We decided to take the entire family to Madison, WI to support Emma at JOXC Nationals. It was a relatively quick flight to Chicago where we rented a big fat black SUV and drove to Madison. We got in rather late on Thursday evening. We let the kids sleep in the next morning and Mike and I snuck away for a bit to go running and exploring. We ran from our hotel along the lake and towards the Capital building. The run was beautiful and so easy since we were now running at sea level. The inside of the Capital building was pretty spectacular. It was decorated for the holidays with the biggest Christmas tree I had ever seen. After making our way back to the hotel, the kids were still in their pajamas. After getting everyone ready for the day, Mike dropped Emma and I off at the course so that she could do a run through with her team. While she was running, I stood in a very long line to grab some swag. Emma joined me after her run and we stood in line for a little bit longer. I ended up standing in line for almost 2 hours to grab some shirts and sweatshirts. That was so crazy. While Emma and I were at the course, Mike took the other kids to the Madison Zoo. They had a great time seeing the tigers, lemurs, turtles, birds, iguanas, alligators, and other animals at the zoo. They arrived at the course to pick us up right when we were checking out. We then headed back to the hotel to let Emma shower and change before meeting Kim, Al and Haley at a restaurant for dinner. It was so nice of them to come and support Emma for her big race.
Sometimes it is quite necessary to get out of town and just go to the mountains. Lucky for us we live relatively close to a plethora of mountain ranges. We thought it would be fun to spend the long weekend at a cabin up near Twin Lakes, CO. We rented the coolest cabin on VRBO that was tucked nicely up nicely along a mountainside and only a 5 min drive from Twin Lakes and 20 min from Leadville. Since the kids didn’t have school on Friday, we headed up on Thursday evening and stopped at Rudy’s to eat dinner. We drove the Sienna and the 4Runner so we could do some off roading in Mike’s car. We got to the cabin a little after 9pm and although it was dark, we could tell that this would be a ton of fun for the weekend. It was an actual wood cabin with all the amenities for a comfortable stay. Peter got his own room on the main level while all the girls joined us up in the loft. In the loft there was a bunkbed for the girls, a fun living area, a giant bed for me and Mike and a spacious bathroom area. Madeline slept in her little pack-n-play. The rest of the cabin was cozy and spacious. In the basement was a pool table and a foosball table with another set of bunkbeds. It wasn’t until morning that we saw how amazing the views were from the cabin. We woke up to the most amazing sunset and we didn’t even have to get out of bed to enjoy it because we could see it from the tall windows outlining the back of the cabin. The girls had fun in the morning grabbing their coats and exploring outside the cabin. There was a fun little firepit and lots of rocks to play on. We had a lazy morning and enjoyed stuffing our faces full of Mike’s amazing French toast before heading off on our first adventure!
My mom and I planned a surprise baby shower for Ruby. We bought cute plates and table décor ahead of time and even had cute cupcakes and other treats that we brought with us. Ruby was so excited and surprised. She got some really cute things for baby Cali. It was so fun to be able to do this for her as her family.
After getting back from the lake we spent some time relaxing at the house before heading out again but this time to go horseback riding. Grandma Anne and Grandpa Franz watched Madeline so Mike and I could take the big kids to go on a horseback riding adventure. John, Amy and Kyle came with us too. Abby was really nervous, so they spent a few minutes with her on her horse before everyone else got on their horse. Everyone aged 16 and under had to wear helmets. Peter wasn't that thrilled with wearing a helmet, but he did it anyways. The ride was through the most beautiful scenery. We rode through grassy meadows and then up through aspen trees and other dense tree areas. We even got to do a water crossing. It seemed like we were heading up for quite a while before reaching a plateau. We loved riding at the top of the plateau and some of us got excited with our horses and tried to pass each other. Some of the horses got really snippy with the horses in front of them. We all had to try and keep a decent distance between our horses. All in all, everyone had a great time riding horses through the wilderness and no one fell off or got hurt. We all rewarded ourselves with shakes afterwards. Some of us got the famous Bear Lake raspberry shakes and others opted for some sort of candy bar shake. You really couldn’t go wrong because they all tasted delicious!
