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September 26, 2012

I know, I know.

Here’s you: “Why on earth hasn’t Joe posted anything new about Eleanor on his blog? Is everything okay? I need more Eleanor, stat!”

Here’s me: “Well, I could write a blog post. Or I could sleep.”

Sorry about that. But really, there hasn’t been much to tell. The Small Human continues to develop as expected: She eats, she excretes, she radiates adorable cuteness. You know, her standard M.O.

The big change recently is that she’s starting to walk. Like, a lot. Here, look:

(Yeah, that’s Flash. Sorry. Blame Facebook.)

Aside from that, we went up to Chicago this past weekend to visit PawPaw and Gram, and introduce Eleanor to all her Chicago aunts, uncles, and cousins. She did remarkably well, in spite of fighting a cold and suffering the occasional moment of overstimulation. She even did pretty darn well through the six-hour car ride. As a result, you Rybickis who are coming out to the Clambake this weekend will get some Eleanor time.

There’s not much else to tell. She’s doing as well as we can expect. She’s an amazingly adaptable and good-tempered child. She’s still not terribly fond of going to sleep. She’s still not speaking much, though she does seem to be understanding more. She’s still wonderfully (and sometimes maddeningly) clingy—a good sign for attachment purposes. She’s still surprising and sweet and adorable. <shrug> What can you do?

[Reminder: If you’re not following me on Instagram or her on Facebook, you can see my Instagram feed online here: — by popular demand I try to post new pics of her there as often as I can.]

August 28, 2012

An Unasked-For Eulogy

My friend Brian and I had a complicated relationship from the start — sometime in 1994, if memory serves. He was a former teacher of my dear friend Mike, and so there was something of a power imbalance at the start. But he was welcoming to all, personable and passionate, and we became fast and close friends.

Until about two years later, when I was preparing to move to Chicago. In retrospect, it became clear that he was simply sad that a new friend was leaving town, but the way he chose to express this was…contentious. As personable and welcoming as he could be, he could also be the biggest, nastiest dickhead you’ve ever met. Following an evening when he verbally flayed me for my reasons for the move, I washed my hands of him.

It took about three years for me to realize that a lot of what he’d been saying was spot on. So I wrote him a letter, extended an olive branch, and we renewed our friendship, stronger than ever. Over the next decade or so, we remained extremely close. He was one of the very few Clevelanders to visit us in California. We played a lot of poker. We drank a lot of whiskey. I named him Best Man at my wedding. He gave a killer toast. He was in town for a chilly barbecue on the 4th of July in California when we discussed moving back to Cleveland. He was ecstatic.

But just a couple years later, things started to go downhill for him. He bought a house that ended up needing a lot of work. Then he lost his job just as the economy was imploding. As a teacher in a Catholic school, the jobs simply weren’t there. He successfully completed a Masters program, but it seemed to make no difference for the job prospects. He started drinking more. He fell out with one girlfriend, then another. He started to feel like the world was out to get him, I think, and when he developed a massive misunderstanding about how I and our other friends thought of him, he relinquished virtually all contact with us and would not be persuaded that he was still welcome.

After something like two years of unemployment, he lost his house and moved in with his parents. This was, it turned out, a good development. He told me he felt like he was helping them by being there. Though his relationship with them was never great, I think he felt like he was needed again. He was writing more, he said, and seemed to be using his improving relationship with his parents as fuel for reaching out to other estranged friends. Our relationship didn’t improve much, but it seemed that he was making an effort to be more understanding — or at least more communicative. (His maddeningly cryptic emails are the stuff of legend.) So all in all, it seemed that things were getting better. Slowly, but noticeably.

Then his father died.

And a few days later — sometime around when we were driving to Hong Kong to return from China — he went into the garage and put a gun to his head.

One of the things that makes suicide such a reprehensibly selfish act is that we have no way of knowing at this point what he was thinking. But I have my suspicions: I think that he probably felt, once his father died, that he was somehow poisonous to everyone he was around. This is the way he thought of himself, and I could imagine this loss simply being too much to handle. They say that people on antidepressants have a higher risk of suicide shortly after they start taking the pills; there’s no definite explanation, but the theory is that once they start feeling better, a bad day — or other setback — feels so much worse. It’s a perspective thing; part of depression is that you don’t realize how bad you really feel. So once you start to feel better, it becomes clearer how bad the bad times really are. And some people can’t handle that. I suspect something similar happened here.

