Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides · Our Life in Japan · Travel Guides

Cherry Picking- June 29

Oh my goodness was this a short, fun little day trip. All you can eat fresh cherries for 40 minutes on a warm June day. Can you beat that? 

Here are the coordinates directly to the parking lot- it is a very small shop with a couple vending machines on the side. It is right on the corner of several streets. The owners were super friendly, despite our inability to understand how the process worked. Ha.

40.405600, 141.325477

Disclaimer: Like I said, we didn’t realize how this process worked, so we unfortunately did not realize that you are not supposed to bring a container inside the picking area with you. This is an all-you-can-eat-only kind of deal, then you can purchase cherries in boxes afterwards. When they didn’t hand us any baskets, we assumed we were just supposed to bring our own, and grabbed a Daiso basket from the car.

Thankfully Henry didn’t pick MANY cherries, but we still felt so bad bringing a bucket to the front when they didn’t charge us for them.

The Japanese hosts were so kind to us when we brought out a small container of cherries that Henry had picked, but we felt SO bad that we didn’t realize that we were only supposed to eat freely while in there. With our blueberry picking experience last year, you could pay for the weight of whatever you carried out, so we assumed we could do the same here.
Don’t be us. There are flats of cherries that you can buy afterwards- don’t carry any out on your own!Entry fee is 1000 yen per person for 40 minutes. It is somewhat unclear from the signs/what they charged us on exactly how much kiddos cost, but they are CHEAP either way. They were kind enough to allow our babes in for free.
During those 40 minutes, you may eat as many cherries as you would like.The cherries are THICK right now, as of the last week of June. You will leave that area with a stomach ache if you eat the entire time- I promise. And they are SO good. I took photos most of the time, and still ended up feeling full when it was time to leave. 

Let me say it again, the cherries are SO good. Like, can I say it 4 times? I was shocked to even see some dark, rich bing cherries on a few trees. Do y’all realize how much those babies cost at the grocery store in Japan?!
The branches hang LOW, so even a kiddo as little as around 1.5 years old could easily reach the branches.

AND… the best part?

It’s all COVERED by greenhouses! It started absolutely pouring while we were picking, and all of us stayed nice and dry.

If you look closely, you can see the pouring rain in the background. SO nice that the trees in the picking area were covered, so the kids stayed totally dry.

Basically NO bugs. Grass is very short. Seriously the easiest place for a fun day trip with even very young kiddos. Vending machines are also located to the side if you end up going on a hot day. I would highly recommend this for ANY age.The drive from base is about 57 minutes without tolls, but it is a BEAUTIFUL drive. I am not sure if a toll route would change this, but I HIGHLY recommend the route that Google Maps took us while avoiding tolls. 

The Japanese asked us to come back as we left today, only after taking photos of our kids and gifting us a small bag of cherries for free. We will absolutely return. I’m tempted to go back again tomorrow, honestly.Make sure you check them out too, you won’t be disappointed.

Japan Life · Travel Guides

14 Reasons Japan is the Best For Kids & Families

Looking for somewhere overseas to take a vacation with a toddler or baby? Moving to Japan soon? Just generally interested in one of the coolest countries on earth?
If you have kids, and especially if they are infants or toddlers, I am confident you will find Japan to be one of the easiest places to raise your little babes.

Don’t believe me?
Read on.

Why is Japan the best for kids?

1. Public nursery/breastfeeding locations

These are everywhere. The mall, the airport, train stations, airports. Anywhere that you might be caught needing to tend to a baby, there is likely a free-to-use nursery nearby.
These rooms boast: purified hot water access for preparing formula, privacy for breastfeeding, changing tables, and a ban on both smoking and electronic device use- making for a clean and quiet space for little ones.

In addition, these rooms are often sectioned off so that men can enter too! HOW COOL IS THAT?! One half of the space is for anyone caring for a baby, and one half for women only, so you can openly breastfeed here if you do not feel comfortable doing so in public.

Furthermore, Japan is incredibly accepting of breastfeeding in all the experiences I have had while feeding two babes over here, and while I choose to cover- I have never got a bad look if I chose to use the two-shirt method without my nursing cover.

2. Chaos does not exist

The Japanese people lined up at each train car, single-file and quietly waiting to board their train.

Everything has order.
Everything has an unspoken rule about waiting your turn.
Everything.
And when you have chaos holding on to each of your hands in the form of a small and loud child you are trying to drag onto public transit, more chaos is the last thing you need. We were terrified initially to use public transit with a language barrier, but it has proven to be one of the most stress-free things we have done since moving here.

When boarding a train that just entered your terminal, there is an unspoken rule that those exiting the train will do so before those boarding ever step foot on it. There is no pushing, no squeezing past somebody in the aisle- everything happens in order, everything runs on time, and it is glorious.

And finally, everyone is always willing to help you find your way. Whether they speak ANY English or not, they will do their best to help you. Chaos doesn’t happen here.

3. Kids meals are delivered first

Almost anywhere you go in Japan, children will be served first. Small plates, bowls, and spoons are also almost always brought to tables. Water is always offered to kids immediately. Japan seriously takes care of kiddos.

4. Kids meals are HUGE

Kids meals aren’t just one chicken strip and three soggy fries thrown in a cardboard box here. Seriously, everywhere you go- your kids will leave full.

Meals here almost always come with: a scoop of rice, a main dish, a side dish, some sort of juice or milk, and often even a toy or treat afterwards. If your kids love rice (which I guarantee they will after a few months in Japan) you can basically ALWAYS request a side of rice at a restaurant. This is our favorite trick with Henry, who is the pickiest eater in the world at times.

Best part? Most kids meals like this cost like $1.50-$3.50 max.

5. Baby Holders

Um, so, this is probably in my top 3 favorite things about Japan.
Who wants to poop while holding a child? Who wants to let their toddler crawl on the bathroom floor? Not you, eh? Need I say more?

