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!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Personal Space

Well, looks like I done did it again.. skipped a week (or three) in my blogging. At least this time I have a couple of good excuses, including throwing my semi-annual "big sick" but things are back to the insanity that now passes for normal 'round these parts, so let's get some road under this show...

Over the years, one corner of Mom & Dad's family room slowly morphed into The Place Where All The Pipsqueak's Things Are Kept.  It didn't start out that way, and wasn't really planned; it just seemed to be the best corner to stash things in, and the spot with the most room for the little plastic slide she used to love crawling up (and which she now towers over).  As she left toddlerhood that part of the room turned out to be the best place to put a small shelf unit for some of her books & toys. Fast-forward a couple of years, and the shelf unit (actually more of a rack for plastic bins rather than actual shelves) was joined by an ever-growing collection of bins, baskets, boxes, rolling 3-drawer things that don't roll very well, and, well... stuff.

An ever-expanding sea of things that became increasingly difficult to wade through to get to the light switch.

An ever-expanding collection of things that she needed to spend more & more time looking through to find what she was looking for.  (Something that actually runs in the family.)

An ever-expanding collection of things that were more & more precariously perched and piled atop each other as the bin rack and baskets overflowed with both new things she enjoyed and old things she had long ago outgrown.

The kicker came about six weeks ago, when a member of the Texas branch of the family decided Uncle Ruby (that's Dad) wasn't exactly a spring chicken any more so she organized a family reunion and scheduled a not-so-small mob into the house for dinner one night.  (The event is scheduled for early November; I'm sure you'll read about it here in the blog.)  Mom was and remains beyond perplexed over how to fit nearly 40 people into the  house but very quickly realized we'd fit a lot more of the mob into the family room if Miri's things weren't so busy taking up so much of it.

It would've been easy to just pack everything up in boxes and stash it in the basement or garage; to pull out all the books & toys we know Miri doesn't play with any more and get rid of them; to just tell the Pipsqueak that Grandma & Grandpa really need that space so could she please take some of her things home; or to do any number of other things that would have very quickly cleared out the space.

But that's the corner that's held the Pipsqueak's things since she was about two years old, and Mom wanted to make sure Miri knew that it was still her house and she belonged there no matter what, and just unilaterally tossing stuff away or telling the Pipsqueak to clear out was the absolute opposite of that message so we had to figure out another way.

A review of all the things that were spreading outward from the corner quickly proved that an appreciable percentage had truly been outgrown, and that a better storage solution would take care of almost everything left over... so we began hunting for shelves and cabinets that would work.  I'll save you the eleventy-seven hours of reading the entire story and just say we settled on a small Billy bookcase from IKEA, with an optional set of doors and a height extender that would bring it up to an almost perfect size & capacity.

Y'all remember  what happened the last time I put together IKEA furniture for the Pipsqueak, right...?  (You can read the saga here, and here, and here.)  Well, things went slightly more smoothly this time.  I got the bookcase assembled with no glitches, the special adjustable sunken hinges I'd learned to hate while working at IKEA installed and adjusted without a hitch, and I even had the doors properly aligned with maybe five minutes' work... but then came the height extender.  No matter how I looked at the instructions (which I luckily brought up online instead of ripping open the box), the anchor holes that were absolutely required for installation just did. not. exist. on the top of the bookcase.  I began surfing the web on my iPhone to try to figure out what I'd done wrong and eventually discovered some guy's blog in which he bemoaned the fact that the short Billy would have been exactly the right height for his needs with the height extender attached but that the height extender was designed to only fit atop the 72" version of the Billy,  nothing smaller.

