Saturday, July 14, 2018

Contact Lenses

Kai first started wearing glasses in the fall of 2012 when he was eight years old.


His first pair of glasses were stylish but back then he got angry very easily, and when he did, he tore his shirts to shreds and sometimes also broke his glasses.

So, we were going through frames every so often. Here's what he was wearing in 2014.


By 2015 we were tired of all of the broken eyeglass frames and were looking for something that would not break. A fellow parent told us about Solo Bambini eyewear for children. (Thanks, Lisa!) I called them up and the person I spoke with guaranteed that their frame would hold up to even Kai. We ordered a pair and got the lenses that turn into sunglasses when outdoors.


We found out that the frames were indeed Kai proof!

But it wasn't long before he outgrew those frames. The next pair we got him was a pair of sports frames which also were durable.


But the problem was that Kai did not like wearing his eyeglasses. He said that he did not like how he looked in them. We were kind of glad that he cared about his appearance at all as he had gone years never noticing when he put his shirts on backward unless we corrected him. But it was important that he wore glasses as his eyesight was getting worse and he could not see the board in the front of his classroom without his glasses.

And so it was a struggle.

With Kai now 14, and about to start high school, we thought it might be time to have him try contact lenses. He very much liked that idea.

And so, although his eyeglass subscription was still good through the fall, we wanted him to have a fresh look for his fresh start in high school

Ahead of his visit to the eye doctor, Kai watched YouTube videos of people demonstrating how to put on and take off contact lenses. He was very motivated to learn.

At the doctor's office, he struggled a bit with both putting them in and taking them out. But he didn't give up or get too frustrated. He persisted nicely and was able to do it.


And so for the last month or so, he has been wearing contact lenses, and liking it!


Sunday, July 8, 2018

Our Summer, So Far

We've had a fun start to summer.

We had some extremely hot and humid weather so we've had a lot of occasions to make homemade shave ice. Here we're about to have Mom's favorite, ichiban style, just like they make at Matsumoto's Shave Ice in Hawaii.


Besides the ice, you add green tea flavoring, condensed milk, ice cream, mochi, and azuki beans.


With the heat last weekend, it was great pool weather.


We went later in the afternoon when it was less crowded and Kai enjoyed playing splash games with me. My arm was hurting the next day from lifting the buckets of water over and over to splash Kai.

On the 4th of July, my wife made brisket sandwiches.



And a red, white and blue(ish) ice cream cake!


Later that evening we went to watch our community's fireworks.


We went back to our usual spot at the Rec Center parking lot where we are close to the fireworks.


Afterward, Kai enjoyed some sparklers.


This Friday, we enjoyed a nice visit from my nephew Ian and his wife Susan. It was the first time we had seen them since their wedding this spring.


The next day we met them in Milwaukee for a Brewers game.


The racing sausages are a fun part of the experience at Miller Park.



The game wasn't particularly exciting, especially if you were a Brewers fan, but we had good seats and I enjoyed hanging out with Ian. Also, as a Cubs fan, it didn't bother me at all that the Brewers lost. Kai likes live games much better than watching on television and he seemed to have a good time, too. He got a souvenir chorizo sausage plush character.


This weekend was cooler than last so we decided to take advantage with a bike ride this morning. We tried out a new trail near our house.


It isn't very scenic as the trail runs between a railroad and the highway, but it is nicely paved and very straight. As Kai has gotten taller and with his new bike from last fall, he seems to enjoy riding much more than he used to.


Hope you're having a nice summer, too.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Star Wars at the Chicago Symphony

One of my goals as a parent is to expose my son to many new experiences. I think it is good for any child to learn and grow through new experiences, but for one with autism I see it as a way to also force them out of their routines and hopefully help to get them be a little more comfortable with exploring the unknown.

I have been wanting to take our family to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) for a while now, and with Kai doing well at his cousin Lucy's high school concerts, we thought it might be a good time to try seeing the CSO.

A few weeks ago, I got the tickets and told Kai that we would go see the Symphony. He was not at all excited. But when I mentioned that the orchestra would be playing along with a film, he got curious and wanted to know which film. And when I mentioned that the film was the original Star Wars movie, he was ecstatic.

The concert was last night. My wife and Kai took the train downtown to meet me. (My office is located very close to Symphony Center).


