Wednesday, March 14, 2018

When the Water Heater Goes Out...

Our hot water heater went out over the weekend which meant we could only take really cold showers at home. Wondering how we could take a shower without freezing, my wife came up with the idea to go to King Spa.

One part of the spa has large public "tubs" or baths, with separate areas for men and women. Kai and I went to the men's side while my wife went to the women's. Before we parted, I asked my wife how long she wanted to spend in the bath before we would meet up in the common area, and she said she thought she would want to stay in the tubs for 45 minutes to an hour. I was astounded... how would I keep Kai occupied for that long?

The area with the baths are very much like a Japanese onsen where you clean yourself off before entering the bath (without clothing). As Kai and I had been to several onsens in Japan, we were familiar with the routine.

In this place, there were three separate baths. One large one was filled with cold water, while two others had hot water and then another had one with even hotter water. Here is a photo from their website:

When we first got there, the cold water felt way too cold and the "even hotter water" tub was way too hot. The "hot" tub was just right. After several minutes in that tub, Kai went over to the cold water tub. He started to go back and forth between the tubs, and as time went on he spent more and more time in the cold tub, only occasionally coming back to the hot tub. I, too, found that the cold tub was refreshing after soaking a long time in the hot tub, and also was able to go into the "even hotter" tub after a good dip in the cold water.

And so we stayed, soaking and going from tub to tub. An hour went by and I asked Kai if he was ready to leave and he said he wanted to stay a few more minutes.

And after a few more minutes, he said he wanted to stay a few more minutes. This went on for quite some time. I think we were in the bath area for about an hour and 45 minutes, and near the end an employee came up to me and said that my wife was looking for us.

When we went out to the common area, my wife was wondering what had taken so long. I told her how much Kai was enjoying the baths and that I didn't want to cut the time short.

In the common area, they have hot rooms where you can lie down and relax. There are about 7 or 8 different ones, each with a different theme (such as Pyramid Room, Charcoal Room, Salt Room, etc.) We tried a few different ones but were getting hungry.

The spa has a Korean restaurant so we went there for dinner.

The food was pretty good and Kai enjoyed it. As we were eating I asked him how he liked this place. He said it was his favorite place, better than Six Flags or going to Florida. Ha!

After dinner, we went back to one more hot room and I shot the following selfie.

My wife really enjoyed this place, too, and we made plans to come back on Mother's Day.

It wasn't great that our water heater went out, but we made great lemonade with that lemon.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Remembering My Dad

I don't think I fully appreciated my dad until I became a father myself. For better and for worse, much of what I started out knowing about being a father came from my experiences with my dad. Sometimes I think that I took after him in all of his worst traits - we're both impatient, short-tempered at times, and tough on our kids (and others) - but that I did not inherit his better qualities such as being resourceful, able to fix anything without having the benefit of YouTube videos to turn to, and just being mentally tough.

My favorite story that epitomizes his toughness was the time when I was a kid that he accidentally hammered his thumb and the internal bleeding swelled his thumb against his thumbnail causing him great pain. Rather than go to the hospital as most people would, he took out a power drill and bore a small hole through the nail to relieve the pressure. That he could think of this in that moment speaks to his resourcefulness; that he could execute this without completely drilling a hole through his thumb speaks to his ability to stay calm under pressure; and that he even dared to do it at all speaks to a certain audacity that he had, or craziness if you will.

My dad was never one to shy away from challenges. When we were in Hawaii when I was 13 years old, he once climbed up a coconut tree without a ladder, using only his hands and feet to pull himself up. You can see the exuberance he had for life in that big smile in the following photo.

Dad loved the outdoors, and did a lot of hunting back in the day. He got a few trophies, but my favorite story is of one that got away. Dad was bow hunting out west when he spotted a grizzly. It was too far away to shoot, but Dad tried to get into position. Suddenly, the bear started to run toward him. Most of us would have either turned and run or frozen in panic, but my dad set himself in the path of the bear and pulled back his bow. Just as the bear got close enough for a shot, it suddenly veered away, saving either himself or my dad.

As a father, my dad was tough. If I am totally frank, I will say that I loved and adored my mom, but didn't always even like my dad. He had high expectations, held us to high standards, and made us pay the consequences for shortcomings. I didn't like that at all as a kid, but now that I'm a father myself, I can understand a little better where he was coming from. Mothers usually earn their kids' undying love, but it is often up to the fathers to play the bad cop and holding their kids accountable. And while I hope I am a little less old school and more communicative and understanding than my dad was, I know that at the core, I take after him in that regard.

