Friday, January 09, 2015

Happy New Year 2015! Year of the sheep!!! How we spent the rest of our winter break. Hotel stay, Baymax/Big Hero 6 at Ikspiari, Kua 'Aina Burger and Krispy Kreme and some other fun bits thrown in for good measure, like heading to a michi no eki in Ibaraki, etc.

Happy New Year, I hope each and everyone of you have a wonderful new year!
These are the New Year's cards we sent out this year! Just 1 shot of both the boys together right after we arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, 1 pic of Bran boogie boarding and 1 pic of Noah boogie boarding too and 1 picture of the pretty view from Kailua beach when we went on our family vacation this past summer. : ) On a lot of the cards we receive from friends and family in Japan, the cards are usually a group of pics from their trips overseas or trips within Japan. Last year we received a really nice card and their trip to Tokyo Disneyland was one of their many favorite things, so it made it on as one of their pics on their card to us. Another card we received is of a dear friend who went to Okinawa and my gosh by looking at the card it looks like such a gorgeous place to visit. : ) We really enjoy looking at the pics from the cards we receive and catching up with friends that way. : ) This past year for example, Genki-kun's sister went to America (California, for a school related trip) and we really enjoyed looking at the pics via our New year's card this year. : )  So we do the same as well, usually highlight whatever trip we took for that specific year, you know what I mean, I hope. : ) 
Otoshidama (New year's money) given to children in Japan. In the past, when we have gone to Osaka the boys usually get quite a bit of these little money envelops. Last time, we drove there...I think it was a couple years back and the traffic was super bad. Noboru's family nicely booked a yakiniku restaurant, all you can eat for 2 hours. And because we were literally stuck in highway traffic (after we checked into the hotel) but we were stuck somewhere between the hotel somewhere in Kyoto and trying desperately to make our way to Osaka. Long story short by the time we got there, we had less than an hour to eat. Plus since there was no parking at the restaurant when we did finally reach the restaurant... we had to go lap after lap driving around the block in the family minivan to find pay parking. @_@ So while it was fun seeing everyone, it was pretty stressful on the driver (Noboru) being stuck in traffic while he wanted to see his family. We barely started eating our meal... meanwhile everyone was finishing with theirs. And given the ride back to Chiba from Osaka the traffic jams we encountered along the way were so bad, the highway looked like a parking lot instead of a highway, so we eventually got off the highway and took regular roads...it was actually faster than the highway, go figure. So we decided for us...it's just better to stick close to home. : ( My bil also once with his family ventured to Osaka (he lives in Narita) and apparently they had been bumped from flights because of again...lots of full airplanes, this was the year after we went. So they also stay close to home now too. : ) So Branden and Noah received otoshidama from Noboru and also from uncle Jun. We also made sure my niece and new nephew that was born in 2014 also received some from us as well. : ) 

Branden and Noah each received 10,000 yen, 5,000 from Noboru and 5,000 from uncle J. : ) we also gave my niece and nephew 5,000 yen each too. : )  And Narita temples and shrines are infamous for being so PACKED during the new year holiday. So we avoid going near Narita during those first 3 days of the new year. Meanwhile they kinda just cozy up in their apartment, my bil and his family. : ) Plus Noboru and his brother worked the 31st through the 2nd. So no time really to get together, plus she has her hands full with a new baby and a 2nd grader, so I totally understand. But they're pretty nice and awesome. We have plans to BBQ this coming spring/summer when we all have some more time. And I should be done with my yakuin PTA duties by then so... my weekends should be free by then. : )

The beauty of spending our New year's eve and New year's at home, is we can actually celebrate it the way we want to, and decide what we want to eat. And what we want to watch on TV. For Near Year's eve, we decided to have baked chicken parmesan with pasta. I skillet fried the chicken parmesan, they were draining in this pic. About to be thrown into the oven on top of the sauce, covered in tin foil for a good 20-25 minutes covered. Then I take the chicken out, unwrap the tin foil and cover each chicken with shredded mozzarella cheese and put back into the oven for an extra 10 minutes without the tin foil, that way the cheese gets all hot and melty ooey gooey. Meanwhile the water is boiling on the stove already at this point.  

