Monday, October 13, 2014

Return to Didier Farms

We have been going to our local pumpkin farm most years since Kai was 4 years old. Last year we heard that the local government was going to take over the land to build a reservoir, but they are still in business so they must have held the government off for now.

We went back there on Saturday for our latest visit.


First up on Kai’s agenda is the giant slide. It has become a father-and-son tradition for us.


He wanted to go on it several times.



Next was the hayride through the corn field.


And for the first time this year, Kai wanted to go into the corn maze.


I had never done one either, and was impressed that you really can’t tell the right way to go when you are inside the maze.

There are numerous corny signs.



Kai enjoyed leading the way.


It seemed like we always chose the wrong path that led to a dead end. But at least we didn’t keep going in circles.


Though after a while, it seemed like we might never get out. Then another boy came running by to tell his family that he had discovered the way out. And so we followed him to the exit.

Next Kai wanted to ride on the mini dragon roller coaster.


This ride is for kids much younger than Kai. But I suppose it is progress of sorts that he wanted to ride it after all these years. Maybe next year he will want to try a real roller coaster at our local amusement park.

We couldn’t leave without getting a pumpkin and taking our annual photo by the measuring stick.

And though it doesn’t always seem like it, I guess these photos prove that our little boy really is growing up.




Monday, September 29, 2014

Full Weekend at Door County

We returned to Door County in Wisconsin for our annual fall camping trip.

It’s always exciting to get there to put the tent up. Kai wanted to play with the campfire.


He was especially looking forward to making s’mores.


And they turned out great!


The next morning we went to Eagle Tower. If you squint, you may be able to see Kai and my wife about a third of the way up the 75-foot structure.


My knees told me that the tower was taller this year, though Kai had no trouble hiking to the top. Here’s the view from the top. Please pay attention to the little island that you can get a glimpse of on the right side of the photo. That is Horseshoe Island (more on that later).


Next, Kai wanted to go to the beach. My wife volunteered that I would go in the water with Kai. ☺


The water was really cold. I mean, it was REALLY COLD. Even Kai thought it was cold, and he is a penguin when it comes to going into cold water. Nonetheless, he still wanted to walk all the way out to the boundaries of the swimming area.


Next, we wanted to try kayaking.

After our experience kayaking the Skokie Lagoons, we felt like taking on the challenge of kayaking in a bigger body of water. The man who rented kayaks told us of a few places we could go to. He said that it would take 20 to 30 minutes to kayak to Horseshoe Island. As we only wanted to go out for an hour, we thought that was perfect.

We rented a kayak large enough for the three of us, though Kai only sat with his back to Mom and did not paddle.

Here you see us with our destination in the background. This picture was taken when we had already paddled out nearly halfway. We still had a long distance to go.


We learned that kayaking in a large body of water like Lake Michigan (or technically, Green Bay) is much more difficult than kayaking in the small, calm waters of the lagoon back home.

Even though it was a calm day, there seemed to be just enough wind and/or current that it was challenging to stay on course toward our target. (Or perhaps, my wife and I were just not in sync and kept steering off course). Anyway, we would keep going too far to one side, then over-adjusted to the other. We were zig-zagging instead of going straight.

The choppy waves from passing motor boats did not help either, and were a bit scary as the thought of capsizing in that cold water was not attractive.

The final issue was more mental. In a small space like the lagoon, you can see every tree go by so you can tell that you are making progress. But in this big open space, we passed few landmarks and the island appeared to be far away no matter how hard we paddled. It felt like we were making no progress at all.

With nary a break, with our arms aching, we finally approached the island. But we had taken so much time to get there that we turned around without the planned rest on the island. We wanted to get back in our allotted time as the man told us that if we were late, they would send someone out after us.

The trip back was probably even harder than going out. But we made it! It was an accomplishment. And it may have satiated our desire to kayak for a while.

After a break for lunch, we got our bicycles out to ride on one on of the beautiful trails in the State Park. We had tried this last year but Kai tumbled off his bike in the first few minutes and we did not ride for long. We were hopeful of going further this time.

