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 piƱa 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.



Saturday, April 1, 2017

Texas-New Mexico Vacation: Day 7 - More Carlsbad Caverns

The day that I was most excited, and nervous about, had arrived.

We had done the self-guided tour of Carlsbad Caverns the day before, but my blog friend Shiroi had encouraged me to consider taking a guided tour of the cave as well. So, a few weeks ago, after talking it over with Kai and my wife, we decided to reserve a spot on the Lower Cave tour.

This tour takes a very small group down to a deeper part of the cave than we went to on our own. This area of the cave is not open to the general public; it is open only to those on the limited guided tours which are given only four times a week. The areas of the cave it goes to are mostly unlit, with the primary lighting being the headlamps on the helmets that are provided to you. It was exciting to think of this adventure, but very nerve-wracking as well. There were several ways this could go wrong.

The tour would start with a descent down sixty feet of knotted rope and ladders. Would Kai freak out?

The tour was three hours long, and this is a boy who can get restless after an hour if he is not interested. Would he start to get agitated?

We met our tour group at the visitor center where the rangers leading the tour handed out our helmets and gloves, and went through the rules. They asked each of us to give our name, tell everyone where we are from, and to say what we are passionate about. I was nervous about how Kai would handle his introduction. He sometimes gets agitated when asked to speak about something he doesn't want to.

But when his turn came, he loudly and clearly gave his name and our hometown, and said that he was passionate about exploring the cave. His old speech therapist, Alyson, would have been very proud. I just breathed a sigh of relief.

At the end of the introductions, the lead ranger, Katie, asked if everyone was here because they wanted to be here and not because someone like their parents forced them to be there. She seemed to be looking right at Kai when she said that, and I again sighed with relief when Kai confirmed that he wanted to be there.

And then it was time to start the tour.

We went down the elevator to the area of the Big Room where we visited the day before. From there we took a short walk to the place where we would descend into the Lower Cave. We would start by walking backward while hanging on to a knotted rope for support.


Kai did just fine. He later said said he was a bit nervous, but he didn't show it at the time.


Following the rope, we descended down three ladders. The rangers instructed us to go one at a time, calling out "On Ladder 1", "Off Ladder 1", "On Ladder 2" and so on so the next person could know when to get onto the ladder.




Again, Kai did well, both in managing the ladders and in calling out his progress as instructed.

I was starting to relax and enjoy the experience.


It was very cool to be in this secluded part of the cave with only 9 other visitors and the two rangers.


The darkness made the beauty of the cave stand out even more when our headlamps shined the light on it.




As we walked around, the rangers gave a lot of information about the cave.


In the following photo, she is showing a bat that became preserved forever in the stalagmite.


There was one place where the ranger had each of us walk individually through a long, narrow passage.


Here's what that passage looked like as I was walking through it.


At the end of the passage, we sat with our headlamps out, waiting in the darkness until each of us walked through one by one. When all of us had come through, we sat in total darkness while Katie, the lead guide, sang a song she had written about the cave. The acoustics of the cave accentuated her beautiful voice. When she finished her song, she lit a candle and read a poem. It was a perfect way to contemplate the beauty of the place and the moment.



From there, we had the option of crawling out of that passage, and everyone chose to do that versus taking a path where you could walk.


This tour was a huge highlight of our trip. Kai had handled it magnificently, and I was very proud of him.


There was still the matter of getting out of the Lower Cave. We had to go out the way we came in. First, we had to climb up the ladders.


And then walk up with the knotted rope.


We asked someone to take a photo of the three of us. Those of you on our holiday card list will likely be seeing this photo again.


After leaving the cave, we drove to Roswell, New Mexico. Roswell is most famous for the Roswell Incident, where a flying saucer was spotted about 70 years ago. We visited the UFO museum there which had numerous newspaper articles that tell the story, and make a case for UFOs existing.


We finished our day with one last swim. The air temperature was only about 50 degrees so my wife went straight for the hot tub, but Kai and I went into the heated pool.


For dinner, we had barbecue one last time. The ribs weren't as good as Terry Black's in Austin, but the brisket was as tasty as at any of the places in Texas.


All in all, a very good day!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Texas-New Mexico Vacation: Day 6 - On to Carlsbad Caverns

It was time to leave Texas and drive to southeastern New Mexico. But first, Kai and I made one more round of Marathon, TX at dawn to catch a few more Pokemon. Kai was especially happy this morning as we found a rare Pokemon.


After breakfast, we drove all morning, and traffic was surprisingly heavy with trucks. But we made it to New Mexico and had lunch at a Mexican restaurant near Carlsbad Caverns.


And then we headed over to the national park.


On this day, we took the self-guided walking tour. We walked down the Natural Entrance trail.


At this point, we had no idea how deep we would go. It seemed as if every time we thought we had gone far down into the cave, the trail would continue even deeper. Altogether we went down 750 feet.


When we got into the cave, our mouths gaped open in wonder, and stayed that way the whole time we were in there. Words cannot adequately describe how spectacular this wonder was.


The following photo shows the view looking down as we were walking down the trail.


I was pleased with how my photos turned out, but even still they totally fail to capture the grandeur of the cave. The photos can't begin to show how long large the cave was, but also don't do justice to the beauty that was everywhere you looked.


Kai seemed to really enjoy the experience.


The Natural Entrance trail connected to the Big Room trail.


We walked quite a bit, but with minimal complaints from Kai. Toward the end he got what seemed to be a shin splint, but fortunately he was able to complete the walk.


Altogether, we were in the cave for about 3 hours.


Many areas within the cave were given names by the first explorers. This is an area called fairyland.


The following are some of my favorite photos from inside the cave.




This next photo was taken in an area of the Big Room known as the zoo as many formations are like animals you would see in a zoo.


Carlsbad Caverns is not convenient to any big cities. But I encourage everyone to put a visit here on your bucket list. You won't be disappointed.


After we left the cave, we went to our motel. We were disappointed that the outdoor pool was not open. The man at the front desk said it was too early in the season for the pool. I thought that was odd as the temperature was in the 80s and one of the main reasons we chose this motel was the photos of the water slides they have.

Kai got over his disappointment quickly as we went out to look for Pokemon.

We had dinner at a Chinese buffet restaurant as we wanted something different from all the Mexican and barbecues we had eaten.

We closed our day by returning to Carlsbad Caverns for the nightly flight of the bats out of the cave. It was still a bit early in the season, but we had heard that because of the warmer weather this year, the bats returned earlier than usual. At about sundown, they all fly out of the cave to feed at night.

There was a small crowd gathered. No photography is permitted.

A little after sundown, a few bats emerged. But compared to the bat flight we had seen earlier in the week in Austin, this was disappointing. The number of bats were far fewer, and they emerged from the cave very sporadically instead of in one large mass. I wanted to wait to see if a bigger bunch would emerge later. But as it got darker and darker, the number of bat did not increase. The crowd started to disperse and Kai was anxious to leave. I don't know if more bats emerged later, but we decided to call it a night.

Still, it was a fantastic day as the cave was a phenomenal experience. And we would experience more of it the next day.

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