I'll skip the cussing, discussing, and general whattheheckweretheythinking tirade(s) and cleaned up some of the mess I'd made before heading home.  AJ & I had tickets for a Sunday matinee of Dreamgirls at Toby's that weekend, so Mom took advantage of having the Pipsqueak on hand for almost an entire Sunday to have her go through all the toys and books to box up the things she didn't want any more, arrange things in "her" new "grown up" cabinet, and figure out the best way to store those things she wanted to keep but didn't use very often.  Miri rose to the challenge and by the time Mommy and Uncle Brian returned from the theater she had nearly everything in its new place and had decided she really liked the idea of the more grown-up style of storage.

And, lo and behold, the sea of boxes and baskets and such had been reduced to a single 3-drawer rolling thingy with Miri's art supplies, while everything else that she wanted to keep was neatly put away within or atop the Billy unit.  More importantly, the idea of the house still being hers  as much as anyone else's, and that part of the room being dedicated to her as her own personal space, was more concrete than ever.

In fact, the idea of that being the Pipsqueak's personal space was so well-reinforced, Mom said that shortly before AJ & I arrived she had gone into the family room and Miri -- who had been standing and looking around with that look on her face -- turned to her and quietly asked, "Grandma, would it be okay if we got something like a rug for my personal space to make it more comfortable for me to sit on the floor...?"

We're still tweaking things -- it's hard to find good bookends that don't cost a fortune -- but it's pretty obvious that my niece has no question about whether or not she "belongs" in that particular spot.

Now we just gotta figure out where to put the other 30+ cousins in November...

Friday, September 29, 2017

"You Owe Her Big Time"

A belated but sincere L'SHANA TOVAH to one and all -- may you all be inscribed in the book of life for many long, happy, and healthy years!

Uncle Brian done went and screwed up.

Luckily for me, the story has a happy ending. :-)

Every year, the Pipsqueak's school has a special 1-day morning program in which dads can accompany their kids on a "fitness course" set up inside the school. There are stations featuring different tests of coordination and/or fitness, and instructions on how to move from one to the next (e.g., hop on one foot, zig-zag down the hall, etc.). There's also free bottled water & healthy snacks available at the end, along with a couple of extra minutes for inter-generational bonding before the kids all have to go to class. The school's done a good job of trying to be inclusive by specifically mentioning dads, uncles, stepdads, grandpas, and general "father figures" on the handout for each year's event (and they're still working on appropriately decreasing exclusiveness).

Last year,  Miri & I had a lot of fun with it so we were both looking forward to this year's event.  Sooooo of course I managed to get myself myself sick again (too much doing, too little sleeping, and way the [bleep] too much stress for too long), so my ability to participate in this year's program was questionable. Despite still periodically losing my voice, needing 1-2 naps a day, and having to be a mouth-breather multiple times daily, on Wednesday evening I told Miri I was planning to participate and her face lit up like a thousand-watt bulb.

I set FOUR alarms and went to bed early... and suddenly could. NOT. fall. asleep.  Somewhere around 4:00am, the room finally faded to black.  I remember the first alarm going off at 7:00 and thinking, "Oh, good, I have an hour to get there..."

...and the next thing I remember is being re-awakened from an astonishingly weird dream by the combined sounds of my iPhone's klaxon alarm, the loud beeping of my clock radio,  the phone next to my bed ringing, and the phone's talking Caller ID feature announcing AJ's cell phone number.

The event began at 8:15 and the last group would be allowed through at 8:40.  I rolled over to answer the phone and saw a big blue-green "8:18" on the face of my clock radio.

I live about 20 minutes from the school.

I tried to simultaneously get out of bed, put on a pair of jeans, and run a razor over my face without letting go of the phone. AJ doubted that I could make it to the school on time but I told her I needed to at least try. I called from the halfway point and her prognosis had improved from "impossible" to "unlikely" so I redoubled my efforts (i.e., went from driving like an Indy driver to calling Engineering for Warp 8) and cussed my way past slower-moving drivers, through yellow lights, and around curves at what I have to admit was an exhilarating rate of of forward motion.[1]

I called AJ's cell phone again as I maneuvered into a spot miraculously available right in front of the school but she didn't answer. Even more worried, I jumped out of the car and ran toward the front door....

