7 Days in Tokyo: Day 4 – Imperial Palace & Diver City

IMPERIAL PALACE

The grounds of the Imperial Palace are stately and vast. So vast, in fact, we actually got lost looking for the palace itself, and I’m not entirely sure that we ever found it. The grounds that we did see, however, were impressive and perfectly manicured. The Imperial Palace is the residence of Japan’s Imperial family. TOURIST TIP: The east grounds are open to the public, but a guided tour of the inner grounds require a reservation ahead of time, which we didn’t have.

After leaving the grounds, it’s worth taking a short walk to view the facade of Tokyo Station (if you haven’t passed through already). It’s one of Japan’s busiest railway stations. We walked through the business district and stopped for lunch at a yakitori restaurant  where we slipped into the culture by slipping off our shoes.  The restaurant catered to the working crowd and the staff spoke little English. We fumbled our way through as humbly, and politely, as we could, pointing at something on the menu and hoping for the best. Luckily, we were in Tokyo and every meal was amazing, this one included. We walked away completely happy and grateful for the experience of  being totally out of our element. It gave me a new perspective on the challenges facing foreigners to my country.

Imperial Palace Guardhouse
Imperial Palace Grounds

DIVER CITY

For the most part, Diver City is your run of the mill shopping center with one notable (and larger-than-life-size) difference: a giant-ass statue of the robot Gundam. The mall is located on the man-made island of Odaiba. If shopping and robots aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other tourist attractions including a ferris wheel, a statue of liberty replica, and a beach.

7 Days in Tokyo: Day 3 – Shibuya

This was one of my favorite days in Tokyo. Clothes, cosmetics and souvenir shopping in Shibuya! We walked across the district’s famous pedestrian scramble, which is known as one of the busiest crosswalks in the world (pictured above). It was a totally shameless,  grin-inducing tourist moment. I think we went back and fourth 2 or 3 times and then – just like they tell you to do in the travel books – we went up to the second floor of a nearby Starbucks to get a timelapse video of the insane, walking-every-which-way mob of people.

HACHIKO STATUE

Before the shopping spree began, we made a stop at the statue I have been so desperate to pay my respects to: the Akita Hachiko. He’s remembered for his steadfast loyalty, and the story goes that for nine years after his owner’s death, Hachiko would go to Shibuya station every day to wait for his beloved master, just as he had done when his owner was alive. It was an emotional moment for me, and I’m so grateful that I finally got the chance to see the statue in person.

SHIBUYA 109

If you’re into fashion or clothes, you have to make a stop at Shibuya 109 in Shibuya. It’s one of the trendiest places to shop in Tokyo. It’s like a mall for boutique shops. Makeup, shoes, clothing, and accessory stores spiral around inside the tower. It’s eye candy for the fashionista. There’s also a separate tower just for men’s clothing. Some other stores I’d recommend include Uniqlo (for clothing) and Loft (for beautiful stationary and souvenir home goods like  chopsticks and sake cups).

SUSHI NOVA

This was an awesome sushi spot for lunch. You can order on a touch screen at your table (in English) and, like magic, your sushi appears in front of you on a conveyor belt. It was our favorite sushi spot in all of Tokyo!

7 Days in Tokyo: Day 2 -Akihabara & Asakusa

DAY 2

From ultra-modern electronics to ancient temples, we covered a lot of ground – and many centuries – on our second day in Tokyo.

 

Akihabara Electric Town

AKIHABARA

One of the biggest goals of this trip was to track down elusive video games in Akihabara Electric Town, the “nerd capitol” of Tokyo. This district of the city is famous for its stores dedicated to  video games, gadgets,  anime, j-pop, k-pop, and – for some reason – a whole lot of claw game arcades. The cramped shops run for blocks and they’re stacked several stories high. After some intense hunting and exploring my huz finally struck gold and found the game he came for.

 

We struck gold at this game store
Akihabara
Inside “Super Potato”
They’re crazy about Star Wars in Tokyo too
One of many Ramen dishes I consumed

ASAKUSA

After making our contribution at the temple of modern gadgets, we traveled west – and back in time – to the Sensō-ji Buddhist Temple in the beautiful Asakusa district. It’s the oldest temple in Tokyo, pre-dating the modern city. From the oldest temple in Tokyo to the tallest tower in the world, we hoofed it across the river to take in the enormity of the Tokyo Skytree. I regret not making the trip up, but between the lines and our aching feet, we decided to leave it for the next trip.

