Wednesday, November 08, 2023


They arrived in D.C. on December 6, 2000, and spent their first month getting used to their new digs before making their public debut on January 10, 2001. Today, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang, along with their three-year-old cub, Xiao Qi Ji, are headed back to China.

For the most part, this blog is dormant (though my kids love to look back at some of their very early adventures that I shared here), but the departure of Tian and Mei seems like it should be acknowledged. I started this blog in June 2003 in part to help myself do more writing and as part of processing the fertility issues we were going through.

At that point, I was already a few years into being a Panda Behavior Watch volunteer with Friends of the National Zoo. They’d put out a call for volunteers as part of preparing for the arrival of Tian and Mei and I thought it sounded fun so I signed up. About twice a month, I’d sit with another volunteer or two in the camera room in the panada house, moving the cameras to keep the pandas in frame for panda cam watchers and making notes for the various scientists who were studying the bears. On the rare occasion there would be some talking to the public, but mostly it was just watching the bears and spending some time wandering around the zoo before my shift would start. The coolest shifts were like the one in my third entry here: overnight shifts. Just walking through the zoo at night, when more than a few animals are active, was always a treat. (Below is a screencap from one of those nights; I'm watching the monitors while Tian Tian sleeps in the enclosure next door.)

Last Friday, Evelin and I carved out some time to visit the zoo. It was our first trip there in a very long while, but we timed it well, getting there around 9 a.m. Some of the animals were having a lie-in, but the bears were all out and about (along with a few Rock Creek Park deer who’d wandered into the zoo and not made it out by opening time).

We watched one of the sloth bears (Melursus ursinus) exploring for food. As an enrichment, the keepers had wrapped bananas and other fruits in T-shirts and buried them under leaves around the enclosure. I did not realize that sloth bears peel their bananas, only eating the fruit inside the peel. I was more using a claw to break open the peel and scooping out the inside, but still interesting to see. We also saw the Andean (spectacled) bears (Tremarctos ornatus) out in their yard. The two cubs were resting high up in a tree.

But the highlight, as always, were the giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca), Mei, Tian, and Xiao Qi Ji were all out in their respective yards, enjoying some breakfast. There were crowds, but it wasn’t so crowded that you couldn’t get a good look at them sitting, eating, and ambling around. Watching them (only from the outside, we didn’t make it in to my old post inside the panda house), I could feel myself getting a little choked up. It’s been more than 19 years since I was a regular panda watcher (I only did maybe two shifts in the year after Celeste was born before officially withdrawing from the program), but the loss of the pandas is still emotional.

Celeste is in her second year of college. Quin is off to college herself next year. Evelin pointed out that maybe it’s a good time for me to start volunteering at the zoo again (though I’d need to scale back my other volunteer/unpaid work efforts to make the time) …

Safe journeys, 添添, 美香, and 小奇迹. You’ll be missed here in the DMV.

Monday, April 28, 2014

So ... Remodeling

The hedline pretty much says it all. About a quarter of the main living space in the house is off limits. We're washing dishes outside. The kelvinator is in the living room (it's really an Amana, but it's more fun to say "kelvinator" than "fridge"). And, in general, nerves are frayed. Details are being recorded at Survivor: Kitchen Remodel.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Sounds of Dogs ...

... or at least their names.

Back in first grade, it was suggested to Celeste that she not not talk about a certain dog breed at school too much because the name — shih tzu — sounded a little too close to something rude when she said it. Flash forward to breakfast a few days ago when Celeste and Quinlan were both talking about shih tzus; C turned to me with a quizzative look and said: "I know what a shih tzu is and that it sounds like something bad, but I can't figure out what it is. 'zu' doesn't sound bad and I don't know what 'shit' means."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Games People Play

In general, Q doesn't like playing games; the one exception over the years has been Go Fish, although we not too long ago picked up Apples to Apples, and she's loved it. Despite that, she's had a long-standing aversion to "winning games." Instead she usually likes to play Calvinballesque card games where the rules constantly change to ensure that everyone playing is doing well.

Now, Quinlan has branched out into game design with her own version of Go Fish. Using some of my old business cards and the calling cards we had printed up for her a while back, she designed a mermaid-themed deck with numbers 1 through 13, as well as Jack, Queen, and King. There's only one pair of each, which can make the game move quickly. The rules follow the traditional ask for card and draw if you don't get it, but the best bit is the marketing. It didn't quite click with me when I noticed the image at the left that it was an ad for the game, but this morning I found the three other posters placed strategically around the house.

Beyond the posters, there's also the titling of the game — "Go Fish: An Underwater Game" — and the little touches in the card images, from the swirly numbers and the fish as pips on the cards to the little fish the mermaid keeps on a leash and the bubbles coming from the octopus.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Supplement or Country?

This morning, between preparing the different egg, toast, and cereal orders at breakfast. I asked the girls if they'd already had their vitamins or not. Being a bit of a prat, I pronounced vitamin as the British English /ˈvɪt ə mɪn/ instead of the American English /ˈvaɪt ə mɪn/. Naturally, this offended Celeste gravely. After correcting my pronunciation, she stated, "besides /ˈvɪt ə mɪn/ is a country." We all paused for a moment trying to figure out what she meant ... then it clicked: Việt Nam. Which now has me thinking about bánh mì...