Bear Lake is a lot bigger than I had expected. We were so excited to spend the morning playing at the lake. We headed over first with our kids and got the sunshade set up, so we had a cool place to sit while the kids played in the water. We brought the three kayaks that were sitting in the garage of the big house and the kids all took turns going out exploring in them. Mike headed over with Peter and rented a jet ski and each of the kids took turns going for a ride. It was hilarious watching the girls bob up and down as Mike did donuts in the water. I wasn’t sure if they would love it or freak out. They love it and asked to go again and again. I must admit that I was a little freaked out when we got going above 40 miles/hour but boy was it a rush. Eventually everyone else from the house showed up at the lake for some fun. Everyone took turns on the kayaks but only our kids ended up wanting to go on the jet ski.
It has been almost 6 years since the entire Kelsch/Wilhelm clan has gotten together. We spent a glorious 4 days together in Bear Lake at the coolest and most interesting house for my parent's 50th Anniversary. We called it the Big House. With three levels, 9 bedrooms, a theatre room, an indoor gym equipped with a trampoline, play set and half basketball court, an area on level 2 devoted solely to video gaming, and slides connecting each level inside the house and outside the house, it was a kids dream house. We spent most of our time in the house just chilling and letting the kids roam and do whatever they wanted. Each one of adult couples took turns fixing dinner. We played games, watched movies, took naps, and explore the sites in and around Bear Lake. It was great catching up with everyone's families and bonding like old times. I sure hope it's not another 6 years before we do this again.
Today was a fun day filled with nostalgia, cultural and play. We started out by heading to the New Sanno hotel in Hiroo where we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast buffet. This amazing hotel is for military, retired military and government employees and we spent a lot of time there when we lived in Yokosuka. It was our home away from home. The kids LOVED the breakfast buffet, especially the French toast and the omelettes. We would occasionally order breakfast to our room and we would always ask for the special strawberry jam. Today’s breakfast did not disappoint. I think Andrew ate 5 French toast slices in under a minute. Then he went back for more. I got my special strawberry jam so that made me happy.
After a quick stop in the souvenir shop after breakfast we headed up to see the construction that was happening on the Tokyo LDS Temple. It was pretty crazy to see that the entire temple was under construction and the church building next door was totally gone. It will be exciting to see the finished product. Since the LDS wards are now meeting in Senzokuike and Kichijoji (which are both too far for us to want to travel in church clothes) we opted for a nice walk in Arisugawa park across from the temple. It was nice to have some quiet reflection there.
After finishing up our nastalgia part of the day in Hiroo, we hopped on the subway and made our way to Asakusa to see Sensoji Temple as our cultural part of the day. This was one temple we hadn’t been to before but a popular temple to visit by both locals and tourists. It was completely packed. We started at Kamainarimon gate and walked through Nakamise dori which is the street lined with shops leading to the main temple. We found lots of various gifts here for the kids. After finally getting to the main temple we passed under the main gate called Hozomon and the Goju no To five storied pagoda which is always closed to visitors because it’s essentially a graveyard. The 2 statues that are at the Hozomon gate were modeled after 1960 sumo wrestlers. To honor them, every few years 800 citizens of Maruyama get together and create a pair of enormous waraji straw sandals. Each sandal weighs about 2.5 tons each. The main temple just past this gate (Hondo or Kannon-do) is pretty spectacular. Some of the greatest artworks from Sensoji’s collection are painted directly on the ceiling or are hanging on the upper part of the walls. The room where the services take place is also open and you can watch, but usually you aren’t allowed inside. In our haste to get out of the heat and crowds we walked back the same way we came, only realizing later that we had missed seeing the garden and stone bridge to the left of the temple. Oh well.
Back at the station, we got on the train and headed for our fun part of the day. We made our way to Odaiba, which I like to call Tokyo’s playground. There are lots of fun things to do here. After eating lunch at a pizza place, we had fun playing at Joypolis which is a fun indoor amusement park. We went on a few of the rides, played a virtual reality game, and tried our hand at the claw games. I gave Andrew 1,000 yen (@$10) and let him have fun. I told him the claw games couldn’t be won but he was determined, telling me he knew how to win. I couldn’t believe it when he actually won his favorite Pokeman character. Then he tried to get snoopy and WON that too. What??? It was crazy. He was beyond excited. We left all smiles, bought a few things at the Daiso (Japanese version of the dollar store) and got on the train to go back to our hotel. Later that night we ate dinner at Moti’s (Indian Restaurant) which was only a 10 min walk from our hotel. We were in heaven as we ate the butter chicken and naan. I first tried Moti’s when I was a teenager. It is still as good today as it was all those years ago. It was the perfect way to end our day and our fabulous trip to Japan!!
