Archive for April, 2015

Nesting and Cooking

Not wanting to go anywhere after our big trip and inspired by our recent food experiences, we’ve been getting creative in the kitchen.

Xander wanted to make donuts…
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I’ve been craving sushi! My first try and it tasted good but I didn’t roll it tight enough and it got smashed up with slicing…
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Jason tried a couple rolls with a couple improvements and they turned out great! I’ve bought some salmon roe and cucumbers for Gunkan Ikura, one of my favs while sampling during our trip.
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Today I took my first crack at the dutch baby and they turned out great! The kids loved it and the initial reaction out of the oven is fun.
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Sliced up and eaten right out of the pan. We’ll have to add strawberries and whipped cream next time.
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The weather is great and our bikes have already rolled out of the garage a couple times so I think we are fully recovered! Yay!

Japan Trip Final Thoughts and Traveling With Kids

This was our third big travel with four young kids and it went amazingly well! Tips we learned from previous travel:

Pack light and plan to do laundry.

I’ve mentioned before, we use the Mother Lode ebags. They are back pack style and exact measurements for carry-on luggage. Three people’s clothes and toiletries are carried in each bag. We were also able to keep papers, passports and tablets in them and still pass the 7kg weight limit for international travel. The best part is not having to check luggage. Between boarding, flight, and transportation, it just helps us move easier, quicker and less waiting for tired kids. Bonus, no chance of losing your luggage!

The two big guys carry smaller back packs for the camera, snacks, water bottle, etc.

Lotus carries a small bag filled with small toys.

Packing light and planning to do laundry translates out to about two pairs of pants and four shirts, 4 pairs of socks and underwear per person. We use a lot of quick-dry, light weight clothes.

What we learned from this trip:

Packing light and traveling to a colder climate presents a new challenge. The answer is layers. Long underwear doubled as a base layer and pajamas. The Columbia Mighty Light jacket with Omni-heat for everyone was a great choice. They are incredibly light, warm and stuffed into back packs easily when the weather warmed up.

We didn’t have any Couchsurfing options this trip so we opted for an Airbnb rental. Hotels in Tokyo are extremely small and expensive. With Airbnb we got a decent sized apartment, great prices and a personable host who helped us out on occasion.

I usually plan very few activities. Taking it easy and paying attention to what the kids are able to handle makes for a smooth trip. Even though I only planned three things for the entire two week vacation, we ended up doing a ton of things! Splitting up and doing different activities worked out well for us too. The big guys were able to enjoy the long trip to see the monkeys with mom, while the little guys enjoyed something closer to the apartment with dad. Then Dad enjoys a relaxing day with his oldest son the next day.

Jet lag: Going West was a lot easier than going home. In fact, I was worried the kids would be wired from the plane trip and make too much noise in the apartment. Instead, they went to sleep at 5pm and woke up at 3-4am each night for the first 5 days. They were awake at 3am but stayed quiet in their beds until 6am, at which point most residents are getting up for work. Not bad at all!

Coming home has been tough! we couldn’t sleep most of the night, then sleeping until afternoon. Lotus had been sleeping in her own bed before the trip and we even bought ourselves a new queen bed (threw out the old, worn out king bed). After sleeping with me on vacation she spent the next many nights wanting to sleep with me but I don’t have good bed options. That means not getting any sleep while I try and get her to sleep.

After a full week of exhaustion and nesting at home we finally recovered. Whew!

Kid quotes:

Isaac: “It was the best!” favorite activity: Snow monkeys.
Xander: “Out of all of the trips we have taken, this was the best.” Favorite activity: going to visit friends (Mari, Toshiyuki and Hikaru)
Simon: “It was awesome!” Favorite activity: Robot restaurant and fighting the robot.
Lotus: “All of the ice cream!!” Favorite activity: The bike ride!

Japan trip, chronological posts:


Japan Trip Days 16 and 17

Day 16, Jason enjoyed a relaxing day out with just Isaac at Akihibara, in a giant electronic goods store Yodibashi Akiba. I took the three littles to see the view at the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

Tokyo Skytree is another way to see the city but lines are long, crowds are big and tickets are expensive. The 45th floor of each of the two towers of the government building is free and set up just for tourists to enjoy 360 degrees of views.