Kai did much better this year.


As incentive to keep going, we set our destination as the frozen custard stand just outside the Park entrance, about four and a half miles from our campsite. It was about the same distance as the loop we usually ride back home.

Kai generally rode well, though he often rode too slowly to make it up the hills.

But we achieved our goal and enjoyed some big sundaes.


Riding back was a bit more challenging. Kai was tired and I had to keep encouraging him to pedal faster.

“Keep going!”

“Pedal faster!”

He did not like my encouragement.

“STOP SWEARING, DAD!”

Oh, brother. I could just imagine what passing bicyclists must have been thinking if they heard Kai yelling that to me.

But we made it back to our campsite. The 9-mile round trip was probably the longest we had ever biked together.

And once we relaxed in the tent and played games, Kai was back to his happy self again.


We capped our day off by going into town to experience our first fish boil.

A Door County tradition, the fish boil involves a huge cauldron of salt water being brought to a boil.


Potatoes and onions are first put into the pot, and later fresh water whitefish steaks are added. At just the right moment, the boil master tosses kerosene into the fire beneath the pot, setting off a huge blaze that causes the water to boil over, dramatically carrying off the fish oil that had collected on top.



The fish, potatoes, and onions are pulled out and carried to the kitchen, where they are served with a generous drizzling of butter.

The fish was really tasty, though the service at the restaurant left a lot to be desired.


Kai is not one for regular fish (he likes shellfish) so he had the ribs, which he said was really good as well.


As you might imagine, we were very tired and slept pretty well in the tent that night.

The next day, we took a ferry over to Washington Island.


The boat ride took half an hour. And then we explored the large island.

One of the highlights was a neat-looking church. Before you get to the church itself, you walk on the “Prayer Path” through the woods.


Along the path are numerous Bible scriptures.


And then we arrived at the wooden church.


It was beautiful outside and in.



We also went to a farm museum. Here Kai is feeding a goat.


We had a long drive ahead, so we couldn’t stay on the island too long. We grabbed a take-out lunch to eat in the car while on the ferry.

Back on the mainland, we drove home, stopping only to buy some cherry pie to have later.

It was a fun weekend. We had done a lot. Frankly, I didn’t expect to be able to do all those things. We wouldn’t have been able to in years past.

And so it was a great weekend in many ways.

And best of all it portends more good times ahead.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Cicada Update

I got home from work on Monday and heard that the cicada Kai had brought into the house was nowhere to be found. It must have died, we thought.

After dinner, I heard my wife scream.

“EEEEEEE, THE CICADA!!!!!”

Kai and I charged out of the kitchen.

“Where, Mom?”

“RIGHT THERE!”

It was on the floor in the hallway outside our bedrooms.

Kai went over and picked it up. It was still alive.

My wife suggested that he put the cicada in a jar instead of letting it have free rein of the house. I told Kai that it would die if he left it in a jar, and suggested that he release it outside.

He thought it over for several seconds. I think he wanted to keep his pet. But he didn’t want it to die so he made the decision to set it free.

He brought it out to our back deck and let it go.

“Be free!” Kai called out, and the cicada flew away.

It was kind of sad to see it go.

Well, perhaps not so much for all of us.

My wife was relieved to know that the critter was no longer in our house. ☺

Monday, September 22, 2014

Stomp Rockets, Pet Cicadas, and Other Weekend Activities

We went to the library on Saturday to get another science kit. Most of the kits were already checked out so we ended up selecting one that had a math game. Kai was looking forward to bringing it home until he saw another child holding a kit that contained a stomp rocket. Suddenly, the math game didn’t seem so attractive.

“That’s not fair!”

I explained that of course it was fair; the other child had gotten to the library before us and had selected this kit.

“They should be allowed to have the kit for only one week!”

Well, you got to keep yours for two weeks.

“I’m telling the librarian!”

And so he did.

To no avail. She explained to him as I did, that kids are given two weeks to do all the things in the kits.