6. Priority parking for pregnant mothers

Yep, Japan considers you handicapped while you are pregnant, and it’s the most genius thing I have ever seen. Most parking spots like these are DIRECTLY in front of an establishment. During the time that I was pregnant and had a toddler, this fact about Japan was 100% a lifesaver.

The Japanese will also refuse to let you carry ANYTHING heavy if they notice you are pregnant. I can’t tell you how many times a Japanese man carried a watermelon or even just a small bag of groceries to my car while I was pregnant.

7. Priority seating

Elderly? Pregnant? Injured? HAVE KIDS?

Yes? Then not only is there designated priority seating for you on public transit, but the Japanese people are ATTENTIVE to it. Last week on a train, an elderly man stood up for ME and said “please, please” gesturing to his seat so that I could sit with my 9 month old, who was already sleeping happily in my arms.

The Japanese are intentional, they notice, and they are SO kind.

8. The Japanese are so kind to children

At a ski resort, where the Japanese ski class had just let out. Henry collected candy piece after candy piece from these kiddos. One of them even bought him a hot chocolate from the vending machine behind them.

If you spend 10 minutes in the midst of the Japanese people and your child makes eye contact with somebody, chances are you will be coming home with some sort of treat or toy. We have had elderly couples walk us over to cookie/candy stores specifically to buy Henry a treat in front of us. We hear the term “kawaii” (cute) about our babies all the time, and it is our favorite to tell Japanese families that their babies are kawaii, too.

Children here also LOVE American kids. Because they often are learning English in school, you may even be stopped so they can practice their English with someone who is fluent. When you respond to their “hellos” you may be met with the sweetest giggles in the world.

One of my favorite things to do since moving to Japan is to take our kids to local playgrounds or play places. If there is anything that will teach you about inclusion, it is seeing toddlers of two different cultures, who don’t even speak the same language, playing flawlessly and happily together.

Henry, watching a Japanese show on this little girl’s phone while we ate yakiniku at the table next to them.

9. Arcades, parks, playgrounds GALORE

The entire country of Japan is basically one giant playground for kids and adults alike. You can’t enter a city without finding an accessible place for a kid of any age to play. There are 7 story arcades, huge playgrounds, massive activity centers… and the best part? We have yet to find somewhere that isn’t totally affordable for a day of fun.

And can we talk about how cute the entire country is? For goodness sake, the traffic cones are made to look like cute little animals here!

Any time Henry passes a booth that is giving away some sort of balloon animal, he ALWAYS ends up leaving with one for free.
All playground equipment is so intentionally constructed here, as well. This incredibly tall slide is fully enclosed at the top to keep kids from falling off.

10. Japan is CLEAN

I mean, you will see people picking weeds or cigarette droppings out of the cracks on their sidewalks. It is clean here, it is tidy here, and it is orderly here.
We never buy train tickets for our toddler and infant (mainly because kids under 6 are free,) but also because we feel comfortable letting them sit at our feet on the train. That’s how clean everything in this country is.

You will never find dirty tables, dirty floors, and it is incredibly rare to find a dirty restroom. This would probably make you think that they are uptight about kiddos making messes- but again, Japan will shock you on that. I always try to crawl under tables to clean up the messes our kids make- and the servers always gesture for me to not worry about it.
Poor Henry even had an accident in a booth once at a restaurant, and the kind waiter just nodded, smiled, and told me “Hai, hai, it okay, it okay!”

11. Shopping is EASY with kids

For instance, shopping carts with the little cars or characters on the front? FREE. You know? The ones that are usually like $5 to rent at malls in the states? Yep, totally free. They also have infant carts that recline perfectly for your baby to sleep when they are little.

This seems like a silly point, but my kids LOVE the mall because of this. Most shopping malls also host grocery stores- which makes this an even bigger point for our family personally. Happy kids while grocery shopping= happy mom all day.

In addition, refrigerated lockers are available at lots of malls and shopping centers, so if you purchase your groceries first but need to do other things, you have a cold place to store them so you don’t have to lug them around with you.

12. Restrooms are catered to children & families

This was one of my favorite things to find upon entering a restroom in Japan for the first time. There will almost always be a tiny toilet sitting next to the regular sized toilet in the family/handicapped stall. Toilets here are ultra interesting to kids, with all their buttons and strange sounds, so potty training is usually a little more interesting if you are out and about in Japan.

Changing tables are available everywhere, including in men’s rooms, and even on the Shinkansen train, which has airport sized bathrooms. Everywhere you go, you will find a family restroom, equipped with a changing table, a baby holder, and often a small toilet or tiny urinal.

And might I also mention… TINY URINALS IN THE WOMEN’S RESTROOMS.
Uh… what?

Yeah, that was my reaction the first time I walked into a women’s restroom in Japan and noticed the 1/2 size urinal on the ground before the stalls.

Why?
Well, because women have sons, and sometimes sons have to pee too.

Brilliant, no?!

13. It’s always easy to find food and snacks

Can you say, “the land of vending machines?”

Because they have EVERY kind here, and they are on every street. Hot drinks, cold drinks, soups, snacks, ramen, ice cream, full fledged meals… even cigarettes can be found in vending machines. They are at every building, on every floor, even on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. You will see residential homes with vending machines attached to the side of their garage if they reside on a main street. Your kids will NEVER go thirsty, because you are always 130¥ away from an apple or grape juice.

Red colors indicate hot drinks, blue indicate chilled ones.
You can guarantee that any time that ramen is sold from a vending machine, there will be a hot water dispenser nearby for free.

14. Japan is SAFE.

Let me just say this- I would take my two kids off base and explore just about anywhere in Japan without fear and without my husband, and I am a CAUTIOUS human. I can’t say that about many places in the world, to be honest- and definitely not about many places in America. Nearly every Japanese person you come in contact with is more than willing to help, and even with the language barrier, I feel the safest I have felt in my life since moving to this country.
The Japanese police rarely have to intervene with regular life, but when they do, they mean BUSINESS. Crime is not taken lightly here, and you never see crimes happen.

