Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Fall 2015

Just when the year 2015 is about to come to the end, I figured I popped in and updated this blog after another hiatus. Life and work have not let down. I have missed blogging but I wish I had the energy and time to sit, think and write my thoughts down like I used to. These are the recaps of our 2015 Thanksgiving. Short and sweet. Glad to be back and hope to get back in the swing of blogging again.  photo n1_zps2944gvph.jpg  photo n2_zpsuondpxip.jpg  photo n3_zpslxfjlcho.jpg  photo n4_zpsadysrvfl.jpg  photo n5_zpsqrqzur2v.jpg  photo n6_zpsljaa3vv7.jpg  photo n7_zps4rondoyz.jpg  photo n8_zpsytpkcaqw.jpg

Monday, July 20, 2015

Yukata, Meiji Shrine & Japanese Tea Ceremony

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Wearing a Kimono had always been one of the things on my wish list. So when would be the best time to wear one? When you are in the land of the rising sun where the Kimono was born. I jumped with joy when I found out about the opportunity to wear this traditional, beautiful and elegant costume.

If you enter "Kimono rentals in Tokyo", you may be overwhelmed with options. I had no clue which one to select but finally decided o contact a popular place in Asakusa based on the good reviews. The prices seemed reasonable ($35-$40) and it was not far from Sensoji temple. so I typed up my email with excitement and asked a few questions. It took the shop staff a few days to reply to my email and when they replied, they didn't even answer all of my inquiries. I had more questions so I emailed them back, they never replied since then. So that was not an impressive start.

I almost gave up and got frustrated as I was unable to find any reviews of other shops (at least in English anyway). Just a few weeks prior to the trip, I gave it another try and this time I came across Kimono-Sakaeya which I thought it looked pretty promising. After browsing and reading information on the website, I felt this place suited my need and more. However, I couldn't find any reviews about this shop except one review from one lady years ago. I didn't know what to expect but the owner's prompt response and friendliness really made a huge difference in my decision making. I felt like if I chose another place near Sensoji temple, I would probably feel rush since they always had tons of customers and never made an effort to even email me back.

The Sakaeya shop owner, Kahori-san was super responsive, could speak good English and made me feel at ease just by communicating through emails. The price was higher than what I originally wanted to pay (we chose "Rental Plan: Visit Meiji Shrine" and it costed 9,000 yen per person. Total cost for 3 of us = $223) but considering the fact that this plan also included a short version of a Japanese tea ceremony at the end and offered a tour. I made a decision to book with Kahori-San.
During that time, we emailed back and forth, Kahori-San never failed to reply in a timely manner and you could tell she paid attention to details. She took the time to answer, was very helpful and accommodating. Since it was the beginning of summer time in Japan (June), I was offered two options: Kimono or Yukata (Kimono is made from silk, more formal and worn in the winter versus Yukata is made from lighter fabric like cotton and is worn in the summer). I wanted to wait to see how the weather was like when we arrived so no decision was made. Kahori suggested a Yukata for a little one so she would be more comfortable while walking. As for my husband, the selection for guys was not big (he was not picky anyway) so that was easy. Before the trip, Kahori emailed me a picture map that was so easy to follow. It literally showed you what street/exit/shop/ building to look for. You wouldn't get lost I guarantee. Her place was not difficult to find at all. And the best part, it is adjacent to the Marion Crepe. How awesome is that???!!!

Finally time had arrived and we were in Tokyo. Our appointment was 10:30 a.m. Our hotel was located in Shiodome area. It was quite nerve-racking since we would use the train for the 1st time and didn't want to be late. We actually got to her place 10 minutes early. Kahori-san was so friendly in person we immediately felt comfortable. She got started with our little lady by offering her options of cute Yukatas to choose from. I kind of liked the selections she had available. Not too overwhelming. Simple but clean and elegant. We got to pick our Yukatas and obi. We didnt feel rushed at all which was great. It took about 15 mins to dress her up. Next was my husband's turn. It took about 10 mins to dress him up and finally my turn which took the longest (probably 20+ mins). There were a few hair pieces we could use (no extra charge) and handbags that matched the outfits (big enough to put your wallet and phone). Before leaving her apartment, we were given a short lesson on "how to pose and look elegant in traditional Japanese costumes".

Per the description "We will provide a tea ceremony & help with your photo shoot", I thought they would use our camera and help take photos but what I didn't know was that a tour guide came with the package. That was unexpected and a pleasant surprise. Our tour guide was not a professional photographer but she did a good job taking photos. She was very nice and friendly as well. Somehow it felt strange when people stare and take photos of us along the way from Harajuku to Meiji Shrine. It was like celebrity moment...lol. It took about 10-15 mins by foot to the Meiji Shrine and luckily the weather turned out to be so pleasant and comfortable. We spent approximately 45 mins walking and taking photos which was fun. I highly recommend Meiji Shrine if you like nature as the area is very lush green, serene and peaceful. It didn't feel like you were in busy city like Tokyo at all.