The morning started out with a run around the Imperial Palace twice with Bob Poulson...a good friend and one of my running coaches back in high school. He still coaches the high school runners for ASIJ. I ended up running almost 8 miles in the heat. I’m definitely not used to running in the heat yet. I’m glad it was a social run. Andrew and I met up with Bob later to eat udon for lunch. It was fun to catch up with Bob. After lunch we said goodbye and headed back to the hotel to rest. I think at this point we are slowing down. Disney kind of did us in I think.
After some time resting, we got ourselves up and headed to Nihombashi to the Pokeman Cafe. When we got there we discovered that you had to have a reservation for the cafe. Oops. I quickly got online to make a reservation for Monday morning only to find out that the entire next month was pretty much full. Oh well. We walked through the Pokeman store and bought a few things before getting back on the train.
We decided to head to Harajuku and Shibuya. We walked from Omote-Sando to Harajuku via the main road passing the Oriental Bazaar and Kiddyland...two places I remember going to as a kid. Then I took Andrew down the crazy side shopping street in Harajuku called Takeshita street. There were lots of unique stores and a lot of crepe vendors. It was so crowded but lots of fun. We hopped on the train in Harajuku and decided to head to Shibuya. We saw Hachiko first and then went to eat ramen at Ichiran. It is a popular ramen restaurant set up so efficiently. You pay for your meal through the vending machine, wait for an open stand, sit down and hand your ticket through your personal stall, and wait for your meal. In your seating area is your own waterspout for refilling water. It was so clever. We enjoyed our ramen and then spent the rest of the evening shopping in the crowded streets of Shibuya. We bought crepes and even found a Krispy Kreme. And, of course, we walked the big intersection a few times before jumping on the train to head back to our hotel.
One of Andrew’s only requests on this trip was to go to Tokyo Disney Sea...the only park of its kind in the world. We have fond memories of this park and scary ones too as this was the place where we were when the big earthquake of 2011 happened. It was a crazy time. We weren’t worried about a big earthquake this time but instead focused on how to get in as many rides and fast passes as we could throughout the day. We started at Journey to the Center of the Earth and rode that and then got a fast pass for it. We rode the Indiana Jones ride twice and Raging Spirits. Those were our favorite rides.
Part of the excitement of Disney is stuffing our faces with yummy treats while waiting in line. We ate cinnamon churros, caramel popcorn and Mickey popsicles. We walked all the way around the park looking for real ice cream and finally found a gelato stand. We saw parts of the Easter themed mid-day show on the water (we know...Easter is over but clearly the Japanese didn’t care) and didn’t spend more than 45 min in any line waiting for rides. That’s not to say there weren’t lines that extended all the way to 100-120 min...we just weren’t crazy enough to stand in them. The longest line we waited in said 35 min for the Nemo Searider. It ended up being 45-50 min. By the time we got to the ride...it stopped after 1 min. Technical difficulties. We hurried off the ride to catch our fast passes for Raging Spirits. They gave us a fast pass for the Nemo ride to use later but we never used them. Guess we will never know if that ride was good or not.
It got pretty hot in the middle of the day so we headed down in Ariel’s underground grotto and rode the jelly fish ride. Then we headed over to the carousel in the Arabian coast section. We even went back to the elevator at the Leonardo Challenge area where Andrew was said to have pushed the button right when the earthquake started. We had to go back and snap a photo.
We saw a variety of characters throughout the day. All Andrew wanted was a picture with goofy. As we were leaving the park we finally saw goofy. I told Andrew to quickly just run up next to him. The timid kid came out and he didn’t do it. I caught a photo of Andrew where the caption should read...I missed my chance😢 Poor kid. Oh well. At least we made it until 5pm...not 10pm like we had originally anticipated. I guess that’s what happens when you are not used to so much walking in the heat. Still...it was a super fun day. You really can’t go wrong when you are at Disney!!!
