Friday, June 30, 2006

China: Getting Old Fast

Another consquence of China's one-child policy is that its population is aging quickly, resulting in fewer young people around to fill the labor pool.

As China Ages, a Shortage of Cheap Labor Looms
Shanghai is rightfully known as a fast-moving, hypermodern city — full of youth and vigor. But that obscures a less well-known fact: Shanghai has the oldest population in China, and it is getting older in a hurry.

Twenty percent of this city's people are at least 60, the common retirement age for men in China, and retirees are easily the fastest growing segment of the population, with 100,000 new seniors added to the rolls each year, according to a study by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. From 2010 to 2020, the number of people 60 or older is projected to grow by 170,000 a year...

The world's most populous nation, which has built its economic strength on seemingly endless supplies of cheap labor, China may soon face manpower shortages. An aging population also poses difficult political issues for the Communist government, which first encouraged a population explosion in the 1950's and then reversed course and introduced the so-called one-child policy a few years after the death of Mao in 1976.

That measure has spared the country an estimated 390 million births but may ultimately prove to be another monumental demographic mistake. With China's breathtaking rise toward affluence, most people live longer and have fewer children, mirroring trends seen around the world.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Sad News From Canada

Pray for the Suens.

Makoda loses battle with leukemia
Three months after her family made a plea to find a bone marrow match, three-year-old Makoda Suen died last Thursday at Canuck Place Children's Hospice.

A year ago the daughter of a couple that work in Burnaby and live just west of Boundary Road was diagnosed with leukemia. David and Joyce Suen adopted Makoda when she was a year old after she'd been abandoned in her native China.

One problem international adoptees can face is finding suitable genetic matches for bone marrow transplants and other medical needs.

Update: Another reason this story resonates with me is that Makoda's and Ally's birthdays are very close together (March 13 and March 9, 2003, respectively) and that the Suens adopted Makoda in March 2004, the same month we adopted Ally. While we were in Beijing, we met several Canadian families who were there to finish up their paperwork at the Canadian embassy. The Suens were probably there a month later.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Zhang Shuqin's children

Children of convicts, shunned in China, find friendly refuge
If you are going to gather a set of outcast children in China, provide them decent food, a sense of family, and moments to laugh - all with zero official support - you'd better be plenty tough.

But for Zhang Shuqin, being tough, or simply smart, isn't enough. A commitment to her children requires something special: A steady fight for their innocence in the face of crime and punishment.

Ms. Zhang's 250 kids live in four "villages" in north China that she started. The children exist in a little regarded category: The offspring of convicted criminals still behind bars.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Iowa Adoption Story & Return Trip

Adoption wish takes Harlan "Mom" to China (They put the word "mom" in quotes, I didn't - ed)
Nine years ago, Denise began to think of adopting a child, saying that she "just always wanted to be a mom."...

After researching different agencies, she decided to adopt from China through the agency Holt International, as China was open to single people adopting girls and the timeline to actually adopt a child was relatively short.

As she became more involved in the process, however, the timeline increased. For six months, Matson gathered paperwork, then waited to receive her referral for ten months.

After a total of 18 months, she traveled across the Pacific with her mother, Effie Lingren, to bring her daughter, Jenna, to the United States.

Now, eight years later, the three decided to make the trip again, allowing Jenna to see the country in which she was born.

Rain, rain go away...

That's been our mantra the past couple of days. Our part of the world ha been getting quite saturated. We lost power for about seven hours Sunday night, Lauren's place of work (which is in the basement of a church) was flooded, the power went out at my office today, the Capital Beltway was closed due to a get the picture. Pretty miserable. Of course this means no playing outside for Ally, who is just as anxious as we are for this storm system to move on.

Yesterday, Ally had a brush with greatness. She had the opportunity to meet Curious George, one of her literary heroes. He made an appearance at the local library for a little face time with his fans. Had I known that they would get Shaquille O'neal to dress up as George, I would have gone myself. I mean look at the size of that monkey. I think someone ordered Curious George and got King Kong instead. Many kids were frightened, naturally.

Abortion in China

China: Retreat on Criminalizing Gender Abortions
The National People's Congress, China's Parliament, has scrapped a proposal that would criminalize abortions based on the sex of the fetus, the state media reported, despite a growing population imbalance between males and females. Newspapers said lawmakers were divided over criminalizing sex-selective abortions. The original amendment called for fines and prison terms of up to three years for aborting a fetus because of the sex for nonmedical reasons, the reports said. A three-decade-old policy limiting most couples to one child has made abortion a widely used method for controlling family size. As a result, and because of cultural preferences for sons, China faces a growing population imbalance, with many more boys than girls. The New China News Agency said there were now 119 boys born for every 100 girls, a larger gap than the government's previously published figure of 117 boys per 100 girls. Globally, the average ratio is about 105 boys to 100 girls.