And there you go. A pretty easy dinner. But one that we personally really really love. New year's eve dinner was truly superly enjoyed. : ) We saved Noboru's dinner for him when he got home. Meanwhile the kids both took showers after dinner. I did pop some popcorn and we did have some round custard filled taiyaki ready and waiting. We had a quiet movie night at home, we watched 2 DVD's, Guardian's of the Galaxy and The Amazing Spiderman 2. Noah zonked out before the ending of Spiderman. : ) I carried him upstairs. : ) Noboru got home at 10pm. He ate, we 3 talked. We watched (American TV, cable)  then at 11:40pm, I set the bath. I put my hair into a bun, a pony tail double wrapped which easily makes my hair into a bun. I waved Noboru and Branden a happy...see you all later. : ) I took a quick shower. I did put some bath powder in the tub (shea butter) and after my quick face wash and body wash, I went and soaked. Man...I had a really good soak. Noboru and Bran watched 25 minutes of Japanese TV, they got to see different areas of Japan ringing in the new year on TV. That's Noboru's favorite part. : ) And I like that he gets to watch that ringing in the new year part. Meanwhile for me, I liked getting to have a lovely nice hot soak. I dried off, put on my Frosty the Snowman fleece night gown on. ; ) Came downstairs. Noboru and Bran already watched the parts they wanted to see and so they changed the TV back to our American cable, but I said no worries because I was ready to sleep. The 3 of us were all ready for sleep...so Bran went to his room to dreamland and we also went to sleep like within 10 minutes. The bath really relaxed all my muscles and I was ready for dream time. I'd say by 12:30am we were already in bed.  We have one set of neighbors who go skiing like clockwork every New Years for a couple days. : ) We have another neighbor (elderly cute couple) who insist their favorite way to spend New Years is by watching the first sunrise of the year. I like that everyone around here has their own...special thing and way they celebrate New Year's. : )
January 1st. We called all Noboru's family back in Osaka and of course uncle J in Narita too. Wishing everyone a Happy New Year! I also Happy New Year-ed my dad and him to me as well. The kids eagerly waiting for the post man to bring new year's cards. Noah and Branden always receive a really good amount of cards from their friends (a ton). And Noah's yochien sensei who came to visit Noah last year for undokai still sends a New Year's card to Noah every year. And Noah also sends one to her too. : )  The boys gets cards from swimming friends, old yochien friends/classmates, and a good amount from elementary school friends, teachers. : ) For dinner we had ourselves a quiet little taco party here at home. Lean ground beef from Costco, some chicken breast taco meat for myself and whoever would like some. We had two packs of 18 taco shells. We toasted a good amount and toasted more shells if needed. We also baked a yellow cake. And the Twilight Zone marathon was on for over 24 hours. And so I was pretty happy about that. : )  New Year's, not a dot of makeup on (although I do wash my face every morning and night), hair in a pony tail, in yoga pants and a comfy long sleeve tee. We all spent the day in total comfort. : ) 

The one and only pic of the 1st cake of the New Year. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting. 

The day after Christmas, I ran Branden's JHS uniform to the dry cleaners. And January 4th, is when it was ready for me to pick it up. 1 uniform jacket and 1 pair of winter uniform pants, check! 

Also, a note was given saying kids are allowed to wear sweaters at our local JHS, right before the kids went on winter break. They could be bought from anyplace/anywhere. But they must be a V-neck and they must be dark blue/navy. Okay fair enough, I went online to Cecile. And they had a wool type a v-neck sweater and also a 100% cotton v-neck sweater. Just to be straight up about it, I find wool type sweaters to be crazy itchy. Plus they need dry cleaning (added expense) unless I want to hand wash it. I love that Cecile sells a 100% cotton sweater/unisex sweater. It says it is washable in the washing machine, which as a mom is a huge relief for me. And no itchy feel. Another huge thumbs up for me too and so I ordered it for Branden, about one or two days after Christmas. Also the price like 1800 yen. So affordable. I purchased it in the largest size they sell, 170cm. And it fits Branden fine with a tad room to grow. Clearly I won't be throwing this into the dryer...just because I would worry if the sweater would shrink to Noah size. lol. : ) 