As we took our seats, we were very curious to see what this film-concert experience would be like.


No photos are allowed during the performance but I shot the following just prior so you can see the setup.


Not to keep you in suspense, it was fantastic!

From the first drumroll of the 20th Century Fox music to the last of the end credits, this was a very fun experience. The iconic Star Wars music never sounded so good as heard live while played by the CSO. Being so familiar with the movie enabled us to focus on the music and it was interesting to see how precisely choreographed the concert was to the film. And seeing Star Wars this way really highlights how critical the music is to the film.

And while the performance was excellent throughout, the highlight came during the end credits. This is normally when everyone heads out of the theater, but in this case, the musical crescendo as the credits rolled was awesome!

Kai loved it, as did we all. It was the perfect way to introduce him to the Chicago Symphony.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Special Olympics and a Trip to Springfield

We made a trip to downstate Normal, a two and a half hour drive for us, to see a bit of the Illinois Special Olympics. A boy in Kai's swim group won gold in the 400 meter freestyle in our regional meet this past spring and qualified for the state event which was held this weekend. We went to cheer Conner on, and also give Kai a preview of the event. Kai was unable to compete in the regional meet this year but we're hoping he can next year.


We arrived at around 11 am on Friday and got to see Conner and his family as they awaited the start of the competition. Then as the swimmers entered the pool to warm up, we went up in the stands to get our seats.


We watched the first race and then it was Conner's turn to swim in the second race. Kai's swim coach, James, was on the deck with Conner and had him ready to go.

Conner swam closest to us (the nearest lane was not used) and the boy just on the other side of him got off to a very fast start. We weren't sure if that boy would be able to keep up that pace - 400 meters is 16 lengths of the pool. Conner edged closer in the last few laps as we cheered him on.


The other boy hung tough, though, and Conner ended up with the silver medal.

It was an exciting race and very fun to experience. They didn't post the times when we were there but we're pretty sure that Conner swam his personal best. We got see the medal ceremony and congratulate Conner before we left.

Kai enjoyed it and it was great for him to see this. James pushes him hard during the biweekly training sessions but now he got to see how it paid off for Conner. (We didn't stay for the second day but the next day Conner won the gold medal in the 200 meters!) Both Kai and Conner have trimmed about a minute off their 400 meter times in the past few months. Hopefully this helps motivate Kai to keep up the good work and give it his best next year.

After watching Conner race, we drove about an hour and 15 minutes further downstate to Springfield. The capital of Illinois, Springfield is most famous as the place where Abraham Lincoln lived from the time he was a young man until he became the 16th President of the United States.

As residents of the Land of Lincoln, I thought our trip downstate was a good occasion to learn about our state's most famous citizen.

Our first stop in Springfield was the home where Lincoln and his family lived.


In Springfield, Lincoln worked as a self-taught lawyer and entered in politics serving in the Illinois House of Representatives. Touring the house, we got to learn about what Lincoln's life was like in those days.


After the tour, we checked into our hotel and Kai got to use the pool.


For dinner, we went to an Italian restaurant. Kai loves calamari!


After dinner we walked around downtown Springfield. The following is the old capitol building, the one used when Lincoln served in the Illinois legislature.


Kai enjoyed seeing the life-size statues of Abe and his family.


Lincoln, at 6 feet 4 inches, is still our tallest President ever.


The next morning, we went to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum. I had read that the museum is considered one of the first "experience museums" and we got to see what they meant. Created by a company whose founder got his start at The Walt Disney Company, the museum combines contemporary storytelling technologies with historical artifacts to create an amazing experience for visitors.

One technical highlight of the museum is the use of holavision special effects to bring to life ghosts of Lincoln, his wife Mary, and Civil War soldiers. Another highlight is a movie full of special effects that tells the personal and political dramas and key issues of Lincoln's presidency, especially slavery.


Two main areas of the museum document two different stages of the president's life: The Pre-Presidential Years where you enter through a life-size replication of the log cabin that rep Lincoln lived in as a boy, and The Presidential Years which you enter through the White House. In one part of the museum, Kai got to go behind the presidential podium and give the Gettysburg Address as it was displayed on the teleprompter.


I was happy that the museum made it so fun to educate Kai, and all of us, about Lincoln's life, and the great man who preserved the Union and abolished slavery.

