Friday, 26 April 2013

Sayonara Tokyo

Photo taken from 52nd Floor of the Mori Tower
This is the view from 340 metres up in the Tokyo Sky Tree, the world's tallest tower.
And just like that, three weeks has flown by and we are heading home tomorrow. None of the blog posts I started or planned in my head came to fruition which is a shame as I really wanted to record it here, maybe I'll post some highlights when we are home. I am so pleased we had three weeks here, we crammed a lot into our time but we were able to do it leisurely, time and leisure are so important when you are travelling with kids! The first two weeks were the best, it felt like we had heaps of time stretching out ahead of us and we really cruised around, spending hours at parks, wandering our neighbourhood, visiting museums and much much more. However this week the mood changed, maybe being away from the comforts and familiarity of home took it's toll, but it definitely feels like a tiredness has finally caught up with us. And so tomorrow we will say Sayonara Tokyo, we've loved being here and I for one am sad to be leaving, but happy to be heading home to a place we know inside out, the place where our special people live and where we can speak the same language.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

16/52




"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2013" via Che and Fidel.

Ella: Her favourite things at Ueno zoo were the snakes, spiders, frogs and crocodiles.
Lucia: She loved the small mammals house which was full of weird and wonderful creatures like bats and bushbabies.
Marcus: He was the trip leader for the day, he loved choosing our route around the zoo and he was fascinated by the very playful polar bear.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Yarn Along


It's growing this Honey Cowl of mine. I'm a bit worried that it's not going to be long enough to double up like the other one I knitted, it's a shame I didn't use Ravelry to keep track of my projects back then. It's knitting up beautifully though, I'm so happy with the texture and colour of it.

I finished reading The Book Thief last week, although I bawled my eyes out at the end I would recommend it, it was so beautifully written. I've moved onto something a lot lighter now, my lovely husband bought me a Japanese cookbook when we arrived, luckily it's written in English too so I've been able to make a few dishes. The challenge has been finding the ingredients on the supermarket shelves!  I've also started reading Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, it's a Penguin Classic and I honestly chose it because of the cover, it's been a long time since I bought a book and I was a bit overwhelmed at the bookshop!  I'm only a few chapters in but I'm already lost in the period drama.

I'm joining in with Ginny and looking forward to checking out what everyone else has been up to.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Eating

I don't have many images of food on my camera as when we've been out I've been too embarrassed to whip out my camera. We attract enough staring as it is without that as well! Those of you waiting for food pics will have to make do with these:

Ummm, can't remember its name but it was noodles in broth with a tempura prawn

Our first sushi meal out and my first introduction to sashimi - I love this shot of Ella (on the right) seriously inspecting her food

Norimaki from the supermarket

Tuna and Salmon sushi from the supermarket
One of the things I was looking forward to experiencing in Japan, after the blossom of course, was the food. Now for a girl who's not travelled in Asia, Japanese food is a bit of a challenge.  Add three kids and an inability to read Japanese into the mix and it gets really interesting!

Food shopping here is very different. Food is expensive and that's because it's locally grown, there are very strict rules on imported food and there's not a lot of it around. Apparently only 2% of all the tea grown is exported, I love that and think New Zealand could learn a lot from that too, perhaps if people were willing to pay a fairer price our farmers wouldn't be struggling so much against cheap imports. The Japanese shop daily, they like their food fresh and partly assembled so at our local supermarket I can buy any number of mostly unidentifiable offerings, then heat them up at  for dinner. I've been cooking rice or rice noodles and vegetables when we're eating in and adding gyoza (pork dumplings), or soy chicken, or pork cutlet. Lunches have been sandwiches, sushi or salad, bought from a mini supermarket which are everywhere. My favourites are glass noodles salad and shrimp wraps (Thai maybe?) and norimaki - kind of inside out sushi, the rice is on the outside of the roll. Being unable to read food packaging definitely has it's pitfalls, when I was making scrambled eggs the other day I cracked the first egg and it slid out of its shell whole, turns out an egg is not just an egg in Japan, the ones I'd bought were soft boiled...