China and media censorship

In an age of laptop computers, cellular phones, handheld video cameras and digital photography, I don't know how the Chinese government expects to keep this up:

China May Fine News Media to Limit Coverage
BEIJING, June 26 — Chinese media outlets will be fined if they report on "sudden events" without prior authorization from government officials, under a draft law being considered by the Communist Party-controlled legislature.

The law would give government officials a powerful new tool to restrict coverage of mass outbreaks of disease, riots, strikes, accidents and other events that the authorities prefer to keep secret.

What they probably have in mind are stories like this:

China Covers Up Violent Suppression of Village Protest

Or this:

Dynamite blast kills 10 in China village

Or this:

China's Brutal Crackdown on Dissidents

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Couple's adoption inspires book

For Wiesbaden couple, adoption inspires a ‘magical’ adventure
Marc and Christine Maxwell don’t have their baby yet. They’ve got a name picked out — Meredith Elyse — all their paperwork completed and sent into authorities in China, and expectations that some time between November and January they’ll get word that a girl is ready for adoption.

“We don’t know what province she’ll be coming from,” said Marc Maxwell, 32, a guidance counselor who works primarily with soldiers at the Wiesbaden Education Center. “We’ll be going to Beijing to get her.”

As part of their preparation, Christine, 31, who works as a registrar at the American Middle School in Wiesbaden, asked her husband to write a story for their baby-to-be. She wanted a “fantasy fairy tale that can get [the baby] to believe in family,” Marc said.

You can read the first chapter of their book here. Marc has also been inspired to write an activity book for deployed soldiers' families. Good for him.

Chen Guangcheng arrested

Chinese Police Charge Family Planning Activist
SHANGHAI -- Chinese police have formally arrested a blind activist who campaigned against coercive family planning, his wife said Saturday.

Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught legal expert in the eastern province of Shandong, drew international attention last year after accusing Linyi city officials of enforcing late-term abortions and sterilizations. He was detained in March.

His family received official notice from county public security by registered mail, saying Chen faced charges of deliberately destroying public property and assembling a crowd to disrupt traffic.

"Chen told his lawyer, Li Jinsong, that he was told he must admit to these crimes," Chen's wife, Yuan Weijing, said by telephone. "Now that he's been arrested, it's quite likely he will be sentenced."

China Related TV

China Sprout posts a much-appreciated weekly guide of China related TV listings.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Growing up Chinese...and Jewish

Awareness growing, local rabbi says
Every Friday at sunset, 6-year-old Livya Zeitler of Elkhart helps her mother, Melanie, light candles to welcome Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

Together they pray over wine and the traditional chalah bread, covering their eyes to show God respect. Livya has been able to recite these prayers since she was 3 1/2.

At South Bend Hebrew Day School, an Orthodox elementary school, Livya studies oral and written Hebrew and learns about Jewish customs, traditions and history.

As traditional as her upbringing is, Livya's starting point with Judaism isn't. She was adopted from China.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Panda research in China

There’s a story from the BBC about a team of researchers in China trying to learn more about the giant pandas there. How are they doing it? In what has to be one of the ten worst jobs in science, they’re looking at samples of the animals’ dung:

Scientists aiming to discover more about China's giant pandas have collected the animals' droppings to extract unique DNA profiles.

It’s not like they have a shortage of material either:

"A panda can defecate 40 times a day so there's loads of poo to find," said Prof Bruford.
Must be all that bamboo roughage. Guess they wouldn’t make very good house pets. And if you thought this was safe, monotonous work, think again:

"The mountains are an absolutely wonderful place but it can be cold and difficult in winter.

"Our PhD student nearly fell off a cliff trying to gather samples, he was having to hike up 2,500 metres."

Wow, I’d never go that far for my dissertation. Whatever gets you out of the lab, I guess.

In other science news, I think Mary Mia and Rod’s Mentos & Diet Coke experiments look a lot more promising than cold fusion as an alternative energy source. Can Altoid-fueled cars be far behind?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Another NC adoption story

Family adopts baby girl from China
When Tricia Brown takes her daughter, Grace, to the grocery store, strangers stop to ask questions.

Grace, a tiny 12-pound 10-month-old from China with large, pinchable cheeks and a penchant for giggling at peek-a-boo, often makes her adoptive parents the center of attention.

But Tricia and her husband, Shannon, said they enjoy the chance to tell others about international adoption.

The Brown's web site is here.

College bait-and-switch in China

Chinese Students Riot Over Diploma Changes
College students in central China smashed offices and set fires in a riot sparked by administrative changes that made their diplomas less prestigious, students and school administrators said Monday...

