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Learning to cook, the right way

Last week, I took my first Japanese cooking lesson ever. I am not much of a cook but I have always wanted to learn how to make an egg roll and gyoza – half fried, half steamed dumplings – something my son loves to eat even when he has no appetite. The class was organized by Bonappetour – a collaborative consumption platform that connects travellers with various local hosts that teach their favorite dishes at their homes. It’s the very opposite of Tadaku – Japanese popular platform that connects Japanese gourmet with foreign hosts living in Japan who teach their favorite national dishes at their homes. I just love the concept of sharing meals in a comfy home environment. The food is always great but even better are the witty conversations with interesting people who always speak so passionately about their cultures. Honestly, home meals are the best. I don’t feel quite as connected when the same meeting takes place in a public place.

Gyoza

Our host was an LA born Japanese professional cook with years of experience and a lot of patience for a rookie like me. She spoke perfect English and was a pure delight, amusing us with funny trivia about the food we were making.

Making egg roll

Although it was a gyoza making class, we made bunch of small dishes as well. My favorite of course was an egg roll and I really loved the cucumber pickles too. Since the class, I already made both dishes three times and each time it was just as delicious as the ones I made during the class. There is a real difference between learning from a recipe and following the directions of a pro. I am now thinking of taking all their classes. I wish I could come with my son. He loves cooking.

Cucumber pickles

Egg roll

At the end of the meal, we got a nice surprise – roasted tea with warabi mochi – traditional Japanese dessert. I left happy and satisfied with three new friends and precious new skills that my family really appreciate. I can’t believe I didn’t do it earlier. Thank you Bonappetour and thank you Arigato Japan.

Lunch

Drones, robot pets and self-driving cars – the future is here

Today, I saw an article on Facebook that by 2020 the very first self-driving cars will start running on the streets of Tokyo. I have already seen them appearing on The Good Wife and The Silicon Valley and I wonder how the whole dynamics of taxi business will change with the implementation of such cars. Tokyo drivers are notorious for not knowing their way around. Are they going to be replaced by the robot cars? Will I finally be able to get to places on time? I have interacted with several robots around Tokyo. They only spoke and understood Japanese but one told me he wanted to learn English. Then he froze.. ^-^ I think its still a long way to go before robots will enter our every day lives but when they do I really hope that James Cameron won’t be saying I told you so! ^-^

I am particularly curious about the care robots that provide therapeutic help to patients, children and elderly. A talking Barbie is pretty scary (we all watched that CSI episode) but Japan-made care robots such as Paro – the robot seal and Parlo – the dancing robot are pretty cute and I have seen them a lot on TV doing great job at dementia centres.

It would also be nice if the Paro developers created several pet versions of the robot to replace poor dogs that are purchased as presents for children who do not wish to take care of them.. Every day, I see Facebook messages of people asking to adopt their pets or asking where they can buy a dog CHEAP… People should be denied the right to purchase an animal without a proper license or something that proves their ability to be responsible humans.. Instead, they should just purchase pet robots and switch them off whenever they don’t feel like walking them or feeding them… Should I pitch this idea? 

Robots are fun and a little bit scary especially when they resemble humans. But I’m excited nevertheless to see where our technology might take us in the near future. By the way, I am going to try drone photography next week for my new corporate project. I hope we will be able to communicate well. :)

A tiny place with a lot of love

  

Yesterday, I had a chance to experience 保育参加 (hoiku sanka) – joining my son for half a day at his care center. Although I knew how his day usually went, I discovered a lot of new interesting facts. First of all, let me explain what a day care is in Japan. It is a public or government-subsidized private institution that caters to kids of working parents. There aren’t enough in the country so the more points you get as a working parent, the likely you are at getting in. Parents who both work and their salary combined doesn’t exceed a certain number have a good chance of getting their child in, availability granted. We were lucky enough to get a place at a government-subsidized private day care. It is run by a corporation and they have a nice, updated approach at raising children. Each child has their own lifestyle rhythm and they try to support that with sleep and feeding schedule. They adapt a lot of Montessori concepts and all the toys are made from natural materials. Teachers also do a lot of DIY material from felt and paper. My son is there from 9 to 6 since he was 4 months old. For the first year, they even let me bring frozen breastmilk for him.