If you are looking for somewhere to raise kiddos where you can likely go without locking your door, Japan is your place.

I sincerely hope you find the same incredible pro-kid factors if you visit Japan someday, too. Was there anything I missed? Be sure to tell me below, or head over to my Instagram and be sure to use the hashtag #takeyourbabieseverywhere if you post photos of your adventures so I can see your kiddos loving Japan as much as we do.

Happy exploring with your babies!

 

DIY · Home · Japan Life · Rental Decorating

Tiny Pantry Renovation |Rental Friendly Decorating

We have had small pantries before, but man, this one in Japan takes the cake for BY FAR the smallest. We have tons of drawers that we can pile stuff in, but honestly it’s just so hard to find what we need when things aren’t sorted and organized.

I have found a bit of a love for open shelving, especially when items are displayed in beautiful jars and are so easily accessible. That being said, I also have a deep-seated hate for paying a lot for my home decor. (Hence my DIY hacks that are almost always under $20.)

So of course, I turned to my trusted Japanese Dollar stores for help.

 

So, I made a trip to both Daiso and Seria (the dollar stores here in Japan) and I got to work. In all reality, most dollar stores will have containers similar to the ones that I bought here. I decided to only stick with glass, simply because I knew it would probably withstand future moves better. (Fingers crossed for smart packers, right?)

I do recommend ONLY buying jars that are airtight for storing food, though. I purchased ones that were airtight, but also totally dishwasher safe.

www.joyfulcrew.com.jpg

Daiso flowers displayed in a Daiso feed sack
All jars from Daiso. Top jars were 250 yen each, and the bottom ones were 100 yen each.
The hooks installed on my wall are also from Seria, and are the same hooks I used to make my DIY coat rack. I have not yet gone over the screws with my iron paint to make them not a super glaring silver- oops. 😉 The two small grey baskets can be found at Daiso, and come with the lids. They are also stackable! Jars with the white handle lids come from Seria. These are the BEST with our toddler, because he picks up what he wants and carries it to us.

First, I removed the doors and hardware from the main pantry cabinet in our house. Read below for some tips on successfully removing hardware in rentals.

My white bowls are from Target YEARS ago, unfortunately they no longer carry them, but I am waiting to find some similar to link for you. The regular mason sized jars on the bottom come from Daiso.

Next, I removed the hardware and doors from above the sink, just to give an accent cabinet to the room.

300 yen jars from Daiso- these hold our entire supply of rice, pasta, and several boxes of our cereal. Get rid of ugly boxes, and you can see EXACTLY how much you have. Win-win.

Tips:

Take off hardware, and store them in a plastic baggy.

I mentioned this in my past post about how to convert a small closet to a mudroom, but here is the information again!
So, yes. Take off all of the hardware, and store them in a plastic baggy. Or, simply leave it attached to the doors! We take all the screws and pieces that don’t remain attached to the doors, and store them in a plastic baggy, then tape it with painter’s tape to the door. This way the tape doesn’t damage the door, but we are able to know for SURE that the hardware stays put with the door. When moving out, we just place the door with the taped hardware beside the closet for our housing inspection. (Or if you are required to replace the doors where you live, all the hardware is right there, and you don’t have to go searching for it!)

Store your doors under a couch or bed.

This way kids, pets, or adults don’t damage them in any way, and they are totally out of the way! We store ours underneath our king size bed, so they are totally hidden under there. (Thanks to our sweet friend Sierra, for the idea of storing things under couches or beds. This works so well for us.)

The largest 300 yen storage containers.
These are 100 yen containers that I believe that have BOTH at Seria and Daiso. If I remember correctly, these came from Daiso. It was just big enough to hold our bag of granola and our bag of quinoa.
All of the above are from Daiso. The cross hatch storage baskets are my FAVORITES too. I have these in our closet upstairs, and you can also purchase lids that allow them to be fully stackable.
I keep my non-refridgerated pantry items in small crates from Daiso (100 yen) that allow air to flow through them.
Very top containers are from Seria, and 100 yen each. I use these for my granola and overnight oats. The beige containers are from Daiso (100¥ each!) Unfortunately my flour and sugar jars (the four across with the pattern) are SUPER old and from Target. I will link some if I find them!

Happy hunting for those dollar store bargains, and be sure to share your pantries on Pinterest with me! (Here is a link to the board this is pinned to.) If you redo yours, I would LOVE to see the results on the “try it” section of my pin!

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Japan Life · Travel Guides

Tenno Shrine | Azalea Festival – May 12

This was our second year visiting the azalea festival, and again, it didn’t disappoint. We even went before the azaleas were in full bloom this year, and it is SO worth the short trip from base. Located maybe 3 minutes from Namiki gelato, it really makes for a great day trip for families or even single service members.

Here is the pin directly to the parking lot: 40.697251, 141.151309
(If you go on the weekends, typically there will be city workers directing traffic.)

Here is the pin directly to the main shrine:
12ー1 Tenno, Shichinohe, Kamikita District, Aomori 039-2525

Here is the pin to the small park with playground equipment & other couple shrines:
30 Shichinohe, Kamikita-gun, Aomori 039-2525

There is LOTS of open space for kids to run, just please be respectful as the shrines are a place of worship. We brought our two year old and 8 month old, no problem. But we do make sure to keep them quiet and not let them run right next to the shrines.


The azaleas bloom in mid to late May, and usually there is a pretty good update on when they are fully flowered posted on Out the Gate. Most of these photos from this past weekend are when the blooms are only around 50-60% bloomed. Last year we went at full bloom- both trips were absolutely beautiful.