Senso-ji Temple

Statue in Asakusa
Tokyo Skytree

7 Days in Tokyo: Day One – Shinjuku & Harijuku (Part Two)

Meiji Jingu Shrine

They talk about beginners luck, but we experienced some serious travelers luck right off the bat in Tokyo. On our first full day, we walked from our hotel to the the Meiji Shrine early in the morning on a Saturday, which happened to be the perfect time to see a traditional wedding ceremony pass by.

Wedding Ceremony
Meiji Shrine Grounds
Prayers at the shrine
Sake barrels, gifts to the shrine

Harijuku: Takeshita Street

Cue the Gwen Stefani. Hey Harijuku girls, hey! The neighborhood’s famous fashion district is just a short walk from the Meiji Shrine, and a stroll down the teen pop rue was high on my Tokyo bucket list. Keep your head on a swivel to take in all the colorful shops, eateries, clothing, and billboards. And for heaven’s sake, get yourself a crepe while you’re there.

img_8736

Robot Restaurant


Nothing quite prepared me for the funhouse I was about to enter at the Robot Restaurant. From the moment you step foot into the labyrinth, you encounter a dizzying hall of wall-to-wall lights, mirrors and colors. Think Willie Wonka meets Liberace on acid. It’s everything you imagine Tokyo will be. The show itself, featuring dueling animatronic robots, gave me a perma-smile. It was an hour of pure joy. But perhaps my favorite part was the pre-show room where there was a robot playing pop hits on a guitar. Day One Mission: Accomplished.

7 Days in Tokyo: Day One – Shinjuku & Harijuku (Part One)

Headspinning neon, to-die-for fashion, orgasmic food, offbeat entertainment, zen tranquility, time travel (I’ll explain), and lots… and lots of people.

The stories about Tokyo are all true. My husband and I just returned from a week-long vacation to the most populous metropolis in the world. Having missed the summer tourist crowds in the last week of September, we felt very much like strangers in a strange (and intimidatingly large) land, but at the same time, it was a land packed with welcoming, gentle, kind, and patient locals.

We debated taking a day trip during the week to escape the throngs of people, but we quickly discovered that there is so much to experience in Tokyo itself, including surprisingly expansive quiet spaces. Seven days wouldn’t be enough to see it all. So we decided to give ourselves plenty of time to get lost exploring the vast Blade Runner-esque city, starting with our home base on Day One: Shinjuku and Harijuku. First, some nitty gritty (and hopefully helpful) details about our arrival.

img_8770
The bustling alley outside our hotel in Shinjuku

ARRIVAL

We took a direct ANA flight from Seattle to Narita airport, located about 40 miles outside Tokyo. It’s about a 9.5 hour flight. We left on a Thursday at 2pm (Seattle time) and arrived at 4pm on Friday (Tokyo Time). The mind-blowing part was on the flight home when we literally traveled back in time, leaving at 6pm Friday (Tokyo time) and arriving at 11 am Friday (Seattle time). International date line: you so crazy.

One of the most stressful decisions we had to make was how to get from the airport to our hotel. The rail lines are direct, but complex, and it wasn’t something we wanted to figure out after a long, exhausting flight. We opted to bus it. The Airport Limousine Bus Service took a little more time (about 2 hours) due to rush hour traffic, but the ticket counter is easy to find at the airport, the buses run regularly and they’re prompt. Expect to pay about $60 for two people.

The bus dropped us off at Shinjuku Station, and from there it was a relatively easy walk to our hotel, the Tokyo Stay Shinjuku. Probably our biggest tip to you future Tokyo travelers is this: Google Maps is your best friend. We would have been lost in the maze of neon alleys, but my husband used Google Maps to expertly direct us through the twinkling concrete jungle. The app was also incredibly useful in navigating the tangle of train routes. We just input where we wanted to go and it told us exactly which stations to enter and which lines to take. Stay sharp though, we still got confused and frustrated several times along the way.

We’re here, we’re finally here! But first… sleep. Click here for a look at our first full day exploring Tokyo: Shinjuku and Harijuku.

Pumpkin Bundt Cake With Cream Cheese Filling

When the calendar hit September, I went all in on fall. I don’t even care that the forecast is calling for high 70’s next weekend. I replaced sandals with booties, iced coffee with PSL, and colorful shirts with gray sweaters, and I’m not turning back until April. The PSL gave me a taste for pumpkin that I couldn’t shake, so I broke out the can of pumpkin I had left over in the pantry from last year – and I got to baking. I feel like I’m definitely going to “pumpkin” myself out before we actually hit fall, but look at me not caring!  (Recipe Below)

INGREDIENTS
For The Cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
4 large eggs
1 cup Pure Pumpkin
8 oz. vanilla greek yogurt

For the Cream Cheese Filling
8 oz cream cheese, softened
¼ cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

Glaze (Optional)
1 1/2 cups sifted powdered sugar.
2 to 3 tablespoons milk in small bowl
stir until smooth

ASSEMBLE
1. Pre-heat oven to 350. Grease bundt pan well and set aside.
2. In a small mixing bowl, add all ingredients and mix until well incorporated. Set aside.
3.In a medium bowl, combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.
4. In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until fluffy. Add in eggs one at a time, beating well.
5. To the bowl, add pumpkin and greek yogurt; mix well.
6. In small batches, gradually beat in flour mixture until thoroughly combined.
7. Spoon a third of the batter into bundt pan.
8. Pour the cream cheese filling over the batter in the pan.
9. Cover the filling with the remainder of the batter.
10. Bake for a an hour until sharp knife inserted in cake comes out clean.
11. Cook for 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack.
12. Invert cake onto wire rack to cool.
13. Once cool, top with glaze (optional, not pictured)

Easy Hash Brown Breakfast Bake

This no-frills breakfast bake is definitely a guy-pleaser.

My husband recently hosted a morning Magic game with his friends and I wanted to make something easy yet tasty for the boys. You can’t go wrong feeding a group of guys hash browns, eggs and sausage in the morning, but I wanted to assemble it in a casserole to make it easier to serve (and eat between rounds).

If you don’t want to rush in the morning, you can assemble this casserole the night before so it’s all ready to pop in the oven by the time the crowds come calling. That’s what I did and it worked out perfectly!

INGREDIENTS

5 cups frozen, shredded hash browns
8 links pre-cooked sausage, sliced in small pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1 green pepper diced
8 eggs
2 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt
pepper

PREP

1. In a large pan, saute onion and pepper in oil until they begin to soften. Remove from the pan.
2. In the same pan, lightly brown the frozen hash browns according to the packaging instructions. Add in the onions and green peppers and mix.
3. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, milk, salt, pepper,  nutmeg and 1 cup of cheese together.
4. Heat oven to 350. Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray.
5. To assemble casserole, layer the bottom of the casserole dish with the hash brown mixture. Top with sliced, pre-cooked sausage pieces. Pour egg mixture over the top. (At this point, you can cover the casserole and refrigerate overnight until ready to bake)
6. When ready to bake, top the casserole with remaining cup of cheese.
7. Bake uncovered at 350 for about 45 minutes until casserole is puffed and golden brown

DIY Lavender Dryer Bags

It’s harvest time for my early blooming lavender plants. I’ve been bundling and drying my beauties for a couple weeks, and now I have a healthy collection of dried lavender buds to craft with.

Last year, I showed you how to dry lavender and collect the buds for crafting or to set out as a fragrant decoration. This year, I wanted to put my lavender buds to use in the laundry room as an all-natural replacement for dryer sheets. My sheets and towels come out of the dryer smelling like they’ve been hanging in a lavender field all day. I LOVE it!

Here’s a step-by-step guide for creating your own lavender dryer bags:

Step One:  Dry Lavender Buds

As I mentioned, you can harvest your own buds if you have lavender growing in the garden. For a how-to CLICK HERE. If you don’t have a garden, you can buy pre-dried lavender buds through Amazon or a local lavender farm. Once you’ve separated the dried buds from the plants, you’re ready to create your dryer bags.

Step Two: Fill Bags

Since you don’t want the lavender buds to spill into the clothes dryer, it’s important to make sure they’re secured.

  1. I started by filling a small drawstring organza bag with lavender buds. I had luck finding organza bags at the craft store in the wedding favor aisle. (NOTE: Don’t fill the bag too full. Make sure you can pull the drawstring and knot it securely without any buds peeking out).

2. I double bagged my lavender buds by putting the organza bag into a larger cotton muslin drawstring bag. You can find them HERE through Amazon. Make sure to pull the drawstring tight and knot it securely.

Step Three: Ready for Laundry

It’s time to freshen up your laundry! Give your lavender buds a few squeezes through the bag to release the scent. For a little extra pop, sprinkle a few drops of lavender essential oil onto the bag, then pop it in the dryer with clothing or towels and let the lavender do its thang! Each bag should be good for 3-4 laundry cycles.