That is, of course, no excuse. I don’t know that there is an excuse for suicide — not like this, not for a person with friends and family and others willing and able to help one’s situation. As I say, it’s reprehensible, and another reason why is that it leaves those around you with nothing but questions. Questions, and regret.

Could we have done more to prevent this? The real pisser is that yes, we could have. There is always more that could have been done. Those left behind can imagine so many ways things could have been different, ways they could have tried to help, each more outlandish than the last. Could we have forced him into rehab for alcoholism? Should we have invited him into our homes instead of allowing him to move in with his parents? Should we have kept in better contact, simply not let him pull away in spite of any abuse he may have dealt out in response?

But that’s the emotional response. Practically speaking, I really believe all his (former or current) friends did as much as they possibly could. You extend what help you can, to the best of your ability, and you hope it’s enough. In this case, it wasn’t, but that’s his problem, not ours. I’m sorry if that sounds callous, but suicide is a callous business.

One of the things I hate about this situation is that my feelings about Brian right now are all negative: anger, regret, frustration at not being able to tell him what a dumbass he was for even seriously thinking about it. And that colors my older memories, the better ones. And there are many, because when he was at his best he was a remarkable person.

And so, though he specifically requested no ceremony be made following his death (such a cruel blow to his family, who lost father and brother in a handful of days), these are the memories I plan to keep.

I remember Christmas parties. Brian was legendary for his Christmas parties, which gathered a huge and ever-changing group of smart, funny, talented individuals to eat great food, drink great drink, and sing and play Christmas songs. Friends, family, colleagues, former student, and passing acquaintances were all welcome. For many years it was one of the highlights of the season for me.

I remember poker games, when he would play with brutal recklessness and (usually) good humor. He taught me to play, and for years we gathered a weekly group in my parents’ basement for nights of cards that could last until the sun came up.

I remember sitting on the floor of his house, smoking long-stemmed pipes and debating religion, politics, love, and anything else that seemed worthy of debate. I suspect a great deal of wine and/or whiskey was consumed.

I remember him making bacon-infused mashed potatoes in the kitchen of our rental house in San Francisco. Yesterday I saw the recipe he wrote out for us, to attempt to recreate the majesty.

I remember near-weekly breakfasts at the diner near his house, where he would shamelessly flirt with the waitresses (no matter the age, ethnicity, or body type) and devour corned beef hash and eggs while we gossiped about news of the day. Later I would attempt to resume these get-togethers as a way of jump-starting our relationship, but they never took.

I remember sitting in on one of his classes and realizing that, yes, he really was a phenomenal teacher of religion. Though he felt his relationship with the divine had soured, he was in the seminary once upon a time, and retained a passion for religion, and the knowledge to back it up.

I remember sending letters back and forth from Chicago or San Francisco, often written on the insides of whiskey boxes, full of literary allusions and snippets of poetry.

I have a picture that I took at a going-away party before he went to teach English in China for a year. He’s standing in front of a bonfire, head-high staff in one hand, hand-rolled cigarette in the other, smirking self-deprecatingly at something one of the other partiers was saying.

That was Brian in a nutshell. And though right now I’m angry, frustrated, disappointed, and hurt, that’s the Brian i’ll remember.


August 23, 2012


I should be sleeping, but it has been brought to my attention by a future sister-in-law who shall remain nameless that I’ve been lax in providing you with your Eleanor fix.

However, there’s not really much to report since the last update. Sleeping is still a challenge, though her schedule does seem to be improving. Still, we’re operating at a pretty severe sleep deficit at this point so it’s hard to find the mental bandwidth to blog just now.

Two bits of news: Kim’s parents came in for a quick visit on her birthday, and Eleanor behaved pretty much just as we’d hope, by which I mean she was just a little shy with them and turned to us for encouragement. It’s a good sign for the progression of her attachment, and it might — might — mean we could get to have visitors sooner than we thought. But first we need to get her sleep worked out, which could be weeks yet.

The other news is that we had to take her to the doctor today for her first exam…as well as five vaccinations…and two blood draws. Kim was on restraint duty for the injections, which was traumatizing enough. (El’s reaction when the nurse came back into the room with stickers for her was absolutely priceless. Heart-wrenching, but priceless. She may have been attempting to project herself elsewhere in time and space.)