From Spring 2018, when the azaleas were at full bloom.

The shrines right around the big hill of azaleas are absolutely beautiful too, and it is worth climbing the HUGE hill to the left of the main hill to see a couple different shrines.

 

Even at partial bloom, the flowers are gorgeous!

After parking, there will be a small walk to the hill that the majority of the azaleas are planted on. Before you reach this, there is a small road to your left that will lead to a couple other shrines- this is where the tiny azalea trees are sold, as well. If you go under the big arch and up the big hill, there is also a small playground area for the kids. There are water fountains, porta-potties, and plenty of room to sit out if you decided to have a picnic as well. I recommend you wear bug spray though, because last year the mosquitos were pretty bad. This year we didn’t notice them.

Nothing better than good friends that will wrangle your toddler.

Would be a very pretty place for a picnic, but this area is PRISTINE, so PLEASE make sure to clean up after yourself!

We kept Henry (2.5) to the smaller wooden playground, but there are a couple pieces of equipment for bigger kids, too.

From 2018, at full bloom.
From 2018, at full bloom.

Definitely a must-see during the Spring. We always hit up Namiki afterwards, and did this day too- but I have SO many photos from this day, that I will save that for another post. Stay tuned.

azalea pin.jpg

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Desserts · Hospitality Food | Meal Trains · Recipes

Sopapilla Style Cheesecake Squares | Meal Train & Comfort Food

Okay, so I say lots of things are my favorite… but these really are my favorite. If you’ve been to ANY holiday that we have hosted at our home, I will have made these. I LOVE them, because I always have cream cheese, and I always have crescent rolls. And they’re CHEAP. A couple bucks for crescent rolls, a couple bucks for cream cheese, and you have yourself a $4 – $5 dessert.

cheesecake pin real

 

They’re also my favorite to make for meal trains, because they are so easy to make right alongside a main dish. As a very low-investment dessert, that’s always what I want when I am trying to multi-task.

 

I have tweaked my recipe over the past 4-5 years, and have decided this one is my favorite.

Tip: You can use different sized dishes to create different thickness levels of cream cheese. Personally, I like a very thick layer of cream cheese, but Drew likes them when there is more flaky parts. You can play around and decide what size works best for you (and also how many squares you will need.)

Sopapilla Cheesecake Squares

  • Servings: 15-20
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

2 packages of 8oz cream cheese, room temperature
2 cans crescent rolls
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla
1/4 cup melted butter, unsalted
1/2 cup sugar, mixed with 2 tablespoons cinnamon (if using unsalted butter, I add a couple pinches of salt to the mixture)

Instructions

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
2. Grease your baking dish. (13×9 is recommended.)
3. Unroll one can of crescent rolls, and spread it across the entire bottom of the pan. Pinch any seams, and make sure all areas are covered.
4. (Optional) Bake for a few minutes (usually 4-5) or until layer is just starting to rise and look less doughy. I let them get slightly golden, then remove them from the heat.
5. In a stand mixer (or by hand) mix together cream cheese and sugar until well combined. Scrape the bottom at least once.
6. Spread the cream cheese mixture evenly over the baked crescent roll. There most likely will be some lumps of cream cheese left- that is fine.
7. Roll the second crescent roll over top of the mixture, and pinch any seams together.
8. Pour melted butter over the top, and spread evenly with a brush or spoon.
9. Mix together sugar-cinnamon mixture in a bowl.
10. Sprinkle sugar-cinnamon mixture evenly over the top of the butter. Some parts will still be gooey, some will just look like sugar.
11. Bake 24-25 minutes, or until the top begins to brown.
12. Let cool first in the fridge, or eat warm. It is highly debated on which is better, but I think they are better cold!

Enjoy!


 

1. Gather your ingredients, and preheat your oven to 350°F. Make SURE that you leave out your cream cheese to come to room temperature. I typically take it out of the fridge 1-2 hours before prepping. This makes your cheesecake mixture blend SO much easier.

2. Grease your baking dish. I make sure to spray my dishes really well, because the squares just really seem to come out better when cooking spray has been used.

I usually use a 13×9″ glass pyrex or cake pan. I do occasionally make these in my round pyrex deep-dish, but to get a nice, even layer of cheesecake, I recommend a 13×9″.

3. Spread your first layer of crescent rolls over the bottom of the pan. Pinch together any seams.
4. Bake the first layer of crescent rolls until just barely brown. This is optional, but personally I think it makes them SO much better. I like to give the bottom a little extra baking time, just because I like these to have a fully baked bottom. If you don’t choose to prebake, they will still be baked in the regular cooking, but will likely be bit more doughy.
Thus, this isn’t 100% necessary, but I think it makes them so much better.

5. Mix together your cream cheese and sugar in a stand mixer. You can beat by hand, but cream cheese is rather hard to get lumps out of- so my KitchenAid really comes to the rescue for this recipe.

One of my favorite things about this recipe (and Henry’s) is that there are no eggs- so licking the spoon & bowl as much as you want is TOTALLY fine.
He knows every time that I make these that he will get to lick the bowl, and he stands and watches me as I make the mixture every single time.

6. Spread the mixture evenly over the baked crescent roll layer. There will still be small lumps of cream cheese- that is perfectly fine, they will bake well.

7. Roll the last crescent roll evenly over your cream cheese mixture. Pinch together any open seams. I like to try to pinch the corners to the pan a little bit too- it keeps the butter from rolling down the sides when you pour it on.

8. Spread your butter evenly over the crescent roll. I choose to use unsalted butter, and add a pinch of salt to my cinnamon sugar. You can use salted butter, but in my experience I feel it gives the squares too salty of a taste.

9. Mix your cinnamon and sugar together, and sprinkle evenly over top of the butter. There will be dry places and wet & gooey places.