It's often cheaper to eat out and we are surrounded by lots and lots of little eating places. A lot of them have seating room for only a handful of people, others have ticket machines where you purchase your food then take your ticket to the counter to collect your meal. The menus are always written in Japanese so we tend to eat only at places with plastic food displayed in the window or with a menu with pictures. We love looking at the plastic food, some of it is so life-like. Most restaurants only sell a small number of dishes in a particular style so you get Sushi places, Ramen (noodle) shops, Yakitori (anything grilled on a stick), Korean BBQ and lots of others

Despite plastic food and pictures on menus, we still don't really have much of a clue what we're ordering and while there've been times at the end of a long day when it's been frustrating, we are trying to see it as just part of the fun of being in Japan. We're lucky in that Anthony has been here before and knows a few things to order. On Sunday night we were taken out for a fabulous meal by Ryann, a NZ expat who's lived here for 17 years, it was a relief not to have to worry about ordering and the food we had was delicious. The Japanese tend to order lots of different dishes throughout their meal so all around us there were shouts for the waiter as diners wanted another dish brought to their table. We had grilled pork and chicken sticks (yakitori), little shellfish and octopus yakitori (not so delicious, too chewy for my liking), skewered chicken meatballs, sashimi (raw fish, not sure what kind), an amazing salad with a lot of different leaves, chickpeas, blanched broccoli, kidney beans and a lemon and soy sauce dressing, grilled fish (this was so good the kids devoured it so we had to order another) and to finish the yummiest little bite-sized icecreams called Pinos.

We are staying in a business district so there are quite a few international food restaurants around us, I've spotted lots of Italian and French restaurants. There are also three McDonalds, one Burger King and a Subway, all within five minutes of the apartment. We've had one meal at an Italian restaurant but we found the Japanese take on Italian unusual, the pizza was pizza though and that kept the kids happy!

So while I'm getting my head around the food here the kids are still struggling a bit. We've been here ten days now and although they are getting more adventurous, McDonalds still remains their preferred option for a meal out. They did really enjoy the meal we had with Ryann though so there is hope. She gave us some good tips on what to order so with any luck even they'll be converts by the time we come home!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Blossom hunter

I have become a blossom hunter, scanning each street or park we go to, hoping to spot a tree still in flower.  Each discovery sends me diving for my camera, filling up my memory card with images of the stunning beauty of not only the flowers, but the form of the tree and where it sits in its surrounds. I love that the Japanese have a special name for this - hanami, the traditional Japanese custom of enjoying the beauty of blossom.










Saturday, 13 April 2013

15/52

 


"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2013" via Che and Fidel.

Ella: She cracks up every time she goes through the Subway barriers, her travel pass makes the noise of a penguin
Lucia: She's loving her tuna sushi, it's about the only Japanese food she'll eat
Marcus: He loves the vending machines and is always on the look-out for Pocari Sweat, a drink we haven't been brave enough to try yet

These photos were taken in the Imperial Palace East Gardens.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Yarn Along

Thirteen hours flying time through the day, sounds like I'd have gotten a lot of knitting done doesn't it? Well unfortunately the answer is no, two inches in fact was all I had to show for the entire trip. A combination of things conspired against my needles, the first was my inability to remember how to do M1L and M1R increases, the second was a bad feeling about the pattern and yarn match, and the third was a very bored five year-old boy.... say no more!

I bought the yarn with the Boneyard Shawl pattern in mind (see here) but I really didn't like the way it was knitting up. I love the pattern and I love the yarn, I just didn't love them together. So, after some serious researching on Ravelry I decided to cast-on another Honey Cowl, and I'm really loving how it's looking. I've had quite a lot of knitting time in the early hours of the morning while the kids have still been adjusting to Tokyo time so it was growing quite quickly but I realised on Monday that I'd twisted the stitches (multiple times) when I joined them, so it was ripped back and I've started again. I bought the bag in the background from an arcade in Asakusa, it depicts autumn on one side and spring on the other, it makes a perfect project bag.



I'm almost finished The Book Thief, it's so beautifully written and very thought provoking. It's set in Nazi Germany so not the lightest of subject matters. We visited Dachau (which the book mentions) when we stayed in Munich and it still sends shivers down my spine remembering it, what a sad place.  On a much lighter note the Lonely Planet Tokyo guide is never far from hand, it's proving very useful for navigating the craziness that is Tokyo!