...and encountered my sister coming back out after sending a very, very unhappy little girl into class because the event had been declared over while I was parking.

Panting from my short run, I asked how badly I'd screwed up. AJ's answer started clearly but became muffled after just a few words. Then the sidewalk began to change shape, and a cloud blocked the sun. I put my hand on a nearby signpost to steady myself, and for a moment I thought it was too flimsy and was bending away from me... then realized that none of the above was happening anywhere outside the confines of my head so I held up a hand to AJ, closed my eyes, and leaned on the signpost while gripping it more tightly.

It's good to have a sister who's a trained clinical social worker; she reacted calmly, asked the right questions, and stood by ready to help without drama or unnecessary action. It took a few minutes, but eventually the signpost stopped warping and the sidewalk stopped squirming under my feet so I cautiously opened my eyes and found there were no clouds in the sky. I still had a little trouble catching my breath but the world was slowly returning to normal.

Still panting, I realized that if I'd participated in the fitness events I probably would have been laying spread-eagled on my face in the middle of a school hallway. I should not have promised Miri that I'd participate in something so active when I knew that just walking up the stairs had been leaving me breathless due to congestion (and probably shouldn't have thought of bringing my lovely little URI into an elementary school in the first place).

But I did, and she'd been really really really excited about it, and I screwed up, and now I could clearly hear AJ telling me that the Pipsqueak had been in tears when the event ended and I had still not shown up. Her next statement came through crystal-clear: "You owe her big time."

I didn't disagree. We went over everyone's schedule and came up with zero available time for at least two weeks and then AJ mentioned she really did need to get to work. After I reassured her I felt OK and would just sit in my air-conditioned car for a few minutes to make sure I was able to drive safely, she headed off to where she'd parked and I did as I'd promised. She drove past me a couple of minutes later but I continued to sit, feeling very annoyed with myself over both promising to do what I couldn't and then breaking the promise.

Just as I came to realize that I had done a much worse job of parking than I originally thought (Dude, aren't your wheels supposed to be less than two feet from the curb on a major road...?) I had a mini-revelation: I was taking Mom & Dad to a PT appointment that ended around lunchtime but had nothing on my schedule afterwards (something that subsequently turned out to be only partly correct)... Hmm... I called AJ to check on her schedule for the evening and said I wanted to take the Pipsqueak on a dinner date as part of my apology. She thought it was a great idea and let the after-care crew know Uncle Brian would be picking up Miri instead of Mommy (and to let it be a surprise).

Fast-forward through an increasingly complicated day (and a desperately needed 90-minute nap) and just as I was leaving the house, a traffic alert came through saying the road I needed was blocked by an accident. Thinking, Yeah, it's that kind of a day, I headed to the school as quickly as traffic allowed and was happily shocked to discover the alert was totally wrong. I walked in to find Miri working on an art project, and she looked up at me, gave me a fleeting smile, and then looked back down. Not a good reaction.

One of the counselors said, "Hey, look who's here to pick you up!" and got a terse, "I know, I'm not blind!" that left the two of us looking at each other in surprise. (I'd expect that kind of response from a high schooler... but a kid in 3rd grade? Yikes!) I walked over, sat down opposite my niece while she studiously ignored me, and explained that I was very sorry, that I knew I messed up in the morning and was very annoyed with myself about it, and that as part of my apology I wanted to take her out on a dinner date.

That last phrase got a quick stare, a big smile, and a happy, "REALLY?" and suddenly everything was good in the world again. She finished the art project, then dragged to the back of the room to help pick up her stuff, then practically dragged me out the door. I spent the next 15 minutes sitting in the car getting bombarded by a rapid-fire description of how she was unhappy in the morning but felt better by lunch and she did some stuff in school today and her wiggly tooth is really loose but won't come out and one of the kids was making silly comments at lunch and her wiggly tooth is really loose but won't come out and her mouth feels weird because of the wiggly tooth and is Mommy home or still at work and and and... (You get the idea.)

