Sunday, September 18, 2016

Apples, Apples, Apples, Cheese Curds, and More

It was a gorgeous weekend here so we wanted to get outside and enjoy the weather. We decided to head up to Wisconsin, where we would go to a very popular orchard to do some apple picking.

Apple Holler is just over the border in Wisconsin, and is close enough to both Chicago and Milwaukee that it always draws a huge crowd. We went there a few times when Kai was very young, but it had been years since our last visit. The place reminds me of the famous Yogi Berra quote: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded." But on this day, we wanted to pick apples so we decided to go anyway.

As we neared the area, we found cars parked on the side of the country road quite a bit down from the actual orchard. Their parking lot must have been overflowing.

We waited in line to pay to get in. The minimum price to get in is $20 per person, and for that they give you a small bag to fill up with apples. We decided to upgrade to a bushel, at a cost of $100 for the three of us. Definitely expensive, but I look at it as you are paying for the experience, not just the apples.

Once in the orchard, we found that although there were a lot of people there, the orchard was so expansive that it didn't seem all that crowded.

We walked past rows and rows of different types of apple trees: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Macintosh, Jonathan, Honey Crisp, Gala, and more.

We didn't go all the way to the back; we would have to carry the apples back out. So about halfway back we found an Asian Pear tree and started to pick.

And then we started picking apples. I believe this next photo is by a Gala tree.

I liked the Honey Crisp best and Kai liked the Gala.

We filled up our bushel, and boy, was it heavy. Kai helped carry the bushel out.

Kai even made a short video while we were there.

On our way out, Kai wanted to pick some Golden Delicious.

After lugging the bushel much of the way back, we were relieved when we came across an empty wagon that someone had abandoned.

The orchard also has a play area. Here is Kai by a "cow maze."

And here he is with Mom standing under the Golden Goat Bridge.

Of course, no trip up to Wisconsin is complete without a visit to the legendary Brat Stop.

We started with an order of the "world famous fried Wisconsin cheese curds."

And of course we had to have brats for lunch. My wife and I like it the way you're supposed to have it, with sauerkraut and brown mustard. But Kai likes his with onions and yellow mustard.

Yes, it was a great day!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Kai's Video From the Beach

Kai is still making his YouTube videos, usually 3 or 4 every week. Here's a short one he made last weekend when we were on the beach in southwest Michigan.

The water was frigid. My ankles were numb just filming and I didn't dare submerge my whole body that day. But hopefully you can tell that Kai had a great time!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Holiday Weekend with Bubbe and Papa

We spent the holiday weekend in southwestern Michigan with Kai's grandparents. As usual, we were able to do a lot of fun activities with Kai.

On Saturday, while Mom and Bubbe enjoyed a craft fair, Papa and Kai enjoyed snow cones. I am normally not a fan of snow cones as the idea of a snow cone always far exceeds the reality. From my experience, snow cones are way too icy and have far too little of the tasty syrup. Most of the time you are just crunching through pieces of ice. And so, I declined to have my own snow cone. But I did have a little taste of Kai's.

It was the best snow cone I've ever had!

There were several things that made this snow cone so outstanding. First, while most snow cones are made from way too big shavings of ice, on this one the ice was shaved very finely which made it have the texture of soft snow. Secondly, the server was generous with the syrup, so there was a lot of flavor throughout. And finally, this place had a vast variety of flavors to choose from. Kai and his grandfather each had root beer and coconut, with Kai also adding on cinnamon. An cinnamon-flavored snow cone? Yes, and it was delicious!

After that, we hit the beach. It was a bit of a cool day, temperatures in the mid 70s, which was great for walking around but cool for going to the beach, especially since the water itself was very cold. I didn't go in too far, but Kai still enjoyed splashing around on a boogie board.

The next morning we went to a pancake breakfast sponsored by the local Rotary Club. A good friend of Kai's grandparents specially made Kai some Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes. He's not much for pancakes at home, but with a little chocolate syrup, he ate these all up.

Later we had to go back to get more snow cones. This time I had my own and Mom came with us as well. Kai ordered root beer and cinnamon "with a hint of coconut." I had guava, mango, and blueberry. Yum!

Next we debated whether to go back to the beach or to go to an indoor swimming pool instead. The outdoor temperature was a little warmer - around 80 degrees - so perhaps the water would be more tolerable. We tried to look up the water temperature; I found two figures - one said it was 63 degrees and the other said it was 29 (Fahrenheit) which doesn't make any sense. Since it was such a sunny day, we decided to go to the beach.

I found out that the 29 degree figure was a lot closer than the 63 degrees. It was really cold!

But Kai likes it when (at least) one of us goes in the water with him so I went into the freezing water. We had great fun having a water fight.

On our last morning, we went to a nearby farm to pick our own raspberries.

Kai enjoys tasting some as we pick but we managed to fill 8 containers.

So we had a great time, and I didn't even show you the pictures of all the great meals we had as I was too busy eating to think of taking pictures. :)

Hope you had a nice weekend, as well.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Hunt for Pokémon

Kai is still very much into playing Pokémon GO, but hadn't had as much chance to catch Pokémon since we returned from Japan. In Pokémon GO, the most Pokémon are found in urban areas (which is why we found so many in Tokyo) whereas we live in the suburbs. So, on this last week of summer break, we thought it would be fun if my wife brought Kai to downtown Chicago where he and I could go hunting for Pokémon after I got off work.

They came down late Wednesday afternoon, and I met them in Millennium Park, not far from my office.

It was a hot day, and after walking from the train station catching some Pokémon along the way, Kai was enjoying a very refreshing splash in The Crown Fountain.