Of course, that meant I was on restraint duty for the blood draws. I’m not entirely positive but I’m pretty sure we were in that chair for about a month and a half. I got to be a human straitjacket: one arm holding one of hers next to her body and her body next to mine; that hand holding her elbow; the other hand holding her wrist; chin and jaw trying to keep her head from whipping around while she demonstrated her impressive lung capacity. I also got to see the phlebotomist digging around a little in search of her tiny veins.

In case you don’t have kids, let me be explicit: This Sucks. You know that she’s terrified and miserable but you also know it has to be done to keep her healthy. Your heart is breaking for her but you have to be strong both physically and mentally, for her and for yourself. And of course the thought is constantly running through your head that she is never going to forgive you for the trauma you’re associated with here.

Fortunately, she allowed each of us to soothe her after her respective experiences, and after a lot of hiccuping, some ice cream, and a nap in the car, she appeared to have either forgiven or forgotten. Or perhaps just failed to recognize our role in all of this and just blames it all on the doctors.

I’m OK with this.

Just a few pics today, for those of you not on Facebook or Instagram. We’ll be taking more once we’re more awake, no doubt.




August 18, 2012

What time is it? What day is it? Where am I?

I am very tired.

Our daughter, our little bundle of boundless love, is doing her best to help Mama and Baba experience the hidden secrets of the universe via extreme sleep deprivation. The last couple of days, she’s gone to bed around 7:30, popped back up around 11 and 12, and then come fully awake about two, clapping and laughing and ready to play.

This is challenging.

The girl is the most adorable human I’ve ever met, but that counts for surprisingly little when you’re working from a two-plus-week sleep deficit and you’re worried you’ll fall asleep on your feet and drop her.

I have a profound respect for single parents. The only way we’re staying even remotely coherent is by trading off nighttime duties and spelling each other during the day just to get a few moments to recharge. I couldn’t imagine doing this without Kim’s help.

On the plus side, this jet lag-induced sleeplessness is going to make the normal late-night soothings that are sure to come feel so much easier. So we have that going for us.

And fortunately the rest of this experience is so positive that it’s easy to forget the nighttime misery. Well, most of the time. In all seriousness, this kid is a joy and we continue to feel so fortunate that we found each other. But boy are we looking forward to something resembling a full night’s sleep.

And now, pictures!







August 16, 2012

Time Travel

In case you pop by this blog every now and then, and are currently rubbing your eyes wondering where all the new posts came from, I’ll explain. Over the last two weeks, my wife and I have been in China, adopting our first child. Of course, I wanted to share all this with family and close friends, but at the same time didn’t want to advertise too loudly where we were at any given moment — or more specifically, where we weren’t, which is to say, home. So I hid it all behind a secret invisible magic wall.

But now that we are home, I figured I’d open it back up for general viewing. Feel free to follow along with our adventures.

I’d write more but my body still thinks it’s five in the morning. I’ll have more coherent thoughts soon…ish.

Doing Tomorrow’s Playing, Today!

Welp, in spite of the fact that the three of us have gotten a collective seven hours of sleep in the last 22, the girl seems to have decided that playtime in China should be playtime in America. At least it’s the future there.

I have no idea what I’m saying.

Whilst I try to keep her entertained and me caffeinated, please enjoy this photo, taken mere seconds after Eleanor officially became a U.S. citizen.


And here’s one more, of Her Highness the Most Royal Princess Rufflebutt, after having surveyed her new domain and having found it adequate.


August 15, 2012


We left our hotel twenty-four and a half hours ago. We’ve just landed in Cleveland.

We are fried.

Eleanor has been amazing but she’s starting to lose it now. We’ll update more once we get our brains back together, but I just wanted to say we made it and we’re well and we’re grateful for all your support.

Love, -joe and Kim and Eleanor

August 14, 2012

We’re on a Plane! Again!

And it’s supposed to be on time! This is shocking to me and probably now that I say this we will be massively delayed. But maybe not! Regardless, something like 15 hours from now we should be back in the US, though not yet home. We did get the seats we reserved this time, which should make this flight much more pleasant than the one here.

But then, on the other hand, we are now traveling with Baroness Squirmy Von Squirmington (of the Easthampton Von Squirmingtons) so who knows?

Will try to update from Newark if there’s time!

Heading Home

At last!

No time or access for long updates today. Leaving at 5:30 fir the three-hour drive to Hong Kong, then to Newark, then HOME.