I texted AJ & our folks so they'd know all was OK and eventually stopped the flow of verbiage from the back seat long enough to decide we would go to IHOP for pancakes. Miri was equally verbose aaaalllllll the way there so I knew she was happy, and the restaurant was nearly empty so we had almost no wait for our food. True to form, she finished one of the kids' platters with a side of bacon, then an adult-sized side of bacon and another scrambled egg, then about 1/3 of my short stack before deciding she was full, all while talking absolutely NONSTOP (mostly about that wiggly tooth) with an occasional break to try out a new game on my iPhone.

That plate was clean 6-1/2 minutes later!
As our talkative meal progressed, I was (very slowly) feeling progressively less upset & guilty for my morning screw-up, but it was really Miri who let me off the hook. As we were getting ready to leave, I began to apologize one last time for messing up her morning, and she replied, "This is better, because in the morning we would have only had a few minutes together but this way we had hours!" followed with a big hug.

I owed her big time but, at least this time, the bill's paid in full.   :-)

1 - Was I driving fast?  Heck, yeah -- but not as insanely as it might sound.  I stopped at any light I didn't think I could get through before it had turned red, stopped at every stop sign, kept decent separation, and made neither tires nor brakes squeal even once.  Meanwhile, I witnessed one car run a stop sign in front of me, a 2nd run a red light in front of me, and a 3rd run over the curb when trying to make a turn, all driving "safely."  Judge me if you want, but I have neither death wish nor desire to maim others and I know the limits of my & my vehicle's abilities.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Catching Up: Beauty and the Beast Onstage

April continued to be a busy month this year, but we made sure the schedule included Good Stuff that we scheduled for the sake of Good Stuff.  It was far too early to call it a birthday present for the Pipsqueak, but when AJ first noticed "Beauty and the Beast" on the playbill at Toby's Dinner Theatre (all the way back in December!) it immediately became part of the family's plan.

One little complication... All those months in advance and every single weekend matinee was sold out.  Weeknight performances can be a bit of an adventure for us to get to, but hey -- it's Beauty and the Beast! We had to make it work -- so for the first time in a very long time, we bought tickets for a weeknight performance (Tuesday the 25th, to be exact). And, since this was a kinda special thing, it would be all five of us (along with our lovely friend Karole, who's been joining  AJ & Yours Truly at Toby's Sunday morning matinees for years & years).

I'm still not sure how it happened, but we all managed to get to the theater on time.  (Dude, did your sister threaten someone with death so she could leave on time for a change?) I picked up Mom & Dad, AJ scooped up Miri at after-school care, we converged on her house & transferred into her van, and headed off to Columbia at a blistering 35mph. (It was rush hour, after all.)  We had good seats, ate far too much from the buffet (as usual), and managed to get some of the last scoops of ice cream just before they closed the DIY sundae bar to get the show going.

An added attraction for us was that our waitress was the lovely Janine Sunday, who (although she was not appearing in this particular performance) we've been watching in shows at Toby's since way back in the day before she and husband Russell were an item.  Hubby Russell himself was the Beast so we got to hear a little about what went into getting ready for the show along with some personal family updates.

And then the pre-show monologue/intro was underway, and Mom & Dad discovered that their slightly devious daughter had made sure they were singled out in the crowd in recognition of their 64th(!) anniversary just two weeks earlier.  There's always extra applause and few oohs & aahs when bigger anniversaries are mentioned, and they got quite a nice ovation. (Our folks ironically never actually dated each other during several years of what turned out to be something of a courtship; the longevity of their marriage is based on mutual friendship & respect that goes back to their meeting on New Year's Eve 1950-51.)

