Thursday, December 29, 2005

Images of Christmas

The only thing more fun than being a kid a Christmas is being a parent of a kid at Christmas. Here are some photos of Ally playing guitar (check out the left-handed Jimi Hendrix guitar style), dress-up and the stereotypical housewife in the kitchen. I'm still learning how to make collages in Photoshop Elements, so it's not perfect. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Some assembly required

Last night I started putting together Ally’s Christmas present, the Ultimate Wood Kitchen. Yes, I know we are reinforcing gender stereotypes by implying that little girls are happiest fulfilling a role of domestic servitude in an oppressive, patriarchal society yadda yadda yadda. I don’t want to hear it. If Gloria Steinem wants to give me grief, well, bring it on, sister! My daughter likes kitchens. End of story.

According to the surprisingly coherent instructions, there are 25 steps to the process and I made it through the first seven, so I’m on pace to finish by Christmas Eve. If not, I’ll have to turn in my mechanical engineering degree. Strangely, one of the hex bolts came to us unthreaded and utterly worthless. Nevertheless, I pressed on, rationalizing that the thing was probably over-designed anyway. We hope to have it set up for Christmas morning so she’ll see it when she goes downstairs. Darn thing is heavy, too. And taking up more space than it did in the box, so keeping it hidden will be a challenge.

One of her stocking stuffers is the “Catch the Moon” book and CD, by Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell. A couple of the songs are featured on Noggin, and they seem tolerable enough to grown ups. At least they don’t make me want to run from the room screaming.

Speaking of negative stereotypes, we hope to keep Ally ignorant of Bratz and their equally tawdry progeny, Bratz Babyz. The less said about them, the better.

Christmas dinner this year is at our place, and Christmas dinner means roast beef. And roast beef calls out for a big red wine, so it’ll probably be Barboursville’s Octagon or Nebbiolo. Or both. The Nebbiolo only gets better with age, so I’m tempted to let it be.

Church will be on Christmas Eve this year, no Sunday service. I know, big controversy, right? Truth is, I could go either way. We used to go Saturdays as a rule when we had the option. Seems the only churches doing one day or the other are the really big ones or the really small ones.

Don't know how active I'll be between now and then, so I'll say it now: Have a blessed Christmas.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Picking the tree

We actually got our tree last week, but I'm just now getting around putting the pictures up. At first, I thought a couple of them weren't very good - my wife had the "nightshot" turned on on the camera. After working with them a bit, I decided they might be kind of interesting.

That's me up there, in what looks like a scene from Fargo. Here's the tree we ended up with, a blue spruce with needles as sharp as daggers:

Friday, December 16, 2005

The animals disrespect us

So we all go out to eat, as per usual on a Friday evening, and we come back to find this scene:

Our daughter had arranged her animals on the couch just so, as if to be mooning us. Very funny. Notice the one on the right has its underpants around its ankles. Next thing you know, they'll be streaking through the house.

Quite a sense of humor she has. I don't know where she gets it from. I'll need to monitor that Noggin channel a little more closely.

UPDATE: Ally says they're just sleeping. Right.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

On Adoption - Steven Curtis Chapman

As Christmas day inches nearer, the longing for a family grows even stronger for orphans

As Christmas day inches nearer, the longing for the warmth of a family grows even stronger for orphans who have none. In the midst of this, Steven Curtis Chapman is set to make several national television appearances promoting his new GRAMMY-nominated holiday album, ALL I REALLY WANT FOR CHRISTMAS, and the project’s special theme of adoption.

On December 15, Chapman will be interviewed on the CMT/Country Music Television “Top 20 Countdown.” The show, which is re-run numerous times throughout the weekend, will also air the new “All I Really Want For Christmas” heartfelt music video featuring orphans from the U.S., China, and Africa. Check for program details.

On December 18, Chapman offers a live performance of “All I Really Want For Christmas” on the Crystal Cathedral’s “Hour Of Power” program. Visit for local airtimes.

On December 25, millions can experience the Chapman family’s personal adoption story on “CBS Sunday Morning” in a segment that offers never-before-seen interviews with the singer, his wife, and their children, a behind the scenes look at their home life, and touching stories from families impacted by the Shaohannah's Hope Foundation. The Chapman’s story is set to air Christmas morning at 8:30 am CST.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Long Island adoption agency celebrates 20 years

Adopting a whole new outlook on life

The newborn Chinese girls were placed in cardboard boxes and left in front of welfare agencies. Some were abandoned in grocery markets. One set of twins was deserted in the early morning on the front steps of a primary school.