So this is how our day went. Shortly after my arrival, the teachers took the kids for a walk at the playground. They got dressed in groups, then went downstairs and waited for the rest of the class. When everyone was gathered, the teachers sat everyone down on the floor and told them the plan – where would they go, want would they do and who would join them (me in my case). Then, everyone went out and walked in pairs, 1 adult per 4 kids. Teachers showed little cute things around the neighborhood like a new sign on a ramen shop or flowers in the window of a cleaning store. Then, we crossed the big street on green light and made our way to the playground.  Just before arriving to the playground, we stopped by a local bento shop and the owner came out to greet us. The kids hi-fived him for a while, then he waved いってらしゃい(itterashai) – bon voyage and off we went. When we arrived at the playground, one of the teachers ran around the perimeter and checked for hazards. If there was any garbage, she would pick it up and throw away. Then, she made a call to the day care office and reported that all kids and teachers have safely arrived at the playground. She did the same phone call on the way back. The kids were gathered around and told the rules – wait for your turn on slides and swings, no pushing. If kids from other day cares come along, play nicely. Then kids scattered around running, jumping. They looked for sticks, stones, leaves and insects. Others went on swings and slides. Some played まてまて (mate mate) – wait-for-me game. My son and I love to draw on the dirt with sticks so we started drawing funny faces and other kids joined us. They were fighting for who gets to find me a better stick or hold my hand. Kids are so adorable. Of course my son took offence and clang to me like there is no tomorrow.

Then, one teacher started to blow soap bubbles and kids ran around catching them. They blew their own bubbles in turns but only small ones were coming out. Each was nevertheless praised for their efforts. Another teacher has spread a picnic blanket and took out a thermos with tea and paper cups. If you wanted to drink, you would need to take your shoes off, sit on the blanket, wipe your hands and face the teacher. Good manners and the importance of the tea ceremony is taught at an early age. ^-^

We played like this for a while, then it was time to return. We got back to the day care, went upstairs in groups, took our shoes off and put them in a special shoe box shelf. Kids can’t read yet so each box has a unique picture and they all know theirs.

We got back to our class, went to the toilet, washed hands and started to play. The room is separated into four stations: ママごっこ(mama gokko) – a house station, a building station with puzzles, blocks and mosaics, a train station with a wooden railway and trains and a reading station with a sofa and books. There is also a table station where kids eat, draw and play with clay and stickers. The house station has kitchen, drawers with pretend food, a vanity table with scarfs to wrap around and play princesses. The girls immediately went for the vanity table, brought a bunch of scarfs and asked me to do “Ariel”. It took me a second but I figured it out. They wanted me to tie a scarf on their heads so that it flows in the back like Ariel’s hair. They girl who grabbed a white scarf was of course pretending to be Elsa. ^-^ My son started to build a castle and everyone went for the blocks like there were no other toys. I had to play smart and involve everyone into play. 3 year olds are still easy to manipulate.

Teachers were always there for the kids. They didn’t budge in the second a conflict took place. They observed first and if the kids couldn’t rule it out, suggested a solution.

After a while, the lunch was ready for the first group. They served meals in groups, adjusting to the lifestyle of each kid. Some get sleepy earlier so those eat first. The kitchen prepared lunch for me as well – a chicken and veggie stew with bread, tomato and cucumber salad, tea and a slice of apple. Kids have to eat what they have before they can ask for おかわり(okawari) – seconds. My son still takes a lot of time so the teacher talked to him, explained about what’s inside the dish, asked him to take one bite and he got to choose what was on the spoon. My son agreed, tried the stew and then had some. He usually eats well at the day care but always with the help from the teacher. By himself, he is taking ages. I am of course to blame. In Russia, kids are being forced to eat. I grew up like that and it’s wired in my brain. A kid has to eat a lot. So I feed him because this way he eats a lot. If I let him eat by himself, he won’t have much.

After the lunch, the first group went to bed. The beds are portable and brought in from the closet into the play area. Some sleep in the reading station, some in the train station, others in the house station. The beds are called cots and the linen is stretched over it. The blankets are brought from home.