When we returned to Kahori-san's place, she had prepared the water for the tea ceremony. We sat and watched how she made fresh cup of hot green tea one by one. The whole experience was worth seeing (the full version of Japanese Tea Ceremony usually lasts 4 hours but ours was a short version of it), it felt relaxed and calm. We were offered some sort of sweet candies to eat before drinking green tea. To our amazement, we watched our six year old drinking an entire cup of green tea without a fuss. It was her 1st time having green tea indeed. I asked her later if it tasted good, she said no (she didn't want to be impolite so she drank all). That green tea was really good and not too overpowering.
One thing I was concerned about renting something like this was the cleanliness of the rental pieces. From what I could tell, there was no odor to the Yukatas and they looked very cleaned. I am not sure about other places though. Our little one got to take her Yukata home with her as well as a souvenir. Befirecwe left, a tour guide and Kahori transferred all the photos to a CD and gave to us.

Overall experience: All three of us had an amazing time! It was an awesome start to kick off our trip. If we go back I want to reserve with Kahori again but perhaps go to Togo Shrine or a Japanese garden this time. I highly recommend Kimono-Sakaeya.

Tips: you probably should leave your dslr at the hotel or with Kahori-san (we left ours with her) and bring a small compact camera or your phone in case you want to take specific photos. Do not bring too many belongings as they will get in the way with photo taking. Wearing a Kimono and carrying a backpack may look quite awkward. You can fit a wallet and perhaps a phone in a cute little purse that Kahori-san provides as an accessory. A small bottle of water may come in handy in case you get thirsty on a hot day.
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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Unique experience in Tokyo: Introduction

My Tokyo travel posts will most likely span over a month based on my blogging pace. Bear with me as I am going to try to put together the complete and useful info for those who plan to travel for the first time or those who haven't visited in a long time.

A few blogger friends who live in Asia probably agree with me that traveling in Asia is not ranked high on their travel wish list. I know it was quite true for me when I lived back home. Europe or America sounded more interesting and different in terms of culture, weather and architectures. Hence my desire to visit Asian countries was not that strong.

Now that I have lived on another side of the earth for over a decade, I miss everything about Asia. Be it people, culture, food, cities and way of life. I miss them all so much. So after we decided to include Tokyo as our side trip while en route to my motherland, the search began. I had 3 months to do my research to come up with some fun things for us to explore.

After hours, days and weeks of web browsing and YouTube viewing, I got tired of seeing the same old tourist attractions after tourist attractions. Sensoji Temple, Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Skytree, Tsukiji Fish Market, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Akihabara, Yoyoki Park and the list went on. To be honest with you, I didnt have a desire to go to the tourist traps where you cram yourself among other 500 tourists. Those places sounded great. I still wanted to visited some major attractions but I wanted to explore more.

So I asked myself what I really wanted out of this trip. My answer was I want to experience Japanese culture, connect with local people and see the way of life. Okay how? I didn't know or have any Japanese friends. Good news folks, in this day and age anything is possible with globalization and Internet. I was ecstatic when I came across some information which perfectly suited what I was looking for. I knew this trip would be very fulfilling and super fun. If you are wondering what to do there, you may want to consider at least one of these activities. Guarantee to be very different and unique. I am going to fill you in on how/where to: 1) Wear a Yukata/a Kimono 2) Attend a Japanese Tea Ceremony. 3) Connect and make friends with the locals. Stay tune ;)
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Friday, July 10, 2015

Marion Crepe@Harajuku, Tokyo, Japan

We love crepes, there is no doubt about that. So when we were in Japan I knew we must try the famous Japanese style crepe in Harajuku. Why in Harajuku? I don't quite know but there are so many crepe stores in the area, almost next to each other in some spots. Oh so many options, so little space in our bellies.
I did my research prior to the trip and decided to try Marion Crepe which has been in business since 1976. If they have been in the business that long, they must be that good. And boy we had such a hard time trying to decide which one to get. Too many good options. All of them looked scrumptious and delish. I decided to go with green tea ice cream with mochi (#95). The little one picked strawberry, cheesecake and ice cream. The hub chose blueberries and brownie. All I can say is that the batter is very light and thin (comparing to typical American crepe). The size is huge (it filled me up). If you can't speak Japanese, that is not a problem. What I did was I wrote the numbers of the crepes that we wanted on a paper and handed it to a staff. Voila! Problem solved.
Final verdict: we loved Marion crepes and will certainly eat there again when we go back to Japan. The place is so easy to find. Just take a JR Yamanote line and get off at Harajuku station, find Takeshita street and keep walking straight. You will spot Marion Crepe on your left.
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Thursday, July 2, 2015

