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!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Making Ohagi

For this week's Sunday Surprise, we made ohagi. Ohagi is a Japanese sweet made with sweet sticky rice (the kind used to make mochi) and sweet azuki (red bean) paste.

We start out by cooking the sticky rice, then pounding it.


Then you take small handfuls of the pounded rice and roll them into balls.


From there, you can make two different styles of ohagi. The first way is to flatten a ball of rice and put a spoonful of the sweet azuki paste on top.


Then roll the rice around the bean paste so that the azuki ends up inside the ball of rice.


After that, the ball of rice with the azuki paste inside is then rolled on a plate of kinako, a roasted whole soy flour.


The finished product has the kinako powder on the outside covering the sticky rice, and hidden inside is the sweet bean paste.


The other style of ohagi is prepared by spreading the sweet bean paste and then putting the ball of sticky rice on top.


Then you roll the paste around the rice ball.


The final product is a ball of sweet bean paste with sticky rice inside.


Both styles are a sweet treat, and the three of us liked it both ways. We also took some over to my dad and he enjoyed it as well.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

Happy New Year (Belatedly)! and Dogs

Better late than never?


We had nine dogs at our peak during the recent holidays. A lot of people ask if Kai likes the dogs. Well, he gets a little jealous that they take up a lot of Mom's time, and there are some he likes more than others, but he does like some of them, and several of them really like him.


The above dog is Mancha, a three-legged dog who was rescued by her owners from a shelter in Mexico.


And above is another of Kai's (and our) favorites, Bruno, a really playful, high-energy cutie. Though here at the end of full day of playing, he's found a comfortable resting spot.

Kai also helped out walking the dogs, taking the smaller ones while my wife handled the bigger ones (and I helped when I was not at work). Here Kai is with Hubert.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sunday Surprise: Making Christmas Ornaments

We began the Sunday Surprise program last weekend to try to help get Kai more accustomed to unplanned activities so that he will eventually be better able to tolerate unexpected events. We thought long and hard about what our second Sunday Surprise would be, and it wasn't until Saturday afternoon that we decided.

My wife was in a craft store and saw a demonstration of people decorating Christmas ornaments and thought that would be a fun family activity. So she bought all the stuff we would need: several clear plastic ornament balls, glue, various colors of paint, glitter glue, and sparkles/glitter.

The basic idea is that you take the clear ornament balls and put glue inside of them...


Then you spread the glue around by shaking the ornament...


You then put sprinkles or glitter inside the ball and continue shaking to spread it all around. Alternatively, instead of glue, you can put paint inside the ball and shake that up. You can also use glitter glue. If you'd like, you can decorate the outside of the ornament ball with either stickers or a marker.


I used mostly paint inside my ornaments while my wife made several nice ones using glue and various aprinkles/glitter inside.


Kai put green paint inside his ornaments and then decorated the outside of them with a marker.


Yes, you see correctly - he made biohazard bombs. After all, nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a biohazard bomb.

I think he enjoyed the activity, but after making just two of those, he didn't want to do any more. So, my wife and I made the rest of the ornaments.

Ah well, it was probably better that way. After all, how many biohazard bombs can you put on one Christmas tree?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Kai's Second Overnight Camp

Kai had his second overnight trip to a YMCA camp in southern Wisconsin last week. The outing is an annual event organized by his school, and all staff attend along with the students.

Last year's trip was his first overnight stay away from relatives. He had a great deal of anxiety ahead of the trip though it helped that my wife took him up to the camp a few weeks beforehand so he could see the place. He ended up doing fine, and seemed to even mostly enjoy the experience. He participated in all of the activities, including the high ropes course. We were told by staff that Kai climbed to the top and waited 25 minutes before finally walking across with the encouragement of the staff and fellow students. The following photo taken by a staff member gives you an idea of how high that ropes course is.


This year Kai was again anxious leading up to the trip, though not quite as much as last year. With Kai, he often seems to forget that his previous experience went fine. This time we did not take him up to preview the camp as he had already been there before, but we did put up photos of it in his room.

But as the day of the trip grew closer, his anxiety heightened. We tried to keep reminding him that all went well last year and that he enjoyed it.

This year, he had a cell phone with him, and as the trip started, he used it to text Mom.


He was texting often, keeping in touch with Mom.


Things seemed to be going well.

Until they weren't.


We're still not sure what exactly happened, though we heard that there was a change in schedule due to anticipated bad weather on the following day. And we know how Kai doesn't deal well with unexpected events. All we knew for sure was that Kai was upset.

We hoped that he wouldn't call and ask us to pick him up and take him home. Not that we would have done so.

We were relieved when we later got another message from him.


Apparently he had settled down and participated in all of the activities.

We later heard from his teacher that he did everything, including the high ropes course. And this year, he walked right across without hesitation.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sunday Surprise

Unexpected events is one of Kai's primary challenges. He likes it when things go according to plan and struggles when things do not, as is often the case in life.

