Cook, Eat: The BEST Country Chicken Pie Recipe – Ever!

The seasonal rain hasn’t yet arrived here in New Zealand but there’s no denying that Winter is here. We are currently enjoying bluebird days but the temps aren’t playing around – she’s cold mate!

Along with buying too many jackets and woollen socks (my winter fashion weaknesses!), when the days get shorter I love, love spending time in the kitchen and cooking some classic, hearty meals. Rich gravies and casseroles, slow-cooked, large cuts of meat and traditional kiwi-comfort food like this beautiful chicken pie form the menu for our family over the winter months.

The original Chicken Pie recipe was shared with me by Stevens, I have adapted it a tiny bit to suit our tastes. The gorgeous stoneware casserole dish I used (kindly gifted) is from their Winter Cooking range – shop Oslo Casserole Dish – and as at time of publication is 50% off!

The BEST Country Chicken Pie Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 2 x pre-rolled sheets of puff pastry, big enough to cover your dish
  • 1 free-range egg beaten
  • 75g butter
  • Olive oil
  • 750g chicken breast chopped into 3cm chunks
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 300g carrots chopped
  • 15 button mushrooms sliced
  • 130g fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 2 tbsp crème fraiche
  • 2 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • Salt and pepper

First, cook the vegetables – melt half the butter with a tbsp of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the carrots and onions, and sauté until softened. Add the mushrooms and cook until the water evaporates, and they begin to brown on the edges. Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the chicken to the pan and brown slightly. Next, add one cup of the chicken stock and return the vegetables to the pan. Simmer for around 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

Spray the Oslo Casserole Dish with oil and line with the first pastry sheet. Remove the chicken and veggies from the pan and place this in the base of your pie dish, reserving the cooking stock in a bowl. Melt the rest of the butter with a dash of olive oil in the pan and sprinkle in the flour stirring gently to brown it slightly. Add the mustard and then the reserved and extra stock, stirring all the time to thicken. Finally, stir through the crème fresh and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir the spinach leaves through the hot sauce to wilt them, then pour the spinach mustard sauce over the chicken and vegetables, stir gently to combine.

Preheat oven 200°C fan bake.

Lay the second pastry sheet over the filling and using a fork go around the dish edges to seal. With a sharp knife cut two to three steam holes in the top.

Brush the pastry surface with beaten egg and bake for around 25 minutes or when the pastry is golden and crisp.

Serve warm with a green salad on the side.

Set & Forget – Investing just got easier

Check out Part 1 of my investment series in collaboration with Sharesies here

Just like anything, instilling responsible financial habits in both ourselves and our kids takes both time, patience and practice. As I mentioned last month, we began contributing to the boys’ savings accounts as soon as they were born, setting up automatic payments of $10 per week and then essentially ignoring the accounts over the past 14 years. Obviously a very passive approach to saving but one that has easily become a fixture in the family budget.

Now that we are actively teaching the boys about investment diversity with the help of their Sharesies accounts, it’s time to level-up and get them thinking about their money, and where it’s going, on a more regular basis. If kids are earning pocket money, or if they receive money as a gift from friends and family, an easy way to foster a very intentional mindset towards saving is to introduce a spend/save/donate ratio which is in line with your family’s financial strategy. This is easy to implement from a super young age using low denomination coins and different envelopes, boxes or containers for spending, saving and donating.

Applying this practice of regular contributions to existing investments is also worthwhile implementing with our kids’ accounts. Many of us probably pay into our KiwiSaver accounts with uniform deposits via our pay schedules or, manually instigated automatic payments. As of last week, we can now do the same with our Sharesies investments – auto-invest is now live on the platform and it’s so easy to set up!

I’m all about automating as much of our family’s ‘Life Admin’ as possible – especially those voluntary tasks which can be easy to overlook like, savings and investment. I’ve had Christmas Club savings in place for over 10 years now at both a supermarket and The Warehouse and let me tell you, the value-add of decision free, locked-in saving each week results in a massive high five to yourself come Christmas time. Hooking up your Sharesies account with auto-invest is another one of those adult life hacks that you spend 5 minutes on now and end up patting yourself on the back for years to come.

Why use Auto-Invest

  • Sharesies auto-invest helps you stick to an investment strategy that’s right for you. For Dave and I, this means contributing small amounts regularly to each of the boys Sharesies portfolios.
  • Auto-invest helps you build on an investment when you don’t have a large, lump sum to begin with – which is what Sharesies is all about to be honest!
  • With Sharesies auto-invest you can choose between 3 pre-made orders (one of which is specifically for kids accounts) or you can build your own DIY Order.
  • Auto-invest is faster than setting up an AP via internet banking – I’m not exaggerating. I set up auto-invest on both boys Sharesies accounts in under 4 minutes total. The platform is so intuitive and easy I feel safe and confident with what I’m doing every time I log on.

I’m pretty excited about this new offering from Sharesies for a number of reasons, but probably top of the list is that from now on, the boys will be able to see the benefit and growth in their portfolios as a result of regular investing. Getting our ‘foot-in-the-door’ and being able to purchase shares in a way that is accessible and easy to understand is a game changer for families and individuals alike. Now with auto-invest, diversification of our savings investments is just as simple to automate and as free of fees as our Christmas Club at the supermarket (but maybe not quite so boring so I should be able to get the kids to pay attention at least once a month lol).

My kids have a share portfolio – why and, HOW?!

I’m partnering with Sharesies over the next couple of months to share our family’s experiences as we dip our toes into investing on the share market for the very first time.

I’ve long lamented how painful it is trying to discuss financial ‘anything’ as a Kiwi. If you’re talking money with anyone but your partner, cue the involuntary squirm and averted eyes in 5, 4, 3, 2………1.
But, it’s 2019 and we’ve come a long way baby.

As middle-class consumer spending and debt seem at peak levels here in New Zealand (“just chuck it on the house, she’ll be right”), there is a growing undercurrent of people and families that have said ‘ENOUGH’. The Declutterers, the No-Brand-New, the Mortgage-Free Masters – alternative spending lifestyles and habits are gaining traction and attention. To balance the equation, there is a complementary curiosity developing around alternative ways to save and invest the money previously spent on a more-is-more lifestyle. I can only imagine that by the time my kids are in the workforce, our views on the growth and protection of our financial futures will be even further removed from those grounded in the brick and mortar, quarter-acre dream of yesteryear.

To be totally cliché, the boy’s financial future starts now. Well, it actually started 14 years ago, which is when I opened Ethan’s savings account. Dave and I have been contributing $10 per week to each of the kids’ savings accounts, and that’s starting to add up to a couple of decent chunks of money. I’m also that parent, who has always banked any birthday/Christmas cheques and foreign currency from Dave’s family overseas into their accounts rather than let them blow it on more plastic toys. Instilling a pattern and expectation of saving from a young age is something I strongly believe in.

But, there’s definitely more than one way to skin the proverbial cat, and I’m all about NOT putting all of my eggs in one basket (and using as many colloquial phrases in one sentence as possible!).

As such, I’ve broadened my horizons and created an investment portfolio as of late last year with online investment platform Sharesies. Frustrated by low-interest rates being offered by traditional financial institutions i.e. banks, dabbling in the share market had been on my radar for years. But, like many Kiwis I’m sure, the problem was I had zero idea about how to begin. The launch of Sharesies Kids Accounts was the impetus I needed to register and create investment accounts for myself and both of the boys.

I’m a child of ¼ acre boomers who certainly never dabbled in shares and investments, so the financial acumen of risk and return is something I was never taught. Only around 20% of Kiwis own shares so, educating myself by using the Sharesies platform and passing on that confidence to diversify to Ethan and Nixon, will expand financial literacy in our family for years to come.

How Sharesies Kids Accounts Work

  • Anyone can open an account for kids under the age of 16, you don’t have to be a parent, but the account does need to be linked to an adult’s Sharesies account.
  • Kids subscriptions are half the price of adult subscriptions (adults range from FREE for a portfolio of $50 or less to $3 per month if the investment value exceeds $3000, or a $30 annual subscription).
  • Adding to anyone’s Sharesies wallet with GIFTS from $5 is easy – perfect for those astute friends and family who get the fact that there is a finite number of Hot Wheels that any small boy actually needs.

Working with the boys on setting up their Sharesies investments has been a really interesting process, creating an ongoing, real-world curiosity around some of their funds. One of Ethan’s chosen investments is Pathfinder Global Water, a managed fund (up 6.58% since 13/2/19) which invests in socially responsible companies around the world involved in the water industry. This is such an important social issue right now, the gravity of which is not lost on a young teen, so a vested monetary interest has seen him prick his ears up more often and take note of what’s happening around the world within the industry.

Nixon is pretty keen on the Australian Resources Fund (up 7.08% since 13/2/19), he’s always been obsessed with precious metals, mining, and gems so the pit mine in the thumbnail really spoke to him lol.

Anywho, I feel like I’m ticking something off my Life List so-to-speak by monitoring and growing these investments with the kids. The share market has always been a dark mysterious cosmos, even as an upwardly mobile, uni-educated woman with all the white-privilege one might expect growing up on Auckland’s North Shore (ha!). Using Sharesies has removed that inaccessible stigma and opened the door for some really great learning and increased financial literacy for both the boys and Dave and me.

I’ll be following up next month with another insight into how we are tracking with our Sharesies experience.

Family Travel: Sea Life Sunshine Coast Aquarium

Visiting aquariums is our thing, it’s what we do when we travel and we absolutely LOVE it.  Both of the boys have always been a tad obsessed with all things ‘ocean’, an interest Dave and I can wholeheartedly get behind.

When we confirmed our (very) last minute trip to the Sunshine Coast, a visit to Mooloolaba and its famous Sea Life Aquarium was top of our must-do list.  Ethan saw it featured on a TV doco years ago (which we all watched on repeat hundred of times!) and had been super keen to visit ever since.