* * * * *

We got the call late last week that my dad was "transitioning" into the last stages of life (their words).

His Alzheimer's had gotten progressively worse over the past few years. He could not remember anything you told him for more than a few seconds and thus "conversations" such as they were, were extremely limited. He always was irritable or angry. And so, while he received good care at the memory care facility where he stayed, his quality of life was poor.

In recent months he started to lose the ability to swallow. He had been on pureed food and now they told us he did not want to eat at all.

For the first few days late last week he was able to acknowledge my presence. But Monday, he looked much worse, and we knew the end was near. He passed away early Monday afternoon.

This was Kai's first experience with the death of a family member that he knew. He wasn't as close to my dad as he is to his other grandparents. My dad was never all that kid friendly to begin with, but his Alzheimer's made it even more difficult for Kai to interact with him. I wish he had known my dad before his mind was stricken, but he did have some fond experiences with him before my dad's condition got too severe.

Kai said that he especially enjoyed visiting his grandfather when he still lived on his own in rural Michigan. During our fall visits, Kai enjoyed picking apples and spending time outdoors.

Of course with my dad, a visit to his place never meant a weekend just relaxing. My dad always put us to work and it was no exception with Kai. Here is Kai clearing the path of logs that were blocking the way.

Another place that Kai enjoyed going to with my dad was the Chicago Botanic Garden where they shared a love of plants and flowers.

My wife brought Kai to my dad's place after Kai got out of school on Monday. My dad had passed away about an hour before, and Kai gave me a big, tight hug. It was the best hug of my life.

I asked Kai how he felt, and he said he was sad. He was also introspective, which is not a common thing for him, as he said that he would be even sadder if it were one of his other grandfathers that he is very close to.

* * * * *

My dad loved to play the harmonica. After my mom passed away, I think that was what brought him his greatest pleasure. He frequently carried his harmonica with him and broke it out to entertain widows and widowers he met through grief counseling sessions, and even at airports while waiting for a connecting flight. But he especially enjoyed playing for the kids at his neighbor's daycare.

The following video clip was taken at a family Thanksgiving gathering about a dozen years ago where he tried to cajol everyone to sing along to a Japanese children's song while he played. The "kids" in this case were my teen and tween nephews who were a bit old for the sing-a-long, not to mention they didn't know the Japanese lyrics (which told the story of the tortoise and the hare). Watching this video again this past weekend as we awaited the end of his life, brought tears to my eyes to see how vibrant my dad was not all that long ago.

* * * * *

On Monday afternoon, just prior to my dad's passing and also afterward, several of the caregivers at the facility where my dad stayed came to his room to say goodbye and pay their last respects. I was very touched at how genuinely sad they were. It was somewhat surprising considering how difficult he often was these last few years. I thanked them all for taking care of my dad so well, and for putting up with his irascible ways. They smiled, and some of them acknowledged how tough he could be, but they all said that he was such a sweetheart inside. I think they were able to clearly see what I had not for so many years. That behind all the toughness was a man with a good heart who truly cared for his family and loved ones.

And as I say goodbye to him, I will try to honor my dad by striving to keep this best part of him alive inside of me.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

UPDATED: Enrolled in Swim Training for the Special Olympics

We enrolled Kai in a swim class that is intended to train the participants for the Special Olympics. His first session is Thursday evening and this is the first time we have tried this. We have absolutely no idea how many kids will get to compete, but hoping that Kai will enjoy it and give his best.

He loves being in the water and has become a very good swimmer, but he doesn't like exercise classes or PE so we will have to see if he participates well in this class.

Here is a very brief clip of Kai swimming this past November. This was taken on our Thanksgiving trip when we went out east to visit my sister and her family, and stayed at a motel on our drive back. The pool was small, so he didn't have much space to really get going, but you can get an idea of his ability.

Since this video was taken, his swim coach has taught him the backstroke which we understand is coming along very nicely.

Updated Friday January 26:
We went to the class last night. The class is for eight though only six were there last night. One boy was about Kai's age but the rest appeared to be much older and fully grown up. It was cute when the tallest young man sat next to Kai and engaged him in conversation. They made a funny couple in that Kai looked so small and boyish next to the other swimmer.