Students said they entered Shengda, a private college, after recruiters promised they would get diplomas from the better-known Zhengzhou University, which Shengda is affiliated with.

However, while students graduating this year will receive Zhengzhou degrees, those graduating next year will only receive Shengda degrees, said students who e-mailed The Associated Press and posted comments on an online school bulletin board that was later shut down.

Imagine going to Texas A&M for four years and getting your diploma, only to find that it said “University of Texas” instead. It’s kind of like that.

Stephen Hawking in China

Stephen Hawking Takes Beijing; Now, Will Science Follow?
Dr. Hawking's star turn, across the street from the large portrait of Mao Zedong, also had historic resonance. In the Cultural Revolution, Mao denounced Einstein and his work as reactionary and bourgeois. Groups of scientists and scholars were set up to criticize relativity because it appeared to collide with Marxist dogma that the universe was infinite and endless, eternally embroiled in a sort of cosmic class struggle.

History has buried those aspects of Marxist thought. Chinese leaders now are technocrats, not "cosmocrats," as Yinghong Cheng, a historian at Delaware State University who has studied the cultural revolution, put it.

They've certainly come a long way.

Chinese designers, engineers urged to innovate

In China, Dreams of Bright Ideas
Wang Wei is busy trying to think up something new. In the next three months, he has to create an alluring, original haute couture collection aimed at a Paris show that could prove crucial in his quest for recognition among the deans of high fashion.

"It may take me 10 more years to catch my dream," Wang said, acknowledging that he is not yet a name on the runways of Paris or Milan. "But I have taken the first steps."

Wang, 34, an artsy individualist whose shaggy hair hangs over his shirt collar, does not look like a model for China's buttoned-down Communist Party bureaucrats. But with the swishy dresses he dreams up for rich women abroad, he is exactly what they say they want Chinese people to become: innovators playing on a world stage.

Monday, June 19, 2006

North Carolina adoption story

From China With Love
Many fathers say they would travel to the ends of the Earth for their child.

Chris Kent did.

And his life changed forever.

Documenting life in China

Adoptive dad, and Fox News producer, Andrew Fone has traveled to China to make documentaries on life there after being prompted by questions from his daughters.

Dad’s great gift: Doting father’s films bring Chinese
Since 2004, Fone has traveled to China three times to make documentaries for little girls adopted from there.

For his first documentary, Fone went with a guide to the small village of Ping Wei, where he made a film about the “average day in the life of an average little girl in a rural Chinese village.” The film follows 10-year-old Liu Yen Twin as she does chores, homework and goes to school.

Florida parents connect children to culture

Kids learn Chinese culture
Along with play, these parents share an enthusiasm for education. They weave language lessons into songs, games, stories and sometimes even lunch.

The kids learn typical kid stuff, such as numbers and animals. Except the language they're learning is Chinese.

Like others in this group, parent Renee Shih of Weston wants her 3-year-old daughter, Elianne Wang, to connect culturally to her Chinese heritage.

Alabama adoption stories

Two dads from the same town describe their adoption and fatherhood experiences:

Finding fatherhood: Local families adopt from China
“It’s the most gratifying, tiring work you can ever do.”

This is how Rich Hall of Athens sums up his view of fatherhood.

Hall and his wife Amy, both in their late 30s, became parents in September of 2000, traveling to China to pick up the 9-month-old baby girl they would name Katie...

Another Athens dad, Jerry Gray, seems to feel the same way about his role as father.

“I’m a daddy, that’s all there is to it,” Gray said. “I’m a daddy.”

Though he’s 20 years Hall’s senior, Gray tackles fatherhood just as wholeheartedly.

He and his wife, Thersa, traveled to China to adopt Tonya in 1998 when she was 13 months old. Now 9, Tonya is big sister to 20-month-old Gracie Mei, who joined the family from China last August.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Instant Fatherhood

Today's Washington Post contains an op-ed piece by Dawn DiGiorgio about how adopting a daughter from China made a profound difference in her husband's life, not unlike my own:

Fatherhood in an Instant
What I do know is that something magical happened on that day, Sept. 14, 2005, and I saw it from the moment it began. I handed our new daughter to my husband, and they both gazed at each other, as if sizing up one another. I felt the energy pass between the two of them -- it was electric, indescribable. Her face suddenly lighted up with a brilliant smile and she cooed, "Oh."

He was shocked, looking as surprised as if he had seen some ethereal vision. He sighed and responded simply, "Oh."

It was a matter of seconds, but it will be etched in my memory forever: this moment that he became a father. I had known long before that I was a mother. He didn't know until that moment that he was a father. I could see the transformation take place.