An underground passage way provides a rain and wind free walk to the government building from Shinjuku station…


On a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji, but not today. The rain at ground level was actually flurries of snow at this level.
Gift shops set up for us tourists…
Art in Shinjiku station…
Lotus is getting tired of her Japanese food choices…
She and Simon supplement with McDonalds, which they detest at home but somehow it was a welcome choice on this day.
Day 17 we travel back home! Feeling goofy, tired and excited…
The kids are ready…
Bags packed and ready to roll out…
I am in love with all of the bikes! This one has two kid seats, matching rain flies and electric assist. I would love to try it out.
More bikes out front of the shopping center…
I saw a grandma cruising on one of these trikes. I love how narrow it is.
Food displays in the food court where we had lunch…
The final flight into Portland and all four kids are asleep…

Japan days 14-15

Day 14 was shopping and testing out many Japanese snacks and candies. Let’s move on to my favorite day ever…day 15!


I have watched the PBS documentary on the snow monkeys many times and it wasn’t until our trip was planned that I learned it was filmed in Japan. I had to go! It involved three hours and multiple train transfers to get there from Tokyo but it was worth it! Jason wasn’t as excited about it as I was and we knew it would be tough (read: nightmare) with the younger two, so it was decided just me and the big guys would go and it was the most relaxing, fun travel day!

We started early in the morning with a subway ride, a (slow) train ride and then grabbed junk food and drinks from a convenient store for an hour bullet train ride…

Then we had one final train ride to the mountain town where the monkey park is. We sat in the back for a full window view of the countryside as we went…

A taxi ride to the park and here we are, ready for the short hike to the monkey (and human) hot spring…

I seriously could not contain my excitement and as we got closer and closer I was nearly bursting!

Following the signs and Isaac points out monkey poop…

The hot springs create a steam throughout the mountains, giving it its name: Jigokudani, meaning Hell’s Valley.

Up the steep steps…

Bam! First macaques up close! With a baby too.

The kids had to drag me away! I wanted to stay, it was so incredible. My hands were freezing and we stopped at the gift shop to warm up by the heater before catching a taxi back to the train station.

More junk food on the train with our favorite gummy candies…

Japan Trip Day 13

Our last day in Yonezewa we squeezed in some fun things. Mari and Toshiyuki wanted to take us to a natural hot spring bathhouse “Onsen.” The two big guys weren’t keen on the idea of naked bathing together, even if it is separated by gender, so we split up into two groups.

Toshiyuki took the big guys out on the town. They got to visit a shrine and try out the foot onsen…


A little shopping…
And warm up with some tea…
The rest of us went for the hot bath…
Typically photos are not permitted inside the onsen but it was empty so I snuck a few. It is super hot! I had a hard time adjusting and Lotus ended up playing with a shower head and a hose next to the bath instead of getting in.

The water is nice and it was relaxing. Simon was like a new person afterward! So chill.
Feeling refreshed!
Time to head out on the bullet train again. This cow is at the train station…like I said, the town is known for its prized beef.
Life is pretty chill on the train. It is such a smooth ride…
We made it to our final apartment in Tokyo and it was a real treat! Three bedrooms and a big living room and kitchen, all on the ground floor. I didn’t have to worry about the kids stomping or jumping too loudly.

Card game…

Japan Trip Wakamatsu City Castle

Tsuruga Castle was built in 1384.

A mini castle in front of the real castle…
There were many floors of museum pieces, maps and history and then a view of the city and grounds at the top.
The kids are comparing themselves to the average height of the samurais living in the castle in its day. Not much taller than them…
Vending machine madness. It was nice to have Mari to translate what the beverages were…
Xander wanted to try the yogurt soda but pushed the button for the yogurt water by mistake. We got to try both!
Another sushi train restaurant for dinner…

Japan Trip Days 11 and 12

Moving day!