We left Kyoto today and headed on the Shinkansen bound for Tokyo. After a quick 2 hr ride at speeds that would blow your socks off, we arrived at Shin-Yokohama where we got on a local train towards Yokohama. After maneuvering our way through this enormous station towards the Keikyu line, we found some gigantic lockers to store our suitcases in while we ventured down to Oppama station where we used to live. We met Kei and Koto Murata who took us to an amazing ton katsu restaurant near the station. Kei, Takeshi, Rin and Koto Murata were our neighbors for the 3 years we lived in Japan and they were some of the best neighbors we have ever had. The girls used to love playing at the park together and Kei used to teach me how to cook Japanese food at her house. I called it cooking with Kei. We have stayed in touch these last 6 years. It warmed my heart to see Kei and to catch up on life in person. Her English was definitely better than my Japanese. I think this visit meant as much to her as it did to me. As we walked to the station after lunch we just kept looking at each other saying how much we had missed each other. After a sad goodbye, Andrew and I headed up to the old house in Shonan Takatori. We managed to remember how to get there and even didn’t miss the tiny street that took us to the shortcut with the steep stairs. And yes...we didn’t stop on those stairs even though it was so hot and a million stairs to climb. After a few photos by the house we headed to the Seiyu (grocery store) to buy some treats for old times sake. We were definitely like little children in a candy store as we cleared out ALL of the Bontan Ame candies. That’s right...we took every single box. We had anticipated hiking the Takatori trail but it was way too hot and we were already getting tired so we decided to head back to Oppama station. We reminisced on the way back down about life in Japan while we enjoyed our ice cream. It was fun to remember the great life we had while living here.
From Oppama we got on the train and headed back to Yokohama to collect our bags before making our way to Tokyo. Luckily the rush hour crowds weren’t too bad. However, after essentially all day of traveling, we were so exhausted when we got to the hotel that we both fell asleep for an hour. It was hard to pull myself out of bed. I let Andrew sleep while I explored the beautiful gardens on the hotel grounds. Then it was off to find allergy medicine for Andrew. Luckily I can read katakana because I actually found Allegra. Blessings!!! I had ordered a hamburger through room service for Andrew and I to share. It was probably the most expensive hamburger we have ever had and it was pretty awful. Lesson learned...don’t order hamburgers from fancy Japanese hotels.
Today we rented bikes to tour around Kyoto....but they weren’t just any bikes...they were electric assist bikes. Oh yes. Biking really is the coolest way to see the Shrines and Temples around Kyoto. We headed first to the outskirts of Kyoto to Tenryuji Temple and the Bamboo Forest in Arashiyama. It took about an hour to get there and probably a little longer since we got a little lost at the beginning trying to get headed in the correct direction. I’ve been told by my son that I have a terrible sense of direction. I would disagree in most cases but he was right in this case. I got us going in the wrong direction at first. Andrew was the most excited to see the bamboo forest and it did not disappoint. There were crowds of people walking through the short stretch of the bamboo forest. It makes me wonder how I ever got that shot with no one in it several years ago. I think it was mostly luck with a little help from Mike who waited patiently with me for a small window of no people. It was still amazing to see all the bamboo and be in such a beautiful place.
Next we headed back to the center of Kyoto to see Shimogamo-Jinja Shrine but when we got there we couldn’t find a place to park our bikes legally so we moved onto the next shrine. They have very strict rules where you can and cannot park your bikes. Good thing is we weren’t too far out of the way for the next shrine and we got to bike along the Kamogawa river. The next stop was Ginkaku-ji Temple, also known as the silver temple. At this point we could tell we were starting to burn. Oh no...I had put sunscreen on but missed a few spots. Andrew...well he completely forgot to get his arms and they were already red. Or was it just that he didn’t listen to me when I told him to put it on 🤔We spent some time walking around the grounds and enjoyed some Katsu don and ice cream before heading to Heian-Jingu Shrine. This shrine is pretty spectacular looking. The grounds are enormous and the garden extending all the way in the back of the shrine was outstanding. We had fun walking through the gardens.
At this point Andrew was uncomfortable between the burning arms and his allergies acting up so we decided to head back to the hotel. The road we took at the beginning was SUPER crowded and the sidewalk was so narrow it was hard to get around. Eventually we turned toward the river and rode along that almost the entire way back. I dropped off Andrew at the hotel and left to go find some aloe for our burns. After getting him more comfortable I thought he would venture the 15 min bike ride to Fushimi Inari Shrine with me. Nope. He was done. I really didn’t want to miss this shrine seeing as it’s my favorite. We should’ve done it earlier in the day. I had a fun ride before sunset and made it just in time for some light. It was mostly dark when I finished. Still...it was so peaceful to walk there by myself at dusk. I came back to the hotel and Andrew was starting to fall asleep. But wait...we needed to eat dinner so I dragged my tired son over to Kyoto station to the Kitchen on the 10th floor of the Isetan Building where we had a fantastic Margarita pizza and enjoyed the amazing views of Kyoto Tower.