Price was right, it is navy blue and 100% cotton and a V-neck, the school really stressed the V-neck part, lol. Ever since Branden entered JHS, Cecile has never let me down. : ) Granted, I have bought many a pants and shorts for Noah from Cecile too. But yep, I really like that online retailer for us in Japan. 

Noboru requested off work January 3rd to the 6th and got it. Yes he had to work New Year's eve and the 1st and 2nd. But he was home by 10pm each night, so it wasn't too bad at all. Plus the good part is that on Sunday when everyone was trying to make their way back home from their parents house in Japan, meaning all roads and highways were crazy insane busy. We were at home or near home. Avoiding the crowded roads in the bigger cities or highways. And on Monday, when all the families are back to their homes and all papas are safely at work and the roads aren't all congested, Noboru was off and it was our time now to head to the hotel and to Ikspiari...avoiding that congested New year's traffic. So the days Noboru picked were the right days for us. : ) These pics were taken on January 3rd. It wasn't a huge thing we did... but we were hoping to get the boys a haircut and myself a haircut January 3rd too (neither happened that day). First we drove to the boys barber. The barber shop they go to, had a sign that read, closed for New years will reopen on January 4th. Yep, in the countryside most things are closed until the 4th. Okay we thought, we will come back the next day, January 4th. : ) Meanwhile after that, we cruised to my hair salon I usually go to. They were open however, my hairstylist was away wherever her family is originally from... spending new year's. Good for her, she deserves to get some quality family time, I thought. The receptionist said she will be back tomorrow January 4th, so I made an appointment for January 4th, at 10am. for just a haircut (no hair straightening, I'll wait until March for that). : ) After that we decided to hop in the car and go for a nice little drive. We stopped at a little michi no eki, which is basically just a little rest area that has shops and sells local goods, omiyage type stuff and specialties. The pic is of the boys outside the michi no eki.

Noah enjoying a custard filled taiyaki. Branden, Noah and myself each had a taiyaki. Noboru had picked some takoyaki and we strolled around the little shops. It was fun. It was superly crowded though, Noboru looked at the cars in the parking lot and said that... many had Tokyo license plates though we were in Ibaraki. So more than likely... they went back "home" to their parents house for the New Year holiday and heading back to their new homes to the big city so buying some omiyage/souvenirs from Ibaraki before heading back to big city life. : )  Also on a personal note...I have to add, I have had many a custard taiyaki in my life, but this one was REALLY good. I actually saw them fill each one with a very thick custard cream. They were just really good. Like..I mean downright delicious type a good. : ) 

And of course Ibaraki is famous for their melons. Honey dew and also cantaloupe. Which is so nice we live on the border between Chiba and Ibaraki our melons in summer are so cheap. : ) 

And cantaloupe right here. 

Ibaraki is also famous for it's natto. Here is some natto senbei. Hmm, if I ever go and visit someone I could come bearing gifts of cantaloupe and honey dew cakes and/or some melon cookie goodness and natto senbei perhaps? Hahaha. : ) Chiba is meanwhile famous for sweet potatoes and peanuts. : ) Since I live in Chiba the very very end though and bordering Ibaraki I can give combo gifts. Hahaha. : ) 

