Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring Break Vacation, Day 6 – Going Home

We had a few hours after we woke up before having to head to the airport to go home. Kai wanted to use the pool one more time. It was a little cold for swimming that early in the morning – temps in the low 50s – but we didn’t want to disappoint Kai so we braved the cold and took the plunge.

We had a good flight home, with Kai insisting on holding our hands during takeoff and landing.

As we came into Chicago, we saw gray skies, a far cry from mostly sunny Las Vegas and Arizona. It was a sad reminder that our vacation was over.

I think Kai will tell you that he enjoyed the vacation. Though his lasting memory of Las Vegas may be the stench of cigarette smoke rather than the shows or attractions we saw. And what he enjoyed most on the trip may be the extra iPad time he had on the planes, hotel rooms, and on the drive to the Grand Canyon.

But I hope the sight of the Canyon will stick in his memory as well. And with the perspective of time will come to appreciate these experiences of traveling to new places.

I just know that I got to once again live out my dream of exploring these wonderful places with my family. And that memory will brighten all the gray days in Chicago.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Break Vacation, Day 5 – More of The Grand Canyon

We stayed only one night at the Grand Canyon so we wanted to make the most of the morning before heading back to Vegas in the afternoon.

The western portion of the National Park is not accessible by private vehicles so we caught the shuttle bus and picked a couple of spots to get off and see the sights.

Pima Point was quite spectacular, but very windy. With the temperature only in the 40s, it was cold.

Kai got upset with the wind and he and my wife tried to shelter themselves behind this sign until the next bus came.

They were happy when we were able to warm up with hot apple cider and hot chocolate at the next stop, Hermit’s Nest.

After we took the shuttle back to its starting point, we got in our car and drove to the eastern part of the Park, stopping at a few spots along the way.

Here’s the view at Grandview Point:

And the one at Lipan Point:

At the eastern end of the Park is Desert View where they have an old watch tower.

We climbed to the top.

And had a great view out the window.

We had someone take one last photo of the three of us.

And then it was time to drive back to Vegas where we would catch our flight home the next day.

In Vegas, we saw one more hotel lobby, this one at the Bellagio where we went to have dinner. They have a spectacular exhibit featuring flowers and Chihuly glass sculptures.

It’s always a little sad when a vacation is coming to an end. But we feel good that it was all that we hoped it would be.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Spring Break Vacation, Day 4 – On to the Grand Canyon

After three days in Las Vegas, it we were ready to move on to the Grand Canyon. We picked up our rental car and began our road trip.

First stop was Hoover Dam, about a half hour outside of Vegas.

The Visitor Center had exhibits that explained how the dam was built and the electrical power that is generated there.

We then got back in the car and continued our journey.

All was fine except when Kai got car sick and we had to make a stop to recover. We continued on without Kai using the iPad the rest of the way.

It is breathtaking to see the Grand Canyon for the first time, and a feeling that cannot truly be captured through photos, though I did take many.

Kai seemed to enjoy seeing it, too, though I think it ranks below a new update to his Plants Vs. Zombies app in terms of thrills for him.

One thing that is interesting about the Canyon is that the colors change as the day goes on. For us, as the afternoon turned to dusk, I got some of my best shots of the day.

We stayed that night at the venerable El Tovar, the old hotel near the edge of the canyon. Rooms there cost more than the one at the luxurious hotel we stayed at in Vegas, though we barely had enough room for the three of us in the small, cramped space with very old furnishings.

But there was something about the old place, being so close to the spectacular view, the clean air with no cigarette smoke, that made it very special.

We were in a good spot.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spring Break Vacation, Day 3 – A Few Complaints

At the conclusion of Day 2, my wife and I had marveled at how Kai had gone that whole busy day with nary a complaint, even with all the walking we did, which was quite a contrast to some other vacation moments we’ve had in the past.

But by our third day in Las Vegas, some complaints started bubbling to the surface.

We do not smoke or drink alcohol in our house, and rarely take Kai to places where that is allowed. But in Vegas, that is unavoidable.