The transformation continues...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Adopted woman meets bio family after 45 years

This is an amazing story:

FOR decades, Madam Hayati Jantan, 45, carried a secret sorrow in her heart.

When she was 12, she found out that she was born to Chinese parents but was given up for adoption to a Malay family when she was 2 weeks old...

She found out only by accident when her mum asked her to pass some rolled-up documents to her dad...

It was a set of adoption papers with the names of her biological parents, her adoptive parents and the name she was given at birth: Lim Peng Hoon.

Then, the young Hayati suddenly realised why some of her neighbours used to tease her, saying she looked different and that her parents had picked her up from the rubbish bin...

Torn between wanting to find her real family and not upsetting her adoptive parents, she decided to keep the knowledge to herself and shelved the idea of searching for her biological family.

'I was afraid I would hurt my adoptive parents. To them, I'm their child,' she said.

But in February this year, after more three decades of secret pain, Madam Hayati, a property agent, decided it was time to find her biological family.

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"Virtual twins"

Interracial twins bring a new dimension to the American family
Jenna and Sam Goering are in the same grade in school, play with the same younger brother and sisters, and live in the same spacious farmhouse-style home in Bourbonnais, Ill.

Seven years ago, they entered their parents' lives on the same day.

And yet, Jenna and Sam aren't twins.

He was born in the U.S., the biological son of computer consultants Jody and Addison Goering. She was abandoned six months earlier in rural China, and first introduced to the Goerings through a string of urgent phone calls that started coming from their adoption agency just an hour after Sam's birth.

Together, Jenna, who is Asian, and Sam, who is white, are part of a phenomenon that would have been almost inconceivable a generation ago: the emergence of interracial adoptive "twins."

Born less than 9 months apart, such "virtual twins," as same-age siblings are sometimes called, are often the result of an unexpected pregnancy to a woman with fertility problems and an adoption that was already in the works when the woman got pregnant.

Monday, June 12, 2006

If I HAD a personality, that is.

Missed the "A" by that much.

You Have A Type A- Personality

You are one of the most balanced people around
Motivated and focused, you are good at getting what you want
You rule at success, but success doesn't rule you.

When it's playtime, you really know how to kick back
Whether it's hanging out with friends or doing something you love!
You live life to the fullest - encorporating the best of both worlds

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Hampton Roads FCC

Bridge between cultures
Families with children adopted from China bond through group

At 10, Kelsey FitzGerald gets more excited about the idea of seeing Disney World than traveling to China, the place where she was born.

But whenever Kelsey has to dress up, she wants to wear one of her Chinese gowns, especially the long pink one with white blossoms. She also likes celebrating her native country's holidays with her parents, Stephen and Wendy FitzGerald of Virginia Beach...

As the number of children adopted from China has swelled over the past 15 years, so have support groups that host both big celebrations and informal play dates for families. Kids can have fun and learn a little about Chinese culture, history, language and food at the same time. They also get to see other families that look just like theirs.

A local group called Hampton Roads Families with Children from China has more than doubled in size over the past three years and has 125 member families from all over the region. The group hosts three major gatherings a year, including an evening affair for Chinese New Year that includes a dragon dance, music and a fancy dinner. Families also celebrate the harvest-focused Moon Festival in the fall and the Kite Festival in the spring.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Day 8: The Wright Stuff

We were supposed to be checked out of our room by 10 AM, so most of the morning was spent packing up, cleaning and loading the car. After getting all our stuff in the car, I could still see out the back window, so that’s a small victory in itself.

The first order of business before leaving the OBX was a visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk. Or Kill Devil Hills, I’m not sure where the “official” location is. The two towns are adjacent and virtually indistinguishable. I do know that the large sand dune from which Wilbur and Orville flew their glider is called “Kill Devil Hill”. There is now a granite monument on that hill, since planted with grass, along with the surrounding grounds, to prevent erosion. The first powered flights, on December 17, 1903, were initiated on more level ground. There were actually four flights that day of increasing distance, with Wilbur and Orville sharing piloting responsibilities. The first of these was only 100 feet and lasted some 12 seconds. There are markers in the ground showing the four landing points. The longest flight was 852 feet and lasted almost a minute, quite an improvement over the initial run.

We spent a little more time at the memorial, but left quickly when we noticed the ominous rain clods gathering. As we were crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge, over to the mainland, the rain started coming down in buckets, no doubt causing concern for the drivers headed in the opposite direction who were just starting their vacations. The next week was predicted to be somewhat cloudy and rainy weather-wise.