Between Christmas cash and otoshidama the boys are saving money quite well, however they did spend some of it. Branden spent 450 yen for the tiny Nerf gun. And Noah spent 1,000 yen ($10 US) for the same gun and extra bullets. They both said they need nothing else, so they are saving the rest of their money. Sunday, January 4th morning, I was at my hair dressers by 10am. I left the hair dressers at 11:50am, could actually be closer to 12 noon. Noboru and the boys meanwhile went to change the oil on the 1 box mini mini van we have. Which is right next to the small mall in the city nearest us, where I was at, getting my haircut. Nearly 2 hours for a haircut, shampoo, conditioner, blow dry and style, she flat ironed it too. She cut about 2 inches/about 5cm in length. My hair was pretty long and it's medium length now with layers. I met Noboru and the boys at the small mall, they were finished 5 minutes before I was, so perfect timing, I Line messaged them and they were yet again in the bookstore. We went to the boys barber after leaving the tiny mall... but it was crazy busy. So we went home to drop off the mini mini van and switched to Olive....my car. Noboru uses the mini mini van in winter to commute so that's why that car needed an oil change. But when we're together it's smarter to drive my car because.... she's absolutely free, no gas at all. So we drove my car to Narita to Toys r us. The boys walked around. We bumped into the boys swim friend who was also shopping at Toys r us. : ) The boys didn't find much but found the tiny Nerfs.  After Toys r us, we drove all the way back to the barber and it was dead...meaning no customers. Yay!!! Perfect timing. Both Branden and Noah got really nice haircuts before school starting back up. And we went to the Ohsho for dinner that night... because by now it was pretty late. However we got tons accomplished for 1 day. Picked up Branden's suit from the same mall where my hair salon is. Got my hair cut (which always takes a thousand years, but she does a super job so she's worth it), both kids got their haircut. Plus a quick run to Toys r us. Oh yeah plus Noboru went and changed the oil in his 1 box mini mini van. So not bad for a Sunday, right? : )  Monday...the next day was the day of our hotel and movie. : ) 

Monday we woke up, we each had a small overnight bag already packed. We left our town around 11:30am. we went to Costco Inzai for lunch because it's the cheapest place to actually have lunch while traveling around Japan. 60 yen drinks with free refills. A cheap slice of pizza or hot dog. It makes traveling and grabbing some lunch...penny wise. Plus we knew we were having Kua 'Aina for dinner. So, I think the affordable lunch was perfect. : ) Oh, we always stay at the Palm and Fountain hotel near Tokyo Disneyland and Sea. We stay there because Noboru gets free stays at certain hotels throughout Japan. For example without going into too much detail but the Nagano hotel and hotel we stayed at near Mt Fuji, those 2 hotels for us, are straight up free. Same as this hotel. As in we don't even have to pay not even $5 or 500 yen for the room. However like the hotel in Hakone we stay at, we have to pay like 1500 yen each person. However for the normal person booking the same room it would be a couple hundred dollars. But the fee is mostly covered and we just have an overlap of $15 US, per person. So when we do stay at Hakone all we have to pay, hotel wise is say 6000 yen total for all 4 of us (and this even includes breakfast). Which is totally cheap and smart to do it that way. But yep..it depends on the hotel. But for this Palm and Fountain...the rate and our allowed money per day per hotel stay....it works totally free. So it's a very smart way to travel. We like to use Noboru's perks. And if you don't use them... you lose them anyways, they become null in void in April you have a whole year starting in April ending in March to use all the hotel stays or they get erased and you start fresh another year, so you can't like hoard or collect hotels stays for different years. So we try our best to use them. Also though days matter...the going rate for this hotel for New years was outrageous. Where as a few days after new year's on the date we went...was like one of the cheapest dates for January, go figure...but fine with us. So another reason why we chose and picked this day. : )  The yellow building is pictured here and the pink building is pictured below. One is the palm and the other is the fountain. : )

We usually stay at the pink one, though we do like both. The hotels are super clean, new modern. Not 2015, but not the 1950's either. I'd say mid 90's. : ) Not a dot of dirt or spec of dust. You don't feel like you need a bath being here. You feel comfortable staying here. The linens are all clean and all the sheets are bleached white, sheets and pillow cases all super white. Is it fancy shmancy? No, but then we aren't fancy shmancy type people. This is right along the lines of...staying at the La Quinta hotel. Travel lodge, Econolodge. Suits your needs, clean yes, efficient yes and most important to me...clean! This place is spotless. And their ice machines on all floors quite a few on the same floor. And a convenience store on the bottom of each hotel. And a free shuttle going to both parks, Disneyland and Disneysea and from there you can walk the 5 mins to Ikspiari, like we did back in October. However this time we just cruised Olive directly to Ikspiari. 