Finally the house lights went down, the music came up, and we were transported to the world of Disney's Beauty and the Beast live onstage. (Toby's is a fairly intimate theater-in-the-round so anything happening "onstage" was only a few feet away from us.)  There were a couple of times Miri got a bit fidgety, as might be expected from someone still looking forward to their 8th birthday, but she behaved exactly as a young lady should (as usual without being told) and spent most of the time engrossed in the show... even when she spent time in Mommy's lap, which is her favorite seat.

There was the usual "short intermission" which we've never seen last less than 10 minutes longer than scheduled that gave us a few more moments to talk to Janine, then the slightly scary 2nd act that featured Miri's most and least favorite parts of the story. (Beast doesn't scare her; Gaston killing someone does.) Finally, after a rousing closing number and the usual chaos of everyone trying to stand up after eating too much and sitting too long, some of the cast came back out onto the floor and we were lucky enough to catch photos with leads Nicki Elledge (still in Belle's famous yellow gown) and Russell Sunday (still in full Beast regalia):

Nicki was as gracious as we could have ever hoped, and we surprised Russell by reminding him of one of the very first roles we'd seem him play at Toby's quite a while back. He took a few moments to explain to Miri how complicated it was to not only get into the Beast makeup but also how hard it was to keep it on during the show (his mouth seemed to always want to fall apart), and then it really was time for us to all head home. After all, it was a school night, and the show hadn't even started until 8pm!

Mom has always had a love of theater, and Dad's always enjoyed it, so AJ & I were brought up with the same feelings... And it's wonderful to see my how niece shares the attraction entirely from within herself, without any "teaching" from her grownups.  Toby's 2017-2018 season includes "Mamma Mia" right on time for Miri's birthday -- honestly a bit of a "maybe" but still under consideration -- and then Disney's "Little Mermaid" through the holiday season... So you'll definitely be reading about more theater visits in coming months!

Coming in my next catch-up: Miri & her peeps perform on the public stage!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Catching Up: Easter 2017

(What, doesn't every Jewish family celebrate Easter...?)

To be honest, our "celebration" of Easter is areligious, pretty much beginning & ending with an egg hunt, maybe a chocolate bunny or three, and (if we're lucky) a fun get-together involving good food.  As we have for the past several years, we happily spent it being hosted by close friends from our MIT group.

We arrived at the house surprisingly close to the time we were supposed to (a bit of a feat for this family!) and quickly divided up as we usually do: the grownups all chatting & trying to help out in the living room / dining room / kitchen while all the kids alternated between making lots of happy noise & mess downstairs in the basement or upstairs in CN's bedroom. (Punctuated every now and then with a less happy noise when her younger brother was a boy and the girls were girls, of course!)

After a while we noticed the hazy sky was rapidly changing to a threatening grey so the grownups made sure the younger generation remained indoors and we began hiding eggs for the hunt.  What the plastic eggs lacked in accurate depiction of egghood they more than made up for in volume -- I lost count of how many I'd placed somewhere in the middle range of 2-digit numbers and there were several of us placing the eggs in the back, side, and front yards. Of course it started raining shortly before we finished, but it was light enough to mostly ignore (I took momentary refuge under a tall flowering bush that promptly began leaking rainwater down the back of my neck) and soon the deed was done.

We had plastic eggs placed high and placed low; tucked into dark corners and laying out in plain view; snuggled into nooks & crannies and balanced on fenceposts; in the grass and on the deck; nestled firmly into depressions and balanced carefully on rises; on the ground and tucked into bushes... In short, there were eggs pretty darn much everywhere by the time we were done.  Of course, being me, I decided to experiment a little with the ol' "hide in plain sight" trick using similar shapes and colors:

The weather cleared considerably as we tried herding the cats rounding up all the kids so CN & Miri gave us a quick recital featuring the fan dance they were learning for CCACC/CLAPS...

...and then they were off!