On the way down, Lauren noticed a Sonic drive-in, where we hadn’t eaten since we lived Texas. The closest one to us now is about 100 miles away in Pennsylvania. There’s one in Williamsburg, Virginia, also. Nothing says you’re in the South like a Sonic. The unique thing about Sonic is that there is no structure wherein you sit and eat your food. You’re either outside on a bench or you eat in your car, unless you’re taking it to go, of course. And if you stop at Sonic, you must order a Cherry Limeade. I used to drink a large Cherry Limeade in one gulp after softball practice in 100 degree Texas heat. Replaced all the calories I’d burned off and then some.

So, after lunch, it was a pretty smooth trip, even along the dreaded I-95. The problem was Ally didn’t sleep and no nap makes for a cranky kid. It also means any inkling of tinkling has to be dealt with, so there were a few stops.

Overall, I think we did about as much as we could do in a week. I think if we went back, I’d like to go a bit further south, down to Hatteras Island. One thing is for sure, and that is that I’ve made peace with my inner beach bum. Just as long as there’s an umbrella for me to sit under.

Day 7: Another Day, Another Lighthouse

Our last full day in the OBX. We headed north, through Duck to Corolla, which is pronounced “cur AH luh”, not “cur OH luh”, like the car. Corolla is the northernmost town on the outer banks and, from what I understand, Rt 12 was recently extended so that millionaires can access their beach houses. Affluence is the order of the day.

Our first stop was the Currituck lighthouse, which, unlike the Bodie Island lighthouse, was open to the public. Today was a nice day and there were quite a few people waiting to go up. We were wondering if Ally could, or would want to, navigate the 214 steps up the spiral staircase to the observation deck, about 150 feet off the ground. Turns out she liked the climb up more than the climb down. The narrow steps at the top allowed for only one line of people to ascend or descend at a time, so we had to wait several times on the landings. The climb was worth it and the view was spectacular, since the weather was pretty clear.

We drove further north on 12 from Corolla to where the road ended and there was only beach. At this point, only 4-wheel drive vehicles are allowed and there are actually homes further up the shore. About ten miles away is the NC-Virginia border, which I am told is protected by a gate or a fence of some sort, beyond which you can’t proceed. To keep illegal immigrants from crossing into Virginia, who, after all, would do the jobs Virginians won’t do.

Lunch was at Bacchus, in Corolla, a wine and cheese shop where we were required to don togas as we drank from the skulls of the vanquished. Actually, they have quite a good deli so Lauren and I split a sandwich, but not before I had my “airhead encounter”. While I was deciding on lunch, a young woman approached the counter and began chatting with the fellow taking sandwich orders. At first, I didn’t mind, since I wasn’t ready yet. Their conversation went on for a couple of minutes, and, I don’t know what they were talking about but I’m pretty sure a food purchase was not forthcoming. I interrupted their confab.

“Excuse me, are you going to order something?”

Deer in the headlights stare. Finally, out comes a stream of Valley-speak:

“Omigod, I’m, like, sorry, you know, I was just, you know, like.” (Paraphrasing here.)

“Right. It’s not like it’s lunchtime or anything.” In other words: No, dear, you will not be suffered gladly today. Off she went, uncomprehending.

Part of the Currituck lighthouse complex is home to the Whalehead Club, built in the 1920s by a wealthy industrialist, Edward Collins Knight, Jr. It was here that Knight and his friends could indulge their passion for hunting defenseless waterfowl. It is quite an impressive structure, perhaps a little beyond my price point, though.

Dinner was at the Outer Banks Brewing Station. Nothing spectacular, just simple pub fare. There’s a stage where bands are supposed to play, but tonight it was set up with tables.

Tomorrow we pack up and leave. I’m going to miss this place.

Day 6: Too Much of a Good Thing

Today was our last beach day, and seeing that the weekly rental rate for our umbrella and chairs was three times the daily rate, I’m satisfied with three trips to the ocean. Any more I would consider a bonus. It feels like I somehow “got my money’s worth”, even though we’re still out fifty bucks. Amazing how we think, huh? If someone reduces the price on a $600,000 home to $580,000, you think you’re getting a good deal. Well, not if that same house is $250,000 somewhere else.

Breakfast this morning was at the Beach Bread Company, a high-falutin’ bistro in Kitty Hawk where we went for a sandwich earlier in the week. They have a limited breakfast menu but what they offered looked good. I ordered the Belgian waffle and, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought a Belgian waffle was supposed to be as thick as a Manhattan phone book. Instead, I was served a waffle of average thickness so, I’m not sure what made this waffle particularly Belgian, unless the woman who poured the batter hailed from Brussels. But it was still good, as was the overpriced glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. Mmm mmm, you can taste the sunshine.

At the beach, we found our usual spot, i.e., the one we had two days ago. We could tell because the same sand sculpture was still there. Built extra strong, that one. Ally wanted to go walk on it, or at least in the moat surrounding it. We didn’t think that would be such a good idea, fearing a sand slide and a kid buried up to her neck. We let her admire it from afar.