More than 200 Chinese-born girls - from infants to adolescents - with similar stories gathered at the Huntington Townhouse yesterday for a holiday party at which the bleakness of their origins was outshone only by the brightness of their collective future.

The girls darting between banquet tables had been adopted by Long Island families through New Beginnings Family Services, a Mineola-based nonprofit adoption agency that yesterday celebrated 20 years of placing children from China, Russia, Korea and Vietnam in Long Island homes.

The agency also celebrated the contribution of employee Guilan Zong, a 53-year old Chinese citizen paid by New Beginnings as a kind of guide for adoptive parents, called "aunty" by the adopted Chinese girls at the party and to whom parents gave a still more exalted title.

"She's an angel," said William Ford, 42, of Garden City, who found his adopted daughter Julia, now 2 years old, with Zong's help last year. "She was with us every step of the way until we were solidly on our feet," Ford said.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Random thoughts on a snowy Friday

Yesterday, I had my physical, which is required for our adoption application. I was told when I made the appointment that it wouldn’t be covered under my insurance.

“Why not?” I asked. “Isn’t this considered an office visit?” I had never been to this particular doctor before; in general, I only go if it’s necessary, like when we’re adopting a child, so it’s not like I run to the hospital every two weeks when something seems amiss.

“It’s considered an administrative physical.” I was told. “Things like adoption physicals, Boy Scout physicals, sports physicals, those are not usually covered.”

During our previous adoption, when I was with another insurance provider, everything was covered; all I had to shell out were copays. I guess I didn’t understand what difference it made what the physical was for. There are a few basic things they look at, a form is filled out and that’s it. Pretty standard. My wife, who is on the same plan, has her exam covered. Our daughter, who needs her own exam, doesn’t even have a copay. Well child visits for kids under twelve are gratis. So I think my insurance company is going to hear from me. I may need a new primary care physician. Trouble is, once this process is over, I may not go back for a few years and I’ll forget all about it.

My doctor has a picture of Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth in his exam room. They’re sitting together on a bench and The Babe is talking to Lou, probably telling him what a killer hangover he has.

“Don’t you think it’s ironic that Lou Gehrig died of Lou Gehrig’s disease?” I asked. I don’t think he thought that was funny.

I had to pee in a cup and have blood drawn, too. That was covered under the exam fee I paid. There was some question about my drug screen panel, which I guess is an indication of what exactly they’re testing for. The nurse had to call the doctor to find out.

“I’ll take the deluxe package.” I said. I was feeling cocky. I don’t think she thought that was funny. I really should stick to my day job.

The TB test I still need will be an extra forty bucks. Forty bucks to have them stick me with a needle and tell me two days later I don’t have TB.

When I got home, I suggested we sit for our Christmas card picture. By “sitting”, I mean I set up the digital camera on a tripod, aim it in the general direction of my wife and daughter, set the timer and run to where they’re standing, paste a dopey smile on my face and wait for the picture to be taken. About thirty tries later, we finally got a good one. After Photoshopping out the red eye, I decided to try and order picture cards on line. Target has a deal where you can upload your photo to Yahoo, pick a card design you want, see how it looks with your picture and add a few words of your own. Adding your names is a good idea, in case people forget who you are. Then, when you’re satisfied with the finished product, you can place an order and pick up your cards and envelopes at the store in an hour.

What a great time to be alive, huh?

I’ve started reading The Lost Daughters of China by Karin Evans. I’m only sixty pages into it; so far she has been describing her and her husband’s trip to China and the flurry of activity that takes place in the preceding weeks. It’s very reminiscent of our own trip almost two years ago. It’s her first book and I’m impressed at her level of detail as well as her transparency in going through the process of adoption. One sad note is that her father died only days before she left. She named her daughter after him, which I thought was a nice gesture. Anyway, Evans is a good writer and I wish I were as in touch with my feelings as she is.

I think I’ve put off reading this book because I don’t want to be reminded that the vast majority of children in Chinese orphanages will never be adopted. Nor do I want to be reminded that for every child left abandoned in a market, at a police station or at the doorstep of a social welfare institute, there is a mother and a father who had to make an agonizing decision. It’s incomprehensible to us living in the U.S. that people in other countries are driven to such extreme measures.

