Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Texas-New Mexico Vacation: Day 3 - San Antonio

On our third day in Texas, we rented a car and drove from Austin to San Antonio. On the way, we stopped at Buc-ee's, a Texas chain of giant convenience stores/truck stops that sell many fun items. We got kolaches to eat for breakfast. Kolaches are pastries and at Buc-cee's they sell them with interesting fillings - my wife got one filled with sausage and jalapeño, Kai got the sausage and pepper jack, and I got the ham and cheese kolache. They were delicious!


Once we arrived in San Antonio, we made our way to the historic Market Square, a plaza of Mexican shops and restaurants that make up the largest Mexican market in the United States.


We had lunch at a Mexican restaurant there. The dining areas were lit up with colorful Christmas-like lights. Here we are with our virgin piña coladas.


After lunch, we went to a museum which told the story of the Alamo. The Alamo is renowned in Texas history as the site of the pivotal event in the Texas Revolution. It is the place where all 198 defenders died in fighting over a thousand Mexican troops. But less than two months later, "Remember the Alamo" became the inspiration in a battle where Mexican troops were defeated and Texas won its independence.

Here Kai is with the most famous Alamo hero, Davy Crockett.


After the museum, we went to see the actual Alamo.


Kai was starting to drive me crazy with his incessant playing of Pokemon Go. I asked him to pause while we were in the Alamo, which he did not like and only made me more frustrated.

Following the Alamo, we took a boat tour of San Antonio's River Walk area.


The boat tour was a relaxing way to see the entire River Walk. It is beautiful trees and nice bridges, and has many shops and restaurants.


After the boat tour, we went to the hotel and used the swimming pool. We returned to the River Walk and found a spot along the river for dinner.


After dinner, we enjoyed a nice stroll along the river back to the hotel.


Austin and San Antonio were nice, but now we will head away from the cities for the next part of our vacation.



Monday, March 27, 2017

Texas-New Mexico Vacation: Day 2 - Austin

We began our second day in Austin by going over to Mount Bonnell. There were a few stairs to climb to get to the top, but from there we had a great view, even on this cloudy morning. Here we are looking toward downtown Austin.


And then on the other side looking at the Colorado River.


We had a reservation for the Sunday Gospel Brunch at Stubb's BBQ, but we had just enough time beforehand to see the Texas capitol building and, more important to Kai, catch several Pokémon.


We then walked over to Stubb's, only to find the gospel group had cancelled so there would be no performance. I was really disappointed, as that was something we were looking forward to. Kai got upset, too. I don't think he particularly cared about missing the gospel performance, but he hates any change in plans.

For the second straight day, we went to Plan B. Threadgill's is a local institution known for live music that also has a Sunday brunch. We took the cab up there while Kai steamed about going to a more remote location where we were less likely to see Pokémon.

Once at Threadgill's, we were seated close to the stage, and then went to load up on the buffet.

I liked the bluegrass band, though it wasn't really what my wife or Kai wanted to see.


Kai made a taco of sorts out of tortilla and potatoes and pepper juice.


We didn't stay for the whole performance as we had other things on our agenda. The next item was to return to the capitol for a tour.

The following photo is looking up at the top of the rotunda.


We saw both chambers of the state legislature. The following photo is of the senate chamber.


The capitol building was beautiful, and the tour was worthwhile as the guide talked a lot about Texas history, and Texas has a pretty interesting history compared to most states. Of course, The Alamo is a big part of that history, and here is a painting depicting the famous battle.


There were many portraits, including this one of Davy Crockett, one of the heroes of the Alamo.


After the tour of the capitol, Kai and I spent a good amount of time walking all around the surrounding grounds to look for Pokémon. My wife walked a little bit, but mostly rested while Kai wore me out with all the walking.

And then it was time to go to Barton Springs Pool, a 3 acre pool made from natural spring water that emerges from the ground there.


The water is said to be 68 degrees year round which doesn't sound too bad but felt really cold. The air temperature was in the upper 80s, so it was kind of refreshing to get into the cold water, but it difficult to swim when your body is so cold. Plus, the pool is at least five feet or deeper in most places so if you were not a good swimmer, it felt a bit challenging.


Kai loved it, though. He even went off the diving board in the deepest part of the pool.


We walked back to the hotel, making several side excursions along the way to catch Pokémon.

We capped our day by going to another barbecue restaurant. At Terry Black's BBQ, you wait in line to order, and scoop your own sides as you get closer to the front. Up front, you tell them how many ribs or slices of brisket you want and they slice off the pieces in front of you. We got pork ribs and beef brisket, plus potato salad, cole slaw, green beans, and peach cobbler. The ribs were really meaty, mostly meat and very little bone.

What you see on Kai's tray was for both he and I. Everything was delicious but it turned out that our appetites were bigger than our stomachs as we ordered way too much food and could not finish everything. But it met may wife's seal of approval as she said it was the best barbecue she's every eaten.