Though calling it a "splash" is a dramatic understatement. Kai enjoyed standing directly under the pouring water...

...which meant that he got drenched. He loved it!

After the splashing, I had planned that we would walk around and look for more Pokémon, but it started to rain severely. Not that Kai would mind as he was already soaking wet, but my wife and I wanted to get indoors.

We found refuge at the Shake Shack, and had dinner. My wife and I had burgers while Kai had a hot dog, and we all had their famous milk shakes. Though when it comes to food, I often dig right in to eat and forget to take the picture until there's hardly any food left on the table. :)

The rain thankfully ended just as we finished eating, so we were able to walk to the train station and catch a few more Pokémon along the way. But we didn't catch as many as we had hoped.

So, today, I took Kai back downtown for the hunt for more Pokémon. This time we went to Chicago's Museum Campus along the shores of Lake Michigan.

We parked near Soldier Field.

We walked by the Field Museum.

And on to the Shedd Aquarium.

We were catching Pokémon all along the way as we walked.

It was a fabulous day, sunny with pleasant temperatures in the low 70s. We had a great view of the beautiful Chicago skyline.

While Kai had great fun catching a lot of Pokémon. We found the most near the Adler Planetarium.

We caught so many Pokémon that Kai ran out of Poké balls, which are needed to catch the Pokémon.

We had lunch in the park before heading back home. Lunch was Chicago hot dogs, of course.

It was a really nice way to spend a stress-free Sunday.

School starts on Tuesday. Back to reality.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

2016 Japan Vacation, Day 16: Our Last Day

Our last day in Japan was the hottest. The temperature reached 90 degrees with high humidity. It was reminiscent of the sweltering heat we experienced regularly the last time we came to Japan two years ago. We were very thankful that it wasn't this hot for most of our stay this time.

My wife and I walked around the neighborhood one last time. We stopped at a Starbucks for a Crushed Orange Frappuccino to cool off. (Do they even have that flavor here in the U.S.?)

Kai stayed behind with his grandparents to play with his Pokémon plushies.

After lunch, it was time to head for the airport. We said goodbye to Baba at the apartment.

My father-in-law drove us to Narita Airport. Kai gave Jiji a heartfelt hug goodbye.

Our return flight was uneventful. We made it home safely and on time. And now we're very tired, but have had an opportunity to begin to reflect on this wonderful vacation.

Even though this was my fourth visit to Japan, we visited many places this time that I had never been to before and had many new experiences. My father-in-law in particular did so much to make our trip enjoyable, from making hotel and restaurant reservations before we departed for Japan to buying tickets to the Yokohama baseball game and Ghibli Museum; from driving us around Hokkaido and to Nikko, to looking after our every need. My mother-in-law did our laundry and made sure she had snacks and beverages for us. We are very grateful for everything that Jiji and Baba did for us, and are so happy that we could spend such quality time with them.

As my blogging friend Shiroi commented yesterday, I think our leaving was hardest for Kai's grandparents. Living so far away, we just don't get to see them very often. But Kai was already thinking ahead to our next visit. On our last night in Tokyo, Kai told us that he wants to come back for the 2020 Olympics. I think we'll likely make a return visit before then. Though the future is not guaranteed, we hope to come back and have another great visit with Kai's grandparents.

Kai's initial impressions of this trip may be shaped by the Pokémon he caught playing Pokémon Go, or the new plushies he was able to get at the Pokémon Center through his grandparents' gift cards. But I hope that longer term, what will remain are memories of the places that we went, and, more importantly, the love he received from his grandparents. Those are the wonderful memories that I'd like to think will live on with all of us.

Friday, August 5, 2016

2016 Japan Vacation, Day 15: Back to Tokyo

We had a leisurely morning at our hotel in Nikko. We had a family photo taken in the lobby before we left.

My wife was wearing a new outfit she had gotten in Japan, and Kai noticed. "Mom, I never saw you look so beautiful before." He is such a sweet talker. :)

We then made the drive back to Tokyo, stopping at a travel plaza for a potty break. It was the hottest day since we arrived in Japan so Kai welcomed the relief from the fan that blew a cool mist.

We later stopped for lunch. Kai had beef curry rice.

My father-in-law and wife had cold noodles.

Our destination for the afternoon was the Ghibli Museum. This is the museum of Studio Ghibli, which is known for the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki.

Photos are not permitted inside the museum, but we took a few pictures outside.

Miyazaki's films are enjoyed by children, but have depth, artistry, and adult themes that make the films appealing for grownups. Similarly, the museum was a delight for kids, but adult fans would enjoy seeing the original artwork from creating the films.

In the evening, we had our last dinner in Japan at Zauo, a restaurant where you catch your own dinner. They have a huge tank filled with fish. You grab a pole and fish!

Here's Kai trying his hand at fishing.

My wife caught our first fish, a red snapper.

Here's Kai pulling one up.

A restaurant worker takes the fish and you tell them how you'd like it prepared - sashimi, grilled, or deep fried.

Jiji tried to catch a lobster.

It took awhile, but he was successful!

Kai caught another fish, a flounder.

After a successful catch, they bang the drum in honor of the fisherman.

Here they are honoring Kai's catch.

The drum is quite loud and it bothered Kai when we were first starting to fish, but he seemed to adjust once we started to catch fish.

And then it was time to eat!

We had the fish prepared as sashimi, grilled, and fried. Here's the sashimi.

I liked the grilled fish the best, but this place as much about the experience as it is about the food. It was a fun final dinner in Japan.

It has been a great two weeks, and it will soon be time to leave. It's bittersweet when you come to the end of a vacation; you're sad that it is over and to have to say goodbye, but still filled with joy from all the good times we had.

See you back home.

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