At school, he still gets upset when there is a fire drill or when special events cause things to deviate from the normal routine. At home, he likes to plan out and write down his daily schedule.

A social worker that we have been seeing suggested that we could try to address this by setting up fun, unexpected events on weekends to have Kai realize that unexpected events do not necessarily lead to unpleasant outcomes, and have him practice dealing with these situations. The idea is that my wife and I would plan something fun - it could be an activity, a new meal, really anything - but we would not tell Kai too far ahead of time so that it would be a surprise for him.

Today we had our first Sunday Surprise.

I did tell Kai yesterday that we would start these Sunday Surprises and explained what we were hoping to accomplish.

He was not happy about it.

He wanted to know what the surprise would be. He said he wanted to plan for it and put it in his schedule. I explained again that we wouldn't tell him because we wanted him to get used to dealing with unexpected events.

Today, he got more anxious. I did tell him in the morning that the Surprise would be an activity we would do as a family and gave him a heads up on the time. We would leave the house at 10:30. But he was not happy that he did not have more information about where we would go or what we would do. He started yelling that he had enough stress in his life and this was adding to it.

Finally, when it was time to leave, we told him where we were headed. We would go to nearby Evanston, home of Northwestern University, and walk around the lakefront and look for Pokémon. After that, we would go to a great burger joint where they had special french fries and milk shakes.

He finally seemed somewhat happy.

It was a beautiful fall day with unseasonably warm temperatures. It was a perfect day to get out and walk around.

The lakefront by the Northwestern campus was really beautiful. There is a nice big park and all along the rocky shore, students have created graffiti art.


My wife had never been to this part of Evanston before and enjoyed seeing the Northwestern campus. Kai just enjoyed playing Pokémon Go.


Afterward we went to another part of town to have lunch at Edzo's. We each had their famous milkshakes - Kai had Oreo, my wife had coffee, while I had hot fudge. Kai had already eaten the cherry and whipped cream on top by the time I snapped this photo.


Kai also had a Chicago-style hot dog which he enjoyed. My wife and I had burgers which we both loved. We also had the garlic fries - very garlic-y which was a good thing if you like garlic.


As we were leaving I asked Kai how he liked the first Sunday Surprise. He said it was better than he thought it would be. And he was happy because he caught a lot of Pokémon.

It will be interesting to see if this type of experience every week helps him deal with other unplanned events. But it can't hurt to practice it. And so far we are off to a good start.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Trick or Treat with a Friend

Next to the really big worries we have (like will Kai ever be able to get a job and live independently), one of our persistent concerns is whether Kai will be able to have a good friend as he gets older.

He has known a few kids over the years that he liked and enjoyed playing with, but his first year of middle school was a rough time. He didn't bond with any of his classmates and often said that no one liked him. While we don't always take what he says as the literal truth, in this case I suspect that what he said was largely true. Between easily getting dysregulated, inappropriately expressing his frustrations, and not taking the perspective of others, it wouldn't be surprising if it wasn't easy for the other kids to warm up to Kai.

So it was welcome news this fall when he found out that a former classmate from elementary school three years ago was going to join Kai's class. E and Kai had a great relationship when Kai was in 4th grade. They hung out together at lunch and during breaks, and we even had E over to our house for a few successful playdates. And now in middle school, it seems like they were able to renew their friendship.

Last week, though, they hit a bump in the road. Kai found out that E will be transitioning to his home school. At Kai's therapeautic school, many kids come and go, staying long enough to work on their behavioral or social issues, then transitioning to their home school when ready. For six years now, Kai seems to be the only kid who hasn't been able to transition. When Kai found out that E was transitioning, I think he was crushed. But when Kai feels this way, he doesn't allow himself to feel sad. He reacts angrily.

He told E that he wasn't his friend anymore, and E responded in kind. Kai came home from school upset that E told him that he wouldn't be Kai's friend, but we got the full story from staff later.

The school staff helped to mend the relationship just in time for the boys to keep a planned playdate for Halloween. They would go trick-or-treating together in our neighborhood.

My wife picked them up at school. E did not have a Halloween costume so my wife let him wear the old Mustard costume that Kai wore about three years ago while she dressed as Ketchup. Kai was in his zombie costume.

My wife went with them at the very beginning, snapping the following photo at the famous house down our block that does Halloween up big time.


The residents here always put up elaborate decorations, many that move and make scary sounds, and they give out quarter gallon size ziplock bags full of candy including full-size bars. Plus they serve hot chocolate for the kids, wine for grownups, and doggie treats for the furry members of the family.

After the stop at this house, my wife returned home with the dog she was watching. The two boys went around on their own. 12 year olds don't usually go trick-or-treating with their parents, but this was the first time we've let Kai go without our presence and I was a bit nervous about how he would do.

But apparently all went well.