Next, we leave Austin and head down to San Antonio.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

We're in Texas!

We had a couple of great trips to Florida the past two years, but this year we wanted to see a different part of the country during Kai’s spring break. The destination this time: Texas.

We flew down to Austin yesterday morning and are spending a couple of days here before moving on to San Antonio, then heading south to Big Bend National Park on the Rio Grande River. Following that, we will head west to southeastern New Mexico before flying home.


Our time in Austin got off to a bit of a rocky start.

After we dropped our bags off at our hotel, we went to have a late lunch. Foodwise, Austin is famous for barbecue and Mexican food. We wanted to start off with some good barbecue and I had gotten some recommendations from a co-worker who used to live there. Austin is famous for food trucks in permanent locations, and we took a cab to one of those, Kerlin BBQ. We got into the long line of people waiting to order. After a few minutes, I suggested that my wife and Kai could go upfront to look at the menu so they would be prepared to order. They came back a minute later saying that they didn't see barbecue on the menu, just tacos.

We were in the wrong place.

It turned out that Kerlin was in the next lot but they were closed for spring break, and we hadn't notice the place because no one was there.

We went to plan B, the next barbecue food truck on the list. I pulled out my phone to call an Uber but found out that Uber is not present in Austin. But my co-worker texted back to let me know that there is a similar operation just for Austin called Ride Austin. I downloaded the app, got a car, and we were soon at Micklethwait.

There we saw another line of people, this one even longer than at the taco place.


Kai was not happy. At all.

He loudly asked/complained about how long we would have to wait. The line seemed to move very slowly which only agitated him further.

I tried to get him to use his phone. But there were no Pokemon in the area so he was not interested in Pokemon Go. And while normally he can't get enough of the internet, when he's agitated like this, he's too dysregulated to even do that.

As we were waiting, my wife and I were thinking of what we would order. Maybe we would get a variety of pork ribs, beef ribs, sausage, and brisket. But as waited, the selection of food kept diminishing. Places like this are only open until they run out of food, and we were wondering if they would run out before we would get any. One by one, they covered up items on the menu board indicating that they were sold out. Soon, brisket was the only thing left.


And then, one of the workers announced that there was enough food left for 15 people. And there were 15 people ahead of us in line.

We held our breath. Kai was already so agitated; how would he react if we couldn't get any food and have to go find another place to eat?

But when we made it to the front of the line, they still had enough food for us. We ordered the brisket. :)


Kai was happy. My wife and I were happier. The brisket was very good, by the way, though that was almost beside the point. :)

After that, we went to the South Congress area of Austin that is known for its many small eclectic shops.


I really wanted to stop into Allens Boots, but we did not buy any cowboy boots. (I was surprised how expensive they are).


After strolling through many shops, we returned to our hotel to use the swimming pool.

And then we went out to see Austin's bat colony. Home of the largest colony of urban bats in North America, over a million bats call the South Congress Street Bridge home in the summer (we were there early in the season).


We found a spot beneath the bridge and waited for sunset when the bats would emerge.


Finally, about 10 minutes after sundown, the bats started to pour out from under the bridge. It was really an amazing sight! I was surprised at how the bats seemed to keep coming out. They just kept coming and coming.

I took a number of photos, but none really captured the experience. In most of my pictures, the bats blended in with the dark background of the bridge. Here is one photo where you can see some of them against the sky on the right side of the photo.


We had dinner after that at a Mexican restaurant.


Our meals were tasty and filling, but we had room for dessert.


We split a tres leeches which was really light and yummy.

And so wrapped up our first day in Texas. We're just getting started.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Pokémon, the Symphony, and a Good Week

Kai's cousin was playing at Symphony Center in downtown Chicago this past Wednesday evening so my wife and Kai took the train into the city and I met them after work.

We had just a little bit of extra time so Kai and I walked over to Millennium Park to play Pokémon Go while my wife had coffee at a cafe. Kai was happy getting to catch some more new Pokémon.


At least he was happy until his phone suddenly died. The battery went from nearly 70% to 30% in about ten minutes, and then the phone completely shut off a few minutes later. Kai was very distraught.

I told him that I could understand his frustration, but when using technology there will be times when things like this happen and if he could not deal with it, then perhaps he shouldn't have a phone to begin with.

He did not like that explanation.

He demanded that we go to the Apple store to get the phone fixed right that instant. I told him that even if we went there, they wouldn't be able to see us anyway as we did not have reservations for the Genius Bar.

But we did have reservations for dinner and it was time to go to the restaurant. I was regretting that we had decided on a somewhat upscale Italian restaurant; it was not the place for a bad meltdown.

