Tuesday, June 9, 2015

A Fistful of Family Events

As usual, there's no truly legitimate excuse for the extraordinary gap in blog posts. Of course, there were mitigating circumstances. The past two months have been chock full of family outings, trips, birthdays, and sunny weather requiring BBQ. The two biggest events, by far, were a trip to Chicago and Mimi's much anticipated 5th birthday.

Our journey to Chicago was little more than a glorified extended weekend, but it was a welcome change of pace. Neither Sumie nor I had been there before, though I had travelled to the Chicagoland area 20-30 times for work. In short, the city was entirely new territory for us. Thankfully, we had excellent guides in two friends we'd met back in New York, who were also kind enough to host us. Welcoming us into their home for the long weekend, they were determined that we get the full Chicago experience.

Jeremy and Julie, our guides, have two boys - Anthony and Henry. Here they are below with Mimi at one of the city parks.
Anthony and Mimi had met before when they were quite a bit younger. They'd gotten along well, but we could readily see that with the passage of time, Anthony had developed an interest in girls. Well, one girl in particular. He professed his love to Mimi within the first hour. It was really sweet.
He kept with it, too. I have to admire this kid. He has persistence.
Mimi was very happy to have a friend for the trip. Here they are holding hands along the riverfront.
Thankfully for her Papa, Mimi also likes to play hard-to-get. There were times when she'd branch off on her own. Though it was a bit rude, as a father, I can't say I'm disappointed. I want this girl to be standoffish, especially about 10-15 years from now. The better and quicker she gets at indicating rejection, the happier I'll be. Mimi and Anthony had a great time playing together, even if it was "just friends."

One of the most amazing places we visited with the First Division Military Museum in Cantigny. This is a first-class museum with a totally immersive exhibit, beautiful grounds, and a full map of the site that you can walk over.
To top it all off, there are numerous WWI and WWII tanks you can climb. Kuri was particularly interested in the heavy armor.
Mimi and Anthony managed to climb up on one for a photo. Here's Mimi being her usually, self-assured little miss.
Chicago offered a number of other remarkable sites. For the first time in a long while (having only visited NYC or Tokyo for the past five years), we found ourselves tourists in a major city. We visited the Bean...
 ...and the fountains with the video monitors - I'm still not sure if this is awesome or just a little freaky.
The last night we thanked our hosts profusely for their hospitality and then splurged on a hotel room downtown in the city. I have this to say about Chicago - if you're used to NYC, SF, or Tokyo, the hotel rates are a welcome surprise. While downtown, Mimi hit up the Lego store...
...and the whole family got their burger and milkshake fix at the newly opened Chicago Shake Shack.
That last night, Sumie's little brother, Genta, drove up all the way from St. Louis to spend the night with us. We celebrated the mini family reunion at Gyukaku, a Japanese BBQ restaurant that kindly put up with toddlers after 10:00pm.
All of our days in Chicago were unseasonably beautiful and warm. Towards the end of our trip, Sumie was thinking, "I could totally live here." And then, our last day in the city, the temperature dropped and that famous Chicago wind picked up. "On second thought, maybe we should stay on the west coast," Sumie recanted. The kids did their best to stay warm, but Kuri was struggling to hold on to his burp cloth when the gusts of wind came by.
It really was a fantastic, though short, trip. We hope to get back there again soon. There's so much we didn't get to experience, particularly the music and comedy. Perhaps when the kids get a bit older, I'll be able to take them to Second City.

With the trip to Chicago done, we returned home, collapsed, and the geared up for the weekly grind of work, house cleaning, and the almost countless birthday parties that occur this time of year. One was particularly important: Mimi's. It was her 5th birthday, and she'd been talking about turning 5 since she was 3 years old. It was a big deal. We decided we'd invite her preschool friends up to our house for an afternoon of trampoline, water balloons, cake, and mayhem.

As with any party you host at your own home, preparation was needed. Sumie declared that we needed to do something about the front yard, so the month before I contracted landscapers to redo the front yard, tidy the back, and remove the large, unsightly bush that had become a 30 foot tree and blocked the street view of the house. As with other events we've hosted, company meant a chance for home improvements. I imagine we'll paint the exterior of the house or resurface the driveway for the next major shindig.

As the day of the party drew nearer, we realized that we'd be hosting over 30 people for a BBQ, which meant we had to upgrade the patio furniture. On a Wednesday before the party, I made a trip to Costco during my lunch break. I secured a trolley and, like a man possessed, hurriedly purchased a massive storage chest, an 11 foot patio umbrella, and an umbrella stand. The people at the check-out must've thought there was an emergency BBQ somewhere, and that I was providing support. Amazingly, this all fit in my little BMW 325 wagon, though the umbrella was jammed against the windshield and the rear glass of the hatch simultaneously.  Anyway, the little car saw us through and all was assembled in time for the party.
The kids had a blast playing in the backyard...
...and the girls let loose in Mimi's room.
I did BBQ chicken and ribs for all 30 people (3 hours of grilling done the night before). Once that was polished off, it was time for cake.
 It took Mimi a while, but she did manage to blow out all her candles.
We even had a pinata for Mimi, on which she took out a surprising amount of aggression.
At the end of the day, when all was cleared away and the kids tucked into bed, Sumie and I counted the party a success. We were really thankful to have given Mimi such a fun day.

