A Series of Unpleasant Challenges.

I went to the doctor today as I was literally unable to breathe without gasping with my mouth wide open, which, looks odd but also induces bouts of coughing that make me feel like little pieces of my lungs are flying up my oesophagus and out of my mouth.

I’m sick of being sick.  I didn’t leave with the antibiotics I was hoping for (apparently this is just a virus, a snotty, green, feel-like-death-warmed-up virus), curse my luck.  Antibiotics make me feel cured!  Like, I’m assassinating all the sick things, they bring me a light at the end of my squinty-eyed, sick-mama tunnel.  Obvs the placebo effect alone is worth it in my instance.  But, instead today, I left with a prescription for pseudoephedrine.

PSEUDOEPHEDRINE!!!

Even better than antibiotics!  Now I can be sick, get ALL the things done, without feeling like I need to rest.  What a bloody mummy-miracle.

At least I’m now able to breathe so that’s something.

Back to the GP.  I had a particularly nasty thought and decided to act on it, the lack of antibiotic prescribing hadn’t deterred me from broaching an even pricklier subject. “Melissa”, I thought, “while you’re here, with your Doc as an audience………..why not bring up the really fun topic about those pesky 10+ kgs that have piled on over the past 10 years hmmmmmm?”

You see, I’m sick of being sick but I’m even more sick of being overweight.  A pre-big-fuck-off milestone birthday slipped through the cracks last month, reminding me that next year, I will turn 40.  And 40 needs to be svelte I’m thinking.

So,  a g a i  n …….. no magic pill was prescribed (not that I’m complaining about the legal meth, I mean, I’M WRITING A BLOG so you know that shit is good!), but, Good Doc gave me some suggestions or what I like to call, A Series of Unpleasant Challenges;

  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep.  The fuck?  What even is that and please, let me introduce you to my son Nixon.
  • Zero alcohol for 6 weeks.  I can’t even…….
  • Find a different exercise that I enjoy.  Apparently simply ‘paying for’ a gym membership doesn’t count?
  • Check thyroid – blood test complete!
  • Take zinc to help with immunity – check!
  • Look at further reducing my antidepressant medication citalopram.  Oh boy.  Over the past 6 months I have HALVED my daily dose (Yay me!) and now I have to be brave and think about cutting it out altogether.  Which I will probably do, but very, very slowly as brain zaps are just one of the very real and awful side effect of messing with SSRI meds.

So.  See what I mean about the Unpleasant Challenges?  Total cracker of a day.  But I did write this post so that is definitely worth celebrating………by crawling into bed for 8 hours sleep.

LOLLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

 

Home – Easy Eco-Friendly Product Switches

Reduce, reuse, recycle.  Who would ever have imagined that Bob the Builder – a beloved children’s show – would be so ahead of its time?  With sustainability and environmental issues ramping up in importance and public awareness every day, the onus on individuals to increase responsibility as both consumers and caretakers of the land is becoming a more widely accepted proposition.  

Taking action on a micro, personal level, and claiming responsibility for the generation and disposal of waste in our own households is the first step in the much bigger picture of building long-term, sustainable communities.  I’m sooooo not a traditional ‘green’ early adopter – anyone who knows me can tell you that – but, I do love products and brands that make sense, make my life easier and combine ethical integrity and environmental concern with common-sense practicality.

So, here are some brands and products that tick all of these boxes and that we’re using daily in our home or out and about;

6 Green ‘n Easy options for reducing household waste

Ecopack Compostable Plastic Free Bags and Bin Liners

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Biodegradable Bags

I going to be honest here – I’ve never once considered ditching bin liners and using layered newspaper.

Never once.  I mean who even HAS newspaper any more to start with, and secondly, ew.

Which brings me to my first eco-friendly find; 100% compostable, plastic-free and biodegradable bags and bin liners from Ecobagsnz.  Single-use plastic presents a major environmental concern around the world.  Determined to make a change here in New Zealand is locally owned and operated Ecobagsnz.  They produce a range of ethically produced bags suitable for both retail lines and personal use.

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Biodegradable Bags

The Ecopack Compostable range eliminates the need to reconsider my stance on drippy newspaper (thank goodness!).

Available at leading supermarkets and health food stores nationwide, the Ecopack Compostable range is available in 6 different sizes and only takes around 90 days to break down in your compost!

ECOPACK COMPOSTABLE KITCHEN LINER 27L (20) RRP $7.99
ECOPACK COMPOSTABLE KITCHEN LINER 36L (15) RRP $7.99
ECOPACK COMPOSTABLE BIN LINER 60L (5) RRP $6.90
ECOPACK COMPOSTABLE BIN LINER 80L (10) RRP $8.99
ECOPACK COMPOSTABLE WHEELIE BIN LINER 140L (5) RRP $6.50
ECOPACK COMPOSTABLE WHEELIE BIN LINER 240L (5) RRP $8.80

Reusable Produce Bags from The Rubbish Whisperer

Another kiwi company determined to reduce single-use plastic bags is The Rubbish Whisperer.