When it came time to swim, Kai did very well. The folks who were running the class were very surprised and excited to see how well he swam.
My wife and I don't have many chances to see him swim seriously in a larger pool as when we go on vacation, he usually wants to just have fun than to go all out. But we had his regular swim instructor there with us last night and he got Kai to swim his best. He timed Kai's laps and motivated him to swim faster to improve on his times.

It was very exciting for us to see Kai excel this well at something. For parents of special needs children, I think it can be hard sometimes to see typical children excelling at so many things that your kids struggle at. We have seen Kai have many great struggles with school, and not have particular aptitude for things like sports or music that many kids enjoy. And so, for my wife, especially, it was heartwarming to see that our son has a great talent for something - swimming in his case.

We looked up the records from last year's Special Olympics state qualifying meets and it looks like Kai is fast enough to have a pretty good chance to challenge for a spot at the state meet, perhaps even at several different distances. Unfortunately, we found out that the district meet is at the same time as a family wedding this spring so Kai will not be able to swim at the Special Olympics this year. Hopefully things will work out next year and he can keep improving. Here's hoping.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

An Early Hanukkah Celebration

Socializing with others remains a challenge for Kai. At school, we're told that he prefers to sit by himself at lunchtime and usually prefers not to interact with the other kids, even when the staff tries to facilitate. He has said that he wants to use those occasions as breaks for himself whereas interacting with others adds to his stress.

But with his family coming over this past Saturday evening for an early Hanukkah celebration, we encouraged Kai to talk with everyone and to play with his cousins. We did not want him to be alone on his iPad all evening.

We were happy to see that he not only made an attempt, but actually enjoyed playing with his cousins.

Here he is partaking in the annual dreidel game with his cousins. He enjoyed the game and came away the big winner.

After dinner, we got him to play some Wii Sports Resort games with his cousins. He was very involved even when it wasn't his turn to play. Watching them play, you likely wouldn't be able to easily tell that he usually has big challenges with socializing.

And then it was time to open presents. My favorite part was when he showed heartfelt thanks without his mom or me having to prompt him.

Here he is with his grandfather.

And with here with Bubbe, who along with Papa gave him a bunch of Mario and other plushes.

And so it was a good evening in many ways. It was nice for all of us to get together, and a good time was had by all. But it was especially nice that Kai fit right in.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Scenes from Our Thanksgiving Weekend

We made our annual trip out east to visit my sister and her family for Thanksgiving.

On the day we arrived, my sister had Kai help out in the kitchen, showing him how to make home-made ice cream.

After mixing the ingredients, Kai poured them into the ice cream maker.

My sister's dog Emi loves to see us, and it's become part of the tradition to take her on a walk down the nearby nature trail.

My sister always makes great meals for us. Here we are about to have satay and fried rice with kabayaki (eel).

Of course, we look forward to the Thanksgiving meal. My sister and brother-in-law grill the turkey over charcoal and it always comes out tender and moist. My oldest nephew Ian is in charge of the stuffing, which Kai had extra helpings of this year.

The day after Thanksgiving, we drove into Alexandria, just across the Potomac River from Washington D.C.

One highlight was seeing the Torpedo Factory.

The building used to house a torpedo factory, but is now home to about a hundred small art studios of all kinds.

After seeing the art studios, we walked along King Street, had lunch, window shopped, and had ice cream.

We then went to Arlington National Cemetery, the country's largest military cemetery which serves as the final resting place for more than 400,000 military veterans and their immediate family.

We went to see the gravesite of former President John F. Kennedy which has an eternal flame.

Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee, is at the top of the cemetery and provides a great view of Washington D.C. with the Capitol Building and Washington Monument visible in the distance.

We went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where a sentinel stands guard 24 hours a day, ritualistically marching 21 steps back and forth in front of the tomb and pausing 21 seconds on each side. Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed—the twenty-one gun salute.

At the top of the hour, we witnessed the changing of the guard ceremony.

It was also moving to see the symmetrical rows of tombstones throughout the cemetery.

On our drive back home from my sister's place, we stopped in the town of Berkeley Springs, West Virginia and visited the bath house.

The town is fed by mineral springs and they have a bath house where they heat the spring water to 102 degrees. You can reserve a private bath for a half hour. It was very relaxing and my wife particularly enjoyed it as it is very reminiscent of a Japanese onsen.