First Time in Tokyo (We had a BLAST)

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June 2015
Our first trip to Tokyo turned out to be one of the most awesome, unique and memorable experience. We couldn't help but fell in love with this country and her people in no time. The whole experience was far beyond our expectations. We highly encourage you to visit Japan once in a lifetime.
We miss waking up to see a beautiful and clean city.
We miss walking to the train station every morning with 100 other Tokyo office workers in the business district area
We miss the excitement of exploring and getting lost in this city
We miss trying out new food
We miss the incredible Japanese hospitality and kind people we had met and known during this trip.
We miss you, Tokyo
Photo Diary and full info about traveling to Japan for the 1st time will soon follow. I can't wait to share the unique experiences that we had : )

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dad's home cooked meals

Home cooked meals bring back a mix of emotions such as comfort, childhood memories, familiarity, warmth and much more. At this point I feel no one can imitate my dad's cooking. It is something I have always anticipated. I could care less about eating out at the restaurants, all i want is the food he cooks. Looking back at the photos I took three years ago during our last visit, they only make me hungry.

When I was younger, food was just food. He cooked and my brothers and I ate. All we knew was that everything was delicious and our tummies were full. We didn't really appreciate or think much about anything else as kids. As soon as my dad got home from work, he didn't even get the time to sit or rest. He went straight to the kitchen and started cooking dinner for three hungry pigs. Since my mother always worked late, my dad put on a hat of a Mr. Mom.

Now that I am a mother, I look back and realize how tiring that could be. The minute I come in. I put my stuff down and start cooking after an 8 hour day at work. No time to rest (not even a shower until dinner is ready for a little one). Life is not easy when one spouse is at work while other has to care for a child alone. When I see my parents this time, I want to let them know how much I appreciate what they have done.

Every time we go back to visit, my parents always stock up both of the refrigerators and fruit baskets with food. Eating seems to be such a huge deal and we get fed REALLY..REALLY well. I am so looking forward to go home sweet home.
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My all time favorite curry. So spicy and flavorful. Just how i like it. I can eat this for breakfast.  photo f5_zps4rvluf9j.jpg  photo f6_zpsuxt9l9yf.jpg Mixed vegetables stir-fry with crispy pork belly. My dad knows I love veggies.  photo f2_zpsm4lhvd7v.jpg Glass noodle with shrimps  photo f4_zpskumdxfq1.jpg More veggies stir-fry for veggies lover. Cant wait to eat fresh baby corn.  photo f3_zps9d84txhu.jpg Spicy eggplant salad  photo f7_zpsohryz3id.jpg Minced pork with soft egg tofu soup

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tokyo 2015: Part 1 - Learn before you go

I don't know about you but traveling to another country is a total eye (and mind blowing) opening experience. New city, new food, new language, new perspectives, new environment, new air (I mean even air doesn't smell the same) and new culture are all part of travel experience. In the past, I could care less when I traveled to some place new (not necessarily overseas but domestic travel). As sad as it may sound my top choice always turned out to be major shopping malls. I could care less about historic sites, national parks or something in that nature. I would rather go shopping. Now that I am older, I look at vacation and travel in a completely different angle. I want to learn, see and experience at a deeper level.
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When visiting a foreign country, I feel it is very important to do some research about the country/culture and learn the "don'ts". Some people may say, well we are tourists and won't be there forever so who cares. To me that is called ignorance. I do care. When you visit another country, respect and manner are equally important. In this day and age, free resources in all sort of forms are available all over the internet such as Youtube videos, articles, blog posts - you name it! Of course we are not going to know everything but at least learn something before you go can help prepare and enhance your travel experience.

As I read more about Japan, there are many interesting facts. Do you know that you do not have to pay tips in Japan? While giving tips is a must here in the States, that practice is NOT common or necessary in Japan. It can be perceived as an insult if you do tip as well. Yay for some money saving :P If you plan your trip to Japan (or just out of curiosity) be sure to check out some of the videos below to get you started.

Monday, April 27, 2015

How to boost your mood on a cloudy day....

These beauties are right in my backyard. Looking at colorful flowers always make me happy and lift my spirit. These are the combination of wildflowers, annuals and perennials. I just hope Spring lasts a little longer so I can enjoy them more. I always feel that spring is the shortest season of all. The weather has begun to feel like summer some days now down here but most days are cloudy I almost feel like I live in England with an overcast sky and rain 5 days a week. 

Flowers look their best in spring, don't you agree?