Most of us care about the environment but don’t realise the scale of the pollution our disposable lifestyles are creating. The Rubbish Whisperer shows people how easy it is to have a huge positive impact on the environment by making small and simple changes. www.rubbishwhisperer.co.nz/pages/aboutus

I’m loving the super-cute Reusable Produce Bags, RRP $22.49 per 5 pack.  NZ made from strong and lightweight polyester tulle, these beautifully bright bags are a fun visual reminder to by-pass the plastic bag roll next time you’re in the fruit and vege aisle.  An added timesaving bonus of the quick-dry fabric is that you can wash produce directly in the bag!

Noteworthy: 1% of all Rubbish Whisperer sales are donated to local conservation projects!

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Reusable Produce Bags

Put your money where your mouth is: Shop The Source

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Zero Waste ShoppingFinding retailers that are supportive of your zero-waste efforts can be tough.  Cutting through the layers and layers of packaging that almost every retail product is subject to can be disheartening and in my case, a massive workout for my recycle bin.  Shopping at the most established zero waste grocery store in Australasia is now easy if you live in Auckland.  The Source has two beautiful locations in Milford and Kumeu and is stocked to the rafters with delicious ways to say YES to healthy, nutrient-dense food.  They also supply kefir, kombucha, apple cider vinegar, and maple syrup on tap, you can make your own nut-butters, shop for home cleaning supplies……and take everything home in your own reusable containers, use paper bags or purchase your zero-waste supplies in store.

Genius!

Online shopping will be all systems go in the next 8 weeks so everyone in New Zealand can get a taste of this awesome shopping experience. 

Follow The Source Kumeu here > Instagram, Facebook and The Source Milford here > Instagram, Facebook

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Zero Waste Shopping

Drink SMART and ditch the disposables

It sounds dire but plastic straws have to be one of the greatest ecological follies ever unleashed upon the world by the industrial age.  Trust me, once you go stainless you never go back, they deliver a really lovely drinking experience especially with smoothies!

My faves are these beauties from CaliWoods, available in cocktail, smoothie, drinking, tall and bubble tea options plus each four pack comes with a cleaner brush!

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Zero Waste Stainless Steel Straws

Another Melissa Must-Have is my New Zealand made CuppaCoffeeCup.  These beauties are lightweight, durable and 100% recyclable, plus they showcase NZ artists in a range of designs.  Released just in time for Mother’s Day is the new ‘Miromiro & Manuka design by Janine Millington – I’ll be hosting a giveaway at the end of the month so keep your eyes peeled!

You can find the CuppaCoffeeCup range in Farmers, Whitcoulls and selected gift and kitchen stores for around $16.50 each.

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Zero Waste Reusable Coffee Cup

Go Green with Personal Care

Four months in and I’m still raving about my Lunette Menstrual Cup.  Yes, the whole concept is a bit weird at first when you’ve been using tampons or pads for over 20 YEARS!  But ladies all I can say is, change is good and this change is one you will NOT regret.  Read more about my personal experience here > Lunette Menstrual Cup

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Lunette Menstrual Cup Review

Weleda Skincare

Skin care is BIG news when it comes to living your best sustainable, eco-friendly life.  The brands you choose to spend money on should reflect your own personal values and help support your retail decision making.  You are applying these products to you skin, the largest organ in your body as well as the precious skin of your little people so, a considered choice made by any consumer one is to be respected.

A firm fave in our home for years now, is the huge range from Weleda.  With ethical and sustainable standards that are so aspirational (read about them here), it’s easy to find yourself in the midst of a guilt-free bathroom cabinet makeover!

Three of our faves are; Pomegranate Regenerating Body Oil, After Shave Balm and KIDS 2in1 Shampoo & Body Washes.

Look at those beautiful glass bottles!!!

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Zero Waste Weleda Skincare

Milestones: 13.

I’m in a real ‘adulting’ mindset at the moment.  I’ve had a meeting with an insurance broker, we are getting Dave’s citizenship underway, our mortgage is up for renewal so I’m in full planning mode around refinancing and I’m really consciously trying to make our house and home work for our family without falling into the trap of obsessing about ‘MORE’.

Always in parallel alongside all of that very boring grown-up, life admin, is the most important job of all – parenting.

With the 8.5 year age-gap between Ethan and Nixon, the past 4.5 years of child milestones feel like they’ve belonged somewhat solely to Nix.  The heady baby days of rolling over, sitting up, his first steps, first word, first day of kindy……….they’ve been freshly imprinted in our family memory banks as they should!  However,  Ethan has moved from single digits into a legit teenager, now 13 and in his first year at high school.  That’s a massive fucking milestone that has crept up on me and literally slapped me in the face at the year 9 parents evening I attended last week.

I was sitting in an auditorium at my old high school, (thank god for kids of Old Girls getting bumped up the ballot!), next to some friends from out west.  I had just downloaded the school app (!!!), which is the most incredible thing ever, personalized with Ethan’s 6-day timetable, the contact info for all of his teachers, an absentee portal +  pretty much everything Dave and I NEED to know about Ethan’s day-to-day school life, when, I looked over at my friends and said; “can you even believe we are here????”

And by believe, I meant, how is it that we have somehow bumbled/guided our collective sons for 13 years to arrive at that point where we were sitting en masse in the largest high school in the country listening to the head of mathematics describe how he planned to teach our kids some really, really complicated shit?

I’ve got no idea how Dave and I did it, raised our son to be the awesome little teen he is today. But, the fact of the matter is, he’s taken Year 9 in his stride and has settled into High School like it’s NO BIG THING.

