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!

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.