Joining in with Ginny again....

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Settling in

We made it, we are here in Tokyo, the biggest and busiest city I've ever seen. Flying on my own with three children wasn't as bad as I'd imagined, the worst bit of it all was right at the end, the queues in immigration, the hour long trip by train and finally the navigation of the Subway with suitcases and three very tired children... I can't say I'm looking forward to doing that in the reverse!

The apartment is really nice, it's compact by New Zealand standards but has everything we need. The views are AMAZING, especially at night with all the lights. From here we can see the National Diet building, the leafy Imperial Palace Gardens and moat, the Sky Tree and the Tokyo Tower, and our neighbour on the right is the Buddhist shrine Hie-Jinja.  
Home for the next 3 weeks

Views from our apartment
 
 
Our neighbour, Buddhist Shrine Hie-Jinja
 The kids are struggling to adjust to Tokyo time, they are going to bed Tokyo time but still getting up NZ time....each day is improving slightly so lets hope by the end of the week we won't be starting our day so early. 

Despite tiredness levels we've managed to see a few sights. On Sunday we went blossom hunting to Hama-rikyu a park near the Fish Market in Tsukiji. There were still a few trees in flower but Spring has come early to Tokyo this year so we're just catching the tail-end of the blossom. From the park we caught the Waterbus to Asakusa, joined the crowds around the Senso Temple, had some noodles for lunch and then headed back to the apartment.

Hama-rikyu Gardens

Tokyo by Waterbus

 


 Lunch - tempura prawn served with soba noodles and broth
On Monday I ventured out on my own with the kids to visit the Imperial Palace however it was closed....Valuable lesson number 1- read the guide book properly. We retraced our steps on Tuesday though and had a good wander through the East Palace Gardens, there was some beautiful blossom, interesting bamboo and huge stone walls. We then met up with Anthony for lunch near his office and on the way I learned Valuable lesson number 2 - check the station signs to make sure we are getting off at the right stop....
Imperial Palace Gardens
I'm finding getting around on the Subway straightforward but there's a lot of walking....the kids are good walkers but the distances we're covering here, just getting around the subway system is challenging their energy levels! At some stations we seem to walk for miles to get out the right exit and since we're underground I have no bearings, for all I know we could have just gone out the first exit and crossed the road above ground! It makes planning our day a bit trickier, I have to make allowances not only for walking around the place we're visiting, be it a museum or a garden, but also for the underground walking, which in some instances has been half a kilometre just to get above ground. Luckily we have a good amount of time here, no need to rush around seeing all the sights in a matter of days, I'm grateful we've got weeks.



Monday, 8 April 2013

14/52

 


 
 
"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2013" via Che and Fidel.

Noodles and chopsticks, welcome to Japan!

Ella: our budding photographer, she's been walking around with her camera stuck to her face and has already taken hundreds of photos in the two days we've been here
Lucia: she's finding the food here a bit challenging but the one thing she gets excited about is sushi
Marcus: he's not enjoying the attention he's getting here, maybe it's his blonde hair but he seems to be a magnet for the older Japanese ladies

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Yarn Along


This cardigan here, has nearly been the death of me!  I love knitting but one of the hardest and most frustrating things I find about knitting is matching patterns designed overseas with locally available yarn. The cardigan in question is Playful Stripes, designed by Alana Dakos, one of my favourite designers, and the pattern uses Debbie Bliss, sport weight yarn. The first problem is right there, I had no sport weight yarn to choose from so had to go for a double knit. I thought about finding a new pattern but Ella was set on her stripes and had her colours all picked out and ready to go.

It all went downhill from there...picture this: serious swatch knitting, calculating stitches to inches, transferring calculations to pattern, much head scratching, casting on, undoing, more calculating, casting on smaller, undoing, cursing the pattern, procrastinating, procrastinating some more, searching internet yarn stores for Debbie Bliss yarn, cursing some more, digging out my favourite top-down pattern, fiddling about fudging two patterns together, finally reaching the end of the bodice section, breathing a sigh of relief and now calmly continuing on.....