It’s actually a huge thing and a very worthy milestone to ‘quietly’ recognize.  You won’t be allowed to make a song and dance – because teenagers – so don’t even bother.  But once you’ve sat down with all the other bewildered parents at an orientation evening and listened to the expectations and deliverables required of a Year 9 student, your Mum Brain will be fried, emotional and reaching for the wine crutch.

No?

Just me then.  And I’m totally ok with that.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Teen Milestone high School

Why is high school such a BIG step?

So, so many reasons, but these are the ones that resonate with our family;

  • There’s a legit choice, a sometimes agonizing one, around which college to send your kid to.  When you are making decisions that can potentially affect the educational future of your kid, the process of deciding on the in-zone school or out of zone applications, ballots, interviews, puts the decision front and centre in your kid’s mind as well as yours.  They probably weren’t so invested in the choice of primary school or intermediate but as an active participant in the interview process, Ethan was aware of what was at stake and where he hoped the ballot would fall.
  • Public transport may come into play.  Though Ethan rode a bus to intermediate, his trip to high school is a different route.  Every kid in the neighborhood lined up on the wrong side of the street on the first day of term last month!  Getting home again is just as tricky, there is a large bus bay at his school, but Ethan’s bus leaves from a stop outside the gates – of his massive, massive school.  If his last class of the day is on the far side of the school you bet he’s running to make sure he boards the bus so Mum or Dad won’t be forced into a last minute, hour-long round-trip retrieval!
  • Managing a 6-day timetable.  This has been a super hard transition for E, but we are getting there.  This is where Dave and I have to step in a double check he’s ready for the day ahead before he leaves the house.
  • Learning to move around the school each period and acclimate to a different teacher and classroom for each subject.
  • Homework vs sport vs family expectations vs the god awful game console.  Work in progress for us to be honest, but compared to 3 weeks ago things are on the up and Ethan is settling into a good after-school routine.
  • Social change.  Making new friends and switching up the kids he hangs with has been nothing but beneficial for E, but that’s to be expected.  He’s pretty mellow in the friends’ department and just enjoys spending time with whomever he has a common interest with.  His daily is heading to the gym each lunchtime and shooting hoops with whoever shows up.  I can imagine that this really important time in a teenagers life can be pretty rough waters for some kids as they begin high school and have to navigate new friends and social roles.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Teen Milestone high School

So yeah.  Ethan is Year 9, his first year of high school and simply going about his days like primary and intermediate were simply some distant dream state from which he’s just now emerged.  He’s amazing, capable and confident and I’m just so proud of him.

Hoping your kids have started off the school year in their best possible way also, and if not, be their advocate, be persistent and don’t settle for nods and grunts and non-communication.  Getting your kids talking and keeping them talking through the tween years is sooooo important and will help all of the Big Kid transitions and milestones still to come.

There are many by the way, don’t forget to celebrate them…………….quietly lol.

 

 

Recipe for Summer – Fruit and Ice Cream

Waitangi Day is the line in the sand when it comes to New Zealand summer I reckon.  The big stuff all happens ‘Pre-Waitangi’; the massive 6 week school holiday kicks off for the kids, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, road trips, tropical cyclones………….

Come Feb and the return to school – ‘Post-Waitangi’ summer kicks in.

It’s just my opinion but this is where the best summering happens as we all begin to savour every last sunshine-y Sunday, every after school beach-dash and every balmy BBQ dinner.  Shaking every last grain of sand out of summer in New Zealand is our duty as Kiwis.  Much like our ‘no man left behind’ attitude to summer stonefruit or our ‘eat ALL the berries’ culinary philosophy, making the most of these golden days is in our blood and helps me survive the extreme hardships of winter……in Auckland :::::::shudder::::::

Forget your kiwifruit or Navel Oranges, or any other fruit growing without a stone, bramble or vine.  I’m a summer fruit girl from way back.  As such, a snatched glimpse of a laden Christmas Plum or Golden Queen tree has always been a bit of a trigger for me (I’m sure many of you can relate right?).  I can remember a very blurry summer holiday when I was around 12 and had the good fortune to be invited away with my besties family.  The bach we were staying at had a marvelously overgrown and steep backyard that wound its way uphill towards the neighbouring fence line.  Exploring in the shade of the afternoons once we returned from the beach yielded a marvelous discovery – a Golden Queen peach tree, surely as ancient as the Kauri, (I mean, it was definitely as BIG as a Kauri wink wink, I was 12 remember!) literally groaning under the burden of its fruit.  The dilapidated fence separating us from our golden prize was merely a challenge, and not of the moral kind, unfortunately.  The lack of houses in any direction simply reinforced the fact that this ripe token of summer was ours for the taking, and besides, pilfered fruit always seemed to taste a wee bit better when you were 12!