It was a long travel day to get all the way to Kyoto but we made it in good spirits and a little tired and delirious. Our 3 hour layover in Seattle was spent at the Centurion lounge eating a delicious breakfast. Blessings. Our 10 hour flight was spent watching movies and taking short naps. It was so strange to not have to keep a little one entertained. We landed in Kansai International Airport which is actually on an island...how crazy is that. Made it through customs without any problems. The guy at the customs desk asked me for my military ID and orders. I think he got confused with all the re-entry stamps from when we lived there before. Too funny because they were all dated 2013 or earlier. We made our way over to the ticket office and bought our Shinkansen tickets to Kyoto. Only able to read half of what the ticket said we were able to find the correct platform and waited for our train. 80 min later we arrived in Kyoto station which is huge and somewhat confusing. It was a team effort to navigate that station to exit on the correct side. Luckily we popped out exactly where we wanted to be and only had a quick 2 block walk to our hotel. Yay...we made it. We got cleaned up and headed out to eat dinner. In the amazing itinerary book Mike made us he suggested to eat at Katsukura for some tasty Ton Katsu. It took some time to figure out how to get over to that side of the station and up into the restaurant area on the 11th floor of the Isetan building. We managed to get there before the crowds and sat right down to order. The Ton Katsu (breaded pork) was ordered by size in grams. That was strange to me. Andrew said I hope you remember your Japanese because you have to order for us. The nice thing is most people in populous areas speak a little English but I ordered in Japanese anyways. A little rusty but I did it. Our meal was outstanding and as I was eating I felt like I was floating outside my body...clearly sleep depravation was kicking in. We finished eating and headed to the bread store for Andrew but most of the bread was picked over. Maybe tomorrow. Instead we stopped at a convenient store to grab treats and paid with my Suica with the tap of my phone (Japan’s version of Apple Pay). Sweet...it worked. Thanks Mike for setting that up for me. Then it was back to the hotel and into bed. What a great first day!
After an exciting 5 days of adventuring from Reykjavik to the Golden Circle and across the southern island of Iceland, we were all ready to head home. There is nothing worse than having to rush to the airport so we were delighted when Mike told us that he booked us an afternoon flight back home. We slept in, cleaned up the cabin, packed up the van, and said goodbye to our cute little cabin and treacherous snowy road we parked on the last few days. Before heading to the airport we made one last stop to the Blue Lagoon for some much needed relaxation time. The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa located near Grindavik on the Reykjanes Peninsula pretty close to the airport. We got on our swimming suits, rinsed our bodies and put on the required conditioner in our hair, and headed to the warm water blue lagoon. The story of how they discovered this silica based water is quite fascinating and dates back to 1976 when they were drilling down into the lava fields to find hot water to pump into their mills to produce electricity when they discovered this light blue like water. After realizing that the white in the water was coating their machines and ruining them, they quickly deposited the water in a nearby lava field. At the time no one dared touch the water except for one man who had bad psoriasis and noticed a change in his skin after working with the water and steam at the plant. After asking many times he was finally given permission to bathe in the waters and it was then that he discovered that they were truly healing waters. Many people on the island starting bathing in its waters. Still, it wasn't all that safe with the rough lava floors and nothing to control the heat. So in 1992 the Blue Lagoon company was formed. People from all over the world come here to soak in the healing waters. One of the fun parts about being here was that you were able to get a silica or algae mask for free. Mike and some of the kids enjoyed that. There was also an in-water bar where each of us got a free drink. The kids loved walking around the warm waters sipping on their fruit smoothies. There were definitely warmer parts of the lagoon than others. We explored as much of the lagoon as we could and even Madeline, who up to this point wouldn't get in a hot tub, enjoyed the warm soothing waters. After spending a good 2 hours in the water just relaxing, we got cleaned up and headed to the airport all rested up. I wish every end of a vacation could end with a trip to the Blue Lagoon.