The Simpson Journey

Four Simpsons on a journey through life and locations

Winter fun: Sapporo Snow festival and our first time on skis

In another list of accomplishments we have all learned to downhill ski.  While we were in Seattle visiting family in December Caleb went with is siblings to Steven’s Pass.  Caleb had good teachers (his siblings)  and has natural athletic ability and was confidently skiing down new trails.   He had such a wonderful experience he was very quick to try to convince our family that WE HAVE TO TRY SKIING once we get back to Japan.

Here he is with his 2 brothers, sister!

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Visiting Sapporo Snow Festival and skiing are two things that are very popular winter activities in Japan. So made plans to enjoy the winter with these activities.  We were able to snag a decent (small) apartment in Sapporo and get flights to this city in the northern island in Japan in February.  It wasn’t necessarily a budget friendly trip since we booked so late but since we are trying to embrace this time in Japan we decided to go for it.  It was a quick flight (a little over an hour)

We spent our 4 day 3 night trip enjoying ice sculptures, huge snow sculptures (some with light show projections), eating tasty ramen, and skiing.

Here are pictures from the snow festival and fun things we ate: ( hover over picture and click arrows to scroll through the pictures)
Sapporo: snow festival and food

While in Sapporo we could take a quick 30 minute bus or taxi ride to a small ski resort.  We got private lessons for our family since this was the first time skiing for 3 of us.  It was nice to have an instructor help us with our learning.  The kids were quick learners and quite fearless.  I on the other hand was quite terrified, fell over A LOT and squealed “I CANNOT STOP”  on at least one instance.  But through all the falls I continued to learn and was feeling much better by the second day.  I am so glad we decided to do this together.   Stay tuned to hear about the kids ski trip with school and Caleb and my get away!

Skiing pictures: ( hover over picture and click arrows to scroll through the pictures)
Sapporo Skiing

A Japanese birthday

On March 11 I celebrated my 35th birthday!  Typically we love to have all of our friends over and celebrate birthdays with a big party.  Since we know so few people her and I don’t think our neighbors in the apartment would appreciate a Simpson style dance party we spent the day a bit differently.  We were super blessed by some friends of ours who invited us into their home for a homemade pizza party on Friday.  Our first time being invited over to someone’s home.  We felt so loved, but also missed our Minnesota friends.

It was great that we had good weather and that my birthday landed on a Saturday this year.  No one enjoys having their birthday on a weekday, it’s just such a bummer.  We started the day out with some coffee and heading to the gym to do our Crossfit open workout 17.3 .  It’s a fun and exciting time at the gym for everyone.  The Open is a set of 5 weekly workouts happening on consecutive weeks in which athletes from all over the world compete to get the best scores at their local gyms.  Workouts are judged and scores are posted on crossfit.com leaderboard.  Top qualifiers from the area will go to a regional competition, the top qualifiers will go to the Crossfit Games (which you may have seen on TV) You can read more about the crossfit games workouts here  It was great to do something I love (crossfit) with someone I love (Caleb) and have the kids join in the excitement by attending the event!  Caleb is doing all the workouts RX, as prescribed,  I am doing a scaled version of the workout, which basically means it’s lower weights.  I’m hoping to be strong and healthy enough next year to do RX!  On a side note I sprained my thumb while we were skiing in February.  I was a little bit concerned that it would not allow me to compete in the open at all. But luckily Caleb was able to tape me up and working out hasn’t seemed to make it any worse as long as I am careful.

Overall the workout went pretty well for me.  I am still not super confident doing squat snatches at increasing weight for more than a couple in a row. So doing scaled version allowed me to do power snatch followed by the overhead squat, which worked well for me.    Caleb felt a bit off during the workout on Saturday and ended up repeating the workout on Monday and was able to get at least 10 more reps the second time.   He felt better about his second score. Way to go Caleb!

Here are some of our pictures from the workout: I love this first one!  (move mouse onto picture and click on right/ left arrows to see the album)

Crossfit open 17.3

After we got home I got to open my presents.  Caleb did such a good job shopping for special Japanese gifts.  I got a beautiful yukata (japanese robe) a musical jewelry box, and a  tea set that matches our sake set. I love everything!  So many pretty things that I will treasure forever!

So nice to get a good workout done in the morning so we could celebrate and EAT later. We went to an amazing steak lunch as a family.   The food was delicious and I was soooooo full but managed to eat (and share) my fun birthday dessert!  YUM! YUM YUM!

Caleb also surprised me by telling me he wanted to take me to a home improvement store to by some big house plants.  It’s funny the thing we miss. I never thought I would be so excited to go to a home improvement store on my birthday.  We were so impressed with the selection of things at this store it is totally like a Menards, Loews, or Home Depot in the US!  We drove the the store and parked in the parking garage.  It was awesome to walk around and look at the plants.  We used google translate and other websites to make sure we were getting good plants for our apartment.  We ended up getting 5 large plants and proceeded to try to fit them into our Prius.  I was doubtful, but of course the engineer was determined AND made them fit in the car.  If it wasn’t funny enough driving in the jungle car when we got home we loaded them all into our small elevator in our apartment.  As we were on our way up the elevator stopped to let some other people on.  To our neighbor’s surprise there we were peeking out from plants. I still laugh thinking about this.   We all decided it may be best if they waited for us to go up and unload the plants before they rode the elevator up.  Definitely a memorable and fun birthday! I even got 2 packages sent in the mail filled with goodies.  Thanks Mom and Dad for the fun quilting stuff! Thanks Amy for the US snacks and treats!!! I feel so loved!