Fast forward more than 20 years and some of the first things I purchased when we bought our house were fruit trees.  One Golden Queen peach tree, one heritage black plum and one nectarine tree.  To be honest, my mini-orchard was on the back-foot from day one with its care in my decidedly less-than-green hands so we are struggling, but, I’m picking the 2019 harvest will be a beauty, ie we might get some fruit we can eat!  My lack of peach-prowess could, of course, be due to the fact that we do not live in the Hawkes Bay.  They’ve got that peach growing on lockdown there which is why another kiwi fave of mine, Tip Top, keeps it local and uses real fruit grown by real NZ farmers in their Peaches & Cream Ice cream – no dodgy fence jumping going on here either, tsk tsk 12yo Melissa lol.  When we’re growing so much amazing produce right here in NZ we should absolutely expect that our local suppliers are sourcing FRESH ingredients from those growing it locally.  Combining one of our most beloved summer fruits with the goodness of New Zealand milk and cream is a taste of summer I hope my boys will remember as synonymous with growing up in New Zealand.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Summer Tip Top Ice Cream

The iconic Boysenberry is another kiwi fave that takes me back to pinching fruit from the vine on my Nana’s farm. Its incarnation into the multiple award-winning Boysenberry Ripple ice cream from Tip Top has made boysenberries a generational obsession in our family.  If there was a momentous stop for a scoop of ice cream when I was a kid,  I don’t remember my Mum ever (ever, EVER) selecting any flavour other than Boysenberry.  Habit or heritage, whimsy or some other romantic hankering for the past, the fruit and flavours of New Zealand are freaking awesome and play a huge role in how I remember the 38 summers of my life.

Nelson farmers have taken up the reins and for years have been supplying Tip Top with enough kiwi boysenberries to keep that famous ripple in the freezer year round – but I reckon ice cream always tastes better in summer, yeah?

Keeping it real and, real kiwi is a big deal to Tip Top, one of the bit-players in each of my summers.  Recognizing the importance of legacy ingredients in our lives, it’s rad to see that using REAL fruit grown right here is just as important to the big guys as it is to would-be-backyard-mum-orchardists who might one day grow enough peaches for each of us to have one simultaneously.

This post was made possible by the good peeps at Tip Top!

PS Find our waffle recipe here

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Summer Tip Top Ice Cream
Ethan and one of his best friends planned a Waitangi Day Waffle cook-off and nailed them! They were pretty stoked when I whipped some surprise toppings out of the freezer – Peaches and Cream and Boysenberry Ripple ice cream from Tip Top.

Family Travel Japan: Nara and the Great Buddha

Nara was added to my Japan To-Do list pretty early on as I felt it was an easy combo of culture, religion and cool stuff for the boys, ie lots of roaming deer lol.  Oh and this place is ancient!

The boys and I were on our own (which is always slightly terrifying for me at the moment because…..Nixon!).  Dave was working so we packed up and headed south on the train.  One little local line (¥150 ea) and then we were free-riding on the JR trains with our passes.  Ethan and I make a good team whilst navigating train stations so we managed to complete the 3 transfer trip with no problems.

You don’t have to walk far from the station to experience the cuteness, and often aggressiveness of the Nara Park deer, 50m from the train station they are out of the pavement, harassing punters for deer crackers!  In the Shinto religion, deer are considered messengers of the gods and there’s over 1000 of them roaming the giant park.  Purchase the little crackers from the vendors with green umbrellas for ¥150, break them in half and have fun.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park

After Fun with Deer, we wandered for a bit as there was a small lake nearby and my fish-mad boys needed to see if there were fish to peruse.  

Nara Park is so, so big guys.  I was super stoked we had the stroller as the walk from the station to Todai-ji, the Buddhist temple housing the world’s largest bronze statue of the Buddha Daibutso was quite a hike.  But, on the way, we (accidentally) found the Yoshikien Garden.  A beautiful moss garden divided into 3 separate areas.  With free entry for foreigners we were in like flynn and the boys really, really enjoyed exploring this deserted but stunning corner of the park.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park

Nix didn’t want to leave but I eventually coaxed him out of the garden and we headed to our final destination within the park, Todai-ji, which was, until 1998, the worlds largest wooden building.  The scale of this complex is so huge it boggled our minds.  Watching the boys soak up the history and craftsmanship in world heritage sites such as this is what our trip was all about for me.  Hopefully, they remember how these sights made them feel about their place in the world – I’m probably reaching here a bit with Nixon I realise lol.  The Daibutsu statue, the flanking Bodhisattvas and the two wooden guardians protecting him are so beautiful you simply won’t want or be able to rush through the building.

Entry was around ¥600 each for Ethan and I, approx $7.50NZD and totally worth every cent.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park

Like other large stations in Japan, there are some great shopping and restaurants to experience in Nara before you board your train.  Though on this day, Nix was so beat, we sat down in McDonald’s for the ONLY western takeaway meal we would eat for the entire two weeks!  That’s not a bad track record, plus, I really wanted to eat an egg burger lol.

You could definitely spend a whole day exploring Nara Park and see so much more than we did, my boys can’t be pushed for speed when they are doing lots of walking – and neither should they when it’s of the sightseeing variety.

Don’t miss Nara, it’s fun, low key, relaxed (providing there’s no festival on at the temples) and you can explore at your own pace.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Nara Park

Fly Jetstar to Japan like we did > www.jetstar.co.nz

Family Travel Japan: Tokyo > Kyoto on the JR Shinkansen Bullet Train

Lord have mercy bullet trains are freaking amazing.  Pure Japanese innovation and technology designed to increase the efficiency of people moving between Japan’s two biggest cities.  Of course, the Shinkansen trains now run the full length of the country and with the amazing Japan Rail pass you are free to use Shinkansen at will.

mummy-blog-new-zealand-blogger-mommy-travelblog-family-Japan-Tokyo-KyotoWhen we planned our multi-stop itinerary; Tokyo > Kyoto (with day trips to Nara, Osaka, Hiroshima) > Nagano > Tokyo, it was obvious that investing in the JR pass was the way to go, and after our first foray from Tokyo to Kyoto, I’m totally hooked!