Cigarette smoke really bothers Kai, and casinos, particularly, are full of people who are smoking and drinking. And while we did not make it a point to go to casinos, you can’t help but walk through them to get to many of the attractions we visited. Kai’s grumblings got louder with every casino we walked through.

Casinos were not the only area of difficulty, though, as in Vegas, people are smoking and drinking everywhere including on the sidewalks.

“There’s another man smoking! Hurry, let’s get out of here!”

“That woman is smoking, too! She’s going to get black lung.”

“That person is drinking. That is bad for your health!”

I am really glad he is so anti-smoking and drinking. Hopefully he will stay that way when he grows up. But the public admonishments were a bit embarrassing, and I had to ask him to speak more quietly lest all these people hear him.

While Kai noticed every smoker and drinker, I was thankful that he did not notice the little cards littered on the sidewalk that had photos of a nude woman. I did not stop to pick up the card either, but I’m pretty sure they were advertising one of the prostitute services that are legal there. I don’t know how I would have responded had Kai picked up a card and asked about that.

We had fewer planned activities for our third day in Vegas.

In the morning, we headed over to the Mirage where we would see Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. Siegfried and Roy are the duo that had the most-visited show in Vegas until one of their white tigers seriously injured Roy during a show and ended their careers. They now have a mini zoo of sorts that houses their famed white tigers and lions, as well as dolphins.

We first went to the dolphin portion of the attraction. For a while, Kai enjoyed watching the dolphins swim.

We had seen the dolphin show at SeaWorld last spring and this paled in comparison. While they have “training sessions” throughout the day with the dolphins, it is really nothing like the spectacular shows at SeaWorld.

And on this, our warmest day in Vegas, Kai started getting agitated after we had been in the 80-degree sun for a while. The day before we had carried a bottle of water with us, but when Kai found out that we had finished off that water, he moaned and complained until we were able to get more water.

The Secret Garden portion houses the white tigers and lions. It was interesting to see the rare white cats, but they were all laying around sleeping so it wasn’t terribly exciting.

Over all, the attraction was okay, but perhaps a bit overpriced and not a place where we’d stay for much more than an hour.

After that, we decided to head back to our hotel and use the swimming pool. Our hotel is very nice, but the pool is surrounded by tall structures on all sides. Even in the middle of the day, no sunlight shone on the pool itself. And even with the 80-degree air temperature, the water was very cold.

But Kai loved it. When he wasn’t swimming, he was picking up leaves and placing them around his head with the headband of his swimming goggles. I didn’t have my camera at the pool, but he wanted me to take his picture so he brought a few leaves back up to our room and re-created his Caesar-like headdress.

After swimming, we relaxed back at our hotel room, and then headed back to the faux outdoor mall for an early Mexican dinner.

Kai particularly enjoyed his mushroom tacos. My pork barbacoa (in the foreground of the photo) was excellent.

We wrapped up our day with another show. This time we saw the Cirque du Soleil show, Love, featuring music of The Beatles.

On the way to the show, we passed the Mirage volcano that we enjoyed the other day. But this time Kai said he was scared and wanted to hurry along before it erupted.

This was my first Cirque du Soleil show. For those who have never seen one, it is an eclectic mixture of acrobatics, artistic dance, and music along with video screens and interesting costumes and backdrops.

It is, perhaps, a bit too artsy for my taste and for Kai, but we both still enjoyed it. Kai said that the music was his favorite part, and he said that he knew “70%” of the songs. My wife really loved all of it.

I really liked that Kai sat through the entire show (about an hour and a half) even though it did not have a real storyline or plot. He smiled at the whimsical parts and recognized the sad moment when a mother died leading into the song “Hey Jude.”

It was a good way to conclude our time in Vegas. But I think Kai was ready to move on to the Grand Canyon.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spring Break Vacation, Day 2 – Star of the Show

We started off Day 2 with breakfast at a nearby McDonald’s. Then we caught the monorail down to the south end of The Strip. We learned that all of the hotels on the strip are humongous, so walking even just a few hotels down takes a while.