Now I'm left with two dilemmas, firstly what to call it - the stripes are definitely Alana Dakos' pattern however the actual construction of the cardigan is Georgie Hallam's Olearia. The second is how on earth I'm going to tell my Mum, who is sitting ready to cast on Lucia's Playful Stripes, to knit it - she doesn't do top-down seamless knitting....! Perhaps I'll end up knitting them both...

Reading this past week has been a much less fraught affair. I'm halfway through The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and I'm really enjoying it. It's very different to the books I've read recently and I'm really liking the change.

Joining in with Ginny and if anyone out there can help with my cardigan dilemmas I'd love to hear from you!

 

Monday, 1 April 2013

Marching on


 Autumn is here, the nights are drawing in and the mornings are darker. Slowly the leaves are turning on the deciduous trees, in another month or so they'll stand bare amongst the evergreen natives. I love the colours in our landscape at this time of year, it's early days though, the Japanese Maple and the wild cherry trees have not started to turn yet. There are a few rogue yellow leaves on the Tulip tree though, that always turns first. 


The days are flying by, it seems like only last week we started our 20 sleeps countdown to our trip to Tokyo, today there are only four - four??!!! Oh my goodness, that is arriving fast!  There's not a lot to do when I think about it actually, most of the important stuff is sorted, I've just got to pack clothes for the kids and me, and get us on board the plane. I do still need to pick up a few things for them to take on the plane though to help keep them occupied.

First thing's first though, my knitting is all organised! I cast off my bestest friend's birthday scarf at the end of last week, I'm not going to be here for her birthday but at least she'll have her present. Doesn't it look gorgeous with her summer frock!

 
I've also visited my favourite yarn store and bought some gorgeous yarn for my Tokyo project, the Boneyard Shawl. Knitting projects are not only a great way to pass the hours on airplanes but every time I put it on I'll remember where it was knitted, I love that! I'm also taking Ella's cardigan which is now past the tricky striped yoke section so it's easy knitting from there. And if I finish both those projects I'll just have to find myself a yarn store in Tokyo, in fact I'm sure I'll be finding one or two regardless!


The henhouse is sorted. We (I say we but it was really Anthony, I cowered inside) culled six of the last hatching of chicks, turns out eight out of the nine were roosters, not a great hatching rate! There are still a couple of lucky ones running around but we'll deal with them when we get home. The pig pen is also sorted. The pigs have been processed, packed, picked up from the butcher and delivered to our customers. I'm looking forward to trying this pork, they were sent off a month earlier than any others we've processed so it'll be interesting to see if we can taste any difference.



Over the last couple of weeks in the veggie garden I've been busy planting seedlings of lettuce, Pak Choy, celery, kale, leeks and more spring onions. Over the next couple of days I'm hoping to get some carrot and radish seeds sown. There'll be time when I get back to get the garlic in. I've still been harvesting tomatoes and today I made another 2.5 litres of passata for the freezer. I've pulled some of the tomato plants out but the others are still looking too good to pull, I've left them for my relief gardener to enjoy. I'm hoping we won't miss out on all the walnuts or feijoas, fingers crossed there'll still be some when we get back.

The kids and I have been using  a phone ap to try and learn Japanese, our attempts are hilarious but hopefully we'll be able to say hello, please, thank you, help me and goodbye in a passable manner. On the kids' bucket list is Disneyland, the Ninja restaurant, Tokyo tower, the Rainbow bridge and taking a trip on a bullet train. My list is a little longer, I'd love to see all that plus as much cherry blossom as I can, visit every park, take a Japanese cooking class, visit as many fabric/yarn/op-shop/second-hand shops as I can find, go to Kyoto for a weekend, be invited to a home for a meal.. I could go on and on.....

Have you been to Japan?
Do you start new knitting projects when you travel?
Have you got your winter veggies in the ground or maybe your summer crops started?

13/52

 


 
"A portrait of my children, once a week, every week, in 2013" via Che and Fidel.
 
Ella: Buzzing with all the chocolate this Easter holiday has brought to our house
Lucia: Who doesn't love toasted marshmallows?
Marcus: Builder and presenter or block trophies, Here he is presenting the Best Twin award?! I am the proud recipient of the Best Gardener award although I'm a bit disappointed to have missed out on the Best Driver award, that one went to Dad....