We checked in...we all went pee (sorry TMI) and then we went directly to Ikspiari.

We were so ready. : ) I see my little hibiscus suitcase. My gosh that suitcase has gone everywhere...am I right. Did, I get my $20 worth on that suitcase...all those years ago...I'd have to say yes! : ) She's been my trusty travel companion for a long time. : ) 

Not sure if you can make it out too well...but it says...this movie is in English. Yes! Nearest place near me. Which isn't very close to us at all actually. Good thing we had a free hotel room, it gave us time to rest and enjoy the night. : ) 

The movie started at 4:55pm. We checked into the hotel at 3pm. As soon as we got to Ikspiari we gave the lady our tickets and she in turn let us pick seats for the 4:55pm movie. We picked some good seats. And we had time to kill, so we strolled around Ikspiari. We bought 2 super cool toothbrushes for the boys at Sony Plaza. We walked around Lush (didn't buy anything) The Body Shop (didn't buy anything) but it was nice looking around. When it was nearing the movie time we went back to the movies, everyone went to the bathroom and we bought some popcorn and drinks. In the pink bucket we bought a bucket of salt popcorn and half caramel popcorn, there is a divider inside. And 2 sodas. The Sony Plaza bag pictured held the 2 toothbrushes. : ) There were 4 or 5 Americans behind where we were sitting, a family (a mom with adult children, 3 adult kids and am not sure about the dad if he was there or not). An American girl with Japanese boyfriend sitting way at the back, they seemed pretty nice. And a couple Chinese families, who also looked pretty nice, I spoke to 1 of the families and they later chatted with another family. It was really nice being in a movie with fellow English speaking folks. We all enjoyed the movie. Oh, I have to share this story. I did not bring any snacks. I did not sneak in anything into the movie theater (like I usually do) because...I thought..perhaps while it must be okay/ignored/slightly acceptable where we live because we live in the countryside/inaka and truly nobody cares/minds. Meanwhile, I thought, it's more than likely not done here...it must be frowned upon. And so, I made sure to be on my best behavior and so we bought all our snacks at the movies. Yeah I did, go me. Anyway for the longest time nobody brought in snacks, unless you count the concession snacks sold at the movies. And I was thinking during the previews...how different these city folks are...and thinking to myself...good thing I did not bring in any snacks in my handbag...inaka/country style. Hahaha. : ) So just at that moment 2 Japanese women walked in and they sat...in our row...with 1 buffer seat away from me. And you will not believe this. The strongest food smell crept through their bags. And then she opened her paper bag and she unwrapped something...she unwrapped it so slowly it went crinkle crinkle crinkle...I mean it felt like she unwrapped it for 5 freaking minutes. What is it...for crying out loud? I wondered...it smelled vaguely familiar but it was in the dark. Then it hit me..they snuck in Kua 'Aina Burgers. I could smell the chargrilled burgers and onions...we all could. At least when I am in the inaka, we eat our stuff that we snuck in...we eat it on the down low, ykwim. She had no shame ya'll...she munched that thing right in front.... for all to see, she didn't even remotely try to hide her burger. I was a little surprised. @_@ Of course...I would not even consider telling the staff. I get it...I do...the cost of a movie in Japan is absolutely outrageous...plus snacks. Believe me I understand, but man...the smell distracted me from most of the previews. I think I saw the previews for...Into the Woods...this looks so completely boring to me. And is this part/half a musical??? @_@ Saw half of the previews of Cinderella, this looks good but only half way paid attention to the previews since I was also trying to not concentrate on the woman and her delicious smelling burger and all her crinkling paper bag sounds. Oh yes and the kicker of it all...she threw her purse and coat in the empty seat right next to me? Cue Clueless.....As if!!! You know....I thought it was just a country inaka thing. Apparently not, ya'll. Do you know how badly I wanted to sneak in some chocolate covered raisins for everyone in our family, but I held off, since we were going to Ikspiari. Sigh. : ) Thankfully she finished her burger before the movie started. : ) 
The movie was so good. Noboru, Branden and I heard Noah crying at the end of the movie. I can tell Noboru was gonna mention it, and I gave him the stink eye. Because we all know Noah is sensitive and he should be able to cry in a movie without getting lightly teased by his dad and brother. So, I had to give the look. And we changed the subject. : ) The kids loved the movie and I did too. Oh and both parents died they were being raised by the aunt. I thought 1 parent was alive but not the case at all. Don't think this alters or ruins the movie for anyone. So not really a spoiler alert at all. We were all pretty starving after the movie so we went to Kua 'Aina burger after the movie. I was in the mood for it for the past month. And after smelling it in the movies....I was even more ready for it! : ) 