Fortunately Kai held it together, somewhat at least. He was partially eased when I told him that we could get a new phone if his current one could not be fixed. At the restaurant, he did some research on Mom's phone and saw some articles that said that batteries can drain quickly in cold weather. Hopefully that is the case here as I don't want to buy a new phone for him just yet; hopefully we can wait until next winter.

In terms of the dinner itself, the food was disappointing, but I was relieved just to get through the meal.

And then it was time to go to the symphony. Symphony Center is where the renowned Chicago Symphony plays. But on this day three local high school bands were invited to play at an annual event. It was quite an honor for the chosen schools.

None of us had been here before and were impressed with the beauty of the hall.

Kai was happy while we waited for the first orchestra to come out.


And then it was time for the first school to come out. We were lucky that Kai's cousin's school got to go first.


Lucy plays flute, and she is on the far left of the front row in this photo.


My wife and I were very impressed with the performance. I'm certainly not an expert, but I thought they sounded great! Certainly much better than what you might imagine a high school orchestra to sound like. They performed four pieces in all, and we agreed that the first and last ones were especially entertaining. Kai really enjoyed it, too.

We would like to have stayed for all three schools, but as it was a school night and we had a long drive back home, we decided to leave.

Despite the bump with the phone earlier, it was a good evening.

And it was part of a good week overall.

After several awful weeks with Kai feeling depressed and having terrible days at school, we consulted with his psychiatrist and had his medication changed. It was likely not a coincidence that he had a great week at school.

The dreaded emails from school were not so dreaded this week. His math teacher sent us this message:
I wanted to email you guys and share with you what an amazing week Kai has had in math. He has been flexible, patient, and arriving to class on time and quietly. He is up to date on all of his class notes and is ready for tomorrow's work day. He also shared with me that he is feeling less anxious about math. I hope this brightens your day a little bit.

We wrapped up the week with a little St. Patrick's Day celebration last night. My wife got shamrock coloured and shaped ravioli from Costco and made corned beef and cabbage for dinner.


And Kai found a recipe for shamrock milkshakes and had Mom help him make some.


Everything was yummy and it was a nice way to cap off a good week.

And so we hope that this is just the start of him being back on track, and not just a blip on a downward spiral.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A Respite into the City

It has been a rough several weeks for Kai at school with him increasingly frequently making serious remarks indicating despair and depression. But he mostly seems fine on the weekends and at home.

Today we went into the city to do one of his favorite activities, looking for Pokémon. We went to Chicago's Magnificent Mile. My wife took the opportunity to go shopping while Kai and I walked up and down Michigan Avenue.

Here we are near the Chicago River, with Trump Tower in the background.


From there, we walked over to Millennium Park.


Kai was delighted as we found many new Pokémon or ones that were stronger than those he already had.

After a couple hours of walking, we met back up with Mom for lunch. Kai enjoyed his Brown Cow - root beer with vanilla ice cream. He also had some pizza. My wife and I had the short rib beef sandwich.


After lunch we stopped in at the Lego store. Here are my wife and Kai standing in front of a Lego model of Trump Tower.


And inside, Kai with a Lego lightsaber.


Afterward he and I walked around and caught more Pokémon before we finally drove home. Kai enjoyed the entire excursion into the city.

When Kai is in despair, he tends to forget all the good things in his life. We will have to remember to remind him of these good times when he is feeling depressed. Hopefully it will help him realize that his life has more good than bad and that it would be a huge mistake to think otherwise.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Teenager!

Kai turned 13 last week.


I was away on a business trip on his birthday, but we celebrated the day before with cake, and he got to open the many presents he got from his relatives.

This weekend, Kai had a three-day weekend with the President's Day holiday. I took Monday off from work and we had a little staycation in Schaumburg, similar to last year.

The weather was unusually warm and springlike. I didn't hear the weather news but am thinking that it had to be a record high with temps right around 70 degrees all weekend. It was perfect for walking around outside to look for Pokémon. Pokémon Go just released their generation two Pokémon so we saw a lot of people all over Schaumburg playing the game. It was just like when it was first released last summer. Of all the things we did this weekend, I think Kai enjoyed playing Pokémon Go the most. We could have saved a lot of money and just done that in our own neighborhood at home. Ha!


On Saturday night, we went back to Medieval Times. We had good seats right in the first row.


We were in the Blue section and cheered for the Blue knight. Alas, he was not victorious, but Kai enjoyed it all.


We ordered the Celebration package which included birthday cake and an announcement of his birthday by the king.


On Saturday, we went to see the Lego Batman movie and went to play video games at Dave and Busters. We also searched for more Pokémon before having dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse.

On Monday, we went to the local Legoland.


Kai enjoyed taking photos of many of the Lego exhibits. Here he is in front of the downtown Chicago exhibit.


And here he is in the Lego hippo.


And maybe his favorite part was getting to pick out a Lego Batman set at the store.


It was a fun weekend. Now we have to let it sink in that he is a teenager. Oh my!

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