10. Bake for 24-25 minutes, or until the top begins to brown and feels more firm to the touch. If you prefer a more chewy/gooey style, you can shave off 3-4 minutes. There isn’t really a way to underbake these, as long as you make sure the top layer of crescent rolls are fully baked.

And voila! I could eat an entire pan of these in one day, and full disclosure: I have. They’re addicting and SO good for sharing with friends.

Enjoy!

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Ellie

7 & 8 Months- Ellie

Ellie’s jumpsuit is linked HERE, her bow pack is linked HERE.

Weight: 7 months: 16lbs, 10oz & 27 inches long.
8 months: My scale today says she’s 21.4lbs, which wouldn’t surprise me because she’s huge, but that also seems like a huge jump from 7 months. Maybe I will actually weigh her on my fancy scale and update this. Probably not.

Linked my wallet, which can be personalized HERE.

Eye Color: Blue, blue, blue. Our friends tell us she has white walker eyes.

Bow from Little Ella Rae.

Hair: Blonde! It has finally started to come in thicker, and as of month 8 she can officially wear a clip bow, and it is finally starting to touch/cover her ears!

Size: 9-12 months. 12/18 month pants fit her butt best, but she could still wear 6 month tops, honestly. Baby has some THIGHS, that’s for sure.


Ellie knows I come into a room the second I do. She senses me, she follows me, she never takes her eyes off of me.

Lots of month 8 was spent wearing masks after the craziness with HFM hit. Henry even had a mask of his own.

Month 7 was fairly uneventful, but man, month 8 was nuts. Dealing with HFM seemed like it consumed all of the last YEAR, even though we were only sick for around 7 days all together. It was BRUTAL for Henry and I.

Girlfriend handled her fever and spots the best by far out of all of us, still smiling while she had a 103 degree fever. By the way, she smiles ALL. THE. TIME. Like, you can just make eye contact with her and she will smile. She is definitely a mean mugger to those she isn’t sure about, though. Much like Henry did at her age, she has the eyebrows for glaring.

This is the look she gives 99% of the Japanese who try to talk to her. Poor people.

My favorite new Ellie-ism is the fact that she hyperventilates like 90x per day. Any time something is even remotely funny, you will hear her hyperventilate laugh at it. Daddy is her favorite to do this to.

Girlfriend LOVES food. LOVES it. The boob, purees, random cheerios off the ground, whatever is on our plates- she is ALL about it. She is much better at eating semi-solids than Henry is. Ellie loves the little yogurt melts and can easily handle whole ones. We broke up Henry’s into small pieces for months and months longer than we have to with her. The girl will down a whole package in no time at all.

Ellie likes to randomly stand in the middle of the room, and is ALMOST walking. I am betting that month 8 will be the “walks unassisted” month, but perhaps it will be month 9.

The child will nose dive into a bowl of rice if we let her.

She LOVES her brother, which clearly hasn’t changed since birth. This month, Henry is starting to love her. And by love her, I mean he screams “AHH! SISSY! SHE COMING! SHE COMING!” when she starts crawling towards him. He also tickles her regularly, and pushes her over if she stares at him too long.

Vest linked HERE, jeans linked HERE, bow pack linked HERE, similar moccs linked HERE.

Much like Henry, Ellie loves the outside. She absolutely hates her carseat, but does sleep rather well in the car if we take long rides.

Girlfriend still has some serious stranger-danger. Mama is still the only one she loves consistently, but Drew is starting to grow on her, FINALLY. She grins every day when Daddy comes home, as of 8 months old.

Ellie has two teeth, but sported one single tooth on the bottom for her entire 7th month. I was REALLY hoping that the one top tooth she has coming in would pop through before her second bottom one. Can you imagine a baby with only one top and one bottom tooth?!

Lots of baby cuddles when she had HFM, but honestly the worst of it for her, she just slept through.

I definitely have to watch her in her swing. She will go from 100% awake to 100% slumped over like this in about 14 seconds flat.

She likes to smile with both her top and bottom teeth, and her overbite is so bad that her top gums completely cover her bottom teeth. It’s rather hilarious.

Typical faces given to strangers in public. Yeah, I wasn’t kidding about the mean muggin’.

Baby girl unfortunately still has her heart defect- we are hoping at her 12 month cardiologist appointment we will find that it has closed.

Ellie’s favorite word is “mama” and she says it ALL night when she wakes up. “MAMAMAMAMAMAMA.”
She also thinks it’s hilarious to repeat it when I ask her to say “mama.” She will say “mama,” “dada” and sometimes shakes her head yes and no. She also will punch me in the face if I ask her if “she wants a boobie.” Apparently that is a stupid question, because yes, yes she does.

Ellie loves Blippi too, and will watch any time her brother is watching. Girlfriend is also almost as obsessed with the cats as Henry.

I will do a Henry update separately soon, but he is a doll as well. Everything in his world is exciting, and my favorite thing in the world is the fact that he will run up an entire flight of stairs, just to tell us about the number 3. The kid is a hoot right now, and learns so much every day, I swear. He is cuddly and sensitive and ornery and strong-headed, and I think that three is going to be so much harder than two, but also so much more fun.

But this little goober of a girl just lights up our whole world. It seems like there has never been a part of our lives without our Ellie, but I also can’t believe she is well on her way to turning one.

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Health · Life · Recipes

Starting Your Day With Probiotics | How I Get Mine Through My Coffee

Probiotics are our GO-TO during cold and flu season. We cling to the stuff to make sure that our immune system is strong, and our family is protected when that bad bacteria is circulating so rampantly.
I’m a kombucha, yogurt, kimchi, and kefir fan, but never in a million years did I think I could

get my probiotics through my lifeblood: coffee.

Here’s the thing… When I first heard about vitamin-infused coffee, I was totally skeptical. I mean, VITAMINS? In COFFEE? I just knew that as soon as I sipped that first brewed cup, I would be greeted with the bitter, horrible taste you get when you leave a vitamin in your mouth too long and it starts to dissolve.