Our first destination was Mandalay Bay where we wanted to see the Shark Reef. The Shark Reef turned out to be a nice little aquarium; not particularly large compared to big city-aquariums, but nicely presented. We had a bad experience at an aquarium a couple years ago, so it was nice that Kai enjoyed this one.

We next went to the Egyptian-themed Luxor hotel.

The main attraction there was Bodies, The Exhibition. Bodies features whole-body, partial-body, and organ specimens preserved from actual human bodies. Each section of the exhibition focuses on a different system of human body: skeletal, muscular, respiratory, and circulatory. It was a fascinating look inside human bodies, seeing how all the organs, arteries, veins, and nerves connect together. There were also organs damaged by smoking or unhealthy eating which presented a vivid warning to Kai. With Kai’s love of science, this was a great educational experience that was very interesting for all of us.

Photos were not permitted. Here is a screenshot from their website.

After lunch, we made our way over to Planet Hollywood. We learned that they have a faux “outdoor” mall just like we saw at the Venetian. Perhaps all the casinos do. I marveled at how many malls with very expensive stores there must be there.

This particular mall featured a “thunderstorm “ every half hour. We watched one storem, and the thunder and lightning effects were fun. The rain was limited to a small portion so shoppers did not actually get wet.

Kai seemed to enjoy the storm, though when we were there later and the time for another storm was near, he hurried us away as his fear of storms kicked in again, even though this wasn’t a real one and he did not even get wet when he saw it the first time.

Next it was time for to see our first Vegas show. We wanted to see a couple and I had researched family-friendly shows on TripAdvisor and other websites. One that sounded particularly good for Kai was the Armando Vera Up-Close Magic Experience, which was actually a pre-show to the Nathan Burton Comedy Illusions show.

For Armando Vera, everyone sat close and got a good view as he performed. The magician came out, introduced himself and bantered with the crowd. He was personable and very funny. His sleight-of-hand tricks had you saying, “How did he do that?”

Before we had left home, I had prepared Kai for the possibility that a magician may ask for volunteers. At the rodeo we went to last summer, there was a portion of the event where kids were invited to go on the field. While I did not discourage Kai from participating, I was worried about sending him down by himself and did not encourage him. Weeks later, he was still angry when he saw the photos I took of the other kids on the field. While he did not expressly say so, I think he was disappointed that he did not participate with the other kids. So, this time, I wanted to make sure he knew it was okay if he wanted to volunteer.

When the magician asked for two kids to assist, Kai raised his hand and Armando selected him along with a girl. The magician talked to each of them. I was a bit nervous, but happy when Kai responded to Armando very appropriately.

Armando had fun with the kids and did a number of tricks with each child. Kai’s reactions were priceless. On one trick the magician made foam balls squeak but when he asked Kai to do the same thing, the balls were silent.

The best trick was when the magician put one ball in Kai’s hand and had him close his fist. When Armando said the magic words and Kai opened up his hand, about ten balls appeared.

Kai was the star of the show, and it was great to see him enjoying it all.

The remainder of the show was just as entertaining. Clint Carvalho, appeared on America’s Got Talent, came on with his trained birds and was quite funny. The other magician, the main star, was Nathan Burton. His act was much more showy and fast-paced than Armando’s. He had showgirls, bright lights, and a lot of action.

At one point, Nathan asked a woman to select a brand of cereal, and she picked Special K. Then Kai was selected to name the price of a box of the cereal. Kai said, “Uh, $15.” Then Nathan lowered a box that had been hanging from the ceiling since the show started. He opened it and revealed a box of Special K with a price of $15.

Photos were not allowed during this portion of the show, but I got a picture of Kai afterward with the box of cereal and his price.

All of the participants of the show met the audience and posed for pictures afterward.

We then walked down The Strip and saw M&M World. Even though Kai doesn’t really eat much chocolate candy, he likes the M&M commercials, and he likes NASCAR, so he enjoyed seeing the store.

