Monday, May 22, 2017

We Made a Pokémon Dinner

We made Pikachu and other Pokémon for dinner this evening.


But first...

We had a busy Sunday. The weather here in the Chicago area is still unseasonably cool, but thought it was time to do some spring planting of annuals. Here we are at the gravesite of Kai's biological father, my wife's late first husband.


As Kai is now a teenager, we're trying to prepare him to be more independent, and so we're having him do more things. On this day, we had him help plant the flowers both at the cemetery and back home.

Between all the planting of flowers, we made a quick trip to the mall where Kai could Walk around an play Pokémon Go.

Later in the day we made an activity out of making dinner together.

Kai had found a Pokémon cookbook at our library last week and we decided to make a Pokémon dinner together.

First we would make a Pikachu cake for dessert.

My wife had gathered all of the ingredients and Kai stirred some of it together for a later stage.

The base of the cake is castella, a Japanese sponge cake, that my wife got from a Japanese grocery store. I cut the castella into the shape of Pikachu's head.


My wife made whipped cream and spread it over the castella.


Kai then put a layer of cut strawberries on top of the whipped cream, then we put on another layer of castella over that. My wife spread more whipped cream over the top layer of the cake.

Kai crumbled up the extra parts of the cake that I had earlier cut away when I shaped Pikachu's head. We spread the crumbles over the whipped cream to give the cake the fuzzy yellow texture of Pikachu.


I had earlier trimmed off the brown top and bottom edges of the castella. We used those parts to cut out the eyes, tips of the ears, and Pikachu's mouth which Kai added on top.


Finally, he added strawberries to give Pikachu his red cheeks.


We were happy how it came out!


Next we made the main meal for our dinner. Omurice is a Japanese dish that is sort of a combination of fried rice and omelette.

My wife had cooked the rice and prepared the ingredients. Kai here is stirring together mixed vegetables, slices of weiner, rice, diced onions, and ketchup.


I whipped up eggs with milk, then microwaved it for a minute and put it in the middle of the rice. My wife had hard boiled quail eggs which Kai cut up and put on top of the scrambled egg as the Pokémon's eyes. In the following photo, Kai is cutting out sheets of seaweed to further decorate Psyduck's face.


We used mozzarella cheese for the bill, and here you see the finished product.


We had to make three omurice Pokémon as each one is for one individual. We were getting hungry so we did not stop to take many pictures. :) But here you see the final products. In addition to Psyduck, we made Pikachu and a Pokémon that looked like a sunflower (whose name I have forgotten).


It was a fun family activity. And everything tasted good, too. The Pikachu cake was particularly delicious.

Hope you had a nice weekend, too.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mother's Day

As Kai has been getting an allowance for nearly a year now, I wanted him to get something for Mom for Mother's Day using his own money. The goal was to get him to think of someone other than himself, and learn to be generous.

I brought up the idea a couple of weeks ago and he did not like it. "You're stressing me out!"

I explained to him all that Mom does for us and that he should show appreciation for it. I told him that the money he earns should not be just for getting plushies, but for getting something for someone else, like on Mother's Day.

He grumbled, but each time I brought it up he grumbled a little less. The day before Mother's Day, I told him that we would go to a store after our weekly trip to the library. I asked him if we preferred to go to Walgreen's or Target, and he picked Walgreen's. I suspect it was because he knew there would be very inexpensive items there.

So we went to Walgreen's and he scanned through the cosmetics aisle. Well, after he checked the toy aisle first, but he knew that he shouldn't give Mom a Pokemon or anything like that. Small victory.

He looked at all the different lipstick for sale and I could tell that he wanted to find the cheapest one. He finally asked where they carry the lip balm. We went over to a different aisle and I found a lip balm that was more colorful and interesting than Chapstick. If he was going to get something like that, maybe this would be a nice one. He liked that it was under $5.

I had him take it over to the cashier and pay for it himself with his allowance money. It was a good thing that there was no one in back of us in line as he took his time trying to find exact change.


On Mother's Day morning, he gave Mom his handmade card...


And the lip balm. I had told my wife that I had gotten Kai to buy something for her with his own money so she should be really enthusiastic to show him how much she appreciated him thinking of her.


Hopefully, over time and through many experiences like this, he will learn the pleasure of giving to others.

Later in the day we went for a nice walk with Simba. My wife is becoming a real dog whisperer and is getting dogs to walk very nicely with her without pulling or stopping to sniff.



In the afternoon, Kai and I worked on making a Mother's Day dessert. At the library, he found a Pokemon Cookbook. For our first try, we decided to make Pokeballs out of gelatin and plain yogurt.


Alas, the red side of the ball was supposed to be made with strawberry jam and we used jelly so it did not hold together in a ball shape like it was supposed to. Next time we will use jell-o.


For dinner, we went to a Japanese restaurant that we had never gone to before. Izakaya Sankyu is a bit different from most Japanese restaurants around here. Their menu is like an izakaya in Japan, where Japanese businessmen go after work to drink and eat small tapas-like dishes. This place had a large variety of small plates to choose from. We had beef tongue, takoyaki (ball-shaped, made with octopus), yakitori (grilled chicken), spicy chicken wings, fish, mushrooms, and several other things. We finished up with ochazuke (rice mixed with tea and other toppings).