I’m happy to say that I was SO wrong with that assumption.

I applied for a collaboration with VitaCup a few months ago, tasted their Energy Blend in a French Roast, and fell in love. I HAD to get my hands on their Probiotic Blend, because probiotics are huge in our home, so I reached out to them to collaborate a second time. I must say that the French Roast is still my favorite, but I love their Probiotic Blend, especially with the hints of vanilla I catch every time I take a sip.

So, aside from me genuinely loving the taste, why do I choose to consume probiotics through their coffee?


This post is sponsored by VitaCup, but the opinions are completely my own, and all the research was done by me.  I will never promote a company I don’t wholeheartedly love and believe in, and I actually reached out to VitaCup myself in order to collaborate, because I adore their product so much.

Here are 5 reasons that I choose to drink my probiotics through VitaCup coffee:

1. Not all bacteria is bad

Maintaining a balance of good bacteria in your gut is so important for SO many reasons. Seriously, Google it. Immune system, digestion, weight loss/maintaining healthy weight, brain function… you name it, there is likely evidence that probiotics directly or indirectly support it working properly.
Bacteria lives naturally in your gut, even the nastiest and scariest of bacterias. It’s just a fact of life, they are there! Adding good microorganisms, in partnership with getting good sleep, eating a nutrient-rich diet, and maintaining healthy stress levels can boost your immune system so that you never fall victim to those scary, gross germs that are naturally residing within your gut.

And I mean, who likes gas, diarrhea, or bloating just in general?! Not me, that’s for sure.
Whether you have chronic gastrointestinal issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome or just face regular everyday digestion issues, probiotics and prebiotics can be one of the greatest things you can put in your body to keep these nasty conditions away.

2. I don’t forget to drink my coffee, so I don’t forget my probiotics

VitaCup knows what they’re talking about when they say that everyone forgets their vitamins, but no one forgets their coffee. I mean, what parent does forget their morning coffee?
When my eyes open in the morning to Henry’s fingers poking my face saying, “wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up,” I can tell you the first thing on my mind isn’t about my probiotics or vitamins. Rather, my first thought is “GET ME SOME DANG COFFEE.”
By consuming your probiotics and antioxidants in your coffee, you can almost guarantee you won’t forget to fill your gut with the good stuff.

3. The probiotic blend used is heat resistant, and thrives in the heat

I mean, duh.

You need microorganisms that can withstand the heat of brewing in order to live and thrive in your gut.
Most probiotic strains are not heat resistant, and several actually even have to be stored in the refrigerator- one of the reasons I never imagined being able to drink my probiotics in my coffee. VitaCup has picked the perfect strain; allowing for the probiotics to thrive in the hot coffee.

The Mr.Coffee website claims that the best tasting cup of coffee, no matter what brewer or coffee you use, is consumed between 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit. As stated in a US National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health article, the particular strain of microorganisms used in VitaCup’s Probiotic Blend have been shown to activate and grow in up to 149 degrees Fahrenheit. So not only will your cup of coffee be the perfect temperature to drink after a few minutes, but the probiotics will be absolutely thriving in the heat of it, too.

4. Prebiotics matter too

Honestly, I have known about probiotics for years, but I had no idea what “prebiotics” were, or why they were important at all.
Prebiotics are almost as essential as probiotics, in the fact that probiotics do not thrive without them. Prebiotics are a form of non-digestible fiber that probiotics feed on, meaning that both probiotics and prebiotics are necessary for a healthy and balanced gut. You can find prebiotics in many forms, mostly through leafy greens.

VitaCup’s probiotic blend includes Aloe Vera and B vitamins, which act as “prebiotics,” feeding the good bacteria to keep them growing.

5. VitaCup actually cares

I love that VitaCup is conscious about the environment; and I know this is one of the main concerns that so many have regarding single-serve brewers and pods. After all, those things add up if you are like me and drink several cups of coffee every single day. Their pods are 100% recyclable, and totally BPA free.

And, to top it all off, VitaCup gives back. A portion of their sales goes to Vitamin Angels in order to help provide vitamins to battle deficiencies across the globe. So as you drink your coffee, you are not only helping to provide for your own body, you are simultaneously helping the health of another individual across the globe.


So, it’s pretty clear that I absolutely adore the VitaCup family, and all that they are currently working on. Their company has things pretty figured out, in my opinion. Not only do they have amazing blends, but their customer service is fantastic, they are beginning to expand to major retailers, and their coffee seriously tastes GOOD. (It’s the only coffee I will drink black!)

I’ve linked my two favorite blends below, as mentioned above, but a comprehensive list of all of their blends can be found here.

I mean it, if you are skeptical, give them a try. I didn’t expect a vitamin coffee to replace my list of favorite coffees, but they did just that. Why not do double-duty for your body while drinking your favorite coffee? Win-win in my book!

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The above statements should not be taken as medical advice, as I am not a medical doctor, and any above promoted products should not be used to attempt to treat a medical condition. You should always ask your doctor before beginning a regimen of any vitamins or supplements.

Sources

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-take-probiotics
  2. https://www.verywellhealth.com/bacillus-coagulans-for-better-bowel-health-89601
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-health-benefits-of-probiotics#section2
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19091823
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6025323/
  6. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323490.php
  7. https://www.mrcoffee.com/blog/archive/2015/september/how-hot-should-your-coffee-be%3F.html
  8. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/264721.php
  9. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/19-best-prebiotic-foods
Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Misawa Guides · Our Life in Japan · Travel Guides

Cherry Blossom Guide – Misawa City, Aomori

My first cherry blossom season in Misawa was spent wandering about pretty aimlessly, trying to figure out where the best places to view cherry blossoms were. I stuck mostly to base, because I was really afraid of accidentally wandering somewhere that I wasn’t necessarily welcome. And don’t get me wrong there- the blossoms on base are totally worth driving around to see. They are so beautifully and strategically planted, and they are some of the trees that seem to bloom the soonest. As I have explored more of Misawa, I have found that very few places seem to be unwelcome to Americans, as long as you are respectful, clean up after yourself, and don’t let your kids run completely wild. On the contrary, the Japanese at the parks seem to absolutely adore respectful American kiddos.