On Sunday we went o a park and played badminton!  Pretty silly little game, but we had fun!

Here are some pictures from the rest of our weekend!

(move mouse onto picture and click on right/ left arrows to see the album)
Jenny's Birthday

A quilt inspired post

If you know me very well you know that I am somewhat crafty, and also somewhat impatient.  Over the years I have done some sewing, quilting, and various pinterest inspired crafts.  I enjoy being creative but often lack discipline.

I had worked 3 years on my last quilt.  I had a love hate relationship with it.  Just when I thought we were getting along, it would laugh in my face and wouldn’t lay flat or I’d sew the wrong pieces together.   When we were packing up to move to Japan I had finished the quilt top, but found it was much smaller than I wanted, and it WOULD NOT LAY FLAT!  I was about to chop the thing up and make pillow shams out of it.  Luckily my mother in law was visiting and rescued the poor quilt.  She had a couple suggestions and agreed to take it, add a border or two, then take it to a quilt shop to have it quilted.  I said good bye to the headache and hoped it would cooperate for her.  Well guess what?! We saw my in-laws at christmas time, and she had my quilt finished!  It is so beautiful!  I’m so happy that she was able to help get it finished, we both put lots of work into it and it makes me smile every time I walk past it. Thanks so much Colleen!!!!
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When I heard that there was an interest meeting for a Quilting Circle happening at Tokyo American Club (TAC) I emailed the leader and started to get more excited about getting back into quilting and sewing.   I left my sewing machine in storage in Minnesota, however as part of our expat package they gave me a “Spousal Allowance” for self development, education or to seek employment”.  I think of it as a bribe to try and keep me happy because “if mamma ain’t happy, no body’s happy!” So I began to research sewing machines. The voltage in Japan is 100V and in America it is 120 V.  which means not all appliances from America will work in Japan, and vice versa.  I spent hours and hours trying to figure out what type of machine I wanted I did internet research, asked the quilt group leader and multiple forums for foreigners. Did I want  something that was computerized? did embroidery? allowed free motion quilting? Should I buy an American machine then use a transformer?  Should I get a Japanese machine, then try to translate and entire manual? Or find an English manual? Do I try to buy in Japan? Buy in US and have shipped? Amazon.com? Amazon.jp? ebay? SO MANY CHOICES!

After much nervous research I decided to order a Brother HC1850  (click to read a review) off of of ebay.  It is American.  I decided, and Caleb encouraged me that it would be better to risk that the machine may not work optimally with a transformer than be frustrated from day 1 with NOT being able to read anything about the machine.  Plus if I like it, I can take it back with us to the US.   The machine is coming from the US and is not here yet but I am so excited to get it!  actually came today.!!! I unboxed it and watched the instructional cd, plugged into a step up/ step down transformer and it seems to be working just fine, at least for the couple lines of sewing i did! YayI  I am so happy for my new toy.

 

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Another task was trying to buy fabric.  with a little internet research (again- what did people do before the internet)  I discovered there is a whole area in Tokyo called Nippori fabric town.  It with filled with craft and fabric stores!

Check this out! It’s one (of many) articles I read about shopping for fabric.  I planned my trip, made myself a cheat sheet of possible words in Japanese I may need,  wore my walking shoes, and hopped on the train when the kids left for school.  In about 45 minutes, and 2 different subway lines I was there.  The Fabric Street was easy to find since it is a bit of a Tourist attraction, here were even arrows on the sidewalk.  Once I got to the right area I was a bit overwhelmed, there were so many little shops  that mostly looked the same. There was one bigger store I had heard about called “Tomato”  I followed google maps and made it to the Tomato Store.  It was 2 floors and had fabric in big rolls.  My quilt teacher told me I was supposed to buy Yukata fabric.  I had done some research but really didn’t know what I was looking for.  I was a bit confused because I hear this store was supposed to be really big and have 5 floors, yet the store I was in was only 2 floors and didn’t seem all the large.  After looking around a bit I finally figured out how to read a label on the fabric to find the section of cotton fabrics. I knew these would work for my quilt even if they were not a Yukata fabric.  I set to work choosing my 9 fabrics that would coordinate to make my “around the world quilt”  I decided to go with a blue, tan and pink color scheme.  Picking out fabrics for a quilt take quite a long time, and to add to the difficulty they were on long rolls as opposed to shorter bolts that I have been used to in American stores.  I probably spent an hour and a half in the Tomato store and finally made my selections.   I went to the counter and asked the store clerk to give me 2 meters of each of my fabrics. I mostly just held up two fingers and said 2 meters please.   I wanted to try one more chain fabric store so I hopped on a train and found some solid fabrics I liked at the second store.  This store seemed much more like a JoAnn’s Fabrics in the US.  The fabric was on smaller bolts, they had sewing machines, craft supplies, and accessories.  I was pretty exhausted but think I would have done just fine if I want to this store in the first place. Here are some pics from my little adventure, and the last one is from my quilting group. (click the arrows to scroll through pics)

Nippori Fabric Town

The next day I got some updated information about the supplies I needed for my quilting group. I found out I got wayyyyyy  too much fabric.  I should have been more persistent in looking for yukata fabric, or actually asked someone for help.  Yukata fabric is only 14 inches wide, and my fabric was over 40 inches wide.  I only needed 1 meter and I bought 2 meters. OOOPS!

I took a second trip to Nippori Fabric town a couple days later in search of a rotary cutter, mat and quilting ruler in inches.  Of course you cannot find a ruler in inches here.  I settled on getting the mat and rotary cutter.  AND found out that just a couple stores down and across the street was the bigger Tomato store.  I guess I was so focused on my google map, and looking at what was directly in front of me I didn’t consider that there was possibly something bigger and better just ahead.  I went to the bigger Tomato store. They had a huge selection and some discounted fabrics.  I also recognized the yukata fabrics that I was originally supposed to buy.  Oh well, my fabrics till work just fine. and I will be able to make more of a bed quilt instead of a wall hanging.

I had my first quilting group meeting and we discussed color theory( the way you want the colors of your quilt to be arranged) how to measure and cut with a rotary cutter.  I have used a rotary cutter before but found out that I probably rushed through it, and didn’t take the time to make sure that I was being precise.  This is probably one of the many reasons my last quilt was such a headache! There are 4 other ladies in the group, 2 have been quilting for quite some time, and 2 that are newer to quilting.  everyone seems nice and we ate lunch together in the cafe at TAC before leaving.   We won’t meet again for a couple more weeks but I have homework to get my fabric cut into strips and sewn together.  So far I have been trying to take my time and have patience as I cut the stips.  I got them all cut yesterday so soon I will get to use my new sewing machine to put them together.

Well congratulations if you made it all the way through this very crafty post.  I’m hoping to post about our trip to Sapporo, skiing, and snow festival next.

 

6 months in Tokyo

So it’s official, we have survived 6 months as an expat family in Japan.  I know we have some amazing stories to tell, and have been on some amazing journeys, seen new parts of the world and learned so much already but to be honest it has been really hard.

We took our home leave trip over Christmas break and we were so happy to see so many people we love.  We choose to fly” economy comfort”, instead of the “business class” we were allotted.    By sacrificing the lay down flat seats and other special privileges we were able to pay for multiple legs of our trip to see ALL OUR FAMILY  and seeing some friends in MN and STILL have some budget to spare for 2017!!

We made quite the journey we traveled from Tokyo, Japan to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we stayed 3 days and had a tight schedule to maximize time with our friends.  From Minneapolis we flew to Chicago, Illinois.  My parents picked us up at the airport and we got to spend a week in the wide open spaces of the country. From Illinois we then flew to Seattle, Washington, where all of Caleb’s family flew, or drove in.  We spent a week at an Air B&B home.  From Seattle we made the last leg of travel back to Tokyo.  It was hard to leave each destination, not knowing when we would be back again.  I believe it was most emotional for us to leave Seattle possibly because it was our return flight to Japan but possibly because it is still our desire to some day live in Seattle.  Even with the winter chill the landscape, mountains, and nature were wonderful to take in.  Who knows what the future holds!

It was amazing to see SO many people we love and that love us.  I think what struck me the most is that in Japan, while we are so far away, it is easy to feel isolated, and lonely.  We walk around most of the time feeling like a “nobody” to everyone. Our entire Facebook feed fills up while we are sleeping, yet is unchanged while we are awake. There aren’t many people that will laugh at our jokes, or seem happy to see us, we don’t get hugs from people at church, and very few people in our time zone seem to want to develop a deeper friendship with us.  (I will say there are a couple  exceptions and for you we are very grateful) While we were were in Minnesota, Illinois and Washington we were surrounded by people who actually care about us.  People who took time out of their schedules to hang out with us, welcome us into their homes and show us kindness.  I made a joke on and off during the trip that I was “gathering hugs”  Thank you for being our friends and family! Thanks for all the hugs! 

Here are some photos from our trip!

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I recently posted on facebook regarding one of our favorite children’s books, “Fredrick” by Leo Lionni.  It is a wonderful story of a family of mice.  In the story all of the  mice except for one  are constantly working and preparing for the future.  Fredrick is the outsider, he spends his time gathering  sun rays, colors and words.  I won’t spoil the story completely…. But Caleb has referred to me as our family’s Fredrick lately.  I am not used to not working….. I have always had some sort of job since high school and have felt happy about contributing to our family income in some way but now I am not “working” yet to work I do is valuable.  I  take naps, spend time outdoors, gather hugs, read books, blog (not as often as I’d like) , and take classes on photography, flower arranging and Japanese because I know that my family needs me to be alive, engaged and happy this is how I gather the sun rays.  I need to be their Fredrick,  I WANT to be their Fredrick. I want to work out with my husband every day at 6:15 am because I love spending time with him and love the challenges of Crossfit.  I want to be available and alert when my kids get home from school and need help navigating homework, friends, and teachers in a new school in a new country.  I want to be engaged and loving towards my husband after my kids are in bed, dinner is made and we settle in for the night.

Here is a link to a youtube version of the story book:

Funny things:

-While in the US I found myself eavesdropping all the time.  I guess I was just happy to hear people speaking english and also realizing I often listen in on Japanese conversations hoping I can maybe pick up a word or two and validate my Japanese lessons.  But truth be told,  I am a very slow learner when it comes to foreign languages.  

-Target is glorious! And Kohls.  We had such a fun time shopping at American stores. The Target in Seattle even had a escalator for carts! So cool!  If you know us very well you know that neither Caleb or I are huge into brand names or feel we need to spend top dollar on our clothing.  But let’s be honest we like what is familiar we like to have clothes that fit in styles we like.  Months before travelling to the US we created a shared shopping list using the “AnyList” app (is you haven’t heard of it, it’s great).  Here are some items on our list:  workout clothes, insulated mugs, Aunt Jemima syrup, grape jelly, crystal light, dental floss, deodorant, dress shirts, kids socks and underwear, ibuprofen, benadryl and sudafed. I am happy to say we managed to get most of the things off our list.

-We still remember how to drive on the right side of the road.  We just recently got a car in Tokyo  It was a long process but Caleb fought to get us our Prius. We have taken a couple weekend trips to go to an aquarium, shopping or other errands.  Before moving we both got our International driving permit.  It’s actually really easy.  All you have to do is go in to AAA and apply. It allows you to drive in almost any country for up to a year before getting your license in that country.  I have not quite yet braved the driving in Tokyo but Caleb has done a great job learning to drive on the left and navigate the signs in Japanese.  While in the US for our home leave trip we were happy either rent a vehicle or use our own van, that has been in storage! And we remembered how to drive!!!

 

A little more Seoul

Thanks for reading everyone! Here are some more updates about our Trip to Seoul South Korea from our little blogger!

Day 3: Wednesday 12th of September 2016

My dad had his first day of work in South Korea today. We got lunch at Mcdonald’s. I got a Mcchicken sandwich with a large fri and slushie and the flavor was strawberry lemonade. Today we caught up on up on our sleep and we went downstairs to this shopping mall that’s HUGE. Then after shopping we just stayed home and relaxed at home for about 10 minutes. Then my dad came home from work. After he got ready we went to go.

He announced that we would going to a traditional Korean restaurant for diner. So we got in a taxi and went down the street to the restaurant. We ordered two orders of chicken, and one order of boneless lamb and two Sprites for Zeke (my brother) and me. Apparently you get to cook it for yourself!! There are people that come around, but you mostly cook it yourself. My highlight today was going to the restaurant because you get to cook it yourself!! I didn’t really have a low light today.   

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Day 4: Thursday 13th of September 2016

Today we went to the War Memorial Of Korea. This is a place where you get to see ships and planes that use to  fight in wars.

When you walk into the War Memorial you  see this HUGE statue of thirty eight people and soldiers. This statue is split into two parts one part on one side and the other part one the other side. In the middle of the people and soldiers there is this HUGE and when I say HUGE I mean REALLY, REALLY, REALLY HUGE spear like thing, it looked really cool. Then if you walk a little more into the park you see flags, the flags of the WORLD. Then you look up and you  see this HUMONGOUS building it looked like the White House. If you walk over to the left then you see “The Statue Of The Brothers” this pamphlet that I have beside me it states “This statue depicts a real-life story  of two brothers who fought in the Korean War on opposite sides and were accidentally reunited on the battlefield ,and symbolizes the Koreans’ wish for national peace, reconciliation, and reunification.”. But if you walked to the right of the “White House” you saw this BIG, BIG ship this is a ship that is a replica of the actual vessel that was attacked during the second Yeonpyeong Naval Battle. If you keep on going right then you see an outdoor exhibit full of planes, aircraft, missiles, machine guns, helicopters, tanks, and ships.

Today we also went to this Design Lab. This is a place where you walk around and see these AMAZING buildings! For diner we went down the stairs and went up to our favorite restaurant and they said “Sorry we are closing”. Then we went up to our second favorite restaurant and we noticed that half of their chairs were up. So we went back up to the hotel and ordered room service. My highlight today was going to The War Memorial Of Korea. My low light today was the diner thing. I Liked everything we did this Thursday so I don’t have a low light.

Jenny: Walking through this museum was really informational.  I am sure somewhere in a world history class some time I learned about the relationships between Korea, South Korea and Japan but I had never understood the magnitude of the wars.  I know we just scratched the surface of understanding.  We were happy to see lots of US military vehicles and aircraft at the museum too!

(Click arrows for a slideshow of day 4)

War Memorial, Design Lab

 

Day  5: Friday 14th of September 2016

Today I went to to this REALLY cool aquarium. There were all sorts of creatures. There are 14 sections in the aquarium. The first section is called “Rainbow Lounge”. This is a place where you check in,get tickets, and put your things in lockers.      

That’s all I have time to write for now. 

Jenny:  Annabelle did such a great job keeping track of our adventures.  She wanted to use my computer whenever we were back at the room.  So fun for her, but we are rethinking leaving one of our computers back in the states.  With both kids using computers for homework and gaming we may need to purchase another one in the near future.

I’ll add a little more about the aquarium since she didn’t have the chance.  It really was amazing.  To be honest, I thought it would be lame since it was in the basement of a mall.  It turns out I was wrong.  I was happy to have options of things to do while Caleb was working. I wish he would have been able to join us in the aquarium we enjoyed it so much.  They had lots of different exhibit areas some were almost like a petting zoo, the kids got to touch star fish.  In another area you could stick your finger tips into this tank and “doctor fish” would come and eat off the dead skin cells.  It was crazy.  I tried it and I couldn’t stop laughing!!!!!  There were areas with Freshwater fish of Korea and lots of huge tanks with sharks, rays, dolphins, seals and manatee.  Honestly I could have sat for house just watching them. So much fun!

(click arrows for slideshow of day 5)

Aquarium

Jenny: Seoul Overview

CONS:

Subway doors close much quicker and don’t open quickly if something is stuck in them.  On our first subway trip in Seoul we purchased tickets, studied the map and got ready to board the train to the place.  There was quite a crowd getting off the train at this location so we waited in line to board and began moving in when we were able. The kids were in line ahead of Caleb and I as we shuffled in the doors shut with Caleb stuck in them.  He really didn’t have much leverage to push them back open.   Since I was behind him I tried to pry them open.  After about 5 seconds or so (it seemed so long) they reopened and we were both able to board the train.  We were all a little shocked at the experience.  I feel like Caleb was like Hulk making sure the kids didn’t get sent off on the subway alone.  In case you are wondering we have had discussions with the kids about what to do if they somehow get separated from us on the subways or in stations.  I also now have noticed emergency stop buttons in the stations and subway trains.

The hotel was not really family friendly.  It was mostly for business men.  The swimming pool was for adults or children over the age of 12.  So we lied and told them the kids were 12 and 13 so we could swim one day.  It was mostly a lap swimming pool, so the kids couldn’t do cannon balls and goof around like they wanted to but the 3 of us swam laps a bit one day.

Caleb realized its hard to balance family time, vacation and work stuff on a business trip.  We had a couple days together as a family before the conference started, and we tried to fill in other things during times he could slip away the other days.  It was a good experience but a bit exhausting as well.

PROS:

We were pleasantly surprised with our visit to Seoul.  Most people were welcoming and often surprised to see Americans.  While we were at the palace grounds a group of young adults were so enamored by our children that they asked to take a selfie with them.  The kids liked feeling like movie stars!

We were often thanked by  strangers for visiting.  I am not sure if this is mostly because Seoul’s economy benefits greatly from tourism or because of the good standing relationship and alliance between America and South Korea.

When we were on the subway one time an older gentleman offered his seat to our children.  Our kids are not new to public transportation and know that they should give seating priority to elderly, or people with small children but this gentleman INSISTED they sit next to him.  During our 20 minute subway ride we found out he was absolutely intrigues by our children.  We found out he did not know much English, he didn’t hear well but from his hand gestures and smiles and some speaking he smiled and commented on how he thought it was funny that the kids were wearing shorts.  In South Korea they don’t wear shorts at this time of year.  He also mentioned that the kids had different shaped heads. LOL.  He was so happy to see American children he explaining to everyone on the train that our kids were sitting down because he asked them to. He was even offering his seat up to people so they could sit next to our kids.  It was quite humorous.

The weather was gorgeous!

Our family works well together with modified sleeping and eating arrangements.  I can’t believe all the new foods we are trying.  Although when we are at home I have found ways for us to eat mostly the same dies as we were when we were living in MN.

Over a great trip!  So happy for these travel experiences.

 

 

 

Our trip to Seoul, South Korea

October 9- 15 we spent time in Seoul,  South Korea!  Caleb had a work conference there so we decided to to take advantage of our time in Asia and see the sights of Seoul!  We even pulled the kids out of school!  You only live once!  We are so happy to be able to see this part of the world and learn about old rich cultures.  We contacted the kids’ teachers and asked how we could keep up with their studies and learning while traveling.  They worked on math practice and reading daily in addition to other tasks.  Annabelle’s teacher requested that she keep a daily diary to tell of our adventures…… minimum 3 sentences per day. She loved this task and did such a good job (writing much more than 3 sentences per day). I thought you would benefit from her tremendous record keeping and research from online sites and pamphlets so this 10 year old will be featured as a guest blogger in our Korea posts!   I hope you enjoy!

In other recent news I have begun to take photography classes. It has been a long term goal of mine to figure out how to use our DSLR camera.  So I have joined a group of 6 other women and we are taking workshop type classes with a professional photographer here in Tokyo!  Our first class met just before our trip to Korea so I used this a time good time to practice!  I shot so many photos and haven’t even begun to edit them but wanted to share our cool experiences with you!

So here you go……. a 10 year old guest blogger and lots of pictures.

We definitely learned something form our last trip to the airport.  We realized we do not know how to get to the airport from our house via subway in an easy stress-free manner! So this time we booked our tickets ahead of time on an Airport Limousine Bus and took a taxi to the hotel pick up spot in the morning.  It was a wonderful  experience.  We made it to the airport with enough time to eat ice cream before our flight!

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Our 2.5 hour flight to Korea went well.  The kids played games on their phones while us adults read books, napped and enjoyed the peace.    When we arrived in Seoul and stepped outside the first thing we noticed was the cool beautiful weather.  Such a nice reprieve from the humidity and rain we had been experiencing in Tokyo!

We were ready to say goodbye to rainy Tokyo and hello to sunny Seoul!

Seoul            Seoul

We had an hour drive in a Limo Bus from the airport and we we redirected to the partner hotel because they had switched our reservation for some reason.  It was a short taxi ride around the block. The two hotels were connected by a mall underground.  Then needed to switch rooms once we got to the hotel to get better sleeping arrangements for everyone.  We ended up getting a king suite room.  It worked wonderfully as the kids had their own sleeping space with a roll out bed and chase lounge and we could have time alone and a king bed after they went to bed.  Caleb and I chuckled remembering the days sleeping in the same room as our small children in hotels.  IIMG_1673 remember putting Anna to sleep in a pack and play and  then Caleb and I both diving on to the other side of the bed to hide on the floor until she fell asleep.  We weren’t very successful because we kept laughing!  We were all exhausted from travel and grabbed  food from the food court in the mall below our hotel.  We had some amazing spring rolls, chicken stir fry and spicy beef stir fry.  Zeke surprised us and LOVED the spicy beef.  He just kept eating it and said “Oh yeah my lips are burning” If you know anything about this child’s past relationship with food you would remember he was a very cautious eater as a small child.  We would reward the child with stickers and prizes for trying foods.  It was so hard to get him to eat anything besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  He is growing up and actually enjoying flavors of foods!  Way to go Zeke! After eating we headed to our room for sleep!

ANNABELLE: I really enjoyed my first day it South Korea!!!!!!! We went to three different places. The first one was Gyeongbokgung Palace. It is a place where we got toured around the palace grounds. I learned that the Kings and Queens were separated in different areas of the palace. The architecture looked like something out of a movie. When we walked through the front gate, I could imagine Korean warriors charging from either side of me!!!

J:  Check out this site to read about the huge palace grounds http://www.royalpalace.go.kr/html/eng/main/main.jsp

ANNABELLE: The second thing we did on our first day was going to the street market. This is a place where there are little shops in tents that sell all kinds of things. We saw things like, clothes, keychains, food, Halloween costumes, Halloween props, and other things. I bought a choker and sunglasses!!!

The last and most cool thing we did on our first day, we went up into Seoul Tower!!!!!!!!! First we had to walk up 649 stairs in this HUGE park! We didn’t know that there was a cable car! When we got up the 649 stairs we first saw the tower then walked in a little more and saw these locks locked to each other. So my dad looked it up on google and he read an article that said they were “Love Locks”. Caleb explained, couples that are really in love  would prove it and climb the 649 stairs for their love. Then when (or if) they got to the top they would “lock up” their love for them by putting a lock on another lock❤. My highlight today was going to Seoul Tower because I liked how much things to see and do.

J: Here is a slideshow of Day 1 Sightseeing in Seoul: (click the arrows on the left and right to scroll through the pictures!)

http://Palace, Market, Seoul Tower

 

ANNABELLE:

Today we went to Seolleung’s Royal Tomb. It is a place where two Korean Kings and one of their Queen were buried over 600 years ago. They are still in their original spots surrounded by statues that “guard” them. There are other sites to see. An example is the “Spirit Road” which is a road that leads to the tombs of the two Kings and one Queen. The Queen’s name was Jeonghyeon. One of the King’s name was Seolleung, he was the ninth ruler of Korea. The other ruler that was buried in that area was Jeongneung the eleventh ruler of Korea.

Today we also visited a temple called  Bongeunsa Temple. This is a temple that Korean people come to visit worship and meditate. There are multiple buildings. Some are for singing, and some are for being quiet and meditating. I could hear them singing this little song. It was in Korean of course, but it was still interesting. My highlight today was going to Bongeunsa Temple. I enjoyed all of the things we did today.

J: Here is a slideshow of our 2nd day sightseeing  in Seoul

http://Temple, Tomb, Food

 

Stay tuned there is more to come.

Another Weekend, Another Festival

This weekend we walked around 15 minutes from our apartment and attended the Belgium Beer Festival. With 113 different beers, live music, and food it was was a fun night for the whole family. This was held in the very trendy and popular Roppongi Hills shopping area and despite all the people there we randomly met up with two different expat families that we knew through our kids school! It was a lot of fun to hang out with some other expats and enjoy the event. Zeke was especially a free spirit, dancing like crazy. At one point he danced with a Japanese young person who thought he was a blast and then he lead the conga line that went around the whole venue during one of songs.

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So everyone had a great time and the kids loved the chocolate waffles that were made from something like brownie batter.  Yum!  I guess we should have at least taken a selfie.

It has been raining so much lately that we were very happy to get out of the house and enjoy the night. We have finally experienced a few cooler days but in general it still feels super hot to me.

-caleb

The Daily Grind

Things are feeling a bit more normal here.  We are fitting into daily routines and schedules.  I figured you may be curious what our days look like here.

4-6 days a week Caleb and I have been getting up at 5:45 am  to go to 6:15 am crossfit class at Chikara  Crossfit.   Our bikes help us get there much more quickly!  We are enjoying this time together and building some skill and strength.  Recently I set a new PR (Personal Record)  for unbroken double-unders.  I got 26 unbroken!  Yeah!  The programming is different here than what we were used to at our old gym and they use the metric system so that has taken some time to get used to.  We have been focusing a lot on tempo training and endurance training but this week we got to try for some one rep max oly lifts so that was fun.  This week Caleb hit TWO new PRs for Hang Clean @109 kilo and Power Snatch @ 76 kilo!  Way to go Caleb! I almost got a video but someone walked right in front of me before i could get it! 🙁  Here is a picture of us during one of our first Crossfit classes in Tokyo!