By the time I got home from work, the boys were exhausted from walking around for most of the past three hours. They had collected a huge bag of candy each. I'm sure the bags had gotten heavy by the time they were done. Kai had gotten some good exercise in, ha!

We had dinner together and then Kai and I drove E home. E was very nice. He spoke nicely with us, answering questions and telling us about how things went. He gave us more information than we usually get from Kai. He also politely thanked us.

And so Halloween was a nice success this year.

Childhood friendships oftentimes are not long lasting. And with E getting set to leave Kai's school in the coming months, this one likely won't last all that much longer. But these friendships can serve as a learning experience, and help teach a child the social interactions that will be necessary to maintain longer-term friendships when they get older.

For us, though, it serves another purpose. Maybe, just maybe, if the right person comes along, Kai can find a good friend.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

More Pumpkin Carving, and Kai's Halloween Costume

Though he carved a pumpkin on his own last weekend, Kai wanted to carve a couple more pumpkins with me.


This time we used some Angry Bird templates.


Kai carved one Angry Bird.


While I carved an Angry Bird pig character.


Here's how the pumpkins look lit up at night.


This year, Kai said that he wanted a scary costume for Halloween. He picked a scary one alright.


I guess the days of cute costumes are past.

Kai also created a special video for Halloween.



Kai said that his favourite part of the video was Mom's screams. Ha!

Have a Happy Halloween!


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Kai Carving the Pumpkin

It has been our father-and-son tradition for Kai and I to carve Halloween pumpkins together. Years ago, I did all of the carving, but in the past couple of years Kai has started to carve much of the jack-o-lanterns after I got things started. This year, I had to go away for the weekend so Kai did the carving all on his own.

He even used the occasion to make one of his YouTube videos, complete with a little Kai humor.



He went on to finish up his jack-o-lantern.


The kid is growing up fast. He did a nice job all on his own.



Sunday, October 16, 2016

United Airlines' Response

After our awful experience trying to fly from Chicago to New York a couple of weeks ago, I wrote an email to the CEO of United Airlines, and also sent a detailed message to Customer Service via their website.

On Friday, I received a response.

I will show you their entire response below, but first let’s quickly recap what happened that day.
  1. Our 1PM United Airlines flight from O’Hare to LaGuardia was cancelled due to “air traffic control” and we were instructed by the airline to fly standby.
  2. We did not make it onto the first several flights we were standing by for, and as we were rolled over from standby list to standby list, we did not make much progress in moving up the list as the airline prioritized flyers “with status” over us.
  3. At around 6:30, my wife and son finally were able to get onto a flight. However, an hour after the plane had pulled out, it returned to the gate with three malfunctioning oxygen masks.
  4. One passenger volunteered to get off the plane and was compensated $500. Needing two more passengers to get off the plane, the airline told my wife and son that they would have to get off the plane as they were the last standby passengers. They did not receive compensation.
  5. At the gate for the next flight where I was standing by, the UA agent put my wife and son at the bottom of the standby list despite my explaining how they had made it to the top of the standby list only to be kicked off the previous flight.
  6. When the supervisor was called over, he told me that I would have to quiet my son who was understandably upset after hours of waiting and then seeing that other passengers were moving onto the plane ahead of us. My attempts to explain that he has autism and has difficulty waiting and dealing with unexpected events were dismissed by the UA representative.
  7. During the entire time from early afternoon to late into the evening, the attitudes of the UA personnel were uncaring and dismissive at best.

With that, here is the full-text of the response from Customer Care at United Airlines:

Dear Mr. Fukunaga:

I'm sorry your travel plans were interrupted as a result of Air Traffic Control.

I can certainly understand your frustration. I regret we were unable to get you on your way any sooner. I'll make sure to report your comments. We'll take that feedback to help us work harder and provide better recovery, while keeping safety our top priority and working closely with Air Traffic Control. I'll also send you and your family an Electronic Travel Certificate each, which will arrive via email in a few days. We hope this gives you a future opportunity to receive service you deserve.

As MileagePlus members, we thank you for your business and loyalty. We welcome the opportunity to provide better service for you the next time you fly with United.

Kind regards,

So they mention “Air Traffic Control” twice as if that is what my complaint was about. No, United, that is not this is about. I understand that flights get delayed or cancelled at times. It is your response to the situation that matters. And putting us at the bottom of the standby list after we had finally moved to the top of the list is not an acceptable way to handle this situation.

I am guessing that their response was a form letter or at least based on a template. But that is keeping with how they handled the situation to begin with. During our whole experience that day, the United response was consistently that of a bad form letter. Their personnel were not trained to adapt to the situation or to actually try to help their customers.

A day after this message came, I received another one from United that we would each be issued a $100 travel certificate valid towards the purchase of a United Airlines ticket. Sorry, United, that will not begin to make up for this entire experience.

#NeverflyUnited
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