Icho park last year, mid-week. (If you go on a weekday, or early in the morning, it is beautifully quiet here.)

Last year, I thought the only place to really see blooms was at the Statue of Liberty (Icho) Park. I missed out on some of the most gorgeous blooms, because I spent ALL my time there (also because I had mini sessions nonstop, which was AMAZING, but also so draining.) It definitely is one of the best. But I wish I would have known about all the available parks for blossom viewing within like 20 minutes of base, where to park, and where was the most kid-friendly.

My kiddos were sick this week, so I will be updating this post in the next couple days with more photos and more information about each park.
For now, here are some photos of VERY early blooms that I saw at a couple parks I have visited this week- which will be updated soon! (April 24 update.)


 Also, here are a few reminders for you about being kind to our Japanese hosts, please don’t take these tips lightly! They may be common sense to most, but I have seen them all happen, which is why I include them.

• Please don’t let your kids pick cherry blossoms or any flowers, for that matter (and don’t pick them yourself.) If you want ONE blossom for a photo or something, that is one thing. But these gorgeous blooms don’t last long, and it’s incredibly sad for me as a photographer to watch other kids stripping entire branches to throw them in the air for one photo, you know? Be smart, and realize that there are a lot of people trying to view these trees in a very tiny amount of time, and half the time a giant rain or winds will strip the branches, anyway. If you want blooms, pick up ones that have already fallen!

• If you go to a dog-friendly park, PICK UP AFTER THEM. Keep your dogs on a tight/close leash, don’t let them jump all over people. I’m a dog lover, but I am absolutely a supporter of keeping your dogs at home if they growl at people or easily escape a leash.

• Try to keep your kiddos under control. Parks are obviously for running and fun (I have a toddler, trust me, I get it,) but I have seen people be drilled in the head with soccer balls by American children at these parks. Realize that these are THE ONLY parks for local Japanese families, and we are visitors in THEIR country.


Lastly,
Komaki and Tateno are VERY close together and could easily be hit in the same day.
Swan and Icho Parks are also VERY close together.

Also, as a disclaimer- these are all Google Maps pins. I know sometimes the difference between Google Maps and Apple Maps can be huge.

1. Statue of Liberty Park (Icho/Oicho Park)

(40.610026, 141.439702)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is covered. 

If you go early in the day, you can park in this lot that the pin takes you directly to. I have always been routed through a very tightly-packed residential area to find the park- it will seem like you are going the wrong way if you are routed this way too. This lot does fill up quickly though, so if it is filled, you will have to take a right out of the parking lot, and drive until you see a one-way street. This will take you to a loop that drives directly above the park (directly above the playgrounds.) When the actual parking lots are filled, overflow parking has always parked on the grass above the park on this loop. I personally do not park here unless I see a JN (non-Y plate) car already parked there, just to be sure it is okay.

• stroller friendly almost completely through, almost all of it is paved walkways
• great place for a picnic when it is not insanely busy
• HUGE State of Liberty
• playgrounds, swings
• completely open areas for kids to run
• giant roller slide
• dog friendly
• large and beautiful lake
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

This is one of the very best parks to visit for lots and lots of cherry blossoms. There are even a few different kinds of blooms here.
That being said, it gets BUSY towards the end of the day, and especially towards the afternoon on the weekends. During full bloom, the place is sometimes PACKED. It’s sometimes hard to find a parking spot, and the parking in this park is a little squirrely sometimes. I recommend visiting Icho for SURE, but recommend going during the early morning, or on a weekday. (Sunrise in Icho is spectacular, you NEED to see it.)

2. Swan Park (Hachinohekitakyuryoshimoda Park)

(40.611883, 141.401523)
TONS of blooms here. The entire park is pretty much covered.

This is the one park I have not visited yet- I will update this description in a little more detail in the next few days. You can Google images, or search Misawa Asks for more info on this one. (Swans come out in the winter, so don’t expect to see them in the spring haha.)

NO DOGS ALLOWED
• large and beautiful lake
• playgrounds
• has restrooms

3. Train park (Central Park)

(40.683702, 141.370212)
Lots of blooms, small park but pretty heavy cherry blossom coverage 

This is a very small parking lot, and make sure that you do not park in the Library parking lot on the other side of the building. They are pretty clearly marked.
This one is a family favorite of ours- it has a huge stationary train that our toddler LOVES to walk through. Lots of playground equipment- but it does get relatively busy because it is such a small park, and it is right in the middle of town. The blossoms are gorgeous here, though! Great 5-10 min walk, or like a 1 minute drive from base.

• stroller friendly on the outside perimeter, but this one is so small you probably won’t need to bring strollers
• playground
•  walk-through train

4. Tateno Park

Main parking lot by scenic area- (40.6155691, 141.3323448)
Dirt lot by the playground side of the park-
(40.611648, 141.330215)
TONS of blooms here, and lots of different kinds of cherry blossoms. Do be aware that some trees bloom at different times, though- so all trees may not be in bloom at the same time

I personally park in the dirt lot by the lake (it is located directly next to a huge and beautiful shrine tucked into some pines. I am not 100% sure this is parking for the park, but it was closest to the park that I wanted to explore, and was not full- so I considered it safe to park there.)

• stroller friendly for the most part, some paths are not paved, but are smooth enough to navigate a stroller over
• playgrounds/play equipment, swings
NO DOGS ALLOWED
• large and beautiful lake
• tons of picnic areas/ grills available
• fishing friendly
• has restrooms

Lots of lower hanging branches here, and a VERY pretty picnic area in several places in the park.