They also had regular entrees and sushi like any other Japanese restaurant, but we stuck with the more traditional izakaya food. Everything was delicious, but the service was pretty bad. The place was packed for Mother's Day and they seemed overwhelmed. It took a long time for them to take our orders and to serve the food. They took several of our plates to the wrong table before my wife noticed the confusion at the other table and told them it was our order. We also had to get used to sitting on the floor (though they had regular tables with chairs as well). But overall, it was worthwhile going there.


So we had a nice Mother's Day. Hope you did, too!


Monday, May 8, 2017

Weekend Schedule

As with many kids with autism, Kai likes to stick to a schedule. These days he creates his own daily schedule. Weekends are particularly important for him to plan as wants to make the most of his free time.


You can see that all of the things that are important to him are on his schedule, among them watching videos, making his YouTube movies, and planning for future films that he will make.

Funny, I don't see reading or math or doing exercise on his schedule.

But we made sure that we did a few other things including getting outside on this sunny weekend and getting a good bike ride in. We even got him to agree to try a new path without a lot of protest.


We went a little farther than our usual route takes us as we covered about six and a half miles. We hadn't done much riding since last year, so our legs weren't in biking shape yet.

But got to see some new sights. Here we are in front of a park in our neighboring suburb of Glencoe. The spring blossoms were beautiful.


We enjoyed the ride - well, my wife and I did. Kai started to grumble toward the end of how tired he felt, but I think he enjoyed most of the ride.

And later he had enough time to complete all of the items on his schedule.

So it was a successful weekend for all. Hope yours was too.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Mom is Now a U.S. Citizen!

My wife became a citizen of the United States today.

She had studied hard for her citizenship test and passed it a couple of months ago. Kai and I had helped her prepare a little bit by quizzing her, but mostly she did it on her own.

My wife said that she wanted to be a citizen of the same country as her husband and son.

A couple of weeks ago, at our parent-teacher conference at school, when his teacher asked Kai what he was most proud of, he said he was most proud of his mom becoming a U.S. citizen. The teacher had meant for Kai to talk about some personal achievement that he was proud of, but I liked his answer nonetheless.

The oath ceremony was to take place at noon in the Federal Building in downtown Chicago. I would already be downtown as I work only a couple of blocks away. I really wanted Kai to witness this as well.

My wife would pick up Kai at school and then drive to the train station where they would take the train into the city. We spoke to Kai last night that he would have to ready to go promptly. If he had any type of incident at school that caused him to be late, that would ruin Mom's big day. We also told him that he would have to be on his best behavior in the courtroom. If he didn't think he could do that, then he should decide to stay in school. He hesitated and thought long and hard, and then told us that he would like to go downtown to be there for Mom.

This morning I met them at the Federal Building and Kai was calm. Apparently all had gone well at school.

We had over an hour wait before the oath ceremony began. Kai sat nicely in the courtroom while we waited.

We found out that 105 new citizens would be taking their oath on this day from over 30 countries.

The judge finally emerged just past 1 pm. We were sitting in the back of the room but the judge said that children were welcome to come up front near her to witness the taking of the oath. I encouraged Kai to go up front and he did along with one other youth, and had a good view of the entire courtroom.

It was quite a moment when all 105 stood and the judge took them through the oath. No pictures are allowed in the courtroom until the judge grants permission, which she did at the end of the ceremony.

Here you see my wife receiving her citizenship certificate from an immigration official.


And we all posed for pictures with her.


We were touched that my wife's sister-in-law and her husband came for the ceremony.


Afterward we had lunch and walked around downtown to play some Pokemon Go before taking the train home. At dinner we asked Kai what was the best part of his day. He said besides catching Pokemon, it was seeing Mom become a U.S. citizen.

Indeed it was.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Celebrating Our Anniversary (Including Clips from Our Wedding Video)

It was our 10th anniversary as a family a few days ago. As it was a weekday/school night, we only had a small celebration that evening.


My sister had given us a really nice hand made album that included great photos from each of our 10 years which she creatively laid out throughout the album.

The next evening we went out for a celebratory dinner at a new Caribbean restaurant in our area. (El Buren in Highwood for you locals).

We started out with virgin piña coladas.


My wife had red snapper and Kai enjoyed a seafood entree.


I loved the jerk chicken that I had ordered.


We had seen pictures of the desserts so we saved room. Kai had this coconut cake.


He could only eat a few bites so my wife and I helped and then we took the rest home. I had the cheesecake. We did not have to take any of it home. :)


When we got home after dinner, we watched our wedding video. It has been many years since we watched it. The overriding sound you hear in the first part of the wedding ceremony is of Kai screaming, and it always made my wife too uncomfortable to watch that video.

Kai was only thee years old and our wedding day was not a happy time for him for much of the day. We now better understand how he has difficulty with any disruption in the routine. You can imagine how difficult our wedding day was for him.