Our day ended with dinner at a nice Japanese restaurant, Shibuya, in the MGM Grand. We had to wait about 40 minutes for a table, and it was already late, but Kai did well.

The meal was delicious, though I was too starved to remember to take a photo.

So, all in all, Day 2 was a very fun, successful day.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring Break Vacation, Day 1 – Going to Vegas!

We are off on our Spring Break vacation -- a few days in Las Vegas followed by a road trip to the Grand Canyon. After the brutal winter we’ve had, we have been especially anticipating this trip.

Las Vegas is known, of course, for being a place for adults. But we chose to go there because we thought there are a lot of things to see and do that Kai would enjoy.

Our journey began blissfully uneventfully. Kai did fine at the airport, and had no problems with the line at the security check or waiting for our flight to depart.

He had just a bit of anxiety during the takeoff and landing, as he grabbed onto our hands, wore his earplugs, and chewed gum. But otherwise he enjoyed the flight, mostly watching movies on the iPad while my wife knitted.

We arrived in Las Vegas and rejoiced over the sunshine and relative warmth. And then we went to the pool for a swim.

With Kai’s favorite activity done, we were able to get on with enjoying some of the sights unique to Las Vegas.

It seems as if every major hotel in Vegas has a theme. The Venetian’s is Venice, Italy. They have a giant mall with a grand canal running down its length. And though it is indoor, the “sky” and the setting almost make you feel as if you are outdoors in Venice, if Venice had expensive shops lining the canals one after another that is.

When you are at the Venetian, a ride on a gondola pretty much a given.

I explained to Kai the tradition of couples kissing every time the gondola went under a bridge. He made a face as if he thought that was yucky. But he agreed to sit by himself while my wife and I got to sit together for a change.

The gondola ride was nice. We had a great gondolier, a young man studying to become an opera singer at a nearby university. He had a great voice as he serenaded us. And Kai even took this nice picture of us:

After the gondola ride, we had dinner “outdoors” at a nearby Italian restaurant. The food was excellent and Kai was very patient (with the help of his iPad) even though the waiter mistakenly did not hear me order Kai’s pizza and he had to wait extra long for it.

After dinner, we walked outside, the real outside, to get our first look at the Vegas Strip at night.

We saw the bright lights, and walked over to see the Mirage Volcano go off.

It was a spectacular show and Kai enjoyed it.

Afterward, as we walked back to the hotel, we saw a very long stretch limo driving by. Several young ladies were standing up with sticking their heads up over the roof of the limo. They were screaming as the limo drove by. Kai laughed and commented:

“Those are crazy girls!”

Yes, they are, Kai. But in Vegas you will see many things you don’t often see elsewhere.

We are off to a good start on our vacation.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kai and Cooper

Here are a couple pictures from two weeks ago.

Kai playing with Cooper, an Australian Shepard puppy:

And Cooper giving Kai a kiss, of sorts:

It is so nice that Kai likes dogs, and that they love him.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Weekend Snippets

Kai’s school is putting a team together for a 5K run in June. My wife suggested that we all participate, and Kai was surprisingly enthusiastic about the idea. On Saturday morning, he insisted that we go for a run together before breakfast.

It has been nearly two years since we went running. In the past he often complained about being too tired halfway through. But this time he was in good spirits throughout and kept up the admittedly slow pace. The photo below was taken immediately afterward as we came home and my wife took our latest dog out for a walk.

This first run was just under a mile, so we have to build up distance over the next three months. Let’s see if he maintains his enthusiasm.

* * * * *

We participated in the exercise class at my dad’s assisted living facility.

Kai wasn’t all that into the exercise, but he did take a nice picture here with Ojiichan.

* * * * *

We have taken a few family classes at the Chicago Botanic Garden. The topic this month was terrariums. We got to make our own to take home.

And then afterward we got to tour the orchid show again for free

Hope you had a nice weekend, too.
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