Will try to update when we get home, if brain still works. That is, after all, more than 24 hours from now.

Love to all,
-joe & Kim

August 13, 2012

Reflections Before Our Final Day in China

We are about ready to crash (yes, it’s not yet nine o’clock, shut up), diving into sleep for our second-to-last night here. Today was a very full day: up at six to leave for Eleanor’s visa appointment at 7:30, back for lunch — instant noodles from the 7-Eleven, surprisingly tasty — shopping, walking, more shopping, Thai food for dinner, Eleanor time in the room, and a long and contentious bedtime.

The most memorable part of the day for me was the electronics mall. Our guide, myself, and a couple other guys headed out to see if we could score some cheap geek stuff. And oh, did we ever. The electronics mall nearby is five floors of tiny stalls shoehorned together, selling anything having to do with anything that uses a battery or has a screen. In two hours we saw about seventy-five percent of one floor — and according to our guide this was one of the smaller such malls in town. My compatriots bought iPhone cases ($1.20ish), “Sony” earbuds (about $4), Bluetooth keyboards (about $12) and a zoom lens for an iPad (maybe $15).

Me, I got a nice webcam, a retro phone handset for my iPhone, and two retractable travel cables with iPhone, Kindle, and mini-USB connectors. Total cost: 85 Yuan — about thirteen dollars.

Afterward, my ladies and I went out for more souvenirs and stumbled on a shop we hadn’t seen yet, one with more authentic stuff than most of the tchotchke stands on the island. Kim was very excited to find a handmade crocheted doll for Eleanor (have you ever tried to find an Asian doll in Cleveland?) and we got some other fun stuff for L’s room and such.

(I have to say, though, my favorite souvenir is one we found yesterday: a shelf lamp in the shape of a beautiful book, with a woodcut on the front that the light shines softly through. It opens and closes like a book to give off more or less light. It’s very cool. It’s also a beautiful red color — the color of good fortune in China — and features lovely, subtle, stylized rabbits in the woodcut, which is appropriate for Eleanor since she was born in the year of the Rabbit.)

And speaking of Eleanor: she’s recently learned that she can walk if we’re holding her hands. This is very exciting for her. Very. Exciting. In fact, it’s so exciting that it’s pretty much the only thing she wants to do now. Food, play, bottles — who needs them? She’s got two feet and knows how to use them.

Fortunately the hallways in the hotel are long enough to wear her out pretty quickly. Unfortunately, her height is such that they wear our backs out pretty quickly too. We walk together when we can, each of us holding a hand, but she seems to prefer just one driver.

When we simply can’t handle the walk, we sit across from each other on the floor and let her plunge headlong from one to the other. She would do this for hours if we let her.

Meanwhile, we find ourself thinking a lot about going home. This has been a wonderful trip, full of happiness and laughter and adventures. We will look back fondly and look forward to returning. But, you know, it’s time to go home. We have one day of relaxation, then one very long day of travel. We’re sad to leave, but home can’t come soon enough.

With this in mind, we assembled the following list of things we plan to never take for granted again:

  • Air conditioning
  • Humidity below ninety-eight percent
  • Ice in drinks
  • Being in similar time zones to family and friends
  • Walking or driving without fearing for one’s life
  • Diners
  • Couches with cushions
  • Being understood
  • Non-negotiable pricing
  • Drinkable water
  • The ability to eat raw produce
  • Uncensored internet
  • Blue sky
  • Sleep
  • Coffee
  • Closets and dressers
  • Sturdy cribs
  • Recognizable food products
  • Real bacon
  • Appliances, especially dishwashers
  • Western pharmacies
  • Our cats
  • Open space
  • Home cooked meals
  • The predictability of everything around us

At the same time, we already know there are many things we’ll miss a lot. Such as:

  • Almost everything about Chongqing
  • Never having to clean our room
  • Not even momentarily thinking about work
  • Ridiculously cheap electronics
  • Walking everywhere
  • Bao for breakfast
  • The surprised giggles when we say “thank you” in Mandarin
  • The gorgeous Asian architecture
  • The supermarkets
  • Creative transportation by the locals
  • Awesome t-shirts
  • The beautiful faces of the children
  • Red and gold lanterns
  • The newness of everything around us

In the balance, I think home wins. But we’ll be back.

And now, some random photos from the last day or two: