Sunday, June 27, 2010

Police birthday party

For the past few months, Owen has realized that he was going to be having a birthday. This year was exciting because I think it's the first year he really understood what it meant to have a birthday. He decided a LONG time ago that he wanted a police car birthday party and a GRAPE cake, yes grape. Talk about stress, I've never even heard of a grape cake.

Of course, Mr. Birthday, our imaginary decorating guy, comes to Massachusetts. Thanks to Uncle Seth and Auntie Liz for the "birthday traps" on the stairs- I think the others are going to be expecting birthday traps in the future.

Here's the rest:

And a close up of the table and the prized police car suitcase, watch out airport security, we'll be travelling with our own law enforcement now:

A while ago, I found this site with wicked cute outfits, Liliputians, that are for kids' birthdays, you can choose their age to get it put on their t-shirt. The price was quite high, ~$100 per outfit, I knew I could make something nice myself, here's what I came up with for less than $40 total for both birthday outfits:

I found all the supplies and prizes for his party from Roberts Company- it's a police supply store. For the gift bags, I had found some lunch bags last year in the dollar bin at Target with police cars, fire trucks, and taxis on them. Inside, I put police coloring books, plastic handcuffs, sheriff badges, pull back police cars, police pencils, police sticker scenes, and color in "wanted" sheets.

For party hats, we had plastic sheriff hats:

We had a donut eating contest because, well you know about police and donuts:

We were going to play red rover and do a running race to test their speed and strength, but unfortunately, it was quite hot, so we opted for playing with squirt guns and using the slip and slide:

The highlight of the party was a visit from a real police officer in a real police car. I don't think even a pony could top that.

And of course, here's the police cake (of course I left my collection of food colors at home, so I was stuck with the standard 4 color pack and had to improvise on the tires:

For the grape cake, I added frozen grape juice concentrate and grape extract (used for candy making):

Here's the recipe if you are ever requested to make a grape cake, it came out good, but honestly, most kids did not finish theirs:

For the cake and cupcakes:
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup frozen grape juice concentrate
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp grape extract

For the grape syrup:
3/4 cup frozen grape juice concentrate
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar

For the icing:
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 egg whites
2 tsp vanilla
2 sticks butter
remaining grape syrup

For the cake, I beat the butter with the sugar, then scraped the sides of the mixer. Then, I added the eggs slowly and the grape extract. I then added the grape concentrate. I mixed together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and alternated adding them with the milk. I put some in cupcake tins and some in a small rectangular cake pan (so I could make the police car). I poked holes in the tops of the cupcakes and cake and drizzled the syrup on top once they cooled. I got the idea here at Annie's Eats.

For the icing, I followed the directions here at How To Eat a Cupcake.

All in all, it was a very fun birthday, here's the whole gang:

And, he's four now:

Monday, June 14, 2010


Do you remember my post about Welcome Summer?

Well, in our taxi ride on the way to the airport Saturday, Dave pointed out this sign to me- I was so excited, I had to take a picture:

You may have thought I was joking about the coolbiz attire, but yes it ACTUALLY is a phrase here and some type of official summer dress code. The thing I think is funny is the choice of when to use English words- notice it's the only one on the sign. The other thing is it's written in English spelling- in Japanese, there are no sounds with an "L" in them, it would actually be spelled "kurubizu" (the Japanese phrase highlighted in blue on the right reads exactly that), so does having it written in the proper English spelling make it even cooler?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Doughnuts doughnuts doughnuts

While the kids are I were talking about doughnuts the past few weeks, we made these felt doughnuts. I got the idea for these here on skiptomylou. I think it's important for the kids to know how to use a needle and thread, Nathaniel can already sew on a button, he pretty much made his whole doughnut with minimal assistance from me on the sewing machine. We didn't use the colored thread for sprinkles, instead we used plastic tubular beads.

Cutting them out, we used a bowl and shot glass:

Sewing on the beads:


We are in the process of making a cardboard drive-thru window for our police car- won't these be cute for the officer to order? (You won't see this until after the summer!)

Something else I've been doing is when I do get the energy and time to do a whole theme on a letter or topic, I make a fabric letter for them. Did you ever have the balloon letter people show up at your classroom when you were young? I used to love having them show up and be able to color them. Next, I want to make the actual matching coloring sheets, but for now, here is our D:

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Why doughnuts? Check out what we've been seeing in shops here, I'm not sure what the obsession with doughnuts is here, but it's hard not to want to own this cute doughnut stuff- we even got our "nephew dog" a donut chew toy. Shown below are only a few things, there are sooo much more.

Hello kitty shaped donut cell phone charm (what will they think of next?):

Board games:

Kids' baking kits:

Claw machine prizes:

And my absolute favorite:

Do you want to come take our doughnut for a dunk?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Last Day of School

Yesterday was the last day of school for us! I did it, I successfully homeschooled a first grader. I admit I was nervous about making it through the year, but I did it, he did it and WE are looking forward to doing it again for grade 2 next year. It was such a great and fun experience, something we probably would not have had if it weren't for living in Japan and having the benefits from Dave's company that we do. The end of the school year is especially exciting for us because it means the long awaited trip home for us is just around the corner, actually in three days! I don't think the kids have ever been more excited, not even on Christmas night- seriously they were jumping off the walls last night.

Here they are on the first day of school this year:

Here they are on the last day of school:

I think Hazel has changed the most, but they have all grown at least 2 inches. Time is flying by. If you have kids, you should try doing this when they go to school, take a photo on the first day and last day of school in the same spot to see how they've grown and changed.

Now that we are done with school, I will have more time to post all the rest of the activities I've been promising to write about. Happy summer everyone!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Have you heard the word Kawaii?

I had honestly never heard the word before I moved to Japan, and now it seems to be everywhere. Maybe it's because I'm more aware, but now that I'm about to make you aware, let me know if you start noticing it too.

Kawaii is the Japanese word for cute. I hear it a lot because of my kids' light colored hair and big eyes. Sometimes my neighbors and I used to joke that our kids would think their names were "kawaii".

In Japan, there is a lot of stuff in a little space and in order to fit that stuff in that space, a lot of the stuff is small (and cute). Other stuff is normal sized and just plain cute too. I'm just going to give you three examples of the way the Japanese made one ordinary thing so kawaii:

Have you ever shopped on etsy? The word kawaii seems to be all over it. I'm not kidding, today when I typed "kawaii" into the search engine, I got over 42,000 results. Did you know that little Japanese word was so popular with the crafting world? Neither did I- I see it on independent sites for party supplies, "kawaii decorations" or even fabric shops "kawaii animals". I find it quite interesting how this little word is gaining itself some fame.

Just be careful when using it, especially if you are in Japan, because the word "kowaii" means frightening- you wouldn't want someone to think you thought they were scary instead of cute.

Field trip to KRISPY KREME

Yes, I know I wrote about going to the new Osaka Krisy Kreme before, but guess what??? This time, we actually got donuts!!!

Since the kids and I first attempted to go to Krispy Kreme, we have been talking about donuts. We made our own donuts. We have read one of our favorite books, The Donut Chef by Bob Staake over and over, and we have been working on a special donut project (to be seen later this week). Now, it was time to see them being made in large quantities and eat them!

When we arrived, it was 11:45 and we could see a man holding a sign saying 1 hour, which I assumed meant the wait time. He quickly pointed to an intersection down the street and told me to go there and turn left to get a number to wait in line. (The Krispy Kreme is on the corner of a VERY busy intersection, so they have you go down the street to line up and wait on a much much wider sidewalk, then you are told when you can leave that line to the shorter line in front of the store to wait longer.) There is no problem doing this here, having a line split up by two whole city blocks, I think in the US it would be a problem.

I got to the other line, which wasn't bad, and I didn't mind waiting, neither did the kids, the weather was nice, and there's always lots of people watching. As we were standing in line, I was wondering why I hadn't received my ticket yet, when I overheard the officer and the employee talking in japanese that neither of them could speak English. I stood there trying to make eye contact and politely said that I could speak some Japanese, they were so relieved. I knew enough to understand that I could choose 2 dozen glazed or a dozen glazed and a dozen assorted. I told them the later of the two and he kept saying something to me that I didn't get. I pointed again to the picture on the sign and he handed me four tickets, number 72, 73, 74, and 96- I'm still not sure why the third number was so different.

About ten minutes later, a woman wearing a Krispy Kreme uniform, escorted by this line officer came up to me.

They were like "here, here she is!"- referring to me. She asked me what did I want and I told her 2 dozen, 1 assorted, 1 glazed and she said "Okay you need different tickets". Next thing, I exchange my white tickets for green tickets, same thing, three chronological and one different. She took me out of line and walked me right into the store, can I say this lady was my hero.

There were four registers, all EMPTY! We went right in, ordered our donuts and paid! While I was paying an employee came over and gave us each a free hot glazed, and they were so delicious, well worth the wait.

As it turns out, the one hour wait was to choose your own assortment. Seriously, I don't mind waiting either way, but when you can go in and choose right away with no wait for a preboxed versus wait an hour to choose your own, the choice does seem obvious to me. Well, the kids and I went outside to watch the donuts being made while eating our freebies and the others still waiting in line just stared and drooled.

The kids enjoyed this part, where the donuts got their glaze: (pardon the photo, I snuck in between people and there was quite a glare on the window at noon that day)

But in all honesty, I think their favorite part was getting these hats:

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Peanut butter cookies (think Girl Scout Doh Si Doh)

Before I say anything else, can I just say "GOODBYE $4 box of processed girl scout cookies and HELLO homemade party in my mouth!" Okay that said, we had yet another party to attend, which provided me with another opportunity to try a new recipe. Surprisingly, this time it was not cupcakes, but cookies. I'm forseeing a new addiction to making sandwich cookies. I found this recipe on a site called Savory Sweet Life, which is just one of the many on my ever growing cooking blog bookmarks.

Lately, I have been trying to find recipes for all the food items we miss from home that we can not possibly buy here and am trying to replicate them. So far, the Krispy Kreme doughnuts were a success. Now, these.

Oven: 350'

3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup oats

3 TBSP butter
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup confectioner's sugar
3 TBSP heavy cream
1-2 TBSP milk

For the cookies:
Cream together butter, peanut butter, and sugars. Let mix until it is a pale tan fluffy mixture. Mix in egg and vanilla. In separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add flour mixture to the batter until blended in. Add the oats, mix until incorporated. Drop dough onto cookie sheet (I like to use a cookie scoop, like this one from Pampered chef). Lightly press down on the tops to make them like flattened balls. Bake about 12 min. Remove from oven and cool on cookie rack. This recipe made exactly 18 filled cookies- I felt as though being a sandwich cookie, the normal sized cookie was a bit too big, a bit too much to eat in one sitting, especially for a 2 year old, so next time, I might make 36 mini cookies.

For the filling:
Mix together butter and peanut butter. Slowly incorporate all of the confectioner's sugar, this will be a slightly crumbly mix at this point. Add in the cream, I was actually mixing this together with my hand held mixers on low- I wanted my filling to be fluffy! After adding the cream, I felt as though the filling was a bit too thick, so I added a few TBSP milk to reach my fluffy consistency. ( This was not done in the recipe I found, so it is up to you the consistency you want for the filling, I found it easier to spread once in the cookies). I had just enough filling for all 18 sandiches, with a small bit to taste of course.

OMG were they good!!!! I will be making these again (only when there's a party of course, so I don't eat them all. I even had a request from someone to try the Samoas (well now Caramel Delites- what's up with the name changes anyways?). I found that recipe, so you can look forward to that after my summer trip when I bring back all of the ingredients.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Welcome Summer!

Last Saturday night, our neighborhood club held its annual Summer Welcome Party. This party is held the last weekend in May each year, and includes a barbecue and Hawaiian luau dancers. It is fun to get together with our friends and neighbors to talk and celebrate the upcoming months ahead we will be enjoying the pool together and HOT HOT weather here. It is particularly nice because most of the men have hectic work schedules and it is very rare to see them at all except at parties like this or occasionally on the weekends in the summer at the pool. The weeks to come after the party, there will be several families moving from the neighborhood (at least 4 this year) and most of us will be taking our annual homeleave trips starting as early as next weekend (I think we are the first ones to leave). It's hard to believe how the crowd has changed in the three and a half years we've been here, even how much our kids have grown.

Here they are this year before the party:

Here they are the first year we went:

Now, that I told you how our neighborhood welcomes summer, let me share with you a few ways that the Japanese welcome summer. There are several things that start happening to let you know that summer is coming.

First, you start to see these in the stores:

Why don't they just wear long sleeves? It's not the season for long sleeves, you have to wear short sleeves and to cover from the sun, you accessorize with these!

Then, you start to notice people wearing these:

The rivets on the side turn this wide rimmed visor into a "welder's face shield", no possibility of sun exposure on that face!

Then, you wonder why you see more people holding umbrellas on sunny days than rainy:

Actually, it's pretty smart, make your own shade!

Here, in Japan, there are a lot of wacky unspoken rules we've learned about along the way. One of these is a weird seasonal dress code. It's not so much dependent on the weather but the date. For instance, yesterday, Dave said to me "it's officially coolbiz season". I was wondering what he meant by that or thought he made it up trying to use funny japanese English. No, he told me that the Japanese government has some mandate that from June to October, companies should allow employees to come to work in "coolbiz" attire because of the heat. Essentially, they can go to work without a suit and tie and wear a short sleeved shirt. This also applies for schools, my son's preschool actually has uniform change date on it's calendar, it doesn't matter if it's unseasonably cold like this year, you have to dress for the season.