So, until this point, we had not made one wrong move on the trains.  Which is seriously impressive if you’ve ever tried to negotiate Tokyo or Shibuya station with 3 massive pieces of luggage, a teenager and NIXON.  But oh yes, arrogance comes before a fall and we made the grand JR Pass faux pas of getting on the blacklisted Nozomi Shinkansen as we flew out of Tokyo Station:::::::gasp:::::::

Ethan was mortified as we searched for our seats (which were taken by legit Nozomi passengers) thundering the aisles with 60+ kgs of luggage and NIXON, only to have our mistake discovered by a friendly European businessman (very Christian Gray), who looked at our tickets and pronounced our fate:  you’re on the wrong train.

No major problem, we were supposed to be on the Hikari, so we just hopped off at the next station and re-embarked a couple of minutes later when our actual Shinkansen arrived.

So, big differences between the local lines and riding on Shinkansen;

  1. There are reserved seats.  It’s roomy, comfortable and there are power outlets to charge you shizz!
  2. You can eat and drink on Shinkansen which is a big no-no on local trains.  There is always a full complement of restaurants and convenience stores at Shin stations plus the wee shops on the platform are super cheap and have delicious sushi, bento boxes and sandwiches as well as beer, wine and cocktails.  So charge it!
  3. You get everywhere you want to go super fast.  Obviously.  But you pay for that for sure.  For example, tomorrow’s trip from Kyoto to Nagano costs ¥13,000 which is around $161 NZD each.  Considering we rode the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, Kyoto to Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagano and then Nagano to Tokyo, as well as all of the local trains we rode every day in each stop, the $579 pp for the Japan Rail Pass was a GREAT investment.
  4. With a JR pass you have to do all bookings and transfer through all gates manually, you can’t use the ticket machines (this applies to local lines as well as Shinkansen).  Your JR pass allows you to reserve seats on the bullet trains, which is awesome, but, if the reserved section is full, don’t be afraid to take a gamble and jump in an unreserved car.  We did this rather than waiting on the way back from Hiroshima to Kyoto and it was totally worth it.  Seats the whole way and no waiting!
  5. DON’T ride the Kodama unless you have to.  It stops at every station and sometimes is subject to long waits at the platform.

When we arrived in Kyoto, we realised (surprisingly!) that we weren’t in Tokyo anymore!!  The local train network was not as fancy, easily signposted or as comprehensive as we had become used to and we quickly hopped on a JR train heading in the wrong direction.  Off/on, backtrack we eventually arrived at the right station, (not JR arghhh) and set about trying to find our AirBnB.

The street it was on had no house numbers and we had no image of what the property looked like.  Did I mention it was raining?  Eventually a schoolgirl walked by and I showed her the address on my phone.  It turned out we were standing right in front of the place the whole time.

Kid status:  great!  The boys are super good on the trains as we allow them their iPads so they watch Netflix play their games for the duration and we make sure they have heaps to eat lol.  

So, our Kyoto arrival was a little fraught, but we made it and settled in for the next 5, busy, days.

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Family Travel Japan: Day 3, Ueno Park

After declaring it an anime-shopping-free day, we decided to make the most of the beautiful weather in Tokyo so headed for Ueno Park.  In Cherry Blossom season, this is one of the spots to be in Tokyo, however, as we are visiting in winter I was willing to take a gamble and have a wander.  Home to many museums and Ueno Zoo, 3 temples and one shrine, Ueno Park is a beautiful place to wile away the hours.  

I was actually really stressed out on Tuesday when we visited.  Nix has been really, really hard work so far on this trip and he’s sucking the life out of me, so it was with great delight that I saw a freaking peony garden, IN FULL BLOOM no less, entry fee ¥600 ($7.40NZD).  Dave saw that and was like, go ahead babe, I’ll hang with the boys.

Hallelujah.

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One thing to remember about travelling with kids is that it can be quite tricky to steal a little quiet time.  Dave and I find that we are so tired each night, we usually go to bed right after the boys so there’s not a lot of alone time to regroup.  Ergo, a wander through some Japanese peony gardens was exactly what the doctor ordered.

We took our time exploring the park grounds, finally heading down a hill to Shinobazu Pond and the Bentendo Temple.  This was such a great spot to wile away the sunny winter afternoon.  The temple stands in the middle of the pond so there was lots for the boys to explore and look at, delicious food vendors (we enjoyed chicken katsu and crab skewers), as well as a lovely spot to sit and enjoy a cold Asahi.