(Note to self: You'll have a lot more photos of the egg hunt if fewer eggs are placed where the kids don't either need help to reach them or adult supervision to avoid injury while gathering them. Oops.)

The rules of the hunt were simple: don't do any major damage to the house, the yard, yourselves, or each other, and have a good time; the result was that everybody had fun and all the kids had an impressive haul.  We discovered that residual rainwater had leaked into a few eggs to spoil the candy inside, so there was careful sorting, opening, and checking of every. single. plastic. egg. to make sure no one ended up with a mouthful of damp & potentially dirty candy. (Dude, they all still ended up with a few thousand calories' worth each, don't sweat it!)

Mom had also put together Easter baskets for all the kids that included giant stuffed bunnies.  The kids were thrilled with their new companions and Miri was happy to formally present them to everyone.... plus it afforded everyone quite a photo op!

(Yes, I know they're facing the wrong way. I forgot to ask if I could post the photo showing their faces!)
We were eventually able to corral all the loose eggs (and egg halves), candy, stickers, mini-toys, etc. along with their collectors and sat down to enjoy a really nice Easter meal.  We started off with the Greek Easter game tsougrisma: each of was was given a hard-boiled egg with its shell dyed red and we took turns knocking them together in an attempt to crack the other person's eggshell. I don't remember who won, but it was a new thing for us and a lot of fun. (I do remember that I was not the winner, but my cracked egg turned out to be very tasty with a little salt so no harm done.)

As good as the food was, the desserts (yes, plural) were the highlight of the meal. The stars of the show were a couple of home-baked Easter cakes that were just as pretty on the inside as on the outside, and delicious to boot!

The kids, well-fueled with sugar and carbs, returned to their happy noisemaking while the adults all tried fending off a bout of post-meal sleepiness with more good conversation (and a little additional noshing) in the living room, but after a while the adults began waking up and the kids began coming down from their sugar high and it was time to go home.

Oh, and my "hide in plain sight" eggs?  It took a few minutes for the kids to collect all of them, so I'll be doing that again!  :-)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Big Day Coming! (with Special Postscript)

Well, so much for posting every 5-6 days.... <sigh>  I'll keep trying, I promise. Been VERY busy. Am VERY VERY VERY tired.

But I will keep posting -- promise. :-)

Anyway, just a quick note today (have to take a pathophysiology test in a couple of hours).

Tomorrow (September 5th) is a big day: the Pipsqueak starts 3rd grade!  We're all happy (so far!) with her teacher, who's been at the school for quite some time & has often taught higher grades. Miri is happy because she's found out that all but one of her peeps from last year will be in her class, and Miri's grownups are happy because class size is reasonable.  (Miri did mention that there are also three "Misbehavings" from last year in her class, but that's to be expected.)

Most exciting of all, though (as far as the Pipsqueak is concerned) is the fact that she'll be upstairs with the big kids now!  The school is built in such a way that most of us asked, "what upstairs?!?" when we heard.  You literally can't see the 2nd floor from the front of the school, but it's definitely there and it's where the classrooms for grades 3 - 4 - 5 are located.  If having to climb a flight of stairs to get to class  doesn't sound like A Big Deal to you (Dude, it's kinda inconvenient, no?), you're not an eight year old whose closest BFFs are a couple of years older than you -- believe me, it is A Big Deal and we're thrilled that Miri is starting 3rd grade with a happy/excited positive outlook.