We packed up and moved from our first apartment in Tokyo to stay with some friends in Yonezawa, Yamagata for the weekend.

Check out time was at 11am and our friends weren’t going to be home from work until after 5pm so we had some time to kill. We ate a slow brunch at Denny’s. Check out the kids menu and Pikachu pancakes!
The weather called for strong winds and they weren’t kidding! Capturing it in a photo isn’t so easy. ha!
Time to head out of the city with our first experience riding the bullet train, known as Shinkansen. Tickets are very expensive but prior to our trip I bought a 5 day flex pass for the Japanese Rail for each of us. Lotus rides free. The JR pass is a discounted pass for foreigners only and worked out great! We were able to use it for our trip to Yonezawa, our return trip, our later trip to see the snow monkey park and our final trip on the airport express train to go home. If I had planned a little tighter we could have used it a 5th day to see Mt. Fuji.
Mari and her son Hikaru stayed at our house three years ago through the travel website: We were excited to see them again in their home. After Jason and I is her husband Toshiyuki, then Mari and then Toshiyuki’s brother. His brother’s daughter also came for dinner. We had yakiniku, which is the grilling of meats and veg on the grill in the middle of the table…and getting our drink on.
The kids table. The blanket under the table topper is thick and heated. The kids are cozy tucking in for breakfast in the morning.

He brings his own 4 liter bottle of whiskey! They are a fun, generous family to welcome us like this.
We slept on traditional futon rolls on a tatami floor, especially designed for it. Apparently the flooring allows air to circulate so it doesn’t get moldy.
Hikaru was so excited to show everyone his room and ask if they wanted to have a slumber party with him.
Breakfast and a little Wii gaming the next morning…
Lotus and Hikaru are showing each other their language learning apps. Hikaru was eager to help Lotus with the Japanese quizzes then he showed us a quiz on his English app. Mari showed us her photo album from her trip to the States and we compared travel experiences. I loved seeing photos of my homemade pizza in her book. ha!
We compared jetlag and travel time. I told her the strawberries in Japan are so sweet and delicious! She agreed that strawberries from the states are not sweet and “taste like vegetable.” She told me our cucumbers are HUGE! I agreed US cucumbers are a lot bigger, but carrots in Japan are GIGANTIC. Seriously, look at these…

Mari showed the kids a Japanese card game and they played a couple rounds…
Then we rented a car they took us to Tsuruga Castle in Aizuwakamitse City. We finally got out in the daylight to see what the area looked like. They get very heavy snow and are known for their ski resort. They are also known for their fine quality beef. Anyway, the snow layer gets so heavy they use teepees of wood to protect the trees. As Simon said, “so they use trees to protect trees?” yes, I guess they do.

The neighbors house with protected trees…
Mari and Toshiyuki’s house…
Looking out the window, the drive was gorgeous! Snow sprinkled mountains and many tunnels that cut right through them.
We stopped for lunch along the way and the kids tried a ramen burger and ramen pizza.
This post is getting too long! I’ll work on the castle visit in the next post. 🙂

Japan Trip Days 8-10

The next few days were all about walking around Shibuya and the food!

Isaac really wanted to find a sushi place. On day 8, I took Isaac and Xander with me to do just that, while Jason hung out with the little guys. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure where to go and we ended up back at the first restaurant we ate at on day 1.

We had ramen and potstickers. I discovered the ramen tantan or ramtan, which has a red chili oil and a bit of a kick. Delicious!

The next day we found the sushi place, Uobei, tucked down a narrow side street. It has a digital ordering system (Genki) and the food comes zooming up on a delivery train. The kids (and Jason and I) absolutely loved it! It was so much fun. We went three times!

The kids each sat at their own station and ordered what and as much as they wanted. The prices were super low at only a dollar per plate. I know they loved the autonomy and the food was good too.


They even had junk food choices: cheesy fries, cheeseburger sushi and ice cream sundaes.

Our last meal before leaving our apartment was at the ramen place again. For some reason they didn’t bring silverware for the kids like they had been and Lotus and Simon worked on their chopstick skills.