This time, my son and I went back home right after lunch because of our 3 year old well-baby checkup later that day. What I learned from my experience is that their days are very busy. With all the little routines, walks, eating (they eat twice) and sleeping, there isn’t that much time left to get bored (my biggest fear is that my son is bored at the day care, not having enough stimulation). There are also occasional puppet theatres, concerts, sport days and mixers when they get to hang out with younger and older kids.  On rainy days, the biggest room is turned into gym where kids spend their energy running and jumping. In summer, they play with water in the water room. The teachers are always singing, reading, braiding their hair and helping them learn how to go to the toilet, wash hands, tie shoes. They find time to write funny episodes in each kid’s diary, what they ate and how long they slept. Sometimes, I feel they are being better mommies than I am. ^-^

I love everything about our day care. It’s a tiny place with a lot of love and attention to the details. I enjoyed spending time there and those little discoveries that I made (how independent my son is, how well he communicates with other kids, how warm and cozy it is in their class and how delicious the food is) made me exhale and relax. I know he is having a fab time there. That makes me feel a little less guilty and a lot more hopeful that maybe he is going to turn out OK even with both parents working.

 

By the book? Not so much

http://hinata622.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2013/12/post-6dbc.html

I have recently purchased an electrical bicycle for an easy commute with my toddler and it made me see yet again that for a country that loves rules so much, some of them are being ignored on a constant basis. When it gets to safety on the road, not many are willing to sacrifice their comfort. Taxis in Japan is a unique phenomenon on their own but taxi drivers are not the most radical offenders on the road, mothers are. Japanese moms on bikes simply don’t care. They never stop at STOP signs, they never slow down. I am now one of them and it made me notice even more just how many rules they break. Some don’t even look to the sides when they cross the street.
Last year, the ministry of land, transport, infrastructure and tourism has tighten the bolts for the bicycle drivers putting in place a penalty system similar to what they use for car drivers. Yet, the rules are being broken anyway. Why is it that being somewhere on time is more important than getting there in one piece? Some of the kids sitting in the back or front don’t even use helmets and some mothers ride bicycle while being pregnant or with their little babies strapped to their chest, their little heads bobbing around!! If they are so liberal with the safety rules why is it that they can’t go left or right when it gets to something significantly less important? Why do they abide notoriously ridiculous rules like dressing your freezing child into nothing but a school uniform (shorts!!!) in winter? Why? Because the school has a dress code? Because everyone else do it? If you are so by the book and in sync with the system, why don’t you follow the safety rules as well? Why do you put your child and yourself and other pedestrians in danger? On several occasions my son was almost run over and always by a mom on an electrical bike. It’s such a mystery to me.
Discipline is great but so is a little insubordination. My rule of thumb – use good judgment and ignoring the safety rules just because the accidents are rare is the sign of a poor judgment to me. Maybe accidents are indeed rare but the nuisance to other people – well it happens every single day. I’d choose to ignore dress code rules over safety rules any day.

Hope for the best but be prepared for the worst

This morning, I brought my son to the day care right when the alarm went off and the principal announced that the earthquake evacuation training is in place. They have been doing that 2-4 times a year but now that my son is big enough to understand what’s going on, it started to really influence him. He began to add earthquakes to his role-playing. He likes reading books about earthquakes and destroy Lego blocks constructions by shaking them. I have read a book called “Playful parenting” by Lawrence J. Cohen that explains why children often involve their fears into their games. They want to recreate the situation they are scared of but be in charge of it, be the one who controls the outcome. This sort of role-playing helps them accept the situations, make their peace and move on. Two weeks ago, we went for the next round of vaccinations and my son started to give vaccine shots to me every day since. He is in charge. He is the one administering the pain. It helps him move on.
But right there, in the middle of the organized chaos at the day care, my thoughts were scattered. I thought how cute and funny the kids looked in their yellow and silver padded hats but also how scared some of them were. My son included. He was smiling but I know he was on the verge of crying. He was sitting in the group of kids, in his yellow padded hat and looked at me for guidance. I wanted to stay but the principal insisted on me leaving. I felt awful about leaving my son in such a horrid state. I even cried when I left. I don’t want him to deal with the scares of this world, not yet. I hope the real earthquake will never come.. I hope I will be near him if it does..
These little happenings in the midst of our daily lives are really important triggers that help us recalibrate our thoughts, refocus on our priorities and correct our route. I am no longer worried about the little things. I am alert and grateful. Hello, Wednesday.