As I said before, Ally is pretty much “day” potty trained. In other words, she will make it known when she has to use the bathroom, but she still wears a diaper at night. This may continue for a while because she refuses to get out of bed unless we’re in the room. In the nine months since she’s been sleeping in the toddler bed, she’s only gotten out once by herself to come into our bedroom. I can’t explain it. Obviously, she’s never slept in our bed at night, since my wife and I aren’t exactly “family bed” people. Anyway, this doesn’t bode well should she feel the urge to go to the bathroom at night.

Anyway, today at the beach, her valve was pretty much in the “open” position the entire time. Fortunately, I noticed a couple of “porta-potties” across the street from the beach, and she doesn’t mind using those, at least not as much as I do. So she was able to go in there, which meant I didn’t have to drive back to our room. These structures are now embedded in her memory and whenever she sees one, she points out the “brown potty”.

Not too much later, she had to go again, so Lauren took her. Then, about thirty minutes after that, another announcement. But this time, she, uh, didn’t quite make it. Lauren took her, crying, into the water to rinse off. She knows she made a mistake and for some reason couldn’t hold this one in. Fortunately, it was a bath night. So the bottom line is: we’re glad she’s going, we just wish the timing was better.

Dinner at Chilli Peppers, a place I was expecting to be more Tex-Mex than it was. I had a great flank steak that was better than the filet I had two nights ago. And, in what may be a huge paradigm shift because I’m not much of a fish eater, I had a bite of my wife’s peanut crusted Mahi Mahi and I liked it. That’s encouraging because I hear how good fish is for you but the fact is I don’t like it that much. This was different, not too strong, delicious even.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Day 5: Let There Be Light(house)

Another morning, another three-mile run. This time, I was met down the road by a school bus, a reminder that people actually live here. Year round. Unbelievable.

Today was a sightseeing day, so we took off in the morning and headed for the Bodie Island lighthouse. By the way, “Bodie” is pronounced like “body”. The North Carolina coast is treacherous for mariners, so lighthouses dot the shores from Currituck down to Cape Fear. Although the lighthouse is closed to the public, we got to walk around the grounds and take a few pictures. Something about lighthouses makes them photograph so well, I don’t know what it is.

We left Bodie Island and headed over to Roanoke Island Festival Park in Manteo, but not before we had lunch at the Weeping Radish, a faux German brewpub. I opted for the bratwurst on a pretzel roll with a glass of doppelbock. How German is that, huh? After Ally played in the playground for a little bit, we went to Festival Park. The first order of business was the Adventure Museum, which is pretty hands-on and therefore good for kids. Although Ally likes playing dress-up at home, the 16th century clothing available to wear didn’t interest her. She did like spinning the ship’s wheel and hunting for ducks, though. Next up was the Elizabeth II, a composite design of a 16th century sailing ship which was manned by costumed guides who described the various aspects of sailing and maintaining the ship. We thought we’d have a pretty casual time aboard the Elizabeth II, but we were greeted by a school group, so we got stuck doing what they did, the ship not being very big at all. After a quick visit to the settlement site, it was time for Ally’s nap.

Later that afternoon, Ally had her first dip in the pool. The kiddy pool, that is. She much prefers pool water over ocean water. Of course, it was nearly impossible to get her out. Wrinkly fingertips don’t seem to be incentive enough. They offer swimming lessons over the summer at our pool back home. Maybe this is the year she takes the plunge, literally.

For dinner, I ran out and brought back some barbecue from a place called High Cotton, which was nearby. It was only so-so. On their menu, they claim that “High Cotton messes with Texas”. Not quite. In fact, Texas doesn’t even know High Cotton exists, let alone that it’s being messed with.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Day 4: The Mosquito Coast

No run this morning. Instead, I took the wife and daughter on a one mile nature walk around our resort. It was basically a path through the woods. We weren’t sure how Ally would hold up, but she did well. She’s quite the walker, and I can’t remember the last time we had her in a stroller. Sometimes I see four-year-olds being pushed around and I cringe. Anyway, once we began our walk, I knew we were in trouble. Turns out the nature path winds its way through some marsh land, an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, for which I am a magnet. I’m told they sense carbon dioxide, so I must be emitting enough CO2 to be responsible for half the global warming (allegedly) taking place. Even though I was wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt and jeans, they still came after me. The worst is when I can hear them homing in on my ears. I thrash my arms around my head like an idiot trying to get rid of them, to no avail. When we emerged, my exposed parts had plenty of welts, battle scars in the war against my flying enemy.

We brought lunch to the beach, which was still a bit foggy but not enough to deter us. No rain in sight and these things can clear up in no time. Sure enough, right around two o’clock, the fog lifted…and it was time for us to leave.