My meal pictured here. Teriyaki chargrill chicken sandwich, side of onion rings and a guava juice with ice.  Oh yeah! : ) 

Noboru and Branden's food pictured here, they both got chargrill cheeseburgers with a side of fries and cokes. 

Noah got exactly the same as Noboru and Bran, Noah's food pic a bit blurry because he was about to take a bite. : ) He also got a coke. Everyone got combos basically. After that, we walked downstairs to Krispy Kreme. Oh Krispy Kreme we are so gonna get you/eat you! : ) 

We bought 6 donuts and received 1 free glaze. 

I forgot to mention we stopped off at Ito Yokado on the way from Ikspiari to the hotel and we bought drinks for the hotel and everyone but me picked a snack. I picked a Vitamin Water. The kids each picked a drink, and Noboru picked beer. Noboru always has to eat instant noodles in the hotel room. @_@ I am not sure why... but if we are in Japan...it's his thing that he always does. : ) Both Branden and Noah picked a snack size bag of chips. I personally felt the donut was way more than I could even finish, I opted for nothing but the Vitamin Water, we checked out and drove back to the hotel. This pic is of the donuts on my bed, everyone about to dig into some donuts, and our drink of choice. We watched  TV. That TV show where little kids go shopping without parents was on....that is such a good show! After that we all took turns showering. I blow dried my hair, got my night gown on. And we all continued to watched TV...enjoying our night in the hotel room. We went to bed late. Noah around 9pm which is super late for Noah. Bran went to sleep around 10. Noboru and I scanned channels in our side by side twin beds until around 11pm. We woke up around 8am. I woke up first. I washed my face, brushed my teeth right away and put my makeup on in about 7 minutes. Flat ironed my hair in about 5 minutes. Woke up the rest of the family. Everyone got dressed, teeth brushed etc. We checked out. You know what...this little 24 hour getaway really recharged everyone. We all felt pretty good about it. : ) 

We grabbed some breakfast before starting our drive back home. We did make sure to stop along the way at Costco Chiba New Town/Inzai yet again. 

Just a few basics from Costco, nothing too earth shattering here. Sliced ham for the month for quick lunches. 4 frozen cheese pizzas (these are actually pretty good), a rotisserie chicken for a quick dinner that night and a cup of that delicious curry soup. Gosh darn that soup is so good. : )

The cutest, weirdest most unusual toothbrush we ever saw. It caught our eye at Sony Plaza immediately and we had to get 1 for each of the boys to use at school. The price was affordable under 300 yen. It has an actual plastic gummy bear on the tooth brush. At first I thought, is this giving mixed signals. And then I thought about it some more and thought...you know what...let's not over think this. It's cute, it's unusual. The kids have never had a cavity in their life, so why not get this tooth brush. It's cute...let's not over think this to death here! : )

It has a little cover to protect their bristles. I did put a name sticker on each of them. Branden is using the green one at JHS now. And Noah is using the orange one at elementary school now. : ) In Japan kids must brush their teeth after lunch.  Anyway that's the long and short of it. How we spent the last of our winter break. : )