He remained angry until, on the way home, I remembered that we actually had a stomp rocket at home. One that Kai never plays with. When I reminded him about it, his mood brightened and he couldn’t wait to find it.

And he had a great time playing with it.



The math game was also pretty good, by the way. It was a math version of Scrabble where you use tiles to make equations. Integers and simple operations like addition are worth fewer points; fractions and operations like division are worth more.

* * * * *

Kai’s boxing class resumed on Saturday after a summer respite. Even though it was just a three-month break, I noticed a difference in some of the other kids.

One boy in particular, a boy two years older than Kai, especially stuck out is a good way.

He looked taller. But it was more than his physical growth that caught my attention.

He came over to me, struck up a conversation, and even took out his hand to shake. Considering he had not spoken more than a few words to me before, I was really impressed with how social and mature he was. I can only hope that Kai is like that in two years.

Apparently Kai has changed in his own way, too. Another parent remarked to me how good he looked; that it appeared like he lost a lot of weight. You know, he does look better than he did last spring; it’s just harder to notice when you see him every day.

Kai’s boxing instructor also smiled at how Kai actively participated this week. He wasn’t shy with his sparring and he worked up a sweat, something he didn’t always do last year.

Maybe it’s not so unrealistic that he can mature into a nice twelve year old like that other boy.

* * * * *

We went out to play with the stomp rocket again on Sunday when Kai found a cicada.


He said it was a male cicada. I asked him how he could tell, and he said he looked at its private parts. Do cicadas have private parts?

He wanted to take it into the house to show Mom. I told him that Mom would not want it in the house, and besides, she’s not so crazy about bugs anyway.

As Kai was preoccupied with the cicada and no longer interested in the stomp rocket, I cleaned up a few things in the yard. When I saw him again he was coming back outside. I asked him what he did with the cicada. He said that he let it go.

When I came in the house, I noticed that he wasn’t hanging around in the kitchen as usual; he was in his bedroom. I went up to his room to investigate, and he showed me the cicada. He had brought it inside the house and was now among his Lego sets. He had also brought a leaf inside. It was lunch for the cicada.

I could have ordered him to take it outside, but I didn’t. I kind of liked that he took interest in it, and that he wanted to take care of the critter.

He told me that it would be a secret from Mom. He said he would keep the door to his room closed when he went out for his afternoon exercise group.

When he returned home, he rushed to his room. After a while he called for me.

“Dad, I can’t find the cicada.”

We looked around but could not find it. His room has a lot of stuff so it could be hidden among any number of items. I told him that it would probably turn up sooner or later (or be found dead by his mother, I thought).

He finally gave up trying to find it, and went downstairs to ask Mom if she saw it. My wife was shocked that he had brought it into the house, and not happy that it was on the loose.

Oh well, what can you do?

Though a nagging thought is bothering me. Kai said something about wanting to find a female cicada so that he could breed more of them.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Science Kits

Our public library recently got science kits for kids that you can check out for two weeks. Is this a new thing at public libraries? Our library has books, CDs, movies, and video games, but was surprised to see these kits.

When I spotted them and pointed them out to Kai, he was very interested in trying them. The first week, we brought home a kit that included a solar panel. It also included hundreds of other pieces from which you construct things like robots or vehicles that move when it gets enough sunlight.

Kai loved putting it together, while I was mainly concerned with keeping track of all the little pieces so that we could put each one back in their correct bag when it came time to return it. We were the first ones to check out this kit, but I’m frankly a little doubtful that all the pieces will remain as more and more families use it.

Frustration set in when the solar motor didn’t work. Just to clarify, Kai was surprisingly calm about the whole thing. But I got more frustrated when a good portion of my afternoon went by while I futilely tried re-building the thing to no avail. The pictures and directions were not as clear as Lego sets, that’s for sure.

The next week we returned the solar set and checked out a physics set. I liked this one better. There were fewer small pieces and more larger ones.

Here is Kai working on the first experiment that tested the law of gravity.


And then he later made a sailboat.