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As it was our last night in Tokyo we couldn’t resist the urge to head back to Shibuya and see the crossing in all of its after work, neon glory.  I seriously LOVE this place, the energy is amazing but at the same time mellow and fun.  Such a strange juxtaposition.  We wandered and found the statue of Hachiko, the gorgeously loyal dog who would wait at the train station every day for his master Ueno to return, even after his passing, #heartmelt!  We also saw a full Mario Cart tour stopped at the lights at Shibuya Crossing.  This was something Dave and I really wanted to do but you need to hold an international drivers license so make sure you grab one of those in New Zealand before you leave home.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Shibuya

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For only the second time (gasp), I popped into a shop I wanted to look in – Zara was having a huge sale so naturally I had a quick browse and nabbed four t shirts for $28 NZD!  Everything in a size L is always on sale here, it’s the one time I’ve genuinely been stoked about my size lol.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Shibuya

One thing we are definitely missing is fruit and vegetables.  The meat, seafood and carb situation is plentiful and awesome but we love our fresh produce so we stopped to pick up some dinner from the mind-blowing Tokyu Food Show at Shibuya Station.  I don’t even know where to start here.  Think, every type of uber-fresh seafood and meat in a small format market, complete with butchers, fishmongers preparing your purchase, but, in a fancy metropolitan supermarket.  It was crazy packed, frenetic but so, so amazing.  There was a whole ‘restaurant’ section in the market where you could find anything under the sun so Ethan picked out some sushi and gyoza while Nix wanted (more) chicken katzu and some potato wedges.  Dave and I ate some crazy omelette-y meat/rice combo from a teeny restaurant around the corner from our house.  Full tummies = happy Jacks.

So, a different kind of day here, and one just as enjoyable.  The parks here are beautiful and so worth exploring.  It’s super easy when travelling to get in the trap of ‘paying’ for your experiences in a country, but you just don’t have to at all.  Let yourself wander unscheduled and you may start to finally find that ‘I’m on holiday feeling’.

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Family Travel Japan: Day 2, Ikebukuro

In my fast and loose ‘Mind Itinerary’, I had pencilled in Monday for a trip to Sea Disney in Tokyo.  However, after one day on the ground, what we really wanted to do was simply see and experience more of Tokyo.

So, we ditched Disney and saved hundreds of dollars.  The kids did not care and Dave and I were infinitely happier!

We began everyday in Tokyo with a visit to the most amaze bakery about 20 paces from our front door.  I had NO idea that bakeries were a thing here, and my god, everything that comes out of Japanese ovens is fit for the gods I tell you!  The Arteria Bakery was divine, the best pastries, breads, curry buns, melonpam, blueberry and apple pies………we tried it all.  Yes.  We.  Did.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

Dave had to work, so the kids and I headed off on foot, navigating the 30-minute walk to Ikebukuro where the boys were super excited to experience J-World, an anime theme park featuring Dragon Ball Z – off course.  I find Google Maps a bit dodgy at home in NZ, but here the app works perfectly.  We were navigated through gorgeous, quiet wee residential streets and alleys, just as spic ‘n span as the rest of Tokyo, and made it to Sunshine City in Ikebukuro in no time.  I’ve realised on this trip the beauty of having no car!  Exploring on foot is such a pleasure here and gives a real sense of what life is actually like here in Tokyo.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

We had unwittingly stumbled upon a kids-go-free day at J-world so we were off to a great start.  Ethan loved this place, Nixon enjoyed it even with only a cursory knowledge of anime, however, give it a miss if you or the kids are not fans as it will all go right over your head as there is no English translation or context.  That said, the boys were happy so I was super happy!  

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

Sunshine City is a HUGE mall, it was a struggle to navigate but we found the restaurant level and I braved ordering food without Dave for the first time.  The kid’s option was easily identifiable by the Hello Kitty plate and was so perfect for Nix.  It came with a giant tempura shrimp, about 10 fries, a small hamburger patty and some rice, dessert and orange juice.  Literally ALL of Nixon’s favourite foods, neatly separated how he likes it.  The dessert was a strange custard that he wasn’t a fan of, but aside from that 10/10.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

I had a good look at the menu before ordering and noticed that there were two prices; one for the individual item and one for the ‘set’ which included rice and miso soup.  As Ethan is not a fan of miso and the rice servings are huge, we ordered one set and one individual item and saved around 200¥!

After a quick visit to the Pokemon shop (soooo cute!) we headed upstairs to the Sunshine City Aquarium located on the roof of the mall.  We absolutely LOVED this place.  Skip the sea lions and penguins and head for the aquarium tanks.  There were so many fish, reptiles and amphibians here that we had never seen before it was amazing for my animal-mad boys.  A leopard shark, huge sunfish, giant spider crabs, poisonous frogs and so much more.  It def got us pumped for the big aquarium visit to come in Osaka.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

Whilst in Ikebukuro we headed straight to the heart of this shopping mecca and soaked it all in.  There was a girl on the street with an owl advertising the ‘Owl Cafe’ nearby, there was an 8 story department store dedicated to DIY and basically, home and lifestyle called Tokyu Hands.  I could have spent hours in here but I was with 3 boys so time was limited lol.  Ethan was granted his final Dragon Ball Z shopping mission and found a figure he wanted in the giant Animate store.  He was happy and I was happy the search was over.

The neighbourhoods between Ikebukuro and our accommodation were so pleasant we opted to walk the 30 minutes home again and pick up some don bowls for dinner on the way home.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo Ikebukuro

I know no-one will believe this but, the only shopping I’ve done for myself is a $5 floppy felt hat on clearance from Uniqlo!!!  Shock horror I know.  Not even ANY sneakers!

There are 12 more days though.

Day 2 = AWESOME.

Fly Jetstar to Japan like we did > www.jetstar.co.nz

Family Travel Japan: Day 1, Tokyo

Lord.  Japan is far, far away from Auckland, New Zealand.  