Our first full day in Cotton Tree was a drizzly Sunday morning, perfect for a lazy, unrushed visit to Sea Life.

The drive took 10 minutes and at 9ish, we were able to find a carpark easily, though I can imagine this would get more and more difficult throughout the day.

We had a behind the scenes experience booked in at 11.30am so set about following the kids around, exploring the many stunning exhibits on offer.

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Tidal Touchpool at Sea Life Sunshine Coast

The one we came back to again and again, was actually the very first you come across upon entry. Nixon absolutely loved the Tidal Touchpool. It was so engaging for him, I think he discovered a new fish or starfish to observe, and yes, touch, each time he led us back there.

We were so surprised by how quiet it was in the morning, we were really able to take our time and move around at our own pace.

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Freshwater Streams Zone

A family fave was the Freshwater Streams zone. Seeing the giant Barramundi and Australian Lungfish, species we don’t have in New Zealand, was awesome, they are huge fish!

We also loved the Ocean Tunnel.  The Grey Nurse sharks are the biggest we’ve ever seen, even bigger when we got to see them from the surface on our Behind the Scenes Tour.

New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Sunshine Coast Aquarium
New Zealand's Top Travel Lifestyle Blog Home Decor Sunshine Coast Aquarium

This tour was an absolute treat.  We have never upgraded our entry tickets to include any experiences before so this one was so engaging for all of us but especially for our two young boys, one of whom has always aspired to be a marine biologist.  I’m not sure why but I’d always assumed that the thick tunnel walls in aquariums magnified the size of the creatures on the other side – turns out the opposite is true!  Being able to observe the inhabitants of the Ocean Tunnel from above and hear their stories made for such a memorable experience, both of the boys gave our guide their full attention throughout the tour which also included the turtle rehabilitation area – great environmental message for everyone here.

We are so stoked to have been able to tick Sea Life Aquarium Sunshine Coast off of our travel bucket list.  It’s such a perfect family excursion and provided a really interesting morning for both of our boys, even with their 8.5 year age gap which can sometimes be a tough ask!

Thanks for having us guys!

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Parenting and Ice Cream: When simple things are the best remedy

I inadvertently taught myself a good lesson this week;  despite my best intentions not to work on Monday’s as Nix is home from kindy, I found myself a participant in a continuous string of phone calls for over an hour, whilst I madly multi-tasked, wrote a difficult email I’d been dreading and stressed about the next deadline.

This was not how my summery Monday’s with Nix were supposed to go, in fact, where DID my summery Monday’s with Nix go?

IT’S AUTUMN!!!

Not to worry, antipodean New Zealand weather patterns say NO to seasonal conformity and say YES to 28° in the first week of March.

Hallelujah.

In need of an instant Monday-itis remedy I told Nix to ‘load up’, we were off to eat ice cream by the river.  

“No, you don’t have to get changed” – he was wet from water play at home.

“No, you don’t have to wear shoes” – we live in New Zealand!

“Yes, you can pick any flavour you like” – even though you are a creature of habit little darling and choose the same flavour every time.

Overseas travel forgotten, birthday parties agonised over…….a nondescript Monday afternoon had become my four-year-olds Best Day EVER.

The simplicity of a memory made, for the cost of a Jelly Tip and a Popsicle, was a lesson for me in ‘less is more’.

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Food nostalgia plays an important role in shaping cultural identity and as New Zealanders, we have our own culinary cues which many of us hold dear.  After 6 years of living in the states, upon touchdown in Auckland back in 2006, I was positively pining for a mince and cheese pie, some quality bread and Tip Top Hokey Pokey Ice Cream.  Combine those homesick-hunger-pangs with the imminent joy of introducing my new husband and toddler to my kiwi faves and I was one hangry, home-again traveler!

Growing up in NZ where many of us come from a farming or primary industry background, it’s no wonder as a Kiwi I feel a pang of familiarity and that ‘this is HOME’ feeling every time I crack open that iconic blue 2L tub and endeavour to peel off the perfect scoop of ice cream!  New Zealand milk and cream is coveted the world over mainly due to the pasture-fed lineage of hometown heroes, the NZ dairy herd. When one of our most iconic NZ owned companies, Tip Top, only uses fresh New Zealand milk and cream in their ice cream, it gives me hope that such an enduring taste of NZ will continue on in our freezers to share with our friends and families, making memories together for another generation to come.

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

And so, Nixon and I sat and enjoyed our ice cream, a perfect #GoodtoShare moment, and then we ambled along the river, talking about crabs and if eels attack ducks and he got muddy (and loved it) and clambered and danced and sang and generally revelled in the peace and open space that is so easily forgotten (even though this spot is only 1.5km from our house!).  And as I felt my not-enough-hours-in-the-day anxiety begin to dissipate I quietly laughed at the knowledge that I had just proven a meme correct and how entirely 21st century Digital Mum that was of me;

“Ice cream solves everything”.

And Nixon wholeheartedly agreed.

This post was brought to you in collaboration with Tip Top!  For more info head to: https://www.tiptop.co.nz/education/

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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