This year, Ally is running around the beach in her bathing suit, but without a diaper. That means when she has to go, we need to take her to a place where she can, well, go. Turns out, right after lunch, she informed us that her bladder was full and that she would really like to empty it as soon as possible. Okay, not in so many words, but she conveyed the sentiment. Not seeing any public facility nearby, my first thought was to take her into the water. She would have none of it, bless her heart. Not knowing what else to do, I took her to the car (three-minute walk) and drove back to our room (five-minute drive) to use the potty.

Dinner tonight was at Sunset Grille in Duck. As the name implies, sunsets are viewable from the restaurant, which sits on Currituck Sound. Best sunsets on the East Coast, according to the web site. Tonight, it wasn’t to be. Clouds obscured what was undoubtedly a spectacular sunset for the folks in Key West. We ate outside on the deck where it was actually a bit breezy. About every five minutes, Ally wanted to get up to look at the water, which she is fascinated with. We alternated walking her around while we waited for our order. Lauren like the cajun stuffed shrimp she ordered, but my filet was average at best, a bit fatty and overdone. The surprise of the evening was when we found out the couple sitting at the table next to ours lived less than a mile from us. I guess that really shouldn’t surprise us, since most of the cars we’ve seen on the outer banks have Virginia tags. I think they even outnumber the North Carolinians.

I have to say, despite what I said before about Duck being a hotbed of snobbery, Sunset Grille was not like that. Very casual and kid friendly with a laid back clientele and wait staff. I would definitely go back, but I would probably order something different.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Day 3: Go Fly a Kite

Woke up earlier than everyone else, so I went for another morning run. I didn’t plan on doing much exercise on this trip, but I happened to bring my shoes and a pair of shorts along. It was cloudy in the morning, not with rain clods but the coastal foggy variety that just hang there refusing to release any sunshine.

We decided on having a late breakfast in lieu of lunch in case the clouds broke and we ended up going to the beach. One place that sounded appetizing was Stack ‘em High, the “’em”, referring to pancakes. At ten o’clock, there was a line from the register to the door. The protocol is that you order your food, pay and seat yourself, in that sequence. While all the tables looked to be taken, they seemed to be moving people through at about the right pace so that no one was standing around waiting for someone else to leave. Apparently, a group of about seven college kids in line behind us surveyed the landscape and thought it would be a good idea to send one from their party into the dining area to “hold” a recently vacated table. Ahead of everyone else in line.

I view this sort of behavior with about the same level of contempt as any other “seat saving” practice (Bibles on an entire pew at church, jackets over a whole row of seats in a theater, etc.). I think one person should be able to save one seat for someone and that’s the limit. If more than half your party is late, or busy gabbing with their friends, too bad.

Anyway, it didn’t take long for the young woman to be noticed by THE MANAGER, who politely asked her to get back in line and wait her turn like everyone else. Civility was restored.

The clouds persisted throughout the day, so we drove up the road to Duck, which is only about eight miles away from Kitty Hawk but is much more upscale (read: pretentious). They obviously cater to the moneyed crowd here, judging from some of the shops, er, boutiques, and restaurants. The air was saturated with attitude. That’s OK, I’m perfectly at home with affected snobs. I worked in the Hamptons for four summers, after all.

We bought Ally a kite, which filled her with excitement. South of Kitty Hawk, in Kill Devil Hills, is a place called Jockey’s Ridge State Park, which is comprised mostly of sand dunes substantial enough to fly hang gliders from. It’s also perfect for kite flying, lot’s of wind and open space. Once we trekked across the sands to one of the dunes, we assembled the kite and it practically flew out of my hands. I attached the string, played it out a little bit and handed it off to Ally, who I was afraid would be carried away by a sudden gust. But she held her ground. We also saw some hang gliders and paragliders that day doing their thing. I think if I were to take up anything like that, Jockey’s Ridge would be a good place to start, if only because of the soft landing areas.

Dinner that night at The Red Drum, which refers to the fish, not the musical instrument. Nor does it have anything to do with The Shining. We never did make it to the beach, but there were plenty of days left for that.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Day 2: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Beach

For a long, dark period in my life, I dreaded going to the beach. The thought of lying on a blanket in the sand while burning to a crisp just did not appeal to me. My wife thinks differently, so this caused some friction when it came to choosing vacation spots. We managed to avoid most beach locales until last year when we went to Myrtle Beach. It was there that I discovered a marvelous invention: the umbrella. Apparently, this device will prevent the sun’s rays from directly hitting your body while you sit underneath it. Brilliant.