Let it snow and then don’t please!

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Just yesterday, my friend Elizabeth and I were discussing how mild this winter is. It wasn’t snowing last winter and this one looked pretty similar. All it takes really for the snow to start falling is to mention how it doesn’t snow at all and voila! Here we have our typical Tokyo snow – you enjoy it for 5 minutes out of your window upon waking up in the morning and then you deal with the apocalyptic consequences for the rest of the day. The trains stop, the highways are jammed and you work alone in the lonely office (or pretend to since no one is here). I brought my son to his day care in the morning and everyone met me with the sympathetic “大変でしたね!” greetings. Guys! Its just a few centimetres of snow and you absolutely lose it! And it happens every time it rains heavily or snows. Tokyo is a big high-tech city yet it behaves like a cranky toddler – throws a tantrum in the middle of the busiest rush hour. ^-^ Hello, Monday!

Comfy chic from Anne Valerie Hash

Two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to preview Comptoir des Cotonniers‘ new AW2015 collection designed by Anne Valerie Hash. She is a prominent French designer with her own label and a history of working for some of the biggest fashion houses of Nina Ricci, Chloe and Chanel. Her take on the new collection is simple – a dress shouldn’t wear a woman. Her outfits are comfy, easy and versatile yet you would feel luxurious in every one of them. A mix of sporty, mannish silhouettes with elegant fabrics and prints portray the true essence of an urban princess. A city girl, independent and strong yet elegant and sophisticated is the muse behind the collection. There are a lot of designs that are new for the brand, like cross-crotch pants and side slit sweaters. My favorite were the sporty pants made from the Italian suit fabric, thin reversible coats and of course the side-laced sneakers that received an overwhelming response in Europe.

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Nicolas said I look like the French singer Heloise Letissier from the Christine and the Queens project. I checked her out on youtube and she is AMAZING. A new type of singers are emerging these days like her and Lorde that put REAL above everything else. Raw talent without pretense. That’s something I am drawn to. I think Christine would be a great spokesperson for the brand. Her personal style is what the new collection is all about.

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Eri and I are wearing the matching looks. I won’t be surprised if we end up buying the same things when the collection hits the stores at the end of August.

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I was so lucky to meet the designer in person and talk to her about the collection. I really admired her sense of humor and passion to make the fashion comfortable. Wouldn’t we all want to look like dressed for a ball while wearing pajamas?

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_MG_5454 I was wondering how come the brand’s mascot Leon lives this long but I finally found my answer. Doggies replace each other. You can see old Leon and new Leon together on this tee.

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I also took a look at Princesse Tam Tam AW2015 collection. The silhouettes stayed the same but the colors and prints are all new and so beautiful. The navy and nude color combination is smart and very sexy. I also liked the updated version of the lace body suit. Everything with a peter pan collar automatically goes into my LIKE list. ^-^

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Randevouz with Yoko Yonezawa

This year, there was another soiree with fashion illustrator Yoko Yonezawa at Comptoir des Cotonniers Juugaoka flagship store. I am a big fan of her works so I went to check out what she did for the brand and also catch up with my friends.

Yoko talked about her time spent in Paris and shared her tips on how to dress as a French woman. She made a big accent on being natural not just in fashion but in beauty as well. Japanese women tend to overdo it in the beauty department with their gel nails and fake eyelashes. Women don’t need to look like dolls to be beautiful. Highlight your features but don’t go overboard buying various products and spending hours in salons. After all, men rarely appreciate all that effort. ^-^ Attracting them by wearing a mask will prove to be an ill strategy in the long run..or even the morning after. ^-^

The brand also stands behind this philosophy offering versatile pieces that are high quality, comfy and can be used for any occasion. I am in the midst of spring cleaning my closet, getting rid of a lot of stuff I no longer fancy and I have noticed that most of the pieces that stay are from Comptoir des Cotonniers because I can mix and match them together in tons of different outfits. Most of what went straight into the garbage bag was stuff that I bought on sales (it wasn’t so cheap after all) and things that I bought for that “special occasion” that never came. And also I got fat so XS no longer fits me..