I’m ashamed to admit I don’t often think about Ally’s birth parents. I wish I could tell them that she is beautiful, that she is intelligent and that she has brought us more joy than we’ve ever imagined. I like to think they already know that.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Leaving LI

The NYT has been hatin’ on LI recently. First, there was this article telling us how expensive it is to live on Long Island. Like we didn’t know that already. Then this past week, we’re told that people are leaving because it’s (Hello!) too expensive. Some salient quotes from the article:

Last year, Anthony Panariello, 49, sold his home on Long Island for $510,000, making a hefty tax-free profit. He spent about half of that to buy a brand-new, mortgage-free house in Florida with 4,200 square feet and five bedrooms - more than double the size of his old residence.

Smart guy. I’m sure he won’t miss dealing with snow every year, either.

He also traded his costly 90-minute trip to Wall Street for a
three-minute drive to the new H&R Block office that he is opening next month.

Pretty sweet deal, he gets about 8 hours per week of his life back.

"I've come across, in my development alone, maybe 20 people from Long Island who came here around when I did or more recently," said Mr. Panariello, who lives in St. Augustine.

Hey, Tony, wake up! Florida was settled by New Yorkers! Why do you think the pizza’s so good?

Sixty-four percent of those in the pre-retirement years of 50 to 64 are considering leaving, up from 47 percent last year, the survey found.

Not really surprising. I don’t know anyone approaching retirement that hasn’t at least considered moving somewhere else. Here’s the scary statistic though:

But even more of the 18-to-34 age group contemplate moving out - 70 percent, up from 62 percent last year. Their motivations include the high cost of rentals, stemming from the island's scarcity of apartments. For many young adults, prohibitively expensive down payments have transformed the dream of a starter home into an elusive fantasy. [My emphasis]

Ouch. That can’t be good for businesses wanting to hire young people to work on Long Island.

Just for kicks, I did a little comparison shopping. With the help of, I decided to look around the $300 K price point, perhaps a little bit more than what Mr. Panariello was considering. Consider these two beauties:

The house on the left is located in Riverhead, LI, where I grew up. It’s a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 575 square foot home with no garage, built in 1940. It’s priced to sell at $299,000.

The house on the right is located in another town I used to call home, Cypress, Texas, just outside of Houston. It is a 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath, 3386 square foot house with a two-car garage, built in 1989. This house is listed at $267,500.

That’s quite a difference. In fact, with the money you save buying the Cypress house, you could install an in-ground pool. Except that wouldn’t be necessary, because it already has one:

Now I know what you’re saying: Location, location, location. True, LI has some very good schools, great beaches, proximity to NYC, and $300/hour attorneys visiting the Hamptons with their trophy wives every weekend. But I think a significant number of people are wondering: Is it worth it? Couple the housing with the taxes and it’s no wonder most young people have considered other places to live.

Mr. Paraniello said that while "the people are wonderful" in Florida, "the only thing I miss is friends and relatives." Well, that "and the Italian food and deli food.”
I’m sure you’ll manage, Mr. Paraniello. Have you tried a Cuban sandwich yet?

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Feeling Gravity's Pull

I don’t know how long I can continue using the present tense in saying “I am a runner.” I’m not sure I meet the minimum requirements, whatever they are.

A couple of years ago, I certainly fit the profile, logging an average of 20 miles per week. That’s because I was training for the 2003 Richmond Marathon. Nothing like a 26+ mile sword of Damocles hanging over your head to get you motivated, because if you’re not up to the task, you might end up walking for four hours. So you want to make sure you’re ready and that means grinding out miles, almost 600 in the 18 weeks preceding the race if you follow Hal Higdon’s approach.

In the two years since, I’ve put in a total of about 500 miles, barely enough to get me through one pair of shoes. Pathetic, but not unexpected. I told myself I was going to take a break for 2004 (the adoption year); however the break has stretched through 2005. I have managed to run a few races in the interim: two Army Ten Milers and a Cherry Blossom Ten Miler, all of which were far from personal bests. And the main reason I ran those is because I had friends running with me.

Then came the inevitable weight gain. Before the marathon, I was around 160 lbs. Now the earth is pulling a bit harder, about two stone worth and, to make matters worse, the pants are starting to get a little snug. Going up a waist size is like admitting defeat and I’m not ready to hoist the white flag just yet.

Last January, I set a goal of 1000 miles for the year. Twenty miles a week, with two weeks off even! Surely that would be doable. Well, that lasted all of two weeks. Then it snowed. I’m afraid I’ll have to set a tangible goal (another marathon?) to get me out on the road putting one foot in front of the other. One of the interests I put in my profile was “running”, and I’d like to make that pursuit more than academic.

Ally at Thanksgiving

Pretty typical of what most of us were doing that day, i.e., eating: