Costco Haul #2 (May) – Family MealPrep

So today the kiddos and I ran to Costco to do a quick shooping trip. We were low on some basic every day items and we had to stock up on our favorite Costco fruit as well. While we were there we did find some new goodies to try and we found a couple inexpensive household items as well. You can check out the video on youtube here and you can also check out the list of what exactly we bought down below.

Some of the fods (ok, basically all of them) are for meal prepping and following our meal plan for the next few weeks or so. As you read below I will list how or what we will be using them for in the prep. I will also try to film some additional meal prepping as family meal prepping can be hard to come by on video. However – I do think that meal prepping for an entire family is really important. Actually – I think it is more impotant than just meal prepping individually because if you get off track for a couple meals with an entire family you could basically spend an entire weeks grocery budget in just a couple “accidental” fast food meals.

Costco doesn’t cover all of our grocery or meal prep needs. in fact, I think many things at costco are over priced. There are some things that I like to buy there because they are not readily availble everywhere else. THere are other things that I buy there because they are in bulk and I don’t want to keep running back to the store for them contantly when we run out. There are some things that are great deals. Stick to your budget and stick to what you actually need for your meal plan and household supplies. If you keep those things in mind then Costco can be a good solution, if you do not keep these basic things in mind, you will max out your card in there really quickly!

For today there were some basics needed as well as some random splurges!

Here is the break down from this mornings haul:

  • two bathroom rugs… not necessary but awesome
  • towels …ours were raggedy!
  • Bananas (organic)
  • Water (40 pack)
  • dish soap
  • almond milk (3pk organic)
  • juice boxes (organiz 40 count)
  • ziploc (variety size pack)
  • wonton ramen
  • granola bars (60 count)
  • applesauce (20 count)
  • activia yogurt (20 pack)
  • strawberries
  • raspberries
  • asparagus
  • organic apples
  • asparagus
  • cutie oranges
  • tasters choice coffee
  • blueberries
  • celery sticks
  • eggs
  • daves bread (2 loafs)
  • colby cheese
  • monterey jack cheese
  • fresh corn
  • avacados
  • organiz spinach
  • organic tofu
  • panko cod
  • korean dumplings

 

Homemaker Tag

Recently I watched a few really fun and cute homemaker tag videos on youtube. I thought that they were really funny and I thought that most of the questions were good for any mom.. not just homemaker/stay at home moms. I also thought that the questions would be fun for homeschooler moms as it is interesting to see how homeschooling moms juggle household duties along with schooling children at the same time. We all know that the balancing act can get a little crazy from time to time! I enjoy watching these tags for fun and hearing the similarities to others and getting soem other good ideas on how to balance life!

Homemaker Tag:

1. Have you ever had anyone say anything negative to you about staying at home/ working from home?

No, at leastnot directly to me. However, I do feel feel a bit weird sometimes when other moms ask me what I do. Then when I tell them I stay at home but also homeschool they usually want some information about homeschooling in general if they do not know about it. Sometimes if someone knows about homeschool they have some type of experience with it then they will want to talk about it. I think that homeschooling actually allows others to think that i “do” something all day. When I just say im a stay at home mom I get the imporession that people think I do nothing all day. The fact is, staying home can be lots more work than going to a full time job. I guess it just depends on your own responsibilities at home or a job though?

2. What is your favorite/least favorite part of staying home(or working from home)?

My favorite part of being a stay at home mom is being able to homeschool my kids. They get to have one on one instruction and they get to try a lot of unique things because of this. Our years homeschooling in Japan were really great because we got to experience a lot more of what Japan had to offer than if we were stuck in classrooms every day. I also enjoy that we can take the same scheduled days off as my husband. This gives us time to do things as a family.

My least favorite thing about staying home is that when you are home all day there is always more to do! When you are staying home you can always find more to schedule, clean, cook, or organize! I think some days that I feel like I have done a million tasks but still have a million more I wish I could have gotten to!

3. What is your favorite/least favorite chore?

Favorite – making the beds. Beds are quick to make and it makes the room look so much more put together so quickly. So I think its a good way to make yourself feel like you have made a lot of progress!

Least – the dishes! I hate the dishes. Plus our dish washer isnt the best so you have to practically hand wash plus then wash in the dishwasher.

4. What time do you wake up/ go to bed?

It depends. We have a weird schedule right now so most days we get up at 3 or 4am. We go to bed anywhere from 9 to 12. It really

5. Do you put anything on in the background while you clean/work/cook (tv, radio, podcast, etc.)

yes – I put on kids learning podcasts sometimes when my kids are just playing and straightening up. Soemtimes we put on youtube music like cafe/coffee shop music.

6. Do you get dressed most days or stay in PJs?

Get dresses of course! However this depends on my schedule. I workout early in the morning. If I have to do sometype of cleaning that I know will get my outfit feeling gross then I will do it in my workout clothes really quick and then shower and change oafter that. So really I work out and maybe clean before I wear what I will be wearing all day.

7. How often do you do your hair and makeup?

Hair – everyday. I know its not ideal for hair but I wash my hair usually every day. Then I blow dry it a little later so it doesnt take as long to dry.

makeup – I dont do my make up every single day. i just feel like it is too much for my skin to do that. But I do put on make up on all the days that I am hanging out with my husband. But if he has a really long work day then I will just do a facial clense type of day and do a mask and lots of lotions and things like that and skip regular heavy makeup to give my skin a break.

8. What is your “trouble zone” or area in your home that needs the most help?

Laundry. I can never keep up. There is always laundry in my washer and dryer and hampers. It makes me insane!

9. How often do you find yourself getting distracted?

Sometimes I am distracted by the needs of people ni my house. So for example one of our whiteboards feel off the wall. i put it back up and it fell off again. Then while I was putting it back up my daughter asked for help with something… after that help she wanted a drink.. and then needed to have her dinner.Then she needed help with the potty.  Then my son needed dinner too,  then my daughter was finished with her dinner after 2 bites and needed help cleaning it up because she is only 3. by that time my husband had finished his shower and was wanting to start studying … then he saw the whiteboard down and wondered “why didnt you try to put it back up?” this type of thing is the story of my life.

10. Do you enjoy staying home or do you miss going to a job everyday?

I love staying home although going to a regular job i admit would be way less work than staying home!

11. What is your “never ending” chore?

laundry. no explanation needed. between kids, workout clothes, husbands work clothes, and just everyones regular day clothes, plus sports uniforms. omg.

12. What is your favorite way to relax or have “me” time?

I dont. lol well blogging is my me time. I like to watch youtube as me time sometimes really early in the morning while i run on the treadmill. This is silly but I also like to buy inexpensive candles and burn them during homeschool time. A scented candle kind of makes things peaceful for school time.

13. How often does your husband/significant other chip in?

He works super long hours right now and that is helpful to all of us. He is providing all these great things for us ot stay home and do homeschool. He helps with anything that I would ask but I prefer not to ask beacuse he goes to a regular job with much longer hours than your typical regular job!

14. (If you have kids) When do you find time to do chores?

I do chores while they are busy with free time or play time.. and we have an organized pick up time every day. I squeeze chores in all day or it wouldn’t get done.

15. How do you balance being a homemaker and creating Youtube content?

It is really hard. Editing is what takes too much time. If I was quick at editing then I could make tons of content but I can’t so oh well! 🙂

16. What is your favorite room in your home and why?

living room area. I like to hang out there at watch netflix with my husband on friday nights or read in there with my kids during the school week.

17. What is your least favorite room in your home and why?

the kitchen because in our temporary house that we are in right now it is pretty tiny. I love to cook and our entire family eats all 3 meals plus snacks cooked from home. or prepaired at home I should say. We do some instant stuff from time to time I am not saying I do everything that I cook from sxcratch but  a lot of it is. So it is difficult to have such limited counter space. Even cutting on a cutting board is difficult because I dont really have open counter space. But its only temporary and we are making due.

18. Do you feel your home reflects your personal style? Why/why not?

nope! We have downsized just for this year. We have another move coming up so this is a temporary house for us for now.

19. What does your home smell like?

What ever food I am cooking or candle I am burning! Right now we are using a “camp fire” scented candle. It smells like a woodsy fire with sweetness of roasting marshmellows.

20. What is your strong point and weak spot when it comes to homemaking?

Strong point – I get so much done when I am focused. I love when our homeschool and house is on schedule.

Weak point – holiday breaks for school. When we are on break I feel like our house can become chaotic because it is hard to stay on task with cleaning.

But, I Don’t Know How to Start The whole Homeschool Thing

One of the biggest reasons that some parents shy away from homeschooling I have noticed is their “idea” of a lack of resources. This comes in various forms. the most popular problems I hear are:

  • I can not afford the curriculum and resources, especially not with multiple children in different grades.
  • We can not afford to have one parent quit their job to homeschool
  • I want to homeschool but we don’t have a space for a homeschool room
  • I would love to homeschool but I don’t think I am equipped to teach.
  • I am not patient enough to homeschool my kids, but I wish I could.

I understand where all of these parents are coming from when I hear these things. I thought the same things myself before I started homeschooling. I have some responses to all of the frequently heard homeschooling excuses and I understand it can all seem a little overwhelming if you have never tried to homeschool before. However, I wanted to pay some special attention to “I want to homeschool but we just do not have space for a homeschool room.” Who started this “You NEED a homeschooling ROOM” thing? I would really like to know!

A homeschooling room, while awesome if you have the space for one, is absolutely 100% NOT NECESSARY. You can homeschool ANYWHERE. If you have never homeschooled before and are wanting to branch out and try it, I will give you some quick tips about how you can start off your homeschooling journey the easy way.

Once you can get past not having a dedicated room (if you dont have that space) there are some other usual questions and issues that usually arise. Here are my tips to overcomign those obstacles.

  1. The first step is to be confident in your decision to homeschool.If you find it in your heart that homeschooling is best for your children do not let outsiders talk you out of it. If you will be the responsible person for putting in the time to educate do not let others, who have nothing to do with the education process of your children, become involved in your decisions.

2. The second step is to think about where the most effective and distraction-free area of your house is. A key to a homeschooling room is that the area is designated for homeschool only. That way when the kids enter it, they are in school mode. Also – I use the word “room” reallllly loosely here. You do not need an entire “room” blocked off for this. For many families this is unrealistic. Especially families that are one income families. If you think that the kitchen table is the best space… do it! If you have a sun room thats perfect during the school months.. try it, if you have an office/ spare bedroom that you can fit a table or desk in…. why not?! Find the spot that you think would be best for your kids and work it out.

3. Consider your childrens learning and personality styles. For example, I have a child who is artistically gifted but he does not like to do artsy projects for school. He likes to do art as his own enjoyment and expression. He does not like his art to be directed and structured by a lesson or a teacher. We do not do a lot of project based school work because it ruins his creative outlet and interest. Instead we do more of traditional schooling but we study some subjects that has a high interest in. Of course, we must hit all of the subjects at one pont in our year or another, but if this semester he has a high interst in astronomy that is what we will study for science. The basics and core principals of science will be in there. We will just learn about them as we learn about astronomy as he will stay highly engaged this way.

Also – if you know that you are worried about how to plan and manage all of homeschool buy curriculum. Buy it used or put it together as cheaply as you can if budget is your main concern, but think of way that make sense for you to not burn out on teaching, and for your student to not burn out on learning styles that dont work with them.

4. Take breaks. If you find that you are homeschooling and everyweek you can not get all your assignments finished, or you are always spending too many hours on school each day then take a step back. Be realistic. Some weeks, you may have a doctors appointment, a sick sibling, a spouse who needs assistance with something, an out of town sporting event and that is ok. Keep your records of school days off and school days on correct and you can make sure that you are having enough days off and enough days on in your year. You may also be over scheduling yourself. Overscheduling school work is ok, as long as you know you DON’T have to do EVERYTHING. I like to have TOO many options that way if we move quickly through a few subjects I have some other assignments left over to review with.

5. Mingle with other homeschoolers. Ok, so this should probably be higher than #5 actually! When we first started homeschooling I did not know any other homeschoolers in our area. I met a couple families at the park that were homeschooling but they did not really have any real interest in doing any type of academics in a group. That was fine, but I also did not have any interest in doing any special activity that I had to pay for with their kids either. That first year we invested a lot of money in curriculum, a little money in sports, and a lot invested in travel. We learned just as much and had just as many educational experiences traveling as a family than we would have had with the group activities. However, I joined a co-op group a few years later and I thought that doing this was a huge improvement in our overall homeschooling experience. It gave my kids a chance to make friends, I got to make friends, and we got to learn a lot of cool things through the classes that the co-op provided. This also gave us a sense of belonging since we had moved into a new area. Without the co-op I would have not known a single person in our new area. My husband would have been really busy with work and I would have felt much more “blah” about the entire experience.

6. Do not join the first homeschool group or co-op that you find. I think you have to weigh your options. The first group that seems great might not be the best fit, the closest group, the cheapest group, they wont necessarily be the right fit. Try some out, ask to meet them, ask any questions that you can think of. Even ask to come to an event they have if you are allowed to. Check out the area and the space that the co-op or group is held. For us the best group was not the least expensive, however it was close to our home, it did not have rigorious academics like we intended, but it did have great activities and classes that were outside of the box that I could not have provided my children with on my own. The greatest benefit to it is that my kids are having a great time getting to know new friends.

7. You don’t need the most popular curriculum. Sometimes the most popular curriculum and what you keep reading reviews about, and hearing about others buying it…well… it might not be for you. Don’t think that because the lady from church bout this $850 boxed curriculum that it is better or her kids are going to be any smarter than yours after the school year just because she got it and you didn’t. Biy according to what you can realistically afford and what works with your teaching style and your childrens learning style. I made this mistake the hard way – don’t do it!

8. Get Organized! That is it. Do whatever you have to do, printa a monthly calendar, buy a fancy planner. Whatever. Do whatever you have to do to get organized. Make some plans and stick to them! Plan on giving yourself time for just school and no distractions, plan some time for you to have to clean up the house after school and a designated time for chores every day. This will help you. Make a meal plan that includes lunches! This will save you! Have plans and write them down! Use them! your life will be less hectic and you will feel less stress. Kids will be less stressed as well.

9. Find your stressor and just let it go! So – read alouds arent your thing? You are struggling to get them done with multiple ages? Toss out the book list you have if you can and go get free cds from the library, use audio books from your library, or itunes. Washing dishes after lunch taking to much study time? Divide it up between the kids or **gasp** get some papers plates for a few months. Just whatever it is that is making it difficult to get things done in homeschool – cut it out! Even cutting out one simple thing can make a difference.

10. Enjoy school. Yes, enjoy schooling. If that means making your bible time at 10 am after everyone has had breakfast and done there own thing for a while – fine. If that means everyone reads their own bible in their own rooms at 6 am befor ebreakfast- fine. Just find the schedule and times that are best for you. Do not force something that just is not your style. There is no right way to homeschool and that is prob ably one of the reasons that you are homeschooling in the first place.

 

Howdy, Y’all! We Are Now Officially Texas Homeschoolers

So as you may or may not know we have been living in Tokyo for a few years. It was great, overall. We loved Tokyo – the people, the food, the city life, the weather, the gardens, just everything. However we did know that some things were missing. We were aware that homeschool itself could be better. The truth is were were unlimited as far as Japan was concerned … but we were really limited when it came to “Homeschool”.

We had so much to explore in Tokyo and throughout the Kanto Region that we really just soaked up our time there. We hit up our local English library and the librarians knew us by name. We finished shelves and shelves of books. We attended story times, engineering clubs, all the parties and events that the library had to offer. We dove into recreational soccer with other English speakers, and we explored all the nature, historic sites, cultural information that we could access in Tokyo. Oh, and did I mention we did a whole lot of theme parks? Yes, Japan does theme parks like none other. But I had to admit something was still missing.

We started homeschooling in Japan for various reasons. I never thought that I would be homeschooling. It was never some life long dream or calling that I had. It just simply happened because it was necessary, but that is for its own post.

After I had gotten into a routine of homeschool and I had watched hundreds of my favorite youtube homeschoolers sharing their advice with me I felt like I had it together.  I was getting through curriculum, and not just getting it “done”. I felt like we were really learning and even dare I say it – ENJOYING school now. Educational milestones were happening. I was also at a point where I started moving away from a total boxed curriculum set. Thats when I was feeling confident that I was able to handle it and it was something that we could succeed at. Sure, once in a while you have the occasional day where you wonder if you actually “taught” them anything, but everyone has those days. Even those teaching public or private school classes have days where they feel defeated or that they could have done better.  But at a certain point this just wasn’t enough.

I was feeling left out. I was feeling like my kids were left out. We had no co-op. No “group”, none of those expert homeschooling families that we could physically hang out with, get to know, or ask opinions on all things homeschooling. I kind of felt like we were the only people in the world homeschooling, even though I knew that we obviously weren’t.

I also felt like my kids didn’t really have a connection with anyone around us. That bothered me for sure. There was a birthday party here or there. But it was for kids we barely knew. Sure, there was a soccer team, but they kids were all friends at the local school in our neighborhood and they weren’t really what I would call friendly. And they had established friends already – at school. There just wasn’t anyone relatable for us.

Of course I do not think that the success of homeschool relies on making best friends. I also don’t think you have to go to the same school or play the same sport to be friends. But I do think that it helps a great deal when you are able to find at least a couple people that have a relatable experience to you. This is not only directed towards my children. It is directly towards me as a homeschooling mom. A homeschooling TEACHER. I also need someone that is relatable to speak with now and then. I like to ask others questions about what they use, how they are using it, get some tips, and actually see them face to face and see that hey “THE STRUGGLE IS REAL” from time to time.

So recently things changed. We arrived – deep in the heart of Texas! Thats right, we boarded a place from Tokyo and had our first stop in Seattle Washington. Boy was it cold there! And it was still summer. I did not pack for Seattle! Then we were onward to Texas. Of course we made a little pit-stop. Just a short few days in Ohio and then we drove down to south Texas.

I was so excited to try out Texas but I was also pretty bummed about leaving Japan. However I thought  that Texas could possibly make all my homeschooling dreams come true. I had contacted several homeschooling groups and co-ops in our area before we had even arrived. We checked out their facilities and met with some families and ladies that were coordinating the groups. I had known for a while which group I wanted to join. Actually I knew for like a year – but I couldn’t make it official until my husband had met with them and asked some questions.

So one rainy day we met one of the coordinators from a specific homeschool co-op and she was even better in person that I had thought that she would be. She was super friendly and welcoming. She answered all my questions and I signed us up.

Of course we are only a couple months into it but we are really enjoying homeschooling in Texas. The laws are straight forward and easy to follow. The co-op gives us an outlet and takes some stress of of me. It lets me have some ideas of what other families are doing and how they homeschool. It has allowed my kids to make some great connections and some new friends. I got to meet with a lot of great homeschooling moms, some are long time homeschoolers and some are new to it all.

I hope that anyone homeschooling has the opportunity to try our a co-op, or try out a different one if yours isn’t working out for you. I think that our current co-op is really making homeschool much more enjoyable for us. It is really a fun experience and allows us to try new things, like science with a group.

We are having fun here in Texas and for any homeschoolers out there struggling with a homeschool burnout or just feeling like something is missing… I would like to just encourage you to switch things up. Try a group, drive to a new locations for new schooling experiences, add in time at the museum, get to know your librarians, make a connection that aides your homeschooling life and do it now!

Costco in Japan

If you are relocating to Japan or are just looking to find some of your favorite American standbys look no further than Costco. Currently there are 26 Costco locations in Japan. 11 of those are actually located in the Kanto region. However they do span all the way from Hokkaido to Kyushu, so wherever you are in Japan, you can probably get to a Costco with a little planning!

This is the “cart parking lot” behind the food court lines, but in front of the checkout. It is like a bull pen for getting to go. You most likely won’t be able to get a table so be prepared to carry all of your Costco to go food out to the 4th floor of a parking garage.

I only have experience with the Iruma Costco location. As this is closest to my home I never traveled to any other costcos to see the differences in available products or compare the experience. However there are many Costco youtube videos from foreigners in Japan that have also found this place to be a life saver while living abroad long term. You may find some of their blogs really helpful before you venture there for the first time.

First of all, if you already have a membership it should be just fine to use it in Costco at any location they are worldwide. And if you do not have a membership but are unsure of buying one because you won’t be in Japan for an entire year- that ok .You can use your Japan membership worldwide as well. I do know this for a fact as I bought my membership in Japan and have used the same card in the United States with no problems at all.

This is one long curving ling for the food court. This is a typical weekday morning in Costco Japan.

I did not have a Costco card before I lived in Japan. So I actually had to sign up for membership while overseas. This was really simple. You can do the entire application online. You just need to go to costco.co.jp and scroll to the bottom where it will have links to membership information on the left side. You will click the link for membership, change it to English and fill out the information. Do the best that you can. My address did not match up with their spaces perfectly as my address has an English format and a Japanese format. I did not know the Japanese format because we do not usually have to use it. They will fix any of this at the membership counter if you have this problem. Once you fill out the form, you will submit it electronically. Then you will be given a confirmation number. Take a picture of the confirmation number or write it down. Have this available for when you arrive at Costco to get the membership.

Now you are ready to go and pick up your membership. Once I filled out the application online and took a picture of the confirmation number with my phone, I arrived at Costco and went to the membership counter. I just simply presented the picture on my phone of the confirmation number. The attendant entered the number in, verified my information but looking at an ID and then had me sign a couple of papers. Then I paid the fee. It is currently 4,400 yen (which is around $42 or so) for the year.

They will have you slide down to get your picture taken at another booth and thats it. You will wait a few minutes for your card to be printed and then you are free to shop till you drop. The entire process was really easy.

Once you have your membership and you are ready to shop it is the same process as the United States. You will be happy to know that many of your favorite items will be there too. We enjoyed being able to have access to things like Costco birthday cakes, pizzas, cookies, bulk juices, certain brands of clothing all from the U.S. and all the same taste and style at our Japan Costco. The other great thing is that we also found a lot of Japanese items that we enjoyed in larger sizes. Of course Japanese grocery items are usually in very small portions and for a family it is not idea. It was easier to go to Costco and grab a large portion rather than to keep running to the store constantly.

Also – great news. As it is so crowded all the time… there is never a shortage of samples! We found that our Japan Costco had much more samples all the time than our Texas Costco has. The only bad part about this is that you won’t necessarily be getting more samples as the lines just to get a small sample are sometimes 15-20 people long. And in Japan as you may know – people are willing to stand in line for anything. In fact, the more people that are in line, the more other people want to join that line! Where in the U.S. we would probably just avoid a certain thing if there is a line… the opposite happens in Japan.

The main downside to Costco in Japan is that it is very very crowded. All days of the week, all times of the day it is crowded. At any time the food court line will be more than 30 people long. Any time that we wanted something from the food court area my husband would go get in line with my son and they would wait in the ling as I waited in the ling to check out with our groceries. I would usually be finished checking out before they were even halfway through the foood court line. Then I would line my cart up with all the others in a “cart parking lot” that is created by the Costco employees. The area is just rows of parked carts and people all touching each other as there is absolutely no space. All check out lanes, food court tables, aisles are completely full at all times.

The other small annoyance is that it can be a little difficult to get boxes. There are always plenty of boxes available to put your things in (because in Costco Japan just like the US there are no bags) but they are just hard to get to. Most Japanese do not want to put their groceries in the free boxes as getting rid of your trash in Japan is an entirely different monster. They do not want to deal with the task of getting rid of cardboard boxes but for us our trash system was different so it was no big deal. The crowd at the check out area does make it hard to get to boxes though. And I think part of this is that none of them want boxes so no one realizes that you are going for the boxes that are underneath the checkout areas.

The parking is another obstacle. The good thing is that they do have their own parking garage attached to the building. We always end up parking on the roof because it is always crowded. But it is free parking – which you can not find anywhere in Tokyo- and there are escalators that you can put your cart on to get to your level of the parking garage. Go Japan!

Yes, It is that easy! Had I known all of this when I first arrived in Japan, I would have bought a Costco membership a lot sooner!

What We Are Reading In April

Here is a short list of what we are reading in April in our homeschool. For some reason I am super interested in seeing and reading posts about what others are currently reading in their homeschool. It is not only interesting to find new book titles that we might want to try but, I enjoy hearing about what other kids think about the books they are reading. Especially when we may be considering the same book as well.

This month has been a littler different. We do year round homeschool and do not take the traditional “American style” summer break. So, in March we generally have all of our materials for our next school year and we start our year off at the end of March/ Beginning of April. We switch our “grade level” and take off on to our next homeschool journey for another 30 something weeks! The past month or so our reading lists were a bit thrown together while we were waiting on new curriculum but this month things are starting to pull together!

My older child (beginning 3rd grade) is starting up with another year of my fathers world. We are using the Exploring Countries and Cultures curriculum however we heavily supplement this with extra reading material and just for fun books that have not a single thing to do with the history core that we are currently working on!

Here is our main list of reading materials for this month:

  • Roll of thunder hear my cry (finishing this from last month)
  • From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basel E. Frankweiler

Visit the Imperial Palace Gardens – Its Free!

If you are in Tokyo one of the must see spots is the Imperial Palace. Although you can not enter the palace itself (except on  a couple of special holidays each year) the gardens surrounding it are open every day, except for Mondays and Fridays…. and it is free admission! No matter what season you are visiting the gardens always have something lovely on display. Spring and fall happen to be my favorite times to visit the gardens as the trees are beautiful but if you aren’t in Japan during those times it is still worth a visit.

This is a view from the entrance to the East Gardens. You will cross a bridge over the moat and enter through the castle archway walls.
One of the many historic buildings in the east gardens.

One of our visits was in mid November and we only needed to wear sweaters. After walking around the gardens we been got pretty hot as the sun was shining that afternoon. We went right around noon and the gardens were pretty crowded. There were many tourists walking through but also many business men and women taking a walk on their lunch breaks. There were many with picnic bento boxes and lots of mothers taking their children for a walk so that they could escape their sky rise apartments and enjoy nature.

This lookout point shows just one of the large areas in the imperial gardens where you can come to relax, grab lunch, or just enjoy the scenery of the perfectly landscaped gardens.
Here is just one of the numerous areas where you can cross the moat and venture into the gardens. Be sure to check out the swans and fish when you are walking by.

We got lucky during our visit and the Japanese Self Defense Forces Navy Band was playing in the middle of a large grassy area in the middle of the gardens. We walked right up close and picked out a great viewing spot on the lawn and had some snacks from out bento boxes. Many people stopped to enjoy the band and it was amazing how quiet so many people in a public park area could be!

It is amazing to see these historic buildings in the peaceful gardens. You can not imagine how quiet and peaceful it all is right in the middle of the one of the largest cities in the world!
The East Garden Entrance.

One of the best things about the Imperial Gardens is that every area of the park has some type of beautiful showcase. There is a large koi pond, tea houses, the palace, spectacular floral landscaping, and wide curving walking paths throughout all the beautiful nature showcases.

From the east gardens you can get a glimpse of someone the Imperial Palace official buildings. The palace itself is on the other side of the gardens and can be seen as well.

If you plan on spending a lot of time in the gardens with children I would highly recommend bringing a pack lunch and drinks. The gardens are large and there aren’t many opportunities to buy anything once you are inside. Even though we arrived in mid November we really really hot after walking through the park in the sun and were really glad that we had brought snacks and drinks with us. It made for a much more enjoyable experience.

Even on warm and sunny days you can find benches in the shade to relax away from it all!

Also – expect to bring a bag with you for any trash that you make as trash cans will not be out around the park. You must pack all of your trash in your lunch box and remove it from the park. This is pretty common in Japan and we are always prepared to carry any trash we have all the way home sometimes!

If you aren’t up for packing lunch or just don’t have anything available as maybe you are staying at a hotel then don’t fret. You can buy some type of snacks to take in from nearby convenience stores. They always have containers to keep your trash in, and your food will be prepared and heated in the convince store. You will also be able to put chopsticks in your bags along with napkins and you will have an instant picnic ready to go!

Standing on the Foundation of the former Edo area castle. This is all that remains today. Amazing that it is still able for visitors to climb the steps and enjoy the view from this famous landmark.

There are also various restaurants within a short walk from the imperial gardens. Most of the high rise office buildings just across the street will have basement levels that are filled with small restaurants. If you arrive at lunch time you will have the option of buying prepackaged lunches ready to eat on the go  or dining in instead,.

In case you were wondering how they keep the gardens so perfect, here is a crew of volunteers sweeping up the walkways and picking up leaves.

The gardens are closed on Mondays and Fridays

During the New Year holiday from December 28 until January  3 the gardens are also closed.

If it is a national holiday on a Monday or Friday the gardens are open but then will be closed on the following Tuesday or Saturday instead.

 

Hours

9am to 5pm from April to August

9am to 4:30 from September October

9am to 4:00 from November to February

9am to 4:30 during March

You can arrive 30 minutes prior to closing but no one is admitted after that.

the link below will take you to the official calendar in English to show the closing dates for the year.

http://www.kunaicho.go.jp/event/higashigyoen/gyoen-close.html

Getting There:

If you are driving there are some parking options. We parked in a garage under a hotel a couple blocks away form the gardens. It is difficult to find parking in this area. There is not much parking on the sides of the streets and with all the government buildings located in this area some parking area are private.

If you are taking the train, which I highly recommend, it is pretty simple. Otemachi station on the Chiyoda line is close to the Gardens east entrance. However if you are wanting to visit Tokyo station and all the amazing restaurants and shops there, then the palace gardens are just about a 12 minute walk from there.

I think the walk from Tokyo station is worth it because there are so many great restaurants and shops to see as you walk over to the Imperial Palace Gardens. You can also get a close up view of some of the government buildings and are able to check out the outside of Tokyo Station.

On one of our walks from the station we stopped to watch a Japanese artist who was in his 70s. He was Sketching Tokyo station from a sidewalk across the street.We complemented his work and watched him from afar. Then he talked to us about how he had traveled throughout France teaching art lessons when he was young. His work was beautiful and he made it look effortless. I will have to look back through my photos and see if I can find this artist and his work. I will be sure to attach the photos if I can come across them.

 

 

 

 

5 minute Oreo Pie – Kid Friendly

So although this might contain far too many calories for your liking here is the quick and easy Oreo pie! So easy that your kids can probably make it all on their own! With this recipe there is no baking, no raw eggs, and no dangerous cooking equipment needed. So it is totally easy to get the little ones stirring and measuring up a storm!

So there is an “official” Oreo pie recipe on the Keebler Oreo pre made cookie crust. However I do not use that version. I am sure it works just fine but we do not have access to some of the ingredients on that list. So we improvised and this is what we came up with:

What you will need:

Oh gosh the Oreo pie crust is missing in the photo!

Milk (almond milk is a perfectly fine substitute and I have made this with unsweetened vanilla almond milk previously)

instant chocolate pudding

instant vanilla pudding

pre-made Keebler Graham cracker oreo pit crust (just 1)

cool whip or whipped cream (whichever you may have on hand…any homemade mind would be awesome too however I never make it on my own 🙁 )

a hand full of Oreos

Hot fudge (optional)

 

Instructions:

yes, thats it! Already made and ready to go. The easiest way for a kid to make a treat without worrying about raw eggs!
  1. Prepare the Premade pie crust. Take the plastic top off of it. yup. that. is. it.

Now if you are using hot fudge layer the inside of the pie crust with hot fudge and allow it to cool and Harden onto the crust. (kind of a protective shield from all the calories to come if you will. )

If you are skipping the hot fudge step because A. you don’t have any on hand or B. you are saving the calories for more whipped cream instead then please do not hesitate to go to step 2!

add whipped cream. sometimes I use cool whip. I use whatever is on sale, or whatever I have on hand.

2. add whipped cream to the inside of the pie crust. Form a small layer of whipped cream as your base. This does not have to be thick. Remember to reserve most of your whipped cream for the next steps. This only needs to be a few sprays or spoonfuls.

watch out everyone, 2 year old in the kitchen! Get out of her way!

3. prepare instant chocolate mix and instant vanilla pudding mix according to their box directions. (Ok so you basically need to add the required milk or almond milk but you do not need to place in the refrigerator  for a long time just mix in the milk and stir them up!)

you don’t even really need a mixer or whisk for this. the toddler just used the spoon until her arm got tired. then she passed it off to the big bro!

4. mix chocolate and vanilla pudding together. Thats right… this much stirring and mixing pudding flavors is a preschoolers dream!

OK, I lied we ended up adding in a whisk. But more for the photography beauty than necessity!

 

5. layer the pudding into the piecrust adding small amounts of whipped cream in between layers.

Pouring it in may require help from mom, but if the mom isn’t a total neat freak the kids can probably do it just fine! ha!
mix your layers!

6. cover the top of your master piece of pudding with whipped cream. Do it slowly and make it pretty. This layer will be on top!

You are almost done! so quick, right?!

7. Crumble an order or two and add it over the top of the whipped cream and then add some Oreos around the edges. (I use to add entire Oreos around the edges but find they could get a bit soggy so I actually like this better if you break the Oreo in half and place them in the edges this way. They still look like entire Oreos from the top and it also reserves some of your Oreos for the kids to eat if you are giving this away as a gift!)