After learning so much about Lincoln, it was fitting that we visited his tomb on our way out of town.The tomb is the final resting place for Lincoln, his wife Mary, and three of their four children. (The three children here all died before reaching adulthood. Along with the assassination of her husband, you can understand why Mary suffered depression.)


This was our first trip as a family to downstate Illinois, and it was well worth it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Middle School Graduation

Kai's middle school graduation ceremony was yesterday.

Ahead of the ceremony, I was not overly excited about the occasion. After all, in this country, pretty much every child completes middle school. It's not like a college graduation which is the culmination of years of education, or even a high school graduation which is a significant rite of passage.

And so I was surprised by how emotional I got during the ceremony.

The principal of the school gave a great speech, reminding all of what an achievement this marked for the graduates of this school in particular. He talked about how people who face adversity turn out better for it in life, but that for the kids at this therapeutic school, they have faced greater challenges at a younger age than many do. He quoted Hemmingway from Farewell to Arms: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."

Later in the ceremony, several of the students gave very touching speeches. A boy in Kai's class gave an especially moving speech, talking very openly about all of the trouble he had caused at the school, and how he had to go away to a residential school for a time, and then how he was able to turn around his life in the past year to the point where he was chosen to speak for the 8th graders. His remarks give hope that situations that seem so dire (to his parents, especially, I'm sure) were not hopeless. And that this school played a big part in helping to turn this boy's life around.

Kai had many challenging times in middle school as well, but when we step back we see that he is a very different boy than the one who started at middle school. As he walked down the aisle when the students made their entrance to the ceremony, he seemed calm and poised. And when he walked across the stage after he received his diploma, he raised turned toward the audience to move the tassel on his cap from right to left to indicate that he was a graduate. (Few others did that). And then he raised both arms briefly in triumph.

And so, this ceremony, from start to finish, was a reminder of the journey we have been on with our son, and of the progress he has made, and how he emerged through some rough times to emerge "strong at the broken places."


After the ceremony, we spoke with several staff and they were all effusive in their optimism that Kai is ready to go to his home high school.

Thanks to all of the staff who made such an impact on our son. Here are a couple in particular that we were instrumental with Kai:

Kai's primary teacher in 8th grade... Kai bonded very strongly with Mr. Howard who made a big impact on Kai:


Kai's classroom therapist for his three years at the middle school, Ms. Levin, who persisted through all the tough times:


And of course we were also very glad that Kai's grandparents could be there for this big occasion.


Later, we had a barbecue at home to celebrate with other family members who could not make the graduation ceremony.

And so marked a milestone that was indeed very special.

Onward.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Our Memorial Day Weekend

We had a nice holiday weekend in Michigan with Bubbe and Papa.


The first activity was to go the Mermaid Megafest.


The big event of the festival was the gathering at the pier to attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of people dressed as mermaids.


We couldn't count how many we saw, but everyone seemed confident that with well over 400 mermaids, the record would be broken.


It was fun to see all of the mermaids and pirates gathered in the one spot.

Kai's favorite activity at his grandparent's house is going to the beach. And after the worst spring in my life, the weather warmed up just in time and we were able to go to the beach every day.

Of course, just because the air temperature had warmed up didn't mean that the water temperature was warm. But the frigid water didn't bother Kai.


I went into the water with Kai to take pictures and keep him company while my wife stayed warm ashore. I asked why I always had to go into the cold water and she said it was a time for father-and-son bonding. Ha!

But when Kai got back to land, he made sure to press his ice cold body against Mom.


Another favorite activity is to play games with Bubbe and Papa. This weekend we had several matches of Rummikub.


Papa is a particularly competitive player so it is extra satisfying when Kai and I teamed up to beat him a time or two.

On our last evening, we strolled back to the lakefront to see the sunset.


Of course, the time went fast and then it was time to say goodbye. We took one more photo before leaving.


On the way home, we made a side trip to go to Dell Rhea's Chicken Basket, a restaurant in the southwestern suburbs of Chicago on old Route 66 that specializes in fried chicken. My wife saw it featured on the Food Network and suggested we could go there to celebrate my birthday since I love fried chicken but don't get to eat it too often.


We ordered chicken wings, sauteed spinach, baked mac and cheese, and the fried chicken, of course!


I loved the fried chicken!


And so went our weekend. Hope you had a nice one, too!

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