George Washington used to visit the spring and they have preserved the bathtub he used to use.

And so we had a good holiday weekend. Hope yours was nice as well.

Friday, November 3, 2017

1,000 Jack-O'-Lanterns and Other Halloween News

This year's Halloween had some good and bad moments.

On the good side, Chicago Botanic Garden had a special Halloween event last weekend.

Using scalpels, knives, gouges, and power tools, artists had carved over 1,000 pumpkins including many very large ones that weighed more than 150 pounds.

There were many different themed jack o'lanterns.

I liked the spooky ones the best.

My wife had told Kai that he could wear his Halloween costume to the event. But when we got there, we saw that no one else was in costume so Kai got a little self-conscious. He refused to wear his mask, and when we took the following picture he said, "Mom, you can wear the mask!"

It was a fun evening as we enjoyed seeing all the different designs.

Kai took many pictures with his phone and had a great time.

He later made a video using all of the pictures he took. You'll get a much better idea of all the different themes such as musicians, Chicago sports, Halloween classics, Day of the Dead, and others.

Halloween itself wasn't a complete success, though.

The days of Kai wearing cute costumes has passed and he now prefers scary ones. This year his costume was of the grim reaper, and the mask was particularly frightful as you can make simulated blood flow through. My sister and brother-in-law were in town so they accompanied Kai as he went around the neighborhood for trick-or-treating. Kai went up to younger children and deliberately frightened them, even after my sister told him not to do it anymore. It was very disappointing to hear.

Later, my wife and I expressed our disapproval for his actions, Kai was very upset the whole evening. One of the challenges with him is that too often he doesn't accept help or listen to what others (staff at school, relatives) are telling him in the moment, and then later he feels frustration with himself for not being able to stop himself from doing something that he shouldn't have done. We remind him all the time that he needs to accept help before things go too far; not sure how to make him do that in the moment.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Kai's Latest Creation

This is Kai's latest creation:

Kai first made the main parts of the character. This character wears a vest so here Kai is working on making the vest.

There are stripes on the vest so Kai is working on that part here. He cut out the white stripes, then pin them to the blue vest before later sewing them into place.

Kai works visually, pulling up a picture of the character he is making on his iPad.

In this next photo he getting ready to attach one arm to the body.

And here he is sewing it to the body.

He does his work while the dogs relax on the couch nearby.

And here he is sewing the hat to the top of the character.

And finally, here he is with the end result.

Another nice job, Kai.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Door County Camping Weekend

After a year off, we resumed our fall camping tradition, going back to one of our favorite spots, Door County in northern Wisconsin.

As we were setting up our tent, Kai spotted a frog...

Which he later caught. We convinced him to let it go.

The next day, Kai wanted to go to the nearby beach. The water was cold, so he was very tentative about wading in.

But it didn't take him too long to make the plunge and start swimming. You're not supposed to be able to swim in Lake Michigan in October, so this was bonus swim time.

After lunch, we went on a bike ride. Peninsula State Park has great trails through the woods. The one we went on wasn't too difficult, but it did have some hills which would have challenged Kai before. But we had graduated him to a bigger bicycle and it definitely made it easier for him.

At the end of the trail was a frozen custard stand which was a nice reward for a good ride.

Kai said he actually enjoyed riding his new bike, so maybe he will want to get out and go riding more often.

In the evening, we had Korean barbecue for dinner.

And then we made s'mores which Kai particularly enjoyed.

After dinner, we walked back to the beach to play some card games at the shelter. After our last game, my wife notice a bright light on the horizon and exclaimed, "What is that? Is that the moon?"

And when we walked to the shore to get a better look, we saw the biggest, brightest moon I've ever seen rising in the horizon.

It was a spectacular sight! Even Kai wanted to take a picture of it.

The next morning, we got up to use the bathroom just at sunrise. The sun came up behind the land, but we saw some nice color over the lake just to the side.

We got a good fire going to cook breakfast. Kai's favorite part of camping is the fire.

After taking down our tent, we found an apple orchard where we were able to pick our own.

We filled up two bags, one with Honey Crisp to eat, and the other with Cortland to make pies and apple sauce.

Fall is our favorite time to get outside, and this was the perfect fall weekend for a good camping trip. I think Kai enjoyed it, too, even with very restricted use of electronics.

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