Of course, AJ is already planning to quietly cry in her car for a minute or two after dropping off her daughter for the first day of school, just like she's done every previous year...  And Uncle Brian keeps catching himself wondering what happened to that scrawny little baby that peed all over him seven years ago in Nanning.  <:-}

SPECIAL NOTE:  We are fortunate to live in an area unaffected by Hurricane Harvey, and those friends & family  who live in Texas have been lucky enough to have (for the most part) missed the worst of the storm's effects. However, thousands upon thousands of people have not been so lucky; I urge everyone with the capability of helping to do so. Some important links:
  • The American Red Cross has a donation hotline at 1-800-HELP-NOW (1-800-435-7669); click here for their website.
  • FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) has the lead in mobilizing SAR, housing, food, and medical care.  Click here for their website.
  • Feeding America is the nation's largest charitable hunger-relief organization. Click here for their website.
  • For those concerned about the legitimacy of any particular group or charity claiming to be collecting for Hurricane Harvey relief, Charity Navigator has a list with charity ratings as well as local (TX) organizations you might want to help out.  Click here for the website.
  • For those seeking information about the area affected, Google has an interactive "crisis map" to show the areas hardest hit, road closures, etc.  Click here for the website.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

My Sister's Cat is Psychic

I just wanted to make a real quick post before any more time goes by -- it's been another in a series of long days separated by too-short nights and I'm having trouble keeping my eyes open, so I'll give y'all some actual content in another couple of days. (There's nothing particularly bad going on, there just aren't enough hours to complete all that needs to be completed.)

As I said in the title, my sister's cat is psychic.  Her name is Xu'an and she's an odd little creature who'll happily come up to you and rub against your leg for attention only to dart away at warp 8 if you so much as show a sign of bending down to pay her any direct attention. (Assuming she even comes out of hiding when you enter the house.)  She's a lot more direct with AJ & Miri, and has an interesting way to ask for attention: she climbs up AJ's leg.

This is also how AJ knows when it's time to trim Xuan's claws. No blood? All is well. Small holes in pants? Time to trim. Bloody wounds from ankle to inner thigh? Do nothing until those claws are trimmed. Unfortunately, this is one little kitty who hates - detests - loathes - despises having her claws trimmed, so it's never a one-person job.

For the past several years, AJ has gotten into the habit of telling her older brother she needs his help trimming the cat's claws, eventually resulting in me carefully gripping a squirmily unhappy kitty while AJ makes like the Flash with feline nail trimmers. The problem is that we usually first have to catch Xuan, and that's much more easily said than done.

Y'see, this is a cat who Knows. I can walk into the house a dozen days in a row and at worst she'll run up the stairs until she recognized my voice.  But every -- and I mean EVERY -- time I come in with the intention of helping get her nails clipped, she high-tails it for the nether shadows beneath the lowest, heaviest, deepest pieces of furniture in the house... or simply engages the cloaking device she borrowed from a passing Klingon warbird some time back when we weren't paying attention.

We never say anything out loud, never approach the drawer holding the clippers, never do anything (that we're aware of) that in any way indicates there's a claw clipping planned, but Xuan will always know that's the plan and act accordingly.

Latest case in point: Last week the entire family went to see "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" at Toby's Theatre of Columbia, and stopped at AJ's on the way home for a quick pit stop and to take care of several odds & ends... among which was the clipping of Xuan's increasingly pain-inducing claws.

Problem was, the kitty was nowhere to be found. No one said or did ANYTHING to indicate the day's plans included snipping those pointy toe razors -- we were actually all so tired that all we did was collapse onto the living room sofas for a few minutes without speaking -- but Xuan was nowhere to be found. It became so worrisome that AJ, Miri and I spent about 25 minutes looking hither, thither and yon with flashlights and a broomstick while AJ quietly fretted over the possibility that her furry daughter had gotten out of the house and was lost, but we never found Xuan no matter how hard we looked.

Eventually we absolutely had to get on with our day, so I bundled Mom & Dad into my car and set out for their house while AJ moved her van first out of my way in the driveway, then into her garage.  We were maybe six or seven minutes out when my phone rang with AJ's ringtone. I picked it up (using the hands-free Bluetooth connection; it's illegal otherwise and dangerous besides) and before I could ask if they'd found the cat, we heard Miri telling us that when she & Mommy walked back into the house from the garage they were greeted by Xuan coming down the stairs mewing for some attention.

I swear, that cat is psychic.

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?