* * * * *

We went back to the Skokie lagoons for biking and kayaking. Kai continues to enjoy bicycling which is nice as in the past we couldn’t count on that carrying over from week to week.

But he really wanted to go kayaking again.


These photos make it seem like he was paddling the whole time, but that was not the case. I offered to switch with my wife next time and let her partner with Kai, but she said Kai would have to paddle more. I’d estimate that I was doing all the work about 75% of the time.

Still, when he did paddle, we didn’t fill our kayak with seaweed this time and we were even in sync once in a while.


All in all, it was a very enjoyable fall afternoon.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Kayaking for the First Time

We went back out to the Skokie Lagoons this weekend.

Like last weekend, we started off on our bicycles and Kai again had fun. What was especially nice was that we didn’t even have to persuade Kai to go riding. In the past, even if he enjoyed something one week, by the following week he would be anxious about it. None of that this time, just more enjoyment on the bikes.

This time, we followed up our bike ride by renting kayaks for the first time.

Again, Kai’s typical anxiety was missing. Whereas in the past he was reluctant to try new things, he welcomed it this time.

“We should do the kayak because we never did it before. It’s good to try new things, right Dad? Like eating new foods and going to new places….”

He was mimicking what I usually tell him.

It was nice that he was so eager to try this.

Whereas all three of us can ride together on one canoe, we had to separate into two kayaks. Kai and I took the tandem while my wife went out on the single.


Kayaks are a little easier to capsize than canoes, but the calm waters of the lagoon made it the perfect place to try. We also had the wider recreational models which were more stable than those built for more speed. Though I had to caution Kai not to lean too much to one side.

But I thought the kayaks, with their double-sided paddles, were easier to paddle and control than canoes once you got used to it.


Kai got into it. The canoes we rent have only two benches, which means that Kai sits on the floor of the canoe in the center. It makes it hard for him to paddle. But on the kayak he could easily get his paddle in the water. He really enjoyed it.


We saw many birds – ducks, geese, cormorants, and this herron.


There’s one stretch of the lagoon that is shallow and overgrown with seaweed. I figured out that the trick there is to skim the surface of the water with your paddle so as not to grab too much seaweed. But Kai kept putting his paddle in deep, and thus scooped out a big load of weed every time. As he switched his paddle from one side to the other, the seaweed came off his paddle right on top of him and into the kayak.

When we got back to shore, we found a huge pile of seaweed in the front of our kayak. And Kai was almost completely soaked.


I think he actually enjoyed soaking himself.

When we asked out he liked kayaking, he said it was “awesome.”

Looks like we’ll be doing it again sometime.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Another Try at Bicycling

It was certainly an achievement worth celebrating when Kai learned to ride a bicycle – after all, it was something we thought he might never do – but it hasn’t exactly been all fun times on the bike since then.

The typical scenario has been that Kai doesn’t want to go riding; it is something we have to force him to do. Then, once on the path, he is mostly anxious the whole time, pedaling very slowly so as not to run into the rider who is 50 yards in front of him, and usually unable to make it up even the slightest inclines.

This weekend, we took another crack at it.

We started off on Saturday on a short trail in our neighborhood. From past experience, we learned that if Kai hasn’t done an activity in a while, it is best to start him off slowly. And so on this day we rode only a couple miles, focusing on reminding him of some basics while building up his confidence.


The next day, we went to our favorite trail along the Skokie Lagoons.

He was a bit nervous as we started out. But unlike previous times, he seemed to relax quicker. I kept encouraging him from behind while my wife took the lead.


He pedaled faster than he had before, traveling at a more normal pace. He worked up enough speed to make it up the inclines, and on the downhills he made a sound I hadn’t heard from him before.

“Wheeeee!” he said, in enjoyment, not fear.

He was actually having fun on his bicycle.

This family bike-riding may yet turn out to be the enjoyable activity that I had dreamed of.

After the bike ride, we walked over to where they were renting canoes.

As we were all in good spirits, that was a fun activity, too.


Hope you had a nice holiday weekend, too!

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