And I mean far.

But that is what makes it so amazing.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

After two great Jetstar Flights (thanks Jason for the attention you gave the boys on the long Gold Coast – Narita leg!), we landed on Saturday night at 6.30pm at Narita Airport.  It felt heaps later of course as it was fully dark (mid-winter) and we’d been awake for like, days by that point lol.  This is where my planning came into full effect.  There are 3 terminals at Narita Airport and we flew into #3.  There is no train station there so we really enjoyed our walk to terminal 2.  I’m not joking either, despite how awesome the Jetstar crew were, after 8 hours on a full plane with a kid with Hirschsprung’s the fresh air and being able to stretch our legs was luxury.

The walk between terminal 3 and 2 is just over half a km, there is a shuttle bus you can take if you cbf walking.

I had pre-purchased our Japan Rail passes in Auckland from www.traveljapan.co.nz (who were totally awesome, I highly recommend dealing with them).  This was quite an investment, $1737 NZD for 3 adult passes (under 6’s ride free) but we are travelling extensively within Tokyo, using the Shinkansen (bullet train to Kyoto), day trips to Osaka, Nara, Hiroshima, ferry to Miyajima, then north to Nagano and back to Tokyo via Shinkansen so it’s absolutely worth the money.  JR passes are exclusively for foreigners so you are issued with a voucher in NZ and have to exchange this for your actual JR pass upon arrival in Japan.  

The JR information centre is on the station level in Terminal 2 at Narita and located in a great spot right by a 7-11 for snacks, a Foreign Exchange kiosk and a Pocket WiFi rental shop.  I picked up our passes, Dave rented our WiFi gadget ($99 for 2 weeks, unlimited data and up to 10 devices!) and we settled down to a cold Asahi while we waited for the Narita Express into Tokyo.

Like Auckland Airport, Narita is a good haul out of the main city, almost an hour into Tokyo Station where the train split, literally.  The first 6 cars went on one line and the rest went through to Shibuya Station which is where we transferred to Ikebukuro.  This was probably the trickiest part of our commute as we had to use a local line to get to our AirBnB, which meant we had to buy tickets and generally figure things out as the line is owned by a company other than JR.  Super cheap though, $1.70 per ride and probably even cheaper if we buy multi-trip passes which we will over the next couple of days.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

Booking our accommodation was by far the most difficult part of planning our trip to Japan.  The cities are so huge, I had to figure out which parts were quiet and suitable for a family, what we could afford, where homes were in relation to the trains and our to-do list.  I would have spent at least 5 hours researching each of the 3 properties I ended up booking.   

Here’s where we are staying in Ikebukuro > https://www.airbnb.co.nz/rooms/10222084 and it’s absolutely perfect, bigger than it looks, sparkling clean and about 50 steps from the train station.  We arrived at around 11.30pm on Saturday night, the neighbourhood was silent with no one around, despite a couple of sake bars on the street.  It felt so safe.  After picking up some pastries for breakfast from the bakery on the way to the train station this morning we were utterly convinced that this property and it’s location are an absolute win for us.  If you like a sleep in the trains might bother you as they start running from around 6am I think, but Nix is such an early riser this doesn’t bother us at all.

Day 1 – Tokyo

The most difficult part of trip planning is scheduling in your itinerary in my opinion.  So I really try not to do too much of that.  Speaking frankly, kids hate being rushed around from here to there, trying to meet trains/deadlines/expectations so, we just don’t travel like that.  I have ‘region goals’ I’d like to hit while we are in Japan, but little else cemented in.  You get a better feel for what you want to do more of, see, once you’re on the ground I reckon.

So today we rose early, headed out at 9am after some cuddles and showers, hit the local bakery for the MOST amazing croissants, apple pies and cream cheese and blueberry pastries and hopped on the Tobu Toju line back to Shibuya Station.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

We coffee’d at Starbucks and found the incredible Shibuya Crossing, probably quite quiet as it was Sunday morning lol but still totally awesome.  What we noticed immediately was that Japanese locals walk like they are driving ie they stay in their lane!  Big contrast to our family where the boys are constantly running, backtracking, stopping in the middle of the footpath………we are very conspicuously the square pegs here!

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

So we did a little shopping, not much to be honest and just had a really great time wandering around.  At lunchtime, we charged a local eatery which, as it turns out specialized in pork Sta Don bowls.  Dave nailed the kiosk ordering system and we had a delicious meal of fried rice, gyoza and the pork/rice bowls.  I’m not a huge pork fan but the meat was shaved and thin it looked like bacon but was brown rather than pink.  We were quite proud of ourselves after that!

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

Ethan had done some research and wanted to visit a store called Mandrake which was 4 floors underground in Shibuya.  Specializing in all things Japanese anime, this is a collectors paradise.  We saw one Pokemon card with a $1550 NZD price tag!  E is on the hunt for Dragon Ball Z merch while we are here so this was a perfect starting point.  

Always walking, we headed away from Shibuya and found ourselves gawking at the uber-trendy fashion hub that is Cat Street, Harajuku.  Our destination was actually Kiddyland which was just around the corner, a large toy store dedicated entirely to character toys.  Think Miffy, Hello Kitty, Star Wars, Marvel, Pokemon, Peanuts, Trolls………super fun, very cute, also very crowded and hot.