Day Trip to Bellingham, WA

If you have 8 hours, a tank of gas, and desperately need a break from the Seattle bustle, hop on I-5 north and chill out with the locals in Bellingham for the day – and by locals I mean the seagulls, the oysters and the vendors at the farmer’s market!

My husband and I took our first trip to Bellingham recently. Reading up on the sights and attractions, we were overwhelmed at the options awaiting us in this big, small town. We weren’t sure how many things we’d be able to do, but ultimately we fell into a lovely groove and ended up having the perfect day trip. We saw a good cross-section of Bellingham while leaving enough activities to warrant a return trip (in the very near future!)

Here’s my planner for a one-day trip from Seattle to Bellingham:

Boundary Bay Brewery

We left Seattle mid-morning and made it to Bellingham around lunch time. Our first stop was at the famous Boundary Bay Brewery for a local craft brew and sandwich (a Cubano for the huz and a Tofu Banh Mi for me.) Their tap room has benches for seating and a cool nautical theme.

Farmer’s Market

If you visit Bellingham on a Saturday be sure to take a stroll through the downtown Farmer’s Market. It’s just across the street from Boundary Bay. We picked up some locally-made cheese, tayberry jam and roasted almonds. There are plenty of street performers to stop and listen to while you take in the array of colorful fruits, vegetables and flowers. It’s also a perfect spot for dog watching. A ton of people had their pups out for a walk around town!

 Boulevard Park & Woods Coffee

Time for a caffeine pick-me-up and a walk along Bellingham Bay. Boulevard Park is a quick 6 minute drive from downtown.

 Woods Coffee  has a location right at the park with a log cabin interior and adorably-named coffee sizes like “spruce,” “cedar,” and “giant redwood” akin to Starbucks’ “tall,” “grande,” and “venti.” Grab a coffee or tea to go and enjoy a walk on the boardwalk across the water and up to  old-town Fairhaven.


Chuckanut Drive & Taylor Shellfish

Time to start the journey home, but I’ve saved the best stop for last. Wind your way back south on scenic Chuckanut Drive. There are spectacular views of the bay, the islands, and gorgeous homes around every bend. Shutterbugs, be sure to take your camera along, you’ll want to stop along the turnouts for photo ops. Near the end of the picturesque road is a must-do for seafood fans: a stop at Taylor Shellfish Farm and Market in Bow, WA. You literally can’t get oysters any fresher unless you physically walk into the water and pluck them out yourself.  A stop at Taylor is a quintessential PNW experience. They give you a bucket, as many oysters as you can eat, and a shucking tool. Take a seat in the picnic area and master the art of shucking an oyster surrounded by water and salty air. They even have lemons and tiny bottles of tobasco if that’s how you like to dress your raw oyster. If you have a sharp eye, and you’re as lucky as we were, you might even spy an eagle flying overhead. With full bellies and a happy heart, you’re ready for the trip home!

#PaleIsPretty

Dark hair. Gray/blue eyes. Pale Skin. An odd combination, but that’s me.

There are many things I’d like to say while violently shaking my 16-year-old self, but at or near the top would have to be, “Hunny, embrace the pale. Pale is pretty! You’re not tan. You will never be tan. And you don’t need to compare yourself to the girls in your class who spend hours in the tanning bed. Take this one off your plate, kid.”

Remember the 90’s? Tanning beds were the rage. I used to get so mad at my parents for not allowing me to tan like the other girls in school. Turns out parents, with all their wisdom, really do know better than a teenager dealing with peer pressure. Looking back, I’m so grateful that I didn’t heap additional damage onto my fair skin by crisping up in tanning beds. I’m sure I did quite enough damage by spending my summers under that tanning bulb in the sky, sans sunblock.

 It took me a solid 30 years, many sunburns, several bouts of sun poisoning, and the graceful appearance of fine eye lines, but I finally had my ‘come to Jesus’ moment. I don’t belong in the sun! Now, I fully own my ‘don’t stare directly at my legs or they will blind you’ skin tone, and I fully intend to maintain it 365 days a year. SPF 50 is my best friend.

Maybe it’s the confidence (or indifference) that comes with getting older,  the changing culture, or the research about skin cancer, but I no longer feel the pressure to look tan in the summer. I’m ready to hit the beach, gleaming white, while sitting under a shade – and that’s super duper hard for me because I love the sun! I love being outside. I love being warm. But the risk of a burn trumps all those things.

I’m not sure if younger girls care as much about being tan anymore, but my hope is that we all embrace our unique selves – pale, tan, dark – all skin is pretty!