the required photographs, and the sugar did indeed crystallize very nicely over the course of a little over a week.

A few days before the Science Share began, I was asked to please lend a hand creating the display boards (partly because AJ's printer & laptop were having a tiff) so the three of us spread out over most of both the living & dining room areas with scissors, glue sticks, a bunch of photos AJ had emailed me that I'd printed at my house, foam board, et. al. There were a few last-minute downloads & printouts (once I'd finally gotten AJ's printer and laptop to cooperate) and a couple of minor disagreements over layout, but I was able to head back home secure in the knowledge that Miri's scientific research was ready to be presented to her admiring public.

Despite it already being mid-March, our crazy weather first dropped hail on our heads on the 10th and then added snow to its repertoire so when I looked out my back door the morning of the 15th all I saw was bare branches and snow. Hey, waitaminit... did that tree trunk just move by itself...?

What I had thought was just another fallen tree suddenly resolved itself into a young deer. And then a second moved just enough to be seen... and then a third... a fourth...  Despite their heavy winter coats blending almost invisibly into the white-brown-grey of the trees behind my house, I finally woke up enough to see a small herd of deer nonchalantly munching their way down the block. The mystery of where they came from was quickly solved when yet another furry eating machine bent its head a little and walked through a big hole in the fence between my neighborhood and the golf course next door. I grabbed my camera and fired off 20-odd shots through the dirty glass of the sliding door.

Yes, I know I said I took more than 20 photos... I just wanted to include the good ones. (I really had just woken up!)

I figured that having all that fuzzy cuteness in my backyard was a good omen, and remained in a good mood as I picked up Mom & Dad and we headed to Miri's school early that evening.  Event set-up was mostly complete, and we were glad to see the usual big turnout. (Side note: Unlike some other schools in the area, this one is blessed with a very high level of parent & family involvement. Also unlike some other schools in the area, said involvement is of a positive, supportive nature, with no calls to ban books, change history lessons, or stop teaching "erotic math" -- the last being something my mother's school was charged with by some parents a number of years ago. AJ spent a lot of time researching school districts long before starting the adoption process, and she done good.)

We found the Pipsqueak's display at one end of the gym and I began perusing the other displays while Mom & Dad spoke with other grandparents. (There were a number of duplicate experiments, but only one other like hers done by an older kid with the title reversed.) The kids were all supposed to remain at their displays to explain their experiments to passers-by and faculty, but after a few minutes of watching all the non-participating siblings & other kids run around having a good time Miri needed a little extra encouragement from Grandma to not wander more than a couple of feet away. (She wasn't the only one; about 1/3 of the displays I visited were unmanned when I passed by.) That little hurdle passed, Miri did herself proud; the comments sheet for her display had several very nice compliments concerning her presentation of the experiment, and one gentleman spent at least five minutes gushing about her ability to explain what she did and the self-confidence she displayed. (I think she unleashed her "little schoolmarm" persona on him.)

The event finally came to a close (not a moment too soon for the one display featuring Skittles -- I think the bowl was licked clean!) and Miri happily collected her certificate of achievement and a firm congratulatory handshake from the principal.

I lent a hand with some of the tear-down (folding tables, etc.) and then we went out for a celebratory ice cream before everyone headed for their respective houses. All in all, a good evening... despite Mom still wondering when she'll get her glass bowls back!