As mentioned previously, the past two months have been pretty packed. We've had Mother's Day picnics, school birthday parties, school conferences, dental appointments, you name it. But, as always, we've found some time for some random fun. The other day, Mimi decided she wanted some glamour shots. Here's Mimi in her fancy dress.
Not to be outdone, here's Kuri in his tiara.
And here's Kuri in his introspective, emo, toddler phase.
And lastly, here's Mimi being a flirt and Kuri being an samurai in training.
We've had time for lots of reading and plenty of creative projects as well. Mimi decided to take a box from one of her birthday presents and make her own car. Chances are that you guessed she built her own Porsche. Naturally, she knew it was a "Boxster."
The weekend before the party, Mimi and I did some furniture shopping at a consignment store here in Marin. She insisted on trying every single chair in the shop (trust me, this is not an exaggeration). After 45 minutes, she found it. Naturally, looking down at those imploring eyes, I had to get it.
Now both kids and I have our own reading chairs. Mimi has her little Ikea lounger, and Kuri presides over the rocking chair that I once used as a kid to look up at the mantle clock waiting for Scooby Doo to come on.
We've also had some time for hairstyles. Mimi and Kuri both got their hair cut a few weekends ago (I don't know why scheduling something like this is such a monumental challenge, but it is). This, for better or worse, inspired Mimi to give me a makeover.
All told, it's been a busy but amazing too months. Oddly, I think this Japanese soda bottle cap sums our adventures up best.
As the summer sun continues to shine up here in Marin, I look forward to more adventures with these two little ones and their amazing Mom. Naturally, now with sunglasses on.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

After Dinner Art Show

Dinner around our house is always an... um... how do I say this... an interestingly challenging affair. Kuri tends to eat well - especially if there's apple sauce (which there invariably is) - but only after he sits down. That's the primary challenge. He hasn't quite figured out the use of his food tray, nor has he realized that combining stuffed animals and fresh food results in his furry friends taking a trip to the washing machine.
He also loves to eat independently now, which is great, but not always advantageous, again when it comes to laundry volume. Tonight, we had a rare reprieve from extreme mess when Kuri decided he'd let Mama feed him his yogurt.
Mimi and food have a love-hate relationship. She'll either attack what's on her plate or completely ignore it. Tonight I served leftover quesadillas and udon (I know, not the most traditional meal, but that's what we had). Mimi tore through her quesadilla, but when it came to her udon, she ignored it with a fervor that I can't help but feel she'll use on overweight, acne-ridden middle school boys (I know that look).
Protests from her father were to no avail.
Despite Mimi's dinner performance, we still took some time to go through some of the pictures she had composed over the past few days. Mimi seems to have a little talent, which is a bit of a shock for Sumie and me as Mimi has already surpassed our less than meager artistic gifts.

Like most little girls, Mimi is obsessed with princesses, princes, kings, and queens. As such, there's always a lot of royalty showing up in her drawings. Here's a queen...
...and here's the "Midori Love" princess.
Over the weekend we watched a Japanese music show featuring "NyaKB" - an offshoot of Mimi's favorite group, AKB48. It is a group of about ten girls who sing in frilly skirts and kitty ears (after years of exposure to Japanese culture, I  sadly no longer find this kind of behavior odd or even surprising).  I think Mimi's take is rather good!
Our favorite drawing of the night was Mimi's public service poster. Why she decided to create a public service poster, I have no idea, but traffic safety must have been weighing heavily on her mind. Take a look at the poster below.
You most likely made out a girl, a car, and a big "X".  Under that is written "da-me," which is "don't" or "not allowed" in Japanese. In short, Mimi's public service message was "Don't hit girls with cars." Now I know... and, as we all remember, knowing is half the battle.

You may have noticed that Mimi's PSA was folded. That's because I'm hiding my favorite part of he message. Mimi, being the modest little girl she is, decided to sign her work.
Right there, in the middle of the poster, Mimi had penned "Created by Mimi." My little girl likes to be recognized for her work.

Sadly, and rather unfairly, by the end of the night Mimi had still failed to recognize the excellent contribution her udon could have made to her dinner. Poor udon. You were good, but you end today unloved. Even Sumie and I cannot eat you. We've already had far too many "second dinners" this week thanks to our fickle little girl.