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Clean and safe home

Let's talk about cleaning. Cleaning is not fun, I admitted it. Living in a clean and organized home makes me happy but I don't like cleaning that much (who does anyway?). Bathroom is an easy room for me to clean but I can't stand the pungent order of the toilet bowl cleaner, the bleach, the mildew stuff. Every time I clean our bathrooms and toilets I feel like I choke and need to run out to get fresh air every few minute, no kidding! My nose is burning from bleach fume. Then after the bathroom and toilet are clean, the chemical odor lingers for a very long time.
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It got me thinking, inhaling these chemicals directly or indirectly couldn't be good in a long term. In this age and time, more and more people have been diagnosed with  cancer that has no cure. The numbers of affected people are really striking and alarming. Although we don't know exactly what is the underlying cause of the disease and who will get such disease, I will want try to minimize the risks as long as I can.

Eating healthy and selecting organic produces are the way to go but we can still expose to the nasty stuff as long as our lives are surrounded by dangerous chemicals in our household. In the past 7-8 years or so, I started switching our typical personal care products to more natural options (soap, lotion, shampoo for example). Some stuff worked well and some didn't. My husband and I never really tried to switch our cleaning products because we didn't think natural based cleaning products could clean effectively We didn't quite believe in the power of nature until recently. I think the only thing we bought and tried was the Seventh Generation Dish Detergent to clean our daughter's bottles when she was younger.

My husband and I are TOTALLY blown away by products from The Honest Company. Years ago, I heard that Jessica Alba launched her brand which focused on safe and natural baby and family products but never checked it out. 99% of the time, I would buy natural baby's products (soap, shampoo, conditioner and sunscreen) for my daughter since she was born and I've tried almost all the brands in the market. We frequently used California baby until one day we ran out so I went to Target and saw a Honest liquid soap/shampoo and bought on a whim. Both my husband and I thought it worked really well. My daughter skin is moisturized after her bath, her hair feels clean and it doesn't leave a residue. That was our first impression with the brand. Then next I found a deal on Zulily.com which I could get the 1st monthly subscription from the Honest Company for just $19.95 (regular price $35.95). The monthly subscription or "Bundles" contains 5 products that you can choose. My thought was that I would just cancel it after one month because I was not into subscription service and I thought it was too expensive. However 4 months later, I am still subscribed. That says something. Everything I've ordered WORKS wonder (except a hair conditioner which doesn't work well with my daughter's fine hair).

I have never written any review for household products but these two are worth mentioning. The reviews are my honest opinions and I paid for the products with my own money.
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Toilet bowl cleaner 27 fl. oz. ($5.95): This was the 1st cleaning product I ordered and wanted to try. To tell you the truth, I didn't have a high hope. For years, there are some stubborn stains inside the toilet bowls that no bleach/Lysol could remove. NONE EVER! Didn't matter how much bleach we poured in there.

I was skeptical when I start squeezing the bottle and saw that the liquid was so thick and concentrated, it stayed along the rim (unlike Lysol which dripping into the water). The scent is Eucalyptus. It was nothing comparing to Lysol which was so pungent. After I used the Honest Company Toilet Cleaner for the1st time and started scrubbing, BAM! The stains were melting away like magic! I never got such excitement seeing a toilet bowl but I did that day. My husband was beyond amazed. We are SOLD! The best part is that I could barely detect the odor when in the bedroom. I could smell it slightly in the bathroom but it disappeared not too long after and didn't bother me at all. That led us to explore more cleaning products from this brand. This bottle will probably last for a long time, it is very concentrated. I like the tip because it is pointy and small so it could reach the area under the rim quite well.
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Bathroom Cleaner 29 fl. oz.($5.95): after our impression with the toilet bowl cleaner, I decided to try a bathroom cleaner next. I use this to clean kitchen sink, bathroom sinks, shower and bath tub. Our shower's floor once again had stubborn stains that nothing could get rid of. This cleaner has the same scent as the toilet bowl cleaning. The trick is that you have to make sure the surface you clean has to be dry before you spray. Leave it for 5-10 minutes then start scrubbing. My husband said he didn't even have to scrub as hard and the stains started dissolving in front of his eyes. Our shower never looked this clean, the last time we saw it this clean was when we moved in the first year! It was AMAZING and not to mention the Eucalyptus scent, much better than mildew products (yuck!).

I think I enjoy cleaning bathrooms more than ever now. It sounds crazy but true. Knowing that what you use is safer for your family and environment than most conventional products in the market makes me feel better. I wouldn't say it is 100% safe that you can drink out of the bottle but enough for me to feel comfortable using such products around our little one. I highly recommend if you are in the market for a toilet bowl cleaner or a bathroom cleaner.