8. Let it sit in your fridge for a while (or freezer if you want it more like ice cream cake consistency)

9. Eat it up!

** I actually find that this is a really simple and cheap gifting treat! We have made this many times for military members away from their families and the young guys and gals really enjoy it. It is simple and a yummy treat especially in the summer. The kids get a kick out of making a treat for grown ups and this one they can make all on their own!**

 

 

Help Someone By Delivering A Homemade Meal

So usually in this section I plan on sharing some of our favorite family recipes and food adventures that we may have out and about in Tokyo. Today I am taking this in a different direction. I wanted to share our experience with “Meal Train”

The basic idea of a “meal train” is to help out by delivering a meal to someone in need. This can be applied for any need but most commonly used for new parents, illness, surgery, or other life event that may cause a burden on someone to have the ability to cook meals for themselves or their family. Of course many of us are familiar with these through churches or friends but I recently participated in this through an online forum and it made scheduling and coordinating meals for someone in need 100% more efficient.

There are several websites online that you can use but I participated in a meal delivering group through www.mealtrain.com. This was my first time using meal train.com and it was really easy to use even for a first timer! You can also use this for pot-luck and the like.

So basically the person who organized this idea of having meals delivered to a family just went to the site and created the event. It is free to create and then you can pass it around through emailing the link. Whoever wants to sign up for the meal train just simply clicks on the date that they want to claim for taking a meal and they follow the instructions. You must make an account which is pretty easy. You just need your name and a password. Then you claim the date you want to deliver a meal on and you type in what meal you will be taking over.

There is a section of information for each meal train where the organizer can request special diet requests like allergy information, dislikes, and such. This way you do not have to worry about what you are making and you do have a bit of a guide.

You can also view the entire meal train list. You can see what other dates are open and view the dates that are taken and what meals are scheduled on those days. So when I signed up for my meal train dates I just went in and claimed my dates. Then I also viewed the dates near mine. I wanted to make sure I didn’t serve the family chicken 2 days in a row and such.

The meal train had the delivery address, family names, and delivery time requested. It was all input by the organizer of the meal train. This made everything so easy. I didn’t have to worry about losing the address or calling around to make sure the family would be home. I just logged into the meal train and checked out all the details.

I also had reminders sent to my email from the meal train. We were pretty busy when we volunteered. We were in the middle of an international move and I had a lot on my mind. However I still wanted to help out and send over a couple meals to the family we were serving. I was worried that I might forget though! So I set up the meal train reminder to send me an email the week before, that way I could get all the items input on my grocery list. Then I had a reminder sent to me the day before meal delivery. This way I was reminded that I had a few foods to prep the night before. The automatic email reminders were amazing! This alone makes me want to tell everyone about meal train! So much easier to notify everyone and make sure no one forgets their dates or any information. And trust me I am the one the always forgets things!

Our meal train group made a meal for a family every other day for a few months. They had taken in other children that were having some family difficulties and were allowing the kids to finish the school year out before having to leave the country. Doing the meal train every other day allowed for the family to polish off any leftovers without bombarding them with food but also giving them enough meals to help them offset the costs of taking in more children without any assistance.

I only sent two meals. I also dropped off my meals on the same day. I had precooked everything and didn’t have to give the parents any cooking instructions. I thought this would just be easier for them. All they had to do was reheat. I also was not sure if they would have leftovers from my first meal. So I gave them the second meal in advance should they choose to use it early or should they decide that they wanted to make plans instead of waiting around for us to arrive with food as it was a weekend delivery.

I think that I will utilize meal train again in the future. It is just such a nice helpful way to help others. And this makes it so simple. I would not hesitate to creat a meal train in the future. When I think that someone could realize use a meal in the future I think I will just try to create at least a short meal train.

I do have a couple suggestions for anyone looking to create a meal train. I hope these will help you if you plan on trying this out.

  • suggest all meals be delivered in disposable containers (the family can skip a big clean up)
  • ( FYI- I used foil containers that were 3 for $1.00. Then I covered the tops with glad press and seal. It keeps out any leaks and is much cheaper than the large foil containers with tall plastic lids. Plus you can stack the press and seal paper without leaks. The plastic lids on foil containers crush if you have to stack them!)
  • choose meals that everyone in the household can eat (so nothing super spicy if it for a house with small children)
  • choose meals that can easily be reheated
  • choose a one dish meal if possible (easier for yourself to bake a casserole type of meal and transport less containers)
  • if you don’t have time to make a meal or think that your cooking skills aren’t adequate don’t skip out! Send over a gift card and then they can plan to eat out on a date. (if it possible for the family in the meal train)
  • simple is best, don’t stress yourself out by making a fancy dish you have never attempted. Many people who need a meal train for help with be thankful for your time and help. They don’t expect you to make a five course meal. Make a simple meal that you have cooked previously.
  • label your items. If you are not pre baking the meal make sure you leave prep instructions like the temp and time to bake. Also label what exactly you have in the containers.

I hope you have as much luck with meal train was we did! Leave your experiences or tips in the comments below!