Here are some of the Yoko’s works as well as photos from the event.

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Pay it forward

Pay it forward is the concept I am trying to teach my son. Be kind to those around you and the kindness you give will come back to you in your time of need. Be generous, be charitable, share what you have with others. My father made jar banks for me and my brother when we were young. We carefully saved one coin at a time for ages till they got filled. Once they were full, we took them to a bank and donated everything to those who needed it more than us. I made the same jar for my son.

Right now, there are a lot of people suffering in Nepal and we can all do something to ease their transitions back to normal lives. What can one person do? Not much. But together we can bring the change they need. How much will it cost you? A cup of coffee at Starbucks, a bottle of beer you buy at a convenient store, a magazine you read and then throw in the trash. 10, 5 even 1$ will matter. And if you don’t trust those big corporations with lots of hired employees, marketing campaigns etc. trust volunteers, those who do it for free. There is a small organization that does on-site help, buying food, rebuilding, catering to the immediate needs of those who suffered. They are not receiving salaries, they will not use your money for their own benefits. Check out their page and hopefully donate your one cup of Starbucks today.

http://www.facebook.com/nepalibyheart
http://www.nepalibyheart.com
http://www.instagram.com/nepalibyheart
http://www.nepalibyheart.livejournal.com Personal diary of the volunteer

And if you are thinking of volunteering yourself, sending your old stuff to Nepal, here is an article that I found very insightful.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/27/earthquake-nepal-dont-rush-help-volunteers-aid

I personally trust big organizations like Doctors without borders, Unicef, Oxfam etc because they have experience and the appropriate channels for an immediate relief but the real people like they ones that created Nepali by heart foundation are doing the same job, just on a smaller scale, providing based on what people need in their particular situations. So don’t hesitate to contact them for more information, donate, volunteer and  spread the news! Share their website on your social channels. Pay it forward. God bless you.

 

 

Dentelle is in the air

Spring is here and with everything around me blossoming, breathing and fluttering, I feel so heavy and dull in my everything black. I need a change of colors and I need new shoes. ^-^ Recently, I purchased DKNY perforated white leather sneakers and I absolutely love them but I am also thinking of getting sneakers in white lace which is the biggest trend of the season. Lace is in every collection from high-end to fast fashion. This summer is going to be all about dentelle and I am excited about it. I am not a girly person but I love implementing girly elements like lace into my tomboy looks. I learned this trick from French bloggers like Audrey Lombard. She inspired me to start experimenting with lace. I also like the combination of casual basics with super delicate lace, like the one Anine Bing is often showcases on her blog and shop.

So lace sneakers is high on my shopping list. So far, I narrowed my choice down to these 5 models.

 

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From top left

1. Migato platform sneakers

2. LEGit

3. Reef Dew Kist

4. Superga lace sneakers

5. Ash flower lace sneakers

I am thinking Reef sneakers in vintage looking knitted cotton cream lace look really cute and probably would suit me the most. ^-^ I recently re-discovered this brand when I was searching for new leather sandals. Each summer, I buy a new pair of leather thong sandals because I wore the previous pair to shreds. My husband’s father always makes fun of me for wearing beach sandals in the city. He just doesn’t get it. When you live in the city where everything is relatively close, you walk a lot. I don’t commute to work, I walk – 20 minutes each way. When I shop, I walk. When I go meet my friends, I walk. I walk everywhere and I do need comfortable shoes for that. Unfortunately for my type of feet it basically means sneakers or thong sandals, period. So I found a lot of options at Reef. The price is about the same as Tkees or Yosi Samra though so it’s all about the design really. I found some of the styles very appealing so I might give Reef a try this year. Plus, they also make shoes for kids, the cutest sandals ever. My husband didn’t let me buy sandals for our son last year saying that he is not yet an established walker but this year, I got the green light so I am going to have a lot of fun choosing sandals for him.

So, happy shopping to me and to you. Vive la dentelle and vive l’été. ^-^