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I also joined a group of girls at the gym for a challenge event.  We had 2 hours to complete a set of 10 challenges through the city.  We followed clues and ran from location to location.  We may not have won the event but we had lots of fun dressing up, (even though we were the only ones in costume) working out, and laughing together.

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I cannot believe I am willingly getting up early to go workout but it is going surprisingly well.   To make our morning work outs possible the kids wake up to alarms on their phones at 7 am and get up, get dressed for school and eat breakfast that I have prepared ahead of time for them.  We are back home by 7:30 and I pack lunches, while Caleb showers and gets ready for work.  The kids are out of the house by 7:45 to walk to their bus.  They have about a 5 minute walk to the bus stop.  We run a tight ship to get everything done in the mornings but it seems to be going fine for all of us!

Here is a sneak peak into some of my make ahead “overnight oats” and of course a pic of the cute kids!

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Caleb heads out the door around 8:15 and I spend some time doing chores before I shower and get ready for my day.  I am adjusting to being a housewife  (“sufu” in Japanese).  I enjoy having my own space during the day.  I try to keep up with housework, laundry, scheduling, grocery shopping and meal planning.  I also have a Japanese lesson every other week and will be taking a photography class starting next week.  I have attended multiple social events at the kids school and the Tokyo American club.  These 2 networks will be very important to keep me connected.

I recently made (another) trip to Ikea to get some household goods and artwork to liven up our walls.  You will be happy to know that I successfully make it home via subway with my purchases.  After making my purchases I spent 30-45 minutes trying to figure out the best, most efficient way for me to cart my purchases home.  The biggest item (and biggest problem) was a large chalkboard map that I couldn’t resist!   We do not have access to a car yet.  I took this challenge on with my little cart, bungee straps, rope and elastic cargo nets.  I got lots of strange looks as I carried them up and down stairs getting to the train on the way home. .  It wasn’t until I was walking home from the station and it began to RAIN that I almost lost it.  I stood there, both hands full and tried to figure out how I was going to hold an umbrella while rolling a cart and carrying a large map.  My efforts proved unsuccessful after I attempted rearranging my load to potentially hold the umbrella.   As I was trying to rearrange things I was getting frustrated. I was  finally getting tired of people staring.  I lost my patience at one point in which I stared back and gave an exaggerated smirk to a man staring at me.    I ended up walking home in the rain occasionally standing under an awning for shelter.

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I guess my hard work paid off, as I like my (almost) finished product! IMG_1247

The kids are involved a couple after school clubs:  Zeke is taking a Medieval Combat Fighting class in which they build weapons out of foam and other materials and learn how battles were fought in Medieval times.  Both kids are taking a rock climbing class.  These are great opportunities for them to meet more friends.  Annabelle was quick to make friends with a girl named Lauren from day one. They already enjoy texting and facetiming after school!  Zeke is keeping an open mind but has not quite found his niche yet.  We know these things take time.   Over the summer Zeke has developed a big interest in art.  He spends lots of time sketching, tracing, and trying out new art techniques.  He even got some alcohol based  markers.  These Copic markers are unique because you can blend colors with them!

Caleb often arrives home around 6 pm and we often have dinner and do a family activity.  We have recently enjoyed watching old episodes of the Simpsons, playing pictionary, Peanuts, or video games.  We have all been spending more time reading.  Here is our book list:   Zeke is rereading the Percy Jackson Series, Anna is on Book 2 of Harry Potter, Jenny is on book  6 of Harry Potter and Caleb is reading Game of Thrones.

Anna has also been reading to our new friend.

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As you may have guessed after our last post we recently adopted a sweet little turtle.  I visited multiple aquatic  pet shops, and did some research online to find out what  would be needed to care for a turtle.  We ended up getting a “Stinkpot Musk” turtle.  Her shell is only about 1 inch big now, and full grown she will be about 4-5 inches.  We named her Suki , it means beloved in Japanese.  She  has already brought excitement and joy to our family as we all enjoy watching her swim, climb, eat and sleep.

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To read more about this breed of turtles go here.

In October our sweet kitty Sawyer will be able to join us!

Our weekends are pretty open and we will sometimes find a festival or event around Tokyo to do.  We are still hopping between churches and are not sure where we will land.  We may try to get involved in small groups soon to see what community life is like outside of the church walls.

That’s all for now, but look for more updates coming soon. Thanks for reading!

Hong Kong (part 2)

Apologies! After the last Hong Kong post I realized I left out some other pictures we took while we were at Ngong Ping village and  Tian Tan Buddha! The architecture and details really were amazing.  Some areas prohibited pictures to be taken and would not let us enter but here are a couple more pictures!

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Day 2 in Hong Kong started out really slow since it was raining and most of the things we had planned to do were outdoors. We wandered around the courtyard and the mall below the hotel a bit. We found some delicious donuts at the grocery store bakery and enjoyed some coffee. Eventually, and after a wardrobe change, we decided to venture out and head to Victoria Harbor and Victoria peak even though it was still drizzling.

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In order to get to Victoria peak we needed to take a taxi to the Harbor, then a ferry across to Hong Kong island.  The ferry was very fun.  We had to purchase small plastic tokens from a vending machine to use for the ferry.  We boarded and got on the lower deck.  It was a fun 10 minute ride to Hong Kong Island and was very cheap something like $2 for kids and 3 for adults. We caught a sunset while on the ferry on the way home.  The last picture in this group is the Star Ferry boat.