Everyone was slightly frazzled after Kiddyland so we stopped for a snack (and cocktail hour!) before diving into Takeshita Street which was seriously amazing.  A mix of huge international stores and small independent market-style shops, wandering along as night fell, stopping for crepes and enjoying people watching – this is Harajuku after all – was so, so fun.  The crowd is INTENSE, however, but Japanese people are so incredibly lovely, quiet, well mannered and patient, even with my nutty family, you never really felt affected by the masses of people.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family Japan Tokyo

After that, we were well and truly done for the day so we hit the trains and headed back home.  We had realised throughout the day that Nix was not going to be able to hang with the amount of walking we’ll be doing on this trip, so Dave found a Babies ‘R Us and set off again to bring home an umbrella stroller and some dinner.  The footpaths here are clean as a whistle, super flat and perfectly maintained so pushing the stroller is no problem and everyone seems to be accommodating regarding leaving the stroller to enter stores and restaurants.

Day 1 was so awesome!  Everything has fallen into place and we are just in LOVE with Japan, so excited for what the rest of the trip will bring.

Raising Kiwi boys – the good, the bad and the muddy

Karicare Toddler is about as Kiwi as the kids that are we are raising here in New Zealand. As a Mum to a couple of Kiwi boys, Karicare Toddler asked me to have a think about what it means to me to be a Kiwi mum.  Made right here in New Zealand, Karicare Toddler have been committed to using the goodness of New Zealand cows’ milk from Kiwi cows on Kiwi farms. How awesome is it that our kids can enjoy the benefits of amazing NZ dairy from their earliest years?!

13 years ago when I thought kids were (maybe?) a distant possibility in my future, I could only imagine parenting boys. The thought of raising a mini-Melissa terrified me – and rightly so if you ask my mother!

So imagine my ‘surprise’ when Dave and I fell pregnant whilst in the very early stages of planning our wedding. “Boys it is!” I assured Dave, only to be told at every single scan that we were expecting a girl.

The pink presents began rolling in. Despite living in Southern California at the time, baby girl had more pink blankets then she would ever be able to use and Mum had Pumpkin Patch on speed dial ready to snap up every cute girls outfit released that season.

Luckily most shops these days have a fantastic return policy.  Baby girl was indeed, an Ethan. And then 8.5 years later, another bouncing, 10.4lb bundle of joy – Nixon – arrived.

Those are my qualifications for writing about Kiwi boys. I know nothing I can assure you, and what I and other mothers of boys do know is learned (or earned) through the school of hard knocks, lost socks and empty pantries.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family yarns Kiwi KidsTwo children deep, hindsight has proven what an absolute angel our first child was. It’s almost unfair that we didn’t realise how easy those first 8.5 years of parenting actually were. Because the bomb sure dropped when Nixon arrived.

The large age gap seemed like a dream initially. Ethan was completely smitten with his little brother, he’d waited for him a long time after being present at the sonographers appointment where we found out I’d miscarried during my previous pregnancy.  He was/is a proud and protective (exasperated, tormented) big brother.

Nixon is ::: dramatic pause:::, the exception to every rule I thought I knew about parenting.  He is, without doubt, the loudest person in the universe, the most full-on, stubborn, energizer bunny, tackle everything in his path then poke his finger in your eye just for kicks kid I have ever encountered.  He is also, unerringly cuddly, affectionate, verbose and crazy smart.  

We completely redecorated the house in 2011/12 and post-toddler-Nixon we will have to completely redecorate again.  Rimu windowsills, painstakingly stripped and refinished are now scarred, scratched, chipped and dented.  Walls, all re-plastered and painted have met the same fate.  Cushions vs marker pens, couch vs ballpoint, carpet vs play dough/dirt/dinner, brand new kitchen flooring vs laundry basket zoomed across it at top speed.  If you scoff and say “well, that’s just life with kids”, well perhaps.  Toddler destruction totally caught me by surprise as Ethan in his 13 years on this earth, has never, ever damaged our home or furnishings.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family yarns Kiwi Kids
Nix must have known I needed a great shot of him for the blog today so he obliged by mixing dirt for his vege planters………in his bedroom!

So, despite looking very, very similar our boys are as different as chalk and cheese and are also probably as different as night and day to the other million or so little boys that are growing up around New Zealand at the same time.  That’s really the beauty of our little country in these modern times, differences are (for the most part) tolerated and celebrated.  We are all raising our children in different family configurations, different housing arrangements, with different cultural influences and religious beliefs, more diets than you can shake a stick at but we are at peace amongst an alarming and ever-increasing rate of intolerance in the world around us.

The joy of both being a Kiwi kid and having the immense privilege to raise one – or 2 or 10 or however many you want – is an awesome journey to be on.  Of course, it’s made infinitely easier when there are fab products such as Karicare Toddler that are made in New Zealand and help us give our kids a great start in life.

This post is brought to you by Karicare Toddler.

Win with The Best Nest!

I’ve got three $50 Gift Cards to the Warehouse to give away.  To enter, just comment below with one thing you love about raising kiwi kids or one thing you love about living in New Zealand!  

Competition closes Dec 10 2018. NZ residents only.

New Zealand's Top Mummy Blogger Parenting Travel Blog Family yarns Kiwi Kids