We had the wedding at our house which we had bought a few months earlier. We thought that would be where Kai would be most comfortable. But his familiar house was not so familiar on that day. We had taken most of the furniture out of the family room to make room for the chairs where our guests would sit during the ceremony, and where tables would be set up during the reception dinner. Mom was out of the house for most of the morning getting herself ready for the wedding. Many strangers were streaming into the house including caterers, a photographer, and many guests who were unfamiliar to Kai. I was still relatively new in his life myself and had not yet fully bonded with him. So it was very understandable that he would get upset.


Our's was a do-it-yourself wedding in many respects. Besides having it in our home, I had asked my good friend Stuart to officiate the wedding. My nephews, who were in high school at the time, would play the music throughout the ceremony with their violin and viola. My wife's father had decorated sake boxes that we would use during the ceremony, as well as the ones that each guest would receive. My sister applied her artistic touch in creating the name and menu cards for the reception and helping to decorate the goodie bags for the guests.

The plan for the ceremony was that Kai's babysitter would sit with him in the front row, but be ready to take him to another part of the house if he started to get agitated.

Kai was okay for a little while.


But once Mom appeared, and walked down the aisle, Kai must have gotten upset. I'm still not exactly sure what happened, but our babysitter took Kai out of the family room. However, his screams loudly carried back to where we all were.

As Kai's screams continued throughout the first part of the ceremony, I could tell that my friend Stuart was distracted and wondering if he should press on or stop.



Fortunately, Kai eventually quieted down and we were able to complete the ceremony. This next clip is from the last portion of the ceremony.



Once the ceremony was over and he was reunited with Mom, Kai was a happy boy again.


The reception went very well. I know that I was more relaxed then - I think everyone was - and we all had a great time.



(Apologies for the poor quality of the videos. This was another do-it-yourself aspect of our wedding as I had placed a video camera up front. Though I neglected to tell my brother-in-law, the best man, about it. So, during much of the ceremony, he was standing right in front of the camera. Ooops! Still, because our photographer had captured all the right moments so well, I was able to splice his photos on top of the sound to recreate the occasion. The original video I made was of higher quality, but in editing out the clips above I could not find the original copy so had to use a copy of a copy and that made for the degradation of the video).

As the three of us watched the entire video the other night, the uncomfortable feeling that my wife had previously had seemed to be gone. We all able to laugh about Kai's screaming. Well, Kai may have been a bit embarrassed but I think he took it well overall. And seeing the photos of everyone brought back good memories, and melancholy ones as well in some cases.

10 years!?! Hard to believe!

Now wondering what the next ten will bring.




Sunday, April 2, 2017

Texas-New Mexico Vacation: Days 8-9 - White Sands and Albuquerque

On our last full day of this vacation, we went to White Sands National Monument. It is the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

When you drive back into White Sands, you start to get an appreciation of its size.

We had heard that you can sled down the dune hills so we stopped into the Visitor Center to purchase a snow disk which are sold for that purpose.

We enthusiastically picked a hill to sled on. But after taking the first step up, we realized that this wasn't going to be so easy. Climbing up a sand hill is really difficult! With each step, the sand slides down, so it takes about five times the effort of climbing a hill made of a more stable surface.


Kai struggled to climb. This was much more exhausting than the canyon hike at Big Bend we had a few days earlier when Kai got so upset. But this time he really wanted to sled down so he didn't get mad about the arduous climb and persisted.


It rained on the way there, and the temperature was in the 50s, but we were lucky that it did not rain while we were there.


At the first spot we tried to sled, the sand was very loose and the sled only dug into the dunes instead of sliding down the hill. So, we hiked over to find a better spot where the sand was packed in more tightly.


When we found a spot we liked, we took turns using the sled.


Even on a different dune, the sled did not slide nearly as fast as it does on snow.


I'm not sure it was worth all the effort of repeatedly climbing up to the top of the hill. After awhile, Kai wanted to just lay in the sand and cover himself up.


And he wanted to finish off our time by rolling down the hill instead of using the sled.



It was cool to see such an unusual place and we had fun.


After that, we went to have lunch and then drove about three hours up to Albuquerque. Kai and I walked around for a little bit in the Old Town section to look for Pokemon while my wife visited some shops.


We spent that evening at a bed & breakfast run by a former work colleague of mine. Their Sandhill Crane B&B in Corrales, just outside Albuquerque, is beautiful and in such a peaceful setting.


We had dinner with Judy and her husband George, and the next morning they made us breakfast. It was great to catch up with Judy. After staying there one night, I can understand the attraction of living in New Mexico.


I had hesitated staying at this B&B because I wasn't sure how Kai would do. He wasn't exactly talkative but he was very polite and well behaved, and that made me feel good.


We had about an hour to spare before having to head for the airport so we went to the campus of the University of New Mexico. It was a nice campus with all of the buildings in southwestern style. Kai enjoyed catching a few more Pokemon before we left.


And so it was a good vacation. We enjoyed the different places we visited and the great food we ate. But for me the highlight was seeing how well Kai generally did in handling new experiences. In that way, we saw progress that is not always evident in our day-to-day lives.



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