All along the sands at Myrtle Beach are sets of umbrellas and chairs you can rent by the day or week. They’re already set up so you just pay the lifeguard and relax in the shade. I also found out I could actually read a book whilst lounging in the shadows, so this made it all the more attractive. My sun-worshipping wife could lie out in the sun, if she chose to do so and Ally variously played in the sand or sat in the other chair.

The first morning in Kitty Hawk, I woke up and decided to take a morning run to the ocean and back, about three miles total. Glancing up and down the beach, I didn’t see any umbrellas and chairs set up for rental. Fortunately, we live in a world where almost no need goes unmet and there was a place close by where one could rent shade and seating for the week. Totally worth it.

We spent some time picking up beach gear, for which we got off to a late start anyway, so we didn’t stay at the beach for very long since Ally still naps in the middle of the day, though during the trip, that time slipped to later in the afternoon. So after about an hour and a half, we packed up our stuff and drove the mile and a half back to the resort. Didn’t do much else except enjoy some of Horton’s Eclipse white wine on the deck and then dinner afterward. All in all, a pretty slow news day, just the way we like it.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Day 1: The Drive (Avoiding I-95 at all costs)

Last year when we drove down to Myrtle Beach in August, we made the mistake of thinking Interstate 95 between Washington and Richmond would flow like the Autobahn. Instead it felt like we were driving an Amish buggy. Actually, a buggy would have been faster. It was a parking lot, and even though Ally was in diapers, she still got quite fussy around lunchtime and we were just around Fredericksburg. Plus it was raining. And the directions (courtesy of Mapquest) sent us along some two-lane back roads that, while shorter distance-wise, robbed us of valuable time and we didn’t get to our resort until about 10 PM.

Since this year’s vacation spot was closer, we decided to take a detour and make a stop at Horton Vineyards. Not to say the trip to Horton was flawless; we did make a couple of wrong turns on the way to the winery, located in Gordonsville. Once there, we were greeted by a crowded tasting room. We shoehorned ourselves in close to the bar and scanned the tasting sheet. We were overwhelmed by the number of varieties of wine Horton produces, all of them apparently available to taste. There must have been twenty wines on the list. Then we noticed those were only the whites! The flip side of the sheet contained just as many red wines. According to their web site, Horton has over 40 wines to choose from, including fruit wines, port and dessert wines. I counted and that’s a pretty accurate number, including several vintages of their flagship Viognier. We tried all of them and decided their 2005 was the best, so we bought one. The Eclipse (a semi-sweet blend of several grapes) and their Vidal Blanc also seemed like good summer “deck wines”, so we picked up one of each of those. Although the Vidal Blanc, a 2001 vintage, was getting a bit long in the tooth, it was still holding its own.

The reds were being sampled at a table in the middle of the room, so we made our way over to try a few. Among the ones we liked, well, I guess you could say Y2K was a good year: the 2000 Cabernet Franc, a varietal that does well in Virginia, the 2000 Nebbiolo, a hard to grow grape of Italian heritage that not many wineries are willing to try, and the Bin 2000 Stonecastle Red, an unusual blend of Mourverde, Carignan, and Syrah, among others, some of which are quite obscure, at least in this country.

About the large number of wines Horton produces: I find it hard to believe all these grapes produce high quality wines, and I’m not sure they are all grown in or around Gordonsville. Some are good, most were ho-hum. I guess the philosophy is to throw enough mud against the wall and see what sticks. But Horton has a dedicated following and, at the end of the day, making and selling wine is a business and having a satisfied customer, who is willing to keep buying your product, is paramount. And a few of the wines, particularly the Viognier, were excellent.

Before leaving, Ally made a quick potty break and proclaimed the facilities “excellent”. There are a couple of picnic tables and there’s some room for kids to run around outside, so if we visit again we’ll probably pack some sandwiches.

We made it to Kitty Hawk around 6 PM (not bad) and had dinner at Mama Kwan’s, a local favorite with sort of a Hawaiian theme. We didn’t eat until around 8, but the food was worth waiting for. A nice relaxing way to end the day, although the brief rain showers gave us reason to be concerned, they were the only ones we’d see until the day we left.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Vacation 2006

Pretty quiet here, I know. That's because we were on the Outer Banks of North Carolina last week enjoying unusually warm weather for this time of year. Because of that, we didn't log on to the internet once, we read zero newspapers, turned on the TV sparingly and basically unplugged, which is what vacations are for, right? And we just finished a six hour drive with multiple potty stops, so I won't post much tonight. We did visit Horton Vineyards last Saturday, so I may have something to say about that. Or not. And no, I didn't get one of "those" stickers for my car. A refrigerator magnet, yes, but no sticker. Bottom line is we had a great time, it was very conducive to relaxing and Ally really, really enjoyed the beach and the pool. Thanks to Lauren's folks for allowing us to use a week of their time share.