 

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Victoria peak was highly recommended by the tourist blogs and research I did. One other cool thing is that there is a tram that goes straight up the mountain. When we arrived at the tram station the line was so long. We were afraid we would be standing in line for 2 hours before we even got on the darn thing. This is where my research paid off. From what I read you can take a taxi up the mountain and ride the tram down to get the tram experience. We aren’t huge on waiting in unnecessary lines so we found a place to hail a taxi (read more about Hong Kong taxi’s later) and headed up the mountain. In general taxis in Hong Kong had proved to be very inexpensive,  but the the trip up the mountain was a little more pricey than the local trips we had taken.  The cost was the equivalent of about $30 USD but totally worth it. The road was very winding and the driver dove pretty fast. Maybe it was just me who was being tossed around a bit because my seat belt buckle was stuck and I could not fasten my seat belt. We eventually made it up to the peak and walked around the tourist area a bit. My research also told me that there was no need to pay the extra fee to go to the special viewing deck. Just down a path there was a lookout! By now the weather was cleared up a bit and we had some great views of the Hong Kong Skyline on Kowloon and the bay. Very cool. After walking around a little bit we were ready to head back down via tram. We waited in a much shorter line and bought tickets for our ride down.

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Ok, I admit I did not understand the hype of riding a tram down the mountain but it was quite crazy. Everyone jammed into these 2 train like cars. There was enough space for about 30 people to sit on wooden benches, and another 20 people stood in the aisles. Once were loaded we headed down the mountain. It was much more of a thrill than I anticipated becasue a times you felt it was quite possible for the tram to race down the hill out of control. The Maximum Steepness: 48 % Track Gradient: 4–27 degrees https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_Tram  We even caught a bit of the ride on video for you.  I enjoy roller coasters more but this was a unique ride. 🙂

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Near the tram station is Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Garden and Hong Kong park. It was nice to be out in nature a bit but it was very hot and humid. We were quite uncomfortable climbing stairs and being bitten by mosquitoes. We were disappointed to find out that the Conservatory and aviary were closed for the day. We followed the paths found a waterfall, lake and lots of cute TURTLES.

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If you didn’t know I have become quite fascinated with turtles lately. Actually, I have always thought turtles were quite cute. My fascination only increased when we went to Mexico in 2012 and we actually got to swim with sea turtles when we were scuba diving. Consider yourself warned: I may end up getting a new pet in the near future. I am researching breeds of turtles that stay small. The pet store near us has a “Stinkpot musk” turtle that I am currently considering!

On the way back to the hotel be decided we should eat some traditional Chinese/ Hong Kong  food.  We looked through the menus at the restaurants in the mall at the base of our hotel.  We ended up going to Tim’s (yeah I know it is a really authentic name)  for some traditional Hong Kong food: Peking Duck! None of us had ever had this dish before but when we told the hostess we were interested in eating Peking dusk we were immediately treated like honored guests.   We were all happy to rest our weary feet and quickly dove in to the celery and scallions dipping them in a  sauce provided.  Soon after our duck arrived on a platter, with it’s head still attached.   It was all eyes on the chef as he carved the duck right at our table.   We were very surprised that the restaurant manager, several servers, and other tables were staring!  The chef presented us with the platter of sliced duck and we were given some thin crepes.  It was at this point that we realized WE HAD NO IDEA how to eat this meal.  Thankful for google (Again) we quickly learned how to properly eat the Peking duck, wrapping the thin slices of duck in the crepe, adding the celery and scallions and hoisin sauce.  So I guess we weren’t supposed to have eaten all those vegetables they had put on our table.  oops!  Soon the server realized our error and brought some more out.   The Peking duck tasted really good, the fatty skin was crispy, meat was tender and flavors were good.  Upon further speculation we feel that there should have been more meat on the duck but then again we had never eaten a whole duck before.   Maybe they are much leaner than a chicken!  Hmmmm, thoughts to ponder.   The remainder of the meat was stir fried with rice and brought over at a later time.  Over all it was a great meal and we left the restaurant full and happy!

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For your reading pleasure:  This is a tutorial on how to eat Peking duck:

http://www.worldhum.com/features/how-to/how_to_eat_peking_duck_in_beijing_20071128/

 

Thanks for reading!  Look for more Hong Kong posts and other posts too…. we have so much more to share!

 

Tokyo Festivals 8/27

So this last weekend we did not have any big plans so Saturday we decided to check out some of the happenings around Tokyo. We all rode our bikes for the whole day and probably saved $50 versus riding the bus. There was rain off and on during the day but we were able to avoid it for the most part. The first event we went to was the Super Yosakoi dancing competition with over 100 groups competing. Here is the description from the event:

The original yosakoi dance started life in Kochi in 1954, where it was intended to help revitalise the struggling post-war economy, and Tokyo’s own Super Yosakoi festival has been going for over a decade now. The event sees 100-odd teams of brightly attired dancers trying to outdo each other as they strut their stuff to the rhythm of the naruko – a type of clapper that the people of Kochi originally used to scare birds away from their fields.

Anna bought a naruko that she decorated herself. The dances were very different from one group to the next, sometimes very traditional feeling, others very contemporary with moves stolen from hip hop and other styles. Here are some of the pictures and videos from the event. Continue reading

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