I could be wrong about this park NOT being dog friendly, but I am almost certain I saw signs posted saying pets were not allowed. I will update if I find this to be incorrect.

I have only visited this park once, and have not gone to the half that is not right around the lake.
It was BEAUTIFUL when we visited, and would be perfect for a picnic. There are several tables, lots of places to sit down for a snack, and LOTS of places for kids to run. The place is absolutely huge, and if you have loud and crazy kids- I would say this or Train Park would be your best bet.

This park has 2-3 different areas to it, and it is the PERFECT spot for a picnic.

5. Komaki (Komakionsen Shibusawa Park / Hoshino Resort )

Train station side parking: (40.667054, 141.353918)
Hotel side parking:  (40.663124, 141.354045)
(I usually park at the hotel, then walk down to the other area near the train station.)
Less cherry blossoms, but enough to make it worth visiting- beautiful during literally any season/any month

• completely stroller friendly
• dog friendly
• foot onsen
• big red Japanese style bridge
• lots of Japanese style buildings & shrines
• large and beautiful lake

Buildings on the hotel’s side. The umbrellas were set up for a festival of some sort. There are often festivals held right on the lake.
Train station side, these gorgeous and HUGE white blooms appear before cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

Komaki is a little less kid-friendly in the fact that it is usually VERY quiet, and there aren’t open spaces for kids to run. When festivals are going on here, I would say it is much less quiet, though.
Komaki area has two small parks- one right by the train station, and one by the hotel and onsen. (The onsen is no longer open to non-hotel guests.)
The train station side of the park has a lot more open space, but is much smaller- if that makes sense- and generally has less people occupying it. There are also FAR less cherry blossoms on this side- if any. (I will update this with certainty when I return after full bloom in Misawa.)

Hotel side-
When you park in the parking lot that the pin takes you to, it is REALLY confusing the first time that you try to find the scenic area. You will park in the lot, and see a bunch of hotels & buildings. (If you pull up Google Maps, you will see a lake. If you simply navigate yourself to the lake, you will find the loop easily.)
If you don’t have Maps readily available, walk into the building area. You will take a right before the main building, and will walk past a couple parking lots on your right. Once you go under the arch, you have found the scenic loop, and the foot onsen is directly to your right, overlooking the lake.
Our kids love this park because they are pretty quiet and calm kiddos, and like to just take stroller walks. If you have children that are excessively rambunctious or like to run, I actually don’t recommend walking the loop with them, simply because Komaki isn’t a park, just a gorgeous paved loop around the hotel. The hotel is just kind enough to allow non-hotel guests in.
That being said, there are miniature ponies and horses that are very friendly, and the entire place is gorgeous and interesting for kids- just maybe not the best for toddlers or kiddos that can’t be relatively calm while outside.

The foot onsen is open to the public, but please be respectful and quiet when using it.

I would consider Komaki more of a scenic walk/ cultural experience vs. a park. Cherry blossoms are supposed to be gorgeous here when in full bloom, though.

There is also a small bamboo forest on the train station side. And there is always BBQ sauce on Henry’s shirt. Haha

I hope these recommendations help you some! Even if you don’t visit during cherry blossom season, these parks are our absolute favorites to spend time at in Misawa, and are the best to get your family outside of the gate for a day. Hope you enjoy them as much as we have!

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Japan Life · Japan Life Updates · Travel Guides

Hakkoda Mountain Snow Wall- April 14

This is just a super quick photo dump, and a super quick recommendation that you should GO SEE THIS SNOW WALL. Seriously, if you’re in Northern Japan, this is a must-see during the early Spring. I believe it usually opens around April 1st. I mean when else are you going to get to see like 20ft of snow on either side of your car?

Drew also loves the skiing on this mountain, but says he doesn’t recommend it for beginners, as there are tons of sulfur pits hidden in the mountain. (Had I known that I would have totally worried about him more while skiing- haha.)

We made it a fun day and just took the road all the way up to Aomori after seeing the wall. Got some ramen at a tiny ramen shop, and turned around to go home, all in one day. Around $30 for gas, and $10 for food, and it was a great and super cheap day date with the kids!
We stopped in Towada City for gas, as it has one of the only self-service pumps that I know of on the way. We also made sure to bring the kids lots to play with and stay occupied with, since the total drive time there and back was probably 4-5 hours after factoring in the fact that we went all the way up to Aomori.


We chose not to do the snow walk because we have an infant and a toddler, and it was still worth the drive to see. You are actually only supposed to do the walk if you are with a tour group, anyway.

We stopped at the rest area to take a couple photos and use the bathroom, shown on the right.
Busses from some of the tours. We didn’t bother doing the tour this year since the kids are young, but likely will next year when they are both bigger and walking.

The snow by the rest area was actually the tallest we saw anywhere.

Not a sight you see every day, haha.
On the way home from Aomori. We saw the wall, ate, and turned around back home all while it was still light outside. One of the easiest day trips we have done, and also one of the coolest.

Let it be known that Google Maps will immediately try to route you down back roads- most of which are still partially snow-covered. I know we saw several posts about getting turned around on various roads while trying to go here.
We tried to take highway 394, but were turned around about 25 minutes down it.

Instead, we took highway 4 to Towada, and then took highway 102 all the way around. It was a longer drive, but it was worth it to not get turned around a zillion times. It’s also a really pretty drive, so that’s a plus.

Then, as mentioned, we drove up to Aomori after stopping at the rest stop. Hit up a small ramen shop on the main retail strip, and headed back home. The ramen was excellent, and the husband-wife pair that hosted us were so incredibly kind. They catered to our silly, little kiddos so well. even giving Henry a HUGE brownie free of charge.

Definitely a trip worth taking, and a great one-day adventure.